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)