New Release: Chloride Canyon, Mae Martin Book Eight

Chloride Canyon

 The eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Could a faked haunting in a ghost town stir up a real one?

Mae Martin’s college summer session is off to a rough start. A classmate is out to make her life miserable. Her English professor is avoiding her. And the Paranormal Activities Club plans to investigate her psychic abilities. Her boyfriend, Jamie, is on a song-writing retreat in the ghost town of Chloride, New Mexico, population fourteen humans, twenty-three cats, and—supposedly—zero ghosts. He’s working with a famous friend who doesn’t want Mae, or anyone, to visit. But then Jamie’s neighbor claims her house is haunted, and Mae has to learn who’s behind the frightening events—the living, or the dead.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

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Coming Soon: Chloride Canyon, the eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Chloride Canyon

The eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Could a faked haunting in a ghost town stir up a real one?

Mae Martin’s college summer session is off to a rough start. A classmate is out to make her life miserable. Her English professor is avoiding her. And the Paranormal Activities Club plans to investigate her psychic abilities. Her boyfriend, Jamie, is on a song-writing retreat in the ghost town of Chloride, New Mexico, population fourteen humans, twenty-three cats, and—supposedly—zero ghosts. He’s working with a famous friend who doesn’t want Mae, or anyone, to visit. But then Jamie’s neighbor claims her house is haunted, and Mae has to learn who’s behind the frightening events—the living, or the dead.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

 

 

A Writing Update

I’ve completed multiple rounds of revision on Chloride Canyon, the eighth Mae Martin mystery. Since I’ve been working on it for years, I can’t give you a number, but the most recent are: the revisions based on feedback from critique partners and beta readers; another pass through the book focused on what the antagonist characters were up to offstage; and the “cut revision,” pruning  restatements, over-statements, overused words, and filler words.

Now I’m into the read-aloud revision, acting the story as if I were an audiobook narrator, which helps with pace and dialogue. This stage gets it ready for editing. It’s due with my editor in late March. Look for it to be published in time for summer reading.

One of these pictures of the canyon will end up on the cover. Special thanks to Donna Catterick for her photography.

What’s at Stake?

How many personal threats can the protagonist of an amateur sleuth series face? Perhaps you’ve marveled at how often the lead characters in long-running series encounter murders, but then suspended disbelief and kept reading. I’ve done it myself. Then I get distracted by scenes in which friends of the lead character point out the very thing I’ve just put aside. Gosh, you sure you do get involved in a lot of murders. It’s one way for an author to handle the problem, though. Acknowledge it and keep telling the story.

It’s been a while since I blogged about my writing process. At present, I’m in the final revision stage for Chloride Canyon, the eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery. I’ve received valuable feedback from several beta readers and critique partners. Now I’m blending their various insights into the plot, cleaning up problems they noticed, and raising the stakes—the one thing three out of four suggested I do.

That’s the hardest part. A professional detective wants to solve a crime, and cares because it’s a job. However, I have that amateur problem. My mysteries aren’t about murder, but they sometimes involve crimes. Others center around wrongs that are harmful, but not criminal. Mae’s reasons to get involved can be deeply personal or tied to people she cares about. In several of the books, she’s hired as a psychic to solve a mystery. In the majority of cases, the stake for Mae is empathic rather than a direct threat. What makes the plot work is a serious risk to the emotional, financial and/or physical well-being of others.

The two antagonists in Chloride Canyon create stress in Mae’s life at college, but they don’t endanger her. Her constant challenges in the series include choices about using her psychic ability and how to handle her sometimes excessive urge to help people. In this book, by helping friends, she ends up also having to help her enemies. Will this be enough to make readers care? Only if there’s enough of a threat. And it can’t always be a threat to Mae if I want the arc of the series to be believable. How can I raise the stakes for her, then? By raising the stakes for characters she cares about.

Okay. I’ve figured it out. Back to work on revisions.

 

Slow but Deep

Many writers are participating in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—aiming to compete 50,000 words of a first draft in November. I cheer them on, but I won’t be doing it myself. I don’t work well at that speed. I tried writing fast recently, as I was working on chapter three of book nine in the Mae Martin Series, and I realized the next day that I’d ignored the characters deeper inclinations in order to make Something Exciting happen. I had to go back, delete most of it, and change what remained. If I go fast, I also make incomprehensible typos and even end up typing in the middle of a previous line somehow. In the long run,  writing slowly while listening to the characters hearts and letting what drives them drive the plot is the best way for me to make Something Exciting happen.

Some writers can do this while producing over 1,600 words a day, or through an outline. Not me. The closest I’ve come was when I outlined the initial premise for each of the short stories in Gifts and Thefts, following the path through my main characters’ lives in 2012 and half of 2013. And even then, a new theme emerged I hadn’t planned on. In response, I improvised the middle story, Guardian Angel, with no plan at all. I guess it’s not a Mae Martin Mystery, since it’s about her boyfriend, not her, and while mysterious, it’s not a mystery to be solved the way the other five stories are. But it fits those stories together like the keystone of an arch.

I mentioned book nine at the beginning of this post, and you may be wondering what happened to book eight. I’ve gotten feedback on it from two critique partners and am waiting to hear from two beta readers later this month. (What’s the difference? Critique partners swap manuscripts and provide feedback to each other; beta readers do the critique without reciprocity. I love beta reading for writers whose series I follow, getting to be the first to read the next book.)

The eighth Mae Martin Mystery will get a final in-depth revision based on those four critiques, and then I’ll send it to my editor. Since Gifts and Thefts came out in spring 2021, I’d love to have book eight, Chloride Canyon, come out in spring 2022. And that’s why I’m starting on book nine already. Maybe I’ll finish it in a year. Chloride Canyon has been in in progress for four years, with breaks to write Shadow Family and Gifts and Thefts. That was slow, even for me.

 

 

New Mexico Mystery Review: Shaman Winter by Rudolfo Anaya

This third book in Anaya’s Sonny Baca series is the most mystical, filled with visions and shamanic dream journeys. Sonny’s detective work takes place in both the ordinary realm and the spirit realm, as he travels through layers of time and identities to confront his ongoing antagonist, the sorcerer Raven.

Raven, in this story, has allied with a white supremacist militia, a plot element that’s surprisingly current, though the book is old enough that doing detective work on the internet was new when it was first published.

The action at all levels is intense, once the story gets moving. The journeys into New Mexico history are exciting, integrating the past with the present. Sonny matures. He has always idealized his fiancée, Rita. In this book, he finally seems to understand her whole, vulnerable humanity as they endure a shared crisis. The curandera Lorenza, however, is still on the pedestal where Sonny tends to put women. He appreciates her, yet I never felt he perceived her entire self. Sonny’s neighbor, friend, and shamanic teacher  Don Eliseo plays a profound role. The end of the book is extraordinary in both the writing and the main character’s spiritual development, as well as the humility with which Sonny concludes this particular case.

This is a book only Anaya could have written. The beginning has some slow spots, so slow I might have stopped reading if I didn’t know the author’s work well enough to keep going, trusting he would reward me. I was right. It well worth reading the beginning to reach the finale.

Four Years and a Free Story

Today is my fourth anniversary of moving to Truth or Consequences, taking early retirement to write full time. I will celebrate by putting in some serious hours on the next book and committing to an earlier start on each night’s writing.

I’ve been productive in those four years. Three works of fiction have come out—Death Omen, Shadow Family, and Gifts and Thefts—and the essay collection Small Awakenings.

But I actually started the book I’m working on before I moved. While there are elements in it that I like, the problem is I finished the first draft of book eight in the Mae Martin Series before I began book seven. I’ve had to rewrite book eight almost entirely, and I’m still revising. It can’t be the same story it started out to be. The characters have matured and changed.

Speaking of characters maturing … Mae’s thirtieth birthday party takes place in one of the short stories in Gifts and Thefts. In the series prequel, The Outlaw Women, you can meet her at age ten, as seen through the eyes of her grandmother. Free on all e-book retailers through July 15th.

 

Folk healer and seer Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson knows her time on earth is running out when she hears the voice of her late husband telling her she has only but so many heartbeats left. She’s had a troubled relationship with her daughter, and has little hope of passing on her extraordinary gifts, either to this difficult daughter or to her granddaughter. With the final hour around the corner, she brings her family together for one more try. Can she leave the world at peace with them, as well as with her legacy?

 

Writer’s Intuition

By making a joke in my online writers’ group, I caught the attention of exactly the expert I needed—and didn’t know I needed. The morning’s motivational prompt had been a funny one—something about banging one’s head on one’s desk. I replied, “Speaking of head-banging, my work in progress has a plot thread about metal music.” Another writer replied to me: “That’s my genre. Reach out if you need anything.”

I thought I’d done my research, but once I contacted her, I found out how little I’d really learned. Giving a character a connection to metal music in her past was intended to add surprising elements to the plot. Faced with how little I understood about the genre, and how enormous the project of grasping this complex musical world might be, I had to reconsider and ask myself some key questions.

Is the story dependent on this element? Or does it only add flavor? If that’s the case, could another flavor substitute? This reminds me of something my friend Bob said about cooking. When a recipe calls for Himalayan pink salt, if he can’t tell the difference between using it or regular salt, he’ll go with the plain stuff.

The black metal plot thread might be Himalayan pink salt. I’m going to try plain salt and see if the recipe still works. The story is about the characters, their challenges and dilemmas, their desires and obstacles, their lessons. As long as this character has a certain pair of people in her past, their creative output can be an art form I understand better. I never thought my joke would lead to such a revelation, and yet it felt important to make it. When it popped into my head,  I turned my laptop back on and posted it, though I was on my way out the door. The comment was, as far as I could tell, trivial, but my intuition knew better.

Where did that character come from?

I sometimes feel as if characters come out of nowhere, fully formed, in search of an author. A few positive, likeable characters have been inspired by real people, but even then, I make changes so I’m not actually putting person X in a book.

Antagonist characters are usually inspired by one specific trait or behavior I notice in an individual. I use that trait as a root from which to grow a character. For example, in the short story Hidden Fish in Gifts and Thefts, I needed someone who would antagonize Mae’s boyfriend, Jamie. As I set up the opening scene, I had an image of a woman I’d noticed a concert a couple of years ago wearing an oddly fitted wig and carrying a small dog. (The wig puzzled me, because it seemed she intended to make it obvious she was wearing one.) Jamie is a musician with a fear of dogs. A woman who would bring her dog to a concert was the perfect antagonist.

Obviously, I couldn’t actually use this real person in my story, whoever she was, but I borrowed the dog—making him far less cute and far worse-mannered—for Hepzibah. I borrowed a variation on the wig, too, and invented a story behind it as the reason for her enmity toward Jamie.

When I was recertifying as a fitness professional in 2019, I took a continuing education course taught by a woman who said “Whoo!” after every segment of the workout. It drove me nuts. I took note of that idiosyncrasy for an antagonist in Mae’s in workplace, a fitness center. I thought it was the only aspect of this presenter I used, but the day Gifts and Thefts came out, I realized I’d used more. Her unprofessional behavior. She made overt sexual jokes, and she kept asking if it was time to have wine yet. I’d forgotten this. Consciously, anyway. In the short story Responsible Party, Sandra commits different offenses. But in retrospect, I see more of the presenter in her than I knew was there while I was writing.

I now wonder what else I’ve borrowed, beyond a wig, a dog, and a “whoo,” to assemble the characters who stand in the way of my protagonists.

*****

Download a copy of the second short story in Gifts and Thefts

Responsible Party

Mae’s internship in fitness management gets stressful when her supervisor starts accusing other employees of theft and tells Mae to find the responsible party. Her efforts bring results neither of them expected.

*****

The Calling is on sale for 99 cents through April 10th.

I’ll be interviewed and will read sections from The Calling on All About Books KTAL, 101.5 FM, Las Cruces, at 12:30 p.m.  Mountain Daylight Time, April 9th. Later that day, the show will be posted on the station’s archive.