Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Who's Afraid of Smutty Words?

I have serious concerns about people who can accept murder and other violence (even if it's off screen) yet are offended by mere words in a story.

Let me preface this by saying I'm not a proponent of profanity. I don't sprinkle my prose with vulgarity in order to shock or thrill readers. On those rare occasions when I do employ one of those words which offend some people, it's usually because that particular one is the appropriate choice for that character or situation.

Like it or not, people do swear. Some more often than others.

Many of the words condemned as obscene or coarse come to us from Germanic, Latin or Greek roots with rather benign, descriptive origins. For instance, that four-letter word with sexual implications we hear so commonly today, even among children, originally meant "to plow." The interesting thing is these taboo words exist in all languages and cultures.

You don't have to like those words. You don't even have to read them. If such a word offends your sensibilities, skip over it. Just accept these words exist and people do voice them, especially people who might be inclined to commit a crime.

Not that every character in a book who uses vulgarity is a criminal. For some it's just their nature. Lydia Brubaker, Chief Brubaker's daughter in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series, swears frequently. Aside from that, Lydia's a nice, compassionate young woman. Officer Flora Vastine, in the same series, is not given to profanity. Other than a rare hell or damn, nasty words aren't part of Sticks's vocabulary either. Incidentally, since the intent is the same, there isn't a shade of difference between hell and heck or damn and darn. A euphemism can't change the nature of the beast.

For the most part I've refrained from using so-called offensive language in my 19th century stories for the simple reason it wasn't common to the culture as it is today. And it was largely as a result of that repression obscene words came into more widespread use in modern society.

 Some opponents suggest using profanity indicates laziness on the part of the writer; i.e., he could have found a better word. Or might have simply said, he/she swore.

Really?

Either is a cop out. The writer chose that particular word because it was the most descriptive. Simply saying the character swore does not reveal the depth of the character's feeling. That's tell, not show.

To deny a writer the use of any word is, simply put, censorship.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ready For Another Western?

Love puts a revenge-seeking former lawman on a path to redemption.

That's the theme of The Tithing Herd, my latest Western scheduled for release on Tuesday, July 25 by Sundown Press.

The Tithing Herd is set in Mormon country in New Mexico in the 1890s.

On the trail of the outlaw known as Spanish who murdered his brother, Luther 'Lute' Donnelly stumbles upon young Tom Baskin who has been duped by the outlaw band and falsely accused of rustling.  The unlikely pair unite and their travels bring them to Cedar Flats, a Mormon village, and Serene McCullough, the widow Donnelly had planned to marry before his life was turned upside down by the bandits.

Cash-strapped Mormons have assembled a herd of cattle to pay their tithe to the church. Serene prevails upon Lute to help her son take the herd to market. Reluctantly, he agrees.

Lute's desire for vengeance is replaced by another more important goal when Spanish and his gang kidnap Serene and hold her ransom for the cattle, pitting him and Tom against dangerous odds in a desperate quest to save the woman he loves.

An electronic version of The Tithing Herd was originally published several years ago by the Western Online Press, which has now gone defunct. I'm happy Sundown Press found this story of action, suspense and romance  worthy of a new life.

The book will be up for pre-sale of the Kindle version a few days before the release date.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another Alternative

Don't review my books.

"What!" I hear my fellow writers screaming. "Are you mad? Don't you know all writers need reviews?"

Of course I'm not mad, and I fully agree. All writers need reviews. They're not just something to stoke our ego. We've been taught they are vital to building name recognition and driving sales. So, if you choose to ignore what I said above and write a glowing review for any of my books you've read and enjoyed, I certainly won't object and offer my since appreciation.

But the sad truth is a majority of the people who read books--including those who ardently promise to do so--won't write a review. Even if they sincerely want to help you, they won't. Many feel they aren't qualified, don't know how to begin, or just don't have time.

And, even if they do, how much does it really matter?  Most people don't write reviews, nor do they read them. Even the best of reviews are simply one person's opinion. If that person isn't someone a reader knows and/or respects, how much traction is it going to generate among the hundreds of thousands of books published each year? Sure, having 50 or more reviews might spark some interest, have some impact on Amazon's algorithms or gain you admission to Bookbub or one of those other promotional sites primarily geared to giving away books in the hope it will transit to mega-sales.

But, unless you're already a major recognized brand or have a book that's blazing a track across the skies, a review isn't going to do much more than that for you.

Which brings me to advertising. To a certain extent, paid advertising can find you readers. But for the most part you'll be throwing money into a dark hole. Who sponsors your favorite TV show? Better yet--what have you ever bought just because you saw it advertised? It's a rare person who can honestly answer either question.

So, how do we stand out from everyone else and attract those coveted readers?

By cultivating the best form of advertising there is--word of mouth.

Whose word inspires more faith--a family member/close friend or some Madison Avenue advertising hack? The answer is obvious. We take seriously the word of someone we know and trust that a product is worth the money it costs.

A study by McKinsey & Company found word of mouth to be the primary factor in 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions.

Which would you rather have: Ten reviews by average Joe? Or, ten people telling their friends and family how much they enjoyed your book and urging them to pick up a copy? I know which I'd prefer. Because having those ten people hyping my book is more likely to translate into sales than would the reviews.


I'm not going to turn down anyone who wants to write a review for any of my books. But I'd much rather have them urging the many people they know to buy a copy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Glimpse of History



(Science thriller writer Janet Greger is my guest today, commenting on a favorite subject, history, and offering some information on her latest novel.)

Wikipedia states the Vietnam War was a conflict in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from November 1955 until the fall of Saigon in April 1975. The first date is debatable, and these facts don’t put this conflict into context so it can be understood.

After 40 years, a number of the combatants have died and many of the “little stories” about the war have been lost. That’s too bad because I suspect George Santayana was right: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Thus, when a friend, who was a medic in the secret war in Laos in the early 1960s, offered me his notes, I was thrilled. But I’m no historian. I write modern thrillers and mysteries with a woman protagonist, Sara Almquist, who is too young to have first-hand knowledge of the Vietnam era.

I decided to set the novel, titled Riddled with Clues, mainly at the VA Center in Albuquerque because my dog Bug and I are a pet therapy team there. We’ve met Vietnam era veterans in the rehab programs at this large VA center. Many homeless veterans also roam the campus and its over seventy buildings. I realized the convoluted nature of the layout of buildings would be great for a chase scene, and the veterans in rehab units could be the basis of colorful supporting characters in the book.

Are you curious how I used the notes?  In chapter 1, Sara, a scientific consultant for the State Department, gets a mysterious summons to the VA in her hometown of Albuquerque. She discovers Xave Zack (her old friend from previous novels – Ignore the Pain and Malignancy) was seriously injured while tracking drug smugglers.  He hands her a note he received before his accident. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. 

Xave proceeds to tell her potentially relevant details from his wartime experiences in Laos. (The experiences are all based on my real friend’s adventures). After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. Xave is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the war fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues. 

Sound exciting? I hope so.

Now back to the history. As a medic, my friend treated men covered with hundreds of leeches, a baby monkey, and Hmong children with yaws and vitamin A deficiency besides lots of wounded soldiers. He also received survival training in the Philippines, served as a medic for the Hmong general Vang Pao, and was sent home after he earned his fourth Purple Heart. These “small events in history” are part of Xave’s stories. If you’re looking for military secrets, you’ll be disappointed. However, you will gain an appreciation of guerilla warfare in a jungle from these vignettes. For example, did you know a leech can swell to a couple inches in length with blood? Or that the medics of the Vietnam era were the prototypes for modern Physicians Assistants and EMTs?

The purpose of this blog is two-fold. I hope you’ll read Riddled with Clues and gain a different perspective on history. And I hope you’ll gather “historical” information from older friends and relatives and use the details in your writing. History can be fun.
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237

Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Horror of Reservation Life

The history of U.S. treatment of the Indian, or Native American as some now choose to call them, is replete with misjudgment and failure to keep promises.
As early as 1633 in Massachusetts there was a policy of assimilating the Indian into communities and inviting them to share equally in social and political privileges. Ironically, it was church people (who should by the tenets of their faith be the most tolerant of citizens) who rejected this plan and insisted on separate communities for the Indians.
As Manifest Destiny pushed westward, various treaties were adopted in which tribes ceded land in exchange for certain promises. These treaties were broken as promised lands were coveted by others for various reasons such as fertility, mineral richness or strategic placement. In 1824 the government created the Office of Indian Affairs to govern such issues. Under the administration of Andrew Jackson the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) off their ancestral lands and onto less desirable tracts on what became known as "Indian Territory." Many died in the mass migration rightly named the Trail of Tears.
The Indian Appropriations Act of 1851 formally established the reservation system which made the Indian both the ward and the victim of the government and its agents. Even after reservation lands were designated for the tribes, the possibility existed they might be appropriated if Americans found a reason to access the tract--as happened to the Dakota when the Custer expedition found gold on Indian land in the Black Hills.
U.S. Grant adopted a policy of assimilation in 1868, a primary focus of which aimed at converting Indians to Christianity, the primary religion of the country. Violent resistance led to its abandonment by the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, though he retained the system of separating children from their parents for re-education in boarding schools.
The U.S. Congress replaced the reservation system with the Dawes Act in 1887, removing tribal governing councils, attempting to destroy communal traditions and parceling land into individual plots. Accepting and farming these plots opened a path to citizenship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered a "New Deal" in the 1930s, authorizing a return to tribal governments, ending the land allotment procedure and resurrecting the reservation system, which remains in effect today.
Throughout its existence, the reservation system has been one of poverty, malnutrition, dependency and limited opportunity for economic advancement.
The San Carlos reservation in Arizona is the setting for my novel Geronimo Must Die and the hardships the people endured in such places makes it plain why many rebelled. Here's the blurb for the novel:
Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.
Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo's life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper's sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it's all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.
Mickey's efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.
Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo's help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

https://www.amazon.com/Geronimo-Must-Die-J-Lindermuth-ebook/dp/B06XFZJG5H/ref=la_B002BLJIQ8_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1493469080&sr=1-2

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Inspiration for Unresolved

(My guest today is Marilyn Meredith, a prolific writer of good mysteries. The floor is yours, Marilyn.
)

Two of my friends won a contest on my last blog tour to be characters in my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. Both wanted to be villains. What exactly to write to fit them in wasn’t easy, but was part of the planning for the plot.

Because Rocky Bluff P.D. has a low, low budget which doesn’t make it easy for the detectives working any case, I thought about bringing in the city council members who make the budget decisions. Who were they and why were they so stingy with the police department?

From there I created the council members and who each of them were. And as I was thinking about them, ideas began to bombard me. Which one should I kill off and why? Who would want to be rid of this person and why?

As the characters developed I decided to throw in a little romance for the new police chief, Chandra Taylor.

And of course, I had to bring my readers up to date on what was happening in the ongoing characters’ lives. Always a fun part to write in this series.

I’m not an outliner, but as I write new ideas occur to me and I do jot them down so I don’t forget.

This is more or less how this book came about.

F.M. Meredith aka Marilyn

Blurb for Unresolved:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The mayor is the first body discovered, the second an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping.

Books may be ordered from all the usual places as well.

Bio: F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/
Tomorrow, April 26, I’ll be visiting Linda Thorne, with the topic, My Writing Process




Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Evolution of a Character

(This essay is included in the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal, Small Town Cops II, along with a full slate of articles of interest to those who enjoy mysteries set in smaller communities)

I'm the author of the Daniel 'Sticks' Hetrick crime series, set in a small, fictional community near Harrisburg PA. There are currently six novels in the series and the seventh was published on Sept. 16, 2016 by Torrid Books, a division of Whiskey Creek Press (Start Publishing).

I've published 15 novels (including the Hetrick series) and a non-fiction regional history book. My short stories and articles appear regularly in a variety of magazines. Though I'd used him previously in a short story, Sticks made his novel debut in 2006, four years before my own retirement after 40 years as a newspaper reporter and editor.

Sticks is the focus of the stories, but other members of his team (like his proteges Flora Vastine and her boyfriend, Cpl. Harry Minnich) as well as a few town characters get their stage time. Fans seem to like that I offer this approach and reveal the lives and concerns of ordinary officers and their families in addition to the procedural and forensic detail. The bits of humor (dark, of course, in keeping with the theme) and romance hasn't turned any off to my knowledge either.

In Something In Common Hetrick's bored in retirement and offers himself as unofficial consultant to his less experienced successor, Aaron Brubaker, who's perplexed by a recent murder, the first on his watch. Sticks discovers the murder is linked to a major theft of rare ornithological books and the trail leads from the big city to his hometown. The discovery forces him to confront danger and the darker side of his community and its residents.

Cruel Cuts, the second in the series, introduces Hetrick's protege, novice Officer Flora Vastine. A rash of animal mutilations and a vicious poison pen campaign aimed at an ambitious young lawyer leads to murder.

Corruption's Child, which follows, has Hetrick and his colleagues investigating the murder of a local waitress and an elderly Amish man, the latter mortally wounded in the latest in a string of burglaries from the Amish.

Being Someone Else, a tale of identity theft: When an out-of-state reporter is found murdered at a disreputable bar, the tendency to violence spirals in the rural Pennsylvania community, and the investigative trail keeps bringing Hetrick and the team backs to the family of a wealthy doctor who has retired in his hometown.

Practice To Deceive, next in the series, splits locations between Sticks and the team. Hetrick, a widower, and Anita Bailey, the new woman in his life, go on a Caribbean cruise. When a passenger is murdered, Sticks is drawn into the case and works with the Jamaican officer in finding a solution and a killer. The cruise was intended to be a vacation before he began a new job as a county detective, working out of the same office as Anita, a deputy prosecutor.

Meanwhile, back home, Flora and the team are probing mysterious assaults on young women.
Both Sticks and Flora will learn the past has consequences which can't be denied.

The sixth in the series, A Burning Desire, takes arson to murder. Sticks and Flora confront dangerous people from their pasts, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.
Shares The Darkness, the seventh, is about the murder of a birder in a patch of woods on the outskirts of town. Here's the blurb:
Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Officer Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.
When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman's life, as she searches for clues.
As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.
Still Flora maintains focus on the murder. Despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.

Grab a copy of Mystery Readers Journal: Small Town Cops here: http://mysteryreaders.org/journal-index/small-town-cops-ii/