Friday, January 31, 2014

What Makes Independent Bookstores Magical?

The photo is by Superbmust.  

When I step inside an independent bookstore, like Upstart Crow in San Diego, the Tattered Cover in 

Denver or Mysteryscape in Overland Park, Kansas, I experience a feeling unlike what I feel when I 

enter a chain store with a few rows of books.

What makes me feel those few aisles could just as easily be filled with auto parts, men’s clothing, CDs 

or, for that matter, chains? Is it the glaring lighting?  The cookie cutter regimented architecture?  The 

half-gallon jug of mustard?

Maybe it’s the fact that in such chain stores I know significantly more about the “product” than the 

clerks.  I once advised a reader seeking a book for her teenage granddaughter who saw the world in 

theatrically tragic terms. I suggested Maisie Dobbs as a book that would leave her happily sobbing. 

Maybe it’s because the staff of independent bookstores actually read books, make recommendations, 

and interpret requests.  I know a bookstore salesperson whose customer was looking for “the word 

book Roger Saw Us.” She correctly steered the customer toward Roget’s Thesaurus.  Maybe it’s the 

excitement of finding a new work by a favorite author or the anticipation of finding an unknown writer. 

Maybe it’s because writers sign books. write and exchange critiques in independent bookstores. I have 

attended a few critique groups in mega product stores but they just never feel quite as homey as in an 


Only one standard issue multi-product store ever agreed for me to do a signing there.  On the other 

hand, independent bookstore staff “hand sell” my books. They do it one book at a time.  (Why don’t 

customers buy a dozen at a time?) 

What is your favorite bookstore?  What makes it your favorite?

Thursday, January 30, 2014


I’ve heard about Bigfoot for years, but it wasn’t any concern of mine. From what I’d heard the creature was mostly spotted in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington State. Although one of my sisters and her husband live out there, they’d never seen one even though they’re often hiking in the mountains and forests. Of course, that might be because they’re members of the Washington Native Plant Society and spend their time looking for flowers and plants and not for Bigfoot.

Then this past fall, there were four sightings just south of Salem, Ohio in Columbiana County, not too far from where I live and where some of my siblings live. From the several articles printed in our newspaper about this unusual activity – the first I’d ever heard that Bigfoot is in Ohio – I learned there are several societies in Ohio devoted to finding Bigfoot. There is The Genoskwa Project, a Bigfoot research and investigation group founded by Paul Hayes of Canton and Dan Baker of Sebring. According to Baker, the group is seeking more information about the sightings.  Baker claims Bigfoot typically stands 7 to 9 feet tall, while the Genoskwa is not only larger, it's a more hostile cousin of Bigfoot with a stone appearance and red eyes. Frightening!

Dave Waller of the Southeastern Ohio Society for Bigfoot Investigations came to Warren, the city nearest me, to talk about the search for Bigfoot. I didn’t attend, but the Tribune reported a sighting seen in Ashtabula County north of me. Apparently a woman in her car thought she saw someone on a
dirt bike in a field. She reported when the large creature came closer to her vehicle, it was long- waisted and stood upright, but covered its face when it saw the headlights. Later some investigators went to the field and saw some 18” tire tracks. There was also a brush pile that may be a possible nesting area. The property owner said he saw nothing in the field. Hmmm. Bigfoot can ride a dirt bike? How interesting is that?

I decided this topic needed to be checked out. If Bigfoot creatures are getting closer and closer, I need to know about it. It was cool knowing a bear was in my woods last summer, but Bigfoot? I’m not looking forward to that. So I Googled Bigfoot and discovered all sorts of cool pictures, even some that looked believable.
I found out The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization has a database with 4,500 reports of sightings broken down by state and county. Washington is #1. I wasn’t surprised by that, but I was surprised to find Ohio is #5 in Bigfoot sightings. Oh, my! Pennsylvania next door to me by not many miles is #12 in Sasquatch sightings, and the first in the NE. So apparently it’s safer to live in New York or New England. However, I also learned that the county in PA with the most sightings is Allegheny County where two of my sisters and I camped over a long Labor Day weekend this past year – in a rather primitive campground with very few campers there that weekend.  We camp in tents, too. But we neither saw or heard any cries, whoops or howls like a property owner heard south of Salem nor when we walked to latrine at night did we see large golf ball sized eyes glaring at us as was reported, too, when the man said his dog went crazy.

