Because a Writer Can’t Wear All the Hats, We Find Experts

Fiction writers may be great at creating characters and brainstorming plots, but sometimes real facts get in the way, and that’s when we turn to outside sources. For example, I’m playing around with a darker than usual suspense story right now that is only alive and thriving because I was able to interview an iron worker about his job. You see, I would never be able to walk confidently across the beams that make up the skeleton of a high rise building. Lucky for me, however, I found someone who not only could, but was willing to tell me about it so I could add color and authenticity to my story and main character. My source was male, and my fictional protagonist is female, and when I told him this he gave a great gaffawing laugh and said, “Let me know when the book is published. I can’t wait to show my kids.” He has five children, and I forget how many grandkids. I can’t wait to hear their reaction either.

For my already published works, I’ve picked friends’ brains for efficient ideas that work in their homes, listened when they told me ideas I did naturally were some of the best they’d ever heard, and even bought a professional organizer coffee so she’d tell me some of her stories about closet makeovers. I haven’t used the latter in any of my Organized Mysteries yet, but I’m sure to a few books down the line. I even got the help of an eye doctor to fine tune one of my plot points for Kate McKenzie in Organized for Murder.

But I don’t just focus on main characters. I’ve interviewed interior designers so I could get Valerie’s character correct, even though she’s a secondary character, and–I suppose–a main adversary to Kate and Meg. Since Valerie is a catalyst, I know it’s just as important to keep her and her actions completely real as it is for me to do the same for Kate and Meg. For the latest, Organized for Homicide, I interviewed a longtime interior designer who had segued into house staging after a friend of a friend of a friend connected us. She was halfway across the country from where my office sits, but the telephone is a wonderful thing, and we had a marvelous visit. I fired off my questions what a stager does and why, and she sent her answers a couple of weeks later, and gave me permission to use her exact words in my book. She even told me how she would stage the Collier’s kitchen when I described the room, which is where so much of the action takes place. I thought her generosity of information was very brave, since when I spoke to her my first book wasn’t even out yet, so she had no idea if my cozy mystery would be a good one or not. I’m sure that’s likely why she preferred I didn’t acknowledge her contribution in the book, for as she said, “My corporate clients aren’t so likely to want my name to appear in genre fiction. Please take no offense; it’s simply a business judgement call on my part.” And I didn’t take offense. Why should I when she’d been so generous with the information I really needed?

For my other series, The Bodies of Art Mysteries, I’ve gone back over the art history notes I took in college, and spoken to curators and docents at my two local fine art museums. You can get a ton of information from docents–trust me on this. Docents truly are a museum’s best cheerleaders. I’ve also visited the National Galleries in Washington DC (yes, we have two), the Canadian National Gallery in Vancouver, and the National Gallery in London. Believe me when I say the old chestnut “you’ve seen one museum, you’ve seen ’em all” is the farthest thing from a true statement. Every museum is different–and that goes for more than just those labeled a ‘National Gallery’. And after I get back home and need a refresher on a museum, I need only locate one of the many YouTube videos that other tourists have shot with their cameras and phones, then posted later for the public to see. You’d be surprised at how good some of these videos really are.

The Art Mysteries series gives me ideas on where I want to travel next, and helps me fall into our destinations that much quicker. A few years ago we went to London, and I not only used sights I’d gained from the trip in Counterfeit Conspiracies, and the upcoming Marked Masters, but I’ve been able to relive many of the high points of  the trip by posting on this blog. In previous posts I’ve talked about the Tower of London, Harrods, the Baker Street Underground station, and even one wild trip my husband and I experienced on a double decker bus one crazy afternoon.

So while it would be nice to just sit at my desk and type away all day on my keyboard, coming up with absolutely perfect stories all the time, it doesn’t always happen. Lucky for me, however, there’s always some wonderful expert out there who is happy to give a lowly author a heads up on facts we all truly need to make a story work.


I Guess I Have the Bargain of the Week

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]I have two books coming out soon. The first, Organized for Homicideis another featuring organizational expert Kate McKenzie as chief sleuth and bottle organizer. To coincide with this September 8th release, my publisher has discounted book#1 in the series, Organized for Murder, to 99 cents for a short time in all ebook formats. And the rest of this week I’ll be posting excerpts of the new book, Organized for Homicideso everyone can get a sampling of that story as well.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00001]In my Organized Mysteries series, Kate and her sidekick, Meg Berman, find that starting a small business sometimes leads to having to do more than your mission statement implies. Sometimes it means figuring out whodunit when someone involved in their business contract gets killed, and law enforcement focuses on the wrong person as the murder suspect. In the first book, Kate is in the hot seat herself, so she is absolutely sure the state police are pursuing the wrong person.

