Nano Prep #6: Begin With The End in Mind

Happy Sunday,

Today’s post is a continuation of last year’s Nanowrimo Prep series. Today, I’ll write about a technique that I’ve found helpful for preparing my story. And if you’re brand new to writing, skip this one! Today’s post is aimed at those who already have NanoPrep steps 1-5 handled.

In business, a common maxim is to “begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Covey may have coined that phrase, but the concept of aiming at a target is a very old one. And if you intend to write fiction for profit, it helps to have a target in mind. A sense of what you’ll be offering to readers at the end of the process. And that’s why it’s helpful to draft your back-of-the-book blurb before you ever put pen to paper.

Now, blurbs are hard to write! A blurb is a teaser. It says: “This is what my book is about. This is what the central challenge is. And here are some of the emotions you might feel.” Along with the cover art, the blurb is what will get your reader to hit the buy button.

A blurb is also a good test for you, the writer, because by the time you’re done writing it, you should feel a tingle in your body, and the tingle should say “Yeah! I’d want to read that story.” The first draft of your blurb won’t be as concise and snappy as your final version, but writing it out early is helpful. Why? if your blurb doesn’t excite you, and more importantly, if your story doesn’t excite you, you might not be ready to start writing.

In the spirit of showing my work, here’s my rough-draft blurb for Kat Voyzey #4, the book I’m prepping for November.

Kat Voyzey is chasing her dream. But is it about to become a nightmare?

When Kat left her cushy corporate job behind to start her own private investigation firm, she expected to encounter some bumps in the road. And if she’s spending her nights taking photos of philanderers at Seattle’s top ten seediest motels, well, perhaps that’s what it takes to learn the ropes. PI work might rough and tumble, but she’s determined to make a go of it. In time, she’ll find a more inspiring clientele. That is, if she doesn’t go out of business first.

When her friend Akiko tells her about a troubled college student who has gone missing, Kat agrees to track the woman down on behalf of her friends and family. And when the clues lead right back to the young woman’s Roller Derby league, Kat accepts an invitation to gear up and get her skate on. Sporting some killer spandex outfits, a feisty new persona, and too many bruises to count, Kat’s about to get a lesson in fighting hard for what she wants. And the closer to she gets to the truth, the more disturbed she is by what she finds. What started out as a simple track and trace is becoming something far more dangerous.

Worth noting: Whenever I write a blurb for the first time, I hate it. My blurb always feels overly wordy, clunky, and obvious. It doesn’t flow. (this draft isn’t too bad – I’ve been over it a few times – although the ending needs more zing) But  I can read my blurb, and I can feel the tone of it and say, Yeah, that there is the book I want to write. And it’s easier to hit something when you aim at it. 😉 So that’s my advice of the day, Nanowrimo preppers. Begin with the end in mind.

PS: If you want some step-by-step guidance on how to write your end matter (or blurb) I found this book helpful.

More posts about Nano Prep 2019

How the “Seattle Freeze” Inspired my Spy Series

The Book cover for The Assistant next to a black fedora, a black revolver, and a candle.

The first book in my Emerald City Spies series begins with a short prologue written from the perspective of the city itself.

Let’s get one thing straight: Seattle doesn’t care about you.

Oh, we’ve got a reputation for being nice. A lie so old even the locals believe it. But our history speaks a sweeter truth. Seattle’s spirit was forged during the Klondike gold rush. We grew wealthy selling tents and food and sex to starry-eyed prospectors. And today? Different century, same game. Seattle’s always been a company town. We take someone with a vision —  the profitable kind — and line up enough idealists to do the heavy lifting. They work cheap, and we’ve always had a knack for attracting them. Our city thrived on that system, and we’ll always thrive. We pushed gold, then wood, then airplanes, then software, then coffee, then websites that everyone laughed at. But who’s laughing now? Not us! Retail is dead, and houses here start at half a mil.

Progress is what we care about. Growth. Disruption. Change. A hundred years ago, when our hills dared be too tall, our businessmen ground the entire city into rubble, creating a platform upon which bigger and better things could grow. And if certain worthy individuals profit from a city’s transformation, from those cycles of destruction and re-creation, isn’t that only fair? After all, when we push out the old in favor of the new, and our smartest people grow richer, we honor a legacy that goes back to our very founding.

So tell us: What has your city done lately? Are you still waiting for your steel mill to rise from the dead? Or do you reminisce about the good old days while waiting for some smooth-talking politician to save you? Take some advice from the city that knows. Waiting is what kills you. Because winners don’t wait; they take.

The Origins of Emerald City Spies

When I wrote The Assistant I was thinking about:

  • Young people entering the workforce and being stuck in dead-end jobs while laboring under massive debts.
  • Seattle’s history as a ruthless capitalist paradise.
  • Our unearned reputation as a “nice” city.
  • The ways businesses use psychological manipulation to motivate and shape behavior.
  • What power can look like (both for good and evil) as seen through a lens of female agency.
  • My desire to tell a fun, suspenseful, gadget-filled spy story.
  • The imperfect ways we try to protect the people we love.

It’s been fun to write dark and suspenseful fiction! My academic background is in organizational psychology and this series has given me an excuse to consider how how the tools of my trade could be used in a devious fashion. Also, it’s been fun to explore a noir-ish version of Seattle. And as I prepare to turn my attention back to the sweeter and sunnier world of Ellie Tappet, I wanted to share some of the inspiration for this series, particularly the setting, as it has a different tone than my other books.

“Seattle Nice” and the Seattle Freeze

I love Seattle, but my city isn’t perfect. When I walk the streets, talk to people, attend events, and engage in commerce, I feel an energy and a vitality that I rarely experience elsewhere. We’re a city where art and technology smash together. And my city is full of creative, hard-working, and technically adept people. The closest analog for me is New York but Seattle’s energy is of a different flavor. We’re a small city, known for our commerce, natural beauty, and progressive nature. And we’ve enjoyed a positive reputation. But we’re also a city of hustlers. If you dig one inch beneath our shiny steel and glass veneer you’ll find a particularly ruthless form of capitalism here. And I won’t lie; as a businesswoman there’s ambition in my heart, and there’s a certain joy I take in winning, and it’s not always nice.

In Seattle we like to paper over our history to make it sound sweeter and kinder than it actually was. One tiny example: we’re located in King County, a county named for William R. King, a slave owner and US Vice President, and in 2005 the county was “renamed” for Martin Luther King Jr. and a new logo was put into place: MLK’s face is literally our logo. On the surface this seems like a positive change, right? Yet the notion of leaving everything the same and using speeches and a rebranding to make ourselves look good is such a Seattle thing to do. King county became… King county. And we patted ourselves on the back and built our cultural pedestal a little bit higher.

If you’ve ever attended a business event or a potluck in Seattle, you probably found yourself surrounded by warm and friendly people. The business community is so supportive! The emphasis is on collaboration and lifting one another up. But later on when the gathering has dispersed and no one is looking you in the eye any longer, chances are that no one will give you the time of day. Emails are ignored. Calls go unanswered. High-minded intentions dissolve like the foam on your morning latte. This cultural phenomenon, known as “The Seattle Freeze” is often dismissed as an exaggeration, yet it remains a stubborn reality. We have a fiercely individualistic culture here, a what’s-in-it-for-me culture and yet we tend not to view ourselves in that light. And this two-facedness is something that’s long fascinated me about my hometown.

Obviously not everyone who lives here falls into the Seattle stereotypes. You live here long enough and you’ll find your tribe, just as you would anywhere else. But as I said, my city isn’t perfect. 😉

To me, Seattle is energetic, creative, smart, beautiful, and inspiring. It is absolutely my home! But it’s not nice. So when I started my spy series I took my odd little observations about my hometown, sharpened them, darkened them, and formed them into a fictional version of Seattle that still feels real to me: The Dark Emerald City

And I’ve enjoyed my recent time there. __😈 __

Jessica’s Warne’s story will continue in Power Play, coming September 12th! If you’re curious about the series, The Assistant is currently on sale for $2.99 at the following stores:


Apple Books


Barnes & Noble

Google Play


Who Solved It? Puzzling out the Mystery Subgenres

Cash in a suitcase on a dimly lit desk.'

One of the pitfalls of being a mystery writer is that you absorb all the narrative tricks writers use to cover their tracks. This makes it harder for a mystery to stump you! Perhaps that’s why I love Agatha Christie’s mysteries so much. She’s very good at stumping her readers. But there’s more to choosing a mystery than how easy or hard it is to figure out whodunit. Mystery is a category, or genre, of fiction, and you can divide the mystery genre further into subgenres. And by understanding the subgenres, you have a better shot at picking a book that you’ll enjoy.

