Friday, May 18, 2018

Five Things I Learned While Writing The Magician Murders

Yep! Now available in audio too!
Part of the fun (or maybe the word is "challenge") of writing a series is how the characters change--sometimes in unpredictable ways--throughout the course of the books.

I mean, characters change (and hopefully grow) in standalone novels too. If at the end of the story the main characters are exactly who they were at the start of the story, there's a problem. Every story--even a short story--is ideally supposed to have some kind of a character arc.

But with a series you have so much more room to stretch out and explore. It feels kind of luxurious. I'm only three books into The Art of Murder series, so there's still room for plenty of surprises and developments.

(Personally, I think five is the ideal number of installments in a series, so I'm pretty sure five books will be the final count for Jason and Sam--but you never know.)

Anyway, here's what I learned in the last book.

1 - Though neither Sam nor Jason is by nature insecure, they trigger each other's deepest insecurities. I'm not sure if I have another couple with quite that dynamic. Everyone is vulnerable during the process of falling in love, but with Sam and Jason it cuts a bit deeper than that.

2 - Sam is willing--well, maybe willing isn't exactly the word--but Sam will make compromises for Jason in every aspect of his life, including the job, that he would not (or at least never has) made for anyone else. That's kind of a big thing. Sam might not be ready to get married and settle down at this exact moment in time, but he's prepared to make the kinds of concessions that preface that kind of commitment.

3 - Though Sam has been in trouble for cutting through red tape with a chainsaw, and will not waste time on diplomacy when blunt force trauma can achieve faster results, Jason might actually be the one willing to break the law in his mission to protect our artistic and cultural heritage. I'm still thinking that one through, but yeah.

4 - Sam is, um, ambidextrous. ;-)

5 - Sam scares Jason a little. Not in a...I'm afraid HE'S a serial killer too!!!! way, but Jason has an uneasy awareness that you can't stare into the abyss and not be changed by it. Mostly his fear is for Sam--but maybe not entirely.

Next week we've got something special! On Thursday Dal MacLean is posting on the ever-delicate topic of infidelity in romance--and on Friday we dig deeper into the topic with a bit of back and forth discussion on the topic. I hope you can join us!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Here's What's Next...

Moving right along... :-D

So two weeks ago (it seems like a lifetime) my dad wound up in the ER with a very slowwwww and erratic heartbeat. He's 87 and in pretty good health, still sharp as a poniard...but clearly not immortal. Much angst and drama commenced, but the long and short of it is he now has a brand new pacemaker and is recovering at home.

That's the good news, and really all things considered, there is no bad news, but I did not do a lot of writing during that time. As in none. It's just really difficult to write funny, wacky stories when you're worried and anxious and not sure what's happening.

Anyway, I'm back to work now on In Other Words... Murder. Yep, it's going to be late. We're now looking at the end of June.  And after that comes The Ghost Had an Early Check-out. 

While I'm not working as quickly as I'd hoped, I am working and producing more steadily than last year, and that's the other good news.

And here's the proof of life (just keep in mind this is rough, rough, rough):

Chapter One

“That’s one word,” J.X. said.

“Hm?” I was studying the colorful travel brochures littering my lap and the raw silk ivory comforter. Walk in the footsteps of the Colosseum’s ancient gladiators, cruise canals in a golden gondola and live La Dolce Vita! read the cover of the brochure I held. I could practically feel the blue of the Roman sky beneath my fingertips.

There was a bewildering array of options. Everything from private guided tours with personally tailored itineraries to culturally themed coach tours.  We could do an eight-day Adriatic cruise or a fourteen-day grand tour by rail.

The only option not available to me was staying home.

“Kill. Slang. Three words,” J.X. said. “First word starts with ‘D’.”

It was eleven o’clock on a Friday night in late October and we were cozily tucked up in our master bedroom at 321 Cherry Lane. J.X. was doing the San Francisco Examiner crossword and I was figuring out our spring vacation plans. It really doesn’t get much more domesticated than that.

“Do away with,” I replied absently.

He was silent as his pencil scratched on paper. He made a disgusted sound. “You’re right. How’d I miss that one?”

I glanced at him. “Bad clues. ‘Do away with’ isn’t slang. It’s a phrasal verb.”


He regarded me for a moment, then nodded at the scattered brochures. “What do you think? What looks good to you?”

“I don’t know. They’re all pretty expensive.”

“Money is no object.”

I snorted. “It might not be the object, but it should be a consideration.”

He got that dark-eyed earnest look he always wore when applying the thumbscrews. “I want to do this for you, Kit. I don’t care about the money. I want us to have this. We’ve never gone away on vacation together.”

“Yeah, I know. Possibly averting an international incident.”

His mouth quirked, but he said coaxingly, “Think about it. You and me. Hot, naked sex in a gondola.”

I gave him a look of horror. “They have gondoliers, you know!”

He laughed. “Okay, then how about a gondola ride at sunset and candlelight dinner on the terrace of our private villa--followed by hot, naked sex beneath the stars?”

I cleared my throat.

“We could explore Rome’s catacombs—or just visit a few museums and galleries. We could see the Pantheon and the Colosseum. We could go to Florence and see the Ponte Vecchio. Or spend a couple of days swimming with dolphins off the Isle of Capri.”

Despite the fact that I don’t like to travel—hate to travel—a lot of that did sound kind of appealing. I said, “Private villa, huh?”

“Whatever you want, Kit.” He was suddenly serious, gaze solemn, the line of his mouth soft. Such a romantic guy. Especially for an ex-cop. Well, really, for anyone.

“It sounds…nice,” I admitted. It sounded better than nice. Maybe even kind of lovely.

His smile was very white in the lamplight. He tossed the newspaper and pencil aside and drew me into his arms. We fell back against the mattress. The brochures whispered and crackled beneath us as his mouth found mine. He kissed me deeply, sweetly, whispered, “Maybe we could make it a honeymoon…”

My eyes popped open.

Before I could reply—not that I had a reply ready—the bedroom door pushed wide and a small voice said, “Uncle Julie?”

J.X. sat up. “Hey, honey.” He sounded only the tiniest bit flustered, plus got bonus points for not springing completely off the bed as I had done the first few times this happened. “You’re supposed to knock, remember?”

“I forgot.” Gage said huskily, “I had a bad dream.”

Gage was J.X.’s five-year-old nephew. He was spending the weekend with us, as he did a couple of times a month.

“A bad dream, huh?” J.X. opened his arms and Gage climbed into bed between us, snuggling against him. “We don’t have bad dreams in this house.”

I threw him a look of disbelief. He meant well, but come on. Everybody has nightmares.

“What did you dream?” I asked.

Gage rolled me a sideways look. Over the past four months we’d forged a truce, but he still largely took me on sufferance. Which was okay because, frankly, I’m an acquired taste: best consumed with cream, sugar and, yeah, a generous heaping of sufferance.

“Monsters,” he said tersely.


“Monsters?” J.X. repeated thoughtfully. “There are no monsters here. This is a monster-free zone.” He gave Gage a little squeeze. “You know what we do to monsters in this house?”

Gage shook his head, his gaze wary.

He was right to be wary because J.X. pretend-growled, “We tickle them,” and pounced.

Gage squealed and the two of them rolled around on the travel brochures, Gage wriggling and kicking—managing to land a few well-aimed blows at me in passing—before finally sitting up and resettling themselves against the pillows bulwarking the headboard.

J.X. winked at me. I shook my head resignedly.

“What you want to think about is all the fun we’re going to have tomorrow when you and me and Uncle Kit—”

“Christopher,” I interjected.

“—Uncle Christopher go to the Halloween Hootenanny.”

Gage and I looked at each other in complete understanding. He knew I did not want to attend this Halloween Horror any more than he wanted me there. He knew, as did I, we neither of us had any choice. It was in these moments we could actually walk a mile or two in the other’s mis-sized shoes.
J.X. continued to extol the ordeals—er, delights—of the day ahead which was scheduled to conclude with the movie Smallfoot and dinner at Giorgio’s Pizzeria. 

“So, no more bad dreams, okay?” J.X. concluded.

“Okay,” Gage said doubtfully. And then, “Can I sleep in here?”

J.X. wavered, but stayed strong. “No, honey. You’re getting too big to bunk in here. There’s not enough room for all three of us. Uncle Christopher and I would fall right out onto the floor!”

 And then the monster that lives under the bed would get us.

But see, I was getting fond of the little imp because I didn’t say it. Gage, however had no doubt who the villain of the piece was. His bleak and beady gaze fell on me.

“What about a night light?” I suggested.

His face brightened.

“Nn.” J.X. grimaced. “I don’t think we want to get in that habit, do we?”

He seemed to be asking Gage--who looked to me like a kid who very much hoped they could maybe get into that habit.

“As habits go,” I began. I remembered that I was technically only an honorary uncle and should be not be debating Gage’s real uncle’s child rearing decisions in front of him. I shrugged. But couldn’t help adding. “It’s a big house and it’s still strange to him. I had a night light when I was his age.”
J.X. frowned. “Did you?”


 “Night lights can disrupt sleep patterns. Maybe that’s why you have these bouts of insomnia.”

“You know what disrupts sleep patterns? Being scared there’s a monster under your bed or in the closet.”

Gage gulped. J.X. exclaimed, “Kit.”

Friday, May 4, 2018

War of the Worlds

I was watching one of those DIY publishing success vids this weekend—something to the effect of Earn 7-Figures Annual Passive Income from Your Backlist!—mostly out of curiosity but also because I’m always looking for pointers as far as marketing and promotion. It’s my least favorite part of the job, so yes, I’m open to learning a few new tricks.

This particular course came down to writing erotica, hiring ghost-writers, buying reviews, and a bunch of other things that really have nothing to do with writing. And because my primary reason for becoming a writer was...I love to write and wanted to do that for a wasn't especially useful.

The fact that it wasn't useful to me doesn't mean the formula wouldn't work--there seems to be plenty of evidence that these tactics do work for some people.

Which is interesting because in all honesty it goes against everything I've believed for the last thirty years of my publishing life. Live and learn. See! I can admit I'm wrong.

Once upon a time most of us became writers because we had a story to tell. You can argue whether all the stories were worth telling or whether we have a right to tell certain stories, but mostly people used to become writers because they wanted to, well, write.

I mean, not always. And not entirely. A lot--maybe the majority?--of writers always hoped (and still do?) to maybe one day earn a living at telling stories. But the view of writing as a surefire get-rich-quick scheme is comparatively new.

By the way, I'm not saying it's wrong, I'm just saying it's hard for a lot of writers coming from backgrounds similar to mine to wrap their minds around.

Until I was watching that vid, my question was always: why would anyone want to tackle a job like writing if you didn't really love to write? 

Because good writing is difficult. As difficult as any other art.

But I see now that it's the wrong question. People who got rich selling Amway or Herbalife weren't necessarily in love with the products. They were in love with getting rich off the products. And while I balk at books being regarded as any other commodity, is that really logical? I don't see anything wrong with the desire to be rich or in trying to find new and inventive (legal) ways to make money.

Right after I clicked out of that vid I stumbled upon the whole #cockygate thing. (In other words, yes, I was wasting time surfing the net.)

Like everyone else I was outraged, sure, but also bewildered at what the hell this unknown author could be thinking. I mean, I get the obvious thing she was thinking--Destroy Competition, Will Robinson!!!--but there's no way in hell that trademark is going to stand, and she has to know it, so why start this particular war? What could have convinced her it was a great idea to burn every bridge in the entire world of publishing?

That's when the light came on. Hopkins is not living in the same publishing world as me. She's not operating in the same publishing world as most of the writers I know. She's operating in an alternate publishing world--kind of like Universal's Dark Universe--where writing is a get-rich-quick scheme and keywords are way more valuable than the actual story.

