Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Told My Brother Stories

Wish I was still that cute.
                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                when we were tucked in bed.
                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                I made up in my head.

                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                after we had said our prayers
                                                                                and our father kissed and left us
                                                                                in the room we shared upstairs.

                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                when tell me a story I’d hear.                                           
                                                                                We should have been asleep but
                                                                                he’d beg from his bed so near.
                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                Once upon a time, I’d say
                                                                                or continue one I’d started
                                                                                before sleep took us  away.

                                                                                I told my brother stories
                                                                                in a voice so soft and low
                                                                                so our parents couldn’t hear us
                                                                                in the living room down below.

                                                            I told my brother stories
                                                                                when we were tucked in bed.
                                                                                Now those stories are all gone
                                                                                that I made up in my head.

In almost all interviews of writers the question is asked “When did you start writing?” So many writers say they started writing when they were quite young – eight or nine, even. I didn’t start until I was a teenager, and even then it was only in a three-ring binder used as a journal, one story about a great-aunt and several poems. It seemed that I should have been writing in my classes at school, but I can’t remember being assigned an essay or anything that involved writing. In case it was a faulty memory, I asked my cousin’s husband, who was a year behind me in our school. He had to pause and think about it, and then said no. He couldn’t remember any of our teachers requesting written assignments. Then I asked a man at church who was a year ahead of me, and he didn’t think we’d ever written anything, either. In fact, I only remember two books assigned to be read; Ivanhoe and Romeo and Juliet, and there wasn’t a written assignment connected with this. As far as I remember we only discussed the books.

I might not have been a writer, but when I was quite young, my brother, Jerry, and I shared a room in the two-bedroom Cape Cod house my father built for us on a lot next to my grandparents’ farm, and I told him stories each night. In those years, we were sent to bed around 7:30, before the good shows on the radio came on like Inner Sanctum or Fibber Magee and Molly. Not that we didn’t often sneak down to sit on the steps  and listen, but we were usually caught and sent back to bed. My brother was sixteen months younger than me, and he’d ask me to tell him a story every night. More than likely I would have started with once upon a time, but from then on I made them up. I remember times when I’d pause to consider what would happen next in the story I was inventing, and he’d prompt me saying “What happened next?” I’d tell him “I’m thinking.” Sometimes we’d hear one of our parents downstairs telling us be quiet and go to sleep. If I fell asleep before I finished the story, or he’d fall asleep, the next night I’d continue that story and sometimes they’d stretch out for several nights or more.

My mother, father, Jerry and I

My sister Elaine was born when I was seven, and she slept in a crib in my parent’s room. When my mother became pregnant with my sister Suzanne my dad added a large kitchen/dining area on the back of our house and turned the small kitchen we had into a bedroom for Jerry, and then my two year old sister shared my bedroom and the stories I told my brother ended. I wish I could remember those stories, but I can’t. However, even if they weren’t written down, I still was a storyteller at that young age. Although we weren’t taught the rudiments of writing a story in school, apparently, all the books I read over my lifetime fired my imagination and made me into a storyteller and also taught me how to write those stories.   

My handwriting was so much better then than it is now.
The day after I’d written this blog above and sent it for review, I was cleaning out a cupboard in my library I hadn’t touched in years because there wasn’t anything I’d needed in there. It was sort of out of sight, out of mind.  Imagine my surprise when I found a somewhat tattered spiral composition book I thought had been thrown out almost forty years ago when our basement had flooded. In it were four short stories I’d written, seven poems and an essay on my nine best friends all written between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Some of you may have read the blog I wrote this past May 8th, “Serendipity, Coincidence or Whatever.” It’s certainly another example of that. I sat down and read the first short story. New Family is rather amateurish, but has all the elements needed in a short story; a fourteen year old girl is facing a problem which makes her unhappy and then the problem is nicely resolved in the end. I haven’t read Horror at Midnight yet, but it looks like even then I was destined to be a mystery writer.

When did you first start writing or telling stories?


