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What’s in a Name?

April 23, 2018

I’m excited to have my friend and Sister in Crime, Matty Dalrymple, as a guest today. Matty is the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning,” and the Lizzy Ballard Thriller, “Rock Paper Scissors.” She lives with her husband, Wade Walton, and their dogs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death” and “Rock Paper Scissors.” In the summer, they enjoy vacationing on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, where “The Sense of Reckoning” takes place. Matty also blogs, podcasts, and speaks about independent publishing as The Indy Author™. She is obviously a busy women. I can tell you from personal experience, she’s also a very nice person. So, from Matty:

Readers often ask me where I get the titles for my books and short stories, which include the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning and the Ann Kinnear Suspense Shorts Close These Eyes and May Violets Spring. (I have also authored the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers Rock Paper Scissors and, coming in June 2018, Snakes and Ladders.) In this post, I share the backstory of how my Ann Kinnear works found their titles.

Ann Kinnear is a woman who is able to sense spirits, and who has a consulting business based on this ability. When I was finishing the first novel, I turned my mind to possible titles. I wanted the title to represent the centrality of death to the plots, as well as to reflect Ann’s sensing ability.

I came up with The Sense of Death, and went to Google and Amazon to find out who else might be using that title. Book titles are considered “short slogans” and are therefore not eligible to be copyrighted, so finding another book with the same title wouldn’t necessarily have been a deal-breaker. However, I didn’t want my readers to have to contend with the confusion I faced when I downloaded a movie titled The Girl on the Train and was well into it before I realized it was not the movie version of the Paula Hawkins novel. (My advice is to make sure you’re getting the Paula Hawkins version.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no other books on Amazon with the title The Sense of Death, but my Google search reminded me that I was not the first person to think of that phrase—Shakespeare had beaten me to the punch in Measure for Measure.

Dar’st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

I was so excited when I read this passage because it encapsulated many ideas I touched upon in the book—the apprehension of death, the suffering we anticipate will accompany death (but which might be no more than the instantaneous demise of the squashed beetle).

When I was working on Ann Kinnear Book 2, I thought that a continuation of the “sense of” theme would be interesting, and returned to Google to discover what else Shakespeare might have in store. I found this fantastic passage from Henry V:

O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts.
Possess them not with fear. Take from them now
The sense of reckoning ere th’ opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.

Perfect! The second Ann Kinnear book was all about how Ann overcomes the fear resulting from the experiences related in the first book.

I was now enthusiastic about the idea of having the entire series based on Shakespearean quotes. I started out looking for other quotes that included the phrase “the sense of”:

  • “The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen as is the razor’s edge invisible, cutting a smaller hair than may be seen, above the sense of sense,” or “Sweet royalty, bestow on me the sense of hearing” from Love’s Labour’s Lost (“The sense of hearing” is obviously a non-starter, but there are lots of other title ideas in the “mocking wenches” quote!)
  • “More spongy to suck in the sense of fear. More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?” from Troilus and Cressida (Anything with the word “spongy” in it sounds better for sci-fi or horror.)
  • “From the barge a strange invisible perfume hits the sense of the adjacent wharfs” from Anthony and Cleopatra (Uh … no.)
  • “The sense of all civility” from Othello (I’d be afraid it would get shelved next to Miss Manners.)
  • “Say that the sense of feeling were bereft me, and that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch, and nothing but the very smell were left me, yet would my love to thee be still as much” from Venus and Adonis (I’ll have to file that away in case I switch to Romance).

Undeterred, I decided to venture beyond “the sense of” options. My first Ann Kinnear Suspense Short involves revenge, and a search of “Shakespeare quotes revenge” uncovered this wonderful passage from Henry VI:

I’ll never pause again, never stand still,
Till either death hath closed these eyes of mine
Or fortune given me measure of revenge.

From that I pulled the story title, Close These Eyes.

When I completed my second Suspense Short, I started my search again. This was a completely non-traditional Easter story—not appropriate for those who object to violations of the Third Commandment—that was about faithfulness and forgiveness. Despite vigorous Googling, I found that these were much rarer topics for The Bard to address than death and revenge. A search for “Shakespeare quotes about faithfulness” usually brought back, “Women may fall when there’s no strength in men” from Romeo and Juliet, which wasn’t right for my story, and the quotes I found related to forgiveness dealt with much darker topics than I wanted to conjure up for my fairly light-hearted story.

Still casting about for a title, I sent the story to a few trusted beta readers for their input, one of whom turned out to be a Shakespeare scholar. He suggested I not focus so exclusively on the overarching themes of the story, but instead pick up a detail I had thrown in—the fact that violets reminded one character of a romantic episode with his wife many years before. Since, as with all Ann Kinnear stories, this one dealt with death, we came up with this quote from Hamlet:

Lay her i’ th’ earth,

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

And so my second Ann Kinnear Suspense Short became May Violets Spring.

Title problem solved. I suppose that considering the theme of death throughout my books, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my final challenge was convincing my book cover designer that the title was not May Violence Spring.

Good news: LIZZY BALLARD BOOK 1, ROCK PAPER SCISSORS has been named a Notable Indie of 2018 by Shelf Unbound Magazine. Book 2, SNAKES AND LADDERS will be launched in June of this year.

Matty’s novels and short stores are available on Amazon …

The Sense of Death

The Sense of Reckoning

Close These Eyes

May Violets Spring

Rock Paper Scissors

… and all major online book retailers.

Thanks, Matty, for sharing your process for naming your books. Good luck!

 

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Favorite Characters

April 16, 2018

Asking a writer to name her favorite character is a little like asking a parent which of their children they love most. I, and I assume most writers, love all my characters – even the bad guys. Having said that, I admit some have a special place in my heart.

Put Out the Light was the book that introduced Jennie Connors to the world beyond my imagination. It also introduced Nathaniel Pynchon, who started out small and went on to become a favorite. He’s become my go-to guy. When the plot starts to stall, I can count on Nate to do something outrageous and get things rolling again. He’s an 84-year-old Shakespearean actor, who has trouble remembering that, while trickery works out on the stage, it can have serious consequences in real life.  A big help to a stalled plot!

Another favorite is Tess Zumwalt. Tess is a former FBI agent, a graphology expert. She’s quiet and soft-spoken, someone people tend to overlook, a quality she uses to her advantage. She was in the background in the first couple of Jennie Connors mysteries and came into her own in By Whose Hand when an illegal funds transfer prompted a murder and the only clues were some notes Jennie found in a trashcan. Tess is the perfect foil to Nate’s bravado and good person to have around if you’re an amateur sleuth.

Another character I have a special affection for is Caroling Morrow, a peace activist who found a baby in a basket when she went to a folk fest. She adopted the baby, named her Peace, passed along her own Quaker values and … turn the page, 22 years go by  … Peace Morrow is all grown up, just in time for me to write Love and Not Destroy . I had fun writing this because it features an actual museum just up the street from where I live. Strange though it may seem to some, The Mercer Museum is more than a place; it’s a character in its own right.

I said I love my “bad guys” too. An Uncertain Path, the book that follows Love and Not Destroy, was a change of pace for me. It’s not a traditional mystery. The reader knows from the beginning whodunit. We watch Rachel Woodard commit the crime and see how it affects her, how it forces her to examine the impact of her actions on the people she loves. I told this story as a dual narrative, a format I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I wondered how readers would feel about my switching gears. So far, feedback has been good. (Huge sign of relief.)

Those are just a few of the individuals who started out as vague ideas and became real to me as I put them in difficult situations and gave them tough problems to solve. I could go on, but I won’t. The list is too long. That’s the beauty of writing – you meet a lot of interesting people – made according to your own specifications. That last statement is only partly true. More than once, a character has informed me that what I had planned for them wasn’t possible. It wasn’t true to their character. Interesting, since I had created their character in the first place.

Perhaps a more interesting list would be characters created by other authors. (Sounds like an idea for another post.)

