Reassessing Your Goals

Summer is supposed to be a laid back time of rest, relaxation, and fun in the sun. On the other hand, with seasonal meetings and events suspended until September, it can be a good time to get in some good work hours.

The only way to accomplish anything during these lazy days is to set goals. You should be setting your annual goals every January, in terms of writing and the business aspects of writing. So here you are six months later. How many of these line items have you finished? Do you wish to change/remove the remaining ones? Add something new?

In looking back over my files, I am stunned to see that I hadn’t done this for 2012. Oh, dear. How could I be so lax? Usually I’m very goal directed. I suppose having my tenth Bad Hair Day mystery coming out in January proved too much of a distraction. So let’s set goals that will serve from now through the end of the year.

Writing Goals

1.  Write Hanging by a Hair, my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Short-term goal: Finish the first half within the next two weeks. Why? Because then I’ll have to take a break to attend some family events and to do the edits for Warrior Rogue when they come in.

2.  Polish and submit Warrior Lord, the third book in my Drift Lords series. With the manuscript running longer than 400 pages, this will take me easily a month or two.

Calculating all the time factors in, my goal to finish Hanging by a Hair is on target to December. I need a month or two for the edits to Warrior Rogue and for reading the page proofs. Then add in another couple of months to revise Warrior Lord. And I need a good six to eight weeks uninterrupted to finish the mystery. Holidays, a Caribbean cruise, and other occasions will cut into this six months period. Is it any wonder I am working harder than ever this summer?

Business Goals

1.  Prepare promotional campaign for Warrior Prince, including setting up a virtual tour and writing all the blogs ahead of time, scheduling ads, devising contests, social networking, etc. This could literally take up all of my time.

2.  Create video trailer for Warrior Rogue.

3.  Prepare and upload special bonus materials for readers of my Drift Lords series. I’ve done a lot of world building and would like to share these details with readers.

This is about all I can handle for now. There’s always more to be done, but life has to be lived, too. Just know that I am dedicated to getting more books out there for you to read.

Now take a moment and reevaluate the writing goals you’d set at the beginning of the year. Do they have to be modified? How many have you accomplished so far?

Recent Reads

I haven’t posted any book reviews lately, although you can follow me on Goodreads to catch my reports. But people often ask writers what we like to read. So here are the books I finished in June.

THE SELECTION by Kiera Cass (Teen Fiction)                           The Selection
Thirty five girls are chosen to compete for the hand in marriage of handsome Prince Maxon in the land known as Illéa. America Singer, a musician and member of a lower caste, enters her name in the lottery after her crush Aspen casts her off. She doesn’t expect to get chosen and is surprised when her name is announced. Soon she journeys to the palace to meet the prince and appear in broadcasts with the other contestants. As she gets to know Maxon, her feelings for him blossom, but the Selection is marred by increasingly violent rebel attacks. What do the rebels want? Why does the king suppress the region’s history? And what’s America to do when Aspen joins the draft and shows up as a palace guard?

The world-building works in this novel that’s part fantasy and partly a take-off on reality shows. I believe it’s billed as the Hunger Games meets the Bachelor. Certainly, the gorgeous cover draws you in. As a reader, you quickly become invested in America’s happiness and wonder how she might help the country if she ends up as Maxon’s bride. But his choice isn’t made by the last page. You have to tune in to the sequel to continue the story and might find this tactic somewhat frustrating.

Accustomed to reading romance novels, I would have liked a conclusive ending. It disturbs me that I might have to read two more books to reach a finale, but I like the story enough that it might be worth the wait. I know how I would like this tale to end. I just wish it wouldn’t take three books to cross that finish line. Find on Amazon

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis (Time Travel Historical)
The Connie Willis books I’ve read have been complex stories that take place in dark times of global history. To the contrary, this title is more like a Shakespearean comedy of manners. It’s a twisted tale, hard to follow at first, seeming to wander aimlessly with silly incidents, until the story finally becomes more focused at least halfway through. Then my interest peaked but not so much in the beginning. Certainly I didn’t find it hilarious, more like amusing, and a cheerful diversion from Willis’s usual works. As always, her depiction of the era is vastly detailed and immersive. If you were to start with one of her books, though, I wouldn’t choose this one.  I think you need to be a fan to appreciate its absurdities, although some readers love this book the best. My favorites are Doomsday, Black Out, and All Clear. Find on Amazon

