What’s That Smell?

by Helen Currie Foster

In the back of the closet I recently unearthed my mother’s old Caswell Massey “Gardenia” bubble bath. The resulting bath held astonishing comfort and nostalgia. It smelled like her house.

Mystery writers can use smell to reinforce not only setting and character, but powerful plots. Here are strong examples from the first chapter of Lethal White, the fourth in Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series. Chapter one begins with the wedding of Strike’s former co-detective Robin Ellacott and her long-time (but insufferable) fiancé Matthew Cunliffe, arguing while the wedding photographer tries to get some decent shots. Strike has fired Robin, partly from fear she’ll be killed. Without her job, Robin’s miserable. Matthew’s furious because of the joy he saw on Robin’s face when Strike arrived for the ceremony, heavily bandaged from capturing a killer. And now, arguing with Matthew, how does Robin feel? “The sweet, ticklish smell of hot grass filled her nostrils as the sun beat down on her uncovered shoulders.” The hot smell matches Robin’s itchy misery as she second-guesses her marriage to Matthew.

The country hotel setting smells beautiful, in stark contrast to Strike’s emotions: “For a while he lurked at the end of the bar, nursing a pint…and then repaired to the terrace, where he had stood apart from the other smokers and contemplated the dappled evening, breathing in the sweet meadow smell beneath a coral sky.” Sweet meadow smell; miserable situation.

Robin finally reaches Strike on the stairs as he’s leaving: “They were holding each other tightly before they knew what had happened, Robin’s chin on Strike’s shoulder, his face in her hair. He smelled of sweat, beer, and surgical spirits, she, of roses and the faint perfume that he had missed when she was no longer in the office.” The scene is almost shocking in its sensory overload. We feel their powerful attraction. Galbraith (J. K. Rowling) brilliantly gives us not only the protagonists, but the pain of their predicament, using scent to remind us of Strike’s injury (surgical spirits) and the fact that he has missed her perfume because she’s no longer in the office.

We already know that Chet, the heroic detective dog of Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie series, is a dog of admirable olfactory sensitivity. He feels sorry for his human partner, Bernie (who labors under the misapprehension that he, not Chet, is the detective), because Chet knows human limitations, olfactorily speaking.

Chet and Bernie search for lost young campers in Spencer Quinn’s The Dog Who Knew Too Much. Chet’s nose moves the plot along: I smelled ashes, plus chocolate, the way it smells when hot chocolate gets burned in the pot, and….the remains of a not-too-long-ago campfire. I knew fire pits, of course, went over and took some closer sniffs. Burned hot chocolate, yes. There’d also been Spam and something eggy. I stuck my nose just about right into the ashes. They were cold.” Oh, the advantages of a detective dog as protagonist.

Well, Chet, don’t underrate us. Research shows we humans can detect at least a trillion odors! Bill Bryson, The Body, at 90.

Furthermore, as Chet the dog already knows, we humans each have our own unique scent: “It’s like a fingerprint,” says Johan Lundström, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, in “The Sense of Smell in Humans is More Powerful Than We Think, ” by Marta Zaraska–an interesting article.

Didn’t we already know we can identify the scent of the loved one? Mothers can recognize their newborns by smell (and vice versa). Bryson says olfactory information goes directly to our olfactory cortex, next to the hippocampus, where memories are shaped, which is why some neuroscientists think certain smells evoke memories. Oh, didn’t Proust mention that? Scent brings back the dead, if only for a second. In my Ghost Cat, after the death of his wife Holly, Russ confesses that when he walks in the house, he lifts his eyes and inhales: “I always hope for a little whiff of Holly.”

However––some odors fly under our radar. We may feel, but can’t always articulate, how certain smells arouse our emotions. We say fear is contagious but we haven’t known how. Zaraska cites research showing when we smell body odor from a stressed person, we ourselves become more vigilant. When we smell body odor of a close relative, per Zaraska, we can recognize family, and our dorsomedial-prefontal cortext can light up. Maybe some of this we’ve known without really knowing it.

Plus, we apparently have sensory radar for genetic information. For mating! A woman inhaling body odor of a potential mate senses how genetically related the two are––by sniffing a gene family that links body scent and the immune system, called the “major histocompatibility complex” or “MHC.” This capacity is useful: we like our mates to be related enough––but not too much. My protagonist Alice, lawyer and amateur sleuth in the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series, is well aware how much she likes the way her love interest Ben Kinsear smells––he “smells good”––but she hasn’t put words to the smell the way Chet the dog has. He defines his own smell as “the most familiar smell in the world: old leather, salt and pepper, mink coats, and just a soupcon of tomato; and to be honest, a healthy dash of something male and funky. My smell: yes, sir.”

Could you define your own smell? With aromatic detail? Probably not. A loved one might be able to.

Smell can deepen a scene, define character, highlight plot. Ann Cleeves, in Dead Water (her Shetland series) describes the reception desk in the hotel, a key setting, as “all dark wood, with the smell of beeswax.” The sweet smell, the dark venue.

Elly Griffiths in The Crossing Places shows us her protagonist, archeologist Ruth Galloway: “Climbing the danksmelling staircase to her office, she thinks about her first lecture: First Principles in Excavation.” Danksmelling…excavation. Her job.

Louise Penny, in A Better Man, uses smell to reinforce the humiliating demotion of her protagonist, Quebec Inspector Armand Gamache. A former subordinate now bosses him. A giant ice storm with crashing ice flows and high water threatens Quebec. Worried the Champlain bridge will break, on the way to a police meeting, Gamache gets splattered with mud trying to see whether the dam will hold.

“I see some of the crap thrown at you today on Twitter has stuck,” said the senior officer from the RCMP, gesturing at Gamache’s clothing.

Gamache smiled. “Fortunately, it won’t stain.”

“But it does smell,” said the Mountie, with a wry smile. “Helluva first day back on the job, Armand.”

A great metaphor for the smelly attacks on Gamache that have led to his demotion.

In A Cinnabar Sky’s opening scene, Billy Kring uses smell to build dread and suspense around the locked trunk his protagonist Hunter Kincaid and her companion Buddy are about to pry open. Buddy says, “Now the smell is more like a really bad swamp, right?” When they pop the trunk, it’s “like an abandoned slaughterhouse gone fetid and rotten in the summer heat.”

The “smells” article sent me to poetry. Back to the bookshelves. Poets, in their compressed genre, seem to convey scent by evocative words, words that already define a smell, name a smell. Wallace Stevens has only to say, “coffee and oranges in a sunny chair” in Sunday Morning and we smell them. Shakespeare has only to write “The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem/For that sweet odor which doth in it live” in Sonnet 54. He doesn’t have to define the “sweet odor”: he knows we know it. Coffee? Oranges? Cigar smoke? The word itself gives us the smell. Robert Frost, In Neglect: “I smell the earth, I smell the bruised plant…” We do too. Billy Collins, Canada: “O Canada, as the anthem goes,/scene of my boyhood summers,/you are the pack of Sweet Caporals on the table…” The smell of sneaked cigarettes of youth.

Wallace Stevens did try more extensive fragrant description in Approaching Carolina: “Tilting up his nose/he inhaled the rancid rosin, burly smells/Of dampened lumber, emanations blown/From warehouse doors, the gustiness of ropes,/Decays of sacks, and all the arrant stinks…” We sure know what he means. But is this too much? I wonder if he wondered.

In the upcoming Ghost Daughter, seventh in my series, Alice quizzes a young friend about a new boyfriend. Alice blurts, “So he smells good?” She realizes her own standards for a lifetime companion involve “someone who smelled right…” Probably you’ve all had that experience. Maybe that’s how humans perceive certain under-the-radar scents, as “right” or “not right,” as “good” or “threatening.” Based on Zaraska’s article I suppose “good” may mean “right” in terms of the mysterious “major histocompatibility complex.” Not sure that’s how I want to describe it, though.

I’ll keep working on aromatic pages.

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Read more about Helen Currie Foster here.

Blending Sub-genres

By N. M. Cedeño

Do you write in more than one genre? Do you blend genres or sub-genres? I do. Some sub-genres seem to lend themselves easily to blending.

While I write mostly in the mystery genre, sometimes I veer into science fiction. A recent Writer’s Digest article entitled 114 Fiction Sub-Genre Descriptions for Writers allowed me to examine exactly how many sub-genres my stories fall into.

created by Wordclouds

My first published story could be classified as a private detective mystery, as a science fiction mystery, as hard science fiction, and as social science fiction, which I’ve also seen called sociological science fiction. Whatever you call it, the story, entitled A Reasonable Expectation of Privacy, features a private detective living in a future society in which all privacy rights have been eliminated because “only people with something to hide need privacy.” The detective, Pete Lincoln, is still adjusting to the ways society changed while he was recovering from a gunshot-wound-induced coma, making him something of a fish out of water. While I considered the story to be a mystery, it was originally published in Analog: Science Fiction and Fact, a magazine that focuses on hard science fiction.

In terms of blending genres, the classic mystery private eye trope of the outsider detective with his own internal compass working in a world where everyone else abides by a different set of rules blends well with sociological science fiction. The trope serves to ground the reader, putting them in comfortable, familiar territory even if the society around the detective is unfamiliar, otherworldly, or dystopian. So when my broke detective is sitting at his desk and a lady arrives in his office with a problem, the reader knows what to expect, even if the story is set in a future world with no privacy rights.

Bad Vibes Removal Services Series logo by N. M. Cedeno

My Bad Vibes Removal Services series, which currently includes 14 short stories and two novels, also falls into a couple of sub-genres. The stories all feature ghosts and some sort of problem that has to be solved, usually a crime, making them paranormal mysteries. However, the detective in my stories, Montgomery, and his employees, Lea, Kamika, and Patrick, use pseudo-scientific inventions to help them solve their cases. That puts the stories into the private detective mystery and science fantasy sub-genres as well. The Bad Vibes series felt like a natural blend of sub-genres to me. Like strawberries and chocolate, science fantasy pairs well with paranormal mystery.

My novel entitled All in Her Head is an amateur sleuth mystery, a romantic mystery, and also falls into the woman in jeopardy sub-genre. The story features a socially-isolated new college graduate who witnesses an attempted murder and then faces ongoing attacks as the perpetrator tries to remove her as a witness. She joins forces with and falls for the victim’s brother while trying to unmask the villain. Romance and mystery are a natural blend, with the heightened emotions created by the crime adding to the romantic tension.

In the novel For the Children’s Sake, I blended an amateur detective mystery and classic whodunit with what might be labeled a medical mystery or mystery science fiction since the medical condition featured in the plot doesn’t exist. In the novel, a priest who advocated on behalf of children with a rare and deadly-to-other-people genetic condition is murdered and his twin brother works to solve the crime. The medical mystery sub-genres which typically features a medical threat, blends easily with mystery science fiction since the writer can invent medical threats that don’t exist yet, making the story science fiction.

Looking at my unpublished stories, I’ve written cozy mysteries, police procedurals, historical mysteries, and spy thrillers, too. I like to challenge myself to try new things. I look forward to trying my hand at writing in some of the other sub-genres on the Writer’s Digest list.

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N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

William Bit Me. Again. And Jenny Kissed Leigh Hunt.

by Kathy Waller

I was preparing an update to my January 25 post about resolving to read all forty-seven of Anthony Trollope’s novels in 2021. I worked all day yesterday and all day today (with time out to play Candy Crush and Scrabble Online while waiting to think of the next word).

The post was intended to be both light-hearted and erudite—the erudite part was the reason for the Candy Crush time-outs, because although when I was in graduate school I was, at times, extremely erudite, I’m a little out of practice.

And it takes a lot of words to be erudite. The piece kept getting longer and longer, with no end in sight.

So I did what I do. I scrapped it in the interest of a post with no erudition at all.

