Thursday, December 15, 2022

WEP: When you say yes . . .

Here's a short and very true story, just 629 words, inspired by this month's Write...Edit...Publish challenge

Tagline: Saying yes to a simple request can change your life.

"Can I Ask A Favor?"

   By late Thursday afternoon, four new reports ready for final review had already piled up in my inbox. I couldn’t decide whether to go home to my studio apartment in the Marina and flop or join the team for a quick drink after work. I eased my new high heels off to get comfortable, hoping no one would notice.
   Cap, one of the younger guys from operations, strolled over to my desk. He had a funny, lopsided grin. “Can I ask a favor?”
   “I need a ride to the airport. I’m flying out to Cincinnati to see my parents.”
   “Sure, Cap. I can take you.”
   He looked at me apologetically. “It’s Friday night.”
   “It’s all right. No problem.” Actually, I had nothing on my personal schedule for the foreseeable future.
   “There’s one more thing.”
   I arched my eyebrows at him. “Yes?”
   “My plane leaves at midnight.”
    I groaned. “Okay, but don’t say anything else.”
    Cap laughed. “Thanks. My roommate said if anyone was really going to drive me to the airport when I could have just taken the bus, we could go out to dinner at a French restaurant. Can you stop by the apartment after work and pick us up?”
   “All right. That’s tomorrow, your place, about 6?”
   He nodded. I shooed him away and picked up the first report. Friday or no Friday, work had to be done. By the end of the next day, I was more than ready for a break, almost looking forward to a nice meal at a restaurant. After all, there weren’t any fast-food French places, were there? Not in San Francisco. I took the bus home, drove my trusty VW over to Cap’s apartment on Nob Hill, almost found a parking place nearby, and walked up the three flights of stairs to knock at his door.
   A young man with brilliant blue eyes opened the door.
   “I’m here to . . . “ I started to say when he closed the door in my face.
   “I’m sorry,” I said to the wooden door. “Do I have the wrong apartment?”
   The door opened slowly, and he stared at me.
   “Sorry,” I said. “I’m here to pick up Cap and his roommate. I can come back later if I’m too early.”
   “No, no. Come right in.” His smile stretched so wide I could nearly see all his teeth. “Cap’s not home yet, but he should be any minute. I’m Allen, his roommate. We’re going out to my favorite French restaurant tonight, and you must be the person giving him a ride, yes?”
   Cap did come home in a few minutes, and we drove down the hill to the Marina District to find a small restaurant tucked in one of the side streets. After a truly memorable and leisurely meal, punctuated by stories of world travels and various adventures, I drove Cap and Allen out to the airport. We walked through the terminal, said goodbye to Cap, and on the way back to the city, a silence fell. We both started talking at the same time.
   “You go first,” said Allen.
   “No, you,” I replied, for I was embarrassed. When I asked if he wanted to stop for a drink, even though it was quite late, he started laughing. “That’s what I was going to say!”
   So, we had hot buttered rum at the Ben Johnson’s. After the bar closed, we talked and talked as we wandered around Ghirardelli Square, mesmerized by the city lights and the moon reflected in the bay. There, Allen kissed me gently. When Cap came home, we were a couple. Allen told me that the first time he saw me, he knew his life would change irrevocably. Now, nearly fifty years later, I can’t imagine life without him.

How did this 629-word story get started? December's Write...Edit...Publish's Challenge was to write a story inspired by Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." What can I say? This story of how I met my husband immediately came to mind.

I hope you enjoyed reading my short story (any feedback is welcome), and that you will explore other such tales on WEP's website!

Thank YOU for visiting. Have an amazing holiday and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

To visit other WEP Writers, here are your links:

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

IWSG December 7: Winter Doldrums?

We have another 6-8 inches of snow coming tomorrow, roads are slick and mostly unploughed, and yet, temperatures are closer to freezing today and tomorrow instead of the low teens. Celebrate the wintry moment! This is the time of year that I like to huddle in my office, cold fingers poised over the keyboard for that next scene, preferably set in some warmer clime.

Yesterday was a milestone: my 79th birthday. I feel so grateful to have reached this age (my mother died at 55), and I can report that health issues are few, family is nearby, we've downsized and are happy in our little apartment. True, the view outside is mostly white, with about a foot of snow on nearby roofs. We leave for Las Cruces, New Mexico, late January, for a leisurely drive south, and I'm ready to hit the road, writing projects organized, research materials as close as the internet (and a box of books).

This month, the Insecure Writer's Suppport Group asks us to consider this question? Are the holidays a time to catch up or fall behind on writer goals?

Well, I'm not sure. I do set goals each month, and I am making steady progress, but . . . that major writing project has hit a little snag. I wrote a scene where Neil takes Sandra to meet his parents. But they weren't nice to her, and I didn't like the scene at all. I think that scene is gone. It doesn't contribute anything to the actual story. Maybe knowing when to cut words is a good thing. I want to write stories that look beneath the surface and yet that bring joy to the reader. So, I'm happily back to plotting and drafting. Not always in that order.

The essence of IWSG's question is when are we writers working on our writing? I do think we're working whether we're actively putting words on the paper OR we're out for a walk, slipping on that wintry snow -- and an insight comes to us as we see the last of the Canada geese heading south. 

So, I say cherish the moment, every moment. Keep your characters close. New scenes may come to us when we're dreaming at night or daydreaming. In the words of Rick Bylina, write on!

Please join me in thanking the generous co-hosts for this December 7 posting of the IWSG: Joylene Nowell Butler, Chemist Ken, Natalie Aguirre, Nancy Gideon, and Cathrina Constantine! Why not pay them a visit -- and stop by other IWSG writers who've posted this month. You can find them HERE.

