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My Thoughts on Settings

Setting plays a major role in all my favorite books. I love opening the cover and finding myself in another time, place or dimension. Books transport readers on their words. It’s magical, really, if you think about it. I can trust my favorite authors to whisk me away on a bad day and I love it. I crave it. I want to do that too! I can only hope to come close.

Settings are paramount in most stories, but they aren’t easy to write. I normally write locations I know. Places I can close my eyes and tell a reader everything about because capturing the senses in a place I know is the easy part. From the scent of ash in the air after a bonfire or the lingering reverse cascade of fireflies in the field to the steady roar of wave breaks on the beach, the senses are just the beginning.

Understanding the rules of the setting is equally important for a reader, maybe more important because the rules impact a reader’s perception of the story. Setting is more than the location. Setting is everything from the time of day to the point in history. Setting is a mood. A vibe. A tone the reader latches onto instinctively based on what we share. For example, I’ve never been to dystopian Chicago, but after finishing Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, I plan to visit “Merciless Mart,” the Ferris wheel and the not-currently-dried-up river while I’m in town this weekend. The rules in her novels are stern and imperative for survival. I want to walk the real streets and envision those eerie details she shared with me in her novels. Roth is a world class world builder / setting setter. This is me with appreciation and serious envy eyes.

When I wrote Deceived, I used small town America for the false sense of security. My favorite! Nothing ever happens in rural Ohio, right? Normally, no. Not so much. BUT what if it did? I mean, if you aren’t safe in the Ohio Valley where are you safe? Answer: Nowhere. *evil grin* I loved ripping the safety blanket away from readers. My serial killer, The Reaper, is at large in my novel, closing in on the heels of my teenage heroine who has no idea she’s being stalked, though she certainly knows something is very very wrong. I used setting to my full advantage: roaring rivers to drown out snapping twigs, dark forests to cast shadows and hide killers, even the low light gas lamps were little help to a girl on the run. I thoroughly enjoyed dropping my story into this setting. If I wrote the story again, I’d use this setting every time.

When I write light hearted mysteries, I use my favorite island escape. Small islands are great for community antics, getting to know secondary characters and a romp in the ocean for my hero and heroine. For my sweet romance novels, I use a small country town because there’s something endearing about a country girl and something downright sexy about a cowboy. If I moved the stories to other settings, they’d lose their fire and that is boo because I like fire….I think I’ve written my share of those too!

For those of you as captivated by settings as I am, would you care to share? What’s your favorite story setting? Favorite novel with a great setting? Someplace you write about or love to read about? I’d love to hear!

What the Heck is a “Cozy”?

Art by Harlequin Enterprises

Art by Harlequin Enterprises

I probably don’t have to tell you cozy mysteries are in a class by themselves. Cozy readers are some of the most passionate people I know, but in case anyone out there is stumbling onto the term for the first time, let me tell you the cozy “rules.” Okay, I used quotes because I’m kind of a most-things-are-probably-guidelines girl. Plus, “rules” seems so rude and totalitarian, doesn’t it? I prefer Guidelines. Maybe that’s me?

Cozy guidelines are easy. These lively little mysteries are part of the crime fiction family, but they are also so much more….They’re fun! Cozies always have an amateur, female sleuth. She’s always drawn into the investigation and has to learn as she goes. She lives in a small community where she’s comfortable. The secondary characters are rich and interactive.

Cozies don’t linger on gory crime scene details and they don’t use excessive foul language. They also don’t describe intimate scenes between characters. Ugh, that really does sound like rules, huh?

BUT! Hang in here with me. This is the best part…Cozies are meant to make a reader smile, keep her hooked and hopefully keep her guessing. Cozies can have romance, but it never overwhelms the plot. Cozies are written for quick-witted readers and the storyline moves at a clip. Plus, like any good mystery, red herrings abound! I do enjoy a good bunny trail. Just when I think I know what’s happening, the author yanks the carpet out from under me and I’m reading faster to find out what will happen next! Cozies are a thrill for me. I’m still getting my head around the fact I’ve written one. No. Two!

Many small things come together to form a good cozy, but my favorite aspect of this genre is the humor. I love to laugh and I really really like to make others laugh. A lot. So, when I pick up a novel that can make me smile, it’s a keeper – and it’s often a cozy. If I can make a reader laugh? You can’t see me, but I’m shaking my head. If I make a reader laugh, I’ve nailed it. I win at authoring.

In Murder Comes Ashore, I’ve taken a curiosity-driven island counselor and taunted her with endless amounts of intrigue and obstacles. She’s dealing with body parts washing up on the beach and interrupting her swim, locals worried about their safety, a shark infestation, birders arriving by the busload, money problems and some pretty serious threats on her life.
If that’s not enough, she’s got family drama. Her adoring, hippie parents don’t understand her Type-A ways. Her current love interest doesn’t understand why her ex-soul mate is always hanging around and her ex doesn’t really see the problem. The town’s dividing up publicly on the topic of her love life and hey! They even made shirts.

I think women have the most fun with cozies because we understand the struggle. We juggle the same things, minus the murder, I hope. We deal with family and friends and romance. Community commitments and punch a time clock. Women know all about how easy it is to leave the house wearing two different shoes. We’ve all tried to dial our glasses and put the phone on our nose. Imagine trying to solve a murder too. It’s crazy, but when it’s someone else’s crazy… it’s fun to watch the antics unfold.

Car bombs? Shootings? Abductions? Sure. But what about golf cart chases, cat dates and missing eyebrows? Absolutely! In a cozy mystery, there’s no end to the antics an amateur can get herself into while following the clues to a killer. I shudder to think how far I’d make it in a real sleuthing scenario. I’m going to guess not very far.

Are you a cozy reader? What’s your favorite series? Do you think you’d make a good sleuth?

If you’re a fan of amateur sleuth stories or searching for another fun read, I hope you’ll consider my new cozy series. If you do, I hope you will smile 
Murder Comes Ashore

Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.

Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.

When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.

Amazon       Barnes&Noble       CarinaPress

Planning for a Series

Organizing a Series: Details are Author Gold

Writing a series is a process…a long detailed process made easier with a little planning and documentation. Planning ahead is always a good idea. Ask anyone who’s ever lost their luggage or ran out of cash on a date. For series writers, planning ahead saves time and streamlines the process of writing books two and beyond. It’s important to remember writing a novel is a great accomplishment. Often, we write and write and write without stopping to admire our success. Many writers begin a novel and never finish. If you’ve finished, please pat yourself on the back. Congratulations on your magnificent tenacity and dogged determination. You did what few ever do. You are a novelist!

The amount of time and planning authors put into the story of their heart is unimaginable. Recreating your setting, plot and characters for future novels takes some serious planning. As readers fall in love with your world and the inhabitants, they will expect consistency in the books to come. Readers remember the details. If the author forgets a detail or changes it without explanation, readers will make sure the author and other readers hear about the error. Inconsistency in series writing is a mark against your books and, for some readers, against you as a writer. I don’t know about you, but I never want labeled as the author who didn’t know the details of her own stories, so I plan ahead. Sometimes obsessively, which I don’t recommend for everyone, but it works for me.

Planning Ahead

Where should you start? What kind of details are noteworthy? Short answers: 1. Start at the beginning. 2. All details are noteworthy. This is your amazing new series! You spent months of your life creating the characters, cultivating the dynamics and building their world. Those details are what makes your novel stellar and unique. You want to log all the details for future reference.

If you aren’t convinced you need to write anything down, consider this: How long did it take you to complete your story? How long will your manuscript be out on submissions? Assuming the manuscript (Book One) is picked up by a publisher, how long before it hits shelves? Often times, the timeframe between submission and publication takes years. Years. What will you write in the meantime? It’s not uncommon for an author to begin a new book (not a sequel) while waiting for news on Book One. I do. I’m always writing and I rarely begin book two in a series before contracting book one. Hey, noveling takes endless hours, sweat and tears. Until Book One sells, I spend my time writing other stories that might sell. If you do this too, then you see the problem. A year after you finish Book One, and have written another novel or two, how can you expect to remember the details? Even if you write your sequels back to back, it’s easy to forget the head librarian’s name or hair color when she pops up again in Book Three.

Where to Start

Reread Book One. I know. Cringe. Retreat. How many times have you read those words? It feel like a hundred by the time the novel is ready for submissions, not to mention rounds with your agent, revision letter from the acquiring editor, line edits, copy edits. I understand. I know you don’t want to read Book One again, but it’s a great idea and it’s Step One. So, you must. Rereading is especially important before writing a sequel because rereading puts you back in the main character’s headspace and reminds you of the tone and voice of the character.

Make Lists

Use the time you spend rereading to the fullest by taking notes. Keep lists or make spreadsheets of people, places and things. Ideally, do this as you write or plot Book One, but if you’ve already finished Book One, make notes during the reread and save the file. When your dream publisher buys Book One and accepts your series proposal, writing consistent sequels will be a breeze. You’ll be glad you took the time. Promise.

People Lists

Consider all the things about your named characters, first and secondary characters, maybe even tertiary characters if they could pop up in future novels. If character were important enough to get a name, they go on the list. For example, unless you’ve had an election in your world, Sheriff Tom in Book One can’t be Sheriff Bob two sequels later. Readers remember. They love your work. They will want to know what happened to Sheriff Tom. See? A good rule of thumb for your lists: Anyone with a name makes the list.

Beside the character names, add a brief physical descriptions. Include their height, weight, hair color, eye color, fashion sense or lack thereof. A stutter. A limp. A wonky eye. A dimple. If you mentioned the detail in Book One, it’s important. You wouldn’t have thrown in random unimportant facts, would you? Right. Every word was chosen carefully, by you, for a purpose. So, honor your decision to include Aunt Mary’s nose mole with a line on your list. You deserve credit for that!

Character Traits

Note any characteristics that impact character development. Is the character graceful, clumsy, dowdy or charming? Write it down. Making a quick one word notation can be sanity-saving to you later on in the series. Let’s face it, most writers are hanging onto their sanity by a thread as it is, we have to do what we can to keep sanity within reach. Lists of character traits help for another reason too. Staying true to the character is important, but making notable changes intentionally is a great way to clue the reader in that something is happening or has happened to that character. For example: A drastic new look can mean a major life change for a character. A new job. A new beau. Or a breakup. The same concept applies for things like extreme noticeable fatigue. Forgetfulness, puffy eyes & general malaise might mean the character has a second job or switched to the midnight shift …or developed a drinking problem…or had a new baby. See? Details are important and can be used to your advantage as the author.

World Dynamics

Relationships within the world you create are noteworthy as well. Make room on your lists to note how the characters know one another (if they do). How are they connected to other characters? What is the dynamic of their friendship? Cordial? Hostile? Fake? Do some characters share a common interest which might bring them into one another’s lives in future novels? Are they single? Neighbors? Avid readers? Love cat shows?


As you build your world, or make notes of the world you’ve built, take five minutes and draw a rough sketch of your world on paper. Label key street names and landmarks. Put an x on character homes and their places of employment. How do they commute? How far are the things from home, or from one another? If the heroine is being chased or has car trouble, where can she get on foot sensibly? This is important. Logistics are huge factors in your story arc. If your heroine gets coffee at the shop on her corner every morning, can she reasonably also have lunch there during the workday or is it too far? Readers will remember these things and so should you. If your artistic skills top out at stick figures, don’t worry about it. This map isn’t for an award, it’s for reference. If the church is on Church Street today, it can’t be on Main Street tomorrow….unless your character changed churches, in which case, mention that. If you detail the décor of a place, make notes. Consistency.


You thought the last two topics were broad. “Things” applies to all the things. This is where my rule comes back into play. If you named it, mentioned it, put it into the story in Book One, I assume this is an important thing. Write all the important things down. Is the pickup manual or automatic shift? If you mentioned it as one or the other, mark it down. What color is the truck? Make & model? How about her home? The neighborhood? The state of her bank account, closet or refrigerator contents.

My mom likes to say, “The devil is in the details.” I know what she means, but as an author, I think the details are made of gold. Details improve a reader’s ability to taste the brine in the ocean air or hear the bleating red tug boat over a steady roar of wave breaks. Writers are made of details. Details run my world. As you prepare your books, I hope you’ll apply one or two of my suggestions and I hope they make life easier when the time comes. I’m writing a cozy mystery series for Carina Press which was picked up for print in the Harlequin Book Club. Book one, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE will arrive in paperback this fall. Book Two, MURDER COMES ASHORE released today in digital ebook format. This is a dream-come-true opportunity for me, one I never dreamed I’d get. You can bet your bonbons I’m making consistency a high priority. I wouldn’t suggest anything for others I wasn’t already practicing in my writer life. I hope some of my suggestions helped!



Murder Comes Ashore jpgMurder Comes Ashore

Patience Price is just settling into her new life as resident counselor on Chincoteague Island when things take a sudden turn for the worse. A collection of body parts have washed up on shore and suddenly nothing feels safe on the quaint island.

