Book Clubs by Karen Shughart

I love to read, and part of the reason I wanted to be a writer was that from the time I was a small girl I was fascinated by the way authors used words to craft a story. Words beckon and seduce and what amazes and inspires me is the how those same words can be used in so many ways to say so many different things.

I read every day, often for pure recreation, sometimes to learn and satisfy curiosity, and at times to expand the depth and breadth of my reading preferences.  I read a lot of mysteries, they’re my favorite genre, and recognize that’s probably why I chose to write them. My non-fiction choices tend to veer toward biographies, history and current socio-political themes. But I’ve always been aware that there are many books I haven’t read and might not on my own, so, that’s why I belong to a book club.

I’d belonged to book clubs before, when we lived in Pennsylvania. Early on, after we relocated to our small village on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York, I formed one here that lasted for a couple years. Several of the members were seasonal and lived elsewhere for most months, and some still had active careers.  Our busy schedules and commitments began to infringe on our best intentions and eventually we disbanded.

four women chatting while sitting on bench

I’d missed being a member of a club when I read an eblast from our local library that a book group, started by one of the women in our community, met monthly there, everyone welcome. I decided to give it a try. It’s probably been five or six years now that I’ve participated and other than unavoidable conflicts, I’ve rarely skipped a meeting.

Our group is well read, but we’re not always attracted to the same types of books, which makes, in my estimation, for spirited and stimulating discussions.  Yes, we read best-sellers, but more often we read books that reflect our diverse preferences or are recommended to us by others.

The only rules are that we must have read the book that’s being discussed and that we keep the discussion, as much as possible, to an hour.  We take turns leading but put no pressure on those who are uncomfortable doing so.

Some of our group were already my friends, but I’ve also met others who I now count among them. Our level of comfort has grown, and afterward we often repair to a local café to share food and wine and discuss a myriad of stimulating topics.

I am grateful for this group in so many ways. Reading diverse books has helped me hone my own skills as a writer and provokes thought. And the intellectual stimulation, candid conversations and mutual support we give each other undeniably enriches my life in unmeasurable ways

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

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Voice and Word Choice by Paty Jager

Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or. Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction.”

This definition I pulled off the internet helps define Voice, but I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Each genre, historical or contemporary, western or mystery, I have to think about the “voice” I need to use for each one. I know the example of voice says it conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character- true, but that has to also fit the time period and the place- historical or contemporary western. Jeans in a historical are called denims or overalls – in a contemporary they could be call Jeans, Wranglers or Levis.

This also goes along with word choice. The writer needs to know if a word was used in 1880 or if it didn’t become popular until the 1900s. When I type a word when writing an historical, and it feels modern, I use online etymology, a website where you can type in a word and it tells you when it was first used and the meaning of the word at that time and later.

Same goes with my mystery books. I use terms that are contemporary but try to include a bit of a western feel or voice to the books. I do this because they are set in rural areas and because my main characters are Native American, which also leads me to think about phraseology when writing from their points of view.

Paiute Fancy Dancer

Especially, my Gabriel Hawke character. He grew up surrounded by his culture, and therefore, has a deeper connection to the outdoors and the earth in general. While writing in his POV, I try to make sure his inner dialog as well as what he says to other characters captures that essence. 

Shandra Higheagle, while having the love of the outdoors and making pottery from clay she digs on the mountain where she lives, she grew up in a white world and is only now learning how deep her roots go in the earth. And because of this, she is easier for me to write because I can include my wonder of the Nez Perce and their culture to be reflected in her as she is coming to know more about her family.

When I sit down to write a book, depending on the genre, I have to mentally put myself in that time and place to make sure I give the best accounting of the events that are happening and told through my characters’ eyes and emotions. If you read a book from each of the genres I write, you will see there is a bit of difference in voice because I am trying to show the story through their eyes and not mine. But some of my emotions- such as my need to show injustice – will come through in every main character.

Word choice as I commented on earlier, has to do with making sure the word is true to the time and the occupation of a character or knowing what I am talking about. I don’t know how many western romance books- contemporary and historical – I stopped reading because a character grabbed a fetlock to swing up onto a horse’s back, or they grabbed the cantle as the horse started galloping. Or what really had me tossing a book…They put the halter on the horse and slid the bridle into its mouth. The writer needs to know what they are writing about. If they don’t know, they need to look it up. I spend a third of my writing time looking things up. Even if I think I know it, I still look it up to be sure. And while I’m looking it up, I might find a better word that makes the scene sound even more convincing.  

Words are what make up a book and they need to be thought about carefully. Just as carefully as the characters that are fabricated to show the story.

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Don’t Call Me – I’ll Call You

by Janis Patterson

I have been accused – and pretty much rightly so – of being a Luddite. Technology for the sake of technology has never attracted me, especially when it interferes with my life. Now I love my computer, love the ease of word processing, love the ability to publish both ebooks and paperbacks with the tap of a finger. That’s practical and useful.

By contrast I do hate telephones. And every day I hate them more. Not really telephones, per se, but telemarketers and most especially robocalls. Just what makes these people believe they have the right to interrupt what I am doing at any given moment and use an instrument and a service for which I am paying to advertise their wares, which I neither need nor want? It’s also insulting for them to imply that if I do need/want something I am not smart enough to go find whatever it might be by myself, that I need them to bring it to me.

Robocalls are the worst. You can’t even get the satisfaction of reaming out the caller, and since they don’t give you a phone number (at least, I never stay on the line long enough to find out if they do) there’s no way to report them to the National Do Not Call list. Which is a joke – a bad joke – anyway. When it first came out I was religious about reporting every single unwanted call  – which might have made me feel righteous, but which did absolutely no good. As a taxpayer I am furious that my tax money (for which I work very hard) is being spent on something that does nothing. (Which, when expanded, becomes a whole other post, probably unacceptably political.)

I don’t respond to robocalls. As soon as I realize that it is a robocall I hang up, and I don’t care from whom it comes. It’s taken me a couple of years, but finally I have my doctor and my dentist trained that if they want to communicate with me, they don’t do it through a robocall. My dentist emails me, and my doctor has her office receptionist call directly, both of which are infinitely more civilized and human systems than a robocall. I don’t talk to robots.

Of course, I could just turn off the phones when I’m working, but aside from the fact there are elderly people in our family for whom I am responsible and need to be available to them, WHY should I have to? It is my telephone, my line… in order to get my work done why should I be forced to deprive myself of a convenience for which I am paying? If Congress really wanted to help the American people, they would make all sales, charity and political calls – in other words, all solicitation calls – illegal and back it up with gigantic penalties/sentences for offenders.

As a mystery writer with a definitely twisted mind, I cannot help but dream of ways to get my own back on those unwanted robocalls, especially when they yank me away from something important. So far the best (and least bloody) idea I’ve had is a disrupter. Remember back in the early days of answering machines when you carried around a plastic box about the size of a package of cigarettes? When you wanted to check your messages you’d call your phone and after the outgoing message began you’d hold the box next to the mouthpiece, press a button and your messages would play. I dream of a similar set-up, but with my idea when the robocall begins, you press your disrupter device and the robocall machine burns out, unfixable and never to be used again.

Of course, there would be dangers, like could the disrupter signal be traced back to the call it was making when the call machine imploded – i.e., to my phone number? However – I know we have the technology to make such a disrupter, so I can only hope that the technology also exists to protect the poor inundated recipient of such calls who has been driven to madness because of such unwanted interruptions. Sigh. Hopefully someday. Whoever invents such a device will make a fortune. And in my opinion, use of such a device would be guilt-free. I am on every no-call list that exists, and if the offender ignores the law to try and sell me something, why shouldn’t I be able to ignore a law to protect my privacy?

I repeat – I pay for my telephone service and instrument because I want a way to contact and be contacted by those with whom I wish to talk – not to provide a free venue for strangers to try and sell me something I neither need nor want. Surely there is at least one mystery plot somewhere in this muddle of obtrusive criminal (yes, criminal – they steal my time and use of my line and instrument) vs telephone owner. Perhaps if everyone wrote one the telemarketers/robocall bosses might get the idea we’re mad as h*ll and won’t take it any more!

On another note, I would like to say that my YouTube channel is up and running – and I would be most appreciative if you would drop by. It’s called Janis’ Tips and Tales, and a new episode is released on the fourth Thursday of every month. Thank you!

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Keep moving forward

For me, the hardest part of writing a book is getting starting. Thinking about cranking out over 50,000 golden words of terrific prose is daunting. There’s the fear of “How can I top my last book?” and “Can I come up with an original idea?”

The trick is to break down the novel to pieces. Start with one word, then two, then three . . . Work on one chapter at a time before worrying about the next.

I start with an outline. I tried writing one book as “pantster” and by page 50, I was in trouble. The story didn’t interest me and, I’m sure, would bore the reader as well. I threw out of what I’d written and started over—with an outline.

The outline is flexible. I add to it and shift elements around as I progress. But, like a road trip, I have a destination in mind and can plan the most direct route with a minute of delays. As a “pantster,” I’d be taking too many scenic detours and ending up miles away from my goal.

An advantage of outline is that once that’s in place, the actual writing is easy. With an outline, I don’t have to think hard about what should be in the scene. Once I start writing, it begins to flow and gets easier. When I start building the characters and watching how the scene plays out and adding comic bits, I’m motivated to keep going. Like swimming, the initial plunge into the pool takes the most effort.

I’ve heard the phrase that a writer needs to “show up at the page.” That is, the author must sit, pick up the pen or turn on the computer, and actually write. Simply thinking or talking about writing, or saying “it’s all in my head,” or going to endless meetings or conferences or classes without writing will never produce a book.

The first months of this year, for me, had many distractions, including house repairs and cat health and working on a big teaching project. Now that’s all out of the way—for now—and I have no more excuses. I finally picked up the clipboard (my first drafts are in longhand) and began the second book in the Psychedelic Spy retro-cozy series. After all, one can’t have a series with only one book.

The first night I only wrote four pages. But that’s four more pages than I had the night before. If an author only composes one page a day, by the end of the year she’ll have a 365-page novel.

Now that I’ve started one project, I’m ending another. This is my last regular post on Ladies of Mystery. I’ve enjoyed being part of the blog, but my writing time is limited. Along with my day job and housework, I also write a newspaper column and contribute to my parish. I need more time to focus on my books. After the new book is finished I want to write another Sandy Fairfax book along with a non-mystery novel that’s been kicking around in my head for years. So many ideas, so little time.

I hope to return periodically to LOM with guest posts whenever I have a new book to share. In the meantime, you can keep in touch with me on Facebook or contact me at sallyc@earthlink.net. Stay tuned . . .

Posted in mystery, Sally Carpenter | 12 Comments

A Compulsive Story Maker and the Mayor’s Grandpa Mug

I was in the thrift store looking for tolerably attractive coffee mugs. I kept very few when I downsized and moved, and I’m clumsy with crockery, so I needed to resupply. A friend who recently retired from running our local bookstore was also shopping. She told me she could never buy the mug I found especially pretty, because it had words on it promoting a business systems company, and she was a compulsive reader. “It would drive me crazy. If there are words in front of me, I read them. Even if I’ve read them before, I read them over and over.”

This doesn’t happen to me. I’ll read them once and then enjoy the elegant blue and gold stripes around them.

But then she picked up a mug with pictures and words. “Oh my goodness,” she said, “it’s Jim Smith.”* The mayor.

Happy Father’s Day. We love you, Grandpa Smith was inscribed above a picture of his three smiling grandchildren. On the other side of the mug was an image of the mayor, his son, and his dog. The men looked handsome and happy; the dog, slobbery and goofy. This was the mug that could drive me crazy. I’m not a compulsive reader, but a compulsive story maker.

“He’s such a lovely man,” my friend said with a touch of concern

“And a good mayor,” I added.

We acknowledged we were both thinking about stories that would emerge. Would the mayor appear inconsiderate of his grandkids’ feelings? People would speculate. Had he had a split with his son or grandchildren? Had a person in one of the pictures died or been kicked out of the family? It’s possible he had so many grandpa mugs he needed to clear out the excess, or he quit drinking coffee, or the unflattering shot of the dog bothered him. But the mug felt wrong there.

I bought it for a quarter along with the pretty mug with words on it, but I’m not drinking coffee out of the grandpa mug. I bought it so other compulsive story makers wouldn’t invent tales about the mayor.

And then I quietly disposed of it, so I wouldn’t keep thinking of stories. Someone else’s family pictures suggest so many, and I write about a psychic who can see past events connected to a person by holding an object imbued with their energy. I felt like I’d be drinking in the mayor’s energy if I drank coffee from his grandpa mug. There’s a possible story there, but I can write it later. Not every day at breakfast.

(*Not the mayor’s real name.)

Would the grandpa mug drive you crazy? Are you a compulsive story-maker?

*****

Shamans’ Blues, book two in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery Series, is on sale for ninety-nine cents on all e-book retail sites.

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SUCCESSES AND PROBLEMS by Marilyn Meredith

Lately, that’s been my writing life, good stuff and not so good.

My long-time publisher for my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series has closed its doors. I asked for and received my rights back for the series and the covers. Because the cover had been designed for the latest book and new designs done for some of the older books, I was pleased.

So what to do next? I decided the best route to take with the series was self-publishing, though I didn’t really feel up to the task. One of my friends, an expert at self-publishing, is taking on this huge job. I say huge because there are 17 books in this series.

The latest book, Spirit Wind, is now published and available in print and on Kindle.

The first batch of the printed books didn’t have the appropriate headers—so I’ve used most of them as review copies—and sold some at a big discount.

A few of the other books in the series have been done, but the old publisher’s copies are still the ones upfront and available. So far, we’ve been unsuccessful at getting them taken down or at least the latest ones the first to show up.

I’d like to do a .99 cent deal for one of the series, but that will have to wait until some of the problems are fixed.

How am I feeling about all this? I’m happy the latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery is now available. Though a bit frustrated about some of the other problems, I’m not going to lose sleep over them. One thing I’ve learned over the years, the author’s path is never smooth. I’ve had crooked publishers, and publishers who were friends die. This happened with the first publisher of this series.

I’m going to book fairs (I have plenty of books to sell) and giving talks to writers groups and others. The promotion goes on. And I’m working on a book in my other series.

One thing I can assure you, I’m never bored. I can’t even imagine what that would be like.

The official blurb for Spirit Wind: A call from a ghost hunter changes Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s vacation plans. Instead of going to the coast, she and her husband are headed to Tehachapi to  investigate a haunted house and are confronted by voices on the wind, a murder, and someone out to get them.

Marilyn

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Of Men and Monsters

by Janis Patterson

Not too long ago one of the radio shows we listen to gave the history of Andrew Kehoe, who on May 8, 1927 went on a mass killing spree. A strange sort of man, he was a farmer in Bath Township, Michigan. While he could fix almost any mechanical contraption – and often did for his neighbors without charge – he neglected his farm and abused his animals.

Then when the local school system raised his taxes by $19.80 cents to pay for a new school, something snapped. Kehoe decided to kill every schoolchild in Bath Township. He was hired to fix some electrical work at the new school, which he did, while putting in place massive charges of explosives. He had been setting off explosions at his farm, telling the curious he was just blasting up stumps. He had really been testing electric detonation devices. Finally, the day before school was to be out, he set off the explosives at the school. Then, having beaten his wife to death, he blew up his house, his barn, the trees on his place and his farm animals.

Having packed his car with explosives and every bit of scrap metal he could find around his farm, Kehoe drove into town, where he was horrified to find that only half the school had actually blown up. The explosion had apparently made the detonators in the other half malfunction. He was horrified to have failed. It is not known what he originally had in mind for his explosive-and-scrap metal loaded car, but he was determined to bring down the school completely and kill the children who had survived the original blast. He tried to get his car close to the still-standing half, but the school superintendent came up to ask what he was doing

Kehoe hit the detonator, killing the superintendent and himself, sending shrapnel-like shards out into the crowd of hysterical parents and destabilizing the remaining part of the school. Then it was discovered there were still unexploded charges in the school. By then the fire departments and others from nearby Lansing had arrived, and they sealed the building until the explosives could be cleared away. Of course, there were still children both living and dead in the school and their parents had to listen to their cries while not being allowed to go to them, or even know if their child was alive or dead.

Had he still been alive at that moment, Kehoe would probably have loved it.

So what makes such a monster? By all accounts until the tax bill arrived Kehoe was considered a pretty good guy. Perhaps a little eccentric in some of his ways, but who of us does not know – or is not – someone who doesn’t have a little bit of eccentricity? Yet how many turn into monsters?

Monster or saint, they are all human beings. Sometimes it stretches credulity that the same species which produces beings such as Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Dr. Alfred Schweitzer can also produce the likes of Adolf Hitler, Andrew Kehoe and Ted Bundy. But it not only can, it does with unwavering regularity.

So how does this affect our writing? We must remember that to be real our heroes and our villains must be human beings with flaws, strengths and weaknesses. No one person is either completely evil or completely saintly. Albert Einstein was an incredible genius, but he had – at least in his early years – a somewhat rollicking and for the time unconventional love life. I’m told Adolf Hitler was kind to cats.

As writers, if we wish to be good writers, we cannot commit the sin of making a character that is completely and thoroughly good or evil. That makes them one dimensional, a literary piece of cardboard who just stands there and parrots the words we put in their mouths.

To become a living, breathing, believable character your creation has to be a mixture of both good and evil. A character who does only good, proclaims only good and put good above all else no matter the cost to himself is a cartoon. (I’m thinking along the lines of Dudley Do-Right.)  Same thing with a villain and evil. Both of them must have some characteristics of the other – a hero who hates dogs and is not averse to a tiny bit of cheating on his taxes is a lot more believable as a human being, just as is a villain who donates to animal charities and helps old ladies across the street.

You must always remember that even heroes have dark sides and monsters have virtues. Perhaps not many, but each has some.

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