Art In The Attic

A son visits his father.

A son vis­its his father.

The draw­ings on the wall of a third floor stor­age room have been there for over one hun­dred years. As the house passed through dif­fer­ent own­ers, one promise was made—leave the pic­tures alone. They are pen­cil draw­ings, made by two boys who lived with their moth­er in the rent­ed house. Some of them depict their old­er broth­er, Leo Hauck, who was a cham­pi­on box­er.

How did this all get on the front page of my local news­pa­per? The cur­rent home­own­er was curi­ous. She asked ques­tions and dis­cov­ered a few amaz­ing con­nec­tions. Three of Leo’s chil­dren sur­vive and live local­ly. Peg­gy, age 100, and Eddie, age 94, didn’t walk up the stairs to see their father as a young box­er. Joe, age 80, lives less than a mile away. He and his daugh­ter vis­it­ed the third-floor draw­ings and were amazed.

As a writer, I always think, what if? What if any one of the own­ers of the house had paint­ed over those pic­tures? What if, the house was remod­eled and win­dows replaced a wall? What if the area had been zoned for renew­al and the place torn down and became a park­ing lot? What if none of those hap­pened, but the con­nec­tion was nev­er made?

Joe Hauck was thir­teen when his father died. He knew he’d been a fight­er. He’d known those uncles who drew the pic­tures as chil­dren. He knew his father start­ed box­ing as a fly­weight at age four­teen. He knew he was known as the “Lan­cast­er Thun­der­bolt,” and often as Leo Houck due to a mis­spelled pro­mo­tion­al piece. Joe’s father, who suc­cess­ful­ly boxed in every weight up to heavy­weight (as he grew) is named in the Inter­na­tion­al Box­ing Hall of Fame. Now Joe knows a bit more.

To see more pic­tures and the com­plete arti­cle, check out this link in LNP News­pa­pers.

Discovering Character-And Other Things

I should know Jo, my main char­ac­ter by now—I’ve just com­plet­ed final edits of the sec­ond mys­tery, plus a short sto­ry pre­quel. But she con­tin­ues to sur­prise me. I’ve been resist­ing.

Why? Hey, she and I start­ed out the same age with the same child­hood mem­o­ries, but our per­son­al­i­ties and life expe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent. Over the years that I wrote and rewrote that first mys­tery, I aged, while Jo kept get­ting younger. By the time a small press said, “Is your man­u­script still avail­able? We want it,” I was near­ly eighty and she was some­where in her late six­ties (nev­er specif­i­cal­ly stat­ed).

As I start­ed the sequel, I thought, 61. Yeah, sounds about right. But, as I wrote, I decid­ed, maybe late 50s. That’s old enough to have the his­to­ry I’d sup­plied. Some of those mem­o­ries could be from Grand­ma, or a par­ent. Or, she’s into old stuff. Then I added a TV ref­er­ence I remem­ber watch­ing with my kids. My kids are most­ly in their 50s. So I wrote away, decid­ing she was that age. But, I still  had those ‘old’ ref­er­ences. Jo described her­self as old in a vari­ety of ways. I do not think of my 50s daugh­ters as old. They do not look old. Perhaps—I just didn’t think.

Until, I saw an arti­cle about Valerie Bertinel­li with her cook­book.8-13 Bertinelli cover She’s 55. Yoiks! How can that be? I remem­ber her on TV as a teenag­er. I’m real­iz­ing that fifty is def­i­nite­ly the new thir­ty. Final­ly, I have an image of my fifty-some­thing Jo—maybe not a beau­ty, def­i­nite­ly not a Valerie twin, but cer­tain­ly not a hag. And a whole new image of my mar­ket. And the pos­si­ble cov­er. And pos­si­bly a redo of the first cov­er. And, def­i­nite­ly, a redo of Jo’s atti­tude. She’s been much too laid back about the guy who’d like to know her much bet­ter. I mean, let’s have a lit­tle chem­istry there.

And maybe I’ll try Valerie’s recipes. (I do love to cook!)

 

 

Do You Tweet?

Some days I tweet, some days I don’t. Today, for some rea­son, I put up sev­er­al tweets on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. I linked them to my blog, or to an Ama­zon site. I can’t say if Ama­zon got any clicks, but my blog got a cou­ple. They were about books—nothing about any of mine, but com­ments about oth­er books and favorite books. Did a click­er then go to the oth­er books’ Ama­zon sites, maybe buy a book? I don’t know.

_Fish or Cut Bait coverSpeak­ing of tweet­ing, those of us who con­tributed to the Fish or Cut Bait anthol­o­gy decid­ed to tweet and retweet other’s pro­mo­tions. I’ve done so a cou­ple of times. But, there are so many tweets fly­ing by, I haven’t seen any to retweet. (And that’s anoth­er thing I’m unable to check for any kind of ben­e­fit.)

I like to add pic­tures to my tweets, a book cov­er, usu­al­ly. Does that make a tweet more notice­able? Prob­a­bly. Or, does the read­er just get tired of see­ing so many, often the same pic­ture repeat­ed­ly? Yeah, I’m sure that hap­pens too.

I’m not all that savvy to use Tweet Deck or any such pro­gram. I’ve tried a cou­ple, unsuc­cess­ful­ly. So, I’m not a tweet expert. I tweet in the dark, you might say.

How about you? Shall we just bum­ble along togeth­er?

A Vacation Visit

7-30 RR 2This week The Grand­ma Moses of Mys­tery has grand­chil­dren vis­it­ing. (They are much more active than their grand­par­ents, believe me!) One day we spent with the Stras­burg Rail­road. We rode on the old-fash­ioned din­ing car and had a love­ly lunch while trav­el­ing from Stras­burg to Par­adise and look­ing at corn fields and live­stock.

 

 

After that, we toured the Rail­road Muse­um, climbed inside a few ancient train cars, read the7-30 museum observationbridge
inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal facts, and final­ly stopped for ice cream cones at the Stras­burg Cream­ery, where they hand dip all your favorite ice creams. A fun (and fill­ing) time was had by all.

Vis­it­ing grand­chil­dren make for love­ly sum­mer break from writ­ing (and post­ing infor­ma­tive blogs). What have you done for your sum­mer break?

 

Dressed for Summer Fun

7-23 PicnicThere’s noth­ing bet­ter than a sum­mer pic­nic, along with a few sum­mer games. It’s time to look in my “many years ago” file. I found a pic­ture from a Sun­day School pic­nic with chil­dren dressed to enjoy a lot of fun.

Umm, real­ly? The year was 1908. The chil­dren gath­ered at the church, then marched to the pic­nic grounds, accom­pa­nied by a band. A dec­o­rat­ed wag­on car­ried those too young to walk. The activ­i­ties includ­ed a pro­gram with drills, music, and address­es by promi­nent speak­ers. Final­ly, a free sup­per wrapped up the event. But not before the accom­pa­ny­ing pho­to was tak­en.

Where were the children’s games, the splash­ing in water, Where7-23 sack race
were the races? I remem­ber those— three-legged race, wheel­bar­row race, all num­ber of ways to give the lit­tle ones a fun time. And, don’t for­get the gun­ny sack race. (Got­ta be dressed just right for that one.)

7-23-Goat race 2Speak­ing of being dressed just right, and races as well—how about a goat race? Twen­ty-five years ago, that was on the sum­mer pic­nic agen­da. And of course, the goat had to be dressed for the occa­sion. (Don’t know if this was the win­ner, the los­er, or just the most pho­to­genic.)

Do you remem­ber school pic­nics in your past? Maybe there are some in your present and future. (Or, do they still have them?)

That Final Edit

Every day when I sit at my com­put­er, I see a clip­ping I cut out years ago. It’s a pic­ture of a dog and a cat. In these days of viral videos show­ing ani­mals of all kinds play­ing with each oth­er, this one typ­i­fies the usu­al belief of dogs and cats as wary ene­mies. The dog’s head seen from the rear tips ever so slight­ly toward the cat. The cat gin­ger­ly pass­es the dog while watch­ing for any way­ward move­ments. It’s an illus­tra­tion from a book for writ­ers, The Pock­et Muse. It illus­trates the sen­tence, “Most good sto­ries are about trou­ble,” and includes a list of trou­bles.

When I look at that page, even more than trou­ble, I think, sus­pense, sus­pi­cion, what if…

Today I’m pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to that illus­tra­tion, since I’m deep into a final edit of a mys­tery, I know my read­er must have that same sense—that some­thing will sure­ly hap­pen, but not in a good way. Will the read­er be slight­ly dis­ori­ent­ed, pos­si­bly leery of ques­tion­able actions, even fear­ful of what might hap­pen to a char­ac­ter on the next page? Will the read­er turn the next page?

Ah, that is the eter­nal ques­tion.

So, even after my man­u­script has under­gone peer review with a cri­tique group, a full pro­fes­sion­al edit, and a perusal by a beta read­er, I’m going over it again. I’ve not­ed arti­cles in the recent Writ­ers’ Digest issue on revi­sion, I’m check­ing my pages for vio­la­tions of the 24 prob­lems explained in Chris Roerden’s Don’t Mur­der Your Mys­tery. (Okay, that one is my Bible.) And, espe­cial­ly, I want to make sure each chap­ter, each scene, each page entices the read­er to eager­ly turn the page.

And, if I’m suc­cess­ful, my read­er will have a mys­tery that pro­vides exact­ly what the read­er wants—a good book—a sto­ry that sat­is­fies and pos­si­bly edu­cates in some small way.

Dinner In White

Say you want to have a par­ty. Impromp­tu. Decide on a venue. Give it a name (Blanc Plate sounds nice.) Send out e-mails.

6-24 dinner in whiteBlanc Plate is tomor­row at the base­ball sta­di­um, folks. RSVP

Your invi­tees know what to expect. Bring your own meal. Wear white cloth­ing. After all, they may have been one of the 100 who joined the cel­e­bra­tion in 2012, or one of the increas­ing num­bers from 2013 & 2014.

This event actu­al­ly hap­pened a week or so ago in my home town. It’s based on a sim­i­lar, secre­tive ban­quet on the bridges of Paris called Din­er en Blanc. How­ev­er, invi­ta­tions to the local even are avail­able to any­one who asks. (Of course, you have to know whom to ask. I found out about it the next day from the news­pa­per.) When the 1,000 (free) tick­ets were snatched up, 200 more were added.

Yep, that’s right. Over a thou­sand peo­ple descend­ed on the base­ball field with exact­ly 29 hours of warn­ing. And—they all wore white. Two young women even donned white wigs. The news­pa­per has many more pho­tos on line. There’s also a one-minute video of the event.

Umm. Let’s see. Next year this time. Maybe a month before the end of June. Yes, they do have the name of the orga­niz­er in the paper. What do you think? Should I?

 

 

 

Missing Link-A Prairie Connection

6-11 Chestnut GroveA farm, owned by a waste man­age­ment author­i­ty can not be good, right?

Well, the obvi­ous is not always what hap­pens. The 170-acre Riv­er Hills farm, owned by the Lan­cast­er Coun­ty (PA) Sol­id Waste Man­age­ment Author­i­ty has become a prairie of sorts. After a three-year, $1.2 mil­lion makeover, native grass­es, wild flow­ers, shrubs, and trees have been plant­ed. Wet lands and walk­ing trails have been estab­lished. The area is now a pas­sive recre­ation area that con­nects exist­ing ones in case one wants to hike a con­tin­u­ous six and a half miles.

Our local LNP News­pa­per had the sto­ry ear­li­er this week. To read the full sto­ry and see a video with an overview of the area and a small lake check out their arti­cle. See what time and mon­ey can do to con­vert land that first pro­duced corn, then dirt (to cov­er land­fill), and final­ly became a nature pre­serve.

 

Snoop, Student, Writer

I’ve had friends ask, after read­ing one of my books, “Where do you get your ideas?” My hus­band asks, “How do you think all that up?” I’m quite sure every writer gets the same ques­tions. And, like me, the answer might be some­thing like, “I’m not exact­ly sure,” or pos­si­bly, “Or, here and there.”

writing SnoopyThe true answer is com­pli­cat­ed. It’s a bit like the way I fol­low a recipe when I’m cook­ing. Love the pic­ture that goes with it. Beau­ti­ful. The ingre­di­ents? Oh, sure. Except, I don’t have all of them. In fact, even if I do have an item, I real­ly pre­fer anoth­er. I’ll trade off Worster­shire sauce for soy sauce every time. Let’s see, unsalt­ed but­ter? Heck, I have salt­ed. No prob­lem. Broc­coli is just as green as green beans. Recipe calls for veal, but I hap­pen to have pork. Oops, that item is one hus­band doesn’t like—I’ll skip that. I think I’ll serve the dish with noo­dles instead of rice.

You get the idea, right?

Now, how about the title of this piece. Yes, it also explains at least one writer’s sys­tem (mine). Maybe snoop is a bit extreme. Let’s say, I dis­cov­er some­thing that appeals to me. For instance, my YA Cher­ish, began with a road sign. “Sandy Bot­tom Road.” That book def­i­nite­ly used my recipe-fol­low­ing sys­tem. I’d dis­card­ed the man­u­script years before, but I start­ed with that and sub­sti­tut­ed. A skele­ton became a ghost. The girls switched boyfriends. I changed names, dipped into a vari­ety of view­points. I added real his­to­ry to alter the sto­ry. And, I def­i­nite­ly updat­ed my teens into twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry kids. Those last two required the stu­dent mode with infor­ma­tion and assis­tance from the inter­net and advice from teens.

Okay, maybe that’s not illus­trat­ing the snoop-stu­dent mode of a writer. Snoop: Scan news­pa­pers for some­thing new I can incor­po­rate into a mys­tery. How about the item about a sev­en-year-old girl who takes fan­tas­tic pho­tographs? Check. Now, here’s an item about Workam­pers, or peo­ple who live in their RV campers but trav­el around tak­ing short term jobs to sup­port them­selves. They stop to work for a sea­son at theme parks or a few weeks at local cel­e­bra­tions. Check. How about those books I’ve gath­ered dur­ing our sail­ing years at small Chesa­peake Bay towns—books about local his­to­ry, many men­tion­ing the War of 1812? Check. Okay, now for the study. Read and com­pare those local his­to­ries. Check it out on the inter­net. Study reen­act­ments, his­toric fig­ures’ lives, maps for place­ment of my fic­tion­al town. That’s the tem­plate for my upcom­ing mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, now await­ing one final run-through, for­mat­ting, and cov­er.

But I do have a still bet­ter exam­ple of the stu­dent mode for an author. I’m now work­ing on a short sto­ry that may turn into a novel­la. I’m plan­ning to make it per­mafree to inter­est peo­ple in my mys­ter­ies. It’s got­ta be good for that. And, I’m strug­gling. But, I’ve found help by read­ing the writ­ing blogs, newslet­ters, books, and mag­a­zines I’ll nev­er aban­don. That’s because, invari­ably, a phrase or sen­tence will spark an idea. Most recent­ly it was part of a sen­tence in R.A. McCormick’s arti­cle in the Sis­ters in Crime Gup­py chap­ter newslet­ter, First Draft. Quote, “sur­prise as the sto­ry goes in a direc­tion that read­ers don’t expect.” It’s not new infor­ma­tion to me, but those words remind­ed me—“Hey, that’s what I need!” The oth­er man­u­script help was a guest appear­ance by anoth­er Gup­py, Kaye George, on B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages. Yep, after read­ing Kaye’s clear show and tell of the way she added each ele­ment, I knew what I had to do. Ramp up my begin­ning as well as sur­prise the read­er.

So, next time some­one asks me where I get my ideas, what will I answer? “You see, there’s a talk­ing bird—not a par­rot, I’ll have to look that up, and one of those mini-hous­es I’ve read about that is cramped with one per­son, but I’m putting two in there. And there’s this guy who faked his death and will come back to upset the lady who thought she was a wid­ow about the time she’s get­ting seri­ous about some­one else.” Will that be my answer?

More like­ly, I’ll reply, “Oh, here and there.”

As a read­er, I’d prob­a­bly love to hear more. But, as a writer, do I want to rat­tle on and bore my read­er even before the book is out? Hope. How about you?

What is it about Grandmas?

I remem­ber, when I was a lit­tle girl, my grand­moth­er was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the reg­u­lar police force. She was there for ques­tion­ing female pris­on­ers. Once she even arrest­ed a man she rec­og­nized from a local want­ed poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and request­ed that he walk with her to the police sta­tion. He did.

Some­how, I don’t think that would work today. But grand­mas have a sur­pris­ing amount of author­i­ty. Think about it. They’ve raised chil­dren, and raised them well enough so those chil­dren are now par­ents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Moth­er. The child knows exact­ly what it means.

So, I was not sur­prised at all to hear about a grand­moth­er who is a bounc­er at a local high-end restau­rant. When asked, What do you do when peo­ple get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times peo­ple say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the sto­ry, and view a pleas­ant-look­ing woman, go here.

I would not be sur­prised if, among any group, and espe­cial­ly among writ­ers, there are quite a few grand­mas with amaz­ing sto­ries. Am I right? Is/was your grand­moth­er one of those amaz­ing women?