Keeping It New: Four Ways to Insure Your Writing Stays Fresh By Lesley A. Diehl


3523I have been writing and publishing mysteries for over ten years, and I never have difficulty finding ideas for my work. I have several well-established series, two set in rural Florida and two in Upstate New York. I have a home in each location, and I enjoy writing about both areas, choosing rural settings in each location. I’m a country person as are my protagonists.


I love the fun of plotting, the sheer joy of laying out the logic of a whodunit, but a good mystery as we all know is more than that. It must capture not only our sense of tracking down the bad guy, but making us love the lives of the characters we create in it. For those writing series as I do, we must keep our writing feeling and reading new and fresh. If we as writers become bored or too formulaic in our writing, our readers will certainly spot it.


Here are some strategies I use to keep me interested and excited about my work so that my readers continue to feel engaged with the series.


Grow your protagonist


The first strategy is a time honored one of making certain your protagonist grows and develops through the story. In a series, she must also continue 100_0454to change through the arc of your series. My background is developmental psychology, so I am keenly aware that as we go through life’s stages, we take on a myriad of challenges, some pleasant, some not, but it is these challenges that keep us engaged in our lives. It must be the same with our protagonist.


Use the unexpected


Elizabeth George chose to kill off a beloved character. What did she accomplish? She certainly shocked some readers, angered many others, but she made her protagonist confront a situation he never had encountered before. Was he up to it? Where would he go from here? These are the questions that make the books coming after the death so interesting. Old coping strategies may not work. Our protagonist must no struggle to find his way.


Killing off a character may be too extreme for many writers, but there are unexpected, unusual events that can challenge a character such as change in a protagonist’s profession or location.


Consider your subplots


20150927_143026_resizedThere is more than the murder to solve. There are other issues such as love interests, family issues, community involvements and larger social issues that can impact the characters. These subplots give the story texture. I find myself using more of these as my series evolves.


Take on a new project


If you begin to feel your writing has become stale, consider a new venture whether in writing or some other area such as painting, cooking, taking a trip, learning something new, perhaps a new hobby one you’ve always wanted to do. I try to change up my writing even on a daily basis, interspersing writing with cooking, reading, hiking, gardening, cleaning a closet, vacuuming. I also make my writing life varied. I write short stories and am beginning a novella. I sometimes work on two series at a time. If I entertain myself and have fun with my writing and feel good about my life, I know how I live will find its way into my writing and my readers will see it is there in the complexity of my characters and in the twists and turns of the plot.


These are the strategies I use to keep things new, to keep my writing fresh and to make certain I don’t lose interest in what I’m creating.


When you write, what tactics do you use? Can you tell as a reader when your favorite author has lost interest in the story?


Visit Lesley on her webpage:

And on twitter: @lesleydiehl

And facebook:


Fatal_final_ebook_1In January, Failure Is Fatal, the second book in Lesley A. Diehl’s Laura Murphy mystery series, was released by Creekside Publishing as a trade paperback and e-book. Yep, Dr. Murphy is at it again. Our menopausal, doughnut-eating psychology professor sticks her nose into yet another murder, and why shouldn’t she? The victim is one of the students on her campus. This time she must take on some frat boys who are more interested in partying than in finding a killer. But are they hiding more than girls’ panties under their mattresses?



Which Witch is Which? Trials and Triumphs in Researching the Salem Witch Trials by M.E. Kemp

marilyn2     In writing chronologically for my historical mystery series set in Colonial New England, I came to the year 1692.  There was no way I was going to miss including the Salem Witch Trials of that year in my series, which features two nosy Puritans named Hetty and Creasy.  Nosy makes a good detective, thought I, and Puritans were encouraged to poke their noses into their neighbors’ business.  Of course this meant a great deal of research about the trials, for I always try to be accurate in my portrayals of the period and the Puritans have been turned into stereotypes over time — they were quite a lusty lot and you should remember that they were the direct descendants of the Elizabethans.  They liked their wine and women, if not so much song.  I found in doing my research that there was so much material I ended up giving talks on the subject rather than waste all the time I put in. Turns out the Salem Witch Trials are a popular topic and I usually get a nice crowd.   This means that I have to keep up with the latest material, as new aspects of the trials keeps popping up all the time.  The very latest just came in as to where the victims were actually hung; not on Gallows Hill as popular opinion has it, but on a place called Proctor’s ledge, below Gallows Hill.  And the witches were probably hung from a tree limb, not a gallows, although a gallows could have been constructed and the remains disintegrated with time.

What cannot be denied is that nineteen victims were hung and one man pressed to death with boulders.  In defense of American history I like to point out that at the same period thousands of accused witches were burned to death across Europe, which trials went well into the 18th century.  My research also uncovered the information that the Proctors (victims) and the Putnams (accusers) had a family feud going on for at least two generations.  Accusing someone of witchcraft was a good way to get rid of your enemies. I actually use some of the transcript from the trials in my book “Death of a Bawdy Belle” as my detective, Hetty Henry, gets too close to a killer and is accused by him of being a witch.  Hetty has to run for her life, as several people did at the time in order to escape being hung.  Of course if you ran, you lost any property you owned to the Sheriff, and one man managed to get his revenge on the sheriff by holding his dead body for ransom….  Truth is stranger than fiction, as they say.

As for the so-called “afflicted children” who raised such an outcry, these accusers were hardly children but young women in their late teens and early twenties and this was, as they admitted, their idea of “sport.”  Mean Girls to the enth degree.  The original two girls were pre-teens and they were sent away to a safe place where the tales of a slave could not frighten them again.  Another myth is that poor Cotton Mather, the Puritan minister, was responsible for the whole thing.  Poor Cotton was only 26 years old and the judges were all colleagues of  his father, so he was in no position to criticize.  Indeed, there is no proof that he ever went to Salem, but there is proof he wrote to caution the judges about the use of “spectal evidence” – the testimony of ghosts — which was the basis for many of the accusations.  Mather’s famous father Increase was away on a diplomatic mission; when he returned to Boston he was responsible in large part for the ending of the trials.  Son Cotton’s mistake was in asking for a transcript of the trials and in writing about them.  Thus his name became associated with Salem.  However, Cotton wrote about everything under the son, with some 400 books and pamphlets to his pen.  Today’s reader might have trouble plowing through his writings.

The title of this post, Which Witch is Which, is also the first line of my book concerning the trials.  It’s my husband’s favorite line.  As my biggest booster, he likes to recite it to people, which is o.k. by me.  He takes my books to the local Off-Track Betting parlor to sell — some of my biggest fans are bookies.   ###

Bio:  M.E. Kemp is the author of five books featuring two nosy Puritan detectives; she is at work on #6.  Kemp lives in Saratoga Springs, NY with husband Jack, where they frequent the race track and neglect to drink the healthy waters.

An interview with Lesley Diehl

3523Meet author Lesley Diehl:

  What’s your current guilty pleasure?

I love, love, love dark chocolate. One Christmas season I found dark chocolate seasoned with pepper and that became my favorite dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I never found it again. So instead, I now have a passion for dark chocolate and caramel with salt. My second guilty pleasure? Wine, but not red wine which does go with chocolate very well, but white wine, especially sauvignon blancs from New Zealand.

  If you weren’t a writer, what you would be?

A comedian.

When did you decide to become a writer?

I don’t think I made that decision. I think I just have so many stories in my head that I’ve finally found the time to get them out.

When did you begin writing?

I’ve always played around with writing. When I was in junior high, I decided to write a novel. I think I wrote about five pages before I forgot about it. I don’t remember what it was about, but I’m certain it must have been about young love. In high school I wrote several short stories and a few humorous essays in college. Then my creative writing was replaced by the need to write in my field. I think scientific writing killed my creative energies. I took up writing poems just before I retired and decided to write mysteries after I left academe. It was the best decision I ever made. For over ten years I’ve been writing and publishing cozy mysteries, traditional mysteries and short stories. These have been the most rewarding years of my life.

Who are your cheerleaders?

My husband is one and a small group of friends.

Did you have support at the beginning and/or during your writing?