Patience instinctively turns to current crush and FBI special agent Sebastian for help, but former flame Adrian is also on the case, hoping that solving the grisly crime will land him a win in the upcoming mayoral election.

When the body count rises and Patience’s parents are brought in as suspects, Patience is spurred to begin her own investigation. It’s not long before she starts receiving terrifying threats from the killer, and though she’s determined to clear her family’s name, it seems the closer Patience gets to finding answers, the closer she comes to being the killer’s next victim.

Amazon       Barnes&Noble


 ** This post originally published on 3/3/24 at Savvy Authors

MURDER COMES ASHORE Blog Tour All. Month. Long.

I’m super excited to announce the stops at the Murder Comes Ashore Blog Tour. I have lots of great blogs on the list, most are crime fiction lovers, a few are romantics *winky face* ALL are bookish people like you and me. The best part about this tour is all the free stuff. I’ve got stories about my journey, facts about the island and woman who inspired the series, teaser excerpts and PRIZES. Yeah. What? I didn’t think you’d follow my tour for my words of wisdom. If you’ve read my blog you know those words are bananas and fruitcake, but prizes??? Prizes are motivating. Then, to round off a full month of celebration, I’m throwing my first ever FaceBook party with even more giveaways and perhaps a guest appearance or two, so be there or be missing from the awesome funsies. That’s how the saying goes, right?

Murder Comes Ashore Blog Tour

Monday March 3rd: Savvy Authors – Organizing Details is Writer Gold

Monday March 3rd: Fantasies, Mysteries, Comedy, Recipes - Amateur Sleuths, Fun & Follies

Monday March 3rd: Stacy Juba Blog- Interview

Tuesday March 4th: Rachel Brimble Romance - Romance in Cozy Mystery

Tuesday March 4th: Carina Press Blog

Wednesday March 5th: Writer & Cat A cattification ;)

Wednesday March 5th: Marilyn’s Musings  Birders & the island that inspired me

Wednesday March 5th:  Books with a Bite - An Interview with two Heroes

Friday March 7th: Shelf Pleasures Snapped! at Love is Murder

Friday March 7th: Ramblings from a Chaotic Mind: Review & Giveaway

Monday March 10th: - Interview

Wednesday March 12th:  The Corpse Steps Out - Excerpt teaser & giveaway

Wednesday March 12th: Pebbles in the Water - Interview

Wednesday March 12th: It’s Not All Gravy Writing with small children

Friday March 14th: Lisa Haseltons’s Reviews and Interviews - Interview

Saturday March 15thRamblings from a Chaotic Mind

Monday March 17th: Lise Mcclendon Every Woman: Amateur Sleuth

Wednesday March 19th: Nancy’s Notes from Florida

Thursday March 20th: The Mystery World of Pat Brown - Interview & Excerpt

Friday March 21st:  Buried under books

Friday March 21st: Cathy Perkin’s Blog

Saturday March 22nd:  Make Mine Mystery Island Inspiration

Monday March 24th: Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso - My Writing journey So Far

Wednesday March 24th: Babette James Blog Interview

Wednesday March 26th: Suspense Your Disbeliefs .com - My Made It Moment

Friday March 28th: Toni Anderson’s Blog! Excerpt & Giveaway!

Saturday March 29th: Mysterious Writers Musical Inspiration

Monday March 31st:  The Stiletto Gang - Excerpt & Giveaway

Monday March 31st: Not Your Usual Suspects

The Big Thrill Magazine did a feature article about my new release, MURDER COMES ASHORE! I was interviewed by USA Today Best Selling Author Karen Harper and I dished on amazing things like Kimberly Horton, my inspiration, and my intense author love for Matt Petrunak and his mad skills….. Enjoy!

News? No News. News!

IMG_20140208_083954The writer life is an exercise in bi-polar living for me. The mental work is grueling. The long droughts of rejection drain my soul. I frequently look to my writer-friends for a reason to go on. Frequently. I quit writing FOREVER at least quarterly. It’s a very awful pursuit for me about half the time. Truly terrible. But. Twenty-five percent of the time, I’m inspired. When I’m inspired, I have hope and the company of a shiny new concept that keeps me up at night like the butterflies of first love. I talk about the concept and pet it and snuggle it and spend time cultivating it everyday and long into the nights. The inspired times are worth the miserable drought times. I love that portion of my writer life. Still, there’s another twenty-five percent out there.

