Writing for Real(ism)

My brother and his wife recently sent out some new baby pictures and an update on how  they’re doing.  With the baby at 10 weeks old they are getting approximately 5-7 hours of sleep and they declared it “luxurious”.  Oh, I remember those days! If you read my post on Mom’s vs. Navy Seals “Hell What Now?” you know that I’m sympathetic to the trials of sleep deprivation.  But now that I’m a bit more on the other side (next stop – terrible two’s!), I’m intrigued by the idea of how I can apply this knowledge to my characters.

Writers are told to add physical characteristics to their characters and bring realism to the fictional world.  And I think all writers enjoy building a character dossier – eyes, hair, height, tattoos.  But I think until I had my child it didn’t occur to me to build in the psychological effects of physical changes and stresses.  When one gains weight, there are changes such as bumping into things you didn’t used to (I swear I didn’t whack my baby belly with the car door more than 8 or 12 times).  With weight loss people can find themselves turning sideways to go through doorways that fit them just fine.  And what about memory and focus problems that come with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, or trauma? And as if these very physical realities weren’t enough, I think I should be asking not only “How does my character deal with this physical limitation or stress?” But also “What does my character feel about their reaction?”

Now I just have to figure out how to write all that around a dead body,  3 – 10 suspects, and a three act structure and I’m sure I’ll have a best seller on my hands.

State of Emergency


This Carrie Mae ultra-short story takes place before the events of High-Caliber Concealer.  Read High-Caliber Concealer to find out what happens next!


“Thanks for giving me a ride, guys,” said Jenny, jumping into the back of my convertible blue ’67 Impala. Jenny works with me at Carrie Mae.

“No prob,” I said, checking traffic and pulling away from the curb.

“Did they tell you what was wrong with your car?” asked Z’ev, turning to look at Jenny.  Z’ev is my boyfriend.  He works for the CIA.  He’s dreamy.  Yeah, I said dreamy – deal with it.

“Alternator or something.  I think I stopped listening after I heard how much it was going to cost me.”

The wind whipped her long blonde hair around her face in a way that made her look like a Ralph Lauren ad and I sighed enviously.  My red curls were always in a giant rats’ nest by the time I got out of the convertible.  “I’m serious!  I really think…”  Jenny’s thought was cut off when both our phones rang at the same time.  I made eye contact with Jenny in the rear view mirror.  I know about Z’ev’s job, but Z’ev doesn’t exactly know about mine.  The last thing I needed was a work call to interrupt one of our rare weeks together at home in LA.

There are several problems with working for Carrie Mae.  First, everyone assumes that I sell make-up.  I understand. Carrie Mae is most well known for their millions of independent beauty consultants.  The Carrie Mae Foundation, the non-profit charity branch and my employer, isn’t as well known and has the extremely simple goal of “helping women everywhere.” The Carrie Mae founders realized early on that helping women sometimes requires a silk glove of diplomacy and sometimes an iron fist of enforcement.  Basically, the Carrie Mae Foundation is part non-profit, part black ops force.  My second problem with working for Carrie Mae is that I can’t tell my family, or my boyfriend, that I’m part of the iron fist.

“It’s Ellen,” said Jenny, flipping open her phone.  “911 to her place right now!”

I nodded and pushed my foot into the gas pedal.

Ten minutes later, I had barely parked before Jenny was out of the car and running up the front walk of Ellen’s townhouse.  I followed slightly more cautiously, taking in the scene, looking for bad guys, wishing I was carrying.  The door burst open and Ellen stepped out dressed in a slip, her short silver hair in curlers.  Ellen, our team’s sniper, was usually the calm to our storm.  Periodically, she’s been known to lose her cool.  With Ellen if you behave like a misogynistic, racist jackhat, don’t be surprised if you suddenly end up with a bullet in your butt.  Anyway, she didn’t appear to be raging, she appeared to be having a panic attack.

“You have to help me.  This is…  I can’t do this.”  She flapped her hands, breathing heavily. “I have nothing to wear.”

Z’ev was half way out of the car, but froze in place at Ellen’s announcement.

