First Podcast and First Audiobook Giveaway

In keeping with this month’s themes of beginnings, I’m posting about my first podcast and first audiobook giveaway.

Murder, Mayhem, and Mystery Laced with Morality

I was very excited when author Dr. Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes agreed to let me be a guest on her podcast. I met Katherine at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in 2020 and then reconnected with her on Instagram. Below are a few things I learned while preparing for and doing the interview with Katherine.

  • Radio experience helps. I’ve done a couple radio interviews with librarians from a local library. The set up was very similar. Katherine called me and recorded our phone conversation using the Anchor app.
  • Ask for questions or topics to prepare. Katherine sent me her questions well ahead of the interview. I wrote my answers and reviewed them before she called me, but …
  • Don’t read your answers. Like I said above, I reviewed them so they’d be in my mind, but I didn’t read them. I sat the answers to one side, so I could glance at them if I needed a prompt, but I knew if I read them, I would sound unnatural and boring. Katherine didn’t use all of the questions, and sometimes asked ones that weren’t on the sheet, but having done the preparation ahead of time really boosted my confidence and helped me when we veered slightly off topic.
  • Smile while you speak. It made me feel more confident and, I hope, I sounded pleasant. Katherine is much more natural in front of the microphone, but I hope I will sound that way if I have the chance to do more podcasts.

To listen, click here to go to Katherine’s website. Or listen Apple podcasts, Spotify, or Google podcasts.

First Audiobook

When my publisher told me they were going to do an audiobook version of my novel, A Shadow on the Snow, I was thrilled. But when it became available, I was hesitant. What would it be like? I had no idea what to expect and was afraid I wouldn’t like it.

After my husband helped me overcome some technical difficulties, I finally got the audio version downloaded to my phone. And I fell in love with the narration of Shellie Arnold. Although she now lives in Ohio, she has a southern accent, perfect for the first-person point of view of my main character Rae Riley, a nineteen-year-old who grew up all over the South but has recently moved to Ohio. Shellie does such a wonderful job bringing the text to life that I almost forget I wrote the novel.

To celebrate the audiobook version of A Shadow on the Snow, I’m giving away three copies, which you can access through Authors Direct, to the first three people to comment on this post. If you enjoy audiobooks, you’ll love Shellie’s narration of my winter cozy mystery.

Begin Writing a Story Without A Beginning

What if you have a great story idea–characters you love, settings that you can help readers live in, and a plot with plenty of twists and turns–but you have no idea how to start? Most books of writing advice emphasize the importance of the first chapter, the first paragraph, and the first sentence. All that importance can make you stress out. Or, if you’re like me, you think of the climax long before the opening scene. Or you know there are key scenes you want to include but you don’t have one to kick off the story. Don’t worry. You can begin writing a story without a beginning. Try these tips for getting around this form of writers’ block.

Write the Climax

If you can see the climax as clearly as you do one when watching a movie, then write it down. And write it as if there’s a complete story ahead of it. Don’t throw in a bunch of backstory or explanations. Write it as the payoff readers would love.

Write the Scenes You Like Best

Again, if certain scenes are crystal clear to you, write those. The first part of A Shadow on the Snow that hit paper was a scene I knew would go in the middle. I could see it so vividly and enjoyed watching it so much that I had to write it. I also had to write to stop it from replaying in my head. I’ve noticed that if I have a scene or conversation or confrontation I thoroughly enjoy but it keeps looping endlessly in my imagination, I have to write it in order for my mind to move onto something else.

Write Your Main Character’s Ordinary Day

Now before someone leaps up with an objection–yes, I can see you–yes, you in the back row, straining to contradict me–let me explain. I don’t think any story should start with your main character’s ordinary day. I’ve read too many published stories that start like that, and the beginning is always boring. But if you can’t get your story started, write out a typical day for your main character. Seeing his or her daily routine in print may give you an idea on how to find a hook for your beginning.

For Shadow, I started with my main character Rae receiving the first nasty anonymous note. The first lines of the novel are:

I’M NOT FOOLED, RAE. YOU’RE JUST LIKE YOUR MOTHER

I stared at the sheet of copier paper in my hand as the note fluttered in a gust of January wind.

Then readers follow Rae to her job at the library, meet her friends, colleagues, and eventually family. So they learn about her ordinary day. But because of the note, Rae introduces these characters while wondering if this person or that sent it to her. Her ordinary day is no longer ordinary.

For more advice on writing beginnings, read this article from Go Teen Writers.

What are the best beginnings you’ve read?

How to Write a Christmas Mystery

For some reason, Christmas and mysteries go together like silver and gold on a Christmas tree. Christmas mysteries are a very old tradition in the genre. One of the first, and best, is “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”, a Sherlock Holmes story. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple had Christmas cases. So did Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, V.I. Warshawski, Brother Cadfael, and Father Brown. Maybe the mystery of God coming to earth, fully God and and fully human, gives the whole season an air of the unexplainable. If you’d like to try your hand at this very specific sub-genre, here are a two tips on how to write a Christmas mystery.

The Story Can’t Take Place at Any Other Time

The best Christmas mysteries take advantage of what the season offers. In “A Christmas Party” by Rex Stout, the boss of an interior design firm is murdered during the Christmas office party. The man who was working the bar in a Santa Claus outfit disappears during the confusion created when the boss collapses from cyanide poisoning. Santa was so heavily made-up no one at the party can describe him.

In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie, old, mean, manipulative Simeon Lee invites his four sons, their wives, and one granddaughter—some of whom he hasn’t been on speaking terms for years—to the family home out in the English countryside for a real, old-fashioned Christmas. Or so he says.

Neither of these stories would work at another time during the year. Except at a Halloween party, you couldn’t have a waiter or other staff help disguise themselves so effectively. In America, Thanksgiving is the only other holiday which gives a character a plausible reason to gather warring family members.

One of the many fun qualities of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is how well it incorporates characteristics of Christmas that existed at the time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it. A commissionaire who is an acquaintance of Holmes, finds a precious stone, the blue carbuncle, in the crop of the goose his wife was going to roast for Christmas dinner. Holmes and Watson follow clues through a bitterly cold London night to figure how the jewel, stolen from a luxury hotel, ended up in the goose. 

Include Themes of the Season

Another quality you can take advantage of are the meanings of the season. One aspect of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” that makes it so special is the offer Holmes extends to the culprit once he uncovers him. In “A Christmas Party,” Archie Goodwin learns just how highly his boss Nero Wolfe values him. “The Killer Christian” by Andre Klavan is about redemption. In my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I used a theme of mercy and forgiveness as my teen detective Rae Riley attempts to discover how her father is and if he tried to murder her pregnant mother.

For more recommendations of Christmas mysteries, click here.

What are some of your favorite Christmas mysteries?

Let Your Christmas Traditions Inspire Your Writing

There are probably a million published Christmas stories, both fiction and nonfiction, from short stories and novels to devotions and theological works. One way to make your story unique is to let your Christmas traditions inspire your writing. Mining your own experiences can lead to a one-of-a-kind Christmas story.

I could write an epic over my relationship with Christmas trees. As a child, we always cut a live tree. Some Christmases we hiked through a farm to find the perfect one. Other times we bought already cut trees at the Lutheran Church. One year, my sisters and I went late to the Lutheran Church and found the seller gone and a few lonely trees discarded at the edge of the parking lot. We had a free tree that year.

My husband grew up with fake trees. To him, real trees are dirty, difficult , and fire hazards. Our first Christmas in our new house saw us battling over which tradition our new family would observe. I came home from work one evening and found a tree stand in the living room. It’s one of my sweetest memories.

Now my kids and I tag a tree at a local tree farm on Thanksgiving weekend but don’t cut it until a week before Christmas, so the tree is fresh and less likely to spontaneously combust. Two years ago, I wanted a big tree for our two-story living room. The only big one without a brown needles and large gaps was a towering Scotch pine. But it had a lot of bare trunk that I thought we’d cut off. I measured it with the homemade ruler the owner provided. It seemed as tall as the one we got last year.

But I couldn’t weigh the tree. It turned out to be the heaviest tree we’d ever got. Things started to go wrong when my husband told me to grab the tree as our youngest sawed the truck, and while I put on my gloves, it fell on him. After we hauled it off him, my husband, kids, and I could barely drag it to the front of the farm. The tree was too big for the chute the owner used to tie the limbs down, so he had to tie it without mechanical help. It took my whole family and the owner to lift it into the bed of our truck.

We wrestled the tree through the front door. Then I decided we should call my dad to help stand the tree up. I have a weak shoulder and didn’t want the tree to fall on husband a second time.

This story can be used in many different way. As a humorous piece. As an illustration of the state of a marriage, such as couple who are quarreling draw closer as they engage in the tradition of selecting and decorating a tree.  As a family drama, such as a visit to a tree farm reveals problems in a family. Since this is a Christmas story, I would have those problems solved, or at least addressed, by the end of the story.

How would you let your Christmas traditions inspire your writing?

This article is a repost from two years ago. For more writing tips about using Christmas, click here. Clicker here for a great article on Christmas stress and the writer.

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