Reflections on the Decatur Book Festival

Like any mostly-full-time writer, I get discouraged at times. As a profession, writing is solitary and often frustrating, which is probably why I enjoyed the Decatur Book Festival, September 2-3. Connecting with readers, face-to-face was invigorating. I loved being able to talk about my book, rather than just writing about it.

Reflecting on the festival brought up another issue for me: I really don’t like social media. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love being able to keep up with friends and family whom I don’t see often. I even enjoy their cute kitten videos and recipes. I also enjoy seeing what my newly acquired friends are doing, as it helps me get to know them better.

What I don’t like is trying to connect with potential readers who are total strangers via social media. Unfortunately, I’ve got to learn to embrace it if I want to “make it” as an author. And then there’s this whole Amazon monolith thing. I haven’t learned a tenth of what I need to know about marketing with them. It’s pretty overwhelming at times.

And then, I reflect on events like the Decatur Book Festival and am reminded why I write. So, I am doing what I can to put my story out in the universe and trust that somehow I’ll figure out how to do the right things to connect with you, my readers.

So, if you bought Murder in Madden at the festival, THANK YOU! I am honored that you have read/will read my story. Please let me know if you like it (or if you didn’t). And, if you have any thoughts on social media, let me know.

Murder on My Mind

“I’ve had murder on my mind a long time.” That’s what I told a book club recently while discussing “Murder in Madden.” For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved mysteries. My first books were the Nancy Drew series—I still have most of them. In the late-1950s, when I was a child, my allowance was 50 cents a week, but to encourage my reading, my parents gave me the extra to buy a 59 cents book, plus tax. I’ve been reading ever since.

As I grew older, I began reading books by Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, and later, by Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Now I read John Grisham, John Hart, Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, and many other authors I’ve discovered along the way.

Until recently, I’ve never asked myself “why mysteries?” Why don’t I read great literature or at least other genres as much as mysteries? All I can say in my own defense is that I’m not alone. In fiction, thrillers are the number one sellers. I’m pretty sure it’s because the stakes are higher in a murder mystery than, say, in a bank robbery. Sure, the latter is a mystery, but losing money just isn’t the same level of thrill and danger.

One thing I really love about mysteries is the way clues come together. I am, by nature, a problem solver, and finding the bad guy or gal is the ultimate question to be resolved. I also love closure, and finding the perps brings the story to its rightful end. There’s something satisfying about having all the loose ends tied up and all the questions answered. But I also love the characters in a mystery, and how they use their wits to solve crimes. Oddly, though, I’m not that interested in police procedurals. I’m far more interested in ordinary people who defy the odds and discover what eludes law enforcement, or how ordinary people get caught up in something way bigger than themselves and manage to think their way out of it.

And, of course, I just love a good story. I remember hearing ghost stories as a child and how I loved to be scared. I read once where the human mind can’t distinguish between sex and fear. So, when you’re scared, you think you’re having sex. Wow! Who knew?

Anyway, now that I’m a mystery author myself, I really do have murder on my mind almost all the time. Every conversation, every event, every weird thing that happens is fodder for the next book. And, just so you don’t worry about my psychological state, I abhor violence as much as the next person—that is in real life.

Do you have murder on your mind, too? If so, let me hear from you.

Sit Down and Power Through It

Last night I attended my Wednesday night cycle class. As Kathleen, the instructor, led us through a series of exercises, one was a “hill climb,” in which we stood up to cycle using higher gears. I ramped up my gears and followed along. Then Kathleen said, “Now sit down and power through it. Don’t touch those gears,” which meant that it was going to be a more challenging ride. Sitting while cycling with a higher gear is much harder than doing it standing, because when you stand, you use your whole body weight.

As I sat down and struggled to “power through it,” it occurred to me that these cycle instructions would also apply to writing. When you first start a writing project—like a novel, you stand up and put your full weight into the ride. It’s not effortless, but it’s easier than at any other point in the writing process. Later, as you get further into your project, you eventually have to sit down and power through it. That means writing when you want to quit and ignoring the urge to get out and enjoy the spring weather. It means writing when you are ready to give up because you feel like you’re an idiot for ever thinking you could write a book. Powering through it is where most people lose it. The hill climb overcomes them and they drop out of the ride. I know. I’ve been there.

