Category Archives: On Writing

Guest Post: Writing a Humorous Murder Mystery by Robin Donovan

by Robin Donovan

Editing is always critical, no matter what you write. Editing a humorous murder mystery is considerably more critical than a non-humorous fictional murder because you can easily lose the empathy of your reader if the humor goes too far or becomes too macabre. Even if the victim was a vile person, there is still a line over which the protagonist dare not step. On the other hand, if you’re not into cozy mysteries, becoming too macabre may be your goal. Long live Stephen King!

The humorous murder mystery has to maintain something of a pathos throughout, while highlighting humorous components whenever possible. And there had better be enough tasteful humorous components or you will lose your audience to boredom.

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While my protagonist in Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? can’t pretend to be sorry her horrible former colleague has been murdered, she does take the time to comment on her feelings of sadness for the widower and the now motherless child. In other parts of the story, through another character, we are informed that the clownishly large feet of the murdered woman were almost too big to fit in her coffin. Were these elements juxtaposed too closely and not timed perfectly, it might highlight the humor in a negative or cruel light, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of the reader.

That sounds like an extremely delicate balance – and it is. But hitting that sweet spot, that perfect balance of humor and compassion, can be so rewarding.

When I first started writing cozy mysteries, I took my cue for humor from the extremely successful Janet Evanovich. She typically employs about 6 different comedic incidents in every book. That’s harder than it sounds. Not to mention that a humorous undertone must work right alongside pathos when murder is involved, so the author must carefully interweave these elements with masterful timing.

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The husband of Is It Still has to make a somber decision to give up the woman he loves, his mistress, as it is in the best interest of his young son after his wife’s tragic death. At the same time, said mistress is having a laughable public meltdown as she decides that the dead woman’s mother is responsible for her being dumped. With these scenes, I hope to elicit respect for a man who is able to make a difficult decision to sacrifice his own needs for those of his son, and conversely, amusement over a woman who takes a completely self-centered viewpoint of a tragic event that does not directly involve her. If my timing misses, this whole scenario is likely to fall flatter than a pancake. But if it works, I will succeed in taking your emotions way down and then back up all the way to laughter. That’s a very heady feeling for an author.

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BookdeliverydayRobin Leemann Donovan is the author of the blog, Menologues, a humorous yet informative look at the trials and tribulations of menopause by someone who’s been there. Menologues has been republished on two commercial sites: Vibrant Nation and Alltop, and has won regional honors for social media at the AMA Pinnacles and PRSA Paper Anvil awards. Her first book in the Donna Leigh Mystery series: Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? won an AMA Pinnacle award. Her second book: I Didn’t Kill Her, But That May Have Been Shortsighted, was released in November, 2015. And her third book: I Don’t Know Why They Killed Him He Wasn’t Really That Annoying, came out early last year.

Donovan was born and raised in New Jersey but lived and worked in Connecticut for a number of years before moving to Nebraska in 1999. Starting her career as a high school English teacher, Donovan moved into advertising in the early 80’s and became a VP Media Director working on brands like Duracell, Stanley Tools, IBM, Visa and Merck Pharmaceutical. In 1999 she accepted a job offer from Bozell, an Omaha based ad agency. In late 2001, she and three colleagues purchased Bozell from its New York-based parent company, where she is currently the president.

She has served on the boards of the Omaha Children’s Museum, the Omaha YWCA, and she was chairman of the Alzheimer’s of the Midlands board for two years, serving a total of six years on the board. She is currently the membership director for Kick for the Cure, an organization that raises funds for breast cancer through soccer tournaments.

Donovan lives with her husband and three bulldogs; Roxi, Frank and Sadie (Sweet Pea).

Be sure to visit Donna’s website and Facebook page.  Check out her book trailer, book page, books for sale on Amazon.

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Writing Exercise – Titles

Writing Exercise #2: Come up with as many titles as you can. You don’t have to know the story behind them (although that can be a fun extension of this idea), but just find some phrases that you think would make great book titles.

  • Not Here, Not Now
  • Like Falling Asleep
  • You Said You Would
  • Let Me Down (I like the duality here of disappointment and physically being put down…could be interesting.)
  • Vibrations of Panic (Poem or band name? You decide.)
  • Parts of Speech
  • Balance
  • Tuesday, 10 a.m.
  • Never Born, Simply Was
  • Do No Harm
  • Dark Threads (I really like this one.)
  • Aren’t You Glad You Let Me Go?
  • You, Too
brain exercising

Work that creativity muscle!

