Friday, May 31, 2013

Setting the HIstorical Record Straight

by Jean Henry Mead

I enjoy writing historical fiction based on actual events because the plot is basically laid out for me. After 18 published books, I was finally able to combine my favorite genres—mystery/suspense with history—when I wrote my latest novel, No Escape, The Sweetwater Tragedy. However, getting the facts straight was more than I had bargained for.
I was researching a centennial nonfiction history book during the 1980s on microfilm when I discovered conflicting newspaper articles written about a young couple murdered a hundred years earlier by wealthy cattleman in southern Wyoming’s Sweetwater Valley. A cattlemen-influenced newspaper in Cheyenne reported that “Ella”Watson and James Averell had been operating a rural bawdy house and accepting rustled cattle for her "services." The lynchers considered that a hanging offense and watched the young couple strangle to death at the end of lariats, their toes bouncing off the ground. That not only angered me, it propelled my imagination into overdrive.

Conversely, a newspaper in Rawlins, Wyoming, reported that James Averell had been a good man who served as postmaster and justice of the peace in Sweetwater Valley. No one seemed to know that Ellen and James were married, so Ellen was vilified as a prostitute living in sin. She was dubbed “Cattle Kate” and later books, films, songs and poems labeled her an outlaw. Years of research discovered that the innocent 27-year-old woman had worked as a cook at the Rawlins House and kept her marriage secret, at her husband's insistence, so she wouldn’t lose her land. (Only single women in 1889 were allowed to prove up on homesteads). Further research uncovered the fact that the cattlemen had been grazing large herds of cattle on government land without paying for it, although they claimed ownership whenever a homesteader legally filed on the property.
When the murder case went to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or died, so the cattlemen went free after posting one another's $5,000 bonds. Wyoming didn’t become a state until the following year so justice was apparently a figment of the imagination.

Because I like happy endings and didn’t want to end the book with the Averell’s deaths, I created a fictional character, Susan Cameron, who traveled by train from Missouri to homestead on her own, as did an estimated 200,000 unmarried women in the western states. Some were successful, others were not. Susan homesteads on land adjacent to the Averells and they befriend her. But she soon regrets her decision when Albert Bothwell, the lynchers' ring leader, begins his terrorist attacks on all the homesteaders in the area.
I conducted considerable research about women homesteaders and the problems they faced, wondering why single women would choose Wyoming, which at that time, had temperatures that dipped well below minus 40 degrees during the winter months. Most lived in shacks with leaking roofs, others in dugouts. I then remembered that Wyoming offered equality to women from as early as 1865, including the freedom to vote and hold public office as well as freedom to live on their own and voice their opinions. Many were escaping controlling men in their lives.

So Susan, my feisty fictional protagonist, is resistant to the advances of a nice young veterinarian who plans to start his practice in the territory. Women are scarce and considered a prize by the men who greatly outnumber them. That's my secondary plot: women seeking freedom and men trying to marry them.
I cried when I wrote the hanging scene. Emotion, as we writers all know, is the fuel which propels the plot. So I hope my readers feel the same sense of injustice and outrage at the crimes committed by wealthy cattlemen. I hasten to add that the book is not all tears and drama. There are also elements of humor and romance to lighten the storyline, , and I hope that I’ve helped to dispel the rumors which still persist that the Averells were disreputable characters.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Ebooks are both the future and the present. They’re easy to buy – you see a review, remember a title, get a recommendation, whatever, and it’s waiting for you in less than a minute.


… with each of the books I’ve read on mine, when I finished, I felt deprived. I enjoyed each one a lot and so, when I switched off after the last page, there was nothing there to cradle, no unique object that held the story inside it. Yes, it’s still in the Kindle and I can return to it, but it’s just in there with all the others, as well as some huge freebies that I downloaded, and they’re all represented by the flat grey thing and a dead screen. So there’s no external object that holds the emotions, laughs, sadnesses, delights, puzzles, and all the other things I get from reading – each time a different mix. Usually, when I finish a ‘normal’ book, I leave it on the desk or the bedside table before putting it back on the shelf and each time I see it, it reminds me of what’s in it and recalls some of the instants I enjoyed from it. The story has a physical reality.