How about you? Do you have a favorite fictional friend (or foe), either created by you or another author?

Put Out the Light http://a.co/9A3Ad61

By Whose Hand – http://a.co/dmlVdRb

Love and Not Destroy – http://a.co/30yaaP4

An Uncertain Path http://a.co/3wlVVlm

 

 

Celebrate National Library Week with a Writer

April 8, 2018

Marilyn LevensonWhat better way to celebrate the 65th anniversary of National Library Week than with the author of The Haunted Library series? I had the privilege of meeting Marilyn Levinson, a/k/a Allison Brook at a conference several years ago. and felt an immediate kinship. Since then, as so often happens, we’ve continued our friendship through social media connections. I’ll share more about Marilyn/Allison later. Now, let’s hear from her in her own words.

Like most avid readers, I’ve been spending time in libraries as far back as I can remember. I learned early on that while libraries might look different on the outside, inside all were full of books, magazines and helpful librarians. I remember walking to the library when I was in elementary school in Brooklyn and how I loved spending time in the old library in Danbury Connecticut, when my parents would bring me to town from our summer cottage on a nearby lake. Over time, I checked out every book of fairy tales along with animal stories. I appreciated the helpful librarians’ suggestions, even though they occasionally reminded me that no, I couldn’t take out books from the adult section.

I did eventually graduate to the adult section, and borrowed many of the classics. While attending Syracuse University, I often studied in the library. I even worked in the library stacks for a period of time, sending requested books down to the circulation desk via a creaking dumbwaiter and reading Nietzsche in between “orders.”

Electronics have become an important aspect of our daily life, and nowhere is this more evident than in our local libraries. Patrons order and renew books on line, borrow e-books, and sign up for classes via the internet. These days libraries are often the center of our communities. They offer all sorts of classes and lectures; they show movies, host bus trips, and present live entertainment.

It was while attending an outdoor drumming presentation at my own library that I got Death Overdue cover copythe idea for my Haunted Library mystery series. It occurred to me that a librarian in charge of Programs and Events would make the perfect sleuth! She could bring in all sorts of programs and introduce various presenters. The perfect setting for a mystery series. Add a library ghost and a library cat and presto! A series was born!

One or two readers have complained to me that the Clover Ridge Library where Carrie Singleton, my sleuth, works is not like real libraries. Not true! Almost all of the programs offered in DEATH OVERDUE are also offered in my Long Island library and others in the area. We are offered musical presentations, movies, exercise classes, and my favorite—food demonstration programs. The reading room is always filled with patrons reading newspapers and magazines. The library continues to play an important part in my life. It still offers books and reading material and so much more.

Thanks, Marilyn/Allison, for sharing your love of libraries with us. I wish you the best of luck with The Haunted Library books and your other projects. I look forward to following Carrie Singleton’s adventures.

As promised, here’s a bit about Marilyn/Allison. A former Spanish teacher, she writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for young readers. DEATH OVERDUE was a Library Journal’s “Pick of the Month” on Goodreads’ list of 200 Most Popular Books published in October 2017 and is a nominee for an Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel. As Marilyn Levinson, she writes the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series. Her website is: www.marilynlevinson.com   I hope you’ll stop by and visit. She loves to hear from readers.

The next book in the series, READ AND GONE, will be published in September 2018.

DEATH OVERDUE –  http://a.co/gec3YJ7 

READ AND GONE – http://a.co/cQTU98k

 

A Conversation With Beate Boeker

March 20, 2018

Author_Picture_Beate_Boeker_at_waterBeate Boeker is a USA Today bestselling author with a passion for books that brim over with mischief & humor. She writes sweet sophisticated romantic fiction and cozy mysteries, many of them set in beautiful Italy.  While ‘Boeker’ means ‘books’ in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as ‘Happy’ . . . and with a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write novels with happy endings?

As with so many of my author friends, I met Beate via the internet when we were both writing for Avalon Books. Since then, we’ve become good friends (emphasis on the word good). Not only is she a fine writer, she’s a generous friend who never passes up a chance to help a fellow teller-of-tales. I had the pleasure of a face-to-face meeting when she visited New York a couple of years ago.

