“Write What You Know” : An Author’s Experience of Living in Africa

by Guest Author, Victoria Tait

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A common piece of advice given to school children and new authors alike is “Write what you know”.  But many established authors dismiss the principle.  Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, told The New York Times, “One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know.   Because what you know is usually dull.”

So where does an aspiring writer begin?  Unlike most authors, I had no lifelong desire to write a book and only considered it as a potential career two years ago.  We moved back to the UK from Kenya so my husband could begin training for his next military posting in Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I realised that as I didn’t speak Bosnian, and the country had a high unemployment rate, I was unlikely to find a job.

Further, as a family we would be moving around the UK, and potentially the world, for at least the next eight years.  I needed to keep myself busy and engaged, but not with a physical business like the farm shop I had set up in Kenya.  My new venture needed to be portable and flexible to work around the demands of my family.

I first considered writing as a method to convey the incredible experience I’d had living in Kenya, in Eastern Africa.  I’m not sure if moving to Kenya or returning to the UK was more of a culture shock.  In Kenya I’d become used to a way of life lived at a slower pace, with no judgement of what people wore or what car they drove, and far less emphasis on the material side of life.

Giraffe samburuIn Africa, the first priority is to survive and so each day, and certainly every birthday, is celebrated.  After that come friendships and community and, of course, enjoying the glorious sunshine, fantastic scenery and amazing wildlife that Kenya is famous for.

P.D. James wrote in her “10 Tips for writing novels” for the BBC, “You absolutely should write about what you know.  There are all sorts of small things that you store up and use, nothing is lost as a writer.  You have to learn to stand outside yourself.  All experience, whether it is painful or whether is is happy is somehow stored up and sooner or later it’s used.”

My Kenya Kanga Mystery Series is set in Nanyuki, a small market town three hours north of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.   It is dominated by the often snow-capped Mount Kenya which, at over 17,000 ft, is the second highest mountain in Africa.  This is where I lived for six years, and it’s the perfect setting for a cozy mystery series.

Mkt St SceneIn my books I’ve used actual locations, such as Dormans, a town centre coffee shop and a hub of gossip, and the relaxed garden location of Cape Chestnut restaurant.  Other places, such as the Mount Kenya Resort and Spa, are recognisable as being based on real settings which I’ve altered to suit my stories.

Small towns in cozy mystery series can develop the “Cabot Cove” syndrome; if Cabot Cove existed in real life it would top a number of categories of the FBI’s national crime statistics. 

To avoid this phenomenon, I themed the second and subsequent books around actual events.  These include an important elephant focused wildlife summit, a 4×4 off-road charity event in the Maasai Mara and, in the book I am releasing in May, a marathon in a UNESCO World Heritage wildlife reserve.

Elephant Mother & Child PuddleA sense of place is important to me and my writing.  Has a certain smell or the call of a bird transported you back to a memorable location? I try to convey the smells, sounds and sights of the individual settings and it does help that I’ve visited most of them.  And if I haven’t, as P.D. James said, I can use snippets of other places that I have stored up to successfully create them.

The characters are another aspect of my books which I’ve developed as I’ve expanded my writing craft.  Mama Rose is based on an incredible friend of mine, now in her 80s, who is a community vet, a staunch catholic and a member of various committees.  The help and assistance she has given, and continues to provide, those less fortunate than herself can not be fully conveyed in my books. But is it important to recognise, and remember, that there are still people who put others before themselves and work for what is morally right and just in life.

The other characters have developed from meeting people and observing situations in Kenya: the interaction of customers and stall holders at the local vegetable market, street sellers trying to persuade tourists and visitors to buy their wares, and the ability of a charismatic priest to captivate his audience in a town centre park.

A snippet I have woven into one of my books occurred when I took my young children to mitumba; a large jumble sale of donated thrift clothes, and other items, from first world countries which are shipped to Kenya and sold in makeshift markets.

Mitumba 3Two raggedly dressed, and shoeless, children tentatively approached our car holding out their hands in a begging gesture.  I remembered two squares of jam sandwich which my boys hadn’t eaten.  I handed the pieces to the children expecting them to stuff them into their mouths, but instead they just stood and waited.   Slowly they were joined by a group of similarly attired children, and those who had the sandwiches carefully divided them up until every child had a small morsel to eat. 

This was an incredibly humbling experience.  So perhaps it is not necessarily “write what you know” but “write what you feel”. After all, as writers we strive to elicit an emotional response in our readers’ minds.

Finally, Dan Brown said, “You should write something that you need to go and learn about.”  As writers we do need to expand our knowledge, and understanding, and researching is one of my favourite area in the writing process.  I have learnt so much more about Kenya than I knew, or understood, when I lived there.

RHINO CHARGERhino Charge, my third book, has many Kenyan Indian characters.  It evolves around events at a 4×4 vehicle off-road event which is popular amongst the Kenyan Indian community.  Whilst I had Indian friends, I wasn’t aware of how, or why, their ancestors had settled in Kenya.  Researching this aspect of the Kenyan culture was fascinating.  I learnt that Indians came to Kenya with the British and supported the creation of the East African Protectorate, which became Kenya, as clerks, accountants and police officers.

Two and a half thousand Indian labourers died during the construction of the Mombasa to Uganda railway line, including those killed by the infamous man-eating lions of Tsavo.  The rupee was the first currency used in the colony which was ruled using an extension of Indian law.  On the 22nd July 2017, President Kenyatta officially recognised the Indian community as the 44th tribe of Kenya.  Researching and learning this extended my knowledge and increased the depth of Rhino Charge.

Not all authors are luckily enough to live in extraordinary locations such as Kenya, or Bosnia and Herzegovina, but small towns still have their own customs and query characters. 

I’m currently planning my next series which will be set in areas of the UK I have lived in and visited. The theme is antiques, of which I have no knowledge.  I enjoyed, and was fascinated by, auctions which I attended on my return to the UK, to buy furniture for our house.  And I observed some fantastic people for the basis of my characters.  I’ll research collectibles, antiques and related crimes to build interesting stories with “can’t put down” plots.

Mostar, HerzigovinaWhen I can finally move freely around Sarajevo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I will begin researching for a future series.  I’ve already discovered that everyone here has a story to tell from the devastating war and various sieges, including the longest in modern history in Sarajevo.  As I search for potential locations, characters and stories my attention will be more focused as I learn to observe and record even the smallest incidents.  Who knows what snippets will make into future books.

 

Author Links

You can find Victoria at https://www.victoriatait.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VictoriaTait

Blog/News: https://victoriatait.com/news/

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20373879.Victoria_Tait

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/vataitauthor/

Purchase Links – Amazon – B&N – Kobo – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oh, The Places My Mind Has Been

 by Paty Jager

I’ve been writing since I was a child. I started writing plays for our stuffed animals, then an ongoing story with two friends. When I had small children, I discovered I could make money writing freelance human interest stories for the two local newspapers.

My mind has always been filled with stories. It was several years after I started writing on a regular basis, that I realized I didn’t daydream about family members coming to harm anymore. My husband drove a semi-truck for thirty years of our marriage. Before I started writing, my mind would dredge up all these horrible things that happened to him each time he was out on the road. Once I started writing every day, those went away. I had put my imagination to better use.

My first book, let me rephrase that. The seventh book I wrote, was contracted by a small press. Yes, I didn’t sell my first attempt at writing a book. It took me 7 manuscripts before I had crafted a book that a publisher wanted.

Even though the first two books I wrote were mysteries, it was a historical western romance that was contracted. The book hadn’t started out as a series, but the hero had four brothers and once readers started asking for the other brothers’ stories, well, what could I do! The first book, Marshal in Petticoats, started the series titles: Outlaw in Petticoats, Miner in Petticoats, Doctor in Petticoats and Logger in Petticoats. Then I wrote three standalone historical western romance books. Improper Pinkerton, I had hoped to make into a series about the Pinkerton’s, but it didn’t fly off the shelves or onto ereaders.

