I think I started at least ten different lighthearted blogs for my post today. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to hit the right note.

Most of you know I live in Florida and that I write about the tropics.  For a good part of the 1980s, I lived in the Caribbean, traveled frequently to the Bahamas, and most of my series books have at least one hurricane event – informed by hard experience.  The first hurricane that I remember was Donna, and the last was Irma. In all of those, I have only evacuated once. For Irma.

Over this Labor Day holiday, and for much of the week before, we’ve watched Hurricane Dorian develop, slam into the U.S.V.I., and head for the Bahamas.  As Dorian grew from a category 1 to 5 we’ve been preparing for the possibility of facing him ourselves. My part of Florida is currently out of the “cone.” This massive, slow-moving storm, after devastating the Abacos, is stalled over Grand Bahama Island.

I’ve sat in my house and listened to the freight train roar of Andrew, Jeanne, Katrina, Rita, Wilma. I’ve battened down the hatches for those that came, and those that were projected to visit.  I understand that a minute in a hurricane feels like an hour, and an hour feels like a month.

Right now, the Abacos have emerged after twelve hours of Dorian, and Grand Bahama, is entering the eighteenth hour with no relief in sight. The hurricane is stalled. As someone who has listened to the unearthly howl of the wind and the sound of unknown objects bashing your shelter, I can only say that it is impossible to imagine enduring that terror for that length of time.

Instead of comments, or questions to wrap up this blog, I’d like to ask all of you who read it to spare a good thought for those who have and are enduring this awful miscarriage of mother nature, and for those who will face Dorian until he dissipates.

May all stay safe in the storm. May God bless those who perished.


On the Scent of Murder

Writers are encouraged to use the five senses and incorporate them in their books. Hearing, easy, touch, usually a slam dunk, too. Sight, yep, got it covered. Taste, yum, my characters like to eat. Then there is smell. The oft forgotten sense in a story. Smell is hard to write, but an understanding of how we process scent as humans is vital.

Science tells us that smell is more closely linked to memory, mood, behavior, and emotion than any other sense. The olfactory nerve shuttles scent to the limbic system. The limbic system is known as the “old brain” it doesn’t reason, it reacts. Scents are like natures body blows. Smell smoke, the fight or flight response is activated. Smell your boyfriend’s aftershave, you go all mushy inside. Smell your ex boyfriend’s aftershave, you feel a rush of irritation. The jerk! You get the picture. It’s also an integral part of taste, I already mentioned my characters eat!

All well and good, but how do you add scent to your writing? How do you describe what someone smells? Sour, bitter, acrid, sweet, cloying, all good descriptions, but do they get the scent across? Not really, those are all words that describe taste, too and taste is easier to include in a passage because you can accompany it with expressions and other characters can react. Scent, not so much. Scent is personal.

What’s a writer to do then? Leave out scent and go with the big four? Tempting. NOT. When tied to emotion or memory, subtle scents become easier to write. Your character can smell the sea and feel terror as it brings up memories of a near drowning experience, or relaxed and at ease when memories of a great trip to the Caribbean surface. It can be a clue. Every individual has a signature scent and your sleuth can identify her villain by recognizing it in her everyday life. Fear has a scent, so does Joy – it smells like roses – sorry, couldn’t resist. (For those who might not know, Joy is a pungent rose scented perfume that’s not much worn today.)

Scent opens up your story and used well, opens up your characters. There’s more to it than smoke and fire.

My favorite scent? Gunpowder and popcorn. It transports me to my childhood, running with friends and watching the 4th of July fireworks.

What’s yours?

Then and Now

I’m a journal junkie. It’s in my DNA. It must be. I remember my very first journal. It wasjournals then Girl Scout sanctioned green in color and sported a trefoil on the cover. It also had a key, and a tiny lock and I poured my eight-year old heart into it. Discovering my brother picking my precious lock with a safety pin made me a lot more circumspect! Moral of the story, if you’re going to be a serious journaler, don’t have a teenage brother. If you do, don’t tell your journal you want to marry Paul McCartney.

What began with a Girl Scout journal morphed into a lifelong habit. The books above are a small sample and most of them are full.  When a personal computer became affordable, I decided having searchable journals would be great. So I typed a number of my more exciting entries into the Wordstar program and stored them on discs.  Five and a half inch floppy discs. FAIL. Who knew those discs failed over time. To say nothing of the whole disc thing becoming obsolete.

It was a harsh lesson. Nothing lasts forever, but the hand-written word on the page comes pretty darn close. My next journal project had a longer life history. I re-read and color coded the entries so I would have a system for ready reference. It’s not as bad as it sounds, although it was sometimes embarrassing. Once I got out of high school  the books chronicled travels, interesting personalities, story ideas, and sometimes complete short stories.  Even now I’ll thumb through the books seeking nuggets to mine for works in process.

There’s an app for everything if you look for it, including journals. I use one called Journey. It’s fun, flexible, I can add photos, and with the click of a mouse, the weather and location appear. It’s resident on my computer and my phone so it’s handy when inspiration strikes. All good, right? This modern day dear diary. It does have one major downside. It fails the hand/eye/flowing ink/paper interface.  Poetry happens when thoughts travel from the mind through the hand and on to paper. Nuances and shading appear that are fingers on the keyboard can’t match.

journals nowThese days I’ve discovered another use for journals. Planning and productivity are hallmarks of The Freedom Journal and The Mastery Journal. Both are available from Amazon and they offer something none of my other journals did. Accountability. The pages are filled with templates designed to help the journaler keep on track to attain goals in 100 days. These journals force me to focus, and hold me accountable every ten days. Will I attain my 100 day goal? I don’t know, but I look forward to the time I spend with the journals. That can’t be bad.

Are you a journaler? Do you refer to your past journals? Is journaler a word?


To Stay in it, Stay on it.

I recently had the sad experience of deleting four chapters of my current work in process. I blogged about that unhappy experience on Writers Who Kill last month. It was a hard choice, but necessary. The removed chapters haunted me. No matter how many times I tried to get on with the book, I returned to the scene of my literary crime and tinkered with those chapters. Let me be clear. I loved those chapters – but they had to go. And finally, they did.

Since I write in a semi-linear fashion, I needed to replace the removed content before I moved forward. Over the course of the past few weeks, that is exactly what happened. Some of the material came from the deceased darlings, but much is new and fresh, and it moves the story (and this writer) forward. Whew!

Not so fast. There’s a reason most how to write a book advice suggests writing every day. Now that I had covered my plot hole and fixed my storyline I needed to get back in touch with the overall story, not merely the reworked part. There’s more to writing than simply moving ahead. There’s the destination and I needed to be reacquainted with my plot, red herrings, and overall story line.

In the normal course of events, daily writing solves the problem of staying in the story. The story grows organically from the prior day’s efforts. Of course, some revisiting of prior scenes is necessary, but it’s more in the nature of swing your partner and not dosey do. Now that I’ve fixed the past, I’m re-reading the chapters that followed – and holding my red pencil at bay, this is a first draft after all – and ready to move forward and see where my characters and the story take me.

Writers, do you find plot holes in the first draft tend to draw you back or do you prefer to keep moving forward?

Herding Cats

We’ve had a lot of posts here lately about our writing process, what works for us, and sometimes what doesn’t. We’ve also talked about writer’s block. What we haven’t talked about yet is the herding cats stage of writing. Coincidentally, that’s exactly where I am in my latest book, Pirates on Parade.

Herding Cats

Pirates on Parade is a departure for me. I usually write traditional mysteries with an edge. Pirates is a cozy. The first in what I hope will be the Southernmost Secrets series set in the Florida Keys. I dove into this book with great excitement. The first chapters practically wrote themselves. Then came chapter 13.

Most writers will confess that they have a chapter or page count where they are certain:

  1. They have no idea how to write a book.
  2. No one would want to read it if they finished it.
  3. The other books were flukes.
  4. It’s time for the delete key.

Chapter 13 is it for me. I wrote it on Saturday and thought, this is awful. The entire book is dreck. I spent Sunday going through the manuscript finding plot holes, picking up threads of red herrings and theme, looking for clues I knew had planted and couldn’t find.  I recited numbers 1 through 3 above out loud. Before I got to number 4 I realized (yet again) that writing a book is like herding cats, and chapter 13 is where I need to get my cats into the corral.


No more letting them laze about with nothing to do. No more letting them discuss what they are going to do. It’s time to for me take charge. By chapter 13 there should be order in the writer’s mind, if not the story. Carefully planted clues should begin to sprout. Chapter 13 is the waist of the story. The place for the first dramatic twist that turns the story in an unexpected, but inevitable new direction.

This story needed to lose a few pounds to bring it into form. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite my dark thoughts, most of the story was in place. The action made sense, the direction true. There needs to be some tightening, some remedial outlining, and I need to hone a subplot that I uncovered in my panicky race though the pages.  Once that’s done, my cats will be in the corral and I can move forward and let them have their head again.

Why did I ever doubt it. I’ve herded cats before.

The gang 008Writers, do you have a falter and move on point in your books? Is it in about the same place?

Readers, do you have expectations of the action of a story in the books you read? Where do you expect to find certain events and do you feel something is missing if they don’t show up?



The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That’s quite different to coincidence, which every mystery writer will tell you doesn’t exist, although the case can be made that the two intersect at several meaningful points. Serendipity may also have a bit of getting what you need when you need it whether you want it or not component mixed in as well.

What is at the bottom of all of this? A few months ago, my cousin called from out of the blue. We hadn’t been in touch in years, decades of years. There was no inciting incident, we’d been close as children, but life got in the way when I went off to college and she married and we ended up living half a continent apart. The first thing she wanted to know about was all my books. When I asked how she knew I wrote her response was quick and sure, “That’s all you ever talked about. What else would you do?” I had to confess, I’d done a lot, but I hadn’t had a new book since 2016.

The silence, as they say, was deafening. I told her what I’d been doing in the meantime. Working on a new series, learning the craft of marketing, which for me was harder than the craft of writing, and of course, there was the day job, and family. She listened, I babbled. Every single word I spoke was true, but they felt like excuses. Why wasn’t I writing more? Other writers balanced the same challenges I did and accomplished far more.

Fast forward to Peg’s recent post titled THE TRUTH OF IT and Liz’s post titled A WRITING RUT. Those posts both appeared at the precise moment I most needed to realize I wasn’t alone. Others were subject to the same doldrums and fighting their way through them. The comments were enlightening, the suggestions hopeful. Serendipity.

The gods had given me a part of what I needed. A sense of comradeship in a barren desert of abandoned words. Still, it wasn’t quite enough. Time was my biggest problem. My typical workday stretched twelve hours beginning at four-thirty in the morning. Add in family obligations, it left little time or energy for creativity except on the weekend, which was usually filled with the chores of everyday life, and my one vice. The New York Times Online Edition.

This Saturday, as the sun brightened my office window, I saw an article about time management. The title claimed productivity wasn’t about time management, but about attention management. That got my attention. It seemed that all I was accomplishing with my endless to do lists and forced scheduling was setting myself up for failure. What people actually accomplish is what they pay attention to, and depending on the person, there are optimum times to be most productive. Eureka!

Serendipity –

Will this newfound knowledge be effective? Only time will tell, but it does make sense, and I’m more than willing to try.

Have you ever had a situation where all the pieces came together from multiple sources to give you what you hoped would be the solution?

Paging CSI: The Devil is in the Details

Every cop wishes cases were solved within the hour or half hour allotted to police dramas on television. Every writer wishes the information gleaned from the shows was sufficient to inform their writing. Fact is, neither is true. Cases take hard work for law enforcement to clear and the writer who accepts the gospel according to CSI as truth is in for some nasty e-mails and reviews when the book releases. Those loud thwacks the author hears? That’s the sound of the book hitting the wall as better educated readers let it fly.

The cure is education. One of my blog mates at Writers Who Kill, Annette Dashofy, was accepted into the FBI Citizens Academy. Her blog on Sunday about her post acceptance pre attendance vetting sent me running to my idea file. Not because I’m applying to the Academy, although I’d love to, but because it gave me a great idea for a red herring.

When I had my fingerprints taken electronically it was frustrating. My hands simply do not produce enough oil. Those whirls, arches, and loops do not stand out. Even when my prints were taken with ink the officer taking them went through three cards before she was satisfied they were all good enough for identification. And that was with someone applying external pressure as the finger was rolled to obtain optimal results.

Fast forward to my non-existent life of crime except on the page. What marks would dry fingers leave behind at a crime scene? Would the involuntary responses of the sympathetic nervous system result in sweaty palms, moister skin and better prints? This is definitely a question to store in the clues closet for a later date, and a bit more education. Could someone with dry skin leave no prints at the scene allowing the criminal initially to be eliminated?

Readers and writers, have you encountered this question on cop shows? How did it resolve? A no print crime because of…dry skin.