“I’ll just wait in the car,” he said.  I gave him a thumbs up and went in.  I came out a few minutes later.

Z’ev had turned off the motor and was watching clouds maneuver across the sky like wide-bellied sailing ships.

“What’s up?” he asked, leaning back to look up at me.

“Ellen has a date,” I said.  Z’ev made ‘so what’ sort of gesture.  “It’s her first date since her husband died.  And she doesn’t know what to wear.”  Z’ev’s faced sucked in like he’d chomped down on a lemon.

“Ah.  It’s one of those issues.”

“Jenny is in there now on tissue and dress patrol.  I’m going to go in on make-up.  We’ll double team on hair and shoes and be out in no more than 24 minutes.”

“Why 24 minutes?” asked Z’ev, automatically synchronizing his watch.

“Because he arrives in,” I flipped over my wrist and checked the time on my watch, “25:20.”

“I’m going to turn the car around.  I’ll be parked in front, motor running,” he said.

“Good man,” I said, nodding approvingly.  I looked with dread at the house – some missions were tougher than others.  “All right, I’m going back in.”  I marched toward the door.

“Duck and cover, baby.  Duck and cover,” Z’ev called after me.

Twenty-four minutes and forty-two seconds later Jenny and I sprinted out of the house and leapt into the back seat.  Z’ev threw the car into gear and launched us down the block, just as a black sedan turned the corner.

“Z’ev, slow down, we want to see what he looks like!” said Jenny.  I leaned over the passenger seat to pull a set of binoculars out the glove compartment.  Z’ev slowed down and we crouched in the back peering over the trunk.

“Not bad,” I said, handing over the binoculars to Jenny.

“Car’s a Lexus, but four door.  Says stable, with good taste.  Khakis and button up,” said Jenny, adding her assessment.

“Fashionable without being trendy,” I agreed.  “Looks fairly fit.”

“Full head of hair,” commented Jenny.

Ellen opened the door and the man went inside.

“We’re not going to follow them on their date, are we?” asked Z’ev adjusting the rear view mirror so that he could watch the action.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” said Jenny.

“We would never spy on our friend,” I added.

“Uh-huh.  Do you want me to put the binoculars back?”

Jenny and I dissolved into giggles, which only caused Z’ev to roll his eyes.  I continued to laugh, but inside I was worried.  Sometime soon, Z’ev and I were going to have to talk.  How much longer was he going to believe I was a project manager for a regular non-profit? Who always keeps binoculars in her glove box?



Equal Rights for Positives

A funny thing happens when you read your own reviews – you start thinking about them.

I’m about a month away from completing the manuscript for Glossed Cause, the fourth book in the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, and I made the mistake of checking out a few of the reviews on High-Caliber Concealer (CM #3).  I knew it was a bad idea.  It’s always a bad idea.  What happens when I get to a bad one, hmmm?  It’s not like I can look the reviewer up, knock on their door and explain how monumentally wrong they are.  But you think, “I’ll just look at the good ones.  Just one.  I can stop there.”

You know this a total lie, right? Reviews are like Pringles for the eyes.  Like I can stop with just one.  I open up Amazon, I’m looking and… then I read this: “If you enjoy reading about Stephanie Plum, you’ll love Nicki! Maines is getting better with each book.”

And I thought, “Hell, yeah!” <insert fist pump here>

Just one?  But I have popped – I cannot stop. I should read more!

Eventually, of course, I got to one with a complaint. I’d spent too much time on Nikki’s personal life. Gah! But, but, but… Glossed Cause is about her FATHER (among other things).  What do I dooooooo????



Now I’m stuck staring at the screen, half way through the book, trying to figure out if I should turn the ship or stay the course.  “Stay the course!” my internal editor yells.  But it’s hard to hear over the crashing waves of doubt.

I was complaining a negative comment on another project to my husband he said, “Well, I think it was awesome and my vote counts more.”  <insert lightbulb going on here>

Why do the negatives get more votes?  Shouldn’t the positives get equal rights?  Here’s what I and anyone else who is stuck in this trap are going to do:  We’re going to go back, we’re going to read the first positive review, and we’re going to believe that one.  Because Maines really is getting better with every book.