(and here’s where it gets a bit weird), in a way, that gives the reading experience a different quality. Because reading – for me anyway – is an abstract thing. OK, I have physical responses to it – laughing, yelling ‘That’s rubbish’ now and then, flinging a book aside when it’s been carelessly written or is literally unbelievable – but when I’m involved in it, it takes me away from my physical context, even from my self. And the way the Kindle’s words flash onto the screen and then, as you ‘turn the page’, disappear to be replaced by others, that’s sort of abstract, too. There’s no rustle of paper, no feel of it in your fingers – there are just shifting words, forming on and  disappearing from the featureless, unchanging slab in front of you. You’ve no idea how many more pages there are till the end, there’s not the growing chunk in your left hand and diminishing one in your right. Just one page, always one page – the perpetually repeating present of the story and of the reading experience. And when you finish reading the last one, you ‘turn’ it and the screen is blank, the book’s gone, the experience has flitted and there’s only the memory left. So the reader has no physical context, and neither does the book.

I’ll certainly use my Kindle a lot, but I suppose I’m a romantic and I’ll always want ‘real’ books, too.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Signings: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When doing a book signing at a bookstore as they say on Pawn Stars on the History Channel, “you never know what’s going to walk through the door.” Having been in this game since 2007, I’ve had some interesting experiences when doing book signings.

I never sit begin the table that has been provided. I stand in front and greet people. Some are friendly and engage in conversation and others scamper away like scared rabbits. And here I never thought I was that scary, but, hey, maybe mystery writers all look like serial killers.

Here are a few things I’ve learned. When I arrive, I always learn where the coffee shop and restrooms are. These are the two most common asked questions when I greet someone entering the door.

Traffic goes in waves. There will be a rush of people, and then it will be quiet for a while. That’s why it’s more enjoyable to do signings with other authors. During the lulls, you have someone to chat with.

I often ask people questions when I greet them. One time I was doing a signing in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. I approached a gentleman and asked if he read mysteries. “No,” he answered. Not giving up, I asked, “Do you enjoy humorous books?” “Not particularly,” he replied. “Ah, too bad,” I said. “I’m a local author doing a signing here today and I write a humorous mystery series.” His eyes lit up and he said, “I’ll take one. I always support local authors.” You never know what to expect.

Some of the other types of experiences. A man approached my table and after I gave him my spiel, he looked at me askance and told me I would sell more books if I got new eyeglasses. Again, you never know what to expect.

One negative experience that I turned around. I was preparing to leave after a bookstore signing, and the manager ran up and handed me one of my books he had found lying on a table that I had signed it for someone named Laura. I swapped that for an unsigned copy and gave it to my daughter Laura.

Mike Befeler

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Making Changes, But Writing Forever

By Jackie King

Why does everything always happen at once? I decided to downsize, sell my 4-bedroom house here in Tulsa, and move to a retirement apartment. (Without any intentions at all of retiring, of course.) The great thing about being a writer is that you never have to retire. All you need is a computer hookup with a printer and all is well.

This all sounded so reasonable in the planning stage. Then, after returning to the state writer’s conference in Norman, OK (OWFI) I contracted pneumonia, and all plans became very complicated. On top of all of that, my darling granddaughter Lauren was scheduled to be graduated from high school, and celebrations were planned.

But nonetheless, I’ve been soldiered onward and am now settled (somewhat) into my new apartment. I still have to put up a storyboard and set up a writing schedule. Now I’m eager to get started working once again.

