The Bosslight Book Store

If you’re ever in East Texas I encourage you to check out The Bosslight bookstore. It’s located in historic down town Nacogdoches so it has a perfect vibe of old and new. Old architecture and new books and art! (Check out the brick paved street. I love it.)

Owner Tim Bryant is an author himself, author of the Dutch Curridge series and the Wilkie John Liquorish Westerns. So you know he has a soft spot for books and wants to help authors and readers connect. (I’m currently reading book one of the Liquorish series and it’s great. Good voice and very suspenseful.)

 

 

Not only does he have lots of books, but he works hard to connect and support people in the community. He has art from local artisans and hosts book clubs, author events, and even music events too.  Did I mention he’s also a musician? Yes! He’s full of talent. So head on over to The Bosslight book store and support a great community! And tell them I said “howdy”!

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Austin Mystery Writers Lone Star Lawless event! Kathy Waller, VP Chandler, Laura Oles, George Wier, Alexandra Burt, Scott Montgomery

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Tim and good friend Joe Lansdale

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A Short Story To Jumpstart Your Day

I thought I’d do a little something different today and share a story with you. I like to mix genres, and this one is no different. In our anthology, Murder On Wheels, I wrote a story, Rota Fortunae, set in 1800, about a teen who stowed away on a merchant ship bound for America. There is murder and some supernatural components as well. Intrigued? Buy the book! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) You can find links here on our website.

Today’s story is very short. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not exactly a mystery, but a western with a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

And I would like to thank Mystery People for featuring it on Crime Fiction Friday on their blog. Thank you!

Photo courtesy of xandert

Photo courtesy of xandert

Kay Chart

“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”

Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.

But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.

Damn if this old woman ain’t slow. “C’mon now. I’m hungry!” I poke her in the back with my knife to make my point and then laugh while I grab a chair to sit in. “Say, when’s your man coming back from mending the fence? That’s what you said he was doing, right?” It’s easier getting a corncob from a pig than to get an answer outta this woman.

“Uh huh,” she says while stirring the gravy.

Cooter wipes more spit with his shirtsleeve. “Those biscuits smell real good. It’s been a long time since we had us some real food.” He’s always antsy, fiddling with stuff. He starts poking around and finds some hats under the bed. He laughs and puts on a worn out, sweat-stained straw hat that’s way too big. Then he pulls out a dusty pork pie that’s too small. We laugh at that.

Cooter looks around some more while I start getting nervous thinking about the old man returning. I get my rifle and stand on the porch to keep a look out. It’s hot and the wind’s picked up. Sand’s blowing and makes the ground shimmer. I reach up and bat a short length of rope probably used for drying game birds.

My stomach growls. I miss my ma’s cooking. She can cook up a mess of dove like nobody else. Seeing them ropes hanging reminds me of how Ma tried to hang flowerpots on our porch. I guess she thought she’d make our place more livable. But you can’t pretty up a piece of trash. And Pa always tore down anything hopeful she’d ever done.

What a sorry place this is. We come so far west, practically nothing but desert and prickly pear. These old people got nothing – empty pigpens, empty corral, a couple o’ bare trees. One’s blood-stained from slaughtering pigs at one time, still has the rope up.

Movement in the distance catches my eye and I raise my gun. About a quarter mile away I see a damn Indian’s watering his horse at a shallow tank. I can tell he spies me by how he stands up slow-like and keeps looking in my direction. He keeps his eyes on me. I think about riding out to kill him, but I’m running low on bullets. He leaves.

I go back inside. “You know you just had an Indian watering his horse from your tank?”

She turns around and wipes her hands on her apron. Getting a gander at her now, she looks more like a hundred. Her skin’s so old and dry with brown patches and it looks about to crack from the deep grooves. “We let them water their horses and they leave us alone. Apache, Comanche, don’t matter to us. This is the only watering hole for miles. We ain’t got no troubles with them. Sometimes they bring us food. Mostly it ain’t good quality, but we take what’s provided.” She turns back around to her cooking.

Cooter gets all jumpy and wipes his mouth again. His sleeves always have a permanent brown stains. Damn, some people just shouldn’t chew tobacco. “You sure he’s gone? We don’t need no trouble like that.”

I laugh. “Why you worried? We took care o’ that other son of a bitch we saw.” I walk near to the woman and lean against her sideboard while she does a quick peek in the oven. “Yesterday we come across a guy, was he Comanche?” I turn to Cooter, not like he’d know.

He nods. “Maybe Apache, but I think more like Comanche.”

