Monday, July 17, 2017

Summertime

It's been a long time since I've experienced a true "summertime" season like I did when I was a kid. Back then, when my days and seasons were defined by school schedules, there was always the anticipation of summer that started sometime after Mother's Day. That was usually a signal that there were only a couple of weeks of school left and everyone was gripped with excitement when they walked into the neighborhood discount store (Winn's or TG&Y in my case) and saw inflatable swimming pools, swim suits, sunglasses, and "summer" toys and games--soap bubbles, water guns, pool toys, and snow cone makers. They all signaled that the school year was coming to an end and a seemingly endless summer awaited us!

Back then, things were at a slower pace. I don't recall many of my friends being involved in organized sports or activities that regulated their days. Sundays were the only days when we had something scheduled (church and Sunday school) and, during the week, we were only ruled by mealtimes. Breakfast and chores had to be finished before we could leave the house; lunch was usually a sandwich, sometimes hastily eaten at home or at a friend's house, so we could get back to whatever we were doing; and dinnertime was signaled by everyone's dad pulling into the driveway after work. That meant we had to get home, wash up, and eat, knowing we would have a few more hours of play after dinner before the streetlights came on.

Even during the years I was raising kids and homeschooling, there was still a clear delineation between summer and the rest of the school year--namely, no school! But now that we are at the point where the kids have outgrown school and before there are grandkids whose schedules include school, summer had taken on a different meaning. Perhaps it's because summer no longer means long, lazy unplanned days, where anything could happen or nothing at all. Now every day, all year long, work schedules keep us from a lot of spontaneity. Vacation trips must be planned, time off requested, and all the work our parents did--packing, making reservations, and all the attendant tasks--suddenly make us realize why we felt so carefree! We used to just get in the car and go! 

But summertime also is marked by the simple things that we suddenly realize we had missed during the winter. The grill is used much more frequently than in the colder months (though we occasionally get the hankering for barbecue chicken during snowstorms); we have more time for sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee in the mornings or a cold beverage in the evenings; flip-flops, tank tops, and shorts take the place of warm socks, sweaters, and jeans. In some ways, though it's far more subtle than when we were kids, we still get that carefree feeling of time stretching before us and only occasional glances at the calendar remind us that these days won't last forever. 

So pour another glass of lemonade, put your shades on, and kick back in a lawn chair. Labor Day is still seven weeks away!
Enjoy every day!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Two of the Best Friends a Writer Could Have

I've often reflected on how nice it would be if I had an extremely successful writing career, one where I didn't have to work a "real" job forty hours a week, one where I didn't have to look for places to sell my book (my agent would take care of that, but it would be a simple matter of picking which of the dozens of clamoring booksellers I should arrange to visit), one where there would be bidding wars among a half-dozen movie and TV producers who were clamoring for the rights to put my stories on the screen.

My chances of winning the $100 million PowerBall are only slightly better. And I don't play regularly.

Still, the odds have been very kind to me. So many writers have spent years searching for a traditional publisher, one that pays royalties. Many have skipped the heartaches and headaches and gone straight to self-publishing, only to discover that there are still plenty of heartaches and headaches in trying to get their work out to their audience. But I have been blessed; not just one, but two publishers have expressed their belief in my work.

First, thanks to the encouragement of "Pot Thief" author, Mike Orenduff, I discovered Oak Tree Press and Billie Johnson, the publisher who accepted my first Black Horse Campground mystery and subsequently published the next three books in the series. Nothing has ever quite matched the thrill of being able to use words like "my publisher" and "book contract" without using imaginary quotation marks!

Secondly, due to unforeseen health issues, my fifth Black Horse Campground mystery ended up being published by a different publishing house. With Billie's blessing, I submitted "A Summer to Remember" to Aakenbaaken & Kent, the publishing house that belongs to... Mike Orenduff!

One thing that hasn't changed is the unrelenting belief and incredible support both of my publishers have shown me. It is matched only by the support and encouragement from my readers. And in return, I try to show my gratitude by working just as hard as they do at getting my books out to those faithful readers. First and foremost is, I keep writing. It's hard, sometimes, with working a full-time and a part-time job, besides caring for my family, but I owe it to myself, my readers, and my publishers. They count on me to produce and I won't let them down.

I also take every opportunity that comes along to promote and sell my books. I don't wait for my publisher to find me venues to speak and places to sell my books. Library and author events, bookstores of all kinds, church festivals, local art events, any place that comes to my attention that has the remotest possibility of gaining me one more reader is always pursued. Sometimes it's a lot of work for little or no reward, but the reward comes in knowing that I'm paying my dues as a published author.

Yes, it's true: writing the book is just the beginning. Rarely does a popular author hit the jackpot on the first time out and very few authors make a cushy living solely from their writing. Whether that is what is in my future or not matters little to me. I am living the dream of writing my stories and having them published.

