Across the 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

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Long, Hard Struggle

I have surfaced for air.  And food.  And sleep.  I finished the first draft of the ninth Taylor & Graham book, False Step.  This was by far the toughest book I've written.  Not because I had trouble with research or couldn't find time to write.  Au contraire.  The last two weeks I literally woke up around 4:00 each morning, was at the computer minutes after feeding all the critters and making my morning cuppa, and sat there for ten to twelve hours each day, writing.  I went to bed tired, I woke up tired.  My lower back ached in the mornings, and I went through phases of restlessness each night in bed.  The sleep I got was punctuated with recent bouts of wakefulness, and I'd jot down notes on paper and pen.

I attribute this unusual behavior on the book's plot.  Well, not the problem of catching the bad guy or laying the clues or writing about the sword dance: on the number of characters involved in the story.  Since the plot centers around the rapper dance, and since I'm using the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers as the source of my info, I thought it would be fun for them to appear in the story -- under aliases, of course.  Each group member picked a name for his/her character.  I then had the job of creating all the usual character qualities.  And this is why the initial writing was such a long, hard struggle.  Twelve main characters required that I give each character his/her time in the story's spotlight, that I give each character an important clue to impart to the CID Team, that I make the character interesting.  My worst fear is that one of the real dancers will read the book and be disappointed in his/her character.  If the tables were turned and I was anxiously waiting to read a book in which "I" appeared, and "I" was a flat, uninteresting character with really nothing to add to the story, I'd be incredibly disappointed.  Especially after waiting a year or so to get a copy of the book.

So that's why I sweated profusely over this story.  But the tough part is over; I've got the story down on 292 pages and can now take a few days "off" to rest, catch up on house work, run errands, etc.  Now comes the best part of all -- plopping Paul's chapters into the manuscript, adding a few scenes that I thought of, and polishing my writing.  This is also the time I add description of scenes, people's appearances, weather, etc.  Now that I've got the 292-page skeleton to hang the new stuff on, it will be smooth roads ahead.

Don't get me wrong -- I love to write new books.  It's fun creating a new story and characters and working out whodunit.  But I've never had to juggle twelve main characters before.  I think it was a test for my poor brain.  I know I came close to frying it -- I just hope False Step will prove to be a good book and well liked when it comes out.  Let me know your opinion if you read it!  I'll be the person in the third straight-jacket on the left in the home....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Catch Up

Things are underway with the song for the third McLaren book, Torch Song.  Week ago yesterday Lola came over to my house and we chatted about the song project.  Lola is the sophomore music student at my alma mater -- at her young age she's already a professional blues singer, with her own group, writing her own songs, and performing all over the US.  She read my lyrics and said she could set them to a tune she will write this summer.  Then she and a bassist will record the song at the school's recording studio.  She'll make copies on CD that I can sell.  My part in this is to design the CD label, cover and booklet.  That's fun for me - I did that with 'The Swans' Courtships' CD for Swan Song.  I designed the label and booklet cover to have similar elements of the book cover.  Inside the booklet I had a short synopsis of the story and the series.  On the back I have several photos of McLaren.  All in all, it's a nice booklet.  And I will make Torch Song's CD booklet similar.  We signed a simple contract I'd drawn up and she'll have the recordings to me by end of December.  I admit I was incredibly nervous at first when I let her read the lyrics.  I've written lyrics before but never had a pro read them, so I didn't know if she'd laugh herself silly over them or if they'd be acceptable.  She said they scanned fine and that they were okay.  She's going to write a refrain, which would be super, as most every torch song I know has a refrain.  Anyway, that's that and it's all mysterious how she writes a melody.  It will be very interesting to hear my lyrics set to music.
Progress on the eighth Taylor & Graham book, False Step.  After numerous starts and stops, I'm finally sailin' ahead.  I'm on page 147 of the first draft, and it's been like pulling teeth.  I think I figured out why this book's been so very difficult to write, more so than other first drafts (which are never easy).  There are so many dance characters (each member of the real life sword dancing troupe I'm using for the troupe in my book has chosen a character name and will be in the book) -- twelve!  I want to give each person a good scene and important info to pass to T&G, so it's been extremely difficult to think of twelve things that these folks could impart.  I keep thinking...if it were reversed, if I was a character in a book, I'd be very disappointed if I was just there for a page or two and that was it.  I'd want my character to be a great character or to contribute something important, etc.  So I've had a few sleepless nights trying to come up with the twelve things that would fulfill my own expectations.  So now that the little problem is fixed, I'm finally halfway through the first draft.  And what a relief it is to be so!  I will add description, dialogue, etc on the second draft but at least the hard part is over.

More later.  Happy first full day of summer to you.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Nice Signing

I had a nice book signing this past Saturday.  I was at Big Sleep Books, probably my favorite book store -- and not because it is exclusively mystery books.  Ed, the owner, makes each signing a pleasure.  Now, I must admit that I am usually reluctant to do a book signing.  I get very nervous, wondering if anyone will show up or if I will be sitting there alone for two hours, smiling at the store patrons as they walk past me.  I don't feel that way at Big Sleep Books.  Ed is so gracious and the store is so cozy feeling that I never get that feeling.  And I've never been alone for two hours.  Usually it's pretty much non-stop friends filing in to sit and talk for a while.

