ANDS, NONES, and THANKS

By Miko Johnston

Happy New Year everyone. The holiday season has ended, but the memory lingers for many reasons. Because of all the activity at the end of the year, I limit my writing to holiday messages and thank you notes, but as we always say – writing is writing.

Each year I buy five dozen holiday cards with messages ranging from Merry Christmas to various generic seasonal greetings. It takes a full day to pick an appropriate card and think of something to write in each one that I send to family and friends, but the annual ritual always begins with updating the mailing list before my husband prints out labels. Although I get together, or at least correspond, with many on the list, with some this is the only time of year we’re in contact. The exchange is a way to stay in touch, see how we’re doing, and send good wishes for the holiday and upcoming year.

Revising the list has become a bittersweet part of the process. In the past, most of the changes have been addresses and the occasional addition (marriage, children) or  division (divorce). However, for the past few years, most changes have been subtraction – the painful act of deleting ANDs. Don and Jean are now Don, Bert and Ruth are now Ruth. Some former ANDs become NONEs. When Don or Ruth are no longer with us, the entire entry will have to be deleted, leaving gaps in my mailing list as well as my heart.

The joy of receiving cards offsets much of that nostalgia.  I often get to see pictures of the family and hear about their adventures over the past year.  Some of the news may not be happy, but the contact always is. I set up all my cards along the living room and dining room windows, each one like a handshake, or hug, from someone dear. When I remove them in early January I take a moment to reflect on the cards that are missing, a reminder of those I’ve lost, either in body, or in mind, or who’ve just drifted away.

For me the best part of holiday gifts isn’t receiving them, but writing thank you cards. Like the holiday cards, it starts with finding the right card for the person to be thanked. I have an assortment of stationery with different designs, ranging from charming illustrations to an embossed THANK YOU. I favor classic white or cream notes with matching or coordinating envelopes. Then there’s the challenge of coming up with something fresh, sincere and meaningful to write, just the type of challenge I relish.

I always begin with pen and paper, and write out something I think may be suitable using the three-step method*. I play around with the wording until I’m happy with the results, then carefully copy it onto the note**. Unlike my holiday cards, I always hand write both the recipient’s address and my return address on the envelope. Only the stamp and the card’s design is pre-printed. To me that’s part of the thank you process.

Don’t get me started on how getting thank you notes has become rarer than a 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, especially from anyone under 60. However, when I do receive one I treasure it. After reading the note, I study how the sender constructed the message, admire the wording – heck, I admire the attempt! One of the best notes I’d received last year came from the grandson of a cousin, thanking my husband and me for a high school graduation gift. We winged the present based on what little we knew of his interests, but his note expressed such appreciation and gratitude, and so eloquently, that it didn’t matter that he emailed it to us. I’ll happily accept an emailed, phoned or texted note of thanks now. Frankly, some of my younger relatives can’t be bothered to even say thank you, let alone send a written note to us. Only my husband’s intervention kept me from giving them coal for Christmas. But that’s another story.

How was your holiday season? Did you receive any cards or notes that were especially meaningful? And what was your favorite part of holiday writing?

#

*Thank the giver, tell them why you’re thankful, then thank them again.

**I have dysgraphia – the writing equivalent of dyslexia.

###

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies such as the newly released “Whidbey Landmarks.”

Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

Time

by Jill Amadio

Having celebrated the New Year a few days ago I am still curious about one of its major symbols, Father Time.

Appearing in books, paintings, music, film, television, and even as industry logos, Father Time is often depicted as a character with his murderous scythe and/or an hourglass. Such images have been used to remind a reader that Time is a potential murder weapon with the hours running out for a victim, or signifying an imminent arrest.

Time.

It rolls along inexorably despite any means we employ to stop it. But wait! Writers sometimes change Time not only in their fiction but even in non-fiction that one expects to be factual and pure.

How often have you read, “Within three short weeks the memoir was finished.” or “It was the longest hour she had ever spent in his company.” What do these Time phrases mean? What is a short hour, 44 minutes? Or a long year, 15 months? How about this recently published mystery wherein the author blithely bent the passage of Time with: “She knew the hours would pass more quickly if she went to a movie…” How could this be? Obviously, it was her perception in play but seconds, minutes, weeks, months, years, and decades pass at their own pace despite anything we can do to speed it up or slow it down.

In his Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam wrote one of the most dire warnings about Time: “The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on. Nor all the piety nor wit can lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all they tears wash out a word of it.”   However, a clever writer can give the reader an impression of a faster or slower passage of Time through tension, the building of a scene, or a change in writing style with short sentences, even a single word.

In my favorite, faithful much-thumbed 1,350-page Roget’s International Thesaurus, of which I receive the latest edition every five years as a Christmas gift, there are pages and pages devoted to definitions for Time including Duration, Instantaneousness, Perpetuity, Interim, Anachronism, Infinity, Transience, and, rather oddly, Regularity of Recurrences, and a section devoted to for Previousness (Roget’s heading, not mine, which my Spellcheck rejects), plus many more. In fact, a cornucopia of ways to express how Time moves along at its prescribed pace in any situation and circumstance.

How do we live in borrowed Time – what does that mean? We cannot borrow, stretch, shorten, nor cut Time in its literal sense yet we bandy about this commodity as if it were taffy.

Shakespeare took liberties with Time in dozens of plays and called it a “common arbitrator” and, “a bald cheater’ which I prefer to read in its literal sense although he didn’t intend it that way. The Bard was also the first, I believe, to coin the phrase that Britain’s prime minister, Neville Chamberlain borrowed centuries later when he intoned in 1938 there would be “peace for our time.”

How about this one: ‘Time is of the essence.’ Taken verbatim causes one to wonder, which essence? Frankincense, rose water, or perhaps orange peel?  Or do we wish to convey that Time is urgent? If so, why not say so with description to match the action.

Metaphors are wonderful but sometimes they can convey a meaning that the author did not intend, or missed an opportunity to raise the stakes. How often have you read, “Time and again she pulled on the chain/rope/handcuffs.…”  Would the reader enter into a precise Time frame more personally and feel the victim’s agony and persistence more clearly if the sentence read “after six desperate attempts pulling on the chain, she…

All of which reminds us to remain disciplined because – Time is honestly and truly running out! Do you have a secret method for trying to cheat Time?

Happy New Year, everyone! Do not waste a minute of this brand new year. Write!

#

Jill Amadio is a mystery writer, novelist, journalist, and ghostwriter. She writes a column for the UK-based Mystery People magazine. Her standalone thriller, “In Terror’s Deadly Clasp,” is based on a true 9/11 story, and her memoir of Virginia Bader chronicles the pioneering of the aviation art movement in America. Amadio co-authored a posthumous biography of the singer Rudy Vallee, and ghostwrote a crime novel. She was a reporter for the Bangkok Post, Gannett Newspapers in New York, and the L.A. Daily News, and has written for Conde Nast, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Motor Trend, Air Classics, and other publications. Her award-winning mystery series features an amateur sleuth from Cornwall, UK, Amadio’s former residence before relocating to California and Connecticut. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Authors Guild. Visit Jill’s Website 

Welcome to Mystery Writer Maggie King

Hello everyone!  I’m using my normal posting date to introduce the second of our two new The Writers in Residence bloggers.  Maggie King will tell her story in her own words.  Happy reading!

My Writing Journey: Condensed Version, by Maggie King

Like many young girls I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew and the Dana Girls. I’ll never forget the day my mother brought home The Hidden Staircase after a trip to the P.M. Bookshop in Plainfield, New Jersey.

In sixth grade I started writing my own girl detective mystery and would read the latest chapter to my friends while walking home from school. They enjoyed my creative efforts (they would have told me otherwise; I have no doubt). I wish I still had those stories, for posterity.

(WOW! We wish you’d saved those early mysteries too! A middle grade treasure!)

Alas, I drifted away from writing, and it took a few decades to get back to it. I joined my first mystery book group in Santa Clarita, California in 1993. Aside from Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, I’d read few works by other mystery authors, and I was ready to discover them. Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Jill Churchill, Robert Crais are just of the few who became my favorites.

The women in the book group were lovely—almost too lovely. I hadn’t yet started my writing career, but I knew I was on my way when the what-if scenarios came to me unbidden—

What if these women weren’t really so nice?

What if this was all for show and they harbored secrets, agendas, hatreds?

But it wasn’t until 1996 when I moved to Virginia and took a creative writing course at the University of Virginia that I started writing in earnest. I didn’t forget those nice women—or were they?—from the Santa Clarita book group. I gave them backstories and they became the story prototypes for Murder at the Book Group, my debut mystery featuring Hazel Rose.

Two more mysteries in the Hazel Rose Book Group series followed, along with seven short stories. So far, all are set in Virginia.

Like many mystery writers, I have a strong need to see justice done and set the world right. Mysteries are the perfect vehicle for that. I serve conventional justice in my novels, but my short stories tend to be morally ambiguous, and the justice may be of the vigilante variety. I’m a law-abiding citizen, but sometimes I wonder if justice is better served outside the boundaries of the law. That’s why I write. It keeps me out of prison and my victim(s) safe. And I can create interesting characters I’d never want to know off the page.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever solve a mystery—and I have no desire to—but my sleuths can do anything. Just like Nancy Drew.

When I’m not writing, I take courses (including writing) at Lifelong Learning, work out at the gym, walk, cook, indulge my overly indulged cats, and come up with ways to save money.

(Please share some of those ways to save money in the comments, Maggie!)

Photo: Maggie with Morris

See Maggie’s newest book, Laughing Can Kill You, at Bookshop.org

For this book as well as all her others, see her Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Maggie-King/e/B00HR6MPOO

Thanks Maggie!  We can’t wait to read your first posting, February 15, 2023! Meanwhile, readers can check out Maggie’s BIO under the “ABOUT” button at the top of the page.

###

What to Cut Out of Your Story

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Gayle at Bill's House Sept 2022

Hopefully, writers are also readers. We really need to see what others are doing, not to copy their story, but to learn what works and what doesn’t quite get the job done. Thankfully, many writers have their own unique style, though I have read many books that were a tad too much like twenty other authors’ work. Even movies and television shows fall into that category of being like every other show or movie out there. Unfortunately, many current publishers and producers prefer to stick with whatever worked before and won’t venture into a Brave New World. Their loss.

But what if you stick with your original story and don’t want it changed? (1) You don’t sell it to a major publisher/producer. (2) You find a small publisher or studio that doesn’t ask for too many changes. (3) You find a vanity press that lets you do what you want but you don’t make all that much money on the deal, or (4) You self-publish and make even less money unless the winds are favorable and you actually get the recognition you were hoping for. People like Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Steven King, Charles Dickens, and even Benjamin Franklin self-published. Their books found fame after the initial publication, but they did start out doing the job themselves.

WIR. dollar-1294424_640

I have heard many stories about those who sold their work to Hollywood and ended up basically selling their soul in the deal when the entire story was rewritten into something the author wouldn’t recognize. That’s the name of the game. You sell the movie rights to a production company and just walk away with the check in your hand and don’t look back. Really big name writers can negotiate a contract that keeps most of their work intact. Good for them. Some writers might sell the first script/novel/story to Hollywood and if it is a huge success, even if it was gutted and rewritten, their agent negotiates the next deal and the writer keeps his next story intact. Sylvester Stallone didn’t give up his rights on the Rocky movies and it worked out for him. But that isn’t the norm.

switch3

So what does a writer do to keep her story close to what she envisions? If the writer reads a lot of books and watches a lot of current movies and takes note of what type of story any given publisher or producer seems to like, she might gear her story toward that type of writing. That doesn’t mean turning out a carbon copy of the previously published or produced story, but the writer probably should stay within those known parameters. And as I said before, lots of work out there kind of looks the same as everything else you see or read.

Now if you are as frustrated as I am with this nonsense, you will just write your book the way you want, try to find an agent and/or a publisher that likes your work as is. You might be willing to change something on the surface, but if it is a slash and burn request that totally guts your work, you might want to go to another agent and/or publisher, or self-publish.

So what are you willing to cut out of your work? Its heart? Its soul? It’s a tough question to ponder and even harder to answer. Think about it. Write On!

Typewriter and desk

The Most Fun Thing About Writing

By Linda O. Johnson

Hey, our blog is still here, and I couldn’t be more delighted. I was pondering what to write about now, and came up with what I hope is a fun topic: my thoughts about the most fun thing about writing.

Do I know yet? No! But I’ve gotten a lot of ideas. And I’ve been writing for a long time.

My thoughts? First, even if I set a story somewhere real, near me, the fun thing about it is figuring out what can be different, and what my protagonist can learn about it—and tell me! For one thing, since most of what I write are mysteries and romantic suspense, people can get hurt or even killed in those environments I find fairly safe in real life. So where’s a good place to murder someone where the mystery can be resolved well and quickly enough in a story? A real place? A fictional place?

Even more important is those characters, especially my protagonists. They’re not me, but they contain some of my characteristics. The character closest to me was in my first mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lexie. At the time I was writing about her, I was a practicing lawyer, and one of my Cavaliers was named Lexie. And yes, I live in the Hollywood Hills.

Other protagonists aren’t quite as close, but still had characteristics I like and admire. The spinoff series from Kendra was the Pet Rescue Mysteries, which of course contained dogs and other animals—and I was volunteering a lot at local rescue organizations when I wrote it. In my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, my protagonist owned a bakery for dog treats—and was owned by a dog named Biscuit. In my Superstition Mysteries, my protagonist owned a dog named Pluckie. And currently, in my Alaska Untamed Mysteries under my first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen, the protagonist, a naturalist, introduces tourists to all sorts of wonderful Alaskan wildlife, including seals and bears and wolves—and yes, she brings her own dog Sasha along on her tour boats.

And in the Harlequin Romantic Suspense stories in the various series I create, yes, dogs are involved. All my stories do contain suspense, whether they’re mysteries or not, and even those I’m asked to write when I can’t always include dogs. And they contain at least a touch of romance, often more.

So… setting is fun. Characters are fun. Killing people vicariously, and not for real, of course,  can be fun. And creating romances can be fun.

Plus, various animals are fun. Dogs are fun.

Hey, for me, maybe the most fun thing about writing involves one of the most fun things in my life: dogs.

So what’s the most fun thing about writing for you?

Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash 

Mind-numbing Numbers

by JILL AMADIO

What is it like to sell 10 million copies of your books? I found it mind-boggling until I recently watched the Jackie Collins documentary. She sold 500 million copies of her 32 novels. But, hold on, Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romances and sold over a billion of them.

I recently interviewed Jane Green, who wrote a chick lit book “for fun” and went on to pen 20 more romance novels. She’s the author who sold the 10 million copies, and every title was a New York Times bestseller. I guess the numbing numbers are all relative when you consider that many other writers’ sales are up in the stratosphere, too.

The way the book business is these days sudden fame and fortune can appear out of nowhere, even after you’ve given up hope.  J.K. Rowling wrote and self-published two books, one a Harry Potter, that went nowhere until a publisher picked it up from a bin in a secondhand bookstore as something to read on the train, as the story goes.

Fifty Shades by EL James, was also self-published as an eBook on an obscure Australian online blog site, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, until the novel was scooped up by traditional publisher Random House. The erotic novel subsequently sold 15.2 million copies. It is now a trilogy. Back in 2016 the original online publishers, two ladies, were fighting over royalties of the books in a Texas courthouse. It appears to be a tangled web as the plaintiff was a school teacher who claimed she was “done wrong” as Eliza would say, regarding her share of royalties. Which begs the question: why should the Coffee Shop blog owners receive royalties rather than a one-time fee?  My research failed to answer such questions, especially one on how Texas and the Coffee Shop, based in a Sydney suburb, became embroiled in a lawsuit in the U.S.  It sure sounds like a jolly interesting plot for a murder mystery.

Do I find it daunting to read about such sales? Do you? Should these figures encourage us to keep writing? Happily, I feel neither jealousy nor resentment. The more people are reading, the more they will buy books, although one is tempted to throw a few sex scenes into the mix.

Since moving to Connecticut and just an hour from New York City that throbs with best-selling authors, I feel inspired to keep going and in fact, I am resurrecting the Tosca mysteries between marketing the memoir I just published. It will be great to get back to creating a chilling murder after writing about aviation art.

There are book clubs galore here along the Eastern seaboard with Very Earnest Members, although I am still searching for one that discusses crime novels. Sisters In Crime Conneticut is a start.  I know there are some book clubs online but after two years locked up I am relishing attending meetings in person.

As for book sales, I think of the tortoise and the hare and I plod along, blessed by the fact that I am able to write as freely as I wish without worrying about numbers or having a publisher breathing down my neck. A local writer said his Big Five publisher made him change his POV twice, and another writer confessed she was forced to rewrite her ending to suit the Highly Important Editor. Thomas Wolfe is famous for arguing incessantly with his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about cutting his classic Look Homeward, Angel down to a reasonable word count from the 333,000 words Wolfe is said to have written, but it worked and the result was magnificent. It continues to sell today. As it should.

Your thoughts on the big bucks?

 

.

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

 

Endings: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Jackie Houchin

There are many kinds of endings – your years in school or college, work (retirement), the last chemo session, the last crumbs in the cookie jar, cereal box, coffee canister, friendships and marriages, letters, books (reading or writing), payments on your home or car, a movie episode or series on TV, the ink in a favorite pen, a headache or toothache, a lovely vacation, a calendar, a blog.

Some endings you are grateful for, some leave you sorrowful, nostalgic, or simply inconvenienced. And with some, you are relieved and satisfied. You brush your hands together, stand up tall, and walk away. You’ll “think about it another day,” as Scarlett O’Hare so famously said.

**

Of course, this is a blog by and about writers, writing, publishing, marketing, and even for some (like me) reading and reviewing books.  Writers LOVE to type “The End” on a manuscript, be it a lengthy tome, a 3,000-word short story, or a 600-word review. There is a sense of accomplishment. And as writers, we hope those endings appeal to our readers and keep them coming back for more.  As readers, we want to be surprised, entertained, and yes, satisfied that the bad guy got caught, the mystery was solved, or the romance was sealed with a kiss and a ring.

Can you think of a book whose ending you absolutely loved for whatever reason? Mention it in the comments below.  Or one that was the worst ever – so bad that you threw the book across the room, or directly into the trash?

If you are a writer, how will you end the book (story, article, review) that you are working on right now?  Can you give us a hint?

**

A few of us here have discussed the demise of this blog at the end of 2022.  Oh, we still have some good posts lined up for you from us six “Writers In Residence” as well as a helpful guest blogger in November.

We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Don’t just “massage our egos” but tell us outright how you feel. Would you miss reading this blog each Wednesday?  Or is it with a big sigh and resolute determination that you log on, once again?

If we vote for another year of The Writers in Residence, what topics would you like to see upcoming?  Are there guest bloggers you would love to hear from?  Is there someone you’d especially like for us to interview?  Would you enjoy some kind of quiz or giveaway (be specific!)?

Interests change, we know, and readers have less time to visit and perluse blogs. Maybe there are other venues that pique their interests or grab their attention. Is that you?  If so, please be honest.

What say ye? Please leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments section, or share them with any of us on Facebook.

The End

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

..

A Debut Mystery and Using Cornish Cuss Words!

by Jill Amadio

Mystery writers are often asked how they decided to choose not only the genre but the plot itself. My revelation for my debut novel came about when I moved to the United States. I’d been a reporter and figured on continuing in that profession forever. I loved it. However, life has a way of setting one down a different path than planned.

Balboa Island isn’t too shabby a place to live if you are banished to the colonies as I was. As a result of my divorce conditions I agreed to live in America with our three children.  A job on a magazine brought me to Balboa Island that is part of Newport Beach on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the ritziest coastal town in Orange County, California. A virtual village, quaint and stunningly beautiful, Balboa is a place where nothing untoward ever, ever happens. Many of the beach “cottages” are stylish mansions with yachts bobbing at private docks and everyone goes to bed at 10 p.m.

In order not to confuse readers or tourists, I moved a few streets around for the plot and changed the name of the island to a fictional one in my book, “Digging Too Deep” naming it Isabel Island. When I lived there crime was non-existent except for an occasional purloined bicycle.  In short, the perfect setting for a murder or two.

After ghostwriting a crime novel for a Beverly Hills financier who never read books but wanted his name on one I decided mysteries were for me. I’d created a series character for him hoping we’d continue, and I was paid, to boot. But he declined after a lengthy book tour including a cruise while signing my book. Thus I plunged into writing my own first mystery.

A terrorist plot seemed the most shocking event to wake up the islanders but after meeting many authors who were writing violent, brutal thrillers I changed my mind.  In my bones are the books of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell. M.C. Beaton and P.D. James whose gentler murders fit more into the solve-the- puzzle, cat-and-mouse games I prefer rather than the graphic police procedurals and private detective plots so popular in the U.S.

Like most authors I bring a few personal experiences to my work and I wanted to establish a series character so my amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, is from Cornwall, UK. I’d dumped her onto Isabel Island where she grumbles about the lack of rain.

I asked poet and professor Pol Hodge in Redruth, Cornwall who teaches Cornish, for a supply of Cornish cuss words for my main character. He sent two pages of unbelievably descriptive and naughty ones – just as well my modified translations aren’t too precise — and I got to work on plot and setting.

I joined Sisters in Crime and its offshoot called Guppies, the Great Unpublished.  I also joined Mystery Writers of America, another national organization. Both offer excellent workshops and speakers but as we all know it’s the bum-on-the-chair that puts the words on the page.

After the book was polished I paid a professional editor to give it a look. He said I’d broken most of the Rules of Writing a Mystery; I had not followed The Formula publishers insisted upon; I was too free-wheeling with my character’s humor, and I should start all over again. Fat chance.

Next, there was the dreaded Perfect Query to be created.  Queries to agents must be specific, beautifully shaped, and, again, adhere to their golden rules as posted on their web sites. This time I paid great attention, followed the submission guidelines, reluctantly whittled my prose down to the required three paragraphs, and made up a list of unsuspecting agents.

There must be five thousand of them in America. The list was so lengthy I went to sleep reading it. I finally got it down to 60 agents after spending weeks checking each of their websites, a time-consuming exercise but no way around it at that time although today one can define the search.  I queried six simultaneously. I’d already talked to two agents – at $50 a pop – at writers’ conferences which were so frequent one’s bank balance is constantly depleted.

No takers. I queried 45 before giving up. Many sent me form letters of rejection, two asked for chapters before telling me No Thanks, and several never answered at all. It was depressing but my fellow writers urged me to keep submitting. So I next tried the small presses that can be approached directly without an agent. However, a few of those too have strict rules – no violence, no cruelty to animals, no swearing (Oh, dear), and no sex. That last bit was easy. I was British, after all.

After three editors rejected me the next on my list was Mainly Murder Press. Frankly, I fell in love with the name. It stated exactly and honestly what it published, and was on the East coast where all the big publishers were located, a fact that appealed to my snobbish instincts.  MMP only produced 12-15 books a year and its site stated “Absolutely No Submissions Until Late Spring.” Gosh. It was only January and I was impatient. Then I thought, well, it may be January on the East Coast but I was in Southern California and the daffies were already nodding their lovely yellow heads. I sent my query in, claiming that where I live it was already late spring.

The very next day MMP asked for chapters, then the full manuscript, and one week later I’d signed a 3-book contract. They thought my book was “wonderful”!  All of their editors and beta readers (a new term to me) loved “Digging Too Deep,” and I was in heaven.  I liked the book cover design although I requested the flag of Cornwall be added unobtrusively somewhere; the font was fine, and I waited anxiously for their digital ARC I was to send out to reviewers.

MMP did not promote nor send ARCs out early but it did distribute through Ingram, which was peachy, I thought. This publisher also did not give author advances but paid standard royalties and mailed catalogues to 650 independent U.S. bookstores, and to 4,000 public libraries.

Alas, the ARCs arrived barely a week before the paperback was published. Most reviewers refuse to accept such tardiness so I missed out on many reviews. However, I did my best. I thought that the bookstore on my island would order dozens of copies. Ha! I took the book in, asked them to stock it, and asked, May I please have a book signing here?

Again, I’d done everything wrong.  I was told, No, no, you have to create some buzz first! So I called a couple of local editors I knew. After they reviewed the book in their newspapers I took the clippings to the bookstore, thrust them into the owner’s hand, and said, Right. Here’s your buzz. I also sent the book to my UK hometown bookstore but never heard a word.

Nevertheless, I lined up more signings. One of the most enjoyable was at the annual Gathering of the California Cornish Cousins, a sly move I admit, but I sold a lot of books.  Thinking outside the box I also joined the Cornish-American Heritage Society which holds annual Gatherings along with a pasty-toss contest. Heaven forbid a pasty splits open and covers someone in meat and potatoes. My second mystery, “Digging Up the Dead,” earning a review from author Anne Perry.

So, while I am still ghostwriting biographies for a living having just finished a memoir and moved to Connecticut, Tosca’s third adventure is underway. After all, I have only used up nine Cornish cuss words.

Now About that Memoir…

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

GlendaleEvent2018cropped

Several of us on The Writers-in-Residence blog have been mentioning writing a memoir recently. Maybe you’re thinking that it must be associated with people “of a certain age,” but frankly, younger people haven’t lived through nearly as many adventures, ups, downs, and life in general as we folks in that upper age bracket, so we do have more to write about, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start writing your own memoir now and keep adding to it.

But it is true that older folks have survived it all, the good, the bad, and what life threw in our path to make us who we are. And you want to know something else? We all learn from those things. I’m sure you all have stories to tell. So why not let others laugh and cry and say Wow! along with you? Your friends and family will enjoy reading about your life because they weren’t with you every step of the way unless you’re a Siamese twin. Younger people can actually learn things when they read how you became you.

And there is a bonus in there, too. You will start to understand who you are as well. There will be some things that you recall, maybe some that have been buried for a while, that will let you reevaluate your life and see that you were and still are a very interesting person. You won’t be able to change the past, but you can see what you did along the way. If there were problems in your life, what did you do to overcome them? Not everybody starts out a Rockefeller.

As for John D. Rockefeller, the head of one of the wealthiest families in America, he started out as a bookkeeper at sixteen in Cleveland in 1855. He sold and moved produce during the Civil War to the Union Army. He was an abolitionist, voted for Lincoln, and after the war when the need arose switched from food stuffs to oil. An oil glut had some refiners dump the excess in rivers and streams, J.D. used the surplus to run his refineries and turned the rest into other by-products. He wasn’t going to pollute the waterways or waste all that product. He founded Standard Oil. The guy had a philosophy: He said God had provided the opportunity to earn all the money he had made; J.D. didn’t mind making it. He also wanted to save as much as he could and give away as much as he could. He was a philanthropist and considered one of the richest men ever in American history. There were downsides to his businesses, but he did a lot of good in his life. But that is what makes people so interesting no matter what they have in the bank. The good, the bad and the interesting.

dad-and-meI had the opportunity to have a father in the United States Air Force. We lived on the island of Okinawa when I was 5-7 and in France when I was a teenager. I went to a boarding school that provided an education that exceeded my first year in college in Memphis. I switched schools because I wanted to actually learn something. To pay for my college education, my wonderful dad sold some of the French clocks he and my mom had collected while we lived in France. I worked a year between my sophomore and junior years in college as a private detective to earn money myself and to see what the world was all about. That was probably as important as the four years in college. After I graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis and worked another year to earn money, I moved to California. I took acting lessons so I could learn about the movie industry and especially how to write dialogue because I wanted to write for TV or the movies. I had a few scripts looked at, but none sold. I decided to write mystery novels instead. There is even a story in how that came about, but you’ll have to read my upcoming memoir to see how that happened. It’s a good story. Oh, I went on to write 24 books. I guess all this preparation in life laid the groundwork for that little endeavor.

I have a little saying that I wrote a while back:

It doesn’t matter what you don’t have; It’s what you do with what you have.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have been working on my memoir for nearly a year. I have over 40 scrapbooks with bits and pieces of my life from the time I was born to today. I even have my mom’s family album that I redid when it started to fall apart that has the family’s history in pictures. What a joy to look through it now with my niece and her kids. My brother and I still recall old stories and some of them are in the book. It’s full of pictures and memorabilia and stories of my family and me. It shows how I became who I am.

So when you are writing your memoir, even if it takes you a few years to go through your scrapbooks or diaries or old photographs or spend a few holidays with family and talk about old times, discover who you are and share it with others. We all have a story to tell. Frankly, we are all interesting. Write On!

From PI to Mystery Writer

A Do-Over Dilemma

by Miko Johnston

If you had your life to live over, would you change it in any way? And assuming the answer is yes, how – or more to the point,  how much – would you change it?

For me that’s not a philosophical question. I actually have the opportunity to change an entire life, only it isn’t mine. It’s my characters’.

When CAB, the publisher of my first three books, ceased operations, the rights reverted to me. I was fortunate to find a new publisher to accept all four books and after some consideration, decided to focus on getting the new book published before reissuing the previously issued novels.

I received my original publishing contract on July 4, 2014 for the first two books of the series, already completed, and first right of refusal for the next two. Six years later to the day, my new publisher notified me that proof copies for A Petal In The Wind 4 were on order. While I wait, I’m preparing the earlier three books.

I knew of two mistakes in the series that needed correcting: an engagement ring that mysteriously wound up on a different finger and a currency that wasn’t in use at the time the book took place. I felt certain I would also find some spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors as I reread each book in order, which I did and noted for correcting. I also found something I didn’t consider – signs of an inexperienced writer.

If you’ve read this blog over time, you may recall me saying my writing has matured along with my character Lala, and that statement became abundantly clear as I returned to my earlier works.

As a novice working on my first book, I lacked confidence in my writing and kept many aspects simple. I didn’t understand how to show the passage of time, other than having the characters go to bed one night and wake up the next morning. The idea of carrying a story over weeks, let alone years, felt too complicated, so my first book takes place in the course of a week and has a linear plotline. Very few scenes have more than three characters interacting, and I kept the language simple. One reader, who gave me my worst review ever (two stars), said, “The book reads like it was written by a child.” My protagonist was a child, “almost eight”, so I relied on subtext to convey some plot points. I will admit I found some of it overly dramatic.

By the second book, I felt able to carry the main story over the course of several months and comfortably handle scenes with four or more characters. In it, Lala is a young woman who’s about to experience romantic love for the first time. My reaction was similar to the first book – very dramatic, perhaps overly so. If I were writing it today, I would have been more subtle, but does the heightened drama and verbal hand-wringing reflect the character, even if it no longer reflects my writing?

Now I’m faced with a dilemma similar to what Lala faced in that book, when a ruse she devises backfires and she finds herself trapped. She observes what she fears most “…hadn’t taken place—yet. It could be stopped. She could stop it.” Ultimately she does.

What about me? Should I correct the mistakes and leave the rest as is, or make changes to the book to reflect the writer I am today? I can do it, but it doesn’t mean I ought to.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? What did you do? What would you advise me to do?

What will I choose to do? Keep posted.

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks.”

The fourth book in her series is available now.

Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

.

%d bloggers like this: