Sunday, April 20, 2014

Writer's Process Blog Tour

I have been invited to participate in a project with global reach, The Writers Process Blog Tour. I thought chain letters went out with floppy disks, but this tour revamps it into something new and painless for the reader. I was invited to participate by Andrew Hill, author of Crowed, a novel in linked stories that follows generations of a family from the 1800s to present day living under the continuing scourge of Jim Crow. The characters are unforgettable, the writing is superb, the story is universal. I urge you to check him out, not only his books on Amazon but his insightful blog.

Last week Andrew answered four questions about his work and process and nominated three other writers to continue the chain. I was one of them and today it is my turn to address my own writing conundrums and introduce you to three talented writers you may not know. Yet.

Ask a writer to jot down a few words about his or her process and youll likely get an encyclopedia. It is not a subject we can capture in a few words or four questions. Many writers write for the same reason they breathe. Because they have to. Im one of them. These questions help us, the writers, crystallize what that means. Please circulate this post on your social media, Twitter, FaceBook and so on and keep the blog tour going. Now to my questions.

1) What am I working on?

When people ask me what I write I say, anything youll pay me for. Its pretty much true. I am a food writer, medical/health writer, mystery writer, novelist, childrens writer and have dipped my toe into the paranormal waters recently. At the moment, I am working on all of the above except medical/health pieces.

Under my pen name, Cassie Page, I am putting the finishing touches on the third book in my Darling Valley Cozy Mystery series, Dying For Diamonds. I hope to publish it next week. Ive also written a spinoff of that series, Tuesdays Tea Leaves Cozy Mystery Series, A Corpse In A Tea Cup, and a second one is starting to emerge. I am starting the second in the Mikey series, novels aimed at the 8-10 year old reader. I also have outlined seven in the Farty Arty series and they await illustrations. I have outlined three new series in the mystery/romance genre with five short novels in each series. Ive published seven cookbooks but except for a zombie cookbook with a knockout cover that is half written. I dont plan any others.

The book I consider my lifes work, if I may be forgiven such grandiosity, is The Equal of God. This novel has been seventeen years in the writing. It follows the Gavagan family from the early 1800s through the great famine and illustrates how that disaster afflicted not just the starving farmers but the Ascendency as well, the wealthy Irish and English landowners whose way of life changed as radically after the famine as did that of the survivors.  Following Andrew Hills lead, I intend to publish it in segments beginning this spring.

I hope to finish these projects by the end of the year, and then start a new list.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Im not sure mine does, except for my Irish stories.  Genre writing, such as cozy mysteries and childrens books, is much like Japanese theater arts. The aim is not to create something new but to follow the formula as perfectly as you can. Please dont think Im comparing my mysteries to Noh plays, but the idea is the same. Meet the readers expectations: heavily plotted stories that stay within certain boundaries. No blood and gore, no sex, no bad words, small town settings, an amateur sleuth and a story that keeps them guessing and amused to the end. Light on description and inner dialogue. And readers want you to turn them out quickly, so they must be fast reads. I would never take a year to write a cozy, much less seventeen. Dying For Diamonds is my fourth since August, so approximately two months for an 80,000 word book. They are more challenging than I expected when I attempted the first one, and keep me guessing until the end, much like the reader. I was reading Dying for the last time this morning and discovered an important theme I have to go back and include.

Cookbooks also have rules. They must have a theme, really good recipes, well-written and easy to follow. They must be extremely well organized.  I think mine fit that bill.

Children’s books and literary novels, such as The Equal of God give you more latitude in terms of innovation. What sets any literary work apart is the voice and perspective of the writer. No two of us are alike. I hope mine have a distinctive voice and unique perspective on the human experience, both for young readers and adults.

3) Why do I write what I do?

All but my Irish stories are written for money. In that, I write them because I think/hope they will sell. I want to earn my living as a writer. That is not to say I dont enjoy them, love the characters and stories, as well as learn from them. And, try to write them as well as I can. Those stories just come to me as I explore the genre. Whats a cozy mystery, what are kids interested in reading? But I write them to meet the readers expectations.

My Irish stories are written for me. They come from wherever stories come from. I can no more answer this question than tell you where the universe came from. It just is. I just do. I go into a sort of trance when I write. Im often surprised by what I see come out on the page. It often isnt anything I think up. I read what Ive written and think, where did that come from?

I think the stories are buried inside of me and that trance-state helps me pull them out. Who knows? My job is to write down what comes to me.

I do know that when this book got started and I began the research I realized there was so much about my heritage that I didnt know, my family didnt know and the world had forgotten. It gave a purpose to this book. To tell that story. I care about it more than anything Ive done. But I didnt start out to tell the world about the famine. I just started writing about the Gavagans and it turned into an epic.

4) How does my writing process work?

