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Friday, May 18, 2018

A New Chapter

Life is always changing and yet, our days are often repetitive and much the same. We get up, have our beverage of choice, shower, and dress for work. After the day job is over, we change into our comfy clothes and make dinner, clean up the dishes and veg until bedtime. Relaxing with a book or watching a movie are my favorite veg activities. If I have energy left after dinner, I like to putter in the garden or write. Lately, I've decided to dust off my art supplies and start sketching and painting again, too.


Where do I find the time? Where do I find the energy? Most days, I run out of gas after the job is done. But in thirty days that will change, and I will start a new chapter in my life. I will be laid off from my job and able to consider myself retired.

When we write our stories, we try to leave the reader anxious for what happens next. Life is the same. While I have plans, life does tend to "happen" organically on its own. Stories develop naturally as well. Isn't a novel or story just living on the pages? Isn't each chapter something new to challenge the main character?

Perhaps that is why we love reading and writing so much. With each new book or chapter, we get the chance to see what happens next. From our imagination and life experience, we can create anything on the page. We can dream of new worlds and imaginary scenarios and make them come to life in a story, or song, or painting.

I anticipate that being retired will allow me to dream and create even more. Time will once again be less occupied by the day job and open to more creative endeavors. I've been writing for almost twenty years of the forty-five years I've been working, and it's been a challenge. I look forward to mastering the discipline to sit my bottom on the chair and write more.

And I'm hoping that by reawakening my artist side I'll find new ideas for the stories I like to write. Getting out of the home office more often will also give me exposure to more people, places, and things. Thus, more writing fodder.

I'm very anxious to start the next chapter of my manuscript and my life. Let's all enjoy the journey, shall we?

Your comments are truly welcome.



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Friday, May 11, 2018

Birth of a Book by Jacqueline Seewald


Spring has finally arrived and with it new life abounds.
Robins are singing. Daffodils, azaleas, tulips, and trees 
of all kinds are blooming. So it seems particularly fitting that DEATH PROMISE, my new romantic suspense mystery thriller, 
was published on May 2nd.  

This has also made me reflect on the following: What causes a writer to consider investing the time, energy and effort into the creation of a book or any written work for that matter? With DEATH PROMISE, the idea actually took some years to develop.

I had encouragement in the sense that Encircle, my publisher, found me rather than vice versa. I’ll explain since this is rather unusual. DEATH PROMISE is a sequel to DEATH LEGACY, a novel originally published by Five Star/Cengage in hardcover and large print hardcover. The novel received excellent reviews from the major review publications such as PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and BOOKLIST among others. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery brought out a paperback edition while a different publisher opted for e-book rights. The novel proved popular with many readers. This encouraged me to write another book featuring the two main characters. Originally, I conceived of DEATH LEGACY as a stand alone romantic mystery. However, my subconscious insisted that Michelle and Daniel really needed at least one more good story.


When Five Star/Cengage dropped their mystery line, many of us who wrote mysteries for that publisher were hurt.
Although a small publisher, Encircle took on a number of  orphaned Five Star authors. Encircle has turned out to be professional to work with. They provided good editing and we worked on cover art together with satisfactory results.


 You can check out the description of this new novel at:


DEATH PROMISE is now available from:



and many other booksellers.

Positive reviews are starting to be posted.

From Mel Jacob at Gumshoe Mystery Review:

“The romance between Daniel and Michelle is incendiary with plenty of heat. Nonetheless, they work well together to catch a killer. She struggles with wanting love and not wanting to give up her dangerous work.”
*****
“This is a nice blend of suspense and romance with 
lots of action to keep the pages turning.”
 
