How They Celebrate Life in a Small Town in Texas: EmilyAnn’s Story

I love to create worlds for my characters in Pecan Bayou, a town situated somewhere in the Hill Country of Texas. Over Thanksgiving my family and I drove through the winding roads admiring the changing the leaves,  but dropping in on a friend helped me to remember just why I  write about this area.

We visited the EmilyAnn Theater and Gardens up in Wimberly, Texas. Here is a little of Emily Ann’s story from the family’s website.EmilyAnnGardens

On December 21, 1996, Emily and her best friend, Maria Kasper, were on their way home from San Marcos when they had a head-on collision with another vehicle. Emily and the other driver were killed instantly, and Maria suffered severe injuries. No one witnessed the collision, and no cause was ever determined. Emily was buried at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery on December 23.  The Rolling family was, and has continued to be, overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness and support from the Wimberley community and beyond.

Emily’s parents decided to give something back to the community of Wimberley and to the Theatre participants Emily loved. They founded the EmilyAnn Theatre, a non-profit organization dedicated to the building and maintaining of a new outdoor theatre for Wimberley High School’s Shakespeare Under the Stars program. The program will now also include scholarships, internships, and workshops. Their dream is for the EmilyAnn Theatre to be a place where young people can find friends, hope, hidden talents, acceptance, accomplishment, confidence, knowledge, patience, and a host of similar assets and virtues.

Here is the wonderful thing I took away from visiting this little hill in Texas that does an incredible job of celebrating life. The community of Wimberly has adopted this twelve acres  and made it their own. Parents of children who have passed, veterans, local restaurants, churches, scouts and clubs take the month of December to put up light displays in honor of everyone they hold near and dear to their hearts. We had our son Andrew with us, and we rejoiced the high school Life Skills class had a display . People with special needs are embraced by the Rolling family and are regular visitors to EmilyAnn Gardens. Rebecca, EmilyAnn’s sister, said they get thousands of people who walk through the displays every year. The cost to share in this simple outpouring of love? It’s free.

Emily Ann Theater and Gardens is a fine example of  what small communities do best.  If you find yourself in the hill country this December and are searching for just a little of the love and warmth that goes with the holidays, pay a visit to EmilyAnn Gardens, and don’t forget your tissues.

The Balance of Planning and Creativity


Planning and Creativity-Santa’s Least Known Elves

Here we at the ten-day marker for shopping days until Christmas. Do you have your shopping finished? Are you somebody who has beautifully wrapped gifts the bottom of your tree or are you somebody who is standing in line at the convenience store wondering if beef jerky is an appropriate gift for grandma? This is the time of year when the organized among us just sit back and laugh.

Christmas can creep up on you. Every year it seems like the minute I get last trick-or-treaters out the door, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to Christmas. Writing a novel can be the same way. This is where novelists often divide into two separate camps. The organizers versus the pantsers (as in writing by the seat of your pants) The organizers love to outline as they sit in their pristine little writing corners. They take time to write down every character, setting, plotline and subplot. They fill notebooks and computer files with all the stuff your English teacher was trying to instill in you. This method works and I’ll admit I’m an outliner, but my writing corner is not often pristine.

Some people hate to outline because it can put a cramp in the creative process. There are many famous writers who do not outline. F Arthur C. Clarke is an example and he seems to be doing pretty good with ol’ book sales. Still though, simply having a general idea of where your story is going to help you avoid that not limited that mid-novel slump that causes so many manuscripts to be put back in the drawer. Just like Christmas shopping if you had started your planning in January instead of Black Friday you might have a little less stress in your life. Also, just because you make an outline for a book doesn’t mean that you have to stick by it. In the past I always wrote an outline for my work-in-progress, but have changed that somewhat. I found that I would start out following each plot point closely and then the characters and the storyline would take me over. After awhile I would check my outline and it would be totally wrong, kind of like playing your favorite song on an out-of-tune guitar.

Now I sit down and write pre-synopsis even before I write the first word on page. It usually takes me between four to six pages to write the main plotline of a book. I put that into Scrivener and label it “Working Storyline.” I also write one for each subplot and then add it into the story as it fits. Once all of these writing paths are established I use my pre-synopsis and break it down into scenes (outline time) and then highlight part each part as I write through the scenes until I have the entire document blinding me in bright yellow. I don’t stick to it completely because that can mess up the flow of my creativity.  I do try to  stay as close to it as I can.

Just like Christmas shopping, planning the way you create your fictional worlds is up to you. It is also process that needs to change in order to evolve into a good story.  My kids would ask for one toy when the obnoxious Christmas ads started in October and I would run out and buy it. By December they would want the toys in that month’s ads and I would be stuck with October’s toy. The answer to next your question is yes, my kids opened plenty of October toys on Christmas morning. Luckily in writing you can throw out October and always be able to afford to buy that brand new December idea. So the trick here is to think about ways that you can organize and plan ahead without stifling your creative process. You may be a detailed organizer or a pantser, but either way you do it -don’t stop! The bottom of your tree needs a gift or two.

A Writer’s Christmas Letter

file9711279077720Every year when the Christmas cards start coming in I get two or three of the traditional photocopied family Christmas letters. I know that people make a lot of negative comments about these letters, but frankly I like enjoy them. Many times I haven’t really corresponded too much during the year with the people who send me these letters and I love seeing the pictures of their kids and reading their stories. I also like reading between the lines in passages like Jimmy finally paid off the lawyer and has returned to school or Bob went on vacation to the Bahamas and I went somewhere else. Uh huh.
I begin to wonder if writers were to send each other yearly Christmas letters what kinds of things would they write?
Would they write about the months of writer’s block? Would they write about their adventures in the publishing world or the characters they created? Would they include pictures of the settings they had rolling around in their brains? Would they enclosed the top ten crime stories that they cut out of the newspaper and tell of their plans for them in their next story?
Take a moment and write a Christmas letter about your year in writing.
Just like a traditional letter, write about your family-which would be your characters. If you write a series, what happened to your protagonist this year? Just where is the villain or villains that you protagonist had done away with? You may even include a picture of bad as they do their time behind bars.  Did you lose any characters this year?  Write a little memorial.  Are there any new additions?  Share your joy.
Write about the places you visited. Did you spend your year researching places all over the world or like me did spend all your time in a tiny town that has an incredibly high murder rate.
Write about the mood of your work. Were your stories suspenseful? Were they romantic? Happy and upbeat or dark? Are vampires around every corner or happy-go-lucky English-teachers-turned-amatuer-sleuths? (Help, I think my dash key is stuck :—–)
Write about your favorite scene. Describe what happened and why you loved writing it. My favorite scene this year had to be my wedding reception in Buzzkill. I had so much fun with the characters and the weather. Our stories really are our children. We create them, we straighten them out and then we start all over again.
Finally end your letter with your wishes and goals for the next year. Do you plan to finish a novel in the next year? Write it down. Once you’ve finished your letter, file it away on your computer and open it next December. You’ll have fun reading it and then…write another one.

Writing Prompt: Using Elements of “The Conjuring” To Write a Really Scary Story

ImageLast night I watched the movie The Conjuring with my family.  If you are looking for a grown-up, creepy Halloween dvd to watch, this is a good one.  I have to admit that I shut my eyes so many times I actually started getting sleepy at one point.  Some of the story elements in “The Conjuring” would work in writing a good horror or mystery story.  Without giving away too much of the plot, here are some things that would give your readers the creeps.

1.  Cute kids who innocently make friends with evil entities

2.  Husbands who leave to go work ridiculously long hours

3.  Paranormal experts who get scared

4.  Lots of unexpected events like grisly looking folks popping out in “don’t-go-in-there” basement

5.  The haunted house setting with a past nobody tells about until people are being jerked around the room by unseen forces

6.  Creepy music box, doll, or piano that plays by itself

Put all this together and you have yourself a horror story.  Now before you go all Stephen King on me, just remember that many of these elements were also in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.  See how well it works?

Do you have a favorite haunted house movie or book?  Leave a comment.

Thanks Misterio Press for a fun time at your Facebook Halloween party!

4 Hearts for Buzzkill-A New Review from Rantin’ Ravin’ & Readin’

I really am on the road today, so this post will be short.  I’m being reviewed today over at Rantin’ Ravin’ and Readin’ .  Kate gave me  four hearts !   Go to Kate Eileen Shannon to read the full review.     Thank you Kate 🙂


Buzzkill-Cover Reveal!

I’m so excited to announce we are getting ready to publish the fourth book in the Pecan Bayou cozy mystery series.  The book will be out later this summer, so until then, here is a little cozy mystery teaser.

Ta Da!

The cover for BUZZKILL.

BUZZKILLCOVER    There are four elements in the cover that have to do with the story.  If you have read the first three books you can probably figure out who is getting married in the fourth book.  Now, more about Betsy’s latest mystery…

There is going to be a wedding and all of Pecan Bayou is excited.  What better day to promise your true love forever than on Valentine’s Day?  Valentine’s Day–the busiest day of the year for bakeries, florists, wedding venues and wedding officials?  Throw into the mix a couple of bridezillas and of course a murder to solve and Betsy Livingston is ready to feel that BUZZKILL.

Stay tuned for the official launch of Buzzkill!

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Creative Writing Prompt: Putting More into Each Setting

In this writing prompt we are going to be using this old foot bridge.  First, look at the picture for ten seconds and then shut your eyes.  Write down the first thing that you remember.

Now, answer these questions about this bridge.

1.  Where is this bridge?  State, country, town?


2. Notice the overgrown grass.  Draw a diagram on your paper of the bridge and the property around it.  Is it deep in a forest or just an unkempt piece of land?

3.  Imagine putting your feet in the water while sitting on the bridge.  Is the water clean or dirty?  What kind of creatures do you see swimming around? What does the air smell like?

4.  What is the temperature?  Is it a balmy summer day or a day in fall with the first hint of crispness in the air?

5.  Look down into the water.  There is something under the water sparkling as the suns rays hit it.  Reach in and grab the item and describe it in full detail.

6.  Create the character who lost that item.

7.  What kind of mystery can you create from all of these elements?

Creative Writing Prompt: Writing Your Character’s History

In this writing prompt we are going to use this gentleman I found over at Morguefile.

As you create your characters, take time to write their personal histories.  The more you  create about your characters, the easier it will be for you to write how they will respond to the situations you write for them.

Baby Boomer in Denial

Baby Boomer in Denial  

So, going back to our old man let’s answer some questions about him.

1.  What is the name his mother gave him?

2.  What name does he go by these days?  What does it have to do with his personality or his history?

3.  Why is this man living on the streets?  Does he have an addiction?  Is he mentally ill?  Is he just down and out?

4.  Take 20 seconds and look into his eyes.  Write the first thing that comes to your mind.

5.  Look at his hands.  Describe his fingers, fingernails, knuckles, etc.  What occupation do you think he might have had?

6.  Look at his cuffs.  They don’t match.  Even though you can’t see everything he has on use your imagination and fill in the missing pieces.  Tell  some of the history of the outfit.  How long has it been since it was clean?  Does he have socks and properly fitting shoes on his feet?

7.  If his life could be different what would he wish it to be?

Once you finish writing about this man, take it a step further and write an interaction with another character.

Choose from this list.

1.  A social worker

2.  One of his children

3.  A business person

4.  Another street person

5.  Something supernatural


Photo found at Morguefile

Overdue for Murder Free on Kindle April 10 & 11

Overdue for Murder is free on Kindle today and tomorrow.  This is the last time this book will be free on Kindle so if you don’t have a copy, grab yours now!  Writers of vampires, aliens, chick lit and romance gather in a library. Which one will be murdered?


Free on Kindle April 11-12


Overdue for Murder will be free on Kindle February 1 & 2

Overdue for Murder will be free on Kindle February 1 & 2. If you picked up a copy of A Dash of Murder at the last free giveaway weekend then this is the weekend to continue reading about Betsy Livingston, the helpful hints writer. Betsy has been invited to speak at an author night at the library but when she’s discovered leaning over a dead body holding the murder weapon, she must solve the murder and clear her name.  Check it out this weekend! (Get it?  Library Joke??)