Monday, October 29, 2012

Where's the (story) beef?

Showing my age here, but there were several Wendy's commercials some time ago, with a grandma asking "where's the beef?" To refresh your memory, I've pasted one from YouTube below.

The "Where's the beef" lady isn't seduced by the fine bun, the clean presentation, or even the tidy condiments. She won't settle for less than the real thing, and she's not going to swallow her discontent and walk away. She wants a juicy hamburger.

Give that lady a burger!

Same is true with your story. You can dress up the characters in all their finery and quirks, but if you're not going anywhere with these characters, your customers/readers will not be satisfied.

I'm not saying your book has to be plot-heavy. The plot should be, in my opinion, character-driven. That means the main character(s) better have clear goals, motivations, and conflicts, and these should be relevant, even essential, to the plot.

Though it's hard to talk about plot independently, a strong plot should have obstacles that keep the character from reaching their goal until the story payoff at the end of the book. Each of these obstacles should challenge the character to change/grow or at a minimum, put the character into a jam.

The more you flesh out these obstacles and the more your character reacts to the circumstances, the bigger the beef. Sync plot to character change from start to finish and you'll have satisfied readers!

Maggie Toussaint

A murder story was every reporter’s dream - Molly in Murder in the Buff

Monday, October 22, 2012

Would you leave your child?

True story in my small town:

In March 2011, a man and his stepson went hunting in the nearby swamp on a 70 degree morning, got lost, got way too cold when the temperature plunged into the 30s, and couldn't find their way out in the dark. It started raining. The man tried to carry his son when the son couldn't go on, but it wasn't working. For better or worse, the man made the decision to leave the boy and go for help.

A long time later, the dad made it out, got help, but it was too late. The boy drowned in the swamp. People were abuzz all over town about whether or not the guy was guilty. He did leave the 15-year-old behind and allegedly the death happened in his absence.

The man's wife divorced him and remarried, and the new couple attended the trial, intent on seeing justice for her boy. I've talked to several people since the trial, and the opinion is split. One person said she'd been in that swamp before during the heat of summer and stepped in a boghole and her waders unexpectedly filled up with water. She said it was days before she warmed up again. She said it's very easy to make bad decisions during hypothermia.

Other people like myself say that they wouldn't have left the boy, no matter what. If we'd have both froze to death, so be it. A child is a child.

The dad was charged with two counts of malice murder, second degree cruelty to children, felony murder, contributing to the deprivation of a minor and involuntary manslaughter.

The trial took 4 days. During that time, testimony corroborated the boy drowned. The dad's own words in his testimony: "Everything looked the same. I do know the swamp like the back of my hand, but if you go there at night it all looks the same in the water. I said, 'son, you got to put everything into this or we're both gonna die back here. We're both gonna die. We're not gonna make it out.'"

The dad gave the boy his wool socks. He strapped his rifle across his back for the boy to hold onto. He carried the kid for hours. The GPS couldn't get a signal. He set the kid down and went out like spokes on a wheel from the kid's location, but couldn't get his bearings. This went on for hours, and it kept getting colder. Finally he made the decision to leave the boy.

It took another few hours for him to find his way out of the swamp and to send a search team for the boy. But it was too late. Way too late.

The jury deliberated only a few hours and returned their verdict. Not guilty on either malice murder charge, not guilty on second degree cruelty to children, not guilty on felony murder. He was found guilty of contributing to the deprivation of a minor and involuntary manslaughter.

Sentencing came next. The range of time served was 5 to 10 years for each charge. The judge said 10 years for each guilty charge to run concurrently, with 5 years in the state penitentiary and 5 on probation plus a monetary fine.

I did not sit through the trial and only know what I read in the paper and what others said who did attend. A child died. That's what the judge kept coming back to in his sentencing remarks. Everyone agreed that it was a tragedy. The jury said it wasn't murder. But for this bad decision made under duress, this dad lost his son, lost 5 years of his life, and even lost his wife.

It's easy to armchair quarterback and say what you'd have done. The thing I can't get past is I wouldn't have left a child. I just wouldn't.

What about you?

thanks to The Darien News story of Oct. 11, 2012 for the quoted material

Maggie Toussaint
On the Nickel, now on Kindle

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On The Nickel is now available as an E-book

Friends, Readers, and Countrymen,

Lend me your ... eyes! I have great news. The second book in my popular Cleopatra Jones mystery series is now available as an ebook on Kindle. It's priced at $2.99

Which book is On The Nickel? I'm so glad you asked!!

Kirkus Reviews said this: "The second in this amusing and romantic series (In for a Penny, 2008) is a welcome addition to the cozy ranks."
If that doesn't whet your whistle, read this glowing review by Rising Star Reviews:
"Do you like cozy mysteries with a Southern flair, a little bit of sexiness, and a lot of fun in-between the murder and mayhem? Then On the Nickel might be the satisfying read you've been waiting for. The novel stars Cleopatra Jones, an accountant, a struggling nine-hole golfer, mother of two teenage girls, and daughter to a mother who often needs corralling more than the young girls in the household. Throw in a mighty sexy golf pro and a pregnant Saint Bernard, and you have an entertaining read in itself.
To make the story even more interesting, a murder occurs in the church parking lot where Cleo's mother often meets with the Ladies Outreach Committee. And Mama's car has an unexplained dent in the fender.
On the Nickel is the second in the Cleopatra Jones Mysteries. The first is In for a Penny, which will entertain you as much as the second. Maggie Toussaint should know how to write "Southern"—she IS Southern to the core. I recommend both novels."
Note: In For A Penny is also $2.99 on Kindle!
Here's a snip of Review from Auntie M Writes: "Toussaint gets all the points right: love-able but demanding teenagers; the push from an ex wanting a second chance; the pull of an exciting new love; even the behind-the-scenes hierarchy and drama of Southern churchwomen groups.
This is perfect for summer reading, with its lighthearted, balanced storyline combining more than a hint of romance, as Cleo scrambles find the real murderer of Erica Hodges, and all before her St. Bernard delivers those puppies!"
Here's a snip from THE READING REVIEWER: "What a complete and utter delight this book is. Cleo is a wonderful character and all the people in her life just add icing to the cake to make the book a great read." -- Mary Gramlich
And a last enticement:  "A good curl-up-on-the-couch mystery!" from reader Ruthann Heidgerken.
Click on over to see the book, like and tag it, and read the first two chapters through the LOOK INSIDE feature!
I'm glad to be able to bring this series to you in digital format. The third book in this series is under contract and will release in hardcover in 2013.
Maggie Toussaint

Monday, October 15, 2012

Too much stuff

I wish I'd taken a picture of my late sister's sewing room before we dismantled it. She'd been quilting for at least twenty years, and there were boxes, bags, and bins of fabric everywhere. Knowing only a smidge about sewing, I knew enough not to throw out the pieces I would ordinarily consider scraps.

I contacted some charitable groups who made out like bandits with all the goodies, but the family kept some large pieces, just because. We also found a huge bin of quilted tops. All they need is batting and quilting together. We saved those pieces too.

Again, not because any of us want to quilt, but we wanted to keep my sister's labor of love in the family. Another sister told me she has an aunt's silver, Mama's good dishes, Nana's furniture, and a lot of Daddy's things at her house. She claims she has no room for this treasure hoard of fabric we saved.

When we moved back to Georgia about seven years ago, we'd already undergone the huge downsizing purge. We'd trimmed our possessions down by 3/4 because we didn't need all that stuff anymore.

We moved into a cozy cottage in the deep South, and life was good. Then we came-by a few things here and there. Stuff that was useful in some way. Before long, all the closets in our new place were stuffed. I've got new stacks of fabric in my office and I don't know where I will put it, much less the cache of fabric for the "family."

Clearly, I have too much stuff. On Sunday our pastor spoke on the follies of stuff, citing the Bible passage about the rich, young ruler who couldn't give up his wealth. I don't know that I've amassed great wealth, unless you count seashells, driftwood, and good memories, but I'm loathe to part with any of my stuff. I might need it, you know?

I have yoga stuff, music stuff, writing stuff, promotional stuff, festival stuff, newspaper stuff, computer stuff, and more stowed in here. Prime stuff, in my estimation.

I guess if I'm lucky enough to live a long life, I will downsize and move again, but it's not something I look forward to. I really like my stuff.

Do you feel the same way about your stuff?

What are you unwilling to part with?

Maggie Toussaint

ps -- smoking hot review of Murder in the Buff at Amazon this past week. Here's a snip:

"This is a suspense story mixed with romance and the dynamics of a family. It is a story that will keep you guessing and totally entertained. This is the first book that I have read by Maggie Toussaint and definitely not the last." Marilou George, amazon reviewer


Get your very own copy of Murder in the Buff: Muse It Up Publishing  BarnesandNoble

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bear cakes, books, and babies, oh my!

Ben and a Bear Cake
Nothing I like better than visiting my kids and grandkids. Our family is spread out all over the country, so we can't just jump in the car and show up for dinner. My oldest grandson recently had the honor of being served a bear cake, and I was lucky enough to come away with the best picture ever. I also jumped gleefully off the diet wagon and had a pancake and they were that good.

Donnell Bell and Maggie at Marigold's
On this same trip I had lunch with mystery author Donnell Bell (The Past Came Hunting), and she's on the silent auction committee for Left Coast Crime. Her co-chair is Mike Befeler, so if you're headed to Left Coast Crime next March go ahead and be thinking of items you can donate to the auction. I just had a wonderful idea occur to me for what I'd like to donate.

Mule deer just out for a stroll
I am most pleased to announce a new book contract! HOT WATER, the second book in my seaside series, was acquired by The Wild Rose Press. In this romantic suspense, a small town cop trying to make detective is paired with the state arson investigator. They're on the trail of a serial arsonist who has a habit of leaving dead bodies in his fires. Thanks to fan Martha Carney who kept insisting that Laurie Ann deserved her own story.

Because all good things come in threes, I'm working on the final book of that trilogy. The working title is Still Waters, but there are a lot of books with that title out there, so count on it having a different name when I shop it to my publisher. The series started out with MUDDY WATERS, in which Roxie the realtor and Sloan the security expert hunt for a missing inheritance.

Blue skies in Colorado
Last in the great news department is the pending re-release of ON THE NICKEL, the second in my popular Cleopatra Jones mystery series. The first in that series, IN FOR A PENNY, was released in July as an e-book. Both books were hardcover and large print editions for Five Star / Cengage. My publisher for the e-book versions is Muddle House Publishing, my own imprint.

I worked with the most fantastic cover artist ever to develop the new cover for ON THE NICKEL. I found a batch of photos I liked. Polly helped me to pick the picture that had the clearest message, then she went to work on the fonts. She even managed to work the nickel into the cover without it looking cheesy. Hail to Polly Iyer, a great author and cover artist. Check her site at to see all the powerful covers she created for herself. I'm awed that she took me on.

Look for ON THE NICKEL to debut in late October. Mama's car killed the church lady, but who was behind the wheel?

Craig in Colorado
Thanks for visiting Mudpies and catching up on my news. Here's one more tidbit: Happy aniversary to me! 35 years ago today I said "I do" to a wonderful man.

Until next time,

Maggie Toussaint