Monday, November 28, 2016

Some Favorite Dogs in Books

Watching the National Dog Show on Sunday brought to mind the huge role dogs have had in literature.
From the earliest Greek tales down to the present, dogs have accompanied some of the most beloved and hated fictional characters, earning a big place in our memory. We all have our favorites. Here are a few of mine (in no particular order):
White Fang, a mixed wolf/dog in Jack London's stellar adventure novel. After a brutal early life, White Fang bonds with Weedon Scott in a manner sure to tug at the heartstrings of the most hardened of readers.
Lassie, a Rough Collie, is memorable from a book, films and TV serials. The creation of Eric Knight, Lassie is an over-the-top sentimental story of a dog bonding with humans.
Fred Gipson's story, Old Yeller, a Labrador Retriever/Mastiff mix, is a tragic character. If you haven't read the book, I'm sure you've seen or heard about the film. After heroically saving the lives of his owners, Yeller tangles with a rabid wolf and has to be put down.
Snowy (Milou), a Wire Fox Terrier, is the companion/rescuer of TinTin, the rather naive boy adventurer created by Herge. Unlike most dogs, Snowy is capable of speech (only with TinTin and other animals). I loved these comics as a boy.
Big Red, an Irish Setter, in Jim Kjelgaard's most famous novel, is owned by a man who wants to make him a show dog. Red gives his affection to a boy who happily accepts him, simply, as a dog.
Bull's Eye, breed not specified, Bill Sikes' dog, in Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, is not a nice dog. Though considering his owner it's easy to see why. Bull's Eye has "faults of temper in common with his owner," but you can't deny his loyalty to his master.
Gnasher and Wolf, possibly Mastiffs, though breed is not specified, are among a number of memorable dogs in Emily Bronte's wonderful Wuthering Heights. Like Bull's Eye, they are not noted for their affectionate nature. Described as "hairy monsters," Lockwood first encounters them on a visit to his landlord, Heathcliff.
Then we have Lad, another Collie, almost as famous as Lassie, who began as a short story character created by Albert Payson Terhune, a dog lover if there ever was one. Terhune, a sportsman/adventurer who also bred Collies at his Sunnybank Kennels, penned more than 30 dog-focused novels. Harlan Ellison paid tribute to Terhune in his novella A Boy and a Dog.
Though not a fictional character or my favorite breed, there's Charley, a Poodle, who accompanied John Steinbeck on his 1960 road trip across the United States. Charley actually belonged to Steinbeck's wife, Elaine, but makes a good sounding board for the writer. The title was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels With a Donkey, an equally fascinating travel journal.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Ketch, a German Shepherd, in my tale, The Limping Dog, and Change, Officer Flora Vastine's faithful Border Collie.
So, who are some of your favorite dogs in books?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What I've Been Reading It

This is an assessment of books read in the past month. I may make this a regular blog feature, provided people find it of interest.
The books:
James Oliver Curwood--The Valley of Silent Men.
Ngaio Marsh--Killer Dolphin.
Judy Sheluk--Skeletons in the Attic.
Juli Zeh--Decompression.
J. M. Lee--The Investigation.
E. S. Thomson--Beloved Poison.
Jonathan Yardley--Misfit.
As a youth, I was an avid fan of Curwood's adventure tales set in the Far North. On a whim, I downloaded a Kindle copy of his The Valley of Silent Men to see how his work stands with me now. Unfortunately, despite an intriguing plot that kept me turning pages, I found myself irritated by his flamboyant style and abuse of the exclamation point.
I also hadn't read Marsh in many years but am now inspired to read or re-read more of her work. Killer Dolphin allowed her to indulge in her love of theater. This, the 24th in her Roderick Alleyn series, focuses on a glove alleged to have belonged to Hamnet Shakespeare and the skulduggery it inspires. If you're a fan of Agatha Christie and haven't read Marsh, do.
I gave Skeletons in the Attic a five-star review. If you enjoy small town mysteries with feisty heroines, a cast of quirky characters, well-paced plots, twists and turns and a bit of romance, this is a book you'll want to check out.
Fueled by an interest in deep sea diving, I expected to enjoy Decompression more than I did. I gave it three stars. Zeh tells the story from the viewpoint of the three main characters, Sven, a dive instructor; Jola, an actress who hopes to land the role of a pioneer woman diver, and Theo, a struggling writer and Jola's lover. It was difficult to tell who told the truth and, frankly, I couldn't work up much sympathy for any of them. Review here:
The Investigation also rated five-stars. Lee is one of South Korea's top writers and this is his first novel to be published in the U.S. It involves a murder during World War II in Japan's notorious Fukuoka Prison. A majority of the prisoners, including famed poet Yun Dong-ju, are Koreans accused of fomenting rebellion against their Japanese conquerors. Review:
Beloved Poison was another five-star read. I'm fascinated by the Victorian era and grew up reading classics from the period. In this debut novel, Thomson evokes the age and provides fully-developed characters with names right out of Dickens, a gripping plot and a distinct sense of place. Review:
Yardley's stellar biography follows writer Fred Exley's alcoholic trail from his birthplace in football-dominated Watertown, N.Y., across the U.S. as he sponges on friends and strangers and achieves fame if not fortune. Yardley characterizes Exley as a "one-book author," centering his attention on "A Fan's Notes," the first and best known of his three "novels." That may be true but I found "Pages From a Cold Island" and "Last Notes From Home" entertaining expansions on the first autobiographical entry.
So, that's the books for this time. What am I reading now?
Loren Estleman--Detroit is Our Beat.
James Lilliefors--The Psalmist (first in the Bowers and Hunter mystery series).
Rob McCarthy--The Hollow Men.
Ian Mortimer--Millennium.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Those Old-Time Radio Shows

I grew up listening to radio. We didn't have a television until I was in high school.
If you had the experience I think you'll agree, radio gave us something the TV generation missed out on. Listening to radio inspired more use of imagination than that required by the visual media. I'm not saying television viewers lack imagination.
The point is radio, as in reading, requires the listener to imagine the scene, create the speaker in his mind--'pictures' and sound that are more personal than those projected visually. Who can forget that squeaking door and the eerie organ music of 'Inner Sanctum'? Or the sonorous voice of 'The Shadow'? Do you see The Whistler?

I believe listening to those old time radio shows was as much an incentive as my youthful reading in inspiring me to want to write my own stories. Willa Cather said much of the material a writer uses is acquired before the age of fifteen.
I spent a lot of time listening to those old radio shows in those teen and earlier years. These included Inner Sanctum, The Whistler (noted for its unexpected twists at the end), Mr. and Mrs. North, Boston Blackie and many others. One of my favorites was 'I Love a Mystery,' about three friends who ran a detective agency and traveled the world in search of adventure. It originally aired from 1939 to 1944 and then was revived and ran from 1948 to 1952. I was too young for those earlier episodes, but many are still available online.
The Shadow, one of the most popular of radio shows, ran from 1930-1954, prompted a magazine and a series of novels. The opening line is haunting, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows."
Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, was another popular show and one of the longest running, 1937-1955.
The radio version of The Thin Man, based on Dashiell Hammett's novel, ran in 1936, before I was born, but I've seen the film and the TV adaptation. William Powell and Myrna Loy reprised their film roles in the radio show but were replaced by Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk on TV.
Of course mysteries weren't the only shows I listened to. There were also many good Westerns, comedies and drama. Still, mysteries remain my favorite.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Introducing Rita Chapman

My guest today is Rita Chapman, an Australian writer whose work includes several mysteries and an unusual horse novel. Welcome, Rita.
Tell us a little about you and the place where you live.
I was born in London and moved to Australia in my early twenties. I spent my working life in Sydney, the most beautiful city in the world and moved to Queensland when we retired, for the warmer weather.  We live on the Sunshine Coast, a popular tourist destination and enjoy walking on the beaches and around our pretty river and lakes. 
 When did you begin to write and what got you started?
I didn’t finish my first book until I retired.  I had often started when I was working (mostly on a typewriter) but never found the time to actually finish.  Some my earlier writing I used in my first couple of books.  In Queensland we often go weeks without rain and then it can pour for two or three days.  It was during this first downpour that I sat down to write. 
You've written in several genres. Do you have a favorite?
Horses have always been my passion, so Winston – A Horse’s Tale is my favourite book and genre.
You're second book, Winston-A Horse's Tale, is written (uniquely) from the horse's perspective and first-person viewpoint. Your latest, Dangerous Associations, is also first-person. Is this your favorite viewpoint?
Are your stories plot or character-driven?
My books are plot based.  I usually have an idea of the main story before I start.
Pantser or outliner?
I’d love to be an outliner.  Normally I’m pretty organized but I can’t seem to plot out my chapters and characters.  I find it easiest to just sit down at the computer and let the story evolve.
What are you working on now? Care to give us a peek?
I’m working on a “Missing” series, following on from my first book Missing in Egypt.  This one is called Missing at Sea and follows Anna on a cruise some years later, where a woman goes overboard. 
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about writers?
That they make money!
 What do you like to read? Any favorite authors?
My reading tastes are quite varied.  I love Australian authors Kate Morton and Bryce Courtenay as well as Wilbur Smith, crimes, mysteries, autobiographies and of course anything to do with horses.  My favourite indie authors are Rebecca Bryn and Sarah Stuart, who formed Worldwide Authors, to which I belong.
Do you have any advice you'd like to share for other writers?
For a would-be writer, just do it.  Now that you can self-publish your work doesn’t have to stay hidden in your computer.  Until you try you don’t know what you can achieve.  For other writers,  I think we all know we have to edit, edit, edit!
We all know the importance of marketing today. What are some of the methods you prefer for introducing yourself to the reading community?
I’m not too keen on the marketing side.  I have a website,, where I interview a different author each week.  I’m lucky enough to have a local bookshop stock all three of my books and I like to distribute bookmarks featuring my work.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
I play tennis at a wonderful social club close to home, swim, walk and of course read.  We also love to travel and have just returned from a month driving in the USA and Canada, seeing Yellowstone National Park and The Rockies.  I even saw a couple of bears!
Missing in Egypt
Winston – A Horse’s Tale
Dangerous Associations

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Book Release

Shares The Darkness, my fifteenth novel and the seventh in the Sticks Hetrick crime series, was released today by Torrid Books, division of Whiskey Creek Press/Start Publishing.