Today, I’ll break down some of your options.

Mystery Subgenres

Traditional/PI – For traditional mysteries, think about Agatha Christie’s famous investigator, Hercule Poirot, or for a more modern take, Sue Grafton’s beloved private investigator, Kinsey Millhone. In these mysteries, the sleuth has skills, often as part of their job, and the narrative is straightforward crime solving. The protagonist, an expert, but not a cop, is called in to unravel a mystery, and via a combination of fact finding and insights about the human condition they come to a solution and present it in a big dramatic scene at the end, what Futurama once amusingly called “The Accusing Parlor.”  To me, what makes a mystery traditional is some combination of the following:

  • An expert sleuth, called in to help.
  • A suspicious cast of characters, who are often brought together by circumstance, such as a train ride, dinner party, or family gathering. (This is true for traditional mysteries but less true for modern PI mysteries.)
  • A non-obvious solution, which can be determined via a combination of fact-finding and insight into the human condition.
  • A dramatic reveal at the end.
  • The lack of a romantic subplot or secondary story for the sleuth. The protagonist has personal relationships, but they’re mostly window dressing. Traditional mysteries start and end with the crime. “Just the facts, ma’am.”

I adore traditional and PI mysteries. To me, they’re relaxing and engaging. They make you think! An editor I know once jokingly referred to this subgenre as competence porn. It’s nice to see someone smart do their job well, isn’t it? Especially when the puzzle is hard.

By using the traditional mystery as a base, we can tweak the elements to reveal additional subgenres.

Amateur Sleuth – Just like it sounds, the crime solver is an amateur. What makes this fun is that we can relate to the hero or heroine quite well. We imagine ourselves in their shoes! Most amateur sleuth stories have a slant based on the setting and/or profession of the protagonist. The sleuth has a particular role in their community, and we relate to them on that basis. And it’s common for the sleuth to have a friend or a romantic partner in law enforcement. Someone has to bust out the cuffs, right?

Cozy – Cozy mysteries are G or PG rated. No gore, scares, or profanities are allowed in a true cozy. Often times there’s a big focus on the character’s personal relationships, family life, and positive social values. Most sleuths here are amateurs, thus there’s overlap between the Amateur Sleuth and Cozy genres. Cozies have some additional sub-subgenres within them like my cruise ship cozies, or cozies featuring pets, hobbies, or women who bake or quilt. Cozy mystery plots tend to be less suspenseful and less complicated than the other mystery genres. They’re comforting and always have a positive resolution. They’re as warm and fuzzy as a cup of tea and fluffy slippers by the fire. Cozy mysteries can also have a silliness factor. Character flaws and quirks are often exaggerated for comic effect. A good cozy series can make you feel like you’re spending time with old friends; it’s the personalities that bring you back.

Police Procedural – Here, we diverge. In a police procedural, the sleuths are members of law enforcement, and we follow them as they investigate the crime. Typically, a procedural relies less on insight, relationships, and cognitive leaps than a traditional mystery. As the story progresses, the police learn more and so do you. Standard police tropes may be included, such as jurisdictional pissing matches, gun play, and witness interviews. What makes a police procedural fun is that you’re following a process of investigation from A to Z. These are process-driven stories. If you’ve ever imagined yourself as a cop, or if you enjoy the dogged work of chasing down leads, interviewing witnesses, and getting ever closer to the truth, police procedurals may be your jam.

Hardboiled/Noir – In this subgenre you’ll find gritty settings, gruff investigators, political corruption, and possibly a cop or investigator with a drinking problem. There’s a 75% chance of rain and the crime may get ugly.  Protagonists are morally wonky, and there’s a bleakness to the setting that creates a kind of “film noir” feel to the story.

Historical – Just as it sounds, a historical mystery is set in a different time. There are mysteries set in World War II, Victorian-era mysteries, and so on. Agatha Christie once wrote a mystery set in ancient Egypt! Death Comes as the End was written in 1944 and it’s a fun read. Here, you get two stories in one: The mystery, plus a chance to experience a different place in time.

You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned the mystery-adjacent genres of Thriller and Suspense. Those genres overlap with the mystery genre, as they all involve crimes, but they aren’t quite the same thing. Chances are, if your book has a serial killer in it and your protagonist is in physical danger, you’re looking at a thriller, not a mystery. Mysteries revolve around the question: Who committed the crime, how, and why? Thrillers usually involve a protagonist in peril, with the question: How will they escape from danger? I’m simplifying matters, but that’s the gist.

After reading about the mystery subgenres you might already be getting a sense for where your preferences lie. Personally, I enjoy traditional mysteries best, and I have a lot of love for amateur sleuths too. That’s why you’ll see me sliding back and forth between those genres in my own novels. The Case of the Floating Funeral is a cozy, but it has elements of a traditional mystery too, with the “cast of characters thrown together” at the funeral, and the big reveal in the parlor at the end.

And wow, we haven’t even talked about the flavorings an author can sprinkle atop these subgenres, have we? A mystery can be historical or current, silly or serious, emotional or as dry as a bone. Some include elements of the paranormal, while others are purely rational and contain painstakingly detailed depictions of proper police procedure and forensics. Your sleuths can be American, British, or of any nationality. They can come from any culture and have widely different values. The crimes can be simple crimes of passion in a village or grand conspiracies with a global reach. We can dig down deep into the psyche of a murderer with a psychological profiler at the police department or enjoy a pleasant problem-solving romp with a traditional mystery, maybe one set in a spooky mansion just for kicks.

Now that you know the basics, you can take most of these mystery subgenres and add them to any number of modifiers to seek out a more specific variant. Paranormal Amateur Sleuth Mysteries. Historical Cozy Mysteries. British Traditional Mysteries. Scandinavian Noir. There’s so much good stuff out there!

And if you’re lucky, eventually you’ll run across unique type of mystery known as an unreliable narrator mystery. That’s when the person narrating the story turns out to be the murderer! When it’s done well, these stories are incredibly fun. Unfortunately, I can’t name any of them as it will spoil the surprise. Agatha Christie wrote a few and if you read her novels you’ll run across them.

Why We Love Mysteries

In a big picture sense, the mystery genre appeals to me because it’s satisfying to seeing all the threads tied up at the end. Romance readers want their “happily ever after” and most of us mystery readers want “justice served.” It’s a good feeling to know that you can close the book knowing that all will be right with the world. There’s a comfort to the completion of a good mystery, a sensation that wrongs have been righted. The good guys (and gals) may have struggled, but they’ve won. The real world doesn’t always give us that, does it? But a good mystery novel can.

A Mini-Decision Tree

If you’re not sure where to begin, here’s one way to narrow your choices down:

Do you want an expert sleuth?

– Traditional/PI Subgenre  (Solved by clever sleuths with insights into the human condition.)
– Police Procedural  (Solved by robust police work.)

Amateur Sleuth (A relatable protagonist with a particular role in the community)
Cozy (Warm and fuzzy stories without swears or big scares)

If you want international flavor: Depending upon where you live, try British, American, African, or Scandinavian variants. Note: Scandinavian mysteries lean noir. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunlight?

If you want a different era: Try a historical mystery from your favorite time period and place.

If you want mysteries mixed with steamy romance: Try romantic suspense. That’s a specific genre that mixes romance with either a thriller or a police procedural.

Lastly, there’s nothing wrong with not caring for a particular type of mystery. Follow your bliss! For example, I don’t enjoy romantic suspense. To me, reading romantic suspense makes my brain go: crime-yay-crime-yay-crime-NIPPLES and I want to scream and throw the book across the room like it’s a spider crawling over my hand. Which is admittedly odd, given that I have no problem with sex scenes generally. But when it comes to my mysteries I want my sleuths to leave it in their pants. BOUNDARIES, PEOPLE. WE’RE WORKING HERE.  Lol.

The more you read, the more you’ll discover your own preferences. They might even vary depending upon what’s going on in your life! I read cozy mysteries primarily over the holiday season (when I’m feeling cozy), and I like a scary thriller when I’m on an airplane (remember airplanes?), probably because they help me forget that I’m trapped in a pressurized tube soaring through the sky. Police procedurals are great for coping with life’s more chaotic moments. Procedurals are orderly, dammit, and sometimes we need that! Really, picking the right mystery novel can be like picking the mood you’re looking for that day.

I hope this post was helpful. Happy reading!

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.


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

Pre-order The Case of the Floating Funeral