Saturday, March 2, 2024

What We're Writing Week: Julia Slowly Staggers To A Stop

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: No, it's NOT done yet, dear readers. This is absolutely the worst part of the book for me - the ending. I swear, if I could just publish manuscripts that were 5/8 done and crowdsource the endings, I'd get books out - gosh, who knows, maybe every three years instead of four!

My issue with getting over the finish line is partly me, and partly the nature of the genre. For me - honestly, I don't know. I always slow down here, and we know, I'm not that fast to begins with.


 Psychological barriers to completion? Fear of success or failure? Not wanting to let go? I've done a lot over the past years to improve my scheduling and organization; maybe now it's time for therapy.


The nature of the genre is such that the end of any sort of crime fiction is usually 1) the high point of action and 2) has to tie all the threads together. For the first, well, I'm known for my action sequences. I like them. The readers seem to like them. But they are HARD! Making sure the reader knows who is doing what, where in space and when in a sequence of events... sometimes it feels more like planning a multi-person jaunt through an unfamiliar city via public transportation.


As for tying the threads together - I can only point out I have more than one unfinished piece of very elaborate needlepoint. Oh, I just LOVE adding more and more and more threads. Figuring out what to DO with them... not so much.

However, I am progressing. In fact, if I didn't write such #$%& long books,  I'd be done now, or close to it. Alas, I don't seem to have any more control over the length of my stories than I do anything else. Truly, writing is a mysterious process. 


This is the place where I would usually put some hopefully interesting question that would stimulate lots and lots of backblog comments. Instead, I have a favor to ask. Will you, dear readers, be my accountability partners? I'm highly motivated by guilt (if you had met my mother, you'd understand)  so if one of you asks "Julia, have you written today" EVERY DAY until I finish, I'll be too embarrassed not to write. Don't all do it, for goodness sake, that would be a nightmare. Just one person.

TIA, Julia

Friday, March 1, 2024

What We're Writing--Debs Practices the Jump Start

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Every time I finish a chapter, or a chunk of chapters, I have to regroup. I wouldn't exactly call it "writer's block," more a "take a deep breath and regroup." I think there is always a bit of resistance to plunging into an imaginary world, maybe because it can be so scarily absorbing once you've dipped a toe in.

So here I am, plugging away on Kincaid/James #20, with all my writing prompts and boosters; the cup of tea, the journals, the pens, a couple of British home magazines for setting inspiration, but still, the dreaded BLANK PAGE stares back at me!


So what to do??

This is where the jump start comes in. I talk to myself (not out loud, although sometimes I do wander around the house muttering when I'm working out a really thorny plot point...) or maybe I should say I talk to the book. Maybe you could call this self-brainstorming? 

Sometimes I do this with some messy journaling in the running notebook I keep for the book-in-progress, but this technique actually works better on the computer. I'm a pretty fast touch typist and this lets me toss things out as fast as I can think them. Because I'm normally such a persnickety writer, this seems to  help bypass my constant mental editor--and that is hugely liberating.

It might go like this:


--Okay, so where's Gemma? Has she checked in with Duncan and the kids? Did she ever get a sandwich? Maybe she stops at Pret again--she's going to turn into a Pret sandwich at this rate. Will she go home or does she have time to visit the crime scene again before dark?

--Must get back to Melody? Her vp?

--Hawkins waiting for Max's return from mortuary, very nervous, has only done FLO in training course.

--Duncan, home, speaks to Kit about the phone call.

--Quill leaves Karo at the flat, he will drop her bike on the island, she can get train home later. Sets up pub meeting where?

All of these little snippets would go on in much greater detail. Before I know it, the characters start talking, bits of dialogue are creeping in, and suddenly I have the blocking for a chapter's worth of scenes, in some sort of logical order, and I've broken the blank page curse.

Here's a non-spoiler-y bit of the scene where Gemma does get her sandwich, jumping in as she's in the car with her new detective sergeant, Davey Butler, on the way back to her new police station.

Gemma nodded. “We can only hope.” She glanced at the time on the car display. “People should be getting home from work soon. When we get back to station, get a door-to-door started in those flats overlooking the canal. And let’s have a word with the residents in the end of that estate in Aberdeen Place, and with the staff of the pub that overlooks the access to the canal. What was it called?”

“Crocker’s Folly,” I think.

Gemma gave a snort. “That must have a story.”

“I think they have Indian food,” Butler said, his expression dreamy.

“Oh, don’t torture me.” Looking out, Gemma saw that they were passing the Savoy. She made a quick decision. “Let me out, will you, before you put the car in the garage. I’m going to grab a sandwich before I come up. Want me to pick you up something?”

“I had a bite in the London’s canteen. Not bad. Nigerian food today.”

“You’re a brave soul,” she said, raising an eyebrow at his pre-postmortem fortitude. Maybe he hadn’t been joking about the crime scene burger and chips.

A few minutes later, Gemma snagged the last cheddar and pickle sandwich from the cold case at Pret a Manger. She ate it slowly at one of caf├ę’s tables, then sat, nursing a cup of tea and taking a moment to marshal her thoughts.

When she’d jotted some notes, she tossed sandwich box and paper cup into the bin and stepped out into the street. Patches of blue had appeared in the early evening sky, and to the west, sunlight glinted from the rooftops of the National Portrait Gallery. Across the street, people were starting to gather outside the Chandos pub for afterwork drinks, a signal to Gemma that her opportunities for that day’s actions were fast fading—and that she’d better make certain the home fires were still burning.

I'd love to know if my fellow writers suffer from Blank Page Syndrome, and if so, do you use jump-starting techniques to loosen up?

Readers, do you have any little tricks to get going on projects that can seem daunting?

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lucy is Borrowing Bits from Life #amwriting

Lucy and John Mallory Square sunset

 LUCY BURDETTE
: I am feeling my way through the 15th Key West mystery, hoping to scribble most of the story on the pages before we drive north for the summer. As always, there have been distractions. Two weeks ago, we had our kids and grandkids visiting—there wasn't much work getting done! But even when not actually writing, I’m always watching and listening, looking for interesting bits of real life to weave into my books. One night we planned to have dinner near Mallory Square at sunset, where the inciting event of the 15th book, an explosion on a boat, occurs.  I took my granddaughter Thea over to see the square while we were waiting for our food. One of the acrobat/performers was there and I introduced him to Thea. Later, he chose her to help him with his act—and that became a snippet of the background in this chapter.

In the scene below, Hayley and her mother return to Mallory Square the day after the explosion, trying to figure out what happened. It's important because not only were they on the ill-fated boat, but they’d also hoped the cruise would bring a boost to their reputations and business. Worst of all, they’ve also just learned that someone on that boat died. They visit their friend, Lorenzo, the tarot card reader, but also talk with a pair of acrobat/jugglers who had been performing that night. 


Tobin and his partner, David, wearing their trademark bright red pants, black shirts, and black shoes, were finishing up their performance. This time they’d included a little girl in pink leggings and a blue shirt with hearts—she stood in the center of the ring holding up giant knives, while the crowd around her chanted “Thea, Thea, Thea!” When he was finished, Tobin thanked her for her assistance and tucked a ten-dollar bill into her fist. Then he thanked the spectators and encouraged them to drop tips into a glass jar. He was drenched with sweat, and looked tired but wound up, too. He was much like Lorenzo in that his work took a lot of concentration and energy, though Lorenzo’s was more mental and Tobin’s physical. 

We waited to approach him until the last of his admirers—the smiling girl who was now holding her father’s hand—moved away. I introduced my mother and explained that we had been on the boat that had blown up the night before. 

The cheery smile fell from his face. “Sorry to hear that, hope you’re okay.”

“Pretty much, just a few post-calamity jitters.” We all laughed, a bit hysterically in my case. “I know it’s unlikely, because you were working hard, but I wondered if you might have seen anything unexpected in the water or on a nearby boat before the fire started and all those emergency vehicles arrived? Apparently, the police haven’t yet come to a conclusion about what caused the accident.” If it was one, I thought but did not say.

Tobin absorbed my question carefully, rasping his knuckles over the stubble on his chin. This made me wonder whether he had pre-game rituals, such as eating certain food or not shaving until after a performance, like some professional athletes did.

 “You’ve probably reviewed all of this with the authorities,” my mother added, “but might it be helpful to talk about what you noticed before the incident occurred?”

He nodded at her. “We were in the middle of one of our shows when all the shouting started and we the heard the boom. A precarious point,” he added, with a small grin, “because I remember bobbling a little on the ladder. I was upside down at that moment, balanced on my partner’s shoulders. Everything looks different from that perspective.”

“Can’t imagine,” my mother murmured, nodding with encouragement.

“Nothing out of the ordinary sticks out that I can think of. It was a pretty good crowd for this time of year. And we’d snagged the cutest kid to help with our act. That always helps with tips.” He winked. “It looked like smooth sailing on the Gulf; I saw nothing that would have caused me to predict trouble. Oh.” He stopped for a minute and rubbed his chin again.

“It’s possible someone dropped off the edge of that boat and swam to a nearby dinghy. It didn’t register at the time, and maybe I’m making the whole thing up, but it’s possible that it happened this way.”


So that’s tiniest bit of real life worked into the story—it amuses me and I hope it amuses the folks I include as well. Have you noticed real life details in the fiction you read?




Wednesday, February 28, 2024

What's Rhys writing? Too many things. She's confused

 RHYS BOWEN: This year has not been easy for me to focus on writing. John had weeks of radiation, I had surgery on my knee, then bits frozen off by the dermatologist then a tooth extracted an in implant put in. Not fun!! But I managed to finish the next Royal Spyness book, called WE THREE QUEENS, and sent it off last week.

Today I'm celebrating the publication of the paperback of ALL THAT IS HIDDEN, and then we drive to Arizona in time for the launch of IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW.




Oh, and I have already started on next year's stand-alone novel that has the delicious title of MRS. ENDICOTT'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Middle aged lady escapes her boring life for the south of France...

Whoever imagines the golden years as sitting in a rocking chair, crocheting, has not met me. I barely have time to breathe. But at least I don't have time to be bored!.

I thought I'd share a snippet from the new Royal Spyness book. You'll have to find out who the three queens are... I'm not telling. But poor Georgie. Guess what's about to happen to her.....


“So what is David going to do?” I asked. “The simplest thing would be to keep her as his mistress. Several of my ancestors have lived quite happily with this arrangement—think of Lily Langtry, Alice Keppel.”

                Darcy gave a grunted chuckle. “The last King Edward had more than his share of mistresses, I agree, but he also had a respectable long suffering wife to be at his side on state occasions. You can’t picture Mrs. Simpson receiving foreign heads of state or sitting on an elephant at a durbar.”

                “What a mess,” I said. “I’m sure he won’t give her up.”

                “He won’t,” Darcy said. “He made that quite clear. He’d rather give up the throne than her.”

“Golly.” I tried to swallow back the word too late. My attempts at curtailing my schoolgirl language were not successful in times of crisis.

“He’s absolutely besotted with her.,” Darcy continued. “ She has him completely under her spell.  When we’d got through a bottle of Scotch he kept saying, “You don’t understand, Darcy, old fellow, she’s the most marvelous woman in the world. I couldn’t live without her.”

                “So what does he plan to do?”

                “Allow the newspapers to spill the beans at the right moment, I gather. They’ve been remarkably obedient so far and kept the news of her from the public. But now he wants the public on his side. They adore him and he’s sure that they’ll want him to marry the woman he loves and thus put pressure on their local MPs. The law will be changed and he’ll live happily ever after.”

                “That isn’t likely to happen, is it?”

                “I don’t think so. If it were just civil law then maybe. But you can’t alter the doctrine of the church and he’s the official head of it.”

                “His poor mother,” I said. I had become quite fond of Queen Mary, who had sent me on various assignments for her. She was a stickler for the rules and felt the royal family should be above reproach. She had done everything she could to get her son’s attention away from “that woman” as she called her, but to no avail. His late father, King George, had been remarkably prophetic. “That boy will be the downfall of the monarchy,” he had said not long before he died.  I just prayed this wasn’t going to turn out to be a true prophesy. We had endured one war between king and parliament in our history and it had ended with the king losing his head.  Someone should remind my cousin of this.

                A thought now struck me. “Darcy, why did he particularly want you to listen to his lament? He has his own group of friends, doesn’t he, and you were never close to him.”

                “Ah.” Darcy gave a deep breath. “It wasn’t exactly me he wanted. It was our house.”

                “What? What do you mean?”

                “He knows that the moment the news breaks Mrs. Simpson will be hounded by the press. It could break before he’s ready as the American papers are already full of it. He wants to spare her the unpleasantness that could ensue. He wants her safely far from the public eye…”

                It was gradually dawning on me exactly what he was saying.

                “He wants her to come and stay here?”  I heard my voice rising.  

AHA

And Mrs. Simpson isn't the only person who will be invading Georgie and Darcy's life. It's going to get rather complicated very quickly. But you'll have to wait until November to find out more.

Oh well. Back to work. And don't forget that IN SUNSHINE OR IN SHADOW comes out on March 12, and Clare and I will be holding a launch party at the Poisoned Pen in Phoenix the Saturday before, on March 9. If you'd like a copy signed by both of us do get in touch with the store and they can ship you one.

And don't forget to check out Reds and Readers on March 12 when I'll be going live and giving away a signed copy!

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

What Hank's Writing: I dare you. Join me on book tour!



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If it's Tuesday, it's my day on WWW!


 

Go ahead, I dare you. Ask me where I am. Here’s the answer: I have no idea. I just burst out laughing at how hilarious the ONE WRONG WORD  book tour is – – no one can describe the sensation of waking up in the morning, and seriously having not a clue what city you;re in. Or what state! If I didn’t have my printed-out itinerary, I’d be doomed.

And one evening, in a gorgeous town in South Carolina, I even had a haunted hotel room.

I’d had a non-stop travel day, a perfect flight from Boston to Charlotte, then a two-and-a-half hour car ride to Sumter, South Carolina. I was staying in a gorgeous inn, which the proprietor told me was built in the same year the Titanic sank. So, okay, good, lovely, if you think that’s a good omen.

And I know about South Carolina’s gorgeously mystical reputation.

Anyway, I was in bed, cuddled under a comforter, with a cup of tea, recovering from the travel and preparing for the next day when my TV started changing channels without me touching the remote.

Can you imagine?

It was bizarre. And no matter what I did, the channels kept changing. Then it would stop. And then start again. No matter how I fought back, it wanted to watch a car show, and then it decided to click through all the channels.

I decided to read.

(And told myself that if the pages started turning without me turning them, I would call someone.)

And listen to this. When I woke up the next morning, my TV was ON.

What do you think about THAT?

Anyway, this is becoming quite the tour: Did you see me and ONE WRONG WORD on the Tamron Hall show? It was glorious! I was absolutely terrified, but it turned out to be fantastic. 




She’s a terrific person, and an incredibly skilled interviewer. (And her show sent a car to pick me up, and has a hair team, and makeup team, and a person who lint rolls you before you go on camera. I could get used to that.) She has a marvelous new thriller coming out, too, called WATCH WHERE THEY HIDE!

If you missed it, here’s a link!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cznX6a6GII8



AND I I I



I was also featured on the amazing Carol Fitzgerald’s show! You know her as The Bookreporter, and this is quite an honor! Watch our interview here.

 https://youtu.be/WgMH-QE2Jb0


And we are doing bookfaces wherever I go. So incredibly funny! (Do you recognize mega-bestselling authors William Martin and Lori Roy? And genius journalist Callie Crossley of PBS?)







AND! (I know, lots of great stuff) look at this amazing article in The Boston Globe! (Since I’m on the road, thoughtful Hallie sent this photo!)


On the other hand, book tour is grueling, with a plane flight (or two) almost every day, and intermittent food, and unpredictable hotels (ALWAYS freezing) , and living out of a carryon suitcase. I was incredibly grateful that my current hotel has a laundry room.

( And I hope your TV remote does not have a mind of its own.)

But then, the good news. WHOA. Did you see this in BookBub? SO honored! 



 You can read the whole wonderful thing here!

https://www.bookbub.com/blog/book-bestsellers-winter-2024

And in the end, what’s top of mind–I am supposed to be editing the next book! Thank goodness for plane rides.

I know we’ve talked about ghosts before, so let me ask you this: what’s your favorite part of being in a hotel?

(And those who have joined us at Reds and Readers–there’s an offer for you there today!Check for it after 10 AM ET!)




Monday, February 26, 2024

Hallie's What We're Writing - the road not (yet) taken...


