Friday, August 26, 2016

Finding a Character For My Next Novel

“Nobody talks to me,” the old man said.

I was visiting my father-in-law at a retirement complex, and I was off the lobby, editing a novel on my laptop. It had been a quiet corner; no one had pestered me. Though I did interrupt my work to pet the various dogs that people walked out the back door.

“Nobody,” he said.

He folded himself into a nearby chair and proceeded to pester me.
Incessantly pester me.

I saved my work and figured I’d give him a handful of minutes and then he’d nod off, as men with as many lines on their face as old tree bark tend to do. Except he didn’t nod off. He talked and talked and talked. I’d heard about the guy from my husband, who had taken his dad to lunch. I had stayed behind both to work and to give Bruce some time alone with his dad.

But this ancient dude—Mark—wouldn’t leave me alone. I moved my computer to another room, and he followed me. I went upstairs to the “library” and hooked my computer up to an outlet. He found me there several minutes later.

I saved my work and let him talk.

“I get lonely,” he said. “Nobody’ll talk to me.” He went on to tell me that he’d given his car to his grandson, and that said grandson would be picking him up in the morning to drive him to a funeral.

I learned he had two loves in his life. A wife who’d died many years ago, and a girlfriend he met at the retirement center and wished he would have married. She’d died several months back. He carried an eight by ten picture of her in a tote bag to show people. He missed them both, yet he counted himself lucky and blessed to have known and loved these two women. A few days ago…the girlfriend would have been eighty-eight; he got his grandson to take him to the cemetery so he could put a dozen roses on her grave.

He worked as a welder with my father-in-law, traced their association back more than sixty hears, recalled when my father-in-law took a swing at him ‘cause he was wearing a Kennedy for President button. Yet he’s not a Democrat anymore. Not really a Republican. Doesn’t trust Hillary. Doesn’t like Trump. Would’ve voted for Cruz…Biden in a pinch. Figured Sarah Palin would have made a “helluva” president. Smart and pretty; someone to pay attention to.

I learned he liked mystery books. We enjoyed the same authors…J.A. Jance, Stuart Woods, Lee Goldberg, and Robert Crais. He said he was particularly fond of authors that only hinted at bedroom scenes, leaving it to the imagination rather than blatantly describing sex acts; he said the better authors could tease you. I promised the next time Bruce came to visit his dad, I’d pass along some of the mysteries I was done with.

He asked what kind of music I liked. I said classical and country. He serenaded me with a few moldy oldies I’d not heard before, then ended it with Good Ol Rocky Top, which I had heard of. His voice wasn’t bad.

I eventually escaped, but not before he became winded and happy. He still wasn’t ready to nod off.

“Thanks for talking to me,” he said.

It wasn’t so much he needed someone to talk to. It’s that he needed someone to listen.

I think I’ll find a way to slip him into my next murder mystery. I've got just the spot for him in sleepy Spencer County, Indiana, someone for my sheriff to interact with. I think I'll put him in the opening scene...and no, not as the victim.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weapon of Choice? A Silver Falchion!

I only had time for one convention this August, so I picked Killer Nashville over Gen Con. I write mysteries now, and so it seemed a most logical choice. Gee, I love this convention.

Don Bingle, my co-author on The Love-Haight Casefiles, was gracious enough to attend with me. Our book was up for a few awards. And--wow--we won three.

Three Silver Falchion Awards...Best Fantasy (peer voted), Best Urban Fantasy (judges award) and Best Multi-Genre (judges award).

Three days later and I'm still floating. How awesome is that? How friggin' awesome is that? 

Gee, I love this convention.

But honestly, I love it for the people. They have incredible author guests. This year Janet Evanovich. Hey, Beth Vaughan...I got my picture taken with JANET EVANOVICH. Kevin O'Brien, who was soooooo gracious and who presented us with one of our awards. William Kent Krueger, a joy to sit and chat with. I met the awesome and delightful Anne Perry and chatted with Glenn Meade, who wrote one of my favorite military books--Snow Wolf. Robert Randisi was beyond belief...he's written more than 700 novels. And I grabbed pieces of author Jaden Terrell's time. I'm gonna finish her book, River of Glass, tonight. Her book sends shivers, beautifully written. I started it yesterday and had to set it in another room so I would work today.

I like the South, the feel of it, the way complete strangers stop and wish you a good day...and sound like they really mean it. I like the music. No, I LOVE the music. There was a great band at the awards dinner, playing a mix of 70s and 80s rock. Joy to the World, It'd been a long time since I heard Jermiah...he really was a good friend of mine...and I danced to a Billy Joel tune with a retired policeman. The saxophone player was brilliant.

What I like most about the convention is the opportunity to chat with a variety of professionals...editors, agents, social media gurus, booksellers, publishers, and fellow writers. It's not a competitve atmosphere. Everyone tries to help each other. So, yeah, I recommend the convention if you write mysteries. Conversely, I touted Gen Con's Writer's Symposium to attendees who specialize in fantasy and science fiction. might be seeing some new faces in your audience.

I spent more than an hour with an agent--who wasn't at all interested in the actiony stuff I write--but who talked about the business, rewrote my query letter, gave me all sorts of tips and insights...and who I just had fun chatting with. She sought me and Don out later to chat some more. 

I got lots of good information about social media, promotions, and on and on. Yeah, I been in the business a while, 35 novels to my credit and more short stories than I care to count, but I learn something at every writing convention I attend. I learned a lot at this one.

Clay Stafford and his folks put on a fine convention.

I intend to be at next year's Killer Nashville. I love the South and the music, the people. My husband comes along so he can venture down to Broadway and visit all the honky tonks.

It's a great way to spend vacation days.

The three Silver Falchions with Don this go-round was that proverbial icing on the cake. It was really, really, really tasty icing.


Monday, August 22, 2016


I am both exhausted and energized, coming off the spectacular Killer Nashville mystery writer's convention. Cons always leave me that way. I'll have another blog tomorrow where I talk about some great things that happened there to me and my buddy Don Bingle, but I had to post a few snippets about something else first...get it out of my system, ya know. I feel compelled to share.

I met this AMAZING WOMAN. 

I got to spend some time with Janet Evanovich and Anne Perry...and they're amazing novelists. I chatted with Kevin O'Brien, Robert Randisi, Charles Todd, and William Kent Krueger...also amazing novelists. I bought a book from the convention bookstore of each of those author's works. All right, full disclosure, in some cases I bought two. That's where I spent all my convention the bookstore. Not that I needed more books, but I needed those books from those authors. I also spent some time with Glenn Meade, an author from Ireland who wrote one of my favorite military books ever: Snow Wolf. And Beth Terrell (known as author Jaden Terrell) managed to find snippets of time to chat despite her ultra-busy schedule. I picked up her most recent book, River of Glass, and read it until I fell asleep last night. AWESOME. Go buy this book, y'all. It is seriously good.

Back to my headline...this amazing woman.

I sat in the hotel atrium early one morning, scribbling notes for a story, when this lanky woman with curly gray-white hair faintly streaked in places with blue and green (all of it looking like a beautiful water color painting) asked if she could join me. I like to talk to strangers, so of course I agreed. And soon I discovered she was AMAZING and I was blessed to have crossed her path. We reconnected throughout the convention, and each time I found her even more amazing. Okay, I'm being redundant...but the word fits her.

71 years old, she'd completed her first mystery novel, and an agent at the convention asked to see the entire manuscript. This is a big deal, getting a request for an entire manuscript. Her tale is set in Africa and has a shaman as the main character...she told me about the characters and the story, and I was hooked. I asked her: "Why Africa?"

My breakfast companion was a retired art history professor from New England, with multiple Masters and a PhD, with impressive nonfiction credits...naturally books about art history.

"I love elephants," she said, as if that explained everything. "I just love elephants." Then after we filled our plates with scrambled eggs and bacon, she told me about her volunteer work at nature preserves in South Africa. Finished with the academic world, she wanted to see the elephants up close. She slept on the hard ground in the open for weeks at a time, labored to maintain waterholes for baby elephants, and then later worked with monkeys and lions. She's had lions walk at her side--not tame ones, sit on her feet, and rub against her legs. She was sometimes frightened, but always in awe.

It's expensive volunteering, she said, the plane fare and occasional accomodations out of her pocket. Now she goes only every other year because of that. And now she writes about the people and the country, weaving them into mystery manuscripts and soothing that particular itch in her soul. She said it is never too late to follow your heart.

You are never too old to write.

And you are most certainly never too old to dance with elephants.

Out of all the impressive people I met and chatted with at this awesome convention, the New York Times bestselling authors, the folks who have written well more than one hundred books...I think I will treasure the connection with her the most.

This amazing woman. 

We're going to stay in touch. I want to know where the next adventure takes her.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I have many friends who want to write novels. They’ll email me from time to time or call, always saying, “someday I’m going to get around to that book.”

Several of these friends are closing in on retirement age, and say maybe they should start writing a book now, so they’ll “get in the swing of it,” giving themselves another source of income after they’re done with their jobs. Some of them have asked for help, and I’ve tried to provide it. Others have attended writing seminars I’ve hosted, taking copious notes and yet not discovering the three magic words.

Someday, they say, they’ll start that awesome science fiction or fantasy tale.


They invariably ask me how I manage to write every day. Easy answer: my “someday” is today. I decided a lot of todays ago that I wanted to write. And rather than think about it, or plan when in the future I’d start a novel, I sat down and started typing.

Today is my “someday.”

Today has always been my “someday.”

And tomorrow will be my “someday” too.

I think that’s about the best advice I can give an aspiring writer: Make Today Your Someday.

I started attending science fiction conventions in the mid-1980s, and I’d listen to the pros: Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, Timothy Zahn, and Mike Stackpole. They talked about the craft of writing, plotting, the publishing world, and more. Admittedly, I learned more from them than I did from college writing professors. I still have those old notebooks, and I page through them for inspiration once in a while.

The thing that impressed me most was their persistence and dedication, their drive to write well. I still read books by those SF greats, and I’ve had the good fortune to occasionally edit their short fiction. How awesome a life is that? Awesome because today is my someday.

One of the things I seized upon from all those SF conventions was just how long it took from starting a novel to seeing it on a shelf. It could take years…from outlining the book to writing it, to submitting it to agents (where it could sit for months), to an agent accepting the manuscript and submitting it to publishers (where it could sit for months), to when it got purchased and scheduled for the New York publisher’s calendar (which could take a year or two). Small press is a different matter, and the subject for a future blog.

And all of the above was predicated on the assumption your manuscript would get accepted at each stage. It could also get tossed back at you as simply rejected, or if you were lucky they merely asked for rewrites…which adds more months to the endeavor.

Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, Timothy Zahn, Mike Stackpole, and more taught me that writing was a long game…a matter of years.

And so quite a long while ago I made today my someday. I figured that since writing was indeed a long game, and that it could take a long while to go from page one of my book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf, I had better get at it.

My thirty-fifth novel comes out this fall, three of them are with WordFire. Yeah, I been at it a while…

…thanks to the inadvertent nudge Mike, Joe, George, Timothy, and Mike gave me.

Maybe my nudge of MAKE TODAY YOUR SOMEDAY will help someone else.

See, those are the three magic words I mentioned in my second paragraph: Today is someday.