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Why I Wrote the Kat Voyzey Mysteries

We writers often talk about steps like “outlining, drafting, editing” and so on, but for me there’s a longish phase where I’m thinking about a story before I ever put my fingers to the keyboard. I’ve been thinking about my next Kat Voyzey mystery, and that got me thinking about what gave me the idea to write my first novel in the first place.

I began writing Involuntary Turnover right around the time I quit my HR Manager job. And I had a love/hate relationship with my work. I enjoyed the work of helping managers succeed, and I thought the conflict resolution aspects were meaningful. But I hated enforcing ill-conceived policies. In particular, I remember being cheesed about all the double standards where I worked. Like, management made a big point about forbidding open toed shoes, then they’d go around wearing open toed shoes. Then I’d be expected to enforce that rule while making excuses for the exceptions. There were tons of tiny inequities like that. Individually, they didn’t matter much, these were petty issues. But taken in bulk, all the small indignities added up and made me want to climb the walls and sprint for freedom. (Note: open toed shoes are not great for sprinting. Wear flats.)

Because my job so often required me to bite my tongue, I developed this running inner monologue to blow off steam. I joked to myself that HR people spoke in code, because if we said what we really thought, we’d no doubt be fired on the spot.

HR Speak: That’s interesting.
Truth: That’s fucked up.

HR Speak: I know this feels unfair.
Truth: This is unfair. You’re being screwed. But legally it’s allowed, so I’ll talk about your feelings because the facts aren’t on our side.

HR Speak: I wish it were that simple, but…
Truth: Hark! We are prisoners inside an irrational corporate bureaucracy.

HR Speak: What did your boss say?
Truth: Look, we both know your boss is the devil. And I can’t overrule the devil. I barely have the authority to order office supplies. But I’ll help you negotiate without getting fired. Well, I’ll try.

Working in human resources, I had a growing disconnect between my professional outer self and my inner monologue. And sometimes my suppressed feelings would leak out. For example, I used to post “A Word a Day” outside my office for fun, and sometimes the words I chose were wildly passive aggressive. I’d come out of a disappointing meeting, and the next day, I’d post my vocabulary word for all to see.

Word of the Day: Hypocrisy Definition: (Noun) The practice of stating beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not possess.

HR Cheri in her office.
A photo from my HR days. Note the “Novelist Fuel” mug I bought during my first Nanowrimo.

Write What You Know?

When I decided to try my hand at writing a novel I thought it would be fun to  have an HR heroine who found a dead body at the office. Write what you know, right? I’d read hundreds of murder mysteries, and I had a feel for office drama. And to round out the story, I borrowed from the funny things that had happened at work. Like the time we accidentally hired an arsonist, and she was super nice. You don’t work in HR for long without accumulating some amusing anecdotes.

Many first-time writers start with with material that’s quasi autobiographical. I was no different. I was once a snarky HR manager who craved integrity in a world that wanted me to stay in my lane. I kept my f-bombs on the inside, toed the line, and wished that my days were more interesting. And if I ran my workplace harassment investigations with the solemn determination usually reserved for hardboiled detectives on the BBC, well, that was just me taking my job seriously. I learned to ask the right questions to solicit the facts, whether that be in a job interview or to untangle an argument between coworkers. And I walked the dark hallways outside the medical records department and delighted in the spooky way my footsteps echoed out in front of me. All of those emotions and images were in my bones long before I ever put my fingers to the keyboard.

Why I Wrote the Kat Voyzey Mysteries

I wrote my first mystery novel for several reasons. The winter I started writing Involuntary Turnover , I was stressed out, struggling with my Masters thesis, and a big storm had knocked out our power for days. Writing gave me an escape when I needed one. And beneath all that, I had some things I wanted to say about corporate life, about the ways it can be unfair, and about how we need to stick up for one another and not let the desire for easy answers sweep the truth to one side.

I had a chip on my shoulder, you might say.

But what the writer feels inside, what motivates them, those things aren’t necessarily what the reader will take away. That’s one of the beautiful things about art, I think. We each mix our perspective with what we read and no two people will ever have the same experience of a story or a painting or a piece of music.

