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?




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!

Agatha Best Short Stories 2017

Edith here, super delighted to welcome my fellow nominees for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story!


Let’s have a Hip-Hip-Hooray for:

  • Gretchen Archer for “Jinx” (Double Jinx: A Bellissimo Casino Crime Caper Short Story)
  • Barb Goffman for “The Best-Laid Plans” (Malice Domestic 11: Murder Most Conventional)
  • Edith Maxwell (that’s me!) for “The Mayor and the Midwife” (Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016)
  • BK Stevens for “The Last Blue Glass” (Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine)
  • Art Taylor for “Parallel Play” (Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning)

Because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day today, let’s dish on an Irish connection in your story.

Gretchen: In my Agatha nominated short story “Double Jinx,” the luck of the Irish is with July Jackson, Holiday Host at the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, as she tries to locate the missing body of a previously undead zombie, foils a thief trying to make off with three million of the casino’s dollars, and meets the man of her dreams.

“Double Jinx,” is a Halloween story, complete with Asylum, the Musical playing to a sold-out audience in the theater, a Spooky Rich slot tournament in full swing, and a Black and Orange Ball after a Biohazard Buffet. Chances are if we could visit with July today, she’d be hosting the casino’s Lucky Leprechaun poker extravaganza, where her players would be shamrocked from too many Four Leaf Clover martinis, and the pot of gold at the end of the tournament rainbow has gone missing.

What a great idea! I’m off to write it. Read “Double Jinx” here:

BK Stevens: Around the end of the sixteenth century, Spanish conquistadores came home from South America with plundered Incan gold and also with a strange new vegetable—the potato. In Ireland, potatoes soon became the staple crop, star ingredients in dishes ranging from colcannon to stew. But when the 1840s brought the potato famine, over a million Irish people died, and a million and a half more had to leave their homes, mostly for the United States. Apparently, some Irish-Americans still observe the tradition of defying the weather to plant potatoes in their gardens on Saint Patrick’s Day. So, in good times and bad, potatoes have played a role in Irish history. They also play a role in my Agatha-nominated story, “The Last Blue Glass.” Until Edith challenged us to link our stories to Ireland, I didn’t really realize that —I’d never thought of my characters as having any particular ethnicity, and I’d definitely never thought of potatoes as symbols. But they do crop up (horrible pun) at crucial points in the story.

“The Last Blue Glass” is framed by two dinner parties. At the first, newlyweds Cathy and Frank entertain four guests. A novice cook, Cathy has to call her mother long-distance for advice on how to keep peeled potatoes from turning brown—and to endure her mother-in-law’s snide remarks when the potatoes are underdone. Cathy becomes a far more skilled cook after Frank suddenly decides to ditch his insurance job and buy a bar. She labors to create a bar snack called Spud Balls—scooped-out spheres of potato browned in butter and carefully spiced, designed to draw in customers and support Frank’s dream. It’s a labor-intensive dish, reflecting Cathy’s devotion to her charming, impulsive husband. But their marriage is undermined by Frank’s weaknesses and by the manipulations and betrayals of people he trusts. At the end of the story, the newly widowed Cathy invites the same four people to dinner again. As she cooks up a final batch of Spud Balls, she thinks about the revenge she’s planning to take on one of her guests, the one she sees as most responsible for Frank’s death. You can read “The Last Blue Glass” at ; and if you’d like to try the recipe for Spud Balls, you can find it at

Barb: “May the luck of the Irish be with you.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? But it’s debatable whether the sentiment truly is. Some say the phrase stems from the Irish people being lucky—having overcome so much adversity. But others think it’s a sarcastic saying—something you’d say to someone you don’t like. My main character in “The Best-Laid Plans,” Eloise Nickel, would run with the latter meaning when it came to her nemesis, Kimberly Siger.

Both Eloise and Kim are mystery authors, and both are about to be honored at this year’s Malice International convention, Eloise as the lifetime achievement honoree and Kim as guest of honor. They once were friends, but Kim long ago moved on to friendships with more useful authors. Now, with the convention looming, Kim has been rude to Eloise in a big magazine article. Eloise vows revenge—a series of mishaps to occur at the convention to poor down-on-her-luck Kim. But to her dismay, it seems the luck of the Irish might really be with Eloise.

