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, I vis­it­ed the  Hen­ery Press Blog (no longer active). I told them 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.