Sunday, March 30, 2014

Life of a Series Character by M.K. Graff

 Writing a series is a bit like forecasting the weather: you don’t really know if what is forecast is going to happen. When I set out to write the Nora Tierney Mysteries, I created a vague story arc for my protagonist’s life over six books to track her growth and changes. In another life I swear I lived in the UK and wanted to set my series there after my travels always made me feel like I was coming home. But I knew I had to allow myself to deviate from this outline to keep Nora fresh and alive.

First I created a “bible” for my recurring protagonist. Nora is an American living in the UK because I thought it would be interesting to see how she adjusted to a place with different traditions and slang from what she was used to, things that would go beyond learning to drive on the other side of the car and road. I gave her a background I was familiar with, and a reason to be there—a transfer from the US wing of the magazine she works for to its UK branch. When the series opens, Nora has won a contest and taken a leave to work on the children’s books she’s always wanted to write.

With her backstory firmly in mind, although I parsed out that information over several books, I added a major complication in Book One, The Blue Virgin. As the book opens, Nora is in the early stages of an unplanned pregnancy and preparing to leave Oxford to work with illustrator Simon Ramsey in Cumbria. Her fiancé, a scientist working for the British Government, has died in a plane crash several months before. Nora was on the verge of breaking that engagement when Paul died. When she finds out few weeks later that she is pregnant, she makes the decision to have the baby and raise it as a single parent.

That particular decision has made life both easy and difficult for me in several ways. In The Blue Virgin, Nora’s budding pregnancy creates sympathy wherever she goes. She’s a journalist by nature and not above a bit of creative lying to get an interview, so it’s second nature to her to use her pregnancy to gain entrée to speak to suspects when her best friend becomes the main suspect in a murder investigation.

But in Book Two, The Green Remains, Nora is heavily pregnant, and that comprises her ability to move around and be active. Now she’s living in the Lake District, temporarily ensconced with Simon and his sister, Kate, at the lodge they run. They’ve offered her a home while she awaits the birth of her child, and she and Simon grow close as they work on her books. When Simon is implicated in the murder of the son of the town’s wealthiest patron, Nora wants to swing into action to clear his name—but that swing became more of a lumbering due to her tiredness, hormonal moods, and inability to see her feet.

In The Scarlet Wench, due out this May, Nora’s baby is almost six months old when a theatre troupe arrive at Ramsey Lodge to put on Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit. A series of accidents will escalate to murder—with Nora on the premises with her infant. Great motive for getting her involved in finding the murderer, right?. But it also means that I had to account for that baby in all of Nora’s activities. She can’t just run off to sleuth with a child who needs feeding, diapering, playtime and naps. Boy, did I create a mess for myself!

And then there’s the issue of her love life. Nora’s back story includes her father drowning when she was a teenager, on the same night she turned down his invitation to go sailing for a date. For years she felt responsible for his death, carrying around the conviction that if she’d been with him she could have saved them both. Nora’s mother, back in Connecticut, has never felt blamed Nora and is remarried after many years of being alone. But guilt affects Nora’s relationships with men; she chooses unwisely, and puts up walls to keep them from her inner thoughts. This compartmentalizing, which has served her well in other areas of her life and allowed her to get ahead in her career, becomes a liability when she’s attracted to the detective she met in Oxford. In The Scarlet Wench, DI Declan Barnes arrives to cement their budding relationship. Besides her own fears, there’s that baby to consider. Will Declan understand she’s truly a package deal?  Will she screw up their relationship by allowing him only into certain parts of her life? And don’t forget there’s a murderer living under the roof of Ramsey Lodge.

These are some of the questions Nora must answer as she forges ahead in her personal relationships. They are separate issues from the mysteries in each volume and I hope readers of the series will see her grow and change as she irons out what she wants from life.

Bio: Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney Mysteries, set in England and featuring an American protagonist. Written in traditional English mystery style, complete with chapter epigrams and a cast of characters, they are a mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural. The series are available from in hard copy and Kindle; signed copies from Bridle Path Press (


Saturday, March 29, 2014

The First Eleven Days of My Blog Tour

On the last day of March my month long Blog Tour for Murder in the Worst Degree Begins:

Here are the first eleven days:

March 31
A Day in the Life of Officer Stacey Milligan

April 1 

Cop Culture Researched

April 2
Gordon Butler

April 3 
Old Guys at McDonald’s

April 4  
My Life as an Author

April 5 
Mother Nature and Her Influence of my Writing

April 6 
Short Excerpt and Review

April 7  Interview

April 8  
Why My Characters Won’t Let Go

April 9    

April 10  
My Critique Group and What it Does for Me

Remember, the person who leaves a comment on the most blogs will have their name used for a character in my next book.

Murder in the Worst Degree, #10 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series.

F. M. Meredith aka Marilyn Meredith

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Left Coast Crime Report

I had a super great time at Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA.

This was my second LCC there, and I'd also gone to Bouchercon at the same venue.

Madeline Gornell met me in Porterville and we headed off to Monterey, yakking all the way. Our hotel room was great except for the shower--the drain was stopped up and the faucet dripped when showering. A plumber came and fixed the drain, but the drip continued on.

Of course we ran into many, many authors that we knew and we attended two panels: The Life Of Pi about real life investigators who pen mysteries--fun.

Then we went to Sue Grafton's interview--also delightful. I'd seen her in the elevator and asked if she'd remember being at the Soquel mystery conference held in a rustic camp many, many years ago. She said she did.

Madeline and I had dinner in the hotel dining room with Ellen Kirschman. Good food and conversation.

Friday, after the Sisters in Crime breakfast, I want to the panel with Jan Burke, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller reminiscing about when they began their writing careers. Fascinating.

When Setting Matters was another great panel with Caroline (Charles) Todd, Timothy Hallinan, Craig Johnson, Sara J. Henry, and William Kent Krueger. (I was tickled to get the opportunity to chat briefly with Kent and his wife.) Also Kent won best mystery with his Ordinary Grace.

I spent some time visiting with Libby Fischer Hellmann in the lobby.

My panel was that afternoon, Writing the Native American Protagonist. Panelist were Deborah Ledford, Shannon Baker, Dorothy Black Crow, me and--ta da--Craig Johnson who writes the Longmire series. Thanks to him we had a big crowd.
He is charming and tells great stories.

I'd attended another panel right before mine called Light, Camera, Actions! Hollywood Mysteries. One of the panelists was Kathryn Leigh Scott who starred in Dark Shadows years ago. I had the opportunity to speak to her at another time and told her how much my oldest girls and I loved that show.

That evening we went to the wharf for dinner with Lorna and Larry Collins, Victoria Heckman, and Barbara Hodges.

Saturday came around quickly.

I worked for two hours in the Hospitality Suite, mainly selling raffle tickets.

I spent about an hour visiting with a fan--someone I hadn't seen for a long, long time. We had fun catching up.

A fun panel was Responsibilities and Issues for Women Writing Women with Kelli Stancley, Lisa Brackman, Robin Burcell, Marcia Clark (yes, the Marcia Clark), and Sara J. Henry.

Lunch was at a crepes place--yummy.

Saw the end of Behind the Badge which Ellen Kirschmann moderated.

At 5, the OTP authors in attendance at LCC met in the bar with our publisher, Billie Johnson.

Two more arrived after the picture was taken.

Saturday evening was the Awards Banquet. I was fortunate to be able to sit at Naomi Hirahara's table.
But--dinner didn't start until nearly 8 p.m. (my usual bedtime) and I faded before dessert and left.

In the a.m., had breakfast with Bobbye and Howard Johnson--long time friends I met in Omaha at Mayhem in the Midlands, but we haven't crossed paths for years. We had a great time yakking away.

Beside packing up, I attended Madeline's panel, Good Things in Small Presses.

Madeline Gornell and me.

After telling folks good bye--we hopped in the car and headed home. Hubby and middle daughter met off of 99 and 190 and I transferred cars after hugging Madeline good bye.

There were many others that I saw at LCC, too many to mention--but it was a great convention.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Your Fictional World Needs a Setting or Location

Characters and plot are essentials in creating a fictional world. But that world also needs a setting or location.

Location is as important in fiction as in real estate. Our characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They need a place, so to speak, to hang their hats. And readers expect a certain amount of reality in that setting.

The Sticks Hetrick series is set in Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania, a fictional town of my creation near Harrisburg, the state capitol. There is a Swatara Creek and even a township bearing the name, but the town is my invention. It’s representative of many of the older Susquehanna River towns which have become bedroom communities for the more metropolitan areas of the commonwealth.

The town, which sits on a promontory in a bend of the stream for which it’s named, owes its existence to one Jacob Koontz who acquired the site circa 1754 after immigrating from Germany. Koontz opened a tavern in a large limestone building which stands yet today on the square, though it now serves as the town’s municipal building, police station and library.