We mystery authors like to make our characters suffer. It keeps things interesting, and boy does Eloise suffer during the convention. Yet she soldiers on despite multiple setbacks. As she does, the reader gets a good glimpse into her psyche and even, at times, her humanity. But is the luck of the Irish with her or not? You’ll have to read the story to find out. It’s available at Happy reading and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Art: When my dad reached the question about ancestry in the 1980 U.S. Census, he read me the list of suggested answers, and when one or the other of us said, “Irish. Let’s be Irish,” he marked it down and made it official. The odds are good that we do indeed have Irish background; North Carolina is rich with Scotch-Irish heritage, and one of the earliest Scotch-Irish communities in the state was founded in the same small county where my parents were born some two hundred years later. Plus, given that my birthday is the day before St. Patrick’s Day (yesterday as you’re reading this!), I’ve always felt an additional kinship here—always on the lookout for any potential Irish ties, whether they’re really there or not.

Given the question on the blog today, I’ve found myself in a similar situation—since there’s nothing Irish in my story “Parallel Play,” which follows a young mother and her son through a perilous afternoon in Northern Virginia. It was pointed out to me that there’s lots of rain in my story, since folks often think of Ireland’s rainy weather, and in one scene, that young mother and the father of another child in the same play group share a pot of tea, which I could probably call Irish Breakfast (one of my own favorite flavors) except for the fact that I already called it Lapsang Souchong in a post on the story at Mystery Playground a few weeks back.

So I was basically at a loss here… until circling back to that image of my father and me tackling the census: the two of us teasing through, at some fundamental level, who we were, our family, our larger connections—not just by birth but literally, in our case, by choice. To a degree, that’s what “Parallel Play” is about: what it means to be a family, the choices you make for your family, and in my story at least, the consequences too. That’s a loose connection to something Irish, I know—but it’s the one for me that stands out most. “Parallel Play” is linked here:

Edith: First – happy birthday, Art! But I now realize what a silly idea this was, to ask my fellow nominees to link their stories to something – anything – Irish. I am hard-pressed to do so with my own story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” No, I’ve got it! Amesbury Detective Kevin Donovan is definitely Irish. When the mayor of New Orleans comes to the northeast corner of Massachusetts in 1888 to visit his pregnant daughter, he meets Quaker midwife Rose. He tells her he had also arranged a meeting with the town’s bigwigs – but none of them would have a drink with him. Rose takes him to meet Irish Kevin, who she is quite sure would be happy to discuss crime-fighting with the mayor over a tankard of ale. But when the mayor’s son-in-law is murdered, he and Kevin – and Rose – end up working a lot more closely to solve the crime. You can read the story here:

Who we are:

DOUBLEJINXfrontGretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She’s the bestselling author of the Davis Way Crime Caper series by Henery Press. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, her son, and a Yorkie named Bently.

Malice 11 front cover proof 2 - FINALBarb Goffman edits mysteries by day and writes them by night. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national crime-writing awards nineteen times. Her newest story, “Whose Wine Is It Anyway,” appears in the mystery anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet, which was published earlier this week. When not writing, Barb runs a freelance editing and proofreading service. She blogs every third Tuesday at In her spare time, she reads, reads, reads and plays with her dog.

cover-herren-blood-on-the-bayou-200x300pxNational best-selling author Edith Maxwell is a 2017 double Agatha Award nominee for her historical mystery Delivering the Truth and her short story, “The Mayor and the Midwife.” She writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies, and she is honored to served as President of Sisters in Crime New England. Maxwell writes, cooks, gardens, and wastes time as a Facebook addict north of Boston where she lives with her beau and three cats. She blogs here at, at Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors.


B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens is the author of Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen Press), a martial arts mystery for young adults. She’s also published over fifty short stories, most of them in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of her stories are collected in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press).

CC_StormWarning_FINALArt Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has also won two Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

Readers: What’s your favorite short story of all time? Do you prefer reading short or long crime fiction?


Stick With The Wickeds Contest

Don’t Forget To Vote Today!

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3Sherry, here and I’m delighted to be giving away a book and a vintage Thanksgiving postcard to someone who leaves a comment on the blog! You can take your pick of one of my three Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries — Tagged for Death, The Longest Yard Sale, or All Murders Final! Thank you so much for being a part of our blog! All commenters will also be entered in the Fan on a Stick contest.


Once again, The New England Crime Bake is almost here. Since all the Wickeds are going to be able to attend, we are once again running a contest to take one of our readers with along with us, well, sort of. You will attend on a stick.

Dru peaks over Craig Johnson's shoulder to watch the line dancing.

Dru peeks over Craig Johnson’s shoulder to watch the line dancing.

In the past we’ve taken Dru Ann Love, Barb Goffman, and Mark Baker. This year’s Guest of Honor is the amazing William Kent Krueger.

Here’s how it works: Just leave a comment on this blog post by midnight PDT to be entered into the drawing. If you are chosen as the winner all we’ll need from you is your photo in jpeg format and a list of five authors attending this year’s Crime Bake whose autograph you would like us to ask for on your behalf. After Crime Bake we will send your autographed stick self to you. Good luck!

The Agatha Best Short Story Nominees!

by Barb, who’s getting excited about seeing everyone at Malice

Malice27Today, the Wickeds are delighted to host the nominees for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The Agathas are given every year at the Malice Domestic conference to the best examples of traditional mysteries. You can see the nominees in all the categories here. You can also access and read all the nominated short stories, which I highly recommend.

As you might guess, from my years as a co-editor at Level Best Books, I have read tons of short stories. After I read the nominated stories, I had SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

Thanks so much to the nominees for indulging me today.

Barb Ross: Barb Goffman, your story, “A Year Without Santa Claus” is genre-bending, combining a cast of magical beings with a crime story. What was your inspiration for this story? Was crossing genres something you did consciously, or was it the result of the tale that came to you?

Barb Goffman Cleaned-up version croppedBarb Goffman: The main character’s voice came to me in a dream. I heard a woman complaining about someone having killed the Easter Bunny. When I woke up, I tried to think how I could use this character in a mystery set in New Jersey. (There was an open call at that time for NJ-based mysteries.) I wrote the first page, having figured out that my main character, Annabelle, was the head of everything magical that happens in NJ and that Santa wouldn’t come to NJ this year because there was a killer on the loose, killing mortals who dressed as magical beings. Annabelle couldn’t allow Santa to skip Jersey (think of the poor children), so she decided she had to catch the killer. It was a good setup. But then I got stuck on the plot. It took me more than three years to figure out how to proceed. (Yes, I missed the deadline for the NJ anthology.)

Did I cross genres consciously? Well, the magical realism aspect of the story came from the dream. Since I write crime stories, it seemed obvious to merge the two genres. It ended up working out well because it allowed me to get my sleuth access to police files (through a magical snap of the fingers) without subjecting her to police procedural rules. Giving her that ability helped move the story along quickly. But I didn’t want her to solve the crime using magic. That would have felt like a cheat. So while she used her magic to get background information, in order to figure out whodunit, she had to use old-fashioned sleuthing techniques available to any mortal. It was fun to write. And, I hope, for people to read.

Barb Ross: B.K. Stevens, one of the cleverist things about your very clever story, “A Joy Forever” is that you never reveal the gender of your protagonist, who is far from a disembodied voice, but is a very strong presence in the story. Why did you make this story choice? Was it your intention from the beginning or did it evolve?

Picture BKSIt evolved. In early drafts of the story, the narrator was unambiguously male—a young man named Dan, Mike Mallinger’s nephew. But although I liked other elements of the story, the narrator’s voice always seemed off to me. It was too flat, too bland. In one sense, that was all right. After all, in this story, the narrator is essentially a spectator and a reporter—or maybe I should say a photographer, since that’s the narrator’s profession. I didn’t want Dan to be so dynamic that he’d distract attention from the central drama unfolding between Mike and Gwen. But I also didn’t want the narrator to be simply two dimensional, so I looked for a way to connect Dan to the story’s themes about conflicts between men and women, about Mike’s attempt to force Gwen into the role of a traditional wife who’s completely domestic and utterly dependent on her husband. I started toying with the idea of making the narrator someone who doesn’t fit comfortably into the traditional roles for either men or women. So I renamed the narrator Chris and decided to leave his or her gender ambiguous.

I do think it’s clear that Chris is either gay or lesbian. Chris accepts Mike’s invitation to stay at the Mallinger house in Boston, then says, “When my partner offered to come along, I said no. I’m all for confronting prejudices and shattering stereotypes. But not with Uncle Mike, not now.” Once I made these changes, I rewrote the story again, and it seemed to me that the narrator’s voice became livelier and more definite. I hope the changes make Chris a more interesting character who helps develop the story’s themes more fully. And maybe the events in the story make Chris more confident about taking every opportunity to confront prejudice and shatter stereotypes.

Barb Ross: Harriette Sackler,”Suffer the Poor” is historical, set in another country, (London’s poverty-washed East End in 1890), and includes characters of different social classes. That seems like a massive amount of research to do for a short story. What came first, the setting or the story, and how did one come out of the other?

hsacklerIn answer to your question, the setting for my story came first. Several years ago, I visited London’s East End during a trip to England. I honestly felt as though I had stepped back in time, walking the streets of London’s poorest souls, and imagining what it must have been like to live in despair every single day of one’s life.

Life in Victorian England has been an interest of mine for some time, so I already had done a great deal of reading on the subject. Bu what I chose to focus on in “Suffer the Poor,” were the efforts of both missionaries and members of the wealthier classes to help improve the lives of those less fortunate. And that is what I researched for this story.

Truthfully, my undergraduate days as a sociology major so long ago, never left me. One way or another, the complex nature in which people interact with society provides the foundation for all my stories.

Barb Ross: Terrie Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoliel” incorporates Sassy and Bridgy, the central characters from your Florida-based Read ‘Em and Eat Mystery series. When you write a short story about series characters, how do you decide how much backstory to put in? Also, in this story you do advance the Sassy-Bridgy plot. How do you handle this given some series readers will never read the short story and some short story readers will never read the series? (I’m, er, asking for a friend.)

Terrie Moran: Hi Barbara, thanks so much for having us visit the Wicked Cozies. I am so excited to be here. I should tell you that the genesis of “A Killing at the Beausoliel” came directly from the readers of the Agatha Best First Novel, Well Read, Then Dead. Shortly after the novel was released, I started to receive lots of e-mails and Facebook messages from readers who wanted to know what happened after Sassy and Bridgy left Brooklyn but before we met them for the first time in the Read ’Em and Eat Café and Book Corner. I suppose it was because in that first book, Sassy mentioned that they had moved to Fort Myers Beach three years earlier and folks were wondering how they spent their time when they weren’t waiting tables and running book club meetings at the Read ’Em and Eat. Were they kayaking in Estero Bay? Were they lying around on the sand at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico working on their tans? Were they sitting around waiting for a murder to investigate?

Apparently Sassy and Bridgy’s readers have inquisitive minds. So I decided to write a prequel story which would allow us all to hang out with Sassy and Bridgy on their very first day as Floridians. Given the length of a short story, there isn’t a lot of word count available for backstory, but I felt it was important for the readers to know why Sassy and Bridgy had left Brooklyn.

And you are absolutely right, some series readers will never read the short story and some short story readers will never read the series, so I answered the “why” question briefly in “A Killing at the Beausoliel”. It does come up in every novel in the series because I never know which book a reader will pick up first. As a prequel, the story does advance the reader’s knowledge of Sassy and Bridgy’s history but it still leaves plenty of space between that first day and the opening pages of Well Read, Then Dead. What was going on during those years? Let the readers’ imaginations run wild.

Barb Ross: Edith Maxwell, your story, “A Questionable Death,” was the springboard into your new Quaker Midwife historical mystery series from Midnight Ink. What came first, the idea for the story, or the idea for the series? How did the second emerge from the first?

Edith MaxwellEdith Maxwell: Thanks for these great questions, Barb! My story looks like a springboard, but actually Delivering the Truth, the first Quaker Midwife Mystery (released last week!), was in first draft when I wrote “A Questionable Death.” I was already following forthright Quaker midwife Rose Carroll around in 1888 as she catches babies, hears secrets, and solves crimes. At one point during the writing I realized she needed a bestie partner in crime, as it were, so unconventional Bertie Winslow popped into my head. She’s the forty-something postmistress of Amesbury, rides a horse (astride, not sidesaddle) named Grover – after the President – and lives with her lover Sophie in a “Boston marriage.” She and Rose are good friends and get up to some good detecting together.

I liked Rose, Bertie, the era, and the setting so much I wanted to keep writing about them, and this was before I had the three-book contract from Midnight Ink. When I saw the call for submissions for History and Mystery, Oh, My, I immediately knew the where, when, and who! I just needed to come up with the details of the story. Those came along easily, too, after I read about police attitudes toward domestic violence in those days, and about how it was already possible in 1888 to detect poison from a hair sample. Figuring out the twist at the end was the best part, though!

Thanks, Agatha Best Short Story Nominees. Readers, short stories–yes or no? Favorites? Twisty or straight?

Dynamic Duo – Part One

Breaking News: Doward Wilson is the winner of Marla Cooper’s mystery! Doward, please message or email your snail mail address to edithmaxwellauthor at gmail dot com. Congratulations.

By Sherry and Barb Goffman who can’t keep up with what the heck the weather is up to in Northern Virginia!

BarbSherryDynamic Duos are a part of fiction, not only in literary works but behind the scenes in the actual writing process. Today Barb Goffman and I are going to talk about the writing part of dynamic duos, and tomorrow on SleuthSayers we’re going to talk about some of our favorite fictional duos.

Sherry: The third book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, All Murders Final!, comes out on April 26th, and frankly folks, without Barb’s editorial eye, this book would have been a mess. Here are a few of the comments she wrote on the manuscript.

1. I’ve finished reading your manuscript for All Murders Final and I can say you have definitely created another great story. I love it! (Whew, this is a good way to start out because I was afraid Barb was going to tell me to dump it and start over!)

2. You need some physical action here.

3. You have several references that I think are too old, too far in the past for Sarah. If she is 39, then she was born in 1976. Her impressionable teen years would have been roughly 1989 to 1995. I have some suggestion for references that would be more appropriate for her age. (Barb went on to give specific references.)

4. We need more reaction. What’s she concluding about all this?

I appreciate that Barb always work in some positive comments along with the critical ones. And the consultation has gone both ways. We’ve brained stormed stories you’ve written, Barb. How does this help your process?

Barb: Sometimes I’ll have a story idea, but I’ll see a problem in the plot that I can’t figure out how to fix. Getting an outside perspective is wonderful at those times. I might be so focused on the path I had in mind for the story that I can’t see the small change that could lead me down another path, one without the problem, and then take me to the end I had in mind. A writing detour, so to speak. This is one of the reasons it’s beneficial to have people to help with the writing process, be they members of a critique group or just a good friend whose judgment you trust, like with the two of us.

I think you went through a similar experience while writing All Murders Final. Can you share?

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.inddSherry: I’ve had a lot of trouble with the very end of All Murders Final, and we talked about it probably ad nauseam. I wrote and re-wrote it a number of times. At the time I wrote it I didn’t know if Kensington was going to extend my contract or not. So I had to come up with an ending that was satisfying if it was the last in the series but I also had to leave a door open in case it wasn’t. (I’m so happy it’s not—I’m now under contract to write books four and five in the series.) And as you well know, I’ve been questioning the ending for book four, A Good Day to Buy. We’ve done a lot of talking about it too! A Lot!

Dynamic Duos are great in real life, but they also exist in fiction. I’ve read a lot of your stories but not all of them. Do you use sidekicks? And if so why?

Barb: In my unpublished novel, Call Girl, my main character, Caren, has a best friend, Elaine, who essentially is her sidekick. Elaine serves as a sounding board and they get into shenanigans together. (Yes, Sherry, eventually the novel will be ready to go and I’ll send it out into the world, looking for a publisher. But not today. Ahh, this is another good use of a sidekick in real life; they nag you to work on your outstanding projects.)

Turning to my short stories, I haven’t used sidekicks a lot. Sidekicks often serve as a sounding board for characters—allowing a sleuth to think through problems. My characters often commit crime, so they don’t want to share their thoughts with anyone.

Scenic road

That said, I do have two stories with sidekicks. In “The Contest,” reporter Susan is competing to get the one full-time job opening at the newspaper where she’s interning this summer. The decision of who’ll be hired is based on which intern helps increase circulation the most. Susan’s roommate, Amanda, comes up with lots of interesting ideas to help her win, including knocking over a convenience store—as she points out, crime sells newspapers. In this case, Amanda wasn’t just a sounding board, but she provided humor to the story.

My second story with a sidekick is a bit unusual. My main character is Job (yes, the Job, from the Bible), and his sidekick is … God. Yes, God, who sends Job back to earth to investigate a murder. God already knows who did it, but he wants Job to find the murderer and help him/her admit the crime and repent. And because God likes making Job suffer, Job isn’t told in advance who the murderer is. Throughout the story, Job realizes that God is having fun with him, and Job sends several sarcastic thoughts back God’s way. So while there’s not a lot of back and forth between the characters via dialogue as you’d have with

a typical sidekick, Job talks to God in his mind throughout the story, allowing for humor. It may sound odd, but it works. In fact, the story won the 2013 Macavity Award for best short story of the year.

Both “The Contest” and “The Lord is my Shamus” can be found in my short-story collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. But enough about me. Sherry, in your books, Sarah has two friends who serve as her partner but they both play very different roles. Can you talk a little about Stella and Carol?

IMG_8274Sherry: The Lord is my Shamus is one of my favorite short stories! I can’t believe you brought up Call Girl because I haven’t nagged you about it in a couple of weeks. I’m putting it back on my to-do list. As for Stella and Carol — let’s talk about them tomorrow.

Readers: Do you have someone who is your go to person when you need help? Is it different people for different things?

Oops I Did It Again

By Sherry where winter is rattling at the door once again

I did it again. I do it every time. I hit 50,000 words and I feel like I’m done even though I know I’m not. This time it’s book four, A Good Day To Buy. Now, I know this book is an empty shell in some ways, there’s not much description and I haven’t grounded my characters in a place that the reader can see. I know there is still a lot of work ahead of me (at least 20,000 words!).

IMG_7796I knew I’d blogged about 50,000 words once before so I looked up that blog post and re-read it. There’s some excellent advice in the comments section. In that blog I mention another one I wrote called Making A Scene. There I found another whole great comment section full of advice. One bit I’d completely forgotten. Hallie Ephron had mentioned the book Story by Robert McKee. So I went to the library and checked it out. I’ll be reading it this week.

As I started revising I kept thinking about something Barbara Ross had said in another post. I searched past posts of the blog until I finally found it. Barb in a post called, I Write Therefore I Think, said this: Lately I’ve been wondering if I could approach a novel by asking, “What do I want my readers to feel?” and “What do they need to know (or suspect, or fear) in order to feel it?” I know I haven’t pulled that off yet and I’ll keep it in mind as I revise.

Then there are three things I try to include in each book. The first is incorporating the theme of garage sales and trying to make sure it’s part of the story not something that’s wedged in because it has to be there. Second is a bit of military life. I was astonished to see a figure the other day that said only one percent of people serve in the military. One percent. The third is to share a little bit of the history of Massachusetts that I love so much. It’s a delicate balance with all three to make them important to the story and a natural part of it at the same time. I feel like I’ve done a good job with the first one this time but not much with the second and third.

Another thing I still need to make sure to include is the story arc. When I turned in book three, All Murders Final!, last June I didn’t know if there would be any more books in the series. So there is some fancy footwork in that one to make sure things are tied up but to also leave the door open if the series continued.

Then there’s the end to A Good Day To Buy. Yes, Wickeds I know last time we talked I had two endings, well now I have three. I really think I’m going to have to write the beginning of book five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, before I can figure out which ending to use. For better or worse, I’m sending it off to Barb Goffman this week. She’ll find the weak points and plot holes so come May, book four will be off to my Kensington editor.

Readers: What do you do when a project isn’t going quite the way you planned?