I turn back to the woman. “Anyhow, he tried to run which made us work harder. So that didn’t help my disposition none. But Cooter here’s a good shot and brought him down. Hoo! He was a tough one.” I give that Indian credit, he didn’t break until the last. I let him rest and told him I’d make it easier on him if he told me of a homestead nearby. I know he understood me. He looked right at me and said, “Kay Chart” and he pointed us to this place. When I asked again he pointed us here. I laugh now, thinking how the old woman’s luck went bad on account of an Indian, and her still thinking she might get outta this alive. I wonder if that Indian had some kind of quarrel with her.

“Biscuits are ready.” She pulls them from the stove and starts fixin’ our plates.

Cooter smiles and rubbed his hands together. He spits his chaw onto the floor, ready to eat.

She puts our plates in front of us.

I say, “Bet you don’t get many visitors out here.”

“Not many.”

We dig in and it’s good. This is the life! Forget working yourself to the bone with cows or farming. I’ll get rich, and Becky’ll marry me. I smile at Cooter and he smiles back, cheeks full o’ biscuits. Life is damn good.

Then my mouth starts burning. “You put peppers in this?”

She leans back against her sideboard, arms across her chest. “Not exactly.”

My mouth and throat burn and I spit my food onto my plate. I look over at Cooter and he looks back, tears running down his face and foam starts to coming outta his mouth and nose. His hand goes to his throat and he starts clawing. His eyes are big and he won’t stop looking at me.

I try to drink water but nothing helps. My throat and insides burn. Foam fills my mouth and my throat’s closing up. I look at my rifle, thinking about killing the witch, but my muscles are getting tight and I can’t move. I fall on the floor and started twitching. I’m so stove up, I can’t even blink.

The old woman grabs my heels and pulls me out to the porch and down the steps. It hurts like hell when my head bounces. I try screaming but nothing comes out. I’m too young and nothing to show for it. No more Becky, no more Ma, no more nothing.

The hag drags me across the yard and to the hog-killing tree. Breathing’s getting harder as foam fills by nose and my throat gets tighter. I can’t get no air. I feel her wrap the rope around my ankles and she hoists me up. Bitch is stronger than she looks.

She crouches down in front of me so’s I can see her. She pulls out a butcher knife she had in her apron. “You fool. ‘Kay-chart’ is Comanche for ‘evil one.’”

At least she runs the knife across me quick.

Kaye George Talks About Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery

You never know what former AMW member Kaye George is up to! She’s very busy and always working on many projects so I thought I’d ask.

 

VPC- Hey, Kaye George! What have you been up to lately? What’s your latest project? I heard you were in an anthology. Can you tell us a little about it?

 

Kaye George

 

 

KG- It’s Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery. It’s an anthology of mostly Minnesota writers. Each writer contributed a crime story and a recipe, and the food was supposed to play a part in the story. I was invited to submit because I know one of the instigators and thought it was a fun project. The editors are Rhonda Gilliland and Michael Mallory. He’s the one I know. An idea I hadn’t used yet would  work for this, I was pretty sure, so I went for it.

 

VPC- Can you give us a little “taste” of your story? ows_147034954442248

KG- My story is called “Murder with Crow.” It features a busybody old lady who has made friends with an intelligent crow. The crow loves her zucchini bread. She has some odd new neighbors with erratic schedules and misses the guy who lived there before. The new neighbors do not appreciate her and that makes her more determined than ever to get more information about them, plying them with more and more baked goods.

 

VPC- Uh oh, I smell trouble brewing (or baking?) Can you give us a few words about the other stories?

KG- The stories are arranged by course, with Appetizers, Soups, Entrees, and Desserts, which I think is cute. The one that stuck in my mind was Pat Dennis’ “After the Before” that concerns a “before” diet picture and a wedding. The stories range from the rather hard-boiled “Shrimp Charmoula: a killer dish” by Carl Brookins, with a knock-down fight scene, and David Housewright’s “Dog Eat Dog” about a business man collecting payments with a snarling wolf, to more moderate stories like “A Fare to Remember” by Marilyn Jax, where two women need to solve their friend’s kidnapping when the police overlook an important clue, even if means missing their day at the fair.

 

VPC- Sounds good! I like an anthology with a variety of stories. Are you working on anything else? Silly question, I know, because you are so busy!

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KG- Another anthology came out October 1st called We’ve Been Trumped from Darkhouse Books. I have a rather post-apocalyptic tale in that one. I’m doing proposals for new series to replace the Fat Cat mysteries that are not being continued. I hope to have good news very soon on that front! I’m also trying to squeeze in a 4th Imogene Duckworthy book.

 

 

VPC- Like I said, always busy! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always good to know what our friends are up to.

If you would like to know more about Kaye George, you can find her at  http://kayegeorge.wixsite.com/kaye-george

Interview With AMW Member, V.P. Chandler

 

10407893_1010906502272011_8835198574869839611_nThis is the last installment of the AMW member interviews. Who did I leave out? Me! So some of my fellow members have asked me questions. I must admit, I was a little nervous. Ask me anything! I’ll give you an answer. And this goes for you too, reader. Ask me anything. I’ll try to answer what you throw at me. *Gulp!*

 

Kaye George (former member but still active in many AMW activities!)- How long have you been writing toward publication?

VPC- I plead the fifth. (Already!) Okay, I’ll answer. I’ve been working on my book, in its many incarnations, since about 2009. It’s had big changes and I’ve also worked on other projects in the meantime.

 

KG- Do you find it hard or easy to fit writing into your schedule?

Pomodoro timer

Pomodoro timer

VPC- Most days I can fit in some writing. It’s the days that have unexpected challenges, like an emergency trip to the vet, that make it hard. And on some days, like today, I’m doing things like writing a blog post. Lots of things take time away from working on book projects.

I’ll also fess up that I’m also a procrastinator, so I sometimes have to trick myself into working. “I have to work at least 20 minutes.” Then next thing I know it’s been 3 hours and I got a lot of work done.

 

KG- Do you work outside the home?

VPC- I volunteer for my church. I do the website and sometimes fill in for the secretary. I also help with websites, Facebook pages, and projects of organizations like Writer Unboxed and our local chapter of Sisters in Crime.

 

KG- How many rattlers have you actually killed?

VPC- LOL! I know you’re asking me this because you’ve read a draft of my book. The answer is, a lot. Back when we lived at our ranch, I wondered the same thing and started counting them up. At that time the number was about 150. When I got to number 200, I bought myself a gun charm for my charm bracelet. I figured I deserved it! So all in all I’d say I personally killed about 250 snakes.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

Charms to celebrate moving to central Texas, shooting rattlesnakes, writing my newest story about a Texas Ranger, love of rabbits, joining AMW, and writing Rota Fortunae.

I have a picture of the dead snakes that we killed on our busiest day, but I won’t post that here. If anyone is interested, I can post it in the comments. We killed 18 snakes that day. It was just after Thanksgiving and that’s the time of year that they are mating and looking to hibernate. I can tell you more about that day later, if anyone is interested.

An added note: I know some people will be upset that we killed rattlesnakes. There were thousands of snakes where we lived and we didn’t kill any of the nonpoisonous one. AND our son was only three years old so it was a matter of life or death. Again, I can discuss more about that in the comments if anyone wishes to.

 

Elizabeth Buhmann- Your settings always have a wonderful Texas feel to them. You are a native Texan, surely, but hasn’t your family been here for a while, too?

VPC- Yes. I have a direct ancestor who arrived about 1834. It’s funny that I’m descended from a Winters and I moved to a town where one of its earliest settlers was a Winters, my

Winters house. www.wimwic.org

Winters house. http://www.wimwic.org

4x great uncle. (I think that’s the right number of greats.) When I learned that, I figured it was meant to be for me to live here!

 

 

 

 

 

EB- Your father was a criminal justice professional, wasn’t he? Tell us a bit about him and how he has influenced your writing.

VPC- He was a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State and he influenced me greatly. I believe his specialties were criminal history and organized crime. He loved to tell stories about cases, including those he was involved in during his time as Director of Public Safety in Corpus Christi. He and my step-mother were also avid readers of mysteries so we often talked about those too.

My father’s parents also had an influence. My grandfather was a pathologist, the first one in South Texas. And my grandmother was an accomplished photographer. She worked with him by taking the photos to document his findings. Both were friends with Erle Stanley Gardner and he sometimes asked their advice on forensics. 144432He mentions them in the Foreword in his book, The Case of the Careless Cupid.

I didn’t get a chance to know them back in those days, but I’ve heard many stories about what they did and accomplished.

 

 

 

 

EB- Are you a Texas history buff? Your first novel (which I had the privilege of reading in draft form) is set about a hundred (?) years in the past. What sort of sources did you use to paint such a realistic picture of what Texas was like then?

