Is there anything in life that doesn’t require multi-tasking skills of some sort or another? At any stage in life?

Employers want workers who can juggle. Husbands, children, lovers, and readers expect you to be able to swivel from one thing to another.

If readers like your series, they’re panting in expectation for your next book so they can re-enter the world you made them love. Or so authors say.  I can’t quite convince myself that the world is breathless in anticipation of my next mystery.

If I were to be granted a superpower, I’d wish for a no cost, safe, effective multi-tasking ability. Think how many books you could write before flopping, exhausted, into your favorite chair? It’s probably sensible to write when you’re writing, and market (hustle books) when you’re marketing. I end up trying to do both at once. I’m an impatient, jittery sort of person.  I was once known as Instant Grat or Mar Presto.

My particular enemy is flipping back and forth on Facebook, reading interesting articles about world affairs.  Do I think I have to take a test or something? Am I preparing for Jeopardy?  No, I’m not.  I’m procrastinating working on my current novel. At one point in multi-tasking I thought leaping from one novel to another when I reached an impasse would make the work easier. Not so. It made both of them hard.

I’ve read that while it may seem you’re being productive flipping from one screen, one item on your to do list to another, the researchers say there is a cognitive cost.  You’re not nearly as smart as you think you are.  Aging will drive that point home as well.  Oh yes.

Perhaps you might find my police procedural series about a Santa Monica cop and his activist girlfriend interesting.  If you like them, please leave me a review.


Finding a New Way to Kill Someone Off

Today I am hosting my friend Marilyn Meredith. She is sharing news of her new book, A Cold Death. Be sure to read to the end of this post to enter Marilyn’s contest.

When you’ve written as many books as I have, I’m always looking for a new and unusual way for my villain to murder the victim.

Over the years I’ve used many conventional and not so conventional means.

When I was planning A Cold Death I knew who the murder victim was, and thought I knew who the killer was—but as I wrote that changed, a couple of times.

To find out what to use as a murder weapon I went on Facebook and asked for help like this:

“What would be a good way for an older person to kill another older person, something that would be on hand during the winter time?”

The comments flooded in—nearly 200 over them—lots of great idea.

I’d already used several of the suggestions. Others wouldn’t be readily available in the situation of the story. There were several that would have worked, but one was perfect. It was something I had heard about. If you want to know what it was you’ll have to read A Cold Death.

One funny comment that came while the ideas were pouring in on Facebook was: “How’s your husband, Marilyn?” Fortunately, he’s fine.



Blurb for A Cold Death:

Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her husband answer the call for help with unruly guests visiting a closed summer camp during a huge snow storm and are trapped there along with the others. One is a murderer.

Anyone who orders any of my books from the  publisher‘s website: can get 10% off by entering MP20 coupon code in the shopping cart. This is good all the time for all my books, E-books and print books.

On Kindle:

Marilyn Meredith’s published book count is nearing 40. She is one of the founding members of the San Joaquin chapter of Sister in Crime. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra, a place with many similarities to Tempe Crabtree’s patrol area. Webpage: Blog: and you can follow her on Facebook.

Contest: Once again I’m going to use the name of the person who comments on the most blogs on my tour for the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery—which may be the last in the series.

Tomorrow I’ll be here:

Multi-tasking in Writing and in Life


What Writers Do to Sell a Few Books


The Cruelest Enemy: Self-doubt

The best writing advice I ever got was watching the agony of a writer who couldn’t bring himself to write The End. As a result, he never finished anything and still remains in the ranks of the wannabes.  Oh, he had a million excuses, and at some point, we’ve all used variants of them as well.

Most creative people suffer from self-doubt. Given an imagination, we sometimes use it as a weapon to torture ourselves. The most pernicious form of self-doubt, I find, is to compare yourself to everybody who went to the Left Coast Crime Conference and you didn’t. Or has 3000 friends on Instagram.

It may go something like this: Why can’t I stick to a schedule and write 2500 words every day like she does? I hate her. Why did he get an agent and a publisher and I can’t even finish my book? Nothing in this book is original. I’m too old…I’m too young to have anything to write about. I’m not as smart as he is. And on and on. Fill in your own blanks.

I know you do it because we all do. I find when these thoughts rise in volume, the white-noise anxiety drowns out any rational perspective. We need to grapple with the programming that causes us to talk to ourselves like this. As best as we can, and that will vary from day to day, these thoughts block our success just as surely as if we’d imprisoned ourselves in a stone cell.I regularly search for my own way to interrupt destructive thinking because it will defeat me, and defeat you, no matter how good your writing is. Every so often I do some reading on ways to change habits of destructive thinking.

Quoting one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman: Creative work is often a slog and the only way you’ll really get good at it is to finish what you start even when it’s not going well. You’ll end up learning more from that experience than if you quit.

In fact, I spent a lot of time writing and thinking about finishing. I wrote an entire eBook about finishing. Perhaps you might find it useful.