Hugs to all my readers,


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Final Wish

 By Mark W. Danielson

My dad always wanted his ashes scattered.  I had frequently performed that task many years ago when I was a charter pilot, so when my father passed last September, I promised Mom I would fulfill Dad’s wish this spring when I ferried my airplane from Seattle to Fort Worth.

I had planned to fly from Fort Worth to Seattle on American Airlines on Mother’s Day and meet Mom that evening, but with the Seattle weather was expected to turn sour that day, I left the day before.  Leaving early turned out to be a blessing as it was a beautiful flight seeing all of the volcanoes, and I was able to spend Mother’s Day with Mom.

My brother joined me for Dad’s last flight and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  Smooth air and excellent visibility had my brother smiling the whole way.  It was nice that the coastal fog ended just northwest of Tamales Bay because that area is where I had chosen to make the drop.  When I was sufficiently out to sea, I opened the window, held onto the bag, and gently scattered Dad’s ashes over the Pacific he once sailed in the Navy.  My brother and I said our final good-bye, knowing how much this meant to Mom and Dad. 

I doubt I will ever perform that task again, and certainly not in my airplane as it is far too slow to make the return trip to California.  Still, this was a special flight filled with good memories, and I was elated knowing Dad smiling from above.      

Saturday, May 18, 2013

John Maurice, Prince of Nassau-Siegen, and The Colony of New Holland

by Leighton Gage

The early seventeenth century was a time when the powers in Europe were grasping for new territory.

Possessed of heavily-armed fleets, and large numbers of well-trained soldiers, the hardy Dutch, in those days, were every bit a match for England, Portugal and Spain, and they were out there grasping with the best of them.

They grasped at the East Indies, they grasped at South Africa, they grasped at North America (founding New Amsterdam, the city that became New York, in 1625) and in 1624, with a small contingent of troops, they took Salvador, the seat of the Portuguese viceroy in South America.

Unable to hold it, they were expelled in less than a year.

But, by then, the Dutch West India Company, the nation’s mercantile arm, had acquired a taste for Brazil’s riches, and it wasn’t long before they returned for more.

Over the course of the next decade, the WIC succeeded in occupying much of the rich sugar-growing region of Pernambuco. They named it New Holland and, in 1636, appointed John Maurice (Johan Maurits) the Prince of Nassau-Siegen to govern it.

John Maurice was an amazing man, and he tackled his new responsibility like no other colonial governor before or since. Before sailing, he assembled a coterie of artists, scientists and artisans to take with him. Rather than plunder Brazil, he announced, his intention was to enrich it, study it, record it and improve it for the generations to follow.

His colony extended all the way from below Sergipe, in the south, to above São Luis de Maranhão in the north -- almost half of what was then Brazil.

He'd been a successful soldier in Europe, but he was also a man who knew how to forge a successful peace. He convinced the rebellious Portuguese settlers they’d be better-off under Dutch rule, established representative councils to enlist their participation in administrating the colony and promulgated freedom of religion by allowing the local Jewish merchants to establish a synagogue, the first in all of the Americas.

It’s still there.

He built streets, roads and bridges. He developed a colony-wide transportation structure that enriched everyone by enabling the sugar-growers to bring their product to the coast. He created an astronomic observatory and a meteorological station, also the first institutions of their kind in all of the Americas.

It wasn’t long before new Portuguese settlers were choosing Dutch-occupied, rather than Portuguese-occupied territory in which to establish themselves.

He ordered the great architect Pieter Post, of Haarlem to transform the small port where he’d landed into a splendid capital adorned with fine public buildings and gardens.

Before and after Prince Maurice the place was named Recife (it means “reef” in Portuguese and there is one – a big one – just offshore) but during the time he lived there people called it Mauritsstad (Maurice’s Town).

It once looked like this.

But it was not to last.

Back in Holland, the directors of the West India Company were more interested in short-term returns than  a happy and successful colony. They were horrified at the investments John Maurice was making and wrote to tell him to cease them forthwith - and to pay out the savings in dividends.

