Monday, March 24, 2014

A 'Writing Process' Blog

Today is my day to post and participate in the continuing series “My Writing Process” blog tour. My writing friend, Douglas Quinn, who writes mysteries, historicals and children’s fiction, posted last week. You may read his blog at

What am I working on?

I generally have more than one project going at the same time. This is because ideas don’t develop and mature at the same time. The germ of a story may germinate for months or even years before it gets to the stage where I begin to put words on paper (or screen when working on computer). This also prevents what is commonly referred to as “writer’s block;” if I get stuck or bored with one project, moving to another soon gets me back on track. At the moment, my projects include:

An untitled seventh novel in the Sticks Hetrick crime series involving the murder of a young school teacher and birder in which Officer Flora Vastine is insisting on a more prominent role.

A third book in the Sheriff Sylvester Tilghman series (also untitled at this point) in which the body of Borough Burgess Zimmerman’s deceased mother-in-law is snatched from the funeral parlor and held for ransom. Lydia is also dealing with competition for Syl’s affection, which may prompt her to accept one of his many marriage proposals.

Closer to completion than either of these is a stand-alone historical mystery, tentatively titled “Something So Divine,” about a detective who finds himself defending a slow-witted boy accused of murder.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Difficult question to answer since I work in more than one genre. Probably a majority of mystery/suspense novels today are set in major metropolitan cities or exotic locations. My Hetrick series differs in being set in a small town, rural area—not that it’s unique in this. I could name dozens of other writers who’ve chosen the same type of location. My historical novels and stand-alones have also been set in smaller communities. These settings reflect the kinds of places I’ve lived over the years and not a particular distaste for the big city.

Why do I write what I do?

Though I read a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction, mysteries and history have always fired my interest and imagination the most. This may be a reflection of cutting my reading-eye-teeth on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Washington Irving and the like. Over time, I was influenced to try emulating the writing of those I admired with stories of my own.

How does my writing process work?
I’m not generally an outliner. I may jot some notes, though they’re usually so scant they’d be meaningless to someone else. Often I’ve thought out the story line in my head long before I start setting it down. Other times I may pitch in with just an image of a person, place or situation in mind and let the characters lead me from there. I don’t want to know too much ahead of time. I like to be surprised by my characters and hope the twists that provides will be equally entertaining to readers.

To continue the Writing Process blog tour on Monday, May 31, go to:

C. L. Swinney, author of Gray Ghost, an Amazon bestseller, is currently assigned to a Department of Justice task force that investigates crimes ranging from street level drug deals to homicides and complex cartel cases. You may view his blog  at

Roxe Anne Peacock is the author of Leave No Trace, Fatal Catch and the History Lover’s Cookbook. Her decade-long participation in Civil War reenactments and an avid interest in history inspired the above-mentioned cookbook. View her blog at

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jumping Into The Audio World

(My guest today is C. L. Swinney, a veteran in law enforcement, an avid fisherman and writer. He has some advice and encouragement to offer those of us considering the audio writing format. Welcome Chris.)

First off, thanks again John for allowing me to have a guest spot on your wonderful blog. I truly appreciate it.

I’m going to do something crazy, and focus on assisting others instead of beating people over the head about the re-release of my first novel, Gray Ghost.

I’d like to talk about “audio,” and how I think it’s revolutionizing “writing.” Sounds odd, right? I’d agree with you. But, I researched and jumped into the audio world myself and I have a whole new perspective on it.

Less than 5% of all novels are in the audio format. Simply this fact alone tends to support that audio is new and hasn’t exploded…yet. I like to correlate this to the boom in digital just a few years ago. People downloaded copies because they were “on the go.” We could read from tablets and cell phones (smart phones) whenever time permitted. Insert audio. Now, two very significant things have happened. One, you don’t need to carry the device everywhere you go and you can listen to it. Two, a novel comes alive. Dialogue is a little tricky, with the narrator having to play male and female voices, as well as those with accents, but it works.

I’ve got a novel in which there are male and female characters, some with accents, and the male narrator nailed it (helps that he’s an award winning narrator). It sounds different when he does a female voice, but it causes the listener to smile or giggle and draws you into the dialogue. A little humor can go a long way. Audio isn’t to a point where multiple narrators work on a project, so you just have to accept it. I was worried at first, but now I absolutely love it.

So, how does it work? ACX is an Audio company owned and operated by Amazon. As an author, depending on your rights situation (meaning you have the rights to your work or the publisher will work with you on this), you can upload your manuscript and wait for narrators to audition. Listen to several of them and see which voice makes your book come alive. From there, the narrator records chapters and uploads them for you to listen to. It becomes a partnership between you and the narrator. YOU MUST ACTUALLY LISTEN TO EACH WORD. Audio books fail if there are issues (missing words, miss-spoken words, poor recording quality). Not every narrator is the same, and some of the people on ACX will not suit you. However, there are over 2,500 people to choose from, so it’s likely you’ll get the right fit.

Next, what is the cost? Two ways to go here, you can pay the narrator up front, anywhere from $200-$500 an hour, or do royalty share. Most books are five to eight hours long. Royalty share is calculated as such: 25% for the narrator and 25% for the author. You sell more, you get more. They’ve recently changed this so that after March 10, the numbers drop to 20% for each (and will not increase even if you sell more). This has caused quite a stir, but the narrator and I have agreed we will continue (with more of my novels in the same series). Also, if someone grabs your book as the first audio book they ever purchase, you get a “bounty” payment of $50. A publisher can also get involved with the process. The structure of the contract is a little different and the percentages are less, but it’s all doable.

Finally, how does the work get distributed? ACX will upload your novel to,, and iTunes. The book comes out in CDs and is sent to the “reader.” It can also be purchased as a regular music file, so you can listen to it on your iPhone, iPod, iPad, etc. If you have the same novel on Amazon in paperback, hardcover, or Kindle, Amazon will add an “audio” button next to the novel. But, it works the same as any format of our novels. You must promote like crazy or you will have a difficult time getting sales. There’s no changing that.

I hope some of you take the plunge! It’s worth the experience, and I think it’s going to erupt soon. Many publishers are moving in this direction, and the Big Five are firmly involved already. When the Big Five take notice, it’s hard to refute their tactics.

For more helpful hints, check out my blog ( or group (Social Media 101) on Goodreads.

C. L. Swinney

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A New Sticks Hetrick Novel

Arson, a heinous crime, is at the root of A Burning Desire, sixth in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series.

FBI statistics show arson in the United States increased 3.2 percent over the previous year in the first six months of 2012. This was a higher percentage than recorded for other serious crimes such as robbery, aggravated assault and larceny-theft.

There are arsons for profit—individuals who torch their own property or hire someone else to do it in order to collect on insurance. In the former case, these are often amateurs who are sloppy about technique and prone to mistakes which get them caught. Professionals are another matter.

A possibly more dangerous type of arsonist is the pyromaniac. This is a person suffering from an actual psychological disorder. They don’t light fires for monetary gain or other common motives. Instead, they derive their pleasure from seeing the fire. It relieves their stress and may even gratify them sexually or in other ways.

Authorities say one of the biggest problems with these individuals is they aren’t always easy to identify. Other than a fixation with fire, they may seem little different from their neighbors. It’s estimated 90 percent of pyromaniacs are male. They may have a juvenile record, but most likely will work a normal job and not stand out from co-workers. As an expert tells Hetrick in the novel, a serial arsonist “…is generally male, usually white and probably under thirty. Intelligence-wise, they’re all over the charts—from moron to genius and everything in between.”

That does not make things easy for our detective facing an outbreak of arson in rural Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania. Initially, the minor nature of the fires inclines authorities to view them as pranks, probably the work of juveniles. Hetrick and his fellow law enforcement officials know arson always has the potential to become more serious. This fear is confirmed in the wake of a murder at the site of one fire.

As they hunt the arsonist, Sticks and his protégé Officer Flora Vastine must also confront troubling, dangerous people from their pasts, adding to their jeopardy.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Melting Pot Tale

Coal gets a bad rap these days—and rightly so, from an environmental standpoint. Yet, it should not be forgotten,United States through the 19th and well into the 20th century.
coal was a vital element in the economy of the

It was coal that fueled the industrialization of the United States and made it the most productive nation in the world for a long period of time.

My book “Digging Dusky Diamonds” is not intended to glorify the industry but to offer some insight on the lives of the ordinary men who worked as miners and their families in one area of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region.

The wilderness pioneers found when they arrived was destroyed in less than a century by the mining that provided wealth for a handful and employment for the thousands who came to do the dangerous, dirty and vital work.

The miners were representative of the melting pot characteristic Americans love to brag about. They represented dozens of nationalities and various races. They were mostly moral, hardworking people who sought a better life for their families than available elsewhere.

The stories recounted in the book were culled from contemporary newspapers, which reveal the daily concerns of the miners and their families, their diversions, social attitudes and prejudices. The accounts reveal what was different about those people and what has remained constant in their descendants.

Why should someone with no ties to the coal region find the book of interest? Well, aside from the economic angle, there’s the common theme of people striving for upward mobility against great odds. There are accounts of disasters, bravery, superstition, amusements, and the callow behavior of those reaping the big profit. There’s also the fact mining contributed to changes in labor laws which had broad influence across the nation and in other industries.

Or, ask your favorite bookseller.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Summer of '72

It is an honor and a pleasure to be a guest poster on J.R. Lindermuth’s blog. John Lindermuth is an author I admire, and I happen to know he enjoys doing research into the past to give added interest and information to his historical novels. I’ve never really considered myself a historical novelist, but I do enjoy the research involved in telling a story. Parts of my stories come from memory, parts from imagination, and parts come from research. This has been especially true of my newest book. Since that story takes place forty years ago, it almost qualifies as a historical novel. And what a wild time that was, even in a sedate, middle-class college town.…

Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, is set in and near Maxwell’s Books, a fictitious store in Palo Alto, Cal., during the summer of 1972. Palo Alto, back then, was not the epicenter of technology and business that it is today. It was still an upper-middle-class college town, although it was becoming more and more stirred up with important and divisive issues of the times.

Return with me now to those daring days of yesteryear.

A lot is going on during the summer of 1972: Jane Fonda is touring North Vietnam, George Carlin gets arrested for obscenity, and Bobby Fischer battles with Boris Spassky over the chessboard in Iceland. Nixon is still president, although this is the summer of the Watergate break-in, which will spell the end of Nixon’s presidency.

This is a time of big social and political causes. The war in Vietnam is still raging, as is the anti-war protest, along with other movements, such as black power, gay pride, women’s liberation, and the human potential movement, not to mention the sexual revolution. Maxwell’s Books, the locale of most of Hooperman, feels like the meeting place for all these movements. It is a bookstore owned by a celebrity pacifist, staffed by artists, musicians, dopers, dreamers, and poets.

Some of that summer’s best-sellers are: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Joy of Sex, Be Here Now, The Pentagon Papers, Open Marriage, and Another Roadside Attraction. Customers who frequent Maxwell’s Books include Joan Baez, Ken Kesey, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, and Wallace Stegner.

I invite you to climb aboard the time machine known as a historical novel, in this case Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, and go back in time to the summer of 1972. I guarantee you a good ride!

Meanwhile, you might enjoy meeting a couple of the older members of the Maxwell’s staff:

Hooperman worked at the store almost a week before he caught another shoplifter, a teenager who had stuffed a Zap Comix under his Steely Dan concert tee shirt. The comic book was priced at half a dollar, so Hoop earned an extra twenty-five cents that day. Elmer was good about paying him his five dollars a day, and Hoop was still having a good time, so he decided to continue working at Maxwell’s Books as long as he could afford it.
It was easy work, although it was boring as dust except when he played like a customer and actually got interested in the books he was guarding. Hoop made friends with more of the staff, including a couple of Elmer’s old conscientious objector cronies from WWII, Pete Blanchard and Jack Davis, who squabbled over the right to take care of the Political Science section. Pete was a socialist, Jack was an anarchist, and their arguments stopped traffic all over the store. Neither one of them wanted anything to do with the section that Charley David had named The Times They Are A-Changin’. Kids’ stuff, they called it. Kids don’t know beans, they said. Charley was a painter whose jeans looked like a used palette.
“Kids these days,” Pete muttered one day when he and Jack were elbowing each other in the Politics aisle. Hooperman stood by, supposedly doing his job, mainly eavesdropping. Pete wore a jacket and tie to work and looked like a rumpled professor.
“Aaaah, give it a rest,” Jack countered. “You political dinosaur.” He hitched up his overalls and lit a Lucky Strike.
“No smoking in the store.”
“Says who?”
“Can’t you see this place is a tinderbox, Jack? You want to burn the store down?”
Jack turned to Hoop, raised his eyebrows, wiggled his cigarette, and said, “Now there’s an idea.”

Book synopsis

Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery celebrates the joy of books and bookselling and also explores the many ways people get into trouble—deadly serious trouble—when they fail to communicate.

Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.

Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

“Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

Buy or order Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery from your local bookstore, from Amazon, or direct from the publisher:
Oak Tree Press
1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220
Hanford, CA 93230

For more info about Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery:

Author bio

John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Do You Ken Me Now?

May I have your attention.

Seriously. Getting and keeping another person’s attention is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Statistics show average attention span today is only eight seconds, a decline from 12 seconds in 2000. Eight seconds for a human is actually less than the attention span of a goldfish (nine seconds).

Of course, a goldfish has much less to engage its attention than a human. Still…

Some authorities are more generous with the figures, contending average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to five. Minutes, not seconds. In either case, it’s not much as time goes.

Scientists have pointed the finger of blame at television and other technological distractions of our age. Look around you and note the focus of your peers on their smart phones and other devices providing a pathway to the Internet and all its distractions—aural, visual and tactile. Few of us are oblivious to these wonderful yet detrimental aspects of our society.

Fewer people are reading today and reading scores are on a steady decline. We’ve all heard too many of those who do read complaining of books being too long, too complicated or lacking in enough action. Where’s the challenge if everything is easy?

Some may want to pooh-pooh the idea, citing the awesome benefits offered by this access to so much information. The problem is, how much can an ordinary person digest without sacrificing concentration and the ability to absorb knowledge?

Our ancestors didn’t have the distractions of constantly ringing phones, blaring radios, TVs with streaming “news” everywhere you go, not to mention alarm clocks that wake one up with music, appliances and power tools adding to the din, and motor vehicles of all types rocketing around the neighborhood.

I’m not being a Luddite and advocating throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But wouldn’t it be nice every once in a while to shut off the technology and look—really look—at the person next to you and give him or her more than eight seconds of your time?


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Should You Know the History of the Place You’re Writing About?

(My guest today is Marilyn Meredith, prolific author of some 30 novels, including an award-winning series. Read on and you could have a character named for yourself in a future novel.)

Some might say, “No,” in my case since the setting for Spirit Shapes takes place in a fictional setting.

However, throughout the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, I’ve woven in bits and pieces of the real history of the town it’s based on and I think that’s enriched each book.

In Kindred Spirits I wrote about the true history of the Tolowa people and the genocide that nearly wiped out the whole tribe and instigated by the then Governor of California.

I’ve written about the history of the Bear Creek Inn which once was a stage stop for people going higher into the mountains to see the big trees in several books. I wrote a lot about the history of the Tapper Lodge in Intervention even though that Lodge is fictional, but the history is borrowed from Camp Nelson.

Because at times I write about an imaginary Indian reservation but borrow a lot from the real one that I live near. I’ve often sprinkled wonderful facts of the history and legends from that reservation which have enriched various stories I’ve written.

In Spirit Shapes the haunted house is imaginary—but the old murders that happened in it are based on real murders—one that was highly publicized though changed in many ways for my mystery, and the other didn’t happen but was based on a story told me by someone long ago.

Finding out about the history of a place you’re writing about, even if you’ve fictionalized it, can give you material for you story that you might never have imagined.

As a reader, do you like to have interesting historical facts spicing up your fiction? And if you’re a writer, do you like to find out historical facts about the place you’re writing about?

Marilyn Meredith

Blurb for Spirit Shapes: Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Tempe Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and the present, and demons and angels at war.

Bio: Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation. She does like to remind everyone that she is writing fiction. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at


The person who comments on the most blogs on this blog tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting here: