The Writing Process


Mary Miley, my talented writer friend and author of The Impersonator, asked me to participate in a blog hop. In this blog hop writers tag other writers to answer four key questions about their writing process. I’ve known Mary for many years—first in a mystery book group and later in the Central Virginia chapter of Sisters in Crime.

I’m new to blogging and new to the community of published writers. I don’t find blogging to be a natural process, especially if I’m called upon to talk about myself and not my fictional characters. But I’m willing to jump in and see what happens! And so, without further ado, here goes:

What am I working on?

I’m working on my second Hazel Rose mystery (the first is Murder at the Book Group, due out December 2, 2014). One night a woman shows up at Hazel’s book group and startles Hazel when she asks her to find out who killed her sister in the parking lot of a redneck bar. Hazel does not want to find out who killed this stranger’s sister—or anyone’s sister for that matter. But Hazel, a romance writer, is always on the lookout for story ideas. Redneck baby boomers having hot and steamy sex? It could work. Plus the newfound relatives Hazel’s genealogist sister discovered are intertwined with the redneck contingent. It isn’t long before Hazel finds herself in over her head and her swimming skills leave much to be desired.

As for other writing, I try to blog and have lots of ideas, but Hazel keeps me on a short leash and insists that I spend my limited writing time with her—especially when she’s thrashing around in the aforementioned deep waters and needs me to rescue her.

Why do I write what I write?

I have a strong need to see justice done and to set the world right and mysteries are a perfect vehicle for that. Mysteries are about relationships—relationships that have gone awry. I’m fascinated by family dynamics and how my own family experience has popped up throughout my life, sometimes in good ways and often in disconcerting ways. Love and obsession intrigue me to no end, as does sin and how we’re impacted by it.

I’ve amassed a wealth of experiences from knowing many people, living in a lot of places, having numerous jobs. I bring, and will continue to bring, all of these experiences to my writing.  In my twenties I lived on the edge, so much so that I’m lucky I didn’t fall over. Now I live far from the edge but, as a writer, I cherish those edgy memories that I might otherwise like to blot out.

Some of my stories are made up out of whole cloth; a case in point is “A Not So Genteel Murder,” my contribution to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthology. Most of my characters and situations are based on reality, but so twisted and blended as to be unrecognizable (I hope!). To this I add a heaping measure of make-believe and toss it in the mix.  But murders themselves, thankfully, have no place in my experience. I’ve never been involved in one or investigated one. I plan to keep it that way.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Tough question. I don’t know that it does differ. Hazel Rose is an amateur detective and that stamps my series as a cozy. The book group theme and the cats suggest a genteel world. And, just as in “A Not So Genteel Murder,” I love taking seemingly genteel worlds and turning them upside down, exposing their not so genteel undersides.

I admire Gillian Roberts and Joan Smith, who write of intelligent and educated women who help others to restore their worlds to gentility.

I try to inject humor and share my droll observations. My editor from Simon & Schuster described Murder at the Book Group as “wickedly funny.” I don’t think of myself as wickedly funny—but my editor is very wise (she did pick up my debut mystery, after all). My mother was quite funny so perhaps I channel her voice into my writing. I think of Hazel Rose as making the kind of wry and witty asides that Kinsey Millhone is given to making. Not that I mean to compare myself to the renowned Sue Grafton. Ultimately, my readers will decide how funny I am.

What is my writing process?

I create long-hand before I go to my computer. Computers and creativity don’t go hand in hand for me. Something about paper, hand, ink. The big question writers get these days is “Are you a plotter or a pantser?” (Plotters completely outline before they write their novels while pantsers sit down at the computer each day, waiting to be surprised, writing literally by the seat of their pants). I’m not strictly either—I outline, but it’s a very flexible outline that allows my pantser side to have a big part in the process. The truth is that I start out as a plotter, but I tend to take too long because I want the outline to be oh so perfect and so I switch to pantser mode for a while just to get some momentum going. This back-and-forth works for me but it takes forever to churn out a finished piece.

I used to think had to be an English major and hole up in a garret with huge blocks of time in order to call myself a writer. Alas, my background is in business and IT. No garret. I write before I go to my day job, I write in the evenings and on the weekends. I write at lunch. I write wherever and whenever I can. A lot of ideas come to me via newspapers, radio, and old-fashioned eavesdropping. Friends, family, and co-workers give me tons of ideas. I once knew a woman who had her apartment door bashed in by her, um, unhappy boyfriend. I worked a similar scene into an upcoming story. My daily walks give me time to work out plot points. I constantly scribble notes in a book that I tote about for the purpose, but I have a collection of notes on Post-its, envelope backs, receipts, what have you.

When actress/musician Zooey Deschanel was asked how she found the time to write music, she had this to say:

“When I was first really writing music I was doing lots of movies and I would be on location and then I would take a guitar and maybe a little keyboard along with me. I would write in my trailer at lunch. A lot of the times I would write in the middle of the night or on weekends and then I would make demos and I would be working on my demos at work. . I never really had a process that was contingent upon certain conditions.”

Read the complete article here:

When my long-awaited retirement day arrives, I’ll see about that garret.


And now I’m privileged to tag two talented writer friends:

Betsy Ashton Betsy Ashton grew up in Southern California where she ran wild with coyotes in the hills above Malibu. She protested the war in Vietnam, burned her bra for feminism, and is a steadfast Independent, before she entered the military-industrial complex after her academic career as a student and teacher. She is the president of the state-wide Virginia Writers Club and the author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences. She loves riding behind her husband on his motorcycle. You’ll have to decide for yourself if and where she has a tattoo.
LindaQuinnLinda Quinn L. M. (Linda) Quinn lives in L.A. and writes mystery, memoir, and mayhem that reflect the L.A. scene’s good, bad, and ugly. She’s a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and is currently working on a MG Latino mystery novel set in L.A.Her short stories: “A Not So Clear Case of Murder” included in the anthology Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery; and “The Red Lipstick” included in the YA anthology You Don’t Have a Clue (both books from Arte Público Press). She also had her personal essay (“A Grown-up”) accepted in the anthology Our Spirit, Our Reality: Celebrating Our Stories.Look for her at some of the following conferences: Literary Orange, So CA Writers Conference, SCBWI Writers Day (LA), SCWBI Summer Conference (LA), and Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Conference & Retreat.



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