Monday, May 28, 2012

Rotten Reviews and Rejections

As authors we always hate bad reviews and rejections. There is a small book that helps put this issue in perspective, aptly titled, Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections, edited by Andre Bernard and Bill Henderson. Here’s a sampling to let you know that you’re not alone, and even famous authors must face the same indignities:


Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert: “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: “The most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life.”


The Good Earth by Pearl Buck: “Regret the American public is not interested in anything on China.”

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie: “It is very interesting and has several good points, but it is not quite suitable for our list.”

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: “Neither long enough for a serial nor short enough for a single story.”

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence: “For your own good do not publish this book.”

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: “It is badly written and the hero is unsympathetic.”

And to Think I saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss: “. . . too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of the Indian stuff.”

So take heart—when you become famous, you can tout your rotten reviews and rejections.

Mike Befeler

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Writer's Block

by June Shaw Do you often get what's commonly called writer's block? Just what is this thing? What causes it? Can you do anything about it? Let's take a look. A writer may feel blocked when unable to get ideas for starting a new work. What should the title be? A perfect title needs to come first, you know. And then the first sentence has to grab the reader--right? And the first paragraph. And that first page must have the reader--hopefully a top agent or editor--breathlessly flipping to the next page to see what happens next. We must keep up this tempo for the first five pages at the absolute minumum. After that, the entire first chapter must sing. Whew. You're rolling along. Now it's time to start your second chapter--Wait, should you write Chapter 2 or CHAPTER 2 or just 2 or give it a name? Who cares right now? Just write CHAPTER if you arent't sure and keep moving. Your second chapter needs to sing from the start to keep your reader going along with you. Then, of course,you'll need to keep up this tempo and keep your reader with you till the end. Your story's twists have to be perfect and take the reader in another direction. Keep surprises going. Oh, and I forgot to mention you need to make us care about your protagonist from the first word almost and he or she must have flaws. And then .... Okay, so all of these things will help make your work successful. But if you're going to stop and think about each of them from the start of every new work--and you can't get going until you've gotten them all straight.... I don't know about you, but all of this overload when I'm trying to begin any new work would make me stall or even not want to start. Sure, that might be called writer's block. It's a problem many writers face. We learn a lot about our writing craft today. But we can't stop to think about getting each work and sentence and phrase perfect. That's what rewriting is about. When you rewrite a work you can decide to throw out the first sentence or page or make the second chapter your first. You can see where your work needs a twist or surprise and discover how a different character in your book might make a better killer. Or love interest. Or needs to be thrown out. Those who are good at outlining everything and then going right to work on the book may be able to have all of the details figured out from day one. Most of us, though, need to know that our words might not be perfect, but we need to write them. We need to sit and start writing and keep things flowing. We can and should make changes later. There. That's my suggestion for today about what to do if you have writer's block. Actually, when I sat down to create a post for our blog today, I had absolutely no idea what topic I'd write about. This is probobably the longest post I've written. It must be my magic chair and my magic keyboard. I usually find that when I sit in this came chair and set my fingers on this same keyboard, words flow. They certainly aren't perfect, but then neither am I. I did, however, come up with some advice that might help someone. And that's one of the main purposes of writing (oops, I mean getting past writer's block:) Good luck with your work! I'd love to know what other suggestions you might have to pass on to others about what you do when your ideas are blocked. Thanks! June

Thursday, May 24, 2012


By Jackie King

Parents who struggle to find that just right name for their baby have something in common with writers. The difference is that writers have to choose both first and last names for their myriad of fictional children. Sometimes this naming process becomes vexing. (Forgive me if my words seem to slip into an earlier period in history. I sometimes write romantic mysteries set in the 1890’s.)

Different names are popular at different periods in time. (If anyone understands why this happens, please let me know.) For instance, when my oldest daughter was naming her baby, she and husband Rick settled on the name, Lauren. This moniker seemed to jump right out at us from the pages of the baby book, and none of us knew a Lauren at that time. But as if by magic (or universal thought or whatever), when our Lauren went to pre-school, her class was over-populated with Laurens.

Because of this phenomenon, the age of a character must be considered when choosing a name. It wouldn’t do to name a 65-year-old woman, Tiffany. If this character is a bit ditzy, or earthy, or funny, she could be named Lizzy; if she is serious minded, Elizabeth or Beth, would be better.

Character names can even influence the progress of an author’s novel. Sometimes names spring to mind easily, as if arising from ether. The name fits so well that the character seems to develop with little help from the writer. This is one of the mysteries and of the magic of writing.

At other times, even though you see the character clearly in your imagination—no name seems to suit. In desperation you pick a ‘do-for’ name, knowing that appellation will annoy both you and your character. This inappropriate name can even taint your story. It’s as if the character is pouting until you can do better.

Such a dilemma happened to me with novella, titled THE GHOST WHO WOULDN’T SKEDDADLE. (Published in the anthology THE FOXY HENS GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT.) I needed a name for a character who gambled. First I called him Gregory, which was soooo wrong. I did a search and find and changed him to, “Mr. Card Sharp.” Neither he nor I minded this change, while I looked through baby name books, the phone book, and the credit lines of movies. Finally I settled on Slick O’Reilly, which worked. It’s important to find that just right name.

I can remember wrong-sounding character names in books I have read. In The Thorn Birds by Coleen McCullough, the male character’s first name was Ralph. He was a handsome priest drawn into forbidden love. (What a wonderful premise—I love unrequited love. But Ralph?) This name never worked for me and I couldn’t understand such a name was chosen.

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novella by Truman Capote, whose main character was first named Lulamae Barnes. A pretty good name for this character, but yet not quite right. (Capote was a perfectionist.) Her final name was Holiday (“Holly”) Golightly. This was a perfect name for the character later played by Audrey Hepburn in the movie classic. I’m so glad it was changed.

In my mystery THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE, I first named my protagonist, Gage Cassidy, and then later changed it to Grace Cassidy, which seemed to suit the character better.

If you’re curious about how this story goes, here’s the first paragraph:

“Grace Cassidy stared at the stranger’s body. He was about sixty, pot-bellied, naked, and very dead. She knew he was dead because his skin was the color of concrete. Worst of all, he was lying smack dab in the middle of her bed.”

Thanks to everyone who stopped by. Check me out on my website:

I’m also on Facebook under Jacqueline King and I’d love it if you friended me.


Jackie King

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Moving Story

By Mark W. Danielson

There are two times when everything you’ve stashed over your lifetime is reviewed.  First, when you are attempting to reduce the clutter when moving to another destination.  Second, when loved ones sort through your items when you’ve departed.  Currently, Lyne and I have been completing the first stage as we prepare to leave Colorado for Texas. 

Six years ago, when we combined our households, we each had volumes of collectables and kid things.  At the time, we both sorted through things, deciding what was important and what we could part with.  Even so, we still had enough to fill every storage area.  Now that we are moving, it was time to re-evaluate everything.  No doubt we still have more than we need, but we both gave up plenty to make our downsizing manageable.

Over the years, I have written numerous novels that I have never attempted to publish.  I knew some of them were in hard copy and it was nice discovering them again.  Perhaps one day I will give them a re-look to decide whether I want to publish them, but for now they will remain locked away.  Thankfully, these manuscripts were still fresh with no mice markings or chewed edges.  I also found manuscripts on a variety of storage devices including gigantic 860 floppy disks, next generation floppy disks, CDs, and flash drives.  The problem is I found so many that I’m not sure which ones were “final” versions.  Thankfully, my cataloging has improved since then.

At times my eyes welled as I came across certain personal effects.  An angel ornament of my former dog, kid photos destroyed by a water spill, old Father’s Day cards, drawings and stories from my daughters all brought vivid memories, and as good as it was to re-live this journey through the past, it’s time to move forward.

On June first, Lyne and I will be moving into a rental house where we will stay until the house we’ve been designing for the past two years is built.  We have owned land near Fort Worth for several years, so it will be nice to finally live on it.  Texas will be a fresh start for us.  We will meet new friends and stay in touch with old ones.  Even so, it won’t be easy watching our Colorado home shrink in our rear-view mirror. 

I was living in Lubbock, Texas, in the late ’70’s when Mac Davis sang, “Happiness is Lubbock Texas in my rear view mirror.”  I shared his sentiments when I left Lubbock for California, and felt the same way when I left Beeville, Texas, for California a second time.  Oddly, I never felt that when I left Arlington, Texas, for Colorado.  I’ve lived all over Texas, and my kids spent their formative years in the Fort Worth area, so for me, moving to Granbury is like coming home.  Lyne has never lived there, but is the most adaptable person I know.  Our new house is surrounded by water and backs up to a runway so when it’s completed, we will be able to drop our boat in the water in minutes, or open the hangar door and take off without having to drive anywhere.  We’ll be surrounded by horses and cattle, yet only be thirty minutes from downtown Fort Worth.  While it can be hotter than hell in the summer, the odds of shoveling snow in the winter are minimal.  Lyne has a variety of projects in work and I will be retiring in three years, so we are both looking forward to this lifestyle change.

My current Maxx Watts detective series is set in Fort Worth for good reason.  Not only does this city suit his character, Fort Worth offers plenty of inspiration.  Like Maxx, Lyne and I look forward to adventure what the area has to offer.  Hopefully, our lives will be quieter than Maxx and his partner.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Play’s the Thing

I’ve written, directed and acted in lots of stage and radio plays, at amateur and professional levels. I’ve also translated Molière and worked with theatre students in the UK and the USA. Without exception, my attitude to and understanding of each play, including those which I’d written myself, were altered by what the various people collaborating in the production brought to it and made of it.

So the first bit of advice I offer to anyone who wants to write a play is to get some experience of the rehearsal process beforehand. Unlike novels and stories, where it’s just you and the reader, plays are organic things which change and develop according to the interpretations and insights of the director and actors, and the physical presence, voice and personality that each actor brings to his/her role. That doesn’t mean that you submit your script and anticipate that, at the end of rehearsals, your characters will be using completely different words from the ones you wrote, but it does mean that you may have to defend or adapt them as the words become flesh. Don’t be surprised if your baby grows into something which may be different from what you envisaged. During the recording of my first ever radio play, I heard the director telling an actor something about his character which hadn’t occurred to me as I was writing it. The play was reviewed in The Times (Ah, those were the days) and the reviewer had also heard things in it that were new to me.

In his marvellous book, The Empty Space, Peter Brook identifies what he calls the Deadly Producer – one who arrives at the first rehearsal with all the moves already blocked out. He describes his own experience as a very young director invited to direct Shakespeare (I don’t remember which play). He did his research, made a cardboard model of the set and cut-outs of each of the characters, and spent hours placing them in tableaux and positions that he thought fitted the various scenes. Then, the moment the first actor walked onstage at the first rehearsal, he threw them all away.

I’ve seen countless Hamlets and no two have been the same. Some (including a hugely hyped and well reviewed version at the National Theatre) have been excruciatingly bad, others spine-tinglingly excellent. But the point is that they all used the same script to create a different experience.

Academics who treat drama as pure literature may sometimes offer valuable insights but, far too often, they don’t understand what’s going on. Take Macbeth. Opinions differ as to whether it’s all his fault or whether his over-ambitious wife egged him on to do the deed. Well, it depends. Look at the crucial exchange:

MACBETH: My dearest love,
Duncan comes here tonight.

If you just read the words, she’s the one who introduces the idea of assassination. But now try reading it again and putting a longish pause after ‘Tomorrow’. It’s the equivalent of Macbeth saying ’Tomorrow … at least, that what he thinks’, and his wife picking up on his intention and supporting it. The things that actors and directors do with the words alter their impact and significance. (Which doesn’t mean that you therefore might as well not bother too much with your choice of words because they’ll be distorted. On the contrary, your choice will push the actors in the direction you want the characters to go, so you have to take extra care with them.)

The interaction with actors can produce all sorts of surprising results. In one of my radio plays an actress asked me if I’d mind her saying something other than ‘Oh God’, which I’d written in some of her lines, because she was a devout Christian. In fact, it was a trivial point and I didn’t mind at all – but the effect was to create a slightly different character from the one I’d written and give her a sort of innocence and youth that improved her role.

Then there are actors who ask about motivations and the ‘meaning’ of particular words or scenes. The assumption behind their questions is that the play’s a watertight entity with all its meanings and significance locked into it rather than a springboard for collaborative creativity. In the same play as the one I just mentioned, one character was an old, blind and (according to the neighbours) evil woman. She told the young girl who befriended her that her grandson Billy was a famous photographer. She said he’d even had a book of his photos published. At the end, the young girl handed her a book and told her it was Billy’s. The actor playing the old woman asked me if Billy really was a photographer and was it really his book. And I had to tell her that, honestly, I didn’t know. It would take too long here to explain why but she was a bit upset that I seemed to be withholding ‘facts’ from her.

I could give lots more examples but my main point is that, for me, it’s the rehearsal period that’s the most exciting part of working on a play. Building the structure, writing the dialogue and creating the script is absorbing but it’s only when the words are being spoken and the actors are searching for their motives and characters that the text begins to breathe. Director, actors and writer get to know one another – as the characters and as themselves – and there’s a feeling of community, purpose. I’m not sure that audiences ever get as much from a play as those who create it for them.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Royal Victoriaby Leighton Gage

The country I live in is a naturalist’s dream, a place where more than 1,200 new species of plant and vertebrate have been discovered over the course of the last ten years. That’s, roughly, one every three days.
The Amazon region alone consists of over 600 distinct terrestrial and freshwater habitats, from swamps to grasslands to lowland forests, and it houses an incredible 10% of the world’s known species.

The Victória Régia, the Royal Victoria, is one of them. Its round leaves can attain a diameter of up to 2.5 meters (almost 100 inches), making it the largest water lily in the world.

And those leaves, while floating, can support up to 40 kilograms (almost 90 pounds) of weight.

The fragrant flowers open only at night. The petals, when they bloom, are white, often a slight pink...

...but turn darker as they age.

The plant was first brought to Europe by a German naturalist and explorer by the name of Robert Hermann Schumburgk. (And, no, that’s not a typographical error. That’s actually the way he spelled it. Schumburgk.)

Herr Schumburgk, while poking around South America in the mid 1830’s, came across the plant and brought it back to the Royal Gardens, where he named it after the reigning queen.

Her Majesty (shown here much later in life, but I liked the picture) was amused. She awarded him a knighthood.

The Indians of the Amazon, of course, had another name for their biggest water lily. That name translates (from Tupi-Guarani into English) as “the star of the waters” – and they tell a legend about how the name came about: 

Back in the days when the world began, the moon, as dawn approached, would sink beyond the hills, there to consort with one of his chosen maidens.

And, if he truly liked the girl, he’d transform her into a star in the sky.

Naiá, the daughter of a chief, and a princess of the tribe, yearned to be chosen. So, each night, when her parents were asleep, she’d climb into the hills and follow the moon. But he never paid any attention to her. Then, one night, she saw his image in the clear waters of a lake. Thinking he’d come to visit her at last, she plunged in – and was never seen again.

The moon was touched. To repay her for her sacrifice, he transformed her into a star different from the stars in the sky. He made her the “star of the waters”. And so was born the plant with flowers that only open at sunset, when the moon rises to dominate the sky.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Going Digital and Getting There

A guest article by Robert Fate, author of the Baby Shark series

It was sad news when Capital Crime Press, my honest, hard- working publisher, decided to throw in the towel, but more than that, it was scary. How about the agreements with the distributors? Where were readers, bookstores, and libraries going to find my books? And what made it the scariest was how fast change was happening all around me. But how could I be surprised, though, with major bookstores going belly up and taking their WiFi and coffee bars with them? Larger publishers than mine were calling it quits; eStuff was replacing dead tree stuff so fast it just felt rude. Okay, maybe books must go, but why not with a little more dignity? Nope, no time for that––the future had arrived.

The truth is, I wanted to go all Pollyanna and believe that things would take care of themselves, after all, folks weren’t going to stop reading books––were they? So I let a little time slip by before reading some altruistic Joe Konrath rants and seeing the light. Joe has a way of throwing that switch. No more dragging my feet, I had to go digital.

For me, going digital, meant penning 2nd editions of the first four Baby Sharks and releasing them on Kindle. This was the beginning of the “process” part of leaving one world and entering the next.

Okay––making the books available for Kindle readers was step one. But how about all those folks who like holding a “real” book in their hands? After all the badmouth that has been given Print On Demand (POD) by the traditional publishing guys (to serve their own purposes, I fear), I was happily surprised to learn that POD books look EXACTLY the same as the book traditional publishers print. Hooray! That meant all readers would be served.

So, new covers for the PODs would need to be arranged, as well as some other details, since I was now the publisher, but it was all within reach. I think it is fair to say that Amazon (Kindle) makes it easy to self-publish, but that’s relative. If you want to go this route, be prepared to exert some effort. It ain’t rocket science, but there are many niggling details that must be addressed. Patience and perseverance are required, and also some thick skin, since there is still a lot of resistance to “going it alone,” even if it is the American way.

The final stage of the “process” is the marketing, of course––the Sisyphean task of making folks aware of your books. Amazon offers help, but as in all things, you must help yourself, as well. I am now in that final stage. Here comes some marketing.

Baby Shark will be offered free for five days on Kindle –– Click HERE on May 18 thru May 22, 2012 for your free book. The purpose of free books is to introduce the series to those who haven’t yet read it, and to re-kindle (you should excuse the pun) an interest in the series with those readers who’ve been there, done that. The other books in the series will also be offered free in the near future––go to for that information.

If the free dates slip by you, borrow the titles from the Kindle library, that’s free, too. Ain’t it great? However, some restrictions may apply, as they say.

When you go to to read all the fabulous reviews, be sure to check out the Book Club section, some new stuff there.

More marketing––watch for the summer 2012 publications of Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats, book five in the Baby Shark series. And, Kill the Gigolo, a contemporary standalone with a male protagonist and a femme fatale that is a real piece of work.

TWEETS –– If you also live on Twitter––On May 18th, please Tweet this: Free Baby Shark on Kindle

Robert Fate, author of the Baby Shark series, is a Marine Corps veteran who studied at the Sorbonne in France, rough necked in the oilfields of Oklahoma, fashion modeled in NYC, sold show scenery in Las Vegas, and has been a chef in Los Angeles. As a Hollywood special effects technician, he won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, a ceramic artist, and his daughter, a cum laude graduate of USC. A regular guy, he has a dog, two cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

E-Reading Ups and Downs

By Jaden Terrell

I came late to the electronic revolution. Long after my husband had said he might never read another print book (because of the ability to change the font size on the e-reader), I was still insisting that I didn't want to read on a screen. I liked print just fine.

He bought me a Kindle two Christmases ago. (Which means, to be fair, I'm going to have to also invest in a Nook.) Surprisingly, I like it. It's great for traveling, because I don't have to lug a dozen books with me, and it's cheaper and easier to download books than to go to the bookstore--too easy, if you ask my wallet, but that's another issue. Overall, it's a convenient little gadget, and I'm glad I have it.

On the other hand, I've noticed some downsides, and I'd be interested to know if anyone else has had the same experiences.

1. When I read a novel, I often like to flip back and refresh my memory about characters and events. Did I miss a clue? Wait a minute . . . wasn't there a guy with cigar on the park bench when the heroine jogged past? And now he's two tables away at Starbucks? With a print copy, I have a pretty good idea where in the book that information was, and it's quick and easy to flip back to it. Finding the reference on my e-reader is cumbersome and annoying--so much so that I usually don't bother. Sooner or later, Cigar Guy's role in the plot will (or won't, if I was mistaken about the park bench) be revealed. I know you can bookmark things, but how would I have known to bookmark Cigar Guy when I had no idea he was going to be sitting there in Starbucks ten chapters down the road?

2. When I read nonfiction, especially books on writing craft, I often like to refer back to previous chapters. Same problem as above, except I can't just blow it off as a plot device I'll find out sooner or later. The information I need isn't going to show up again. Instead, I have to take notes as I go, and if there's something I think I might need later, I have to write it down--even if I only think I might need it. That means I have to read with a notebook and pen in hand, taking notes I shouldn't need to take, since I own the book. Yes, you can highlight. But again, it's cumbersome, and I've never figured out how to get back to what I've highlighted. And I don't always know what I want until later.

3. I can't tell how long the book is. A "real" book, I can see how many pages it is and how big the print is. I know about how long it will take to read and how close I am to the end. An e-book, not so much. So I'm 5% done. Five percent of how much? The only way I can tell is to estimate how long it's taken me to read a percent of the book ("Good lord! I'm still at 4%?!" or "Good lord! I'm already at 20%?!), and then I know if I have War and Peace or Ten Apples Up on Top.

4. For some reason, it's much easier for me to put down a book I'm reading on my e-reader. When that happens, I may or may not come back to it. Or, maybe it's more accurate to say I may take a very long time to get back to it. I bought a book for my Kindle, a book by an author I love. Read a little. Meh.I'm not saying it wasn't good. It just didn't particularly engage me. A few weeks later, I picked up the hard copy at my local B&N. Just browsing through it, I was immediately engaged, bought it, and finished it in two days. I went back to read it on my e-reader, just to see if I loved it as much. Same words. Same story. Meh. I had no trouble putting it down. (It wasn't because I'd already read it; I'm a voracious rereader of books I love.) There's been some research that says we read and process e-books differently from print books, and all I can figure is that's what's happening to me. You can find an interesting post about one person's anecdotal experience with this here. The comments are especially enlightening.

The upshot of it is that, while I find the e-reader convenient, I don't find it especially engaging. The joy I take in reading a good book is diminished when I read it on an e-reader as opposed to an actual book with pages. I would have expected it to be exactly the same, but for some reason, it feels like a completely different reading experience. (Audio books also feel different, but those I get more immersed in those if the reader is good.)

What about you? Do you experience the digital and print versions of a story differently, or is it exactly the same for you? Do you enjoy your favorite books as much, regardless of the delivery system, or does the delivery system make a difference?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The misadventures of Flat Stanley

by Carola Dunn

Do you know Flat Stanley? It's a kids' picture book about a small boy who's flattened paper-thin in an accident but continues to live with his family and have adventures. Among them is taking a trip in an envelope through the mail.

Many teachers in more than one country have used Flat Stanley as the basis for lessons. A good few years ago, a friend in England sent me her grandson's Flat Stanley--a paper figure cut out and coloured--and asked me to take a picture of him with something distinctively Oregonian. I can't remember what I chose, but I recall sending him on to Australia, and never hearing of his eventual fate.

Last week, my own grandson's Flat Stanley arrived in the mail. I tried to think of somewhere to photograph him that would show the word Oregon. All I could think of in the immediate neighbourhood was the Oregon Community Credit Union. So off we went:
Though I didn't actually make him travel on the rear bumper.

When we got there, the only place I could see the word was on the glass door--difficult to photograph. So I took him inside. A bemused but helpful teller gazed around the lobby but the only thing he could find was the manager's University of Oregon tea mug! So here's Stanley having a swig.

Home we went, and out into the garden. My grandson lives in Southern California, where rhododendrons don't grow well, so I decided to perch him in my favourite glorious specimen:

Not good enough <sigh>. I needed to look farther. Then I remembered the statue downtown of Ken Kesey, author (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) and local celebrity, who sits forever reading to his kids in Willamette Plaza. A young couple was sitting between him and his kids, but they kindly moved out of our way. I couldn't fit the children in...

...and I don't know to whom belonged the extra pair of boots!

Next we went off to the library to find Eugene Skinner, pioneer and founder of Eugene City, once known as Skinner's Mudhole. He sat there stoically while I photographed Stanley on his arm.

Lastly, we went into the library, where a carved wooden plaque symbolizing Oregon caught Stanley's eye:

Then back home... and it wasn't till I went to put him back in his envelope next day that I realized he hadn't come with me. Searched everywhere. Had he flown out of the car window? Kidnapped?

In the end, I called the children's librarian, explained, and asked if she'd mind running down to the basement car park to check whether Stanley had spent the night there, stuck to the plaque.

He had. I dashed off to retrieve the rascal. He's now safely sealed in his envelope waiting to be mailed back to my grandson.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Malice Go Round

At the end of April I attended the Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda. MD. It is a great mystery fan conference focused on the cozy end of the mystery spectrum. One of the highlights was participating in the Malice Go Round, which is billed as speed dating between fans and authors. I teamed up with Cindy Sample, and we each gave a two minute pitch twenty times to fans seated at tables. After we completed one table, we raced to the next table and began again. It’s an excellent way to give a large number of mystery readers an awareness of your mystery novels. Attached is Cindy giving her pitch at one of the tables.

By Mike Befeler

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Do You Follow or Write Blogs?

Many authors now create blogs. Some write their own daily blogs. Some write one whenever they feel like doing it. Many others get together, like we do, to write a group blog. That's what I like best. I once tried to create my own blog but had no idea what to say on it every day and definitely had no time to write in it daily. As it was, I was struggling to write lots more words on my novel-in-progress. Besides, how many people were interested in what I came up with every day? How many of them followed me? Was I willing to lose time I could have used writing novels to think of posts to write for possible readers every day? Goodness no. Thus I was thrilled when I was invited to join this wonderful group of authors. I post to the blog twice a month unless I forget or someting comes up, and nobody asks any more of me. It took me awhile to learn how to get my posts up at the right time--and still, no one fussed at me. And you know what I learned? I have been so blessed to be able to join a most talented group of mystery authors. I've only met one or two of them, although I hope to change that, and I really enjoy reading their work. I follow the blogs of just a few groups of authors. How about you? Do you blog? Do you do it with a group, or by yourself? How do you think up topics? And do you follow the blogs of others? Tell us all about you and your interests. Thanks! June

Thursday, May 10, 2012


By Jackie King

There’s a certain creative energy that fills the air and even permeates the cracks and crevices at OWFI Conferences. Speakers change, technical techniques evolve, markets wax and wane; but the atmosphere is always the same. Pure electricity. I’ve been attending for a good many years and I always come home physically exhausted (who wants to miss anything?) and mentally refreshed. New ideas seem to spring alive and old ones freshen. Or in plain Okie-speak: I’m ready to hit that keyboard for another year!

Our Speakers this year were excellent. Steven James, award-winning author of The Patrick Bowers Files gave the keynote address and held an audience of about 400 writers (and their spouses and significant others) spellbound. I swear, the man could have been an actor. His talk was not only inspiring it was rib-splitting funny. He spoke of his own struggle to become a published writer and confirmed my conviction that getting to the top in this field is never easy and seldom quick. Most everyone has to pay their dues. Learning to write well is a skill usually learned from hours at the keyboard or with a pen and paper in hand. But the rewards are huge.

Steven James
Steven James author of The Patrick Bowers Files


If you’re one of those whose heart cries out to put words on paper, accept that you’re one of God’s scribes. I’m not talking about religious writing; I’m talking about telling stories about the world you live in. Honesty is what readers want; but we must both remember that my truth may be quite different from your truth; there is a wide variety of readers in the world. Our work will not be everyone’s cup of tea. But we will each find our audience.

The writers at this particular conference are always unbelievably generous-hearted. Authors with over 50 published books to their credit will listen to a beginning writer and make helpful suggestions. Publishers and agents are available for appointments, or if you missed that opportunity, you can catch them in the hallways. “Anywhere but the bathroom,” one quipped.

If you write or if you want to write, don’t hesitate to sign up for such an event; you’ll come home just like me…tired, happy and ready to write.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lego Cities

By Mark W. Danielson

From thirty-five thousand feet, farmed fields become tapestries, cars move like ants. At night, Australian outback fires and Japanese fishing fleets look like cities, the aurora borealis dance, and constellations blend into the Milky Way. Up here, political borders are recognized only by their airspace restrictions.  Lego cities abound. I call them Lego cities because from my vantage they resemble stacked blocks. You can find high rise cities throughout Europe and Asia, but in the more remote areas of Russia, Kazakhstan, and China, the outline of some these industrial cities resemble Medieval walled cities.

 Many cringe at mass housing developments, but high rise cities are actually quite efficient. Their concept dates back hundreds of years when walled cities protected citizens and used the surrounding land for farming. Modern adaptations of this lower energy costs, require less infrastructure, and minimize commutes because people are closer to their work place. A side benefit may be a greater sense of community. No doubt Lego cities would cease to exist if they didn’t work.

Of course, the US has cities that fit this description. Manhattan certainly qualifies, and Boston’s row houses precede The Revolutionary War.  Mass housing works well in these cities because both encourage inner city living with convenient transportation, and nearby theaters, restaurants, and corner markets. The demand for inner city living has spread to many others cities, which has led to redeveloping abandoned warehouses as loft housing. Younger people crave these apartments not only because of their convenience, but because downtowns have become such happening places. What a great way to preserve historic buildings.

 In many cases, cities must go vertical development because there is no more available land. An island city such as Hong Kong (pictured above) is a prime example. Of course, this would apply anywhere that topography limits development. Paris is among those cities that perfected mass housing centuries ago and has minimally strayed from that course. Their concept of standard height courthouse buildings set the bar for beautiful architecture while remaining functional. High rise apartments may not suit everyone, but they can certainly be a model of efficiency.

No doubt more cities will go vertical because there is no room left to expand, but the amenities in these communities rival some resorts. Next time you’re surrounded by high rises, sit down and take note of how this microcosm functions. It might be helpful if you’re writing an inner city story.

(Hong Kong image courtesy YouCities)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jack Carston and Me

A recent interview with a good friend, the highly talented and incisive journalist Sara Bain, forced me to think about my relationship with the main character in my contemporary crime novels, DCI Jack Carston. I’ve known him for about 20 years now and I think he’s getting ready to retire. He first came into my head in the early 90s and now, 5 books later, the compromises he’s had to make are beginning to get to him.

He started because the UK publisher, Piatkus, liked a stand alone thriller my agent had sent them but wanted a police procedural instead, so I set about writing Material Evidence. The ending/solution was based on an actual case I read about in a book on forensic medicine, but the interest came from Carston and the team I found around him. I say ‘I found’ and that seems to be how it was. They all emerged, with their tics, foibles, ways of speaking and relationships ready formed.

Carston himself is curious about things, a creative thinker; he’s interested in people but routines bore and frustrate him. His opinion of some of his superiors is relatively low but his wife, Kath, makes sure that his self-esteem doesn’t get so high as to make him obnoxious. In fact, the love and humour in their marriage is one of the strongest themes running through the books.

Why did he choose to join the police? Well, he’s always wondering what makes people (including himself) tick and likes solving puzzles. At first he joined because he was idealistic and wanted to be on the side of the good guys – but the job has made him more aware that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are relative terms, especially when it comes to people’s motives for what they do. His high success rate derives from the fact that he’s not only fascinated by people, he cares about them, too. He’s not obviously ‘flawed’, has no particular rituals, doesn’t drive a flash car, and his only addiction is his wife. He has a temper, is sometimes childish, doesn’t tolerate fools, despises people who don’t respect the rights of others and is driven mainly by compassion.

I’ve followed him through five books so far and, without any conscious plan on my part, he’s definitely evolved – and in a specific direction. The job has taken him more deeply into the psyches of other people (and his own) and, if he had any moral certainties to start with, he certainly doesn’t now. When I first wrote about him, he solved the case by using the testimony of the various suspects to get into the mind of the victim. The picture he saw there was pretty bleak. But the way he did it – using the physical evidence, but building a picture of who the dead woman was – told me I was dealing with someone who trusted his insights into behaviours. In the next book, things were clearer because there was a definite ‘baddie’. Even then, though, the murders and the motives were surprising and not at all clear cut.

It was The Darkness that signalled the real change. He found himself sympathising with someone who was living a normal life helping others but who was also guilty of very serious crimes. It had quite an impact on him and when, in book four, his investigations brought him in contact with highly intelligent people in a university and hospital, the pettiness, self-importance and corrupt nature of some of the people there put another dent in his certainties.

And in the latest book, Unsafe Acts, at the same time as he’s trying to solve two murders and unravel a plot to sabotage an offshore platform, a vindictive superior officer decides he’s had enough of Carston’s unconventional approaches and he faces a charge of indiscipline. It makes him wonder whether he should actually leave the force.

I’m not yet sure of the answer to that, but I will be when I start book six, which might well be the last in the series.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


By Leighton Gage

One day, back in the early years of the eighteenth century, word reached the people of Guaratinguetá that

Dom Pedro Almeida, the new Governor of the Province of São Paulo, would be making a journey that would take him through their little village.
On the eve of the Governor’s visit, the local fishermen were recruited to secure fish for a banquet, something the nearby ParaíbaRiver provided in abundance.
But not on that day.
On that day, the 16th of October, 1717, there seemed to be no fish at all.
Then, just as it was getting dark, the three persistent men who remained on the water agreed to try one more cast.

And brought up a statue from the bottom of the river.
The head was missing, and small enough to pass through the holes in their net, but it suddenly appeared floating in the water next to their boat - and they were able to recover it.
They wrapped both pieces in their shirts, cast again, and their net came up full of fish.
A miracle!

This is the statue, made of fired terracotta, some 40 centimeters in height, weighing about four kilograms, and now venerated as the image of the patron saint of BrazilNossa Senhora de Aparecida.
How she wound-up in the river, no one knows.
But, many years later, the clay of which she’s made was analyzed - and found to have had its origins in Santana do Parnaiba, a little town about a hundred kilometers away.
Which gave a clue to both her age and her authorship.
More than a century prior to the statue’s discovery there lived, in Santana do Parnaiba, a Benedictine monk and sculptor, Frei Agostinho de Jesus.
The monk’s style is well-defined. His works display smiling lips, cleft chins, flowers, (and a broche with pearls) in the hair.
And all of those details are characteristics of the statue found by the fishermen.
The color of her skin, a golden chestnut brown, is thought to be symbolically linked to the Brazilian racial mix – and to one of the miracles brought about by the Lady’s intercession – the freeing of Brazil’s slaves.

The influence of the cult of Our Lady of Aparecida upon Brazilian Catholic society can’t be overestimated. There are about 300 parishes dedicated to her – and five cathedrals. In addition, many towns are named after her and so are many Brazilian women and girls.
Her first church in Guaratinguetá was a simple chapel, built in 1737.

In 1834 work on a larger church was begun, which became the “old Basilica” when work was undertaken on the “new Basilica” in 1955.
A walkway connects the two.

And the new one is big, very big.
Second only to St. Peter’s in Vatican City.
The building is in the form of a Greek cross, 173 meters long and 168 meters wide. The tower is 100 meters high, the naves top out at 40 meters and the dome at 100 meters. The surface area is a little over 18,000 square meters, enough to hold up to 45,000 worshipers at one time. The 272,000 square meter  parking lot can hold 4,000 buses and 6,000 cars. And it needs all of that space, because the Basilica receives more than 8 million pilgrims a year.
It’s pretty ugly though.

Here, however, is one that isn’t.
Another cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida.

Most of the walls are of glass, so looks just as good at night as it does by day.

And from within, with daylight streaming through the glass, it's spectacular.
The building stands in the federal capital, Brasilia, and was designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
A confirmed atheist.