Writing Wednesday — Blueprint for a Book by Jennie Nash

Can you stand me talking about one more book? I hope so! Blueprint for a Book: Build Your Novel from the Inside Out by Jennie Nash didn’t make my list of 10 Essential Books on Writing, posted a month ago, because I had just discovered it and wasn’t sure how “essential” it would turn out to be. I took an evening webinar from Nash, sponsored by Free Expressions Seminars & Literary Services (check them out — fabulous classes!), and was surprised how impressed I was. I’d first heard about her “Inside Outline” a while back, and looked into taking her self-directed course on the topic, but decided I didn’t need another way to outline — at the time, I needed ways to brainstorm more ideas about what to put IN the outline! (More on that to come.)

I was right, and I was wrong. When I saw Nash’s course offered by a source I trust, I was in. The focus of the Inside Outline is identifying your main character’s internal motivations and using those to outline your book in chunks or events. The MC’s internal needs — what Nash calls “the point” — are shaped a bit by events, then lead directly to the next chunk of events, and so on. The result is not a play-by-play forecast of the book, but a roadmap. You’ll have a plan for getting from Tacoma to Tampa. You’ll decide on the way where to stop for lunch, but you’ll have the hotels booked and the sights you don’t want to miss identified, and you’ll significantly reduce your chances of ending up in Tucson or Toronto. Which is the point, for most of us who outline to any degree.

The book walks through all that in 14 steps, starting with asking why you want to write this book, figuring out “the point” of it, writing a simple version, then a working title, and so on, leading to a three-page Inside Outline, followed by tips on using it to write the book, revise, and write the dreaded synopsis.

I already had a partial outline when I started Nash’s book, and I have always tried to incorporate the MC’s internal motivations and stakes. But this book helped me clarify my thinking tremendously. Is it working as I write? So far, so good!

Admittedly, this book is for those who outline or who maybe don’t but want to try it, to get more clarity before they start. But even committed pantsers could benefit from the early steps or even, as Nash suggests, writing the short Inside Outline after the first draft, to help you understand what you’ve created and give the next draft more narrative drive. It’s a short book — under 150 pages — so give it a try!

Law & Fiction — revisiting two topics

LAB in the back of a police car at Writers’ Police Academy (2016), smiling because I knew I could get out any time

From time to time, I write about legal issues writers may want to use in their fiction, or mistakes to avoid. I spotted two recent articles on topics I wrote about in Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver, 2011). Whether you’ve read the books or not, you may want to know a little more about when teenagers can be charged as adults, as described in this NPR piece about the teenage shooter in Oxford, Michigan, which provides a good overview. The trend toward “Raise the Age” legislation is new since BCC; many states have now set a presumptive age, typically 17 or 18, at which a juvenile can be charged as an adult; below that, such a charge is still possible but certain criteria must be met.

I also wrote about drug courts, an approach aimed at keeping nonviolent offenders charged with drug offenses out of jail and on the road to recovery and productivity. This piece from the Washington Post focuses more broadly on addiction in northern New Mexico, but the highlights on the drug court and its judge are worth a look. (It’s part of a Post project on the importance of regional stories and what is or could be lost when local papers shut down, another important topic.)

As always, check law and practice in your story state. We may be writing fiction, but getting the facts right matters.

The Saturday Creativity Quote — creativity and mindfulness

In Wired to Create (2015), Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire note the connection between mindfulness, described by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer as “the act of paying attention to the present moment,” and creativity. “People always think they’re aware, but they’re not,” Langer said. In her book Mindful Creativity, they note, “Langer suggests that doing creative work is itself a practice in mindfulness.

“‘In noticing new things about the topic you’re considering to write, photograph, or paint about, you’re being creative,’ she says. ‘By noticing new things about a topic, you see … that the thing you thought you knew is different—everything looks different from different perspectives.'”

So challenge yourself to pay more attention to what’s around you. Note one thing, one juxtaposition or contrast, that you don’t remember noticing before. When you go to do your creative work, make it a practice to bring that thing, that attentiveness with you.

Saturday Writing Quote — practice a little kindness

Plum Lovely — acrylic by Christine Vandeberg (used with permission)

This is the last of my quotes focused on process and commitment for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I hope you met your own challenge, whether you got to 50K (or the revision equivalent) or not. The point was to plunge in, to take the risk, to focus on creating something that didn’t exist before, transferring your vision to the page. If you wrote any words, 500 or 50,000, you made progress. And you learned some things about craft and process and, most importantly, yourself.

Look, we’re all figuring it out. Every book, every creative endeavor, is a new challenge, a new education, so be open to the process, open to failing, but also stay focused and stay organized and be kind to yourself.”
– novelist and playwright Lance Rubin, quoted by Natalia Sylvester on Writer Unboxed, 1/5/18

Go forth and celebrate!

Writing Wednesday — Ten Essential Reference Books

Leslie’s bookshelves

After three top ten lists – 10 Common Mistakes Writers Make About the Law, 10 Favorite Novels About the Law, and 10 Essential Books on Writing – I thought I’d list some of my trustiest reference books that aren’t about craft. I already included my own Books, Crooks and Counselors in the list of writing essentials, so I won’t list it here, but it certainly would fit.

In no particular order:

The Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown (2003) – A terrific guide to finding information from knocking on doors to skip tracing and beyond. Technology has advanced since this book was published, but it’s still very useful.

Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensics Questions for Mystery Writers, by D.P. Lyle, M.D. (2003) – Lyle’s written several other useful books in the same vein. And yes, his Q&A format inspired mine in Books, Crooks.

Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers, by Lee Lofland (2007) – The name says it all. By the force behind The Writers’ Police Academy, also a short story writer.

The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior, by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D. – Not just a useful book; an article by the author in a writing magazine led me to submit my proposal to her publisher, Quill Driver Books, which then took on Books, Crooks.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, aka the DSM – The professional reference, loaded with detail about specific conditions; surprisingly readable. A therapist friend gave me her copy of the DSM III when an update was published; you can find older versions in used bookstores.

Body Trauma: A Writer’s Guide to Wounds & Injuries, by David W. Page, M.D. (1996) – An older book, but still useful, especially if you don’t have a doctor in the house!

You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, by Deborah Tannen, Ph.D. (1990) – I devoured this book, long before I started writing, but have found it and Tannen’s other books terrific explanations of how people really talk, useful in creating realistic dialogue laden with subtext.

The Writer’s Legal Guide: An Authors Guild Desk Reference, by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray – I’ve got the 4th edition, published in 2013, and hope there’s an update in the works. If not, look for a similar book from a reputable source, to guide you on issues such as copyright, defamation, taxes, and much more. If you’re self-publishing, there are references to guide you with contracts and other legal issues, as well.

The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System, from Nolo Press, updated regularly

And the Constitution of the United States, 1787, Madison, Jefferson, et al. Many libraries and courts and the ACLU provide free pamphlet-sized copies.

What subject-matter resources would you add?

Book News! Book News!

Thank you, thank you, friends. We did it. YOU did it!  

I’m thrilled to say that Crooked Lane Books will publish Alicia’s next suspense novel, tentatively titled BLIND FAITH, on October 11, 2022. Two women whose paths crossed in Montana when they were teenagers discover they share keys to a deadly secret that exposes a killer—and changes everything they thought they knew about themselves and their families.

And I credit YOU for giving BITTERROOT LAKE the push we needed to persuade them!

Who’s Alicia Beckman? You may remember that with BITTERROOT LAKE, the publisher wisely asked me to write my suspense novels under a pen name to avoid confusion with my cozies. (Don’t worry—Leslie will keep writing cozies!) Alicia novels are moody and I hope, suspenseful; still no gore, not much blood, but some darker moments. The name honors my mother, Alice, and my maternal grandparents.  

I’ll be diving deep into revisions with my fabulous editor shortly.

Meanwhile, more good news! AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, the 5th Food Lovers’ Village mystery, was re-released in paperback and e-book on November 9, by Beyond the Page Publishing. I’m so pleased to have all the Village books available again, after the sad closure of publisher Midnight Ink. And just in time for holiday reading — and gift-giving! (If you love Christmas mysteries, be sure to read “The Christmas Stranger” in CARRIED TO THE GRAVE AND OTHER STORIES, the 6th Village book.)