I have always been interested in the Wallowa Nez Perce, the band of American Indian that summered and wintered in the county where I grew up. We had a rodeo each summer named after Chief Joseph, but that was the only time I ever saw a Native American in the county. Other than the ghost of a warrior I saw one day while riding my horse on the mountain behind our house.

Spirit-Box-Set1-3500x3420-1000x977My inquisitiveness started me digging into their history when agents at a writer’s conference said they were looking for historical paranormal. I came up with my Spirit Trilogy. Three siblings of a northern band of Nez Perce with blonde hair and blue eyes that turned red with their emotions (my research discovered this northern band), who had become spirits. They are shapeshifters. Through them, I showed the history of the Wallowa Nimiipuu, as they call themselves.

Historical Western Romance seemed to be taking a hit and not selling well. I was complaining about it at a Romance Writers of America meeting and one of the other authors said, then write contemporary western. I said I didn’t think I could. Lo and behold, on the two hour drive home from the meeting, a radio show host talked about how kids had used their parents’ credit card to order items on the internet. And Poof! I had an idea for a book. That was Perfectly Good Nanny which won an EPPIE award for Best Contemporary Romance in 2008. I wrote another contemporary western romance, Bridled Heart. They are both stand alone romances.

Then readers were asking for more Halsey Brothers. I decided to move forward in time and wrote stories for three male secondary characters who had been brought into the Halsey family. This is the Halsey Homecoming series. Each character is finding their way back home to Sumpter and the Halsey family. There is also a novella, A Husband for Christmas. This is a female secondary character’s story.

MayanWanting to write Action Adventure, I wrote the Isabella Mumphrey Adventures. She is a cross between Indiana Jones and MacGyver. The first book, Secrets of a Mayan Moon, she is in the Guatemalan Jungle. I became friends with a Guatemalan blogger who helped me make sure the book sounded authentic. I LOVED writing this character. She had three books. Then, again, even though the first book won the Reader’s Crown in 2013, the books are slow selling.

Mail Order Bride books became popular, but I thought they had been done over and over, so I came up with a sort of mail order husband series. Letters of Fate. In these historical western romance books, the hero receives a letter that changes his path and leads him to the woman he marries.

Ditto my Silver Dollar Saloon series. These are historical western romance, where the heroines are women who are taken in by the saloon owner when they are found starving, sick, or beaten. As they heal both in body and in mind, they find they can love and be loved again. They are redemption stories.

I finally felt confident enough to go back to writing mystery books in 2014. I wrote the first three Shandra Higheagle Mystery books and released them three months in a row in 2015. I love writing what I had always wanted to write, and I love that readers are enjoying the books. Shandra is a Native American potter. She is only half Nez Perce and wasn’t raised knowing her father’s heritage. This aspect made me feel confident I could write her because I could discover more about her family right alongside of her as I wrote her books. I have a friend who lives on the Colville Reservation where Shandra’s family lives. Number 14 in this series just released. It is set in Kaua’i Hawaii. I vacationed there last year and used it as a setting.

Murder of Ravens  The other mystery series, is the Gabriel Hawke Novels. Hawke is from the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. He joined the military, came home, and became an Oregon State Trooper. Fifteen years ago, he became a fish and wildlife officer with the Oregon State Police in Wallowa County. Remember that place from earlier in my post? I grew up in Wallowa County, I love the rugged, ruralness of it for a mystery series. And what better character to solve mysteries than a master tracker, with roots in the area. His forefathers summered and wintered in the valleys and the mountains.  He is not only protecting the animals and land for the law but for his ancestors. To be sure I had this character’s occupation written correctly, I rode with a Fish and Wildlife State Trooper in the county for a day. He gave me a notebook full of information and ideas for stories. I’m currently writing book 5 in this series. It is set in Iceland, a place I visited last year. When I discovered they held a large SAR (Search and Rescue) conference every other year, I knew I had to bring Hawke to Iceland.

As you can see, I tend to write what is strongest in my mind. And if they don’t sell, well, then I move on to something else. Right now, the mysteries are doing much better than the romance. My calendar for 2020 is to write only mysteries.

What genre(s) do you like to read? Why?

My latest release:

Abstract Casualty 5x8Abstract Casualty

Hawaiian adventure, Deceit, Murder

Shandra Higheagle is asked to juror an art exhibition on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.

After an altercation at the exhibition, the chairwoman of the event, Shandra’s friend, arrives home with torn clothes, scratches, and stating she tried to save an angry artist who fell over a cliff. Shandra and Ryan begin piecing together information to figure out if the friend did try to save the artist or helped him over the edge.

During the investigation, Shandra comes across a person who reminds her of an unhealthy time in her past. Knowing this man and the one from her past, she is determined to find his connection to the dead artist.  When her grandmother doesn’t come to her in dreams, Shandra wonders if her past is blinding her from the truth.

https://books2read.com/u/4XXLke

Author Paty Jager (2)Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 43 novels, 8 novellas, and numerous anthologies of murder mystery and western romance. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.

blog / websiteFacebook / Paty’s Posse / Goodreads / Twitter / Pinterest   / Bookbub

 

Jackie: To read my review of the first Gabriel Hawke mystery, see – Murder of Ravens

 

This article was posted for Pati Jager by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

Cruises Can Be Murder**

by Jackie Houchin

(**See disclaimer at the end)

Ahoy there Maties! Have ye sailed the Seven Seas yet?  What’s stoppin’ ye?  Oh… murder!  That!

In January my Hubby and I went on the most amazing 15-day cruise from Florida to Los Angeles by way of the Panama Canal.

What made it amazing?

IMG_5504The Canal transit, of course!! (#1 on Hubby’s bucket list), But the perfect sunny weather, the deep blue sea(s), the small, uncrowded ship (just 670 passengers), the funny and very personable Captain, the amenities (food, lounges,  gorgeous library, spa, pool, Internet café, crafts & games, casino, theater), our beautiful cabin with a balcony (oh, the views!), breakfast in bed, the lack of crowds and lines, the cool excursions in Aruba, Costa Rica, and Chiapas and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico were all definitely fantastic.

IMG_5214(Yes, we are in our 70’s, but we had a blast zip-lining in the Rain Forest!)

If EVER you go on a sea cruise, be sure to book passage on a small ship (unless you have kids). The Princess line has only one, and the Oceania Line has just three. And yes, they can and do travel around the world in 111-195 days. (I’m still dreaming of that!)

 

IMG_5638Imagine, if you will, 4-6 months in luxury, with everything taken care of for you, the occasional excursion ashore, time spent in one of several lounges or the library or your room, even out on the balcony with a laptop, with a bunch of characters eager to do malice, and a twisted mystery plot to direct them!

Yep, I could write a book on a World Cruise.*  (sigh)  Oh, yeah, writing and books, that’s what this blog is about…

 

Since we’ve come home, I have noticed the abundance of mysteries aboard ships.  There are the dark ones like The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico, Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, Birds of Pray by J.A. Jance, and Death on The Nile by Agatha Christie.  (Perhaps you’ve read a few.)

On Goodreads, there is a list of 47 Cruise Ship mysteries/adventures for Young Adults and Kids, including some with the new Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Kids.

And of course, the cozy and humorous mysteries; Killer Cruise by Laura Levine, Cruising for Love by Tami Cowden, Princess Charming by Jane Haller, and Murder on the Oceana by Elizabeth Martin.  Whew!!  With all that written murder, mystery, and danger, I can see why you might be hesitant to walk up a ship’s gangway.

 

IMG_5146But what about on OUR cruise ship, the Pacific Princess?  I asked the Capitan Paolo Ariggo several questions during our two weeks, but one of them was about this topic.

“I’m a part-time mystery writer, and I want to know, does the ship have a morgue and a brig?”

He grinned and in a very soft voice said, “Ahhh, yes. There are two refrigerators that could be used for that…” then in a normal voice, “but a brig, what is this?”

“A jail,” I said.

“No-o-o,” he said with that Italian accent and a quick shake of his head.

“So where would you keep a prisoner until the ship docks?”

Silence, then, with a laugh, “In the Captain’s quarters!”

(Yeah, right.)

 

The seasoned passengers were more forthright. One related this story.

“On the world cruise we took two years ago, there was a murder. Late one night on the pool deck (#10), a man and a woman, obviously drinking, had a loud argument. The man (he was quite large) back-handed the woman.  She fell to the deck and lay still.  He thought she was dead! (she wasn’t). So he picked her up and threw her overboard.  BUT she landed on top of one of the life boats. She did die that time.  They found her body the next day.

“They searched the ship. Everyone was called to their muster stations.  We had to wait there until he was found. It was two hours!  And when we docked in Aruba no one was allowed off the ship until the police had come and taken him away.”

Wow.

Another told of a husband being poisoned to death. They thought it was the wife.

I bet you writers are thinking of possible crimes now that could be set aboard a cruise ship. What would be YOUR angle?  How would it happen? Would it lead to other murders? Would a passenger become the sleuth, or would there be a retired/recovering detective aboard? And… who would be the killer?

 

Bonbon voyageRight now, I’m reading an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of a cozy mystery for review, Bonbon Voyage by Katherine H. Brown about the Chef being murdered. (Oh, no!!)

And I’ve recently reviewed Death on the Danube by Jennifer S. Alderson which you can read here.  Review on my Here’s How It Happened blog This one was a river cruise.

After the BonBon book, I’m looking forward to reading The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper by Sally Carpenter, and the humorous “geezer-lit” mystery,  Cruising in Your Eighties is Murder by Mike Befeler.

How about you? What is on your TBR pile? Have you got a mystery or memoir set on a cruise ship?  Or… perhaps you know a dark true tale that could be made into a short story or book?

Well, dive right in!  Launch that story! All aboard!

 

(Disclaimer: First of all, this seems like a very untimely post. I am so sorry about the unfortunate cruise ship in Asia and the number of sick people on it. I pray all those among the 3,500 passengers plus crew will recover soon. But please don’t let that stop you from an ocean voyage in the future!)

*A 111-day cruise on the Pacific Princes in a balcony cabin like ours begins at $60,000 double-occupancy.

 

 

 

2020 Visions For The New Year!

Read. Learn. Enjoy.

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

girl-reading 1423501_960_720Try the classics. Try some older writers. Try a new writer and hope they have something clever or interesting to say.

We are losing the language and our sense of humor and even our sense of right and wrong by leaving those books on the shelf. People are afraid to tell a joke for fear of offending somebody. Hey! The joke’s on them. They don’t realize they ARE the joke… and the joke isn’t funny. Suggest a book for them to read.

Some are eye-opening like Orwell’s 1984. Some are riveting like E. Phillips Oppenheim’s spy novels. Some are clever like Mary Roberts Rinehart’s mysteries. Some will stun you like Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan or the Barsoom series. Read. Learn. Enjoy.

What is your reading pleasure in 2020? Will you share a few titles on your TBR list?  Who are your favorite authors? What genre do you like to read?

 

2020 Reading Challenges

 by Jackie Houchin

And, if you’d like some direction, I have several reading plans for you for 2020. They range from DYR20 (Diversify Your Reading) which lists just ONE BOOK PER MONTH, but in categories that may make you “stretch” a bit, especially if you’ve been reading books in just one genre.  Here’s the link:  Diversify Your Reading Challenge – 12 categories  (Follow another link in this site, for the blogger’s 3-book recommendations for each category.)

Could you read ONE BOOK PER WEEK? (Whew!)  New mom, Mommy Mannegren, has a list of 52 categories for you to read in. You can interpret a category any way you choose (“a book with a senior character” could be an elderly woman, or a teenager in 12th grade), and you can read them in any order.  The 2020 52-book Reading Challenge

And…. how about TWO BOOKS PER WEEK??  This site is for the light reader (13 books), avid reader (26 books), committed reader (52 books)  and the obsessed reader (104 books).   About 25% of the book categories at this site are suggested reading for Christians.  (Read in them, or not.)   Multi-level Reading Challenges

And last, but no way least, if you are interested in reading the Bible in 2020, here are  23 Bible Reading Plans to Satisfy everyone.

 

 Wishing you the best health, success, happiness, and reading throughout the New Year!

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