Friday, June 22, 2012

Bits and Pieces....again

If you follow Author Expressions Blogspot you may remember a blog I posted last year titled  Bits and Pieces- Voice and Style. I’m not  resurrecting that blog, but I do choose to use the title again. This time I offer a look at all the Bits and Pieces from life that we use in our writing. Ideas do come from life. Life can provide the warp and woof to weave a tale of historical fiction.

How do we imagine a person who really lived in another era? If you are lucky to have ancestral photographs, you could study the clothing of the people in the photos. Is there an infant wearing a long, white dress with infinite rows of tucks and lace? Can you picture the child’s mother laundering that dress, using starch and a flatiron to make the dress picture perfect? Or would your turn of the century “mother” hire a laundress to do that chore? Finding out how the household was managed can  answer some questions.

I took that direction in researching my first historical novel. I was lucky to find a set of family ledgers. Actually there were three journals of daily family expenditures kept by the matriarch of my children’s paternal great grandparent’s family. Not only did that mother list everyday costs for the butcher, baker, grocer and sundries for the family, but the feed and care of the horses and carriages in the stable, the painters and carpenter’s wages for house refurbishing and the building of out- buildings. She listed fees paid to hardware, and department stores, cost of coal delivery and chimney sweeps, weekly wages of three household help (each by name), church contributions, gifts purchased when, and for whom, weekly commuter train tickets from the suburbs to the city, and vacation shore excursions every summer. All this and more was recorded in a neat and legible hand. Amazing!

It was a treasure trove which presented a way of life from 1897 to 1899!   From the least expenditure of 15¢ for fly paper, to $148.00 for the building of a chicken house, $5.40 for oats, bran, and hay, and the purchase of a buckboard for $45.00. Reading this, my mind’s eye could picture the home, the out buildings and accoutrements of this ancestral family.

Doctor bills,$4.00, bottles and nipples, and a baby carriage with all the “fixins” for $37.00  revealed the month the youngest child was born. Theater tickets at $3.90, a portrait painted for $60.00, country club dues, and children’s private tutors and dance instructors hinted at the cultural milieu they lived in and the values they cherished. In the final year of the ledger, purchases of a Persian Lamb coat for $185.00 and a Coupe Rockaway for $575. signaled the height of the Victorian era they lived in.

These household ledgers were invaluable to me, saving countless hours of research and displaying all the bits and pieces of life which I needed to know about  a family living close to the turn of the century. It helped me write a book with authentic regional flavor and true family dynamics. Perhaps the sharing of my find will point you in  a similar direction. It may be a well worn axiom, but  Ideas do come from life.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summertime Reads

"Ain't no cure for the summer time blues..." That's a song I remember from way back when and it pops to mind every summer. It's a busy time, in some ways busier than the rest of the year. With kids out of school there is a lot more activity, vacations, yard work, and longer days to cram it all into. You've got a few special days for celebrations with family and friends, like Flag Day, Father's Day, Summer Solstice, Independence Day, and then Labor Day signals that summer is over. Whoa, let's not talk about that one yet.

If you're like me you have a list of things you'd like to get done in the three short months of summer. Maybe some purging and a yard sale? Box up the sweaters and dig out the shorts. Clean the carpets to decrease the allergens. There's always plenty to be done. When I was little I remember "lazy days of summer" where we'd lay by the community pool, ride our bikes after the ice cream truck, eat Popsycles, nap under a tree, chase fireflies and read tons of books.

Summertime isn't the same for adults, we still have jobs, home repairs and upkeep (mowing), cooking, cleaning and laundry. But for a couple of days or weeks we usually try to recapture those summer days we had as a child. If your status as an adult this summer makes you sad, escape in a good book. Every summer publishers launch a handful (or more) "beach reads" that are light and fun. I LOVE CONSUMING A GOOD SUMMER READ! Personally, my reading will consist of nothing too heavy/intense for the next couple of months, just good old fashioned entertainment, escapism, and fun. There are two beach reads sitting on my desk, calling my name, but I'm halfway through a science fiction novel a friend loaned me - so that one comes first. I've been known to read more than one book at a time. Do you? Sometimes, however, I really want to focus on the world of one story. Have fun this summer, be safe, and don't forget to READ.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Interview with Mystery Writer Fred Lichtenberg
By Jacqueline Seewald

Fred Lichtenberg is a native New Yorker who lives with his wife in Jupiter, Florida. His second novel, Double Trouble, will be released in June 2012. Hunter’s World, Fred’s first mystery set on New York's Long Island, was released by Five Star/Cengage in May 2011.
 In addition to writing mystery novels and short stories, Fred wrote and produced a one-act play titled The Second Time Around … Again, a comedy about finding love in a nursing home, presented at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Fred is a member of Mystery Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers.

 Question: What is the genre of your novel?  Why did you select it?

Answer: I’m a mystery writer. It’s what I mostly read over the years so it was an easy decision to write that genre once I got the bug to write. I also have a bit of comedy in my DNA so humor is always sprinkled into my books. 

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

Answer: I enjoy writing about flawed characters and this book is no exception. My stories are psychology driven, so the genesis of Double Trouble deals with characters running away from reality. I’ve been intrigued with twins especially identical twins separated at birth? While their DNA is the same, different environmental backgrounds can make their personalities quite different. In Double Trouble, mistaken identity is the underlying theme that moves the story along.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your latest novel?
Answer: Charlie Quinn is a washed-out detective (defective detective) from Fort Lauderdale. He’s lived a painful life, has known betrayal, deceit and quite honestly, has little going for him until by chance, he runs into his twin in a Fort Lauderdale parking lot. His twin, Frankie Marcone, is a happy go lucky hit man for the mob but doesn’t have time for a family reunion and bolts. It seems Marcone stole diamonds from his boss and is planning a long vacation. Quinn won’t take no for an answer and attempts to track Marcone down only to become enmeshed in Marcone’s dark world. The boss wants his diamonds back!

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

Answer:  Hunter’s World was my first published novel. It takes place in a small town on Long Island. The chief of police is investigating the only murder his town has known and the evidence (compromising positions displaying the victim and some of the women), if went public, could cripple the town’s moral foundation. The protagonist must balance his position as a police officer with the love of his town. The more he pushes for justice the more someone behind the scenes is pushing to have him evicted from his office.

I published a short story in February called 666 Kendall Drive, a horror/humorous story of how one man’s investment in the rental real estate market can go terribly wrong. It takes place in South Florida, where else?
Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I just completed the first draft to Good Luck Bad Luck, a Carl Hiaasenesque theme that includes Medicare fraud, pill mills, Ponzi schemes and infidelity. And, of course, murder. It takes place in South Florida. My two main characters include an eighty year old woman, street smart, and a forty something ex-con. It was great fun to write.
Then there is Murder 1040. It’s about what happens to an IRS agent when he uncovers fraud, money laundering, and drugs during an audit. Murder will be published next year.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I always believed I was a good story teller. After reading mysteries for years, I started dabbling. I began with short stories, and while taking a creative writing class, I wrote a mystery short story. It was well-received and provided the encouragement to continue.

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

Answer:  Writers tend to give the same advice to aspiring novelists. Of course, I’ve added my two-cents. But I can’t emphasize enough that one must have a passion and discipline for writing. That first, then take creative writing courses, read the genre you’re interested in and locate a writers group in your hometown. Then write, write, write!

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

Answer: Double Trouble will be available around June 15th. I decided to publish this novel through Amazon’s Create Space and Kindle. It will be available in both soft cover and e-book version. In addition, Hunter’s World, which was previously only in hardcover, will also be available on Amazon’s Kindle at the same time. By the way, the reader doesn’t need a Kindle device to read books from Amazon. Any e-device will work. 

Fred, thanks so much for being our guest today at Author Expressions. Comments are welcome in this forum.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Good Panelist

I've been invited to join a Beach Reads panel in July, where with a number of other Sisters in Crime (from New England) I'll talk about two books to enjoy over the summer. As soon as I was asked, I headed to the library (my favorite place) to browse through the new books section. It always looks like most of the fiction is crime fiction, so I had lots of choices. I picked one, then two, then realized I had five books in hand and I hadn't even gotten through the letter B, so I kept going and found five more before I got to letter E. Really, I could just move into the library and be happy. I began putting the books back and tried to be more discerning--or at least less greedy. I wanted to read everything.

And that was the point. The panelists are expected to talk about the books they've selected, so members of the audience will be able to make appropriate choices. So we're expected to read the books too. Seems obvious?

Being a good panelist is about more than just showing up on time, though that's certainly part of it. The good panelist comes prepared. If I'm invited to be on a panel, I want to have an idea of what it's going to be about so I can respond appropriately. Some moderators send out questions in advance, and others just give a vague idea for topics to be covered. No matter how it's done, anyone who is going to be on a panel should come prepared.

First, know the topic and even if it's vague (Where do you characters come from? Where do you get your ideas?), think about what you will say and have a few stories in mind that will illustrate your position. Don't count on inspiration striking just as you're sitting down at the table or heading to the microphone.

Second, get to know your fellow panelists. If you're on a panel with other writers whose names and books are unfamiliar to you, head to the library or Google and learn about your fellow panelists. Do you share a love for cozies or cats or hiking? Do you come from the same part of the country, or have similar day jobs? The more you know about your fellow panelists, the greater the likelihood that conversation among panelists will have greater depth.

Third, let the moderator moderate. I've only been on one panel that I can recall where the moderator dropped the ball repeatedly by failing to ask obvious questions or direct questions from the audience to the appropriate panelist. Most moderators take their tasks very seriously and prepare questions, read the panelists' books, and come ready to move the event along.

Fourth, remember that you are one of a group. No matter how scintillating your stories, no matter how much your agent is pushing you to get out there, no matter how wonderful your voice sounds over the microphone, you are one of a group and everyone should get the same amount of time and attention. I recently attended a talk by two writers--one older and well established, and nationally known, and the second a newcomer who was very competent but very young. The younger one talked and talked and talked, and the older one listened attentively. Her graciousness won me over (even if her writing hadn't done so already), and I will remember her as one of the most generous writers I've encountered. She even read a passage by the younger writer to illustrate a point she wanted to make.

Panels are fun, and they're especially satisfying when each panelist comes away feeling they've been well treated by the moderator and other panelists, and that comes from everyone doing his or her homework.  I'm starting mine this weekend, reading the two books I've selected for the Beach Reads panel in July in Newburyport. Which books did I pick? I chose two:

Never Tell a Lie by Hallie Ephron
A Double Death on the Black Isle by A. D. Scott

And, of course, I get to promote my new book: The Wrath of Shiva: An Anita Ray Mystery.