Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Guest Blog by Stephanie Osborn

The first thing you should know is that I really am one of those rocket scientists you hear about. With degrees in four sciences, subspecialties in several more, I worked in the civilian and military space industries, sitting console in control centers, training astronauts, you name it; I lost a friend aboard Columbia, when she broke up over Texas. So yeah, I’m the real deal.

The second thing you need to know is that I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a kid. Someone gave me a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles for my birthday. I was in third grade. With a hyperactive imagination. Scared me witless. But I loved Holmes immediately.

In high school, I discovered that big, single-volume compendium ― you know, the one with the rust-and-mustard dust jacket? Wagged it around to class, and every time I had 2 consecutive spare minutes, my nose was in it. I was devastated when I read The Final Problem. And I could have turned handsprings for joy when I read The Empty House! Over the years I picked up “pastiches,” too, and television and movies ― I watch the BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’ Elementary, and the films starring Robert Downey, Jr. I have the complete set of the Jeremy Brett Grenada series, and a bunch of the Basil Rathbone films. Back in Arthur Conan Doyle’s day, they didn’t break down literature into genres like today. Today we have science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc. But in the Victorian era, they were lumped together and considered speculative fiction, or “specfic.” Many if not most of the Holmes adventures would be considered specfic ― and I started thinking…

…Other people have “done” Holmes in Victorian-era science fiction...but I want to be different. If I write Holmes, I want to do something that’s never been done before…Aha. What if I managed to drag Holmes into the modern world for adventuring? Hm. How to do it…I dug into possible scientific theories. Then it hit me. What if I use alternate realities, and I combine that with M theory to access them……I was off!

I had several novels written but unsold, and publisher interest in the first, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. (Mixing science fiction and mystery comes naturally; to me, a good SF story has a distinct element of mystery, hence my “title.”) So I sat down to write The Case of the Displaced Detective, the first complete story in the series that’s described as, “Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files.” I did so much historical research, I published my own ebook JUST on Victorian drug use, Sherlock, Sheilas, and the Seven-Percent Solution.

Two months later, I’d completed the rough draft…at 215,000 words. It was like holding a wide-open fire hose, alone. I couldn’t stop until it was finished. But it was too big for a single book. So my publisher and I made two volumes of it, The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival and The Case of the Displaced Detective: At Speed. There’s not a hard and fast break between the origin story (how Holmes gets to the modern day) and the mystery (who’s trying to sabotage Project: Tesseract and why); in fact the mystery starts within days of Holmes landing in the 21st century in The Arrival, and he is still trying to come to terms with everything in At Speed.

Then I went on to write the next story, The Case of the Cosmological Killer, wherein the historic UFO sightings in the Rendlesham Forest return to the UK, and an eyewitness dies.And the same thing happened! And so books three and four are The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident, and The Case of the Cosmological Killer: Endings and Beginnings. I swear they’re not all going to be two volumes! In fact I just turned in A Case of Spontaneous Combustion, and it’s one volume only! We expect that one to hit store shelves in Spring 2014. I’ve started on book six, Fear in the French Quarter; book seven, A Little Matter of Earthquakes, and book eight, The Adventure of Shining Mountain Lodge, is mostly finished and awaiting the publications of five and six. And I’m planning for adventures beyond that. AND…the first four books have recently been released in The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus, the first collected edition my publisher has ever produced ― but not the last!

So in a manner of speaking, I suppose I’m still adventuring with my old pal Sherlock Holmes…only now he’s investigating mysteries that are on MY turf! And I plan to do so until we both retire to the Sussex downs to keep bees!

Few can claim the varied background of Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery. Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumĂ©. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and
chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter.

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The Mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

You can learn more about Stephanie Osborn at her website:

~Submitted by Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You have been a grate riter…

by Bill Kirton

So began the message on a card my granddaughter had made to welcome me on a visit. She didn’t then go on to analyse my work or offer any criticism, constructive or otherwise, so I couldn’t really ask her to elucidate her choice of tense, but I found it an interesting one. ‘You have been’ doesn’t have the negative implications of ‘You were’. ‘You were’ means you’re no longer whatever it is, as in ‘You were a grate riter but now you’re rubbish’. But ‘have been’ still does give you the feeling that it needs to be qualified in some way. You expect it to be followed by ‘but’, as in ‘You have been a grate riter but you need to put some work in to reach those heights again’.

