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:

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:

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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Invitation to Another World

A couple neophyte writers told me recently they weren’t going to make the “mistake” of including description in their books.

I asked were they intent on writing novels or telegrams. They gazed at me, puzzled.

Saying description isn’t needed in a novel is as ridiculous as claiming trees are unnecessary for a forest. One of the pair immediately quoted Elmore Leonard’s dictum about leaving out the parts readers tend to skip.

He could have quoted Leonard’s Rule No. 8: Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. Or No. 9: Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. Note that in both cases he didn’t say avoid description.

Elmore Leonard is known for a spare style of writing that is immediate, graphic and heavy on dialogue, well suited to the tastes of those who grew up with the cinema and television. Indeed, many of his stories have been made into films. But, if you want the best of Leonard, you must read the books.

Leonard often cited Hemingway as a major influence on his style. Both cut to the chase and give us a sense of person or place in eloquent yet spare prose. Kurt Vonnegut once said every sentence should either reveal character or advance the action. This can be achieved by dialogue, showing (action) or through proper use of description.

A reader with imagination doesn’t need much to bring him or her into this other world the writer has created. Not all readers are blessed with enough imagination to gain entry to this world. That’s why we have description.

A reader once told me she didn’t need me to describe a character since her imagination allowed her to see him. What she didn’t get was that while she might imagine Johnny Depp I could have been thinking Gary Busey. The writer wants readers to see his characters, not just any character.

The important thing is to be certain you’re describing and not simply providing a laundry list of articles. Description is necessary to bring us into the story. It should be a bridge (not a barrier) between dialogue and action. Done right, it provides the poetry needed to carry us into a different world.

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.