Blog | M. E. Maki

We are moving into another technology era of hybrid meetings. As organizations try to coax their participants back into meeting rooms, library’s, etc., many enjoy the convenience of attending from home via Zoom, Google Meet, Go to Meeting, etc. Whether it’s a busy schedule, home responsibilities, or distance, on-line meetings provide inclusion. On October 19 I gave a hybrid author talk to the Edith B. Ford Library in Ovid, New York. The next day, I gave a hybrid author talk to the Newfield Public Library in Newfield, New York. I live in Connecticut. It was such fun to have patrons attending from either the library or on Zoom. I look forward to doing more of these talks. At the end of each presentation, I asked the patrons to develop a character that I could use in a book. We had such fun!! The patrons let their creative juices flow and came up with two great characters. The Ovid Library patrons developed a male; the Newfield patrons wanted theirs to be a female. We ended up with two characters that could play off one another. This process gives me an incentive to start another story.  I just have to develop a story around these two characters. Their names: Autumn Whitcomb, the man is Yuri with the last name starting with R. [Posted 1 Nov 2022]

It’s been a busy summer finishing editing and publishing my fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery, Deadly Secrets. Although life as slowed down a bit - much needed - I immediately got back to working on the story I started in late 2019. I’d been asking myself the required question for every writer: What is the story about? And couldn’t come up with a good answer. Or, too many answers. I finally settled on one culprit, the root cause, and am again reworking the story. I will use most of what I wrote in late 2019 and early 2020, I also have a new protagonist, Detective Alexander Parker, and his mirror character, writer Kara Ashton. I’m excited to see where these two take the story. I’m up for the ride. [Posted 30 Aug 2022]

I’m pleased to announed that my friend Andrea Zimmermann has published her mystery, “Legacy of Lies.” “This layered story sweeps a full cast into the mayhem as a book theft quickly escalates into blackmail and murder. The key to unraveling the mystery is hidden in the history of the town’s now-abandoned Marchfield Mental Hospital. What dark secret from the past could wreak such havoc now?” I just receieved my copy, read the first page and am hooked!! Andrea pulls the reader right into the story, right into the characters. You can find “Legacy of Lies” on Amazon. Search the title and Zimmermann and it will come right up. Also available in Kindle version. [Posted 13 Nov 2021]

Update: Due to the sudden death of my husband, two days before I was to give the presentation on Journaling/Memoir Writing in January, that didn’t happen. I hope to be able to have it rescheduled at a later date if the library continues its Zoom presentations.

In the meantime, as mentioned on the front page of this site, I am working on the last chapters of the fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery, titled Deady Secrets. Caitlyn is in the Adirondack town of Pont-Aven and finds herself trying to solve two crimes and a possible case of fraud. She is way over her head, but needs to prove to herself (and Ethan) that she can do this. [Posted 31 May 2021] 

In January I’ll be giving a Zoom presentation to the patrons of the Edith B. Ford Memorial Library in Ovid, New York. I suggested the topic of journaling/memoir and writing life stories. Memoirs are about one facet of your life. Life stories is writing about all facets of your life. It is how I write. When we lived in Newtown, CT, I belonged to a memoir writing group. We met monthly and over a couple of years, several of us produced books that were ready to be bound. My “memoir” (actually life stories) was from birth to marriage. Now in Fredericksburg, VA, I’m in another memoir writing group. My challenge is to write my life stories from marriage to present. A long span of time. I debated how to manage this? And decided I’d divide the chapters into the five places we’ve lived during our marriage. Recent additions to my life stories book has been in a sub-chapter titled 2020. 

IMG 0698

My first “memoir” book

Growing Up in Willow Creek

In my January presentation, I’ll encourage those present to start keeping a journal, if they haven’t already. There are no rules, no one to judge. Just your own personal thoughts, feelings, and this year, documenting a historical period. How did we manage? There were bad times, obviously, but also some good. People have been creative, and we’ve figured out new ways to get things done. Accept the things we have no contol over.  On this December 23, 2020 day, I wish all my readers a very happy, safe, healthy and creative new year. [Posted 23 December 2020] 

My daughter encouraged me to continue the Immunity book and work with an adjusted plot line. But I’ve been busy with Caitlyn and Ethan’s investigations as well as having my Fatal Dose cover redone so I could put it into a large print version. That’s accomplished, so I’ll see if I can juggle writing two books!

