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An Anniversary – A Reflection on Goals

June 4, 2015

This month, June 2015, marks the tenth anniversary of the release of my first published novel, Put Out the LightPUT OUT THE LIGHT.

I’ll never forget the thrill of getting the call from Avalon Books.  As luck would have it, that happened on my birthday. Best present anyone ever received! I don’t remember what I said, but I know that a few seconds into whatever it was, I realized I was making no sense whatsoever. I took a couple of deep breaths and started over. I don’t remember what I said then either. I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Avalon didn’t hold it against me and went ahead with the publication of Put Out the Light.

It was a major milestone in my life. I had reached a goal. When I started writing this book, I told myself it didn’t even matter if it was published. I just wanted to see if I could actually write a book – a whole book – so I put those first words on the page with only the vaguest idea of what came next. Finally, I finished the book. I had a story that, at least in my oinion, held together. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. I was enormously proud of myself, but only for a few minutes. It hit me that it did matter to me that the book be published, so I started down the road toward another goal – publication. A different goal. A different process and not an easy one. Nevertheless, after a long and not-always-pleasant journey, I achieved that goal and, since then, have reached a few more. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that a goal reached is not an end, but a beginning. There’s always more to the journey.

I’ll be sharing more about this journey in the days ahead. Next week, I’ll be blogging about it on Classic and Cozy, the blog written by some old and dear friends from my Avalon days. Here’s a link in case you’d like to check out what they have to say: http://classicandcozybooks.blogspot.com/ I promise you’ll find it worthwhile. The current post is by Janis Susan May and is about finding the right length for whatever you’re writing.

FUN SUMMER READING WITH “LOREEN ON THE LAM” NOW IN PAPERBACK

May 26, 2015

2009Aug 006Remember our old friend, Marielena Zuniga, one of the original posters to Birth of a Novel? Well, she’s visiting again – with an announcement.

That’s enough from me. Time to step aside and let Marielena share her news. Okay, you’re on, my friend. 

My novel “Loreen on the Lam: A Tennessee Mystery” made the leap from ebook to paperback on May 25th through the wonderful publishers at

iPulp Fiction. http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html

So what’s so special about having your book in print? For starters, you see the fruition of years of hard work. Your book now has an ISBN and people can find your novel and buy it.

Sure, ebooks are convenient. But a print book? Ah. You can hold it in your hands. Turn pages. You can bookmark or dog-ear it. You can put it on a shelf, spill coffee on it while reading it, go to sleep with it.LOREEN

And you hope that people buy and like your book because after all, this IS your baby. You hope they enjoy the story, relate to the characters, and laugh at and/or cry with them.

Speaking of those characters, let me introduce you to what reviewers are calling some of the quirkiest, yet most appealing folks around.

Loreen Thigpen, our heroine. She escapes from a Houston prison by stealing the tour bus of a famous country music singer so she can get home to her dying mama in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Along the way, Loreen picks up three unwanted passengers, not knowing one of them is a hired killer.

Tilly Davis, a battered wife who’s a twit personified.

Buffington Splatt, a deaf-mute Bible salesman. What’s his story anyway?

Sister Sarah, a nun who adds her holy touch to the group.

And there are other unique characters, residents of Red Boiling Springs: Olivia McLoon, who has some mental challenges, and her brother Sammy, who has cared for her most of his life. And let’s not forget Loreen’s Grandpa Mac who has a secret past.

Does Loreen get home in time before her mama dies? And does Loreen’s mama tell her about her grandpa Mac’s secret? And who is the murderer on the bus?

Most of all, I’m hoping that readers pick up on the underlying messages. But if they don’t, that’s OK. The relationship between a reader and a book is personal. And in the end, the book is just FUN to read!

So, if you’re in for the road trip of your life, Loreen would love your company. You can hop on board the bus here to purchase the book through iPulp Fiction: http://www.ipulpfiction.com/indexLOREEN.html

And thanks so much for taking time to support this writer and the writing community!

Thank YOU, Marielena, for stopping by. 

Readers, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Loreen on the Lam and can tell you it’s quite a ride. I hope you’ll check it out. I promise you won’t be bored.

Happy reading.

The Evolution of Libraries

April 15, 2015

Doylestown LibraryOne of the things I love about being a writer is having my books in libraries. Sometimes I visit them on my way through the stacks. How vain is that? I write mysteries and my last name begins with a C, so I’m on a shelf with Agatha Christie – something that never fails to send a tingle up my spine.

I can never resist reaching out to touch the spines of my books. If a book isn’t on the shelf–even better. Someone is reading my story! I feel an instant connection with that reader, though I’ll probably never know who it is. I send hopeful thoughts into the universe that they enjoy the book. Will my characters be as real to him (or her) as they are to me? What other books does this person read? I could go on (and on), but I’ll spare you.

