If Wishes Were Horses…

by Janis Patterson

Hello. My name is Janis and I am a word nerd.


I love old words, convoluted words, obscure words… Unfortunately, it is definitely genetic. My father was the same way, and one of the delights of my early youth was playing esoteric word games with him. Which, I might add, gave me an everyday (to me, at least) vocabulary that did not endear me to the educational system. In grade school I learned quickly to accept that my automatic use of what were to me perfectly ordinary words would upset and draw the derision of my classmates; what I did not expect was that it would have a similar effect on the teachers, who had to have it proven that the words I used were not made up nonsense syllables but perfectly good – if not really common – English words. For several years I had to make it a practice to always carry a large dictionary with me. That was only one of the things about public education which earned my (well-deserved) contempt. I have never suffered fools gladly.


Anyway, that is an overly long explanation for why I’m on several word-a-day type daily emails. About half the time the words are too common to be much noticed, but every so often there is a really good one. Today I received the word velleity, which means “a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action.”


Wow! Who hasn’t felt like that at least once if not many times?


We all know those people who say “I want to write a novel” but never actually do anything toward it. Then there are those of us who do write who say “I would like to do a book about … (whatever subject is currently teasing our mind)” but the project never goes beyond a vague wish. There are millions of possibilities, and everyone indulges occasionally. My grandmother would have called it daydreaming.


And that’s okay. We all work on many levels at all times, and not all ideas/wishes/concepts are destined to bear fruit. Sometimes it’s little more than ‘play-time’ for our minds, which probably need it more than the rest of us. Nothing can do work all the time, and play time is essential.


It also goes beyond writing. Multiple times I personally have expressed a wish for some unknown reason to learn how to crochet, once even going so far as to buy a hook and some yarn. Both of them are now gathering metaphoric dust at the bottom of some drawer or other, as that is as far as I have ever gone. Velleity in action. The same goes for reorganizing my kitchen (where I usually spend as little time as possible), or creating an herb bed in the back yard (when I sadly possess a black thumb invariably deadly to all living plants), or any number of momentarily alluring but basically low/no priority daydreams.


However, I am a true believer that energy is never wasted, even the ephemeral energy of a transitory daydream. It merely changes form. Case in point, the herb garden. I actually did some reading on herb gardens and while a real herb garden never appeared in my life, it did in one of my books, enhancing it greatly. See? Energy really is never wasted.
So, dream your dreams – just don’t let them take over your life. You might never bring them to the fruition of reality, but someday somewhere somehow they might be just the thing you need to complete some other venue.


Now I must go, because I’m thinking about how nice it would be to paint our guest bathroom…

Of Very Big Trips, Layovers and Refrigerators

by Janis Patterson

Well, we are back from our Very Big Trip, and a Very Big Trip it was, too. Two and a half weeks cruising the Nile from Cairo to Luxor. Our ship was modest but still luxurious and only for our group, the staff eager to please, the food 4 star delicious, the accommodations more than comfortable. We were met at the airport in Cairo and when the tour ended in Luxor flown back to Cairo on a chartered plane to begin our trips home. Our ‘shore excursions’ were spectacular; even though this is my seventh (and The Husband’s eighth) trip to Egypt, we saw things we had never seen before, such as the ruins of the Hawara Pyramid of King Amenemhat III (currently scholastic frontrunner to be the Pharaoh of Joseph) and the gloriously painted images of the foreign dignitaries in the tombs of Beni Hassan. We were accorded the rare (and almost never granted) privilege of going down into the Sphynx precinct where we could stand between the paws (almost twice as tall as I) and touch the Dream Stela of Thutmosis III. This was The Husband’s and my second time in this carefully guarded area, as before we were married my darling friend Zahi Hawass had given us permission to explore. And of course we saw the must-sees of Karnak Temple, Deir el-Bahri, Amarna, Abydos and the Ramesseum. And more.

If you would like to know more about our incredible trip, you can go to my website (www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com) and subscribe to my newsletter, where I will write about it in more detail. Originally I intended to do just one newsletter about it, but it looks like it might become two, because my personal Trip Diary is now topping 40K words and even a truncated version will be most healthily-sized!

However… lest you think life is perfect, my life had problems. About ten days before our departure, our aged HVAC went out, for five days leaving us with no AC during the early September heat of Texas. Worse, my hot tub (a necessity for my arthritis-ridden body to exercise) died. Our similarly-aged refrigerator died. Even our landline phone needed work! We soldiered on, though – the HVAC was replaced, my wonderful hot tub man had it fixed, filled and ready for me to use when we returned, the phone was taken care of, and we had decided to leave the fridge problem for when we got back.

