The Waxing Moon and Me by Heather Haven

Occasionally, we writers write ourselves into a corner. In some ways, it can be fun. It can be a challenge. And being the inventive sort that writers are, we often come up with a pretty nifty bit of business to get out of these scrapes. The bonus is the story often improves, becoming more colorful and interesting.

However, you can’t do that sort of thing with Mother Nature. You have to stick with what is scientifically possible. Unless you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, of course. Then you can have a green sky and 6 moons. But here on earth, we are stuck with one orbiting satellite, which tends to do its thing consistently. In fact, we have come to expect the moon to behave in a certain way. I happen to write cozy mysteries such as the one I’m doing now, Book 4 of The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries. They take place on earth, so I can only diddle around with the truth of it so much.

As I neared what I hoped was the final round of rewrites for Hotshot Shamus before sending it off to my editor, I realized I had several scenes and chapters taking place during two full moons. Unfortunately, these full moons occurred only 10 days apart within the story.

I am not a scientist but even I know there have never been two full moons in that short a space of time. Something catastrophic would have to take place for that to happen. Given the state of the world right now, I didn’t want to go there.

I tried not to panic. Maybe I could turn one of the full moons into a new moon? No, no, no. A new moon is just a full moon coming back within the same calendar month. And it usually happens 25 to 28 days apart.

Time to panic? I couldn’t leave it as it was and I couldn’t abandon the moon being a part of the prose, either. Like many writers, I often make the atmosphere a character in the story. So, it was with this stupid moon. A driving character, too. Did that mean I would be rewriting 4 to 6 chapters worth of story to correct this error?

If I had to, I had to. But I wouldn’t be happy.

After several pieces of chocolate washed down by a martini, I decided to research the moon in all its glory. Maybe the moon did something I didn’t know about that would bail me out. After all, it’s a good moon, a lovely moon, a romantic moon. I even look ten years younger in the moonlight. Moon, don’t fail me now.

Then I stumbled upon what is called a waxing­­­­ gibbous moon. Somehow that particular phase of the moon got by me. I’d never heard of it before. Waning, yes. That rang a bell. But waxing? No. Gibbous, excuse me?? Come to find out gibbous means marked by convexity or swelling of the moon or a planet. Well, I never. Maybe I was in Study Hall when that lesson took place.

Panic avoided. The beauty of a waxing gibbous moon is it turns into a full moon after about 8 days. That’s close enough for my needs. And bless its little heart, it can shine enough light the entire time to save my scenes and chapters. Just a tweak here and there and all became perfectly reasonable.

Ain’t Mother Nature wonderful?


The book I’m working on in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, will be #20 and the last one. Tempe and her tribe have been a part of my life for many years. Tempe was retired from being a deputy in the last one, The Trash Harem.

The one I’m working on now is so far unnamed. Unusual for me, I often have the title before I even begin.

However this book has major changes for Tempe and her husband, as well as other ongoing characters in the series.

I’m finding it hard to say goodbye to Bear Creek and all those who live there, but my life is changing too. My husband needs a lot more of my help and I don’t have the energy I once had—but I’m almost 90 and I’m thankful I can still do what I’m able.

I also ended the Rocky Bluff mystery series with Reversal of Fortune.

Writing and getting published has given me so much pleasure in many ways. When I was writing I lived the adventures of my characters who became very real to me. In fact, in some ways I knew them far better than my friends and relatives—because I knew how the people who inhabited the books I wrote think.

Does this mean I won’t be writing anything anymore? Nope, I can’t imagine not sitting at the computer and writing. I’m considering writing a young adult mystery set during World War II since I grew up during that time. I have my own blog, where lately I’ve leaned toward reminiscing.

When the new book comes out I hope to have some local celebrations. Since one of my friends, lightly disguised with a different name is playing a major part I suspect she’ll want to join me. She’s starred in three other books in this series.

And I’m promoting The Trash Haven by offering the Kindle version for .99 cents from March 20 through the 27th.

It’s been fun hanging out with my Indian friend Tempe, her preacher husband Hutch, and her friend Nick Two John. I’m going to miss them.


Those Pesky Revisions

Once in a while I come across a new writer asking what to do now that he’s finished his novel and is ready to get an agent. As the conversation flows I hear the optimistic assumption that even though this process will take time, it will end well. Left unsaid is the ending—the book will be published to blushingly great acclaim. I seem to come across these discussions when I’m in the deepest slough of revision. Right now I’m on the third rewrite for my current WIP (not to mention all the many drafts I did before I naively thought it was finished). It came back from my agent with lots of compliments on certain parts of it but not the first hundred pages.

“Get rid of the BOGSATs,” she wrote.

BOGSAT? This was new to me, so I had to ask. What is a BOGSAT? It’s embarrassing that I didn’t know what it refers to because I’m certainly guilty of having a lot of BOGSATs in the first third of the book. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, you can stop reading here. You know what follows.

BOGSAT refers to Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking. In other words, too much talk, not enough action. In my case, the people sitting around talking were mostly women, the main character’s mother and sisters, and occasionally the MC and her best friend. One of the themes of the book is female relationships, and families. Nevertheless, respecting my agent’s judgment as I do, I set about removing the BOGSATs, and this is where it gets interesting.

What happens in place of talking? Action, of course. As I stripped out a stretch of dialogue I held onto the specific information that needed to be delivered. In one scene, it’s important for Ginny to learn that the parents of two children under the care of the social services agency where she works have been arguing about money. If her co-worker can’t tell her this and ask for her advice, how does Ginny find out there is a money issue in the family? She catches a glimpse of the husband wearing a coat that he can’t possibly afford. How does she know this? Her sister sees it, drools over it, and tells her sister how much it probably cost. Her sister wants one. That took care of one scene, about five pages in the first hundred. On to the next.

Ginny is worried about something from her teen years becoming public. It’s linked to an event long forgotten, or so she thinks. At a celebration of life for an acquaintance, the man leading the program blurts out the deceased’s role in the event. Ginny wonders how long her secret can last.

In a grocery store she can’t simply stop and chat with someone to elicit information. Hmm. She spots an out of town reporter who has been investigating the event of concern to Ginny stopping people as they come out of the store. She notices who rebuffs him, who ignores him, and whom he ignores. The chief has told her about him, and she wonders just how much he’s uncovered. She soon finds out. The reporter wasn’t in the earlier version. He appeared only as the author of an article. Now he’s on the ground, poking around, making Ginny nervous. She’s keeping track of him.

Removing dialogue does more than eliminate the “talkiness” in the ms. It means I have to use the other characters differently, use Ginny differently, uncover little bits I hadn’t thought about before. Getting rid of the BOGSATs is changing the story little by little. Ginny Means will still be who she is doing what she does, but how she interacts with other characters is becoming different. There is a place for the BOGSAT, but it’s not in the first third of my book.

Unbecoming a Lady

I’m not one for blowing my own horn. Weird for someone who was a Creative Director at an advertising agency and sold state departments of education customized educational assessments. But waving my hands over my head, making pitches in elevators — and well — drawing attention to myself feels uncomfortable.  

Yet here I am with a book, Unbecoming a Lady, available on March 15th. And, these days, if I don’t pitch it, who will? From the cover:

A torn sleeve, a bruised arm, and a lie.  

A friend knocks on Cora Countryman’s front door seeking help with the torn sleeve of her work dress, claiming she ripped it on a bush. As the town’s seamstress, Cora has mended many a dress. So, when she sees a ragged tear in her friend’s forearm and a bruise left by a thumb, Cora questions her friend’s story. When Cora asks about the wounds, her friend is evasive. Worried by the lack of answers, Cora starts her own investigation.

When murder is done, Cora won’t give in, back down, or submit to the behavior expected of a young lady in 1876 in a burgeoning Illinois prairie town. Why should she, she never expected to stay. That is until her mother abandoned her, leaving her heavily in debt, her reputation on the line, and the drudgery of a boarding house to run for one boarder.

Her intended life of mystery and adventure never seemed so far away.

Fellow blogger, Heather Haven, author of the Alvarez Family Mysteries and the Persephone Cole Historical Mysteries, read a review copy of Unbecoming a Lady. Here is what she had to say:

“Thanks to the superb writing and storytelling skills of D. Z. Church, one of the most authentic and unique protagonists, Cora Countryman, comes alive for you page after page. A grand, grand read.”

I’m blushing right now. Thanks, Heather. Reading Heather’s review, it occurs to me that maybe Cora sells herself.

A bit of Cora

In response to a question from Cora, the Methodist preacher’s wife lists the passersby seen on the street and in the park:

“Just the liveryman, a delivery wagon of coal, Mrs. Layman and Mrs. Sullivan chatting.” (The preacher’s wife) pointed toward a stand of marsh grass along the edges of the pond. “And that new Constable, John or Jack McKie, I believe.”

“Quite the parade!”

“I was on my porch sorting roses for the vestry. By the way, Mr. Kanady is not the only eligible bachelor; Mr. McKie is unmarried, as well. He is a strong, handsome sort. Dashing in his uniform. And I hear seeking a wife that might ensure his position in the community. And, of course, there is that darling new doctor. He is a gentle sort and I think a bit shy that he cannot see distances, but he does have the prettiest brown eyes.”

“I think you are a bit smitten with the new doctor, Dr. Shaw, correct? Well, none of these fine unmarried men need look my way. I am determined to stay single, joining the growing number of women who choose the unmarried life, preferring a life of learning, travel, and enrichment instead.”

Cora is feisty, fun, rash, fearless, and above all loyal.  

Did I mention the release date for Unbecoming a Lady is March 15? The eBook is available now for pre-order on Amazon. And, of course, we all need reviews – yes? Here’s a link:

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Imaginary Friends by Karen Shughart

When I was in elementary school, one of my best friends and I would walk home after school each day and create stories about an imaginary friend named Ponytail.  It was the 1950s, and many girls of that decade sported ponytails at one time or another. There were rock and roll songs that mentioned girls in ponytails, and TV shows and movies where the ingenues, in their swirling, petticoated dresses and bobby socks, flitted about, ponytails bouncing. Ponytails were part of the culture and fashion of the day. It was a fitting name.

I don’t remember Ponytail’s adventures, but I do remember being excited when we began our journey home to resume our ongoing saga and looking forward to continuing it the next day. Then, as my friend and I got older, the stories we created about our imaginary friend stopped, and we moved on to other discussions. Preteenagers don’t admit to having rich fantasy lives, at least they didn’t when I was growing up.

Last month I was interviewed by author LeAnna Shields on her podcast, The Cozy Sleuth. It was a lot of fun, and at the end I offered to turn the tables and interview her. Two weeks later, that’s what happened. During that interview, LeAnna mentioned that while many people have one imaginary friend, she had a multitude of them when she was growing up, which is partly what motivated her to become an author.  After I thought about it a while, it made sense. If you’re an author of fiction, that’s exactly what you do-create characters that are birthed strictly from your imagination.

As I look back, I realize that Ponytail was the continuation for me of a love of creating poems and stories that began when I was about five. It started when my brother and I were on a trip with our parents, and we had a flat tire. It was a rhyming poem about the frustrations of young girl whose trip was delayed because of that tire, and I blurted it out to my mother while my dad was fixing the tire. She loved it, wrote it down, and taped it to the refrigerator when we got home.

From the time I started to read, I immersed myself in almost anything I could get my hands on, sometimes appropriate for my age and sometimes not- my parents never censured my choices- and trips to the library were frequent,. Later, in the literature classes I took in school, I was transported from my daily life into the adventures and travails of characters created by a diverse group of authors. I became an English major in college and after that, each job I had was one where I wrote,  although back then it wasn’t fiction. But I always yearned to write stories with characters that were mine.

The idea of becoming a fiction author remained an unattainable dream for many years. For me, like so many of us, life got in the way.  Five years ago, finally retired and with children grown, I decided to do something about it.  I created and was fortunate to get published the first of the Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery series ( Cozy Cat Press), replete with my own imaginary characters. The mysteries take place during the present, but with historical backstories starting in the 1700s and moving ahead in time with each successive book, providing clues that help the sleuth solve the crime. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but if I keep on going, perhaps someday one of those backstories will take place in the 1950s, and one of my characters can have an imaginary friend named Ponytail.