Friday, June 29, 2012

Wyoming is Also Burning!

View of the fire from  my deck

by Jean Henry Mead

An unprecedented amount of fires are burning across the county, the majority of them in the West. One of them isn't far from my mountain ranch. The Medicine Bow-Russell’s Camp fire has burned more than eight square miles of mountain timber during the last two weeks and the smoke presents serious health problems. High winds have hampered the efforts of some 620 firefighters, who have only been able to contain 25% of the blaze with the help of slurry helicopters.

Wyoming’s largest ever fire, The Fontennell in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, has devastated nearly forty square miles, with no containment due to high winds in the western part of the state. Fires are also burning in the Shoshone National Forest near the Montana border and across the southern corridor of the state. Smoke blown by strong westerly winds, from not only the Fontennell fire but the 25,000 acre Sheridan-Johnson county fire, made Casper, the state’s second largest city, appear to be shrouded in fog. More than 30 ranches have had to be evacuated so far.

According to Bridger-Teton spokeswoman Mary Cernick, “It’s still a very active fire, and by active I mean it’s growing and making runs and its behavior isn’t predictable.” The unusually early fire season is due in part to a lack of precipitation and early drying of grasses although the Fontenelle Fire is blamed on a downed power line. Temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s have made firefighting even more hazardous and I can’t imagine so many volunteers risking their lives in the heat in their heavy protective clothing.
Our neighbor to the south has experienced even more devastation, its most destructive fire season in  history. The Colorado Springs’ fire has already destroyed nearly 350 homes and 30,000 residents have evacuated, not knowing whether they have homes to return to. 

Some of our other bordering states, Utah, Idaho and Montana, are also burning and new fires have been reported in other areas of Wyoming, making it a smoke-filled state. I’m most grateful to the brave firefighters who have risked their lives to contain the fires in my own area as well as across the country. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Slogging Through The Murky Middle

By Jackie King

There are three times a writer wants to kill herself/himself when writing a book. At the beginning when you can’t quite get started, in the middle when you feel as if you’ll never get through the bog, and at the end when you decide you didn’t say what you meant to say.

This is a quote (paraphrase, actually) from a long ago writing teacher. I wish I remembered who first spoke these words, but I can tell you who quoted them to me and a group of other beginning writers: Walter Campbell, a teacher and writer in residence at the University of Oklahoma. This was many moons ago…when I was young.

These words have stayed with me for eons, and they always encourage me when I’m discouraged with the progress of my work-in-progress. For me, the middle seems to be the hardest part of a book to solider through. I liken it to walking through almost-set concrete…up to my neck. This is the time when my evil inner-critic says things like: whatever made you think you could write? Your characters are plastic people. No one will ever want to read this book…it’s boring!

Oh, the cruelty of one’s own inner-critic. (In plain Okie, she’s such a bitch!)

For this reason, many talented beginning writers fall into the trap of abandoning their work at about chapter 5 and starting a new book. They haven’t yet learned that new, creative ideas come very quickly when your inner-artist has first been awakened. They haven’t learned to only jot down these new ideas and let them marinate while pushing onward through the murky middle.

Things I remind myself of during this hard time:

Every writer goes through this, it’s the birthing process. Just because you can’t see the baby yet, doesn’t mean he/she will be ugly and worthless. Quite the contrary. Have courage and keep struggling through these tedious days. Look past that awkward, ugly belly and trudge on…one word…one scene…one chapter at a time.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


By Mark W. Danielson

I may have recently left Colorado to build our retirement home in Texas, but I still fear for and empathize with our Colorado friends.  What is taking place there is the inevitable firestorm we all feared.  For years, the forests have been dying from the Japanese beetle infestation, and this year has been dry with record high temperatures.  Fueled by strong winds, the Rocky Mountain’s forests have become kindling, and the thousands of firefighters on scene are no match for nature’s fury.

Many years ago, I wrote a story called First on Scene.  It began with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area and then went to the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm.  I have never tried to publish this book because publishers generally don’t care for books that use nature as the antagonist, but it was a real education nonetheless.  The Oakland hills fire, which stopped a mile from my parents’ house, killed 25, injured 150, destroyed 3,354 single family homes, 437 apartment and condominium units, and burned 1520 acres.  The economic loss was estimated at $1.5 billion.  Now, Colorado Springs is experiencing the same kind of conflagration in the fire’s seemingly unstoppable rampage.  Tens of thousands have had to evacuate their homes, businesses have been shut down, and yet this is only one of the Rocky Mountain fires that are burning out of control.

Even though there is nothing I can do and I had nothing to do with any of these fires, I watch the images feeling like a Titanic survivor.  The entire Front Range is choking in smoke and there is no relief in sight.  This summer promises to be a long one for anyone living in Colorado.  At best, they will get some rainfall.  Worst case, lightning will spark more fires.

Rightfully, these infernos have caused national interest.  People now realize that we are at war with nature – but we are also still at war in the Middle East.  Let’s keep our thoughts and prayers with all of those fighting for us, both here and overseas.  They truly need our support.

An Alarming Trend

By Mark W. Danielson

In my job, my sleep schedule is as predictable as Presidential policy.  Sometimes I fly during the day, other times, at night.  I may cross as many as eleven time zones in one flight, which makes day and night irrelevant.  Thus, regardless of where I am, I try to sleep when I’m tired and eat when I’m hungry.

Of course, there are always problems trying to sleep when the living normally play.  In any language, “Do Not Disturb” translates to “Vacuum Here Twice”.  Doors slam, maids talk, life goes on. 

I spend far more time writing while I’m away because I have so many things to do when I’m at home.  But it’s often difficult to do serious writing if my mind is in a fog.  So sleep is cherished on layovers.  Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would be wonderful, but my body normally doesn’t allow it.  It prefers rhythm, not variety.  And the caffeine I consume to be alert enough to land only works against me when I only have a few hours at the hotel before going back to work.  Sometimes my body vibrates so much it feels like there’s a mild earthquake.  The longer the flight, the longer it takes time to unwind.

I present this background not for sympathy, but rather to discuss an alarming trend of stupid and unwanted wake-up mechanisms.  Recently, my hotel room had a fancy clock that was unplugged when I arrived.  I plugged it in, but the time was off.  I could see how to program the alarm, but not set the clock.  Mind you, I can program an airplane’s computer to take me anywhere in the world, but this stupid box offered more challenge than it was worth.  I did, however, make sure the alarm was not set to go off – or so I thought.  Somewhere in my deepest sleep, I awoke to a disturbing sound coming from my alarm – the one I never set.  I promptly unplugged the clock, returning it to its state of rest, just as it was in when I first entered my room.  Why hotels use clocks like this one is beyond me.  I have no idea what time it went off, but it was very difficult getting back to sleep before my phone alarm woke me at the correct time.  Soon after, I was off into the wild blue, wishing I had gotten more sleep. 

The next hotel didn’t have a fancy clock, and I actually had a night to sleep.  I did pretty well, getting up a couple of times, shielding my eyes before the motion sensor light came on, and was able to get back to sleep. (I really hate these motion lights, but apparently Marriott thinks they’re cool.)  My wake-up call came at 4 AM like it was supposed to, I went in the shower, and just as I’m washing my hair, the phone rang again.  Thinking it could be a schedule change, I climbed out of the shower, answered the phone, and found it was another wake-up call.  For some reason, this particular hotel has a system where the phone calls between five and ten minutes after your initial wake-up call to remind you that you need to get up.  Oddly, the hotel knows nothing about this, but when I call the desk, they offer to send a tech up to my room even when I explain the problem is in their system.  This has happened four times in the last few days and the answer is always the same.  As a result, the people in the rooms next to mine not only get the benefit of one wake-up call, they get a second just as they are getting back to sleep. 

Unlike my hotel neighbors, I try to be quiet when I leave so they can rest.  I’ll forgive the kids that run down the hall screaming, the people talking and laughing outside my door, the toilets flushing and showers running, the horns and sirens blaring outside my window, and even though I’m tempted at times, I won’t slam my door when I leave in the middle of the night.   I simply accept these disturbances as a part of my job, go fly with a little more caffeine, have no expectations of sleeping well on my next layover, but will unplug that alarm clock. 

Most of us that work the back side of the clock believe sleep is overrated – that we catch up on all that’s been lost when we die.  But the benefit of losing sleep is having more time to write.  So with time now on my side, I’ll groggily bid you adieu and get back to my writing.  After all, that’s what’s really important.       

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Writing Game 2

I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a postscript to a blog but that’s what this is. In the last posting, I was talking about the various writing jobs I’d done over the preceding few days. This one is about a different sort of writing again, and it’s a tip for you if ever you find yourself in the type of  sleep-deprived and/or literary trap I’m about to describe.

I’m on the train home from a weekend in Glasgow with my daughter and her two sons. Part of the deal when I stay there is that, in the mornings, one or both boys come(s) in to my bed to chat, play word games or tell stories. If it’s the story option, they clatter quickly through their turns and expect a professional performance from me. (I should say that the same thing happens when I visit my other grandchildren and one of the results is a series of stories featuring Stanley, the misanthropic fairy I’ve mentioned before and whose adventures I’ve actually written up.) Anyway, please remember that we’re talking about early mornings here, usually with me just having been woken up. In other words, the creative flow is sluggish or non-existent but the audience still expects to be entertained. Like all stories, the one you tell has to get their interest right away. But there you are in your half-awake state, knowing they watch stuff like Power Rangers and high-tech cartoons and have high expectations of action, adventure and narrative involvement. (Although the truth is that your 7 a.m. brain is incapable of holding refined concepts such as ‘narrative involvement’.)

So, you need a reliable, recognisable structure, you need something where someone has already done the donkey-work on your behalf. And that means plagiarism, which is a no-no, or parody.

Parody is cheating in a way. It’s definitely flattering to the original, it relies on the reader/listener identifying the source, which in turn is a compliment to that source. But you’re borrowing it, benefiting from its language, rhythms, themes or, as in this case, its underlying structure. (It occurs to me that an equally good idea might be to send my grandsons back to sleep by pontificating about literary techniques.)

Anyway, parody is the road I took. It happened by accident. With no idea what story would emerge, I started by saying ‘A lion was walking through the forest’. Playing for time, I asked ‘What do you think the lion was called?’ ‘Tracey,’ was the immediate answer, relayed in a voice that implied it was the obvious option. So I had Tracey the lion, and he (she?) was in a forest. And he came to a cottage, so he had to go in – and suddenly the story was there in stark relief. On the table were three pizzas, a big one, a middle-sized one and a little one. This got a laugh so I knew I was home and dry. Tracey was an incarnation of Goldilocks and changing the bears into giraffes gave me scope for all sorts of architectural gags – high ceilings, tall thin doorways, strangely shaped chairs and beds. Breaking the baby giraffe’s chair gave scope for sound effects and a mini debate about whether giraffes make any noises and, if they do, what their crying might sound like after having travelled so far up their throats. Detailing the vile ingredients of the mummy and daddy’s pizzas permitted the introduction of the vomit-inducing elements kids love so much and the only looming difficulty was the prospect of them finding a lion in the baby’s bed. Would it suddenly turn the story into a gore-fest? Would the laughs turn to tears as Tracey eviscerated the loving domestic trio?

I won’t bore you with the resolution because it involved audience participation, suggestions and refinements, and a leonine viewpoint restricted by a combination of blankets and the height of the giraffes. Seeing only parts of his ‘hosts’ made the patterns on their skins look like carpets to the sleep-befuddled predator but no one got hurt, the lion decided never to have pineapples on pizzas ever again, and the giraffes decided to move the lock on their front door even higher, (which in turn set up the next forced entry by a baboon and created the ingredients for a sequel).

Of all the types of writing in this and the previous posting, this story-telling probably gave me the most pleasure. All I need to do now is find a way of making the boys or their parents pay me.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Police Role Playing

This week I participated in another police role playing scenario. The situation: a "simulated" bomb went off at a local high school. People in the parking lot were “injured”:

Injuries were color coded. Red for critical, yellow for severe and green for minor. I played the role of a critically injured person, lying on the grass. I only moaned. Severe couldn’t move but could call out for help. People with minor injuries were still mobile. The police arrived, cleared the scene and then removed us to a place where the EMTs could treat us. 

In a second part of the scenario, we moved inside, and I lay in the hallway until the police cleared the building and carried us outside. Here’s how I looked with the fake blood:

The scenario ended with the police taking down  a shooter who held a hostage. This type of training helps the police prepare for active shooter situations. As a mystery author, it helps me better understand police procedures.

Mike Befeler

Friday, June 22, 2012

MISSING HARRY. . .and who we write for

by Earl Staggs

For the last several years, I’ve tried hard not to get hooked on new TV shows.  I find TV a good way to wind down for the last hour or two at the end of a day, but more than that is adulterating precious writing time.  

For the most part, I’ve successfully ignored new shows.  It hasn’t been too hard.  Many of the new offerings are clones of ones I didn’t like as originals.  Many are so-called “reality” shows, feature vampires, zombies and werewolves, or offer loud, gross, offensive slapstick behavior as comedy. Not interested in any of those.

Occasionally, an exception comes along.  “Harry’s Law” was one I latched onto when it debuted two seasons ago.   Kathy Bates has a charisma that pulls me in no matter what role she plays.  Even though the themes of the episodes were often didactic and preachy and the cast was somewhat top heavy, Kathy is always a treat to watch.

I wasn’t alone in adding Kathy to my weekly watch list.  More than seven million others joined me, and that’s a respectable number of faithful viewers. 

Unfortunately, we were the wrong people. 

That’s right. Most of us are over fifty, and the networks and sponsors are only interested in the 18 to 49 demographic. Those are the people, according to their ratings geniuses, who pay attention to the commercials and actually buy the products.  The ratings for Harry among people under 50 were very low.  

As a result, “Harry’s Law” was canceled.

That got me thinking about the demographic of Mystery novel buyers.  Should we aim for the under fifty audience so important to TV networks and sponsors? 

Sisters in Crime wondered the same thing and collaborated with R. P. Bowker’s PubTrack division to produce a report called “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age.”  The report came out in January 2011 and I looked it over then.  While ruing the loss of Harry, I decided to give it another look.

The report included interesting and useful information about who is buying our books and more.  There are sales percentages of print versus ebooks, for instance, and where those purchases are made.  While the numbers may have adjusted since the report was published, the philosophies behind them haven’t.

You’ll find the complete report here:

The statistics most interesting to me were:

 . . .Baby boomers and matures (people over 45) purchase more than half of all books bought.

 . . .In the Mystery category, more than half are sold to people over the age of 55.

(Also interesting: nearly 7 out of 10 Mystery buyers are female.)

I wasn’t terribly surprised by this information.  Most Mystery writers I know as well as most people I know who read Mysteries are women in the mature age category.  Also, many of the main characters in those books being written and read are older than fifty. 

So even though these study results were not terribly surprising, they were reassuring.  We who write Mysteries do not have to follow the lead of TV networks and gear our product for the 18 to 49 age group. 

As a matter of fact, we most definitely should NOT do that. Those people don’t buy many books.

And that's my rant.  Those of you who have read all the way to here are invited to visit my home site at: where you can:

. . .Read "My Kindergarten Challenge," a report on a presentation on writing I gave to a room full of five-year-olds.

. . .Read Chapter One of MEMORY OF A MURDER.

. . .Read "The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer," a short story some say is the funniest one I've ever written.

. . .Read "White Hats and Happy Trails," a short story about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On writing more than one series

by Carola Dunn

"Finished A Colourful Death and found it so different from Daisy that I am not sure I liked it - if that makes any sense.  As usual your ability to describe things, places, people is outstanding.  You sure do know how to write a good book."

I received this comment from a longtime friend and reader, who used--like me--to write Regencies. She's referring to the second book in my Cornish Mystery series.

 [Speaking--as June was-- of different art on different editions! The large print on the right is far more like a Cornish village]

  When I started a new series, I was nervous that I'd get a lot of that sort of reaction. I have many readers who love Daisy Dalrymple and/or love the 1920s, her period (or both). The Cornish mysteries are set around 1970, too close to the present to have the same charisma. Eleanor Trewynn, the series' accidental sleuth, is a widow in her 60s who spent her life working all over the world before retiring to Cornwall, whereas Daisy is 20-something with her life before her. Yes, they're very different characters--but when I first proposed to start a new series, it was because I wanted a change.

To be honest, I also wanted to create a character nearer to my own age!

I didn't expect my editor to buy the new idea and want me to continue with Daisy.

 I suspect the Cornish books will never be as popular as Daisy, though it's hard to tell yet, with 20 Daisy books published and the third Cornish mystery not yet out.

............................................ be continued--just got page proofs of The Valley of the Shadow to correct...................

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Bedsheets of Maranhão

by Leighton Gage

I saw them, first, from several miles in the air.

My wife and I were on a flight from Fortaleza, on the coast of Ceará, to Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon.
It was a clear day, not a cloud in the sky, and I looked down to see this:

A desert composed of white sand dunes, strewn with flashes of emerald green and turquoise blue.

It was, and still is, a landscape vaguely reminiscent of precious stones scattered on bedsheets.

Which is why Brazilians call the region the Lençóis Maranhenses = the Bed Sheets of Maranhão (Maranhão being the Brazilian State in which the dunes are located.)

The dunes were formed, over thousands of years, by sand deposited at the mouths of rivers and carried back to the continent by winds and sea currents.

Some of those dunes are more than 40 meters (130 feet) high, and they advance as far 50 kilometers inland from a (mostly deserted) coast.
The flashes, upon closer observation, turn out to be lagoons full of water.
That’s right, water – in the middle of a desert.

Bizarre, huh?
Even more bizarre is the fact that I wouldn’t have seen so much of a drop of it if I’d made the journey six months later.
The region records an annual rainfall of 1,600mm (more than 62 inches), 300 times more than the Sahara, and the lagoons are formed during the rainy season, which is at the beginning of the year.
When they’re full, the water in them is crystal clear and miraculously full of fish, crayfish, crabs and clams.
And, then, during the dry season, they simply disappear.

The region covers a total area of more than 1,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of the American State of Rhode Island.
The best time to visit the place is from the beginning of July through the end of September.
During those months it’s sunny, but not too hot, and you can walk up and down the dunes in your bare feet.
And then take a refreshing plunge in the crystal clear water.


Friday, June 15, 2012

A Perfect Place to Write

Spring view from our deck

Other writers may envy my perfect writing place. At 7,000 ft. there’s silence, except for chirping birds and an occasional helicopter. I can write any time of day without interruption. Well, almost. Phone service is unavailable with the exception of sketchy cell service, so we don't get many telemarketers.

Phone  conversations are normally cut short anyway while standing in the only place in the house where there's signal, under the ceiling antenna. So we resort to email and whenever there’s a storm, we have to unplug the cell phone system.
And speaking of storms, we sometimes lose power because of high winds in the area which not only knock out the electricity, but blow shingles from the roof. 

Wild game often appear on our small ranch, at times in our garage, if the door’s left open. I enjoy taking pictures of deer nibbling grass in the yard as well as an occasional elk or antelope. We have no livestock of our own but my husband fenced in an area with a solar paneled stock tank so that we can lease out our pasture. We sit on our deck and pretend we're cattle ranchers, with 110 borrowed cows and calves, which graze around what we call “our water cooler.” When the rancher delivered his cattle, he mixed up two sets of cows and calves and the mismatched pair bawled throughout night until the mistake was discovered and the orphaned pair delivered. Great research for a ranching mystery novel, if I ever decide to write one for adults instead of children.

Winter Solstice
We’re a quarter mile off a dirt road and rarely see a car go by. When we do, we wonder why they braved the narrow, winding, mountain road with steep drop-offs in strategic places.  Cows park themselves in the middle of the road in open rangeland, which  is commonplace in ranching country, but when you spend your formative years in Los Angeles, and don’t remember ever seeing a cow or wild game animal, it's a litttle unnerving at times.   
Despite the drawbacks I love it here. I can sit on the deck with my laptop and get a suntan and have my hair blown dry while I write. A 40-minute drive down the mountain to town once a week for supplies and visiting friends is an adventure I look forward to, but I also enjoy the solitude that most writers crave by living on the mountain. Although I’m writing this with tongue in cheek, I consider myself lucky to live in a perfect place to write.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Interview with Jean Henry Mead

by Jackie King

Jean Henry Mead, author of both fiction and nonfiction books, says that featuring other writers on her blogs is one of her greatest pleasures. Five of Mead’s 17 books are collections of her interviews. The latest, The Mystery Writers: Interviews and Advice, is a collection of different postings that originated at her Mysterious Writers blog site. “They were so informative that I didn’t want them to disappear into cyber space after their initial appearances,” Mead says.
Jean Henry Mead
Following the example of Agatha Christie, the mystery writer icon who recycled her 20th century short stories into novels; Jean Henry Mead is recycling her 21st century interviews into anthologies.
I was most interested in how such books evolved, so I asked Jean if she would answer a few questions. Much to my delight, she agreed:

JK: Jean, would you tell us how you first came up with the clever and interesting idea of interviewing celebrities and then publishing these pieces in an anthology?

JHM: I began my career as a news reporter, so the first book I wrote—and published in 1982—was a collection of interviews with well-known Wyoming residents, such as Dick Cheney, country singer Chris LeDoux, U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, attorney Gerry Spence, some governors, artists and other interesting people. The Mystery Writers is my fifth book of interviews.

 JK: How do you set up interviews with such famous mystery writers as Sue Grafton, J.A. Jance and Lawrence Block, who are included in your newly published, The Mystery Writers: Interviews and Advice.

JHM: I was fortunate to interview Elmore Leonard before he became so famous. (We were both members of Western Writers of America at that time.) So when I emailed other bestselling authors for interviews, I mentioned Elmore Leonard, which probably gave me some credibility. I think the fact that I was also a member of Mystery Writers of America helped as well.

JK: What was the hardest part of compiling and editing so many articles and interviews?

JHM: Compiling all those interviews was very time consuming and took me away from working on my novels. I had to send out sixty manuscripts for updates, ask each author to write a short piece on the craft of writing, and then, when everything started coming back, I felt as though I were at the bottom of an avalanche. But it all worked out eventually at 406 pages.

JK: Do you plan to do another volume of this series in the future?

JHM: I don’t plan another. The Mystery Writers is the second volume of mystery writer interviews I’ve done. The first, Mysterious Writers, was published in 2010 by Poisoned Pen Press in ebook format and is still available. I wanted to also publish a print edition, which I did with the second volume. I hope the interviews and advice are valuable tools for fledgling writers.

 JK: My final question has to be: who were your favorite mystery writer interviewees?

JHM: Carolyn Hart, Jeffrey Deaver, Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance, Sue Grafton, Elmore Leonard, Vickie Hinze and James Scott Bell, to name just a few. They were all great interviewees and I wish I’d had access to their advice, writing successes and failures, when I first began writing fiction.

JK: The entire volume has been a help to me. Like all writers, I’m forever striving to improve my skills. It’s a book I’ll keep and reread from time to time.

Thanks a million for your time and patience in answering my questions. I think your wisdom will help my readers.

Readers, Jean’s blog is Mysterious Writers.

Her website:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


By Mark W. Danielson

I suppose I could call this the move from Hell, but I won’t.  Instead, I’ll just say it’s been complicated.  The first issue was with the house closure.  All was fine until the last second when the lender pulled out.  Hmm, here we are with a house full of packed boxes, the mover’s on the way, already shipped two cars – not what you’d call an ideal situation.  Believing all would work out, I let the buyers rent the house until it could close.  All indications were it would happen quickly.  (It closed six days later.) 

I knew from the start there would be more problems when the movers showed up with a twenty-something foot truck.  I immediately called the person I’d been working with, but guess what?  She was no longer taking my calls.  I got the dispatcher and he and the movers both basically said the same thing – “Let’s see how it goes.” Great.  Another warm and fuzzy about as comfortable as urine streaming down my leg.  (From a dog, not mine!)  Sixteen hours later and still with a garage full of “stuff”, the movers said they were out of there and left with no backup plan.

Now past midnight, all I could do was leave a message on their 24/7 line.  Bear in mind that all of our furniture was gone, but thankfully I had left a sleeper sofa behind for the new owners.  We got to sleep somewhere around one AM and at 6, the dispatcher called saying the drivers were instructed to take a bunch of our stuff to storage, they would then pick up the rest of our stuff, move it to Texas, turn around and made the second trip with the rest of our stuff.  I say “stuff” because after a while our belongings don’t seem to have as much value.

So, why didn’t the movers show up with a real moving van?  Because the carrier I chose a carrier did their inventories over the phone.  She estimated my weight to be ten thousand pounds.  She was only off by twelve thousand six hundred pounds!  Our heaviest items were books and magazines – lots of them.  No, make that tons of them – literally.  Add some tool boxes and tools and it adds up to a big bucks move.  At least I now know the true value of books.

