Monday, September 30, 2019

Finding the Sweet Spot

Q: How do you know when you’re finished and it’s time to submit? Do you take a break or start right on the next one?

- from Susan

For me, it’s writing the sweet spot at the end. I write mysteries and I want something that moves me and makes me happy to conclude the tale. I sense it coming as I get to the penultimate scene, which is tense and risky for me and the protagonist. It’s like skiing – the long ride up the gondola, the moment of getting off and seeing that downslope, and then letting gravity take you down the hill. Breathless, and then you pull up and have that moment of real satisfaction. (And it energizes you to get back on the gondola and do it again, a good thing for a writer).

In all of my five published novels, I’ve written a coda that brings a lump in my throat or a grin to my face. When I can do that, I know I’ve finished the story I aimed to write.

My first agent is an estimable woman who told me that she wanted to see my manuscripts when they were as perfect as I could make them. No first or second drafts, but the very best I could produce. It’s a habit I embrace, even if it does make me wonder how “perfect” is perfect? But I understand what she meant. It’s disrespectful to send something that isn’t your best to an agent or publisher and expect them to fight their way through the underbrush and see through what you’re too lazy to clear away. Sure, you can fiddle with word choices forever, but the difference between red and blue is not about “best,” so if you get to that point and that’s all you’re fretting about, let the anxiety go and hit Send.

If it’s the same series, I have always begun a new manuscript while waiting for the publisher’s editorial staff to do their copy editing and then, after I review that, to do the proofreading. Why? Honestly, it’s because I like my characters and want to stay in touch with them, to steer – or follow – them in their lives and into their new problems. 
Where Dani O'Rourke first comes onto the scene, caught in the act of putting lipstick on while the sounds of chaos outside the museum ladies' room begin to make her nervous

The saddest thing for me has been setting aside the characters who live in a series. I miss them. I’ve been advised to write short stories including them, a challenge for me since most potential readers wouldn’t know them already. I’m thinking about that. Would I be able to telegraph what makes Katherine and Michael Goff such a strong married couple while she sleuths and he does his rock and roll thing? Would Dani O’Rourke’s professional interest in art and philanthropy translate without dropping her fully into her museum world, much less her relationship with her charming but flaky ex-husband? Stay tuned.
Katherine Goff, her music-making husband, their  French neighbors, and a young English would-be crime writer all amble, gallop, strut, or stumble into my life for the first time 

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Joy of Tax

By Abir

How do you keep your taxable receipts? Log them in each month? Each day? Throw them all in a big pile and wait for tax time? Do you have an App that organizes them for you?

As you probably know by now, my day job for over 20 years was as an accountant. Therefore, you’ll understand when I tell you that I am the world’s worst, most ridiculously bad, utterly terrible person when it comes to keeping receipts and claiming tax deductions.

It’s sad. I’m like the doctor with a twenty-a-day habit who tells his patients not to smoke; the politician who stands against racism then gets caught wearing black-face (what was that about, eh Canadians?); or the hot-dog seller who’s a secret vegetarian. Yes. When it comes to receipts and accounts, I. Am. A. Hypocrite.

Don’t get me wrong, I always start out with good intentions. Every year, immediately after the mad scramble to complete the non-fiction opus that is my tax return, a process which has cost me a week of sleepless nights, hot sweats and cold shivers as I discover that, despite having earned a pittance and with no money in the bank, I still owe the tax man more than the national debt of Brazil. 

'Next year will be different', I say, and for the length of time required for me to forget the trauma of the last Tax Returngate (approximately three weeks), I go about diligently PDFing receipts and filing invoices to Dropbox like a novice monk colouring in the big large capital letters in those hand-crafted Bibles that monks used to make before Steve Guttenberg invented the printing press.

Is it going to change? Probably not. Though this year, I’ve added another factor. I’ve downloaded and paid for an accounting app!...Which I’ve never used since downloading!...Five months ago!...Despite getting weekly e mail reminders from them!...And paying them £11.29 a month! I am such an idiot, it's almost impressive in a perverse sort of way.

