Give the people what they want by Maggie Kast

Maggie reading at Sally'sMaggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street and others.

A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. A story published in Rosebud and judged by Ursula Leguin won an Honorable Mention in their fantasy fiction contest.

Kast’s essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer’s Chronicle and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, is forthcoming from Fomite Press in November 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and is forthcoming in the Birmingham Arts Journal.

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Let’s say you’ve written a book of fiction or memoir. Only you can know your painstaking search for le mot juste, your carefully crafted plot twists or months of research, the agonizing edits and rewrites that brought your book to birth. Now you hold it in your hands and face a new and painful question: who wants your book? What do people actually want?

Like all of us, people want helpful information that will ease some burden in their lives. What hurdles does your protagonist or narrator face? How does he or she tackle them? This kernel of information in your novel or memoir can lead you to the groups that want your book.

  1. Share the obstacles your characters face with like-minded interest groups. With my first book, a memoir about loss of a child, this meant support groups for parents with similar losses. Since my first career was in dance, it meant dancers, dance companies and dance associations. And since the book explored a spiritual journey, it meant church-based book groups and lecture series as well as teaching and speaking about the arts as spiritual path. At book events I stressed discussion and sharing of personal experience.
  2. Dare to take advantage of the unexpected or unlikely. Shortly after the release of my novel, A Free Unsullied Land, I planned a visit to family near Vienna, Austria, my late husband’s birthplace. I searched for, found, and contacted Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers, an English-language bookstore, but got no response. A relative in Vienna checked out the store and reported that a reading for me was unlikely. Then my son explored the store more deeply and talked to the owner. Ultimately my trip was enriched by a lovely, intimate reading in a marvelous bookstore, and I sold all the books I had brought. This was not the first time I experienced rejection and then succeeded on a later try. Dare to knock twice!

Many years ago a faculty member of Rosebud School of Theatre Arts, near Calgary, Alberta, was home for vacation and came across my memoir on an Oregon bookstore’s shelf. She used the book in a class, and one of her students wrote to me. I pursued the correspondence with  teacher and student, and a week’s guest teaching eventually followed. Turning over every stone can yield some unlikely forms of life.

  1. Play Fair with bookstores and with not-for-profit groups. The former have to make money and can’t stock books that might not sell. Offer to provide copies on consignment. Even if they order, bring some extras, in case your crowd is bigger than they thought.

If your work deals with homelessness or hunger, social justice or abuse, seek out the not-for profits that focus on these issues. Offer to donate half of all proceeds from books sold at the event to their group. This is a win-win for you and the group. You get the income to offset against expenses, while you also get the tax deduction for your contribution. I recently did a shared event with Still Point Theatre Collective, focused on my protagonist, Henriette’s trip to Scottsboro Alabama, 1931, to protest the unfair trials and convictions of the nine young men known as the “Scottsboro Boys.” We sat in a circle and had a lively discussion about how these events of the 1930s relate to events of today. Both the group and I gained from every book sold.

In spring I’ll be collaborating with Hook and Eye Theatre Company in New York on a shared event. I’ve no idea how we’ll use our time together, but I’m confident that it will give my book new life and benefit us both.


JackieMinittiI’m a firm believer that nothing important happens by chance. This belief has been validated  many times as I’ve traveled through the sixty-seven years of my life, but never more than a recent experience that shed a new light on an old story.

My dad is a WWII veteran who turned 99 in October. The day after D-Day, he was a handsome young army sergeant arriving in Rennes, France with the 127th General Hospital. During his tour of duty, his heart was stolen by a little French girl named Jacqueline. For some reason that was never clear, she took a liking to my father and began following him to the hospital in the morning and waiting for him at the hospital gates when his shift ended. The tale of their friendship was the only war story he was willing to share, often with misty eyes, and it eventually became part of our family lore. He never tired of retelling the tale of how I got my name.

