Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Interview With Joan C. Curtis

My guest today is Joan C. Curtis, an award-winning author of five books and numerous short stories. Welcome, Joan. Let me kick this off by asking have you always wanted to write, or was there some transforming event led you to it?

In ninth grade I wrote a play based on the Tale of Two Cities. I was always the kid who came up with ideas for games, shows, etc. My dad was an artist. I didn’t inherit his talent for painting, but perhaps I inherited his creative spark.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I’ve had a convoluted path to publication. My first published piece was in Reader’s Digest (My story won second place in a national contest and the editor asked me to get in touch). Later, as I struggled to find an agent for my fiction, I wrote a proposal for a nonfiction piece. That proposal won first place in another contest and later became my first published book. From there I went on to publish (with the same publisher) 4 more nonfiction books. Meantime, I continued to write fiction off and on.

Finally, after deciding to stop writing nonfiction and to focus on fiction, I began  searching for a small press. (Looking for an agent was not getting me anywhere). The Clock Strikes Midnight was accepted within two months.

Contests seem to have played an important role in your career. What advice would you give others about entering contests?

I advise my coaching clients as well as aspiring writers to enter contests. (So long as they are not too costly—no more than $80). You don’t enter to win, but you enter for two other very good reasons: 1) Get your work done. The contest usually has a deadline. 2) Get someone else to read your work. Some even offer feedback. And, who knows, you may win!

Writers are often driven by curiosity. Is there any particular subject that especially arouses your curiosity?
That’s a tough question, John. I tend to be a very curious person. Many subjects arouse my curiosity. When I was writing nonfiction, I quickly realized that I didn’t know everything. There’s much learning that goes on in the writing process. Once you publish a book—say on how to interview candidates--, people think you’re the “expert.” Instead, I’m the learner who spent time researching and then put that knowledge down on paper. With fiction I stay curious as to where my characters are going to take me. It’s a mystery till the end.

Are you an outliner or a pantser? How do you actually go about writing a story or book?
I tried to be an outliner, but that’s just not me. I had never heard the word, pantser, until recently when I began interviewing writers. I have to say, I don’t care for that word. I describe myself as an evolutionary writer. My stories evolve as I go, often at the direction of the characters who themselves evolve. When I wrote the mystery series (the first will be published in the spring 2015), I began with an outline. I felt with a mystery I needed to know where I was going. I have to say, however, I soon deviated from that outline. The only thing that stayed as planned was the murderer. Of course, as other writers know, for an evolutionary (or pantser) writer, like me, editing is a nightmare!

Marketing is one of the tougher challenges facing writers these days. What methods have you found useful in this regard?
I’m new at the marketing for my books. I was not terribly diligent with marketing my nonfiction books. In today’s world the writer must be a very active marketing participant. One of the best things to do is to create and maintain an active blog with lots of useful information. That blog will attract attention and hopefully help create a platform. I use Twitter a lot and Facebook. I’ve just started playing around with Pinterest and Wattpad. Balancing marketing with your writing is a constant struggle. BTW, I’m participating in many radio interviews over the next 2 months before and after my book launch. I don’t know how helpful that will be. We just do the best to get the word out with as many tools as possible.
What do you love most about being a writer?
I love creating the stories. I love letting my mind disappear into another world. I love it that the bulk of my work time is consumed with writing and reading.
What’s next on your writing agenda?
In the spring of 2015, my publisher will release the first mystery series starring Jenna Scali. The title is e-Murderer. I am currently working on the second book in that series.
What are some of the things you enjoy doing when not writing?
When I’m not writing and reading (my favorite pastimes), I love traveling, particularly to Italy. I also love going to concerts and the theatre and out to dinner with friends.
Is there something about you it might surprise your readers to learn?
I’m a very open person, as my Facebook page illustrates. Perhaps it would surprise them to learn that although I’m also a very social person, I am not that way in the morning. In the morning, I prefer quiet—Please do not talk to me! Allow me to sip a strong espresso, read my book but above all, leave me alone.
Tell us about your latest book and where readers might find more information about you and your projects.
Here’s the blurb for The Clock Strikes Midnight
The Clock Strikes Midnight is a race against time in a quest for revenge and atonement. This is a story about hate, love, betrayal and forgiveness.

If you found out you had only 3 months to live, what would you do? That’s the question Janie Knox faces in this fast-paced mystery full of uncertainty and tension that will surprise you until the very last page.

Hiding behind the fa├žade of a normal life, Janie keeps her family secrets tucked inside a broken heart. Everything changes on the day she learns she’s going to die. With the clock ticking and her time running out, she rushes to finish what she couldn’t do when she was 17—destroy her mother’s killer. But she can’t do it alone.

Janie returns to her childhood home to elicit help from her sister. She faces more than she bargained for when she discovers her sister’s life in shambles. Meanwhile her mother’s convicted killer, her stepfather, recently released from prison, blackmails the sisters and plots to extract millions from the state in retribution. New revelations challenge Janie’s resolve, but she refuses to allow either time or her enemies to her stop her from uncovering the truth she’s held captive for over 20 years.
      Readers can find out about me and my books at my website: http://www.joancurtis.com I’d also invite them to visit my blog: http://www.joancurtis.com/blog


Readers interested in getting a taste of my writing can visit my website and sign up for the first 2 Chapter of The Clock Strikes Midnight. OR, they can visit me on Wattpad where I posted one chapter and a prize-winning short story.

I would also encourage them to follow me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/joancurtis

Or my Facebook author’s page at http://www.facebook.com/joanccurtisauthor



Monday, October 20, 2014

Children Who Murder

Pennsylvanians were shocked recently when a 10-year-old boy was charged in the murder of an elderly woman. Many viewed it as a disturbing sign of the times.

Shocking? Yes. Unique to our times? Unfortunately, no.

Murders by children are not limited to our historic period. In fact, there’s the notorious case of William Newton Allnut which occurred on this date, Oct. 20, in 1847. William, a lad of 12, was charged in the arsenic poisoning of his grandfather, Samuel Nelme, in London.

Young William confessed he had sprinkled arsenic on his grandfather’s food in retaliation for the old man having struck him and threatened him with death. At his trial in the Old Bailey, London’s criminal court, it was discovered others in the household, including the boy’s grandmother, had also become ill, apparently due to arsenic poisoning.

Doctors who examined him declared the boy to be of unsound mind, testifying he spoke of voices in his head and other symptoms attributed to mental disease. The surgeon at Newgate Prison disagreed and, subsequently, William was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to transportation and he was sent to Australia where he later died of tuberculosis.

William’s case is not a solitary example. Nor are such crimes restricted to one sex or a single country.

Mary Flora Bell of Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, strangled a child to death in 1968, the day before her 11th birthday. Two months later she and a 13-year-old friend, Norma Joyce Bell (no relation), strangled to death another little boy.

Anne Perry, known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels, then 15, was convicted of participation in the murder of a friend’s mother in 1954 in New Zealand. She changed her name and began writing after serving her sentence.

Willie Bosket of New York was accused of “several thousand” crimes before he reached the age of 15 when he murdered another boy and two men to “see what it was like.” His crime spree led to the “Willie Bosket Law” which allowed juveniles as young as 13 to be charged as adults.

Jesse Pomeroy was 14 when he was charged with the murder of a four-year-old boy in Boston. Authorities learned later he had also killed a 10-year-old girl and buried her body in his mother’s cellar.


Horrifying? Yes. Unique? No.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ban My Book--Please

We writers are always seeking ways to get noticed and have our books read.

It’s been estimated a million or more books will be published in 2014. With that kind of competition the task gets more difficult.

The advice we hear most often is write the best book you can. Right. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent nine years writing “Tender Is The Night” and expected it might be the best American novel of his time. Yet when it was published in 1934 sales were dismal and most critics dismissed it as a flop. I read somewhere his royalties for the year amounted to something like $80. Sure eighty bucks went further in those days. But considering the man made nearly $30,000 in 1937, mostly in short story sales, it was hardly a good return on his work.

Edgar Allan Poe, a classic writer if ever there was one, is known to everyone today but lived most of  his life in obscurity and poverty. For an analogy of another kind, Vincent Van Gogh, considered a genius today, sold just two paintings in his lifetime and one of those was to his brother.

So what is a writer to do to spark a little recognition?

Then it dawned on me: this is Banned Books Week, Sept. 21-27.  What could catapult a book into the limelight quicker than having it banned?

It worked for Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”), along with Joyce (“Ulysses”), Jack London (“Call of the Wild”), Steinbeck (“Grapes of Wrath”), Mark Twain (“Huckleberry Finn”) and even Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”). Why not for me?

All I need is for some irate group to call out my novels as obscene, violent or politically insensitive. You don’t even need a good reason. Shel Silverstein’s “Light in the Attic” was once banned by a school because it “encouraged children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” “Moby Dick” was banned by a Texas school district in 1996 on the claim it conflicted with community values.

Come on, gang. Get on the phone. Starting calling your library or speaking up at a governmental meeting. Condemn me. I don’t especially want to be rich. Being a little famous wouldn’t be bad, though.

Or, if you don’t want to support my cause, just read one of the many banned books. That’ll help all writers.


Monday, August 25, 2014

About The Dancing Boy

(I’m hosting Michael Matson, who is here to tell us about his new novel, “The Dancing Boy.” The floor is yours, Michael:)

“The Dancing Boy” is a mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. Treat Mikkelson lives on Drake Island in a small cabin by the water with his cat, Ackerman. He’s retired from a lifetime of studying and writing about crime and keeps himself busy crabbing, fishing and harvesting enough clams for dinner.

This all changes when an elderly woman in a small, nearby tourist town is found at the foot of her stairs with a broken neck. Although authorities are inclined to consider it an accident, a friend suspects foul play and asks Treat to investigate the matter.

Treat is an iconic, self-contained ex-Ranger with a penchant for garish Hawaiian shirts and a love for the Blues and Hawaiian music. He’s a great study for a classic hard-boiled mystery, and the Pacific Northwest setting tweaks the traditional crime noir marvelously. Matson makes western Washington come alive for the reader as Treat and local law enforcement learn the reason why Margaret Neilssen died and act to foil a Canadian drug-smuggling and child pornography ring.

“The Dancing Boy” is fast-paced and absorbing, and you may find yourself considering a cabin on the water in the Pacific Northwest after reading it.

Biography:

Michael Matson was born in Helena, Montana, and was immediately issued a 10-gallon Stetson and a pair of snakeskin boots. After formative years spent in New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, California, Hawaii and Japan, Michael earned a journalism degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. Following a brief military stint in Oklahoma, where he first encountered red, sticky mud, heavy rain and tarantulas, he returned to Seattle and worked as an advertising agency copywriter, creative director and video producer.

In 2007 he (regretfully) left Seattle for Mexico, seeking time to write. He has since published “The Diamond Tree,” a fairytale for all ages; “Bareback Rider,” an inspirational adventure for children, and “Takeshi’s Choice,” a mystery novel. His short story, “Gato,” was selected for inclusion in Short Story America’s 2014 anthology. “The Dancing Boy,” his second mystery novel, was released by Dark Oak, a division of Oak Tree Press in April 2014 and is available on Amazon.

Matson lives with his wife, Maria Guadalupe (Tai), in Morelia, the colonial capital city of Michoacan, where, despite all the bad publicity given the area by U.S. news media, he has never seen a narcotraficante. His website is www.findmichaelmatson.com





Monday, August 18, 2014

Using Historical Crimes in Fiction

(My guest today is Carolyn Niethammer, a multi-published author of non-fiction books who has just published her first novel. Welcome, Carolyn. The floor is yours.)

In my new novel, The Piano Player, the title character, Frisco Rosie, gets involved with one of the customers at the Bird Cage Saloon where she plays the piano in Tombstone. He’s somewhat mysterious and eventually it turns out that he was involved in a crime called the Bisbee Massacre. In 1883, five men were tried for the murder of several innocent people in a robbery gone bad in the mining town of Bisbee. It became a major plot point in my book, and to write it, I borrowed liberally from the newspaper’s report of the trial and eventual hanging of what became known as The Bisbee Five.

That got me to thinking of other novels based on real crimes. Sharon Ervin thinly disguised the unsolved 1970 murder of millionaire Oklahoma rancher E.C. Mullandore in her novel Murder Aboard the Choctaw Gambler (5 Star). Sharon said she added some romance to lighten the story.

Rabbi Ilene Schneider recalled reading about some artifacts that were stolen from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The incident appeared in Chanukah Guilt (Oak Tree Press) setting off a series of unintended consequences.

My host today, J. R. Lindermuth, has also used real crimes as inspiration. His latest  novel, Something So Divine (under contract with Sunbury Press) was initially inspired by an actual murder, though he say he's strayed far from the facts of that case. His first published novel, Schlussel’s Woman, also resulted from musing on “what if’’ in regard to a similar crime. Corruption’s Child, third in the Sticks Hetrick series, came about after reading reports of thefts from the Amish.

J.A. Jance, who writes three popular mystery series, says she tries to stay away from using real crime in her books “because real crimes, especially homicides, affect real people. The families and friends of homicide victims mark their lives by how they were before that horrific loss and how their lives are after it.”

That doesn't mean, however, that real life doesn't leak into her books. She explains that in her Seattle mystery series featuring J.P. Beaumont, one of his partners ends up a paraplegic who later, comes back to work as Media Relations Officer. Several years after that,  she heard from people who thought she had copied what happened to an injured officer in Everett, Wash., who also ended up being placed in Media Relations. “The problem was,” she says, “I wrote that part (of my novel) before the officer in Everett was shot.

Other famous novels based on crimes include The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, Psycho by Robert Bloch, and The Godfather by Mario Puzo. You can read more about those and others here:

There is also the matter of fictional books and movies about crime that inspired real crimes. But that is fodder for another post altogether.

___________________________________
The Piano Player is Carolyn Niethammer’s tenth book but first novel.  She has brought the same level of exacting research to this novel as she has to her earlier nonfiction works. One early review says, “The main character in The Piano Player is the Wild West itself; especially the Gold Rush Wild West, stretching from scorching Tombstone to the frigid Klondike.” See Carolyn’s other books at www.cniethammer .com Find  The Piano Player at
https://tinyurl.com/madl42a


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I’m honored to have been nominated by James R. Callan for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

The purpose of the award is both simple and important. It’s designed to introduce authors to readers and to other writers who are producing some of the most interesting blogs on the Web today. I invite you to check out Jim’s books and read his always interesting blog: http://www.jamesrcallan.com/blog/

Part of my requirement as a nominee for this blogger award is to give you seven facts about me that many people do not know. So, here goes:

  • Living in a house believed to have been built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill inspires my interest in writing Western stories.
  • I like to be surprised by my characters, which is why I seldom outline at length when writing my stories.
  • At heart I’m an Indiana Jones who would rather be digging artifacts of lost civilizations, dinosaur bones or other fossils than be wealthy. Of course, I wouldn’t turn up my nose at money if it were offered.
  • Once in Seoul, South Korea, I lived in an apartment building between a parochial school and a brothel.
  • I’m a definite fan of casual attire. Save for a few rare occasions, I haven’t worn a tie (the most useless piece of apparel ever forced on man) since retiring. I prefer jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers.
  • I started out wanting to be an artist. I discovered a talent for drawing early on and it’s still something I enjoy.
  • You wouldn’t guess it to look at me. I’m skinny as the proverbial rake. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to eat. I’ll sample virtually anything offered, though my favorites incline toward Italian and Asian (particularly those with a bit of spice to them).

Of course, blogging is not my real vocation. I write books, short stories and articles. The majority of my books fall into the category of crime fiction—mysteries, suspense and thrillers. I also write historical fiction, occasionally dabble in other genres and non-fiction. 

You’ll find more about my books on my website: http://www.jrlindermuth.net


Monday, June 23, 2014

It's the Anniversary of the Typewriter

Today, June 23, is the anniversary of the patenting of the typewriter in 1868.

The patent was granted to Christopher Sholes, a Pennsylvania native, printer and newspaper editor; Samuel Soule, another printer, and Carlos Glidden, a lawyer and amateur inventor, all of whom were living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the time.

Sholes, born in Mooresburg in 1819, completed an apprenticeship to a printer in nearby Danville, Montour County, before moving to Wisconsin. He’d been working on several inventions before he and Soule perfected his prototype. Glidden joined the partnership and put up the development funds.

Though he’s sometimes credited as the inventor of the typewriter, what Sholes actually did was perfect a practical device. Henry Mill, an English inventor, patented the first typewriter in 1714. Down through the years until 1868, other inventors tinkered with the machine and sought patents. None were commercially successful.

Sholes did develop the QWERTY keyboard, which is still in use today on both typewriters and English language computers.

The inventors wrote hundreds of letters on the machine to potential investors. James Densmore, another Pennsylvanian, responded with interest, though he contended the machine still needed improvement. Discouraged, Soule and Glidden dropped out of the partnership and were replaced by Densmore.

After subjecting the machine to rigorous testing by a team of stenographers, the partners offered some 50 typewriters for sale at a price of $250 each.

In 1873. the partners approached the Remington Arms Company, which offered to buy the patent. Sholes sold his share for a mere $12,000. Densmore, more prudently, requested a royalty. He would profit to the tune of $1.5 million.


Mark Twain, an early believer in the value of the machine, claimed to be the “first person in the world to apply the type-machine to literature.” He erroneously believed he had written part of “Tom Sawyer” on the typewriter. Ron Powers, author of “Mark Twain, A Life,” said one of Twain’s assistants did type out his handwritten manuscript of “Life on the Mississippi,” and it was probably the first book ever typed before going to a printer.