The Detective’s Daughter — Walking the Bridge

Kim in Baltimore still packing away Christmas decorations.

kimspolicehatJanuary is usually a month we spend making resolutions then breaking them. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, I put enough pressure on myself daily. It would be overwhelming if I saved it all up for only once a year! Anyway, isn’t each new day, week or month another opportunity to try again?

Some people see the holidays as a bridge that helps them cross over from their past to what awaits them in the future. I’ve had that feeling myself, only in my case it happened before sunrise in the middle of an ordinary week in October.

I had an extremely sheltered childhood. As you may know, I was born with a birth defect that is most commonly called a strangled limb. This stunted the growth of my right arm. I spent a great deal of time in the Children’s Hospital under the care of the brilliant Dr. Raymond Curtis who performed numerous surgeries on me and with the help of braces was able to coax my arm to grow to near normal length.

Needless to say, this caused my family a great deal of stress. My parents and my grandparents, especially my Pop-Pop, fluttered around me constantly trying to anticipate my every move in fear that I would injure myself. Truth be told, I was a bit clumsy. It was difficult to maneuver around with one side of my body being smaller and heavier (with a brace) than the other side of me. For this reason my Nana set up an entire list of things I was not allowed to do. It included no hopping, jumping, skipping and, most importantly, absolutely no running. This meant I grew up never learning basic childhood skills such as riding a bike, roller skating or jumping rope. However, one Christmas my father bought me a tricycle that I was allowed to ride in the living room under close supervision. Once they even let me out on the sidewalk to snap a photo of the event.

All the supervision in the world could not save me from calamity. I managed to break my arm three times before the age of seven. Once from falling off the bottom step (Rule #100 – no sitting unattended on stairs!), again when a folding chair collapsed with me in it (Rule #101 – no sitting in folding chairs!), and finally, even my doll’s stroller was found to be a hazard. I blame Miss Ag, though. How could I have known during a brief time when I was not being watched, and my neighbor Dianne suggested we should race our doll’s strollers, that Miss Ag would choose that particular moment to step outside? Dianne won and I ended up in the gutter with the stroller on top of me and my favorite doll in the middle of Fort Avenue.kimstroller

I never let any of this hinder other things I wanted to do. As an adult I learned to knit, type, and work a pottery wheel. It wasn’t until this past fall I was able to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to do a task I never dreamed imaginable.

There was a Mindful Writers Retreat in Pennsylvania that I attended with my good friend Ramona. We stayed in a lovely lodge and part of the agenda was to rise early each morning to go on a meditative hike. So, being the good rule-follower that I am, I arose before the birds and donned my boots to join the others. We walked silently through the woods waiting for the sun to make its appearance. After awhile everyone stopped and I looked around, but saw nothing that would hinder our path. I asked one of the women with us what we were waiting for. She answered that there was a rope bridge that could only be crossed one person at a time. I tried to see the bridge through the trees and early morning shadows, but saw nothing. Gradually we made our way, chatting a bit amongst ourselves. And then it came into view. One piece of rope strung across a stream. One rope does not equal a bridge. I became panicked. I couldn’t do this, I would surely break something! I was positive there was a rule against this somewhere.

kimbridgeSoon it was my turn, and with beating heart and sweaty palms I took my first step clinging desperately to the tension ropes to keep my balance. With each shaking step, the women around me cheered and encouraged me until finally I made it unscathed to the other side.

Women on both side of the stream were clapping and cheering for me and I felt as though my heart would burst with pride and gratitude. I looked back over the bridge and thought of all the things I had not done out of fear of being hurt. That was all behind me now.

I have a photo of me crossing that bridge on my phone that I look at each day to remind myself that I am capable. No more rules. I am fearless.

Dear readers: What hurdles in your life have you overcome?

Something New

Jessie: in New Hampshire hunkering down for the long winter slog.

One of the best things about being a writer is the built in necessity of trying new things. You expect to be asked to create new books, imagine new characters, describe new settings. There are new themes to explore, new voices to use, even new publishers to partner with. But some parts of the process seem set in stone . They appear inflexible and unlikely to invite new methods or ways of doing things. Which is why outside influence is so important.

I’ve noticed from my friendships with other writers artistic types often find life partners who are tech savvy. It’s a pattern I’ve followed. My beloved husband is one such man and he is always delighted when I show the slightest inclination to be interested in technology. I should’ve known that when I mentioned I had read an article on dictating novels he would pounce on the notion.

I should’ve realized when I was handed a light weight box from under our Christmas tree that my life was about to change. On Christmas morning I slipped the wrapping from a beautifully packaged gift to reveal my very own copy of dictation software. Truth be told, I felt as though I’d been offered a dare and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.

I kept the box, unopened, in a credenza next to my desk, until today. I had put it off for  long enough, I told myself. It wasn’t as though I had no idea how to speak. It wasn’t as though I was a particularly good typist. I’m still not sure what made me wait so long.

I think I felt as though my stories came out my fingers, as if they couldn’t find their way past my lips. But it turns out they could. This afternoon I wrote an entire outline for my next Beryl and Edwina novel. I at least doubled my word count per hour compared with my typing speed on the first try. I can’t imagine what it will be like when I’ve mastered the technology! I feel like a whole world has opened up in front of me.

As a matter of fact, I dictated this entire blog post. I may never type anything again!

Readers, which things have you tried lately that have surprised you? Writers, have you ever tried dictation software?

 

Are You A Winter Person by guest Susan O’Brien

Welcome Susan O’Brien! I met Susan when we moved back to Northern Virginia. She writes the Nicki Valentine mystery series where single mom Nicki becomes a private investigator. Here’s a little about Sky Dive:

skydive-book-3-cover-art-susan-obrien-hi-resLife is finally settling down for private investigator Nicki Valentine, her kids, and her boyfriend Dean. But when a jailed mom seeks help for her endangered biological daughter, who just “aged out” of foster care, Nicki can’t say no. With Dean by her side and her free-wheeling BFF eager to investigate too, Nicki braves back alleys, drug dens, and the strip-club scene, all while wondering if any risk is too great when it comes to finding a teen in trouble. As if navigating the mean streets of King County, Virginia, isn’t enough, Nicki also faces the realities of dating as a single mom, including “sleepover” requests she never anticipated. Ultimately—in both relationships and work—Nicki must decide, “How much am I willing to risk for love?”

Susan: I’ve never been a “winter person,” so by early December, I’m already thinking spring. This carries into my writing and even onto my book covers. I set each Nicki Valentine mystery in a different season, and it’s no surprise that she hasn’t battled snow or ice yet. I was thrilled to see spring flowers on the cover of Skydive, which released in November. And the fall leaves on Sky High are my favorite part of its design. Finding Sky’s cover features a clothesline on a breezy summer day.

I wonder how many authors and readers consider seasons when writing or choosing books. As a reader, I’m especially drawn to covers and plots featuring beaches. I can almost feel the sun’s heat and the soft sand between my toes. I’ll read books with winter themes, too, but usually under a cozy blanket with hot chocolate or coffee in hand.

Seasons provide countless opportunities to define characters as well. Does the protagonist break out the skis when it’s snowing, or does she huddle inside? Does she sow seeds in the spring or admire gardens from afar? Does she go bikini shopping in the summer or avoid swimming altogether? Does she enjoy falling leaves or find them depressing? Or does she fit somewhere in the middle? (My protagonist hits the beach skydive-pic15during one investigation—with her crush, no less—and confidence is an issue for her.)

As much as I dread winter, I admit that cold days are nice for reading and writing…assuming there’s a warm mug and a crackling fire nearby. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a fireplace, so I use a space heater that looks like one.) If it’s snowing, I even have an excuse to skip errands and write for hours, only taking breaks for household responsibilities.

So tell me, what is your favorite season for writing, reading, or simply enjoying life? And do the seasons on book covers affect a story’s appeal? And are any of you reading this from a warm climate? Lucky you!

author-susan-obrien-hi-resSusan O’Brien is the Agatha Award-nominated author of the Nicki Valentine mystery series. She lives with her family in Northern Virginia and donates part of her earnings to missing children’s causes. Visit Susan online at www.SkywritingSusan.com.

 

Endless Possibilities

by Julie, confused by 50 degree weather in Somerville

chime

The Cover for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT–isn’t it great?

At the beginning of the year I had two packs of 3×5 index cards, wrapped in plastic. Both have been opened, and are spread out on my dining room table. Each pack of cards will be a book by the end of the year. January is my plotting month for both projects.

As we’ve mentioned before, and Hallie discussed on Tuesday, there are different ways to start a book. Some of us are pantsers–write by the seat of your pants. I am a plotter. I plan the entire book, figure out the dramatic structure, add subplots, figure out twists and turns, and then I start writing. (For a great method of plotting, read Paula Munier’s PLOT PERFECT.)

My index cards become my roadmap. After I rough out a plot, I make notes about who is in each scene, where it takes place. I shuffle the cards–should the body be found that early? Should I make him a suspect? How does she get from here to there so quickly–let’s add another scene. How can I add to the drama? Should I have a subplot about the blue shoe? All of these ideas swirl around, and are possibilities. I think, shuffle, add, combine, separate, shuffle again until it all makes sense.

I love the blank card phase of my book. The possibilities are endless, and the plotting is intense. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes–but it does mean that I’ve thought it through enough that I’ve worked out the places where I might get stuck later on. This is the way I think, and create. For some it is torture–for me it is bliss. Anything is possible at this phase of the project. I just have to make it all work.

This year will be a busy one for me. January is for plotting, and filling up index cards with ideas. I couldn’t be happier.

Writer friends, how do you plot? Do you love that phase, or dread it? Does the muse visit as you write, or does she front load you with ideas?

Wicked Wednesday: Writing Goals for 2017

writing-goalsWickeds, we all have deadlines, series, proposals, and blog posts that are keeping us busy. What are your writing goals for 2017?

Sherry: Since I went to the Sisters In Crime conference on Adapting Your Work To Hollywood in Los Angeles last April I’ve wanted to write a story to try and sell to the Hallmark channel. I’ve pondered and discarded many ideas and think I’m finally on to one. I’m also writing a couple of new proposals. And working on what is next for Sarah!

Barb: For the first time in years, I don’t know what my writing year holds. Maine Clambake #6, Stowed Away is due in March. Then I’ll work on the proposal for the next three, along with a short story I’ve promised to an anthology. The rest of the year is a blank. Fingers crossed for a series renewal, but if not, there are plenty of things I want to accomplish.

Edith: I’ll be writing three books: Cozy Capers Book Group Mystery #1, capewaterfreestockcropQuaker Midwife Mystery # 4 (IF my contract is extended…), and Country Store Mystery #5. <gulp>  Oh, yeah, and keeping up with blog posts, book releases (three in three months), two short story anthology releases (bringing total releases to FIVE in three months), and every other writing task. But I’m living my dream and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Liz: Lots on the horizon! Like Barb, I’m working on book six in the Pawsitively Organic series, due April 1. After that, will also be writing a proposal for three more (so more finger crossing!). I will also be working on book two in the Cat Cafe series by Cate Conte. And I have another passion project that’s been in various stages of editing for a long time. This is the year that I want to get it finished and sold. And who knows what other fabulous opportunities will come along??

Julie: I am working on copyedits for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT, and then have two more novels to write. So I am working on a plan for the year that allows time for writing, and for editing. I love Sherry’s goal of thinking Hollywood. If I can figure out the time, I need to try and write a screenplay, or a stageplay, and learn how that works.

Jessie: I am plotting away on my next mystery in my Beryl and Edwina series. I have a proposal to write, revisions for one book to complete and copyedits coming up for Whispers of Warning, the next Change of Fortune mystery. It looks like it will be a busy year!

Writers, friends, and fans: What are your work goals for the year? How about hobby goals, or other pursuits?

Writing advice from Hallie Ephron: Enjoy the mess

Today we want to give a Wicked Welcome to Hallie Ephron. When I first joined Sisters in Crime New England, Hallie was the President. Over the years she has been a cheerleader, a mentor, and a friend. She is also a very gifted teacher, and has just released an update for her book WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL. My well worn copy of the original will soon share space with this updated version. We’re thrilled that she agreed to visit the blog today. Welcome Hallie!

oldnewwritingsellingWhen I started writing what would be the first edition of WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL back in 2003, I had four mystery novels under my belt and spoken on panels with enough of my fellow writers to know that there are almost as many ways to plan a mystery novel as there are writers.

Just for example, listen to what these uber-successful writers have to say about planning:

“An outline is crucial. It saves so much time. When you write suspense, you have to know where you’re going because you have to drop little hints along the way. With the outline, I always know where the story is going.” —John Grisham

“I do a very minimal synopsis before I start, and I know where I end up, I know sort of stations along the way, but I give myself freedom to kind of just discover things as I go along.” —Louis Bayard

“I just dive in and hope the book comes out at the other end. And as I get to the character, slowly the plot develops like a Polaroid.” —Tana French

Hmmm. It’s not very helpful to someone writing their first crime novel to be told there is no one way. But, having worked with many published and unpublished writers, what comes through over and over is that each of us has our own talents and deficits, and it’s wise to start by accepting that as a given – it’s both your greatest weakness and your greatest strength.

Do you outline? It’s a question you hear over and over at author panels. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I heard a writer answer quoting E. L. Doctorow, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” The truth is, you may like writing as if you’re driving at night in fog, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

Some of us are naturally planners (okay, we’re anal) and need to write a detailed outline or synopsis before committing ourselves to an opening scene. Others are pantsers (delusional free spirits?) who’d rather fly by the seat of their pants. If I’m not surprised, they like to say, then how can I expect the reader to be surprised? Most of us do a little of both, and in different proportions according to the demands of of the project underway.

I, for one, can pants along, groping and hoping for a while. But at some point, within the first 100 pages, I need to pick my head up out of the weeds and take the long view. That might involve attempting an outline or synopsis, or maybe just a pack of 3×5 cards with the main plot points. If I don’t, inevitably I write myself into one cul de sac after another and end up with an “out” file that’s longer than my manuscript. So I write a little, plan a little, write a some more, plan some more…

My plan becomes my rock as I work my way toward THE END. Usually it works, as long as I’m not afraid to blow up the rock if need be.

My sage advice is: Do whatever works for you. To that end, the “Planning” section of the REVISED AND EXPANDED edition of WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL is packed with planning exercises to try on, like so many hats. They’ve worked for other writers and might work for you. There are exercises for planning the premise, the crime, the protagonist, the villain, the web of characters, the setting, the dramatic (it had better be!) opening, and of course, the three acts that comprise the plot. The planning section culminates with a MYSTERY NOVEL BLUEPRINT summarizing every aspect in a handy dandy chart that you can complete, and goes on to take an equally hands-on approach to writing, revising, and selling your novel.

Fortunately, in this new edition, the blueprint (and all of the other exercises in the book) can be printed out and completed. Got to love technology.

For more about WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL: REVISED EXPANDED: http://www.writersdigestshop.com/writing-and-selling-your-mystery-novel-revised-and-expanded

An excerpt on developing a premise for your mystery novel. http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/develop-premise-mystery-novel

What’s your planning process? Brainstorm? Outline? Synopsis? Grope and hope? And does it change from one project to the next?

***

hallieephron1photobylynnwayne062014HALLIE EPHRON is the New York Times bestselling author of ten crime novels, including YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR (Wm Morrow 6/17)). She is a four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. A revised and expanded edition of her Edgar-nominated WRITING AND SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL(Writers Digest Books) is just out from Writers Digest Books. For twelve years she was the crime fiction book reviewer for the Boston Globe and won the Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing.

Ma’s Ginger Snaps from Iced Under

by Barb, barefoot and just out of the pool in Key West (don’t hate me), but writing this post for my friends up north

IcedunderfrontcoverIced Under, the newest Maine Clambake Mystery, takes place in the dead of a Maine winter. In the book, Julia Snowden’s mother, Jacqueline, bakes these cookies with her granddaughter Page to keep her entertained on a snowy day. In reality, these are cookies my grandmother made.

From the book–

When my cousins get together, one memory we all share is my grandmother’s ginger snaps. It was a joy to find them in your mailbox at camp, or on a bluesy day in your college dorm. They always came in a coffee can, lined on the inside with wax paper and taped shut. The cookies provided instant comfort and could be hoarded or shared, depending on your mood.

gingersnapsIngredients

1½ sticks butter, melted
2 cups granulated white sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg, beaten lightly
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon each cloves, allspice, nutmeg, mace
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

Mix the melted butter, 1 cup of the sugar, and the molasses. (Put aside the remaining cup of sugar.) When the mixture is cool, fold in the lightly beaten egg. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and mace. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix thoroughly with a mixer or food processor.

Dough will form itself into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and put into refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Shape cold dough into balls using a small melon baller. Roll the balls in sugar to coat completely. Place the balls at least 2 inches apart on parchment paper on a cookie sheet, to allow for expansion.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Readers: Do you have a favorite recipe for an inclement day? Tell us what it is!

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