This question is easy for me to answer, as I am a fanatic about daily writing. I used to be a stop and start writer. Pages would stream out of my typewriter and later my computer until my inspiration would run out. Then it could be months before Id start up again. The exception was if I had a contract of some kind. That was usually for a food-related project and that was easier to outline and finish. I meet my deadlines.

Twenty years ago I realized it was as hard to keep writing when you didnt know what happens next as it is to put it aside and wait for inspiration to return, and then go through the agony of getting a project started again. It is hard to build and maintain your confidence in yourself, in your story and once you let it got it is murder to get it back. I decided to put an end to that merry-go-round and write fifteen minutes a day no matter what. And I have ever since then, though writing fifteen minutes a day leads to hours a day. The genius of starting small. I discourage people from setting out to write three and four hours a day if you dont have that muscle. Build up to, and then it will be yours for life.

I have learned so much from my daily writing discipline, and not just what happens next. Ive learned about myself. It is like a spiritual discipline for me. Much of it I detail in this blog.

These days, I usually start about 8 am and go until noon. Take a break and go until Im dry. Can be anywhere between 5 to 8 pm. Or if I take a long break, Ill get more work in after dinner. Im not rigid about that. I aim for 4,000 words a day. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I exceed it, sometimes Im short. But because Ive been writing every day for so long I discovered I could crank out my mysteries much faster than I ever expected. I can write on demand. I can break into genres Id never considered before. I believe this is because Ive trained myself to become a disciplined writer.

Usually I get the first 20,000 words done in a few days and then I hit the wall. I cant figure out the next plot turn. Sometimes it takes me two weeks before it materializes. But I still work on the book, or something else, every day. Then bingo, the story opens up again and usually I can keep going until its finished.

I dont outline per se. I start writing from an idea, a character, a book title, a clever approach to a perfect crime. When Im stuck, I outline until the writing starts up again. I start at the beginning of the book and write to the end. I may make notes about later chapters but dont write them until what comes before is done. That might be my way of outlining. I rarely cut anything out, though I do occasionally move scenes around.

I am an obsessive reviser. It is something I have to curb in genre writing. There isnt enough time. So I have to be better the first time out. But I usually do three drafts anyway. For The Equal of God the number of drafts are into the 10th power.

In cozies, my main focus right now, I make everything in the story lead to the killer. Little things I put in and dont know where they came from, I make them work. Nothing is extraneous. Thats my rule for mysteries. No filler. What seems like a throwaway to a reader, is a piece of the puzzle. There is always a subplot, so sometimes the little things are part of the subplot but it all comes together at the end. I dont know if I learned that anyplace, it just was my rule from the get go.

My Irish book, my literary writing, is entirely different. I look at photographs of old Ireland, listen to traditional music, recall my fathers brogue, recall my trips to Ireland and the sound of the voices. And then I pray something will come to me. It has for over 700 pages. Now to get it published.

The secret to a writers life: write every day. No. Matter. What.

Now I would like to introduce you to three writers I have met over the past year. I admire their work and dedication tremendously. I am happy to promote them here because if you give them a look, I think youll become fans.

Pamela M. Kelly,

Pamela M. Kelley lives in the historic seaside town of Plymouth, MA, near Cape Cod and just south of Boston. She has always been a book worm and still reads often and widely, romance, mysteries, thrillers and cook books. She writes cozy mysteries and romances and you'll probably see food featured along with a recipe or two in her work. She is owned by a cute little Maine Coon Cat, Kelley.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller, www.PhyllisZimblerMiller.Com

Phyllis Zimbler Miller is a digital marketer and online content creator as well as a fiction and nonfiction author. Her novel MRS. LIEUTENANT was a 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist and her Cold War memoir TALES OF AN AMERICAN OCCUPYING GERMANY is a work-in-progress on Wattpad. She is also a member of the Department of Defense's Bloggers Roundtable and the Military Writers Society of America.

Anita is a professional photographer who decided to combine her love of photography with her love of a good story. Her writing shows the influence of her three favorite genres: Romance, Mystery and Fantasy. Writing under the pen name of Lorraine Adair, Anita published her first novel--Ambient Light--in 2013. She's hard at work on her next book, a contemporary romance. 


  1. Wonderful insights into a writer's process - and important advice as to writing every day to build up your writer's muscle. It's generous of Helen to share her wisdom, and fun to meet the new writers she's introduced us to.

  2. Wonderful insights one one writer's process - and good advice about building up your writer's muscle with daily writing time.

  3. Wonderful insights into one writer's process - and wise advice about writing daily to build up your writer's muscle. Plus the added benefit of being introduced to new writers. Thanks for sharing, Helen.

  4. I never get tired of hearing how other authors do it. It being this crazy thing we do because we can't help ourselves. haha. Great to meet you. Phyllis is one of my heroes.

    1. I agree, Joylene. Thanks for the comment and yes, Phyllis is a star. Good luck with your work.