I admit what I’ve just described is an ego trip, but my love affair with libraries is much more than that and began long before my books wre rubbing shoulders (spines?) with Ms. Christie. Some of my earliest and best memories are of wandering through what seemed to my young self like miles of books in a hushed, almost reverent, atmosphere. At least it was hushed when I was a girl. Libraries are livelier than they used to be–a good thing, I think.

The library in the small town where I live now has a section with puppets for the children to check out along with their books. No hushed reverence in that corner. Lots of giggles though. Sometimes the Library Statuelibrary experience leaves the building altogether. There’s an outdoor story program where a librarian travels to a nearby park with stories, songs, jokes and puppets. Participants are invited to bring a lunch and have a picnic. Another program I love is “Kids Reading to Dogs”. It’s not unusual to see a small person sprawled on the floor reading to a large and attentive Golden Retriever. Yes, the child is reading to a dog. The idea is that all kids really want to read; they all want to do well in school, but some of them need a little extra help–and a lot of practice. Reading to another person intimidates them, but they feel comfortable with a dog. There’s no need to measure up, no fear of judgment. To me, these programs are perfect examples of how libraries have changed as community needs and life styles have changed.

I was talking with one of our librarians recently about the changes she’s seen in her career. One thing is that the number of audio books being checked out is growing dramatically. Another is that half the space in the reference section is devoted to computers. There are almost as many requests for help navigating the Internet as there are for reference books. Does this signal the slow death of print books? I don’t think so. I believe the need to learn about different things and to become part of an imaginary world is a basic element of human nature and having information and stories available in different formats reinforces that need.

GIRL READINGMy friend said one thing that hasn’t changed is children’s story hour (her favorite part of her job). The kids still sit on the floor in front of the reader, wide-eyed, spellbound by the power of story–on their way to a lifelong love of books.

How about you? Do you have special memories of libraries? How do you feel about the changes that recent years have brought? Some people find them a little frightening. I’d love to hear how some of you feel about this.

Something A Little Different

April 11, 2015
A new season is beginning. The landscape is changing daily, almost hourly. I think a change of blogging pace is appropriate too … so, instead of the usual blog post, I’m sharing a short story I wrote some time ago.
 Best Laid Plans
Best Laid PlansIt started out simple, a typical Saturday morning. I was sorting laundry, holding socks up to the light so that I could distinguish the subtle variations of navy, black, and gray that make up my husband’s wardrobe when I heard his footsteps coming up the basement steps.
     The door opened; his face appeared. I took a deep breath and hit him with it: “Wanna go to the boat show?”
     “Today?” His response was so long in coming that I knew the answer was No.
     Then Todd, who, like most four-year-olds, hears better from another room, especially if the television is blaring, came running. “Hey, I heard about the boat show on TV. I wanna go!”
     Howard’s eyes took on that trapped husband look that he does so well and (to give him credit) tries so hard to hide.
     I heard myself explaining, justifying, “I thought this was something we’d all enjoy.”
     “You know we can’t afford . . .” Howard began in his most reasonable voice, the one I’d never heard before we were married.
     “It could be fun just to look around.”
     Todd watched us, eyes bright, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
     “Bathroom?” I prompted.
     “Oh yeah.” He trotted off down the hall.
     Howard did a U-turn in the direction of the basement.
     “So? What do you think?” I asked, catching him on the third step.
     “About what?”
     “You know what.”
     “I didn’t know you were interested in boats.”
     He had me there. I don’t even swim.
     “You don’t want to go?”
     “I didn’t say that.” Howard runs five miles every morning but the three steps back up to the kitchen seemed almost beyond his strength. “It’s just . . .” He stood with one hand on the door, not looking down toward the workbench at the foot of the stairs with all of those perfectly aligned screwdrivers, wrenches . . . whatevers. He was looking at me, even smiling, but I wasn’t fooled for a minute. Finally, he asked, “How long will the show be here?”.
     “I don’t know. I saw the ad in the paper and I thought you’d be interested.”
     Todd was back. “I’m interested.”
     “You forgot to zip your pants,” Howard told him, then turned to me. “Where is it?”
     “Civic Center.”
     “Parking could be a mess . . . day like today.”
     “When is parking anything else?” I had him there.
     He rubbed his fingers over his forehead, ironing away any sign of irritation.
     “I’ve never been to a boat show,” Todd pointed out, his eyes darting from one grown-up face to the other.
     Howard tousled the flyaway red-gold hair, thought a minute, and said, “Okay. We’ll go. But not today. We’ll plan it.”
     “What’s to plan? All we have to do is put on our coats, get in the car, and go.” I hated the sound of my voice: absolutely level, even as a string stretched taut.
     “Does it have to be today?” Howard prowled the kitchen, picked up the newspaper, and scanned the pages, “Here . . . let’s see . . . until the end of the month.” He held the paper out toward me. “We can go next weekend.” He was not exactly gracious in triumph.
     Nor was I gracious in defeat. “It would be nice to do something today.”
     “There are couple of things I’d really like to get done . . .” He pulled the ever-present list from his shirt pocket, studied the crumpled paper lovingly for a moment, then looked at Todd and me. “Why don’t you two go?”
     I thought of the week he’d just been through—deadlines, demanding clients—felt a brief flicker of sympathy, but brushed it away. “You’re the one who’s interested in boats.”
     I could almost see my words making their way through the intricate labyrinth behind the patient blue eyes.
     When the last syllable clicked into place, he said (reasonably, of course), “You guys can pick up all the pamphlets, bring them home, and we’ll look at them together.”
     “What’s the point of that? We’re not buying a boat.” (In a pinch I could be reasonable myself.)
     “I’d like a boat.” Todd, bless his heart, tried to keep it alive.
     Howard nodded, “I know.” He put the list back in his pocket and smiled (reasonable still). “It’s fine with me if the two of you go. You can tell me all about it.”
     Todd kept trying. “There’s gonna be a singing dog contest. The guy on TV said so.”
     Howard smiled down into the small earnest face. “I’m sure Mommy will love that.” He didn’t look at me.
     It seemed settled. I was stuck, going to the boat show, fighting traffic, parking the car, trying to explain a bunch of stuff to Todd that I don’t know beans about myself—not to mention those singing dogs. Well, I did bring it up. Not fair to disappoint Todd.
     But it wasn’t quite settled. I heard my son’s voice, ominously reasonable, “Next week’s okay, Daddy. It’ll be better if we all go.”
     So—that’s it. We’re all going to the boat show. Next Saturday. The newspaper article is neatly clipped and stuck on the refrigerator door, yellow highlighting at strategic spots. The doors open at ten. If we leave the house at nine fifteen, we’ll beat the crowd. Parking won’t be a problem. Howard and Todd are happily planning, laying the day out like a blueprint. I hear their voices humming in the next room, soothing and disturbing, as I reach for a dark sock.
     Something bright catches my eye. I pick up the car keys and run my thumb along the pleasantly irregular edge.
“I’m going out for a while,” I call over my shoulder.
     Howard says something, but the door closing behind me cuts off his words.
     I stride forward, lifting my face, defying the wind. The brisk air makes my cheeks tingle. I’m on my way. Somewhere. By myself. I can do that. I don’t need an escort. Or a destination. Next Saturday is planned, but today is mine. Unplanned. Full of possibility.

