Friday, August 29, 2008

Research-do you or don't you?

One of the most common questions I am asked is "do you research your books?" And I can only answer definitevly, it depends.

I always associated research with term papers. All of us on this blog write fiction. Although, now that I think back, some of my term papers ---. Thrusting that firmly back in the past, I guess we all do some research. Sometimes it is as simple as getting a setting right. If you want a scene in a small town and you live in-for instance-down town Los Angeles, just finding a small town and wandering around for awhile can help make your description much more interesting. Knowing something about the job you give your protagonist also helps. You could get into a lot of trouble with readers if you make your hero or heroine a computer geek when you have trouble finding the on/off button on your own computer. So, when I wrote my first book, I took the advice of all of the speakers at all of the seminars I went to, and gave her my job. Real Estate agent. Of course, she was a beginner in the first book, and I had a lot of fun showing her the ropes. (That's a cliche, something to be avoided at all costs) But I found I still needed to do some research. Someone in the book gets shot, and I suddenly found I didn't know one thing about entrance and exit wounds. Oh, I'd read about them, seen people shot on TV, but I still wasn't sure. So I called up our police department and asked. After the laughter stopped, I got more information than I could use. The second book was about Arabian horses and Arabian horse shows. I had done years of research for that one, although I didn't know at the time that all the years of breeding, shivering in barn ailes while waiting for a mare to foal, mucking out stalls, and driving the country with a horse trailer behind me and a truck full of kids, dogs and tack were really preperation for a book. The third book, And Murder For Dessert is about wine, wineries, bed and breakfasts, and tempermental chefs. Wine tasting is a wonderful way to do research. I had some inside help feeding me information for that book as well. Made it fun to write, and I think I got all the facts correct. The book I'm just finishing up is set in a bakery. I've researched how they make all that wonderful stuff, and have done more than a little taste testing. I love research. Have a safe and happy holiday everybody. Kathleen Delaney And Murder For Dessert

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Power of the Contemptible Character

You know who they are -- the minor characters you love to hate in some of your favorite books. They're not psychotic; they're not even really evil. BUT ... they ARE full of minor failings, which inevitably impact the plot ... envy, false pride, phony values ... hurting themselves, or more often, other people ... sometimes, your hero or heroine. And while you loathe them for that, you can't really hate them -- because secretly, you know how much FUN they are when they show up.

Prime example: Caroline Bingley in PRIDE & PREJUDICE. Here's a woman just DYING to get Mr. Darcy's wedding ring on her finger, and yet, with all her artful ways and sophistication, she doesn't stand a chance.

But she NEVER stops trying ... interrupting him while he's writing a letter, taking the second volume of a book he's been reading and sighing about how wonderful reading is, when she hasn't opened the book yet ... even inviting Elizabeth Bennet to walk around the room with her, so she can attract Darcy's attention.

Every time Miss Bingley appears, I get interested. She brings with her an undeniable energy that lifts up the entire story. What stupid thing is she going to do next? I have to admit to a real fascination with that question.

What can you, the writer, do to lift up the energy of your own novel?

Easy: Create a contemptible character of your own.

Save the big failings -- abusiveness, an addiction to chainsaws, unending greed -- for your main villains. But can you give a smaller character some smaller, easily recognizable character flaws? It would help a lot.

Think of Beatrice in BOLT by Dick Francis. Francis, easily my favorite mystery/suspense writer of all time, draws characters in a few quick, unerring strokes that keep them with you forever. His heroes are truly GOOD and his villains -- well, you don't want to run into them on a dark night. In between are some generally good characters (he seems to have a pretty benign world view for a mystery writer) and a few with serious flaws.

Beatrice is one of them. A nouveau riche widow living in Palm Beach, she is easily manipulated because, my dear, she just can't seem to hang onto a dollar, though she has just a TINY establishment with a VERY small staff, and she's constantly scrambling for another source of income.

Kit, the champion jockey hero, is trying to trap a truly bad guy who's putting pressure on Beatrice's elderly and crippled brother and his wife. So far, they've been able to resist, and as Kit shores them up, he becomes the bad guy's target.

Beatrice is aggrieved when she arrives in London to find Kit ensconced in her favorite guest room in the house. "That's MY room!" she announces several times, but despite her clear view that Kit, a jockey, should be in a room just a cut above servants' quarters, her sister-in-law disagrees and keeps Kit in the beautiful guest room.

Beatrice, annoyed and humiliated, tells the bad guy where Kit will be on a certain night -- thus virtually assuring that he will be attacked. Kit manages to escape, but her sister-in-law is horrified and asks why Beatrice would ever do such a thing.

Beatrice, still aggrieved, says plaintively, "He was in MY ROOM." And to her mind, that was all it should take.

A truly contemptible character -- but every time she appears, the energy level of the book rises perceptibly.

Where can you put a contemptible character of your own?

I'm sure if you look, you can find the perfect place ...


Monday, August 25, 2008


We spent Sunday afternoon at Wilgrove Park in Mint Hill

and it was great fun! Six Conspirators (Lynette Hampton, Doug Walker, Joyce and Jim Lavene, Elizabeth Craig and Linda Evans) were there to sell books and meet the public. People responded to their friendly neighborhood mystery writers and by the time we left, bookmarks and other items were sold out!

Sunday afternoon in the Park is sponsored by Mint Hill Arts( a group of artists and craftsmen (including writers) who are always looking for ways to promote their work.

This is the third year for the Conspiracy at the event and it will probably not be the last year!

Joyce Lavene

Monday, August 25

We strike again!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Do-Over

Ever have one of those moments where you think back to an encounter and wish you’d said something even remotely clever? Or done something differently, maybe behaved like a hero instead of standing like a puppy caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi while someone else saved a little old lady?

I long ago resigned myself to the fact that I am not superhero material. Words—especially clever comebacks—do not spring easily to my lips in stressful situations. I am one of the faces in the crowd when the photographer shows up to document the hero’s latest save.

But for the main characters in my books, life is a different story. For them, I can use the do-over.

Good thing, because my first drafts generally cause me to cringe in shame. An example might go something like this: The heroine—let’s call her Bethie—has an ex brother-in-law who is an attorney. This brother-in-law, Jack, is harassing Bethie’s sister. Bethie and Jack encounter each other in the hallway of the local courthouse where Bethie accidentally bumps into Jack and causes him to drop his briefcase.

“Get out of my way,” Jack says, eyeing her with disdain.

“I’m so sorry.” Bethie lowers her gaze. She picks up his briefcase and dusts it off before handing it back to him. Why is she always so clumsy?

“I hope you don’t think you can get away with following me.” Jack leans in so far she can smell his minty breath. “I’ll take out a restraining order before you can blink, you little twit.”

Bethie tries not to cry. She bites her lip and finally stammers, “I wasn’t following you. I just…I’m a citizen. I can come to the courthouse any time I want.” Darn. He wasn’t supposed to catch her.

Next day, I read this little gem and I have to apply an ice pack to my burning face. What was I thinking? Wait, no problem. I have the do-over.

The first revision:

“Get out of my way,” Bubba Ray growls.

He looks as if he’d like nothing better than to shove her down the nearest flight of stairs. Kate wishes he’d try. He bends, reaching for his briefcase, and she beats him to it, snatching it out of his grasp. She whips a tissue out of her purse, spits on it, and smears it across the expensive leather.

“There you go, good as new. Now you can get back to prancing around the courthouse like you think you’re somebody important.”

Bubba Ray’s beady eyes get smaller. “Bet you think you’re cute, don’t you? Well, I have two words for you if you don’t stop following me—restraining order.”

Kate snorts. She leans in so close she’s sure Bubba Ray can smell her breath. She hopes he likes the garlic and onions she had with her lunch as much as she does. “Following you? I suppose little green men landed in your yard last night, too. Guess what, dirtbag, I have two words for you. Good psychiatrist.”

Okay, it still needs work. But I can rewrite it as many times as I want. After all, I would not want Bethie—I mean, Kate—to wake up tomorrow morning saying, “Darn. I wish I'd handled that whole scene differently.”

L.C. Evans

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Writers Are Weird

My daughter and son-in-law are very precious to me – almost as precious as the two wonderful grandchildren they’ve given me – but sometimes they give me a hard time. It’s not that they don’t care about me or my work. They do. It’s just that sometimes I think we live on different planets. If not planets, at least different planes of this planet.

For instance, the other day my daughter dropped by. (Oh she’s thoughtful, she called first.) I was in the middle of finishing up a lovely wedding scene in my latest book. This couple, who everyone thought would never make it, were finally having the wedding of their dreams. I cried through the whole ceremony

About the time I had them heading out on an extensive honeymoon, the door bell rang. I answered it, blew my nose and told daughter to come in.

"Are you crying?” She demanded.

I knew I might as well confess so I said, “Yes. June finally got married and…”

“Who’s June?”

“You know. The woman in my book who was shot and nobody thought she would make it….”

“But she’s not real, Mom. What’s wrong with you?”

Now you know if you’re a writer, you’d never tell another writer their characters were not real. Indeed! These people are real to me. I live with them for months. I give them life and they talk to me and I talk to them. I feel what they feel.

For example, in JILTED BY DEATH, when Willa met Trent and the shivers went down her spine, they went down mine too. When the hot plastic spewed on Ernie Wilkes in STETSON MOLD, I felt the pain. I felt alone and lost when Amy decided the best thing to do in DUO OF OPPISITES was to get lost in San Francisco. I was excited and thrilled when Gaylord Swanson and Nevis Poole presented Willa with a new car in ECHOES OF MERCY. When Nola Dean stumbled on a dead body in the darkness of her Myrtle Beach condo in MURDER IN SOUTH CAROLINA, I was as horrified as she was.

So how could anyone tell me my characters aren’t real?

Believe me, I’m not alone. Many writers out there do the same thing I do. We get into the heart and soul of these people we create and this is what makes them come alive on the page. If they don’t make the writer cry or laugh or feel, then they won’t make the reader cry or laugh or feel either.

And that’s what I strive for. I want my readers to feel for and with my characters. The sweetest words I’ve ever heard from a fan is, “I didn’t want the book to end. I want to know what happens to the people after you stopped the story.”

So call me weird. My family does and I don’t mind. Maybe I am a little weird. Maybe that is what it takes to be a writer. I don’t know. I only know that I love to make up stories and put them on paper. There is no other job where a grandmother like me could live part-time in a dream world, write those dreams down and if lucky get paid an amount which puts me below the poverty level.

Just so you won’t think I’m completely nuts, while I was thinking about writing this, I changed my cat litter, tossed a load of clothes in the washer and put a roast with pepperoncini in the crock pot. See, a writer can live in both worlds even if they are weird.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again?

Been following the Olympics? Of course you have. You can’t avoid it. You turn on the radio, log on to the internet or watch the nightly news, and you hear something about the gazillion dollar competition in Beijing, from the aesthetically pleasing nine year old girl lip syncing the theme song to the Greco-Roman wrestler who lost his bronze medal due to poor sportmanship.

And you’d have to have been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks if you don’t recognize the name of Michael Phelps, who now holds the records for most gold medals ever won in a single Olympics.

That record had been held by Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in 1972 Munich Olympics.

I was 16 during the ‘72 Olympics and although I was not much for athletics, I went nuts for Mark Spitz. I watched every one of his races and even went out and bought the famous poster you see here of Mr. Spitz, wearing little more than his medals and a smile. If ever a man could fill out a Speedo, it was that guy.

Hey, what happened to the Speedo suits anyway? The suits the swimmers wear now remind me of the tight leggings I used to wear to my aerobics class. I hear those things are supposed to give the swimmers an extra edge, but they look kind of silly.

I didn’t watch the swimming races this time. I guess I didn’t want to be reminded that it’s been 36 years since I was so captivated by an Olympic athlete. Or perhaps I remember the terrible events that happened soon after Spitz won that seventh gold medal, when the Israeli athletes were taken hostage and later killed by Palestinian terrorists. I can still hear the late Jim McKay saying "They’re all gone," and crying for all those fine young men lost.

We’ve learned a lot since 1972. I’m sure with the whole world watching, the Chinese have the right security measures in place to prevent another terrorist attack like the one in Munich. But maybe it helps that I haven’t watched the swimming competition like I did in 1972. You never know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


It's almost September and time for another book to come out. This one is WICKED WEAVES, the first in the Renaissance Faire mysteries. Joyce and I had a good time writing it. Of course, we almost always have a good time writing together.
One of the only things we disagree about is promoting the book. I tend to think book lovers will find us and we should leave it to chance. Joyce thinks we should go out and promote the hell out of any book we write. Since the publisher agrees with her and not with me, we promote.
I don't like promotion. I don't really have a good time doing it. You sit at a bookstore for a few hours and talk to people, try to hype your book. I've never bought a book from someone doing that so I tend to think people won't buy one from us. That's probably negative thinking because we usually do okay.
Even worse is the book club or group that wants us to read from our books or talk about our process, sometimes in great detail. I only know what we do. I don't know how to say it in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. So I let Joyce do that.
I don't think I'm alone in not liking promotion. Most writers aren't real estate agents (although I'm sure there are a few of those around, no offense to them).
When HOOKED UP came out in February, we went to the racetrack. When PERFECT POISON came out in May, we went to a garden party. Now we're going to a couple of Ren Faires in Virgina and Alabama for the new book. I really like going to our local Renaissance Festival but this is a whole other animal. I've been wondering for weeks about our promotion for this one. Now I know.
Excuse me while I go and try on my Renaissance costume.

Jim Lavene
Posted 8-19-08

Monday, August 18, 2008

Outlining and Organizing

Everyone approaches outlining differently.  Should you use one? Is plotting a waste of time?  I'm just ten pages into a manuscript right now and the outline is pretty sketchy.  Basically, it just covers whom I'm murdering, how it was done, who did it, and a couple of clues I dreamed up.  Flimsy stuff.

I've written more about the characters, though.  Since my books are character-driven, it's important for them to pop on the page.  I have a Word doc that lists the characters, what I think their names are (could change at a moment's notice), and their personalities and motivation. I also have a Word doc that's scattered with bits of conversation and out of sequence scenes.  To organize this mess (most writers are probably yards ahead of me on the organization bandwagon), I have a folder in My Documents named with my WIP's title. Inside the folder, I have: the work-in-progress itself; a document with the sketchy, ever-changing outline; a document with the book blurb on it (crazy, but the  blurb helps me focus the book's premise);  a doc with the characters' traits; and a document with random parts of the book to be stuck in later.

Helpful Free Software for Brainstorming and Plotting:      Included is a Wiki that tells more about the product. Basically, you can use it to create a mind-map (visual outline with bubbles, branches, nodes, etc.) To see screenshots of some FreeMind maps, look here: 

Interesting blogs for writers and readers interested in the publishing process: --I enjoy this agent's outlook, --another good agent blog, --Writer Beware,  --an interesting look into an editor's life,  --funny commentary by a children's book editor.  It's hard to find time to read industry-related blogs when you're a writer, but when there's nothing on TV, give it a go.  There's some good stuff there.  Just subscribe to the feed at the bottom of each page and your computer will let you know when there's something new to read. I have noticed a definite drop in content while the Olympics have been running, so check the archives from a couple of weeks ago on any blogs you read.

  Top Movies for Mystery Lovers:  Check out this list, courtesy of the American Film Institute, of the top 10 mystery films of all time:   . Definitely some great material to order from Netflix, TiVo on AMC or TCM, or even to check out from the local library's DVD collection.  Alfred Hitchcock rocked.  I love gentle Jimmy Stewart but my favorite movie on the list is probably North by Northwest. Because,'s Cary Grant. He's in a terrible mess: he's a victim of mistaken identity, his beautiful suit was ruined during a ghastly chase-- I just want to save him. And take his suit to the cleaners. The film culminates with an amazing struggle on Mount Rushmore.  

