Hidden Tracks

Amber in tree final I have files with titles such as “Accidental Shooting Settlements” and “Art Authentication” as well as “Pricing Art” and “Parrot Questions.” I finally deleted the one on 1989 Aerostar vans. The struggling old van made it through Shaman’s Blues and Snake Face and retired, with no one commenting on how I’d handled its various mechanic problems. That’s how it should be. I want to hide my tracks. Readers usually shouldn’t be paying attention to my research, but since this is a blog about writing, I’m going to go backstage and show the process.

Readers notice all the scholarly articles in The Calling. This book may look as though I worked harder on research compared to the rest, but in fact it was the easiest. I didn’t venture outside my areas of expertise, and I set it in places I knew well.When I lived in Norfolk, I’d visited a number of alternative healers there and several psychics in Virginia Beach—out of pure curiosity, with no idea they would end up as background for a book.  An important character in this story is a professor in health sciences and so am I. To find the material on alternative medicine and research in the field, all I had to do was relocate the right articles. I knew where they’d been published and I remembered the content.

More often, I don’t realize how much I’ll need to know about a subject until I’m into the first draft of a book. I immediately start keeping research lists, things to look up or ask experts about, and I dig into these questions as I go along.

When the character of Jamie showed up in Shaman’s Blues, I read books about current Australian Aboriginal culture in order to understand his roots. I studied Aussie slang and was blessed with an Australian critique partner who could tell if I got it right. And then there’s his van. It’s close to being a character in the next book, Snake Face. I took notes during Car Talk. I looked up timing belts and timing chains, I looked up the last year that these vans were made with carburetors, and I looked at pictures of their engine parts. A musician who had toured with a band read the manuscript to make sure I portrayed life on the road correctly. And I consulted a couple of lawyers about a major plot point. I double-checked some details of the medical treatments and outcomes for a particular injury. And I searched out the name of a Greek drinking dance. This is, I think, typical in the creation of a book, more typical than the ease with which I could pull together the seemingly obscure scholarship in The Calling.

For Soul Loss I reread some books on neo-shamanism to refresh my memory of a strange workshop I once attended as part of a conference, and I researched Tarot cards and Cochiti Pueblo beliefs about the dead. I also had to find out what was involved in setting up a festival. For Ghost Sickness I had to study up on parrots, since several play roles in the story, and also looked into rodeo injuries, and many matters related to art. Even though I’d set the story in familiar places, I revisited the Mescalero Apache reservation and took a careful, observant walk through Truth or Consequences to make doubly sure that certain events could happen as I wrote them. I could go on and on. It’s amazing what I discover that don’t know—or what I’ve forgotten that I thought I knew. But that list with the heading “Look Up” eventually gets crossed off and ideally readers have no idea I had to work so hard on that van. All they need to care about is the character driving it.

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August is My Birthday Month

Looking back over the years, some birthdays really stand out for me. Remember, I’m really old and people didn’t do the expensive parties that they do now, nor were there places to buy decorations, party favors and games..

The first one I can remember was when I was about five and my mother planned a fairy princess party. I don’t remember too much about it, except that all the little girls that came got crowns, and I had a big one, plus a wand.  My auntie made all the favors.

Me as a flower girl.

Not the party dress, but that’s about the age I was.

Around the my tenth birthday or so, my mother planned a luncheon party with a Mexican theme. My two girls cousins and my best school friends came to that one.

When I was in junior high, the celebration was held in Chinatown in downtown L.A. and we traveled on the streetcar to get there. There were others, of course, but those are the ones that stand out in my memory.

I’ve had lots and lots of celebrations as an adult because I’ve been around a long time.

This is also the month my first child was born–and I lived 3000 miles away from my family. (Remember this was a long, long time ago.) My husband was in the Navy in Virginia and had the duty the weekend that I gave birth–and I lived in Maryland. Hubby arrived to see his daughter the next day. Looking back, I knew nothing about raising a baby. I had a Good Housekeeping baby book, and did everything it said to do.

This is the month my first child got married too–being a poor Navy family, we made all the bridesmaids’ dresses, daughter made her wedding dress, I did all the flowers using the neighbors’ daisies and a rosebud lapel pin for the groom, a neighbor made the wedding cake and I cooked all the food for the reception. (It all turned out great.)

August is also the month that my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries come out–and yes, the new one is now available on Amazon.

SeldomTraveledFrontCover new

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three.

https://www.amazon.com/Seldom-Traveled-Tempe-Crabtree-Mystery/dp/1594264333/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471655178&sr=1-1&keywords=seldom+traveled+by+marilyn+meredith

As you can see August is an important month for me, full of memories and exciting things ahead.

Marilyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On the Hazards of Seat-of-the-Pants Writing

copyWhat have I been up to since I last posted? Well, as I told you last month, my new book, PSYCHIC DAMAGE, is out. I’ve had a couple of book signings, both at great bookstores, with other writers from Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. I also moderated a panel at a library in Santa Monica using as our topic “Murder is Where You Find It”. These were all fun, partly because I wasn’t appearing by myself but with other writers. It’s always fun when you have other people to talk to on the podium.

I have also finally (!) unstuck myself in the writing of my latest Florida mystery, as yet untitled. Because I never outline and only start with a vague idea of what’s driving the book and where it’s going, I ALWAYS get stuck somewhere around half way through. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m sorry I ever started, and I wonder what I was thinking when I considered the book a good idea. I wake up thinking about the problems, mulling solutions over in my head, without coming to any brilliant—or even serviceable– solutions. And I find myself depressed, feeling that I’ll be stuck forever.  Maybe I’ll just give up this book and start fresh.

Candy, my writing teacher, tells me I always do this, but since I don’t remember feeling this way before, I think she’s just trying to make me feel better. This time my being stuck lasted longer than usual, and even she began to wonder about me. Then she suggested that, since I had several threads in the book, several ways it could go, that I try following each of them separately from the rest of the book, to see where each of them led me.

Wonder of wonders! I followed one thread to the end and found a logical and conclusive ending. Then I followed another, with a few detours along the way, but I think now I know where I’m going.  I hope I can follow it through to the end.

If you’re a writer, it’s probably a better idea to have some idea where you’re going rather than write the way I do. On the other hand, I’m constantly surprising myself with the paths my books take that I hadn’t planned out at all. And surprising myself is a lot of fun!

In the meantime, my house is still a mess with the kitchen remodeling going on. The walls and cabinets are painted, the lights are in, but the floor hasn’t been done yet and there seems to be a leak in the ceiling.  House remodeling is never fun?

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Hope and Despair

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Tomorrow is the birthday of the fourth book in the Adam Kaminski Mystery Series! What She Fears goes live tomorrow, August 16, and that’s both exciting and nerve-wracking.

Of course, I’m already hard at work on the next book. No rest for the weary, as they say. Book 5 (no title yet) is about hope. Maybe even about faith. It’s about music, art, and color.

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I struggled a lot with the opening scenes. I’m a planner, so I already had my character sketches and outline done before I started writing. I knew who I was writing about and what would happen in each scene. But something was missing.

I figured maybe I was distracted by the upcoming book launch. I’ve been doing a lot of promotion for the first book in the series (and it’s going very well — pick up your free copy of A Blind Eye here if you haven’t started the series yet!) so I decided I was just nervous about that. Distracted from writing.

NO DISTRACTIONS ALLOWED

Makes sense, right?

Distracted, I should add, is an understatement. A complete emotional mess might be more accurate. Will my readers like it? Will they love it? I think it’s my best book yet. But I admit to being a little biased.

DEFINITELY DISTRACTING

Some days I wake up full of hope, just knowing What She Fears will be a hit. Fans of Adam Kaminski will love it. Other days I wake up in despair. Everyone will hate it. No one will understand what the book is about or what it says.

Then — finally — it hit me. That had been my problem all along with book 5. Here I thought I was writing a book about hope. But I’d left out the despair.

How can you regain hope if you haven’t first experienced despair?

I love it when a story comes together. That one, elusive element that finally makes it all click. The glue that holds it all together. The book is about hope. The book is about despair. And like all good books, it’s about the journey.

The writing is coming along well now. I so enjoy the time I spend putting words to paper, watching my ideas come out into the open, seeing them take form. It’s enthralling and it’s invigorating.

I’ll share more about the next book in future posts, as time permits. For now, I remain hopeful about the launch of What She Fears. Take a look for yourself and let me know what you think! What-She-Fears-Web-Small

Learn more about me and my writing at janegorman.com. Sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Facebook or Twitter. My books are available at Amazon and a variety of other retailers.

 

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Public Speaking, Self-Publishing and Scars

by Janis Patterson

Last weekend I gave a workshop at our local MWA chapter on self-publishing. Not that I’m an expert, or anything like that, but you realize that to be an authority on something you only have to know a little more than everyone else, and I have been self-pubbing since 2013. Besides, I was dragooned into it by my fellow chapter board members!

Normally when I give a workshop or a public speech I write it out, agonizing on the exact nuances of words and the rhythm of sentences. Yes, I am a control freak. Unfortunately, that means I usually read the presentation, making sure each word is exactly as I wrote it – in other words, giving a boring program that would have been better as a magazine article.

I don’t mind public speaking; it’s not my favorite thing to do, but it is easy and not unpleasant. I know there are some who are absolutely terrified to speak in front of people – my own dear mother was one – but I just don’t understand that. Know that such panicky fear exists, and accept it, but don’t understand it. I don’t see any difference between talking to five people or five hundred.

Anyway, due to work and life and other uncontrollable things I didn’t write down my speech – only made notes of topics that had to be covered. And agonized about their order; apparently you can’t turn off the control freak gene. It would be okay, I thought; we’re a small chapter and I know everyone there. Ha!

I was astonished at how quickly the room filled up. We finally ended up with more than double our usual attendance, and there were some people there I had never seen before. Well, it was too late to back out, so I sat down at my improvised speaker’s table, and started to talk. The Husband says there has never been a time I couldn’t talk!

I talked for over an hour, almost an hour and a half. (My father used to say, Wind her up and she talks…) There were some very intelligent questions, and some very elementary questions, but that’s okay, because everyone starts out not knowing everything – or sometimes anything. I stressed that what I was saying was based on my experience, that their mileage or choices might vary, that there were choices to be made that only they could make. That is the essence of self-publishing, I think – self responsibility. The choices you make will affect the results you get but – aside from a few basics – like to sell a book you have to finish it and get it out there – every choice and everything that is done devolves on you. If it gets done, you have to do it.

The workshop went rather well, though I must admit it was a little unsettling to see all these people – friends and strangers alike – scribbling down seemingly every word I said, just like I had maniacally taken notes at the workshops of important people. Yes, it was a bit of a rush – half elation and half sheer terror. And although public speaking doesn’t really faze me, I’m glad it’s over.

Will I do another one? I honestly don’t know. I’m glad I did this one. I hope that everyone there has an easier path to self-publishing because of what I said. I know I owe a lot to those who went before me into this brave new world, but even so I still accumulated my share of scars and mistakes. Perhaps that’s called growth

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What do Jessica Fletcher, Shania Twain, and Sarah Winnemucca have in common? by #Paty Jager

canstockphoto26040640I was asked this question for a blog interview I did: Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

These are the people/characters I picked and the reasoning behind choosing them.

The first is a character: Jessica Fletcher of the TV series Murder She Wrote. Jessica is always finding herself in the middle of murders and so is Shandra Higheagle my protagonist in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series. They are both amateur sleuths and they both have creative minds. Shandra is a potter who sells her sought-after vases as art pieces.

DanPost_DP3544_15The second person is real: Shania Twain, the country singer. Her artistic nature and panache reminds me of Shandra. My character buys a new pair of fancy cowgirl boots every time she sells a vase. She likes the flashy, fancy ones with embroidery and cut-outs. And while she dresses with flair and adds special touches to her vases, she loves to ride her horse, snuggle with her dog, and dig in the clay that she uses for her art.

The third person is also real and a part of history: Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute woman who was an activist and educator from 1844-1891. Shandra has been kept from her father’s Nez Perce family while growing up. Now that is an adult, she is exploring her heritage. The more she travels to the reservation to get to know her family, she is determined to help her people and family through her art and educate the masses. I have a post here about some other fascinating Paiute women.

When this question was first put to me, I had to think about it a bit. But once I started connecting the people with my character it became clear who she was and how she related to each of these women I picked.

I’m currently working on the 6th book in the Shandra Higheagle series, Reservation Revenge. This book is all set on the Colville Indian Reservation. The home of the Chief Joseph band of Nez Perce and 11 other tribes. It has been a learning experience writing this book. Both culturally and as I try to make it twist and turn.

If you want to learn more about Shandra Higheagle you can go here.

You can get the first book of the series for free:

Double Duplicity (652x1024)Book one of the Shandra Higheagle Native American Mystery Series
Dreams…Visions…Murder
On the eve of the biggest art event at Huckleberry Mountain Resort, potter Shandra Higheagle finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. She’s ruled out as a suspect, but now it’s up to her to prove the friend she witnessed fleeing the scene was just as innocent.

With help from her recently deceased Nez Perce grandmother, Shandra becomes more confused than ever but just as determined to discover the truth. While Shandra is hesitant to trust her dreams, Detective Ryan Greer believes in them and believes in her.
Can the pair uncover enough clues for Ryan to make an arrest before one of them becomes the next victim?

BUY LINKS

Amazon / Kobo / Nook / Apple / Windtree Press

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award for her Action Adventure and received the EPPIE Award for Best Contemporary Romance. Her first mystery was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and is a finalist in the RONE Award Mystery category. This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter

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 photo source: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / dizanna
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Inside the modern jail

By Sally Carpenter

This post first appeared some time ago on Writers Who Kill. The information is good for any writer who sets a story inside a modern jail. The picture of jails as long rows of cells with men clanging cups against iron bars just isn’t true nowadays. This description is from the 1980s but I’m sure it’s still relevant. Jails are moving away from “cells” to “pods.” Read on

If you write crime novels, you might set a scene inside a jail. Do you know what a modern jail looks like or how it functions?

Jails are intended for short-term housing of up to one year only. Prisons are constructed for long-term housing of many years so they are larger and have more amenities. Juveniles are housed in other facilities designed for that population.

For about eight months in the mid 1990s while I was finishing my seminary studies, I was the jail chaplain intern at the DuPage County Jail in Wheaton, Ill. At the time the jail had just finished constructing new cells with better security that allowed women civilians on the floors.

The new cells were in a tower. The basement level housed the solitary confinement cells and the upper floors had the male general population (I’ll discuss the female inmates later). The top floor was for illegal immigrants.

Security cameras monitored the hallways and the elevators. A person approaching the elevator had to wait for the deputy watching on the camera to open the door by remote control.

On each floor the cells were arranged in “pods,” now the industry standard for new jails. A few years ago I visited the Ventura County (Calif.) Main Jail as part of a Citizens’ Academy program and that facility also used “pods.” This format provides deputies greater visibility and control over the inmates.

The center of the pod was the control room encased in bulletproof glass. A deputy sat inside and watched the inmates at all times. While on duty deputies were not allowed to do anything that would distract them such as reading or watching TV (nowadays I assume that prohibition includes texting and using a cellphone).

The cells, also made of glass, were in a row racing the pod center. Each cell had a bed, sink, toilet and shower for one man. The inmates used the toilet in full view and the small shower doors provided only a minimal amount of privacy. The deputy could see every action of each inmate. A speaker system allowed the deputy to listen in as well.

Inside the pod center was a panel where the deputy could open and close the cell doors. The deputy controlled access at all times. If a fight broke out, the deputy inside the control room would remain safe as he or she summoned help.

The cells opened into a recreation room that housed a TV high on the wall as well as tables and benches that were permanently bolted to the floor. During the daytime inmates, who were not confined to their cells, could go into the rec room if they choose. The deputy watched the activity inside this room as well. At night all inmates were “locked” inside their individual cells.

The only “windows” were small glassed-in slits just under the ceilings that let in a tiny amount of sunlight. The inmates couldn’t see anything outside the building.

A glass-walled meeting room, with a table and benches, was attached to the rec room. Again, the deputy controlled access to and from this room. Once a week I came to the room to lead a Bible study for the inmates. The deputy could see inside this room although I never had any trouble from the inmates. Some inmates came to the group just to break the daily monotony but most were genuinely interested in bettering themselves.

The inmates never left the floor except to go to court or as a group to the gym (the men lined up and moved through the hallway in a line with several deputies escorting them).

Meals were prepared in the kitchen, placed in individual covered trays, and then delivered to the floors on a wheeled cart. The inmates ate in the rec room or their cells. After eating the dishes were collected and returned to the kitchen for washing.

Inmates called trustees did meal preparation and cleaning. Doing trustee work gave the men points to reduce their sentences. Many of the trustees enjoyed the job as they could get out of their cells, move around, and perform a useful task.

The deputies did not carry weapons. My supervisor suggested that I not carry my purse into the jail, so I locked my handbag in the trunk of my car. I was also told to never bring anything from the outside to give to an inmate, and never take anything from them.

A deputy told me that most of the men were in jail for one of two reasons: drugs or lack of education. The jail had a small library where the inmates could not only do legal research but also work on GED classes.

The female population was far smaller and was housed on two floors in the older section of the jail that did not have “pods.” These were the traditional-type dorm cells with bunk beds. The cell doors had steel bars, not glass. The interesting thing about the women is that they complained about their living conditions far more than the men did.

One thing I learned from this experience is how much we take our freedoms and privacy for granted. At the end of the workday I could leave the jail and drive home. The inmates didn’t have that luxury.

The chaplain program was run by the nonprofit organization JUST (justice, understanding, service, teaching) of DuPage that provided free Bibles and Qur’ans for inmates as well as worship services and educational programs. For more information, visit www.justofdupage.org.

 

 

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