Tag Archives: writing advice

One Writer’s Journey: Exercising the Writing Muscle

At the Essa Public Library in Angus, ON

This past Saturday, I was invited to a “Meet the Local Author” event at the Essa Public Library in Angus, Ontario. There was a terrific turnout, and I was able to chat with a number of attendees before and after the event. One of the most common questions I get asked, both at events, and during author interviews, is if I have any writing advice. In my February 17th post, I talked about becoming a professional writer, with a nod to  the queen of the amateur sleuth mystery, Agatha Christie.

But what if you’re not quite ready to become a “professional writer?” What if you just want to hone your craft? Here’s the best advice I can give you:

Make time to write every day. The writing muscle is like any other muscle; the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.

If you exercise regularly, you know the truth of this statement. Exercise regularly and you start to feel better. Stronger. Suddenly, you’re making better food choices. You’re parking as far away from the mall entrance as you can, instead of circling around the wheelchair accessible parking, looking for a spot right next to it. You’re in control and proud of it.

You also know that a couple of days off can lead to a week off, which can lead to a month off…and before you know it, you’re sitting on the couch, eating junk food, watching reality TV, and feeling sorry for yourself. What the heck happened to that buff-body-in-progress?

The same thing can happen with writing. As long as you’re writing every day—even if it’s just for thirty minutes—you’ve got a work-in-progress. Maybe it isn’t perfect, maybe it’s not even very good…but as every day goes by, it gets better, easier. It becomes something to look forward to, instead of something to avoid. It becomes part of your daily routine.

You don’t have to start big. Even marathon runners start with that first mile and gradually add more distance every week. Writing is no different. Think of it as a word marathon and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

SPECIAL UPDATE: The Kindle version of Skeletons in the Attic is on sale for $1.99 (regular price $4.99) until March 15th. Find it on Amazon.  US & UK only.

Interview with an Author: Sherry Harris, ad writer turned mystery author

51eqctkkoalSherry Harris, a former director of marketing for a financial planning company, decided writing fiction couldn’t be that different than writing ads. She couldn’t have been more wrong, but eventually because of a series of fortunate events and a great many people helping her along the way, Kensington published the Agatha nominated Tagged For Death, the first in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. Other titles include: The Longest Yard Sale, All Murders Final. AGood Day To Buy comes out in April 2017.

Sherry honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country, while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the series. Sherry is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters In Crime, the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters In Crime, where she serves as President.

Judy: Tell us a bit about your most recent novel, All Murders Final.

ALL MURDERS FINAL mech.inddSherry: All Murders Final is the third book of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. It’s winter in Ellington, Massachusetts, and Sarah has to come up with a plan for her garage sale business. She starts a virtual garage sale thinking that online she can avoid cranky customers but soon she’s getting death threats. When Sarah finds a client is murdered, one she had an argument with the night before, she doesn’t know who to trust online or off.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Sherry: I’ve wanted to write every since I read the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. From a young age Betsy wants to be a writer. She loves to write in a tree behind her house and a cigar box holds her pencils and notebooks. I even went as far as to try writing in a tree when I was young. Balancing on a limb while writing, wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounded in the book! But it was those books that sparked my interest in writing.

Judy: Describe a typical day in your life.

51z8lzdbvhlSherry: I’m lucky enough to have a home office to write in. I like it quiet but can tune out the noise of my family. My desk faces a window that looks out over a wooded area. Sometimes I think I should turn my desk to the wall because it’s easy to get distracted by a bird or neighbor going by. I don’t keep set writing hours. It depends on the day and what’s going on. My three best times of day are around 10:00 am, 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. I find setting a word count works better for me than keeping hours. I usually try to write between 1000 to 1500 words a day. Sometimes I take the weekends off but the closer I get to a deadline the less likely that is.

Judy: What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given?

Sherry: The best writing advice I ever got was from author John Dufresne. It’s two bits actually. The first being: sit your butt in the chair. You aren’t ever going to write if you don’t and reading about writing or researching don’t count as writing. Second was his advice on what to do if you get stuck. John recommended looking around, write down everything your protagonist can see, hear, and feel. It’s gotten me unstuck every time. Most of that writing gets tossed out but it’s the process of moving on that’s important.



Find out more about Sherry Harris on her website.

Interview with an Author: B.K. Stevens Talks about Writing Short Vs. Long

Fighting Chance CoverI first met award-winning author B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens at Bouchercon Raleigh, when a large contingent of authors from the Short Mystery Fiction Society met for lunch. It was a huge thrill for me, because I have enjoyed many of her stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. For those of you just getting to know Bonnie, here’s her official bio:

B.K. (Bonnie) Stevens wrote Interpretation of Murder (Black Opal Books), a traditional whodunit offering insights into deaf culture, and Fighting Chance (Poisoned Pen), a young adult martial arts mystery. She’s also published over 50 short stories, most in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Eleven of those stories are included in Her Infinite Variety: Tales of Women and Crime (Wildside Press). B.K. has won a Derringer and has been nominated for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.

Judy: You’re visiting today to talk about writing short vs. long. Tell us a bit about your process, and how it differs (if it differs) based on the length of the story.

41EFpUvzGOL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Bonnie: Once I get started on a project, I follow the same basic writing process, whether I’m working on stories or novels. I take many pages of not-quite-freewriting notes as I develop characters, work through plot problems, explore themes, and so on. Then I write the first draft quickly, revise and edit endlessly, proofread carefully.

So the stages in the process don’t vary much, but the amount of time I devote to stages might. If I’m working on a mini-mystery for Woman’s World, for example, I don’t take detailed notes about characters. Since a 700-word limit doesn’t allow much time for character development, I rely on types—kindly old aunt, greedy nephew, savvy police detective. For novels or longer stories, I write biographical sketches of major characters, packed with background information that may never make it into print but helps me understand the characters.

Before the writing process starts, there’s a crucial decision: Is this idea right for a mini-mystery, a longer story, or a novel? If the plot hinges on a single twist, a mini-mystery might be the best choice. A highly eccentric protagonist might amuse readers in a longer story but start getting on their nerves in a novel. A theme that requires characters to undergo gradual changes might work better in a novel than a story.

 Judy: You’ve had over 50 short stories published. Do you have a favorite, and if so, why?

perf6.000x9.000.inddBonnie: If I may, I’ll mention two favorites. Both first appeared in Hitchcock’s and are included in Her Infinite Variety. “Thea’s First Husband,” a dark suspense story, focuses on a troubled marriage that comes to a crisis when a scheming private detective exploits the husband’s suspicions and the wife’s resentment. “Death in Rehab” is a humorous whodunit set at a center for people with unusual addictions—a Jeopardy! fanatic who always speaks in the form of a question, a compulsive proofreader who can’t stop correcting other people’s grammar, and so on. The two stories differ in tone, in theme, in almost everything. But I hope both have endings that leave readers saying, “I should have seen that coming—but I didn’t.” That’s something I always try to achieve in mysteries, to be absolutely fair with readers but still give them twists they didn’t expect.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Bonnie: My father was an English professor and a fiction writer. It’s probably no coincidence I became an English professor and a fiction writer. I have warm memories of sitting on the floor of his study, doing my homework while he wrote novels on his manual typewriter. He never achieved much success, but he loved writing, he worked hard at it, and I loved everything he wrote.

Judy: Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Bonnie: Naming my favorite book of all time is difficult—the books I admire most aren’t necessarily the ones I return to most often. Naming my favorite mystery is easy: Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. It was the first mystery I read as an adult—first since my Nancy Drew days—and it surprised me. I’d never imagined a mystery could have such an engaging plot, so much humor, or such complex, delightful characters; I’d never guessed it could portray relationships with such subtlety or explore themes with such insight. And at the end, when plot and theme came together beautifully, when clues fell into place in a way that had never occurred to me but instantly made perfect sense, it took my breath away.

Thank you, Bonnie (and by the way, Thea’s First Husband is one of my all-time favorite short stories by any author).

Picture BKS



Find B.K. Stevens on her website/blog, on Amazon, and on Facebook.


Before They Were Authors: Sara Jayne Townsend

Suffer The Children 200X300I’m excited  to introduce a new series, “Before They Were Authors.” My first guest is Sara Jayne Townsend, a UK-based writer of crime and horror fiction, and author of the Shara Summers amateur sleuth series (DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL available now; book 3 will be released in 2017). Her latest release is the supernatural horror novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN, from MuseItUp PublishingDeath Scene 200x300







Judy: What was the worst job you ever had, and how has it influenced your writing?

Sara: I once spent three years working as Office Manager for a very small company owned by a man who was a complete bully. He was also the youngest child in a rather large family and I think was too used to getting his own way. He used to yell at people all the time, including me, if things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. I used to yell back and then go storming back to my desk, which in retrospect wasn’t the best way to handle things – especially since most of the time it was just the two of us in the office. I stayed in that job far longer than I should have done, because I didn’t want to leave until I had another job lined up, but my confidence took such a beating working there it took me a while to find something else. After I left the company I got my revenge, though. I turned that bullying boss into a character in the next novel, and I made a point of killing him off. It was most cathartic.

 Judy: What made you decide to become a writer?

Sara: I didn’t so much decide, it was decided for me. I was writing stories from being quite young – pretty much from the time I learned how to write, and it was the only thing, from childhood, that I was any good at. I was hopeless at sports, I struggled with maths, but writing stories – that I seemed to be able to do, with ease. I was ten years old when I decided that the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was a published novelist. To me it seemed like destiny, rather than a conscious choice. It took me thirty years to achieve it, mind.

Judy: Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

As per the above, don’t give up. The path to success is paved with a hell of a lot of rejections. And keep on writing. No one is born a best-selling novelist. Like any craft, the only way to get better at writing is to keep on doing it.

I would also add to this, don’t be in a hurry to give up the day job if you want to be able to afford to eat. Contrary to popular myth, most writers are not raking in the money, and quite a lot of us find it necessary to work around the day job if we want to be able to pay the mortgage.

sara-113-Web (2)Find Sara and her other books on Amazon (US) and UK. Find her website at http://sarajaynetownsend.weebly.com/ and her blog at https://sayssara.wordpress.com/.



Goddess Fish: Laura’s Thoughts and Reviews

Its Raining Flowers-Banner-Non-ParaThe final stop in my Goddess Fish tour is on Laura’s Thoughts and Reviews. Unlike most traditional reviewers, Laura asked me questions about my favorite TV shows, and my favorite meal. Here’s my response to the latter:

Cheese pizza, no other toppings, and a side salad with balsamic dressing. There’s a pizzeria in East Gwillimbury, Ontario, called Coccelli’s. I love their pizza slices, so whenever I’m in the area, which isn’t all that often, I stop by. But any cheese take-out pizza with a thin or regular crust works for me. It’s the ultimate comfort food, though my homemade macaroni and cheese comes a close second, and I make a mean veggie lasagna. Do you sense a cheese theme happening here?

Laura also asked me for suggestions for beginning writers. Here’s what I had to offer:

1) The writing muscle is like any other muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.
2) Don’t wait for the muse to come to you: write every day. Some days the muse will show up, and some days it won’t, but at least you’ll be ready in case she comes to visit.
3) There is no wrong or right way to write your story, and there is no magic software solution. Even diehard Scrivener users (I’m not a fan, but I know plenty of writers who use it) have to get the story down, one word at a time.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.



THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE is available in trade paperback and eBook at all the usual suspects. Find it at a bookseller near you! 

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Interview with an Author: Cori Lynn Arnold on Setting

Cori Lynn Arnold

Cori Lynn Arnold

In 2016, I plan to continue my bi-weekly “Interview with” Series (alternate weeks will feature posts on the writing life by yours truly), but this year I’m doing something a little bit different: I’m asking each guest to talk about a specific element of the writing process. That brings me to the introduction of my first guest: Cori Lynn Arnold, who is going to discuss the importance of setting in a story.

I first met Cori Lynn Arnold at Bloody Words 2014 in Toronto and we now connect through Sisters in Crime Guppies, where Cori volunteers as WebGuppy. This past summer, I won a copy of Cori’s most recent novel, NORTHERN DECEIT. I thoroughly enjoyed the read, especially the way Cori used the location of North Pole, Alaska, as a character that was every bit as important to the story as her protagonist. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Angry over being kicked off a case in Rochester, New York, Detective Louis Baker makes a rash decision to fly to Alaska when her partner, Detective Bert Hicks, calls from North Pole, Alaska. Not only is his mother missing, but he needs to be bailed out of jail. When his mother’s charred body is found down a desolate road, her secret life begins to unfold, and the harsh Alaskan wilderness becomes as formidable as finding the killer.

north-pole-ak-where-itJudy:  What made you choose North Pole, Alaska, in NORTHERN DECEIT?

Cori: Write what you know, they say. I know North Pole since I lived there for almost fifteen years on and off throughout my life. I like the idea of my characters having secrets they hold back, and I couldn’t blame Hicks for not wanting to tell people he is from Alaska until it was necessary (like calling from jail for help from his partner). Though I’m more apt to tell people I’m from Connecticut (where I now live), I was pretty hesitant for a while due to the loaded questions involving a certain Tina Fey look-a-like. And no, I cannot see Russians from my front door.

Judy: What were the advantages and disadvantages of using a real place, vs. a fictional one?

Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska http://www.santaclaushouse.com/

Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska www.santaclaushouse.com

Cori: What’s nice about using North Pole, specifically, is that I don’t just know about the locations, but the history of the locations. Everywhere has quirks, and North Pole’s spread out rural landscape, Santa Claus House, and kitschy street names make for realistic details you’d have a hard time making up.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Cori: I spent four months slowly being laid off from my tech job in late 2011. I’d had a dozen or so ideas for novels (including one in 4th grade) and always put them aside as I’d been too busy. But after a month I was ready to do something productive. I had an idea, some characters, and I just started writing. I had a brilliant time, met some new people, and felt like I was doing something productive.

Judy: What advice and/or resources would you recommend for aspiring writers?

Cori: I went to a workshop at Left Coast Crime last year where Robert Dugoni described his self-driven writing program instead of getting an MFA. He read a series of writing books, best-selling fiction and took extensive notes on both. I’ve approached my writing similarly. I read as much as I can, usually early in the morning, making notes of what I like in plot, description or pace. And I read writing methodology books like Lawrence Block’s Writing the Novel.

Judy: Do you have a favorite book of all time? 

Cori: I will buy a copy of the Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger every time I see it in the store. I’ve thrust that book in many people’s hands.

Judy: What are you currently reading?

Cori: My nightstand has John Grisham’s The Innocent Man and in the living room I’m reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I have novels started on my phone and iPad as well. My “hurry up and wait” life requires a lot of fiction.

Judy: What’s next for Cori Lynn Arnold?

Cori: I have three novels in various states of completion, mostly rough drafts. My plan for 2016 is to have one edited, critiqued, beta read and ready to pitch this fall, specifically for the Crime Bake conference.

Thank you, Cori, for taking the time to visit.

Northern Deceit 200 x 320NORTHERN DECEIT is available at all the usual suspects, including AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo and Smashwords.

Find Cori Lynn Arnold on:





Upcoming: My Publishing Journey: Live Free or Tri

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Interview with an Author: Edith Maxwell

Edith Maxwell

Edith Maxwell

Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her latest book is FLIPPED FOR MURDER, the first in the Country Store Mysteries (October 2015, Kensington Publishing). Maxwell lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. I managed to catch Edith in a spare moment (hard to believe she has any). I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did!

Judy: Tell us a bit about Flipped for Murder.

FlippedcoverEdith: Robbie Jordan is a Californian transplanted to scenic hilly Brown County, Indiana. Her cabinetmaker mom taught her carpentry, but she’s also an accomplished chef, and put both skills to work when she renovated an antique country store and opened Pans ‘N Pancakes, her breakfast-and-lunch restaurant. She likes to get out on her bicycle for exercise, and is a pro crossword puzzler solver at home, which helps when it comes to solving the puzzle that is murder.

FLIPPED FOR MURDER and the following mysteries in the series are set in fictional South Lick in Brown County, where small-town rivalries and gossip vie with the loyalty and support of the local residents. It’s hilly and pretty, with century-old Art Deco style buildings downtown. The artsy (actual) county seat of Nashville is five miles away, and the local (very real) towns of Gnaw Bone and Bean Blossom aren’t far, either.

Judy: What or who inspired you to become a writer?

Edith: I have always written, but I took a several-decades non-fiction break between my story-writing as a child and starting up again with mysteries in my forties. My mother, a big mystery reader herself, said to eight-year-old me, “You’re a good writer.” And I believed her!

Judy: Describe your writing process and/or a typical day in your life.

Edith: I usually write in my upstairs home office, and I’m at work before seven every morning except Sunday. I like it quiet when I write, and for distraction I gaze out the windows to my right and track the goings-on of my street. I do my creative work all morning, then go for a plotting walk and have lunch before doing all the other business of an author in the afternoon.

Judy: What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given? 

Edith: “Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard.” You can’t revise what you haven’t written. The magic of telling the story always comes out of my fingertips once I sit down and start typing.

Judy: What’s next for Edith Maxwell?

Delivering the TruthCoverEdith: With three contracts, I’m always working on the next book. Right now I’m polishing the second Quaker Midwife mystery, and gearing up for the April release of the first one, DELIVERING THE TRUTH.

Find Edith on her website, her Amazon author page, and on Wicked Cozy Authors.




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Interview with an Author: Carol Balawyder

Carol Balawyder

Carol Balawyder

My guest today is Carol Balawyder. Carol holds degrees in both criminology and literature. It is this mixture that brings her to want to write crime novels, but it was her divorce that led her to write fiction about being single in mid-life.

Carol’s short stories have appeared in The Anthology of Canadian Authors Association, Room Magazine, Entre Les Lignes, Mindfulness.org and Carte Blanche. She also manages a blog where she posts series on: Female Nobel Prize Laureates, Famous Writers’ Desks, The Femme Fatale, Interviews with crime writers on How They Got Published, Ten Great First Dates and posts on writing.

Cafe ParadiseJudy: Tell us a bit about your latest novel, Cafe Paradise

Carol: The protagonist in Cafe Paradise is Suzy Paradise (who also was one of the four main characters in Getting To Mr. Right). At fifty-two she’s finally fulfilling a long cherished dream of owning her own café when a giant chain opens across the street. As she fights to save her business she learns to re-define the meaning of work, family and romance so she can find her own formula for happiness.

Cafe Paradise takes place in  two two up-and-coming boroughs in Montreal. Griffintown or The Grif, was quickly becoming a vibrant neighborhood. As part of a revitalization project, the city was building parks, playgrounds and bicycle paths in the area and attracting artists and hi-tech enterprises. It seemed like the perfect place to open a cafe .

The second setting is in The Plateau, specifically Prince Arthur Street. The street had been Montreal’s hippie haven and the home of its counterculture movement in the ‘60s. A number of artists and playwrights still lived around the square.

What’s the best writing advice you have ever read or been given?

There’s so much good writing advice out there. My library is filled with books on writing and I’ve been to many writers’ workshops, writing retreats, conferences and taken several creative writing courses. A great piece of advice I got was at one of Nathalie Goldberg’s workshops: Say what you want to say not what you should say. I learned that if you want to be a writer, look over your shoulder: nobody cares whether you write or not.

For those who might be interested in further reading you can go to my post on http://carolbalawyder.com/2010/11/16/what-i-learned-from-natalie-goldberg-go/

Judy: What advice and/or resources would you recommend for aspiring writers?

Carol: It’s been said so many times before but it’s worth repeating. Write the book you’d love to read.

Judy: What’s next?

Carol: I have two crime novels which are at different stages of editing and I hope to add at least two books to my contemporary fiction series. I also want to continue my blog series on How I Got Published where I interview crime writers. If you’re a crime writer and would like to be featured as a guest, contact me via my website.

Thank you, Carol. 

Thank you so much, Judy, for this opportunity to be on your blog and I wish you all the best in your writing career.



Missi's Dating Adventures








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