Saturday, July 28, 2012

Are All Women Reading THAT Book?

By June Shaw Okay, y’all, don’t pretend you don’t know which book I’m talking about. You gals are probably reading the third book in the series by now—although the second one is at the top of Amazon’s Bestsellers list today. The third book comes in second, and book one has dropped to spot number three. Everywhere I go, I hear women of all ages telling someone she’s reading. And when I ask if that book starts with a number, she says yes. I recently heard of women reading it twice. I asked one such woman why. Without pause, she said, “Because the story’s so good.” Really? I missed that part. Of course that’s just like when I attended a writers’ meeting in New Orleans last month, and one man said his wife just finished reading it. We teased him of course. He grinned and said his wife told him the author used “muttered” too much. Good grief. I really cannot believe anyone saw “muttered” in that book. And guys, if the woman in your life isn’t reading it yet, you’re probably going to dash out and get it for her. I wasn’t going to read it. How could anyone read that stuff? I just started the second one. Research: ) So if everyone is reading THOSE BOOKS, can anyone be buying and reading our mysteries? I sure hope so. My humorous mystery series features a spunky widow who “thinks” she wants to avoid her hunky lover so she can rediscover herself. But he opens Cajun restaurants wherever she travels—and she is so bad at avoiding tempting dishes and men. I have been a firm believer that romance is a big part of our lives—even in the middle of a funny murder mystery. I’m just saying.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Promo 101 or Baptism by Fire

By Jackie King

Today’s writers promote both on line and in person. I love the online stuff. It’s much easier for me and, IMO, for most writers. We tend to be introverted folk, preferring to listen rather than to speak. So it came as a shock to me when I learned that as a published author, I’m also responsible for promoting my work.

I learned about the necessity of self-promotion after I sold a novella as part of an anthology. My experienced coauthor, Peggy Fielding, told me the facts-of-(a-writer’s)-life. This “older girl” said that fame wouldn’t be carried to me by the fame-stork, but that I must birth my own success through brazen self-promotion.

“The book won’t sell itself. That’s YOUR job. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

“Me?” My voice actually quavered. “My job? I had hoped the publisher might send a limo for pre-arranged book signings.” I was joking and Peggy smiled, but her answer was serious. “In your dreams. The three of us must sell this anthology ourselves, that’s the way of a published writer’s life.” The oldest of our trio, she gave me her wise-and-patient-teacher look. The one that makes me feel as if I’m about 10 years old. My petulant answer reflected this same age.

“That’s not fair! I’m a writer, not a promoter.”

“You’ll add many chapeaus to your hat rack before this adventure is over.” She gave an impish grin and then continued. “You must talk to bookstore owners and sell each one on the idea of a book signing. Then you must ignore your innate shyness and tell every relative, every friend, and even every stranger about your new book. Dress your self-praise in honest enthusiasm and discard any polite modesty taught to you by your mother. And of course you must setup many public-speaking gigs.”

“Me, speak in public? You can’t be serious!” I shouted. “I’m the shyest of the shy. Timid is my middle name. My Clairol-red hair turns white at the very idea of speaking in public.”

“So you’ll develop a new skill,” she said as if the matter were settled.

And of course it was. Here's a bit of what I learned:

Plan and develop your promotional strategy in the same detailed way that you plotted your book. Give careful thought to location and avoid stereotypical ideas.

Remember your home town roots. America takes an interest in her youth, especially small town America. There are a myriad of folk who remember you as a child and as a teen. Many of these people are readers and will be interested in buying a copy of your book. You must not disappoint them. Always set up at least one book signing in your home town. These signings can take place in any type of store, business, church, club, or even in the home of a relative or friend.

Paula Alfred, the glamour-gal member of our writing team, arranged for us to speak and to sign in her home town of Poteau. I was astonished to learn the gig would be at the local nursing home. Nursing home?

Years ago Paula won the town’s first “Junior Miss Contest.” She used her scholarship prize (awarded by the Junior Chamber of Commerce) as a stepping stone toward becoming a lawyer. When a local girl comes home with a published book to sell, the town shows up with cash in hand. And when the author sends hand-written invitations to everyone on her parents’ Christmas list, people think of the event as a social opportunity and as an honor.

My coauthors, both experienced speakers, stood and gave their talks. Timid and unsure of myself, I feared that my own knees might collapse. But the audience listened and smiled and I grew bolder as I spoke. To my own surprise I was soon enjoying myself.

Afterwards we signed books, and signed books, and signed books. People from LeFlore County kept crowding into the room. These book-loving, generous hearted and charming small town people lined up to buy our books as if our names were Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, and Carolyn Hart. I was thrilled, overwhelmed, and passionately in love with small Oklahoma towns.

We sold 36 books!

Foxy Statehood Hens and Murder Most Fowl is available at bookstores, on Amazon Kindle or B&N Nook.  $2.99

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The American Dream

By Mark W. Danielson

The American Dream is a way of life based on the principles of freedom and prosperity.  The immigrants who founded this country were collectively committed to learning a common language and building a nation, and welcomed all who were willing to work.  Imagine their elation as they steamed into the Hudson and spotted Lady Liberty for the first time.  All endured long delays at Ellis Island and extreme hardships afterwards, but most eventually saw the fruits of their labor and were proud of their contributions to this country.

But much has changed over the years.  Programs intended to bring our nation out of its Great Depression have been unintentionally passed down to subsequent generations.  Today our nation is in severe debt due to bad decisions, horrific deceptions, and too many people who do not possess the desire to earn a living.  As a frequent globetrotter, I marvel at how other nations operate.  China is of particular interest, not only because of its vast size and booming economy, but also because of its immense population.  With the exception of Hong Kong which still basically operates independently, few panhandlers are seen, and unemployment seems non-existent.  Those who cannot find work are given a job.  It may be a menial task such as polishing endless handrails or sweeping sidewalks, but they still have a job.  Government handouts do not seem to exist in China.  When comparing this to our system of paying people to stay home, our deteriorating work ethic becomes clear.  Mind you, I am not addressing the disabled who have no choice, but there are thousands of able-bodied people who are capable of working that receive taxpayers’ checks, and even additional pay for having more children.  Few, if any of these recipients have any regard for how these handouts affect our nation’s strength.  I challenge you to name another government that pays people not to work without having earned a retirement check.

I have always maintained that only those who can provide a solution have earned the right to complain, so here is mine.  Assign each and every able-bodied person that is receiving a government check a job to help rebuild our infrastructure and clean up our streets so they can take pride in our nation.  Doing so may also increase their incentive to find a better paying job.  And while we’re at it, why not code government debit cards so they cannot be used at gambling facilities or strip clubs, or to buy alcohol and cigarettes.  (Papers such as The Denver Post and The Los Angeles Times have featured these articles on welfare abuse.)    

Imagine how our early immigrants would view our nation now that is economically, religiously, and ideologically divided.  The government at all levels fails to recognize English as its official language, and instead print ballots in multiple languages to accommodate those unwilling to learn.  Political correctness has stripped God from our language.  How dare we impose our values on other nations when our own is falling apart.  When did our nation take this wrong turn?  What can be done to restore our basic core values?

During a recent Manhattan visit, I learned that 40% of its residents are foreign born, and many are living in subsidized housing.  Considering that our nation was built by immigrants, this comes as no surprise, but how many of these new settlers speak or are currently learning English?  How many are collecting some sort of government subsidy, whether it is reduced cost housing, health care, welfare payments, or a combination thereof?  Numerous cities are now declaring bankruptcy because their handouts have exceeded their income.  Our nation is in the same boat, but apparently has not realized it.  In spite of our debt, we are still fighting wars we can neither afford nor win.  Something must change, and making people who are receiving a government handout is but one solution.

I will gladly step off my soap box if even one elected representative considers what I’m saying here.  I love this country, I spent a career defending it, and I desperately want to see it united and once again prosperous.    

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven Part 1

There’s no irony intended in choosing that title. A while ago, I spent a whole day at a primary school, spending 35 minutes with classes from wee 3 year olds to 10 year olds. It was a day of entertainment, pleasure, hope and a confirmation that people aren’t monsters from the start – that’s something they obviously learn later. Admittedly, the story that one class produced relied for one of its possible resolutions on an exploding mum (literally exploding, not just with anger), but overall I was absorbed in and delighted by the way they all engaged so willingly in the things we did.

With all but two of the classes (oldest and youngest) I read them one of my Stanley stories then got them to write a story of their own, either as a whole class or in smaller groups. They listened, laughed and the rapt faces far outnumbered the yawns of those who obviously hadn’t had enough sleep or were bored witless. On each occasion, the transition from the silence as I read my stuff to the enthusiasm as they developed theirs was fast and smooth and the day rushed by, probably teaching me more than it taught them. I could pontificate about the innocence and generosity of children, their willingness to cooperate on things, the model they present of how creative social cohesion can be, but in some ways that detracts from the experience. It’s the old distinction between sensation and perception. The moment you become aware of the experience you’re having, you become detached from it a little – analysis takes the place of involvement. We were all living totally in the moment and in the creation of their fictions. So I thought I’d just let you know what ephemeral things the day produced.

My first question to the first class was ‘What do we need to start a story?’ The hands shot up, I chose one, a girl, who said ‘Once upon a time’. Incontestable. I then got suggestions about the characters in the story, locations and, by simply asking them questions, which were my only input, each class produced one or several stories. In this and my next blog, I’ll share with you just 4 of the 13 that they created between them.

The first was the one with the exploding mother. It also had a robot mother and a mother in prison. (Lest you think this was a worrying indication that all might not be well at home, they all came from different individuals and were obviously attempts to negotiate narrative hurdles rather than cries for help.) The problem was that Sam and Sally, who lived near a volcano, were bored with just wandering round its slopes and wanted to try the crater. When they asked if they could go, Mum (amazingly) said ‘OK’ so off they went. Inside they found a button. They pressed it, and the lava, smoke and ash started bubbling up, so they pressed it again and it stopped. They rushed home, told Mum about it. She went back with them and the button had vanished. Each time they went on their own, it was there, each time Mum came, it wasn’t. The explanation centred around an old man who lived nearby and had remote control things in his house. He’d built a robot replica of their mum, substituted it for her, imprisoned the real mum in a cage under the lava, etc., etc. In the end, Sam and Sally tricked him, got into his cottage, worked the remote so that it made the robot mum pick up the old man and start walking. She strode off into the distance and is probably still walking with him clutched tight in her metal arms. This meant Sam and Sally could raise the cage and save their mum.

And this blog’s long enough, so I’ll save the rest for the next one.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Writers Do Take Vacations

When I’m not traveling, I’m at the keyboard every morning working on my current manuscript. But when traveling with the family, I spend my time with the kids and grandkids. We just got back from a week vacation at the Disney Aulani Resort in Hawaii. Instead of writing, I spent my mornings going on water slides, swimming, looking for shells and keeping track of smiling grandchildren. I love writing, but it comes second to family.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Samba #2

by Leighton Gage

I heard my first samba in 1966.
It was in a cinema on East 34th Street in New York, and the film in which it appeared was Claude Lelouche’s Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and a Woman).

Never heard of the movie?
Then you’re probably a good deal younger than I am.
Because it was a piece of filmaking that no one of my generation (or, at least, no one without a heart of stone) is likely to forget.
Sentimental, romantic and lovely.

It blew me away.

Six years later, I arrived in Brazil. And learned that it had been composed by Baden Powell to lyrics created by Vinicius de Morães, the poet who wrote the words to The Girl from Ipanema.
The English-language version from the film goes like this:

The original title is Samba de Benção, sometimes called Samba Saravah. Here’s Vinicius himself, singing it at a live performance inMar del PlataArgentina (hence the introduction in Spanish) several years before his death.

And both, as promised in my last post, are classic versions of a samba canção, one of the many sub-genres of this style of music.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing About Characters with Schizophrenia/Psychosis

by Jean Henry Mead

Schizophrenia has never quite been understood by the medical profession, according to Dr. Michael Bengston of Psych Central, and was once thought to be an illness caused by demonic possession. The ailment continues to confound medical professionals and wreak havoc in the victim’s family.

Schizophrenia usually rears its ugly head during the early twenties when unusual behavior begins to appear. According to Dr. Bengston, the following  symptoms signal the condition:  

1.       Social isolation and withdrawal

2.       Irrational, bizarre or odd statements or beliefs

3.       Increased paranoia or questioning other’s motivations

4.       Hostility or suspiciousness

5.       Less emotional

6.       A lack of motivation

7.       Drug or alcohol dependency

8.       Insomnia or oversleeping

9.       Strange manner of speaking

10.    Allowing personal appearance and hygiene to deteriorate

Although two or more of these symptoms may be cause for concern, the real problem is when they worsen with time, so the best time for treatment is as soon as the symptoms are recognized. And treatment may be a lifetime process.
Because they experience depression, nearly a third of all schizophrenics will attempt suicide and 10% will succeed within 20 years of the onset of the illness. But they rarely tell anyone that they plan to take their own lives. Those who suffer the most risk are young males under the age of 30, some of whom imagine hearing voices that tell him to harm themselves, which is referred to as auditory command hallucinations. Those with false beliefs are termed delusional.

Schizophrenics are often paranoid and have been known to install multiple locks on their doors and routinely check them. Some even refuse to talk on the phone. Their behavior and beliefs are usually irrational or illogical and they fear that others are out to get them or want to lock them away.
Alcohol, nicotine and drug abuse is another indicator that the schizophrenic is attempting to self-medicate, which hampers treatment and recovery.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sins of Commission

by Jaden Terrell

You remember that dream where your alarm goes off and you realize that you have an exam today, but you don't know where it is, and not only have you not studied for it, you haven't even been to that class? Or the one where you're in a play, and you give a tremendous performance of Act I, and while you're high-fiving each other backstage, you realize none of you have ever, ever practiced Act II?

This week, I experienced something similar--only it was no dream. I received an email from my publisher that had been forwarded from a reader who had been given an advance review copy of my second book. The reader had a lot of positive things to say and then mentioned two errors she had found. I was horrified. My copy editor and I had scoured that book several times, and then I even went through it paragraph by paragraph from the end to the beginning, since that tends to keep you from getting immersed in the story and reading over the errors. I really felt I'd done due diligence to make the book as error-free as possible. Yet, here they were. And they weren't just typos, like "form" for "from". No, they were content errors. And one of them was such a glaring, silly, rookie error that I couldn't believe I'd made it. Surely someone else had inserted it by mistake. But no, I looked at the manuscript I'd written and approved, and there was no way I could blame anyone else. The mistake was all mine.

I shot back an email asking if there was time to fix them before the book went to print. Send me the corrections, I was told, and I'll see if we can get them in under the wire. I rewrote the offending paragraphs and sent them, along with the page numbers, to my publisher. Unfortunately, the printer was already two thousand copies into the print run, and it would have cost several thousand dollars to destroy them and start over. I felt queasy. If only I'd known a day earlier. I'd wanted this book to be perfect. Okay, I know no book is perfect, but knowing that didn't make me feel any better about it. I envisioned the hundreds of one-star reviews, the tanking of my writing career. How could I have been so stupid?

I still have hope for the first error. There is a scene in which a rattlesnake is shot in the head and goes limp. I'd seen a snake shot once, and I was pretty sure it did go limp, so I immediately went to look it up. Seems like a snake can sometimes wiggle for hours after being decapitated. I wished I'd known that, since it would have been an interesting image to use, but I did find enough descriptions of snakes not twitching after death to give me hope that it depends on the circumstances and the amount or type (or location) of the damage. I'm not a herpetologist, though, so I asked a friend who is a naturalist and park ranger. I haven't heard back from him yet, but I'm hoping there are circumstances in which my description would be correct.

The second error was different. Ben, I hang my head in shame for this, because I know better, but somehow did it anyway. Yes, you may have guessed it. I put a safety on a Glock.

How, you may be asking yourself, how could I have done such a thing? Especially after going to workshop after workshop and hearing over and over from firearms experts that nothing telegraphs a rookie who knows nothing about guns like putting a safety on a Glock? And why didn't the police officer/firearms expert who read the manuscript catch it? The only thing I can think of is that, once upon a time, I flirted with giving Jared a different kind of gun, and later, when I decided to go back to his tried and true Glock (probably after the police officer had read the book), I replaced the name of the gun without realizing that I'd made references to a safety. Why didn't I catch it on one of my many editing passes through the book? I honestly can't say. Maybe because my pistol, a Taurus, does have a safety, so flipping off the safety seemed like a natural thing to do, or maybe I was too focused on the grammar and the rhythm of the language for the factual error to sink in. Whatever the reason, I didn't catch it.

It still makes me a little ill to think about it--not that I made a mistake, but that I made that particular mistake.

Is it the end of the world? I certainly hope not. But it just goes to show, you can't be too careful. You can bet I'll be extra diligent with book 3. Even though I know it won't be perfect.

How about you? What's the worst error that ever made it into one of your books?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where I'm writing about

by Carola Dunn

 The book I'm working on, the 21st Daisy Dalrymple mystery, is set mostly in Worcestershire, in a country mansion near the River Severn, between Upton upon Severn and Worcester. Here are some pics I took while I was there last year.

You may, perhaps, find it hard to believe that this building, adorned as it is by a pair of buxom ladies, was once a boy's school...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Creating Believable Characters

By Chester Campbell

I think creating characters is one of the most interesting facets of fiction writing. Cameron Quinn, a central figure in my latest novel, Beware the Jabberwock, was a fun person to work with. I originally wrote the Post Cold War thriller in 1989-91 after years of reading spy novels and non-fiction books about the CIA and the KGB. I needed a veteran CIA officer to put on the trail of the Jabberwock conspiracy, and Quinn was my man.

As has been my custom in the years since, I started with a few basic facts in his background, then developed his character more fully as the story progressed. I made him a member of Gen. William Donovan's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the latter part of World War II. After the war he received a law degree from Harvard. His father was a prominent Boston attorney, and his Ivy League connections made him an ideal candidate for the fledgling CIA.

Quinn became a main contact with the Mossad under legendary counterintelligence chief James Angleton. That put him in a bad position with his current CI chief, Hawthorne Elliott, an Israeli critic and detractor of Angleton. Quinn was a feisty Irishman who had always enjoyed imbibing, and after his wife died of cancer, he went on a drinking binge that got him in trouble at the Agency. Following a six-month drying out process, he hopes to salvage his career with work on tracking down the meaning of the code word Jabberwock.

This is where Cameron Quinn intersects with my main protagonist, Burke Hill, and offers more opportunities to develop his character. The two had worked together informally years before when their cases came together. Burke was an FBI agent then, working with J. Edgar Hoover's Goon Squad on projects of questionable legality. In one instance, Hoover sent Hill to Mexico to take care of a troublesome leftist who turned out to be Quinn's intelligence source. They worked together to placate both agencies at a time when the CIA and FBI were hardly best friends.

When Quinn recruits Burke Hill to assist him in the Jabberwock investigation, his daughter comes into the picture. She was born while Quinn was assigned to the American Embassy in Budapest at the time of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. After graduation from college, she worked with the CIA in Europe for a short time, then got into the travel business in Washington. Her company handles travel arrangements for CIA operators.

I portrayed Cameron Quinn as a likable, almost cherubic, grandfatherly man, but one highly dedicated to his craft and worthy of the nickname Pachinko, "the man with steel balls," which he earned working with the Israelis. He gets into some pretty sharp philosophical wrangles with Burke.

I hadn't considered it when I began dealing with the character, but as things developed, Quinn's drinking problem turned out to be a key turning point in the story. He was certainly an enjoyable person to follow through his ups and downs. It made him come across as a real person you could see and hear and connect with at every level.

Incidentally, Beware the Jabberwock is currently available as an ebook for the Kindle and on Smashwords,com for most any e-reader. Within the next week or so, it will be on Amazon as a trade paperback. You'll find more on my website and  blog.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Please give a warm welcome to my guest blogger today, Shelly Frome.  Shelly offers thoughts on what is being written, promoted and sold in these turbulent times. Read his bio and I'm sure you'll agree he's paid his dues and worth listening to.

Earl Staggs

* * * * *

Shelly Frome is a member of Mystery Writers of America, a professor of dramatic arts emeritus at the University of Connecticut, a former professional actor, a writer of mysteries, books on theater and film, and articles on the performing arts appearing in a number of periodicals in the U.S. and the U.K.. He is also a film critic and frequent contributor to writers’ blogs. His fiction includes Tinseltown Riff, Lilac Moon, Sun Dance for Andy Horn and the trans-Atlantic cozy The Twinning Murders.  Among his works of non-fiction are the acclaimed The Actors Studio and texts on the art and craft of screenwriting and writing for the stage. His latest novel is Twilight of the Drifter, a  southern gothic crime-and-blues odyssey. He lives in Litchfield, Connecticut.

What is t   
What is the Story Here?

by Shelly Frome
To keep up with the times, I thought I’d take out a subscription to a few writers’ magazines and add a few more websites to learn more about what’s now termed “the new era in publishing”.   

And lo and behold, within the pages of the magazines, I found this statement to be typical: “Readers of fiction are faced with saturated genres and a limited amount of time and money. Any title has to immediately grab their attention. The market doesn’t lie.”

In one issue, someone calling herself a literary change agent claimed that reaching readers is a matter of blanketing social media, blogging anywhere and everywhere, and “passing out fliers on street corners” if need be.

To meet these demands, contributors who were billed as successful pros offered sure-fire tips like these:

“Use plotting strategies that make the book a winner. Give readers a hook at the get-go. And be sure to leave them with a take-home thought.”

“Make them laugh and cry. When readers laugh and cry they’ll get that emotional high they’re looking for along with that walloping payoff.”

“Before you start, come up with a logline that makes buyers sit up and say ‘gotta read it’.”

“Try this for a ploy. Redesign an old hit TV show for the texting, tweeting, Lady Gaga generation. It’s a great reminder how important it is to always have your readers in mind.”

Ah, yes. Oh, well.

The added websites echoed the same mindset. In fact, the dozens of new daily e-mails snowballed into a promotional frenzy. Urging everyone to check out a fourth winner in a row; or latch onto a P.I. story everyone loves because it’s an ultra rare extraordinary read; and/or get set for a page-turning thrill ride. One lady outdid herself shopping her hair-raising gypsy escapade by tossing in a war-horse. And she continued to push this angle with every post.

One of these networks was caught up in an ongoing harangue over eliminating all middle men. Agents weighed in claiming they alone can wade through the slush given their knowledge of what’s really trending.

Seeking a quieter approach, I began watching conversations with writers on Charlie Rose’s show. Arguably, there’s no more easygoing host than Charlie Rose and no more casual writer willing to share his secrets than John Grisham. Soon, however, it was back to more of the same. Grisham claimed that readers have an insatiable appetite for stories about lawyers and scandals. Novels that don’t work use too many words. And the generator is your big idea. To locate it, you steal something. “Everything is fair game. We all steal, that’s what we do.”

He went on to say, you simply narrow it down to a half-dozen one-sentence pitches and run them by someone. He chooses his wife who never fails to pick the one with the best hook.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this. It’s just that it reminded me of that  same vendor-on-the-street-corner mind-set.   

Next, I came across an interview with Lee Child. He suggested that a key to his Jack Reacher series was the fact that his main character never changes. Readers always know who Reacher is and are reassured that he’ll always be taciturn, smart and ruthless.

Again, whatever works for someone is fine. I just hate to think that readers nowadays are flipping through their touch screens while on the go looking for some way to pass a few extra minutes before boarding their plane or what-have-you. Along these same lines, I recalled yet another reference to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code in The New York Time’s book review section—e.g., utilizing “a badly garbled version” of historian Elaine Pagels’ analysis of the early church, eliminating characterization as Robert Langdon and other stock figures keep running. The scenarios formatted to quickly “blow the minds of as many readers as possible.”

To reassure myself, I went back to the book review and took solace in author Sylvia Brownrigg’s guidelines:  “Will I believe in these characters? How distracted will I be by implausible dialogue or forced plotlines? Hopefully after only a page or two there will be a sigh of relief. I don’t have to worry. She knows what she’s doing. She won’t let you down.”

From there it was only a few pages more to Marilyn Stasio’s Crime Reviews. There, as usual, I found myself drawn to stories designed to unfold organically. 

I also found myself remembering something Raymond Chandler once wrote:

“A good story cannot be devised: it has to be distilled. You can never know till
you’ve written the first draft. What seems to be alive in it is what belongs.”

Perhaps Mr. Chandler also found himself contending with the hustle and bustle of his day and opted for something more genuine.

* * * * *

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dog Days and Trusting Your Reader

by Jackie King

The dog-days of summer arrived early this year, and along with the heat came lethargy and indolence. I’m calling this the lazy-day-syndrome, and I fear that I’m infected. Coining a disease sounds less harsh than calling myself a slug, don’t you think? (I have a habit of excusing all of my bad habits…my favorite is describing my tendency toward untidiness as artistic clutter.)

I needed to spend today editing an almost-finished book, but the word-smithing isn’t going at all well. My dialogue sounds as if it needs heavy starch and a hot iron. (I repeat, I'm suffering from lazy-day syndrome.)

I spent considerable time scanning through my dialogue, knowing that what I was reading wasn’t quite up to snuff, but not sure how to fix the problem. I wanted to put the work aside, telling myself that it was too hot to work, but that’s not going to bring in royalties and pay the bills. So I decided to let off some steam by lambasting my pet peeve, as a reader. Complaining always makes a person feel better, don’t you think?

I abhor the current odious trend of using both a punctuation mark and a question mark at the end of a sentence. Why? It’s insulting to me as a reader. It’s as if the author is saying, “I can’t trust you to get this, so I’m red-lighting the words to help you out.”

News flash: If the sentence is written correctly, I’ll get it. Also, when I see double punctuation at the end of one sentence, my first emotion is to throw the book across the room.

Why? Because it’s insulting to my intelligence. If the sentence is exciting, trust me, I’ll know that. If it isn’t, an exclamation mark won’t convince me.

Okay, I’ve had my little verbal temper-tantrum and now I feel all better. Guess I’ll go back to editing.

Hugs to all,


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Owl Eyes

By Mark W. Danielson

In darkness, people become helpless.  The slightest noise stirs the imagination.  Unexpected touches trigger panicked screams.  One of Hollywood’s greatest suspense movies, Wait Until Dark, brilliantly played upon our fear of blackness.  It’s no wonder scientists and inventors collaborated to devise a thermal imaging camera better known as infrared or IR.  IR levels the playing field with nocturnal creatures like the owl whose eyes are 100 times more sensitive in low light than our own.

Thermographic cameras form images by using the IR radiation that operates in long wavelengths.  While IR cameras have become commonplace for military, police, firefighter, news media, hunters, and airline applications, its development actually dates back to 1929 when Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invented the electronic television camera for anti-aircraft defense in Britain.  This IR technology was further developed for military use during the Korean War and was not declassified until 1956. 

IR energy is a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum that encompasses radiation from gamma rays, x-rays, ultra violet, and various wavelengths that include microwave and radio.  Because all objects emit a certain level of radiation as a function of their temperature, the higher the temperature, the better an IR camera can detect and convert the radiation into thermal imaging.  Whether in total darkness or a smoke-filled building, IR vision is better than an owl’s because ambient light is not a factor.

When people think of thermal imaging, they tend to think of military operations because they are used to seeing green “night vision” images on the evening news, but it can also produce ranges of color to show levels of heat.  IR cameras have proved ideal for search and rescue, localizing fire hot spots, detecting energy leaks, road hazards, viruses from elevated body temperature, even ghost hunting.  But with ghost hunting, hunters must beware that their own heat signatures can linger long enough to create false impressions.   

In the last few decades, engineers have taken IR imaging to even higher levels by adapting it to commercial aviation use.  The above photo shows an MD-11 head’s up display turning night into day revealing hazardous terrain, weather, and locating runways in minimal weather.  This image, taken while descending through 32,600 feet, clearly defines the horizon, clouds, cities, section lines, rivers, even an airplane – the bright dot just to the right of the “300” on the left hand side.  While using thermal imaging, pilots can taxi aircraft in total darkness, see heat plumes from running engines, and clearly make out the taxiway and runway even in a (God forbid) smoke-filled cockpit.  Similarly, IR vision allows military pilots to complete their missions in blackout conditions without being visually detected by the enemy.  For civilian airline applications, infrared is a definite safety enhancement.  For military operations, it is a matter of survival.    

There are plenty of great opportunities to include IR vision in novels.  If you've used it before, how about sharing?