The (sometimes) fun consequences of identifying with your characters

StockSnap image from for blog post on

Have you ever so identified with one of your story characters that you found yourself doing something that particular character would do — more readily than you normally would?

Maybe you did something your character would do (or has done in your story), because you admire your character’s bravery. Maybe this character cares less than you do about what people think.

Maybe you took a risk you wouldn’t ordinarily take — because your character would take that risk without hesitating.

Have any of your story characters been whispering in your ear, urging you to do or say things you haven’t dared do or say before?

If any of the above resonates, did you feel more alive or more like the person you were made to be when you did what a character urged you to do?

Did you ever find yourself grateful to the character — who is, after all, an extension of your own creative energy — for giving you that extra push? 

Did you ever wonder if you created that character precisely because you wanted to be braver or more assertive or more outspoken or more something else?

In my case, I was working on book two of my lunch lady cozy mystery series, and I decided my main character would get her hair cut short and add some color streaks to it. The more I thought about the reason why she did this, the more I realized I wanted to do the same thing.

So, I did.

Stepping into character

First, I took my husband’s hair cutter, snapped on the longest hair setting (1″), and ran it all over my head to erase the evidence of the amateur trim I’d given myself a few days before that. The plus side? I won’t need a hairdryer for months.

[As a side note, I always planned for my character to go to an actual salon for both the cut and the color.]

Next, I set up an appointment at a local salon and went in for a partial foil in dark red (a shade that worked well with the dark brown and gray I already have, since it would coexist with both). Now my hair has this multi-color look that I love. Next time, though — when my hair is a bit longer —  I might go with a bolder color. Maybe a reddish purple or even a vivid blue.

Research and Relief

On my own lunch lady front, I’ve got some shifts lined up for the first week of school, and it’s in a brand new kitchen. Might give me some ideas for Books Two and Three.

Plus, it’ll get me out of the house, and I’ll get paid to get some exercise and interact with other humans.

My main character, Livian Alder, who has black hair with some grays already showing (she’s 30), will probably get some purple streaks added to her freshly-chopped mane. And she’ll love it.

It probably won’t be as short as mine, because she’s a bit self-conscious about her ears and will probably go for a short bob with at least some wispy strands up front (some of them streaked with purple).

Reactions from the other characters will be mixed — as I expected the case to be for me. So far, though, the feedback has been positive.

Below is a recent picture of me with a paperback copy of the first novel in my series. The webcam didn’t exactly do it justice, but you get the idea (There’s a better image of the cover posted on my Author page).

Real motivation

What really drove me to make the change (however small) was the thought that I wanted my hair to remind me of the creativity and courage I want to display in at least five different ways every day. At least five.

It’s something I see every time I look in the mirror. And, unlike flowers, it doesn’t make my husband sneeze.

It’s not much of a change, I know. But for me, it represents a notable departure from the way I’d seen myself for many years.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with just letting hair go gray — just as there’s nothing wrong with coloring all of it. This isn’t about what way is best. It’s about the mental blocks that have stood in my way for too long.

I begin each day differently, now. I still have coffee, but I approach the day and its potential (and mine) in a different way — expressing gratitude for at least three things I already have (usually more than three) and enumerating five things I want to do that day to get me closer to my goals.

It doesn’t sound like much, but I usually don’t stop with five. Even if I do, though, that’s five things I’ve done that have gotten me closer to my goals. Five new things to be grateful for — on top of all the good things I already have in my life.  And it doesn’t take long to get me started on a list of those. It’s a good thing I’m a fast typist.

Changes (new and coming)

A month ago, I wouldn’t have even considered going to a salon for a color treatment. So, what changed?

For me, it was a combination of joining a new program with Neurogym and working on Book Two of my cozy mystery series. Book Two ventures into new territory, and I’m not just talking about my mc’s new hairdo.

(No, not erotica. No zombies, either.)

What has changed for you since you started creating characters you love?

Ghostwriting is more than a gig

Ghostwriting is more than a gig_blog post

Ghostwriting is a calling. No, really. It’s serious business taking someone else’s words, listening to the messages hidden in them, and putting it all into a book that makes the client look at you and say something like, “How did you do this? How did you put my thoughts into words better than I could?”

It’s magic.

If I take someone else’s words and the subtext together into my head, and out comes something that cries out, “Mama!” to the original source of those thoughts, it makes me a sort of surrogate — but without the need for doctor visits. That and it generally takes way less than nine months’ time to finish.

I’m not writing this to diminish all that real mothers — surrogate or otherwise — go through. I’m a mother (four times) myself. I know how it works.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that ghostwriting a book for someone isn’t just writing from dictation. It takes more than transcription skills. Anyone who has struggled to articulate their thoughts in writing — for a book, for an academic paper, for a story — knows the relief of finally seeing their thoughts expressed in prose that dances to their own unique rhythm, communicating not only the essence of their message or story, but also their voice.

No AI copywriter can do that. It takes a human mind with a heart behind it. It takes a spirit that can connect with others on a sub-social level. Only a living person can work this magic.

And this magic is essential for both fiction and nonfiction books. Writing without this magic has about as much life in it as an instruction manual or the pithy phrases written on Dove chocolate wrappers (why do I even look?).

If you’re looking to hire a ghostwriter to create a book you can be proud to share with others (including those who know you), you need a writer who will be as passionate about birthing your book as you are. You need a surrogate book mama. Maybe that sounds silly right now, but there’s magic in it, and it’s worth exploring — if you’re ready.


Final Note: In using this analogy, I don’t mean to imply that men are less capable of ghostwriting than women are. I use the analogy that resonates most with me. I don’t suspect the ghostwriter calling is partial to a specific gender. Its reach goes deeper.




Tropes, tightropes, and my first cozy mystery

Before the Wedding_lunch lady cozy mystery by Sarah Lentz

When does a cozy mystery mutate into something less cozy? At what point does it cross the line and become something that’s too different from what most cozy mystery lovers have come to expect?

My first cozy mystery does involve a love interest, but there’s enough reason to suspect that the relationship is not on the fast track to marriage.

It also has some course language: an f-bomb or two (maybe more–I forget), an a$$hole, and some other words that justify not classifying it as YA.

No cats, though. No pets at all, really. It’s in the main character’s apartment lease. Not saying the character won’t get a pet sometime in the future. Not saying she will, either.

It’s not a romance, though it has some romantic scenes thrown in. No erotica. No gratuitous sex of any kind. But there are references to shenanigans of an adult nature. No front row seats, though. Not sorry.

I do have a recipe at the end. It’s a dinner thing, though — not a baked item.

I have an on-again, off-again relationship with cozy mysteries. The first ones I read are Betty Hechtman‘s Crochet Mysteries with Molly Pink. Since reading most of those, I’ve tried reading several others but haven’t found another author whose cozy mysteries I enjoy as much. Still open to finding more. But after sampling a dozen or so and backing out of them (out of boredom, mostly), I usually end up gravitating toward psychological thrillers (Dean Koontz, et al), fantasy, and less-cozy mysteries. I’m also a fan of Liane Moriarty‘s novels and others like them.

So, why on earth did I decide to write a cozy mystery of my own? And why am I deviating from some of the tropes I’ve seen in so many of the cozy mysteries I’ve read — or tried to read? Simply put, I’m trying to write the kind of story I’d want to read.

But at some point, I have to ask myself, “Is this still a ‘cozy mystery’? Or is it just a ‘mystery’?”

And is it worth making changes to my book to make it more “cozy” — just so I won’t have to remove that word from my book’s subtitle and book description?

Thoughts? Share them below or leave a comment on Facebook or Twitter. 🙂 

DIY Book Creation: Basic Formatting vs. Interior Book Design

The product of basic formatting may not be the prettiest book you’ve ever seen, but it should be easy to read — without any misplaced hard returns or inconsistent line spacing (among other obvious formatting errors). You’ve no doubt run across ebooks that look as though the formatter basically uploaded a Word doc and didn’t bother to check how it looked on the Kindle Previewer.

We’re not doing that. Repeat after me: readers have a right to expect better (it’s easier to relate to this if you’re a reader, too). Besides, it’s really not hard to make your book look clean and orderly. It’s not. It takes a few steps, which I’ll show you in the free download.

Basic book

But what if you want it to be more than “clean”? What if you’re aiming for something higher than “not ugly/unreadable”?

And what on earth is the difference between basic book formatting and “interior book design”?

Put simply, interior book design makes your book look prettier and more professional. It makes it look like you hired someone to make your book look as good on the inside as a traditionally-published book.

Interior book


So, can a DIY book formatter easily learn the latter as well as the former?

Yes. Yes, we can.

Download this free guide to get started, and let me know if you run into any snags. I’m here to help. As someone who firmly supports the DIY approach to self-publishing (even if you’re not broke or deep in debt — or both), I’m all for finding and sharing resources to help fellow writers become published authors of books they can be proud of.

The Caveat

The DIY route takes longer, it’s true. To do it right, you have to learn how to self-edit your book, how to format it for ebook and print, and how to create a book cover that doesn’t scream “amateur.” It takes time and a willingness to learn what it takes to make your book shine. It’s not the easy route. And your unwillingness — or inability — to hire an expert to get your book ready for publication is nothing to be ashamed of. 

To put it another way, I’m fed up with authors who shame fellow authors who don’t spend hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on editing, formatting, book cover design, etc. to “give their book its best chance.” One such author actually opened a rant with “Don’t be a cheap-a$$ mother-f***er!” to shame those who refused to pony up the cash for experts to make their books worthy of publication. Who are the self-appointed gatekeepers, now?

So, you’ll excuse me if I roll my eyes and get back to work. As I said before, some of us really do have more time than money to spare — even if not much more.

Some of us, to put it blunt, are flat f***ing broke for about 2/3 of each month. So, shaming us for not spending or charging that kind of money — or for daring to self-publish when we can’t afford to do that — is just as elitist, short-sighted, and shallow as shaming indie authors for not being traditionally published.

Rant over. Back to work.

(Yes, this is what I do for fun — and, sometimes, money.)




Do you need a writer / ghostwriter, a book designer, or a virtual assistant?

If you’re looking for a full-service virtual assistant to free up your time and energy for the things you’d rather do to help your business grow, I offer a variety of services to authors and bloggers to help them sell more books, get more blog traffic, and accomplish more with their writing.

If you need a writer to lighten your creative workload, what do you need written that will change things for you or your business?

  • white papers
  • business reports
  • a ghostwritten book
  • ghostwritten blog posts
  • social media graphics with compelling copy
  • web copy
  • book descriptions (with HTML formatting)

Let me know how I can help you earn more in less time – and connect with more of your target audience. I write well-researched books, articles, reports, and blog posts and will post samples on this site soon. Until then, if you need well-researched, persuasive copy as soon as possible, contact me and let me know what I can do for you.

I also design book covers and book interiors — going beyond basic book formatting to make your book look professional and pleasing to the eye inside and out.

Need more visual marketing for your book or blog? I also create social media graphics — for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Google+. I’ll work with you to boost your interaction on your favorite social media sites and get more traffic to your site or book’s sales page.

For more information, check out the page or pages that most closely address your current need.

Guest blogging example: “How is this normal? Diagnosed with hypothyroidism at age five”