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My Books

New Lucky Lexie Book!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverIn case you were wondering what would happen next with Lexie and the gang, the wait is almost over. Mystery of the Drowned Driver, book 3, is coming January 28, and you can pre-order it now. This is the fastest I’ve ever released books, but I doubt the next one will come quite so quickly. I’d already written the first draft of this book before the second book was published, and I don’t yet have a firm plot idea for book 4. The tricky thing is that I know what books 5 and 6 will be about, but going straight to the plot for book 5 would mean skipping a lot more time than I’d like, so I need to figure out something that will come in between.

I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by a number of other story ideas that have popped up and begun demanding attention. Not to mention all the events going on in the world outside my head that have been distressing and upsetting. This is a difficult time to work in a field that requires focus and creativity and that means we have to tap into our emotions to do it well. When your emotions are like “AAAAAGGGHHHHHH!” it’s hard to write, but if you shut the emotions down, you end up with something that reads like a user manual.

I’m in brainstorming mode for all the projects I’ve been working on, just thinking and jotting down ideas as they come to me. Right now, I’m letting myself play with that fantasy journey idea and seeing if it’s something I want to pursue. Next week I may go back to trying to think of mystery plots. I would like to have a new book in that series by May or so, which means I’ll have to get to work on it soon.

I used to have a button that said “so many books, so little time.” It was supposedly about reading, but it’s become true about writing, too. There are so many stories in my head, dying to get out, but I can only write one at a time, and there’s a limited amount of time I can spend writing in a day before my head explodes.

I’m putting order links on my website as I find them, and you can find the scoop on the new book on its page here. I’ll add an excerpt soon.

Books, My Books, movies

Gray Days, Old Houses, and Christmas Reads

We’ve had actual winter-like weather lately, with cold, gray days, so I’ve followed my personal policy of declaring days like that to be reading days. I’ve spent time curled up under a blanket on the sofa, reading Christmassy books. I’m enjoying doing that more than I’ve enjoyed watching Christmas movies. I can lose myself in a book, but I get sidetracked when watching something.

I think it also helps that the books are a bit more to my taste. It seems that the Christmas romantic comedy book is a big thing in the UK. The “chick lit” trend never really died there the way it did in the US, so you can still get that kind of book that’s got a romance, but it’s more about the heroine’s life in general, dealing with work, family, friends, etc. And now there are a lot of those set during the Christmas season, not necessarily about Christmas, but against that backdrop and the way the holiday tends to amplify existing issues.

I wonder if the Brits have their own versions of the holiday movies, like the Lifetime and Hallmark movies in the US. Are there movies about the high-strung career woman from London having to spend the holiday in the quaint little village where she grew up so she can help save the family bakery? That might be a fun change of pace.

A lot of the books seem to be about saving the historic family home — the medieval or Tudor manor—which I guess is similar to the American version of saving the family farm. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for the “saving the crumbling medieval manor” type plot, given that I find the maintenance on my 1984-built house overwhelming. It’s fun to read about, but I imagine wouldn’t be as much fun in real life.

I burned out on the movies I tried to watch because I just couldn’t take the “return to hometown and get together with guy from high school” story yet again. Having to move back to my small hometown is the sort of thing I have nightmares about, and I’ve seen the guys I graduated with. Nope. I was sad in school that no one wanted to date me, but I really dodged a bullet there. I have a couple of old favorites that I know don’t have that plot, so I may give those a shot. When I’m not reading and listening to Christmas music.

In book-related news, I’ve done a paperback version of Spindled, the book I serialized on the blog earlier this year. You might still be able to get delivery by Christmas if you’re a Prime member. It should eventually be available through places other than Amazon, but that will take time to get through the system. You can order it here.

My Books

Done for the Year!

I finished dealing with edits on Lucky Lexie book 3, Mystery of the Drowned Driver, and that means I get to take the rest of the year more or less off. I still have some business stuff to deal with and will be doing research and brainstorming, but I’m letting that book rest before I do formatting and a round of proofreading, so there won’t be any actual writing work unless inspiration strikes me and I suddenly find myself writing a Christmas book.

Today it’s a nice rainy day, so perfect for curling up with a book and drinking tea. Though I’ve already had a whole pot of tea with a leisurely breakfast, so maybe I’ll switch to herbal tea for the afternoon or it will be caffeine overload.

