August 2021 Newsletter

My Once and Future Novel (Part 2, I think)

Hi, All!

A few nights ago, I thought about retiring on my birthday coming up really soon on 9/11/2021. I’ll be eighty, and maybe it’s time to stop. I told myself that maybe I’d be happy and fulfilled reading and reviewing other people’s books and taking weekly art classes.

But who am I kidding? Nothing gives me more joy than being lost in the fiction I’m writing. Besides, it’s back. . . In this case instead of a monster, I’m talking about my once and future novel, the one that I’ve worked on for about three decades, the one set in part at a Renaissance Festival sort of event and in part at activities of a group similar to the Society for Creative Anachronism. This is a book concept that just won’t let me go.

Over the past thirty years, this book has gone from a fairly conventional detective mystery with one protagonist to suspense with quite a different protagonist. Overall, I think I’ve produced three different detective mysteries and two versions of the basic story as a novel of suspense. In fact, one of the challenges for me, now that I’m having at it again, is to locate scenes I vividly recall writing though when and in which notebook and which digital file, I’m unsure. I know that some of you have read an earlier version. In fact, I still have your comment sheets along with print-outs. But right now I can’t remember where I put them.

The characters have undergone several variations as well. For instance, I have two characters whose role is providing the protagonist (whoever the heck that turns out to be) with information about the Ancient Ways Society. The twosome started out as a lesbian couple, one white and the other Black. Eventually, they became an elderly man and not so elderly woman with a very large Great Dane. As I embark on the final version, I’m not sure I really need the dog. But I really can’t predict at this point.

The book also has a couple of working titles: Death in Shining Armor and Die by the Sword. I took a poll on Facebook recently and most of the people responding favored the first one, as did I. But once I really got into the first chapter, I decided that Die by the Sword was the better choice. But you know what? The book is alive and well and I’m looking forward to completing it.

Meanwhile, I’ve had lots of distractions. For one thing we’ve been dealing with a leaky roof and predatory roofers, but we’ve found a decent one now. But once the dust settles on that and other issues, I hope to plunge back to the book . . . I’ll keep you posted on the project next month.

Best, Juliet

 

April 2021 WiP Report

I hoped to report that I’ve finished my current Work-in-Progress, Apart in April, Book 5 of my Calendar Mystery series.

But it’s not happening, partly because my characters keep talking to me as I write. One of them will say, “How about I do this?” Another might say, “I wouldn’t do that! Take it out!” Or worst of all, some person in the book will say, “I’m bored.”

It’s practically axiomatic that every time a writer changes something, s/he introduces at least one error like a missing so there’s nothing for it but to edit each and every line of each and every page with a ruler on paper and/or by sliding the cursor down the margin, and/or reading each and every page word by word out loud at least once if not TWICE. (Did you see the glitch in the previous sentence in the previous sentence? [Repetition is another kind of glitch that often happens when the writer is switching stuff around.])

I’ve rushed the process before and ended up publishing a book or story that wasn’t ready yet. I’m not doing that this time. I have only forty pages to go in this draft, so it will be done by April 30 for sure. But then I will make myself take as long as the book and its characters demand for one last edit. After I’m done and I’ve tweaked the cover, too, I’ll begin the production phase, leaving time to set up the pre-order and all that other stuff. I’ll let you know when Apart in April is ready for you to pre-order at a reduced price.

In closing, an observation, especially for my fellow old fogey friends . . . At this stage of writing, I have to hold the entire three hundred pages of the book in fairly specific detail in my head. (Since I’ve made so many changes over the four drafts of this book, sometimes I have to go back and check the most recent draft to see what actually is in there.) A person with dementia can’t do that, and so I’ll end this WiP Report by highly recommending writing a novel as a preventive measure against senility.

Best, Juliet

P. S. It’s spring and doing stuff like potting these plants shown above is another distraction I’m dealing with.

 

Spring Things

 

You know what? Life isn’t too bad at our house right now. After all it’s spring. Plus I’ve had both my shots and Jess has had the first. Having them has lowered our stress and helps us sleep better.

