Friday, October 29, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Mean


I went to a quaint English village

Intending to murder and pillage

My plans were in vain: I met Miss Jane

Even got stuck with the billage

Then I went to the Florida coast

To turn an insured business to toast

Wouldn’t do, you see. There was McGee

My client wanted me for the roast

Next I went to the city called ‘Frisco

To run a scam as smooth as Crisco©

But I got played by the man, Sam Spade

Haven’t felt so clumsy since disco

No matter where I go when I travel

Someone’s there and my schemes unravel

I’m just not good at being a hood

I’ll stick close to home and play Scrabble©

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I guess it’s a failure of receptivity but I’ve never had a paranormal experience. That doesn’t mean I reject the existence of ghosts and other paranormal phenomena. Several of my co-worker nurses believe a few patients who died returned, usually to play tricks on a roommate or scare a night nurse. We only aggravate patients with pills and personal questions for a short while. Why wouldn’t the patients haunt family members who’ve been a pain in the neck for years?

I don’t see cemeteries as scary places because graves contain physical remains that quickly decay. Any self-respecting spirit would leave a long time before burial. Spirits aren’t tied to bones and the burial clothes, although both are a convenient way to portray something invisible.

In THE SHINING, Stephen King creates a world filled with ghosts and evil but I saw this world as the projection of a man’s mind, angry with his family and after giving up alcohol. Despite my lack of other world experience, I enjoyed the film, “The Sixth Sense,” and books by Charlaine Harris. The paranormal seems a good way to explore death and what we don’t understand.

The castles and very old stone or brick buildings I’ve visited were so cold that a person would have a hard time recognizing a cold touch or space. A documentary I watched showed convincing footage of haunting by soldiers, plantation owners, and slaves in old houses in the South. Old saloons were shown to have violent and evil spirits lurking in attics and cellars.

If a ghost or poltergeist ever visits me, I’m sure I’ll want to write about it. Ghostly stories don’t seem to have much to do with Halloween celebrations. I know a couple of kids who tolerate dressing up and collecting candy to please their parents. This year, I’ve heard several parents say they won’t buy costumes or decorate their houses, even if they have the money to do both. When there are people without food, it seems frivolous to collect candy. Families that save money on costumes and candy can send donations to Halloween Unicef. Crafty parents can make costumes but that takes time, more often than what’s available if a person works and takes care of a family.

There are those who believe we should celebrate every special day and never miss a chance to party or dress up. I’ve thought about offering apples rather than candy but apples are as taboo as unwrapped candy. Why does someone put razors in apples or poison in unwrapped candy? Because they are fed up with answering the doorbell on Halloween night or because they’re plain evil? I’m still more afraid of people in the flesh than of spirits. I will enjoy e-zines and anthologies with ghostly stories.

Have you experienced the other-world? Is Halloween one of your favorite nights?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ann Charles Interview-Part 2

Ann Charles writes romantic mysteries with a strong dose of humor. She is the 2010 winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and she has been a Golden Heart and Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest finalist. When she is not dabbling in fiction, she is penning writing-related articles or standing on her workshop soapbox, sharing what she has learned over the years about the craft and self-promotion. Stay tuned for Ann Charles’ and her partner, Jacquie Rogers’, upcoming, non-fiction book available in early 2011 about the secret of building an effective fiction writer’s platform.

Visit her at Ann Charles, or read her weekly antics at Plot Mamas. You can also find her on Facebook under Ann.Charles.Author. In addition, Ann is co-owner of the 1st Turning Point website where they and over two dozen other authors, reviewers, and PR consultants have joined together to teach and share (and learn from each other) all sorts of great information about promotion for both unpublished and published authors. Here’s a link to my first interview with Ann.

EBD: Does your manuscript, NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD, for which you won the 2010 Daphne, have the romance required happily-ever-after ending? Or are you leaving it open in case a series develops?

ANN: Without giving the ending away, I can tell you that Nearly Departed in Deadwood satisfies my romance readers enough to earn me two thumbs up; however, I weave the ending in such a way that these same readers are hungry for the next book to see how the romance continues to develop, because things are not exactly smooth. I knew when I wrote this book that it was going to be a series, so the relationship/romance arc has to develop over the series of books, not just in one book. I’m having a lot of fun with this romance arc, and my first draft romance readers who have just finished reading the second book in this Deadwood series are yelling at me and threatening bodily harm if I don’t hurry up and write book three ASAP.

EBD: Will you promote the romance element or the mystery element of NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD? What are factors in your decision?

ANN: Years ago when I did pitch to my agent and send her the partial of a previous book that was a mix of mystery and romance, I promoted the mystery element more than the romance element because at that time in the publishing world, genre-mixing wasn't as common. I'd been rejected by multiple romance-acquiring agents who liked my writing, but felt that due to the mystery element, there was not enough romance (that book is 50-50 with half-mystery, half-romance).

I decided to remove the idea of a "romance" from my agent's mind and have her read it with the mystery expectation. My agent loved the story and offered representation. That book has not found a publishing home yet, and it being a mixed-genre story has been part of the problem with getting it sold. However, my agent loves my voice and when I sent her NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD, which is also mixed-genre, she called me laughing and yelled, “You’re brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!” (You can see why I love her so—ha!) She is positive we can build my career from this story, one way or another.

EBD: Do you know if there are agents that specialize in cross-genre novels?

ANN: I don’t know if there are agents who specialize in it. I’ve been with my agent for almost five years now, so I haven’t been paying attention to that part of the publishing world. I know of some agents who have cross-genre (or “mixed-genre” to some) clients. I feel like cross-genre is still coming into its own. We’re at the front of the wave as it builds right now. Based off my readers’ opinions (and I’m not talking about anyone related to me by blood who is nice to me because of family obligations and all), they love reading stories with romance and mystery and paranormal all mixed together. If readers drive the market, we should someday start seeing a greater need for such mixed-genre novels with both agents and editors. But I haven’t consulted any psychics on this, so it is all theory and speculation (ha).

EBD: Has an agent or publishing house asked for your manuscript yet?

ANN: The agent who judged my manuscript in the final round asked to read the full. The editor did not. Other than that, no other agents or editors have expressed interest in reading it to my knowledge. However, a lot of other authors, friends, distant family members, and some strangers have asked to read the manuscript, which is a huge bonus for me in the win. One of my yearly goals in 2010 was to figure out how to start building a fan base while not having a book in print. My mailing list database has had a lot of additions thanks to winning the Daphne.

EBD: Do you think winning the Daphne will help promote your book?

ANN: Yes! I know this for a fact because I’ve already been using it to help promote my book and build my name recognition.

For example, you know all of those people who are interested in reading my book now? Well, you can bet, I’m going to let them. What??? Isn’t that crazy, sharing my story before it’s published? Isn’t it foolish to let people read it for free? Some authors and agents and editors will shake their heads and tell me it's crazy. Maybe it is. Nobody has ever accused me of being rational and sane. But in today’s publishing climate, all bets are off.

A little history on Nearly Departed in Deadwood—it’s been considered in acquisitions more than once, only to be shot down for various reasons. Mainly, the problem seems to be marketability. I’m a “new” author who has written a mixed-genre book set in a small town in the middle of the United States. I totally missed the “amnesia, cowboy, secret baby” angle...although I do have an old cowboy in it, but he’s not very sexy.

Due to the marketability hurdles perceived by some of the bigger publishers, I have to take matters into my own hands. I have to stir up my own book buzz. I have to build my own name recognition. How does a new author do that without a published book in hand? Give something for free with the hopes that the reader will like my book and appreciate my generosity enough to help me out a little by talking it up to her/his friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc. Is this working? You betcha! I have some readers so excited to see me get the story published that they are willing to help me promote it for free, giving copious amounts of their valuable time to help spread the word. It’s incredible, really. Every day, I’m humbled by how many people are stepping up and doing things to promote my book. My acknowledgement page will be novella-length by the time this book hits the market.

EBD: Do you think winning the Daphne will add promotion dollars from a publishing house, and increase your advance?

ANN: I don’t know if winning the Daphne would add promo dollars from a publisher (if it were contracted) or increase my advance. I would expect that it would not, because my book winning the Daphne does not make it a bestseller. What would make my book a bestseller is a strong effort to promote it.