Like similar small towns initially dependent on agriculture, its economy was later stabilized by the addition of a shoe factory, a poultry plant and other small industries. Agreement on naming the town got near the fistfight stage after incorporation in 1958 until it was resolved with the compromise of naming the community for the creek.

Because Swatara Creek is my creation I was free to lay out the streets, describe the homes and other structures and develop businesses as I saw fit. In a review of “Something In Common,” the first novel in the series, Judy Clemens, author of the Grim Reaper and Stella Crown mysteries, said I did “…a wonderful job of bringing his fictional small Pennsylvania town to life by getting us into the minds of a multitude of characters.” Coming from a writer for whom I have great respect, I believe I did my homework on this one.

Save for “Practice To Deceive,” in which Sticks and his love interest, Anita Bailey, took a Caribbean cruise, all of the books have been set in the environs of Swatara Creek and the locale has become familiar to readers.

“A Burning Desire” is the sixth in the series.

The past comes back to haunt former police chief Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick and his protégé, Officer Flora Vastine as an outbreak of arson shakes residents of rural Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania.
At first, the minor nature of the fires inclines authorities to see them as pranks, possibly the work of juveniles. Then, tension increases in the wake of a murder at the site of one fire and an increase in the value of targets.
Hetrick and Flora must confront troubling, dangerous people from the past, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.

To purchase books in the Hetrick series:

Other places to find J. R. Lindermuth:

Bio: The author of 13 novels and a non-fiction history, J. R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper editor and currently serves as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC and the Short Mystery Society. His two children and four grandsons do their best to keep him busy and out of trouble. When not writing, reading or occupied with family he likes to walk, draw, listen to music and learn something new everyday.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Genesis of the Sherlock Holmes Detective Club by Gloria Alden

I came to teaching rather late in my life. After the death of my oldest son to cancer when he was eighteen, I decided to do something with my life that made a difference so I enrolled in college for the first time when I was forty-two years old. I chose elementary education because working with kids was something I’d always done; four children of my own in less than five years, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, CCD at my church and even a short stint as a Head Start teacher. Even though I was encouraged by some professors to change my goals towards teaching at the college level or at least high school, I ignored them. I knew what age I wanted to teach.

After graduating I got a third grade position in a small elementary school in the college town of Hiram, Ohio. I loved teaching this age and taught third grade for twenty years before retiring to spend more time writing and gardening, and with other things I enjoyed doing. Actually, I wanted to retire because the district we were in consolidated all four elementary schools into a mega intermediate school that required classes to switch so I no longer could have one group of kids I could teach all day.  In a school like that, I couldn’t have taught what I did to create The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club.

 I did have a Sherlock Holmes Detective Club in my classroom. I had numerous third grade level mystery books with two or three copies of each. Once a day partners – or sometimes three if we had an uneven number – would get together to read a chapter of the book they were reading. They could go anywhere in the room and curl up together. They had booklets I’d made where at the end of each chapter, they told what had happened, the characters, problems, etc. When the book was finished they were given a paper cutout of a boy or girl to write the title of the book on as well as their names and it was posted on the wall near a large laminated picture of Sherlock Holmes with his deer stalker hat and a microscope.

One year as a writing prompt, I brought in an old suitcase I claimed I’d found on my back steps that morning. Afraid that the owner would claim I’d stolen something from it, I’d brought it to school so the class and I could open it together and check it out. The kids were so excited about that and some even got magnifying glasses to look closely at the items. Most of what went on is in the book. One of the few things not in the book is they never found out I conned them. At the beginning because of older siblings or parents some had doubts, but as letters came from all over the country, postmarked and unopened, (Thanks to family and friends around the country who forwarded them.) they believed and became quite worried at times about Alice Van Brocken. Ivy, the narrator in the chapters with the class, did not really do the narrating. I added that, but Ivy was a real student. Only her name was changed. Because I did this twice, about seven years apart when I knew none in the class had older siblings to spoil the fun. I saved the letters from both classes.

Of course, I couldn’t include more than forty students in the book so I picked six girls and six boys to use. All were actual students of mine, but I changed the names and some details. Jose was actually a boy name Joe. For the most part, the letters are what the students wrote, but sometimes I combined a few letters here and there, or since the boy modeled on Andrew only sent along jokes a few times, I added a joke with every one of his letters to keep his persona.

One of the highlights of the year is when Alice Van Brocken actually visited during the last week of school. Of course, there is no real Alice Van Brocken. She’s totally from my imagination created a little like Mrs. Pollifax from that series of mysteries. The Alice who showed up was my sister Elaine. She was in her early fifties and not in her seventies like Alice, but kids think anyone older than their parents is old. I warned Elaine that the students would want to see her demonstrate karate and to tell them she’d injured her back when helping to capture the jewel thieves in Seattle.

Elaine taught seventh and eighth grade science in another country. Her school finished before ours did. Both times she came when a student opened the door at her knock, she swooped into the room beaming and wearing a full cotton skirt and a straw hat. Because I’d sent her pictures of my students, she was able to identify a few and told them how much she appreciated all the help they’d given her, etc.

 When she took questions, of course someone wanted to her to show them some karate moves. She went into a serious spiel about how it was a discipline and not a form of entertainment and then suddenly she let out a yell, flung out her arms in a fake karate chop and gave a kick which her full skirt covered up the fake that it wasn’t a real karate kick. The first time she did that, I almost lost it. It was all I could do not to collapse in laughter, but the kids believed it. They squealed and when a short time later it was time to pack up to take their stuff out to the playground for a short recess before the buses came, instead they all lined up to get Alice Van Brocken’s autograph.

Shortly before that, though, she’d told them a friend who lived in The Netherlands wanted her to come over and help her track down the thieves who were stealing very expansive tulip bulbs. She went into some detail about that, too, but the kids all groaned when she said she was going. They had worried about her the whole year and didn’t want her to risk her life again.

Do I feel badly about my con job? No. They learned to write letters. They became better readers. They learned more about where different places were. And most of all, their imagination was sparked and they became more caring and impressed with what one brave woman was doing on her search for justice.

What goal did I have in writing this book? I wanted to see classroom sets in classrooms with the teacher reading Alice’s letters, and different students chosen each day to read the letters and dialogues of the students in the book. The students could sit as partners so even those not reading that day could silently read along. I hope it happens in more and more classrooms, not so much because I want an increase in sales as I want to see both teachers and students enjoying Alice’s trip around the country.

Gloria Alden’s Catherine Jewell Mystery series are The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, Ladies of the Garden Club, and a middle-grade book, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club. Her published short stories include “The Professor’s Books” in FISH TALES, The Lure of the Rainbow in FISH NETS,Once Upon a Gnome” in STRANGELY FUNNY and “Norman’s Skeleton’s” in ALL HALLOWS EVIL and several stories in the e-zine, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable; Mincemeat is for Murder and The Body in the Red Silk Dress. 
Her short story “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed” won the Love is Murder contest in 2011. She blogs every Thursday on Writers Who Kill. She lives on a small farm in NE Ohio with assorted critters, including two ponies, six hens, a barn cat, two house cats, a canary, two ring-necked African Doves and her tricolor collie, Maggie.
Thank you so much for visiting me today, Gloria. I loved this story--and I know the children in your class did too. 

Friday, March 21, 2014


Hi Marilyn, it’s so nice to be back, it’s been ages since we’ve visited on “Marilyn’s Musings.”  I love having a chance to reconnect with your readers and let them know about my latest release A Jane Austen Encounter.

I need to explain first that, although the title might sound like it, A Jane Austen Encounter, is neither a Regency period Austen spin-off nor a time travel adventure— as much fun as either of those might be. A Jane Austen Encounter is a contemporary mystery in my Elizabeth & Richard literary suspense series.
English professors Elizabeth and Richard are celebrating twenty years of marriage with their dream vacation— visiting all of Jane Austen’s homes in England. But not even the overpowering personality of their Oxford guide  nor the careful attentions of the new friends they make can keep their tour free from lurking alarms. When a box of old documents is donated to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath Richard volunteers to help sort through it. Only hours later he finds Claire, the Centre Director, bleeding on her office floor.

Like all stories. This one has deep roots in my subconscius. To get to the bottom we have to go back more years than I care to count to when I was a sophomore at Nampa High School. Somehow, my English teacher, little Mr. Hodgsen— who looked like Charlie Chaplin— knew me better than I knew myself and while everyone else in my class was allowed to choose their own reading book, he required me to delve into the English classics. I’ve never looked back. Nor have I quit saying thank you to Mr. Hodgsen because my love for Jane Austen has grown and flowered for more than half a century.

That made Jane Austen a natural subject for one of my literary suspense novels, having done Dorothy L. Sayers and Shakespeare in earlier installments of Elizabeth and Richard’s story. (The Shadow of Reality and A Midsummer Eve’s Nightmare)

Because one of my goals as a writer is to give my readers a “you are there” experience, I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited. That meant tagging along when I sent Elizabeth and Richard on a wonderful trip, following the Jane Austen Trail. And now I invite my readers to join our adventure:

Steventon Church
Come along to the beautiful city of Bath; stay in the Chawton House Library and visit the charming cottage where Jane’s writing flowered and the nearby Steventon church where her father was rector and her own faith established; stand by her grave in Winchester Cathedral; and enjoy your time at the lovely country estate of Godmersham. But don’t let your guard down. Evil lurks even in the genteel world of Jane Austen.

Let me whet your appetite with a few more pictures from my trip.

Cottage where Jane Austen wrote

Godmersham Estate
House Where Jane Austen Died
If you want to see more, my complete research album is here:

Donna Fletcher Crow at the Jane Austen Centre
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 43 books, mostly novels of British history.  The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.  She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho.  They have 4 adult children and 13 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: 
You can follow her on Facebook at:

Thank you so much for visiting today, Donna! You always have such wonderful photos.

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Origins of Touching the Moon by Lisa M. Airey

Hello Everyone!

It is a pleasure to be here and I thank Marilyn for hosting me!

I’m a native Marylander, but set my novel “Touching the Moon” in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The book has a strong Native American component and readers are always curious as to why I chose to incorporate that theme in my novel.

Back in the 1800s, my great-great grandmother and her husband walked from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Maryland. She was Sioux. I set my story there to honor her, and I do my best to be as authentic as I can when portraying Sioux rite and ritual in my novel.

Finding authentic material is tough. The sacred rites are sacred and not shared with outsiders. Information is passed on verbally, but only to the Sioux community itself. Little is written down. Marilyn mentions this very real issue in her first Tempe Crabtree novel “Deadly Omen”.

In my story, I incorporate a Sioux "Making Relatives" ceremony. It is both complicated and multi-faceted and I researched this topic exhaustively to try and hit very close to the spirit of this rite in prose.

In this scene, Gray Walker is inviting his love interest to become a member of the Sioux Nation. Julie has a couple of concerns: adopting an entire nation of relatives overnight and sharing a tipi with Gray. She has discovered that, in the past, sharing a buffalo robe was an act of matrimony.

“I need to be clear, here,” said Gray. “You are being asked to join because you gave where you saw a need. That’s what this ceremony is all about…taking care of one another…lending a helping hand…making a difference.”
“I’m very flattered, Gray. Thank you,” she said quietly. “But help me to better understand. What is expected of me if I accept this invitation? Are there duties and obligations?”
“Ah, Julie, in this ceremony, we are committing to you, not the other way around. As part of the Sioux Nation, you will have ‘human resources’. If you ever have a need, we will do our best to answer the shortfall.”
She nodded. “What happens at the ceremony?”
“I will give you a gift. It would be appropriate for you to give me one in return. The Sioux abide by a steadfast rule. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. Any gift that is symbolic of that spirit would be appropriate.”
“It’s like Christmas?”
“Yes,” he continued. “But, there is more to this than gift giving. As your sponsor, I will feed you a piece of buffalo meat from my hand. You will also feed me. It’s a symbolic gesture of care and protection.”
“Like the cake ritual at a wedding?”
“Yes, but afterwards, there is feasting, tremendous feasting. Everyone will try to stuff you full.”
“Like Thanksgiving?”
He nodded. “Like Thanksgiving.”
Julie laughed and her laughter was low and easy and relaxed. He smiled with her.
“Will you accept?”
Julie took a deep breath, then nodded.
“Good,” he said. “I’ll pick you up Saturday morning and bring you back Monday evening.”
“How long is this ceremony?”
“I will need you for three days and two nights.”
“Where will we stay?”
“In my tipi.”
“That’s a very public statement.” Her voice was heavy and concerned. “Everyone is going to scream ‘buffalo robe!’”
He chuckled low and deep.
“You laugh! How can you laugh?”
“I like the idea.”

“Touching the Moon” is a novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. If you’d like to read more, the first chapter is posted on my website: Do stop on by! And thanks for having me here today!

“Touching the Moon” is a novel of romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. If you’d like to read more, the first chapter is posted on my website: Do stop on by! And thanks for having me here today!

Touching the Moon
Lisa M. Airey

Genre: Romantic Suspense with a Paranormal Twist

Publisher: Aakenbaaken & Kent, NY

ISBN: 978-1-938436-05-5

Number of pages: 272
Word Count: 89K

Cover Artist:

Amazon     BN

Book Description:

A gifted healer with a genetic secret and a haunted past, Julie Hastings takes her new veterinary degree to South Dakota hoping to bury memories of a physically abusive stepfather and unprotective mother.

Although intending to lead a quiet life, she finds herself relentlessly pursued by two unwelcome suitors: the Chief of Police and a powerful member of the Sioux Indian Nation.

The man she chooses shatters her world-view.

Her stepfather taught her that not all monsters run on four legs. Now Julie must face another truth—some beasts are good.

About the Author:

Lisa has worked in the wine industry for 20 years, the most recent eight in education with the Society of Wine Educators and the French Wine Society. In these roles, she has authored and/or edited wine study manuals and developed or expanded certification programs for the wine trade.

In her free-time, she writes fiction...naturally, with a glass of wine at the elbow.

She is a Maryland Master Gardener and puts that training into practice in her sizable vegetable garden. To assist her, she has recruited the services of a very helpful staff: two Chinese geese, two mini-Rex rabbits and 2,000 red wigglers (worms)…all of which are “master composters”. An adopted feral cat guards the perimeters and keeps the groundhogs at bay. She resides in Monkton, Maryland.

Twitter: @LisaMAirey

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Craft of Writing by Holli Castillo

Promoting seems to be the topic of the day. And why not? Every writer wants to sell more books.  Sometimes, though, it seems as if promotion is taking precedence over writing.

So you’ve finished writing the book.  Or maybe you’ve finished writing your tenth book.  You find a publisher or you self-publish.  Either way, your book is out there, waiting to make the New York Times Bestseller’s list.  So you promote, promote, promote, trying to spike up sales and get your name known by more readers.  And while you’re promoting this book, you start writing the next.  And the process starts all over again.

Somewhere in there, it seems as if we start to lose the focus on the craft and improving our writing.

Showing our works to critique groups, family members, editors, etc., can help us find typos, errors, plot holes, and other mechanical problems with our work, which definitely can improve the finished product but doesn’t necessarily improve our writing.

I spoke to a fourth grade class this year about writing.  I had previously spoken to a third grade class where the students were more interested in how to get published than they were on the actual writing process.  This fourth grade class, however, was all about the writing.  They asked practical questions about how to start writing, how to combat writer’s block, and how to create characters and plots.  They also asked me what I thought was the most important thing they could do to become good writers.  I focused on three things, all of which I think are applicable to every writer, regardless of age or experience.

The first one is just to write.  Even if you think you’re writing garbage and even if you know what you’re writing is never going to see the light of day, write it anyway.  It’s the equivalent to exercising a muscle.  If you have writer’s block, move on to a different project or a different part of your story or write about the block.  If your novel is giving you trouble, try writing something different, like a poem or a short story. If you keep writing something, anything, eventually you will get yourself on track to what you really want to write.

The second is to read, especially in the genre in you write in.  Reading other mystery writers always puts me in the frame of mind to write, which helps me when I’m stuck.  I don’t think any writer can ever read too much.  You have no idea what your subconscious mind may pick up while reading someone else.  And if what you’re reading turns out to be poorly written or not up to your standards, that can be the motivation you need to finish your own work, knowing you can do better than some of the fluff that is out there.

Third, and what I stressed most with the students, is to never stop learning, even after you get published and even if you become rich and famous from writing that NYT bestseller.  For the students, that meant staying in school, taking as many writing and literature classes as possible, and possibly studying writing in college. 

For adults, it means seizing every learning opportunity possible to perfect the craft.  This can be as diverse as taking a course or workshop in writing at a local university or community college to taking an online workshop to reading a book about writing. 

Learning opportunities don’t have to break the bank.  I look for free workshops, webinars, and articles about writing online when I do promotion.  I also check the local paper and screenwriting websites for free information.  Screenwriting websites offer more free teleconferences and webinars than some other forms, and for a novelist, the advice pertaining to writing is pretty on point.

I am not suggesting for a second not to put in the promotion hours.  Obviously, you could write the most moving and meaningful piece of work on the planet and it wouldn’t make a difference in the real world unless someone actually read it.  What I am suggesting is that while you are doing that promoting, and while you are working on that next project, you should continue to learn new skills to make your writing better.

A million years ago I was a gymnast–second in the state in my division.  All season long my team would practice five nights a week perfecting what we already knew how to do.  When the season ended, we would practice new skills to see if we could get them and perfect them for the following season.  Year round we did strength training and dance. 

I think of writing in these terms, like an athlete practicing a sport, repeating old skills while learning and honing new ones, getting stronger and more polished, getting better and better, until he or she is finally able to deliver as perfect a finished product as possible.  Because when all of that promoting does work and readers buy our latest book, we want it to stand out from the plethora of other books in the market and the other books they have read.  And we want to know, and we want our readers to feel, that our latest book is an even better read than our previous ones.

Blurb for Chocolate City Justice
Coming 2014

New Orleans prosecutor Ryan Murphy is back at work after being shot and is assigned a plum of a case- a drive–by shooting of a child’s birthday party, with the whole thing caught on videotape, including one of the shooters being tossed from the van at the crime scene after being shot himself.  But common in New Orleans, things aren’t always what they seem and Ryan ends up investigating a possibility that’s dangerous even by New Orleans standards.

When Hurricane Katrina takes a turn in the gulf, Ryan has every intention of evacuating with her family.  But trouble has a habit of following her, and when she does an unexpected favor for a friend, she ends up the target of the gang she’s investigating and misses her chance to escape the storm.  But she's not worried.  She's handled some of the worst criminals the city has to offer, and hurricanes never hit New Orleans. Right? What could possibly go wrong?

Jambalaya Justice now available

Bio: Holli Castillo is a Louisiana appellate public defender, former New Orleans prosecutor, and an award-winning novelist/screenwriter.  Her first novel, Gumbo Justice, was released by Oak Tree Press after being delayed when she was incapacitated for a year due to a head-on collision with a drunk driver. This was followed by the second in the Crescent City Mystery series, Jambalaya Justice, with the third, Chocolate City Justice, scheduled for release in 2014.  Holli resides in the metropolitan New Orleans area with her husband, who is the model for Big Who in the series, her two daughters, two dogs, and two deaf cats, one of which is instrumental in solving the mystery in Jambalaya Justice

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Working on My Next Deputy Tempe Crabtree Mystery

 This will be Number 14 in this series.

I've had a harder time working on this one because of so much that's been happening in my life.

We've had a young family member come down with a serious illness, and another even younger one who had an accident during gymnastics and ended up going to the emergency room. (He's doing fine now.)

I've had a couple of jobs to do in hurry-up time, these are writing jobs that actually pay pretty good, but are fairly difficult and take a lot of time.

Even though I keep a list of characters--the new ones to the series--at times I slip and use the wrong names. The older I get the harder it is to remember these--but I've always kept a list along with physical descriptions. I don't seem to have any problem remembering the characters' personalities though. Which is good because it means I know how the characters will react to what's going on.

But what is the hardest is just setting myself down, opening up Word to the file where the manuscript is, and writing. Years ago, the only distraction I really had was email. Now there's still that along with Facebook, Twitter and my blog.

And because I have a new book out in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Murder in the Worst Degree, by F.M. Meredith, of course I'm doing a lot of promotion for it.

I am enjoying writing this book because I'm revisiting the Hairy Man. He's playing a big part in the story as a movie is being made on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation.

So, I guess I'll get back to it.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

#13 in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series

And #10 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Triss Stein's Writing Journey

My second mystery from Poisoned Pen will be out in March and I am working on the third. Now that reads like an ordinary enough sentence, but I can hardly believe I am writing it.  My writing career has been so uncareer-like, this all seems like "let's pretend."

I wrote a couple of mysteries that were published by a small publisher in the 1990's.  It was, I thought, the small beginning of a career. Then the publisher dropped the mystery line without warning just after I turned in the third book, the one into which I had poured heart and soul.  The year then brought turmoil in my day-job life and health life, plus the usual issues of growing-up children. When I was on the other side of all that, I had lost energy, desire and focus for writing. Though I had already started a new book, new character, new series idea, when I forced myself back to it, everything I wrote was awful. Even I was bored with it.

So I stopped. I was retired from writing. It took awhile to admit how much I missed it, and another while to tiptoe back.  I finally got out that unfinished book, tossed the terrible second draft, ripped apart the first draft, and started over.

Poisoned Pen Press eventually accepted it and told me they don't publish stand alones, they publish series, and what else did I have planned?  Those were the words I had  (almost) given up ever hearing. And here I am.