Lelia Taylor, Buried Under Books, May 2018 

*****
Here’s a shortened excerpt from near the beginning of DEATH PROMISE:

 Dr. Daniel Reiner was finishing a turkey sandwich at his desk during his lunch break. The morning had proved hectic. The Park Avenue practice was a busy one. Things had really picked up in the past year. A lot of that was due to Morris Lerner, his partner and fellow psychiatrist. Morris had a thriving practice before Daniel joined him. Morris had too many clients and was looking for a younger doctor who could take some of the burden. Morris also had a demanding wife and two young children. He needed and wanted to spend more time with his family. Daniel, unattached and just starting out, was a good fit. The association was working out well.
Cheryl, their receptionist, buzzed him. Daniel picked up the phone.
“Are you taking calls now?” He appreciated Cheryl’s pleasant Midwestern accent.
“Yes, all done with lunch. When’s my next appointment?”
“You’ve still got a half hour. I think this call might be personal rather than a patient.”
“Okay, put the caller through.”
He heard the click. “Hello, how can I help you?”
“Maybe you can, maybe not. Are you Daniel Reiner? Son of David Reiner?”
He confirmed that he was indeed Daniel Reiner as he wiped away some stinging mustard from the corner of his mouth with a paper napkin.
“You don’t know me but I was married to your father.” The woman’s voice was deep as if she were a chain smoker.
“Then I guess you know my father and I haven’t been in contact for many years.”
“Yeah, I know. He told me about your mother. Tough break.”
Daniel felt a visceral pain. He was raised by his grandparents after his mother died. Mom was a beautiful woman, loving and vital. She developed ovarian cancer and died too young. He was only a young child at the time but knew he wanted to be a doctor and save as many lives as possible. He found out years later that surgery wasn’t for me. So he set out to heal people’s minds instead of their bodies.
The woman cleared her throat. “The thing is I don’t know if you were aware but your father died a year ago.”
He felt nothing. He should have felt something but found he could not. Not for the father who had abandoned an orphaned child. Daniel realized his father had been out of his life too long for it to matter. It was as if when his mother died and his father left him with his maternal grandparents, the man had also ceased to exist. Sad but true.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said, his voice lacking emotion, sounding formal and wooden to his own ears.
“Thanks, but your father and I were divorced for close to ten years. The thing is I looked you up because I thought maybe you’d like to know you have a sister.” The woman cleared her throat again.
Daniel’s posture straightened. “Your daughter?”
“Yes, mine and your father’s.”
“How old is she?”
“Seventeen. She’ll be eighteen in six months.”
Daniel tapped a pen against an open notebook on his desk. This was surprising news. He wondered if his grandparents had known and just not told him. He shook his head. That wasn’t their style. They were very open people. Decent, hard-working, honest. No, they would have told him. He conjectured this woman wanted something from him. If she just intended to connect, she’d have called him a long time ago. His years of training in the field of psychiatry taught him to think analytically without a lot of emotional baggage. He said nothing, waiting for her to continue.
“I guess you’d like to know more about your dad.”
“Not really. I gave up on him a long time ago.”
The woman let out a small, mirthless laugh. “Yeah, me too. We got that in common. I’m Tiffany, by the way, Tiffany Tyler. I’m a cocktail waitress in Vegas. The thing is I’m planning to remarry soon. I’m kind of at loose ends with my daughter Beth—your sister. When your dad and I split up, it was hard for me to manage. I worked late hours. It was tough having a kid around. So I sent her to a boarding school. Well, that’s finished now and I’m planning to remarry.”
“So you said.” Daniel was becoming impatient. He tapped his pen again.
“I left Beth with my cousin, Robert Tyler. He lives in Vegas too. I’m going to San Francisco in the morning. Meeting my fiancĂ© there. In his business he travels a lot. We’ll be off to Thailand and other places in Asia. The thing is my cousin, Rob, well, he’s a professional gambler. Kind of a restless guy. He isn’t someone Beth should have to live with for any length of time. I can only see leaving her with him as a temporary kind of thing. You know?”
No, he didn’t know. Daniel wondered what the woman was getting at in her rambling. “Can’t you take your daughter with you?”
“There are reasons I can’t do that.” The woman sounded defensive as well as nervous. “I’ve been doing some checking. I hear you’re a doctor there in New York. Beth is real adaptable. Maybe she could live with you for a little while?”
At first, Daniel was too stunned to respond, although he knew he had to say something.
“I hate to ask but could you come and get her? She’s a good kid and wouldn’t be any trouble. When she’s eighteen, she can be on her own.”
“Tiffany, no offense, but you’re a total stranger. How do I know anything you’re telling me is true?”
“I can prove it. Your father signed her birth certificate. I have our marriage license. I’ll send you all that information. Just come for Beth.”
“Ms. Tyler, who told you where to find me?”
She emitted a small, embarrassed laugh. “Your father kept in touch with some cousins in New York. He was proud when he learned how you became a doctor in the city. Boasted how he had such a smart son.”
That wasn’t what Daniel expected to hear. How sad that he knew so little about David Reiner. And now his father was dead and he would never know.
#
The following day was sunny but chilly, a true autumn in New York afternoon. Daniel finished with his patients earlier than expected because his final appointment of the day called to cancel and reschedule. He decided to walk from his office on Park Avenue over to the Citicorp building on Lexington Avenue where International Consultants had offices. It was only a ten-block walk down to the area between 53rd and 54th Street. A perfect day for a walk. His last patient left at four; that gave him just enough time to get over before the offices would likely close at five. He was determined to talk to Michelle Hallam if she was there. He reached her skyscraper office building feeling exhilarated by the brisk exercise.
       #
Daniel told Michelle about Tiffany Tyler and his supposed half-sister, Beth. Michelle listened politely without interrupting him, her face expressionless.
When he finished his brief narrative, she finally spoke. “This cousin with whom the young girl is staying, you were given his name and address, were you not? It should be a simple matter to phone him and arrange for the girl to come to New York. You could e-mail her a plane ticket.”
Daniel shook his head. “I’m not that dense. I checked out the cousin yesterday. No one answers his cell phone. He lives in an apartment complex. I was able to get hold of the manager. He told me something troubling. Apparently the cousin owed back rent. No one’s seen him for several days. He hasn’t returned. I called several more times. I really was persistent.”
“I believe that,” she said with a small smile.
“I got the manager to use his key to open the apartment. He claimed there was no one present and the place was devoid of belongings. There’s no forwarding address.”
Michelle raised her chin and worried her lower lip. “That is troubling.”
“Now you understand why I want your help.”
She faced him. “You know that most of what I deal with involves international matters. I could situate you with someone in Las Vegas who could look into the matter and find out what happened to your sister. That would be best.”
Daniel shook his head. “No one else would be as thorough as you are. Incidentally, I tried to call Tiffany Tyler and it went to voice mail. I left several messages for her. This whole thing is weird. I need to get out to Las Vegas and look into it. I want you to come with me.”
Michelle let out a deep sigh. “I’ll be in D.C. for several days. We’re handling a rather delicate diplomatic matter there. However, it shouldn’t take long. I will call you when I return and we’ll set up a trip.”
“You’re going to D.C.? District of Crime?”
“Not amusing,” she said with a frown. “In the meantime, phone the manager of the complex again and see if he has any news. And don’t give up on this Tiffany Tyler person either.”
Daniel told her he wouldn’t. If he did in fact have a half-sister and the girl needed help, he was willing to do what he could for her. He sensed something amiss here. Every instinct told him that this was not going to be a simple matter. He hadn’t lied when he told Michelle that he needed her help.
She was no ordinary private investigator. Michelle Hallam ran a highly specialized consulting firm. She came from a diplomatic British family. Her uncle had been an MI6 operative. Michelle was trained by him. When he passed away, she inherited the business. Daniel didn’t ask too many questions in the time they were together. He knew the work she did could be dangerous. It had in fact almost gotten them both killed the previous year.

My hope is that readers like you will read this novel and enjoy it. 
If you do, your review would be appreciated!

Comments Welcome!


Friday, May 4, 2018

Acknowledgments, by Susan Oleksiw

Over the weekend I read The Ponder Heartby Eudora Welty (1953), a short book barely one hundred and fifty pages about Uncle Daniel, who loves to tell stories to anyone who will listen and is known for giving things away, anything from fresh eggs to a garden. When I finished I paged through to read the front and back matter. Other than the copyright page, list of publications, and a dedication, there was no extra material--no short bio or acknowledgments or notes or explanations. As soon as I absorbed the absences, as it were, I recalled that this was always the norm--until recently.

When I pick up any book today, including a mystery novel, I'm not surprised to read one or two pages of acknowledgments, and I happily do so. Today we writers thank everyone in print. We thank our agent if we have one, the editor, the copy editor, the proofreader, our friends and Beta readers, the librarians who helped answer a particular research question, the neighbor who admitted to having an esoteric skill and was willing to share it, the expert who took the time to listen through an hour-long telephone conversation and then replied with precise answers, the online friend who explained the lay of the land for a particular location, the distant cousin who passed on local lore, and the friend who suggested a particularly enlightening book to read. Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating, but only a little.

I didn't include an acknowledgments page in my first two mystery novels, but I did in my third. I didn't include acknowledgments in my next three books in the Mellingham series, and offered only two lines in my seventh in the series. But all four Anita Ray books include an acknowledgments page. My only regret here is in not including one for Friends and Enemies, the fourth Mellingham, because I learned an enormous amount about the paper industry in Massachusetts, thanks to some generous members of the business. The paper industry is run like a medieval guild--if you're not born to it or connected to one of the established families, you'll probably never get inside.

Writers, editors, and readers have differing opinions on thanking people in a publication. No one ever thinks, as far as I can tell, that any book arrives in the local bookstore without a lot of help along the way. Nonfiction books are assumed to be the result of more professional assistance than a novel, but that seems to be less and less the case.

During an interview when Murder in Mellingham was published, the first in the series, I mentioned the number of people who had helped along the way. I had mentioned the members in my writers' group, a few other friends, a book reviewer who took the time to read closely and provide a detailed commentary, among others. The interviewer seemed surprised, and commented that it sounded like a group project. I hadn't been considering an acknowledgments page, but if I had, I probably would have dropped it. When the third book appeared, Family Album, I wanted to thank a woman who had taken the time to show me her family's collection of Portuguese embroidery, which appeared prominently in an early scene. Over the years I've developed the habit of thanking readers or experts who have rendered an important review or comment, but otherwise I keep it short.

In the twenty-five years I've been publishing fiction, I only remember one comment on this issue. When Family Album was published, a book reviewer and friend called the seven lines "excessive." I wonder what she thinks now about the ever-growing acknowledgments page.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Setting Inspires Treachery by Phyllis Gobbell

Phyllis Gobbell’s latest novel, Treachery in Tuscany, is third in the Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series that began with Pursuit in Provence (2015) and continued with Secrets and Shamrocks (2016). She also co-authored two true-crime books based on high-profile murders in Nashville: An Unfinished Canvas with Mike Glasgow (Berkley, 2007) and A Season of Darkness with Doug Jones (Berkley, 2010). She was interviewed on Discovery ID’s “Deadly Sins,” discussing the murder case in An Unfinished Canvas. Her narrative, “Lost Innocence,” was published in the anthology, Masters of True Crime (Prometheus, 2012) and is now available as an audiobook. She has received awards in both fiction and nonfiction, including Tennessee’s Individual Artist Literary Award. An associate professor of English at Nashville State Community College, she teaches writing and literature.
(Phyllis and I have the same publication date, May 2, 2018 for our new novels with publisher Encircle who chose to invite writers from former mystery publisher Five Star/Cengage to submit.)



Treachery in Tuscany

“There are plot twists and intrigue, family secrets and rivalries, a debonair lover, a delicious locale and all the usual accouterments of the satisfying travel cozy, but Phyllis Gobbell gives the proceedings her own particular spin.” ―Kate Falvey. Editor in Chief, 2 Bridges Review
 
Setting Inspires: Treachery in Tuscany

Some writers enjoy research. Some say they like it so much, they could stay in the research mode and never get to actually writing their book. That’s not me, not if you’re talking about tucking yourself away in a library for long periods of time or traveling the Internet highway. But we all know research is essential. Not only do readers expect accuracy, but they want to experience the world the writer has created. I have found that having the authentic experience myself is the most effective way I can provide the sensory images, the atmosphere, the color, the texture, and the depth that transports the reader emotionally into the setting--the little world--of my mystery.
True, setting alone cannot carry a mystery. Mystery has its own needs. But when I made the decision to set my mysteries in places like Provence (Pursuit in Provence) and Ireland (Secrets and Shamrocks), I knew I’d be a fool not to make the most of these exotic locations. Some call my Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series travel cozies, and they are. I usually refer to my books as traditional mysteries. As I grew up reading Agatha Christie, I loved losing myself in the small English village. Setting as character, setting that informs plot--that’s what I try to do.
In one of the first blogs I wrote about Pursuit in Provence, I said that I didn’t choose Provence; Provence chose me. I could have said the same about Secrets in Shamrocks. I had been to Provence twice when I wrote the first book in the series, and I had spent time teaching in Ireland when I wrote the second. It was logical to write about places I had experienced.
With Treachery in Tuscany, it was different. I decided that I wanted Tuscany to be the setting for my third book, and I made travel plans. My friend Cheri was up for the adventure. My writer-friend, Alana, has a historical mystery set in Florence, and she advised me to stay in a convent. What great advice that was! I kept a journal, of course, and recorded notes about the nuns, the staff, the guests, and the structure itself--yes, because my protagonist, Jordan Mayfair, is an architect. She would have to use her architectural skills, and the 15th century convent, with its elaborate mazes, provided a wonderful challenge. I sat in the piazzas and watched the street life around me. I kept notes of what I ordered, what everything cost, where the Hop-on-hop-off bus took us. We were shocked by the motorbikes that zipped by us, traveling at a dangerous speed, and I knew I would use that in my book. I paid close attention to how the Italians spoke English, their particular syntax, the nuances. We took a day trip to a vineyard in Tuscany--more grist for the mill. Our cooking class at the villa would find its way into the book, and not just to tell readers how to make ravioli from scratch. We took a train trip to Orvieto and stayed in a hotel on the piazza. How lucky we were that a huge festival was taking place. I did fall back on the Internet to come up with an authentic festival in Florence when the time came to write, but you can imagine that I put all of my photos of the Orvieto festival to good use.