My first sale this past Saturday was to a young woman named Bethany.  She bought a copy of A Well Dressed Corpse after reading the synopsis on the back of the book and debating about it or Swan Song.  She said she'd never got a book from an author before and she was a bit amazed that she could do that.  I tried to make it painless for her and slipped in a Derbyshire map, book mark and info card about the series.  She seemed pleased. 

When Ed was straightening books a while later he saw the Derbyshire maps and was interested in them.  I have two types: one shows villages and points of interest mentioned in the McLaren books and the other map shows villages, towns and points of interest mentioned in the Taylor & Graham books.  On the back of each map I have a short list of British words and the American meanings.  Ed took a bunch of both maps to slip into the books he will sell after the signing.  Frankly, I was astonished.  Not at his thoughtfulness but at his confidence.  He said he sells a number of my books -- people come in looking for English village mysteries and he sells my books.  He has only one Siren Song left and must order some more, so that made me happy!

Two friends who mentioned they would come didn't show up, but three friends who hadn't said they would come came.  So it all came out in the wash, I guess.  I was touched that my friend and fellow Muddy River Crime Writer Paul Schmit came.  He lives about a 45 minute drive away and he could have easily got a book from me in June when we have our panel discussion at a library closer to him.  But he supported me by driving to Big Sleep Books.  Did I mention he's included in my will?

All in all, a nice book signing.  Ed had some fabulous looking cupcakes up by the cash register.  I was going to ask where he got them but forgot.  Maybe it's best that I don't know....

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is this a dagger I see before me?

It may be easier to use a dagger as the murder weapon of book nine of Taylor & Graham.  I am having a heck of a time with my tool of choice.  I thought it would be "fun" to use poison for a change because I've not used that in my books.  So I researched and found what I wanted.  My book of poisons listed it as a toxicity level 5, which is pretty darn potent.  The highest rating is level 6.  Well, the book's fairly old and something whispered in my ear that I better do some further research, as things change.  So I bought a new edition of the same book.  Well, lo and behold!  The toxicity level is now 3 for the same poison!  Which means it's gonna take a lot more of it to do the intended harm.  And I doubt if any sane person who's in the position of my poor victim would come into contact with the needed dose without thinking something's fishy...and not just in Denmark.  I asked my pathologist friend, who supplies me all the medical info in my other books, and she replied that she knows nothing of this element.  So I'm back to wondering if I need to change poisons.  Or change murder method.

I'm rather partial to my original murder method.  I thought it all out and figured out how the poison is to be administered.  Rather cleverly, if I do say so.  If I switch methods to the dagger, let's say, I will have to come up with a whole new scenario for the murder scene.  How will the victim be dispatched now?  What will be his alibi?

It's very hard to commit murder without it being obvious as to whodunit.  At least I think it's hard.  Maybe I can still figure out how to bump off my fellow using the original idea, but I don't want it to wind up being unbelievable.  I could call the poison control center's 800 phone number, but I'm afraid the person answering the phone would think I'm trying to poison someone and this is a nice, easy piece of research.  I do like research, as you may know.  I'm partial to doing things to see how it feels or what my character would do.  But I draw the line at finding police breaking in my door and arresting me for hatching a murder.  A night in jail is just about too realistic for my writing.  I think I'll consider that dagger very seriously....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Coming Soon....

To a book signing near you.  Well, I hope so!  I may be jumping the gun when I say it's coming soon.  It all depends on your definition of 'soon.'  Since Time is relative, 'soon' may be fine to say.  I will submit my non-fiction manuscript, Cider, Swords & Straw, to my publisher today.  I am assuming it will be accepted and published next year.  She gave me the go-ahead to write it based on my very loose synopsis of what the book would be.  So I wrote it and it's ready for her to read.  She said "Put in lots of recipes."  So I did.  Over 300 recipes.  I have no idea if that is "lots of recipes" or not.  Again we come to definitions.

I created a little flyer for announcing the future publication of C,S&S.  I hope it's eye-catching and makes people want to read it.  Couldn't put in the book's word-count with the other info 'cause the galley hasn't appeared.  But I can add that to the flyer when it's closer to press time.  In the upper 100s, I'd think.  It'll be a nice-sized book, with a year's worth of Taylor & Graham plot synopses, all twelve customs explained more fully, some illustrations, menu suggestions and party ideas for hosting your own British custom celebration.  It's a super companion piece to the mystery novels, but it actually is an interesting book to read in its own right.  The customs are exceedingly fascinating (at least, I think so!) and I enjoyed researching them more fully to add them to the book.

Anyway, that's where I am with it.  First non-fiction book I've written ...  well, I guess we'll soon see if it becomes a book.  It was exceedingly fun to research, think up the plots for the four Taylor & Graham books that will round out a year's worth of customs, finding the recipes.  Now I cross my fingers and send up prayers that it will see the light of day and sit alongside the novels on folks' bookshelves.  If it doesn't, come this autumn I've got a nice little bonfire, I guess.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Down to the Wire

Whew!  I discovered this morning, just by my own super detective work, that Swan Song and A Well Dressed Corpse are available for sale online at  and   I discovered the Kindle-ized versions two days ago and knew they came out days before the "real" books, but obviously I didn't know the publication date for the trade paperbacks.  Well, they are out and I am happy.  I shot an email to the CR at the Barnes & Noble store where I'll be book signing Saturday, telling her the books are out and if there is time enough to order them, I'd appreciate it.  Don't know if she can get them that quickly.  It's down to the wire as far as book arrival and signing date.  But they are out and my enthusiasm is on the upswing. 