You can learn more about Beate at her website www.happybooks.de

Enough from me. Let’s hear from Beate.

CODY:   I love your Temptation in Florence series. What inspired you to write about this crazy Italian family? Did you know it would be a series?

BOEKER:   The Mantonis sort of happened. I knew I wanted to write a cozy mystery series with a romantic relationship that spans over several books, but I didn’t plan the Mantonis! At first, I needed some more suspects, so the murderer wouldn’t be too evident, and then, they simply refused to leave. They grew on me and amused me, and I honestly don’t know what they come up with when I start a book. I do know the murderer, and the culprit, and one to three red herrings – and the rest just develops as I write.

Temptation in Florence

CODY:    How much of yourself is in Carlina? Is her family like your family?

BOEKER:   Carlina is more serene than I am – I know I would frazzle at the edges if I lived in close contact to my family. I am several hundred miles removed from them and see them once or twice a year — and then, I have the necessary distance and can laugh about things. And yes, of course I borrow some things from real life. My father, for example, was a perfectionist and had a tendency to be a fanatic. He had these “phases” in life that I borrowed for the first book (though I changed them for the book). He also had the “health food phase” that I gave to Fabbiola in book no. 3 – and we really did wash corn to get rid of little, black beetles! I still have to laugh when I think about that. The funny thing is that all the things I invent sound totally possible, but whenever I put something in my books that’s based on real facts, then people start to frown and say “I think you’re going overboard on this.”

CODY:   In the first book, Carlina hides her grandfather’s dead body, so her cousin’s wedding can go as planned. How do people react to that?

BOEKER:   About fifty percent of the readers find it totally acceptable – and the other fifty percent find it hard to swallow. That’s one of the things I based on real life. A good friend of my grandfather lost two brothers in the war. When her third and favorite brother was killed, the news came during her engagement party. Her parents learned about it but didn’t give out the information until the next morning. Something similar happened to my grandfather. My grandmother’s brother and sister wanted to come to my grandmother’s birthday party and got killed in a road accident on the way. The police came to the door while the party was in full swing, and he kept the news to himself until the next day.
They decided to keep the terrible news, so the beautiful moments would not be destroyed. I found that heroic and incredibly strong, and I admit I was a bit surprised that many people can’t relate to Carlina’s decision at all. It’s not even a question of upbringing or culture – my sister thinks it’s a terrible decision, while I find it perfectly viable.

CODY:    Are you planning more Temptation in Florence books? (Please say “yes”)

BOEKER:   Yes, I am. The Mantonis are so real to me that I can’t imagine giving up on them. I wish I’d reach a still larger audience, so I could spend more time writing and be quicker. As it is, I’m happy if I manage one new volume per year. I also spend quite some time on translating them into German. The first three have come out in German so far, and I try to keep both the English and the German readers happy with the output.

CODY:   The books are full of details about places and customs in Florence. How much research is necessary to make sure they are accurate?

BOEKER:   I visited Florence several times, and I have Italian friends I ask for help when I get stuck. For example, in book 6, I wrote in the first draft that the undertaker took the body away right after the murder, and my Italian friend was horrified. There has to be a wake, of course! I quickly corrected that. And then, thank God, there’s the internet that can bring up the most amazing details. It helps that I speak Italian. For book no. 7, which takes place in Milan, I booked an extra trip and spent several days trying to soak up details and the spirit of the city. It’s never enough, and I wish I could go and live in Italy for longer stretches of time . . . it’s one of my dreams!

CODY:   We’ve talked a lot about the Temptation in Florence series. What else have you written?

BOEKER:   I write sweet sophisticated romance, 10 full length novels so far. My personal favorite is “Mischief in Italy”, which is a romantic comedy set at the lake of Garda. The idea for this book (a personal ad with a twist) was born while I was sitting on a boat, enjoying the blue lake and blue sky and sunshine on lake Garda. I started to scribble the first chapter that evening in front of our tent, and it made me laugh as much as the Mantonis do.