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

JL Simpson Interview

Solomon kept moving and grinned again as he heard her grumbling under
her breath. She had a unique way with words. Once he’d established she sucked
at being a detective, perhaps he would suggest she pursue a career as a writer.
Apparently her new term of endearment for him was “half-brained, shit-headed,
arse-wipe of a moron.” When he had more time he would have to come up
with a similarly affectionate description for her.
JL Simpson
                                                                                                                                                     Lost Cause (Page 10)

JL Simpson’s Lost Cause was an unexpected pleasure. JL’s main character, Daisy Dunlop, a curvy strawberry blonde, reminds me of a British Lucy Ricardo, mother of one son, teenage Sherman, and wife to Paul, whom she adores until he displays male chauvinism. I would categorize Lost Cause as a cozy mystery except that Daisy swears a bit too much for a cozy main character. Her husband’s best friend, Solomon, a PI, slated to babysit Daisy while she tries out as an heir hunter, has his hands full. Lucky for him that Daisy doesn’t sit at home awaiting rescue.  

Welcome to WWK, JL.                                                E. B. Davis

Thank you for inviting me.

Would you give our readers a synopsis of your plot?

Well, without giving too much away. Daisy Dunlop loves a challenge but heir hunting is supposed to be easy. She can deal with anything her new job throws at her, except the bullets, bombs and working with P.I. Solomon Liffey. Her husband's best friend is supposed to be looking out for her, but when she uncovers Solomon’s biggest secret he's the one who needs protection.

Why does Daisy and Paul’s son, teenage Sherman, insist that he was left on the doorstep by aliens?

I’m sure we all remember the day when we realized that for us to exist our parents must have done the deed, and the horror that then followed. Poor Sherman is in denial. If aliens delivered him to the door his parents remain virginal and pure, or at least that’s what he’s telling himself.

Daisy refers to Solomon by many names. How did the British couple come to have an “Irish-git” in their lives?

Solomon, the “Irish-git” (I just love British slang), served in the British army with Daisy’s husband, Paul. They were both Military Policemen. Even after they both left the service they remained best mates. When Daisy married Paul she got Solomon as an added bonus, for better or worse, Daisy probably thinks for worse. 

Do you think most men have the instinct to protect women or is it a great excuse to boss the little lady around?

I do think that most men have a natural instinct to protect women. And to be honest if someone was shooting at me then I would gladly let any man stand in the way, women’s lib be damned…bullets hurt!

While getting acclimated to the PI trade, Daisy must rely on Solomon to rescue her. What is Daisy’s reaction when Solomon dubs Daisy, “Princess?”

As you can probably imagine she is not best pleased. She is trying to be an heir hunter, which is a serious job. Princess is not a serious nickname. Killer, mauler, feisty, or something equally ferocious would be more to her liking. She did bring it on herself though. Grown women shouldn’t wear t-shirts with Princess written in pink sparkly writing on the front. Of course she could have taken the out Solomon offered when she said her name wasn’t Princess and agreed the writing was actually referring to her boobs.

One of Daisy’s biggest problems as a former office worker is transitioning her wardrobe to PI appropriate, and yet she uses her attire as an attribute, too. Will Daisy find the perfect blend of professional and PI functional wear?

I have serious doubts Daisy will ever work out what is or isn’t appropriate to wear for any given situation. I feel her pain. My husband has to supervise my clothing purchases and outfits otherwise I am a fashion disaster. Apparently mini skirts and bare legs are not the right clothing for a night out when there is snow on the ground and buses to be caught.

Although Solomon is Paul’s best friend, best man at their wedding, and godfather to Sherman, Daisy’s knowledge of Solomon’s life is spotty. Why, after having a relationship of sorts for years, does Daisy become curious about his life?

Up until Paul forced her to work with Solomon their relationship hadn’t been close. Even more so after Solomon handcuffed her to a kitchen sink, he says for her own safety, not that Daisy will believe or forgive him. When she finds herself stuck working with him everyday she begins to wonder about him. She is a firm believer in the saying know thy enemy. Who is he? And why is he so cagey about his past? And how on earth can a PI afford an Aston Martin that costs more than Daisy’s house?

Daisy’s mission to find an heir, Lord Toby, ends up as part of Solomon’s paying case of insurance fraud. Daisy doesn’t get the reward for finding Lord Toby. Will Solomon share the fees he’ll receive from the insurance company?

What fees? I’m not sure the insurance company is all that happy about the outcome of the case. And what possible fun could there be in having Daisy make a fortune in book one. You know she would just sail off into the sunset with Paul, leaving me with a series that has no heroine for books two and three.

I’m sure you have further adventures for Daisy and Solomon. Would you share with our readers the plot of your next Daisy Dunlop adventure?

Daisy’s fame has spread far and wide. Well as far as the distribution area of the local paper. She receives a letter asking her to take on a case to find a stolen show dog. A poodle. Daisy is terrified of dogs, but she won’t let that stop her…how scary can a poodle be? Besides, it’s the only case she has, and Solomon is too busy trying to work out what has his terrified ex girlfriend banged up in jail and what the dead man he finds in her bed wearing one Santori shoe has to do with it.

On a personal note, why did your husband and you emigrate to Australia?

My husband’s family were ten pound poms. Translation, they emigrated to Australia when he was a kid for the small cost of ten pounds. He spent most of his childhood here and then his family moved back to the UK. I have always been fascinated by Australia so when I met and married him it seemed the sane thing to do and I have never regretted the move. Australia is the only place on earth I would want to live. 

Why do you have a kangaroo problem? How did this innocent, pictured at left, become your victim?

Hmm, you had to bring up the lamb didn’t you? When we had been down under for a couple of years in a fit of, no doubt heat induced madness, we decided to move to the bush. We bought a two-acre block of land in a tiny hamlet in a state forest in Victoria and built our dream home. Now anyone who lives in the country has issues with wild beasties. Fences work for most things, but nothing works for kangaroos. Forget having a garden. You would drive home in the dark and as your headlights illuminated the front lawn it would jump to life, literally, as the hungry monsters bounded off back into the bush.

Now the lamb thing. I’m not good with wildlife. Cows scare me, but sheep are just annoying. Or this one was. Two of them would squeeze between my gate and gatepost and party in my garden everyday. The locals didn’t believe in containing their animals, and their pet lambs called every garden home. In a fit of frustration one day I became determined to stop chasing the little buggers and scare them so that they would never come back. I picked up a rock and aimed to have it hit the ground behind them, but I throw like a girl. My mistake was aiming to miss them. If I had aimed to hit them all would be well. Alas, the rock hit one of them in the head and it went down like a sack of spuds. I panicked and fled the scene to hide at a friend’s house in the nearby town. When I eventually got my courage together I drove home expecting to have to confess my sins to the lamb’s owner and pay for a lamb funeral, but the lamb was gone. A few days later I heard the owner chatting in a local store. The lambs had gone home and one of them had been acting strangely. It kept shaking its head and then staggering around. It survived the ordeal and went on to have lambs of its own and as far as I know it kept our little secret.

Is Taliesin an Australian publisher?

Nope. It’s a small US based e-publisher. I was fortunate enough to work with the owner in my former life as a romance author. When she moved from a bigger romance publisher and set up on her own I offered her Lost Cause because I knew she would do a great job of editing it.

Have you sold world-rights to Lost Cause? Pardon my ignorance, but how does International distribution work?

I have sold the worldwide English language digital rights and the publisher has an option for the print rights. As of now the book is only available as an E-book, so distribution is via the magic of the Internet. I have no idea how international print distribution works but maybe I will find out one day.

Which do you prefer, JL, beach or mountains?

Beach, beach, beach. Preferably one on a tropical island with palm trees and close to the barrier reef so that I can go snorkeling with sea turtles again.

Readers can discover more about JL Simpson at her website. Lost Cause was released earlier this month. If you’re looking for a great summer read, this is one to tuck into your beach bag.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Summer Writing

Photo by Cindy Kubovic for the Aiken Standard

On Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend, I was invited to speak about writing short stories with a group of 4th and 5th graders in the Summer of the Space Challenges camp at North Aiken Elementary School. The school is in the town of Aiken, South Carolina, about an hour from where I live in Columbia.

When I last mentioned Aiken to someone not from South Carolina, he asked me if it were named after singer/politician and second place American Idol contestant Clay Aiken. Actually, Clay is a resident of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Photo by Cindy Kubovic
I received the invitation indirectly through dear friends and booksellers, Fran and Don Bush, who have operated Booklovers Bookstore in the area and online for many years. Fran often works with the local schools to encourage reading. Ms. Delorise Childs, who was conducting the summer program, asked Fran if she knew of an author who might be willing to speak with the students. When Fran asked me for candidates, I volunteered.

My teaching experience has been with adults, so in preparation, I revisited two online articles by noted children’s book writers I found last summer when doing the short story series:
Photo by Cindy Kubovic

“Writing with Writers: Mystery Writing” with Joan Lowery Nixon (1927-2003, an American journalist and author for children and young adults)

“How to Write a Mini-Mystery” by Penny Warner (Agatha Award winner for best children’s mystery and Macavity Award winner for best first mystery)
Photo by Cindy Kubovic
These articles provided some excellent guidelines and ideas about how to focus the class.

I used a modification of two exercises I've used in my adult class: writing a six-word-story (to show how words may be used to evoke a picture or feeling) and writing a six-sentence-story (to show the basics of story structure: (1) character, (2) desire, (3) action, (4) conflict, (5) climax, and (6) resolution). I used the familiar tale of Cinderella as an example for a six-sentence-story.

After I talked with the children about what makes up a story, I asked them to write their own. Then, those who volunteered read their stories for the class. Many of the young writers followed the Cinderella model, but what I found intriguing was that they did not hesitate to incorporate features of their own lives into the familiar tale, so that Cinderella and her family took on features and pets their families had.
Photo by Cindy Kubovic
We also read a book that one of the children brought to the class. I had forgotten how lovely it is to have a room full of people riveted to words being read aloud. The whole experience was a true delight for me. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to participate and for the pictures taken by Cindy Kubovic, who covered the event for the local paper, the Aiken Standard. Following their time with me, the children enjoyed a cookout and got to visit with members of the fire department and see a fire truck. The teachers sent the children home with goody bags, containing bookmarks from me.
Photo by Cindy Kubovic

Following the class, Fran and Don Bush were kind enough to give me a wonderful tour. The city of Aiken, South Carolina, was founded in 1835 and named after William Aiken, the President of the South Carolina Railroad. Railroads are still a recognizable feature of the city and have figured in the history of the area. The tracks run behind the elegant Willcox Hotel, and rumor has it that when he traveled to Hot Springs, Georgia, for treatment, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used an entrance at the back of the hotel to have clandestine meetings with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, his mistress, who had married and lived in the Aiken community.
Willcox Hotel

Tracks behind Willcox Hotel
In 2005, in nearby Graniteville, a Norfolk Southern train collided with a parked train, rupturing a car carrying liquid chlorine and creating a poisonous cloud that resulted in nine deaths, two hundred fifty injuries, and more than five thousand persons displaced from their homes for a week.

Rear Entrance to Banksia
Front Entrance to Banksia
Aiken flourished as a health resort and community where the wealthy built winter cottages. Banksia, a former cottage that transitioned to a boarding house for workers at the Savannah River Plant and the first location for the University of South Carolina at Aiken, now serves as the historical society museum. The exhibits on view there provide a treasure trove of information about the city. The Vanderbilts and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were visitors to Banksia during its cottage days.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Fred Astaire and his family resided in Aiken, and he supposedly practiced dance moves on the steps of the Post Office building.
Former Post Office where Fred Astaire danced on steps

Fran and Don took me to Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch, formerly residences of the wealthy that have been donated to the city as public parks. We also toured the facilities for thoroughbred racing and polo matches. Aiken is predominantly an equestrian city, with many dirt roads intersecting main avenues to accommodate riders.
Equestrian Statuary

In addition to being excellent tour guides, booksellers, and hosts, Fran and Don are animal lovers who take in many stray or abandoned dogs and cats needing shelter. It was a true joy to meet one of their latest acquisitions. Originally known as “Tiny Mite,” he now has taken on the name “Mr. Underfoot” and become a true bookstore kitten.

Visiting Aiken for the holiday was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot from teaching and listening to the stories the children shared with me. I also discovered that it spurs writing to go to new locations and immerse yourself in unique history and culture. Aiken’s quiet streets, lovely antique stores and shops, excellent cuisine, and bountiful features to explore make it a perfect get away for writers and travelers. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to see it sometime.

Fran and Don Bush

"Tiny Mite," now "Mr. Underfoot." Photo by Fran Bush
 What places have you visited that helped invigorate your writing?

Fourth of July Fireworks, Village at Woodside, Aiken, SC

More Equestrian Statuary