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.

LRO-sanfran
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 Technology books become obsolete pretty quickly, so while it served its purpose then, it’s outdated now.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
Malice laura and kaye
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.

Gretchen Archer on Road Trips, Super Spies & Double Knot

DOUBLEKNOTfrontF.jpgGretchen Archer’s biography claims she is a Tennessee housewife who turned to a life of crime (fiction) when her daughters left for college. Don’t let the housewife title fool you.

Gretchen Archer is a writer with mad skills, blending humor throughout her tightly plotted Davis Way mystery series that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Archer is a USA Today bestselling author with a loyal readership that continues to grow with every addition to the series. Fortunately, the latest mystery, Double Knot, hits bookstores and e-readers today.

Gretchen’s ability to create hilarious high jinx in her novels must come from, in some part, raising kids because we parents know how much material our offspring provide. Gretchen’s writing is clever in its ability to draw us in immediately, giving us Davis Way, a ‘super spy’ who works for a covert security team at the Bellissimo Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Super spy she may be, Davis is also wonderfully relatable, allowing her humanity and imperfections to come through with an authenticity that keeps readers rooting for her success.

Double Knot has been praised by Janet Evanovich, who wrote, “Powerfully heartfelt and knock-your-socks-off hilarious. I’m a fan!” Double Knot charts new new territory with this series because it is a locked-room mystery with Davis Way and company traveling on the luxury liner MS Probability. My mind immediately went to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man. Gretchen readily admits that this book was both difficult and exhilarating to write, exploring growth in both Davis’ world and the characters who occupy it. I asked Gretchen to give us a peek inside Davis’ life, how she came to be, and what she sees in the future for her favorite crime caper chasers.

LO: How did you discover Davis Way-or did she find you? 

GA: I was driving from Biloxi to my home in Tennessee on I-65 North in Alabama when I saw an exit sign for Pine Apple, which I thought was hilarious. When I pulled into my driveway three hours later, it was with Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama, who moves to Biloxi. You know how road trips are good for thinking.

LO: What is it about Davis that you think has created such a loyal following of readers? What do you hear most often?

GA: Is it Davis, you think, readers come back for? I hear “I love Davis!” and “Hurry with the next Davis!” but I get even more letters about her husband, Bradley Cole, and her doppelganger Bianca Sanders. What readers have told me they love about Davis is her vulnerability—that she’s human. They love Bradley for the opposite reason, because he’s perfect. (A perfect man is hard to write. Seriously. Because there are no ROLE MODELS.) And Bianca. First, I’ll tell you she’s enormously fun to write, and next, I’ll tell you the letters I get about Bianca are hilarious. “When is someone going to slap that woman?” and “Davis needs to shoot Bianca and get it over with.”

LO: What do you think readers would be surprised to know about Davis?

GA: She loves a good con. She doesn’t say she admires the bandits who cleverly steal from the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, because they usually leave a pesky dead body in their wake, but she’s in awe of a clever thief. Another Davis semi-secret? I wonder if readers remember that Davis had a baby when she was sixteen. I remember it all the time. It’s something they don’t tell you in Mystery Series Writing School, maybe because there is no Mystery Series Writing School (we should start one), but the history you write for your main character in book one stays with her. For the whole series. Another Davis surprise? She can’t cook. You never read about Davis cooking, which is crazy, because I feel like it’s all I do. (“What’s for dinner, Mom?” (“Anything you want! Frosted Flakes! Goldfish! Popcorn!”) What about the fact that Davis never shops? I never send her shopping but her closet is full of fabulous clothes.

LO: How do you feel Davis has changed and grown since Double Whammy?  Are there certain areas or themes you hope to explore going forward?

GA: Davis grew up in a town of four hundred. The biggest change for her has been the people she’s met since leaving Pine Apple. Fantasy is the first BFF she’s ever had, and their relationship is so much fun because they’re so close. And true love. Davis wouldn’t take a million dollars for a hair on her husband’s head. So, her biggest changes since book one are in the personal relationships category.

LO: Are there any special talents that Davis has yet to bring to one of your stories?  Ninja warrior?  Underwater basket weaving?

GA: She might learn how to land a plane. She just might.

LO: Anything else you’d like to share about DOUBLE KNOT or Davis’ world?

GA: Double Knot was a labor of love. I absolutely loved writing it. It’s a locked-room mystery on a two-day timeline. It was challenging and rewarding and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to write one this close to my heart again.

 

Here’s a sneak peak of Double Knot

At midnight, the clock clicking from Saturday to Sunday, I locked the door to my stateroom behind me. I gathered my cat, pajamas, vitamins, toothbrush, and was in a hurry for the bed when I stepped into the gold bathroom and saw an envelope taped to the mirror above the vanity. It was addressed to me. I recognized my name right away; I’ve had it all my life. The problem was—I took slow and steady steps toward the envelope—no one outside 704 knew my name. Correspondence to me aboard Probability should have been addressed to Bianca Sanders. Not Davis Way Cole. I reached for it, curious and apprehensive at the same time. I opened it to find a photograph of my boss, No Hair. My knees gave way and the vanity caught me. Hands bound behind his back, legs secured at the ankles, clothes disheveled, his tie gone and his lower lip split wide open, he was in a straight chair against a wall between two dark porthole windows. No Hair was someone’s prisoner. He looked straight at me when the picture was taken, his eyes apologetic, but everything else about his expression and posture was livid.

My head swam and I saw stars. I backed up to the square porcelain bathtub in the middle of the gold floor and sat down on the wide edge. I read the letter.

Mrs. Cole,

To ensure your safety and that of your guests and loved ones, sit back and settle in, because you’re not leaving your suite. Rest assured no harm will come to anyone as long as you follow these simple instructions: Do not attempt to escape or make contact with anyone. Jeremy Covey will be detained for the duration of the cruise, as will you and your party. You will walk off this ship unharmed if you cooperate.

Unfortunately, the medical staff accompanying you tried to board with controlled substances and was refused passage. They’re not looking for you. Your photography crew has been reassigned. They’re not looking for you. No one is looking for you. There’s no way out. Not only is escape impossible, you will most assuredly jeopardize everyone’s welfare if you attempt any overt attention-seeking endeavors. In other words, Mrs. Cole, don’t start a fire. You’ll burn.

Arrangements have been made to communicate with your husband for you. Should you try to contact him directly and by some miracle succeed, you run the risk of never seeing him again.

Relax, follow these simple instructions, and all will be well. Attempts to escape, alert your husband, the authorities, or other passengers will be met with deadly consequences. It’s up to you.

And that was it.

We were hostages on a luxury cruise liner.

Gretchen_  To learn more about Double Knot and Gretchen Archer, please visit www.gretchenarcher.com. You can find Double Knot at your favorite bookstore or online through Amazon and other retailers.

–Laura Oles

WATCH OUT FOR THE NET

Pflugerville Book Pfestival April 16 and 17

By Gale Albright

Ever since I assumed the presidency of Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter in January of 2016, I’ve been trying not to get tangled up in the net. The “net” as in “networking.”

I love all the things I’m involved in, but it behooves me to get my head out of the clouds and be careful where my feet are stepping. I don’t want to get so tangled up that I trip and fall.

I get excited, I get ambitious, I get enthusiastic, and I tend to say “yes” to any and all new projects that come my way. I find out about these projects via networking.

A net can be a safety net and it can also be a net that traps you.

Without networking, without contacts with others who have similar interests, without commitment to projects, nothing would happen. But you have to do the work. You have to get people to help you do the work. You have to pace yourself so you won’t burn out. I’m talking to myself here, so if you can see yourself in what I’m saying, don’t take it personally.

So far, I haven’t agreed to take care of more than one thing at a time. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“Enthusiasm” and “Exhaustion” both start with the same letter.SINC August Meg Gardiner 005

 

IMG_2617It is through Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas chapter that our organization had a wonderful weekend visit from international best-selling author Rhys Bowen in March. It is through Scott Montgomery, crime fiction coordinator for BookPeople, that I got to know Hopeton Hay of KAZI FM’s book review. I got to interview Sue Grafton on his radio program. I’m now involved in the Pflugerville Book Pfestival (April 16-17) because of networking with Scott and Hopeton. Networking can lead to wonderful things: moderating a mystery panel at a book festival; producing May Mystery Month day-long free workshops at BookPeople; meeting writers and making new friendships.

But remember to breathe, take your vitamins, and don’t get your feet tangled in the net.

JULY SINC HELEN CURRIE FOSTERSINC JULY GHOST DOGdeathontourcoverSINC August Meg Gardiner 003ALEXANDRA PICTURE 2

Speaking of networking, please come to the Pflugerville Book Pfestival April 16-17, at the Pflugerville Public Library at 1008 Pfluger Street.ALEXANDRA BURT BOOK COVER

The weekend festival, free and open to the public, is packed with writers, book signings, panel discussions and interviews. I will moderate the panel “Sisters in Crime: Women Crime Fiction Writers” with award-winning authors Meg Gardiner, Alexandra Burt, Janice Hamrick, and Helen Currie Foster from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 16.

On Sunday, April 17, there will be panels on mystery in fantasy and science fiction novels, international crime fiction, and the greatest crime-fiction novels of all time.

Get information and schedules about the Pflugerville Book Pfestival by calling 512-990-6375 or go to http://www.pflugervilletx.gov/index.aspx?NID=2237

 

 

 

Janice Hamrick on Work, Writing, & Studies in Scotland

Janice_Hamrick_2012_for_web.pngJanice Hamrick may not be a professor, but watching her presentation during her recent program for the Heart of Texas Chapter of Sister’s in Crime, it’s quite clear she has a talent for teaching. In less than ninety minutes, Janice had demonstrated how each writer in the group could take a simple exercise and turn it into something compelling and interesting.

It’s harder than it looks.

