Sally Goldenbaum’s Murder in Merino

Late September Vacation

It’s always a pleasure to read Sally’s latest Seaside Knitters Mystery because for me, living in the landlocked Midwest, it’s like taking a vacation at the shore. When I was a youngster, my family often visited several of my mom’s relatives who lived in New Jersey, if not on the beach, then within an hour’s drive. A trip to the shore isn’t feasible for me now, but Sally’s deft descriptions on page one take me right back there. Plus, contrasting details like “foamy surf crashing against the rocks or water smooth as silk” create tension, ever a plus in fiction, especially mysteries.

For the eighth outing in Sally’s series, the author has chosen autumn as the season–after the tourists have left Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, leaving one mysterious visitor lingering there. Julia, nicknamed Jules, Ainsley soon becomes a subject of speculation for the Seaside Knitters: Nell Endicott, the main viewpoint character of this novel; her niece Izzy Perry; Cass Halloran; and the lively octogenarian Birdie Favazza. Why has Jules decided to stay so long after the season? Why is she so interested in buying Izzy’s little house without ever having been inside it? What’s inside the locket Jules always wears?

With many popular series, readers get caught up in the personal lives of the continuing characters and enjoy following them from book to book just like we enjoy catching up with the lives of old and dear friends. Murder in Merino is no exception. Here we find Nell and husband Ben approaching their fortieth wedding anniversary. Will it go off all right? Izzy and Sam dote over their baby girl while Cass is shocked to see her boyfriend Danny Brandley standing too close to the beautiful Jules Ainsley. Is there something going on between them?

Personally, I also enjoy being in on some of the continuing, comforting rituals of these characters’ lives like the Friday evening potluck suppers on the Endicotts’ deck. The food is delicious and so is this lively mystery, especially when it plunges backwards in time to other folks that once lived in the little house Jules Ainsley longs to own. Why?

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 I’ve included my blog post about the fourth installment in this series. Originally posted on December 23, 2010, as part of the “fiction addict” series, it focuses on what I learned from A Holiday Yarn that helped me write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, the mystery I was working on at the time.

Sally Goldenbaum’s A Holiday Yarn

The Power of Thought

Not long ago, in one of the writing groups I belong to, my friends gave me to know that the pace of early chapters of my WiP is hectic. I’ve got lots of plot, they said, but I need to slow down and give my protagonist and my readers some breathers here and there.

By good fortune, at the time my friends told me “You need to slow down, Juliet,” I was reading A Holiday Yarn, the latest in Sally Goldenbaum’s Seaside Knitters Mysteries. This installment has a particularly thoughtful protagonist/viewpoint character in Nell Endicott.

As I read, it struck me that Nell’s thoughts and reactions are exactly the way a person not used to violence might react to murder, much differently than the police detective in Tami Hoag’s Kill the Messenger, for example. Nell is quietly unsettled by the murder and determined to figure out, with the help of her fellow knitters, who committed the crime so that peace will return to their little town.

Another knitting amateur detective leaps to mind, Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple. Like Miss Marple, Nell is an armchair detective who figures out solutions to crimes often while she knits. Over the years, though, Miss Marple has developed a type of wisdom edged by cynicism. Nell’s not cynical but thoughtful and quite troubled about what would drive a person to commit murder.

In more ways than one, Ella, the protagonist of my WiP, resembles Sally G’s Nell more than Agatha G’s Miss Marple. For one thing, like Nell, my protagonist is married though she has three kids while Nell and her husband are childless.

In the years of their marriage, Ella’s husband has shielded her from the type of abuse she experienced as a child at the hands of her stepmother and stepsisters. She’s forgotten about the worst elements of their torment, though they twit her slyly every chance they get, especially about her slight weight problem even though her younger stepsister is downright fat.

Once the plot of my novel gets rolling, the protection Ella’s husband has provided over the past twenty years is ripped from her, her children taken away, and she’s exposed to scorn, sarcasm, blame for a crime she didn’t commit, as well as to physical violence she’s grown unaccustomed to. The antagonists in the book give her lots to think about and to react to along the way.

Going back for a second look at A Holiday Yarn, I noticed that indeed it starts with Nell reflecting on the unsettling events that unfold in the book. Though this lasts only a page before we zip back several weeks and head into a scene with increasing amounts of dialogue, action, and some description, it establishes Nell as a thoughtful person.

The book continues for another twenty-four pages leading up to the discovery of the murder victim. Shortly after this, Nell literally sits down to ponder the events of the night before. Sally gives Nell nearly five pages to react to this event that deeply shocked and saddened her before the narrative moves into the next scene. Later in the book, though not at such length, Nell again takes time to think about what has happened.

Sitting down to think about a murder instead of rushing on to the next thing as my character often does strikes me as a very realistic response of a quiet, thoughtful person unused to violence. Besides the emotional and psychological realism they add, the thought-passages allow the protagonist and the reader to consider the moral elements of the crime before continuing.

And so, following the examples provided by A Holiday Yarn, I’ve already added a quiet, thoughtful scene between two action scenes in my WiP. Thanks, Sally G., for your model, and happy holidays to all who read this blog installment, the last of 2010.

 

 

Cinderella: Living Happily Ever After

Juliet Kincaid’s Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries

Cinderella PI Kindle Cover 2-4-2013bMost of us heard or read fairy tales when we were young or view Disney versions of stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We still can and do as grown-ups. For instance, Disney recently has brought us Tangled, the story of Rapunzel, one of the folktales transcribed by the Brothers Grimm and published in 1812. On television we can watch Grimm or the family friendly Once Upon a Time. As many of you know, I’m writing a series of mysteries featuring Cinderella as a private detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball.

How did I come to write these mysteries?

Well, back in 1996 at a writing conference I heard someone say that it’s very hard to write a complete story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This obviously was before the rise of flash fiction that typically tops out at about 500 words.)

Shortly after that, with this challenge in mind, I set out to write a story in fewer than 2,000 words.

Why did I choose Cinderella?

Now, at the time, I happened to have a copy of Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum by Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen in my office at the community college where I taught writing for twenty-five years. This textbook includes a unit on fairy tales, specifically “Cinderella,” the best-known fairy tale in the world. Indeed, there are more than 700 versions of this fairy tale including traditional versions handed down from generation to generation before they were written down and published by folks like Charles Perrault in the Mother Goose Tales of 1697 and literary versions like Tanith Lee’s “When the Clock Strikes.”

FYI: the earliest version that scholars have a specific date for–between 850-860 A.D.–is the Chinese story of Yeh-hsien, who had tiny feet. One of the more recent versions is Marissa Meyer’s Young Adult novel Cinder, first published in January of 2012, in which Cinderella is a cyborg.

But back to the start of my journey with Cinderella, I’ve always been intrigued with the “happily ever after” tag that ends many fairy tales. I feel that if you’re bored you’re not happy. So what would keep Cinderella from getting bored in her life with Prince Charming? I asked myself. And as a reader of crime fiction, I promptly decided that my Cinderella would be a private investigator. (I was terribly naïve about how busy Royal families can keep with their duties, causes, etc.)

Before I started writing, I made some technical decisions to keep the story short. These included using a first person narrator who could provide background information succinctly without sounding like a manual. Also I chose present tense in preference to past tense, so I wouldn’t get mired in “haditis.” (After I heard an agent say she never represented fiction written in present tense, though, I switched to past tense.)

Once I made those decisions, my Cinderella started talking to me, as characters often do. And lucky for me, she has continued to do so through twenty-nine stories and two novels.

Also lucky for me, the fairy tale provides certain expectations that made writing go more easily.

For instance, most folktales use the same plot line. The protagonist wants something. In the classic Grimm version of the tale, for instance, Cinderella, called Ashputtle in this rendition, wants to go to the ball thrown by the King whose son is in need of a wife. To get there, Ashputtle must surmount several obstacles. But never fear, she prevails, dances with the Prince and after a few more challenges, marries him and lives happily ever after.

I also had a setting in time and place. My Cinderella’s world is sort of like our middle to late 19th century. People still got around in horse-driven carriages. But once my heroine started talking to me in a voice rather like my mother’s, I got in at least a few contemporary touches. That first story, for instance, starts with “So that morning, as usual, I’m out on the balcony on the treadmill, trying to run off a few extra pounds. . . .” The treadmill is mechanical, but her obsession with her weight is 21st century.

The basic plot supplied important characters. In her happily ever after, Cinderella has a charming husband, but she also still has her stepmother and stepsisters, collectively called the Steps in my mysteries. She also has a helper, a fairy godmother. In “Cinderella, P. I.,” though, the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, and Cinderella helps her fairy godmother find her magic wand that’s gone missing.

When you work with such a rich tradition as folktales provide, often serendipity operates. For instance, in the first story I needed someplace for the fairy godmother to live. And what should appear in my head, but the little cottage in the woods formerly owned by the Three Bears. Plus I never quite know who will show up in these stories. For instance, when I needed to get my protagonist somewhere far away in a hurry in “Cinderella and the Usual Suspects,” she flew “Air Mother Goose.”

Along with the basics, the original story has certain logical yet sometimes unexamined elements. For instance, logic demands that our heroine’s name is actually Ella with “cinder” a pejorative prefix. Indeed, in my stories, Ella’s royal in-laws insist that the “Cinder” be dropped. Also, implicit in the basic tale is the story of an abused child and how she prevails over an unhappy childhood without losing her inherent kindness and sweetness of character.

One last thing, it’s logical that Ella missed out on her education and so she doesn’t speak like you’d expect a princess would. As a result, even as I wrote the last draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, I couldn’t always predict what my Cinderella would say and how she would say it. I hope she keep surprising me as she continues to live happily ever after in my stories and novels.

Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI and as a trade paperback: ISBN 978-0-9899504-1-1.

Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is now available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGXFB2W.

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mysteries is available as a Kindle eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI.

COMING SOON: two more story collections featuring Cinderella twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

 

Diabetic? Who, Me? Part 2

Not If I Can Help It

It’s been three busy months since I posted my previous blog about being diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Since then I’ve nearly finished my WiP, Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel; lost more weight–altogether 14 pounds or 10% of my starting weight; and dropped my BMI from 26 to 23. I’d like to brag that I’ve brought my waist measurement below 35” but I can’t. Still, several pairs of my slacks or shorts that once were too tight now fit comfortably in the waist. Others that fit before now practically slide off unless I secure them with a belt. This feels good.

More important, some of the symptoms of pre-diabetes that worried me three months ago have gone away. I haven’t had a sweet tooth fit for quite some time. My vision is no longer blurred. And I no longer have the scary pain in my fingers and left big toe.

How did I manage these positive changes?

1) I told people about my pre-diabetic diagnosis, both through my previous blog and in person, to friends and to strangers as well. From that openness came an awareness of just how many of us are touched by the disease in some way. For example, at a recent meeting of five people, one is pre-diabetic, two are diabetic and one has a spouse who is diabetic. At lunch recently, two of my old friends revealed they are pre-diabetic.

From my openness, I also received valuable advice. For example, my daughter and I went out to eat one evening. And when I’d revealed my situation to our server, he said, “I’ve been diabetic since the day I was born” and pulled an insulin pump out of his pocket. “But with this, I can eat whatever I want.” He calmed my fears of blindness and amputations and helped me make a good choice for my dinner.

Thank you all for your help, kindness, and advice.

2) I did some soul-searching. In my previous blog about diabetes, I mentioned my incredulity that I could have this problem. But a little reflection showed me that I didn’t always eat right, my weight was up and I was spending more time than usual on my butt at my computer while I worked on the WiP. Also in the past I added a whole bunch of stress in my life by trying to do all the many things required of a successful self-publishing writer. These tasks include writing, editing, and marketing through social media and producing blogs regularly. I’m even doing my own covers, for heavens’ sake. But around the first of the year, I had the wonderful epiphany that while I need to do these things, I don’t have to do them all at the same time! What a relief! I’m so pleased I realized this and removed a ton of stress from my life. And stress can cause diabetes. I also realized that it’s taken me years for me to get to that score on the blood test and it will take time to lower it.

3) I actively sought information on the subject. I went on-line several times to investigate it and also talked to some experts. For one thing, I made a follow-up appointment with my physician to discuss my situation. Something he said really struck me. In my previous blog I concluded that if I, an active person who watches what she eats, can be pre-diabetic, no senior is safe. When I expressed my disbelief about being susceptible to diabetes, my doctor said, “You’re susceptible. You live in America.” This stunned me at the time, but it’s true. The American lifestyle has led to record rates of obesity. None of us is safe from the threat of diabetes.

One of the most effective things I’ve done so far is visit a registered dietitian. Because I’m not actually diabetic, Medicare wouldn’t pay for this visit. But since my doctor had arranged the referral, the medical center charged a discounted rate. And it was one of the smartest $54 I ever spent.

The dietitian explained how the pancreas processes the food we eat, often less efficiently as we age, especially with starches and other carbohydrates. She introduced me to some useful products that will help me achieve my goals. And she designed a food plan specifically for me, based on my record of what I ate the day before our visit. Thanks to that food plan, I’ve been able to lose a pound a week steadily without the sense of deprivation some diets I’ve followed in the past have produced.

4) One piece of advice that I received soon after I posted my blog about being pre-diabetic came from my fellow senior and self-publisher, the radiant Edna Bell-Pearson, who said that when she’s faced with a problem like mine, she does something about it. So I’ve been quite pro-active in my attempt to reduce the threat of diabetes by very careful meal planning and by tracking both the calories and the carbohydrates in nearly everything I eat. This can take time. It can be tedious. I might not do it forever. And ultimately, I might have to go on medication. But I’ll continue attacking this problem because I have many more books to write, publish and promote in addition to Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Best, Juliet

 

 

Fondly Remembered

Memory as a Resource for Characterization

I’ve completed the almost final draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and it’s in the hands of my readers. (Thanks so much, Gail, Denise, and Barbara.) And I’m working on the cover. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’ll take copies of the current versions to my art class tomorrow for help.

In the meantime, I’m reflecting on some of the people from my past who have appeared with fictional disguises in the Cinderella, P. I. Fairy Tale Mysteries.

First off, a riff on naming characters, often a chore for fiction writers. Some authors run contests among their fans for the right to name characters after the fans, but right now I’m mining out my memories of the past in three ways.