VP- Thank you! I used to hate history. I thought it was so boring. And, like many things, the older I got the more I found it interesting. I like learning about people and how they overcame obstacles. One of the best resources I’ve found is the Texas State Historical Association website. It’s incredible!

Other sources were just various things I could find by using Google and asking friends who are knowledgeable. My Facebook friends are great! I also collect hard to find, out of print books about Texas.

 

Gale Albright- Has being a member of Austin Mystery Writers improved your confidence in your writing?

VPC- Yes! Tremendously. I can’t imagine where I’d be if it wasn’t for this group and the feedback and support we give each other.

 

GA- Can you tell me the pros and cons of being a member of a critique group?

VPC- One of the best things about a good critique group is getting honest, and polite feedback. Another plus about AMW is that we are a group of people with a variety of backgrounds, so we can approach a story from different experiences. We also have different things that we notice in a story, like punctuation or pacing. So we can give a variety of suggestions on how to make a story better.

 

GA- Austin Mystery Writers’ short-story anthology, Murder on Wheels, recently received a Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville. What’s your reaction been to that?

VPC- When we were nominated, I was like, “Whaaaat?” LOL It didn’t sink in for about a day. I didn’t want to let myself get excited. Then when we won, I couldn’t believe it. I was very pleased. I’ve been telling everybody!

 

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GA- You have a big interest in historical novels. Do you think you’ve found a niche for yourself, or do you plan to branch out to other types of writing?

VPC- Good question. This is something I think about a lot. I love historical fiction, and plan to write a series set in Texas. Hopefully my first book, Gilt Ridden, will be the first in a series. I have about five other stories planned out for my characters. I like the idea that my antagonist, Kay Stuart, solves current problems (murders), by finding the answers in Texas history.

I also have an idea for a series using one of her best friends, Jessie Reese, who is a modern deputy sheriff. Those will be straight up mystery/suspense with no history.

BUT I also love to write horror. I’m working on a story that may be a novella or novel that is sci-fi/horror.

So I guess my answer is that right now I’m focusing on historical fiction/mystery with a side jaunt into horror. But I find I’m having so much fun writing horror, it may be more of a focus of mine in the future. I plan to just write what is fun to write. And when I do that, the writing is better anyway.

 

GA- What’s the most fun part of writing for you? What is not so much fun?

VPC- I love writing squeamish or emotional scenes. I like the idea of making the reader laugh or cry. Such power! Bwa ha ha ha ha ha !

On the other hand, I hate it when the plot or the scene just isn’t coming together. It’s excruciating! I literally have to get up and walk around. Sometimes I have to stand at the table to write. I also don’t like long descriptions. I hate reading them and I hate writing them. I like to get to the point.

 

GA- Do you have any fun research trips planned?

VPC- I wish! I will be going to Bouchercon in New Orleans next week with fellow member Laura Oles. I guess I’ll keep my eyes open for inspiration. I’ll also be going to the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in November, which (witch?) will be in Salem, Massachusetts. Kathy Waller will also be there with me. Maybe we’ll find some ghosts!

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Salem trip to Writer Unboxed Un-Con in 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for all of the questions! I love being a member of AMW. I can’t imagine going through this journey of being a writer without their support and guidance!

 

Does anybody have anymore questions? Bring ‘em on!

Questions

Etiquette for Critique Groups

We thought this post by Elizabeth Buhmann about critique etiquette was worth reposting since Gale Albright recently discussed critiques. 

Austin Mystery Writers

We all know the importance of getting feedback from other writers, not just from friends and family. For many writers, that feedback comes from a critique group.

photo (16)Last summer, Sisters in Crime  hosted a meeting about etiquette for critique groups with special guest Tim Green, from St. Edwards University. Members of several local critique groups joined the discussion. The following guidelines and suggestions emerged.

Professor Green offered a general framework for face-to-face critiques. First the writer speaks, then readers take turns offering their comments. Finally, the whole group can engage in a general discussion, summarizing what they agree about and answering each other’s questions.

DOs:

  • The writer can introduce her work briefly, explaining what she’s trying to accomplish, whether her draft is rough or finished, and what kind of feedback she wants.
  • Readers should begin with the strengths of the piece (‘What works for me is…’) and move to questions…

View original post 441 more words

Western Mysteries

Photo by Ladyheart

Photo by Ladyheart

I have a confession to make. I love westerns, all kinds of westerns. I like characters with a sense of independence, who live life by their own rules. I like studying that era of our history. It has everything you could want that makes a great story: evil-doers, heroes, the clash of cultures (Native American/European, city/country, poor/rich), people trying to make their lives better, people trying to hold on to their heritage. You name it.

