Wednesday, December 29, 2021

2021 in Review: Reading

There are still a couple more days left in 2021, but it's time for my semiannual reading review. This is based on the tracking I do through Goodreads. I'm not always good about tracking the date I start a book (since I then have to delete it from my Goodreads if I decide I don't want to finish it), but the end dates are more accurate. 

My goal for this year was 150 books. Unlike previous years, I had no trouble reaching my goal. As of 12/26 (the day I'm writing this post), I've read 157. This doesn't include the multiple re-reads of Murder at Magic Lake that I do as part of revising and editing books before publication. There will probably be another couple of books added to this total before Friday. The average book was about 257 pages, with the shortest being 64 pages and the longest 776 pages. (It was an anthology of cozy mystery novels.) Here's the breakdown by genre:

Fantasy: 24

Science Fiction: 19

Mystery (includes regular and traditional): 86

Other Fiction: 6

Non-Fiction: 22

Mysteries have taken over from fantasy as my comfort reading, but since I'm also writing it now, I need to continue learning about the genre. The other genres haven't changed much, though I suppose I should read more non-fiction, especially books on writing and publishing. Other than reading at least one diversity read a month, I don't have many set goals for the type of books I read. (It's typically whatever I'm in the mood for at the moment.)

About thirty-eight books were paper books checked out from the library; however, I also borrowed a lot of Ebooks. I did read one paper book from my To-Be-Read stack, but that didn't make much of a dent. 

I will probably set my 2022 reading goal for another 150 books. Do you set reading goals for yourself? If so, feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

2021 in Review: Writing

 With the end of another year in sight, I thought I'd take a few minutes to reflect on my writing this year.

A writing career can be like an iceberg; there's more underneath the surface than you might expect. I published one cozy mystery novel this fall and sold one short story, which will be published online next month. Besides that, I wrote the first draft of a second cozy mystery and a couple other short stories. I did submit my short stories to a few markets, but most of them were rejected. At least I can submit them elsewhere if I find a suitable market or save them for another short story collection. Speaking of short stories, I'm currently drafting a series of short stories featuring my heroines from the Season Avatars universe. There will be one each from Gwen's, Jenna's, Ysabel's, and Kay's point of view. Gwen's story is drafted, but I've been having trouble with Jenna's story. I've decided to skip it for now and moved on to Ysabel's story. It would be nice if I finish the first draft before the end of the year.

As for my plans for 2022, I plan to start revising Restaurants and Revenge, my second cozy mystery. The first half isn't too bad, but the second part is all over the place. Hopefully I can publish it in the first half of the year. However, I also plan to start Book Three, Bubble Tea and a Body, once I finish some initial planning. Somewhere in there I want to finish my Season Avatars collection, which will act as a bridge to a spin-off series. I think trying to write two series in two different genres will keep me busy enough without adding in other projects. However, if an anthology interests me enough, I might write something for it anyway.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate! Next week, I'll review my Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2021.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Mid-Month Mysteries: Christmas Cookie Cozy Mysteries--and Recipes!


Christmas is the ultimate holiday for those who love being cozy. Warm drinks, lights, gatherings, and so much's no wonder there are so many cozy mysteries set at Christmas. It actually made it hard to decide how to narrow the book selection down for this post. Then I thought of one of my personal holiday traditions--baking cookies to share with others.  Here are a few mysteries I found featuring Christmas cookies. (Please keep in mind I haven't had time to read them yet.)

Murder at the Christmas Cookie Bakeoff by Darci Hannah

Christmas Cookies Mysteries, an anthology

 Christmas Cookie Murder by Leslie Meier

 The Christmas Cookie Killer by Livia J. Washburn


And here's a list of some of the cookies I bake every year:

Lemon Slice Cookies

Peanut Blossoms

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies  (the base recipe also works well for sugar cookies; I make my own buttercream frosting for them)

What's your favorite type of Christmas cookie? Feel free to answer in the comments.




Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Publication Announcement: "Glass, Wool, Paper"

My fantasy short story, "Glass, Wool, Paper," will be published online by Flash Fiction Magazine on Friday, January 28th, 2022. Once the link is available, I'll post it here. It's a flash fiction story, well under 1000 words, and has a feminist theme. In the spirit of the genre, I'll keep this post short as well.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

IWSG: Pleasures and Pains of Writing

Here we are at the start of another Christmas season. (Yes, I insist on waiting until after Thanksgiving.) It's also time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Learn more about the IWSG on their website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

Our hosts this month are PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise-Fundy Blue, Natalie Aguirre, and Jacqui Murray.

Our question for December is a simple one: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

There are many stressful things about the business of writing, but for this post, I'll focus on craft. A few things I find stressful are writing under a deadline, being unsure what happens next in the story, and having to make major revisions. As for what delights me, it's seeing the story come together and finishing it.

What do you find pleasurable and/or painful about writing? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Book Club Questions for Lyon's Legacy

I received a nice surprise last week when I found out the Insecure Writer's Support Group had chosen my novella, Lyon's Legacy, as one of this month's selections for their Goodreads book club. One of the moderators emailed me and asked me to contribute three questions to the discussion. I've listed them below:

  1. Joanna’s family history plays a big role in how she perceives herself. What are the positive and negative ways families and genetics affect her identity?
  2. Should the time travelers request permission to take DNA samples from the alternate universe, even if the people never know the true purpose for the samples? What would be fair compensation?
  3. Lyon’s Legacy was partly inspired by the author’s love for a famous rock group that she never got to see perform. If you could travel to the past to meet someone, who would it be and why? What would you want to bring back with you?

If you haven't read Lyon's Legacy yet (a science fiction novella about a scientist forced to clone a famous ancestor), you can download a permafree eBook from your favorite store here

Have you ever had a book of yours selected for a book club? What was it like? Feel free to share your thoughts below. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, hope it's a happy and healthy holiday!



Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Mid-Month Mysteries: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving sometimes seems to get lost between Halloween and Christmas. Fortunately, you can still find enough Thanksgiving-themed cozy mysteries to read until your eyeballs are stuffed. Here are a few books that look interesting to me, though I haven't read them yet. It looks like they're all part of series.

Gobble, Gobble Murder by Leslie Meier actually contains two mysteries about Thanksgiving. There's references to several holiday traditions, including a turkey trot.

Thanksgiving in Cherry Hills by Paige Sleuth has a vegan pumpkin pie, a woman trying to feed the homeless, and two cats.

Drizzled with Death by Jessie Crockett includes a different type of tradition--a pre-Thanksgiving pancake eating contest along with a lot of puns in the blurb.

Black Thursday by Linda Joffe Hull focuses on another holiday tradition--shopping. 

Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies by Kathi Daley deals with a houseful of guests.

Finally, if you need incentive to avoid dessert, A Deadly Feast by Lucy Burdette deals death by pie.

My favorite Thanksgiving tradition is visiting Kristkindlmarkt in Chicago with my family. Feel free to share yours in the comments.


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Crochet Project: Slippers

Instead of talking about writing this week, I thought I'd talk about a crochet project I finally finished. Several years ago, I bought myself a pair of slippers with nice thick bottoms (I had plantar fasciitis about ten years ago, so I make sure I have as much foot support as possible.) The tops of the shoes wore through and were no longer wearable, but I wanted to save the bottoms. So I came up with a plan to reuse them:



1. Remove the damaged top part from the old slippers. 

2. Crochet a new pair of slippers. (I used this pattern but omitted the cable design.) I have to admit it took me almost a year between the time I bought the materials to the time I finally made the slippers. Once I got started, though, the slippers worked up quickly.

3. Cut out felt bottoms and sew to the underside of the slippers. This would provide me with a base for gluing everything together later on. The slippers were quite wearable like this, and I used them like that while I waited to get the glue for the next step. I didn't take a picture of the slippers, but here's a photo of me using part of the old slippers to cut out the felt for the bottoms.


4. Glue everything together with E-6000 glue. The kind I used is meant for these kinds of materials.

The slippers feel heavy with the bottoms, but still comfortable. The yarn is cozy and hopefully won't rip like the wool fabric did. I may make another pair of slippers to use as slipper socks.

Have you made something new from something old? How did it work out? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

IWSG: Titles vs. Blurbs


I'm writing this post on Halloween, but it's time to welcome you to November. If anyone reading this is participating in National Novel Writing Month, good luck to you! I'll be happy if I finish the first draft of Restaurants and Revenge this month. (I'm well over 50,000 words, but I've changed my mind a couple of times about who the murderer is.) 

Since this is the month for writers, it's a good time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group Post. Learn more about them on their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Our hosts this month are Kim Lajevardi, Victoria Marie Lees, Joylene Nowell Butler, Erika Beebe, and Lee Lowery.

Our question for November is What's harder to do, coming up with your book title or writing the blurb?

In general, I find it easier to come up with a book title than a blurb. Most novel titles come to me either before I start the story or during the first draft. Sometimes they change, but not often. In contrast, I have to finish the book (not just the first draft, but also revisions) before I tackle the blurb. As a pantser, I don't know all the twists and turns before I start writing, so I need to know the entire story before I can write the blurb. It's also easier to be pithy with a phrase than a paragraph. I feel I need more feedback from readers when writing the blurb, since it's targeted at them.

What do you find harder to write, titles or blurbs? Please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Doughnut Economics

Even if you haven't studied economics, you're probably familiar with the law of supply and demand. However, there's a lot more to economics, and economics doesn't always look at the complete picture. For example, current theories of economics don't consider the value of unpaid household labor or recognize that resources are limited. (The GDP can't grow forever.) That's why Kate Raworth wrote Doughnut Economics: How to Think Like a 21st Century Economics. 

The premise is simple: imagine a doughnut. (There's a visual on the Wikipedia page here.) The hole in the middle is where people's needs are met. (These needs go beyond simple survival needs to include education, health care, and a voice in government.) The outer edge of the doughnut is the ecological ceiling we can't cross without harming the environment. Between the social and environmental boundaries is the doughnut itself, a safe and just space for humanity.

Raworth's book discusses several strategies for "getting into the doughnut." These include viewing human nature differently, designing systems that redistribute wealth and regenerate resources the way the natural world does, and focusing on stability, not constant growth. Obviously, this is a complete turnaround from the way our current economy works, and changing this paradigm will require a lot of work. For example, thanks to interest, money gains value over time, which is unlike material resources that degrade. To force money to be used for regenerating material assets instead of being hoarded, Raworth proposes fees be instated to make money lose some of its value when it's held for a long time. It sounds like a crazy idea, but according to the book, some cities in Germany and Austria tried it in the 1930s to help the local economy. (I can't help but wonder if it would be simpler to lower interest rates for some types of investments or make investing in sustainability more rewarding.) 

I think the ideas put forth in this book are intriguing and worth pursuing, but I disagree with Raworth in her assessment of human nature. For this model to work, humans have be more socially reciprocating and interdependent, and I think it's harder to nudge people in this direction than she thinks it is. However, stories that engage people's emotions can change their attitudes and behavior. This is where worldbuilding and solarpunk come in. If we use these ideas to build new types of societies, we can inspire people to work toward them in real life. It's been said that it's easier to imagine the end of the world instead the end of capitalism. I know which one I'd prefer. 

Have you heard of doughnut economics before? If not, what's your favorite kind of doughnut? (Mine is chocolate with sprinkles.) Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Mid-Month Mysteries: Season of the Witch

October may be the traditional season of the witch, but witches are popular in cozy mysteries all year around. Typically, the heroine finds out about her witchy powers in the first book of the series and will learn more as the series progresses. Although she may use magic to find clues, it may not be used to help her find the final clue. However, it may be used in her confrontation with the killer. Some witches may use traditional types of magic with potions, wands, and spells. Others may be specialized (such as water witchery) or unique (something related to the witch's hobby or occupation. Here are just a few of my favorite cozy mysteries featuring witches.
Nancy Warren writes three series featuring witches. They include The Vampire Knitting Club (the heroine runs a yarn shop in Oxford where vampires meet to knit), The Vampire Book Club (the heroine runs a bookstore in a small Irish town where vampires meet), and The Great Witches Baking Show (the heroine is a contestant on an English baking show). The heroine in the Vampire Book Club series is middle-aged, experienced at witchcraft, and in trouble with other witches for misusing her magic. The other two heroines fit the pattern I mentioned.
Witches and baking (or sweets) seem to be a favorite combination in cozy mysteries. Erin Johnson has written a series called Spells and Caramels about a woman from our world discovering she's a witch in another one. H. Y. Hanna writes the Bewitched by Chocolate series about a witch whose magic works on chocolate. Rosie Pease's heroine uses her baking magic to bring couples together in Cookies and Curses.
Witch powers tend to run in families, which is why the heroine may have to help other witches. For examples, see Witchy Reservations or The Undercover Witch. Witches may interact with other magical beings, as in the Magical Renaissance Faire series.

I like reading cozy mysteries with witches because they mix fantasy into an otherwise realistic genre. If you like witchy mysteries, what do you like about them? Feel free to share in the comments.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy

Anyone who's watched any science fiction TV show or movie has probably noticed how human-like aliens are. Of course, this is because humans play the aliens. Given that the only experience we have with lifeforms comes from our planet, how realistic is it to expect creatures from other worlds to resemble what we know? According to Arik Kershenbaum, the author of The Zoologist's Guide to the Galaxy, even if evolution on exoplanets might not follow the same path it did here, certain traits will still be selected for.

Kershenbaum starts by examining what forms and functions might be common across worlds. In particular, he focuses on features such as movement, senses, and communication. From there, he builds to what we might consider more advanced features such as as intelligence , sociability, language, and more. He even considers whether aliens might be capable of creating artificial intelligence and whether we would think of them as "human."

Kershenbaum may not think much of science fiction, but science fiction writers might be able to get some good ideas about alien creation from this book. The Further Reading section at the end lists many other potentially helpful books. It's always good to improve your scientific knowledge when you're writing science fiction.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

IWSG: Drawing the Line


Welcome to October! I'm looking forward to cooler weather suitable for partaking of scones and tea, but we're not quite there yet. Hopefully you're enjoying your fall no matter what the weather is like in your area.

Our hosts this month are Jemima Pett, J Lenni Dorner, Cathrina Constantine, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, and Mary Aalgaard

Here's our question for October: In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?

The line varies depending on what I'm writing. I have characters in my science fiction that swear frequently. There's not much sex in my stories, but I would include it if the story requires it. (Spoiler: a sex scene may show up in the next Season Avatars story collection--if I ever finish it.) I'm not interested in writing steamy reverse harem stories no matter how popular they are, so the sex scenes would focus more on emotions than body parts. Cozy mysteries, on the other hand, tend to be "clean." There's no swearing or sex, and even though they're about solving murders, there's relatively little violence or gore.

No matter how you feel about writing sex, violence, or controversial topics, there's bound to be a reader who wants to read what you wrote. The key is matching the topic and language to the genre so the reader knows what to expect as they start the story.

Do you avoid writing stories with sex, violence, or strong language, or are you comfortable with it? Feel free to discuss in the comments.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Fall Traditions

This weekend, we got to celebrate a couple fall traditions. Alex's school held in-person Homecoming (last year it was virtual), and on Sunday, we went apple picking, which also involved shooting apples out of a cannon. See photos below. This year, I also plan to celebrate Faux Thanksgiving with college friends and go to the local farm center to pick out our pumpkin and stock up on squash. I don't know yet if my son will trick-or-treat this year, but I'll encourage him to do so as long as he can. 

What are some of your favorite fall traditions? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Mid-Month Mysteries: Fall Theme

Happy Fall Equinox, everyone! This seems like a perfect time to highlight a few fall-themed cozy mystery series. The information listed below comes from the website.

Cooler weather means it's soup time. As a vegetarian, I find soups make good meals. If you want a book to match your soup, try A Soup Lover's Mystery series by Connie Archer. It features a soup shop in Vermont. There are currently five books in the series, but I haven't read any of them yet. For more information, check here and the author's website.

Apple picking is one of our favorite fall activities. Sheila Connolly writes a mystery series set in an apple orchard. (Her series set in a museum also looks intriguing.) There are already twelve books in the series, and they don't all take place in the fall. Learn more here and here.

Apple cider is a traditional autumn beverage. Travel with Julie Anne Lindsey to a cider shop in West Virginia if you'd like to spice your cider with a dash of murder. Learn more here and here.

Cranberries are another food associated with fall. Peg Cochran writes a series set on a cranberry farm in Michigan. Learn more here and here.

How do you feel about the fall season? Feel free to comment below.



Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Excerpt from Murder at Magic Lake

To celebrate the release of Murder at Magic Lake today, I'm going to share a short excerpt with you. This is about a third of the way through the book and shows the main character, Abigail, properly meeting her sidekick, Sherlock:

* * *

Grandma preferred to visit other people instead of inviting them over. As I scanned her living room, I could see why. This apartment appeared larger than Sandy’s, but it was cluttered. Stacks of magazines filled the chairs. Suits and dresses that had been fashionable before I was born hung on a stand on wheels. Bins of yarn balls in all sorts of colors surrounded her recliner. Scattered about were various handmade blankets, hats, and even tiny creatures like bears and dogs. While there was plenty of cover for an intruder to hide behind, I couldn’t see how anyone could squeeze behind Grandma’s things in the first place.

“Hello?” I called. Smart one, Abigail. Let the murderer know you’re here. Maybe the call for help I’d heard earlier was a trap. The murderer could be hiding in the kitchen or bedroom, waiting for me to come closer.

“Over here!” the voice called. It sounded like it was coming from the area around the recliner.

I looked around for something I could use as a weapon. The best thing I could find was an umbrella. Good for both jabbing someone and whacking him or her over the head. Was that bad luck?

Holding the umbrella above my head, I advanced on the recliner. The empty recliner. Maybe I’d just heard the TV. I checked it, but it was off.

The yipping came from under the TV remote, which had pinned a little fox made from yarn. Grandma kept it on a high shelf on the other side of the room; how had it gotten down here? The detail on the fox was exquisite. He had tiny beads for eyes and threads for whiskers. His ears were tipped with black, and his tiny white paws had claws stitched in the same color. White accented his muzzle and the tip of his tail. It couldn’t have been a more perfect rendition of a fox if someone had taken a live creature and shrunk it down.

It waved its paws, trying to free itself.

I let out a cry and dropped the umbrella. The fox froze, its paws stuck at odd angles. Then it slowly turned to stare at me. 


* * *


Murder at Magic Lake will be available at a special introductory price of  $0.99 through September 22nd. It's available in eBook and paper from Amazon and eBook on Google Play, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple.

Site Meter