1) The first two characters I’ll discuss soon are named for the people who inspired them.

2) Desperate for names for a group of four men who appear in Wings, the sequel to Walls, I recalled the last names of my mother’s brothers-in-law: Walen, Young, Johnson, and Morse. Ha! Nailed that.

3) Soon after that I realized that I have a resource of character names in the teachers I’ve had over the years. Since I have a Ph. D. and went to school for twenty-three years altogether, we’re talking lots of names. So when the cook in Wings needed a name, I called her Mrs. Swetnam after my professor in Romantic Poets at the Ohio State University.

And now to a tribute to three women important in my life:

1) After I left my husband and returned to Huntington, WV, my hometown, I found a job in the Acquisitions Department in the library of Marshall University. So I needed a babysitter for my very young daughter. And my former Sunday school teacher and longtime family friend graciously agreed to care for my child while I worked. So Jessica spent weekdays for the next eight months or so in the loving care of Vi Sullenberger and her husband Delbert, a retired clock repairman, in their little house filled with clocks. When Sophie, Cinderella’s youngest child and only daughter, needed a nanny, I gave her Nana Vi.

2) In the first Cinderella, P. I. story, written in 1996, later in “Cinderella and the Missing Queen,” Prince Charming’s mother was simply the Queen, but by time I came to write Walls, I realized she needed a name. Now, the Queen in these stories loves to dance and at one point, she taught it, too. And so I named her Frances after Frances Nestor with whom I studied the ballet and other forms of dancing for eleven years. Mrs. Nestor was my first teacher who was passionate about the subject she taught. As such, she made a wonderful role model for me as a teacher.

3) And now I’ll talk about my mother, Melicent Perkins Smith, called Middie for Midget by her family members and Susie by my dad and their friends. I was my mother’s only child and my daughter her only grandchild. But she was the stepmother of my older half-brother, Homer Dale Willman, Sr. So I got to see first-hand how a stepparent operates and how a stepmother in particular can feel that her relationship with her husband is challenged by the presence of another woman’s child in the household.

Although the relationship between Cinderella’s father and stepmother in Walls and Wings resembles my parents’ relationship before my dad’s retirement, I do want to make it clear that my own mother isn’t the direct model for Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s one very important difference between the two women: the fictional character lacks my mother’s inherent generosity. For instance, my mother went without new clothes for years, so that I could have the dance lessons with Frances Nestor that I so loved when I was young, the lessons that I still benefit from in terms of self-discipline, health and happiness early in the eighth decade of my life.

Thank you so much, ladies. You are all fondly remembered.

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Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is currently available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-0-4) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1).

Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories is also available as a Kindle eBook (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-2-8) and trade paperback (ISBN: 978-9899504-3-5).

COMING SOON: Wings, A Cinderella, P. I Novel, second of two novels featuring Cinderella, twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball; and two more fairy tale mystery short story collections featuring Cinderella, P. I.: Cinderella Around the World and Cinderella and the Holy Grail.

Diabetic? Who, Me?

Last week the nurse from my doctor’s office called me and said that my recent blood tests indicated that I was at extreme risk of developing diabetes.

My immediate reaction was “Diabetes? Me?” followed immediately by “Baloney.” Actually, I used a different expletive though it also starts with the letter b. My daughter used the same word when I told her the news.

Why?

It’s like this.

I exercise regularly. This places me among the 10% of Americans who do so. Specifically, I walk our dog 40 to 60 minutes a day, barring snow, heavy rain, or a polar vortex. I go to Jazzercise 3 to 4 times a week. I’m also on my feet grocery shopping 2 to 3 times a week plus preparing meals and cleaning up after those meals every day. I don’t watch lots of t. v., averaging maybe an hour an evening. I’m a self-published writer, but I try to limit my computer time to three to four hours a day.

I eat right. Those five servings of fresh fruit and veggies a day everybody is supposed to eat? I get those, consistently, and I’ve done so since I joined Weight Watchers in 2006. We’re not vegetarians, but I limit the amount of lean red meat I serve in favor of chicken, seafood, and pasta. We do eat a ton of cheese, but I take medication for cholesterol. We have a can of ginger ale in the fridge and a few more cans in the garage in case one of us gets the flu. But I haven’t had a Coke since 2010 and even then it was a Diet Coke. I haven’t had a beer or a glass of wine in at least a year. I read the labels on food at the grocery store, vigorously watch my salt intake, and avoid prepared food that has sugar of any kind. Before I retired in 2004, we ate out two to three times a week. Now I eat out three times a month.

I maintain a close to normal weight. At the time of that nurse’s phone call, I was about 7 pounds over my Weight Watchers’ goal weight. In the five days since then I’ve lost a couple.

Finally, neither my mom nor my dad developed diabetes in their senior years though they lived to be 94 and 87 respectively. (I am now 72.)

My conclusion after hearing the news that I could develop diabetes? If this can happen to me, no senior is safe.

