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 Still, my web site was looking kind of clunky, kind of outdated.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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

On Finding Your Tribe

Edith here, north of Boston, a little too busy but soaking up fall sunshine and brilliant leaf colors.

We published authors often advise beginning writers to “find your tribe.” But what does that mean and why do we say it?

Here’s why I say it. Without the support from all kinds of writing organizations and groups, I know I would not be multi-published now. That kind of support, networking, and constant learning is a key to success. Of course we writers have to keep our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keyboard in order to finish the book, but beyond that? Hanging out with other writers (whether in person or virtually) is supremely important. Here’s my story.

When I first started writing fiction more than twenty years ago, I found a local critique group. I joined three other unpublished women in a carpool to author Susan Oleksiw‘s home several towns away, where we would read scenes we’d written and have her and each other critique it. I’d never taken a creative writing class (despite holding a PhD) and I learned so much about point of view, use of names, when to insert weather and when not to, as well as basic storytelling.

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Some years later I discovered the New England Crime Bake, attended for the first time, and promptly  joined both Sisters in Crime National and the New England chapter, going to my first chapter meeting a month later in Kate Flora‘s living room. I met Sheila Connolly there, and others who are now luminaries in our chapter. I started taking SINCNE workshops, meeting Barb Ross at one, and Sherry Harris at a meeting she hosted on the local air force base. I met Julie Hennrikus and Jessie Crockett at SINCNE meetings, too. I joined the Guppies, a big online SINC chapter for the Great Unpublished, where we all share information and learn from each other (and they let the published among us stay on!).

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Seascape 2009

After I finished my first novel, I dipped into the Guppies Agent Search subgroup and then the Small Press subgroup, finally finding a reputable small press. I joined a different critique group, the Monday Night Writers, and read nearly all the scenes from my first five or six manuscripts on years of Monday nights, learning all the way. I attended the Seascape weekend writing retreat with teachers Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard. There I got to know Liz Mugavero, Ramona DeFelice Long, and Kim Gray for the first time. We all received coaching on various subparts of our manuscripts, were given time for revision, and cemented some lasting friendships. My first mystery, Speaking of Murder, was published with a small press exactly five years ago, written as Tace Baker.

After an agent came knocking at Sheila Connolly’s email door when she was President of SINCNE, and she sent his search for authors out to the membership, I hopped right on it. I signed on with him and put my Jane Hancock on a three-book contract with Kensington Publishing within a month’s time. We six Wicked Cozys all share that same agent, and we formed the core of the Wicked Cozy Authors blog a couple of years later, which of course is the best lifeboat tribe evah.

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I started going to Bouchercon,  Left Coast Crime, and the California Crime Writers conference as well as my annual appearance at Malice Domestic. I snagged more contracts, wrote more books, and soon my short stories and novels were being nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. Well-known authors agreed to blurb my books, including Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kate Flora, and Rhys Bowen.

Last week I returned from Bouchercon in Toronto where Louise Penny gave me a hug and signed her latest book for my Canadian sister. I soaked up wisdom and laughs from old friends and new and heard all kinds of kind words about my work from avid mystery fans.

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Three stellar authors: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, and Rhys Bowen in Toronto

I’m part of the Newburyport Writers, a local writers’ group that crosses all genres and all kinds of fiction and nonfiction, but we gather for food and valuable information-sharing once a month. And a lovely cross-genre group of five of us toured local libraries for a couple of years and shared our widely varying paths to publication. We of the Nevertheless Writers are still friends and turn out for fun evenings like Witches Night Out!

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Nevertheless Writers (from left) Nancy Crochiere, Susan Paradis, Holly Robinson, me, and Elizabeth Atkinson

And I also check in with Ramona DeFelice Long’s Sprint Club on Facebook every morning before seven. It’s a great start to the workday to know that writers scattered around the country are all sitting down for an hour of uninterrupted work just like I am.

NONE of my modest successes would have happened without these various members of my tribe. Not a bit of it. Well, maybe I would have stayed in my virtual garret, cranking out words. But they wouldn’t be very good ones, and I would have been their only reader. Now I’ve completed book #17 and have a half dozen more under contract. With actual fans out there!

Readers: Who is your tribe? Who do you turn to when you want to learn new things, need a professional shoulder to cry on, or have joyous craft news to share?

Guest Linda Lovely

Edith here, writing from north of Boston, where fall has finally hit. Our guest today is the multi-published Linda Lovely.  Bones to Pick, the first mystery in herFINALBonesToPickfrontCover new Brie Hooker Mysteries series, releases in a few weeks! To celebrate, she’ll give away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today. Take it away, Linda.

Wicked Research for Wicked Villains

This blog’s Wicked Cozy Authors title echoes my belief that the best cozy mysteries have plenty of wicked seasoning. Just because a novel eschews profanity, graphic violence and sex doesn’t mean the heroine (or hero) won’t confront a multitude of deadly dangers engineered by wicked, ingenious villains

A mystery’s heroine is most memorable—and heroic—when she faces scary villains. This requires some wicked research. The Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), held each August at a real police academy, offers hands-on experiences that writers can use to create haunting villains and plausible plots. WPA instructors are the same ones who train police in everything from firearms and non-lethal weapons to drones and crime scene investigation. Outside experts also explore subjects like bioweapons, forensic psychology, gangs, and private investigation techniques.

Full disclosure: I’m a five-year member of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) “family.” I handle registrations, coordinate the Golden Donut Short Story contest, and help with varied organizational details. I volunteer because the program affords me—and fellow crime writers—invaluable opportunities to pick the brains of experts and get the details right.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOver the years, the WPA has given me the chance to fire a Glock and an AR-15…feel the tension of making a split-second, shoot-don’t-shoot decision…learn to free myself from a larger assailant…ride in an ambulance with a paramedic…handcuff a suspect…join a SWAT team in clearing a building…wear a duty belt…swing a baton. And the list goes on.

Once I’m home, these experiences weave their way into my cozy mysteries. In Bones To Pick, the first novel in my Brie Hooker Mystery series, Brie’s recall of her dad’s story about gangbangers hiding  weapons saves her life. (Though Brie’s dad is a horticultural professor, he’s also an aspiring crime novelist who attends the WPA each summer.)

In the second Brie Hooker Mystery, which I recently turned into my editor at Henery Press, the heroine flies a drone to gain key information. While Brie doesn’t pack heat, the villains she faces do. So I tap weapons’ knowledge gained at WPA to describe their firearms. Insights into police procedures, CSI techniques, autopsies, poisons and criminal proceedings also figure in how Brie interacts with law enforcement and the legal system.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

In the real world, amateur sleuths seldom prove the innocence of a loved one, solve a cold murder case, uncover fraud, or thwart a radical group’s attempt to rig an election. However, authors can make any of these plots more plausible by weaving in accurate criminal behavior and crime-fighting details.

Writers who can’t attend a WPA can look to information sources in their own backyards Options include ride-alongs with local police and online and in-person programs hosted by Sisters in Crime. Speakers at my Upstate South Carolina SinC chapter’s meetings have included K-9 officers, DAs, judges, detectives, US Marshalls, FBI agents, crime scene investigators, ATF officers, paramedics, bank fraud investigators, and even psychics.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe best part? I’ve yet to meet an expert who wasn’t willing to answer my questions. I’ve gained insights into experiences well outside my day-to-day existence. It’s also allowed me to make friends with people from many walks of life. Yes, research improves books, but it also enriches the researcher’s life.

Linda Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and advertising copy. Her blend of mystery and humor lets her chuckle as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. While her new series may be cozy, she weaves in plenty of adrenaline-packed scenes to keep readers flipping pages. LindaHeadshot

She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and also belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She’s the award-winning author of five prior mystery/suspense/thriller novels. To learn more, visit her website: www.lindalovely.com  

Readers: Which expert has helped you in some area of your life? Writers: Who is the quirkiest expert you’ve called on in the name of research? Remember, she’s giving away a signed ARC now or an ebook after the book comes out to one commenter here today.

On Persisting

Edith here, with so many tomatoes in my kitchen it’s turning red.

I’ve been thinking about persistence lately. Some of us have talked here and there about how important this trait is for authors to have and cultivate. Why would that be?

Let’s start with finishing a first draft. If you don’t persist and write through to the end, it’s not a book. Not a book you can revise and polish, not a book you can land an agent with, not a book you can sell to a publishing house, and more important, not a book anyone else will ever read. I just finished writing my seventeenth first draft of a novel, and there sure were times I didn’t want to keep digging, keep writing, keep trying to discern what needed to happen next. But I did. The author adage of “Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard” really just boils down to persistence.

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Querying agents takes a huge amount of persistence. You just have to keep going until you have one, or more than one, who wants to take you on.  You might have to suffer through a hundred rejections. Once you do sign with an agent, it’s his or her job to persist until your book is sold.

And even before that, you need to persist all over again and come up with another book, the best book you can write, and then another.

