Monday, October 16, 2017

So Where DO Those Story Ideas Come From?

It's probably the most commonly asked question of writers, especially fiction writers. It seems to many people that, judging from the mind-boggling number of novels that exist, that writers are a rare species who sprout story ideas from their brains the way chickens sprout feathers.

If anyone were to take a close look at the many books out there, it becomes clear that most of them are, essentially, telling the same story: guy meets gal, they fall in love and live happily ever after (or not.) Poor person wants to become rich and famous and succeeds (or not.) Hero/ine wants to save world from evil villain and succeeds (or not.) And so on. The details change, the setting changes, even the motivations change, but the essential story is the one that is retold over and over. So finding the story ideas isn't the problem. The challenge is in finding a new, engaging way of telling the story.

At a recent book event, the question was asked, again, about how authors find their stories. The person asking was a poet who was puzzled at the way fiction writers were able to create characters and tell their stories. I'm not sure if we answered her questions in a way that made sense--novelists often find themselves becoming more and more incoherent the more we try to explain the way we work. But it's like asking a poet where their verses come from.

They come from people. Good people, bad people, sad, happy, angry, all kinds of people. And how they feel. And what they do and think. What they want and how badly they want it. Whether it's poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, all stories and the ideas that inspire them come from people. It's the writer's job to record it all and tell the world about these people and events and the stories they have inspired.

Granted, not everyone has the interest or the ability or desire to write down stories. That's why not everyone is a writer. But everyone has a story and many times it's the same story that someone else has... it's just that the details are different.

It's the writer that takes that ordinary story and adds the words and details that make it special.

Monday, October 9, 2017

At the Other End of I-10

Sounds like a country song, doesn't it?

I have spent all but six months of my fifty years of my life living in the Southwest. In truth, the only time I ever visited the Deep South was when we boarded a cruise ship in Miami to go to Key West. With the exception of about eight hours in Key West, the majority of the time we spent was in airports. Not the best way to truly experience a new place.

When I met Mike Orenduff, he was a New Mexico mystery author, creator of Hubert Schuze of "The Pot Thief" mystery series fame and our connection was limited to being fellow authors of a fairly new sub-genre known as New Mexico mystery authors. Because of a twist of fate (or merely the fact that life goes on), Mike also became my mentor and my publisher. And life had also taken him and his wife, Lai, to Valdosta, Georgia where they decided to retire and, in Mike's case, open a combination coffee shop/bookstore/bed and breakfast inn in addition to his publishing duties.

As Mike has always been an enthusiastic supporter of my writing endeavors, when he became the publisher of my fifth book, he encouraged me to visit Valdosta and do a book signing. Because my husband and I are somewhat adventuresome and we like to experience as many new things as possible, we took him up on his offer.

Traveling east from El Paso had never extended further than Houston, Texas for us. This time, we landed in Panama City Beach, Florida and took to the road on Interstate 10 heading east. Instead of desert sand and cactus, we saw cotton fields and Spanish moss. The weather was warmer and far more humid. It was a far cry from the setting of my Black Horse Campground novels. Could I possibly interest people who were unfamiliar with the desert southwest in a story that was set in such an alien setting?

First, I had to convince them that there was more to New Mexico than "Breaking Bad" and Billy the Kid. I introduced them to pinon coffee and New Mexico wine. I offered them stories about people who are just normal every day people who happen to enjoy green chile with their meals rather than grits. And they were interested!

Despite all the so-called differences at the opposite ends of I-10, ultimately the stories that interest people are about people just like them. Even if they don't appreciate the merits of muscadine grapes. Or green chile.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor and nature

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mysteries Abound!

Despite the fact that I've always wanted to be a writer and that I always knew that someday I would realize that dream, I've always been amazed at the fact that I became a writer. Not just a writer but, of all things, a writer of mysteries.

I never imagined myself to be organized enough to write a mystery.

One look at my desk--indeed, a look at my personal effects and life in general--organization seems to be the last thing I consider important. I'm often the writer who has to ask to borrow a pen in order to sign a book (yes, I have.)Yet, if you read a lot of mysteries, you'll find that one has to have some organizational skills in order to plan a perfect murder (on paper, of course!)

Mysteries always seemed so daunting to write, perhaps because some of the first few mysteries I ever read (back in my early teens) were Agatha Christie novels. Hercule Poirot, her fictional detective, was the epitome of organization, "order and method", as he was fond of saying. Only he could tie together such obscure clues as bottles of tanning lotion, a book on voodoo, the sound of a tub being emptied, and use split-second timing (and a tampered-with watch) to pull off a murder and almost unbreakable alibi ("Evil Under the Sun", in case you're wondering.) And to be able to line up the clues in such a way that they made perfect sense--well, to Poirot anyway--seemed to me a task suited only to a ultra-organized, super-intelligent writer. Not to me.

Of course, I realize now that writing  mystery does take some thought and preparation and it really isn't any harder to write than, say, a romance. In reality, almost every story, every novel, is a mystery.

The mystery may be as simple as "Who murdered the victim and why?" or "Will the lovers find each other and live happily ever after?" It may be as complex as "Will the evil genius's plan for taking over the world work and why does he want to do so?" or "Why does the  main character have so many issues with her mother/daughter/ex-husband and will they make peace and live reasonably happily ever after?" Even children's books have an element of mystery... "What DOES happen when you give a mouse a cookie?"

What it all boils down to is that the writer--whether mystery, romance, western, chick-lit, or whatever--has to make sure that the reader is satisfied (even if they're not particularly happy with the way the story turned out.) The story has to make sense, the characters' motivations have to be real (at least to the characters themselves), and the questions, the "why"s, have to be answered. We read to discover the solution to the mystery behind the story.

And we write because, at least in one facet of our lives, we like to know where everything is. Including a pen.

Image result for pen

Monday, September 25, 2017

Guest Post by Marilyn Meredith, Friend and Author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree Mysteries

Today, my friend and fellow mystery author, Marilyn Meredith, is taking over the Back Deck Blog to tell us about her latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, "A Cold Death", and her journey as an author! Grab a cup of coffee (or chai, Marilyn's choice) and enjoy your visit!

My Journey as an Author

Like many others, I’ve written since I was a kid, starting before I could actually write words, drawing a story and all the characters. Once I could read, I went on to write my own version of the Little House on the Prairie books. I also wrote and illustrated a book about fairies that my mother sent to a publisher and received a kind rejection. In grammar school, I also wrote plays for the neighborhood kids to perform and in junior high, I wrote and put out my own magazine.

Because of marrying soon after graduating, and raising a big family, my writing narrowed down to PTA newsletters, and plays for my Camp Fire Girls to perform. Though I did write a couple of novels that were rejected, I didn’t write any fiction again until my sister did our genealogy. It fascinated me and I decided to do some research to try and find out more about what happened. The research then led me to write a 500 plus page fictionalized novel of my mother’s side of the family. I was a grandmother by this time. After many rejections and rewrites, this became my first published book. I wrote about my father’s side of the family, and that one was published too.

During my writing life I’ve had several agents, learned from some, and not from others, but no one sold anything for me.

I switched to writing mysteries after I’d finished with the historical family sagas. My Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries were first published by a small press and I became friends with the publisher. She published the first four and unexpectedly, died. I’ve gone through publishers who turned out to be crooks, others who decided publishing was not for them, others who’ve gotten ill or had family tragedies that made them decide to close their businesses.

Fortunately, Mundania Press, the publisher for the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries is still going strong.

What I’ve told you is merely the highlights of what I’ve experienced on my journey. In reality, looking back I often wonder why I didn’t give up. Of course, I’m glad I didn’t. Because of being an author I’ve met so many wonderful people, other authors and readers, helpful folks in law enforcement who have become friends, have had many adventures, traveled to places I’d never gone to before, learned so much about writing and publishing, and for the most part, had a great writing life.


Blurb for A Cold Death:

Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her husband answer the call for help with unruly guests visiting a closed summer camp during a huge snow storm and are trapped there along with the others. One is a murderer—and another a ghost.

Anyone who orders any of my books from the publisher‘s website:
can get 10% off by entering MP20 coupon code in the shopping cart. This is good all the time for all my books, E-books and print books.

On Kindle:


Marilyn Meredith’s published book count is nearing 40. She is one of the founding members of the San Joaquin chapter of Sister in Crime. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra, a place with many similarities to Tempe Crabtree’s patrol area. Webpage: Blog: and you can follow her on Facebook.

Contest: Once again I’m going to use the name of the person who comments on the most blogs on my tour for the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery—which may be the last in the series.

Tomorrow I’ll be here:

What About Killing Off a Main Character?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Everyday Miracles

In case you all didn't notice, especially if you live in the midwest, the sky got darker today and it wasn't because of a tornado or thunderstorm.

There was a total solar eclipse, a rare astronomical event, was last seen in North America in 1979. The next one won't be until 2024. As with this year's event, unless you live in the path or plan to travel to see it, your best bet is to watch it on TV or via live stream. As with most people across the country, we were treated to spectacular cloud cover which created an eclipse of sorts--one that happens several times a week--and literally eclipsed the real eclipse.

Perhaps it's because it can be dangerous to watch this natural phenomenon, or because we were not in a prime viewing location (and had no plans to travel to one), or maybe it's because there has been so much hype about it, but I wasn't overly excited about watching the eclipse. True, it's an uncommon occurrence and it's cool to think of daylight being obscured in the middle of the day and the attendant weirdness (roosters crowing midday, owls and bats coming out in the middle of the day, etc.) does pique interest. But really, what about every day events that deserve our attention?

The sun sets every day, but not every day brings a spectacular blaze of color to the western sky. When was the last time we appreciated a sunset? Or a sunrise, when the morning is cool and the birds are just waking up and starting to sing and the sky begins to lighten? Or a thunderstorm with jagged lightning bolts lighting up a night sky or curtains of rain drenching the land and helping things grow?

It's easy to grumble about a sunset blinding us as we drive home at the end of a long workday. Or about having to get up early with too little sleep to get to work. And of course, there is scarcely a person in the world who hasn't cursed a rainstorm that causes canceled plans and power outages and other inconveniences.

Maybe if we only could experience those things as rarely as an eclipse would we be able to appreciate the little miracles that happen around us every day.

The sunset from our house, three days before the eclipse

Monday, August 7, 2017

Road Trip!

Over the years, Paul and I have developed a great many more interests than we had when we first married. Many of them have led to a lot of great adventures, but one thing that we've always enjoyed doing together is road trips!

Our first road trip was our honeymoon. We drove from El Paso, Texas to Niagara Falls, New York in a Nissan pickup truck that had no air conditioning. We drove up through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and into New York in three days, stopping in Amarillo, TX, Springfield, MO, and Columbus, OH. Up till that time, I had never been further east from El Paso except for visiting family in Hobbs, New Mexico! The fact that this trip took place in the beginning of July during the great summer drought of 1988 and we made it without consulting attorneys bodes well for us reaching our 50th wedding anniversary! We drove back through Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and spent a few days in our nation's capital, then continued on through Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and on to home in New Mexico, stopping in Knoxville, TN, Little Rock, AR, and then visiting Paul's sisters in Santa Fe. While we were glad to be home, we still talk about that trip!

Since then, we have made many trips--several trips to Santa Fe, NM and San Antonio, TX; Phoenix, Lake Havasu City, and Grand Canyon, Arizona; Estes Park and Canon City, Colorado; and Monterey, California. Many times family accompanied us on these trips, but mainly it was just the two of us. We love seeing new places, watching the sun come up or go down from different vistas, visiting new towns and eating in little roadside diners or from the cooler in the back of our car or truck while exploring a new state or city park. 

We have taken many trips by plane as well. On occasion, there just isn't enough time to take a leisurely drive if we only have a few days off from work and, in some instances, it was simply cheaper to fly (yes, $49 fares really are a thing sometimes!) And of course, driving to Europe is definitely not possible! But we are truly believers in the phrase "getting there is half the fun" and, given a choice, we prefer to drive.

Next weekend, we are taking an familiar road to San Antonio to spend a quick four-day weekend with close friends. True to our nature, we are excited though we can make the drive with our eyes closed and several people have pointed out that, for only a short visit, flying would definitely save us some time. But we are taking a detour, veering off the faster and more direct Interstate 10, to make a side trip to Alpine where there is a small, well-known bookstore where I hope to do a book signing. Along the way, we will drive through small Texas towns, watch the sun come up near the Big Bend area (we like to leave early--about 3 or 4 a.m.--when we go on road trips!) and eat breakfast in a place too small to have a Denny's or IHOP. 

And along the way, we'll probably reminisce about previous trips and look forward to future ones!

The first leg of our trip always includes making a left or right on US 70!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Collector's Woes--When Too Much is Too Much!

I have learned one thing about collecting and it is this: proceed with caution.

There are stories galore of people who collect some item simply because fell in love with model Volkswagon Beetle cars or Hummel figurines that they saw on their grandmother's shelf or they hoarded their childhood comic books in cardboard boxes in the family attic or basement or drove their mothers crazy with odd rocks they picked up from every family vacation and stored in empty pickle or peanut butter jars all over their bedrooms. And you know how the story ends: those childhood collections end up yielding gems that are worth thousands of dollars--either a rare first-edition Superman comic book or an odd-looking rock that turns out to be a rare gem. That's the fairy tale ending.

The reality is that, somewhere along the line, Mom cleaned house and either threw your "treasures" in the trash or sold them for a quarter at a garage sale. Or else you somehow managed to rescue them from Mom (or spouse) only to discover that their value was a great deal less than what you had hoped.

I have learned, over the years, that collections require a lot of work. And I'm not a collector in the sense that I have seashells, or paintings, or music boxes all over the house.

I collect recipes.

The benefit of collecting recipes is that, while I do have an impressive amount of cookbooks which I enjoy reading when I'm burned out on novels, a lot of the recipes I've collected have come my way via Facebook. It's amazing! I see a recipe, I read it through, I decide whether or not it's something I and my family would enjoy and I click a button. That's it! I've saved it to my collection! And I don't have to dust it or find a place for it on my already crowded knick-knack shelves! Woo hoo!

And there they sit. In my recipe files. Unmade.

The problem with my recipe collection is that, much like Grandma's milk-glass collection, it is hardly ever pulled out of obscurity and used. Once in a while, I run across a recipe I really, REALLY want to make and I actually write down the ingredients on my grocery list and I make it. And it's wonderful! So I tell myself to make something else. Dig out another recipe and give it a whirl. But which one? There are so many....

I am tempted to write down the name of the recipes on slips of paper and pull them out of a hat and force myself to make at least one new one a week. Judging by the number of recipes I already have saved, not counting the cookbook recipes I want to make, plus the fact that I add a new recipe every time I browse Facebook (we'll leave that number up to your imaginations, okay?) and then figure a rate of one recipe per week, I might not live long enough to enjoy all those meals.

But at least I don't have to dust them!
Top photo is a standby recipe (migas), bottom is a Tuscan chicken recipe I found on Facebook. Guess which one gets made most often?