The Other Side of Humility

April 4, 2015

I just posted about humiliating your heroes. It occurs to me that it’s not just heroes who benefit from an Kaliedascopeoccasional dose of humility. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there and risk personal humiliation. Not an appealing prospect, is it? No one likes that feeling, but there are times when a lesson in humility can be helpful to a writer. It’s part of the kaleidoscope of emotion that make up humans and, to be a really good writer, you have to use them all.

The feeling of being slightly off-balance comes in handy when you’re plotting a murder mystery. I don’t think I’ll ever go as far as murder, but’s not too hard to imagine humility mushrooming into a sense of total inadequacy, and I’m convinced that a sense of inadequacy is at the heart of most crimes. Think of the usual motives: greed, lust, jealousy, revenge, shame. All have at their core a feeling of being not quite enough – an emotion most of us experience at least occasionally. I know I do and, as much as I hate the feeling, experiencing it helps me empathize with my villain and make him/her a fully-rounded character, someone the reader may not like, but will believe.

Fortunately, there are people in my life who are quick to reassure me that my good qualities outweigh my shortcomings. And that is something I acknowledge with grateful humility.

People who grant unconditional acceptance are a wonderful gift – one that I wish I could guarantee to every person on this planet. It might not wipe out crime. but I’m willing to bet it would reduce it dramatically.

Humiliating Your Heroes

March 19, 2015

In a slightly different twist to Throwback Thusday, I’m going to start featuring some posts from the past on Thursdays – probably not every Thursday, but every now and then, say once a month. Here’s one I wrote back in June 2010, right after I finished reading Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. In this book, one of the characters, a writer, muses on his craft:Suite Francoise

“In a novel, there is nothing more valuable than teaching the lesson of humility to the heroes.”

I had to stop reading to think about that. For me, it was a different way of looking at what writers do to characters in order to tell their stories. Is the statement true? I felt that it was, but, needing to test it, I thought about some of the fictional heroes (both male and female) who have seemed particularly alive to me and whose stories have stuck with me through the years.

