Current events: A 27-year-old-baby?

Hey everyone,

I know, I know. That headline sounds like it could be from the tabloids, and in a way it is! A couple of weeks ago, news hit about the record-breaking 27-year-old-baby, just 2 years younger than her mom. “What?” you say. I did a double take as well.

It’s all about frozen eggs and IVF.

The baby, Molly Gibson, was born from an embryo frozen in 1992. Her mom, Tina Gibson, was just a two-year-old toddler when the embryo was put in the deep freeze. Crazy, right?

Turns out the egg was donated and frozen on October 14, 1992. In 2019, it was “unfrozen” and implanted into Molly’s mom, Tina. This beats the record for a live birth from a frozen embryo. And surprisingly, the previous record for a live birth from a frozen embryo belonged to Molly’s sister, Emma. That egg was donated by the same couple in 1992. Here’s a link to this amazing news story with a photo of adorable baby Molly.

A 27-year-old embryo. Of course, the technology for frozen eggs has changed over the years, but the end result is still the same. It’s exciting and promising, and makes you wonder if there’s any limit on how long an egg can be frozen. I can think of some great sci-fi plots already.

If you’ve read Due Date and/or The Stork, you know that one of the themes is fertility, IVF, and surrogacy. The topic of frozen eggs relates very tangentially to The Found Child. I find the topic of IVF and surrogacy so compelling, both in real life and in fiction. To me, it’s really a miracle that an almost 30-year-old egg can be, in a sense, re-animated, and produce a live human being. Wow.

Until next time,


Writing tips: Storylines

Hey everyone,

One of the most fun exercises I went through in my writing process was teasing out the storylines and weaving them together. I learned this technique from my writing mentor Mary Carroll Moore. Mary calls these storylines “themes”, and talks about them in her book on writing called Your Book Starts Here. After writing the first five drafts of The Found Child, I finally felt I knew the book well enough to identify the themes, the glue. The process that turns a manuscript into a book.

Surprisingly, these storylines didn’t leap out at me at immediately. I had to dig and ferret out what was behind the words. I knew the plot inside and out, I thought the book read well, and I thought my character, Shelby, grew and was transformed during the novel. But I was missing something: that cohesive whole.

Mary points out that themes don’t surface until they are good and ready. You can write and rewrite, but until you know the kernel your book is structured around, it won’t have that magic of a robust, multi-layered book. And it’s a chicken and egg thing: the themes won’t be revealed until you reach a certain point in the life of the book. And the book won’t fit together until you know the themes.

But curiously, as I wrote and rewrote, I realized I had created pointers to my themes without even realizing it. Shelby’s miscarriages. Revenge. Her multi-faceted relationship with her brother and her best friend Megan. Her separation from her husband. When I studied all these pointers, I identified the major theme as a person growing into wholeness, coming full circle.

Once I identified the main theme, I was able to break it into the storylines that revealed the main theme and moved the story, and Shelby’s journey, forward. I had seven storylines:

  • Home life 
  • Revenge
  • Work life
  • The twins Shelby gave up for adoption
  • Crystal (one of the cases Shelby is working on)
  • Little lab (a biotech lab Shelby tracks down in her quest for revenge)
  • Shelby’s genetic offspring

In addition, I identified backstory and setting as additional parts of the manuscript I wanted to know more about. Not quite themes, but definitely integral to showing Shelby’s inner and outer lives.

What I did next was a deep dive into those themes. In a file separate from the manuscript, one for each storyline, I followed the arc of that theme from beginning to end. Then, I opened the manuscript. I color coded each paragraph: for example, pink for setting, orange for backstory, blue for home life, yellow for work life, red for revenge.

Here’s a sample of that coding from an early version of Chapter 1:

As you can imagine, that took a long time. Then, I created a spreadsheet and, for every page in the manuscript, noted what themes appeared on what page. By examining the entire spreadsheet, across manuscript pages, I could see where storylines, or themes, fell out. I could make adjustments to pacing, to the reveal of Shelby’s inner and outer lives, to tension.

