How My Writing Process Continues to Evolve

notebook_glassesI have written at least eight full-length novels, all of them mysteries. What may surprise you is my process of writing has never been the same. With each manuscript, I learned what worked and what didn’t. I think I picked this up through teaching. I’ve written stellar lesson plans that I was sure would inspire young minds but then found they only inspired me.  Next time around, I’d pull out the dull stuff and find something else that worked better. Same way with sewing, you can always do it just a little bit better next time.  (Yes, you Pattern Review people, I love to sew, but this darn writing gig keeps stealing my time.)  So what’s involved in writing  for me?

Outlining. Yes, I’m not a pantster. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a “pantster” is someone who writes whatever comes into their head instead of using an outline. These are the same people who can construct beautiful arguments and talk me into a corner in just a few minutes. I admire their ability to write like that, but I’ve always been a compulsive planner.  I can’t help it, and worst of all, I enjoy it. I can admit to myself that maybe my first idea is not always my best idea. I just came to the end of a full-length mystery, read back through it and changed the murderer.  I had to change all the clues and discard my efforts of putting the now defunct murderer in the right place at the right time, but darn it, I liked the character too much. I wanted that character to continue, not go to my bad guy file for the rest of eternity.  Time to re-outline…rewrite…a few more scenes… dinner is going to be late again.

Documentation. I keep a three-ring binder with sections on plots, subplots, characters, crime detail, research. Then I keep sections on Scrivener, a brand of novel-writing software. Then, I keep a computer file with more information.  One of the things I learned along the way is I have a lousy memory.  Keeping the binder came into my process about four books ago.

Audio Editing. I have an editor, but I can’t afford to have her around every day. I find many errors just by listening to each chapter read out loud.  It works. You hear things you might miss, for instance, the other night I read a chapter to my critique group and realized I said “little” four times on the same page.  By reading like this, you can better get back into the flow of the writing and the flow the reader will hear as they read your book.

Embrace Mistakes. That’s right. You are a human being and not a computer. Once you find an error, don’t waste time berating yourself. Fix it. Move on. It’s like painting a wall. See that ugly gash you made moving your husband’s oversized desk down the hall? It was a bad day. You don’t want to remember it. Spackle, sand, and paint. Voila! Rewrite, move things around, get rid of things that don’t work. Forgive your husband.

How Often Do You Read?

Pecan Bayou Series #3

Pecan Bayou Series #3

You always hear about people binge watching this or that program but when was the last time you heard about someone binge reading? The average person reads one book a year which means some people don’t read at all. We read on the interenet, we read the endless texts on our phone, but fewer and fewer of us are spending time reading a book. Because of my job as a writer, I try to read 30 to 40 books a year. I take a little longer because I not only follow the storyline, but I look at HOW the book was written. It’s kind of like I’m on one long independent study course.  But, like everyone else, my husband I love to binge watch. House of Cards, Downton Abbey, we’ve seen so many!

If you’re looking for a FREE book to read, to celebrate the Fourth of July, I am offering Doggone Dead  free through Smashwords until July 15 with coupon code NH97G. 

Which would you rather do? Binge watch or binge read?

Get Doggone Dead FREE with this Coupon Code

To celebrate the Fourth of July, I am offering Doggone Dead  free through Smashwords until July 15 with coupon code NH97G. 

Pecan Bayou Series #3

Pecan Bayou Series #3

Give me land lots of land….and a puppy on the loose. When Betsy Livingston’s puppy runs away, she has no idea it will lead her to a murder on a movie cowboy star’s estate. Not only has there been a murder, but the town reports sightings of the dead cowboy himself. He’s out to seek revenge on all who wronged his daughter who became the victim of her own money-loving butler. Enjoy a little time on the Fourth of July in the tiny town of Pecan Bayou Texas where old cowboys never die…


Worried the book won’t be in the right format for your Nook or Kindle? Smashwords features all formats.

New Pecan Bayou Novella in the Process: A Peek Inside

Good news, Betsy fans. I will be contributing to Happy Homicides 4. The stories in this anthology will fall anywhere from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, and there are some excellent stories in this one. I can’t tell you any more other than I can’t wait to get my copy!  I can’t resist a Halloween story, so I’ve plopped Betsy and family down on Halloween with malevolent ghosts, a cemetery walk and of course, a murder mystery to solve.

While I’ve been working on other projects, I’ve started using storyboarding to work on plots. As I’ve stated before, I’m a visual thinker. A child of the television age, I have found putting each scene into a visual format is extremely helpful. Here is a panel I created for the Halloween novella I’m working on at the moment. It looks like a cartoon, but you can get the idea of it.


If you are familiar with the Pecan Bayou Mystery Series, you will probably recognize many of the characters. We have Betsy up front in the Sixties costume, with cute little Coco by her side. Behind her is Tyler, her stepson, who is in black and Zach her son in the toga. Sitting at the table is Danny, her cousin with Down Syndrome, and Aunt Maggie. I brought back the character of Howard Gunther for this story because of the paranormal element. Howard is the head of the Pecan Bayou Paranormal Society.

And the answer is NO. There will not be a comic book version of the Pecan Bayou Series!

If you can’t wait for this one, pick up a copy of Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime.  Betsy and her crew head for the beach to solve a mystery for dog lovers. paw-prints

Cranberry Bluff- A Cozy Mystery Review

One of the things I  enjoy in an Agatha Christie mystery is the character with a secret. I love how when you get to the end of the story, half of the characters are related, in business or are in bed with the other half of the characters. Good stuff.

In Deborah Garner’s Cranberry Bluff, the main character has just inherited a bed and breakfast, something that I think many readers would like to do. I entertained the thought for about five minutes once until I realized I would have to get up every day and bake. But wait, employing the Agatha Christie model of character development, things aren’t what they seem.

Here is my review posted on Amazon:

4 Stars

I enjoyed this mystery!  Molly Elliot is running a newly inherited B&B and is also running from a terrible mixup in Florida. She was caught in a bank robbery and just happened to look like the bank robber. Molly checks in are a honeymoon couple, an eccentric older lady, and a good looking guy at her Bed and Breakfast. At first, these people seem so average! Cranberry Bluff was an entertaining mystery from start to finish.


Interview of Jonnie Jacobs: Part of the Sleuthing Women Anthology

There is a big anthology on tour right now that includes some our favorite cozy mystery authors with their first in series. Sleuthing Women contains ten complete novels which makes it an incredible value and the chance to read some authors you may not know yet. Jonnie Jacobs, the author of Murder Among Neighbors, stopped by today to talk about her novel and shared a little about her life as a stay-at-home mom and as an attorney.  Be sure to look for the prize guy below to enter to win a FREE copy of this amazing anthology!

So, here’s Jonnie.

jonnie_newI came to writing as a third career, but in my head and heart, I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. However, I never thought about actually being an author until I took a leave of absence from my job as an attorney when my second child was three. I started a book just as a creative diversion from full time “stay-at-home-mom.” That book didn’t sell (it was pretty awful actually), but I was hooked. Murder Among Neighbors, the first book of the Kate Austen series, came next, and then Shadow of Doubt, the first book in the Kali O’Brien series of legal mysteries. I continued with both series and then branched out to a stand-alone title several years later. My three most recent books have all been single-title books.

I enjoy writing (except on days when things are not going well) because it lets me create my own fictional world and characters to “play” with. I get to put words in people’s mouths and tell them what to do (something I never get to do in real life.) Things work out the way I want them to (again, not always true in real life.) And I get to explore relationships, personal secrets, and individual psychologies. I’m curious by nature (my family calls it being nosey), and by writing, I can dig into a multitude of “whys” and “what ifs.”

What inspired the idea behind your story?

When most of us picture the quiet, tree-lined streets of suburbia, the last thing that comes to mind is murder. Yet there are often secrets and conflicts and real drama going on behind those closed doors. And it’s the drama leading up to the crime—the fractured relationships, emotional tensions and private fears of everyday people that interest me. I chose an amateur sleuth because I’m fascinated by the things we know about friends and neighbors that it would take the police a bit of digging to uncover. I also wanted a sleuth who was personally connected to the crime, who felt pain and loss in the way a professional investigator wouldn’t. And I wanted to use that sensitivity to explore the ripple effect of crime.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

The book is completely fictional but I think all writers draw on personal experience to some degree. My characters are generally an amalgam of people I’ve met, read about, heard about from friends, and observed (like most authors, I’m a great people watcher). There’s always a bit of myself thrown in, too. I’m interested in people’s stories. I want to know what happened and why, and how the person felt about it.

In my case, I also drew on two particular incidents involving murder. In the first, a workman who was at my house killed another woman he was working for the next week. It was a heart-thudding, oh-my-gosh kind of realization. And secondly, I had an oblique acquaintance who was convicted of murder. These experiences didn’t work their way into the book directly, but did feed my interest in knowing the story behind the headline news. We often learn that so-and-so was arrested for a crime but we never learn the backstory and motivation. I wanted to write a book where I could dig into that.

What was harder, being a lawyer or a mother?

Both are hard in different ways, but being both at once was more than I wanted to take on. Writing provided a nice balance and a much more flexible schedule. And my children have, over the years, unsuspectingly provided me with some great “kid lines.”

 I noticed you are an amateur photographer. Did you provide photos for any of your book covers?

I’m a very amateur photographer, but yes, I did provide photos for the ebook version of two of my books. Not because they are such great photographs, but because I couldn’t find a stock photo that was what I wanted. Intent to Harm, the sixth book in my Kali O’Brien series, takes place in the California Sierra near Lake Tahoe. In the opening scene, Kali meets with a mystery client who is shot before Kali has a chance to figure out who she is or what she wanted. The meeting took place in a mountain park, and all the photos I could find were either urban or eastern. During one of my favorite Sierra hikes, I saw exactly the setting I was looking for. I took a photo with my cell phone (while my husband grumbled about my lollygagging.) And a photo I took years ago of our then puppy is the cover of my short story, Doggone.

What advice would you give beginning writers?

Above all, write. I’ve met too many people who talk about writing but never actually write. You learn by doing, tweaking, editing, and re-writing. You can’t learn by simply thinking about it. Secondly, read. Read both broadly and in your chosen genre. Read critically as well as for enjoyment. See what works and doesn’t work, analyze how a writer you admire handles the things that give you trouble. And lastly, live life and keep your eyes open.

There are lots of books that cover techniques, and they are good to read, but read them with a healthy dose of skepticism. Classes and critique groups can also be a great help.

How can readers find your books?

My books are all available in print and digital formats, and, in increasing numbers, as audio books. They can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, as well as through independent bookstores where they can be ordered if they aren’t in stock. All of the books were initially in libraries, although over time I’m sure copies have been lost.

Click here to enter our Free Copy Giveaway!

Click here to enter our Free Copy Giveaway!

Murder Among Neighbors is one of the books featured in Sleuthing Women: 10 First-in-Series Mysteries, a collection of full-length mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten critically acclaimed, award-winning, and bestselling authors. Each novel in the set is the first book in an established multi-book series—a total of over 3,000 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, and cozy mysteries, with a combined total of over 1700 reviews on Amazon, averaging 4 stars.


Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, an Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery by Lois Winston—Working mom Anastasia is clueless about her husband’s gambling addiction until he permanently cashes in his chips and her comfortable middle-class life craps out. He leaves her with staggering debt, his communist mother, and a loan shark demanding $50,000. Then she’s accused of murder…

Murder Among Neighbors, a Kate Austen Suburban Mystery by Jonnie Jacobs — When Kate Austen’s socialite neighbor, Pepper Livingston, is murdered, Kate becomes involved in a sea of steamy secrets that bring her face to face with shocking truths—and handsome detective Michael Stone.

Skeleton in a Dead Space, a Kelly O’Connell Mystery by Judy Alter—Real estate isn’t a dangerous profession until Kelly O’Connell stumbles over a skeleton and runs into serial killers and cold-blooded murderers in a home being renovated in Fort Worth. Kelly barges through life trying to keep from angering her policeman boyfriend Mike and protect her two young daughters.

In for a Penny, a Cleopatra Jones Mystery by Maggie Toussaint—Accountant Cleo faces an unwanted hazard when her golf ball lands on a dead banker. The cops think her BFF shot him, so Cleo sets out to prove them wrong. She ventures into the dating world, wrangles her teens, adopts the victim’s dog, and tries to rein in her mom…until the killer puts a target on Cleo’s back.

The Hydrogen Murder, a Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—A retired physicist returns to her hometown of Revere, Massachusetts and moves into an apartment above her friends’ funeral home. When she signs on to help the Police Department with a science-related homicide, she doesn’t realize she may have hundreds of cases ahead of her.

Retirement Can Be Murder, A Baby Boomer Mystery by Susan Santangelo—Carol Andrews dreads her husband Jim’s upcoming retirement more than a root canal without Novocain. She can’t imagine anything worse than having an at-home husband with time on his hands and nothing to fill it—until Jim is suspected of murdering his retirement coach.

Dead Air, A Talk Radio Mystery by Mary Kennedy—Psychologist Maggie Walsh moves from NY to Florida to become the host of WYME’s On the Couch with Maggie Walsh. When her guest, New Age prophet Guru Sanjay Gingii, turns up dead, her new roommate Lark becomes the prime suspect. Maggie must prove Lark innocent while dealing with a killer who needs more than just therapy.

A Dead Red Cadillac, A Dead Red Mystery by RP Dahlke—When her vintage Cadillac is found tail-fins up in a nearby lake, the police ask aero-ag pilot Lalla Bains why an elderly widowed piano teacher is found strapped in the driver’s seat. Lalla confronts suspects, informants, cross-dressers, drug-running crop dusters, and a crazy Chihuahua on her quest to find the killer.

Murder is a Family Business, an Alvarez Family Murder Mystery by Heather Haven—Just because a man cheats on his wife and makes Danny DeVito look tall, dark and handsome, is that any reason to kill him? The reluctant and quirky PI, Lee Alvarez, has her work cut out for her when the man is murdered on her watch. Of all the nerve.

Murder, Honey, a Carol Sabala Mystery by Vinnie Hansen—When the head chef collapses into baker Carol Sabala’s cookie dough, she is thrust into her first murder investigation. Suspects abound at Archibald’s, the swanky Santa Cruz restaurant where Carol works. The head chef cut a swath of people who wanted him dead from ex-lovers to bitter rivals to greedy relatives.

Click below to get your copy of Sleuthing Women in your favorite ereader format!





Jonnie Jacobs is the author of fifteen novels. A former practicing attorney, she lives near San Francisco with her husband. Find her at

Guest Post: Joanna Campbell Slan “Proud to Be a Trashy Girl”

mermaid finished

Proud to be a Trashy Girl

By Joanna Campbell Slan

For decades now, I’ve suffered in isolation. My crime? (Or perhaps my addiction?) Is a love of trash. I hate seeing stuff thrown away. Especially GOOD stuff, usable items that still have a lot of life in them.

My husband despairs of my habits. Once, as I struggled to pull a big piece of wood out of a Dumpster, he pretended not to know me. “La-la-la,” he sang loudly while walking in the opposite direction.

“Help.” I grunted with the effort of my task. His lack of interest only spurred me on. It took some doing, but finally I wrangled the wood out from under other trash. “See?” I balanced it on top of my head. “It’ll be perfect as the platform for a dollhouse.”

But rather than hold the door to the apartment building open for me, he yelled, “Got to go! See ya!”

Fortunately another neighbor took pity and helped me haul the wood up the stairs and into our apartment.

Happily, I’ve since met a kindred spirit named Carol. She’s a girly-girl, but like me, she’s never one to turn up her nose at other people’s cast offs. We’ve bonded over glue guns, E-6000, and Elmer’s. In fact, when she bought a perfectly plain plywood cut-out of a mermaid, the two of us plotted to gussy up the sea creature. Carol had seen a similar project selling for $500, where the tail was made of squashed plastic bottles. That seemed too clunky for me. As we stood there in Carol’s garage, I had a brainstorm. Grabbing a pair of kitchen scissors, I cut empty aluminum pop cans into scales like fish have. Then we savaged an old silver plastic tray that was in the recycling bin. It became the fins on the tail. Next, we glued on nubby yarn Carol had snapped up at a thrift shop for a buck. Bit by bit, we filled in the blank form. I painted her face and shaped a broken glass candle holder into a bra. Carol added gems in her hair and “jewelry.” After spray-painting seashells a vivid purple, we glued them on, too.

I think our finished project is divine. In fact, in the next Cara Mia Delgatto mystery, I plan to have Cara sell mermaids just like this in her store. In between solving crimes, she and her crew will dress up plywood mermaids. Maybe even expanding the idea to seahorses…crabs…boats…fish…the sky’s the limit!

all-washed-up smallIn the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series, Cara and her crew transform trash into treasure as a way of stocking her store, The Treasure Chest. In Book #3, All Washed Up, Cara comes face to face with the idea of treating humans as “trash,” when they are tossed overboard by smugglers. I wrote the book after a shipwreck spilled illegal aliens on the sands of the small island where I live. For a limited time, it’s only $.99 so grab your copy today. Click here —

About the author: National bestselling and award-winning author Joanna Campbell Slan has penned 30 books, both fiction and non-fiction, including a dozen featuring Kiki Lowenstein. RT Reviews has called Joanna “one of mystery’s rising stars.” Her newest mystery series introduces Cara Mia Delgatto, a spunky entrepreneur dedicated to turning “trash into treasure.” IndieReader Reviews has called it “incredibly charming.” Joanna’s historical mystery series featuring Charlotte Brontë’s classic heroine Jane Eyre won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. You can read two of Joanna’s books absolutely free by going to and Visit Joanna at