Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fly Away Home

by Janis Patterson/Janis Susan May

Last weekend The Husband and I went to a reunion celebration for the Flying Tigers at one of our local air museums. Yes, those brave men who fought as American Volunteer Group with the Chinese against the invading Japanese. Believe it or not, a very few of them are still alive – elderly, walking with help or in wheelchairs, stooped and terrifyingly frail. To see these few age-withered old men it's hard to picture them as young, vibrant daredevils taking on an immense and pitiless Empire, fighting in a pretty much ignored theatre for a country not their own simply because it was the right thing to do.

Most of the celebrants were sons of these young gods, and they themselves were of an age more suited to retirement than war. One of the most fascinating speakers was a Chinese man whose father was a mechanic for the Tigers. He was born during the conflict, and therefore has no personal memory of it, but he was generous enough to share the memories that his father had given him – through an interpreter. He spoke only Chinese. Probably a third of the people there were Chinese, perhaps more properly said of Chinese origin. Some had lived in America for two generations, yet all were very vocal in their thanks of the Tigers' fight to save thousands of Chinese from certain death or slavery.

There were three of the original airplanes there, planes that actually fought the Japanese in the skies over China. Holding one man each, they were painted with fearsome expressions. Don't ask me what kind or model or whatever they were; my mind is not the sort that retains such technical data. I can speak to the gracile beauty of these winged warriors, their sturdy compactness, the aura of power and history that radiated from each.

You've all seen pictures of these planes. They're low-winged taildraggers, with a protuberant nose and, under that, a great air scoop that feeds the engine. Usually the side of these air scoops are painted with a stylized shark's mouth filled with no-nonsense teeth. Sometimes eyes are added above the nose.

Which made it all the more startling that as we arrived there were museum volunteers standing in front of each plane, dumping bags of ice down the air scoop. I thought that either they were making an offering (it was a hot day) to an implacable alien god or that they had found a really neat place to store their beer. The truth was a lot less creative; the planes run hot and especially in a hot Texas day tend to hold their heat. A volunteer explained that they had run the planes that morning and wanted to cool them down before the flight.

Yes, these aged exhibits actually fly. I saw them. Before the luncheon there was a fly-over, where all three planes flew in a precise triangular formation over the field. It was Texas, it was sunny – meaning it was hot! - and yet as they roared overhead I felt goosebumps. Yes, this was just a showcase, a tribute, a tip of the hat to things gone by, but my romantic mind went on to what it must have been like in those same planes back when they were flying off to fight merciless men without any guarantee that they would ever return. The thought of such valor and courage made me weep.

That is not the most poignant memory of that afternoon, though. I was sitting in the shade (a prized commodity at the airfield) sipping the last of my luncheon iced tea and waiting for The Husband to return from his photo expedition. Across from me on the tarmac were the planes, sitting and waiting as they have sat and waited for almost seventy years. One of the frail old men hobbled to the closest plane, accompanied by the man who had flown it in the flyover and a couple of the air museum volunteers. A rolling ladder was produced and, braced and lifted by many hands, the elderly man shakily climbed into the pilot's seat. He sat there for a few minutes and the volunteers waited patiently, letting him enjoy a moment of the past. You see, this frail old man had been one of the Flying Tigers pilots. He had ridden a plane like that one out to fight and perhaps be killed or worse. Now, like the two old veterans they were, as an old man he and the plane were rejoined.

At last he signaled his readiness to get out and the process was reversed, helping him from the plane (no simple operation) and steadying him until he was once again firm on the ground. Leaning firmly on someone's arm he walked away from the plane, pausing just at the edge of the tail to reach and give it a valedictory pat. I couldn't see for sure, but it seemed that as he walked away there was the glint of a tear in his eye. I know there was in mine.


UPDATE :

Believe it or not, my publishing blitz is still right on schedule. And that schedule is getting shorter – after this book there are only two more in this particular round. The Husband is insistent that once this is done I am to take some time away from the computer and – according to him – reacquaint myself with the kitchen. He does like frozen pizza and takeaway, but even the mildest mannered man has his limits!

This fortnight's offering is THE OTHER HALF OF YOUR HEART, a romantic adventure set in the jungles of Mexico – not far from Puerto Vallarta, where I lived for a while. None of the wild escapades that befall the heroine ever happened to me (drat!) but writing about a country I love was great fun.

