Photo Prompt Friday #1

I love how the right image can spark a whole set of questions that can eventually lead to a story. I tend to be pretty place/setting oriented in my writing (hello, Strengthfinders #1 Context) so sometimes having that visual in front of me as I brainstorm and write can make all the difference.

The challenge is finding that image. Since I write mysteries, sometimes with a little fantasy or horror thrown in, many of the visual writing prompts that I find just don’t quite cut it. Cutesy images don’t get me where I want to be most days. The image has to have just enough of something in it to spark the “what’s happening” without having too much in it that it stifles my own creative process.

So, once a week, I’m going to try posting a visual image that I’ve found or taken that prompts some story ideas for me. Maybe they’ll be helpful for you too. If so, be sure to leave a comment or link about your story!

Happy Writing!

Weathered red barn with weeds growing around it, in front of a line of trees in the distance.

On the surface, this image looks pleasant: sunny day, blue skies, lots of green growing. It’s a happy little barn, right? Or is it? (You know my first thought is having to walk through all those weeds were 3 million snakes are hiding, waiting to scare me.) What’s in that barn? What rusted out old tools are just waiting to become murder weapons? What bodies are hidden or not so hidden when the character walks through the front door? And those woods! What’s lurking back there? (Bigfoot, the answer is always bigfoot.)

Not gonna lie, barns fascinate me as a mystery writer. They are so incredibly murder-y. Or at the least the ones I spend time in are (sorry family members with barns). Hammers and pitchforks line the walls and wild, mean animals lie in wait. Barns and farms in general are places where accidents and blood and really disgusting things happen. The best ones are full of generations of stuff that someone needed once but has been left to collect dust and cobwebs, with the occasional secret item is tucked away. They are full of family drama and hardship and sometimes disappointed dreams. And they are always full of death….

A Collective Effort

That's my name in an ebook! And Mira's hairy couch blanket.

That's my name in an ebook! And Mira's hairy couch blanket.

It's Day of the Dark launch day! It's been a special day in so many respects. This was my first fiction publication and the first time my name made it onto a book cover.

It was also made extra special because I got to hand deliver copies of the book to my mom and grandma, two of my biggest cheerleaders. For me, sharing it with my 87-year-old grandma was doubly so because when I asked her months and months ago if she would be comfortable with me using part of my grandpa's name as my pen name, she readily agreed and said she thought my grandpa would have liked that. We're hoping the Blaine storytelling continues on.

My mom and grandma with their copies. Speedy recoveries for grandma who just had back surgery.

My mom and grandma with their copies. Speedy recoveries for grandma who just had back surgery.


We often think of "art" as a solitary thing. The artist goes off to create and produces something. The reality, though, is that art is always collective. Whatever art we produce is always influenced by our experiences, culture, and the people around us. Since there's no acknowledgement page for a short story, here's what it would be.

This story, The Devil's Standtable, owes much to so many of you. For the friends and family that have encouraged me, tweeted, re-tweeted, liked, commented, shared, and entered, THANK YOU!!! I so appreciate every little bit of it. For Kaye George, the wonderful editor of the anthology, and Wildside Press thank you for taking a chance on me and including me in the anthology. To my SinC-Guppy short story critique group, thank you for all of your suggestions on this and other work. You are unfailingly honest and wonderfully constructive will all of your comments. 

Now I'll stop being all mushy and head back to the launch party!

Blowing Up the Plot


Every so often, some well-meaning person asks, "So, Melissa, how is the writing going?" Sometimes, it reminds me of the questions I used to get about grad school, with the underlying question of "aren't you done yet?" If I look a bit deer-in-the-headlights when you ask, that would be why. I'm always happy to have the question even if I don't always have a great answer.

One piece of the writing journey for me is taking classes. I know, *huge* surprise. Most I take through the wonderful Sisters in Crime Guppy Chapter offerings. This past month, I took a course on revision with Linda Rodriguez (author of Every Secret ThingEvery Hidden Fear, and Every Broken Trust, among others). During the course, I worked on revising pieces of my zero draft of "Lake Effect" (or at least that's the title for the next five minutes), a contemporary/urban fantasy set around Lake Superior.

As a zero draft/first draft, I knew the story was rough with lots of underdeveloped plots and characters. But I felt ok about the overall plot and where it would go in further revisions....Until I got to the assignment to diagnose the structural issues of the draft, including how the plot works and how to further develop subplots. Then I spent about an hour smacking my forehead about what I was seeing. My main plot was nice. It probably would have worked ok. But it also could have been plunked down into any setting (Lake Superior, Kansas City, a rock in the middle of the desert) and worked. My woefully underdeveloped subplot? Oh, that has Lake Superior written all over it. There's no way to tell it anywhere else. It has lake monsters and the Witch of November and all sorts of fun Lake Superior lore. It's the type of plot that I want to read. 

And so, I blew up my main plot. Pieces of it remain and pieces of it will get moved to what will hopefully be book 2 in the series.  Then, I got to work on that former-subplot-now-main-plot. Although I would have preferred to have had this little revelation about six months ago or that it had happened to a short story instead of my novel, it's a journey. I learned things. I get to write fun new scenes that include pieces of fabulous Great Lakes legends. I'm beyond thrilled that the Witch of November will get a bigger piece of the pie in the plot. She's fast turning into one of my favorite characters.

So that's what's happening in my writing world. I'll try not to run in the other direction if you ask me how the book is going.