He threatened to resign. And they let him. He sailed back to Europe, and they replaced him with a more
malleable man. Without John Maurice, and with the new measures introduced by his successor, the Dutch lost the support of the populace. A revolt was organized. And by 1654 it was all over. The Dutch West India Company withdrew from the continent, putting an end to John Maurice’s brilliant experiment in good government.

There is very little left of the city of John Maurice’s time, but quite a few paintings from the artists he brought along have survived.

Here are three from Frans Post, the younger brother of the aforementioned architect:

Post, as you will have noted, was charged with documenting the land, while his colleague, Albert Eckhout, bore the responsibility for recording the fauna and the people:

Some of Post’s work remains in Brazil, some in John Maurice's house in the Hague (now a museum) and some at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The best and largest collection of Eckhout can be seen, strangely enough, in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

But that’s another story.

Friday, May 17, 2013

RV Paradise

by Jean Henry Mead 
After years of staying in crowded, graveled RV parks, we discovered a resort that is very close to paradise. Rancho California is located in the southern desert 18 miles east of Temecula in wine country, an oasis guaranteed to fill most RVer's vacation dreams. 
The 503-lot resort has a number of waterfalls, ponds, multitude of palm trees, swimming pools, tennis and pickleball courts, grocery mart, restaurant, chapel, laundromats and bath houses, fenced dog park, coastal mountain views as well as a golf course which meanders through the gated facility. It's a community unto itself.
The view of one of the waterfalls was taken from our 40 x 80 lot, which features an outdoor galley kitchen, 25 palm trees and a rose garden that most flower enthusiasts would die for. The large club house behind the waterfall regularly hosts plays, dances to live music, church services, club meetings and a variety of activities available to both renters and lot owners.


A view of the golf course with the coastal range in the background. Visitors regularly travel from Germany, the UK and other countries to stay here as well as RVers from every state in the union. And, surprisingly, it's relatively inexpensive.
Sunset viewed from the back of our lot, while seated with a glass of California wine to relax from the day's activities. The only drawback is that I don't take time to work on another Logan and Cafferty mystery because there are so many activities, new friends to visit with, and great views to gaze upon. It's truly an RVers paradise!
Disclaimer: This is not a paid commercial, but an invitation to fellow RVers to discover this amazing place.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History and me, Part II

by Carola Dunn

Continued from

...The world was changing...
Dick Turpin was a highwayman of credit and renown

... Again around 1800, roads were improving, highwaymen and footpads were much reduced in numbers, and someone invented springs for carriages (Before that, the body was hung on leather straps). Travel was so much easier that gentlemen going up to London for Parliament and the court took their wives and daughters along, and the London Season was born.
 Later came the railways, but still a respectable young lady would not travel without a male or older female relative for chaperon. World War I and the automobile age put an end to that. By the 1920s, a young woman who had driven generals about during the war--or even an ambulance at the front--was not about to be satisfied with sitting meekly behind the chauffeur. They owned and drove their own motor cars, or at least had a bicycle.

Daisy's Gwynne Eight
 By 1919, women over 30 could even vote in national elections and graduate from Oxford University (though not from Cambridge for another 30+ years!).

The shadows of the First World War still hung heavily over Britain. About a million young men went to their deaths on the battlefields or later from wounds and the effects of poison gas. Many of those who returned alive suffered from shell-shock, the equivalent of what we call PTSD. A large number of young women lost their husbands while others would never have an opportunity to marry. 

UK edition

On the other hand, many young women, having experienced the comparative freedom and good wages of factory work, were unwilling to return to domestic service. And a lack of men to take up the professions gradually allowed increasing numbers of women to become lawyers, accountants, doctors, and engineers.

For Daisy Dalrymple, the protagonist of my 1920s series, finding her way in a swiftly changing world is as much of a challenge as solving any of the crimes she just happens to stumble upon.