And all of the things I did kind of blindly - stay active in mystery organizations, continue with a critique group, and most of all, keep writing (again) - now make sense.

Erica, the character I created all those years ago, continues to live her overextended life as over-age grad student and youngish single mom, researching Brooklyn history and Brooklyn neighborhoods surprisingly like small towns, and stumbling across crime in the process. Adventure number two, Brooklyn Graves, (hint: there is a famous cemetery involved. Second hint, from the cover: think Tiffany glass) has had some good reviews, and book three, about Brooklyn gangs old and new, is taking shape on the page.  All  this while an idea for number four is there on the edge of my mind.

Yes, it feels like I made all this up. That's what writers do, after all, make things up. I suppose it would be undignfied, at my age, to jump up and down screaming, or go party till dawn at a bar, but  I will be celebrating with a launch party at Mysterious Bookshop in downtown New York.  It's March 18. You're all invited!


Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York state’s dairy country who has spent most of her adult life living and working in New York city. This gives her the useful double vision of a stranger and a resident for writing mysteries about Brooklyn, her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. Brooklyn Graves will be out from Poisoned Pen Press in March  and  is second in the series, after Brooklyn Bones.

Triss is active in both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and is on the board of the MWA NY chapter. Triss is also the co-chair of Mystery Writers of America/New York chapter library committee.


A brutally murdered friend who was a family man with not an enemy in the world. A box full of charming letters home, written a century ago by an unknown young woman working at the famed Tiffany studios. Historic Green-Wood cemetery, where a decrepit mausoleum with stunning stained glass windows is now off limits, even to a famed art historian. 

Suddenly, all of this, from the tragic to the merely eccentric, becomes part of Erica Donato’s life. As if her life is not full enough.  She is a youngish single mother of a teen, an oldish history grad student, lowest person on the museum’s totem pole. She doesn’t need more responsibility, but she gets it anyway as secrets start emerging in the most unexpected places. 

In Brooklyn Graves a story of old families, old loves and hidden ties merges with new crimes and the true value of art, against the background of the splendid old cemetery and the life of modern Brooklyn.


I blog here:

Thanks for visiting me today, Triss!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Identifying with your Characters

When I'm reading a book, if the writer has done a good job, I soon find myself identifying with the main character(s). When the character is in peril, my heart beats faster and I feel anxious. So shouldn't it be the same when you are the author and writing from you character's point-of-view?

I think so. How can you make this happen?

For me, it's the same way I make sure to remain in the POV character's mind and body. I climb inside that character and look at his or her world through his or her eyes. I see what this person sees. I feel what the main character feels. I address a challenge in the manner that character would. I can smell what the person smells. And I only know what that person knows--which means I have no idea what anyone else is thinking, I can only guess.

When the character is in peril, I have the same emotions that he or she is experiencing. And the same goes if that emotion is revulsion or love.

So what that all means, is that I must then put into words that will convey all that to the reader. Not an easy task, but important.

Of course this is why an old great-grandmother like me can identify with someone like Deputy Tempe Crabtree and what she is experiencing and often having to figure out in order to solve a case. It's also how a male writer can identify and write from a female point of view and vice-versa.

As a reader, do you identify with the main character in a book? Or if you're a writer, how do you identify with your characters?

Latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery--and I'm busy working on the next one in the series, no title as yet.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Learning More About World War II

Recently we saw the movie The Monuments Men and loved it. It didn't get rave reviews but everyone I know who saw it, thought it was great. It's the story of the men who were sent to the War Zone to find and rescue the great art that the Nazis had stolen and stockpiled.

I was a kid during World War II and believe me, we saw all the newsreels about the war, the atrocities, etc. No, it wasn't like today when the news is on TV constantly, but if you went to the movies, you saw horrendous images of what was happening overseas via the newsreels. I don't remember seeing anything about the men who went through basic training, had very little skills when it came to soldiering but had a goal to save the great art that was headed for the Führer's Museum. 

The movie was excellent and the story needed to be told.

We're also been watching old episodes of the British series about the German invasion and occupation of the Channel Islands between France and Germany.

Island at War is a TV series we've been watching and it's about something else that happened during WWII that I had never heard about. The focus is on one of the Channel Islands between France and England that was invaded and occupied by the Germans. It does an excellent job of portraying what happened and how the citizens' lives were turned upside down.

To tell the truth, I'd never really heard much of anything about these islands. 

The series is extremely well done and definitely an eye-opener.