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.

 

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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

Interview with Manning Wolfe

One of the perks of being a writer is having interesting and talented friends. Today I’d like to introduce you to Manning Wolfe.Manning Wolfe Headshot 2

VPC – Manning, welcome to the AMW blog and congratulations on your debut novel! Can you tell us a little something about it?

 

MW –Yes, it’s called Dollar Signs:Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. It’s the first in a series and this one is set in Austin, Houston, and Port Aransas, Texas. MERIT BRIDGES, an Austin attorney and widowed mother with a lot of sass is the lead protagonist. She works hard, drinks too much wine, and sleeps with younger men. When she goes after a shady corporation threatening her client, she finds Boots King, a hired gun, threatening to kill her.

VPC – I know you’re a lawyer. In what ways did you use your legal background to write the book?

MW – The plot idea for Dollar Signs came from a client that I had several years ago who had gotten involved with an unscrupulous Outdoor Advertising Company (Billboards). Of course, I departed from that scenario fairly quickly in the book as the characters began to develop and the story took on a life of its own. I felt badly for that client and always wished he had gotten a fair shake. In Dollar Signs, I get to have the story turn out as I would have liked in real life. I’ve never practiced litigation although there are some courtroom scenes in the book. I wanted to show the other side of law – the business of it and the strategy that is involved.

VPC – Have you always wanted to be a writer?

MW – Yes, since I was a small child I’ve been spinning yarns and telling tales. I wrote my stories down as drawings, and then in narrative as soon as I was able to write. I loved Nancy Drew growing up and always wanted to write stories with a strong plot. I had great teachers who encouraged proper basic writing habits, so I received a good foundation early on. Much later, I wrote the screenplay of the life of Buckminster Fuller and found that I like combining cinematic style with novel structure. That blend has led me to the way I write today – fast paced legal thrillers with a strong visual component.

VPC – Where did you grow up and how has it affected your writing?

MW – I grew up in a small town just north of Houston called Humble. By the time I was in junior high, I had read every book in our public library. I still remember the wonderful librarian there and her interest in my constant reading habit. My father often asked me to do research in the courthouse archives in Harris County.  Those two things led not only to my legal career, but my writing career as well.  Property and business issues in the law are like a puzzle to me.  I always loved games and still enjoy online games and cards. Sorting out legal problems in real life or in a story is like a puzzle to my brain. I enjoy figuring things out and documenting that in writing.

VPC – Do you have any favorite authors?

MW – I read a lot and across many genres, but my favorites are thrillers. As far as legal thrillers, I like the early John Grisham novels, as well as Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller series starting with The Lincoln Lawyer. Patricia Highsmith, who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, is a master of suspense. John Ellsworth’s Thaddeus Murfee series is very exciting, too. I think Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, that was made into a movie starring Harrison Ford, is one of the best legal thrillers ever written. And, of course, most people forget that Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, another favorite of mine, was a legal thriller.

VPC – So what’s in store for your next book?

MW – The next book in the series is Green Fees: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Browno Zars, about a young golfer who wants to play the PGA tour and gets snagged up with a dastardly con man. It also was inspired by an actual client who was a golf pro. I’m editing it now for release later this year. I have about a dozen Texas Lady Lawyer novels in mind, some of them are outlined and some are just ideas.

VPC- Sounds good! Thanks for dropping by today and good luck on your new book. 🙂

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To keep up with Manning and her writing, you can go to her website at manningwolfe.com

 

Five Reasons To Write Historical Mysteries

Today we welcome a guest blogger, mystery writer Jeri Westerson! She writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir novels. Her protagonist is a disgraced knight turned detective, plying his PI trade on the mean streets of fourteenth century London. 

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Her books have been shortlisted for a slew of mystery awards, including the Macavity, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Agatha, and the Shamus, the first medieval mystery to be nominated for this prestigious PI award. The Boston Globe calls her detective “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass.”

Jeri also has short stories in several anthologies and talks around the country about the Middle Ages, demonstrating her cache of medieval weaponry.

Jeri is a member of the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Private Eye Writers of America and the Historical Novel Society. Jeri is married to a commercial photographer, has a screenwriting son, and herds two cats, a tortoise, and the occasional tarantula at her home in southern California.

Jeri, welcome to AMW!

 

5 Reasons to Write Historical Mysteries

By Jeri Westerson

 

I’ve been immersed in history all my life. My parents were rabid Anglophiles, stuffing our bookshelves with historical novels, works of nonfiction, and having discussions at the dinner table about the British monarchy. I can definitely name more kings and queens of England than American presidents. I had my own literary relationship with Geoffrey Chaucer and was probably the only kindergartner in Los Angeles who could recite part of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales…in Middle English.

 

And so many years later when I decided to become a novelist, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I would write historical novels about the medieval period. I switched to medieval mysteries when the kind of historical novel I liked to write proved to be the kind editors didn’t want to publish, though they translated very nicely to the mystery genre and I found success!

 

  1. I Like To Research.

Let’s face it. If you never liked doing homework or researching for a term paper, this isn’t the genre for you. I rather enjoyed looking things up, tracking down that little fact like a detective, and coming up with oodles of other nifty things by reading those footnotes (ALWAYS read footnotes). And I love libraries and you’ll be spending a lot of time in them. For the kind of thing I need, I spend time in university libraries. I’d love to travel across the pond to do my research in archives, but alas, it’s not in the budget. Fortunately, you can now reach many of these archives online. Some of the items you need might even be scanned and uploaded. Sometimes you still have to pay the archivist to make a copy for you and they will either scan it and email it, or copy it and snail mail it to you. Either way, you’ve made a new friend and possibly a new reader.

 

  1. The Timeline is Your Outline

When you write historically, readers expect to get a healthy dose of history with their mystery. And if you write a series that will happen over many years, all the better. In my Crispin Guest series, my fourteenth century disgraced knight turned detective, encounters all the juicier bits of the late 1300’s during Richard II’s reign, including a friendship with one Geoffrey Chaucer, running into his former charge Henry of Bolingbroke as he and his Lords Appellant force the king to follow Parliament’s dictates, encounters his former mentor John of Gaunt and his longtime mistress Katherine Swynford, and is on hand when King Richard is ultimately deposed. There’s a lot of intriguing court politics and threats of war going on in the seventeen years the series is taking place, and each year in history helps suggest plot points on which my detective runs afoul of his monarch.

 

  1. A Ready-Made Audience

Now granted, it isn’t a big audience, so prepare yourself that you will be writing in a niche, which means sales won’t be huge. But there are also many sub genres and cross genres when it comes to historical mysteries. There is also historical mystery/romance, historical mystery timetravel, and every other permutation you can think of. So there is every opportunity to widen that base.

 

  1. Just the Facts

You must be a stickler for facts. Movies seem to get to play fast and loose with facts. There are millions of people out there who watched Braveheart and think that William Wallace sired a child on the wife of the future King Edward II, when anyone who knows a smidgen of history knows that Queen Isabella was a child of twelve herself at the time and wasn’t even yet living in England. But there were many things about that film that make even amateur historians cringe. You won’t be able to do that with a book. Readers will call you on it. They will abandon the book early if you fudge the facts. They won’t be able to trust any of your book and it will spoil their enjoyment. Just consider it your unwritten contract with your reader that you will do your best to get it as historically accurate as you can.

 

  1. You Write Because You Like To Read It

As I mentioned in number four, it won’t be a huge market. So there’s no sense in choosing to write something only because you think it’s going to make a lot of money. Get it into your head now that you won’t make a lot of money. There now. Don’t you feel better? If by some off chance your book captures the imagination of readers and hits the bestseller list, mazel tov! If by another off chance Hollywood comes calling and offers to make a series of it, then celebrate. But please don’t ever expect it. You should be writing in a genre because that’s what you like to read. That’s where your writing shines. That’s where you get the most enjoyment writing.

 

Is writing historical mysteries for everyone? Only if you are a person who enjoys research. And if you are, the entire history of humanity is open for grabs.

 

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Jeri likes exploring the past, especially with her latest mystery, THE SILENCE OF STONES; A Crispin Guest Medieval Noir, dealing with the Stone of Destiny, Scottish rebels, a dark and brooding knight detective, and murder. Read an excerpt, see discussion guides, and watch the series book trailer on her website at www.JeriWesterson.com.

 

AMW Author Highlight- Gale Albright

Welcome Patric Sanders Back to AMW!

V.P. Chandler here. In continuing my interview series with AMW members, I’d like to introduce you to Patric Sanders. Patric was a previous member who has recently rejoined our group. 

VPC- Welcome back to the group! Why don’t you tell us a little something about yourself, like where did you grow up?

 I was born in Berlin, one month before Hitler invaded Poland, which started WW 2. When the Allied air raids increased in 1942, my mother and I, together with other mothers and children, were evacuated from Berlin, first to rural Silesia, then to Pomerania – now Western Poland. At the end of the war, when the Russians had overrun Berlin, we trekked from close to Prague with a hand-drawn cart back to Berlin. We found our apartment was burned out, and most of our furniture and belongings were destroyed.

I grew up in the Russian sector of the divided city of Berlin. My early play-ground were ruins, discarded trucks and tanks. Even at a young age, the finding of food (berries, fruit, grain), fixing appliances and collecting firewood were important tasks to help my mother.

East Germany was plundered by the Soviets. Rails, machinery, any steel products were taken to Russia. Later, they were returned as Soviet tanks and artillery pieces. German scientists and engineers disappeared from the streets, abducted to Russian research facilities and factories.

But the Western part of Berlin and West Germany received generous assistance from the United States through the Marshall Plan, and many personal gifts by American families through CARE packages and donations. West Germany and West Berlin were rebuilt and quickly became prosperous.

When my mother and I visited our relatives in West Berlin, we enjoyed rarities like oranges, bananas, chocolate, and I loved Wrigley’s chewing gum.

At school, I was taught the superiority of Communism, and that our ‘great friend and brother’ the Soviet Union would bury the capitalist West and defeat America. Despite Communist indoctrination, I received a good education, especially in math, physics, chemistry and geography. I loved reading German and English literature and adventure and mystery tales by Stevenson, Defoe and Edgar Allen Poe. In high school we had two languages – Russian and Latin. From a retired teacher I took private lessons in English. I learned more by listening to the ‘forbidden’ American Forces Network (AFN Berlin) – I loved Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, and rock’n’roll by Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Louis Prima, Chuck Berry and Elvis. I imitated the way the announcers talked. That’s why later when I worked and met the first British engineers, they said, “Manfred, how come you sound like a Yank?”

I studied electrical engineering & marine electronics at the University of Rostock, which incidentally was founded in 1419 – 73 yrs. before Columbus ‘discovered’ America.

The border in Berlin was open and I often took the commuter train/S-Bahn to West Berlin. I enjoyed Western movies with Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Burt Lancaster – one of my favorites was ‘The Magnificent Seven’ with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. Reading the German author Karl May, I was fascinated by the American West, by trappers and Native Americans. As so many Germans, I had ‘Fernweh’ – the urge to travel, the longing to see distant places.

I often went to the Amerika-Haus in West Berlin, a place forbidden to visit by the communists, where one could watch American news reels and movies, listen to jazz, or read American magazines and books.

I dreamt about this far-away land America – this perceived bastion of power, wealth, ingenuity and freedom.

On that fateful day of August 13th 1961, when the Berlin Wall went up, I was visiting my mother in East Berlin. On that day everything changed – the only window to the free West was now closed. Nobody was allowed anymore to cross the Wall. Many people tried and got shot, some bled to death in the ‘no-man’s land’, the death strip.

After university I worked as a test engineer for navigation systems at a shipyard in Stralsund. Six months later, I was drafted into the National People’s Army – NVA. Because of my electronic knowledge, I soon was put in charge of a secret Russian radar unit. After serving 18 months in the army, I worked as an engineer for the State marine electronic company. Now I was hounded by the East German secret police Stasi to join them, to spy on foreigners – but I resisted. I feverishly looked for a way to get out, to cross the border. Finally, in the summer of 1966, I escaped to West Germany in an adventurous way – I describe all this, the Stasi harassment and my escape in detail in my book ‘Chasing The Sun’.

 

VPC- Where else have you lived?

After my escape to the West, I found a job as electronics officer on a German cable ship In Hamburg. Nobody onboard, except for the captain, knew its mission. We sailed across the Atlantic to Portsmouth, NH and loaded cable. American immigration officials denied my entry permit. Then I discovered the power of the American free press. A young reporter wrote a three-part story about my life under Communism, my escape and the denial of entry into the US. Shortly thereafter, politicians up to the NH governor intervened on my behalf, and I could finally set foot on American soil. I explored New Hampshire, Maine, Boston and even visited the ‘Big Apple’.

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Electronics officer onboard cable ship ‘Neptun’ in Subic Bay Philippines, June 1967

In early 1967, we headed across the Atlantic for the Suez Canal and on to Singapore. After steaming into the South China Sea, our captain announced ‘Your pay will now double. We’re entering a war zone.’ For several months, we laid communication cable for the US Air Force around South Vietnam, from Da Nang to Nha Trang, Camh Ran Bay and Vung Tau, all the way to Thailand. From the ship we saw quite a bit of fighting, once we were almost blown up by Viet Cong swimmers, but they attached their limpet mines to a British tanker which was anchored close-by and blew it to pieces.

After completing my contract, I went to London and worked for the Decca radar and navigation company – the same company which under the Decca record label had rejected the Beatles, but signed on the Rolling Stones. I studied English and English literature at a Cambridge university extension and at school met my future wife.

In 1968, I decided to go after my old dream – America. I got married in London, and I found a job in San Francisco. The year was 1968 – hippies, drugs, protests, racial unrest and crime (we were burglarized & completely cleaned out!) were unfamiliar experiences for us. Future jobs took us to Orange County, Southern California, then to Houston. Through my jobs, I was transferred back and forth between Houston and Seattle several times.

With my electronic background, I worked in the marine industry, in merchant shipping, the offshore oil industry, in commercial fishing on the Pacific coast and Alaska, and in the defense industry for the US Navy and the German Navy. During my professional career I saw many interesting places and met great people, and I took notes.

 VPC- How did you come to live in Texas? Do you like it?

After living in the Seattle area for 25 years, in 2005 we had enough of grey skies, drizzle and rain and we retired to Texas sunshine. We love the Austin area and like to hike in the abundant nature parks together with our rescue dog Max, a Blue Lacy, the Texas State dog.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 9.36.09 AM

With Max at Tejas Camp nature park

 

VPC- I know that you like American music, like Jazz. What is your favorite music? Did it influence your life? Is it mentioned in your stories?

I like music in many varieties, from rock’n’roll to Blues, Jazz to classical music and opera. When I write, I like to listen to Mozart and Vivaldi. I include music, classical pieces and hit tunes in my writing. In the mid-nineties, I even made a career change and ended up in the Music industry. I directed international marketing for a Seattle-based manufacturing company (audio mixers, amplifiers and studio speakers), traveling all over the world.

VPC- What other types of life experiences do you use in your stories?

During an adventurous vacation in Australia, while diving at the Great Barrier Reef, hiking through the croc-infested swamps of Kakadu National Park and exploring the wild shores of Tasmania, I decided to write an adventure story. I got my first novel published through Random House Germany in Muenchen – ‘Der Schatz vom Barrier Reef’ – The Treasure of the Barrier Reef, under my pen name Patric Sanders.

Barrier Reef cover

 

VPC- Tell us a little about your books?

My wife urged me to write in English about my life in East Germany and my escape. Based on facts and experiences during that time – life under a communist dictatorship, the far-reaching power of the secret police Stasi and how people coped – I wrote two fiction novels, the cold-war thrillers “Chasing The Sun” and “Singed By The Sun” – both are self-published under Patric Sanders, and available on Amazon Kindle. A third book in the series is in the works – “Hostile Harbors”.

Chasing the Sun cover

Singed By the Sun

 

VPC- What are you working on currently?

As a follow-up to my German adventure novel (set in Australia), I’m writing an adventure thriller ‘Lethal Encounters’, set in Europe, the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii. It’s an international intrigue, where Russian criminals, German combat swimmers, Navy Seals and an adventurer and his Hawaiian friend, who look for the remains of a Spanish gold galleon, collide on a remote Hawaiian island.

VPC- It sounds exciting! (And to the readers our there, I’ve read a few chapters and it’s very good.)

Thanks, Patric, for the interview. I’m happy for this opportunity to share your story.

patric sanders

For more information about his books, here’s the link to his Amazon Author page. 

 

 

Author Highlight: Kaye George

For today’s interview I’m talking to former AMW member, Kaye George who is a national-bestselling and multiple-award-winning author. Kaye George

Welcome to the interview couch, Kaye! Tell us, how did you find Austin Mystery Writers?

 I was at an Austin Sisters in Crime Holiday party at someone’s home, and I mentioned wanting a writing group. Someone led me to Karen MacInerney, who was still in the AMW group then. She invited me to a meeting, and I came back time after time. I attended through all kinds of membership changes until we moved out of Austin.

How did the group help you?

 We were all mystery writers, but we all wrote very different kinds of mysteries. I liked getting different feedback from the viewpoints of all the other writers. I liked it when we had guys in the group, too, because that’s another perspective. Having at least several members was always good, because you don’t want to take all the feedback you get. If two or more readers complain about the same passage or plot point, though, you know you have to change it.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

 Probably in junior high school, when I started to think it might be possible. We had an assignment to write a page of description without telling the reader what we were describing. I wrote about Cocker Spaniel, not telling the reader it was a dog, but saying he ran up the hill on four paws and enjoyed the breeze blowing through his long silky ears–or something like that. The teacher loved it! In fact, she read it to the class as an example of how the assignment should be done. My face was bright red! But I loved that she loved it. Throughout high school and college I submitted short stories to impossible markets, Atlantic Monthly (as it was then called) and New Yorker magazines. I collected piles of rejection slips.

What was the first thing of yours that was published?

 It was a short story in Web Mystery Magazine. I’ve lost track of Rosalie Stafford, who accepted my piece, but still keep up with Earl Staggs, who edited for them. The story was called “Flash Mob” and was published in April 2006. I even got paid for it! I remember being so anxious to get it published before flash mobs fell out of fashion. They’re still around, so I wasted that anxiety. I thought I was on my way and it wouldn’t be long before I got the novel published that I’d been working on. Ha! My first novel, CHOKE, was published in 2011, but THAT novel was published in April 2013 as EINE KLEINE MURDER. April seems to be a good month for me.

Tell us about some of your hobbies.

 I play the violin and love to compose when I have the time. In the past, I’ve had fun arranging things for the string quartet I had in Dallas. Reading, of course, and walking. Hiking in the mountains, but not long, overnight treks, just half-day or shorter.

Tell us an unusual fact about you.

After having been on several panels at mystery conferences, I’m not longer all that terrified of speaking in front of people, and I can play in a string quartet or even duet without the shakes, but I’m paralyzed when I play an audition or a violin solo. I can’t do it without a little “helper.”

I know that you have more than one series. Briefly tell us what those are and what’s new.

As Kaye George, I’m doing 3 series (I know, I’m nuts).

Cressa Carraway Musical Mysteries: Eine Kleine MurderEINE KLEINE MURDER, REQUIEM IN RED (coming out in April 2016)

Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series: CHOKE, SMOKE, BROKE          Choke by Kaye George

 

People of the Wind Neanderthal Mysteries:

Death in the Time of IceDEATH IN THE TIME OF ICE, DEATH ON THE TREK (coming out June 2016)

 

 

As Janet Cantrell, just one series.

FCSO cover smallFat Cat: FAT CAT AT LARGE, FAT CAT SPREADS OUT, FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE (coming out in April) April is a good month for me, but it’s getting a little crowded for 2016.

My first love, though, is short stories. With the other members of this group, we had a lot of fun putting out MURDER ON WHEELS with Wildside Press this year. 71QiKRIkj+L

My next short story will be “Heartbreak in Graceland” in MEMPHIS NOIR, memphis noircoming out by Akashic in November. I have some more in the works, but not definite dates. I try to keep my web page updated, so everything should be there soon after I know it.

Do you have any insights into the publishing industry?

Um, no. I’ve always said that if anyone tells you what publishing will look like in ten years, or even next year, they’re full of baloney. No one knows. But that’s what makes this field so interesting. You gotta be on your toes and keep up!

Thanks for the interview!

Thanks so much for having me here today!

A side note: Hurry up and get the hardcover for Death in the Time of Ice at Untreed Reads. It’s available only through Septemeber!

http://www.untreedreads.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=873&products_id=1709

And if you’re interested in her Fat Cat series: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fat-cat-takes-the-cake-janet-cantrell/1122291999

http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Cat-Takes-Cake-Mystery/dp/042526744X/

Here are the links to her novel page and short stories page:

http://kayegeorge.wix.com/kaye-george#!novels/c1qrd

http://kayegeorge.wix.com/kaye-george#!short-stories/c1bfa

Author Highlight- Elizabeth Buhmann

We at AMW are a busy bunch, always working on many projects. I’m so proud to be a part of this diverse, interesting, and productive group! So proud in fact, that I thought I’d do a series of blog posts to highlight what current and former members are up to. Not only are we accomplishing things as a group, but individually we are setting goals for ourselves and we’re achieving them. These folks keep me on my toes! They fuel my desire to create and they give me courage to follow through with projects. By watching them, I’ve seen what can be done.

Austin Mystery Writer Elizabeth BUhmannI’d like to thank Elizabeth Buhmann, author of Lay Death At Her Door, for being the first person in this series.

VPC– Elizabeth, I’ve heard that Lay Death At Her Door is doing well. Any updates on its status? laydeath

EB– I recently got a very nice starred review from Publishers Weekly. Lay Death has been out for more than two years now, and it has done pretty well, in terms of both reviews and sales. I’m happy.

VPC– Any other writing projects that you’re working on that you’d like to share with us?

EB– It’s getting to the point where I’m overdue to get another book out. I have one novel on the brink, but it’s not quite right yet. I’m stewing on that.

I’m not in a hurry. On the contrary, I am trying to detach myself from the gotta-publish, gotta-publish mind-set. The validation that comes from publishing and being read is intoxicating, but publishing can also be a rabbit-hole. When will the next book come out? Did you make the big five? Did you make the bestseller list? In other words, What have you done LATELY?

I don’t need to earn money through my writing, and when it becomes a job with a deadline, I rebel. I admire people younger than myself who are setting out to make a career out of writing fiction (ie, trying to earn enough to give up the day job). I didn’t do that. In my career, I was a writer, but writing fiction is a whole different game. It’s hard work and more difficult than ever—the number of books coming out each year is staggering.

Publishing a novel and having it be well-received was a goal. I don’t want it to become a craving for more and more success and recognition. There are enough books. Maybe I’ll publish again, maybe I won’t. I want to write in peace, on my own terms, at my own pace. If I turn out to be a one-trick pony, that’s fine. It was a good trick.

VPC– I know that you practice Tai Chi. I believe that you’ve recently achieved special status. Please tell us all about it!

Elizabeth getting her second degree black sash cohort.

EB– I’ve been studying Tai Chi for six years and earned my second-degree black sash last fall. I’m pretty obsessed. In addition to my own solo practice, I maintain a Tai Chi blog (taichinotebook.com), take classes and work out with a group of Chinese people in my neighborhood. As a side effect, I have been learning a fair amount of Chinese! And I like reading mysteries set in China. I’ve read all of Qiu Xiaolong’s Inspector Chen novels, which are set in Shanghai in the 1990s.

VPC– I see your from posts here on the website that you read a wide variety of books. What are you currently reading? Anything to recommend?

EB– I have been catching up on Tana French. I read In the Woods and Faithful Place a few years ago; just finished Broken Harbor (six stars out of five, that one!) and The Likeness. Next for me: The Secret Place. I think Tana French is the most brilliant writer working in the mystery field today.

Thanks, Elizabeth! I always learn something new and interesting from you.

Stay tuned. In next month’s author highlight I’ll introduce author Patric Sanders.