When I retired from 25-years of teaching and started my career as a writer, Dad began urging me to put the story on paper. I explained that, while the family loved his narrative, it would not interest the average reader. Besides, while there might be enough material for a short story, there certainly wasn’t enough to fill a book. But the seed had been planted, and Jacqueline took up residence in my mind, a character in search of a story. I found myself drawn to the faded pictures in my

Jackie's Dad

Jackie’s Dad

dad’s old photo album where a little girl with dark curly hair smiled back at me. What was it that drew her to my father? Where was she now? Did she ever think about the girl in America who became her namesake?

As I’ve said, I’m not a believer in coincidences, but a chance encounter with a stranger set into motion the chain of events that gave me the answers I was seeking. At my son’s wedding reception, an unfamiliar man approached me. “I have to talk to you,” he said, motioning me to a table where my dad sat. “Your father says you’re a writer. He’s been telling me the most amazing story. You’ve got to write a book about it.”

I smiled politely and started to explain why it couldn’t be done, how the story wouldn’t appeal to the average reader, but he stopped me. “I have a daughter in sixth grade,” he said. “She doesn’t know anything about World War II. She’d love to read a story like this, and it could help her learn history.”

And there it was – the “Eureka!” moment.  A cartoon lightbulb went on over my head. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to me to write this as a book for younger readers, especially after I’d spent so many years teaching reading in middle school?  When Jacqueline met my father, she was the same age as the kids I’d taught. She’d be a perfect character in a story written for them. And there was so much they could learn from her. I could do this!

My research took me deep into the history of the Second World War. I was amazed at how little I, only one generation removed from these events, Jacqueline coverreally knew about the bravery, selflessness and sacrifice that characterized the veterans of the Greatest Generation. My admiration grew until I felt compelled to make this era come alive for young readers. As I began writing, Jacqueline was soon joined by her brave mother, a mischievous Jewish boy and his family, a stylish young French woman, a grumpy nun, and a one-eyed cat. The story unfolded before my eyes, and as the characters took on lives of their own, it was sometimes difficult for my written words to keep up with them. They showed me the importance of faith, family, friendship, and the resilience of the human spirit.

For as long as I can remember, I’d dreamed of becoming a published author. When I finally typed “The End,” I knew that this book would make it happen. Sure enough, the manuscript was picked up by Anaiah Press, and I was rewarded with the proudest moment of my life – putting that book in my father’s hands. And the most ironic thing of all is the way “average readers” have embraced the story. I guess this goes to show that, if you wait until the stars and planets align just right, even your wildest dreams can come true.

Keeping It Fresh; The Joys of Writing a Long Series by Donis Casey

I am happy to say that my eighth Alafair Tucker Mystery, All Men Fear Me, has just been released in paper, audio, and e-formats. This is a good thing, since the minute I finish a manuscript, am brain dead for several weeks thereafter. The last few weeks of writing before a manuscript is due in to the publisher is intense and hair-raising.You finish.You send it off. It’s out of your hands.You are like a cork that has been anchored under the water for weeks and months, and now the string is cut and you pop to the surface.You’re floating.The sun is shining, the air is fresh.You are drifting. You are disoriented. You’re blinking at the light. You don’t know what to do next. This has happened to me every time I finish a novel. I despair of ever being able to write another word.

And yet—by the time a new book is released, I’m already well into the next. When I first began writing the Alafair Tucker Mystery series, I had a story arc in mind that was going to carry through ten books. This is a wonderful idea, but as anyone who has ever written a long series knows, after a couple of books all your plans for a story arc have been knocked into a cocked hat.
The reason this happened, at least to me, is that I seem to be writing about real people who have their own ideas about how things should be gone about, and once I put them into a situation, they react to it in ways I had never anticipated.
So much for a ten book arc. Besides, I really want readers to be able to pick up any book in the series and have a satisfying experience without having to know anything about what went before. This poses the million dollar question for the author of a long series: How do you keep it fresh? How do you make every story stand alone, yet in its place as well? How do you keep from repeating yourself, or losing your spark?
I’ve had quite a journey with my protagonist over the last decade. Alafair is a farm wife with a very large family who lives in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the 20th century. She is a woman who knows her world and has made her place in it. Each of the books features a different one of Alafair’s newly-grown children, with whom Alafair either works to solve a crime, or works to save from him or herself.  Since each child has his or her own distinct personality and interests, this gives me a great deal of latitude to explore all kinds of things that people were into in the early 20th Century.
 For each book I must come up with a compelling reason for a farm wife and mother of ten to get involved in a murder investigation. I also have to figure out a convincing way for her to either solve the murder or at least contribute to the solution, which as you might guess, isn’t that easy. I have found over the course of eight books in the same series that I have begun to depart from the usual mystery novel format. The murders take place later and later in the story with each book I write. The later books are constructed more like thrillers than puzzles. In book seven, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, I told the reader who was going to die in the first sentence, but didn’t actually kill him for a hundred pages. In All Men Fear Me…well, I’ll let you see for yourself.
All Men Fear Me takes the Tucker family to the beginning of World War I. Of course, war is hell. The book is not about the life of a soldier, though, or what is going on in Europe. All Men Fear Me is about the American home front. The war had a huge impact on daily life for ordinary people, even in the far reaches of eastern Oklahoma. Americans were as divided at the beginning of World War I as they were during the Viet Nam war. But the U.S. Government was not nearly as tolerant of dissension in 1917 as it was in 1967. Alafair just wants to mind her own business, live a quiet life, and see her children safe and happy. But when you have two sons eager to do their patriotic duty, a German-born son-in-law, and a brother who is a Socialist, union organizer, and anti-war activist, peace and harmony is not to be. Especially after the arrival in town of an ominous stranger who sews discord wherever he goes.
And the title? The title comes from a World War I bond drive poster that says:
I am Public Opinion
All Men Fear me
Donis Casey is a native Oklahoman and the author of eight Alafair Tucker Mysteries, (Poisoned Pen Press): The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, The Wrong Hill to Die On, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, and the newly All_Men_Fear_Me_Cover1011released All Men Fear Me. Two of her novels have won the Arizona Book Award and six have been finalists for the Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction. The Old Buzzard Had It Coming was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book in 2007. She is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur who lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband. Read the first chapter of each of her books on her website
Elevator pitch
Passions run high in the small town of Boynton, Oklahoma, the home of Alafair Tucker, her husband, and their 10 children. Patriotic zealots are on the lookout for anyone not doing their bit for the war effort. Yet the local unionists and Socialists oppose the far-off war. Innocent civilians such as Alafair’s German-born son-in-law, Kurt Lukenbach, Alafair’s son-in-law, are caught in the general distrust of foreigners. On top of everything, Alafair’s IWW-activist brother, Rob Gunn, comes for a visit, and his arrival coincides with civil unrest, acts of sabotage, and murder. In the middle of it all is “old Nick,” a ubiquitous stranger feasting on the conflicts and fanning the flames.
Kirkus Reviews says about All Men Fear Me: “Casey’s skill at making you care about the injustices of a time and place not often covered in history books is second to none. The admirable mystery is the cherry on top.”

How I Overcame my Peyton Place Complex (and lived to write another day) by A.C. Burch

When I set out to write about the town I’ve lived in for nearly thirty years, I was following age-old advice to “write what you know.” I never thought that knowing a place so well would unleash such insecurities.

IMG_0675It was inevitable from the start that Provincetown and its citizens would play a significant role in The HomePort Journals. The story takes place in the off-season when midsummer’s carnival atmosphere is a faded memory and the realities of life on a strip of sand out in the Atlantic are unavoidable. The gray skies, isolation, and storms of winter seemed a perfect backdrop for my hero’s efforts to start a new life and evolve as a writer. What’s more, the other characters (primarily composites of neighbors, family, and friends) were so quirky they’d be unbelievable in most other settings.

