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?

 

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.

New Release Available for Preorder and Book One on Sale

Gifts and Thefts

Six Short Mae Martin Mysteries

 Could a gift cat be a mystery in disguise?

Gifts and Thefts picks up where Shadow Family left off with six connected short stories, beginning with the anonymous gift of a cat and ending with an elephant in the room. Faced with decisions about using her psychic gift, Mae Martin wants to help her friends and colleagues, but uncovering the truth has consequences—for her and for people she cares about. The answers to simple questions have complicated results, and solving one mystery opens the door to a bigger one.

The Mae Martin Series

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

Buy

****

Gifts and Thefts will be released on March 31.  The paperback can be ordered then. E-books can be preordered.

The Calling, the first Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, is on sale for 99 cents through April 10 on all e-book retailers.

Buy

Free Short Story: A Preview of Gifts and Thefts

Gifts and Thefts will come out on March 31. It’s been edited and now is now being proofread. If you’re eager to start reading, you can download an uncorrected copy of the first story in the book. (There may be a few typos, maybe not. Editors and authors go “wordblind” to material they’ve read and worked with over and over.)

Click here for your free preview story. Hope you like it!

Rodeo Regrets

Will Baca receives a cat from an anonymous giver, and his girlfriend suspects it’s from another woman. Mae Martin’s psychic journey into Will’s past on the rodeo circuit takes a puzzling twist while she’s solving the mystery behind the gift.

Making Mistakes

I’m at a point in my work in progress (Mae Martin Mysteries book eight) where my protagonist feels compelled to both help and confront the antagonist—a person who has wronged her and done even greater wrongs to people she cares about. Then the antagonist, through actions that karmically earned a disaster, is in crisis. Perhaps there’s an ideal path Mae could take, but can she see it? As the author, do I want her to?

In this book, Mae is taking a college course on Eastern Philosophy. She’s doing her best as a beginner to explore the wisdom of the Buddha. The antagonist’s brother and his roommate are dedicated yogis, not just in asana practice but in attempting to live the philosophy. Mae’s summer house guest is an Apache teenager who is training to become a medicine man. In the scene I’m working on, these well meaning, spiritually aware young people are in a situation where the right action is hard to find. Hard to agree on. Is there room for compassion and outrage at the same time in the same heart? At thirty, Mae is the oldest of the group. She’s likely to mess up. I was not very wise at thirty, myself. Wiser than I was in my teens or twenties, but I’d be making a mistake to portray her with the wisdom of an elder.

I’d also be making a mistake if my characters’ errors are unsympathetic. I have to write this so the reader can feel the struggle. It’s not easy to love your enemies.

New Mae Martin Book Coming in March 2021

If you’ve just discovered my work, you may be wondering if this is all you’ll get. It’s been a year since Shadow Family came out. I’m hooked on several series, and I want the characters to stay in my life. I realized I should update my progress when a reader asked if there will be an eighth Mae Martin Mystery. Yes, there will. And even sooner, there’ll be a sort of a “book 7.5” in the series.

Gifts and Thefts, a short suite of six Mae Martin stories, picks up where Shadow Family left off, following Mae Martin and Jamie Ellerbee through the changes and challenges of the following year. The mini-mysteries include:

  • Rodeo Regrets: Will Baca receives a cat from an anonymous giver, and his girlfriend suspects it’s from another woman. Mae’s psychic journey into Will’s past on the rodeo circuit takes a puzzling twist while she’s solving the mystery behind the gift.
  • 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.
  • Guardian Angel: When Jamie stops at a roadhouse in west Texas, a woman who won a pool tournament is in trouble and needs a guardian angel. Is he up to the job? Was he somehow called to it?
  • Hidden Fish: Mae’s stepdaughters create an elaborate trivia treasure hunt as a Christmas gift for their Uncle Vaughan, leaving a trail of clues and origami fish hidden around downtown Truth or Consequences. But the fish vanish before Vaughan can solve the puzzle, and the children ask Mae to find out what happened. At Jamie’s New Year’s Eve concert, she’s caught between the suspects.
  • Tipped Off: Who would leave a hotel housekeeper that big a tip, and why? Montana Chino has a birthday surprise for Mae, but first she needs Mae to do a psychic investigation into the tip. Was there a mistake, or did the guest have mischief in mind?
  • Elephant: On the weekend Mae and Jamie attend two weddings, she can tell he’s keeping something from her. He has to resolve a problem before he can talk to her, though. A problem that began almost a year before, when he healed Will Baca’s cat.

The Mae Martin Series

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

Whole Series Sale

In the mood to curl up with a good book? How about seven? The entire Mae Martin Series is on sale through December 16th. The Calling is free, Shaman’s Blues is $2.99, and the rest of the books in the series are $3.99 each. If you haven’t caught up with all seven, this is a great time to do it.

