Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some Favorite Reads of 2014

As usual, I’ve read a lot of books this year. Some good, some not so good, but all valuable in their own way. Emulating many others who post their favorite reads of the year, I’m going to give you here my own list of 10 you might want to add to your to-be-read shelf. They are, in no particular order:

Brass In Pocket by Stephen Puleston, the first in his Detective Inspector Drake series. Puleston has created a complex, yet very human character. Afflicted with Obsession-Compulsive Disorder, Drake is driven to find answers despite pressures of job and family. He solves Sodoku puzzles to help him focus and gain control. The recounting of his rituals may annoy some readers but it also illustrates the difficulty under which he functions.

Nothing Save The Bones Inside Her by Clayton Lindemuth. Set in western Pennsylvania in the 1950s, Emeline Margulies proves to be a brave woman, capable of enduring more than expected in this gritty novel with characters reminiscent of Faulkner. This is not a work for those offended by violence and harsh language. But if you’re willing to look beyond those obstacles you’ll find it an engrossing and memorable story.

In Search of Hemingway’s Meadow by Jeff Day. Okay, it’s about fishing. But it’s much more than that. Day discusses fishing and, particularly, the art of fly fishing. He also offers much more in this series of essays connected by his thoughts and adventures while following in Hemingway’s footsteps along the Fox River.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. A Jesuit priest is caught up in the conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois in the 17th century. Highly recommended.

Voyage of Strangers by Liz Zelvin. An admirable work of historical fiction about a young Jew who accompanies Columbus on his voyage to the New World.

Trail Justice by Wayne D. Dundee. This is one of a number of Western novelettes Dundee produced this year—all of them worth your time. Elwood Blake, a former mountain man, and Basil St. Iron, a young scout, team up to protect pioneers on an Oregon-bound wagon train.

Desperate Deeds by Patricia Gligor. This is the third in Gligor’s Malone mystery series. While working one job and trying to start a decorating business, Ann Kern worries about her husband, an alcoholic who recently lost his job and his mother; frets about her children and is concerned about a depressed neighbor. Then things get worse as her six-year-old son goes missing.

Samuel The Pioneer by Douglas Quinn. This is the second in Quinn’s historical adventure series based on figures in his line of descent. While building his own life and seeking to learn the fate of his sister taken captive by the Indians years earlier, Samuel must also cope with the legacy of an embittered drunkard father.

Guns Of The Texas Ranger by Dac Crossley. Texas Ranger Ignacio “Nacho” Ybarra crosses the border into Mexico in search of a straying son-in-law and finds a heap of trouble.

The Clever Mill Horse by Jodi Lew-Smith. The first of a projected series about Ella Kenyon, a strong-willed young woman, struggling against harsh odds and devious men to fulfill a promise to her grandfather.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The History of the Real Indians I Write About

 (The prolific Marilyn Meredith is my guest today and she’s here to provide some background on River Spirits, the latest in her award-winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. Welcome, Marilyn:)

The Yokut Indians were the original inhabitants of the San Joaquin Valley. About 50 dialect groups lived along the rivers and creeks flowing from the Sierra and around Tulare LakeThe discovery of gold in 1848 was the beginning of change for the natives of the Central Valley. Disease brought in by the prospectors and settlers killed many of the Indians.

In 1853, General Beale was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada and he started a working farm next to a U.S. Army Fort called the Tejon Reservation which used Indians as slave labor. Those Indians on the reservations were mainly a Yokut tribe and some Kitanemuk Indians local to the area. Laws permitted slavery among the California Indians. The murder of Indians under any circumstance was rampant and even encouraged by the governor of California.

Later the Indians, including women and children, were forced to leave the Tejon reservation, and walk hundreds of miles to what was a stopping place along the Emigrant Trail—now Porterville. Mothers left their babies along the way, planning to escape and return for them—which didn’t happen.

Another reservation for the Indians was established near the foothills of the Southern Sierra where they continued to farm about 300 acres. But the town of Porterville grew and farmers settled in the area and demanded that the Tule River Farm and the Indians who lived and worked there be moved to a distant location.

President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order in 1873 to establish the Tule River Reservation to where it is now, about 15 miles east of Porterville, in a narrow valley in the foothills, surrounded by mountains. Though the new reservation comprised about 48,000 acres, only about 200 acres could be irrigated in small, isolated patches for farming.

The Indians resisted the move and the Calvary was needed to make it happen.

With the inability to farm, the Indians returned to the old ways of hunting and gathering.

Electricity wasn’t brought to the reservation until the 1960s. Being so remote, it was nearly impossible for the Indians to hold any jobs in the outside world. Most lived at a poverty level.

Things began to change when the Tule River Indians built the Eagle Mountain Casino. The only casino in the area, it brought jobs for Indians and others. As the popularity and revenues increased, services have been established on the reservation such as a new fire department, health center, pre-school and more.
Other businesses were established outside of the reservation such as the Tule River Aero Industries by the Porterville Airport, Eagle Feather Trading Post 1 and 2 (gas station/convenience store), and a steak house in the town of Porterville. Jobs were created not only for the Indians but also many of the people living in surrounding areas.

Life has definitely improved for these Indians.

Blurb for River Spirits:
While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at

Contest: The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during the tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting Dru’s Book Musing
A Day in the Life of Kate Eileen Shannon

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 façade 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: I’d also invite them to visit my 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

Or my Facebook author’s page at

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.


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

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

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.

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).