That Was A Close One!

By Sherry — feeling fortunate

A couple of weeks ago I helped author Donna Andrews with a yard sale. It gave me a chance to put my money (or Donna’s in this case) where my protagonist Sarah Winston’s mouth is. Garage sales are a lot of work and in this case Donna had things from her grandparents and parents along with things of her own to sale. The picture below is while we were setting up. You can read Donna’s take on the event here!

What do you want to accomplish? The first thing I asked was what was more important, making money or getting rid of stuff. Donna was more interested in getting rid of things than making money. The reason to ask that is for pricing and bargaining the day of the sale.

We got together a few days before the sale to price. Donna had already arranged a lot of like items together in her garage. There was so much stuff we decided not to individually price things (even though Sarah usually does). Donna made signs for things like albums $1.00, glassware $2.00, etc.

Vintage Jewelry Donna also had a lot of vintage jewelry. We used box lids with towels in them to arrange the jewelry. A friend of Donna’s who sells jewelry had been over to take a look at things to make sure nothing was too valuable. As we arranged the jewelry I would flip it over to look for signatures. Also to see if there was backing on the jewelry – that is usually a sign there aren’t gemstones set in the piece. I took some of the pieces home to check prices on eBay. Below is an example of the backing from a brooch I bought last spring at a sale:

Open! The weather the day of the sale was perfect, not too hot and a gentle breeze – almost unbelievable for August. Garage sales make for interesting people watching and become a study in human nature. Yes, we had early birds. The starting time was 9:00 but by 8:15 we were open for business. Donna did scare one woman off at 7:45 when she told her she could look around as long as she helped carry out a few boxes.

Patterns Donna had stacks of patterns from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I’d looked up prices on eBay and thought she’d probably have more luck selling them there. But we stuck them out anyway. We sold one. However, so many people stopped by to look at them. And it was lovely how many people told me stories of their moms or grandmothers making clothes. It was one of the best parts of the sale for me.

Hipsters Two young men came by who were interested in the albums Donna had for sale. She had nine boxes with everything from rock to Irish folk music to classical in them. The hipsters were interesting to watch because first they sorted through the albums in the garage setting asides ones they were interested in. Then they brought them out into the light and took the album out of its cover to look for scratches. After that they made their final decisions about which ones they wanted. At $1.00 a piece they were a great bargain. One of the guys said he loved Irish music because he could jig around the house to it. The image of this bearded hipster doing a jig still makes me laugh.

Culture clash Northern Virginia is a very diverse area but twice now I’ve seen how cultures can clash at a yard sale. A woman was looking a jewelry and had made a little stack to one side. Two other women swooped in and tried to crowd her out. They immediately went to her little stack. I intervened and explained that was spoken for. Then I bagged it up for the first woman. Since she was still shopping I took the jewelry, put it in a box with some other things she wanted, set the box to the side and covered it.

About fifteen minutes later one of the women brought me a couple of bags full of costume jewelry and asked me how much. I was holding one of the bags and flipping it back and forth to see what all was it in. All of the sudden the woman blurted out, “It’s her bag” and points at the first woman. Then she said, “I took it from there” and points at the box where I’d set it. A confession – if only Sarah could get information so easily! I rolled my eyes and took the bag back over to its spot.

Oh, boy. So here is my confession – Sarah would be so upset – it’s the big one that almost got by me. A woman was looking at the jewelry as I was hovering nearby. She holds a necklace up and says, “This is a Victorian mourning necklace.” I take it from her, flip it over, and sure enough there is this amazing woven hair. My first (and continuing thought) is how the heck did I miss that when I was looking through the jewelry?!!!!

I told her I’d have to look up a price. On eBay similar pieces were selling from $50 to $600! And those pieces only had a swirl of hair nothing like the intricate piece I was holding. Plus I wasn’t sure Donna would even want to sell it. When Donna finished up with the person she was talking to, I took it over to her and explained the situation. Of course she didn’t want to sell it! Fortunately, the woman understood. If I hadn’t been standing right there or if she hadn’t said anything it would have been gone for a couple of dollars. Ugh, I’m still upset!

All of us go to garage sales to find a treasure for next to nothing. But that was a close one!

The End By the end of the sale, Donna had made some money and gotten rid of some things. What didn’t sale was sorted into piles to give away or sell on eBay. Garage sales are a lot of work, but you can also learn something unexpected.

Readers: What in your life has taught you something unexpected?

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?



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?

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!

Theme as Character

By Sherry where summer in NoVA is heating back up and I’m hoping it preps me for New Orleans next week

themeascharacterI’ve thought a lot about themes in cozies and what part they play in a book. I’m making a late addition to the post — in this case when I say theme I’m talking about what could also be called the hook of the series and sometimes the occupation of the character.  I realized that theme should be like a character. Before you throw your hands up and think, “The people who think setting is a character are nuts, so this girl has gone completely crazy”, bear with me.

What does a character do in a story? If it’s the protagonist they drive the story, if it’s a minor character they help move the story along, the antagonist impedes the story. Revelations come about and the protagonist’s personality comes through her interactions with the other characters. Is she kind, cranky, suspicious? How she interacts with the theme also reveals character to us.

In my books Sarah goes to and organizes yard sales. She meets lots of different types of people and we find out she’s kind, but stands up for herself. She’s thoughtful but spontaneous. The theme lets us see she loves a bargain, she’s clever, and after a difficult divorce in book one, resourceful. It’s a good way to use that old adage, show versus tell.

what-if-there-wasnt-a-theme_Characters and their voice is what makes us fall in love with a book, it’s what makes us stay with a series, it’s why we root, or get mad, or cry, or laugh. A well integrated theme will do all of those things too. It’s a hook but if it’s done right it’s such an integral part of the the story that it doesn’t stand out as theme but blends as character. It should be important enough to the story that if it was gone, it would feel like a character died. The reader would miss it.

So far Sarah has gone to yard sales, set up New England’s largest yard sale, organized a February Blues yard sale on an Air Force base, and organized smaller yard sales for clients. In All Murders Final she starts a virtual yard sale. Each one of these types of yard sales plays out in a different way. Like a character who is difficult as opposed to one who is overly helpful.

As with any character you have to make sure not to go over the top with your theme. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if Sarah finds clues at the yard sales she goes to. So far the answer has been no — for two reasons. First, it would be a huge coincidence if Sarah did find a clue at a yard sale she went to. Writers have to be very careful with coincidence or readers wouldn’t find the story plausible. Sarah did overhear a conversation at a yard sale in Tagged for Death, but without other things happening the conversation wouldn’t have been important. Second, I want to make things hard for Sarah, just like when she questions someones and they lie or just don’t answer. A yard sale that yields too much would make her life too easy. Some day Sarah might find a clue at a sale but it will have to be carefully integrated.

So readers what do you think? Do you have a favorite theme?

On Retreat

Barb here. It’s that time of year again, when the Wickeds scamper off to Old Orchard Beach for our annual retreat. Hard to believe it is our fifth one! Each of the retreats has had a different personality. On the first one there were just four of us–Edith, Liz, Jessie and me–and we wrote like crazy. We all had first-in-series books due, and the question weighing on each of us was, could we write commercial-quality mystery fiction on a deadline? None of us had ever done that before.

By the next year Sherry and Julie had joined us, and the talk was all about marketing. The subtitle for the retreat could have been, “I’ve written a book. What happens now?”

This year promises to be a mix of things. Several of us are writing the last contracted book in a series, so brainstorming about our proposals for the next books in the series, and about other projects will be a big feature. And, of course, writing and industry gossip.

Wickeds, what will you be working on at this year’s retreat?

Sherry: I can’t wait to see everyone! Someone always seems to be in book jail but it’s not me this year. I’m going to be working on book five in the Sarah Winston Yard Sale series — I Know What You Bid Last Summer. I only have some general ideas about what the book is about. I know how it opens so I’m looking forward to talking the story out with the Wickeds and having a good solid plot by Sunday.

Liz: I’m not in book jail either – yay!! I’m going to be diving into book six in the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries, the holiday book. So while we will be enjoying the beach, I’ll be writing about…snowstorms. Yep. But looking forward to getting some Wicked input on the plot and getting inspired. Also want to work on revisions for another project – which I hope you’ll all hear more about sooner rather than later.


Jessie: I am working away on my next Change of Fortune mystery. It’s set in Old Orchard so I’m looking forward to being inspired by the setting. There is just something about the beach that gets my fingers flying across the keyboard! Having the Wickeds around for inspiration doesn’t hurt either!

Julie: I am in the home stretch of book #3 of my series, so editing Chime and Punishment is on the docket. I’ll also be working on blog posts for Clock and Dagger, which is coming out August 2. Maybe some brainstorming is in order as well.

Edith: I am smack in the middle of Turning the Tide, Quaker Midwife Mystery #3. So far it’s going well, but ya never can tell in the middle of a first draft. It’s the last one under contract for the series, so I’ll also be bouncing ideas for three more Rose Carroll stories off the Wickeds. As well as soaking up wise and fun companionship along with ocean breezes and sand under my toes! Can. Not. Wait. (And by the time most readers see this, I’ll already be at Jessie’s fabulous cottage just blocks from the shore.)

Barb: The synopsis for Book 6 in the Maine Clambake Mystery series is due the week after the retreat, so you know what I’ll be working on. My editor and I mutually agreed to scrap the original book six from my proposal, so at the beginning of the month, I really was staring at a blank page. Now I have a mystery (I think), but there are lots of other important bits missing, such as what’s going on in Julia’s personal life and –oh, by the way–what is the title? I had titles for all five previous books before I had stories, so it feels really weird not to have one. I hope to get some help on the retreat with all of this.

Readers, what are your plans this fabulous weekend?