Thinking about Thinking Scenes

By Sherry — I’m enjoying a cool day before the heat hits again

I confess my WIP (work in progress) is a bit of a mess. No, it is a mess. It’s due in to my freelance editor, Barb Goffman, on Sunday. Even scarier it’s due to my Kensington editor on August first. It’s the sixth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I’ve been thinking (maybe overthinking) a lot about writing which may be part of the reason for the mess. I recently wrote about trying to improve my writing. You can find that blog post here.

Part of my problem is I had a deep emotional connection to A Good Day To Buy (number four in the series). Number five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, felt a bit lighter to me. It has a lot of crazy, complex relationships that can occur in small towns where people sometimes know each other to well or think they do. And I love the subplots – I had so much fun writing them. Book five also answers some questions readers have been wondering about. But after A Good Day, it didn’t seem to have the same depth to me. Maybe I’m crazy saying all of this out loud. Maybe I’m tilting the reader pool to not like the book. So don’t get me wrong, I like the book, I just had a different emotional connection to it.

That brings me back to my WIP. I was having the same problem of connecting with the manuscript on an emotional level. Then combine that with some obsessive thinking about writing  and it wasn’t pretty. One of the things that’s been on my mind is black moments and I wrote a recent blog about that for Miss Demeanors. You can read it here.

I moved on from worrying about black moments to worrying about what I call “thinking scenes”. (I feel like these scenes are different than inner dialogue, although inner dialogue can be part of thinking scenes.) Then another thought struck me — aren’t thinking scenes the opposite of show don’t tell? Ugh. In a mystery it is almost unavoidable to not have the protagonist trying to put the pieces of a mystery together. So then I started pondering ways to do that.

A protagonist thinking…

One way is to have your character sitting on the couch, driving down the road, or walking some place thinking about what they know and what connections there might be.

Another, that I often see in mysteries, is having your character involved in some activity while they are trying to piece the puzzle of who dunnit together. For example Sarah could be refinishing a piece of furniture as she thinks about a murder.

Writing all this makes me realize why sidekicks are so popular. The sidekick allows the protagonist to talk it out. The sidekick can point out flaws in the protagonist’s logic or point something out that sends the protagonist in a new direction. They could also cause the protagonist to doubt themselves.

I’ve used all three in different ways in different books. There are probably a gazillion other ways to handle thinking scenes, but these three seem to be the most common. And maybe the best solution is to weave the clues together so well that the protagonist doesn’t have to have a thinking scene and only needs an “aha” moment.

Back to my messy WIP. The good news is two days ago I came up with a subplot that speaks to me on an emotional level. Now I’m working hard to weave it in as an intricate part of the story. Wish me luck!

Readers: Do you like scenes where the protagonist is putting the pieces together? Writers: Do you have a way you like to handle these kind of scenes?

 

 

Better

By Sherry — wishing you all a lovely day

I’m still thinking about the release of A Good Day To Buy which came out last week. With every book that comes out I think, “the next book has to be better.” Most writers (at least I hope it isn’t only me) have a tiny voice in their heads telling us we are frauds, fakes, and phonies. It’s the voice I have to shove aside or I’d never write another word. Every time a book comes out I’m afraid I’ll see a comment that says, “It wasn’t as good as the last one.” Or everyone will be thinking, “well she had a good run.” Yes, my head can be a very scary place to live some days.

To counteract those voices I’ve been reading two books on writing. The first one is Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of The Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James W. Hall. Barbara Ross knew I was a Hall fan. She saw him speak in Key West, told him I was now published, and had him sign a copy for me.

Between 2000 and 2003 I lived in the panhandle of Florida. At the time Florida International University was running a fabulous writing conference there every fall. One year Hall (who writers thrillers) was one of the teachers and he was working on this book.

One of the things I’ve never forgotten was when he talked about what does make a book last through the years. He said people want to learn something and thought perhaps this might go back to our puritanical work ethic. Fast forward to the present and it’s made me wonder if that is one of the reason cozy mysteries are so popular. Not only do readers get to go an adventure and try to solve the mystery, but they learn something. It might be a new recipe, yard sale tip, knitting pattern, or craft – the variety is endless.