UTTERLY DEVOTED by Regina Scott (Regency Romance)
This pleasant Regency romance is a staple in the genre but the plot is a bit contrived. Left in the lurch by the rake Jareth Darby after he loved her and left her, Eloise denies his attraction when they meet again several years later. He is determined to reform himself and begs her forgiveness. To earn her regard, he promises to pass three tests, but neither of them count on falling in love. Can Eloise get over the past in order to accept her future? Find on Amazon

THE PRINCESS AND THE PEER by Tracy Anne Warren (Historical Romance)    The Princess and the Peer
When Princess Emmaline of Rosewald is told that she must marry for the political future of her country, she runs away to London for a last fling before bowing to duty. But she doesn’t anticipate the confusion and chaos that greets her in the big city, nor does she know what to do after her reticule is stolen. Adrift in strange territory, she accepts the offer of a stranger who comes to her assistance.

Nick Gregory, the Earl of Lyndhurst after his elder brother’s death, is still adjusting to his new title when he encounters the lovely wench in the street. Assuming her to be an unemployed governess by her refined manner, he offers shelter until she can contact her family. But as he gets to know Emma, his need for her grows. Emma reciprocates his affection, but she’s aware that their relationship must end. Duty calls, and she will not forsake her country. What she doesn’t anticipate is that Nick isn’t willing to give her up and will pursue her until she becomes his wife. Find on Amazon

ANGEL’S ADVOCATE by Mary Stanton (Mystery)
In this Beaufort & Company Mystery, attorney Brianna Winston-Beaufort accepts the case of a young woman accused of ripping off a Girl Scout selling cookies. But the girl’s troubles are minor compared to those of her recently deceased father, whose condemned soul pleads for Brianna’s assistance in celestial court. Was he murdered like he hinted, or did he die in a car crash as everyone believes? Did he become aware of shady goings-on among his associates, or was he a part of them? And how does poor Lindsey fit in? With one case in the temporal world and another in the realm of angels, how will Brie learn the truth? With the supernatural help of her friends and a couple of guardian dogs, she sets on the path to justice. Angel’s Advocate is a twisted tale of paranormal mystery with a dollop of Southern charm. Find on Amazon

Angel's Advocate (A Beaufort & Company Mystery)What are you reading these days?

News from Nancy

I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold Warrior Rogue, the second book in my upcoming paranormal romance series, to The Wild Rose Press. The first book in the Drift Lords series, Warrior Prince, debuts on Sept. 21 in print and digital formats. The book trailer is available now if you want a sneak peek: http://youtu.be/aVm2FIumw0o

Meanwhile, I’ve made a few minor changes as per my editor on book number two. These took me one day to do, and now I’m waiting for the line by line edits. My editor is really sharp and picks up things I miss, like a day of the week being inconsistent or repetitions of backstory. So I am always grateful for her input that makes my book stronger.

I love the epic adventure of this series, the Norse mythology, and the inclusion of magical elements. It’s the first time I’ve delved into the realm of fantasy in a modern day setting, so I hope you’ll follow me along on this new journey. Check out my vision board on Pinterest to see some of the images for this story.

Once again, the action takes place in Florida. What can I say? I love writing about this diverse state. But it doesn’t stay there. In Warrior Rogue, the tale begins in Tokyo and moves to Hong Kong, New York, and Palm Beach. I’m busy planning contests and more to keep you excited about the series debut.

The weather has been gloomy for South Florida, with overcast skies and occasional heavy showers as Tropical Storm Debby lingers in the area. But rainy days are good for staying home and getting work done, at least for those of us without day jobs. In between working on my paranormal series, I’m writing my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Today brought me up to page 95. I’ll keep my steady pace of 5 pages a day for 5 days a week until summoned to work on Warrior Rogue again.

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What do you like to do on a rainy day—get things accomplished at home; or read, watch TV, and cruise the Web?