While writing my first book, I dropped out a few times. “I can’t do this.” Or, “What was I thinking?” You know, all of those self-recriminating statements we make to ourselves in our lowest moments. Thankfully, I was able to get back on track and finish my first novel, Murder in Madden. Now that I’m writing the second novel in the Enid Blackwell series, I am again facing that same hill climb. It ain’t easy, nor should it be, but I will make it to the top of this hill and finish the second book. I’m confident because I have been up this hilly path before. And I know I can sit down and power through it.

The Joy of Book Clubs

Last week, I met with a book club in Prosperity, South Carolina. What an experience! It was such a pleasure to meet with a group of people who had read the book and who asked very insightful questions. In particular, they were interested in the characters and how they were developed. We had an enlightening conversation about the writing process.

Here’s what I learned from the book club discussion:

  • Never underestimate your readers. They may be reading for entertainment, but they put a lot of thought into what they are reading.
  • Characters trump plot. With the exception of the occasional (usually male) readers who want nothing but action, most readers want to experience the characters’ lives in an intimate way. They want to understand the characters’ motivations, fears, and joys. As my writing coach often said, plot springs from the characters being in situations. How they react to the situation creates plot. The book club ladies’ interest in character development just confirmed this assertion.
  • Readers interpret based on who they are, not on who you are. The French essayist and memoirist Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The same is true for your readers. Their world view and values will determine how they see your characters, no matter what you do. It’s okay.
  • Being with this book club reinforced for me why I write—to connect with readers.


I’m looking forward to many more book club discussions about Murder in Madden and its characters, many of whom will return in the second book of the “Enid” series. Please contact me if your club is interested in a personal visit, Skype or phone discussion with the author at one of your club’s meetings.

Beginning on book #2 in Enid Blackwell series

Before I say anything, I want to acknowledge my writer friends to manage to juggle a full-time job, fulfill family obligations, market their already-published books, and still find time to write. It’s a challenge!

As I begin the second book in the Enid series, a year has passed in the story. If you’ve read the book, you know book one left some unanswered questions to be resolved. Most will be addressed in book 2; others in later books.

I’ve missed Enid, Cade, Jack, and the other character friends I made writing the first book. Reconnecting with them is like going to a reunion and seeing folks you haven’t been in regular contact with. It’s exciting to hear what they’ve been up to. And they are anxious to share the second story with me. I am, after all, just the channel they use.

Stay tuned–more about writing the second book as it progresses.

Readers’ Feedback on “Murder in Madden”

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I posted anything, and I apologize. Like many of you, I got caught up in a zillion holiday-related activities with friends and family. It was fun, but I am feeling a bit guilty about ignoring my blog, so I’ll try to catch you up.

As you know, Murder in Madden is is my first novel. I’m an experienced business writer and editor, but writing novel-length fiction is something altogether different. During the past three years, I’ve studied with some wonderful writing coaches: Cynthia Morris, Al Watt, Jerry Cleaver (sadly, now deceased), and others. While I was studying and writing, many of my friends kept asking, “So, when are you going to actually finish this book?” Well, I can say with certainty that my patience and diligence in studying story structure and learning the craft paid off. The feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly good. They have made comments like, “Great character development. I feel like I know them personally.” And, “It kept me guessing.” My favorite comment by far, which I’ve received from numerous readers is “I couldn’t Put it down.” Whew! I knew I had written a good book, and now my readers have validated it.

I’ve done some personal appearances and hope to do more. This month I was at The Coffee Shelf in Chapin, South Carolina, and on the 21st I’ll be at the Burry Bookstore in Hartsville, South Carolina. If you know of a book club or event I might be interested in, please use the contact form and let me know. I’d appreciate it.

Last week, I started on book number two in the Enid Blackwell series. I’ve committed to four Enid books. No, I won’t take three years to write each one. Hopefully, I can do one a year—that’s the goal.

Well, I’d better get back to writing. Thanks for checking in with me.

Book Launch Celebration


October 30 was a fun day for me. Not just because it was the day before Halloween, but because I celebrated the launch of my book with friends and family. I shared my writing journey, which began with the idea for Murder in Madden and ended with its publication. Most of the people in attendance were instrumental, in some way, in helping me along the way. I appreciate all their support.