I didn’t forget. And my math skills aren’t that bad, yet.  I was saving the best for last. Grandma taught me. The good news take your mind off the bad. This post is about the good news.

Me and Jacqueline Mitchard

Me and Jacqueline Mitchard

The very best part of the writer life is when it all becomes real. When an agent or editor likes your work. A critique partner begs for more. A readers contacts you to say you made them smile, laugh, climb a mountain, etc. Unfortunately, these times are the exception for most writers like me, but they’re worth it. The bulk of our lives is spent in the trenches, then just when we’re ready to quit writing FOREVER. Again. Something lovely happens to refuel our hearts and remind us there is purpose to the madness.

Last weekend I had an experience like that. I attended the Love is Murder Conference in Chicago. It was the best weekend event I’ve attended in ages, but not because of the event itself. Let me tell you about the weekend.

It started with me pouting around the house over leaving the kids for three days, imposing on in-laws, worried my editor would be mean to me when we finally met in real life, worry the trip was all around too costly, my career/hobby? took took much away from my family…you name it. If the tickets and airfare weren’t already paid for and nonrefundable, I would’ve backed out at the last minute. I was having a drought experience. I’d pulled manuscripts from my agent that week, discouraged at the lack of progress in submissions and resolved to self-publish. I believe in these manuscripts and refuse to stuff them under the floorboards because they haven’t found the right home. When you

Me with Laura Barth

Me with Laura Barth

spend your life writing not one, but two manuscripts that go nowhere, it’s a crossroads to What-the-heck-a- I-doing-with- my-life? Additionally, a third manuscript was failing to get the reception I wanted with the presses I wanted. Oh, and I was finishing 30days of writing guest blog spots in preparation for my March release, so I hadn’t written anything in ages. If you’ve ever done a blog tour, you know. You write variations of a similar vaguely promotional thing more ways than sanity can stand. I was drained. I wanted to go to bed for life.

Anyway. I didn’t. I got on a plane with my husband and we flew to Chicago. In February. During the arctic vortex. A caribbean escape it was not. Hubsy and I had a nice kid-free dinner at an overprices steak house and shared a bottle of wine at ten o’clock that night when we arrived. We ordered burgers and fries. It was that kind of day. I needed a burger. I slept like the dead, and in the morning, things looked up. Way up.

I met my editor-in-chief over at Merit Press, the gorgeous, talented and so very kind Jacqueline Mitchard. Jackie’s an acclaimed author and a mentor for me. She was a featured speaker at the event. She was so nice. I couldn’t believe my luck. I loved her instantly. We ran around like girlfriends (only way cooler than that lame description) during the event, sitting together and thankfully knowing at least one face everywhere we went. It was a wonderful comfort to me, plus, Jackie is hilarious. her wit is spectacular. I laughed so much. So very much.

Me with My Life Source

Me with My Life Source

That afternoon, I went to my room to recharge. After a series of panels, my author-face was falling and my introvert was begging me to hide. I always listen to my introvert or bad things WILL happen. Back in my room, I had a FB message from my agent. I told her I was in my room for a few minutes and started typing a general recap of my morning when the phone rang. She called me. You know what that means, right? I got the call! The press where I’d hoped to place my last manuscript loved it! A win! I needed a win. It was a glorious, wonderful, very good day. Then, dinner arrived.  At dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting with a woman I’d met via twitter just days before the conference. Her name is Laura Barth and she works at the Harlequin headquarters. She was tweeting something like, “Meet Heather Graham and Julie Lindsey in Chicago!” I had tweeted back to say, You just put ME in a tweet with Heather Graham? What?? LOL. I’m me and she’s Heather Graham! It was nuts. Laura was as much fun in person as she is on twitter and somehow even prettier. I was delighted to meet both Laura and Heather in Chicago. I’m now bunny trailing this story – sorry. *clears throat* So, I sat with Laura at dinner and she gave me more good news. Harlequin has chosen to pick up my Carina Press e-book mystery series for the Harlequin Book  Clubs.

Me with Heather Graham

Me with Heather Graham

*flounders* *dies*

So, I said all that up there, to say this: If you are a writer in a drought period, ready to quit, ready to cry, emptying another pint of Strawberry Cheesequake ice cream….hang in there. This too will pass. Droughts always end. They take some people down with them, but you’re tougher than that. You’ll survive. So, get your chin up, Buttercup. Your good news is already in flight. It will be here before you know it, and if you’re like me, probably when you least expect it.

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