Friday, August 31, 2012

A Conversation with Jacqueline King

Jacqueline King loves books, words, and writing tall tales. She especially enjoys murdering the people she dislikes on paper. King is a full time writer who sometimes teaches writing at Tulsa Community College. Her latest novel, The Inconvenient Corpse is a traditional mystery. King has also written five novellas as co-author of the Foxy Hens Series. Warm Love on Cold Streets is her latest novella and is included in the anthology The Foxy Hens Meet an Adventurer. Her only nonfiction book is Devoted to Cooking. She's a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Oklahoma Writers Federation, and Tulsa Night Writers.

Jackie, how did you conceive your novel, The Inconvenient Corpse?

Odly enough, The Inconvenient Corpse was birthed in its setting, a charming Bed and Breakfast Inn. I plotted the book by playing every writer’s favorite game: ‘What if?’

What if I’d found a dead man in this bed? What if he were naked? What if his clothes were nowhere to be found? What if the police thought I was the killer and told me that I couldn’t leave town? And then, what if I then learned that I had no money, no available credit, and no resources at all? What if I’d been born with a silver spoon in my mouth and had previously spent my days as a Junior League member? Could I survive on just my own moxie? I felt impelled to answer these questions.

What in your background prepared you to write?

My mother was a natural born storyteller. One night (at the end of the great depression) there was nothing for supper. Mother never told us this grim fact. She smiled (bravely) and said, “Let’s have stories for supper!” My brother, sister and I clapped our hands with joy. Stories for supper? What could be more wonderful? I must have been close to three at the time. After that, I think stories (and later books) became a part of my DNA.

What’s your writing work space like?

Shabby, overflowing with papers and magazines and books, and writing supplies. Probably sounds awful, but for me it’s heaven on earth. I’m living my life’s dream and am happy beyond belief.

Do you have a regular writing schedule and do you outline your work?

I write every day that it’s humanly possible, but not on any particular schedule. I’d love to write first thing in the morning, but this goal seldom happens. I do outline my work, sort of. I start a spiral notebook for each novel and jot down anything I can think of that comes to mind about my new project. I play a lot of “what if?” as I described earlier. I’m envious of outliners who stick to their exact outline, but I seem to be totally incapable of such a plan. I’m a “panster.” (As in flying by the seat of your pants.) It requires a huge amount of rewriting, but luckily I love what I fondly call, word-smithing.

Who taught you the language of fiction?

Although I’ve had many excellent teachers of fiction (mainly Peggy Fielding) I think I absorbed the language of fiction by reading and reading and reading. Mentally inhaling other writers wonderful novels, also helps improve my own writing.

Have any of your children followed in your keystrokes?

My youngest daughter, Jennifer Sohl, coauthored my only nonfiction book, Devoted to Cooking. This is a collection of family stories and their very own special recipe. My two granddaughters Lauren Keithley and Morgan Sohl are also writers. (prepublished.)

How do you feel about the ebook revolution?

Guess I’m a book rebel, (I’m American, after all) because I love e-readers and e-books. I also love paper books. If you wrote good prose on the sidewalk in front of my house, I’d read that, too.

What’s the best way you’ve found to promote and market your work?

I love promoting my books in the CyberWorld! What a joy it is to become acquainted with readers who live all over the world. Readers are extremely smart, witty, and interesting folk and I can ‘talk’ to any of them who own a computer. Lucky me, I can promote worldwide, day and night (if I choose) in my jammies.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t let anyone discourage you. I hate to go to a writer’s conference where a well-known writer tells how hard it is to get published at this time, thus intimating that those poor souls who have not yet found a publisher will probably be left out in the cold. THIS IS A LIE! You can do it if you follow the tried and true recipe of success: (1)Write every day. (2) Submit what you write. (3) Never give up.

Your social media links and bio.

I’d be thrilled to hear from readers about this post, or about what you’re thinking about today, or even your supper menu. Let’s all get acquainted so we can talk about books and writing. This has been fun, Jean. Thanks a million.

It's been great having you here, Jackie.

You can visit Jackie at her website: Website:
and her blog site:

She would like to have readers ‘friend’ on Facebook:!/Jacqking
and her book is available at: and

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Carved in Stone

By Mark W. Danielson

In a time when everything can be posted within seconds, it’s now more important than ever to choose our words wisely.  Cringing at some of the news articles or management comments I see, I realize it’s probably best to write my words like they are carved in stone.  While it is doubtful any of my good words will ever be recognized, I am certain that badly chosen ones will soon come back to haunt me.

When you are passionate about a topic, it’s easy to write with emotion.  In fiction, this is an essential ingredient, but when responding to a Facebook post, editorial, or question from the boss, it may not be advantageous.  Case in point, I frequently see comments that slam the French for being snobbish or weak.  I am neither of French descent or a defender of this country, but I have spent a lot of time there, and for every person that may seem arrogant, I can easily find their equal anywhere in the United States.  In this regard, it’s probably best not to brand a civilization based on a single experience, but rather realize that our own behavior often affects our interaction with others.  We should also realize that not everyone shares our own frame of reference, and that international politics can often slant how people see us.

So how does an author respond to a comment or cause without creating an uproar?  The answer is simple.  Never publish anything right away.  Instead, write it and then sit on it.  This works for any kind of writing, casual or professional.  After it’s fermented for whatever length of time seems appropriate for your situation, then re-read it out loud so you can hear your own words.  By doing so, the chances are good you will find new words that may better express what you were trying to say.  Once you’ve made your changes, then sit on it again.  And before sending anything on, read it aloud again to make sure you are satisfied.  If you have done this, then you can take your lumps as the criticism begins. 

Reputations can be ruined by just a few poorly chosen words.  Such fury is predominant when rivaling political figures spit their venom, but elected officials that are not careful with their words will forever be remembered for their bad choices.  One exception, however, is the word I chose to represent this article.  Infamy. . .   Anyone that has studied history will remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s word to describe the day Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941.  That day will forever live in infamy.

Nowadays, few seem to be accountable for any of their actions, so it’s best that authors lead the way in raising the communication bar.  And while we strive to perfect whatever words we use in writing, it’s probably best that we speak like our microphone is on and act like we’re being videotaped.        

Monday, August 27, 2012

Early Female Sleuths

In doing research for a mystery novel I’m currently writing, I had an opportunity to read a number of mysteries written at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries that featured female sleuths. I was pleasantly surprised at the intriguing and varied characters that I encountered. Here are the ones that piqued my interest:

George Sims’s Dorcas Dene was an actress who married an artist, who later became blind. She joins a private investigation business and solves cases of murder and theft.

Arthur B. Reeves has a character, Constance Dunlap, who becomes involved in forgery, embezzlement, gun running, gambling and the drug trade. She initially starts on the wrong side of the law trying to help her husband recover money he has embezzled. After her husband commits suicide over his guilt in dragging her into his crime, she helps set things right for other people who have been sucked into committing crimes. Along the way she is constantly dogged by a detective, who she managers to thwart at every turn.

Mary Roberts Rinehart introduces two female sleuths—Hilda Adams and Tish Carberry. Hilda is a nurse, who because of her investigative skills, is referred to as Miss Pinkerton (after the Pinkerton detectives). Tish Carberry is a spinster who gets involved in a variety of adventures and mysteries and has a fondness for cars and boats.

Anna Katherine Green also has two female sleuths—Violet Strange and Amelia Butterworth. Violet is a reluctant detective who has to be talked into investigating and only undertakes cases she’s interested in. Amelia is an inveterate snoop who watches people from her window.

Finally, I also enjoyed the lesser known Agatha Christie female amateur sleuth, Prudence (Tuppence) Beresford. She works with her friend then husband Thomas (Tommy) Beresford. The two of them keep up a constant patter, referring to each other as “old girl” and “old bean.”

This voyage of discovery launched me into some books I never would have read otherwise. There is a wealth of intriguing writing and characters in older mysteries.

Mike Befeler

Saturday, August 25, 2012


When I was in high school, we considered all classes concerning technology those that boys would take. The boys who cared about such things and understood such things. We girls were grateful that we did not need to concern ourselves with how things worked. I'm sure I was near the top of those females who didn't care about how to make things work. I was really glad that lots of boys cared. We were different. That was one of the things that made us unique. Flash forward to the last few years. Good grief, I've not only had to discover how to tweet and IM and such, I've also needed to learn how to do many more things with my phone besides answer it and hang up. Who knew? Who could have imagined that people would buy water in individual containers instead of just getting it out of the faucet? Who could have known we'd have restaurants that provided just salad or potatoes stuffed with different things? Who could have imagined? I bucked at first, not nearly ready to climb aboard the fast-moving ship that would teach us so much about instant messaging and such. Now that I've climbed aboard, I still often get stuck. Like why can't I just answer my call phone and hang up? Do I really need to know how to text and zoom in for pictures on it? And my gosh, what are the jillion other things it does that I need to learn? I was just starting to figure out myspace--and now I need to tweet and do my thing on Facebook and the newer things? I'm learning...slowly. Just kinda wish I'd been a boy so I would have taken an interest in technology much sooner. Of course now I have grandkids who can teach it all to me. How about you?

Friday, August 24, 2012


by Earl Staggs 

Recycling is all the rage these days. Paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, and all other approved materials go in a special container at our house and the city picks it up for reprocessing and reuse.  

With recycling in mind, this is a piece I wrote nearly a year ago. You won't find any verifiable facts here, but I hope you find a grin or a chuckle.



. . .according to Earl 

Long, long ago, a bunch of guys were sitting around the cave telling stories to each other and a guy called Hiero came up with an idea. 

“Hey,” he said, “we should preserve these stories on rocks.” 

So Hiero came up with a bunch of symbols for animals and fish and birds and people and other things. They invented a hammer and chisel and started chiseling their stories on rocks using the symbols. Since Hiero made up the symbols, they called them Hieroglyphics. 

I was just a kid then, but I studied hard and became a chiseler. 

Then one of the women fell on a basket of grapes and squashed them into liquid and one guy said, “Hey, we can use that to draw our stories on the cave walls.” We took some hair from a mastodon’s leg, tied it to a stick, and called it a brush. Soon we learned to drop women on other fruits and berries and came up with other liquids. We named it ink, and soon were drawing our symbols all over the cave walls.  

That went fine for a while until some guy invented something he called paper. He said, “Hey, let’s paint our stories on paper.” 

A guy over in the corner named Webster said, “Hey, that’s fine, but enough with the symbols. Let’s use words. I just made up a whole lot of them and someday everybody will be using them.” 

So we invented pencils and pens and started drawing words on paper. That became very popular, once you got the hang of picking the right words.  

Now, some people were better than others at picking words. Webster came up with a name for what we were doing. He called it writing. The ones who were good at picking the best words became known as writers. I was tired of chiseling, so I studied hard and became a writer. It was tedious work doing one page at a time, though. 

A few months later -- and you’ll notice I’m condensing the time frame to make this move a little faster – a guy named Gutenberg invented a machine he called a printing press. What a boon that was! Put words in a flat plate, smear ink on it, and print thousands of pieces of paper. Oh, my. We were on a roll. 

Then another guy had the idea of putting those pieces of paper in a pile and gluing them together. His name was Booker, so we called them books. 

About the same time, a couple of guys named Royal and Underwood invented gadgets called typewriters. That made it a lot easier for writers to write the books. 

That was great. Soon we had stacks and stacks of books. Remember Webster, the guy who came up with all those words? Even he got into the act. He gathered up all his words, put them in a book, and called it a dictionary. 

But what to do with all those books? A guy named Barnes said, “Hey, I have a friend named Noble. We’ll go in together and open a store to sell the books.” 

Before long, we had huge companies called publishers cranking out books, and we had bookstores all over the world selling them. The whole system needed more people to make it work, so editors, distributors, shippers, and warehousers were born. Another group of people said, “Hey, we’re agents. You writers send us your stuff, and we’ll sell it to the publishers.”  

Yes, a lot of people were involved in the system, but it worked. Everybody was reading books.  

Meanwhile, up in Seattle, a couple of kids named Jobs and Gates were putting things together called computers. Not the huge things big companies were using. These were small enough to sit on a desk, and soon everybody had one. This made it even easier for writers to write. These machines could even communicate with each other over a web that covered the whole wide world called the Internet. Wow! Talk about progress.  Before long, these machines were small and compact enough to hold on our laps. 

Things were about to change, though. A guy named Amazon started selling books over the Internet. You didn’t even have to go to the bookstore. Just order them through your computer, and they’d be shipped to your door. This Amazon guy went one step further. One day, he said, “Hey, look what I invented. I call it a Kindle. I don’t have to ship the books to you anymore. I’ll just send you the words and you read them on this thing. Let’s call them ebooks” 

Remember those guys named Barnes and Noble? They said, “Hey, we have one of those, too. We call it a Nook. Soon, there was a bunch more of them. A lot of people weren’t reading printed books anymore. They were reading ebooks in the palm of their hands. Talk about change! 

More changes were coming, though. A bunch of writers were sitting around one day and one of them said, “Hey, we don’t need agents and publishers and distributors and all those people. Let’s publish our ebooks ourselves. Since all those other people won’t be getting any of the pie, we can sell them for less money and still make more per book than before.” 

And that’s how it all happened and that brings us to where we are today. Writers have a choice of going the traditional way through agents and publishers or we can publish our own ebooks.  

No one knows what changes the future will bring. It could be the entire publishing industry will crumble, and we’ll go back to preserving our stories on rocks. If that happens, I’ll be okay. I still have my tools and I can be a chiseler again.


If you’ve read all the way to here, you’re invited to visit my site at . . . 

. . .where you can read Chapter One of my novel MEMORY OF A MURDER, which gathered a long list of Five Star reviews.  You can also read a short story called “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” which some say is the funniest story I’ve ever written.  There’s also “White Hats and Happy Trails,” a true story about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers. 

You might also click on Short Stories at the top for information about my collection, SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS, 16 tales of Mystery, available in all ebook formats, on sale for 99 cents.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Three Rules for Writing

Plus One to Grow on
by Jackie King

Rule 1: Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Books are written one word at a time, one sentence at a time, and one paragraph at a time. Each day remind yourself that all you have to do is write one sentence, and then one more, and then one more…

Rule 2: Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft. This removes the fear of failure. You can’t fail because it’s okay to write sucky pages. What’s hard is putting your heart on paper. Don’t listen to your internal monitor that says, “You can’t even spell.” (Like that makes any difference? Many successful writers can’t. That’s why God made dictionaries.)

Rule 3: Write every day. Determine to write even in chaos or tragedy, because life is seldom perfect. No matter how busy you are, you have a right to some time of your own; learn to recognize and grasp these moments. Keep either index cards or a notebook close at all times. (I prefer index cards and always carry some in my purse, pocket and car.

Modern men and women spend a huge amount of time standing in lines, waiting at the doctor’s office, or the dentist or hairdresser, or for a child at private lessons or activities. Apprehend these moments to make character sketches, brainstorm writing ideas, or write a scene or part of a scene. It’s possible to write a scene in 20 minutes. I know one author who wrote her second book waiting at the airport for her next plane.

Get a large collapsible file to keep all of your notes, character sketches, newspaper clippings, etc., together. Writing time shouldn’t be wasted searching for lost notes. Keep that file somewhere handy and drop each scrap of paper or index card into it.

Writing a book doesn’t always happen in an organized way. Writers are creative folk and there are different ways to begin. Many things can trigger a germ of an idea from which a novel can develop: an overheard snatch of conversation; a newspaper or magazine article; a scene flashing through your mind unexpectedly.

Trust yourself and follow your intuition while you’re writing. This brings out that precious quality called “voice.”

Discipline is primary.

Talent is secondary.

Luck is nice, but a lack of luck can be overcome by persistence.

Use your experiences plus your imagination.

Oh, and, that most important Rule to Grow On:



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Who's Who in The Poksu Conspiracy

There has been an ongoing discussion the past few days on the subject of using a Cast of Characters in mystery novels. Some people think it's a great idea, others couldn't care less. My wife thinks I often have too many characters in my books. That could be true, but each  one has a specific purpose for being there.

I had thought about including a list a few times and finally decided to go through with it while revising my second Post Cold War thriller, The Poksu Conspiracy. My decision was based on the setting for most of the story, South Korea. With lots of strange Korean names, I thought it would help readers keep the characters separate.

When I mentioned the possibility on my Mystery Mania blog a few weeks ago, I received a positive response from quite a few readers. There were suggestions that the list be organized alphabetically as well as by categories. My colleague Jaden Terrell objected that labeling the last "Cast of Characters" would be "a blatant reminder that none of these people are real. It's a bludgeon to my suspension of disbelief." She suggested calling it a Who's Who.

That's what I've done. I decided there was no need to include people who only appear in only one chapter. That left me with 55 characters in my Who's Who. In the story, Burke Hill, the hero of Beware the Jabberwock, has become an official  of Worldwide Communications Consultants, an international public relations firm that is really a CIA spinoff. The Who's Who category breakdown includes:

Worldwide Communications Consultants
American Officials
South Korean Officials
Seoul Metropolitan Police Bureau
World War II Poksu Guerilla Group
North Korean Officials
Other Americans
In Hungary
Other Koreans

Since one of the main characters is a Seoul homicide detective, the book could be called half thriller, half Korean police procedural. It should be out in ebook format within the next couple of months.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Road Musings...

by Ben Small

I just returned from summer journeys, this time criss-crossing back and forth between my granddaughter in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and my homehome in Tucson. Cushioning my flat ... uh ... my undercarriage, my trusty Tahoe held up well. 168,000 miles and counting.

Some of my travel musings. A long road for that...

Oklahoma City looks like a nice place; well, when it's not being blown down, flooded, snowed in or burned up. Too bad there's no hope of understanding the language;

If you're invited to a campfire dinner in the Smokies, be prepared for shredded pork barbeque and the smell of apple pie. I understand shredded pork requires few teeth; it's soft on the gums. Which fits in well there. And don't touch the apple pie. Yes, it smells and tastes like the real stuff, but the fact it's served in a jar and might be vintage Tuesday should give you some clues. Take a sip and they're likely to find you naked in the woods in a few days.

Hope you can play the banjo...

In my case, somebody drove me home. Good thing, too.  I don't remember much beyond "Can I have a sip?" I remember the smell, like fresh from grandma's oven, its crust gasping sweet steam. I thought, what the hell, grandma prolly took a sip once in a while.

I don't know who drove me home, and I'd like to keep it that way. I left the next day and turned my cell phone off for a couple days. And no way will I play those voicemails. Man, that's one interior I don't want to clean. Next time, I'm staying home.

You can walk anywhere in Tennessee with a Bible in your hand. Just wave one around and you'll get a congregation. And if you take the collection first, you may be able to outrun 'em.

Only the brave drive Illinois roads.

Collard greens may tickle your taste buds, but cooking them will clear a room.

I have no idea what "The Thing" is, and I don't want to know. I just want it to stop following me.

The Villages has one of the highest STD rates in the country. Guess grandma's got her love lights on. Don't ask me how I know.

Why would Arkansans name their state after Kansas?

Don't offer a Border Patrol agent a Cuban cigar.

Check your local papers for NASCAR races. You don't want to get caught within one hundred miles of one. Traffic patterns are like a black hole; you just get sucked in.

Don't wear an OSU jersey in Texas. It's like wearing one in Michigan, but Texans eat more beef. So instead of boos in Michigan, you'll be lucky to survive in Texas.

I solved Kansas' bug problem. I've got most of them on my windshield.

You can always spot a tourist in Florida. They're the ones with tans.

What's the plural of "Yo'all"?

Atlanta is my special hell. I think Sherman had the right idea.

Grits look like week-old hashbrowns, taste like wet mushed up cornbread. Another reason the North won the war.

Did you know the hose at most gas stations pops off if you drive away still attached.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Serra de Capivara

by Leighton Gage

This creature is a capybara, the largest rodent in the world.
The females, larger than the males, can measure up to 130 centimeters (4.3 ft)  in length and weigh as much as  65 kg (140 lb).

Capybaras are abundant throughout Brazil and have been for many thousands of years.

They’re reputed ('ve never eaten one) to be quite tasty, with a meat not unlike pork.

But this post isn’t really about capybaras,
It’s about the Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara  (Capybara Mountain Range National Park).

The park named after the mountains, named after the capybaras that once lived there, is located in the  northeastern State of Piaui.

And it’s there, where that little green dot is located, that you will find the vestiges of the largest concentration of prehistoric small farms in all of the Americas (North, Central and South).

And a remarkable collection of rock paintings, some of which were created more than 14,000 years ago.

There are five main cultural themes.


Sexual Practices.


Rituals performed around a tree.

and animals.

There is also quite a bit of entirely incomprehensible iconography, like human bodies heaped on a pyramid.

The paintings of the Serra da Capivara are neither as old, nor as beautiful as those of Lascaux:

or Altamira:

But their great age makes them pretty impressive, all the same.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Saving the Animals

by Jean Henry Mead

When I began writing my Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, I decided to focus on various social problems, including serial killings in A Village Shattered, drug gangs in Diary of Murder and homegrown terrorism in Murder on the Interstate.

For my latest novel, Gray Wolf Mountain, which was released last week, I researched the unwarranted mass killings of wolves, both in this country and Canada. What I learned was shocking. In the northern Rocky Mountain states, where wolves have been removed from the endangered species list, gray wolf pups are gassed in their dens and buried alive, while adult wolves are killed by shooting them from aircraft.

In both the U.S. and Canada, where government mandated numbers of wolves must not go below one hundred, female wolves are captured and sterilized. Also in Canada, where the Keystone Pipeline is under construction, caribou have been dying off because their natural habitats have been destroyed. But wolves have been blamed for the caribou deaths and nearly a thousand have already been reportedly killed from the air.

In the Yukon Territory where biologists track wolf numbers and their locations with radio collars, the Game and Fish Department is killing great numbers of wolves from the air so that the caribou numbers will increase to 100,000 while wolf numbers dwindle to a hundred in the entire territory. Why? To attract big game hunters.

Why should anyone be concerned about the demise of the wolf as well as the grizzly bear, which is also under consideration here in Wyoming to be de-listed. Because they're both keystone predators who influence their habitat’s entire ecosystem and keep the animals that eat plants in check. That in turn increases plant growth and the survival of birds and animals which depend on the plants. It also prevents a build-up of large game animals who will starve to death due to lack of food. In other words, killing off the predators unbalances nature.

To prevent my books from becoming boring nonfiction tomes, I added my two amateur women sleuths, who are always stumbling over bodies and getting themselves caught in the crosshairs of illegal hunters, terrorists, drug gangs and wolf killers, to name a few. By adding humor and a little romance in the form of a lovesick sheriff, as well as a few quirky characters, I can inform and hopefully entertain my readers. 

(Gray Wolf Mountain is available on Kindle and print from

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Going to the Fair

by Carola Dunn

Thursday and Saturday I'll be signing at the Oregon Authors' booth at our local county fair:

This is one of three annual events where we have a table for local authors. The first of the year, around July 4th weekend, is a celebration in aid of a local art museum. Art and the Vineyard--yes, artists and local wineries. And food and authors and a children's area, and of course fireworks. All in a park by the Willamette River so there's lots of trees and a cool breeze off the water.

And music--I forgot that. In fact, this was their logo this year:

"Wired" by Chris Pontrelli

 Unfortunately, often the music is so loud that talking to prospective readers becomes difficult. When it's quiet enough and there's a dearth of readers, talking to fellow authors is always enjoyable. Not to mention people-watching...

The second event is the County Fair, in August. It has all the usual county fair things--animals, rides, cotton candy (candy floss in UK),  endless pots of jam, etc. and a local authors' table. It's going to be 100 deg.F tomorrow, so I'm very glad we'll be indoors. And well away from the music. It's at the county fair that I often have "regulars" come up to the table, look at my array of books, and say, "Which ones have I read?" Not an easy question to answer!

The third event of the year is--well, kind of complicated. Eugene has a Saturday Market downtown 8 months of the year. It's all handmade goods; you can't have a booth there unless you sell stuff you've made yourself. For several weeks before Christmas, it becomes the Holiday Market and moves indoors at the fairgrounds, as does the Farmers' Market. For one day in early December, we authors have a space there, a big space with lots of authors. That's where I reckon to see all my local author friends, as they're not always scheduled the same time as I am at the other events.

I wondered whether any of you--readers or fellow-writers--have anything similar in your area. If so, readers: Support your local authors! If not, writers might want to try getting something going.

Wish me luck tomorrow!



When Reality Becomes Fiction

 By Mark W. Danielson

Writing non-fiction can be a lot of fun, but it also requires tremendous scrutiny.  While I prefer accuracy in fictional details, there is no room for error in non-fiction.  In fact, the only thing worse than errors in non-fiction is stealing someone else’s work.  Case in point, reflect on how plagiarism tarnished author Stephen Ambrose’s credibility.

I am currently involved in co-writing a biography, and it has been one of my most challenging works because my collaboration does not involve direct research.  Instead, my job is to turn the presented material into a publishable document. 

The story is one of an immigrant who enlisted in the Marine Corps and becomes a fighter pilot.  A genius that invented air-to-air radar missiles and shot down two MIG 15s on a dark Korean night.  A man so brilliant that President Kennedy asked him to get out of the Marine Corps and go into the private sector.  A man that eventually took us to the moon as NASA’s Chief Engineer for NASA’s Apollo space program.  Sound interesting?  I thought so. 

In the eyes of the co-author, I was the perfect choice to help write this story.  After all, I flew fighters from the same Korean air base a generation later, am a US Navy TOPGUN graduate and air-to-air combat instructor, have published over one hundred non-fiction articles and four novels, and I believe in this story.  But progress has been slow because my understanding of non-fiction is different from my co-author.  While I believe that facts are facts, he thought we could re-write history to give the story more flair.  Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.  I will never put my name on anything that isn’t true, even under a pseudo name.   

During our last meeting we agreed that he would organize every one of his documents by date, create an accurate timeline, and start over.  Many moons will pass before I become involved in this project again.  However, taking a break is good because whatever material he presents will then be fresh. 

My reason for mentioning this is because any inaccuracy in a non-fiction work will forever cost an author his or her credibility, and without credibility there is no chance of publishing non-fiction again.  Stephen Ambrose’s infractions still haunt his grave.   

To protect yourself, never rely on Internet research, question every source, and consider that every picture relevant to your topic could be Photoshopped.  Most importantly, have an independent source that is familiar with the topic review your work before ever sending it on.    

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven - part 2

The continuing saga of my primary day out and three more stories from the enthusiastic imaginings of 5-10 year olds. One class began its story by choosing a title: ‘The blue truck’. It was set in Hawaii and the cast consisted of:
  • a blue truck and a red one, which was later changed by the girls in the class to pink because it was a girl truck and the trucks were (giggle) boy- and girl-friends;
  • another couple – this time, forklift trucks;
  • two fairies, who were considerably less interesting than the vehicles;
  • and a single racing car, but one with long hair because the class couldn’t decide whether it was male or female, so they called it ‘he’ but gave it long hair to imply its feminine side.

The owner sold the blue truck, which had to leave Hawaii and go to Scotland, where it was miserable. The pink truck was bereft, of course, so she organised a rescue. The fork lifts hoisted the pink truck onto a boat and the fairies made the racing car magic so that it could fly. In Scotland, the fork lifts broke down the door to the garage where the blue truck was being held and they all flew back to Hawaii.

This next one I liked for its offbeat, almost cool attitude to its characters. It began, for example, with a caveman called Ugg sitting by the sea fishing. Not far away, lying on a rock, singing and combing her hair was a Goth Vampire Mermaid with red eyes. In the woods just off the beach lived a fairy whose intentions were evil. Having established all this, they shifted their attention back to Ugg and his fishing. He got a huge bite and, after much difficulty landed his catch, a shark. I asked them what Ugg said when he saw he’d caught a shark. One boy answered ‘Nothing. Cavemen can’t talk. But the shark said “Hi, I’m Steve”’.
In the end, the fairy and the shark merged and became a merman and I suppose he lived happily ever after with the Goth vampire mermaid, but we never got that far because more plot strands were still being developed when the bell went.

I’ll forego telling you of the upside down mountain in the sky, the turtles from Pluto, the alien girl called Sag, etc., and just sketch the outline of the final example. A plane is flying along, piloted by a lion and a leopard. It has only two passengers, a tiger and a spider. They’re flying from Egypt to Russia. (In the case of the spider this choice of destination is bizarre since he’s doing it to get a sun tan.) Anyway, I said we needed some conflict so the passengers started arguing about who was the stronger. When some kids said that was too obvious because tigers are obviously stronger, I suggested they think of ways a spider might possibly win. So the spider crawled up the tiger’s nose and spun a web, then did the same in his mouth.

This meant the tiger was having great difficulty breathing. But the leopard co-pilot heard the tiger choking on the cabin intercom and went back to investigate. (An aside, there was the predictable suggestion that the spider could also crawl up the tiger’s bum. This came from a gentle-voiced, sweet-faced girl but added little to the plot.) The co-pilot persuaded both passengers that they had their own particular strengths and should learn to respect one another.

But suddenly, the plane stopped and hung there in mid-air. It had run out of fuel and was only being held up by the hot air rising from a volcano. This gave the spider time to spin a huge web, which they could use as a parachute. They jumped out, began to float down into the volcano but the three big cats all blew hard together in the same direction and they floated clear and landed on a warm beach.

As I left at the end of the afternoon, I was walking past a file of kids on their way to get their coats etc. and was pleased and relieved to be invited to give several (very low) high fives. It was a great day of uninhibited creativity and another nice reminder of the privilege attaching to being someone whose trade involves words, ideas, relationships, and escape as well as understanding.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Trials and Jury Duty