I’ve gotten good feedback from those who have read it. Many have asked when the next book will be out. During my discussion, I committed to doing four books in the Enid Blackwell series and to starting book #2 in January. For now, I’m going to enjoy the holidays and also set up some signings.

This Indie Journey

Finally! After three long years, Murder in Madden, is being released in October. Once the links on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets are available, I’ll post them.

People talk about being on a “journey” so much that it’s become a cliche. Forgive me, but I have to tell you this experience has indeed been a journey. When I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I thought I was near the end. Wrong. Several revisions later, I thought I was almost finished. Wrong. When I finally produced the final draft, I thought surely this was the end. Wrong again—the journey continued.

As it turns out, writing the book was the fun, easy part, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Lately I have longed for those wonderful days when I was holed up in my office, cranking out pages of my story, and reveling in the joy of writing. I can’t wait to start book number two in the Enid Blackwell series so that I can relive that experience.

Publishing a book after it is written is way harder than writing. All along, I assumed I would follow the traditional path and submit my books to an agent and/or small presses, suffer through the inevitable rejections, and eventually find a publisher willing to take on a debut novel. However, I as I began to study the publishing landscape, my outlook changed. If you have any interest in the book world at all, you’re likely aware that the publishing world has been turned upside town. Jane Friedman said in her blog post, “Of all the ages of publishing that I’ve lived through, this is the one I’m happiest to be part of. The one that feels most exciting, most aglow with promise.” What she is referring to is he world of self-publishing. Inspired by Friedman and others who have voluntarily walked away from traditional publishers, I decided to become an “indie” author. I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors (Alli) and learned all I could from them. I knew it would be difficult, and that my learning curve was steep, but I made an informed decision to start my own publishing company, Pondhawk Press LLC.

Being an indie author doesn’t mean you take short-cuts. On the contrary, you still have to prove yourself as a serious author by producing the best quality of work possible. To that end, I hired a writing coach, a developmental editor, a proofreader, and a book designer. It’s been a LOT of work—and not cheap. One of my friends recently asked if I would do it again. Without hesitation, I replied, “Absolutely!”

I’m sure some of my author acquaintances will turn up their noses at self-publishing, but one of the things I’ve learned on this indie journey is that your true friends and supporters will shine through. Everyone else is just noise.


Guns & Madness

I’ve been busy finishing the book edits and haven’t posted in a while. However, the events of this past week have been on my mind, so I wanted to share my thoughts.

It may seem odd that a mystery writer who lives in an imaginary world where people are killed all the time is railing against gun violence. But … there’s a big difference in play worlds and real worlds. In my play world, I create and kill characters all the time. But they are not real. They don’t have real families and friends who will mourn their passing. I know the difference. Apparently, real killers do not.

Many of my right-wing acquaintances say “people don’t kill—guns kill.” I think that’s a poor excuse for not outlawing assault weapons that have no place in our society. Normal people should have no desire to own a weapon of mass destruction. Sorry if you disagree, but I feel pretty adamant about that position. In fact, I just unfriended a couple of people on Facebook whose views on gun rights were so foreign to mine that I couldn’t, in good conscious, call them “friend.”

Having said all that, you may think I’m anti-gun. I am not. In fact, I just completed a concealed weapon permit class a few weeks ago. I own a 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. I keep it for protection, and I pray to God I never have to use it. I wish no one owned a gun, but I agree we have a right to bear arms. Unfortunately, we are so far down this road of gun ownership that we will likely never get guns off the streets. The sad fact is that if bad guys have guns, the good guys have to defend against them. It’s madness.

I try to relate these posts to my book and its characters, so I’ll end with this comment. My editor questioned why I mentioned in one of the scenes that my protagonist had a concealed carry permit. She asked, “Why was that relevant?” I eliminated the sentence, but after thinking further about it, I added the sentence back in. Enid is a responsible person. Even though this is a fictitious story, it was important to me that my “hero” reflect my own values. I believe in responsible gun ownership, and so does Enid. Just like in real life, Madden is not immune to the craziness of the world or to the irresponsible actions of a few individuals. Yes, I’m afraid we live in a mad, mad world.

What’s happening in our country right now is truly madness. Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald columnist, said it best. If you haven’t read his recent article, please do: