Across the Pond...in books and in person.

Welcome! Since I write two English mystery series, I thought it would be fun to chat about that. And about England. Specifically, Derbyshire, since that is the county I know the best. If you have questions about my books, about mysteries or your own writing, or want to know something about England -- perhaps you're planning a visit -- I'd love to talk with you. Let's start chatting, shall we?

Derbyshire VIllage

Derbyshire VIllage

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bonnie Scotland

Just returned Tuesday (late afternoon) Dec 14 from a whirlwind trip to Edinburgh.  Left Wed, Dec 8.  First time I've been to Scotland in the winter.  And it was perfect timing...  Don't know how up to date you've been with the British weather forecasts but Scotland and England were dumped on about two weeks ago -- snow and ice.  Roads were closed, motorists were stranded in their cars, ice....  We made it into Edinburgh without any problems and had a glorious six days in the city and in the countryside.  The snow was melting during our stay, dripping off the eaves, creating puddles of water in the streets and sidewalks -- which wouldn't usually be a problem, but the shop owners didn't clean the sidewalks or throw down salt!  So we walked over lumpy blankets of frozen snow -- quite treacherous.

Took a one day trip up to Loch Ness -- nice to get out of the city and see the land again.  Not that I despise Edinburgh (I don't), but I love the countryside and villages the best.  We saw Ben Nevis on our way up there on Sunday -- tallest mountain in Britain.  A lot of climbers fall due to banana skins on the slopes.  Honest!  Hikers take along lunches to eat on their climbs and they toss the banana skins, thinking the skins are biodegradable (makes sense).  Well, the temps are below freezing on Ben Nevis so the skins do not decompose.  Along comes snow, covers the skins, the snow freezes on the skins, a walker tromps unknowingly on the skin and slips....  We heard on the news Sunday night that a climber had died that afternoon!  Mountain Rescue group with helicopter had been called out, etc, but the guy had died.  I think he'd fallen into a crevice.  Can't quite recall.  Anyway, it was very eerie knowing that we'd been in that exact area that day.

The reason for going to Edinburgh was to attend the final concert of the McCalmans, the Scottish folk singing group I'd "been St Louis agent" for in 1980.  Hadn't seen Ian (the leader) for thirty years.  The gray hair was the only thing that gave away his age -- he sang and played as well as ever, and his famous patter was still quite funny.  The group played a mixture of old favorites and new songs.  The only disappointment was that Hamish, one of the original members who had retired in 1982 (to be replaced by Nick Weir) wasn't brought in for a song or two on stage.  He attended the concert (I talked to him afterward, in the bar) but didn't participate.  Would've been super to hear him sing one last time.  The concert was on Friday, Dec 10 at The Queen's Hall.  The following evening, Saturday, Dec 11, we attended a private "farewell" party at Ian's home.  I felt a bit sad being there due to the occasion, but was honored to be included in the intimate group of Ian's friends.  Got to chat with him for a bit (the place was packed) before we went back to our bed-and-breakfast.

Spent most of our time in Edinburgh doing tourist things like shopping, touring Holyrood Palace, and touring Mary King's Close.  The Close is part of the historical section of the Old Town, a rediscovered area that was the home for hundreds of people in the middle ages until around 1900.  There were many such sections in Edinburgh, but this Close is, I believe, the only one open for touring.  Edinburgh is built on an incredibly steep hill.  It was also a walled city.  As the population increased, there was no place for people to build homes but upwards.  Dwellings were built stacked on top of previous ones so that skyscrapers developed upward to around fourteen stories tall!  Imagine medieval, cramped, narrow streets...then imagine fourteen stories height to these buildings.  Hardly any sunlight would penetrate to the bottom of the street.  The Close was a slightly different story -- because they could not continue building upward (due to the foundations of the buildings), the poor people burrowed INTO the side of the hill.  These stacked 'skyscraper' buildings ran up the hill, giving each one a slightly different ground level.  By digging into the base of the building, INTO the side of the hill, you created a room at right angles to the building.  More and more people burrowed into the underground and connected their one-room dwellings to each other via underground "streets".  Again, imagine being underground and living like this -- an entire family confined to ONE room of living, no windows, no fresh air, no light.  The smoke from their cooking fires, odors from the bucket in the corner....  Deplorable conditions.  It was fascinating to see this, yet heart breaking, knowing people endured this for their entire lives, century after century of this existence.  If a family member caught the plague, the mother had a heart breaking decision of whether to keep that member with the family -- thereby practically ensuring the entire family would catch the plague and die -- or seal that member in a separate room underground, confining the person to the dark, locked in area so that the rest of the family could survive.  A certain death.  Just horrible.

When we emerged from the Close and walked back onto the High Street, we saw hundreds -- literally hundreds -- of kilted soldiers coming out of St. Giles Cathedral right across from the Close.  HUNDREDS.  They kept coming and coming and coming out of the cathedral.  They boarded several of those large tour buses.  Our best idea was that they had attended a memorial service for fallen comrades, just back from a tour of duty to Afghanistan, perhaps.  There's something about guys in kilts...so handsome and so brave.

Holyrood Palace was extremely interesting.  In the state dining room I stood behind the chair in which Queen Elizabeth II sits while at the table.  Kind of fun, that!  In the older section of the palace we walked through Darnley's bedroom, up a small twisting flight of steps of a tower and then saw the tiny room in which Mary, Queen of Scots and her secretary, David Riccio supped.  A quick history lesson, in case your memory isn't up to snuff: when Mary was six months pregnant in March of 1566, Darnley joined a group of Scottish nobles who broke into her supper room and dragged Riccio into another room and stabbed him to death.  It's odd seeing it.  I don't know about you, but when I read the history of Mary, Darnley, Riccio et all I envisioned Mary and Riccio dining in a large room, with her ladies in waiting attending her, perhaps standing along the walls.  Nope.  TINY room.  NO bigger than a common bathroom -- in fact, smaller than our bathrooms.  Probably about eight feet square.  To think of a table being in there, two chairs, and Mary and Riccio....  Amazing they could fit.  So seeing the room and imagining the two people there, then imagining Darnley and his supporters dragging Riccio out of the room, through Mary's bedroom and into a large room where Riccio was murdered....  Well, it really changed my mental image of the whole thing.  I love being in places that I've read about, where something that I've learned a bit about happened.  It gives me a personal link to the past and I feel more empathy to the people who were part of that event.

Holyrood is at the bottom of the hill that comprises the High Street; Edinburgh Castle is on the other end, at the top of the hill, which is befitting for a castle that needs defending.  When I'd previously been to Edinburgh I'd toured the castle and, therefore, the upper section of the High Street.  Going to Holyrood took me to the other end -- and I'm glad I did.  The architecture seems more medieval there, the street narrower and steeper.  I felt as though I really were in the medieval era.  That part of the street had a different feel -- more history and less touristy (though there is absolutely nothing wrong with the castle section of the High Street).  The High Street is also referred to as the Royal Mile, due to the two main buildings that bookend it.  It's actually a bit longer than a mile, but that's not important.  I enjoyed walking it and seeing the old city.

I came back from Scotland with a new plot for the next McLaren book, too.  I was going to write another Taylor and Graham after I finish McLaren's third book, but I think I best strike while the idea is hot!  I did finish the first draft of book three two hours before I left on my trip, so all I have to do now is smooth off the draft's rough edges.  Probably take me a few weeks.

Besides Christmas shopping and getting a few fun things for myself (that's part of the fun of going to Britain!), I came back with a very handsome tie for McLaren to wear in the next photo shoot.  The fabric is the McLaren tartan!  How fun is this!  I can envision the shot: McLaren, looking thoughtful, with the neck of his shirt open and the tie loosened at his throat.

Two things I found that had changed in the thirty-plus years since I've been to Scotland: the tourist centers/gift shops no longer have those carousels offering strips of slides for sale (like interiors of castles, etc where you aren't allowed to take your own photos) and there are a lot of foreigners!  Especially Italians...at least right now, in Edinburgh, in December.  Why the cold, dreary climate???