I think another aspect of this exercise could be to list titles of current works by other authors that you absolutely love. These could be book titles, but also the titles of chapters, albums, or poems. The point is to find phrases that you love and see where your creativity goes from there. You may end up with a new story idea, or you may find something that will help out with a piece you’re working on.

What are your favorite titles? Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois. She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University. Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside Detective. Her short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous. Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world. You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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Tips for a Successful Freelance Business

I’ve been doing freelance work part time for seven years, and I began doing it full time four years ago.  It’s been an interesting little roller coaster, with plenty of ups (This is amazing and I can’t believe I haven’t been doing this my entire adult life!), downs (Oh crap.  I’m going to have to get a real job again.), and smooth stretches (When was the last time I wore real pants?  Who cares?).

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I’ve learned a lot, and there’s far more than I could fit into any single blog post, but here are a few tips for keeping your freelance business running smoothly:

Take an admin day at least once a week.  Go over your due dates, pay your bills, organize your desk.  Do all the things you don’t normally have time to do because you’re too busy writing!  It doesn’t even have to be a full day, but maybe a couple of hours.  Just keep it scheduled every week so you don’t miss it.

Keep a spreadsheet of your due dates.  I always have them written in my desk planner, but it really helps me get a good assessment of what I’ve got coming up for the next couple of months if I can see it all laid out in front of me.  In fact, I keep a lot of spreadsheets!

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Always give more than you promise.  This applies to any job.  If you tell your client you’ll have their project in by the 10th, give it to them by the 8th.  Don’t let anything leave your computer without being thoroughly proofread, even if you know they’ll have an editor look over it as well.  Never think of your jobs as anything less important than your own writing, and give them your all.  The biggest compliment you can get is for a client to hire you again, and they’ll be likely to do it if they know they can expect quality work from you.

Stay in touch with your clients.  We’re all human, and things happen.  Maybe you’re sick, or your child is sick, or your gecko died and you just can’t even.  Things happen, and you might occasionally not be able to meet your deadlines.  Call or email your clients and let them know you’ll be running a little late.  Most of the time, you’ll find that they’ll be very understanding., and they’ll also be grateful to you for being upfront with them.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  It can be very tempting to take every job you’re offered.  After all, the more you work the more money you make!  But it won’t be worth it if you’re staying up all night to get projects in before the deadline, and you won’t be making as much money if your clients stop hiring you because your quality is slipping.  Schedule out your due dates carefully, and always add a little extra padding in there for emergencies.  As noted above, things happen, and it’s nice to know you can take a morning off to watch Star Trek now and then.

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Have any other tips for freelancers?  Feel free to share in the comments below!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

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5 Small Things to Inspire Your Writing

We all get stuck sometimes when it comes to writing.  It doesn’t matter if you write every day or once a week, there are times when it just gets tough.  While I can’t say that I have a cure-all for writer’s block, I do find that these really help when I’m trying to get the creative juices flowing.  What makes these really great is that they’re small and don’t take up a lot of time, so they’re easy to work into your weekly schedule.  To sweeten the deal, they’re all basically free!

5 small things

Write It Down – Record random thoughts and phrases that appeal to you.  They don’t have to make sense or necessarily be a part of story.  It might just be a string of words that sound good together, and that’s okay. Phones are great for this these days, and I specifically bought a phone with a built in stylus just for this purpose, but I think a small notebook and a pen are also particularly helpful.  You may never use the little bits that you write down, but it will encourage your brain to come up with the right phrases when you need them.

Watch People – The people around you make great characters!  Or at least they are the great foundations of characters.  Your boss might not actually be hatching evil plots behind his desk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take certain elements of his personality or appearance and use them in your next story.  Pay attention to how people talk and move.  Observe two people from across a crowded room, where you can’t hear them, and imagine what they might be saying to each other. 

Read – Everyone says this about writing, but I think there’s a reason for that.  Reading is inspiring, educational, and builds vocabulary.  If you’re actively reading (which means paying attention to plot and sentence structure, the development of characters, etc.) then you’re learning.  You may be discovering what you do or don’t want to do in your own work, but it’s still learning.

Watch Television – Wait, did I just say that?  Sure, why not?  How many movies are made from books?  Just because it’s on a screen doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful.  As with reading, pay attention to plots and dialogue.  If there’s a particular scene you like, think about how you would write it to convey the same images you see on the show.  Interested in writing in a particular genre?  Watch movies and TV that deal with that same subject matter and look for inspiration.

Go Someplace New – I always feel particularly inspired when I travel, even though that doesn’t happen very often.  (I’m very happy at home in my yoga pants, thank you.)  But you don’t have to take a trip across the country or around the world to get your writing mojo going.  Anyplace you haven’t been to before could give you the start of a new story.  It could be a park, a store, or even a back road.

What habits have you formed that help you feel inspired?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

 

Interested in having your book reviewed or doing a guest post?  Contact me.

 

 

 

 

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Websites All Writers Should Check Out

We all love to waste time on the internet, right?  Here are a few websites I’ve found helpful when I’m in the process of writing.

Idioms.thefreedictionary.com – For a little bit of fun, go play with some idioms!  This site is great for titles, especially of cozy mysteries.

Mithrilandmages.com – This site has name generators for characters, places, and settings even if you aren’t writing fantasy.  

Wordthink.com – improve your vocabulary.  Challenge yourself to use the word of the day in your writing (but don’t do it if it will compromise the quality of the piece).

Wincalendar.com  – This is a great source of templates!  I most often use the monthly calendars to keep track of my social media scheduling, but it’s also helpful for freelance work deadlines and tracking your word count per day.

TED – Like a more sophisticated YouTube, there is nothing more inspiring!  Explore videos on numerous topics, including art, science, society, and everything in between.  I had an online college class that required watching TED videos, and I never minded doing my homework!

Thesaurus.com – There are experts who say you shouldn’t use a thesaurus, but I say they’re wrong.  It’s incredibly annoying to see the same word used over and over again, and that’s difficult to avoid depending on your subject matter.  You might also find a word that’s more suitable for your piece.

Sometimes it’s okay to waste a little time on the internet, especially when it’s inspiring or helpful!  What websites help you?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

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Prewriting: An Important Step You Shouldn’t Skip

For a very long time, I felt it was a waste of time to do anything other than sit down and write the story.  Writing time is precious.  We all know that.  So why bother with anything else?

Prewriting is pretty much just preparing yourself for the work you have ahead.  It doesn’t have to be painful when you realize that it will make the writing itself so much easier.  You don’t have to stop and decide where your characters are going to meet for lunch or wonder if you got the color of Billy’s car correct.  You won’t be interrupting your writing time by searching the internet for the perfect house for your main character.  So just how do you perform this miracle, anyway?

Character Profiles – If there’s anything I hate, it’s getting halfway through a story and forgetting what color a character’s eyes are.  Cue the character profile!  You can find templates for these all over the internet, but I often just make my own as I go.  You need to know what your character looks like, any quirks they might have, what they do for a living, or how they might act in certain situations.  Personally, I like to put a picture in my character profile so there’s never any question what they look like.

Plotting – This section is not for the pantsers out there!  I find great benefit in writing out my plot.  I like to know where I’m heading and how I’m going to get there.  That’s not to say that things never change as I’m writing.  My characters have been known to do what they want occasionally, but I don’t like to feel stuck partway through the story.

Settings – Where is your story taking place?  Is there a quaint café in a small town?  Or a biker bar with vintage beer signs?  Having a sense of setting is important to making a story seem real, and this can be even more important if you’re working in science fiction or fantasy.  Make drawings or look up pictures that ring true to the story you’re telling.  If the book takes place in the town you live in or grew up in, don’t just assume you know it the same way that someone who had never been there would.  Go out and find the little details that make the story real.

I know there are plenty of people out there who still aren’t interested in prewriting.  That’s okay, and you should do whatever works for you.  But I find that when I’ve done my homework, I can crank out 2,000 words in less than an hour.  That’s all the proof I need.  I never really understood the importance of prewriting until college, but I wish I had discovered it much sooner.

How do you write?  Let me know in the comments!

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Ashley O’Melia is an independent author and freelancer from Southern Illinois.  She holds her Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing and English from Southern New Hampshire University.  Her books include The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and The Graveside DetectiveHer short stories have been published in The Penmen Review, Paradox, and Subcutaneous.  Ashley’s freelance work has spanned numerous genres for clients around the world.  You can find her on Facebook and Amazon.

