Hello World!

Word for the day: Busy: back to writing a novel again! 10/19/16

Household Tip: When you get the mail, take the time to handle it all right away. Yes, even filing what you want to keep. 10/20/16

Word for the Day: Weekend: Coming up. Let’s relax a little! 11/4/16

SECRET EXPOSURE MYSTERY NOVEL REVEAL

Latest novel just out, third in the Paula Mitchell, PI, series–Kindle edition. Print version coming soon.

Front cover finalClick on Cover to see on Amazon

Here’s the description:

Did Simon Langford abuse his son and kill his wife? Paula Mitchell, a Rhode Island private investigator, is hired to prove he’s an innocent man.
.
When Simon refuses to answer Paula’s questions, she interviews his friends and acquaintances. Trouble is, they’re almost as secretive as Simon, and she’s sure some are lying. When Simon is arrested for his wife’s murder, Paula knows she needs to work fast, or Simon will go to prison, probably for life. And might never see his little boy again.

After old flame Steve comes back to town, Paula is excited about the rekindling of their romance. Events turn dangerous, though, and Steve’s need to protect Paula might get in the way of her solving the case.

Paula’s frustration escalates until the day she discovers some answers from an unexpected source that provide a surprising breakthrough. But when she acts on the information, she puts her own life in danger.

Hope everyone will check it out!

REVIEW: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP

SUBTITLED
THE JAPANESE ART OF DECLUTTERING AND ORGANIZING
BY
MARIE KONDO

This is a best-selling book about getting rid of all your clutter in one day.

For me, it was a mixed bag of good advice combined with dubious advice plus cultural differences which have made other reviewers either totally befuddled or quite angry.

At least it’s short. But it could have been shorter.

The major premise is to start with your clothing, throw everything all on the floor, then pick up each piece and decide whether it brings you joy or not. If it does, you get to keep it. If not, you have to toss it or give it away. And what you keep has to be folded just so—not many things are hung.

After you do the clothing, Ms. Kondo walks you through the rest of the items in your household, insisting on a certain order of going through them.

Big hole there—the kitchen. She mentions kitchen items maybe twice. And how much joy does that measuring cup bring you? If none, I guess you have to get rid of it. Now, the meat cleaver . . . Seriously, if you include decluttering the kitchen, I don’t see any way most people could declutter their whole house in one day.

Ms. Kondo is obviously single and lives alone in a rather small space. Her advice would work well for others in the same circumstances, but for families, not so much.

All that said, though, the basic premise of taking each item in your hand and deciding if you love it (I’d add or really need and use it), then putting it away carefully in its permanent home and getting rid of all the rest, is sound.

Every so often there’s a mention of inanimate objects having feelings and how you should treat them. This becomes more pronounced as you continue reading. You should greet the house when you enter. You should empty your purse every evening and put things away in a certain place you have for them. You should say good-bye to and thank the clothing and other items you are getting rid of. And so on. From what I can determine on-line, this is a common Shinto (Japanese religious) practice. Hey, maybe it works!

Perhaps the most dangerous piece of advice was to get rid of most all the papers in your house. This can be carried too far. I tend to probably save more than I really need to, but that’s better than throwing out something you desperately need later. She says to save those that do need to be saved, and those that need attention, then a nebulous category where you save some for a while. So, I’d be extra careful with this advice.

And maybe the most annoying advice was to get rid of books by throwing them in a pile on the floor and sorting through then, then tearing out any pages that you want to keep (!), and storing the few remaining books in a bookcase (small, I assume) in your closet. Yes, you read that right—in your closet. The author entirely misses the point that shelves filled with books can bring people joy.

Excuse me while I go put this funny little book away in one of the big bookcases in my home office alongside the other books I’ve collected and annotated about personal organization and time management. It’s not that I love the book, but I’m keeping it for when I need to shake my head to exercise my neck.

Anyone else read it? What do you think after reading my review?

A BROKEN LIFE, A PAULA MITCHELL, PI, NOVEL SPOTLIGHT

Since the third novel in the Paula, PI, series, Secrets Exposed, will be out soon, I decided to do a spotlight in case you missed the second book, A Broken Life, and might enjoy knowing more about it.