Edinburgh was festive in its strands of white lights.  Very much in the holiday spirit.  Many of the gift shops had 1940s music playing, which I found interesting and odd.

We lucked out on the weather: as I said, we just missed the main snow storm the week previous to our visit.  The forecast as we left Tuesday was for another major snow storm to arrive the following day.  Doesn't sound all that bad, motorists stranded, etc, but when you think that the large trucks carrying gasoline are also stranded....  Many gas stations were closed because they had no gas to sell.  Companies weren't accepting orders from Scotland because they couldn't get the purchases to the buyers in time for Christmas.  The Royal Mail had tons of mail it had to get delivered, but with the roads closed....  Not the best time for this bad weather.  So, as I said, we were indeed fortunate to get there during that week's weather break.  I loved seeing the snow on the hills, but I do feel for the people who are suffering through this.

Anyway, it was a fantastic trip and I am still amazed my family did this for me.  I don't see how I can ever adequately thank them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Confessions of a Holiday Fair Participant

I am dragging today.  Man, my feet hurt, my back hurts, my shoulder hurts, my head hurts.  Residual from the weekend's participation in a holiday bazaar.  My friend Mary Linderer and I shared a booth.  We called it Read and Write because my books are to read and Mary's note cards are to write a kindly note in and mail to someone.  She does pen-and-ink drawings -- quite nice.  Her website, in case you're interested in seeing her products, is www.gardengirlgreetings.com    And that's her website even if you're not interested....  We set up her things and the tables around 5:30 pm Friday, then finished setting up Saturday around 7:30 am with my items.  The event ran 9-4 Saturday and 10-4 Sunday.  The website stated there are usually 20,000 participants to the weekend event -- this was the 29th year and is well known in this area.  I believe all 20,000 came Saturday.  Wow, what a crowd!  I honestly was feeling close to claustrophobic despite our booth position at the door.  It was mesmerizing to sit and watch the humanity stream by.  It was also interesting to see what items were big sellers.  The event was so large (450+ booths!!) that it was held in several buildings around the school's campus.  Good weather helped pull the attendees into our building, as did the start of deer season, I'm sure.  Wives, girl friends and mothers abandoned for the weekend, so they go to the holiday bazaar....  I must say, my McLaren cardboard stand-up was noticed and well received.  One woman came by and said she'd like to buy the stand-up!  Maybe I should just sell photos of McLaren....   Naugh.  Then the model would demand a cut of the profit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Still We Persist

Who would have thought it possible a while ago?  Certainly not I...which may be why I'm writing this goofy thing.  Book three for McLaren is really, honestly, truly, amazingly on a roll.  This after several 'pauses' for book talks at various places, Esther's latest visit (don't get me wrong -- I love having company, but it does void one's writing time) and little interruptions like teaching the mystery writing class, cleaning house et al.  Of course, my first draft starts are always shaky.  Even though I have the basic plot outlined, the characters named and personified, the subplot more or less complete...still, I don't know my characters all that well and I don't know exactly how the tale will unfold.  It's slow going, agonizingly brain busting, and frustrating.  Though I always set goals for myself -- the first dozen pages written, the first twenty-five pages written, the first fifty -- it is sometimes quite a while before I reach those goals.  So, imagine my relief and excitement when today I surpassed page 100.  My hero, Golden-age mystery writer Ngaio Marsh, used to have a goal of finishing 1,000 words a day.  She wrote sitting in an upholstered chair (I got to sit in it when I visited her house in New Zealand), writing long hand with a fountain pen.  Now, 1,000 words may not seem all that much if you realize that an average typed page of manuscript, double-spaced (I write double-spaced so that I can hand write my corrections in between the lines when I print out the first draft) is about 250 words.  So, maybe a single-spaced page is 400 words, let's say.  So that's three pages.  Of course, I don't know the size of Ngaio's writing book -- I believe it was one of those large folders that held equally large pages.  So she may have written more than three pages a night.  Still, 1,000 words is nothing to sneeze at.  Especially when you know that she hardly ever went back to rewrite her work -- it was more or less perfect when she wrote it.  Anyway, some days I'm doing good to write one page.  Even with one page, you figure that's 365 pages in a year and that is a nice-sized book....  So, even though it's taken me three weeks to write one hundred pages, I feel good about it all.  The book is rolling, as I said; the characters are talking to me and to each other; McLaren is hot on the trail and I think I have all the firefighting info I need.  I had doubts at the beginning of this book if I'd really chosen a subject I could write about, it so foreign to me and to anything previously in Taylor & Graham or McLaren.  But I don't believe Torch Song will be mine or McLaren's Swan Song after all.  Good news for any fans of McLaren out there....  And for me, 'cause it's fun to write about McLaren.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Information Than I'll Probably Ever Need

That's one cool thing about writing: you gather all sorts of info for your books.  It used to be the stock phrase that you could drop brilliant bits of knowledge at cocktail parties.  Well, not being a drinker or much of a party-goer, I have no idea if cocktail parties still exist.  I assume they don't.  So perhaps blogs and social networking pages make up for that.  Whatever, the dissemination of this info is pretty important.  I began accumulating this while researching and writing the current McLaren novel.  It's book three, if anyone is keeping count....or reading them....or reading this.  I've found out about accelerants, motives for arson, what injuries it's possible to find on a burnt corpse, the status of all of Derbyshire's fire stations (whole time staffing, retained staffing or day staffing), response times of fire crews, sunset times in September, and that an employee of the Matlock fire station lives next to where I've located my fictitious village (I'll send him a book when it's published).  All interesting stuff.  Well, at least to me.  But it's the stuff that the book will be made of, and I'm liking the plot very much.  Just written sixty pages, which may not seem like a lot since I began it on October 18, but it's slow goin' at the start.  I've got to get used to my characters, figure out how McLaren will solve this mess, decide what chapters he will tell and what chapters some other characters will tell....  Now that I'm ankle deep in it, it's coming easier.  And quicker.  And you've got to remember that I lost nearly an entire day trying to get my newly acquired Kindle to accept the downloaded ebooks I bought....

I changed my computer monitor's wallpaper last weekend.  I changed it to a photo of McLaren.  I thought a job aid might help me remember his personality.  Perhaps I'm under Taylor & Graham's influence....I nearly made a mistake in this McLaren book, having him go by the rules.  Nope.  One of the things that makes McLaren so endearing to the victims who hire him: principles and scruples are not words in his dictionary.  Ignore the rules and regulations.  So he is now staring at me, reminding me that he's his own man and has his own investigative methods.  I knew those photos would really come in handy....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In the Running

I just got word -- well, I just got email -- from my publisher, L&L Dreamspell.  EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Coalition™ (www.epicauthors.com) has announced that L&L's mystery anthology, The Mystery of the Green Mist, is a finalist in the Anthology Non-Fiction/Fiction Category of the 2011 EPIC eBook Awards Competition™.  My short story The Clue in the Crumbling Cottage is included in Green Mist.  The winner of this Category will be announced at their annual conference, held in Williamsburg, Virginia, March 10-13, 2011.  This is very exciting to hear that the book is in the running for the award.  The story is about a teenaged Brenna Taylor, who is a co-leader taking her Girl Guides troop camping.  Of course there's a murder and Brenna solves it, much to the amazement of the local police.  It starts her thinking about a career in the police force.  All the stories in this anthology are pseudo Nancy Drew type stories.  It was a lot of fun to write and made me think of what Brenna was like as a teen.  If anyone is interested, the book is available for purchase through Amazon.com.  (Even if you aren't interested, the book is still available for purchase through Amazon.com.)  Five months is too long to keep my fingers crossed, so I'll just say a quick prayer and leave it up to the universe that the anthology wins!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Couldn't Have Done Better Myself

A few photos from the current production of my play Teething Pains.  Some friends and I went this past Sunday and I admit I was nervous.  I may have mentioned this before, but a play performance is different from having a book published.  A book usually is read by one person, perhaps alone, and the person conjures up when she wants to imagine.  A play is a living, breathing entity walking about in front of many people simultaneously.  People's reactions are immediate -- do they laugh, cry, gasp...applaud?