Quickie review of Death of a Gentle Lady by M.C. Beaton:  I'm a huge Hamish Macbeth fan and my Scottish blood longs to steer me in the direction of  Lochdubh.  Really, Beaton can't go wrong with me with the  combination of Hamish and Lochdubh.  If you're already a Beaton fan, you'll run--not walk--to the nearest bookstore.  Scurry home with it, steep some tea, and catch up with your favorite Scottish characters.

That being said, I've read all her other Hamish mysteries and this particular one left me with a "meh" feeling.  Just sort of so-so.  I loved catching back up with my favorite characters (regulars in her series) and thought the choice of victim was perfect.  But there were a couple of times I had to suspend my disbelief.  And it wasn't easy.  Childhood abuse playing a role twice in the same book and with two different characters?  Hmph.  I'm wondering if Beaton's editor didn't do a read-through.  This blip  could have been easily corrected for smooth reading. 

In summary, definitely read the book if you're already a fan.  If you're new to the series, start out with one of Beaton's earlier books--maybe even start out at the beginning with Death of a Gossip.  If you like cozies, you won't be disappointed. 

Next time I'll do a quickie review of Deborah Crombie's new release, Where Memories Lie.  To Do:  I'm reading The House at Riverton, writing at least a chapter on the new cozy, and navigating the waters of a new school year with my children.  Oh, and helping my son sell 35 pounds of BBQ for Boy Scouts.  Anyone? Anyone?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Two weeks ago, we moved my daughter into her on-campus apartment at UNC-Wilmington, where she'll start classes this coming Wednesday.

Tomorrow, we're moving my son - who's actually three years older than her - into his dorm at UNC-Greensboro. Alex wound up working for a few years before he wised up and realized that he really needed an education.

Elaine and I are feeling a little like Tweety Bird playing "This Little Piddy". You know the cartoon. The evil cat is hanging by his claws over some horrifying precipice, and Tweety Bird starts pulling the claws loose one by one - "This little piddy went to market... This little piddy went home..." and so on until the last claw is loose, and the cat takes a disastrous plunge. Tweety Bird shrugs and says, "Uh-oh... no more piddys!"

So, Miss E and I are looking around the house, and we realized that we're fresh out of piddys. All the kids are off doing stuff we probably don't want to know about, and we're knocking around the house like two ball bearings in an aircraft carrier.

Welcome, I said to my lovely bride the other night, to the empty nest.

It's time to party.

I teach psychology at the largest community college on the Atlantic coast, and one of my lessons involves the Myths of Development - you know, adolescent angst, midlife crisis, and the empty nest syndrome. I haven't been an adolescent for almost forty years, but I do seem to recall that it was pretty cool and fun. My wife says I had my midlife crisis when I turned thirty, and then never looked back. Now it's time for the empty nest.

You know what?

The empty nest is a pretty cool place to live. For the first time in over two decades, Elaine and I get to focus on each other exclusively. We can date again without letting the kids know where we are. We can get to know the middle-fifties people we've become while we weren't looking.

We can make noise. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about.

Research into aging, romance, and marriage indicates that there are two really hot times in the life of the average couple. The first period comes in the first year of the relationship. The second comes around twenty years later - corresponding with their desertion by their spawn.

The really cool thing is that the true, lasting, companionate love graph just keeps climbing steadily from first meeting to last gasp -- if you're lucky.

E and I have been pretty lucky. And we're gettin' ready to party!

Now, where did I put that margarita salt?

And along came the dog

I just finished reading Susan's comments on stepping back from the cliff. She's right. Often we get trapped, backed into a corner, have a character who refuses to obey instructions and then what do we do? I don't know about the rest of you, but I stare at the dog. I write in a bedroom I've converted into a library/study/office kind of thing. It is crammed with computer stuff, most of which I don't know how to work, bookshelves overflowing with books, which somehow I always find time to read, and dog beds. As this is where I spend a lot of my time, the dogs do also. So, when I get stuck, I pour a cup of coffee, or a glass of iced tea, and stare at one of them. It doesn't matter which one, although it does tend to make the small one nervous if I do it too long.
I don't think there is a writer in the world who doesn't get stuck. For me, there are predictable stuck points. First is plot. When the idea for a story is in its infancy, I spend a lot of time staring at the dog. But I've found that you have to write. You do it knowing full well that tomorrow you may delete everything you've put on paper, or the computer screen, the day before, but at least you have something tangible to work with, even if its terrible. That way you can keep on saying "what happens next, or nobody in their right mind would do that." It's pretty much the same way with characters. You can hold them up against the action and say "is this what you would do in this situation? If they say,"no", rethink.
A couple of years ago, I went to the Maui Writers Conference and took a writing retreat under Elisabeth George. Who better to teach how to write strong characters? A lot of what she talked about we all think we already know. All action springs out of character, each piece of action in the story has to set up the next piece of action, you must have a back story for your characters even if it never makes it into your story, sound familiar? But I've found, that when staring at the dog no longer works, thinking about what she said, what I have learned from other wonderful writers, keeps me on the path to a complete story, beginning, end, and a strong middle.
So, I'm going to go back and read what I wrote this morning, holding it up to the standard I try to keep in mind, and will probably delete a lot of it. But tomorrow is another day, and after I sleep on it, I'll find the way around the mess I've written my people in, and we'll all be happy. Especially the dog. Kathleen Delaney

Dropping the Ball -- and Stepping Back from the Cliff

Oh, boy ...

Count on me to stay on top of things, right?

We all promised faithfully ... "We'll blog on our day, every two weeks ... "

And who was the first to break the promise?


To make matters worse, I thought about this last night and wondered, hey, is it my turn to blog?

Nice going, Susan.

And that, folks, is all the beating up I'm going to do on myself.

Yeah, I screwed up. I had made a commitment and broke it. But it was inadvertent, and unfortunately, there was no system in place to remind people of their blogging day. Hoping that just because I blew it, we can set up a system to remind us all. We're busy people. Something good could come out of this yet -- a better way to keep on top of things.

What pleases me about this situation is that I'm NOT beating myself up any more than what I wrote above. There's really no need. I'm doing my best, and carrying enough of a load.

Fortunately, for a writer, it's no trouble to sit down and compose a blog -- on almost any topic. It's what we do. Words are our best friends.

Another good friend of mine -- yeah, a writer -- blogged about how difficult writing can be. Well ... I suppose it can be. For me, for certain, I've had days -- weeks -- months -- of being terrified to even sit down at my desk, because I literally could not think my way around a writing problem and dreaded having to deal with it.

But the truth is also that there's practically no better feeling on earth than the feeling of mastery you experience as the pages begin to grow under your fingers. The feeling that you KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING, and things are turning out just as you hoped ... that you're communicating what you want to say in the best possible way you can say it.

For me, I've found that STEPPING BACK FROM THE CLIFF often solves my writing problem, the one that kept me blocked or terrified. Going to the point where I was stuck and stepping back from it -- then changing it -- almost always fixes things and allows me to move on.

Remember Billy Crystal in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN? He was a writing teacher who also wrote novels, but couldn't get past the first line of his latest: "The night was ... " And to make matters worse, he ended all his classes with, "Remember, a writer writes every day."

Well, what if he'd NOT tried to write every day? And what if he'd dropped the impossible phrase altogether? How about starting with "Blah, blah, blah ... I don't know. Seems this is where things start"?

Terrible, I know, but who cares? I'll bet it would have gotten him to the next sentence.

I've found a lot of my writing blocks come when I literally write myself into a corner, and even worse, admire the corner (the phrasing or the sentence) so much I don't want to change it.

Inevitably, when I drop the last sentence -- or paragraph -- or even page(s), something happens to free me up. Maybe it just gives me more options, and more freedom to mess it up. But whatever it does, I usually am able to plow through, and if I wasn't connected completely to the right road before, I can usually meander around and find it within a few paragraphs.

You unhappy writers out there, consider trying it, if you don't already have some version of this in your toolkit.

Sometimes you just take yourself to a place where it's nice to admire the view, but you'll never be able to figure out a way down. It's okay. STEP BACK FROM THE CLIFF. Throw out a few sentences (or, okay, if you ADORE them, save them to a new document and take them out of your current manuscript). See where the story goes from there, when you're back at a place you've been before.

And trust yourself. You really do know what's best for your story.

So having messed up on blogging, I'm stepping back from the cliff and forgiving myself. And you know what? In future, I guess I can count on myself to blog more often -- and on my assigned day. So the stepping back accomplished what it needed to, didn't it?

Hope your writing day is a shining success!

Susan Sloate

Monday, August 11, 2008


Time is fleeting.
Time for fun.
Never enough time.
Too much time on your hands.

There are plenty of time slogans. Some of them work with us. Some of them feel like the enemy breathing down on our necks. For many of us, time feels out of control. There has to be time to wash the clothes and feed the kids and work our jobs. There’s time for soccer and time for homework. The only time we have left over for ourselves is time sleeping in front of the television!

People always ask me; where do you find the time to do everything? I don't have an answer for anyone but myself for that question.

There is no magic formula that can make time your friend. The only slogan that really applies to us as writers is that you can make enough time for anything that’s really important to you.

How important is your writing to you?

Important enough to give up the new season of TV shows? Important enough to make changes in your life to work on your craft? An hour a night. One TV drama or two sitcoms. One hour of news that you already heard that day. If you’re a morning person, one hour of lost sleep to sit down and actually write those ideas that are fluttering around in your head.

Time is your commitment to your writing goals. Your writing can only mature and grow if it’s exercised. Thinking about it won’t work. Talking about it won’t put a book with your name on the spine in the stores. Only putting your butt in the chair and facing the computer or word processor, typewriter or pen and paper, can make the difference. No one succeeds at a dream until it takes up some of their most valuable resource. Time.

What are you doing with your time today?

Joyce Lavene
Wicked Weaves
Berkley Prime Crime
September 2008

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back From Atlanta

I'm just back from Atlanta, where two of my grandchildren live. They were with me for several days last week, and I returned them Wed. On Thursday, we went to the open house at their new school, and on Friday I took them to their new doctor for their pre-school check up. On Saturday, I came home. This used to be easy, but now---I get tired. And there are only two of them! How on earth did I do it with five. Anyway, it was fun. At least I had fun. I'm not so sure about the dogs. They got a lot of walks though. The bad thing about having the kids is I don't get any "me" time, meaning I don't get in any writing. (How all the young mothers out there, turning out such great material, do it I don't know) However, as I was driving home, I thought about some of the things the kids had said. Like, from my five year old grandson, "Laney and Shea are sisters, aren't they." No, they aren't. One is a German Shepard and the other is an Italian Greyhound. The furthest thing from sisters I can imagine, but I don't think he was thinking of dog breeds. I think he meant family. And they are. Only, Shea tried to nail Laney yesterday and she wasn't sparing the teeth. This from two dogs who won't be separated long enough for me to take one of them to the vet and leave the other at home. Family members who love each other can get enough sometimes, and the fight is on. The reasons are infinite, and the conflict can be over in a matter of minutes (it was with the dogs) or can last a lifetime. Think-Hatfield and McCoy. And this conflict is what we write about. Not always family conflict, but that can be the most interesting, and the most deadly. I'm thinking of Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey. A wonderful book about twins, brothers, who adored each other-to death. One of the most interesting character development books I've ever read. And thinking of it, made me think more about the characters I'm developing for my latest, working title, Murder Half Baked. This book is about old hurts, family ties, family love, and family rejection. I hope I can do it at least half as well as Tey.

Character development is the most important part of writing. There is no conflict, the reason a story exists, without strong characters. They don't always have to be murderers, or get murdered, but there is always a tug of war of some sort between the antogonist and the protagonist. Just as there is always conflict, and a tug of war, between real people. And that tug, that conflict is more pronounced between family members. Sort of 'up front and personal'. It makes for an interesting story to observe, to write, or to read about. Think about it. Thanks to my grandson and my dogs, I am.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Wonder Pets

A few summers ago I wrote the entire first draft of a novel. Now I’m not saying this novel is perfected. It’s not. In fact, this particular book is filed on my computer until I come up with exactly the right hook for the opening—which would happen sooner if I spent more time thinking about who I really want that main character to be. But I still call this novel my miracle book because I was able to write the entire draft while babysitting a five-year-old.

My grandson Erik watched Wonder Pets every morning while I sat beside him on the couch and pounded the keyboard of my laptop until I wore the lettering off two of the keys. For those who don’t know, the wonder pets are a guinea pig named Linny, a turtle named Tuck, and a duckling named Ming Ming. These pets escape from their cages at a preschool every day after the humans go home. The escapees then rescue baby animals stuck in trees, wells, mud, or wherever else baby animals can get trapped. For some reason Wonder Pets and their cute little song about teamwork kept Erik quiet and kept me writing. I couldn’t write through Ben 10, or Jimmy Neutron, or especially not Fairly Oddparents. Too many explosions, magic gone terribly wrong, and parents who couldn’t put on their own shoes without consulting their children. But Wonder Pets kept me glued to my novel, entranced by my characters and their own fictional adventures until the book was complete.

Sadly, Erik has outgrown Wonder Pets. I’ve tried to keep steadily working at my computer in hopes of producing another book this summer. But I can’t come up with a decent murder scene while babysitting a child and four Chihuahua puppies to the background noise of cartoon children busily outsmarting the adults in their little cartoon lives.

I tried to entice Erik back to Wonder Pets by pointing out that teamwork is a great trait for him or any other smart kid to learn. And Linny, Tuck, and Ming Ming are so brave, so caring, exactly the right animals for him to emulate. My grandson was quick to tell me that eight-year-olds do not watch baby shows. Then he asked why I would think he could possibly be interested in stupid TV animals that travel around in a flying boat while they sing silly songs. In fact, he now believes my brain is too old for me to “think like normal people” and he knows he will soon have to take care of me. He suggested I call the driver license office to ask if there are emergency licenses for kids in his situation, kids who need to drive their really feeble grandmas to the hospital if their brains shut down.

Monday I am not babysitting. Monday I will have the house—and the TV—to myself. I can stay upstairs in my office and I can write anything I want without one single interruption. I’ll probably work on the latest book for a couple of hours. If the writing flows, I’ll rejoice. If it doesn’t—well, Wonder Pets might be on.

L.C. Evans

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Spell Checker

Here I am, writing another blog…what a word. Have you noticed that it is gets underlined in red every time you type it on your computer? Or, maybe my computer is just old and my stored dictionary is behind the times. Anyway when I type blog, I get suggestions to spell it as bog, bloc, blob, blot, blow. Of course, I can’t use any of these so blog it is. (I just took the time to add it to my dictionary because it looks as if it is going to become a part of my writing life from now on.) But, as the cliché goes, I digress.

I wanted to write about how helpful the sell checker is to me in my writing. You may be an A #1 speller and have won that dreaded class room spelling bee (or is it B?), but not me. I remember well when I was in third grade we often had to stand in two lines – one on each side of the classroom – and the teacher would call out the weekly list of spelling words. If a word was missed, the student sat down. The last one standing got some reward such as getting to be first in line for lunch. Believe it or not, one time I came close to being the winner. (I stress one time because it happened only once.) Kay, the smartest girl in class and I were left standing this particular Friday. We had been through the words several times and I was sure I could spell any of them that day. Miss Coles called out a word to Kay, I don’t remember what the word was, but Kay spelled it correctly. Then she said if I spelled my word correctly she was going to declare this contest a draw. I was excited. I knew that for the first time I would be a winner. Miss Coles turned to me and said, “Lynette, your word is City.” I knew it and deep down in my heart I knew that I knew it. Confidently, I spelled “S-i-t-y.” Now I’m digressing again.

Back to the spell checker. Most of us have seen the little poem that floats about the internet which ends with a line such as: you no what I right is write, cause my checker tolled me sew. It is true that if you spell a word correctly but have used the wrong word, the checker won’t pick it up. This happens to me, but I still wouldn’t take my checker away for anything. Having a touch of dyslexia, I often transpose letters in my words. My checker will catch them most every time. I also use it to spell a word when I just can’t come up with the right combination. It will often give me the correct word in its line of suggestions if I simply spell at the word. (It just did it for me with the word dyslexia.) I spelled it something like: dyslesica and it furnished me the right word.

Another way it helps me with my writing is with the names of my characters. In my yet unpublished book, MURDER IN SOUTH CAROLINA, I have a character named Bett. My computer didn’t want the name spelled that way and would underline it every time. To over come this, I added the name to the dictionary because Bett is one of the main characters and I knew I would be typing it a lot. In another novel waiting for a home, SETSON MOLD I have a character with the last name of Layhee. My computer doesn’t like this name either, but I didn’t add it to my dictionary. Though Mr. Layhee plays a vital role in the story, his last name only appears a few times.

My spell checker is just one of the many tools I use while writing. I would drive editors mad without it. They still chuckle at my spelling sometimes, but at least they have accepted my quirks. Maybe they just no my righting is great, no matter how it’s spelled. I like to think sew anyway.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Just Lucky, I Guess...

My sister sent me a link to an NPR news story about Brunonia Barry, a self-published author who managed to land a two million dollar book deal for her first novel The Lace Reader, with talk of a major motion picture. And yes, I am insanely jealous.

How did she do it? Her husband is quoted as saying they were "emboldened by their ignorance." They knew enough to get started but not enough to stop them from doing it. Ms. Barry worked with book clubs and independent book stores. She went so far as to share her early drafts with readers and developed a devoted following along with a lot of that wondrous thing called Word of Mouth. And she was successful beyond her wildest dreams.

Ms. Barry had a lot going for her–a good story, a supportive husband, access to an avid fan base, and a generous amount of plain dumb luck. Of course, none of it would have happened if she'd started out with just a mediocre story.

I’ve long believed that self-publishing or small press publishing via Print On Demand (POD) technology is not indicative of a bad book. Many talented authors choose to self-publish because they want to put their work out on their own terms, rather than bow to the "This is what’s selling so could you put in some more sex and gore?" mentality of the big publishing houses. Unfortunately, since the process is open to anyone who has written a book, a lot of really, really bad books get into print. Every bookseller has a story about the loud-mouthed, self-absorbed jerk who really believes his book about his life selling used cars or working at the phone company is going to fly off the shelves.

Readers are not concerned whether the books they’re reading were published by a well-known New York publisher or an independent POD publisher operating on a shoe string out of her home office. As long as the book is well written and looks presentable (no misspellings or inconsistencies), they don’t care what publisher’s name is on the flyleaf.

Ms. Barry’s story is a rare occurrence. The fact that she was featured on a national radio program is proof enough that her experience is atypical and therefore newsworthy. But it does provide a ray of hope for authors who aren’t published by any company you’ve heard of. As long as we’ve got a good story to tell, we’ve got a chance of hitting the big time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


My son, Chris, started his first business over the weekend, PIZZA AND BEYOND (think Buzz Lightyear). It's a small pizza place right here in Midland. Needless to say, I am very proud of him.

He has always been the brilliant child who spent his spare time in high school trying to disprove Einstein's theory of relativity and trisecting angles. He had a hard time in school because he was always one step ahead and unwilling to wait for the people behind him. But he graduated with honors and took a great job working for Microsoft.

But all of his life he had one passion; pizza. Don't ask me why this was so important to him. It's kind of like Willy Wonka and candy. Chris started working at different pizza places when he was in high school. His favorite was Little Caesar's. He experimented on us at home even when he wasn't making pizzas out. He made stuffed crust and dessert pizza before it was popular.

He worked at Microsoft for a year but his heart was never in it, even though he can build a computer from the ground up and has developed software. He's also a poet and a philosopher and . . . a pizza maker. He finally gave up Microsoft and went to work for Pizza Hut. He learned everything they could teach him for the last five years, went to management school, always working toward owning his own pizza place.

So that's where he is now. Here he is making his first pizza. If you ever go through Midland on the way to somewhere else, stop in and he'll make you a pizza you'll never forget. Food made with love and heart is always better!

Jim Lavene
Tuesday, August 5

Monday, August 4, 2008

Channeling Evil

As a homemaker/household engineer/WHATever that sometimes it can be challenging to channel a sinister mood. Communion with the dark side is important if you’re creating murder. But it can be especially hard to channel if you’re in between laundry loads and oven timers and looking to write for 15 minutes. Nothing very foreboding about the house…well, except for the spider that sneaked under the hutch in the dining room. Or maybe that stain on the 6 year old’s cute new Kelly's Kids skort that you have a sinking feeling won’t be coming out.  You KNEW you shouldn't have let her wear it to Bible School.  They used paint there and it WASN'T the washable kind. 

