Friday, December 31, 2010

Ancient New Year's Celebrations

by Jean Henry Mead

The New Year's celebration is the oldest of holidays and was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4,000 years ago. By 2000 BC, Babylonians celebrated the New year on what is now March 23, although they had no written calendar. Late March actually is a logical choice for the New Year because spring is when new crops are planted while the first of January has no astronomical or agricultural significance.

The Babylonian New Year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had its own special festivities. The Romans continued to observe the New Year on March 25, but their calendar was continuously tampered with by various emperors and soon became out of sync with the sun. In order to set the calendar straight, the Roman senate in 153 BC declared January 1 as the beginning of the New Year. But tampering continued until Julius Caesar in 46 BC established what became known as the Julian Calendar. In order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year continue for 445 days.

During the Middle Ages, Christians changed New Year's Day to December 25, the birth of Christ. They then changed his birthday to March 25, a holiday called the Annunciation. Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar during the sixteen century and the celebration of the New Year was returned to January 1.

Some cultures use a lunar calendar with less than 365 days because the months are based on the phases of the moon. The Chinese are among those who observe a lunar calendar. Their New Year begins with the first full moon after the sun enters Aquarius, between January 19 and February 21.

According the Wikipedia: "The Revised Julian calendar adds a day to February in years divisible by four, except for years divisible by 100 that do not leave a remainder of 200 or 600 when divided by 900. This rule agrees with the rule for the Gregorian calendar until 2799. The first year that dates in Revised Julian calendar will not agree with those in the Gregorian calendar will be 2800, because it will be a leap year in the Gregorian calendar but not in the Revised Julian calendar.

"This rule gives an average year 365.242222… days, a good approximation to the mean tropical year. But because the vernal equinox year is slightly longer, the Revised Julian calendar does not do as good a job as the Gregorian calendar of keeping the vernal equinox on or close to March 21."

Confused? So am I.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Reflections by Christine Duncan

It's natural to evaluate how you're doing around this time of year. I like to take the time to figure out what went well and what could have been improved on. But the key phrase there is "like to take the time."

Time is an astonishingly expensive luxury anymore.

Not so very long ago, I was in the middle of a run, (it must have been a weekend, I was at the park) when I decided to stop in the middle of a bridge just to look at the water. I live in one of the smaller suburbs of Denver and have done so for a number of years. So I know a lot of folks and run into many of the same people at the grocery, and the library and the park. So when I was on that bridge, I wasn't surprised when a lady I know by sight came by. I was surprised by what she said. She had never before seen me not in motion.

Whoa. I had to think about that. Because this lady has seen me around and about for years. At that park. At church. Around town.

I tend to try to multi-task On my morning runs, I pray. But I also plan my work outfit and my day, figure out what is for dinner, sometimes run a total in my head of what is left in the checkbook. When I'm in the car, I brush my hair and put on make-up (the latter only at red-lights.) I might peel a banana left over from my hurried breakfast and eat it. I make lists for the grocery store and fill out deposit slips for the bank.

Work is eight full hours of multi-tasking and then when I'm home, I'm constantly trying to fit just one more thing in. When I'm cleaning house, I listen to a book on tape or try to catch up with friends on the phone. I eat my breakfast, while I make my lunch for work and put my contacts in. It's probably efficient. I think.

The thing is, I don't really feel like I've accomplished more. What's that silly quote? Something about the hurrier you go, the behinder you get? Two days before Christmas, some one asked if I was ready. I guessed I might be February. And that is the way this past year has gone.

Last year, I had a ton of resolutions. Write one page on my WIP before I went to bed. Do one promo item a day. Organize my research.

This year--I'm cutting back. Literally. I'm looking for all the things I can cut. So I can take the time to stop on that bridge. And maybe have a conversation with that lady again. Take the time to write and enjoy it. Take the time to spend with my friends and family.

Sigh. I think I might have resolved this one before though. Bad habits take a while to break.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Safe House, the second in the series is available now.

Recharge....and Write!

Recharging can be really hard, but it’s essential for a writer, or any creative type for that matter. This time of year can be a particular challenge with all the social and family obligations and fun. Add in the extra time (depending on where you live, of course – longing stares directed at those in warm climes LOL) for vehicle cleaning and warming every time you want to go out, all the winter woollies and boots that have to be put on and taken off for each outing. And that’s not even considering regular snow removal from sidewalks, driveways and walkways.

For those writers who use retail therapy as a relaxation technique, even that can be a risky experiment in December. All those frantic men in malls! Some are kind of like the contestants on Survivor in the first couple of weeks – finding themselves in unfamiliar territory, sure they must accomplish something, but not sure how to get it accomplished in time, or who to trust! It does, however, provide some great people watching opportunities, assuming you can find an empty bench.

A quiet evening at home can also help revitalize those storytelling batteries, presuming you can relax with that To-Do list flashing neon headings at you as you try to sink into your favorite chair with a cup of hot chocolate.

All this is also supposing you don’t have any deadlines looming, no galleys to review, no edits to look at…

Please share what you do to get those stories flowing when it’s so busy you barely have time to catch your breath, let alone set aside a few hours of writing time! What are your favorite, tried-and-true creativity exercises?

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
Also on Facebook, Twitter & Good Reads

Monday, December 27, 2010

Plucking Stuff from Real Life for Mystery Writing

When writing, I use a lot of what's going on around me.

One of my first mysteries, Guilt by Association, had a flood where the loss of a bridge kept people stranded on the wrong side with only one house above the water. Everyone congregated there and of course, there was a murder. This was based on a flood where the only bridge out of a mountain community was washed away--and I just sailed on from there.

A few years back, up in the forest, the environmentalist activists made it impossible for the loggers to work, and I included that in the first Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery where Nick Two John is introduced, Deadly Trail, and I plucked a bit from a murder that happened at a mountain lodge nearby. A visit to a Pow Wow became the basis for Deadly Omen. One of the locations in Wingbeat was an isolated home in the mountains I visited once in order to interview the owner for a newspaper article. At the time I thought it was really a perfect place for illegal activity. I also based one of the characters on another person I interviewed for the newspaper. To be perfectly honest, a lot of the people I've interviewed over the years became characters in my book.

In Judgment Fire an idea came from a huge pond a man in our neighborhood created above many other homes. I can't say that I've ever heard about anyone calling back the dead, but in Calling the Dead I included the account of a horrendous story someone told me about a kidnapping and rape. I researched how Indians call back the dead.

Kindred Spirits came from my meeting a wonderful Tolowa woman who charmed me with her stories about her people and we truly became kindred spirits. She had such a multi-faceted personality, I knew I had to write about her. In this book, she became two people. The victim in the story was based on an artist I'd interveiwed.

Dispel the Mist drew on a couple of real life events. For over twenty years I had a residential care home and knew that many people had problems with neighbors when they started a new facility for developmentally disable people and I used that as part of a sub-plot. I also had the opportunity to visit the Painted Rock site where there are pictographs of The Hairy Man, the Tule River Indians' version of Big Foot. I knew that Deputy Tempe Crabtree had to have an encounter with the Hairy Man. The Bear Creek Indian Reservation in my books is based on the Tule River Indian Reservation located near my home.

In Invisible Path I wanted to have something about the recovery center that's located at the end of the reservation and the men who are either sent there or go under their own volition. I'd also seen what looked like paramilitary men traveling on the highway heading into the mountains and I wanted to write about what I thought they might be up to.

In the mystery I'm planning now, I'm going to write about two deaths that happened recently and were called natural, but to me and others in our community there were many unanswered questions. I also have a friend who wants to be an character in my next book--so she'll definitely be there. Once the holidays are over, I'm going to get busy on it.

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 26, 2010


by Earl Staggs

The vast majority of people who practice law in this country are decent, honest, hard-working people dedicated to seeing wrongs righted and justice served. I call them “attorneys.”

There is a percentage of those in the legal profession who are not concerned with wrong or right or justice, but only with winning cases and making tons of money. These are the people who put murderers, thieves, and drug dealers back on the street because helping bad people beat the law makes them rich. To do what they do requires trickery and deceit, of course, but the worst part is twisting and bending the intent and purpose of laws intended to protect the innocent. I call these people “lawyers.”

In my conscious mind, I know lawyers are only a small part of the entire legal profession, but these are the ones who make headlines and often run for political office so they can use their wiles to become even richer in terms of both money and power. I know that for every Johnnie Cochran, there are a thousand Ben Matlocks.

My problem is, I can’t read a book or watch a TV show or movie featuring decent, honest attorneys without thinking about those for whom a legal case is not a quest for justice but a contest which must be won, no matter what. I can’t enjoy reading about attorneys using their training and expertise to see justice done without thinking about lawyers who are only interested in winning at any cost.

That’s why, if I pick up a book about someone who practices law, I put it back on the shelf and look for something else. If I’m scrolling through TV listings, I pass over Law and Order, The Good Wife, and other highly-rated shows. Instead, I’ll look for true crime shows, those documentaries about real cases in which the bad guys are caught and punished in accordance with the law. Not the law which makes it possible to kill people and get away with it if you can afford the right lawyers. Not the law that puts criminals back on the street based on idiotic terms such as “inadmissible evidence,”and “Illegal search and seizure.” If there is evidence a crime was committed, it should be considered by the court. If a police officer doesn’t follow correct procedures, punish the cop, but don’t turn the criminal loose because of it.

But that’s just me and the way I think and feel, not an indictment of anyone who thinks and feels differently. Last time I checked, we were still allowed to be hard-headed, opinionated curmudgeons if we want to be as long as we do no harm to anyone else.

So I’ll end this year and begin a new one thinking what I think, feeling what I feel, and to the best of my ability, harming no one.

Happy New Year everyone.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Worldwide Christmas Customs

by Jean Henry Mead

While researching Christmas customs around the world, I discovered that the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.

In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.

In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.

Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.

Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.

Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.

House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.

Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.

During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.

I hope you all had a warm and wonderful Christmas holiday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays from Mark Troy

Happy Holidays to all of you.

By the time you read this, I will be in St. Louis. My wife, son, daughter-in-law, grandkids and I are piling into a van and taking a road trip.

I wish I could say this will be a relaxing holiday and I can get plenty of reading done, but I doubt that I will. Nevertheless, I'm taking my iPad loaded with books. I'll have a few hours to read in the car as it's eleven hours each way. I expect I'll get no more than an hour or two.

Here are the books I'm hoping to get to"

The Last Gig, by Norman Green. Alessandra Martillo is a pool shark and repo specialist in New York. The book was nominated for a Shamus.

Quarry In the Middle, by Max Alan Collins. In the tradition of Mickey Spillane. Collins is always a great read.

Breathing Water, by Timothy Hallinan. This is a thriller set in Bangkok and, since I lived in Thailand for five years, I can't wait to get to it.

Critical Space, by Greg Rucka. An Atticus Kodiak book, with one of my all-time favorite tough women, Brigit Logan

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond. This is not a mystery, but an anthopological, sociological, economic treatise.

If past holidays are any predictors, I'll buy a couple more books and come back with a larger TBR pile than I left with.

I wish you all good reading for the holidays. Let us all know in the comments what you're planning to read.

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 20, 2010

Double Standards by Morgan Mandel

I swear too much, at times when I really don't need to. Usually it's when people don't hear me, or around people that don't mind.

I didn't used to be this way, but somehow the older I got, the more I let fly with words I  never would have used when I was younger, even in my teens or twenties. Maybe it's the reverse with some people, I don't know.

Surprisingly, when I read a book, I hold the main characters to higher standards than I practice myself. I'll stop reading a book if the person I'm trying to identify with is constantly using four letter and other choice words, though I don't mind reading them for effect.

What about you? Do you have double standards about the characters you read or try to identify with? It doesn't have to be only about swearing, but other areas as well.

Morgan Mandel

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A FedEx Christmas

By Captain Mark W. Danielson

’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the hub,
the sorters were sorting, not one single flub.
They stuffed boxes in demis, all loaded with care,
in hopes that their pilots would soon fly them there.
The presents were nestled all snug in their cases,
while loaders slid them to all the right places.
Then my first officer walked with me to his side,
climbed the stairs to prepare for a long winter flight.
When out on the ramp I heard such a clatter,
I sprang from my seat to see what’s the matter.
Away to the door I flew like a flash,
looked out just in time to see the near crash.
The moon on the breast of new-fallen snow,
gave the luster of mid-day to the objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
a pilot from management not wearing flight gear.
With little old eyes, so nervous and quick,
I knew in a moment someone must have been sick.
More rapid than eagles, more pilots came.
But not enough pilots, he called us by name.
Now Dusty, now Scooter, now Gator and Oddie!
On Blazer, on Bear, on Trapper, and Hoggie!
To the top of your stairs, to the flight decks you all,
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
Regardless of obstacles, we took to the sky.
From snow-covered runways, those cargo planes flew,
with cabins full of toys, and St Nicholas, too.
And then with a twinkling, my wheels soon touched down.
A few more minutes and we’ll be on the ground.
Soon a flurry of loaders converged on the plane.
And fuelers and mechanics all doing the same.
While bundles of toys rode their way down,
several safety observers all stood around.
Workers’ cheeks were like roses,
their noses like cherries.
Many in Santa hats, nearly all seemed quite merry.
Some beards were all white and covered in snow,
but no one complained, only hours to go.
One had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when she laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
She was chubby and plump, a right jolly old gal,
I smiled when I saw her, in spite of myself.
A wink of her eye and a twist of her hand,
her bus door opened, I had nothing to dread.
She spoke not a word, but took us straight to the door.
As soon as we’re off, she went back to get more.
In three hours we were back in our seats,
the process done over, we’re not done with our feat.
Hundreds of planes soon took to the air,
all sure to deliver their boxes with care.
Through our smart phones, the chief pilot said,
another sort down, now go find your beds.
Merry Christmas from all who deliver your presents.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing

The man making the most ripples and news about Indie authors and ebooks and at the vangaurd of a new day in publishing books and fiction in particular has an amazing time at his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing and this week he's interviewed me as I am closing in on having 50 ebooks on Kindle. My latest novel is Titanic 2012 and it has been a fascinating trip going from traditional publishing to Indie author publisher over the past year. Joe interviews me aboard Titanic 2012 at his blog.

I hope you will take the time to drop by and have tea and Jack Daniels with Joe and I aboard Titanic, and I hope you will leave a comment about either the book, the "situational" interview itself, book publishing, ebook publishing, etc.

Thanks, Rob Walker

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Character Goals by Christine Duncan

A recent headline on my browser caught my attention. The Fed declares No Inflation. The Subtitle declared: Consumer Prices not up.

Oh Really? In my neck of the woods, gas is up, the cost for water to my house is up, electric and phone bills have gone up, the cost of banking and owning a credit card has gone up. And well, you get the picture. The headline made me see red. It's all in how you see it, right? Maybe (although a recent trip to the grocery does not confirm this.) food and consumer goods are not up.

And therein is the lesson for those of us who write. It is all in how you see it. Your bad guy is not thinking he's the bad guy in anything he's doing. He has a goal. He wants something. And that something colors his actions.

To my way of thinking, any way of accounting for this economy that doesn't include the necessities like the electric bill is...well, freaking evil. But the Fed isn't trying to be evil. (I think.)

In the same way, your bad guy is just operating the way that will be best for him.

So if your characters need a little lift, sit down and think about it. Take each character separately, not just your hero, and decide their goals and beliefs. You don't have to fill out one of those characterization forms that tell you to put down the character's favorite color. But you do have to know what rocks his world. It will make deciding what they want to do next so much easier.

Christine Duncan is the author of the Kaye Berreano mystery series. Book two of the series, Safe House is available now.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sweltering in Synopsis Hell

By Earl Staggs

The novel is finished, and it’s time to begin the query process. That means I have to write a query letter and a synopsis. Neither is easy, but the synopsis is the hardest of the two for me. The novel is slightly more than 63,000 words, and I have to summarize the entire thing in two pages. Some agents may want a one-page synopsis, some may want a six-pager or another size, but my first goal is a two-page one.

I’ve only gone through synopsis hell once before for myself, but I’ve helped other writers with theirs. That wasn’t too difficult. I was only critiquing and making suggestions on someone else’s efforts. I do that on a regular basis with my writing group. As every writer knows, it’s much easier to see what needs to be done or undone in another writer’s work. Seeing the same needs in our own is a completely different thing. Our objectivity disappears after about the fifteenth rewrite. We know what we wanted to write and may think we’ve nailed it, but someone else sees it for the first time and the glitches stand out for them in flashing neon.

Perhaps a synopsis is so daunting because we go at it with preplanted knowledge of its importance. If it doesn’t hit the agent or editor exactly right, the entire novel is only so many words on so many pages. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the novel is if no one is attracted enough by the synopsis to want to read it.

Most synopsis gurus say we should include the actions and conflicts of the major characters in the major story lines. But what about those fascinating secondary characters and subplots? They were as hard to write as anything else. They’re our darlings, too. Doesn’t matter. To stay within the word count limit of the two-page synopsis, they have to be cut.

Don’t worry, my darlings. You’ll make it into the six-pager, I promise.

I finished the first draft and labeled it Synopsis 1. Then I began the second draft, Synopsis 2. Now, I’m up to Synopsis 5. Each one gets tighter and, I hope, better. I don’t know at this point which one will be final. Will it be Synopsis 10? 15?

Fortunately, my writing group meets this week. They’ll tell me how I’m doing.

Have a great week, everyone. If anyone needs me, I’ll be right here. In Synopsis Hell.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Publishing Etiquette

by Jean Henry Mead 

Assuming that you’ve done your homework, selected the right publisher and submitted a near perfect manuscript, there are guidelines to follow in order to maintain a good working relationship.

~ Be positive in your dealings with a potential editor or publisher. When the decision is made to acquire your manuscript, an editor is committed to working with you for as long as a year or more. So, you need to present yourself as a willing and passionate partner, according to New York Editor Nicole Diamond Austin. She advises writers to be prepared to answer questions about the manuscript and most important, to be flexible, especially if the editor gives critical feedback.

~ Be willing to share your career vision, especially if it’s your first novel. Share your expertise and how you want to be known. Compare your work realistically to other authors and explain how you plan to promote your books.

~ Explain your “platform”—anything that uniquely qualifies you to write your book or provides you with a ready audience of readers. For example, if you’re a doctor, your medical thriller will be more readily accepted than if it were written by a pet store owner.

~ Honesty will win the publisher over. Don’t claim to be Lawrence Block’s friend when you only met him once at a writer’s convention. It’s tempting to try to impress a publisher but it will come back to haunt you later, as some novelists have learned. Feel free to briefly talk about your writing accomplishments but make sure you're accurate. Publishing is a close knit industry.

~ Respect an editor’s time and realize that you’re only one of many writers in his stable. And be patient if your calls are not immediately answered. Make sure you have a good reason to call because publishers, editors and publicists are very busy people.

~ Don’t get pegged as a difficult writer to work with. You may not like your book cover or the way the publicist is handling your PR campaign but you need to trust that they have your best interests at heart. Make sure that whatever is bothering you is worth potentially damaging your relationship.

~ Always be nice to the publishing assistants. Remember their names and ask how they’re doing when you call or email. Writers are often surprised at what an assistant can accomplish and the speed with which they get back to you.

~ Keep your editor informed, both before and after publication. If you’re a guest speaker, write a magazine article about your book or appear on a convention panel, make sure he or she knows about it ahead of time. The event may serve as a good reason to reorder additional copies of your book. But don’t overwhelm your editor with details.

~ Give your publisher a list of names of people who are willing to endorse your book and make sure your memo isn't longer than three pages. Again, those who work in a publishing company are very busy, so, don’t overload them with too much information.

And, finally, always thank your editor, publicist and publisher for the opportunity they’ve afforded you as well as the hard work they’ve given your manuscript. Thank them personally as well as in your book’s acknowledgements. A little appreciation goes a long way. . .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reflections on Writing and Running by Mark Troy

This Sunday I finished the White Rock Marathon, which gave me an opportunity to reflect on my two favorite pastimes. I could no more not run than I could not write.  If I can't get time on a keyboard or on pavement I feel out of sorts, physically, emotionally and intellectually.

I approach writing and running in pretty much the same way. I don't think I have much talent for either. If the talent fairy came to visit, she probably went to the wrong house. I think that writing and running are activities I can master by practice--seat time in the case of a novel and feet time in the case of the marathon. A marathon is not just 26.2 miles, but more like 400 miles of training. The race is just the culmination. Likewise a novel is not 300 pages, but might be thousands of pages, most of which readers never see.

I've now run eighteen marathons. I haven't written as many novels but I do know that a marathon, like a novel, doesn't get easier with each subsequent one.

Waiting in the pre-dawn cold for the starting gun to go off is like staring at the blank page at the beginning of a novel. There's anticipation knowing what's ahead but also some fear from not knowing what's ahead.

In a novel, you never know what your characters will do or say. Some of them surprise you and inspire you. The same with a marathon. Around the ten mile mark, I passed a man struggling up a hill and overheard him say to his running partner, "Since the stroke, I can't walk very well, but it hasn't bothered my running." You have other characters who make you go WTF? Like that guy in the banana costume. At what mile did he realize it was a bad idea?

It's good to have a plan for a novel and a marathon, but you can always expect the plan to fall apart. You reach a point where the right words no longer come, where every sentence is a struggle and every paragraph sucks.  It becomes a fight just to put words on the page. The marathon is the same. For sixteen miles, my plan was working. I was keeping the pace, maintaining my energy, and enjoying the experience. Somewhere between sixteen and eighteen, the plan fell apart. By the time I reached mile eighteen, my hamstring felt like it was tied in a knot that got tighter with every step and my heels felt like someone was driving nails into them.  I actually thought about a piece of advice from the late crime-writer Stephen J. Cannell. "Finish what you start." It might be bad, but if you don't finish it, you have nothing. So I finished.

What writer doesn't like word play? Almost every writer indulges in it. But in a marathon? Sure. There was the woman whose shirt read, "Put the run back in drunk." Then there's the aid station at mile twenty staffed by girls from Hooters, itself a crude word play. This one was located intentionally at the start of the most challenging part of the course--a pair of hills known as the Dolly Partons. You'd know why if you saw them.

Writing a novel and running a marathon require sacrifices. You have to spend time alone, away from family and friends. You may have to give up some activities to train or to crank out the pages. You might have to get up early or stay up late to fit everything in. You can't do it without support from other people. My wife gave up some Saturday mornings to provide water on long training runs. She and my kids and came out to watch the marathon. Likewise, with writing a novel. Your spouse and kids give you the time and space to write and will be your biggest fans when the novel comes out.

Why go through writing a novel or running a marathon? Because of the people you meet along the way--people who come to your signing and tell you how much they enjoyed your book or who are proud just to know a published author. In the marathon, there are hundreds of people who give up their Sunday to dispense water and Gatorade. There are neighbors getting together in their yards to watch you go buy, and young kids lining the streets to give you a high five. It makes all the sacrifice and pain worthwhile. 

Mark Troy

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Describing Facial Expressions

How would you describe the above facial expressions?

Actually this is a photo of my eldest and youngest daughter playing a game we all played on Thanksgiving. We were given a Jelly Belly to taste to see if a person could tell the difference between a good one and a bad.

Like the strange tasting jelly beans in the Harry Potter stories, some of the Jelly Belly's were disgusting.
My daughters both were given Jelly Belly's called centipede guts. Some of the other flavors were dirt, dirty diaper, snot--well, you get the idea.

The faces people made were great--but this photo showed my favorites.

I got to thinking about how writers tend to describe facial expressions, sometimes as simply as he looked tired, or happy, or disgusted. When you look at the above photo, think of all the different ways you could describe the facial expressions.


Monday, December 6, 2010

The Rest of the Story - Progressive Mystery Ending by Morgan Mandel

I want to thank everyone who participated in our Progressive Mystery last week, but all good things must come to an end. The hardest part sometimes is finding the perfect ending for a story.

Here's where we left off:

Here's one ending:

Marilyn frowned as she picked up the mattress with the bed bugs and threw it out the window. That messy business was over with.

So was the other. She'd been so meticulous. She still couldn't believe she'd forgotten to lock the front door and punch in the security code. If she'd done that in the first place. none of this annoying adventure would have taken place. Fortunately, Brandon had now been picked up by the authorities. Her sister's death had driven him over the edge, but Marilyn didn't feel one bit sorry for him or for her. That's what they got for their treachery. She still couldn't believe how they'd snuck around behind her back. As for Humphrey, he'd better not show up again. She'd read up on vampires and knew ways to deal with him.

Sure, she'd lost her identity, but pretending to be her sister was a small price to pay for justice. Tonight she'd sleep on the couch, tomorrow she'd buy a new mattress. Her life would go on, not as Greta, but as Marilyn.

This is one version of the ending, but if you wish to do another, please do so below in the comment section,

Or, maybe you'd like to mention how you came up with the ending of one of your stories, or perhaps share a perfect ending from a different book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blast from the Past

By Mark W. Danielson

Having two out-of-print books from a defunct publisher and another publisher willing to put them on Kindle, it seemed like a good time to re-read them before sending them on. The only problem is I couldn’t find either of the final manuscript drafts. Bear in mind that these books were saved on floppy drives, and yes, I still have one computer that reads them. Then again, I also have a working 8-track stereo in the garage. (You young kids should look up “8-track player” on the Internet.) And even though I kept several floppy discs in my safe deposit box, the manuscripts I was looking for weren’t on any of them. Go figure.

So this meant I had to work from the closest versions I had. Danger Within was pretty close. The Innocent Never Knew, not as much, so it will take much longer to complete. Over a decade has slipped by since I read Danger Within, and I was pleased it is still a fast-moving and topical story that gets my heart pumping. But let’s face it, since no one huddles in phone booths or makes collect calls anymore, why not update it while checking for typos? Am I concerned about having different versions when they are e-published next year? Not in the least because e-book fans are a new audience.

My first e-publishing experience was with Diablo’s Shadow, released a month or so ago to readers preferring e-books over bound versions. But releasing out-of-print books, particularly updated versions, is a whole different animal. If the e-book versions generate new interest, then I’m happy. Whether or not they sell is a moot point because the process of recreating them was fun.

Michael Crichton once said he never re-read his work, but one day he got bored. After reading The Andromeda Strain, he remarked, “That’s pretty good.” I’m happy to say I feel the same about Danger Within, and hope to have the same feeling when I tackle The Innocent Never Knew. After all, shouldn’t good books be timeless?