Signing at the Baltimore Book Festival!

SigningOn Saturday, September 27 from 6-8, I’ll be at the Eastern Shore Writers Association booth P-36 signing with my good friend, urban fantasy author Melinda VanLone.   (If you’re at the Festival earlier in the day, Melinda and I will be walking around, taking in the sights.  Just ask some at the booth to call us and we’ll come meet you!)

Yes! I’ll have the Book #3 in the St. Michaels/Silver Mystery Series, Painted Silver!

If you’re near the Baltimore Inner Harbor, come and see the boats, the writers and ALL THE BOOKS!  What a fabulous gathering of writers and readers…and the weather forecast is perfect.

Come and say Hello! I’d love to see you.  –Susan Reiss

A Writer’s Challenge

There’s always something trying to trip up a writer – a convoluted plot, pesky characters, a mountain of laundry… or an ongoing test of nerves caused by clattering dishes in the cupboard, the roar of diesel engines and the almost constant beeping of trucks backing up somewhere close.


construction cropped

I live in a small historical town on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay where just about everything is old, including the sewer system.  Last March, the town announced it was time to replace it and rebuild the streets as well.  Work would be done by mid-May!  Great idea!

I wasn’t born yesterday.  I tacked on another four weeks and settled in:   Little sleep since their workday starts at 6:30 AM and I like to write at night.   Diesel fumes.  One worker explained that it was better for the engines to keep them running.  For twenty minutes UNATTENDED?!  I could have gone for a joyride on a front-end loader.  The appearance of prehistoric-size crickets displaced from around the pipes five feet down.  At least they weren’t roaches.

Cody Small

And, there were prescription tranquilizers for Cody who hates loud noises and strangers in front of the house.



Then one afternoon, the bottom dropped out of the plan… and the street!

Behemoth cropped

To save time and money, the street-building contractor brought in an earth-mover to take up the old asphalt.  It was almost four car-lengths long and 14 feet high.  My little street was built on a bed of oyster shells on a high water table.  The behemoth caused the street to collapse 17” along a 260-foot stretch.

And there was the battle to save my beautiful, 40-foot weeping oak tree someone planted in the utility easement ground.  Not smart, but who knew there would be construction people itching to use their chain saws sixty years later?  I tried all the grownup communication channels, but one morning, I went out to get my newspaper and found an orange stake firmly planted in the ground to mark the construction line straight through the tree’s trunk.

That did it.  I marched down the center of the street toward a cluster of workmen, screeching!  Being an adult hadn’t worked so I kicked and screamed and threatened to lash myself to the tree after calling the media.  The threats worked.  The tree is safe.  Somehow, I finished my third book in the Silver Mystery series and Cody is off the meds.  The street?  Oh, they’re still working and it is August 5th, but I’m not counting anymore.  The crew chief politely texts me when traffic and access to my driveway will be disrupted.  Today, they’re laying asphalt… again.  I’m told this doesn’t mark the end.

I started a new book last night, so I guess this writer met the challenge and, with the help of a little civil disobedience, triumphed!


Storyboard a Novel? YES!

How a Screenwriting Tool Helps a Novelist

First, a definition: a storyboard is a visual representation or layout of a story.

A storyboard is an important step in the production of an animated cartoon, television show, major motion pictures, even a thirty-second TV ad. It shows the progress of the action, one step or scene at a time. Each scene is shown in a frame that includes a picture and some copy to describe what is happening, like this:

Storyboard Frame

Sample Frame

So, the storyboard is a collection of frames representing the action in the proper sequence. It can be as elaborate or simple as you like.

WAIT!  A writer’s storyboard should be simple. It’s not another reason – like doing the laundry – to postpone the writing. Leave the fancy drawings to movie production companies that have art directors on staff.

I don’t know about you, but it is hard for me to manage the action, plot development, character arc and all the other important story elements over twenty, thirty, forty chapters. I came out of television and film where the guiding or limiting factor was time. The longest script I’ve ever handled was 130 pages and that was long, because 1 page = 1 minute. The ideal film length is 120 minutes (or 120 pages). Compare that to Painted Silver, the third book in the Silver Mystery series: 340 pages!

I realized early in my career as a mystery writer that I was in deep trouble. As a screen producer, the storyboard was always my anchor so I quickly started adapting the old tool to my new profession. This is how I made it work for me:

1.  I went out and bought hundreds of index cards, some cork boards and colored markers.

2.  I made one card for every scene in the story. I’m a terrible artist so I skipped the drawing and put a word or two to describe the place. Also, I listed the characters appearing in each scene and identified the stage of the story, like Ordinary Life, Dead Body, Red Herring, etc.

3. Each main character was assigned a specific color – yellow for sleuth, blue for police investigator, red for the bad guy, and so on. Every time a character appeared on the storyboard, the name was highlighted in the appropriate color.

4.  Another color marked each stage of the story. Think Twelve Steps of the Hero’s Journey or the Five or Eight Basic Stages of a Mystery.

5.  All the cards went up in order on the cork boards with push pins. IMPORTANT: When I was done, I did NOT step back to admire my handiwork. I made myself a cup of tea.

6.  With a cuppa and a cookie, I came back, sat down and looked at a picture of my story then went to work to make it better.

A color-coded storyboard makes it easy to see the plot develop. It shows if the setup of the story is too long, if the murder is too late, if the investigation drags or the resolution is rushed (as in the new film, Malificent).

Focus on an individual character’s color. Do you see the character arc. Since an entertaining story requires the main character(s) to change in some way, it’s important to see how and where it happens. Is the change paced well or is it all jumbled up at the end? Is it so gradual that there is no real crisis or drama?

And a coded storyboard will show if a character disappears in the middle of the story and never seen again. This is critical since it’s important to “tie the ribbons” on every character’s story in some way.

GUARANTEE: It’s tough to see the shortcomings of what you thought was a terrific story, BUT it’s a lot less painful to see the problems on a storyboard than to throw out pages and pages of a manuscript!

Postscript: It turns out that I’m not the only one to see the advantage of using a storyboard for novel writing. John Truby, the great screenwriting guru and script doctor extraordinaire, is conducting a new seminar about applying the board to the novel in L.A., New York and London. Great Minds!


And the Winner is…

The cover designer of "Painted Silver" incorporated elements in the poster for the Name the Character Raffle.

The cover designer of “Painted Silver” incorporated elements in the poster for the Name the Character Raffle.

A local woman who lives close to St. Michaels took First Prize in the Name the Character Raffle.  Dr. Eleanor Welsh was surprised she won because “I haven’t won anything in 20 years and I think the prize was school supplies.  This prize is so much better!”  She bought the winning raffle ticket on a lark.  As the Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Maryland, she thought it was a wonderful way to support the school.  All proceeds from the raffle went to the Chesapeake College Foundations for scholarships.

The day after her ticket was drawn, we worked together to create the character of a volunteer in the new St. Michaels/Silver Mystery series book, “Painted Silver.”  She brought a little helper to the writing session:  her 10 year-old granddaughter, Vivienne Welsh, who was thrilled to be involved and loves to write.

“Painted Silver” takes place at the Plein Air Easton Art Festival.  Gifted artists competing for big prizes and fame along with elite art collectors searching for their next acquisitions are drawn into a web of creative envy, greed… and murder.  I wrote a volunteer character into several scenes of the story, including some dialogue.  It was great fun to watch the accomplished academic scholar work with her granddaughter in hammering out the details.  Vivienne is very creative.

And the character?  Sara-V (named for Vivienne), known for her unique and unusual earrings, is a financial professional who has retired to the Shore and is enthusiastic about her volunteer work at Plein Air-Easton.  The reader meets her early in the mystery when she is talking to amateur sleuth and silver expert, Abby Strickland.  Sara-V sees a suspicious man at the edge of the woods.  Is he the murderer?  Will she become a victim when she takes off after him and…?

The book comes out tomorrow and will be available at Amazon and local Eastern Shore bookstores and shops.


The cover is done!  Enter the Character Raffle to be in the story!

Cover for my new book coming out in July!

Cover for my new book coming out in July!

This is the third book in my St. Michaels/Silver Mystery series. Accidental sleuth Abby Strickland goes to the Plein Air Art Festival where gifted artists compete for big prizes and fame.  Elite art collectors eagerly search for their next acquisitions.  Tension between rivals runs high as all are drawn into a web of creative envy, greed… and murder.  And, for Abby, love is in the air.  It’s an charming summer event… until somebody screams!

Painted Silver joins Tarnished Silver and Sacred Silver in the series.

Gemma Shanfield Boyer, an artist here on the Eastern Shore, did the cover. Do you see the artist’s easel… and the crab? I think she did a fabulous job. I hope you do, too. Painted Silver will be available in mid-July.

“Name the Character” Raffle

Pen and bookIt’s time for you to help me finish writing my new novel, Painted Silver!  

I’ve created a special character in this third book of the St. Michaels/Silver Mystery Series that is coming out next month…and the character needs a name!

Enter and win the Name the Character Raffle and YOU pick the name of this character as it will appear in the book!  Name the Character after your wife, your son, a parent or your best buddy – even yourself!  The raffle winner decides!.

The story takes place at the Plein Air-Easton Art Festival where big prizes and fame lure gifted artists to compete. Elite art collectors eagerly search for their next acquisitions. Tension between rivals runs high.  For Abby Strickland, amateur sleuth, love is in the air. It’s an charming summer event… until somebody screams!

Painted Silver is the third book in the St. Michaels/Silver Mystery series that includes Tarnished Silver and Sacred Silver.

How important is this character?  He or she has dialogue, makes more than one appearance in the story and has a long scene with Abby, the protagonist..

Of course, there is one caveat:  I reserve the right to approve the character’s name.  It must be appropriate, not salacious or offensive.  That’s really the only limitation.

Buy one ticket… Buy 10!  You decide!
$10 per raffle ticket  OR  
3 tickets for $25 OR Six tickets for $50  OR  Nine tickets for $75  OR  Twelve tickets for $100!

Buy one ticket… Buy 10!  
Remember, it’s for a good cause and all the money goes to scholarships!

Why have a raffle?  It’s fun… and important.  

For me, living in St. Michaels on the Maryland Eastern Shore is magical.  Exploring the history, the legends and the antics of residents present and past is a delight.  Combining my love of this place with my love of writing is a gift.

And when one receives a gift, one should always give a gift in return.

That’s why I’ve put together this Name the Character fundraiser to benefit the scholarship fund for students at Chesapeake College.  This extraordinary school changes the lives of its students who earn a degree, earn a certification or take a class to learn something new.

Join me in a very important part of writing a novel – naming a character – and helping an outstanding school that changes people’s lives.


What’s a raffle without a drawing… and what’s a drawing without a Party?

Celebrate the Drawing on June 30th!

Celebrate the Drawing on June 30th!

You are invited to a special gathering to celebrate the drawing of the winner in the Name the Character Raffle

July 7th 5:30-7 PM

Banning’s Tavern – a favorite gathering place in Easton
42 East Dover Street
Easton, MD  21601

You do NOT have to be present to win, BUT it would be terrific if you joined the fun!  I’d love to see you!

Do you have any questions?  Check out the answers below …then, if you don’t find the answer you need, click on my contact page or send me an email at Susan (at) SilverMystery (dot) com.



All proceeds benefit The Chesapeake College Endowed Scholarship Fund.  (The Chesapeake College Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization.)  In fact, if you buy your raffle ticket(s) online using the link below, you’ll be on the secure donation system of the Chesapeake College Foundation.  All funds go directly to the Foundation.

Buy Tickets


There’s no limit to the number of raffle tickets you can buy!



It breaks out this way:

$10 per raffle ticket


3 tickets for $25  OR  Six tickets for $50  OR
Nine tickets for $75 OR Twelve tickets for $100






As the author, I think it would be fun to play with a ghost in the next book in the Silver Mystery series.  The action takes place on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland—an area packed with history and legends.

I need the ghost for the opening scene which takes place on Bruff’s Island.  People have been living in the immediate area since the 1600’s.

It should be easy, right?  Well, no.

I talked with some local residents whose families date back awhile.  No, we don’t know of any ghosts.

One man tried to be helpful.  Rumor has it that there is a “hanging tree” in a nearby town.  I thanked him, no, no, no.  That’s not the spirit I was hoping to find, plus the town is too far away from the action.

Now, what?

A friend said, you’re a fiction writer.  Make it up!  Well, I guess I could, but it seems like the easy way out.  Back to work.

When in doubt, DO THE RESEARCH!  I visited my friendly librarian who maintains a section about local history.  She rose to the challenge, once again.  She found some notes written by someone who did some genealogy work about her husband’s family.  Decades ago, she interviewed a woman who grew up on the estate next door.  After working my way through pages of her memories as a child, I found it.

She said she remembered “the beautiful Helene with the golden hair” often rode over on a large white horse to have a glass of Madeira on the porch with her father.  Truly a time of elegant living.  She quickly clarified that Helene wasn’t really interested in her father.  She loved to ride sidesaddle and they were one of the few houses that had a block so she could remount.

I’d found my ghost.  Who is to say that “the beautiful Helene with the golden hair” isn’t still riding in the area, looking for another glass of Madeira?

When in doubt, DO THE RESEARCH!  It should probably be the mantra for every writer because… sometimes the truth with all its details is better than what we can make up!

Where Does a Writer Get Her Ideas?

A writer seems to collect a mountain of ideas and most fade away from lack of interest.

But sometimes, an idea steps up and slaps the writer in the face.

I’ve spent many years writing for television and now spend my time writing the St. Michaels/Sterling Silver Mystery Series.  I’ve never seen an idea blossom into a project like this. 

Last summer, I had lunch with friends who volunteer for Plein Air-Easton who suggested it might be a perfect venue to set a murder for my mystery series.  I was tempted to spend the week strolling around, talking to artists, admiring their work—in other words, doing research.  But no, I told myself, you have one book in print, one on the boards and one in development.  Wait until next year.

Some ideas are not to be denied.  About two weeks ago, my volunteer-friends were excited about this year’s Plein Air event:  the 10th Anniversary celebration, big prize money and important people coming.  Their excitement was infectious and I thought it would be great to support a local effort. 

The next morning, I was in a meeting with the event directors when this novel idea slapped me again.  This year’s opening dinner and Paint Out event will be at Wye House on Bruff’s Island, which is named for the first English settler there – the first of five silversmiths.  Silversmiths!  Sterling silver mystery series!!  The title came in a flash:  Painted Silver.  

Who am I to stand in the way of an idea?  The work is underway and many things are falling into place in curious, wonderful ways.  That’s why I’ve started the Painted Silver Blog.  You can follow this madcap journey begun by an idea that wouldn’t be denied.


Baubles and Blood

A local jewelry designer read my murder mystery called “Tarnished Silver” and loved it.  I love her original jewelry designs in her little shop here in St. Michaels.  A mutual admiration society is nice but she had a better idea:  a new line of sterling silver jewelry!

Jeannette Silva will unveil her new designs this Saturday in conjunction with a major book signing this Saturday!

Jewelryweddingcollection 024aThe handcrafted Silvawear designs blend sterling silver wire with freshwater pearls, crystals and sterling beads.  Jeannette’s line of unique jewelry includes necklaces, bracelets and earrings.  She is a resident of St. Michaels and active in the local artist community.  Her little shop on Main Street is a favorite with tourists and locals alike.

It should be fun meeting her customers and introducing my readers.  Authors, you never know what opportunities will pop up.  Always keep your eyes open!

If you’re on the Eastern Shore on Saturday, come by and say hello!  Both the artist and I will be available for conversation this Saturday, August 10 from 10-1 and 3-4:30.
Place:  American Holiday Shop
St. Michaels, MD