Playing with tenses is great (or grate). There’s a very active sequence in Flaubert’s SalammbĂ´ where leaders of the mercenary armies get together and one of them leaps on a table and rushes up and down exhorting the others and brandishing his sword. But the interesting thing is that Flaubert didn’t use the obvious tense which, for actions, would be the Past Historic: ‘He jumped on the table, unsheathed his sword and brandished it as he ran amongst them’ (NB this isn’t a translation, just an example of a sequence). Instead, he used the Imperfect tense. A clumsy English version would be: ‘He was jumping on the table, unsheathing his sword and brandishing it as he was running amongst them.

It has a strange effect, doesn’t it? Even if this is a one-off event, instead of describing it as a sequence of actions, he’s fusing them all into a sort of status, he extends them beyond the event they’re describing. Rather than convey self-contained, discrete actions, he’s creating a mood of activity.

There’s another form of the Past tense that intrigues me, too. It’s the Perfect tense – ‘I have eaten’, ‘they have gone’, and so on. What would the effect be if Flaubert had used that? ‘He has jumped on the table, unsheathed his sword and brandished it as he has run amongst them’. Again, a strange usage. It all sounds as if it’s preparation for some other definitive event or action. You can imagine it continuing; ‘… and now he stands there, ready to (whatever)’.

For some bizarre reason, the Perfect seems to be the preferred tense of jockeys, at least it does in the UK. When jump jockeys are interviewed about a race, they tend to say things such as, ‘He’s come up to the fence and he’s got in a bit close but he’s managed to pick up nicely’. If we were writing that in a narrative, it would be ‘He came up … got in a bit close … and managed …’ It does suit their purpose though because, rather than describe it all as something in the past that’s over and done with, it gives the description the immediacy it had for the person as he was riding the race.

And the moral of the story? If you, too, want to be a grate riter, experiment with tenses.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Enjoying the Cold Weather

by June Shaw

Will some of you throw things at me if I tell you I really enjoy our cold weather?

There are many benefits. You can curl up inside and read more books. Here's another one: Grab onto or find yourself a partner and snuggle up with him or her. Or even your pet dog or cat or some other critter. You can enjoy soups and gumbos and chili con carne and more enticing hot foods you wouldn't even look at in summer's steamy temperatures. You can don layers of various warm clothes that get little wear for most of the year.

And today I've gotten to see something that brought me back to my childhood--icicles! Many of them are hanging on my patio. Some also created an icy web on branches of my tall dead nearby bush. I grabbed my camera and heavy robe and dashed outside this morning to snap pictures. All day long the icicles brought back sweet childhood memories of when temperatures were colder, and my mom would often say, "Y'all wake up. There are icicles hanging on the garage." What a sight to see!

Yes, you may live in the frigid North, where snow has gripped you and held you housebound and created major problems in your life. If so, I truly am sorry.

But I live in the Deep South, a little southwest of New Orleans, and years go by between the time we might witness a snowflake or icy web on our plants or roofs. I relish being able to stay inside, read a book and write on another one while glancing out once in a while to see if a white flake might swirl. It's eight in the evening, and so far, not one. I still am, however, able to look out my window and enjoy being brought back in time. Now if we only still had a toasty floor furnace that I could stand on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sharing Your Reading Enjoyment

by Jackie King

Reading is a solitary pursuit. Nevertheless, after reading a story, book or poem that touches the heart or excites the senses, we yearn to share our pleasure or shock or wonder with someone who is likeminded.

You search your memory for a friend or acquaintance that is on the same wavelength and will be interested. You want someone who will respond with the same visceral reaction that you experienced so that you can expand your own pleasure with a discussion. Suddenly you realize that what you really need is a reading group.

If you get into the wrong group, meetings will bring little pleasure and much frustration. If you’re a lover of Mystery, a commitment to read a Romance twice a month won’t be your cup of tea. Not even if you enjoy relaxing with an occasional love story. The ongoing, in depth search into the tender motives of a hero or heroine in a sweet romance, will soon grow tedious, and you’ll decide how much fun it would be to see the hapless hero bumped off.