FB Banner finishing


Writing Something Different for a Change

I adapted a short story I wrote long ago  for three characters. We have two little theater companies in our mountain village in Central California. I went to a first reading a couple of years ago intending to volunteer as stage manager and found myself in a lead role in a play that had appeared on Broadway.  But I liked the character and since our theater (an Internet coffee shop) only holds 30 seats, I figured what could go wrong?

When was the last time you tried to memorize anything longer than a grocery list? I just couldn’t keep the lines in my head and my counterpart was an actual SAG actor. (We live close enough to Los Angeles that a number of real actors live here.)

The more impatient he became with me, the more I unraveled.  Some actors get their cues from an exact word or line that another character says. Somehow I stumbled through the performances with my fake English accent and most of the lines intact. The roles called for it, but neither of us could manage the kiss at the final curtain. Still, thunderous applause. (It’s a small town.)

The second thing I’m foolin’ around with is editing a diet book, real paid writing work. It will probably pay more than I made selling novels and how to write a mystery Ebooks last year. Every year my tax guy looks at me funny and asks, “Is this a business or a hobby?” I’m comfortable with editing, though. I know what I’m doing, and it’s fun taking 90 pages of stream-of-consciousness rambling, finding an outline, and making a book of it.

There may be those crime novelists who can sit themselves at a desk, churning out one good novel after another, but I can’t do it. I gotta do something different every once in a while. You know, fool around?

My latest novel:



I thought everyone could write if they just sat down and put their mind to it.  As my facility for words came easily to me, I never thought it was important.

A facility for manipulating numbers was of consequence, after all, because I spent more than a score of years as an academic researcher. I would see my colleagues glance over a few pages of charts, tables, and graphs and  see a story line. Not so for me.

However, the University of Southern California offered me a free MFA degree for working there, and I took advantage of it. The requirement for my MFA degree was a competent novel, which happened to be my third.

I had scored an agent with my first novel, pretty much my autobiography, which should surprise no one. It was dreadful and she was a dreadful agent, but she whetted my appetite for publication. The second novel was a little better, and once again I have a sad story about another agent. The fourth novel was much better, but by then the gateway to publication, which had always been narrow had tightened.



It took me four full-length, finished and polished novels to teach myself how to write, and become profoundly discouraged about publication. By this time avenues to self-publishing were opening up. I wasted two years dithering about whether I was too good to self-publish.

However, I’m old and two years is a long time to waste. I had always loved mystery fiction and a crisis in my life opened up a huge block of time.  The dark side beckoned, and my first murder mystery came easily and so did the second. I self-published through createspace and it’s been the right choice for me.

I don’t think I could write three good books in three years to meet a contract with a traditional publisher. I like being in control of the process, the timing, and have only myself (and limited resources) to blame for the fact that I am not an international bestseller.

However, I like my mystery life, blogging, attending writing conferences, and finishing the sixth of a series of short EBooks on the craft of writing mysteries.  Along the road of publishing my six crime fiction novels, I’ve picked up some fine writing friends who see the world the way I do. That’s a quite unexpected benefit of getting published.



You might enjoy reading my work available here:



Proofreading Your own Work

I’ve made so many mistakes. So many.  A blush arises thinking of some that I will never share. Ever.

But restricted to the area of writing, which  awful moment would I choose?  The time we were all saying snarky things about a writer who was on the email thread and I hit reply all.  The entire thread of commenters fell silent. And I had to crawl on my belly and ask forgiveness.

Or my first self-published novel. With the arrogance and timidity of any neophyte, I hit send and createspace began printing No Dice. I had worked on this book for years and still think it’s a great story and well told, but the first printed version was full of typos. I think it’s the only one of my novels my sister has read and her comment was “You need an editor.”

Crazy_ladyAnd I did. I yanked that book back so fast it made heads at createspace spin. I made a practice of hiring two proofreaders.  But I still have a row of garbage No Dice copies in the garage to remind me.

No one can proofread their own work with any competence. The mind is tricky, inserting words that don’t lie on the printed page.  Ever tried to read those garbled words/passages that show up on Facebook? As long as the first and last letters of the word are correct, your mind fills in meaning.  This is you proofreading.

You may catch  glaring, laughable errors.  You’ll miss things like repeated words, spaces at the end of the right margin. I’m told there are writers who start reading at the back of the book and read every word from right to left. They say they do at least. I’ve never had the patience. But you might be able to do it. I also know of a writer who uses a blue pen to mark beneath each word, to make sure his mind doesn’t read words that aren’t printed on the page.  Again, this takes patience. And time.

It’s when I don’t have the patience and don’t take the time, bloopers happen. I wish I were different, but I’m only just human.

I write a series of EBooks on Writing Your First Mystery.  One of them is titled Editing Your First Mystery, and the techniques are useful to all fiction writers.

Proofreading is one of the critical topics I cover. Check it out.



Me and Raymond Chandler

Really good books are about a lot of things, some of them heavy social issues. Raymond Chandler’s novels are about crime and corruption in the 1940s in a place he called Bay City, in truth, Santa Monica.

Mar Preston | No Dice - isbn: 0984495207, best reviews Myy first novel, No Dice,  published in 2010, is about crime and corruption in Santa Monica and the attempt by a casino consortium to build a high-rise casino downtown. I want you to know  it feels presumptuous to put my name on the same page as Raymond Chandler.

I write police procedural mysteries to entertain you. I want to provide a few hours of escape from humdrum reality and give you a picture of Santa Monica only a longtime resident and activist could. But let’s have some fun doing it. So I slide in a few snarky comments about social issues as well. I’m sure even Dan Brown and James Peterson think they engage seriously with heavy social issues.

I did research, years of it, to write No Dice. I read the newspapers, kept track of  stories  in California, and set up a Google Alert on casino development issues.

I knew what I was talking about when I wrote the book. Then I was faced with a tough interviewer who notified me he wanted my opinion of new casinos and land use planning, and the ethical issues surrounding gambling. (The term the industry wants you to use by the way is gaming, not gambling.)

I am no expert on casinos. People seem to want to gamble. But I am an expert on Santa Monica.

Like most anxieties that never take shape in a real form neither he nor anyone else has ever asked me a thing about casinos. Not once! My nervousness comes from the unfortunate habit of blurting out the truth when someone asks me a disturbing question because I’m just not quick on my feet. Terrible things have been said in a fit of anxiety.

This is a trait that doesn’t always serve you well. I know I should never have said that snarky thing about Dan Brown. People will stone me.

No Dice is a pretty good book.  You can find it here:


Why We Write What We Write

I write police procedurals in the  whodunit genre.  I like the cerebral quality of following the detective in an investigation. With a thriller you know pretty soon who the evil villain is and his big stakes plan to take over the world. Then it’s all a race against the clock to save the world as we know it. Granted this can be pretty exciting with a lot of car chases, steamy sex, and explosions along the way.

I like the mystery of the whodunits.  I like getting the clues to nab the killer just as the detective learns them. I had a friend who reads the last chapters first so that she knows who the killer is because she can’t stand the suspense.  Can you imagine? I wanted to snatch my book out of her hands and beat her over the head with it.

I know the rules of suspense thrillers, and with a stun gun at my back, I suppose I could write one, but would it be any good? We are drawn to one branch or another. Something in our psyche or backstory, or our world of experience takes a wisp of an idea and starts playing what if, what if?

In my case, what if led me to the second floor of the Santa Monica Public Safety Building shared by the Police and Fire Department. My detective has been Dave Mason for five crime novels now and I’m working on a seventh. I lived in Santa Monica for a generation and saw its acceleration from a sleepy beach town to a city with a hot buzz that makes it  almost unrecognizable.

I write a second series set in the tranquil California mountain town where my security patrol officer heroine and an insufferable Bakersfield homicide cop deal with rural problems.  This summer it’s opioids and bear incursions. That’s in real life, by the way.

Mystery crime/suspense thriller? It’s a roomy branch on the subgenre tree. Detectives can vary from Lincoln Rimes to Anna Pigeon. I’ve always been fascinated by the lives big city cops live.  Never wanted to be a cop, or date a cop, or go to a cop bar, just observe.  I’m a watcher by nature, the one holding up the wall or looking at the bookcase at a party, talking quietly with one other person in the corner.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine being a 5 foot 10 inch security patrol officer with curly hair chasing a bad guy (or a bear) down a dark alley at midnight.

See Holly Seabright (me) in The Most Dangerous Species.


What Do I Want To Be Good At?

I see lots of women my age trundling craft supplies into the clubhouse:  lace making, quilting, scrapbooking, card creation. I pass by hearing them laughing and having a good time.

I live in a tiny mountain village in the mountains a good bit north of the Los Angeles sprawl. No movie theater, no other canned entertainments. Move here and you need to know how to amuse yourself. Fortunately writing crime fiction shapes my daily life.

Buying a house here in 1999 that needed work, I thought laying floors and painting sounded like fun. As my own boss, I can be a terrible slave driver, or on the other hand, allow myself every sniveling excuse I can think up to quit for now. So all my DIY projects were at my own pace.

I discovered that a good use of money is to pay someone who knows what they’re doing to do work you haven’t done before.

My father used to say I didn’t have a lick of common sense when it came to practical things. In a way that’s true.  But his common sense was founded on a lifetime of experience in mending, fixing, finding work arounds, and knowing which corners to cut.


Painting is satisfying. You can see how far you’ve come and the ways to go. Unlike writing.

You never know exactly where you’re at when you’re writing. You can always pick at a paragraph and make it better.  A word change here and there does make a difference.  Painting a ceiling you can get away with pretty good.  Or good enough. Yet I have endless patience word picking and sentence shininess.

I’ll never be good at DIY.

You might like to browse through my website since you’re here. Countless hours have gone into buffing it up and it’s still not perfect.  Know the feeling?