Time has a way of mellowing us out, and I no longer feel salty about the time I spent in human resources. I look upon those years fondly, and my frustration back then drove me to start a business where I helped managers make better choices. It all worked out. And I even got a few good mystery novels out of it, and a writing hobby that would eventually become something more.

I’m looking forward to Kat’s next case. Without getting into spoilers, she took a big step at the end of book three, and I want to see how that shakes out for her. And while the “things I want to say about work” have changed a great deal since book one, there’s one thing that remains the same. I believe all good stories should contain a core of emotional truth. No matter if you’re writing something realistic or fanciful, fiction is all about using lies to tell the truth, and it helps to start a story with a sense of what that truth might be. And perhaps that truth is just something you hold in your heart while you write. And as for what others make of it, well, that’s up to them.

I enjoy the thinking part of the writing process. It’s mysterious. A story so often arrives in pieces. And where do these pieces come from? Some of them come from me, and some of them come from the universe. It’s a strange and beautiful alchemy, and I felt it for the first time when writing Involuntary Turnover .

A Last Chance for a Free Copy of Involuntary Turnover

If you’ve followed me this far, book buddies, I have a tip for you. Involuntary Turnover has been free for a while, that’s something we authors call a permafree marketing strategy, kind of like a free sample. The whole series is going back up to full price in July, so if you’d like to snag a free copy of my first book, now is a good time to do that.

Download Involuntary Turnover

A New Release! And the Story behind my Cruise Ship Cozies.

A look back at the Panama Canal. A long blue channel of water bordered by grass and low buildings. A Cruise ship is inside the canal, taking up the full width of the channel.

Hey, blog buddies. I have a new book out today!

The Case of the Floating Funeral is an old-fashioned murder-mystery at sea. Down below, I’ll tell you about the real life cruise that inspired it. But first, here’s a bit about the story:

The Case of the Floating Funeral Cover

Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries

Book 3

Wealthy entrepreneur and famed gambler Morgan Picklewick is dead, and his family and friends are coming aboard the S.V. Adventurous Spirit for the memorial service at sea. As the ship heads to sunny South America, Morgan’s heirs will scatter his ashes in the deep blue waters of the Panama Canal. But not everything is as it seems. Morgan’s business partner and friend, Roberta Crowley, believes he was murdered by one of his children.

Did one of Morgan’s children kill their father to avoid being disinherited? As Ellie mingles with the mourners, it seems everyone is hiding a motive or two. Perhaps one of his wealthy business partners saw an opportunity to take a bigger piece of the pie? And what about his ex-wife? Is her diva-like behavior covering a guilty conscience? As Morgan’s heirs prepare to seize their father’s stake in the cruise line, with devastating consequences for the crew, Roberta gives Ellie her most difficult assignment yet: Identify Morgan’s killer before the crew is torn apart and scattered to the four winds, forever.

Available now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

The Cruise that Started it All

The setting for The Case of the Floating Funeral is loosely based upon a South American cruise that P & I took during a pivotal moment in our lives. I’d just finished writing Death by Team Building , and we were wrapping up our travel sabbatical and preparing for our return to normal life. We’d just made a big decision too: we were going to open a little publishing business together. This would be my first time treating my writing like a career, and it would be the first time my husband and I had worked together since college.

Against that backdrop of new beginnings, we went to South America. And over the course of a few weeks, we admired the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal, hiked through a jungle in Columbia, and learned about archeological digs in Peru. Our tour guides showed us beautiful sights (and some ugly ones too) and educated us about the culture and history of the places they called home. One afternoon in Peru, in a seaside park full of colorful tile murals, a street vendor sold me some woven bracelets. Perhaps buoyed by the thrill of the sale, he turned to P and offered to sell him some drugs. Americans like drugs, the man insisted, as if this might clinch the sale.

We didn’t buy drugs, but I did pay five bucks to get my photo taken with a burro. When you’re playing tourist, you may as well go all the way, right?