Writing is also like that. Countless people say that they will, someday, sit down to write the Great American Novel once they have more time, more money, more freedom. Janice cautions against such thinking because writers make the time–no, writers steal the time–to put their projects on the top of the priority list. Even now, with an award winning series under her belt, Janice wakes up at 5 am to focus on her fiction before working a full day as a technical writer. She understands that there is no ideal time. There is only time, and it is up to each one of us to claim it.

We recently met for dinner at Gruene River Grille, a jewel of a restaurant nestled in the heart of Texas Hill Country, and tested the waitress’ patience with our three hour dinner (the waitress was amazing, by the way). Our conversation traveled the gamut of topics ranging from work and family to writing and publishing, and at the end of the dinner, we still left ground uncovered.

Janice is a writer’s writer–she is supportive, honest, kind and willing to share her expertise with others, all the while remarkably humble when the topic turns her to her own professional accomplishments. Her debut novel, Death of Tour, won the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition in 2010 and launched her popular Jocelyn Shore series. After three successful books under her belt, Janice continued to work and write, and also traveled to Scotland to earn an M.Sc. in History from the University of Edinburgh. She has since returned to Austin, where she juggles work, life and writing.

Below are a few highlights from our discussion:

LO: How did you come to writing? At what point did you realize you wanted to write a mystery?

JH: I’ve wanted to write my whole life. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. And I’ve loved mysteries almost that long, beginning with Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and the Three Investigators. It seemed a natural thing to try to write one of the books I loved.

LO:  How did the character of Jocelyn Shore come to you?

Will_Janice.JPG
William Oles gives Janice’s series a ‘thumbs up!’

JH: I got the idea for a mystery set on a tour of Egypt when I went on a tour myself and noticed the potential for undetected deception is particularly great in a group of strangers who are traveling together. Once I got the basic plot idea, I needed a character with an intuitive understanding of human nature – and who better than a teacher for that?  I love Jocelyn for having no illusions about what people are capable of and yet still genuinely liking them.

LO: Take us through your entry in the Minotaur competition and what happened when you realized that you had won.

JH: I stumbled on the contest when I was searching for agents to query, and I entered it in pretty much the same way I occasionally buy a lottery ticket – it seemed like such a long shot. In fact, it was not on my radar at all, and I had almost forgotten about it by the time I got the phone call.  I was at lunch with friends, didn’t hear the phone ring, and checked my messages in my car – before starting to drive, thank goodness.  When I heard an editor from Minotaur wanted me to call her back, my head almost exploded. I mean, I’m insecure, but even I didn’t think that editors routinely made personal phone calls just to tell writers their books suck.

LO: Many writers believe that their lives will be forever changed if they are fortunate enough to win a competition or, better yet, receive a traditional publishing contract.  As someone who has achieved the very thing most writers covet, what advice or insight can you give to those still striving for those goals?

JH: I’m not going to lie – being published was my biggest dream come true. However, like most dreams, the reality isn’t exactly what I expected. It’s not what my friends expected, either. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked if I’m going to quit my day job. My response is always the same: “No, I like to eat.”  The financial rewards aren’t what people expect, especially in the beginning of your career.

The biggest surprise to me was that publishers expect authors to become publicists, marketing managers, social media gurus, and polished public speakers, which, when you think about it, is almost the exact opposite of everything a solitary writer-type is likely enjoy or excel at doing. Those activities have a steep learning curve and really cut into my writing time. Even worse, all those things focused my attention on what other people want or what I “should” be writing. And actually – that leads to my advice, because I see it happening to all writers, whether they’ve been published or not. The tendency is to focus on what is selling, how to sell, what successful writers do, and what trends are popping up in publishing instead of focusing on the writing. It absolutely crushes creativity…and the fun.

My advice:  Read what you love. Write what you love. Finish what you start. Then you can worry about trying to get published.

An important side note– I’d started querying agents at the same time I entered the Minotaur competition.  Even after I won, the rejection slips kept rolling in. So, take that as further proof that being rejected does not indicate anything about the quality of your work.

And yes, the rejections still stung. 

LO: Your sabbatical from your job to temporarily move to Scotland sounds like a fantastic adventure. Can you share more of that experience with us?

JH: I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, for an entire year and traveled extensively while earning an M.Sc. in History from the University of Edinburgh. The title of my thesis was “Supernatural Belief, the Scientific World, and the Victorian Experience of Grief in England: 1848–1890.”  It was the best year of my life…so far, at least.  Completely life- and attitude-changing.  As a side note, although the title of my dissertation is awesome, academic writing completely and utterly sucks the life out of even the coolest topic.

LO: Are you writing now? If so, how do you balance this with your current career demands?

JH: I AM writing now.  I’m working on a short story, which I’ve never done before, and I’m in the plotting stages of a new mystery. Details to be kept mysterious.  I get up at about 5:00 a.m. every day to write fiction before my workday starts. I tried doing it in the evenings, but I found that at the end of a full day, I’m tired of being on the computer in addition to just being tired.

LO: What advice might you offer to writers who hope to one day publish a mystery?

JH: Although I have lots of small tips and tricks, everything important I’ve learned can be boiled down to three things

  1. Write at least five days a week.  Even if you can only manage half a page, establishing a deathontourcoverwriting habit is vital. Don’t wait to be “inspired.” You are a writer, and writing is hard. Embrace that.
  1. Finish what you start. Do not start one thing after another without ever reaching “The End” of anything. Do not spend years and years on one book, endlessly polishing and rewriting. Get to the end and LET IT GO. Put it in a drawer if you aren’t happy enough to start querying and start something new. Start something new even if you ARE happy enough to start querying. You have an endless supply of stories inside you. Get them out there.
  1. Have FUN!  Stop reading publishing news. Stop obsessing over the failures and successes of other writers who aren’t you. Stop willingly inviting negative, critical, and fear-mongering voices into your head. (As a writer, you have enough voices in there already.)  Stop obsessing over how to get published and start obsessing over actually writing. Don’t get me wrong – writing is terribly hard work and some days it just sucks. But there are also days when it’s like flying. Obsess about getting more of those days.

You can learn more about Janice Hamrick, her Jocelyn Shore series, and her current projects at www.janicehamrick.com.

—Laura Oles

 

D-minus

MOW BOOK LAUNCH 003 (3)
First posted by Kathy Waller
on Writing Wranglers and Warriors
and on Telling the Truth, Mainly

Very long, but sort of necessary

On January 29, I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Two kinds of cancer are present, not a common occurrence. One kind is aggressive but easier to treat than the other, which is slow-growing. There is a lesion in each lung. One was biopsied, so we know which kind it is. My oncologist said there’s no reason to think the lesion in the other lung is the same kind, but since that lesion wasn’t been biopsied, we don’t know. The radiologist preferred not to biopsy it because it’s near the heart. Sticking needles near the heart isn’t a preferred protocol.

Before I go further, I must say this: Please don’t say you’re sorry. I don’t feel ill. I have no symptoms except one lump I can feel. I’m sorry–really, really sorry, big-time sorry–I’m in this fix, but I already know you’re sorry, too, so it’s okay not to say it. Hearing it can be a bit of a downer. 

I announced the diagnosis to a friend over lunch. We discussed the situation from all sides. Before we parted, she said, “You know this is an opportunity to write.” I said, Yes, I’d already thought of that.

Newbie writers repeatedly ask themselves–and each other–When can I call myself a ***writer*** without feeling like a fraud?

Answer: When no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, or what you’re feeling, you think, I can write about this.

From now on, when people ask what I do, or what I am, I shall say, in a firm and forthright manner, as if they’d better believe it or else, I am a writer.

I responded to the diagnosis with a combination of O God and Okaaaayyyyy…. The oncologist spoke of palliative care and statistics. I despise the word palliative, and the statistics were mind-boggling, and not in a good way. But I told David I’m going to fight, and he said he was, too. I said I was going to be happy while I fought. He said, “That’s what fighting is.” I’ve never heard a better definition.

When a navigator (survivor) from the Breast Cancer Resource Center (BCRC) called to introduce herself, I told her I hadn’t read the stack of literature the surgeon had given me–a looseleaf notebook, a spiral notebook, and a passel of booklets–because after glancing over a couple of pages, I decided I didn’t need that much information. I said I guessed I was in denial. She said a little denial can be a good thing.

I dumped the stack of paper in David’s lap and invited him to read it. He did. He’s a good person. A brick, if I may use an old-fashioned word that sounds funny now but in this case isn’t. He takes copious notes, asks questions, knows what meds and chemo drugs I take, records appointments on his calendar, remembers what other questions we need to ask, and and and… He can recite most of the info from memory.

I’ve vowed several times to step up and take more responsibility for the fight. To date, I’ve learned which anti-nausea pill to take first and which to take if the first one hasn’t worked. I know chemo #4 is scheduled for April 15, too, plus a few other random facts.

On the not-denial side–and to date–for a few days after a chemo infusion, I feel kind of meh but generally okay. However, I become fatigued easily. But I forget about the fatigue and do too much and then pay for it. The oncologist said, “Yeah, everybody does that.” The first time, I paid with a day in bed. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I stayed up half the night, three nights in a row, trying to write three hundred words for a guest blog, and paid for over-reach by thinking, What if the chemo doesn’t work?

The good old, What if?

The thought had already crossed my mind, of course, but this time it was accompanied by the line from It’s Always Something, Gilda Radner’s account of  her experience with ovarian cancer:

I had wanted to wrap this book up in a neat little package. I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned the hard way that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.

I’ve not read the book, but a long time ago, I read that sentence, and it stuck.

The BCRC navigator called again to see how I was getting along. We I met for iced tea and conversation, and I unloaded a couple of million words on her and said I would attend a meeting of a group the oncologist had strongly recommended (twice already). I perked up some more.

