Keeping It All Straight in a Mystery Series

On this day of mashed potato sandwiches and ten dollar televisions, I offer you another reason to give thanks: good friends, good friends who write very good books, and good friends whose latest very good book is now available! Today’s blog was written by my good friend and fellow author (and pet lover) Heather Weidner.

Guest Blog by Heather Wiedner

Many thanks to Vivian Lawry for letting me be a guest on her blog. Vivian and I met when the Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia chapter formed. Through the years, we’ve served as officers, worked on committees and anthology projects, and most recently, as part of the mystery critique group that Vivian chairs.

I have loved mysteries since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. I write short stories, novellas, and mystery novels, including two mystery series. While the short stories and novellas are stand-alones, the novels are in two separate series. The first is the Delanie Fitzgerald mysteries (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband), about a sassy private investigator in Richmond, Virginia. She and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, and his sidekick, Margaret the Wonder Dog, work with a variety of clients in Central Virginia to solve crimes, capers, and murders. I am also working on another new cozy series set in Charlottesville, Virginia.

When you write novels and a series of novels, you need to keep the details in order. I make a chart for each book in a word processor, and I list all characters and key places. Then I make a column for the book, and I add all the details. This helps me keep the character names organized and avoid duplication. I also put a lot of backstory and details here. It helps me remember likes, relationships, and descriptive details. (You don’t want a character’s eye color to change between books.) I review and update it as the book goes through the writing process. Then, when I’m ready to start the next book in the series, I add a column and the characters. It also helps me show where all the characters appear. Also, if I change a character’s name during a revision, I use the search/find feature in the word processor to make sure I made all the updates.

In another file, I do a brief outline for each book with what I think appears in each chapter. Then I color-code the crimes, clues, humor, and romance. This gives me a visual sense of the story’s progress. Then I start writing, and that is when all the plotting and planning take a back seat. I find that some of my characters take on a life of their own, and the story progresses down another path. I also update my outline when I’m going through the editing stages. I use this document when I write the synopsis later for querying.

Church Hill in Richmond, Virginia

When you write a series, you also need to think about how much previous information from the other books you want to include. It’s like a skirt: it needs to be long enough to cover the subject. But you don’t want to go on and on and derail your current work with too much backstory. You want readers to remember things from the past books, but not to feel lost if they started reading your book in the middle of the series. You also need to introduce your characters with a brief description when they first appear, but be careful not to do an information dump on their life that reads like a police report.

The details are important. Your readers will notice if things change inadvertently between books. My critique group and beta readers also help me with early reads to make sure particulars are accurate.

When I’m not blogging, I’m working on my next book. The third book in my Delanie series came out in November 2019, and I have a novella in the next Mutt Mysteries (dog-themed mysteries) that comes out in March 2020.

Author Biography

Glitter, Glam, and Contraband is Heather Weidner’s third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, and Deadly Southern Charm. Her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series. She is a member of Sisters in Crime–Central Virginia, Guppies, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager.

Synopsis of Glitter, Glam, and Contraband

Private investigator, Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in Glitter, Glam and Contraband. In this fast-paced mystery, the Falcon Investigations team is hired to find out who is stealing from the talent at a local drag show. Delanie gets more than she bargains for and a few makeup tips in the process. Meanwhile, a mysterious sound in the ceiling of her office vexes Delanie. She uses her sleuthing skills to track down the source and uncover a creepy contraband operation.

Glitter, Glam, and Contraband features a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations like helping sleazy strip club owner, Chaz Smith on his quest to become Richmond’s next mayor, tracking down missing reptiles, and uncovering hidden valuables from a 100-year-old crime with an Edgar Allen Poe connection.

Contact Information

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The Author and the Guest Author

Road Trip Roundup

My recent travels to Bethany Beach rekindled my interest in road trips.

I wrote about road trips back in 2010, advising writers to note the names of roads, businesses, schools–whatever–as they traveled. Venture off the congested interstate to the byways and small towns where the names really get good. Sometimes a compelling name is enough to spark a story. Consider Bone Yard Road or Fresh Fire Church of God as possible settings.

barn on a scenic byway on my road trip home
A barn glimpsed from a scenic byway during my recent travels

Leave space in your itinerary and in your mindset to come upon the unexpected, e.g. an African/Mediterranean vegan cafe in Santa Fe or a salt mine in Warsaw, Poland, that’s been carved into a salt cathedral. Those locations might stimulate a scene or add a quirk to your story.

