The Legacy of the Flying Sidekick

Tomorrow I get a new hip.  I like to think it’s on account of many years of sports abuse, particularly those elusively troubling jump sidekicks that I’ve had to practice over and over in the martial arts.  The truth is much simpler and far less fun:  arthritis + an annoying injury (not from sidekicks).    

Still, it will be nice to regain some physical mobility, although probably the flying sidekicks will remain elusive.  

I’m completely inexperienced at anything surgical, but in my age group, everyone seems to be doing these hip replacements.  My sis just had hers done, and she tells me it’s an “easy” procedure.  


Then she told me that while she was laid up, resting for a couple of weeks, she got to read five books.   

Five books??  Somehow, this doesn’t sound so bad anymore.  

Usually my book choices are ruled by book clubs, research, and staying as current as I can with my community.  Choosing five “wild card” books overwhelms me with giddy delight, but also uncertainty.  I can’t just grab the first five off the TBR pile.  I have to plan this carefully.  Which should I choose first?  

I started organizing the possibilities by categories, such as books that make me laugh, classics that I’ve missed, books that are old comfortable friends, whimsical books, comfy cozies, filling in unread books from a beloved series, suspense books that will keep me turning pages, books about places I plan to visit, bestsellers, and so on.  In no time at all, the books on my list were soaring well beyond thirty in number.  I’m not going to be laid up long enough to read all of them!  

Ruthlessly, I narrowed down my list to ten.  Some of them are doorstoppers that could be dangerous to hold in bed.  I know I’m missing a lot of other compelling choices, but here they are:    

The Far Pavilions, by M.M. Kaye


Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen


Fer-de-lance, by Rex Stout


The Chill, by Ross MacDonald


Wicked Autumn, by G.M. Malliet


The Glamorous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder, by Holly McQueen


The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly


The Return, by Victoria Hislop


The English Spy, by Daniel Silva


Origin, by Dan Brown

Help!  Any votes for one choice over another?  Anything else that I should consider adding to my list? 


Boating for Research

Hubby and I just returned from England, visiting our family who lives on a narrowboat.  A couple years ago we bought a boat, too, and ever since, we’ve enjoyed cruising the English canals.  


I considered this trip as “research”–there’s a future book I want to write, even though it’s not next on my schedule.  Is it too soon to research, even though I only have the glimmer of an idea so far?  

Not for me.  It’s never too soon to explore.  

The idea began on a previous trip to England, when we were working a lock and briefly met a boat going the other way.  It had been turned into a bookstore, and that encounter set my imagination on fire.  So on this trip, I insisted we visit a floating bookstore moored in downtown London.  I wanted to feel the experience of the interior of such a boat.  


We’ve also explored the Canal Museum several times.  It’s a fascinating place dedicated to the history of working boats on the canals, and to the people who lived on those boats.  Highly recommended!

I’ve been collecting a variety of resources about practical life on a narrowboat.  The more I’ve learned, the more there is to learn, from water pumps to toilets to propellers.  For instance, we learned (yes, the hard way) that failing batteries release hydrogen gas, and that sets off carbon monoxide detectors.  

I’m also learning a bit about the folk art that decorates traditional boats, such as roses and castles.  A castle design is supposed to include a castle, a mountain, a body of water, a bridge, and a tree.  Not sure why.  There are also geometric designs and a heart on the hatch, indicating that’s where home is.  Art was traditionally painted fast, giving it a certain style.  Fast is just the way I like to paint!  


I have no idea yet how this hodge-podge of research will come together one day and play out in this future, still unknown book.  I don’t even know when the muses will dictate that I write it, but meanwhile, it’s fun to research many possibilities.  

Does research sometimes sidetrack you and take you to unanticipated, interesting places?  


What’s My Genre?

I just finished my Work in Progress–again.  This makes the umpteenth draft, and there will probably be a couple more before the editing and publishing teams are done with it.  Meanwhile, they are asking for information, anticipating things like cover art and other publishy promotion stuff, wanting to know how to position the book in the market.    

I don’t know what to tell them.  

Because this isn’t the book I set out to write.  Yeah, sometimes characters do that to us.   

My original concept, back in the zero draft stage, was to write a crime novel.  That would’ve been straightforward, as I had an idea for my detective in a contemporary setting.  

Somewhere along the way to writing that book, another story emerged.  

Digging more into the backstory and the crime, and how this crime impacted my detective, the first change became clear.  The book turned into a historical mystery.  

In the next draft, one of my side characters took over the story, which demoted my detective into a secondary character.  With the new character in charge, the book became an expat mystery (I never knew that subgenre existed until I started poking around online).  

The more I got to know this new, bossy character and her relationships with the people around her, the more I thought I was really writing women’s fiction.  Well, okay, I guess.  But it’s still a crime story, and it includes both mystery and suspense.  