CODY:   You’ve put together bundles with other authors in the past. Can you tell us something about how this works and how it benefits you?

BOEKER:   The bundles are called Sweet Christmas Kisses, and more than ten authors take part in each volume. I published short stories in 3 of the 4 that were published each year so far (and I’ll also be in volume 5). Each of us writes a short story with professional editing, and then, we publish it together, using a distributing company. It makes a bit of money, but the more important part is that it gets our names better known, so that readers can look us up and read our other books if they enjoyed the short story. I have decided to throw in the Mantonis this time, even though the hero and heroine are not Stefano and Carlina, as in the mystery series. The preliminary title is “Christmas with the Mantonis” – but I might rename it “Christmas with the poker group”. It’s almost done.

CODY:   What are you working on now?

BOEKER:   I have to finish the short story “Christmas with the Mantonis”; I’m currently translating book no. 4 from English into German; and I’m plotting (so far, only in my head) book no. 8 in the series in English. I think this time, Lucio, Emma’s husband will get into trouble (Emma is Carlina’s cousin). I always try to get some personal emotional crisis connected to the murder, and as Emma will have a baby, we have plenty of potential for difficult situations.

CODY:   What do you do when you’re not writing?

BOEKER:   I work in marketing. And I sleep (really quite a lot). Of course, there’s my daughter and husband, who come up with crazy ideas all the time, so I can put them into my books. I’ll never forget the day when we tried to find out if you can strangle someone with panty hose (a fact I needed for book no. 2). We wanted to try with a teddy bear but simply didn’t have the heart to do it, so in the end, we strangled a cushion one day during breakfast.

CODY:    Do you have a favorite writer who inspires you?

BOEKER:   I love Georgette Heyer because she has such a knack of describing people with their weaknesses. I love her hidden irony, and the characters she created. I’ve re-read her romances so many times that her characters are almost real to me.

CODY:   Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

BOEKER:   Not really, but I’ve always loved to read. My mother says I was an impossible child, always up to mischief, but that I settled down the day I learned to read. I also had a diary, and I soon started to make up stories in my head. I did write a book about horses and friends when I was in my teens and found it so embarrassing that I lost it. When it came to choosing a profession, I did think about writing, but I knew I didn’t have enough experience in life — and I felt the need to earn good money and be completely independent. That’s why the next novel only came into life after my studies, when I was in my late twenties. I found my day job too boring and needed something to distract me. Once I’d written that novel, I realized I needed to learn some skills to write a really good book. It’s not something you have or don’t have. It’s a craft. I sound found out that the US has a huge network for beginning authors, and so, I decided to write in English in spite of the fact that I’m German. I found a professional editor, she recommended Avalon Books as a possible publisher, and that’s how my first book got published – in 2008.

Beate, thanks for so much for telling us a bit about yourself and your books. As always, it’s a pleasure to spend time with you.

A reminder of Beate’s website www.happybooks.de

A Not So Lonely Path

February 24, 2018

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We writers often talk about what a lonely path we travel, but is it? Are we really alone with our keyboards and our blank screens? Well … yes … and no.

It’s true we spend a lot of time staring at a blank computer screen, but we have the company of the voices in our heads – voices that sometimes refuse to speak to us. That’s when we feel truly alone. Not just alone, but abandoned. It’s not that the voices have gone. We know they’re there, a knowledge that makes their silence ominous. Have we done something to offend them? A terrifying thought. Even more frightening: will they come back? “Yes,” we assure ourselves. “They will. They must!” For without them, we cannot write. Nothing can come from a vacuum.

Then, there are times when the voices speak, but they say something we don’t want to hear. Should we listen to them? Do we have a choice? I think not. There have been instances when I tried to ignore a character who told me I’d never do that!  Big mistake! Characters have a way of developing beyond their creator’s plan. They stretch the imagination in unexpected ways. Sometimes one of the voices in my head shouts: Oh, come on! Challenge me. Give me a chance to grow! The longer I write, the more I’ve come to understand that when I allow my characters to step out on their own, that’s what happens: they grow. And when they grow, I grow.

