Friday, December 15, 2023

Christmas with Characters

As an author, I need to view my fictional characters as real people to help them come to life on the page and in the reader’s mind.

At Christmas time, when a decorated live tree fills Lynn Carter’s home with the scent of evergreen, will she be reminded of happy holidays with her family or of being lost in the forest?

Lynn Carter is Detective Scott McGregor’s girlfriend and one of three point-of-view characters in “Forever After,” the third Detective McGregor mystery (to be released in 2024). The story is set in Washington State’s Puget Sound, an area of great natural beauty with forest-covered islands.

Lynn has physical and emotional scars from the literary ordeal. How will the trauma impact her in future stories?

Wishing you and yours Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Thanksgiving Tradition

Bluegrass Turkey Jam “Founders” (2000)
A favorite holiday tradition began over twenty years ago with my first Thanksgiving weekend Bluegrass Turkey Jam.

In the 1980s, I’d hosted weekend potluck exchanges of Thanksgiving leftovers. But in 2000, the Saturday event evolved into a turkey feast with potluck side dishes and desserts followed by live music.

That first year, I’d expected six bluegrass loving friends to come to dinner. A few hours before they were to arrive, I got a call from one of them, asking if she and her husband could bring four more musicians. “They’re good,” she said. And, boy, were they.

From that humble beginning, the party grew and grew, and musicians I didn’t know often showed up. One year, fifty people drifted in and out of my house between afternoon and midnight, but most years there were 15-25 players and 30-40 guests in total.

Through the years, the music was predominantly bluegrass, but often included classic rock and roll, blues, jazz, and country. The annual party was a holiday highlight that ended due to the covid pandemic.

I wasn't going to have a party this year but decided to invite a few friends over after all. I’m glad I did because I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.

Music is such a part of my life that it’s included in my books.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023


Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943
Sometimes I get so immersed in my own little world that I forget how grateful I am for my friends and family. The Thanksgiving season is upon us, and now’s a good time to express my gratitude.

With my father’s failing heath, I’m grateful for the friends and family who have rallied around me with their love and support.

My son, his girlfriend, and their dogs are hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner. I’m grateful not to be cooking, cleaning, and hosting this year.

I’m grateful for my loving daughter who is always there to help whenever I need it.

I’m grateful for my friends and our weekly dinners. Without a solid social network, I might become a hermit.

And I’m grateful for my writerly friends – those who have encouraged, critiqued, published, and read my stories. It’s so easy to get discouraged when the path to the goal is long.

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Subplot Dilemma

Last month, I gathered a year’s worth of scattered, hand-written pages of story ideas, partially written scenes, character development, etc., for a work in progress.

Then I roughly organized those pages and my previously typed computer documents into four sections (the four quarters of the W-plot) in a large three-ring notebook. After shuffling scenes around, I fine-tuned the chronology for each of the four quarters of the plot.

Next, I created a color-coded spreadsheet of the story scenes. At a glance, the colors identify the main plot, the subplots, and the red herrings. But I must admit, categorization of some story elements stumped me.

A subplot requires a beginning, middle, and end, just like the main plot. And, just like the main plot, a problem or conflict should drive the subplot’s action.

A secondary character has a secret. The secret’s thread has a beginning, middle, end, and is driven by a conflict. The entire thread occurs in one act.

Must a subplot weave throughout the entire story like the main plot, or can it be introduced, developed, and resolved in one act?

My color-coding dilemma: is this secret a subplot, or merely a red herring?



Monday, October 16, 2023

Making Lemonade

Sometimes “stuff” happens. And when it happened in a draft I’m writing, I made it a plot point.

I’d been fretting over the realization multiple character names began with the same initial in my cozy mystery. I try to avoid similar names to minimize reader confusion.

Renaming a character is my go-to fix for this problem. In this instance, though, the names had special significance. Real people had volunteered their names for the characters and their roles.

This morning, a solution presented itself for salvaging the current names. The main character finds a crumpled piece of paper on the ground. She smooths it out and reveals a mysterious note signed only with an initial.

The note will draw attention to characters with that initial, nuancing them as suspects. The note will be introduced prior to a frightening incident and cause the main character to doubt her co-worker’s true intentions.

Saturday, October 7, 2023


The Pacific Air Show performed locally last weekend. Rather than driving the couple of miles to the beach, I watched from my back yard. Every time a jet screamed past overhead, I raised my tea mug in salute, and the pilot dipped his wing in acknowledgment. (From the pilot’s perspective, of course, he was circling back to the beach.)

Years ago, I wrote the same scene from two perspectives for a class assignment. Set in a farmhouse in the 1940s, a farmer’s wife loved her kitchen. The cast iron pump at the sink saved her from carrying buckets of water from the well. The freshly ironed, multi-colored chintz curtains fluttering at the window over the sink brightened her day as she worked.

A property developer tried to buy the farm. The kitchen window, framed by faded curtains, revealed an outhouse in the yard. If she sold, he told her, she’d have money to buy a house with indoor plumbing and flushing toilets. She refused, and he shook his head. He knew she didn’t have to live like that.

I write from the main character’s (MC’s) point of view, showing thoughts, feelings, and actions, but the secondary characters in my first drafts are often flat. As I develop secondary character depth, I keep the differing farmhouse kitchen perspectives in mind and add motivation and reaction to the scene’s conflict.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Fundraising Whimsi Style

Seating for the Whimsicalitea Arts 2023 fundraiser at the French Estate in Orange, California, sold out immediately. And with the event name “Murder at the Manor,” I made sure I was one of the lucky ticket holders.

From the moment we arrived, the enormous amount of planning and work put into the event was obvious. Guests were greeted and led to exquisitely set tables, offered hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs, then invited to wander through the 1892 house.

Once inside, I marveled at the architecture and antiques (and embossed wallpaper), participated in silent auctions and raffle baskets, enjoyed live music, and followed volunteer actors (audience members) from room to room as they performed scenes for the murder mystery.

A lavish, multi-course tea was served on the front lawn, and my guests and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

I’m looking forward to “Phantom Phantasy,” the Whimsicalitea musical fundraiser in March.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Serendipitous Reading

As I cleared the leftovers from my dad’s old apartment after he moved to a smaller place, I ran across the two remaining books – a dictionary and the John Grisham novel, “Camino Winds”.

The book opened with Hurricane Leo, introduced as a sentient character. As the fictional Leo formed, fluctuated in intensity, changed directions, and created havoc with every landfall, Hurricane Idalia mirrored him in real life.

Some of the book’s characters fled Leo’s path, while others stayed and prepared their homes and businesses for the storm. In the aftermath, the protagonist realized one of Leo’s victims had actually been murdered during the hurricane, and I was hooked.

I read with fascination, especially since I’d prepared for Hurricane Hilary a week and a half earlier. As I read, I studied the techniques the author used to grip and hook the reader. I’m hoping to utilize them in my writing.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Jigsaw Puzzles and Writing

My hurricane / tropical storm Hilary preparation supplies included the NaNoWriMo “City of Novelists” jigsaw puzzle. My town received only the outer bands of rain, but I opened the puzzle anyway.

As I worked the jigsaw, I noticed the image developed similarly to the process of writing a story’s first draft.

First, I sorted the pieces by edge, color, and pattern, somewhat like creating unique characters.

Next, I assembled the outer edge, defining the size and shape of the puzzle. This step suggested the delineation of the story’s plot.

Then, I put the easy parts together. The distinct sections of color and pattern (such as the park, the roof of the of the National building, the Novel building’s upper brick floors, and the shaded street between them) supported the image within the puzzle frame like a skeleton. The supporting structures reminded me of a story’s key scenes, sometimes called tentpoles.

I fleshed out the gaps in the skeleton with supporting scenes: the ubiquitous yellow expanses and the striped façade of the National building.

All that’s left is the tedious, solid-colored gray road. I enjoyed the puzzle until I got to the drudgery of this last step.

Just like writing.

Developing a plot, creating characters, and writing key scenes get my creative juices flowing. But by the time I get to the last steps – editing, revising, and polishing – I’m not as excited.

I may not finish the intersecting gray roads, but my publisher has given me a generous new deadline to finish the third Detective McGregor book.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Story Structure

I’ve been reading Hillary Waugh’s “Guide to Mysteries & Mystery Writing” (1991). In Chapter 13, ‘The Mystery Versus the Novel,’ he discusses whodunnit, howdunnit, and howcatchem (p. 163).