I’ll check back with Ann Charles in a few months because her winning manuscript NEARLY DEPARTED IN DEADWOOD will surely be picked up by a publishing house soon. Thanks for the interviews, Ann.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Sharp a Fictional Character?

Looking from my study today I can only see to the near edge of the lake. Fog cloaks its surface and allows me to only sense the opposite shore based on the shading of distant greys. Stepping out on the deck I hear an occasional duck quack and can visualize mergansers fishing for breakfast. The beat of large wings moving from south to north sounds overhead, and I decide that an eagle has just flown by.

Should I choose, I could describe for you the mergansers in precise detail, relying on years of watching them. I could tell you that this time of year you can’t tell males from the females because in both sexes their heads are now muted red. I could describe their long beaks serrated with pointed tooth-like projections, the better to catch slippery fish with, My Dear. Or I could call them “sawbills” and let you draw your own picture.

Because I saw an eagle yesterday, I could speculate that the eagle I hear—but don’t see—is not fully mature, its head and tail lacking the telltale white. I could ruminate about how the process typically starts with a first white feather at around age three and takes two to four years to complete, when the head and tail are completely white.

Or I could simply tell you ducks are quacking on the lake and that I feel the air pressure increase with each wing beat as the unseen eagle flies overhead. You would probably picture a mallard for the duck and a mature bald eagle with snow white head and tail.

Does it matter if you picture the wrong kind of duck or eagle, and does the answer change if we’re talking about people instead of wildlife?

Yes, No and Maybe—at least by my preferences.

If it is really important for the reader to understand what the POV character is seeing, then by all means provide as much detail as possible. If the animal sets the stage, defines the location, then give enough specifics so an astute reader can place the action. If the ducks and eagle are an aside and their description may delay the action of the scene, then who cares if mergansers have webbed feet?

For me, the same is true for human characters. I like a broad brush that allows me to fill in my own details—to make my own picture of the character, even for the main characters. I get bored quickly and skip ahead when each new character is painted with a paragraph of detail. Give me a trait or two; I’ll do the rest. When I am jogging people’s memory about who I am, I often refer to myself as “the tall bald guy with the beard and ponytail.” Invariably, that is enough. If I were to try to disguise myself, all I need to do is wrap my ponytail over my head like a squirrel in the rain and cover my pate with a wig. No more Jim Jackson.

For minor characters, all I need when reading is enough to keep them straight. For a main character, feel free to work in a few pertinent facts along the way to help me fill out their picture, but heaven forbid you give them a feature totally conflicting with my personal projection of the character. If you do that, I might abandon your book right there and choose something else to read.

Needless to say, I don’t spend much of my leisure time reading Thomas Hardy and his ilk. What I’ve described is my preference in reading (and writing). What about you?


Monday, October 25, 2010

Things that Go Bump in the Night

Jordaina Robinson, paranormal writer and former WWK blogger, wrote about her paranormal experiences in May. I’m in the middle of writing my paranormal mystery, TOASTING FEAR, and just like Jordaina, I’ve experienced two definitive paranormal events. One is private, but I’ll tell you about the other.

Just so you don’t think I’m crazy, my boyfriend, at the time, JD, who is now my husband of 27 years, went through the experience with me. That mutual experience for me verifies its validity. Of course, JD and I may both be crazy, so continue reading at your own risk. Although psychologists document group behavior and mob mentality, I assure you that the experience was much like the white elephant sitting in the corner of the room that we tried our best to ignore.

The paranormal events occurred in JD’s rented farm house located in the countryside of York County, PA, also home to Rehmyer’s Hollow, the setting of a “hex murder” of a Powwow doctor in 1928. (For more information see: ) I drove through Rehmyer’s Hollow once. The forest was dense there, the trees growing together over the road, creating the effect of driving through a tunnel. Combined with hilly terrain that blocks the view of the next curve, it forces drivers to a crawl; the eerie atmosphere was claustrophobic. I never went back there again. Horror writer, Brian Keene, lived in the area and set a few of his novels nearby.

Paranormal phenomena seem to afflict the area. I have wondered if the German heritage of the original settlers caused the preponderance of paranormal activity. The German concept of Schadenfreude, deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others, seems evil to me. Schadenfreude is derived from two words, “schaden” (harm) and “freude” (joy). If taken further back in time, “schaden” meant scath’d, a term John Milton used in “Paradise Lost” (line 613). Yikes, no wonder I moved to Virginia!

We were in our mid-twenties, and I was in graduate school at the time at GWU, located about two hours away in Washington, D. C. I’d often stay at the house for the weekend and then we’d get up early on Monday morning. JD went to work, and I drove back to school. As months passed, I started to feel watched while in the farm house. The first time I remember being aware of this sensation, I was in the bathroom looking into the mirror. My image was the only one I saw, but unease washed over me.

After that initial experience, I started feeling a presence. Lying in bed before sleep overcame me, I felt movement running up and down the exposed side of my body, like a chilly breeze exerting the slight pressure of a roller. I didn’t say anything to my future spouse. Like anyone experiencing strange phenomena, I assumed my experience was singular. But then, things changed.

One Monday morning while we still lay in bed, the front door slammed. That particular door stuck, which forced everyone to slam it shut or the lock wouldn’t catch. At first, I assumed my boyfriend’s roommate was coming home early to get ready for work after his weekend stay at his girlfriend’s place. After hearing the door slam, I heard no other sounds, such as his moving about the house, climbing the stairs to his bedroom or the running shower. I still didn’t say anything. But, after a few mornings of hearing the door slam around six a.m. without the roommate appearing, I asked JD about the door. He didn’t say much, but later, away from the house, he explained and described that he too felt watched, felt cold hands running over his body when in bed and that he avoided the bathroom except when absolutely necessary. We didn’t come to any conclusions then.

One day I arrived at the house before JD got off work. I let myself in, sat on the couch and started to read. Nothing outwardly happened, but I felt very unwelcome, hastened off the couch and escaped out the door. I waited outside until JD arrived home. He asked why I hadn’t waited inside and I explained my feelings, which he understood without question.

We were sitting on that same couch when JD asked me to marry him. We became engaged in May and married in September, when he moved from the house to our rented townhouse in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D. C. All that summer while preparing to marry and move, we felt significant changes in whatever spirit lingered there. A feeling of remorse and loneliness persisted, as if the ghost regretted haunting us and wished that we would stay.

We later learned that the house had been built by a farming family in the early twentieth century. After the husband died and the children moved, the widow lived and died in the house alone. I can only assume that she was showing her displeasure at out immorality, but once engaged her judgmental attitude changed, too late, for we were already gone.

What is your story of things that go bump in the night?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Interview with L D Harkrader

Today’s interview is with the talented and prolific author, Lisa Harkrader, who writes as L.D. Harkrader. Her Young Adult novel, Airball: My Life in Briefs won the William Allen White Award for 2008, the Washington Sasquatch Award, designation as a Kansas Notable Book and many other awards.

WB: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

LDH: I have loved books from the moment I could hold one in my hand. In about the third grade, it dawned on me that somebody had to write all those books I loved, and I decided that one day, one of those somebodies would be me.
I grew up and went to college and earned a degree in art (my other big love) and began working. But I never lost sight of my dream. In the early 1990s, I began seriously pursuing a career in children’s writing. Since then I’ve written fiction, nonfiction, hundreds of short stories and poems, an education picture book, and even three ghostwritten books in the Animorphs science fiction series.

WB: How many books have you written for children and young adults?

I’m finishing up revisions on The Adventures of Beanboy, a middle-grade novel about a boy who is trying to fix his family through comic books (and I get to draw his sketches and comic book panels throughout the story, which is the first time I’ve been able to combine my two loves, writing and art). It comes out Fall 2011 and will be my 19th book.

WB: What makes YA literature YA? Is it the age of the protagonist? For example is To Kill a Mocking Bird a YA novel?