The play was received very well, with a lot of laughter (in the correct places).  The actors were terrific, especially the dentist, David Dennis, and the patient, Laura Singleton.  The director, Delyth Wells, added a nice touch, smearing the dentist's coat with blood, and had him scooting around the floor on his dentist chair!  The rest of the cast was Casey Boland as the Sportsman, Brad Slavik as Security #1, Maurice Walters, II as Security #2, and Liz Cairns-Cullen as Lisa and Lil.  Really great performances by everyone.  Especially since I'd written the play more or less as a 'standard' production, envisioning exits stage right and stage left, and this stage had one exit only.  But the director juggled things around and it worked wonderfully.  I'm sure I won't forget this production for quite a while.

That's it.  Enjoy the photos...beautifully taken by Chaz Zahn of BEI Photography.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Withdrawal Symptoms

Did you miss me?
At long last I am back online after nearly three weeks without a computer or email (and I bet some people didn't even realize I was 'gone').  My computer died -- dead, no sound, no light on the screen.  I took it to the Mac repair shop and a week later a tech got to it to see if they should shoot it or just do light surgery on it.  Long story short....three something-or-others out of six were burnt out and I decided it was foolish to throw good money after bad on such an old computer, so I bought a new one.  My old eMac was an all-in-one deal and weighed more than a bowling ball.  The new computer is an iMac, flat panel screen and the works all in one unit with a larger screen than the old eMac.  Plus it's lighter in weight!  It was delivered and set up yesterday and I've been having fun setting things up again.  Luckily the tech said the mother board was not damaged so he could transfer everything to the new computer.  A big relief, since of course I had just finished writing book eight of Taylor & Graham the afternoon before the big death.  Talk about sweating bullets....  But all is well and computers are again our friends.  Just as well -- I was having withdrawal symptoms.  I don't know how many times I caught myself that first computerless week, going into my office to check my e-mail....


Esther Luttrell and I had our book talks and signings in the midst of this computer fun.  We spoke at seven places, I think, in four days.  My favorite talk was at the Guibourd-Valle House in Ste. Genevieve.  It's an old French house that is haunted by several ghosts, which is why we gave our spirited mysteries talk there.  We were in the back courtyard, a lovely area of paved, old brick, lush plants and a huge linden tree in the center of the yard.  About three dozen white chairs were placed under the tree in a semi circle, facing a white tablecloth-draped table that had a dozen cut glass candlesticks and candelabras on it.  White candles were in these candlesticks and candelabras and the glow from their flickering flames was gorgeous as dusk rapidly fell.  Throughout the rest of the courtyard were about fifty tiny votive candle holders and small lanterns, all with white candles burning in them.  As night blanketed the area the burning candles made the whole place very magical.  I had started my talk just as the bell of the old church across the street struck seven o'clock.  The church spire against the darkening sky, the slow chime of the bell and the twinkly candles created an incredibly beautiful and eerie scene.  When I finished my talk, Esther told about personal ghost stories associated with her family.  Then we sold books to interested people, the books laid out on a long table beneath that linden tree.  Incredible evening.  I doubt if it will ever be matched.

This Friday Esther returns and we will speak at the Bissell House Museum.  It, too, is supposedly haunted.  We'll give our same talk, but this time I actually found a ghost story centered around the English custom of watching the church porch.  It was tucked inside a slim volume of Derbyshire ghost tales.  A nice find.  Very apropos, too, as I use that custom as the backbone of my Taylor & Graham mystery The Coffin Watchers.  Now I can tell a ghost tale, too!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If at first you don't succeed...

I hope you're seated when you read this: I finished plotting the third McLaren book.  Doesn't sound so knee weakening or earth shaking?  It is when you consider that my brain's been wrapped around a crime different from the one that ended up in the plot.  All because I'm not at arsonist, I guess.  Even with researching things I could not come up with something.  Neither could David or his mates.  I guess none of them ever handled an arson case that resulted in a murder.  Which is good...but that's what I needed for my novel plot.

But at least I have a story and I hope to start writing after this coming weekend.  I've got the characters et al and am rarin' to start on this, but I've got seven talks/book signings from Friday morning to Monday night.  And even if I could wrangle some time between all this, my author friend Esther will be staying with me.  So I can't leave her sitting on the couch and write.  Don't worry...I'll get to it.  It'll give my brain a while to absorb the characters and storyline.

Still have yet to hear from anyone at the two English great homes.  I find this amazing, as people have been so helpful in the past.  Maybe I just need to talk to someone in person -- I'm hoping to do that when I'm over there next year.

I may as well hit a bunch of places.  I could line up permission from great homes/castles/National Trust places in advance of my using them in McLaren stories.  'In person' always seems to lend credence to a request, too.  Even tho I gave Lesley's name and phone number in my note, who knows where the email goes?  And when I talk to the curator or whomever, I can hand them a book, furthering my credentials.  Maybe I better have a list of potential usable places in my suitcase....

Anyway, plot three for McLaren is done and I think it's good.  He gets into a jam, thru no fault of his own, and things look a bit hairy for a while.  But he's a tough, resourceful guy, and can get out of trouble!


The McLaren posters that I ordered have arrived and I'll be offering them for sale in little over a week.  Thought I'd try an arts and crafts event.  I'll have a booth there and can kind of judge interest that way.  I realize people won't necessarily have read Siren Song, but someone ought to want to take McLaren home.  I mean, look at him!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Feel This Muscle

People show their muscles in different ways.  I am learning quickly about this.  Case in point: the publisher question still continues.  Four weeks ago my lawyer sent letter number three to the publisher.  September 2,  over two weeks ago, he got an email back, stating that she would respond to his letter when she's had a chance to look it over.  This entire thing has now dragged out for six weeks!  Think of it: she has kept me waiting, my life on hold, for six weeks while we wait for her to reply.  If that isn't power, I'll kiss a chicken on the lips.

It doesn't seem right to me that someone can keep a person dangling like that for so long.  She's fooling about with my publishing future.  I'm not too happy about that.

Maybe I need to create a little plaque or sign, hang it up near my computer monitor, reminding me that I shouldn't get mad but I should get even.  I would if I could figure out the rest of this book plot!  Still have to hear from any of those two curators.  Maybe this is a conspiracy against me and I'm just slow in figuring it out.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

All By Myself

Paul Schmit may have the good fortune of great customer service (see his current blog entry at his adventure to writing blogspot aquestforpublication.blogspot.com/), but I can't seem to find any.  I'm plotting the third McLaren book.  I have the basic story line figured out.  But I am creating a puzzle in the book that McLaren has to solve.  For me to create this puzzle, I need to know a bit about the Harpur-Crewe family who owned one of the great houses in Derbyshire: Calke Abbey.  As I set a good portion of book 2, Swan Song, at the real Tutbury Castle, I want to set some of book 3 in a real place.

My first choice is Haddon Hall -- my favorite place in the world.  (The newest film version of Jane Eyre was filmed there, but I had toured the Hall years before.)  I emailed my question to the Info email, explaining about McLaren, Swan Song, Lesley Smith (curator of Tutbury Castle), her willingness to vouch for my sincerity, etc.  Nothing.  No reply.  Ignored.  Was the email reply lost in the hinterland of the Internet?  Did it end up in the junk mail folder and automatically get destroyed?  Did she/he think it was a hoax?  Is the curator (or whomever) on vacation and my request sitting on her/his desk?

So I came up with Calke Abbey as possibly a suitable place for my puzzle.  Again, the same reply...or lack of.

What am I to think of this discourteous treatment?  Are people really that paranoid about email messages?  I thought my title in the email subject line explained quite a bit before they would even read the email.  Perhaps I'm wrong.

Granted, I met Lesley Smith at Tutbury Castle while she was working.  Chatting with her face to face is no doubt different from getting a cold email.  But I gave her as a reference so that Haddon Hall's and Calke Abbey's curators would know I'm on the up and up about this.  And my request made it clear that I don't want family personal info: just something very generic.