 

 

On the slightly down side, my WiP is going slower than I’d hoped. This time it was supposed to be a quick final draft except for one last copy edit. But, I keep thinking up really cool plot developments, pieces of dialogue, and details. For instance, as I was working on Chapter 15 of Apart in April, the fourth novel and Book 5 of my calendar mystery series, I decided that the dashing detective Daniel Price should wear Navajo jewelry when he’s undercover as an itinerant salesman, so two young chambermaids get the impression that he’s been to Santa Fe. He hasn’t He bought the lot at Jesse James, Jr.’s pawnshop over on Main in Kansas City earlier in April 1901. Things like these make a story come alive, but they also might introduce errors like missing words or repeated phrases that must be found and fixed. Still, I hope to have the eBook of Apart in April out by the end of April.

Meanwhile, the boxed set of the first three novels and a really cool short story called “Detectives’ Honeymoon” is now available for only $2.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B07QDKF413 and £ 1.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07QDKF413 through Tuesday March 30.

And look for Old Time Stories, a collection of nonfiction and fiction that includes the original short story “The Shackleton Ghost,” for the discounted prices of $0.99 at www.amazon.com/dp/B07F4JL8D5 and £0.99 at www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07F4JL8D5 from April 1 through April 7, 2021.

Till next time, stay safe and well. Best, Juliet

 

Been a rough month but . . .

Hi, Everybody!

Here’s the cover for the fourth novel, fifth book in my calendar mystery series featuring the former business girl, Minty Wilcox, now Price, and her dashing detective husband Daniel, in Kansas City, MO, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago.

I had lots of trouble making this cover fit into the birthstone theme of the series. I mean what can you do with white for goodness’ sake? But finally this version is coming along though it needs tweaking here and there. FYI: I stole the lilacs from a lady’s hat that appeared in The Delineator of August 1901. And a while ago, my cousin Sarah Faye Morse Meurer very kindly sent me the photos of our grandfather Miles Smith and our grandmother Juliet Perkins Smith.

Here’s the blurb for the book: After a personal tragedy on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1901, Minty Wilcox Price runs away from home, strewing letters behind her like Hansel’s bread crumbs for her husband Daniel to find. Can he overcome his own grief and anger to figure out where she’s gone and with her solve the case of “The Ravished, Murdered Chambermaid”?

I’d appreciate any feedback on the cover and blurb you’d care to give.

As for the book itself, I hoped to be farther along with the final draft by now.  But life has thrown some interference our way this past month that has taken up my time. For example, though we didn’t lose our power or heat during the recent Arctic blast, our water pipes froze when the temperature reached 15 below here near Kansas City. But my daughter Jess and our next-door neighbor’s son made a sort of bucket brigade to bring water to our house. And our pipes thawed on their own when the temperature moderated a bit.

The cold also complicated our grocery shopping. Lately we’ve shopped on line, and then Jess drove to the store to pick it up. But there was no way either of us wanted to go out on snowy streets when it was 7 below zero outside. So we tried to reschedule at first and then to cancel. But apparently their shopping app doesn’t handle changes well, so the shopper shopped our order not once but twice. And even after several phone calls and twelve days, the charge remains on my credit card. Sigh . . .

But I’m making progress on my project overall, and probably I’ll meet my deadline, the end of April. Also I’m struck by the way I still learn lessons about the process, or in this case, relearn them. For example, yesterday I struggled all morning to get information about a new setting, a ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Originally, I’d planned on asking a friend of mine if I could tour her family’s ranch. In a pandemic? Well, no, I literally can’t go there. So then I spun my wheels all morning looking for virtual tours and taking two dozen screen shots of prairie hills. But then finally, I remembered the sage advice I received back in the 80’s from a writer friend. “Think film,” she said. So then I CUT TO the front door of the farmhouse I needed Daniel to visit and blew that writer’s block up.

Stay safe and well, my friends. Get the shot soon if you haven’t already. (I have an appointment for next Wednesday.) Best, Juliet

 

P. S. Mischief in March, the third in my calendar mystery series, is only 99 cents from March 3 through March 9 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XR1STRN
It’s also a penny less than a pound at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XR1STRN

 

 

For an even better bargain, you can buy the boxed set that includes the January Jinx, Fatal February, and Mischief in March, the first three novels of the series, and the bonus short story “Detectives’ Honeymoon” from March 24 through March 30 for only $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QDKF413  (British friends, for a similar bargain price, check http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07QDKF413)

WiP Report January 2021

Last Friday, I finished what I hope will be the next-to-the-last draft of Book 5 of my Calendar Mystery series, set in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago for a business girl named Minty Wilcox and a dashing detective named Daniel Price. (Just practicing my blurb here . . .) The next day we ordered BBQ carry-out for a celebratory dinner. Baby back ribs! Yum!

In its binder, the book weighs 6.4 pounds which makes for quite a weighty tome though I hope of course that it won’t feel like that for readers when it’s done. The text now is 306 pages and 86,489 words long. I started it on November 1 for NaNoWriMo, so it took me 83 days for an average of 1,042 words a day. That’s really not bad considering everything that’s been going on including a very weird holiday season, the pandemic, and the political turmoil.

An FYI for my fellow indie authors: whenever I start a novel, I format it for its eventual publication, that is, with 6” by 9” pages, 0.75” margins, 1.15 line spacing throughout including between paragraphs, 12-point font, usually Book Antiqua, all paragraphs except the first in a section or chapter indented 0.3”. I also mark all section breaks with <> <> <> because I never know where they’ll end up after revisions. Plus, I paginate the pages, create different first pages for the starts of chapters, and different odd and even pages for the rest. And yes, I type my first drafts and all the rest. All of this lets me get a feel for the overall proportions of the book and about where to place the plot points in later drafts.

For more guidance, check out my Novel Basics, a concise yet complete guide to brainstorming, drafting, and revising a novel available in print from Amazon. com and as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP . . .

Now back to the report . . . If I can cut the 10% that Stephen King says in his author’s memoir On Writing he cuts from the first drafts of his books, Book 5 of my Calendar Mystery series will be around 78,000 words or 275 pages long. Hopefully, I will get it out by the end of April. (The tabs on the book shown in the photo on the left mark pages where I need to do some editing. Yikes!)

I’ll let you know how it’s going in next month’s WiP Report. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the fun short story “The 9th Street Gang” free from 02/03/21 through 02/07/21 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B079YYVTTX and Book 2 of the Calendar Mystery series Fatal February, on sale for only $0.99 at  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM and £0.99 at http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017081JHM from 02/10/21 through 02/16/21.

Novel Basics Card # 20

Novel Basics Card # 20
The Cover Card

The Cover Card asks the question,
“What’s my novel’s name?”

The wise organizers of NaNoWriMo say that those who have covers for their projects before they start drafting them are 60% more likely to write it that those who don’t. I think possibly that simply giving your novel a name helps make it real to you and so you’re more likely to write it.

The card I’m using as a sample this time isn’t a generic one like many of the others. Instead it’s a very rough draft of the cover I plan on using for my current WiP that also was the novel I drafted during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2018. Apart in April will be the fourth novel and fifth book in my cozy historical Calendar Mystery series. (Yeah I know the sketch on this card is crude and I’m so not apologizing for that. You shouldn’t be thinking perfection either as you make this last card.)

In the past I used photos I found in the great Dover book Victorian Fashion in America for the covers of the novels in this series. But for this book, I’ll use photos of my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side. And the title, like those of the first three novels in the series, states the month in which the book takes place, uses alliteration and/or assonance, is brief, and states the theme (or at least hints at it) or overall mood of the novel. Titles of the novels so far are January Jinx, Fatal February and Mischief in March.

So on your last card at least give the tentative title for your novel (a real name not Work in Progress), your name or the pseudonym you’ve always dreamed of using, and possibly an image for your cover.

