Friday, June 30, 2017

Guest author Edith Maxwell: Keeping A Series Fresh... And A Giveaway!

I write more than one mystery series. Mulch Ado About Murder, my fifth Local Foods Mystery, came out a month ago, and I’ll send a signed hardcover to one commenter here today! Here’s the cover text:

It’s been a hot, dry spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. As organic farmer Cam Flaherty waits for much-needed rain, storm clouds of mystery begin to gather. Once again, it’s time to put away her sun hat and put on her sleuthing cap when a fellow farmer is found dead in a vat of hydroponic slurry—clutching a set of rosary beads. Showers may be scarce this spring, but there’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex-husband, the Other Man whose affair ruined their marriage, and Cam’s own visiting mother. Lucky for Cam, her nerdy academic father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing. Will he and Cam be able to clear Mom’s name before the killer strikes again?

Keeping A Series Fresh

The Local Foods Mysteries are cozy, with a small-town protagonist, a crew of series regulars who pop up again in book after book, and a setting readers grow to know and love. Of course every book includes a new murder victim or two, a new method of killing, new suspects, and a new villain. But one of the core elements of cozies is that familiar small town setting, even if the small town is a village within a big city, and those familiar characters.

So how do I keep my stories from getting boring after five books, or myself—and my readers—from getting bored?

Certainly those new aspects I mentioned help. I love researching unusual ways to knock people off—fictionally, of course. Lucy Zahray, a Texan pharmacologist, gives talks on readily available poisons at mystery conferences, and I’ve picked up several from her, including the method in Mulched. Yes, if the NSA is listening in, I’m definitely on the watch list.

Coming up with a fresh crew of suspects is always fun. Who might have reason to kill a new-to-town hydroponic farmer, for example? All but one will be a red herring, and I hope I keep you strung along until very close to the end.

So far I haven’t taken my protagonist out of town, but that’s another trick authors use in long-running series. She has occasion to go to Maine, California, or Italy for a book, and sure enough, becomes embroiled in a murder case there, too. Nobody wants their town to turn into Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, because everybody dies there!

Another thing I do is send a supporting character away for a book. We don’t need all of them in every episode. My farmer’s youngest volunteer went off on a spring break service project in Murder Most Fowl, book four, for example.

Most important is to keep my protagonist growing, changing, learning. I especially don’t want her to stagnate and be the same in every book.

Readers: What’s your favorite mystery series, cozy or otherwise? Which authors do long series best, and which have bombed at it?

Edith Maxwell
Agatha-nominated mystery author
2017 double Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies and journals, and she serves as President of Sisters in Crime New England.

A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens (and wastes time as a Facebook addict) north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Writing Goals-Do You Set Them? Keep Them?

Not many writers can write full has to eat after all. As a result many of us find ourselves juggling a number of hats and very often the writing is the first activity to get put on the back burner when life gets busy. With a deadline cracking its whip at my back, I have been forced to stick to a word goal even while working at marketing my existing work.

So when an image popped up on my seldom used Instagram account this week, one part of it looking a little like this...

...I was in love at first sight. I have to admit I am a journal junkie. There is nothing I like more than buying a new book with a tough attractive exterior and blank pages waiting to be filled with stories, plans, recipes, whatever is my current fancy.

On the other hand, like many people, I often abandon planners and details of my goals if life throws me off track even momentarily. However, this particular approach to setting my goals, with the grading element would appeal to my competitive nature (yes, I am aware I would be competing against myself) and might actually work.

Do you use journals to set and track writing goals? What has your experience been with this? Any successful approaches?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Writing Retreats: Yay or Nay?

It seems like every day I log onto Facebook and see another author who is on a writing retreat.

And I’m so jealous.

I’ve never been on a writing retreat, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve researched different retreats and decided that for me, the best writing retreat is nothing more than a place away from home where I can write without interruption for hours on end. More to follow on that in a minute.

I decided to write this post because I want to hear from other writers—have you ever been on a writing retreat? What was it like? Where did you go? How long were you gone? Did anyone else go with you? Did you get lots of writing done? Was it worth the expense?

There are lots of writing retreats advertised online. After doing some research, what I found is that most of them include hours upon hours of workshops, tours, and activities. As far as I’m concerned, those things defeat the purpose of going on a writing retreat because they take valuable writing time and stuff it full of other things.

It’s possible that I’m just missing the point of a writing retreat. There are obviously lots of writers who enjoy these retreats, but to me they sound like more of a vacation than a time to really focus hard on a manuscript.

And they’re expensive. It’s not uncommon for them to average $2,000 for about a week (and often only five days). And that doesn’t include travel expenses to the exotic places where they’re held.

Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to visit all the places where writers’ retreats are held. I just don’t want to work while I’m there. If I’m going to Wyoming or Costa Rica or Paris or Greece, you’d better believe I’m going there on vacation.

So here’s my dream of the perfect writing retreat:

1.      It’s within easy driving distance of home—not more than, say, five or six hours away.
2.      It’s not at the beach.
3.      It’s a place I can rent. I love VRBO, Airbnb, etc. You can get some great places at low rates.
4.      It’s a place with a rural/woodsy/mountain feel to it.
5.      It has a view. Doesn’t have to be a sweeping vista, but I don’t want to look into the neighbor’s bathroom.
6.      I leave my family at home. It’s not that I don’t love them, but I'm there to work.
7.      Another writer joins me, preferably one who shares my goal of getting a lot of writing done.
8.      I can make meals ahead of time and take them with me in a cooler.
9.      There is wine for the evenings.

With all this being said, I should note that I have taken brief writing retreats in a study room at the local library, though I don’t think of them as real retreats. The library works beautifully. I get tons of writing done, it’s close, and it’s free. What’s not to love about that?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Authors Coming Together for Promotion

by Linda Thorne

In 2015 I published my mystery novel, Just Another Termination. This was not the first time I'd been published, but the most significant as this was my debut novel.

I learned fast about promotion as I scrambled to get my unknown face and book cover everywhere I could. Other authors were helpful and I found out some of the amazing things they come up with to sell their books. The example I'll use here is Murder USA – A Crime Fiction Tour of the Nation.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is the author of the Katrina Stone novels, The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. Kristen invited a number of us to join in her book of excerpts from crime novels set all over the United States. My book setting was in the South in a location not yet represented.

I'm honored to have my excerpt included along side those of other authors', some with more publications and more notoriety than me.

Murder, U.S.A. is a collection of excerpts from thirty-one full-length crime fiction (suspense, mystery, thriller) novels organized by a setting somewhere in the United States. Kristen is the editor, but all the authors worked together to set up the formatting and help with editing. The book is still available on all of the the online sites below, at cost from FREE up to $0.99.

Smashwords     Amazon       Kobo        Barnes and Noble Nook

Murder U.S.A. is a book you can browse through pieces of the thirty-one full-length novels, just reading enough to know whether you are interested in going further.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Some of my Book Covers - Cover Love

I will admit that I am passionate about book cover design, whether I open that email sent by a publisher and see the cover they created for the first time, or I open the email which my cover designer has created based upon our discussions. I love seeing the cover of my works-in-progress, even when it's not quite right then and there, yet it ends up being a perfect mix of many opinions. The book cover stage is perhaps my favorite part of this business. Okay, I'm a little obsessed with it, and I thank God I've had some amazing cover designers who understood that. (Vonda Howard and Rebecca Pau)

There were covers that I did not particularly like initially, i.e. the publisher's first cover for MAY DECEMBER SOULS. This was my self-pubbed version in 1998:

This was HarperCollins' first re-release version in 2002 - I let my editor know that it was, uh, not depicting the characters or the story, at all. (I wanted to say more)

They ended up changing it and we went with this one (rarely happens, if ever), which I loved. 💓

With THE CHOCOLATE SHIP, at first I didn't see the need for the big straw hat, but I learned to acquiesce, and grew to adore it. I learned to trust, lol!

I did a self-pub cover for the re-release of THE CHOCOLATE SHIP that I won't even show you, as I have no idea what I was thinking. 👎😝

Next was the HarperCollins cover for HOT BOYZ:

On all of my titles, they had used a very expensive artist named Sergio Baradt (back then most publishers used illustrations as opposed to photo images). Sergio had created the image with eight men who all looked the same. The three main characters were not highlighted. But after they asked me to describe each of the three men in detail, Mason, Claude, and Torino, they went to their internal art department and had them change the character's looks, making them more prominent.

Most of my covers by mainstream publishers were amazing. A couple that I liked the best were: DR. FEELGOOD from Kensington Books, and EROTIC CITY from Hachette Books

When I self-published HOT GIRLZ, I really wanted to use this cover by Sergio Baradt, and I reached out to him, but trust me, I could not afford his $1500 quote, though it would've been perfect. These three ladies depicted Mercedes, Venus, and Sequoia to a T:

Also, did you know that when you get your rights back on a book, you must create your own cover if you wish to re-release it? I have done that quite often, and have even changed some ebook covers a second time along the way, which I'm doing now with HOT BOYZ and HOT GIRLZ, to make them more compatible as series titles to the third book in the trilogy, L.A. HUSBANDS & WIVES: The Hot Boyz Finale, which releases on 8/1/17.


A couple of my self-pubbed titles that I really like are MORGAN'S MAKEOVER, and TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY:

Here's an interesting twist in creating a cover, and then changing it altogether before the release, as in YOU'VE GOT IT BAD: The Dr. Feelgood Sequel, though I really liked them both:

How do you feel about book covers? For me, once I see the cover, if I have the luxury of it being completed before I finish the manuscript, I kick into another gear simply from the motivation of the visual. The story feels more real.

Also, of course, the cover is the first impression for the reader, and plays majorly into their buying decisions. For that reason alone, it is critical.

Happy writing, happy book producing (including those awesome covers), and happy promotion/sales!!