Wieliczka salt mine
Wieliczka salt mine (Photo: Cezary p [CC BY-SA 3.0])

While I’m on the road, I keep a daily journal to record the vivid details not found in a tourist pamphlet. Think Jack Kerouac. John McPhee. Paul Theroux.

How do you record your road trips? Let me know in the comments.

 

Beach Reads vs. Reading at the Beach

Gone to the Beach lifesaver
Recommendations for great beach reads are everywhere, every year; they start in the spring and are often ongoing. Amazon gives us “Superbly Good Beach Reads” while Barnes and Noble more modestly lists “Beach Reads”—totally disinterested advice from both, of course! Real Simple gives us “The 20 Best New Paperback Beach Reads.” The Huffington Post published other people’s lists, including one from The Oprah Magazine. Refinery 29 has “Beach Read Books.” Bustle has “31 Beach Reads for Summer 2016, Because Vacation Should Be Filled With Incredible Stories.” In 2016, POPSUGAR recommended both “Summer Books 2016” and “Beach Reads for Women.”

 

Many lists seem to presume that women are the readers, because most of these lists appear in magazines targeted to women: Cosmopolitan, “Beach Reads for Summer 2016”; Redbook, “Best Summer Beach Reads of 2016”; Women’s Day, “28 Summer Beach Reads 2016.”

 

I’ve always loved the beach and books—but I’ve never bought a “beach read,” and didn’t this year. I’m rereading Diana Gabaldon.

 

Voyager Drums of Autumn Diana Gabaldon
I finished Voyager and started Drums of Autumn. Given that these are big, fat books, I didn’t take them. I took my Kindle, instead. For the reasons why I chose these reads, see my earlier blog on “Loving Diana Gabaldon.”
 

Am I alone in reading at the beach without advice?

 
I recently shared a beach week with 9 other people, ages eight to eighty-five. Some brought multiple books, but none of them brought a book specifically bought for the beach! Here, in no particular order, are their books and their comments on them.

 

Tim Johnston Descent
“I like macabre books. They hold my attention. I wanted to read The Girl on the Train but this book is better. A girl disappears when her family is on vacation in the Rocky Mountains.”
Lila Marilynne Robinson
“I brought Lila by Marilyn Robinson, a book I bought the last time I was in Denver. She writes with surprising details about surprising events that call attention to the uniqueness of the most ordinary people, their inarticulateness. Yet somehow she brings out the intensity of their inner lives.”
Earth Works Nancy R. Hugo
“I love flowers and Nancy Hugo writes about her gardening experiences in a very down-to-earth, witty way. She makes me feel like I am with her in her garden.”

 

“I brought Killing Reagan but I was out shopping and found a mystery by a local writer that sounded like a good read, about being set up by a friend with cyberspace and assault rifles and, of course, a woman was involved. The author is Bruce Wilkins and the book is The Count of Cape Hatteras.
 
The Fiery Cross Diana Gabaldon
 
“I’m reading The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon. As part of my 2016 Reading Challenge, I am supposed to re-read a book I previously abandoned. I struggled with this, the fifth in the Outlander series, when I started it a few years ago, but my interest was recently renewed by the TV series based on the books. I have found that I am more engaged in the book this time around and I am glad I picked it up again.”

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows is the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series that I started in May, abandoned, and then started back up in late June, because I had nothing new to read. I have noticed that as the books go, it develops a more grown-up sort of writing, and the type of art on the covers changes as well. On the first book the cover is cartoon-y and on the last book it’s much more… ‘Sirius.’”

 

daily reflections aa members
“The only book I brought was the daily meditations. I gotta keep up with the program, but the beach is for sun and water, not books!”

 

One True Thing Anna Quindlen
One Time Thing by Anna Quindlon was recommended to me by a friend, I think because it’s about transformation. I like that it starts off with the narrator in her hometown jail and then regresses back to the events leading up to her relaxing gratefully in that cell. The way she illustrates courage, suffering, and everyday acts of love. . . the ingredients for the shifting bond of mother and daughter are beautiful. Anna Quindlon is an excellent storyteller who has managed to hold my attention.”

 

Italian language learning books
“I brought Buongiorno Italia! in a foolish attempt to learn enough Italian to use it on a trip in September. But really, my motive was because I like languages. Italian is beautiful to speak. I have picked up phrases that I memorized listening to opera records at age twelve or thirteen and didn’t understand. Right now I am working on the auxiliary verbs and verb endings. What fun! I need oral practice and a better memory.”

 

Young Avengers The Secret Zoo
The Young Avengers is about superheroes. I’m reading The Secret Zoo instead. It’s about a girl named Megan who went missing and her brother and his two friends go looking for her. What’s special about the zoo is that the animals are able to get out of their cages and lead Megan’s brother and friends to a secret part of the zoo. And along the way Megan’s brother finds pages of Megan’s notebook that have clues on them.”

 

Gentle Yoga with Great Benefits Anna Shapiro
“My yoga teacher had surgery early this summer and won’t be back till September. I just wanted to hold my ground. Does looking at the pictures count as reading? If so, it’s a great read!”
Bookshelf
When my younger granddaughter was singing nonsense, her older sister said, “That’s not a song!” The younger one said, “If I sing it, it’s a song!” To paraphrase: if you read it at the beach, it’s a beach read!

Hindsight in Mary: A Journal of New Writing

I’m honored to have my essay “Hindsight” in the Winter edition of Mary: A Journal of New Writing. 

Excerpt from “Hindsight”

 

I was a graduate student in psychology when my therapist said, “It sounds as though you spend about ninety percent of your time trying not to be like your mother.” True. What right-minded person would want to be like my mother? She was weak, sickly, hospitalized for suicidal depression at one point, and an alcoholic. Striving—consciously and non-consciously—not to be like my mother shaped my life for decades.

Feelings rather than logic drove Mom’s thinking. She was a kitchen-sink fighter—throwing everything into every argument. For her, no argument was ever lost because no argument was ever over. As a child, even in my bedroom with a pillow over my head, I could hear her screech about things that happened months or years ago with no apparent connection to whatever triggered this particular bout. I absolutely sided with Dad when he’d finally say, “I’m not gonna listen to any more of this crap.” He would then head to the basement or garden, the door banging behind him.

My earliest memories of Mom aren’t so negative. She worked hard, laughed a lot, enjoyed playing euchre, and taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. An excellent seamstress, she made a wedding gown for one of her younger sisters. She and Dad belonged to a square-dancing club, and she sewed their matching outfits. She was inconsistent—sometimes sending me out to cut a switch and then not disciplining me with it—but she also made wonderful birthday cakes. She taught me to sew, cook, clean house, and iron.

Read more at Mary: A Journal of New Writing. Thank you to Mary‘s editors for publishing “Hindsight.”

“Beast and the Beauty” is in Clare Literary Magazine

Painting of eyes looking at viewer
Art throughout Volume 16 of Clare by Katie Chandler.

There’s been a lot of great news lately. I’m delighted to share that my short story “Beast and the Beauty” is in the Spring 2015 issue (Volume 16) of Clare Literary Magazine, a publication of Cardinal Stritch University.

You can read “Beast and the Beauty” and the full issue for free by CLICKING HERE.

Thank you to the Editorial Team at Clare Literary Magazine.

Beast and the Beauty
Click the text to read the rest of “Beast and the Beauty” in Clare Literary Magazine.

 

Acceptable Reading Material

The Cabinet of Curiosities: 40 Tales Brief & Sinister, Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, Emma Trevayne
The Cabinet of Curiosities

The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne CollinsA while back on Facebook, I mentioned that on the recommendation of my ten-year-old granddaughter, I was reading The Cabinet of Curiosities. I made a connection to Different Drummer stories, except for children. Then she read all three volumes of The Hunger Gameswhich, frankly, seem a bit horrific to me, not to mention advanced. Upon finishing, her comment was, “That was sad.” No nightmares or anxieties or other negative effects are apparent. Maybe her reaction is testimony to the fascination children have always had for (fictional) horror, as evidenced by the longevity of fairytales in their original (as opposed to Disney) versions.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs Now she is reading Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. Now, as general background, I would say that my granddaughter is very smart, and a very advanced reader, and her parents are both very intelligent and somewhat unconventional. But she’s ten-and-a-half. And I wonder how the world is changing. As I recall, at about that age, I was reading the Ruth Fielding adventure series. I find this book a real page-turner, but it includes sentences like, “‘Do I look like I blow truckers for food stamps?’ Ricky was a connoisseur of your-mom jokes, but this was apparently more than he could take.” And it includes issues of mental illness (paranoia, etc.)

 

Ruth Fielding On the Red Mill My take-away is that children and families are different, and that what is acceptable reading material varies widely. And most importantly, adults with children or grandchildren who read need to dip into their reading worlds. And be prepared to set limits, encourage, and discuss as needed.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

The Writing Life


The best thing about the writing life is that it is never boring. The worst thing about the writing life is that it makes one much more critical of the fair to middlin’ writing of once enjoyable books.