I came home not knowing what the story would be for my third book in the series, but I had done plenty of research--the kind of research that suits me. I unpacked, watered my plants, and just let my thoughts swirl. I went through my journal and my photographs and remembered how everything felt. Eventually, the story began to take shape . . . a death in the convent . . . suicide, the authorities say . . . but amateur sleuth Jordan Mayfair will not let it go.

In many the mysteries I read, it’s clear the writer is inspired by setting, as I am. What are some of your favorite settings in mysteries?





Friday, April 20, 2018

The Book is Better than the Movie

I can't begin to guess how many films have been made based on novels or short stories, so I Googled it and believe there are too many to count. Twenty-six books are being made into films in 2018.
Twenty-four were made in 2017, twenty in 2016 so we could do the math, but that is not my forte.

Most of the time I find that the book is much better and I'm disappointed in the movie, so instead of rushing out to see a film after I've read the book, I wait a little while. If the movie captures the characters and story, then the details don't matter quite as much.

For example. Our book club has been reading a lot of heavy WWII stories. They were brilliant, but we needed something light to ease the tension. We slipped in Joanna Fluke's Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery and found it delightfully fun. (We even tried one of the recipes in the book and agreed her other recipes and books are worth trying.)

We only meet once a month so one evening I noticed that Fluke's cookie story was a Hallmark movie and flipped channels to watch. Big mistake. The characters were different in not only appearance (the redhead was made a blonde), but their personalities were more superficial. They changed quite a bit of the story, too, but the essence was there. The trouble is, I had just finished reading the book and felt disappointed. I will return to my theory that there needs to be some time between reading the book and watching the film to not feel cheated.


Here are a few exceptions to the "book is always better" rule. 
  • In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner was an amazing book, and Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz did a great job portraying the characters. I noticed some missing scenes in the movie, but I didn't miss them.  
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett was another successful book translation to the silver screen. The casting was stellar, and the story well told in both paper and film. 
  • I've never read Gone With the Wind (sorry Margaret), but I loved the film and have been told that the movie is very much like the book. 
  • Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic read that I don't mind repeating periodically. Same goes for the movie, Gregory Peck and those kids made the story come alive for me, and I watch the movie every year. 
I don't know how much the author is allowed to contribute to the making of a film based on their work. It appears that most production companies have their own stable of writers, but many times I read that authors are asked to consult on the script and during filming. Sounds like fun, but also nerve-wracking to watch your creation take form in someone else's hands. Here's hoping some of us experience it sometime. I wish you all tons of luck on your writing journey. 



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Friday, April 13, 2018

Blog Are We Reading More--or Less? By Jacqueline Seewald


BookBaby looked at the habits of Americans and came to some interesting conclusions from current data. First, younger people appear to be reading more than anyone else. This is certainly good news if true!

Print books are more popular than e-books, defying the predictions of those who predicted print would be dead by now.

Six of the nine top-grossing authors of 2017 were American. Of course, BookBaby has its own axe to grind, but this info is encouraging.

Other articles on this topic are more pessimistic, however. A Huffington Post article referred to the steady decline of reading for pleasure among both adults and children (“The Death of a Booksalesman: Are We Reading Less?”).

According to Pew Research Study published March 23, 2018,
“about a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.”
Poorly educated people tend to be non-readers. They also tend to earn less.

Now for the good news: The Statistics Portal observes that the average number of books read by U.S. consumers per year as of April 2017 was 15. This was the total provided by the highest number of respondents, 41%.

 The most avid book readers were those aged 60 and older, as 43 percent of respondents in this age category stated  they read more than 15 books per year. During a worldwide survey among internet users in 17 countries, 30 percent of respondents stated they "read every day or most days." In contrast, just six percent stated that they never read books.

As an avid book reader, lover of magazines as well as newspapers, and also as a writer, I found this encouraging. I will observe, however, that most of what I’ve written remains largely unread.
All I can say is let’s keep reading and writing! Literacy is a privilege not a chore. It makes us better informed as citizens and more empathetic as human beings.

Your thoughts and comments welcome!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Five Ways to Write by Scenes, by Susan Oleksiw

Over the last several months I've had various scenes from a projected novel pop into my head. Some I forget, but a few I've noted on a sheet for later consideration--if I ever write this thing. Right now I have other projects to work on. But my practice of keeping notes reminded me that if I do write this mystery, I'll go at it in a specific way, but my way is only one of several options. 

This is not a post about writing as a plotter or a pantser. This is about writing by scenes. When I begin writing a novel, I work out the first scene. I may come back later to change this, revise or alter or discard, but I want the first scene in place before I feel I can continue. I wrote the first scene for my first Joe Silva/Mellingham mystery three times, and discarded all of them. When I'm satisfied with the opening, I write the next scene, and so I proceed, scene by scene, until I reach the end. Along the way I check off the notes I've made, incorporating ideas as I come to the best spot for them. But this isn't the only way to get an entire novel down on paper. Remember the famous line about driving from the East Coast to California when the headlights can see only a few feet ahead? This is the Lawrence Block school of writing. 

I've heard another writer advise writing scenes as they come to you. If you want a fight scene or a love scene, a hiking or climbing scene, write it and file it until you need it. If you've recorded a conversation overheard in a restaurant or on the subway, write that scene and save it. Write the scenes as they appear, and eventually you'll have an entire book. This was the advice once given by John Updike.

Some writers advise writing the last scene first, so you know what you're aiming for. Focus on every detail that will matter in the unmasking of the villain, the sorting out of various lesser crimes, and the realignment of the remaining characters. When you have all this on paper, you can see clearly what has to be accomplished in the preceding pages. Now you can go back to the beginning and following the vague lines to the end. They'll get sharper as you progress. This was the choice of Margaret Mitchell, and a number of others, including Agatha Christie. http://flavorwire.com/401384/authors-on-the-importance-of-writing-the-final-chapter-first/2

There is still another option. If you're concerned about certain subplots, write the series of scenes concerned with only the character in the subplot, from beginning to end, to ensure that the arc of that person's story is clear and relevant. Or, do the reverse and write the main actions of the protagonist, to create an arc you can follow as the spine of the story. For advice on how to do this, go to https://www.livewritethrive.com/2016/08/01/how-to-weave-a-subplot-into-the-structure-of-your-novel/

A fifth way to write by scenes in a crime novel is a variation on the one above. If the story is clear in your imagination, write the major scenes, such as the discovery of the body, identifying or interviewing the chief suspect, a confrontation scene, and the ending. This comes close to writing major scenes as a way of writing out an outline. 

I prefer writing scene by scene in order as they occur in the story because of the freedom this process gives me to explore and discover the story. I dislike being tied to a preconceived plot and story line. Though I always have an idea of where I'm going, I want the freedom to change directions and uncover something better.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

How Important Is Luck in Gaining Publication? by Jacqueline Seewald


The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing the nonsense about his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.


 We recently celebrated St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, writers prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is often a theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. Tragedy derives from this. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.

As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in a boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of
William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.
Mere luck does not account for his success.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark.
Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play)
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!)
Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this blog. However, neither luck nor connections account for the success of these famous authors.


My latest novel DEATH PROMISE is set in London, New York City, and also Las Vegas—where people tend to place their hopes on luck. But not everyone in the novel is fortunate. The unique skills of Dr. Daniel Reiner and woman of mystery, “consultant” Michelle Hallam are required to solve the murders in this romantic suspense mystery thriller. You can check it out here:


                                 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079VWPTVF


Your thoughts and comments welcome!


Friday, March 16, 2018

Get the Facts and Don't Shoot Yourself in the Foot

We've all heard "write what you know," but the fact is we don't know everything. That's why we do research!

Many of us love to read and write mysteries and crime thrillers. In them, there may be military, law enforcement personnel, or shooting sportsmen. Our history was built by people who had to defend their land and defend our country by force. If you chose to write about someone who uses a firearm, be sure you get it right. Otherwise, avoid it. Not only are firearms controversial, but they are complicated.

I recently read a novel about an investigator who carried a gun. I'm no expert, but something sounded off. Out of curiosity I did a bit of research and found a plethora of information, thanks to the internet.
(If I make a mistake here, my apologies, what I want to do is share some good resources I found for firearm safety, ammunition, recoil, sounds, smells, handling, weight, type, etc.)

The people that participate in the forums will usually answer questions if you let them know you are an author and what situation the character will be dealing with. It's important that we describe the weapon accurately, handling, as well as the accouterments used. Just do a Google search on gun and shooting forums, and you'll find quite a few. For general gun information, there is a forum called "The High Road."

If you know what type of weapon, you may find a dedicated forum, for example, Colt 1911, Smith & Wesson, Glock Talk, etc. If you need to understand and describe what happens when the weapon is used there are shooting ranges in most communities with staff who will help answer questions or even allow you to rent and shoot.

I was astounded to realize all ammunition is not the same. They were all bullets to me, but the bullet is actually the projectile at the end of the cartridge. There are shotgun shells with pellets inside and even lead balls used in the old cap and ball revolvers. "Round" is a generic term that we could consider using instead.

Pistols can be automatic or revolvers. Oh, and in the automatics, they use "magazines," clips were used during WWII and expelled when they were empty with a distinctive "ping."  There are single action and double action, pumps, shotguns, and rifles and if we are going to use them in our stories, we have to know which is appropriate for the time and place. See what I mean about complex?

Enjoy the journey, my writing friends and avoid shooting yourself or your story in the foot by not doing the research. Have fun!

Website: http://bdtharp.com
Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BonnieDTharp 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard 
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, March 9, 2018

Interview with Author Leslie Wheeler by Jacqueline Seewald



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

Answer: The title of my novel is Rattlesnake Hill; the genre is mystery/suspense. I chose the title Rattlesnake Hill, because much of the important action takes place on a hill with that name in the fictional town of New Nottingham, in the Berkshires. I chose the genre of mystery/suspense, because the book contains a mix of both. While there are mysteries to solved in the novel, it does not have the structure of a traditional mystery in that a crime occurs in the beginning and is solved by the end. In Rattlesnake Hill, the crimes are in the distant and more recent past: one murder occurred over a hundred years ago, and the other five years previously. When my main character begins her quest, it relates to another mystery connected to a missing piece of family history; she has no idea that in the process she’ll discover these two murders, or that the more questions she asks, the more she’ll risk becoming a victim herself. So, the story is more that of a woman in danger (“fem jep”) that about solving a crime.


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

Answer: Rattlesnake Hill was inspired by my deep love for the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts, where I’ve lived for many years, first full-time, now part-time. I call the book my “dark valentine” to the area. Like the novelist, Edith Wharton, I’m enchanted by the beauty of the landscape, but am also aware of the region’s dark side in the grim lives of some of the locals. One story, in particular, about a love triangle turned deadly haunted me, until I knew I had to write about it, especially because I knew some of the people involved.

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

Answer:  My heroine, Kathryn Stinson, is a curator of prints and photographs at a small private library in Boston. Although not a New Englander by birth or upbringing—she was born and raised in Southern California—her ancestors lived in the small New England hamlet of New Nottingham--and that’s where she goes to solve an old family mystery.

A woman in her early thirties, she’s described by her boyfriend as “pretty without trying to be”: she doesn’t wear make-up and keeps her long, light brown hair pulled back from her face in a pony tail. Although not aggressive by nature, once she sets her mind to something, she doesn’t give up easily. An unhappy childhood with a seriously depressed mother, and a grandmother with a gloomy outlook on life have made her wary of other people, especially men, and she has yet to experience real passion.

Ruggedly handsome, athletic, and charming (when he wants to be), the hero, Earl Barker is the “golden boy” offshoot of an otherwise disreputable local family, known for their hot tempers, said to stem from the rattlesnake blood in their veins. In his early forties, he’s divorced from his wife, who was his high-school sweetheart, and with whom he had three sons. An excavator by trade, he cleared the land and built a pond for a couple from New York City, and he and the wife had an affair. She was murdered five years ago, under mysterious circumstances, and Earl still mourns her. When Kathryn Stinson rents the very house his dead lover once occupied, Earl resents her presence and wants her gone.

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

Answer:  
Three books in my Miranda Lewis Living History Mystery series have been published: Murder at Plimoth Plantation, Murder at Gettysburg, and Murder at Spouters Point. I call these books “living history” mysteries, because they’re set in the present-day at historical sites, which enables me to weave in a lot of history. Murder at Plimoth Plantation takes place at the re-created Pilgrim village in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where first-person interpreters portray the seventeenth-century residents. Murder at Gettysburg is set at an annual reenactment of the famous battle, while Murder at Spouters Point takes place at a fictionalized Mystic Seaport and a fictionalized Foxwoods, the Native-owned casino that’s nearby. An important theme in Murder at Plimoth Plantation and Murder at Spouters Point is the often troubled relationship between white people and Native Americans, past and present. With its focus on Confederate reenactors, Murder at Gettysburg explores the ways in which some people in this country are still fighting the Civil War.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer: 
I’m currently working on the sequel to Rattlesnake Hill, tentatively titled Shuntoll Road. It picks up the story where Rattlesnake leaves off, with my main character and her romantic partner trying to rebuild their relationship that was almost destroyed in the first book. It’s June, a beautiful month in the Berkshires, and Kathryn and Earl Barker look forward to spending some relaxed, quality time together. But the sale of the house on Rattlesnake Hill that Kathryn has been renting to an unsavory real estate developer from New York not only puts the kibosh on those plans but creates conflict between the couple. For excavator Earl, the proposed development means much-needed work, while for Kathryn it means the destruction of land she’s come to love and wants to protect.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:  Ever since I was a young child, I enjoyed making up stories that I’d either tell or sing. The next logical step was to write them down, and I’ve been doing that since grade school, though none were published until much later in my life.

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

Answer:
The best advice I can offer is summed up in three words: Don’t give up! But before I launch into my pep talk, give yourself a big pat on the back for starting to write a novel. Many people never get beyond a wistful, “I wish I could write novels like you. How do you do it?” But when you tell them that it’s not always fun or sexy, and can involve many hours sitting at the computer, sometimes writing, sometimes simply staring at a blank screen, they lose interest. That’s why you deserve kudos for getting beyond that point and committing yourself to writing a novel. But having made that commitment, you’ve got to work hard to maintain it through times of discouragement and even despair.

Think of novel writing as a journey, where you must reach your destination no matter what. Don’t give up despite critics who’ll pick at your writing until there’s nothing left but a skeleton. Don’t give up when you reach a crossroads and aren’t sure which road to take. Take a chance, try one, and if it doesn’t work out, try another. Don’t give up when a seemingly enormous roadblock brings you to screeching halt. Leave your vehicle and do something else: go for a walk, take a shower, cook a meal, and you’ll be surprised at how soon the road clears and you can continue your journey. Don’t give up despite characters who insinuate themselves into your story at the last minute. Hear them out and if they make a good case for being in your book, let them stay, even though it means a lot of backfilling. Ignore the doomsayers who tell you agents and editors aren’t interested in your kind of novel. Ignore the people who want you to follow their own maps for your journey. It’s your book after all, and you should stay true to your vision. The only time you should consider changes is if two people, whose opinions you trust, give you the same advice.

And if your first novel isn’t picked up, write another, and yet another. In other words, don’t put all your apples in one basket. I’ve known writers whose second and fifth books have been picked up for publication. Cheer yourself up with stories of famous writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald who papered the walls of entire rooms with rejection letters before getting an acceptance. Try not to envy those lucky few who do get to “yes” right away. And know that you’re not alone if it takes you a lot of “no’s” to get to “yes.”

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

Answer:
Rattlesnake Hill is available right now. Bookstores in the Boston area that carry it are Porter Square Books (where I’m having my launch party on March 15) and the New England Mobile Book Store. Or you can order it at your local bookstore. As a last resort, because I think it’s important to support the indies, you can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
*****

Leslie, thanks so much for being our guest today.


Note: Leslie is available to answer questions and offer responses to comments.