But then came the third visit with oncologist. He ordered a CT scan to check progress, as in, Is the chemo working?–and the possibility of No surfaced again. After a while, No morphed from possibility to probability. Then it began to feel like a prediction. More sighing, combined with an undeclared expectation of the worst.

But I knew that surgical oncologist Dr. Bernie Siegal says cancer patients must tell the truth, that if you go around claiming, I’m fine, just fine, your subconscious, which takes words literally, will believe you, and won’t tell your body it must fight. He recommends using a grading system: When you feel like C-minus, admit it. So I told people who asked, and some who didn’t, that I was a D-minus: scared to death.

Anyway. I had the CT scan yesterday (Thursday) afternoon. The oncologist had stressed that he wanted me to have the results by the second day at the latest–I like him a lot–so if we hadn’t heard by then, to call his office.

Later I realized that when you have a scan on Thursday, the second day is Monday, which leaves a weekend of not knowing in the middle.

But. Here’s where things get better.

The oncologist called yesterday afternoon, not two hours after we left the imaging center. One lung lesion has almost “resolved,” the other has reduced in size by nearly half, one lymph node has reduced significantly. However, a lymph node near where the bronchial tubes branch off from the trachea has enlarged significantly. He said it could be just “reactive,” doing what lymph nodes normally do when you have, say, a cold–but not to count on that. We’ll follow it closely, see what it does, and if it doesn’t shrink, figure out what to do next.

In short, this is a mixed result, but the oncologist is pleased. What pleases him pleases me. So I’m pleased.

Backing up a bit, at our second visit, the oncologist asked whether I had more questions. I said, “No.”

He said, “Okay. Well, your next question should be, ‘How will we know the chemo is working?’” I told him I’d assumed he’d get around to that when he was ready.

Now, Dear Reader, your next question should be, Why did it take you so long to write this post?

For a variety of reasons, I suppose. Because I’ve only now decided how to approach the topic. Because I wanted to hear some good news before writing. Because I wanted some grounding–I like certainty; even relative certainty–before writing.

Because I didn’t want to.

Because writing about any subject makes it real.

Years ago, I put off writing a letter because I’d have had to say in it that my father had died. I still haven’t written that letter. Writing it would have made the death real, and I preferred it stay as it was, hovering on the edge of reality.

Writing about Stage IV cancer would have made every detail, every statistic, real. I wasn’t ready for that.  Now it’s okay. It’s real, not like it was yesterday with No in the ascendant, but real with mixed but pleasing results.

Ending tacked on Tuesday night: That’s the post I wrote last Friday, or most of it. I started working on it during chemo infusion #3 and continued that evening and into the night. Chemo drugs seem to invigorate me. Sunday, however, the crash came. The “flu-like” symptoms the oncologist had been asking about finally hit. That lasted only thirty-six hours or so, and it could have been worse. However, it left me in a nasty mood from which I haven’t emerged.

Last Friday, this was a chirpy post about adventures in breast cancer. Tonight–or, as it will probably post tomorrow, the 30th, a day late–it’s a non-chirpy post written by someone who’s in a nasty, nasty mood. Because I took all the chirpy parts out.

I shouldn’t admit that. Even if it’s evident, I shouldn’t admit it. I should pretend to be chirpy. I really, really should. That’s what nice Southern girls are supposed to do. Chirp.

But I remember the name of the English honor society I joined in college: Sigma Tau Delta. Sincerity. Truth. Design.

And I think of Dr. Siegal: If you’re feeling D-minus, say you’re D-minus.

So what this post lacks in Design, it makes up for in Sincerity and Truth. Tonight, I’m D-minus.

Having said that, however, I think tomorrow I’ll be much improved.

###

Oh, all right. As long as I’m already late, I’ll mention one achievement: After watching selected videos on YouTube, I have learned to wrap a scarf into a turban. For one devoid of manual dexterity, that’s big. The first two times we appeared together in public, the turban stayed put, and I received compliments. During Friday’s chemo, filaments of fringe kept popping out. They looked like little bitty antennae.

Obviously, Friday’s edition was poorly engineered from the get-go, because as soon as I got home, one end slipped out and draped down the side of my face. Fringe crawled over in front of my glasses.

©MKW. Any person who even thinks about copying, reproducing, grabbing, stealing, purloining, or otherwise taking and placing, positioning, or using this photograph anywhere else in the Universe should recognize, understand, and know that if he, she, or it does, Something Bad will happen.
©MKW. Any person who even thinks about copying, reproducing, grabbing, stealing, purloining, or otherwise taking and placing, positioning, or using this photograph anywhere else in the Universe should recognize, understand, and know that if he, she, or it does, Something Bad will happen.

I reminded myself of Lord Byron in Albanian dress. Except Byron’s headgear probably isn’t called a turban.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous.

I look like I wrapped a scarf around my head, and shouldn’t have.

 

###

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Writing Wranglers and Warriors.