My third Detective Scott McGregor story, “Forever After,” is a howcatchem. The reader knows whodunnit from the opening page. The following chapters show howdunnit.

I’m trying (again) to match my howcatchem plot to one of the many story structures. My story has three point-of-view (POV) characters, and the plot’s ‘beats’ include turning points from all three POV storylines.

For an overview of seven popular story structures, check out this Reedsy Blog article.

I feel the shape and labeling of the four-act ‘W plot’ structure resonates most closely with the story I’m revising.

While researching the ‘W plot’ structure, I learned about its storyboarding  basis and realized that approach would create a more focused plot, shortening my revision and restructuring process.

The light bulb switched on. I plot my stories but only look at plot structure templates while I’m revising the draft. Authors who plot their stories using pre-defined plotting templates benefit from built-in story structures.


Saturday, July 15, 2023

Clarity Happens

Occasionally, the veil lifts, and I realize I’ve completely misunderstood a vague label or abstract concept.

Various plot structures utilize different labels for the same concept. For example, the story’s inciting incident is also called a trigger event or a catalyst. The resolution is also known as the denouement.

In the six years I’ve been learning to write, I’ve taken classes, attended lectures, watched webinars, and read books and websites. I always believed plot turning points and plot twists to be the same concept.

Yesterday I stumbled across a clear and concise explanation of the terms.

In a story I’m writing, several women intend to spend a relaxing weekend in a waterfront town, but one woman is kidnapped. The plotline pivots from an enjoyable weekend to a nightmare scenario. That’s a turning point.

In the 1980 Star Wars movie, ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ Darth Vader tells Luke, “I am your father.” It changed the entire way I looked at their fight-to-the-death relationship. That’s a plot twist.

And in another moment of clarity, I suddenly realized I’d used the same last name for multiple characters in my draft, and none of them are related.


Saturday, July 1, 2023

Things I Don’t Do Anymore

  • Write regularly
    - I lost my writing routine while dealing with family issues the first half of the year. I plan to rekindle the writing habit during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo.
  • Clean house regularly - But my house cleaner does. She’s the best. 😊
  • Exercise regularly - I signed up for exercise classes through the local senior center, and classes started yesterday. I expect yesterday to be the start of a renewed habit.
  • Watch what I eat - If I exercise, do I really have to do this?
  • Mow the front yard - Thank goodness for water-saving artificial turf.
  • Mop the kitchen ceiling.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Character Masks

As a new hire, job duties are explained, but inter-personal relationships are not. A neophyte learns the pack structure and identifies leaders, power players, and possibly, staff with their own agenda.

If the work environment is dysfunctional, fitting in can feel like navigating a mine field. Who will have your back? Who will stab you in the back?

Jo, the new volunteer at the Binkley House Museum, is a loner. She’s not interested in finding her place in the pack; she just wants to work with the antiques.

She meets and clicks with Monty, the maintenance man-slash-gardener. He tells her about her co-workers and what’s happening at the museum behind the scenes.

Later, Jo has reason to doubt Monty’s motivation. Was his friendly and helpful approach merely a mask? Was he actually misleading her to further his own personal agenda?

Thursday, June 1, 2023

My Life as an Emoji

The internet refers to this emoji as “Nerd,” but I think of it as my writing / author emoji. Same glasses, same buck teeth, same stupid grin.

I’m taking an online class that helps female authors write realistic male point-of-view characters. But life happened, and I ended up procrastinating on my homework.

Yesterday I had a pile of lessons to make up, but I chose to do long-overdue yardwork instead. I’d work on my lessons after dark.

I mowed the grassland, pulled some weeds, then began trimming the vines growing on the back wall. I worked until the light faded, and my yard waste bin overflowed.

This morning, I felt like I’d been attacked by an army of giant allergens. One of my eyelids was swollen closed. I’d become the winking face emoji.

Truly a case of life imitating art.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Writer’s Retreat

I have land in the Pacific Northwest. I would love to have a house on it.

I’ve drawn and discarded floorplan sketches for years. Recently I stopped focusing on designing a family home with great resale value. Now I’m drawing a comfortable, relaxed space that brings the outdoors in and lets me enjoy the property the way I want.

My current drawings resemble a U-shaped cabin with a guest suite wrapped around a two-car garage. Every room would have woodland views through large windows.

The layout is a study in versatility; half of the rooms are multi-functional. Depending on furnishings, rooms can be sitting areas, offices, or bedrooms. The large, open, dog-friendly, dining-family room and kitchen can be closed off to keep wet dogs confined and happily playing indoors.

Set in a small clearing among Douglas firs, cedars, and alders, the cabin could be a perfect writer’s retreat. A three-hundred-fifty-foot driveway through trees and a field would connect the cabin to a county road and civilization.

But I can’t imagine leaving this little piece of paradise.


Monday, May 1, 2023

Books and Tea

A delightful combination that can be enjoyed together any time and any place.

I like doing it on my patio early in the morning when the air is cool and heavy with fog.

I’ve done it morning, noon, and night.

I’ve done it at sea level on the beach and 36,000 feet above in a plane.

I’ve done it in a train but never ever in a car.

When and where’s your favorite place to do it?


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Character Names

“The Power of Names” – Keith Cronin
I was reading a writer’s blog that included this meme, and it brought back memories.

One of my villains was named after a rescue dog. That dog made Cujo seem mild mannered and calm. In fact, Cujo was one of his nicknames.

A dog behavioralist and trainer took him to her house for a month-long boot camp session. He needed a second session. Once when I picked him up for a weekend at home, the trainer said, “He’s doing better, but he’ll never be perfect.”

The dog needed a third boot camp session, but the trainer moved out of state over the weekend. Coincidence? Possibly.

A co-worker beta read my detective story. As soon as she read the character name, she knew he ‘dunnit.’

Naming villains after someone (or something) in your life can be therapeutic. I sure enjoyed it.

Monday, April 3, 2023

New Beginnings

My son moved out of the house late last year but held my bedroom hostage for an additional three months. Last Friday, he removed the rest of his belongs. Saturday, I cleaned and refilled the room with the guest furniture that had been stuffed into my bedroom and office.

A weight lifted from my mind, and I’m decompressing. He was helpful around the house and a pleasure to spend time with, but I’d felt increasingly unsettled and disorganized during his stay. I couldn’t pinpoint specific reasons.

Yesterday I browsed Hallie Ephron’s Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel and ran across her advice to “set up a space for writing.” Hallie writes more effectively with a dedicated writing area.

Because my office was overcrowded with guest room stuff, I’d been writing on the dining table. And every time I had company, or my housecleaner was scheduled, I’d pile up my work, shove it somewhere in the office, and lock the door.

My laptop’s file dates reveal a history of long gaps in productive writing. Now I look forward to reorganizing my office and getting back to work.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Plot Development Technique

Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Tip: Index Cards
Nights are made for sleeping, but sometimes I have insomnia. And I’m making the best of it. During those middle-of-the-night wakeful periods, I work on the plot for my cozy mystery.

After publishing two detective mysteries with simplistic plots and writing a draft for a third detective story with a two-pronged plot, I’m beginning to learn how to create storylines with more complexity.

The main character in the ‘Murder at Binkley House’ cozy mystery is first-personing her way through the plot’s crimes. Things are happening to and around her. The more she digs, the more she puts herself – and her best friend – in danger.

After enhancing the plot with clues and red herrings pointing to multiple suspects, the order of the plot elements was harder to keep track of.

I bought a pack of index cards and wrote one clue, red herring, or plot point on each color-coded card. Now I can shuffle the cards as I experiment with plot order.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Short Stories

My short stories need help. The format is harder to write than I’d expected.

My last short story attempt gave me great learning opportunities and lots of room for improvement (i.e., it was almost a total failure).

I have over a dozen developed plot lines for novel / novella length detective stories, but I wasn’t getting around to writing them. I figured stripping the detective part from a mystery plot would automatically create a short story. Reader feedback proved me wrong.

I tried this approach twice. One story had a developed main character with relatable motives and actions but a weak ending. The other had a weak opening, a character without motive, and a good last line. Unfortunately, I can’t merge the good parts into a respectable short story.

I signed up for an online short story class. Learning the basics will help. I also joined an online short story critique group. Reading short stories and learning the focus areas of critiques will help refine my writing craft.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Readability Scores

Word’s Readability Statistics for the short story
Recently while working on a short story, I discovered Word’s Readability Statistics function [Word / Tools / Spelling and Grammar / Editor / Insights / Document stats] which creates a statistics chart that includes readability scores that needed reference charts to understand them. (Suggestion: Ignore the Word chart’s “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” – it doesn’t correlate with U.S. school grade.)

I researched readability scores online, and it’s interesting. The higher the ‘Flesch Reading Ease’ score, the easier to read. (See the Flesch-Kincaid Calculator chart.)

Flesch-Kincaid Calculator output for the short story
But the deeper into the rabbit hole I dug, the more inconsistent the information and scores became. 

One website ( offered results from seven different readability testing procedures. Results varied widely.

The readability analysis that resonated with me was the Good Calculators website ‘Flesch-Kincaid Calculator’. A portion of the result chart is pictured.

The reading ease score can be increased – for easier reading – by shortening sentences and paragraphs, using active voice, and using shorter, simpler words.

I’ve often heard the writing advice to not use a fancy word when a simpler one will suffice, I mean, do. I don’t agree with that. To me, that seems equivalent – oops! four syllables – to ‘dumbing down’ the writing. Why not challenge the reader?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Man of my Dreams

Monty, fictional character
I met the man of my dreams at a Denver dinner event earlier this month.

I’d ‘dreamed up’ a character for my cozy mystery, “Murder at Binkley House.” The man in Denver appeared to be the living, breathing version of that character.

Often, my created characters are a mixture of the physical, emotional, and behavioral traits of people I know or have seen.

The cozy mystery character, Monty, blends a kind and personable maintenance man from a previous job with Santa Claus during his off season.

When I met Monte, the man in Denver, my brain pinged the cozy mystery’s maintenance man. Both have short, neatly trimmed beards, kind eyes, and gentle natures.

Now as I write Monty, the fictional character, I can visualize Monte, the man.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Family Treasures

Treasures passed down through the generations may not be monetarily valuable heirlooms, but there’s a reason the family cherished them.

My father bought a commemorative ceramic whiskey decanter when Oregon celebrated its first 100 years of statehood. My family lived in Oregon at the time, and my ancestors arrived there by wagon train in the 1850s before Oregon gained its statehood (verified by journal entries written along the Oregon Trail).

I have memories (verified by photographs) of myself wearing a homemade red-and-white gingham ‘period’ dress and bonnet and walking in the Centennial parade as a child.

My great-grandfather, the first generation of family born in Oregon, brought a crystal liquor decanter back from the Seattle World’s Fair in 1909. I ‘know’ that due to the handwritten note taped to the bottle. But who wrote the note, and when?

My father remembers a crystal fruit bowl being in the house when he was growing up. But was it the same bowl he recently gave me?

Not all memories and stories passed through generations are accurate. Just watch an episode or two of “Antiques Roadshow” if you need verification.

But what happens when an unverified family legend triggers a murder?

Jo and her best friend, Louise, try to untangle that enigma in my work-in-progress cozy mystery.

Friday, January 6, 2023

What’s Old is New

Much-loved rehomed dog toy
Through time, some words and concepts got a spit-shine for a new slant on perception.

‘Used’ cars are now ‘pre-owned.’ Used and hand-me-down clothes, descriptions that once implied ‘poor’ families, are now celebrated as recycled or vintage. Some of the used and hand-me-down furniture I grew up with is now antique.

Both of my dogs were in the pound, now referred to as the animal shelter. These lost or previously rejected dogs were adopted or rescued.

Plots have also been reused and recycled through time. Aren’t the star-crossed lovers in ‘Titanic’ a glossed-over remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet’?

According to “Are there 3, 5, 7, 9 or 36 Different Plot Types? [The Definitive Answer]”, Christopher Booker claims there are seven basic plot types, and Kurt Vonnegut identified six different character emotional arcs.

And considering that millions and millions of stories have been written, nothing is new.

So, when I saw one of my plot elements in an Agatha Christie movie recently, I could guarantee she didn’t recycle it from me.