From failing history, I have come to the point of being obsessive about historical detail. I spend hours looking up words and phrases to make sure they're appropriate for the period about which I'm writing. I revel in old newspapers, as much or more for the advertisements as for the news. I note the names of police officers in Berwick upon Tweed in 1923--and use them (Murder on the Flying Scotsman), and email dental museums to enquire how nitrous oxide was administered by dentists in 1924 (Die Laughing). I pore over the Day Book of the Governor of the Tower of London for April 1925, when Daisy falls over the body of a Beefeater/Yeoman of the Guard (The Bloody Tower). I know more about the rumrunners of the Prohibition than most Americans. And then there's the treatments--water and electric--available at a Derbyshire hydro/spa in 1926 (Gone West).

Now I'm also writing a series (the Cornish Mysteries) set around 1970. Yes, I lived through the '60s and '70s. It's hard to grasp that they're now history. As I say in an author's note at the beginning of the three books, I haven't tied myself down to a specific year in the series, as I did for years in the Regencies and Daisy's adventures.  But I'm still doing obsessive research on subjects such as the equipment of ambulances and lifeboats at the time and the position of women in the police force...

And I really enjoy it!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tweets and writing

One week, on the now-defunct flash fiction site, Rammenas, there was a competition in which contributors were asked to write a story about a particular photograph which featured two people in a street. The entries were very varied and show how different people respond in different ways to a writing stimulus. I was struck, though, when I noticed that one submission got significantly more responses from visitors than the others. It was good, but not better than them. (In fact, for me, there were several others that were much better in terms of their use of narrative and ‘literary’ techniques and their impact on the reader.) It made me wonder about the value of any comments – not just those directed at him, but all the others. I mean, if the commenters were genuinely appreciative of the genre, why didn’t they read and say something about some of the other stories?

The answer, apparently, was that it’s a function of a Twitter group called  #fridayflash. You post your story, tell your followers about it, they retweet, etc., etc. At this point I have to admit that I don’t ‘get’ Twitter. I’m on it, I do tweet very, very, very occasionally, but I can’t imagine logging on and reading through pages of snippets, most of them about things which don’t interest me. On the other hand, another online friend, who knows what she’s talking about, insists that it’s the best way of raising one’s profile.

But my worry is that, in the end, it isn’t about writing at all. If someone reads a flash fiction story and offers a critical analysis (however short), I’d have thought that their interest in the form would extend to sampling others in the genre, especially if they were treating exactly the same subject. And, if it doesn’t, how valuable or legitimate are their reactions or opinions? It seems that they’re simply saying ‘OK, this shows I’ve read it and been nice about it, now go and read mine’.

I suppose what I’m saying is that this devalues writing. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from writing – quite the reverse.  I comment on people’s stories and articles, unless I think they’re bad, in which case I’d rather say nothing than be negative. But the impulse to comment on the work of others in order to encourage them to read yours often produces false notions of the quality of the writing. Because if I read a flash fiction story which is total rubbish, I’m not going to say so because then that writer wouldn’t be well-disposed towards me and wouldn’t read me. Or, if he did, he’d be inclined to look for flaws, even if only to prove that I was a lousy writer and therefore didn’t appreciate him. I was recently asked to review a newly published first novella and, frankly, I didn’t understand why it had been published at all.

It’s all down to the very necessary commercial pressures we face as we try to sell our books in a crowded market place. Those pressures are already distorting the values that should apply to our writing; we shouldn’t do anything to encourage them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Inventing a New Shape-shifter in a Paranormal Mystery

My first paranormal mystery, The V V Agency, has recently been published. This represents a departure for me since all of my previously published books have been geezer-lit mysteries featuring older characters.

The tagline for this novel is: A touch of Philip Marlow wrapped in an urban fantasy. It spoofs the private investigator (PI) sub-genre. When jumping in to write a paranormal mystery, I didn’t want to employ the much used vampires and werewolves, so decided to invent my own form of shape-shifter called a transvictus. Van and Vanna run a private investigation agency, but you never see them together for a simple reason. A sexual encounter changes one into the other. This presents some interesting challenges for their love lives.

There is another characteristic of a transvictus. Nudity renders Van or Vanna (whichever is in existence at the time) invisible. This provides some advantages when needing to sneak into police headquarters to review a case file or to enter a suspect’s house unobserved.

Although Van and Vanna transform into each other and retain shared memories, they have very different personalities and idiosyncrasies. Vanna can tame wild animals, but even pussy cats attack Van. Vanna has a directional disability that forces her to rely upon her trusty GPS, while Van can navigate with his eyes closed. Cigarette smoke makes Van horny but causes Vanna to puke. Vanna can drink any guy under the table, but Van passes out with one sip of alcohol. Needless to say, these attributes lead to a variety of interesting problems.

I had fun writing this and giving readers some laughs along with a good mystery.

Mike Befeler

Friday, May 10, 2013

Books for Mother's Day

by June Shaw

Today the mystery I'll write about is my mom. Her name was Nora Shaw. I was fortunate enough to have been her daughter, and everyone who knew or met her said I needed to write a book about her. I started it when she was alive. I named it NORA 102 1/2: A Lesson on Aging Well.

Here's the opening scene:
     “Did you hear that?” my mom asked me.”I heard them say they want all single women to go up. The bride is about to throw her bouquet.”
     I glanced at Bob. He and I weren’t married. We didn’t even live together but had been a couple for years. Mom loved him, but I didn’t believe she’d want us to get married. He and I had both been married before, and we had grown children. I was certain she figured remarriage might complicate things.
     Mom grabbed my hand. “Come on, June. Get me up there.”
     Grinning, I guided her to a group of teenage girls and some in their twenties and thirties. The bride, Mom’s lovely great-niece, stood with her back to this bubbly gathering. I stopped Mom behind the half-circle of females and waited near so no one would accidently back up and knock her over.
     The bride lifted her bouquet and tossed.
     The bridesmaid in front of Mom caught it.
     Mom reached above the girl’s head and yanked the flowers out of her hands.
     My mouth fell open.
     All of the young women looked at Mom, who'd just celebrated her ninety-sixth birthday. I tried to judge their reactions but couldn’t.
     The bride turned. “Oh, Aunt Nora, you caught my flowers. That’s fantastic!”
     I watched in disbelief as my mother, in her turquoise dress and black pumps, posed with the thrilled bride while holding the bouquet of jumbo white roses she stole and said nothing of her guilt while the photographer snapped their picture.
     The bride gave Mom a kiss and moved off to her new husband.
     “Mom,” I said, “you know that picture will go in the bride’s album to show who caught her bouquet, right?”
     “I know.” She grabbed my fingers. “We’d better go find out who really caught these flowers so we can give them back.”
     Oh, good grief.
     I easily located a bridesmaid who showed me who’d caught the flowers my mother stole. We walked up to the young woman, and Mom held out the bouquet. “This is yours.”
     I wore an apologetic face.
     My mother did not.
     Relief sank into my chest when the girl’s boyfriend held up his hand. “No, you keep them. We don’t want them.”
     My mother showed off her stolen bouquet for days afterward to everyone who visited her home.

     She had been saying her vision was getting worse. Months after the wedding where she snitched the bouquet, we heard of a vision specialist with a new procedure in Baton Rouge. Mom had seen a specialist a year before who told her nothing could improve her vision. Here was new hope, I suggested. She was an optimist but also a realist and said he couldn’t help. We would try anyway. Bob drove us there. When they called for Nora Shaw, I walked to the back with her.
     In a room with a wall chart topped with the huge E, a young woman stood five feet in front of Mom. “Can you tell how many fingers I’m holding up?”
     Mom, a bright woman with steel gray hair, tightened her lips and stared at the hand. I couldn’t believe she looked ready to flunk a test most kindergarteners could pass. The majority of them could tell that they saw two fingers. Was my mother’s vision that poor? I had tried to comprehend how little she could see, but until now couldn’t imagine how difficult her everyday life was. What kind of daughter was I?
     Say two! I wanted to yell from my chair backed into the corner. Mom, she’s holding up two fingers.
The woman took three steps closer to the examining chair. “Miss Nora, can you tell me how many fingers I have up now?”
     Mom sucked in a breath. “Two?”
     Relief washed through me.
     “Good,” the woman told her, although I almost said no, my mother’s reply was great. But I knew it wasn’t. What I witnessed let me know for certain how much of her vision macular degeneration had snatched during these last few years.
     The doctor couldn’t help her. She accepted his response as though she wasn’t surprised. I, on the other hand, needed to deal with knowing my mother had become almost totally blind. Visually impaired. Handicapped.
     She didn’t seem that way.
     The loss of most of her vision seldom stopped her from enjoying life. She might have hired a young buck of fifty or so to go over and read to her at home—but she didn’t stay home long enough.
     One thing most experts on aging agree on is that to age well, people must have adaptive coping skills. Most people encounter many problems, but instead of letting them overtake us, we need to adjust and go on.
     One thing that made Nora Shaw so special is that as long as she was alive, she lived.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!!! I love you!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Promotion Equals Baptisim by Fire (IMO)

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 to me 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, 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.

So true to my writer’s nature, I decided that what I must endure I must also write.

We authors are frugal to the bone, the original recyclers and spinners of golden stories using straw named misery for our raw material. Such economy is both smart and competent, and it helps to recompense us for the agony of spattering our life’s red blood onto white inkjet paper every day of our lives. And of course for being required to speak in public.

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!
Signing outside a book store with Peggy Fielding on a hot summer day.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Responsible Writing

By Mark W. Danielson

At first glance you see a smiling man, but then his shirt identifies him as one of millions that celebrate the 9/11 World Trade Center attack as a victory against the infidels.  Hold this image as I discuss the need to write responsibly.

Every day, images and stories of murder and destruction inspire fiction writers.  While most novels end with heroes overcoming chaos, some unknowingly prompt copycat crimes.  Adding to this, there is a troubling trend of stories and shows that capitalize on actual school shootings, murders, and abductions without regard for the victims, or any concern that such wide-spread exposure may romanticize such criminal acts.  Recently, live TV preempted local programing for hours to cover the manhunt for a “home grown” terrorist.  Apparently they failed to realize that their sensationalized filler made martyrs out of these bombers and may encourage more acts.  With bombings now the norm in large and small screen plots, it was disturbing to find a Mystery Writers of America forensics article on bombings so authors could “get it right.”  Are these writers aware that by incorporating such technical information in their novels, they may be inviting disaster?  You may cry nonsense, but no one can predict a criminal’s mind.  Anyone having doubts about how people can be affected by media input should watch Pain and Gain – a movie based on a true story of how words and images lured people into criminal activity and murder.  Authors should not only be cognizant of any potential negative effects of their work, they should also accept responsibility if a criminal acts from their prose.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love reading and writing suspense.  In fact, several years ago I was well into a terrorist book, but then realized if it was published, the information I provided could lead to serious security breaches.  At that point I deleted the story and moved on.  Unfortunately, there are far too many published cook books for terror.  Remember that our media and Google Earth were Bin Laden’s best intelligence sources.

Our freedom of expression allows us to write and publish whatever we choose.  As a result, the Internet is packed with dangerous recipes bearing Constitutional protection.  So, at what point do authors realize they went too far?  The day after a disaster, or before their work is published?  In the United States, that choice is yours.  In other countries, they make that decision for you.

While every good mystery should involve danger and risk, none should generate real harm to individuals.  Take another look at the man’s grin and then share your thoughts.