 

 

Interview With AMW Member Kathy Waller

Rhys Bowen is a brick and an old bean

Rhys Bowen at Fonda San Miguel in AustinBy Gale Albright

I will say unreservedly that Rhys Bowen is a brick and an old bean.

I believe these were compliments among the aristocracy in old time England. Bowen married into an upper-crust British family and became familiar with their Downton Abbey-esque manner of speech that flourished in the early part of the twentieth century. Her Royal Spyness series is set during the Great Depression on the UK side of the Atlantic. Her protagonist, Lady Georgie, is a royal who is far removed from the throne. She’s just royal enough that she can’t work because “the queen wouldn’t like it.” Lady Georgie must find ways to earn money and solve murders that crop up. She has a deplorable sister in law called “Fig.” Enough said.

Bowen’s Molly Murphy series is about an Irish lass on the run from a date with the hangman’s noose in Ireland around the turn of the century. The series takes Molly through Ellis Island, into New York City, marriage to a policeman, and the occasional murder.

Bowen’s talk at the Sisters in Crime: Heart of Texas meeting on Sunday, March 13 at the Yarborough Public Library, was about “getting it right.” Since the stories about Lady Georgie and Molly are historical mysteries, Bowen is meticulous about doing her research. She feels that there’s nothing worse for a writer than to make a mistake about a historical detail. “I won’t blurb a book that has an historical error,” she said. Readers won’t tend to trust a writer if they run across mistakes in her novels. She talked to us at length about the importance of research and creating the correct time and feel for place in a novel.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Sisters in Crime national organization, Bowen was our guest for the weekend of March 12 – 13.  She appeared at a book signing on Saturday, March 12, at BookPeople for her new Molly Murphy book, Time of Fog and Fire at 3 p.m. Afterward, some of us went to dinner with her and had a royal good time.

On Sunday, March 13, our vice president, George Wier, and I had brunch with Bowen at Fonda San Miguel, drove around to look at bluebonnets and rolling hills, and came back to a packed house at the Yarborough Library. Afterwards, we repaired to La Mancha for libations and more food.

I hope she enjoyed it. We certainly enjoyed her. She is a most elegant– yet down to earth–lady with considerable wit, charm, and professionalism. We thought she was swell.

Bowen has won many writing awards, including the Macavity Award for Oh Danny Boy and Agatha Award for Murphy’s Law. Last year’s book, Malice at the Palace, won the Lefty Award for the best historical novel at the Left Coast Crime convention.

To find out more about Rhys Bowen, New York Times best-selling author of the Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy mystery series, go to http://rhysbowen.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blogger Janet Christian

38-Janet-Christian-5x7

Today’s guest blogger is Janet Christian, author of the Marianna Morgan PI murder mystery series (she’s working on book two at this time) and the soon to be published Virgilante paranormal mystery. She also has a dystopian science fiction novel, Born Rich, which she’s expanding into an epic, so it’s currently not for sale.

Janet served as 2003 President of the Heart of Texas Sisters in Crime in Austin, and became a published author in 2012. She also maintains an author’s blog.

Janet and her husband Eric Marsh live on a 100 acre ranch near Lockhart, TX – 30 miles south of Austin. They have four goofy dogs, an ever-changing population of cats (usually around 10), and a small herd of  spotted-wool Jacob sheep. When she isn’t writing, Janet creates pottery art pieces in her combination pottery studio and tiki bar.

Janet, welcome to AMW!

Three steps to research success

I was inspired to write this article after conversations with several writers who said they just wanted to write, and factual details weren’t that important to readers, anyway. The writers were willing to do limited online research, but had no inclination to talk to experts or visit locations. Research can certainly either be the bane or the joy of writing, regardless of genre or time period of the story. But research is always important, so why not find ways to make it work in your favor, and perhaps to even be enjoyable.

I understand that we writers tend to be a solitary bunch, but please make the effort to do thorough research beyond just surfing the web. You’ll be happy that you did. And so will your readers. Besides, at least to me, one of the joys of writing is learning all those amazing and cool facts and bits of trivia.

Here are three tips to help ensure your research is thorough, useful, and hopefully fun to acquire.

1. Surf the web

Google and other seSurfing the Webarch tools are amazingly complete storehouses of information, but searching can be tricky. If you want to know what year an event occurred, one search usually provides the answer. But if your goal is more esoteric, it can take dozens of searches, tweaking the keywords each time, before you find the information you seek.

Like most writers, I’ve attempted searches for some pretty obscure facts. And once recently my search resulted in the message “No results found.” I’m both simultaneously tickled and frightened that I “broke” Google. Maybe I need to rethink that plot twist.

While search tools are powerful, and can provide a world of search results, you should not count on it as your sole research tool. We all know the internet is chock full of not-quite-true “facts” and information. But the biggest reason is because of the amount of results one search provides. It can be overwhelming to sift out the clutter and get to the specific facts you seek. You can also find search results that directly contradict each other. (Try searching “are vaccines safe” or “is global warming real” for proof of just how contradictory results can be.)