ABrokenLife_200x300First, here’s a short description of A Broken Life:

While in the middle of investigating a domestic case, Rhode Islander PI Paula Mitchell finds an old friend, ragged and homeless. Paula learns that Martha Hendricks is the victim of identity theft. Three years earlier a woman, with ID confirming her as Martha, was busted on a drug charge. After Martha’s boss found out about it, he fired her.

Soon Paula begins to receive threatening phone calls. The doctor Martha worked for is murdered. And Martha disappears–until Paula finds her, beaten and left for dead, in her own backyard.

For two days, Martha is unconscious. As Paula investigates further, she learns more about the doctor’s employees, meets Martha’s old boyfriend, and one of her former roommates. Paula’s suspect list grows. When she’s almost run down in a parking lot, her lover pleads with her to stop her investigation.

Paula refuses. Not only is Martha in danger, but if Paula doesn’t push harder for answers, she knows she’ll be the next person on the killer’s hit list.

And here’s an excerpt to showcase Paula at work:

Straight-arming the door, I strode into the [convenience] store. Looked around. The only customer was male, about five feet eight, with short brown hair, brown eyes and a pointy little nose. My accident-prone tail [from the other day]. Surprised, I stopped in the doorway, staring a moment before I could think what to do. My gun felt heavy at my side, and I longed to pull it out, point it at him and call the police. But it was too risky, no one’s life was in danger, and I hated to point a gun at someone without a damned good reason.

Deciding to play it cool, I walked farther into the store, picked up a candy bar, a box of doughnuts, and watched the guy out of the corner of my eye. He said something to the cashier, then sauntered toward the door, head down. Maybe he felt me staring, because suddenly he looked up, saw me, and took off. I dashed out after him, the clerk yelling behind me. When I reached for the door handle of the Taurus, I realized I still had the candy and doughnuts in my hand. I heard the other car start up and back away. Throwing the goodies on the ground, I jumped into my car and took off after him, squashing the candy and doughnuts under my wheels.]

He drove to Chartersford Avenue, with me right on his bumper. He tried to time the lights so he could get through and I’d be stuck, but I managed to stay with him all the way up to Springton, and then through several other small towns until we were out in the country. I had memorized his license number by that time, as well as the back of his head.The sound of a train whistle wailed in the distance. The car ahead slowed down as we approached a crossing. Behind me, I heard another sound—a siren. Lights flashed in my mirror. Thank goodness, I thought, the police. I looked ahead again and saw what the guy was trying to do. He wanted to get through the crossing and have the train block me. Don’t do it, I thought. Remember your luck with the bus. This would be much worse. I wanted to close my eyes, but I couldn’t.

The whistle hooted again, the train almost upon us. The guy made his move, getting through, and I had to stop. I turned around and motioned frantically toward the police car.

But the police officer took his time climbing out, his notebook in hand. He sauntered over to me so slowly that I became impatient and jumped out of the car.

“Hold it right there!” he yelled at me, drawing his weapon.

“Officer,” I shouted, standing still, putting my hands up. “You have to catch that guy.”

As I raised my arms, my jacket pulled away to reveal my gun. Now the officer stopped walking, too. “Use two fingers to take out your weapon,” he said, his voice hoarse, “and place it on the ground.”

“Officer,” I pleaded. “I’m a private detective on a case. We need to catch the man I was following.”

“Yeah, and I’m the Easter Bunny. I’ve heard them all now. Do as I said. Get that weapon on the ground, then turn around and spread-eagle against your vehicle.”

Shaking my head, I used my thumb and forefinger to gingerly lift my gun out of its holster, and bent down a little so I wouldn’t have to drop it far and damage it. After I straightened up, I hugged my Taurus and uncomfortably let the officer search me for more weapons. Did his hands linger a little longer than necessary? It was hard to tell under these circumstances.

“Okay,” he said when satisfied, still shouting over the noise of the train. “Now show me some identification.”

“In my purse,” I said through wooden lips, as I reached inside the car for my bag.
When he saw my PI license his only comment was, “Huh. Well, anyway, you’re under arrest.

“What for?” I demanded.

“Shoplifting,” he shouted.

The train chugged along until finally the caboose came into view. I gaped at the police officer a moment before collecting what wits I had left. With one final, mournful toot of its horn, the train disappeared around a bend. I looked at the road ahead, and of course, the guy in the car had disappeared. My only real lead in the case.

“Officer, you don’t understand.” I almost whimpered with frustration. “What town are you from, anyway?” The lights in the strobe bar on his cruiser still rotated maddeningly.
“Taylor,” he said. He had his gun back in his fist, pointed at me. Overkill for a shoplifter, but not one with a gun, I guess.

I gaped some more. “You came all the way from Taylor to arrest me out here for shoplifting?”

“The clerk at the convenience store thought you might be impersonating a police officer. That’s a serious crime. I see now that you are a private investigator, but there’s still the charge of shoplifting.”

“I can explain that.”

“Of course you can,” he said in a soothing voice, as if I were a young child or mentally deranged.

“Really. Listen, it’s a long story.” I realized that I’d like to sit down. My legs felt a bit weak, my usual delayed reaction to stress. And having a gun pointed at me twice in two days definitely counted as stress. Plus, I’d lost the guy. He’d probably ditch the car now. And what was his relationship to the woman with the two kids? So many questions, so little time. I’d have to make the long story short.

“Look,” I pleaded. “The guy I was following followed me the other day. He crashed into a bus, and when I confronted him, he pulled a gun on me. There’s a report about it in Springton, if you don’t believe me. So, when I saw him in the convenience store, I had to try to talk to him, find out what it was all about. I’ll pay for the merchandise I took. It was completely unconscious—I didn’t realize I had the stuff in my hands until I got out to the car, and then I had to go after him. You see?” My legs felt even weaker now, but I forced myself to stand straight and tall.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

“You can check it out. Call Detective Brudder in Springton.”

“You know him?”

“Of course,” I said impatiently. I’d come to the conclusion that this guy wasn’t the brightest light in the police station.

“You a friend of his?” he asked, his gun lowering slightly at the thought.

“Yes,” I lied, silently asking my mother’s forgiveness. One of her favorite stories had been about George Washington and the cherry tree.

“Okay. I’m going to call in. You come with me to the car.”

“And leave my gun on the ground here? My car in the road?”

He stood considering these matters seriously for a minute. “I’ll get your weapon,” he said finally. “People can get around the car. I’ll leave my lights on.”

Good thinking. At least something about you will be bright. After he retrieved my gun, I trod to the police car, its lights making me crazy. He put me inside the cage. No door handles and metal netting between him and me. I felt like a hamster with a broken wheel, getting nowhere.

The officer called in, and the dispatcher patched him through to the Springton police station. I could hear Lil for a moment, then Brudder’s deep growl came over the speaker. Thank goodness he was there. Or maybe not. It would be just like him to deny that he even knew me. I held my breath.

After explaining what had happened, the officer waited a moment during the silence over the line. “You still there, sir?” he finally asked.

“Yeah,” Brudder replied. “Thinking. Look, I know Mitchell. She’s all right. Wouldn’t do anything totally stupid.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I realized he didn’t know I could hear him. I almost blushed.

“She did have a guy point a gun at her the other day,” he continued. “If she thought she saw him again, she’d do almost anything to catch him. So, her story’s probably solid. Plus, she has this lawyer friend who can cause you a boatload of trouble. Son, I’d let her go with a warning. And tell her to get back to that store and pay for the merchandise. Any questions?”

The officer glanced back at me with a resigned expression. “No, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Right. Now, get the license number and a description of the car from her so I can put out an updated APB on the guy.”

“Yes, sir.” He turned to me, and I told him what I knew about the car while he wrote it down slowly in his notebook.

After they signed off, I heaved a sigh of relief. The officer let me out of the car, gave me back my gun. He didn’t apologize, but I didn’t think he needed to. He had been doing his job. And he’d done it by the book. Glad that no one had come along the lonely road while all this was happening, I climbed back into the Taurus debating driving down a ways to see if I could spot the Chevy Nova.

Deciding it was probably futile, I made a U-turn and headed back to Springton, passing the officer sitting in his patrol car, writing in his notebook, his colored lights still flashing.

*****

A Broken Life is available in both Kindle edition from Amazon and in paperback from most other on-line bookstores. You should also be able to order it through your local bookstore.

WRITING FOR THE READER—NOT JUST FOR OTHER WRITERS

Since I joined a couple of writer critique groups back in the early 1990s, I learned a lot of basic guidelines for good writing. The majority of them made a lot of sense to me. And as a reader as well as a writer, I now notice some awkward, clunky writing that miss the following points.

• Stay in point of view—no head-hopping inside a scene.
• Write as much as you can in active voice; don’t be passive.
• Leave out the boring stuff.
• Use modifiers sparingly (some say not at all, but I don’t agree with that—see below).
• Never use a semi-colon in fiction. (I break this one every so often, just because I’m a rebel.)
• Learn and use all the rules of grammar.
• Spell check over and over again.
• Get critiques and edits.

Then there were other rules I had trouble with:

• Show, don’t tell. In my opinion, this can lead to choppy writing and lack of interesting details. Yes, show action, but tell descriptions.
• No prologues. Come on. Sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed. They can pull the reader in and explain some backstory so there’s no “info dump” later on. I agree, though, that they need to be done very well. Many best-selling authors use them. Why shouldn’t the rest of us?
• No epilogs. I have two reasons for using them in my Paula PI books—one is that as a reader myself, I like to know what happens with some of the characters later on. In a mystery in particular, it’s hard to wrap up all the loose character threads during the hopefully action-packed ending. The second reason was simply because it was a senseless rule. (There’s that rebel again).
• Don’t use he said/she said. Have the character do something instead (cough, sigh, drink coffee, drink beer, whatever). Sorry, after a while of reading all these small actions (especially the coffee drinking) it gets old AND intrusive AND boring. He said/she said is invisible to most readers. It doesn’t stop them. So, why not use it? I do both the saids and the small actions, mixing it up.
• Split infinitives are evil. Only if you’re an English teacher who hasn’t kept up with the times. When Latin was in use, this was a necessary rule. It’s not one for those of us who speak English. And sometimes splitting the infinitive makes the sentence much stronger: “to boldly go where no man has gone before’ has a much better cadence than “To go boldly where no man has gone before.” Right? Right. When we were motorhoming I found a great bumper sticker that we promptly put on the couch: “Boldly going nowhere.”

But I digress.

One warning about head hopping:

If you do head hop between scenes, be sure the reader knows right away whose head you’ve hopped into if you’ve changed it since the last scene. The book I’m reading currently has made this mistake several times, and it always make me stop in order to figure out I’m in a different head.

So, the biggest rule is to do what works. What works is smooth writing that doesn’t in any way make your reader stop reading to figure something out. This is okay for non-fiction. Not so much for fiction. Thus the rules about using good grammar and spelling in particular.

WHAT WOULD TINA RECOMMEND ABOUT OVERWHELMING CLUTTER?

She’d say, “Take it easy. With baby steps.”

• Pick an area that needs de-cluttering. The corner of a room. Your home office. A closet.
• Discard or put away two items. Then stop.
• Discard or put away two items every day from now on (okay, take the weekend off, or at least Sunday).
• If you’re on a roll one day and feel like doing more and have the time, go ahead until you want to stop.
• BUT, the next day, discard or put away two more items. No resting on your laurels.
• Repeat until done.

Then you can pick another area to work on.

To keep the clutter permanently gone from the areas you’ve worked on, be sure to discard or put away any items that have accumulated in that spot before you go to bed every night. After a while this will become such a habit that you won’t be able to go to bed without having everything put away.

This is how I do it. I have two hot spots. Home office and kitchen. I make sure all surfaces are clear before I head off to bed every night. The rest of the house I keep up with as I use the space—the closet, for example, or the table next to my chair.

I hope this will help anyone who has trouble with excess clutter. Let me know how it goes if you use this system. And if you have any other tips, please leave a comment.

ORG small

EXCERPT FROM ORGANIZED TO DEATH

My novel, Organized to Death, is the first in the Tina Tales mystery series. Tina lives in Newport, Rhode Island, with her mother and great uncle in an old Victorian home. Her first job as a professional organizer goes horribly wrong when she and the home owner discover a dead body.

Here’s an excerpt from later in the book (on-line booksellers just give you the first few pages). I hope this will intrigue you enough to purchase or borrow the book, if you haven’t already. It’s available in print, for Kindle, as well as other ebook formats for your iPhone or Nook, Kobo, etc. Here goes:

ORG smallTina grabbed her winter coat from the hall closet and stepped out the front door. A shadowy figure leaning against the old maple tree in the front yard straightened up as she approached. Hands in her jacket pockets, Tina’s grip on the pepper spray tightened. The urge to turn around and run back inside was strong, but she made herself keep walking.
“Hello, Tina,” the man said.
Gooseflesh rose on her arms. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Ted Hockmann.”
“Who?” Tina shivered in the cold night air.
“Ted Hockmann.” He stepped into the light, and she recognized Dr. Hockmann. He’d taken over old Dr. Stevenson’s practice a few months ago, and she’d gone to see him for her yearly exam. She blushed. She so did not want to talk to Dr. Hockmann.
“Oh, Doctor,” she said, realizing he’d called her by her first name. Since she’d become an adult, she didn’t like that. She admitted he was one of the most handsome men she’d ever met. Way over six feet, slim, and elegant with fine, chiseled features and piercing blue eyes. Blond hair. Yum. Except for some reason, he creeped her out. He stood there, not saying anything more. Her hand tightened on the pepper spray. Her mind told her she was being ridiculous, but all her mother’s past warnings clanged in her brain.
“Nice to see you,” he said, finally.
“Um, you too,” she squeaked.
“Going for a walk?”
“Yes.”
“Mind if I join you?”
Yes, her mind screamed. “No,” she said. “That would be fine.” He was a doctor after all. They knew each other, sort of.
They fell into step. “I live just two doors down from you, you know, in the conversion to condos,” he said.
“No, I didn’t know that.” Her voice was still too high.
“Yes. Just moved in a week ago. Do you often take walks at night?”
He’s just being friendly, she told herself. “Sometimes.”
“Interesting neighborhood. I hope eventually all the homes are renovated.”
“That would be nice.”
“Would increase the value, of course, but the main thing is how wonderful it would all look.”
“Yes.”
He was just being friendly, making conversation, she told herself again. They were neighbors, after all. They walked in silence for a while.
“You work?” he asked abruptly.
“Yes. I’m a professional organizer.”
“Really? What’s that?”
“I go to people’s homes or offices and help them clear out clutter and organize their space so they can put things away easily and find things when they need to, and just so it generally works better for them.” She was babbling. She hated feeling this nervous.
“You do offices?”
“Yes,” she said cautiously. He hadn’t been in practice long enough to need organizational help, had he?
“I could use your help then.”

******

And here’s the description:

Back in her hometown of Newport, RI, Tina Shaw, twenty-nine, is picking up the pieces of her shattered life. She begins her first job as a professional organizer in a house filled with cardboard boxes and clutter, only to discover a dead body in an eerily neat baby nursery. She fears this career move may be a short one until the handsome but spooky new doctor persuades her to reorganize his office left in disarray by the former physician. Ignoring the doctor’s obvious interest in her, Tina begins seeing her former boyfriend. When he protests against her new profession, she realizes what a control freak he is. Then there’s another old flame who is making her hotter by the minute. As she works through the office clutter, she learns the doctor has a possible motive for the killing. But when someone else is shot, the doctor has a solid alibi–Tina herself. Drawn unwillingly into the case, she searches for answers as her list of suspects multiplies. When the killer begins targeting Tina and her friends, she works harder to learn the murderer’s identity before someone else is found dead.

Okay, enough advertising. Next time I’ll post something entirely different.

WARDROBE TRUNKS

Authors generally love to do research. (Secret: It’s a good excuse for procrastinating—don’t tell anyone!). I’m no exception. That doesn’t mean I enjoy researching every single subject. I might look up some information on guns, for example, which don’t interest me much, but I don’t want to make any errors about how they work because people who do know become incensed if a writer gets something wrong. Many times I simply become vague. She pulled out her gun—not she pulled out her [brand of gun] [name of gun] and inserted [type of bullets] into the [cylinder/chamber/magazine/whatever], screwed on the silencer [make sure type of gun allows for this] and pulled the [safety/hammer/whatever] . . . Well, you get the idea.

But when something does interest me, I can get lost in the details.

Take wardrobe trunks, for example. Also called steamer trunks. They could be huge—as big as a telephone booth. They were great for keeping clothing in good shape because you could hang it up. Drawers kept other things organized. You didn’t have to unpack—just open up the trunk, and there was everything you needed.

Only problem—you wouldn’t be able to put it in an overhead bin, or check it at the airport. It took at least two men to carry it around.

But they could be the perfect solution for someone who likes to be super organized, like Tina Shaw, my protagonist in her professional organizer series. In Cluttered Attic Secrets

clutteredatticsecrets-08an old wardrobe trunk plays a small part in the story. Researching them, I found out they could have ironing boards:

https://shard2.1stdibs.us.com/archivesE/upload/9390/02_13/IMG_1254/IMG_1254_l.jpg
or
http://bit.ly/1hiGWtZ

Fold down desks:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/e0/96/eb/e096ebb9f1e553582a9abb248343a5ad.jpg
or
http://bit.ly/1N907jP

And be as big as telephone booths:

http://www.thisoldtrunk.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=179
or
http://bit.ly/1Made7l

Isn’t the internet great? I could find all this information in a matter of minutes. What have you been researching lately?

LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT DRAFTING A NOVEL

The list below of things to do after writing each chapter of your novel came about because I’ve edited nine novels now, and learned from personal experience that they would all have been easier to edit if I’d done everything on the checklist before continuing to write the next chapter. I’ve gotten timelines mixed up, character names mangled, forgotten whether it was spring, summer, or fall, left out sensory input where it would have worked brilliantly, and used “was,” “a while,” and other pet words way too often. Following the checklist should only take a few minutes and will make your first full run-through edit a lot less painful. See what you think. I only wish I’d done it for all my books, including my latest:

clutteredatticsecrets-08After each chapter is written:

1. Read it over and make minor changes and to refresh your memory.
2. Make a chart (word processing table or spreadsheet) with columns for Chapter Number, Day of Week, Time, Location, and Outline (synopsis).
3. Nail day of week, time of day, and location, put on chart.
4. List all new characters on another chart with first name, last name, and description so you can sort by first/last name to be sure not too many characters have similar names or begin with the same letter. Usually I do a small description of characters as they’re introduced, so I often just copy and paste the description into that column. If later on I mention something else about the character (eye color, make of car, for example), I put those details into that column, too.
5. Have yet a third chart to list names of businesses. My current novel has a made-up museum, funeral parlor, theater, and restaurant. It’s easy to forget many chapters later what I made up. It’s just two columns—name of business, and what it is. It won’t take you much time at all to add anything to it.
6. Check that senses other than sight are included–smell, hearing, touch, taste.
7. Find and replace your frequent words, for example, “was,” “that,” etc.
8. Check for your own personal demons—lack of description, echo words, tags missing making conversations confusing, mixed-up names, character positioning, and so on.
9. Do a final spell check.
10. Save your day’s work on your computer and back it up (I do that on the cloud).
11. Write the outline/synopsis for your chart.
12. In your notes file, (you have a notes file, right? With maps, research, anything else related to your particular project. I put these two charts in that file, always open when I’m writing the novel) list anything you want to cover later on, and any good ideas you have for later action. This is especially important if you are not an outliner, and it can help prevent writer’s block.

Your future self will thank you later for doing all this. So will your editor. Anyone have any tips to add to the list?