There are a lot of differet ways to establish goals. There are lists and calendars and spreadsheets and color-coded plans and… you get the idea.

One popular way to create goals is based on the word SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely or Time-Bound. Here’s a site that might be  helpful if you’re interested in learning more, or getting a refresher: Writing Smart Goals.

Regardless of how you determine your goals, it’s important that you write those things down that you want to have happen. Your possibility of actually achieving them increases dramatically if you write them down. That’s a given. And you might want to schedule periodic reviews on your calendar. Are you on target? Is that goal still relevant?

But what I think a lot of people forget to think about this time of year are their core values.

Before you set goals, clearly identify your core vales. Those things don’t change. What’s a core value? Here’s a list. If you want to try and get a better bead on yours, try this.

Here’s why understanding your personal core values is important before you start setting goals: if a goal is in conflict with a core value, there’s going to be pain involved. If, for example, family and spending quality time with them is a core value of yours, setting a goal that’s going to require you to work a gazillion hours a week in order to accomplish it will be a problem. Even if the goal sounds good. Get the conflict? Keep the goal, just make sure it can be managed so you have the time for your family, or write your family out for the next six months. (And that’s not likely to if you were honest about what’s important in your gut).

Sometimes a review of previous goals that weren’t met can help pinpoint conflict, especially if they met every other aspect of a SMART goal.

What’s your advice regarding goals?


It’s all better with friends.





Kim Darnell is a very accomplished sister of my very accomplished BFF, Kel Darnell. When I asked for some suggestions for a blog post last month, Kim suggested I write about effective storytelling.

Self-doubt immediately flew into my head. Who me? Followed by, Wait. I’ve got this. Followed by, Who are you to say?


So, like any logical person who is more comfortable deflecting than stepping into the spotlight, I give you these concepts (with maybe a smidge or two of my own ideas):

  • In yesterday’s Mysteristas post, another friend and author, Lisa Brackman, was asked this question: What do you think makes a good story, and how do you incorporate that into your books? Compelling characters, conflict, real stakes (not artificially inflated ones), interesting, vivid settings. For me, though I do think a lot about story and larger thematic elements, writing still exists on a sentence-by-sentence level.  I really care about the quality of my prose, and I aim to make every sentence tight and effective. On the Big Picture side, I also spend a lot of time just thinking about what I am writing, or want to write, and what that all means, and how I might bring more depth to it.


  • From arguably my favorite book on writing, WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George. When I read this book I saw how similar our process was and felt validated. I could finally breathe and think maybe I actually was a writer: “When you write with an awareness of bridges and transitions, you create an experience for the reader that is seductive and mysterious.”


  • From BIRD BY BIRD by the fabulous Anne Lamott (if you haven’t read OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS, get your hands on a copy. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you can thank me later): “Drama is the way of holding the reader’s attention. The basic formula for drama is setup, buildup, payoff—just like a joke….There must be movement.” (Note: In my opinion, Lamott’s best books are her non-fiction titles. Having said that, she wrote one of the most haunting scenes in a novel I’ve ever read. It has stuck with me for years and shows no sign of leaving.)


  • In WIRED FOR STORY, Lisa Cron provides a ton of information. But to pick a couple of things: “Stories allow us to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them…. When a story  meets our brain’s criteria, we relax and slip into the protagonist’s skin, eager to experience what his or her struggle feels like, without having to leave the comfort of home…. Simply put, we are looking for a reason to care….there has to be a ball already in play. Not the preamble to the ball. Not all the stuff you have to know to really understand the ball. The ball itself.”


  • Stephen King writes in ON WRITING: “Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot….It’s far from easy: As I’ve said, we’ve all heard someone say, ‘Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny) . . . I just can’t describe it!’ If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”


So because this is my post, I get to add my voice:

To me, a key factor is finding a way to drop the reader into the story. Whether it’s a plot ripped from the headlines, a situation they can relate to, or characters they can see themselves in. There has to be a connection.

Will you connect with every reader? Don’t even try. You will dilute your story. Stay true to the story and you’ll find an audience.

A tagline I’ve used in the past is “Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.”

