Chopped – It’s What’s for Dinner!

When my husband retired, we went from two paychecks per month to one retirement check per month. Although it’s about the same amount of money, paying all our bills in one shot really puts in perspective how much we splurged on frivolous things, like fast food, restaurant meals, junk food, and the like.

What were we thinking?

A fast food meal for a family of four costs about $8 per person, or $32 total. For just a couple of dollars more we could have bought enough groceries to last the entire day.

  • Milk – $2
  • Eggs – $1
  • Pancake mix – $2
  • Bacon – $4
  • Lunch meat – $3
  • Cheese – $3
  • Loaf of bread – $2
  • Apples – $3
  • Peanut butter – $3
  • Hamburger – $5
  • Spaghetti noodles – $2
  • Sauce – $2
  • Garlic bread – $2

Wow, right?

The rigid structure of our incoming finances has not only made us more responsible, but it also holds us more accountable for our choices. Sure we can splurge on Bojangles Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and a trip to a restaurant during the first week of the month. We might, however, regret it during those last few days when the finances are scant and the start of the next month seems light years away.

This new budget not only affects how we shop for food, but also how we prepare it. Toward the end of the month every mealtime feels a little like an episode of chopped. I could probably host an episode right now.

  • a can of chicken, animal crackers, and mandarin oranges
  • ham slices, Italian dressing, and puffed rice cereal
  • pizza bagels, microwave popcorn, and two apples that are starting to wither 

So what’s the point?

The point is sometimes life throws us a curve ball. How we decide to handle it determines what happens next. It’s not so different than the plot of a book.

For example, Maggie Sawyer planned to marry a lawyer and spend the rest of her life raising a family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Before the family was ever started, life threw her a curve ball when her fiance decided to dally with his cougar of a boss.

She high tailed it home to North Carolina to emotionally recuperate for a few months. Life throws her another curve ball when the local postman winds up murdered and she inherits his golden retriever.

How do you handle curve balls?

Do you catch them? Swing and a miss? If you’re an author, how do your characters handle them? Let me know in the comments section!

5 Offbeat News Headlines and How Authors Can Use Them

Some of the most curious headlines are listed in MSN Offbeat News. This is my favorite section because these headlines inspire the most unique characters for my books. Here are seven recent selections and how I might choose to use them in a book.

1. Pranksters Block Road with 25-foot Triceratops
The Treasure Pines senior class prank involved blocking main street with the rival high school’s mascot, a 25-foot fiberglass triceratops. The problem is the next morning when the principal of Treasure Pines High is found impaled on one of the animal’s steel horns.

2. Someone Actually Came Up with a Breakup Cake
When Grandma Opal’s boyfriend dumps her for the newcomer at bingo, she fuels her angst into a new home-based bakery business offering cakes for offbeat life situations.

3. Rescue Dog Raises a Paw, Gets Sworn in as Mayor of Reno
Harvey Wallbanger, the town’s favorite golden retriever, helps find the mayor’s missing toddler granddaughter. To show her thanks, the mayor swears him in as mayor-for-a-day.

4. N.J. Mailman Locks Himself in Truck as Wild Turkeys Attack
A flock of wild turkeys has become a menace in Treasure Pines. When they chase the mailman into his truck, nobody expects to find his corpse there several hours later, with an ace of spades playing card taped to his forehead.

5. Just 2 Protesters Show up for anti-Beyoncé Rally
Two new families move to Treasure Pines and agree the high school students would benefit from a dress code–complete with uniforms! Unfortunately they’re the only two who show up at school to picket on Meet the Teacher night.

Another great source of odd bits of information is Mental Floss. Here are five articles I recently enjoyed reading on the site:

What are some of your favorite offbeat headlines? Do you have any sites like Mental Floss bookmarked that you use as a reference? Let’s chat about it in the comments section!

5 Ways to Add Sports to Fiction for Non-Sports Fans

If you met me in real life, you would not accuse me of being an athlete. And you’d be right! Aside from NFL games featuring Peyton Manning as the quarterback, I’m just not a sports fan. Give the choice, I’ll almost always select Hallmark Mysteries & Movies over ESPN.

The main characters of my books aren’t really into sports, either. If they were, then I’d have to know about the sport, which would mean watching it. No thanks!

Eliminating sports from my books, however means eliminating potential readers. Here are five ways that I have either used or plan to use to introduce sports into my books to add interest.

1. Cheer for the Home Team – Cozy mysteries take place in small towns. Small towns typically have some kind of local sports team or league that requires participation. A local ball field doubles as the perfect venue for looking back at a childhood memory to show more insight into a character. Or finding a dead body.

2. Opportunity to Create New Sports or Teams – My cozy mystery series takes place in the fictional town of Treasure Pines, North Carolina, which was founded by a notorious female pirate. Of course they’d have a pirate for their high school’s mascot. I don’t have to know much about baseball to include lines like:

The town was abuzz with everyone talking about the Pirates’ win over the Martindale Gophers, a victory that put them in the running for a regional title.

This line shows readers that the Treasure Pines Pirates are on a winning streak and the town of Marindale (whose mascot is the gopher) is geographically nearby without blatantly telling them. It’s even better to flesh this out with dialogue.

3. Minor Characters as Sports Fans or Athletes – Just because my main character isn’t a sports fan doesn’t mean she won’t have friends and relatives who are. The less they feature in the book, the less I need to know about sports, right? Perhaps, as long as the ski pole Elmer Jones uses as a walking stick doesn’t wind up wrapped around the neck of his lifelong enemy, Cam Livingston. Or if Tucker

4. Include Non-Traditional Sports – Maybe my main character dislikes professional sports but she participates on a bowling league. Other sports and activities in this category include:

  • fishing
  • archery
  • martial arts
  • auto racing
  • horseback riding
  • kayaking
  • yoga
  • dancing

There are really too many to list in this blog article, but the activities referenced above can help you get started.

5. Create a New Sport – Make up something new. Include rules for playing and other details in the back of your book. You could unknowingly invent the next big pastime.

Do you like reading books that mention sports and athletics? Are you a fan of sports? If you’re a writer, then do you incorporate them in your works? Let’s talk about it in the comments section!

Why I Kissed Blackbeard Goodbye

Here’s a plot twist I never saw coming.

During the 2015 MAFWI conference, I attended a workshop led by Jim Rada, an author who hails from Pennsylvania. He stressed the importance of research when writing historical novels. This is also important, however, when writing any works that mentions a real person, trademark, or other type of brand.

I knew this would mean quite a bit of rewriting for HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS, my collection of 13 strange and inspired by true stories, but surely I’d be smart enough not to let it happen again. Right? Absolutely!

It was more like absolutely not. It started when I read How to Use Brand Names in Your Fiction (Just Like TFIOS), a guest blog article written by Kathryn Goldman on the Better Novel Project blog.

Imagine my dismay at realizing the way I displayed Blackbeard in my book could bring up some serious issues. The fictional character based on the real person didn’t show in the best light. There was only one thing to do.

I kissed Blackbeard goodbye.

Then I went in an exploration into the past to find a new pirate. Hours later, when complaining about the dilemma to my husband, he asked, “Why don’t you just make up a pirate?”

Excited, I returned to my research. Because I’m only about 1/3 of the way into my book, I don’t need to rip it out and start over. And because my new pirate is a fictional female with a sweet back story, I won’t feel obligated to force my plot to follow someone else’s facts.

I’m more excited about my book every day, and can’t wait to share the final product with you all.

7 Reasons Why I Love Being Type B

The Type A and Type B personality metrics date back to the 1950s, and describes contrasting characteristics among people. Generally speaking, Type A’s are the successful go-getters while Type B people are slothful fun seekers. That’s not entirely true, however.

My to-do list looks more like many layers of subway graffiti art. My desk is rather messy, covered in piles of things I’ll get to…eventually. My schedule is as flexible as any master yogi.

The Type A people in my life ask, often with a look of sheer horror on their faces, “But doesn’t that bother you?

Absolutely not! I am Type B and loving it, and here’s why:

  • According to researchers, Type B people are more laid back and patient. That means less chronic stress and a healthier cardiovascular system. It doesn’t get me out of eating my vegetables or going to the gym, but it is a big plus.
  • Type B people are more fun, and we’re great at delegating. It means we’re more rested and less over-worked. We’re also more diplomatic, and more likely to compromise rather than take sides in disagreements between friends or co-workers.
  • We look at the big picture. Sure, we might overlook small details, but we Type B folks are looking on down the road, past today’s petty frustrations and on ahead to bigger and brighter goals.
  • Type B’s use failure as a learning tool. Don’t get me wrong. We love success as much as anyone, but if we have to take a step back then we use what we learned to bounce back and try again.
  • We are positive people. We try to see the good in everyone. Because of this, we are more likely to give someone a second chance. Or maybe even a third. We’re awesome that way.
  • Type B folks are creative. Look at us. We’re comfortable in our chaos and thrive under looming deadlines.
  • We live in the moment and enjoy every minute of life. There’s something about a Type B person that puts other people at ease no matter what their personality types.

I’m pretty content being a Type B, even if my Type A husband and I butt heads now and again. And Maggie Sawyer, the main character of my first Treasure Pines mystery series is fairly Type B as well.

What type are you? Are you a well-organized Type A who loves structure and organization? Are you a creative Type B with a free spirit that goes with the flow? Maybe you’re a little bit of both. Let me know in the comments section, below. I’d love to hear your take on it!

How a Rainy Night Cured my Writer’s Block

I was smack dab in the middle of the first draft of my first full-length cozy mystery when I fell into a rut. This wasn’t an “I’ll be over here playing Candy Crush for a few days” kind of rut. This was an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up and I’ll be over here until someone comes along with a crowbar to wedge me from this space” kind of rut.

Everywhere I looked, there were problems. The writing seemed stilted. The characters felt flat. And the plot? Boring with a capital “B”. Every time I opened the file, I groaned and closed it again. I went on like this for a couple of weeks.

Then I was driving home from my shift at our community center’s local volunteer-run library. It was pouring down rain and my oldest son, who is 18 and also a member of my writing group, was with me. As it usually does, our conversation turned to writing and our current projects.

I rounded a corner and the headlights of my truck swept over a cluster of rocky brush at the edge of the woods bordering the road. For a split second, it looked like a body lying there in the rain. Suddenly, I had an idea. And this idea led to so many other ideas.

  • What if it was raining during the opening scene of my book?
  • What if it rained that entire weekend?
  • What if the body was found in the rain?
  • What if the rain washed away some of the evidence?
  • What if…?

The ideas rained down until they formed a stream of thought that spilled into the rut and, as a result, ejected me right out of it. I got home and started writing up a storm, making small tweaks that added up to big changes.

Now my characters have a reason to be excited. The story directs the plot. And I can’t wait to find out who killed off old…well, you’ll have to read it to find out!

What do you do when writer’s block hits? Are you likely to sit and wallow in it? Do you have any tried and true tips to share? Let’s discuss them in the comments section!

Confirmation in Unlikely Places

After attending the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers conference in August, 2015, I was on my way to take possession of a rescued crested gecko when I got the idea to write a cozy mystery that would delve into some of Blackbeard’s history.

I’m about 2/3 of the way into the book and the worst thing happened. I lost focus. For a few weeks my book stayed closed. The pages began gathering dust. Terrible thoughts entered my head, like: Should I scrap what I have and rewrite everything in limited first-person point of view?

In case you’re wondering, I posed that to my fellow Mountain Scribes (my writing group) at our First Annual Christmas Party and the answer was a resounding, “No!”

Then two wonderful things happened. The first was that I confessed my fears to my friend David. He quoted lines from a NaNoWriMo Pep Talk by Neil Gaiman. Knowing that Neil Gaiman suffers from these same qualms actually made me feel a lot better.

The second thing happened when I was randomly looking at bits of analytical information from the Becky Muth Author Page on Facebook. When trying to decipher who in the world (literally, places like Nigeria and Las Vegas and Australia, even!) liked my page, I saw this:

There you have it. One of my fans speaks pirate. If knowing that Neil Gaiman suffers from “I’m not good enough”-itis wasn’t enough, then having a fan who speaks pirate is more than plenty. Whoever you are, you pirate-speaking-fan of mine, than you. I so needed this.

Are you a writer who found confirmation in unlikely places? Do you feel like your train of thought derailed around Chapter 8 and you’re not sure how to get back on track? Let me hear about it in the comments section. I’d love to talk about this with you!