In other news, I finally got my act together and made a paperback version of Spindled, the YA fantasy I posted in installments on the blog earlier this year. If you order now, you should be able to get it delivered in time for it to be a Christmas gift, especially if you’re a Prime member. The paperback will eventually be available at non-Amazon retailers, but it takes time to get through all the systems to be available there. And I make a lot more from each sale when people order from Amazon. I know they’re evil, but they are the bulk of my income. You can order the book here.

I’m really going into Christmas mode tonight with my first real viewing of a Christmas movie. I did watch one that I’d recorded earlier this week, but it was really bad and I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. But tonight the plan is to put on the Christmas lights, make some popcorn, and settle in for a proper viewing. And probably some snarking because so many of these movies are so very bad. I know the budgets are low, but it shouldn’t cost that much more to get decent scripts. A good script could make up for the fake snow and bland acting.

This is why I might end up suddenly writing a Christmas book, in spite of my plans to relax.

My Books

Other Worlds

I’ve got book 3 of the Lucky Lexie series, which I believe I’m going to call Mystery of the Drowned Driver, more or less done. I need to do a good editing pass to make sure I’m using all the right words in the right order, and then there’s proofreading. I’m aiming for a January release date, but that will depend on when I can have a cover done. I guess that’s next on my list. Aside from that editing, I’m done with the bulk of my work for the year, unless I pick up more freelance projects. I don’t yet know how busy they’re going to keep me.

I’ll talk more about this next book as we get closer to release day, but it’s very loosely based on something that actually happened in my city, though the circumstances surrounding the event are very different. The book includes a scene that puts the “fun” in funeral.

Now I get to really dive in to creating that new world for fantasy stories. I’ve always wanted to write a classic-style traditional fantasy — that fairytale type of pre-industrial imaginary world. That was what I fell in love with reading, and my first (very bad) attempts at writing fantasy fell into that genre. But I haven’t published anything like that, aside from the parts of Spindled that take place in the other world.

Now, I’m going to let myself play with creating a world and telling stories within it. The characters for the first book in that series have started coming to life in my mind, and the world is gradually developing. I’ve reached the point where I need to start coming up with specifics and filling in the gaps so that I can create an actual plot.

I’m trying to create for myself the feeling I had when I first started reading fantasy and the main thing I liked was that feeling of desperately wanting to visit those other worlds. I was homesick for places that never existed. If I do this right, I’ll create a world that I’ll want to spend time in and that will give readers that same sense of homesickness for an imaginary place.

So, no pressure at all.

My Books

Finding Home

Curious Crystals CoverBook two in my mystery series, Case of the Curious Crystals is now available. I’ve drafted book 3 and will start revisions next week, so I’ll figure out then how much work it needs and that will tell me when it’s likely to come out.

One thing I didn’t realize until I’d written drafts of two books is that the series is really about home and community and the threats to that community. At the beginning of the series, Lexie is looking for a home and a community. She’s never really had a hometown, but thanks to her addiction to Hallmark movies, she has an idea in mind of what the ideal hometown would be, and she thinks she’s found it. In book one, the threat is that pesky little murder case that might mean she won’t get the job that allows her to stay there. In book two, the theft ring is shaking up the town and keeping it from being the place she’s come to love. In book three, Lexie’s own place in the community is being threatened.

Oddly enough, it was Disney movies that gave me that realization. I think I was watching one of those Disney sing along at home specials and singing along (as you do), when I remembered the idea of the “I Want” song. I don’t think they were consciously doing it in the Classic era, but in the modern Disney era, they’re very specific about that song at the beginning of the movie in which the main character sings about the thing they want, even before the actual plot has kicked in. So we have Snow White singing about wanting that prince to come, Sleeping Beauty singing about wanting to find someone to love her, Alice wanting a world of her own, Ariel wanting to be where the people are, Belle wanting adventure and someone who gets her, etc. It’s a good writing tip to think about what your character’s “I Want” song would be about if your story got made into a Disney musical.

And I realized that was what I was missing. I didn’t have a strong “I Want” for Lexie, but then when I started re-reading, I figured out that it was already there. I just had to make it stronger in the first book. I had to do a lot of rewriting in the second book because in the original draft, she was waffling about whether or not she wanted to stay in town. That really wasn’t working, and it was when I shifted that perspective that I suddenly had an emotional through-line, where she wanted to stay and she loved the place, but it was being threatened. That gave her an emotional reason to want to solve the case.

It makes plotting each subsequent book easier when I think about how the case could threaten the sense of home she’s found.

My Books

Non-Murder Mysteries

It’s less than a week until the release of Case of the Curious Crystals, book 2 in the Lucky Lexie mysteries. This one is a bit different for a mystery because it’s not about a murder.

Not that a series that involves ghosts and people with uncanny abilities is at all “realistic,” but I didn’t want to strain credibility too much and give this town a murder rate to rival any major city. I want it to remain the kind of town you’d want to live in, not one where you’d be worried about a murder every week or so. So the crime in this book involves burglary, something that is fairly realistic for small towns. The danger is more emotional than physical. I guess this book is closer to the Enchanted, Inc. series in the sense of what’s going on and what the heroine has to do about it.

There are dead bodies in book 3, and it’s based on something that actually happened in my city (though it happens to different kinds of people, in a different way, for a different reason), but there’s another crime woven into it. I have vague ideas for the next few books after that. One is a story I came up with the core of back in the early 90s, and I haven’t found a good place to use it until now. That one’s going to be a lot of fun to write.

In the meantime, fall hit with a vengeance this morning. We had one of those drastic fronts come through. It was about 70 degrees when I got up at around 7 this morning. At the moment (just before 11:30 a.m. as I write this), it’s 58 degrees on my patio, which is probably warmer than it actually is because that thermometer is near my house, and my house is stucco, so it tends to retain and reflect heat. And it’s going to keep dropping throughout the day. I think it’s a day for making soup and baking. I’m on “vacation,” and this is a great day for cozy things.

My Books

Sudden Cold Snaps

I started my post-draft vacation with a trip to visit my parents. One good thing about being buried in a book was that meant I’d been isolating, and that meant it was safe for me to visit them. It’s only about 100 miles away, but on the way home I experienced some quirky Texas weather. It was in the upper 80s and very humid at my parents’ house, but a front had come through and stalled about halfway between my house and my parents’ house, so it was quite chilly at my house. I needed entirely different clothes only 100 miles away.

That goes to show that the kind of weather change in Interview with a Dead Editor isn’t all that uncommon in Texas. That storm is inspired by a few real-life storms I’ve experienced. When I was in college, there was a February day when I left for class in the morning just wearing shirt sleeves. It was in the mid-70s, a comfortable day that felt like spring. I was in classes all day, and when I got to my last class, it was still pretty warm. I never had a need to go back to my dorm to get a jacket. That last class was a journalism lab, so I had the regular class, followed by having to work in the lab until my radio news story was done, which meant recording and editing audio back in the day when that required a razor blade and splicing tape.

I finished my work and started to head across campus back to my dorm, stepped outside the building, and it was something like 22 degrees and sleeting. Fortunately, one of the RAs on my floor had a handicap permit and a spot right next to the dorm, and he’d issued a blanket offer that if anyone ever needed a ride, to call him (everyone else had to fight for parking, and if you left your parking space, it was lost forever). I went back to the lab and called him, and he came to pick me up, so I didn’t have to walk all the way across campus in the sleet in freezing weather without a jacket. I’m usually pretty good about keeping an eye on the forecast, and I’d spent the morning interning in a TV newsroom, so I don’t think that front was expected or I’d have been better prepared.

Another came in early January about 20 years ago, when my company did its statewide meeting. That front was forecast, so I was prepared, but not everyone was. The people who’d come up from the Houston and Austin offices for the meeting had mostly packed for the warm, muggy weather we were having. The temperature had already started to drop by the time we left the meeting to board the buses to the location for our belated company holiday party. By the time the party ended, it was below freezing. People had looked at me funny when I brought a heavy coat to work that morning when it was warm, but I had the last laugh when they were shivering in their short sleeves. I barely made it home before the precipitation started. The rest of the weekend, everything was iced over.