I first wrote in secret not telling anyone what I was doing. When I finally identified myself as a writer I had to go through that inevitable, “Have you had anything published?” Once I was published, there was the “Is this a selfpub (makes bad face) or a real publisher.” Then there was “I’ve never heard of this publisher.”

Did you always have in mind to be a writer or did it just happen?

I think I just fell into it and before I knew what I was doing, I had several books published.

Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I spend my spare time going to yard sales, consignment shops, secondhand stores, looking for items I can use to furnish my 1874 cottage. Used items are my passion and find their way into one of my mystery series, the Eve Appel Mysteries. Eve is the owner of a consignment shop in Florida.

I also garden. I have a vegetable garden and a perennial flower garden in Upstate New York. My husband and I like to hike and work on refurbishing our cottage. And, of course, I read, read, read.

Do you keep track or write reviews for books you read?

I write very few reviews because I don’t want to get into the quid pro quo of having to review a really bad book.

Do you read reviews written about your book?

Unfortunately I can’t help myself.

Do you listen to music while writing?

I prefer to listen to the sounds of the birds on my canal in Florida and the babbling of our trout stream up north.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Reading and going to yard sales, of course. My grandmother never bought anything new. She always reused and repurposed, so I think it’s genetic with me to never buy new.


What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

One of the first book events I did was at a library in Florida. I was promoting a book I wrote several years ago. The protagonist in the book was called Emily Rhodes. After my presentation, a girl about 12 years old ran up to me. She was so excited because her name was Emily Rhodes. She brought her birth certificate to me to prove that was her name. We had our picture taken together. I’m not sure which of us was proudest.


With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?


I write mostly cozy mysteries with humor in them, but I always incorporate serious themes into my work so that the read is more than just a simple “beach read”. I’ve used such issues as sexual abuse, racism, mistreatment of indigenous people, sexual harassment, and family issues.


What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?


Join a professional writing group. I recommend Sisters in Crime. Learn from them by taking advantage of their prepublication group, the Guppies where you can find manuscript exchanges, online classes on writing and recommendations for books. Go to a writers’ conference such as Sleuthfest, Killer Nashville, and Malice Domestic to meet other writers and learn from their workshops. Then write, write, write.


What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?


Library programs where I can meet people face to face or book festivals where the same is true.


What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

I’m not crazy about social media, but I do it because other authors use it, yet no one can say what social media platform works or if any does.


Your favorite books and author?


I loved Elizabeth Peters’ series on archaeologists in Egypt during the early 1900s. And Elizabeth George is my favorite for her ability to develop her characters’ angst and make it sympathetic. I miss Robert Parker, especially the Jesse Stone books, and I loved the character of Hawk in the Spenser series.


Which genres do you prefer to read?


I read mysteries and prefer the traditional mystery.


Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

I like Cindy Sample’s Dying For books. Funny stuff.


What book is currently on your nightstand?


I just finished Wild  by Cheryl Strayed.


How many books do you read/month?


Probably 12 or more.


How important do you find the communication between you and your readers? Do you reply to their messages or read their reviews?


I think if a reader takes the time to contact me, I owe that person a personal reply. I always respond to their messages and read their reviews, understanding that not everyone will like what I write. I try not to cry over a bad review.


Do you prefer Twitter or Facebook?


Twitter is a fun challenge for me. Can I be brief? As a retired college professor, I always wrote sentence that were pages long!


Where can your fans find you?


My website and blog:





Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?


The Green Toad Bookstore, Main Street, Oneonta, NY 13820


Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:


Hera Knightsbridge Microbrewing Mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings

Big Lake Murder Mysteries: Dumpster Dying, Grilled, Chilled and Killed

Angel Sleuth

Eve Appel Mysteries: A Secondhand Mystery, Dead in the Water, A Sporting Murder, Mud Bog Murder (due out Summer, 2016)

The Killer Wore Cranberry, Thanksgiving Anthologies from UJntreed Reads


Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:


Fatal_final_ebook_1Professor Laura Murphy is at it again, snooping into a murder of a coed and finding that some faculty and a few students take advantage of innocent, young women, but the worst offenders may resort to murder for reasons that emerge from the past.