Mixing Romance and Murder

Malice Domestic Conference: The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder

Sunday morning at Malice started out with the Sisters in Crime Breakfast. It was a lovely affair where I met new friends. The Board was introduced and volunteers were thanked for their efforts throughout the year.

Nancy Cohen, Ann Parker, Nancy G. West

Following this event, I attended the workshop titled above. Moderated by Stephanie Evans, the panel included Kathleen Ernst, Christina Freeburn, Barbara Graham, Elizabeth J. Duncan, and Kate Carlisle. Following are the questions posed by the moderator. Disclaimer: These interpretations are based on my notes and the paraphrasing is accurate to the best of my ability.

How does danger affect the relationship?

Kathleen: Her characters are a detective and a park curator. Danger reveals a new side to each character, i.e. protectiveness of the hero and a broken heart in the heroine’s past. Also it shows that the heroine doesn’t crumple in the face of danger. Chris says danger in her stories brings her couple back together. They have to work to restart their relationship. Barbara says her hero is the sheriff. “Danger finds you no matter where or who you are. Thing happen.” Hers is a loving couple. “Every day, if it’s the last one, it’s a good one.” Elizabeth’s hero is a police officer. He overrides his training and instincts to put the heroine ahead. In Kate’s story, the woman is a suspect but the hero grows to protect her. Danger heightens the sexual tension between them.

Does your couple need or seek out danger? If it wasn’t there, what else would they need?

Kate says her couple wasn’t brought together by murder but that murder found them. Her heroine is open, free, loving. Her hero is a James Bond, by-the-book type. He feels fear for her safety. Elizabeth’s hero is an inspector who wants a quiet, peaceful life away from work. He warns the heroine away from every case, but she’s curious and can’t leave it alone. He’s unable to keep his work separate from her. Barbara’s heroine listens to gossip and lets the hero do the detecting. They’d like to have a normal life. Chris: Finding people who need protection is their purpose. They each possess a strong protective instinct but in different ways. They are willing to take risks so that others can have a better chance at life. Kathleen’s hero doesn’t want the heroine involved but he needs the info she can provide, so she gets sucked into the situation. They each define danger differently. Solitude and wilderness don’t frighten her when she goes to a deserted island to restore a lighthouse, but he’s concerned about the isolation. So they define danger differently.

How do you work in the lightness and levity of romance with the darkness of murder?

Chris’s romances are more inspirational so they’re not graphic. The couple was married but the marriage ended over guilt from her sister’s death. Dark issues and pain are involved and they have to work out these problems. Elizabeth: Her heroine was a witness that the hero interviewed and subsequently liked, so their romance progresses slowly. In her stories, the romance offers comfort and security for people in their 50s, so it’s a different angle. Kate also writes romance for Harlequin. “A good romance has heavy conflict so I don’t consider that part to be light even though I don’t write dark, deep mysteries.” She adds humor in other ways like with secondary characters. Kathleen has an inner plot or personal conflict that affects the outer plot. Barbara has a married couple who are loyal and faithful to each other. Tender moments enter into the story on occasion.

For the cozy genre, what do you use to create the mood for sex?

In Kathleen’s stories, the relationship is progressing slowly. She says the power of suggestion can be incredibly sexy and better than spelling things out on the page. Chris’s couple needs to rebuild trust in their relationship. It’s more about caring and the “little things” the couple does for each other. Barbara’s characters long for each other when they’re apart. She agrees that it’s the little things, too. Elizabeth says intimacy can be pretty sexy, more so than overt sexuality. Her hero thinks about the heroine often. “It’s more about love than sex, but they’re inching toward it.” In Kate’s mysteries, nothing is overt. “Little moments are sweet but they can’t stop to consider them because they have to solve the crime.” You get the feeling that the relationship is growing.

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I took a break after this panel, skipping some of the events and going out to lunch with family until the Agatha Tea later that afternoon. If I’d known we would be served little sandwiches, scones, cheese and fruit, I wouldn’t have eaten so much earlier! This final event was well attended and then it was time to say goodbye.