In Hit Lit, Hall says, “The fierce loyalty readers feel for a certain characters grows out of a shared connection with the character’s emotional journey.” That resonates with me, the books I love be they mysteries, thrillers, romances, or literary, are all about the characters. Everything else is icing on the cake.

The second book is The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write Beneath the Surface by Donald Maass. Author Leslie Budewitz mentioned it on Facebook – thank you, Leslie! Maass says, “What shapes us and gives our lives meaning are not the things that happen to us but their significance.” Down a few paragraphs he says, “We are stories. Plot happens outside but story happens inside. Readers won’t get the true story, though, unless you put it on the page—both the big meaning of small events and the overlooked implications of large plot turns.”

I work with Barb Goffman who is an independent editor. After I’ve written the first draft I send it off to her. The first book we worked together on was The Longest Yard Sale – there were many notes in that one that said, “What is Sarah thinking?” or “Let us see how Sarah reacts.” I’ve had less of those comments as time has passed but it’s a valuable lesson in developing characters. It’s something I easily see in manuscripts when I edit but not always in my own.

It’s interesting that both Hall and Maass use some of the same authors as examples in their books like Stephen King and Harper Lee. I have hard copies of both books so I can mark them up, put in tabs, and refer back to passages. I’m only about a quarter of the way through each book, but I already know that they will make my writing better.

Readers: Is there an emotionally significant event in a book that has stuck with you? Please try to avoid spoilers — maybe mention a title or character that affected you. Writers: Do you have a favorite writing conference? I’d love to go to another great writing conference!

Dreams Do Come True — Thank You Kensington Publishing

Breaking news! Here are the winners of the books from yesterday’s drawing. It was such a great response that I drew a third winner! Keep an eye out for future giveaways! The winners are: Jill @Bonnjill, Sharon Forrest, and Stephanie Clark! Thanks to all of you who entered!

I’m so excited that my fourth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, A Good Day to Buy, releases today. One of the themes in A Good Day to Buy is about who is a hero and what makes one.

I still have to pinch myself when I think about being published — that I’m writing book six as you read this. It makes me reflect on how it all happened and why. That story starts with Kensington Publishing. Here’s a little about them from their website:

Founded in 1974, Kensington Publishing Corp. is located in New York City and is known as “America’s Independent Publisher.” It remains a multi-generational family business, with Steven Zacharius succeeding his father as President and CEO, and Adam Zacharius as General Manager. From the time its very first book (Appointment in Dallas by Hugh McDonald), became a bestseller, Kensington has been known as an astute and determined David-vs.-Goliath publisher of titles in the full spectrum of categories, from fiction and romance to health and nonfiction. You can read more about Kensington on their website.

Gary goofing off at Bouchercon New Orleans 2016

Some of you have heard this story, but here is my tale of how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came to be. Once upon a time a heroic editor, Gary Goldstein, from the land of Kensington, came up with the idea for a cozy series with a garage sale theme. At the time Gary only had thriller and western authors in his castle and yet he went out seeking adventure in the world of cozies. His quest led him to an agent (John of Talbot), the agent went to Lady Barbara of Ross, and Barbara thought, “Sherry loves garage sales.” So it came to pass that the fair maiden Sherry (too much?) okay, just plain old Sherry wrote a proclamation (it was only a proposal but all of this still seems very fairy tale like to me) and Gary of Kensington said yes. Trumpets sounded (in my head), people danced with joy (well I did) and to this very day Sherry is Gary of Kensington’s only cozy writer.

But an editor and a writer do not a book make. There are legions of people working behind the scenes at Kensington. The unsung heroes who make it all happen. I’ve only met a few of them and some only through email. Gary’s assistant Liz alerts me when my books are on sale or there are good reviews among many other things. Karen and Morgan in marketing send out ARCs, set up blog tours, get ads placed, set up events, and probably do a whole heck of a lot more that I don’t even know about.