In keeping with my effervescent mood, I have decorated one wall of my office with "posters" of my novels.  This helps me when I am a bit down.  I see what I've accomplished in 6 years and think it's not too shabby.  A bit of a pat on the back and an 'atta boy' for me when I need it.  As you can see, I've left room for other books to come.  Hope I do, indeed, fill the space.

It was quite low last week, I don't mind admitting.  I finished up the non-fiction book and that was about all I could handle for days.  Yesterday I did figure out how to poison the victim in the next Taylor & Graham book, so that was good.  I'd originally wanted a plant poisoning because that fascinates me -- how some plants can be beneficial and some are deadly.  And why are some parts of a plant deadly while other parts are okay for consumption -- like rhubarb, for example.  Utterly fascinating.  Anyway, I spend a lot of time with my poison book, book of British plants, and a little online research.  I came up with a poison and I hope a good way of dispatching my poor ole guy.  Of course, I wanted to do what Ngaio Marsh did in her book Death at the Bar.  I think that was brilliant and I really wanted to emulate her, but I have to find my own method.  I know it's not as good, but she was a genius, in my opinion.

Well, guess I better do something beneficial today.  Maybe I'll work on that poisoning method.  There's got to be something more subtle....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Well, today I finished the new non-fiction book.  It's a hybrid of my calendars that I used to make each year and sell.  My book has the months as chapters, the first chapter being November.  Each chapter has a longish synopsis of the Taylor & Graham book occurring in that month, a longer explanation of the custom on which the plot is based, and recipes that are associated with or can go along with the custom.  I had such a good time researching more information on the customs -- I need to do something with my knowledge!  Of course, right now my novels reach only to June.  So, to make my non-fiction book hold a year's worth of books, customs and recipes, I had to figure out what the last four books would be.  I figured out which customs I would use, sat down one lovely spring day and came up with the plots of the four books, and wrote out the synopsis and then the customs sagas.  I plopped those into the non-fiction book and then the fun began of finding recipes for all twelve customs.

This is not as daunting as it might have been.  I have several British cookery books and I know some of the foods associated with some customs, like having parkin, baked potatoes and lemonade on Bonfire Night.  I also had two articles I'd written some years ago on two customs, so I used those.  Plus, of course, some lengthy synopsis on most of the books.  So I really had to write about half the book.

I'm excited about it.  I have a few drawings in there, illustrating bits that might be confusing to the American reader who doesn't know about change ringing or rapper dancing, for example.  I also included a page on planning parties if you want to host an event connected to one of the traditions.  There's also a list of suggested recipes to use for a specific event, like a picnic for the corn harvest custom, or a fireside tea for Valentine's Day.  As of now, I have 300 recipes in the book.  That could change, depending on my publisher's version of "a lot of recipes."  She wanted "a lot of recipes," so I put in what I consider a lot.  Yes, I know 'lot' is subject to individual interpretation, but I didn't think she wanted three or four per custom.

Next comes proof reading and waiting for Swan Song and A Well Dressed Corpse to come out.  I think it would be pushy on my part to submit another manuscript before my latest and greatest have left the printing press.  I'll wait at least a day after I get my copies of the novels....

My non-fiction book has the advantage of use as a standalone book (fun to read without having read any of the Taylor & Graham), a cookery book (hey, 300 recipes -- there's gotta be one in there you'd kill to have!), and of course a great companion piece to the T&G series.  And you'll know what's coming up in the next few years because I've got the four synopsis of the unwritten four books included.  And no, it's not the end of the series.  Unless you know something I don't know.  I just thought it would be a tidy bundle to have 12 novels, 12 customs, and 12 months of recipes within one book cover.

So that's where I am.  I'm extremely tired; I've worked on this nearly non-stop for over a week, putting in 10-12 hour days at the keyboard.  But I hope the effort will be worth it.  I guess I'll find out sometime.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Muddy River Writers

Paul Schmit, Bill Mueller and I -- collectively known as the Muddy River Writers -- will be signing our latest books and chatting with friends Saturday, April 16, noon to 3 pm at the Chesterfield MO Barnes & Noble.  Although the store's at 1600 Clarkson Road, I don't know where we'll be.  Hopefully in the front, facing the door, so people have to trip over us as they come into and leave the store.  As they fall, Bill, Paul or I will shove a book into their hands and the other unengaged person of our group will push them toward the checkout register.

Paul's first mystery, Atonement, will be for sale. It's a humorous story about a small town chief of police in West Clover Bottom, Minnesota.  Bill has an anthology of short stories, Peaches and Cream, which got a very nice review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.  My two newest, Swan Song and A Well Dressed Corpse -- both new additions to the McLaren and Taylor & Graham mystery series -- will be for sale.

I'll have some giveaways and some cookies for folks...if I can get my act together by then.  I should be able.  Nothing is hanging over my head as far as deadlines.  I'm writing my play at my leisure and my standalone at my leisure.  Unless my groundhog or raccoons hold me for ransom, demanding more and better food, I should be okay.

The Muddy River Writers should be a fun group.  We write different things, which should spread our appeal around.  Spread is the word because when we were looking for a group name I suggest P, B and J.  I believe I don't have to lay it on thick about the two meanings.  I might have been nutty about my suggestion, I guess.  But at least the guys didn't cream me for my input and I didn't get into a jam.  Paul and Bill are too well bread to do that....

