Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting a Clue: How Suspense is Built into Books and Films--A Guest Post from author Vivian Rhodes

Today's Back Deck Blog post is by Vivian Rhodes, mystery novelist and award-winning television writer. Vivian will tell us about how suspense is built into a story and also about her latest book, "If You Should Read This, Mother". 

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I love good suspense, whether in the form of a book, a play, or a film.  Some of my favorite authors over the years have been those who have mastered the art of keeping me in suspense: Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Gillian Flynn, and of course the Mistress of Mystery, Agatha Christie. In fact, uppermost in my mind when I wrote my latest thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother, was how to balance telling a good story while keeping readers in suspense.

As far as films go, keeping the viewer in suspense entails a bit more and no one did it better than Alfred Hitchcock.  Unfortunately, not every director was as capable as Hitchcock, and often viewers could see things coming way before they were meant to.  Of course, many viewers actually enjoy the ride and figuring out the ending early on.

Do you love watching a suspense film and knowing what’s ‘around the corner’?  Many  movies, especially the vintage ones, offer the viewer plenty of clues as to what lies ahead. The obvious cliché, of course, is the young woman in the horror film who, alone in the house, decides to go down to the basement in order to ‘investigate a noise’. 

Ten giveaways that portend what is going to happen by the end of the movie:

1.   If someone is lying on his deathbed cheerfully relaying what his plans are for the immediate future, odds are there is no future in store, immediate or otherwise.

2.   If a questionable character poses the question, ‘Do you have any close family or friends, anyone who would miss you if, say, you disappeared?’ it would be best for our hero or heroine to proceed with caution.

3.   If we are only witness to a gloved hand committing a murder, the murderer is most likely a woman. (It also stands to reason that if a serial killer is not committing sex crimes, there’s a good chance that, here too, the killer is a woman.)

4.   In a mystery where someone has done something very, very evil, a look at the credits will often suggest who the heavy is even before the film has begun. (ie. Don Porter in older films and perhaps Christopher Walken in newer ones).

5.   A former bad guy who turns good and fingers his cronies will still have to die, but will die a ‘noble death’ (ie. saving the life of the heroine).

6.   If a woman lets go of her toddler’s hand for any reason (ie. to pay a cashier or to powder her nose) said toddler will inevitably wander into traffic with dire consequences.

7.   It is rarely the guy on the lower end of the food chain who is morally responsible for a crime committed. Usually the heavy is a man of influence (editor of a newspaper, politician, or corporate heavy).

8.   If a woman marries a man about whose background she knows very little, she will probably live to regret it. (This is particularly the case in films made prior to Google).

9.   If a beloved pet is introduced at the beginning of a murder mystery there is, unfortunately, a good chance that said pet will not be alive by the end of the film.

10. If a woman laughs at a furious man and he warns her to stop laughing at him, it’s a safe bet that the man, often a psychopath, will put an end to the laughing by either strangling or stabbing her to death.

            And of course, if a film ends in an intentionally ambiguous way, we can assume that the producers are thinking ‘sequel’.
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Blurb for "If You Should Read This, Mother", by Vivian Rhodes


Megan Daniels was only three years old the day President John F.  Kennedy was assassinated, but flashes of that day begin to trigger other disturbing memories that have lain dormant within her.  At first they are merely snippets, but as they begin to appear more frequently Megan has difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined. In her attempt to learn more, she sets out to find her biological mother, but keeps hitting brick walls. No adoption papers exist, and all she has to go on is her possible birthday: November 22. In the small town of Meredith, CA, Megan’s search takes on a dire, domino effect—one woman has already been murdered as a result of her inquiries. As she digs for the truth, Megan eventually unravels a sinister plot that began decades earlier, but in doing so she places her own life in jeopardy.





 Vivian Rhodes, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication, is a published mystery novelist and two time Emmy-nominated television writer, having written for daytime serials such as General Hospital and As the World Turns. Her Lifetime movie, Stolen from the Womb airs frequently, most recently in May 2016. Her suspense thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother is available at www.Blackopalbooks.com , and Amazon, and can be ordered through local bookstores as well. Her novel, Groomed for Murder is now available as an e-book on Amazon, Ms. Rhodes lives in Los Angeles, where she is an adjunct instructor at Cal Lutheran University. She is presently completing work on her next novel, Girl Obsessed, and writes about all things nostalgic- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled. (VivianRhodes.blogspot.com)

Amazon links: https://www.amazon.com/You-Sould-Read-This-Mother/dp/1626946957/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497895444&sr=1-2&keywords=Rhodes%2C+Vivian

Monday, June 12, 2017

What Matters Most: The Readers

Time and again, I have discovered that the biggest reward of being an author has little to do with money.

Yesterday, I was once again in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Treasure House Books and Gifts, a small, independent bookstore that specializes in books about New Mexico and the Southwest. As always, the bookstore owners, Jim and John Hoffsis, were gracious and genuinely glad to see me. Not because I'm a huge draw and my book sales make enough for them to close shop early and take lavish vacations, but because I really enjoy visiting their shop and talking to their customers.

This time, I met readers from Oregon and Florida, newcomers to New Mexico and mystery readers. I was thrilled and touched that they chose, out of all the books in the shop, my first novel, "End of the Road", to introduce them to my beloved home state and the characters that are uniquely New Mexican. Of course, it wasn't purely choice that led them to my books; they practically tripped over me and my proffered cookie plate (I've said many times that authors WILL stoop to bribes, including gingersnaps, to entice readers!) But I did my best to present myself and my books in the best possible light. One woman, an English teacher from Carlsbad, listened to me talk about my books and she said, "You must really love what you do."

Did she mean the writing of the book? Or the selling? It's all about the creative process--creating characters and stories that connect with readers. Naturally, not every person on the planet will be enamored of my books, but that's okay. My Black Horse Campground readers ARE my world and they make it a fun place!

A few weeks ago, my husband surprised me with a party on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, one of Noisy Water Winery's tasting rooms (where I work part time), inviting, not only my friends and family, but a favorite local entertainer. After his show, he joined us at our table where we shared wonderful wine and conversation. Somehow, the talk turned to my books and a lively debate broke out among my family and friends--Team Rick vs. Team J.D.! It was a delight to hear these people--people who genuinely love and care about me--talk about something that means so much to me with such enthusiasm. They even voiced my rarely-spoken dream of someday seeing my books on film, either TV or movie. Someone mentioned audio book versions and Chris, the entertainer, offered to voice J.D. for the project!

No amount of money could equate what I felt on that afternoon or what I felt yesterday afternoon or what I feel every time I sign a book for a reader. It's far more humbling and satisfying and I am blessed to have the opportunity to experience that. I may never retire on my author earnings, but the memories will last me a lifetime. That's a far greater treasure.


Meeting a new reader at a previous book signing at Treasure House... it never gets old!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Move Over Toto: More Pets Belong in Fiction--A guest post by J.L. Greger

I hope you all are enjoying a relaxing Memorial Day, but I'm slinging vino at a wine fest and fellow Oak Tree Press author, J. L. (Janet) Greger, author of the Sara Almquist mysteries, is guest posting about pets in ficton!

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According to poll of social media users, almost two-thirds of pet owners claim they post two comments or photos of their pets on social media weekly. Half of these pet owners claim photos and notes on pets draw more responses than their other posts.

Are these bits of trivia relevant to fiction writers?
I think there are several reasons for including animals in fiction.

  • Animals increase the appeal of fiction to wider audiences. Cuddly pets are a staple of children’s books cozy mysteries. However, animals are legitimate secondary characters in serious adult fiction. Think of Cat in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Probably, the most famous fictional dog is Toto in the Wizard of Oz. A Cairn Terrier, originally named Terry, played the role in the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz He was so popular that Willard Carroll published his biography (I, Toto: The Autobiography of Terry, the Dog who was Toto) in 2001.

  • Pets can advance the plot. In my latest thriller, Riddled with Clues, Sara Almquist is able to help solve riddles left by a homeless veteran and hence solve murders in Albuquerque because she and her pet therapy dog, Bug, are volunteers at the VA hospital and clinics. They know a few of the intricacies of the VA campus of more seventy buildings and are known by staff and patients. Bug in my novels is based on my real life Japanese Chin pet therapy dog. Just look at him. I guarantee patients and staff notice him more than me.

Come to think of it, the sheriff and his posse in Westerns couldn’t chase and capture the bad guys without their horses.

  • Authors can often show a different side of human characters by allowing characters to interact with their pets. For example, my world-traveling scientist and heroine, Sara Almquist, is a no-nonsense woman, except when it comes to Bug. Her cute, bundle of fur brings out her softer side. Asta, the wire-haired terrier, makes the rather stiff William Powell more likeable in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

  • Pets are fun to write about. I enjoy including Bug, my Japanese Chin, in my thriller series (Coming Flu, Ignore the Pain, Malignancy, and I Saw You in Beirut, Riddled with Clues). Besides being beautiful, he’s smart. (Don’t I sound like the typical pet owner in the survey?) Similarly, Amy Bennett enjoys writing about an ancient Black Lab named Renfro in her Black Horse Campground Mysteries.

Maybe, you should include a dog or cat in your next writing project. Or be creative and give your human character a more unusual alter ego, like a fish or a raccoon.

 
Blurb for Riddled with Clues: A hospitalized friend gives Sara Almquist a note, which he received just before he was severely injured while investigating the movement of drugs into the U.S. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. The friend is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the secret war in Laos fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust besides Bug: the local cops, FBI agents, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues all across the VA Campus in Albuquerque. 
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237



Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Gift of Experiences

Having just celebrated my 50th birthday, I resisted the urge to write just another blog post about the passage of time and the changes one experiences as they get older and blah, blah, blah. What I actually want to talk about is gifts.

When a person celebrates a birthday or anniversary, the automatic reaction of their friends and family is to find a perfect gift, especially if it happens to be a milestone event (like turning 50!) However, as the years have passed, the attraction and need for material gifts has faded for me. Not to say I'm not pleased with receiving a material gift, but a lot depends on what it is and what it means.

There are few "things" that I really need and if I do need--or want--something, I'll usually get it for myself. I'm at the point in my life that I don't need or want material expressions of affection or just token gifts. I'm looking at de-cluttering my home and life and nothing makes that harder than to be faced with the situation where most of the clutter is from gifts that people gave you because they care about you. It's not that one doesn't appreciate them, but one does feel a bit guilty when having to get rid of them because they are taking over the living spaces, creating more work (such as dusting) when one is already strapped for time, and stashing them away makes no sense since one gets no enjoyment from a gift in storage.

