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Friday, August 26, 2016

TRUTH REALLY IS STRANGER THAN FICTION by Sarah Wisseman

Researchers who spend their time burying pigs in bogs and then measuring how far they travel in an aqueous environment? Doctors who make cadavers into mummies? Art historians who lose themselves in esoteric details painted on red shrouds from the Roman Period in Egypt?

Welcome to the bizarre world of mummy science, a discipline that claimed me in 1989 when I was given my one and only opportunity to work on an Egyptian mummy at our local Spurlock Museum. Mission: to find out everything we could about a 2,000 year old dead body without unwrapping it for a museum exhibit nine months later. My job: to recruit art historians, archaeologists, radiologists, physicians, bug experts, and anyone else I could think of who could help us—preferably by donating analyses and lab time in exchange for publicity—to tell the mummy’s story.

 Egyptian mummy, ca. 100 AD
                    (photo by Bill Wiegand UI News Bureau)

So many memories. Going to my husband’s place of work (a local hospital) with the mummy for a CT scan, carefully scheduled for 5 pm because, “Sarah, we must give preference to live people on this expensive equipment.” Listening to the doctor’s argue about the sex of the mummy: “I see a penis, it’s a boy.” “No that’s the kid’s thumb.” “Okay, you have a 50% chance of being right.” Seeing the most recent CT scan converted to a 3-D image of jaw and teeth, with conclusive proof that the mummy is a child who died at the age of about 8 years old...
 Mummy going into CT scanner   
    
Adult teeth coming in behind baby teeth

My husband named the mummy “Lazarus” because he/she kept coming back into our lives, first as the subject of many dinnertime conversations, then visits to my children’s schools (Sarah as “the Mummy Mommy”), next as the subject of my first mystery novel Bound for Eternity, and finally as the excuse to attend two international conferences: one at the gorgeous Getty Museum villa museum in Malibu, California, the second a few year later at a World Congress on Mummy Studies at a Catholic campus in San Diego.



At the first conference on Red Shroud Mummies (the group of about ten Roman-period mummies all presumably wrapped in the same embalming studio using expensive and exotic ingredients), the focus was all Egyptian archaeology, art history, and medicine. We discussed the Getty’s study of the red pigment, a type of lead oxide found only at a Roman silver mine in Rio Tinto, Spain, and the chemistry of embalming fluids. An art historian from Greece gave each speaker a kit of encaustic painting materials (beeswax and ground pigments) used to make mummy portraits (I still need to unpack that kit and use it). A chemist from Bristol, England, discussed the chemistry of embalming fluids—amazing how much those Egyptians knew about preserving the human body!

But it was the San Diego conference that really blew me away. Not only were the papers jaw-droppingly fascinating (for example, the “piggies in peat” study mentioned earlier, in which pig bodies were substituted for humans to study preservation in a bog environment), but the reception was unforgettable. At the San Diego Museum of Man, the human cadaver preserved with ancient Egyptian methods and materials by Bob Brier and Ron Wade was front and center: its display case was right in the middle of the reception area. Mummy researchers from around the world gathered, with their wine glasses, to mingle and gaze at the wrapped dead body.


                                

My most recent short story, Death on Display, is a (fictional) tribute to that last experience: An archaeologist and physician recreate an Egyptian mummy using a modern cadaver and ancient embalming methods. Then they put the finished mummy on display at an international conference reception...what could possibly go wrong? 

Answer: everything…


For more on mummies, visit themummyblogspot.com.




Friday, August 19, 2016

Contests Can Change the Game

When I first began writing for publication I submitted to several contests, my goal being one submission per month. Contests often offer a critique or judges notes, which I found so valuable starting out. If more than one judge said the same thing about my story then I took a hard look at changing it.

After time and many submissions, I began to win some of those contests I submitted to. The contests were local, regional, national and international, too. Where did I find them? On-line searches, in magazines, on writer websites, and through the media. Below are just a few:

shawguides.com
Funds for Writers
Writer's Digest
Poet's & Writers
The Writer
Gotham Writers
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The Huffington Post published an article a few months ago about several writing contests that are worth looking into.

Keep in mind that state and local writer's groups often hold contests annually, usually announcing winners at their conferences. Genre groups like Romance Writers of America, Fan Story, Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators, Science Fiction Writers of America,  etc. generally hold annual contests as well. Our local newspaper used to run a writing contest at Christmas, which was loads of fun.

Start looking and you'll be amazed where you'll find them. Some contests do charge a fee, but there are lots of free ones out there, too. Decide what is in your budget and go for it. Enjoy the journey, and write on.

********
Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction for FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

 My Young Adult manuscript is ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Where to Find Fiction Markets by Jacqueline Seewald


 Last week I wrote a blog offering Tips on Writing and Selling Short Fiction: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com

I said that my next blog would deal with finding markets for fiction, particularly short fiction. I’ll keep this short and sweet as is appropriate to the topic.

Here are some market resources that may be of help to you:

Novel and Short Story Writer's Market

(One valuable source of information. You can buy it or ask for it at the reference desk of your local library. It is published yearly.)


Check out these free online websites which are consistently updated:

(For mystery writers)

http://ralan.com/  (excellent current market listings for genre fiction particularly speculative)

http://darkmarkets.com/ (another up-to-date listing for speculative fiction, mainly horror)
http://writingcareer.com/ (posts new opportunities for freelance writers and is written daily) 
http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/ a great resource. Sandra blogs almost every day and offers the most current market listings as well as discussions on writing. Although her interest is geared toward mystery fiction, you will find many others listings of value here as well.
http://www.writejobs.info/
(click on “Literary Markets”-paying jobs, at top)
http://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/ 
(a monthly calls column with much detailed info)
http://compsandcalls.com/wp/ 
Another excellent listing by month that lists competitions, contests, 
and submission calls letting you know details.
This and the previous listing come courtesy of Kevin Tipple who also
 provides a fine blog for readers and writers:
http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/
Another source:
(submission database)
Finally, if you are curious about my writing, here are some of my stories that are available as free reads:

Beyond the Bo Tree
(first story in this collection is a free read)

Litbreak
literary fiction

Litbreak is a good paying market for writers.

Saint Red
“Bacon Bits”-a humorous flash fiction crime story

Another paying market for writers.

Over My Dead Body!
"The Hotel Room Murder"-a locked room mystery with a modern twist

"Murder and Money"-police are aided by forensics in solving a homicide

The Gumshoe Review
"A Saint Valentine's Day Massacre"
Husband and wife detectives investigate separate cases that converge on a murder.

Note: I hope the market listings mentioned here prove helpful to you. Comments welcome!











Friday, August 5, 2016

The Kinds of Things I Save, by Susan Oleksiw

For the last month I’ve been cleaning out my files and tossing out papers. It’s taken me this long because I do the inevitable—I stop to read each one. And, of course, now that the plumber is here we have to take a few minutes to talk about what each of us is reading. I’m reading Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories (2016) and he’s reading the history of John Adams. We discussed a quote from Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, on how hard it is to govern those who don’t want to be. Hmm. Sounds familiar.

One pile of loose papers is the accumulation of numerous workshops and presentations from conferences over the years. There’s quite a range: selected pages from “The Seven Decisions That Create a Novel” and several others on the topic of structure. For a high-brow version, I turn to “Ageless Wisdom and the Hero’s Journey in Story and Myth,” but the information floats along the same path.

For my practical problems I kept an article from The Third Degree on “Fifty ways to catch your killer.”
Another helpful article came from Jacqueline Seewald. In “Never Clueless,” she describes several types of clues and how to use them.

While writing it’s good to keep in mind some basic rules, and a two-part article in the Guardian lists the “ten rules for writing fiction” given by each of several writers. The writers include Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, and Joyce Carol Oates.

But I am nothing if not optimistic, and also in the pile of dusty handouts is one called “Keeping Track—Submissions.” The article includes a short list of social media sites to send announcements to. The list ends with “Add anyone/anyplace you can think of to this list.” Helpful, in its way. Nancy Cohen provided an excellent “Promotion Checklist” in Nancy’s Notes from Florida back in 2012.

I also have a blog post by Kyle Wiens from the Harvard Business Review titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.”  I love the opening line: “If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me.”
In “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” by David Streitfeld, I found this quote from The New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. In 1964, he wrote, “If there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books.” I must have kept the article just for that quote. Still, that didn’t stop me from buying more books, especially those maligned by others. Anis Shivani posts a list of “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” in 2010, and of course I made a list and made sure to read at least one book by each writer. Some of my favorites here are Michael Cunningham, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan.

And because I need a laugh when I’m stuck in the middle of a story, I kept this: “Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms,” by Thomas Christensen. This little gem offers definitions such as this one: “Advance: A secret code signalling to the marketing department whether or not to promote a title.” There’s more. “Plagiarism: Research,” or “Trade Paperbacks: What readers do instead of purchasing new books.”

Near the bottom of the pile is a copy of the kind of article I used to keep when I was still a graduate student. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming,” in The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud,” translated by James Strachey (first delivered as a lecture in 1907). Freud is trying to understand why not everyone who daydreams can be a writer, and to identify the essential element in the creative person. He gets lost in talking about fantasies, and writers emerge as essentially unknowable. But he tried hard.

I kept one article solely because I love what it has to say about an author I also love. Under a color drawing of George Orwell holding a copy of The Shining hidden inside Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with a stack of books beside him on the floor, is this caption: “Orwell had a weakness for escapist fiction, for ‘good bad books.’ “ What can I say? I love Orwell’s books.

By the time I finished this post my plumber had finished his task and I gladly gave him a check. I also gave him two mysteries to read. All in all, a very productive and pleasant morning. I close out with a comic strip. (Yes, I save jokes too.)



The Kinds of Things I Save, by Susan Oleksiw

For the last month I’ve been cleaning out my files and tossing out papers. It’s taken me this long because I do the inevitable—I stop to read each one. And, of course, now that the plumber is here we have to take a few minutes to talk about what each of us is reading. I’m reading Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories (2016) and he’s reading the history of John Adams. We discussed a quote from Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on how hard it is to govern those who don’t want to me. Hmm. Sounds familiar.

One pile of loose papers is the accumulation of numerous workshops and presentations from conferences over the years. There’s quite a range: selected pages from “The Seven Decisions That Create a Novel” and several others on the topic of structure. For a high-brow version, I turn to “Ageless Wisdom and the Hero’s Journey in Story and Myth,” but the information floats along the same path.

For my practical problems I kept an article from The Third Degree on “Fifty ways to catch your killer.”
Another helpful article came from Jacqueline Seewald. In “Never Clueless,” she describes several types of clues and how to use them.

While writing it’s good to keep in mind some basic rules, and a two-part article in the Guardian lists the “ten rules for writing fiction” given by each of several writers. The writers include Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, and Joyce Carol Oates.

But I am nothing if not optimistic, and also in the pile of dusty handouts is one called “Keeping Track—Submissions.” The article includes a short list of social media sites to send announcements to. The list ends with “Add anyone/anyplace you can think of to this list.” Helpful, in its way. Nancy Cohen provided an excellent “Promotion Checklist” in Nancy’s Notes from Florida back in 2012.

I also have a blog post by Kyle Wiens from the Harvard Business Review titled “I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why.”  I love the opening line: “If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me.”
In “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” by David Streitfeld, I found this quote from The New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. In 1964, he wrote, “If there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books.” I must have kept the article just for that quote. Still, that didn’t stop me from buying more books, especially those maligned by others. Anis Shivani posts a list of “The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers” in 2010, and of course I made a list and made sure to read at least one book by each writer. Some of my favorites here are Michael Cunningham, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Amy Tan.

And because I need a laugh when I’m stuck in the middle of a story, I kept this: “Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms,” by Thomas Christensen. This little gem offers definitions such as this one: “Advance: A secret code signalling to the marketing department whether or not to promote a title.” There’s more. “Plagiarism: Research,” or “Trade Paperbacks: What readers do instead of purchasing new books.”

Near the bottom of the pile is a copy of the kind of article I used to keep when I was still a graduate student. “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming,” in The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud,” translated by James Strachey (first delivered as a lecture in 1907). Freud is trying to understand why not everyone who daydreams can be a writer, and to identify the essential element in the creative person. He gets lost in talking about fantasies, and writers emerge as essentially unknowable. But he tried hard.

I kept one article solely because I love what it has to say about an author I also love. Under a color drawing of George Orwell holding a copy of The Shining hidden inside Tolstoy’s War and Peace, with a stack of books beside him on the floor, is this caption: “Orwell had a weakness for escapist fiction, for ‘good bad books.’ “ What can I say? I love Orwell’s books.

By the time I finished this post my plumber had finished his task and I gladly gave him a check. I also gave him two mysteries to read. All in all, a very productive and pleasant morning. I close out with a comic strip. (Yes, I save jokes too.)



Friday, July 29, 2016

Interview with Sheri Cobb South by Jacqueline Seewald

Well-published Five Star/Cengage mystery writer Sheri Cobb South is the author of more than twenty novels, including the John Pickett mystery series and the critically acclaimed Regency romance, The Weaver Takes a Wife. A native of Alabama, she now lives in Loveland, Colorado.



Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: The title is Too Hot to Handel, and it’s a historical mystery set in Regency England. It’s the fifth in the mystery series featuring Bow Street Runner John Pickett. I’ve loved the Regency period—strictly speaking, 1811-1820, but for genre purposes more like 1795-1830—ever since discovering the works of Georgette Heyer when I was a teenager. It’s the time Jane Austen lived and wrote, and the combination of elegance and wit makes it great fun to write about. As for the title, it’s a triple entendre: “hot” refers to stolen property, the consummation of the romance, and the Drury Lane Theatre fire of 24 February 1809, which is the novel’s major set piece. As for Handel, it’s not a misspelling, but a pun, since the fire breaks out during a performance of a Handel oratorio.


Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: This is the one I’ve looked forward to writing ever since the series began!  The romance between John Pickett and the widowed Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, has been developing slowly over the course of the series. He was smitten from the first, but I knew it would take something drastic to make her confront her own growing feelings for a man so far beneath her socially. In fact, it isn’t until his life is threatened and she’s faced with the prospect of losing him that she’s willing to “throw her cap over the windmill,” so to speak. This is also the only book I’ve ever written that is based on an actual historical event—that being the Drury Lane Theatre fire. Since the cause of the blaze was never discovered, it gave me the freedom to create my own “what if?” scenario.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  John Pickett was a juvenile pickpocket who’s rescued from a life of crime by the real-life London magistrate Patrick Colquhoun. (His backstory is told in the prequel novella Pickpocket’s Apprentice.) The series opens ten years later with In Milady’s Chamber, when John is a 24-year-old recently-promoted Bow Street Runner. The Bow Street Runners, I should add, were the first organized detective force in England—the forerunners to Scotland Yard. Pickett meets Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, quite literally over her husband’s dead body, when he’s summoned to investigate Lord Fieldhurst’s murder. Although Julia is two years older, she’s very much under the thumb of both societal expectations and her late husband’s family. Over the course of the series, the lady and the Bow Street Runner are thrown together, usually with a dead body somewhere in the vicinity. Julia is able to go places and talk to people in ways Pickett can’t, and she begins to blossom as she realizes she has a talent beyond the purely ornamental.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  Besides the John Pickett mystery series, I’ve also written a number of Regency romances, the best-known being The Weaver Takes a Wife. Before that, I wrote five young adult novels for Bantam’s Sweet Dreams series, which is where I got my start. They’re out of print now except for foreign language editions, which kind of freaks my kids out; to them, I’m just Mom.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m continuing to write the John Pickett series, but I’m trying to alternate them with other things. Right now I’m working on an “old school” romantic suspense novel based on the Mediterranean cruise I recently took with my husband. I credit a steady diet of Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney during my teenage years with giving me a craving to travel, and this book is my tribute to those ladies and their work.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write! I got my first library card when I learned to write my name—my mother swears I wasn’t yet three years old. As for writing for publication, I decided to get serious about it when I was twenty-eight and saw that big 3-0 looming on the horizon. That seems awfully young now, but it made me ask myself, “Are you going to spend the rest of your life saying ‘someday,’ or are you going to write that book?’ ” The result was Wrong-Way Romance, which was published by Bantam in 1991—and which sells today on Ebay for $50 and up!

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: This is probably not going to be a very popular answer, but here goes: Resist the urge to rush your book to print before it’s ready. Today’s self-publishing climate can be a godsend to writers whose work doesn’t fit the mainstream mold, but it also offers a great temptation to release inferior work into the world. The old system, frustrating as it often was, served as a gatekeeper that forced writers to hone their skills before their work could be published. Now it’s all too easy to publish work that just isn’t up to the level of quality that readers have a right to expect. And while it’s true that files can be updated and books re-released as new editions, a reputation as a mediocre writer is not so easily shaken. Find a critique group and/or beta reader(s) who will be brutally honest with you. Hire a freelance editor if the mechanics of grammar or spelling are not your strong suit. Do whatever it takes to be absolutely sure of the quality of your work. Remember, it’s got your name on it, and the reputation you establish with that first book will follow you for a long time.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: It’s available now in both hardcover and Kindle editions. The Kindle version, of course, is available through Amazon. For those who prefer a print edition, all online booksellers offer it. And while you probably won’t find it on the shelves of your local bookstore, they can order it for you, if you ask them to. If a hardcover is outside your price range, ask your library to purchase it. Most libraries have a form patrons can fill out to request a purchase.

Sheri, thank you for an informative interview!


Note: Sheri is available for comments and questions.

Friday, July 22, 2016

TRAVEL REFLECTIONS by Sarah Wisseman

I recently returned from an intense, marvelous trip to Iceland and the countries around the Baltic. Result: my body is tired and my brain is scrambled. Not quite sure what time zone I'm in, or what I'm supposed to be doing yet. But, as my husband says, "it's good to have traveled," and it certainly shakes up the routine.

Iceland was amazing: spectacular geology and bizarre landscapes, from a continental divide (where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet) to geysers reminiscent of Yellowstone and the eerie Blue Lagoon. I particularly loved the Lagoon: where strangers meet, coming out of the steam, with white clay masks (good for the skin!) and the hot, geothermal water is the perfect cure for jet lag.



Scandinavia is stunning in all its varied cityscapes, gorgeous fjords, and way of living. I asked lots of questions about health care, and the response from the locals was uniformly positive: we don't mind paying such high taxes when we get cradle-to-grave care and free university attendance.


                                  Bergen, Norway (on a rainy day)

 (my watercolor of Bergen)

The trip's effect on me is something that is still being sorted out, on many levels. I understand now why Scandinavian mysteries are so dark and the settings gray--that's really how it is, even in high summer, with frequent rain and low clouds. No wonder people celebrate the return of the sun near the Arctic Circle!

As for cruise travel, and ocean boat is a great way to visit multiple ports with a companion who has walking issues, but it's too much, too fast. Today, Estonia and tomorrow, St. Petersburg--no, wait, the ship can't leave port because the wind is holding the boat against the pier and not even a big tug can shift it! And when we finally arrived in the great Russian port after a day's delay, the dramatic contrast between the original grand palaces and wide boulevards with leftover Communist apartment blocks was decidedly creepy. So were the multiple passport checks: twice every time you got on or off the boat, and no straying from the tour group allowed unless you'd purchased a very expensive Russian visa. Sayings that stuck in my mind, "You don't want to be stopped in Russia without papers," (still!!) and "Russians dress like cabbages," (meaning layers). And, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."

                                      St. Petersburg apartment blocks

After I sort out my many and mixed impressions, I'll be able to write again. Next up: the third mystery, "The Botticelli Caper," set in Italy, and a research trip with my daughter to Florence! That trip will be "slow" travel: lots of time in one place, with frequent pauses for sitting in cafes and inhaling Italian food:)