Speaking of short stories, Erin, Adam, and the villagers will return in “The Picture of Guilt,” in MURDER IN THE MOUNTAINS: A Destination Murder Collectionfeaturing short stories by nine terrific authors, out in paperback and ebook on February 1, 2022. Isn’t the cover a delight? And you can pre-order the ebook now for only 99 cents! (WoW!) 

Last, but so not least, we have a publication date for PEPPERMINT BARKED, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, coming from Seventh St. Books on July 19, 2022. (Available for pre-order now.) Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece investigates when a young woman working the Christmas rush in her friend Vinny’s wine shop is brutally attacked, on the busiest shopping day of the year. 

Meanwhile, I’m working on the first draft of another Alicia novel, using tips I picked up in a class to help me clarify the emotional heart of the story and identify what actions the characters take as a result. That’s always been key to me as a writer and reader, and I’m loving having new tools to help me heighten that story element. 

For sheer fun: Reader Carol sent me the link to this smile-out-loud video the Seattle Police Department created for the 2018 Lip Sync Challenge, with officers and student dancers performing to a medley by Seattleite Macklemore. Naturally, it won!

(Reader Carol, who lives in Seattle, also bought SIX copies of ASSAULT & PEPPER as holiday gifts. I heart Reader Carol. And I sent her bookmarks. Drop me a line if you’d like a few to tuck in your holiday packages.) 

I also heart libraries! The Mercer Co. (NJ) library system creates videos of authors sharing a bit of book-related triviaI’m part of this compilation of mystery, suspense, and other fiction authors. Check the library’s channel for more trivia videos, including mystery and children’s books. 

Reader Barb asked if I’d ever published the recipe for the Spice Shop’s signature spice tea. Surprise—I never had! CHAI ANOTHER DAY includes Pepper’s chai recipe, and PEPPERMINT BARKED will include both the pie spice recipe Pepper often puts in coffee and her peppermint mocha recipe, but the tea? I knew what was in it, so I headed down to the kitchen and brewed up a cup. For one cup, use a teaspoon or more of black Assam tea leaves, a slightly crushed cardamom pod, two allspice berries, and about 1/8 teaspoon dried grated orange peel (or fresh if you’ve got a willing orange). Use an infuser or a strainer. Steep 3-5 minutes, then pretend you’re sipping tea in the Spice Shop with Pepper, Sandra, and Arf!

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and well, with a good cuppa and a good book close at hand. 

My deepest thanks for keeping me company on this journey. 

Leslie 

Saturday Creativity Quote — on procrastination

Flowers -- watercolor by Leslie Budewitz
March 21 — for my father —
watercolor by Leslie

While I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I do think the challenge to write 50,000 words in a month gives many writers just the boost they need and a chance to solidify a consistent writing process, using helpful tools like scheduling, tracking, and accountability. So all month, my quotes will focus on some element of process and commitment.

Psychologist Timothy Pychyl studies procrastination. “It’s not about time management. It’s about avoiding negative emotion. Putting off the task allows us to put off the emotions.”

In other words, your do list is “a land mine of complex feelings, such as frustration, anxiety and fear;” you know, as the reporter said, that whatever you do, you’re going to lose something precious. “Human beings are much more sensitive to loss than to gain.”
– quoted in the Washington Post, 3/4/21

What do you risk losing when you sit at the keyboard or pick up your paintbrush? The opportunity to do something else, of course, but also, I think, the sense of the perfect thing that lives in your mind.

As the poet and former head of the National Endowment for the Arts wrote,
“How much better it seems now
than when it is finally written.”
—Dana Gioia, “The Next Poem”

But what do you gain? You’ll have clarified your vision and brought it to life, learned more about your craft, and turned your imagining into something you can share. That’s worth a lot, isn’t it?

Writing Wednesday — All Beginnings Are Hard

Leslie’s desk

“All beginnings are hard.”

That’s the first line of In the Beginning by Chaim Potok, whose novels I have long adored. (I heard him speak at the Sophomore Literary Festival at Notre Dame in the early 1980s, and he was as compelling on stage as on the page.)

I can only imagine how many times Potok rewrote that line. Maybe he wrote the entire book, realized what it was about, and only then knew how it started. Or maybe he knew it right from (sorry) the beginning.

I’m writing this as I start a new novel. Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, getting started can be scary. What if this isn’t where the story starts? What if you guess wrong and have to redo, revise, cut?

There’s no “what if” about it. It’s a given. To some degree or another, you will do just that.

So I want to say this: All beginnings are hard. Don’t feel yours needs to be perfect. All it has to do is get you going and propel you to the next scene. Jane Smiley says all first drafts are perfect because they give you something to work with. I feel the same about beginnings. They get you in gear. I can just about guarantee that even if you keep the same basic opening, as I have for most of my books, you will revise those first few pages more than almost any others. There is always something to change, to reflect the way the story or a character evolved. To set the right tone. To foreshadow the future danger or connect with the ending. Sometimes we start with what we the writer need to know, and only later discover that’s not where the reader needs to start.

It’s okay to poke your opening a bit, to write it then reread it the next day, sharpening the imagery and brightening the voice, to give yourself the confidence that you really do have something to work with.

Then move on.

As David, the main character in Potok’s novel says, beginnings are hard because you are learning a new way of understanding. That’s true of writing a novel, isn’t it? You are meeting new characters, learning their problems and personalities, their joys and sorrows. You are figuring out what to say and how to say it. As David says, “Especially a beginning that you make by yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.”

You are writing a book that never existed before. You are making something new. No wonder it’s hard. But it’s exciting, too. Let your enthusiasm carry you. Let the joy guide your hand. Let the beginning be what it needs to be right now; you can always change it. That’s the advantage you have, when you are a novelist making the beginning by yourself.

Sometimes Christmas Comes Twice

As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Today is the re-release day for As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles, the 5th Food Lovers’ Village mystery.

From the cover: Erin is one smart cookie, but can she keep the holiday spirit—and herself—alive til Christmas?

In Jewel Bay, Montana’s Christmas Village, all is merry and bright. At Murphy’s Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton. A local girl gone wrong, Merrily has turned her life around. But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.

When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he’s been robbed, fingers point to Merrily—until she’s found dead, a string of lights around her neck. The clues and danger snowball from there. Can Erin nab the killer—and keep herself in one piece—in time for a special Christmas Eve?

Why a re-release, you may be wondering. Cookie, as I call it, was originally published by Midnight Ink in June 2018. Midnight Ink’s parent company closed the line later that year and stopped distribution two years later, leaving both Cookie and its predecessor, Treble at the Jam Fest, without a publisher. (The audio books were not affected and have remained fully available.) Beyond the Page Publishing stepped in and picked up both titles, re-releasing Treble last March. Both feature the same fabulous original covers by artist Ben Perini! They also published Carried to the Grave and Other Stories: A Food Lovers’ Village Collection, in May. Now, with this re-release, all the Village books will again be available in ebook and print.

So some of you may have read Cookie. Thank you! Now you can share it with your friends, and what better Christmas gift for a reader than a Christmas mystery?

I’m also delighted to tell you that Erin and Adam and other villagers will make a return visit in Murder in the Mountains: A Destination Murders Short Story Collection, featuring short cozy mysteries by NINE fabulous authors! The collection will be out February 1, and for a limited time, you can pre-order the e-book for only 99 cents!

Merry Christmas, and Happy Reading!

Saturday Creativity Quote — wrangling that blob

Heron, welded sculpture – photo by Leslie

While I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I do think it gives many writers just the boost they need and a chance to solidify a consistent writing process, using helpful tools like scheduling, tracking, and accountability. So all month, my quotes will focus on some element of process and commitment.

“The writing process is an amorphous, wiggly, glob with a million arms and as soon as I feel like I’ve caught hold of one, it slips out of my hands. … What we need to learn is one of the most important aspects of both being a creative person and also surviving a very difficult business: we must learn to be flexible about our vision. We must also learn to be flexible about the process of how we get from Point A to Point Be [sic]. We have to allow the unruly manuscript to take us down a path you’ve never been before, if that’s what it needs. Some paths are more arduous than others, but that still doesn’t make them wrong if the end result is a polished book that you love. The fact of the matter is, the writing process IS mysterious and I’d dare to say, it’s even a little magical. Don’t fight it. Fly with it. Even if you have to start at the end to get anywhere.”
– historical novelist Heather Webb, on Writer Unboxed in a post tellingly titled “Your Writing Process Says You’re A Failure”