I love the covers of my books. The Art Department took my idea of having an old fashioned looking tag on the cover and ran with it. They created something better than I could have imagined! There is always something on each cover that I wished I owned.

Someone writes the back cover copy and they are able to sum up my books in a few short words better than I ever could. Here’s the back cover copy of A Good Day To Buy:

HER BROTHER IS NO BARGAIN
When Sarah Winston’s estranged brother Luke shows up on her doorstep, asking her not to tell anyone he’s in town—especially her ex, the chief of police—the timing is strange, to say the least. Hours earlier, Sarah’s latest garage sale was taped off as a crime scene following the discovery of a murdered Vietnam vet and his gravely injured wife—her clients, the Spencers.
 
BUT IS HE A KILLER?
All Luke will tell Sarah is that he’s undercover, investigating a story. Before she can learn more, he vanishes as suddenly as he appeared. Rummaging through his things for a clue to his whereabouts, Sarah comes upon a list of veterans and realizes that to find her brother, she’ll have to figure out who killed Mr. Spencer. And all without telling her ex . . .

Then there are the copy editors who notice if Sarah hates broccoli on page 22 but is asking for a second helping on page 156. They push me to write a better book. There are typesetters, and people who send the proof pages – the last chance to find mistakes before the book is printed.

There are people in Sales and Sub Rights – there are probably departments I don’t even know about who all work hard to get my books out.

So thank you to everyone at Kensington – from top to bottom – who do your jobs, who helped make my dream come true.

To celebrate the release of A Good Day To Buy I’ll Give Away two books to someone who leaves a comment!

Readers: What dream has come true for you?

Oh, The Places I’ve Lived

By Sherry in Northern Virginia where it’s spring, summer, winter, summer, spring, winter depending on the day and/or hour

I’m looking forward to the release of A Good Day To Buy on April 25th! One of the subplots involves Stella Wild (Sarah’s opera singing landlady and friend) trying to rent out the apartment next to Sarah’s. It means Sarah and Stella run into some interesting characters and it reminded me of some of the places I’ve lived and the landlords I’ve had.

The first place I lived when I left home was a college dorm room at Truman State College in Kirksville, Missouri. Brewer Hall was old and now that I reflect set the tone for a lot of the places I’ve lived! The rooms were small and had old radiators that creaked, groaned, and banged at unexpected times. The saving grace was a bathroom between each two rooms. I never wanted to have to traipse down a hall to shower. And we had so much fun that it wiped out any negatives.

I lived a bunch of different places during my years in Kirksville. One was in the basement of a house owned by an 80 year old woman. Every time my roommate and I left the old woman would go down and poke around. We would pile stacks of sodas, paper towels, and other things against her entrance to try to keep her out. But we’d come home and the stuff would all be knocked over. We didn’t last long there.

One of my roommates

One summer a group of friends and I rented a house owned by a fraternity that was right next to their main house. We had a mushroom grow up through the tile in the bathroom one night. We kept track of who killed the most cockroaches and slugs. It was disgusting, but again a lot of fun.

I also rented a small three bedroom Craftsman style house with four friends. It had leaded glass windows and a window seat. The fact that it was two doors down from the fraternity house didn’t hurt either. But the basement flooded and it was full of things we didn’t have room for in our tiny rooms.

The first house I rented on my own was in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was an adorable little house owned by a guy in his thirties. It was heated by what he called a floor furnace which was a tiny little box of a thing. That didn’t concern me when I rented the house on a lovely summer day. The house was cute, in a neighborhood I loved called “The Avenues”, and close to work — although in Cheyenne no place was too far from work. But then winter hit. It was so cold in that house that the windows frosted over on the inside. I ended up hanging quilts over the windows to try to keep it warm.

Readers: Where was the first place you lived after leaving home? Have you ever lived any place memorable or had a landlord who drove you crazy?

 

 

What’s Next?

News Flash: The winner of Leslie Karst’s book is Sarah H – Sarah, please contact Leslie at ljkarst at gmail dot com. Congratulations!

