Category Archives: Toni McGee Causey

one hand in my pocket…

by Toni

Punching through radio programs, picking up songs, random associations, which end up telling a story.


Mustang Sally  (ZZ Top)
She’s Got A Way (Billy Joel)
I’m Gonna Miss Her  (Brad Paisley)


Before He Cheats  (Carrie Underwood)
I Can’t Make You Love Me  (Bonnie Rait)
Johnny Be Good (Chuck Berry)


I Stay Away  (Alice in Chains)
Alone  (Alice in Chains)
All She Wants To Do Is Dance  (Don Henley)


How Do You Tell Someone  (Cowboy Mouth)
What Might Have Been  (Diamond Rio)
So Hard  (Dixie Chicks)


One Hand In My Pocket  (Alanis Morrisette)
Don’t Make Me (Blake Shelton)
Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy  (Big & Rich)


Now, I thought about making this all "Trust Your Reader" or "How Random Associations Spark Ideas" or even "Brevity Works" and then I realized you all knew me well enough not to be fooled by any of that. This is totally "My Brains Have Melted, SEND HELP" — so let’s just pretend I said something smart up there and now you get to be smart, too. Your turn.


Congrats go out to Brett Battles for his super cool starred review in Library Journal for THE DECEIVED this week and J.D. (Dusty) Rhoades for the fantastic Publisher’s Weekly rave review of BREAKING COVER. Way to go, guys!

writing what you know

by Toni McGee Causey

Write what you know.

That’s the big stick sometimes used on writers, especially new writers. The implication, of course, is that you’d better not start writing until you know stuff. I went for years thinking that one of these days, I was going to get to a point where I knew for sure that I knew stuff and horns were going to sound or maybe music would play or some crisp-suited pseudo-TV-host would pop up and let me know that I’d just won the ability to go forward and write. Then I came to the realization, of course, that other people were writing about murders (and one hopes not from first-hand experience) and writing about blowing up the world (again, hoping that’s not a part of their resumé) or assassinating the president (now there’s one to guarantee Google hits), and that’s when I understood that I didn’t have to know anything, and since I was an expert at that, it was quite freeing. Not having a clue? I’m so there.

Which is when I really examined that old piece of advice, the one that felt like it was keeping me from breaking through, and I realized, I already know what’s important. It’s one of those pieces of advice which can sound very limiting, until you turn it around a bit.

I know the sound of the crack of a watermelon rind as it splits open, juice dribbling down onto the table, and the sweet cold crunch of the first bite on a hot summer day.

I know the electrical shock of betrayal in the midst of utter silence as I see a boyfriend’s other woman.

I know the stunning incredulity of how one three-year-old can fill an entire bathroom with suds, floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall with just a little shampoo and a whirlpool attachment for a tub.

I know the chaos and terror of running red lights to get to a hospital in time.

I know the shushing, oppressive silence of standing in the back of a funeral home.

The thing I’ve been asked at writer’s workshops I’ve given lately is, "How can I write about anything exciting? I have a normal life, but I’ve been told not to write something so autobiographical for a first novel, that that’s the kiss of death. So what do I do?"

And my answer is simple: you know yourself. You know people. And you know how to research whatever it is you need to know.

I know the scent of an old, worn leather glove and the sting of a line drive ball hit across the pitcher’s mound.

I know the first strawberry of the season, picked from my paw paw’s farm, eaten right there as I sat in the dirt between rows.

I know the clink of fine white china as it’s set down on a glossy mahogany table.

I know the safety of my dad’s hug, the tears in my mom’s eyes, the laughter of my brother.

I know my husband’s smile, the sly one he doesn’t show to others.

"But how," someone asked at the same workshop, "will I know I have a story? How will I know where to begin?"

Begin where the conflict starts. That’s where your story begins, and trust the reader to know that. This, I think was the hardest thing for me to internalize, was that I could trust that the reader knew that in the world of these characters, stuff had happened to them before this point. That there was backstory, that there were reasons for them being the way they were, and I had to break myself of wanting to put all of that in so that the reader understood them so that they would know this moment, this conflict was a big deal.

The conflict does need to be a big deal — to that character. But readers don’t have to know everything about the characters in the beginning to know that. They’re going to trust that you’re starting at the point where something in the character’s life has come to an abrupt, dramatic moment. Or maybe it’s a quiet, dramatic moment, but the point is, there is a moment. There is conflict. It may be internal, it may be external or some combination, but the story we care about as a reader is that struggle. They may not even overcome it, but if you connect us to their lives, to the little details that make them unique, we’re going to care if they try to win that conflict.

I know the feel of rain on my face, sluicing down my clothes, saturating through to the bone.

I know the joy in my sons’ eyes on Christmas morning.

I know the chaos of running out of time, everyone depending on me to get there, with the thing, whatever the thing was.

I know the rush of relief when I made it.

I know failing, the sitting-on-the-floor, stunned, too stunned to breathe, to form tears, to speak.

I know the rush of success, wanting to dance with the world.

What you know, already, is wanting something. You already know successes, and you know failures. I’m betting most of you know losing something that you never, ever wanted to lose, and the numbing pain that caused. That’s where your story starts: the character is going to lose something. And they care, deeply, that they not lose it.