Cheri stands next to a donkey. The donkey wears a wreath of flowers. A tour bus is in the background.

We’d taken cruises before, but this particular voyage was brimming with larger-than-life characters. At breakfast, we were surrounded by big-haired Texas ladies talking shit about their husbands. At dinner, we listened to a orange-tinted philanderer brag about his fleet of yachts while his much-younger wife yawned and played with her expensive jewelry. At the bar, an old guy in white Velcro shoes and knee-high socks was talking someone’s ear off about Panama’s favorable tax laws. He had so much enthusiasm for the topic that it seemed he was trying to sell the other bar patrons something, but what? We ate dinner with a couple who had recently retired from the mortuary business. (I asked them if working in that industry had given them any insights about mortality and the human condition. They laughed and said no.) Later, there was a wacky toga party, kind of like a mosh pit for the retiree crowd, and I was mesmerized by the sight. After dinner, we listened to a karaoke singer that looked just like Willy Nelson. And I thought to myself, someday I’d like to write a cruise ship mystery.

After a trip like that, how could I not?

In a way, my cruise ship cozy mysteries are an homage to the places we’ve been lucky enough to visit. And that’s especially true for this most recent story. We didn’t uncover any murders on our South American vacation. (Thank goodness!) But we did write the business plan for Adventurous Ink during that trip (the name for our business came to me one night in our stateroom) and we met some wacky characters that would later inspire an entire series of mystery novels.

The truth is, I’ll always be fond of cruises. And although cruising is off limits right now (for very sensible reasons), I’ve enjoyed writing these books because they’ve been a chance to take a vacation in my mind. And I hope you enjoy Ellie’s adventures too.

Someday, I hope to pack a bag again and board one of the big beautiful ships headed to sunny ports of call. And until that day comes, thank goodness for books, right?

Happy reading!

Concluding the Cozy Experiment

Alas, all good experiments must come to an end. If you’ve been reading along, you may remember that last fall I asked myself a question: Was it possible for me to write more quickly, publish more frequently, and have more fun? I’d been frustrated by my slow writing pace and I wanted to improve. So to answer my question, I decided to write a series of cozy mysteries, fast. Along the way I tried different techniques, and I made notes about what I was learning. I’ve written about the experiment here , here , here , and here .

Today marks a happy little milestone. My third cozy mystery, The Case of the Floating Funeral, is available to pre-order . Woot! And as I was putting together a reflection post about my third cozy, I realized that I’ve answered my initial questions. I pulled out my calendar, subtracted out vacation time, and saw that I’ve written and published three cozy mysteries in seven months. As someone who used to take a year (or three) to finish a novel, that feels really good! Best of all, I had plenty fun along the way.  While I’ll continue to use what I’ve learned, I’m ready to move my attention to topics beyond authorial velocity_._

And what have I learned by writing cozy mysteries quickly? Plenty. Here are my top six takeaways:

  1. Planning my story out in advance helps me write more quickly. But there’s a catch. I need to let my outline evolve – the story surprises me as I go – and that’s good!  A tight outline is too paint-by-numbers and a lack of an outline leaves me flailing.

  2. Working like a banker is ideal, because creativity thrives under conditions of routine.

  3. Some aspects of my editing needed less attention (over-edited prose is unflavored tofu) and some areas needed more attention (proofreading is haaaard).

  4. At each stage in the writing process, I should write as if I’m producing a final draft. No shitty first drafts! And no leaving a mess to clean up later. This mindset doesn’t eliminate the need for editing, but this whole “write trash and don’t worry about it until editing” ethic writers are encouraged to adopt is pretty damaging, IMO. Do your best work each time, and it will still need some improvement. But the flip side of editing is that I need to set a deadline and stick to it! That’s my counter-measure against getting stuck. Without a reasonable deadline, I’ll fiddle with my current story until the end of time and publish nothing.

  5. I’m physically capable of writing a novel in 12 days. But working at that speed isn’t sustainable if I want to have a working brain at the end of the day. Everyone’s different, but my productivity sweet spot is somewhere around 3000 words of fiction per day, 5-6 days per week. And if I were writing part-time, I’d keep the 5-6 days per week part and drop my daily word count way down. Consistency is king. Writing works best when we “get into the groove” and it takes time to shovel that groove out and maintain it.

  6. It helps to have a touch of that classic artistic arrogance if you’re going to make art. I’m not talking about being a jerk. But there will always be people who disagree with your choices, and your job isn’t to appease backseat writers. ☺️ Art involves choices, choices are what make a work unique, and tastes differ widely. As I get stronger in my own voice and perspective, I react to feedback differently. I used to think “Oh no! They hate it! I’m screwing up!” and now I ask myself “Are they pointing out a problem with my writing, or do they wish I’d written a different story with different characters?” It takes practice to discern that difference.

Not too bad for seven months of experimentation, eh?

What’s Next?

MOAR books of course! Now that I’ve set a sane-but-swift writing pace, I want to maintain it. As planned, I’m going to swing over to work on my Emerald City Spies series next. My overarching goal is to wrap up all my series-in-progress, and after three cute-and-fun cozies in a row I’m in the mood to hang out with my devious business bitches for a while. 😜 I have a couple more cruise cozies to develop, and I’m also doing prep-work for a Kat Voyzey PI novel.

Onward!

PS: My next cozy mystery is out in one week on May 15th.

Pre-order The Case of the Floating Funeral 

Beginnings Always Feel This Way

Good morning, world.

Today’s post comes to you live from the land of I finished my next novel and I’m full of emotions. That’s right. The Case of the Floating Funeral is written and it’s time to switch over to copyediting and proofreading mode. And I’ll probably end up rewriting the final scene a few more times in the process. Gotta stick that landing, you know?

Finishing a novel is such a strange feeling. On the one hand, you feel proud and happy. Yet at the exact same time you want to nudge your manuscript under a rug with your foot while pointing to your left and shouting “look, a bunny!” At least that’s how it goes for me. Preparing a creative work for sale always results in conflicted emotions:

I AM AMAZING AND THE WORLD MUST KNOW

I TOTALLY SUCK AND I SHOULD HIDE

Strange, right? Pride and fear manage to live side-by-side on days like today.  And they’re both poking me with their bony little fingers. So I try to slap them away. STAAAAAHP IT! 😆

There’s a trick I used back when I did a lot of public speaking. Even though I enjoyed giving talks, my body refused to believe that I liked it.  My heart would race and my palms would sweat. My smile felt like a fakey-fake sticker affixed to my face. I could even hear my pulse in my ears. And let me tell you, when your logic-circuits tell you that you’re going to do just fine but your body insists that you’re about to be eaten by a rabid grizzly bear, it’s extremely annoying. So I had a trick I borrowed from another consultant: I’d notice my body freaking out (like it always did) and I’d say to myself: It’s fine! I’m just revving my engine at the starting line.

When emotions won’t listen to reason, you can reframe them a little. Sometimes it even helps to mock them. Ah, yes. Here come my emotions! Those drama queens. Flipping out right on schedule.

So that’s where I’m at today, blog buddies. I finished another manuscript. The Case of the Floating Funeral will be my seventh novel.  Woot! And my emotions are going haywire. So I’ll take a breath here and say: It’s fine. I’m just revving my engine at the starting line. There’s nothing wrong. Beginnings always feel this way.

And it works!

It works because it’s true.

 

PS: You can get notified when my book goes live.

Death Valley Dreamscapes

Patrick stands on a white path made of salt looking at distant mountains. A panorama of a brown rumply mountain rising up behind a flat plain of white salt and brown earth A panorama of the salt flats of Death Valley. The salt has risen from the earth forming a lattice-like pattern of rough diamonds with flat centers and roughened margins of earth.

In Death Valley we walked across a sea of salt surrounded by distant mountains. We saw pink and green and purple mountains. Rippling dunes of soft sand. Martian hills dotted with angular black stones. Alien landscapes. Impossible vistas.

Was Death Valley a real place, or did I dream it? I have photos… but I still can’t be sure.

Pagination