Saturday, August 1, 2020

Story Structure in TV Shows

Halfway through the season of a recently binge-watched mystery drama, I realized it was a cozy. It met the major requirements for the genre described in a Nancy Curteman blog: an amateur sleuth; a murder occurring before the story began; a small pool of suspects; the sleuth becoming a target for murder; and no sex, violence, or cussing.

And halfway through the season I knew whodunnit. It wasn’t the actions the character did or didn’t do, but how the actions were presented. I recognized the approach from studying the craft and writing mysteries myself. I enjoy watching mystery shows and observing how plot points are played out, especially when it’s accomplished in a subtle manner.

Recently I’ve been re-watching Midsomer Murders, an English detective series based on the books by Caroline Graham. The detective, DCI Barnaby, has a seemingly endless supply of village suspects, and there are often multiple murders. Keeping track of clues and connections in this series can be difficult, and the identity of the guilty person can be a surprise until the end.

The Midsomer Murders scenery is beautiful, but before you pack your bags for a lovely English countryside vacation, you may want to read this blog post: Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Writing and Procrastination

Sometimes the words just won’t write themselves. If this month were a writing race, I’d still be at the starting gate. I haven’t been motivated enough to prod myself into action.

My favorite part of writing mysteries is designing the crime, creating clues, and implicating innocent people. Making the plot work is a skill transferred from developing countless flowcharts during my computer programming years. The plot structure for Forever After, the third McGregor mystery, is already in my current manuscript. Now I have to fill in the gaps, and that’s less exciting for me.

To feed my procrastination tendencies, an annoying time-wasting habit has crept back into my life: watching television. Several years ago, I cancelled the cable tv and rediscovered spare time. I used that time to write. I have access to old series, though, and recently I’ve binge-watched seasons of several English and New Zealand shows I’d previously never heard of.

If only a giant Monty Python (BBC comedy) foot would drop down from the sky and kick me back into action.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Déjà Vu, All Over Again

During March, I revised and re-edited the second McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation, and sent it to beta readers. The beta readers gave me emotional feedback on how the story worked for them: what they liked, what bombed, whether story elements were misplaced, etc.

During May and June, I used beta reader and critique group feedback to re-re-edit the second book. I just sent this version off to be reviewed with an eye toward literary errors, which will lead to yet another round of editing.

Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel with all the editing passes required to massage a rough draft into something a reader would want to read. It would be easy to put the draft down and walk away from it. I entertain that thought from time to time. Just move on to the third book—the new and exciting story. But I’m writing a series, and I really need the second book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Yardwork Approach to Writing

Historic Craftsman in Houston, Texas
Yardwork, like housework, is often only noticed when it hasn’t been done. Fortunately, I have an excellent house cleaner. Yardwork, on the other hand, is up to me. Sometimes I get it done in a timely manner.

I spent seven hours Friday weeding, trimming, mowing, filling dog holes, and performing other overdue yardly duties in preparation for the Saturday doggy play date and human dinner party. I’m pleased to say the yard looked quite presentable for my canine and human guests.

That’s all well and good, but my publisher is probably wondering what yardwork has to do with a writing blog. During those seven hours, I had plenty of time to think about Detective Scott McGregor’s house and yard and wonder whether he does his own yardwork.

Scott has an old Craftsman house; he likes the clean, straight lines and no-nonsense architecture. His manicured yard has a neatly-trimmed, flowering hedge around his covered front porch. The back yard’s covered patio is a necessity in Fresno’s sweltering summer heat. A high-end barbeque grill—his pride and joy—is built into an outdoor kitchen island.

Does McGregor do his own yardwork? If I do, he does too. He just does a better job.

Monday, June 1, 2020

McGregor Mysteries in Three Sizes

Plot ideas come easy. Making the time and effort to write them, not so much.

My McGregor mystery series arc is already plotted, but book ideas keep materializing. Some of the ideas aren’t fully fleshed out with well-defined sub-plots complementing the main story line, but the back burner in my brain is always simmering some concoction. I decided to write the extras as stand-alone novels occurring after the series arc of character and relationship development.

