Thursday, July 21, 2016

Writing While Working a Day Job

by Linda Thorne

When was the last time I got up in the morning and asked myself what I wanted to do with my day? Since I started writing, being able to juggle time on a whim seems to hinge on whether or not I’m working a day job. Well, I've been working a full-time job now for over eight years.

I was between jobs when I first decided I wanted to be a writer. I worked hard at writing, but I also had time for me. Then a manufacturing company in the Central Valley of California hired me for a position in my profession, human resources management. The free time immediately disappeared and didn't return until two years later when the plant closed down. Once more unemployed, money was tight but time available.

After the plant closure, my husband and I moved to middle Tennessee. I found a new human resources position at a company in Nashville, now my current employer. When I began this stint of eight-years-plus, writing time became crunch time, which transformed into crushed time in 2014 when I got my first publishing contract, and then into shredded pieces of time when my book was published last year.

So, this is what writing while working a day job means to me. When I get home from work and dinner is out of the way, I’m normally tied up on my computer with social media and emails, all part of routine book marketing/promotion. On certain days of the month, instead of going home after work, I head off to the local Sisters in Crime meeting, or an after-work author event. On the weekends, I sometimes attend writing activities or regular Nashville Writers Meetup critique groups. My vacation time is spent at writers’ conferences, conventions, or festivals. I will admit these are fun, but they are also working vacations. Even my lunch breaks at work are spent catching up on my reading, another necessity to improving my writing. I do this in my car except for the hot days of summer when I take my lunch break in a nearby hospital lobby.
Now, you’ll hear people say that working a day job is the ultimate motivator in getting your writing done. Some will tell you that you’re more apt to maximize that time rather than squander it since it’s all you have. They’ll go on to say you can’t write all of the time anyway, so you should have time for a day job.

Who are these people? Where do they come from? I ask you.

Maybe they have a magic secret. I don't know. Sure, you’re not going to be able (or want) to write all of the time, but even without a full-time job, you wouldn’t have time for solely writing. There’s the promotion and marketing, getting visibility for your name and your writing projects. There are family obligations, old friends (if you have any left), and personal errands. Let’s not forget sleeping.

If I didn’t have the day job, not only could I spend more time on writing and promotion, I could do some of the things I’ve had to give up. For example, I’d love to go out to a movie again or watch more than just the national news on TV. How fun to pack up and leave for a non-working vacation, to sleep in late on occasion. I want to go out to lunch the traditional way, to a restaurant. Sometimes I want to scream out, “Give me my life back!”

Having said these words, I’m taking a heavy sigh and returning to reality. I need my day job, so I’m grateful to be employed. As far as the writing, I remind myself that I’m the one who chose to go into it hook, line, and sinker, and it’s not like I wasn’t forewarned. So, I may grumble here and there, but I’ll keep on and see where this life I’ve chosen takes me. After all, I'd like to be there if any of the what ifs come to fruition.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Writing, Magic and Electricity

by Janis Patterson

I am always astonished when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” The world is full of ideas. Almost anything can spark an idea. At a writers lunch not long ago someone brought a very technical book on statistical analysis they had just published as a part of their day job. The subject was so esoteric while I could read every word in the title, but could not understand what they meant as a whole. (I am definitely among the mathematically and scientifically inept!) When the author explained, I said, “But what a wonderful idea for a plot!”

Everyone looked at me as if I had just lost my mind and one writer was blunt enough to say, “Not for me, it doesn’t,” whereupon I spun out the skeleton of a tale including – as I recall – rogue scientists, an honest researcher and various unscrupulous types manipulating the future through scientific predictions based on statistical data.

It’s usually at this point where The Husband says, “You’re weird.” This impromptu story-spinning of mine has been part of me all my life and is now an almost obligatory performance at dinner parties and other social functions. Pity I don’t remember any of these tales for more than ten minutes or so.

The point of all this being that anything – anything! – can be the germ, the seed, the kernel of a plot. Of course, we all know that for a book you need hundreds of ideas, ideas that will interlink into a seamless whole, but every plot starts with a single idea, even if you don’t know from where it comes.

And they do come – in waves and deluges and herds… The only trouble is that they don’t necessarily mesh with each other enough to make a coherent plot.

In a way it’s a shame to let all those ideas die without even attempting to incorporate them into a manuscript, but sheer numbers and time crunches make that impossible. The whole exercise is extremely useful, though, as just that – an exercise for my imagination. As the saying goes, use it or lose it. Therefore I fully intend to keep on entertaining (and occasionally unnerving) those around me with my flights of fancy. As an acknowledged member of the Reality-Challenged, it’s great fun.

