Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Touring More Old Mansions

Charles Gates Dawes House
Last week, I took another tour for research purposes. DH and I headed out to the shores of Lake Michigan to tour the Charles Gates Dawes house. Who is Charles Gates Dawes? Among other things, he was vice president under Calvin Coolidge.

First and foremost, I'd like to give a shout out to the docents we have met along the way. Several of the tours I've wanted to take I couldn't because they didn't have the staff to provide them. The docents we did meet have ranged in age from relatively young to very old, but one thing stands out. They love what they do. 

A funny thing about these tours. I'm searching for inspiration for haunted houses, but once I step foot inside the mansions, I'm in awe of the architecture and the detailed woodwork and the decorated ceilings (which means I forget all about where the ghosts might be hiding). The Dawes house was no exception. Essentially, we were given a tour of the main floor of the mansion, and then given the option to visit the second floor, which had largely been remodeled into display rooms to highlight the past. No longer representative of the mansion itself. One room held a display of mannequins wearing the fashions of the time when the house was built. Another had boards showing the history of Evanston (where the house is located). The third floor was closed off to visitors, and the basement is a historical archive (and requires an appointment to visit). While I would have wished to see all of the house, I was impressed with what I did get to see.

Library Alcove
Library Alcove


This house had a minstrels' gallery! AND it had a hidden door to the butler's pantry that you don't notice until it's open. It blends into the paneling of the wall. DH said he noticed it because of the light around the edges, but I was delightedly surprised. Those were the highlights. Oh. And did I mention the library? GORGEOUS. It had coffered ceilings and walls of books and an alcove that made up the family's "living area." Imagine an alcove big enough to gather the family to listen to the radio or sit around the fireplace or just to hang out. An alcove! (Yes, it was spacious.) The great hall was dark, but well appointed. Portraits of the owners. Architectural corbels with the heads of the four apostles (the house was initially built for a man of the church). A massive fireplace with a motto engraved across the top of the hearth. Your standard suit of armor and grandfather clock. 

Saints on the cornice
One of the saints

Minstrels' Gallery
Minstrels' gallery

Hidden door
Hidden door to butlers' pantry

There are more houses on my list, but as tours are limited, this might be the last one for a little while. With plenty of inspiration to get me started, I've begun writing the first book in the new series! 

Watch for BEING NEIGHBORLY - Coming July 12
Special preorder price $0.99

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

How Many Times Do You Have to Check Your Work?

My critique partner commented that I read through my finished work in progress more times than she reads through hers. But that’s my process. She combs through each of her chapters the night she finishes them. I don’t. I wait until my first draft is done. Oh, I do a cursory read for easy mistakes, but I miss a lot during the creative process. Granted, as I'm winging my way through the first draft, I will often start reading from the beginning so I know where I am in the story, or to find a detail that needs to be continued, but I don't count that as "reading through" it. Each pass I make has its own purpose.

Details and continuity

After the first draft, my first read of the whole is for details and continuity. Does it make sense? Are the locations consistent? Is there a time lapse? Does time flow consistently throughout the book? Are descriptions consistent? For that matter, I tend to skip over descriptions in the first draft. After all, I know what they look like! My readers, however, can't see into my brain, so they have no idea what I'm talking about in some places. This first pass is a place for me to fill in the missing details. What someone looks like. What the setting looks like. I do include some of these things, but in a first draft, the details are often only added where I don't "see" things clearly. 

Nuts and bolts

The second pass is for structure. Punctuation. Word usage. Overused and filler words. Repeated words in the same paragraph or in close proximity (echoes). I use SmartEdit to help me find my mistakes. Overused phrases. Mistyped homonyms that sneak in (peek vs. peak, discreet vs. discrete, as examples). Sentence fragments. Do they have a place or am I just being lazy? Sentence starters. Have I misspelled someone's name? Or called someone by the wrong name? I'm still kicking myself that I originally used the wrong spelling of my hero's name in the final EPITAPH book (THE GARDEN). Thank heavens for my editor who pointed it out!