Then there was the infamous ice storm in early December about six years ago. The temperature drop wasn’t so sudden and drastic, but that was the year we got freezing rain, followed by sleet, and by the time it was all done, we had a four-inch thick layer of ice all over everything. Basically, we got covered in an ice rink. You can’t scrape that away. We just had to wait for it to melt. The whole area was iced in for days. A lot of big trucks got stuck on the highways, so the highways were blocked and motorists were stranded. Churches and businesses along the freeways went out to get people out of the cars and into warm buildings.

That’s what I had in mind when writing that book. I figured it was the best way to get someone stuck in town for a while.

If you’ve already read the first book, did you know that the second book is available for pre-order? Look on the book’s page for links to order.

My Books

Mysteries and Me

A mystery novel may seem to be a big departure for an author who’s been writing fantasy, but it really isn’t for me. I noticed not long after Enchanted, Inc. came out that many of the books listed under the “people who bought this also bought” section on Amazon for that book were mystery novels, and in a lot of ways, the Enchanted, Inc. books work like a cozy mystery series. We have a (mostly) amateur sleuth who gets dragged into solving cases and stopping bad guys, working with the hot guy who’s a kind of official, and the ongoing development of their relationship happens alongside the cases.

I wasn’t thinking in those terms when I was writing the books, but it makes sense, since I’ve been a mystery reader ever since I discovered Nancy Drew when I was in third grade — ironically, when I was looking for books about witches and got a Nancy Drew book with a misleading title. I remember always trying to find the last book in the Nancy Drew series to see if Nancy and Ned ever really got together for good. Little did I know that there really is no end. Around that same time, I also found the Trixie Belden books, the Cherry Ames books, and other mysteries aimed at younger readers.

When I was in junior high, I discovered Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, and Ellis Peters. I love the Cadfael books by Ellis Peters, but when I was a teen, it was her “contemporary” (from the time she was writing them, but they were set in the 60s) books that I really liked. There were several about the twenty-something son of a police inspector who tended to stumble upon crimes when he was traveling with his friends, but the one I really liked was Never Pick up Hitchhikers, which I wished would be a series, but I think it was a standalone. I still remember the nightmares I had when my mom made me turn out the light and go to bed just when I reached the part where the hero was about to go investigate something, thinking he’d surely make it out before that building closed. The last line of the chapter was “famous last words.” My brain kept trying to figure out what happened next, and I got no sleep. I may as well have stayed up to finish it.

These days, I lean heavily toward the cozy side of things, mostly because I can’t take a lot of stress right now. My new series wasn’t begun with the COVID world in mind, but I think it may be the perfect tonic for these times. If you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat suspense, these aren’t the books for you, but if you want to escape to a fun little town, where you can maybe try to solve a puzzle or just go along for the ride, hang out with nice people, and see bad guys get a comeuppance, this may be what you’re looking for. These books are also shorter than my other books. They’re the sort of thing you could easily read in a weekend.

Speaking of the COVID world, I made a conscious decision to ignore the pandemic, even though book 2 would have taken place during the first wave when the state was shut down. I never say in the book exactly what year it’s all taking place, but there is an election mentioned in book 1. I hope people are reading these books for years to come, and because it’s an election for the US House that’s mentioned, that could be two years from now or two years ago, as well. The ice storm that hits in the first book didn’t actually happen in that part of the world this year. And, besides, there are ghosts and people with supernatural powers in this world, so it’s already an alternate reality.

My Books

Welcome to Stirling Mills

Interview with a Dead Editor CoverMy new mystery series, like many cozy mysteries, is set in a small town. I have to admit to having mixed feelings about small towns. We moved to one just before I started high school — a truly small town that had only about 3,000 residents around the time we moved there. At that time, there were two stoplights. The only restaurants were the Dairy Queen, a little local barbecue place that kept going out of business and being reopened, and a fried chicken place. It was a major event when they opened a McDonalds near the freeway that passed by the town when I was a sophomore in high school. They subsequently moved the city limits down to the freeway so that the McDonalds and the Burger King that opened on the other side of the street a couple of years later would be officially in the town.

