Monday, June 30, 2014


Saying goodbye to a dream?  Years ago (actually, about 35) my husband and I found our dream place--land in Arkansas located on the edge of a wooded Ozarks hollow about a hundred and twenty miles from our home in the city. There was a live spring at the bottom of the main hollow, two ponds and a loosing stream below us in the valley. We named our dream place "Spring Hollow" and spent Friday and Sunday evenings for the next ten years commuting forth and back from the city where we worked to spend weekends there.

The two of us built a cabin so we had a place to nest--no plumbing or phone (this was before cell phones) but we did have electricity installed. Garage sale furniture, carried-in water, a composting toilet, and a shower stall where we could "bathe in a bucket," made our little cabin quite habitable. We spent weekends working on our cabin, making gardens in our clearing, and becoming acquainted with the growing things (lots of wild flowers) creatures, events, and humans that made up our country life.

This had a huge effect on me. Everything that happened at Spring Hollow seemed magic. Finally my love and emotions burst out in writing. I wrote and sold--almost immediately--my first Arkansas Ozarks essay in 1986. I had only dabbled in writing before, and had actually trained for and gained a career in retail, emphasizing art, interior design, and antiques.  I'd only written a few poems about those interests (and ultimately sold one of them for international publication) but I'd never consistently written anything. Falling in love with the Arkansas Ozarks changed all that.

For ten years I wrote about the many things that interested me around Spring Hollow. Eventually the stack of published feature articles and essays became my first book, the non-fiction "DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow." It earned the Arkansas Governor's award for best writing about the state and a bunch of other nice things, but, for me, it was a personal journal, a diary recording experiences with the loves of my life--husband John, and our weekend retreat, which by 1988, had become a full-time home.

Years do pass. Life changes. Now Spring Hollow is for sale, and we have bought a condominium in a quiet area (with a few trees, by Spring Hollow standards) in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Heart tug--yes, but while we are waiting for the right buyer, I have begun loving the sharing I can do with the people who will eventually take over our stewardship on this land.  In the meantime, I have continued my writing experience with a mystery series set in various special places around me in Arkansas. My protagonist, a mature woman, lives in a place called Blackberry Hollow. Can you guess about the physical details of this home place for Carrie McCrite? Right. Therefore I have the best of two worlds--a convenient and cozy condo on the edge of a medium-sized city, AND time with Carrie at Blackberry Hollow.

Writing is indeed a wonderful career, and enables some of us to keep our dreams alive and always with us!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Your First Mystery by Mar Preston

At the direction of a good friend who is a professional writer and marketer, I have just finished 3 eBooks of about 10,000 words on the topic of writing your first mystery.

Have I revealed secrets known only to a few bestselling crime novelists? Hardly. The only secret that I could disclose to aspiring mystery authors is that a 300-page novel requires the sustained ability to apply seat of pants to chair for long periods of time with fingers on the keyboard. But I suspect you already know that.

The first: Writing Your First Mystery is an overview of the basic structure of a whodunit or thriller.  The second: Plotting Your First Mystery, is the elements of plotting, obviously enough. And the third: Creating Killer Characters: Writing Your First Mystery is a digest of characterization techniques.

Has this been done before?  Oh my, yes. And done well, I might add. I’ve written it in my own words, carved it according to my special flair, but I have no illusions that these are the definitive statement on writing your first mystery. But they’re damned good for the beginner.

Why do it then? First of all, I didn’t intend to write three eBooks. I wasn’t sure I had that much to say. However, in the process of writing four unpublishable novels, five successful whodunits, and many short stories, I have learned something.

I’ve learned something about the rules of mystery genre writing and deep structure of a satisfying crime novel. I’ve learned a great deal about what goes on behind the blue curtain of law enforcement, especially in Santa Monica. I’ve learned that you can’t be a shy person who lives in a remote California village and sell the crime novels you’re proud of without some marketing edge.

So I am advised by my savvy marketing friend to make the first available for free and box up the other two in the sets that are becoming popular. This is not an announcement that they’re available. I just sent the third one to the graphic artist this morning.

These eBooks are a trial. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you posted. 

Here is the Amazon link to my books as of 2014. Expect A Very Private High School late 2014.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Some more research behind my Neanderthal Ice Age project

This research is what was behind chapters 13 through 15 and explains my thinking on where they existed, their speech, and an unusual part of their diet.