It begins with a cat bite and ends with a poem.

William the Cat had dental surgery last month. He’s twelve years old and overweight and diabetic, and I spent the day before surgery crying because I was afraid he would be anesthetized and never wake up.

However, he woke up and came home looking just as disgusted as he’d looked when he left home. In the interim, he’d lost five teeth, but he didn’t seem to miss them. In fact, he was downright perky.

Before surgery, David had to lift him onto the bed, where he spent his days monitoring squirrels and sleeping. Now he trips right up those kitty stairs and plops himself down any time he pleases.

He pleases when he smells coconut oil. I rub it on my hands at night for a moisturizer. He licks it off my hands. Sometimes he chases me onto the bed. Sometimes he gets there first and I have to wrestle him out of the way.

Being catlicked feels icky, but he’s elderly and determined, and I tolerate it, up to a point. The encounter usually ends in his getting a head, ear, and throat rub, followed by a tummy rub, accompanied by a rumbling purr (his). Sometimes he then walks across me, threatening to crack a couple of my ribs, to get to the other hand before succumbing to the tummy rub. Then he leaves.

But sometimes he bites. He’s always been a biter—lunge, chomp, lunge, chomp—as part of play. My fingers are toys. But where coconut oil is involved, he becomes the foe—adversary, attacker, assailant. Backbiter.

I’m not talking nips or little love bites. I mean he’s going for a mouthful of flesh and possibly some bone to go with it. And a few puncture wounds.

That’s how I know he still has his fangs. And that they’re in good working order.

Fortunately, the recent dental cleaning has kept me from having to visit the urgent care clinic for antibiotics. A little Neosporin and band-aids have sufficed.

I know about cat bites. Years ago, a stray cat named Perceval (I’d sort of adopted him) bit me when I gave him a tummy rub (not his fault; he turned belly-up, and I thought he wanted a tummy rub, but he’d been down the street chasing other stray cats and was still hyper). I ended up with cellulitis up to the elbow. “My gosh,” said the doctor, “we used to put people in the hospital on an antibiotic drip for that.”

More recently (six years ago, to be exact), while being worked on by a vet tech, William scraped my arm with a fang. Within twenty minutes the scrape was surrounded by a red circle two inches in diameter.

I went to the urgent care clinic. Then I went home and did what writers do: I  wrote a poem about the experience.

But before I can talk about that poem, I must talk about another one: Leigh Hunt’s “Jenny Kissed Me.” It’s one of my favorites. To wit:

Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was a quiet woman. She did not show strong emotion. But one day when writer Leigh Hunt, who had been very ill, arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Surprised and delighted, Hunt memorialized the event in a poem.

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

James Henry Leigh Hunt

And that is how I came to memorialize the almost-bite William gave me at the veterinarian’s office:

William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.

~ Kathy Waller

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Image of cartoon cat by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Image of lion by Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏 from Pixabay

Image of coconut by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Image of Jane Carlyle by Samuel Laurence via Wikipedia

Images of Candy Crush screen  and of William by me

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Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly. Her stories appear in Murder on Wheels, Lone Star Lawless, and Day of the Dark. She’s working on a novel.

Phyllis Whitney’s The Ebony Swan

 

by Francine Paino

Still a favorite and should never be forgotten.

 I was inspired to read The Ebony Swan, after reading Kay Hudson’s, Remembering Phyllis A. Whitney, a master of the mystery genre.

I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed her stories, years ago, and I hadn’t read all of her works, which added up to an impressive 77; the last three or four when she was in her nineties—Wow! What an inspiration to us all.  Her numerous works included 39 Adult mysteries; 4 On Writing; 20 in Juvenile Fiction, and 14 YA. 

Whitney was not only a prolific writer but also a force for advancing women’s recognition in the mystery genre. In the late 1980’s she wrote an open letter to Mystery Writers of America, admonishing them for their refusal to take women in the genre seriously. She pointed out that in their forty-one-year existence only seven women had been awarded the Edgar for best novel. Yes. It was time to become reacquainted with Phyllis Whitney.

I chose one of her last works, The Ebony Swan, a story that encompasses a subject dear to my heart: ballet.

With a light touch, Whitney draws the reader into the worlds she creates. In the Ebony Swan, it is the lush backdrop of the Virginia Tidewater, where we meet Alexandrina (Alex) Montoro, now in her seventies, once a world-renowned ballerina. Alex was married to the late, distinguished author, Juan Gabriel Montoro; they had one child, Dolores. 

The mystery: Why was Alex’s daughter dead? Twenty-five years earlier  Dolores, died when she fell down a flight of steps, and Alex’s granddaughter, Susan, witnessed the tragedy at a very young age.  Ruled an accident,  Alex feared the unknown truth and remained silent.

Did Susan, in a fit of childish rage, push her mother? Juan Gabriel, still alive at

the time, was found unconscious on the hall floor above where Dolores’s body lay. Was he somehow responsible, or was there someone else in the house that day?

After Dolores’s death, the unspoken turmoil and competing passions in the Montoro family exploded. Susan’s father took her away from Virginia and forbade her to have any contact with her maternal grandmother, but after his passing, Susan found herself at a crossroads and decided to return to Virginia.

Despite her grandmother’s joy to be reunited with her only grandchild, Susan is not welcomed by all.  On the surface, her reception is friendly, but there is an undercurrent of fear and resentment. Could a return to the scene of her mother’s death jog Susan’s memory and what will she remember? Who is friend and who is foe, she wonders, while getting to know Alex?  

 A hint of romance adds another dimension, but anger, jealousy betrayal and danger drive the story as the impact of one deed crosses two generations. 

  Some say Whitney’s books start too slow for today’s reading public because she spends time and words immersing us in location, atmosphere, and historical data, making them relevant to her character’s lives and the story; for me, it was a breath of fresh air. Phyllis Whitney’s gift for spinning a yarn with gossamer threads that weave together in beautifully crafted storytelling is still compelling.  

