Tag Archive: Sharon

The Mystery of Mysteries: 11+ Elements in a Private Investigator Mystery

QuestionsI don’t know anyone who would call a private investigator mystery a cozy. Now there might be some, but I am unaware of them. However, Jinx Schwartz has a series with a snarky female PI that is tightly plotted and fun to read. Similarly, in Sue Grafton’s series, the violence is not graphic. I guess the lesson is, there’s variety in the sub-genre of PI mysteries, too. No surprise there.

In my first post in this series, I dealt with the basics of mystery writing. In subsequent posts I’ve given specific elements that appear in the myriad sub-genres. The Private Investigator/Private Eye/PI mystery has its own distinguishing features.

PI mysteries, like all other sub-genres, must have an intriguing puzzle to solve along with the detective. Red herrings are not only allowed but are de rigueur. Readers like a challenge but they must have access to the same clues as the detective. Deus ex machina, an outside intervention with no previous story connection, is not a literary device used anymore.

The PI mystery is not an emotional mystery like cozies. There is a distance due to lack of familiarity with victim and criminal. The language may seem brusque, abrupt, and non-emotional. Just the facts, Ma’am. Often loners, these detectives prefer the unattached life. In addition:

1) The private investigator is often, but not always, an ex-police officer who is for hire by individuals.
2) The private investigator is trying to solve the crime outside the bounds of the legal authorities, often in tandem, but not working together.
3) Private investigator mysteries fall into a category of hard-boiled or soft-boiled mysteries. Hard-boiled mysteries are usually set in cities, portray realistic violence, depict capital crimes, and feature serious-crime characters. Often the violence is on-stage. Soft-boiled mysteries convey a lighter tone even in the middle of serious crimes. The detective may display a sardonic or sarcastic sense of humor.
4) The urgency of the ticking clock to solve the crime(s) is more pressing than in cozies.
5) Often, the reader walks through the crime scene in private investigator mysteries.
6) Typically, there is a mistrust of and conflict with authority (law enforcement and those in charge). Conflict arises from having different bosses and interests.
7) The PI is often viewed as a vigilante righting wrongs for altruistic as much as monetary interests.
8) PI novels are often told in first person, particularly true if hard-boiled, with spare language.
9) The rules of polite society do not apply to PIs. They drink too much, sleep around (they’re mostly male), violate rules they think stupid or not applicable to them, and will do whatever it takes to bring the bad guy to justice.
10) Private investigator mysteries often feature acts of physicality by the PI, sometimes of the “Mission Impossible” variety.
11) While there is often an ethical core, PIs are not the type people you want your child to marry.

If you think you might have it in you to write a private investigator mystery, do some serious reading of authors in the genre. The tone is definitely different.  I hesitate to classify the following authors as hard-boiled or soft-boiled since I have come across conflicting perspectives. For hard-boiled, however, a few classic authors are indisputable: Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, and Mickey Spillane.

Try the following (listed in alpha order) and see where you’d slot them using the criteria above. As a side bar, it would appear that if you want to write a PI mystery, use a pen name starting with M or P!

Lawrence Block http://lawrenceblock.com

Michael Connelly http://www.michaelconnelly.com

Janet Evanovich http://www.evanovich.com

Tana French http://www.tanafrench.com

Sue Grafton http://www.suegrafton.com

Martha Grimes http://www.marthagrimes.com

Joan Hess http://authors.simonandschuster.com/JoanHess/1129197

Sharyn McCrumb http://www.sharynmccrumb.com

Walter Mosley http://www.waltermosley.com

Sara Paretsky http://www.saraparetsky.com

Robert B. Parker http://www.robertbparker.net

James Patterson http://www.jamespatterson.com

Jinx Schwartz http://www.jinxschwartz.com/

No websites because deceased, but good reads:

Chester Himes

Ross Macdonald

John D. MacDonald

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/mystery-2/mystery-mysteries-13-elements-private-investigator-mystery/

Don’t Think, Just Write

BrainworkDon’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.    

~ Ray Bradbury


Does Bradbury’s advice ring true to you? Or do you think he’s gone too far? I have friends who will never finish their novels because they don’t think enough about it to do some basic planning. They assume it will spring full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus. Really. They do. And I have friends who will never finish their novels because they keep thinking about it, picking at it, and revising ad nauseum.

I also have a couple of friends whose goal is to write an “important book”. Both right now are paralyzed because it is not the author who determines if a book is significant, ground-breaking, and seminal. Rather, readers say, “That book changed my perception/understanding/acceptance of …” Their paralysis stems from the comparison of their own work with other “important books”. Authors don’t get that call, so setting out to write an “important book” may be one of those enemies of creativity Bradbury eschews.