Jane Eyre, a long-time favorite, certainly fits the profile. Bronte begins the story when Jane is a child, an orphan, forced to live with relatives who never let her forget her dependent status. Bessie, one of the servants, tells her: “You ought to be aware, miss, that you are under obligation to Mrs. Reed; she keeps you; if she were to turn you out, you would have to go to the poorhouse.” How humiliating is that! But what a great way to begin a story–we have an appealing character to sympathize with, an underdog to root for. A little later, Bessie tells Jane, ” …you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed . . . they will have a great deal of money and you will have none; it’s your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them.” Does Jane take Bessie’s advice? Of course not. She fights back–and thus begins a life filled with one humiliation after another until, at the book’s end, she has faced every imaginable adversity–and we, the readers, feel an almost personal pride in the woman the child has become.

In Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck tells the story of the Joad family, forced out of their home in STEINBECK, JohnOklahoma by the economic desperation of the dust-bowl years. I can’t think of a character who faces more humiliation than Tom Joad–or a hero I admire more.

Who can forget Tom Sawyer, forced to paint the fence on a Saturday morning while his fancy-free schoolmates stop by to gloat? We all know how Tom turned that humiliation into a boy’s dream of riches.

Think of Toni Morrison. Her novels are filled with characters who face humiliation with heroic dignity. We cry with them. We root for them. We remember them.

The list could go on. I’m sure everyone has a personal favorite they could add. So the statement must be true, but I have to wonder why. Do we enjoy seeing other people humiliated? I refuse to believe that. Maybe it’s because, while we all dream about the guy on the white horse, the hero we hold in our hearts is the one with whom we can identify. That makes more sense to me. And it makes a much better story.

A note: In case anyone wonders, I heartily recommend Suite Francaise. The book is set in France during World War II and is populated with complex, vulnerable characters. They’re not all likable, but they are totally believable–and memorable.

So … that’s what I said almost five years ago. I love looking back and thinking about books I’ve read. For me, it’s another one of the many joys of reading.

Happy reading, everyone.

Inspiration

March 13, 2015

I’ve let this blog lie fallow too long. It’s time to start cultivating it again. It is, after all, almost Ellis Vidlerspring.

My good friend, Ellis Vidler, very kindly agreed to help me get things started by sharing her ideas on a topic writers find endlessly fascinating, but often elusive.

 Inspiration comes from many places, often when you least expect it—a face in a crowd, a news article, an issue, sometimes a vivid scene. Looking through Flickr one evening, I stumbled across a photograph, not related to anything in particular, and the idea for VIDLER-Prime TargetPrime Target was born.

It suggests a refuge, a place of peace to me. I dreamed about it, thought what had to happen, what kind of people would live there. And most important to me, why they would live there.

Not far from my home is a large apple-growing area around Hendersonville, North Carolina, so I set my novel there. It made research convenient, and it’s a beautiful area, so it was fun to visit. I met some gracious apple farmers who shared some of their experiences and took time to answer my questions. We did eat a lot of apples that autumn, and I sampled many varieties I wasn’t familiar with. The apple farms always offer a slice if you want to try something different. Aside from just eating apples, we made apple pie, apple cake, apple butter, fried apples. My favorites are Mutsus and the tangy Pink Ladies, which we’re eating now.

For a novel though, I need more. I wanted a character with a contrasting life style, so Madeleine Schier, a sophisticated New Yorker, was born. A smart, knowledgeable advertising executive, she has a comfortable life with her accountant husband, no worries. Then one afternoon, her husband, in a panic, calls her to come home. She rushes to their West End condo with no idea what’s wrong, only to witness his murder. Now she’s the killer’s target. When the police are unable to protect her, she believes her only choice is to disappear.

Then came the second picture, but it wasn’t an accident. During a search for victims of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), I found a photograph of an actor made up to have shrapnel damage. He was portraying one of the crew in the movie Master and Commander. My character is badly damaged, both physically and mentally, but the tied-back black hair and general look suggested Charlie Dance, the other main character, someone quite different from Madeleine but still compatible. Even though they’d be unlikely to ever meet during normal times, the events directing their current lives put them on a collision course, which is what makes the story.

The deer with apples picture is by a photographer who uses the pseudonym Jan Tik; so many people VIDLER-Deer-72-4x6wanted to use it, he graciously put it in the public domain. Flickr.com is a site where people upload all kinds of photos, amateur and professional. It’s an excellent source of information and inspiration. But be warned—most are copyrighted and you can’t just snag them to use publicly. I’ve written to several photographers for permission to use a particular picture. Some people say yes, others don’t.

Thank you, Ellis. I appreciate your taking time to share your ideas about writing. As always, I’m encouraged – even inspired – to hear from a fellow writer.

Readers, if you’d like to know more about Ellis and her books, here’s a link to her website: http://www.ellisvidler.com 

Here’s a link to Prime Targetamzn.to/19eBfcD

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