Revisiting Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

by Renee Kimball

“Almustafa, the chosen and the beloved, who was a dawn unto his own day, had waited twelve years in the city of Orphalese for his ship that was to return and bear him back to the isle of his birth.

And in the twelfth year, on the seventh day of Ielool, the month of reaping, he climbed the hill without the city walls and looked seaward; and he beheld his ship coming with the mist. . .
. . .
“And he said to himself:
Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering?
And shall it be said that my eve was in truth my dawn? . . .

The Prophet

Born in Lebanon in 1883, Kahlil Gibran was the son of an erratic and abusive alcoholic father who forced Kahlil’s mother to flee with her four children to the United States; Kahlil was 12 years old.  Although they arrived in New York initially, they quickly relocated to Boston’s Southside, settling within a larger immigrant community.

Gibran’s formal education was interrupted fleeing Lebanon, again through relocation to Boston.  The small family faced obstacles of language and culture, yet, despite this, the mother opened a small store that allowed some income.  During Kahlil’s late teens, a sister and both brothers died from tuberculosis; shortly after, Gibran’s mother died from cancer.  As the remaining guardian of his youngest sister, Gibran continued working his mother’s store while pursuing painting and writing.

Prior to his mother’s death, Kahlil also began writing and translating various articles for Boston’s Arabic /Lebanese newspapers. Through the translation work, he established contacts within the Boston artistic community giving Kahlil the encouragement and patronage he desperately needed.  His mother, however, questioning his friendships with the Art Nouveau/Romantic community, sent him back to Lebanon for more education.  He found his father the same aggressive, angry alcoholic Kahlil had fled years before, and he quickly returned to Boston and his mother.

Gibran’s early attempts at art, similar in style to the Romantic William Blake, failed to find an audience, but his writings, generated a respectable following. This was still not enough to support his sister or himself, particularly after his mother’s passing.  It was during this time that Gibran established a pattern of behavior he followed for the rest of his life—first, seeking acceptance within a supportive artistic community and, second, befriending and securing patronage of wealthy older women.

Boston’s literary critics found Kahlil’s grammar stilted and his spiritual style hard to understand.  Acceptance in the larger literary circles remained out of reach but several years passed before Gibran, upon the advice of friends, relocated to New York.  Once there, Gibran’s prose poems and parable style writings established his reputation as a respected writer.

In 1931, Gibran died from causes related to alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver. He was 48 years of age. His body was returned to Lebanon, where he was buried.

In these troubling times of COVID—confusion and radical change, Gibran’s gentle messages pose as a reminder of the importance of caring for your neighbor, giving without expectation of return, knowing yourself, and loving without judgment.  You do not have look hard to find the love in Gibran’s message, and I, for one, am in favor of more of love everywhere.

 

On Love

…When love beckons you, follow him,
Through his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north
Wind lays waste the garden.

. . .

. . .Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
. . .
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,”
but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love,
If it finds you worthy, directs your course.”

Of Children

 . . .Your children are not your children.
 They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. . .

You are the bows from which your children as living
Arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far. . .

 On Giving

Then said a rich man, Speak to us of Giving.
     And he answered:
     You give but little when you give of your possessions.
     It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
     For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard
     for fear you may need them tomorrow? . . .
. . .
 It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked,
through understanding;
      And to the open-handed the search for one who shall
receive is joy greater than giving.
     And is there aught you would withhold?
     All you have shall some day be given;
     Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors’. . .

 ***

References

Gibran, Khalil. The Prophet. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (1926, 1970).

Naimy. “The Mind and Thought of Khalil Gibran.” Journal of Arabic Literature, vol. 5, 1974, pp. 55–71.

Pantucek, Svetozar. “ANALYSIS OF THE PARABLES OF GIBRAN KHALIL GIBRAN.” Quaderni Di Studi Arabi, vol. 11, 1993, pp. 139–147.

Poetry Foundation. Kahlil Gibran. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/kahlil-gibran

Images via Wikipedia. All are in the public domain. For more information, click on each image.

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A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

What’s in a Character Name?

Authors, how do you name your characters?

Name Cloud by Wordcloud

The average person only has to come up with names when they are naming their children. As anyone who has enjoyed the privilege of naming children knows, this task can be fraught with difficulties. Everyone has different criteria for what they consider important: family connections, name meaning, how well it fits with other family names, how well it sounds when yelled, how common or uncommon the first name is, how many other people have the exact same first and last name combination. Some names come easily months before they are needed and others aren’t finalized until someone threatens not to let a parent leave the hospital until a form is filled out.

Naming a character can be like naming a child. While my characters don’t have a flesh and blood life to ruin if I name them poorly, I do have readers’ responses to worry about. Will the name fit the character in a way that enhances the story? Will readers hate it? Will an unknown person somewhere in the world sue if the character has their name?

Some authors have a gift for inventive naming. J. K. Rowling, for instance, takes the prize for the most-creative names, as far as I’m concerned, with Ian Fleming as a close second. For a great review of some fabulous character names, see this blog post by John Floyd, who provides lists of character names placed in categories such as light-hearted, strong, mysterious, and evil.

Lacking a flair for naming, I resort to a baby name book and Google.

In my first book, a suspense novel called All in Her Head, the main character is named Martha because of the biblical story of Martha and her sister Mary. In that story, Martha is the worrier who doesn’t sit down and relax, the one trying to get everything done for her guests. My character in the book suffers from crippling anxiety. She’s the queen of worriers facing anxiety-inducing life changes: she recently relocated to a new city to start a new job and hasn’t made any friends yet. On top of that, I made her a witness to attempted murder. The poor girl has a lot to handle, but, in spite of her mental health issues, she fights to keep her focus in the face of murderous assaults, explosions, attacks, and car accidents.

In my second novel, a medical mystery entitled For the Children’s Sake, the victim and the main protagonist are twin brothers name Ingall and Ignatius. I chose the names by their meanings. The character of Ingall is a murdered, saintly Catholic priest, while his twin Ignatius is a red-headed Chemist with a temper, who fights to solve his brother’s murder. Ignatius means fiery, ardent, which fit the character. The name Ingall I chose for alliteration with Ignatius and because it was a variant spelling of Angell, meaning angel or messenger of God, which felt appropriate for a saintly clergyman.

Sometimes, I can’t come up with a first and last name combination that I like so I delay by only calling the character by one name. In my Bad Vibes Removal Services paranormal mystery series, the main character is a history graduate student who sees ghosts and likes to try out clothing and hairdo’s from ancient civilizations. Her first name, Lea, came to me easily. However, she didn’t have a last name through multiple short stories until I finally tagged her with Saroyan.

Lea’s detective/ inventor boss was named only as Mr. Montgomery in several short stories and through the novels. I finally gave him a first name in a bonus short story at the end of the second novel, Degrees of Deceit. Since Montgomery is described as six feet tall, pushing 300 pounds, and is a force to be reckoned with who seeks justice for others, I named him Orestes. Orestes means “mountain man,” which fit my mountain of a character, and the original Greek Orestes sought justice for his father’s murder. This delaying in naming a character may be the equivalent of not officially naming your kid until he’s four years old, but at least I got there in the end.

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.

I Am Not a Moral Pauper

by Kathy Waller

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world.
I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
~ Mark Twain
(or possibly W. C. Fields, or . . . )

*

It seemed a valuable medical course, and I recommended it to a lady. She had run down and down and down, and had at last reached a point where medicines no longer had any helpful effect upon her. I said I knew I could put her upon her feet in a week. It brightened her up, it filled her with hope, and she said she would do everything I told her to do. So I said she must stop swearing and drinking, and smoking and eating for four days, and then she would be all right again. And it would have happened just so, I know it; but she said she could not stop swearing, and smoking, and drinking, because she had never done those things. So there it was. She had neglected her habits, and hadn’t any. Now that they would have come good, there were none in stock. She had nothing to fall back on. She was a sinking vessel, with no freight in her to throw over lighten ship withal. Why, even one or two little bad habits could have saved her, but she was just a moral pauper. ~ Mark Twain, Following the Equator

*

So I decide to write about New Years’ Resolutions, and some I’ve made and why I don’t make them any more, and of course, to write about that, I must quote Mark Twain’s remark about smoking, and while searching for the quotation I wonder whether Mark Twain really said it, so I check other  [more reliable] sources and learn that he probably didn’t, and now I’m so fired up about errors in attribution–and errors in everything else–flying around the globe even as I type, that I’m too emotionally jangled to settle down and write about resolutions.

Isn’t that just the way?

Well, whatever. Back to resolutions.

I don’t smoke, never have, so I can’t give it up–well, when I was ten, I did try to smoke a section of mustang grapevine, which my grandfather had warned me would make my tongue sore, but I was afraid of holding a lighted match so close to my face–one could get burned that way–so I gave up.

And another time, three cousins and I–we were eleven or twelve years old–lit one of their mother’s Winstons and each took one puff. Then we decided we’d done something entirely too daring, and their mother was probably already on her way home from town, less than a mile away, so we put the cigarette out, placed the butt on a piece of shingle one of them dug up from somewhere, carried it with great ceremony and a lot of giggling to their burn barrel, and disposed of it.

I guess that means I have smoked but resolved to give it up. One resolution kept.

I am not, however, a moral pauper. I have not neglected my habits. I have plenty of freight I could throw overboard. And I’ve tried, how I’ve tried. But what I intend as jetsam floats back and attaches like barnacles, as it were, to my hull.

I’ve never lost ten, twenty, thirty-five, forty, or any set number of pounds; or completed grad school papers (or blog posts) with more than a few hours to spare; or abstained from chocolate; or organized my purse, office, car, house, or self; or left my keys, reading glasses, or shoes where I could find them; or reached any other goal listed on a December 31st contract.

I know I’m not alone. A proper Victorian girl, Louisa May Alcott was taught to strive for self-improvement but had difficulty following through. At ten years of age, she wrote in her journal “A Sample of Our Lessons”:

‘What virtues do you wish more of?’ asks Mr.L. I answer:—
Patience, Love, Silence,
Obedience, Generosity, Perseverance,
Industry, Respect, Self-denial.
‘What vices less of?’
Idleness, Wilfulness, Vanity,
Impatience, Impudence, Pride,
Selfishnes, Activity, Love of cats.

Alcott is famous for her industry, perseverance, and generosity, but also for wilfulness, impatience, and activity–and thank goodness she retained those “negative” characteristics. American literature would be in a sad state without them.*

Does breaking resolutions bother me? It used to. I have a broad streak of Puritanism. I want to do better. To get it right. When the Methodist minister inquired about me one Sunday morning and my mother told him I was at home trying to finish a grad school paper before slamming into the deadline, he asked, “Is she a perfectionist?” My mother said yes. “I thought so,” he said.

But that was then, and this is 2021. I’ve been at this resolution thing for a long time. A woman at my age and weight** knows how things work.

Contracts can be renegotiated. And when I’m the only party, I’m allowed to set new terms to suit myself. Or to say, “So what?”

Award-winning columnist Ellen Goodman*** wrote something about resolutions that has stayed with me for over ten years:

We spend January walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives … not looking for flaws, but for potential.

I like that. I think Alcott would have liked it, too. In fact, maybe that’s what she did all those years. She saw her own potential, got down to business, and didn’t let up.

That’s the trouble with potential–once you’ve found it, you have to do something about it. Like work.

I suppose the trick is to learn to love the work. Alcott and Twain must have loved what they did. Even when they hated it, they loved it.

Well. What got me thinking about resolutions that I don’t believe in making?

Anthony Trollope. I binge-watched the miniseries adaptation of his The Way We Live Now a couple of weeks ago, for the fourth time. And then I watched the adaptation of Dr. Thorne. And I’m looking for the adaptation of The Pallisers series–I believe it’s seventeen episodes, and I’ve seen it at least three times, but I’d love to watch it again. And The Barchester Chronicles, which is so funny, and I’ve watched it so many times, I’ve practically memorized the dialogue . . .

I love Trollope. I decided to marry my husband when he told me he’d read many of Trollope’s novels. He hadn’t asked me to marry him, but I decided. If he’d read Dickens, I might not have been so impressed. But any man who’d read that many of Trollope’s novels just because he wanted to had to be a man of substance.

If you look at the reviews of The Warden on Amazon, for example, you find, “boring… boring… boring… boring… long and boring…” And, “I couldn’t get into it.” (Good grief, people, it’s a Victorian novel. What did you expect?)

But that is a matter of taste. Some of us think his novels delightful. Satirical. At times, drop-dead funny. The Eustace Diamonds, in The Pallisers series, is a murder mystery.

Trollope wrote forty-seven novels, plus short stories, plus a ton of travel books. He set a writing goal for each day. When he finished one book, he immediately began another. In an autobiography published posthumously, he admitted to writing for money rather than for a Muse. (The admission led to a decrease in sales, because writing for money was considered crass. I don’t know what readers thought Dickens was writing for.)

And Trollope was a civil servant, worked for the British postal service, where he invented the mailbox. 

Now. My dirty little secret is that I’ve never read The Warden. I’ve read its sequel, Barchester Towers. But that’s the only Trollopian novel I’ve read. I have, like many writers of high school book reports, seen the movies.

So I made a resolution: In 2021, I’m going to read all the novels of Anthony Trollope.

If I read one novel a week, I’ll finish with two weeks to spare. My Kindle initially said I could read The Warden in 3 hours and 53 minutes, but a few pages later, it said I could be finished in 4 hours and 15 minutes. Beats me.

In the two weeks left over, I plan to read Brian Doyle’s Martin Marten, which was recommended by a former student, and something by Ann Patchett.

Furthermore, after looking for potential, I’ve resolved to finish writing my own novel. It’s been in the works for a while. Bits and pieces are stored in approximately 3, 508 files on my hard drive (and in the cloud).

I worked on it today, revising an ancient scene for the umpteenth time, and was stuck on whether an Afghan hound named Katie Couric should wear eau de lavender or eau de peppermint when I remembered I had to write this post.

By this time tomorrow I expect to have that issue solved and to have moved on to the next, which will probably involve a goat and a climbing rose.

I don’t write as fast as Trollope.

***

* I’m sure that if Louisa May Alcott stopped loving cats,  she had to do it thousands of times.

** The phrase “A woman at my age and weight” is an allusion to Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, a little book in which a thirty-nine-year-old woman gets tired of taking care of her bachelor brother and takes off with the owner of a horse-drawn bookstore who made a door-to-door stop by the farm and invites her to come along. When the brother catches up with them, he blesses her out:

“Look here, Helen,” said Andrew, “do you think I propose to have my
sister careering around the State with a strolling vagabond? Upon my
soul you ought to have better sense–and at your age and weight!…” ~ Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels

I read Parnassus about fifty years ago and thought that phrase funny, and have waited all this time for an opportunity to use it.

***I know Ellen Goodman said this because it read it myself in her column in The Austin American-Statesman. She was one of my favorite columnists.

****

Images of authors from Wikipedia, public domain
Image of notepad by USA-Reiseblogger from Pixabay
Image of book cover from Amazon

MURDER, MAYHEM, CRIME AND THE GRANDE DAMES OF MYSTERY

By Francine Paino

Overall, fiction provides a brief respite from the realities in our lives. In those few precious hours of distraction, we shut off the conscious minds’ worries and efforts to find solutions to problems or imagining worst-case scenarios. In the face of real-life crises, the subconscious needs to see an issue with fresh eyes and a different perspective, perhaps even finding a new approach. It seems that the most popular category for that escape in the U.S., as revealed by the Nielson Bookscan Services, is the  mystery/thriller/crime novels, which beat all others by two to one. But if we seek to escape from real-life problems, why is this genre more popular than romance or comedy? 

Explanations are offered everywhere, even in psychology periodical. One reason for the popularity of murder, mayhem, and crime is that they allow a safe way to immerse oneself in high drama without the destructive aftermath touching the reader in reality. Another is that it is exciting to be emotionally flung about as if on an amusement park ride. Then there is the experience of entering the mind of the criminal—oh, horror—something we don’t get to see in real life—at least not before the evil deed is done. Readers can also figure out, see or at least suspect what will happen before it happens, and hopefully, by the end, there is the satisfaction of Yes. Makes sense. It was in the clues all along. Most often, that is not the case in life. These reasons help explain why this genre is the most popular, but why are stories with elderly sleuths so well-liked?

Unlike the many Mediterranean, Native American Indian, and Asian cultures, and despite the growing economic difficulties and stresses on those societies’ families, their elderly are respected; their knowledge and wisdom are put to good use, whereas in the U.S., youth has become a preoccupation. It has the mind of younger people so entrapped in worrying about maintaining youthful looks that they often miss the grace, wisdom, and knowledge acquired with age and experience.  Aging in a culture that puts enormous emphasis on being young or appearing to be youthful creates a constant struggle for those susceptible to that fetish, and yet—interest in stories employing older people in mysteries is widespread.

 In mystery fiction, older protagonists have already made the mistakes that younger detectives haven’t yet experienced. Senior detectives, whether professional or amateur, see the world through more experienced and seasoned eyes. Thus, their mistakes are different and perhaps even more interesting. 

Neha Patel, writing for Book Riot, suggests several mystery thriller books starring older women, starting with the Grande Dame of Mystery, Miss Marple, who at age 70 solved the first of her 13 mysteries in Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie.  

Before She Was Helen, by Caroline B. Cooney, explores the dangers of confronting your own past life.

In Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon, the sleuth is 84-years-old, and in Partners In Crime, by Gallagher Gray, Lil is a feisty woman of 84, who considers herself “84-years-young,” and has a love of playing detective and Bloody Marys. (My kinda-gal!) 

A metaphysical mystery/thriller, Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh, has a 72-year-old widow coming across a haunting. The only clue is a note saying, “Her name was Magda.”

Writing for Early Bird Books, Paul Wargelin offers a list of feisty, intelligent, and frequently underestimated amateur sleuths over the age of 60, beginning with Grey Mask, by Patricia Wentworth, about a retired governess. Written two years before Agatha Christie’s first Miss Marple novel, Ms. Wentworth went on to write 32 Miss Silver mysteries.  

In Tish Plays the Game, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Tish Carberry isn’t suited for retirement activities, preferring to use her idle hands and mind to solve mysteries.

Stephanie Matteson’s Murder at the Spa introduces Charlotte Graham, a successful actress who, after four-decades of screen and stage success, takes on the role of a sleuth in real life.  

“Does age really bring wisdom?” asks Rochelle Melander. She writes, “Recent studies affirm this adage. Older adults…recover quickly after making a mistake and use their brains more efficiently than younger adults.” In Melander’s article Crime Fiction: Savvy Sleuths Over 50, she offers some fascinating crime stories featuring elderly sleuths.

Celine, by Peter Heller. Celine is an artist and P.I. in her late 60s. In Rage Against the Dying, by Becky Masterman, a 59-year-old ex-FBI agent is haunted by the unsolved murder of her protégé. After an attempt on her life, she feels the need to unearth the truth. 

             Not to be accused of gender discrimination, here are two books starring elderly gentlemen. Don’t Ever Get Old, by Daniel Friedman, about an 87-year-old retired Memphis police officer, Buck Schatz, who learns that a Nazi officer who’d tortured him might still be alive with a stash of hidden gold. He teams up with his grandson, and together, they get more than they bargained for.

Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara, is set in L.A. and Hiroshima. Japanese-American gardener Mas Arai, age 69, is hiding a secret. He finds himself facing bachi—the spirit of retribution when a stranger shows up asking about his old gambling buddy Joji Haneda. Joji is murdered, and Mas must try to make things right.

Perhaps one of the qualities that fascinate readers, and they may not even realize it, is that often the elderly almost disappear, even standing in plain sight. They are overlooked, leaving them free to move about, observe, listen, eavesdrop, and study circumstances without anyone even realizing what they’re doing. 

These, and many other senior Grande Dames and Grands Hommes of mystery, show how being older does not mean life stops. There is still inquisitiveness, a desire for adventure, and the need to use one’s brain. There are still mysteries and crimes to be solved—and they do it with humor, grace, and aplomb.

 Grab a bunch and enjoy!

For more on the subject of older sleuths, go to:

Wargelin, Paul. 16 Cozy Mysteries Starring Female Detectives http://earlybirdbooks.com/16-cozy-mysteries-starring-female-detectives 1/17/21

Patel, Neha, 10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women. http://bookriot.com/mystery-and-thriller-books-starring-older-women/ 1/17/21

Melander, Rochelle. Crime Fiction: Savvy Sleuths Over 50. http://www.nextavenue.org/crime-fiction-savvy-sleuths-over-50 1/16/21
Evans, David. Do you Love Murder Mysteries? You’re Not Alone. Here’s Why. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/can-t-we-all-just-get-along/201904/do-you-love-murder-mysteries-youre-not-alone-heres-why  1/16/21
Bourbon, Melissa. Why Do We Enjoy Mysteries So Much? https://melissabourbon.com/for-writers/why-do-we-enjoy-mysteries-so-much/#:~:text=We%20learn%20about%20how%20others,world%20that’s%20captivated%20our%20imagination 1/17/21.

Ray Bradbury on Writing and Life

 

by Renee Kimball

 

“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.”

                                                            ― Ray Bradbury

“. . . And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.  We must earn life once it has been awarded us.  Life asks for reward back because it has favored us with animation…Secondly, writing is survival.  Any art, any good work, of course is that.  Not to write, for many of us, is to die…”
                                                Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Courtesy of Amazon.com

In 1994 , Ray Bradbury published Zen in the Art of Writing; he was 74 years old.  Bradbury began his writing life at twelve years of age and committed the rest of his life to writing one thousand words a day, if not more.

Only 176 pages, Zen is a succinct and instructive work.  The book deftly uses autobiographical material to lay the groundwork as a guidebook for writers; but more, it is an instructional manual for creating a rich, productive, and happy life.

Finding Bradbury’s Zen was an unexpected pleasure.  It is doubtful I would have known of it if it had only been available in hardback.  Because the electronic edition just “happened” to come up on my E-reader, I downloaded and began reading.  (Photo Courtesy of Amazon).

Courtesy of Amazon.com

Zen’s language is reminiscent of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but that takes nothing away from his message.  In an interview with Futurism Magazine five years before his death in 2012, Bradbury had reached a pinnacle of success known by “living authors.”  Some critics have named him the “greatest science fiction author of all time” but he was more than a science fiction author; he was also a “humanist-philosopher” (Futurism).

Bradbury’s career began as a short story writer during the 50s.  He became a novelist, evolved into writing poems, as well as theatre and movie screenplays.

A collection of Bradbury’s short stories became the basis of his first novel, The Martian ChroniclesThe Illustrated Man followed in 1951, and Fahrenheit 451 in 1954, both still read in high school English classes today.  Bradbury is credited with bringing the science fiction genre into mainstream literature.  The move to writing television screen plays was a natural progression. Gene Roddenberry, Bradbury’s friend and the creator of Star Trek, invited Bradbury to write for the popular show.  Bradbury became the primary writer for the show for many years; the series became a monumental success, spawning sub-culture worship status still going today.

Engaging thoughts found in the slim volume of Zen:

The need to write every day. . .

“I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy.  Two days and I am in tremor.  Three and I suspect lunacy. . .An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet running in circles. . . Zen (p. ixx).

 On writing with enthusiasm, and finding ideas:

“. . .If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.” (p.4).

. . .But I wanted to show what we all have in us, that it has always been there, and so few of us bother to notice.  When people ask me where I get my ideas I laugh.  How strange—we’re so busy looking out, to find ways and means, we forget to look in.” (p. 35.

Bradbury’s “formula for writing”. . .

Courtesy of Pixabay.com

“. . .So, simply then, here is my formula. . .

 “What do you want more than anything else in the world? What do you love, or what do you hate?

“Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story. . .” (p. 6).

When he was twenty-two, after ten years of struggling, Bradley finally wrote what he believed was his first good short story, “The Lake.”  He earned twenty dollars.  For years afterwards, “The Lake” was continuously published in a variety of magazines; while he was surprised, Bradbury was infinitely pleased.

President George W. Bush, Ray Bradbury, and Laura Bush at Bradbury’s acceptance of the National Medal of Arts , 2004. Wikipedia.

When reading Zen, if you are a certain age, the reader can believe that being with Ray Bradbury would be comfortable, undemanding, enjoyable—he is the model for a “good friend.”  Bradbury is the ultimate family man, devoted to his wife and four daughters.  He had strong life-time friendships —not only in business, but in life.  He writes about his gratefulness to his wife and his daughters and joy they brought him and the loving home they shared.  He never shies away from sentimental feelings of family and friends that seem to escape modern writing, he acknowledges his missteps and successes with humor and truth.

Bradbuy’s Wisdom

“Read poetry every day of your life.  Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition.  It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. . .” (p. 36).

. . .

“You say you don’t understand Dylan Thomas? Yes, but your ganglion does, and your secret wits, and all your unborn children. Read him, as you can read a horse with your eyes, set free and charging over an endless green meadow on a windy day… (p. 37).”

. . . “Read those authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think the way you would like to think. . .” (p. 38).

“. . . The constant remains:  the search, the finding, the admiration, the love, the honest response to materials at hand, no matter how shabby they one day seem, when looked back on…” (p. 41).

“. . . By living well, by observing as you live, by reading well and observing as you read, you have Your Most Original Self.” (p. 43).

In Zen, the reader will find a template for a full life, a joyful life. Bradbury did not just give advice, he lived what he told others to do: work with passion and creativity, write every day with enthusiasm, find joy in whatever you do, and nourish your inner self, your inner muse.  Read everything, and experience the wonder of the people in your life, the world around you, and most importantly sprinkle everything you do and say with Love—success will follow.

Courtesy of Pixabay

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

― Ray Bradbury

###

REFERENCES

Bradbury, Ray. Zen in the Art of Writing.
Bradbury, Ray. 1990. Zen in the art of writing. Santa Barbara, Calif: Joshua Odell Editions, electronic publication 2012, Amazon.com Kindle Edition.

Ray Bradbury. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ray-Bradbury

Full Cycle Publications. Interview with Ray Bradbury. 07.20.2019. https://www.fullcyclepublications.com/interview-with-ray-bradbury/

Goodreads. Bradbury Quotes.  https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1630.Ray_Bradbury

###

A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters both dogs and cats and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.

Year-End Assessments for Writers

by N. M. Cedeño

Writers, if you don’t already assess your writing habits at the end of the year, you should consider doing it. Many companies require employees to complete year-end assessments to help them set work goals for the coming year. You are your own employer. Do you assess your work and set goals as a writer? Do you take stock of your current work habits and output at the end of the year in order to decide how you want to proceed with your work?

image from Pixabay

Take a few minutes to evaluate yourself.

While it’s true that employee year-end assessments can be pointless hassles, the goal of the assessments is valid. People have to know where they stand before they can set goals for where they want to be. This kind of self-knowledge is likely more important to writers than to employees in large businesses. Most employees have no control over their workload and typically can make only minor changes to processes and procedures. Writers, on the other hand, control their own schedule and output, so self-assessment should have more value to writers than to the average company employee.

What should you take into consideration as you assess your work?

image from Pixabay

Authors may use multiple measures of productivity: words written in a year, manuscripts completed, number of times manuscripts were submitted somewhere, or pieces published. Knowing these benchmarks for the current year can help authors set goals for the next year.

Do you want to increase your word-count output? Then, tally your output for this year and set a reasonable goal for the next year, something that will be a challenge, but not an impossibility. Are you writing constantly, but not submitting things for publication or, if self-publishing, only publishing rarely? Review your submissions or look at your publication schedule and challenge yourself to do more.

Why take stock and set goals when everything changes as you go?

Image from Pixabay

Even when the world turns upside down and a new reality inflicts itself upon everyone, having goals can keep writers on track. Goals allow them to see the way forward and adapt when the world obscures the view. The plan might need adapting along the way, but that’s true of most things in life.

If you have no set plans, you’ll have nothing to turn to as a guide when the world or life-in-general throws you a curveball. Set goals to help you focus.

Last January, before the pandemic set in, I set a goal to write more short stories, aiming for at least one per month. I set another goal to submit my short stories to markets at least once a month. In spite of the pandemic, I mostly accomplished those goals. The upheaval and turmoil threw me off-course for March, but because I had goals in place, I got back on track in April. I ended up with 10.5 short stories (December’s isn’t quite done yet) and one novella-length manuscript. My Excel spreadsheet of submissions shows I exceeded my submission goal with 20 short stories submitted to markets this past year.

I had hoped to start a new novel this year, but that goal fell by the wayside. In spite of that and the distraction of the pandemic, I still managed to produce about 71,000 words of new fiction and almost 6000 words in blog posts. With that knowledge, I can set my output goals for the coming year.

The first week of January, I plan to set my goals for 2021. Because I know where I stand, I can see ways to stretch and improve. How about you? Will you do year-end assessments and set goals for the coming year?

*****

N. M. Cedeño is a short story writer and novelist living in Texas. She is currently working on a paranormal mystery series called Bad Vibes Removal Services. The second novel in the series, entitled Degrees of Deceit, came out in August 2019.  Ms. Cedeño is active in Sisters in Crime- Heart of Texas Chapter.