CI – Claire Davis

 

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CI = Character Interview, not Confidential Informant. 🙂

Welcome to the world of Claire Davis, side-kick of Melanie Hogan in the Melanie Hogan Cozy Mysteries, and co-owner of Melanie’s hair salon, A Cut Above.

Can you provide a physical description of yourself?
Hmmm…that’s kind of awkward. Let’s see…I’m taller than Melanie, but that doesn’t take much. I’m 5’6, to be exact, so I wear flats a lot. I’m African-American with brown eyes and kinky-curly hair. I love bright-colored hair scarves and bright colors in general. I love to work out so there’s that, too. Melanie and I couldn’t possibly be more opposite from one another but it works for us. Our friendship is as solid as they come.

Where do you live?
I’m originally from Southern Florida, but I’ve lived in Birch Haven, Minnesota for several years.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Paris! The city of love. Or Italy. I love the happy, robust Italian families I’ve see in movies. They’re always hugging and kissing and eating meals together.

What is your favorite pastime?
Being with my daughter, Sydney. She’s eight years old and looks so much like her daddy, my late husband. Tyler was in the military and died while on duty.

What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?
Saturday’s are spent at the salon. Mel and I own A Cut Above so Saturday’s really not a weekend for us. Our weekends are Sunday and Monday. Those days I love to spend with Syd, Mel, Jack—when he’s in Birch Haven—Rubie, and at Rose’s house with Melanie. Rose is Melanie’s grandmother and the sweetest, most kind-hearted, yet spirited, woman I know.

What is your biggest secret?
I don’t think I’ll ever be over my late husband. Tyler was everything to me. I’m super lucky to have my current boyfriend—and the only once since Tyler—Cole Mahoney, but I can’t ever give him my whole heart. Tyler will always have a huge part of that.

What makes you angry?
Life is too short to be angry.

What brings you the most joy?
My friends and family. There is nothing better than spending time with them and watching them when they don’t even know I am.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
When one of my flouncy-bouncy skirts got caught in the wind and flew up. Melanie never lets me forget that.

What is your most admirable character trait?
That’s the one thing Melanie and I have in common. I’m super loyal. Also, I don’t let things bother me. I don’t hold grudges or resentments. Life is too short for that stuff.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
Maybe to be a little more discerning about who I trust. I want to believe everyone is good and for the most part, I truly believe they are. But every now and then I’m reminded that not everyone is nice. Especially lately with all the trouble makers Melanie has been attracting lately.

You can catch me in Shear Madness, Shear Deception, Shear Malice, and soon in Shear Murder.

Carpe Diem

 

Character Interview

Grab a Cup of Java and get to Know Melanie Hogan

This month I’ll be posting character interviews from the world of the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, which thus far includes Shear Madness, Shear Deception, Shear Malice, and coming in 2018, Shear Murder. This week’s interview is with Melanie Hogan, the protagonist in the series. I hope you enjoy getting to know Melanie. 

Can you provide a physical description of yourself?
Other than my greener than average eyes, similar to a cat’s eyes according to Claire and Jack, I’m Plain Jane. I don’t like a lot of makeup, and typically wear my hair loose or in a ponytail. My favorite things to wear are jeans, black boots or black sandals, both with chunky high heels to make me a bit taller than my five-foot-two frame, and hoop earrings. I have hoops of every size and color.

Where do you live?
In a small town called Birch Haven, Minnesota. It’s up north about an hour from St. Cloud.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I rather like staying home or at my Nana’s. Those are my two favorite places in the world. If I ever get adventurous and travel outside of my comfort zone, I’d visit Ireland or Scotland.

What is your favorite pastime?
Hanging out with my best friends—Claire, Jack, and Rubie. And, of course, with Nana in her kitchen. She loves to teach me how to cook and we’ve made some pretty good progress, proving there’s hope for me in the kitchen. I’m also kind of a loner and love spending time alone.

What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?
Owning a salon, Saturdays are spent neck deep in hair color and perm solutions, inhaling fumes from artificial nails and hair spray, and listening to the hum of blow dryers, stationary hair dryers and the chatter and laughter from our clientele. I love hearing the secrets they tell. On the wall of my salon hangs a plaque that says If These Walls Could Talk. If they could talk indeed. Sundays, I love to spend hanging out at my log house. I enjoy sitting on the balcony that overlooks the lake reading my devotionals, drinking coffee, and an occasional glass of wine with Claire. I also like to take my little boat out on the lake and drift.

What is your biggest secret?
Well, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore if I told you, now, would it?

What makes you angry?
Thanks to my birth mother, Violet, and my ex-husband, Cain, infidelity and dishonesty. I harbor just a wee resentment toward them but am working through it slowly. I might just get there before I die. Maybe. Also, anyone who hurts my friends and Nana.

What brings you the most joy?
Nana, Claire, Jack, Rubie, and Claire’s daughter, Sydney. I know it’s kind of creepy, but I love children, and since I can’t have them, sometimes I pretend she’s mine.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
Showing up on the first day of beauty school wearing the ugly black polyester uniforms when everyone else showed up in “cool” clothes. Apparently, everyone else read their welcome and orientation packet better than I did. Which is super unlike me. I’m typically a more thorough and follow-the-rules kinda gal than the average person. Well, until a couple of years ago, that is, when dead bodies started littering my life.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
My sarcasm. But it is what it is.

What is your most admirable character trait?
I’m more loyal than a dog to my friend and to Nana. That and I’m probably the most stable person you’ll ever meet. Well…there, again, until a couple years ago. My life was so stable, planned, and predictable, that I longed for some action and spontaneity. And boy did I get it! I quickly learned to be careful what I wish for. Carpe Diem

 

Development of the Melanie Hogan Cozy Mysteries

Melanie Hogan Cozy Mysteries
I’m often asked by my readers, “How do you come up with your ideas?” To which I chuckle and joke, “My mind is a scary place.”

Okay, so maybe I’m not joking. Not completely, anyway. But since I write cozy mysteries and suspense, both that contain “clean” romance, I think I’ll pass my mother’s inspection.

When asked “What’s a cozy mystery?” my answer is always, “Something you would be comfortable with your grandmother reading. Think Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.” That usually does the trick. In fact, it was watching so many episodes of Murder She Wrote that made me fall in love with mysteries, though I don’t think they were coined “cozies” back then.

My cozy mystery series is set in small town Birch Haven, Minnesota, which is essentially its own character. The steady cast includes the protagonist, Melanie Hogan, who co-owns a hair salon with her best friend, Claire Davis. Enter Jack Dancy, the third musketeer with Melanie and Claire. Jack is a clothing and jewelry designer from Minneapolis. Add Rubie and the rest of the stylists who work in the salon, as well as Melanie’s grandmother, Nana, a retired nurse who raised Melanie since she was four years old, and Melanie’s go-to. Nana is modeled after my own grandmother who was my go-to. Most of Nana and Melanie’s chats occur around the kitchen table or when Nana is giving Melanie one of her famous cooking lessons. Each book includes one of Nana’s recipes at the end. In fact, Shear Madness, book one, includes two recipes. The cast is diverse in every way possible, which makes for fun interactions and endless story lines.

Birch Haven is a combination of two towns I’ve lived in, towns that hold a special place in my heart. Melanie’s lake house is fashioned after the house I grew up in. So when writing the books, I get to be back in those places again, which makes it fun and more intimate. When I read the newspaper, watch TV, or read a book, I will frequently ask myself, “So what if that happened in Birch Haven?” From there it takes on a life of its own.

As each day unfolds, it’s ripe with potential storylines. It’s a matter of training the mind to actively think like a writer rather than passively watch and listen. Just be careful what you say to another in the grocery line or waiting for a latte at Starbucks, because if a writer is within earshot, it could end up in a book.

The series includes three books so far, Shear Madness, Shear Deception, and Shear Malice, which was just released on June 11th. Shear Murder is in the works and scheduled for a 2018 release. Stay tuned for more.

Carpe Diem

 

And in the Beginning…

Beginnings

For those who have read my bio, you know my writing years began at the tender age of four. I took my fat little crayons in my fat little fingers and decided to experiment with words on the knotty pine walls of the living room. My parents were not impressed! But even back then, I had something to say and writing was the natural way for me to say it.
As the years went by, that didn’t change. The only thing that did change is that I graduated from crayon on walls to pen on paper. For that, my parents were grateful.

In my teen years, it was writing that helped me work through the tumultuous teen emotions and heartbreak. Many summer days, I lay in our little fishing boat, tied up to the dock, rocking as waves rolled up against the shoreline and lapped the bottom of the boat. I clutched my pen and paper and wrote poetry like there was no tomorrow. The words flowed endlessly. When I wasn’t in the boat, I was perched on the end of the dock, my feet dangling in the water, or plopped on my bed in my basement bedroom, crafting more poetry.

Fishing Boat
Fast forward a few years. I was still writing when I got pregnant with my first son. I penned 2 ½ novels (yup, not just 2, but 2 ½), which are still in boxes in my home office. I took a few writing classes, too. Then came my second son. The writing stopped. There was no spare time.

When my second son was in high school, I got my Associates of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. While everyone else was impressed, I knew it wasn’t what I was meant to do. My heart longed for the days when I was a writer.

When my second son graduated from high school, I followed my dream. I got back to writing and haven’t looked back. While I still maintain a day job in the legal field, my true calling, my avocation, is writing.

As I think about the journey to where I am now—five published books, two more in the works—there are three suggestions I have for beginning authors.

1.) Find a writing community, or even one or two other writers. Non-writers, family and friends included, think we just sit down, write and voila! A book appears. A non-writer can’t possibly know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a piece of creative fiction—or non-fiction. And if that’s the only mindset you’re subjected to and hearing on your writing journey, you’ll start believing it yourself. Eventually you’ll start to think of yourself a failure when you’re unable to just sit down and magically produce a novel.

Additionally, the non-writer can view writing as a waste of time unless the writer is making a lot of money. You may hear that you should be spending your time on something more worthwhile, something “important,” whatever that means. “Important” means different things to different people. Writing is hugely important to me. And if you’re a writer, it will be to you, too. It’s not about how much money we make (though, I imagine you wouldn’t catch any of us complaining if we made a dollar to two), it’s about a need to express the creative side that’s burning inside of us. And it’s work. Hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

That being said, not all non-writers think this way. And if you feel they are, it’s important to ask yourself if there’s any validity to your feelings or if it’s your own insecurity and self-doubt that makes it feel that way. We writers are frequently tormented with self-doubt. It’s what many of us do best. Either way, let it go. If you don’t already, you’ll soon have a writing community reminding you you’re not alone. 

2.)  Plan your week and schedule in writing time. When first starting out, set a timer and just write. Don’t get up under any circumstance. Not for anything. This exercises your butt-in-chair muscle, even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time. And don’t open the Internet to check anything. Your email will still be there when you’re done with your writing session, and your Facebook likes will still be there waiting. Even hard-core social media addicts can stay away for 15 minutes. If not, invest in Freedom. After you’ve created a habit of writing, play around to discover which method most accommodates your lifestyle—continue with timed writing sessions, decide on a set number of pages per day, word count goals, etc.

3.)  Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in the writing industry. We all have mentors and people we admire in the writing industry (think Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Joanna Penn) but don’t strive to be just like them. You are you. And you are fabulous. You have something unique to contribute to the reading world. And it would be a waste to deprive the world of that because you’re trying to be like someone else. As well, comparing yourself to other writers is the kiss of death. I struggle with comparisonitis as much as the next person, but I recognize it for what it is and kick it to the curb as soon as I realize that it’s trying to sink its fangs into my writing life.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

And now it’s back for week three of Camp NaNo and more virtual camping.

Bonfire-Brainerd

Carpe Diem

Book Launch Partytime

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This past Saturday was my book launch for not one, but two books. Finding Abby was released in November. Life got in the way and I didn’t advertise, promote, nothing. With my recent release, Shear Malice, book three in the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, I decided to have a double release. And better yet, sharing it with a fellow author, Donna Schlachter and her alter ego, Leeann Betts. What a better way to celebrate literary success than with a fellow author!

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In each Melanie Hogan mystery I include a recipe from Nana’s kitchen. The recipe for Shear Malice is Nana’s Scrumptious Chocolate Zucchini Brownies. To stick with the theme, I made some for the launch party. While baking a recipe from scratch takes longer than opening a box, the results were amazing and well worth the time!

Next up? An author event in October with some cozy mystery authors. The planned theme is Cozy With Tea–a variety of hot teas, scones, a fire in the fireplace, and books, books, books.

And now it’s back to Camp. Camp NaNo, that is. A time for relaxation and fun, with virtual bonfires, smores, and campfire chatter with other campers. I’m sharing a virtual cabin with several fellow writers from the Longmont and Boulder area, and creating book four in the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, Shear Murder.

More to follow…

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See you next week. Until then…

 

Carpe diem

Mining for Ideas

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I’m confident that everyone who writes has been asked on more than one occasion, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Even when I expect it, that question always makes me freeze. When I finally thaw, I hem and haw, shift from one foot to the other, scrunch my face, followed by a long exhale…you would think I was in pain. And I kind of am. Because try as I might, I cannot for the life of me come up with a good, concrete answer.

The truth is, ideas are literally everywhere. My fear is not having enough time to write all the stories that pop into my head. All the scenes I want to flesh out, all the characters through which I want to live vicariously, all the things I want to research to put into a book…well, you get the idea. I’ve had people tell me, “Hey, I’ve got this fabulous idea for a book. You should write it for me.” I give them a blank stare and then I cough, buying some time before I’m finally able to speak. “Uh, yeah,” I say, “as soon as I finish with all of the ideas I already have.” In other words, not in this lifetime.

Writers are day dreamers, night dreamers, creative thinkers, even when we’re not aware of it. I will sometimes hear something or witness something seemingly unimportant, but then remember it days or weeks down the road when it’s making its way into my WIP.

My ears perk up when I hear people squabbling in the grocery store line, Starbucks, or any public place. I listen to husbands and wives interacting with each, siblings of all ages, and words between friends. The best of all? Two strangers who strike up a conversation as they’re waiting for time to pass, whether in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office waiting room. It’s amazing what two people will tell each other in a public place when they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re surrounded by others.

Now, I don’t so much care about the words these people say, but rather the way they say them, their tone. I also try to sneak a peek (sneak, so I don’t come across as being a creeper) at their facial expressions and body language. It’s those moments captured, incorporating them into a character, that makes a character believable and come to life. It’s those nuances that give characters necessary layers.

Another thing I do is carry a little Sony digital recorder when I’m running, walking, or driving. Or any other time it isn’t possible to carry a notebook or safely write. It’s then that ideas pop into my head and I need to capture them before they disappear. I’ve learned a long time ago that even if the idea is so monumental I think there’s no way I could ever forget it, it still escapes me nearly every time. I get busy, life happens, and the idea is a whisper in the wind.

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So, go exercise that creative brain, take advantage of those night dreams and daydreams, and be careful what you say the next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store. If there’s a writer anywhere in the near vicinity, you’ll end up in a book.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Traditional Publishing vs. Indie Publishing

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Indie publishing used to hold a certain stigma, but that’s no longer so. It’s become more widely recognized as a legitimate publishing option, and rightly so, as there’s a lot of work that goes into it. An indie author doesn’t just throw words on the page and hit “publish.” Well, they shouldn’t anyway. Not if they want to truly respect the writing and reading community and want to attract a readership. Readers are smart and savvy. They will catch, in a heartbeat, a work of art that’s not art at all.

Writers who travel along either publishing road start out the same way—words on the page. After the initial draft, each must edit to make it the best they possibly can. It’s that simple and that hard. From there the road forks and each individual writer must decide which scenic drive they want to take.

Country Road
Below are some of the pros and cons of each. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, so a little homework might be needed in order to make a fully informed decision.

Traditional Publishing Pros:

  • You won’t have to pay for editing or cover art. That being said, it’s still a splendid idea to pay someone to edit your piece before submitting it to an agent. At least if you want a positive response.
  • Validation—some writer’s may need (or simply want) someone to recognize their work and desire to represent them. Writers, in general, are an insecure group. We’re always looking at others’ successes and wonder if we will ever get there. “There” is something you will want to spend some time thinking about. Where is your “there” that you would like to eventually like to be? Search those authors who are at your “there” and find out how they got “there.”
  • Some help marketing. I say some because these days even traditionally published authors are held responsible for their own marketing.

Traditional Publishing Cons:

  • Much lower royalties—some authors get an advance and their royalties work against that advance. Once they’ve earned royalties that add up to the amount they received in said advance, they begin to earn additional royalties. If they reach that point. Many do not. It’s not uncommon for small presses not to pay their authors an advance.
  • No Control—authors have little to no control over their cover art or even the manuscript itself.
  • No rights—traditionally published authors sign away the rights to their work. It no longer belongs to the author, but to the publishing house.
  • Lengthy process—Once it’s been acquired by a publisher, it could take several months, sometimes even years, to finally see your book on the shelves.

Indie Publishing Pros

  • High royalties—by publishing your eBook on Amazon, you will net 70% royalties if your book is priced from $2.99 and up.
  • You maintain all rights. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with your books. You can price them to your liking, give them away in contests if you wish, and anything else that strikes your fancy.
  • Total control—your content and cover art are completely yours. You call the shots. It’s a great deal for those of us Type A’s who need control.
    Once you hit publish, (after you’ve gone through the necessary editing, that is) it only takes hours to a few days for your book to be out there for the world to read.

Indie Publishing Cons

  • Many contests will not accept indie submissions.
  • Solo marketing—Marketing is yours. It’s a learning curve, as is the indie process in general. And once you think you’ve mastered it, there is something new that comes out. The bonus, however, is there are numerous sites out there to help you. My absolute favorite is thecreativepenn.com.
  • You foot the cost for editing and cover art – Neither of these are things you want to skimp on. That being said, as I mentioned earlier, even if you aim for traditional publishing, you would do yourself a huge favor by paying for someone to edit your work before you submit to an agent.

If you’re on the fence about which road is right for you, take the time and make a list of the pros and cons. Not a mental list, but an actual written list. It helps to physically see it in front of you. Find as many pros and cons of each as you can. Then make a list of the top five of which are most appealing to you, those that define what success means to you. Still can’t decide? You don’t have to choose just one. There are many authors who have chosen the hybrid model, which is both traditional and indie.

I, personally, love the indie route. I love the team I work with, having control of my product, and maintaining my rights. Would I like the validation of being accepted by an agent and a publishing house? Of course. But that’s not at the top of my list. And at times when I do yearn for that validation, I remember a line from the movie Cool Runnings:

“Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.” -Irv (Cool Runnings)