Granny Logic


A woman on a pier, holding an umbrella over her face
SHORT STORY: I broke my right foot. Terribly inconvenient. But it inspired this story.

Nothing like having Granny on stakeout.

Sidelined by a broken foot, private investigator Erin King must go on surveillance.  Her body-building granny plays chauffeur.

Add a thorny case of fraud and an impatient insurance company.  And the bill collectors.

With time running out, Erin needs answers, fast.  But sometimes granny knows best.

Set in Pismo Beach California, this heart-warming mystery is a page turner.

A Granny PI mystery short story available from your favorite booksellers.

Strands of Blackmail


Cover for Strands of Blackmail
When I was driving home, a white dog was standing up on his hind legs, feet propped up on a fence, looking like he was chatting with the neighbors. So I had to use him in a story.

Sometimes returning home brings back good memories, or bad ones.

For Shari Kendell, it’s finding answers to the questions her grandmother’s death left.  Actors always live in their own world, but Shari is surprised and what she didn’t know.  Who was blackmailing her grandmother, and why?

A Morro Bay mystery short story, available from your favorite booksellers.

Spotlight on 5 Selected Links About Books


Girl lays on a bed, reading a book with a big smile on her face

Reading isn’t just the books, but sometimes the history of them, the libraries, or even how the world used them.  And sometimes it’s just wandering through the aisles looking at all of them and not knowing where to start.

7 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Bookstores This is a mostly fun list about bookstores.  I had no idea that books from different publishers had different smells! (16).

25 Interesting Facts About Libraries Did you know that there are libraries  where you can check out a storyteller?  Might have to steal that for a story.

Coalesce . . . A Bookstore & More.  This is a shout-out to a bookstore in Morro Bay, CA.  When my family visited my grandparents, I always ended up in this little bookstore, just a few blocks from the harbor.  Despite all the changes in the industry, the bookstore is still there.

Book Castle/Movie World: This bookstore in Burbank does not appear to have a website.  It’s a place I would check out frequently because I could find books and scripts and photos.  Just an awesome place to explore.

20 Interesting Facts About Science Fiction.  This has a lot of predictions that science fiction writers made in their stories that came true…like the internet.

Mystery Stories


I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Kim Aldrich. I could never get enough of girls having adventures with something exciting like solving mysteries.

 

A woman on a pier, holding an umbrella over her face
I broke my right foot. Terribly inconvenient. But it inspired this story.
Beach view of Morro Rock
When I was driving home, a white dog was standing up on his hind legs, feet propped up on afence, looking like he was chatting with the neighbors. So I had to use him in a story.

Massive Landslide in California


When I was growing up, we would drive from Los Angeles to Morro Bay, which is a coastal town in Central California, stay a day, and then head onto San Francisco.  My grandparents lived in San Francisco at the time, but later moved to Morro Bay. Our trip took us on Highway 101, which had beautiful views of the ocean.

But it had a big problem, too.  The road cut through these huge sloping mountains.  Always brown from the dryness, and some years, black, because brush fires had burned away the grass.  Nothing to anchor down the dirt when it rained.

One year, it was pouring rain and we were headed back to Los Angeles.  A state trooper stopped us, dressed up in his yellow slicker, and told us the road was closed.  We had to turn back and wait a day for it to be cleared.

A landslide happened this week in the same general area and closed a quarter mile of the freeway. Check out the video in the link.

Weird Typos and Other Distractions


Dena Wesley Smith has a post up today about typos.  In this case, it’s what every blogger has probably experienced–someone zooming in to inform us that they caught us in a typo.

You have sinned!  You made a typo!

I don’t know what it is about typos, but they bring out the worst in people.  I suppose if you attach writer to that and suddenly we’re supposed to be perfect with the words.

Hmm.  Tell that to my fingers.  I am constantly making corrections because I am a lousy typist.  My fingers get tangled up and sometimes I have words that are mostly spelled correctly,  but have an extra letter in there.  Particularly as I’ve gotten older (to the point of reading glasses), it’s harder for me to tell if I have too many i’s and l’s, especially if the font is small or condensed.

But then sometimes extra words creep in, and where they’re not supposed to.  I wandered into an existing scene, did a quick spell check (three typos, not too bad), then read it.  Found this:

Hope passed added the flatware to the plate and passed up up, but left the glass behind

Clearly I was thinking it too many directions when I wrote that!

I like checking soon after I write because occasionally I run into one where I have to stop and think about what I was trying to say.  If it’s too long after, I have to strike the sentence entirely because I don’t remember.

Working on Multiple Projects

This week, I was part of an online INTP discussion, which was quite fascinating.  Filing was actually the major part of the discussion, and how hard it is just to put pieces of paper in files.  It’s like details, and I don’t have much tolerance for it.

But, also my natural state, I like hopping between projects.  Sometimes it’s a break, or a way to get a different perspective.  Sometimes I even get bored.  Doesn’t mean the story is getting boring, but that I need a break from it.

At the moment, I’m working on a science fiction novel, a mystery short story, and a fantasy short story.  Both the short stories are set in Morro Bay, California.  I’m thinking of wandering around between them, following the flow of what I want to work on.  I ended up getting hung up on the fantasy for a week because of a combination of getting stuck (let critical brain in and went in the wrong direction) and wanted to get it done.  The result is not as much done as I wanted to. I probably would have figured out the problem if I’d hopped to a different story.  Sometimes I need a little time to process where I need to go next.

Washington DC’s big party: The Inauguration

That’s only a few weeks away now.  We will be shut down close into downtown because all the streets will be closed.  Expect it to be cold.  We were 11 when I went out to my car yesterday.  Probably no better.  But that’s typical weather for this time of the year.  At least things will finally get back to whatever normal is after that.

Only six more weeks until Spring!

Morro Strand: Building the Story 1


I thought I’d do a series on my writing process as I write Murder on Morro Strand. I had someone say to me she couldn’t figure out how I wrote a book without even knowing how it’s supposed to end. Another writer thought that because I don’t use plot points or structure techniques (both outlining techniques), I didn’t have a plot.

Where does this stuff come from? Yikes!

One of the things I’ve immediately noticed is that while I was writing the ending of Rogue God, and then the ending of Soldier, Storyteller, I didn’t multi-project. I have an idea for a short story, but I didn’t touch it even though the magazine deadline was coming up. Yet, throughout the writing of the book, I had up to three projects at a time.

Now that I’ve started Morro Strand, it’s the same thing: No multiprojects while I’m writing the beginning. It’s just too easy to use that to procrastinate while I work my way into the story.

I picked Morro Bay, California, as a setting because my family went there twice a year when I was growing up. It’s a place I’m well familiar with, so I’m not starting cold and trying to make up the setting as I’m creating, or needing to do basic research to get setting into the story.

I’ve been sort of wandering around in the first chapter, trying to make it click. I had some initial problems where Left Brain wanted to create the character backstory. When I originally tried starting this story a year ago, I made the character a spy because spies are way cool, and Left Brain jumped in and had to explain why she was there.

The backstory was that she had been a CIA operative who was now retired. There had been an active shooter in a mall somewhere in Virginia who took out a lot of people. She grabbed a dead security guard’s gun and shot the shooter, but not before she got shot in the leg. The CIA didn’t want the publicity, so they retired her.   She came to Morro Bay to reconnect with a home, and there was this whole military thing where her father had been the military and they’d bounced all over the place and she’d done the same thing as an adult.

Coming up with that backstory messed up the opening because I was trying to write to fit the backstory, not follow where the story needed to go.

When I started the first chapter this time, that pesky backstory started creeping in again. I had read a book on Erle Stanley Gardener, and it mentioned starting with a smaller mystery first to hook the reader. I started thinking that the main character is being followed, which would be the small mystery, and then it turns out to be a reporter who has tracked her down because of the mall shooting.

No, no, no. Left Brain is definitely misbehaving again, and the story was already starting to veer off track.

