Figuring Out the Ending

Edith north of Boston and nearly ready for Christmas! And I have a giveaway as a holiday gift to one commenter here today.

I’ve been working on Country Store Mystery number six, Strangled Eggs and Ham. Next year holds so many book deadlines for me that I’m really trying to write ahead. I’m happy to report that yesterday I finished the first draft of the book that isn’t due until April 1. Which is good, because it means I can actually relax over Christmas with family and friends and cats.

PrestonChristabel

But…last week progress had slowed to a crawl. I was getting close to the finish line but couldn’t seem to keep the story moving forward. How was I going to end it? Could I come up with new and fresh suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats? Was I going to be able to convince my readers they really wanted to read just one more chapter rather than going to bed?

I’m not a plotter by nature, but I had set up four suspects with plausible reasons for wanting the victim dead (yes, by strangulation…to fit the title, which I adore). I’d decided early on which of the four did the deed.

With the excruciatingly slow progress, I began to suspect myself – that I had picked the wrong villain. Could it be possible? It had happened to me before, so yeah, I knew it was a thing. I took a couple of long walks and another look at what I had written so far. And magic happened – another suspect was revealed as the actual murderer, although the person I’d thought was the villain stayed as a serious aider and abetter.

And bingo – out flowed the words! My relief was so palpable it Biscuits and Slashed Brownsalmost needed its own driver’s license.

To celebrate, I’d love to send one of you one of my last three ARCs of Biscuits and Slashed Browns, which is book #4 in the series. Because, as Barb says, we should never be left at release date with an advance review copy in our possession. And release date is January 30!

So, Dear Reader: Tell me about when you second-guessed yourself, or changed a plan at the last possible minute. Did it work out the way you hoped, or not? (Or maybe I don’t want to hear about the “or not” cases, LOL…) And make sure you check back tomorrow (and check your email) to see if you won!

The Making of a Web Site

Edith here, still waddling from all the delicious Thanksgiving food! apron

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: I’m giving away an Author apron, plus one of my three 2017 books: Mulch Ado About Murder, the fifth book in her Local Foods Mystery series, Called to Justice, Quaker Midwife Mystery #2, and When the Grits Hit the Fan, the third Country Store Mystery. Winner’s choice! Leave a comment below for a chance to win.

Today I want to share some great news, and some process. I recently hired a Digital Strategies expert to bring my author web site into the current era. Up to now, I’ve been doing my own web work. WordPress.com is pretty easy, has pre-made templates, and is free. Still, my web site was looking kind of clunky, kind of outdated. It didn’t have much security to speak of, and I am pretty clueless on search engine optimization (SEO) – which means people looking for me can find me. I’m a writer, not a web designer or a graphics person, and I have a lot to learn about marketing strategies.

OldSite

The old site

So I entered into conversations with Christine Green. She happens to be local and a friend. I knew she had managed social media for political campaigns and does great video editing (she filmed my book-launch walking tour last year and created a fabulous five-minute promo video). She creates all kinds of digital marketing strategies for  companies big and small. We met in downtown Amesbury and talked through the way she works and what she can provide — but we could have held our meeting on the phone, too. Being local is just a plus.

2017-10-20-Christine-Edith-biz-meeting

Christine’s selfie of the two of us working at an outside table in downtown Amesbury.

I was sold. Together we decided to take my web site to the next level. A new design. A real events calendar. Much-improved content in all kinds of areas. Better usability on digital devices of all sizes. Great author photos. I thought the process was interesting so I’ll walk you through it before I let you peek at the new site.

First, I paid Christine to do an assessment of the current site. She pointed out all kinds of areas we could improve on. When I said, “Let’s go for it,” she jumped in. She started the process by giving my current site a deeper review. I agreed to move to WordPress. org, a paid application that provides much more flexibility and capabilities for a modern web site.

Not long after that, she had a draft site for me to look at — and lots of questions! We went back and forth (mostly on email or by phone) with decisions, photos, descriptions. I came up with better wording about the kinds of public speaking I do and the kinds of mysteries I write. She created a much improved About page, telling the story of my path to becoming a multi-published author. I sent along cover jpegs and author-event photos. She suggested tactics on how to bring in readers and add subscribers to my newsletter list. I offered edits and clarifications. She trained me on how I can do my own updates. We were a team in the best sense of the word.

Finally we launched, just a couple of weeks ago. Take a look!

NewSite

I’m so happy with the look and feel – it’s light and airy, and the colors all work nicely, as does the functionality. Behind the scenes I have much better security and better optimization for readers who search for my name or my books.

Christine has been a professional all the way along. I highly recommend her to anyone looking to update and renovate their web site and their digital strategies.

Readers:  Tell me your favorite part of my new site. How often do you visit author web sites? What do you look for? Writers: What platform do you use for your web site? Have you updated it lately? Everyone: Catch a typo and I’ll send you a free book separately from today’s giveaway!

Making a Writing Retreat: Part II

From Edith, starting to walk around again (after getting a new knee) north of Boston.

Here’s Part II of my poll on writing retreats, with answers to my questions from authors Tiger Wiseman, Ramona DeFelice Long, Liz Milliron, and Holly Robinson – their bios are at the end of the post. Check out Part I for the purpose and feeling of a retreat, although of course there is overlap.

What are your top five tips for what to bring?

T:

tiger

Tiger Wiseman

  • Writing snacks ( I bring potato chips)
  • A good book or two
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • MP3 player
  • Wine
R: 
  • For work, only what you need. Before you leave, prioritize your projects and bring research, notes, etc. for those projects only, instead of every possible story on your dream list. Bringing too many projects can leave you feeling like a failure because you’ll never get to them all.
  • Comfort items, like your favorite pillow, blanket, teddy bear, Christmas lights, a sound machine.
  • A story idea or issue that can be discussed or brainstormed as a group. This is a real bonding experience.
  • A journal. If you are a newbie, it may help to note what you brought that was a godsend and what you left behind that you longed for. If you have a meaningful experience, journaling it will keep it alive for you  long after the retreat is over.
  • A camera! I use my cell phone and love looking back at photos of my writing escape places.

L:

liz

Liz Milliron

  • Anything you need to make your writing space comfortable (pillows, lap desk, favorite blend of tea, etc.).
  • Something you can take notes on (cards or a phone app), preferably portable so if you decide to take a walk and inspiration strikes, you’re prepared.
  • Materials for the WIP – me I never go without my MacBook air, which has everything I need on it, but if you write longhand make sure you have all your things. This sounds silly, but I once went on a retreat and a woman there had forgotten half her research materials.
  • Snacks to power you through the day (our retreats are never lacking for food, but if you crave something bring it along).
  • Comfortable clothes to write in. I am known in our Sisters in Crime chapter for my Cookie Monster pajama pants.When the pants come out, everyone knows I’m about to hunker down.Jeans are for socializing, but Cookie Monster is for writing!

H:

  • Flannel Pajamas & slippers: my favorite writing uniform
  • Running clothes: I find that solitary runs with music are the best way to wake up my brain
  • Bath bubbles: Yes, a bath works wonders to ease the kinks in your body after writing for hours
  • Quick reads: when I’m intensely writing, I like a good mystery or thriller for escape
  • Chocolate & wine: yeah, I know those are two things, but they go together!

E:  I’m seeing a theme of snacks and comfort, there! And what I bring is no different.wellspring-bedroom

  • Comfy clothes and walking shoes (yes, and slippers).
  • My smaller laptop, favorite pen, and paper notebook.
  • Super easy meals. I don’t want to waste time cooking unless I’m with others.
  • Wine and chocolate, of course.
  • Chargers!
How long does it take you to get into the groove? What’s the optimal number of days to be away?
T: I can get into my writing groove immediately. Optimal retreat is 4 to 7 days.  Anything shorter and you don’t get enough written to feel successful; longer and you start to fret about things not getting done at home. . .and the dog.

R: I lose the bulk of the first day and the last day for coming and going, so the optimum

ramona

Ramona DeFelice Long

short side is 5 days, because that leaves you at least three full days to write. I have been away for two weeks and four weeks, and the first is too short and the last is too long. For long term I’d say the sweet spot is three weeks.

L: I get into the groove pretty quickly – an hour, tops.l think this is because my limited writing time during the week has conditioned me to hit the ground running. I love weekend retreats. A day isn’t quite enough and I think I’d go a little bonkers after a week, but a weekend (Friday afternoon through Sunday morning) is perfect for me.
H: I get into the groove pretty quickly, after setting up my stuff, unpacking, and taking a walk to clear my mind. Optimally, I love going for 3-5 days: intense 10-hour writing days.
E: It takes me a few hours, usually. I have to get the space set up to my liking, poke around the kitchen, breathe some oxygen outside, and depending on long my drive was, take a walk – but even that is kickstarting my writing.
If you’ve hosted a retreat, any comments about the experience? Selecting whom to invite?
T: I’ve hosted several retreats in Vermont. I find that 3 to 5 writers (including host) is a good number since we share cooking duties.  I often let one person invite whoever they want, their friends.  I don’t think the choice of people is as important as making sure everyone understands and follows the rules: quiet times, chore division. Anyone can get along for 5 days, as long as they’re accomplishing what they came to do. Down time is very important.  If you’re alone, you may push too hard; with others, you stop for dinner and–at my retreats–wine and conversation or games. Makes for a well-rounded, relaxing retreat.

vcca-real-world

Sign as one leaves the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

R: I have hosted. Once I rented the retreat house and invited a few people I thought might be available. Another time, I specifically invited people who’d been to a past retreat, as a reunion. A schedule that allows for private work all day and a dinner followed by group readings, brainstorming, discussion, or just chilling with wine is my favorite program. If there are workshops or any programming, those should be in the morning so the afternoon can be devoted to a long period of writing.

L: if you are putting together a weekend and inviting people (as opposed to something like doing it as a chapter of an organization), look for people who are flexible. People who like being in groups and are willing to pitch in – not sit around and live off other people’s work. Nothing brings a group down faster than a constant complainer. And if your event is going to be open to a chapter and you know there’s a complainer, resolve that the person is not going to ruin the weekend for you.
E: Morning workshops wouldn’t work for me. I need my morning creative time alone, and would rather hang with the group late afternoon and evening. Re-entry can be rough, too.

H: I do have mini-retreats at my Prince Edward Island house. I only take friends who write

holly

Holly Robinson

as intensely as I do—that’s just three people to choose from—my favorite friend to take is one who knows when not to talk! Which is pretty much all day, unless we’re on an afternoon walk, or after the wine comes out after dinner and we share what we’ve been working on.

E: Holly, I’m that kind of writer! Take me along next time, please?
My guests:
Readers:  Ask our retreatants questions – they’ll pop in and check throughout the day if they can. And be sure to check out their writing if you haven’t already. They are a talented bunch!

Making a Writing Retreat: Part I

From Edith, in the only-partially frozen reaches north of Boston.

Many of you know I am fond of going away on writing retreats. Addicted, one might even piretreatsay! Even if all I do is occupy a friend’s empty house in the next town, I love getting away from home (and all the obligations and joys thereof) to focus on nothing but writing. A couple of weeks ago I had a hugely productive solo five days at a friend’s empty beach house not far from my town. And I have my routine down by now: what I bring, what I wear, how I work.

Of course the Wicked Cozys also go on an awesome group retreat every year, but we’ve covered that here several times, here and here and here, among other posts.

So I thought I’d poll some other authors pals who also like to go on retreat – some of whom I have been on retreat with, but not all – to see how their experiences compare with mine.  Here are answers to my questions from Tiger Wiseman, Ramona DeFelice Long, Liz Milliron, and Holly Robinson – their bios are at the end of the post. Thanks for sharing, ladies (mind you, none of them saw the other’s answers).

Caveat One: I have edited down the responses a bit in the interest of space and reading time. Caveat Two: Everyone had such interesting and useful things to say (well, they’re writers, after all!), the post was getting really long. So I’ve split it into two parts. We’ll have the second part a month from now. This part has more to do with the purpose and feel of a retreat, while Part II will get into some of the practical side.

What’s your favorite part of getting away from home with a focus on writing?

T: Knowing I won’t have to worry about anything except being creative and productive –

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Tiger at her very own Vermont retreat house

things that normally fall second to mundane necessities of cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

 R: Leaving behind all duties, from writing to meetings to housework, that interfere with creativity.
L: The removal of the distractions. With two teenagers, someone always has to go somewhere and someone almost always wants something. And then I have a husband to pay attention to. And the laundry. And the dishwasher. And, and, and… It’s always nice to get away for a day or a weekend where the only thing I have to worry about is feeding myself and writing.
H: Just that: the ability to focus! Even though my children are now out of the house, I find that between household chores, work deadlines, husband, dog, etc., it’s very tough to find the mental space to focus on fiction writing, especially when I’m starting a new project. 20160609_061555It’s so wonderful to be able to go to bed thinking about whatever you’re writing, and to get up in the morning and sit down to it first thing, with your papers scattered around just the way you left them.
E: I’m seeing a theme, here! All those comments apply to me, too.
Do you prefer to go away by yourself for concentrated writing, or with others? Why?

T: I prefer being with others in a structured environment. I like the company of others after the writing day is over, but during writing hours I want total silence.

 R: This is a tough one, because I love both. I like being with other writers, but I need a private space to write, sleep, and think. A small retreat with private bedrooms and studios is ideal.

L: I like going with others as long as there are solitary writing times built in to the schedule. I’m fairly good at shutting out the world, but knowing that this is my time and I’m relieved of the burden of being social lets me really concentrate. But all writers get stumped, so having a group to brainstorm with is always

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Liz in pink shirt on right. Photo credit Paula Smith.

nice. And of course, after the writing is over, hanging with friends for snacks and wine is a great way to recharge for the next day’s writing.

E: I like both, but as Ramona says, only if I have a private space for work, sleep, and thinking.
Where is your favorite place to retreat to?
T: Vermont, LOL. Lake, forest or mountains. Actually for me a retreat needs to be quiet (no traffic, planes, kids); provide space for long walks; not have TV or too many sites of interest which I’ll want to visit; good restaurant in case I’m too lazy to cook.
R: For overall enjoyment, the beach. For productivity, a quiet country setting. Specifically, Rehoboth Beach for a solo retreat for a few days. Long term, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).
L: I love the woods. My chapter does an annual retreat and we have frequently gone to the Laurel Highlands, about an hour outside Pittsburgh. If I could hole up there every few months for a weekend, I’d be a happy girl. Little wonder my series-in-progress is set there.

H: I usually go to mid-coast Maine in winter, because it’s so quiet and it’s very cheap to

hollyretreat

Split Rock Cove

rent condos on the beach then. I occasionally go to a writer’s residence in the Berkshires (Wellspring House). I also like Split Rock Cove up in Maine—very cheap off season, and the woman artist who runs it is fun to get to get together with in the evenings. Mostly, it’s important for me to be in a place where I can take long walks or runs, and there can’t be too many shops or restaurants.

E: I’ve been to Wellspring House a couple of times. I also head down to a Quaker retreat house in West Falmouth on the Cape, but only when I can have the house to myself. Otherwise house-sitting or group retreats are my usual places.
My guests:
  • Tiger Wiseman is an aspiring mystery writer & confirmed foodie.
  • Ramona DeFelice Long writes every morning at 7:00 a.m. in her home in Delaware. She is an independent editor specializing in crime fiction. Twitter: @ramonadef.
  • Liz Milliron writes The Laurel Highlands Mysteries. Her short fiction appears in Blood on the Bayou, Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical.
  • Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist, and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is Folly Cove. Visit her at her web site and on twitter @hollyrob1.
Readers: Do you ever go on retreat, whether writing or otherwise? Share your experiences!

Being Crafty

Susannah/Sadie/Jane here, taking a break from last minute online shopping…

Hello, all. Hope your holidays, however, whatever, and whenever you celebrate, are bringing you much joy.

We talk a lot about the craft of writing here at the Wickeds. But today let’s talk craft of a different kind: handicrafts! As satisfying as it is for me to write stories, and to edit stories for other people, sometimes there’s just no substitute for making a physical object–something useful, beautiful, or just plain fun. So here’s a crafty pattern, with a variation, for you to try:

SADIE’S CANDLE COZIES

For the knitted version, which you can easily make in an hour, you will need:

-Size 13 knitting nesadie-hartwell-picture-1edles

-Bulky weight yarn, about 10 or 12 yards

-A pint-size mason jar, or any glass jar that’s about 5 inches high with a circumference of about 9 inches. Cozy will stretch.

-Small flameless candle

Gauge is not important. Cast on 26 stitches. Row 1: K1, P1 across. Row 2: P1, K1 across.sadie-hartwell-picture-2a

Repeat these two rows until piece measures 5”. Bind off, and sew shorter edges together into a tube. Place tube on jar. Decorate with ribbon, tiny Christmas ornaments, or bits of greenery. Place flameless candle inside and enjoy.

 

For you non-knitters (Gasp!), here’s another version, using a doily. It will take about 60 seconds to make. You will need:

sadie-hartwell-picture-3          -A doily (if you don’t have one of Grandma’s, check thrift stores. Use one with a loose pattern around the outer edge)

-A glass jar that’s shorter than ½ the diameter of the doily. I used a 9” doily and a 4” high jar.

-Paper or cloth ribbon

 

sadie-hartwell-picture-4aThread ribbon through the pattern around the outside of the doily. Place jar in center of doily, and pull the ribbon tight (like a drawstring), creating a ruffle around the top of the jar. Tie off the ribbon. Use some double-sided tape to hold the doily in place if necessary. Fill with a flameless candle, or use as a cute vase as I’ve done here.

What’s your holiday craft of choice? Bonus points if it includes glitter, felt, pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, yarn, or hot glue!

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.
turningpapersmall
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?

Prioritizing…or Avoiding?

Edith here, trying not to get whiplash from the New England winter weather of the last couple of weeks.

I recently faced a conundrum and put it out, as one sometimes does, on Facebook to gather insights from others.

I wrote, “Saturday poll: When you’re kind of stuck on a project (like a book…) and you have three other smaller projects looming (like TAXES, writing a short story, and final read-through on another book), do you power through on the first one, or knock off the other ones so they’ll stop looming?”

This wasn’t only a case of muddling through the middle, which we’ve discussed before on this blog here, among other places. The “stuck” part did have something to do with where I was in my fifth Local Foods mystery, but this isn’t that post.

My conundrum was more a product of staring at my whiteboard, which is directly above 20160225_125719my writing computer, and seeing:

  • Taxes
  • Ch breaks & recipes for GRITS
  • New short for Bouchercon

Every time I sat to write, those items stared at me from directly below the “WRITE THE %&!$@# story!” graphic.

All four of those things needed to be done, in a certain order of urgency. GRITS was due March first. The story, March fifteenth. Taxes, well, you know, April fifteenth. And the book I’m writing, May first. Still, I wanted to get the first draft of the book done before I go on a trip on March tenth.

I know that often when I’m a bit stuck I just need to stay in my chair and start typing (thus the “Write the Blankety-Blank Book” bit). I type, stuff comes out, and I get unstuck. But this particular book has been going more sludgelike than most lately, and I wondered if it was because of those other tasks looming. If I prioritized my to-do list, would I be helping myself or just avoiding the inevitable?

PrioritzeWhat do you think the 52 replies to my highly unscientific Facebook poll said? You got it. The vast majority suggested knocking off the small things so I’d have the peace of mind to do the big thing. Here’s a sampling of suggestions on that theme:

Ramona DeFelice Long started the reply thread with, ” I have to do the small stuff, because they drive me nuts.” Another friend wrote, “Gotta remove distractions from my creative flow.” Author Anna Loan-Wilsey said, “I get at least one of the other small projects done so I feel like I’ve accomplished something and gotten a break from the project I’m stuck on.” Cori Arnold chimed in with, “I’m totally on board with everything Anna is saying [wink emoticon]. One small project and take a walk.”

My friend Elizabeth added,  “Use each one as the relief task when you get sick of working on one of the others.”  And Sisters In Crime President Leslie Budewitz offered one of the only views from the other side: “Oh, Lordy. An eternal debate. Today, I’m choosing the big project, but other days, other choices!”

So here’s what I did last Saturday. GRITS was nearly done. Besides being first on the “due” list, it was also the easiest and most straightforward to accomplish. I touched up the recipes, inserted chapter breaks, made a final copy, and hit Send. One item to cross off the list! And it only took two hours of my morning.

Then I went for a long fast walk, which always helps me when I’m stuck on anything. Not only did the exercise start to unstick the book, it also let me talk through the short story to myself. Yes, out loud. In public. I think by now people around town know me as that crazy author lady who talks to herself on her power walks.

I took the next two days to draft and revise the short story for the Blood on the Bayou bloodonthebayoulogoanthology. The tale almost wrote itself, which in the past has led to some of my best stories (I hope it’s true this time!). Another item was well on its way to being crossed off. I let it mull for a few days, read it to my critique group, and gave it a final polish before sending it in on Tuesday for consideration in the anthology.

Now I’m back on the book, Mulch Ado About Murder. I needed a new suspect and he gave birth right there in my mind. I needed one character’s secret and, bingo, she told it to me on another walk. I’m at over the 56000-word mark and heading into the end. I’ve finally removed enough obstacles to let the story flow again.

Taxes, you say? Hey, I still have six weeks…

Wickeds and Readers – What works for you to remove obstacles? Do you power through, or wash the kitchen floor/do your taxes/knock off an easy task so you can keep going? Share your tips!