Luckily though, I still have my receipts. I keep them safely in a box marked ‘receipts’ for safe keeping. And indeed, they are all still safely kept in that box. The problem is I can’t actually remember where I put the bloody box. Wherever it is, I’m sure it’s safe.

The problem is 50% laziness, 30% putting off boring tasks and [balancing percent]% relying on the fact that I’m an accountant and I can pretty much work out what is worth claiming and what isn’t. Unfortunately, this strategy, though time honoured, doesn’t really work very well. But don’t worry. 

Next year will be different.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Accounting 101

How do you keep your taxable receipts? Log them in each month? Each day? Throw them all in a big pile and wait for tax time? Do you have an App that organizes them for you?

From Jim

If you do any promotion of your books at all, if you attend writers conferences, you’re going to accumulate tax-deductible expenses. Too many writers do themselves a disservice by not tracking all their expenses for tax purposes. Think of it this way: for every dollar you spend on your writing career, you can save approximately twenty to thirty cents on your tax bill. A four-night hotel bill for a conference could easily come to more than $900. That probably translates to $180-$220 in tax savings. And don’t forget meals, promotional swag, taxis, Ubers, airfare, baggage fees, software, publication subscriptions, and membership fees.

I used to toss my receipts into a box with the promise that I would put them in order one day very soon. That day usually turned out to be April 14. But I finally decided to keep an Excel spreadsheet and update it as I incurred the expenses. I maintain the spreadsheet on my iPad, which I carry everywhere I go. Excel saves the spreadsheet on the cloud, so I always have access and backup. The key is to enter the expenses immediately. If I wait till later, I may forget. This has worked beautifully for me. No last-minute scrambling to find, organize, and tote up receipts. I also try to make all payments with a credit card. That way there’s a record besides the physical receipt. Just in case.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Blue skies

How do you keep your taxable receipts? Log them in each month? Each day? Throw them all in a big pile and wait for tax time? Do you have an App that organizes them for you?

by Dietrich

Organizing receipts as I get them and keeping them by the month is a lot easier than sorting a box filled with unrecognized and somewhat faded strips of paper, especially as the clock is ticking and tax time is rushing up like a freight. And I’ve learned it’s a good idea to note any particulars on the receipts which can save a lot of head scratching later on. And no, I don’t use an App, just good old rubber bands and paper clips.

Like a lot of things in life, I’ve learned by doing – or not doing. For example, I learned to keep well-ordered receipts after showing up at my accountant’s office that one time and shaking a jumble of papers from a big envelope and getting that look and the tsk tsk tsk that went with it.

“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” A. A. Milne

You could say at times I’ve been unconstrained by practicalities. It’s funny, there’s always something that seems more pressing or interesting than sorting things. Long ago, I learned it’s best to not put things off, because there’s always something else coming on the heels of the last thing. So, I’ve managed to adapt a level of organization that keeps most things running more or less smoothly. And while I’m certainly not anal about keeping things in order, there’s got to be a balance between chaos and order, a level where I don’t have that feeling like I forgot something, or where I’m asking myself if I’m losing it, or calling out, “Honey, have you seen my …”

“True stability results when presumed order and presumed disorder are balanced. A truly stable system expects the unexpected, is prepared to be disrupted, waits to be transformed.” – Tom Robbins

When I’m writing I scribble a lot of notes. These scribbles are things I don’t want to forget, things to be added in later. And I prefer to keep them in a pile instead of a file – something that’s within easy reach right on my desk, at least while I’m working on the section relating to the pile. If the pile grows to a point of threatening to topple, I might create sub-piles, and if needed, I might move some of them to the floor. To avoid a total muddle, I toss out the scribbles once I’ve incorporated them. 

So, I’ve found a happy balance between Oscar and Felix. My receipts are updated and organized, and my files and work space appear at a mid-point between neat freak and looking like a cyclone swept through it.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Dealing with Receipts

Terry Shames here: 

The question this week  is, How do you keep your taxable receipts? Log them in each month? Each day? Throw them all in a big pile and wait for tax time? Do you have an App that organizes them for you?

I once had breakfast with a fellow write I admire. When the bill came, she whipped out her phone and took a photo of it and then sent it to an APP. I was intrigued. She told me it made tax time really easy. It was all organized in the APP. 

I ran right home and got the APP and set it up.  thought I had it figured it, and the next time I ate out, I proudly took out my phone and took the photo. And it disappeared.  Now, a regular person would have figured out what was wrong and then do better next time.

Instead, I went back to my old method: Throw the receipt in a box and hope for the best.

Another year, I decided to get organized. I had an envelope for each facet of my writing life—conventions (food, rooms, travel); business meals; office supplies, etc. It worked great. At the end of the year, I sped through the receipts, listing them under the headings and then turning the tidy lists over to my husband, who turned them over to our accountant.

It was great. Did I do It the next year? Well, no. This year I’m back to the same old method—throw everything into a big pile and hope for the best. I am doing one thing different. I’m circling the date. Why is it that every receipt has a different place for the date? And some receipts fade over just a few months’ time, and I’m left trying to guess what the date was. And I take pride in always jotting down who I was with and what we discussed over lunch.

I’m hoping someday someone will come up with a magic App that intuits when you need to log a receipt in. Until then I’ll be using the old method.

I’m really curious how everyone else does it? Are you organized, or slipshod? Have you found an App that works?

As a side note, yesterday I heard an ad on the radio for some company and they suggested that people download the App. It occurred to me that if someone had been living without communication for 20 years and came of hiding and heard that phrase, they would be completely baffled. Ah, progress…I guess.

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Taxing Work - Staying Organized

How do you keep your taxable receipts? Log them in each month? Each day? Throw them all in a big pile and wait for tax time? Do you have an App that organizes them for you?

Happy Monday - Brenda here!

This week’s question tackles a necessary but not all that scintillating business topic — the organization of tax return receipts.  It’s one of those tasks that I dread but once done, I feel an immense sense of accomplishment (and relief).

At the beginning of each tax year, I label envelopes with headings: income, expenses, trips, medical. I have a spot next to my computer where I shove receipts and a few times a year, I enter the amounts into a Word document and file them by date in the envelopes. Some years, I'm better at staying on top of the receipts than others, but as the year end is December and I usually file by the beginning of March, this gives me lots of time to catch up. 

I use an accounting firm to complete and file my taxes, something that came in very handy this past year when I was sent an $800 bill out of the blue some time after I received my refund from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).  I contacted my accountant and she dealt with the issue. Turns out a box on the tax form had been moved or added and the CRA charged me twice for something. The point is that I didn't have to deal with the problem, which is a good thing because my gut reaction was to send a cheque immediately since I figured the CRA knew more than I, and I had no desire to get on its bad side.

One perk of being a writer is that we are able to write off a variety of expenses arising from the career. I have an office that allows me to write off a portion of our house.

my office

Trips to book conferences or for publicity events can be written off as can items such as office supplies, computers, magazine subscriptions and books. Since the average annual income from writing in Canada  is under $10,000 a year, this bit of tax relief is most welcome. The CRA does, however, want evidence that one's writing is more than just a passing hobby. The first accountant I spoke with said that in order to write off expenses, I had to produce a body of work. This hasn't become an issue since I've released one book a year as well as a novella or two since my first middle school mystery Running Scared in 2004.

I'm not the most organized person once I get immersed in a writing project (which is just about always), letting a lot of the day-to-day tasks slide - my house will never win awards for being the cleanest or the tidiest, but my occasional time investment in recording receipts and organizing them by date in envelopes has served me quite well thus far. I'm actually close to caught up this year although entering the latest receipts is on my to-do list. It's  not, however, the most pressing or exciting task on the list :-)


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Friday, September 20, 2019


What did you do this summer? Did you take a break from writing? Continue to write while you were on vacation? Change your writing habits at all?

by Paul D. Marks

I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this. It’s classified. Top Secret. The kind of thing that if I tell you I’ll have to kill you. And, while I might be able to live with that cause people are pretty much capable of living with anything, I might get caught. Then I might go to jail. Then I might get beaten up. But worse I’d have to eat Nutraloaf and that would probably kill me. So I’m really trusting you and taking you into my confidence here.

Well, let’s start at the head, and not to brag, but there was a song written about me and my summer exploits. Of course, since the singer told all in the song we’ll have to kill him, too. (Hey, don’t get on me about killing—we all do it…in our books.) Here’s a sample of the lyrics: “There's a man (me) who leads a life of danger (danger is my middle name—that’s what the D stands for), To everyone he (me) meets he (me) stays a stranger (a stranger in a strange land), With every move he (me) makes another chance he (me) takes, Odds are he (me) won't live to see tomorrow.”* I’m not really happy about those odds. Can we change the line—the betting line?

Johnny Rivers - Secret Agent Man

It was a tough summer. No, it was a cruel, (cruel), cruel summer and it left me here on my own. But it was no more cruel than Cruella de Ville or any other cruel, cruel summer—they’re all pretty damn cruel, aren’t they? What I have to admit now is something I only tell my closest friends and associates—they really did give me a number and took away my name. I just hope it’s an unlisted number and that no one else gets it. I also hope I don’t get any telemarketer calls on it.

It’s tough going around the world with no name. You try getting on a plane without a name. What are you going to put on your Real ID? Your number? Hmm…

Bruce Willis - Secret Agent Man

I also spent some time swingin’ on the Riviera, but the beaches were closed due to the Toxic Avenger avenging. So I laid in wait in a Bombay alley the very next day. Luckily they had rerouted the Orient Express from wherever the hell it went—since it never made sense to me why it was called the Orient Express (is Istanbul in the Orient?)—to France and then to India, y’know, Bombay, or whatever it’s called today. I guess that’s one of the good things about the European Union.

I was wary of pretty faces, knowing that they could absolutely hide an evil mind. So I was extremely careful about what I said. Kissing persuasive lips made it even harder to stay mum, but mum’s the word.
Paul D. Marks - Secret Agent Man

All summer long we were dancing in the sand, listening to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—and picking flowers. Let’s just hope it wasn’t the last rose of summer.

So, for me, it was a rather typical Tippecanoe and Tyler too summer. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Now, don’t breathe a word of this to anyone or you know what I’ll have to do…

And let me refer you back to my earlier post on summer, California Girls and Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind:

How ‘bout you? What’d you do on your summer vacation?

*“Secret Agent Man” by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri.


And now for the usual BSP:

Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

In The Summertime

Life. What did you do this summer? Did you take a break from writing? Continue to write while you were on vacation? Change your writing habits at all?

By guest Edith Maxwell.

Catriona writes: If I had to guess what Edith does in the summer, I'd say "write several beautifully researched novels, feed a county with the abundance from the vegetable garden, and host relaxing get-togethers for grateful friends". Ha! I just read the guest post, and I am not far wrong. I don't know how she does it, but I'm very glad she does it. Please welcome, Edith Maxwell to the Minds today. 

Edith writes:Thanks so much for inviting me over, Catriona! I’m delighted to be here.

Summer is my favorite season. Nothing makes me happier than to pick tomatoes warm from the garden, take a long walk on the beach, or bake a pie from local blueberries and peaches. I try to cache pesto in the freezer when the basil is lush and read outside in the shade at the end of the day. A G&T on the deck is a plus. I grew up in southern California, so summer is supposed to be hot. Also, now that I’m in New England? It’s going to snow soon, so I want to store up the heat.

But I’m under contract for three books a year. I can’t really take too much time off. We didn’t go away anywhere this summer after a big southwestern US trip a year ago this time (and an Ireland excursion planned for next year).

So, yeah, I was at my desk by seven nearly every morning except Sunday writing away. I polished my eighth Country Store mystery (Candy Slain Murder) and sent it in. I read proofs of Murder at the Taffy Shop, my second Cozy Capers mystery. And I wrote the first draft of the sixth Quaker Midwife Mystery, which I still need a title for. I think I did copyedits on some other book in there, too, and I certainly booked and wrote guest posts like this one for the September release of Judge Thee Not, Quaker Midwife #5. As Maddie Day, I also have my first novella - “Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse” - out in the three-novella collection, Christmas Cocoa Murder.

But the season wasn’t all work. A beautiful long walkable beach is only twenty-five minutes away from me, and you know what? I can write with pen on paper, too. I took my “office” to Hampton Beach more than once, and also played hooky there with my bestie another day.

I enjoyed cooking and walking with my visiting son for a long weekend, and entertaining other family and close friends in the garden. This summer a dear friend entered hospice care, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with Annie as she weakens, grabbing precious moments of talking, reading poetry to her, and helping her eat.

What I have not done this summer is clean up my garden shed, weed out my closets, or do the other decluttering the rest of the world seems to be keen on. But hey, isn’t that what tomorrow is for?

Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Maxwell, with nineteen novels in print and four more completed, has been nominated for an Agatha Award six times. She lives north of Boston with her beau and an elderly cat, and gardens and cooks when she isn’t killing people on the page or wasting time on Facebook. Please also find her at, on Instagram, on Twitter, and at the Wicked Authors blog.

No stranger to judgmental attitudes in her small town, 1880s Quaker midwife Rose Carroll is nonetheless stunned when society matron Mayme Settle publicly snubs Rose’s good friend Bertie for her nontraditional ways. When Mrs. Settle is later found murdered—and a supposed witness insists Bertie was spotted near the scene of the crime—the police blame her. Rose is certain her friend is innocent, and she enlists the help of a blind pregnant client—who’s endured her own share of prejudice—to help her sift through the clues. As the two uncover a slew of suspects tied to financial intrigues, illicit love, and an age-old grudge over perceived wrongs, circumstantial evidence looms large in small minds, and Rose fears her friend will soon become the victim of a grave injustice—or worse. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Digging a hole for myself... by Cathy Ace

What did you do this summer? Did you take a break from writing? Continue to write while you were on vacation? Change your writing habits at all?

 This is a clue!
What did I do this summer? No writing at all. Plotting, yes. Outlining, yes. Writing, no. (Other than blogs, articles, interviews etc., that is.)

What did I do instead? I planted.
Well, Husband and I planted.
Well, OK then, Husband dug big holes in the spots I picked out, and I sort of whined and criticized as he placed plants into said holes.

In my defence I also brought trailers of soil, plus all the associated bone meal/feeds, mulch and water to the planting every good “helper” does. It doesn’t sound like much, but we have poor, clay-based soil in many parts of our property, so each hole can become a nightmare to dig, has to be two or three times the size of the pot from which the plant is being taken (some holes have been a few feet deep and wide), and we’ve repeated this process with more than a hundred plants.

These were all good-sized maples, ornamental evergreen trees, rhododendrons already over thirty years old, hydrangeas we've grown from cuttings, forsythia from cuttings, hostas, hibiscus, pots of canna lilies and tender hibiscus, and planting out our perennial seedlings of rudbekia, lavatera and the annual petunias, nasturtium and marigolds…for the gardeners amongst you.

Poppy - Assistant to the assistant!
It’s been a LOT of work. Then there’s the watering, of course…and our well ran dry at the beginning of July. So…lots of water trucks delivering water. And lots of hosepipes.

It’s been a BIG planting year, and next year will be too.

Why all this activity? Well, we’re pretty serious gardeners (OK, I admit it, like all gardeners, we’re addicted – and we have five acres with which to indulge our addiction) and a good friend of ours died last year; he’d begged us to save the plants from his commercial-sized greenhouses, which we did. We over-wintered them in pots in a safe spot, and are now doing our best to get what we can into the ground, where it will be happiest. It’s a mammoth undertaking. In April this year I counted around 350 pots. We’re down to something over 200 left. Still a long way to go.

Pots, pots and more pots

The task continues – and we will look forward to next year to see the blooms on the forsythia and rhodos...though many of the hydrangeas have put on a bit of a show for us this year. It will take many years for the maples to create the sort of canopy we’re aiming for, however, so we'll have to be patient (not that it’s easy!). Sorry the photos aren’t full of dazzling blooms or spectacular foliage – you’ll have to use your imagination, as we are!

One of the woodland areas we're planting
The promise...

Hopefully my next novel will bloom into something you’ll enjoy reading next year, too! If you'd like to read something I've already written, CLICK HERE.