And I owe a lot of that to Billie Johnson and Mike Orenduff. You both have been a blessing to me and I only hope I've done my best for you! I am eternally grateful!




Monday, June 26, 2017

Looking at the Positives--What Keeps Me Writing

I'm eighty-plus pages into book 6 of the Black Horse Campground series (no title... yet), and, in some ways, things couldn't be better.

But things can always be better, right? I could be making a ton of money, have given up my day job as a cake decorator, and have thousands--if not millions--of adoring fans.

However, I choose to look at the positives. Though I have a small readership, I know many of my readers personally. And I know that they like my work. They are willing to pay for my books, not just get them for free. I can go on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble's website, and GoodReads and see my books listed (and not as self-published!) whereas that once seemed to be an impossible dream. My day job, though the fodder of many jokes, still gives me a measure of creative satisfaction and pays the bills as well, which allows me to spend time on writing. And traveling to book signings, where I get to meet a few new "fans" and sell a few books... perhaps enough to cover travel expenses.

"Seems like very little pay for a lot of work," so I've been told. Well, a lot depends on your definition of "work" and "fun". When it comes to the writing, work = fun... even the stuff that many writers (including myself) bemoan. The editing, the rewrites, the promotional stuff sounds like a lot of dull, boring work, but it's part of the process and a writer can either choose to let that overshadow the fun stuff and make it all seem like drudgery... or they can choose to focus on the positive.

Focusing on the positive sometimes seems unrealistic, perhaps sappy and overly sentimental. It's more "real", some will say, to be honest about the hard, thankless work, the long hours, the lack of success in finding readers and--the big one--selling books. However, I don't really think that focusing on the negatives will make the job any easier or more fulfilling. After all, I write for the fun and the joy of it. To me, having readers and seeing my books for sale is already more than I expected. Being a writer is not one of the most well-paying jobs out there and very few people actually make a living, much less millions, from writing.

What keeps me going is the satisfaction of doing what I love. It's not a job I absolutely HAVE to do in order to make a living. I have been in situations where I had to make myself show up to work out of a sense of duty and responsibility, mainly to my family that was counting on my paycheck, and I managed to make it through the day with smile. But that is not the reason I write. I could walk away from my writing this moment and it wouldn't make any difference in my bank account or lifestyle. I even believe that my family and friends would still love me if I did so. So if I'm not happy, then why do it?

But I am happy. And so I write....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting a Clue: How Suspense is Built into Books and Films--A Guest Post from author Vivian Rhodes

Today's Back Deck Blog post is by Vivian Rhodes, mystery novelist and award-winning television writer. Vivian will tell us about how suspense is built into a story and also about her latest book, "If You Should Read This, Mother". 

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I love good suspense, whether in the form of a book, a play, or a film.  Some of my favorite authors over the years have been those who have mastered the art of keeping me in suspense: Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Gillian Flynn, and of course the Mistress of Mystery, Agatha Christie. In fact, uppermost in my mind when I wrote my latest thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother, was how to balance telling a good story while keeping readers in suspense.

As far as films go, keeping the viewer in suspense entails a bit more and no one did it better than Alfred Hitchcock.  Unfortunately, not every director was as capable as Hitchcock, and often viewers could see things coming way before they were meant to.  Of course, many viewers actually enjoy the ride and figuring out the ending early on.

Do you love watching a suspense film and knowing what’s ‘around the corner’?  Many  movies, especially the vintage ones, offer the viewer plenty of clues as to what lies ahead. The obvious cliché, of course, is the young woman in the horror film who, alone in the house, decides to go down to the basement in order to ‘investigate a noise’. 

Ten giveaways that portend what is going to happen by the end of the movie:

1.   If someone is lying on his deathbed cheerfully relaying what his plans are for the immediate future, odds are there is no future in store, immediate or otherwise.

2.   If a questionable character poses the question, ‘Do you have any close family or friends, anyone who would miss you if, say, you disappeared?’ it would be best for our hero or heroine to proceed with caution.

3.   If we are only witness to a gloved hand committing a murder, the murderer is most likely a woman. (It also stands to reason that if a serial killer is not committing sex crimes, there’s a good chance that, here too, the killer is a woman.)

4.   In a mystery where someone has done something very, very evil, a look at the credits will often suggest who the heavy is even before the film has begun. (ie. Don Porter in older films and perhaps Christopher Walken in newer ones).

5.   A former bad guy who turns good and fingers his cronies will still have to die, but will die a ‘noble death’ (ie. saving the life of the heroine).

6.   If a woman lets go of her toddler’s hand for any reason (ie. to pay a cashier or to powder her nose) said toddler will inevitably wander into traffic with dire consequences.

