Friday, December 20, 2013

Owls and Other Muses

Lisa Stowe, my guest today, may not be a familiar name to you, but she has a long writing and editing history. I’ve known her since Death By A Dark Horse was named something else, and was in its initial, very rough, form.

At the time, she headed up a writers’ group at our local library. What impressed me was her quiet attention to each budding writer and her ability to discern just what each piece of work needed – then deliver the information in a manner that both challenged and encouraged the author rather than dispirit.

Knowing I’d found the help I needed, I handed over my rough draft of DBADH. When she was done reading it, her suggestion was to start the story a little farther into my manuscript. I swallowed hard, and pondered her advice for three days because, as all writers know, cutting out your darlings is painful. At last, because I trusted her, the first seventy-five pages were severed, and … I knew I’d done the right thing. Since then, she has taught me much and encouraged my growth as a writer, for which I am very grateful.

I think you’ll understand, when you read her contribution to my blog, why I feel she is well qualified to coax a story from a writer. She has a gentle warmth and humor that make her wise words difficult to forget.


Parliament of owlsSomeone once told me that my guardian spirit was an owl. She then said she’d never seen so many around one person, that they perched along my roof line and in the trees. I thought that was a cool image, although I didn’t know if I should be thrilled or terrified. Another friend researched owls as guardian spirits and told me they were the keepers of stories.

So where do stories come from? Those guardian spirits that hold them safe.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? I enjoy thinking I’m surrounded by owls. Kind of like being in Hogwarts. Dropping stories down as I need them, rather like owl pellets in word form.

The reality is something different though. Rather than coming from an owl, I find myself listening in on conversations. I recently heard a woman talking about remodeling. It was, to be honest, a boring story. I started thinking it would be way more fun if this happened, and then if that started up, and then this person could jump in, and then what if…

And instantly I’ve daydreamed my way into something entertaining, while smiling and nodding to a story about plumbing problems.

Sometimes it’s a question that intrigues me. The Memory Keeper started because my father thought a bordello madam was his biological mother. He died before finding out and I knew the question would haunt me forever if I couldn’t answer it. So I did, in a story. What if she was his mother? What if a young woman looked for her grandfather’s history, looked for that madam, and old buried secrets came out in the open? What would those secrets be, and who would care?

For me, when I ask that question, the answer I receive isn’t a complete book, or even a full story. Usually I see the very last scene. I always know what the last line of the story is, and the writing process is figuring out how to get to that point. The questions get me wandering down a foggy path toward a clear ending.

‘What if…’ is a magical question. I ask it when eavesdropping on life.

And of course, by waiting for an owl to poop an idea down on my head.


To read more about Lisa and gain writing insight, visit her blog The Story River. If you need an editor, she is Outlaw Creek Editing. To spend some quality time with beautifully written, absorbing mysteries pick up The Memory Keeper and then Sparrow’s Silence at any retailer. They’re in print and e-book format. Here’s some links to make it easy for you:

Smashwords: All E-Books

All other retailers -- search Lisa Stowe or the book title.

Saturday, December 14, 2013



Diane Vallere
I'd like to introduce all of you to a friend of mine, Diane Vallere. We've known each other for years, belong to the same organizations, served on committees together, but ... we've never met. Gotta love the internet! I'd know her in an instant if I saw her on the street, and I know enough about her to tell all of you that she is one of the most creative people I've ever met. 

Diane is a prolific author of  short stories (in 3 anthologies), full length novels that include two separate series; The Style and Error Series and the Mad for Mod Series -- so far a total of 7 titles -- and is working on a Fabric Shop Mystery Series for publisher Berkley Prime Crime. 


She also worked for years as a buyer for one of THE most famous luxury goods retailers, traveling the world to runway shows, shoe markets and lingerie fairs. Is she qualified to write what she writes? Darned toot'n! She's got the fashion industry nailed, and her books make you feel like you're part of it (I know this because I've read them all). Diane is also supremely qualified to hold forth on the genesis of ideas for entertaining stories, but I'll bet you've figured that out by now. So, without further ado, here's Diane!

Diane's newest!

Most people who know me know how much I love Project Runway. And the one thing that resonates with me each week is how the designers are given their inspiration and immediately told to sketch their ideas. Thirty minutes, and then off to Mood Fabrics. The designer who can channel their inspiration and merge it with their brand quickly has a much easier time when it comes to selecting material and assembling a dress.

In a way, I approach my books like a designer. Each series is a collection; the combination of my books make up my brand. And the inspiration can come from anywhere: a line at the bank, a day at the beach, an appointment with a personal shopper, an old movie. The best way for me to keep rejuvenating the pool of ideas in my head is to keep exposing myself to new things.

This is the single most important part of my full-time writing life.While juggling writing with a full time job, I didn’t have the luxury of staring at a blank page. I had to be able to turn on my writing when I had a pocket of time. That was a great skill to develop. But that skill was born out of a different skill: the ability to find ideas in everyday life. In order to turn on the writer during my 1 hour lunch break, I needed to have a cache of ideas ready to be mined.

I keep a composition book for every project that I’m working on, and any time something strikes me that might work somewhere in a book, I jot it down in the notebook. (I am a compulsive composition book buyer for this reason). I buy them in coordinating sets of three to represent three books in a series. If I get an idea for a future book, I can tear out the page and clip it to the cover for the next book in that series.

Example: Because I knew I wanted to use a counterfeiting crime as part of the plot of THAT TOUCH OF INK, I was especially tuned into anything involving money. I watched how people acted at the bank. I paid attention to people who used cash instead of credit. When something struck me, I’d write it in the designated composition book. When I needed to shake loose an idea, I’d flip through the composition book until something felt fresh. That doesn’t mean I only had ideas about counterfeiting crimes during that time. In fact, I was so in tune with those characters that I got the idea for the third book in the series too. Since my writing schedule didn’t allow for me to write it right away, I started a new notebook with those ideas. (I started the third book in November and found a lot of ideas that just needed to be fleshed out!)

Getting ideas is easy—as long as I keep myself exposed to what is going on outside of my computer!


Want to find out more about Diane's books? Go to her blog DIANE VALLERE (Go on, click on her name), and read excerpts from her books. All her books are available in print and e-book formats. She's got links to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Nobel, Indiebound -- you name it. You'll find her everywhere. I can guarantee a delightful read!

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Great Idea Fairy

Yes, that’s exactly where story ideas come from.

Wow! You mean they're real!?!

Sometime, in the middle of the night, the Great Idea Fairy squeezes her voluptuous self through my partially opened bedroom window (I need fresh air when I sleep), and whacks me over the head with her hefty magic storybook.
 I wish.

Paul's chance to be a hero. Did he blow it?
For me, it can be difficult to find the source of my next tale, and it often isn’t where I expect it to be. If I’m lucky, the story I’ve just written suggests the next. That happened with Levels of Deception. I was deep into editing Death By A Dark Horse and the characters were flexing their muscles, begging to go off on more adventures. Paul wanted to go to Montana and dig up dinosaur bones and Thea, fresh from victory, was wanting to be a hero again. Okay, to be honest, Paul wanted a shot at hero, too.

Did I want to make them happy? Darned right I did. They were fun and adventurous. And what better way to make them happy than give them both what they wanted – which had to put them in direct conflict with each other.

That made me happy. Nothing like two people struggling to “make it work” and ready to sacrifice it all for that goal. Throw in a murder and danger from an unknown source, to up the stakes, and … Wow! My hands are already sweating!

A real-life baddie inspired this story.
Shooting to Kill, the most recent in the series, had it’s source in an article I read about a real person. The article gave me the creeps, and I wondered how someone who was more than a bubble and a half off plumb could con so many smart people and not be found out until something violent happened. What would it take to coexist with someone like this? I knew the ends would they go to in order to accomplish their goal, but what would happen if someone stepped into their path?

Obviously, here was a job for Thea and Paul.  

Lacking a personal Great Idea Fairy, I fall back on gaming out the old “what if” theme. How do I choose which of the many ideas to use? There are plus points if my protagonists can be in conflict with each other as well as other characters. I like to stir things up. Other than that, well, if I can imagine some humor and unusual twists I’ve likely got myself a story to tell.

Because every writer has his or her own twist on story creation, I’ve enlisted a number of my writer-friends to reveal the spark that drives their creativity. Over the coming weeks a variety of authors whose styles and processes differ from mine will stop by. It'll be fun to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes workings of some very talented folks. I'm looking forward to it!

Sigh. Please, don't tell me you believe her drivel about who comes up with the stories. And I'm NOT voluptuous.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Shooting To Kill is Launched!

It's not a rumor, it's true -- Shooting to Kill is available right this very minute on Amazon Kindle! And yes, you're right, it's been released much much sooner than I anticipated! Enjoy the read -- and tell your friends!
Thanks so much for being Thea fans!

Here's the link: LINK TO KINDLE

And here's the back cover blurb;

Shooting To Kill
The fifth Thea Campbell Mystery

When Thea Campbell’s veterinarian collapses after accidentally injecting himself with a horse vaccine, Thea rushes to his aid. Despite her best efforts, the much-loved vet dies. In the wake of this tragic fluke, Thea reconsiders her own cautious approach to relationships.

Life, Thea decides, might be shorter than you expect, and procrastination a death-bed regret.

She immediately accepts her best friend’s last-minute wedding invitation and embraces the planning of her own marriage to fiancĂ© Paul Hudson.

However, on return from her friend’s wedding, Thea has little opportunity to pursue her new philosophy. Her veterinarian’s death has been ruled a murder, his young assistant arrested and accused of deliberately substituting euthanasia solution for the West Nile vaccine.

The only person to believe in her innocence is Thea’s sister Juliet. She intends to investigate and begs Thea for help. But Thea believes the case is closed and the police have arrest the right person. Besides, she intends to concentrate on planning her wedding.

However, the chilling fact is Thea was right about life being shorter than expected. Procrastination is not on the killer’s agenda.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Traveling Interview

Author Kate Wyland emailed me the other day and suggested I might enjoy being part of a traveling interview. For those of you stopping by for the first time, I write a mystery series set in Snohomish, Washington and laced with humor and romance. Because I have a new Thea Campbell Mystery -- Shooting To Kill -- coming out soon, and because I trust Kate to be tasteful and ... well ... fun, I agreed .... And then I looked at the questions.  Much to my delight, they are good! And because the same questions pass from author to author any reader who follows the trail will find out about the various differences and amazing similarities between us. Happy reading, everyone!

What are you working on right now?

Currently, I’m outlining the plot for the sixth Thea Campbell mystery.

How does it differ from other works in its genre?

Although my mysteries have serious themes and deal with tragedy, I mix in a good deal of humor. Because I’m one of those people who often see the irony and humor in life’s events and relationships, I include those elements in each story. After all, even the most noble of individuals are capable of sincere eye-rolling moments! Plus – and this is truly important – there are always horses in my books, as well as (at least) one riding lesson that should satisfy the reader who is also a rider, and should give the non-rider a vicarious feel for what it is like to strive to communicate with an equine partner.

What experiences have influenced you?

What hasn’t influenced me? The sum of life’s experiences is on every page and in every character. That said, I really don’t think I would have gotten to the point where I was determined to write my first book if not for my son and his particular challenges when he was young. No, it wasn’t him saying “sit down and write,” but rather, “stop what you’re doing and be here for me.” It was the “being here,” the many empty hours of waiting to be needed, that gave me the impetus to make something positive of that time.
Why do you write what you do?

Conflict is fascinating. It exposes the inner workings of each individual, for good or bad, for tears or laughter. Sure, all books contain conflict, and it’s pretty clear that humans enjoy the vicarious experience. We risk little, but can gain in wisdom.  The habit of mysteries to resolve the conflict and put the world to rights is, for me, extremely satisfying. I like to think of it as the triumph of Justice, which I feel is a pretty basic human need. Sometimes, we call it “Hope.”

How does your writing process work?

I am a Plotter and an Outliner. I didn’t start out that way, but the more I’ve written the more my process has developed. This is what I typically do: I start with a body. It doesn’t matter if I know who it is or why they died -- I’ll find out. Once I do, I work on the villain. I want to know this individual and what motivates them. I want to know all their shameful secrets and what they want in life. At that point I can intersect their crime with my protagonist and write the story from her point of view. After all, she is the one who will be responsible for bringing the villain to justice. Even though I know she will, I can’t make it easy for her. What would be the fun in that? The more crises and problems I can create for her, the better.

What is the hardest part about writing?

Being able to evaluate one’s own work. What is in my head isn’t always what appears on the page. This is why it’s so critical to find critique partners or editors who can articulate problems they find and point out when the page and the intent don’t mesh. It can be something as simple as having a couple of sentences out of order or a word that implies something other than what I intend. A good editor will be able to read, understand and communicate what is veering off from my intent. It isn’t always easy to hear, but there will be a ring of truth to it that can’t be ignored. It’s impossible for a writer do this for herself.

What would you like to try as a writer that you haven't yet?

There are a number of genres I’d like to try my hand at – techno-thrillers, romance, etc – but to do so requires the ability to write full time. To do that means I must be earning enough to quit the day job! I’m not there yet, but my hope is to be able to reach enough readers that it becomes possible.

Who are the authors you most admire?

There are many! And not all of them are well known. What they have in common is the mastery of the craft – the ability to turn loose the reins of their imagination, and at the same time retain mastery over the intricacies of the language in such a way that the reader is transported completely away from the here and now.

Who are new authors to watch out for?

Here are a few I love – and I’ve put a link to each author with their name. They are different genres and sub-genres, and I’m betting several of these will appeal! Check them out!

KateWyland -- mysteries with romance and horses.
Lisa Stowe -- traditional mysteries set in the mountains of Idaho.
Kaylan Doyle -- sci/fi fantasy with romance and adventure. 
Jeanne Matthews -- traditional mysteries with a globe trotting protagonist. 
Joyce Yarrow -- Chandler-esque mysteries with a PI who is also a poet. 
Lisa Love Harris -- mysteries with a dash of romance and an antique-loving Texan protagonist.
Kait Carson -- traditional mysteries set in Florida with an ex-cop protagonist.

What scares you?

Next up? Where do you go from here? Check out Lisa Stowe. She has a wonderful blog called The Story River where she reflects on the craft of writing and all the thought provoking people and situations she encounters. Plus, she's doing these questions, too!

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Something from Nothing

When I got my monthly email about needing an article for a newsletter I contribute to, I’d just sent off my fifth Thea Campbell mystery to the final editor. I was feeling more than a bit tapped-out and was wondering if I would be able to summon any words. I cast about for inspiration and was, pretty much, finding nothing. Then it occurred to me that perhaps inspiration and how we corral it would be a good topic. After all, each of us deal with it – or the lack of it.

What a great idea! I could write about Nothing (notice the capital).

We’ve all been there, right? -- The “I got nothing” for the next book/story. I’ll bet 99% of us have even designed the T-shirt. I’ll also bet we each have a pattern we follow in order to grab inspiration by the throat and tie her to the chair.

I usually start a story with a body. Sometimes I don’t know who it is or how they died, but I know something, and I start to build the plot around that. The organic, story-growing process for me always moves next into why that person has been killed, and then  who would do such a thing.

I know a number or writers who joyfully dive into their story without a single notion of “who done it.” I’ve tried that approach, and it doesn’t work for me. I find I actually enjoy getting to know my villain. Sometimes there are several antagonists and I frankly relish poking around in their warped little minds (a bit of confession here: I freaked myself out researching the villain for this latest mystery) (seriously).

Sometimes it isn’t a character, but an event. Maybe it’s singular, like the I-5 bridge collapse in Mt. Vernon, Washington (we can hope it’s a singular event, although from what I’ve been reading about the state of our state’s bridges, we should worry). Maybe it’s an ongoing social phenomenon like insider trading, or identity theft. Maybe it’s something as old as the ages like sibling rivalry.

Okay, now that I’ve confessed to the Big Void and my usual plan for conquering it, what about you? Do you like to spend quality time with the bad-guys? Are they your inspiration? What kinds of things scream “story material” at you? What stokes the “what if” spark into the kind of fire that makes you write the story?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

There's a New Bun ... er, Book in the Oven

I’ve been absent. But 83,241 words later, I’m back, and with a new book begging for release. It is in editors’ hands now, so I’m waiting patiently (sort of) to hear from them. I’m waffling on the title, and don’t have the cover art done yet, but all of that is in progress. 

Here's some questions I've been fielding lately (other than "what took you so long?"):

So, what’s it all about? 
It’s about two, maybe three weddings and at least one funeral.

Who gets married? Is it Thea and Paul? 
Well, maybe. Anybody remember me saying once that when they got married something awful and unexpected would happen? You don’t? Oh. Too bad.

And what’s this about three weddings? 
I said “maybe.” Pay attention.

All right then, who dies? Someone I had a lot of trouble killing, and a couple other people. There was a higher body count in the end that what I originally intended. And more blood. 

What about Juliet? Has she gotten over Eric? Juliet is nothing if not resilient. She’s up to the top of her curly head in intrigue. And Eric … hmmm ….

Does Blackie get more page time? Blackie figures strongly in this story. We’re spending a good deal of time at the barn, I’m happy to say.

And the title?
I’m waffling between “Fatal Injection” and “Shooting to Kill

Have you got a preference on the title? Which would you pick up? And while you're at it -- if you've got any questions for me or any of the characters, toss them in the comments. We'll try to satisfy your curiosity without giving too much away.