Monday, November 30, 2015

Food for Thought

It's the last day of NaNoWriMo and I'm hoping to finish strong this year (even if I don't make 50k words) and since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, food is still very much on the brain. Allow me to rerun a post about food that ran on the blog a few months ago. I'll be back with a new post next week!

Food features in a lot of stories... and with good reason. Most stories are shared around a meal, whether it's the dining room table at Sunday dinner or a picnic table during a cookout. Food, of course, is a major part of living and therefore it only makes sense that it is present in the lives of fictional characters. It could be as simple as NYPD Detective Michael Bennett (no relation!) in James Patterson's series stopping to buy a bagel and coffee at Starbucks or it could be as involved as a food-themed series such as Ellery Adams's Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries.

While I'm not a big fan of "recipes included" novels (though I do love to read cookbooks!), seeing a mention of food in a novel makes me feel at home. And sometimes, it's not even that obvious. Often times, because food and eating is a part of life, we take it for granted that, of course, the characters in a book must eat, too. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a slice of coffee cake from the courtesy table at the Black Horse Campground store isn't exactly an exotic culinary experience... but we can relate to it. Corrie whips up a quick meal of migas, a Southwestern dish of tortilla strips, eggs, cheese and chile, for Rick and J.D. as they take a break from trying to figure out who murdered the victim and why.

Beans optional, but in New Mexico they're a staple!

Meals also help pace the story. Think about it. Can YOU go a full day without eating? I've sometimes discovered that my characters have already put in a 16-hour day of sleuthing and it isn't even lunch time yet. While it's not necessary to list every meal or bite of food eaten, it sometimes helps to have the characters stop for dinner... and it gives them time to talk about the case, too!

Food can also help with the story's setting. Read a Mary Higgins Clark novel and you'll find references to Neary's, an Irish pub in Manhattan (which, I'm delighted to report, actually exists and now I have another reason for wanting to visit the Big Apple!) and meals of fresh seafood on the Cape and fresh pasta dishes. Read a novel by Aimee and David Thurlo and you'll have characters stopping for a meal of mutton stew at their home on the Navajo reservation or for a green chile burger at the Totah Cafe. Those foods and places are very particular to the region of the country where the stories are set. True, you could get lobster in Nebraska or green chile in Vermont... but it seems a little weird!

In the spirit of talking about food, I'm guest blogging today over at Mrs. Happy Homemaker. The owner of the site, Cheryl, lost her husband two months ago. Support of her site and sharing it will help her support herself and her children. There are lots of great recipes there and today, you'll find my recipe for migas! Stop by and, if you like, subscribe to her page and "like" her on Facebook.

Now time to start planning dinner....

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Writer's Life and the People in it

I had a great couple of hours Saturday at our local coffee shop, Plateau Espresso, with a member of my writers' group. Missy and I have busy lives with full time jobs and family and while we have always tried to set November aside for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it's not easy to find time to meet.

As usual, our writing sessions are more about touching base with others like us than about actual writing. Unlike most writing groups, we don't critique each other, or beta read, or talk about our works in progress that much. Perhaps it's because we write in such diverse genres that we don't want to lose our grounding in the world we've created in our own stories. What we do is encourage each other, offer each other advice on tools we need for writing, lend an ear when frustrations need to be vented, and occasionally help with finding just the right word ("lamp post" is the code word for situations like that... definitely an inside joke!)

We've each developed our own "teams" of editors, beta readers, and supporters, but none of those team members are actual writers. While they help us hone our craft, they don't really understand the process of writing and the struggles writers sometimes have. And that's a good thing; we want them to be the audience for whom we're writing. They don't have to know all the angst and deleted paragraphs and horrible first drafts we've gone through to get to the finished product. And while they may catch some important typos, continuity errors, and boring passages, they aren't the ones who come up with the story ideas, plot twists, and character development. They let us know if we got the job right.

Our writer friends? They're the ones we confess our fears to, the ones who know where we could go off the rails, the ones who keep us from taking the easy way out of writing conundrums ("Yes, killing the ex and framing the main character would solve the love triangle but you are NOT going to do it that way! You're a better writer than that!") They know what we love and hate about other books, they know which writers we admire and which ones we vow to never be like, and they know, they really KNOW, how we feel when we receive rejections, criticism, and praise.

I will always be thankful for the writers who have become my friends. Writing is a journey we make alone, for the most part, but knowing there are others making the same journey keeps us from feeling lonely.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Radio

Today's Back Deck Blog is a re-run from last November. I will be making a "return appearance" on Barbara Hodges' radio show tomorrow, Tuesday, May 17, to discuss my latest Black Horse Campground mystery, "At the Crossroad". My co-guests tomorrow will be fellow OTP authors, Lorna and Larry Collins. Here is the link to tomorrow's show:


This coming Tuesday, November 17 at 4 p.m. (Mountain time), I'll be a guest on Barbara M. Hodges blogtalk radio show, Red River Radio's No Limits with Barbara M. Hodges. This is not a local radio show following the farm to market report. This is a nationwide broadcast. Most of the listeners will be complete strangers who have never heard of me or my books. Am I nervous? No. Not at all.

Petrified? Oh, yeah!

It helps to know I'll be sharing the airwaves with fellow Oak Tree Press author, Virgil Alexander, author of "Saints and Sinners" and "The Baleful Owl", mysteries both set in Virgil's home state of Arizona. With my Black Horse Campground series set in New Mexico, the Southwest will be well-represented on the show!

I blame my jitters on the fact that this event is definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone. A nationwide audience is a bit more intimidating than a local one. Locals, by their very nature, embrace their counterparts. They're always out to support "our local gal". And I am very grateful for that! It's given me to courage to pursue my writing career. Knowing there are people who like my books motivates me to keep writing. And while I know that there are those who don't care for my stories, that's okay... I know not everyone will like them. But the "locals", like family, still love you anyway. Kind of like Grandma's tapioca pudding... it might have a few fans, but even the ones that wouldn't eat it if they were starving still love Grandma! Tomorrow, I face an audience who's never met Grandma and hope they like her... even if not her pudding!

So tomorrow, I take a deep breath and present myself and my Black Horse Campground series to what will hopefully turn into a larger readership. The link to the radio show is below. Feel free to call in if you're so inclined!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Writing a Series--Keep the Ball Rolling!

It's NaNoWriMo and I'm taking a day off to work on my next book. With that in mind, I thought I'd run a repeat of a post about writing a series... especially since book 4 will be out in a couple of months. Enjoy!

When I made the decision to write a mystery series, I had several reasons for doing so. One of them is the idea, touted in many articles and books about becoming a published author, that a publisher is most likely to take on an author who is willing to deliver more than one book, especially if it is a mystery.

The main reason, however, is that I love to read series myself. I love to immerse myself in a world with characters that become familiar as friends. And I love to go back again and again.

This is why it's important for the writers of series, whether mysteries or not, to keep the ball rolling and not keep the readers waiting too long between books. The average wait, especially from traditional "big name" publishers, is about a year. That is why you will find several "big name" authors releasing books at the same time every year (even though she doesn't write a series, Mary Higgins Clark always releases a new book every April, usually around my sister-in-law, Dawn's, birthday. Guess what she always gets as a gift?)

Personally, I think a year is too long to wait. For a reader like me, who can race through an eagerly-anticipated book in a matter of days (if not hours), a year is just too long to wait till the next part of the story is told. However, that's how fast the wheel turns in the publishing world. I'm fortunate that my publishing house can work a little faster and, in a matter of weeks, the next Black Horse Campground novel, "No Vacancy", will be published. This is a "mere" eight months since "No Lifeguard on Duty" was released... and it's still not fast enough for several of my readers.

Of course, one has to keep in mind how fast the writer can work as well. Not every writer has the luxury of writing full time. I certainly don't. But I'm just as eager as the reader to get to the next book in the series and I think that helps me to keep working on the series, to not keep the reader waiting too long. Because, as any reader can tell you, it's the waiting that's difficult.

Some authors have taken a long time in between books, sometimes even years (A Game of Thrones comes to mind immediately... seriously, George, six YEARS between books four and five???) The danger in this is apparent, as well as the benefits... yes, it's great to build anticipation so that your readers rush out in hordes to buy the long-awaited next installment, but you don't want to annoy your readers and make them give up on your storyline. If it's been too long between books, the reader may not want to have to go back and re-read the series to remember who the characters are and what was happening at the end of the last book. This is especially dangerous when writing for a target audience of teens or young adults. I started my nieces and nephews on a YA series a few years ago. The first book was published in 2008, the fourth book in 2012 (with a two-year gap between books three and four.) It is now 2014 and the fifth book is still in the works, with no projected publication date in sight yet. Those teens for whom I bought the first book are now adults and have "outgrown" the series without having seen how it works out (my understanding is that the author was planning a seven-book series.) Subsequent generations have the benefit of being able to read the series without interruptions, but will the series be completed if readers lose interest before it's completed?

This is why it's important for writers to stay ahead of the game and start working on the next book. Always be working on the next book. A writer makes a commitment to the reader with the first book in a series... I'm not going to keep you hanging that long. "Dallas" only made viewers wait about five months to find out "Who shot J.R.?"
 "No Vacancy" possible cover art

We'll be back in Bonney County in a few weeks! Hope you're all as eager to get back as I am!

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Tour of Ruidoso, New Mexico (Black Horse Campground edition!)

As I've stated many times, the Black Horse Campground and Bonney County, New Mexico are entirely fictitious and only exist in my imagination and on the pages of my Black Horse Campground mystery novels. However, in order to create the setting, I've relied on real-life places in and around Lincoln/"Bonney" county for my characters to live their lives. Here are photos of places that Corrie, Shelli, J.D., and Rick have visited or will be visiting in future books. I still leave what the characters look like up to the reader's imaginations!

 Mid-town Ruidoso, early morning before the tourists are out and about! Noisy Water Winery is to the left of the store with the green awning (Books Etc.)
Hmm... maybe my characters should visit Books Etc... they have excellent taste in literature!
 A nice sidewalk for a stroll. There are even places to sit!
Noisy Water Winery. Yes, it's real and so is the Jo Mamma's White wine! You won't find Shelli behind the wine bar, but you'll like the people there just as much!
Inside Noisy Water's tasting room. In the fourth book, "At the Cross Road", there are a couple of scenes that are set in this location.
 Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea Shoppe. Corrie and Shelli hang out here in "At the Cross Road" (yes, Corrie actually leaves the Black Horse Campground for a day!)
 Inside Sacred Grounds. This is the new location. The old location was what I used to call my "branch office", where I would go to write after work and where my writers' group would meet. I try to come here whenever I can. Great food, coffee, and atmosphere!
The outdoor deck (one of many!) where Corrie and Shelli have breakfast in "At the Cross Road".
 Beautiful statue of the Apache Crown Dancers at the Inn of the Mountain Gods by Mescalero Apache tribe member, Frederick Peso.
 View of Lake Mescalero from the top of the stairs, overlooking the Medicine Basket fountain. The Inn of the Mountain Gods is a beautiful resort on the Mescalero Apache Reservation near Ruidoso.
 Just past the fountain is Wendell's, where Corrie had dinner with Eldon LaRue and ran into Rick's mother in "No Lifeguard on Duty".
Inside Wendell's dining room (early in the day, before the candles are lit!)
 St. Joseph Apache Mission. Completed in 1939, it took over 20 years to build and the stones used to build it were quarried from Bent, NM (where I live!) four miles away. A restoration project was recently completed.
 St. Joseph Apache Mission, seen from US 70.
 The Old Road Restaurant in Mescalero, one of the region's best kept secrets and the home of some of the best Mexican food in New Mexico!
The Old Road will be a future setting for a scene in Black Horse Campground mystery... no murder takes place here, just food to die for!

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Thanks for visiting my neck of the woods. I'm blessed to be able to call this place my home!