Interested in having your book reviewed?  Contact me.

 

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Quixotic Undertakings or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write Nonfiction – Guest Post by Jennifer Kelly

by Jennifer Kelly

About five years ago, I was ready for a career change. I taught college writing classes, preparing students for both writing in college and for writing in the workplace, but, after more than a decade, though, I was ready to concentrate on my own writing career. That was when I decided to write my forthcoming book, my first attempt at nonfiction. After earning two degrees in English and years of teaching writing, I thought I had the right qualifications for that kind of project: I had conducted research, I had written many pages as both an instructor and a student, and I was a fan of the subject I had chosen. Surely, this would be easy, right?

Boy was I wrong!

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

At this point, outside of my academics, my writing had been focused on fiction. I had written a novel in middle school and had a long list of potential projects, but I needed something I could jumpstart this career with. The project that appeared to have the most potential was a book on America’s first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton. When I started in 2013, the 100th anniversary of his accomplishment was right around the corner – 2019 – so I had time to research and write, but I knew I could not take the whole six years to get it all done.

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Now, nearly five years later, the book is on schedule for a spring 2019 release from the University Press of Kentucky. With the manuscript done, I enter the final phase of the process where I contemplate revisions, marketing, and my future plans for both sides of my career, fiction and nonfiction. Here is what I learned about writing nonfiction after a lifetime of academic and fiction writing:

  • Academic background helps, but is not necessary – Though much of my academic writing technically was nonfiction, I did not have as much experience with the storytelling side of the genre. I was able to use my previous experience to conduct the research and to plan out the writing process for this type of book. However, you need not be an academic to learn and grow those skills. These can be picked up in other ways, such as writing for other publications in your field and researching the techniques of writing nonfiction.
  • You can be creative, just not in the same way – While all of the information I presented came from sources like newspaper articles and books, I still had leeway in how I wrote about the events in Sir Barton’s career. Nonfiction does not have to mean dry; while I must be objective, the language I use or the way I craft the timeline allows me to tell the story of this life in a way that is as engrossing as fiction can be.
  • Plan, plan, and plan – I know writers who use outlines in crafting their stories and others who might write in chunks they later weave together. For nonfiction, like the research papers you wrote as a student, you need a plan. Start with something simple and then layer in more information as necessary, but a plan is a must, especially if research is a big component of your project. Plan your research, your writing, and your search for an agent and a publisher.
  • Document your research and use tools to make citations easier – The two tasks that took the most time were not the actual writing, but the research and its accompanying documentation. Not only did I plan time to research, but I also kept tabs on the search terms, the libraries and other organizations I had searched, and the people I contacted. I also needed to be meticulous in keeping track of my sources; often, a paragraph might use five more sources and I needed to make sure that each one had its proper attribution. This can get unwieldy and complicated, especially as I had to create citations for each source.

One tool that can simplify that task is the citation generator that many word processors come with now. You can select your preferred citation style and then use the generator to create each citation; if you need to switch styles mid-project, your word processor can help you with that too. This tool can save so much time and grief! Even if you are using a limited number of sources, keep track of what you use to save you a step at the end.

  • Write a book proposal and query agents BEFORE you finish writing – I went to a writers’ workshop where I discovered that I need not finish the book before I started looking for an agent and a publisher. For that, I needed a book proposal and a list of possible agents. I crafted my book proposal and query letter and then searched for potential agents. By the time I finished my third draft, I had a publisher and a deadline in place.

Research your field. What companies publish books in your area of interest? What agents look for projects like yours? What should your book proposal include? Start querying while you are writing and you might find the right agent and publisher before you have typed that last word.

There you have it: a bit of what I learned writing my forthcoming book. If you want to hear more, I am happy to share my perspective on this process. My journey into writing Sir Barton’s story might have felt quixotic at times; nevertheless I found that I had the right stuff to finish it as time went on. Good luck on your writing journey!

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Jennifer Kelly’s first book Sir Barton: Conqueror of the Classics (tentative title) will be out in spring 2019 from the University Press of Kentucky. See more from Jennifer on the companion blog The Sir Barton Project (www.thesirbartonproject.com) and follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jenniferkellywrites/

Interested in writing a guest post for my blog?  Contact me!

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