I was able to get a window into what I had written.

Here’s an example of the spreadsheet:

This technique might not be for everyone, but I was really amazed by how much it improved the structure of my manuscript. If you think it’s too much work, I suggest giving it a try on just a few chapters. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Until next time,


Feature: Elly Griffiths

Hey everyone,

It’s the fourth Monday and it’s feature Monday, spotlighting an author I admire. This week, it’s Elly Griffiths, author of the Ruth Galloway novels. I call them a cross between cozies and literally, bone-chilling, as Ruth is a forensic archaeologist, an “identifier of human remains”. This series is not the first for Ms. Griffiths; she wrote her first series, three books about Italy and family, under her real name, Domenica de Rosa. On her blog, Ms. Griffiths says that the first book in the Ruth Galloway series, The Crossing Places, arrived fully formed on her first visit to Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk. Wow. What a story. What an imagination. When she went to pitch it, her agent told her she needed a “crime name”. Elly Griffiths was born.

Ruth is a complex character. She’s a professor with a side gig as a police consultant. She’s a lover of the wide open expanse of the marsh, a place that’s neither “land or sea”. She’s a loner who falls in love with someone unavailable and, at the outset, seemingly unsuited. After twelve books, I’m still not quite sure where that relationship is heading. Ruth has a child who we see grow up. Ruth ages. She solves crimes and puts herself in danger doing so. She’s self-deprecating and has a great sense of humour.

Perhaps what I like most about this series is the sense of place. Ms. Griffiths write about Norfolk with exquisite detail, from the tidal pulls to the bird life. She captures the sky, the fog, the sun, and the rain. It’s as much a part of the story as the plot. And the pre-historic people who inhabitated these marshy lands are woven into the fabric of each book.

Of course, each book has a mystery to solve that’s hidden in bones and sometimes in dead bodies. The mysteries point to the Iron Age and the Bronze Age, to Pendle Hill, to repatriation of Aboriginal artifacts, to Victorian body snatchers, missing children, unhinged production assistants, intergenerational tragedies, rehab, and ancient pilgrimages.

The covers are bewitching. Well-designed, cohesive, inviting. Here are the first three covers, to hopefully pique your interest:

I highly recommend this series. For those of us who love to armchair travel, this is the series to go with. You’ll love it. And it’s great to know that Ms. Griffiths has a second mystery series, The Stephens and Mephisto Novels, set in Brighton in the 1950’s. I haven’t tried these yet, but they are on my list.

Until next time,



Book review: The PIP Inc. Mysteries by Nancy Lynn Jarvis

Hey everyone,

It’s the third Monday, so it’s book review day! Today, I’m introducing you to the PIP Inc Mysteries by Nancy Lynn Jarvis. You might be more familiar with the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries by Nancy, but in July of 2019, she launched a new series. The main character, Pat Pirard, is snappy, brave, and kind of a snoop. But a really fun snoop!

So far, there are two books in this series. The first book, The Glass House, is 271 pages and was published in July of 2019. And the second, The Funeral Murder, came out in September of 2020. It’s 216 pages. The set would make a great holiday gift!

Now for my reviews. First, The Glass House:

I love the start of this new series from Nancy Lynn Jarvis. It’s written in her engaging style, with solid characters, plenty of red herrings, and a murder that feels perfect since the victim is someone you love to hate! 

I was particularly impressed by the deft introduction of the main character, Pat Pirard. At the start of the book, Pat is in her new car, a two-door sunburst yellow Mercedes, pulling into her newly-designated parking spot at the Santa Cruz County office building. She’s listening to Aretha’s RESPECT. We learn that she’s got strawberry blond hair, peachy lipstick, stylish pointed-toe pumps, and totes a leopard print briefcase. It’s a great character portrait, right there on page 1.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Pat is a fun character. She’s likeable, smart, and funny. Her friends are equally so. The plot moves along quickly, with Pat pulled into a murder investigation thirty pages in. As Pat proves herself as a P.I., she’s also falling in love. The romantic element of this book is written with just the right amount of spice. And the story is fun, with lots of detail about Santa Cruz, glasswork, and the ins and outs of private detecting. As the plot unfolds, you’ll find plenty of suspects and shifting facts, and you’ll definitely want to keep reading to find out what happens. 

