Basketful of Books Giveaway!

Need some new books for the summer? I am thrilled to announce my YA mystery, A SHADOW ON THE SNOW, is part of the Basketful of Books Giveaway. This giveaway runs 5/16 through 5/21, and the prize consists of twelve Christian books. The 1st place winner will receive all twelve books (authors’ choice of format) and the 2nd place winner will receive three books (authors’ choice of format) of their choosing.

The genres are:

  • 2 speculative ficiton
  • 2 historical romance
  • 3 contemporary romance
  • 2 mysteries
  • 3 suspense

Something for everyone! You can enter to win here. Best of luck and happy reading!

Using Music to Show Character

As an author who loves music, it would be lovely if I could include a soundtrack with my books and stories. Do publishers ever do that with audiobooks? I would put songs or tunes that had inspired characters or scenes. Or my publisher could hire someone to write original music. Since those dreams will have to stay dreams, I have to include music in my stories the best way I can. Using music to show character is a fresher, more novel way for readers to get to know my characters than physical description and dialogue.

A Main Character Who’s Also a Musician

My teen detective Rae Riley is, first and foremost, an amateur photographer. It’s the way she sees the world. But, like a lot of creative people, she enjoys other arts. She played drums in her high school marching band and jazz band. Making her a drummer gives her personality another layer. She’s playing an instrument that leans more toward males, so some might see her choice as unusual or offbeat (ha!).

When I was in band, certain personalities tended to pick certain instruments. The Type A, straight arrows played flute and trumpet. The clarinet was the everyman or woman of the band. The more quirky kids picked trombone, saxophone, or percussion. My character’s choice of instrument can say a lot about who he or she is.

If you need to draw disparate characters together, making them all musicians gives them a common interest and a plausible reason for people who might not normally associate with each other to interact. Rae joins three young police officers in jam sessions because they play outlaw country music for fun and didn’t have a drummer. (Yes, it’s supposed to be funny that cops like outlaw country.)

Favorite Music Reveals Character Traits

The fact that these millennial cops are playing music from the 70’s says something about their personalities. Houston, who sings lead and plays lead guitar, explains how he can’t stand current country music. His love for outlaw country can mean any number of things. Maybe he’s not concerned with following popular trends. Or he doesn’t like how big business takes over an art form; he likes art for art’s sake. Or he just likes to be different, to stand out from the crowd.

When Rae and the cops take a break from jamming, they play songs from their playlists. I can use their choices to say something about their characters. Since Rae doesn’t know the three young men well, she hesitates over her selections because her playlist contains what she considers some pretty obscure songs. So she picks more popular songs. Her choice shows her uncertainty in this new social situation. Out of the four characters. the bass player is the only one to pick instrumental pieces instead of songs. I can use that deviation from the other characters to reveal something about him.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written or read about characters who love music? How did the author use music to show character?

Here’s another post on adding music and poetry to prose.

Writing about the Sense of Sight

Brown. My novel had turned to brown. At least, that’s what my freelance editor Sharyn Kopf told me when she read my novel. I had used “brown” far too may times. Most writers write by sight. And most readers think by sight, so writing about the sense of sight is the easiest way to connect with readers. It’s also the hardest to write about from a fresh perspective. While tackling all the browns that had invaded the story, I developed three ways to work color into my story.

Write About Color as Your Main Character Sees It

It was a no brainer for me to focus on color when writing about the sense of sight in my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow. My main character, Rae Riley, is an amateur photographer. She should notice color, more than most people. But she wouldn’t describe everything that was brown with just that word. So I had to dig into my descriptions and decide …

Could I Use a Different Color?

In Chapter 8, I had used the word “brown” so many times that the scene was practically wallowing in a mud pit. So I examined all the brown things and decided if they really had to be brown. For example, Rae has come to her uncle’s farm for a riding lesson. The horse she’s going to ride is Pokey. Pokey started as a brown horse because it was based on the first horse I’d ever rode during a lesson. I changed Pokey to a palomino to get rid of a brown that wasn’t necessary. And I love a palominos. In another chapter, I changed a walk-on character’s eyes to hazel because there was no good reason to keep them brown.

Or I deleted any color name, such as when I described a third-grade girl who is having a riding lesson before Rae. The little girl’s father is watching her. I describe him “with his warm, brown eyes and brown hair”. Later, when I describe the girl, I wrote “Alli took off her helmet, only a few wisps of hair, the same shade as her father’s, escaping her French braid.” Readers know she has brown hair without me using the word.

If I couldn’t change the color, I looked …

For Synonyms

In a couple places, I wrote that characters had dark hair instead of brown. The horse Alli was riding was sorrel instead of brown. Rae could know this because her late mother worked at a stable when Rae was in middle school. So I eliminated a “brown” and made the new color work with my main character’s eye for photography and her backstory. Rae describes the hair of one of her cousins as “sepia-colored.”

Click here for my review of a short story that puts color to brilliant use. Here are more of my tips on writing about the senses.

How do you use the sense of sight in your writing? What tips do you have for writing about the sense of sight?

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?

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