I drove our pickup while Lyne followed in the Caddie – both of which were packed with our most valuable stuff.  Running on full fuel tanks, but nothing in the sleep bank, we headed south from Denver under beautiful driving conditions with our doggie Maxx in my lap.  All was fine until we got to Amarillo where we were surrounded by ominous skies.  Not a problem, though.  We had driven as far as we dared and desperately needed rest.

From Amarillo, the drive became quite monotonous driving through small town after small town.  Many were devastated, but not quite ghost towns.  We stopped at two of them for a quick bite, and all was still well, but just outside Wichita Falls, the highway was shut down.  Behind the long line of cars and trucks, I could see emergency vehicles off the side of the road, then a life flight helicopter landed.  Later, we realized there was one already on the ground.  We got out and walked around a bit, which was more than the cattle in the truck up ahead could do.  Instead, they protested loudly, baking in the 90 degree heat – as if they had someplace to go.  We weren’t delayed too long before the helicopters departed and one lane opened up.  It turned out to be a rollover accident with four Mexican nationals.  Yes, folks, those were your tax and insurance dollars at work flying them out.

I had been staying in touch with our movers as we headed toward Granbury and they arrived shortly after we did.  Our rental house is fine, but is half the size of our former house.  Even though we had left a lot of stuff behind, we still have too much stuff.  Sadly, we still have another move once our new house is built at the ranch.  But here at the house, we have minimal cell phone service – as in one sweet spot, outside, in front of the garage.  I suspect I look like Buddha with a cell phone in his ear.  Hopefully that problem will be resolved soon.

Granbury is a very nice historic town with lots of good folks and good restaurants.  We love The Dock where we can pull our boat up and grab a bite.  The drought is over, the lake is full, it even rained all last night.  Our ranch property is very pretty, and we’ve had great conversations with our local cattle on the other side of the fence.  It will be great to move in a year or so down the road.

At times like this, you realize how dependent you’ve become on technology.  When the simple ability to answer a phone call is denied, you feel stressed.  Having to go to Starbucks to get the Internet was frustrating, but we now have it at the house.  At times like this, you realize we live too fast.  Life used to be simpler back in the days of typewriters and party lines.  We can’t turn back the clocks, but we can appreciate the need to slow down a bit.  Granbury, Texas, seems well suited for that.         

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Writing Game 1

The past five days for me have illustrated that sitting here at my desk isn’t the single monotonous activity it may seem to be to an outsider. The ongoing background activity finds me in the early 19th century reading about people such as Samuel Martin, a hatter in Aberdeen who was way ahead of the game when it came to advertising. In 1842 a competitor advertised ‘new patent washable beaver hats’ and almost immediately Sam was advertising his own ‘superior beaver hats which never require washing’. (That’s from Edward Ranson’s The Mad Hatter of Aberdeen.) Sam would have been all over Facebook and Twitter – he insisted that you should ‘never omit an opportunity of placing your name in printed characters before the world’.

Anyway, in order to earn some money I’ve had to switch from that to writing  a DVD about how to get stuff out of the hollow concrete legs of offshore platforms to decommission them, another on the responsibilities of security personnel on ships' gangways and a third on the awareness of the procedures and systems needed for gas testing where hydrocarbons are being produced.

But there are two more projects which are much more interesting.  One is a project with a local charity, the Aberdeen Safer Community Trust. It's aim is to make the city's streets safer, bring crime levels down, etc.

They're organising their annual fund-raising event called CSI Aberdeen. It involves people in groups of five combining to solve a mystery - it might be a murder or an accidental death. They get to study documents, interview witnesses, take and compare fingerprints, do experiments in a lab on substances and whatever else the scene of crime team produces. They asked me if I'd be interested in helping, so I've been creating the scenario and, in between the commercial stuff, I'm now writing briefs for witnesses, the scenario itself, notes to help the forensic chemists to decide what sort of experiments to devise, etc. I've never been to one of those murder mystery dinners so it's interesting to see how the process works from the inside. (In fact, as I write that, it strikes me that it might be worth writing a wee blog about it and maybe asking the readers to come up with their conclusions on the events.) The writing is different in that I have to think very carefully about what to reveal and what to conceal. Those taking part should really get the information they need from interviewing the witnesses but if they don't ask the right questions, they won't - and they'll probably feel cheated. It's a fascinating balancing act.

So I’m piecing that together but now there’s another, quite scary event coming up soon. I’ve been asked to go to a primary school and read one of my kids’ stories then talk to them/work with them to create another story or do something related to writing that might interest them. I’ll have 45-50 minutes with each of the 7 classes and it’s part of what the school calls a ‘literacy week’. I think it’s a great initiative and I’m actually looking forward to it. I won’t even mind if a 5 year old butts in as I’m reading my masterpiece to tell me it’s boring.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Messy Desk or Clean Desk

Do you keep a messy or a clean desk? Several months ago members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America submitted pictures of their writing work space for the monthly newsletter. As could be expected, some of us had messy desks and some had clean desks. When I write, I fall in between. I keep stacks of manila folders on my desk—on the right side for current writing projects and on the left side for other projects. I like to keep the space in the middle of my desk neat. Even in this electronic age, I still keep manila folders particularly for research subjects. Since I write about older characters, I have folders on aging, memory, different locations I’ve visited that I use in my mystery novels, conferences, material for speeches, etc. When I find interesting articles in the newspaper, I clip them and drop them in the particular folder. I have a file cabinet with drawers of manila folders. I keep manuscripts, synopses, blurbs, etc. on the computer. I’m not ready to forgo paper yet. I organize linearly with my folders. As opposed to this form of organization, a co-worker from my business days always had a huge mound of paper on his desk. I thought he was disorganized until I watched him pull requested documents out of the mound with no effort. He was a spatial organizer and knew exactly where he had placed things in his three-dimensional file. So whatever works for you, go for it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Who Still Listens to Books?

by June Shaw How many people still listen to books? When my mom lived with me during her last few years, she listened to books on tape for the blind because macular degeneration had snatched most of her vision. Of course that was the reason she eventually, at the age of 98, agreed to leave her home and stay with me. I had lots of room. She had little vision--her only problem (which led me to write a book about her--at the prompting of many others. It was great of the company to send her a recorder and any cassettes she wanted me to order for her. The only problem was she couldn't see any part of the machine enough to know how to start or stop it. Or if she fell asleep while it played--what in the world was going on with that novel? She had no idea of what was taking place, so she lost interest. Of course she was happy that the company had provided it. Audio books for everyone else--who listens to them? I've seen them in Cracker Barrel stores and have been tempted to buy or rent them. But I'm not in my car enough to listen to taped books in it, and I surely wouldn't keep still enough to listen to one at my home. Who does, I wondered, until the youngest of my two daughters told me her eyes gave her trouble when reading, so she couldn't do it for long. She preferred books on tape. Ah, and today I received a contract for just that--Books in Motion wants to put the second book of my humorous mystery series on tape. Right when it seems most people are debating paper or e-books, I receive this reminder--many people still enjoy listening to books. RELATIVE DANGER, the first book in my humorous mystery series, has three very different covers created for each venue in which it is released. Here you'll find the covers for the hardcover version from Five Star, the paperback cover put out by Harlequin when they bought reprint rights, and the cover created by Books in Motion for the audio edition. You can also find there the cover for the hardcover edition. I wonder what the Books in Motion cover will look like. Have you ever had different covers for your books--or do you like to see them for the books others write?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

E-book Daisy

by Carola Dunn

I am exceedingly happy to announce that at long last all my Daisy Dalrymple mysteries are available for Kindle and Nook (using the original hardcover art--not necessarily a good idea!).

 The first four recently joined the fifth through twentieth.

They were delayed partly because I changed agents halfway through the series and my former agent no longer agents; partly because back when I wrote them St Martin's wasn't interested in what were called "computer" rights.

Their legal department first had to figure out what to do about it. Then the two agents had to come to an agreement--not difficult--as to who was "agent of record." Countless papers (in sextuplet) had to be sent back and forth and signed by all concerned. That really slowed everything down. Then the publisher had to decide what they were willing to pay for the e-rights. 

It's all sorted at last. You can find these four and all the other titles at:


(Click on my name at the top to go to my website and see a list in the proper order.)