Mickey Mouse Monday

If all has gone according to plan – which, if you only knew what I know, you’d know that this is unlikely – I’m currently exploring the wonders of Disney’s Animal Kingdom as you read this post. In theory, my family already has enjoyed the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and we’re at the last of the three parks we’ll be visiting during this trip.

I’m cautiously optimistic.

You see, that lovely storm from Tuesday? Yeah – it caused cancelled  flights (for Wednesday), a mad dash of rescheduling flights, hotel, dinner reservations, fast passes, pet/house sitter, and…well, you get the idea. Mother Nature and I are not friends right now.


This will be the first time our family has visited Disney together, and my husband’s first time as an adult. While it’s not our typical vacation (we lean toward tropical locales with fantastic reefs for scuba diving and snorkeling, and lots of beach lounging and boat rides), we’re pretty excited. We’ve very deliberately limited our activities and time, in hopes of keeping the typical vacation stress to a minimum. The weather in Florida is looking sunny and warm, and what’s not to love about the Mouse?

In addition to the sights, sounds, shows, and crazy rides that magically combine (see what I did there? magic?) into a wonderful vacation experience, there are people. LOTS of people. And while I despise crowds (you’re wondering at my destination choice, right?), I also recognize that crowds, especially at a venue such as Disney, create a virtual smorgasbord of character potential.

People watching is one of my favorite hobbies, and where better to see the happy, sad, frustrated, annoyed, overwhelmed, and joyous than an amusement park? Especially THE amusement park?  It will be hot, there are lines everywhere, lots of black asphalt and little shade or seating – it’s the opposite of those malls where they pipe in the scent of chocolate and the soothing lullaby of good classical music (or whatever music encourages spending). This is the perfect place to watch how folks behave when challenged by a variety of conditions. Which ones flush and sweat, and which ones look fresh? Who is snippy and rude, and who is kind to the children jostling in line? How does the overwhelmed parent with the cranky toddler fighting the stroller – and a nap – respond?

We all have our ideas on what responses to various situations look and sound like, but we imagine them through the filters of our own life experience. Opportunities like this force us to see without those filters, and perhaps see something new or different. While I’m excited to ride Space Mountain and explore the Haunted Mansion, I’m also eagerly anticipating the wealth of experiences and emotions I can capture as I observe my fellow park-goers.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Wish us luck!


Write. Read. Revise. Repeat.

Although sadly ignored, I have another blog out there, and the tagline is “Write. Read. Revise. Repeat.” The simplicity of the words combined with the staccato beats of the periods speaks to me, although I couldn’t tell you why. Perhaps the key is that these words are so simple, so direct when used this way, that its impossible to misunderstand what I have to do.

Yesterday was a read day. A dear friend and member of my writers’ group has begun splitting her time between New England and Florida. She was in town for a few weeks, and I was thrilled to see her in person last week during our critique session (we’ve been calling her so she can still join us, but it’s not really the same). This week we met for some writing time, just the two of us.

As much as writing is a solitary exercise, there’s something special about sharing that solitary exercise with a kindred spirit. I’m doing the writing on my own, and yet sharing my space with someone doing the same thing. I’ve found that joint writing time keeps me focused, as I don’t stray onto the internet, and I’m away from home so I’m not tempted to do those pesky chores instead of wrestle my plot into submission.

For me, the writing process includes the “read” and “revise” parts, so when I say we had a writing session, it can include those other activities. Today’s reading exercise provided a much needed confidence boost. While I try to plow forward and not let myself become sidelined by wordsmithing rather than finishing the story, sometimes I get distracted or stumped, and lose confidence in the tale I’m spinning. When I go back to the beginning and read what I’ve written, I can find myself pleasantly surprised, or at least reminded that yes, there’s a good story developing!

Of course, within the first twelve pages I captured at least fifteen notes: plot holes, missing details, or areas where I need to expand when I get to that revise state. For instance, I never explain or describe what the main character is wearing in the first chapter, nor do I capture the time of year. (Oops.) Is an armed alarm shown by a green light or a red? But, the reading step is most often energizing for me. I get excited about the story all over again, even when noting things that need to improve.