Elizabeth Zelvin
Carole Nelson Douglas and Nancy Cohen

Our drive home was uneventful except for a stop at a historic house in South Carolina and a couple of country stores where we bought Peach cider, pecan meal (ground pecans—great for coating tilapia before frying), cinnamon honey, and peach jam.

Historical Museum House

     

Front View
Magnolias in Bloom

     

250 year old live oak
Stone gator at foot of tree
Face in the Tree! Is it the tree god from Warrior Prince?

Coming Next: Guest Blogger Peg Herring on Tuesday, May 8!

Writing Southern Mysteries

Malice Domestic Conference: Writing Southern Mysteries

Saturday morning at the Malice Domestic conference in Bethesda began with a New Authors Breakfast wherein two dozen newly published authors spoke briefly about their works. It was a great way to get to know these newbies and to discover interesting reads.

Writers’ conferences are often more about networking than attending workshops, but I did manage to attend three sessions. One of them was for writers by “The Poison Lady” on how to kill people using alcohol. I won’t be repeating that information here, but I’ll tell you about the other two panels for fans.

Early in the day, I greeted Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Ellen Byerrum, Joanna Campbell Slan, and Neil Plakcy, among other writer friends. Besides Neil, Joanna and myself, Elaine Viets and Deborah Sharp were present from Florida MWA. We discussed marketing ideas and met new readers. I was able to display my promo materials in the hospitality suite, peruse the silent auction items, and greet booksellers in the dealers’ room.

Nancy Cohen and Dana Cameron
Nancy Cohen and Dana Cameron
Live Auction
Live Auction
Ellen Byerrum and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Ellen Byerrum and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Southern Mysteries Panelists

The first workshop I attended was on Southern Mysteries. Panelists were Sandra Parshall, moderator, whose mysteries are set in Virginia. Lisa Wysocky sets her series around horses. Erika Chase’s books are set in Alabama. Leann Sweeney’s cat mysteries take place in South Carolina. Christy Fifield’s haunted shop series is located in Florida. And Miranda James (aka Dean James) writes about a male librarian in Mississippi. Following are the questions posed by the moderator. Disclaimer: These interpretations are based on my notes and the paraphrasing is accurate to the best of my ability.

What is your personal connection to the South?

Miranda grew up in Mississippi in generations of farmers. He moved to Houston and went to grad school and became a librarian. Christy married a Southerner whose family comes from Alabama. Leann went to where her husband’s job took them to Texas and hopes to move to South Carolina someday. Erika loves horses and was captivated by Southern culture. Lisa moved to the South and also loves horses. “Characters in the South are wonderful fodder for mysteries.”

What is special about the South?

Leann: “What’s so wonderful about the South is there are all these secrets.” People are very polite and courteous, and they use indirect routes of speech as opposed to Northerners who say what they mean. Miranda: People in the South beat around the bush when speaking. “How many of you know the two meanings of ‘Bless your heart’?” It’s all in how you say it. Lisa: “History in the South is so much more fascinating than in the North.” Erika: “The word southern conjures the imagination, as in southern lady or southern gentleman.”

Tell us about your settings.

Lisa’s books are set in Tennessee where “many eccentric people live.” Christy’s stories are set in a small Florida town dependent on tourism. She loves the Florida Panhandle. Sandra’s mysteries take place in Virginia, while Miranda’s are set in Mississippi. Leann favors South Carolina, and Erika’s stories are centered in Alabama. Quite a variety!

How do you deal with darker issues?

Lisa approached the theme of child neglect with humor so that the humor balances the darkness. Erika doesn’t deal with any Gothic themes beyond murder. She says secrets from the past affect her characters, who help each other through them. Leann says her editor helps her balance the light and the dark. “Secrets are dangerous, and I want the reader to feel that tension throughout the book.” She often deals with dysfunctional family issues.

Christy has a main character who is a ghost. Another character is the ghost’s acquaintance, and their relationship goes back to a more turbulent time in history. She indicates how racial relationships in the South are still a fact of life there. It’s tough to balance those elements with the lightness of a cozy. Miranda likes to make the reader forget about their problems when reading his books. So he aims for a balance between real southern issues and a lighter mystery.