One thing I've come to learn is that, as I get older, and house space gets smaller is that space for memories gets bigger. The kind of gifts I enjoy are experiences. This was brought home to me this past weekend. I wanted nothing more than to spend an afternoon on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, a wine bar/tasting room where I work part time, and enjoy some glasses of wine and food with close friends and family. This is what we did and it was wonderful, especially since my husband had contacted a friend who is an entertainer with a busy schedule and was able to arrange to have him perform at the The Cellar that afternoon. Wine, food, music, friends and family... it was perfect! The best part was that, not only did I get to add memories but my friends and family did and I hope they will enjoy looking back on this one as much as I will!

I think the expression on my face says it all!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Busy, Busy, Busy

Somewhere I read a quote stating that if one wanted to get something done, assign the task to the busiest person. 

Some days, I feel like I'm the designated busiest person.

This is the month of May which, anyone who has ever worked in the bakery business knows, is the busiest month of the year for cake decorators. With Mother's Day, graduations, and weddings (no, it's really not June that's the busiest month for weddings) along with several religious occasions (First Holy Communions and Confirmations), it's the one time of the year that management turns a blind eye to a little overtime and when I tell my husband and son (and the rest of my family) that we'll see each other in June. The fact that my birthday falls almost exactly in the middle of the month, doesn't matter. We'll celebrate in June.

So why on earth would I schedule the launch of my fifth book, "A Summer to Remember", not just in May, but on Mother's Day, of all days??? After working an early morning six-hour shift at the bakery, no less?

Well, it's going to make a great story to include in my bio when I hit it big, that's for sure. I should have a section where I drag my weary body home after a 12-hour shift, on my seventh straight day of work, to find a letter telling me that my book series has been optioned by Hollywood and I've become a millionaire overnight (yes, I've already written that section, after said 12-hour seventh day and two glasses of wine. Go ahead and judge.)

Because, no matter how tired I am, I love what I do. Yes, even the bakery job. I get to be creative and I get paid for it. I sling vino part time and I love that, too. And I write. Not as often as I would like, but I do it and it gets published and people read it and they like it. Sometimes I even get some money from it, but that has nothing to do with the love.

Busy people are happy people. I treasure my down time, however little it is, and because I know the likelihood of my fantasy scene from my bio coming true is extremely slim. I will probably be working for most of my life. And that's okay. Because the work I do is fun. And I don't mind doing it for the rest of my life. 

That includes the cake decorating, too.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Meet My Friend, Marilyn Meredith, and her Rocky Bluff P.D. Mystery Series!

Today, I'm turning the Back Deck Blog over to my friend and fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith. Sit back and relax with a cup of coffee (or chai, Marilyn's preference!) while Marilyn tells us about herself and her Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series, including her latest release, "Unresolved'!



This is the topic Amy asked for—so I’ll tell you what’s not in the bio.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. Getting married young to a Seabee who wasn’t home a lot and raising five kids, didn’t leave much time for fiction writing. However, I did write PTA newsletters and plays for my Camp Fire Girls to perform. I didn’t start writing fiction until I was a grandmother and was published for the first time in 1982. I’ve had many jobs and endeavors over the years from being a telephone operator, a pre-school and day care center teacher, owned and administrated a six bed home for developmentally disabled women, but all the time I wrote a lot, concentrating on mysteries because that’s what I liked to read.

The first book in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Final Respects, came about because of the stories my police officer son-in-law told me about his job. I knew I had to write about police officers and their families. While we lived in the small beach community I based the RBPD setting on, we had many police families in our neighborhood. I also became a member of the Public Safety Writers Association and made friends with many law enforcement officers who have become a great resource to me.

Of course when I was writing that first book, I had no idea that eventually there’d be 13 books in the series. What happened is once I was finished with one book, I wanted to know what happened next to the people I’d created. The only way to find out was to write another book.

I’ve always told people that the books are as much about the families as the crimes that are committed. In my experience, the police officers I know are for the most part nothing like those I see depicted in movies and TV. And that’s probably the reason that some folks say that the series borders on being cozy. I must admit the books have become a bit “softer” since the first four.

Each book is written so it can be read as a stand-alone, but the lives of the police officers and their families are ongoing.

I hope you’ll try # 13, Unresolved.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith


#13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Unresolved Blurb:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping as well as all the usual places.

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/


And tomorrow’s topic, May 9, Research.



Monday, April 24, 2017

Defining Success as a Writer

Success is a word that can be defined in many ways. Most people would believe that an author would define success in terms of New York Times best-seller list rankings. Or the amount of money made from book sales. Or winning Pulitzer or Nobel prizes.

Writers, for the most part, undertake the task of putting thoughts, ideas, and stories down on paper for the purpose of being heard and hopefully understood. I don't know many writers who purposely sit down to write for the sole purpose of making money. Even the best-selling authors whose books get turned into movies didn't start their writing career because they wanted to get rich. They wrote because they had stories to tell. 

It would be easy to quote Harvey MacKay: "Find something you love to do, and you'll never work a day in your life." However, unless you've figured how to make a living taking naps, even the things you love to do require a great deal of work. Writing is no exception. Becoming a successful writer requires even more work. It's not enough just to put words down on paper. Or even to have a book or novel published (that can be done for free these days, with minimal talent.)

I've been a published writer for almost five years now and the success I've had has little to do with finances or literary prizes. This past weekend, my husband and I traveled about 200 miles to attend a book signing in a small, independent bookstore in Albuquerque, NM. It was a slow weekend and, as the shop owners told me, business has been hurt by nearby road construction which discourages people from venturing in to the Old Town area. Any money I made on that trip didn't even cover the cost of the trip (gas, parking fees, and one meal.)

The success came in the form of having the bookstore owners happy to see me. They like my work and it sells. Customers who came in and ventured over to meet a "real" author expressed interest in my books and a few bought copies (and hopefully will purchase the rest of the series.) Others merely congratulated me and wished me well. And when I walked up to the store, there, on a poster, was my book cover and the words "Author Signing Today". Not every writer gets that privilege.

That's what I call success.

Me, at a previous signing at Treasure House. It's always worth the trip!


















Monday, April 17, 2017

Announcing the Release of "A Summer to Remember"!

If you had told me twenty-five years ago that I'd be announcing the publication of my fifth novel...

I probably would have believed you.

I remember clearly the first day I sat down and tentatively began typing the first words of a novel that has yet to see the light of day (beyond my and my husband's eyes.) I had been reading books on the craft of novel writing, I had subscribed to both "The Writer" and "Writer's Digest", I had steno pads with lists of names and notes about a story idea. What I felt was a weirdly exhilarating feeling of fear and excitement. Could I really write a book? Could it be good? Would someone besides me read it? Would they like it? Would I get paid to do it?

It took twenty years to get to where I get paid for what I write. And even now, I still feel that same feeling of being scared to death and being on top of the world when I first sit down to write another book. What trumps that feeling is the feeling I get when I hold the finished, printed product in my hands.

Perhaps it sounds egotistical and presumptuous to state that, back then, when becoming an author, a novelist, seemed like a pipe dream, I always knew it would happen someday. It was probably more wishful thinking than anything else, but no matter how many times I received a rejection letter, no  matter how many times I struggled to get the words to say what I really meant, no matter how many times I felt frustrated, giving up was never an option. Because I knew--I KNEW--that someday, I would have a book published.

Those dreams never went so far as to having me win a Pulitzer... just the New York Times best-seller list. But even if that never happens, even if I never make a huge amount of money, even if I only have a small but dedicated group of readers, I've already proven that dreams can come true. It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of persistence and patience, and a thick skin. That's what took twenty-plus years to develop. But those were the tools I needed to succeed.

So on that note, let me introduce you to the fifth book in the Black Horse Campground mystery series, "A Summer to Remember"!

It's been a memorable year at the Black Horse Campground. But someone wants certain things forgotten....

After Bonney Police detective J.D. Wilder wraps up three cold-case murders, believing that the murderer was his former partner, he tries to focus on his personal life in his new hometown and his budding relationship with Corrie Black, owner of the Black Horse Campground.

When he receives information that proves his former partner wasn't the murderer, the case is reopened with the knowledge and urgency that the killer is poised to strike again. But who held a grudge against the three cold-case victims... and who is that person's next target? With the help of Bonney County Sheriff Rick Sutton, J.D. probes the memories of several Bonney residents who knew the victims and begins to make connections.


Then another death occurs and while J.D. and Rick are investigating, Corrie is attacked. The attacker and the cold-case murderer could be the same person, but Corrie's condition is critical and she's lost her memories of the entire previous year... including the identity of her attacker and even having met J.D. Will she survive long enough to remember what happened? Or will she end up as a memory and the murderer gets away once again?

Available in print from amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Summer-Remember-Black-Campground-Mysteries/dp/1938436229/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492377279&sr=1-1&keywords=bennett%2C+amy+m




Monday, April 10, 2017

Patience and Perfection: On Editing a Book for Publication

Anyone who's ever written just about anything that is to be seen by an audience knows one thing is true: gremlins insert typos and mistakes into the finished product.

It has to be that. It can't be carelessness or anything that would be the writer's fault. Right?

The hard truth is that, as stated perfectly in a Facebook meme, "I do my best proofreading after I hit 'send'." I know that I do my very best to find all the typos, glitches, misspelled words, missing words, and messed-up indentations and paragraph breaks BEFORE I send my work to my beta-readers, editors, and--especially--my publisher. Imagine my chagrin when my manuscript comes back to me with a list of things that need to be corrected attached. And it's not a short list, either.

So I spend the next few days going over the manuscript line by line, scrupulously fixing all the mistakes that were brought to my attention. And once done, I send it off again.

And I get it back a few days later. With a new list of new mistakes.

It's harder this time around. I've already seen the manuscript at least a dozen times already, so I have several key passages memorized. That's where the gremlins hide; in plain sight in the most often read paragraphs. Because the writer KNOWS what the paragraph is supposed to say, so the eyes and brain skip over the exact words on the page, including the word "her" masquerading as "he", the character's name being substituted for another's, and an errant comma popping up where it doesn't belong.

This is where a writer needs to be patient, not just with the extra eyes that spot all of the gremlins' shenanigans, but with him or herself. It's tempting, after two or three rounds of corrections with a deadline looming, to just say, "Okay, the corrections are done, just go with it!" I've hit that wall more than once, especially with this last book that I've been working on. But it's important to soldier on and not be discouraged. It helps to remind oneself that it's the writer who will look foolish when the reading public finds the errors.

I've learned to be patient and not rush through the editing process, no matter how badly I want to be done and move on to publication. I want to make a good impression on the readers so that they will want to read more of my work. Errors will still sneak through (those gremlins have an uncanny knack for being persistent!) but a large amount of mistakes send a message to the reader that the author doesn't care enough to deliver the best work they can. That's definitely not the message I want to send my readers.

They deserve my very best!


Getting after the gremlins... caffeine helps!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Finding Time vs. Making Time

I've often said that many times it's not a matter of "finding" time to do the things one wants to do, but simply a matter of "making" time. After all, it's a matter of priorities, isn't it? Writing or watching TV? Editing or going to a movie with friends? Blogging or... taking care of family?

It's a common joke (sort of) that writers struggle to decide between laundry and housework or working on their novel. But when a writer suddenly finds him or herself having to take care of family... it's not a laughing matter.

Whether it's taking care of a new baby in the house or an elderly person who needs assistance,that is when a writer has to develop a knack for finding time. It make be a few moments in between naps or during a favorite TV show (the family member's, not the writer's!), or getting up an hour earlier or staying up later, but one thing is certain: a writer no longer has the luxury of time.

This is when a writer must really take to heart the fact that writing IS a job. However little time one can find, it's important to take it seriously. Writing, sadly, can easily be relegated to the category of tasks considered to be frivolous or merely entertaining. A writer must treat their writing time seriously in order for others to treat it seriously as well.

Those stolen moments must be utilized to their fullest. Five minutes might not be long enough to immerse oneself in the latest work-in-progress, but it might be enough time for a character sketch or a quick blog post, maybe even a Facebook post.

Just try to fight the temptation to start browsing Facebook instead of working!


Monday, March 20, 2017

An Evening at a Book Club Meeting

This past Thursday, I was invited to attend a book club meeting in Tularosa. The meeting was hosted by a woman that is my husband's co-worker. He encouraged her to buy my first book, "End of the Road", several months ago and she chose it for her book club's discussion.

I had never attended a book club meeting before, not even as a member, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find all the members gathered in the kitchen with glasses of Jo Mamma's White wine from Noisy Water Winery! Terry, the hostess, explained that they always have a dinner to match the theme of the book they're reading. The menu was lifted from the pages of the first Black Horse Campground book: enchiladas with rice and beans, blueberry muffins, and pinon coffee!

We sat down and talked about what the members enjoyed most about the book and the general consensus was that their favorite element was the setting. Bonney County, though fictional, became real to them. One woman enjoyed the "red herrings" ("a la Agatha Christie", she said) and all of them had aligned themselves with one or the other of the two heroes: Team Rick or Team J.D.!

It was entertaining and informative and very humbling; these women had all been reading rather literary works. For them to say that they enjoyed my books and want to read more of them was a great compliment. I was sorry to see the evening end, but I hope that these readers will encourage others to read my books as well!


Monday, March 13, 2017

The Exciting, Glamorous Life of a Mystery Author

Laundry is chugging away in the washer, breakfast is cooked and eaten, the dishes done and put away. The floor has been Swiffer-ed (can't really call it sweeping, right?) in preparation for a mopping and I am staring at a dining room table that desperately needs to be cleaned off (because everything somehow ends up on any surface that isn't currently being used and we tend to eat in the kitchen rather than the dining room.)

Welcome to my exciting, glamorous life!

I'm not sure how NYT best-selling authors normally spend their Sundays, but that's how I spend, not just my Sundays, most of my days. There's always something that needs to be done that has little or nothing to do with books or writing. In fact, most of my author friends spend their days pretty much the same way I do.

Most authors lead very mundane lives. We do our own chores, work full-time jobs, pay our bills, and interact with friends and family on a daily basis. In short, we live the sort of lives that many of our characters lead but we would never write about.

This is not to say that we live vicariously through our characters because we have absolutely no drama or excitement in our lives. Thankfully, for those of us who write murder mysteries, the excitement is mainly limited to traveling to new places, trying new foods, learning new hobbies, and having fun with friends and family. Occasionally we have some unwanted crisis create drama--an illness, a fender bender, a dead washing machine, an overdue bill--but we rarely experience the sort of excitement and drama that feeds the plot of a thriller.

It would be easy for me to veg in front of the TV during days off and vacation times; after all, my husband and I work full time jobs and downtime is precious. But we are insatiably adventurous (in our own low-key way!) and downtime is a rare opportunity to indulge in a drive in the country, maybe a stop for lunch in a new place, or to try something we've never done before, like picking grapes in a vineyard or hiking a trail we haven't explored yet.

While we'll probably never spend a week on the Riviera or walk the Great Wall of China, we still enjoy our adventures... more so because of how rare and precious our time to enjoy them is. It's a great life!

 Wading in the surf in Cozumel... definitely not an average vacation opportunity!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Details, Details

I took some time off from my "real job" and used it to work on my "dream job" and to goof off and catch up on some reading.

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and also one of my most distressing. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and I have a tendency to obsess over the possibility of making mistakes but reading a book that is in published form and, therefore, "set in stone" and finding mistakes gives me a low grade headache and mild nausea. Maybe it's empathy, you know, I understand how the author is probably dying of mortification somewhere in the Bahamas and all the royalties in the world can't make up for the fact that such a blatant mistake is obviously not keeping their book from selling like hotcakes and racking up rave reviews on amazon, and....

Wait, back up, I took the wrong exit somewhere back there....

Anyway, what happened was that I was in the middle of a good book, the first in a series that featured a couple of my favorite themes--primarily, a New Mexico setting--when the misspelling of the second-largest city in the state of New Mexico jumped out at me. This, from an author whose bio stated that New Mexico was her second home. It's not the first time I've noticed something like that. Another book I read--written by a person who had a Ph.D.--misspelled Otero County THREE times. In one paragraph.

There is a lot to be said for double checking facts. I understand and know that typos happen and everyone's best proofreading occurs after the book is in print. But then there are mistakes that are simply a matter of failing to check facts. I've learned this from reading factual details in several books that were plain wrong. Area 51 isn't in New Mexico. That's a big one many people might catch. But what if you're talking about a lesser known landmark or location, say, the Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque? If your character is in the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque, how long will it take him to get to the museum? If you've done your research, maybe five minutes... even if he's walking. Same thing if you set your character in New York, Paris, San Francisco, London, etc. If you're going to have your character move and live in a real, as opposed to a fictional, location, you'd better know the details of certain popular and well-known landmarks as well as which streets run where.

Even if you're using a fictional setting, such as Bonney County, you need to keep track of details, especially if you're writing a series. If, in Book One, you mention a certain business is owned by a certain person or is in a certain location, it better still be there owned by that person and in that same location in Book Five unless you've explained why circumstances have changed in the preceding books.

Details bring a story to life, so it's important to make sure that those details are correct. Writers owe it to their readers to do their best to do that.


New Mexico is better known than you might think! Double check those details!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Living the Life You Write

Don't let the title mislead you.

I'm not saying that I live the life of a murderer, murder suspect, murder investigator, or murder victim. At least, I sincerely hope not! Let's set aside genre for the moment and just talk about characters and settings.

I grew up reading V.C. Andrews novels. Yes, I did! And one thing I noticed is that her characters (at least in her earlier series, such as the Casteel, the Cutler, and the Logan family series) went from one extreme to the other--dirt poor to filthy rich. There didn't seem to be any middle class in her characters. Never having been either extreme, I found it hard to relate to those characters (though the stories were a guilty indulgence, much like watching reality TV is these days!)

I suppose I could write about a wildly rich family and all their trials and tribulations, but I think I'm too practical minded. The very thought of hosting a multi-million dollar wedding for a child of mine makes me physically ill. So does the idea of paying full price for an item at Dress Barn when I have a coupon that will take 10% off. You get the picture.

Poor characters are ones with which I can more readily identify. Not that I've had to worry about starving to death on the streets (thank you, Lord) but I know the hollow feeling that comes with deciding which bill to pay and how to squeeze grocery money out of a squeezed-dry budget. I know what it feels like to skip a simple $1 cup of coffee from McDonald's simply because you need that dollar to pay for bus fare to your next job.

Living the life you write has to do with how the writer--and the characters he or she creates--deal with everyday life. Whether a character is rich or poor or in between doesn't change whether that character is whiny and self-absorbed or feisty and hard-working. It doesn't change how a character views the world around him or her. Either they are eternally optimistic and see beauty in the poorest surroundings or they're clinically depressed pessimists who will always find a flaw, even in Heaven. Either way, the story will be unique to that character.

It's good to have a mixture of characters and settings, but ultimately, it's the author's perceptions that color the characters' world.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Silence--A Writer's Best Friend

There are some folks who can lose themselves in the hustle and bustle of daily life. They can slip away in their minds despite all the noise and busy-ness around them. It's something I've learned to do while at my daily job in retail (Walmart isn't known for being a quiet place!) I can tune out the noise and distractions of dozens of people talking, squawking announcements from the P.A. system, the sounds of carts and racks rolling over tiled floors and the noise from the chicken fryer (which sounds, disconcertingly, like thunderous applause.)

As a writer, though, there are times when the noise just needs to go away. I can usually work with the day-to-day sounds of everyday life at home, including the TV going on while my husband and son discuss the respective merits of the Cowboys and Steelers. I'll usually set my Pandora station to play '80s pop or classic rock from the '70s while I prepare dinner. But when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, that's when I need some silence.

Right now, I've been given the incredible gift of solitude and silence for about ten days. I'm off from work and accompanying my husband on an out-of-town trip while he obtains his contractor's license. Except for the refrigerator humming, the heater clicking on, and traffic passing by on a nearby street, the only sound to be heard is the clicking of my laptop keys. No, not even the sounds of Pandora playing Dan Fogelberg or Pat Benatar.

I have learned to write in the midst of the noisy world. I had to. Moments of silence are rare when one is trying get through an ordinary day's chores and obligations and deadlines don't wait. A writer's thoughts have to shout to be heard and, as almost anyone will tell you, tone of voice conveys a lot. In silence, a writer's thoughts can be heard in the tone in which they're meant to be spoken and the meaning can come through more clearly.

So I will cherish this time and make the most of it. Enjoy your silence when you find it!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Meet Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mysteries!

One of the perks of being a cozy mystery author is getting to meet new cozy mystery authors... and new friends! Let me introduce you to Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mystery series!

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.  

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. 


The first in the Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series of books about a woman who blogs by day and solves crimes by night, Gilian Baker’s Blogging is Murder is already winning over cozy fans and authors alike.

Gilian Baker is the author of Blogging is Murder, the first in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. Blogging is Murder will be released on Amazon on February 19, 2017 and is now available for pre-order.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
Sure, Amy. Blogging is Murder introduces readers to Jade Blackwell, a former tenured English professor who left the rat race behind to start a blog. She’s a vivacious reader of classic mysteries and is lovably nosy.:) In the first scene she learns that her friend and fellow blogger, Liz Collins is being cyber-stalked by a crazed fan. Things escalate quickly— the stalker is murdered and Liz is the prime suspect. To help her friend, Jade sets out to prove she didn’t do it. Unfortunately, Jade’s “help” ends up making matters worse, and Liz is thrown in jail. Full of guilt, Jade enlists her friend and lawyer Gabrielle Langdon to take the case. After many false starts, plot twists and mishaps, Jade accidently breaking the case wide open, while putting herself in harm’s way.

What are your writing techniques? For example, do you pants it or plot it?
The first step for me is to come up with a kernel of an idea and then just start writing. I write until I come up against something in the plot I’m not sure how to handle or until I’m out of ideas of what to write next. When that happens I take a break from it for a day or so. I might journal about it too. I find that the answers to the plot problem or where to go from there is inside me. I just have to coax it out.

After the plot and characters have developed enough for me to get a clear picture of where I’m going, I’ll go back and add in clues, red herrings, etc. Sometimes I have to add a new character or change an existing one based on where the plot is going.

I’ve tried to sit down and plot out each chapter, but all I do is stare at the page. I just can’t write fiction that way. Maybe it’s because I do everything else as a plotter—I’m a planner, organizer and list-maker to the extreme. So when it comes to the creative thing in my life, my mind won’t do anything but pants-it.
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
Yes, I do, for now. I taught college English for years, but was able to “turn in my syllabus” over a year ago. Now I have a few different day jobs, including a ghostwriting service. As I’ve written and marketed this first book though, “author-ing” has become a large part of most of my work days. I expect with book two and beyond it will become even more so.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
The biggest surprise has been that the writing process is the same no matter what you are writing. As I said, I taught college student how to write for years, so I “get” the writing process. But somehow, I thought writing fiction would require a different type of process. But I find myself using the same one that I used when I was writing literary criticism in grad school. I find that concept fascinating and exciting.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.

I’ve started working on the second book in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. It will be released in May 2017. I plan on moving further into the world of “author” and moving out of earning my living through the other types of writing I currently do. In addition to the Jade Blackwell mystery series, I have an idea for another cozy mystery series percolating now. I look forward to “authoring” the rest of my life.

Though she was certainly born with all the traits of a world-class private detective, blogger Jade Blackwell believed she would do nothing more than solve the murders in her latest favorite cozy mystery book… All of that changed when her best friend, Liz, is framed for murder. Now it’s up to Jade to help her friend regain her life and get Liz off the hook. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

Visit Gilian Baker's website to learn more about her and her book and upcoming news!
http://gilianbaker.com/


The trailer for Blogging is Murder is changing what people think about book trailers. The recently released live action video trailer features real actors, real blogging, and real murder mystery.

View the trailer for Blogging is Murder on YouTube:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEhhctO0iRM

Order "Blogging is Murder: A Jade Blackwell Mystery" here!

https://www.amazon.com/Blogging-Murder-Jade-Blackwell-Mystery/dp/1542331064/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490834369&sr=1-1&keywords=baker%2C+gilian

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flexibility--A Must for Writing and for Life

One thing I always tried to teach my son and my nieces and nephews is to be flexible. If an outing that was planned well in advance turned out to be cancelled by circumstances beyond my control (such as thunderstorms or someone getting sick), we went to Plan B and didn't have a meltdown over the ruined Plan A. This actually worked well in real life, but since we're talking about small children, it didn't always go smoothly. However, as they have grown, the lesson did sink in eventually,

Life doesn't always flow as smoothly as we would like. Things come up and plans, even long-laid plans, need to change to adapt to new circumstances. Sometimes it's short-term and the original plans can be picked up at a later time. Other times, however, it's a matter of getting used to the "new normal".

When I start to write a story, I have an idea of what's going to happen. I can picture scenes, details, even dialogue. But when I get down to putting the idea on paper, things sometimes change. A great scene I had planned out suddenly makes the outcome of the story different. Do I ditch the scene, or rethink the ending? That great line of dialogue suddenly sounds better coming from someone other than the character I had originally planned to have deliver it. Maybe I can leave it without affecting the rest of the story or maybe I have to tweak the story to make it work with that character speaking the line. Or I can eliminate that bit of dialogue and write something else. The point is that having the flexibility to allow changes to the original enables one to move forward rather than getting mired down in what was originally planned.

In real life, adjustments aren't always that easy. For now, my 90-year-old mother has joined our household. It may be an extended visit or it may be longer term. Either way, adjustments must be made. The day-to-day routine has to be altered to accommodate another person with different needs than the rest of the household members. In a way, it's not so different from having a new baby in the house.

In life, things happen. We hope for good things, but sometimes it's bad things, like a friend whose life was altered when her daughter was in a car wreck and lost mobility in her legs. Her daughter could very rightly spend her days in a funk--and who could blame her?--but she has taken this as a challenge and, no matter the outcome, that spirit of optimism, of making the best of her situation, which is so different from her own personal Plan A, will surely make her life and recovery so much happier.

It's a good way to go through life and I hope I always remember to face Plan B--whether in life or in my work, writing or otherwise--with as much enthusiasm that I had for Plan A.



Always keep looking up!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Winter Blahs

It seems that winter is dragging this year. Perhaps that's my own perception because it seemed that winter took forever to get here in the first place... and maybe it's not really here yet.

Winter has always been characterized as being synonymous with Christmas and festivities of all sorts and, therefore, a happy time of year. Snowy days, sledding and snowman building, drinking cocoa by a roaring fire have a "Christmas card" kind of coziness that bare trees, bare ground, and 30 mile an hour winds, coupled with 30 degree temperatures, seem to lack.

Having been born and raised in El Paso, Texas, I'm pretty much a desert rat. I like warm, sunny days (in El Paso, that's about 90 degrees) and cold weather puts me in a grump. You can complain about blazing hot midday sunshine, but nothing compares to the warm evenings on the back deck (or porch) with a cold glass of iced tea or your beverage of choice. In the winter time, evenings just get colder and darker and the deck or porch is less hospitable! Coming home from work in the afternoon during summer means a few good hours of sunshine left to enjoy. Coming home from work in the afternoon during winter means having to turn on the lights when you walk into the house and feeling like bedtime is just around the corner and dinner isn't even cooked yet.

It's not even the end of January and I'm already anxious for the start of summer. Not spring; spring in this part of the country means wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour with blowing dust. Summer, with its early sunrises, longer days, evenings around a campfire, flipflops, and green grass and trees.

Right now that mountain in the background is covered with snow

Now I'm going to go put another log on the fire....

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Cookin'?

If there's anything I enjoy more than writing, it's cooking.

I love to read cookbooks and I love perusing recipes online. I used to subscribe to three different cooking magazines until I realized that I didn't have time to read them all, much less make all the recipes (plus, how many recipes for lasagna does one need??)

I like to be adventurous in the kitchen, which is why I'll read a recipe and sometimes begin to imagine it with different ingredients. I like to put my own spin on things by substituting favorites. Shrimp instead of scallops, spinach instead of kale, maybe a squeeze of lemon, green chile makes everything better... and it can be hit or miss. Either my husband and son will demand it be made again and again or it will be retired on the grounds that sometimes even unconditional love has some limits.

In a way, that pretty much describes my writing habits. I feed my writing and story-creating by reading a lot of books. This explains why my house has hundreds of books in it, many which have been read over and over. And this is why the flavor of what I love to read permeates my own writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. My beta-readers definitely let me know if it's not tasting good. And thankfully my readers have been telling me that they like what they're getting!

It's good to have a creative outlet that feeds the body and the soul. Cooking and writing do both for me. Both are a labor of love. And once the cleanup is done--dishes and editing--it's always fun to start again!
Migas and beans... comfort food at it's best! You'll find my recipe and many others in the Oak Tree Press authors cookbook:
https://www.amazon.com/Recipes-Book-Tree-Authors-Cook/dp/1610092554/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484523073&sr=1-1&keywords=recipes+by+the+book+oak+tree+authors+cook

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Afternoon at a Book Talk

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at the Capitan Public Library in Capitan, New Mexico. The audience consisted of the library book club and writers' group. It was one of the largest groups I've ever addressed and one of the most fun!

It makes a difference when one is addressing a group of writers. For one thing, I didn't have to worry about sounding crazy or foolish when I talked about the problems a writer encounters--writer's block, editing woes, insecurity about showing our work. It was refreshing to be able to mention, say, the panic that ensues when one is in the shower or at work (work that doesn't require a desk and writing utensils) and a fabulous bit of dialogue pops into your mind or that tricky plot twist suddenly becomes untangled and you need a pen and piece of paper to get it down immediately... and everyone smiles and nods. They know. They've experienced it.

It always intimidates me a little when I do speak to a group of writers. As a published author, they expect me to know all the ins and outs of writing and publishing. It's humbling to admit that I don't have all the answers. The only true answer I can give when they ask, "How did you get a publishing contract?" is, "I got lucky."

That's not to dismiss or downplay the amount of hard work I put into learning to master the craft of writing, coming up with the ideas, writing and re-writing the books, and the number of rejections I received. If being able to get published by a traditional publisher were a sure thing simply because one put in the hours and the work, self-publishing would not have gained such a huge acceptance. Sometimes the answer lies in simple luck. There are probably hundreds of writers out there with more talent and better ideas and even stronger work ethics than I have. Why I am published and they are not is a great mystery to me.

But then, to me, it's always about the writing. I would write even without a contract--indeed, that's what I did for over twenty years. Being a published author, seeing my stories in print, was always a huge dream, but the reality of being able to put words down and make my characters come alive was something I could accomplish without a publisher. I certainly didn't (and don't) do it for the money; there's a reason I have a full-time job decorating cakes. Success, for me, is measured by the satisfaction of doing what I love and finding a readership, however small, is a greater success for me than making the New York Times bestseller list.

Being published is the icing on the cake, but I'm glad I learned to like cake without icing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hello, 2017!

Okay, okay, I admit it... I've been lazy the last few weeks. 2016 did not exactly boost my enthusiasm (at least, the last three months didn't) for anything, but I have resolved (yes, there's that word) to approach the next twelve months with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm and even, dare I say, joy!

Everyone experiences loss in every year. Some are huge, like the loss of a friend or family member. Other losses, while perhaps not as devastating are, nevertheless, energy-draining. Having a long-term goal seem to get, not easier with the passage of time but harder, can sink one into a funk that is equable to being mired in quicksand.

My career as an author (quick note: one does not have to become a millionaire, nor even make any money, to consider work a career) has slowed down. In fact, it seems to be stalling, but even if I have to get out and push, I resolve to make it go forward. My fifth book did not come out as planned in 2016, for reasons beyond anyone's control, and I firmly believe that there was a reason for that. Though I finished out the year less than bubbling over with enthusiasm, I look forward to having the book ("A Summer to Remember") out in the next couple of months and to making a sizable dent in the manuscript for the next book. And whatever happens, I will continue to write.

I am already starting out the new year with an event--a book talk at the Capitan Public Library on Sunday, January 8 at 3:00 p.m. I look forward to meeting new readers and perhaps some new writers as well.

And those of you who have stuck with me through the last year, take heart! You're what keeps me going when it seems like my words are forever being lost on my laptop screen. I may give my characters life, but you give them a purpose.

So onward we go! Happy New Year!