Sunday, September 15, 2019

Keeping a Series Fresh - A Guest Post by Diane Weiner

There’s nothing like a binge-worthy cozy mystery series. The mystery element tugs at curiosity and drives the reader to the end of the book. The setting is comfortable, like a worn sofa or a cup of hot tea. The characters become our friends. We become invested in them as they face challenges and growth throughout a series. Authors work hard to keep the stories fresh and appealing because readers become invested in their work and we don’t want to disappoint. How can it be done.

 Protagonists as well as readers learn by exposure to different people, ideas, and locales. 

In Murder is Medical, book 10 in the Susan Wiles Schoolhouse Mysteries, retired teacher turned sleuth Susan Wiles teams up with a new friend, and they become two peas in a pod. Both have detective daughters who warn them to stay out of police business, both are grandmothers, and both possess intelligence, curiosity, and gumption. By observing the actions and quirks of her new friend, Susan discovers truths about herself.

This book takes place in St. Louis, a change of venue for Susan’s crime solving. The city environment and the fact that she’s a guest in her son’s home, add a freshness to the series. Additionally, when Susan’s husband faces a life-threatening health challenge, she has to take on a new role. Readers watch her navigate this serious challenge—one many of us are called on to face at some point in our lives. 

Speaking of challenges, in my new release, The Tainted Course, Emily and Henry Fox have recently become parents to a moody, eye-rolling teenager. When their new daughter faces harm, it brings out the wild cougar in Emily and a fiere protective instinct in Henry that throws him off kilter.

Maddy pulls her new parents into challenges that their careers in medicine and crime reporting have failed to prepare them for. Eating dinner at the Outside Inn, Maddy recognizes a new school friend and the Foxes invite her and her family to join them at their table. The waitress deliberately spills diet soda on the woman’s white pants, while Coralee’s new boy Friday spews venom at this woman for ruining his sister’s life. Someone hates this woman enough to spike her cheesecake and murder her. It may be one of those two, but the suspect list grows as Emily and Henry help the detective dig deeper.

I find myself drawing current events into my books. While writing The Tainted Course, the bribe for admissions college scandal and the propensity to throw illegal aliens out of the country were hot news stories. Working these events into the series infuses it with vitality. 

Adding characters and working in a back story help keep writing fresh. Since the beginning of the Sugarbury Falls series, I’ve hinted at the mystery of Emily’s sister. In each book, I’ve kept the suspense brewing in the background of the primary mystery. At the end of The Tainted Course, a clue propels the mystery into the next book, The Muddy Course, where answers will finally be obtained. I generally alternate writing for each series, but I felt with the bit of a cliffhanger at the end of The Tainted Course, I owed it to my readers to write the next in this series, and to write it quickly! I’m aiming for a fall release.

Emily’s mother comes to town. Being Maddy’s mother is a learning curve, but dealing with her own is about to steer her right off a cliff! Readers will see another side of Emily and gain a better understanding of her character. While the charm of a series lies in its sameness, the addition of new characters and challenges keeps it fresh.

Characters, like all of use, have personal demons, doubts, shortcoming, and self-inflicted obstacles. Over the course of a series, we can empathize with a character facing many of the challenges that we or our loved ones might face. Our interactions with others, new experiences, and the challenge of overcoming vulnerabilities is a catalyst for growth both for the reader and the for the protagonist. 

Both series are published by Cozy Cat Press and available on and through Barnes and Noble. For more information, visit Diane's Facebook page (dianeweinerauthor), website (, and twitter (dianeweinerauth).

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Maris Soule - Country Girl

Maris Soule is a writer with small-town roots.  Born and raised in Walnut Creek, California, she spent her childhood exploring the fields and creeks and sitting in her “thinking tree” creating stories.  After her marriage, she moved to a rural town in Michigan where she raised two children and began her career as a novelist. Since 2010, she’s been a winter resident of Florida where she continues to write stories set in places reminiscent of the small towns that she loves.
“I’ve always been a reader,” Soule says. “My mom used to come into my bedroom to see if I was asleep, and she’d find me reading with a flashlight. I made up stories all the time. They were just there, waiting to come out.”  In spite of her interest in writing, Soule went on to graduate from the University of California/Davis with a major in art and a minor in math. After spending 8 years teaching, she left to spend more time with her two children. Once they were in school, Soule decided to try writing. 

“I finished reading a mystery romance and thought I could do better,” she recalls. “I discovered it wasn’t that easy.  I spent 3 ½ years learning the craft before I came up with something sellable. And I’m still learning.”  In 1983, she received a contract for “First Impressions,” a romance novel that was the introductory giveaway book for the then new Harlequin’s “Temptations” line. This was followed by an impressive string of 24 category romances published by Harlequin, Silhouette and Bantam.
In 2007, Soule decided to write a mystery. The result was The Crows, the first in what was to become the PJ Benson Mysteries. The Crows introduced PJ Benson, a woman who is thrown into situations where she must save herself. In this instance, PJ is walking her dog in the woods when she hears shots. She runs home to find a dying man in her dining room.  Then even stranger things start happening. The story is set in a small Michigan town modeled after Climax, the town where Soule lived for 27 years. According to Library Journal, “Romantic suspense just doesn’t get any better.”
The Crows was followed by As the Crow Flies (2012) where PJ is given a briefcase by a mysterious old woman who asks for her help. This sets off a series of misfortunes that turn PJ’s life upside-down. Book three in the series, Eat Crow and Die (2015), has PJ trying to help the man she’s dating when he becomes the prime suspect in the death of his ex-wife and her new husband.

In addition to the Crow books, one day after watching an episode of “Nikita,” (the 2010-2013 TV series about a woman who escapes from a secret government-funded organization and is trying to take it down), Soule wondered what a woman like Nikita would be like in her seventies.  That question led to A Killer Past (2015) where 74-year-old widow Mary Harrington, who lives in a small Michigan town, reverts to old habits and puts the two teenage punks who try to steal her purse in the hospital.  When the local police detective can’t discover anything about Mary’s past before she moved to the town 44 years earlier, he becomes suspicious.

Soule’s latest release, Echoes of Terror, is a stand-alone mystery set in the town of Skagway, Alaska. After visiting friends who volunteered for the national park in Skagway, she decided to set a book there.  In 2008, she sent the book to agents, but they didn’t like the ending, so Soule set the manuscript aside and wrote two more mysteries. Then, she went back, did some editing, and submitted the story to Five Star/Cengage who published it in March 2017.  Inspired by the Elizabeth Smart case, Echoes of Terror has Katherine Ward, an officer on the small town’s police force, investigating the disappearance of a billionaire’s teenage daughter. Katherine soon learns the girl is being held captive by The Beekeeper, a psychopath who kidnapped and raped Katherine when she was young. Kirkus Review calls the book “…a hair-raising thriller.”  In October 2017, Echoes of Terror won the Florida Writers’ Associations Royal Palm Literary Award for mystery and suspense.

Soule is currently working on a fourth book in the P.J. Benson Mystery series.  In this book, P.J. is nine months pregnant and in no shape to be trying to solve why a former co-worker was run down and killed minutes after talking to P.J..  However, the killer thinks P.J. has incriminating evidence and is determined to get it, one way or another.  So far the book doesn’t have a title, and Soule plans on having a contest to name the book and also name P.J.’s baby.

While Soule’s novels have tranquil settings, her stories are anything but. “My books aren’t cozies or sweet romances,” she says. “I want readers to get caught up in the journey of the main character at a pace where they don’t want to stop.” 

For more information, visit the author’s website at

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Art of the Opening - A Guest Post by Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Catherine Underhill Fitzpatrick. She is the award-winning author of four books: A Matter of Happenstance, Eternal Day, Going on Nine, and Voyage:A Memoir of Love, War, and Ever After.  Her articles, stories and essays have appeared in magazines, newspapers, literary reviews, and anthologies. Fitzpatrick was our featured writer on July 2, 2016.

For many writers, structuring a riveting plot is the most difficult part of the job. For others, it’s finding their unique voice. Still others struggle to create memorable characters, realistic dialogue, or vivid scenes.  None of these matters of craft are easy, of course, but I think one of the most critical parts of writing is nailing the opening.

Leisure time is a precious commodity today and readers have endless options to fill it with good read books. If the first words, sentences, or paragraphs don’t interest or intrigue them, don’t pull them into whatever comes next, they don’t tend to stick with it.

My goal, whether I’m working on an essay, a novel, magazine article or memoir, is to write an opening that makes the reader want more. I try to make my first sentences either dramatic or humorous, shocking or in some way engaging. What I choose to say in those few lines must pique the reader’s interest, but also reveal something about what, and who, comes next.  And so, I struggle to find a way to make the reader chuckle, worry, be wistful or angry, hungry or exhausted, or feel as if they are right there in the scene I’ve chosen as my opener.

In the earliest days of my writing career, I was a cub reporter at a metro-daily newspaper. I sat at a desk in a long row of desks in a cavernous newsroom and hammered out the news of the day on a manual typewriter. There was neither the time nor the technology to sample multiple leads, perfecting the verbiage.  Later, computers and software were introduced into newsrooms, opening new and wondrous realms of revision, especially for feature writers with weekly, rather than daily, deadlines. When working on a lengthy feature, one that likely would encompass an entire page of the Sunday editions, I would go back to my lead sentence dozens of times. Often, many dozens.

Here’s one of the leads from my newspaper days, the start of a feature story in which a sense of place was paramount:

About an hour west of Waco, the mesquite-dotted infinity of central Texas is interrupted by a pin dot on the map. Gatesville. Population 11,492. On a good day.
Surrounded by sprawling ranches, Gatesville announces itself with a series of rickety shacks and corrugated metal feed depots. Nearer in, the Coryell County Courthouse towers over street corner churches. Pickups crawl the main drag. Barbecue joints roast meat on charred grills until it sweats itself into succulence.
The following excerpt is from a humorous first-person essay I wrote for a literary magazine. The piece is titled, “Authorwear” and the humor is derived as much from the author’s voice as it is from her dilemma.
The black, I think. The sleeveless LBD with a slightly scooped neck and cut-in armholes. The one that’s ruched front and back ― so clever, rows of shallow gathers that camouflage a waistline gone to pot. The hem hits a demure inch above my knee, a flirty but age-appropriate length.
So, the Little Black Dress with … what?  The black patent backless wedges, of course. Honestly, they’re more like dolled-up flip flops than author-talk pumps, but they make every cent I spent on a salon pedicure worth the money. Not to mention, the wedges are blessedly comfortable.  Well, that’s settled.
Cripes, what was I thinking? Black? In the middle of July? In Chicago?
I like writing humorous pieces, and I had a bit of fun with the opening of a coming-of-age essay published online that goes on to deal sensitively with girlhood angst. The title is “The Fence.”
First, I pouted. When that didn’t work, I went off solid food for a few hours. When that didn’t work, I trudged after my parents to Outer Mongolia. Or so I called it.
When writing longer works, book-length works, which have been my focus since “retiring” to gorgeous Southwest Florida, I have labored over opening lines as never before, trying out synonyms, braiding words into phrases, constructing sample sentences, culling and shuffling as I tried to build something memorable, something to grab readers by their ears and yank them into the story.
My debut novel, A Matter of Happenstance (2010, Plain View Press), opens with language that is lyric and picturesque, and then takes an ominous turn…
Levity, that blithe spirit. From daybreak to moonrise it scripted the story of Blenheim, as if scriveners had dipped quills in stardust and written on sheets of sky. For ten years the house seemed to float above harm’s reach, cheating misfortune of its due. Ten years, an eternity, an eye blink, there and gone. On a July afternoon, under a flaring sun that rinsed the world of color, stilled the verges of birdsong, and bowed the fevered heads of a thousand Old Garden roses, gravity slipped in through a door left ajar.
My next book, Going on Nine (2014, Familius) was a sweet, nostalgic novel about childhood in the 1950s. After sampling countless ways to get into the story, I chose to open it with a single, declarative sentence, wrenching in its simplicity.
I am grieved to the bone.
Although my family story, Voyage: A Memoir of Love, War, and Ever After (2016 eLectio), is based on World War II letters written by my father, I chose to open the narrative with a few poignant phrases that introduced readers to my mother, and to me.
Plastic bags stuffed with plastic bags. Easy. Pitch. Boxes of high heels, size nine. Donate. A silk lingerie sack embroidered with a spray of Japanese iris. Well now. I lift the sack and breathe in the scent of jasmine and ylang-ylang. Joy, her favorite perfume.

After Dad died, Mom went downhill. In the end, two of my brothers kept vigil with me at St. John’s Mercy Hospital. It was early December. I sang Christmas carols at her bedside, book-ending the lullabies she sang to me decades earlier. Beneath the sheet, she tapped her foot to “Silent Night.” When I got to the part about heavenly hosts, she drew her last breath.

The point is, there is no single way to write a perfect lead, but there are many ways to write a really good one.

I’ll leave you with two of my favorites. The first uses drama and pathos to grab the reader’s attention. The second uses surprise and juxtaposition.

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. --The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls (2005, Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Having just died, I shouldn’t be starting my afterlife with a chicken sandwich, no matter what, especially one served up by nuns. --Learning to Die in Miami by Carlos Eire (2010, Free Press)

For more information, visit the author's website at or her Amazon Author Page at