Fine tuning

By this time, the book should be editor-ready. At least one would assume so. The problem with correcting mistakes is that you often create new mistakes. My third pass is for fine tuning. Did I "break" anything while I was fixing the nuts and bolts? The answer is usually yes. As an example, in BEING NEIGHBORLY, I inserted a scene late that talks about my main character going on a job interview. She's worried that her current boss will notice she's dressed differently, or that she might be late coming back from her lunch break. Originally, that boss was just "the manager." In the new scene, I gave the man a name. So now I have to check references to "the manager" to see where it makes sense to refer to him by name. It's easy to replace "manager" with "Bruce," but when I did a search, did I remember to take out "the" before manager? (the answer is yes, but only after I forgot on the first one and went back to check twice). 

That's three full reads before it goes to the editor, but each pass has a purpose. I'm laser-focused on one particular function. At this point, it should be ready for the editor. When she's finished with it, there's a good chance I'll read it two more times. Once after I've addressed her comments to, again, make sure I haven't broken anything in the process, and finally, I'll have Word read it back to me to "hear" any mistakes that my eyes might have tricked me into believing aren't there.

Is that a lot? Yes. But that's my process. Even then, I might have missed something, but at some point, you have to trust you've done your job. It's not a good feeling when a reader comes back to tell you you need an editor. Especially when you have one. Mistakes happen. I'm banking on five full reads (and, of course, my stellar critique partners) to catch the majority of them.

And speaking of BEING NEIGHBORLY, you can preorder the e-book at a discount! From now through release day (July 12), it is available for just $0.99. On July 13, it will revert to the regular price of $3.99, so grab your copy before the price goes up!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Cover Reveal!

I have a cover! 

The fifth installment in the Hoffman Grove series, BEING NEIGHBORLY, is expected to release 
July 12, but I couldn't wait to show you what the new cover looks like. What do you think? 


Sue Sheffield maintained a friendship with her alcoholic ex-husband, hoping he could find his way back to the man he used to be—until he fell off the wagon and wrapped his car around a tree.

When Heath Fitzgerald hears his new neighbor sobbing, he rushes to check on her. After his previous roommate’s unexpected suicide, Heath’s determined not to let anyone else suffer in silence. He tries to cheer her up—with dad jokes, his knee-jerk response to stress.

Despite his dumb jokes, Heath helps Sue through her grief. After he tells her he does voiceover work, including audiobooks, she Googles him and discovers he was a person of interest in his roommate’s death. When she asks what happened, Heath unravels. The death was ruled suicide, so why did they take Heath in for questioning? He asks her to help him find the truth, and they begin their own investigation into how Heath’s roommate died—and uncover things they don’t want to know. Solving crimes in real life isn’t as glamourous as it is in books. Rather than imagine Heath as a killer, Sue finds him a person of interest for entirely different reasons.


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Why write when the world is on fire?

In a world when authors are struggling, when it feels like the world is on fire and one more thing gets thrown onto the conflagration, I found this article which speaks to authors about using their words as water to put the fire out. Fair warning, my post today isn’t a happy one.

Six years ago, I wrote a book that touched on gun violence in our schools. At the time, I couldn’t reconcile the senseless violence perpetrated on children, and the only way to deal with it for me was to write about it. I can’t fathom that six years later, this problem still has not been addressed. I hear a congressman saying “don’t make this political.” How else are we supposed to address it? Thoughts and prayers every stinking time it happens? No action to prevent it from happening? Failure to act says they don’t see a problem to act on, and for me, that’s a problem. If congress fails to do their job and act on it, then yes, it is political.

COOKIE THERAPY is a survivor’s story, one that shows “arming our teachers” has consequences, too. I could make all the citations to support my thoughts and beliefs, but I’d rather point out that taking a life, even to save your own or others, leaves deep emotional scars, even for those people who are trained for this possibility. Remember the phrase “battle fatigue?” Later, to be replaced by PTSD.

So what can I do? COOKIE THERAPY has consistently been my most popular book. For the month of June, I will donate the profits from sales of this book to LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs. Throwing money at politicians to effect change seems a waste of time after more than six years of inaction, and I’ve seen what the comfort dogs can do. Even to someone who isn’t your typical dog lover, they make a difference. If I can't stop the violence, at least I can offer comfort.

What can you do? Contact your congressman and make it clear that they work for you. They must act, or they will be voted out. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Separating the Editor from the Reader

As I mentioned last week, I've moved into the editing phase of the new book. This might be a good time to tell you to sign up for my newsletter if you haven't already. Newsletter coming out next week with the cover reveal. But I digress.

I also mentioned I'd started reading a historical novel with ghosts. Trying to rev up my imagination for the new series. The book I picked, as most of the other books I chose in May, disappointed. Why, you ask? Partially due to the internal editor that has switched on in my own work, although the things that jumped out at me I hadn't even begun to address in my own work. Word echoes -- the usage of the same word in close proximity, sometimes in the same paragraph without a reasonable excuse to be there. And if I ever see the word turgid again, it will be too soon. The ghost/mystery part of the story wasn't so bad, but the author was so focused on the romance that it tended to get lost with the heroine sleepwalking in her diaphanous nightgown and the hero lusting after her, but banking his desire... well, you get the idea. Hey, I like romance as much as the next person, but this was REALLY heavy-handed. 

These are the days when, as an author, it can be difficult to turn off the inner editor. Hey. We all make mistakes or overlook things. Editors at the biggest publishing houses miss things. I try not to be overly critical, allowing people to be human. With that being said, there needs to be a level of professionalism in the books I read. Seeing extraneous punctuation (two periods--separated by a space, no less--or quotation marks in the middle of nowhere, or the echoed words (when even one use might be too many) can completely tank the reading experience for me. 

On the other hand, when I encounter these types of errors in recreational reading, it draws my attention to them in my own writing. I finished reading "that" book on Sunday. Yesterday, as I was editing BEING NEIGHBORLY (the new book! Yay!), I found many instances of echoes while vetting overused and filler words. But that's why I start the editing process before I send my book to the editor. So that my readers don't run into the same bumps in the road. 

Before I go too far into calling out the other author, I humbly remind myself that missing one's own mistakes is all too easy. I know how the story is supposed to read, so my brain reads what should be there rather that what is there. As we used to say in the day job, even with several people reviewing the work, mistakes still find their way through. With that being said, I go through several editing passes (along with my editor) to bring you the best possible product. 

By next week, I should be less "hyper vigilant" and maybe I can actually enjoy reading someone else's book! 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

When a book disappoints you

I’m moving into the final editing phase of the next book, which means I’m taking a breather to read some of the books on my TBR pile. This gives me a chance to come back with a fresh perspective, and to take note of things I might have missed or glossed over. Reading my favorite authors often pushes me to be a better writer. Except when they don’t.

In the past month, I've read a few books that I was deeply disappointed by. First, an author new to me who wrote about a place near where I live and a tour I have taken. Familiar surroundings, you know? Let me say this--the book was well written, the imagery was spot on, and I completely "saw" the story. The problem? It's a serial. Each book isn't a story unto itself. I was not happy when I finished it and the three main suspects were killed off and more questions were raised. After investing my time and interest, I didn't get my payoff. As a reader, that annoys me. I stopped reading Anne Rice for that very reason. I loved her books, but they tended to be cliffhangers. The Lestat Trilogy? She hadn't released book 3 when I finished book 2 and I was NOT happy to read about the vampire climbing into his coffin where he was {gasp!} not alone. What? And now I have to wait to find out? I want each book to be a complete experience. Beginning, middle, end. No cliffhangers.

I also read a book by a "big name" author, one of my favorites, except she's changed genres. Instead of romance, she's been pushed (I'm assuming by her publisher) into women's fiction. She writes brilliant, deep point of view, has a sharp wit and loads of heart. All her romances have been winners for me. The women's fiction, not so much. I'm really sad to say she's no longer one of my favorites. Over the past five years, she's gone deeper into women's fiction, and the subjects are cliche and trite and over the top in many instances. Not to mention addressing too many issues in one novel. Infidelity seems to be a hot button for her. I generally read a book in a day or two. When I'm writing, it might be a week or so because my brain is otherwise engaged. This book took me a couple of weeks because 1) it didn't grab me, 2) it didn't get better, and 3) did I mention cliche? I read it to the end because she does sometimes meander through a book, but there's usually a payoff. Not in this one. If I'd bothered to pay attention, it would be predictable. The characters seemed like ones she'd written before with different names. 

This might also be a place to mention I'm not a fan of Nicholas Sparks. Not because he doesn't write good books, but because I don't want to cry at the end of a romance. I want that "feel good" feeling. One of my friends handed me The Notebook, and the ending caught me completely off guard. First and last one for me. Yes, I've seen some of the movies they made from his best-selling novels. Best-selling. That means he's good. But he's not for me.

Granted, as an author, we don't write a winner every time. These books had a lot of blood, sweat and tears poured into them, a lot of hard work. The writing is commendable. For me, the stories fell short. In regard to my "former favorite" author, she's lost me as a reader after several of these women's fiction forays. She has a big fan base, and I'm sure others will continued to be wowed--impressed. 

Back in the day... when I was growing up... ugh. Listen to how that sounds! The thing is, the authors I read when I was young were consistent. They didn't suddenly jump onto a trend. They wrote what made them famous and stuck with it. I have another favorite author who has been steered into the women's fiction genre (I'm sure the publishers/agents are pushing them away from romance), but she's managed to hold onto her stock in trade. She calls them "longer" books, because she adds more relationships in addition to the couple that gets together at the end, but when the focus shifts, something gets lost. (I haven't given up on her yet!)

So back to my TBR list. I have some new-to-me authors to read. Trying something new on my next read. Historical with a paranormal twist. Another disappointment. The author wants to make sure you know this is going to be a sexy novel right from the get-go. While I'm waiting for the plot -- and she does address the plot -- there are a lot of diaphanous nightgowns and heated reactions and "highly inappropriate thoughts" that are extremely distracting. Okay, I get it. This is a romance. But can we get there gradually rather than going straight for the *boing* factor? I want to read about the ghosts they're ignoring at least as much as I want to read about how they're getting to each other.

Are you a do-not-finish? A die-hard, read anything your favorite author puts out? Loyal to the end? What do you do when an author disappoints you? 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Final Countdown - Choosing a Title

I'm closing in on The End of the next book. I'd love to tell you the title, but this is one of the struggles of writing a book - giving it a name that screams "pick me up!" In the push to get it finished, I've been putting the title on the back burner, devoting only random thoughts to it. We're getting down to the wire now. I need to decide on something soon. I'm thinking this week, since I'm editing and reviewing.

Some of the ideas that have resonated with me are "Funeral for a Friend" and "Reaper Cushions." Neither of those scream romance, although both of them address the theme of the book. Reaper Cushions is a play on the word repercussions and reflects my hero's penchant for "dad" jokes. The joke goes, "Why shouldn't you get into a pillow fight with Death? Because it has Reaper Cushions." Lame? Yep. But it made me laugh. My sense of humor is bent that way. As the story opens, we discover one of the friends has died. That affects the heroine. Then we discover that the hero's former roommate also died, which means both main characters are dealing with grief in very different ways. Harold and Maude came to mind (although that was the title of the movie, not the book). Is the book dark? Macabre? Not really, although when dealing with death, there are obviously moments. 

I spent some time looking at the titles of other new releases, and I have to say I'm largely unimpressed. I don't want to write a title like "Carrying the Billionaire Boss's Love Child." I'm sorry, those are just unimaginative to me. On the other hand, I have seen some fun turns of a phrase (which is what I'm hoping to stumble on). Things like "Miss Belief" and "Miss Understanding." 

The new release is expected in July, so I'd better get with it, eh? Stay tuned...