For me, the most delightful part of writing is when a character surprises me. I’m talking about those rare flashes of inspiration when a voice bypasses thought process and takes off on its own. I’ve learned not to argue. I let my fingers fly, not sure where the voice will lead, but eager to find out. Rare is the word I used to describe that sensation. And rare it is. But so satisfying. It’s that top-of-the-mountain feeling that makes the loneliness worthwhile.

Ironically, humans being by nature social creatures, we can’t wait to share what we’ve conceived in loneliness. With whom? A reader, of course. The prospect of someone reading our words is the ultimate fortress against loneliness.

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2018

The internet today will be filled with images of hearts and flowers and chocolates.

Restaurants tonight will be filled with people celebrating with their special someone.

Children, shy and giggling, will be exchanging Valentines with their classmates. 

The poets among us will be striving to come up new ways to express the greatest of all emotions. 

I think maybe that’s my favorite part of Valentine’s Day – we celebrate our poets – those geniuses who know how to distill great thoughts into a few memorable words. In celebration of this special day and in honor of all who love, I’ll borrow a line from a poet:

“The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.” William Wordsworth.

Could there be a more perfect reminder of what love really is? 

So … to everyone, I wish a day filled with love and kindness.

Moving On … What I’m Reading Now

February 8, 2018

Enough about last year’s books. The book I’m reading now is The Townsman by John Sedges. Don’t recognize the name? What if I said Pearl S. Buck? I’m pretty sure you recognize that name. Some of you may be surprised to hear that the two are one and the same. John Sedges is the name Ms. Buck used when she first began writing stories set in America.

In her foreword to American Triptych, a volume containing three books attributed to John Sedges, Ms. Buck explains that after spending time in America, she wanted to write stories set in this country, but felt she had been cast in a mold and known as someone who wrote only about China. In order to break out of that mold, she chose a pseudonym, picking a masculine name because, in her words “men have fewer handicaps in our society than women have, in writing as well as in other professions.” (My Sisters in Crime friends will nod when they read that.)

About the book: Up to now, I’d read only books by Pearl Buck that were set, if not in China, at least in an Asian country, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – except, of course, a good story, one with strong characters. She did not disappoint. Her characters are strong individuals and are recognizably human. Nor did the change of setting limit her descriptive power. The Townsman is set in Kansas, which in the minds of most Americans, is about as far from China as you can get.

Her impression of that setting:

“The sky was infinitely more important here than the earth. For the earth was unchanging. Nothing stopped the eye for mile upon mile of even green grass. The handful of houses that made a town were meaningless and passing. The sky was the pageant. The eye went to it again and again. Stars were of enormous size and shining color.”

willa cather - prairie

I grew up in a landscape filled with trees and will never forget the first time I drove across the vast, flat land in the middle of the country.  I love “The sky was the pageant.” So true. I remember feeling as if I were seeing the sky for the first time. Imagine the impression of a young Englishman, unwillingly transplanted from his home overlooking the Irish Sea, to this seemingly endless, mostly unsettled, land – or of his proper British mother, who was terrified savages would attack them and kill her children.

I won’t go into a lot of detail and spoil the plot for you, but will tell you that I found the story particularly interesting because this young man did not become a cowboy or move further west in search of gold or other adventure. Instead, he stayed put and helped to build a thriving community. When he discovered so few of the children could read or write, he founded a school, one that included girls, Native Americans, and children of recently freed slaves. It may not sound like much to us, but at that time, in that place, it was revolutionary. In some cases, the inclusion of girls was against the wishes of their fathers who were afraid educating their daughters would give them ideas and upset the balance of family life. (I’m imaging another nod here from my Sisters in Crime.)

I’m about half-way through the book now and am enjoying it immensely. I’m pleased that wherever Pearl S. Buck set her stories, she was consistent in her belief in the necessity of education and the importance of diversity.

In some ways, this story reminds me of another woman who wrote about life on the great prairie – Willa Cather. Both are well worth remembering and reading.