HALLIE EPHRON: I get to kick off WHAT WE'RE WRITING week, but first a quick detour to Jenn's last Friday FUNNIES - I laughed out loud at that dog bouncing up and down over the fence to check Jenn and her pooch.

It reminded me of this photo which I took of a sunflower that seems to be plotting its escape from behind a fence in my far more sedate neighborhood. It doesn't bark.

But I digress...

I'm still very much in rummaging-around mode, looking at my various finished and unfinished bits and pieces. This one stopped me in my tracks. It was in a file I created in 2020 and saved as SOMETHINGNEW.

Well, right now I could definitely use something new so I opened it… and here’s what I found – one paragraph and a very short sentence…

Miriam Abramowitz was turning into a shriveled, overripe vegetable. Her toenails were untended, only the tips still painted. Coming at you, her hair was a corona of silvery white. Walking away it was brown-almost black. Her living room couch had a permanent sag in it from where she’d lodged herself for the last three months.

The doorbell rang.


I have no idea what I was thinking and where this was going with this, but it certainly reads like something that was written during covid lockdown.

But looking at it now I can imagine what Miriam might find when she opens the door and there, sitting on her front steps, is…

- A large red cat, blinking up at her
- A box, with her name and the word FRAGILE on it in purple crayon
- A one-way airline ticket to Las Vegas
- A pile of candy conversation hearts, all with the same message on them: AS IF
- An invitation to a masked ball
- A chocolate cupcake and the note, "One side will make you younger."
- A photograph of a woman who looks like Miriam, riding a camel, wearing a balaclava, and holding an Uzi
- A thumb drive loaded with photographs of Miriam sleeping
- A red clown nose

So, two questions…

Which of these would be most likely to entice you to keep reading (and please tell us why)?
And of course, ideas?!? What else might she find on her doorstep?


Sunday, February 25, 2024

National Chili Day by Jenn McKinlay

 


Jenn McKinlay: Y'all, National Chili Day was on Thursday, and I missed it! Darn it. Not gonna lie, I have been having a heck of time keeping track of the days lately. How is it the end of February?! 

Ah, well, is there ever a bad day to have chili? No, there is not. To celebrate, belatedly, I'm sharing some chili trivia:

1700's: It is believed that immigrants from the Canary Islands introduced chili to the residents of San Antonio after settling in the region.

1828: The earliest written description of chili was by Houston based author J.C. Clopper.

1880's: Chili queens worked food stands that served chili, making it even more popular in San Antonio.


1893: The popularity of chili exploded when Texans set up a chili stand at the Chicago Exposition.

1952: The first world championship chili contest was held at the State Fair of Texas (naturally). The author of the definitive chili book WITH OR WITHOUT BEANS, Joe E. Cooper, was the chairman of the event.

1977: Chili is declared the official dish of Texas by the state legislature.


Oh, and I dug into the archives and found Hallie's Chili Recipe and Deb's Chili Recipe as well.


And finally, we must address the controversy surrounding chili. Yes, I know it can get heated but let's be civil about it, shall we? It's a safe space here and no matter how you feel, there'll be no judgment. (This one is for you, Joe E. Cooper)!

All right, Reds and Readers, here goes -- When you make chili, do you add beans or no? 

I suspect, our Lucy, with her Secret Bean Society membership (okay, I made that up but still her bean post is hilarious) is a vote for beans, but I'll wait to see her answer. 


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Darn it, I wish I'd written that!

JENN MCKINLAYIt happened again. I discovered a book that has so captured my imagination, I wish I’d written it. 


Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett is just perfection – in my opinion. A brilliant yet socially inept heroine, a charming and mysterious hero, and an adventure seeking and cataloging “The Folk” (faeries) of a remote Norwegian village for the Dryadology department in which they both work at the University of Cambridge in 1909. If Lessons in Chemistry and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (the originals not the watered down versions) had a book baby this would be it. It truly is the perfect winter tale. 


So, that’s my latest - Darn it, I wish I’d written that! - book.


How about you, Reds? What books have you read recently that are so good you wished you’d written them?



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Wrong Place, Wrong Time, by Gillian McAllister. It’s a terrific novel of suspense, where in chapter 1, a woman sees her son murder someone. She’s baffled and astonished and horrified, and cannot figure out why this would happen! The next morning, she wakes up. And it’s the day before the murder. And the next time she wakes up, it’s the day before that. But! She remembers everything that happened. It’s hard to explain, and incredibly wonderful to read, and I cannot imagine how she wrote it. Highly highly recommend it.

 It’s not only a terrific mystery, but absolutely poignant, and touching, about how our lives go by so quickly and  we don’t notice the sweet and important little things, and we even forget our own happiness. 



HALLIE EPHRON: Whenever I read a book by Peter Abrahams (aka Spencer Quinn) I am transported and delighted, whether it’s one of his books for children (“Down the Rabbit Hole”…) or one of his Chet and Bernie books (“Doggone It”...), I am in awe. I’ve been a fan ever since I was gobsmacked by his mystery novel “Oblivion” more than a decade ago (opens with the narrator testifying in court while losing consciousness and his memory to a brain tumor–a tour de force) when I was reviewing crime fiction for the Boston Globe. So add his latest, “Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge,” to my list of Peter’s books that I wish I could have written. 



LUCY BURDETTE: My list is long (and I’m not including my blogmates)! Any of the Ann Cleeves Shetland or Vera books (love the characters and the setting,) Barbara O’Neal’s The Art of Inheriting Secrets, Ann Mah’s The Lost Vintage, Juliet Blackwell’s The Paris Key.


This is making me think I’d better get back to work ASAP!


RHYS BOWEN: The thing I most wish I had written was not a book but a TV series. The Bletchley Circle. When I saw that the first thing I said was “This is brilliant. Why didn’t I think of it?”  But among recent books I wish I had written LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY. I loved that it was quirky, funny and didn’t fit any genre. Different. I really want to write a book that is different from anything ever written. That’s not easy. Oh, and I was impressed with Magpie Murders. I thought the story within the story was so clever, and the TV version was fantastic.



JENN: Oh, I loved, loved, loved, Lessons in Chemistry. And I agree, it defied categorization. Such an achievement.


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I hadn’t read anything by David Nicholls before we watched the Netflix series based on his novel ONE DAY. The series is astoundingly good–I can’t say much more than that because, spoilers, of which even the critics from a lot of major media have been guilty. (Maybe they assumed everyone had read the book? Or seen the Anne Hathaway/Jim Sturgess adaptation?) As soon as the last episode finished I had to dive into the book to see if it was as good, and there is my “Oh my gosh, I wish I’d written this,” moment. Such clever construction–the two characters meet on the day of their university graduation, July 15th, and the novel is a snapshot of that one day in their lives for the next twenty years. It’s funny, sexy, heartbreaking, human, and ultimately life-affirming. Just genius. Big sigh of envy and admiration from me!



JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, this is hard. I often get the severe case of the green-eyed monster over one aspect of a book or another.  I remember reading BLOOD IS THE SKY the year after I met its author, Steve Hamilton, and wishing SO HARD I could write with his spare precision. Carol Goodman’s debut, THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, is as perfect a blend of genre and literary as I’ve ever read, and damn it, I wish I could write like that! Who doesn’t wish they had written GONE GIRL, which not only won every award and was a major bestseller, but achieved the rare feat of jump-starting an entire new type of novel in the crime fiction realm.



If I could pick just one, though, it would be THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel. A little less known than her also-amazing STATION ELEVEN, The Glass Hotel is beautiful and page turning and astonishing and heartbreaking and original and compelling - ugh! So good.


So, how about you, Readers? Is there a book you wished you'd written or a book you wish you could read again for the very first time?

Friday, February 23, 2024

FRIDAY FUNNIES

 JENN McKINLAY: Hi, it's me with the Friday funnies again. I've curated my latest belly laughs from social media and life because dang it 2024 has been off to a rocky start for some of us, so let's take a beat and have a laugh.

So, this video is mine. I posted it to my Instagram story this week and it was wildly popular so I'll share with you with the back story: 

I walk my dogs every day on different paths through the neighborhood to keep it interesting--for everyone involved. Well, on this one particular street, this pooch feels compelled to greet us when we walk by. These block fences are six feet tall and no, there is no trampoline. 




The first time it scared the snot out of me, but now I greet him/her (IDK) by singing Adele's lyrics, "Hello...it's me." I laugh every time this dog pops up even though I expect it now. 

Here is a new discovery for me. This Instagrammer is hiiiiilarious. She anthropomorphs everything from fonts to human inventions and she is sooooo clever. I have rewatched some of these short videos several times just to appreciate all the nuances. Seriously, if you're on Insta, check out Elle Cordova. Here's a link to one of my faves since I can't just post it as I'm respecting copyright: Inventions Hanging Out

And then, of course, there are the good old reliable memes. Here are a few of my recent punny faves!










Happy Friday (we made it!), everyone. What are some things you've seen lately that made you laugh? Drop a link in the comments to share!





Thursday, February 22, 2024

MEANS, MOTIVE, AND OPPORTUNITY by Diane Vallere

Jenn McKinlay: One of my favorite cozy mystery authors is here today! The amazing Diane Vallere and she is going to get us all clear eyed and motivated and tell us all about her latest Samantha Kidd Mystery -- RANCH DRESSING! If you read yesterday's post, you know this is exactly what I needed to read today. Take it away, Diane!

 
Diane Vallere: The first time I worked with a professional editor, she asked me about my character’s motivation. “What does she want?” she asked. 

“It’s a mystery,” I replied as if the answer to her question was obvious. “She wants to find the killer.” (The “duh” was implied.)

I am ashamed to admit that it took more than that one book to understand what she meant. Oh, sure, I quickly latched on to a fear of failure, and how my character was afraid to not succeed. And that carried me through a book or two, while my character succeeded in exposing the killer but failed at life, learning that failure was sometimes necessary for growth. It’s not a bad lesson to learn, but after a few books, it turns out, our readers actually want to see our characters succeed at life too!



Think about it. Life throws daily challenges at us. Some we win, and some we…keep trying to win. We only give up on the things that aren’t important enough to keep us motivated. But when there’s something we want—which may, by the way, be finishing our manuscript or to losing ten pounds or finally understanding how to style our naturally curly hair (ahem)—that motivation works like a fresh battery to keep us plowing forward even when things get tough. 

Ever get a great idea, something you just know will change your life? You just need to learn how build a bookcase/make fresh bread/change your sparkplugs/cut your own hair/become fluent in French/join a professional society/exercise for an hour each day. And you start out with the best of intentions, you buy the best supplies/ingredients, you pay your dues, you sign up for Duolingo. You sandwich your new habit between existing ones like James Clear suggests in Atomic Habits. You stick to your new routine because it’s important.

Until one day, it’s not. 

Your bookcase is partially built, you’ve been feeding sourdough starter for a month the only thing you make is a sourdough pancake. Your hair is lopsided, and you still don’t know the difference between savoir and conna├«tre. It’s not because you’re lazy, or too old to learn, or the principles of chemistry chose to boycott your sourdough starter, it’s because you lost your motivation. None of these things mattered enough to power you toward your ultimate goals. 

I don’t know about you, but my past is littered with partially finished projects that never got off the ground. (Case in point: there’s a partially re-rooted Barbie head sitting next to my desk as we speak.) But I find the time to write. And when I’m not writing, I can work on creative graphics for hours without ever realizing time has passed. Research is like a Vitamin B shot that powers me when I need a pick-me-up. Most of us never worked as hard as we do on the thing we love to do, to the extent that it doesn’t feel like work.   



In RANCH DRESSING, that same character who feared failure, who needed a few books to discover her motivation, goes on a trip to a dude ranch that her father-in-law is thinking of buying. She has no interest in the cowboy life, or western wear, or anything more than the Louis L’Amour books she packed, but the one thing Samantha Kidd cares about is solving other people’s problems. So when she’s relegated to the sidelines—just relax, read your book, we’ll handle this—her desire to help out becomes more than a desire, it becomes a mandate. The more she’s told not to get involved, the more she must. She can’t help herself—she’s that motivated. 

What about you, Reds? What projects have you let languish on the shelf and what keeps you motivated? 



DIANE’S BIO & SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

National bestselling author Diane Vallere writes funny and fashionable character-based mysteries. After two decades in luxury retailing, she traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. As past president of the national Sisters in Crime organization, she edited the Agatha-Award-winning essay collection PROMOPHOBIA: Taking the Mystery out of Promoting Crime Fiction. Diane started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.

SOCIAL MEDIA HANDLES:

FB: https://facebook.com/dianevallereauthor

IG: https://instagram.com/dianevallere

YT: https://youtube.com/dianevallere

Website: https://dianevallere.com


RANCH DRESSING BLURB:

When fashionista Samantha Kidd’s father-in-law arranges a week on the dude ranch he’s aiming to buy, Samantha preps for blue skies and clean living. But all too soon she learns life on the ranch is anything but calm. When the owner is found dead inside one of the stables, all signs point to murder.

As Samantha wrangles clue after clue, she smells something rotten—and it’s not manure. In her quest for the truth, she encounters quirky cowhands, brazen barrel racers, and suspicious horseplay—not to mention a social paradigm straight from the eighteen hundreds. 

Can Samantha bring justice to the wild west of eastern New Jersey, or will a renegade ranch dweller get away with murder?

BUY LINKS:

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ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

PREORDER GIVEAWAY: https://www.dianevallere.com/ranch-dressing-preorder-contest

1. Preorder RANCH DRESSSING

2. Fill out form on my website


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ninety Percent by Jenn McKinlay

Jenn McKinlay: If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you have probably learned a few things about me. I like dessert for breakfast (#badbreakfastchoices), I refer to my children as Hooligans, my Hub is a musician, etc. and so forth. Well, here's another factoid that I want to share.

I am a ninety-percenter. 

What does this mean? I'll tell you! 

One of the other things, you might have learned about me by now is that I am a DIY girl. I love a good home improvement project!

It makes sense when I realize I was raised to be incredibly self-sufficient by today's standards. I can chop firewood, mow the lawn, bake bread, iron clothes, maintain a garden, tile a bathroom floor, paint the interior or exterior of my house (with a paint sprayer but still), and so on. 

My parents did not gender discriminate over chores. Everyone learned to do everything because cooking and cleaning wasn't just for girls and yard work and automotive care wasn't just for boys. I raised the Hooligans the same way. You're welcome future Hooligan spouses. But here's something I learned about my self recently when I was putting in our new pet friendly floors. I only finish any project to about ninety percent and then I move on to the next project without ever finishing the first one. Ack!

How did I discover this? Well, as I was gazing up at the kitchen cupboards that I started to refinish with frames and paneling in 2017, I realized I never finished the cupboard doors over the refrigerator. They are painted but plain - no paneling, no framing. Do I still have the supplies? Yup. Do I have the motivation? Nope. 


Then I was installing the threshold from the new floor in the hallway to one of the Hooligan's old bedrooms and realized I never put in the baseboards over the "new" flooring the Hooligans installed during their fall break in 2014. Oops! Also, we painted the room in 2016 and I found that we left one narrow wall by the closet green while the new color was blue. In my defense it was behind a short bookcase, but yeah...still green.



Then I thought about my books and I realized that my first draft is usually about ninety percent finished when I turn it in and I have come to rely upon my fabulous editor to tell me how to revise/rewrite the book until it is one hundred percent complete. Don't get me wrong, I write the last chapters in the first draft so it's all there, it's just that there's about ten percent of the manuscript that needs to be fixed up -- rather like that pesky kitchen cupboard -- and I need a nudge to get it done. 

Being a former librarian, naturally, I had to do some research. There is a condition called Completion Anxiety which seemed possible but I read the symptoms and knew that wasn't it. There's also Procrastination but that's not it either as I'm a great starter. I don't put things off, I just don't finish them. In talking to my doc, we agreed that I have an adult case of ADD attention deficit disorder. When I read through the literature, I thought -- That's it! 

One of my goals for 2024 is to commit to projects from start to finish and double back and finish the ones I've left incomplete. I already dug a hat out of the project bin that I started in 2018 and put aside when --you guessed it -- there was about 10% left to go. I am happy to say, that it has been completed. 


There's a flicker of motivation burning in my soul that gets brighter with each task I complete, so I have hope. I think if I can get myself up to ninety-seven percent, I'll call it a win! 

So, how about you, Reds and Readers? Are you a finisher? Do you finish every task you set for yourself? Or do you get close to the finish line and take a nap like me?