Happy Summer Solstice!

Photo credit: Salix alba at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Debbie Burke


Welcome to summer and the longest day of the year…at least in the Northern Hemisphere.

To readers in the Southern Hemisphere, sorry, this is your shortest day but, from now on, the days will grow longer, honest.

To folks who live in the far north, summer solstice is especially appreciated after long, dark winter days. Today, at my Montana home, latitude 48 north, the sun rises at 5:37 a.m. and sets at 9:41 p.m. But dawn can be seen coming for almost an hour before then and twilight lingers until around 11 p.m.

At latitude 64.8 north, Fairbanks, Alaska enjoys almost 24 hours of sun today. Here’s time-lapse video:


For TKZ’s crime dogs who are also star-gazers, five planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn—are currently lined up across the sky like train cars with the moon as the caboose. According to Space.com, the last time this type of alignment occurred was March 5, 1864.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers these tidbits from history and how different cultures celebrated summer solstice.

  • In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice coincided with the rising of the Nile River. As it was crucial to predict this annual flooding, the Egyptian New Year began at this important solstice.

  • In centuries past, the Irish would cut hazel branches on solstice eve to be used in searching for gold, water, and precious jewels.

  • Many European cultures hold what are known as Midsummer celebrations at the solstice, which include gatherings at Stonehenge and the lighting of bonfires on hilltops.

Here’s a fun quiz about the summer solstice, also from the Farmers Almanac. Feel free to share your score in the comment section.

In the early 1960s, archeoastronomer Gerald Hawkins was the first to theorize that Stonehenge (built somewhere between 2950 – 1600 B.C.) was a giant astronomical calendar that tracked movements of the sun and moon. According to Wikipedia:

He fed the positions of standing stones and other features at Stonehenge into an early IBM 7090 computer and used the mainframe to model sun and moon movements. In his 1965 book, Stonehenge Decoded, Hawkins argued that the various features at the monument were arranged in such a way as to predict a variety of astronomical events.

From the center, the observer can see the summer solstice sun rising and setting in exact alignment between the monolithic stones.

Photo credit: By simonwakefield – https://www.flickr.com/photos/simonwakefield/3149066878/ (cache of original license), CC BY 2.0,

While rabbit-holing, I ran across a site called Spiritual Gangster, which sounded appropriate for crime writers and readers. Here’s an excerpt about setting summer intentions:

The Summer solstice is an energetically charged day and an important one to set intentions. Direct your intentions on the themes of this phase, which are patience, nourishment and trust. Create powerful “I am” statements that reflect these qualities and the development of them. Include “reception” statements that open you up to receiving the energies available on this day. Examples are; “I am open to receiving nourishment and growth” or “I am able to receive the energy needed to develop trust in my life.” Set your intentions and continually remind yourself of them all summer long. 

The longest day of the year is a good opportunity to review New Year’s resolutions you may have made in January and assess how well you’ve achieved them (or not!).

Remember that solemn vow to write XXX words or pages each day?

Or submit to XX agents?

Or organize your writing space?

Or finish that #%&$ manuscript languishing on your hard drive?

Or send your First Page to TKZ for critique? Here, I’ll make it easy for you with this link. We’re waiting—don’t make us come and get it! 

Who cares if you didn’t check off resolutions in the first half of 2022? You still have six months to nail goals you want to accomplish.

June 21 is the longest day of the year. Grab your hazel branch, set a bonfire, and dance like a Druid. Make the most of that additional daylight and score some extra words.

Happy Summer!


TKZers: Do you take stock of your writing/reading goals at the year’s midpoint? How are you doing?

Do you celebrate the first day of summer? Favorite activities and traditions?


2018 Writerly Resolutions, Anyone?

Jordan Dane

Michael Lane – Tacoma

Happy 2018, TKZers! (Sorry for the exclamation point, John. I had to poke you after your great post on Note to Copy Editor.)

Has anyone made any new year’s resolutions for your writing?

I love the start of a new year, especially after I finished December 2017 with time off to replenish the creative well without a deadline to race against. I wanted to spend quality time with family and friends. Mission accomplished.

I have a deadline looming mid-February 2018, so I’m hunkered down with my daily word count, but the time off has done wonders for my enthusiasm.

