T or sCenery

I do my best to capture the colorful character of my town in my books, describing enough to give a flavor of the setting and to ground the story in a place. For fun, I’m sharing a little more of what makes Truth or Consequences unique. A full tour would take many blog posts. If you enjoy this glimpse, I’ll do another T or sCenery post in the future.

The mural above is in an alley beside the Pink Pelican, a portion of the Pelican Spa. Mae Martin book six, Death Omen, has many scenes set at the Pelican.

New murals pop up all the time, many in unexpected places. This one is an an alley across from the the main Pelican Spa building.The wild fence below is on Riverside Drive, near Niall and Marty’s fictitious house which has an eccentric, art-embellished wall. (The mirror shot is as close as I’ve ever come to a selfie.) The guitars on the fence, and the hats that used to crown it, gave me the idea for the fence and gate at Joe Wayne’s house in Snake Face. (His fence is far tamer than this, though.) One of my neighbors claims this is not the weirdest fence in T or C. He says that his bears that distinction. I’ll have to take its picture and few others for a future post and let you decide.

 

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.

Buy

Reading a Series: In Order or All Over the Place?

Usually, I read series in order. I want to get to know the characters the way the author developed them. It’s like growing close to friends over many years of shared experiences. Starting late in the series doesn’t let me build the same relationships. Once in a while, I’ve borrowed an audiobook from the library that was far along in a series I’d not yet read, and while I enjoyed the books, I often didn’t go back to the beginnings. Some authors write their series so there are virtually no spoilers if you discover the books out of sequence. A few others provide what I feel is such an excess of backstory that I turn off that audiobook and lose interest in how the series began.

Needless to say, this makes me cautious with backstory, trying to give as little as possible. With each new book, I find a new beta reader to join the team, one who hasn’t yet read my other books. That person’s fresh perspective helps me present the small doses of necessary backstory at the moment they’re needed—for new readers, for readers who’ve forgotten elements of earlier books, and for those who are zigzagging around in the series.

I’ve heard from people who started my series somewhere after book one, The Calling. One wanted to start with Shaman’s Blues, because it’s the book in which Mae Martin moves to New Mexico. Another started with Ghost Sickness because of the setting on the Mescalero Apache reservation. Others started with book six, Death Omen, because of its theme—fraud and exploitation in spiritual healing. And they liked the books out of order. I never asked if they went back to book one, though.

I wrote the suite of six short mysteries, Gifts and Thefts, to bridge the year and a half between the end of Shadow Family and the beginning of Chloride Canyon. Because it’s numbered book 7.5, Amazon doesn’t list this book on my series page. They have Gifts and Thefts off by itself as it were a stand-alone book. The other major online bookstores, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple, are more flexible about numbering and include book 7.5 on the series page. So, if you are a read-it-in-order person and buy from Amazon, heads up. There’s a book between seven and eight. It’s short, and you can finish it before book eight, Chloride Canyon, comes out at the end of the month.

Do you only read series in order? If you start with a later book, do you go back to the beginning? I’m curious how others relate to series.

 

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.

 

 

Hit Send! And then …

I was determined to finish the eighth Mae Martin book last night, winding up the final read-through for minor repairs. I sent it to my editor with a feeling of satisfaction and completeness. Now I miss the setting, the events, and the characters. I spent more time with them than with anyone else over the past two years. To some extent, a fiction writer’s life is always like that. During the pandemic, it was even more so. As social and cultural activities resume and expand, I’m more than happy to take part. The human web of connection is good for my soul and also good for my writing. But I still miss that book. At least writing a series means I don’t have to say goodbye to everyone in it.

I dreamed a new character a few nights ago and am not sure what to do with her. I don’t think I like her. I’ve started the next Mae Martin book already, working on it while my beta readers and critique partners read Chloride Canyon. So far, book nine is a messy, fragmented first few chapters of a first draft. The final product may bear only a weak resemblance to it. Perhaps this new character I dreamed should replace the antagonist in this first draft, since I dislike her. Or perhaps, as with some people I became good friends with over time, the initial dislike will give way to appreciation. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of making her the “bad guy.” I’ll see what my explorations reveal.

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.

 

 

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?