Sometimes, those notes turn into exciting side-topics to research, too. Today, I realized that I have a safe house with no discernible floor plan, and what I’ve described doesn’t make sense. While the actual floor plan won’t be in the book, as the writer, I need to be able visualize this space, well and clearly.  Some rainy day I’ll be working with Mr. Google, finding just the right former gate/carriage house-turned-guest cottage for this story, and I’ll save the floor plans to my Pinterest site.  (If you happen to live in one of these, let me know.)

I’m back to writing now. The good news is, I’ve fallen in love with this story all over again, and I can’t wait to write what happens next.  Hopefully, someday, y’all will get to pick up your own copy of this story in a local bookstore to read!

BuJo – Part Two (or Three)

In January, several of us discussed the concept of the bullet journaling, and giving it a try. I think I’m finally ready to begin the actual journal part. But I thought I’d share what I’ve done so far – you know, so it looks like I’ve made progress. Because I have. Sort of. I think.


The first step was to recognize that I’d lost all semblance of organization. Prior to the birth of my daughter, I was THAT person. The one that sent a card for every birthday and anniversary. The one who never forgot to RSVP. The one who had her calendar memorized, who threw showers and parties for all occasions. The one who shopped year round, and had holiday gifts handled by October (if not earlier). But then, I had a baby, just after building a house and losing my job. Life became. . .chaotic. After a few years of on-going life changes, my daughter got older, began school, and suddenly I was trying to organize me, as well as our whole family. It took me a few years to realize that I couldn’t do what I used to do, because my life was different (yes, it took years to realize why I couldn’t get it together, but I was perpetually tired – my kid STILL doesn’t sleep well, and she’s a teenager now).

I finally reached a place where I decided to talk greater control of the chaos, and having tripped over the bullet journal concept, decided to give it a try.  I visited the official site  and explored. Next, I meandered over to Pinterest and did a bit of surfing. There are some excellent pages, full of tips and tricks and lessons learned.


My favorite provided not only visual and textual guidance, but recommendations on products. (At this point, I would like to state: What’s not to love about an organizational approach that requires OFFICE SUPPLY shopping?!? “Select a journal,” the site says. One? I can only choose one?! ) I tried to exhibit a bit of self-control, and purchased the recommended product, which was a budget-friendly, basic journal. It has lined pages, a flexible cover, and is a handbag or briefcase-friendly size.

I love pens, doodling, and color-coding, so I did have to order some special pens. Back to my favorite bujo blog, and then to Amazon. Did you know, you can not only buy journals and pens, but also templates to help you make all those fancy designs shown on the bujo blogs? Post-it notes sized just for the most common bujo sizes?! Stickers? Good heavens.

New Templates
Pretty Pens!

My self-control dipped for a bit, but I managed to remember that I had a budget to follow. I purchased a reasonably priced set of pens, and a small set of templates. Nothing else! (Promise.)


The journal arrived quickly (thank you, two-day shipping). The pens and templates arrived not long after.



But then, then. . .I got stuck. Everything I read said I should expect to make mistakes, and might even want to consider using a practice journal until I figured out what I did and didn’t like. Much like a prefer to paint without taping, because taping is too much work, I wasn’t a fan of this idea of a practice journal. But, I also hate making mistakes. *sigh* I decided that the best thing to do was, of course, more research.

More journals!

Before that, however, I stumbled into the local Barnes and Noble. In our local store, the beautiful, pretty, lovely journals are right near the front, nearly impossible to ignore. Yes, dear readers, I did it – I bought another journal. Actually, two. One is for work, I promise.

THEN I went home, and found some helpful videos by Carrie Christie on YouTube to help me actually get started. I’m ready to go, and as soon as I publish this post, I’ll crack open one of these journals, those shiny new pens, and drop some ink on the page.


*For those of you who are paying attention, there are indeed four journals pictured, even though I only wrote about three. Shh! I snuck one in somewhere.


To Finish, You have to Begin

Today, I’m thinking about getting my writing started, and staying motivated through completion of a story. There’s an inverse proportion at play when we think about the number of writers who are actively publishing vs. the number of writers who can afford to write as their full-time job (and still pay all their bills). The reality is, many (if not most) writers fit their writing into the cracks and crevices of their everyday lives – they get up early before their families, sacrifice lunch breaks, skip weekend family outings, or use tools (such as voice recorders) to amp up their multi-tasking by “writing” while they’re exercising or doing chores.  Writers use many creative approaches to fit in writing, editing, and submitting; sometimes, it’s hard to stay motivated. It can be even harder to remain enthusiastic.

We write because we love it. We write because we can’t not write. The stories pile up and threaten to overflow, and sometimes the challenge is figuring out which story to write out of the many fighting to get from brain to paper (or computer!). Writing is also a habit. Words flow more easily when you’re using well-exercised, conditioned muscles. The more you use them, the better they work.

But, I suspect every writer who is juggling a career, a family, whatever non-writing responsibilities they have, experiences those times when they shut the door on those story voices. When they hope they can contain the chatter in the dark recesses of their minds, and allow themselves a few moments of. . .nothing. No jamming in a chapter or a word count goal, no struggling to figure out who the heck perpetrated the crime, no slicing and dicing all those filler words out of the work-in-progress.

What do we do to get – and stay! – motivated? Every writer has his/her own tool kit. For me, there are a few things that help. The biggest – and the least within my control – is when people ask, “Have you published anything new?” or “When is your next story coming out?” Gulp. It’s no fun explaining that not only have I not submitted anything, but I haven’t even finished anything new. This kind of experience is a good kick-in-the-pants reminder to get on with the writing. Even more important is my writers’ group. Our group meets every other week, and we each have ten minutes to read a section of our work to the members. We then do a round robin critique before it’s the next person’s turn. Before we begin, we quickly check in to see who has something to share that week – and oh, it doesn’t feel good when I have to say, “I have nothing to read today.” Ouch.

The other two things that help me are  writers’ conferences and Mysteristas.  I love attending writers’ conferences. Keenan’s post earlier this month covered my wish list! But, I also feel a responsibility to my family budget to earn the privilege of attending. After all, if I’m not making money at writing, at least enough to cover the cost of attending, then I feel pretty guilty. The reality is that attending conferences isn’t going to make me finish a story. The only way to get published is to get something written! Attending conferences can help me learn a specific technique or improve a part of my work; attending conferences can help me network, practice pitches, and learn more about the activities that come later – marketing, for instance. But, until I have something finished and close to submission, conferences are a treat. However, conferences are FUN! I love catching up with people, celebrating successes, hearing the presentations, and attending the workshops.  (Seriously, what’s not to love about a workshop on blood spatter?!? Getting to play with lighting to spot fluids at a mock crime scene?  Or, just meeting and chatting with a favorite author? Woohoo!) The desire to attend, and to attend guilt-free, is a big motivator for me.

Lastly, writing with Mysteristas is a great motivator! The combination of reading and commenting on everyone’s posts, having to develop my own, and being part of the celebration when one of our own signs a publishing contract is engaging, exciting, and yes, motivating.

What are some things that you use to motivate yourself to finish (or start!) a project? I’d love to hear about them!


“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Happy December! As we reach the end of 2017, many will reflect back with thoughtful consideration, and evaluate the events that filled the year. In literature, as in life, humans like the clarity of The End.  Reaching the end means we can safely evaluate the whole of something, beginning, middle, and end.

However, as readers, our desires are satisfied is varying ways. I’m a “tied up with a bow” reader. Don’t leave me hanging, don’t ask me to envision what might have happened next, just lay it out. That doesn’t mean it has to have a neat and tidy ending of course, but there has to be something.  My father in law gave me The Lovely Bones as a gift. I hated it. Madly. But mostly, it was all about the end.

But, there are so many more books that end in creative or specific or sad or joyous ways! In eighth grade, I chose to read Gone with the Wind for a book report. It was a challenging read, but reading was my passion, and tackle it I did. I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand a notable chunk of the sub-text, but that ending has stuck with me.  Even as a middle school student, I could access the concept of picking ones’ self up, dusting off, and trying again.

“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh! I still love reading dear Winnie’s stories (although I will admit, I can’t quite enjoy the cartoons the same way). This line above is particularly poignant, especially when I re-visit it as an adult. We buried both my grandmothers this year, and my father two years prior. And yet, there are those places in my memories where they live on, doing the things they always did.

”I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.”

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler

I realized I hadn’t pulled any great quotes from our genre, and then I found this one by Raymond Chandler. I haven’t actually read the book yet (it’s in my TBR pile), but somehow, this line struck a chord with me.

Tell us about your preferred endings; do you like an author to wrap it up, or encourage you to write your own ending? Do those final lines in a work matter to you as much as the rest of the text?


All You Have to Do Is Look

It’s early November, which means it’s that time again – time for the New England Crime Bake ! The Sisters in Crime New England chapter’s annual regional mystery conference for writers and readers – co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America’s New England chapter! – is a delightful experience. The conference moved to a new location this year, from Dedham to Woburn, Massachusetts (and a larger hotel conference space).

This year’s of Guest of Honor was the delightful Lisa Gardner, who shared all sorts of interesting thoughts on writing and publishing. Her most recent book, Look for Me, was released in February, 2018 (there’s another coming  soon!), and features Detective D.D. Warren racing “against the clock to either save a young girl’s life…or bring her to justice.”

Crime Bake is a smaller conference, allowing approximately 250 participants, and the focus is on writing and publishing (although there’s always plenty of room for readers). One of the special opportunities is the chance to meet and mingle and practice pitching with agents and editors. If you wish, you can submit a manuscript for critique, share your first page with an editor for feedback, receiving pitching practice with an agent, or actually pitch!  The authors, agents, and editors who attend the conference are usually approachable, helpful, and encouraging. The casual atmosphere encourages people to mingle, meet in the bar/restaurant with a favorite author or agent, and make new friends.

In many ways, Crime Bake conference attendees become a family. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms,  and repeat attendees are greeted with hugs or gleeful shouts.  Group bloggers have an often rare opportunity to gather together IN PERSON, attendees mingle with fellow writers they may have only “met” online in Guppies groups, and repeat attendees sometimes have the experience of being called out on their procrastination (there’s nothing like having a successful author ask, “weren’t you almost done with that project LAST year at this time?!?”). The authors are humble and grateful and supportive, and there is an air of celebration throughout the weekend. We acknowledge first-time novelists, award-winners and nominees, and the selected authors of the Level Best Books annual anthology.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is running into other writers who are excited to share that they’ve found an agent, been offered a contract for a book, or simply completed a draft of their project. Crime Bake represents a community of people who share similar hopes and dreams, take turns supporting and encouraging, and commiserate together over set-backs. It is a very special family.


The Mystery of Family Expectations

This month we focus on the theme of family. For a group of mystery writers, this is a particularly rich theme.  Defining family offers a broad range of possibilities. Family might be the people to whom you’re related by blood or marriage or adoption, or they might be the people with whom you spend the most time or have the most in common.

Family-caused stress is a fantastic element to a good mystery. For some reason, family gatherings bring with them a heightened sense of expectation;  perhaps we’re longing to recreate a childhood memory,  match what we think others have (thank you, social media), or create our own Hallmark movie-version of reality. However, with higher expectations comes a higher degree of stress – especially if we throw in some complicated family structures.

For the mystery writer, missed expectations and the resulting stress provides ample fodder for a good crime. Fighting over who has the best stuffing recipe? Could end in a delightful poisoning!  Mother desperate for daughter to provide grandchildren? Maybe that daughter rents an attractive boyfriend, who just happens to be an international fugitive.  (It could happen! At least, in a book.) Speaking of books (and families). . .

I recently read Julianne Holmes new series, the Clock Shop Mysteries. The protagonist, estranged from a beloved grandfather, comes back to her hometown after his unexpected death. I consider this series to be very much character driven, and the relationships in this series are the core of each story. It’s been delightful to see how things are unfolding in each book (there are three, so far). Main character Ruth finds family in a variety of places, and these stories make the reader think about where family ends and community begins; is one an extension of another? Families of all kinds play important roles in these stories, and the reader must pay careful attention as the puzzles play out.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has the best of both worlds – a devoted, over-bearing, loving family made up of parents and grandparent, as well as her posse of loyal, damaged, and delightfully unpredictable friends. Her worlds intersect, collide, and mesh constantly, and she is always surrounded by love. Stephanie’s escapades aren’t often caused by her families, but they certainly add a dimension of hilarity.

J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas first had to learn to trust people before she could build a family. As an orphan who survived a foster-care system that hindered her survival more than it helped, Eve first accepts Mavis Freestone into her life as a friend (after Eve arrests her, of course), but Mavis becomes the sister Eve never had. In spite of herself, Eve eventually builds a family for herself, one that is diverse, unique, and steadfastly loyal. Caring about all these people makes Eve both more vulnerable and stronger than ever, allowing her to pursue justice with both head and heart.

Ah, family.