So, write what you know.

And while you’re at it, tell me something you know, some detail of what you’ve seen, what you’ve heard, what you’ve learned, because I’d like to get to know you better.

oh, the things they don’t teach in school

by Toni McGee Causey

I broke my brain this week. So for lighter fare, here are 

random observations on the little things that might save y’all
some trouble:

1) Nothing
good will ever come from someone saying, “Hey, I think this has gone bad. Taste
it and see.”

2) “I
couldn’t even do this if I was sober,” is probably not a great thing to say to an

a. Or
on your first date.

3) If
you have to check off, “Have been recently committed for mental instability” on
the form, they’re probably not going to let you buy the gun.

a. Unfortunately,
that’s not true of you asking, “Now which way do the bullets go?”

4) The
very toddler who rarely speaks to tell you when he needs to go to the restroom
will be the child who will shout at the top of his voice that, “MOMMY I HAVE TO

a. While
in a department store.

b. During
Christmas rush.

c. When
you’ve finally made it to the cash register.

5) This
is the same child who’ll be mortified by your clothes when you go to his sporting

a. You
will be tempted to wear the ugliest shirt known to man.

b. Go
for it.

6) The
likelihood of you hearing the words “Mom! I can’t find the snake!” is greatly
increased when you’re on the toilet.

7) “The
bridge is out” sign is probably not a suggestion.

8) The
person who tells you up front that he or she is an asshole is probably in the
best position to know. Listen.

9) Someone
is going to notice when you try to steal a pool table if you strap that sucker
to the top of your car.

10) Those
wacky IRS agents might take exception to you addressing your return to: Ha ha,
you bastards.

Okay, your turn: random observations of something dumb that people



Like last week, I put the names in a hat and
my neighbor chose. So Julie, please email me at toni [dot] causey [at]
gmail [dot] com with your
address and I’ll get your signed copies mailed out to you this week!

(A SEPARATE CONTEST running on my personal BLOG today — for a $15 B & N certificate, plus a "shuck me, suck me, eat me raw" t-shirt – through tomorrow, only. Check it out here.)

the tipping point…

by Toni McGee Causey

Eleventy quibillion years ago, when I was in fourth grade, I wanted to
be a writer. I wrote terrible poems, which I think only got worse as I
got older and the teenage years descended like locusts, leaving only
WOE and ANGST. By college, I had brief bouts of sanity, whereupon I
attempted architecture (ohmyGod, they do not tell you about the math),
business (my first accounting teacher gave me the final exam in
advance, with the answers, if I would swear to her I would never, ever,
take another accounting class again), and then journalism (where I
learned they had the picky little annoying habit of wanting reporters
to not make crap up)(this was before Fox News).

And in spite of a fine history of liking to eat and wanting a roof
over my head, I still wanted to be a writer. If you asked a question,
you would get a story instead of an answer. If I could sidetrack into a
couple of tangents? You might as well park a while, because the
stories? They would not stop.

All the while, I wrote. Much of it was bad.

I ran into a
former high-school teacher, who’d also been a librarian, who asked me
the tough question: why wasn’t I submitting for publication? Have you
ever run into one of your former teachers? THEY ARE SCARY. It’s like
they can retroactively fail you or their eyes shoot truth serum rays or
something, and I did not want to stand there in front of my
two-year-old and explain I hadn’t submitted anything because I was a
big honking chicken. So I took her advice and started writing and
submitting to the local paper. (They were insane enough to buy the very
first one. That’s like feeding a stray puppy. They did not realize
this, I think, until I was around so much, they added me to the regular
staff AND the food staff, and this was a fairly prominent paper. One of
my relatives realized that I was being assigned to write about how
people COOK things. He asked, "Isn’t that… fraud? You use the fire
alarm as an oven timer." I look back on this as the beginning of my
fiction career.)

Over the years, and we are not discussing how many, maybe more than
two but less than a hundred, I wrote more articles than I can remember
or count for newspapers and magazines. I started querying and
submitting (and getting sales) at national magazines, but my real love
was fiction. I tried my hand at a novel, but it was a spiraling mess,
and my husband could see how frustrated I was. (And EVERY husband out
there just substituted the words "complete raving loon" for
"frustrated.") So, being a very wise man who liked to wake up breathing
in the mornings, he encouraged me to go back to school for some writing

For a while, I was lured to the dark side (screenwriting), and
landed an agent, and did a lot of stuff that was almost-but-not-quite
what I wanted to do, which was to sell something I made up. Hollywood,
by the way, will kill you with encouragement, because when you meet the
executives, you will be told you are the most brilliant writer they
have read in forever and where the hell have you been all this time and
they want to be in the "Toni Causey" business. Swear to God, they will
say it and you will believe it because they are that good at
sincere. Until you’re sitting in the Warner Brothers commissary waiting
for the next meeting, furtively looking around to see the FRIENDS stars
on their lunch break (yes, I am dating myself, hush), and the same
executive walks by with his arm around someone else who is not you,
telling them how utterly brilliant they were, the most brilliant person
they’d ever read. That’s when you look down at the script in your hand
that is an action thriller that everyone absolutely loves but could you
make the man a woman and the woman a duck and wouldn’t it be great if
the horse saved the day? and you think, "I’m crazy, but I’m not this crazy." Some writers (our very own Alex and Rob) have the tenacity for that. Me? I kinda wanted to just kick people. (I never claimed to be mature.)

See, I had this idea. An idea for this funny, take-no-prisoners
kind of southern woman, who loves deeply and means well, in spite of
the chaos she causes, and I wanted to write that story and be true to
that story. So I quit screenwriting. (I had had some offers if I’d move
out there. I was not going to move the family.) I had a hard time
convincing my former agent that yes, I was serious. I was quitting to write a
novel. (I think she still thinks I am going to change my mind.) But I
quit, and I started writing Bobbie Faye. I wrote a quick draft
in script form, because I was used to that format, then a friend showed a
friend, the lovely Rosemary Edghill, who said, "Send me some chapters."
And I did. She gave me some notes (smart, smart woman), and taught me
how to write the kind of synopsis an agent needs ("I did not think you
could make this worse," she said of one draft of that synopsis, "but
you did." That’s because I am an overachiever. It took a lot of tries
before I figured out that writing a marketing synopsis is a lot like
writing a non-fiction article, and that I could do.) Next thing
I know, I’d signed with an agent and Rosemary had pitched it to an
editor, who made an offer, and St. Martin’s Press bought that book and
the next two based on three sample chapters and a synopsis. Almost
twenty years from the point where I saw my old high-school English
teacher and she’d said, "Why aren’t you submitting for publication?"

(Thank you, Mrs. Ross.)**

There is a great big huge world of "no" out there. Sometimes, following the dream does not mean hoppity-skipping down the easy path. In fact, a lot of times, it means zig zagging past mortars and incoming and a lot of almosts-not-quites and despair and frustration what-the-hell-were-you-thinking? and ugh-this-sucks and occasionally wow-show-me-more. And in spite of how long it took, and how much hard work, I have been exceptionally lucky–there have been friends and mentors who’ve said, "keep going," and who’ve said, "send that in." They changed my life. They were the tipping point for me.

So how about you? Who encouraged you? Or what’s something you tried that someone encouraged you to do and now you’re glad you did?


CONTEST: just stop in and say HI or name someone who encouraged you OR something you’ve tried as a result of encouragement. ANYTHING’s fair game here.

Remember, it’s CONTEST MONTH — every commenter on today’s post will be eligible for a signed copy of BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY as well as a hot-off-the-press, not available in the stores ’til the end of the month BOBBIE FAYE’S (kinda, sorta, not exactly) FAMILY JEWELS. Excerpts from book 2 are now up HERE. Winner from this week to be announced on next Sunday’s blog.

WINNER FROM LAST WEEK — Billie! billie! Sister of the soul. 😉

Like last week, I put the names in a hat and
my neighbor chose. So Billie, please email me at toni [dot] causey [at]
gmail [dot] com with your
address and I’ll get your signed copies mailed out to you this week!

**This is part of the interview I did with Bethany Hensel over at Lux Magazine… I’ll post a link here to the rest as soon as I have it. Thanks, Bethany!

the lesser known superpowers

By Toni McGee Causey


I must’ve
dug in that big, yellow box for fifteen minutes, the first time. Just could not
believe I wasn’t finding what I was searching for. Damn them. I wasn’t just
looking for the prize. I was searching for
. Dug around the outside of the waxy paper bag the cereal had come in.
Slid my hand down the flat of the wide sides first, scrabbling my fingers below
the bottom of the bag, feeling the rough cardboard against my knuckles. And
coming up empty. Then retreated, reorganized. Listening for my mom. Pushed my scrawny
little wrists down the skinny sides of the box, thinking it was wedged there. Still. Nothing.

Surely they
wouldn’t have buried it in the cereal?

Okay, fine.
Shoved my hands down in the cereal. (I don’t know how old I was. Probably old
enough to know that I wasn’t supposed to be shoving my hands down into the
cereal.) (I only did that to the cereals I didn’t like and knew I wasn’t going
to eat) (oops) (Of course, I could have gotten down the big bowl, poured the
cereal into it, searched for the toy, gotten it, returned all of the cereal
back into the bag, bag back into the box, box back into the pantry, but then I’d
have had to also clean out the bowl and put it up and I ask you… you’re
standing there with eight things to do or you know you have a little brother—the
same little brother who thought it was hysterical to DRUM on your door, day in
and day out, 24/7, using your head sometimes as the crash cymbal, yes, THAT
little brother—and you can use said little brother as a fall guy, what would you
do, hmmmmmmmmmm?)

Then, most
of the time, there was the finding the plastic toy, and it was always simply
that: stupid, plastic. Nothing close to the real thing.

I wasn’t
disillusioned. I just knew I hadn’t found it
yet. And it was out there.

I knew that
finding it was just a matter of perseverance.

Looked into
all of the Cracker Jack boxes. (Hated Cracker Jack. I don’t think my parents
realized ‘til years later why I would agree to a box of the damned stuff. My
brother, though, was good for getting rid of whatever I didn’t want to eat.
Younger brother, very handy to have sometimes. Especially if someone is going
to get into trouble for digging in the cereal box.)

