Thoughts on the Writing Process

One Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch expres­sion I’ve heard is: “Too soon old, too late smart.” A more com­mon expres­sion is: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I guess I could accept both those sen­ti­ments, but as the 85-year-old self-described Grandma Moses of Mys­tery, I tend to ignore them. Why else would I read writ­ing mag­a­zines, lis­ten to videos, and inter­act with other writ­ers to learn more of my trade? Or, am I relearn­ing things I thought I already knew?

I’ve been attempt­ing to write a short story, a pre­quel to my first mys­tery. writer at workEvery day I started over, chang­ing what I had writ­ten, decid­ing it was all wrong. Then I read a blog post from a well-published author I fol­low. She was hav­ing trou­ble writ­ing her newest book. She decided the prob­lem was that she didn’t know where it was going, what should come next. She had to take time out until she knew what her char­ac­ters would do. A few days later I read a mag­a­zine Q and A with an author. His words—writing was a strug­gle all the way. But he also said that if he were told what a scene should be, he could write it eas­ily. The idea was the hard part.

Okay, got it. Yeah, that idea. And I real­ize, when I’m writ­ing a full-length mys­tery, I keep a sep­a­rate file to talk about my story. I ask myself, would Jo do that? If she did, what would her sis­ter say? What would Mel do? I’ll ram­ble on down one path, then back up. “Nope,” I tell myself, “that’s not right. But maybe, if she said…” And I’m off on a new string.

So, why not do the same thing with a short story?

Hey, did this old dog learn a new trick? Umm, maybe. Maybe just a relearned trick. But that won’t stop me from look­ing for some­thing new for my tool kit. After all, I only started this blog a cou­ple of years ago, at 83. And I’m still try­ing to improve it every chance I get. I try, as well, to improve my sto­ries as I write new ones. I will go along with the, “Too soon old,” part of that say­ing. But, “too late smart?” Nope, that will never happen.

I think writ­ers are a time­less bunch. We write about oth­ers of any age, no mat­ter our own age. Women write about men, men write about women. We send our char­ac­ters to far lands, or into their own minds. If we didn’t con­tinue to learn and inno­vate, we’d have one story to tell, then be done. I’m will­ing to bet, each writer has learned some­thing com­pletely new within the last year, and writ­ten about it. Do you agree? Or, do you disagree?

Craft Blog Visit

I’m vis­it­ing Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers blog today with a repeat post 3-2-15 786px-Quilt_barn_stock_tp_harrison_co_Ohioabout barn quilts. How do you like the new barn pic­ture she found to show? See the whole story here.

My ebook, A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alaska is still free through March 2, 2015. It is avail­able for Kin­dle at Amazon.

Fol­low the daily posts at Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. Thurs­day, on my blog, look for a writ­ing hint I dis­cov­ered a cou­ple of days ago, quite dis­prov­ing that say­ing, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Free e-book—A KNUCKLEHEAD IN 1920s ALASKA

A Knucklehead in 1920s AlaskaEvery Thurs­day I post some­thing I find inter­est­ing, hop­ing you will too. So, today’s inter­est­ing bit is about tomorrow—which is when one of my e-books goes free for five days.

File it under both his­tory and mys­tery. The his­tory part is easy. The book is one I wrote with my father from audio tapes he gave me quite a few years ago about going to Alaska to earn col­lege money.  He was nine­teen, a hot-headed kid who didn’t want to take any guff. Of course, guff is often what one gets from an employer, so he had a lot of dif­fer­ent jobs. He failed to blow him­self up car­ry­ing dyna­mite. He failed to drown when he and a horse ended up under the ice in a near-freezing river. He even man­aged to sur­vive danc­ing with what they referred to as “a woman on the line” when her boyfriend showed up. In fact, after I heard my father’s adven­tures, I real­ized that it’s a mar­vel I was ever born. That’s the his­tory part.

The mys­tery part is at the tail end of this book, sort of a Thank You for reading—a reprint of my first short mys­tery, “Yesterday’s News” pub­lished in Future’s Mys­te­ri­ous Mys­tery Mag­a­zine sev­eral years ago.

A Knuck­le­head in 1920s Alaska e-book is avail­able for Kin­dle. The free dates are Feb­ru­ary 27 through March 3, 2015. Do read and enjoy!

Mon­day, I’ll be back here, but I’ll be vis­it­ing Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers too.

Agatha Nominee-WRITES OF PASSAGE

WRITES OF PASSAGE frontMy five-star pick this week was nom­i­nated in the non-fiction cat­e­gory and includes essays from 59 Sis­ters in Crime mem­bers (I’m one of them). Hank Phillippi Ryan edited Writes of Pas­sage and is the author of a mys­tery also up for an Agatha. Pub­lisher. Hen­ery Press, is a hot-bed of Agatha win­ners and nom­i­nees. With a line-up like that, how can this book miss?

Read­ers agree. This is one review on Ama­zon. 

“I pur­chased this book to sup­port Sis­ters in Crime. What the heck, I thought. I can read a story a day with my tea in the morn­ing. Then I can read my “other book” later in the day. Except I didn’t. I found myself read­ing four or five sto­ries in the morn­ing (each one is about 2 pages), and then pick­ing it back up later in the day. So much for my “other book!”
“If you’re a begin­ning, estab­lished or emerg­ing writer, or sim­ply inter­ested in the writ­ing jour­ney, there’s some­thing in Writes of Pas­sage for you. Many some­things. Encour­age­ment, pas­sion, truth, advice, humor and angst resolved.
“I won’t pick my favorite sto­ries here — couldn’t if I tried. But I will give a major kudos call­out to Hank Phillippi Ryan’s exem­plary job of edit­ing. This could have been just a bunch of sto­ries. Instead it’s a cohe­sive blend of many voices, com­ing together as one.”
For two months, Sis­ters in Crime posted a clip from each author. This one was from my con­tri­bu­tion called: The Guppy Con­nec­tion. “I’m a Guppy who is still learn­ing, but also offer­ing any help I can to my favorite group.” (That’s the Guppy chapter—originally named for the Great UnPub­lished, but now, many con­sider them­selves the Great Under Pub­lished, as many have gone on to pub­lish­ing even mul­ti­ple mys­tery series.)

Eagles on the Nest

The tem­per­a­ture is about to hit zero in my part of Penn­syl­va­nia. Who knew it is eagle nest­ing time? Not me, until I noticed an arti­cle about a nearby eagle nest with an eagle cam mounted to see all the eagle’s inti­mate moments. Lay­ing egg one? Got that. Egg two? You bet. I just checked the eagle cam and saw one of the eagles stand­ing by, watch­ing the eggs, before she (or he—they take turns) set­tled back down.

I also learned a lit­tle bit about eagles and their eggs. Cold as it is, it evi­dently doesn’t hurt the eggs to be uncov­ered for ten or so min­utes. In fact, that keeps them from being over­heated. Another fact—it takes thirty-five days for an egg to hatch.

Here’s a few links to fol­low our local eagles, named Lib­erty and Free­dom by news­pa­per read­ers. That’s unof­fi­cial, since the Penn­syl­va­nia Game Com­mis­sion, whose cam­era is livestream­ing these eagles and their nest, does not “per­son­ify wildlife.” (I should imag­ine the eagles are unaware of these names as well.)

The Valentine’s Day love story.

The first egg. The sec­ond egg.

And, since every story should have a bit of con­tro­versy—were the eagles scared off the nest?

And here’s the eagle cam, so you can watch at any time. Plan on view­ing on March 21, the esti­mated time for the first hatching.

Are there any eagle cams near you? Are there any other ani­mals watched by camera?

Five Stars for MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE

My five-star pick this week com­bines two of my loves—mystery and his­toric fic­tion. Maids of Mis­for­tune takes place in 1879 San Fran­cisco. A young widow sup­ports her­self as board­ing house owner Annie Fuller, and, in dis­guise, as psy­chic Sibyl who gives per­sonal and finan­cial advice to clients. As a woman, she knows that no one would ever accept such advice from her, but they will accept it as com­ing from the stars. When one of her clients dies, sup­pos­edly by sui­cide, she knows his finances weren’t in the sham­bles the police claim. When the police real­ize it was mur­der, they look to his fam­ily. Annie poses as a serv­ing girl for the fam­ily to find the truth.

The author, M. Louisa Locke, seam­lessly puts the reader squarely in that time and place. While we are engrossed in the plot we notice the work involved to keep up a house, the atti­tudes of every­one toward a Chi­nese cook, Annie’s belated real­iza­tion of what her laun­dry girl does, and the prob­lems of travel and com­mu­ni­ca­tion in an ear­lier age.

Maids of Mis­for­tune is the first of a series (the ebook is now free). There are sev­eral short sto­ries as well. The fourth full-length mys­tery in the series will be out this month.

Of inter­est to the writ­ers among my read­ers, M. Louisa Locke’s blog shares her ongo­ing mar­ket­ing plans for an inde­pen­dent writer. (Next week I’ll revisit the upcom­ing Agatha awards with another good read.)

What is it about Grandmas?

I remem­ber, when I was a lit­tle girl, my grand­mother was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the reg­u­lar police force. She was there for ques­tion­ing female pris­on­ers. Once she even arrested a man she rec­og­nized from a local wanted poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and requested that he walk with her to the police sta­tion. He did.

Some­how, I don’t think that would work today. But grand­mas have a sur­pris­ing amount of author­ity. Think about it. They’ve raised chil­dren, and raised them well enough so those chil­dren are now par­ents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Mother. The child knows exactly what it means.

So, I was not sur­prised at all to hear about a grand­mother who is a bouncer at a local high-end restau­rant. When asked, What do you do when peo­ple get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times peo­ple say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the story, and view a pleasant-looking woman, go here.

I would not be sur­prised if, among any group, and espe­cially among writ­ers, there are quite a few grand­mas with amaz­ing sto­ries. Am I right? Is/was your grand­mother one of those amaz­ing women?

Agatha Nominee-CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE

My five star pick today is a two-fer—five stars plus Agatha nom­i­nee for Best First Novel!

It’s win­ter, the snow is pil­ing high, and Zoe Cham­bers, para­medic and deputy coro­ner in rural Penn­syl­va­nia is on the road with the emer­gency vehi­cle, try­ing to save lives. But some­one is mur­dered, and in a small town where every­one knows every­one else, there are a lot of secrets and connections.

I read Cir­cle of Influ­ence last May with lovely warm sun­shine, but author Annette Dashofy made me feel every bit of icy pre­cip­i­ta­tion as I set­tled down to read one great mys­tery, with unex­pected rev­e­la­tions on almost every page.

If you haven’t yet read Cir­cle of Influ­ence, snug­gle into a blan­ket before a roar­ing fire and set­tle down to read one great not-quite-cozy mys­tery with an excel­lent plot and mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. And, if you attend Mal­ice Domes­tic in May, con­sider vot­ing for Cir­cle of Influ­ence.

Quilts and Barns

How do quilts, a hand­made bed­cover, and barns, a large build­ing forquilt-barn cows, go together? Answer—when a barn sports a quilted decoration.

It’s a nat­ural for the place where I live, Lan­caster County, Pennsylvania—the home of Amish quilts, dairy farms, fields of hay and corn. But we are sort of a Johnny-come-lately. Quilt trails are found in 48 states and Canada. A local quilt­ing farm woman saw her first barn quilt in Ohio which inspired the one pro­filed in our local newspaper.

Some 7,000 wooden or Mylar quilts were cre­ated by groups such as the Grange (a farm­ing orga­ni­za­tion I belonged to as a teenage farm girl). They can be found fol­low­ing quilt trails, and they aren’t all on barns.

Here is the arti­cle from our local news­pa­per. And, of course, some­thing so pop­u­lar has its own Face­book page.

I had never before heard of quilts on barns, or quilt trails. In the sum­mer, we have corn mazes, tours of dairy farms, and Her­shey candy fac­tory. Do you have sim­i­lar activ­i­ties where you live? I’d love to hear about them.

Five Stars for LOWCOUNTRY BOIL

I read Low­coun­try Boil two years ago, shortly after it was pub­lished by Hen­ery Press. Then I went to my first ever Mal­ice Domes­tic in 2013, and voted for it to win as Best First Novel of 2012. Of course, I was sure I’d picked a lot of other win­ners as well, but Low­coun­try Boil was the only win­ner I picked. Since I was sit­ting at one of the Hen­ery Press tables, I got a front row seat as the other Hen­ery Press authors helped Susan Boyer celebrate.

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

To do jus­tice to this book, I’m reread­ing it now, and enjoy­ing it just as much as I did the first time. Some things come back to me imme­di­ately. I remem­bered the ghost (I love ghosts). When the locket turned up, I thought, aha! Other plot points had slipped my mind. Oh, yes, now I remem­ber, I thought as a new dan­ger unfolded.

But this isn’t telling you about a great read. A Great Win­ning Read! Not only did it win the Agatha, but it won the 2012 Daphne du Mau­rier Award for Excel­lence in Mys­tery Suspense.

The low­coun­try of the story is a South Car­olina island along the Intra­coastal Water­way (Did I pass it on one of sev­eral boat­ing trips, I won­der?) It’s a close-knit com­mu­nity of friends, rel­a­tives, and often, ene­mies who may be both friends or relatives.

Liz returns to the island home­stead after her grand­mother dies. She learns it was mur­der. So, why would any­one kill a sweet old lady? There are con­spir­a­cies afoot, and a ghost who con­fers with Liz, look­ing to save the island from the bad guys.

Are the prob­lems bro­ken mar­riages, land grabs, long remem­bered slights? Or, none of the above? Although Liz runs her own pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tion agency in the city, her brother, the local police chief, does not want her help in solv­ing one mur­der and try­ing to pre­vent fur­ther mayhem.

Other reviewer com­ments: “I can see why this debut mys­tery is get­ting a lot of buzz.”

The para­nor­mal aspect adds to the story rather than tak­ing it over, strik­ing the per­fect balance.”

A South­ern Mys­tery to be Savored!”

I agree with all of them.