I wasn’t very happy living there. It was a big culture shock for me, coming from a military upbringing to a place where a lot of my classmates had been friends since kindergarten. We lived in the country outside the town, so getting to events was sometimes a challenge. I didn’t fit in at all. I couldn’t wait to graduate and get back to a city. But I still love the idea of small towns. I don’t like driving on freeways, so when I travel, I usually take back roads that go through lots of little towns. I love seeing the different kinds of little towns — the railroad towns, the county seats with courthouse squares, the old market towns. The neighborhood where I live functions like a small town even though it’s part of a big city. It’s a self-contained little bubble separated from the rest of the city by a freeway, with a mix of houses, restaurants, and businesses, all within walking distance. I’m not sure I’d want to live in a truly urban area.

I think one of the main reasons small towns are popular for cozy mysteries is that sense of everyone knowing everyone. There’s a ready-made pool of suspects whose secrets are already known, even if there might be additional secrets beneath the surface. That sense of familiarity gives the amateur sleuth a reason to get involved in solving crimes, and the police department might not be as procedure-bound as in a big city with more bureaucracy. You can imagine the local newspaper editor getting away with poking around and investigating a case in a small town, while that would get shot down pretty quickly by a big-city police department.

In creating Stirling Mills, the fictional town where my mystery series is set, I merged aspects of a couple of real towns that are in the general area where I’ve mentally placed the town, then created my own ideal setting that has all the things I’d love to have in a town. It’s a place where the old downtown has been restored and revived, where there’s a lovely historic district. The old movie theater still shows movies. There are newer things on the outskirts of town, the more common chain stores and restaurants and new subdivisions, but I haven’t explored that yet in the books. My focus has been on the downtown area where the heroine lives and works.

This is also a town with secrets, and some of those lie in the paranormal realm. One of my favorite TV series ever was Haven, which was based on a Stephen King book. The series focused on a strange small town in Maine where there were a lot of secrets. I loved the mix of the quirky small-town personalities and the eerie elements people didn’t talk much about. I’m trying to capture some of that feel in my books, but with a Texas accent. In my book, one of the odd things about the town’s history is that a carnival sideshow troupe got stranded there during the Depression when the troupe ran out of money. It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill sideshow. Many of those people had uncanny abilities that they used in their acts, and now half the town is descended from those people, with many of them inheriting the abilities. Their abilities might be used for good or for ill, and their existence makes crime-solving more of a challenge, especially because it’s not the sort of thing the police can use as evidence.

Now we’re just a little more than a week from launch day! And I’m about to start writing book 3 in the series, so I’ll find out what else there is to learn about this town.

In the meantime, if you never tried my Fairy Tale series, you’ve got a good opportunity to do so while also getting a bunch of other books. The first book is part of a Storybundle, available from now through Oct. 8. You can get all the information here.

My Books

Meet the Heroine

I’ll be spilling a few more details about the new book as we get closer to the release date. Today, I’m going to tell you a bit about my heroine, Lexie Lincoln. She’s probably my most autobiographical character so far, and yet that wasn’t really my intention. It was just that I had to make a lot of decisions about what she was like, and for mostly plot purposes I chose a lot of things that happened to be similar to me or were from my life. She’s kind of like if you took a few of my traits and put them together in another person who also has some other traits.

For instance, her profession. Lexie is a reporter. I went to journalism school and have worked in print, radio, and TV news. My degree is actually in broadcast news, but I’ve worked more in print. I worked on the school newspaper in high school, which also meant doing some work with our town’s weekly newspaper. In college, I spent a semester reporting for The Daily Texan, and I spent a summer working for a weekly entertainment newspaper. My first job out of college was as assistant editor, and later editor, of the monthly campus newspaper at an academic medical center. In my initial plan for a mystery series, the newcomer to town who ended up solving mysteries was going to be a doctor, in a “Northern Exposure” kind of situation, in which she got a scholarship to med school in exchange for working a certain number of years in this small town, first as an apprentice to the town doctor and later taking over his practice. Because it’s a small town, the local doctor also serves as a medical examiner.

But as I thought about it, I figured she would be way too limited in what she’d do, since if she ever worked as medical examiner she might have to keep things official. I didn’t want every case to be a murder mystery. Plus, that would have required a lot more research to be at all accurate. I have some medical background from working at a medical center, but I don’t know the nuts and bolts of a small-town medical practice, and from what I’ve seen, a small-town doctor wouldn’t have time to solve mysteries, especially not if she’s also serving as a medical examiner. And I didn’t want to have to get into the gory details of death that would come with being medical examiner. I know about autopsies and have seen one (thanks to working at the medical center), but it’s not something I want to delve into. So, I thought, why not go with something I know a lot more about, someone who would have an excuse to do unofficial investigations, and make her a reporter?

Then I was wrestling with whether to make her a city girl coming to a small town or to have her be originally from a small town and finding herself back in that kind of environment. I could see pluses and minuses to both approaches, but then I thought of something else — why not make her a military brat, someone who doesn’t really have a hometown? Again, that’s something from my own background I was stealing, though my dad was in the army and Lexie’s dad was in the air force. The military life is in a weird twilight zone between small town and big city. There’s a degree of sophistication that comes with it because you move around a lot, experience a lot of different cultures, and deal with a variety of people. You get good at adapting and fitting in, and you’re always meeting new people. A small town can get pretty insular, and people who went to school with the same people from kindergarten through high school are the polar opposite of a military brat. At the same time, a military base can function a lot like a small town. Everyone’s parents work for the same employer, and if a kid gets in trouble, it will get back to the parents. The community is very tight-knit. You form these instant bonds with your neighbors, who become like family — until they move and you start over with the next people. I thought that background would be interesting for my heroine who moves to this town to take over the newspaper. She’s never had a hometown, so this is a novel experience to her, something she longs for but that also makes her a bit itchy. She fits in easily, but also feels like an outsider.

She’s also a tea drinker, like I am. That just sort of appeared as I was writing. There was a scene in the town’s diner, and I needed to give her a bit of business to give her a reason to interact with the waitress and we would get to see her around someone other than the cop. A scene about her trying to get hot tea in a diner in a small Texas town popped into my head (because that can be an epic ordeal), and thus she was a tea drinker. That fit in with her being an air force brat, because air force is more likely to have been stationed in England, and she might have picked up the habit then. I do sometimes carry my own tea bags, as Lexie does, but mine aren’t anything special, and I don’t think I’ve ever actually ordered boiling water in a diner so I could make my own tea (I did once resort to asking for iced tea, no ice, in a mug, and microwave it). I just usually have mine for situations like coffee breaks at conferences. I suppose there’s also some research avoidance involved because I don’t drink coffee and don’t know how to make it or what’s supposed to be good, so it’s a lot harder for me to have a character with a coffee-related quirk. Katie drinks coffee in the Enchanted, Inc. books, but you may notice that I never get into much detail about it or describe her making it.

Really, those are about the only traits I stole from myself. I’m not nearly as brave as she is. I’d probably let the police handle things rather than wanting to do my own investigation of something like a murder case. I wasn’t a very good reporter. I’m a good writer, but I hate making phone calls and asking people personal questions, so I was miserable while I was reporting. It wasn’t so bad in TV when I could just show up at an event with a camera, and people usually wanted to talk, but working on a newspaper requires making a lot of phone calls. I probably should have thought about that when choosing a career path because I’ve always had a phobia about making phone calls.

But there are other things about her that are different from me. One of her other quirks, aside from the tea, is that she’s addicted to Hallmark movies (though in the books I generally just refer to them as “cheesy cable romances,” or something to that effect). That’s her release valve from her high-pressure job. After a day spent covering mostly bad news, she likes to escape to those idyllic small towns and their seasonal festivals. When she finds this town, she feels like she’s stumbled into one of these movies, and she can’t help but see things through that lens. While I like romantic comedies, I’ve generally only watched Hallmark movies ironically so I can snark at them. I find them a bit too bland and trite for my taste. They’re frustrating because they sometimes have great casts, and they have lovely settings, but the scripts are weak, and it wouldn’t take much to fix them up a bit. I’ve read that they actually force them to be that bland. Anyway, that’s one area where I differ from my heroine because she loves these unironically. Maybe if I had her kind of job and hadn’t actually lived in a small town, I might see things the way she does.

So, that’s my heroine, a Hallmark-watching, tea-drinking air force brat who became a reporter. Which is totally different from me, a PBS-watching, tea-drinking army brat who became a reporter before becoming an author.

Next, I’ll tell you a little about the small town Lexie finds herself in.