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?

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.

Camp NaNo

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-Banner big

I’m busy at Camp NaNo. Picture me sitting around the campfire with my tent buddies, snarfing down S’Mores. Okay, not really. That short story is waiting, as well as editing the new mystery. I’ll let you know how I’m doing next week. (Just started yesterday.)

Camp-s-mores-2Those S’Mores are looking good! Maybe just one.


Okay, maybe two.

Oh, heck. Can’t leave just one!

The Writing Road

I meant to write about the road not taken today, to fret about missed opportunities in the past. I wondered, what would have happened had I taken another road? Some years ago I went, with a group of women, to visit our state house. We were greeted by our new state representative, a neighbor. When my friend informed him I’d just had a children’s story accepted by a major magazine, he asked me if I’d like to work for him, corresponding with voters. Although I knew he’d hired another neighbor whose specialty was designing lovely bouquets to help him with public relations, I reminded him it was a children’s magazine, hardly fare for adults. Some years later, after I started writing mysteries, I’d think, what if I had taken him up. Just think, I then could have written mysteries about the ins and outs of political life, and point to my experience. Perhaps that would have interested agents and publishers. And, I might have closed this post with advice for the young—jump at every opportunity.

But, I don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I like the road I’ve actually taken. Today I realized it was only six years ago when, after a few hundred agent rejections, despite a few nibbles along the way, after writing and rewriting several books, I almost decided to start a blog and give way my oldest, most rewritten manuscript chapter by chapter. But first, in June, 2009, I decided to give small publishers a try. Finally, I succeeded with the third publisher I contacted. And they worked fast. By August they asked to buy it. By October 1, it was edited, copy-edited, cover designed with my input, and published. A few days later, I turned 80. But, with that acceptance, I felt validated.

The book was lovely. My friends bought it and loved it. However, it didn’t make much of a splash. I’m grateful to that small publisher for actually giving me the belief that my writing was of value. But when my two-year contract ran out, I didn’t renew it, but took back my rights. With the new ease of self-publishing, I could do just as well on my own. I had another mystery ready to publish. Since then I’ve also published a YA mystery and a non-fiction narrative of my father’s adventures as a young man. I’ve had short mysteries published as well. And, I have a sequel of that first mystery just about ready to meet its public.

So, perhaps I missed an opportunity years ago. No matter. I don’t live in the past. I can remember the past, think fondly of what has transpired, see my children and their children succeed, enjoy life with my husband. I also look forward to the future and what will transpire.

My path took me down another road. I like this road just fine. How about you and your writing path? Are you happy with the road you’ve taken?

War of 1812 – Kent Island

In August, 1813, Captain Charles Gordon, U.S.N. said, “MARYLAND INVADED…it appears the enemy have taken possession of Kent Island, and that the inhabitants of every description have removed to the main land…From the circumstance of landing cannon on Kent Island, it appears to be the intention of the enemy to keep possession of it for some time; and certainly a more eligible situation could not have been selected for their own safety and convenience or from which to annoy us.”

Burning in Kent County

Burning in Kent County

Indeed, on August 5, the British, with two thousand men and seventeen ships, took over the island. British Admiral John Borlase described Kent Island as a “valuable & beauty Island which is half as large as the Isle of Wright…a central Point between Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington and the Eastern Ports of the State of Maryland.” After they prepared the island, they launched raids on St. Michaels and Queenstown. However, they left on August 27 to sail to their winter quarters.

One reason they left so soon was because of the heavy storms they had encountered in the previous September.

This bit of history and others that I’ve shared added to the reenactment of the forgotten War of 1812 in my upcoming mystery—Forgotten Body. In fact, some I’ve read today means I have to change a few things in that upcoming manuscript. Saved me from a major historical boo-boo. Of course, since all the characters live in the twenty-first century, any misstatements they make could be blamed on ignorance. But Jo (my amateur/reluctant sleuth) is smarter than that.

I just said that, didn’t I? My character is a person—not an extension or imagination of my brain. As a writer, does that happen to you too? As a reader, do you think of the characters as paper dolls or real people? As a reader, when I enjoy a book, I’m firmly in the “real people” mind set.


New Writers’ New Book

5-25-5th grade coverI’m one of the retirees who have been helping ten fifth graders who want to write. (When other kids see us passing through the school halls, they ask, “Are you the grandmas?” Yep, that would be us.) This week we will deliver their finished book. They will each get two copies—one to keep and one to give away to a favorite person. (Or, two to keep—their choice.)

All of the children wrote one, or more stories, we edited them, made suggestions, they learned that writing is also rewriting. Some illustrated their stories. One created the cover. One boy was definitely writing a book, but he managed to make a story out of the first two chapters. One of the girls seems destined to take Steven King’s place, but since she was also prolific, we encouraged one of her sweet stories.

They accomplished quite a bit in a half hour a week, especially since 5-25 5th grade kidsthere were several late days for snow that seemed to always happen on our Tuesday morning at the school. They did their writing on a computer easily using a hunt-and-peck system they had each worked out for themselves. (Although it was easy to transfer their work, I really do think it might be better to teach typing skills before using the keyboard. But I’m definitely of the old school—learned how to type in high school on a manual typewriter.)

