Thursday, March 29, 2012

From appraising for murder to talking like a pirate

I'm happy to report that Appraisal for Murder has risen to number 58 in the women sleuths category on Amazon.  That's for paid books and it's 20 places higher than it was at the end of last week.  In between was a free download day, and that seems to have called attention to the book.  Its sales have gone up a bit as have those for Rekindling Motives and When the Carny Comes to Town, the second and third books of the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series.  Meanwhile, I'm working on the fourth book.  Too early to give it a title.  I have an informal one, but those never seem to be the final title. At a meeting of the "Harvest for All" Food Pantry, Scoobie did bring up the idea for a fundraiser centered around "Talk Like a Pirate Day."  This September 19th "holiday" is the source of a lot of fun around the country and the world. Shiver me timbers, it looks as if we'll have our very own event in Ocean Alley.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review of "Five Ways to Leave Your Lover"

Five Ways to Leave a Lover is a delightful book by Carolyn Moncel, and I reviewed it for the Self Publishing Review web site.  I periodically do reviews there, and I give few books five stars.  Check out the review, and you'll see why.

It is rare that a story of love and deception can be presented well, and compellingly, from all points of view

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Good News and a Freebie

I am thrilled that Appraisal for Murder is #78 in (paid) Kindle sales in Women Sleuths, and #89 overall (paper and electronic) in that category.  OK, it's not a ranking like "The Help," but it's really good.  I'm tickled pink.  Appraisal for Murder is sold on Amazon in Kindle and paperback.  Sales have really picked up this month -- and I thought they were good in February.  Now, if I could just figure out what I'm doing right...  I just enrolled Appraisal for Murder in the KDP Select program, which means it can be free for up to five days over the next three months.  In return, Amazon will promote it quite a bit.   I hope that this will introduce people to the Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery series and translate into sales for the other two books in the series, Rekindling Motives and When the Carny Comes to Town. 

 Appraisal for Murder will be free on [Sunday, March 25th], MONDAY, March 26th, so get your free download. You don't need a Kindle to read it, you can download it to be read on your computer.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Our Evolving Language

The English language can be more accepting of change than many others, given that its speakers are on all continents and many use it as a second language and may draw on their first language to create new words.  Technology has brought many new terms in the last few decades.  Sounds did not used to bite, and chips were in a bowl in the U.S. and served fried in England.

We have grown to expect language evolution in a way our ancestors did not.  Without rapid communication and easy travel, words tended to retain their usage.  I was reminded of the fluidity of our language when substitute teaching this week.  I generally don't work with elementary school students, but it was the week before spring break and teachers planned a couple extra days of vacation.  As I lined up a group of fifth graders to leave for the day, I instructed them to put their knapsacks on and wait quietly.  (Did I mention I'm an optimist?)

One little girl looked at me as only a ten-year old can and asked, "What's a knapsack?"

"You know," I replied.  "What you keep your books in."

This brought giggles from several kids.  "You mean our back packs." 

Can you imagine if I had called it what we did when I was ten -- a book bag?  Heaven forbid language should be so literal.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kentucky Writers' Conference Had a Sharing Group

Living in the Midwest, a 180 mile drive is not the time-consuming event it can be on the crowded east coast, so when my friend Leigh Michaels was the featured speaker at the Kentucky Romance Writers conference in Lexington on St. Patrick's Day I drove down to hear her presentation, Writing Between the Sexes.  I had seen portions of it, but never the all-day class, and it was a great chance to think about not only how differently men and women think/act, but how that can be expressed (or mis-expressed) in characters.  Part of the workshop presented several samples of writing and attendees considered whether a woman or man had written the scene.  (One clue -- if a female character spent a lot of time thinking about her body's curve, a man probably wrote it!)

In addition to the workshop, the women who attended were incredibly forthcoming about what has worked for them in marketing their books, especially e-books.  While many have been traditionally published, more than half were also "indie publishers," as I am.  Later this week I will do a post that lists some of their blogs -- always good to share knowledge.

As interesting as the conference were tours Friday afternoon.  Though I have visited farms with horses and my high school was in a cow pasture (yes, Bethesda, Maryland had cow pastures way back when) I had never been to a large horse farm.  Three Chimneys is near Lexington, just outside the idyllic town of Midway. We toured part of its Stallion Division and had an up close and personal view of carefully monitored mating activity.

One of its most well known current residents is Big Brown, who won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.  The stallions were used to being on display, as they took little notice of our group and went back to munching hay.  The most nonplussed was Exchange Rate, the only grey horse in the group.  His photo is taken through the bars -- we humans (touring humans) cannot get too close to the horses.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Revising Fiction for a New World

I am revising a mystery I wrote more than ten years ago.  I put it aside because it had 'good guys and bad guys' in the U.S. and a mythical North African country, and after 9 - 11 I didn't want to issue something that could be seen as Arab bashing.  A purist might say it is important to write what you will when you will, and I certainly don't believe in even mild forms of censorship.  (Supreme Court decisions aside.)  But, I think we have responsibilities as writers, and one of mine would be not to fan flames of hate.  Not long ago I read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which is a novel, in essence a love story, about the time in the U.S. when Japanese Americans were forced into camps (World War II).   Not German Americans, of course, who "looked like us."  The author portrays a shameful period in U.S. history, but in such a way that we see all sides without empathizing with the decision to inter our fellow citizens.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is beautiful literary fiction, Toxic Traces is a mystery about using water as a weapon, with nothing 'literary' about it.  I am comfortable that I can have characters from two cultures without presenting one as evil.  It's the individual characters who do bad things.  In revising Toxic Traces, I may make a few changes to accommodate the world of today, but I believe I can be comfortable releasing it later this year.  So, on to in depth editing.

And what does this photo have to do with Toxic Traces?  I took it in Colorado in the early 1990s, when I was in the early stages of creating the book. That trip, and its conversations with Uncle Dick about water in the west, helped shape the setting.  Now are you intrigued?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I continue to merge my many interests through writing.  My monthly post on the web blog of the American Society for Public Administration deals with workforce changes and the decline in jobs since the Great Recession, and offers some ideas for those who find the employment options slim.  While geared to those looking for public sector jobs, the concepts apply to all fields.  Take a look at "Changing Workforce Changing Job Hunting Skills."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Family History Enlivens the Page


Macosquin River in Aghadowey Parish, near Coleraine, Londonderry.
As I began listening to my aunts and uncles tell family stories in the early 1990s, it occurred to me that who you are now really does depend on where your ancestors were when.  Twenty years later I am certain that I would not be here if my Protestant and Catholic ancestors had not left Ireland in the mid-1800s -- they would not have been allowed to speak to each other in Ulster. Certainly, the mill my fourth great grandfather operated on this river in Northern Ireland would have been for Protestants only.

But these are just my most "recent" ancestors, the Orrs and the Rooneys.  Going back from my dad's mom, the families were here in the 1600's.  One group went from Massachusetts to Indiana, another came into the mix in Virginia and many of their succeeding branches went to Warren County, Kentucky.  Research showed that some of those who fought in the Revolutionary War got land grants there.  For some reason (largely the Civil War and the actions leading up to it and following it), many of those families went to Lawrence County, Missouri.  And they stayed there for nearly 100 years.

At the same time, my Rooney ancestors built canals in Indiana and moved on to Kansas.  Then came World War II, and my Catholic Kansas mom (Rita Rooney) went to DC to find work, and my Missouri dad (Miles Orr, and nearly all of his eight brothers and sisters) were in and around DC during the war.  And, voila, the two families that would have been enemies in Northern Island hooked up. 

Thanks to a bit of OCD, I worked with cousins on both sides to pull together family history materials.  So far only the Orr side has made it into formal print, though the thousands of names in my Ancestry.com family tree have many stories and photographs associated with the names.  Visits to the National Archives and innumerable local history libraries are still more fun than online research -- and often lead to more accurate links.  It's the local history books and news clippings that add color to the names.

Nothing tugs at my heart strings more than a note from someone who located a great, great grandparent through my research.  These notes remind me that most of my distant cousins did not have family that stayed long enough in one or two locations to blend with a locale.  We Americans tend to have more shallow roots these days.  However, wherever we land we can learn the local history, even if it is not our family's history.  If we stay rooted for a generation, local history not only becomes our own, we add to it.

As a fiction writer, I garner ideas from the family stories -- not the kind of ideas that would lead a quirky uncle to see himself in one of my characters.  It's more a perspective, a recognition that every character has their own history, and knowing it makes them come to life on the page.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trading Cards for Girls in the 1960s

Trading Cards for Girls in the 1960s
Where are the Cards Now?

While the guys put Micky Mantle on the spokes of their bicycles, my girlfriends and I collected horses, dogs, cats, flowers, and country scenes.  These were sold at the five and dime in our town in Maryland and have no markings to indicate their manufacturer.  I've searched the Internet and antique stores and never found any of them.  Either they had a very limited distribution or my friends still keep their cards in a shoebox, too.

The trading cards are the size of playing cards and have rounded edges. There were many traditions associated with the cards.   For example, most of us organized them by category, horses first.  Then dogs, cats, flowers, outdoor scenes, and boats.  There were some that looked like miniatures of  the Dutch grand masters, but they may have been made by another company.

The horses above were not the "best," though the one of the mother and foal in the middle was close to the top.  With the same line of thought boys employed when they put baseball cards on spokes, we put our favorite cards on top of the pile, and secured them with a rubber band.  Can you say wrinkled?  This was long before plastic sleeves, of course.

Within each group of cards were the favorites among dogs, cats, flowers, etc.  For example, these terriers were often on top of the dog pile, so to speak, and were often followed by spaniels or setters.

I'm curious about these cards.  Do you have any?  Do you know who produced them?  Though I write mysteries, I cannot fathom the solution for this one.