Price Has No Relationship to Value

Nostalgia is not your friend. Sentiment is your enemy. You must be ruthless.

Everyone I know has a story about when they moved into their current home. I recognize the dazed look in the eyes of military or corporate families who moved every few years.

It’s the story of people who gave up barbeques, backyard swing sets, antique furniture, and expensive sports equipment. They are the people who gazed around at the pre-moving mess and said, “Where did all this stuff come from?”

You think about what you paid for that outdoor patio furniture that you only used a few times last year. What about your mother’s silver that you’ve never taken out of the box?


Your aunt’s dishes? That ugly bedroom set?

What you paid for something, in the end, comes down to what you can shove into the moving van or the U-Haul. What you paid for it has no relationship to what you can sell it for at a yard sale. And it comes as a surprise that no one wants your worn out couch. Even if it’s free.


The moving van for me arrives on Wednesday.  My helpers and I will load all those carefully-packed cardboard boxes into a 28-foot empty space. The more of those 28 linear feet you use in the van, the more you pay.

Lately, I’ve just opened my wallet and let it bleed because I’m selling my house at the same time. Moving is expensive.

The upside? With all the useless crap gone, I can see the good bones of the house. This weekend I lay on my couch and looked through the floor-to-ceiling windows as the clouds gathered, first the hail, and then the rain fell.

I’d never had that view before since the couch had to be on the opposite wall to accommodate all the clutter. I’m sad about that. I’m leaving a lush, mountain forest environment for the downtown landscape of Ottawa, Ontario, the nation’s capital.

But I want a new life. I leave behind supportive friendships of twenty years. I know I’ll be lonely.  It’s taken me twenty years to form these friendships, and it’s unlikely I’ll have twenty years to form new ones. People aren’t Legos you can just plug in.

I want a new life and this is the cost.

Please tell me the story of your move and how it turned out.



A New Life in Another Country

In June of 2019, a moving van will transport my worldly possessions to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. My little family of cats and dogs will follow.

Ottawa is Canada’s capital, Justin Trudeau’s city. He’s probably the only Canadian politician most non-Canadians know.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister


My Swearing-in Ceremony. Now I’m a dual citizen.

After 20 years in an arts community/retirement village in the mountains of southern California, and 30 years in hot, throbbing Los Angeles, I want something different. I grew up in northern Ontario, so Ottawa is a return to something familiar.

I don’t want to be carried out in a box from my big house with too many stairs, so this move is practical. I want to leave here with some dignity, on my own terms. I want to live where the doctor, a sizeable grocery store, and a movie theater isn’t 60 miles away.

I’ve lived in LA. I’ve driven my million miles. Ottawa has a functional public transportation system, a car-sharing service, Uber, Lyft, all that. It’s a walkable city. Since it’s the nation’s capital, it’s a showplace of landscaping and public amenities. I want to wear high heels, live in a building with a concierge, and be a docent in an art museum.

What’s it like for a 75-year-old widowed crime fiction author to make a new life? What’s different about Canada? What’s the same as living in the United States during these turbulent times? What will happen when I yank up the tap root that’s kept me in my beloved California all these years?

I’m setting a goal to write about what I find as I make a new life in another country. Come along with me to share in that experience.  Click here to Sign up.


Why Bother Writing Anything?

It’s all too easy to fall into the “Why bother?” trap?  There you can have a good wallow in self-doubt, even worse, self-pity.

It’s the best time in human history to be a writer aiming for publication.  It’s also the worst time—because everyone else can publish too.  Self-publishing tools make it all too easy.

“Who would ever want to read anything I had to say?  It’s all been said. And said better.”

There is that.  However, it hasn’t been said by you.

A small group of writers gathered at the local art gallery several months ago with the intention of writing memoirs. In those early meetings, the subject of whether to fictionalize those memoirs came up often. “Oh, I can’t tell that story.  Aunt Mamie would kill me.”  Or: “I’ll have to wait until my ex-husband dies.”

Then why not write your story, or the part of it that draws you, as fiction? It happened to somebody else, somebody a lot like you of course, but somebody else.  The advantage of that is you can become your ideal – or evil self.

That small group still meets, the 1st and 3rd Tuesday afternoon from 2-4 p.m. at Artworks Community Gallery in Pine Mountain Club. We share our work by email before the group, and read and print out the work sent by the others. There’s a limit of 15 double-spaced pages for each two-week submission unless you make an arrangement with others willing to read more.

One of us is still writing a memoir as a legacy for her children. Others are writing full-length fiction: a novel, a mystery, a historical work. Then, in the time we are together, we give feedback, helpful and encouraging comment to the author. Our intention is to keep this a small, intimate group.