Of course we persist in all kinds of other areas of our lives. Maybe it’s coming up with a peace treaty both sides can live with. Maybe it’s conceiving a child. Maybe it’s being patient and firm with a recalcitrant teenage child. Finding good care for an elderly parent. Weeding the garden. Scrubbing a burnt pot. Hiking the entire Appalachian Trail – or just continuing to pedal to the top of a hill.

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A postcard Julie Hennrikus got made up and handed out to us.The background names on this postcard are of women who persisted, from Malala to Alcott, Poehler to Ginsburg, Kahlo to Stanton, and more.

Standing up for the rights of those without a voice is a great place to persist. What if Rosa Parks hadn’t persisted, or Gloria Steinem? Sojourner Truth or Margaret Sanger?

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Julie and I share a senator who persists in standing up for the middle class, transparency in financial transactions, and so much more.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to persist in the first pass revisions of Death Over Easy!

Readers: Where have you persisted with good results? Any place it backfired on you? Which persistent person do you admire?

A Story Comes Knocking

Edith here, hanging onto every last scrap of summer weather and sun-kissed vegetables.

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I pulled out my paternal grandmother’s travel journal recently. I’m not sure why I did, but I sat, mesmerized, turning the pages.

Dorothy Henderson, the eldest of six, at 18 and with her younger and only brother James, drove one of two Cole touring cars from Indiana to Portland, Oregon, and then down to Berkeley, California. She was the first woman to drive halfway across the country (or so the family lore goes). Her father, CP Henderson (my great-grandfather), drove the other car along with his wife, Irma, and the four younger sisters (my great aunts, all of whom I knew).

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Back row from left: Jimmy, Dorothy, CP, Ruth, Irma. Front row from left: Alice, Edith, Helen

I knew of this journey, but I’m not sure I knew of it before a series of strokes stole my grandmother from us when I was in ninth grade. I don’t remember her speaking of the trip at any time. But after reading the journal, a new character, a new era, and an entirely new scope of research came knocking at my brain – and I’m resisting as hard as I can! Here are the reasons:

A. I already write one historical mystery series. B. I already write three books a year. C. I know next to nothing about the period.

But consider these delightful bits that Momma Dot (as her grandchildren called Dorothy) so generously scribed – and illustrated – in a clear hand about the trip that started on June 16, 1918 – ninety-nine years ago! Each of the other children kept a diary, too. Her father was to be the new western regional manager for the Cole car company, so the trip was in part a publicity tour, and the family and the two Cole Eights were written about in the newspapers several times. 20170827_122418

On their first day, it took eight hours to drive 200 miles west from Indianapolis to Cedar Lake, where they camped.

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In certain places after it rained they had to stay in a hotel for a few nights waiting for the mud to dry. She writes, “The roads were almost impassible. Deep, black, sticky mud hub high was everywhere! All of us wish for some good old Indiana roads!”

windmilldrawingThey continued through Illinois and Nebraska, sometimes camping, sometimes in hotels, making about 200 miles each day. She barely complains about anything, instead describing the scenery in vivid language. “A lovely full moon is rising above the fields of wheat that stretch for miles about us. An old windmill looms up threateningly against the black-blue sky. A cross-continental train just shot past across the prairies looking pretty against the sky with the sparks flying.” She drew the windmill and moon on top of her words, too.

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The family made it to Denver in nine days and took a day trip to Pike’s Peak, where “a charge of two dollars was made for each one going up to the top by the new auto road,” and she reports that several of the family felt ill and dizzy at the summit. Having gotten word of poor roads in Wyoming, they decided to continue via Salt Lake City, instead. “The roads were not very good for the most part, being narrow and along ledges, down which you can look for hundreds and thousands of feet.”

They traveled through what Dorothy calls the Great Utah Desert, and helped other travelers along the way, pushing one car up a steep incline, pumping up a tire for another, and sharing water with a third.

My grandmother celebrated her nineteenth birthday in style in Salt Lake City, with dinner on Hotel Utah’s rooftop garden. “Our wonderful dinner was well seasoned with dancing and music so everything was ideal.”

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And on they went, including a stop at Yellowstone.

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From there they made it to Portland, Oregon, finally landing at their new home in Berkeley, California, on August 10.

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My grandmother includes many more rich details about the trip in the diary. Can you see why I have a new story brewing? Or maybe I’ll just let Dorothy tell her own. I also have  the diary of Allan Maxwell, Sr. (my grandfather, and Dorothy’s husband) from his 1912 European “tour” with his older sister Ruth when he was sixteen. Every entry includes the weather (a Maxwell family inherited interest) and what he ate that day – which might sound familiar to those who have been or known teenage boys!

Readers: Have you been blessed with an ancestor’s journal or diary? Or read historical fiction based on a real account?

 

Easing into the Future

Edith here, roasting north of Boston.

I’m in that stage of revisions on my work-in progress (Quaker Midwife Mystery #4) where I print out the manuscript and spend a couple of days at the dining table with a colored pen and words on paper. Last week Ramona DeFelice Long, my dear friend, editor, and writer, wrote a blog post about how she no longer prints out her manuscripts.

Even though using expensive ink smarts, and watching all that paper crank through my printer does, too, I can’t abandon my paper readthroughs. I do it three times during my writing/revision process. Right now is the first time, after I have finished the first draft and addressed all my self-queries I had saved for later (things like, Did the Meetinghouse have a furnace in the basement? Did the post office have lockable individual post boxes? What went on during the winter on the frozen river? And so on). Paper readthrough

Reading straight through shows me continuity issues, weak plot points, and the flow of the book. I see the words differently on paper, too. I’ll do it again just before I send it off to be edited, and again before I send it to my publisher.

I don’t, however, write original content on paper (unless I am absolutely stuck somewhere with time on my hands and no laptop), and would never go back to that.

In other areas I also have a foot in both the paper and the digital worlds. We pay almost all our bills by writing an actual, old-fashioned check and sending it in an envelope with a stamp on it. I know I could do it all online, but there’s something about sitting down with the checkbook that feels safer, and is also a link to the past. I can picture my father doing the exact same thing.

calendarI’m a convert to Google calendar. I love it! It’s on both my computers and on my phone., and it sends me handy reminders. I don’t even need the appointment card from the doctor any more – I just poke the appointment into my phone and we’re done. But I also use a paper calendar at my desk, and we keep one downstairs, too. I like that visual reminder of what’s coming up and what has already happened.

I prefer to read books on paper. That said, having a Kindle is a boon for traveling or for trying out a book from a new author I can’t get from the library or am not sure I want to own.

A couple parts of my life that are reassuringly old-fashioned are cooking and gardening. I just don’t see those going digital any time soon (although I do often find recipes online, so there’s that).

Readers: what about you? Are you all digital all the time, or straddling the worlds as I am? What’s your favorite analog thing, and your favorite digital?

Bastille Day!

Edith here, enjoying full summer north of Boston. Today is the day when, well, I’ll let history.com tell you:

“Parisian revolutionaries and mutinous troops storm and dismantle the Bastille, a royal fortress and prison that had come to symbolize the tyranny of the Bourbon monarchs. This dramatic action signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade of political turmoil and terror in which King Louis XVI was overthrown and tens of thousands of people, including the king and his wife Marie-Antoinette, were executed.”

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The famous Prise-de-la-Bastille painting by by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

However, another history site gives a rather different take on the storming. “Back in July of 1789, France had already experienced a rough summer that included food shortages, high taxes (as a solution to King Louis XVI’s debts) and the militarization of Paris. Sensing distress, the king called upon the Estates-General—an assembly that hadn’t met in more than a century—to deliver a new tax plan. That resulted in the Third Estate, the non-noble/non-clergy portion of the assembly, breaking from the clergy and nobility, and demanding a written constitution from France….Weeks later, … fears that Louis XVI was attempting to quash any political revolution began to boil.

“That fear culminated on July 14 in a march to the Hôtel des Invalides to loot firearms and cannons, and a resulting (and far more famous) trip to the Bastille for proper ammunition. That hunt for gunpowder—not the hope of freeing prisoners—was the main reason for the storming of the Bastille. The events that followed—the freeing of the few prisoners that remained at the Bastille, but also a deadly battle and the brutal beheading of the prison governor and his officers—were more of a side effect of chaotic uprising, rather than its intent….A year later, France would host the Fête de la Fédération on July 14 to celebrate the France’s constitutional monarchy and to honor France’s newfound unity. “

Vive la Resistance! Every year two widely traveled friends of mine throw a Bastille Day party. They fill their back yard with tables and chairs and decorate with red and blue. They make a big Coq au Vin and all the guests bring French-themed side dishes or desserts. At the end of the evening we all stand to sing the “Marseilles” – yes, they pass out the words to the song.

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My salade composée from last year

This year I’m bringing Chocolate Raspberry Clafoutis – the party is tomorrow.

Readers: Do you celebrate Bastille Day? If not, what’s your favorite revolution?