A weekend in a Mexican resort with the man she loves quickly becomes a nightmare of fear and danger for Cara Walters. If she can just survive being lost in the jungle, captured by the army, hunted by drug lords and a man who wants to kill her, all the while being held prisoner by the man who has stalked her, she just might find out who is the other half of her heart.



And – for all you calorie lovers – my super-special dessert recipe called Chocolate Sin (try it and you'll know why it's named that!) was chosen for inclusion in the new book of desserts called BAKE LOVE WRITE, a wonderful compendium of calories and advice.  


Monday, September 29, 2014

SHHH--THIS IS MY SECRET--AND YOURS.

In spite of the fact all my novels are set at real locations, realistically depicted, and I have to do a lot of on-site research to be sure I "get it right," my primary research tool is quiet contemplation. It's the thinking part of research that makes all our stories unique.

Two of us could choose the same location, talk to the same experts, read the same information, base our plots on a newspaper article we both read. But, when we write, it's what we think that sets us apart and causes us to create two very different stories.

(This thinking is what really intrigues me about writing, and, according to the opinions of several authors I admire, more deep thinking would also help our world today--not to mention democracy.)

Another superior research tool is found in simply living. We observe people, hear and participate in conversations, feel emotions, experience joy, sadness, disappointment, fear, love. We read about current and historical events. We live in--or travel to--various locations on our earth. We use our five senses to understand and label our world, AND THEN WE THINK.

In addition to that, there are, of course, the actions we normally designate as research:

1. Learning what the lives and jobs of people appearing in our story are like, including professional people such as police officers.

2. Reading or hearing history or life circumstances that will have an impact on the story in any way. For example, one of my valued research books for my novel, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, set largely in the historic district of Van Buren, Arkansas, was the diary of a Civil War soldier who fought in and around Van Buren. It was found for me by an antiquarian book seller in that historic district.

3. And, of course, there's getting to know the story location thoroughly, what we see, and what our senses tell us, especially what we feel as we put ourselves "on location." The location for a story does not have to be a real place on the map of course, though mine always are, but it has to be real for the person writing about it. And that, of course, is something thinking can accomplish.

And this leads me to a caution--not one I thought up myself, but something I have read in different contexts many times over the last couple of years. The Internet, along with smartlphones and television, is actually changing our brains. Think about how very different correspondence by letter is from text messaging or e-mailing. One arrives slowly, and has taken much thought. The other is immediate. One is developed in large, sometimes complex, paragraphs, the other, often composed of a very few single and often incomplete sentences.As a result (I have read) the immediacy and informality of communication today has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and loss of eloquence.

Don't know where I read this, and it was several years ago, but it sure made me think. "When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and cursory learning."  Provocative, huh? Whether you agree or not, it is something to think about.

Back to my thesis:  Carefully considered thinking is important for all writers, as well as for people in general. In fact . . . according to Katherine Paterson, thinking may hold the key to the survival of Democracy!

Radine Trees Nehring





Linda Maria Frank Talks About Turkey, the Setting for Her Third Annie Tillery Mystery

In an interview I was asked what I did about “Writers’ Block”. In the first two books of the Annie Tillery Mysteries, I did not experience the dreaded blank brain/blank page syndrome. I attribute that to the settings of both, The Madonna Ghost on Fire Island, and Girl with Pencil, Drawing in NYC.
Because I knew those setting so well and loved them just as well, the story could sometimes just flow on the backs of descriptive passages and historical accounts. The development of characters became easier, because of the placement of plot elements in specific settings in these two novels. The settings helped me to capitalize on specific personality traits that were evoked by the settings.

The third of the series, Secrets in the Fairy Chimneys, set in Turkey, was not as easy. Although I visited Turkey to research the book, the fabulous setting I found there were not a part of my soul. I had to really work hard to achieve a credible air of intimacy with the settings tha
t I had conveyed to my readers in books one and two.

I was excited to have the book set in both Istanbul and Cappadocia. I had come upon a description of the archeological dig, a real place called Catalhoyuk, in an archeology journal, and was fascinated by the fact that it was the oldest known town ever found (9,000yrs.). The area where it exists is Cappadocia, rich with ancient history from Hittites to Christians to the “cave people”, as they like to be known, of the present. “Fairy chimneys” is the name given to the weird geological formations that exist there. The stone is so soft that inhabitants carve them into dwellings.

