Polish, Deepen, Hone

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, gearing up to ignore the short days and darkness of the coming month.

I’m doing that by keeping really, really busy. Today I’m incorporating all the red ink I added over the last week during my last (I hope…I truly hope) paper read-through of Turning the Tide, Quaker Midwife Mystery #3.
Some of my comments to myself are edits with a goal of polishing the language. Split the long sentence into two. Divide that paragraph in a different place, because the last sentence really belongs with the next para. Make sure all the senses play a role.

Some are plot related: on page 94 one scribble says, “Why didn’t she think of this when she found the body?” – which happens on page 6. Oops, but fixable.

Of course there are also the missing periods, redundant words, and unclear wording to fix. Other bits to sharpen and hone.

A few of my remarks relate to research for this book, which is set during presidential election week in 1888 (I know – great timing!). For example, I described a road covered with planks, not cobblestones, which was a method of temporary paving back then. But I realized during the read-through that I don’t know if the planks go crosswise or lengthwise and I need to check on that.

I read a great craft post last week over on Inkspot, the Midnight Ink writers’ blog (where I blog every second Thursday of the month) that really made me think.  inkspotheaderLisa Alber wrote about sense of place. She says, “You know when you hear readers say that they skip the descriptions? I would bet in most cases, those descriptions are static — just the author describing the environment around the character rather than describing the environment through the character.”

That’s so true! I’m sure I’ve thought about it in the past, and been taught it, but imbuing setting with my character is something I have to learn over and over. Lisa gives a few great examples of the same setting – sunshine streaming in a kitchen window and illuminating a spider web – as seen through different characters’ eyes. Go read the post. You’ll see what I mean.

So as I move through my manuscript, I’m also going to take a look at every single place description and deepen it. I’m going to make sure it has a reason to exist: showing us how midwife Rose Carroll is feeling. I can show another character’s reaction to place, too, as long as it’s through dialog or physical reaction, since this story is told exclusively from Rose’s point of view.

Thanks, Lisa, for pushing the end of my revision process a little further away. I know checking for sense of place will improve the book in the end, and that’s what counts.

Readers: What do you do with a beautiful description of setting that is only that? Skip it or enjoy the rich language? Writers, is making sure that setting is filtered through your character’s eyes already part of your revision list? Do you ever slip up?

Wicked New England — Favorite Place For A Fall Walk

It’s hard to beat fall in New England! Warm days, cool nights, vivid oranges, reds, and yellows abound in the woods — it’s weather that just begs you to go outside and take a walk. So Wickeds where do you like to go when you head our for a walk in the fall?

Edith: My favorite place to walk year round is always Maudslay State Park in Newburyport.maudslay-state-park-ma It has the dual advantage of being in the next town and I have my lifetime free Senior pass to state parks, so I can leave my car for free. Since it’s the former Mosley estate, it features winding walking trails, views of the Merrimack River, and lane after lane of century-old rhododendron and bay laurel hedges. There are open fields and wooded paths. Flat walking and hilly walking. Fresh air and nesting eagles. I cross-country ski there in winter and take brilliant-colored fall walks, too.

img_4483Jessie: My favorite walk any time of the year is the beach in Old Orchard. By autumn it is almost deserted and there are miles of open sand to wander and to think. There is nothing like the salt air to clear the head!

img_3755Sherry: My favorite place in Massachusetts was the Minute Man National Historical Park that runs through Lexington, Lincoln, and Concord. It’s a walk through history that shouldn’t be missed. The picture above is of the Old North Bridge where “The Shot Heard Round The World” occurred.

img_1738In Virginia I just have to walk out my front door and head for one of the many paths in our neighborhood.

Barb: There are so many lovely New England walks, but I have to go with the bike path that runs behind the houses on the other side of my Somerville, MA street. It’s a classic urban pathway filled with commuters, kids in stollers, bikers, seniors, and students. It leads to Davis Square where you can take in a movie, have a meal, do errands, or jump on the T to Harvard Square or Boston. Or you can just meander, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a New England fall.


Julie: New England is an abundance of wonderful fall walks. It’s embarrassing, really. I work in Boston and commute by T, so walking is a huge part of my life. Fall in Boston is so lovely that I tend to get off a stop early, or choose to walk to a meeting rather than take the bus. But other favorite places? The beach in the fall is beyond stunning. The colors are crisp, and the temperature is perfect for bundling up, and taking long, long walks.


Liz: Unoriginal for me but the town green. It’s so pretty with the fall colors and the leaves. img_1481

Readers: Where is your favorite place to take a walk in the fall?


Pick Yourself Up — Guest Barbara Early

Welcome, Barbara Early! This is Sherry, and I’m so excited about Barbara’s new Vintage Toyshop Mystery series! Thanks for joining us today!

barbaraeupdated-coverBarbara: Now that I’m writing a series set in a vintage toyshop, I find myself using a lot of toy and game analogies. I was recently tasked with making a board game analogy to the writing business.

Now, I wish it were more like Candy Land, skipping from one sweet place to the next, until you arrive safely at the Candy Castle.

And although there’s a lot of being sent back to the start, the writing game doesn’t resemble Sorry. At least when those setbacks happen, it’s not usually caused by fellow writers, who tend to be a fairly supportive group.

Nor does it most resemble Monopoly, where one person gets rich and the rest go bankrupt. Although…

chutesBut the crazy ups and downs of the writing game, to me, most resemble…Chutes and Ladders.

I must confess, it was never my favorite game.

Oh, the ladders are okay. Exhilarating, even. Sometimes the writing life feels like you’re just slogging along, and all of a sudden, you get a big break: An agent asks for a partial. Or maybe offers representation. Or that first book deal. And you go climbing up the ladder, clicking your heels on every rung, so that everyone can hear you. You are on your way up!

I remember feeling that way when I got my first series deal—for the Bridal Bouquet Shop mysteries (written as Beverly Allen). After all those frustrating years of writing and rewriting and learning the craft, climbing those steps felt like the validation of all that effort. And it was followed by a few more ladders. Good reviews. Fan mail. They even put a label that said “national bestselling author” above my name on the bottom of the books.

And then the floor caved in, and down I went. See, for every ladder, there’s a chute. Theoretically, you know they can happen and probably will. But there’s little you can do to prepare yourself for the long ride down, and even less you can do to prevent it from happening. By the time my series was up for renewal, there were a lot of hushed whispers about market saturation and cutbacks. I wasn’t the only author left, sitting at the bottom of that long chute, wondering what, if anything, was coming next.

Sometimes you want to just flip over the board, send all the playing pieces flying, and walk away.

But since I’m an adult, at least according to my birth certificate, temper tantrums and dips into the pool of self-pity are rather frowned upon. And it’s nearly impossible for a writer to give up writing. Here’s a little fun advice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUsRGuZb6k

So what do you do, Readers? You pick yourself up. Start something new. Redefine yourself, yet again?

And you never know. Maybe you’ll come across a ladder one more time.

barbara-early-2-copyBio: The first book in Barbara Early’s Vintage Toyshop Mystery series, DEATH OF A TOY SOLDIER, released on October 11th. She also wrote the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen).

Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people,
she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. She and her husband live in her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies
television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook. barbaraearly.com


The Scariest Movie I Watched

Last week we talked about the first scary movie we remembered watching. This week we are talking about the scariest movie we watched. Where were you and who were you with? Do you still watch scary movies or do you avoid them at all costs?

haunting_ghostsoundsBarb: The Haunting of Hill House–hands down. Wikipedia tells me the movie was actually called The Haunting and was made in 1963. I saw it much later, in a theater, when I was in college. Amazing performances by both Julie Harris and Claire Bloom. I don’t remember who I as with, but I do remember screaming out loud. I don’t like the horror genre per se, but I do like that rush of adrenaline that comes with a great reveal or twist. I just watched the third and fourth seasons of the TV show Luther, which is a procedural, but the crimes are shot as they occur, like great horror movies, and they actually did get me to scream.

Liz: I have to gshiningo with the original Halloween. Michael Myers completely freaked me out – still does, to this day. But the first one was the best.

Edith: I avoid scary movies entirely these days. But I’ll go with The Shining. I saw it with a friend in the summer of 1980. Nicholson’s eyes. The maze. The weird twins. RED RUM. RED RUM… Still gives me shivers. I’m sure the new date I was with left the theater with big bruises on his arm from me clenching it so hard. And of course I screamed.

Julie: Watched is a relative term, isn’t it? I saw Halloween through eyes that were squeezed shut for the most part, with fingers in my ears part long stretches. I went with college friends–the same friends who took me to a drive in that summer to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I remember that movie being a sea of pink–I put my sweater over my head. But the scariest? Poltergeist. Same college friends. Played on every fear we had as kids, and then some. Those folks are still my friends, but no more scary movies for me.

Sherry: Since I scare easily, it’s kind of hard to choose. But I’ll go with The Exorcist (I have to agree with Edith about The Shining though!). I saw it in college we had to drive 90 miles to go see it because our small college town wouldn’t play it. We went with a group of guys and the one driving our car home kept shutting off the headlights and turning his head. Even worse our dorm was old with radiators that banged and groaned all night. I slept with the lights on for at least a week.

Readers: What is the scariest movie you watched? Who were you with? Do you watch them anymore?

The Detective’s Daughter — Making Halloween Costumes

kimspolicehatKim in Baltimore admiring the big moon.

Halloween is only a few weeks away and I’m not ready. The decorations are still packed, the candy has yet to be bought and the pumpkins I planted didn’t even get a chance to ripen before becoming a delicious snack for the squirrels. At least I have no costumes to worry with this year. My children are grown and are quite capable of putting together their own disguises.

When I was a child, my mom made every costume I ever wore. Now that I think about it, she made quite a few for me when I was an adult, too. Mom has always been an excellent kimwhitedressseamstress. She made a lot of her own formal wear as well as many of my outfits and my Barbie clothes. Halloween costumes were her specialty.

Every year I could count on a beautiful gown to be either a princess, or a bride. One year she actually used a pair of lavender Priscilla curtains to make a gown and hat for me to be a Southern Belle. I won first place at the recreation center’s Halloween party that year.

The year Dad became involved in the costume making, he decided I would be a devil. My mom sewed the suit and Dad made my horns, tail and pitchfork.  I was not amused. He made another attempt a few years later, but fortunately it was the year of my curtain dress. My sister was not so lucky. He dressed her as a turtle.

kimredI had high expectations of myself when it came to making my own children’s costumes. The problem was I didn’t know how to sew. I solved that by investing in a glue gun and one of those super-duper staplers. My kids could only wear the costume once because it had to be pulled  apart to get them out of it. By the time they were old enough for school they were begging me for store bought costumes. I must admit, I was a bit broken-hearted and felt like a failure. They were so excited, though, to pick out the costumes that I soon realized what the costumes meant.

kimbeeIt wasn’t really what I wore that I remembered so vividly, it was the time I had spent with my mom, times where I had her undivided attention. I can still picture how she looked as I stood on the ottoman in our living room as she hemmed my dress, or the nights I sat with her while she sewed and listened to Connie Francis records. I couldn’t sew a beautiful costume, but I could give my children my undivided attention.

Every year it was a special event to buy just the right costume. We always ended up with an extra mask…just in case, and ended our shopping trip with lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. On the way home, my kids liked to wear their masks to see the reactions they would get from the people we passed.

This year I’ll admire all the costumes of the children who come to my door, store bought or homemade, each one has a special story.

Readers: What are your favorite Halloween memories? Which costume was your favorite or which was the most embarrassing?

Critical Eyes

Jessie: On retreat in Maine.

Lately, I’ve been feeling restless. Life has been changing for my family, mostly for the good, but it makes me see my world with a different view. Especially my physical environment. I’ve been looking at my possessions with a critical eye and wondering which of them I’d keep if I were to move into a home one third the size of my current one. Which things really are the best choices for my changing life?

When my first child was a baby, my husband and I bought a big, old colonial home in a tiny village and set about renovating it. We were on a meager budget and it took a long time to accomplish all we set out to do. More children joined the family and all the rooms became full to bursting. Twenty-two years later the house is mostly renovated. Two of the kids are out on their own and the house feels overstuffed and very quiet. The space and tranquility have given me a chance to ask myself how much of what has accumulated is what I want to take into the next twenty years. I’ve come to recognize there are many things that don’t make the cut.

The question has fascinated me and has felt strangely familiar. Unitl I realized that the process is surprisingly like revising a novel. I tend to write bloated first drafts with a shocking excess of words. I meander and sauter and rarely get straight to the point in the early work. But under all the layers of what isn’t needed, or even wanted, is the truth of the story. By turning a critical eye to the work, I am able to excavate and lift up only that which best serves what I am trying to accomplish. I enjoy that part of the writing process. I love unearthing treasures from amongst the rubble.

It seems writing has permeated all aspects of my life, even my decorating. That same critical eye now can’t stand bloat in my possessions. It doesn’t want unneeded things in my physical world any more than it likes unnecessary words in my work. I wasn’t expecting it, but I am grateful. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to go revise my laundry room right now!

Readers, do you find a need to change your physical environment as your life circumstances alter? Writers, does your work leak into the rest of your life in surprising ways?

Perfecting Our Author Presentations


Photo by Dale Phillips

A word of advice. If Hank Phillippi Ryan is offering a workshop in your area, run don’t walk to sign up. Readers of this blog know Hank as a wonderful writer of two different series. She launched her career with the Charlotte McNally series. Her Jane Ryland series followed, with the fifth (Say No More) coming out November 1. She is a lovely and generous person. She is also a terrific teacher.


One note, Hank is also an Emmy winning investigative reporter. Those of us in New England have watched pound away in interviews, and try to right some wrongs, for a long time. She is fierce. I greatly admire that she is juggling two careers with grace and aplomb.

Last Saturday Hank held a workshop for the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime which was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”. The first part of the day was about doing an author presentation. The second part of the day was about being interviewed. Today I’m going to talk about the morning session–perfecting your presentation. Hank’s advice for a good reading included preparation, practice, performance, and the pitch. I’ve mashed her information up with my editorial comments, so if she ever offers this workshop again, take it. I’ve left parts out.

Preparation: Think about what you are going to read. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book. Choose a section that gives listeners a flavor of the novel. Plan on two minutes worth of material, maybe three or four pages.

Create a script out of your reading. Print out pages with large type. Number your pages. Edit out parts that don’t make sense out of context. Get rid of long passages of description. Make it exciting. Add a little bit of context to the beginning–let folks know what the book is about, and a little bit about the characters they are going to meet. Just a little bit.

Practice: Practice your reading. Read your section aloud, time it, adjust it as needed. Then practice it again.

Performance: Like it or not, this is a performance. Charles Dickens used to travel around and do dramatic readings of his work. While no one is expecting this of you, they are hoping to be entertained. For many (most?) of us, this is terror inducing. Yesterday I talked about Hank’s “Be A Puffy Cat” advice. Make yourself big, own the space you are taking up. An actor friend of mine says that fear is excitement without oxygen, so remember to breathe.


Hank and I. Photo by Dale Phillips


If you are doing dialogue, turn your body when you read different parts, or add “he saids” or “she saids” to help the audience keep track. Practice it.


Slow down, and look up at your audience. See them. They want you to succeed, so looking at them is critical. If you can’t bear that, look just over their heads.

Remember to introduce yourself and mention the name of your book at the beginning of your presentation. This is really important, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Always have a copy of your book with you. You can use it as a prop, or put it up in front of you.

The Pirch: Before you start your reading, you should introduction yourself, and mention the name of your book. Practice that, and don’t forget to do it.

Also, create a good one or two sentence “pitch” that folks will remember about your book. Make sure you use it.

Hank had us each do a reading (if we wanted to) and then gave us notes. It was a terrific exercise.

Now, back to my script…

Author friends, do you do all these steps? Readers, what do you like best about author readings?