This is when it’s useful for me to close my eyes and conjure up something scary. It's build-a-mood. Things like the Anderson County Fair--the 1970s version of it, anyway. Oh my. There were some scary looking folks that both attended and worked there…especially the fellow who wouldn’t stop the double Farris wheel ride, even though my little sister was about to puke. I mean, come on--we were the only kids on the ride, anyway…would it have killed him to have stopped it? He grinned a gap-toothed grin and ROUND we went again a few more times.  Terrifying.  

Fairs still scare me. They’re loud and I'm a quiet person.  The flashing lights are alarming if you’re prone to migraines. The huge stuffed animals you win are frighteningly hefty if you lug them around for a couple of hours before you leave. The amount of money you pay to ride the rides, eat the greasy food, and park is also scary. There are hordes of people there and I'm an introvert. The nausea-inducing rides are absolutely diabolical (paired with tortuous shrieks). I used to run for the animal/agricultural areas to detox from the overstimulation.  This blog has become a tribute to a phobia, but point being, the memory of the fair can transport me to a menacing place that sets the mood for murder.

A Quickie Review: Ruth Rendall’s Not in the Flesh. I have  to admit to a bit of ambivalence here with this book. I’m a Rendall fan, but I had a tough time getting into this mystery. One complaint: the sheer number of characters. (I counted 15 by page 45 and the number accelerated from there.) As a mom, my reading time is spotty and frequently interrupted and it’s hard to flip back in the book and see if I can place characters. There was a body found in the woods by a truffle-seeking dog (nice touch, there) and then we went into neighbors and people who HAD lived there 11 years before and all of their relatives. There was also a foray into a women’s rights/human rights issue that seemed forced to me. It was a side-plot, not even really a subplot. Rendall brought up  an important subject, but one that didn’t work in her mystery.

Once I got past all the characters and all the confusion with the parallel plots, it started getting good. Another body is discovered. We start focusing on only a few of the large cast of characters. Rendall’s characterization is as strong as always--I loved the portrayals of the eccentric Tredown family. One other complaint, though---I’d solved the mystery little more than halfway through. And I try not to do that because it spoils my fun.  That being said, I have enormous respect for Rendall and can unreservedly recommend most of her books.  Go find 'em--there's a ton out there. 

Next week’s read: M.C. Beaton’s Death of a Gentle Lady.  I’m expecting more of the same with Beaton’s book: the same characters, same Scottish locale, same plot rhythm. But….I love it. It works for me. I love Hamish Macbeth, the Highland police constable. I love the oddball residents. I love knocking off the tacky newcomers. Welcome to Lochdubh!

Cool website for cozy mystery fans: .  There you'll find book reviews, blog and author links, and reference information.  While on the site, I discovered a great link to free e-books of Golden Age/Classic mysteries (via Project Gutenberg):  .  You just have to get used to reading online (I have to copy/paste the text into Word and put it in a font and size that is easier for me to read), but it's wonderful to have the full texts of some great books that are out of print and no longer in the library stacks.  Right now I'm reading The Spiral Staircase by Ethel Lina White. 

'To Do' list for the next couple of weeks:  Read Beaton’s book.  Finish Spiral Staircase. Write two chapters while channeling utter depravity.

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Saturday, August 2, 2008

I think I've got it

My day to blog on the Carolina Conspiracy blog-that sounds a little awkward-is Friday. So, excited that this would be my first time, I sat down and wrote beautiful prose about -something. It no longer matters, but it sure didn't end up here. So-I'm trying it again.
I have only been with the Carolina Conspiracy for about a year. That is not because I have only been writing that long, but because I am a new Carolinian. I arrived from California a year ago in January, just me, the dogs, and for the trip across the country, by brother and sister-in-law. I can tell you what just about every rest stop on the 10 looks like, and which states have good ones and which --leave something to be desired. Texas has some good ones, and others that are lacing a very important facility for older americans. Dogs can go anyplace, but older ladies---.

Anyway, I'm here, and I love it. Not that I didn't like California, I did. It's beautiful, at some of it is. Los Angeles is wall to wall cars and hard to love. But where I lived, in Paso Robles, on the central coast, is wonderful. Rolling hills, huge oaks, fields of tall, golden grasses that are giving way to vineyards, lots and lots of them. They are equally lovely, and most of the wineries are small and fiendly. I was a real estate broker in that area for over twenty years, and watched it develop. I was fortunate enough to represent both sellers and buyers of wineries, vineyards, and land that would be developed into vineyards. The people I met, and the wineries I visited were my inspiration for And Murder For Dessert. It was fun to write, and hopefully it is fun to read. If, of course, murder is ever fun. But, as with any business, bizarre things happen. Actually, murder never did, and I think just about every one in Paso Robles is happy about that, but some other funny things did. It was fun stretching the truth to make a good story.

My grandkids just walked in the door, so I am going to cut my message short, very short, as I really can't think with people yelling-where is the cheese-Oh my God, you have gum in your hair-it that what we're having for dinner-can I skip dinner and just have pie-and this is why I have to go-the dog got out.
Now that I know how to do this-I hope-I'll be back next Friday, and let you know if the dog got the squirrell. I'm betting on the squirrell. Kathleen Delaney