Lately, that’s been my writing life, good stuff and not so good.

My long-time publisher for my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series has closed its doors. I asked for and received my rights back for the series and the covers. Because the cover had been designed for the latest book and new designs done for some of the older books, I was pleased.

So what to do next? I decided the best route to take with the series was self-publishing, though I didn’t really feel up to the task. One of my friends, an expert at self-publishing, is taking on this huge job. I say huge because there are 17 books in this series.

The latest book, Spirit Wind, is now published and available in print and on Kindle.

The first batch of the printed books didn’t have the appropriate headers—so I’ve used most of them as review copies—and sold some at a big discount.

A few of the other books in the series have been done, but the old publisher’s copies are still the ones upfront and available. So far, we’ve been unsuccessful at getting them taken down or at least the latest ones the first to show up.

I’d like to do a .99 cent deal for one of the series, but that will have to wait until some of the problems are fixed.

How am I feeling about all this? I’m happy the latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is now available. Though a bit frustrated about some of the other problems, I’m not going to lose sleep over them. One thing I’ve learned over the years, the author’s path is never smooth. I’ve had crooked publishers, and publishers who were friends die. This happened with the first publisher of this series.

I’m going to book fairs (I have plenty of books to sell) and giving talks to writers groups and others. The promotion goes on. And I’m working on a book in my other series.

One thing I can assure you, I’m never bored. I can’t even imagine what that would be like.

The official blurb for Spirit Wind: A call from a ghost hunter changes Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s vacation plans. Instead of going to the coast, she and her husband are headed to Tehachapi to  investigate a haunted house and are confronted by voices on the wind, a murder, and someone out to get them.


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Getting Rid of Clutter by Karen Shughart

Clean out those closets, put away the winter clothing, cut back the dead flowers from the yard.  Donate that dress or those slacks you haven’t worn in years, even if you love them. Shoulder pads are probably gone for good, those long bootcut flares you used to wear just won’t work with flats, and you’ve given away all your high heels. You’ve loved those pretty hand towels for the guest bathroom, but they’re faded and raveled. Time to get rid of those, too.

There’s something about spring that causes us to want to clean up and start fresh. We’re preparing for warmer weather, more time out-of-doors in the sunshine, planting pretty things that will bring us a stunning pallet of color and scent.   Spring is a time for new beginnings.

Cleaning clutter out of our homes just goes with the season, but it’s also a time, for me, to clean the clutter out of my writing. That short story I never finished that is completely dated, that poem that’s been in a file for twenty years that has no hope of being published, maybe I’ll archive them, but I also might decide it’s time to let them go to make room for new and fresher creative endeavors.

If I’m in the middle of writing a book, I may decide that as much as I love a paragraph, description or prologue, I must take the emotion out of it and discard them if they no longer make sense in the context of the story. It’s awfully hard to do, just as was giving away that dress I haven’t worn for thirty years but doing so opens the closet in my mind for new ideas, new words and new thoughts that might make the book even better.

I began writing Murder in the Cemetery this past winter, but as I got closer to spring, I found I was changing much of the story to reflect the upcoming season. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing mysteries that take place during cold, creepy winter nights. Death and ice seem to go hand in hand in mysteries.

Now the book opens at the beginning of spring, when the snow has melted, the birds are nesting, and the posies are peeking their heads up from the thawing earth. All the characters are happy and relieved they’ve survived the tough winter that always occurs up here on Lake Ontario, and the juxtaposition of a death that happens just as the flowers are beginning to bloom made sense to me. Tired myself of snow, dull and grey, I wanted to bring some sunshine and energy into the book. I sucked it up, got rid of icy winter imagery and rewrote.

So yes, spring for me is a time to declutter: my house, my closets and even my writing. Tough as it sometimes is, getting rid of what doesn’t work any longer actually has simplified my life and made the journey that much easier.

pink leafed trees on green grass field

Photo by Jan Krnc on

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Of Men and Monsters

by Janis Patterson

Not too long ago one of the radio shows we listen to gave the history of Andrew Kehoe, who on May 8, 1927 went on a mass killing spree. A strange sort of man, he was a farmer in Bath Township, Michigan. While he could fix almost any mechanical contraption – and often did for his neighbors without charge – he neglected his farm and abused his animals.

Then when the local school system raised his taxes by $19.80 cents to pay for a new school, something snapped. Kehoe decided to kill every schoolchild in Bath Township. He was hired to fix some electrical work at the new school, which he did, while putting in place massive charges of explosives. He had been setting off explosions at his farm, telling the curious he was just blasting up stumps. He had really been testing electric detonation devices. Finally, the day before school was to be out, he set off the explosives at the school. Then, having beaten his wife to death, he blew up his house, his barn, the trees on his place and his farm animals.

Having packed his car with explosives and every bit of scrap metal he could find around his farm, Kehoe drove into town, where he was horrified to find that only half the school had actually blown up. The explosion had apparently made the detonators in the other half malfunction. He was horrified to have failed. It is not known what he originally had in mind for his explosive-and-scrap metal loaded car, but he was determined to bring down the school completely and kill the children who had survived the original blast. He tried to get his car close to the still-standing half, but the school superintendent came up to ask what he was doing

Kehoe hit the detonator, killing the superintendent and himself, sending shrapnel-like shards out into the crowd of hysterical parents and destabilizing the remaining part of the school. Then it was discovered there were still unexploded charges in the school. By then the fire departments and others from nearby Lansing had arrived, and they sealed the building until the explosives could be cleared away. Of course, there were still children both living and dead in the school and their parents had to listen to their cries while not being allowed to go to them, or even know if their child was alive or dead.

Had he still been alive at that moment, Kehoe would probably have loved it.

So what makes such a monster? By all accounts until the tax bill arrived Kehoe was considered a pretty good guy. Perhaps a little eccentric in some of his ways, but who of us does not know – or is not – someone who doesn’t have a little bit of eccentricity? Yet how many turn into monsters?

Monster or saint, they are all human beings. Sometimes it stretches credulity that the same species which produces beings such as Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Dr. Alfred Schweitzer can also produce the likes of Adolf Hitler, Andrew Kehoe and Ted Bundy. But it not only can, it does with unwavering regularity.

So how does this affect our writing? We must remember that to be real our heroes and our villains must be human beings with flaws, strengths and weaknesses. No one person is either completely evil or completely saintly. Albert Einstein was an incredible genius, but he had – at least in his early years – a somewhat rollicking and for the time unconventional love life. I’m told Adolf Hitler was kind to cats.

As writers, if we wish to be good writers, we cannot commit the sin of making a character that is completely and thoroughly good or evil. That makes them one dimensional, a literary piece of cardboard who just stands there and parrots the words we put in their mouths.

To become a living, breathing, believable character your creation has to be a mixture of both good and evil. A character who does only good, proclaims only good and put good above all else no matter the cost to himself is a cartoon. (I’m thinking along the lines of Dudley Do-Right.)  Same thing with a villain and evil. Both of them must have some characteristics of the other – a hero who hates dogs and is not averse to a tiny bit of cheating on his taxes is a lot more believable as a human being, just as is a villain who donates to animal charities and helps old ladies across the street.

You must always remember that even heroes have dark sides and monsters have virtues. Perhaps not many, but each has some.

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What Do Animals and Children Reveal? by Paty Jager

It’s funny how having a reader comment about how having a child’s interaction with my main character shows a different side to him–a side she liked–reminded me why I put animals, and in the case of the Gabriel Hawke series children, in my books.

When I started brewing up my character Shandra Higheagle, I knew she would have a big dog, because she was going to live alone on a mountain. But then I turned that big dog into a coward, and there went her protection. Along came a curmudgeon of a woman, Crazy Lil, who came with the ranch Shandra bought. And with Lil came Lewis, the cat, who hangs around her neck like a fur necklace.

The reason for the dog for Shandra was protection, but Lewis for Lil was to show she had a soft caring side that she doesn’t show. Or want anyone to know about. As is with most women, they both have a soft spot for horses. The way Lil cares for the cat, the horses, and Shandra, shows more of her character than one would guess from her interactions with other characters.

Gabriel Hawke, the main character in my new series, is a by the book Fish and Wildlife State Trooper. His marriage failed because of his job, so he doesn’t have plans to marry again. He is a bit standoffish to people he’s never met because of his Native American heritage and the put downs he’s suffered over the years. He likes to remain aloof until he sees which way the other person will treat him.

In walks his dog, Dog. Yes, he named his dog, Dog because he doesn’t want to get too attached, but guess what? The dog is by his side whenever Hawke isn’t in uniform. He shares food with the animal and allows it to sleep next to him in his sleeping bag when on patrol in the mountains. Then there’s Jack, his horse, and Horse, his mule. Hawke believes if you name an animal what it should be, just as it has it’s animal name, it will behave as such. Hence, a mule is called Horse to keep it from having the nasty mule tendencies. Guess what? It doesn’t always work. 😉

As Hawke works to keep his relationships with two women whose company he enjoys platonic, along comes a child who steals his heart with her interest in plants and all things that deal with his beloved Eagle Cap Wilderness. His heart softening and letting the child in has also lowered his resistance to the two women. All this interaction with animals and the child is bringing him out of his grumpy, stoic trance and having him see the world in a whole new way.

When a main character’s true self can be shown through animals or children, you can bet the reader is going to become more engaged with that character and care just a little bit more about them and what happens to them.

Rattlesnake Brother, book 3 in the Gabriel Hawke series is now available in ebook and print.

Corrupt officials.

Illegal hunters.

Death to those who dare complain.

Fish and Wildlife State Trooper Gabriel Hawke encounters a hunter with an illegal tag. The name on the tag belongs to the Wallowa County District Attorney and the man holding the tag isn’t the public defender. 

As Hawke digs to find out if the DA is corrupt, the hunter’s body is found. Zeroing in on the DA, Hawke finds he has more suspects than the DA and more deaths than the hunter.

Universal Link:

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Dream or Reality? By Patricia Smith Wood

I assume most folks reading this blog are either writers, want-to-be writers, mystery fans, fans of writers in general, or someone who might be looking for a life.

The dream of becoming a published writer can be a fun thing to entertain–especially if you don’t know any actual writers. Your imagination can go anywhere, picturing the wonderful life you would lead as a published writer.  Everyone daydreams as they go through life. I certainly did. As a kid, I daydreamed of all sorts of careers I might one day pursue. The younger you are, the more unrealistic your ambitions will seem to your older self.

When I was 6 years old, I saw Margaret O’Brien in a movie. She was a kid my age, didn’t look all that different from me, and she got to do “pretend” stuff. I was big into “pretend” stuff. Then when I was 8 years old, I saw Miracle on 34th Street. Nine-year-old Natalie Wood played the part of Maureen O’Hara’s daughter. I adored Maureen O’Hara. She very closely resembled my own mother, and I daydreamed endlessly about playing the part of her daughter in movies.

Fast forward to reality and the adult years.  A “movie star” career was not in the cards. But the idea of becoming a writer wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. So during boring tasks like washing dishes and folding laundry, I’d dream about my fabulous career as a writer. Rich, famous, toast of the town (which town I never gave thought to) and hiring people to do what I was currently engaged in doing. Yes, that was the life for me. Just become a famous writer.

Those dreams were so far behind me when I actually became a published writer. By that time, I knew a thing or two about how this journey would likely play out. Number one, rich and famous wasn’t even on the list anymore. When you consider the number of writers in this world who are actually able to completely live on their earnings as a writer, you realize the daunting challenge of it all.

Getting people interested in reading what I wrote was the thing for me. If everybody in the country each bought one copy of my first book but never read it, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I’d make a one-time killing in sales, but nothing else.

I realized years ago the important thing is to pursue your dreams. The best way to do that is visualize what you actually want, and get busy doing it. And strangely enough, even a very low list writer like me (meaning not well known at all) can be admired by the people who read their work. On more than one occasion I’ve been asked to pose for a photo with someone who just bought one of my books. They are so impressed that I’ve written and been published. They think I’m the “somebody” I always wanted to be.

It’s a pretty terrific feeling to encounter a fan like that. It bolsters my confidence and does wonders for the ego.

Whatever your dream is, make a plan and see what happens. You never know how it’ll play out.

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Acquired tastes

By Sally Carpenter

Why do people like different types of literature?

Writers have been wrestling with that question since the first authors tried to earn a living with their work. Why are some books best sellers and other titles flounder? If I knew the answer to that, I’d have some moneymaking books on the shelves myself.

Some books managed to stand the test of time, such as the Sherlock olmes tales that were a rave hit when Arthur Conan Doyle penned them—people went into mourning when he tried to kill off his character. The stories, set in a distant time and written in a rather cumbersome style, are still popular today. Yet the sensational private eye stories from the American pulp magazine era are dismissed as period pieces. Why is that?

I read that our tastes are “imprinted” at an early age. Often the music, books and pop culture we grew up with are the preferences we keep our whole lives. This can change, of course. As we mature we stop reading children’s books and move on to adult literature. Young adults—in conscious rebellion or unconsciously—want a culture distinct from their parents’. Often people raised in a small, closed community find their tastes broaden when exposed to other cultures.

But I think the imprinted theory is mostly true. Devout fans read a certain author in their youth, and they kept that taste their entire life. Just for fun, I’m on a Facebook closed group for fans of the Columbo TV show. Someone asked why we love the program. Many said it reminded them of growing up in a home where the family gathered at the TV to watch the show together on Sunday night. Others like the ‘70s culture of the show—the music, clothes, and mannerisms. Columbo brings back fond memories of past times. Reading a favorite author takes us to a time and location that brings us joy.

I know of authors who are noir fans. They love watching the old noir movies and their writing is a tribute to that genre. I wonder how writers find joy in writing such dark, gritty work. It’s a fascinating world of dark alleys, hideaways, shady deals, colorful characters, beautiful seductive female and a good guy who often behaves in a bad way to get the job done. The noir authors I know are nice, quiet, law-biding people. Maybe the noir world provides “nice” people a safe outlet to imagine themselves as a fist-punching, hard-drinking, womanizing private dick with a seedy office and seedier clientele.

I know an author who hates cozies because of the murder of a close family member—she “finds nothing funny in murder.” So her books are dark and grim. Fans of such stories perhaps like finding justice in the darkness.

When cozy readers are asked about their faves, they often say they enjoy the sense of family found in such books and watching how the characters change and interrelate over the course of a series. Cozy fans also like the escapism of spending time in a fantasy, small-town setting.

I recently decided to challenge my tastes a little. One of my cozy series is a 1960s spy caper. I joined a Facebook group for fans of spy books and films. I asked what books I should read as a newbie and received over 10 responses. Fans love to share their knowledge! From what I‘ve seen of the group so far, they mostly prefer the Cold War, harder-edged tales. My books may be too “cozy” for them, but hey, maybe I’ll broaden their tastes a little.

What are you tastes in reading and how did it come about?

Posted in mystery, Sally Carpenter | 2 Comments

The New Writer

“Excuse me—are you ladies writers?” asked the man at the next table in Passion Pie Café, Truth or Consequences. Clearly accustomed to the ways of T or C, he understood that it’s socially normal to listen, to introduce yourself, and to connect with strangers.

I was having lunch with a friend who did the cover photography for some of my books, and he’d overheard us discussing the plot challenges of my next book. She’s a thoughtful and insightful reader, a great person to brainstorm with, so he assumed we were both writers. The gentleman had pages of notes on his table, and he explained that he was an archaeologist and professor working on his first mystery, to be set at an archaeological site on a fictitious version of a well-known ranch in the area where he has done work for many years.

“May I pick your brains?” he asked.

This was the beginning of a great conversation, getting acquainted as new friends as well as sharing creative processes. When we ran out of time to finish it,  he invited us out for dinner the next day. In between those two meetings, I reflected on how much floundering I did years ago, trying to breathe life into a non-viable first draft, before I found the resources that helped me become a better writer.

These are some I recommended to him

  • Sisters in Crime (SinC). There are now misters as well as sisters in the group. The SinC Guppies group (a name that evolved from the Great Unpublished) is where I found my editor and my critique partners, where I arranged manuscript swaps, and got answers to all sorts of obscure questions for my research. The subgroups of the Guppies help with marketing, social media, brainstorming, and more. Local SinC chapters host workshops and speakers and provide networking and promotional opportunities. (Our  fellow blogger Patricia Smith Wood does great work with Albuquerque chapter.)
  • Editor and writing teacher Ramona DeFelice Long’s current blog project, 40 Days of Worksheets.
  • James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure and Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. For me, these are the ultimate and irreplaceable guides to making a story work.
  • Feedback from other writers. I was impressed that he’s already getting it. As he debated using first or third person, he had people look at his first chapter, and everyone told him it was better in third person. The newbie author himself was the only one who liked it in first person. Off to a good start. He’s killed his first darling.

He knew he had a difficult project underway and genuinely wanted to learn.  He had insight into the weakness that’s slowing him down—editing fanatically on the first draft rather than pushing through and polishing later. (A weakness I understand all too well.)

I offered to critique the work in progress when it’s ready. We came up with a possible title and even a theme for titles in the series. He formed quite a bond with my photographer friend, and I’ll be curious to see if her work ever ends up on his book covers.

My prediction is that he’ll succeed. He loves mysteries, knows how to work hard, has a sense of humor, research skills, and an original idea. The romantic subplot of his mystery is a knock-out. And he doesn’t think he already knows everything. Meeting him reminded not only how much I’ve learned since I was in his situation—a professor writing a first draft in my free time—but also how much I have to learn and keep re-learning.

Image credit, Passion Pie Cafe exterior  by Donna Catterick

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