One of the most interesting accounts of a Bigfoot problem was from a man in Michigan. He claims when he bought his 17-acre property in 1997 he was breaking up sticks by banging them against larger trees. Apparently doing this, he awoke the spirit of Bigfoot and has been plagued by this shape-shifting, pizza eating creature ever since. He finally went to the local sheriff’s office with numerous pictures, a pizza box and scat he claims belongs to the Bigfoot that has been tormenting him. The sheriff’s department wouldn’t test the DNA claiming it was only for serious crimes. There was more to his story, but I’ll have to admit that instead of feeling sorry for the guy, I was laughing out loud.

So do I believe in Bigfoot, Sasquatch or even worse, Genoskwa? No. But wouldn’t it be fun to create a character, who did believe in Bigfoot. For a fascinating search Google Bigfoot and see what comes up and while you're there you can create an email alert for Bigfoot sightings in Ohio, or I imagine for whatever state you live in.

 What about you? Do you believe? Why do you think so many people do?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

L. L. Bartlett Interview

“The motive for the murder was up for grabs. Revenge, retaliation,
perhaps he’d also stolen candy from a baby…”
L. L. Bartlett (p. 53, Dark Waters)

Some authors are more prolific than others. Lorraine Bartlett proves her prolificacy by writing four series. Berkley Prime Crime publishes two of Lorraine’s cozy series, The Booktown Mystery Series, sales for which have placed it on the bestselling list, written under the pseudonym Lorna Barrett and the Victory Square Series written under her real name, Lorraine Bartlett. She also writes an adventure-fantasy series, The Tales of Telenia. Although I love cozies and fantasy, the series that attracts me the most is her Jeff Resnick series. He’s an unforgettable character, and his story is not cozy.

Please Welcome Lorraine to WWK.                                  E. B. Davis

Please give our readers a series synopsis, if you would.

Jeff Resnick was viciously mugged by a couple of street thugs; broke and needing a place to recover, he is taken in by his estranged older half-brother, physician Richard Alpert. Soon after, Jeff is assailed by visions that lead him to investigate the death of a local banker. He not only has to prove to Richard that these visions are real, but to himself as well. It’s his skills as a trained investigator that lead him to the murderer.

Is Jeff’s character based on a real crime victim?

No. As a former insurance investigator, Jeff uses skills he acquired in that job and combines them with his new found sixth-sense, but it comes at a personal cost.

Do you think great talent requires great sacrifice?

I sure hope not. : ) Jeff has always been a tortured soul. In fact, it takes his psychic mentor to remind him that he always had a sort of latent psychic talent, but he not only didn’t recognize it—he wouldn’t have believed it if he had.

Jeff and his half-brother Richard lived together for a while in their younger years. Will readers find out about these years?

After their mother’s death, Richard became fourteen-year old Jeff’s legal guardian, and he went to live with him at Richard’s grandparents’ home. He was there for the better part of four years. I’m currently working on a collection that chronicles those years. It’s called Evolution and was released on Christmas Day.

For two brothers, it seems like they have few rivalries, although Brenda, Richard’s black girlfriend who becomes his wife, causes friction. How are Jeff and Brenda kindred spirits?

They both have a deep sense of compassion, and they’re both a little psychic. Brenda has what she considers hunches and trusts her instincts. That’s why she was so open to the idea that Jeff has visions and what he calls his funny feelings.

The setting, Buffalo, N.Y. seems volatile due to its extreme weather. Have you kept Buffalo true to reality?

I hope so. Buffalo hasn’t had a blizzard for a few years, but being at the east end of Lake Erie, it does get slammed by what’s called lake effect snow. Storms build up over the lake and dump the snow on the whole area. I live on Lake Ontario and we get the same thing, but not as bad.

