Writing in the Time of Covid-19

Or not. Because stress and worry cause fatigue. And exhaustion affects your mental state.

If you can write, then do so. We are waiting eagerly to read your stories. If you can’t, then don’t. Writing will happen and we will read your stories when you do. Either way, stop beating yourself up.

Be kind. To others. To yourself.

Exercise. Eat chocolate. Copious amounts of chocolate. Then exercise so you can eat all that chocolate without wearing it.

Exalt in the things that bring you joy. Bracket into small boxes, the things that scare you.

Always have hope.

Hope. H ελπίδα. Elpis (hope – ancient Greek) was the last thing that came out of the jar of Pandora as stated by Hesiod (Greek poet 750 – 650 BCE). Elpis was the personification or spirit of hope.

In the face of adversity, that’s what humans do, hope. Raise yourself up. Raise others too. Hope. That’s what humans do. The kind ones especially.

The ones like you.

And write when you can.

I’m a Daphne Finalist!

I received strange telephone calls this past weekend. I didn’t recognize the number so I ignored it. On Monday the same number came up on my landline, so I answered.


The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense is named for Daphne du Maurier, the author of REBECCA, a suspense novel with romantic and gothic overtones and a precursor to today’s romantic suspense. The Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense is a writing contest for published and unpublished authors of romantic suspense, mystery, suspense and thrillers with romantic subplots and mainstream mystery, suspense and thrillers.

Congratulations to all my fellow finalists!

The Book That Started It All…..

The book that started me on my reading journey of mysteries was The Hidden Staircase. It also started down the path that led to my desire to write.

The book sat in a storage shed for years. One day when I was exploring in my godparents’ yard in Fresno, California where they lived, I wandered into the only shed that they didn’t lock. This shed was the size of a two car garage. Inside were old tools and gadgets, a lot of dust and spiders, probably some other creatures who luckily didn’t interrupt my wanderings. In one spot lay an old book. I picked it up, dusted it off, and took it outside to read in the shade of my godmother’s garden. As another hot summer day came to a close, I finished that book. After that day, I hunted the bookstore and library for more like it. Mysteries!! An entire new shelf to explore…

I devoured books. I mostly read Sci-Fi, Science Fiction as it was called then, mostly due to my love of Star Trek. I read both science and fantasy, like The Hobbit, The Lord of the Ring trilogy, authors like Asimov, Bradbury, Cherryh, Clark, Heinlein, and so many more.

But The Hidden Staircase was the first mystery and like all first loves, remembered fondly. Next I read Sherlock Holmes, private eye novels, amateur detectives, police procedurals. I read all the time and so many of the authors are friends, colleagues and mentors that to leave out any one would be horrible and to list them, this blog will go on forever.

From reading to writing is a thin line for certain types of minds. Like my type; I can’t look at a situation without inventing countless scenarios and always with a crime involved. That is the mind of a mystery writer; the rabbit holes are dark and the actions of people suspicious, based on vices, that most of us never succumb to, thank goodness. But the people in my stories always do.

I’ve attended conferences, taken classes, read how to books, but the best advice is from Michael Connelly to write 15 minutes a day. I started with that and there are days when those fifteen minutes become hours spent in a world with the guilty, the innocent, the suspicious and the victims.

While, I may write about the blacker parts of the humans that populate my stories, at the heart of mysteries is the truth that this is not how the world should be, but if has to be then, may there always be a hero to stand up, right the wrongs and restore the world.

My first hero was Nancy Drew.

Being a Pantser

Some people need maps, and some just have a great sense of direction. The writing spectrum contains writers from outliners to pantsers. A pantser is someone who ‘writes by the seat of their pants’. Basically, they write. Period. In contrast, an outliner composes a complete outline of their story from beginning to end prior to writing.
Once I traveled to southern China by train from Hong Kong. When my travel companions and I stepped off the train and exited the station, we all consulted a map to find the route to our hotel. The rest of the group started one way and I went in the opposite direction. After a few feet, they called to me, I told them they were headed in the wrong direction. They marched over to me and pointed at the map to convince me they were correct. They were holding the map up in the orientation specified by the mapmaker. I turned the map upside down, showed them all the major landmarks in front of the station, then pointed to hose landmarks on the now realistically oriented map. They folder up the map and followed me to the hotel. One of them asked when I had been to China before, I told him, this was my first time.
I have an excellent sense of direction. I also notice the details around me as guide posts when I travel.
When I first started writing seriously, I had an idea for a series of books. I took classes and read many craft books on writing. I found the three-act structure and set about to outline my first book. I created character profiles — I knew everything there was to know about each of my characters; favourite foods, best friend, and sworn enemies. The setting was equally catalogued; I took hundreds of photographs, even recordings of background noise. Read every book on the area — studied flora and faun, read newspapers, blogs, travel guides of the town my books would be set in.
It felt like work. Still this was the right way to do it, so I soldiered on.
I set down to write. I crammed the story I envisioned in my mind into the setting I researched, inserted the characters I developed and orchestrated scenes into that three-act structure exactly when each should happen. The setting was a grammar school play painted cardboard backdrop. The characters, shadow puppets. All the work of outlining choked the life — and fun — out of writing the story. I abandoned the that book, and the next two in the series.
Maybe I just wasn’t a good writer. Maybe, I wasn’t a writer at all.
But another idea crept out of my imagination. This time, scenes played out in my mind. I just wrote them down. In whichever order they came. I wrote like a pantser. And the story worked, characters came alive, did things I would never have put into their character profiles and setting became not just a backdrop, but the only place in the universe where this story could take place.
I enjoyed writing. The creativity, the discovery. I felt like I did when I read a good book, excited about what would be on the next page. I was a pantser!! But more importantly, I was a writer. I’ve been pantsing ever since.
I believe that the difference between pantsers and outliners is that for pantsers, their first draft is their outline.

When is a Book like a Chocolate Chip Cookie?

I made my special secret recipe chocolate chip cookies.  The kind that are gooey in the middle even when fully cooked and the chips melt in your mouth.  My family loves them.  My kid’s school loves them.  I made this batch for a fundraiser bake sale.  Did my cookies become the hit of the sale?  Did we sell out in the first minutes?  Sadly no, I took 90% of them home much to the happiness of my family.  Who devoured them.  I felt like a failure.

What happened?  People wanted brownies.  Three sets of brownies sold out in minutes!! I contemplated this on the drive home, that night and the next few days.  Yes, I hold on to things…for a long time.  I finally realized that books are like chocolate chip cookies.

Here’s what I mean.  Go to the bookstore, Amazon, a brick-n-mortar, follow any book news list or newspaper book section or any book club.  Look at the books that are selling/people are buying.  Is one better than another?  What makes one book sell better than the other?  Is one author better than another?  Is this story more enjoyable and that one less?  What is it that differentiates one from the other?

Or is it just that some people prefer plain ole everyday brownies over gooey delicious chocolate chip cookies. (Okay, I’m pushing it to make a point, the brownies were good just not as good as my cookies — get it?).

Isn’t that what happens with books too?  Some readers prefer that book over this one, and others hate both.  Personal preference and maybe what’s around, like having those brownies next to my cookies, you know, the gooey delicious secret recipe chocolate chip ones. (Next year I’m making brownies, just saying.)

But, I can’t write brownies, I write chocolate chip cookies.  So maybe I won’t sell a lot of books, just like I had to take those cookies back home because they weren’t the hit of the bake sale.  I was happy making the chocolate chip cookies, you know, the secret recipe gooey delicious ones, and I’m happy writing what I write.

A Child of Two Worlds