Five Stars for Gaining Ground

10-26 Gaining Ground coverFirst, I just heard about this book yesterday. Second, I have not read it. So, how can I list it as one of my five-star reads? By a bit of slight of hand—magic, if you will.

It’s somebody’s five star read. In fact, it has way over 200 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.9 stars.

So, how did I come to choose it? How did I hear about it? My good old local newspaper. Seems the book was the pick of patrons of 80 libraries in six counties in my part of Pennsylvania as the book to read for One Book: One Community.

Sounds like an excellent pick. The book blurb is: “One fateful day in 1996, after discovering that five freight cars’ worth of glittering corn have reaped a tiny profit of $18.16, young Forrest Pritchard vows to save his family’s farm. What ensues–through hilarious encounters with all manner of livestock and colorful local characters–is a crash course in sustainable agriculture. Pritchard’s biggest ally is his renegade father, who initially questions his son’s career choice and rejects organic foods for sugary mainstream fare. But just when the farm starts to turn heads at local farmers’ markets, his father’s health takes a turn for the worse. With poetry and humor, this inspiring memoir tugs on the heartstrings and feeds the soul long after the last page is turned.”

The book will be available in all the libraries, preparing for the early 2016 events. Does your local bookstore carry this book? Probably. It’s also available by order from Amazon and Barnes and Nobel. Considering the complete title: Gaining Ground: A Story Of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, And Saving The Family Farm, sounds like a winner to me.

Lazy Autumn Day

autumn leavesWe’ve had a cold snap. The tree leaves are turning almost a bright red. (Some years they are more yellow, others a dingy brown.) It’s warmer than it has been for days. Who wants to sit inside to write?

Anybody? Hands raised? Ummm. Okay, let’s stroll outside in the autumn sunshine. It will be winter soon.

Five Stars for Deadly Occupation

10-19 Bloody OccupationDeadly Occupation is a just-published prequel to the other Michael Stoddard historic mysteries. Lieutenant Stoddard is a British officer stationed in the American colonies during the Revolution. As such, one might not think him a hero to a 2015 American reader, but that is not a concern for this American reader. I have read the other mysteries in this series, and while I recognize characters from those, this book gives backgrounds of characters without spoiling or revealing anything from other books.

The Stoddard books bring out the ambiguity in America at that time. There were Americans who preferred British rule as well as those who didn’t. (And there were nasties on each side, one revealed for sure.) Deadly Occupation also illustrates the ambiguities of historians, for Suzanne Adair has delved into history that is seldom reported. Makes for a (excuse me) damn good read!

Other readers agree. Here’s a bit from one Amazon five-star review: “Michael Stoddard is a young, 27-year-old, Lieutenant with a gift for solving crimes, a chin full of blemishes, and a murky past. In this novel, he chooses an assistant, 18-year-old Nick Spry. Spry has his own talents, an eye for detail and a relaxed way with people that encourages them to open up to him. He’s young, but he’s no one’s fool. They are an unlikely pair, yet they get results.

“Whether stationed in one location or on the move with the Regiment, the settings are well-crafted with historical details that bring each scene to life. The suspects and characters populating the novels are realistic, with basic human motivations. They are colorful, interesting, and many are seemingly drawn from authentic historic figures.”

One place to order Deadly Occupation is Amazon. (There are others as well.)

Letters to the Editor

Years ago a local woman regularly contributed to our newspaper’s11-15 writing letters page. Her pieces were well written and thought out. She wasn’t political or addicted to any organization or movement. She looked around, listened, made decisions and shared her viewpoint. If she missed a week, other writers wondered what happened to her. Definitely an institution, and the readership mourned her death. Sometimes a new scribe turned up, but it isn’t the same. For one, now the paper won’t publish any one person more than once a month. There must be other reasons. Perhaps they have other avenues of expression. Perhaps some are now bloggers with followers.

Sometimes I write to my newspaper. Once it was about a way out-dated front-page piece on medical procedures. (Something about it made me look up the original report cited. I learned it was compiled seven years before from queries compiled in the previous ten years and included the comment that it was deemed unreliable.) Some years ago it was more apt to involve absent coverage of our local school district activities (where my children were involved, naturally).

Not often, but occasionally, I’ll comment on something political. If I do, I’ll sign my name differently than I sign anything to do with my writing. That’s because, with the internet picking up everything, I once discovered my comment over a local issue right there, with my name, for everyone with a computer to see.

Okay, that’s good, right? Get your name out, can’t be bad. Except, the way I see it, our country is almost evenly divided, and very partisan. In fact, I see the same division within my friends and family. We all know which is which. We might even discuss our differences amicably. But that never happens in print. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s the newspaper with their unfunny cartoons lampooning both sides. It drives a wedge through a country that calls itself United. And, viewing all that angst, people take sides. They could easily say, “If she thinks that, I’m certainly not going to buy her books.” And who wants to alienate half of their possible readership?

So, do you write letters to the editor? Actually, I still do. Not often, I have other writing that calls me.

Twittering Memes

I’m twittering memes, even though I’m not sure memes is the word I want.  According to the dictionary a meme (meem) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. So, I can only hope my memes will fit that description.

And why do I hope that? Because I’m using them to advertise on Twitter. I’m hoping the countdown project I’m running for one of my books this week will catch some attention, and some purchasers. What do you think? Some of them are below. (Successful promotion for the self-published is just another writing skill. Hope I’m accomplish

And, by the way, you may have noted this Monday post is not my usual review of a five star book. (Tune in next week when I’ll be back on schedule.)

Cherish countdown meme 1

Cherish countdown meme 2 Cherish countdown meme 4

A Good Writing Day

Breakthrough! This morning’s writing gave me the ending for my short story. Needs fine-tuning, of course. It is a little different than I usually write—historic, long short, if that makes sense. You see, Forgotten Body, the sequel to Yesterday’s Body, takes place at a reenactment of the War of 1812 on Chesapeake Bay. The amateur sleuth in the story, Jo, wonders what her life would have been like in the nineteenth century. She’s in her late fifties, an unmarried survivor of two bad marriages. Would wife and mother have been her only options? Of course not, but what else would she do?

Originally, I started putting little snippets of an historic story in the larger mystery. But, they really didn’t fit. So, you might say, what I was working on today is an out-take of the book, rather like the out-takes they often show from movies or TV shows. And, for a while there, the story didn’t seem to have a future. Today was the breakthrough that I needed. I now have an historic romance (not mystery) of around 20 pages. A bit long for the usual short story, but I have plans for this one and another long-short I’ve completed—a prequel to Yesterday’s Body that is a mystery.

So, short story-long, it’s a good day in my world.

Five Stars for Between Mountain And Sea

10-5 Between Mountain and SeaI really love M. Louisa Locke’s historic mysteries. When she announced that she had joined a group writing about a future world, despite not being a science fiction reader, I had to check it out. I’m certainly glad I did. Between Mountain And Sea: Paradisi Chronicles is this week’s five star read.

This is the story of Mei Lin Yu in the future world of New Eden. It takes place a century and a half after ten families left an increasingly devastated Earth to colonize the distant planet.

Chapters begin with the 2092 AD diary entries of Mei Lin’s ancestor. But the story is Mei Lin’s. She’s a teenager who doesn’t really want to follow her parents’ desires, that she train at a top university for a successful career. She has trouble taking tests, but misses the all important test when minor surgery on her eyes goes wrong. She is dumped in the ancestral home that is far from the elite centers. But she loves it there. The relatives she meets for the first time, the original planet natives, the land, the animals—all seem more real to her than the life she had so far led.

I’d better not tell more. It’s hard for me, but it would ruin the story for others, and I won’t do that. Just believe it only gets better. I recommend it for all lovers of a good story. YA appropriate as well.

My question today: Do you sometimes read outside your usual favorite genre?

I’m on the Hen House Blog

The years my husband and I spent sailing on Chesapeake Bay and beyond contributed to my mystery writing. For one, I found a couple of boats I wanted to include in my stories. One, a small lobster boat converted to a live-aboard cruiser, is front and center of my second published mystery. Here’s the picture, and here’s the resulting cover.

Snapdragon1

HotChickSmallerFrontCoverThat’s just one of my stories. As one of the contributors to the Sisters in Crime Writes of Passage, today I visit the Hen House Blog. Come read my story and see a couple of pictures of why I place my mysteries on Chesapeake Bay.

 

Five Stars for The Witch Doctor’s Wife

9-28 Witch doctors wifeWith The Witch Doctor’s Wife, Tamar Myers delves into her personal history as the daughter of Christian missionaries in the Belgian Congo. Rich and alive with the sights and sounds of the continent—as exciting, evocative, charming, and suspenseful as Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels—Myer’s unforgettable excursion to colonial Africa recalls Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, even the Academy Award-nominated film Blood Diamond. Award-winning author Carolyn Hart raves: “Mesmerizing….The Witch Doctor’s Wife will long linger in the hearts and minds of readers. Authentic. Powerful. Triumphant.”

The above is part of the publisher’s blurb for the book that followed many of Tamar Myer’s two wonderfully funny and clever cozy mysteries. I read The Witch Doctor’s Wife about five years ago, before I joined Goodreads, before I had a blog, and, mainly—before I began reviewing the books I read. However, I remember it fondly, so you know it has staying power.

I did interview Tamar for the Sisters in Crime blog. I remember a couple of answers from that interview. For one, she had a computer dedicated to writing, with no games or internet access. (That’s one I really, really should follow.) Also, she said she didn’t write the story—it was already written. All she did was ask the Universe to deliver her daily portion of creativity and it did. She then sat down and wrote a thousand polished words a day, five days a week.

And that is talent!

Incidentally, she has written more books in that series, as well as continuing the cozy series. In fact, she has a four-page Amazon author page. For a taste of Tamar’s fun, I would suggest reading the acknowledgments in Death of Pie.

Name That Character

No, it’s not a game show, but it is a game all writers play. And, it does remind me of a game show—What’s My Line from the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, that’s another game writers play—giving their characters a job. But, back to the names. How does that work?

Bit player—needs an ordinary name. John Smith. Nope, too ordinary. Mary Martin. Nope, a big star already owns that name.

Player that must be overlooked until the dénouement—needs a distinctive name, I’d say, with his information seeming to be slight. Fane Olivetti. Nope. A bit too distinctive, and probably comes from two different parts of the world.

You get the idea. And that goes double for main characters. I once wrote a young adult story with a hero named Jasper. Never heard of it, except for the name of a city. Forgot the story for years. Took it out to rewrite, and discovered that Jasper was a main character of a new, wildly popular YA book. Okay, he needed a new name. Would you believe Fred? In fact, Fred’s name was really Friedrich due to his German heritage. However, shortly after WW II, the war with Germany the enemy, that name contributed to someone’s paranoia, and added a whole missing element to the plot. (Yes, serendipity exists.)

So, how do writers come up with names? Some keep lists. I do. I have three alphabetical lists that I add to constantly: male, female, and surnames. I may add notations: top ten in 2002, Hispanic, Japanese. But often, I choose names not on that list. Or, don’t choose them.

There’s a name I haven’t used, but I remember it. When I was a child a neighboring family had immigrated from somewhere. The pregnant wife decided to name her child after the ship’s captain. But since the child was a girl, she was named after the ship. Yes, her name was Uladia. Haven’t used that name yet.

I always search the name I use on the internet. (That alerts me to names of real people I don’t want to use, but there are always real people by the name. I just pick one without someone famous or notorious.)

Other people search names as well—their own names. One surprise was when one woman with the same name as one of my main characters found my book—and bought it! Wow! And, it wasn’t a common name at all. In fact, she e-mailed me to say she knew of no one with that surname but her immediate family. Hmm. Maybe I should use those more common names. (Just kidding.)

Question for readers: How do the names affect your immage of a book’s characters? (Writers want to know.)

Question for writers: Do you have a special way you choose writer names? (This writer wants to know.) Okay, I should put a happy face here, or one of those, um, whatever they are called.