May this December bring you new words, good revision, and/or whatever your writing heart desires!

Friday, December 02, 2022

December begins . . . with a song

It's 20F outside just after lunch, with snow everywhere in our parking lot. Yesterday, I helped several neighbors push a woman's car stuck as she tried to leave our complex. Her tires were bald. Maybe she drove safely once she was on the main roads.

December ahead looks unusually cold, with lows expected below 10F and highs most days below freezing. That says the snow dump of 6-8 inches won't be going anywhere soon. Yet, we'll persevere, grateful for those moments that bring brightness and a renewed appreciation for each day.

A reader wrote me this week, caught up with the story of Deidre and Mac in Years of Stone. She wanted me to know she was listening to U2's song, "Van Diemen's Land," a song I'd never heard. What an amazing tribute to honor those who lived so long ago. Here's the link to the song itself on Youtube and the words from U2 (the last stanza shown here). Truly heartfelt. We can learn much from the past. Thank you, Eastern Rogue.

Hold me now, oh hold me now
Till this hour has gone around
And I'm gone on the rising tide
For to face Van Diemen's Land.

As December begins, I'm grateful for so many things. Some days, yes, I struggle with writing, to tell the stories that keep talking to me. Family, friends, and fans near and far, I hope your December brings you only joy.

Friday, November 18, 2022

November hastens! Holidays ahead.

 Thanks to encouragement from friends -- and that push from National Novel Writing Month, I'm up to 36K words already written for that next book, The Lost Sarcophagus, projected to be about 70K when I'm done, right?

Today's treat is the opening scene (for now). Sandra and Neil are on their way to Cairo, at the request of the Director of the Egyptian Museum. Just before they get to their hotel, here's what happens!

     “Let’s get this over with,” said Pete. The two burly men carried an immense floral arrangement of lilies and pushed their way past the uniformed attendant into the spacious lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. They tromped up the red carpet and stopped at the front desk under the crystal chandelier as if they belonged there.    

     “May I help you?” asked the clerk. His voice quavered slightly.

     “These are for McDonnell,” said one of the men, his voice low, almost a growl.

     “Yes, sir. We expect Mr. McDonnell a little later today.”

     Pete scowled. “Just make sure he gets these.”

     “Yes, sir. We will put them in his suite immediately. Did you wish to leave a message?”

     “Do I look like I want to leave a message? Just do it.” The man turned away, his shoulders straining the edges of his black jacket. “Come on, Karim. Let’s get out of here.”

     The clerk watched the two men swagger out the entry and sighed in relief. “Glad they’re not guests,” he muttered to himself as he snapped his fingers for an attendant. “Take these up to the Nile Executive Suite on 12.”

     Outside, the two men made their way from the hotel. “Glad that’s done,” said Pete as he jerked his tie loose.

     “Flowers? That’s not what we usually deliver. Did Cochrane say why?” asked Karim.

     “I don’t know, and I don’t care. The boss speaks. I do what he says. You better do the same, or you won’t last long.” He turned south to Salat, the transit station. Karim followed. Soon, they were lost in the crowd.

So, what did you think? Are you ready to turn the page?

Here's the Great Hall, as we entered the Egyptian Museum so long ago

And me visiting Cheops pyramid,
back in the day when you could touch the stones!

With Thanksgiving just a week away, that to-do list just keeps getting longer! Hope your list is a little easier to manage. But, one day at a time, we're getting those tasks caught up. Really. The car has new tires, our living room lamp is fixed, and even the toilet works again!

Our dear granddaughter decided she really, really wants to have Beef Wellington for Thanksgiving dinner. So, we shall feast. Meanwhile, back at home, I've added a Turkey Day family dinner on December 4. How can we not have turkey? So the menu: Roast turkey with stuffing (or dressing, as folks in the west like to say), mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, and cranberry compote. But what else??? I'm not sure. Maybe a Southern Comfort Pudding? Pumpkin pie? Fruit salad? What would be the healthiest? the tastiest? What would your family miss most on Turkey Day?

Be well, enjoy each day, and happy holidays!!!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

IWSG November 2: NaNoWriMo Already?

Yesterday began NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and while I'm not quite ready to commit to writing 50,000 words in one month, this writing challenge always takes me in new directions. 

The Insecure Writer's Support Group question this month simply wants to know if I've ever participated in NaNoWriMo. And why or why not?

Several writers I know surprised me by saying just the thought of trying to write 50,000 words in one month is too overwhelming. But you can be a NaNoWriMo rebel -- and set your own goals! Or you can be a purist and go for the gold. Yes, attempt to write 1,666 words every single day! I've found that pushing myself (perhaps not every single day) to write more than the meager 250-500 words a day I normally attempt really does lead to interesting insights.

Perhaps those of us writers who participate in IWSG's monthly post are particularly prone to sign up for NaNoWriMo. After all, we set challenges for ourselves all the time, right? Something deep inside me chirps to life whenever someone says, "Oh, I don't think you can do that!" 

Participating in NaNoWriMo over the last decade has helped me flesh out five books, write unexpected poems (that writing challenge comes around in April, National Poetry Month), and celebrate a very personal commitment to writing. Not every day goes well, but isn't that rather like life? We can accept a challenge and decide exactly how we want to respond. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the results are not quite what we want. For writers, that just means revision. And more revision.

Other News:  While my to-be-read pile is piled up much too high, the Insecure Writer's Support Group has a book club on GoodReads! This month's suggested books both look interesting -- as does the follow-up discussion highlighted in this poster. I just might 'see' you there. 