My 5 Writing Resolutions for 2018

1.) Read Better Books – One of my 2018 resolutions is to read more books from some of my favorite authors. Well-crafted books inspire and challenge me. I love learning new things.

In 2017, I thought that since I read so much, that I should mitigate the hit to my budget by reading free e-books. I DID find some new authors I liked, but they were few and far between. For the most part, I had to stop reading many, many books (which I hate to do), due to the poor quality of the writing.

Some of the chronic problems I saw were novels with excessive passive voice, typos, missing words, rambling internal monologues, back story dumps, chatty dialogue without focus, bland characterizations, misuse of first person POV, characters I didn’t care about, and plots without structure or pace. My version of throwing the book against the wall was to delete/purge the free books off my e-reader.

To kickoff 2018, I’m reading Michael Connelly’s latest – Two Kinds of Truth – & I scored it when it was on sale. Win-Win.

2.) Dare to Try New Things – I have a partially written novel that I will finish in 2018. It involves an aspect of historical writing. It scares me to death. I’ve never taken on such an endeavor, something so daunting for me.

I’ve done my research on Victorian England (countless searches on the Internet and purchasing several research books) and need to infuse my prose with the right time period setting and dialect, without going overboard to slow the pace. It’s been a challenge on layering what I need into every scene, but so far it’s working. I’ve made a resolution to jump back on it after my Feb deadline.

3.) Stay Better Connected with my Family and Friends – This is a personal goal, but it contributes a great deal to my writing inspirations and my positive frame of mind. My close circle gives me the elixir of joy that I need to push myself to new accomplishments. The bigger challenge might be to find face time during the year, in between my deadlines, but this is important to me. It needs to happen.

4.) Add Depth to my Character Voices & Back Story – In my 2018 challenge novel, the one that will have historical elements, I have a unique character that makes me work hard to get her right. I struggle for every word out of her mouth, to make her distinctive. This has not been an easy feat.

As I write, I have my Thesaurus open and often must go back over what I had jotted down in haste, to fine tune her voice and truly listen to her as I edit. One of my pet peeves is to read a book that starts out with great care, but it gets sloppy on the character portrayal in the middle and toward the end. That feels like a cheat to me, so I am putting effort into every scene all the way through.

5.) Find a Better Balance with my Deadlines – I want to find a better balance between writing Amazon Kindle World novellas along with my full novels this year. Kindle World deadlines are totally up to me on how many I agree to write and what those deadlines might be. I will commit to fewer KWs this year (to write in more selected worlds), in order to find time for my full length novels and proposals.


Those are my top five resolutions. They should probably be called GOALS. In my mind they are very achievable and I’m determined to check them off my list as I get them done.

For Discussion:

What about you, TKZers? Have you made any writer resolutions for 2018?

Do you have any rituals for goal setting? How do you celebrate your achievements?

Below is my next cover for a book I haven’t started yet. I have a general idea on the plot and had a broad outline, but after playing with the cover, I’m now inspired to launch into the story. I even changed the title to make it fit.

Cover Design by: Fiona Jayde Media

Valentine & the Lotus Circle

(Novella 2 of 2)

Coming Feb, 2018

Love made him vulnerable…once

Driven by guilt and revenge over a tragic death, Braxton Valentine is coerced into being the latest recruit to the Phoenix Agency as a covert operator and a powerful psychic, but he is not a team player. To confront his rogue ways, the Agency hires a mysterious woman psychic from the ancient and mythical Lotus Circle–and she takes no prisoners.

Make Next Year the Best of Your Writing Life

James Scott Bell

Well, here it is, friends. The last TKZ post of the year. For the next two weeks of blogging silence let’s make it all about hearth and home, friends and family, Christmas and Hanukkah, food and football––and getting ready to make 2015 the best year of your writing life.
1. Take a Vision Day
What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of career do you want to have? Dream. Every accomplishment begins with a vision of what it will look like and feel like to you.
Every year I go to a park for a few hours with a notebook and some music, and take stock of this life I’ve been given. I go over the big spheres of my existence: spiritual, family, community, writing. I assess and think about what I’d like to do better.
I look again at books that have spoken me over the years, like A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. I also like to bring along a favorite novel or two, which fires up fresh inspiration in me. Novels that remind me how sublime writing can be in any genre. Books like John D. MacDonald’s Cancel All Our Vows and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.
What books would you choose for a day like this?
2. Set Goals
I believe in goals. I’ve set goals for myself every year, and it’s the only way I can look back and explain whatever it is I’ve managed to accomplish. If you are not satisfied with where you are, the best way to remedy that is to plan to get to where you want to be.
Goals give your dreams walking shoes.
The way to set goals is, first, decide exactly what you want to achieve. This has to be something you can control and measure. If you want to be a New York Times bestselling author, that’s not a goal because you can’t control it. What you can control is your writing schedule, your training, your word count, your study of markets and so on.
Write your goals on paper. There’s something about pen and paper that cements a goal in your mind. Every now and then write your goals again on a fresh piece of paper. That pours fresh cement.
Write your goals in present tense, as in I will…
…write 3,000 words a week.
…complete my novel by March 1.
…query three agents on April 20.
…self-publish my novel on June 1.
I would advise setting five writing goals for yourself each year.
One of your goals should be growth as a writer. We don’t tell our brain surgeons to stop studying the medical journals. Why should we tell our writers to stop studying their craft? (At least when a writer makes a mistake, nobody dies.)
Take the plunge and go to a good writers conference next year, like Story Masters. Come spend four solid days immersed in the craft of fiction with me, Christopher Vogler (Hollywood’s mythic structure guru) and super-agent Donald Maass. Story Masters 2015, runs Feb. 5-8 in beautiful Charleston, SC.
By the way, if you use this code SMFLYER when you register, you’ll get $50 off. 

This is important: Take some action toward at least one of your goals every day. If you miss writing one day, at least read an article in Writer’s Digest. Reward yourself when you reach a major benchmark. Do this, and you will begin to feel unstoppable. That’s a good way for a writer to feel.  
And decide, right now, that you will never quit. You are a writer, not someone who wants to write a novel or five. Not someone who hopes to make some scratch. A writer.For the rest of your life.  
3. Simplify Your Life
The past few generations have each had their simplicity movements. From the hippies of the 60s to Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in the 90s, right down to today with what some are calling the “minimalist movement.” (On this, see a post over at Writer Unboxed by Jan O’Hara).
Uncluttering your life is always a good thing. I’m reminded of the great soliloquy delivered by the hobo (played by Walter Brennan) in Meet John Doe (1941, dir. Frank Capra). He warns people not to become “heelots.”
You’re walkin’ along, not a nickel in your jeans, you’re free as the wind. Nobody bothers you. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business. Shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything, and they’re all nice loveable people. They let you alone…Then you get ahold of some dough and what happens? All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots. A lotta heels!

They begin creepin’ up on ya, tryin’ to sell ya something. They got long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya and ya squirm and ya duck and ya holler and ya try to push ’em away, but you haven’t got a chance. They’ve got ya. The first thing you know, you own things – a car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff. You got license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and courtrooms and lawyers and fines – and a million and one other things! And what happens? You’re not the free and happy guy you used to be. You’ve gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other fella’s got. And there you are – you’re a heelot yourself.
Try this: give up one thing this year that you really don’t need. Skip one hour of television a night. Use that hour to write 200 words. An extra 200 words a day is an entire extra novel a year!
4. Be Grateful
Writers have many ways to make themselves miserable. Reading reviews, obsessing over sales rank, comparing ourselves to other writers. I keep thinking of one of the oldest jokes in the book:

Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” 

Doctor: “Then don’t do that.”
Stop doing the things that lead to misery. Do not, I repeat, do not click on that one-star review. I’ll let you peek at a five-star every now and then, but don’t let it go to your head. It’s better not to get caught up in either praise or criticism.
Instead, learn to be thankful. The religious sages and sagacious philosophers have taught us that the secret to happiness is gratitude.
Be thankful for every single good thing in your life, from the ability to get up in the morning to the people who love you most. Be thankful for the existence of language and beauty, of music and food. Write these things down and look at the list often.
Be thankful even for obstacles and challenges, because it is in meeting those that we grow stronger.
Finally, be thankful that you yearn to tell stories. It’s a good thing to have that inner fire. It makes life brighter, and reminds you that you are a human being and not a chair.
So here is a year-end toast to the scribes, the mad ones, the strange breed not content to trudge through life in the tight shoes of the ordinary but who, in Kerouac’s words, burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
May your writing pop ever brighter in 2015! 

Setting Goals

Nancy J. Cohen
As we begin the new year, it’s time to set our writing goals for 2014. Although this is a popular topic, here’s my take on it. I divide things into two categories: Creative and Business Goals.


Under the Creative category, put your writing projects. Which story do you want to start? What book do you need to finish? Do you want to try something new and different? Have you started writing the synopsis for your WIP yet? Which projects have priority?

In the Business category, put down everything you need to do to bring those above projects to market. What steps do you need to take? How will you publicize your work? What new venture might you try that you haven’t done before (i.e. chats, podcasts, trailers, audio)?Or do you plan to accept the risks and lengthy learning process of self-publishing for the first time?


Here are my goals for 2014. Whatever I don’t finish this year will get put off until 2015. I envision finishing my current WIP, doing the edits for my next romance, and then taking some time off to launch my self-publishing work. Then I can think about what to write next.

Finish Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Do the edits for Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series, when I get them from my editor.
Proofread the galleys until this project is done and in production.
Complete edits on my original mystery that I’m hoping to self-publish.

Implement marketing plan for Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries due out in April.
Complete legal preparation for self-publishing enterprise.
Hire book cover designer and ebook formatter.
Self-Publish my writing instructional booklet in time for SleuthFest. Order postcards.
Consider print and audio versions of above.
Design marketing plan for Warrior Lord once I get a pub date.
Begin prep work for publishing my father’s book, a true adventure of his 1929 hitchhiking journey across the U.S. It’s one of those things on my bucket list.

What goals have you set for 2014? Are you trying anything different for the first time?


Tired of winter weather? Enter my “Taste of the Tropics” contest at http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/. Win A Taste of the Virgin Islands Cookbook or one of two decks of Tropical Recipe Playing Cards. Deadline for entry is Jan. 25.

New Year, New Goals!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Happy New Year from all of us at TKZ and welcome to 2014! 

A new year for me means establishing new goals and, after two international moves in three years, I’m looking forward to setting goals that do not include packing or unpacking a house…Although, our renovations are nearly complete and in the next few weeks my family and I will be decamping from the basement and putting back all the living and kitchen room items, so my packing/unpacking days are not quite over yet… 

I am looking forward to regaining some lost productivity that arose, inevitably, from moves and renovations, and I have some reasonably ambitious plans for 2014. These include:

  • Completion of two new projects: I currently have one out on submission, and one in progress, but still, I feel I need to play catch up after a few slow years, so two additional new projects are in the hopper….ambitious…but, hopefully, achievable. As a birthday present to myself last year I purchased Scrivener and I’m enjoying using this software, especially as it now enables me to set clearer word count goals. Which brings me to my next goal….
  • Setting daily and weekly word count goals: I’ve never approached writing this way but I started toying with word count goals on Scrivener late last year (not that over the holidays I paid any attention to them:)). I’m thinking of using these goals as a means of keeping me more accountable to my writing. But more exciting than this is the….
  • Release of my third Ursula Marlow mystery: I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, but I’m excited to see this come out – and I can’t wait to show the new cover art for the book as it’s beautiful. 
  • Reworking my website: This is my final goal for 2014. I’ve neglected my website for far too long (ditto for much of my social networking and marketing) so I’m planning on using the release of the new Ursula book as a jumping off point for revitalizing my website and as an opportunity to expand my marketing/networking opportunities. 

So, TKZers, these are my top level writing goals for 2014. I’ll keep you posted on my progress but I’m excited to start off the year with these goals clearly in mind, and, thanks to my husband, a new fountain pen to use to get it all started (my collie, Hamish, ate my last one).

What have you resolved or planned for your writing this year???

I Wish

by James Scott Bell

The New Year’s kickoff (other than the Rose Bowl) is usually a time of resolutions, goals, wishes. I’ve had a few of the latter. For example:

I wish I had the body of Steve Reeves.

I wish I could have played center field for the Dodgers.

I wish I had played quarterback for the USC Trojans, won the Heisman, and played my whole NFL career for the Rams.

I wish I could have seen Laurette Taylor on Broadway.

I wish I could sing like Ray Charles. I wish I could tickle the ivories like Martha Davis.

I wish I could have seen Jim Thorpe play football, Babe Ruth play baseball, and Beethoven play the piano.

I wish I could have had dinner with Shakespeare and Winston Churchill at the same time.

I wish I could write as effortlessly as Stephen King seems to.

But after wishing those things, I remind myself that I’ve got my own package to work with. The cards I was dealt. My job is to till the soil, plumb the depths, hose the driveway, paint the ceiling and write the books that come out of my particular package. I have to keep improving what I have, taking it as far as I can, leaving what is out of my hands to the forces that be.

As far as 2010 goes, I wish to make some plans. The overarching plan is to make this year the most productive of my writing life. Not necessarily in quantity–though I do have several projects in mind–but quality. This will be my twenty-second year as a serious writer, my fifteenth as a published novelist. I know a lot more now than when I began. If I don’t use this knowledge, and leverage it, then I’m wasting my experience.

So here’s to 2010 (for many of you, seeing 2009 in the rear view mirror is not a bad thing), and may it be productive for you in the best way possible.

What are some of the things you wished for at one time in your life?

What are your plans for the new year?

Embracing Change

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

New year! New decade! and 100 years since the date I set my first book (yes, that would be 1910)… So I’m figuring it’s probably a good time to consider embracing change – not that I’m a stick in the mud (like Winston Churchill I believe there’s nothing wrong with change so long as it’s in the right direction) but I do like to know how things turn out (which, of course, is impossible). I’m a great one for worrying about the not-so good changes (pointless I know), so this year I’m going to throw off my shackles and embrace uncertainty and change in all aspects of my life (yes, really…)
I met most of last year’s resolutions after all – I did grow my hair long (and then cut it all off in horror at what I looked like); I learned how to ride a bike (my husband bought me one for Christmas so my fate is sealed) and I did lose weight (although after eating my way through the holidays my bum is now exponentially larger…sigh). My writing resolution (put the writing first!) fell a bit by the wayside – but then with twin five-year old boys I guess what else can I expect! I completed two books and am three-quarters of the way through a third…so not too bad…(though on the publishing end of it, 2009 was bit of a dud).

I’m reminded of a quotation from Washington Irving that I think I may adopt for the year:

“There is certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in traveling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.”

I know that 2010 is going to be year of change – and so I am going to focus my efforts on trying to adapt as best I can. I shall shift my position in the stagecoach and see how it feels:)
I have ideas for lots of new books (even I need a break from Edwardian England sometimes) and I am completing a short story as well…so maybe I’ll even foray a few more times into this medium (or maybe not…let’s see…)
So forget resolutions – let’s just accept the inevitability of change and fess up – what kind of change will you be embracing this year?

New Year Resolutions and Other Nonsense

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I usually view New Year resolutions as a complete waste of time since so far I have never managed to actually keep (or for that matter remember!) any of them but this year I have a few that I really, really, really want to keep and I thought if I committed them to the blogosphere that would somehow make me feel more accountable. I’m sure there’s logic in that belief somewhere though in this economic and publishing climate I doubt logic has much bearing on anything at the moment…but here goes – my top five resolutions for 2009. One is noble; one is totally impractical; one is probably totally unrealistic; one reveals an embarrassing lack of ability; and one may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever tried to do. I leave it up to you to decide which of the five is which!
1. I will put the writing first. This goes beyond a commitment to no more procrastinating over email or anything else that might hinder my progress but to the core of the matter – to stop worrying about all the things I have no control over or cannot change. This leads to a number of other resolutions about having the confidence to assert that what I do is valuable and worthwhile and putting aside those around me who try to undermine that confidence…This could be a whole other blog post so I’d best stop there or I’ll never get to any of my other resolutions!

2. I will get my boys to preschool by 8:30am every day – otherwise number 1 will be almost impossible to achieve.

3. I will grow my hair long (pure vanity on my part)

4. I will do whatever it takes to get fit/lose weight so I can fit a certain pair of pants I last wore before I had the twins (I’m not fessing up to just how hard this is going to be!)

5. I will learn how to ride a bicycle (pathetic…I know)

So if you have any other noble, pathetic or vain resolutions please confess them here:) At least I’ll know I’m in good company…or you can always tell me again what a waste of time these new year resolutions truly are.