LDH: Here are the basics:

• Young adult novels are written for readers from age 12 to about 16 (older readers have often jumped to adult books)
• The characters are usually 14 to 19
• Length varies, but usually falls within 40,000 to 60,000 words

Beyond that, voice, tone, and theme make young adult literature young adult. Richard Peck has said that the last page of every YA novel should not say “The End,” but “The Beginning.” I think that sums up YA perfectly. All YAs—whether they’re about trying out for football, finding out you rule a small European country, or falling in love with vampires—are really about a character trying to find his or her place in the world.
And YA is always told from the perspective of a character who hasn’t yet found that place. I’ve heard people say that if To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, it would be published as a young adult novel. It’s true that every teenager in America reads TKAM in 9th grade English and many, including reluctant readers, end up loving it. (I love it, too—it’s one of my favorite books.) But it isn’t YA. The main character, Scout, goes from age 6 to age 9 in the course of the novel, which is technically too young for a YA protagonist. But more importantly, the story is told from an adult perspective, from Scout as an adult looking back on what happened to her as a child. She has already gone through the experience, and the story is filtered through the wisdom she gained.

WB: That helps a lot, so what is Middle Grade fiction?

LDH: Ah, middle grade. It’s the golden age of reading. It’s a time when kids can read independently but haven’t yet discovered the distractions of driving, dating, and trying to become an adult. It’s the time when many kids fall in love with books. It’s also a time when they have an enormous number of wonderful reading choices awaiting them. I know I’m showing a bit of bias, but middle-grade novels are some of the best-written, best-edited, most creative novels being published. They encompass all genres, and subject matter is nearly unlimited, from survival adventure tales to funny school stories to crazy inventions, spies, and interplanetary travel.

Middle grade is basically for ages 8 to 12. Older middle grade, which is what I tend to write, is for readers 9 to 14. (Although a lot of adults read middle grade fiction, too, and love it.) The protagonist is about the same age or slightly older than readers. Word count can vary widely, but usually falls between 25,000 and 40,000 words.

My novel Airball: My Life in Briefs clocked in at just about 43,000 words. The Adventures of Beanboy is sitting about about 37,000 right now, and I’m trying to trim a bit more since it includes illustrations every few pages. The main characters of both books are thirteen year olds in the seventh grade.
My novel Nocturne is an older middle grade/younger YA fantasy. The main character, Flan, is fifteen, and the novel is a bit longer—52,000 words.

WB: I’ve noticed that in your books you combine humor, surprises and complete respect for your readers, whatever their ages. Does that contribute to your success?

LDH: Thank you. What reader doesn’t want respect? That’s especially true for kids, who are tired of being talked down to and can spot condescension in a book immediately. I think the one quality a writer needs in order to write for children or young adults is a small piece of themselves that hasn’t completely grown up. I joke that on the outside I may look like a 40-something-year-old woman. But on the inside I’m still twelve. (And sometimes I’m a twelve-year-old boy, which came as a surprise.) But it’s not really a joke. Part of me really is twelve. That’s the part that still thinks underwear jokes are funny.

And who doesn’t like humor? My favorite books are funny novels with heart, books that make you laugh but still have something to say. To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example. It has a lot to say about racism and assumptions and the way people treat each other. But it’s also very funny at times. I don’t pretend to come close to TKAM, but that’s what I try to do in my books: tackle something I think is important, such as finding your own true superpowers, through humor.

WB: Thank you. Do you have any advice for someone interested in writing for younger audiences?

LDH: For anyone interested in writing for children or young adults, here are some helpful websites:

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
The Institute of Children’s Literature’s Writer Rx
The Purple Crayon

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Stacy Juba nominated our blog for an award and we’d like to pay it forward by nominating the following blogs:

I hope you’ll enjoy looking up these blogs that both entertain and inform.

I first heard of blogs in a CSI show, now off the air. One of the lab techs blogged daily and a killer was inspired by the blog to kill again. Then a friend in the UK gave me the address of her blog. She’s an inspired photographer who captures people and scenes at unusual times and angles. Still, the world of blogs remained an unknown territory for me because a blog seemed like a diary and I’ve never kept a diary.

I could never visualize someone two hundred years from now finding my diary and being overwhelmed by the historical details of our daily lives. Leaders of writing groups I’ve attended have urged students to keep a writing diary. What would I note—a spectacular sunset, a deer crossing the street at midnight, or a conversation overheard in a restaurant? If the former mean anything to me, I easily remember them in pictorial and auditory detail. If I wrote the details in a diary, I doubt whether my kids or grandkids would say, she was so sensitive to the world around her, so creative. No, they’d probably say, do you think she was worried about going blind or losing her memory?

As a child, I remember having to plough through the writings of Samuel Pepys who kept a diary that recorded the great fire of London. Mostly, I remember him because of a ditty written about Lady Godiva. Covered only by her long hair, she rode naked on a horse through the streets of Coventry to make her husband stop demanding such high taxes from the people of Coventry. Although Pepys and Lady Godiva were separated by six centuries, that didn’t stop a writer celebrating her nakedness and noting that “naughty Samuel peeps.”

While I still thought of blogs as similar to diaries, I started to notice that writers whose work I enjoyed had web pages and blogs. Then, Elaine asked me to join our blog. Suddenly, I discovered a whole new world of fascinating people and information. Blogs keep me updated on people I’ve met and their accomplishments, and introduce me to people I might never meet.

Do I regret not being able to see all these people in person—you bet. A century, no twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing. I make the best of the time in which I live and contact through blogs interesting people I see once or twice a year or not at all.

Have you been surprised by what you discovered in a blog? Do you wish you could meet in person blog writers?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Interview with Richard Bush

Richard Bush has been reading about, writing about and playing the blues for most of his adult life. His articles have highlighted the careers of blues musicians in magazines such as; Blues Access, Hittin’ the Note, Southwest Blues and the American Harmonica Newsmagazine. He has also written hundreds of reviews of blues music recordings over the years.

After retiring from teaching high school journalism, English and world geography, his love of the blues and writing fiction met at the crossroads. He began fulfilling his lifelong goal to write a novel featuring the music that he loves. His first book, featuring a couple of blues harmonica playing protagonists, landed him a contract for publication. RIVER BOTTOM BLUES is his crime story set in the bottom lands of Texas’ Brazos River and the blues bars from Houston to Dallas to Shreveport to New Orleans and back again.

EBD: Did you write fiction while teaching or did you concentrate on writing blues articles for various publications?

RB: While teaching, my writing centered around blues related non-fiction articles and record reviews. It’s hard to get away from referring to recorded music as records, so I will probably do so until death do us part. I interviewed a slew of blues harmonica players over the years.

EBD: When did you start writing fiction?

RB: I think I sat down in August 2008 and started hammering out an idea.

EBD: Was this your first manuscript?

RB: Yes. RIVER BOTTOM BLUES represents my first manuscript. The first draft was in long hand on a legal pad and then I typed the second draft. I spell checked that draft and then did a line edit. I read through it once more and then re-placed three chapters with totally different versions. I guess that would put it at maybe three and a half revisions--or something like that.

EBD: Your interest and knowledge of blues music provided the basis of your novel. Did you have to do additional research for your book?

RB: Blues music and I go way back so I needed very little research. My blues library is fairly extensive, so I never had to go far to check facts.

EBD: Tell us a little about your novel. What is the hook? POV? Can you give us a short synopsis?

RB: Mitty Anderson, a self-retired reporter, narrates most of RIVER BOTTOM BLUES in first person as he and his running buddy, Pete Bolden, go after a murderous band of wackos. The POV does switch a time or two, but basically it is Mitty’s story. I move towards third person when a murder takes place in a past decade. Here’s a blurb:

Mitty Anderson and Bobby T had blown enough blues harmonica notes together for him to know that Bobby never allowed anything to interfere with his music. So when he gets the news, in the middle of his blues set at Little Queenie’s, that Bobby’s body was found in a hotel with a syringe of heroin in his arm, Mitty suspects foul play of the supreme kind. He makes plans to catch a killer and clear Bobby’s good name.

“The Wizard,” ex-blues star and now ex-convict, tries to convince Mitty that a vicious Louisianan clan killed Bobby Tarleton. He’s absolutely certain that they’ve been eliminating blues harmonica players since the ‘60s. Mitty shrugs off the wild tales as prison gossip, until he finds “The Wizard’s” stabbed and burned body hanging from a pecan tree.