About IWSG: One of the strengths of posting on the first Wednesday of each month for the Insecure Writer's Support Group for me is connecting with other writers. I appreciate learning what other writers think about the goals they've set, the progress they're making, and the support we offer each other. At times, we all need that connection. Writers do need readers as well. And reviews. And new ideas. Facing down that blank page, or a messy outline without a clear plot, or revising a scene that wanders -- the list goes on! -- all is a little less daunting when we connect with other writers and readers.

May November, despite hints of snow this coming week, 
be very good to you and your writing!

And please consider dropping by to thank IWSG's co-hosts for this month: Diedre Knight, Douglas Thomas Greening, Nick Wilford, and Diane Burton!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Ready for November?

Colder days predicted here on the west coast with La Nina headed our way. More snow. An election to recover from or celebrate. Yet much to be grateful for. We drove down to Redmond, Oregon, for a good visit with friends. Finally recovered from that foot surgery (that was not easy). Yes, I can drive again! Running errands feels like dating!  

Meanwhile, here's my progress report for November: 

  • The Lost Sarcophagus: Wrote only 1.5 words (goal 3K), but feeling back on track with NaNoWriMo ahead. 
  • Family history: Wrote only 500 words (goal 1K). Would love to have one major section done before year end. 
  • Other Writing: Wrote a Halloween short story, Hunter's Moon, for Write-Edit-Publish's October Challenge. Just a side note: Found out that people with rabies may suffer from face spasms and bare their teeth with a bloody froth  -- maybe leading to fears of vampires!
  • Vella. Amazon credited me $10 so I'm back to adding a few more episodes to Mothers Don't Die, after deciding 'no go' last month. I'd love for you to check this out and let me know what you think of my story AND of the Vella program!
  • Reviews: Wrote just one: Really enjoyed Colin Conway and Frank Zafiro's The Ride Along!, a thoughtful exploration of that tension between what being a police officer entails and the passionate support to end police brutality.  
  • Marketing: Ran a Fussy Librarian campaign just last week for Standing Stones to reach new readers and perhaps add a few reviews. Gave away 1,089 e-book copies. 
  • Blogging: Met my goal of posting every Wednesday. My guest post on visiting Stirling Castle to see the tapestries there appeared on Lois Winston's blog, Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. I'll never forget exploring Stirling Castle, discovering more of the history of James V, and seeing the weavers work on large looms. All this led to my first art crime mystery, The Seventh Tapestry
  • Quilting: Finished all 12 blocks of Jacob Yenter quilt! 

What's ahead in November: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins November 1, a perfect writing challenge for writers to focus their writing by writing 50,000 words in one month! I do not aspire quite so high. Here are my goals:

  • Writing: The Lost Sarcophagus: write 25K.
  • Family history: write 2K.
  • Blog: Post every Weds. Recruit 'Meet the Author' x2. 
  • Reviews: write 2 reviews. 
  • Marketing: Develop list of potential reviewers. 
  • Quilt: Design border for Jacob Yenter quilt. Make 1 comfort quilt.
Something about the coming of winter, the unpacking of sweaters, and being away for a week and now home, sets me to organizing. I found the beginnings of a poem stuck in my travel journal about a night spent in Edinburgh. Here's the poem! 

Last night we climbed five flights of stairs 
to sleep under the eaves of this old stone building. 
We lay awake under pale blue and green quilts 
as summer lightning skittered across the sky,
Thor's hammer cracking in some ancient battle.
Hot and humid booms split the night open,
and I fell all the way to childhood,
comforted at last by the rain,
you next to me,
and then quiet.

Stirling Castle, Scotland (2009)

Stairs to Blair Street apartment, 
Edinburgh (2009)

May November be very good for you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

WEP: A Halloween Love Story

"Hunter's Moon" (Wikipedia)

Ready for Halloween? Here's a short story to get you thinking about . . . 

“Irreconcilable Differences”

   A deep yellow moon tinged with orange hung low in the darkening sky.
   “That’s a Hunter’s Moon,” said George, his voice low and soothing as he drove the car home. “Pretty amazing, don’t you think?”
   “Yeah, dad,” said Chris. “I guess.”
   George was quiet.
   “OK,” said Chris. “Why’s it called a Hunter’s Moon?”
   George smiled, even if Chris, sitting in the back seat, couldn’t see him. How can I explain everything to a ten-year-old who doesn’t know what life is truly like? “You know things change all the time, right?”
   “Right, I know.” Chris sighed. “Like you and Mom.”
   “Maybe. But people change just like that moon. In fact, that moon brings change. The Hunter's Moon always comes in October. It means winter’s coming. Time to prepare for cold nights ahead. At least in the old days, that meant hunting.” He shrugged. “Now we have supermarkets.”
   “Guess it still means change. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Chris kicked his foot against the back of the seat. “I don’t understand why we can’t be together as a family, like we used to.”
   “We’ve talked about this.” George paused. It didn’t feel like he understood either. “I think maybe we’ve got something called ‘irreconcilable differences.’ Your mom and me, we’re both different, and we’re not quite sure how to go back to how things were. Just know I’ll take you to visit your mom whenever you want. She loves you, and I love you. We’ll make this work.”
   Chris sighed.  
   George stared up at the yellow moon. “We’ll manage. And someday you’ll understand this all a little better. We have good things to look forward to. Like Hunter Moons and Halloween. You like Halloween, don’t you?”
   “Yeah, I do.”
   “You decided what costume you’re going to wear this year?”
   “I’m gonna be a vampire. That way I can tear and slash and roar and eat all the candy I want.”
   “A vampire? Don’t you think that’s a little close to home?” George glanced in the rearview mirror to check on Chris. “You know you’re named Christian for a reason.”
   Chris wrinkled his nose and lifted his lips in a snarl. His incisors lengthened, and he hissed. “I don’t care anymore. What’s the point.”
   “The point is nobody knows but you and me. Not your mother. Not your friends. No one.” George couldn’t help the growl that emerged.
   “But maybe if Mom knew, she would stay with us.”
   “Nope. Not happening.” George pulled past the iron gates that surrounded his Gothic mansion. “She doesn’t know. She can’t know.” He stopped the car just outside the garage and turned to look at his son. “And she will never know, right?” His eyes glazed iridescent green as he stared at his son.
   “Right, Dad. I won’t tell her.” Chris glared. “Not yet.”
   “Come on, grumpus. You’re cranky tonight. Let’s get you inside and have a little something to eat before bed. Some things you can’t change. But we still have tomorrow. It will get better. I promise.”
   After a cup of hot apple cider, Chris calmed down, ready for quiet time on his iPad before bed.
   George walked out into the back yard, tired but pleased that he’d talked to Chris. What would happen when Chris was older? How would he fit in? Hell, how will I fit in now that Gwen is gone. George looked up at the moon that still hung in the sky.
   A shadow of a broom seemed to skitter past the full moon and then another. Now they come, he muttered. Right when I think nothing could be worse. Gwen must have sent them to plague me. Well, at least she was not quite the ordinary housewife she had always pretended to be.
   The shadows flitted away as Gwen materialized in front of him. “What do you think?” she squealed. “That you’re the only one having fun?” She paused. “Is Chris still upset?”
   “You don’t need to ask. He’s angry too.” George shrugged. “He’s aware our family is, well, different.”
   Her cat eyes glinted, and she tapped one finger on his shoulder. “I know we’re different, and I know Chris is different too.”
   “He told you?”
   “He didn’t have to tell me.”
   George sighed. “I’m sorry we have irreconcilable differences.”
   “You sure they’re irreconcilable?” She sketched a link between the two of them, another shadow.
   “Maybe not.” George couldn’t help the grin forming on his face or the warm night push of his blood. He stilled. Yes, he loved her. Even if she was a witch. “He’ll be a teen in such a short time. He’ll need both of us.” George leaned close to smell her sweet mix of violet and lavender. “You know I love you.” He paused. “No more secrets. Are you willing to try again?”
   Gwen flung her arms around him. “Yes, I’m willing. Besides, that’s the Hunter Moon, a time of endings and beginnings. This is our beginning. Always and forever.”

How did this 874-word story get started? The short answer is -- just for fun. Write...Edit...Publish's October Challenge was to write a story with somewhat of a Halloween slant, maybe even horror. Somehow George, Gwen, and Chris -- and the idea of family, even an unusual family -- came to mind. 

I hope you enjoyed reading my short story (any feedback is welcome), and that you will explore other such tales on WEP's website

Thank YOU for visiting. Have an amazing Halloween!

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Meet the Author: Bellamy Gayle

 I first met Bellamy Gayle, browsing through new releases on the Sisters in Crime website. What drew me into Keep Me Safe first was its setting -- New Orleans, and its characters -- of course, a feisty female lawyer. Beautifully written and full of unexpected twists, this story is classic suspense and an entirely satisfying read.

Which led me to reach out to the author. Surprise! She graciously answered my questions! Thank you, Bellamy.

1. When did you realize you wanted to write mysteries? Why? I spent a week every summer in my childhood with my grandparents, who lived only one long block away from their city’s library, which was like paradise to me. The building even smelled bookish, you know what I mean? And, though hushed, I could always here a few shuffles, rustling, and clearing of throats. I made my choices, and Murdear checked out the maximum number of books allowed. I identified with the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, loving the process and thrilled with the stories. Mysteries and suspense became part of the fiber of my being then, and that has never changed.

2. You’ve mapped out two more books following Keep Me Safe. How did you get the ideas for these next books? 
Not very far into writing Keep Me Safe, I realized the manuscript had to become the first book of a series, which I dubbed "The Sazerac Series," because other characters in the novel seemed to be asking me for their own stories. 

Cecile Dumond, the protagonist in my novel, is raised by her great aunt, Hattie Dumond, a fascinating woman born in 1914, who finished her degree at the Sorbonne in Paris as WWII broke out, and she…well, you’ll have to read her story, which is that of No Ordinary Woman

Hattie does the neighborly thing and takes a plate of goodies to welcome her new neighbor, Odette Lattimore. It was highly unusual in those days, even in a city as cosmopolitan as New Orleans, to have a black couple settle in a white neighborhood, but Odette is bright and capable of taking care of herself while her riverboat pilot husband is plying the Mississippi, and she and Hattie become best friends. She is a worthy protagonist in Odette: Run For Your Life

3. About how long does it take you to write a book? What strategies work to help you be most productive? Do you consider yourself a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plodder’ or something else?

Writing is truly my vocation, but it’s fun, too, and I don’t want that to change. I do write every single day, with rare exceptions. Extra-large cup of cafĂ© au lait in one hand, yogurt in the other, I head to our office and spend about four hours a day. It looks like a book takes about a year to complete, including 2-3 drafts and at least one round, if not more, of copy and line editing. 

Mostly, I’m a pantser. Save The Cat comes in handy to adjust the flow of the narrative and increase the story’s tension when it’s necessary. In my tiny brain somewhere, there’s a sneaking suspicion that I’ve mentally begun to plan, if not plot, out my stories. I’ll never learn everything there is to know about how to write the best possible novel, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

4. One question I always try to ask: Do you have a pet? Any funny story to share? Pet? Certainly! Over the years we’ve had just about every kind of pet from songbirds to fish to black labs and raising litters of Russian Blue kittens. With time comes wisdom and reason, and we now have only Baby, who walked up our driveway as a kitten a few years ago and has stayed with us ever since. 

Baby had been neutered and had a little notch in one ear, so we knew he’d been “in the system” and adopted by someone. Guess it didn’t take. His “meow” seems damaged, but his purring works just fine. Baby has this lovable quirk. 

I listen to “Dinner Jazz” on Pandora at night while I read, and that sweet cat has become addicted to the music, curled up on the floor at my feet. He cannot abide vocals and will stare at the speaker, tail swishing, until I change to an instrumental so he can return to his reverie.

5. Is there anything else you’d like to share with your fans and/or other writers? Like so many of us who love to write, I had little formal training in creative writing—only one Tulane University class way back in the day. Writers today, including me, have a world of free, or nearly free, resources at our fingertips because of the Internet. I Google, use Wikipedia, spellcheck, a thesaurus or two, etc. Chrome extensions of Pro Writing Aid are of immense help. There are fabulous FB groups who are generous with their time and expertise. Don’t be afraid to search for help. It’s out there waiting for you.

Thank you, Bellamy Gayle, for talking with us today. I can't wait for your next books to come out. I'm more than ready to explore once again the fascinating history and mystery of New Orleans!

Check out Bellamy Gayle's website at 

You can find Keep Me Safe on Amazon and Barnes & Noble!

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

IWSG October 5: Digging into Genre

This month begins with a nicely layered question from the Insecure Writer's Support Group.  

IWSG October Question: What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

This question could apply to reading as well, but I'd like to talk about genre as it relates to writing. 

I write in two genres -- historical fiction (1840s) and art crime mysteries (21st Century). My fascination with history, art, culture, and what life was like back then creates an overlap between these two genres.
  • Underlying theme: Pretty close to the same: My historical fiction characters generally struggle to find/make a better life, despite sometimes overwhelming obstacles, often created by the upper class. My art crime investigators work to try to resolve crime, restore what was lost, and find truth and justice along the way.
  • Settings: Pretty much international -- Scotland, France, Australia, Canada for my historical fiction, and, so far, France, Scotland, and Egypt for art crime. I absolutely love to travel anywhere and happily love the adventure that pursuing a new story brings.
  • Characters:  My stories follow a family (brothers and sisters) for historical fiction (most likely, a family saga), and a pair of detectives (male and female couple) for art crime. 
Although readers may expect certain scenes and actions (even style of dialogue) for the genres they read, I don't rely too heavily on genre outlines. I do use them to check the story has depth as it develops. For example, I'm still learning how to really outline with the goal to not need 3 years to write a novel! Genre outlines like the Journey of the Hero, or Savannah Gilbo, for example, her 6 Scenes Every Crime Story Needs (genre checklists), or Jessica Brody's Save the Cat Writes a Novel, are all helpful.

But I hope I avoid formulaic writing that may entertain but lead to stories that are too predictable. I still remember that meeting with literary critics on East Coast, where one potential agent asked, "You write genre fiction?" I swear she sniffed, her nose in the air, as if genre fiction were something with a horrible odor.

Maybe I'm like you, more of an intuitive writer, enjoying the process of sinking into a time and place with particular characters and setting them up with a nasty twist of fate to see what happens next!

More About IWSG: 

Note that the first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Here's a chance to post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writers - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

And plan to visit those writers who are co-hosting this month: Tonja Drecker, Victoria Marie Lees, Mary Aalgaard, and Sandra Cox!

I'd like to add a challenge: Why not celebrate the coming fall by reading maybe just one book written by one of the IWSG members? And review it on Amazon and/or GoodReads, knowing that writing a review is the best way to say thank you to other story writers! 

Meme from AutoCrit

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Leap into October!

The end of September signals the beginning of October. Fall leaves. Just an edge of cold in the air at night and early morning. First pumpkin spice coffee. And, just maybe, after that pin is taken out of my foot on October 11, I can begin to walk again -- and drive!  Truly. 

Meanwhile, here's my progress report for September

  • The Lost Sarcophagus: Write 1K (2K drafted). Had fun ordering a new cover, even though the writing will take maybe another 2 years.
  • Family history: Write 1K (actual just 992 words). Finding it hard to access files/photos on desktop from laptop. But got some done.
  • Vella: Decided not to pursue after checking with other writing friends.
  • Reviews: Wrote just two: Really enjoyed Frank Zafiro's Beneath a Weeping Sky. Struggled with Jaye Marie's Ghost of a Chance, well written but not exactly a happy ending. 
  • Poetry: Decided not to write a poem a day for October. Instead, just one (see below).
  • Marketing: Ran one Fussy Librarian campaign for Scattered Stones to reach new readers and perhaps add a few reviews. Gave away 1,314 e-book copies. So far, 16 reviews, and I'm grateful for every single one!
  • Blogging: Met my goal of posting every Wednesday. 
  • Quilting: Finished a quilt top.

What's ahead in October: Besides a long awaited road trip to Redmond, Oregon to see dear friends, here are my goals:

  • Writing: The Lost Sarcophagus: write 3K.
  • Family history: write 1K.
  • Blog: Continue posting every Weds. Recruit 'Meet the Author' x3. Guest post on Stirling Castle, tapestries due early October.
  • Reviews: write 2 reviews. Read and review at least 1 SASP author.
  • Marketing: Develop list of potential reviewers and query x5. 
  • Quilt: Finish last 2 blocks on Jacob Yenter quilt. Make at least 1 comfort quilt.
Here's the poem! Saw a post on FB about the horrors of grammar. Since I did teach writing for nearly 26 years, here's my take.

Writing Advice from an English Teacher, Now Retired

Punctuation and formatting:
How powerful these marks are:
Commas: to link, to sometimes run on and on, always
in plural, and yet, they bring
order to many discrete ideas, objects, images, or
perhaps cohesion, when all else is chaos.
Semicolon: to separate two closely related things,
independent, yet standing alone.
Period: to mark an ending. No words can express
what marks something so finite.
Exclamation point: Used so rarely but must not
be forgotten. Shows absolute awe!
Keep starting each sentence with capital letters,
for that is the true beginning.
Dare I say more? How could I forget the
question mark that opens us up to possibility?
Paragraphing shapes the narrative of the whole.
I leave content and all the rest
to the writer.

May October be a very good month for you. 

See you next Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Behind the Scenes: What Do Cats Have to Do With Writing?

 Writers can get stuck when beginning a story. In the middle too, if truth be told, but since I'm in the early days of writing a new story, I'm more interested in beginnings.

I'm never sure what begins a story. A sense of place perhaps, for once I stood in a field near an abandoned Hudson's Bay fort and knew I would write that story. Or a daydream about mermaids swimming under sailing ships that led to a series of short stories. Or standing in awe in front of those famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris.

My current project, the second book in an art crimes series, began with wondering where Sandra and Neil would go next. What if, I thought (my favorite question), what if they went to Egypt? Memories of wandering in Cairo, sailing down the Nile, and walking under a pyramid gave me the setting. But then, the story seemed to stall. Yes, I needed research, much more research, but I realized I didn't know my characters very well, even after writing a book about them.

Cats to the rescue!

I came across this book: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, inspired by Blake Snyder. The first chapter put me right back to work by focusing on how to discover those internal and external character flaws that shape my character's inner life and outer world. I'm comfortable with my female characters pretty much, but male characters? They remain a mystery! Not any more. That same set of questions that probe deeply into character flaws and motivation can be used to more fully develop secondary characters -- and the villain.

And really, that's how it all began. With a cat. Blake Snyder, with his highly useful original book, Save the Cat! (written for screenwriters), suggests to make your villain more accessible, he or she needs to do something that makes that character more human -- like save a cat.

As September winds far too quickly to a close, my wish for you is to cherish each day as the first hints of fall turn green leaves to brown, we dig out our sweaters, and look forward to that first snowfall.

I'll be busy writing and reliving our visit to Egypt where we once visited pyramids, so long ago.

Visiting Saqqara, Egypt (January 2004)

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Meet the Author: Frank Zafiro

This month's Meet the Author highlights an exceptional and prolific writer, Frank Zafiro, author of some 40 books. His police procedurals and detective novels are set in River City, a fictional name for Spokane, Washington, where Frank served as a police officer for 20 years, before retiring to write and -- where I met Frank first -- to teach workshops on writing. 

Frank's passionate writing takes us behind the scenes to a fictional world where real people struggle each day with that tension between what is right, what is lawful, and what is compassionate. Frank's gritty writing tackles difficult, sometimes hard-to-read issues, like domestic violence, prostitution, emotional burnout, and violent and white collar crime, but he does so with grace and caring. Unless we work in criminal justice, social work, or medicine, most of us are shielded from the reality these men and women wearing a badge face every day.  


What drew you to write crime fiction? Your bio says you began writing at about 13 and never stopped. Are part of your reasons tied to why you became a police officer? I've always felt like a writer. It's how I identified myself to myself (and occasionally to others). But I knew I would likely need another career to support myself while working on the writing part. There were a few I considered, but the two that resonated the most were being a teacher and being a police officer. The timing worked out in a different order, but I've been fortunate enough to do both in my life. 

As a writer who became a cop, it only followed that what I was experiencing would be what I wrote about. If I'd become a teacher, I don't think the majority of my work would be crime fiction, though the genre has a strong enough draw that I think I'd still have a few entries.

What risks do you encounter in balancing ‘real life’ with fiction? One risk is finding the sweet spot between telling enough of the truth and the process to remain genuine, while eliminating enough of the boring parts to keep a reader interested. Another risk was how to draw from the flavor and texture of my police experience without writing directly about anyone or any event. This is one I "failed" at a few times, as there are a few stories that are closely based on real experiences. One of the most iconic River City characters -- veteran officer Thomas Chisolm -- was closely based on a real person (with permission). 

How did other officers react to you being a writer? It was all over the map, actually. There was support from some, a little derision from others. Mostly, though, indifference, as everyone had their own life to live. I will say, though, that those who took the time to notice were almost always positive and supportive.

What did you learn from their reactions? And how might this help other writers? I learned that I was actually not the center of the universe. Realizing this--that people don't sit around thinking and wondering about you--should free you up to write whatever you want. I'm not saying to be libelous, but I've noticed an overabundance in caution when it comes to writing anything that remotely resembles real experiences. Your ex-girlfriend doesn't have a trademark pending on being a statuesque blond, nor does you ex-boss have a copyright on being a jerk.

What specific advice do you have for writers of crime fiction specifically – and other writers as well? Be authentic, and be true to the story you're writing. Obviously, stay on the right side of your legal comfort zone, but write what feels right, and edit later. Likewise, don't use your fiction as a pulpit, at least not in a way that isn't true to the story itself.