If you’re interested in joining us, please contact Mar Preston at 661-242-8529.  The cost is $5 per session as a donation to the Artworks Gallery.


The In Between Books Stuck Place

I’ve got a novel with an editor and an EBook on writing suspense in the pipeline, waiting for publication. It’s an uncomfortable place, jammed up in a bottleneck.

Both these projects took a longer time than when I started writing.  For one thing I’m twenty years older. Life is less complicated and stressful because I’m no longer working full-time. It may look as though I have all the leisure in the world to write.

I wish it worked that way, but it doesn’t. I can’t stop involving myself in good causes, whatever kind of idiot that makes me in this troubled world.

There’s also a push to start a new novel. I asked my friends to shoot me if I ever did this to myself again, but the idea circles me in whispers, tugging at my sleeve, filling my head with characters dancing just out of reach. For a moment I only remember the joy and the fun in putting a world down on paper.

Why isn’t seven crime fiction novels, and the same number of practical writing guides enough? I used to look down on writers who didn’t work as hard as I was working. Privately I would say, “Talent is wasted on the lazy.”

Now, from the perspective of having written, marketed, and sold a fair number of books, I’m not so sure of anything. I know very well the world is not breathless with anticipation for my next piece of work. I know I’m not lazy. When is it enough?

In this hiatus of waiting for an editor to get back to me, and my writing guide on suspense proofread, I get to just live my day: take a yoga class, read trashy books, watch TV that everybody else is watching, and hang out with my new housemate.

I ignore the whispers. But they get louder and louder.

Here’s a link to my books on Amazon, just in case you feel like a good summer read.

The Empty Chair


Snappy Dialogue

Thought I’d excerpt a  passage from my new EBook in the “Writing Your First Mystery” series, just to let the crime fiction world know I’m still out there beavering away.

Keeping Tension Snapping in Your Dialogue

  • If you have trouble with dialogue, read your piece aloud. Then quiet yourself. Fall into a daze of non-thought, then listen within to your characters talking to each other. See if you can “hear” them. What kind of words do they use with each other? Are they slangy? Terse? Colloquial? Profane?
  • You can learn about them by “listening” to them in quiet moments within yourself. After all, that’s where they live, isn’t it? They are you. They aren’t you. Imagine everyday conversation. How do they talk about needing new tires for the car? A kid’s bad spelling test?
  • Charge right into a passage of dialogue. You don’t need greetings, chitchat, comment on the weather, or compliments.
  • Supporting characters can show doubt or disbelief about your main character’s goals or plans in the curl of a lip, a snort. “Yeah, well …” has a wealth of meanings.
  • Watch out for passages of retelling something that has already happened or commenting on events that are happening instead of showing them. Exchange exposition for confrontations between players, arguments, teasing, and misunderstandings.
  • Give some of the lines to somebody with a different POV. Save up a witticism for here.
  • Examine the visual impact of your dialogue sections. Tense dialogue contains lots of short sentences, fragments and white space. Watch out for dialogue that goes on for pages (unless you’re Robert B. Parker or Elmore Leonard, and none of us are).
  • If you’re building to a toe-to-toe confrontation, don’t do it over a four-page argument scene. Break it up. Take a phone call. Interrupt the gathering storm with an announcement that dinner is ready. You’ve built an expectation that this isn’t over yet, and your readers will stick with you to see who prevails and what happens in this confrontation.









Any thoughts on this?  You’re welcome to agree/disagree …


Mar Preston is an award-winning  author of six “How to” EBooks on “Writing Your First Mystery” as well as seven police procedural novels.  This excerpt is taken from a new one called “Writing Suspense in Your Mystery Fiction,” finished, but as yet unpublished. Stay tuned.


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Memoir Becomes Fiction

I live in a California mountain village with an unusual number of creative people. We’re close enough to the Los Angeles sprawl that “Industry” people can commute to auditions and jobs. The arts scene thrives here with two community theater groups, an art gallery, painting, acting,  and drawing classes, and musicians of every genre.

The village in winter

I started a memoir class. Our focus has broadened into a fiction writing class with the realization that, even if you’re writing a fact-based story, the same techniques apply:  you’re telling a story.

Telling any story requires a structure, conflict, memorable characters in tough situations, a beginning, middle and end, a climactic moment, and a resolution. It also requires a theme to propel the story forward, tie it all together, and leave the reader with something to think about.

How on earth does anybody think of all those things at once?

We all know the basic elements of story.  You can feel it. We know when a story veers off into an unimportant tangent, when the story stops sizzling, where it trails off into a whimper. A love to telling stories is one of the things we share as humans. A concept of story is wired into all of us from our ancestors sitting around the campfires celebrating the successful hunt, bellies full of meat.  Or it’s opposite, sitting around the campfire with lean bellies, making up stories to make people laugh, or remember better times.

The Imagined Writing Life

Sooner or later it occurs to all student writers that writing down your stories is hard. Until you write thousands and thousands of words, what lays on the page may look limp to you, and far from the vision that burns so brightly in your head.

Writing well requires a long apprenticeship. You need to know what good writing looks like and sounds like. Very few good writers, if any, are not readers who would set aside television for a good book. Not always, but a lot of the time.

Did you think anyone who picks up a charcoal pencil or a paintbrush can paint a bowl of fruit in the sunshine the first time? Or a musician write a three-minute hit song? Or a skater spin without falling?

It takes work and the willingness to apply seat of pants to chair for long periods of time. And the willingness to rewrite and polish until your work has a high glow.

How do you get started? Reading Taking a class. Struggling with an assignment. Thinking. Rewriting and rewriting it until it’s the best you can do.  Sharing it with others and asking for critique.  Rewriting it again based on the comments you got and making it better.

What’s the reward if it’s this hard? Tell me what you think.  Comment below:

You might like to review my own efforts at writing fiction.  Here’s an Amazon link.

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My Ideal Writing Place

Imagine if you were given permission to buy whatever you liked on Arhaus, a home and outdoor site? Please note this is only an imaginary shopping experience. Sigh.

Writers need a good desk or writing surface. Good lighting and a reference shelf or two for books. I’ve given away all my bookcases.  I once kept all my books on display so that people would think I was smart. I don’t care anymore if people think I’m smart. Now my library is on kindle and in the cloud.

A desk of course. I use a 24” computer screen and a desktop computer. I admire those people who write long-hand but I’ve written several million words. I don’t like to think about having written those million words if I’d had to do it by hand.

I rarely am able to sit in a chair without one of my three animals competing for space on my lap. I have a lumpy maroon corduroy recliner, my current favorite reading chair. Writers are all readers, you know.  You have to know what good writing looks like before you can write it yourself. I read a lot. Never alone.

My small dog is the first to leap up on my lap the moment I sit down. She’s come to accept her rival, the old tom who will first perch on the arm and purr and purr. Gradually he oozes down off the arm to lie on the dog. She will grudgingly ease over to accommodate him.  The other old tom jumps up on the table beside me, waiting for one of them to leave.  I wish I could video this, but it’s hard taking a video of your lap.

Instead I’ll leave you with the chair I’d pick from Arhaus that I wish my animals would like. They’d look good lying on it and leave me a place to sit.

Chair I wish the animals would lie on instead of my lap.



Here’s the one I like. Isn’t that a handsome chair?








Looks a bit bleak here, but it’s against a tomato red wall on my left.



Maybe you can help me design my ideal writing space. The wall on my right is sunny yellow.  I have no idea how to put these pieces together.









There would be a piece of furniture in reaching distance of my reading chair where I’d keep a brush for the animals, the books I’m currently reading, good chocolate, and a holder for a cup of coffee.

I like this shelf because it’s light and airy.








Here’s a place in the main living room page where I could sit and think about it. Take a look at some more of their front room options here.

I’d have to have something wonderful to look at behind my screen. Here is the view from my office window.

From my office window where I write

I write two series of mysteries called police procedurals, one set in Santa Monica, and the other in the tranquil village where I live now in Central California. I also write a series of EBooks on “Writing Your First Mystery.” They’re all available here on Amazon.

You might like them. Let me know.




Twitter:  YesMarPreston






Why Write Crime Fiction

Don’t you wish you could get back at men who are bullies and jerks, those women who are gold-diggers and narcissists? You can writing crime fiction.

I never wanted to hang out in a cop bar, or be a cop, but police work has always fascinated me. Most law enforcement jobs offer burst of excitement, danger, and thrilling action—in contrast to the way I made my living working on academic social science research projects.

Oh, research had its own set of puzzles and intrigues, its own small excitements from time to time. But I relish the dark side, a bit of noir, semi-hardboiled in fiction– the thrill me, chill me, scare-me-to-death aspect.

  1. In my fictional life I can dance on the dark side, speed into an alley in a Porsche after midnight, insult a gang banger, or talk back to a cop with impunity.
  2. I can be 32 again, and 5 foot ten. I can have a romance with a hard-bodied cop who can dance the tango.
  3. Goodness will prevail over evil and the villain will be punished. I guarantee it.
  4. In the name of research, I get to ride in the back seat of a police car, buy a pair of handcuffs, fire an AR-15, and pet a canine unit.
  5. I get to slide in my opinions on social issues. Good mysteries are aboutsomething, usually a social problem that has given rise to a crime. In my book On Behalf of the Family it was about honor killing. In Rip-Off it was about human trafficking. Believe me, I have opinions, but the trick is not to beat the reader over the head with them.
  6. I really like my fellow writers who like the stroll down dark alleys as much as I do. I love crime fiction fans who read and review my books.
  7. I can curse and swear and put gutter language in the mouths of my characters that I would never, ever say. I can let them have sex as much as I’d like, flaunt cleavage, and walk in five inch heels.
  8. I love the detectives in both of my police procedural series, one set in Santa Monica, the other in the peaceful village where I live in the central California mountains. Of course, Dave Mason is me, but he’s not me too. Same with Dex Stafford and Holly Seabright. I get to visit with them any time I like.
  9. I love puzzles. In the process of writing seven crime fiction novels, I’ve had to devise plots that sometimes seemed to have no resolution. But I get to tinker with them, set my characters in motion, and solve the puzzle.
  10. I get to visit exotic locales. Friends consider them strange choices. Chechnya, for example. I read Turkish and Chechen newspapers in English for years, yes years, to get the plots and characters right. I get to poke my nose down rat holes in the name of research that I’m sure has earned me a place on Homeland Security Watch lists.

But I’m harmless.  Really I am. I’m just a writer.  Here’s a sample of another aspect of writing crime fiction. Finishing.


Too Many Cats

I moved to a mountain village in Central California where a small group of good-hearted people were battling a desperate overpopulation of unwanted cats. We started a SPCA and for the next years my life was filled with cats, and writing crime fiction.

Fostering cats, raising money for cats, writing grants, starting a thrift store to support our spay/neuter clinics. And, of course, taking home unadoptable cats. At one point of madness I had twelve. Gradually they’ve winnowed down to two.

They crept into my crime fiction. There was always a cat or two in the margins of each chapter. With my latest book, The Most Dangerous Species, cats came to the fore.

Murder in a mountain village cat rescue sanctuary. The story is based on my own experience and visits to The Cat House on the King, a 12-acre property near Fresno, CA devoted to more than 600 cats. If you can imagine cats everywhere, above you in trees, draped over the mantle and the door sills, on the bookcase, twining around your feet, purring for attention.

Well, a crime story has to be set somewhere, doesn’t it? My protagonist’s love interests has to have some kind of backstory, doesn’t she? With 12 cats of her own and a job as a village patrol officer, she becomes the prickly ally of my protagonist.

To introduce some conflict, I gave him—the hotshot Bakersfield detective—a cat allergy. To kick off the story, the killer opens the gates and all 150 cats escape, complicating the murder investigation. I enjoyed fitting in the interstices of the story everything I knew about capturing large cat populations. No, the killer is not killed by a cat.

Here’s a link to a short video of a Day in the Life at the Cat House on the King:  Fascinating.

You might enjoy The Most Dangerous Species.  It’s definitely not a cozy.



I don’t think I’ve had a real up close mentor, mostly because I’ve been too over-awed by the ones I admire and too shy to ask for help. But I’ve watched a lot of writers from a distance and learned from them.

Also I live in an out-of-the-way village about 70 miles north of the Los Angeles sprawl. Perhaps the isolation from the big city writer’s scene is why you see me so often on Facebook.  I know it’s a fictive community but it keeps me in touch.

I meet writers locally who inspire me.  I admire my friend Judith Cassis. She authored as a ghostwriter a book that made the New York Times best seller list.  When she talks I listen.

I read a lot of books too. I write police procedurals and John Sanford is my current ideal. I heard an interview with him once, and maybe it hit me at exactly the right time, because as I write this now it doesn’t seem nearly as profound.

Sanford recommended a close study of the first couple of chapters of a book you wish you’d written. You English majors know what a close reading is. I took it to heart. Although it seemed savage I took actual paperback and hardbound books that I liked and turned down corners and underlined and cut out whole passages with scissors and hung them up on a clipboard at my desk. And I read them over and over, trying to deconstruct what I liked about them.

I watched how characters walked onto the stage, how the inciting event was set up, and tried really hard to learn what it was that sparked my continued interest.

Do I write like these mentors now?  Snort!  I only wish.

I’ve distilled all this study into a series of EBooks on Writing Your First Mystery  The techniques that propel a mystery forward are transferrable to any genre of fiction. There are six of these titles now and I am working on a seventh.

Please check them out and recommend them to any writers you know who are new in the writing world.