By Sherry feeling rested in Northern Virginia

Monday afternoon around 4:30 I sent off I Know What You Bid Last Summer to my editor at Kensington. It is the fifth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. Usually this is cause for much celebration around the house, but this time I was just plain old tired. Barbara Ross generously had a margarita in celebration for me down in Key West (thanks for taking one for the team)! But I sat on the couch wondering what was next. This was the last book I was under contract for so Tuesday was going to be a blank page for me for the first time since 2013. I stayed up late – late enough to watch the late night shows and then read for a while.img_2704-1

I slept in Tuesday morning – until 9:22! I felt happy, excited even, when I woke up. I walked into the kitchen and found my daughter had gone to Starbucks and left me a cup of chai on the counter. A little bit later she made me breakfast too. Thank you, Elizabeth!

I started doing things I’d been putting off. I made a hair appointment, sorted the laundry, and tackled the piles in my office. It was so warm out I opened the window in my office. I decided to pull out the manuscript for the gemology mystery series I’d worked on for years (YEARS!) but hadn’t ever sold. I sent the first three chapters off to independent editor Barb Goffman. Why you ask? I’m so close to them – even after not looking at them for a long time — that I knew they needed another set of eyes. I started thinking about all the other book ideas swirling through my head and tried to figure out which one to tackle first.

My daughter and I watched part of the Patriot’s Super Bowl parade on TV. I walked our dog Lily. Maybe it was the warm weather or maybe it was the unknown ahead of me but everything seemed to kind of glow. Oh, heck maybe it was sleeping in after working intensely for the last few weeks. (Confession: I never did get any laundry done.)

img_2710Around three the phone rang. It was my agent, John Talbot. He had news! Good news! Kensington wants two more Sarah books. A couple of weeks ago I shared several ideas for the series with my editor. However, with the publishing industry in a bit of upheaval you just never know what will happen. After I finished dancing around and shrieking, my husband called on his way home from work. I told him we were going out to celebrate.

We stopped by Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, Virginia and did a wine tasting.

 

Then we had dinner at an Italian restaurant which seemed appropriate given Sarah’s love for DiNapoli’s and Italian food. Today it’s back to plotting (good heavens did I just say the “p” word? Has the pantster in me been converted?)! I have a concept for the next book (one I love) but I have to figure out who dies and why. Oh, joy!

Readers: What do you do after you finish a big project?

Touring Your Own Town

By Sherry — Winter is returning to Northern Virginia

img_2427I had a lovely start to the New Year with two great friends visiting — Liz Mugavero and Christine Hillman Keyes. I met them (along with so many other people) at a writers conference called Seascape and we ended up rooming together. You can read more about that here.

Christine is from Australia and so we decided to do a little touring. It was a rainy, chilly day but hey, nothing can stop an Aussie or her intrepid friends. Our first stop was dropping Liz off at Union Station in Washington, DC (boo-hoo)! I’d been in the building once before but they were renovating and had netting up all over the place. The station opened in 1907 and the building is beautiful.

Here are more pictures:

The outside is amazing too!

img_2468After we left Union Station we drove along the National Mall. Here’s a picture of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. One of these days I’ll make it inside!

Next we headed to Arlington Cemetery. I’ve been there several times and it always so moving. This is the first time I’ve visited during Christmas when all the wreaths are out on the graves.

Christine and I decided to brave the rain and take a walk. The first picture is on our way to visit John F. Kennedy’s grave and the second is a view of the Lincoln Memorial from JFK’s grave.

 

iceskatingWe headed to Georgetown next taking a route by the Kennedy Center and Watergate Hotel. Of course we got a bit lost on the way to the restaurant and lapped the Kennedy Center a couple of times. We pointed out Georgetown University and drove by some lovely old homes.

At lunch we had a view of an ice skating rink and the Potomac. After lunch we decided to head to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. It has been a really long time since I’d been there. They have an amazing new visitors center and museum. The good thing about touring on rainy days is the lines are short and the tour groups small!

You aren’t allowed to take photos inside the house so here are a few of the outside.

There’s nothing like touching the banister that George Washington did. It was a lovely way to spend the first day of 2017!

Readers: Do you have a favorite place to take your guests?

In The Middle

By Sherry — another rainy day in Northern Virginia

Marci Konecny is the winner of the Sarah Winston books! Thanks to all of you who stopped by! I used Random.org to draw the winner.

Usually no one wants to be in the middle, but I am and here is why I’m so happy to be.

Tagged for Death mech.inddThe second anniversary of the release of Tagged For Death was last Friday, December 2nd (look for the celebratory giveaway at the bottom of the post). And this anniversary made me reflect on where I’ve been, where am, and where I’m going. I started thinking about all of the people who helped me along the way – too many to list here but I do want to mention some pivotal moments.

My first writers conference run by the Cambria Writers Workshop was in Monterey, California where I received gentle criticism and lots of encouragement.

I also attended the now defunct Seaside Writers Conference run by the faculty of the Florida International University’s creative writing department. I learned so much about structure and passion for writing. Plus I met some wonderful local writers.

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You meet the nicest people at Malice. Here I’m with Dru Ann Love, Aimee Hix, Shari Randall, and Kathryn O’Sullivan

Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland was life changing in so many ways. (I gave them a shout out in the acknowledgements of Tagged For Death.) I also made a lot of friends there and met Julie Hennrikus who told me about the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Crime Bake and of course became my dear, dear friend.

When I joined the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crimes Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib (aka Lucy Burdette), and Hank Phillippi Ryan were the head honchos of the chapter. They are all amazingly generous to me and so many other writers.

Crime Bake gave me a chance to meet authors, agents (lots of rejections), and pre-published friends.

seascapeSeacape run by Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard (the year I attended). Never has so much learning and opportunity been packed into less than forty-eight hours. But even more important were the friendships that were formed. I met Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, Barbara Ross, and Kim Gray that weekend – Wicked Cozy Authors wasn’t even a twinkle in our eye then. I also met Ramona DeFelice Long, and Christine Hillman who is from Australia – both are amazing women and writers.

Then of course there’s Barbara Ross who thought of me when agent John Talbot asked her if she knew anyone who could write a series about garage sales.

wcatough

Photo by Meg Manion Silliker

And there are my dear Wickeds. What would I do without all of you?!

When I moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime and found another group of people who encourage and support me in so many ways.

I’m also very grateful to so many friends, readers, bloggers, and reviewers who are with me on this journey.

So with all this talk of the past why did I title the post “In The Middle”? I realized I get to help other writers now. It is so much fun! And I have had such gracious examples of how to do that from people who have helped me in the past and continue to help me now.

There are so many ways to help other writers. Sometimes it’s reading a manuscript and making suggestions. Or it’s saying to someone my agent is looking for someone to write a series. It could be an introduction, just an encouraging word, writing a blurb for someone, or telling people to join Sisters in Crime.

A few weeks ago I did a panel on getting published with Maya Corrigan and Kathryn O’Sullivan at the Barnes and Noble in Fairfax, VA. We had a small but enthusiastic crowd. We ended up talking to a man for quite a while after the panel and encouraged him to join Sisters in Crime.

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Photo by Eleanor Carwood Jones who took the selfie!

Last weekend was the Chesapeake Chapter Mystery Extravaganza where chapter members who’ve published a book or short story during the year get a couple of minutes to talk about their work. While I was up at the podium talking I spotted someone in the crowd and thought that guy looks familiar. I started racking my brain to figure out why (I think I kept talking while that was going on).

Then I realized it was the man from the Barnes and Noble panel. I had a chance to speak with him after the event was over. His eyes lit up and he said he’d written eight chapters since the panel. That he’d put off grading papers (he’s a high school psychology teacher) and doing things around the house to write. Seeing his enthusiasm warmed my heart.

Being in the middle is a wonderful place to be.

threebooksReaders: Who have you given a hand up to?

I’m giving away a set of all three Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries to one reader. Leave a comment for a chance to win.