Category Archives: Writing

Picture Book Idea Month – Sounds Easy Enough – Until You Try IT!

Today begins the first day of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). How hard can it be to come up with an idea or two or three a day for a picture book? REALLY, REALLY hard.

Tara Lazar hosts PiBoIdMo on her blog: She has great guest bloggers and lots of information and encouragement to share. I highly recommend going to her blog and at least checking it out. I find great tips all year long in her posts.

This isn’t my first PiBoIdMo. I’ve participated the last 3 years. Out of those two month’s I’ve probably had 5 solid ideas. Not bad – until you try and tell the story in 500-600 words. AND making sure no one has used the idea or theme before. I can not imagine how difficult it would be to get far enough to have someone to publish your book once it is complete.

But still I write. It is fun to get “inside tips” from published picture book writers. They’ve been in the trenches, lived through the pain of cutting words and characters that just aren’t working no matter how much they love them.

A writer has to love to write. PiBoIdMo gives ideas and inspiration to make it easier to cook up great stories, but in the end you are the one stirring that pot hoping it doesn’t end up stinky and in the garbage. But if it does, a writer begins to write again.

Today’s inspiration came from Joan Holub whose list of books is enviable. But those books didn’t just appear in bookstores. Joan wrote & wrote and rewrote even more. Check out today’s post and if you are so inclined, sign up – you have until Nov 5th.

If I can come up with 30 ideas – so can you!


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Book Review: Desert Rage by Betty Webb – I can’t wait to read the rest of her books!

Desert Rage (A Lena Jones Mystery)

By Betty WebbDesertRageAmazon-330

Private Investigator Lena Jones is summoned to the home of a powerful, demanding Congresswoman Juliana Thorsson. Lena is willing to meet with her, but remains skeptical that she could stand this ambitious woman long enough to work the case no matter what it is. That is until she hears the details of the job Thorsson needs done.

A 14-year-old girl and her boyfriend have admitted that they brutally murdered the girl’s family. Her father, mother and 10-year-old brother were slain while eating lunch in their expensive Scottsdale home. After confessing to the crime, both teens have refused to talk to anyone and are being held in juvie with public defenders working their cases.

The Congresswoman wants to hire Lena to find evidence to clear Alison, the 14-year-old murderer. She is convinced that Ali has only confessed to keep Kyle out of prison. Thorsson insists that Kyle worked alone to murder Ali’s family. The killer even attacked Alison’s small dog, almost killing him. She insists Ali would never hurt her dog or her family.

Lena is intrigued, but wary of working for Thorsson. She rolls scenarios around in her head trying to find a logical connection between a young girl and this very public woman that is in the middle of a run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Unable to walk away from a case where at least one, if not both teens might be incarcerated or put to death, Lena agrees to work for Thorsson.

The P.I. immerses herself in the case and soon believes they are both innocent. She is convinced Ali and Kyle are lying. The evidence just does not add up. But if the  teens are innocent, that means a brutal killer is still on the loose. What possible motive would someone have to murder a prominent doctor, his wife and young son?

As the investigation heats up, Lena finds everyone except the young son and dog are harboring secrets. Any one of these lies and indiscretions could have led someone to murder. As Lena gets closer to the truth, she becomes a target. Someone is out to get her, could it be a pumped up chick she infuriated or maybe the real killer of Alison’s family.

With the help of her old partner, a snarky police officer and Thorsson calling in favors Lena moves closer to the truth.  Her investigation takes her down a twisted trail turning up more suspects, any one of them have means and convincing motives.

Desert Rage is excellent on so many levels I do not know where to start. Webb paints a vivid picture of life in the hot desert of Arizona. Her characters came alive on the page. My heart broke for Kyle, a good kid living with a foster family because his family can no longer take care of him. Lena’s past as part of the foster system tethers her tighter to the case. Webb gives little tidbits of information regarding the area. She explains little known facts that tie directly to the plot. It is interesting and enriches the plot to pull the reader in even further. The end has a totally unexpected twist. I love when an author masterfully uses her craft to make me gasp.

This is the eighth book in the Lena Jones Mystery series, and the first one I have read, and it works very well as a stand-alone novel. I am appalled that I somehow missed Betty Webb’s previous books when looking for a new favorite writer to add to my list. She also writes the Gunn Zoo Mystery Series which I need to seek out. How can you not love books with titles like The Koala of Death? I am looking forward to reading many more of Betty Webb’s books.

Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.

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Blogging 101 Here I Come!

I’ve been known to do things backwards. Who doesn’t like to eat dessert first? 100_5070I might not be hungry for it after the veggies and grilled chicken. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I took Writing 101 first (loved it BTW!!!) and am taking Blogging 101 now.

The reason I decided to do Blogging 101 are pretty straight forward.

  • Even though I’ve been blogging a couple of years, there is always, always room for improvement
  • I started out with one blog (writeknit) and wrote about my writing and my knitting/crocheting
  • Not wanting to confuse my readers, I split the original blog into 2 creating and moving the posts about writing, including book reviews to that blog
  • After Writing 101 I had LOTS more followers on writeknit, so decided to at least reblog the reviews to this blog also
  • Since my blog was about 2 different topics, my theme really needs work

So in a nutshell, I a tend to jump in with both feet and ask questions later. But suggestions are welcome and learning new things is essential to growth. Here I am hoping to learn and share with all of you.



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Writing 101 Day 14 – The Story Continues Part 3 The Greatest Loss

Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.

For inspiration, ponder the phrase “lost and found.” What do you think about or visualize when you read this phrase? For an elementary schooler, it might be a box in their classroom, full of forgotten jackets and random toys. For a frequent traveler, it might be a facility in an airport, packed with lost phones, abandoned bags, and misplaced items.

On day four, you wrote about losing something. On day thirteen, you then wrote about finding something. So, today’s twist: If you’d like to continue our serial challenge,also reflect on the theme of “lost and found” more generally in this post.

Here are parts 1 & 2 in case you missed them:

The Greatest Loss (working title until something else replaces it)

“Time is of the essence!” declares Charlie as he slowing moves across the crowded restaurant using his hated walker.

It was nice to be able to get around without falling over, but honestly, did his grandkids really need to put those neon yellow tennis balls on the front legs of the thing? He was steady enough to pick it up each time he moved forward. Most of the time anyway.

“Mom, mom, mom,” chanted his six-year-old great-granddaughter. She didn’t really want anything other than being the center of attention. Hopping around like a kangaroo on crack, she banged into the back of at least three people on the way to their table. One lady dropped pasta down the front of a previously lovely white sweater when her lunch was disrupted by the girl.

“Katie, come back here,” hissed Charlie’s newly divorced daughter Amanda. “Dad, we’ll just meet you at the table, don’t hurry.”

Amanda may have told him not to hurry, but Charlie heard the impatience in her voice. She was irritated with her granddaughter and her father. He tried to step it up a bit, but his hip was really sore from a fall the night before. Of course he didn’t say anything about it to Amanda, she’d be one step closer to moving him to a nursing home and herself in his house.

Finally arriving at the table, he thumped down in the chair with an audible sigh of relief for having made the journey from the car safely. Gone were the days when he could hop out of the car without even thinking about it, jog to the stairs and take them two at a time. Sitting quietly collecting himself while the women in his life chatter over their lunch choices, he wondered how he slipped unnoticed from a vibrant young man to the old codger he’d become.

Charlie rather enjoyed watching the spectacle going on around him. Until Katie grabbed Amanda’s purse upending it all over the table and his lap. Bits of gum, pens and papers surrounded their table like shrapnel.

“Dad, I’ll be right back, Katie and I need to go outside and discuss proper behavior,” said Amanda as she steered the contrite young girl towards the door.

Charlie began picking up the papers he could easily reach, when he flipped over an envelope with his name on it. Frowning he looked inside and realized it was from a mortgage company. His house was paid for, why would they send a bill with his name on it to Amanda’s address?

Part 2

A much more subdued Katie walked stiffly back to the table where her great-grandfather waited. Amanda followed, her lipstick a tight blood-red slash on her pale face. She sat down in the chair looking every bit as tired as her father.

“Katie,” she said quietly. “What do you have to say to Great-Grandpa?”

“I’m sorry I was noisy and rude and made a mess with Grandma’s purse,” Katie answered as she looked down at her scuffed crocs.

Charlie cleared his throat and attempted to look sternly at the little girl. She really did look small and even a bit sorry.

“That’s ok Katie, now eat the rest of your lunch and you can have a scoop of orange sherbet for dessert.”

Relieved to be out of trouble, and a little  bit afraid of the only man who ever made her follow rules, she settled onto the seat to eat the lunch the server brought while she was outside. One hand held half of a grilled cheese sandwich, the other picked daintily at the fruit dish. Strawberries were her favorite, she ate them first. She started on the grapes as Charlie turned from her and waved the mortgage bill at Amanda.

“How long have you had a mortgage out on my home?” he asked.

At first Amanda just sat looking at the bill in her father’s hand. Then she began to cry.

“Daddy,” she sobbed. “I had no choice.”

“We always have choices in this life,” he answered, then sat back to wait for her explanation.

Amanda struggled to get the words out, but eventually the silence was too deafening to keep quiet any longer.

“Dad, I had to put Julie in rehab and take legal custody of Katie. Six months ago I went over to visit unannounced and found Katie alone. She’d been alone for an entire day. When Julie finally came home she was so high she didn’t even know me. They wouldn’t take her at the hospital unless I paid up front. I am so sorry, I had no choice.”

Charlie leaned over the table placing his gnarled hand over his daughter’s ice cold fingers. Letting out the breath he’d been holding, he smiled faintly at his only child. How could he have not know what was going on in his on in his own family?

Part 3

“I have my house on the market,” Amanda started in a monotone. “As soon as it sells, I planned to pay off the mortgage, and then find a small apartment to rent for Katie and me. We won’t need much space, I have been slowly selling my furniture in case the rehab facility needs more money.”

The server cruised up to the side of the table with a chipper snap of her gum. “Can I getcha any refills?”

“That would be just fine,” answered Charlie, more out of the need to get rid of her than thirst. He glanced at Katie. She had pulled a book out of her backpack and was quietly thumbing through the pages.

“The market is starting to open up,” Amanda said, drawing his attention back to her. “Don’t worry Dad, It should sell by fall and you will not have to worry a bit. I am so sorry you had to find out. You shouldn’t have to worry about me now that I am past 50 for heaven’s sake.”

Charlie grinned. “Do you think you will ever stop worrying about Julie? I know she’s really in trouble now, but once she cleans up her act, settles down and starts flying right, do you think you will ever go to bed not worrying about her?”

Amanda actually smiled. “I guess you’ve got me there. No matter how hard I try, I still worryabout her.”

The refills arrived, untouched plates were cleared and Katie decided she really wanted vanilla ice cream with strawberry topping and whipped cream. Lots of whipped cream, but no cherry. She hated them. The server, still clueless to the family drama going on at her table, zipped off to continue flirting witha nice looking bus boy. “Oh to be young again,” thought Charlie.

“When I walked in here today,” Charlie said, “I was thinking about how much fun we used to have when you were a little girl.”

Amanda smiled.

“We were busy all the time, playing cards after dinner. Heck, just making dinner was more fun than work since you used to help your mom and me every night. I was feeling pretty useless lately.”

“Dad, of course you aren’t useless!” she interrupted him.

Holding up his hand to stop her, he continued. “Here is what we are going to do. You are going to sell your house. Then you will pay off the mortgage you took out on my house. But, you will NOT move into an apartment. Katie and you are moving in with me. The schools are still good in my neighborhood, she can start in the fall. We will teach her how to play a rummy, using an upside down box to hold the cards just like you did.”

“I can’t ask you to do this,” Amanda protested.

“You didn’t ask me, I am telling you,” replied her father with more authority in his voice that had been there in years. “I will not take no for an answer, young lady!”

With that Amanda laughed out loud. “Geeze,  I don’t think you’ve called me young lady for 30 years!”

Charlie turned to Katie. “Are you ready to go home?”

She hopped off of the chair after one last lick of her ice cream spoon. “Ok Grandpa, can we come to your house?”

He smiled and nodded while slowly rising out of his chair. Making his way out of the restaurant, he walked a little taller. In the span of an hour he got something back he never thought he would ever feel again. They needed him. Even though circumstances were far from ideal, he could help make the situation better. It was good to have new purpose and meaning in his life that he thought he would never feel again.






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Book Review: This Private Plot by Alan Beechey

This Private PlotThis Private Plot  by Alan Beechey

Poisoned Pen Press


305 pages Genre: Mystery

Alan Beechey’s latest, This Private Plot,is a wonderful romp. His character,  Oliver Swithin, is a children’s book author that is currently working on a trivia book. We travel with him to his childhood home in a small village appropriately named Synne, which I am pretty sure is pronounced “sin”. Swithin is with his girlfriend, a police officer that reports to Swithin’s uncle, who is also on holiday in Synne.

While out on a naked midnight romp in the “Shakespeare Race” an authentic turf maze, our couple finds Dennis Breedlove, a former children’s television personality, hanged. The police think it is suicide, because a blackmail note is found. It turns out that Breedlove is actually the blackmailer.

Swithin is on the trail of the killer. Several trails actually. Convinced that one of the blackmailers is the killer, Swithin tries to match up suspects with the nursery rhymes Breedlove used to identify them. With the help of his girlfriend and unheeded warnings from his uncle to stop, he discovers that Synne has more than its share of secrets. They include a strange writing group run by the Vicar, a couple which may be the same person, a recluse monk and possibly his own family.

All of sleuthing is going on while Swithin’s brother is trying to prove there were two William Shakespeares and his uncle is starring in a local theater production of Hamlet. There are great tidbits of information on Shakespeare as well as other bits of trivia shared by Swithin while this story unfolds.

Beechey is a master of double-entendre. From names such as Lesbia Weguelin (to which I read “let’s be a wigglin’) to the name of the actual town. Swithin talks often about living in Synne. More than once, I stopped to read a particularly funny line to whoever was near me at the moment.

This mystery is so wonderfully British in the spirit of Agatha Christie with the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, I simultaneously laughed and was intrigued. At times, this book was a bit bawdy, but never graphic, I did not find it offensive. Deliciously tangle plot that is perfectly tied up by the end of the book, with a beautiful, unexpected twist at the end.

This is the third book in Beechley’s Oliver Swithin Mystery Series. It was the first one I’ve read and worked very well as a stand-alone mystery. Swithin is an endearingly wacky character. I want to see more of him and the other characters that Beechley skillfully brings to life  .


Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.


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