While I have never lived in Buffalo, my husband is a Buffalo native, and we visit there often.

Richard is a doctor, who doesn’t practice medicine. Jeff is an investigator, who bartends. Do these guys need career counseling?

LOL! Richard is loaded; he doesn’t need to work. His former job was as a medical researcher (evaluating medical equipment and a variety of other scientific stuff) for a think tank in California. Because of Jeff’s frequent headaches, he ends up calling in sick a lot. Luckily, he has an understanding boss.

Sofie seems like a spirit guide to Jeff. Are they related?    

You have to read Cheated by Death to find out.

In each book, Jeff and Richard take on hot-topic issues, including abortion, sex crimes within the transsexual community, experimental psychology, Ponzi schemes, and racism. Does Jeff have a death wish? Is Richard living vicariously through Jeff’s adventures?

I never thought Jeff had a death wish, but maybe he does. (I must think about this.) Richard definitely lives vicariously through Jeff’s adventures. He’s led a very quiet life, and he realizes that it’s been perhaps a bit too quiet. He isn’t getting any younger, but he also feels a great sense of guilt that he wasn’t a better guardian when Jeff was younger. Of course, now that Richard has a child, he’ll have to reevaluate the extent to which he becomes involved in Jeff’s adventures.

Do you believe that people can have a sixth-sense?


Was the Jeff Resnick series the first you developed? How did you market it?

Yes, it was my first mystery series. I spent five times my advance (which wasn’t much) to send out bookmarks, go to conferences, libraries, book signings, the works. It didn’t do much. It wasn’t until I took control of the series and offered it as an eBook that the series took off. I had a lot of good fortune, which continues to smile on that series. Jeff and the other characters in the books are still my favorite to write.

Again, I’m working on a non-mystery collection for Jeff called Evolution: Jeff Resnick’s Backstory.
While writing the series, I sometimes wanted to know exactly why Jeff and Richard acted the way they did, and I wrote a number of short stories to explain it—just for myself. I’ve mentioned these stories to some of my readers, who expressed a desire to read them, even though they are more character sketches and with no mystery. The book was released on Christmas.

I’d heard that Murder On The Mind, the first-in-series, had been acquired. Then, I’d heard you decided to self-publish this series. What happened, and did Polaris Press publish the series?

The first two books in the series were acquired by Five Star, a small press that targets libraries. The print runs were tiny. I thought I could market the series better myself and took the plunge to become an indie author. It was a great decision. The series found new readers through eBooks on all formats. The first book, Murder On The Mind, is free on all e formats in many countries around the world. (Check out my Website for details.)

You write under different names. How do you feel about that? Do you think branding serves a good purpose, or does it fragment your audience?

I was forced to take a pseudonym when I accepted the contract for the Booktown Mysteries; I wish I could have used my own name, but it wasn’t an option. Writing under three names is difficult. Most of my cozy readers have no idea I write the Jeff Resnick mysteries; likewise most of my Jeff readers have no idea I write the other three series. Although I have an author bio with links in all my books (and on my websites), many readers seem to miss the information. It definitely fragments my audience. : (

Your preference, Lorraine, beach or mountains?

Hmmm…mountains. (But I don’t ski.)

Dark Waters is the latest Jeff Resnick novel. To find out more about her series, check out Lorraine's website. The suspenseful ending had me clinging to my sofa cushions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

There's an App for That!

Last month I received a hand-me-down Smartphone and an iPad. In the interest of full and honest disclosure, I’m a technological underachiever and don’t desire the “latest thing.” But with my new-to-me electronic gadgets, I was ready to jump into the 21st century. Then I learned about apps. What an eye opener. I knew that the American Dialect Society voted “app” as the word of the year in 2010, but I didn’t know they are changing the way we live.

For instance, my sister-in-law called from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport because she missed her connecting flight on the way to visit. She was tense and said she needed to meditate.

Confused, I asked, “Is there a class for that in the airport?”

She replied, “No, I have an app for that on my phone.” So, off she went to create a peaceful oasis in the middle of chaos by meditating using her cell phone and ear buds.

After arriving at our house, my sister-in-law admired my phone and patiently showed me how to use it. Joking, I told her I would probably forget most of what she taught me.

She said, “There’s an app to help you practice remembering and increase your brain power.”

Of course there was.

I mentioned that instead of using a game-like app to increase my memory, I should probably be more physically active. She showed me a 7 minute workout app.

Apparently, there are apps for everything. Consider these unusual apps that have varying degrees of usefulness:

·        Tired of blowing out candles on your birthday cake? An app called Blower turns your iPhone speaker into a fan.

·        If you’re vitamin D deficient like 80% of Americans, Dminder can help. It checks your local outdoor vitamin D potential and notifies you when to get sun exposure based on the time of day.

·        Spirit Story Box claims to detect and message nearby ghosts and spirits. It only costs 99 cents!

·        You can combine your iPhone, a metal detector and an app called PETALS to help find unexploded landmines. (I was seriously impressed by this app.)

·        When your teenager makes you crazy, try Annoy-A-Teen. It produces high frequency, undesirable sounds audible only to teenagers. (Does the sound also annoy dogs?)

·        If the aforementioned teen is the cause of sleepless nights, iNap@Work will help you get away with napping at work. It makes “productivity sounds” so your co-workers hear typing, stapling, and mouse clicks instead of snores.

If there are apps for everything under the sun, are there apps for writers?


I found a mind boggling number of apps for note taking, journaling, editing, creating character names, and poetry. There’s even an app for people who don’t like poetry, but for some reason have to write it.

Also, there are numerous ambiance apps—gurgling water, Zen bells, waves, birds sounds—to listen to while writing. One of my favorites is Coffitivity which features ambient coffee shop soundtracks. It’s based on research that found low levels of background noise, like chatter and the whoosh of an espresso maker, create the optimal level of sound for maximum creativity. There are three coffee house sounds: Morning Murmur, Lunchtime Lounge (According to my niece, this one is a bit “clangy” because of the silverware hitting dishes while people are eating.), and University Undertones.

But are there specific apps for mystery writers?

Well, that's where I found a distinct appsense. There are plenty of crime and mystery games but nothing to help writers craft a mystery story. After puzzling over this, I’ve decided that while some apps are useful to writers, nothing can replace human imagination and hard work.

Are you comfortable with technology and apps? If so, do you have any advice?

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Many as Opposed to the One

I recently read a Paris Review interview with poet, biographer, and great novelist Marguerite Young (Miss Macintosh, My Darling). For those who are not aware of them, Paris Review has interviewed authors in depth about their work, their craft, and their lives for decades and published these great resources for writers in their journal and in yearly collections. Most of them are now available online for free.

In this interview, Young said many wise things that I’ve written down, and she said many provocative things that I’ve wondered about. In particular, “Peculiarly enough, as a person, I am not interested much in individuals, even my closest friends. They could have deep secrets, and I would never ask them to tell me. As a writer, I would never spend pages analyzing the love life of a character. I have a muralist imagination. I like to see the epic swing of the thing, the many as opposed to the one.”

I wonder how many of us as writers fall into one or the other of these two camps—going deeply into one or two characters or showing the “epic swing of the thing” with  a wide variety of characters that showcases a society or industry or organization or town. Although I love to delve into my protagonist’s character and emotions, I suspect I fall most easily into the latter category. I have to pull myself back (and be pulled back by my editor) from trying to show my whole fictional world in my books when the focus for mysteries must be more centralized on the protagonist and whatever other characters are integral parts of the mystery plotline. I suspect I was born into the wrong era and would have been a brilliant Victorian novelist (though instead I’d probably have been a brilliant Victorian charwoman).

I console myself with the thought that, in a series such as mine, I can show that whole fictional world and build it up to make it truly real and alive, but it may take several books to do that. Fortunately, with a series, you have those several books to work with.

Which are you as a writer, a portraitist or a muralist? And as a reader, which do you prefer, the one who brings a person to life or a world?