Even though in denial, I immediately took some measures against this ailment I didn’t think I could possibly get.

I extended my dog walks somewhat and set the timer on my phone to make me get up from the computer every hour to do some household tasks.

It was painful, but I went to the cupboard and got out the wonderful Green and Black’s organic chocolate bars I recently bought at Whole Foods. “Here,” I said to my daughter. “Take them somewhere so other people can eat them.”

The day after the call, I got out my old Weight Watchers stuff, figured my 5% and 10% weight loss goals, and started tracking.

The denial phase lasted until I went online and read up on the symptoms of incipient diabetes.

I’m not drinking or urinating excessively, but a few weeks ago I developed an incredible sweet tooth.

When I took the eye exam during my doctor’s visit, my vision seemed blurred. This I ascribed to a faulty fit of my current pair of contact lenses.

Recently I’ve had considerable pain in my hands. About a month ago, my daughter and I watched A Hijacking, an incredibly suspenseful film. As is my habit while watching t. v., I was knitting a scarf. I must have really clenched up on those number 9 needles because the next morning my fingers were so knotted up I couldn’t unfold them without considerable pain. My hands are now pretty much back to normal, but for the last few weeks I’ve had chronic pain in my left big toe and some in my right that can’t be explained away.

As for the lack of genetic predisposition for diabetes, my mom and dad didn’t develop it, but maybe people elsewhere on my family tree did.

So for now I’m assuming that the test results were correct, tracking my calories, avoiding sweets, and gathering information. These measures don’t mean I’ve arrived at acceptance. Actually, I’m pretty angry about this whole deal. I’ll tell you why in the next installment of my blog.

AUTHOR BLOG CHAIN

Author’s Blog Chain

My friend Lisa Daly has tagged me to follow her in the author blog chain. I’m very excited about the publication of her first novel, Mystery, Ink: A Novel Way to Die. You can find more information about it on Lisa’s website: http://www.lisakaydaly.com.

Here are my answers to four basic questions about my work.

1. What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m about a quarter of the way through the first complete draft of Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel. (I’ve already written parts of it.) It’s the second of two novels about Cinderella, twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. In the first she’s been convicted of a heinous crime she didn’t commit and exiled far to the north of the Kingdom of AzureSky. And she has to escape the walls that confine her. In Wings she flies home on Mother Goose to save her loved ones and to set the Kingdom straight after a villain and his minions have severely messed it up.

2. How does your work differ from others?

Typically, stories about Cinderella are for the young. Mine are for grown-ups, though they often contain some of the whimsy, charm and humor that people of all ages like in fairy tales. Though firmly in the fantasy realm, the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories have a contemporary edge and are also mysteries.

Besides the Cinderella, P. I. novels and stories, I have begun publishing a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City beginning with January Jinx in 1899. In these books, I’m trying for a light approach to historical fiction. I include humor, let my protagonist flirt with a good-looking stranger, and avoid extreme violence.

3. Why do you write what you write?

The simplest answer is that I habitually read mysteries, so that’s why I write mystery fiction. My second favorite fiction genre to read is fantasy. This partly explains my gravitation to fairy tale fiction. (I wrote “Cinderella, P. I.,” the first story in the series in 1996, long before the debut of Once Upon a Time and Grimm on television.)

The longer and more complex answer is that I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction that allows me to escape from my fairly pedestrian life, that is, to go on adventures in faraway places, long-ago times, and never-never-lands with characters I can identify with. I don’t like being in the heads of creepy people and I prefer happy endings to sad ones. I enjoy humor and wit. And I try to write the same sorts of fiction as I like to read.

4. How does your writing process work?

As a retired teacher of writing, ironically I find this question a little hard to answer. I guess this is because what gets me started on a story can be so mysterious. For instance, I wrote the first Cinderella, P. I. story as an experiment. I’d been to a writers’ conference and heard someone say it’s very hard to write a complete short story in fewer than 2,000 words. (This was before the rise of flash fiction.) So I decided to try to write one. I fixed on Cinderella as a protagonist because a textbook I used in a course I taught had eight different versions of the fairy tale. Plus I was intrigued with “happily ever after.” To my mind, if you’re bored, you can’t be happy, so what could Cinderella do twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball that would keep her busy instead of bored? Well, solve cases. I decided to use first person, so any exposition would sound like dialogue, and present tense to avoid using “had” too often. Then of course, my Ella started talking to me, and the story took off.

A few pointed questions help me on my way. Here they are and in the order I like to ask them. Who wants (or needs) what? Does (s)he succeed? [“Yes” and “no” are less fun than “yes but” and “no but.”] What obstacles can I throw in this individual’s path?