That is part of the power of National Novel Writing Month. Bradbury’s quote could be their motto. Set aside the executive editor, that little internal critic, and let ‘er fly! Writing at breakneck speed, approximately 500,000 people took the challenge of crafting a short novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. And some of us made it. If this year’s winners reflect past statistics, about 13% will have made it past the 50K mark.

There’s some value in that kind of intensity. You are forced to focus on the driving plot line knowing you are creating the skeleton to not only put flesh on but to clothe as well in the months following the end of the challenge.

And if you aren’t a winner, you’re not a loser if you wrote any words at all. You now have more novel words for that title than you had on October 31st. So you didn’t meet the goal. Keep writing. Build on the foundation you began. That book can still emerge from the cocoon and be the butterfly you envisioned.

Because many people are highly motivated to be part of a writing zeitgeist, the NaNoWriMo folks have created a variety of participatory writing events throughout the year. They know that challenges motivate many of us.

But you don’t need them. Really. You can do this yourself. I find my tomato timer does the trick for me. I sprint-write in 25-minute segments and take a break. Knowing I only have 25 minutes keeps me intensely focused. I pound those keys trying to get out as many words as I can in the period. Then, sigh, go get some coffee, run in place, put the casserole in the oven, whatever is totally different for 5-ish minutes and then back into another 25-minute sprint.

Mr. Bradbury would approve of that kind of intensity. I write and don’t think. I correct tiny typos (can’t help myself), but I save revisions for later. This is not to say I am a total pantser. For NaNoWriMo, I prepared 40 scene cards (actually ended up with about 47 cards). When writing a new scene, I reviewed the scene cards before and after to contextualize the scene I was going to work on. Then I set my timer.

After that quick preparation, I just wrote knowing I would be fixing things later. Several times I realized that I was writing something contradictory to what I said earlier, but I continued writing the rest as if I had already changed the previous scene. When the timer dinged, I made a note on the scene card to go back later and fix the earlier section.

It’s a very freeing experience to churn out words. Maybe Bradbury was right. Sister Kathy wrote about a new author who followed the advice without being told to. Sister Caryn says trusting in our creative self to complete the scene is something we ought to do more often.

In one such experience, I had my girl in a jail holding cell, and all at once a character I hadn’t planned for, didn’t know who she was, or where she fit in the plot, started up a conversation. Where did she come from? It surprised me! Turns out she has info that will help my character solve the murder she’s charged with. Who knew?

By not thinking, just writing, I allowed myself to get off the freeway onto one of the blue line highways before finding my way back to the freeway and my central plot. A nice find, that character. I think she’ll be in the next book, too.

Don’t think. Just write.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/dont-think-just-write/

Romancing the Genre: That “Guilty Little Pleasure”

Sharon's Heart Logo for WebI’ve written some sweet romances, but I found I prefer my romance a bit stronger. For whatever reason, I just happen to love writing about sex. Maybe because in real life I love it, too. Back in June, I wrote an initial piece about the romance genre. As recently as August, Sister Caryn considered why people trash such a popular genre. During the economic downturn, romance novels were selling when many other books weren’t.

Romance is a category easily dismissed by others. Men expect women to want romances, the happily-ever-after kind with the impossible-to-emulate hero, so some of them feel free to ridicule the books and films featuring a love story. Women of a certain bent disdain romances as shallow, poorly written excursions into pulp fiction, demeaning of women as equal to men.

And some of that is deserved criticism. But that criticism can be aimed at any genre novel. Trite, clichéd story lines exist throughout published works. Character tropes who are hackneyed and unoriginal. Those books are predictable and don’t sound genuine, authentic. But it’s not just presesnt in the romance genre.STITCHES-1

Let’s face it, love is central to many stories whether it is the major plot line or a sub-plot meant to elaborate characters and make them multi-dimensional. There is more than one love subplot in sister Kathy’s new book, Stitches. Some of the love is healthy and some is not. While categorized as women’s fiction, rather than straight romance (ooh, that could be taken more than one way!), still there is romance aplenty.

The best way to think of it, in my opinion, as a Libran finding balance, is that romance in books is on a continuum. There are the traditional, dare I say, Harlequin romance books at one end of the continuum that has women’s fiction on the other end. In between, there is chick lit. Chick lit has romance, and the woman is in search of it (Harlequin leanings) but she finds who she really is without needing that to depend upon her love interest (women’s fiction leaning). In chick lit, the romance finally found is the plus in her life, not her whole life.

So are we agreed romance is highly visible in real and fictional life? Of course there are a few books and movies without a romance element, but, in reality, it is a reality that human relationships and interactions are part of life. Thus, they show up in various media over and over.

One of my dear friends, while suffering from chemo effects, didn’t want serious or tragic stories to watch or read. She chose romances to read, light, quick, guaranteed happy ending (Harlequin end of the spectrum). On an even closer front, when DH was recovering from eye surgery, he couldn’t watch or read serious or tragic stories. Same syndrome. Now he didn’t choose romances, but we did watch a Muppet movie and some stupid sitcoms. He couldn’t tolerate drama during that phase.

And what’s wrong with that? Not a thing. Escapism has always been the purview of literature. Romances touch something in us that is life-affirming. It will work out. There is a solution no matter how grim it gets. The sun will shine again.

The focus in a romance novel, as opposed to a novel with romance in it, is the centrality of the romantic relationship between two people that results in an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”. The biggest difference on the romance continuum, as near as I can tell, is the role of the heroine’s partner. In Harlequin-type romance, the partner is a major piece of the final happy ending. In women’s fiction, the partner might still be around as a romantic element, but happiness doesn’t depend on the partner. The woman’s journey and change are the biggest elements.

I have to tell you, I have friends who would take that definition to the woodshed on more than one count. The first trip to the woodshed, is for the traditional “optimistic ending.” The HEA ending (Happily Ever After) is de rigueur for many.

Those who write series romances say each book doesn’t necessarily have to have an HEA for each book as long as the series wraps up that way. That a “Happy For Now” ending (HFN) is good enough. But the series has to end with marriage or a commitment to remain together. Preferably marriage. Others disagree. Life doesn’t always have happy endings. Sometimes love sucks, but the ending must be appropriate to the story. In any genre, by the way.

The other woodshed trip some of my friends would take me on related to the definition is “between two people.” Polyamory is all the rage on TV and in books. Why does love have to be limited to two people, they would ask? Romance writers have included GBLT and BDSM for some time. Can polyamory be far behind?

Traditionally, the romance genre has not garnered much literary cache. Some would say that romance books are the woman’s equivalent of men’s pulp fiction or genre westerns of the past. All highly read. All dissed by literary critics. And you know what the Write on Sisters think about snobbish literary critics, those self-appointed arbiters of my reading tastes!

Let’s all just play nice together, okay?

Who cares if you like romances and I don’t? Really, who cares? I almost never ask someone what the genre is for a recommended book. I want to know the premise. I read a good book because it is a good book no matter the genre.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/romancing-genre/

The Mystery of Mysteries: 10 Elements of the Caper Mystery

QuestionsIn the dictionary “caper” is to “dance or skip about in a lively or playful way.” The caper mystery is the one that plays most with the mystery genre definition.

Capers fit into the cozy mystery category. Think of the movies, “Topkapi” or “Ocean’s 11.” O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” is a classic caper short story. The TV series “Leverage” was a caper show. Humor, audacity, cleverness and adventure are hallmarks of capers.

Capers include one or more crimes that are open to the reader; they happen in plain view. Often the crooks are a bunch of colorful misfits who somehow come together and pull it off. Murder is rare in capers, but the crime is outrageous and outsized for the talents of the criminals. Typically, the planning and execution of the crimes like theft, kidnapping, or swindling is the focus, not the solving of the crime. Very often in caper mysteries, the police and other authorities are depicted as inept and bumbling.

woman hackerThe crooks are typically likable and either plan something too big, or plan too elaborately for a simple crime. The squabbling among the various ensemble members accounts for some of the tension and humor. Each person has a specific role, so they can’t just dump someone who is hard to get along with.

On occasion, a caper involves a single character who must perform all the actions an ensemble crew would, but it is more common to have a cast for the crime.

If you want to try your hand at caper mystery, re-read the cozy mystery elements from above and add these elements:

1) Plan the framing story for the caper. The motivation can be for good or for the money. It is still illicit, but the greater good might be the rationale.

2) Choose the number of crimes and decide how they are related to one another.

3) Plan the caper and the steps needed to pull it off.

4) One hustler is the criminal mastermind, the “brains” of the operation. The main character has a shady background. There can be co-brains if needed.

5) Identify the ensemble needed to pull off the caper and the special talent each has. They are likely low-level crooks.

6) Select contrastive and complementary traits for the ensemble to build in tension and humor.

7) Identify points in the steps to pulling off the caper where it could go awry. Something ALWAYS goes awry and sometimes many things do.

8) Be able to write funny dialogue and scenes that include tension.

9) The main character perpetrator is most often the POV character.

10) Create an ensemble crew the reader roots for, or at least is sympathetic to.

Plotting a caper mystery requires the author not only to understand how basic mysteries are constructed, but to layer on additional elements. I personally think capers are among the more sophisticated and difficult of all the mystery sub-genres. Just getting the tone right is a major challenge in this sub-genre. Creating likeable crooks takes skillful writing.

But maybe the caper mystery is just right for you. Try it. You might like it!

Capers for you to read:

Lawrence Block, Burglars Can’t be Choosers (and others in the “Burglar” series)

Timothy Hallinan, The Fame Thief

Carl Hiassen, Tourist Season

S.A. Stolinsky, Counterfeit Lottery

Donald Westlake, What’s the Worst that Could Happen? (and many more)


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/mystery-mysteries-10-elements-caper-mystery/

Surviving and Thriving: Part 2 NaNoWriMo Tips


The halfway point of National Novel Writing Month, for me, is usually where it hits a snag. If you’re snaggy, too, maybe the rest of my NaNo tips will come in handy for you. You might want to re-read the first eight tips.

Remind yourself that while 50K sounds like a lot, it’s really just beyond a novella. My culinary mysteries are short novels at 65,000 words. Fantasy and science fiction often go beyond 100,000 words.

Still, even for one whose day job is writing novels, the grind of having to write to a word count or page count day after day after … It can get to you. Life happens. You can’t write every day. So how does one make it to the end with a 50K word count uploaded after 30 days?

If you’re on goal, you should have 16,670 words written on your novel. Yay, if you do! Step it up, if you don’t. See if these help you survive and thrive:

More Tips to Surviving and Thriving

9) I take advantage of “in the flow days” to bank words. Each November I’ve done this challenge, I lose about one-third of the month to travels and other commitments. This year, too. So I plan for that by writing more than my minimum on most days. I only have 20 days to write 50,000 words.

10) I am using the Pomodoro Technique® during NaNo for the first time this year. My goal is to write 110_F_62995971_5ICUFanuBUpaUrHXMXqz2QhaYHcBsxpnfor six pomodori™ units a day. That is six 25-minute cycles, three of which are followed by 5-minute breaks (the fourth and sixth have longer breaks). My goal is to write 500 words/cycle x 6 cycles = 3000 words/day. I will adjust that for more pomodori if I don’t get at least 2500 words per day. Since I only have 20 days of writing, this is my minimum to finish on time.

11) I have supports when I flag or get discouraged. And I will. Everyone does. I have joined several groups already. I dropped in to get acquainted and I know I can go to them for encouragement when needed. I have buddies who will support and encourage, too. And then there are crit group members who always cheer me on!

12) I know there’s a slump and plan for it. In my case, with so many days off, I’m getting breaks. For the rest of you, take a day off and do something fun! Kiss the kids, hug your SO, take a long bike ride, bake some cookies. Don’t think writing. Catch up your word count tomorrow. (Or maybe you took my advice and banked some.

13) When stopping for the day or a long period, I write comments and questions at the end of the writing period so that I have a record of where my mind was when I quit and what I saw as next steps. I do this with all my novels, not just NaNo,

14) Before bed, I read over what I wrote that day so that it will percolate somewhere in my unconscious overnight. This strategy helps me unleash creativity according to neurological research.

15) Over and over you hear that you should write and not stop to edit. I’m okay with that–mostly–during the writing cycles, but if you have time for it in your day, after meeting your writing goal, I say go for it. Sometimes it’s a nice break from writing. And you will have a cleaner piece at the end. BUT–only after meeting your goal, if you have more time to dedicate to writing. The NaNo folks would say if you have more time and more energy, write more. You decide.

So, that’s it. I rely on these 15 tips to survive and thrive during NaNoWriMo. I may even do more I’m not consciously aware of. But I have to get back to work now. See you in NaNo Land. Be in the 13% who finish!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/surviving-thriving-part-2-nanowrimo-tips/

Surviving and Thriving: Part 1 NaNoWriMoTips


In my post on my planning process for novels I shared how I got ready for National Novel Writing Month. I went through all the steps, and now, each day, I sit at my keyboard and turn over the next in my set of 40 scene cards. If I were on target, I should have had at least 5001 words by the end of today. That number means 10% done, folks! And I am almost 20% done! Yay!

So I did my prep. What about now? What are my “secrets” to surviving, dare I say thriving in, NaNoWriMo, the “month of literary abandon”, again this year?

Though there are hundreds of NaNo tips on the web and at the NaNoWriMo site, for some reason, NaNo participants can’t seem to get enough feedback about what to try in order to finish the month with a nascent book in hand.

So, here I am to take a whack at it for you, too. What DO I do in November so I am likely to produce a short novel at the end of it?

Tips to Surviving and Thriving during National Novel Writing Month
1) I have to be committed to the project. I always let blog readers choose the novel I write, but they choose from book descriptions I’m going to write anyway. If I don’t love it, it won’t happen.

2) I track my progress. I use a spreadsheet to track daily targets and weekly targets (when I started, how long I wrote, how many writing episodes, word count, etc.). At the NaNo site I upload my words each day and they have neat graphics to help monitor progress, too.

3) I plan meals all the time, but even more so for NaNo. I plan simpler meals that take little attention. As I said to one the WOSisters recently, the slow cooker is the real “Mother’s Little Helper.”

4) Though not an eater while writing, I keep candies close by to suck on if I need a rush. And coffee. Always a mug nearby. Oh, and chocolate.

5) I don’t do Pinterest or other social media other than Facebook and Twitter during November. They can wait a month.

6) I cut back on blogging. I have three blogs where I post each week. Here’s how I’ve managed in the past:

a) solicit guest posters before November and schedule them in so they go live on the day without anything needed from me.

b) write ahead and schedule my posts to go live on the day.

c) post popular old articles, identifying it as such.

d) go on hiatus in November, not posting at all, but with a note as to why I won’t be there.

7) I cut back on Twitter. Normally, I tweet 8-10 items 3 times a day for each of my 3 accounts. I’ll do the math for you. I tweet between 72-90 items a day total. And I am a generous re-tweeter. During NaNo, I cut back to tweeting once a day with 5-8 tweets per account (15-24 total tweets). It takes me 15 minutes to do that. I don’t retweet as much, either.

8) I cut back on Facebook, checking in before I start in the morning, after I am done writing for the day, and once for a 25-minute Pomodoro® mid-day when I tweet.

Next week, I’ll share the remaining seven tips that keep me on track with National Novel Writing Month. It is do-able. Every year about 13% of those who start do finish. Will you be one? Hope to see you there!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/surviving-thriving-part-1nanowrimotips/

The Pomodoro Technique® for Writers

110_F_62995971_5ICUFanuBUpaUrHXMXqz2QhaYHcBsxpnCreated in the 1980s. Picked up by business in the 1990s. But still largely unknown among the general public. And writers need to know!

As a student, Francesco Cirillo struggled with time management. We’ve all been there. As an undergraduate, I worked 40-45 hours a week while taking a full load of classes. Oh, and I had a social life (of sorts). I had to be efficient or I’d not make it. (Spoiler: I did graduate…and then graduate again…and graduate again…and graduate for the last time.)

Cirillo found that if he timed himself with a kitchen timer (He happened to have a tomato-shaped one, thus the name Pomodoro™) alternating between short bursts or sprints of focused work with much shorter breaks, he actually got more done. He kept track of his pomodori (the unit for the 25-minute work sprint), and after every fourth one, he took a 25-30 minute break.

The Pomodoro Technique® is “deceptively simple”, as one site called it. And yet it is genius. For me, using PT was not so much a stretch. As a cooker, timers rule my life anyway. So what’s the big deal with doing it with writing, too?

However, when I first heard of it, I had to order the tomato timer. It’s too cute. I mean, I’m all in! No way am I using my oven timer. I don’t write in the kitchen. Then I began to wonder who I knew was also PTing.

I hunted around, and I got a few friends to answer questions about their use of the Pomodoro Technique®.

Tracie Banister, author of Blame It on the Fame and In Need of Therapy, claims that the Pomodoro Technique® helps her limit Internet time gobblers and to focus for larger amounts of time. She modifies the times so that if she writes longer, she takes longer breaks.

Isabella Anderson, author in Merry and Bright and author of The Right Design, likes it so much she wrote a post about her plan to use the Pomodoro Technique® during NaNoWriMo.

Isabella and others use the timer on the phone or have downloaded timing apps to use on their computers or tablets instead of a physical timer. Some of the timing apps block you from Internet sites during the pomodoro™ period. Clever, eh?

Isabella began using the Pomodoro Technique® during edits for The Right Design. It was a way to stay focused and not feel overwhelmed by the editing task. Twenty-five minute bursts break down the “daunting task” to one that felt manageable. She credits it with keeping her on track and less grumpy.

Isabella, like most of us Pomordorans, is self-taught, and, in fact, she independently happened upon the strategy before she knew there was an official name and procedure. She used it and will continue to use the technique because it works for her.

There are lots of Pomodoro Technique® helps on the Web so you can teach yourself. But, there are also books to purchase and classes to take to extend the use of the technique. So just what is the basic Pomodoro Technique® and how do you do it? I also wrote about my perspective on what works or doesn’t, what you can do in the five minute breaks, and modifications I use.

What it is
The directions for the easiest implementation of the Pomodoro Technique® are quite simple, though there are advanced techniques that you can get in courses. For what I need, the basic method works swell. A pomodoro™ is one time unit (usually 25 minutes). Here’s how to get started.

1. List writing or editing tasks to accomplish for the day.
2. Estimate how many pomodori (plural form of pomodoro™) will be needed for each task and write it down next to the task. This takes practice and is part of the advanced course work.
3. Set your timer for the number of minutes you will work (as said above, usually 25 minutes).
4. Work on the task until the timer rings.
5. Set the timer for 5 minutes and take a break (see below for ideas).
6. After four pomodori, take a break of 15-30 minutes.
7. Repeat.

What works:
a) Changing pace often so you stay focused.
b) Changing pace keeps fatigue at bay.
c) One is aware of time passing so there’s a deadline, an urgency that many respond to.
d) People report accomplishing more.
e) PT is easy to do with little or no cost.
f) PT keeps the time-sucking web at bay.
g) You can do Internet necessities in pomodori instead of using break times.

What doesn’t work:
** If you are really rolling with a scene, you don’t want to quit and lose momentum. Decision point: Keep going or stop?
** Interruptions are sometimes hard to handle.
** The timer startles me and hubs hates the dinging interrupting him.
** Because the timer is noisy I can’t use it when I go to the computer at 4 a.m.

What you can do in 5 minutes:
We all need to take breaks for our health: mental and physical. The breaks should be mentally relaxing as a BREAK from intellectual tasks.

–Desk exercises (a ton on-line)
–Stand up and do some kettle bell exercises
–Run in place for 5 minutes (many reports found running 5 minutes a day adds years to your life)
–Answer e-mail/Facebook posts
–Post tweets
–Go to the bathroom
–Grab a beverage and drink it in 5 minutes to stay hydrated
–Walk outside or around the house (I wear a pedometer during waking hours–up those steps toward 10K)
–Groom the dog
–Clean out your purse or a kitchen drawer
–Order prescriptions from the pharmacy
–Throw load of laundry in
–Put the butter out to soften for a recipe
–Feed the dog
–Make an appointment or reservation
And other stuff like that.

Modifications I’ve made:
~ If “in the zone”, I keep going until a logical break point.
~ Decide how many pomodori I will do each day; typically 6-8
~ I muffle the timer so it doesn’t startle me.

Interested? Read more:
Trying PT


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-pomodoro-technique-for-writers/

The Mystery of Mysteries: 16 Steps to Writing the Cozy Mystery

QuestionsThe traditional mystery is sometimes referred to as a cozy mystery, as I explained in last month’s The Mystery of Mysteries post on the 12 steps to writing a traditional mystery. However, that seems to be more of a U.K. designation. In the U.S., cozy mysteries have special elements that differentiate them from traditional mysteries.

Cozy mysteries are among the most popular of the sub-genres. I suspect a large part of the appeal is that the focus is on the crime solved by every day folks like us who reluctantly participate and solve the mystery using common sense.

Also, since most cozies are series books, readers have lots of time to engage with characters across books. They can become quite familiar to fans who eagerly compete with the amateur sleuth to solve the crime first. Most cozies also let the reader learn new information since they tend to be theme-oriented.

Many of the elements of the traditional mystery appear in other sub-genres of mystery. Cozies are a variant on the theme. In the list below, the first seven elements are the same in cozies and traditional mysteries, but to make your mystery a cozy, you need to add in nine more elements.

1) Cozy mysteries are always a puzzle to solve.

2) All clues are revealed to the reader but obscured with red herrings and false leads.

3) Cozy mysteries feature a murder (most often) or a crime of great substance.

4) The victim typically is not admirable, thus the crime, if not justifiable, is often understandable.

5) The murder or other significant crime often occurs very near the beginning, in the opening pages. But not always. Cozies can introduce the murder well into the story.

6) Murders take place “off stage” so there is little or no explicit violence or gore described.

7) Cozy mysteries use plot devices to further the confusion of clues, suspects, and timelines.

8) The reluctant and very clever amateur sleuth uses common sense to solve the mystery, and is drawn into solving the crime by circumstances.

9) The villain is clever and smart but not equal to the sleuth.

10) Cozy mysteries are most often set in a small town or rural setting so you get to know residents across books.

11) Almost all cozy mysteries are a series.

12) The cozy mystery series usually has a theme or an occupation or a hobby to tie it together.

13) Cozies involve more active crime solving than traditional mysteries. Readers want more than somebody being interviewed. Cozies have more action and dangerous situations. However, they are still considered light reading in the mystery realm.

14) Whereas cozies are generally G-Rated, they have evolved to where there may be mild cursing and the mention of sex “off stage”.

15) Cozies often have humorous components and/or quirky characters.

16) Cozy mysteries often have punny titles tied to the theme/occupation/hobby of the series. My culinary mysteries for example have titles of Mission Impastable, Prime Rib and Punishment, Potluck, Cooks in the Can, and Ancient Grease.


If you want to start writing cozies, here are some cozy mystery authors to get you started. Note the elements as you read.

Multiple Series:

Sharyn McCrumb

Carolyn G. Hart

Joan Hess

Elizabeth Peters

Nancy Pickard

Margaret Maron

Rhys Bowen

Hank Phillipi Ryan

And oh, so many more!

Single Series:

Diane Mott Davidson (caterer, culinary)

Kate Ross (1820’s London)

Jerrilyn Farmer (caterer, culinary)

Julie Spencer-Fleming (Episcopal priest)

Jan Burke (reporter)

Jacqueline Winspear (early 20th century psychologist sleuth)

Katherine Hall Page (caterer, culinary)

This is just scratching the cozy surface! Search Amazon “BOOKS” with your favorite pastime + cozy mystery and see what turns up.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/the-mystery-of-mysteries-16-steps-to-writing-the-cozy-mystery/

My 9-Step Planning Process for NaNoWriMo: I’m In. Are You?

nanowrimo-logoI started the registration process for National Novel Writing Month 2014. but I need your help to finish. You see, I have to put in the title of my book. And, well, that’s where you come in.

Every year, I post ideas of books I intend to write. Then I let readers pick the one I’ll pen for NaNoWriMo. While this might seem early to you, I do a ton of prep for NaNoWriMo so that November goes smoothly. When you are writing 50 thousand words in 30 days, you gotta make tracks! I can’t stop to ruminate on next scenes.

I have my novel planned down to the gnat’s derriere. That is not to say that all I planned is written! My characters surprise me. I need a transition scene I didn’t foresee. The ending works better another way. Still. I have a framework for the novel that keeps me keeping on.

Even committed plotter-oriented writers realize when to be pantsers and go with the story unraveling from their fingertips. The planning I do is my map to the novel. Mostly I want to stay on the freeway, but there are the inevitable blue line highways that beckon me off-road. Places of surprise and discovery.

So I take those exits off my freeway and explore the area. Sometimes those explorations lead me back to my freeway or so far afield that I find my way to a different freeway. That’s okay. There are lots of roads to Chicago. And since Chicago is my goal, I don’t really mind how I get there.

I create documents for my novel based on Holly Lisle’s techniques married to some of my own strategies. I’ll share in November what the details look like. Here are my plotting process elements for my books:

1) Write the theme in 15 or fewer words.
2) List 10 key events in the story.
3) List 1-6 sub-themes dependent on total word count I anticipate.
4) Write a story treatment. And Sister Heather’s post will help me do that better.
5) Create character sketches for each person in the novel.
6) Using the 10 key events, expand to about 40 scene note cards (give or take) with who, where, when, point of scene, and what happens.
7) Create a micro-summary of 25 words or fewer.
8) Write a one-line story arc for the protagonist.
9) Create the 250-word book blurb for the back cover of the finished novel.

I do all of that prep prior to November 1st. Each day in November I write one or more scenes until I finish all the note cards and my novel!

30 days: 1167 words per day = 11, 669 words per week = 50,010 total words. I can do this! Now help me pick the novel I will write in November. I have four books I plan to write someday. But which one will come first? Pick what you want me to write for NaNoWriMo, and I will tally votes from Twitter, Facebook, and here.

1) Sex for Sale, the sequel to Streetwalker, is an erotic romance. Carrie and Harlan are together at the beginning of the novel, having made a commitment to one another at the end of the previous book. But as Harlan is drawn further from the day-to-day operations of their brothel by his photography efforts, Carrie begins to feel neglected. She is finishing her degree in business administration and decides they need to get out of the brothel side of sex for sale and into legitimate areas. She gets sexually involved with a police detective and jeopardizes all they have built. Lauren, their former attorney, decides to strike back at Harlan’s rejection of her and works with the police to bring him down. Carrie and Harlan are fighting for both their livelihood and their freedom.

2) I Dream of Djinni is a paranormal suspense with romantic elements. My tagline for this maybe-series/maybe-single title is, “Djinni are the new vampires.” 28 year-old Gwyneth Catrin Warlow recently broke up with her long-time boyfriend. When she receives a letter from a Welsh solicitor regarding an inheritance she heads to Wales to claim the estate. It is all hers to dispose of as she wishes with the exception that she is not to touch anything in the attic. Emrys, a world-traveler, collected many things. All in the attic is to be gathered up by a mover and burned without examination. She can’t resist and uncovers an artifact that is home to a djinn, Abdul Wahid. Complicating things is Uncle Emrys who tricked the djinn into giving him partial immortality, and trouble ensues when he shows up.

3) Potluck is the third book in my culinary mystery series. Potluck is a play on words since recipes and the story line will center on medical marijuana as well as large portion dishes to take to neighborhood gatherings. Arizona and other states have medical marijuana laws so Alli and Gina whip up some pot recipes, much to Gina’s dispair. A client needs to ingest marijuana rather than inhale, and they come up with recipes for her. Alli wants to sell mixes to supplement their income because they are still struggling personal chefs. Alli re-establishes a friendship with a local medical marijuana provider, a friend from high school and his grower. When the grower ends up dead of a heroin overdose, Alli doesn’t believe it and seeks to solve the mystery. She is sure someone killed him. But is it the high school friend, a local druggie known for petty thefts, a rival provider, a doctor known for generous prescribing, or the political crook who has a lot to lose if his addiction is made public? We find out why Alli is reluctant to commit to Evan. Alli’s brother is released from prison early, and she realizes Cal is unredeemable.

4) Lost in the Woods. Blake Crouch wrote a series of paranormal/scifi/fantasy books that will be a Fox TV series in 2014 (“Wayward Pines” starring Matt Dillon). Kindle Worlds has the rights to sell fan fiction for the books/TV series through their new initiative. I’d like to take some story threads from the book series and do past events and future ones to submit to Kindle Worlds for publication. The town of Wayward Pines isn’t what it seems. You may arrive in the town, but you’ll never leave. At least not in the expected way of travelers. I plan to explore the “heartbeat” of Wayward Pines, the main character’s wife and child, and one of the watchers guarding the town.

(VOTING IS NOW CLOSED! Thank you for your wonderful support.) Vote below by leaving your pick in Comments! Deadline: October 13th 2014!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/archive/my-9-step-planning-process-for-nanowrimo-im-in-are-you/

NaNoWriMo is NOT a Cuddly Stuffed Animal


When I posted a few years ago about the upcoming NaNoWriMo, one of my Facebook friends asked me if NaNoWriMo was a new boutique stuffed animal for grandparents to buy. Uh, no.

I was taken aback at first, but, really, National Novel Writing Month would only be familiar to those of us who chose writing as a profession.

Worldwide, writers commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. NaNoWriMo will be celebrating the 16th year of existence this November.

The first NaNoWriMo began as a friendly challenge among 21 participants in 1999. The next year had 140 NaNoWriMoparticipants. Last year more than 300,000 adult writers signed up. And nearly 90,000 youths enrolled. (They’re allowed different goals.) Organizers hope to top a half million participants this year.

Sadly, over the years, those who sign up and those who meet the goal are wildly disparate. Roughly 13% of those who initially sign up actually complete 50K words in 30 days. But in 2013, worldwide, writers wrote almost 4 billion words.

The rules are simple. You can do character sketches, a story treatment, massive outlining, and prodigious research before November. You just can’t start writing connected text of scenes until November 1. Who checks on that? Nobody. If you cheat, who are you cheating? Yourself. I like to be able to honestly say I wrote 50K in 30 days. But no one would know otherwise.

Quality control. Nope. There is none. That’s up to you in the editing and revisions you do in December, January, February … Completion, not perfection, is the November goal. It’s hard to edit nothing, write (sic)?

There is a built in word counter you upload to each day to show you your progress. If you write 1667 words a day for 30 days, you do it–50,010 words! That’s less than 7 pages a day. For me, that is about 2-3 hours of writing. So why don’t more people make it? Well, life happens. Rarely can someone write every day for 30 days straight. There’s Grandma’s birthday party, you get sick, you have to make a business trip. Life happens.

My strategy is to bank words against those inevitable life events. I am so ready to go by November 1 that I typically bang out several thousand words a day for several days straight. Then life happens, but I am okay missing a day or two. My average is still over 1667 words per day. Do I get behind? Oh, yeah. But I know I can catch up. When people don’t catch up, they are non-completers.

Another reason some people don’t complete NaNoWriMo is what happens to writers all the time. They get to the saggy, soggy middle and discover as Gertrude Stein said, “…there’s no there, there.” They have no idea where to go or what to write next. Abandonment ensues. Fortunately for you, Heather Jackson has addressed the mushy middle in several of the Write on Sisters posts.

Some writers lose interest in their stories as they plod away day after day. NaNoWriMo can begin to feel more like an obligation than a joy. More of a check-off on a list than the fulfillment of a desire. Or they discover or decide that the plot was thin, the characters stock, and the story premise banal. When it rains and the fire of desire goes out, you better have some good kindling to restart it.

But to be more positive, I love National Novel Writing Month. A cool thing, among many cool things, is that NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization so any donations made are tax deductible. NaNoWriMo has been a huge supporter of young writers in and out of school. Famous authors write notes to us as pep talks to keep our commitment strong. And you meet some neat new author friends through the support forums.

Are you signing up for NaNoWriMo? Worst case scenario, you don’t make 50K words in 30 days. You only get 16, 546 words on paper. So? Isn’t that more than you had before November? Celebrate that you now have a novel started that didn’t exist in October. Take your time. Finish it. Enjoy your story. And you can always claim that it all began with NaNoWriMo.

Next week, more on NaNoWriMo and you get to help me pick what I will write in November.


Lessons From the NaNoWriMo Trenches by Robin

Mapping the Mushy MIddle by Heather

The Hero’s Emotional Midpoint by Heather



Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/nanowrimo-is-not-a-cuddly-stuffed-animal/

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