Anyway, hope to see you at the signing.  Just look for a table with three intelligent writers at it.  I'll be the one in the dress.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Man of LaMancha I ain't, but...

I can guess how Don Quixote felt, searching, searching....  I am trying to find a swan-themed item to give away in conjunction with my new novel Swan Song.  No small task, let me tell you.  I thought I'd found the Perfect Item: a flexible pen with a cartoon swan's head on top.  It was cute.  It was unique.  I wanted it -- the perfect reminder for folks about Swan Song whenever they used the swan pen.  I spend a little over two hours on the computer emailing some gal overseas.  Round trip emails took anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes each.  Yes, believe it....  I wanted Item B.  In the photo it looks nearly white, a very light beige.  We're emailing back and forth about price, shipping cost, etc and I'm ready to place my order.  I can't wait!  She emails again and says that I should pick the colors either Item G or Item H.  That is a dark beige and Daffy Duck yellow.  Well, I wanted a white swan.  I emailed back to ask why couldn't I have Item B that's on the website?  She emails back to say I need to pick Item G or Item H.  I email back and say I want a white swan like Item B.  She emails back to say I need to pick Item G or Item H....  I gave up around 11:00 pm, wondering if it were me or the English as a Second Language problem.  My head was swimming, not unlike the swan.  Maybe it would've been easier to pick the Hippo and rewrite the book real quick.

I pursue swan items elsewhere and spend literally all day Thursday and Friday scouring the Internet at promotional item sites, carnival supply sites, promotional toy sites, wholesale giveaway sites....  There is a cute "rubber duckie" type swan so I email the company to find out price.  My meager 300 desired items didn't qualify me for purchase there, so I looked elsewhere.  I'm still looking elsewhere. 

What is it with swan items?  Don't people like swans?  Are swans passe?  I know it's the Chinese year of the Rabbit, but that shouldn't push swans out of the picture.  I didn't think I was dreaming the impossible dream when this started.  I just want a nice trumpeter swan item, something to link with the book.

I'm about to form a protest group.  I think I'll call it FOOT.  Friends of Ostracized Trumpeters.  There's gotta be some media coverage in this somewhere.  Maybe if I borrow Don Quixote's lance and cause a scene...

So then I'm trying to find something to go with my other newly released book A Well Dressed Corpse.  First thing that comes to mind is a skeleton.  I find some 5" tall bendable ones at and buy those.  Good.  One out of two items found.  Don Quixote should do so well.

I'm still on the quest for the swan.  If you know of something, please let me know.  I feel a song coming on....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Better Late than Never???

You'll be glad to know I'm living up to form.  My personality has not changed in the last...what -- day, week, lifetime?  I got the brilliant idea two days ago to add a chapter to the already corrected (and laughingly thought completed) ms for Torch Song.  I'm having such a good time setting up the upcoming book signing at Tutbury Castle that I thought about inserting a scene or two at a stately home or castle in all of my McLaren books.  As I said, brilliant.  Except that Torch Song was finished, waiting to be submitted to my publisher.  Well, Goofy, you still have the manuscript in your hot, sweaty hand.  Put the scene into it!  Duh.

So it took me a day to research stately homes and castles in Derbyshire.  I have a list and general description of some of them: Bolsover Castle, Elvaston, Caulke Abbey, Chatsworth, Wingfield, etc.  Even have some photos and more can be found on the Internet.  My criteria in choosing a place was pretty darn simple: one that has a gift shop so I can hopefully have a book signing there and afterward have the book sitting for sale there.  Some of these spots had no gift shop/tea room.  Chuck those out.  So I settled on Haddon Hall, probably tied with Bramall Hall for my favorite spot.  Okay.  Haddon Hall it is.  I read what I could find on it (took hours, let me tell you) and finally zeroed in on the two places I'd use for the scenes in the new chapter.  I created a new character for McLaren to talk to -- the reason for the new chapter.

I wrote twelve pages.  A nice little chapter with scenes in the banqueting hall and the upper courtyard.  I have a dramatic ending to the chapter.  I added a reference three chapters prior to this so McLaren would go to Haddon Hall to talk to the fellow.  I added several references after the new chapter, my established characters who are affected by the info responding to comments McLaren makes.  I think I have it all sewn up and thought out.

A lot is riding on this book.  If I can convince the gift shop manager, or whomever, to carry Torch Song in the shop, I think I could do the same for the other McLaren books -- use a stately home or castle in each book.  It's a splendid marketing tool and makes sense from a tourist stand point.  As I stated in the previous post, how cool is it to buy a novel in which parts of it occur in the place you just toured?  There's the big potential for the book to go worldwide, as the Castle has visitors from all over the globe.  And with the book sitting in the gift shop....  Well, you can see why this is the gauge for future books.  I hope Haddon Hall will also accept the book.  You know, I just thought of something: I'm opening myself up for a lot of hard work.  I'll have to go back to England a lot to do research in these castles and stately homes.  Each McLaren book needs one such place and you know what a stickler I am for accuracy in my books....  What a job....

Monday, February 28, 2011

It All Boils Down to Promotion

Over the weekend I created three different posters.  These will advertise my book signing at the Castle.  One will be displayed in the courtyard and one will be in the tearoom -- both places are substantial scenes in my book Swan Song.  I did it kind of like a newspaper headline, catching the reader's interest.  The one for the tearoom says "What besides tea was brewing in the castle's tea room?"  The courtyard poster reads "Was murder plotted here?"  The other poster is a generic thing, so several of those will be printed.  Those will be up in the ticket office, great hall and entrance.  All to entice the visitor to come to the tea room, see me and buy the book.

I hope it works.  Obviously.  Long way to go for a flop.  I am hopeful, however, that I will do fairly well since a good portion of the book takes place in the Castle and the visitor is in the Castle.  How cool is it to buy a book of the place you are actually visiting?  I did that years ago when I was in Glastonbury.  It was a mammoth book, probably three or four inches thick.  It was a novel about the good ole days of knights and quests and fair maidens.  I can't recall the storyline now (I mean, come on, I bought the book in the 1970s) but I do remember thinking it was fun to read because I had been in the area and could picture what the author talked about.

Perhaps that will happen to readers of Swan Song.  Other spots in Derbyshire besides the castle are in the book.  Towns, villages and roads might be fun to explore if they read the book while they are in the vicinity.  Even if they don't, maybe it will be a nice remembrance of their vacation when they get home.

So, a lot is riding on these posters.  I guess time will tell if I designed them well enough.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cart Before the Horse???

I was nearing the end of making the edits on A Well Dressed Corpse, book eight for Taylor & Graham.  In the back most pages of the book there is one page for the upcoming novel synopsis -- a promo to entice Corpse's readers to look forward to the ninth Taylor & Graham novel.  Which is fine.  I've actually seen first chapters of the next book in the series printed in books.  It's nice to see what's coming and to get your mouth watering.  Only trouble with this request is I had no new book waiting in the wings!  I'd just completed making the changes and corrections that David suggested for Torch Song, which is book three for McLaren.  And I'd just started writing my stand alone book, which I wanted to do right now, "between books," to give me a break from writing mysteries.  Ten in a row demanded that I rest my feeble brain.  So, consequently, I have no book for Taylor & Graham as I do for McLaren.

Panic did not set in, however.  Sorry to disappoint you.  I knew what custom I would use in T&G's book eight, but I had never seen it in real life.  Nor did I know much about it.  One reason I was going to meet up with Paul Davenport in England this summer -- he's part of a sword dancing group.  He'd asked me whether I wanted to see a sword or rapper dance.  Me, being uneducated, said I didn't know, but either sounded good.  Well, after the demand for an enticing synopsis for book nine presented itself, I thought I better come up with a good story for the book so I could write the exciting synopsis that would send dozens of people to for the book.  So I did some research on sword and rapper dancing.  After thirty minutes my eyes were glazed but I knew I wanted to use the rapper dance for the custom in book nine.  I even discovered a website that shows about a dozen rapper dances being performed.

Yes, I'd like to meet up with Paul's group, see the dance live and ask a bunch of questions of the guys.  But the videos are lovely and I feel I can write Taylor & Graham's ninth book even if my schedule and Paul's schedule don't jive.  I wrote my synopsis, titled the book, and plopped it into the correct page of the finished draft and emailed it off to the publisher.

Now to see if the book evolves the way the synopsis states it!  I guess I'll fine out...and you, if you read about a year.  Cheers!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oh Me of Little Faith

What was I saying an hour or so ago about momentous day?  The need to break open a chilled bottle and imbibe in the most celebratory fashion?  Well, make that two chilled bottles.  And add a bar of Cadbury chocolate to that.  The Missing Manuscript has arrived!  It arrived literally ten minutes ago via the blessed, astute, duty-bound and heroic letter carrier.  The wrapping on the box looks absolutely pristine.  No stamp cancellation, no torn paper, no smudge marks on the paper.  No customs declaration slip.

Maybe that's what held it up or got it lost.  I don't know.  But it is all intact.  The manuscript is here, and David's 17 pages of comments and corrections are here, having braved the US east coast's snow storms, and the blizzard of the northeast section of England.  Maybe it was waiting for the groundhog's predictions to see if the travel route would be clear.  Whatever.  Oh happy day!

Guess what I will be doing as soon as the edits for "A Well Dressed Corpse" are finished?  One guess allowed per household, please.

I have absolutely nothing festive in the house with which I can toast David and the combined US/UK postal services.  Nothing.  Not a gulp of OJ or a soda or the dregs of a Snapple.  Maybe I'll have to make do with a glass or water or a cuppa.  Not quite the same as a fizzy root beer, but it is the thought that counts.  Maybe I'll just save some of the liquid from the lima bean/sausage soup I'm making and down a spoonful of that in David's honor.

After all, odder things have happened.  Like the appearance of this manuscript.


Yes, truly amazing.  Got an email back from the membership secretary at Calke Abbey (why a membership secretary would answer, let alone receive, my email about the Abbey is another question) today.  She has passed my inquiry along to the Regional Office for Calke Abbey...please allow 14 days for a response.

Momentous Day

I should commemorate this day with something special.  Like prying the sunflower seed shells from between the planks on the back deck.  Or rearranging the dust bunnies beneath the furniture.  Or popping a bottle of V-8 and swigging a glass.

What are all the joy and good times  about?  Today I started writing my stand alone book.

Not a mystery.  A different genre.  Something humorous.  Well, I hope it will be humorous when it is finished.

The book takes place in rural Missouri (shock!) and features Darla and Parker Fleeker and their assorted neighbors and townsfolk.  I've been stewing with the plot for a few days and have that down, but I couldn't get going on the writing.  The trouble is, I'm one of these people who has to have it all figured out and perfect before I apply fingertip to keyboard.  I can't "fill in" later with information or names or such.  My beginning has to be The Beginning; there is no starting several paragraphs down on the page and then coming back some time to add it.  I need to know how it starts and then, when it's time for the second draft, I can tweak it.  So it took me a day to mentally write the beginning before I actually wrote it.  In fact, I thought of it in bed in the wee small hours this morning.  Rather than turning on the bedside lamp, I jotted down my super sentences on a pad of paper I keep stashed beneath my pillow.  I've got quite good at writing in the dark so that the gems of inspiration are legible in the daylight.

Which these were, O Joy!

I hope to have it finished in a few months.  This book doesn't demand an extensive plot as a mystery does.  Just a story line.  No deep thinking on my part (maybe I should've done it, if it turns out to be a bomb).  I'm writing it under an assumed name.  Not because I'm ashamed of it, but because I don't want people who like my mysteries to get this book, thinking they're about to read another English detective novel.  They would be incredibly disappointed...and mad.  So I'm taking the pen name Nicole Jayne  for this little book.  Think "we" will become a known author some day?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unaccustomed as I am to writing...

An interview that I did will be posted this Friday, Feb 18, on this website.   Drop by and leave a comment or question.  Thanks!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Other Side of the Table

Yesterday I went to a book signing.  Doesn't sound so odd, since I'm an author who occasionally has them.  But yesterday's signing was Paul Schmit's, a fellow "sister" whose first novel recently came out.  It was fun sitting on the other side of the table, being the visitor instead of the visited.  Paul and his wife, Jan, smiled from behind a stack of books and a wonderful sign that I'm certain made Paul happy: Paul F. Schmit, Author of Atonement.  I and another fellow Sister in Crime member author, Eleanor Sullivan, sat on the customer side and chatted for about an hour about the publishing biz, Paul's book, and what we're working on.  I enjoyed the time there at Big Sleep Books immensely, not only because I was spared my usual stomachful of butterflies that I get when I do signings and talks, but also because I was so happy that Paul had his first book finished and offered for sale. 

It's an extremely tough business, writing and getting something published.  The industry is changing so quickly that authors' heads are spinning in the attempt to keep up with the latest technology and marketing ideas.  As author Pauline Baird Jones said recently, The print market is in trouble, not because people don't want books, but because of a BAD business model. Book returns have been a drag on the industry since they created it. No other business makes more product than they know they can sell, then destroys it when it doesn't sell. And when those over-produced books don't sell, big publishers punish the author. It's a business model that has hurt readers AND authors for years. Finally, the power balance is shifting to readers and authors.  Big publishers and bookstores are going to have to figure things out in a hurry if they want to survive, but they don't get to demand reader support for their business model. They are still trying to keep their little worlds intact, support their bad business choices, while the rest of us are moving on.

I could not agree more.  It's a goofy business.  Printers waste materials, money and time printing more books than are needed, yet the logical, economical way of printing -- print on demand, or POD -- is frowned upon by the big publishing houses as somehow being inferior or not "legitimate" publishing, as if an author whose book is produced this way is less of an author than someone whose publisher has a warehouse full of books gathering dust and wasting space and money.  POD makes sense -- the book is printed within hours and on its way to the bookstore where it was ordered.  No warehouse is rented to hold pallets of books, no paper is wasted producing books that aren't wanted, no money is spent on these unsold books.  The POD books are wanted and there is no waste of any kind.  Publishers need to wake up and see the future.

I don't know what Borders Books and Cafe will end up as (Friday we learned the company had filed for bankruptcy).  Did they not keep up with the shift in publishing, ignoring the ebooks that seem to be taking over the publishing world?  Did they use too much floor space on CDs, videos, notebooks and stationery, chocolate and gifts?  Could be.

Hopefully Paul Schmit won't be affected by all this.  He's got his first book in his hand and has stepped into the published author world with a humorous mystery filled with quirky characters and snappy dialogue.  I wish him success and I'm glad he's made it!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Case of the Missing Manuscript

I'm on pins and needles.  Well, maybe barbed wire.  The manuscript for Torch Song, McLaren's third novel, seems to be lost.  David mailed it two and a half weeks ago after completing his corrections.  The ms has yet to arrive.  This is not good, as it usually takes five to seven days for packages to zip from England to me.  Granted, the US east coast has been hit with snow for a while, but that was a while ago.  They should be shoveled out by now and mail should be flowing freely westward.  When I could stumble over my ice-encrusted driveway and tiptoe onto the street, I asked my letter carrier last Friday if I should be concerned about the lateness of the package.  He said they'd just got word that a gob (well, 'gob' wasn't his word but I forget now what he used) of mail would be delivered in a few days -- mail that had been held up due to the east coast storm.  He said to give it a few days to appear.  Well, the few days have come and gone and still no manuscript in my hot grubby hand or my mailbox.  I am quite nervous about where the ms could be.  Last time a ms went missing David told me several months later that the postal clerk had been convicted for theft and thrown into prison -- she'd been taking money for postal transactions and then pitching the packages and letters that were supposed to be in the mail!  She ended up with the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if I remember correctly.   I doubt if this has happened again with the current ms, as lightning wouldn't strike twice in the same place...especially at different post office branches.  But it is odd and it is nerve wracking for me.  I hope people don't steal manuscripts if one's delivered by mistake to their mail box....  If you read a book about a musician being murdered right after appearing at a Renaissance fair at a castle, would you let me know?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Double Your Pleasure...