How Plotting a Novel is like Planning a Yoga Class

For me, teaching yoga and writing fiction are about the deeper aspects of being human, not simply about executing poses or providing entertainment. The asana practice or the entertainment is the container for the inner process.

There are two main ways I approach my work in both cases: structure and improvisation. For example, I have general sense a story is about a certain theme and a certain problem affecting a set of characters in a specific setting. There’s interaction among these elements, and sometimes it can surprise me. A yoga class also tends to have a theme, such as a class focused primarily on hip stability and mobility or a class building up to a new asana. How I teach it is affected by the student or group of students.

A story has a beginning, in which the protagonist is in her normal world, in a situation where her strengths and her shortcomings feel comfortable and familiar. But then something changes, making it necessary not only to take action, but to do things she’s not comfortable doing, things that stretch her creativity and courage in confronting a problem that has high stakes for her and for people she cares about yet. The pace increases and the demands become greater as the story progresses.

I start a yoga class with awareness of posture and breath, meeting the students as they are, letting them find where the knots, restrictions, and imbalances are. I observe them and consider what they might need in their asana practice to release some of the habits that tighten their necks, backs, or shoulders. I also take requests, because the students may have concerns and needs I can’t otherwise assess. The first portion of the class focuses the mind, warms up the muscles, and lubricates the joints prior to any significant physical demands. The middle portion of the class is the hardest, with poses that challenge strength, balance, and flexibility.

I respond to my students’ questions and to what I see in their practice with further explorations and modifications. I may need to change direction in midstream, depending on how they respond to my instruction and on how they’re feeling that day.

Similarly, I improvise in writing my books as I discover how my characters respond to what I’ve given them so far. They have as much say in the plot as I do. But if any key elements in the course of a mystery or of a balanced yoga class are missing, my readers or my students will end up feeling unfinished in some way. So, even as I invent, I rely on structure.

Beyond the midpoint is the peak of the experience. The crisis in the plot. Or the asana we’ve been building toward. Everything that comes before leads up to this. Nothing is extraneous. The challenge is equal to the student/protagonist’s ability, though at times it may feel to them as if it’s beyond their reach. That’s where growth takes place. And both are solving a puzzle, whether it’s a mystery or how to organize ardra chandrasana or how to quiet the mind and be fully present.

Then there’s the denouement of the plot or the cool-down and relaxation portion of the class, as everything that came before is integrated and resolved.

*****

A number of my characters practice yoga, though so far my protagonist, Mae Martin, doesn’t. Her friend and mentor, Dr. Bernadette Pena, introduced in The Calling, is an advanced yoga student. Mae’s young neighbors in Truth or Consequences in Shaman’s Blues are devoted to yoga as part of their recovery from addiction. Jamie Ellerbee is one of the most complex characters in the series. Yoga plays an important role in his healing journey, especially as he first begins his studies in Soul Loss.

Works in Progress

I set myself a goal to complete five short stories and get them revised and sent out for critique by November. I’ve somewhat polished three, finished a very rough first draft of the fourth, and have the outline for the fifth.

Writing these stories is forcing me to examine emotional depths within the tight plots of short fiction. It’s my job as a fiction writer to make my characters’ lives difficult. To test them and to explore how they can come out stronger. In some ways, doing this in short works is harder than developing a character arc over the expanse of a long, complex novel. I’m enjoying the work, though. It’s been a chance to reunite with characters I haven’t seen for a while and integrate their personal journeys with those of my protagonists.

Will Baca and Letitia Westover-Brown from Ghost Sickness are featured in the first story. They’re trying to make a go of honest work and an honest relationship, but then someone sends Will a strange gift, and they need Jamie as a healer and Mae as a psychic to solve to mystery.

The next story takes place at the college fitness center where Mae works. No visits with “old” characters here. She finds herself with a new enemy, one who could undermine her future career.

The third story brings back Kyle and Vaughan from Shadow Family and Rex from Death Omen as well as Mae’s stepdaughters. I loved working on it, a project that made me rediscover pre-pandemic Truth or Consequences, as the twins attempt to plant a trivia mystery for Vaughan to solve. Another mystery emerges as a consequence, and the girls want Mae to find out the truth.

The fourth story centers around Montana Chino, a character from Ghost Sickness. She and her sisters, Melody and Misty, have planned a thirtieth birthday surprise for Mae, and then Montana, a hotel housekeeper, gets a much bigger surprise in a tip envelope at work. A tip that could change her life in more ways than one when Mae’s psychic inquiry brings up answers Montana wasn’t looking for.

I haven’t decided if the fifth story is more of romance or a mystery, as Mae and Jamie attend two weddings almost back to back, one in T or C and one in Santa Fe. (Trivia question: What happened in New Mexico in 2013 that would cause this to happen?)

Yes, it’s still 2012 and 2013 in these stories. (The Calling is set in 2009-2010.) I’m moving along. But so far, I can’t skip any part of my characters’ lives. They want me know what they’ve lived through, so I’ll understand them better for the next book.