I also like modern westerns. They still hold the same sense of character and grit as the older ones.

So it’s no great surprise that like western mysteries. I thought I’d delve into that subgenre and look for books to add to my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and take you along with me.

 

That's Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig Johnson

Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. The way he captures the essence of the west and the clash of cultures while respecting both sides is masterful. The books are full of drama, humor, and history. The characters grow deeper by each book. (As they should.)

At the moment I’ve only read the first three books in the series. I have a lot of reading to do! But I’ve watched all of the TV episodes. If you haven’t seen them, check them out on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite shows. All of the actors are excellent at their jobs and they’re nice in real life. And Craig Johnson is as nice as could be too.

Check out his website for all the info. http://www.craigallenjohnson.com

 

 

Billy Kring

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Manning Wolfe, me, and Billy Kring. We like Mexican food!

 

Most of his Hunter Kincaid series takes place in Texas and along the Mexican border since Hunter is a border patrol agent. I’ve read the first one, Quick, and let me tell you, it’s good! It’s a page-turner. I will say it’s not for the squeamish, but Billy tells me (since he’s a friend of mine) that the others aren’t quite so graphic. But it didn’t bother me since I kind of expected that, considering the topic.

I think it’s interesting that Billy’s a big cowboy (former border patrol and anti-terrorism expert) and the Kincaid books are told from a woman’s perspective. And he writes it well!

Go check out his website and book list. It’s impressive! He also writes other genres. There’s something for everyone. http://www.billykring.com

 

 

J.A. JanceJanceJA

And just so you don’t think I only read books written by big burly cowboys, (Yes, I’m partial to them) I want to tell you about J.A. Jance. She has a special place in my mystery reader/writer heart. She is one of the writers who inspired me to pick up a pen and write. Her Joanna Brady series is very good. It takes place in Arizona and Joanna is a sheriff in a small border town. She’s a full and complex character that deals with all sorts of horrors and problems, big and small.

Jance also writes a Detective Beaumont series, some of which I’ve read and it’s very good too. http://www.jajance.com

 

Those are my favorties, but I wanted to know more. So whenever I have a question about mysteries, I turn to my friends. And the person I know who’s the most knowledgeable is Scott Montgomery, mystery coordinator at Book People in Austin. He pointed me to Tony Hillerman and Peter Bowen.

**Scott gave me an extra tidbit of info. “The first hardboiled detective novel, Hammett’s Red Harvest, is about a detective coming into a corrupt Montana mining town and playing both evil interests off one another like A Fistful Of Dollars (inspired by Yojimbo, which was inspired by Red Harvest)”

So there you go.

 

 

Tony Hillerman 27hillerman.large1

You can’t talk about this genre without talking about Tony Hillerman. He’s famous for his Navajo Tribal Police Series. The series starts with The Blessing Way (1970) and goes to the 18th one, The Shape Shifter (2006). The series features Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo police officers who solve mysteries with their knowledge of the people and knowledge of the area. The two first work together in the seventh novel in the series, Skinwalkers. (I can’t wait to read some of these!)

Hillerman was such an accomplished writer that his books have won numerous awards and he’s considered to be one New Mexico’s foremost novelists. TH is no longer alive, but his daughter, Anne, has continued his legacy. http://www.annehillerman.com

 

 

Peter Bowen Peter Bowen

Bowen lives in Montana and is known for his Yellowstone Kelly historical novels (fictionalized stories based on a real person) and the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries are set in modern Montana. All of his books sound rich with characters and place. You can find out more at his website: http://peterbowenmt.com.

 

 

 

Dusty Richards 

Since I’m talking about Westerns, I have to tell you about Dusty Richards. He doesn’t write mysteries but he writes darn good westerns. How did I come to discover him? My husband was a co-op engineer and Dusty serves on the board of his electric co-op. They were both attending a conference and got to talking. My husband told him about me and Dusty said, “Hold on a moment.” He went up to his room and came back with a signed copy of his book to me to wish me well in my writing endeavors.
Since then my husband has read many of his books and said they are great. (And this is coming from a guy who compares EVERY book to Louis L’Amour.)

Since then I’ve followed Dusty on social media and I see that one of his books is being made into a movie. Yay! I like it when good things happen for good people.