Every dark road leads to Crazy Joe Badou and his evil sons. Rural legend has Crazy Joe killing blues harmonica players ever since his wife ran off with one. Mitty figures that Bobby just might have been their latest victim. He decides to round up a posse, disguised as a blues band, to flush the wild family out into the open. He ends up playing the gig of his life.

EBD: Do you have an agent? If so, how did you get an agent?

RB: No, whenever an agent did respond to my query, the response normally centered around the blues theme being a little too small niche to have much of an audience. Even within the blues genre, harmonica players tend to lack a bit of respect. Sometimes there’s a Rodney Dangerfield aspect to it all. One agent suggested going the small press route.

EBD: Which company is publishing your book? 

RB: Virtual Tales.

EBD: How did they get your manuscript?

RB: The publisher was open for submissions of novels when I submitted my manuscript this past summer.

EBD: Can you disclose any of the details?

RB: They just released my acquisition announcement on their website They are a small press, but have been steady at it since 2006. They’ll release RIVER BOTTOM BLUES in print, eBook, and eSerial. Beginning in May of this year, I began to seriously look at smaller publishers. Several publishers showed interest and requested a full manuscript. After contacting several satisfied Virtual Tales authors, I decided that they were the best fit for my work. Plus, they actually seemed to have a bit of enthusiasm for my crime novel permeated with the blues.

EBD: When’s your release date?

RB: Nothing firm on a release date, yet. I’ve been working with my assigned editor, Ti Locke, for the past several weeks. She is wonderful and has an appreciation for the blues, so that helps. We are close to wrapping up the first round of edits. The book will undergo a couple of more edits and a cover artist will be assigned soon. So far I’m pleased with their process. It shows that they care about the quality of the books that they publish.

EBD: Did you submit a marketing plan? If so, what?

RB: Sure. A great deal of the plan revolves around establishing an online presence and getting involved with activities such as this interview here. I started writing a blues blog before I retired from teaching and I have an active Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace account. I don’t do the latter two much. I just opened a Twitter account, but am pretty raw at that. I did win a blues recording soon after I twitted Living Blues magazine, so I guess finally giving into another social network time suck was worth it.

As an ex-journalism teacher, I have a few contacts that may just promote the book on radio and in newspapers, or at least run press releases. I joined Sisters In Crime, and have found the group to be wonderful. They certainly figure into the plan (that’s how this interview materialized) and have great resources. I’ll start the book store circuit locally and spread from there. I do play a mean blues harp myself, so maybe I’ll just set up on street corners and wail away with a table of books at my side. The blues music thread should give me the opportunity to possibly get reviewed in the major blues and musician magazines and possibly swing placing small bits of advertising in them. I plan to bug blues festival promoters and try to arrange book signings at some of those. That should be unique. I may even promote the book at blues society events or blues gigs.

EBD: Does RIVER BOTTOM BLUES have a sequel? Or, are your books stand alone?

RB: My work-in-progress employs the same two main characters, but it’ll stand alone. Call me a glutton for punishment. Here I have two protagonists who are blues harmonica players (who literary agents tell me no one wants to read about) setting off for new adventures and they may not be able to sell their last adventure. Hey, these are just stories that I have to tell. Once they are told, then hopefully a readership will follow.

The blues have sold well for decades, no doubt your book will too! Thanks for the interview. I’ll check back with Ricky when RIVER BOTTOM BLUES is released. In the meantime, check his blog at for book and blues news.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In a Funk

Many are the stories of talented artists, including writers, who produce wonderful work but are not discovered until after their (often premature) death. Van Gough is a classic example. Now revered, during Van Gough’s lifetime he sold only one painting before he shot himself. John Kennedy Toole, whose Confederacy of Dunces won the 1981Pulitzer Prize 11 years after his suicide, is a 20th century example. With so many called to try to provide the world with their artistic works and so few chosen, it’s not surprising artists are often in a funk, although few are driven to commit suicide.

While artist communities provide peer-to-peer support, regardless of what they say, deep down most artists want public recognition (with the possible exception of academics for whom peer acknowledgement may be sufficient). Recognition comes only after the artist has sold his work.

Now, lest you try to read between the lines that this blog post is a silent cry for help before I do myself in, let me assure you it’s not. I am in a funk, but I’m not even close to slitting my wrists. I sent out my first fifteen queries for Bad Policy and received six “no thanks” and nine silence-is-not-golden responses.

I know preservation is the key, so I’m rewriting the query and will send out the next batch soon. In the meantime, I’m editing Cabin Fever—the next in the series—and working on my next non-fiction project and also the first draft of a novel in a new series. I have plenty on my plate, but my enthusiasm for any of these projects is currently a bit low.

As I reflect on this writing business forty plus years after torturing my lab rat in Psychology 101, I do recognize the power of intermittent random reinforcement. I trained my rat to pound away on his little lever to “earn” a few drops of water. At first he got regular positive feedback. Five lever hits and a drop of water would appear. Then I trained him to do more and more work before he got his positive reinforcement. Finally, I hooked him with the all powerful random intermittent reinforcement. The poor rat became a nervous wreck; his fur became patchy and he tried all sorts of aberrant behaviors because he thought perhaps it was them that triggered his water reward. But through it all he pounded on his lever.

I think I generated some bad karma getting my A in Psych 101 through rat torture, and this query business is payback time. Really, when you think of it, aren’t writers going through the query process pretty similar to that rat of mine? Every once in a while an agent asks for a partial or says something nice (or has a new twist on the query rejection that you interpret as a bit of a pat on the back). In the meantime you work away, hoping for a miracle.

Well, on that positive note, I have some more keys on my keyboard to pound. Never know when someone might send me an encouraging note.

~ Jim

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mapping the Terrain

Because I’m writing a paranormal romantic mystery, I’ve given myself the job of familiarizing myself with every type of paranormal mystery on the shelves and finding books similar to my novel. The paranormal subgenre covers a wide range, from cozy angelic missionaries, vampires in love to demonic specters, and everything in between, including mystery, my novel’s emphasis.

I have parameters. As a reader, I’m not a fan of horror. I write novels that I’d like to read. So, although my book will have some menacing scenes, I won’t write gore that would keep me awake at night and then expect others to buy and read it either. On the opposite end of the spectrum, romance paranormal novels are extremely funny and entertaining (Mary Janice Davidson), and I enjoy reading them every so often, but that’s not quite my writing style.

Heather Graham, a prolific and multi-genre writer, combines romance with ghosts as the paranormal element. Her bad guys are human, which gives credence to her plots. But there are many monsters and demons that appear in her heroines’ dreams, scaring them while also imparting information or warnings that pertain to the problems the heroines solve. No wonder her female characters are thin beauties, they’re too terrorized to eat. What Graham creates very well are characters that live with one foot in reality and the other in the paranormal world. This is the world in which my main character, Abby Jenkins, will live. Not that she starts out with one foot in the paranormal, but before the reader turns to Chapter 3, she will face this new world and wonder how to combat it.

Charlaine Harris’s protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, can read the minds of normal humans, but not vampires, which makes her predisposed to taking vampire lovers. God forbid she learns her lover’s uncensored thoughts about her flabby thighs. Sookie’s world includes many types of shape-shifters, seemingly normal humans who can change into wolves, panthers and other animals. She walks a fine line among these paranormal groups, which use Sookie’s skills to their own advantage. But my Abby won’t have to do that, all she has to deal with are demons and angels, and there’s no fine line. There is a chasm.

There are many novels about angels missionaries. Three of my favorites are Carolyn Hart’s Bailey Ruth Raeburn, Mignon Ballard’s Augusta Goodnight and Debbie Macomber’s Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. I love these books, but the characters don’t have romantic entanglements. The protagonists are angels with missions. My novel has two angel missionaries, but one angel has a romantic relationship with my protagonist while living and that relationship continues in the hereafter. Hart’s characters, more than Ballard’s or Macomber’s, provide humorous insight into the heavenly realm. My novel, through two characters--one demon and one angel, will also provide those glimpses.

I loved Hart’s light-hearted treatment portraying the “other” side. I tried this approach because I love to write comedy, but it didn’t work for me because the character worked for hell. My critique partners, as my future readers, required dark treatment, and I recognize that there are certain conventions readers expect even in the quirky subgenre of paranormal. I will try this treatment for my newbie angel, who may be able to carry this humor, and yet he has serious choices to make, so even for him it may not be the appropriate tone.

Alice Kimberley’s Haunted Bookshop Mystery series is similar to mine in that her protagonist, Mrs. McClure, forms a relationship with a spirit, somewhat as my Abby does, except that it is a continuation of the relationship while living. In the bookshop series, Mrs. McClure (yes, a take-off on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one of my favorites) finds the bookshop haunted by a murdered PI, who mentors her in solving crimes. Abby’s angel, in life a DEA agent, also mentors Abby. Kimberley’s fleeting romantic scenes are within the context of dreams. Her books are cozies. My characters are not innocent, have sharper emotional needs, and their challenges are quite personal. It’s a “love overcomes death” affair.

Each of the authors I’ve researched provides an example of some aspect of my novel. But none is a prototype, which I view positively because, like any author, I have no wish to copy another author’s work. Every author wants to be unique in the marketplace. But to sell a new concept making comparisons to other authors’ works, those that have already sold and have placed well in sales, provides a solid basis for an agent and publishing house to acquire a new author’s work. I hope that agents and editors embrace my unique characters and plots, but I also want to give them assurance of sales through comparisons to similar novels written by well established authors. A new author must maintain a balance between uniqueness and cold sales figures.

Do you agree? Did you make comparisons when trying to sell your work’s marketing plan? Did you write to your audience a specific market, or are you attempting to create a unique niche?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Agatha Christie's recipe for Success?

What was Agatha Christie’s recipe for writing mysteries?

I’m not sure, but I do know the recipe she published for delicious death. In honor of her birthday, I will repeat it below.


“These English people with their cakes that taste of sand never will have never tasted such a cake. Delicious. They will say – Delicious.” - Agatha Christie

Delicious Death

175g dark chocolate drops (50-55% cocoa solids)
100g softened or spreadable butter

100g golden caster sugar

5 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g ground almonds

½ tsp baking powder

For the filling
150ml rum, brandy or orange juice
150g; raisins
55g; soft dark brown sugar; 
6-8 glace cherries
; 4-6 pieces crystallized ginger; 
1 tsp lemon juice

For the decoration
175g dark chocolate drops; 
150ml double cream; 
2 tsps apricot jam; 
10g crystallized violet petals
; 10g crystallized rose petals;
1 small pt of gold leaf.

Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC, (300ºF, 135ºC fan assisted; convection) Grease an 8” deep cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment or silicone.

Prepare the filling: in a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients and stir over heat until the mixture is bubbling. Allow to simmer gently, while stirring, for at least 2 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickened. Allow to cool.

In a small heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate drops over simmering water or in a microwave, being careful not to let it overheat. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Separate the eggs, setting aside the whites in a large mixing bowl, and, one by one, add 4 of the yolks to the butter/sugar mix, beating well between each one.

Add the melted chocolate and fold in carefully, then stir in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, mix together the ground almonds and baking powder, then stir them into the cake mix.

Whisk the egg whites until peaked and stiff, then fold gently into the chocolate cake mix.

Spoon the mix into the prepared cake tin, levelling the top, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 55-65 minutes, or until firm and well risen. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out on to a rack to cool completely.

Using a serrated knife, slice the cake in half horizontally. Spread the cooled fruit filling onto one half and sandwich the two halves back together.

To decorate: put the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and melt them together over simmering water or in a microwave. Spread the cake all over with warmed apricot jam and place on a rack over a baking tray. Keeping back a couple of tablespoonfuls, pour the icing over the whole cake, making sure it covers the top and the sides completely, scooping up the excess from the tray with a palette knife as necessary. Add any surplus to the kept back icing. Carefully transfer the cake to a 10” cake board or pretty plate.

Once the reserved icing is firm enough to pipe, place it in a piping bag with no. 8 star nozzle and pipe a scrolling line around the top and bottom edges of the cake. Leave for 2-3 hours, to set.

Place the violet and rose petals into a plastic bag and crush them into small flakes. Sprinkle these liberally around the chocolate scrolls. Finally, with a cocktail stick, pull off some small flakes of gold leaf and gently add them to the top of the cake.

AGATHA CHRISTIE and DELICIOUS DEATH are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited (a Chorion Limited company). All rights reserved.


Thursday, October 14, 2010


Isaac Bashevis Singer, a winner of the Nobel prize for literature, said, “a good writer is basically a story teller, not a scholar or redeemer of mankind, ” and, “a story for me means a plot where there are some surprises. Because that is how life is—full of surprises.” He thought the relationship between a man and a woman a key element in writing.

I don’t believe writers and readers started the great divide between what is literary and what is genre. Dead authors featured in literature courses offered by universities wrote mysteries and thrillers. Mystery and romance writers today polish their writing as well as their plots. Who keeps this division alive? While I was a graduate student studying for a MA, I would have guessed it was the faculty of the English Department.

Robert Parker, author of the Spenser series, was a professor in that department, and Gary Goshgarian, who sometimes writes under the pen name Gary Braver, is a professor and writes science fiction and thrillers. However, the scholarly contingent of the faculty dominated what students studied. Literature was reduced to its smallest elements—symbols, images, and words.

Since I couldn’t work up enthusiasm for Thomas Pynchon and other twentieth century writers who espoused internal monologues (I have yet to have a personal epiphany involving such a monologue), I had to study for my final exam James Fenimore Cooper or Jonathan Edwards. Our early American literature professor wanted us to see Natty Bumppo as one of the earliest American heroes continuing in an unbroken chain down to latter day heroic representatives in the department. I couldn’t work up the right degree of admiration and devotion. Also, I couldn’t get past Natty’s name. Frankly, I have little time for the Puritan element in religion and Jonathan Edwards’s prose wasn’t the best I’ve ever read but my choices were limited. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the eighteenth century but he wasn’t a choice.

As a reader, I know genre writers can write great literature and literary writers can write exciting mysteries. Mysteries and thrillers without a touch of romance can be dry or mostly a brain tease. Love is never far from its opposite, hate, or its close relative, jealousy. A woman, the oldest daughter and frequently forced to care for her siblings, might marry a sick man so she can continue in her role as care giver. Suppose a healthy male finds her physically attractive and wants to protect her, is she going to kill her sick husband for the chance at a more lusty relationship? Cheat on a man or a woman and you can inspire the most primitive rage. Jealousy and envy can quickly eclipse the emotions of the kindest person. Will eliminating the rival rekindle a lost love?

Love and hate are so intimately linked that the possibilities for murder and mayhem swallowing up tender feelings are endless. Conflict in parent-child relationships carry over into romantic relationships producing violence, and the paranormal when the parent is dead.

What a pity we have to pigeon-hole stories when they can connect at so many levels, link together the sublime and the ridiculous, and explore the emotions of so many strangers.

Seriously, does anyone still believe genre writers are all plot and no character? Why can’t writers of genre be considered “good” writers and given equal respect?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Amanda Flower-Chat 2

Author Amanda Flower, a native of Akron, Ohio, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Like her main character India Hayes, Amanda is an academic librarian for a small college near Cleveland. When she is not at the library or writing her next mystery, she is an avid traveler who has been to seventeen countries, forty-eight U.S. states, and counting. Maid of Murder is her debut novel and the first in a series featuring amateur sleuth India Hayes.

To learn more about Amanda and Maid of Murder visit her online at You can also follow Amanda on Facebook at or Twitter at To read the first interview, go to:

EBD: Did you do the usual query process to find an agent or did you submit your manuscript directly to publishers?

AF: I did go through the query process to find an agent. I even found one who would try to sell my mystery. However, after a year of working together, we both realized the arrangement wasn’t working out. After I left my agent, I started querying agents again, but I also decided to send directly to publishers that didn’t require agents. Five Star was the first publisher I sent my novel to, and I’ve been so pleased with the result.

EBD: You’re referring to Five Star Publishing-Division of Gale-Cengage Learning. I found that focuses on hard-cover library editions. What were your reasons for choosing that publisher?

AF: Five Star’s focus on the library market was one of things that attracted me. I’m a college librarian and more than anything else, I’ve always wanted to see one of my books on a library’s shelves. So many libraries have purchased the book, and I couldn’t be happier about the library world response. I’m so thrilled that more people will be able to enjoy the novel by checking it out from their local library.

EBD: Did your publisher help you with a marketing plan?

AF: If you mean, does Five Star plan library book talks, signings, and blog tours? Then no, they don’t do that. Many publishers have cut back on that type of service due to the cost. However, Five Star has been very supportive of everything I have planned and scheduled. I send my editor regular updates about author events, so she can make sure there are books at all my signings. She does an amazing job and has even overnighted books to events.

EBD: I see as well as a blog tour promoting Maid for Murder that you are also participating in book signings at book stores and that you are also a speaker. Did you speak to groups before your book was published as a librarian, or did your speaking engagements come about as a result of your book?

AF: When I was a kid, I hated public speaking. Thankfully as a part of my job as a college librarian, I’m required to teach class and speak to groups on campus, so by the time Maid of Murder was released I was very comfortable talking in front of a group. However, I hope my talks about the book are more entertaining than freshman orientation when I show eighteen-year-olds how to check their library card records.

EBD: How do you like promoting your book? Has it cut into your day job?

AF: Promoting my book is definitely more work than I expected, but I love meeting readers in person at signings or online through blog posts like this one. The reception the novel has received is worth all the hard work. Promotion hasn’t cut into my day job too much. Of course, there are some days I wish I wasn’t at the library so I could deal with some issue with my book, but in general, I’ve been able to balance. Luckily, my day job is low key most of the time.

ED -What is Five Star's distribution? Have they placed your book in chains, Indies, on the Internet, like Amazon?

AF-Five Star’s main audience is libraries. It has excellent distribution with them, and many libraries have Five Star books on standing order, which means every time a new one comes out it’s immediately shipped to the library. In addition, Five Star places all their books on Amazon,, and They will place books in any indie or chain stores that request them.

ED-If so, what is their policy on taking back books that haven't sold?

AF-If a bookstore can’t sell the books, Five Star will take them back. It’s no problem.

ED-Have you placed books yourself?

AF- No. The only places I take my own stock are to library book talks. All the libraries I’ve visited have been nice enough to let me sell and sign books after my talks.

ED-Tell us a bit about your experience in the publication process. How many edits did you go through? Were you included in choosing a book cover?

AF-After Five Star acquired the book, the novel went through two content edits and one copy edit. My content editor, Jerri Corgiat, did an amazing job in helping me polish the manuscript.

One of Five Star’s graphic designers made the cover. Isn’t it cute? I just love it. When it was time to design the cover, I sent the synopsis of the book and a list of possible things that could appear on it. The graphic designer really took my suggestions to heart and came up with a beautiful piece of artwork, but it was a total surprise. I have a poster version of the cover hanging up in my office at the library because I like it so much.

ED- Is your book available in electronic format? If so, which formats?

AF-Not yet. It will be released in Kindle in early 2011.

ED-What did you enjoy most about publication?

AF- I enjoy hearing from readers most, in person or online. I’m always thrilled when readers tell me they loved the book. I especially like it if they tell me the book was funny. My main purpose with the India Hayes Mystery Series is to make readers laugh. Laughter is my favorite sound.

I’ll end on that note, which is indicative of her novel. Thanks Amanda for talking with us over the past two weeks. We hope your series makes a long run on the shelves and in download.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Investing in My Writing Future

Today I jogged about 16,500 steps while scaring up a half-dozen grouse that exploded from the growth at the side of the road. When not getting the adrenaline rush from the whirr of grouse wings, I thought about writing this blog. Since I was exercising at the time, the parallel between writing and physical shape seemed obvious.

If I didn’t exercise at all, I would have all my waking hours to spend as I wanted, but my level of physical fitness would rapidly decline to the level justified by my normal activities. After some period without exercise, I would soon pant climbing stairs. Since I want to have more energy than that, I choose to invest time in obtaining a higher level of physical fitness. Currently jogging (aka “slogging,” given my speed) is my method for getting and staying aerobically fit. I could have chosen swimming, or bicycling or jazzercise or any number of other aerobic activities.

As with physical exercise, there are many available forms of writing exercise from which to choose. Writing nearly every day is not much different from walking every day to get from bed to breakfast to wherever. As with exercise I need to do something more than the daily minimum to improve, something that stretches and strengthens my writing muscles. I need to spend time improving my craft, but I need to be judicious about it.

I love to learn and can get sucked into learning for its own sake, which may eventually translate into better writing, but is not an optimal allocation of resources. I could perhaps convince myself that each piece I write incorporates my prior learning from previous writing and editing, and that is sufficient for my writing needs—but frankly, I don’t believe it. That may be sufficient for someone who has mastered this writing business, but that doesn’t describe my current state.

On my run I decided allocating 10% of my time to craft improvement might be the right answer, but I don’t really know, and I’m curious. How much of your precious writing time do you allot to studying your craft, flexing muscles, trying new things?

~ Jim

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tell Me A Story-A Guest Blog by Author Keri Clark

Keri Clark has been writing about mayhem and murder since kindergarten, when she killed off a gingerbread man. She’s a two-time Derringer Award nominee, a St. Martin’s Press/ Malice Domestic Contest finalist, and a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist. In her non-fiction life, she works as an advertising

Audio books appeal to my love of multitasking. Walk the dog and read. Do the laundry and read. Drive and read.

There’s only one problem: my attention span. No matter how riveting the story or how talented the narrator, my brain shuts off around the thirty-minute mark. I can easily spend three weeks on an audio book because I have to keep pressing the rewind button.

Then I discovered audio shorts.

In addition to holding my focus, these compact tales are a kick to listen to. Some are read by the authors themselves and produced as podcasts. Other stories are narrated by professional voice talents. Listening time ranges from a few minutes to an hour or more.

Here are my favorite resources:

Crimewave -This podcast offers down and dirty crime tales narrated by the authors. (Click on the Crimeplayer link or subscribe via iTunes.)

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Showcases a new author-read story each month. Some of the podcasts include a bonus author interview. (Click on any of the episodes or subscribe via iTunes.)

Sniplits – Features a great lineup of professionally narrated shorts in a variety of genres. Stories are available as MP3 files for easy downloading. (Note to short story writers: Sniplits is closed to submissions at the moment, but their guidelines and pay rates are up for future reference.)

Well Told Tales – Although currently on hiatus, their library of crime, horror and science fiction stories is still available for you listening pleasure on their site or via iTunes.

Do you enjoy audio books? What do you think of audio shorts?


Keri Clark’s humorous zombie/mystery, “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead,” is available in audio from Sniplits. You’ll also find Keri and links to some of her other published stories here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Finding And Losing My Father

What is your most meaningful work?

For me, there is a definite answer - Writing about my father.

At my father’s request, phrased – “You wouldn’t be willing to help me write my autobiography would you?” I assisted him in writing a memoir he wanted to leave for his descendants. (In the process I learned he asked my mother for a first date by saying, “You wouldn’t want to go out with me, would you?” She said, “Yes” and he hung up thinking she had refused. She had to call him back.) By the time in his life he asked for my help, my father had suffered heart attacks, strokes and been declared clinically dead twice.

He had a realistic expectation that he would not live much longer. There were things he wanted to tell his grandchildren and great grandchildren about his life. He seemed surprised that I immediately answered that I would be delighted to help.

We started with face-to-face interviews. Later he sent me tapes with long phrases I could not make out either because of his slurred speech or because He let the microphone drop far enough from his mouth that the tape recorder did not pick up his soft speech. I would write what I could understand, send him a copy, ask questions and make corrections based on his feedback to me. In left-handed writing that he developed after his stroke since his dominant right hand remained nearly useless.

My poor health slowed the process. I needed a bone marrow transplant to treat my multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer.) It was at least six months before I could continue the work.

The most difficult part for my father was recalling his experiences as a combat infantryman.For several years after coming home from the war, my dad had nightmares about what happened to him. Bringing up memories he had tried to forget brought back those nightmares.

To me, my father had always been an imposing figure. As a child I knew nothing about the effect of trauma or posttraumatic stress disorders. I only knew that my father became angry easily and had limited tolerance for noise and disorder. He was brilliant, impatient and ambitious. I had no doubt that he loved me, but frankly, he scared me at times.

As he reviewed and relived his days, I came to better understand the boy and then adolescent who became my father. In my father’s voice and face I found the young man torn from a safe existence and sent to Europe to kill or be killed. Stories about his experiences in the army I’d heard from my childhood acquired different significance as I learned details my father had omitted to protect his children.

Dad was impatient to finish his story. Before it was as polished as I wanted, he told me to make one last revision. I made a last effort and sent it back as he asked. It was his story to tell. He had it typed up and bound at a local copy shop. Maybe he knew something I did not. It was not long after that when he started to show symptoms of dementia. Fortunately he is still living but he could not begin to tell the story of his life now. When he introduces me to his friends he says, “Warren wrote my autobiography.” If I had not been a writer, I would not have the opportunity to know my father as I came to know him while helping him write his memoir. I doubt if anyone outside the family will ever read it. Believe me, as a writer I know it needs a lot of revision. Still, to me it is the most important work I have done.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


I want a farm with pigs, chickens, goats, and sheep. I’d like an apple orchard, and fields with strawberries and raspberries. In the vegetable garden, I’d grow lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, carrots, and squash. The farm would be in a temperate climate with four seasons but where the winters aren’t frigid and the summers don’t bake the soil and the people walking on it. The farm would be surrounded by woods where birds roost and small animals mate and raise their young. Neighbors would be a half hour walk away.

How would I earn my living so I wouldn’t be a burden on society? I’d feed my family on what I grew and raised. I’d bake pies with fresh fruit and cook ready-to-eat meals with local grown produce to sell in town. I’d sell goat cheese and natural ice cream. During the winter months, when not much grows, I’d weave scarves, knit baby clothes, crochet shawls and baby blankets, and sew dresses and shirts. My husband would craft sandals, pocket books, and children’s furniture.

I wish I’d lived that life. To bring the dream to life in fiction, I’d need to spend much time researching. Would the research take away the smell of damp soil and crisp apples? Would all I need to know and do activate feelings of inadequacy and low back pain? If I’d lived that life, would I have given birth to nerds who hankered after video games, Ikea furniture, and cybernetics?

When I was a child, adults stressed that education kept a person out of poverty and in the middle class. (I used to think we were a classless society but the middle class is big in politics as this year’s victim). I was told I needed a profession for job security and should marry a man with a profession. The professions I saw as a child were practiced in cities and suburbs.

Years ago, my great aunt said she thought I should work on the land. She shocked me to the depths of my ten year old soul. I planned to grow up into a skinny, beautiful model who earned millions and was adored by men with both muscles and brain. (I have been skinny). No way was I going to get up at dawn to milk cows and clean out animal pens. I should have listened to my great aunt. I could even argue that farming is a profession that can take its place alongside teaching and dentistry. Universities offer courses in agriculture.

Do you have an unfulfilled dream? Can you turn it into fiction?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Amanda Flower-Chat 1

Author Amanda Flower, a native of Akron, Ohio, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Like her main character India Hayes, Amanda is an academic librarian for a small college near Cleveland. When she is not at the library or writing her next mystery, she is an avid traveler who has been to seventeen countries, forty-eight U.S. states, and counting. Maid of Murder is her debut novel and the first in a series featuring amateur sleuth India Hayes.

EBD: Maid of Murder is your first published book. How long did it take to write it, and did you have critique partners?

AF: I started writing Maid of Murder in 2001 while I was a college student, and I worked on it off and on while in college and graduate school. I didn’t start submitting it until 2004. From beginning to end, it has been a nine year process to see the novel published.

While I was working on the book, I joined the Guppies, the Internet chapter of Sisters in Crime. The Guppies placed me in a critique group, and my partners there were a huge help to me in the early stages of the novel. Later, I became critique partners with Melody Steiner, a very talented fantasy writer. Critiquing with Melody has been wonderful because she doesn’t write mysteries and questions things that I take for granted in the genre. In the same way, I don’t write fantasy, and I can critique her work without any preconceived ideas about the genre.

EBD: Your main character, India Hayes, is a reference librarian at a college and you are a librarian at a college. Did you base the character as well as the vocation on yourself?

AF: It’s true India and I share the same occupation, and I do see some of myself in her. For one, we both share a heartfelt affection for flip-flops. As far as her occupation goes, many things that happen to her in the library have happened to me. We differ the most in our personalities. India’s phlegmatic and takes all of the craziness that happens around her in stride. I wouldn’t be that calm about it. I certainly would never try to solve a real murder. I’d happily let the police do that.

EBD: There are references to Ohio’s Western Reserve. What is Ohio’s Western Reserve and what style of architecture does it have since you refer to it in the book?

AF: The Western Reserve is the northeast corner of Ohio. Before Ohio was a state, the northeast corner belonged to state of Connecticut. That’s why it’s called the Western Reserve because it’s west of Connecticut. In 1786, Connecticut gave up its claim and a land company managed the area. The land company, the Connecticut Land Company, settled the region by selling the land to New Englanders. Many of the early settlers of this region are from Connecticut, so this part of the state has a New England look and feel. It’s especially noticeable in towns like Hudson and Tallmadge, Ohio.

The architecture mimics what would be found in Connecticut at the turn of the nineteenth century. Greek revival, Georgian, and Federal are the most prominent.

Can you tell I like talking about this subject? I love Ohio history and did a lot of research on the Western Reserve while writing the book. I became interested in it while working at a living history museum during college. When I was forced to take Ohio history in seventh grade, I wasn’t such a fan.

If you interested, you can learn more through the Western Reserve Historical Society website.

EBD: I have to admit that the title of your book led me astray because I’ve read a few series in which the main characters were cleaning ladies, so I just assumed…how did you name the book?

AF: Since the mystery is centered on a wedding and India is a bridesmaid in the novel, the title, Maid of Murder is a play on the maid of honor. My publisher asked me to think of a new catchy title for the novel, and I thought of the title while driving home one night from the library.

EBD: Is this the first in a series?

AF: Yes, this is the first in the India Hayes Mystery Series. In the second novel, India is helping her sister out at an arts and crafts festival. As part of the festival, she has to wear a pink gingham pioneer dress. Of course, she hates that. I know I’m mean to keep putting her in these awful outfits like the bridesmaid dress in Maid of Murder, but I can’t resist. It’s just too funny.

EBD: Do you have a deadline for the second book?

AF: I just sent my editor the sequel a few weeks ago, but I don’t have a publication date yet for the new book. I hope to hear news soon.

EBD: You also write young adult manuscripts. For a writer, the audiences are quite different. Why both markets?

AF: As a kid, I fell in love with reading through chapter books and young adults novels. I just gobbled them up. I wrote the middle grade mystery with the hopes I could help another child become a lifetime reader. I’m indebted to Ann M. Martin, Robin Jones Gunn, and Patricia Rushford for helping me love to read. I still enjoy young adult literature. I love Meg Cabot, Libba Bray, and Sarah Mlynowski.

Next week, Amanda shares her insight into the publishing process, and tells us how she chose her publisher. Maid for Murder proves Amanda as a gifted and witty writer, and I’m looking forward to reading this new series.

To learn more about Amanda and Maid of Murder, visit her online at You can also follow Amanda on Facebook at or Twitter at

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Subsidizing Writers Can Help Solve the US Recession

I’ve been thinking about ways to increase my earnings from my writing. I’ve been writing for about eight years now. I’ve reported income to the IRS four of those years and yet I’m in the hole net about $1,500. With this business model, I surely need a government bailout.

Consider the way the government is trying to stimulate the economy. With one hand they lower interest rates practically to zero to encourage borrowing and at the same time tell banks across the world they need to be more prudent in their lending and that they should maintain larger reserves. And governments are surprised banks aren’t lending all the money? Hellooooooooo…

Morgan le Fay looking puzzled by government actions
The problem with most stimulus spending is they target it at the rich, who take the money and save an equivalent amount elsewhere. They’re better off, but the economy hasn’t benefited. If you want to get people to spend more money, simply give money to people who really need it—they’ll go out and spend it the next day. Better, find people who will spend more than you’ll give them. People, who if given a dollar will spend two – that’s what keeps our economy running. And who better fits that category than writers – my financial numbers are certainly not unique.

During the Great Depression the Federal Government through the Work Projects Administration (the WPA) paid a number of writers to collect oral histories and forklore. This work resulted in a few paychecks and 2900 documents in the Library of Congress. This may have made a few people feel good, but it certainly didn’t put a dent in unemployment.

I suggest something a bit grander for the government to provide needed stimulus to our economy. Give a couple of billion dollars to aspiring writers from sea to shining sea. For example, $2,000,000,000 divvied up at $500 a pop will cover 4 million would-be-writers, which is only a small fraction of the 300 million or so people who claim to have written, be writing or plan to write the next Great American novel, but have yet to be published.

You would have to apply for the money, of course. To win a grant you need to (1) demonstrate you have paid more for your writing career than you have taken in, and (2) promise to spend the $500 attending a writers’ conference outside of your region, and (3) promise all the money will be spent in the next three months. I would certainly qualify; however preference points should be awarded to those just starting on their first fiction writing endeavors. Why them and not me? Read on.

What with conference registration, travel expenses, hotels, restaurants, bar bills (trying to get to talk to agents somewhere other than the restroom or tossing down a few drinks to ease the pain after an agent looks at you as though you have two heads when you try to wow them with your hook), paying for extra critiques and one-on-one agent interviews, your would-be-writer will easily go through the $500 and probably spend twice the amount, or more—and that’s just going to the conference.

But like gamblers having won early in the evening and lost three times as much because they continued to play with “house” money long after the money was gone, these would-be-writers will come home all charged up bearing tons of information about how-to books they need to buy, editors they should employ, online classes to polish their first five pages, their hook, their query, their synopsis, the sex scenes, the suspense, pacing – well my fingers tire at the run on sentence, but you can see the needs are endless. That’s why new writers are so precious; they have all that knowledge to accumulate—and all of it will cost hard dollars. So, for a mere $2 billion investment, the government will create multiple billions of additional spending (those who took Economics will recognize we have not even talked about the additional benefits brought on by the multiplier effect.)

Gosh, by the time these enthusiastic writers fill their shelves and their minds, the economy will have expanded by at least ten times the $2 billion investment –enough to generate taxes to pay for all the original $2 billion and probably more.

Well that’s how I envision it working, but you should keep in mind that unlike politicians, I admit to writing fiction.

~ Jim

Monday, October 4, 2010


Over at Jungle Red Writers’ blog, Writing Well Is The Best Revenge, I recently read a blog about bedbugs. (They don’t like them-especially when they have to travel and stay in hotels.) That blog put bugs on my brain (I don’t like them either.) and I started to notice bugs everywhere, specifically stinkbugs. While the stinkbug does not harm humans like the bedbug, which feeds on human blood like a vampire, stinkbugs damage crops. Now, I’m seeing them all over the place, not just a few, but a lot.

A thunderstorm rolled in, and I raced around my Virginia home closing windows. As I shut each window, I noticed about six to ten stinkbugs on each screen. I have about 20 windows in my house and that comes to about one hundred-sixty bugs just on my windows. Then, I visited my sister in Pennsylvania. We sat out on her screen porch talking. I noticed stinkbugs littering the screens of her porch and some had infiltrated the porch, much to the Purr (Jaspurr and Caspurr) brothers’ interest. So, I’m thinking, what’s with all these stinkbugs?

Here’s my report for everyone else who has noticed this strange phenomenon and dares ask.

Much to my surprise, I found that the stinkbug is not indigenous to the U.S. It came to this country accidentally from East Asia through Eastern Pennsylvania. The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMBS-how’s that for an appropriate acronym) was first noticed in Allentown, PA in September 1998. It now resides along the Eastern Seaboard, but hitched rides to the West Coast and has been spotted in California and Oregon. The middle of the country has yet to see the Pentatomidae. In the bugs’ native China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, stinkbugs are pests that damage crops, and the bugs are now damaging our Mid-Atlantic region’s crops due to their great reproductive capabilities. Stinkbugs have no known predators in the U. S.

Fall’s cooler temperatures attract stinkbugs to houses, the reason I’m noticing them now. Much like other bugs and rodents, when colder weather sets in, the stinkbug tries to find a warm place to hibernate for the winter. Our first instinct when we see bugs is to tromp on them. This isn’t the best method for dealing with stinkbugs because when crushed, their “stink” is released. Stinkbugs use the odor as a natural defense against their predators who would love to eat them if only they didn’t stink. Okay, so the stink isn’t pleasant, but there’s an even worse reason not to crush them. Like a homing device, the stink becomes a marker that they sense, flashing a neon “Welcome” sign, which brings them back to the same place even a year later. Don’t try vacuuming them unless you already need a new vacuum.

Pesticides are not recommended when houses are infested. Pesticides are harmful to humans. Although they will kill hundreds of stinkbugs, those dead bugs caught behind walls and in other unreachable areas attract carpet beetles, which, unbothered by the stench, will munch on the dead bodies, multiply and eat through every woolen item in your home.

Pottstown, PA is so disturbed by them that citizens have posted killing methods on their cleverly named town blog, Pottstown's Blog. One successful method, which will kill the stinkbugs and render them less tasty to carpet beetles, is disgusting. Take a half pack of cigarettes and soak them in one half gallon of water, let stand, and then strain into a spray bottle and aim. Remember to wear gloves. Nicotine is poisonous and can be absorbed through skin.

Now, what does all this have to do with writing? Including natural phenomena, such as bugs, in your manuscript adds an interesting and real touch. My setting is the Outer Banks, N.C. timed during the month of September, the buggiest month of the year. Anyone who has been to the Outer Banks in late summer can tell you about the mosquitoes. Dare County, which encompasses southern Bodie and Hatteras Islands, pays for nightly drive-by killing sprees. Pesticide trucks cruise through neighborhoods releasing toxic fumes. Not an environmentally sound policy, but if you have spent time on the Outer Banks at this time of year, you would shudder to think how many more bugs would exist had they cut the hit men from the budget.

A few weeks ago, I was on Hatteras Island enjoying the evening while reading on a roofed upper deck. The deck light was on and, as it got dark, bugs became attracted to the light. The darkness interfered with my reading, so I closed my book and started toward the door with the intention of continuing my reading inside. When I looked toward the light located near the door, I found an eerie scene closely resembling one in Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Moths lined the roof of the deck and around the wall surrounding the light, like vacant aircraft. I moved silently so as not to disturb the insects when a large bug flew at the light and started screaming. Trapped on an upper deck outside without another way to get into the house, I freaked. A friend unlocked and opened a sliding glass door further down the deck. I surprised her by jumping in and slamming the door shut.

We later found out that the large bug was a cicada. I knew they buzzed loudly, but before that night, had never heard them scream, which just may be an interesting effect in my paranormal novel and another way to torture my poor protagonist, Abby Jenkins. After learning about the stinkbugs, I’m now contemplating an infiltration of stinkbugs in Abby’s champagne and sparkling wine store, adding that “truth is stranger than fiction” element, lending validity to fictional trauma.

Has anyone else noticed stinkbugs?

(Evidently, others have noticed stinkbugs. Two days after writing this blog, The Washington Post’s front page included an article entitled, “Big bug trouble that’s tough to squash” by Lena H. Sun (9/25/10). Allentown, Ms. Sun agrees, was the site of first discovery, but contends that the year was 2001, not 1998 cited in other articles I’ve read. Maryland Representative Roscoe Bartlett sent a letter signed by fifteen other U.S. Representatives to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to “take immediate action to limit damage caused by” stinkbugs. Because the bug has no predators, working groups have formed among several states’ agricultural departments and state universities to study this problem.)