I am back home after spending last week driving around western Oregon and stopping at 5 bookstores.
Backstory: Last summer I attended a talk by author Dwight Holing at my local library. He was there talking about his series that is set in Harney County- where I live. When he was asked about how he advertised his books, and he mentioned Bookbub didn’t work well for him, I said, “Yeah, it doesn’t work well for me either.” He looked at me and said, “What genre are you?” My reply, “Same as yours.”
He asked my name and then said, “Your books stalk mine on Amazon!”
My rebuttal was “No, yours stalk mine.” We had a chuckle and he said to come talk to him after his presentation.
I did and we decided since we both write crime fiction set in Oregon with game wardens, his a federal agent and mine a state police officer, that we should team up and do something.
Fast forward a few months and we came up with a book tour when we both had a new book out. We spent months setting up bookstores and planning to do it all in one week.
We just finished that week of visiting bookstores. After a phone conversation we’d decided to do a back and forth, “This is why I… What do you do?” format. And we had lots of encouraging comments about how well we played off one another. Then we would read from our books and take questions. It was interesting that most of the questions were from new or emerging writers. Though we did each have some fans or family at each of the stops we had.
I was lucky enough to meet Sharon Dean who has been a guest of this blog. She came to our Ashland event. It was fun to meet someone in person who I have only exchanged emails with.
And in Bend I was able to meet up with some writer friends that before I moved to Princeton, we met once a month and had lunch and talked about writing.
The one thing that both Dwight and I concluded from this trip is that in-person events are no longer something that brings readers in. We had small groups at everyone of the events even though we both talked it up in our newsletters and social media and put out news releases in each town we visited. He said he’s going to start doing Zoom Book Clubs and will invite me to participate when he gets it all figured out.
While I enjoyed my week of driving around Oregon and meeting new people, I do agree that I won’t be doing another event like this any time soon. I think being set up where people are already gathered like flea markets, oktoberfest, and such is the way to go instead of bookstores.
We’re all drawn to what we don’t understand. It must be a primeval survival instinct. We have our daily world, which mostly consists of routine habits and familiar surroundings. But when something quirky intrudes, we find ourselves on high-alert mode. Like at night, when our usual surroundings fade into shadow, and we hear a strange noise, we stop to listen. The appeal of experiencing what’s unknown in the safety of our own cozy world creates our great demand and interest for the mystery novel.
Many authors preach “write what you know” to wanna-be writers. To me this doesn’t make sense. What motivates us to solve problems and engage in dreams comes from our not knowing. Writers are readers, and reader’s read to experience something new and maybe learn. As authors, we need to write what we don’t know.
If you don’t know something how can you write about it?
Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a double agent. Possibly you’ve longed to experience what it would be like to be in a Witness Protection Program. Perhaps you’ve wondered how it would feel to have the hot breath of a serial killer on your neck just before your heavy wrench smashes his face into the dirt. Only human beings can enjoy danger safely, living vicariously, through the words spoken or written by others. No other animal on our planet has this luxury.
My first novel, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, Kirkus Reviews (starred review) started with scant knowledge about an estranged aunt who was an ex-flapper. Inspiration for this novel came to me because her story felt too important to ignore. My ancient aunt had slammed into my busy life, vying for attention with my demanding career. This redoubtable, chain-smoking, rum-drinking woman made a game of criticizing me, turning the air blue with smoke and cuss words, and enchanting my husband.
I’d come home exhausted from my job of problem solving as an administrator in a heavy-handed bureaucracy of educators and also from my layman position, working with a veterinarian to evaluate research protocols at the Lovelace Respiratory Medical Research Laboratory. Every evening, I’d find this tipsy woman telling outrageous tales of her Roaring-Twenties life as a flapper in dangerous 1923 Chicago. She never revealed much about her own antics, except on occasion she’d toss out tidbits of her wild life like delicious appetizers.
Too good not to be told:
What if I combined this ancient flapper’s ramblings and fabrications with today’s devastating corporate espionage problems, using what I did know about biomedical research labs? Then this would be much more than just another Roaring-Twenties flapper story. Even though I’d fashioned an unusual combination, I thought it might be quite an intriguing mix. However, I knew nothing about the 1920s and even less about corporate spying.
