Friday, February 29, 2008

"Fateful Decisions"

Happy Leap Year, y'all. I'm up today on six sentences. Maybe I'll be in the New Yorker next week.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Secrets of the Highlander" by Janet Chapman

Several mysteries play second-fiddle in this romance novel, but darn I wanted more investigation into the mysteries because at times they seemed more interesting than Megan and Jack's volatile romance with baby already in tow. Jack's character was perplexing. Strong, insightful, and resilient in one scene, he retreats into his alter ego, nerdish Wayne, in the next as the Megan and Jack play ping-pong with their heritage and emotional baggage. Still, it was a very good read that kept moving forward with the mysteries and romantic entanglements effectively wrapped up by the end of the book while setting the foundation for yet more Highlander adventures in Maine. True romance and mythological creature lovers will probably give it a five, but as a genre-straddling mystery reader, I'll have to bring it down half a peg.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


John Stradling's NaNoWriMo Word Count this past year was 518,335 words in thirty days. Math wizards, that's 17,277 words per day. That's a book every three days. Were they good words? I don't know. But it makes me want to up my daily words count nano or no nano.

What to do with your NANO novel? Try NANOEDMO in March.

You'll only get published if you write and edit and date someone in the publishing industry or know Paris Hilton or can channel Ernest Hemingway...


The bear charged.

I shot.

He fell and the mountains heaved a sigh at the passing of the majestic beast that had roamed as a symbol of freedom, uncaring and unafraid for years with an unbridled thirst for life.

I feasted well and imbibed his spirit.

The woman fell at my feet. They stunk, but she didn't seem to care. I drank her lust and the tent shook as leaves in a storm dance before the climax.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Writing Books

In the Chronicle Review of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Gina Barreca claims that Betsy Lerner's THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: AN EDITOR'S ADVICE TO WRITERS to be the best book on writing. Many people chose Stephen King's ON WRITING or Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD as most inspiration. Even the irrepressible scalawag Austin Carr claims that Carolyn Wheat's HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION is the "must have" book for writer wannabes.

Me. I have a host of books under Writing Resources: some inspire; some instruct; some provide the secrets to the universe of writing if you can apply those secrets.

So what's on your shelf that you grab when someone asks you to name your most valuable writing resource book?

Monday, February 25, 2008

MMWUC for February 25, 2008

EXERCISE: Cormac McCarthy shuffled up the classroom aisle outfitted by L. L. Bean. He taped a newspaper article up on the white board and slapped a hand against it. The headline read: "Country Blows Away Oscar". He wheeled around to face a classroom of eager writers. "Always write what you know and what you want. The rest will come." Oprah jumped up and down on a couch in the corner of the room, pumping her arms into the air. "Yes! Yes! I love that old man." He headed for the door shouting, "Write. Damn you. Write. And not just for ten minutes."

MUSINGS: Thank God for the Coen Brothers. I've always enjoyed their work. Now, it is time to go off to, dare I say it, work. I'd rather be writing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Murder Sets Seed" by Janis Harrison

Janis Harrison's second book (2000) "Murder Sets Seed" is another cozy pitting Bretta Soloman, florist extraordinaire, against several people who have the blackmail and murder of an elderly high-society woman on their minds after Bretta buys the woman's century-old mansion through an unbelievable stretch her deceased husband's insurance policy. So be it. The well-written story moved briskly along with many interesting subplots; however the tangled explanation of where the seeds of murder had been set was hard to accept and I'm still not sure I understand it. And the climax was so clumsily handled that I'd lost track of one of the characters until the protagonist casually mentions the person had died, but I'm not sure how. Her second novel is a lukewarm three for me and a probable four for cozy lovers.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mountain Climbing

Science confirms it. The fastest way to climb a hill is to zigzag. Lately, that's how I seem to be writing. The bottom of the hill is the start; the top is the finish. In between, I'm going left and right with the story, writing, sitting on it, then editing, then going on to the next scene, and all the time trying to zig or zag the story in a surprising direction while still moving forward. Tough work. Expends a lot of energy and occasionally there are avalanches to watch out for, slippery slopes to navigate, and billy goats threatening to bump me off and destroy the story or bring me to my senses that this is too steep of a hill to climb and the gentle sloping hill over yonder looks easier...just not nearly as rewarding. The effort expend is worth the reward gained.

Sir Edmond Hillary climbed Everest, "...because it's there." I guess I write for the same reason, "...because the story's there."

Now, let's get out there and dull some pencils.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Muse Moment of Madness

For a writer, I don't spell well. So, I'm so pleased that my spellchecker feature is working again. It's not a panacea for writing errors, but any help to eliminate errors is a bonus in my eyes.

Evil Rockwell portrait moment last night: Brother-in-law and I spending an hour deconstructing a troublesome Kenmore dryer to access the broken heating element, and our respective spouses hovering nearby in a constant chatter about the weather, missing gold, old Jewish jewelry (I didn't follow that one at all), what makes bad and good fried rice, cancer, traveling, men's ego with regard to home repair, and the relative coldness of my southern home (it was 72 degrees inside). We got done and pulled out the offensive part. The all-knowing spouses looked at it and in unison, as sisters are want to do, "Knew all along that's the bad part. Quiche anyone?"

The muse was whispering in my ear, "Murder, most foul."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Beneficiary (2)

--- What happened Next? ---

Detective Jones and the Mutt and Jeff cop tandem had allowed a winter chill to settle in the foyer. His revelation of Beth’s death and my unexpected naming as her beneficiary accentuated the shiver that streaked down my back. Reflexively, I grabbed my coat from the coat closet to go with them.

I stopped. “Why do I need to come with you?”

“We have questions.” Detective Jones popped something into his mouth before grabbing the door knob. His gaze didn’t waver from me. The cops leaned toward the door as though it was magnetic, and their steely glances and tin badges couldn’t resist its pull.

“Why don’t you ask your questions here?”

“I’d prefer to ask them at the station.” He released his grip on the door knob. The two cops stood at ease, the magnetic pull broken.

“I’d prefer they be asked here.”

“That would be inappropriate.”



“Because why?”

He took a step toward me and split open his tan overcoat to place his hands on his hips. He stood several inches over six feet but was reed thin in his loose fitting brown suit. The long face appeared elastic and a droopy eyelid nearly covered one of his pale blue eyes making him appear older than he probably was. I pegged him for his mid-30s like me. The thin Roman nose had been broken and an impossibly large cookie duster hung like a costume prop above his thin lips.

Jones leaned towards me. “Because I said so.” His words carried the sweet smell of cherry cough drops.

“My mother used to say that to me. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. Am I under arrest?”


“Then I choose not to go. Whatever you have to ask and whatever you have to tell me, do it here.”

His eyes moistened. His mouth opened to an oval. I thought he was going to cry. He swung his arms in front of him like pendulums. His sense of authority evaporated along with my mild indignation, yet the feeling of being strong armed remained. I hung up my coat, snickering silently at his comical stance despite the underlying sadness and peculiarity of why he was here.

He pointed to the taller of the two cops and then opened the door with a jerk. “Arrest him for obstructing a murder investigation.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Novelists Must Become Actors?

The trend to make movie-type trailers from novels has been going on for some time on the social websites. Now, Simon and Schuster introduced a site,, which broadcasts short videos of authors and will also produce them.

This author stars in a video for his own books: (I hope he is making fun of himself).

Can we now expect to see videos of Jack Getze as Austin Carr ("Big Numbers", "Big Money"), Susan Goodwill as Kate London ("Briga-DOOM", "Little Shop of Murders"), or even Janet Chapman's ("Secrets of the Highlander" on the NYTimes best seller list) main squeeze as one of the heart-stopping MacKeage men?

I sure hope I don't have to appear as a character. I might have to show up as this guy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Power Writing

Most people think of power writing as plowing through a story getting thousands of words down on paper as fast as possible, racking up 5, 10, or even 15,000 words in one long session, leaving the editing for some future point in time. For me, power writing is getting the electricity back on after a harsh wind has knocked the power off somewhere up the line. I'm the second to last house own our electric grid. Anything that happens upstream, storm, car accident, Godzilla attacking the electric lines, affects my house.

It's nice to have power. I hope you kept writing. I got the garden cleaned out, some wood chopped, and the snow peas planted. The only good thing was the mild weather (70s with an unseasonable overnight low of 61.

Now, let's get out there and write.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday, in the bark, one more big tree to go...

I think I wrote enough yesterday. Check it out. Chopping wood today before Sunday's rain. Maybe I'll continue with the story later on as the wind picks up tonight...hmmm.

It was a dark and stormy night...

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Beneficiary

--- Where it all started. ---

It was lunch time, and I could almost taste the egg drop soup at the China Palace, but I had one more stop to make first.

I shouldn't have sauntered into the bank like I had nowhere else to go. I shouldn't have made eye contact with the brown-haired woman too old to be in braids, too young to be wearing bifocals, and too cute to be kneading her brow like an overworked teacher. I shouldn't have responded when she said, "Excuse me. Excuse me, sir. Excuse me."

"Yes," I said when I realized she was talking to me.

"I need two witnesses for these papers I want signed or the bank's Notary won't sign them." She sported a pleading look in her blue eyes. "Can you help me?"

"Uh, okay. In a minute."

She smiled. She had a nice smile. Her tanned oval face was pleasing without a hint of makeup. A faint smell of almond cookies accompanied her, but it could have been that I was hungry. She tucked an errant hair behind her ear and sat down next to a tall gaunt man wearing brown work pants covered with blotches of yellow paint. His thinning brown hair protruded from his too-small knit cap and a salt and pepper beard was too many days old too be fashionable. He glanced at her when she sat, and then stared at his hands resting on his knees. Head bowed, the scruffy beard rested on his black sweatshirt potmarked with cigarette burn holes. He must be the other witness, and I wondered if she'd dragged him in off the street.

Barry Manilow sang about Mandy over the intercom while I deposited my checks. I don't care what anyone says, I like that song. Afterwards, I met the woman by the door to the bank official, Mrs. Faraday. The woman wore a loose-fitting red plaid shirt tucked into nondescript baggy blue jeans. She squeaked the damp floor with her throwback sneakers. Her unzipped blue insulated windbreaker looked several times too large. She was about five-six, and the coat could have easily fit the other witness. While ushering me and the other witness into the office, her bright red fingernails that looked recently manicured brushed my elbow. The woman smiled again. The man stood expressionless next to me. Based on his odor, some of the cigarette holes must be new.

She had the nervous energy of a child waiting to use the bathroom and kept her feet nearly tap dancing while we stood in the small office. She handed the papers to Mrs. Faraday. "Sorry that this is all so last minute, but I don't like to fly and I've been in a rush and my mother has Alzheimers and I got delayed and the trip is...."

Mrs. Faraday cut the woman off by exhaling loudly, just short of a cough, as if this transaction interfered with her lunch hour. She stamped the paper three times. "You wrote this will yourself, Beth?"

My glasses slipped down the bridge of my nose when I raised my eyebrows in surprise. I pushed them back up just as Mrs. Faraday scanned me and the other witness.

"Yes, I wrote it." Beth grabbed a pen. She printed her name, signed, and dated the paper.

Mrs. Faraday shook her head. "Witnesses need to print your name and sign below it."

"First spot," Beth said abruptly and handed me the pen. The man cleared his throat.

"Anything else?" I asked while signing.

"No. You're done," Mrs. Faraday answered.

"Thanks a million," Beth whispered without looking in my direction, her face lifted up, and her eyes nearly closed as if in a prayer. Her nervousness seemed to have dissipated with her chore now nearly completed.

I left the bank to eat my soup.

Seven o'clock that evening, I answered my front door to find two policemen and a detective on my doorstep. I invited them to come into my foyer and out of the cold. My assumption was that we'd had more mischief in the neighborhood.

"Are you Miles O'Connor?"


"Do you know Beth Wilkerson?"

I hesitated, drawing a blank on the name. "No."

The cops repositioned their stance. He stared at me. "You witnessed her signing her will." He held up a piece of paper in a plastic baggie.

The blank moment passed. "Oh, the woman in the bank today. Yes, I witnessed, but I don't know her."

"You need to come with us."

"Why? What's up?"

"She's dead, and you've been named her beneficiary."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Weather Woes in Works

I recently read "In the Bleak Midwinter" where the unusually cold and snowy winter weather was as much of a character as any person. How have you used weather as a character?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Songs in Stories

Ever wonder what was the number one song on the charts the day you were born? Well, it can also be another tiny piece of information that brings a bit of realism to your writing.

Perry Como began singing "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes" yet again. It pushed Barry over the edge with the lack of originality with the station's playlist. He hadn't come to his senses yet when President Truman passed in front of the crosshairs of his rifle.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Roots of Murder" by Janis Harrison

Janis Harrison's first book (1999) "Roots of Murder" is a typical cozy. Suspects grow like weeds and topics are cast across the pages like so many seeds. That is part of the problem. Though the characters are unique, they rush past you like leaves on a windy day, not always easily identifiable. I spent too much time trying to keep all the characters straight. Once I did have them straight, I thought I knew the murderer just past the midpoint. I was sure of it before the potentially interesting protagonist, Bretta Soloman. She is a recently widowed owner of a florist shop who just lost 100 pounds and can't help branch out into other people's business especially after an Amish friend is murdered. More depth into the copious topics raised and a less hurried pace to character introduction would have helped. For me, it is a three. For lovers of cozies, its real audience, it would harvest a four.

Note: The problem of too many characters in the opening plagues me also. Need to learn my lessons by what I feel is the problem here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

MMWUC for February, 11, 2008

Class dismissed.

Exercise: Read yesterday's post about posing crime-related questions. Do so. Getting expert advise is like finding the correct verb. Exquisite.

Musing: I try to be as accurate as possible in my stories; however, I don't think a story can be perfectly accurate, especially police procedurals. The reader would probably get bored to tears if all the minutia were included. How do you decide what is enough detail and when it is too much?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Time Critical: Get your questions asked.

Dr. Lyle is the award-winning author of many books. He serves as a consultant for television and film writers, and he’s a practicing cardiologist in the L.A area. He will be answering questions on Monday on Lee Lofland's interesting crime and mystery-related blog on Monday. Lots of good stuff there for you mystery writers.

Eclipse of the Mind

What happened to Saturday? I don't know. After four hours of chopping up a fallen poplar, I kind of fell asleep, helped make six pizzas, and watched "Gattica". The dog ate my homework, and there's a total lunar eclipse beginning 10:51 PST on February 20th (that is, 1:51 a.m. EST). I suspect vampires and werewolves will be out in full that night, so wear your silver and spray garlic in the air. It also repels horny deer and voracious rabbits. Okay, the dog didn't eat my homework, but Sydney, my pet cockateil, did take a bite out of it. Oh, I guess Saturday was still there after all. I rewrote the query for "One Promise Too Many" and alerted the post office to expect another couple hundred mailings for Monday. are on alert!

Yea, I hear them shaking in their boots also.

P.S. Is it just me or is everyone's blogger spellcheck on the blink?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Steal this idea - "Love Hang-up"

This news article about the storage of text messages is rife with ideas for stories, especially about the two policemen unceremouniously fired over their investigation into the mayors hanki-panki only now it appears they were right.

Harold Jones thought he'd met the perfect love in Cheryl Sanford. The only thing standing in his way was her husband, Bert, the President of the United States.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Best Writing Workshop for You

It's simple: the best workshop for the best value to improve your writing is the Writers Retreat Workshop, May 23 t0 June 1, in Erlanger, Kentucky. If you're serious about your craft, GO. I have it on good authority that there are only five slots left for writers who want to succeed. These are some of the successes from past participants in the last three weeks.

* Jack Getze, author of "Big Numbers," was guest editor this month for the "Spinetingle" ezine. His follow-up novel in the Austin Carr series, "Big Money," arrives in March.
* Gene Sittenfield garnered his first publication "Last Man Standing".
* Dennis Lahane announced Lorin Oberweger as winner of the Best Of Award in her literary grouping during the Writers In Paradise conference in St Pete, FLA.
* Janice Croom's "Death of an Island Tart" is a semi-finalist in the Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Award
* Kimberly Frost's first novel "Would-be Witch" is scheduled for release in February, 2009.
* Susan Goodwill has received the final edited copy of "Little Shop of Murders" her follow-up to her stellar first novel, "Briga-DOOM," in the Kate London mystery series.

Check it out. Rick (WRW05 and 06)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bookcrossing - Where freed books roam.

Do you know where to set books free? Try bookcrossing.

What's black and white and read all over? A book. rimshot! I'm losing it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"In the Bleak Midwinter" by Julia Spencer-Fleming

The 2003 Agatha Best First Novel winner pulled me in from the beginning to the end. Using the stark northeastern New York winter as a backdrop, the story follows newly ordained Episcopal Priest Clare Fergusson and Police Chief Russ Van Alystyne as they try to identify the parents of a newborn left at the church. The investigation intensifies when a young woman is murdered. Ultimately, the story intensifies putting the investigator's lives in danger. Coupled because of their mutual interest in ensuring the baby's welfare and the mutual "the buck stops here" attitudes toward their jobs, a romantic undertone permeates but doesn't get in the way of the story. While a few scenes seem somewhat contrived to enhance the plot and tension, numerous twists and turns keep the reader guessing as to the outcome. For mystery lovers, this is a five.

Monday, February 4, 2008

MMWUC for February 4, 2008

EXERCISE: A giant stood in front of the writers. "Close your eyes, take a deep breath and let it out nice and slow. For the next ten minutes, write from the protagonists POV, "He saw his dream taking shape...'." The giant smiled and left for a party.

MUSING: I mused yesterday. Today I have to chop wood or look for work or do some writing or read another book or work on my bills or clean up around the house or ... how come my fictional characters never do that stuff?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

A Day in the Woods

Spent Saturday helping with the 8-20-40 mile Uwharrie Mountain Run by manning the 8/32 mile checkpoint. 500-600 runners depleted the atmosphere of oxygen and increased the carbon dioxide levels by pounding the rocks, mud, roots, and branches of a rugged trail into submission while running, jogging, walking, gimping, and crawling through the forest scaring the bejeebers out of coyotes, bear, deer, opossums, raccoons, and partridge in a nearby Bradford Pear tree. Nearly every runner fell once during the race. A 78-year-old participant refused to quit at the 32 mile checkpoint despite the setting sun at his back and a nasty looking cut on his forearm from a counter attack from an oak tree root. We had 80 gallons of water, gatorade, Coke, and Mountain Dew at our aid station, and those greedy, sweaty, smelly runners drank every last drop of it. One runner commented that he gently subcumbed to gravity at some point and lay on his back watching the bare tree limbs extend skyward as part of some runner's hallucinagenic trance after nine hours of massauging his knees with earth-shattering jolts. He smiled gleefully as he told his story. I kept backing up. But the course was fast, the day sunny, the weather perfect for the volunteers if just a tad warm for the runners (30 at the seven a.m. start; mid-50s at four p.m.).

I picked up a gleam of a story last year from this race which is now captured in ten pages of notes that I might get to someday. Not so much this year, except the rehash of memories when I used to pound mile after mile in long distance races. If not for the day in the woods, all those memories would probably wither and die. I have the stinky, funny, happy, disappointed, ecstatic, elated, weary, frustrated, disconsolent, excited, and courageous runners of this race to thanks for keeping those memories alive as potential book fodder in the future.

I played (over and over) the "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" piece from Orff by Carmina Burana for the 40-milers when they came through our aid station. Okay, obscurely titled, but you do know it. It's that piece with the lush, medeival-sounding orchestra, with heavy drums, and a chorus of hundreds that commercials and sports pieces love to tap into to show the agony and ecstasy of an athlete in action. It garnered more than a few grins, some requests to switch to Carolina Beach music, but there was one couple who came through who actually knew the piece by name. The husband breathlessly said, "That's Orff. That's her favorite piece for inspiration." She turned and gave us a thousand watt smile.

I cranked that sucker up to full volume as the climatic drum pounding ending and choral crescendo echoed in the air while they headed up the path into the woods to do battle against the limits of human endurance.

Eight more miles of the runner's high for them. One more memory for me to cherish in the twilight years.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Starting from nothing

It was a gray and stormy morning. A fine spray filled in where the thunderstorms had rumbled through. A lone figure fed the birds and then stoked the fire.

Do you ever just start a story just to see where it would go? What happened?

The toenail was never right: too long, too short, too raggedy. It caught on the bedsheets; it scratched his lover. It ached whether it was too long or short; it never let up. It dominated his thoughts and once had him lose it at an interview in a Tourette's Syndrome-like outburst at his toenail after the interviewer had asked him if had any special job requirements. It's not that the toenail didn't have its place in his life. It did protect the toe from hard objects dropped--the owner of the toe being a klutz, but it had gone too far this time. This time, it had overreached its importance.

I don't know. Things just spill out from my fingers.