Thursday, September 24, 2009

Last Gasps from the Garden


Autumn is officially here, and I'm feeling just a little sad about it. Don't get me wrong. I love autumn with its crisp days and cool nights. I love the way the leaves turn golden-orange and deep crimson on the trees lining my block. And I love the pink and lavendar asters that dominate my garden now that even the black-eyed susans are calling it quits. But there's no doubt about it -- I'm going to miss my summer garden.

This year a flock of yellow finches nested in the wisteria bush that dominates two trellises on the north side of our yard. Each morning they'd greet my husband as he filled the bird feeder nestled in the fern bed next to our garage. In the evenings they'd visit the pond for convenient drinks of water.

We had redbirds, too, a momma and daddy cardinal who chose our pussy willow tree for their home. And we had our usual flock of mourning doves, perennial visitors that nest in the thick back garden every year. Three baby rabbits made my life miserable as they gobbled up the spring flowers, but even they were more welcome than this fellow.

This raccoon did his best to escape the trap, but eventually it was off to the forest for him. He'd tried breaking into our house via a screen window and now had to pay the price for his curiosity.

The roses and flocks, the lillies and astible, the hosta and ferns are all turning brown now, and all that's left blooming are the asters and marigolds. Soon it will be time to put out the pumpkins and Halloween lights. Summer is over for another year.

I'm going to miss my garden and all its inhabitants.

*****

Monday, September 21, 2009

Interview with Yvonne Eve Walus

Today I'm pleased to interview Yvonne Eve Walus at Cicero's Children.

Yvonne was born and raised in Poland. When she was twelve, she emigrated with her parents to South Africa, a country she calls her "second homeland". For the past ten years, she's lived in New Zealand.

Yvonne is the award-winning author of over twenty books, including MURDER @ WORK and MURDER @ PLAY from her "Murder @..." series and WITCH HUNT ON THE INTERNET, a stand-alone mystery, all of which are published by Echelon Press. Yvonne writes mysteries, poetry, and non-fiction articles under her own name and is a multi-published romance writer under the pen name Eve Summers.

Mary: Yvonne has kindly agreed to let us take a peek at her typical writing day. Before we get to that, though, I must ask about this rather extraordinary picture of you, Yvonne. I'm hoping that's what I think it is on your face.

Yvonne: Yes, Mary, that is chocolate. That's a photo of me enjoying a chocolate fountain at one of my book launches.

Mary: Hmmm. I suspect that your son's handprint on your cheek, but I'll leave it at that. Instead, why don't you tell us about your writing day.

Yvonne: Okay, you asked for it! A normal day can start like this:

“Mom! MOM!!!!!”

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and my 4-year-old has had a bad dream. I drag myself out of my warm and cozy bed (almost as cozy as my murder mysteries) to cuddle and kiss away the nightmares.

7.20: “Honey, wake up. I’m going now.” That’s my husband on his way to work. I’m half-sitting, half-lying down, all-shivering on my son’s bed.

10.00: I managed to wash + dress + feed the kids, as well as deposit them at their school/day-care. Time to have breakfast and put in the washing.

10.15: I switch on the computer and begin my day job, which has nothing to do with writing mystery novels.

3 p.m.: Collect the kids, drive them to piano, or ballet, or swimming, or art, or a play date.

5 p.m.: Return home exhausted to an evening of homework, dinner, making costumes for the school play and other family activities.

9 p.m.: Open my Murder Mystery folder. Record as much of the day’s dialogue as I can remember, from “Mommy, why did God make bad people?” all the way to “If I knew what I was signing up for, I would never have become a father”. (You never know when those difficult snippets of life will come alive in your latest book.)

Midnight: I know I have to switch off the computer. But there are all those emails and admin and promo to deal with....

1 o’clock in the morning: The computer is off at last. I long for a soak in a hot bubble bath, but I long for sleep even more. Just a quick shower, then. Sleep....

3 o’clock in the morning: “MOM!!!!”

Mary: Whew! I wonder what a not so normal day is like for you! Okay, here's a writing question for you. Do you concentrate on one project at a time, or do you enjoy varying your writing on a daily or weekly basis?

Yvonne: I usually write two novels at the same time: a murder mystery and a mainstream women’s fiction book. That way, if I’m stuck on one, I simply move on to the other. Brainstorming with other writers also helps with writer’s block. You have to like and trust your group, but it’s heaps of fun when you get it right. Part of it is that writing can be such a lonely affair, you simply get energized when you meet other writers, but mostly it’s about fresh ideas. (And the wine is a lovely bonus.)

Mary: Tell us something about MURDER @ PLAY.

Yvonne: In short, every marriage needs a touch of mystery. Or does it?
In the new free South Africa of 1994, men are still boss, women carry handguns for self-protection, and some mistakes can change your life forever. When a body is found during their weekend away with friends, Christine Chamberlain must use her brilliant mathematical mind to prove her husband's innocence...whether he's innocent or not. When it comes to your loved ones, is it possible to know too much?

Mary: What about MURDER @ WORK?

Yvonne: Christine Chamberlain doesn't want much from life: a steady job, a baby and a Fields Medal. Her boss, however, wants money and he is willing to do anything to get his way, even if it means getting Christine involved in a project that not only jeopardises her dreams, but might also put her in danger.

When Christine complains to her colleagues, they joke about killing the boss to solve the problem. They discuss the murder by email. Almost everybody has an obvious motive to get rid of the boss from hell... and a few hidden ones they don't share.
The next day, Christine brings fennel oil to work. In itself, it's not the world's deadliest poison, and Christine would of course never dream to use it as such. Or would she?

Mary: Wow! Sounds like you have quite a series going there! Thanks for appearing on Cicero's Children, Yvonne.

If you'd like to know more about Yvonne, please check out the following links:

Website: http://yewalus.kiwiwebhost.net.nz/
Blog: http://yewalus.blogspot.com/
http://www.fictionwise.com/eBooks/eBook77234.htm for Witch Hunts on the Internet
www.echelonpress.com for Murder @ Work and Murder @ Play

******

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More from Rob and Miranda


I'm back again today with Rob and Miranda Walker, a husband-wife team of authors who shared some writing advice with us on Wednesday. Today we're going to talk about writing romance and how authors can benefit from the latest ebook technology.

Mary: Both of you have written about the importance of learning how to write romance and incorporate it in your stories. Why do you feel it is important to include romance? How did you learn how to write romance? And is there a book or course you would recommend to other authors to help them learn how to incorporate quality romance writing into their stories?

Miranda: Romance is at the heart of every good story in my estimation. Characters are like people: they want to find romance in their lives. Not sure of any books on the subject or courses on how to write romance except to say Rob writes great love scenes, and I aspire to do the same or at least create an intriguing triangle.

Rob: I learned what NOT to do by reading a book called THE ROMANCE WRITER’S HANDBOOK. Actually it was a complete listing of descriptive phrases for every body part from the nose to the toes--what’s been said and done over and over again--so I tried to avoid these “clich├ęs” in romance writing or tried putting a new spin on them. I use the old wine but put it into a new bottle, so to speak. I love to pair a hero and heroine and let them go at it as in Moonlighting….I think that ought to be an author’s verb—‘Moonlight’ your characters as you would ‘Gaslight’ a character as in Gaslight. The darkness of a dark mystery or even a horror novel can be balanced by an intriguing romantic development between two characters as in DEAD ON, and in Miranda’s WELL MEANING KILLER. I do the same in nearly all my books.

Mary: You have recently been reformatting some of your stories for use with Amazon’s Kindle. Is there anything you have learned the hard way in this process that you can share to help the rest of us as we move into this new format?

Miranda: In my case, my publisher transformed THE WELL MEANING KILLER into a Kindle version, and as it is my only book thus far, I’m taking a wait and see attitude. I have learned from Rob, who has far more experience with it, that the cost of a Kindle book needs be far less than a hardcopy book, or else no sale!

Rob: I have three Kindle titles that HarperCollins put up, and 13 ebooks at Fictionwise.com have been formatted for Kindle sales also. More recently, I have placed eight titles on Kindle all on my own and I have found it to be an easy process with some glitches in step three, converting your file to html format. Directions I followed are found at dtpamazon.com What is great about it is that you are your own publisher, art director, PR person, and you sink or swim based on your choices and not those of some person in a conglomerate who thinks your title needs be changed to sound more like a Stephen King title or decides it ought to be 90,000 words when it is in fact a 140,000 word book. The process is, in the end, liberating. I enjoy the freedom from all the constraints I have faced for thirty odd years.

Mary: What are you currently working on? Will this book also be available on Kindle eventually?

Miranda: I’m working on a sequel to THE WELL MEANING KILLER set in the Kill Devil Hills/Cape Hatteras area. Having fun with it, and I’m confident my publisher is anxious to see it. It will go Kindle if it goes Krill!

Rob: I am revamping some out-of-prints for the Kindle as my next project. I placed three original novels at the Kindle Store: CUBA BLUE, DEJA BLUE, and CHILDREN OF SALEM, plus a number of recycled out-of-print horror novels, a “how to” on writing, a collection of short stories with commentary, and DEAD ON. At the moment, Kindalizing is my top priority along with working with my clients on their books as I edit and ghost write as well.

Mary: You are very giving of your time, rarely asking for anything in return. Why do you enjoy teaching and helping other authors?

Miranda: Pay it forward is just how I operate. I’ve seen such generosity in other mystery authors and have been the recipient of it. How can I be otherwise?

Rob: Ahhh…the teachable moment, and I am a born teacher. What can I say? Miranda’s and my blogs and sites are all about sharing the knowledge and know how, skills and tools, to become successful. The only time I charge for it is when a client seriously wishes for me to copy edit and make developmental changes or suggestions, or to ghost write, and this is done at way under market costs.

Mary: Thanks to both of you for appearing -- in print, at least:)-- on Cicero's Children. I'm sure all my readers have benefited from your knowledge of the writing business.

Here are Rob and Miranda's bios with links to their websites. If you enjoyed reading what they had to say Wednesday and today, I hope you'll visit their websites and check out their books.

Robert W. Walker is a graduate of Northwestern University, and the NU's Graduate Masters in English Education program. While born in Corinth, Mississippi, Robert grew up in Chicago, IL, where he began writing his eleven book Instinct Series and four book Edge Series. Rob most recent original work appears at the Kindle Store on Amazon.com, Children of Salem and Dead On, and in traditional publishing Dead On. Rob can be found online at www.robertwalkerbooks.com and in all the usual places where one finds writers online.

Miranda Phillips Walker is an RN and ER Nurse with eighteen years experience in the field. She penned her first novel this year and it’s garnering rave reviews. Miranda did her nursing education in Baltimore where she has set The Well Meaning Killer featuring FBI Detective Megan McKenna. The novel is available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com. You can find Miranda at www.mirandaphillipsbooks.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and other online homes.

***

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Guest Interview with Rob and Miranda Walker


Robert W. Walker and wife Miranda Phillips Walker are here today to answer some burning questions, such as how they’ve managed to kill off only fictional characters with two crime novelists under one roof. Rob’s latest novel is DEAD ON published by Five Star Books, and Miranda’s debut novel is THE WELL MEANING KILLER from Krill Press.


Mary: In various interviews on the web, both of you have recommended that writers do not quit the day job. Is there a story behind this recommendation?

Miranda: As an ER nurse, I get a lot of my most exciting and frightful scenes on the job! Still, if I had my druthers, I’d happily be writing full-time and retire from that arena as it is extremely taxing, despite how good one is at saving a life -- and I can safely say I have saved quite a few, including a neighbor late one night. However, writing does not offer benefits or a steady income, to say the least.

Rob: As a professor of English one barely gets by in this economy, but at least it is a known, a given to see the paycheck at the end of the month, whereas writing has enormous ups and downs monetarily as well as emotionally. Each book is harder and harder to sell in this tough market. You can go two and even three years between contracts even if you have a track record. There are the exceptions, those who are struck by the Oprah or Eastwood lightning or similar good luck, but less than one percent of all authors in this country can support a family on earnings from writing, a sad reality. Now if President Obama were to tell folks he is reading my SHADOWS IN THE WHITE CITY, then yeah, I’d have won the lottery.

Mary: You two are very active in promoting your books. What are some of the toughest lessons you’ve learned about the “art” of self-promotion.

Miranda: You have to throw all caution and shyness out the window; perhaps ladylike-ness, too. You want to be yourself, but you also have to find a comfortable sales person lurking within. Sitting behind a desk and failing to make eye contact won’t cut it at a signing, and figuratively doing the same online won’t either. At the same time, I’m trying not to sound arrogant or self-important as I promote myself. I am anything but that!

Rob: Oh, I have to stop “tossing” books into people’s baskets, especially those folks in wheelchairs.:) But darn, I just know they will love the book and not regret “discovering” it for themselves. I kid with people online and in person, and the lesson I have learned in this business is that you don’t sell the book, you sell yourself. If folks like you, they will open your book and read it, hopefully after purchasing it.

Mary: What is your favorite writing-related subject on which to give advice?

Miranda: That if I can do it, anyone can. It’s a struggle, not easy, and made harder often by your circumstances--I have four children, and I also have to contend with Rob! But I did it--I got my novel written, shopped around, educated myself on the markets, and found a publisher. I now hold my book in my hand with the hope that others will be entertained by it. It requires a great deal of research and education about the business.

Rob: Craft matters, working on elements of style and finding one’s voice that perfectly fits the story at hand. I also push the fact every young writer ought to write a mystery as it is the fastest surest way to learn plotting for any type of novel. Finally, how to write one’s own pitch and or back-flap copy or the shortest most important story you will ever write, the story about your story and how it is effectively done. This becomes a useful tool in all marketing endeavor for the book.

Mary: List three of your favorite writing self-help books.

Miranda: Rob‘s recently published DEAD ON WRITING, a Kindle book that I read in rough draft. David Morrell‘s excellent book on the subject. Tom Sawyer‘s great book on writing.

Rob: Chris Roerden’s book, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY and her DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION; J.A. Konrath’s free book, A NEWBIE'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING; Robin Carr’s TIPS FOR WRITING POPULAR FICTION; Dean R. Koontz’ WRITING POPULAR FICTION, and Jerome Stern’s MAKING SHAPELY FICTION. Oops! I went over three.

Mary: That's okay, Rob. More can sometimes be better. :)

I hope you can stop by this blog site in two days when Rob and Miranda will return to tell us more about their adventures as a literary couple. Untill then, happy writing!

***

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rising From the Ashes


It seems appropriate on this 11th day of September to reprint these pictures of the USS New York (LPD 21) and the message that accompanied them ‘round the world via email.

Built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center, the USS New York is an Amphibious Dock Transport ship, the fifth in a new class of warship designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. The ship will sail into NY harbor on November 2 and will be commissioned on November 7, 2009 in NYC. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite, LA to cast the ship's bow section. When it was poured into the molds on Sept 9, 2003, “those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence,” recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing. “It was a spiritual moment for everybody there.”

Junior Chavers, operations manager, said that when the Trade Center steel first arrived at the foundry, he touched it with his hand and the “hair on my neck stood up. It had a big meaning to it for all of us. They knocked us down. They can't keep us down. We're going to be back.

The ship's motto?

‘NEVER FORGET’

(Note: The picture of the ship at the top of this page is the USS Los Angeles (LPD 17), which is the first of the class to be built. The USS NEW YORK (LPD 21) is shown in the middle picture and will look just like the phote above it when at sea. )

Friday, September 4, 2009

Never Underestimate a Clever Woman!


I’m sitting at my desk penning this blog while wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Age and treachery will triumph over youth and skill”. Now that I’m in the third trimester of my life (think pregnancy without the nice results and in decades instead of months) I find much pleasure in writing tongue-in-cheek mysteries featuring older women who show how clever they really are.

I had a chance to do just that a few years ago when Serita Stevens asked me to write a story for an anthology she was editing called Blondes in Trouble & Other Tangled Tales. I’ve always been a fan of the short story format, and having just returned from South Carolina, I already had an idea in mind for my submission.

While visiting my brother, a long time resident of a small South Carolina town, he’d taken me to see the local courthouse. Like many rural courthouses in the South, it stood in the town square fronted by a statue of a Confederate soldier and surrounded by magnolia bushes and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A relentless sun bleached the gray stone walls of the courthouse and washed the entire scene in a hazy whiteness reflecting a humidity so high I felt like I was breathing pure water. I couldn’t help myself; the entire scene cried out “Atmosphere!” Not only was the setting perfect for a story, but I could also practically see Justice peeking out from under her blindfold, winking at me.

With my setting decided on, I wrote the humorous mystery “Murder Most Politic” in less than a day. The story features a true daughter of the South, Hazel Roundtree Callahan, and her personal secretary, Miss Lydia Applewhite. Below is the cover blurb from the e-book version of that story, just released by Echelon Press.

Sitting in the witness chair in her canary yellow suit and pearl necklace, Hazel Roundtree Callahan looks more like a plump little grandmother than a wily politician. But looks can be deceiving, as District Attorney Andrew Hollis quickly learns when the silver-haired Mrs. Callahan takes the stand in the murder trial of her personal secretary, Miss Lydia Applewhite.

Not only is Hollis out-maneuvered by hotshot defense lawyer Princeton Wainwright III, but he is also ill prepared for the shocking testimony of his star witness. Did Lydia Applewhite intend to kill Hazel’s husband when she plunged a barbecue fork into Sen. Blake Callahan’s stomach, or was it simply a horrible accident as the grieving widow claims. It’s up to the citizens of the sleepy Southern town of Nuisance to decide whether the beautiful Miss Applewhite is a cold blooded killer or simply a woman wrongly caught in the steel jaws of justice.

If you enjoy a little humor in your mysteries and absolutely adore twist endings, you’ll love “Murder Most Politic”. It’s on sale now at Echelon Press for only $2.

Now that’s a bargain no mystery lover should pass up.