Use a search tool as a springboard for where to go next. For my first novel, The Case of a Cold Trail and a Hot Musket, I wanted my protagonist, Private Investigator Marianna Morgan, to search for a stolen Brown Bess musket. In fact, my novel was inspired by a newspaper article about a long-lost Brown Bess being donated to the Alamo. Online searches gave me many facts about the musket, including images of its wooden stock and unusual triangular, cross-section bayonet. But there were many variations of the musket. And nothing online told me what condition it would be in after having been buried for thirty-five years. This is the point in research where it’s good to move on to step 2.

2. Contact an expert

Talk to expertsI was fortunate in the case of my Brown Bess research that my sister has a business acquaintance with Dr. Richard Bruce Winders, Historian and Curator of the Alamo. I was granted an appointment with Dr. Winders and had the privilege of holding the actual Brown Bess mentioned in the article that inspired my murder mystery. Dr. Winders also described in detail how I could safely hide one in my story.

But don’t let your lack of a direct or indirect relationship with an expert deter you. When I needed to research how the abduction of a child would have been handled in an unincorporated area near San Antonio in the days before 911 emergency service existed, I called Chief Don Davis, who was the Police Chief of Terrell Hills, Texas at the time I was writing. He was more than happy to see me. The accuracy and detail I included in my novel were a direct result of Chief Davis’s informative and helpful answers.

I’ve interviewed many other experts as well, covering topics as diverse as reptile exhibits, how many UPS drivers are assigned to a given geographic area, vintage Mustangs, and what would happen to a koi pond if a decomposing body were buried beneath the rubber liner. Some experts I met in person, others I talked to on the phone. I recommend face-to-face where possible, but phone calls are a perfectly acceptable alternative. I’ve yet to contact an expert who wasn’t happy to help, and all patiently answered my many questions. I always make sure to thank them in the back of the book and send them a signed copy once it’s published.

Whether you’re writing contemporary or historical mysteries, and regardless of whether they’re cozies or hard-boiled, there’s always an expert who can provide those gems of detail that really bring a story to life. And bringing reality and life to a story is where the third tip in research comes in.

3. On site visits

Triton, MN, September 28,2010--Rich Barto, an Small Business Administration (SBA) Construction Analyst inspects a home that was damaged when the Zumbro River overflowed its banks. FEMA, the SBA and the State of Minnesota are conducting damage assessment to determine if the state is eligible for federal assistance. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

In addition to my expert contacts on reptile exhibits, I visited the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo near San Antonio. It was an hour and a half drive, but well worth it. Because of that visit, I was able to add multiple sensory experiences to the scene where Marianna visits a roadside reptile exhibit while tracking the bad guy. I believe my experiencing the assault of smells, sounds, and sights in person gave the scene in my novel a realism I could not have created any other way.

An actual on-site visit may not always be practical, but when it is, take advantage. If you’re writing a mystery that takes place in London, unless you have an extensive travel budget, you may not be able to visit. And if your story is set in 1800s London, a visit may not be all that useful, anyway. But sometimes there are other ways to accomplish a sense of “being there.” And even those alternatives can be invaluable.

Want a feel for Victorian England? Visit the largest Renaissance Faire you can find within a reasonable drive. Setting your charming cozy in a small town populated by quirky characters? Visit two or three cool small towns.

We’ve likely all read stories where it was clear the author published without doing any research. Even little mistakes can throw a reader out of a story. Did a football fan buy your mystery because it involves a murder during a Super Bowl? You can bet they’ll write a scathing review if you set the story in 1966 (the first Super Bowl was in 1967), or even if you describe the wrong concession foods. But if you’ve done your online research, talked to a football expert, and actually attended a football game (even a high school game, especially in Texas, will give you the sense of the crowd’s excitement and behavior), your story will “ring true” and that football fan will love it and look forward to buying your next book.

Isn’t at least one of our ultimate goals to have readers who love our books and can’t wait for each new release? Research can be one of the biggest keys to helping that happen.

 

Thanks Janet! You can find more of her writing at www.janetchristian.com

A Mind Unhinged

Posted by Kathy Waller

So you start writing your post about the incomparable Josephine Tey’s mystery novels two weeks before it’s due but don’t finish, and then you forget, and a colleague reminds you, but the piece refuses to come together, and the day it’s due it’s still an embarrassment, and the next day it’s not much better, and you decide, Oh heck, at this point what’s one more day? and you go to bed,

and in the middle of the night you wake to find twenty pounds of cat using you as a mattress, and you know you might as well surrender, because getting him off is like moving Jello with your bare hands,

Elisabet Ney: Lady Macbeth, Detail
Elisabet Ney: Lady Macbeth, Detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Attribution: Ingrid Fisch at the German language Wikipedia.  GNU_Free_Documentation_License

so you lie there staring at what would be the ceiling if you could see it, and you think, Macbeth doth murder sleep…. Macbeth shall sleep no more,

and then you think about Louisa May Alcott writing, She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain,

and you realize your own brain has not only turned, but has possibly come completely unhinged.

And you can’t get back to sleep, so you lie there thinking, Books, books, books. Strings and strings of words, words, words. Why do we write them, why do we read them? What are they all for?

And you remember when you were two years old, and you parroted,

The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat,

because happiness was rhythm and rime.

And later when your playmate didn’t want to hear you read “Angus and the Cat,” and you made her sit still and listen anyway.

And when you were fourteen and so happy all you could think was, O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!, and you didn’t know who wrote it but you remembered the line from a Kathy Martin book you got for Christmas when you were ten.

And when you were tramping along down by the river and a narrow fellow in the grass slithered by too close, and you felt a tighter breathing, and zero at the bone.

And when you woke early to a rosy-fingered dawn and thought

By Dana Ross Martin, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), via flickr
By Dana Ross Martin, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I’ll tell you how the sun rose,
A ribbon at a time,
The steeples swam in Amethyst
The news, like Squirrels, ran –
The Hills untied their Bonnets –

And when you saw cruelty and injustice, and you remembered, Perfect love casts out fear, and knew fear rather than hate as the source of inhumanity, and love, the cure.

And when your father died unexpectedly, and you foresaw new responsibilities, and you remembered,

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise.

And when your mother died, and you thought,

Oh, if instead she’d left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

Fentress United Methodist Church. © Kathy Waller
Fentress United Methodist Church. © Kathy Waller

And at church the day after your father’s funeral, when your cousins, who were officially middle-aged and should have known how to behave, sat on the front row and dropped a hymnbook, and something stuck you in the side and you realized that when you mended a seam in your dress that morning you left the needle just hanging there and you were in danger of being punctured at every move, and somehow everything the minister said struck you as funny, and the whole family chose to displace stress by laughing throughout the service, and you were grateful for Mark Twain’s observations that

Laughter which cannot be suppressed is catching. Sooner or later it washes away our defences, and undermines our dignity, and we join in it … we have to join in, there is no help for it,

and that, 

Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.

And when you fell in love and married and said with the poet, My beloved is mine and I am his.

And when, before you walked down the aisle, you handed a bridesmaid a slip of paper on which you’d written, Fourscooooorrrrrrre…, so that while you said, “I do,” she would be thinking of Mayor Shinn’s repeated attempts to recite the Gettysburg Address at River City’s July 4th celebration, and would be trying so hard not to laugh that she would forget to cry.

And when your friend died before you were ready and left an unimaginable void, and life was unfair, and you remembered that nine-year-old Leslie fell and died trying to reach the imaginary kingdom of Terabithia, and left Jess to grieve but to also to pass on the love she’d shown him.

And when the doctor said you have an illness and the outlook isn’t good, and you thought of Dr. Bernie Siegal’s writing, Do not accept that you must die in three weeks or six months because someone’s statistics say you will… Individuals are not statistics, but you also remembered what Hamlet says to Horatio just before his duel with Laertes,

There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

And by the time you’ve thought all that, you’ve come back to what you knew all along, that books exist for pleasure, for joy, for consolation and comfort, for courage, for showing us that others have been here before, have seen what we see, felt what we feel, shared needs and wants and dreams we think belong only to us, that

Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her t...
Photograph of Helen Keller at age 8 with her tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

everything the earth is full of… everything on it that’s ours for a wink and it’s gone, and what we are on it, the—light we bring to it and leave behind in—words, why, you can see five thousand years back in a light of words, everything we feel, think, know—and share, in words, so not a soul is in darkness, or done with, even in the grave.

And about the time you have settled the question to your satisfaction, the twenty pounds of Jello slides off, and you turn over, and he stretches out and leans so firmly against your back that you end up wedged between him and your husband, who is now clinging to the edge of  the bed, as sound asleep as the Jello is, and as you’re considering your options, you think,

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar…

and by the time the Pussycat and the Elegant Fowl have been married by the Turkey who lives on the hill, and have eaten their wedding breakfast with a runcible spoon, and are dancing by the light of the moon, the moon, you’ve decided that a turned brain has its advantages, and that re-hinging will never be an option.

###

20 pounds of cat. © Kathy Waller
20 pounds of cat. © Kathy Waller

###

http://nfs.sparknotes.com/macbeth/page_58.html
https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1315.Louisa_May_Alcott
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171941
http://www.vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com/2009/06/angus-and-cat.html
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182477
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epithets_in_Homer
http://biblehub.com/1_john/4-18.htm
http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2002/10/15
http://www.twainquotes.com/Laughter.html
http://biblehub.com/songs/2-16.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Music_Man_(1962_film)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_to_Terabithia_(novel)
http://www.shareguide.com/Siegel.html
http://nfs.sparknotes.com/hamlet/page_320.html
http://www.shorewood.k12.wi.us/page.cfm?p=3642

 

 

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. 🙂

DOLLAR SIGNS Final Ebook Cover 04

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