Playing around with my knowledge of bits and pieces, tiny kernels of ideas developed into miniature tales. I shuffled them together using fictional characters, places, events, and conflicts. For my strange story to be engaging, each character would have to be connected with the others characters through powerful motivations. This meant even my secondary characters must be three dimensional. I had huge holes in my knowledge. I needed to know more.
Use what you know to figure out what you don’t know:
After untold hours of researching, I made likely guesses to fill in as many empty spaces as possible. I buried myself under a search and find mode. I had started out knowing only the Hollywood version of a flapper’s life along with scraps of information my aunt had given. This wouldn’t do, and I knew nothing about corporate espionage, but spies have always intrigued me. The more I learned the more fun I found in bringing my Flapper, Scientist, and Saboteur to life.
Writing the unknown:
I believe your story deserves to be startling and robust. I always research more than I can possibly use. Then I select only what’s rich and on target. For fun, I throw in some quirky stuff. Here’s the best part: I put all of the above together, mix with my wildest imagination, edit, delete, select the most powerful verbs, revise, revise, revise, then polish my story—with joy.
My award winning stories happen because I dare to write what I don’t know. How does your imagination help you write what you don’t know?
The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur intertwines a corporate espionage mystery with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos to restore order and a free-spirited aunt who needs her niece to live in the moment.
Beth Armstrong, a Denver biomedical scientist, wrestles with the impossible choice of saving her sabotaged, groundbreaking cure for multiple sclerosis or honoring an obligation to care for her cantankerous old aunt. Playing nursemaid ranks just a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale, yet her ex-flapper aunt would prefer catching anything deadly to losing her independence under the hands of her obsessive-compulsive niece.
While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, Beth finds her whole life out of balance. Unpredictable nefarious activities at the institute–which is rife with suspects–cause Beth to wonder if she can trust anyone, while at home her chain-smoking aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and raucous stories from the Roaring Twenties. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur creates a compelling mystery intertwined with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos and restoring order, and a free-spirited aunt who insists her niece listen to her heart and learn to live in the moment.
Charlene Bell Dietz, raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, now lives in the central mountains of New Mexico. She taught kindergarten through high school, served as a school administrator, and an adjunct instructor for the College of Santa Fe. After retirement she traveled the United States providing instruction for school staff and administrators. Her writing includes published articles, children’s stories, short stories and mystery and historical novels, winning awards from NM/AZ Book Awards, Writers Digest, Public Safety Writers, and International Book Awards, along with earning two of the coveted Kirkus Reviews (starred review) and having two books named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018.
Heather Weidner, Author of the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries
I am extremely grateful for all the authors who have shared their ideas, advice, and successes with me through the years. Writing is mostly a solitary process, so it’s nice to know that you’re not alone and that others have experienced what you’re going through. Here are some tidbits that I’ve picked up through the years that have helped me improve my craft and to stay focused.
When I’m working on a new novel, I plot out a simple outline. I learned from Donna Andrews to color-code the different kinds of action in your outline, so you can see it over the course of the book. For example, I mark all romantic elements with pink, humorous items are orange, clues are green, etc. It helps create a visual as you write, and it shows you where you’re missing elements or when you’ve overloaded the story.
I learned from Mary Burton to keep a running list of over-used words. Add to it as you write, and then at the end of each revision cycle, search your document and remove the culprits. She also calls your first draft the “sloppy copy.” Typing “the end” doesn’t mean you’re finished. It’s the beginning of the revision cycle.
I learned from the late Kathy Mix to keep a list of character names for each book. Her rule was to name each character with a different letter of the alphabet. If she already had a Krissy, then she couldn’t have another character whose first name started with a “K.” I build a chart of characters for each book and note where the characters appear. I also create a list of key locations. I enter all the important facts, so I can keep track of the details.
Mary Miley gave me some great advice about honing dialogue. She recommends cutting out the unnecessary pleasantries and chitchat that don’t move your story forward.
Elaine Viets said to know your genre and who is publishing in it. Do your research and know the conventions before you query agents or publishers.
Lynda Bishop recommends that authors keep a timeline for each book to make sure all events are in order and make sense. This helps with pacing. This helps me keep the days straight (so the character doesn’t have lunch two times in the same day).
Tina Glasneck suggests that authors create a calendar for each book launch. Mine starts three months before the launch and runs three months after. Plan all events, interviews, blogs, and media campaigns. Make sure that you track the details.
