Thursday, August 14, 2014


How does a writer get from an idea to a finished book?

 There are hundreds of ways. This is mine. This process can occur at any speed although now I am a full time writer, it happens faster. I start with an idea plus a question and I build a complex story in about three months. The thing is—the complex story I create is the BACK story, not the book. Generating the first draft takes another thirty days, IF I stick to my schedule.

Writers discuss at great lengths the benefits of plotting or not plotting. I love organization. I like to know details. And yet I love the discovery that comes serendipitously with writing freely. It’s taken me two decades to find my process. I write mysteries and my process caters to both styles.

My journey involved trying different approaches. I wrote my first book with an idea, a cast of characters and a location. Turned loose on the page, I produced a story that worked even if the craft was shaky. I spent the next decade studying craft.

I wrote the next two books using what I call the “and then” list and various other plotting devices as outlined in numerous how-to books. I generated my story flow with a simple, but not necessarily easy, concept. And then....

  • -          Suzie got a letter from her aunt begging her to come for a visit.
  • -          And then...Suzie booked vacation and went to her aunt’s place.
  • -          And then...she found her aunt on her death bed...

Once I had my event flow, I expanded each into a scene, added GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) and built the book one scene after the other changing as needed. That’s the key point. CHANGE AS NEEDED. I believe that an outline, a synopsis, a plot plan—whatever you call it—is flexible.

Somewhere in the process, I read Robert Ray’s book, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery. From that I garnered generic scene titles. Murder Occurs, Sleuth on Stage, Murderer on Stage, and so on. This focused my understanding of scenes that drive a mystery and my process came together. 

Now I create a complex back story but free-write the actual book. 

It all starts with an idea/event and a question. 

The basic idea of my current work in progress:

  •   A teenage girl learns her father is a robber about to be caught. She is given a new ID and a knapsack with $50,000 in cash and sent off on her own.

The question:
  • It’s now fifteen years later. Where is she, what is she doing and how has this impacted her life?

I start a notebook and a computer file. I list ideas. I ask the questions we were taught in high school English. Who, what, when, where, why and sometimes how. I write freely and without censure.

Underlying all creating is the major question: WHO CARES AND WHY?

For the current WIP I generated information in the following areas, collecting snippets and grouping them as they appeared.

  • -          The Historic Crime – who besides her father was involved—why, what when, where and what went wrong. And where is everyone from the heist now? Who has the money?

  • -          Plot line possibilities (Main and sub-plots) 
o    The murder and its solution (external)
o     Character 1’s quest (internal)
o   Character 2’s struggle to fit in (subplot 2) 
o   Character 3’s dilemma – does she come clean with information? Is she the killer?
  • - Characters
o   Who: A list of everyone who will be in the book (I have a series so some are a given.)
o   Why certain characters might be the killer.
o   What vested interest does each character have in what’s happening
o   What is their history, their hidden agenda...And more....

  • -          Clues
o   Physical evidence that might point to killers (forensics)
o   Story / history tidbits that might surface to reveal the killer (character story)

  • -          Possible key scenes (starting with Ray’s generic list)

o   Murder occurs/ discovered/ reported
o   Sleuth on scene
o   Suspects/ Witnesses on scene...and so on

This process occurs in lurches and unrelated tidbits. It finally reaches critical mass, and I’m ready to write. I pick a starting point, usually a scene or two before the murder. I turn my characters loose to tell me the story. I write asking what happens, who was there, what did they see, think, feel, tell and the story evolves.

In the beginning, I have no fixed plot. I know I need to identify and catch the killer. I know clues and reasons. I do NOT know who did it. Means, method, opportunity and motive appear as I write and each scene grows out of a previous scene. 

So do I plot? Not traditionally.  Do I write by the seat of my pants? Not exactly. I use a combination approach that works for me.


Writers can only write the way that works for them. What writing process works for you? 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Where do writers get story ideas?

If you can answer the question might be a writer.

This is one of the most asked questions when someone finds out I am a writer. I wonder if it will appear at the When Words Collide this coming weekend (Aug 8 - 10, 2014) in Calgary, Alberta. There will @ 560 people there including writers and readers, surely some one will ask.

This oft-asked question occurred to me when I was sweeping up a pile of dust and crumbs off the floor in the corner of my cabinet. My Hubby is great about sweeping the floor (Living room/dining room/ kitchen combo) but is adverse to picking it up and putting it in the bin. Once a day or so, I come along with a dustpan and brush and finish the job.

I am currently collecting story-bits for Book 4 even as I write Book 3. And bent over that pile of dirt, resigned to my Hubby's annoying habit, I realized how my sleuth would go undercover and how he would entice the murderer to come after him. Suffice it to say it there are a series of murders in a 55+ community, and the local police are having no luck in tracking the killer. Lemuel Ritchey, uncle in the Caleb Cove Mysteries, is sent undercover to the walled complex. However the idea is encorpoarted into the finished book, the idea started from sweeping up dirt and my Hubby's habit.

Years ago as a real estate appraiser in Calgary, Alberta, I was treated to a blow-by-blow discovery of a dead body. A co-worker (bless his detailed little heart) had found it when he went to a vacant house to do a foreclosure appraisal. That incident has been with me for over 15 years and is the foundation for a novel with the working title, Murder on Memorial Drive.

Another inspiration came to me at a traffic light as I watched a very neat and tidy, but long-haired and bearded, fellow march along the sidewalk talking to himself. The end character was much changed, but something about that gentleman triggered my creative process.

