The Canadian magazine Faith Today did a quick Q&A with me recently, just three questions about my mystery/suspense fiction and about those fencing lessons I mention on my “about” page. Pop over for a 2-minute read!
Here’s the interview link: Faith Today Q&A. If you click the link at the start of this post it’ll take you to the magazine homepage… where Canadians can subscribe for free!
After 20 years away from her Georgia hometown, Jillian Green is back: living with her grandmother and great aunt in an antebellum mansion and slowly improving her baking skills at her grandmother’s Chocolate Shoppe bakery.
Christmas is approaching and she’s excited to decorate the mansion for the upcoming Merry Mansions tour. When one of the decorating team is found dead on the grounds, Jillian’s great aunt cries murder. Since the elderly woman is convinced her dead husband communicates with her through her cat, nobody takes the claim seriously—until handsome coroner Hunter Greyson agrees.
Jillian’s curiosity draws her into the murder investigation and also into a stranger’s quest to locate his long-lost high school sweetheart. As clues and complications multiply, she discovers the two mysteries may have a common thread.
Boughs of Folly is a feel-good Christmas cozy mystery that fits into a collection of books set in the same town, which means it comes with a well-established set of characters. This is a bonus for fans of the other books who get to see their fictional friends again. Not having read the other books didn’t affect me in terms of understanding the story although I did feel like there were a lot of people to keep track of.
Most fun thing about the book: the mansion’s decorations include an outdoor manger scene with lifelike sheep that Jillian remembers her grandfather regularly moving around so people would think they were real. Another good thing would be all the bakery goods references.
The mystery is satisfyingly tangled but it all comes out in the end. In traditional cozy fashion, readers will find a clean story with appealing characters and setting, a bit of humour, food, friendship, hints of romance, and a quirky pet.
Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book set called Jingle Bell Mysteries (with Klaus for Suspicion and Deck the Hearse) from Annie’s Fiction. Annie’s is a subscription book club delivering members a new read every 4-6 weeks. The Jingle Bell Mysteries set is available for purchase through Annie’s site without taking a subscription, so it’s a great way to check out the types of books they offer. For more about the book bundle or to order, click here: Jingle Bell Mysteries.
Believe it or not, this is Sandra Orchard’s 25th book. For more about the author and her mystery and romantic suspense books, visit sandraorchard.com.
[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]
I wrote over 40K words of my first YA speculative fiction novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2020. And then . . .
True confession time . . .
I left it so long that I wanted to go back and read it from the beginning, making minor changes and getting my momentum back.
But that didn’t happen. At least not until June of this year.
In just three days, I read the 44K+ words, tweaked those 140 or so pages, and organized my notes (character names, questions that needed to be answered, an idea for a possible freebie, etc.).
The more I worked on it, the more motivated I became.
Waiting for inspiration hadn’t worked. Chasing after it . . . did.
Are you stuck? Unmotivated? Uninspired?
Here are three ideas to help you get your mojo back:
If you’re a discovery writer (aka a pantser) like I am, there comes a point when it’s a good idea to make yourself some notes. Keep track of who’s who. Make a list of times you dropped “the first shoe.” If you never drop the second, your readers will not be pleased. Unanswered questions and unresolved issues are not your friend. When you reread your work, be on the lookout for inconsistencies. I once had the wind inexplicably change directions—on the same page. I’m so glad I caught it before letting anyone else read that story. Diving into the details can inspire you to get back to writing.
I love giving my characters the freedom of taking me where they want to go. Of slowly but surely revealing their personality traits and quirks to me. Of making me unexpectedly laugh or gasp. But if I don’t have a rough idea of where the story will end, I can find myself wandering around aimlessly by the middle of the story. I have the epilogue written for a contemporary women’s fiction story I plan to get back to. Plus, I’m currently working on the last chapter of the YA novel I mentioned earlier, even though I’ve only written approximately half the manuscript. The plan is for it to be the first book in a series. So, I need a cathartic ending that is still open-ended. I’m happy with what I’ve settled on. Writing a possible ending for your story may help you decide how to get from where you are to where you want to go.
We’ve all heard it. And it may be the last thing many of us want to hear again. But I’ve found it’s true. I have to turn off Netflix (and Disney Plus and Prime Video and Paramount Plus), not to mention social media, and sit at my computer, open my writing program, and keep at it—even when the ideas don’t come pouring out. Walking away from distractions and focusing on your writing may be just the thing you need to get those words flowing again. It’s 100% fine if it begins as a trickle. Keep pumping out the words, and that trickle could very well become a steady stream.
While my focus is on fiction, the same principles apply when you’re writing nonfiction, although it’s far more challenging to apply discovery writing techniques to nonfiction.
When you mess up in a small town, everybody knows it. Which is why 19-year-old Sol Wuppertal does not want to return to Happenstance when he gets out of prison. No matter his claims of innocence—all the townsfolk will remember is that he hung around with bad characters and has done time.