NO BACKSTORY.  Do you hear that Left Brain?

So the only thing I came into the story with was knowing that she’s a spy. Spies are still cool, and I’d like to do a story with one.   One of the things that got me out of thinking about character backstory for Rogue God was writing a story event with immediacy (that was chasing a monster), so I thought about what that might be.

The Pineapple Express hit the West Coast and dumped rain all over California. I remembered on one my visits to Morro Bay, we were headed home. It was pouring rain, and my father stopped on the freeway as a man in a yellow slicker emerged out of the deluge. It was a police officer. They had a conversation, and then my father turned the car around to head back to Morro Bay. “They had a mudslide,” he told us. “The road’s closed.”

Hmm. Storms are cool, too. Morro Bay is part a mountainous area. We’d have to drive on a road that cut through the mountains, and once I was there, I could look behind me and see cows grazing on the hills. One year, there was a brush fire and all of that was blackened.

Left Brain is still trying to insert a backstory, so I’m like in an alternate reality neutral zone wrestling with it right now.

Sometimes Good Things Are Not Easy


I’m going to take a leap of faith and publish three indie books next year.  One will be Sisters-At-Arms: The Story of a Woman Soldier in Desert Storm (which will be the Desert Storm blog posts you’ve been reading).  The second is Red God, a contemporary fantasy set in an alternate world of Hawaii.  I’m finishing that one up now.  The third is a mystery called Murder on the Morro Strand, set in Morro Bay, California, where my family went to twice a year when I was growing up.  Morro Strand is a beach there.

I hope to have a total of ten books in the year, which is a really scary goal for me.

I always wanted to write novels, ever since I started writing when I was eight.  Everyone around me thought this was a too big and scary goal and pushed me to short story writing.  When I became an adult, I tried tackling that novel and ended up really stuck at the one-third point of the book.  It was “Now what?” and I didn’t know what to do.  I ended up figuring that I’d revise the beginning, since a lot of advice suggested if you got stuck, the problem was the beginning.

I thought the problem was that I couldn’t get subplots into the story because it seemed like at the point something else should be coming into the story.  I felt like I had a novel’s worth of material, and yet, I couldn’t get past 100 pages before it ran out of steam, so I always felt like I was running too short.  I ended up revising that beginning and revising it and revising it, trying to figure out to get the subplots into the story.  I revised it so much that I was sick of the story.  Yet, I didn’t want to give it up because it was my only idea for a novel!

Enter cowriting.  I hooked up with a cowriter, who said he was great at doing subplots.  I decided to set aside the first novel.  We wrote a thriller, and then after about 80 rejections, redrafted it as a new book.  We were making submission rounds when we broke up.

That was when I realized I was back at square one.  I hadn’t solved the problem of subplots or running too short.  I looked everywhere for any piece of advice, finding mere scraps.  Most writers tend to write way over, so there was plenty of advice on cutting and editing.  Not so much on too short.  I literally wrote Book #4 with my eyeballs on the word count, watching as the words slowly eeked their way up.  I still ran too short, and I couldn’t explain why.

I battled for every word to get it to pop over agent minimums, using every workaround I could find.  Then I went to a writer’s conference and met an agent, apparently impressing her enough that she remembered me.  She gave me personal comments — just a short paragraph, really, and the moment I read them, I knew the problems she mentioned were caused by those workarounds.  I’d messed up my book trying to fix it.

It was a real low point for me.  It was near Thanksgiving like it is now.  It seemed like the only books I could do at the publisher’s lengths were ones with the cowriter.  I wondered if I should stop trying for novels and just go back to short stories.  But I wasn’t quite willing to give up on that yet.

So I was looking around the internet for subplots and ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel. So I signed up.  Holly’s method for revision is more based on outliner methods, than for people who write into the dark (we don’t outline), or pantsers.

I remember going through one of the early lessons and one of the things that she practiced was not revising until she had identified all the problems.  That become a frustrating experience for me because I saw so much of the junk I’d added for word count that now stood out for me.  I stuck to the lesson because I wanted to learn where the problem was, but what I really wanted to do was slash out all that stuff so I could see the story.  There was so much of it that it made it hard to do some of the lessons.  I was pulling at my hair.  It was really bad, and such a slow process.  I wanted to charge ahead and fix it.

The problem was that I still didn’t know what I was doing to mess up the stories.  As far as I could tell, I didn’t have themes, subplots, or a character arc.  Somehow those had never ended up in it.  About halfway through the lessons, the problem seemed to reveal itself to me:  I was starting too late into the story.  So late that the natural development of the story was thrown off.

Why did I start so late?  I thought it was because I have trouble seeing how to start a project until I’ve worked my way into it.  The actual cause was several pieces of writing advice that I’d seen over and over again:

  • Everyone starts with backstory.  Cut off the first fifty pages.  Start as close to the action as possible.
  • Start with the action.

Those two pieces of advice pushed me into starting in the middle.  It took a lot longer to figure out it wasn’t the only advice causing problems.

I emerged from the class ready to tackle the book again, though the revision techniques weren’t for me.  The book still ran short.  I still had a problem that I couldn’t identify.  So I wandered from cheapie writing class to cheapie writing class.  Two instructors flaked on it, and I derailed my novel trying to insert a theme because I wasn’t able to identify one for my book.  It wasn’t until I took an Odyssey class with Barbara Ashford, who isn’t an outliner that I could see a difference in the advice.

Nearly all of the writing advice assumes you’re outlining.  A lot of it is a particular writer’s process, not an actual technique, but it’s often presented as a technique.  Still, it would take some online classes with Dean Wesley Smith before I started to realize the impact of that.  DWS prefers not to outline (the phrase “writing into the dark” is from him).  The problem was not subplots or missing themes or character arcs.  It wasn’t a problem with me starting in the middle.  It was how-to advice.

Most of it assumes that the writer is a beginner.  It also assumes that the writer is doing it wrong or will screw it up.  And it assumes the writer is outlining.  I’ve been writing for decades, so I’m not a beginner, and I find vaguely insulting that the default is that it’s going to be messed up (this is particularly true for anyone who talks about pantsers).

As a result, I walked away from two writing boards that I’d been a member of for years and dropped several writing blogs.  I knew some of the stuff was garbage, but it’s super easy to try something suggested because it seems reasonable.  That’s how I got sucked into the outlining related advice.  It all sounded reasonable.  I had to remind myself in the beginning that I knew what I was doing, because it was that pervasive.

And I look back on it, and most writers wouldn’t have survived what I put into it.  They would have given up.  Too many people think writing is easy, and they look for shortcuts where there isn’t any.  It’s a lot of investment in time and learning, and you never stop learning.

I started Red God in July of this year.  It is 5000-6000 words from being done.  I’m kind of shocked as I write that.  It’s the fastest I’ve ever written a book, and it’s really good.  I don’t care how long it is any more.  It’s the story that counts.

From The Daily Post Writing prompt: “Good things come to those who wait.” Do you agree? How long is it reasonable to wait for something you really want?

Hitting the Rail for Raleigh


I went on a train trip this month.  It’s been years — really decades since I traveled on a train.  When I was a teenager, my parents would put me on a train to travel along the California coast to Morro Bay.  Oddly, the only thing I remember about the travel is seeing the familiar streets when I was coming home.

This train trip was from Washington, DC to Raleigh, North Carolina.  There was a science fiction convention in Raleigh, which is about a 5 hour drive from me.  I’d been sort of thinking of not going just because I really don’t like to drive (Washington, DC will do that to you.  The drivers are terrible and very Type A, Me-First types).  But I saw an article in the Washington Post about personality and different modes of travel:

  1. Airplane: You’re in a hurry or on a timetable.
  2. Car: You want to be in control.
  3. Train: You want someone else to do the work.

So I booked the trip on Amtrak.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  All my more recent experiences with travel have been long, dull, driving trips or jammed into a seat on an airplane.  I’m a short person, so jammed in really means something.  Never mind the added problem of go through security …

I hunted all over the Amtrak site for how long in advance I needed to be there, which it didn’t have, and settled for 90 minutes.  I’ll tell you, looking at Union Station from the outside, you’d never even know there were tracks behind it.  Very hidden.

They boarded like airlines.  First class, senior citizens, then everyone else.  As we went out the cars, we were separated out by where we were going, so I ended up in the last car.  I was able to sit by the window (yay!  I do that even on an airplane.  There is always something to see!).  The seats were large and roomy, with lots of leg room.  The aisles were also relatively wide.  I didn’t feel like a sardine packed in like I do on an airplane.

I’d brought my computer and thought I would write along the way, but as it turned out, it was fascinating watching the world g0 by out that window.   This time time of the year, everything was green and really growing.  Sometimes I could catch glimpses of the engine as we followed the curving track, and I heard the horn every few minutes.

I got up at lunch time and went down to the dining car, which was quite a hike.   The dining car has tables so you can eat there or back at your seat.  I stayed and read as I ate, and watched as we passed through what looked like warehouses.  When I came back, I saw this one man at the end of my car, looking out the window.  I was curious, so came up behind him to look, too.

Seeing the tracks falling away behind us gave me an instant pang of homesickness.  It reminded me of leaving things behind, like leaving my parents when I went to Morro Bay.  A plane kind of depersonalizes the trip because you can’t really see anything.

But on a train you can see what’s ahead and what’s behind.

Summer is my favorite time of the year


Potomac River surrounded by green
This was taken at Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Summer always reminds me of vacation.  School in California would let out for the summer, and then it was off for adventures.  Sometimes that was traveling north to Morro Bay in Central California, though I’d admit neither of my parents were very fun.  It was a straight through drive.  No stopping!  All those wonderful beaches to see along the way, and we didn’t stop for any of them!

(Now it takes me three hours to go to someplace that’s a 90 minute drive.  But honestly, stopping along the way is part of the adventure!)

At Morro Bay, it was time to explore the beaches.  We’d find black mussels embedded in the sand.  Those were pretty common.  Less common were the sand dollars, which were fragile and often didn’t survive the crashing surf.  We’d also find barnacles, which looked like miniature volcanoes; limpets, which looked like Chinaman hats; and clamshells, which sometimes looked like butterflies.   Lots of pictures here at Marine Science.

We’d climb all over the rocks and look in the tidal pools at the sea anemones.   They always were clogged with sand, tentacles moving like fingers.  The rocks always had black tar on them from oil spills, and sometimes the sand would have black streaks.

Seaweed washed ashore meant the Seaweed Stomp.  The seaweed came with these air bladders, presumably to keep it afloat.  They were great fun stomping on.  But we had to watch out for the jellyfish — piles of jelly washed up.  My father always warned us not to step on them.  He’d done that when he was a child and described how painful it was.  It must have worked because none us every stepped on one!

In Virginia, it’s different place.  It’s actually green, which almost none of California seems to have.  Everything blooms bright and green, and the cicadas buzz from the trees.  The first time these bug guys came out, I thought a gardener had done something to the grass — it was covered with small, round holes.  That’s where the cicadas go to eat and wait until mating season.

If I go out at dusk, I can watch the green lights in the air from the fireflies.  They light up for a second or two, then disappear.  Animal sightings are also really common this time of the year — most of them disappear once winter sets in.  Mostly squirrels, but also chipmunks, the occasional cottontail bunny, and mallard ducks.  Depending on where I’m at, there may also be a lot of dragonflies and butterflies.  The butterflies land on a flower and flap their wings as they dig in for the pollen.

And then there’s the humidity.  Summers in this area are well-known for their humidity.  Days might be very humid, and then about 4:00 the air can’t take it any more and we get a thunderstorm.  The tree branches start to sway from the winds as the storm approaches.  Then the sky goes dark, almost as dark as dusk, and rain falls in a heavy curtain from the clouds.  It lasts about half an hour, and then the sky clears, and it looks like the storm was never there.

What’s summer like where you’re at?