Still, it
was not there.

I was pretty
convinced. Some people had superpowers.
They had to have found them somehow.

Tried the
towel pinned around the neck thing. (Turns out, this will not make you

Tried the
wiggle-your-nose-to-make-something-float-to-you thing. (Not highly recommended
to be done in front of witnesses.)

managed anything close to the supersonic hearing, although I am CERTAIN my
parents had this one and have NEGLECTED to mention exactly how they got it. (My
dad has selective supersonic hearing.
I want that.)

Scoured the
hell out of my brother’s comic books, though I was old enough by then to
understand that maybe superpowers weren’t ever really going to happen. (I’m
still not 100% sure I’ve given up all hope.) (My brother, by the way, forgave
me for the cereal boxes.) (Well, last year.) (I think.)

Then one
day, my little brother and my (slightly barely hardly at all younger, ha, she
is going to kill me) cousin, Danette, and I were together while our parents
visited. We’d pretty much exhausted our imaginations, and there were no such
things as video games, wargaming, internet, iPods… (YOU, YES, YOU THERE IN THE
of complete desperation to keep them from arguing, I made up a story. I have no
clue what the point of that story was, but in it, we were superheroes (with
some sort of super bus or super car, I was just radical with the transportation
there). And Mike and Danette were quiet. Completely quiet, the entire time, and
if I tried to bring it to an end, they’d ask for more. And then the next time
Danette visited, they wanted the story… first.

I was
hooked. Hot DAMN, a superpower.

Do you
remember that Daffy Duck cartoon Daffy_duck_2
where he’s all determined and snatching
something away from Bugs, claiming, “Mine, mine, ALL MINE,” and it blows up on

Now I
realize that a bunch of other people
have the same superpower, but we are still going to call it a superpower
because that is a LOT cheaper than paying for therapy. And I also realize that
a lot of these other people have this same ability but in the MEGA HUMONGOUS
SUPER WATTAGE size… they are sort of like the Superman with all of the bullets bouncing
off and I’m over here with my little silver surf board thingie and the only
thing I may be able to do is surf around, but by God, I’m going to do it with
enthusiasm, so I’m happy.

having not completely given up the idea that there still may be another
superpower out there that I have that I’ve missed, I’ve thought about this.
(Yes, the fever is fine, why do you ask?) Those superheroes, with their cool
superpowers—they suffered. They had a
lot of angst. Sometimes they didn’t realize just how valuable their superpower
was, even though others could see it clearly. Which got me to thinking that
maybe I actually have a superpower,
but it’s just not something that I realize
is a superpower. Because God knows I have angst! Plenty of it! It would fit the
pattern! All was not lost! So I thought long and hard about the things I’m
really exceptionally good at, and my list looks something like this:

1) Able
to detect anyone even thinking about
drinking the last diet coke in the house

2) Able
to shove an entire two rooms’ worth of junk into ONE closet, and still find

3) Um.
Hmm. Wait… wait. Hmmm. Did I mention the diet coke thing?

Okay. Well.
Maybe not.

But how
about you? Did you want a superpower as a kid? And right now, what is your
superpower? (I know you have one.)


CONTEST: just stop in and say HI or name your superpower (or name someone else’s, it’s all good).

Remember, it’s CONTEST MONTH — every commenter on today’s post will be eligible for a signed copy of BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY as well as a hot-off-the-press, not available in the stores ’til the end of the month BOBBIE FAYE’S (kinda, sorta, not exactly) FAMILY JEWELS. Excerpts from book 2 are now up HERE. Winner from this week to be announced on next Sunday’s blog.

WINNER FROM LAST WEEK — Lisa Richardson! (Can I just tell you all how blown away I was? I know it was a holiday type of entry, but I wanted to thank every single one of you who took the time to stop by and email. I was floored.)

Like last week, I put the names in a hat and my neighbor chose. So Lisa, please email me at toni [dot] causey [at] gmail [dot] com with your
address and I’ll get your signed copies mailed out to you this week!

Dear God… (the stick turned blue)

by Toni McGee Causey

Dear God, Universe, or Elves (I am covering all bases, I cannot afford to be picky here):

The stick turned blue. I’m 19. And a half. The stick turned blue. I think my brains just leaked out of my ears because THE STICK TURNED BLUE. It cannot turn blue. I only had sex once. Okay, maybe twice. That’s in base 200. Or something. (Shut up, I am an English major, we’re not expected to know higher math.)

Is this like… trial-sies? Practice run? Just to see how good my adrenal system works because let me reassure you right now, IT WORKS JUST FINE, though I think my neighbors might need a hearing aid after all the shrieking died down.

Seriously, you’re kidding, right?


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

This is pregnant? This can’t stand to move morning sickness bloated pasty can’t fit into anything anymore look like a whale and where the hell is my GLOWY feeling? What? Were you out of Deep Fried Crazy Hot for the highs this summer and thought you’d just go ahead and substitute Miserable Seventh Level Of Hades and thought I wouldn’t notice?


So very not happy with you right now.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

It’s a boy. Two-and-a-half weeks overdue. GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT.


Hate you and your shoes.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

HE CAN STAY IN, I swear, I will shut up, forever, please do not make me have to OHMYGODTHATHURT. If I die and there is a heaven, I am bringing a LEAD BASKETBALL and you’d better not bend over.


Never having sex again, ever.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Wow. I just… wow. He’s perfect. Unbelievably perfect. And just… wow. Who knew?


Okay, you’re forgiven.


Dear God, Universe, Or Elves:

Oh, damn. How am I supposed to know what to do? How am I not going to break him? I don’t know enough. Maybe when I’m forty. Or fifty. Maybe. I am so going to screw this up.


What the hell were you thinking, trusting me?


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Um, I hate to mention this, but there is one SERIOUS flaw in your design here. WHERE IS THE OFF SWITCH? I’d like to be able to shower, five minutes. Five. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.


So bringing my stinky self to your doorstep in about three seconds if you don’t FIX THIS.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

My husband came home and heard me arguing with our two-year-old and took me aside and said, “You’re the adult. You have to outsmart him.”

The sad thing is, I’M TRYING TO.


Send brains. Quick.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Okay, I get the whole “have sex, can get pregnant” thing, you can’t fool me. And okay, I’m not wholly surprised that I look like I ate an entire football stadium, but they just told me they expect this one to be over nine pounds. NINE. That’s like giving birth to a TWO MONTH OLD. WITH TEETH. Why not just go ahead and shoehorn in a COLLEGE GRADUATE while you’re at it. Maybe you’ve got a couple of missing OCEAN LINERS from the Bermuda triangle you don’t know what to do with; you can just SHOVE THEM IN MY UTERUS, I DON’T MIND.


I hope your hair falls out.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

That was really freaking EVIL of you, playing that “cutest kid on the planet” card, twice in a row. It gets easy after this, right?




Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Look, I know you’re really busy with all that famine and war and mythical alternate universe of Reaganomics and Wham!, but if you could just take a couple of seconds out of your busy schedule? Because my kids are infected with the HE’S TOUCHING ME HE’S LOOKING AT MY STUFF OH WOE!!!! disease. How much trouble will I be in if I duct tape them together?


Duct Tape On Sale Now


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

He’s never going to forgive me for wrapping him in multiple rolls of aluminum foil to turn him into the Tin Man for Halloween, is he? Or the eighteen blocks I made him walk (while re-wrapping him) because we were going to trick-or-treat and we were going to BY GOD HAVE FUN, DAMMIT. I’m still going to hear about this when he’s twenty-five, aren’t I?


Seriously thought about tying the bathroom rug around him for “lion fur”–he doesn’t know how lucky he is.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

They are sticking a needle in my four-year-old’s back. A needle. They are holding him down in the other room, and he is screaming. They made me leave, because he was lunging for me and he’s supposed to be absolutely still.

I just sat across from one of my childhood friends. She’s our pediatrician now, and one of the smartest people on the planet. We made mud pies together when we were five and six years old. We even managed to sell them (well, she did, she is that smart).

I never dreamed I would be sitting across from her one day and that she would have to say, “meningitis.” That the words “risks” and “death” and “possible brain damage” and “spinal tap” and “could paralyze him” would float, jumbled, over the space between us, that we’d ever talk about the fact that she had to stick a needle in my son’s back. A pediatric emergency.

She is sending me to the ER. I’m carrying him (passed out), while my oldest son is clutching his brother’s spinal fluids in some sort of glass flask, and I’m supposed to drive to the ER, because we do not have time for an ambulance.

She said to try not to stop for red lights. I CANNOT BREATHE right now, and there is no oxygen going to my brain and I CANNOT STOP FOR RED LIGHTS.

I don’t care what it takes, do it to me, not him. I will give you anything. I will give you everything. Just do not do this.




Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Four days later, and his brother and he are making a slide out of the hospital bed’s mattress.

It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.


thank you.

(your hair grew back in nicely, by the way)


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

The oldest is fifteen, and in this state, he can legally drive. HAVE YOU FREAKING LOST CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE, OR WHAT? How in the world am I supposed to let him drive? I can barely keep from hurling myself in his path to keep him safe while he’s WALKING AROUND, BREATHING AIR, dammit. I have tried to remember that they are supposed to grow up to be independent, strong men. I have tried to remember to reinforce their decision-making skills. But this is just asking TOO DAMNED MUCH. It’s too soon.


Where is the time machine? 


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

ANY PHONE CALL THAT STARTS WITH “Mom, I’m okay, DON’T WORRY,” is NOT GOING TO BE GOOD, I don’t care HOW earnest you make them sound.


Like I am that easily fooled. Ha.


Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

I sat on the floor in the hallway today where I could see into the door of each of their rooms. They are empty, now, of boy stuff. One is an exercise room, and one a guest bedroom.

I did not break them. I screwed up. A lot, sometimes. I got self absorbed and busy and short tempered. I lost confidence and lost my way, but I did not break them. I remember the smiles, the laughter, the tooth fairy, the Christmas mornings, the late night talks. There were baseball games, wrestling tournaments, graduations and hysterically funny meals. I remember tears and heartache and not knowing if just loving them more than breathing was going to be enough. I remember too many close calls where it seemed like it might not be. But they are funny and smart and good hearted men. They have (mostly) outgrown the HE’S TOUCHING ME HE’S LOOKING AT MY STUFF OH WOE!!!! disease, and so get along pretty amazingly well. They make me laugh and surprise me and are fascinating people. They are kind. They treat people well, and they not only love deeply, but they are loved deeply in return. They are both the kind of men who, if I just met them somewhere, I’d like them tremendously. They have started families. Wonderful women I’m so lucky to have in our family. A granddaughter (the most beautiful, happy baby in the world).

You did not tell me when you gave me that blue stick that you were giving me my heart. You did not tell me that you were giving me everything that mattered.

Dear God, the stick turned blue.



toni, a mom.


CONTEST: just stop in and say HI or wish someone a happy mother’s day (your mom, someone else’s, doesn’t matter) OR tell me what did you do to drive your mother batty?

Remember, it’s CONTEST MONTH — every commenter on today’s post will be eligible for a signed copy of BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY as well as a hot-off-the-press, not available in the stores ’til the end of the month BOBBIE FAYE’S (kinda, sorta, not exactly) FAMILY JEWELS. Winner from this week to be announced on next Sunday’s blog.

WINNER FROM LAST WEEK — Angelle! (wow, you ALL were SO FREAKING AMAZING) — thank you for all of the comments. I put all of the names in a hat and my neighbor got conscripted to choose. So Angelle, email me at toni [dot] causey [at] gmail [dot] com with your address and I’ll get your signed copies mailed out to you this week!


random things I do not understand

by Toni McGee Causey


Random things I do not understand, but will somehow make it into a book:

Two men decided to move a meth lab through Baton Rouge. In their moment of brilliance, one of them must have turned to the other and said, "Hey, let’s move this highly flammable lab that can blow up." Wherein the other thought, "Why do it half-way? Let’s take the bumpiest interstate on the planet! I know! Let’s go through Louisiana!"

Saving spiders. I do not understand this. A friend of mine wrote a funny blog about the spider that was sort of taking over her bathroom, and I responded:

I had one in the kitchen once and I felt sort of bad (poor, lost spider, didn’t
mean to come inside) and I caught him in a glass jar. He wasn’t huge,
but was quite fuzzy-looking and I was curious so I got my trusty field
guide on spiders out (what do you mean, what field guide? you all don’t
have field guides? geez. I have a field guide for every critter around
here that can possibly slither in and/or eat me. I’d like to be able to
leave a coherent description of the culprit if I’m dying, thank you).
Anyway, so I check the trusty field guide and find its photo and the spider on there is
kinda fuzzy, but not as fuzzy as my spider, and
then I realize… my spider’s fuzziness is… moving. As in, separating. It
was like the Borg. There were more than 100 (I am not exaggerating)
baby spiders stacked up on Mom or Dad or Uncle Walt there and they
started leaping off and investigating the glass, which then made me
realize… if that spider hadn’t been under glass, all of those babies
would have been in my kitchen.

Now? I kill the damned spiders. I have a rule: you stay outside? you live. You cross that line? you die.

When they start paying they mortgage, they can make the rules.

I do not understand relationships where the women "let" the men do certain things as a reward for doing everything else they’re told to do, nor the men who let them. This particularly applies to those loud, well dressed reality based housewives shows where I think the point is to not only out bitch each other, but out maneuver their husbands, more than anyone else has done at the same time. But then I realized, I just must not have known the rules for using my Glittery Hooha (technical literary term there, as defined by Lani Diane Rich and explained by Jennifer Crusie). (For the romance world, that blog explains it best… and I want to know why two people fall for each other, no matter what genre.) (I love that blog and term.) (I know. I wrote about glittery hoohas.) (My mom has probably had a heart attack just now and when she wakes up, I am going to be in big trouble.)(Because this is the deep south and we do not admit in public that there are hoohas, no matter how glittery.) (There was a sale on parentheses.)

So, what do you not understand? Wide open, anything goes.

And starting today, every Sunday until my book release, end of this month, as in May 27th, I’ll be giving away two signed copies of both books — Bobbie Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day and book 2Bobbie Faye’s (kinda, sorta, not exactly) Family Jewels — to one of the commenters  (US/Canada), 18 years old and up. (Hey, there is cursing and murder and mayhem and sex, almost all at the same time. I am not getting in trouble here.) So post anything you do not understand in the comments and next Sunday, I’ll announce a winner… each Sunday for four weeks.

the most important contract a writer will ever have

by Toni

One of the terrible things about learning to write (and I’m still in that group) is realizing just how many plates you constantly have to keep spinning to tell a novel or script-length story successfully. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multiple tasks and then drop a plate (or two, or ten). It’s easy to start worrying about things like marketing and agents and breaking in or staying in or growing sales because those things are at least somehow quantifiable. Identifiable. These things are not, as Alex so eloquently put it yesterday, ways of trying to find the murky method to creating a book that is alive, and so they are easy substitutes for forward motion.

But I had some clarity a few years ago. This is after publishing (at that point) for twenty years, so I guess better late than never. And that clarity was in finally figuring out the most important contract a writer will ever have:

Pick the kind of story you want to tell and then deliver on that promise to the reader who reads that kind of story.

That would seem kinda obvious, huh?

And yet, it’s a simple truth which gets lost in all of the other tasks a writer has.

I’ve seen too many writers try to finish a book while, at the same time, worrying too much about being important. They want to write something worthy of those awards, of the critics, of their peers, of their family. They want everyone who ever reads the manuscript to set it down, weeping with either awe or envy. They would dearly love for it to be the thing that makes the editor run over sixteen people in the hallway while trying to get that manuscript to the publisher for quick approval of that big, fat advance.

And in all of that pressure, they try to be everything to everyone and forget to do the one thing they have to do: tell the damned story.

Here’s where I get (somewhat) ranty.

Pick the kind of story you want to tell…

Be honest. What do you love? Do you have an answer you tell everyone, but you secretly read something else? Then you’re not being honest, and that’s going to show up in the work, or in your inability to finish. Do you not want to admit to a specific genre because it somehow doesn’t seem "important" as a writing goal? Let me ask this, and this is my serious pet peeve: when did we start valuing one genre over another, as if one kind of reader was somehow more important than some mythical "average" reader who might buy more books but who, somehow, isn’t perceived as more discerning?

If I hear one more person denigrate readers who bought something like, oh, say, The Da Vinci Code, I’m going to smack ’em. If you don’t think Dan Brown’s language / style was all that great, fine… the more important point is to realize that he delivered on the kind of story that he promised: mystery/thriller. Most of those readers, God Bless Every Single One Of Them, either bought the book or borrowed it from a library (or a friend), and if they enjoyed the book, they probably went back to find something else.

Do you love stories with lush language? Great, write that. Do you love stories which solve a mystery? Or an action adventure which can make you laugh, but keep you on the edge of your seat? Or maybe you like the tense action of a thriller? The eroticism of a romance where characters find some sort of happiness, in spite of the odds? Maybe you love to be completely scared out of your wits?

Language skills are wonderful, but they’re not more valuable than storytelling skills. Depth of character can be found in any genre, but long character introspections are not going to be prominent if the book is, say, a thriller, because that’s not the point of the kind of story the writer is telling.

And ultimately, the kind of story you choose to tell will then have certain expectations inherent in its type. Not formula, but expectations. And if you try to shoehorn everything into that story, you’re probably going to have mush, unless you’re just a master storyteller. I’m not sure there are many masters on their first attempts at writing a novel. I’m pretty sure the rest of us would have them killed. (I am sort of joking.)

**I am adding this in here a little later, due to comments below** … and by "pick the type" I’m not saying "pick one and only one genre… I’m saying "know what type of story you’re telling." If it’s multi-genre, then you’re upping the ante of the expectations and you’ve got to make sure the story delivers on all promises. More in the comments section **

then deliver on that promise…

Read widely in the genre you’ve picked. Part of that promise is that you know what’s expected. Understand what you’ve promised the reader when they read the first paragraph, the first page. Part of that promise is that you’re going to take what’s expected and turn it sideways or somehow upside-down and surprise the reader, without violating the promise of the kind of story you said you’d deliver. And part of that promise is doing this with a voice, with a perspective, that is uniquely yours. Be evocative with voice; don’t imitate or settle or pander–it’ll be obvious.

to the reader who reads that kind of story

You cannot be all things to all readers. If someone does not normally read a particular genre, odds are they don’t because they don’t like it. And that’s fine. Don’t try to shove everything in there on the off chance that you’ll have one thing that appeals to them, because you’re probably going to have a bunch of other crap that violates the promise of the story. And the reader who normally reads that kind of story will be annoyed with you, and won’t tell other readers who read that kind of story, and you’ve lost the battle, right there.

Respect that the reader of that kind of story knows what you’ve promised them, knows that kind of story really well, and then surprise them.

Stories… books… are meant to be many things. Escapism. Education. Enlightenment. Sometimes, all three at once, but not always, and not everyone wants all three at the same time. Genre lines are useful for marketing and useful for understanding what you’re promising the reader, but after that? They’re unimportant. Because story is how we connect, how we understand the human condition, how we relax, revive, relate, and every kind of story has its purpose. Don’t get hung up on labels, and don’t let what everyone else thinks is important intimidate you. There are, as Anne Stuart and Jennifer Cruise are wont to say, "many roads to Oz."

So pick the kind of story you want to tell. Commit. And deliver on the promise.

Agree? Disagree? Rant on in the comments… but do include what book(s) have delivered on their promise for you lately.


p/s… Congrats to Hank Phillipi Ryan for her Agatha win for PRIME TIME. Hank was one of the wonderful authors at RT and one of the Mystery Chix & Dix group, and a winner of something like 27 Emmys. Clearly, a woman who knew how to define what kind of book she wanted to write, and delivered.


by Toni

Through the magic of the internet, I know that Alex is going to be posting a great comprehensive description of RT next Saturday, and I’ll just ditto her excellent description ahead of time. I am currently at the convention, down in the lobby because the internet doesn’t work on several floors of the hotel since it’s under construction, but other than that hiccup, the convention has been wild and a lot of fun.