He also has a literary quarterly that’s always looking for western stories, modern or historical. If you’re interested in submitting, the website is: http://saddlebagdispatches.com

And his regular website is: http://dustyrichardslegacy.com

 

Well, thanks for moseying along with me on this trail. Since I’m partial to this genre, it’s no surprise that I’ve written some Western short stories (Suspense and Horror) and the novel I’m working on (Suspense) is set in West Texas. I hope to make it the first in a series, or two.

 

So happy trails and vio con Dios! Hasta luego!

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

Life Lessons Learned In “Battle”

 

I’ve been waging war.

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Photo by Michael O’Reilly

(No, that isn’t a picture of me. It’s a picture my friend Michael O’Reilly took of his friend. He sometimes goes around Austin with a sword and asks strangers to pose with it. Really, and he gets some great pictures!)

But back to my story. I’ve been at war with the Dreaded Ivy Monster. This thing has overtaken my yard and covers huge bushes. It’s choking the life out of everything. And while I’m out there on the front line, hacking and pulling, I do a lot of thinking.

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Small section of the monster that’s overtaken my yard. There are rock and other plants under there.

I can’t help but seeing symbolism in what I’m doing. I actually talked about this on the first post of my blog back in 2012. At that time I happened to be thinking about clutter. http://vpchandler.com/trim-away-the-dead/

But apparently fighting the DIM is good for my imagination. I recently told a friend who felt like she wasn’t making progress on her book,

“We have a vine that’s grown to be a monster. It’s taken over the flowerbeds and killed some of the bushes. Everyday I go outside and trim it and rip up parts of it out of the ground. Basically chipping away at the problem, but I’m getting results. I’ll take one tendril and pull on it. It’s amazing to see how intertwined it all is.

Every time I go out there I can’t help but compare working on it to writing and editing a book. I may spend anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour on it. But each time I see progress. Each time I’m unraveling a tendril, I’m unraveling a problem.”

 

As I say in the above quote, I’ve been editing my book, getting rid of unwanted and unnecessary stuff. So when I pull on a lonnng tendril that has creeped and wound its way through the bushes, it reminds of getting rid of unwanted story lines. Of course they weave their way through the book so I have to make sure everything makes sense when that’s gone! But it feels good when the extra stuff is hacked away.

Something else also popped into my mind yesterday, of course while fighting the DIM. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it. Now I’m not a poet, but here’s what I was thinking.

 

Reach For the Light

What kind of vine are you? Are you a jasmine, a honeysuckle, English ivy, the stifling kudzu? I hope you aren’t the dreaded poison ivy or poison oak!

Whatever vine you are, search for the light that helps you grow.
Don’t stay in the dark humus, the decay of years past. That way stifles and rots your roots. It weakens growth and stunts your leaves.

No, search for the light.
If you have to twist your way among Life’s branches to go around obstacles, keep at it. Study your path, grow strong and use what you’ve learned to anchor yourself while you reach for the new, the sun, and see what Life has to offer.

 

(It’s not Emily Dickinson, but I like it.)

 

I can now see rocks!

The edge of progress. I can now see rocks!

I’d also like to add that it’s rewarding to see how a few minutes here and there can produce results. So whatever you’re working on, whether it’s writing, gardening, painting, or what have you, a few minutes can make a difference. And while you’re pulling those weeds, let your mind wander. Who knows, you might find the answers to the questions you’ve been looking for or you might get a glimpse into the meaning of Life.

 

Whiskers, my trusty companion in battle. He comforts me and criticizes my work. Apparently I'm not worthy.

Whiskers, my trusty companion in battle. He comforts me and criticizes my work. Apparently I’m not worthy.

Does this happen to you? Do you get insights to your writing or life when you’re driving, washing dishes or doing other such work? Had any “aha!” moments? Share them with us!

Mystery Workshop At Book People

Last Saturday I attended a writer’s workshop at Book People, sponsored by Mystery People and the Austin chapter of Sisters In Crime. I honestly didn’t think I’d learn much new. But I was wrong. *Note- Between classes we had drawings for giveaways like books and tote bags!

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41VaFJ3tHPL._UX250_It started with George Wier speaking about writing action scenes. He’s literally a pro at this. Just read any of his books. (www.billtravismysteries.com) It wasn’t about how to describe a blow-by-blow fistfight. It was more about how to add tension to a scene, how to make it move along. I don’t know about you, but I like bullet points. So I’ll share my notes in that manner.