Your characters are richly drawn and suffer – physically and emotionally, until the reader cares about them all, perhaps even the bad guys – a little. That combined quest for justice and compassion seems to influence your stories. Would you agree? Yes, most definitely. The idea of nuance, of shades of gray in a personality, is something I've tried to portray in all my characters . . . because that is how I see them. 

Are there other themes that matter to you? Redemption has been a big one. I mean, Waist Deep is one hundred percent about a character striving to redeem himself for a terrible mistake he made ten years prior. Another theme that has crept into my work lately should be no surprise as I am in my fifties now -- mortality and legacy.

Who is your favorite character? Kind of a tough question, like who is your favorite kid? I'll stick with River City novels to make it easier, though that only makes it marginally easier. Gun to my head, I have to say Katie MacLeod. Why? She is not afraid to be vulnerable or admit that vulnerability, but she has grit. She is afraid but does her duty anyway. That, to me, is true courage. Plus, she started out as two separate minor characters in the first draft of River City #1, and by #3, she was the core of the series. 

What is your favorite story? Another toughie. Honestly, I think this might change depending on how I'm feeling when the question is asked, but one that I often mention is "The Worst Door." And why? I could say that it is because it was a Derringer Finalist (one of four times I've been a finalist--but zero wins). But the real reason is because I like how the intersection of the personal and professional side of a police officer's life is explored. I like the raw emotion that Detective Finch feels. What happened to him never happened to me, but I've felt what he felt.

If you could change anything about your writing career, what would you change? Not a thing. Because it has gotten me to right where I am now, mistakes and all. I may not be on the NY Times bestseller list, but I've written forty novels, all of which are rated above four stars on Amazon. The lessons I learned that got me there were hard won. If I changed any of them, would I be here?

How do you connect with readers? A variety of ways. I have a newsletter and use social media. I exchange emails sometimes. But the most fun is meeting them at conferences like Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon. 

What would you like your readers to know about you? That it really matters to me that they have read my book. More than that, if they connect to a character or a scene that resonates with them, then my goal in writing it has been achieved. I think it is magical that a writer can feel something, write about it, and evoke that same (or similar) emotion in another human being. So, on those occasions when a reader has shared with me that this has happened, it represents the highest form of satisfaction.

Now, for that killer question: What’s next? The Worst Kind of Truth (River City #11) is out September 20, featuring Katie MacLeod. Also, Live and Die This Way (SpoCompton #4) will launch October 11, featuring a pint-sized burglar who is trying to stay above the water line while she takes care of her addict brother. 

I'm also currently working on the next Stefan Kopriva novel (#4). The Stefan Kopriva Mysteries are a spinoff from River City, but instead of a police procedural, they are private investigator books. Outside of that, there are too many other projects to list here. I'd encourage folks to check out my website and subscribe to my newsletter to keep abreast of my new work. And if I'm new to you, there's a significant back catalog you can jump into.

NOTE: I'm excited to read The Worst Kind of Truth because I had just finished reading Frank's riveting novel, Beneath a Weeping Sky, and was drawn to Katie MacLeod's character for her courage and tenacity in a predominantly male world. In The Worst Kind of Truth, Frank revealed that Katie has been promoted to detective. She's the lead on two rape cases that will bring her face to face with her hidden vulnerabilities as a victim. Frank has that ability to create characters that inspire us, and I'm looking forward to discovering anew Kate's strengths. 

A LITTLE ABOUT FRANK. I hope you enjoyed Frank's insights into writing. It's hard to shrink Frank's experiences down to a paragraph in ways that include his U.S. Army work in military intelligence, to his 20 years as a police officer (from patrol officer to detective to captain); to his teaching criminal justice at the college level, and, teaching writing workshops. Thank you, Frank, for writing and for sharing your thoughts with us today!

Frank Zafiro, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane

If you haven't already, perhaps you will read his books, short stories, his blog, or listen to his podcasts. Here's where to find out more:

Frank Zafiro's website: 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

IWSG September 7: Finding the Right Shoe

 As my poor right foot heals from minor surgery, I wonder how many weeks before I can wear proper shoes, and not this oversized black rubber 'sandal' that sticks out 3" in front of my toes. At least, I can walk, and grateful I am for each pain-free step!

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know that the first Wednesday of the month is the day many writers (some 319 of us) post a response to IWSG's challenge question:  This month, a simple, direct question: 


What genre would be the worst for you to tackle and why? At first, I thought, oh, easy question. For I would have a hard time writing erotica. I'm too shy. Still believe some scenes happen behind closed doors. Sexual violence, no. Romantic suspense, yes! Mysteries, yes! Historical fiction, yes! Maybe even science fiction?

And then I realized I probably would not write Young Adult. Hmm, you might say. My childhood was too dark, and that darkness spills over into my writing. Even drafting a memoir was hard work, and I put it aside for the more accessible family history, allowing me to jump into the far away and safer past. I'd rather write about some treasured antiquity, wonder how it was made, who created it, and why it might be lost today -- and rediscovered. 

I have no words of advice other than this: Write what you love, what you feel passionate about, what affirms life, what you cherish. And, then, revise, revise, revise!

Other news? Celebrate the launch of Scattered Stones with me, perhaps the last in my historical fiction series set in 1840's Scotland. Here, you'll find the tale of Dylan who facing evictions, leaves his island home and wife behind to search for work, not knowing Moira is pregnant. As evictions continue, Moira travels to Inverness to find him. Will these two find each other?

The Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG) is an online writing community of writers who, once each month, share their thoughts about writing and connect with others (at least 12 other writers each month!) by reading their blog posts. Alex Cavanaugh, our fearless leader, challenges us 'to rock the neurotic world!' And, so we shall.
Why not visit our IWSG home page and discover what other IWSG writers have written? And while you're busy following Alice as she chases the rabbit, why not visit our hosts for this September 7 posting to thank them! Kim Lajevardi, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguirre, Olga Godim, Michelle Wallace, and Louise - Fundy Blue!  

For fall begins. A perfect time to discover new writers and curl up with a book!

Beginnings of fall at nearby Manito Park (2022)

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

August ending; September beginnings.

The end of summer marks the beginning of fall, and the last Wednesday of the month is that time to look at what I've gotten done and what lies ahead. 

AUGUST accomplished:

Scattered Stones, the fourth (and perhaps final) in the McDonnell series has launched in paperback and e-book format! Just wow after 2 years of work! If you are interested in a review copy, please let me know.

  • Did you notice the updated Blog layout? Thanks to BookBrush for the new banner. Emma Kathryn was my delightful "Meet the Author" for August.
  • Posted 6 chapters of Mothers Don't Die to Vella for those who love mysteries delivered in serial form.
  • Reviewed 4 books this month. 
  • Worked on quilting projects.

What's next for SEPTEMBER? 

I wish I could give you a concrete plan. This morning at 6:15 am, I showed up for outpatient surgery on that darn right foot. The hardest part? Having to stay off my feet for about 2 weeks. Thank heavens I do have an angel of a hubby who promises to take care of me AND order pizza when we get bored with rice and veggies!

But I will be working on The Lost Sarcophagus, that art crime mystery set in Egypt. Mostly I'm intrigued just now by finding out more about the villain. What motivates him to take things that don't belong to him? Why art? Is it just money or something darker, something that motivates him to kill if he doesn't get what he wants? More research is needed! Interlibrary loan, here I come.

Best movie I've seen in a long, long time? Tuesdays are 'movie day' so last night, we saw Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song

Really, words fail me, for Cohen not only wrote songs that reach our hearts, but his poetry challenges every hope or aspiration to be creative, to accept challenges and to celebrate this amazing gift of life. I hope you are able to see it. Here's a snippet from youtube.

May the beginning of fall bring inspiration and love!  

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Behind the Scenes: In Egypt . . . With A Lost Sarcophagus

 Now that Scattered Stones is out in the world, I'm turning to my art crime series to start writing the story that tells us what happens next to Sandra and Neil after The Seventh Tapestry!

Imagine my surprise to discover just over 20K already drafted on this new story. The Lost Sarcophagus has a working outline and snippets of scenes. In the past, I've been inspired by the hero's journey to organize my stories in a kind of quest to be more productive (and take less than three years to write a story!).

After reading through what I've got so far, I found my outlining a little hard to follow and somewhat ponderous. So, I did what many do. I jumped sideways and took an online podcast from Savannah Gilbo called "The Five Mistakes Most Fiction Writers Make and What To Do About It." Note: Savannah's website has many other resources for writers.

Here I was introduced to the difference between what bookstores use to sell books (commercial genres) and what readers expect (content genres). 

Wow! New concepts as I discovered my story is truly plot-driven and falls in the crime genre. Readers of mysteries have very strong expectations about 1) a sense of mystery and intrigue, 2) an early scene where a dead body is found, 3) scenes that help our hero uncover clues that lead to the murderer, and finally, 4) did my hero succeed in bringing the murderer to justice? These questions take me right back into my story in a very direct and compelling way.

So, just to let you know how much fun I'm having researching and drafting, here's a snippet from The Last Sarcophagus (forthcoming) to intrigue you! Neil and Sandra from The Seventh Tapestry have just arrived in Cairo -- on their honeymoon:

“April is a perfect time to visit. Cooler now.” The driver chuckled as he angled past the faded pink Egyptian Museum. “Maybe you go out to the pyramids? I know a guide.”

“We’ve already made arrangements through our travel agent, but thank you,” said Neil.

“I give you my card, just in case.” The driver pulled up with a flourish at the circular drive in front of the Royal Egyptian Hotel. An attendant in bright red at the entrance took charge of their luggage.

“This is pretty posh,” whispered Sandra. The elegant reception glittered with ornate crystal chandeliers, red carpets, and mirrors edged with gold filigree.

Neil leaned close to Sandra. “It is our honeymoon. You deserve pampering.” He nodded as he handed a tip to the attendant who helped bring their bags to their room.

“Not bad,” said Sandra. A large floral arrangement competed with a view of Cairo as dusk turned to night, and the Nile below glistened with lights. “These flowers are beautiful,” said Sandra as she leaned close to smell the white lilies cascading down the front of a large glass blue vase.

“Watch it.” Neil pulled Sandra away from the flowers. “What are these doing here? Don’t breathe deeply.”

Sandra stilled, shocked by Neil’s sudden movement. “What’s wrong?”

“Looks like that centerpiece is an Egyptian blue water lily. Could be either poisonous or psychedelic. It shouldn’t be here.”

“You mean it’s poisonous? That’s strange.”

“I’m calling downstairs.” Neil guided Sandra to the sofa near the floor to ceiling windows. “Just sit for a moment.” He grabbed his phone. “Reception? I need someone up to our suite right away. I have a problem with some flowers here. They look poisonous. Yes, thank you.” He turned to Sandra. “Someone will be here shortly, and they can just take them away – even if they are gorgeous.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes.” Neil began pacing around their suite as he waited. “Something’s not right.”

Egyptian Blue Water Lily (Leandro Avelar on Wikipedia)

Thank you for reading my blog and following along this writing journey. Enjoy this end-of-summer blast of warmth, for September will be here before we know it!