Once I get tentative answers to these questions, I start shaping the plot according to standard plot structure described in books like Robert J. Ray’s The Weekend Novelist: Part 1, the Set-up; Part 2, the Development; and Part 3, the Resolution. Part 1 needs a hook to start the story and to grab the reader’s attention and plot point one to set up Part 2; Part 2 needs to develop the set-up plus a midpoint or turning point and plot point two to set up the ending in Part 2; Part 3 needs a crisis and a resolution/denouement. When I have only a few obstacles, aka plot complications, I write a story. Lots of obstacles and I write a novel.

Once I’m involved in a project like Wings, I try to work on it everyday so I don’t lose my momentum. Also, I try to follow the common advice to write the initial draft from start to finish as fast as I can. The revising process takes longer as I do lots of revisions, often attacking different issues in different drafts. For example, I try to fill “plot holes” in earlier drafts and work on style including readability in later ones. Early drafts go fairly slow. Later ones can go very fast.

You know what? There is another question, sort of a Question 3b. Why do you write? My answer? Writing makes me happy. It’s as simple as that.

You can buy Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon.

It’s my pleasure to end my contribution to this Authors’ Blog Chain by tagging my friend Theresa Hupp.

MTHupp pic

Theresa is a writer of fiction (novels and short stories), essays and poetry.  She is currently working on a series of novels about the Oregon Trail in 1847 and life in Oregon and California during the Gold Rush. You’ll have to read her post next week to find out why she is writing historical fiction on this era of American history. She has worked as an attorney, a mediator, and a Human Resources executive and consultant. You can follow her blog, Story and History, at http://mthupp.wordpress.com/ or follow her on Facebook at Theresa Hupp, Author, at https://www.facebook.com/TheresaHuppAuthor

Theresa is the author of Family Recipe, a collection of essays, stories, and poems about family life.

Family Recipe cover Hupp

 http://www.amazon.com/Family-Recipe-stories-essays-families/dp/0985324406/ref=la_B009H8QIT8_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392327751&sr=1-2

 

 

 

COVER STORY (Part 2)

DIY Covers for Self-Publishers

1. For the cover of January Jinx, the first in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, I needed an image to work from. And I’d already decided I wanted something distinctive. This meant clip art was out. And if I was to have half a chance of making money, I couldn’t hire anyone to do it.

Luckily, when I started researching my calendar mysteries, I bought a bunch of Dover books. These included Victorian Fashion in America, edited by Kristina Harris. Among the vintage photos was this one:

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With some cropping, it would fit inside a frame neatly and so I would avoid the kind of linear design that had caused Cinderella on the covers of some of my fairy tale mysteries to lose her head and legs in thumbnails. Plus, I loved this young woman’s cocky pose. Still, I decided not to include the bow tie, as jaunty as it was. And her hat was much too big and fancy for my protagonist’s workday hat. So I used this hat as a model instead.

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And finally, I wanted to use my own grandmother’s face rather than that of the charmer in the first reference photo.

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(This is Juliet Perkins Smith for whom I’m named.)

2. On the basis of these decisions, I set to work on the cover of January Jinx.

I did a number of color tests to get the right color for Minty Wilcox’s garnet red suit. Here’s a sample of a color text.

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I laid out the cover to fit a 6″ by 9″ format so I wouldn’t need to do too much in Photoshop. I played with fonts, printed samples, and decided on Trajan Pro. The photo below shows an early version of my cover layout.

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Then I ran into trouble with the frame. I did the outside edges, but I couldn’t figure out how to do the inside points. I asked for help from Barbara O’Leary, my art teacher, who said, “It’s just geometry, Juliet.” Waving my hands hysterically, I shouted, “Do you know how long it’s been since I had geometry?” Once Barbara showed me how, I quickly finished the frame.

Next I transferred my reference photo to my watercolor paper. Now, my mode of doing this is crude. I make a photocopy, reducing or enlarging as I need to. Then I cut the image out and draw around it on my paper. Finally, I refine the image with pencil.

Here’s where I ran into trouble, lots of it, on my model’s right hand, the chair, and the girl’s face. With such a small painting, her eyes were barely an eighth of an inch wide. So even the tiniest slip of the pencil tip made them cross. But the principle of simplifying held me in good stead with all three problems. Minty’s face ended up not looking much like my grandmother’s, though.

The actual painting went along well except I accidentally got Alizarin Crimson a few places where I didn’t want it. Mostly I fixed those glitches with the brush, but one I left to fix in Photoshop. Here’s a photo of the cover in progress showing my pattern and the suit with a Payne’s Grey undercoat.

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(I cut out a copy of my grandmother’s face and taped it to the copy of the first reference photo.)

3. Using Photoshop I completed the cover. By the time I did the cover of January Jinx, I already knew how to crop a simple image, to insert text, to adjust image size, and save a cover as a jpg file. To these skills and with advice of three different people, I added correcting images to my Photoshop skills. And so I removed the extra bit of Alizarin Crimson from the top inside of the frame. Here’s the finished cover.

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As usual during the process of publishing my own work, I learned a lesson. Reducing an image to such a small size creates problems like the one I had with Minty’s eyes. So the next time I do a cover I plan on painting the image larger and reducing it in Photoshop. I have the skills for that, I think.

By now you might be asking why I go to all this trouble doing my own covers to save some money. The answer’s simple. The covers of my books and stories may seem a little amateurish, but they look like no one else’s. They stand out among other books on Amazon sell pages and on bookstore shelves.

January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) and the trade paperback is coming soon. You can buy also Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback.

 

Cover Story (Part 1)

Lessons Learned

By the time I needed a cover for January Jinx, a light-hearted historical mystery set in Kansas City around 1900, I’d already done cover illustrations and design for several stories and two books, plus the theme for my website.

Here are some of the lessons I’d learned.

1. If I had any chance of making money publishing and selling my work, I couldn’t keep hiring help. I had to learn to do everything myself. For example, I paid a friend $150 to clean up the cover painting for my award-winning short story “Cinderella, P. I.” He also added the text to it and created the files needed to publish the story as a Kindle eBook. At 35% of $0.99, it would take 432.9 sales to recoup that expense. (I’m not there yet.)

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2. From the trouble that my friend had cleaning up the image for the first cover in Photoshop, I learned that I needed to create as clean an image as possible with pencil and paint. (Didn’t he do a great job, though?)

3. I paid my friend another $50 to complete the cover of the second short story “Cinderella, Undercover.” (I haven’t made that $50 back either.)

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My daughter helped me add the frame and text in Photoshop to the cover of the third story, “Cinderella’s Giant Case.”

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But she’s very busy with her own work, so I hesitate to ask her for too many favors. So I knew that sooner or later I needed to master some basic aspects of Photoshop. This I resisted for a long time by making copies of the cover paintings, printing the text onto the copies, and formatting these as jpgs in Photoshop. But in this process the colors faded, and I lost details, especially on the cover of Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

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And before I continue, I want to thank my daughter for her help with the cover of “Cinderella’s Giant Case” and GK for his help with the two covers and for all his generous freebies later on, especially when I’d passed into hi-tec anxiety and sat stooped, twitching with frustration, over my keyboard.

4. Gradually I learned, mostly because of my limited graphic arts skills, to keep the cover images simple with the overall design fitting a 6” by 9” format and to limit the contents of a cover to the title, the image, and my name.

5. Here are two lessons about cover design I learned that I sort of wish I didn’t have to know: It’s not a good idea to use an extremely vertical cover image of my p. i. because Facebook whacks her head and feet off when it posts the thumbnail of the cover. It’s also not a good idea to have a really horizontal image like the one I did of Cinderella for my website because Facebook chops her off at the shoulders and hips.

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I’ll leave you with that grisly image in your mind until next time.

Meanwhile you can buy the three stories I’ve mentioned individually as Kindle eBooks or these stories plus nine more in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or trade paperback. Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel is also available as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) and trade paperback. January Jinx is now available as a Kindle eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4) as well.

Best, Juliet

Beating Myself Up for No Good Reason

AKA Some New Year’s Resolutions

When I retired in May 2004, I immediately got cracking on my long-time dream of becoming a full-time writer. I started with an ambitious project: a dozen historical mystery novels set in Kansas City beginning in 1899 with January Jinx and ending with Deadly December in 1910, the year my mother was born. This project went great guns. And by spring 2007, I’d outlined the whole series, brainstormed thirty-six possible titles with my daughter’s help, researched and put the first book through seven drafts, and researched and drafted the second, Fatal February.

But a weird thing happened in April 2007 when I went to a book signing with a writer whose work I’ve come to admire. At that time, this author was well along in her contemporary mystery series, which still continues. With her husband she’d written most of a historical series set in Victorian and Edwardian England. On her own, she’d started another historical mystery series featuring a well-known, beloved children’s author.

Thinking that she’d be encouraging to another historical mystery novelist, I went up to her with one of her books in hand for her to sign. But when I told her I was writing a series of mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, far from being encouraging, she dumped all the bad things about writing historical mysteries on me. People will criticize your research, she said, and the market for these books is small.

And I bought it. I accepted her wisdom as gospel. I decided that my hard work wasn’t good enough and that I might as well quit before I wasted any more time on it. I didn’t tell her about my Ph. D. in English literature, which says more than a little something about my research skills. I didn’t mention my experience teaching hundreds of college students how to do research and put their information together in readable papers. I didn’t tell her about the dozens of stories and nine novels I’d already completed.

Basically, I assumed that given the poor market for historical fiction, the project was worthless. So I abandoned it. Not only that, but I went into a funk and didn’t write fiction at all for two years. A long time for a fiction addict like I am. This and some other set-backs caused me to fall into a depression that I didn’t come out of until I got excited about writing fiction again in May 2009, a full five years after I retired.

But a funny thing happened this past autumn while I was busily self-publishing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and Cinderella, P. I. and other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories. I started thinking about how January was coming around again and wouldn’t it be great if I could bring January Jinx out in January 2014? If it was any good, of course.

So I pulled up the file and started reading. And you know what? I’d forgotten how much fun that book was and what a good job I’d done in incorporating the research without letting it bog the story down. Not just taking my own assessment for its merits, I asked my dear friend and art teacher, Barbara O’Leary to look at it again. She too found it to be lots of fun.

And so I’ve resolved to quit making the same old mistakes about my writing that I’ve made over the last twenty-five years.

Here are some of my specific resolutions for 2014.

1) I resolve to quit beating myself up for no good reason and equating a project’s potential low sales to its merit. After all, selling is hard for everyone these days. Consider, for example, the way Charlie Lovett’s agent couldn’t get an American publisher interested in The Bookman’s Tale until the agent had already sold Charlie’s excellent first mystery novel in eight foreign markets.

2) I resolve to have more confidence in my abilities. By the way, I’m not alone in being dogged by a lack of confidence. Recently, I found out from one of Louise Penny’s Facebook posts that she suffers from the same thing in spite of the way her Inspector Gamache novels keep racking up awards. She gets out of her funks and gets going again. So should I.

3) I resolve not to abandon any more projects until I’m sure they’re not worthwhile. This resolution includes work I’ve already published that I’m not marketing assertively enough.

4) I resolve to go back to projects that I abandoned. These include a big epic novel set in Ancient China around 200 B.C. It features. . . . I’m considering giving it a fantasy twist like George R. R. Martin has done to British history in. . . . Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to finish Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

This all means I’d better get cracking, especially since I need to clean and reorganize my study, so I can find the hard copies of my orphans and the research materials that went into them.

In the meantime, you can read Walls as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-4-2).

And after resolving my issues with the cover, I’m pleased to announce that January Jinx, the first Calendar Mystery, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago when living could get deadly, is now available for Kindle. (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4).

Best, Juliet

(This isn’t the final version of the cover.)

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Should You Self-Publish?

Earlier this month, when the wonderful Mysteryscape Bookstore held a Local Author Fair, a baker’s dozen of self-published and small-press-published writers came together to promote and sell their books. During the afternoon, as I sat there behind a display of my books, a tall, dark-haired young man asked me if he should self-publish his novel when he finished it. “Or should I try to get an agent?”

I couldn’t answer either question, certainly not with an unequivocal “yes” or “no.” Too much involved. When I taught Creative Writing, for instance, I spent an entire unit on marketing.

Now I’ve had time to think about his first question and to reflect on what I’ve learned this year as a publisher of my own fiction. And I have to say, “Don’t be in such a hurry, young man. Give yourself time to learn your craft and pay your dues. As the sayings go, it takes ten years to become a writer; you need to spend 10,000 hours on any art or craft to master it; you must write a million words to learn how to write. So, the novel you self-publish now probably isn’t the best book you could write. You might not want it out there embarrassing you as you continue your career.” This sounds like good advice for a young writer to me.

But what if you’re not such a young writer? What if you’ve been writing for at least ten years, spent at least 10,000 hours mastering the art and craft of writing, written at least a million words? That is, what if you’re more like me? I wrote my first novel nearly forty years ago, and I’ve been writing fiction steadily since 1986 when I drafted my second and third novels. I’ve completed ten novels and forty to fifty short stories. (I don’t have time to count my poems, nonfiction pieces, and the journal entries that fill well over a hundred notebooks.) Now retired, I try to write 20 to 30 hours a week.

As for the young man’s second question, from time to time over the last twenty-five years or so, I’ve attempted to get an agent, and I haven’t managed to interest any. Actually, I take that back. I did interest a couple, but neither of those nice ladies sold the project she submitted to publishers for me. And now the whole process has become demoralizing. The rejection depresses me, makes me doubt the worth of my work, and interferes with my writing. So I’m not doing it anymore.

I’m not alone in that decision. At the Local Author Fair where the young man asked his two questions, I sat next to Edna Bell-Pearson, author of the self-published Fragile Hopes, Transient Dreams and Other Stories, selected as one of 150 best Kansas books. A senior as I am, Edna observed that she simply didn’t have the time “to fool with those people.”

And so, though the technical aspects of publishing my own work can make me exceedingly anxious and the marketing aspects of being my own publisher like tweeting, branching out, linking in and befriending folk also take time away from my writing, I will continue to self-publish. Why? For one thing, I hope that the same time-on-task that made me a writer will also make me more comfortable with publishing and promoting.

And I already have lots of well-written fiction to bring to you, dear reader. This includes January Jinx, the first book in a series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. Look for it next month. Meanwhile you can read Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or in print (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and twelve stories that feature Cinderella as a p. i., her loved ones, her friends, and an enemy or two in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI and 978-0-9899504-4-2).