I wrote a short story this past Saturday.  I turned it into a play this past Sunday.  It was an interesting experience.  I had to invent another character for the play to enable my main character's short story thoughts to be vocalized to the play audience.  Actually, I think it turned out better than the story.  I also had to rearrange a couple of scenes.  Since I will submit the play to First Run Theater (who produced Teething Pains this pas October), I figure if this play is accepted it will also be produced rather minimally.  So I kept that in mind while staging the scenes.  I divided my stage in half -- left side for the kitchen and right side for the dining room.  In the story I have a scene in a pantry.  I changed that to the kitchen for the play.  Not that it matters to you, if the short story or the play ever see the printed page or the footlights, but I mention it just as an interesting side comment to the process.  I suppose this can be encountered in making a screenplay from a book.

I'm getting miffed.  I order some tartan fabric on Dec 30 from a story in Edinburgh.  I got an email saying it would be shipped on January 7. The date came and went.  Then I got an email saying it would be shipped on January 14.  The date came and went.  On their website my order doesn't even show that it's been shipped yet.  I sent an email this morning, asking what's happening.  I thought all they'd have to do is cut the yardage from the bolt of cloth.  Evidently they are weaving the cloth...after they catch the sheep to shear....  Amazing.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gun Jumping and Sighing Closets

Okay, I know I’m jumping the gun.  But I’m in between books right now.  Book three for McLaren is in David’s hands; book two for McLaren and book eight for Taylor & Graham are at the publisher.  I'm waiting for those manuscripts so I can't do a thing right now.  So what’s a woman to do?  Housework???  I needed a project so I wrote a short story for another mystery anthology that is coming out, perhaps 2012, with L&L Dreamspell.  Sure, I’m taking a chance because I don’t know specifics about the requirements for the story, but I know the theme of the anthology.  So how wrong can I get?  The story is titled 'Crime Among the Crumpets.'  I had a hard time coming up with that, I want you to know, so don't be too critical.  Actually, I rather like it.  It has a bit of P.G. Wodehouse about it, I think.  Not that my writing is as good as his, but the title's a bit Bertie Wooster-ish. 
Don’t scoff at my project.  I pretty much exhausted everything else I could do, except straighten up the garage, but in this weather???  Are you kidding?  Near zero wind chills, overnight low temps in the single digits, snow soldered with ice to the ground...  That’s a spring job, that is.  I rearranged furniture groupings in some rooms in my home, cleaned like a mad woman (even the top sides of the ceiling fan blades, which I can't even see), went through closets and bureau drawers and garnered enough clothing donations to fill seven large trash bags.  I’d wanted to give the clothes to victims of the St Louis-area tornadoes.  You know, coming in the winter with the cold temps and the snow on the ground….  But, if you can believe it, neither the Red Cross, Am Vets or the Salvation Army wanted clothes!  The person I spoke to at the Red Cross was even kind of snippy to me on the phone.  They wanted money.  The organizations held out their cans and kettles and hope chests for checks and credit card info and green, folding portraits of Lincoln and Grant and Jefferson, but quickly snapped shut when approached with armloads of clothing.  So I dumped the clothes into a clothing donation shed near my house.  I hope many people will be able to use my items.  I literally have women covered from head to toe.  It feels great to help people, plus it’s nice to hear my closets and dresser drawers sigh and breathe.  Maybe I should write a short story about this.  What's a good title...  'Clothing?  Snow Thank You.'

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is it me or...

I don't know.  Common sense doesn't seem to be as common anymore.  At least not as plentiful as in my younger years.  I am referring at the moment to an enlargement I ordered from one of my "Edinburgh photos."  I took the photo with my trusty digital camera.  I requested an 8x10" print.  I got it this morning.  In order to make it the requested size, "they" cropped off the top part of the digital image!  Maybe one and a half to two inches!  Just didn't print that part!  Now, maybe it's me and not the rest of the world, but if I had been the print technician, I would have asked the customer if it was crucial that the print be 8x10" and explain that due to the original photo dimensions, it does not convert exactly into 8x10"  I was a graphic designer for over two decades -- I know about enlarging graphic images!  Of course, the part of the photo I really wanted, the part that 'makes' the image, is the top part that's missing.  As I sighed it me or is it the rest of the world?  I plop the image in question here.  Obliterate the top part where the hills and reflection are and see what I'm talking about -- those hills are what give the photo character and depth of view, for pete's sake!  My lovely little enlargement runs from where the reflection stops to the bottom of the photo.  Grrr....

I took this on my Edinburgh trip, as mentioned in a previous installment.  The snow was melting at the time of this adventure.  I got some photos of the mountains with snow on them but was slightly disappointed there wasn't more snow.  Missed the Big Dump!  The St Louis area got some snow last night -- not much.  I judge about three inches, seeing what's on my picnic table on the back deck.  Still, it's pretty and makes for some nice photos.  The birds are flocking (no pun intended) to the feeders in my back yard and it's a challenge to keep them filled.  I know, to a degree, what they're going thru -- I tend to eat more in the winter than in the summer.  Ya need that fuel to keep ya warm.

Well, that's it for this time.  Gotta go outside to shovel the walk.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Twelfth Night Musings

Here it is, another Twelfth Night.  If I accomplish nothing else in my life, I'd like to get this Twelfth Night/Epiphany confusion sorted out.  Twelfth Night is the last day of the twelve days of Christmas, the same thing you count down in the song of the same name.  The ditty begins "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..."  Well, the first day of Christmas is Christmas Day.  December 25.  Counting the 25th as Day One, proceed to counting off eleven more days.  December 25 = 1, December 26 = 2, December 27 = 3....  That takes you to January 5.  The twelfth night of the twelve days of Christmas.  What is so difficult about this?  Epiphany is January 6.  A completely different event.  Not the same things at all.  I used Twelfth Night and the customs associated with it in my book "On the Twelfth Night of Christmas."  Quite a nice story, if I may say so.  I doubt if I mentioned Epiphany at all in the novel.  If in doubt, read the book -- you might even like it!

Not even one week into the new year and I've finished "Torch Song," the third McLaren novel.  Well, let me qualify that statement: 'finished' as of right now.  I will be mailing it to David in England, then righting the wrongs that his red pen has found when I get it back from him.  But that will be at least a month.  Until then I have free time.

Well, not really.  I have to plot the fourth book of the series.  My brain child, brought on by my recent trip.  I have two scenes figured out.  That just leaves the major storyline to create.  Gee, I'm nearly finished!

But I did add a few scenes to "Torch Song" yesterday.  I'd forgot that McLaren finds an object and didn't follow up on pursuing it as a possible clue.  So I inserted scenes.  I like the story immensely.  My favorite first reader said it was the most complicated plot I'd written yet.  I asked if it was too confusing and was told no.  So that is good.  I didn't begin writing "Torch Song" as a complicated plot, but the more I wrote the more I thought of little additions.  And on adding the additions it grew into a twisted tale.  Which is fine.  But I can't take credit for sitting down and thinking of the storyline all at once like some authors probably would do.  I guess I'm not devious enough to think of this at the start!  Well, that's good for any police officers who might be reading this....

I wonder how Scotland is faring now.  I could go online to read the Edinburgh newspaper and find out, I guess.  I hope the highlands aren't buried in snow.  I would have liked to have seen a bit more snow on the mountains when I was there, but it was very nice how it was.  My first time there in the winter, so I appreciated the white sprinkling for my photography.

Guess I've mused long enough for this round.  Now to recapture the other Muse and get back to writing...something!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

For a book???

Interesting things I've learned already this new year -- things that might end up in my writing some time.
1.  A wooden toilet seat burns up completely in about an hour.
2.  A wooden toilet lid burns up completely in about three and a half hours.
3.  If a cat sits on a Hershey kiss, it will melt inside the foil.
4.  Raccoons will eat the dry cat food first, then eat the stale chocolate cookies, and then eat the popcorn.
5.  If you go through the pockets of some slacks that you haven't worn in years, you could find a $5 bill crumpled up inside.
6.  Just because a previous wall calendar stayed up all year on a metal peg doesn't mean the 2011 calendar will stay up...not even for two seconds.
7.  A jello salad will not stay eatable indefinitely.  Longer than a week and you will have soup in that container.
8.  A mouse running around in the skylight is quite interesting to a cat.
9.  When you finally figure out what you want to do with the old window seat cushion, it's too expensive to do.
10. All light bulbs are not created equal -- some don't give out much light.

If you ever come across any of these in a book of mine, you can tell yourself how clever you are to remember you read them here first.  Happy new year to all of us...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Year's End

So I'm a day late (and not necessarily a dollar short).  I was going to blog yesterday, wrapping up 2010 in a carefree, humorous mood.  But the major news story of the St Louis area whipped all that from my mind.  Don't know if you've seen the national television news, but St Louis was hit by a major storm yesterday, including several tornadoes.  The worst hit area was Sunset Hills, a St Louis suburb, and the destruction is approximately a half mile from my house.  The two major roads, Lindbergh Blvd and Watson Road, are closed in sections.  The video on the newscasts are fascinating and heart breaking.  Blocks of homes destroyed, nothing left standing.  Sections of St Louis city were also hit, but the tornado seems to have jumped around, doing sporadic damage.  The area temp in the morning was in the upper 60s, I believe -- a terrible sign that people who have lived here for years would recognize.  The storm came in, followed by a massive cold front, and the temp this morning is in the 20s.  The tornado warning sirens went off twice yesterday afternoon, but the thing that alarmed me most were the many police car sirens racing up the road.  I assumed something had happened but of course didn't know what or how close it was to my house until I turned on the noon television news.

Which brings up the point: as devastating as all this is -- losing your house and belongings -- how traumatic for a writer to have his (perhaps) book copies wiped out (some of the books may not be in print anymore) and, maybe worse, his computer destroyed and along with it the novel he was working on.  You're always told on the television weather forecasts to seek shelter, etc, and I'm wondering if having a few clothes in a suitcase might not be a bad idea -- take it with you to the basement.  But a writer can't daily put his in-progress novel on a CD and stash it in the basement.  I guess that's where trusting to luck comes in.  I don't mean to make this sound flippant, for it's a deadly serious situation.  But losing months of work on a novel is also terrible.  I know I could never recreate the book as I had left it.  It's a bad situation.

I hope that this new year will be much better for these storm victims.  I can't imagine what they must be going thru....