You might want to put “ a blurb” on the flip side of your cover card. That is, in a very few words describe the novel you want to write. Here’s an example: “an action-packed thriller with a wounded hero.” Possibly my blurb for Apart in April will be “Driven apart by a personal tragedy, a runaway wife goes undercover as a detective. Meanwhile her husband struggles to win her back. But first he has to figure out where she has gone from the letters she strews behind her like Jack’s crumbs in the forest that contain clues of her whereabouts.” It’s way too long, but it’s not bad for now. I’ve got time to work on it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through twenty cards that we’ve taken together. For tips and suggestions on what to do after you’ve brainstormed your novel,  get your own copy of Novel Basics, a brief yet complete guide to writing a novel, in print for $8.99 from Amazon or the eBook version, now only $2.99, at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Novel Basics Cards # 18 & 19

Novel Basics Card # 18
The Reader Card

The Reader Card asks the question,
“Who will read my novel?”

By now, you probably have a fairly good idea of who will want to read your novel. For one thing, chances are good that your target or ideal reader reads the same sorts of novels as you do, and lots of them, too.

Try to get specific in identifying your ideal reader. For instance, if she reads women’s fiction, does she prefer cozy mysteries with women sleuths? Are the sleuths amateurs or police officers? Or does your ideal reader love romance novels? Must those books be wholesome and clean, with maybe a shy kiss at the end? Or does your reader relish erotica with lots of heavy breathing?

Is your ideal reader a male who enjoys a blood and guts, action-packed thriller with some very specific sex scenes?

As like as not, your ideal reader is the same gender as your protagonist and a similar age as well because it’s customary in publishing that the reader is about the same age as the protagonist of a novel. (In Young Adult fiction, the protagonist might be a bit older than the reader in order to serve as a role model.)

Long ago I had the fantasy that someday I’d write the book that everybody reads the year it comes out. I haven’t written that novel yet. But Suzanne Collins might have come close with The Hunger Games. A friend’s twelve-year-old granddaughter read those books and so have I, many decades older. Some of my contemporaries have read every one of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

Speaking of that writer, Rowling has written and published four novels in the Cormoran Strike series so different from the Harry Potter series that she uses the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. The target readers for those two series are very different and their expectations quite different as well.

Next we’ll talk a bit more about the reader as we discuss Card # 19.

Novel Basics Card # 19
The Intention Card
(Card # 19 is probably my favorite card from my entire pack.)

The Intention Card asks the question,
“How will my novel affect the reader?”

The novel is a tool of infinite possibilities, a sort of Swiss Army knife with a million blades. That’s one of the reasons I read. When I pluck a novel off the new mysteries shelf at the library and bring it home, I’m filled with hope that this novel will surprise me. Maybe the author will say something new or at least in a different way: tease me, thrill me, move me to laughter and to tears in the same book, make me think about the human experience in some new way, expand my life, or simply help me escape my troubling or mundane world for a few hours.

Note: our local libraries are all shut down right now. Yours probably is, too. But many still offer new books through Overdrive that you can check out and read on your tablet.

At this point, I’ll circle back to my brief history of plot by mentioning that Aristotle said the purpose of a tragedy is catharsis, to purge the audience with pity and fear by seeing a man fall from grace through his own hubris.

As for me, I believe that laughter is the best medicine for whatever ails you in life, so I like to make people laugh or at least smile when they read my novels and stories. And I give my stories happy endings.

So what’s the primary intention of your novel? Do you want to entertain your reader by scaring the heck out of him with your horror fiction? Do you want to make her feel sexy with your erotic romance? Or do you want to create a puzzle in a cozy mystery for your reader to figure out? Maybe you want to move your reader to empathize with other people who have survived great adversity, to understand some truth or theme about the human condition from someone else’s suffering that your reader can experience vicariously.

In addition, one of the best things about the novel is its ability to say something worthwhile. So give at least a tentative answer to the question the Intention Card asks.

We have one last card. And then your personalized Novel Basics pack will be complete. Join me next time to discover the identity of Card # 20.

Novel Basics Card # 17

Novel Basics Card # 17

The Genre Card

The Genre Card asks the question,

“What kind of a novel will I write?”

Ordinarily, I don’t ascribe to the saying, “Write what you know” because when writers don’t know something they need to put in their books, they do research. But in this case, I advise that you write what you know. That is, you should write the kind of novel you’re most familiar with because you read novels in that genre all the time.

To narrow this down a little bit, let’s imagine you’re at the library and you’re looking for something tasty to read. Where do you go? To the children’s department even though you’re an adult? To the shelves filled with Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror? Mysteries? Romance? Westerns? General Fiction that might include literary and historical novels? You should probably write whatever type of novel you check out and bring home from the library. (You can perform a similar exercise by figuring out which genre you gravitate to in your local Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore or on Amazon or Thriftbooks.)

To narrow the subject of the genre down even more, by the time you get to Card # 17, you’ve made quite a few decisions that affect the kind of book you’re writing, for instance, the gender and age of your protagonist. Consider the differences between Tucker MacBean, a boy just entering the Seventh Grade in present-day Kansas in Lisa Harkrader’s children’s novel Cool Beans: The Further Adventures of Beanboy, and grown-up Lady Edith aka Edie Gilchrist in Eloisa James’ take on the Rapunzel story in her fairy tale romance Once Upon a Tower set in London in 1824.

What sorts of plot developments you include will also affect what kind of book you end up writing. For instance, noir mystery fiction has loads more blood and guts, not to mention foul language and a cynical view of life, than your typical cozy.

But why does genre matter anyway?

Well, I assume that you might like a return on the time and effort it took you to write your novel by having people buy it, read it, and even review it once you’ve finished it. The chances of that happening increase if your novel fits in a niche, the smaller the better, so you won’t compete against authors like James Patterson in the Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense category of fiction, for example.

These days big genres like fantasy, mysteries, women’s fiction in general, and romance more specifically have developed many, very specific subgenres. For example, the cozy mystery subgenre can be further subdivided into culinary mysteries, cozy mysteries that include hobbies and crafts of all kinds, and cozy mysteries that have animals. There are even subcategories for Christian cozy mysteries and cozy mysteries with magic like the novels and stories in my Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups.

Jim Butcher practically invented a new sub-genre–urban fantasy–with his Harry Dresden series described by a reviewer as “magic and wizardry meet hard-boiled detective fiction.”

Books like Butcher’s Storm Front bring us to a bit of an issue. For years, the standard advice in publishing was to avoid crossovers or mashups for fear of confusing potential readers, but that didn’t seem to deter Butcher who has published fifteen novels as well as three story collections in the Dresden Files series. The popularity of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and its sequels seems not to be affected by their mix of time travel, adventure, and Scottish historical romance.

Next time we’ll explore the issue of genre a little more with the discussion of Card # 18.

 

Novel Basics Card # 16

Novel Basics Card # 16

The Subplot Card

The subplot card asks the question,

“What else happens in my novel?”

The novel is a huge beast and needs a lot of plot to reach the minimum required 40,000 words that will go into it. One way a writer often finds those words is with subplots. (Please note that the subplot card, like the wall card, might be a placeholder.)

Indeed, though the publishing industry is always changing, it’s still fairly common advice in publishing that if an author wants a career, she will write a series or trilogy on the theory that the more you write the more you sell. And while the reader expects the major “who wants what?” plot to be resolved in each novel, the subplots and the continuing characters in the series often serve to pull the reader from one novel to the next.

Exactly what the subplot contains depends in part on the genre of the novel. For example, in romantic suspense, the love relationship provides the main plot line and the mystery/suspense provides the subplot with lots of fun interferences with the main plot in play. If you’re writing a mystery novel, you’ll flip that with the mystery plot primary and a romantic subplot secondary.

Many writers, no matter the genre of the novel, might introduce the protagonist’s family and/or friends into the novels to pull the readers from book to book. Will Stephanie Plum favor Ranger or Morelli this time? the fans of Janet Evanovich’s very popular and long-lasting series wonder. They also wonder about the goings-on of Stephanie’s family, especially the outrageous Grandma Mazur.

Each novel in my Calendar Mystery series has its own murder mystery, resolved by the end of the book. But each might also have two or three subplots that carry over from book to book. January Jinx, the first in my calendar mystery series, has three subplots: Minty Wilcox’s goal of getting a suitable job for a woman in Kansas City around 1900, the romantic subplot with Daniel Price, and Minty’s on-going relationships with her family members. Also, Fatal February, the second novel in the series, has an additional mystery subplot besides the major plot line. Mischief in March, the third novel, has a romantic subplot that features two long time supporting characters in the series.

If you look closely at the picture of Card #16, you’ll notice that the subplot has its own plot line. Very typically, the subplot begins after the major plot is in place at the start of the book. The subplot might end pretty much before the second set-up scene, or it might end in the dénouement. Some authors put a cliffhanger related to a subplot on the last page of one novel to hook the readers into anticipating the next one. For example, I put a cliffhanger at the end of Mischief in March setting up a new mystery plot that I later resolved in a short story.

I’d be wary of doing that however. Some readers deeply resent that sort of ending. And it also put me in a bit of a pickle of how to resolve the issue for my readers in a timely manner. Ultimately, I wrote and published the short story called “Detectives’ Honeymoon,” later included in Old Time Stories, Book 4 of my Calendar Mystery series and also in the boxed set of the first three novels plus that story.

The boxed set, nearly 1,000 pages of historical mystery fiction, is now available for only $8.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QDKF413

Next will come Card # 17.

Novel Basics Cards # 14 & 15

Card # 14, the First Set-up Scene Card asks the question,

“What leads to Act 2 of my novel?”

Near the end of Act 1 of your novel, after you’ve hooked your reader with the beginning scene and shown your protagonist and her world, you need a scene in which the protagonist commits to the action required in the book. Syd Field called it Plot Point 1 of a movie script and other authors have used the same term for the novel. But I prefer the term set-up since that’s what this scene does. Specifically, the first set-up scene sets up the action that follows in Act 2 in which the heroine confronts the problem and tries to resolve the situation by jumping the hurdles in her way.

It’s like the moment in a boxing match–after the fighter you favor has strutted into the ring, likewise his opponent–when the bell rings and one of boxers throws the first punch, thus setting the tone and character of the match. Or the tennis player puts the ball into play. The private eye might have signed the contract earlier, but now he emotionally commits to it.

In a romance, the heroine and her love interest, having met cute in Act 1, decide to try to make a go of it somehow.

In fantasy, the first set up happens when the hero accepts the call to adventure and sets off on his epic adventure through Middle Earth or goes off to Hogwarts for his first year of wizardry school.

In Theresa Hupp’s historical Western novels Lead Me Home and Forever Mine, the characters begin their journey on the Oregon Trail in the first set-up scene.

And now let’s move on to another pivotal part of your novel, the Second Set up Scene.

The Second Set-up Scene Card asks the question,

“How leads to Act 3 of my novel?”

Similar to the first set-up scene, the second set-up scene, more commonly called Plot Point 2, sets up Act 3 of the novel. That is, it sets up the climactic scene of the novel, the most intense scene of the novel, and also the aftermath of the climax, the dénouement. In the second set-up scene, for example, the hero prepares to make one more attempt to defeat the villain, or the antagonist throws one last, truly daunting challenge in the hero’s way. The protagonist girds her loins, or the villain musters his troops.

In Western fiction, the sheriff sets off to meet the swaggering bad guys in the middle of the street of the little cow town.

In romantic fiction, the hero prepares one last attempt to woo and win the gal he loves.

One of my all time favorite second set-up scenes in crime fiction appears in Dick Francis’s debut novel, Odds Against. Sid Halley, already handicapped with a missing hand, wakes up strapped to a boiler about to explode. Oh boy, you say to yourself, Will Sid get out of there in time to avoid dying? How will he do it? If he gets free, does he go after the bad guy and catch him? No spoilers from me. You have to read this great novel for yourself to find out.

Don’t worry if you don’t have much of an idea for this scene when you initially make out your cards. It will come.

Next time we’ll move on to one more plot card.