Maybe this has been going on for a long time, and I just hadn’t noticed. During these last few months several of my favorite authors made some writing decisions that yanked me out of their stories and away from their written magic.


Writing has changed the way I read. Unfortunately, the critique-police in the left-hemisphere of my brain won’t shut up. I’m also chicken, so I’m not naming these much admired authors. However, I do wish they’d go back to their usual good writing:

ONE: Please don’t recap what’s happened in the previous chapters. I’m reading the darn book so I’ve read it already. This insults your reader’s intelligence by thinking they can’t keep up with who the characters are or what’s happening in the plot.

Unlike writing the book, which takes months, the reader will read the story within a few days or a week or two. Unless the reader takes months to read the book, the characters and plot won’t have evaporated in such a short time.

One of my unnamed authors summarized his plot after every nine or ten chapters. Argh! Yet, he didn’t do this at all in his other books. Why start now?

TWO: Please don’t mislead the reader into thinking there’s something important to the story about a scene’s place and time. An overabundance of meaningless detail slows the story down, misleads the reader into looking for substance inherent to the plot, and then ends up feeling like it’s all a waste of time. Maybe it’s used as padding to make the book longer.  I’ve read books by two excellent authors this last month who kept ruining their intriguing stories by cluttering them up with unnecessary details.

We all know what a hospital room looks like or can imagine the inside of a home in a lower-income neighborhood.  Give us just enough to set the stage, including ambience if needed, preferably with one or two sensory details. Then move on. Lots of detail or description of something unusual enhances the story only if it’s relevant. Your readers have imaginations. Let them use it.

THREE: Please don’t sacrifice your story scene by using the easy way to create clarity. For example: Readers must know who’s speaking during dialogue exchanges. We’ve all heard the word said is invisible. So the simple solution for clarifying who’s speaking is to say, “Let’s go,” she said.

One best-selling author had a half page of short dialogue, each ending with a respective he said or she said. Clarity achieved, but printed and all lined up on the page visually pulls the reader out of the story.  Also, there is no invisibility of said when our receptive language hears this word over and over in a short period of time.


I want these fine authors to transport me down the paths into their imaginary worlds. I don’t want to be flung out of the story and back into my living room because of some ineffective whim.

What author styles or mistakes annoy you as a reader?








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How do clues work?  This question became one of my biggest worries when I started writing murder mysteries.  At a  conference last Saturday (hosted by Croak & Dagger, the Albuquerque Chapter of Sisters in Crime) Jan Burk, moderator of our panel, asked us that question.  Thankfully, while writing The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur,  I’ve figured it out.  Here’s my simple formula.

clues 2


Keep in mind what personal information does the reader or protagonist need to know about the antagonist, and when does the reader or protagonist need to know it.

What little formulas have you developed while on your writing journey? I’d enjoy hearing about them.

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Old steps 1829

IMPORTANCE OF QUESTIONS:  If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. If you want something, then ask because “no” is the worse thing that can happen.  Ask directions or you may never get there.

Last week an author friend asked me the eternal question most authors hear at some point in their career: Do I outline my book before writing it?

My first book, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, took me ten years to complete. I had not outlined it. I started with an idea, then wrote. Then rewrote, then rewrote, then–you get the picture. Many helped me along the way because I definitely needed directions. In spite of my ignorance, my persistent learning, rewriting, and a positive attitude took me over the finish line. This first novel (2016) won awards, praises, and a Kirkus, starred review.

My second book, The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker, simmered in my mind while writing the first book, but the actual writing of this second book only took about a year and a half to complete. I used a different writing strategy.

My friend’s question about outlining surprised me. What I do now works much better than when I started using only some vague idea. Still, I had to take a minute to consider her question.

When I think of outlining, I think of my ninth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Tweed, who taught me the sixteen uses of a noun, how to diagram sentences, and how to love Shakespeare.  So, no. I don’t outline as per Mrs. Tweed.

Like the second book, I know where this book starts, where it will end, and major plot points along the way. However, there is something major I don’t know about this story, and I’m half-way through my first rough draft. I know where my characters are emotional at the beginning of the story, I know the physical actions that will happen, and I’ve selected the locations to be used throughout the story. Yet, I do not know how the emotional tones and nuances of my characters will develop as they travel though this tale. They’ll learn important life lessons, but when I’m writing, I have to let them tell me what causes them to change.

In the The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, the chain-smoking flapper is in her nineties. The second book, The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker, starts off when the flapper, a naive teenager, runs away to Chicago in 1923. This third book, working title, The Flapper, the Swashbucklers, and the Priestess. is a story told in the Caribbean where the adult flapper loved, played, and lived. The woman scientist, from the first book, takes her husband on a much needed dream vacation and becomes obsessed with knowing about the flapper’s life in the Caribbean. Because of the scientist’s persistent questions, their vacation turns into a nightmare.

CORRECTION ABOUT QUESTIONS: “No” isn’t the worse thing that can happen when you ask questions. Please don’t let your questions get you murdered.

However, you may ask me any question you like. I promise you and no animals will be harmed when I answer.






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An Interview with Author Charlene Bell Dietz

In her search for “the parts of life that really matter,” Charlene Bell Dietz discovered “if you throw your heart and soul into what you care about,” the little things you fuss over disappear. She developed a firm foundation for creating plots and characters during a long-term career in education, plus time spent volunteering in the scientific community and caring for elderly relatives. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur (2016) is her debut novel inspired by the real life of her mysterious aunt. Look for Charlene on her website and on Facebook.

Book and AwardsWhat is your elevator pitch for the book?
In this novel a workaholic bio-medical scientist, Beth Armstrong, is torn between saving her sabotaged ground-breaking, multiple sclerosis research or honoring an obligation to care for her chain-smoking, Cuba-Libre drinking, ex-flapper aunt.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur crosses the traditional genre lines because the story intertwines corporate espionage with a generational battle-of-wills family saga. Even though I received kind and even complimentary rejections, I discovered most agents and larger publishing houses weren’t willing to put time or money into something this different.

Tell us about your main characters. Will those who know you recognize you in your main protagonist?
Being a nursemaid ranks a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale. She’s an obsessive professional dedicated to keeping her science institute a world-class organization. Unlike Beth, her aunt would prefer anything deadly to losing her independence under the care of her compulsive niece. While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, frustrating Beth at every turn, her raucous aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and stories from the Roaring Twenties.

No one who’s read this story has ever mentioned that Beth reminds them of me. That’s a relief, because at first Beth might not be likeable to readers. I write a lot of short stories, and having my characters change from beginning to end is always on my must-do list. In this book, and also in my next book, I hope readers notice how at the end even my secondary characters have grown and changed from the beginning.

Why did you choose Colorado for the setting?
For over twenty-five years I volunteered at Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute at Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque as their lay person for the Institute Animal Care and Use Committee. I read researchers’ protocols, participated in their monthly meetings, and helped the committee with their biannual inspection of all the animals. Since my story took some artistic license with what I know about research science institutes, and because my story highlighted the economic espionage act with some nasty characters, I needed to remove any suspicion concerning my imaginary story with my connection to the Sandia Laboratory institute.

Denver became the logical place for several reasons. When I was in grade school, I spent many summer days running all over the city with my young cousins via city bus. As kids do, we believed we owned the place—from the Capitol building stairs to the Aladdin Theater on Colfax to the elevators in the Museum of Natural History. Denver 005As an adult, I continued to spend time there visiting relatives. I know the city. The size of Denver allowed me to invent a science institute without identifying its exact location. I also needed a small, mountain town several hours away for my protagonist’s family home. I’d once lived in Cañon City, Colorado, so it became my Valley View—with artistic license again.

How did the book come together?
When my mother died, her mysterious elder sister needed help. You guessed it. Her photo is the one on the cover of my book. She kept most of her antics as a flapper secret, but after an evening of rum and Cokes, she dropped names of people, places, and dates. Without her knowing, I took notes on anything handy—napkins, grocery receipts, envelopes, whatever I could put my hands on. When she died five years later I didn’t really know her story, but it needed to be told. Most of it is fiction, but still researching, editing, rewriting, getting rid of all the bad advice and keeping the good parts, plus finding a publisher took me well over ten years.

What did you enjoy most about writing the book?
Listening to my aunt’s voice in my head as I wrote made the writing easy. She seems to have won the favorite character award for this story, and I know why. When this aunt kicked up her heals as a teenager running away to Chicago, she gave up her college career. Probably because she didn’t get a high school diploma, she read all the time so she could prove she wasn’t stupid. She did seem to know everything about everything. I’ve discovered tremendous enjoyment in writing about strong women who follow their passions.

Is there a scene in The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur you’d love to see play out in a movie?
From the first conflict on page one to the final emotional last page, I wanted the reader to live every scene. Because of this, my writing style doesn’t use a lot of physical descriptions except when connecting bits of it to motives, emotions, and the characters’ deep internal conflicts. In my opinion, the whole book would make a tension-filled, eye-appealing movie—especially if Maggie Smith played the aunt (big smile here).

Your second book in the series (The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker) will be released in the fall of 2017. What are the challenges of writing a series?
In The Flapper, the Imposter, and the Stalker the reader learns more about the ex-flapper aunt as a young woman. In 1923 this beautiful, bright teenage girl flees to Chicago looking for happiness, love, and an escape from being murdered. Since it’s a prequel to the first book, I had no problem creating it as a standalone. In the first book I give the reader hints about some of the aunt’s antics in the Roaring Twenties. Readers of the prequel may believe they’ve heard some of these tales before; however, now they’ll learn the full story behind all of her misbehaving.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Before being awarded the 2016 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in the First Book category, or being selected as a finalist in the International Book Award, I would have said the best compliment happened when a professional editor told me she couldn’t get my characters’ voices out of her head months after she’d finished working with my book. All the other compliments I’ve received naturally made me feel good inside—but kind of like your mom saying, “Good job, sweetie, I’m proud of you.” You know authors; we have fragile egos when it comes to our work. Having those award judges select my book from all those submitted totally validated my writing ability.

You mentioned you took lots of notes when your aunt told some of her stories from her flapper days. What have you done with them, and where can readers buy your book?
The notes are amusing to read. I never knew what might come out of her mouth: funny, inappropriate, or heartfelt. I’ve slid each of them into sleeve protectors in a three-ring binder. Along with photos, these are items I take to show-and-tell after a book club has read the book. When a book club reads The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, I’m excited to come, answer questions, and show them the rest of the story. Book clubs can message me through Facebook or email me at Op Cit in Taos and Santa Fe, along with Collected Works, has copies of my book, as does Bookworks, Treasure House Books, and Barnes & Noble in Albuquerque. Naturally, it can be ordered online, too.

What writing project are you working on now?
Whenever I need a break, I write short stories. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers published one last year in their anthology.2016 Anthology Cover Colorado Gold 001 I’m submitting two more for consideration in other anthologies. In a few days I’ll get back to the third book in the Flapper series. This one takes place in time right after The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur. Right now I’m about fifty percent through the first draft.

KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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What do you think when you enter a contest?


The answer depends on your personality: how seriously you take yourself, what you think about your work, and certainly your competitive nature.

Me? I’m inclined to throw in a touch of magical thinking, If you want it too much, you shall not have it.

Naturally, a little voice way down deep whispers–but maybe. That’s when the internal monkeys start their chatter. Silly, there’s a typo no one caught. What about the passive voice in that one chapter? You can’t have your protagonist so stressed the reader doesn’t have a chance to breathe. Look here at so-and-so’s book. Now this author knows how to write. Sigh.

Last November, my book, THE FLAPPER, THE SCIENTIST, AND THE SABOTEUR, won the First Book New Mexico-Arizona 2017 Award. Of course, I’d entered the competition, but I never expected to win. After all, I listened to those monkey voices, besides no one knows my book publisher–no big name there–and no funds for promotion either. I needed a different attitude, one of no expectations.

Think about all the freedom you enjoy when you have no expectations. I went to the awards banquet last November, relaxed, full of smiles, and happy to be in the company of my author friends. When they announced my name, I felt total disbelief.  Certainly they’d made a mistake.

The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur

New Mexico-Ariziona 2016 First Book Award

Even though I believe in my own work, being a voracious reader causes lots of grief. I’ve read some phenomenal books and wonder how authors create those deep conflicted emotions or conjure up surprising and unusual plots.

Yesterday, when the email came announcing I’m a finalist in the International Book Awards for 2017, my head felt light and my stomach felt jittery.

What do you think when you win?

Going back to my magical thinking, if I want it too much, I can’t have it, puts me in a terrific place. Yet, I’m a firm proponent of positive thinking, so to not be negative I had to eliminate winning from my mind along with all expectations.  Disappointment no longer exist, and now I can truly celebrate others who win.

On the other hand, winning took away my relaxed, comfortable feeling.

Well, now what?

We write isolated. Most of us go to critique sessions and listen to other tell us what they think needs tweaking or changing. We revise, revise, and revise. Finally we have our work professionally edited. We’re using other as our yardstick, measuring the quality of our writing. We never truthfully know how our writing  will be received by the reading public.

Now once again I’ve cornered that relaxed feeling because today I learned the value of winning. Winning validates our work.

How do you approach winning or deal with losing?


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Some Visuals for The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur

The Brown Palace Hotel almost becomes another character in my story during Chapter 14. For those of you who haven’t enjoyed the ambience of this magnificent hotel, here are some photos.

2011 Brown Place downtown DenverDowntown Denver: This is the street between the former Girl’s School on the left and the Brown Palace on the right.

2011 Brown Place Where the Gentleman's Smoking Club was1

Interior of the Brown Palace: This is where the former Gentlemen’s Smoking Club was located, the seating area on the left. Just to the right is a door leading to the basement where the tunnel was.

2011 Brown Place The old girls' school

Here is the former Girls’ School. Enough said, because we don’t want to give away any of the story. I’ll post more photos soon.

Have you been to the Brown Place Hotel, stayed there, or had tea in the lobby? Tell us what you liked most.

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_EE41444Several years after I started writing, one of my dearest friends said, “When this book gets published, I’m throwing a huge party.”


She thought she had a couple of years to prepare. Eight years later, on June 12, 2016, she, her husband, and another close friend created a book-launch celebration that left me almost speachless.


Danielle Foster, co-owner of Bookworks Book Store, Albuquerque, NM did the honors . . . .


When I worked for Houghton Mifflin Publishing, now HMH, I did many displays. I found this a useful transferable skill.


New Mexico deserts make people thirsty. Guests found a well-stocked bar out on the patio.


And what a lovely patio!


Guests inside enjoyed food, conversation, and a book presentation.


While everyone enjoyed the day conversing, drinking, and eating . . . this poor author couldn’t party. She had to sign all those books. Life is tough.

Photos: Courtesy of Professional Photographer, Eban Bell and my brother, Bruce Bell





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