And here’s a bit from my website: “While I often have pieces of the plot with underlying elements that mean something to me (usually a relevant social issue), it’s the characters that drive the story, who make it worth reading. It’s emotion and connection that has always kept me turning the page, and it’s emotion and connection that keeps me writing.”

Those are the things that seem to work for me.

Writers, what do you have to add? And readers, is there something that when it’s missing, will absolutely make you walk away?

Lemons, Lemonade, and Loss

A friend suggested I write about effective storytelling for this post. I’ve decided to put that on my list of ideas (which I keep in a bullet journal, btw), and talk about something that many of us learned about on October 16th:

Midnight Ink will be closing its doors after the 2019 Spring/Summer catalog.

From what I can tell, it came as quite a surprise to the well-known and respected staff, not to mention the quality authors they’ve promoted and stood with in the past. Our own Becky Clark is one of those talented writers who is now exercising those muscles that allow her to get back up after taking a blow. I’m not speaking for Becky here in any way. Maybe she’ll share some of how she’s processed this news.

But this is what today’s event put me in mind of:

For years, I worked in an industry that was either scrambling to keep up with demand, or laying people off to deal with a slow market. The mortgage business is at the mercy of the local real estate economy and interest rates set by the Feds. Going into it, I had no idea it would be as volatile as it was.

I remember as a loan officer, whose income was commission-based, looking at interest rates that required our company to get a Colorado Uniform Commercial Credit Code license! Today, that means that any annual percentage rate 12% and over would require the lender to have a UCCC license. We were often looking at APR rates at 18% or even higher (somehow 24% sticks in my memory). How in the world would anyone be able to qualify for a mortgage loan at those rates? That’s when creative financing took off, but my industry still laid off thousands.

Later, as a manager, I’ll never forget earning every nickel of my salary the day I had to call people into my office and give them the news they’d been dreading… “Here’s your severance check.”

And then it happened to me. To be fair, I was offered another position within the company, but my ego just couldn’t accept it. I’m pretty sure I surprised the president when I turned him down. I know he thought of us as “family.”

I remember struggling to find my identity as a person and not a job title. It took a while.

But then look what happened!!!

Okay, it wasn’t overnight. I ran another mortgage company, started my own mortgage company, went to work for one of the biggest mortgage companies, got major burn-out and worked for a year as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, sold Mary Kay (still do), and finally, finally, finally, became an author.

The fabulous staff at Midnight Ink aren’t finished, they’ll just reinvent themselves and find purpose with another publisher, maybe even start their own publishing company! They and their brilliant authors will hold a reunion or two because friendships don’t stop just because the business does.

Change is hard. It feels like loss, but it’s only change. And almost always, mark my words, change ultimately brings something better.

Have you faced change in your life? Did it eventually put you in a stronger place even though it sucked at the time?


It’s all better with friends. Yes. Yes, it is.



LoML+Me and Train Make Three

I bet you’ve never read a science fiction novel about time travel on a train. Unless it’s one where time stops.

LoML and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a train trip from Denver to California and then up to Vancouver. We love a bit of misadventure on our trips because they always lead to something unexpected. We had it in Russia and we had it in Wyoming.

This trip allowed us to add California and Washington to the list.

Getting off our train in Sacramento, I learned from another passenger that our train to Seattle had been cancelled. The Redding Fire had engulfed the train tracks and Amtrak felt it prudent not to attempt to race their passenger train through the flames.

Our train from Sacramento to Seattle had been scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. When LoML  planned our trip, he was aware that trains often travel to their own drumbeat and that “on time” was a rarity. So we had a few hours in Sacramento. That stretched to several hours when we learned that buses, driving a detoured route to Klamath Falls, would leave at 1 a.m.

After exploring Old Sacramento we went to a movie (Crazy, Rich Asians is very cute), then checked into a Holiday Inn for a normal shower (we had one in our sleeper… sorta) and a nap. I set the alarm for 11:45 so we could be back to the nearby train station shortly after midnight.


Not actually missing a bus isn’t the same as catching one


When we got to the station three buses were filled and there was no room at the inn for LoML and me. (Some of these travelers had been bused from Dallas!)

There were two women on one of the buses who had oversized luggage (the kind you check) and had placed them on seats. When asked by Amtrak officials to allow the driver to put their luggage with the other suitcases they refused, even after admonishment that they had not paid for those seats. I wonder, were those cases filled with drugs? Or cash? Or body parts?

Later, LoML and thanked those women (in our hearts) because we got to ride in the comparative luxury of a van with the two of us and young medical student and her two well-behaved kids rather than a sardine-packed bus.

Peg's Non-Train Trip
Smokey haze at dawn on our detour around the Redding Fire

Dawn brought a visual to the smell of wildfire we’d had all night. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the fire-fighter camp we passed, but I was sluggish and barely got a glimpse of it as we drove by.

Finally, we were in Klamath Falls and, after waiting an extended period of time for a crew to arrive, we were on our way to Seattle.

And then…

Our train was stopped in Everett (I think). The conductor told us we’d be there for an indeterminate amount of time because of police activity at King Street Station in Seattle.

Naturally, I wanted to know more. I googled. Got nothing.

Our train finally moved, but then stopped again in this rather eerie part of Seattle, waiting for the all clear. I was hoping we were in a secret and safe location. We had no idea what was happening.


The only point of this photo is to show you it was dark. We were tired. And then there was that strange blue light that almost acted like a black light in our sleeper. What was that all about?

We learned later the cause for the delay was someone shooting at incoming trains. I’m told by Barbara Nickless, who knows these things via her books beginning with the award-winning Blood on The Tracks, that more than likely both Amtrak and Seattle PDs were involved. (Read her books. You won’t be disappointed.)

Finally, we arrive in Seattle. Check into a beautiful suite at the Fairmont Olympic (Yes! Go there!) and had a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market where we picked up victuals to take back to the hotel and watch the Bronco/Seahawk game while we gnawed on smoked salmon and crab legs.

And then…

An alarm. Followed by, “There has been a declared emergency. Make your way calmly and quickly to the fire exits.” Then something about physically disabled guests.

We find our shoes, walk down nine flights. At the final exit, I push on the door as I was the leader of our little band calmly and quickly leaving the hotel. The door wouldn’t budge. LoML was my hero. He kicked the damn thing wide open! 

We’re finally outside. While others milled around near the hotel (are you kidding me?), LoML and I went across the street behind some construction barriers. Sirens. Two firetrucks. Pretty lights.


Was it a bomb? Serin? An active shooter?

Walking down nine flights you think that everything is probably okay, but then you wonder if some of those people walking down the fire exits on 9/11 were thinking the same thing. 

Turns out a smoke alarm had gone off on the 10th floor. My guess is some jerk lit a cigarette. Still… it was exciting.

The rest of our trip went pretty much as planned (except for a train delay between Seattle and Vancouver… a silly Union Pacific freight train (who owns the tracks, btw) had stopped for some reason. The length of the train was blocking a bridge we needed to use.

I’m sort of thinking if you’re looking for material, you should take a train ride.


It’s all better with friends.







Writing Evolution

DSCN6469I was trying to think of something a little different to post this month, and thought this might be fun.

I pulled three old paperbacks off a shelf in my library, and chose a random short paragraph of narration. Would they have been written differently today? If you think they would, you’re welcome to share how you would update for a contemporary read.

It’s worth noting that the print is incredibly small in these old paperbacks, and there’s almost no gutter. These are not copies my old eyes will re-read—I just can’t part with them.

Also worth noting are the prices! The Jungle was purchased about 1960 for 75¢.

From the most recent to the oldest:


Parnell had had a busy morning; in fact, as he unfolded the story of his activities that forenoon I marveled that such an arthritic and ailing old man could have accomplished even half so much in so short a time. Few professional detectives could have covered so much ground, I felt, and none, I was certain, could have done so to better purpose. The old boy was a born detective: shrewd, resourceful, and always keeping his eye on the main chance, and as he talked on I stared at him with increasing admiration.

Anatomy of a Murder  by Robert Traver



John walked back slowly through the wood. When he got to the swimming-pool he sat down on the bench there. He had no regrets for his treatment of Veronica. Veronica, he thought dispassionately, was a nasty bit of work. She always had been a nasty bit of work and the best thing he had ever done was to get clear of her in time. God alone knew what would have happened to him by now if he hadn’t!

Murder After Hours (original title: The Hollow) by Agatha Christie



Note: It was difficult to find a short paragraph in this book. Some of them were full pages.

And meantime, because they were young, and hope is not to be stifled before its time, Jurgis and Ona were again calculating: for they had discovered that the wages of Stanislovas would a little more than pay the interest, which left them just about as they had been before! It would be but fair to them that the little boy was delighted with his work, and at the idea of earning a lot of money; and also that the two were very much in love with each other.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair


What do you think?

It’s all better with friends.

Diversity is Strength

I’m a sixty-something year-old white woman who had the good fortune, at nineteen, to meet and fall in love with a man of color.

My life was enriched and my experiences deepened because of what he brought to my tapestry. The treasured history and community connection of a black man in America broadened my soul, as much as it could be broadened, in ways that never could have happened without him. For all of these positive experiences I’m forever grateful.

On the other hand, my awareness of stereotypes and exclusion became profound. Really? No person of color is in this class photo? No person of color could have had a role in this movie? Oh wait… that role doesn’t count. Not one person of color as a possible candidate for office?

Not one author of color on your bookshelf?

How many crime fiction authors of color are out there? Two? Three? Walter Mosely? Kellye Garrett? Frankie Bailey? Atticka Locke? (I really, really, really want to include Octavia Butler but that would be mixing things up a bit too much.) And now that I’ve read the fabulous Mysteristas post by Alexia Gordon, she’s on my list too.

I believe that celebrating ethnic, religious, and sexual diversity by crime fiction authors makes us bigger and better and stronger. It gives us a foothold so we can reach back and pull up. It’s a shout out to other non-inclusive genres to figure it out and make room.

Here’s a list for you. I challenge you to count the number of authors you’ve read up until this very day, and then add ten more between now and July 2019. It might be your first ten, it might be a new ten.  Are you gonna like them all? Probably not. But because you’re aware of the diversity in our genre, we’re all stronger, and I wager your life will be richer.

Print this list. Take it with you to the bookstore and keep it handy when you’re online.

Frankie’s List

African American Writers

Bailey, Frankie Y.
Baker, Nikki
Bates, Karen Grigsby
Batts, Krys
Bland, Eleanor Taylor (deceased)
Brown, Elaine Meryl
Burns, V.M.
Camacho, Austin S.
Canterbury, Patricia E.
Carter, Charlotte
Carter, Stephen L.
Chambers, Christopher
Christy, Cynthia
Clemons, R. Lanier
Coleman, Evelyn
Croom, Janice
Darden, Christopher
Davis, Kyra
DeLoach, Nora (deceased)
Dickey, Eric Jerome
Edwards, Grace F.
Flowers, R. Barri
Ford, Clyde
Fullilove, Eric James
Gardner, Danny
Garland, Ardella (pen name of Yolanda Joe)
Garrett, Kellye
Gordon, Alexia
Greer, Robert
Grimes, Terris McMahan
Hall, Rachel Howzell
Hardwick, Gary
Harris, Marietta
Hayes, Teddy
Haywood, Gar Anthony (also writes as Ray Shannon)
Head, Cheryl A.
Henry, Angela
Holton, Hugh (deceased)
Jackie, Sonja (pen name of Sonja Hazzard)
James, R. Franklin
Johnson, Keith Lee
Jolivet, Myra
Jones, Solomon
Jones, Stephen Mack
Kabongo, Gledé Browne
Kelley, Norman
Lamar, Jake
Lawrence, Deliah
Locke, Attica
Lovell, Glenville
Mallette, Gloria
Meadows, Lee
Mickelbury, Penny
Miller, C.M.
Mosley, Walter
Neely, Barbara
Olden, Marc
Osborne, Karen E.
Phillips, Gary
Quartery, Kwei
Ramsey, Gail
Rhodes, Jewell Parker
Richardson, Gwen
Robinson, Angela ( lm and TV writer)
Rudolph, Wally
Ridley, John
Samuels-Young, Pamela
Singer, Gammy
Smith, Andrea
Smith, Brian W.
Smith, Ian
Smith-Levin, Judith (deceased)
Swafford, Erika Green (TV writer)
Thomas-Graham, Pamela
Tramble, Nichelle D.
Underwood, Blair
Walker, Persia
Wesley, Valerie Wilson
West, Chassie
Woods, Paula L.


