Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Sunday, April 30, 2017

An opportunity to pick apart my writing . . .

cj Sez: I’ve been working on two mysteries, two widely disparate stories. One is the detective mystery set on the Gulf Coast that I’ve been meandering through for the past year and a half, and the other is a modern Western mystery set in Colorado.

I thought I’d give my readers chapter one of the Western mystery as an excerpt. It’s an opportunity to pick apart my writing.

Austin Burnette’s cellphone went off at the same time he started twisting the handle of a claw hammer through a wire hoop at the gate post to tighten the fence wire. It was his last job of the day before he headed home. He left the hammer hanging in the wire and peeled off his thick, leather glove to pluck the phone out of his belt clip. The name on the display read Steve Carradine.
“Hey, Boss.”
“Austin, where are you?”
“At the loading pens in the north pasture. What do you need?” He wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve.
“Tobias had an accident.”
“Dad? Where?”
“At the house. It’s bad. Better come now.”
Austin threw the tools into the back of the pickup.
Twenty minutes later, the Dodge skidded to a stop in the gravel at his father’s cabin, bathed in strobing blue lights. He jogged past two idling County Sheriff cars, hesitated next to the coroner’s wagon, then took the porch steps two at a time.  The house smelled of burned coffee, and a stench he couldn’t identify left the taste of copper in his mouth.
In the kitchen, Sheriff Dan Everton huddled in quiet conversation with Steve Carradine and Mitchell Hargreaves, the local medical doctor who also acted as the coroner. There was an irregular shaped pool of dark red liquid on the boot-scuffed grayish linoleum under the table.
Austin inhaled a gasp and strode toward the orange body bag strapped onto a gurney.
Carradine intercepted him. “Austin, I’m so sorry.”
“What happened?”
“Snake bite,” Doc Hargreaves said, shaking his head.
Austin ran the zipper on the body bag down as far as the second button on his father’s shirt before the sheriff placed a hand on his.
“You might not want to do that.”
Austin pushed Everton’s hand aside, pushed open the bag, and gazed at his father’s face.
A low groan escaped his throat as he cupped his father’s face in his hand. “Aw, Dad.”
There were multiple pairs of puffed and bloody holes on Tobias Burnette’s ashen cheek. The discoloration around a set on his neck showed the venom had already begun to destroy tissue.
“He must’ve fallen into a nest of rattlers,” Everton said. “They struck him nearly a dozen times.”
“He didn’t call for help?”
“His cell’s on the kitchen table there. Not working.”
“If he didn’t call, how’d you know to come?”
Carradine dropped a heavy hand on Steve’s shoulder. “I found him. I was on my way to pick up a prescription for Sally and stopped by to see if he needed anything while I was in town.”
“Snake bite’s not what killed him,” Doc said.
Austin’s eyes asked the question.
“He would have been going into shock, dizzy, having difficulty breathing. At his age and in his condition, it wouldn’t take long for the neurotoxins to start destroying his body. Looks like he decided to take control of how he died before he got too weak.” Hargreaves cleared his throat and looked at the sheriff as if for confirmation. “He slit his wrists. Steve found his bloody straight razor on the floor.”
Austin zipped the body bag fully open, tenderly raised his father’s arm, and then looked again at the floor. The coppery taste in his mouth came from his father’s drying blood.
“There was no reason,” Austin whispered. “Antivenin could’ve saved him, wouldn’t it?”
Hargreaves shook his head. “Him not being able to call for help? That’s not likely. With the number of hits he took, he would’ve run out of time. Those there on his neck got the jugular. A straight shot to the blood stream and his heart. Never saw anything like it before. More ’n likely, he knew it’d be a painful death. I’ll know more when I finish the autopsy.”
“Autopsy? You said he—” Austin said.
“The law says we have to do an autopsy in circumstances like these. And I’ll want to send off blood and tissue samples to Colorado State University in Fort Collins to determine what kind of snake it was. It’ll take a couple of weeks or more to get the answers.”
“A couple of weeks for some lab tech to tell you it was a rattlesnake? This ranch is called La Cascabel for a reason, Doc. The name means rattlesnake. There are three venomous snakes in Colorado, and all of them have the word rattlesnake in their name. You going to make me wait two weeks to bury my father when the answer is that obvious?”
“Not at all. Waiting for the results is my task. I need the lab results before I can sign off on the death certificate. You tell me what funeral home you want to use, and I’ll release your father’s body to them day after tomorrow,” Hargreaves said, then swept his hand toward the kitchen floor. “I’ll send somebody over to clean up.”
“No!” The word burst out of Austin’s mouth, then he calmed. “No. I’ll do it.”
The doctor nodded and closed the zipper on the body bag. “I’m real sorry for your loss, son. Tobias was a good friend to me and a lot of folks around here and a real special man. He’ll be missed.” He cleared his throat. “Dearly missed.”
Austin fixated on the gurney as the sheriff’s deputies rolled it out to the coroner’s wagon while Carradine and Everton repeated condolences that he vaguely heard. Finally the room was filled with a deathly silence that made him shiver. He escaped from the kitchen to his father’s bedroom where he rummaged around in a desk drawer until he found the 8x10 framed family portrait taken at Risen Son Baptist Church when he was fourteen. 
It occurred to him that the picture had been taken the year before his mother had driven away with his sister and never returned. State police reported that she must’ve taken an icy curve too fast and rolled over. The aged pickup wasn’t equipped with seat belts. He frowned, and in a voice filled with sad wonderment, he announced his new status aloud: “I’m an orphan.”
He touched his fingers to each face as he remembered the years that followed. His father homeschooled him, hired tutors when he reached the limits of his own abilities, taught him how to rope a cow and break a horse. When he told his father he wanted to be a lawyer, Tobias got the money to pay for law school by selling the ranch to Steve Carradine, all except the cabin and the surrounding forty acres. Tobias quieted Austin’s protests by claiming he’d already decided it was time he sold. Said he’d gotten too old to do a proper job of ranching, but he wanted to keep the little place he’d built for his bride fifty years before and the land that came with it.
Tears blurred the picture in Austin’s hand when he thought of the grim phone call he’d gotten from Tobias six months before.
“Doc says I have cancer, son. Thought you ought to know.”
“I’ll be home as soon as I can,” Austin said.
“No need to do that. It’s called a carcinoid, and it’s a slow-growing thing. Doc says I probably had it for years.”
Austin knew cancer was unpredictable. Patients can live years, or they can die in weeks. He’d defended physicians in more than one medical malpractice lawsuit when a cancer diagnosed to be in remission had unexpectedly metastasized. “May be, but I’d like to come home. For a little while, if that’s okay. I kind of miss the ranch.”
He hadn’t said it but he was grateful for the chance to repay some of the debt he owed his father. He closed his law practice in Colorado Springs and came home to PiƱos, the small town in southwest Colorado founded by his great-grandfather. Finding work as a ranch hand for the La Cascabel Ranch was a return to his youth, yielding memories of the days when he’d worked side by side with his father on the land that had once been theirs.
Austin eased down into the brown, saddle leather chair his father kept in front of the picture window that framed the dusty-green sage and Ponderosa pines in the distance. He rested his boots atop the cowhide ottoman and stared, unseeing, at Tobias’s favorite scene.  Silent tears coursed down his face as he sat with the photo pressed hard to his chest.
“Damn it, old man. What were you doing?” Then he broke into body-wrenching sobs.
The Ponderosas, silhouetted in the light of October’s full Cold Moon, were throwing long, dreary shadows across a clearing when Austin stirred from the chair. Flipping the switch on a lamp, he placed the photo back in the drawer then glanced at his image in the mirror his mother hung on a nail next to the front door. The Burnette women had used it to do last-minute checks of their appearance on the way out. He skirted the mahogany stain on the kitchen floor as he headed for the sink where he splashed cupped handfuls of water on his face and obliterated the dirty tracks of his tears with a rough towel. 
Rolling up his sleeves, he filled a three-gallon galvanized bucket half-full with cold water and poured in a stream of vinegar followed by half a box of baking soda, and watched the solution roil up. He dipped a brush in the solution and scrubbed the legs of the chairs and table before carrying them to the porch. Then he emptied the bucket onto the floor, grabbed the mop from behind the door, and erased the vestiges of Tobias’s life blood. When he was done, he filled the bucket again with the same solution and scoured the floor on his hands and knees with the scrub brush. He mopped the floor one last time with clear water then heaved the mop, the scrub brush, and the bucket out the door.
While the floor dried, he sat in his father’s chair and toyed with the dead cellphone. A warm flush of love washed over him as he remembered the resistance he encountered the day he instructed his dad on the phone’s use. It’d taken a lot of convincing to get Tobias to agree that he needed a cellphone in case of emergency. Austin had programmed his own cell number as number one on the speed dial to make it as easy as possible. Cracking the back to check the battery, he discovered both it and the SIM card were gone.
I didn’t think you even knew how to open this thing
cj Sez: There it is. Chapter one of my Western mystery. Have at it...tell me what you think, would you?  

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

  “Bad Day at Round Rock” a short story in The Posse, a Western anthology @

The Great Outdoors  8 book publisher’s bundle (includes Choosing Carter) Available May 1 @99 cents 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
California Kisses—10 book publisher’s bundle (includes Deadly Star) @ 99 cents

Sunday, April 23, 2017

cj Sez:  The following note comes from Sisters in Crime, the international writers’ group:

“We need diverse books, which is why Sisters in Crime launched the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award. This award provides a $1,500 grant to an emerging mystery writer of color. Submissions for the 2017 grant are now open.”

This call for submissions is open to emerging writers of color, male or female, who have not yet published a full-length work. Applicants do not have to be a member of SinC to apply.

Go here to find out about eligibility requirements: 

Note:  The deadline is June 15th.

Helpful text to copy and tweet this message to your friends: “Submissions are now open for the #ETBA17, an emerging mystery writers of color grant.

The following note comes from Tara Gelsomino, Executive Editor at Crimson Romance, my publisher and an imprint of Simon&Schuster: 

FACEBOOK…APRIL 20   “Just a note that I'm finally all caught up on submissions. So if anyone has manuscripts they're sending or friends who are looking to query, now's a great time to send us anything.”

Find submission requirements here:


I recently acted as a judge for entries into the Romance Writers of America Kiss of Death Chapter’s 2017 Daphne du Maurer Awards for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. My assignment was to judge the first thirty pages of unpublished and uncontracted manuscripts. It was a huge responsibility and a great experience.

RWA judges don’t sit on the bench without proper instruction, thank goodness. I received a packet of how-to-judge-this-contest documents, but even they didn’t allay all my fears. After all, I going to JUDGE a brand-new writer’s hard work, a story someone has worked on for months or maybe (like me) for years. I knew what these writers must be feeling because I felt the same anxiety when I entered my first RWA contest. It turned out to be justified when one judge wrote that she felt like throwing the pages against the wall when the story didn’t end as the accepted rules for a romance said it should.

When thirty pages of manuscript from each unpublished writer arrived in my inbox one day in March, I stared at the computer screen for several minutes before I thought to download them. Judging is an intense process, and there is a deadline to meet. My objective analyses require several read-throughs because I am determined to be fair and not let any personal biases affect my scoring of these entries.
The writing world is brimming with rejections, and writers have to be pretty thick-skinned to entrust their work to strangers. However, those how-to-judge pages reminded me that new writers are especially vulnerable to criticism. I tried really hard to balance my comments on the things done wrong with praise for the things done right. I hope I was successful in not badly bruising any of these writers’ egos. I also hope that someday I get to read their published works.

The winners of the 2017 Daphne du Maurer Awards for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense will be announced at the Kiss of Death’s annual “Death by Chocolate” extravaganza in July. I'm excited to find out who made the leap to Award Winner.

You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


PS: A research note to remember:  What the author knows about character, scene, and career never makes it onto the page.

Bad Day at Round Rock” a short story in The Posse, anthology, still 99 cents @
Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
California Kisses—10 book publisher’s bundle (includes Deadly Star) @ 99 cents
The Great Outdoors  8 book publisher’s bundle (includes Choosing Carter) Available May 1 @99 cents

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter blessings

cj Sez: 

May this Easter Day 
bring you peace and happiness.

May you be comforted by the assurance

There is hope in the risen Christ.

Wishing you the Gift of Faith

The Blessing of Hope

And a Life filled with Love


“Bad Day at Round Rock” a short story in The Posse, a Western anthology.  Available at

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Want more bang for your marketing buck? Try a freebie

Something to think about:

cj Sez: Marketing . . . the incredibly important bane of authors. How much to spend, where to spend it, how to get the most bang for your buck, and the time. Egads, the time involved that takes a writer away from the writing itself. Vicki Turner Goodwin, of Mystery Thriller Week fame, posted a wonderful piece on her blog that I want to share with you. It’s a how-to on using Facebook to do some free marketing.

Vicki writes: “I wanted to share with you a few options for marketing on Facebook even if you do not want to have an active Facebook account for yourself.

Facebook is a huge opportunity for authors that are looking for just one more book sale, one more reader and that elusive one more fan. Many people do not trust Facebook as a platform where they want to spend their time and do not enjoy sharing their personal information with the powers that be like Zuckerburg and other corporate entities. I have the perfect solution for you as an author.

Read her post here:  

I decided to try it but had a problem uploading my cover jpeg because it’s portrait-oriented and the place to drop it is landscape. Vicki responded to my whining with this helpful note:

“Go into (free ) put in the dimensions you need and upload your image. It will place it centered in the exact specifications you need.” And she included the url address below

Canva makes design simple for everyone. Create designs for Web or print: blog graphics,…    CANVA.COM

I haven’t done Canva yet as my garden was calling me all Saturday afternoon, but I’ll be at the keyboard soon to see if I can work through it.  I absolutely KNOW that a lot of you readers have already done this, but I’m a bit of a troglodyte when it comes to technology, especially Facebook’s. But I’ll get there, one way or the other.
cj’s “to-do” list:
The Alabama Writers' Conclave has an upcoming conference that I’m attending . . . 

On the writing front, I’m thinking up another challenge for the protagonist/sleuth in my work in progress, and it is Work. Writing a mystery presents a huge learning curve to me. Thriller and suspense genres I have managed to some small degree, but a mystery is a whole ’nother story. Here’s what I know so far:

What is the same among the genres is that my protagonist detective/sleuth must be likeable, have some personality quirks, and a bit of backstory baggage to be dropped intermittently into the story (no info dumps, please). My sleuth has a confidant, which is another recommended device. My setting is rather unique as non-cozy mysteries go in it’s not in a big city, and there’s a love interest to add a little jazz. Each of the major characters, including the bad guy, will have a piece of history or secret that affects how they react, andI hopegenerate some degree of sympathy.

Jeffery Deaver: “I like the way words go together and I like the gamesmanship of poetry. It is such a challenge.”  (cj Sez: Works the same way for me with novels.)

The clues and red herrings are struggles for me. Where and how do I place them so they invite the reader to try to solve the mystery but don’t reveal so much that they can do that too soon? I am a pantser or, more accurately, a pathfinder. I find my way through the story by throwing roadblocks in the path of my characters then figuring out how to have them escape. For a mystery, I’m going to have to do a bit of ::gasp:: plotting. Before I can hide the clues and weave in the red herrings, I probably should know how my protagonist will be solving the crime. Then again, not knowing ahead of time is kind of exciting.

I read that Hallie Ephron struggles with these same problems, so that makes me feel better. I guess this struggle might be problem for many mystery writers. I do know that, like all manuscripts, my characters, clues, and red herrings will change and be rearranged with each future edit cycle.

Diablo Cody: “I don’t have a formal rewrite process. I just compulsively groom and re-groom scenes like a cat with OCD.”  (cj Sez: My method exactly.)

What I really like is that I’m learning new things. My personal goal has long been to learn something new every day, and this (really long) project is certainly helping me reach my goal. How about you? Do you have a personal goal?

Okay, that’s it for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


PS: Don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Posse while it’s still 99 cents on Amazon….and please leave a review. Good, bad, indifferent, authors crave the feedback, and publishers just about demand it. Goodreads and Amazon would love to know what you think, too. Thanks.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo
California Kisses—10 book publisher’s bundle 99 cents 
“Bad Day at Round Rock” a short story in The Posse, a Western anthology.  Available at

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Virtually yours

So, tell me...what do you think of my newsletter masthead?

cj Sez: Writers’ organizations are great for learning the craft and for networking. Today I was a guest at a meeting of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and I learned a lot. They meet in Mobile, AL, and their virtual guest (from Kalamazoo, MI, via a live online conference) was Hillary Rettig, author of THE 7 SECRETS OF THE PROLIFIC. It was fascinating to me how she hit a lot of my personality quirks that need to be amended.

The Gulf Coast chapter of RWA might be my next membership. Currently, I’m a member of Mobile Writers Guild, Alabama Writers’ Forum, Alabama Writers’ Conclave, Sisters in Crime, and their online group Guppies, and the online Mystery Thriller Week event. Each of these organizations is important to my growth as an author.

Since all but two of my memberships are Alabama specific, I’ll recommend Sisters in Crime and their online group Guppies. The feedback from these international writers is informative, super supportive, and on the money. Not only do Guppies have a large list of specialized groups (for agent searches, querying, critiquing of specific genres, manuscript swaps, et al.), they also offer a variety of on-line skill-building classes. Recent Guppy classes include: “Writing is Revision” with award winning author Linda Rodriguez; “The Historical Novel” with NYT, USA Today and PW best-selling author Rhys Bowen; and “Writing Mysteries: Short, Single Novel or Series” with Laurie Scheer, former VP of programming for WE: Women’s Entertainment.

If you haven’t joined a writers’ organization, you should think about doing that.

Looking for a publisher for your romance story? Digital-first publisher Crimson Romance is open for submissions. The following is excerpted from their website:

Our digital-first romance line is open to submissions in five popular subgenres: romantic suspense, contemporary, paranormal, historical, and spicy romance. While your work can include other genre elements, Crimson Romance stories must focus first and foremost on a hero and heroine’s emotional journey together towards love and have a happily-ever-after or at least happy-for-now ending. 

We’re looking for previously unpublished full-length novels (between 50,000 – 90,000 words) and novellas (between 30,000 – 50,000 words). All authors—agented or unagented, beginner or veteran writers—are welcome to submit any works that have not been previously published in whole or in part in any media, including self-publishing (Kindle, CreateSpace, etc.)

Speaking of Crimson Romance, Choosing Carter is part of
their 8-book bundle called “More than Friends.” Available for a limited time. Here’s a review:

These stories must have been very enjoyable to write because they were really great to read. The characters were really good and every one of these stories should be followed with a sequel.

Deadly Star is part of Crimson Romance’s new 10-book bundle called “California Kisses.”  No reviews yet but here’s the
publisher’s blurb:

We’ve packed this bundle full of mountains, beaches, Hollywood glamour, sunshine, and wine, delivering romance the way only California can. Join these ten couples as they explore love in the state known for its golden dreams.

Then, of course, there’s my short story “Bad Day at Round Rock” in the newly launched The Posse anthology of 8 Western short stories from publisher Intellect Publishing, LLC.

Here’s a 5-star review: The Posse has a little bit for everyone who loves the Old West. If you're like me, and a romance reader, you will thoroughly enjoy Lyn Horner and cj Peterson's romantic tales of the Old West. Excellent stories, woven in with period details. If you're a lover of Old West "grit" the other stories will grab hold of you and not let you go!

All of these Ebooks are currently on sale at Amazon for 99 cents. Think about it…Here’s an opportunity to get 18 romance novels plus 8 Western stories for less than $3.00 (plus tax, of course).

Okay, my job here is done. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

PS:  I published my first quarterly newsletter yesterday (note the header picture above) and, BSP, am pretty happy with the results. Of course, there will be future tweaking of the exact format, including the masthead which has already happened, but all in all it turned into a newsy issue. Drop me a note if you want a sample copy, or if you want to sign up.