My tour of Turkey included much time in Cappadocia, allowing me to take many pictures and absorb the atmosphere of the place. As I wrote the book, I was gratified for the notes I took, and even wrote passages of the book and adjusted the chapter outline to make it fit what I saw. My photos were invaluable. I had a super guide book that helped me with words and phrases. I took note of peoples’ names, so that I could use authentic Turkish names in the book. I felt that Cappadocia almost became one of the characters in the book with its dry vegetation, dust, and of course, fairy chimneys.
Istanbul, once Constantinople, was captivating. This city setting can still be conjured up just by closing my eyes. The bazaar exceeded my expectations. It was a total assault on the senses. A surprise was the Cistern, a museum of the city’s ancient underground water system. It was so unusual, and its underground passages and chambers had to figure into the story.

As a writer, the lessons I took from my Turkey setting are: really research the setting. If you can’t go there, study maps, view travelogues, and learn the history of the place. Google maps and images are a great help too. I reviewed the tours we took on my Turkey trip, especially the walking ones, along with my photos and notes.

There needs to be a balance between setting, character and plot, but setting for me can be one of your characters, one that can provide your main characters with endless possibilities.

Linda Maria Frank, retired from a career teaching science, including forensic science, resides on Long Island and is currently writing the Annie Tillery Mysteries: The Madonna Ghost, Girl with Pencil, Drawing and Secrets in the Fairy Chimneys. She also produces The Writer’s Dream, her local access TV show, seen on YouTube.

THE MOST VALUABLE TOOL FOR A WRITER?

From Radine Trees Nehring. (With difficulty, since Blogger and my computer seem not to speak the same language. In fact, this is the third time I have attempted to write and post this blog this morning. Yikes!)
-------------------------------------------
In spite of the fact all my novels are set at real locations, realistically depicted, and I have to do a lot of on-site research to be sure I 'get it right,' my primary research tool is quiet contemplation. It's the thinking part of research that makes all our stories unique.

Two of us could choose the same location, talk to the same experts, read the same information, base our plots on a newspaper article we both read. But, when we write, it's what we think that sets us apart and causes us to create two very different stories.

(This thinking is what really intrigues me about writing, and, according to the opinions of several people I admire, it goes way beyond writing. Deep thinkers are important to the world, not to mention democracy.)

Probably the best tool to set off our thinking process is simply living. We observe people, hear and participate in conversations, feel emotions, experience joy, fear, disappointment, sadness, happiness, love.We read about current and historical events. We live in--or travel to--various locations on our earth. We use our five senses to understand our world. And then we think.

In addition, there are of course the actions we normally designate as research that give us something to think about:

1. Learning what the lives and jobs of people appearing in our story are like--including professional people such as police officers.

2. Reading or hearing history or life circumstances that will have an impact on the story in any way. One of my valued research sources for JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, partly set in the historic district of Van Buren, Arkansas, was access to the diary of a Civil War soldier who fought in and around Van Buren.

3. And, of course, there's getting to know the story location thoroughly--what we see and what our senses tell us--especially what we feel as we put ourselves 'on location.' The location does not need to be a real place on the map, of course. It just has to be real for the person writing about it. That's something thinking can accomplish.

These are just a few of my thoughts (!) about how important carefully considered thinking is for all writers, as well as for people in general.

I bet you already thought of this. Right?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

New Release, New Name, New Publisher

I’d like to tell you about where my journey has led me. I also want to tell you who I am now, so you’ll know it’s me.

This month I set out on a new path. Or maybe this month is the culmination of a path started last year. Previously, I’ve self-published a series (that started out at a small press), and have started two more with a couple of terrific small presses, Barking Rain Press and Untreed Reads.

I love working with both these presses. Their approaches are different, but both go all out for their authors. The people who run them are constantly thinking of ways to help us get ahead.

I guess that wasn’t enough, though, because a new series debuted this month. FAT CAT AT LARGE, by Janet Cantrell (that’s me), was released by Berkley Prime Crime. They’ve been extremely generous, too, furnishing books for review and giveaways. (B&N link and Amazon link)

My other series have all won awards, Agatha nominations and a Silver Falchion Finalist. This one, my FAT CAT book, though, debuted as a national bestseller on two different lists—Barnes & Noble and Bookscan. I’ve been to a couple of bookstores that were happy to have me sign the stock. And, let me tell you, that is a thrill and a half!

I consider myself one of the luckiest mystery writers alive, being able to work with such wonderful publishers and editors, and my agent, Kim Lionetti at BookEnds, too! Berkley Prime Crime, Untreed Reads, Barking Rain Press, and Me (Kaye George).