The series is set in Swatara Creek, a fictional community near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the characters frequently visit sites in the capitol. Hetrick is a retired police chief who now works as a county detective. The protagonist in this latest book is one of Hetrick's protegees, Officer Flora Vastine, though Sticks is involved in the events.
Sticks is the focus of the series, but others like Flora 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.
I conceived the premise for the series in a short story while living in Lebanon PA, hence the location of Swatara Creek near Harrisburg. There is a Swatara creek and even a township with that name, but the town in the books is entirely my invention.
Though a series, the novels can be read as standalones. Titles, in order, are: Something In Common, Cruel Cuts, Corruption's Child, Being Someone Else, Practice To Deceive, A Burning Desire and Shares The Darkness. Here's a blurb for Shares The Darkness:
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, which opens personal wounds.
And a short excerpt: Harry’s attitude was more optimistic when he called her cell later that night.
“Peg’s group only got through part of the game-lands and you guys didn’t cover everything either,” he told her. “There are some thick woods out there. Fresh growth on the trees and brush. Deep leaf cover on the ground. You said yourself, her knapsack was half-buried and you didn’t see it till you kicked it free.”
“I was so sure we’d find her after that.”
“I’ve heard hunters telling all my life how difficult it is sometimes to find a wounded deer—even in the season when most trees are bare. Even in a small area like the Preserve, nature can conceal more than you might think.”
“I hope you’re right, honey.”
“If she’s out there, we’ll find her. The Staties have promised two search dogs for tomorrow morning. Aaron said one of the Boy Scout troops is going to pitch in, too.”
Flora lay back on her bed. Despite the shower and rest, muscles in her legs ached from the strain of tramping over the rough landscape. “Before I found the pack I was almost ready to agree with Fred and think she’d gone somewhere else.”
“Well, now you know she must be out there. Fortunately, the weather isn’t frigid like it was last month. She’s young and healthy. If she isn’t too bad hurt and we find her...”
“Oh, God. What if we’re too late, Harry? We...”
“Think positive, babe. Think positive.”
But Harry’s optimism couldn’t obliterate Flora’s fears. Despite her tiredness, it was a long time before sleep came as Flora kept visualizing scenarios of Jan lying in the muck in the darkness, wild animals circling round her, no one responding to her desperate cries for help as the dampness of the night sucked away her strength and will to live.
Buy links:
And other major booksellers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Those Influencers

Writers on Facebook have recently been posting lists of the 15 authors who most influenced them.

Frankly, I think their number is too few. We're influenced by everything we read. We absorb all these influences, accepting some, rejecting others, until they coalesce into our peculiar style.

Robert Louis Stevenson suggests, "When you read a book or passage that pleases you, sit down at once and try to ape that quality which most pleases you."

No, Herkimer, that doesn't mean you should write like the writers you admire. I can write a pastiche of Hemingway. But I'm not Hemingway. You pick up bits and pieces of technique from other writers, then you make them yours.

Okay. You want to know who I'd put on my list of fifteen. I'm sure there were many more, but here's my list (in no particular order):

1.Edgar Allen Poe
2.Jack London
3.Emily Bronte
4.John Fowles
5.Washington Irving
6.Somerset Maugham
7.John Cheever
8.John Steinbeck
9.John Dickson Carr
10.Arthur Conan Doyle
11.Ernest Hemingway
12.Robert Louis Stevenson
13.Vladimir Nabokov
14.Ruth Rendell

15.Elmore Leonard

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Birding Seed For Novel Idea

"When you have seen one ant, one bird, one tree, you have not seen them all." E. O. Wilson

It's estimated only one-fifth of U.S. citizens engage in the interesting and beneficial (both economical and environmentally) pursuit. Still that's a lot of people for an avocation once regarded as the domain of spinsters and eccentric old men.

Birding has been around since the late 18th century (see Gilbert White and others) and the term bird watching was first used in 1891.

I admit I'm not a list keeper or as dedicated/erudite as some. A nephew of Roger Tory Peterson was my biology teacher in high school and he inspired me to an early interest in this and all things nature. I've continued to enjoy observing, seeing and hearing birds. I've read my Peterson, White, Teale, Sibley and others.

Among my favorites (though not in order and not divulging reasons) are the cardinal, flicker, ruffed grouse, whip-poor-will and crow.

My interest in this avocation was the seed idea for Shares The Darkness, seventh in my Sticks Hetrick crime series, to be published Sept. 16 by Torrid Books, a subsidiary of Whiskey Creek Press/Start Publishing. My character Officer Flora Vastine insisted on playing the lead this time, and I allowed her to have her way. I'm rather pleased with the results.

Here's the blurb for the book:

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.
Sales outlets:
And major book sellers everywhere.