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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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Interested in having your work featured here?  Contact me.

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Finding Freelance Clients

Starting a freelance business (or thinking about it) and wondering where to find clients?  I found myself in that same situation when I decided to make the leap from a “real” job and pursue freelancing full time.  I’d already been doing it part time for a few years before that, and even though I felt confident in my writing skills I wasn’t sure just where the money was going to come from.  Here are a few tips for finding clients for your freelance writing business:

Freelance Platforms:  I’ve had my best luck on Upwork.  I started when it was still eLance.com, before it merged with oDesk.  While some freelancers don’t like the fact that a fee is taken out of their pay, consider this:  Those fees keep you from getting ripped off.  Your client must have the money to pay you put into escrow, so they can’t skip out on the bill.  And if there are any disputes, they all go through Upwork.  I haven’t used any other freelance platforms, so I can’t attest to how good or bad they might be, but I’m an Upwork fan all the way.

Business man with binoculars.

Local Businesses:  This is a great place to look for clients, especially if you’re working on building your CV.  (There will be another post on this topic later.)  Call up local businesses and ask to speak to the manager or the office manager.  What you can do for them will depend on your specialty, but they may need help with social media posts, blogs, or editing their pamphlets.  It may take quite a few phone calls (or in-person visits) to get a business on board, but I can honestly tell you that I have one local client who has been using me steadily for four years.

Little Gigs.  Take something small, even if it’s not exactly what you want.  Yes, I have taken an $8 job on Upwork before.  It might not have been worth the time I put into it, but it gave me work history on that platform when I badly needed it.  That job let others know that I did good work, so it was worth it in the long run.

Work for Free.  I have seen so many arguments about this on writing forums, and people seem to be on one side or the other.  Some believe that you should never write a single word without getting paid, while others believe that doing work for free is where you build your chops.  Sure, we all want money, but you’ve got to be able to prove you’re worth being paid!  Ask your local charities if they need help with their monthly newsletters or creating flyers.  Small businesses who don’t feel they can actually afford to hire a writer might be willing to work out a trade deal.  Either way, you’re getting credits on your CV!

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Be Flexible.  If someone offers you a job that isn’t entirely in your wheelhouse, take it!  (Of course, my advice doesn’t stand if the job is something you can’t do.)  When I was offered my first ghostwriting job, I really didn’t know what I was doing.  But guess what?  Almost all of my freelance work is now ghostwriting.  That first job helped me find something that actually worked out better for me than I ever could have imagined!  So even if you’re a little scared, go for it!

Follow Up.  When you’ve finished a job for a client, let them know you’re available for more work.  Tell them you’d be happy to work with them again if anything comes up.  If they’re happy with the job you’ve done, they’ll come find you again!  Sometimes, they’ll also refer to you to others in the industry who could use your help.

Remember that freelancing basically means you are constantly selling your skills.  Don’t be afraid to get out there and tell someone what you can do or even point out how you can benefit them.  When putting in a proposal, be sure to include your CV and any clips that might be applicable.  Good luck!

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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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Tips for Starting a Freelance Business

If you’re thinking about starting a freelance business, then you probably already know that there is a ton of information out there about it.  I started freelancing full time four years ago, but I had been doing it part time for quite a few years before that.  I’ve learned an awful lot from trial and error.  While everyone is going to have a different experience depending on specialties, interests, and even location, here’s a little bit of information that may help you get started:

Office Space:  You need a place to work, right?  For most freelancers, it makes sense to work in your home.  You don’t have to pay a separate fee for rent, and the commute is always a short one.

That being said, though, home can be incredibly distracting.  Kids, pets, spouses, and the sink full of dirty dishes can keep you from your work.  Find a dedicated space in your home for your office, and use it.  I love to work from the couch, but I’m not nearly as productive there as I am at my desk.  Headphones are also great for drowning out distractions and keeping you focused.

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Polish your CV.  Just like when you’re applying for “real” jobs, you need a resume to show your skills to potential clients.  Have you had an article published somewhere?  Done any work for a local company that relates to your expertise?  Let everyone know just what you can do!

Brush up on your skills.  Spend a little time each week on continuing education.  It doesn’t matter if you have a degree; there’s still more out there to learn!

Have a plan for getting work.  Don’t quit your day job and dive into the freelance world unless you have at least some idea of where you’ll get clients and how you’ll get paid.  Determine what kind of work you want to do (copywriting, editing, ghostwriting, etc.) and where you can get jobs in those categories.  I’ll be going into more detail on another blog post about how to get clients.

Schedule your due dates carefully.  Got a gig?  Congrats!  If you’re just diving into the freelance world, you might not have an accurate idea of just how long it will take you to finish a project.  Give yourself more time than you need when making promises to clients to avoid running late.

Set a goal.  Just because you work for yourself doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, bonuses, and business hours.  Set a goal that works for you, whether its by how much money you make, how many jobs you land, or how many hours you put in each month.  While you’re in the beginning stages of your freelancing, you may just set a goal for how many proposals you put in or how many businesses you contact about your services.  Don’t forget to reward yourself when you meet that goal!  Personally, I like to buy myself something when I hit my monthly income goal.

But seriously.  You might find that others don’t take your work seriously, and you may have that problem yourself when you’re sitting at home working in your pajamas at three in the afternoon.  But this is still business!   Get up and get to work on time (whatever time that may be) and don’t just skip out on work because you feel like you can.  It’s great to have a flexible schedule, but that’s not the same as blowing off your work.

As exciting as it can be to make the jump to freelancing, remember that you’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days.  You may have a week where you get no work at all, followed by a week where you’re offered so much you can’t possibly accept every job. Don’t give up!  It can be a little difficult to get your career off the ground, but it’s not impossible!  As you get further into career, you’ll find clients who use you regularly and make meeting those monthly goals easy.  I’ll be making more posts about freelancing, so be sure to look out for them.  Good luck!

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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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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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Writing Update!

I’ve been working on the outline for the third book in the Dragon Keeping Chronicles, to follow up The Wanderer’s Guide to Dragon Keeping and Once a Wanderer.  

I’ve been wanting to write this book for two years.  The basic idea for it came when I was writing Once a Wanderer, but I just never seemed to have the time.  I’m a full-time freelance writer, and my clients have always come first.  I kept thinking I would take a few weeks off during the summer or write my books in the evenings, but it just wasn’t happening.

Finally, it is.  What seems to be working the best is to set aside the first hour of every work day for my own writing.  This means that I continually make progress on my work (even if it’s not quite as much as I would like) and that I always look forward to starting my work day.

But something else is happening, too.  It seems that the more time I take for my personal writing, the more I want to write!  I’ve outlined a completely unrelated story and jotted down basic story ideas for at least three more.  And while I’ve been working on my third dragon book, I realized that it’s quite possible there may be a fourth installment.  At the very least, I have some preliminary notes.

While I can’t say too much without giving things away, I’m just pleased to say that there are more stories in the works!  Make sure you find me on Facebook to stay updated!

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