That brings me to the answer to the question: Where do you get your ideas? My answer is: "It's more like where DON'T I get my ideas." Writers find those pesky bits littering their worlds. Sometimes they arrive isolated, orphans looking for a story home. Other times they drop into the brain and fit neatly with a work-in-progress like a piece in a puzzle.

We record them, we keep them till they are needed. We constantly ask the famous question: "What if...?" They ferment in our brains to emerge on the page in one of our creations.

If your brain builds complicated scenarios around happenings in your world, if you wonder what is behind the event or what might happen after the event, then you MIGHT BE A WRITER.

If you think you are, try! Start collecting those stories and snippets. Learn craft. Talk to writers, visit conferences. Write a million words before you worry about editing. Burn your first attempts if you must. Exercise your ability to put words on the page

Writers ARE. If it is in you to be a writer, you can't deny your essence. Writers write because it is who they are and they can't stop. Not all writers will become published authors. That's okay. Writing is like breathing. You just do it to live. The bonus is that it's fun, satisfying, defining, revealing and a host of other things we prize in life.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Do you want to write for a market with 23 million buyers?

Try the 23 million strong market of women boomers.

 Today's guest, BRENDA M. COLLINS, chats about being a member of, and a writer in, this segment of the population.  This Calgary author traveled to many corners of the globe as a speaker, business adviser and technical writer. Now she's  back in Calgary penning mysteries laced with romance and a touch of magic.

Nothing makes me feel quite as insignificant as knowing I’m one of 23 million Lady Boomers, my label for women born between 1946 and1964.
I showed up towards the end of the swell, so I did benefit from the resources that went into accommodating the bulge in population as it moved through the circle of life; new schools and teachers to address the increased number of youth, and the evolution of the market for fast food, clothing fads, popular music, and cosmetics.

On the downside, by the time I was ready to enter the job market, the front of the wave had flooded the market and unemployment rates were rising. Now, as I trail the rest towards 65, the big fear is that they will eat up all the pension money and I’ll have to work until I’m 75—or until I die. Yet, Boomers are reportedly on track to have higher income in retirement than their parents. Faced with this teeter-totter of my birthright, I’ve decided that, if I must work until I drop, I might as well work at something I love and find a way to make money at it, in which case, I want to embrace my long held dream to be an author.

My passion since the age of twelve has been to write fiction stories. I used to tell myself bedtime stories to fall asleep at night. When I was working a high powered corporate job, I wrote an entire novel while sitting in countless airports to keep from going crazy with boredom. That one’s still under the bed. It wasn’t a very good novel.

There are a couple of challenges with my plan. Everyone, including my mother from the time I was 12, told me that authors don’t make money. That’s why I went to university, got a business degree and pursued a long, successful but tedious career in business management. Secondly, everyone tells me I should write what I know. What do I know about the life of twenty-, thirty- or occasional forty-year-olds who star in all the bestselling novels these days? I am a Lady Boomer grappling with Lady Boomer issues!
Like so many boomer women, breast cancer crashed into my world in the last few years- I lost a dear friend to breast cancer a few years ago; several other close friends were fortunate to survive the same dreadful diagnosis. Driven to ‘DO SOMETHING’, Roxy Boroughs and I published an anthology of short stories on Amazon and donate all our author royalties to the treatment of breast cancer.
Only one story actually featured the subject of breast cancer and a fifty-something boomer. There was another one about a middle aged woman struggling with the decision to put an aging parent into an assisted living facility against his will. There was the story about the widow who planned to spend her twilight years travelling with her beloved husband after retirement and wasn’t prepared for re-entering the dating scene as a boomer. Holy cow. Our anthology is Boomer Lit.

I’m certainly getting tired of reading from the point-of-view of twenty-something’s, especially when the experiences of these fictional twenty- something’s bears little resemblance to my twenty-something life of three decades ago. The Times They Are A-changin', as Bob Dylan sang (1964)—non-boomers are probably saying, Who?
Wouldn’t it be nice to read about a female protagonist who behaves like me? Thinks like me? Has similar wrinkles on her face and also wears her blouse untucked to hide her meno-pod (aka, wheat belly, muffin top, love handles)?  Hummm, I think with finger on chin, 23 million boomer women….all dealing with the same issues I am….with money to spend….looking for something to read….

If I wrote an age appropriate book, the kind of book I’d like to read, would other lady boomers enjoy it too? A tingle of excitement runs through me. It could be as big as The Golden Girls were on TV.
An idea for a book series suddenly smacks me upside the head—a 50-year-old woman, widowed unexpectedly with no insurance, and kids in university so she’s gotta make money any way she can.

If V I Warshawski could do it, why can’t she? My heroine will become A Boomer Private Detective. A Golden Dick. Okay, maybe that isn’t a great job title, but this is still a work in progress.

Brenda M. Collins writes cozy mysteries laced with romance and a special kind of magic, including The Holly & The Ivy (A Frost Family Christmas) and Witch in the Wind. All authors’ profits from the sale of Stories of Chance Romance, another sweet romance anthology written with Roxy Boroughs, are donated to advance the treatment of breast cancer. Brenda is a recognized speaker and much quoted expert on business issues for writers, an award-winning technical writer, and has been published in numerous industry trade publications, such as Writers Market. 

Look for Brenda’s other titles on You can visit Brenda on her website, Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter.