Author Archives: virginiagruver

About virginiagruver

I am working on a mystery novel and have written monthly articles for Women's Edition. I have published a short story and once had a column in a local newspaper. I am fascinated by the writing process.

Priming the Pump


I suppose it depends on how old you are as to whether – Priming the Pump – makes sense. To be honest, I am not old enough to remember using a hand pump. We always had a faucet in the kitchen or bath and you turned it on and there was water but before my time and before city water, everyone had wells and you had to pump your own water. It took a few tries to get the water to come out and that was priming the pump.

An author friend once said that she always reads something from a craft book before she starts writing. Her name is Cheryl St. John and since she has written many novels and a Writer’s Digest book on craft as well, I thought I would give it a try. I call it priming the pump. I pick up a book on craft and read a little before each writing session. It helps get my ideas on the page. I find that I have to write a little bit, edit, and write a little more before I can find the right words to flow. One way to prime the pump.

It isn’t difficult for me to find something to read when it comes to the writing craft. I have a fairly extensive personal library of craft books.  I read mostly novels but I also keep a craft book handy just for this purpose. I try to either have two books going at once and alternate between fiction and reference books.  By the way,  this is her current craft book and Cheryl has a new book on craft coming out within the next month or so through Writer’s Digest also. Might check it out, I know I plan to buy it. I will post more about it in a future post. Cheryl is one of the authors who will be speaking at an Iowa Romance Novelist meeting this spring and I look forward to seeing her again. You can also check out an older interview with Cheryl on this site where she explains a little bit about her writing process.


Today, I watched a YouTube video with Stephen King. If you have never read his craft book – ‘On Writing’, I highly recommend it. I never thought of watching YouTube to help my writing until a writer friend mentioned it at one of my local writer groups. It is another way to prime the pump.

Today’s video was where he was a guest speaker at a college in Massachusetts. He is always entertaining to watch but most of his talks do have a warning about adult language. He explained where he got ideas for some of his books, like ‘Cujo’ and his trip to a motorcycle repair shop. I did enjoy another one of his stories. At the time that he got his first big advance for Carrie, his car wouldn’t run and it was going to be difficult for him to come up with the money to fix it. His advance was half of $400,000. Someone in the audience asked him if he fixed his car or bought a new one. He bought a new Ford Pinto. That made me chuckle, not because of the make of car but because my first new car was a ’72 green Ford Pinto. I loved that car, just like he loved his. As an aside, if you ever watch – Stranger Things on Netflix, you can see what my old Pinto looked like. It was just like the one Winona Ryder drives in the show. Well my husband hated the car, so I only had it maybe a year or so before he sold it and bought me a ’73 Nova. I never liked it as much as my Pinto even though I ended up driving it for 13 years.

Boy did I get off topic. The other thing I picked up from the video is that Stephen King doesn’t plot. He used to also write without notes. He said he uses notes now because he is getting older and it helps him remember. He said if something is important enough to tell a story about, you will remember.

Well I have gotten further along with my story idea. I have shorter days this week because of the Monday Holiday for Martin Luther King day. I will write this week and I will have something for my critique group next Sunday.

I am getting close to finishing  – ‘Magpie Murders’. I haven’t figured out who the killer is yet and that is my definition of a good mystery.

How is your writing going? Are you writing regularly or are you stuck? If that is the case, you might check out the latest Writer Magazine, it has lots of information about getting unstuck.

What do you do when you get stuck? Next time, think about Priming the Pump. I hope this was at least entertaining if not informative.

May your writing flow this week and let me know what you are reading?

Until next time,



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Posted by on January 15, 2018 in Uncategorized


Planning a Novel Week 2 – With a Cold

typewriter coffee camera

I don’t know if it is the horrible Holiday Cold I have been suffering with or what, but this week was not so productive. I came down with this cold the Wednesday before Christmas. It is mostly gone except for I sound like I have a frog in my throat. I have been drinking lots of liquids and I admit a couple nights I had some eggnog with a little Captain Morgan Rum. I thought it might help burn it out of my throat. It didn’t but then afterwards I didn’t care so much.

About all I’ve managed to do this week is play with my plot idea and try to come up with my plot points which was my plan. I am still trying to figure it out. I think I need to work on my characters more. I still don’t know my protagonist that well. Part of me wants her to be a Private Investigator and then another part of me wants her to be a Realtor. I have had friends who suggested the Realtor because I was one and you know that write what you know thingy keeps popping up.

Well I need to work on that this week along with everything else that didn’t get done. I managed to get one room cleared of Christmas decorations, later today I will take down the second tree and the few other things left to put away. And while I do that I will ponder my story a little longer. I tend to brainstorm better when I am doing other things. Usually things that make it difficult to take notes, like take a shower or wash dishes or drive.

I am focusing more on writing descriptions of the characters that have less to do with how they look and more with who they are. I try to find out what they want, why, and how they plan to achieve it. When it comes to the actual physical descriptions, I rely on google to find photos of people that remind me of what I picture them to look like. I am using OneNote to keep my story organized. I have Scrivener but haven’t committed to using it yet. I am more comfortable with Word.

I use OneNote for work. It’s set up, so we can keep personal notes on it, I call them my cheat sheets. It also allows our team to share information that we can all see. I soon discovered how useful it could be for my novels. If you haven’t tried it, you might check it out. It is part of the Office Suite of products that comes with Word, Excel, and all the rest. I didn’t find the learning curve too scary.

I am still reading – Magpie Murders, about half way through it. I am a slow reader and cannot usually get through a book in a week anymore. This one is also big but keeping my interest.

It is getting closer to the first meeting of my local chapter of Romance Writers of America. This month is when we introduce the members who haven’t seen my emails and Facebook posts about what to look forward to. No speaker this month but we will be focusing on goals and preparing members for critique. We are switching up how we critique this year. In the past, we would get someone to volunteer to send their work out to the members and then the next month we would all critique it. It worked but it felt like it didn’t work for enough people. So, starting this month, I am encouraging anyone who wants a critique to bring it to the meeting and someone will take it home to critique and bring back. The one rule is that if you bring something, you must critique someone else’s work. I will be emailing a message to the group later today and relay to the out of town members to email the group and look for someone to share a critique with. We don’t have many out of town people, but we do have  one author who lives in Florida in the winter and other members who drive a long way (One person drives 3 hours one way to a meeting each month.) and others who drive 1-2 hours to get here. With Iowa winters it isn’t always possible for them to make a meeting.

If you are a member of RWA and are interested in joining our local chapter, check us out on the National site. We are working on setting up PayPal, for some reason we must do it yearly. Or you can always contact me, and we can get a membership form to you to fill out and return with a check.

If romance isn’t your thing, I also belong to the local Sister in Crime chapter. The same applies to that group if you are interested.

My mantra for this week is – I will complete my novel planning, so I can start writing the novel.

Have you written down your goals for 2018? Are you writing? Are you reading and if so, what?

May this week be productive for all of us.

Until next time,

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Posted by on January 7, 2018 in Uncategorized


Happy New Year 2018l


While sitting in my family room with my first cup of coffee this morning, we noticed tracks in the back yard. A deer had passed through while we slept. Wish I had seen it.  But then if I’d looked out in the night and saw it looking in, I might have been a little less enthusiastic about the whole experience.

Which brings me to my reason for this post – my  2018 writing project. I will be writing a mystery with a paranormal twist that involves death by werewolf. I know sounds a little gruesome but hey, it is a childhood fear. We’ll see how it goes.

I am sending this message out a few hours early. The new year won’t start until after midnight but I decided to get a head start.

This is in the very beginning stage of writing. I have been thinking about the idea for a while and taking notes but I haven’t actually started putting words on the page.

I plan to share my writing process this year. Hopefully it will help you with your project and help push me forward. If I have learned anything over the years it is that there is no one way to write a novel and from what my author friends have shared, it changes with each novel. Writers are always looking for their process. Hoping that it will make the next one easier. But once you’ve written a few, you know that is not true. Each project is different and you just have to do the work until you get to the end.

I am not a plotter or a pantzer but something in between. So my goal for this week is to figure out my plot points. I use those to guide me through telling the story. If I can figure out my plot points, then I can create scenes that will get me from say the beginning to plot point one and then on to plot point two and then to plot point three and then the resolution. Sounds easy but it’s not. There will be lots of writing and editing before it is ready for publication. This is all about the first draft and I do know that when it is done, it will not be done. It will be crappy because that is what first drafts are. So this will be my journey to write my crappy first draft. I can blog later about edit and revision.

Once I have that figured out, I’ll have a loose outline.

I need to know my characters so they can help me tell the story. So I will also be completing character sketches this week. I use the term complete loosely because as I write, I discover more about my characters and continue to write down information all the way through to the end. I will go into more details about this with my next post.

To help me get there I purchased my planner for the year. I am a geekster when it comes to office supplies. I have used several planners over the years and this year I have settled on the Top Down Planner. The concept is to help you discover your goals and the steps needed to accomplish them. It is supposed to help  you focus on what is most important. It looks like an upside down food pyramid except food isn’t involved, unless you snack as you plan but that wouldn’t help my other annual goal of weight loss but again, we won’t go there.


Besides writing my other favorite pastime is reading but if you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you already know that. Currently I am reading – Magpie Murders. I won it at a Christmas gift exchange with my local SINC chapter – SINC-Iowa. It had been on my radar for a while so it was a huge win. And by the way, if you live in Iowa and write either Romance or Mysteries and are looking for a writer’s group, I belong to both chapters. In fact I will be President again this year of the local Romance Writers of America Chapter. Both organizations are always looking to add membership so comment here if you’d like more information. Or go to the National websites and sign up and then you can locate our local chapters or one near you for more information.

I have had personal issues that have kept me away from my blog longer than expected but I plan to post more often, at least a couple times a month.  I hope you will follow my posts and feel free to comment often. Maybe together we can make 2018 a productive year.

Feel free to share your writing process and books you’ve read and since I’ve been fighting a Holiday cold and staying in from the bitter temperatures – a little chicken soup wouldn’t hurt also.

Stay safe and have a wonderful New Years Eve – see you next year!!!



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Creating Characters


I have been working on a new project for a while. Not getting as far as I had hoped. It takes me forever to get into my story. This project, I have been working on the plot and characters at the same time. Most of my stories start with an idea and then I try to find characters who might fit the situation.  I am neither a plotter or a pantzer, I am somewhere in between. (A pantzer is someone who doesn’t plan their novel, they sit down in front of a computer and write.) I am not a pantzer because I get too distracted with too many choices. I try to make as many choices about the story up front.

I chose this photo because it describes how I feel about my characters at this point. You can see the face but it is still part of the background. I need to pull them out of the background to make them living, breathing characters; well as living and breathing as you can in a novel.

I have been filling out forms and answering questions about my characters and they are beginning to feel more real. I write a little and build my characters a little at a time.  On the other hand, while I develop characters, I also start developing the plot. Once I know my characters better and I know what they want and need and their motivation, then my story starts unfolding.

Some of my friends say that their characters talk to them. I really wish it was that easy. When they say their characters won’t leave them alone and keep them awake at night,  I so want to tell them that there are drugs for that, but I don’t.

I am aware that I make my characters speak and they will not say or do anything that I don’t want them to say or do. There is a point though part way through the book where I write a scene and it feels wrong. Something isn’t right. Most of the time when that happens it is because I tried to force my character to do something to fit the plot. I hate when that happens. Usually in the books I read it happens at the end. It feels like the author got tired of the story or they had to have a certain word count and instead of editing the third act, they stick in a – the end- too soon. But that’s a later blog post about revision.

I still struggle to find my method of writing. Each project is a little different. I’ve never found  ‘the formula’. Maybe that is why I love to hear other writer’s talk about their process. Do you have a certain process you follow with each book? Would you like to share your process here? If you are a published author, would you like an interview on my blog where you could tell us about your latest book and a little bit about your writing process? If so, comment to let me know.

Though I read daily, I haven’t completed anything since our last post. So many books, so little time. I always have a few books that I have read a little but not completed. I usually go back to the one that pulls me back and the others wait until I am done.  I do read to improve my own writing. Some of my writer friends say they no longer enjoy reading because they read as a writer. I am not there yet. I still enjoy escaping into a good book.

How is your writing going? Do you have questions about the process or trying to work through something with your current project? Feel free to comment and if I don’t know the answer, I am pretty sure I know someone who does.

I mentioned last time about a bullet journal. My next post will be about getting organized and I will share the planner that I am using.

Hope you have a great week writing and reading.



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July Already?


I have been planning for this since January and I cannot believe it is already July 2nd. There are so many things I had hoped to do before the trip, like losing 20 pounds. Well that didn’t happen.

Even though, this year has been going fairly smoothly. I am currently the President of our local chapter of Romance Writers of America and our organization has had a very good year, thanks to all the members and my fabulous board – Cole, Jan, Marilyn, and past President Kerry. We had a productive retreat in June thanks to everything that Marilyn did to head that up. We have found our “go to” person when it comes to events. We spent a day writing as a group. Well we did have a delicious breakfast and lunch – thus the need to lose 20 pounds. Everyone seemed involved in their writing. I was able to rough draft most of a chapter that day in my current work in progress.

We have added a few members and had several visitors over the past few months. So at this point, my year as President is half over. As you can see from the photo above, I plan to attend this year’s conference and I get the pleasure of traveling with Kerry. The two of us attended a conference in Chicago a few years ago. That had been Kerry’s first larger conference. I explained to her that one was only a taste of what to expect at the National Conference.

Romance Writers of America is the largest writer’s organization in the world and when they put on a conference, they don’t hold back. Attendees have access to so many choices for workshops and you get to meet hundreds of authors. They have luncheons with keynote speakers whose names are always gracing the NYTimes lists in huge conference halls with large tables set with fine linen and crystal. The food is always tasty and they treat you like royalty. There will be book signings held by the different publishers and if you are ready to pitch your work, there are agents and editors available. There will be award ceremonies and parties and the best opportunities to network with other writers.

I have attended and will be attending other writing events this year but this is the big one.

Part of the joy will be attending with a good friend and seeing her excitement of being a first time attendee.

What are your plans for this year? Do you have that one event that you can’t really do every year but you so look forward to – when you can?

Other things that have been keeping me busy this year besides reading and writing is I discovered Bullet Journals. It is another way for me to focus some creativity and be more productive – but I will make that another post in the future.

Here are a couple of books I’ve read recently. The Lost Girls is a haunting story about a woman who tells about the disappearance of her sister when they were children.  By the time we find out the truth the narrator has passed away and her niece has inherited the family summer home and has discovered a journal. We learn about the present day family and the past through flashbacks as the protagonist reads her great aunt’s journal. This one I could not put down. I love a mystery.

Full Wolf Moon pulled me in because I do love the Preston Child books I have read in the past. Though both collaborate on those, each write their own books also. I have had a fascination with werewolves since I was a child and watched the old horror movies in the sixties. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy didn’t really scare me but the Werewolf did. This one had a pretty good twist and explanation but to be honest it didn’t grab me like I had hoped it would. It still was enjoyable and gave me ideas for maybe a future project.

What have you been reading? Always looking for suggestions. Hope your summer is going as well as mine and hope to spend more time with my blog.


Okay, if you have been following me for a while, I had abandoned my blog. I had heard that authors were finding blogging not so useful in their careers. It is true, with a full time job and trying to write – it is difficult to squeeze out the time. But blogging is something I do enjoy and even if the rest of the writing world doesn’t agree, I am going to attempt to get back into blogging because it is something that gives me joy. If that is all it does, that is okay too.

In the meantime, keep writing and reading.


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Posted by on July 2, 2017 in Uncategorized


An Evening with Susan Elizabeth Phillips


I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Elizabeth Phillips at an author event at the Franklin Library in Des Moines last week.  It was wonderful.

I met her several years ago in Anaheim at a Romance Writer’s of America National Conference. I attended her workshop and it was very informative and entertaining so I knew her talk would be memorable.

She write’s humorous romances with quirky characters. Most of her hero’s are sports figures. Her heroines are strong women who sometimes find themselves in awkward situations but it always works itself out in the end. If you have shied away from romance thinking you might not like it, I would encourage you to check out this author.

I arrived a few minutes early and met a handful of my Iowa Romance Novelist friends. We sat in a group toward the front. She introduced herself and then she acknowledged our organization. I have never had an author do that. She introduced us to the crowd to let them know about our local authors and to help us maybe attract a few new members.

Most authors stand up front and speak about how they started writing or where they got the idea for their last book. She did do a little bit of that but most of the evening was spent with her reading excerpts from her books and awarding gifts to the first person who guessed the correct book. Even though I have read a few of her books, I soon started feeling inadequate. These women were very familiar with her work and it quickly became a very lively event.

She explained how some of the children in earlier books were brought back and she told their stories.  The more she talked about the books, the more I wanted to read them. It was not a good thing for someone like me. I am a bookaholic.

That night I did buy two books and had her autograph them. What hooked me on Natural Born Charmer is the fact that someone is walking down the street in a beaver costume in it. I have to find out what that is all about. I bought First Star I See Tonight because it is her most recent book.

Since then, I have purchased most of the rest of her collection. It will take me a while to catch up and I know I will enjoy every minute.

But before I can start reading those, I had to finish the one I have been reading.

a-story-to-killIt is a cozy mystery with a protagonist who is a mystery author. Her ex-husband was a college professor and he owned a huge home close to the campus. After his death, he surprised her by leaving his home to her. She decided to make it into a writer’s retreat. She invites writers to spend one week a month there to work on their own books while she as the author in residence encourages them. It was the first in a series and I did enjoy it. The characters were likeable and it kept me guessing until the end where she did hint that her husband’s death may not have been a heart attack like she was originally told; so a little  mystery to come.

I continue to work on my projects. Working on the second draft of the novel I finished before I went to Tennessee. I put it away and have just taken it out so that I can look at it with fresh eyes.  I meet with my critique group Sunday so need to have something to share with them then.

I am also developing my mystery series. Not a lot to talk about at this point but moving forward.

Until next time, keep writing and reading.



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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


A Rose By Any Other Name…


I have had so much overtime for the past few months and it is making it a little more difficult to jump enthusiastically into my project.  In the past, I have tried to work a little bit each of my four work days to keep my three day weekend for writing and all the other tasks everyone has to do like, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and trying to spend a little quality time with family. Since I work a 10 hour day, I finally decided it was too much so started using my Monday off for overtime. The last few weeks we have had less overtime each week so I think it is trending to the point it will go away for a while.

I completed my hours for the week today and decided I needed to post my blog since I missed it last week so here is what I am doing:

I continue to develop my story for the new project. I am trying to name my characters. For those who don’t write, it is almost like naming your children. The name has to fit the character, their age, gender, and personality. You have to like the name and feel comfortable with it because you will be spending a lot of time with this fictional character. I am struggling a little with my protagonist. I’ve got a couple names so far but no last name yet. The only name I have decided on is the victim and her name is Faith. So I am hoping to push forward with the names today so I can move forward with this project.

Here are a couple of books I use for naming characters. Do you have a favorite character naming book? Would love to see what other writer’s use.



I am also trying to start revising my completed project. I will share more about that process as I get further into it.

We have a Harlequin Editor coming to our Iowa Romance Novelist meeting in October  to do a program and am hoping to maybe make a connection to pitch the romance down the road, maybe.  I am reading a couple books on revision to help me get started. Will share those next week.

If you are in the Des Moines area and would be interested in a writer’s workshop. My chapter of Romance Writer’s of America – Iowa Romance Novelists will have a Red Quill Workshop October 15th from 10:00 AM to 2:30 PM with a Harlequin Editor. This workshop will give you the inside track on the art and business of writing and publishing from an editor of one of the biggest publishing houses. Mystery, suspense, women’s fiction, romance, young adult, or any other genre. This is an amazing chance to meet a Harlequin editor face to face. Check it out on our Iowa Novelists Facebook page. Hope to see you.

I just finished reading ‘Last Ragged Breath’ by Julia Keller. She is one of my favorite authors. Just noticed her newest book just came out so will have to buy it – ‘Sorrow Road’. If you’re looking for an enjoyable mystery series, do check this one out. What are you reading? I am always looking for a new author.

Until next time, keep reading and writing.





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Posted by on September 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

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