One night over cocktails, I was asked that inevitable question, “What are you working on?” “A book set in Provincetown,” was my evasive reply. My interrogator laughed and said, “Be careful. Remember what happened to Grace Metalious. Provincetown folks take no prisoners, especially in the off-season.” I didn’t immediately recognize Metalious as the author of Peyton Place but was intrigued enough to research her story. It seems she’d suffered dreadful retribution from the good citizens of Gilmanton, New Hampshire for all she’d written about the town she lived in.

This discovery was the origin of what I came to think of as my Peyton Place complex. I’d built my novel around the relationship between Provincetown’s gay men and elderly Portuguese women—a phenomenon I’d experienced firsthand and considered unique to my hometown. Some of these women, dedicated to their families and often quite religious, had found mutually rewarding friendships with their gay neighbors. Their HomeportJournals_cvr finalcommon currency was gossip—the more outrageous the tale, the more both parties enjoyed its telling. Sexual peccadillos were definitely not off-limits. From this unlikely intimacy, loving bonds were often forged. Such a bond was to be the turning point in The HomePort Journals.

Pondering Grace’s fate, my thoughts went into overdrive. Would such an incongruous relationship alienate readers? Would my characters’ deep affection for each other resonate outside of Provincetown? As a novice writer, did I have the skill to craft an accurate portrayal of these women without making them seem tawdry or pathetic? They had been good to me. I had to do them justice. These fears and hundreds of others echoed through my brain, blocking progress every time I sat down to write.

The reclusive Lola Staunton is the sole heir to a vast whaling fortune. As her character evolved, I grew concerned about writing of great wealth in a town where many work seasonally and can barely make ends meet. Provincetown was (and still is) facing significant challenges due to the lack of affordable housing. Resentment runs high against second-home owners who’ve bought up most of the real estate only to use it for a few weeks a year. Would my readers see the pathos in Lola’s circumstances, or focus on her wealth and miss the point altogether? If that happened, there’d be no trust in her redemption, and my notion of a family of choice would fail. If that theme failed, the entire novel would fail.

I felt I was walking a tightrope blindfolded. Suffice it to say, in my naïveté I’d plastered an entire layer of angst atop already daunting challenges. Second-guessing myself made me overly cautious and my writing lost its spark. Weeks passed, until one day I read a quote from Ray Bradbury in Zen and the Art of Writing. He wrote, “Everything I’ve ever done was done with excitement because I wanted to do it, because I loved doing it…Because I wanted to do, I did. Where I wanted to feed, I fed.”

With this insight, I immediately traded “Write what you know,” for “Write what you love.” I loved those old women who’d seen it all. I loved the way their eyes lit up with every new tidbit of gossip. I loved the way they called me “dahlin’.” I loved the beauty, contrast, and contradictions of Provincetown. From glorious sunrises over the harbor to drag queens sashaying down Commercial Street, I loved it all.

I began to write from where my passions reside, not the cerebral, cautious, accommodating place that enables me to navigate the everyday world. (There’s an enormous difference between the two places: the former is like taking the subway to work, the latter like crossing the Canadian Rockies in an observation car.)

The strategy worked, and in the end my fears proved groundless. Reviews were great. Copies flew out of the Provincetown Bookshop. One friend wrote to say I’d captured his friendship with an elderly Portuguese woman perfectly—a relationship I’d never witnessed. A long-time resident bought several copies as gifts for family and friends.

Even a frustrating, self-inflicted episode such as mine can be a learning experience. Here’s what my Peyton Place complex taught me:

  1. Don’t discuss work in its early stages.
  2. Don’t let people into your head. If they’re such experts, they can write their own book.
  3. Write first. Worry later.
  4. Never doubt yourself. Perseverance bears the gift of self-knowledge.
  5. Take risks. For every person who pans your work, there are multitudes who will adore it.