I shake my head at the ill treatment.  I could write my story without their 'help' but I'd have to come up with another conundrum.  And I had a hard enough time coming up with this little bit!  Maybe I should stop writing and just knit capes for dogs....

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Rest for the Wicked

It dawned on me yesterday that in a week my author friend Esther Luttrell will be here -- in St Louis and staying with me.  She's staying with me as we hit the area on our talk/book signing tour.  It will be a learning experience, I'm sure, but it will also be fun to share the events with her.

She is the author of a mystery novel, Murder in the Movies, some screenwriting books, and her current book Dear Dean...Love, Mom.  She's working on the sequel to Murder in the Movies, which should be good, if M in the M is any indication.

Don't let the screenwriting books confuse you -- Esther spent years in Hollywood as a screenwriter. Also as a television producer.  She is also an independent documentary writer and producer (many of her films have been aired on PBS.)  She is a super-talented lady.  If I had one tenth of her talent, I'd be thrilled!  Which is one reason why she'll be in St Louis next weekend.  She's giving a three-hour workshop on character development to my Sisters in Crime chapter.

That will be one of the less frantic bits of our weekend, I'm guessing.  I don't know what we were thinking (or if we were thinking!) when we put together our schedule.  Man, it'll either make us or break us.  The craziness begins Friday, Sept 24 with a 9 am talk at the Shepherd's Center.  Then she goes to a solo book signing that afternoon in Union, MO and I go to an alumni author event at my alma mater.  Both are at the same time and both run two hours, if you can believe it!  Saturday, Sept 25 is the 9 am workshop, followed by a book signing at Main Street Books from 2-4 pm, then we rush down to Ste. Genevieve, MO for a ghostly talk from 7-9 pm.  Sunday she talks at a lunch and we have our ghostly talk again at The Book House at 7 pm.  Monday we give our "Heart to Heart" talk at the Arnold library, speaking on our paths to publication.  Which, by the way, will be touted in the Jefferson County newspaper, as I was interviewed this week by a reporter.  I think we collapse on Tuesday, but I'm not sure.  My brain is already shutting down from fatigue!

Those ghostly talks....  That's the backbone of our tour.  Our Spirited Mysteries Tour.  Esther will talk about some ghostly things that have happened to her and family members, ghost stories passed down through the generations; I will talk about the ghostly/spirit-driven English customs that I used in three of the Taylor & Graham novels.  Sainted Murder deals with St Nicholas and his devilish companions, The Coffin Watchers uses the custom of watching the church porch -- a strange event whereby villagers take assigned times to sit on the church porch to watch for the spirits of the village's residents to pass by, a sighting confirming that the person will die within the year!  The third spirited custom is Turning the Devil's Stone, which I used in Horns of a Dilemma.  Each year the villagers must turn a one ton boulder to ensure that no disaster will befall the village, inhabitants and surroundings farms.  The stone was not turned one year during the first world war and a series of disasters did strike the district; ever since then the villagers make certain to turn the stone.  These are real customs and rather odd and spooky, so I'll talk about them.   www.spiritedmysteries.com

 We repeat the zaniness, to a degree, again one weekend in October and in November when Esther returns.  By then we either will be hardened, experienced pros or borderline certifiable.

Should be fun, tho.  We've got four talk topics in all, so depending on the date and place we will be speaking on a variety of subjects.  I hope to see some friends at these venues, as well as make new friends.  We're looking to doing it all over again in the spring, but on a several-state tour.  Just so it doesn't interfere with my book signing at Tutbury Castle in the summer!  Hah!

McLaren Breathes

I got a smashing idea the other day.  Smashing....as the British use it....not as the Americans use it.  Since McLaren has now taken 3-D form, is walking about and breathing, why not create a poster of him?  And offer it for sale?  I didn't deliberately set out to do this -- it came about so innocently as I was trying to decide which pose to use for my cardboard stand up (you've seen them in stores, whose life sized cardboard figures of movie stars).  It was no simple matter, for Don Keller, my photographer friend who does my book jacket photos, had taken many dozen snaps of McLaren.  McLaren at the stone wall, with the rock pick, with the silver charm, in a white Henley, in a black muscle shirt, looking thoughtful, smiling, kneeling, standing....  It was harder to decide on a pose than it is to decide which T-shirt to wear each day.  (You think I'm kidding.  Have you seen my collection of snapping sayings, New Zealand, Taylor & Graham, McLaren, L&L Dreamspell, police, and writer garments?)  Anyway, leafing through Don's super snaps lead me to putting a few of my favorites side by side for easier comparison.  When I got about a half dozen on the computer screen I realized I liked the effect.  What if I interspersed them with photos of Derbyshire stonewalls, the stone barn, Siren Song's book cover....  The result is the Lovely Poster.  20"x30", full color.

The model's audition photo.  When I saw it I still couldn't see McLaren in the face, but my friend Mary, who was here and looking at the computer monitor, said quite enthusiastically, "That's McLaren!"  I believed her...she's read Siren Song.   The specs for McLaren were fairly simple: a guy who looks to be in his 30s, muscular, and ruggedly handsome.  The model came through on all requirements, I think, even if I still can't see McLaren in the resulting photos!

Don took about a dozen photos of McLaren and the silver clue.  An important event in the story.  I shake my head over Don's memory.  Not only does he know events in the books but he also knows character names (like the Mahmoods in A Terrible Enemy -- something I've long forgotten!!!)  Don can tell you details, what happens in the plot....  When we were discussing a few ideas about poses for the photo shoot, Don would say something like, "I've got a fallen tree on my property.  I'll saw off some of the limbs and I can use that for the scene when McLaren moves the trunk with his car bumper."  Again, I shake my head.  How many people would remember that incident?
A great shot of McLaren at a stonewall.  I figured he would have muscular arms now even if he didn't as a cop.  A year of shifting stones about would either give you a nice set of biceps or land you in the chiropractor's office!
This gives you an idea of what the poster looks like, at least.  I think it turned out very nice.  I may update it when Swan Song comes out, but that's not till next April.  Anyway, it's certainly fun having McLaren around!  It pulls him into the realm of a real person, something I still can't feel even after writing eight Taylor & Graham books.  Every person who has seen McLaren's photo tells me yep, that is McLaren.  I probably got the most emphatic 'vote' for the McLaren model from my police detective friend David.  I have no idea if it's because David partnered with me in actually creating the McLaren character, but David swears this is McLaren, or very near to him.  Intelligent, but a rough side to him and a sharp edge that stands no nonsense from anyone.  Who, by indifferent means, gets it right for the victim and the victim's family.  I think, looking at the face of McLaren in these photos, that characteristic comes across.  And I hope the readers of the McLaren mysteries think so, too!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun Idea from Dakota Banks

What a fun idea writer friend Dakota Banks has!  She has a contest based on her new book Sacrifice, part of her Mortal Path novels. 
Sacrifice Badge  


I'm way behind the times, if this is an indication of current contests, and I think I better rush right into the 21st century.  To cut myself some slack, though, I must admit quite truthfully that I do do the contest that she's touting -- my sister (a book store clerk who has seen many many many author signings with contests and giveaways) suggested the contest idea to me this past spring.  But my contest version is currently live and in-person at my book signings.  I don't know why it's never occurred to me to do it via my website.  Well, as I said, ya live and ya learn.

I owe Dakota Banks so much, by the way.  We were members of the Greater St Louis Chapter of Sisters in Crime....don't know how many years we'd known each other when I got the idea and the courage to ask her to critique my current manuscript.  I wasn't published yet, but my manuscripts evidently were "close" to being accepted for publication.  At least, that's what a few editors implied by the one sentence notes they all scribbled on my manuscript's first page.  Close, but not close enough.  So what was the problem with it?  Was it my writing or the story?

I was in awe of Dakota (still am, for that matter -- she's a VERY detailed writer and has an incredible imagination that I can only imagine....) and nervous to approach her with the request for her help on my manuscript.  OK, more than nervous.  Apprehensive.  But my need to know my writing problem finally erupted one day and I swallowed my feeling and asked if she would read the thing.  Part of my anxiety came from the fact that, although fellow mystery writers, we didn't write the same sub genre.  My murders happened 'off stage,' while Dakota liked to show her readers exactly what was going on.  I was...ok, ok....afraid she would think my writing was first cousin to a skunk.

Well, I asked her, she said yes and read the thing.  Her professionalism shone through and she gave me many hand-written pages (front and back) of detailed criticism.  Constructive criticism.  Not the kind that tears down the work or author, but honest, no-honey-coated opinion and suggestion.  She had three suggestions, in fact, that astonished me: 1) change one of the men protagonists (my story was told usual-story-telling third-person about two male police detectives) to a female; 2) tell the story first-person from the female's point of view; 3) give the female a close friend whom she confides in -- this enables the first-person female to express her thoughts and emotions so the reader is let in on it.

At first I got my back up over these changes.  I liked my story the way it was!  It was my story, it was perfect!  Well.....no, it wasn't.  If it had been, it would've been published, Jo.  Duh.  Ok, ok, so it and I needed help.  Which was why I'd approached Dakota in the first place, right?  So I ignored my bruised ego and went through the entire manuscript, making Dakota's three suggestions.  When I finished and re-read the entire thing, I was amazed.  Shocked.  Ecstatic!!!!  The story leapt from the page.  It was fresh, alive, snapping with energy.  What's more, the characters danced and breathed and were real human beings!  Brenna Taylor had been born from a William Lynch, a sergeant to his superior, Detective Chief Inspector Geoffrey Graham.  Margo Lynch (I liked the last name...I wasn't going to lose that!!) now walked beside Brenna and shared girl talk and became one of my favorite characters....in fact, a girl friend I wish I had always had.  I could not believe the change in the story or in my writing.  All due to making three changes.  All due to Dakota's insight and willingness to help me, an unpublished writer.

That was 2003.  The first publisher I sent the new manuscript to accepted it immediately and the rest, as they say....  So the book came out in 2004 and the characters are still with me, becoming greater friends with each tale I tell.  And letting me into their lives and learning who they are beyond their professional shells.

All due to Dakota.

So, I do owe Dakota a lot....not just for nudging me and showing me a great contest idea.  A contest you, too, can enter by going to http://dakota-banks.com/contest.html

Good luck if you decide to participate in her contest.  I hope I read about one of us as a character in her next book!

Monday, September 13, 2010

End of an Era

Wow.  I feel old today.  Plus sad.  I got an email from Stephen Quigg, announcing the retirement of Ian McCalman.  Now, I realize most of you might not know who Stephen and Ian are, much less what retirement is referred to.  Ian McCalman is one third of the founding guys who formed The McCalmans, a Scottish folk singing trio in 1964.  They have been singing non stop ever since!  22 records, toured literally all over the world, several BBC TV shows and radio shows to their credit.  Hamish Bayne, one of the original guys, left the group in the 1990s, to be replaced by Nick Keir.  When Derek Moffat (original member No. 3) died of cancer in 2001, Stephen Quigg joined.

The McCalmans are known for their close three-part harmonies, respect for traditional Scottish music, and great sense of humor on stage.  They also sing very fine contemporary songs which all members, I believe, have written.  They play traditional folk instruments: guitar, bodhran, mandolin, tin whistle, banjo....

When I got Stephen's email today announcing Ian's retirement I had no inkling that Ian was counting down the days.  The date for their last gig is Dec 10 in Edinburgh.  Wish I could be there!

I heard them several times in concert in folk clubs in England.  But my greatest thrill was when the original group came to St Louis for two weeks in 1980.  I acted as their 'US manager' -- unpaid but loving every minute of it -- and had got them performances all over the area.  They stayed with me in my apartment and besides listening to them rehearse (you haven't heard anything until you've heard these three guys let loose in a capella harmony up close and personal!!) we had fun looking at the St Louis tourist attractions (getting their over-six foot frames into the Arch capsules for a ride to the top was a feat.).

I feel old, knowing that Ian is about to retire and the group is folding.  I remember the fun we had thirty years ago.  Thirty years....was I ever that young?  I feel sad because their wonderful music will become another piece of music history via records and CDs and not performed in concert.

This photo is downloaded from a website.  All my photos are slides, so I have to make do with this generic version.  The caption of the photo is "Old Macs" to distinguish the original group from the Stephen and Nick era.  I wish the labeler had written "Original Macs."  It is a more respectful title and one that many of us recall when the McCalmans' name crops up.  The guys, left to right, are Derek Moffat, Ian McCalman, and Hamish Bayne.  This is exactly how I picture them when I think of the Macs.  This is 'my era' guys.

Stephen and Nick are continuing as a duo, Stephen's email announces -- but for me it won't be the same.

Nor, I suspect, for McLaren.  Being my folksinging detective, I have mentioned the McCalmans and some of their songs in both of McLaren's books, Siren Song and Swan Song.  I've also mentioned the Macs in at least two Taylor & Graham books.  Sainted Murder comes to mind -- the scene where Brenna is sitting at a table in the pub and the canned music plays one of the Macs' songs while she's talking to Graham.

For anyone wishing more information on their last concert in Edinburgh, logon to http://www.last.fm/event/1503473+McCalmans'+Final+Concert   Of course, I can't go, so I may spend that day looking at my slides of them and their introduction to hot dogs on July Fourth....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Happy (?) Anniversary

How fast this anniversary rolled around!  I was keeping track, so it didn't really surprise me.  I knew it was coming.  But what surprises me is the ensuing year since the Marker established itself.  The anniversary is my one year retirement from my day job, a job that was eliminated, thereby eliminating me from the office.   At first I considered looking for another job -- something part time.  But if you haven't noticed, jobs are a bit scarce right now...especially for my age group.  So I accepted retirement gracefully, if not cautiously.  How long would this last?  Could I afford to do it?  I didn't ask myself what I would do...I had known that answer for over ten years.  Write full time!

I guess I had the stock phrase 'don't quit your day job' in the back of my mind during the first few months of Freedom.  My exact plan of my non-nine-to-five day was quickly abandoned.  I didn't dawdle over a cuppa in the morning while scanning the newspaper (I don't drink hot liquids in the spring and summer and I don't get the newspaper), I didn't have a set day to grocery shop or wash clothes or bake or do housework, (all that came when I felt like it or Necessity dictated I do it), and I didn't spend hours in the garden or photographing my groundhogs et al or eating lunch with friends.  I've been more nonchalant about most things in my life, now.  No need to follow the clock or calendar for some things.  The laundry gets done when I need clean clothes and I grocery shop when I'm tired of dining on stale heels of bread and scrounging around in the fridge for something -- anything! -- to eat.  It's kinda nice.

It's also kinda nice to write whenever I want.  Before retirement my writing day was Saturday -- just about all day, and jealously guarded.  Now I could write Saturday and Sunday and Monday and Tuesday...  You know.  I've tried to figure out what I've accomplished in my year of freedom.  As far as I can make out, I've completely written two books (book 8 of Taylor & Graham and book two of McLaren.  McLaren, btw, comes out in April 2011), written two plays (they're sitting on my desk), started a third mystery series (that's on hold until I figure out what's going on with the publishing status of Taylor & Graham), set up a book signing date at Tutbury Castle (where book two of McLaren takes place) for summer of 2011, hired a friend to be my publicist (she's done remarkably well with that little task: got me nearly a dozen places to talk and do book signings), and set up a talk/book signing tour with my friend Esther Luttrell, under the name Spirited Mysteries.  We've a little over a half dozen talks, I believe.  Plus the miscellaneous law suit, designing mugs and tote bags and posters, and giving a talk or two (Groundhog's Day is quite memorable.) 

Plus discovering, to my complete surprise,  that McLaren is alive and well and walking around!  So we quickly photographed him with and without rock hammer and silver skier charm, and made him agree to a movie role if it came to that.  (I can only hope!)  He'll be appearing at a book signing pretty soon, when I can get things squared away.  All in all, I guess I've not frittered away my time too badly during my year 'off.'  I think just finding McLaren would have been kudos enough for my 365 days away from the office!

Research for another book has occupied some of my time.  Research for McLaren and Taylor & Graham...hopefully I will need the research for the next Taylor & Graham....  One of my more interesting bits of research happened when I contacted a guy in England -- he's with a sword dance troupe.  I hope to meet up with him next summer when I go over.  And I may meet a professor I've been emailing on the subject of spirit animals.  If nothing else, my retirement has been interesting so far!

So, no, my retirement has not been what I thought it would be when I envisioned this years ago.  It's better than I imagined it to be.  The only sticky wicket I see right now is the future of Taylor & Graham.  But if I can get that resolved to my happiness, then I will keep writing two books a year and giving talks and book signings.  The whole of my life until my Freedom was preparing me for the glorious last third of my life.  And I'm grateful it did!  Can't wait to see what this next year brings me....

Monday, August 30, 2010

That Motherly Feeling

I got the most astonishing email Friday...a play of mine will be produced -- live and on stage for all to see!  I thought at first it was a hoax, but the name of one of my plays was there and as I read the email I did recall entering the contest.  Amazing.  My play Teething Pains is a winner in the Spectrum 2010 short plays contest and will be produced, along with the other seven winners, at each of six performances strung out over two weekends in October during the Spectrum 2010 Short Plays Festival.

On reading the initial email I found myself on the lovely pink cloud, feeling very odd indeed.  I probably floated about for two or three hours until housework and my cats brought me back to earth.  Funny how Life affects other aspects of life, isn't it?

Teething Pains is a one-act 15-minute farce about a man having a dental check-up and the bizarre world in which he finds himself: wacky patients, staff and dentist.  The play is filled with puns and is visually funny, as well.

All plays run from 10 to 20 minutes' performance length and if you're interested in attending, the info is given on my personal website. 

I feel as I expect a mother might feel on seeing her oldest child go off on her first day of school.  Yes, I've had books published and sent into the world, but this play thing is completely different.   A play is a living, breathing entity, strutting about on stage for people to see.  The response is immediate and shared in the intimacy of the theater.  I've put my soul, heart and mind on the stage, hoping people think the play is funny.  The audience response is very personal in such a small space and could wound me if my writing isn't viewed as I hope it will be.  (Maybe I should bring a box of Band Aids along when I go to the theater.)

Teething Pains was written as a class assignment when I took a play writing class at Webster University.  The play was read aloud in class, students taking the parts.  The teacher laughed aloud during the reading and said that he would love to see it performed.  Who knew he'd get the chance a decade later??!!

Well, that's it, I guess.  Who knew I'd be able to see the play on stage one day.  Maybe I'll dust off a few other plays I've written and see if some production company out there wants them.  I'd love to see if this is a fluke or not....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Closing the Gap

My lawyer assures me I'm not premature.  As pertains to writing, not birth.  The eighth novel in my Taylor & Graham series is nearly ready to submit to a literary agent (or publisher).  Paul Hornung, my writing partner, is reading the manuscript (hopefully as I type this) and will add his few chapters before returning the bulk to me.  Despite the little unresolved question with the series' publisher, I do believe this is the best T&G book yet and I am keeping everything crossed that it will be published.  I don't know what Paul thinks of it -- he usually doesn't tell me anything while he's reading it.  It's only at the correction session that I find out.  We'll have a phone conversation where he tells me what needs to be fixed (from a police point of view) or something wasn't clear, etc, and I hunt up that specific paragraph or page of the manuscript on the computer and either correct it or add a note to change it later.  Paul says he'll be finished in another week.  I hope so because I'm very anxious to hear what he thinks about this story.  It's a departure from the previous T&G stories.  In fact, I didn't tell him as I handed over the manuscript.  I figure readers wouldn't get a 'warning' when about to read the book, so why should I warn Paul?  Let him come upon the 'newness' as he reads! 

I am rather proud of the custom I used for the book, however.  It's one I had actually seen being prepared when I was in England in 1998.  I'd taken a lot of photos, wandered about and talked to participants, even attended the Friday evening opening of the custom.  But looking at my notes nine years later and writing about it in detail is something else!  So I was rather proud, as I said, as well as amazed that David (my English police detective who reads my manuscripts to catch British police problems and British English problems) had not commented on a single thing in all the pages devoted to the custom.  Pretty good!

An oddity about that....  When I was last in England (2007), David took me to visit a friend who is another retired police detective.  I spent several hours in Peter's front room, listening to his case stories and getting ideas for future books.  Peter lives in Hope, the village I'd visited in 1998 to see the custom!  I looked at my photos when I got home, wondering if I'd snapped his photo as he stood in the crowd.  Anyway, I thought that an odd coincidence because there are dozens of villages in Derbyshire that participate in this custom, and I could have gone to any one of them to see the preparations and join in the festivities.  Yet I wound up in Peter's village and then met him nine years later.  If this is important to a plot, you don't dare put this in a novel -- no one would believe it.
 Anyway, I do hope the book sees the printing press and the book shelf.  I rather like the story and the new spin I put on it.  It all depends on the outcome of the contract break with the current publisher and if I can interest another publisher in the book (and in the series).  My friend Paul Schmit tells me to go with Createspace in Amazon.com to self-publish the book, as he is doing with his mystery "Murder in West Clover Bottom."  I looked up Createspace on Amazon's website.  It does look attractive: nice book cover designs, your choice of page layout, free ISBN (a must if the book is to be sold in a store), print on demand so you don't have to pay for large numbers of books at the beginning (and then find a place to store them in your house!)....  There doesn't seem to be any difference in using Createspace or having the book published by a small press as far as marketing goes -- the author still has to do the bulk of the work and get the book reviewed, get her own book signings, etc.  Maybe a small press would be able to get the book in some places, but there are very few that I know of.  Big brick and mortar places like Borders usually take books from the larger presses only.  That's why we small press authors have to market, promote and write.  Anyway, it's Plan C.

So, I'm closing the gap, I think, on book eight and a break from my publisher.  I do hope I can look back on this in a month or so and chuckle at my worries.  More later....

Monday, August 2, 2010

All Mysteries Aren't in Novels

I didn't mean to wait so long in between postings -- I thought I'd have something more to say about the future of my Taylor & Graham novels.  That keeps being drawn out, so I have no Happy Ending (or any ending) to report right now.  I do find it odd, though, that my fifth novel, Horns of a Dilemma, can not be found for sale on the internet anywhere in the world.  I mean that literally.  I did a google search for the book; I logged on to book seller sites in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, India, South Africa....  Other countries and sellers -- nothing.  The same notation "Not Available" is posted at each site.  I find that very odd and very upsetting.  The book's supposed to still be in print, according to the contract.  The only thing I can assume from this is that a contract was signed with Harlequin to bring it out in mass market paperback, to keep company with the earlier books in the series.  If this is so, Horns may be unavailable to buy for a year, until the mass market edition is printed.  This will play havoc with my plans to sell the book at endangered animal places.  I feel as though I've fallen into the movie production of The List of Adrian Messenger, except I am unaware of it -- my books being picked off one by one and unavailable.  Where's George C. Scott when I need him....  This has eerie overtones of the incident that started this whole lawyer/publisher game, not being able to find a copy of Twelfth Night anywhere.  I did find something very odd (in my opinion), though, when I was trying to find a copy of Horns.  Two internet book sellers -- based in Florida, of all places -- are offering new copies of the book for sale.  One seller has a price of $140.99; the other (wait for it) is asking $219.75.  I know my mouth dropped open.  Why so much for a $20 book -- a trade paper edition?  Does not make sense.  I thought for sure there was a conspiracy going on.  I emailed both sellers, asking why in the world they put such a high price on the book.  Funny thing, neither of them has replied.  Looks like the few I have are worth a fortune, then!  I'm in the wrong end of this book business.

On to a happier, more sane topic: I got a very nice review on Siren Song a few days ago.  I like nice reviews.  Nice reviews let me assume what I'm writing is good and interesting.  Nice reviews help launch the new series, which is a lot better than writing a first book that garners yawns or negative responses.  Nice reviews also help lull me to sleep.  If you'd like to read this nice review, you can click the link.  This will take you directly to the page of the nice review. http://www.coffeetimeromance.com/BookReviews/sirensongbyjoahiestand.html
I got another nice review from Mystery Lovers Corner, but I won't bore you with that.  You might think I'm getting a swelled head.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Arts and Crafts Fairs

My friend Mary and I are entering several arts and crafts fairs this summer and fall.  It seems like the thing to do in order to 'get my name out there' and sell some books.  These events are billed as open for artists of all types, etc, but many won't take writers.  I find that very odd.  Isn't a mental creation of an entire book -- story, characters, setting -- as creative (if not more) than stringing beads onto a piece of fishing line, or throwing a pot?  I found a few shows listed that allow books but some of these shows stipulate in their full page of rules that the items for sale be handmade and not mass produced.  Usually an email to the event's coordinator will overrule that rule, but there are still fairs that won't bend on that point.  Amazing.  Didn't I create the book as much as a jeweler created a necklace?  Just because I have several copies of it printed shouldn't take away from my creation.  Well, I'm old enough to know you can't change some people's minds, but it still makes me shake my head at the exclusiveness of the art world.  Or should that be blindness....

Mary and I will be sharing a booth at two such events -- billed, I believe, as holiday boutiques.  One is in November at the Sunset Hills-Crestwood fair held at the Lindbergh high school, and the other in October at the JFK school in Manchester, MO.  Mary will be selling her pen-and-ink cards in addition to her computer art cards.  I'll have the full assortment of books and the companion pieces of 2011 calendar, mugs, tote bags, etc.  I've also got something new and, I think, exciting, but I won't broadcast it here.  (here's a hint, on a par with the code/cypher I've left for my older nephew to work out...)  You'll have to pop by the booth or one of my talks to find out!  First time I've done a booth at a boutique/fair, so I have no idea what to expect.  Still, it's a nice time to enjoy a brown bag lunch and chat with Mary.

I should know within two weeks where I stand with the Taylor & Graham books.  My lawyer heard back from the publisher and he's crafting a response.  No wonder trials take so long -- this little exchange of letters has already taken more than a month.  So I still don't know the status of the T&G novels.  If you've any qualms about future purchases, stock up as I have!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The future of the Taylor & Graham series

You may have trouble buying books in my Taylor & Graham mystery series quite soon.  In fact, you might never find any except through eBay or one of those stores that carry out of print books.  For that’s what my entire series is right now...or very soon may be: out of print.  Yes, it is sudden.  It might happen within a day or two.  Even though the series' print and availability status is uncertain as to date cut off, one thing is certain.  My books are no longer under contract to Hilliard & Harris.  Hence the out of print status.  But hopefully only temporarily, until they can find a new home.  Which means a new publisher.  So, what this really boils down to is if you want one of the first seven in the series, you’ll have to hunt around on some Internet site to find one, or buy one straight from me.  You can go through my online store www.johiestand.com to order the book.  Or, if you know me personally, of course you can get one from me.  Sorry it’s such an inconvenience, but that is reality right now.

I had a very long (over a year) and very tough mental and emotional struggle with myself, debating whether to take this step to break the book contract.  I knew what it would mean if I went this route, and I knew that I would also be killing two books co-authored by my friend and writing partner Paul Hornung.  I knew he would suffer the consequences of my action -- and why should he be punished?  His (our) books would be as out of print as my solo efforts and I felt very bad about that.  But sometimes you have to do something drastic in order to achieve something greater in the future.  It is uncertain at this moment whether that something greater will be achieved, whether I have done the best thing for Paul's and my books by taking this action.  But I could not sit any longer where I was.  I had to move forward -- what I consider moving forward.

With this in mind, I have also completed writing book eight in the series.  I will try to find a literary agent for the book, with an eye to moving book eight (and the entire series) to a new publisher.  I hope this is attainable, as book eight is, I feel, the best in the series so far.  And written differently from the other seven.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed and sending up prayers daily that the book will be published elsewhere.

Anyway, I wanted to let any T&G readers know the situation so you're not confused if you try to order a book and discover it's no longer available.  The McLaren series is not affected by the Taylor & Graham situation.  I hope McLaren has just begun a long run of books.  That's what's going on here at the moment....

Monday, June 21, 2010

Centuries Old Wisdom

Writing what you don’t know.

Not exactly the writer’s adage, is it?  I mean, isn’t it drummed into every writer’s head that you should write about subjects or skills in which you are knowledgeable or competent?

There’s good reason for this: your writing not only seems more authentic and free from mistakes but it also lets the reader lose herself in your world.
That adage is fine if you want to write about subjects that make up your current world, but what if you want to write about something in which you have no knowledge or experience?  You’ve got this terrific plot and it can take place only in New Zealand and you live in the Bronx.  That is a sticky wicket and works only if you know the place…sorry!  Too many details that might expose your story as ‘Unresearched’ lurk in those beautiful descriptive paragraphs of yours.

Like Hermann, Missouri.  A small town cozying up to the banks of the Missouri River, Hermann is an hour and a half drive from St. Louis and three hours from Kansas City.  It is an old town, lying in a hollow and in the heart of the wine growing country.  As an old town, most of Hermann’s residents still heat their homes with wood-burning stoves.  Consequently, in the winter a thick layer of gray smoke floats over the town.  People descending into Hermann via the higher elevated roads can see this smoky blanket wallowing at the base of the hills that surround the town.  It is a very prominent, well-known aspect of Hermann.  Therefore, anyone writing about Hermann would probably not state “Samantha stepped outside and took a deep breath of the clean, crisp air as she gazed upward at the stars shining brightly in the clear December sky.”  Nope.  A finger-pointer right there at your lack of research.  Who’s going to believe the other stuff you write about Hermann and Samantha?

Or maybe you’d like one of your characters to be a radio announcer or a bartender, but you’ve never had your own radio show (let alone visited a radio station) or tended bar!  Or you’re writing a mystery and you need some medical info on what a corpse looks like if it was buried in a snow bank for three days⎯and you’re not a doctor or a snow-encased corpse.

But you need the facts for your story!

So how do you solve that problem?

That’s when you have to write about what you don’t know.

I write two English mystery series ⎯ and there are more things that I don’t know that keep cropping up than I could ever have imagined.  The Taylor & Graham series features police detectives from the Derbyshire Constabulary.  My McLaren Case mysteries underscore Michael McLaren, an ex-cop who now investigates cold cases on his own.  I live in St Louis, so how do I get the information and detail for these English novels?

I was lucky because I had lived in England for a year; I’ve been back for vacation or research nearly a dozen times.  Okay.  I’ve got the problem of location licked.  But what about those pesky items like English police procedure and medical situations?  Depending on the sub genre, mysteries could be laced with that type of detail.

In this instance, I took a citizen police academy course.  Not only did I get a lot of great information over the eight week course, but I formed a friendship ⎯ and later a writing partnership ⎯ with the police officer I accompanied on several ride-alongs.

On a trip to England I also dropped into the sectional headquarters of the Derbyshire Constabulary and talked to an inspector, got a tour of the facility and got my questions answered.  I emailed him for a year following my visit and visited him again when I returned.  Through him I met a police detective with whom I also formed a friendship and who gave me the information I needed for my novels.  Our friendship is in its twelfth year.

Okay.  Police problems solved.  What about medical?  That was just a matter of asking all my friends and acquaintances if they knew any doctor or medical person who would help me⎯hopefully, on-going.  It didn’t happen overnight.  In fact, it took me a little over a year.  A woman I worked with said her sister might like to help me.  And who is her sister?  Just a pathologist and coroner!  She’s been giving me the low down on such topics as knife wounds and decapitated bodies and blood spatter since 2004.

It pays to ask!  It also pays to travel.  Sure, it takes commitment of time, energy and money on your part, but you’ll be surprised how many people want to help.  Nothing is more flattering than having someone ask them about their job.

