Brain Storming – When It Rains It Pours…Hopefully

By Sparkle Abbey

Welcome back to part three of So You Want to Write a Book!

If you’ve decided there’s a book in you, thanks for joining us on this wild journey! Over the last couple of months, we’ve asked you to dig deep, think about what you really want to write about, and assigned homework.

First, we asked you to define the type of book you want to write. Last month we asked you to read extensively in your genre. How did you do? Do you feel well-read?

We also asked you to keep a notebook and jot down all your ideas. If you don’t have the notebook handy, go ahead and grab it. We’ll wait.

You’re back? Great! Let’s get started.

Step three is where we want you to take every idea and thought you have for your book and put those in your notebook.


This would be a fun scene, a snippet of dialogue, a unique character, an odd trait or habit that you find interesting, etc. We’re not suggesting you outline, at least not yet. We are suggesting you fill that notebook with ideas. Remember, at this stage, there is no such thing as a bad idea.

If you need help, get together with some friends over coffee or wine and brainstorm. If you still need help getting started, here are some questions you can ask yourself.

For a fiction book:

  • Setting – Where will your story take place?
    • Time period – past, present, future
    • City, small town, urban, suburban
  • What season is it?
  • Who are your characters?
    • Main characters, secondary, protagonist, antagonist, villain, hero, heroin
    • What do they look like?
    • Where do they live?
    • What are their beliefs?
    • What’s important to them?
  • Whose point of view is the story told?
    • First-person, third-person, omniscient
    • Which character should the story be told from?
  • What is your main story idea?
  • What’s the subplot idea?
  • What problem will your main character face?
  • How will that problem intensify?
  • How will they overcome their problem?

Is that a lot to think about? It is! Maybe you can answer all of these or maybe just part of them. That’s okay. Right now, we just want you to jot down everything you can think of.

If you’re writing a non-fiction book here are some prompts for you:

  • What do you want to achieve with your book?
  • Who is this book for?
    • Hobbyist
    • History buffs
    • Self-help seekers
    • A general audience
    • A very niche group
  • Do your research
    • Online or the library
    • Interview people
  • How will you say it?
    • Is it a narrative – you’re telling a story
      • Autobiography
      • Memoir
      • Biography
    • Expository – you’re showing the story by explaining your topic
      • Self-help
      • How-to
      • Cookbook

Are the ideas flowing? Is there a story starting to unfold? We encourage you to write everything down, even if it sounds like a crazy idea. You’ll be surprised what you’ll use later as you’re hammering out your story and need that perfect twist.

We’ll check back in with you next month with the next step. Until then, if you have questions, feel free to ask us.


Sparkle Abbey’s latest story (written in first person) is a short but fun one. If you’ve not yet
checked out PROJECT DOGWAY, this is a great time to do that. 

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

They love to hear from readers and can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website

Getting Stronger

By Barbara J. Eikmeier

I lift weights. Twice a week my husband and I go to the gym.
The nutritionist at the army health clinic told me about the weight training
room. She said as we age it is important to do weight bearing exercises to keep
our bones strong and joints limber. “Just go twice a week. Go in the middle of
the day – there’s no one there at that time.”

Another year passed before I went. The catalyst was my
annual cholesterol check. I begged for 6 months of diet and lifestyle changes
before going on medication. Thus, the gym – and less wine and more veggies.

But there is another reason I started lifting weights. I had
become weak. When I travel to give quilt presentations, I bring multiple suitcases stuffed with quilts, pushing the airlines 50-pound weight limit with
those big bags. The check-in agent, eyeing my bags, would say, “put that up
here” motioning with their chin to the scale. I’d laugh and say, “It’s not over
50 pounds because I can’t lift 50 pounds.” Each spring, when my travel season
began it was true, I couldn’t lift 50 pounds, but as the trips added up, I
could feel myself getting stronger. Yes, that may have been me holding up the line
while pulling items from an overweight suitcase and stuffing them in my carry-on. Just by handling
those heavy bags I became stronger. Strong enough to lift more than 50 pounds
by the end of the season.

Then came Covid-19 and my work became a series of Zoom
presentations. And I grew weak.

When my travels resumed, I lifted my bag onto the scale that
first trip and it was heavy! I was visualizing what I could move to my carry-on
bag just as the scale settled on 43 pounds. Only 43 pounds? I quickly moved shoes and jeans from my carry-on to the checked bag. That’s
because I have another problem once I board the plane – getting my carry-on in
the overhead bin. My rule is, if I can’t lift it myself, I must check it. But
I’m 5’3” and it’s not a matter of strength as much as a matter of height. (At
least that’s what I always tell the nice tall man in the aisle seat who jumps
up to help me!)

The army gym is not a flashy place. It’s old, and kind of
run down. I wish someone would sweep the floor. It’s often only the two of us there.
It’s quiet, almost meditative. But when soldiers come in the atmosphere
changes. They are young, and strong, and physically fit. They sweat and grunt
and the weights come clanging down as they finish their routines. There’s a
demand for the best machines and a polite toe taping or pacing when they must wait. Among
the most popular machines is the leg press – it’s for the quads and glutes. I
like it. And the sit up machine. I like it too. And there is the Graviton
machine. It’s meant to condition your arms to do pull ups. I can’t do a pull
up. I’m not sure this machine can even help me get there. But I do it. Every

There is a less popular machine called the Overhead Press. My
husband skips it. He explained, “I don’t think there is much benefit in that
machine.” I said, “I hate this machine.” He asked, “Then why do you do it?” I said,
“Watch my arms.” I lifted the weights over my head. He watched. I lowered the
weights and said, “It’s the muscles used to put my carry-on in the overhead

The gym, even on the slowest days, is a good place to shop
for character traits. There’s another older couple who come in wearing street clothes,
and each do a few machines, talking the entire time. Their workout takes 10
minutes. Should that even count as a workout? Who am I to judge?

And there is a young woman who
runs on the treadmill in the cardio room before lifting weights. Her dark hair is
pulled back in a bouncy ponytail. I like following her on the weight circuit
because she is my height, so our settings are the same.  I don’t know anything about her but in my
writer’s mind she is an Army lawyer. She runs fast and lifts fast and is very focused.  

And there is a group of firefighters from the post fire station. They move from machine to machine keeping their hand radios within reach. Their big red firetruck is just outside the gym parked along the curb, ready to go at a moment’s notice. One of them wears a bandanna around his head, Karate Kid style. Another harasses his buddy to speed it up on the Biceps machine. His buddy’s response is to go slower.

And my favorite, the retired marine whose
shaved head glistens with sweat when he works out. He looks intimidating – all
muscle and sinew. He only does three machines but with many reps and huge
stacks of weights. One day I asked him, “Do you alternate upper body and lower
body workouts?” He smiled. Maybe you’ve heard the term ‘resting bitch face’?
This guy has resting ‘fierce face’. He looks scary. But when the marine smiles
his face will melt your heart a little. He shows his bright white teeth, his
double dimples dimple and the deep creases in his forehead relax. And over that
one question we became friends. He took me to the free weight room down the
hall and taught me how to use a standing machine for an intense abs’ workout.
He said, “You are a little short, but you are doing it perfectly.” He told me
it’s easy to talk yourself into skipping the gym, like 90% of the people he
knows. With that gorgeous grin he added, “Now if only I had a refrigerator that
automatically locked at 6 pm, I’d be in good shape!”

I lift weights. I’m getting stronger and my character file
is growing. What’s your favorite place to shop for characters?

Barbara J. Eikmeier is a quilter, writer, student of quilt
history, and lover of small-town America. Raised on a dairy farm in California,
she enjoys placing her characters in rural communities.

The Parts of a Book


By Bethany Maines


Recently, we’ve added Harry Potter to our daughter’s bedtime
story reading.  Once we’ve completed a
book, we watch the movie version.  But then,
of course, she wanted a wand and an owl. There’s not much I can do about the
owl, but a kindly auntie did provide a wand for Christmas and a potions “class”
with dry ice and tea that turns blue.  (Butterfly Pea Blossom
if you’re interested, but be forewarned, don’t google the Latin name if
you’re at all prone to laughing at dirty jokes.)  But now, she wants the fancy potions bottles.  So after some quick youtubing around and going
Dr. Frankenstein on a recycling bin test subject, I’m prepared to have an
afternoon of magic potion bottle making.

None of which has anything to do with writing, except that
plotting out how to turn something random into magic is pretty a good
definition of what it a writer does.
There was even the “oh shit” part where I was pretty sure I screwed it
up and it was going to be a disaster.  I
believe that every book I’ve ever written has featured that part. 

In fact, there are many parts to writing a book that don’t
get discussed in English classes.  For
instance, the “Oh Shit” part is sometimes followed by the Drinking part. Which
is often then followed by either the Dawn of Inspiration or the Damned Recycling
Bin of I Hate You.  And my next
paranormal romance featured the three week long Hiatus of Indecision.  My personal favorite part is the Shining Hope
of a New Project.  Sadly, it’s frequently
followed by the Hopeless Disillusionment phase.  But if you’re lucky you can make it through
the Weary Slog to the End part and end up with a book full of characters that
you love and a feeling of accomplishment that the story got told. 

If you’re interested in seeing how the Hiatus of Indecision
resulted in a story about vampires that don’t glitter and a shifter wolf who
got a little more than he bargained for on his way to rob a bank, you can check
it out below.


Lacasse, shifter wolf, bank robber and rebel didn’t mean to take Deya Jasper
with him on his way out of Littleton Texas, but fate had other plans. But as
the two flee for California, vampires dog their every step, and both Deya and
Maverick find themselves questioning if the unexpected bond they feel can
withstand the dangers they face.


Maverick takes place in the Supernatural world of the
3 Colors Trilogy, but is a stand-alone novel.


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San
Juan Islands Mysteries
, The Deveraux
Legacy Series
, and numerous novellas and short stories. When she’s not
traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her black belt in
karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working
on her next novel.
You can also catch up with
her on
Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.


So You Want to Write a Book

By Sparkle Abbey

Part 2: Old School Research

Welcome back to So You Want to Write a Book!

There’s a book in everyone, right? If you’ve decided that there’s a book in you and you’re ready to embark on that journey, we’re excited for you!

Last month we talked about where to start when writing a
book for the first time. We asked you a lot of questions, such as:

  • Are you passionate about a particular
  • What type of book are you interested in writing?
  • What idea is constantly on your mind?

You may remember there was also an assignment. We hope you
took our suggestion to write down ALL your ideas. If so, pull out that notebook
where you jotted down them down, and let’s talk about what you wrote. (If you
didn’t take that step, there’s still time. Just take that step today.)

By now you should have decided what you’re passionate about
and what type of book you’re going to write. You should know if you’re writing
fiction or non-fiction. A thriller or a memoir. Romance or a self-help book.  

Okay, are you ready for step two? Step two is what we call Old
School Research.
And we’re the first to admit, that not everyone agrees on this.
We believe to write well in any genre or subject, you need to be well-read in
that area. What is currently being written? What type of plot resonates with you?
What characters speak to you? How do the best-selling stories unfold? What can
you LEARN from books you love as well as books you put down after a few pages?

Back when we first started writing we read over 100 books in
our genre. While we aren’t telling 
you to read 100 books before you start
writing, we are telling you to read extensively in the genre or subject in
which you’re going to write. There are some who disagree with this approach for
various reasons. They may worry about copying another author’s work. Probably
not. After 100 books, one thing you’ll notice is there’s really no new plot. And
how you write your story is all about what you uniquely bring to the table.
However, by reading deeply in your selected subject, you’ll have a better
understanding of how to make your book stand out from the crowd. You’ll also
begin to understand the importance of reader expectations. (More on that down
the road!)

Well, what do you think? Are you onboard to read, read,
read for the next few weeks while you’re thinking about your book? As you read,
keep your notebook handy. Take notes on what you learn, how you’ll be
different, what works, and what doesn’t.

If you’d like, share in the comments what you’ve decided to
write and what you’ve learned from reading extensively in your subject, and how
you’ll use that to write a book that stands out from the crowd. And as always,
if you have questions, feel free to ask us.

Next month we’ll talk about knowing where you’re headed.
Sound intriguing? 

Sparkle Abbey’s latest story (written in first person) is a short but fun one. If you’ve not yet
checked out PROJECT DOGWAY, this is a great time to do that. 

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.) 

They love to hear from readers and can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website

My Tweaking Obsession

By Lois Winston

No, that title does not have a typo. I’m neither obsessed with Twitter nor with twerking. However, I am a compulsive tweaker.


Every author has her own process for writing a novel. The two most talked about are whether you’re a pantser or a plotter. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They sit down at their computers and start typing. Maybe they have an idea for the beginning of a novel or a main character. They may know how they want to start a book and how it will end. But they fly by the seat of their pants between “Once upon a time” and “The End.”


Plotters painstakingly outline their books. Some write copious synopses. Others use an outlining method that spells out what will happen in each chapter or even in each scene in the book.


When it comes to the actual writing of the book, some authors write numerous drafts before they’re satisfied with the end result. Sometimes the finished product bears little resemblance to the first draft, especially if you’re a pantser but rarely if you’re a plotter. 


I have a friend who’s a New York Times bestselling author. Between the typos, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors, not to mention the run-on sentences that would make even William Faulkner cringe, if you read her first drafts, you’d think she never made it past third grade. She doesn’t worry about any of it. Her process is to get her thoughts down on paper, to keep typing, unfiltered words flying onto the page without fear of sabotage by her inner editor.


With each subsequent draft, she concentrates on refining a different aspect of her work. The final version she turns into her editor, more often than not, lands her on that coveted NYT list.


Then there’s me…uhm, I. (You’ll understand that grammatical correction momentarily.) I’m an obsessive tweaker. I will spend half an hour staring at a blinking cursor, searching for the exact word or phrase. I’m incapable of moving on to the next sentence, let alone the next scene, until I’m happy with the results. But if that weren’t enough, I constantly go back and reread what I’ve written previously and continue to tweak. In other words, I edit as I write. I can’t help it. 


Then my critique partner reads what I’ve written, offers some suggestions, and I go back and tweak some more. The end result being that by the time I type The End, I’ve really only written one draft, one thoroughly edited first draft, but a first draft, nonetheless. Of course, the book will then go through beta reads and proofreading that will result in additional tweaking because there’s always a missed typo or some other finetuning that’s needed. Essentially, though, from the first word on the page to the last, I’ve written only one complete draft. That’s my process—and my compulsion. I wouldn’t know any other way.

What’s yours?


Stitch, Bake, Die!

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 10


With massive debt, a communist mother-in-law, a Shakespeare-quoting parrot, and a photojournalist boyfriend who may or may not be a spy, crafts editor Anastasia Pollack already juggles too much in her life. So she’s not thrilled when her magazine volunteers her to present workshops and judge a needlework contest at the inaugural conference of the NJ chapter of the Stitch and Bake Society, a national organization of retired professional women. At least her best friend and cooking editor Cloris McWerther has also been roped into similar duties for the culinary side of the 3-day event taking place on the grounds of the exclusive Beckwith Chateau Country Club.


The sweet little old ladies Anastasia is expecting to find are definitely old, and some of them are little, but all are anything but sweet. She’s stepped into a vipers’ den that starts with bribery and ends with murder. When an ice storm forces Anastasia and Cloris to spend the night at the Chateau, Anastasia discovers evidence of insurance scams, medical fraud, an opioid ring, long-buried family secrets, and a bevy of suspects. Can she piece together the various clues before she becomes the killer’s next target?


Crafting tips included.



USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.


Website   Newsletter   Blog   Bookbub   Goodreads   Twitter   Pinterest

The Waffle House

by Bethany Maines

So, I forgot that I was supposed to blog today and instead used
my few minutes of writing time to write a scene where two of my characters go to
a Waffle House.  But as a west coast resident,
I’ve never actually been to a Waffle House. 
As a result, I spent way too much time looking at the Waffle House menu
on line and now I want hashbrowns and waffles. 
Sometimes we hear authors say that their characters speak to them.  My characters wouldn’t deign to do that.  They’re too busy talking to each other. And
honestly, if I left them to their own devices they would talk until my fingers
cramped up from trying to transcribe.  I
frequently have to cut off the conversations so that the story goes somewhere.  That’s part of the editing process, but these
conversations are excellent at helping me understand the characters.  When I discover what they find funny, what
they hate, what annoys them, and what their hard line stance is on Christmas
decorations after New Years, I can plunk them down in any situation and know
how they’ll react.  Which is how I know
that Jackson Deveraux would be quite happy at the Waffle House, but that he would
be shocked that his hoity toity grandmother Eleanor Deveraux knows to order Waffle
House hashbrowns scattered, smothered, and covered, but not chunked.  The Deveraux family is full of secrets and
surprises, but when I started writing about them I never would have thought
that hashbrowns would be one of the surprises.  The
Deveraux family, from my Deveraux Legacy, has become one of my favorite group of
characters.  They’re a very fractured
family that is struggling toward reconciliation while attempting to overcome the
periodic interruption of mercenaries, bank robbers, and greedy CEOs.

If you want to find out what the Deveraux family thinks
about Christmas décor you can check out book 1, The Second Shot, and
pre-order book 2, The
Cinderella Secret
(both currently ¢.99). 
Or you can…

Enter to win a paperback copy of The Cinderella Secret on

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Cinderella Secret by Bethany Maines

The Cinderella Secret

by Bethany Maines

Giveaway ends October 17, 2020.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Or you can join the Bethany Maines / Blue Zephyr Press Newsletter mailing list and get a free copy of the prequel novella, The Lost Heir in October! 


Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous
short stories. When she’s not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some
serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her
daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

How to Craft a Mystery

by Bethany Maines
Step One:  Read the paper and/or listen to your weird uncle
to learn about strange ways people have died recently.  This usually involves blurting out something
like “ooh, another dead body!” while snatching up the paper in the middle of
the busy hour at a coffee shop. 
Bonus Points: If
someone shuffles away from you at the coffee shop, collect an additional 20 Murderer Alert points!
Step Two: Having
decided on your method of death it’s time for research! Start googling all
sorts of things that will help you cover up your crime.  Also, go on a vacation to the place that you
plan on putting your dead body. 
Bonus Points: If
you can say “This is a good place to kill someone!” in an aggressively cheerful
manner to the person at the tourist bureau who just wants to help, collect an
additional 20 Walking Sociopath points!
Step Three: Sit
down and write the book.  This is the
boring bit, but it does come with fun voices in your head to talk to.
Bonus Points: If
you finish the manuscript, collect an additional 20 I Have No Life points!
Step Four:  Realize that there is a plot-hole in your
book and go back to step three.
Bonus Points: If
you don’t become an alcoholic, collect an additional 20 At Least I’m Not an Asshole Like Hemingway points!
Step Five: Get
your book back from the editor and give back your Hemingway points while you
try to get over the stupid, stupid, stupid edits.
Bonus Points: Look,
you’ve got a complete book at this points, you shouldn’t need stupid bonus
points, but hey, if that’s what keeps you going, then take 5 I Need a Cookie points.
Step Six: Release
the book into the wild and realize that you are a winner!
An Unfamiliar Sea will be available on 1.21.20
Tish Yearly just opened a wedding venue on Orcas Island in
Washington State and one of her employees just drowned in four inches of water.
Now it’s up to Tish and her grandfather Tobias Yearly, the 79-year-old ex-CIA
agent and current private investigator, to find out who could have wanted the
sweet waitress dead. 



Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous
short stories. When she’s not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some
serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her
daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel.
You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Literary Sadist: Make Them Suffer

By Kimberly Jayne 

If there’s one thing I relish about writing, it’s making my characters suffer. Happy people with no challenges don’t inspire page turning. Movies operate on the same premise. When I watch Far from the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel of the same name, the most fascinating thing about it is that I can always ask, What bad thing could happen next? And after that, what bad thing could happen now? The story is fraught with suffering and disappointments and love unrequited times three. Exactly why I liked it. I try to do the same thing with my stories.

Does that make me a literary sadist? Probably, but I also enjoy seeing flawed characters reap the rewards derived from their most
agonizing struggles and spring from the ashes of their misery into some sort of transformative happy dance. The farther they fall, the more gratifying their rise.

Of course, making them suffer requires we hurl betrayals and terror and shock and shame and all manner of bad juju at them. Muuu-ah-ah-ah. I’m getting excited just thinking about it. And then, we make them survive. What that survival looks like is one of the most rewarding aspects of telling stories. It calls on us to look inside ourselves and imagine what we would think and do in those situations, how we would feel and act if we were brave or desperate determined enough. 

In my dark fantasy, Demonesse:
, my protagonist is the virtuous, empathic daughter of an excommunicated nun. After months of erotic fantasies, she awakens into her new life as a seductive killer powerless to resist the moon’s calling. This is everything she was raised not to be. Her idyll is shattered and she is thrust into a life-altering journey that will challenge everything she knows and mold her into the person she was born to be. It won’t be easy. The rubber bands of tension are consistently stretched and tested so this character’s story arc will be dramatic and, I hope, as gratifying to read as it was for me to write.

Kimberly Jayne writes in multiple genres including humor, romantic comedy, suspense, erotica, and dark fantasy. Her latest foray into a dark fantasy released in episodes is as much an adventure as the writing itself. You can check her out on AmazonFind out more about her at ReadKimberly.

Books by Kimberly Jayne:

Take My Husband, Please! A Romantic Comedy
Demonesse: Avarus, Episode 1
Demonesse: Avarus, Episode 2

Demonesse: Avarus, Episode 3
All the Innuendo, Half the Fact: Reflections of a Fragrant Liar