I always wonder ahead of time whether a convention is going to be a good thing to have done. Let’s face it — they’re expensive. There’s the flights, the hotel, the registration fees, and then eating and drinks and any extras (like books). But I have to say, RT has been a blast. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the way that it’s been organized that’s been so terrific, the variety of events, or the welcoming atmosphere. I mean, seriously, you cannot feel stuffy and outside of the box when you see a guy dressed as a construction worker walking past you with pink wings strapped to his back. There’s an absolute sense of playfulness here, of anything goes and everyone’s accepted and, more important, every genre is welcome. The mystery and thriller events were extremely well attended.

Booksellers and librarians are everywhere. Loads and loads of readers.

I was exceptionally fortunate to be in a group of Mystery Chix and Dix and we had an absolutely terrific turnout at Mystery Lovers Bookshop where Kathy Sweeny interviewed each of us and many readers milled around, buying stacks of books. It’s pretty phenomenal to see people lug over twenty or so books to the check out counter, and then come back for more. We had a full (very large) room for our mixer Saturday morning and I had tons of books get snapped up and then sold out early at the large book signing–a big every-author-at-the-same-time event that takes place on Saturday.

I met so many people — like booksellers Maureen and Jenn and friends Debby and Laura and librarians Kim and Val (who just completely made my entire weekend) and Lipstick Chronicle friends and on and on and I’m going to leave out so many and it’s just because my computer is dying (almost right now) and there’s no outlet near here… but seriously, the friends were amazing. Barbara Vey from the fantastic PW blog was there and really wanted to make a point to reach out to the mystery and thriller communities, to have news of what’s going on with us so she can blog about it. (A truly, amazing reader. That’s the best compliment I know to give someone.) I got to get to know a lot of new people and reconnect with old friends and I’m amazed at how energized I feel about writing.

But mostly, I’m impressed with the readers and how many genres they embrace. If RT educated me about anything, it was this–and I’m truly glad I came.

Oh. And it doesn’t hurt to have a "shuck me, suck me, eat me raw" button to wear. (And I am afraid a few people got photos of me in the t-shirt.) I got mobbed for those things. Of course, people also had on a lot of leather and rubber and I’m not even entirely sure what one woman had on, but I tell you what–these people know how to have fun. I don’t think I have laughed so hard in… welll… I’m not sure I remember the last time I laughed so hard.

I’ve learned a lot, also, watching some of these women. Dakota Cassidy was utterly brilliant with her fans (we sat next to each other in the author signing), and then when she sold out, she turned around and started promoting my book. On top of that, she was just so funny and kind and generous.

Which, I think, sums up the con for me — generosity of spirit.

So, what convention have you gone to which you enjoyed, and what have you learned?

building blocks

by Toni

I’m in that falling-in-love stage with my new book–where the sense of discovery is exhilarating, and I’m sort of gobsmacked at a new character who really came to life, all with one move. I tried to dress him very nicely. I wanted to give him an expensive suit, shoes so fine, they’d cost most people’s monthly salary. Instead, he ended up wearing wrinkled khakis and a stained and horrifically ugly plaid shirt. He chose this on purpose, and his sardonic voice is crystal clear. Particularly since he’s setting out to purposefully annoy the hell out of my heroine.

He’s got his own phrasing, and I’m not entirely sure where he came from. I didn’t set out to consciously create him the way he showed up, but he’s so much more fun this way. Bobbie Faye almost immediately refers to him as a walking pile of laundry, and I hope you just imagined a very disheveled man, hair standing on end.

But maybe it was his own phrasing that did it, that made him suddenly breathe and move for me. With his first bit of dialog, I realized who he was. And I love that aspect of reading others’ work–seeing a particularly adept way of building an image with a colorful, evocative phrase.

"…eyeing real estate in the neighborhood of My, These Kids Today…"

— Heather, on Go Fug Yourself

I love to eavesdrop and read blogs and jot notes from family and friends and my God, the notes I have from so many favorite books. They all inspire. (Okay, I have so many from books, it’s insane.) It’s sometimes a really stunning description, or sometimes it’s one phrase or a sentence or two that encapsulates the character, like:

"Oh-My-God o’clock…"

Suzanne Brockmann


"And some days, you just get your blues on."

— clerk at copy center


"My foot [hurt so much, it] started developing its own gravitational pull."

Suburban Bliss


"I was praying he’d shoot me so I wouldn’t have to burn to death. Instead, he looked at me and said, ‘None of this would have happened if you’d just agreed to have kids’."

J. D. Rhoades, Safe and Sound


"Just because I’m yelling louder doesn’t mean I know what I’m talking about… wait…"

— clearly confused man arguing with his date at the Circle K

Now, I could go through every book by every writer on this site and quite a few others from our list of links on here and post examples, but I’m going to ask you all to contribute. If you’re a writer, please post at least one of your own phrases / sentences that is evocative, and then post an example from any other writer (or two! mentors! favorites!). It doesn’t have to be dialog — it can be a description, metaphor — whatever worked for you. For all the readers out there, please grab one of your favorites and give us some examples. I know you’ll inspire us!


By the way, a whole bunch of mystery/suspense/caper/romance writers are all going to be at Mystery Lovers Bookshop for a fantastic signing event this week — on Thursday, April 17th. It’s going to rock, this event, and I hope if you’re in the area, you’ll come by and say hello.