But, enough of that. I enjoyed working with the kids. I’ve got to say, at least one inner city school is giving the children lots of choice in their education, for we could not have done this without some cooperation from the overworked teachers.

Does My Book Need a Vocabulary List?

5-14 Paper and penOkay, that’s a question I seldom ask myself. I write mystery (mostly) taking place in the current time, and in the country where my books are sold. I don’t have any characters speaking a foreign language.

Other books, often ones I read, are set in past centuries or other countries. They might have a list of names, or words that are unfamiliar. That’s handy. There are other instances that necessitate word lists—often involving unusual occupations, or even hobbies. But cozy, or almost cozy mysteries? Most readers know enough of the words used to describe recipes, needlework, antiques, pets, and the various occupations of our favorite amateur sleuths.

Now, back to my question. One of my mysteries involves boating. The following is a paragraph that may have non-boaters thinking I must have missed a few grammar lessons in elementary school.

“The coiled anchor rode smelled musty, even though it was 5-14 anchorcompletely dry. Little colored plastic tags lay, woven into the fiber to measure off the feet as the line payed out. Would I have to remove all that line to see if there was anything underneath? Not tonight. Too much trouble. I flashed around the interior one last time. There was a small piece of paper stuck low, under a few coils of the rope. I pulled it out.”

Did I misspell something? I checked a boating site from the Great Lakes. This is a sentence describing how to anchor a boat. “When all the rode has been payed out, gently back down on the anchor to set it in the bottom.”

RODE – anchor chain or line (rope) that attaches the anchor to the boat

TO PAY OUT, or PAYED OUT – to allow the rode to uncoil and leave the anchor locker so the anchor is lowered

Or, is that just too much? Personally, I think so. I don’t mind reading a book with a few things I have to infer from context. What do you think?

Indi Authors And Libraries

Most independently published authors have heard of J. A. Konrath. They follow his blog and his progress with his independently published books.  He took his traditionally published books back from the publisher and successfully published them himself. Others joined him. He’s the first true guru to many indi authors.

Now he’s going a step further. He has started a program that’s still in beta form, one to supply e-book manuscripts to libraries. It is called EAF-Ebooks Are Forever. Instead of a library buying a manuscript for a limited number of borrows, it will buy a copy that is good forever. (The same way libraries buy physical books.) And, just as with physical books, the e-book can only be loaned to one person at a time. For a popular book, a library would buy multiple copies, just as they do with physical books. Sounds like a good idea to me.

A full-size book would be purchased for $7.99, no matter its price on line, even if it is offered for free. It would probably already be available for sale everywhere, not locked into one venue, such as KDP.

Konrath envisions eventually offering every interested independent author’s books to libraries. I’d like to join. I tried, but the site doesn’t seem to be accepting other contributors yet. But I’ll watch for any updates. Meanwhile, to learn more, click highlighted words to see Konrath’s blog explanation. Find EBooks Are Forever here.


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?

The Forgotten War

This year, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the last battle of the War of 1812. Note that I didn’t say this is two hundred years since the end of the War of 1812, because that officially came on December 24, 1814, when The Treaty of Ghent was signed. But that was in Europe, and without twenty-first century communication, such as cell phones, radio, or even cable messages, the news had to wait until a ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Why am I interested in that bit of history? My next book revolves around a reenactment of the War of 1812, so I did a bit of research for incidental comments as my characters speak. I wanted to know what was true, although some of my characters may not know the real facts. But why did I choose that time to reenact instead of the more common Revolutionary War or the Civil War?

That’s another story.

My husband and I spent a lot of time sailing on Chesapeake Bay. We stopped at various ports and I shopped the local gift shops. They always had a book about the local history, which included the War of 1812 and battles on Chesapeake Bay. I read up on those battles. The burning of Havre de Grace. How the people of St. Michaels fooled the British. The defeat of Washington, D.C. and the burning of the White House. The successful battle at Baltimore. So I knew when I wrote the next book my character, Jo Durbin would be involved in a reenactment of the Forgotten War. Of course, there’s a Forgotten Body.

And, while the subject is fresh in my mind, I’ll spend the next few Thursdays telling bits of American history that changed the lives of our ancestors (and, eventually, our lives as well).

Why did we go to war with Britain? What happened back in 1803-07? The United Kingdom (England) and Napolianic France went to war against each other. Neither side wanted American supplies to reach the other. They both declared it illegal for American ships to deliver goods to the other. Which, they figured, made it perfectly okay to seize ships defying their laws. France seized 206 United States flag ships, but England seized 528 American ships. Not only that, but England seized around 6,000 men from our ships and put them to work on their ships, often claiming they were really AWOL from British ships. They also barricaded American ports.

In 1811, President Thomas Jefferson decided the only way to solve that Henry Clayproblem was to forbid the American companies from shipping anything anywhere. Congress agreed. That put the whole country into a financial depression. Not hard to imagine what came next. Fully half the old congress was voted out. The old guard was replaced by the young War Hawks. Henry Clay became the new Speaker of the House, a position, until then merely as a presiding officer. Under Henry Clay the office became one of party leadership, as it is now. (That would be the Democratic- Republicans, before the party split. The other party was the Federalists.)

So America went to war against Great Britain. America was completely unprepared for war.