Readers of the Happenstance Chronicles series will recognize Sol’s large, energetic family: his dad owns the general store. Other fan favourites are back as well: Matt and the Misses Grayce and Emmaline, Bear, the crotchety Morris Craddock, and more. If you’re new to the series, you’ll fit right in and quickly develop a fondness for these folks.
In this book, Sol is lured home by his sister Rachel who’s running the new bistro and needs a helper. Sol needs a job but doesn’t want to work in the family store—his father hasn’t forgiven him for shaming the family name. But working at the bistro puts Sol in regular contact with Mr. Craddock. Words will fly and tempers will flare.
As if conflict with his father, the local gossip columnist, Mr. Craddock, and his parole officer isn’t enough, Sol also finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Someone’s been stealing rare books from the library attached to the bistro.
Gossip and Grace is a blend of contemporary fiction and cozy mystery, with a dash of whimsy. The mystery is clearly secondary to the challenges and changes in the characters’ lives.
Sol has a lot of negative mental baggage and as he tries to learn to reframe his perspective I appreciate the realistic ups and downs in the process. Too many books make it look easy or like a one time choice. Negative self-talk and false beliefs about others are things that affect so many of us in the real world, and I think Sol’s journey can point to real-life change. Not that it’s preachy in any way—his growth is an organic result of his struggle.
Gossip and Grace is the newest feel-good mystery in the Happenstance Chronicles, with delightful characters, amusing banter, and a whimsical small town you’ll wish was real. As well as this contemporary series, Janice L. Dick has also written historical fiction. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.com.
Are you familiar with the By the Book blog? I had the chance to do an interview there last week — why not pop by and check out Beckie’s and my conversation? We talked about when I first started writing, early encouragers, why mystery/suspense, and what I hope readers will take away from my books. Here’s the link: Author, Author! — Janet Sketchley.
Two twelve-year-old friends—and a Talking Camel—may be the only hope for a kingdom in danger in this middle-grade epic fantasy novel from author J. A. Menzies.
We have a princess who’s so strong-willed even her mother calls her Princess Persnickety. And we have her unlikely friend, Stefan the stable boy. Soon, they’re joined by Creed the Talking Camel (in a kingdom where Talking Animals are the stuff of fairytales) and the adventure begins.
This book would be ideal for a child who’s an avid reader and isn’t afraid of adult-level words like “persnickety,” or for adults who enjoy reading to children. The narrative has a definite read-aloud feel, with perhaps more description than I expect most kids to want to tackle. Having said that, I heartily encourage them to tackle it—it won’t take long for the story to hook them.
There’s plenty to appeal to kids—and kid-like adults—with the children taking front stage in the action despite the adults’ attempts to keep them out of danger. There are satisfying moments of bad guys being conked by frying pans or running into just-shut doors. There are the previously mentioned Talking Animals, along with a secret history of the kingdom.
For the map-lovers among us, there’s also a map. And for the series-lovers, book 2 is in the works. This story finishes with this book, but there’s definitely scope for more. There’s still a potential threat to the realm, and Stefan, an adopted son of loving parents, finishes book 1 with a growing desire to discover his family history.
J. A. Menzies is the alter-ego of author N. J. Lindquist. Between the two names, this Canadian author has produced mysteries for adults, contemporary coming-of-age stories for young adults, nonfiction material, and now a middle-grade epic fantasy. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com and njlindquist.com.
Mystery and suspense writers joke about law enforcement flagging our internet searches. For the murder in the opening pages of Bitter Truth, I spent hours looking up ways the killer could dispatch the victim from a distance or with a time delay.
Truth told, it’s a little creepy looking at weapons sites on the internet. There are some disturbing subcultures. If you want to know what a “TEOTWAWKI kit” is, first try to guess. Then I’ll tell you at the end of this post.
On the upside, I discovered you can buy “Batman Batarang Throwing Knives.” I’m not a weapons person (although I love a good kitchen knife) but these are, well, if you’ll pardon the pun, they’re very “sharp looking”!
Back to the research… So many options for a fictional murderer! I decided it would be dramatic to have the killer use a poisoned dart. So I studied various types of poisons. And blowguns, because he could fold it up and not look suspicious. How long would he need to practice with something like that? And how close would he have to be?
It could work. I wanted it to work.
Then I thought about the character of the killer, his goals and his style.
All he needed was a sniper rifle.
There went all my fancy plans! But you never know, a poison dart may show up in a later book. Nothing’s ever wasted.
And the answer to the mystery question is… “TEOTWAWKI” = “The End Of The World As We Know It”
Yikes! It’s good to be prepared for emergencies, as Green Dory Inn character Nigel Foley would attest.
Still, in these days following Easter I’d rather focus on the One who laid down His life on the Cross to save us and took it up again in triumph three days later. His purposes are best, His promises are true, and His love never fails. As the Bible says, our times are in His hands (Psalm 31:15).