Even if you can afford nothing more than phone calls or talking to local people, that still reaps results.  Universities have professors with knowledge on a vast array of subjects; the medical examiner’s office is usually a good source of info; local police departments (unless they are too small) have public relations officers who will answer your questions.  Get on the phone and talk to them!
Attend conferences on your subject ⎯ another splendid way to talk to experts.  At a mystery writers conference I became friends with a woman who owns a death scene cleaning company.  You guessed it: she’s been answering my questions for my last two books.

Of course it’s easier all around if you just sit home and type in a question into Google’s search bar.  But…

You think you can just slide by doing it that way, that no one will ever know? Remember Hermann?

That’s a locale mistake.

You can get into deeper trouble not researching occupations or how to do things.  An example.
My father and I were watching the 1947 James Cagney movie 13 Rue Madeleine.  For those of you who may not be familiar with it, it’s about Allied secret intelligence agents in France in World War II.  A French telegrapher was hiding in a bombed-out house in the French countryside, transmitting a message to London.  Partway through her transmission, Nazis discovered her location, shot and killed her.
Back to the scene in London where a telegraph operator received the agent’s partial message.  The operator hands the message to the head of the Allied Operations.  The Operations chief asks what is the rest of the agent’s message.  The operator says, “The signal stopped.”

That one sentence ruined the entire movie for my father, who was in the Army Signal Corps in WWII and also was an amateur radio operator.  He said, quite disgustedly, “Her signal didn’t stop.  Her transmission stopped.  The line’s still open.”

Oops!

Readers or viewers are willing to suspend their disbelief when they immerse themselves into your story.  They want to live the experience along with the characters.  But they will be jarred out of your world and the story ruined for them if you fail to research adequately.


The celebrated mystery author P.D. James told about writing a scene in one of her novels.  She described how the character struggled to climb a cliff.  Her last sentence in the paragraph stated something like he pulled himself exhausted and panting onto the grass atop the cliff.  She gave that part of her manuscript to her nephew, who was an amateur rock climber.  He read it and said that no wonder the guy fell panting on top of the cliff; she had made what normally would have been an hour climb in fifteen minutes!

To those of us who don’t climb rocks, the mistake will slide by.  We’ll never know that’s wrong.  But to people such as her nephew, that mistake is glaring and shows her ignorance.  It destroys what might be an exciting scene.

Like the telegraph transmission scene and my father.

Or Samantha in Hermann.

The mood is broken and the reader no longer trusts the author.  She’ll be reading the rest of the book (if she’s not too disgusted), hunting for more goofs, not involved in the character or the story.

Sure, there will always be mistakes in books, but you can eliminate a good portion of them by visiting the locale or asking an expert.  After all, isn’t one of the greatest compliments a writer can get ‘I felt like I was there.’?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Who needs that man from LaMancha?

My friend and fellow Sister, Paul S., launched his blog today.  He's going to talk about his quest to get published.  As I well know, he will need a lot of support, so if anyone has advice or a nice shoulder for him, please do so. Thanks.    www.AQuestforPublication.blogspot.com

Fantastic Interview!

If anyone is still following this blog and it is Wednesday, June 9 when you log on here, and if you need a bit of a belly laugh or simply need to feel superior, you might want to log on to the online interview today.  You can leave a comment only if it is incredibly complimentary!  ;-)
   http://damesofdialogue.wordpress.com

You have been warned!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Back Again

I see it's been two weeks since I last wrote anything.  I have good reason for my tardiness.  I've been thinking.  Sure, Einstein probably didn't need to stop writing while he thought, but I'm not he.  A lot of decisions had to be made and I finally have the basis for my new series.  Third series, actually, tho in terms of books being published, it will probably dwindle down to this new series and the McLaren Case mysteries.  I've decided to do an American mystery series based in Missouri.  The protagonist is a newly retired police detective who now is able to follow her true passion -- she's the owner of a music store.  So, as you might expect, there will be a lot about music in this series.  And a lot about folk and bluegrass music and instruments.  I think it will be fun -- for me to write, sure, but I hope for you to read, too!  I'm going to have a running thread through this series, which I don't want to 'publicly' announce just yet for fear of someone taking my idea.  But it's kind of different...at least, I hope so!  I've got the first six pages written after two false starts, so I'm getting into the story.  Anyway, that's where I am right now.

I am waiting to rewrite book 8 of Taylor & Graham, making it book 3 of McLaren, until I find out if a literary agent is interested in book 8.  It's a lot of rewriting if I have to convert T&G into McLaren, rewriting I am not particularly anxious to do!  So I cross my fingers and hope that an agent responds favorably to my letter.  We'll see.  I've been down this road before.

Got my first public book signing for Siren Song next Saturday, June 5.  I hope a lot of people show up.  I'm about promo-ed out with all the things I've been doing, including letting the first twenty people who buy a book that day have a gift.  My friend Mary, who just read Siren Song, thought up some great ideas for give-aways, one being a skier silver charm -- read the book and you'll find out!  I ordered 25 charms this afternoon online.  I've got another give away idea involving empty beer bottles.  I wonder how long it will take me to get these ready, as I don't drink beer.  And there's only so much stew and beer bread I can make and consume in the summer!  But I shall see if root beer bottles will suffice...or ask friends to save me empty beer bottles.  It's a great giveaway idea...if I can only get the bottles...  Maybe I should make it easier and cheaper all around and just give away bits of straw...

Just think...maybe this time next year I'll be in England, roaming around and getting ready for my first book signing over there.  The curator of Tutbury Castle emailed me recently to say that I'll be signing in either the castle's gift shop or the Great Hall.  Gosh, that's too bad, but someone has to do it, I guess.

More later....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Work Ahead

If you hear a loud gasp or if the air suddenly rushes over the ground in a frenzy tomorrow, don't be alarmed.  It's probably me.  I'll be taking my finished manuscript for book eight in the Taylor & Graham series and turning it into book 3 in the McLaren Case series.  It's a long story.  And I'm saving my strength for tomorrow's dive.  But suffice it to say that not only do I have to turn the plot from an active, present day police investigation into a cold case PI investigation, but I also have to take out all the wedding preparation scenes with Brenna, all the personal bits with her and her colleague, and turn those pages (and there are a lot of them) into something personal about McLaren.  Or another subplot with McLaren.  At least the locale is the same, so I don't have to write about Greenland instead of Derybshire, for instance.  And I have an idea as to what I can substitute.  That's one good thing about insomnia -- I thought it up in the wee small hours instead of sleeping.  Or maybe that should be 'due to not sleeping.'  Of course David, my English police pal who reads all the finished manuscripts, was already on page 181 when I emailed him to stop.  He will put the ms on a shelf in his closet and watch it collect dust, I guess.  Or use the pages as fire starters.  Or cut them up and make paper chains for his Christmas tree.  Place mats might be nice....  Anyway, the fun starts tomorrow for me, but at least I have a vague idea of what I can plop into all the holes.  Maybe this is how the idea for Swiss cheese developed....  Oh well, ignore the ranting for the next month or so.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Let the Word Go Forth!

Normally I am not so crass as to advertise my stuff.  I mean, I walk around in a CF Martin Co. t-shirt at times, but the logo is about 2" square on my upper left chest.  Hardly blatant.  But...and you knew there would be one...my publisher of "Siren Song" has made the book's cover art available on 'stuff' at the Cafe Press web site.  It is too fun!  T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, coasters, note cards et al with the book's cover beaming silently (well, I don't know how silent blatant advertising can be) from the wearer's chest or desk top or wall.  Even thong undies, if you can believe it (and NO, I did NOT buy that particular item!)

Anyway, it's a fun thing and I just might buy a T-shirt to wear at book signings or wherever.  Check it out...at least look at the boxers and thong, if nothing else!  http://www.cafepress.com/SirenSongbyJAH
There are other "Siren Song" books out there, so be sure that 'byJAH' is in the address.

Nothing much else happening right now.  It's been a real down day for me, on the whole.  I've had to struggle with a moral decision and it's not easy.  The rainy weather hasn't helped my mood or outlook, either.  But give me a day to lick my wounds and I should bounce back.  More later when I'm a bit more upbeat....