Are there times when you feel brain dead or too tired to think straight? Never fear, you can still accomplish something by doing a mindless task. Here’s a list of boring jobs to do when you want to be productive without much mental effort.

  • Organize your Internet Bookmarks or Favorites
  • Verify that the links are still valid on your Favorites list
  • Verify that the links are still valid on your website
  • Update mailing lists and remove bounces and unsubscribes
  • Transfer files from floppies (if you still have them) onto your hard drive
  • Back up your files to other media
  • Clean out and sort files on computer and in office drawers
  • Erase old messages you don’t need to retain in Email folders
  • File papers in your To Be Filed stack
  • Do research for your next scene
  • Convert your old version word processing files into latest version on your computer
  • Search for and eliminate duplicate photos and files
  • Write blogs like this one

What else would you add?



Writers who are plotters know what is supposed to happen going into a scene. At least, we know what we want to happen to our characters when they move from Point A to Point B. How they traverse that distance often comes as a Bookssurprise and may require a leap of faith.

For example, in my latest paranormal WIP, I entered a scene knowing what information my characters had to obtain. It seemed too easy. Were they just going to stroll into the lion’s den, get their scoop, and leave without opposition? Something bad had to happen. Haven’t we been taught to toss our characters into situations that test their mettle? So what could happen to them to throw them offguard?

Jennifer and Paz split up inside a fictional theme park in Hong Kong. Theme Parks are a key element in my paranormal series. What could be creepier than a happy place where everyone seems to be having a good time but something evil ferments below the surface? Both Paz and Jen each have an objective to accomplish. Starting with the heroine, she obtains the information she needs with relative ease. But just as she figures she’s got the goods and can leave, a ride attendant stops her. What ensues developed from the plot and my notes, but I hadn’t seen it coming. It introduces information important to the next books in the series and adds a new layer to the story. This twist was in my head all along. I just needed faith that the scene would carry forth the logic I’d built until now.

Ditto for the hero, who risks going deeper into bad guy territory to get what he needs. As I entered his viewpoint, I wondered how to complicate matters for him. Was Paz just going to jump in, collect his data, and leave so readily? Of course not! Yet I had not foreseen what would happen to him either. Just as it does with Jen, this twist ties in with later events.

I’ve blogged on Story Magic before, but these are perfect examples of how the blank page gets filled in via unexpected ways. It’s the writer’s subconscious at work, mulling over plot details, and these new twists pop up when we’re least expecting them. I thought of the heroine’s situation while driving in the car with my husband at the wheel (See Blog below about The Writer’s Mind). This is the glorious creative time when the story almost writes itself. Compare the plot outline or story synopsis to a skeleton. The creative process fills in the flesh on the bones.

Now if only I can figure out how Paz and Jen will free the dragon trapped in a cave.



As a mystery writer, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Well, here’s one for you: how about the local newspaper? Consider this story: Celebrity actress found dead at home; no signs of foul play; pneumonia following flu-like symptoms suspected as cause of death. Within months, husband dies from possible heart attack. Strange coincidence or not?

My mystery mind goes into high gear. If I were writing this story, how would it play out? Naturally, the celebrity (and it doesn’t have to be a movie actress. It can be anybody like a famous chef or athlete or stage star) leaves a substantial estate. If someone knocks the husband out of the way, who stands to inherit? I’m not familiar with all the hangers-on of the rich and famous, so I’ll have to make up my own list of fictional suspects. Disclaimer: This is totally fiction and made up from my own devious creative mind:

The Crooked Manager, who wants to cover up that he’s been pilfering from the celebrity’s funds.

The Greedy Relative, who inherits the estate because the celebrity couple is childless.

The Jealous Best Friend, who discovered the celebrity was having an affair with her husband.

The Financial Advisor, who’s in cahoots with the manager, and who needs money to feed his gambling habit or to pay for his insurmountable medical bills for the illness he’s been hiding.

The Makeup Artist, whom no one would suspect but who was always around the couple. She hates the celebrity and is getting revenge for a past wrong.

You get the idea? Who would you add to the list and why?

We have the Motives. Now we need Means and Opportunity. How would someone kill these two to make it look like natural deaths? Poison comes to mind. It would have to be something not detectable in toxicology texts, perhaps a substance that dissipates in the body. It cannot be injected so has to be absorbed either through ingestion or the skin or even eyedrops.

I like this! If my new mystery series gets picked up, you’re looking at book number four.



SLEUTHFEST is one of the best mystery writer conferences around. I had a great time schmoozing with old friends and meeting new people. On Friday, I participated in a panel called “The Power of Publicity”. Rod Pennington narrated, and I had the pleasure of listening to my fellow panelists discuss their tips for promotion: Sandra Balzo, James Grippando, Charles Todd, Pearl Wolf, and Dirk Wyle. Sandra suggested targeting bookmarks and other printed material to booksellers, librarians, and book clubs. I gave the pointers that were in my last blog regarding free Internet promotion since many of us authors wish we had bestsellers like James or Charles. Pearl offered her pearls of wisdom, and Dirk chimed in advising us on niche promotion like he does with his science background.

Attendees had a choice of four tracks of workshops: Craft for the Beginning Writer, Career development for Advanced Novel Writing, Hollywood tips and tricks on the Stage and Screenwriting track, and Forensics. I skipped the bomb squad visit because I’d heard a similar topic at one of our regular meetings. I also avoided the CSI stuff since my books deal more with relationships than crime scenes. Instead, I stuck to the career track options.

EDITORS ROUNDTABLE with editors from G.P. Putnam, Poisoned Pen Press, and Berkley The Berkley editor said their cozy program is very successful and some titles have even become bestsellers. Thrillers work well for them also, and they do true crime and historical mysteries. The Poisoned Pen Press editor prefers stories with no graphic sex or violence. They’d like to see strong historicals and classic mysteries with detection, not so much thrillers. They are open to new, unpublished authors. This editor in particular is tired of bed & breakfast settings and quilting cozies. She’d like to see a medieval historical mystery. Email submissions are accepted and an agent isn’t necessary. Putnam wants work that is fresh and polished with something extra. They’re interested in building a career, not just one book.

NEGOTIATING A KILLER CONTRACT with an editor and two agents discussed deal points, boiler plate contracts, and e-rights, a hot and touchy topic. They said e-books are appealing to younger and older readers and are cutting into large print sales.

HOOKS, LINES, AND STINKERS  found agents and editors dissecting what makes a good query letter. One of them said she appreciates thank you notes even for rejections where she’s taken the time to comment on a work.

Lunch followed with guest speaker Stephen J. Cannell from Hollywood, who gave an inspirational talk about his rise to fame. Auctioneer and author Cynthia Thomason conducted our annual author auction where bidders could win critiques from our chapter’s experienced scribes.

Finally, I attended Randy Rawls’s BOOK BROADS, a humorous look at the writing life presented by authors Kris Montee (aka P.J. Parrish), Deborah Sharp, and Christine Kling, and bookseller Joanne Sinchuk.

The cocktail party followed with food and drink for all, and then it was home and back to reality. What I enjoyed most was chatting with everyone and seeing people I hadn’t greeted in a while. Making friends is the best part of any conference, although the four tracks of workshops offered something for everyone. Kudos to the conference organizers and volunteers!

Cynthia Thomason and Nancy J. Cohen
Cynthia Thomason and Nancy J. Cohen
Nancy, Kathy, Karen
Nancy J. Cohen, Kathy Pickering, Karen Kendall
Sandra Balzo & Rhonda Pollero
Sandra Balzo & Rhonda Pollero
Christine Jackson & Sharon Potts
Christine Jackson & Sharon Potts
Traci Hall, Pearl Wolf, Linda Conrad, Nancy J. Cohen
Vicki Landis, Kathleen Pickering, Karen Kendall
Vicki Landis, Kathleen Pickering, Karen Kendall
Johnny Ray & Olive Pollak
Johnny Ray & Olive Pollak
Sharon Potts & Christine Kling
Sharon Potts & Christine Kling
Joanne Sinchuk & Randy Rawls
Joanne Sinchuk & Randy Rawls


What should writers bring when going to a booksigning?  Here’s a checklist:

Autographed by Author stickers   (optional; not all readers want a sticker on their precious signed book)

Book cover of upcoming release


Book to donate  (optional; for library donation or for a door prize if you’re a guest speaker at a community event)

Box of Books (for when you sell your own; otherwise keep in car trunk in case bookseller doesn’t come through)

Bottle of Water

Business Cards


Camera  (if you want to put pix of your event on website)



Mailing List Sign-up Sheet

“Meet the Author” Poster 

Notices of upcoming appearances at other local events

Sharpie ultra fine point black ink permanent markers

Wheels  (to carry boxes of books when you bring your own; look in luggage store for folding wheels)

What else would you add?


Come to Sleuthfest in warm and sunny Ft Lauderdale February 25 – 28, 2010!

Sleuthfest is the largest conference for mystery writing in the US. This year’s theme is Lights, Camera, Write! with a focus on screenplay and script writing. If you haven’t registered yet, here is a very good reason to attend :

Guest of Honor Stephen J. Cannell

Stephen J. Cannell sold his first script to the TV show “It Takes a Thief” in 1968. His first steady job in television was as a story editor on “Adam-12” (1968). He created a character named Jim Rockford for a script he wrote for the series “Toma” (1973), a show he was producing at the time. That script was rejected by ABC, so it was rewritten and eventually became the pilot for the classic NBC series, “The Rockford Files” (1974). From there it becomes nearly impossible to list all of his work. He has either written or co-written over 300 television scripts, and created or co-created over two dozen television series. He has won an Emmy, two Writer’s Guild Awards, two Edgar Award nominations, and has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. Despite his many accolades, his first love continues to be writing.

At Sleuthfest, Stephen J. Cannell will be the keynote speaker at lunch on Saturday February 27. At 2:30 on Saturday, he will be participating in a session “Hollywood War Stories: Tales From the Trenches” with Paul Levine, writer of the TV series JAG, and other shows. Then on Sunday at Brunch, he and Neil Nyren, Senior VP, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons will be interviewed by Oline Cogdil, Mystery Book Reviewer.

If you haven’t registered yet, it’s not too late to get the early registration discount. Tracks on the craft of writing and business aspects of writing are also being offered.

Go to http://www.sleuthfest.com