If you already own the first book, thank you, and please come back by in the next few days to read excerpts from the new release. But if you don’t have a copy of Organized for Murder, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to pick up a copy while it’s on sale. I just love a bargain, don’t you? You can click here for the Amazon link to get a Kindle copy or check my Where to Buy My Books page to purchase Organized for Murder in any of the other ebook formats, and where you can also find links to pre-order copies of  Organized for Homicide. All the buy links will be there once it’s available at all booksellers next weekend. I can’t wait to share the excerpts with you this week! Hope to see a lot of you return soon.

One of my favorite things about this series is that I get to share terrific organizing tips I’ve figured out on my own or learned from others. Do you have any favorite things you do every day to keep life organized and running a little smoother? Feel free to tell us in the comments 🙂


Bargain this Week & Great New Mystery Series

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00028]Whenever I’ve had a chance these past few days, I’ve been reading the first book in a great new mystery series by Jennifer L. Hart. Murder Al Dente had an official release date yesterday in all bookseller venues, but Amazon jumped the gun and released the Kindle version last Saturday afternoon and I snatched one up right away–at the release week bargain price of 99 cents! While I may be on deadline for the next Bodies of Art Book, and for the Sept 8th release of Organized for Homicide, I still suffer from a reading addiction that makes me an absolute b*tch if I don’t get my fix. My family puts up with me for awhile, but I don’t like to push their patience, so I try to at least read a little each day (it’s truly the least I can do to save family harmony–I am the glue that holds my loved ones together after all–LOL!). However, this book is making it more and more difficult to stop reading when I just meant to “take a quick reading break” during deadline week. The book isn’t just funny, the author is clever in word choice and dynamite at creating believable and likeable characters. And while I’m not finished yet, I have to say the mystery is first rate. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, there are terrific pasta recipes between each chapter. Heaven!

The book topped the Amazon Cozy Culinary charts before midnight last night. So, if you haven’t dished up a serving of Murder Al Dente for yourself, do so soon. The special 99 cent price only lasts until the end of this first week of release, then goes back to the regular $3.99 pricing.

Day in the Life of an Artist

In the spring when my kid was in the third grade, she said she wanted to grow up to be Mary Englebreit. Not that she wanted to be an artist like M.E.–she wanted to be Mary Englebreit. After we explained the difference in terminology, she seemed okay with just studying to be an artist, and has always been unbelievably creative in her own right, but I’m not sure DD was every completely happy with the fact that she couldn’t just assume the persona of her favorite.

Her words at the time made me contemplate who I’d wanted to be at her age. In the first part of 4th grade I read Little Women, and for the first time realized I could grow up to be an author. Before that I’d thought books just magically appeared on library shelves. My daughter was obviously much brighter than I at an early age.  61VXY+ilQAL._AA160_

Just now, an FB posting from Mary Englebreit’s link reminded me of both DD’s early aspirations and my own, when a YouTube video A Day in the Life…Mary Englebreit was posted. It’s a very short video that shows Mary drawing the cover of her new book, THE BLESSINGS OF FRIENDSHIP. The book comes out TOMORROW, August 5th, 2014, and will be available at retailers everywhere. However, I learned if I order from, I’ll receive an exclusive, signed print of the cover! I’m thinking a signed copy like this would make a very good birthday present for my kid. And maybe another just for me, to remind me that all those early dreams can come true with hard work and focus. Right?

Here’s the link if you’d like to watch the video yourself–just over a minute long. Enjoy!

When a Turtle Loves You

We have a resident turtle who lives somewhere (or maybe many ‘wheres’) around our yard. We have a couple of ponds at either end of our land, but they’re each more than 1000 feet away. So given the regularity we see our hard-shelled neighbor, we figure he’s pretty much a land guy. The main reason he’s made our house part of his regular circuit is he apparently loves cat food. And we feed two roaming outside cats who love to leave leftover kibble on our front porch that the turtle comes by and eats later. Who knew?100_1006

This morning, however, I spotted the sweet little dear staring hopefully through the lowest window in our back door. Apparently he looked up and saw me eating breakfast at the table and thought it was worth a shot at getting kibble of his own on the back porch without having to walk all the way around to the front. There’s only one spot on the front porch where he can get on, where he’s pushed leaves up against one corner to make a soft and sturdy ramp for himself. Did I mention how smart he is? But to get to that leafy ramp from the back door is quite a hike for the little guy. So, I stopped and grabbed a handful of Meow Mix just for him, and put the fishes & stars into a nice little pile near him. His little neck stretched out immediately. He’s given up any sign of introverted nature long ago, obviously having figured out we’re always good for a handout.

But his favorite food is banana. And we all share a good chuckle when he spots a banana in my hand and scampers over like only a turtle can at high speed. Have you ever seen a turtle run? Yep, it’s quite a sight. But then, our now semi-wild neighbor is quite a wonderful little turtle.

Garage Sale; Friend or Foe

I posted this at Laffeinated Ink last month, and slipped a small post in here with a link that somehow got cross-ways between WordPress and Facebook, so I’m adding the post in its entirety here now. It’s that time of year, and we’re getting ready to have a garage sale. Originally, we planned to have it last month, but life and rain got in the way (yes, rain—we’d almost forgotten what it looked like) so things have shifted to probably next month. But it’s gloriously cool today, high to only reach 70 (unbelievable, right?) so I really wish I could sit outside and barter with people as long as they want to come and act like they’re interested in hauling my stuff away.

This will be the first time I’ve had a garage sale that lasted more than one day. Generally, I throw open the doors at seven a.m. on a Saturday morning, and hurry and close them about three p.m., after running down the road to grab all the signs pointing toward our house. I’ve found that eight-hour time frame works pretty well, I still have Sunday to recuperate, I get rid of the biggest bulk of my items, and I don’t have the pickers coming around later with insulting offers to annoy my husband. For me, if the swarm would promise to haul everything away in the early morning I’d just let it go, but hubby holds out for “something” to make our time worth while. Which, of course, means we have to haul the leftovers to the domestic violence resale shop later. Don’t care, as long as it’s gone and I don’t have to see it anymore.

The reason for the two-day—Friday/Saturday—gig, is my kid is moving way away, across the region, and doesn’t want to take anything more than she has to with her. Most to be shipped by Mom Express later. And, like her father, the kiddo wants that elusive something for her time. The jury’s out on whether or not she’ll get it.

Me? I live by the mantra that a garage sale every five or six years does a lot of good things:

1) It creates more square footage in my house. I don’t want to add on, and if the kid is moving again, that means “Mom & Dad Free Storage, Inc.” will be holding her stuff until she gets settled and decides which of the many things she thinks she wants forever will really get shipped to her—and which will stay at “Mom & Dad Free Storage, Inc.” I’m just hoping between what I sell and what she adds, I at least achieve a net zero loss.

2) I get to see all the neighbors at garage sales, and visit in ways we often don’t in a normal busy day. They shop a bit, share a little gossip, and tell me my coffee is great (it should be, I’m a writer, right?). So all that catching up alone is worth the prep work.

3) People are a hoot! I have so much fun watching people shop my junk, and listening to their “serious” questions. They’ll weigh the pros and cons of paying a dime for something I gave twenty bucks for. Seriously. And the questions they ask about things. Amazing! My personal favorite is always, “Has this been used?” I want to smile and respond with, “Of course not. We’re philanthropists who always buy new stuff so we can get pennies on the dollar selling it later at garage sales.” But I don’t, I just smile and say, “Yes, it’s been used, but well taken care of, as you can see.”

Those are the top three. I can list many more, but I’ll wait and provide a wrap up in a later blog post with the jewels I gain from this year’s sale. Enjoy a garage sale this week, or clean out a closet. Each is liberating in its own way.

Do you have a favorite garage sale story you’d like to share?

The Crazy Way Settings Happen (or Fast Times on London Streets)

A favorite setting I used in COUNTERFEIT CONSPIRACIES involved gunfire, London streets crowded with iconic double-decker buses, various-sized lorries (yep, we’d say trucks in the U.S., but lorry sounds much more Brit), and my characters escaping via a legendary black cab. Until bullets shatter the windows.

I posted about the experience a few months ago on the Laffeinated Ink blog, but I’m reposting most of the story here along with pics to share with my readers.London iconic buses and taxis

First, to clarify, I’ve never had windows shot out of any cabs I’ve ever ridden in, but some crazy vehicle-related adventures have happened to me while visiting Jolly Old London-town. One event occurred when we traveled there in spring 2008 with two 18-year-olds—who knew everything and constantly reminded us ‘oldsters’ we could just go off sightseeing and not worry about them. Fat chance.
Instead, tables got turned.

Armed with Oyster cards, we split up outside the British Museum. My husband and I headed for Churchill’s Bunker, and the teens headed for anywhere but an underground history site. Instructions were repeated, wallets checked, and we divided keys to the flat we’d rented a block from Portobello Road.

Hours later, hubby happy and my brain filled with more WWII info than I’d ever hoped to acquire, we decided to forgo heading underground again and blinked our way to a bus whose number said it circled our route. I jumped on, used my Oyster card, and headed deeper inside, believing hubby followed. Wrong! He’d forgotten to reload his card that morning. An embarrassingly loud buzzer reminded of the mistake. Our indignant driver shouted at my flustered hubby.

“Don’t worry. I’ll grab a ticket outside,” I said, hopped off the bus, and ran to the nearby machine. Unfortunately, hubby followed.

As the ticket fell into my hand, the bus pulled away from the curb. We shadowed it down the block and I swear the bus driver laughed the whole way.

Traffic around Picadilly

We caught the next bus. Since hubby now had a hop-on-hop-off-all-day ticket—and it was rush hour—we took a deep breath and prepared for a stop-and-go ride. Whilst he obsessed about every injustice, I relaxed and watched vehicular near-misses on almost a second-by-second basis. I memorized the looks of different vehicles from above, and marveled at the serpentine effect as they coursed over the roadway. Caught my breath at daredevil antics of cyclists who risked life and limb weaving through lanes to save hours from weekly travels. I gasped as too-large vehicles ducked down too-small alleys for shortcuts in the traffic kerfuffle.

Because of building heights and the traffic’s mesmerizing effect on me, I didn’t notice we were getting deeper into the city center—not farther from it. Hubby continued grousing about the first bus. Neither of us realized the problem until we were last ones on and our driver pulled into the covered bay.

Luckily, this driver was much nicer than the last.

“Take your tickets. You walk back there.” He pointed outside. “Buses will come and turn around. Catch the one you need. Fifteen minutes. Just fifteen minutes. Hurry.”

We hurried. We jogged. We saw a bus with the right number and flat-out ran. We leapt onto the bus—my Oyster card ready; hubby’s ticket in hand.

It was the same bus driver who yelled at my husband and then drove off without us.


I whispered for hubby to stay cool, pulling him toward the back rows.

Suddenly the driver recognized my spouse. “You have no ticket. Let me see your ticket!”

If hubby could have disappeared into the floor, gone through the asphalt and down to tunnel and train level, believe me, he’d still be there.

I stormed. “He does have a ticket! You watched us buy one at the machine, then drove off just as we were about to board. He has a ticket!” I waved the damned slip of paper.

“What is the date? What does it say?”

“It says today’s date. You know it does. Now quit acting like we’re trying to pull something and drive us home!”
Everyone applauded.

At our seats, several people leaned over to tell how the driver was known for being a jerk. We learned just how far jerkiness extended about a half-hour later when, still some distance from our destination, a man in a brown suit boarded at a stop by a park. The man carried a briefcase and huge, fluffy, white cat.

Our driver went berserk!

I’m not sure what language they screamed in, but body language said Brown Suit was determined to bring the Persian aboard and our driver equally determined he wasn’t. There was pushing and shouting, and—of course—hissing from the cat. Finally, our driver turned off the bus, grabbed the keys and hurled the key-ring into the bushes. He shoved Brown Suit aside, and was last seen stomping back toward the city zone.

“What do we do now?” hubby asked. “Catch another bus?”

“I’ve had it with buses. We can’t be far. If we hurry we’ll be at the flat by dark.”London congested streets

He wasn’t pleased, but I used my ‘do-not-argue-with-me’ look. At an outdoor café I bothered a nice couple who kindly directed us toward Portobello Road.

Eventually, we straggled into the flat, evening on the cusp of full dark, and had two mother-hen teenagers demanding to know where the heck we’d been! Didn’t we have any consideration? They expected more of us!

My husband started explaining, and I laughed. Yep, I giggled and guffawed—then promised full details after takeaway from the nearby Indian restaurant.

That’s how the action street scene in Counterfeit Conspiracies came to be. The scene is nothing like my true adventure, but after absorbing all the sights and sounds of busy London streets during that crazy ride, writing exciting fiction is easy.