Well over a year ago I started a suspense story that featured a supervirus. If you’ve read my previous blogs you will know how devastated I was in March when Novel Covid-19 stole my plot line, almost to the letter. So close, in fact, I thought I might have a lawsuit against China for copyright infringement. LOL I put that manscript aside and started on my fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery. In a recent visit with our daughter, she encouraged me to pick up my suspense story, and work in some of the recent developments. Story is about character and I’d developed two new characters that I’d hoped readers would love. So I’m taking her advice and going to revisit this manuscript, add to the plot line and see where it ends up. Stay tuned for the adventures of Alaina and Denton, in a story with the working title: “Immunity."

In March one of the CRRL librarians asked me to give a presentation at their writers conference in November this year. They wanted a presentation on process. I didn’t hesitate. I said I’d do a presentation on the importance of writing scenes. Why? Because scenes are the building blocks of any prose story, no matter what genre. Like a book, each scene can be viewed as a three act play. They have a beginning, middle and end. I’ll cover the requirements of each scene, helpful questions to ask as you progress, character development, point of view, whether to be a plotter, pantser, or plantser, and scene management techniques. 

Progress Report - 2 July 2020 - The update on the landing page explains my progress on the fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery. I’m also developing a presentation on writing scenes that I hope to give in early November at the Central Rappahannock Library’s Writers Conference held at the University of Mary Washington Stafford Campus. To prepare for this presentation, I’ve read several books and pulled out the Writers Digest articles I’d saved on writing scenes. My head is swimming with information. Now I have to consolidate all that information and organize it into understandable chunks. When that’s done, I’ll develop a keynote presentation to go along with the talk. Because we all need a break, I’ve recently turned my attention to working on my Agard family genealogy. I’d done a lot on it in the early 2000s, but so much more information is available. I can recheck citations and add new information as I flesh out this family line that came to America in 1683.

I saw an article this morning in the Ithaca Voice of a new independent book store. Odyssey Bookstore at 115 West Green Street, Ithaca, NY was scheduled to open in early March. Sigh. The space is lovely (from the pictures I saw). I encourage readers to support this independent book store. Check out the website and order from Laura Larson instead of Amazon. It is my wish to be added to her local author collection.

Progress Report - 6 May 2020 - My BFF and writing partner continue to send each other our Saturday progress reports. It is a great way to keep motivated with our writing projects. I’m trying something new with Caitlyn and Ethan in this fourth book. At this point they are working individual cases and I’ll see how that turns out. In the meantime, I get episodes of quarantine fatigue syndrome, and on days when I can’t get motivated to write, I do some research, watch an episode of Great Courses on writing or the topic I want to learn about for my plot line. I am also preparing a keynote presenation and handout on writing scenes that I have been asked to give at the library’s fall conference. I am thankful I have so many options to stay busy. 

Progress Report - 4 April 2020 In my COVID-19 update on the home page I shared what I’m working on and that I’ve emotionally worked through the saving of my suspense story. I recovered from my despair over the story line and am taking advantage of these trying times to dig deeper into the event, deeper into the characters, and take the opportunity to share my beliefs on the state of our health care system. It will be my biggest challenge, but I’m ready to take it on. In the meantime, I’ve started another Caitlyn Jamison mystery. As I mentioned on the home page, it is good to be working with these characters again. Still working on developing an interesting plot line - have a couple in mind - so stay tuned to see how that turns out. In the meantime, stay safe, stay inside (difficult, I know), and learn what you can do to bolster your immune system. For many, this will mean giving up life long habits - “junk” food, processed food, too much gluten, too much sugar. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables … and exercise. 

Coincidence or just bad luck?Or, if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.My last blog mentioned how with each story line I came up with, real life issues happened. My latest plot line that I came up with at the end of 2018 … has now blown up into a real life crisis. And has blown my story out of the water. Not to be deterred, I am working on an alternate plot line that will save my characters. In the meantime, I’ve also started another Caitlyn Jamison mystery. Shelting in place? Nothing new for writers. We are used to hours in the house with our characters as company. For the wanna be writers, no excuse now. Seat in the chair, jot down those scenes that are in your head. Flesh out those characters that have been talking to you. Maybe start your own NANOWRIMO - set a writing goal for this next week. Then the week after. Be productive in this downtime. If everyone will shelter in place, the quicker we’ll be rid of this horrible virus.

I am a fan of NCIS and according the Leroy Jethro Gibbs, there are no coincidences. 

Consequently, I am going to say that it is serendipity that after deciding the main plot line for each of my four books, that plot line became a news worthy social or environmental issue. Having that happen provided me with a lot of up to date information on each of those issues. 

In The Death of Cassie White, I chose a little known issue, which was the large uranium ore deposit in southwestern Virginia. I thought it would be neat to educate readers on this subject. But true to form, when I was well into the book, an article appeared in the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star about a company trying to get the uranium mining moratorium overturned. Again. The company was turned down. The risk too great, says the state legislature. 

About a year and a half ago I decided on a topic for my suspense story. I remembered a library presentation I attended in 2005 or 2006 about preparing for a pandemic. The doctor who presented told us about keeping a pandemic pantry with supplies for at least three months. He also explained it wasn’t if, but when a pandemic strikes, there will be a domino-like effect of loss of services. Maybe truck drivers are ill and can’t deliver groceries, or water treatment plant employees fall ill. He told us the population of the area against how many hospital beds would be available to treat.He said physicians from Western Connecticut and New York State had been meeting to prepare for such an event. 

I am well into my suspense story with the working title - Immunity. And guess what? The coronavirus has hit threatening the world with a possible pandemic. I guess I’ll have to be careful about choosing my plot lines in the future!  [Posted 4 February 2020]

Death of Cassie White now in Large Print version
Readers asked and I responded. I’m excited to announce that my latest book is now available in Large Print. It can be purchased on Amazon. Search The Death of Cassie White Large Print and it should come right up. The cost is $20.00. I am so thankful that my cover designer reformatted the cover specs for the large print version at no extra cost. Thank you Deb at  Six Penny Graphics in Fredericksburg. Signed books are always available from me. See the contact form for information.

Cassie White on the Road
I gave my first author talk yesterday since the recent publication of The Death of Cassie White. I had been invited to talk to the residents at the Chancellor’s Village Independent and Assisted Living facility in Fredericksburg, VA. What a beautiful facility - I was so honored to be asked. Their recreation director, Krista explained they have monthly themes and October’s theme was “Mysteries.” She Googled and found me here … my website. There was a nice turnout to my talk and a delightful audience. We shared a lot of laughs as I entertained them with experiences and what I had learned along my writing journey. They were especially amazed when I shared how in each book the characters took over and changed the story. At the end Krista and I both encouraged the group to write. Memoir writing or journaling. In fact, by the end Krista said she would set aside an hour each week for a journaling session. They would sit around a table and write during that time. This, I’m sure, would lead to sharing, encouragement, and laughts. I left there energized with the enthusiasm and pleased that maybe in some small way I may have encouraged these folks to write and share their life stories. [Posted 17 October 2019]

Third Caitlyn Jamison Mystery - The Death of Cassie White
I’ve been working hard to finish this third book. I am now in the proof editing stage, which I encourage all authors to do. It is a very different experience when you actually hold the book in your hand and read it. I am very impressed with the upgrade in cover stock that Kindle is providing. Love the feel of the book in my hands. 

Savannah Suspense: Instead of starting another webpage to report progress on my suspense set in Savannah, Georgia, I decided to use this blog. I’m having fun with this new project, because there is no pressure to get it done.  I’m developing characters, and letting the story unfold. I have a talented fiction critique group that is guiding me along the way. I am developing Chapters Five through Seven now and will see what the group thinks about those this coming Wednesday. In the meantime, the protagonist, Alaina Carter and the City of Savannah are facing a potential crisis. How will it be resolved? I’m waiting for my characters to figure it out. [Posted 31 August 2019]

August 2019 Update: Beta reader comments are back and incorporated into the manuscript. The process now is to read the book as a reader and not as a writer. It is a completely different feel. I’m reading the manuscript curled up on our comfy couch and it is amazing the changes I'm making in the document. I love this part of the process, because I am honing the story, really getting into the character-from a different viewpoint. Still hoping to make a fall publication date.

I signed up wth the CRRL 3rd Annual Writers Conference on November 2. This year it will be held at the University of Mary Washington’s Stafford Campus, just up the road from where I live. A larger venue with lots of parking - yeah! Scheduling book fair events and holiday craft fairs, and have a November 4 presentation at the CRRL Snow Branch library to talk about the writing life and NANOWRIMO. [posted 8 August 2019]

I’m also working on my first suspense story. This came about because characters popped into my head wanting their story to be told. It isn’t easy juggling two books at one time, but I’m managing. Although working full out to finish the third Caitlyn Jamison mystery, I try to make some progress on the suspense story. The story is set in Savannah, Georgia, one of our favorite places. The protagonist, retired CDC scientist, Alaina Carter, has turned to writing to ease the heartache of her husband’s unexpected death. But her former partner, Denton, persuades her into helping him with a very unfortunate turn of events. This is not all Alaina has to deal with. I’m happy to report that CRRL Fiction Critique Group felt I’d achieved the right pace for a suspense story, and are looking forward to reading more of the story next month. [posted 8 August 2019]

The Death of Cassie White manuscript is off to three beta readers. I am so thankful to them for sharing their time and talent to help me produce a better book. Whlle I wait for their comments, I plan to make progress on my suspense story that is set in Savannah, Georgia. This book has been put aside while I worked hard to finish Cassie White. 

Unlike the Caitlyn Jamison series, the Savannah story doesn’t have a title yet. There may be a hint here at the end of Chapter Three when police officer Denton Parker asks his former special ops partner Alaina Carter if she remembers a case.

“Five years ago when we infiltrated that small terrorist cell in North Africa, do you remember the town with bodies everywhere, with coloring similar to this?” he asked.

“Of course I remember. The entire town had been wiped out by a pandemic,” Alaina replied.

“Is this the same kind of coloration?” Denton asked.

“I can’t say for sure, but if it is, we’ve got a problem.”
[Posted 9 June 2019]

The Death of Cassie White
Aka CJ3, or the third book in the Caitlyn Jamison series. It has a name and a cover photo. I’m working on the back cover synopsis. The first full manuscript edit is complete, beta readers lined are up and ready. The manuscript is resting in the top file drawer next to my desk. The intense first deep edit is exhausting. I need time away and then will delve get back into it with fresh eyes/mind. While the book is resting, I’m researching my suspense story that’s set in Savannah, GA. Had a false start with it until I realized I needed to ask myself. What’s one of the scariest things that could happen? With that defined, I could plan the plot line and characters. Been reading several books on the subject - no spoiler alert yet - and this weekend started to reread the book “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell. It is a wonderful refresher and stimulates ideas. Mr. Bell suggests using the three act structure - beginning, middle, end. And then what pushes the protagonist through the door to the next stage. [Posted 29 April 2019]

Passive Voice

One of the issues Prowritingaid finds in my writing is use of passive voice. Their latest blog contains an article, “Why Passive Voice is Dangerous.” It is the best explanation that I’ve come across. Basically, using passive voice takes the question away from an act and puts the focus on the victim. An example they use is: “The victim was murdered in her home by her estranged husband.” Instead: “Estranged husband murders wife in her home.” See the difference? Passive voice shifted the blame.

Active voice puts the focus on those who deserve the accountabiity, whether positive or negative

The article goes on to talk about politicians and how easy it is for them to use passive voice, like “mistakes were made.” Ask them - Who made the mistakes? 

Why is passive voice dangerous? Because, according to Prowritingaid, it shifts the blame onto the innocent. I understand this issue much better now.


The decision to be self-published comes with the responsibility to wear multiple hats. Writing, editing, cover decision and design, publishing, and marketing.I am in the editing stage with my third Caitlyn Jamison mystery. If I were to hire someone to edit my work, I’d have to decide do I want a developmental editor, a structural editor, or a copy editor? Besides the cost, I would have to find an editor (or three) that would understand my writing style and not convert the text into theirs. One of my friends had this happen and she spent a lot of time putting her voice back into the story, taking out the editor’s voice.

As I go through the manuscript, I’m doing a little of each kind of editing. I’m reviewing the overall structure and content. What works; what doesn’t. I’m making sure the content is clear, words  carefully chosen. Does the story flow? I look for repetitive words. (Prowritingaid software will help me with this.It points out sticky sentences, repeated words, grammar issues, etc.)  Of course I will watch for grammar and spelling issues. 

Another important thing I keep in mind is point of view. Only one POV per scene. I can’t get caught up in the story and let the point of view change. I’m pretty good at crisp dialogue. Still working on show versus tell, but that's all part of the writing challenge. I’m pleased with the progress and am proud to wear my editing hat.

The Layers of Wrting

As I work through editing of The Death of Cassie White, I’m reminded how much writing and editing is similar to the art of painting. I’ve developed the bones of the story, but as I slowly read through I am layering in more details. In that process I am getting to know my characters better. I also know that this pass through the 67 chapter book will require several more layers of detail. It came to me this morning that although I’d developed bios for my characters, I didn’t really know them. I am at the point now that I can flesh each of them out some more, especially the secondary characters that show up for the first time in this book. The title changed as it always does, which prompts the question - who is Cassie White? Something I had not thought about before. She was only a means to an end, but now, well, her character needs to be developed. Writing is an interesting process and I love that I am learning a little more about it each day. [Posted 9 December 2018]

Mystery Writing Handout

I’m in the process of giving presentations on writing mysteries to the three CRRL Inklings groups. Below is the handout I am providing the members of the groups. In addition, I am supplementing with additional informaiton which I will include in my next blog post.

Mystery is a genre of fiction usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. Often with a closed circle of suspects, each suspect is provided with a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime.


Traditional: A mystery must have certain elements to be considered a mystery.  Essentially, a mystery will have a puzzle or secret, or layers of puzzles or secrets, a setting that fits the type of book, a sound motive, red herrings, and clues. Most traditionally accepted mysteries have a murder. This is the element that compels people to keep reading. (Think Agatha Christie)

Cozy: Traditional cozies are light, sometimes humorous, slow paced (as compared to the other categories), the murder (usually quite civilized) and sex happen off scene, and the solving of the crime is a battle of wits between the reluctant amateur sleuth and the villain. The setting is most often in a small town or community and the sub-characters are quirky and fun. The sleuth falls into the mystery by accident or circumstance and uses common sense/gray cells to solve the crime. Usually first person. (Think Janet Evanovich)


Hard Boiled

The hardboiled mystery is a detective story with attitude and action. It’s a tough mystery that takes place in a city or urban setting. It’s gritty. It’s violent. The blood and violence (and sex) takes place on screen. Usually the detective is a professional who’s been hired to investigate. Usually first person with a bare-bones or abrupt narrative style. This is not your emotional mystery. (Think Raymond Chandler or Michael Connelly)

Soft Boiled

The soft boiled mystery falls somewhere between the hard boiled and the cozy. It’s not as violent as the hard boiled, but can have more on scene than the cozy. Many soft boiled mysteries have humorous elements. The detective can be a professional or amateur. Misa’s Lola Cruz Mystery Series is an example of soft boiled. Janet Evanovich is also soft boiled (with some caper thrown in).

Police Procedural

The detective/sleuth in a police procedural is almost always a law enforcement agent of some sort. The details of the mystery plot are the focus, as opposed to the heavier character development of the other categories. The term police procedural is used because the procedures are detailed and accurate. Rules must be followed and crime details are key. (Think PD James and Tony Hillerman)

Think about the kind of details, POV, setting, level of violence in your book and how to categorize it. Not every book fits neatly into a category, but you should be able to see it in one of these categories (even if you have to push or shove a little bit!). Just a caveat, things that aren’t easily marketable–meaning your agent or editor doesn’t know how to explain what it is–are less likely to sell. If you can categorize your book, in general, all the better.

In a thriller, "who done it" is usually known to the reader, and often times to the main character. The goal is not to solve a mystery, but rather to catch a criminal, or stop a crime from being committed. A thriller is a mystery that de-emphasizes cerebration, and emphasizes action and suspense. The protagonist is in danger from the outset.

 Subgenres: Legal, Medical

Suspense: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode.

Mysteries have the same basic elements as all prose
Plot/storyline/your reason for writing
Suspense/Action/ What’s at stake/Hold readers’ attention/
Hook the reader on the first page

Character Rules:
Character bios – protagonist and supporting characters (not too many)
Each character should have a role
Mirror characters – the protagonist needs someone to talk to, bounce ideas off of
Avoid stereotypes
Be ready for your characters to take over and change the story

Develop your protagonist:
What crime (or bad thing) has been committed and needs to be solved.
Who is he/she? Why does your protagonist care about the crime? Make it personal.
What is your protagonist’s problem, goal, need, desire?
What are his/her motives for solving the crime and what resources will he/she need?
What obstacles stand in his/her way? Develop a crisis point.
Show readers something your protagonist wants, and then threaten it.
Build tension. Get into each character’s head. How would they react in any situation?
How will your characters change by the end of the book?


Point of view (POV)
Dialogue – keep crisp, clear
Plotter or Pantser? Do you plan ahead, outline, or just write and see what happens?
What is this story about? What do I want this story to be about? Keep asking that question.
Red herrings – suspects/clues/misdirection – but play fair
Pacing – give your readers a break! After a fast-pace chapter, slow it down
Research – Readers are smart, and will catch any little detail you’ve gotten wrong
Editing – make every word work


Think of your story as a three act play – setting the stage, climax, tying up plot lines
How will the story end? Write the ending first.

My Writing Toolbox

George, Elizabeth, Write Away. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004.
King, Stephen, On Writing; A memoir of the Craft. Scribner, New York, 2000.
Lamott, Anne,
Bird by Bird. Anchor Books, New York, 1994.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown,
Evidence Explained; Citing history sources form artifacts to cyberspace. Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 2009.
Munier, Paula,
Plot Perfect.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014.
Munier, Paula,
Writing with Quiet Hands. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015.
Provost, Gary,
Make Your Words Work. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1990.
Roberts, Gillian,
You Can Write a Mystery. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.
Stone, Todd A.,
Novelist’s Boot Camp; 101 Ways to take your book from Boring to Bestseller. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2006.
The Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 14th Edition, 1993.
Writer’s Digest – Subscribe to get all the latest information on writing process, finding agents, best websites, and unlimited how-to’s for writing.  []
Dictionary and Thesaurus 

Emilie or Elise or someone else ... 

A strange thing happened. I had named my new protagonist “Emilie” after one of my more elusive ancestors. Since this book is set in Savannah, I purchased “Haunted Savannah” by James Caskey. Mr. Caskey relates stories about ghost sightings that he and his tour director colleagues have witnessed in certain Savannah properties. While we traveled back from Palm Beach earlier this month, I jotted down in my writer’s journal some story line ideas. A couple of weeks later I opened my writer’s journal to refresh my memory on those story lines. What I found was that subconsciously I had written “Elise” as the protagonist instead of Emilie. I’m wondering if the supernatural (paranormal) was already working and that “Elise,” whoever she is, has already taken over the story. I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting ride.

I decided to start another book (series?) set in Savannah, Georgia. I don’t have a title, but the proganist is named Emilie. Emilie is a mystery book author and also runs a bed and breakfast in the city. What will be challenging about this book is I want to try to write it in first person. My Caitlyn Jamison series is in third person. Wish me luck.

Showing rather than telling is a 
challenge writers have to face and then conquer. I’m working on that skill and get better with each book. I have to remember that my readers have to come away with a deep sense of my characters and the setting. Some ways of accomplishing this is to keep descriptions short and specific, but at the same time don’t turn a character's description into a litany of eye color, height and weight. That isn’t how your friends would describe you! So how would they describe you? Your sense of humor, stance, fashion sense, unkempt hair, etc. Utilize the senses - how does something look, smell, touch, sound or taste? And remember that setting can also be character - think of Louise Penny’s Three Pines, or Jan Karon’s Mitford. I think Elizabeth Sims’ quote says it best: “Readers’ love writing that bring the world in your head to life in theirs.” [Writers Digest January 2013] That’s our job. [Posted 9/17/2018]

Writing Mysteries
I’ve been asked to make a presentation to each of the three CRRL Inklings writing groups about writing mysteries. In developing a talk on that subject I realized that the basic elements of mystery writing is the same for all prose. A book needs characters, setting, plot/storyline, and action. Whatever genre, it’s important to hook the reader on the first page. We’ll talk about developing characters, having a mirror character - someone for the protagonist to confide in, and then go into what’s the protagonist’s goal. When that is determined, who/what will keep the character from easily achieving the goal. How are red herrings woven into the story, and ways to create tension. I’m learning a lot from this exercise and I hope those in the writing groups will as well.  [Posted 21 August 2018]

Anatomy Lesson

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I would cover in my first Fiction Writing Critique group that will meet one month from now. There is so much information to share on writing the question is, where do I begin?

It occurred to me I should start out with an anatomy lesson. The first question is what is their genre? Is it romance, mystery, cozy mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, or literature? Maybe they don’t know yet, but I think it’s helpful to have a genre roadmap. And that roadmap should include geographically where the action takes place. If the story is sci-fi and another world is developed, that world has to have rules. Know what those are.

Stories are made up of scenes. I recently read an informative blog by Rebecca Monterusso on Jane Friedman’s site. The blog is titled: “What does it mean to write a scene that works?” Rebecca states that a book is made up of multiple scenes. It’s the time when the character is pulled out of their comfort zone. Scenes are the basic building blocks of the story and together they build the novel.

Which brings me to pacing. No matter what genre you are writing, some tension, stress, force for change has to happen. Pacing means keeping paragraphs tight, chapters of varying lengths. If the tension is too high, readers will need a chapter with a slower pace for some relief.

Character development has to be done first. Who is the protagonist? Their mirror character? Supporting characters? A writer needs to understand the characters, their physical characteristics, their emotions, psychological profile, and their history. If the writer knows their characters, he/she will know how they will react in various situations.

What is the plot line (s) of the story? How will your character work through the situation?  And how will it be resolved? If more than one plot line will they connect at the end or resolve separately?

I also want to cover formatting. I’m a visual person. When I’m writing I need to have the manuscript look like a book. I format when I start – for a 6 x 9 trade paperback, which my books are, the perfect margins for publishing through CreateSpace are: Left: .8; Right .8; Top .95; Bottom .8; Header and Footer at 1.0.  I also number chapters as go – although this is sometimes time consuming when I’m moving chapters around, I find it is helpful to find my place when I return to the manuscript. I also page down with each chapter, keeping everything consistent – four returns from the top with chapter number centered on that fourth line. Then two returns before first line of text, with that line starting on the third return. The first line of text for each chapter is aligned on the left margin, with following chapters indented one half inch. I’ve trained myself to this consistent formatting which saves me a lot of time and effort at the end.

Everyone writes differently, but I hope these guidelines will be helpful to the critique group. [Posted 1 July 2018]

Short Story Writing

The Central Virginia Sisters in Crime of which I am a member is in the process of producing another short story anthology. I decided to submit a story with the theme Deadly Southern Charm. I never realized know how different writing a short story would be from writing full length novels. Thanks to our Inklings writing group, our May meeting featured guidelines for writing short stories

Develop the characters and setting early in the story and both have to be indepth and real. Understand the plot line and make sure there is some kind of conflict involved. This can be against another character, society, nature, or even the protagonist him/herself. The best short stories have an underlying theme. Think about what that will be and follow your characters’ lead.

I plan to finish the first draft this weekend, and then go through a fiction critique checklist. I’ll ask questions such as: Is the reader immediately drawn into the story, is there a connection with the characters, is there conflict, is pacing right, and how do I feel at the end of the story?

Once those questions are answered and the story is edited several times, I’ll put it through the Prowritingaid software for the technical stuff - grammar, style, pacing, etc. 

My story is set in Fredericksburg (rules state the story has to be set in the southern states). At this point there are three characters, but I may develop a fourth. The word count is only 2,000 - 4,000 words so I will have to be concise, which is the challenge of writing a short story. 

An aside: I started another short story set in Savannah, Georgia. When I talked with a friend about it, she said, no. This is not a short story. This is another book series. 

I’ll let readers know how I make out. Whether my story is selected for the anthology - or not. Either way, it is a great writing exercise and something I have never done before. [Posted 9 June 2018]

Let’s Talk Marketing

During the CRRL Writers Conference on November 11, 2017 held at the Porter Library, I was on the panel that was asked to cover the topic of marketing as well as the topic of traditional versus self publishing (or Indi publishing). 

Marketing requires a whole other skill set for writers, and one in which many writers are not comfortable. But if you want to develop a following, it is something an author has to do. 

Social media is at the top of the list. Develop a website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn account, and Twitter. I started a Facebook page and blog right way, and recently decided to take the plunge and develop a website to feature my Caitlyn Jamison series.

As a self-published author, I had to create a marketing plan that I am comfortable with. I am in the process of building a list of venues in which I can feature my books.

Sign up for a table at local book festivals, connect with local newspaper journalists that will write an article on your book, develop an author presentation and reach out to book groups and libraries, offer to do a guest blog for a genre-related blog, and don’t forget to alert your email contact list that your new book is available. Run contests. 

Space the events out to keep sales coming. When at events, have someone take a photo of you to post on Facebook to remind Friends and their Friends (ask FB Friends to share) of your book.

I was pleased that the traditionally published authors on Saturday’s panel dispelled the myth that publishers do all the marketing - not. The authors were brutally honest about what they went through to get published, and then what they have to do to continually market their books. If you don’t want to do your own marketing, there are marketing firms that you can hire, but as one panelist said, after a bad experience and losing thousands of dollars, buyer beware. Just because you hire a firm, doesn’t meant they are going to do right by you and your book.

For additional articles see the Caitlyn Jamison Mysteries blog.

Character Development
Mystery author Elizabeth George states “Story is Character,” and I have found that to be true. So how does a writer develop characters to have an impact on readers?

First, a thorough and thoughtful, physical, emotional, socio-economic description has to be developed for each character. Once that is developed, the author knows how each character will react to situations. It also keeps the author on track so a mistake isn’t made by having a character’s eye color at the beginning different than at the end - assuming contact lenses aren’t involved - smile. 

A character can be described from another’s point of view. That description can include how the person presents with regard to stance, expression, speech. You can sometimes tell a person’s age just by the words they use. 

And then you live in their skin. As you write and get into the “groove,” you will become that character. It is then the character’s thoughts feelings, voice, emotions pour out. Let it. That is when your characters come “alive.” It is an amazing feeling to give birth to characters and have them develop right before your eyes.

The Importance of Plot
A good story will transport the reader to places he/she has never been. The writer’s job is to develop an interesting plot and character (s) that compels the reader to keep turning pages. So where do plot ideas come from? The answer is, everywhere. 

One of my plot ideas came from my passion and desire for justice. Too many people were getting away with ruining lives and not suffering the repercussions. [Think 2008 financial crisis]. Other plot ideas came from my passion for teaching people about a little known mental health disease, current social issues, and about my genealogy hobby. 

The key word here is passion. A writer has to have a passion for the story and their characters. When that mix happens, plus some good use of grammar … the book is a winner. 

Point of View
Understanding point of view is probably one of the most difficult lessons a writer has to learn. Rule of thumb is to have one point of view per scene. In other words, one person leads the conversation. There can be more than one point of view per chapter, and those are separated by a couple of lines. But then you don’t want to have too many points of view. What I have done to provide myself an overview of how the book is progressing, and also to track point of view, is I made a chapter by chapter synopsis that includes from whose point of view the information is coming. A glance through this synopsis document tells me I have several people featured in the first few chapters. The question is - will those different voices confuse readers, or will it introduce the characters, which is what I intended. I have to give this some more thought.

A Writer’s Journal
I keep a writer’s journal for each book. The first page has a working title and some plot ideas. Since this is the second Caitlyn Jamison mystery, I have bios on the main characters. The supporting cast will be developed as I go along. The second page has the publishing stats of the first book, i.e. margins, pagination, author price (I learned the more pages in the book the lower the royalty-Fatal Dose is about 40 pages longer than Unexpected Death, so my royalty for Fatal Dose is about 40 cents less.) I also jot down the ISBN number of each book and the number of pages in each.

On the following pages I continue to jot down plot ideas, and introduce characters. Plots change as the characters are developed, so my “Idea” entries change as the book progresses. 

While working on the third book, I am busy marketing the first two. Those venues with contact information is captured in my journal. Also captured are books with citations that I use for research. 

When I get well into the story I start tracking my word count. I keep a listing of each day’s progress with notes on what needs to be done. 

When I get stuck, I review the notes in my journal. An interesting way to see how thought processes change as the book matures. [Posted 3/31/18

© Mary Maki 2022