Chapter 13
The author: Neanderthals roamed Europe and Asia, but there is no evidence they ever made it to the Americas. I do not believe the full extent of their range has yet been discovered. In February of 2008, a discovery in Greece led Eleni Panagopoulou, of the Paleoanthropology-Speleology Department of Southern Greece to say, “Our findings prove that…their settlement networks were broader and more organized than we believed.” New discoveries will continue to be made and more will continue to be learned about the Neanderthals.

For instance, the recent discovery in a Gibraltar cave point to Neanderthals being there only 24,000 years ago, 2,000 years later than previously believed.

…charcoal samples from the cave, called Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar, are about 28,000 years old and maybe just 24,000 years old.
Associated Press September 14, 2006

The author again: It’s possible that the body disposal system used for Kung and others would explain the absence of skeletal remains in the Americas. The earliest artifacts found in North America were probably deposited long after the areas were in habited.

Chapter 14 – tree ferns

There are perhaps nearly a thousand treefern species which grow chiefly in the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics.  Many of these are quite cold-tender and will suffer if the temperature drops below freezing.  But a few … are cold-hardy enough to adapt to a less hospitable climate. 

Tree fern frond ("fiddlehead") by the Akatarawa RiverNew Zealand. These unopened fronds are edible but must be roasted first to remove shikimic acid.
Wikipedia at

Chapter 15 – speech
Neanderthals, an archaic human species that dominated Europe until the arrival of modern humans some 45,000 years ago, possessed a critical gene known to underlie speech, according to DNA evidence retrieved from two individuals excavated from El Sidron, a cave in northern Spain.

The new evidence stems from analysis of a gene called TOXP2 which is associated with language.
The New York Times, Neanderthals Had Important Speech Gene, DNA Evidence Shows, by Nicholas Wade, October 19, 2007

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Desperately seeking a new hobby – interested crafts may apply below…

Back in my high school days, I took a class called Home Arts. We learned to knit, crochet, embroidery, and quilt. All in the span of nine weeks.

Since that time, I took up cross-stitch for a while. Eventually, I got bored and put it away for decoupaging ceramic geese and woven baskets.  I still have tons of colorful, patterned napkins, just waiting for me to find the right basket. And the time.

My cube mate is always bringing in things she’s thrown together over the weekend. Including boot toppers and knitted socks. And she works full time.

This summer, I’m serious about spending some time playing. We bought ATV’s and have taken them out a few times. I could crochet while we drove to the park. (I do have a half-finished baby blanket to complete.)

Or, I could make something out of that pile of antique fabric I bought at the flea market a few months ago.

Or, I could make Christmas baskets for my out of town relatives to fill with homemade candy and treats when the season approached.

I’m full of ideas.

Yet, I haven’t settled on one project, yet.  So chime in.

What craft do you think Lynn should take up this summer?  Doesn’t have to be one of the items listed above, I do love a bright and shiny new idea.

Do you craft? 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How Big Is Too Big?