Then two days before departure Lufthansa cancelled our DFW/Frankfurt flight and switched us to United (meh – not my favorite airline) for DFW/Houston/Frankfurt. Well, okay… except the DFW/HOU flight was ONE AND A HALF HOURS LATE taking off, giving us just 26 minutes to get all the way across the Houston airport. We managed, though – barely – and made the HOU/FRA flight with four minutes to spare. Once we finally arrived in Cairo everything was fine.

Our return flight was not cancelled or rearranged (thankfully) but because of the screwy flight schedules we had a 14 hour layover in Frankfurt. For years and years I have insisted that Frankfurt airport is one of the seven circles of hell, and this trip just underscored my belief. Rather than book into the airport hotel, we decided to save the $250+ it would cost (saving it for our next trip in 18 months or so) and just find a comfortable customer lounge to wait in. Except we came in after midnight and landed in one of the most remote and unused terminals. The train connecting the terminals had stopped running, there were no food or drink kiosks and no customer lounges… just a small customs station which would take us out of the security area and miles of brightly lit marble halls. Oh, the AC was on full blast and it was both chilly and raining outside.

A kindly driver of one of the little electric trams in the terminal was off duty, but he volunteered to take us to an area several floors up where passengers and short-layover crews could sleep. Good on them if they could sleep there, because I barely managed a short nap. This was a hallway, a plain open hallway, with about 20-30 army-style cots. No pillows, no blankets, no nothing but a bunch of very uncomfortable cots. And no people. After the tram driver left we saw no one until after 6 am except a Japanese couple who appeared to be in the same fix we were. There was a restroom, though, some 50 yards and two hallways away. It was sort of like being in one of the grimmer Twilight Zone episodes.

Now it’s a funny story to tell. Then it was pure uncomfortable, teeth-chattering misery.

So how does this all relate to writing? It’s obvious – when you really really really want something in life (writing or anything else) you do whatever you have to do, endure whatever you have to endure in order to get it. This trip to Egypt was important to us, and whatever the gods flung at us we handled because that was the way to get what we wanted. And it was worth it. If you want to write, you must write, no matter what life throws at you. Only you can decide if your writing is a hobby you dabble in when the conditions are perfect or if it is a career where you forge on through in spite of everything. Your choice.

By the way, The Husband bought me a refurbed MacBookAir (which I promptly named Maxine) to take on this trip mainly so I could keep a comprehensive trip diary to share with my readers. I wasn’t going to write a book; I was going to take a rest, as I don’t have any contracts starting until January. I don’t have to tell you what happened, do I? And I’m already 8K words into a new story about a murder on a Nile cruise ship…

A final word about our dead refrigerator. The day after we returned we went shopping, not illogically expecting to have a new refrigerator within a couple of days. My kitchen is very bright and light, so of course I wanted a white refrigerator. We were shocked to find that all the off-the-floor ones with the features we wanted (French door, bottom freezer, ice and water in the door) are available only in stainless steel or rarely in black. Well, that’s fine for those who don’t mind looking like they live in a laboratory or a morgue, but I wanted white. Finally after a day of searching we found a place that agreed to special order a white one for us. White – a special order! (And at a cost roughly twice that of my first car!) Who would have thunk it? As you’ve probably guessed, I will do what is necessary to get what I really want, so we’ll have our new refrigerator in three weeks.

The next three weeks are going to be interesting.

Balancing Balls and Weather Machines – A Look at Setting


by Janis Patterson


The temperature has been in triple digits for the last week or so, but in the wee hours of the morning it does fall to the low 90s…


And here I am, wrapped in furs in the middle of a snowstorm. Sadly, it’s only in my mind, as I am working madly to meet the deadline for my Christmas anthology novella. It’s hard to keep one’s mind on snow and cold and greenery and holly berries and sleigh rides when in spite of air conditioning and skimpy sundresses there is sweat dripping from the tip of your nose.
However – I have been complimented about how real and evocative of time and place my previous Christmas novella anthologies have been, and they were written under similar unseasonable (for the work) circumstances, so I guess I’ve been doing something right.


But isn’t that the job of a writer? To create a world into which the reader can immerse themselves, feeling, seeing, knowing what the characters feel? To transport the reader into that world?
Writers are creators of worlds, whether that world is a snowbound country estate, a shack beside the cool orange seas of a distant planet, a year distant in either the past or the future, or even the here and now of our own home street. And it is our job to take the reader there.


So how does one do it? That varies; if it is a here-and-now story set in a pleasant American suburb, that is something to which most readers can relate without too much exposition or world building, even if they do not now nor have ever lived in one. On the other hand, if the story is set on a distant star, where gravity is minimal and the three orbiting suns insure that darkness is an unknown concept, the writer has to do more spadework in creating this world. Same if the story takes place in a great stone castle in the Dark Ages; most people have at least seen pictures of castles, but have little to no knowledge of the socio-political-religious attitudes/beliefs which not are only reflective of the time but which formed the society and belief systems of the time.


Another thing that writers must be aware of is that once they have created this world – be it tidy American suburb, distant star or long-past history – they must be true to it both in construction and action. For example, there is no way I could believably have the characters in my Christmas novella go out and sunbathe in between snow flurries. If my story were set in the distant future where the weather was controlled and there were strict time systems for each variety of weather, it could be perfectly believable that my characters could turn off the snow, set the sun to ‘melt’ and then go out for a nice long sunbath… as long as I had set this part of my world up correctly.
And the final thing to remember is once your world is built and works and you are sure you will have no trouble in maintaining this soap bubble of belief, you must craft a story – a good story – that will fit into the strictures of these parameters and profit from an interaction with them.


Taken like that, the prospect of writing a novel becomes both overwhelming and terrifying, all too often leaving the poor writer feeling like a trick seal who must balance eight or ten balls on its nose. It’s a wonder anyone ever writes.

Conformity – Celebration or Curse?

by Janis Patterson

There is a plague spreading through my neighborhood and no, I don’t mean the recent Covid Crazies. This new assault is visible, concrete and sublimely ugly. I live in a nice, mid-century development of nice, middle-class custom homes, mostly single story and at one time all of natural brick. The different hues and shadings of the different bricks were beautiful, and one of the most appealing facets of the area. A former cotton field, this was starkly bare land when my parents first built this home, but as people moved in they planted trees and now we live in a forest of towering trees, mainly oaks and crepe myrtles, some twice as tall as the houses they shelter.

But that is changing, and not for the better. The soaring price of real estate and congruent punishing taxes has priced a lot of the old residents out of their homes, many of which have been snapped up by developers and flippers. (My thoughts on these two categories of humanoids are not suitable for public pixilation!) Sadly, the result is that our neighborhood is subject to both the denigration and degradation of conformity, and the lovely old brick is being covered by thick layers of paint with no shading, no personality and definitely no taste.

Painted almost exclusively a dead flat white or a dark, depressing grey, these once beautiful and individual homes now resemble nothing so much as the love child of Soviet brutalist architecture and a rogue box of Legos. In the setting of gracious old trees and carefully tended gardens the result is not only ugly but jarringly distressing.

One of the flippers proudly said the painted brick trend was new, modern and made a more cohesive neighborhood. He then asked me what I thought of his newly decorated grey lump, whereupon I asked him did he mean other than the fact it was hideous? Hmmm… even in this riotous real estate market the painted brick houses seem to be moving more slowly than the traditional brick. Perhaps the concept of good taste may be taking a beating, but is not yet truly dead.

So, you are doubtless thinking, has this woman lost her mind? What does this have to do with writing?

I fully believe there is such a thing as synchronicity amongst human beings. Bringing individual architecture (and remember, this is a neighborhood of custom-custom houses, each individually designed and built) into a fast (and relatively cheap) homogeneity in order to appeal to the (theoretically) vastest amount of people is a form of seeking the lowest common denominator with no thought or regard for individual tastes. The same thing happened in publishing.

Remember before the tsunami of self-publishing became practicable? Remember the pigeonholes of genre fiction? The ever-tightening pigeonholes as dictated by traditional publishing? If you didn’t write to their exact specifications you didn’t get contracted. They always wanted (and I quote) “… the same as (insert name of currently popular author here) but different…” Forget creativity. Forget individuality. Conformity at all costs. I can remember when some publishers even put out tip sheets, dictating what should happen in a manuscript almost to the exact page.

Now I understand that traditional publishers have to make a profit – that is right and natural – but don’t the readers have rights as well, mainly the right to read whatever permutation of fiction they want? If the trads dictated that Regency romance is to be super-sexy with only the barest nod of the head to history, what happens to the reader who finds written sex boring and is fanatic about historical accuracy? Or vice-versa? What about in mysteries the dictum that a dead body should appear in the first chapter, the closer to the first page the better?

Thus self-publishing was born, and thank God for it! It has freed writers to write what they want and get it before the public, and given readers to find the exact kind of book/genre they want. Sexy psychic vampire nuns on the planet Zeon, anyone?

Yet a certain conformity has crept in there, too, as more and more writers write to market. If talking cats who live in a needlework shop and solve crimes with their telekinetic powers are suddenly big, there are star-chasing writers who will writer them, often with widely varying degrees of both success and ability. At least there will always be variety, no matter if some constantly try to write to market without regard as to if the market is right for them or not.

Also the indie author is getting shafted by more and more pirates/thieves and are even getting short shrift from the sales outlets which make money from their sales. Amazon has a monthly subscription program for readers called Kindle Unlimited, which it pushes far more than books that are ‘wide’ – i.e., available from other retailers. A self-published book written by an unknown can be so far down in the algorithms that even with a search for the exact title and author you might have to go 10 or 15 pages in to find it.

For a self-published author to be in KU they must be totally exclusive to KU, and woe betide any lone outlet which has been neglected to be removed by any retailer, no matter how small, distant or obscure. The writer will have that book pulled instantly from KU and even runs the risk of having his entire account and all his books cancelled.

Nor does it stop there. Unfairly, traditional publishers can put a book into KU even while keeping the title wide. Here conformity only seems to affect the independents. There are also pricing/payment options available to the trads that are denied to self-publishers. I cannot help but wonder if the trad books on Amazon are as plagued by the buy, read, return, refund plague which afflicts self-published books – and their authors’ incomes,  but that is a rant for another day.

We have come a long way from the tastelessness of painted brick to the pitfalls and traps of self-publishing, but it is all part and parcel of the curse of conformity which seems to be infecting our land. America was founded on the right to individuality and self-responsibility, be it business, bricks or reading material. Celebrate this by supporting your courageous and dedicated self-publishers. Go buy one of their books today. You’ll enjoy it.

What’s Old is New Again – Explorations in the Serial Format


by Janis Patterson

If you’ve been reading my various posts and blogs over time, you are probably aware that I bore very easily. That’s why I write in so many different genres and so many variations of my name. However, sometimes even variety become stale and boring, so lately other occupations had been sending their seductive lures my way.

Then came Vella. (Sounds sort of like the title of a rom-com, doesn’t it?)

For those of you who don’t know, Vella is a new platform by Amazon Kindle that is sold serial-format, i.e., chapter by chapter. (Shades of Charles Dickens, not that I am comparing myself to Charles Dickens…) Sort of like the old Saturday morning movie serials we old people remember.

Being very bored one afternoon I thought I’d give it a try… and stepped into a new world. Before going to bed – happily exhausted, I remember – I had written three episodes. Within just a short time I had finished all thirty-six episodes of what I called GHOSTS OF BELLE FLEUR and had them loaded on the Vella platform.

I had already started another story, too, a crime-and-chase fem-jep tale called THE SWABIAN AFFAIR, set in Stuttgart during the time of the Christmas market. At just nineteen episodes it’s roughly half the length of GHOSTS. Both are now available on Kindle Vella.

Quite honestly, this serial format is so much fun I started yet another story, this one set in South Carolina called THE HOUSE WITH THE RED DOOR and have fourteen episodes finished. The first couple of episodes should go live next week. (One neat thing is that the first three episodes of every Vella story are always free!)

So far all my stories have been written by my Janis Susan May persona, but I’m planning to do a murder story under my mystery name of Janis Patterson. This, of course, will require more forethought, but it will be an interesting process.

As I come to the end of each episode I have to think, “What can I do to these poor people now?” Although there does have to be a cohesive story arc from the beginning to the end, I find there is so much more latitude in this unabashedly ‘hook-ish’ serial format. I can pull all kinds of circumstances from my little bag of tricks. Usually I decide on something that is either so intriguing the reader can’t wait to get to the next installment, or something so off-the-wall and unexpected that they’re startled and can’t wait to get to the next installment.

I know that writing and reading tastes are cyclical (just look at the rebirth of the serial format!) and that what is fresh and new and fun now will eventually become tomorrow’s tired and old hat drag, but I’m going to enjoy it while I’m here. The best thing is that so far I have not been desperate enough to have a T-Rex rise from the lake and eat all the characters, as happened with a regular book not too long ago! But it’s a nice twist to have up my sleeve if needed…

Serial novels… wonder what will come back next?