Monday, September 22, 2014

A Quick Tip

I've been busy with a household project of turning a junk room into a bedroom, so I've been off the Internet more than usual.

Still, I'd like to leave you with a quick tip. Consider including something about yourself in your books, but in a devious way.

If you enjoy going to local festivals, make a festival a setting, or give your character a love or hate for neighborly activities.

If you love to exercise, consider giving your character a love or hate for keeping in shape.

If you love chocolate, you could be really mean and make your character allergic to it.

Now you get the idea, go ahead and have fun including stuff from your own life without being obvious about it.

Morgan at a local event
Find all of Morgan Mandel's books at:
http://www.amazon.com/author/morganmandel

Excerpts from all her books are also at:
http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com

Twitter: @MorganMandel

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Where Were You?

by Janis Patterson/Janis Susan May

Last week we marked the tragic anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country. I can tell you exactly where I was when I first heard the news – sipping coffee and listening to the radio in the back yard after The Husband left for work, appreciating the lovely weather and our hopeful garden. I will wager that every other American of an age to take notice at that time can tell you where they were, too.

It is sad that we must mark the milestones of time with such tragic memories. I wasn’t born when the attack on Pearl Harbor catapulted us into WWII, but my parents’ generation and the ones before it to a person could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that changed our world forever.

Same with the assassination of JFK. Whether you loved him or hated him, his death, perhaps more particularly the manner of his death, created an inescapable wound on our national psyche. Everyone I know can say exactly where they were and what they were doing at that fateful moment. I was sitting in my senior English class, disgruntledly worrying with some obscure conjugation problem that seemed dreadfully important at the time. For what it’s worth, I still have never mastered the subjunctive and can barely spell it. I can remember sitting there stunned as the principal, his voice shaking and brimming with incipient tears, read the horrid news over the loudspeaker. We all sat in an unprecedented silence, broken only by some soft sobbing, the heretofore important English exercise forgotten on our desks. School was over for the rest of that week, though we had to sit in silence until the regular release time.

Another memory of a school interruption for a cultural milestone, though a happier one. I remember sitting in my junior high science class listening to the radio broadcast of John Glenn’s spaceflight, the first time man had ever orbited the earth. This was the stuff of science fiction, a perceived gateway to a brighter and better future – one to which we have unfortunately not lived up – and our principal thought we should learn this turning point of history by participating in it through listening as it happened instead of reading about it later. I remember an entire school of youngsters all uncharacteristically silent, hanging on the commentator’s overblown words.

Same thing with the moon landing. My parents and I had been to San Antonio to visit an aunt and, on the way back, listened to the radio as practically every final inch of the space flight was described. Knowing that we would never make it home to see the actual landing on TV, we stopped at a Hillshire Farms café (I think that was the name) and sat there for what seemed like hours, glued to their tv as the space capsule finally settled onto the surface of the moon. History, indeed.
Perhaps less globally impacting but still possessing an emotional punch, I can remember other tragedies and where I was when the news came through. John Lennon’s murder – a party. Princess Grace’s unexpected death – visiting a friend. I was never a particular fan of Lennon, but Princess Grace’s death hit me hard. (She was the icon of my set – an idol to be emulated, though we were all too wise to ever aspire to match her incredible beauty and style.) Likewise I can tell you where I was when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in mid-air and, decades earlier, the submarine Thresher vanished. I can remember the wave of fear I felt when the razor’s edge of the Cuban Missile Crisis was revealed in its naked danger of our own extinction and the moment the first Gulf War was declared.

There are others, and I’m sure everyone has their own ‘right now, right here’ never to be forgotten moments. Some of yours will doubtless be different from mine, but there are always those – 9/11, Pearl Harbor, et al – that are merciless engraved on our collective consciousness. And that is not totally bad, for those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

UPDATE
My publishing blitz is going apace, in spite of laggardly distributors and positively malign computers. Enough said on both subjects, or I shall become prodigiously profane. This fortnight’s offering is THE AVENGING MAID, a re-release of a traditional Regency Romance with a shiny new cover and a thorough re-editing as well as a never-before-done paperback. If the publishing gods permit, it should be available on all major outlets, but after this week of slow uploading and sometimes clueless customer help personnel, I’m not guaranteeing anything.


It is, however, a fun read about a fashionable young miss who – in spite of the risk to both her reputation and her life – goes to work as a scullery maid at the school where her brother died in order to find out the truth about his death. She does not expect to fall in love with one of the masters, a mysterious man who may or may not be part of the evil there.