One day, as I avoided revising and editing the second McGregor mystery, it occurred to me to write the stand-alones as short stories. That would make McGregor mysteries available in three sizes. The first book, The Disappearance of Millicent Hart, is a short novel; the second case, Murder Goes on Vacation, is a novella.

I mentioned the idea to my publisher, and she suggested a book title and cover image. The first short story has been plotted and its first scene written. Now I’m dividing writing time between revising and editing book two, writing the first draft for book three, and creating short stories.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Writing Productivity

During the last nine weeks, many of the literary-related items on my to-do list have been crossed off. In late March, I edited my second McGregor manuscript (yet again), and sent Murder Goes on Vacation off to beta readers. In early April, I sent a mock-up of the second children’s picture book, Hazel, Hero of Dog Beach, to the illustrator. I also reached my April Camp NaNoWriMo project goal of writing 20k words for the first draft of the third McGregor mystery, Forever After. (I’m a Camp NaNoWriMo Winner!)

In addition to writing, I attended many meetings and classes. My writing organizations and critique groups met face-to-face online. My four-week Criminal Investigation class and writing craft workshops were also online. Another online writing class starts next week.

I’ve been so busy and have so many more online events scheduled, that I actually deleted a few. Obviously, there’s no time to rest during retirement.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Dogs Wearing Hats

My sidekick, Libby, wears many hats and helps me with yardwork. Being a Border collie mix, she could do it on her own, except she has trouble starting the lawnmower. Instead, she specializes in keeping the squirrels and lizards at bay.

Libby’s not thrilled with the Shelter-In-Place lifestyle. (I don’t mind as much. I SIP through quarantine with writer friends during virtual happy hours.) She misses our dinner parties and doggy play dates.

I’ve been sitting at my computer and writing more during the lockdown, much to Libby’s dismay. (She prefers long walks on the beach at sunset.) I’m enjoying Detective McGregor’s 3rd case, Forever After, which is set in Washington State’s Puget Sound during the August meteor showers.

Libby is even more dismayed, though, when I get bored. As my friend so aptly texted, “Day 43 of quarantine. Dianne starts playing dolls with Libby. Who’s a pretty good sport.”

Monday, April 13, 2020

Virtual Happy Hour

This spring, the world is feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic with its devastating health and economic impacts and the resulting focus on social distancing and staying at home.

In accordance with the “new normal,” I join other writers for Virtual Happy Hour on Friday afternoons. On Sunday afternoon, I took a picture of my glass of wine against the backdrop of my SoCal rose garden, already in full bloom. I emailed the picture to family and friends across the country and invited them to join me in a toast.

Pictures started pouring in. My daughter sent a shot of her imported bottled beer in front of the bright and airy view from her apartment’s large windows. My son sent a picture of his glass of scotch in front of his computer monitor where he waited for server maintenance to finish so he could play Warzone. An East Coast friend sent a portrait of a can of domestic beer in her lovely kitchen. The funniest picture, though, came from my brother in the Pacific Northwest—a toaster.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Blackmail!

from a painting by Leonardo Digenio
I signed up for online writing classes through the national Sisters in Crime - Guppy Chapter.

Sisters in Crime was originally created to support women mystery writers in the predominantly male field, but now SinC welcomes sisters and misters from around the world. The organization’s online programming includes webinars and online classes that teach the writing craft.

One of the techniques I learned in Linda Rodriquez’s Writing is Revision class is to develop the characters more deeply through freewriting. Taking a first-person approach, I wrote about the characters’ deepest secrets, fears, desires, obsessions, and motivations to learn what triggers could make them carry out certain plot points in the story.

I learned so many secrets about one suspect that I got the urge to blackmail him. With blackmail money coming in, I wouldn’t have to depend on book royalties. Of course, payment would probably be just as imaginary as the actual blackmail. Probably imaginary bitcoin. At least I wouldn’t have to report the income or pay taxes on it.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Collateral Damage

I was looking forward to writing a blog post about the incredible experience I would have at the Left Coast Crime mystery convention in San Diego March 12-15.

I arrived a day in advance, full of anticipation and excitement at attending my first ever literary convention. I attended four author panels on Thursday before learning LCC was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. I met lots of people and have good memories from my day at Left Coast Crime. I can’t wait for next year’s convention in Albuquerque!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… my next Sisters in Crime online class, ‘Writing is Revision,’ begins on Sunday. Time to get back to work on the second McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Mystery Critique Group


After beta reading for a writer friend, I was invited to join Cozy CRIT-ters, a newly-created critique group for authors of cozy mysteries.

Cozy mysteries follow a set of guidelines including: an amateur sleuth solves the crime; the murders are bloodless or occur off the page; and the story does not include violence, sex, or foul language. (This partial list is from Nancy Curteman’s blog post ‘The Characteristics of a Cozy Mystery.’)

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries are cozies, but the Detective Scott McGregor mystery series don’t seem to fit in the same category. McGregor is a police detective, not an amateur. The murders do generally occur off the page, and usually before the story begins. The McGregor mysteries do not include violence, although sex is occasionally referenced, and a few mild swear words crop up in some stories. I label my books as ‘police procedurals with a touch of cozy.’

Fortunately, the critique group also accepts ‘cozies with an edge,’ so I’m in. At least until they discover the third McGregor mystery begins as a cozy but is highjacked by thriller.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This lovely statue sits on a park bench in Carmel, California, a few blocks from the ocean. It wasn’t until I looked at the photograph that I noticed the woman was holding a valentine heart.

In the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation, Scott has a girlfriend. Unfortunately, he gets involved in a case while they’re on vacation and doesn’t spend as much time with her as they had planned. They both question whether their relationship is working and have to make some difficult decisions. Will they split up or attempt to have a relationship that lasts a lifetime?

Wishing you a lifetime of love and happiness.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Beta Reading

A lady in my local writers’ organization asked me to read and give feedback on a short story she’d written. Although I had beta read for someone I know well, I was slightly nervous to read for a new acquaintance who had won an award for her writing.

She asked for my opinions, thoughts, and suggestions, and as I read, I realized it was easier than I’d expected. I’m not a grammar or punctuation expert, but I could tell when the story’s tension rose and fell. I recognized passages that were smooth and relayed humor or insight, and I noticed when prose was choppy or rough. I simply read the story and made comments and suggestions in the margin.

The bravest thing I’ve ever done was giving my first manuscript to someone else to beta read. When it was returned, I was shocked by all the comments even though they were supportive and helpful.

I grew as a writer while beta reading the short story. Too bad I forgot to run a spell check.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Book-Themed Parties

During the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I joined the Tea Travellers for a walk-in-the-footsteps trip up the California coast by train. The trip celebrated J.S. Devivre’s Tea Cozy Mysteries, a five-book historical series set in Pacific Grove in the 1920s. As in the books, we visited Hearst Castle and Carmel, and stayed in the Pacific Grove Victorian bed and breakfast that was the fictional protagonist’s home.

Now that Detective McGregor’s second case, Murder Goes on Vacation, is almost ready for beta readers, I’ve been thinking about a book release party. The second book is set in Las Vegas although McGregor is on the Fresno police force. Both locations are unwieldy for an afternoon book launch party. The Las Vegas setting is a computer convention, but I’m guessing computer stores don’t allow parties in their aisles. However, there are some casinos in the area…

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Last January, I made a list of resolutions for 2019, but failed miserably keeping most of them. This January, I prefer to list my accomplishments from last year.
  • Retired 
  • Published a children’s picture book 
  • Traveled far and near 
  • Kept in touch with family and friends 
  • Became more involved in my local writers’ groups 
  • Donated to my favorite non-profit organizations 
  • Signed up for online classes in 2020 to improve my writing skills 

One of my mature friends told me he got wiser with age and stopped making New Year’s resolutions. I’m jumping on his boat.

Best wishes for a happy and fulfilling New Year!