Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Katrina Bag

By Pat Browning

I live in Tornado Alley but it took a hurricane that devastated New Orleans to make me think about what I need to survive. Pack a bag, the local Red Cross representative said. Keep it handy.

That was in 2005. Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans the morning of 29 August 2005, the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the U.S. A month later I dragged a duffle bag into my walk-in closet for safekeeping, per instructions from the Red Cross.

It’s still there. The problem is that it doesn’t hold a single survival item. It bulges with VCR tapes and manuscripts. It’s so heavy if I try to drag it out of the apartment I’ll probably pull my arms out of their sockets. My most precious books are in a separate cardboard box. So much for being prepared in case of a tornado or earthquake.

So what’s in that bag I can’t live without?

*Original manuscript of FULL CIRCLE, my first mystery.
*Original printout of ABSINTHE OF MALICE, the revised, reissued edition of FULL CIRCLE.
*2007 Red Dirt Anthology, with my short memoir, “White Petunias.”
*Copy of manuscript of Richard Barre short story, “Wind on the River,” sent as a Christmas present in 2000, a magnificent story, never published.

*VHS tapes, including:
The Fundamentals of Knife, Hawk and Axe Throwing – an instructional video on how to throw a knife and make it stick anywhere; old episodes of Magnum PI, Simon & Simon; old PBS programs of rock and roll music; Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, Vol. 1; Roger Miller’s life and music; Grand Ol’ Opry Stars of the Fifties.

*Old movies, including:
Out to Sea, All of Me, Good Will Hunting, The Philadelphia Story; The Winds of War, a gift from Beth Anderson.

It’s all good stuff, but with all the floods, fires, tornadoes and thunder storms going around this year, it’s time to re-think my survival bag.

I found the following article on being prepared while going through old files. I first posted it on my personal blog, Morning’s At Noon, and it's as timely as ever.
Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Red Cross rep who spoke in El Reno recently said: “YOU are your first responder. YOU are going to rescue you.” So pack a bag. The kind of backpack kids haul to school will hold what you need. DO NOT stick it in the back of the closet. Put it by the front door if you can’t think of a handier place.

Tips that could save your life and/or your sanity:

1. Make sure somebody knows where you will go in case of a disaster. If you live in Oklahoma and have a storm cellar, register it in Oklahoma City.

2. Make copies of documents you will need to establish your identity and rebuild your life – birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, healthcare directives. We live in a world of numbers. Copy them from insurance policies, credit cards, driver’s licenses, Social Security, bank accounts, ATM cards, names and phone numbers for your doctors and pharmacy.

3. Send the copies to a friend or relative in another state so you will have them if you need them. Your safe deposit box will be useless if your bank is destroyed. Your home and office files will be useless if a tornado blows them away, or buildings are bulldozed after flood, fire or quake.

4. Stash in a pouch you can wear around your neck if necessary at least three days’ worth of medicines and cash.

5. Into your ever-ready Katrina bag or "tornado bag," put:
*A whistle;
*Flashlight, with extra batteries;
*Plastic rain poncho;
*Pocket-size radio with batteries;
*First aid kit (Band Aids, aspirin or something else for pain);
*A $20 bill;
*Dried food, a liquid meal such as Ensure with pop-top; Power Bars;
*Collapsible water jug, and packaged water;
*An emergence or space blanket that folds to about 6 in. x 6 in.;
*Work gloves;
*Duct tape;
*Drop cloth;
*Nose mask;
*Light sticks;
*Diaper wipes;
*Extra shoes, extra clothes, extra underwear;
*Old eyeglasses, or your extra pair if you have one;

SPECIAL NOTE: Pack something small and irreplaceable. Be it a bit of jewelry or a souvenir key ring or something else that can be tucked into a corner of your bag, it may be the only thing you have left to hold onto, a memory you can cling to. Find a place in the bag for it!

Tornados come in all shapes and sizes, and they come to Oklahoma. Of 18 tornado photos on the National Severe Storms Laboratory page at the NOAA web site, 13 were snapped in Oklahoma and 5 in Texas, mostly in the Panhandle area. Here in Central Oklahoma we take cover and hope for the best when the sirens go off. While any damage means trouble for someone, when a tornado blows a town right off the map it usually happens in western Oklahoma.

Famous last words.
Public domain tornado photo, Mayfield, OK 16 May 1977. National Severe Storms Laboratory photo courtesy of NSSL archive online at the *NOAA tornado photo library.
*National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Friday, July 30, 2010

What Price Fame?

by Jean Henry Mead

I’ve interviewed bestselling authors who have been accosted by fans asking for autographs, as though they were rock stars. There are also those who insist they have the plot for the Great American Novel, which they want you to write and share with them in the proceeds. Or fledgling authors who write asking, “Would you please read my manuscript?” Most, in my experience, have expected praise for their work, not suggestions for change.

The late Elmer Kelton, one of the West's best novelists, said, "Usually, if they are persistent, I'll promise to read the manuscript and give dubious advice if the person will write the book himself. Less than one in fifty will take me up on my offer, and the few times my hand has been called, I've bitten the bullet and read the manuscript."

While it’s flattering to have people recognize you in WalMart and ask about your books, how long are you willing to accommodate fans who ask for autographed pictures, ring your doorbell during dinner or constantly ask you to donate books for a local charity?

Elmore Leonard said, "While it's nice to get fan mail, a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, the interviews are wearing me out. I'm asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I've never thought of before  And I  have to take time to think on the spot and  come with an answer."

There are other pitfalls to writing success. One novelist couple was forced to move to a remote area of Wyoming, because a group of people took offense at something they wrote and literally threatened their lives. It may sound far-fetched, but it happens.

Linda Stafford, a Native American writer, said she made the mistake of commenting during a speech at a convention of 6,000: “Stop by for a cup of coffee if you’re ever in my area.” Although she and her husband live in the Colorado Rockies fifty miles from the nearest town, fans starting showing up all that summer to collect not only the coffee but pictures with the author, flowers from her garden and other souvenirs. They even asked to borrow food or use her shower. The couple finally resorted to putting up a sign warning: RATTLESNAKE VENOM FARM. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said. “I really do appreciate each person who buys one of my books. I would be nothing without my readers. But the very fans who love your books are the ones who will monopolize your time and energy and prevent you from writing. I’m now experienced enough, and tough enough, to say to myself that I owe my fans only a good story for their money. They aren’t buying a visit to my home, or a picture of me with Aunt Mable, or a look into my private life. When I’m on tour, I’m happy to sign books, pose for pictures and have coffee with them if I can fit it into my schedule, but when I’m home, I want my private life to stay private. I can finally say ‘No.’”

I wouldn’t be surprised if bestsellers have eight-foot iron fences surrounding their homes. Those of us who aren’t that well known might want to experience the aura of success for a while but tempting stalkers and fans who constantly ring your doorbell would eventually wear a writer down.

I’ve occasionally received email asking for autographed pictures from as far away as Greece, or autographed books to be auctioned off for a charitable event, which is flattering and I’ve gladly complied. But can you imagine that on a such a grand scale that you'd have to hire a secretary or PR firm to handle all the requests? No wonder Dean Koontz built a house large enough to accommodate every activity, away from mainstream America.

Now that we’ve moved to a mountaintop ranch more than a dozen miles from the nearest town--a great place to write--few people are going to come knocking at my door. It may get lonely up here. :-)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pearls of Writing Wisdom

By Beth Terrell

When I was writing the first book in my Jared McKean series (now called Racing the Devil), I struggled with the first scene, in which he goes home with a woman he's just met in a bar. I had to have that scene, because if doesn't become intimate with the woman, he doesn't get framed for murder, which is the crux of the book, but no matter what I did, he just wouldn't do it. Or he would do it (since I gave him no choice), but he was so obviously uncomfortable with it that the scene was wooden and unbelievable. It reached a point where the rest of the book had been written, and that stubborn opening scene had wrapped both arms around a lamp post and refused to be pulled loose. "Nope," it said. "Not comin'. No how, no way."

That year, I went to Sleuthfest for the first time. (If you've never been, I highly recommend it.) I looked down at my schedule and saw that Daniel Keyes, author of "Flowers for Algernon," was speaking. "Flowers for Algernon" is one of the most perfect stories ever written, and the novel based on it, Charly, is pretty darn good too. I knew I had a lot to learn from a man who could write like that.

Keyes gave a marvelous and entertaining talk that day. I took many pages of notes, and they're full of pearls, but the pearl that saved my novel and changed my life was, "Never make your characters do anything they wouldn't do. And if they have to do it, find a reason that is true to that character."

Of course. (You probably figured this out long before I did, but hey, sometimes I'm slow.) The problem with that stubborn first scene was that Jared is not the kind of man who is in the habit of sleeping with strangers. But he had to. Which meant I had to figure out what would motivate him to do it.

I had already established that he was grieving because the ex-wife he still loved was celebrating her first anniversary to another man, but that wasn't enough. What would push his buttons enough to make him go home with a strange woman and have intimate relations with her? Well, he has a bit of a Galahd complex, so what if she were in trouble? What if she had bruises all over her, and what if she asked him for protection against the person who hurt her? Add that to his previously-established vulnerability, and suddenly, I had an opening scene that worked.

Now whenever a scene gets stubborn, I think of that advice and ask myself if the problem is that I'm trying to make my characters behave in ways that are not authentic. It's saved many a scene for me.

What's the best writing advice you ever got?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Commuter Pilot

By Mark W. Danielson

To many, a commuter pilot is an airline pilot who flies the smaller regional jets or prop jobs. But the other definition is an airline pilot who lives in one location and commutes to his base in another. I’ve fit the second definition for my entire airline career.

Commuting can be a tasking evolution that sometimes requires more patience and sense of humor than operating a trip. Once I get to work, the stress is gone, and while getting home is desirable, my pay isn’t docked if I’m late.

I’ve spent most of July away from home. It’s an unusual month because it added four days of semi-annual training to my line. Since I didn’t finish my simulator check ride until after our own airplanes had departed for Denver, I was forced to attempt a two-leg commute home, begging for rides. The night before, there were plenty of seats available on both flights, but canceled flights had changed everything by the time I showed up.

I was fortunate to get a passenger seat on the flight to Minneapolis, and since I was near the front, was able to race to the opposite side of the terminal to beg for a seat on the leg to Denver. Heart pounding, I arrived in time to be listed for the cockpit jump-seat, which is a small fold-down seat designed to allow FAA check airmen to oversee flight crew operations, but qualified airline pilots can also use them when all the passenger seats are full. Such was the case on this particular flight.

With no clouds along our route and smooth air, the captain and first officer opted to converse with me after level-off. Belonging to the same union, we compared the goings-on with our respective companies, discussed various safety issues, and yes, there were also a few comments about women, just like in the above poster. However, all conversation ceased whenever there was a radio call or a ding from the back.

Prior to our descent, our captain was informed that an elderly lady passenger was ill. He promptly notified the company and was informed that an ambulance would be waiting. Though sorry for her, this passenger’s illness actually helped me because the captain raced his airplane to the gate, and since my bags were in the crew’s storage bin, told me to make a run for it once the EMTs were on board. Even better, the captain had requested his passengers to remain in their seats to assist the EMTs, so imagine their reaction when they saw a captain [me] dash from the plane. I’m sure they were relieved when their real captain thanked them when they finally exited.

The airport bus to the cargo lot only runs twice and hour and I had twelve minutes to get there from the gate. Racing down the corridor, I leaped onto the escalator, and since a train had just arrived, grabbed my bags and skipped steps to make it. Counting down the seconds, my anxiety increased as the train stopped two more times before arriving at the terminal. Once the doors opened, I flew up the escalator, ran through the terminal, out the door, arriving at the bus stop. Thirty seconds later, the bus arrived. Incredible. Nearly eight hours had passed since I had checked in for me first jump seat, and I was relieved to finally be on my way home. Had it not been for the elderly lady’s misfortune, I would have had to wait for the next bus. Thirty minutes may not seem like much, but when you’ve been away as much as I have, that time is precious.

So why do I put up with commuting? Simple. I prefer living in another state, which means I accept the annoyances of commuting a thousand miles to work. Is it worth it? Sure, because I use that time to write, and it also invites new adventures. Granted, it’s a gypsy lifestyle, but one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Anatomy of a Website

By Chester D. Campbell

I'm not a trained graphic designer. Some might say I'm not much of a writer, either, but I'm a tried and true copycat.  Back when I was a magazine editor, I had an art director to put the pages together with a professional look. I also had the help of graphic artists when I worked as an advertising copywriter. Over the years I soaked up a bit of basic design by osmosis.

Shortly before my first novel came out in 2002, I set up a website. It was pretty basic and not all that attractive, but it got out the message of who I was and that I had embarked upon the mystery writing venture. Over the years I visited dozens and dozens of websites, adding to my perception of what looked good and what appeared amateurish. I revised the site after a couple of years to add more content and improve the visual appeal.

With each new book, I added the cover to my home page, along with a description and, when available, some reviews. When my fourth Greg McKenzie mystery came out in 2008, I made a major revision in the website with a heading that featured the Nashville skyline and a new design with white type on a black background. I thought it looked more mysterious but since have learned many readers have difficulty reading the white on black combination.

I started a new series last year and featured The Surest Poison at the top of the page, with the four Greg McKenzie books below. When I recently received the cover art for book number six, A Sporting Murder, the fifth McKenzie mystery, I added it at the top of the page but knew something would have to give. Things looked too cluttered. I decided it was time for another major makeover.

I wanted to keep the heading but give the pages a more open, colorful look. Several author sites I admired used more color in the design. I borrowed a bit here and there and went to work. I have used Microsoft's Front Page program from the start, although they quit updating it after the 2003 edition. It still does everything I want to do in a fairly simple fashion. Over the years I've learned enough HTML to repair glitches in the code when something goes wrong. I decided on a page design featuring a brownish-orange background and color bars (green and blue) on opposite sides of the white center. Navigation links are on the left bar, which remains the same on all but a few ancillary pages.

The first thing I did was set up a page template with the heading, the color bars and the white center. I didn't realize until I got into it that I had thirty-four separate pages to create or re-create. Plus more than two dozen .gif or .jpg graphic files to create or manipulate. It took a couple of weeks to get it all together. I uploaded it late one night and had to do some tweaking after checking it out online.

I have always enjoyed creating stuff, and I suppose that's a trait you need to go all out at creating your own website. If you have a flair for this sort of thing and are a good copycat, you'll probably get a bang out of doing-it-yourself.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who'd Have Thought?

by Ben Small

Some of David Baldacci's Divine Justice Camel Club heroes fight illegal activities run from a small town mine. Terrible conspiracies, and just under the nose of federal inspectors and state officials. Big money. A good, suspenseful story, and I enjoyed the book, although I thought it stretched credibility a bit. How could such a wide conspiracy be run for so long without anyone involved in regulatory or law enforcement taking any notice? How wide must the conspiracy extend?

Yeah, right.

Well, as seems to be the case more and more these days, David could have stretched this plot-line even further and still run short of reality.

A Northern Mexico prison just got caught running hit man squads. Prisoners, many of them juveniles, supplied weapons and vehicles by prison officials and then sent on execution missions. Their last one? The birthday party massacre you heard about last week. One hundred twenty rounds fired; seventeen dead, eighteen more injured. The executioners shot wildly, striking guests and bystanders. All part of  the ongoing Mexican drug wars.

Don't believe me? Check out this link: Murder School. Or this one: NYT Report

Now, as a novelist, I think this is a great idea. Consider the coordination involved in such a project. How does one shut prisoners up? They're known for bragging about their exploits, known for turning on their co-conspirators or cell-mates. How did the director of this prison and his top three subordinates think they could keep their execution-for-rent operation quiet? Obviously, police and other governmental officials knew. These guys were for hire, cash on demand. C'mon, lots of people touched their nose and rubbed their fingers.

"A rival gang crossed a forbidden boundary? Someone didn't pay for their load? Need to pay a debt and don't have the funds available? Call Hector Gomez, Gomez Palacio Prison Director. Hector will dispatch your problemo and send a strong, clear message. Low rates, terms on arrangement. Quantity discounts. Pricing to fit any budget."

Would make a good TV ad, eh? Maybe some AKs going off in background, some blood spatter, maybe some subliminal stuff...

But take a look at this map:
Location of Mexican Hit Man Prison Execution Squads

Notice how close the prison (marked with the red "A") is to the U.S. Border, especially such border towns as Yuma and Mexacali. Just a short hop, around fifty miles, to interstate 8 and easy access to these cities, plus San Diego, Phoenix or Tucson. And lots of trails to the highway and a fence that can in spots be walked over, in others, crossed by ATV and ramp.

Mexico is at war with its drug lords, and we cannot secure our borders, a recipe both for a great novel and real tragedy. Somebody will write the novel; the tragedy, we're seeing play out along our borders every single day.

What are we to do?

I've got two suggestions: 1) Secure our border, and 2) Take the market away from the drug lords.

The first solution is obvious. Leaving our borders open invites tragedy, either continued growth of the drug and human smuggling cartels and gangs and their wars, or a terrorist sneaking some dirty bombs inside our country.

The second solution relates to simple economics. President Calderon has blamed the U.S. for its demand for drugs, saying truthfully that American money is driving these gangs into ever more outrageous, murderous conduct. Money talks. And the money here is buying marijuana, by far the largest percentage of goods smuggled over the border.

What if we legalized marijuana, regulated it and taxed the hell out of it?

California is reputed to grow the best marijuana in the world, and California is mired in a deficit crisis, as is the federal government. Some have estimated the value of California's marijuana crop in the hundreds of billion dollars. And that's while it's still illegal to grow the stuff in most areas. If we legalized pot, wouldn't we solve some of our budget woes and deprive our crooked southern neighbors of much of their oh-so-profitable market?

Look what the end of Prohibition did to alcohol smuggling.

Seriously, our scientists have studied the effects of marijuana for over seventy years. They've yet to find a reason to criminalize it beyond the effect originally intended by Wm Randolph Hearst when he funded its criminalization effort: to get rid of Mexicans.

Yeah, that plan worked well, didn't it?

I've seen plenty of aggressive drunks. Don't think I've ever seen an aggressive pothead.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Three Easy Pieces

By Pat Browning

Dusting off the keyboard, flexing your fingers, settling down to write your novel? Nothing to it, according to Vickie Britton: You just write a good beginning, a good middle and a good ending. On she lays it all out -- good advice from a Voice of Experience.

Vickie and her sister, Loretta Jackson, have co-authored more than thirty novels of mystery and suspense, published by Avalon, Zebra, Thorndike, FictionWorks, TrebleHeart Books, and Whiskey Creek. They have recently signed a contract with Mundania Press to publish THE CURSE OF SENMUT, the first book in the Ardis Cole Series, in electronic format and trade paperback.

They have a new 3-book Avalon Western series: The Devil's Game, The Fifth Ace, and The Wild Card. They also have a new Robert Hale mystery, Stone of Vengeance. Their novels Path of the Jaguar and Nightmare in Morocco, have been reprinted as Thorndike Large Print editions and have sold internationally. The sisters also have an audio series, The Ardis Cole Mystery Series, with Books in Motion.

The sisters' research has recently taken them to Peru, Russia, Egypt, and China. Among their titles, NIGHTMARE IN MOROCCO, KILLER OF EAGLES, and MEXICAN MYSTIQUE, have just been released in Scotland and Italy.

Vickie Britton lives in Hutchinson, Kansas with her husband, Roger, a geologist and computer consultant. Their son, Ed, lives in Denver and works as game level designer.

Loretta Jackson, former teacher of English and Creative Writing, lives in Junction City, Kansas.

You can read summaries of some of their books at

FIRST Chapter for Your Novel
Vickie Britton

The first chapter is the most important chapter in the book because it is the first sample of your writing your readers will see. It must have the power to draw them in and interest them in the rest of the book. The first chapter also determines the voice, tone, and atmosphere of the story.

Start with Conflict or a Point of Interest
While the first chapter doesn’t have to start with soap-opera drama, it must have enough action the interest the reader. Many writers choose to begin their story at a point of conflict such as at a place where the hero is in immediate danger. For example, the logical place to begin a mystery would be with the discovery of the body, not the detective commuting to work or reading the morning newspaper.

Providing Background Information
Many instructors habitually advise their students to throw away the first chapter. Should you? That depends. Many writers make the mistake of including far too much background information in the first chapter. This is because they are anxious to set the groundwork for the rest of novel. They want readers to know everything about their character from the start.

You need to start where the action begins, not with a lot of who, what and where explanation about your character and how he got in this mess. The first chapter should provide only the bare essentials of background information.

For example, it might be necessary for the reader to know where your hero lives, but not, at this point, where he went to school, how many kids he has, whether or not he gets along with his mother. These points can be introduced if and when they become pertinent to the story. Though additional information is necessary, it should not all be crowded into the first chapter. If there is too much explanation, most of it can be discarded, and what is essential should be threaded into to a later part of the book.

Now that you have gotten their interest, you must develop the first chapter by deepening the conflict. If you have started with a point of action, now is the time to bring into focus the details of the event, and the character’s reactions to the event.

End With a Question or Cliffhanger
Just as the first chapter begins with a bang, it should not end with a whimper. The final lines should pose a question that draws readers into the next chapter.

If your book is a mystery, have the detective discover an unusual lead or clue he plans to follow up on. If your story is a romance, cut the first chapter off at the point where the boy asks the girl for a date, not after the reader already knows her answer. If you are writing a thriller, stop the first chapter with the hero hanging on the ledge of the building, not after he has jumped to safety.

By the end of the first chapter the reader should
*be introduced to the main characters
*know where the story takes place
*have a feeling for the atmosphere of the book
*know the main problem or conflict
*experience some kind of mental or physical excitement

The Middle Chapters
Have you ever put a book down in the middle and never picked it up again? Books are often begun with a great burst of enthusiasm, but by the time the middle is reached, the excitement may have worn thin for both writer and reader. That is because the middle of the book is the longest section and often the most challenging part of a novel to write. What was once new and exciting runs the risk of becoming redundant and ho-hum boring. The writer must think of ways to keep the book entertaining to hold the reader’s interest to the end.

Keep it Exciting by Continually Upping the Ante
The middle is the place to up the ante. If the hero is at risk, make him more so. If he is in danger, make him sweat even more. For example, if your hero is a professional gambler and has risked his own money in the first chapter, in the middle get him into even more hot water by risking money from the boss’s safe or his wife’s private account. Now, if he loses again, he’s really got a problem.

Add a Totally New Event
Spice the middle up with an entirely new event. If you are writing a mystery, add a new murder. If another murder does not fit the storyline, then add a threat or warning. A sinister phone call, a death note, or the taking of a hostage can heighten the suspense and keep the reader interested.

Add an Unexpected Twist
A twist or surprise in the middle can be a pleasant diversion. Perhaps the hero has figured out that the source of all of his problems is the next-door neighbor. He goes to confront him, only to find the neighbor lying in a pool of blood. Everything he has thought up to now has been wrong. The hero must now re-think his angle and start from square one (plus, he must also now find out who murdered the neighbor.)

Further the Subplot
The middle is also the place to develop and deepen the subplot. Create interest in the romantic subplot by making the hero and heroine temporarily separated for some reason. Maybe the hero gets into an argument with his girlfriend or has a misunderstanding that is difficult to clear up. Keeping them estranged for a few chapters can liven up the middle of the book and generate reader interest.

Writing the middle can be a challenge. Creating new problems and events for the hero to face and overcome can help make the middle as entertaining as the rest of the book.
*Up the ante
*Add a totally new event
*Add an unexpected twist
*Further the subplot

Readers who have stayed with the book to the end deserve a reward -- a good ending. A satisfying ending is one that ties up all the loose ends in a logical manner and doesn't disappoint.

The Hero Should Solve his Own Problem
The resolution of the novel should logical and should, at least in part, be brought about by the hero’s quick wit, thinking or reaction. It is unfair to the reader to have the problem solved too easily, or by chance or circumstance. For example, if the hero is in a shootout with the bad guy, it would be disappointing if a brick suddenly fell from an overhead building and instantly killed the bad guy for him.

This would certainly make the hero’s day and solve his problem, but it is unsatisfying because the hero has done nothing toward saving his own life. It would be much better if the hero had made a plan in advance, perhaps rigged the brick so that it would fall, then lured the bad guy over to the spot where it will land. In any event, the hero should use his wits in some way to save his own life. His actions should make sense and be products of his own logic, not fate.

Resolve any Subplot
By the end of the book, any subplots, such as romantic subplots, should be resolved. If the hero has a fight with his girlfriend, do they reconcile or are they forever estranged? Other subplots that should be resolved by the end of the book are conflicts with family members or major life decisions.

Readers are interested in even small details about the hero or heroine. For example, in your novel the heroine might be looking for a new house to buy. This may be only a minor aside, yet the reader wants to know and will be disappointed if the heroine has not found and purchased her little cottage by the sea the end of the book. Keep them hanging until the end of the book, but not indefinitely.

Tie up all Loose Ends
“And they lived happily ever after.” It is customary for a novel, especially a genre novel, to have a happy ending, or end on a positive note. The ending is usually a time to assure the reader that all the wrongs have been righted.

However, a book does not absolutely have to have a happy ending. In fact, some of the greatest novels of literature end on an unhappy note. If your book does not have a happy conclusion, then it must be in some way satisfying. The hero must have grown or learned some valuable truth about himself. By the end of the book, the problem that plagued the hero should be resolved, one way or another. The hero should either be on his way to a happier life or have in some way come to terms with, and be at peace with, the decisions he has made.

End With a Strong Sentence
The ending is a good place to provide a kind of closure. What has the hero learned (or not learned) about himself? Has this experience made the hero a better person in some way? If possible, end with a deep thought or emotion.

In A Tale of Two Cities, when Sydney Carton commits the noble act of dying in another man’s place, the words "it is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done, it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known,” will stay with the reader long after the pages have closed. And who can forget the ending line of Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett O’Hara pronounces, “After all, tomorrow is another day!”

Tips for making a good ending:
*make sure the ending is logical
*the hero should solve his own problem
*resolve any subplot
*tie up all loose ends
*leave the reader with a strong sentence, thought or emotion
Read Vickie’s articles at: Suite


There you have it. So what am I waiting for?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Figurehead

by Jean Henry Mead

Bill Kirton's latest novel, The Figurehead, is the story of blackmail and murder set in Aberdeen, Scotland's shipbuilding industry, circa 1840. The body of a scheming, blackmailing shipwright is found on the beach and no one is surprised by the murder. Not even the shipbuilder's wife, who apparently has a lover and is included among the suspects who have been cheated, or cheated on, by the victim.

It's not the first body to be found on the beach, most of them seaman who have washed ashore. Because the police are indifferent, John Grant, a wood carver, usually winds up investigating the deaths on his own. When Grant gets involved in the crime, he's approached by a rich merchant, William Anderson, the employer of the murdered man, who commissions Grant to carve an image of his wife for the ship that has been named for her. During the process, Grant  falls in love with Anderson's daughter and discovers the plot that led to murder.

The author's extensive research is apparent in the details of shipbuilding as well as the moral fiber of people who lived during that period of Scottish history. A resident of Aberdeen, Kirton lightly weaves Scottish brogue into the fabric of the story--just enough to make the scenes authentic and pull the reader in. His characters are artfully drawn, particularly his female characters. I would give The Figurehead  a 5-star rating because it's beautifully written and leaves me wanting more.

Bill Kirton began his career as an English actor, playwright and broadcast script writer. He now balances his police procedural novels with promotional work for North Sea oil companies at his home in Aberdeen. He began writing playlets at the age of eleven. He said, "I used to enjoy writing things–mainly funny stories but also playlets--awful, awful things.I found one a few years back and while I suppose it was okay for someone of that age, it definitely didn’t show any early promise."

While in his mid-twenties he was invited to the newly opened Northcott Theatre in Exeter, England, because a BBC producer, on the strength of some scripts he'd sent him, told the director, the late Tony Church, that Kirton was a playwright. Chuch introduced him to his production team, saying "This is Bill Kirton. He’s a writer." Kirton said, "I’d never heard it said before and I haven’t forgotten the pleasure it gave me."

He wrote parodies of poetry for the school magazine and a couple of articles for the university newspaper but didn't received his first paycheck for his writing until he was 32. It was a radio play, "An Old Man and Some People," broadcast on Radio 3 and  Radio 4 by the BBC in 1971."I’ve had several more broadcasts since but, strangely, I think that was probably my best one."

He writes full-time because writing is also his day-job. He used to lecture in the French department of Aberdeen University, and also wrote for TV and radio, which led to writing scripts for safety programs, documentaries, brochures, promotional and educational material. Since moving from England to Scotland,  he found that North Sea oil companies needed scripts and press releases. "I was getting so much of that to do that I eventually took early retirement [from full  time work-for-hire] to concentrate on my writing.

"This balancing of writing fiction and hard commercial fact is interesting. I’m always aware that the commercial work is what earns the money but I’m always happier when I’m writing what I call my own stuff. The commercial material has its own rewards."

Writing police procedurals came about gradually. "I didn’t really have this mystical thing which whispered to me ‘you must write a police procedural’. It was much more prosaic than that. I’d written mainly stage and radio plays and the occasional short story and one day I read of a novel-writing competition. So I started writing a novel. And that in itself was interesting because, like most other people, I thought ‘Wow, a novel. That’s long. Quite an undertaking.’ But I soon realised the perhaps obvious truth–that you don’t ‘write a novel’, you write a few sentences, some paragraphs and, at the end of each day, the pile of pages is that much bigger. And, if you’re enjoying it, you eventually see that it’s actually looking like quite a substantial heap, so you’re determined to finish it."

Bill Kirton's recently released novel, The Figurehead can be found at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Giant Crane: The Power of Perception

by Beth Terrell

When I was about six years old, there was a story on the news about a little boy who had been killed by a crane. The kind of crane I was most familiar with was a long-legged, long-necked bird with white feathers. Although I knew they had sharp, powerful beaks, I couldn't imagine a normal crane having killed a child, so I knew it must have been an abnormally gigantic one. I imagined something along the lines of a feathered, long-legged teradactyl. And since it had killed a little boy, it must have been abnormally viscious as well. Cranes, I knew, were fish-eaters, but somehow, this one must have acquired a taste for human flesh. It didn't occur to me that the boy might have provoked the crane. I figured the newscaster would have mentioned a thing like that, so I was convinced that the bird was some sort of monstrous mutation, like you might see in an old Godzilla movie. Maybe it had been exposed to radiation; everybody knew how radiation could make lizards and ants--and, presumably cranes--grow to enormous sizes and turn them into savage killers.

For weeks, when I played outside, I kept an eye on the sky. I stayed under awnings and in the shadows of trees, and when I had to cross open ground, I ran as fast as I could to the next bit of shelter, expecting the long shadow of the teradactyl/crane to fall across me at any minute. When we drove out to visit my cousins in the country, I sat in the back seat and watched out the window for a glimpse of it. As soon as the car stopped, I scurried for the safety of the trees. I don't remember ever telling my mother about my fears. I just spent my days watching for the crane and planning my escape from it.

The crane never appeared, and eventually, I began to forget to look for it. It had moved on, I supposed. Found another hunting ground. There were no more reports of dead children. The world began to feel safe again.

Many years later, something jogged my memory and I remembered my fear of the giant crane and the news story that had prompted it. For the first time, it occurred to me that the child had probably not been killed by a bird at all. The child had probably wandered onto a construction site and been crushed by a piece of heavy machinery; a mechanical crane that had either run over the child or accidentally dropped something on him. That story took on a whole new meaning. It was tragic, but no longer terrifying. The event had not changed--a child had been killed by a crane--but my perception of it had.

Perception matters a lot for a writer. It determines the themes of our novels and the actions of our protagonists. It also affects our professional lives. Imagine two writers, Writer A and Writer B. Both have completed manuscripts. Both are equally talented. Both have read about the submission process and have sent out their first queries, along with a synopsis and sample pages.

Writer A receives a rejection and perceives it as a personal affront. "That agent is just jealous," Writer A says. "If he could write half as well as I can, he would be a bestselling author instead of an agent. It's a conspiracy by the stupid people in the publishing business to publish drivel and keep works of astonishing genius from seeing the light of day." Writer A writes a blog post blasting the agent who rejected him before sending out his submission package the same day. As he drops it into the mail slot, he mutters to himself, "Let's see if this one has sense enough to recognize the next blockbuster when she reads it. I doubt it, though. If you don't know somebody in this business, you don't stand a chance."

Writer B receives a rejection and perceives it as an indication that his work did not meet that agent's current needs. "I wonder if there was a problem with the query or the synopsis," Writer B says. "Is my writing as strong as it needs to be, or is this just not a good match for this agent at this time?" Writer B rereads his submission package with a critical eye, makes edits as needed, and sends it out to another agent (whom he has carefully researched and found to be a likely match). "I hope she likes it," Writer B says, "but if she doesn't, it's not the right match." Writer B perceives each rejection as an opportunity to improve his writing and as a step closer to the agent of his dreams.

Which writer is more likely to see his work in print?

The greatest difference between these two writers is perception. But what a difference perception makes! It can be the difference between fearing a teradactyl-crane and understanding a tragedy. It can be the difference between a bitter existance and achieving a dream.

How do your perceptions affect you and your writing?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Black and White

By Mark W. Danielson

If darkness is the absence of color, white is complete color, and a rainbow is the breakdown of color, then what we see in life is everything in between. Some people refer to this as the gray area, but that definition is more rhetorical than factual. Still, it is the gray area that writers must illuminate.

Many years ago, one particularly good art teacher pointed out that there is no black in life, unless one was referring to complete darkness. Shading is created by removing color. A setting sun does this until all definition is gone. To the artist, shading is accomplished by using darker versions of the original color. The sharpness of a line depends on the distance in which it’s viewed. The same holds true for a color’s boldness.

Applying this principle to writing, backgrounds are normally a glimmer of the foreground, yet just like a painting, neither is effective if they don’t compliment each other.

Artists and writers are visual people who see things that others gloss over. But problems arise when inexperienced writers overstate. There is no reason to use paragraphs and pages to describe a setting. In most cases, less is more. Adjectives can be a detriment. Well chosen words allow the reader to create their own version of the scene.

Writing encompasses one other element that paintings cannot. A scene cannot be complete without sound. In Michael Crichton’s Timeline, one of his most powerful scenes is the absence of sound after his protagonist traveled back in time. There are no planes, trains, or automobile background noise, and suddenly, the sound of racing hoofs grows louder. Whether it’s a trickle of rain on the roof or a vehicle’s exhaust, adding sound to your setting is critical.

Readers are conditioned to think of black and white in terms of race, but even there, skin color is an interpretation that is oversimplified by stereotypes. The whitest albino still has tone, as does the blackest black. A Native American is hardly red, nor are Japanese yellow. With this in mind, you are probably better off addressing a character’s physical features than labeling them in a particular category.

Our world is full of color, and it’s a writer’s responsibility to ensure their readers share it. Keep it simple and appropriate to the scene and everything will come together.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

10 Tips for a (Bad) Book Signing

By Chester Campbell

I've been doing signings all over the place since my first book came out in 2002. With number six set to debut the middle of September, I've scheduled a book launch party at Nashville's friendliest bookstore, Mysteries & More. It got me to thinking about this curious business of autographing books. Frankly, I'm not an autograph collector. I don't care if a book I want to read is signed or not. If I buy one at an author signing, or course, I get a name scrawled on it to make the guy or gal who wrote it happy.

Over the years, I've learned a lot about what to do and what isn't advisable. I thought I'd compile my list of things not to do when taking part in a book signing.

1. Particularly in the summertime, people tend to dress rather sloppily when they go shopping. You can make them feel right at home by wearing shorts and a colorful tee shirt, maybe one with Budweiser on the back. Oh, and your bare feet should be covered by sandals.

2. When you arrive at the store, they should have a table set up near the entrance with your books stacked on it. If you don't find it, ask for the manager and raise hell. That'll let 'em know you're no novice at this business who can be ignored and relegated to the back of the stacks.

3. If it's a store with a cafe, tell them to bring you a big cup of coffee and one of those monster chocolate cookies. It'll be nice to munch on while chatting with readers.

4. If they have a speaker system, tell them to announce your presence as the famous, award-winner author Your Name. If you haven't won any awards, make up a couple like the Pew Lizzer Prize or the National Bulk Award. Stores love to host big-name authors.

5. Sit behind your table with a look of determination. If people try to pass by turning the other way, give 'em a shout. "Hey, buddy (or "ma'am," be polite with the ladies), do you read books?" You'll be surprised how many don't, but refuse to let that discourage you. Insist they read yours.

6. Should the crowd be slim, chide the manager for not doing enough to promote your appearance. They love assertive authors.

7. When you ask people if they read mysteries, a few are bound to say, "My life is a mystery." Laugh and reply, "It's probably a crime that's never been exposed." They'll think you're a latter-day Don Rickles.

9. If all else fails, buttonhole customers as they come into the store and shove a book into their hands. Say, "You'll love this book. How do you ant it signed?" You may get a few books thrown in your face as not all people are connoisseurs. Don't let it rattle you.

10. If you don't sell many books, tell the manager you could have done better at the store down the street. A little competition should keep them on their toes.

Do signings this way and you won't be bothered by store people insisting that you come back. Or do it the opposite way and have a ball.

Visit my newly-revised website HERE.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Death in the Arizona Desert: The Untold Story

by Ben Small

We hear about the Arizona-Texas shootings, bombs and other mayhem along the Mexican border, but rarely do we consider another tragic aspect of our failure to secure our southern borders: death by exposure. Last year, from October, 2009 to the beginning of March, 2010, over eighty-five illegals died from desert exposure, an increase of over sixty percent from the year before.

And that was during winter.

One doesn't usually consider death by desert exposure during the winter months. People forget, the desert is dry -- little water available -- and night temperatures can reach well below freezing.

And what about summer deaths, the Sonoran Desert's most treacherous season? From July 1 - July 15 this year, over forty bodies dead from exposure were found in Tucson's Pima County, all recent deaths. Final figures won't be available for Cochise or other counties south of Tucson for awhile.

It takes time to find the stink, and there's a lot of ground to cover.

And this is just death of illegals dealt by Mother Nature alone. These figures don't count drug war victims shot by border patrol officers or by bandits waiting in the hills; it doesn't include those who die during home invasions or on the highways, like inside sweltering smugglers' trucks, vans or eighteen wheelers.

The Sonoran desert lies beneath a relentless sun. Temperatures well over a hundred. And water is sparse. You lose moisture breathing.

Environmentalists stopped the fence project, complaining wildlife wouldn't be free to meander. Evidently, the Feds rate keeping coyotes, rattlers and rabbits happy over saving human lives. The Department of Interior won't allow Border Patrol agents access to some federal forests.

At some parts of what passes for a border fence, a handicapped person could cross.  Crawl or climb, your choice. Or maybe somebody will lift you.

Yup. Death by exposure in the Arizona desert is headed for a record toll.

Imagine yourself in this circumstance: sweltering under a bush, your tongue swollen and black. You struggle for breath. You're withering; you feel yourself desiccating by the moment. There's no relief from the sun's burning grip. Even the winds blow like a blast furnace. You know that your body may never be found, that family may never learn your fate; or, if they left you behind, you know they will always be haunted by guilt. Or maybe a rattlesnake got you and you're wracked in pain, as its poison shuts down and eats your muscular system -- or in the case of the Green Movave -- paralyzes your neurological system, too. 

The death toll from having an insecure border rises each year. In all, we're talking thousands of lives.

And these statistics fail to include the number of illegals rescued from the desert by the border patrol or local ranchers. Those numbers are in the thousands, too, and they go up every year.

Rather than devising means to secure our borders -- the particularly lax Arizona border, especially -- the Obama Administration would prefer to talk Immigration reform and fight in court Arizona's efforts to enforce federal immigration law on its own border.

Does a state have the right to protect itself from those who would invade it?

Why are Congress and Obama doing this? Because they want the Hispanic vote. Simple as that. They'd rather swell the voter rolls with amnestied former illegals than close the border off.

Amnesty means votes, and votes are all that matter. So what if there's collateral damage? So what if some of the people whose votes they're enticing die in their desperate attempts to get here and fall under the Fed's protective umbrella? And so what if the Border Patrol must allocate time and money to the thousands of desert rescue efforts yearly? Consider the manpower requirements associated with our vast borders; the cost of the ambulances and free emergency care.

Talking about a broad Immigration policy that includes some form of amnesty when one cannot secure one's borders just encourages illegal aliens to take the crossing-risk and hazard a long journey through a scorching or frozen desert. The rewards are citizenship, the right to vote and free health care. Heck, cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Fe and Albuquerque offer themselves up as "Sanctuary Cities."

If I were an illegal fleeing Mexico, I'd be tempted to give the Sonoran Desert a shot. Just pack a couple water bottles, eh?

And if Congress passes an Immigration Reform package and the border is still insecure...well, think about it. All we'll accomplish is to encourage a new wave of illegals. We've done this before.

An immigration reform package will do nothing to stop the money, human and drug smuggling operations of the Mexican drug lords. Mexico is under siege and its drug gangs are setting up shop in this country. Mexicans are fleeing Mexico, desperate to escape the daily gang battles, poverty, treachery and corruption.

Our insecure border is costing lives.

We talk about the horrors of water-boarding and Abu Ghraib and GitMo. We say those activities are inhumane, even if conducted against someone who's planning to kill us. Torture, we call these things. But what about leaders who are willing to tempt illegals to cross our deserts, knowing that a large number of them won't make it, that their bodies will rot and become bounty for birds, bugs and four-legged predators?

And why? Because they want the Hispanic vote, of course. Racism from another angle, maybe? Who knows? But is this "change we can believe in?"

It's ridiculous to talk about meaningful immigration reform or amnesty while our borders are woefully insecure. Until we have secure borders, we encourage people to risk their lives, and we give those terrorists who live to strike at the heart of America an avenue to smuggle in their dirty bombs, suitcase nukes and biological weapons. While some of these bad guys may die of desert exposure in the searing sun or unprotected cold, others will survive to carry out their dark, destructive plans. It's just a matter of time...

So maybe our politicians should think less about politics, and more about humanity and protection of the Homeland.

Seems simple enough to me. But then I live in Arizona, and I see and hear about these tragedies every day.

It's time our president stepped up and took control of our border. If, as Eric Holder's Justice Department argued in Phoenix federal court proceedings two weeks ago, Immigration control is exclusively within the province of the federal government, then the Feds should do their job. Instead, however, the Feds are obstructing Arizona from protecting itself, and are threatening to refuse to cooperate in the handling of those illegals Arizona saves or captures. The Dept. of the Interior won't even give our Border Patrol agents access to its borderline forests.

It's all about votes, folks. Notions of humanity and protection of those who are already citizens don't seem to count. If they did, these problems would have been solved a long time ago.

Watch the videos here:


KVOA Report, 7-19-10

KVOA Report, Part 2

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Real World of Sharon Ervin

I enjoyed my own Sharon Ervin “book festival” in June, reading all three of her Jancy Dewhurst romantic suspense novels, bam-bam-bam, one right after the other. A quick backtrack here to explain:

I graduated from a small rural high school during World War II, which meant no tires and no gas for a real senior trip. My class of 13 rode a school bus to nearby McAlester, site of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, generally referred to in those days as “the pen.” We went inside and looked at the electric chair. We toured the Woolworth’s store, where I bought a ring for a dime.

You don’t forget such an outing if you live to be 100, so my curiosity was piqued when I learned that Sharon Ervin lives in McAlester, population about 18,000. The town gets its name from J.J. McAlester, who was immortalized as a character in the novel TRUE GRIT, which was then made into a movie starring John Wayne.

McAlester is still a small town. Is Sharon a celebrity or do people take her career in stride? A little of both. Did she set her books in McAlester? Not really, but close by.

There’s a saying in the military world: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” In the world of journalism, it might be said: “Once a reporter, always a reporter.” Sharon had an extensive career as a reporter/editor before marriage. In our e-mail exchange, she wrote:

“My husband Bill, a lawyer … doesn't read fiction of any ilk. He absolutely didn't want to read mine; was afraid he would comment and inhibit. Eventually, he did listen to Ribbons (THE RIBBON MURDERS) when it went on audio, as we traveled. Bottom line: he thinks I am less fiction writer than reporter. He recognized many scenes, characters and dialogue. Well, a girl has to start some place.”

Sharon sent me a copy of CANDLESTICKS, published in June by Five Star and third in her Jancy Dewhurst series. My local library has a copy of THE RIBBON MURDERS, first in the series. I decided to start there and work my way through.

THE RIBBON MURDERS involves the bodies of men found with ribbons tied around their male organs. As far as I know it’s unique among murder mysteries. The murders aside, I identified with the down-home setting, the small newsroom, the helpful, no- nonsense county sheriff. I e-mailed Sharon to ask if her fictional town of “Bishop” is really McAlester.

Turns out it’s really Norman, home of the University of Oklahoma, where Sharon earned her journalism degree. Her e-mail illustrates that Sharon writes “faction” – a mix of fact and fiction:

“A young woman (forty-ish) came into Full Circle at a signing on THE RIBBON MURDERS and had recognized Bishop. She laughed and said she also had known former Cleveland County Sheriff Bill Porter, my model for Sheriff Dudley Roundtree. She said I had nailed him. We whooped as we remembered Porter and his wife, Chris, both colorful characters in real life. Porter took me to my first homicide scene out on a county road between Norman, Moore and OKC back in 1966 or so, then wouldn't let me get out of his car until the nude body was properly covered. Thirty officers there couldn't figure out whose jurisdiction we were in. I used it all in Ribbons.”

Sharon’s second book, MURDER ABOARD THE CHOCTAW GAMBLER, is much darker and I found the violence a little disturbing. The “factional” CHOCTAW GAMBLER is a casino, a 4-deck replica of a paddlewheel showboat built on a permanent foundation and rigged so that water runs over the paddlewheel to make it look like it’s turning.

The story opens with the murder of an itinerant croupier, possibly shot by mistake because he resembles casino owner Jesse Chase. A likely suspect is G.C Gideon III, former friend and partner who owes the casino a huge debt. Playing both ends against the middle is a thug named Bubba Valentine. He’s G.C.’s bodyguard and lifelong friend but handles dirty business for Chase.

The deceptively minor murder of the croupier is a harbinger of things to come. What follows literally copies the infamous 1970 Mullendore murder in Osage County. When Sharon says Osage County has a “rough reputation” that’s an understatement.

As described in “Osage County History” by Jenk Jones, Jr.: The Osage is the largest county in Oklahoma, larger than either Delaware or Rhode Island. The “Four Pillars of the Osage” are the Indian tribe itself and the county’s history of oil, cattle and outlaws. In the pioneer towns could be found the “Four Bs” of oilfield living: Baptists, bootlegger, bar and bordello. (The full article is at

The huge Mullendore ranch is partly in Osage County and partly in Washington County, as is the city of Bartlesville where Sharon and her husband Bill were living in 1969. Her e-mails to me detail the real murder and how it relates to her book. She writes:

“Bubba Valentine is Chub Anderson, who was E.C. Mullendore's body guard when E.C. was shot and killed on his Osage County ranch in 1969 (sic). We were living in Bartlesville in 1969. Bill was an assistant D.A. I met E.C. several months before his death when Tulsa World Managing Editor Travis Walsh asked me to run records on rumors that the Mullendore Ranch was going under. Jancy's experience at the ranch was my own, almost verbatim.

“Travis called me again the morning "one of the Mullendores" was murdered. I agreed to cover the story, but Bill flatly refused to let me go, since we didn't know if the victim was Gene (E.C.'s dad), or E.C. (who) had scared me to death that afternoon at the ranch.

“Chub's story was that a black limo cruised up to the house where he and E.C. were staying; that he was upstairs running E.C. a bath when unknown persons fired dozens of rounds at E.C., killing him. Sheriff George Wayman and I doubted Chub's story. There were several fishy details. I called and Chub agreed to an interview. My actual 'interview with Chub' is precisely what happened in Jancy's interview with Bubba's mother.”

The Mullendore murder is still unsolved and still “hot” 40 years after it happened. Chub is still Suspect No. 1 but he’s not talking and nobody is pushing him. Sharon’s next e-mail brought me up to date:

“Chub Anderson disappeared before his second or third trial for the alleged murder of his best friend and employer, E.C. Mullendore. Newspapers reported that he was picked up just over a year ago on an Oklahoma warrant in Michigan, I believe. They brought him back here for trial, but witnesses were gone and he was (and is) on dialysis three days a week. He refused to talk to anyone about the Mullendore thing, then asked for a private meeting with former Osage County Sheriff George Wayman.

“They visited privately for more than two hours, according to news accounts. Afterward, neither of them would talk to news people or prosecutors. I figure Wayman's (and my) original take on the case was accurate (as described in GAMBLER) and Chub just wanted to clarify any questions Wayman had. Both are affable guys.

"Officials apparently would not allow Chub to live in Oklahoma. He lives across the state line in Kansas now. Although there is no statute of limitations on murder, apparently his kidneys are failing and he's in bad shape. Maybe just desserts.

“Following press releases when GAMBLER was published, several people came to book signings because they had known E.C. or his dad and recognized the case. Many of them shared their own theories of his death. The case remains officially 'unsolved.' Truth is stranger than fiction, you know. Cops and sheriffs can tell you riveting tales.”

There’s something reminiscent of the old Code of The West in all this. Sheriff tells the bad guy: “Waaaaal … we cain’t hang ya so just get outta town … on the horse you rode in on.”

You can read excerpts from all of Sharon’s books at her web site.

On her web site she has this to say about life in Oklahoma and why she writes:

“Life is comfortable here and familiar. America’s heartland is richly blessed with fictional characters. Critics say I write good dialogue. That’s because I eavesdrop. A lot. I am attuned to the thrum of life around me, like the rat-ta-tat-tat which, though it does not carry the tune, enriches the music of the carousel. And that thrum compels me to write books about the undercurrents in life which drive us. They are neither social commentaries, nor texts. They are, rather, the books of my heart.”
Prison photo from

Friday, July 16, 2010

Writing Advice from Editor Helen Ginger

Helen Ginger is a freelance editor based in Austin, Texas. A book consultant and writer with three nonfiction books to her credit, she hosts a popular blog, Straight From Hel. She also teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her ezine, Doing It Write!, goes out to subscribers around the globe. It's now in its eleventh year of publication. She's also an owner/partner and the Women’s Marketing Director for Legends In Our Own Minds® as well as serving as executive director of the Writers' League of Texas from 2003-2005. Helen is currently committee chair for the Texas Book Festival, and volunteers as a gift wrapper for the Bess Whitehead Scott Scholarship fund.

Helen, what have you found to be the worst mistakes writers make, whether novice or experienced?

A common mistake novice writers make is to start the story by settling the readers into the book’s “world.”

For example, the writer puts us into the head of John who’s in Cabo San Lucas on a fishing excursion. He’s sitting at the back of the boat, fishing pole in hand, waiting for a tuna to latch onto his bait. His best friend, Jack, stands beside him. They watch the water and talk about how long John has wanted to go on this trip and how they’ll ship the tuna back to the States. John anchors the pole and walks around the deck to loosen his tense muscles, then grabs a beer before buckling himself back into his seat. They stare out at the water frothing behind the boat and John licks his lips, tasting the salt in the air.

By this time, readers have fallen asleep and agents have already tossed aside the manuscript. Sure, all that lets your readers see the setting, smell the water, know John, but what good is it if they don’t continue reading? It used to be that you had the first chapter to hook your reader. Then it was the first page. Then the first paragraph. Now it’s the first sentence. Okay, I’ll give you the first page to hook us, but from the opening sentence you better give us a tingle that says, something’s going on here, keep reading. By the end of the first page, you want the reader to quickly turn the page and read on.

Writers may not like it when they turn to page 16 and find a note from me that says, This is where your book starts. But that’s better than getting a rejection from an agent that says, Not for me.

What in your background prepared you to edit other writer's work?

Like most writers, I’ve written since I was a child. In college, I double majored with Bachelor degrees in English and in Speech Communication, and a Master’s in Oral Interpretation. I also worked as a grader and assistant for my English prof, Dr. Steadman.

It’s easy to see how the English degrees factor into editing. The Speech degrees taught me how to hear the words, not just write them, to understand how sentences are put together to create a flow, a rhythm, and how to construct pictures through words.

In addition to being in many critique groups, both small and large, I started a screenwriting critique group of working screenwriters. Screenwriting is a great way to practice writing dialogue. You have to get down to the core of expressing hidden meaning and coming up with the fewest words possible to convey what you need to get across.

I’ve been editing writers for years. Most of the time working via email. I also have started doing one-on-one coaching for beginning writers.

Does anyone edit your work? And does every writer need an independent editor?

I don’t belong to a formal critique group anymore, but I do have others who edit my work. Several of my friends are willing to read for me. I don’t usually ask them until I feel it’s ready to go to an agent since most of them are published authors who have their own deadlines and projects. I can trust them to tell me what works, what doesn’t, what sucks and what sings.

In my opinion, every writer needs an independent editor. Even best-selling authors have a house editor who bleeds on their manuscripts. Don’t ever think it only happens to new writers. If what you want is someone who will say they love your manuscript and you shouldn’t change a word, you can find someone to boost your ego that way. But when your book comes out with mistakes and problems, you’re going to lose readers and sales, both with that book and future books.

Whether you’re self-publishing or working with a small or big press, you need an editor.

Which types of books do you write and do you travel to promote them?

I have three books with TSTC Publishing. All non-fiction, all in their TechCareers series. Texas State Technical College (TSTC) hires writers to produce books for each career they teach. The research for each book is intense, since the timeline is short and the information broad. Included is the outlook for the career, all the schools in the U.S. that teach that career and what classes have to be taken for the degrees, and twelve to sixteen interviews and profiles with people in those careers across the U.S. and, in some cases, other countries. For each book, I have a four-inch notebook filled with research as well as hours of tapes.

I started by contributing interviews and profiles for Biomedical Equipment Technicians, then signed on to do three on my own: Automotive Technicians, Avionics, and Computer Gaming. My name is on the books, but I receive no royalties, since these were Work for Hire books. Although I don’t travel to promote them, I’m proud to have them on my bio and website.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Three things: Write, Learn, Share.

To be a writer, you have to write. If you can do a thousand words a day, write them. If you only have time to do fifty words on the train to work, write them. If you have no time to write, turn off the TV … and write.

To be a published writer, you have to learn. You have to learn to be a better writer, through practice, advice, editing, classes, tutoring, critiques, books, reading, mistakes, and successes. You have to learn to promote yourself. That means developing a platform, before you’re published, and building an online presence through a blog, a website, and social networking sites, and expanding your bio with contest wins, or published short stories and articles, or other ways to build your credibility. You need to be filling folders on your computer with information you gather about agents and small presses, bookstores and libraries, online sites, and other bloggers who can help you when you need to put together a virtual book tour.

To be a selling writer, you have to share. Yourself. Your time. Your knowledge. You share via your blog or your comments on other blogs. It’s a win-win. You learn as you share. And those you share with learn from you and about you. The more someone knows and connects with you, the more likely they are to buy your book when it comes out. At the same time, you’re meeting new friends, people who can help you, not just by buying your book, but possibly recommending an agent or an editor, or offering to read your manuscript or write a blurb for you, or encouraging you when you’re down and having trouble writing.

Do these things now. Don’t wait until that magical day in the future when you’ll be published. Develop relationships and skills as you grow from an aspiring writer to a best-selling author.

Questions for the editor? Helen will be here all day to answer them for you.

Helen's website: Helen Ginger
Her blog: Straight From Hel