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: http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Download 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: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/ --I enjoy this agent's outlook, http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com --another good agent blog, http://www.accrispin.blogspot.com/ --Writer Beware, http://editorialass.blogspot.com/ --an interesting look into an editor's life, http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/ --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: http://www.afi.com/10TOP10/mystery.html . 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, well...it'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?