Jane Friedman tells writers that their platform grows from their body of work. An author’s website and blog should be at the center of all of your marketing.
Frances Aylor and Alan Orloff gave me the best advice for writing. Butt glue (Frances) or BICFOK (Alan). They’re essentially the same. If you want to be a writer, put your Butt in the Chair and Fingers on the Keyboard.
Hollywood has come to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. Everyone wants to get in on the act.
The crew from the wildly popular, fan favorite, Fatal Impressions, takes over Jules Keene’s glamping resort, and they bring a lot of offscreen drama and baggage that doesn’t include the scads of costumes, props, and crowds that descend on the bucolic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Added security, hundreds of calls from hopeful extras, and some demanding divas keep Jules’s team hopping.
When the show’s prickly head writer ends up dead under the L. Frank Baum tiny house in what looks like a staged murder scene with a kitschy homage to the Wizard of Oz, Jules has to figure out who would want the writer dead. Then while they are still reeling from the first murder, the popular publicist gets lost after a long night at the local honky-tonk and winds up strangled. Jules needs to solve both crimes before filming is canceled, and her business is ruined.
Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She writes the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries, and the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries.
Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Great mystery/thriller books writers should read… by Robin Henry
It is time for year end lists! Here’s my list of favorite mysteries and thrillers I read in 2022. NOTE—I read these in 2022, some of them were published earlier…
Each of these are a great mini-masterclass for mystery writers, too. Each does a wonderful job of keeping the reader curious, building suspense, but without frustrating the reader. Several of them are also playing with form, like epistolary or traditional historical. If you want to write a great mystery or just get lost in one for a while, these are all excellent choices.
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
An excellent use of the epistolary form, and just a fun mystery with a load of crazy characters who will keep you guessing. Definitely recommended for Cozy fans…
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
Domestic Thriller by the current Queen of the Genre in my opinion. So many family secrets…but somehow all loose ends are explained and tied up at the end.
The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
Need a book that will make you stay up until 2 AM? Look no further. This apartment building is creepy and so are the people who live there…
The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, you’ll love every moment you spend with the gang. One of the most fun things about Osman is the observations he makes about the world through the eyes of his characters. Surrender to it and you won’t be sorry.
Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St. Olaf’s Church by Indrek Hargla
English translation by Adam Cullen, English version published by Peter Owen
A finely plotted traditional medieval whodunit. If you’ve been wishing for a new Father Cædful, try Apothecary Melchior…
Fatherland by Robert Harris
Gritty, alternative history mystery set in the Berlin of a partially victorious Third Reich. The Cold War looks a little different and the Americans under President Joe Kennedy (mobster father of John, Ted, and Robert) is cozying up to the fascists. The book is simply fantastic and also a little frightening because of the way Harris understands human nature.
Robin Henry is a librarian and independent scholar turned book coach who loves history and mysteries along with her hot beverage. You can find out more at http://readerly.net or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope everyone who reads this blog, writes for this blog, and guests on this blog has had a wonderful year reading all the unique and interesting posts. I know I enjoy each post for different reasons. Some are about how to write a mystery, some are about marketing, and some are about how the writer came up with the story, premise, characters. Some are vignettes about a writer’s life. There is always something interesting to learn from a post at Ladies of Mystery.
Today, as I write this post, I am starting a read through and edit pass before book 10 in the Gabriel Hawke series heads out to my critique partners. By the time you read this, the manuscript will be in the hands of my CPs and I will be fleshing out the next Spotted Pony Casino book.
Even with the holidays, I still have books in my head that want to get out. I have slowed down the last few months which has driven my on time, schedule-to-keep-self crazy! This book that is just now being read by critique partners was (on my white board) to be published by now. Life got in the way and while my disciplined self is kicking my backside for not getting it done on time, my family self is saying, it’s okay. Things happen and you begin to see that hanging out with friends and family are more important than getting that next book out on time.
And that is why, I backed off on my goals for 2023. Next year I have two wonderful trips planned. One with family and one with friends. They will take away a month and a half of writing time. And I plan to do more in-person events, which when you live as far away from where most in-person events happen, I have to add 2 extra days for travel.
I’m taking a marketing class while getting ready for company for Christmas and helping my daughter with a wedding 2 days after Christmas. Yes, life is always interesting!
Have a wonderful Holiday Season and a Healthy Happy New Year! See you in 2023!
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