Elevator pitch for Failure Is Fatal


Where can we buy it?




Are you working on anything new and if so when can we expect to see it?


I have two manuscripts that have been sitting on my computer for the past few years. They are both mysteries (of course), but not cozy mysteries, but rather noir cozies. I’d love to complete them, but haven’t yet found the time.



What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?


I laugh out loud when I write something I think is funny.

If you’re not scared you’re not trying hard enough…by Nancy Sweetland

Sweetland,Nancy-116946AcopyGood morning!  I’m delighted to be a guest here and hope to give you something to think about as you head back to your computer and your work in progress. Going through my email today I ran across a great blog by Nick Stephenson, whom some of you may know as a coach and teacher. I always read through anything he feels important enough to comment on, and I often come away with a new idea, a different perspective and sometimes even the possibility for a plot.


What I came away with today was two comments that hit home. I’ve been mulling over them; perhaps you will, too:  1) “If you’re not scared, you’re not trying hard enough.” And, 2) “You don’t have to be THE BEST.”


These gave me pause. The first, about being scared of doing the work I really want to do, reminded me of how many times I have found myself discarding an idea for a story, poem or even a novel because of what the ramifications might be if my (friend, mother, neighbor, son…) read it in print. I know the subject in question would be good work because I would be so invested in it. It’s my darling, it’s something so dear to my heart…etc. etc. But writing it would be scary. It’s not just that it’s perhaps controversial. It’s that bleeding it out would open me up to criticism, possibly even ridicule. Scary? You bet.


But…maybe I should rethink that. Maybe I haven’t been trying hard enough, reaching far enough. My romance and mystery novels, even my short stories, are, I’m convinced, adequate, maybe even more than adequate. But they don’t dig deep into that murky basement of things I know. Things that might resonate with a reader in a way a mystery or romance never could. Things that won’t likely see the light of publication.


Nick’s second comment about not needing to be the best also hit home. Maybe we don’t write some things because we’re fearful they won’t be good enough. Maybe we’ve worked hard on something that won’t make that top slot, that may just end up somewhere in the middle of the slush pile.


But isn’t that better than being nowhere at all? It’s not the best, maybe, but it’s not the worst, either, and it’s worth the time I spent in writing it. Whether an editor sees its worth, or whether a  reader agrees with it, enjoys or hates it isn’t important. It is. It’s real. It’s there, for better or worse. And it’s mine, darn it. It may not be THE BEST, but it’s MY best. For now. And as I grow as a writer, and as a person, my best will grow, too.


Short bio: Nancy Sweetland has been writing since the age of 13 when she received her first rejection slip and determined to become a published ThePerfectSuspect200x304writer. She’s the author of seven picture books, a chapter book mystery for young readers, many short stories for juveniles and adults, and three adult romances, “The Door to Love, “Wannabe,” and “The House on the Dunes. A third mystery/romance novel, “The Perfect Suspect,” will be published by Should Mate Publishing this spring. Other novels and short fictions are available on Amazon. com. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and loves to hear from readers. Contact her on

Blurb for “The House on the Dunes” (Divine Garden Publishing):

Surprised by inheriting spectacular emeralds and a lavish home on Lake Michigan, Olivia Hobart is compelled to uncover the secrets of her mother’s past. Ignoring her controlling husband’s wishes, she moves into Dunes House to TheHouseontheDunesFinalFrontCoverlearn what has been concealed. But her efforts are complicated by dangerous incidents and withheld information. Is the old caretaker really blameless or the possessor of long-held secrets? Is her handsome neighbor romantically interested in her or only attempting to gain access to what he sees as his rightful estate? Dunes House holds the answers…but will learning the truth bring to light an affair that could cost Olivia the only life she has ever known?

Blurb for “The Perfect Suspect” – coming out from Soul Mate Publishing this spring:

Twice divorced and wary about relationships, Jen Wright buys a cabin sight-unseen in far north Wisconsin to get away to write her elusive next novel. She doesn’t expect to find her first ex-husband (but with a reconstructed face) shot to death in the bedroom. She also doesn’t expect to be attracted to handsome Deputy Ross Tyler, recently rejected by his fiancé. Like Jen, he’s unwilling to risk his heart again. Is there a chance for a relationship? Do either of them want one? She’s the perfect suspect and the blustery Sheriff isn’t going to let her forget it. When the murder gun is found in her fan, he’s even more convinced of her guilt. The PI she hires to investigate is killed; his ever-present briefcase is missing. Jen’s sure it was no accident but can’t convince the law. She realizes she’s actually living a good plot for her new novel. Unfortunately, she may have to write it from jail.


Link to my website:

Lessons I’ve Learned along the Way by Peg Herring

HerringoutsideIt was the first evening of a conference, and I was at the cocktail party with three authors I know slightly (from hanging out at conference cocktail parties). As we sipped wine, the topic of success came up. Each of us is traditionally published and has received good press, awards, and accolades from readers. Yet none of us has a name you’ll see on a NY Times Bestsellers List. We won’t be the Guest of Honor at a con or have publishers engage in a bidding war for our next manuscript. One wise fellow put it this way: “When you realize you’re not going to reach the Big Time, that’s when you re-discover the joy of writing.”

Most writers learn two huge lessons over time. (1) You probably won’t become famous, and (2) that’s okay, because writing is its own reward.

When I got my first book contract back in 2006, I made a list of things I wanted from my writing. While I didn’t realize it at the time, that was a really smart thing to do. Sometimes I go back and look at the list, because nowhere did I say I longed to become rich or famous. I wanted two things: to share my stories with readers who enjoy them, and to earn enough money to stop claiming a loss on my taxes. That’s pretty much it, and though the money part took a while, I am where I wanted to be.

The reasons we write are sometimes forgotten under pressure from publishers and fans. “When will the next book be out?” is a stressful question when the book is no more than a vague idea at that point. Lists of what a writer “must” do abound, though there’s no proof any of it actually works. deaddetectiveagencyebookWe’re told we have to blog, arrange promotional events, advertise, collect email lists, and a dozen other things that take time from writing.

Here are some questions I ask myself when I’m feeling Publication Stress.

Is my primary concern money? I’ll admit, the money is nice, but I’d proceed differently if a tangible reward was really important. Those blog tours would matter a lot more.

How hard do I want to work to become famous? Once I accepted that promotional efforts are difficult to quantify, I was able to relax a little. I promote in the ways I want to, when I want to. My interest in what’s new in social media has begun to lag, but I figure most of my readers are in the same boat. I stick with what I know or can do well.

Why do I want to write? I suppose even the James Pattersons of the world started out with the simple urge to share a story. Mega-authors tell about wanting to kill off their protagonist because they’re sick of him/her, but their publishers won’t hear of it. When I ended my Loser Series, on the other deadftshowcoverhand, the publisher asked for more, but I felt the story arc was complete in three books. They were nice enough to let me end it, but if we’d been making millions, would my principles have stood up to the reward offered? If not, I wouldn’t have been writing what I wanted to. For me and my modest wish-list, that would be wrong.

What have I learned that can benefit others? If you write because you love it, if you don’t care that your name isn’t a household word, and if you’d rather write than promote, relax! You’re doing what you love. Maybe ten years after you’re dead someone will say, “That author did some great writing!” It won’t matter to you then, but it shouldn’t matter now either, as long as you’re doing what you love.


Peg Herring reads, writes, and loves mysteries, and that’s a good thing. As an educator she once set the school stage on fire. As a driver she’s
been so lost that she passed through the same town in Pennsylvania three times in one day. Family and friends have lost count of how many times
she’s locked herself out of her house. It’s much safer if she sits in her office and writes, either as herself or as her younger, hipper alter ego,
Maggie Pill.

Peg’s website: http://www.pegherring.comDftM_2_final_eBook
Maggie’s website:

Book Description:
The Dead Detective Mysteries ask the question: What if a murder victim could arrange for his/her death to be investigated from the Afterlife?
Seamus the cross-back detective is introduced in THE DEAD DETECTIVE AGENCY and continues his tough-guy P.I.role in DEAD FOR THE MONEY and DEAD FOR THE SHOW. Seamus’ final case–his own murder–is the subject of DEAD TO GET READY–AND GO, releasing in April of 2016.

Becoming a 21st-century author…gradually by S.K. Rizzolo


Sometimes a world is born when you aren’t paying attention. This was certainly true for me when I took a twelve-year hiatus from my mystery series while I was busy raising my daughter and teaching high school English. I do not regret the time spent in either of these meaningful pursuits. But needless to say, I don’t suggest that authors pursue this path!


I published the first novel in my Regency mystery series, The Rose in the Wheel, in 2002, my second, Blood for Blood, in 2003. But my third and now my fourth did not see the light of day until 2014 and 2016. If there was extensive social media promotion going on in 2002-03, I do not remember it. I went to the Left Coast Crime conference for mystery fans, had some write-ups in the mainstream press, and put up a website. That’s about it. Other authors in the vanguard were likely doing much more, but at that time neither Facebook nor Goodreads nor Twitter nor digital publishing existed. This truly was a different world.


You can imagine the culture shock when I published Die I Will Not in 2014. Suddenly I learned that authors, even quiet, introverted ones, were expected to tackle a list of promotional must-dos that seemed a mile long and strangely exotic, as if I were a visitor in a strange land. And often the advice came across as “do or die” imperatives (ignore the unintended pun on the title of my book, please!).


The imperatives went something like this: You must create a platform to consist of thousands of diehard fans. You must have a newsletter and a blog and tweet x number of times per day. And you must write not one but two or three or even four books every year while constantly “engaging” and showing off your charming personality.


Silly me. I thought it was all about the books. Naively, I thought that books must battle for their audience, be launched to sail away alone in a vast pond, and that classy authors should shut up and stay out of the fray. Hadn’t my mother always told me it isn’t polite to flaunt your accomplishments? “Don’t get a big head,” she used to say.


So I had to learn a brand new approach to the business side of writing. After a while I realized that I could participate more comfortably in this brave new world of publishing if I reframed my idea of promotion, a word I don’t much like. Instead of promoting my books (or worse, myself) online, I decided to view the process as joining a community, becoming a literary citizen in order to fulfill the obligations that come with any job.


It occurred to me recently that I behave on social media rather as I would at a party. I look around for like-minded souls and retreat to a corner with them. In my case, this has involved participation on Goodreads, where it really is all about the books, and on several Facebook discussion boards frequented by people who enjoy historical fiction. On Goodreads I have accumulated a small friends list—but these are readers who have similar tastes and interests. I genuinely enjoy interacting with them while also doing giveaways and blogging on the site.


Also, I venture out to do guest posts on hospitable blogs like this one. I still do not tweet, and I post only occasionally about my books. This approach works for me. I have made some friends, raised my author profile, and become part of a much larger community of readers and writers who share my love of the written word. I am starting to try new promotional tools in my own time and at my own pace.


So my advice to anyone just beginning this journey would be that you shouldn’t think you have to do everything. Find what works for you, what suits your personality and your aspirations, and do that. Take your time. It’s okay to let your author persona unfold gradually. Yes, marketing is indispensable to the 21st-century writer. Yes, we should give our work its best shot by finding a way to let people know it exists. Yes, it’s true that no one can be responsible for our careers but us.


But maybe a slow-building career can work in a fast-paced world.




S.K. Rizzolo earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and author. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of OnaDesertShorecover-byRolfBuschcrime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles.


London, 1813: A wealthy West India merchant’s daughter is in danger with a vast fortune at stake. Hired to protect the heiress, Bow Street Runner John Chase copes with a bitter inheritance dispute and vicious murder. Meanwhile, his sleuthing partner, abandoned wife Penelope Wolfe, must decide whether Society’s censure is too great a bar to a relationship with barrister Edward Buckler. On a Desert Shore stretches from the brutal colony of Jamaica to the prosperity and apparent peace of suburban London. Here a father’s ambition to transplant a child of mixed blood and create an English dynasty will lead to terrible deeds.



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