by Janis Patterson
I’m a Texan, so ‘bigger is better’ is part of my DNA… but, I’m discovering, only up to a point.
A week or two ago I was lucky enough to go to the final George Strait concert. The Husband is a rabid fan and I like him, too, which is rare for me and country singers. We knew this was going to be An Event, but nothing could have prepared us for what happened.
The concert was held in the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the same place where the Cowboys play football. It’s roughly the size of a small European country. Just getting to the parking lot was a trial – a journey that should have taken no more than 45 minutes took over 2 ½ hours – the last 20 minutes of which were spent going about 20 feet so we could turn into our parking lot. We were shuttled to the stadium, then frisked and wanded by security (no purses or backpacks allowed unless they were transparent) before we were allowed to enter the building.
After standing in line for 45 minutes plus for the privilege of paying $35 each for t-shirts, we finally started the trek to our seats. I tell you, maneuvering through a crowd like that gives me new respect for salmon!
We had very decent seats – second balcony, second row. Down on the playing field there were about 1,000 folding chairs set up (and packed!) around the revolving stage on the 50 yard line on which these little ½ inch tall people performed. Yes, it was that far away. I wonder if the people up in the gods could even see the stage!
Not to worry, though – I doubt if there was a seat in the place that didn’t have a direct sightline to at least one of the multitude of tv screens. Yes, multitude, and in all sizes. The biggest appeared to have just about the same square footage as a 70s tract home. So – we had our choice – anything from a ½ inch George Strait on stage all the way up to a George Strait face the size of Godzilla on a tv screen.
I love music, and love to hear all the nuances of it. Good luck there. The sound system was cranked up so high that the sound was hopelessly distorted. It had to be that way, I guess, because of the crowd. I can understand – somewhat – the screaming during applause, but for the life of me I cannot see why people pay the equivalent of a fairly good-sized car payment for a seat to hear an artist and then scream while he’s singing. It makes no sense. It does, however, make headaches.
All of that was cream, however, compared to getting out of the place. We had maps of the area and had plotted a reasonable way of getting out and getting home. Good luck! The police had blocked off streets seemingly at random and sent clogged lines of cars off in torturous directions. We rebelled, and as soon as we could get off the main street we dodged through secondary and tertiary streets until we finally found the southern interstate. This route took us approximately 20 miles out of the way, but traffic there was moving, and there was a much smaller chance of being surrounded by a bunch of concert drunks. Yes, the beer (small - $8) and the margaritas ($15) were flowing freely. Two couples in the row ahead of us had at least 6 margaritas apiece. (I think those were the prices – we didn’t buy any!)
So what does this have to do with writing?
The concert was all out of proportion. The charm of country music is the words (which were lost in the noise) and the music (distorted) and the down-home folksy ambiance (in a concert with a record 104,7?? attendees? Come on…) As in so much of life, it – and we – have lost the human proportion.
Think about it. Most thrillers aren’t about people, they’re about nations and giant corporations and saving/destroying the world. Yes, usually there’s a lone hero who is either an impossibly perfect standard of beauty and bravery with knowledge of just about everything (Jack Bauer, anyone?), or an impossibly average man who rises to the call and eventually reaches an impossibly perfect standard. He’s usually at least good-looking, too. In both mysteries and thrillers there is all too often what I call a Moriarity villain – each time he is vanquished he manages to get away, escaping things that would annihilate a normal person and coming back again and again until it becomes both excruciating and ridiculous. Think Red John on The Mentalist. I personally call it lazy writing.
One of the reasons romance is so popular is that it is human-sized – one man, one woman, a happy ending. Cozy mysteries, too – normal people solving a normal-sized crime in a normal world. These storylines are something to which most people can relate. Country-gobbling corporations or nations setting to enslave the world are – for me at least – too big. I can’t become emotionally or empathetically involved in something set to such a gargantuan scale.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for such large-stage fiction. Or, for that matter, gigantic, record-breaking concerts. Some people enjoy it. I just hate to see it become so prevalent that it sometimes threatens to choke off less strident and overreaching stories.

Or am I all wrong? No matter. I’ll still take things – concerts, storylines or whatever – that are human-scaled.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hoping to Get Away for a Few Days

Though I have a lot of family nearby, I'm missing my eldest daughter. She and her grown kids and their kids live about 6 hours away. To get there, one must drive through terrible Southern California traffic. It's been far too long since I've seen any of them so I'm hoping to go down there the week this is supposed to appear.

In the meantime, I'm planning one of those free e-book days, working on a basic outline (I know, I always say I do plot ahead of time) so that I'll know where I'm headed with my new Rocky Bluff P.D. book. I have many ideas for side plots, just not the main idea for the murder mystery. (Only the most important part.)

I always like to come up with ways that the side plots can sort of tie in with the main plot in the end. Doesn't always work out, but that's what I aim for.

Yes, I've promised myself to get with it and get those ideas down on paper, so I can begin. Once I have some basic ideas and names for the new characters along with the basic ideas of who they are and how they'll fit in, I can start.

Oh, and that means coming up with a great first line.

Okay, enough of this for now. I'll get back to you when I have some further developments. Wish me luck--both for the trip and the book.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

I guess we might call this--Marilyn against the wall.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Writerly Worries

We writers always have something to worry about. When we start out, we hand our chapters to our critique partners in hopes that they will love our work. When we’re more experienced, we send out partials to agents and editors and pray they will take our work. A book is published, and the worries increase geometrically. Will readers like the cover? Will they buy our book? Will it sell well? Why did that mean-spirited person have to write that awful review? Will it sell enough copies so that my publisher will want the next book I’ve written?

We even worry when a book is doing very well. Readers let us know how much they’ve enjoyed it. The Amazon numbers are great. But how long will they continue to be up there? Will my fans like the next book as much? If they don’t, will the publisher continue to buy books that I’ve written? Am I a one-book author? Only a five-book author? Why doesn’t my book appear in bookstores where anyone can see it? Why isn’t it nominated for an award?

No matter where we are on the ladder of our writing career, we worry. Each new book we publish must stand on its own. Readers compare our books to those of our fellow authors. Even worse, they compare our books to ones we’ve written before.

Which is when I remind myself of all the wonderful comments readers have made over the years--they like my style of writing. They love my characters and the way they interact. They couldn’t put my book down. Surely, I don’t lose this ability as I write one book and then another. Though sometimes the final results vary. In the past few years I’ve been disappointed by the last book four of my favorite authors have written. If they—much more prestigious writers than I am—have produced novels I’ve found too long or downright boring—then I can be forgiven for writing a novel that doesn’t always strike a homerun. All I can do is keep on writing books, and writing them the best way I know how.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

How Could You Ignore Something Like This?

 By Mar Preston

Years ago a group of spiritually-minded forest lovers began hanging mementos of on the branches of a semi-circle of pines high on the side of a mountain here in California. Over time, it was called the Shrine of the Five Maidens.  Here people found solace, and buried their pets.  Others came, a drum circle, solstice worshippers among the New Age folk, the curious,  dog walkers and hikers, and the environmentalists tut-tutting over this misuse of Forest Service land. I thought it was weird, peculiar, and wonderful. Standing inside that circle of pines at dusk was a little creepy though.

Then in the dark of a moonless night vandals destroyed the Shrine.  The circle of stones was scattered down the slope of the meadow. A sign was posted that evening: Fundamentalist Christian Taliban We Know Who You Are. Then some unknown person nailed up a copy of The True Believer by Eric Hoffer on the trail of pines leading up to the meadow. Then came a religious tract nailed up on another tree.  The desecration of the trees continued in a battle between secular and sacred. Then came piles of teetering stones like cairns set in the middle of the path. This was followed by 5s painted on the trees farther up the mountain in commemoration of the Five Maidens.

This is a small enough village that everyone knows everyone and what faction they belong to. The local weekly began printing Letters to the Editor. The Christians as a bloc wisely did not respond. I have no idea who desecrated the Five Maidens Shrine.Then came a specific accusation against an environmentalist who had expressed the personal opinion that the Shrine was just a "bunch of junk." This was vociferously challenged in the stream of Letters to the Editor that followed. A national environmental organization was one of the accused perpetrators.

There is no way I can stay out of the controversy that is whipping around. I read every email and Facebook posting with scores of comments, gossip at the post office, and go to meetings where this is the hot topic. I can’t help myself.

I heard Jane Yolen at a conference once say: "I tell my children.  Don't bother me unless there are broken bones protruding or hemorrhaging." 

Please tell me how you get keys moving on keyboard no matter what? 

* Details have been obscured because feeling is still intense. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Some more research into the last Ice Age

These were two of the favorite topics I researched, telepathy (after I decided to make my Neanderthals telepathic) and giant beavers!

I simply loved researching for DEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE. The book is available as an e-book or paperback at Untreed Reads.

Chapter 11 – aborigine telepathy
There is little documented evidence of the ability of the Australian aborigines to convey messages telepathically, but much anecdotal evidence. The method of communication is sometimes called ‘bush telegraph’ or ‘mulga wire’. This passage is taken from

The Bone is Pointed: An Inspector Napolean Bonaparte Mystery by Arthur W. Upfield
p. 46

"I saw him at ten o'clock on the evening of the eighteenth, the day Anderson rode Green Swamp. I went as usual to the stable to see that the horse kept there for duty had been properly fed and bedded. Abie--that was his name--was then asleep on his stretcher in the adjoining stall."
"How did he receive word about the sick lubra?"
"I don't know. Mulga wire, I suppose."

Chapter 12 – giant beavers
Family Castoridae
The biggest of all rodents during Pleistocene time—or any time, for that matter—were beavers of the family Castoridae. These semi-aquatic rodents of the Northern Hemisphere existed in North America as long ago as early Oligocene time, 35 million to 30 million years ago…

Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis)
The giant beaver was the size of a large black bear and weighed 330 to 440 pounds (150 to 200 kilograms). It measured t least 9 feet (3 meters) long and stood about 3 feet (1 meter) tall at the shoulder. In comparison, the modern beaver measures up to 3.5 feet (more than 1 meter) long and weighs from 20 to 86 pounds (9 to 39 kilograms). While resembling a modern beaver, the giant beaver had a longer and narrower tail. The giant beaver had huge incisors up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. Researchers have found no evidence to tell us whether this heavyweight built dams or felled trees, but base on the giant beaver’s build, paleontologists believe it behaved much as living beavers do…
The abundance of fossils suggests the giant beaver’s favorite locales were ponds, lakes, and swamps south of the Great Lakes, where it ate coarse swamp vegetation.
Ice Age Mammals of North America: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre Ian M. Lange, p. 120

Two American Indian beaver legends found at

The Great Beaver, whose pond flowed over the whole basin of Mt. Tom, made havoc among the fish and when these failed he would come ashore and devour Indians. A pow-wow was held and Hobomock raised, who came to their relief. With a great stake in hand, he waded the river until he found the beaver, and so hotly chased him that he sought to escape by digging into the ground. Hobomock saw his plan and his whereabouts, and with his great stake jammed the beaver's head off. The earth over the beaver's head we call Sugarloaf, his body lies just to the north of it.
Field, P., 1870-79, Stories, anecdotes, and legends, collected and written down by Deacon Phinehas Field:
In History and Proceedings of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA, v. 1, p. 59.

The great beaver preyed upon the fish of the Long River. And when other food became scarce, he took to eating men out of the river villages. Hobomuck, a benevolent spirit giant, at last was invoked to relieve the distressed people. Hobomock came and chased the great beaver far into the immense lake that then covered the meadows, flinging as ran great handfuls of dirt and rock at the beaver. Finally he threw a bunch of dirt so great upon the beaver's head that it sank him in the middle of the lake. Hobomock, arriving a few minutes later, dispatched the monster by a blow with his club on the back of the beaver's neck. And there he lies to this day. The upturned head covered with dirt is the sandstone cliff of Wequamps (Mt. Sugar Loaf), and the body is the northward range. The hollow between is where Hobomock's cudgel smote down his neck.

Pressey, E.P., 1910, History of Montague: Montague, MA, p. 64.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer Reading List

Do you have a reading list for the summer?

This year, I’m focusing on a few cozy’s before I return to writing The Tourist Trap Mysteries in a few weeks. I avoid reading in the genre I'm writing.  When I start back with the mystery, I’ll buzz through Robyn Carr’s Thunder Point and Virgin River series.  

Usually, I try to pick up at least one classic I haven’t read. Reading under one of our shade trees seems to help get me into the story. This year I've been too busy to make my list.

One year I tried to bribe my high school age son into reading a pre-college list I'd found. He ignored me. Xbox had already claimed him. Now he reads coding books. Computer coding - non fiction. What I think is as exciting as stereo instillation instructions.

I'm considering grabbing the Hunger Games or another YA series to keep me in the story longer. 

I'm open to suggestions. So what are you reading this summer?


Side Note – If you haven’t read GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER – A TOURIST TRAP MYSTERY, now’s a great time to pick up your digital copy.  From June 10-24th, Kensington is running a sale on GUIDEBOOK to get ready for the July 31st release of MISSION TO MURDER (available for pre-order now.)

$1.99 is a great price to try out a new cozy series. 

 “Murder, dirty politics, pirate lore, and a hot police detective: Guidebook to Murder has it all! A cozy lover’s dream come true.” --Susan McBride, author of The Debutante Dropout Mysteries

Monday, June 9, 2014

Is Flawed Okay?

I've been to countless critiques of my own writing and that of  others. Almost all concurred that book heroes and heroines must seem heroic. An obvious approach is to present a character with sterling qualities..

Another, which takes more effort, is to present a character with major flaws, but offer redeeming qualities which will make that character sympathetic, a/k/a heroic. That's when some authors include a pet in the picture. If a mean person loves a dog or cat, that person can't be all bad, right?

In the case of Cornelia (Clyde) Shaw of Social Death: A Clyde Shaw Mystery, by Tatiana Boncompagni, at first, I was  taken aback by Clyde's predilections toward alcohol and sex, and almost put the book down. Not exactly my type of heroine. 

However, I became drawn not only to her struggle to do right and overcome her past, but also to the suspense and central mystery of the story.

I couldn't stop reading.

Surprisingly, I could bond with Clyde, despite her faults. Not only that, I hated to see the book end.

What about you? Do you like squeaky clean characters, or prefer flaws? What kind of faults would turn you off and make you stop reading?

Find Morgan Mandel's Mysteries & Romances
on her Amazon Author Page at

Twitter: @MorganMandel