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?