How do you include accents?

Miranda offers colloquial expressions and rhythm of speech instead of heavily accented speech which can be distracting to the reader. She says to be aware that certain words may be used differently. For example, do the people in a locale say cellar or basement? Erika says the flavor of interactions is more important than the words themselves.

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Later that afternoon, I was on a panel called Living with the Seven Deadly Sins: Mysteries as Modern Morality Plays. Moderated by Art Taylor, our panel included R. J. Hartlick, Carolyn Hart, Tracy Kiely, Margaret Maron, and myself. I discussed the value of relationships among the characters in a mystery and how that’s the focus of my stories. We joined other afternoon panelists at a booksigning later.

Lisa Wysocky, Maggie Toussaint, Nancy Cohen
Nancy and Tracy Kiely
Lorna Barrett and Nancy Cohen
Nancy Cohen and Jacqueline Corcoran

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Saturday night, we attended the Agatha Awards Banquet. I didn’t take pix here, too many people, and it was a long evening.

Coming Next: The New Nick and Noras: Mixing Romance and Murder

Weddings

I love weddings, so I was happy to attend one last night. My critique partner’s son was getting married, and all of us in critique group were invited. The six of us have been together for years. We celebrate our book sales and rave reviews, bemoan our rejections, and generally support each other through life’s events. Sometimes our pre-work chatter seems more like a therapy session than a discussion of the book biz. It’s wonderful being part of this group of committed and caring friends, especially when we get together with our spouses and socialize.

While dining at the reception, listening to the dance music, and watching the bride, I couldn’t help but feel I had stepped into my latest book, Shear Murder. In this story, hairstylist Marla Shore is attending her friend Jill’s wedding as a bridesmaid when she discovers the matron of honor dead under the cake table. Naturally, I sneaked a look there last night, but thankfully the cake cutting ceremony took place without a hitch. It was a lovely evening which engendered many happy memories.

Bride Dance

Cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cindy Toast
Author Cynthia Thomason, mother of the groom, giving a toast.
Zelda, Nancy, Allison
Zelda Benjamin, Nancy Cohen, Allison Chase
Oline Cogdill
Mystery Reviewer Oline Cogdill
Critique Chorus
Zelda Benjamin, Allison Chase, Cynthia Thomason, Karen Kendall, Sharon Hartley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has anything unusual ever happened to you at a wedding?

Lost Skills

I’ve been sorting through a box of memorabilia dating back to congratulation cards my parents received when I was born. In the interest of decluttering, I’ve thrown out all greeting cards except the ones from my immediate family, old report cards, menus and certificates that are no longer meaningful.

I’m more hesitant to discard letters. Some are written by me to my parents describing my travels and experiences. Some are letters that my parents wrote to me. And some are from my husband in our early acquaintance days. What a treasure these represent! And what a sad loss to society today that we no longer receive hand-written letters like these.    Letters

Emails and text messages are so much more impersonal, quick paragraphs in abbreviated language that don’t describe events with the depth found in a hand-written letter. A person had to take the time to compose their thoughts, write them neatly in legible script, and mail the letter. These missives had emotional impact sorely lacking in today’s form of communication. One used to find such a letter in the mail and open it with anticipation and joy. Pages of handwriting would unfold, and we could share the scribe’s life albeit vicariously.

In this age, end of the year holiday letters might summarize events in typewritten form that goes out to all the people on a sender’s mailing list. It’s not personal, directed to the receiver. Nor is an email a keeper. Sure, we can print one out, but it lacks the personal touch, the ink on paper, the crinkly feel of a real letter on a piece of pretty stationery. When’s the last time you used old fashioned stationery? Sent a real greeting card? In schools today, cursive writing is no longer being taught. I am sad for this loss. I am sad that we no longer get letters that are worth saving in our time capsule boxes of memorabilia. Writing letters is a lost art, subjugated to the progress of technology. Or maybe it’s just one less thing for our heirs to throw out some day.

Are you a saver of memorabilia or are you a minimalist? Do you miss the days of hand-written letters and personally penned greeting cards?