Friday, April 26, 2013

What Do You Do When You Finish a Book?

by June Shaw

When you finish reading a book, what do you do? If you spend some time thinking about the book--its characters or their situations--then it was a very good one.

When you read the last sentence and mourn that there isn't any more, it's an excellent book.

When you finish reading a book and immediately go after the others, it's a great book. And what about one you think about for an extra long time--and you can't wait to go back and read it again? Gosh, wouldn't we all like to write ones like that?

What about when you finish creating a book? Does it feel the same?

Moments ago I finished my final revision on the dystopian YA I'm writing with my two young teen granddaughters who asked me to write one with them. I was happy. Thrilled. I walked outside and admired and smelled my flowers, especially the eight that bloomed today on my passion vine. And I saw the first hummingbird of the season. My jasmine is blooming. I'll need to clean and fill my feeders.

In the meantime I needed to write a blog today, so guess what I thought of? Finishing a book. And afterwhile I'll get dressed and go out with my squeeze who's been my boyfriend for years, but he's too mature (not old) for that term to describe him.

We'll join another couple and enjoy an adult beverage while visiting. And then we'll have a cup of seafoof gumbo, maybe with a seafood platter.

Okay, getting too hungry now. What do you do when you finish a book? I'd love to know.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

By Jackie King

The most common question asked by readers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many answers to this question as there are writers. One of the most honest answers was given by T.D. Hart on her blog “I don’t know,” she posted.

T.D. Hart is a soon-to-be published writer of mystery and thrillers, and her enthusiasm and honesty charms this sometimes jaded writer. I highly recommend a trip to her blogsite. Her real name is Jennifer Adolph, but she uses a pseudonym for fear readers might be turned off by the name she married into. Most people misspell the name by using an ‘f’ as the ending letter, she said.

[It’s a very good that this charming man’s last name didn’t put Jennifer off dating him, falling in love with him, or marrying him. Both veterinarians and as a married couple have produced three of the most delightful children I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.]

But back to my question “Where do you get…”

The truth, in my opinion, is that everyone has a bottomless pit of such ideas. Most people just aren’t writers and don’t recognize what to do with these passing thoughts. I came to that conclusion when I heard the famous author, Jodi Thomas, speak at a writer’s conference. When discussing this reader-question, she confided to the group, “I always want to ask these folks, ‘Where did your ideas go’?” But being very polite, she doesn’t, of course.

The truth is that only writers need such ideas.

My ideas for the mystery novellas I wrote for the “Foxy Hens” series,” came from memories of my grandparents, who as very young pioneers, homesteaded in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

The Statehood Foxy Hens and Murder Most Fowl

Grandma Hodges, whose given name was Lillie Bell, told me stories of how she and Grandpa lived in a dugout and gathered cow-chips for fuel. (Cow-chips are dried cow dung. And no, they didn’t smell bad when burned. Perhaps the reason for no bad smell is that cows eat grass. And I know the information is true because Grandma said so.

To the writers who might be reading this post, my advice is to pay attention to whatever is going on around you. Listen to what folks have to say, especially those raised in a different generation. Oh! How I wish I’d paid more attention and asked more questions when I could. I think of so many now, when it’s too late.

Everything that happens to a person becomes grist for her or his writing mill.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Writers are not nice people

If I asked you to name some nice writers, i.e. writers who are nice people, I bet that, in the UK at least, Alan Bennett might be at or near the top of the list. And yet, a few years back, in an interview about his play The History Boys, he said ‘no writer's entirely nice, otherwise they wouldn't be writers. It's quite a sneaky profession really’. It was a remark that was picked up and chewed over by members of an online group of writers to which I belonged.

Bennett’s tongue was firmly in his cheek when he said it and his implication was that we use people’s experiences as our raw materials, distorting or otherwise exaggerating them to suit our purposes. In other words, we exploit people. Well, we do, but I think our excuse is that we do so for a reason.

The fourth novel in my Jack Carston series takes place mainly in a university and a hospital. At one point, as part of his investigation, Carston goes to watch an operation. The description and details of that operation are all taken from a visit I made myself to an operating theatre to watch a thoracic operation at close range. The surgeons delved about inside a woman’s chest cavity, shoving lungs and other red and white bits out of the way, chopping lumps out of tubes, and, at the same time, chatting away about a concert one of them had been to the previous evening. The patient’s head was concealed by a suspended sheet and the surgeons’ entire focus was on the small area of flesh with its big hole, into which they were dipping their hands. In a way, they weren’t dealing with a person but with a sort of anatomical puzzle.

Despite the fact that their manipulation of the various organs that were in their way seemed a bit cavalier, no one would seriously suggest there was anything ‘inhuman’ about their actions. They just needed to be objective and think in terms of the mechanical aspects of what they were doing. So, while chatting about music as you grab a pulsing organ and push it aside may seem disrespectful, intrusive, it’s actually the reverse. The fact that they were prepared to take responsibility for such extreme interventions to improve the lot of a fellow human was an affirmation of their humanity. They cared. They were doing all that so that she’d survive. And she did.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? Scalpels, pens – same thing, really. Except that very few of us use pens any more. Yes, we pick up news stories, snippets of conversation, fragments of real lives, aspects of real people, and we steal them and shape them to suit our subjective purposes. If you like, we don’t treat them with  much respect. But usually, these purposes are positive, affirmative things – we want to add to people’s enjoyment, make them laugh, offer them new perspectives, enlighten them, highlight threats to their security/happiness/culture, and a host of other things aimed at lifting them out of the humdrum or the painful.

Of course there are writers who are definitely not nice – political apologists, religious propagandists, individuals with a personal vendetta against society or one of its groups. Such people thrive on distortion, reductionism, cynicism and a dedication to their own cause which shows little respect for those outside its concerns. But I prefer the glass to be half full and the writers I know and celebrate, famous and unknown, are those who write to make other people’s lives better. Like Mr Bennett, they ARE nice.

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Moment of Silence

Amid all the frenetic social media activity, I want to dedicate this blog post to a moment of silence for all the victims of tragedies around the world this last week.

Mike Befeler

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chico Xavier

by Leighton Gage

This was Chico Xavier, a Spiritist who claimed to be able to communicate with the dead.
And, around here, that claim is generally accepted.

So much so, that the Brazilian government even issued a stamp in his honor:

There have been, over the course of the last half-century or so, countless books and magazine and newspaper articles about him, even a feature film.

Check out the sheer volume of stuff on Google and YouTube. It’s impressive.

But I daresay few of you, reading these lines, have ever heard of him.
Because his fame never traveled far beyond the borders of Brazil.

Chico was born, a little over a hundred years ago, in a small town in the State of Minas Gerais. His mother died when he was five, but he alleged that she materialized for him after her death. And, he also alleged, from an early age, to sense the presence of other spirits and to hear their voices.

While still in elementary school, according to a well-documented account, he produced an essay considered to be far too erudite for a child.

And when his teacher challenged him on it, he went to the blackboard and began to write, and write, and write, spontaneously producing a profound statement on the theme.

One, he contended, had been dictated to him, by a spirit, as he wrote.

This became the first public manifestation of what later became his stock-in-trade: psychography, writing “automatically” without apparent awareness or premeditation.

In his lifetime, with this technique, and with only a limited grade-school education, he produced 413 books, some of them in languages in which he was not fluent.

Including English.

And always, as he claimed, with his hand guided by spirits.

He died on the day Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, having earlier remarked that he’d like to breathe his last “on a day of national celebration” so his “passing would not bring sorrow”.

And there are those that think he planned it that way.

His work led to the establishment of Kardecist Spiritism as one of the religions professed in Brazil.

Unfamiliar with Allan Kardec? You can learn more about him by following this link:

The words that flowed from Chico Xavier’s pen took the form of religious tracts, novels, even works of philosophy.

And they were translated into Spanish, French, Japanese, Esperanto and English.

Up to now, an estimated 50 million copies of them have been sold.
And all of the profits, all of them, have been channeled into charity work.

Xavier never kept a centavo for himself. And he never tried to take the credit for any of his work. Each and every one of his books bears the line “dictated by the spirit of–” on the title page.

He lived on into his nineties, was made an honorary citizen of many cities and towns all across Brazil and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Tens of thousands of people attest that he enabled them to communicate with their deceased loved ones, and that he was able to tell them things he could not possibly have known about both the living and the dead.

He did most of his work in Uberaba, a small town in the State of Minas Gerais

And is buried there.

This is his tomb. It’s always full of flowers.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

99c for Kindle experiment

by Carola Dunn

My Regency e-publisher is experimenting with pricing on Amazon. She asked me if I'd like to find out what happened if one of my (36) Regencies was priced at 99c (UK 77p) instead of the usual $3.99. I said okay, and she chose A Lord for Miss Larkin, originally published in paperback in 1991.

No murder here, but there is an abduction so at a pinch you could call it crime fiction. What it does have is dogs, as you might guess from the paperback cover. The heroine has a Newfoundland, and three of her four eccentric aunts have West Highland Terriers. (The protagonist of my Cornish mysteries also has a Westie.) 

This book is the first of a trilogy, so if sales go up, the second and third books may follow at the regular price--one can always hope!

The second book, The Road to Gretna, features an elopement--or rather two elopements that get entangled with each other--and an extremely troublesome kitten. 

The third, Thea's Marquis, doesn't feature any animals, but it does have a villain or two and it ends with a thrilling rescue...

 It will be interesting to see what the pricing does for the sales and whether any increase carries over to the sequels and even to the rest of the 36. We won't know for a month or two, when the numbers come in. Fingers crossed!


Monday, April 15, 2013

The Need For Speed!

 By Mark W. Danielson

A new television commercial unexpectedly sent me back to my early teen years.  In the commercial, a police officer steps off his motorcycle, slowly approaches the stopped vehicle, and asks the kid in his kiddie car, “Do you know how fast you were going?”  Whatever happened after that is lost because in my mind, I was delivering newspapers again in the East SF Bay Area.  At the end of my route, I sped down very steep hill as fast as my bike would take me, hoping the radar cop that frequently parked at the bottom before a great curve would pull me over for speeding.  I have no idea how fast I was actually going, but my bike was banked way over as it took the curve.  Of course, the cop would never have caught me because I would have disappeared up a different hill and down a side street had he ever given chase.  Then again, a wise cop would have realized from my flapping newspaper pack that I was a paper boy and would be repeating my act at same bat time, same bat place, the very next day. 

Two things came from this recollection.  First, for unexplained reasons, I have always felt “the need for speed”, so famously scripted into the movie TOPGUN.  When I was delivering newspapers, I was already flying airplanes.  My paper boy job only allowed one flight per month, but it was worth every cent to get airborne.  Many years later I found myself flying fighter jets a few feet off the deck as fast as they would go and did graduate from TOPGUN.  In all my years since, I have never lost my joy of flying low and fast, but I assure you I don’t do any of that as an airline pilot.

The other thought from this television commercial was how quickly this scene with the cop transported me back in time.  In novels, this is called good writing.  Whether intended or not, a well-written scene or line has the potential to flash readers back to their own experiences.  Although some lines may open old wounds, others may bring smiles or tears of joy.  Either way, if it envelopes the reader then your story has become theirs.  Isn’t that the definition of successful writing? 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Writers' Conferences

by June Shaw

The first writers' conference I attended was in New Orleans, only an hour or so away. It was for romance writers.

The thing is I didn't know that; neither did my new friend who drove us there. We were both new writers, both writing mystery. So how did we wind up there? And how did it turn out?

Each of us had read a small article in an area newspaper saying there would be a Fiction Writers Conference that weekend. We both wrote fiction. We teamed up and went.

Splitting up to attend different workshops, we met in the lobby sometime later and like in a comedy, both said, "Do you know what kind of conference this is? They're romance writers!" Neither of us could believe we'd been duped into coming to this kind of conference, but you know what we found? It was great! Neither of us decided to start writing romance, but we learned so much that could help us in any area of writing. We made lots of new friends, and joined their group that meets in New Orleans.

Gosh, that was so many years ago. What a great memory. I've been a member of their group ever since and for the past three years have been its Published Author Liaison. (Okay, so I've written a romance and there's quite a bit of romance in my mystery series.) I've also been representing our state on the board of Mystery Writers of America's Southwest Chapter.

When I decided to get a website, I checked out sites of many published authors. One that made me smile belonged to Candace Calvert. She was writing light-hearted mysteries; a nurse was the main character. On her site she had photos I enjoyed, one with her husband.

Since I was trying to write Janet Evanovitch-inspired mysteries, I loved Candace's site. I told her so and modeled my own website after hers. A year later, after I'd sold the first mystery in my series and it was newly published, I attended a Malice Domestic conference, wondering what I was doing there. I was no one in all those big name authors. Soon after I got in an elevator heading toward my room, the door opened. It was Candace and her husband. "Hey, Candace, I'm June Shaw," I said and we shared hugs. And soon afterward I was running into people I knew from online groups. I was making friends and having such a great time it almost didn't matter that I was new. It was my first big confence. What great friends I also made there.

Do I believe writers' conferences are worthwhile? Absolutely. You pick up knowledge in various areas and make new contacts and greet friends. I'm attending an excellent one in Houma, Louisiana, today that will feature some editors, agents, many best-selling authors, and many of my new and not-so-new friend. No wonder I'm so excited!

How about you? How do you feel about writers' conferences?

Friday, April 12, 2013


by Earl Staggs

Alan Cupp loves to create and entertain, whether it’s with a captivating mystery novel or a funny promotional video for his church, he’s always anticipating his next creative endeavor. In addition to writing fiction, Alan enjoys acting, music, travel, and playing sports. His life’s motto is, “It’s better to wear out than rust out.” Alan places a high value on time spent with his beautiful wife and their two sons. He lives his life according to his 4F philosophy: Faith, Family, Friends, and Fun. 

Alan Cupp

I began writing Malicious Masquerade the same way I begin most stories, with a “what if” scenario that pops in my head. I take a particular circumstance and explore its potential to become a great story, asking myself if I’m going to be able to take it from start to finish. Once I’ve determined that I have something to pursue, that’s when I start developing my characters. Usually, by the time I actually begin typing something out I have an idea of how it all begins and ends. Then it becomes a matter of connecting the two points. That’s the fun part for me; creating characters, designing their personalities and deciding the best way to have them interact.

It’s kind of like building a house, going through the process of making selections regarding materials and design, fitting the pieces together to build something that’s functional, comfortable and fits into the overall feel of the home. There may be aspects of other homes that I really admire and look awesome in other homes, but they don’t quite fit into what I’m building.

One of the more difficult things about writing is going back and evaluating the story and realizing that the direction I took three or four chapters ago has lead me off track from where I originally wanted to go. That forces me into making a hard decision. Do I delete these chapters that I so diligently labored over or should I consider changing the way the story ends? It comes down to which way makes for a better story?

Malicious Masquerade took me about a year and a half to complete, give or take a month. I really don’t keep track too closely. And that doesn’t count the edits I made after signing with Henery Press. Their guidance and input greatly improved the quality of the story.

Originally, I had a different title for Malicious Masquerade. However, between the time I completed the story and when I signed with my publisher, another author came out with a book with the same title. So I elected to change it to avoid potential confusion.

It’s very gratifying to see something that I worked on so long, come to life and be well received. One of the best things I can hear from a reader is that they lost sleep because they couldn’t put my book down the night before. I love robbing my readers of their sleep!

Chicago PI Carter Mays is thrust into a perilous masquerade when local rich girl Cindy Bedford hires him. Turns out her fiancé failed to show up on their wedding day, the same day millions of dollars are stolen from her father’s company. While Carter takes the case, Cindy’s father tries to find him his own way. With nasty secrets, hidden finances, and a trail of revenge, it’s soon apparent no one is who they say they are.

Carter searches for the truth, but the situation grows more volatile as panic collides with vulnerability. Broken relationships and blurred loyalties turn deadly, fueled by past offenses and present vendettas in a quest to reveal the truth behind the masks before no one, including Carter, gets out alive.
$15.95 (msrp) Trade Paperback — ISBN-13: 9781938383281
$2.99 (msrp) ebook — ISBN-13: 9781938383298
Amazon Kindle     B&N Nook     Kobo

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thank God We Aren't Jello!

By Jackie King

Each person has certain God-given talents. Some are born with wonderful singing or speaking voices. Others emerge with nimble fingers, able to play musical instruments or sing on-key. I like to think that I, and many of my current friends, have been blessed with the ‘writer-gene.’ These are all creative gifts and whether realized or not, everyone has been endowed with some variety of this type of DNA. (Perhaps I should add, “IMO,” in order to “CMA.”) J

These talents might include cooking, gardening, decorating or other types of arty knacks that are sometimes considered to be of a practical nature. Nonetheless, these are creative talents.

Along with artistic type endowments, we also have innate or practical talents. I have always longed for the housekeeping/organizing ability. But sadly, I have none. While some folks have files, I’m one of those pitiful types who have piles. If I file something, it’s forever lost to me. If I sort papers into stacks, then I’m able to locate what I’m searching for, although not as efficiently.

Luckily for me, I gave birth to a natural-born organizing guru! My youngest daughter, Jennifer, can find and make order out of any sort of chaos.

My closet, for example.

Yesterday, within two hours, she brought order to the closet-from-hell. My help consisted of standing by, wringing my hands and pleading, “Could we have a ‘maybe’ pile?”

After Jennifer had performed her magic and gone back to her own house and family, I drove to Goodwill and donated a trunkful of clothes for slimmer women, along with matching shoes and purses.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing and with Murder Most Foul. I’m about to get around to that.

Yesterday evening I was drawn again and again to admire my homogeneously and color-coded walk-in. How did she do that? I wondered.

Then I realized that this was pretty much the reaction I receive from some of my longtime friends and my relatives about my published books. “However did you make a story out of that?” they say. Or, “Where do you come up with your idea?” Or, “I never thought you’d be able to write a real mystery.” (Translation: one that people would pay money to read.) J

Sometimes I’m not sure how I manage this feat, either. I only know that I feel compelled to keep trying.

Isn’t it wonderful that God didn’t make us like Jello, all in exactly-alike molds? Instead He chose to craft everyone as unique, each with her or his very own and very special talents.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Real people are not an option.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I come across people who seem to beg to be in a book or at least a story. They have some idiosyncratic thing about them, speak or dress in an unusual way or have an approach to life which is very different from the norm. But even if I do try to ‘use’ them in that way, I never really succeed.

People have assumed, for example, that the fourth in my Jack Carston series, Shadow Selves, which is set mainly in and around the fictitious University of West Grampian, must draw on personal experiences. Why? Because I used to teach at the very real University of Aberdeen so it’s perhaps natural to think that the people and things I describe may be based on ex-colleagues or repeat things that actually happened to me or them. But they’re not, except insofar as I know the general academic atmosphere, the demands and privileges of working in such an institution and the small p politics in which some teachers and researchers delight.

In fact, the book was triggered by a visit to an operating theatre while an operation was in progress. It was arranged by a friend who was an anaesthetist and I’ve reproduced some details of what being an observer in such a context was like in the scene where Carston visits the hospital to check their procedures.

The people are certainly fictitious. Books always carry the careful ‘any resemblance to real persons, places, or events is coincidental’ disclaimer but I have to say that, even though you’ll find it in my books, it isn’t really needed. I may borrow how someone looks, or copy what he/she wears, but using a real person as a model just doesn’t work for me. I only tried it once, in my early writing days, and I found that my awareness and knowledge of the actual person prevented my character from growing and being himself. As I said, a writer ‘uses’ a real model because there’s something special or unique about that person – he/she is wonderful or despicable. My man was the latter but he wasn’t my character – indeed, as my character tried to react, the ‘real’ person kept getting in the way. In the end, I had to free the character and let his nastiness develop in the way he wanted to express and live it. The only resemblance between him and my ‘model’ was that he turned out to be more charismatic (in a horrible way). But I wouldn’t want to spend too much time with either of them.

So anyone reading Shadow Selves and expecting to recognise x, y or z will be disappointed. What they will get, though, is a sense of the strange world of academia – a rarefied place where high culture and low cunning co-exist and some individuals continue to be blissfully unaware of how privileged they are to be safe in their ivory tower. Oh, and they’ll get a couple of deaths, a stalker and a case of sexual harassment.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pen Names

I’m always intrigued why authors use pen names. Some take up a new name because their name is too common or too difficult to spell or pronounce. Others take a new name when they write a different type of book. This is supposedly so as not to confuse readers. Although some authors have told me their publisher has insisted on changing names for different series, I personally don’t think this is necessary. I recently received a business card from a fellow author with three names on it. Readers are smart and can appreciate that authors have many writing ideas they want to pursue. Look at the successful adult writers who have bridged into young adult literature without changing their names. I’m about to find out if writing different types of novels and keeping the same name helps or hurts. I’ve been known for the last six years at the geezer-lit guy with my geezer-lit mysteries. Now that I’m branching out into paranormal mysteries as well, I’m keeping my same name. What do you think about an author having different pen names?

Mike Befeler

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt And The River Of Doubt

by Leighton Gage

In 1912, after his unsuccessful bid for a third-term in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt was in search of adventure.

Father John Augustine Zahm, a friend, suggested they find it together in an expedition to the Amazon Rainforest. Roosevelt agreed – and arranged financial support from the American Museum of Natural History.

Kermit, Theodore’s son, didn’t want to participate, having recently become engaged.
But he finally acquiesced to his mother’s wishes to accompany the expedition and protect his father.

Upon their arrival in Brazil, it was suggested they join-up with Candido Rondon, the famous Brazilian explorer. (More about him in a future post.) Rondon had recently discovered the headwaters of a river he called the Río da Dúvida (The River of Doubt) so-named because no one had ever mapped its course.
And he was anxious to do so.

Here’s a photo of the initial party. Seated left to right are Father Zahm, Rondon, Kermit, the American naturalist George Cherrie, the expedition’s physician, Doctor Miller, four Brazilians and Roosevelt. They set out on the ninth of December, 1913, reached their objective on the 27th of February and set out in dugout canoes to explore the river.

By that time, malaria had infected almost everyone in their party, leaving them all in a constant state of sickness. The food ran out, forcing them to live on starvation diets. The Cinta Larga Indians stalked them constantly, and could have wiped them out at any moment. Some had festering wounds. All had high fevers. 

The river was fraught with rapids, and the heavy dugout canoes were often lost, stopping them for days at a time, while they built new ones. Of the 19 men who set out, only 16 returned. One died from drowning in the rapids, one was murdered and one (the murderer) was left in the jungle where he presumably perished.

Roosevelt suffered a minor leg wound when he jumped into the river to try to prevent a canoe being lost.
The wound festered, and he developea fever. Kermit and the expedition’s doctor, had to treat him day and night. He became delirious and would keep on reciting, again and again, the first stanza of Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

In his rare moments of lucidity, Roosevelt insisted that the expedition continue without him because his condition had become a threat to the survival of the others. But they did not. And, although he never entirely recovered from his ordeal, he was able to return to the United States.

Where he lived on for another five years.

They don’t make Presidents like him anymore.

If you have time for it, here’s a link to the only motion picture in existence of the Roosevelt/Rondon expedition:

It’s about fifteen minutes in length, with the trek downriver beginning at about two-and-a-half minutes in. The titles in quotes are Roosevelt’s words, extracted from Through the Brazilian Wilderness a book he later wrote about his adventure.

The Dyott expedition referred to in the titles, and from which some of the footage is taken, took place in 1927. You can read about George Dyott and his exploits here:

They don’t make explorers like Dyott either.

The river, now called the Rio Roosevelt, winds for about 400 miles (640 km) until it joins the Aripuanã, which then flows into the Madeira, thence into the Amazon