And, most important of all, write about what you love with all the passion you can muster. When it comes time to promote your book you’ll be really glad you did. You won’t have to dig deep for reasons why you wrote what you wrote. They’ll be part of you, making you sound sure-footed and convincing. Readers will take notice.

ACB-180x180A.C. Burch is still writing and living in Provincetown. He is currently at work on A Book of Revelations, eight short stories where nothing is as it seems and a sequel to The HomePort Journals. He’s yet to read Peyton Place.

You can connect with A.C. at or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. An interesting article on the rise and fall of Grace Metalious can be found in this 2006 excerpt from Vanity Fair.



Milking Chickens by Betty Webb

betty2015.4Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (DESERT RAGE, DESERT WIVES, DESERT WIND, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (THE KOALA OF DEATH, THE PUFFIN OF DEATH, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, and has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for more than 20 years, and is currently reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine. In addition to other organizations, Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and the American Association of Zoo Keepers.




Yesterday, while I was speaking to a Phoenix-area book club, I made an inadvertent slip when describing my chores as a kid growing up on a farm. I said, “I milked the goat and chickens…” when I meant to say, “I milked the goat and fed the chickens.”

My verbal gaffe got a big laugh, of course, but the phrase “milked the chickens” remains with me. It perfectly describes the writing life.

Every single day, we writers attempt the impossible.

The first impossible thing is in trying to create something from nothing, to build a universe from a void. The second impossible thing is in attempting to transfer the multi-colored visions in our heads to the stark black-and-white of the printed page. The third impossible thing — the most impossible, actually — is in struggling to lead a “normal” life.

In other words, we writers are constantly trying to milk chickens.

At this point in my writing life, I’ve written thirteen mystery novels. Well, twelve if you don’t want to count my one-hundred-page novella (“Desert Deceit”) as a book. Each novel started with little more than a vague idea in my head. My mean-streets Lena Jones “Desert” novels (“Desert Wives,” “Desert Rage,” etc.) were all triggered by newspaper accounts of certain human rights abuses. My cozy Gunn Zoo series (“The Koala of Death,” “The Puffin of Death,” etc.) emerged from my years of volunteer work at the Phoenix Zoo.

I’ve been lucky. Not only did all those books find a publisher willing to pay me for them (!), they went on to receive glowing reviews in media like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and that publishing-world bible, Publishers Weekly. Only Kirkus continues to hate them.

Yet as lucky as I’ve been, none of these published books matched the original idea in my head. My most recent book – “The Puffin of Death” – provides an example.

When I first came up with the idea of writing a mystery centered around those bizarre-looking birds, I pictured a rocky slope in Maine being studied by a group of American zoologists, one of whom was a killer. Somewhere along the line, and for the life of me I can’t remember when and how it happened, the coast of Maine was replaced by a windswept cliff in Iceland. Since I’d never been to Iceland, I decided that a trip there was necessary. So I went.

A month later, I was back home and writing a totally different book than the one I’d originally planned. Gone was my original killer, gone were my original suspects, gone was my original victim. The only thing that remained the same was the puffin, but even she was eclipsed by the antics of an orphaned polar bear cub named Magnus.

And this is not necessarily a bad thing, because change can be good.

Like many writers, I construct an outline before beginning to write, and “The Puffin of Death” was no different. I plotted out the action chapter by chapter, making certain I alternated indoor scenes with outdoor scenes so my readers wouldn’t suffer from claustrophobia. I provided method, means, and motive for my wannabe-murderer, and made certain that my about-to-be victim had done something awful enough to get what was coming to him.

This outline was awesome. Rational, detailed, with none of those pesky plot holes that so annoy readers.PuffinofDeath

But three chapters into the outlined version of “The Puffin of Death,” I junked it.

The book had become its own thing. “Puffin” refused to be dictated to and wrote its own pages, ignoring my every attempt to rein it in and make it conform. The murderer refused to do the deed, and someone else stepped forward. The puffin, instead being a cute, cuddly little bird, developed a mean streak. And Iceland? Instead of the frozen north I’d envisioned, it became a lush August paradise where shaggy Icelandic horses pastured on the slopes of active volcanoes.

Because I was writing by the seat of my pants – as they say in the trade – I wound up writing a book I hadn’t intended to write, a book that had nothing to do with the outline I’d so laboriously put together. In short, I failed. But guess what? That “failure” turned out to be much better than the book I’d planned, and judging from what the critics have been saying about it, they agree.

Have I learned anything from this?

Sure. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you try, you can’t milk a chicken, so don’t even try. Instead, bypass that stuffy chicken coop and head for the open, green pasture. The view’s better out there.



Mary Reed and Eric Mayer co-author the John, Lord Chamberlain, historical mystery series set in 6th century Byzantium. The eleventh, Murder In Megara, was published in October 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press. The Guardian Stones,  a World War Two mystery set in rural Shropshire, will appear under the pen name Eric Reed in January 2016 from the same publisher.



Mary  @marymaywrite
Eric @groggytales

Murder In Megara links

Poisoned Pen Press


Barnes & Noble



Writers of historical mystery fiction are occasionally handicapped by not being sure whether certain matters could take place in any given time period.

Some eras are relatively easy to research but others, well, not so much. Our time-tested method for overcoming such difficulties?

Note what is known and extrapolate from the information in a fashion that will not break the laws of the universe. In this way writers are able to describe scenes that sound unlikely but are not when the
mandatory explanations are offered.

The writer has often to plough some fairly far-off fields to obtain needed information but we have found it will often pop up in casual reading rather than deep research, thus underlining the need for writers to find time to read as much as possible.

So, escorting you behind the scenes to provide examples from our work, we might mention spontaneous combustions occurred and the sea caught fire in Two For Joy. How these feats were accomplished involved looking into accounts of early miracles and investigation of certain natural phenomena.

In Three For A Letter the automatons — including musicians, an archer, and the mechanical whale played an important part in the plot – were based upon the writings of Heron of Alexandria, to which we added
something of our own, while our protagonist Lord Chamberlain John’s brief flight from atop a Constantinople tower as related in Four For A Boy became possible by combining information obtained from perusal of
accounts of failed Victorian suicides and an historical record of a 17th century flight in the city.

Occasionally information comes to hand long after publication supporting what appears at first blush to be the over-inventive imagination of certain writers of mysteries not a hundred miles from this blog.

Cat mummies spring to mind.

In Six For Gold we sent John to Egypt, accompanied by Cornelia and John’s servant Peter, to look into the matter of sheep committing suicide. While the trio are in Alexandria Peter meets Pedibastet, purveyor of cat mummies. They are certainly mummies but not as ancient as presented, for Pedibastet manufactures and sells them to unwary visitors as genuinely ancient artefacts.

A forger of mummies, we thought, and why not? Visitors to Egypt think of pyramids and mummies. Greed knows no bounds and such souvenirs would be easy enough to accomplish — the reader can tell from their description these are not the highest grade of mummy — so although the notion pained us no end, to keep his expenses down we arranged for Pedibastet to breed or steal his basic material. It would be just the sort of thing
this type of seedy character would do — and so he did.

Even so, one of Pedibastet’s creations plays a part in assisting John and his companions to put on a somewhat scurrilous street performance in Alexandria. This unlikely event was necessary because, Peter having been
robbed, the party needs funds to pay for their passage up the Nile in connection with John’s investigation.

At least there were cats in Pedibastet’s mummies, unlike some mentioned in a BBC report this past summer.

A team investigating the contents of animal mummies via the use of an x-ray machine and CT scanner discovered some mummies contained only partial remains or none at all. Experts were divided on why this should be so: were they made for sale to pilgrims and there was more profit to be made in such spurious artefacts or was it believed even a part of an animal was considered as sacred as the whole?Murder in Megara

Cheops, as Cornelia dubbed the cat mummy, returned to Constantinople with the travelers and currently resides in John and Cornelia’s bedroom.
Evidence for his presence there occurs in an early chapter in Murder In Megara, latest entry in the series to published by Poisoned Pen Press in October.

Are We There Yet? by Molly MacRae

P1030513Until I sat down to write this guest post, I hadn’t really thought in terms of “lessons I’ve learned along the way.” “Along the way” suggests I’ve gotten where I’m going and might stop, and although I’m a string of short stories and seven novels along the way, I hope I haven’t reached the end yet. Also, I know that I still have a lot to learn. But I do like lists, and I have learned a few things along my writing road. So I put the things down and gave them numbers, and then I revised them (see number 18, below) so I ended up with a nice, round dozen and a half. A piece of advice before you read my list, though: keep a pinch of salt handy (see number 4, below).


  1. If you don’t already have them, grow a thick skin and a sense of humor.
  2. Take interest in the world around you – in news items, community activities, and the details of other people’s lives. Be nosy. Eavesdrop. Carry paper and pen or pencil so you can take notes. Be the one at the party sitting quietly in the corner watching. Be the one listening to that guy talking on his cell phone, loudly, in a public place. Read obituaries. Take pictures.
  3. Join a writers group, either one that meets regularly in person, or an online group. Don’t let a writers group stifle or paralyze you.
  4. Listen to advice, but take it with a grain of salt. Anyone can tell you how to rewrite your story or novel. That doesn’t mean you have to listen to them. The only ones you need to please are yourself and the editor you’re trying to sell to.
  5. Believe that miracles can fall into your lap in real life. Work hard to make sure your lap is in the right place, at the right time, to catch a miracle.
  6. Go easy on the miracles in your writing. Don’t settle for convenience and a string of coincidences to wrap up a story.
  7. Be egalitarian. Treat your villains the same way you treat the rest of your characters. They all need believable motivations, actions, reactions, and dialogue. You want readers to sympathize just enough with the villain so they’re lulled into ignoring obvious signs that she or he is rotten to the core.
  8. Play fair with clues in your mystery, but do let your characters run with scissors and pointed sticks.
  9. Assume the role of a stage director when you’re writing. Your job is to make the surroundings (location, season, era, predicament, etc.) believable.
  10. Read, read, read. If you don’t read, how can you write?
  11. There’s a sort of postpartum depression that happens after finishing a manuscript and sending it off to the publisher. Let yourself have time to decompress, but try to have another project ready to jump into so that you don’t end up wallowing.
  12. There’s also a danger of too much navel-gazing after a book comes out because of all the hoopla surrounding that really cool, momentous day. Keep your head and keep moving forward.
  13. Promote your books on social media, but do it without shouting “Buy my books!” Instead, share your interests, your hobbies, your milestones, your funny bone, and the pictures you’re taking in number 3, above. Did the picture I posted on Facebook that my husband took of me typing while wearing the cat in a baby carrier sell more books? Possibly not, but I write humorous, character driven cozies, and the picture offers a glimpse of my personality. Three hundred and sixty one people “liked” the picture, seventy four commented on it, and sixteen shared it. Those numbers aren’t way out there, but they show that people were paying attention, and the ones who liked, commented, and shared that post were, in effect, promoting for me.
  14. Remember your manners. Be kind, treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and say thank you when you should.
  15. Combining a day job with a contract to write a series will consume most of your waking hours. Making the combination work takes stamina and a love for ignoring housework.
  16. Show up for the job.
  17. Don’t give up.
  18. Revision is the key to success.



The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the author of the award-winning Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries, Knot_the_usual_suspectspublished by Penguin/NAL. Molly’s short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990. After twenty years in northeast Tennessee, Molly lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois.

You can find out more about Molly at You can find her blogging on the first Monday of each month at and on the 23rd of each month at


Buy link for Knot the Usual Suspects, book 5 in the Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries: