Christmas Book Giveaway!

CHRISTMAS BOOK GIVEAWAY! To celebrate the Christmas season, I’m holding a drawing for the prize package in the picture.

Almost everything you see is from the Buckeye State. The candies are from Marie’s Candies, founded in West Liberty, Ohio. The ornament comes from the shop Celebrate Local, which features only products made in Ohio. From the Lake to the River is a collection of short stories all set in Ohio, past and present, by Ohio authors, including my YA mystery “Debt to Pay”. Although stories in Christmas fiction off the beaten path take you as far away as the fantasy realm of Callidora and ancient Bethlehem, three of the six Christmas stories are set in Ohio. My YA mystery “A Rose from the Ashes” takes place during a snow-bound December in southeast Ohio.

TO ENTER: Leave a comment on any post here or on my Instagram or Facebook pages from now until 5 p.m. Dec.15. I will announce the winner on Dec.16.

You must be a U.S resident and 18 years or older. If you are younger than 18, you must provide proof of permission from your parents. If your name is drawn, you have two weeks after I contact you to claim the prize.

I’m so excited to give you all a chance to sample the best of the Buckeye State!

How Was Your NaNoWriMo?

Whew! It’s the last day of November. How was your NaNoWriMo? I hadn’t planned on doing it the traditional way, but I had planned on finishing my WIP novel. A Shadow on the Snow. Then my youngest got strep, and when we thought he was on the mend, he broke out in a terrible rash of hives that took almost a week to improve. Despite that, I was able to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I skipped some sessions so I could write uninterrupted. I now have a goal to finish my novel by Dec. 7, in time for a FB book party where I’ll discuss writing “A Rose from the Ashes”. I want to announce that I’ve finished the sequel.

If you participated in NaNoWriMo, tell me how it went. Or if you didn’t, what’s the state of your writing today? If you’re a reader, tell me what you read through November. I’d love to know!

Three Tips for Writing YA Mysteries

I’ve loved mysteries since I first sat down in front of the TV on Saturday mornings to watch Scooby Doo. In the past two years, I’ve had two crime short stories published in anthologies from Mt. Zion Ridge Press. I could have written my short stories from any point of view, but I felt most comfortable writing from the POV of a teen. In the process of writing “Debt to Pay”, a country noir, and “A Rose from the Ashes,” a Christmas mystery, I learned some important lessons and want to share three tips for writing YA mysteries.

Teens make great amateur detectives.

Stories with amateur detectives have always attracted me because they are the ultimate underdog in mysteries. And I love underdog stories, making me empathize and sympathize wit the main character. Who could be more of an underdog than a teen, especially one who isn’t even a legal adult yet? Without the aid of official standing, fellow officers, or a crime lab, the amateur detective tries to solve a mystery relying solely on her intellect and abilities.

To make the amateur detective more believable as a character, I need to give her some qualities that she can apply to crime solving. She can have an insatiable curiosity or just plain nosiness. Maybe she can’t stand seeing someone bullied or has a deep desire for justice. If the mystery involves other teens, then the teen detective has an edge over the police because she can investigate in ways they can’t.


In “A Rose from the Ashes,” my teen detective, nineteen-year-old Rae Riley, shows great determination and courage as she tries to fulfill her late mother’s dying wish. She thinks if she uncovers who tried to murder her pregnant mother twenty years before, she may also discover the father she’s never met.


The investigation is about more than the investigation.

The teen detective’s pursuit of the mystery should mean more than just finding the answer. In the real world, the teen years are a time of change and discovery. Uniting those themes with a mystery makes for a richer story. The investigation can be a sign that the teen detecrive is ready for more independence or responsibility. Or maybe he’s a loner, who learns to rely on friends. Many of these themes can be applied to mysteries with adult characters, but I find them more meaningful when used within a YA mystery. In my story, Rae is desperate for a family since her mom died. She’s willing to take on a would-be killer if it leads to her father.

The teen detective must be active in the solution.

As a teen, I never wanted to read a YA book where the teen main character screws up so badly that an adult has to save him. Although it’s often true in real life, and because of that fact, I wanted something different in my fiction.

After encouraging readers to follow the teen detective through her investigation, I can’t have the police or some other adult solve it for her. Or, even worse, have the police rescue her from the criminal. Having the teen detective blunder so badly that she must be bailed out will only irritate readers.

That doesn’t mean the detective can’t make mistakes. The teen detective has to remain human. Only Sherlock Holmes can get away with perfect deductions. She doesn’t have to figure out every part of the mystery. She can unmask the criminal but maybe not understand all his motivations until after he’s arrested and questioned by the police. Or the criminal isn’t who she suspected, and when the true one comes after her, she captures him. But the teen detective must be essential to solving the mystery and never just a helpless bystander.

What are some of your favorite YA mysteries? I’d love to get some recommendations!

WIP Progress

I thought I’d take time today to update you on my WIP progress, a YA Christian mystery with the working title A Shadow on the Snow. It’s the sequel to my short story “A Rose from the Ashes.”

Since I haven’t written a novel in years, I’m discovering what writing habits work best for me. So far, I’ve discovered that I write best when I handwrite five to ten chapters, type them into a second draft, go over them again, then press on with the first draft of the next five to ten chapters.

As of August 2020. I have 57,000 words in very good shape. I need to get another 20,000 to 30,000 down on paper and polished. I believe I’d be further along if I hadn’t spent nine weeks teaching my kids their online lessons. That put our computer time at a premium.

But the story is taking shape nicely. I really enjoy the polishing process, taking out tangents, enlarging minor characters necessary to the story, and making all the elements sync up. For a mystery, syncing up clues and red herrings are critical. Such as if it’s important for my main character to use her self-defense skills in the last chapters, I’d better mention that she has those skills somewhere earlier in the story. Or if the fact that Mr. Delaney is left-handed is a clue, I have to introduce it to readers in a way that they notice it but not too much.

One obstacle I’ve encountered is writing a story set in January, February, and March at the height of summer. If I’m having trouble describing the setting, I can’t go outside and get first-hand inspiration.

I’d love to hear about your WIP progress and your creative process!

How to Describe Characters in Show Don’t Tell, Part 2

I loved to read first-person stories. That’s why I write stories in first-person. But that leads to the tricky problem of how to describe the main character (MC) in show don’t tell. Here’s one thing not to do:

Don’t Use a Mirror!

A lot of first-time writers make this mistake. I did when I tackled my first novel at eighteen. The technique I used was to have my MC stop by a mirror and remark on his looks.

This doesn’t work for several reasons. First, it’s been done to death. Second, it can feel bolted on to the story, as out of place in the narrative as sideview mirrors on a stroller. Third, it will slow or stall the narrative. For my readers to get a picture of my main character early in the story, I’d have to have her stop by the mirror just when I want them caught up in the action.

So forget the mirror.

Slip in the MC’s Description Naturally

In my YA mystery short story “A Rose from the Ashes”, the first scene is set in an abandoned children’s home, and my MC is alone. But I needed to give some clues to readers about who this person is. So in the second paragraph, I wrote “my long, dark gold braid catching on a loose nail in the sill.” Now readers know they are most likely dealing with a female.

After five hundred words, I switch scenes. My MC is working in a library and chatting with her boss. The first sentence is a line of dialogue “Is this yours, Rae?”. The female spelling of her first name confirms it’s a woman. Then I worked in a reference to her age and deposited a clue to the mystery at the same time.

Speaking to Rae: Barb glanced at [a smart phone]. “You were looking up the Ohio Revised Code?” Her eyebrows lifted above her bright red glasses. “When I was nineteen, the closest I got to reading the law was legal thrillers.”

I had to wait for the next scene to get in a more detailed description of Rae. I would have liked to put it in earlier, but it didn’t seem natural. In the next scene, Rae is chatting with Jason Carlisle, one of the men who might be her father. He is also a member of the library board and reminds Rae that she can bring a date to the staff Christmas party. Rae says she hasn’t been in town long enough to interest any guy. Jason says he’s surprised the guys haven’t found her. This gives Rae a chance to reflect on her looks.

“He was just being nice. At 5’11”, my height works against me when it comes to attracting guys. That and my face. My eyes are okay–dark chocolate brown with a slight tilt–but my face is too bony, all cheekbones and chin.

Now I’ve given readers enough information to imagine Rae.

How to Show Don’t Tell Ages of Characters

This is another tricky problem. Since my story is concerned with a nineteen-year-old looking for her father, I felt it was important to mention ages of people who might be her relatives. It helped readers see the characters and established relationships between characters. Here are two ways I showed and didn’t tell characters’ ages.

Slip it into dialogue

I used dialogue to reveal Rae’s age. In another scene, Rae is eating lunch with the sheriff, who is another candidate to be her father, and his family. His age comes out in a conversation with his mother. Discussing the time twenty years before when Rae’s mother was pregnant with her and disappeared from the county, the sheriff’s mother says to her son:

“At the time, all you thought about was going to college to play football. And everything else a senior has to deal with.”

Slip it into MC’s thoughts

When I introduced the characters of Jason Carlisle, I had Rae think:

“My gaze traveled up to the black sweater with a subtle swirling pattern and the million-watt smile of Jason Carlisle. That smile made him look a lot younger than thirty-seven.

But sometimes, you have to tell

If the age was important, and I couldn’t think of a better way to let readers know, I flat-out stated it. I dropped in the age and moved on.

“His six-year-old son was nowhere to be seen …”

“Mrs. M. swatted at the first-grader …”

These observations are still in the mind of my MC, so it might qualify as shown, but these aren’t as well-woven into the story as my other examples.

Okay, your turn. How do you show readers what your main character looks like? What’s a great example of how to describe characters in show don’t tell?

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