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Monday, April 18, 2016



What is that clackity sound and hot smell of ink? It’s my ancient printer grinding out a hard copy of my new book, “Cat’s Paw, a Crazy Cat Lady Mystery”. Did you know I always edit a hard copy as well as the original computer version? I’ve caught many an error, as well as found places that just don’t “look” right. Reading is visual. If the page doesn’t flow visually, the reader may never get far enough  into the story to know if they like it or not.

Once the manuscript is printed – all 400 pages of it -  I grab an orange pen, get comfortable and begin reading. Out loud. To the cats. Cats are a willing audience and extremely easy to please. As long as I keep talking, they are there to listen. Sometimes they curl up in the manuscript box, but that’s part of the deal.

When the reading phase is complete and each page looks like a child got loose with an orange crayon, I do the revision on the computer and send it out to my beta reader, a retired librarian who reads more books in one year than I read in a decade. She is both kind and ruthless; when I get the work back from her, another revision will be in order.

When revision #2 is complete, I'm finally ready to send it to my editor. This usually entails several more tweaks and fixes to get it just the way we both like.

Not done yet. Next I get a proof copy of the book, as it will look when published, cover and all. As much as I’d like to think I can relax at this point, I usually find something I want to change on the very first page. The same way printing the manuscript gives a different look from the computer monitor, holding a real book in my hand reveals even more. I use the green pen for this phase. I was raised not to mark in books and it took everything I had to overcome that long-learned lesson; I can do it, but not with the brilliant colors, orange or red. That would be too cruel.

This is the final revision. In the proof, I can see where the pages break, how the language flows, and if a chaptersshould be longer or shorter. The real book format is by far the most readable, so I see many things that have escaped me before.

Once this process is a finished, I have a book I can be proud of. The next step, of course, is to start another one.


Cat’s Paw continues the adventures of cat shelter volunteer Lynley Cannon (Cats’ Eyes and Copy Cats) as she gets caught up in another tale of deceit, murder, and cats.

For more about the Crazy Cat Lady Mysteries, go to
Mollie Hunt’s Author Page

Friday, April 15, 2016

Writing About Grief

A great story has conflict, and often that conflict takes the form of death or some other form of abandonment. This often leads to a character experiencing grief.
1872 The Resurrection and the Life by Frank Holl
It is important to remember that people, and therefore our characters, experience grief differently. For writers, it is always a challenge to portray emotional events in a believable manner and appropriate for the personalities of our characters.  

Here is a quick review of the stages of grief. Not all people follow these steps in this order. There is no timeline for grief, or for any stage in the grieving process. Keeping these basic principles in mind as we write about those experiencing grief may enhance the believability of our characters and create a greater emotional impact.

Denial:  Some might call it shock. The person has trouble accepting that a death or loss has taken place. They withdraw emotionally and sometimes, if they can, physically. Those who internalize things (introvert) can appear as non-responsive and moving in a daze and will not appear to grieve openly. An extrovert may wear their emotions on their sleeve.
Korean War: One soldier comforts another after the loss of a close friend.

In Victorian times, it was believed that a person who truly grieved the loss of a loved one must weep and wail visibly at the funeral. Failure to do so indicated to observers they didn’t really care. However, in true grief, that is not necessarily the case, especially if the deceased is buried soon after their death.

Here is a true story from my own family history as told to me by my grandmother. My grandfather died when my mother was only two years old. His death was sudden and unexpected, which left my young grandmother dazed. After the funeral, one of my grandmother’s sisters (she had eight of them) made the snide remark, “Well, Goldie sure must not have loved Will very much. She didn’t even cry at the funeral.” My grandmother said that somehow through the fog of all that went on, she heard that remark and remembered it, even though she didn’t remember much else of what happened that day. Those two sisters had never been close, and after that judgmental comment, my grandmother said she never could think well of that sister. Because, her inability to shed copious tears didn’t mean she didn’t love and miss her husband. Like my grandmother told me, “I was in shock.”

At the time of my grandfather's funeral, my grandmother had not moved beyond this first stage of grief.

Anger:  The next stage is anger. There is a tendency to seek to blame someone, often the one who departed. “How dare you leave me. Look at the mess you left me in?”

Sometimes the anger is directed at others—doctors, law enforcement, family members, institutions. This stage is a sign that the stage of denial and isolation is starting to diminish, and the reality with all its pain emerges.

Perhaps my grandmother’s continued bad feelings towards the unkind words of her sister were an expression of her moving into this stage of grief.

Bargaining:  Sometimes this stage takes the form of bargaining with God; sometimes making promises within ourselves. This stage often involves a lot of “What if…” thinking. Our character had no control over the person dying or leaving them. They want the loved one back. They want to try again and see if they can do better, prevent the loss. There is often a tendency for them to make promises intended to prevent the same thing from happening in the future to others they love. It is an effort to regain control. The emotions usually experienced at this stage can be summed up in one word: GUILT.

I recall as my grandmother told me this story of my grandfather’s death at least fifty years after it happened that she expressed sentiments of this stage. My grandfather died of a sudden onset of a lung disorder which was diagnosed as pneumonia. He worked in a smelter processing metal from ore mined in the nearby mountains. I realized, especially after getting an associate degree in hazardous materials technology, the cause of death was the result of an occupational disease due to his long-term exposure to hazardous materials. It was not an acute infection.  Home remedies probably would not have saved him. However, even fifty years later my grandmother was still expressing symptoms of this stage of grief: If only he had told her earlier he was not feeling well, she could have given him a mustard plaster for his chest to draw out the infection. If only… Reminded of his death, she slipped back into this bargaining stage of grief.

Depression:  At this stage, grief moved into a deeper level, one of empty feelings and a sense that life has lost all meaning and there is no sense in going forward. To the grieving character, this stage feels like it will last forever. They are in a deep sadness and tend to withdraw from life and relationships. This is not mental illness such as chemical or chronic depression. It is a stage of grief that will eventually pass, although how quickly it passes depends on the character.

Acceptance:  This isn’t necessarily a stage of great happiness, but a stage of peace. The person has accepted the loss as part of their new reality and is willing to move forward. At this stage a character is more willing to reach out to others, to listen and become involved and to be more empathetic to the needs of their family and society.

Whether you are writing historical novels involving, for example, those who die while traveling on a wagon train or during one of the wars, or you are writing about contemporary issues where people experience loss, it is important to keep in mind all the stages and grief. To make your characters believable to your reading audience, people with whom your readers can empathize, understand the basic stages of grief and tailor it to match your character’s personality.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press.

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Tears or no? WRITING ABOUT GRIEF by @ZinaAbbott #FireStarPress

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Do your living room walls look like this?  (As well as your office and bedroom walls?  Okay, all of your walls?)

Do you visit friends' homes just to see their book collections (and capture the special moments with photos)?

Do you schedule special trips to bookstores during your vacation?

Does your nightstand look like this?

Do you have several storage units full of books and are considering renting another to store more?

Are you more interested in what’s happening with the characters in the book you are currently reading than with your real friends?

Then you might be suffering from bookaholism.  Unfortunately, I am not aware of any treatment or support group for this condition.  In fact, there are many websites, blogs, and book and reader conventions across the U.S. that encourage this condition, making it a national pandemic. 

While I only suffer from a few of the same symptoms as the person described above (a close family member who shall remain nameless, though not faceless), I do have an over-abundance of books stashed all around the house - so many that I may never have a chance to read all of them, yet I continue to buy more.  Both Kindle and hard copy.  They are everywhere.  Seeping off the shelves.  Falling out of the closet.  Taking up all of my iPad memory.  I am not a collector of precious or rare books, but accumulate things I like and intend to read ... someday.  The good thing is, I have them at my fingertips whenever I feel the urge to read, and I have a wide variety of genres and types from which to choose.  The bad thing is, I'm overwhelmed by the possibilities!  And that doesn't even take into consideration having to keep up with the different series of books I read or trying to read them in order, especially when I buy them piece meal at the used bookstores.  Just the other day, I ordered a book online, then found that same book in a box in the closet.  This is not the first time I have bought, or read, a book again, forgetting that I have previously read it or already own it. 

Do you suffer from bookaholism?  How do you manage it?  I have found Goodreads to be a good start at organizing what I have read, although this doesn’t take into account all of the books in the house.  Donating to local libraries and book mobiles is a good idea if you have no reason to keep the book after reading it.  Actually using the library rather than accruing more books would be a novel idea (no pun intended)!  In the big scheme of things, bookaholism is not the worst condition to suffer from; in fact, some might say it’s a great habit to feed, so I think I will probably go with that.     

Angela Crider Neary is an attorney by day and writer by night. She is an avid mystery reader and especially enjoys reading novels set in interesting locales. She was inspired to write her first mystery novella, Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau: The Case of the Parrots Desaparecidos, by one of her favorite areas in San Francisco, Telegraph Hill. To learn more, visit her on Facebook and Amazon.