Unexpected Goals, Who Knew?

First, thanks to those who volunteered to beta read my Casey Holland novella. I truly appreciate your taking the time to read the book and offer comments.

Last week, while I was sitting on the floor with my granddaughter and not really thinking about anything, ideas started popping into my head. Some of the ideas had occurred before but I’d dismissed them as too much work. Something’s now telling me that 2022 is the time to get moving. A couple of the newer ideas occurred after attending an online publishing workshop a few days ago.

One of the earlier ideas I dismissed came from an online course from marketing guru and author, David Gaughran. He advises re-doing covers on older books and sprucing up book blurbs prior to launching a marketing campaign for a new book in the series. I need to do this for the first four books in my series, as the covers were designed by my former publisher. I also have decided to use IngramSpark to make print books available to libraries etc., another idea I’ve put off for a long time.

When I acquired the rights to the cover art back in 2016, I didn’t realize until much later that the resolution was too low to publish on Amazon. Unfortunately, I had a lot on my plate back then, so only ebooks are available.

I’ve been using Draft2Digital for platforms aside from of Amazon, but one of the new ideas (again from the workshop) is to add PublishDrive to the roster, as they apparently have a larger audience in other countries than D2D does. If any of you have experience with PublishDrive or IngramSpark, especially pitfalls to avoid, I’d love to hear them.

Lastly, for those of you who might not have picked up a copy of the third book in my series, Beneath the Bleak New Moon, this book is now on sale until February 8th for $.99. I really enjoyed researching this book, as I learned a lot about street racing, legal and illegal, for my story. The book can be found through the BookFunnel link HERE:

Off and Running in 2022

How’s your first week of 2022 going? For me, it’s been busy as I deal with car repairs, a few errands, writing, writing related tasks, and babysitting. People have been talking about this year being a turning point for Covid. I hope it is, but we’re sure not there yet, are we? Someone in our immediately family was briefly exposed to a coworker who tested positive for Covid shortly after that encounter. Right now, we’re all staying inside and taking precautions for three more days. Luckily, I’ve had my booster shot. Crazy times, right?

On the writing front, things are progressing well with both the urban fantasy and the Casey Holland novella. Improvements are made every day, but I find myself asking, why didn’t I see the glitches, awkward phrasing, or wordy sentences before?

The answer is that it’s because I’m usually working on the plot, pacing, continuity, and characters. Line editing is often in the latter stages. While working on grammar, syntax, etc., though, my brain still analyzes the story, so it’s not unusual to catch another minor plot glitch. There are many TV shows and movies where I find glaring potholes, and it’s always disappointing. Some viewers won’t care or don’t notice, but I do.

Promotion and marketing efforts are ramping up once again, and I’ve joined a new group of authors who are offering free ebooks, or excerpts, through BookFunnel. This one features cozies, amateur sleuth, and detective novels. Also, if you haven’t picked it up yet, my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, is also one of the offered books for free. You can find the link HERE:

This week, I’ve been reflecting on the last ten years of my writing life, and just realized that since originally publishing The Opposite of Dark in 2011, I went on to publish five more books in that series, plus two novellas in another series over a ten-year period. Honestly, I hadn’t given this much thought before now. In hindsight, eight books in ten years was a productive time filled with hard work, as I also had day jobs and looked after my mother’s needs.

I worked on both series much longer than those ten years, and I have no idea what the next decade will bring. I lack the ambition to publish eight more books, but I am greatly interested in taking my writing to the next level. So, we’ll see what happens.

Beyond your new year’s resolutions and short-term goals, do any of you implement long-term goals?

Making the Most of Writing Time

Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.

I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.

Loves her scrambled eggs and veggies

I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.

These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.

Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.

This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.

On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂

The I-Think-I-Can Approach

Planted in April 2021

A story starts with an idea, like a flower starts with a seed. It’s planted. It germinates.

As with a book or the sunflower that just bloomed in my garden four days ago, it can take a while. Weeks. Months. Even years. The process is often unpredictable.

But one day, something starts to happen. Something fresh pokes through the many thoughts, or the dirt in the ground, and you’ve begun.

The journey isn’t easy. There are periods when nothing seems to be happening. This is because you can’t truly see what’s percolating in your subconscious, or what’s going on underground. Self-doubt creeps in. Maybe unintentional neglect. Or impatient waiting for some sign of progress.

Through the period of early growth, there are setbacks and obstacles. Illness, emergencies, accidents, or natural intervention. For my sunflower it was a summer of heat domes, toxic smoky air, and water from a hose rather rather than thirst-quenching rain.

Time passes. Obstacles fade. Dry toxicity turns into breathable air. Thoughts begin to gel. The story is making sense now, and then it really takes off. One day you look up and the stem is strong and two feet tall. A bud appears. The logical sequence to an approaching climax.

Finally, one day, you spot a vibrant little flower peering down at you, and you realize it’s survived a pretty long journey. Sure, the surrounding vines and tree are stronger and larger, but my sunflower stands just as proud, basking in the light of day.

May everything you create and grow, flourish.

How My Writing’s Going These Days

Before I get to today’s topic, just a reminder that BookFunnel’s free ebook giveaway is still available till July 4th, which you can find HERE. My first two Casey Holland mysteries, The Opposite of Dark and Deadly Accusations are part of the roster of over 60 novels.

Now, as writers know, editing is a long-term process that can be frustrating, perplexing, satisfying, and rewarding. But it’s never fast, as least not for me. I’ve read countless blogs, how-to articles, and a few books on the process. The information is sometimes conflicting and doesn’t always work for me, but a huge part of the process is finding what does work.

When I’m editing my mysteries or fantasy novel, original ideas often evolve into something quite different than I originally imagined. Getting the words written is one thing, but telling a story that makes sense and doesn’t confuse readers or leave out crucial bits and nuances is challenging.

It comes down to, does the story work? The question often takes me three or four rewrites to answer. At that point I’m starting to really understand the story’s purpose, theme, and through lines. With this understanding, connections start to zing around my brain, often while away from the computer. This is the part where connections and clues come need to be inserted at specific points in the text.

So, even after four drafts, the focus isn’t on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling, and a final proofread still seems far away. I do make changes as I’m working on the bigger stuff. If it sounds arduous, it is sometimes, but I honestly enjoy the process of making each page more succinct and vivid for readers.

Last week I completed the sixth draft of my urban fantasy, which took about a year, averaging a couple of hours a day. As I’ve mentioned on previous blogs, afternoons are usually slotted for other writing tasks and projects. My goal was to pare the book down from 125,000 words. By the end of draft #6 it was 120,000 words, but I’d also added some key elements, thanks to insightful comments from my critique group. With the seventh draft, I’ll still be looking to shorten it, and hopefully, there’ll be more taking out than adding in.

I’ve been working on the seventh draft for about ten days now and it’s going faster than the previous drafts. Of course, I could be deluding myself. Still, I plan to make a major push over the coming weeks, given that I’ll soon become a part-time babysitter for my granddaughter. That’ll be a whole new challenge in itself, but a joyful one.

Exploring Pantser and Plotting Approaches to Fiction

Anyone looking for how-to tips on novel writing is bound to come across the old debate about whether to outline a book before typing a single word or to just sit down and write. I’ve experimented with both and have found that what works best for me is somewhere between those options.

When I wrote my first mystery, I didn’t create an outline. I simply faced the blank page and wrote down whatever came to mind. This is the pantser method, although I didn’t know the term way back then. Many times I had to go back and fill in the plot holes and logistical issues.

For the second book, I decided to spend more time plotting the novel first by creating a chapter-by-chapter outline. It became important to know who was killed and why before I started writing. Now, this sometimes changed once I got into my second and third rewrites while sorting out the story’s development. It’s also why I believe that flexibility with outlines is important.

Ten books later, I still outline with those key questions in mind, but primarily just for the first third of the book. For the middle section, or second act, I jot down key elements and plot twists that I want to happen. By the last third, there’s almost no outlining as the story is set up to reach a logical conclusion, hopefully one with a twist.

When I began my writing my urban fantasy, I decided to try the pantser version again. Despite the pitfalls, it just felt important to free myself and let the ideas and connections unfold without direction from an outline. Before I started writing, I did a lot of thinking though, and did have four main characters in mind and a good idea of what the book’s theme would be. On this sixth, intense draft I’m going through now, I’m still working on nuance issues and connections that I wish I’d thought of in earlier drafts. Would outlining have helped with that? I don’t know.

After reading every draft, I make notes along the way, which probably sounds familiar to you authors out there. The further into the edits I get, the more I need to check my notes, which is what happened this week. To ramp up the excitement, I introduced another element, which forced me to go back five chapters and rewrite the scene, which created a domino effect for most of the remaining chapters. Despite going back, I’m still moving forward with my improvements, so that’s a good thing. I just wish I’d been a little faster at picking up on the nuances and connections. Thank goodness I’m not writing to deadline or I’d be really hooped.

When I was writing essays and articles twenty years ago, outlining key points was essential, as was giving careful thought to the message I wanted to convey. If I return to nonfiction, outlining will be essential. Should I get around to writing a second fantasy, there will definitely be more outlining but who knows how much?

There are a number of online quizzes to help you determine if you’re a pantser or a plotter, but really the best way to decide is to try both. So, I’m curious about my author friends out there, which method do you use, or have you got a completely different method?

More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.

The Gritty Part of Editing

I’ve reached the halfway point of editing draft #6 of my urban fantasy. My critique group’s been immensely helpful, as of others. Fellow blogger, Jacqui Murray for instance, recently wrote about getting rid of lazy words like ‘there’ and ‘was’ in her manuscript, which reminded me to tackle this as well.

Using the ‘Find’ icon in Word, I was stunned to discover that was appeared 383 times in 165 pages. From page one, I looked for ways to replace the word or rejig a passive sentence into something stronger. In doing so, I inadvertently cut more words from the manuscript. A huge bonus!

Ridding your manuscript of lazy words is a tedious and time-consuming exercise. It’s the gritty part of editing, but it’s also necessary and in many ways quite satisfying. Draft #6 has been about continuity, cutting, and fleshing out characters’ motives. So far, the process has made the manuscript twenty pages shorter, and I’m hoping to cut much more by the time it’s ready for beta readers and my editor.

Not every writer loves editing but I enjoy it, even though it seems to take forever. I often compare it to a block of marble, slowly chipping away the unnecessary bits to create something meaningful, where everything is exactly where it should be and the work is always worth the effort.

While editing, I usually have either a coffee, glass of water, or tea by my side. In talking with other authors over the years, having a beverage close at hand is practically a must. For me, stopping to sip something not only lets me think about those words on the page, but gives my eyes a quick break from the computer screen.

My family knows I’m a tea lover, so I received the perfect Christmas gift this year. Packets of tea in the shape of books. How cool is that? Part of me doesn’t want to open it and spoil the look, but hey, I still have a lot of editing ahead.

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!