 

  • Before you can add action, you must put the reader in the moment. They won’t follow anything if they aren’t there. To accomplish this, describe the lay of the land and the surroundings.
  • What are the results of the action? There should be consequences or the reader won’t care.
  • The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Don’t describe things in terms of time. (aka- three hours later). Believe it or not, that doesn’t do anything for the reader. Time isn’t as tangible as distance. “They walked down a flight of stairs.” Is much easier for the reader to see and instantly understand.
  • Perception is everything. Use all the senses. Have your characters be aware of their breathing, their surroundings, sounds, pain, everything.

The idea of writing about distance instead of time interests me. All of the things listed above make sense, but the idea that the reader can intuitively understand distance better than the concept of time is fascinating.

Scott Montgomery of Book People recommended the book, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. He said it was a good example of what Wier was talking about.

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Cutting up between classes. Friend and author Billy Kring dropped by. He’s trying to distract me while George Wier looks on.

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The guys behaving for Terry’s talk.

 

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Next at the workshop was Terry Shames. She gave us many tips on how to writing compelling settings. And she should know. She does an excellent job of describing the Texas town where her Samuel Craddock series takes place. (www.terryshames.com) I came away with the concept of interior settings and exterior settings. No, not what a living room looks like, interior as in what’s going on inside a character. (More bullet points!)

  • Treat your scenes as characters.
  • The way to make your story interesting is to show how the interior setting (of characters) intersect with the exterior setting. How would someone from a Texas ranch interact with the people and setting of New York city? How would that same person act in their own hometown?
  • The devil is in the details. Immerse the reader in the setting. You don’t have to do an information dump. (Please don’t.) But you can provide things like smells and sounds.
  • If you aren’t familiar with a place, research it. Talk to people who know the place.
  • Above all, know how your characters would interact with the setting. Someone who almost drowned would have a different reaction to falling in the water than someone who is an Olympic swimmer. So Know Your Characters!
  • Every scene should try to have-
  1. Action
  2. Dialogue
  3. Physical description of setting
  4. Physical description of characters
  5. Internal thinking
  6. Internal physical descriptions.
  • A good rhythm of a scene would be: 2/1/2, 4/3/5, 6/2/1. Try it and see what happens.

 

 

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Brent and James. Looking forward to reading their books.

After lunch we gathered for the last class about collaboration. Brent Douglass and James Dennis, two of the three authors who make up the persona of Miles Arecenaux (www.milesarceneaux.com), led a funny discussion on their journey of collaborative writing. They started their first book back in the days before email. Thank goodness the days of mailing a manuscript back and forth are gone. Thank you email! So what are their tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to be honest with each other. Actually, they said to be brutally honest. Treat each other like siblings.
  • Play up to your partners’ strengths. You are different people with different experiences. You that to your advantage.
  • Work to maintain “one voice” for your book. It will get easier with practice but it will also take many edits to achieve this.
  • Defer to people with experience. (Again, take advantage of your partner’s strengths.)
  • It helps to build accountability. If you know that you’re expected to get your part done by a certain time and the others are counting on you, you better do it.
  • Broadcast gratitude. Not only show gratitude to your partners, show gratitude to other writers.

 

(Collaborating sounds interesting. I think I’d like to take a stab at that just for fun.)

 

P1010257 (3)The last event was a panel discussion that was very informal. It was about publishing, marketing, and networking. Honestly, I was so caught up in listening, I forgot to take notes! All the speakers were charming, personable, and informative. It was worth every moment that I was there.

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Gale Albright helped put it all together and did the raffle.

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George answering questions between classes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Terry and Scott

 

 

I’d like to say thank you to Book People and Scott Montgomery of Mystery People for hosting us!

 

Interview With AMW Member Laura Oles

In continuing my series of interviews of fellow members of AMW, I’d like to introduce you to Laura Oles.

Austin Mystery Writer Laura Oles

VPC- Welcome, Laura! Tell us a little about your background.

LO- I grew up in an Air Force family and moved a number of times growing up.   I graduated from Texas State and met my husband while I was in college. His parents were both professional photographers and entrepreneurs who introduced me to the world of photography. At the time, I didn’t know an f/stop from a bus stop, but I loved the industry almost immediately. We were working in the time of early digital photography and had built a business that did some pretty cool things in that space. I also started writing for digital photography magazines—both consumer and trade— and did that for about fifteen years. Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met work behind the camera. It remains my first love, although I detest having my photo taken. Ask anyone—the camera comes out and I duck behind a tree.   If awkward smiling were an Olympic sport, I would bring home the gold.

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Laura hiding from the camera.

VPC- I can vouch for that, readers. It’s true! So you’ve had some success with publishing nonfiction, why are you interested in writing fiction?

