Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Guesting on Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book

Today I am guest blogging on Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book. I hope you'll read my post about "The Most Dangerous Sport" (probably not the one you think it is!) and leave a comment for me there.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blogging for Fun

I have a number of writing- and mystery-reading related blogs on my reading list, but there are some that I go to just for fun. I read them for a daily laugh or to learn something new and to be pulled out of my little constricted world of mystery writing. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Cake Wrecks - My son is a baker, and that's why I first started reading this blog that features photos of cakes gone wrong, but now I just find it a hoot. It's amazing how BAD some of these cakes can be!

Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine - for all kinds of wacky and wild trivia. I usually find something worth gawking at every few days, like the recent "Most Electrifying Lightning Photography" and "12 Coolest Roadside Statues."

What are your go-to blogs for sheer fun? Please share them with me!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Those Who Gave Their Lives Serving Our Nation

Today at Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, I talk about Memorial Day and what it means to me. I hope you'll read it and join me in the National Moment of Remembrance today.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Visiting Pat Stoltey's Blog Today

Today I am guesting at my friend Pat Stoltey's blog. She's also a Colorado mystery author. My guest post is about "Being a Friend" and relates to the plot of Wicked Eddies, the second book in my RM Outdoor Adventures series that was released this month. I hope you'll read my post and leave me a comment there!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Interview at Bookbrowsing

Today, Publicist PJ Nunn has posted an interview she conducted with me on her bookbrowsing blog. She asked some interesting questions, many with a promotion/publicity slant, so I hope you'll go to her blog and read my responses!

Also, I'd like to make sure that all of my blog readers have a chance to enter a contest for a free copy of my new Wicked Eddies release along with a lot of other cool crime fiction. The International Thriller Writers is sponsoring a book giveaway on the Book Bitch website, and Wicked Eddies is one of them. To enter the contest, go HERE.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Organizing a Series, Part 2

Yesterday, I began a two-part discussion on my blog about organizing a series. In this second part, I'll start by listing some things you have to keep track of in a series:

1. Relationships – their history, changes, and current state.

Example: The events in my gift basket designer mystery book, A Real Basket Case, really stressed the marriage between Claire and Roger Hanover, so I had to show in the second book, To Hell in a Handbasket, that takes place about six weeks later, that they were still working through those issues.

2. State of main characters – physical and emotional health (injuries, baggage—unresolved issues)  and how they affect the characters. And, you need to show how the events in previous books affected the main character’s personality.  This is why mystery/suspense/thriller series often gradually get darker, because if someone is exposed to multiple murders and is stressed multiple times, realistically it’s going to change them!

Example: My sleuth's boyfriend’s shoulder injury near the end of Deadly Currents still affects him at the beginning of Wicked Eddies because only about 3 months have passed.

3. Environmental or setting changes – Was a building renovated? a car wrecked? a pet adopted? Did the main character move? Did an ion storm disable the communication network? Has the magical lake lost its powers?


Here are some tools (also called meta documents or a series “Bible”) that you can use to keep yourself on track:

1. Character profile – Make one for every character that has the potential to return in a future book. Note characters'  “continuity details” (eye/hair color, name of pet dog or cat, what type of car she drives, his favorite food/beverage, musical tastes, etc.). Also note characters' education, religion, politics, likes, dislikes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, personality or enneagram type or astrological sign, etc. You can gather photos of people who look like your characters to jog your memory. It's harder to remember characters’ histories (backstory, culture, family dysfunctions before the series started and what happens to them during the series) than characteristics, so you also need:

2. Outlines for all the books in the series stating in short paragraphs what happens in each scene – develop them before and/or during writing the book and use them before, during and after writing the book. Record what all the off-screen and on-screen characters are doing when. Make sure the characters have enough time to get from point A to point B and to complete the tasks they’re doing between scenes. Especially note important events in the main character’s relationships with other characters for future use. You can use the search function of your word processor to answer questions like, “What exactly did Claire say to Roger to get them back together?” or “How long did Mandy stay with Rob to nurse him after his shoulder injury?”

3. Cross-series Timeline – Record a chronology of major events, not only what happens during the books, but also what happens between the books in the series. For example, there’s a little over a month between the events in book 2 of my RM Outdoor Adventures series, Wicked Eddies, and book 3, Cataract Canyon (to be released in May, 2013). Mandy breaks a rib at the end of Wicked Eddies, so she can’t go on the scouting trip of Cataract Canyon. Injuries are my Achilles heel both within and between books—I often forget to note how the pain affects the characters.

4. Setting description – Whether your setting is real or fictional, you need to note where homes, businesses, streets and geographic features are,  the local flora and fauna, weather, etc. You can have maps (I use actual street maps and river maps), layouts of buildings, etc. If your setting is a real setting, take photos and store them where you can easily refer to them. If it’s an imaginary setting, make drawings/paintings of the layout.

5. Voice – Before beginning a new book in a series, re-read the previous book (or all of them) to immerse yourself in that world again, so you can keep a consistent tone both in the narrative and in the character’s voices. In the character profiles, you should note any catch phrases they use all the time, but reading their dialogue in a previous book is the best way to get back in their heads.

When I’m writing a rough draft, I have multiple files open on my computer at the same time: the manuscript text, the outline, the character profiles, and my research file (which is basically the world/setting description). As I create new elements (characters, events, etc.), then I can easily insert them in my meta documents, because they are open and displayed on the screen at the same time. And if I forget someone’s name or hair color or favorite beer, or the species of squirrels or flowers in the area, I can quickly look it up.

I hope this discussion of series tracking tools has been useful to other series writers!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Organizing a Series, Part 1

Today and tomorrow, I'm going to talk about how to organize a book series and list some tools that I use to do so.

Series are common in genre writing: trilogies are popular in fantasy/science fiction and romance, longer series in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre and in fantasy/science fiction. Series can be of many types, such as:

- A) a long story told over multiple novel-length volumes (common in science fiction/fantasy, eg. Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings)
- B) a set of novels that are discrete stories written about related characters (common in romances, eg. Nora Roberts' trilogies)
- C) a set of novels that are discrete stories but that all involve the same main character(s), each can usually be read as a stand-alone (common in mysteries)

Often authors don’t know they’re writing a series until after they’ve written the first book, when their publishers ask them to turn a book into a series, or the author decides to do so. My RM Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner was planned. But my Claire Hanover gift basket designer one wasn’t. Regardless of whether you’re creating a series plan before or after the first book is written, there are some questions you have to answer:

1: How much to reveal in each book about what happened in prior book(s) in the series. If it’s a long story told over multiple volumes, the author is almost obligated to give the reader a summary of what’s happened so far to bring the reader up to speed, because they’re being plopped into a story mid-stream. If you’re writing one of the other two kinds of series, you want to give readers a tantalizing glimpse of what happened before, to plant the desire to read the other books. But you don’t want to frustrate them with what they missed. And you never give away the essential elements of the plot or the ending, because you don’t want to ruin that reader’s future satisfying read of the earlier book. You have to walk a fine line, and usually it’s better to err on the side of not showing enough rather than too much.

2: How much to go over the same ground that was covered in previous books, especially when it comes to characterization or describing the setting. You don’t want to bore the reader who’s read all the previous books, and for example, how many ways are there to describe blue eyes and blond hair or the layout of the main character’s house? How much of the characters’ backstory and relationships has to be retold? The key is variety, saying the same thing in different ways, and breaking up the retelling into small bits. Insert the bits where they’re needed, much like you do with the backstory of what happened in the characters’ lives before the series started.

3: Does my series “have legs”? Is there enough material there for more books? Make sure your main character(s) is strong (fully-fleshed out) and has a rich life, with lots of interesting characters as friends or relatives, lots of problems (emotional issues), a complex backstory that can be stressed and reappear in future books, and a career or avocation that will keep putting him or her in interesting situations. If the series is of the first type, where the protagonist is battling the same antagonist across multiple volumes, the antagonist has to be just as strong and rich. If the series is the second type, those related characters need to be introduced in the first book.


Many writers have trouble keeping track of the events (story arcs) and how they change the characters (character arcs) in a single book-length novel. The series writer, though, has the even more difficult challenge of keeping track of those over the course of many novels that can span multiple years in both the writer’s life and the lives of his or her characters. You can have arcs that span one book, so they must be introduced and resolved with a single novel. Or you can have series arcs that span multiple books in a series, either a subset of books, say two to four, or ALL of the books in the series (eg. Harry Potter).

The main character needs to grow and change at least somewhat with each book, because a character with no growth is boring. The main character should learn something in each book, and that knowledge will change her. BUT s/he can’t change so much that someone who reads Book 1 then skips to Book 7 doesn’t still recognize the main character as familiar. Often in a mystery series, the overall arc is the main character’s love life—the sleuth may start out single, meet someone, break up, meet someone else, an old flame may return so the main character has to make a choice, s/he may get married, the spouse may die or disappear, etc.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss what information a series author has to keep track of and what tools I use to do it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Red Herrings Stink!

I m blogging at Inkspot today, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, about the stinky topic of red herrings, or false clues. Do you have a favorite red herring that you came across while reading a mystery or that you used in writing a mystery? I hope you'll leave a comment there sharing your thoughts!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Interviews, interviews, interviews!

Every time I release a new mystery book (as I did Tuesday with Wicked Eddies), I receive a lot of requests for interviews. Many have appeared on-line recently. The interviewers ask different questions, and I try to vary my responses to similar questions, so I hope you'll read them all and find them to be interesting. Please let me know in a comment here if I say anything that surprises you!

International Thriller Writers featured me in their The Big Thrill webzine. Read the interview HERE.

My whitewater river ranger sleuth, Mandy Tanner, was interviewed on the Killer Characters blog HERE.

I was interviewed on the Inspiration Forum HERE.

I was interviewed by B.R. Stateham HERE

And lastly, this isn't an interview, but I applied the "Page 69 Test" to Wicked Eddies and reported on the result (which was VERY interesting) HERE.

More interviews are coming up, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Today is the Official Release Date for Wicked Eddies!

Today is the official release date for Wicked Eddies, the second book in my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series. Yee-haw!

Whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner rides the waves again, this time while patrolling the upper Arkansas River in Colorado during a fly-fishing tournament. And wherever there's competition, there's the chance for tempers to flare, for cheating to occur, and even for murder! But there was also something darker going on in the life of Howie Abbott, the fisherman whose body Mandy discovered in a riverside campground with an ax in his neck!

"Once again, Groundwater, mixing mystery with outdoor adventure, comes up with an excursion that will please most comers."
-- Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2012

I hope you'll join in the excitement by purchasing your own copy of the trade paperback or ebook from your local bookseller or favorite on-line retailer!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Photos from the 2012 Festival of Mystery

Last Monday, I participated in the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, put on by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop.The photos below are from the event. First, of course, is me behind my book display shortly before they let in the mystery fan hoard that was waiting in line outside. The following photos are of fellow Midnight Ink authors Alice Loweecey, Jessie Chandler, Deborah Sharp, and Vicki Doudera. The last photo is of all the Midnight Ink authors who participated in the festival (including Lois Winston and Joanna Campbell Slan) with store co-owner Richard Goldman. We were at the post-event pizza and beer party at the store. What a fun day!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Photos from the 2012 Malice Domestic Conference

This is the first of two reports on my east coast trip. (The next one will appear Monday.) I started in Hampton, Virginia, visiting my parents. While there, I signed some stock at the local Barnes & Noble store and I gave a talk on "Series Writing for the Organizationally Challenged" to the Chesapeake Bay Writers. In the photo below, I'm with their Vice President, Jackie Guidry, and my proud mother. :)

That was followed by the Malice Domestic conference, where I had a blast! I arrived just in time on Friday to relieve Beth Wasson, the Executive Secretary of Sisters in Crime, at the SinC table in the bookroom, so she could attend the SinC Chapter Meeting. I serve on the National Membership Committee, so I spent the next couple of hours encouraging folks to join the organization. After Beth returned, I attended some panels and schmoozed with old friends such as Liz Zelvin and Leslie Budewitz (winner of the Nonfiction Agatha Award) in the photo below, and made some new friends.

Then I met up with the Midnight Ink gang (see us in the group shot below!) for dinner at a local Mongolian BBQ restaurant. I returned to observe the Live Auction for the JLG-RICA charity and watch a character name in my next RM Outdoor Adventures mystery book, Cataract Canyon, go for $400. Wow! During the dessert buffet at the Welcome Reception, I talked to my hubby on the phone and found out some buyers had signed an offer contract for our Colorado Springs house, which has been on the market almost forever. Double wow!

The New Author Breakfast and more schmoozing and panels filled up Saturday morning, then I joined some fellow members of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime for lunch at Booeymonger (see the two photos below).

The afternoon kicked off with my lively panel, "Three Strikes, You’re Dead: Sports-Related Mysteries" including Laura DiSilverio, Sasscer Hill, Maggie Barbieri, and our referee moderator Alan Orloff. Alan kept things lively with sports-related puns, a Seventh Inning stretch, getting the audience to do the wave, and his whistle.

The panel was followed by a signing, and here I am with a whitewater paddler fan, who is looking forward to reading Wicked Eddies. Below that is a photo of me with Parnell Hall, still in costume from the roast of Elizabeth Peters, and Geezer Lit author Mike Befeler.

Then it was time to get gussied up for the banquet. We had two tables for Midnight Ink authors, with table prizes of Midnight Ink logo T-shirts and books from fellow authors. Our acquisition editor, Terri Bischoff, provided wine, too. I'm with her (sampling the wine) and Jess Lourey in the photo below. Below that, I'm between Maddy Hunter and Darrell James.

Sunday morning began with the Sisters in Crime breakfast, where I gave out Lifetime Membership pins to the lifetime members in attendance. Then Beth Wasson came up to give me my pin. After more schmoozing and panels, I met up with fellow Midnight Ink authors Lois Winston and Vicki Doudera to drive to Oakmont, Pennsylvania, for the Festival of Mystery that would take place on Monday. This coming Monday, I'll post photos from that event!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Today's Mystery Author Guest: Bailey Cates

 As promised yesterday, fellow Colorado mystery author Bailey Cates (AKA Cricket McRae) is visiting my blog today. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post.

Above is the cover photo for her May 1st release, Brownies and Broomsticks, the first book in her Magical Bakery Mystery series. In the book, Katie Lightfoot’s tired of loafing around as the assistant manager of an Ohio bakery. So when her aunt Lucy and uncle Ben open a bakery in Savannah’s quaint downtown district and ask Katie to join them, she enthusiastically agrees.

In the Honeybee Bakery – named after Lucy’s orange tabby – Katie notices that her aunt is adding mysterious herbs to her recipes. Turns out these herbal enhancements aren’t just tasty – Aunt Lucy is a witch and her recipes are actually spells!

But when a curmudgeonly customer is murdered outside the Honeybee Bakery, Uncle Ben becomes the prime suspect. With the help of handsome journalist Steve Dawes, charming firefighter Declan McCarthy, and a few spells, Katie and Aunt Lucy will stir up some toil and trouble to clear Ben’s name and find the real killer ...

Below is Bailey's guest article about how she researched Savannah, Georgia, so she could set this series in a place she had never been before:

Brownies and Broomsticks is the first in the Magical Bakery Mystery series, and my first book written as Bailey Cates. When my editor at Penguin/NAL suggested I set the series in Savannah, Georgia, I was skeptical. The Home Crafting Mysteries I write as Cricket McRae take place in a fictional town, so I can make up anything I want. I like that.

However, Savannah is a truly lovely city. And heaven knows there’s plenty of fodder for paranormal cozy mystery plots. It’s the most haunted city in America. There’s history going back before the Revolutionary War. There are odd, wild characters both now and then, the famous historic squares, and, of course, The Book.

Which I’ll get to in a minute.

So I agreed. All I had to do was figure out how to realistically set a mystery in a city I’d never actually been to. A city with a very distinct personality, loved by many. Piece of cake, right?

Naturally, the first thing I did was go there. No, wait, that’s not true. The first thing I did was have my protagonist move there in the first book. So she’s not a local. I knew better than to try and fake that.

Then we took the vacation. We did some of the touristy things, but mostly spent time with locals who were friends of a friend. They were generous with their time and in-depth information, sitting and chatting (and drinking) for hours. I walked away with a pile of varied, disjointed notes full of telling details and plot ideas to mine later. While in town, I talked to folks at the fire department (one of my characters is a fire fighter) and made contact with the police department (it’s a mystery, after all).

And then there’s The Book. One of the first things I learned when I went to Savannah is that the famous (infamous?) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is referred to simply as The Book.

The Book is responsible for a lot of money coming into the city. Tourist money. And tourism is a major source of revenue in Savannah. The Book is also responsible for what a lot of outsiders think about the fair city.

So I took another look at the copy of Midnight on my bookshelf. Then I read about two dozen other books about or set in Savannah. Now I have a shelf devoted to books on the city.

And I watched movies. Lots of them. Over 80 movies have been filmed in Savannah! In fact, when we were in town some of the streets were closed down – and covered with dirt – for the filming of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator.

As I wrote I looked up restaurant menus online, took virtual tours, kept a chart of sunrise and sunset times for the week in which the story takes place (which I do for every book), and checked out details about the local flora on nursery websites and through the botanical gardens. I read the Savannah Morning News online every day. And I followed Twitter feeds associated with the city, with the Savannah College of Art and Design, and with the tourist association.

Finally, I fell in love with Google Earth. Love, I say. I was able to virtually walk down streets to look at structural layout, architecture, plants and landscaping, parking – all sorts of things. It helped me get my characters from place to place, organize scene choreography, and provide descriptive details.

And last, but not least, I made a bunch of stuff up. As a fiction writer I am, after all, a professional liar. If something served the story, I invented it.

For more information about me or my books, please visit my website. I also blog at Hearth Cricket, and Katie Lightfoot, the main character of the Magical Bakery Mysteries, blogs at The Lightfoot Chronicles.

Thanks again, Beth!

And thank you, Bailey! Does anyone have a question for Bailey? Do you have an interesting story to tell about researching a setting? Have you ever thought about how much WORK is involved in researching a real setting?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Tomorrow's Guest: Bailey Cates

Tomorrow, author Bailey Cates (AKA Cricket McRae) will be a guest on my blog. Bailey Cates believes magic is all around us if we only look for it. She studied philosophy, English and history and has held a variety of positions ranging from driver's license examiner to soap maker. She traveled the world as a localization program manager for Microsoft, but now sticks close to home where she writes two mystery series, tends to a dozen garden beds, bakes up a storm and plays the occasional round of golf.

Having apprenticed with a master herbalist for a year, Bailey's prone to concocting teas and tinctures for family and friends from the stash of herbs stored in the corner cabinet in her office. She owns a working spinning wheel and is on a first name basis with several alpacas and two sheep with questionable dispositions. The first book in her Magical Bakery Mystery series, Brownies and Broomsticks, was released on May 1st.

In her guest post tomorrow, Bailey talks about how she researched the setting for the series, Savannah, Georgia. After you read her post, feel free to ask her a question or leave a comment for her in the comments.