Of course she was willing to go to war to protect her most effective keyword! Her whole writing career is based on it. Burning bridges? She's not looking to forge relationships with fellow authors--other than those enrolled in the same Twenty Books to 50K club. Hopkins is not in love with the creative process. She doesn't *need* to write in the way that so many authors say they *need* to write to stay sane. She wasn't looking to hone her craft. She's not planning to stick around for longer than it will take to make whatever she considers bank.

Which, by the way, is okay. Whether I like it or not.

Granted, it's not quite that simple because clearly there are other issues in the Hopkins case, but for me the takeaway lesson was...we are not alone. The Dark Universe is out there and it's not going anywhere. Hopkins thought of trademarking her keyword first, but she won't be the last--in fact, a friend on Goodreads mentioned that there have already been attempts to trademark "rebellion" and "litRPG." WTH??? The keywords, the stuffed subtitles, the paid reviews and click farm launches and ghost's all part of a new set of strategies for a new breed of writer. Or maybe "writer" isn't exactly the word. I see "authorpreneur" bandied about, and it does seem kind of appropriate.

So long as publishing is viewed as a viable get rich scheme (and there's nothing wrong with the math in the twenty books to 50K line of reasoning) and Amazon doesn't change the rules of the game in any significant way, we're going to continue along this Two Worlds path for the foreseeable future of publishing.

But is that actually as worrying as some of my writer friends seem to think? Okay, it's not exactly inspirational, but when I see someone getting rich off selling real estate or inventing a new household gadget, I don't get angry and start doubting the value of my own work or the wisdom of my chosen profession.

I wanted to be a writer not the manager of an apartment building, so why would I care what apartment managers do all day? Their world is not my world.

It's pretty much the same thing here.

If you want to be a writer--if you love writing itself--you can still make a living at it. Is it more challenging than it used to be? Well, that depends on your "used to be." If you started a decade ago, yes, it's more challenging now. If you started twenty years ago, no, it's a lot easier now, even with KU and all those enterprising apartment managers hiring ghost writers and putting out a book every three weeks or less. Everything is relative. 

Nobody likes to talk money in publishing. Which is to say the people who are doing brilliantly don't mind boasting, and a lot of people who hope to eventually do brilliantly don't mind fudging, but for the rest of us resisting the lure of Kindle Unlimited and keyword stuffing it's hard to get concrete (reassuring) numbers. So here's the bottom line. I've been grossing that magical 6-Figure income for the past five years. Even last year, which was a HORRENDOUS year for me productivity-wise was (which I did not realize until we did our taxes) a 6-Figure year. Again.

Comfortably 6-Figures. Without KU. Without a hell of a lot of promotion. Without giving a thought to keywords or bothering with almost any advertising.

Now that's what I grossed. I didn't take that home because I put it all back into my business. In fact, I lost money last year. Ouch. Second year in a row. Double ouch. But the point is even someone who has been around as long as me and isn't doing a hell of a lot more than the writing itself does not have to resort to the bullshit--which means if you are starting to panic over things like whether you have to commit to KU and everything that goes with it--I'm here to reassure you that no. You don't. You really don't.

Writing still matters. Storytelling still matters. Human interaction still matters. Despite the fact that all we ever seem to hear about is what's happening in the world of KU...there's a whole other publishing universe out there.

Maybe it's your world.

Friday, April 27, 2018


In print, audio, and ebook!


Librarian Carter Matheson is determined to enjoy himself on a Scottish bus tour for fans of mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. Sure, his ex, Trevor, will also be on the trip with his new boyfriend, leaving Carter to share a room with a stranger, but he can't pass up a chance to meet his favorite author.

Carter's roommate turns out to be John Knight, a figure as mysterious as any character from Vanessa's books. His strange affect and nighttime wanderings make Carter suspicious. When a fellow traveler's death sparks rumors of foul play, Carter is left wondering if there's anyone on the tour he can trust.

(His strange affect... (Not something you hear every day) ;-) 


“Hey, you’re back,” I said.

“Hey, you’re sneaking out of Rose’s room,” he returned.

I looked around, making frantic shushing motions. His eyebrows rose.
“Rhymes with gurgleyme?” he suggested.

“No! Of course not.” I was both charmed that he played charades and irritated that he thought I was the world’s worst burglar. “Can we discuss this elsewhere?”

He turned the doorknob to our room and made an after you gesture. I slipped inside our room and turned to face him. “Sally told me Rose’s journal wasn’t found among her personal effects. She suggested I have a look for it just in case Rose might have hidden it.”

“If Sally suggested you jump off a bridge, would y—”

“Funny. No. I wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t have done this either except…”

“You read too many mysteries?”

“That’s not possible. And no.” I admitted grudgingly, “I know it’s a crazy thing to have done. I’m not sure why I gave in to temptation.”

He looked taken aback. “This is your idea of temptation?”

“The opportunity arose, that’s a lot of it.”

“Other opportunities have arisen. I didn’t see you jump at those.”

At first, I didn’t understand what he meant, but as I gazed into his solemn—too solemn?—brown eyes, I remembered the night before and that very casual suggestion we strip naked and share a sleeping bag. Not even a suggestion. A joke.

Or maybe not.

Judging by the faint twinkle in the back of his eyes, it seemed not.

I felt a totally unexpected—and probably inappropriate—rush of elation. I’d figured after he’d blown me off that morning, I’d misread John’s invitation of the night before. I’d been, well, disappointed. And now I was…not.

I did my best to tamp down my revived, um, interest. “Ben confirmed at lunch that there was a mysterious death on the last tour. A woman drowned in the bath.”

The twinkle in John’s eyes pinched out. He scowled. “There’s hardly anything mysterious about it. It might interest you to know that deaths from drowning in bathtubs have gone up seventy percent in the last decade. Someone in the US drowns in a bathtub, hot tub or spa Every Single Day.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. I’m not kidding.”

“But surely most of those are little kids?”

He said severely, “The point is, drowning in a bathtub is not as mysterious or suspicious as you seem to think. Bathtub drownings are one of the most common causes of accidental death.”

It seemed he really did work for an insurance company. Not that I had actively doubted it, but I had started to wonder after the morning’s cloak-and-daggery.

Did you find the journal?” he asked.


He studied me for a moment. His disapproving expression relaxed. He seemed amused. “Do you really think Rose found some incriminating piece of evidence, and that piece of evidence got her killed?”

“No. Not exactly. I was curious though. The weird coincidences seem to be piling up. I feel like something is going on. I can’t put my finger on it, but… If I may say so, your own behavior is a little sketchy.”

“Mine?” There it was again. The wary look. “How so?”

“Let’s start with the midnight rambles. Insomnia or not, that’s not normal behavior. Most people read a book or have a glass of warm milk. I take half a sleeping pill when I can’t sleep.”

His face took on a bland look. “I do have a preferred method of dealing with it. However, you weren’t interested last night.”

I guess he’d given up on innuendo.

I’m too old to blush, but there’s something undeniably warming about flattery. I studied his face. Yeah, I did find him attractive. No question. I liked him. I wasn’t sure if I trusted him, but I didn’t have to trust him. This was the equivalent of a summer romance. Minus the romance.

I flipped the lock on our door, and said, “That was last night.”

You can buy this book at:

Amazon (print, audio, paperback)

Friday, April 20, 2018

5 Books That Taught Me Everything I Know About Writing

Okay, not really. It took more than five books. And everything I know about writing didn't solely come from reading--a huge part of it came from working with editors through the years, starting with Jacqui Bianchi back at Mills & Boon  (!?).

But a lot of what I've learned did come simply through reading.

Here are five of what I consider my "break-thru" books.

SUBTEXT - The Hollow by Agatha Christie 

What the hell are these people talking about??!!! That was my initial reaction reading The Hollow. I was in high school and I was on a mission to read every book written by Christie. The Hollow turned out to be one of my all time favorites by her, but when I started reading it I was confused by the fact that the Angkatells were clearly speaking in code to each other. Even the servants were speaking in code to the Angkatells! So much of the conversation was verbal shorthand. In fact, most of the key communication was unspoken or delivered in the personal, private language of families.

This was the first time I understood what was meant by subtext and saw how very effective it could be in, amongst other things, illustrating relationship dynamics.

 BACKSTORY - Weep and Know Why by Elizabeth Ogilvie 

Did I miss something? This was another book I read in high school, and a lot of it takes place in flashback, which I was a little confused by. Not because I hadn't read stories with flashbacks before, but because the flashbacks were woven so subtly, so craftily throughout the text. No asterisks, no double spaces, no time stamp. Just the memories of Mirabell as she's working her way through some pretty terrifying events.

Not just that, it was clear that all the characters had complicated histories and relationships, i.e., backstory and Ogilvie did not painstakingly explain them all in convenient info dumps for the slower kids in the class. I had to read the whole book to understand both past and present--which is how it's supposed to be, though that didn't dawn on me until this very book.

SETTING - The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

I read The Moonspinners in junior high school. I'd seen the movie and I was a little taken aback at how very different the book was--but in the end was won over entirely. It was wonderful, and one of the most wonderful parts about it was how vivid the descriptions were of...well, everything. Everywhere. Every single place the heroine went...from the goat-scented interior of a gassy, groaning bus to the chilly dank interior of a tomb... it was all so real.

In fact, the writing was so evocative, I didn't skim past all "The Description" as I usually did with the generic settings in so many novels. This was the book where I realized that setting was a key element of making the story world come to life.

DIALOG - The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

Okay, this--possibly my all-time favorite of Heyer's work--is a beautiful illustration of how to handle subtext, backstory, and setting, but what really made Heyer stand out for my junior high school self was the dialog. It wasn't just what Heyer's characters said--though my God, she was funny--no, witty--it was their delivery too. The timing! The expressions! The tone! It was a revelation to see how someone who understood how to use descriptive tags could enhance already really strong dialog.

Even as a very inexperienced aspiring writer I couldn't help noticing that every single conversation was either amusing in its own right or served to advance the story. There was no filler, no babble, no turning pages to get to the action because there was plenty of entertaining action in the dialog itself.

METAPHOR - The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

I didn't get around to reading Chandler until I was in college, and had it not been part of the course curriculum I probably wouldn't have read it then (which means...holy moly! I might not have ended up marrying the SO--because it was at least partly our love of hard-boiled fiction and Chandler that
brought us together)! Anyway, until college I assumed Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald were all on a par with Mike Hammer and The Executioner. :-D So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across lines like:

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.”

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Coming from the world of He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree, this was enlightenment. Until that moment my use of metaphor had been constrained to similes.

BREVITY - Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

Ironically, Hansen was a writer who knew his way around a metaphor or two--as evidenced by his work as James Colton--but part of what set him apart from his contemporaries, was his sparing, occasionally spartan, use of language. Less is more was the lesson I learned from Hansen--and it was a lesson that came long after college and after I had published my own first novel. Quality over quantity. Cut, cut, cut down the bone. Brevity, may or may not be the soul of wit, but the tighter the prose, the sharper the point.

Any books change the way you write or even the way you read? Share them below!

Friday, April 6, 2018


I'm going to be honest here and admit this playlist is completely self-indulgent. I threw in some of my favorite Gaelic songs and a few odd things from my misspent past--they don't really have ANYTHING to do with this kooky, quirky cozy mystery about murder stalking a busload of tourists visiting the haunts and habitats of their favorite Scottish mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. And yet they do.

Anyway, this music seems perfect for this book, for a number of reasons--which I hope will be clear once you've read the book. :-)  It comes out April 23rd from Carina Press.