Asian American / Asian Writers

Cha, Steph
Chang, Henry
Chang, Leonard
Chien, Vivien
Chupeco, Rin
Furutani, Dale
Gerritsen, Tess
Goenawan, Clarissa
Hirahara, Naomi
Lee, Don
Lee, YS
Lin, Ed
Ng, Celeste
Revoyr, Nina
Rowland, Laura Joh
Tan, Anne R.
Xiaolong, Qiu
Yi, Melissa
Yu, Ovidia

South Asian American / South Asian / South Asian British Writers

Claverton, Rosie
Jacob, Mira
James, Tania
Khan, Ausma Zehanat
Kirchner, Bharti
Massey, Sujata
Pandian, Gigi
Swarup, Vikas
Vatsal, Radha


Hispanic/Latino/a Writers

Acevedo, Mario
Anaya, Rudolfo A.
Corpi, Lucha
Cortez, Sarah (editor of anthologies)
Garcia-Aguilera, Caroline
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia
Hinojosa-Smith, Rolando
Lantigua, John
Lefeve, Claudia
LoPinto, Charles and Llamas LoPinto, Lidia
Maldonado, Isabella
Narvaez, R.
Nava, Michael
Ortiz, Martin Hill
Ramos, Manuel
Roman, A. E.
Segura, Alex
Thurlo, Aimée (deceased)
Torres, Steven
Vasquez, Ian
Villatoro, Marcos McPeek
Zamorano, Desiree


Native American Writers

Cox, Jessie
Erdrich, Louise
Hogan, Linda
Hoklotubbe, Sara Sue
Holm, Tom
Owens, Louis
Rodriguez, Linda
Smith, Martin Cruz
Welch, James

LGBT Writers

Chandler, Jessie
de Helen, Sandra
Ettritch, Sarah
Forrest, Katherine V.
Friend, Catherine
Gordon, Josie
Gordon, Max
Griffiths, Nicola
Hart, Ellen
Head, Cheryl A.
Herren, Greg
Hill, Gerri
Hunter, Fred

Isabella (only one name)
James, Renee
Kelleher, Dharma
Lake, Lori L.
Lepionka, Kristen
Lynch, Katie
Maiorisi, Catherine
McDermid, Val
MacGregor, K. G.
McNab, Claire
Marks, Jeffrey
Padgett, Abigail
Redmann, J. M.
Roberts, Ann
Scoppettone, Sandra
Sherman, Scott
Silva, Linda Kay
Sims, Elizabeth
Sweeney, Kate
Summer, Mary Elizabeth
Vali, Ali
Waters, Sarah
Wilson, Jon Morgan
Yu, Ovidia


Thank you, Frankie Bailey, for your list. And thank you, Sisters in Crime, for moving forward.


It’s all better with friends.

Book Clubs

35645600_10217320673908085_2894060512935411712_oBook clubs are among my favorite things on this earth. In no particular order, those favorite things include LoML’s laughter, a good Zinfandel, the honks and wing-noise of flying geese (bonus points to anyone who knows what that wing-noise is called), a dog who lays its head on my feet or in my lap, and a chapter easily written. Oh, and awesome mac and cheese.

But I’m talking about book clubs.

I’ll never forget the first book club I attended as a visiting author.  I’d heard about writers expecting to meet new fans only to find themselves vivisected by book club members.

So I brought chocolate.

I don’t know if it was the book or the chocolate, but that evening started my love affair with sitting down and talking to people who’d actually read my stories. (However, I still prepare myself for  knife-wielding readers with murder in their eyes.)

Since then I’ve enjoyed book clubs with as few as three people and those with more than forty. I’ve done them close to home and by Skype. One of the most fun evenings was actually 3:30 in the morning. The book club members were relaxing with their wine… in Australia.

And yes, I put on a face at 3 a.m.

Sisters in Crime – Colorado has three active book clubs in the front range area that meet monthly, inviting our crime novelist members to attend and discuss their books. One of the coolest and most natural ideas ever!

Are you in a book club? Have you invited authors to participate?

(In other news, TRAFFICKED picked up top awards for the two programs in which it was entered. Special moments…)


It’s all better with friends.