The only people I know who ever want to be on juries are mystery writers. I’m actually excited about being notified to be a jury candidate later in August. In fact, I spent parts of four days several weeks ago sitting in on some of the testimony for four felony trials. The trial I followed the closest was a woman accused of theft and forgery. She worked for a safe house program and was accused of stealing money from undocumented Hispanic women who had been abused, spoke little English and were seeking legal assistance. The total amount of money taken was approximately seven thousand dollars, which may not seem like a lot, but was significant to people who primarily worked as house cleaners for between seven and ten dollars an hour. The defendant was in a position of trust, spoke Spanish and took advantage of people who had little education, didn’t understand the American legal system and feared calling attention to themselves in their undocumented state. The defendant was not supposed to take any money from clients of the safe house. The victims testified they had given cash and money orders to the defendant but received no legal services. The most damning evidence came from the testifying detective showing bank records of money orders deposited in the defendants account. The defendant was found guilty by the jury. One of the procedural matters I learned about concerned the selection of jurors. Twenty-five jurors were called. The defense and prosecution could then interview and dismiss six each, leaving thirteen. All thirteen went through the trial and before the jury was sent to the juror room to deliberate, the judge dismissed the thirteenth (the alternate). In a sexual abuse case I heard testimony about, the victim, working with the detective, made a pretext telephone call to the suspect. This was a call that was recorded and the victim confronted the suspect with her statement of being sexually abused. This along with abusive text messages sent from the defendant to the victim and testimony by the victim were instrumental in convicting that defendant. An interesting week for me learning more about the judicial system. All helpful background material for a mystery writer.

Mike Befeler

Friday, August 10, 2012


by Earl Staggs

We who write today carry a responsibility during our time to maintain a level of writing quality as it was passed on to us by those who came before.  When our time is done, we will pass that task along to the next generation of writers.

A recent incident gave me serious concern about the writers who will follow us.

I drive a school bus as a part time job.  Writing is a solitary profession and this job gets me out of the house every day for a couple hours and provides interaction with other members of the human race.  One day, several students reported to me that other students in the back of the bus were using profane language. Sure enough, I checked the tape and found it. Our buses have cameras on board with audio recording capability.  Two boys back in the last row used language unsuitable in mixed company anywhere, let alone in a group of children.

 I wrote an Incident Report, copies of which go to the school principal and to the parents of the students involved.  I don’t know what the parents did to their kids, but the principal suspended them for a few days.

The principal also required the boys to write a personal letter of apology to me.  Here’s an excerpt from one of those letters exactly as it was written:

“Dear mr. earl I now what I did was wrong I have taken ownership for what I did I will start being a leader and a better kid being that this is my first offince. . .”

Both letters were in printed letters, not cursive, and the penmanship was so bad, they were difficult to read. They obviously knew little about capitalization, punctuation or spelling.

You might think these letters were from second or third graders.  No, these boys were in eighth grade and would move up to high school in a few short months.

Their lack of writing skill concerned me as much if not more than the offensive language they used. It bothered me that young people were not being schooled in the craft of communication via the written word. 

Instead, they become expert in texting and posting on social venues such as Facebook.  Their language is much simpler than ours.  Instead of asking, “How are you?” they type “? R U.”  Instead of asking, “How are you doing,” it’s “Sup dude.”

Maybe there will be no need for writing skills in future generations.  Maybe the ability to write personal letters in legible script will not be necessary in a technically advanced age.  Perhaps correct word usage, spelling and punctuation will be relegated to the old days.

But who will write books?   Who will create printed material for reading and learning use?

I must admit there are a small number of exceptions on my bus. Occasionally, I’ll see a student carrying a book and spending  the travel time reading.  Sadly, a very small number.

This situation has bothered me since the day of the incident.  A few days ago, however, I received a newsletter  from the superintendent of the school board in which he discussed plans for the coming year.  Part of it said:

“This year’s theme is Once Upon a Dragon. ..with year-long emphasis on reading, literacy and storytelling.  I think you’ll agree that reading is a cornerstone for success across all courses, grade levels and subjects. While it certainly isn’t our only focus, we do plan to emphasize reading during the 2012-2013 school year. We want our students to read for fun and use their imaginations. We want them to hear tales told by expert storytellers, participate in their own creative writing activities and integrate new technologies into their love for reading.

“Many of our campuses already have ongoing programs to promote reading, but you’ll be hearing more about opportunities to incorporate a love for reading into your everyday lesson planning, how to encourage parents to read with their children and how some of our Dragons are already published writers!”

I was greatly encouraged and uplifted to read this.  It indicates that school administrators are becoming as concerned as I am about the reading and writing skills of students.   

Along those lines, I had a personal experience at one of the schools on my route. I was invited to speak to a class about writing. Sounds easy, but the class happened to be Kindergarten. How do you talk to a room full of five-year-olds about writing?  You’re invited to read “My Kindergarten Challenge” at

In spite of the plan outlined for my school district, I’m still concerned as far as where the next generation of writers will come from.  Maybe – just maybe, however - there is some hope.