A Pantser’s Kind of Outline, by Amber Foxx

I sometimes say I don’t outline, but in a way I do—backwards. After I write a chapter, I take notes on the plot progression, including the events that might be clues or might be loose ends. This becomes a clean-up guide as well as a quick review of the story structure when I finish improvising and following my characters where they choose to go. I also note emerging themes and subplots. Later, I use the notes as revision tools. They help me in deciding what to keep, expand, or cut.

Having reached the near-end of my work in progress, the crisis and the partial solution to the mystery, I now have the denouement chapter to write, the one where I tie up the last loose ends. In looking back over my notes, I find about half are tied up. As for the remaining ones, many are so minor I can cut the lines that set them up, while others are significant questions that have to be answered. I’m glad I kept that list. Now I have something bordering an outline in advance for the final chapter, as well as a plan for future cuts and reorganization.


The sale on books one and two in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series will end June 13. Until then, you can still download The Calling free and buy Shaman’s Blues for 99 cents. No murder, just mystery.

It’s Finally Happened … by Amber Foxx

I have a post due, and I have no idea what to write. I got Shadow Family back from my editor, after the usual back and forth about what to rewrite and why, and now I’m going through the book for the last time with her changes. The last time before sending it to my proofreader, that is. And then I’ll look it over again once those corrections are in. The upside of all this is that I’ve practically memorized all my books from so much repeated exposure to every page. I’m not likely to forget details that could affect the next book. I maintain a file of master notes on the series just in case, keeping track of characters’ ages, birthdays,  and unique mannerisms, names of minor secondary characters, family trees, and more, but I have the file of my protagonist’s personal memories and life experiences in my head. Okay, back to work. My readers are waiting for this book to come out.


Committed to a Character

A fellow writer in an online discussion group asked how other authors feel about their main characters. Why do we stick with them and want to write about them?

When I started writing my series, I needed a lead character who could solve the type of mysteries I wanted to write. The “villains” aren’t killers. Some commit other types of crimes such as theft or stalking; some are fraudulent shamans or healers; some are corrupt or dangerous in a personal and spiritual way without breaking the law. My protagonist, Mae Martin, is psychic, though that’s not the only skill she brings to solving mysteries. Like any amateur sleuth, she’s observant, analytical, persistent, curious, and she’s the kind of person people turn to for help.

Except for being psychic, Mae is based on a good friend (the friend knows I did this). If I feel I’m losing touch with her, I just have to ask myself what my friend would do or say. She’s generous and nurturing, but she’ll only put up with so much, and when she speaks her mind, she can be a handful. Her willingness to help others is both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness, because she can go overboard. Mae sometimes catches herself in the act of getting too wrapped up another person’s troubles, but she ends up doing it anyway.

My friend, who is a good bit younger than me, is on her third marriage. So far, Mae is dodging number three, but she has what she calls a “man habit,” and hasn’t managed to go as long without a relationship as she meant to at the end of marriage number two. One of the things I enjoy about her is that she was raised to be a nice Southern lady, but she’s feisty and she likes to win. When she seems too good, I remember her competitive streak, and her bad choices as well as her good ones. I like her for her faults as much as for her strengths.

I once read a blog post in which an author said to give your characters just three traits—don’t make them more complex or contradictory. Interesting idea, and it may work for certain subgenres of mystery, but it’s not my approach to building characters. Though I don’t have to reveal and explain every aspect of their psyches, complex people feel more real to me, and they apparently seem real to my readers.

Some readers are deeply attached to Mae’s boyfriend, and they tend to take his side when the couple has fights; others take her side. I was strangely flattered when a friend asked me to create a character based on her so she and Mae could go through a conflict and work out some problems. This friend feels that she and Mae don’t get along as well as they did in the first few books. “I want to start out as her nemesis and become her friend,” she said. I’m inclined to do it. There’s already a character in one of the two books in progress who resembles this woman in age, appearance, and occupation. She and the real person who inspired Mae strike me as incompatible, though they’re two of my closest friends. They live in different states and have never met, but I’ll have fun throwing them together in fiction and seeing how they both grow and change through the encounter.

On Ramona DeFelice Long’s blog, she once suggested a character “I’m not” exercise: having the character list their perceptions of what they are not, and then checking to see if these things helped or hindered the character, and if these perceptions were static or changing. I found it helpful to look at how Mae sees herself, not just how I see her. After all, we can have inaccurate perceptions of ourselves. She doesn’t necessarily know herself as well as  she could, and that’s where the potential for growth comes in—the shortcomings that get her into trouble and challenge her to learn.

What keeps you committed to your series protagonist?


Stories Behind the Story

Amber in tree final

It was the mystical—some people would say woo-woo—aspect of Santa Fe that inspired the plot of my new book Soul Loss.  I had a friend there, an actress and water aerobics instructor, who channeled beings from the Pleiades, and her husband, an actor, did a little energy healing on the side. Through them I met a man, a gardener by trade, who could see energy. He said that most people had a dark crystal over their heads, and if they were ready, he could remove it, but the spiritual opening would be intense, and once it was off, it couldn’t be put back. This is only a small sample of the diversity of other-worldly connections I’ve encountered in the City Different.

When I started writing it four years ago, Soul Loss was meant to be the second book in the Mae Martin series. I began with the scene that is still Chapter One, in which a fortune teller gets a strange and chilling client. I knew what Mae’s role would be, and the nature of the mystery, which revolved around the troubles affecting a psychic fair. Then, about five chapters into the first draft, Jamie Ellerbee popped up out of the blue as a minor supporting character. With his eccentricities, his complex history, and his intense personality, he took over the book. I set Soul Loss aside and did the final revisions on The Calling, in which Mae’s life took an unexpected turn and a new world opened up for her. Parts of my original draft of Soul Loss split off and became Shaman’s Blues, and then Snake Face, giving Mae time to get to know Jamie and to adapt to living in New Mexico. Then, I could finally get back to what was now book four.

The seed for the scene I mentioned was planted by a sign I saw on the garden wall of a small adobe house many years ago: Fortune teller. Palm Readings. Tarot. I was curious and wanted to go in, but didn’t have time to stop. Later, when I thought to look for the sign again, I couldn’t remember which street it had been on. The idea of a traditional fortune teller in Santa Fe stuck in my mind, though, mixed in with a memory of a young woman of Romani ancestry I’d met while I was in graduate school. She gave occasional Tarot card and palm readings in the lobby of the campus center. I don’t remember what her reading for me said, but I couldn’t forget her forthright personality. She didn’t fit the stereotype of “Gypsy fortune teller,” but she was one. I began to picture her as the person inside the little house with the sign I couldn’t find again.

Another encounter that became a seed of this story took place at a complementary and alternative medicine conference. The workshops and presentations were enlightening—except for one, with a famous neo-shamanist. I wondered if the people who said they had visions and met guides were making things up, or if I was biased by prior experience with more traditional ceremonies. A few years after that, I met two women in a small town who conducted shamanic journey groups for twenty-five dollars a session. Their credentials?  A weekend training with this same famous teacher. Could they really have learned to be shamans? The question stayed with me and found its way into Soul Loss as part of a mystery only a psychic could solve.

soul ebook

Soul Loss

The fourth Mae Martin psychic mystery

Spring winds blow strange times into the City Different:

Mae Martin’s friend Jamie Ellerbee has dropped out of her life—and perhaps his own life as well. A teenaged model breaks contact with her parents after an encounter with a Santa Fe shaman. A psychic fair can’t recruit any psychics. Something is wrong with all of them … except one.

Faced with mysteries that reach into in the spirit world, Mae takes on her most challenging work yet—work that puts her gifts as a psychic and a healer at risk.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

To learn more about the background behind the book, check out my guest posts on these great blogs:

On a yoga’s healing process: http://killerhobbies.blogspot.com/2015/06/yoga-stories.html

On the concept of soul loss: https://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com/2015/06/08/guest-blog-losing-and-recovering-the-soul-by-author-amber-foxx

To help new readers to get caught up on series, the first three books are discounted to $2.99 through August 18th. Happy summer reading!


Goodreads giveaway for Soul Loss: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/143009-soul-loss