I highly recommend The Glass House for readers who like a cozy mystery with a dose of romance.

And, The Funeral Murder:

The second book in the PIP Inc mystery series, The Funeral Murder, is a winner. Pat Pirad is back, with style. The Funeral Murder is a classic cozy, with a dead body by the end of Chapter 1 and plenty of multiple, intersecting motives by the end of Chapter 2. The murdered woman, Vivian Ponti, is someone everyone loves to hate. As Pat sifts through toxicology reports, family histories, complicated inheritances, birth and death certificates, and divorce decrees, she gets a little too close to the truth, putting herself; her beloved dog, Dot; and Lord Peter Wimsey, her cat; in grave danger. The book is written with Nancy Lynn Jarvis’ extraordinary eye for relevant detail; her snappy, humorous dialog; and her well-crafted plotlines. You’ll love it if you’re a local. If you’re not, you’ll want to visit! In a word, this book is fun. 

Again, if you’re looking for good reads for friends and family who like cozies, you can’t go wrong with this series.

Until next time,


Current events: The fire

Hey everyone,

When I decided I wanted to keep Shelby’s story current, as in set in September of 2020 current, little did I know I’d have a pandemic and a devastating fire thrown in to test my life skills and my writing.

As I’ve mentioned before, both of these current events took me by surprise. And both ended up in The Found Child.

I think about fictitious Shelby now, living in rural Bonny Doon, in the Santa Cruz Mountains and wonder what life would be like for her now. I do know plenty of folks who live in Bonny Doon and I know it’s not easy, with blackened trees, ash and soot that gets blown around in the breeze, and the very real fear of another devastating fire tearing through the forest. And my heart breaks for those who lost their homes.

The CZU Lightning Complex fire was contained after burning for 37 days. It was started by multiple lightning strikes created by a dry thunderstorm. It burned 86,509 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties and destroyed 1,490 structures. Massive.

I’ve learned a lot of things over the last month. If your house was damaged or destroyed, you can’t clean up fire debris on your own. It’s toxic, so you need to hire a certified contractor and go through lots of paperwork. Your homeowners insurance may or may not cover debris removal. You can sift through the ash to look for things, but you can’t move the ash or create a hazard for the debris removal folks.

I’ve read, as well as noticed as I go out and about, that our homeless population increased. There are encampments as you enter and leave Santa Cruz — tents at the intersection of Highways 1 and 9, and RVs heading north on Highway 1 at the city limits. These encampments are controversial, with lots of conversations on NextDoor. Here are some article links that are fairly current:

My husband and I took a small tour of an area where the fire ripped through. One pass was enough for me, with once-beautiful homes now just black and flattened on the ground, with maybe a chimney left standing, massive redwoods now torched and blackened; hillsides devoid of vegetation, now ready to slide in the first rainstorm. Tragic and knee-buckling and something that will stick with me for a long time.

Well, that’s it for today! Stay safe everyone, in fires and covid-wise!

Until next time,


Writing tips: Plotting

Hey everyone,

As I wrote The Found Child, I spent a lot of time thinking about different plots. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to get Shelby from Point A to Point B, but, at first, had no idea how to do that. I needed plots and subplots that would fit with her character, fit with her history, be suspenseful, and make sense to the reader.

When I first started working on the book several years ago, I spent months hashing out the general storyline. I had a few basics I wanted to stick with: a Santa Cruz County-based setting. Shelby as a fully-accredited private investigator. Shelby as a small business owner. Shelby as a good sister, involved in her brother’s life. And, in order to create internal tension, I wanted Shelby to be struggling in her home life. I also knew that Shelby’s story had to come full circle (that’s all I say on that topic, I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you who haven’t read it yet.)

Once I found my plot and got started, I also added and discarded subplots. I imagine this happens to every writer; you go down one path and find that it doesn’t work, have to backtrack, and take out all references to those actions. Of course, the problem is that remnants of old subplots get left in and missed on subsequent reads. For example, a phone call that’s critical in one version of the manuscript but makes no sense in another. An assumption Shelby makes, based on a conversation that was removed from a subsequent version manuscript. And so on.

I didn’t have the luxury of a continuity editor (what a fun job that would be), and, as these subplot changes came as I was deep into writing the manuscript, I often found myself at a loss as to how to track everything that was added or discarded. I didn’t come up with a good system at the time, but on reflection came up with an idea that might help. A simple tip just in time for NaNoWriMo!

Each time you think to yourself, “Wow, that’s a great plot twist,” take a few minutes to open up a spreadsheet, write down the manuscript version, the chapter, and the idea. Write down the characters involved, their actions, and the areas of the manuscript that need to be fleshed out to make this plot twist work. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just enough to jog your memory. Just enough for you to be able to trace back and forth to figure out what you did. Believe me, I wish I’d done that as I was writing. It would have saved me a lot of time in the final edits.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Until next time,


Writing for the present

Hey everyone,

When I set out to write The Found Child, I wanted to make it current. As in 2020, as in the fall of 2020. I wanted Shelby’s story to come full circle, and wanted that moment to be in September and October of 2020.

The first version of this book on my computer is dated October 2018. And that’s just because I bought a new computer and moved everything over. I’m pretty sure I started it long before that, way back in the dark ages when I finished The Stork. That would have been in 2017! So it’s been a long haul.

One of the problems with making a book current is current events. For a story to be truly rooted in the present, the author has to deal with what’s going on in the world around her, whether that be an election cycle, current events, devastating weather, and/or a pandemic!

I thought the first draft of The Found Child was coming to a close back in March. In the beginning of the month, I was editing, rewriting, moving chunks around, rethinking some of the plot. Then, the pandemic hit. I was stumped. Should I rewrite the book, change the year, and place the story in 2019? It wouldn’t have been easy–there’s a lot in the book, subtle, but there, about Sheby’s age, from when she earned her P.I. license to when she moved her office to when she got married. And it’s not just her age, but the age of her spouse, her nieces and nephew, her brother, her mentor, and the adopted twins. It was complicated and had to fit with the previous two books in the series. So, after parsing it out, I decided it would be easier to add Covid in, rather than rework the timeframe.

At first, as I was trying to put into writing what I was seeing around me, I was stumped. Should Shelby and her intern Lucy wear masks in their office? How could I handle the pivotal scene at the beginning of the book, in the boxing gym? How to manage all the interactions that a professional running her own business would have on a daily basis? What about school for her nieces and nephew? Would Shelby go to a restaurant? Or get on a plane to Vegas? And what would it be like to move into a new place back in March, before we had an idea of how Covid would play out in our community?

As Covid wore on, I was able to relax into it and weave in masks and social distancing and hand sanitizer and family bubbles. I submitted the manuscript on August 10. Then, on August 16th, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire tore through our county, requiring another re-think. It was too late now to go back, and take out Covid, in order to change the timeframe. So I wove in the fire.

I created a complete timeline that laid out, down to the day, where Shelby would be. And I realized that because I’d started the book in the second week of September, 2020, I could keep it as it was. Shelby and her roommate, Erica, would have been forced to evacuate based on their location, but with a little creative license, I was able to keep using that location. Whew. Of course, I had to reclaim the book from the publisher and do another editing pass, planting references to the fire. I do hope that Covid and the fires will be distant memories at some point. And I hope it will be fun to read about them five years from now!

As an aside, my paperbacks and hardcover copies arrived today. My reward for all those edits.