In the next draft, whatever number that one was, I followed the character on her arc and noticed all the romance elements.  Had they been there before?  (Yes, they had.)  Gosh, could I possibly be writing romantic suspense?  Maybe, but not by today’s expectations.  Which brings me back to my first question:  

What’s my genre?  

Best as I can tell, it’s a historical expat women’s mystery suspense.  With a touch of romance.  

Oh, and did I mention there’s a touch of the woo-woo in it, too?  Not exactly supernatural, but something close.  

Each draft brings the author closer to understanding the story.  The author is just the vehicle for capturing the story on paper and fine-tuning it.  Authors write the story; publishers figure out what it is (thank goodness).  As I understand it, they look at the strongest element, and that’s what they say it is.  Sometimes one genre trumps another, at least for its main category.  Maybe my book just boils down to the comfortable umbrella of crime fiction after all. 

What’s your guess as to how a cross-genre book like this will shake out?  

Book Clubs

When I was a child and hadn’t yet learned how to read, I always envied my older siblings with their books.  We had no television where we lived, so we used to keep up with our favorite stories by “reading” comic books together.  Except, I was looking at the pictures while they were actually reading the words–and reacting with giggles or gasps.  I so much wanted to know exactly what had entertained them.  It was a story that the pictures didn’t completely show.  

Ever since, I’ve loved to talk books with others and share our reactions.  I want to know if others react the same as I do, or if they react in places where I don’t.  I want to relive my own enjoyment of a book through theirs.  I want to know why others love books that don’t especially thrill me, or why they dislike books that I love.  

Thank goodness for book clubs!  I’ve belonged to many different types, and each one is as different as the books they select for discussion.  But despite their differences, they all have reasons in common why I love them.  Here are just a few:  

 Wine.  Seriously!  What goes better with reading a book?  Sharing favorite snacks and/or beverages helps us relax and enjoy the company of good friends.  

Staying current.  When I pick out my own books to read, I always tend to stay within my comfortably favorite genres.  This produces a sort of tunnel vision that keeps me from seeing all the other books out there, begging to be read.  Since I don’t always stay current on the latest buzz about books, book clubs keep me informed about the books I should know about.  

Lightbulb moments.  I don’t always love the books my clubs choose for me, but I do love figuring out why I don’t when others do, and vice versa.  Some of our most interesting discussions are about books I actually dislike.  It’s like taking a dose of medicine–it’s healthy for me, even though my taste buds might complain.  

Education.  For a writer, attending book club is like going to school.  Someone always brings some information I wouldn’t have found otherwise.  And best of all, I get to find out what fans, not just writers, like and dislike in their reading material.  I get to analyze the reasons behind their reactions.  

“So many books, so little time!”  I’ll never read them all, but my book clubs keep me hacking away at the TBR mountain.  In the last twenty-odd years of my two current book clubs, we’ve read approximately 457 books.  Only several million more to go!  

Do you belong to a book club?  How is it working for you?

Goin’ on a Moose Hunt

My family and friends think I am obsessed with moose.  That’s an exaggeration, but it is true that I collect any and all things moose.  For example, I have a favorite signing pen, which is made from moose antlers.  I also have moose-shaped earrings, stuffed moose, moose paintings, moose bookmarks, moose appliques, moose ornaments, moose potholders, books about moose, and…  Well, you get the idea.  Maybe they’re right, and maybe it is a slight obsession.  


I am not sure why it began, but when I first spotted a moose in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies some years ago, it was love at first sight.  I’ve been looking for them ever since.  Lucky for me, the moose population here in Colorado has been thriving in recent years.  

So, imagine my delight when my publisher provided me with the title for a Nell Letterly mystery:  Murder by Moose.  

Yes, research!!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife provides a wealth of information, starting here:

A tiny town in northern Colorado, just west of Rocky Mountain National Park, is considered the moose capital of Colorado.  There’s even a moose visitor center:

Here are five fun facts I’ve learned about moose:  

  1. Moose used to live in Virginia.  
  2. Sometimes a moose has to kneel on its front legs to drink, as they’re longer than their back legs.  
  3. Bull moose aren’t the only ones with dewlaps (those beards that hang down).  Even cows and calves have short ones.  
  4. A frightened moose can run as fast as 35mph.
  5. Moose have excellent hearing–they can move one ear at a time and hear voices a mile away.  It’s not likely we can sneak up on a moose! 

As this posts, I will be up there looking for my buddies once again.  

Do you have a favorite wild animal, too?    

Housekeeping 101 for Writers

“Little by little” is the secret of success!

Monday:  Laundry Day

Starting the week behind.  No sweat, I’ll catch up. 

  •  Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words on Work in Progress.
  • More coffee.  Start the 1st load of wash, which reminds me of the quip my aunt’s parakeet used to say:  “Got to get the wash in.”  This also reminds me to work more on that scene with the parrot in WIP.  
  • Didn’t the washer ever beep?  When did it become time for dinner??  Okay, it looks like leftovers.  Good thing, since the fridge needs cleaning, anyway.  
  • After dinner, remember to transfer wash to dryer, then read until falling asleep. (repeat every night)

Tuesday:  Floors

Where is the rest of my clean laundry?

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words about the parrot. 
  • More coffee.  Parrot scene leads to turning point.  Can’t stop now. 
  • Got to stop long enough to call Hubby to bring home carry-out.  
  • Set the timer for one hour and push the sweeper through the main paths of the house.  When the timer goes off, STOP!  Now you don’t have to go to the gym, and you can get back to work on the WIP.  

Wednesday:  Dusting

Oh good, the cat threw up on my “clean” floor.  

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words that flowed. 
  • More coffee.  Oh no!  The truth is that yesterday’s words s**k big time.  
  • Set the timer for one hour while you wave the dust wand around and listen to a book on tape.  
  • Good books inspire you to get back to the keyboard.  Now you know how to fix that scene.  

Thursday:  Errands

Most of the dust bunnies blew under the couch, anyway.  

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s rewrite.  
  • More coffee.  Push ahead with more words, no matter what you think about them.  
  • You can call it “errand day,” but it’s really your day to go out and explore.  Writers have to fill the well, after all.  Maybe head to the zoo, where you can watch parrots in action.  

Friday:  Bathrooms

The drycleaning can always wait till next week’s “errand day.” 

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s new words.
  • More coffee.  Incorporate some of your ideas from yesterday’s adventures into WIP.  
  • Disinfectant wipes are your friends.  Use them liberally across the bathroom after your shower.  
  • Back to the keyboard.  Book isn’t so bad, after all, and there are only a few more chapters to go.  

Weekend:  Kitchen

Oops, missed a few spots, didn’t I?

  • Coffee.  Review yesterday’s flood of new words.  
  • More coffee.  Keep going.  
  • Remember those disinfectant wipes?  They work in the kitchen, too.  
  • Back to the keyboard.  The end is in sight.  

*sigh*  Who needs a clean house, anyway?  Guests will understand.  It’s a writer’s life!  

A Western Writer’s Notebook

What do you do when you’re between writing projects?  

Usually I switch to another project, but this time I’m filling the well with random stuff.  One such opportunity arose for me a couple weeks ago when we took the mother of all road trips.  

Most of the time, our road trips only take us as far as the airport, but this time we were driving Lilah Dog to her family in their new home.  Colorado to South Carolina, and back again.  


Lilah is happy because she gets to go, and she’s content with her nose in the air vent.  I’m happy, too, because family awaits us at the end of the road.  Along the way, I love seeing new regions.  Here are a dozen surprises I noted in my notebook:  

  1.  In Colorado we observe altitude.  Here in Boulder, it’s around 5400 feet.  The elevation doesn’t start to drop until about 50 miles from the state line.  I’d had no idea western Kansas is as high as 4,000 feet! 
  2.  In the west, we have wide, open spaces, and drivers often need to be aware of how far it is until the next gas stop.  Kansas City feels to me like the end of the west, because everything changes from here on.  
  3. The Mississippi River breaks the back of the road trip–in each direction.  Crossing the river makes me feel as if our destination is finally reachable.  
  4. East of the river, the states get smaller, denser, with lots more traffic.  And wow, the lushness!  It’s mostly deciduous trees, not just pines.  (And kudzu, another story.)  
  5. The kudzu starts in Kentucky, and then a stranger “sweethearts” us in Nashville.  We are clearly not in Boulder anymore.  We are in the south.  
  6. A wall of trucks careens madly across the mountains into North Carolina–is there only one highway across here?  I don’t know.  I can no longer read the road map.  It’s too dense on account of so many towns. 
  7. South Carolina has a state insect–the praying mantis.  (I think it should be cicadas, which make my head ring with their constant background chorus!)
  8. At the lake house in Georgia, I discover that watercolor paints don’t dry as soon as my brush touches paper.  In fact, the paint is still not dry when I’m ready to do the next layer.  This requires learning some new techniques.  
  9. We cross the “eastern continental divide” at Cashiers, North Carolina (I wonder where it got its name?)  It’s such a lovely town.  Elevation 3400 feet.  I’d had no idea there’s an eastern divide.  
  10.  Heading west again, we find that Arkansas has more than just the Ozarks.  It has the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced as if it’s spelled Washita–the way it is spelled in Oklahoma).  
  11.  I’m pretty sure we are coming to the end of the earth northwest of Amarillo, and then we see two lumps on the horizon–Rabbit Ears, part of the volcanic region in New Mexico.  
  12.  From the top of Capulin Volcano, we can see 5 states:  New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  The vastness takes my breath away.  BTW, cinder cone volcanoes, such as 60,000-year-old Capulin, never erupt again from the same vent.  One less thing to worry about!  

I can only imagine an easterner’s perspective traveling west.  What are some of your impressions of your regions?