Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing and Getting Your Work Published

Before I introduce my guest, just a reminder that today's the last chance to enter my June contest for an autographed copy of What's in a Name? Details on my website.

My guest today is author Jacqueline Seewald. I'd like to welcome her to Terry's Place. She's sharing some of her experiences along the road to publication, and has some good advice for all. Welcome, Jacqueline.

As a teacher who taught writing courses including creative writing at both the university and high school level, I grew to believe that it is within each of us to write a truly unique story because we are all unique individuals. Writing is not just a matter of isolating ourselves from the world and putting words on paper or computer. We must live our lives to the fullest and this will give us the material to write about. Living our lives provides us with something to say and convey. Writing is after all about communicating.

Life experience provides us with the best fodder for fiction writing.

I became intrigued with "inferno collections" during the time of my library studies at Rutgers and while working at Alexander Library. I thought the concept would make a unique frame for a mystery novel. It started when I attended a symposium where the lecturer was a Princeton University librarian who spoke eloquently about inferno collections and their connection with banned books.

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Another time, I decided to create a book that combined fact and fiction. The legend of the Jersey Devil is unique to New Jersey where I have lived my entire life.

The book had potential as both educational material and entertainment. At the time I was working as an educational media specialist (school librarian), I discovered the need for such a book for the students and set about writing one. Parents and students in my elementary school were enthusiastic and so I decided to try to get my work published.

I wrote a middle grades/YA novel with help from both of my sons who were in that age range at the time. Both boys contributed to the scenes of wrestling, since they both engaged in the sport. I couldn't have written the book without them.

The initial idea came from something that actually happened to my older son. You could say he lived a real life mystery. I simply took the story, fictionalized it, and made it a bit more dramatic. Again, I could never have written this unique mystery novel without having lived through an unusual situation where I was involved in the story as it actually unfolded.

My most recent romantic mystery novel was initially inspired by summer membership at a pool club.

One of the most important things in writing a novel, novella, or short story is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view. Create a central character that readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing a realistic or fantasy novel, if the reader can't care about the main character, than he or she won't believe or accept what follows. Why would they want to read your book if they don’t care about what will happen to your central character(s)? Your main character(s) must seem real. They need a believable background. Again, by living your life, knowing a great many diverse people, you have fodder for your fictional characters.

Although we want to avoid overwhelming our readers with too much detail from the outset, settings need to be vividly described so they seem real. In fact, there's nothing wrong with using real places for background setting. My novels are set in Central New Jersey, an area very much like the one in which I lived and worked.

My advice: don't write for a market; write the story you need to write. Write about what matters to you. We can all be writers. We all have within us a unique, important, wonderful story to share and communicate. Get in touch with your inner self. When editors read that special work that only you can write, they’ll recognize it as extraordinary. They will want to publish your work.

Jacqueline Seewald is an author of mystery and romance novels. She also writes nonfiction, poetry, and plays, as well as short stories and novels. Her books, The Inferno Collection and The Drowning Pool are available from Amazon, B&N Online, or can be requested at your local library.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Feeling Like an Author

What I'm reading: Tailspin, by Catherine Coulter

Saturday's presentation at the Maitland Library was a panel discussion of how the five authors on the panel got started in writing, and whether they would do it again, or will keep doing it.

Three of the other authors had one book published. I sat there with my four books and felt like a "real" author.

The last panelist had been writing from age thirteen, but was still looking to break into print. Everyone agreed that persistence was vital. One addressed the fear of being able to 'do it again' in another book, although he had at least four more in his head, waiting to be written. I was extremely gratified when one of the members of the audience came up and told me how I'd given her hope when I said I didn't start writing until much later in life, and that there was no reason to think it was ever too late.

An aside – what I'm taking away from the panel was the fact that the other woman there writes standing up! She has her computer on her dresser, atop a stack of books so it's at the right height. There's character fodder everywhere.

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Next: Yesterday morning, my Cerridwen editor sent me the final copy of my short story, The Other Side of the Page, that's going to be released in the near future (no official date yet) as a free read (they call them "Scintillating Samples") from Cerridwen Press. It's a total departure in that it's not really a story at all, but rather a tongue in cheek look at a writer's life.

This is the 'official' blurb:

Finding the perfect hero and heroine for a romance novel can turn a writer’s hair gray—that’s why I advertise for them. Interviewing characters can be exhausting, and getting them to stick to the plot? Well, it doesn’t always work that way. And then you find out they’re talking about you behind your back…

Meet Randy and Sarah, the hero and heroine of Finding Sarah and Hidden Fire, in a funny and illuminating look at what goes on behind the scenes of the romance writing process.

I'll be sure to shout out when it's available for download.

Another project has put my novel-writing on temporary hold. I have a chance to participate in a mystery anthology. Only trouble is, the story I submitted was only half as long as what they were looking for. Since the story doesn't lend itself to expansion, I offered to write another, related story. Which means I have to write it! This is as close to working under deadline on something other than edits as I've come yet in my writing career, and although I don't have a hard and fast date, ASAP is the working goal.

Short stories are entirely different from novels. You don't have room for much character development, sub-plots or a large supporting cast. I've got my protagonist—a Homicide Detective, already established in the first story. I've also got a secondary character, also introduced in that story.

Confession: The germ for this story showed up over drinks with Homicide Detective Mark Hussey. He mentioned things that set off red flags for homicide detectives, and one of them seemed a perfect starting point for a story.

So, Gordon, Megan and Justin, are patiently waiting in the wings – actually, Megan and Justin are in a posh hotel in Denver, and Gordon's still back in my fictional town of Mapleton, Colorado. Yesterday, I actually managed to write something for both projects, but I'm not sure I can sustain that. They're both mysteries, and I fear getting them mixed up, as I'm still learning who Gordon, Megan, and Justin are.

I admire those who can work effectively on more than one project. Robert B. Parker said he normally worked on one book in the morning, took a break, and worked on another in the afternoon. However, he's got to know his characters backward, forward, and inside out by now. (Not that I'm comparing my work to his!)

So, challenges for this new story:

Am I writing for word count, or am I writing the best, tightest possible story? Since I tend to write "long", it's important that I keep an eye on the temptation to use three words (or ten) when one will do, simply because I can watch the countdown on my spreadsheet approach my goal.

Should I write straight through, and then go back and cut? Or should I look at each day's production the next morning, and tighten as I go? Will I have the inner strength to cut, knowing it's pulling me farther from my goal?

Given that my name will be on the piece, I'm thinking I'll find that strength.

Tomorrow, my guest is Jacqueline Seewald, who's sharing her thoughts on how to get your work published. See you then.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Homicide Detective Hussey: "The Exhumation" Part 1

By now, Detective Mark Hussey needs no introduction. Here's Part 1 of "The Exhumation." Part 2 next week.

Jurisdictional boundaries between counties and municipalities are a touchy thing. Cops are always trying to get out of calls that are right on the fringe of the city limits. The county sheriff will try to say, "I think it's inside the city," and the city officer will inevitably say, "That's in the county, call the S.O." One afternoon in December, a fight began between the cadre of the Polk County Sheriff's Department and the brass of the Lakeland Police Department that had far reaching repercussions, and believe it or not, I started the ball rolling.

I was finishing an Egg McMuffin and a cup of coffee when the dispatcher called. "Go ahead," I said, my mouth full of breakfast. "See the man, reference information."

Gotta' love these dispatchers. "Any idea what kind of information?"

"He didn't say," the idiot behind the microphone returned.

Beautiful. I found the old gentleman, standing near the coin operated rocking horse out front. He looked a little like the clown, Emmet Kelly. He was wearing three or four pairs of trousers, and a couple of light jackets. Atop his salt and pepper hair, which stuck out in all directions, was a baseball cap with the inscription, "I don't have a drinking problem. I drink, I fall down, no problem."

More of a testimonial, I thought. "What can I do for ya?"

The man got real close and started whispering.

"I can't hear that. Speak up, nobody's around," I said.

"Oh, sorry." He coughed. His breath smelled like rotting flesh. "I was walkin' in the woods this mornin' and found me a cemetery plot."

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"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked, squinting into the morning sun.

"Well over yonder," he pointed to a wooded area near the railroad track, "I found a burial plot. You know a grave."

"How do you know it's a grave?" I asked nervously.

"Just looks like one. I'll show ya, Officer. Another thing," he added. "I ain't seen this guy name-a Sawgrass in a few days, and down yonder on that plot is a cap that says, 'West Virginia' that I saw old Sawgrass wearin'."

"Shit," I said through my teeth. Those winos never gave up their hats; the hat was like their trademark. They wore them until they literally rotted off their heads. I didn't like this.

He took me to a wooded area along the tracks, off Wabash Avenue. I parked the cruiser and told dispatch I'd be leaving the car. I switched the federal system over to the "radio" position, and hung the microphone out the window, in case I had to beat feet back to my cruiser.

We walked about 50 yards into some really thick brush of scrub oak and palmettos. After a short while we came to a clearing. As we walked into the open area which had obviously been well traveled and well "slept," if you will, by the bums, I observed a fresh, slightly raised mound of dirt. The dirt area was about six feet in length and about three feet across. At one end of the mound was a crudely made white cross. Hanging from the cross was the baseball cap with the inscription, "West Virginia, almost heaven."

"Whew," I whistled through my teeth. "Almost heaven or almost hell, at least they gave him a proper burial."

I must admit that by now, my adrenaline was flowing, and I was thinking as most small town cops do, that we were about to solve the crime of the century. Maybe Hoffa was buried here.

I raced back to my police car and asked the dispatcher to send me a supervisor. No way was I going to make a decision of this magnitude on my own. I didn't have to wait long.

Come back next week for the conclusion ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Civilian Police Academy: Consumer Fraud Unit

What I'm reading: Claiming the Rancher's Heart, by Cindy Kirk.

A shift away from writing today. Last night was our monthly Civilian Police Academy Alumni meeting. Our speaker, head of the Consumer Fraud Unit gave the definition of fraud as "inserting a lie into a business transaction." Since the recent Romantic Times Conference resulted in a lot of attendees having fraudulent charges on their credit cards, most likely due to an unscrupulous front desk clerk. The topic seemed timely.

Basically, the Orange County Consumer Fraud Unit deals with complaints, and sends them to the appropriate investigative agencies. Our county is second in the state for identity theft, which is NOT something they deal with. However, they discover a lot of it because it often is discovered because someone files a report of consumer fraud, and the investigation leads to the identity theft. As a matter of fact, our speaker was a victim himself.

The sad thing is that it's up to the victim to deal with the mess, which can take from 2-10 years to sort out.

The newest "innovations" in consumer fraud involve the Internet. Somehow, it's hard—and sad—to believe that people will send large amounts of money for merchandise to a total stranger, and they've never seen the item they're buying. One example: someone bought a boat based on a small picture on the seller's website. When he drove from Florida to New Jersey, he found it was a rust-bucket.

And the newest scams are using Twitter. Yep. If it's out there, people will figure out a way to make a quick buck.

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He also warned about caution in getting your car repaired – motor vehicle repair complaints rank high on the list. Make sure you check the boxes that require the mechanic to give you an estimate BEFORE he does any work. He said that it's common, especially (unfortunately) with female customers, for the mechanic to check the 'no estimate needed' box before handing the paperwork to the customer for service. So that, "Oh, it should be about $200" verbal estimate turns into a $1500 repair bill. And your signature is on the form, so you have no recourse.

Florida is a Buyer Beware state. That means it's up to the consumer to make sure any transaction is on the up and up before closing the deal. And that "3 day rescission" clause is only valid for home solicitation sales. If the vacuum cleaner salesman shows up and you buy a vacuum cleaner, you can cancel within 3 business days. But if YOU initiate the transaction, you're out of luck. This goes for buying a used car—and there's no lemon law on a used vehicle either. Get everything in writing!

A lot of this was a review of what we'd heard in our Crimes Against Seniors session, but it's definitely worth the reminder. Florida's population is heavy with senior citizens. The newest concern for the agency foreclosure scam. More information here.

Phony credit counseling services are also taking advantage of the current economic situation. Things to watch out for here

Home equity loan scams are out there too.

In general, any time you're thinking of taking advantage of a "bargain" here are some red flag key words:

Cash Only – Why is cash necessary for a proposed transaction?

Secret Plans – Why are you being asked not to tell anybody?

Something for Nothing – A retired swindler once said that any time you are promised something for nothing, you usually get nothing.

Haste – Be wary of any pressure that you must act immediately or lose out.

Today Only – If something is worthwhile today, it's likely to be available tomorrow

Last Chance – If it's a chance worth taking, why is it offered on such short notice?

And, of course, keep a close eye on your credit card statements. Don't wait for them to come in the mail. You can go on line and check them any time.

Tomorrow, it's time for another case file from our favorite detective. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's On Your Desk Wednesday?

Welcome to my most recent followers: Susan, Mary, and Sarah. So glad you're here.

Don't forget the contest for an autographed copy of What's in a Name? Details on my website. (Link in the sidebar)

Last week, I got tagged by Sassy-Brit, one of my followers. Being a (relatively) good sport, I'm playing along. Her challenge is What's On Your Desk Wednesday.
So, here's my desk. The only reason it looks this good is because we're trying to sell our house, so keeping the clutter at a minimum is important. Things are slow, but we still try to make sure we're never more than an hour away from 'ready to show.' Thus, apologies to Sassy in advance for a rather boring display -- she should have tagged me a month ago!

Here's what you do:
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Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! And no tidying!

Add this photo to your blog.

Tag at least 5 people!

Leave a link back to your photo in the comments section at the What's on Your Desk Wednesday at Sassy's blog, An Alternative Read.

That's it.

However, for those without digital cameras or blogs of your own, you can do this instead: (or both if you are keen!)

List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk

For me, it's more writing than bookish, since my books at the moment aren't visible on my desk. But they're within reach.

1. Left corner: I have the printout of yesterday's work, marked up with edits ready to transcribe.
2. Right side: LOTS of Post-it notes for my Storyboarding.
3. Right side, back: A multitude of pens & pencils various colors
4. Top, left. My HTML in easy steps book because I can never remember the code for links.
5. Top right: Printout of Roxanne St. Claire's Goal Keeping tips.

List at least 5 NON BOOK things.

1. My coffee cup on its heated coaster
2. A few of my CDs (although I usually use iTunes)
3. My printer (technically, it's next to my desk, not on it.)
4. To the left of my monitor: Assorted notepads for phone messages and the like.
5. My monitor, which I stare at for hours on end. I suppose it counts as 'bookish' if I'm writing, and 'non book' when I'm playing games. Which, of course, I NEVER do.

Tag at least 5 people to do the same.
My tags: Dara Edmondson, Katie Reus, Drue Allen, Steve Pemberton, and Neil Plakcy.

Come back and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Medieval Good Old Days

Today, I welcome Skhye Moncrief to Terry's Place. How about a trip back through time. Careful--there's a quiz. But there's also a chance to win a slew of e-books, so keep reading. (And no, you don't have to pass the quiz to enter. But give it a shot anyway.

First of all, I'd like to thank Terry for having me over. :)

I write about the good ole days with a paranormal twist or two. The madness is kind of an outgrowth of my being certifiably geek. Being formally educated in hard and soft science, geology and archaeology, I just come by it honestly. Since I blog about reference books at SKHYE'S RAMBLINGS , it only seems fitting that I leave you with fun, helpful, and inspiring information.

So you want to know why any sane human would blog about reference books... The venture began as a way to document my personal library since so many hurricanes recently plowed through here—SE Texas. I'd just be sick if I lost that one book... You know, the one that has the info in it... on the top of page 93... right there on the right-hand corner, maybe the second paragraph down. Yes, I remember locations of information, covers too. Alas, I'm sadly all about info, especially quirky stuff like penis gourds and pubic wigs. I kid you not. They are real things and fit into the cultural context of their culture with great significance. So, here's a dose of quirk for you...

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Just what were the good old days like? Books like Renaissance Magazine's A MEDIEVAL BOOK OF DAYS always enlighten me—sending my thoughts off on an interesting journey to attempt to understand the past. Well, my friend recently posted a little quiz on her blog, and people loved it.

So, please don't throw rotten virtual cabbages at Terry's blog! I'd hate it to be trashed. Simply, match the following medieval terms with their corresponding definition. :) Now, I know you can Google these terms. But control yourself. Try it first with just what you know.

lease for three lives

1. The part of the lord's manorial lands reserved for his own use and not allocated to his serfs of freeholder tenants. Serfs worked the demesne for a specified numbers of days a week. (Those were the days!)

2. A peasant of lower class who owned a cottage, but owned little or no land. (Sounds like most of us.)

3. A holding, or group of holdings, forming a large estate, such as the land held by an Earl. (This is so not what you'd expect.)

4. A payment which a feudal lord could claim from the possessions of a dead serf or other tenant, essentially a death tax. Generally, however, if a tenant died in battle, the heriot was forgiven. (Thank goodness on the last part. The lord would probably add another #3 to the pot setting off another three generations of debt!)

5. A liquour made with honey and water and spiced with a dash of pepper. (Hmmm... This might be tasty!)

6. A tax levied on boroughs and on the tenants living on royal estates, to help liquidate royal debts. (Taxes, taxes, and more taxes...)

7. The sum commonly paid by a serf to his lord when the serf's daughter married a man from another manor. (Can you imagine paying a fine for marrying your child off to someone living on another block?)

8. A term of lease of land usually for the life of its holder, his son or wife, and a grandson. (What a drag!)

9. The heraldic color (tincture) of purple. (Well, I know what a tincture is in alchemy!)

10. The buying or selling of spiritual things, particularly Church offices and benefices. (Oh my goodness!)

We won't quibble over who matched all the definitions to the correct terms. So, were you even remotely thrilled you live in the 21st Century A. D.? With the heat index here in Houston, I'm thankful for air conditioning. And three cheers for pest control. But I'm very intrigued by life in the past.

I'm the kind of person who wonders if characters portrayed in movies smelled bad in the time in which they are portrayed or whether or not anyone had any teeth after their mid-twenties. But I studied bio-archaeology and those fascinating aspects of culture are the reality of reconstructing extinct cultures.

That brings me right back to a great reference source for the curious. If you're into learning more about medieval terminology, subscribe to Renaissance Magazine. It's carried at Barnes & Noble too! Renaissance Magazine has proven a wonderful source for finding new words or ideas to play with in my time-travel tales. You know, I think I could handle tea way waaaay back... I don't know about all that grit in the food though. *ugh* And I'm a big fan of toilet paper. Anyone else?

I'd also like to invite everyone over to enter to win 12 e-books. All you have to do is tell me what you're doing for vacation this summer as a comment at the link provided.

Okay. Okay. Here are the quiz answers...

1. demesne
2. cottager
3. honor
4. heriot
5. swish-wash
6. tallage
7. formarriage
8. formarriage
9. purpure
10. simony

Thanks again for having me over, Terry! ~Skhye

Learn more about Skhye and her stories, He of the Fiery Sword, and The Spell of the Killing Moon at her websites, skhyemoncrief and time guardians, and her blog

Storyboards and Dangling Threads

What I'm reading: 8th Confession, by James Patterson

I've continued working with my modified story board, and I'm still liking it. I know there's nothing this method does that a computer program can't do – and perhaps do better – but I like the "change of media" approach.

Since last time, I've gone back and started another thing to track: Where. My chapters each contain at least two POV scenes (I haven't jumped on the Patterson bandwagon with 2-3 page "chapters" instead of scene breaks within chapters).

The colors on the storyboard tell me "who" at a glance. These are my larger stickies, and they summarize the plot points, and from which character's POV that scene takes place. I've got Green for Gordon, Pink for Megan, and Blue for Justin. I started with each character having a POV scene in each chapter, but as the mystery threads are demanding more page time, I've cut that back. Right now, Gordon, my small town police chief, has a scene in every chapter since chapter 8.

I can look at my board and see that his character wasn't on the page much at first – a brief introductory scene in chapter 1, and then he doesn't appear again until chapter 4. I may have to re-think that, because if he's the cop, he should be involved in solving the mystery. But there's no 'rule' about this – I've read a number of books where the detective won't show up for several chapters. I prefer not showing the villain's POV, and usually the 'delayed detective' scenario starts with showing the reader the crime. But until I finish writing this, I'm going to stick to my "good guy's POV" preference, and decide later if I need some more foreshadowing with my cop sooner.

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The little stickies (no real color code for them) on my board are plot points or clues or things to remember. They start out on my idea board, then migrate to the plotting board as they're introduced. Once I've covered them, I can toss them. But I like the reminders that show me where a plot point was introduced. Right now, I have a little stickie reminding me to check the timeframe for the press conference. (And I'll admit, a lot of these little stickies actually get their start on the plotting board. Far be it from me to restrict what happens on the page to what I've stuck on my idea board. If something pops up, I'll make a note of it as I go.)

I'm hoping this visual approach will help me remember details. I've read some books where threads have been dropped, or attention to details was lacking. For example, a hero with a broken leg that's only a problem for him for the next chapter. Somehow, his cast seems to disappear. Making a note that I've given Megan a bump on the head and a sore wrist will make sure I deal with her injuries in a logical manner. If I need to, I can go back and increase or decrease the severity of the injury, but once it's established, I'm obligated to keep things consistent.

Another example: the power failure creating the plot point that there is total darkness. No moonlight, nothing. It's a great way to show some physical contact between hero and heroine, but when they take that a step further and are in the midst of making love, all of a sudden he can see the color of her eyes, or her smile. Nope. If it's dark, it's dark. Easy enough to research from a darkened bedroom. It's a minor hiccup, but it shows inconsistency.

Or the importance of finding out if a character has a surgically implanted locator chip. It's stressed as being a vital clue that could provide a lead to the villain. But we never see if they actually found one in the character. And if they did, somewhere between the pages, did the chip give them the information they needed? They ended up not needing it, but for me, it was a dropped thread and made me go back to see if I missed it. I tried. Several times, but never found it. (Advantage of e-books: you can search for words!)

Adding authenticity, local color, interesting details, can connect with a reader. But when is something window dressing, and when does it help the story? A reader likes to see there's a payoff for remembering those details. And a mystery writer tries to hide the important ones!

Having read Lee Child's most recent release, Gone Tomorrow, I'm impressed by how he uses every detail. When a fellow passenger rambles on about the different kinds of subway cars in New York, it's not idle conversation. That tidbit shows up front and center later on. And even the little things, that might not be plot points, such as the origin of the use of "Hello" to answer the phone will appear, letting the reader know that the character was paying attention, too.

I can't pretend to be of Child's caliber, but I hope by noting little details, such as the fact that Justin carries a handkerchief, I'll make sure it shows up again. And that since I've established limited cell phone coverage in some of my scene locations, I don't have the phone work when I need them and not when I don't.

As for my new "Where" stickies: I'm jotting down where each scene takes place. It's important to keep things moving, not only with the pace of the story, but also the action of the plot. A change of scenery keeps things from stagnating. This way, I can tell exactly where my characters are in each scene at a glance, and decide if I need to move them around more. Since my characters aren't always in the same place at the same time, I'm less likely to lose one.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Skhye Moncrief, who's sharing some fascinating tidbits about things medieval. Be sure to drop by and find out how to win some summer reading material.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Dead Turkeys Don't Fly Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1, you'll need to scroll down and read it before this one.

I guess I still didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. As I got out of the car, I could hear yelling and crying from the inside of one of the disheveled trailers. As I got still closer, I noticed that on a direct trajectory from the inside of the small mobile home’s kitchen and on a line with the broiler pan and the turkey, the window had been broken out.

When I looked inside the open door, I saw a familiar scene. Inside the one room camper were three people. The man, a white male with a bushy beard clothed in filthy shorts and no shirt, covered with tattoos, was standing over a thin cowering female. The woman was obviously afraid of the man and had what appeared to be a red mark on her face. The two children, a girl and a boy, around five or six years old, were also filthy. They sat clinging to each other in a corner, crying softly.

Now this was back in the days before domestic violence was a serious crime. I had seen this a hundred times. You would ask the woman if she would be willing to press charges. The answer would inevitably be, "No, I just want him to leave for a little while."

We would explain that we would ask him to leave, and if he was willing, there was no problem.. If not, we were unable to make him leave his residence. Many times we would leave without the situation being resolved, and would return later to a tragic situation.

The state has now in its infinite wisdom overreacted as usual, and taken the discretion away from the officer. At present, if there is any complaint or evidence of domestic violence, including threats, the accused gets arrested and must stay in jail for 24 hours without the benefit of a bond. So what happens, is the guy stews for twenty-four hours, comes back, really pissed off and either beats his wife some more or kills her.

My backup arrived and I took the 'gentleman' aside, and the other officer began talking to the lady and the children. In domestic situations, you really have to be careful. Procedure is that you separate the combatants as soon as possible. Many an officer has been seriously hurt or killed while handling domestic complaints.

"What seems to be the problem here?" I asked the irate drunk.

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"I’m sicka her bitchin,’' he yelled.

"Lower your voice, I’m not deaf." I spoke softly. It seemed to calm him for the moment.

"I work my ass off every day, I bring home the money, and she pisses and moans when I wanna have a couple a’ beers on the weekends." From the looks of the bags of tin cans sitting near the residence, a couple was a conservative estimate. I knew there was no working out this argument.

Many of the working class thought it was either their God-given right or written in the United States constitution that "If thou works hard during the week, thou shalt get pissy drunk on the weekends."

"What happened here today?" I asked.

"Well, she was saying how there’s never any food in the house, but I can afford to drink beer."

A sound argument.

"So I ask her what the fuck she thinks that is cooking in the oven," as he pointed to the half-eaten dog feast.

"Okay, let me get this straight. You grabbed the turkey—"

"Yeah and burned my Goddamn hand!" He extended a red left palm.

"And threw it out the kitchen window."

He nodded.

"Holy shit!" I screamed. The turkey smelled good and I was getting hungry. "Now what in hell are you going to eat for Thanksgiving dinner?"

"I dunno," he mumbled looking down toward the ground.

"I guess you really showed her, you rocket scientist. Stay here."

I walked back to the trailer and talked to the backup officer. The man’s wife was softly crying. "I don’t suppose she wants to press charges?" I asked.

Before he could answer, the husband yelled from the yard, "I’m sorry, baby," and was now crying himself.

"Ain’t love grand?" I thought. "Ma'am, what are you going to feed these babies?" I asked.

"I don’t know," she whispered.

It seemed to be the standard answer. Nobody knew, let’s call the cops, they’ll know. I pulled my partner aside and asked him if he had any cash.

"A little," he said.

"You got ten?"

"Yeah." He opened his wallet and handed it over.

I also retrieved a ten dollar bill from my pocket and handed the twenty dollars over to the woman. "Look, take these kids to Denny’s or Morrison's or somewhere and get them a Thanksgiving dinner. And don’t let him drive." The lady nodded and took the money.

After getting a promise that the guy would behave, and seeing the two combatants in a tender embrace (beautiful), we left. I knew I would be back here again, maybe even before the day was over.

My Thanksgiving dinner was great, with no food being thrown whatsoever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Liana's Winner

Thanks to Liana for being my guest, and for hosting a contest. The winner is ...

Sarah Simas

Sarah, please email Liana for the details. Congratulations!

And for those having trouble getting into the blog ... I really have no good explanation other than IE sometimes takes its sweet time about loading the script for the "Keep reading" link. It should end with /#0 at the bottom of your monitor when you hover your cursor over it. IE8 seems to be the worst offender. Since it doesn't happen to everyone, or even happen all the time to the same people, I really have no solution to offer.

That's why I strongly suggest you try downloading Firefox. It's free, and I find it to be a much more efficient browser.

And if you're looking for Homicide-Hussey: Part 1 of "Dead Turkeys Don't Fly" is one post down. Part 2 tomorrow.

Homicide - Hussey: Dead Turkeys Don't Fly Part 1

What I'm reading: Wicked Prey, by John Sandford.

Last night, I had the pleasure of spending several hours picking Detective Hussey's brain for authenticity with the law enforcement aspects of two of my WIPs. He's an amazing font of information, and most generous with his time. (OK, I admit, we met at the Ale House, so there was more than Q&A going on.)

This week's chapter was long enough that I didn't want to put it all in one post, and I didn't want to make everyone wait a week between parts 1 and 2, so I decided to give him center stage a day early for part 1, and part 2 will be up tomorrow at his usually scheduled time.

Dead Turkeys Don't Fly

One Thanksgiving morning, I was working the day shift. When you work uniform, you miss a lot of holidays with the family, and even the days that are special to everyone else end up being just 'another day in paradise' for the cops. In Lakeland in those days, the Sergeant would usually let you go home for dinner, no matter where you lived and take a long lunch with your family, depending on the call load situation.

This particular Thanksgiving I was working for Sergeant Roy Raines. Roy or 'Doc' as he was commonly referred to was a prince of a guy. He was the SWAT Team Sergeant, and was chosen for the job I suspect, because of his cool disposition under pressure. Basically, Doc didn’t worry about anything; he was just a great guy to work for.

Well it was around dinnertime, and the officers were taking their turns at meal breaks. It had been pretty quiet. One guy was working a shooting suicide, which is very common during holiday periods. People find themselves alone and depressed at a time when everyone else is getting together with family and friends. Many times the isolation is unbearable and the guy decides to check out. Sometimes, the cop who gets that call is having some of the same feelings; he’s just gotten divorced, or he’s going through an internal investigation, and just working the call sends him into a greater state of depression.

Cops are also the world’s worst at dealing with stress. The usual remedy is alcohol. I’m speaking from experience when I say, being drunk only intensifies the problem. So it goes in the cop world. Holidays are happy times for some and not so for others. Sometimes the day starts out happy and then the two most volatile, dangerously explosive chemicals in the world are mixed. No, it's not nitro, or gasoline, or even petroleum and fertilizer. I’m talking about alcohol and testosterone. The deadliest chemical mix in the world.

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Think about it. 99.9% of the calls are related to either drunks or man’s quest for sex. The latter includes all the 'This is my domain' shit that happens during the holidays, when relatives, who already know they can’t stand each other are thrown together to give it 'one more try'. 'This is my damn house, or 'You know your mother doesn’t like me', or 'Uncle Enis is a penis'. Then, just add some alcohol and 'Voila'—instant assholes. Which leads me to the case in point.

It was nearly my turn to go to dinner when I got the call. If you’re like most cops, you believe that there is a special guy up there, controlling your destiny. You’re going to get the worst call at the worst possible time.

"One-zero-six." The break in the silence startled me.

"Go ahead," I grumbled.

"Domestic disturbance at 102 Arrow Lake Mobile Home Park."

"Ten four," I sighed. The Arrow Lake Mobile Home Park was nothing more than an old campground, with no trees, and about 20 electric boxes, which seemed to be growing like little trees out of the un-mowed grass. There may have been some arrows, but there was no lake. Near the electric boxes, and placed extremely close together, were many small camper/trailers. Most had been manufactured in the 50’s and 60’s and should have been scrapped and burned long ago.

The slumlord owner would charge excessive amounts of 'rent' which was due promptly at 10:00 on Friday. A sign would be placed at the entrance, 'Pay if you want to stay.' If the rent was not paid by noon, the manager would break into the renter’s residence, seize all his worldly goods, and lock them in the office. If the person wanted his things back, he would owe the rent, on the average $100.00, a 'confiscation fee' of $25.00 and $10.00 a day storage fee.

By the time they were done, the poor guy who had three kids, and a minimum wage job, owed more than a month's salary. It was a vicious cycle. So instead of facing the problems and paying the bills, the guy says, "The hell with it" and buys a pint of liquor or a six pack. The next thing that happens is the police get called, as if the guy needed one more problem in his life.

As I got to the shit-hole trailer park and began looking for the trailer numbers (generally non-existent), I saw a small gathering of people near the south end of the so-called park. As I got closer, I realized that in the center of the small group of drunks were two mutt dogs.

Between the two snarling curs was a 15-pound Butterball turkey, nicely browned. It was obviously still too hot to eat, as the dogs would take a small bite and jump back. Near the turkey between the dogs and the trailer was a black broiler pan overturned and lying on its side.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Promo Game

If you're looking for Liana Laverentz's contest, she's down one post. Even if you're not, check it out. She's got some sage words about being published. And Detective Hussey responded to his Friday chapter in the Comments section with a couple of new "terms of endearment".

For today, I'm thinking about something that everyone must understand. Publicity. Promotions. Advertising. Unwanted mail, e-mail, and phone calls.

Spam? Junk mail? Phone call solicitations? Everyone is out to make a buck, and with the economy doing what it's doing (or not doing), there seem to be more and more folks trying to get whatever action they can.

Do Not Call List? It's effective, but not perfect. I try to follow the attitude my son-in-law had when he did telemarketing in college. (He ended up with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics, so he did find another career option.) He figured that if the people didn't want to listen and cut him off, it meant he wasted that much less time and could get on to the next call. So when a call does get through, and they ask for Mr. or Mrs., I know it's nobody we know or need to talk to. If that's all they say, I reply, "I'm sorry, they're having dinner," and hang up. No guilt—she's now got time to make another call.

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Or what about yesterday's, "We're not asking for money, only that you agree to look at some material we'll mail." My response. "Fine, I'll be watching for it." Click.

No need to discuss the emails telling me I've won the Irish Sweepstakes, or someone in Nigeria wants to send me money.

Junk mail goes into our recycling box, unopened. Sometimes it goes through the shredder first.

But there are other sorts of "We want your business" messages. And some might seem worthwhile. If you're a small press author, you don't have a lot of money to spend on promotion, so it's a do-it-yourself game.

And you need to target your promotional dollars.
However, there are all sorts of companies that would be more than happy to take your money to do pretty much what you already do. They claim a have a larger audience, or simply keep track of schedules, as to what groups allow promotion on what days. Like everything else, it's buyer beware out there.

I've seen a few of these companies and their promotion, but found that when I saw the name of the promotion company in the "from" field, I was deleting them. And if I was, I figured there would be a lot more people like me who did the same thing, so I've seen no need to join up. The actual messages were basically the exact same thing authors do themselves. A blurb, and excerpt, a buy link. An image of the cover (but more about graphics in a minute)

I'd offer a caveat to those looking for the book promoters. The 'big' authors have publicists, and they earn their money. But in the smaller market of e-books, especially when you don't have a lot of money to spend, you need to Having someone else send an email to one of the groups, like the infinite number available through Yahoo might spare you some time. But remember what it's going to look like on the other end. There's a very nifty feature of these groups called, "Digest." For those unfamiliar with this, it means you get one big message containing about 25 individual messages at a time. You can scan through the headers to see if anything looks interesting enough to open.

One promotion company frequents the groups I subscribe to, and on digest, their promotions, which I'm sure are lovely if received individually, lose all graphics. So where the subject header will have the book title and author, opening the message shows almost two screens of other places the company advertises and the names of its staff before you ever get to the actual promotion piece. If I am promoting, the idea is to get my name out there – not have someone forget who the heck the promotion is for before they read far enough to find me. Seems to me, the "credits" belong at the END of the piece, AFTER they show you what they're advertising. No thanks on that one.

But the kicker – and the trigger for this post in the first place. Last week, I got an e-mail from a company wanting to take my money to advertise my book. This is what they sent (and I've changed the names and other references to the company)

Hi Terry Odell,

A pleasant day to you.

I’m "Jane Doe", a Marketing Specialist of "Promotion Scammers.com".

I came across with your book entitled, “Coping Mechanisms”. We are interested to promote it and we’d like to help you reach out up to 5,000,000 individuals and let them know about you and your work.

If you are interested, please give me a call at 1- 888-555-1234 or you may reply to this email. I’d be grateful to give you more information about this.

Hope to hear from you soon and have a nice day.

Sincerely yours,

Do I start with the grammar? Why would anyone let someone who can't construct an English sentence handle any marketing? Why would anyone want them to? And those 5 million individuals. My guess: they've bought some email lists and are sending … yeah, SPAM. But the real winner? Yes, they actually connected my name to a title of one of my 'books'. Only it's a short story, and it's a Free Read, which anyone can download from the Cerridwen Press website.

No thanks. (For the record, I did Google the company, and found complaints galore.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Being Published - What Do You Want?

This week, my guest is EPPIE award winning author Liana Laverentz. Her topic: Why (or How) Do You Want to Be Published? She's got a special prize for one lucky commenter, so be sure to read on. Welcome, Liana

We all know why we write. We write because we can’t not write, or because we have a deep-rooted need to express ourselves in some way, and have for most of our lives. We have these stories running through our head and just won’t go away until we put them on paper—or at least into our computers. We have people who talk to us day and night until we give them a voice. But why do we want to be published?

The answer is a lot more complicated than you’d think. I’ve been writing for over twenty years, and have judged a lot of contests and critiqued a lot of chapters. Some were awful, some technically correct, but had no zing, and some…some were brilliant. You might think all writers want to get published. Not so. One that stands out in my memory was a woman who wrote beautifully, brilliantly…but had no interest in being published. Her husband was in the military and deployed for long periods of time, and she wrote to keep herself company while he was gone. When he came home, the writing was forgotten.

I’ve never been able to figure out whether being able to put her writing away like that was a blessing or a curse.

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Others want to be published so that they can see their name on a book and say—sometimes to a family of doubters and naysayers—“See? I did it!” Or they just want be able to call themselves a published author. They don’t care if they sell many copies, as long as they have enough for their family and circle of friends. Others want to be published just to see if they can do it. Once the challenge is met, they have no interest in publishing again. On to the next life goal on their list.

Does that mean that any of these writers stop writing? Not at all. But the lure of fame and fortune is not there for all of us. Some writers write in their spare time, their primary focus on home and hearth, seeing to the needs of their families. They’re perfectly happy publishing a book or short story here and there, adding to their collection of credentials.

Some writers publish with small presses just to be able to see their words in print. They have no desire to go the traditional publishing route. One reason I hear a lot is they want to write what they want to write. Maybe mix genres and find their own audiences. Others see small presses as stepping stones to being published traditionally, and find their successes smaller publishers give them hope and encouragement. Others are happy being ebook authors and don’t care if they ever get into print.

We’re all different. We’re all special. I attended a writer’s conference in January where Bestselling author Christina Dodd spoke about The Sidewalk of Success. We’re all on it. We can step away from it at any time, and many of us do. Some of us come back and some of us don’t. Some of us step off and on again regularly, needing to take a break when Life interferes. But the sidewalk is always there for us, and success means something different to every person on that sidewalk. Sometimes success is, finishing that first chapter, maybe finishing a synopsis and three chapters. Sometimes it’s entering a contest, just letting someone else see your work, much less winning that contest—but oh, what validation it is when you do!

Some writers enter contests and strive to win accolades that way, but never submit to publishers. Sometimes success is defined as sending out a query letter, or three, or ten. Sometimes it’s landing an agent. Sometimes the epitome of success is being offered a publishing contract. I have seen writers back away once the contract is offered, deciding they don’t want someone else reading their most personal thoughts after all.

Others step off the sidewalk once the book is released, and they realize how much promotion is involved. A lot of authors are introverts. We spend a lot of time alone, writing. We’re not comfortable promoting our books. We’re extremely uncomfortable at booksignings. At least I am. Others revel in it. We don’t believe in our books any less if we don’t want to do booksignings and workshops and lectures. They’re a lot of work. Some authors would rather spend the time writing their next book. The writing is what’s important, not the selling. Others live for the thrill of the day we can sit behind that table and sign our books for friends, family, and strangers alike. Others simply want to be able to attend a writer’s conference and wear that special “Published Author” designation, be it on their name badge or in the form of a ribbon or a pin.

Others aim for a publishing contract with a big house and seek to sell millions of books. Others aim for the national bestseller lists. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. Some are happy being at the top of the bestselling list at their publishing house—or just making the list.

There are as many levels to being published as there are to writing. You can be published in your own way, on your own terms, as in self-publishing, you can be published by a small house or in ebooks, you can be published by a small house but in hardback, or a big house and be happy as a midlist author, or you may need to go for the brass ring of national bestseller-dom to be happy.

All are equally valid measures of success, depending on your personality and goals. Which is it for you?

Liana Laverentz is the author of three contemporary romances, Eppie and NJRW Golden Leaf award-winner Thin Ice, Golden Leaf winner Jake’s Return, and Ashton’s Secret, a murder mystery romance now available on Amazon and due to be released by The Wild Rose Press on June 26. For more information, go to www.lianalaverentz.com. For a chance to win a free critique of your first 15 pages, leave a comment here telling us your goals! Liana will select a winner to be announced here Thursday morning, so be sure to check to see if you're the lucky one.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Black, White and Shades of Gray

What I'm reading: Fatal Secrets, by Allison Brennan; The Language of Bees, by Laurie R. King.


I hope everyone enjoyed Detective Hussey's "copspeak" over the weekend. And I'd like to take a moment to congratulate my daughter for finishing a half-ironman in Kansas on Sunday. Near as I can tell, there were almost 100 entries in her age class, and she finished 27th. Her final time was 5:36:47. I can't even comprehend 'exercising' that long, much less competing! She cut an hour off the time of her first half-ironman.

Other tidbits:

I discovered that the Quincy, IL Library had WHEN DANGER CALLS as a "Staff Pick" on display in the lobby.

And don't forget my June contest for a chance to win an autographed copy of WHAT'S IN A NAME?

There's a special 10% off sale at the Jasmine-Jade website. Seems that they've been upgrading, and there have been some glitches, so in a 'thank you for your patience' gesture, all titles from their site, both digital and print, will be discounted through June. To get your 10% discount enter ECWEB2009 into the coupon field when completing your purchase at their site.

On to the business at hand:

Last Saturday, Gennita Low was our guest speaker at my RWA chapter meeting. She's a roofer by day, a romantic suspense author by night. Talk about a strange mix of professions. She discussed writing romantic suspense, and stressed the need for emotional involvement.

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Everyone, Low says, has fears. The task of the author is to channel and use the emotion the fears generate. You might never have been in the same situation you put your character in, but you can translate the emotion. She also pointed out the importance of being able to look at things from another perspective. If you abhor violence, but you have a violent character, you have to be able to understand where that violence is coming from. You need to look at the goals and motivations of that character, to see how it drives him or her.

Another important consideration is shades of gray in emotion. A story where everything is black and white won't be as interesting as one where the lines are blurred. Many thrillers tend to be much more action oriented, and don't show the emotional side of the characters. She did mention that many male authors don't seem to put as much emotion into their books. We've had that discussion here before, more than once, especially in my series on His Brain / Her Brain (Series started Sept. 2, 2008)

In a romantic suspense both the suspense (or, in what I write, the mystery) have to be balanced. She warned of some pitfalls.

First, you need to decide if your story is hero-centric or heroine-centric. Even in romance, one's story will edge out the others, even if it's only by a slight margin.

The language in a hero-centric story is apt to be harsher. Things that might mean your pendulum is swinging too far in trying to make your hero too alpha: Is he too overprotective? Is he taking over, not letting the heroine show her own strengths? Does he discount anything she says or does? Or is he too distrustful? Won't let anyone else do anything? Men use harsher language, but dropping F-bombs doesn't necessarily make your character any more likeable, or any more alpha.

For a heroine-centric book, you don't want your heroine too perfect. She can't be too smart, or too talented. (In fan fictions, these were Mary-Sue characters). On the other hand, she shouldn't rely on the hero to save her; she can't be too weak.

All of these lead right back to those critical 'shades of gray.'

Another caveat: Beware Authorial Intrusion. Not only your 'writerly' voice, but also your own personal agenda. Remember, it's about the characters. Unless they share your viewpoints, leave your own biases off the page.

Low also reiterated points made by so many other successful authors. Use the push-pull of the relationship to create sexual tension. Secrets are good. Moments of danger allow insight into how the characters feel. This is an excellent way to show emotion IF it doesn't stop the story.

And, she advises keeping your eyes and ears open at all time. (Hey, I'm not eavesdropping, honey, I'm doing RESEARCH). All her experiences with roofers can be used to add color to her stories. Not that they have to have roofing scenes, but hanging around a roofing crew gives insight into how males talk, think, and act, which CAN be carried over into a book.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Liana Laverentz who's going to be talking about reasons for getting published. She's also going to offer a critique of the first 15 pages of a manuscript, so be sure to drop by for a chance for some fresh eyes on your work.