Until next time,


Virtual Book Launch Party

Hi everyone,

You’re invited to a virtual book launch celebration for The Found Child on Saturday October 17th at 10:00 PST. I’ll be reading a few excerpts, talking about the process to getting this book finished (a saga in itself!), and chatting with you about writing in general. Hope you can join us!

Click here for more information. On the day of the event, that page will re-direct you to the Zoom gathering. And, check out the event on Facebook: The Found Child – Virtual Book Launch Celebration

Hope you see you there!


Book Release: The Found Child

Hey everyone,

I’m delighted to let you know that The Found Child is available for purchase. After many years of hard work, and countless plot lines explored and discarded, Shelby’s story is complete. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s a bit dark, but it does make for a good read. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Private Investigator Shelby McDougall is out for revenge.

Repeated miscarriages have caused Shelby’s marriage to disintegrate. Financial ruin lies ahead. A cheek swab sent to an online ancestry service turns up a surprise child: Shelby’s genetic offspring — found in the misty ether of the internet.

The only way Shelby can hang on to her shredding sanity is to take things into her own hands and, once and for all, locate and apprehend Helen Brannon — the woman responsible for hijacking her fertility … and her future.

As Shelby closes in on her target, the stakes get higher and higher. But when Shelby finds Helen Brannon … how far will she go?

It’s available from the usual places: Amazon, Lulu, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, or Smashwords. To see all formats, get a sample, or order a signed copy, go to the Paper Angel Press website.

The book, in paperback, is 359 pages pages. Compare to Due Date, at 424 pages and The Stork at 343 pages. All in all , that’s over 1,000 pages covering fourteen years of Shelby’s life!

If you haven’t read Due Date or The Stork, it’s okay. I’ve written the books to be read stand-alone, as well as in order. I had to pay particular attention to continuity since there was such a gap between Due Date (first published in 2012) and The Stork (first published in 2018). If you want to give Due Date or The Stork a read first, you can pick them up for just 99 cents through mid-October.

Click the links below to find out more:
Due Date, Book 1 in the Shelby McDougall series
The Stork, Book 2 in the series

Thanks everyone! I’m looking forward to your reaction to the book!

Oh, and before I forget, Paper Angel Press will be hosting a book launch party (on Zoom, of course) on October 17th at 10:00 am PST. Find out more on Facebook: The Found Child – Virtual Book Launch Celebration

Until next time,


Pre-Publication Jitters

Hi everyone,

With the release of The Found Child scheduled for Thursday, pre-publication jitters are kicking in big time. I’m not losing sleep over it, but….questions such as “what will readers think of it?” and “wow, how did she come up with that idea?” And worse yet, “what will people think of me?”

I don’t know what other authors think pre-publication, but that last question does haunt me. What will people think of me after reading this book?! It’s the darkest of the three books, yes, but also a fitting conclusion to Shelby’s story. And the ending is a happy one. I originally had a not-so-hopeful ending, but given 2020 to date, I thought that a happy ending was a much, much better idea. But more importantly, it fits with Shelby and her life story.

To give you a better idea of what I mean by “dark,” here’s the book blurb:

Private Investigator Shelby McDougall is out for revenge.

Repeated miscarriages have caused Shelby’s marriage to disintegrate. Financial ruin lies ahead. A cheek swab sent to an online ancestry service turns up a surprise child: Shelby’s genetic offspring — found in the misty ether of the internet.

The only way Shelby can hang on to her shredding sanity is to take things into her own hands and, once and for all, locate and apprehend Helen Brannon — the woman responsible for hijacking her fertility … and her future.

As Shelby closes in on her target, the stakes get higher and higher. But when Shelby finds Helen Brannon … how far will she go?

In spite of my jitters, I’m excited for the launch and so looking forward to talking with readers about the book. Remember, it’s available for pre-order now. Click here to find out more.

And here’s a bit of fun advice that came from my publisher via the god of popsicle-stick wisdom:

Until next time!