Murder by Moose

I’m very pleased to announce my latest release, Murder by Moose:

Murder by Moose-eBookretailers

For this release, I’ve joined the Seven Sinister Sisters (along with our own Becky Clark) for a blog tour, and last week the 7 visited Mysteristas.  And now it’s official!  The Moose is finally here!

Murder by Moose is the fourth book in the Nell Letterly series.  This book takes Nell up into the mountains for a self-defense retreat during leaf season (which is also hunting season).  Of course she finds a body!  Moose trampled?  Or something much worse…?

When I wrote the first draft of my first Nell book some years ago, I wanted to tell the story of how Nell, a suburban, menopausal single mom of a teenage daughter, comes to teach karate in Boulder, Colorado. I never expected to do a series.  But at the end of that book, I found that there were still a lot of issues I hadn’t addressed–issues that tell the larger story surrounding Nell–and I suddenly found that I was writing a series.

One of the first questions a series has to figure out is how much time should pass overall?  A mystery bookseller once gave me some advice that made me decide to keep this series short–maybe only 6 or 7 books.  I figured that two or three months between each book would be about right for what I wanted to do.

The first book takes place in March, the second in May, and the third in August.  When I started to plan the fourth book, I already knew it was going to have to take place sometime in the fall.  In Colorado that means a high country setting with golden aspen leaves, hunters, and…moose!

I had such a fun time writing this.  But now I have to figure out:  where should I take Nell next?  There will probably be a turkey dinner…and a body…and…?


A Writer’s Helper

When the weather outside is nasty…

Here’s what it looks like inside:


Scout was rescued from cold, wet streets in Oregon 12 years ago, and she still can’t quite warm up.

You might think she’s just a lazy fat cat, but you’d be wrong.  Scout has very important tasks in my house.  She’s my own personal writer’s helper.

  • She wakes me up at 4:30 every morning with a gentle tap of her paw on my forehead, reminding me that it’s time to get up.
  • Mission accomplished, she makes herself scarce with a pre-dawn nap.  There’s no chance of interruptions now, so I can get to work.
  • But ah!  The dangers of a sedentary job!  She reminds me to get up and stretch every once in a while.  Might as well feed her while I’m at it.
  • As the day wears on and other family members are up and about, she guards my reading chair by the fire, securing it so that no one else can use it.
  • Then, when it’s time, she warms my lap while I ponder issues regarding my work in progress.

A cat’s day is never done.

It’s like that for writers, too.

As Scout and I sit in front of a cozy fire while a storm rages outside, I am pondering my WIP.  Peg started me thinking about this last week when she described her writing process.  While I do consider myself a pantser, I have to know the world of my story in great detail before I can jump into the first draft.  It’s a discovery process, not an outline.   That’s where I am now, becoming acquainted with the world of my new book.

One of the points to consider is the outer story vs the inner story.

In mysteries, the outer story is usually the crime.  It’s like the storm raging outside my window.  The inner story is how that crime impacts the heroine of my WIP.  I think of this as her heart (or, the cozy hearth).  The inner story is what the book is really about.  The crime sets things in motion.  There will be a lot of obstacles that try to keep her from solving the crime, but in the end, her inner story gives her the skills and necessary strength to overcome the outer story.

And all this noodling comes with help from a cat!  Who knew?

Do you have a furry helper, too?

Hanging Feet


When mystery story enthusiasts see something like this, as I did on my recent Caribbean cruise, all sorts of possibilities pop to mind.  Because we’re never really on vacation.  I like to call it getting away.

Getting away is an important part of a writer’s life (or anyone’s, for that matter) on account of the 3 R’s:

  • Recharge
  • Refuel
  • Re-e-e-lax

For the last several years, I have been “studying” the fine art of getting away, and this cruise was my latest installment.  My conclusion?  Everyone needs a get-away every once in a while.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  It could be as simple as watching a movie or enjoying happy hour while the babysitter takes care of the kids.  It could be a virtual journey with a good book, a day on the slopes, a weekend camping trip, or two weeks in Timbuktu.

A good get-away, in my opinion, boils down to the following requirements:

  • A break from the routine.
  • A change in scenery.
  • An environment where you can make personal discoveries, either navel gazing by yourself or connecting with your favorite people–no plugging into devices allowed!

Get-aways come in all types of packages, depending on your needs.  Personally, I need to get away in the winter to someplace warm and sunny.  Now, don’t get me wrong–I love winter snow and roaring fireplaces.  But getting away from the routine and seeing something completely different for a while helps me love my routine even more, because I am recharged, refueled, and relaxed.

Who do you think the hanging feet belong to?

  1.  a hapless victim from the cabin on the deck above
  2.  a villain trying to break into the cabin above to steal a diamond as big as a strawberry, or
  3.  a window washer

On Stretching

The post-holiday season is a time when many of us like to stretch.  We make renewed efforts to stretch our muscles and return to our disrupted exercise plans.  But that’s not all.

The beginning of the new year is always a time for me to look back at my accomplishments and see what I can do to stretch myself in the year ahead.  Then a friend of mine asked the question:  “What did you learn last year?”

Well, that stumped me.

Because for me, it’s always been about stretching myself to accomplish more.

Sure, I learned a lot of little things, like how to use a windlass to set a lock so that my canal boat can pass through.


And I learned how to make Rudesheimer coffee–yum!


And I learned a lot about Turkish history and moose behavior from my research last year.  And I learned that I personally don’t like to use umber brown in my paintings.  But what important piece of writing knowledge did I really learn?


Which brings me to confession time:  Last year on the blog, I stated that my goal for 2017 was to write 190k words.  Here’s what I wrote about that last January:

“Will I do it?  Who knows?  I hope so!  But the word count really isn’t as important as having a more consistent system in place.”

Tallying up, I discovered that my word count for last year totaled 137k.  A lot of words, but my “consistent system” completely fell apart.  I took a (much needed) 2-month break from writing.

And yet, somehow I ended up finishing most of the projects on the road map of where I’d planned to journey.

So, what did I learn?

  • The “little” things I learned weren’t little.  They were really huge things.  Since I’m unwilling to give up learning such miscellanea, I need to scale back a little bit on my writing.
  • It’s more important to think in terms of having a road map of projects to keep me on course with my writing.
  • Word count is definitely helpful, but it’s just a measure of the distance I need to travel.  It’s not the end-all goal.  In 2018 I expect to travel 160k, because that’s what I think I’ll need in order to cover the stops on my road map.  My estimate might be off.   It’ll be fun to see how close I come!

How about you?  What did you learn last year?

Recognizing Endings

A writer friend of mine recently commented that she needed 15k more words to end her book.  But when she was 10k words farther along, she realized she needed yet another 15k words.

I had the opposite experience with the last two books I wrote.  Each time I thought I needed another 15k words to the ending, and then on further reflection, I realized that I was actually in the ending.

All of this makes me wonder:  how do we recognize an ending?  We know we have to resolve the main plot of the story, and in crime fiction that means loosely to restore order.  We solve the mystery, we release the tension of suspense, we account for justice  and the criminal in various ways, depending on subgenre.  But there’s more to an ending than resolution.

1.  Endings are also about timing.  When is the time right to end?

In short stories, the form dictates tightness.  In novel length, there’s room to wander after interesting plot threads.  But in the end, all those threads should come together.  In my last book, I realized that extra words really didn’t contribute to the wrap-up in the end.  It was just a detour, a way to put off writing the end.

2.  Endings are also about type.  Is it a “final” ending?  Or is it a pause?

In a stand-alone novel, all plot threads need to be wrapped up or at least suggested.  In a series novel, the ending is more like a pause until the next book.  While the main plot needs to be resolved, some plot threads carry over, to be resolved in later books.  The last book of the series hopefully resolves the questions accumulated throughout.

3.  Endings are also about tone.

When a story is light in tone, it will be punchy and more effective when its ending comes sooner rather than later.  More serious stories with more complex characters have room to grow, wandering down side paths that drive home the point.  There’s a risk in leaving these stories too soon, before the reader is emotionally ready to give them up.

4.  Endings are also about balance.

Long books can accommodate longer endings (defined as that portion of the book that takes place after the climax ends).  But when a shorter book has a longer ending, it feels out of balance, and it just seems to ramble on and on…

It’s not always clear when a book should end.  Endings make us scramble to find resolution and give meaning to what went before.  But one ending that IS clear is the end of our calendar year.  Here’s hoping the end of your year resolves exactly the way you meant!

Pets Are Family, Too!

We love our pets.  So much so, that in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, people don’t “own” pets.  We are guardians of pets.

Personally, my family has guarded a wide range of pets (except for reptiles–I have to draw the line somewhere).  One of our most memorable furry family members was a ferret, who now rests in peace in my rose garden.  I have fun resurrecting her in my Nell Letterly mysteries.  Ferrets make a perfect mystery character because they are drawn to shiny things, and they like to hide them away in their secret nests.

Cats are a traditional favorite in mystery stories.  For many interesting years, we were the guardians of a Siamese-Torti, who was all Siamese in attitude.  Here she is, supervising my gift wrapping efforts with her opinion:


They say that cats are roommates and dogs are companions, and we’ve guarded our share of dogs, too.  Meet my granddog, whose portrait I tried to paint, trying to capture her sheer joy during our family exercise:


Pets have their own unique personalities, and it’s fun to include them as characters in mysteries.  We care about them because they’re family, too.  One of my thanks on this eve of Thanksgiving is the joy of our pets.

Do you enjoy reading mysteries with memorable pets?  One of my favorite pet mysteries is Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series.  What are some of yours?

Families in Chaos

I like to write about families in chaos.  That chaos ranges from the lighter side–such as teen angst and mischief from the pet ferret–to the darker side, such as kidnapping and betrayal.

None of this means that my own family is in chaos!  Trouble always adds spice to fictional life, when real life is–thankfully–less “spicy.”

Sometimes we have to extrapolate to put drama into our stories.

I’ve written about overworked moms, which is something I know firsthand.  But when I fictionalize my overworked moms, I take them to the extreme to see what could happen when their dedication to their different jobs costs them precious family time.  And oops!  Kidnapping and maybe a murder or two have happened.  My heroines get their villains in the end, and order is restored.  But that order doesn’t come only in the form of justice to society.  Order is also restored to the family.

And speaking of villains…

Last month I posted about how I was trying to identify the villain of the story I was working on.  This month I’m happy to report that I’ve found the villain, and wouldn’t you know?  It’s a family connection.

Which leads me to wonder why families are so powerful to use in mysteries?  Maybe because…

  1. They provide a strong motivation for the sleuth to sleuth when a family member is threatened.
  2. Families will provide terrific inside information, if they’re in a position to do so.
  3. Families hide skeletons in their closets (personally, I love this one!)
  4. Domestic violence provides crime fodder (although I personally don’t write this dark).

Can you add more reasons?  Do you have a favorite?