LO- Yes, I wrote Digital Photography for Busy Women back in 2005 and was so happy to see the reception it received in the photography field. Technology books become obsolete pretty quickly, so while it served its purpose then, it’s outdated now. Part of the cycle. Still, it came out an important time in the industry when people were leaving film for digital and had no idea what to do with their photos once the image had been taken. I had been covering related technology for industry magazines and the book was an extension of that education.

Nonfiction has its own challenges but I love it as much as I love fiction. I grew up reading fiction at an early age, getting lost in Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume, Reading fiction was the perfect escape for a kid that kept relocating to a new school, a new city. While I enjoy many genres, mystery, suspense and thrillers remain my favorites. Not only do I love getting lost in the worlds other people create, I also love creating my own worlds and occupying them with interesting personalities. My husband once told me that I talk about these characters like they’re real people. I guess for me, they are real people. Is that weird?

I also like reading both fiction and nonfiction. I often bounce between reading a business book and a mystery at the same time. So, right now I’ve got Charles Duhigg’s Smarter Faster Better and Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man in progress. I find it hard to commit to reading one book at a time. Both books are excellent. And my TBR list is a little out of hand at the moment.

 

VPC- I know that you also have three kids. Two of them are twins! How do you juggle writing, working and raising a family?

LO- I think one of the challenges of loving your work and loving your family is that you never feel like you’re excelling in either arena at the same time. Other people may have tamed this dragon but I have yet to do so. I try to compartmentalize as much as possible, but it’s difficult. My time is often split into small segments so I work at piecing them together to create something meaningful. For example, I’ve started and stopped answering these questions several times already because of a soccer tournament, Prom, and NHS volunteer projects. Granted, it’s easier than it was when my kids were little, especially when my twins were in the pre-school stages. I don’t think I drank of cup of hot coffee for a couple of years. With three teenagers, it’s a different kind of busy. My job is largely driving, coordinating schedules, counseling and proofreading my kids’ English papers.   I am very fortunate to have an awesome husband who, despite a demanding work and travel schedule, still makes most of the sporting events, concerts and other things that are important. If he has to drive from the airport to a volleyball game, he’s there.

With respect to writing, I think one of the most difficult things is shifting my brain from multi-tasking to creative mode. I have found that it is so important to protect that sacred space of allowing your imagination to roam, to get lost in the ‘what if’s of storytelling so the story has time to grow and take some turns. I really have to work at protecting that space. It’s very easy for real life to intrude and lay claim to it. (Link to Laura’s article about making the most of your time via the Pomodoro Method.) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

VPC: What aspect of writing do you enjoy the most?

LO: I have a fond affection for dialogue. I love writing interactions between characters, trying to find the proper beats where the back-and-forth feels authentic. Elmore Leonard remains one of my all time favorite masters of dialogue. He said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I think that’s very good advice. I also enjoy editing, maybe even more than writing the first draft, because it’s my opportunity to shape the story and figure out what works and what is getting in the way of the story moving forward.

 

VPC- How did you come to be a member of AMW?

LO-I met Kathy Waller and Gale Albright through our local Sisters in Crime chapter and was part of the Barbara Burnett Smith Mentor program in 2012. They invited me in and I have enjoyed their company and critiques ever since. Writing is a solitary process, so having like minded writers who want to discuss plot points, character development and setting is a wonderful thing. I would probably bore my non-writer friends out of their minds but the AMW people get me. And I’m grateful for it.

 

VPC- What are you working on now?

LO-I am currently revising my second mystery, Point & Shoot, which was named a finalist in the Writer’s League of Texas manuscript competition. I’m also working on a few short stories, including one for an anthology being put together by AMW for publication next year. I continue to write for the photo industry, although I’m taking a hiatus for a bit to focus on my fiction (no pun intended). I’m leaving for Malice Domestic this week (in Bethesda, MD) and am looking forward to spending time with some of my favorite writers and friends.   I’m also finally making it to Bouchercon this year in New Orleans. Other than that, I’m just trying to find time to write each day so I can keep my imaginary friends alive. They suffer if I’m gone too long. And I do, too.  I’m cranky if I’ve gone a bit without writing.  Even worse than when I skip coffee, and that’s saying something.

 

Hank & Laura

With Hank Phillippi Ryan at MD 2014

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Laura and Kaye George at Malice in 2014

 

 

Article about Malice Domestic 2014

 

 

 

 

Thank you for the interview, Laura Oles! I’ve enjoyed these interviews. I like showing the world how diverse we are in AMW.

Interview With AMW Member Kathy Waller