Don’t make the mistake of joining the wrong type of book club. I’ve only belonged to one reading club, and for me it was disappointing. The problem was that I enjoyed novels, especially mysteries, and the other members wanted to improve their minds. There was nothing wrong with either goal; it’s just that I was a round peg in a square hole.

Instead of realizing this right away and begging off, I soldiered on, dutifully reading each self-help book that another member had chosen. Please don’t misunderstand, I needed a lot of improvement, but selfishly I wanted to lose myself in an exciting book. Preferably with dead bodies.

About that time I had finished my novella titled The Spinster, the Pig and the Orphan for an anthology named STATEHOOD FOXY HENS AND MURDER MOST FOWL. The story was set in 1889 Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, and involved a secret passageway, ladies of the night, and murder.

One of our local librarians reviewed the book for the Tulsa World and she told me of a mystery book club that met regularly in her library. If I’d been a cartoon character, a balloon would have appeared over my head with a light bulb brightly shining. Of course! If a person wanted to start a Book Club of any kind, your local library would be the place to start.

Librarians are wonderful! Each one of them is a bibliophile and love to encourage people to read. So, if you’re a mystery buff (or any type of reader), check to see if such a club already exists. If not, ask to post a sign announcing the start of such a group. And what better place would there be to meet than the library?

Your sign should give the date and time to meet, how often the club will gather, and then be sure and show up yourself. You’ll need to be the organizer, at least for a while. You might even post a small sign in the mystery section with the same information. And remember, when you’re perusing the shelves for a new read, strike up a conversation with whoever is also lurking there.

Mystery readers are a large and diverse group, and all those that I’ve met are very interesting folks. So starting a special group to discuss whodunnits is bound to be great fun.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Drinking Words

By Mark W. Danielson

Pick any restaurant and you will notice that nearly everyone there has a beverage of some kind.  This is not unusual, of course, but soda and coffee at most dine-in restaurants ranges between $2.50 and $3.00.  Nearby, drive-through coffee shops are packed with caffeine hoarders paying four bucks on up for their brew.  Inside, many clients prefer to coddle their electronic devices than speak to the person sitting across from them.  And thus is the irony of where our society has gone.

As someone who frequently dines alone while away from home, such observations often lead to conclusions.  Although I could certainly dwell on how electronic social media sites now substitute for social interaction, the topic I’m addressing today is about the financial choices people make – specifically how they prefer drinking words over reading them.  You see, for less than the cost of a beverage, these same people who sip their drinks, tuned into their smart phones and iPads, could be reading a book on those same devices.  Interesting, no? 

With so many e-books available for between one and three dollars, why haven’t e-book sales tripled since those new Christmas e-readers were opened? offers an expansive array of inexpensive books, so for a minimal investment, why not check out authors you haven’t read?  Of course, Amazon and Barnes and Noble also have plenty of e-books for three bucks or less.

Considering how dine-in restaurants are thriving, cost cannot be the reason people aren’t reading.  More likely, it’s our infatuation with reality TV and social media.  If this is actually the case, then our society is in serious trouble, for words anchor civilization.  The next time you think about giving a gift card, consider giving one from a book store rather than Starbucks.  In the long run, the recipient might thank you.       

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Audio Books: The Next Publishing Wave

by Jean Henry Mead

Are audio books taking over the market, crowding out ebooks and print editions? If my latest royalty statements are any indication, my assumption is correct. A writer friend mentioned that his ebook sales had been cut in half during the past few months, as have mine, but that his audio books are selling well. 

I had submitted some of my own novels to an audio company, with negative results, so I  decided to follow my friend's lead by applying to ACX.To my surprise, my first novel, Escape, was not only accepted but featured in the company's newsletter, and I received quite a few requests to record it from freelance narrators. Written after ten years of research about Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, it's been my best selling book since 1999, with three publishers. Award-winning Kevin Foley narrated the book. And his singing adds to the novel's humor.

I followed Escape with my second Wyoming historical novel, this time a mystery.  No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy, was written after more than 20 years of sporadic research. It's the true story of an innocent young woman and her husband hanged by greedy cattlemen. I included a  fictional young Missouri woman determined to homestead on her own, a composite of some 200,000 actual single women homesteaders. Dennis Redfield, a southern California actor, did a terrific job of narrating the book, which is now available at Amazon, and iTunes with three of my other books.

Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews contains some of the fascinating people I've had the pleasure of interviewing over the years. Among them Louis L'Amour, country singer Chris LeDoux, attorney Gerry Spence, Lucile Wright, early aviatrix and friend of Amelia Earhart; infamous grandsons of Buffalo Bill Cody and Presidents Benjamin and William Henry Harrison. They left their own imprints on society, among many others interviewed during my years as a news reporter and freelance photojournalist in California and Wyoming,  Narrator Paul McSorly deftly brings the interviews to life.

Mystery of Spider Mountain was written for middle grade readers and features the adventures of the Hamilton Kids. It's a semi-autobiographical story of my childhood in the Hollywood hills. Chelsea Ward does a great job narrating the novel for 9-12 year-olds and will also narrate the following book in the series, Ghost of Crimson Dawn. 

More of my books are currently in the process of narration and it's been fun listening to them as they're recorded as well as working with the narrators. From now on I'll keep my sentences shorter and narrations in mind as I write future books. All the books are currently on sale at: where you can listen to them by clicking on the small green circles under each one.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rum-runners on trial

by Carola

 At a signing last week for Heirs of the Body, at Mysterious Galaxy , [signed copies available; also from , ], I was reminded of the part--small but essential--that rum-running plays in the story. I thought this would be a good moment to repost my blog written for Black Ship, an earlier Daisy Dalrymple mystery. "Rum-runners on trial" is interesting and pretty funny.

 In BLACK SHIP, the seventeenth Daisy Dalrymple mystery, my protagonist, Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher, and her family move in next door to the family of a high-class wine merchant. At the same time, an old acquaintance from her US adventure, THE CASE OF THE MURDERED MUCKRAKER, turns up on the Fletchers' doorstep. He was then a youthful, hapless, helpless, hopeless FBI agent. Now, he announces, he is a Prohibition agent, sent to England to find out who is shipping forbidden alcohol to America. He starts spying on the neighbours--very embarrassing. Then a body is found in the communal garden and Daisy finds herself involved in the affairs of bootleggers, rumrunners and mobsters. Not at all what a respectable mother of twins is accustomed to!

In researching for this book, I came across a library book, The Black Ships (black ships is what the coast guard called the rum-running ships), by Everett S. Allen. Mr Allen grew up on the New England coast and knew many people who had been involved with rumrunning during Prohibition. He interviewed many of them as well as doing research in the US Coast Guard archives. His book sent me to the Coast Guard on my own behalf, to clear up a few points, and the USCG sent me their history of the period: Rum War at Sea, by Commander Malcolm F. Willoughby. 
  The USCG was in a very difficult position. Prohibition had been passed by a narrow margin, so a large proportion of the US population were on the side of the bootleggers, at least until organised crime took over. This resulted in a "disheartening number of releases and acquittals by certain courts, when there should have been forfeitures and convictions..."

One Federal judge in Connecticut was so anti-Prohibition that he virtually never convicted a rum-runner, however convincing the evidence.

In one case, a small cargo vessel was stopped in Long Island Sound. The Coast Guards couldn't find any liquor aboard.
They suspected concealed tanks built behind false bulkheads, but at sea it wasn't possible to make the measurements necessary to find them. She was released, but later was seized for running without lights (a common ploy to make the rumrunners harder to find, which led to the name Black Ships). She was taken into custody. Tied up at a USCG pier, she was measured and hidden tanks full of liquor were indeed discovered. The court pronounced that as she had been seized for running without lights, that was the only offence for which she could be prosecuted. Ship and cargo were returned to the owners.

A Norwegian steamer, Sagatind, was found drifting on "Rum Row", forty miles offshore, well outside the three-mile limit. The Coast Guard fired shots across her bow to stop her, without eliciting any reaction. They boarded, and found the crew drunk and incapable, some injured from fighting amongst themselves. They also found 43,000 cases of liquor and a large amount of cash. However the Government failed to prove any liquor had been sold, rather than just transported in international waters. Ship and crew were released by the court.

The USCG was permitted by law to fire upon ships that refused to halt when ordered to do so. Inevitably, this led to deaths on both sides. In one such case, three seamen on a black ship were killed. Because of conflicting evidence, the coastguardsmen were tried for murder. They were acquitted, but when the captain of the black ship was tried for smuggling, the jury acquitted him, too, saying he had been punished enough by having his thumb shot off in the incident.

The 3-mile limit was extended to 12 miles or one hour's sailing time, by international treaty in 1925. This made it much more difficult to pinpoint the position of black ships, and proving how fast they were able to sail was no easier. By this time many bootleggers were highly organised. They could afford their own experts in navigation, whose testimony refuted the Coast Guard's careful measurements--at least when judges and juries were already far from keen on producing a conviction.

On one occasion, an overzealous coast guard falsified his log to show the rumrunners were within territorial waters. This was a serious offense, the log being a legal document. The chief warrant officer concerned was found guilty and reduced in rank.

There was no effort to falsify the position in another case, off the West coast. The Coast Guard found a known black ship, the Federalship, far outside the limits and trailed her from Oregon to California, hoping to catch her actually breaking the law. She flew the flag of Panama. The decision was taken by the San Francisco headquarters to seize the ship. Two USCG cutters came up to her and ordered her to stop and let them come aboard. The captain refused, saying that for all he knew they were "a lot of bloody pirates." After being fired on--and hit--several times, Federalship stopped. She was taken to San Francisco Bay and the cargo of liquor removed (it disappeared from storage!). A Federal Grand Jury indicted the captain and crew for conspiracy. The defence claimed the seizure was illegal, and an act of war as she was Panama registered. The US attorney said that under Panama's law Federalship had lost her registry by engaging in rumrunning and so was a renegade pirate. However, the black ship had not engaged in any illegal activity--had not, in fact, entered territorial waters--while under pursuit from the Columbia River to the point where she was seized. She was released and the USCG had to tow her all the way back to where they had captured her.

The law required the Coast Guard to seize not only any liquor they round aboard a black ship, but the shipThere was no effort to falsify the position in another case, off the West coast. The Coast Guard found a known black ship, the Federalship, far outside the limits and trailed her from Oregon to California, hoping to catch her actually breaking the law. She flew the flag of Panama. The decision was taken by the San Francisco headquarters to seize the ship. Two USCG cutters came up to her and ordered her to stop and let them come aboard. The captain refused, saying that for all he knew they were "a lot of bloody pirates." After being fired on--and hit--several times, Federalship stopped. She was taken to San Francisco Bay and the cargo of liquor removed (it disappeared from storage!). A Federal Grand Jury indicted the captain and crew for conspiracy. The defence claimed the seizure was illegal, and an act of war as she was Panama registered. The US attorney said that under Panama's law Federalship had lost her registry by engaging in rumrunning and so was a renegade pirate. However, the black ship had not engaged in any illegal activity--had not, in fact, entered territorial waters--while under pursuit from the Columbia River to the point where she was seized. She was released and the USCG had to tow her all the way back to where they had captured her.

The law required the Coast Guard to seize not only any liquor they round aboard a black ship, but the ship itself and all its equipment. This led to the rumrunners turning the tables. They'd go to a friendly local jurisdiction and accuse the individual Coastguardsmen of stealing their tackle--charts, sextant, timepiece and so on. The US attorney would request a transfer to Federal court, where the rumrunners didn't pursue the case, but in the meantime the newspapers made hay with the charges of theft and the Coast Guard became ever less popular. itself and all its equipment. This led to the rumrunners turning the tables. They'd go to a friendly local jurisdiction and accuse the individual Coastguardsmen of stealing their tackle--charts, sextant, timepiece and so on. The US attorney would request a transfer to Federal court, where the rumrunners didn't pursue the case, but in the meantime the newspapers made hay with the charges of theft and the Coast Guard became ever less popular. 

The rum-runners used to communicate from shore to ship by illegal radio transmissions in code. One radioman who was arrested was fined $10 for violation of a fire ordinance, the only charge that a hostile jury would make stick. The Prohibition authorities managed to crack the code of one prolific transmitter. They found themselves in a quandary: if they prosecuted, the rumrunners would know the code had been cracked. Not only would no further information about ship movements be overheard, but to persuade a jury of conspiracy to break the law the Coast Guard would have to reveal its methods. They decided not to prosecute.

In one prosecution, when a motorboat had been seized loaded with liquor, the Coast Guard witness was asked what he had found aboard. "One hundred cases," he said. The judge responded, "There's no law against carrying cases," and he dismissed the case.

One final episode among many: Off Key West in Florida, a black ship was halted by gunfire. The boarders were told they had killed the skipper, who had fallen overboard. The Key West population was almost wholly anti-Prohibition and there was talk of lynching the coastguardsman responsible. He was charged with first degree murder by the father of the
captain. At the hearing before a justice of the peace, the charge was reduced to manslaughter because the body of the victim could not be found. The coastguardsman was released on bail. Subsequent investigation revealed that the skipper had disappeared before in similar circumstances and had reappeared in Cuba. This time, apparently, he had swum to shore and made his way to his girlfriend's house in Tampa. When the case went to the Grand Jury, some months later, it was dismissed because no prosecution witnesses turned up!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Writer’s Block or Indolence?

by Bill Kirton

I suppose I’m lucky in that I’ve never suffered from the dreaded writer’s block. Whether it’s stories, novels, plays, blogs, reviews or writing commercial stuff to a deadline, I usually get quickly into the swing of it and get dragged along. Then, after staying away from whatever text it is for a while, I enjoy getting back to it and starting the editing/rewriting process.

Recently, though, I have experienced something like it. I started on the sequel to The Figurehead and, after writing a few pages, found I was unsure of where I wanted to go with it. I knew what the themes would be, how the characters would behave with one another, what the main conflicts and climaxes would be and also how it would turn out, but it was all bitty and wasn’t managing to cohere in my mind. I began to think that I’d maybe done too much research, collected too much information on the commercial aspects of ship owning, passenger accommodation on transatlantic voyages, and also on actors and theatre groups, all of which would be part of the story. I knew plenty about all that but had no idea what the characters wanted to do. Also, there didn’t seem to be much room for them amongst all the ‘facts’.

Then, with some fairly steady sales of the Jack Carston books, it was obvious that I had to write the next in the series. Again, I knew the sort of case it would be, and that it would signify a departure for him which maybe/probably would make it the last in the series. It needs some research, so I’m in no position to start it yet but, again, the impulse to embark on it wasn’t strong.

Rather than worried, I was puzzled by this so, instead of persevering with either of them, I started a sequel to The Sparrow Conundrum, with very little idea of what it would contain. This time, though, because of the absurd extremes of the characters, I immediately started seeing plenty of possible developments. But even then, after a few days writing, I started finding reasons to do something else.

So I wonder whether it’s another manifestation of a desire always to want to do something new. I seem to do things for a while then, without there necessarily being any feeling of having achieved a goal or been successful, I get the ‘been there, done that’ sensation and look around for unknowns.

I wonder, too, whether the whole blogging, tweeting, facebooking thing has made writing less fun and the proliferation of new books has devalued the process. I don’t think that’s the case, but I’m very aware that I’m writing in a very different publishing context from the one in which I started – with more opportunities as well as more competition.

Then again, it’s maybe all down to the trait I’ve mentioned many times before – I’m lazy. The books will get written but, for the moment, it’s relaxing to look through the window at the bare branches blowing in the wind. Maybe when the snowdrops start arriving…

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Writing on a Cold Winter Morning

by Jackie King

Bloody January!

Snow, ice and freezing temperatures send a message to my body that it’s time to hibernate. Then I hear the annoying loud buzz of the alarm clock and know that I must get up and begin editing my (sort of) first draft. (I say sort of, because my characters keep changing the ending.) But my eyes won’t open. I force my lids into a tiny slit and everything that is gray, stark and chilling, frighten them shut. Surely the alarm must have been set wrong, I rationalize.

For eight and a half torturous minutes I lie stiff-as-a-board, uncomfortable, guilt-ridden and stubborn, steeling myself against the inevitable. Finally I drag myself out of bed, remove my newest form of self-torture called a Bi-Pap mask for my sleep apnea, and sit on the edge of bed.

Where is my beloved sunshine?

I main-line my first cup of coffee so I can turn on my computer without throwing the monitor out my third-floor window. (I’ve downsized to an apartment, which I very much like. No more worrying about frozen pipes. But not even this fact can cheer me at the ghastly hour of 7:30 when everything outside my window is the color of concrete and covered with ice.)

I pull up chapter 14 and wonder why I ever liked any of these characters? Maybe I should kill everyone off. That would certainly be surprise ending.

I drink my second cup of coffee and read the chapter, making small changes here and there. (How do all of those ‘ly’ words creep in?) I take out three adverbs and a couple of adjectives.

By the time I’m sipping my fourth cup, I decide to let my protagonist and her quirky sidekick live. I solider on for 30 minutes, and then pause to take a break. After an egg, toast and a sliced orange, my temper has sweetened enough that I stop threatening to delete my manuscript and ready keep writing.

Sunshine is a faraway memory.

Bloody January!


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Is it Lazy Old Man Syndrome?

By Chester Campbell

I'll have to confess, for the past few weeks I've been acting like an old man. Instead of working on a new book, I've been perched in my recliner watching TV movies, taking naps, and using my laptop to peruse Facebook and links to all kinds of weird articles. On most days I've headed to the mall for my two-mile walk, and I've done a bit of online promotion for my stable of published books.

But act like a motivated author and write something new?


It isn't writers block. I've never had a problem with that. Maybe it's plain old laziness. After pushing the boundaries for 88 years, maybe I need a change. Mountain climbing is out. Don't believe the old legs would hold up for that. Swim the English Channel? I'm not all that fond of salt water. Anyway, the cold temperatures here in Nashville lately have been quite sufficient to keep me inside where it's warm and dry.

I don't need anything that's going to take a lot of training. I'm not interested in getting another degree, or taking up hang gliding. Although I do feel a certain fondness for things of the latter ilk. So where does that leave me?

I've been a writer of one sort or another most of my life, at least since I entered college to study journalism. Starting out as a newspaper reporter, I free-lanced nonfiction, wrote speeches for a governor, founded a local slick-paper magazine, worked for advertising and public relations agencies, and published a magazine for a trade assoociation.

Obviously, writing is what I know best. So why don't I quit fooling around and do it? Good question.

The simple answer would be to get my lazy rear out of the recliner and go to work. But that's the way I work, sitting on my lazy rear in the recliner with a laptop in my lap, just as I'm doing right now. Oh, what a horrible conundrum. What to do, what to do?

Forget I said all this. I'm going to the mall and walk.

Visit me at Chester D.

Monday, January 6, 2014

That Cherished Book

By Mark W. Danielson

I dare say that everyone has a book they cherish for one reason or another.  When I was a kid, I loved airplanes and never missed an episode of 12 O’Clock High, so it's no surprise that Edward Jablanski’s book, Flying Fortress was mine.  I loved that book, and not one single page was ever nicked or bent – until my mother loaded it out without asking.  Granted, not many kids cherish books, so what’s the harm?  I was crushed when my book came back severely damaged.  I pleaded for Mom to make the kid who damaged it replace it, but that never happened.  As you can see, I still have the book and its memories.

Not long ago a dear friend sent me his cherished book, which ironically is about another World War II bomber.  In fact, Bomber is Len Deighton’s title, featuring a Royal Air Force bomber’s last flight over Germany on June 31, 1943.  In this case, the book is in shambles because it’s been read so many times, but its words and message remain as powerful today as they were the day it was published.

That’s the beauty of words.  For those willing to take the time, they evoke meaning far beyond the pages of which they were written.  Bomber and Flying Fortress both take their readers to the flak infested skies over Germany, letting them feel the fear as bullets and shrapnel rip their airplanes apart.  And after the raid, fighters swoop down from the sun before to pick off the less fortunate stragglers.  For the bombers that made it back, meat wagons await them to haul off the injured and dead, then the planes are hosed out and patched up for their next mission.  The photos in Flying Fortress validate the stories in the book.  I am still in awe of the scope of World War II.  

While every novelist strives to create meaningful work, it often gets lost in translation.  Sometimes authors try so hard that not a word gets written that day.  Some call this writer’s block, but the fact is not everything works.  Whenever I reach that point, I stop and take a break.  Picking up a good book can provide great inspiration to get me back into writing.

Now, consider your favorite book – the one you cannot part with.  Which one is it, and why does it stick with you?  Was there an experience that went along with the book or were the words that compelling?  To this date I cannot explain why Flying Fortress is still so important to me or Bomber is to my friend, but I shall always cherish them.