So how do I decide which idea becomes a book or even part of a book and which is an amusing piece of ephemera? Easy – I don’t. It’s the idea. It grabs ahold of me and won’t let go. No matter what else I’m working on – writing or cooking or anything – it’s somewhere there in my mind, as tenacious (and occasionally annoying) as a terrier. Eventually I give in and start writing. Generally every one of those books is finished, usually including a few ideas that somehow didn’t manage to stand on their own. I do have a few – a very few – of these stories that petered out before the final ‘The End’, but I don’t think they’re dead. They’re just dormant, and when the right combination of ideas comes together they will be finished, even if not in the form I originally intended.

That’s why I think writing is a form of magic. Like electricity, I don’t really know how it works, I just know that that it does.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Just Home from the PSWA Conference! by Marilyn Meredith

What a great conference! Loved seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

We had a Pre-Conference Writer's Workshop--first time we've done this. I was one of the instructors and my impressions was that it was helpful.

These are the types of people who attend: a handful of mystery writers, cops from various locations, still on th4 job and retired, a couple of publishers and several editors, screen writers, published and unpublished writers in many genres, homicide detectives, a search and rescue dog handler, bio-terrorism experts, military veterans, undercover cops, those who once were FBI and worked various investigations. SWAT team members, a public relations consultant, a retired biology professor, vice detectives, active and retired fire people, a forensic scientist, and public relations person, and the editor of Such a wealth of information these folks shared.

Like most mystery cons we had great panels with all kinds of public safety topics and writing topics.

Every year I don't see how it could get better, but it always does.

We'll meet again next year at the same time and place--Orleans hotel and casino in the conference center. So do consider it.


(I was just headed back to my seat after taking a photo of a panel.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Good-bye Judging - Hello Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

Today my guest is my friend and fellow author, Debra H. Goldstein talking about her writing career.
I am, or perhaps I should say I was, a judge. I had a lifetime federal appointment and had gladly served the public for twenty-three years, after being one of the youngest and earliest females to obtain my position, but I gave it up to write mysteries. Why?
Initially, I tried to do it all. In fact, my first book, Maze in Blue, a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus, was written while I was on the bench. My non-judicial writing time was confined to the weekends or between midnight and four a.m. during the week. With that schedule, Maze wasn’t written or revised overnight, but after several years, it finally was ready to see daylight. I announced that fact at a women’s meeting showcasing four other writers. A member of the audience contacted her best childhood friend, who happened to be co-owner of a small publishing house, and said “There’s a judge with a mystery I think you might want to take a look at. I’ve seen some of her other writings and believe it might be worth your time.” Well, one thing led to another and without ever querying, I had a two -book deal within the week.
The end of 2011 is a blur – speaking engagements, a website and blog, and conferences began to fill my hours. I still continued doing my day job and making sure the two were kept separate. Then, tragedy struck.

A week before Malice 2012, the publisher announced the company was going out of business. It graciously gave all of its authors back their rights. Because I had six more months of bookings, I immediately put the book back into circulation myself while pitching it to Harlequin Worldwide Mystery. During the next year, I went back to the write in the early morning hours and produced a new book with different characters. I also wrote several short stories. All of these things were
accomplished keeping my judicial and writing lives separate.
The new book had more trouble finding a home, but lightning struck at Killer Nashville. Denny Dietz liked the first two pages and agreed to read the rest. Five Star bought my second book, Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery around the same time period Harlequin Worldwide Mystery purchased and published Maze as one of its selections of the month in May 2014.
With two books under my belt, more in my head, and a few short stories in the hopper, I was beginning to think juggling two careers might not be a good idea. Then, it happened. I finished conducting a hearing and asked, “Is there anything further.” The lawyers said “no,” but one attorney’s client piped up, “Yes, there is.” I looked from the client to the attorney and paused to give the lawyer time to get his client under control, but th
e client shook him off. The lawyer shrugged, so I let the client speak his piece. “Your honor, I just want you to know, no matter how you rule, I’m going to buy your book.”

I bet I didn’t get that sale because I ruled against him, but it made it clear to me, I needed to pick one career. I chose to write full time. Seven months later, I wrapped up my docket and retired from the bench to be a full-fledged writer. I don’t regret deciding to “Make Mine Mystery. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Binge Watching and Binge Reading

I started binge watching TV, when I noticed some of the stations, such as ION, TNT, and others devoted entire days to certain programs, or at least showed one or two episodes each day in a row until the series was completed, such as House, and Judging Amy.

Turns out I found binge-watching so satisfying, I've graduated to borrowing television DVDs from the library, such as  Homeland, The Mentalist, Chicago Fire, and Chicago P.D.. That works even better for me, since usually only a few commercials appear on the lead disc of a series. Last December, I was lucky enough to get a free trial offer for Showtime and I binge watched the entire season of Homeland, which had just been completed. I'm dying to see the new episodes when the series starts up again, but will now need to decide whether to get a subscription to Showtime or wait for the DVD. I'll be more fortunate with Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., since they're on NBC, a major network. I've digressed a bit here. Anyway, I've heard I'm not the only binge watcher. 

This TV binge-watching of mine reminds me there are also a ton of binge readers. I'd often heard readers like nothing more than to follow a series by a favorite author, and now I better understand that preference. 

For authors, I'm offering some suggestions on how to create a series to hook binge readers: 
  1. Use the same character in each book.
  2. Create a collection or anthology using the same theme as presented in the lead book, as I've done in my Always Young series. I confess to not completing the third of the series, but one of these days it will be ready. I've been sidetracked by a good twin, bad twin book I'd started ages ago and begs to be done first.
  3. Use a certain locale in each book, as I've used in my so-far two book Deerview series, which I might later expand.
  4. Do a spin off by turning a minor character in one book into a major in another, as I've done in my short Perfect Match series.
What about you? Do you binge watch or binge read? Do you like to write or read a book series? If you're an author with a series, please share a link to the first of your series and offer a few sentences about the character or premise.

Catch all of Morgan Mandel's mysteries and romances at

Check out Morgan's mystery website at:

Connect with Morgan on Facebook at:


Friday, July 8, 2016

Choosing One Moment

A guest blog by Marja McGraw

Jean asked me what inspired the personalities in the book, and this is the short version.

One of my favorite authors, Dorothy Bodoin, and I discussed that we’d both like to try our skills on a time travel book. Further inspired by two songs, Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce, and That Sunday, That Summer as sung by Natalie Cole, I took a step out in faith. I could do this, or at least I’d try my best to write a time travel story.

I thought about people I know and how they might react to life if they lived in another time period; specifically, 1909. Honestly, I have no idea what led me to choose that year. I remembered older people I’ve known throughout my life. They loved to share stories about growing up in an earlier era. Somehow it all came together.

The main character in Choosing One Moment is Carrie McFerrin. I had to give her a lot of thought and determined she must be a mystery writer whose skills someone wanted to put to use. There had to be a purpose for her time travel. Is she based on me? Not at all. Well, she is a bit clumsy, and that’s a trait we share.

She traveled to 1909 as the request of her great-aunt Genny, who’d traveled before her. I might add that Carrie didn’t travel willingly. Genny reminds me a bit of my own aunt.

My husband inspired more than one character because of the many sides to his personality (the good guys). Inspired is the key word. The world needs good men, and he was one of them.

The book includes an aged woman called Mother Possum. When I was a child there was a woman in her nineties who was called Mother Possum, and I’ve never forgotten her. The name alone made her fodder for a character. And, yes, her surname was actually Possum.

I could go through character by character, but that would be too time-consuming. In my other mysteries, the people are purely fictional, for the most part. I can’t explain it, but this time travel story felt more personal. It begged for personalities that I’m familiar with and people who have played a role in my life.

Yes, the characters are fictional, but they’re inspired by the best, and the worst (don’t forget the bad guys). And remember, there’s a killer on the loose in the fictional town of Little Creek.

One last thought, and that’s that an old crank phone hangs in my guest room. It was begging to be in a story. I couldn’t resist. It’s a link to the past.

Jean also asked about research for the story. As I mentioned, I grew up hearing stories related by elderly people. Those led me to read old newspaper articles, books about the time period, research (and images) of clothing in and around 1909, and anything else I could lay my hands on. The fact that people from that time period didn’t have the amenities we have today played a large part, too. Can you imagine what they might think if they saw today’s appliances, cell phones, cars or jetliners? What about a microwave oven or a dishwasher? A man on the moon? They’d probably laugh at at that idea.

Ah, the differences are too many to think about. If we traveled in time, imagine what it would be like to suddenly have things that we take for granted disappear from our lives.

Thank you, Jean, for allowing me to give a little background on Choosing One Moment – A Time Travel Mystery. It was an experience I enjoyed, and I think readers will, too.

About the story:

Mystery writer Carrie McFerrin has inherited an old family house and all of its contents from her Great Aunt Genny.

While taking inventory of the attic contents, she comes across an old wooden crank telephone. Thinking the old phone would look perfect in her vintage kitchen, she hangs it on the wall by the back door, and an old, yellowed piece of paper asking for help falls to the floor.

The impossible happens when the disconnected old phone rings – three rings, a pause, and three more rings.

Carrie picks up the receiver, wondering what’s going on, and her life suddenly changes – forever.

Nothing will ever be the same.

Author Bio:

My friend Marja McGraw was born and raised in Southern California. She worked in both civil and criminal law, state transportation, and a city building department.  She has lived and worked in California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska and Arizona.

She wrote a weekly column for a small town newspaper in Northern Nevada, and conducted a Writers’ Support Group in Northern Arizona. A past member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), she was also the Editor for the SinC-Internet Newsletter for a year and a half.

Marja writes two mystery series: The Sandi Webster Mysteries and The Bogey Man Mysteries, which are light reading with a touch of humor. She also occasionally writes stories that aren’t part of a series.

Marja says that each of her mysteries contains a little humor, a little romance and A Little Murder!

She now lives in Washington, where life is good.

Posted by Jean Henry Mead

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

International Me

by Janis Patterson

I’ve always had a rule that if a person or company contacts me out of the blue wanting to do wonderful business with me I stay away from them. Things that sound too good to be true usually are.

So - when I received an email from a man named Geert Sels asking for an interview I almost ignored it. The gods of stupid authors were looking after me, though, because as the request came from Belgium I was intrigued and investigated. Turns out he is not only legitimate, he is a very respected journalist in Europe. He wanted to do a feature on me and A KILLING AT EL KAB for De Standaard Cultuur, one of Belgium’s most popular newspapers.

We did the interview by emails – in English – and I waited. Mr. Sels was both charming and amusing and it was a treat to work with him. Used to the glacial pace of book publicity, I was astonished when within a week the interview was printed. Mr. Sels sent me a transcript of the interview – in English – the same day, and about a week later I got two full newspapers, sent by a dear friend who lives in Belgium.

I flipped through the paper quickly… and am so glad that Mr. Sels used the book cover image I sent him, because without it I wonder if I could have recognized the story – it had all been translated into Dutch! A little research showed that De Standaard Cultuur is printed in the Flanders area of Belgium, where Dutch is the everyday language.

Whatever – it was a great rush to be solicited for an interview in a respected European daily newspaper – even if I couldn’t read what I said!  

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Yep, a New Book Coming Up!

Though it won't be out until August--there is much I need to do.

I've already planned, scheduled and written posts for yet another blog tour. This one is a bit shorter than others I've done and I have a new contest. Instead of offering someone who makes the most comments on the tour a chance to have a character named after them, the winner(s) will be chosen from those who make the most comments during the tour. The prize will be a choice of one of the earlier books in the series--a Kindle or paper variety.

I need to make business cards as I find that's the easiest to remember and hand out to people at book events or just about anywhere.

A book launch of some sort needs to be planned--and at this moment, I have no idea what that will be.

I already have some in-person activities scheduled and hope for more to come.

The cover is perfect for the book--a forest fire and an eagle. Don't you love the Native American interpretation?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Writing As My Own Astral Projection Device

Write what you know?  Is that the belief other crime writers go by? Most of us will never commit a crime worthy of a police investigation. We’ll never encounter a career criminal.

Although I’ve never been in a fist fight I can write a convincing street fight scene. I can also write a pursuit down a dark alley at midnight, because I have an imagination. We all have an imagination

Like an ability to sketch a landscape in front of us, some of us can do it better than others. Writing a fight scene requires not only imagination but the craft of animating characters into real people and giving them the reasons to bruise their knuckles.

I’ve never been shot, and never seen an actual gunshot wound. But how many times have we witnessed violence and death on TV and in the movies? Remember when Tony Soprano got shot in the stomach?  We all remember that.

I can imagine a fist coming at me. In my imagination I know the smell of gun powder, the sound, and can feel the kick of a gun.

I found this in the New York Times, Book SectionWrite What You Know’ — Helpful Advice or Idle Cliché? 

I’m quoting Moshe Hamid from this article. He writes:

But I also write about things I haven’t experienced. I’ve written from the point of view of a woman, of a global surveillance system, of a writer who is being beheaded. I write these things because I want to transcend my experiences. I want to go beyond myself. Writing isn’t just my mirror, it’s my astral projection device.

All crime writers have catapulted ourselves into worlds we will never know. I’ve written from the point of view of a Chechen gold digger, a homeless teenager, a Kurdish gangster. It all feels normal to me while I’m doing it. 

A well-practiced astral projection device is internet research. What would a storyteller do nowadays without Google where you can research your idea in ever-widening circles? I’m researching blue grass mandolin right now, as though people who are reading my books are breathless with anticipation to learn about what I’ve found. I’m unlikely to use a twentieth of what I unearth.

When are you simply procrastinating the writing by contacting yet one more expert? Reading one more website?  Listening to one more mandolin riff? After all, playing the mandolin is not what the story is about.

I love research. I made my living working on a series of academic research projects. It got a little stuffy and tedious after a couple of decades. That's where I learned how to launch into an unfamiliar topic and serve it up in digestible and enjoyable hunks. Readers have asked me how many times I’ve been to Chechnya and Turkey to write Rip-Off and On Behalf of the Family. Actually, never. But my books take you there.

Visit my website at http://marpreston.comfor a free introduction into my world as a mystery writer.