7.   It is rarely the guy on the lower end of the food chain who is morally responsible for a crime committed. Usually the heavy is a man of influence (editor of a newspaper, politician, or corporate heavy).

8.   If a woman marries a man about whose background she knows very little, she will probably live to regret it. (This is particularly the case in films made prior to Google).

9.   If a beloved pet is introduced at the beginning of a murder mystery there is, unfortunately, a good chance that said pet will not be alive by the end of the film.

10. If a woman laughs at a furious man and he warns her to stop laughing at him, it’s a safe bet that the man, often a psychopath, will put an end to the laughing by either strangling or stabbing her to death.

            And of course, if a film ends in an intentionally ambiguous way, we can assume that the producers are thinking ‘sequel’.
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Blurb for "If You Should Read This, Mother", by Vivian Rhodes


Megan Daniels was only three years old the day President John F.  Kennedy was assassinated, but flashes of that day begin to trigger other disturbing memories that have lain dormant within her.  At first they are merely snippets, but as they begin to appear more frequently Megan has difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined. In her attempt to learn more, she sets out to find her biological mother, but keeps hitting brick walls. No adoption papers exist, and all she has to go on is her possible birthday: November 22. In the small town of Meredith, CA, Megan’s search takes on a dire, domino effect—one woman has already been murdered as a result of her inquiries. As she digs for the truth, Megan eventually unravels a sinister plot that began decades earlier, but in doing so she places her own life in jeopardy.





 Vivian Rhodes, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication, is a published mystery novelist and two time Emmy-nominated television writer, having written for daytime serials such as General Hospital and As the World Turns. Her Lifetime movie, Stolen from the Womb airs frequently, most recently in May 2016. Her suspense thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother is available at www.Blackopalbooks.com , and Amazon, and can be ordered through local bookstores as well. Her novel, Groomed for Murder is now available as an e-book on Amazon, Ms. Rhodes lives in Los Angeles, where she is an adjunct instructor at Cal Lutheran University. She is presently completing work on her next novel, Girl Obsessed, and writes about all things nostalgic- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled. (VivianRhodes.blogspot.com)

Amazon links: https://www.amazon.com/You-Sould-Read-This-Mother/dp/1626946957/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497895444&sr=1-2&keywords=Rhodes%2C+Vivian

Monday, June 12, 2017

What Matters Most: The Readers

Time and again, I have discovered that the biggest reward of being an author has little to do with money.

Yesterday, I was once again in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Treasure House Books and Gifts, a small, independent bookstore that specializes in books about New Mexico and the Southwest. As always, the bookstore owners, Jim and John Hoffsis, were gracious and genuinely glad to see me. Not because I'm a huge draw and my book sales make enough for them to close shop early and take lavish vacations, but because I really enjoy visiting their shop and talking to their customers.

This time, I met readers from Oregon and Florida, newcomers to New Mexico and mystery readers. I was thrilled and touched that they chose, out of all the books in the shop, my first novel, "End of the Road", to introduce them to my beloved home state and the characters that are uniquely New Mexican. Of course, it wasn't purely choice that led them to my books; they practically tripped over me and my proffered cookie plate (I've said many times that authors WILL stoop to bribes, including gingersnaps, to entice readers!) But I did my best to present myself and my books in the best possible light. One woman, an English teacher from Carlsbad, listened to me talk about my books and she said, "You must really love what you do."

Did she mean the writing of the book? Or the selling? It's all about the creative process--creating characters and stories that connect with readers. Naturally, not every person on the planet will be enamored of my books, but that's okay. My Black Horse Campground readers ARE my world and they make it a fun place!

A few weeks ago, my husband surprised me with a party on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, one of Noisy Water Winery's tasting rooms (where I work part time), inviting, not only my friends and family, but a favorite local entertainer. After his show, he joined us at our table where we shared wonderful wine and conversation. Somehow, the talk turned to my books and a lively debate broke out among my family and friends--Team Rick vs. Team J.D.! It was a delight to hear these people--people who genuinely love and care about me--talk about something that means so much to me with such enthusiasm. They even voiced my rarely-spoken dream of someday seeing my books on film, either TV or movie. Someone mentioned audio book versions and Chris, the entertainer, offered to voice J.D. for the project!

No amount of money could equate what I felt on that afternoon or what I felt yesterday afternoon or what I feel every time I sign a book for a reader. It's far more humbling and satisfying and I am blessed to have the opportunity to experience that. I may never retire on my author earnings, but the memories will last me a lifetime. That's a far greater treasure.


Meeting a new reader at a previous book signing at Treasure House... it never gets old!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Move Over Toto: More Pets Belong in Fiction--A guest post by J.L. Greger

I hope you all are enjoying a relaxing Memorial Day, but I'm slinging vino at a wine fest and fellow Oak Tree Press author, J. L. (Janet) Greger, author of the Sara Almquist mysteries, is guest posting about pets in ficton!

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According to poll of social media users, almost two-thirds of pet owners claim they post two comments or photos of their pets on social media weekly. Half of these pet owners claim photos and notes on pets draw more responses than their other posts.

Are these bits of trivia relevant to fiction writers?
I think there are several reasons for including animals in fiction.

  • Animals increase the appeal of fiction to wider audiences. Cuddly pets are a staple of children’s books cozy mysteries. However, animals are legitimate secondary characters in serious adult fiction. Think of Cat in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey.

Probably, the most famous fictional dog is Toto in the Wizard of Oz. A Cairn Terrier, originally named Terry, played the role in the 1939 movie, Wizard of Oz He was so popular that Willard Carroll published his biography (I, Toto: The Autobiography of Terry, the Dog who was Toto) in 2001.

  • Pets can advance the plot. In my latest thriller, Riddled with Clues, Sara Almquist is able to help solve riddles left by a homeless veteran and hence solve murders in Albuquerque because she and her pet therapy dog, Bug, are volunteers at the VA hospital and clinics. They know a few of the intricacies of the VA campus of more seventy buildings and are known by staff and patients. Bug in my novels is based on my real life Japanese Chin pet therapy dog. Just look at him. I guarantee patients and staff notice him more than me.

Come to think of it, the sheriff and his posse in Westerns couldn’t chase and capture the bad guys without their horses.

  • Authors can often show a different side of human characters by allowing characters to interact with their pets. For example, my world-traveling scientist and heroine, Sara Almquist, is a no-nonsense woman, except when it comes to Bug. Her cute, bundle of fur brings out her softer side. Asta, the wire-haired terrier, makes the rather stiff William Powell more likeable in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man.

  • Pets are fun to write about. I enjoy including Bug, my Japanese Chin, in my thriller series (Coming Flu, Ignore the Pain, Malignancy, and I Saw You in Beirut, Riddled with Clues). Besides being beautiful, he’s smart. (Don’t I sound like the typical pet owner in the survey?) Similarly, Amy Bennett enjoys writing about an ancient Black Lab named Renfro in her Black Horse Campground Mysteries.

Maybe, you should include a dog or cat in your next writing project. Or be creative and give your human character a more unusual alter ego, like a fish or a raccoon.

 
Blurb for Riddled with Clues: A hospitalized friend gives Sara Almquist a note, which he received just before he was severely injured while investigating the movement of drugs into the U.S. The note is signed by “Red from Udon Thani.” However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tale of all the possibilities, both are assaulted. The friend is left comatose. Sara must determine whether the attacks were related to events during the secret war in Laos fifty years ago or to the modern-day drug trade. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust besides Bug: the local cops, FBI agents, or a homeless veteran who leaves puzzling riddles as clues all across the VA Campus in Albuquerque. 
Riddled with Clues (both paperback and Kindle versions) is available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237



Bio: J. L. Greger likes to include "sound bites" on science and on exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Gift of Experiences

Having just celebrated my 50th birthday, I resisted the urge to write just another blog post about the passage of time and the changes one experiences as they get older and blah, blah, blah. What I actually want to talk about is gifts.

When a person celebrates a birthday or anniversary, the automatic reaction of their friends and family is to find a perfect gift, especially if it happens to be a milestone event (like turning 50!) However, as the years have passed, the attraction and need for material gifts has faded for me. Not to say I'm not pleased with receiving a material gift, but a lot depends on what it is and what it means.

There are few "things" that I really need and if I do need--or want--something, I'll usually get it for myself. I'm at the point in my life that I don't need or want material expressions of affection or just token gifts. I'm looking at de-cluttering my home and life and nothing makes that harder than to be faced with the situation where most of the clutter is from gifts that people gave you because they care about you. It's not that one doesn't appreciate them, but one does feel a bit guilty when having to get rid of them because they are taking over the living spaces, creating more work (such as dusting) when one is already strapped for time, and stashing them away makes no sense since one gets no enjoyment from a gift in storage.

One thing I've come to learn is that, as I get older, and house space gets smaller is that space for memories gets bigger. The kind of gifts I enjoy are experiences. This was brought home to me this past weekend. I wanted nothing more than to spend an afternoon on the back deck of The Cellar Uncorked, a wine bar/tasting room where I work part time, and enjoy some glasses of wine and food with close friends and family. This is what we did and it was wonderful, especially since my husband had contacted a friend who is an entertainer with a busy schedule and was able to arrange to have him perform at the The Cellar that afternoon. Wine, food, music, friends and family... it was perfect! The best part was that, not only did I get to add memories but my friends and family did and I hope they will enjoy looking back on this one as much as I will!

I think the expression on my face says it all!