James Michener Didn’t Care

by Kathy Waller

When I was four years old, I took a pair of scissors and a roll of red, gooey adhesive tape and wrote my name on the inside of the kitchen door. It didn’t occurred to me I shouldn’t, and my parents never said a word. I’m sure they discussed it, but I wasn’t privy to that conversation.  The crooked red letters stayed on the door for years. When they were finally removed, a heavy red stain remained.

Pat Boone - PixWhen I was eight, my father gave me a ream of legal-sized paper. I produced a newspaper, one copy per issue, focusing on the social activities of dogs, cats, and horses in the neighborhood. I reported on the wedding of Mr. Pat Boone, my rat terrier, and Miss Bootsie, my grandfather’s evil gray-and-white cat. Miss Bootsie was really Mr. Bootsie, but even then I knew the value of poetic license. Mr. Tommy, my cousin’s orange tabby, married someone, too, but I don’t remember whom or what gender. Or what genus and species for that matter.

For years, I loved writing—the paper, the pencils and pens, the ink, the facts, the improved facts, and the outright fiction.

The feeling lasted until high school, when I began taking courses labeled English. Writing became torture. What will I write about, how many words does it have to be, I don’t know anything about that, I don’t have anything to say. Through high school and two  college degrees–in English–I produced the required papers but agonized over every word.

There were bright spots: writing the junior class prophecy, which made even the teachers laugh when I read it at the junior-senior banquet; composing a satire on life in the teachers’ lounge I hid in when I was a teacher, issued serially on an irregular basis whenever the Muse moved me.

Overall, however, my relationship with writing remained conflicted. I pretended it didn’t. After all, I taught English.

Things began to change when I told a therapist about my early love affair with words. He responded, “I think you’d better start writing.” He suggested I join the Austin Writers’ League.

“I can’t,” I said. “James Michener belongs to the Austin Writers’ League. I can’t belong to anything James Michener belongs to.”

James Michener

The next day, I joined. James Michener didn’t object. I took informal classes at universities. An instructor invited me to a Saturday-morning writing practice group. The next weekend, I drove fifty miles, parked in front of the café where it met, watched people carry notebooks inside, backed my car out, and drove home. It took another week to build the courage to pick up my notebook to join them and become a regular.

The result? Once again, I fell in love with writing. I also fell in love with a member of the writing practice group and, after a decent interval, married him.

And I published some short stores in anthologies and online, and one novella.

But my romance with writing hasn’t ended  happily ever after. I don’t have a long list of appealing topics. I don’t have a file of perfect first sentences. I still have to write to find out what I know and what I think. I always wonder what happens next (and understand why Hemingway, Faulker, and Fitgerald drank to excess). I’m still driven by deadlines—my brain doesn’t turn on till one is upon me—and I write furiously up until the deadline (or, as now, after it).

Starting any piece is difficult. But once I (finally) begin, the words flow.

I wouldn’t exchange that feeling for anything.

In fifteen years, I’ve come from I can’t join the Austin Writers’ League to I’m working on a novel, attending Austin Mystery Writers critique group, writing for publication, blogging, writing every day.

And, contrary to the moans I make when asked how the writing is going, I love every second of it. Mostly.

***
The therapist actually said, “If you don’t start writing, you’re going to explode.” Since I took his suggestion, more things have changed. The Austin Writers’ League has morphed into the Writers’ League of Texas. The writing practice group that met at the cafe dissolved, and I joined another, Writing from the Heart, which met at BookPeople Bookstore; later it moved to various branches of the Austin Public Library. Now as 15 Minutes of Fame (More or Less), it meets online.

Invitation: 15 Minutes of Fame is free and all are invited to attend—no fees, no dues, no membership registration, no RSVP, no critique, no need write and spell as if your English teacher will scribble on your paper. No need to be a published author or to write “well.” Just have pen and paper or computer ready and show up. We do timed writings—choose a time, write, read aloud what we’ve written (IF we want to read; reading isn’t required), then do it all again. We meet from 10:00 a.m. to noon, on Saturdays; the schedule has been irregular recently but we’re in the process of getting back on track. When it’s stable, we’ll update the website, http://minutesoffame.wordpress.com If you’re interesting in writing with us, email kathywaller1 (at) gmail (dot) com.
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Bootsie had long gray hair and green eyes, was beautiful, and slashed both a little girl who tried to pet him every time she saw him, and her owner, my grandfather, who thought he was peachy keen. Pat Boone was mine, and one of the dearest dogs who ever lived.
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This post first appeared, with modifications, on Telling the Truth, Mainly.

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Image of terrier by kteri3565 from Pixabay
Image of cat by Lenka Novotná from Pixabay
Image of James Michener by Robert Wilson, public domain, from Wikipedia
Image of critics examining ratty drafts by me

A Dream Come True

kp gresham

 

 

 

By K.P. Gresham

Writers love to dream. We dream when we’re awake and when we’re asleep. Sometimes its hard to tell the difference. Here’s an example.

I woke to the sound of the TV news coming from the other room. This was no surprise as my husband always turned on the telly when he had his morning coffee. What I heard coming from the TV, however, stunned me.

“My fellow Americans,” the President was saying. “I know these next few weeks and months will be very dark indeed. Thousands will die from Covid-19. Many more thousands will become sick. But remember this. We are Americans. Just as our forefathers fought side by side with people they’d never met, races they’d never before even knew existed, followers of different religions, they came together to create The United States of America. Their goal? To form a more perfect union.”

I swung my legs out of bed and joined my husband in the front room, where he sat mesmerized, staring at the TV.

I saw the President was standing alone behind a podium in the White House Rose Garden. “Today it is in that unity that we must come together to help each other through this trying time. It’s amazing what a smile and a wave to a stranger while social distancing can do not only for that stranger, but for you as well. Giving joy brings joy. Sending an encouraging email tells us we can be a source of comfort. Passing on a Facebook joke brings a smile to our face as well as those we’ve friended.”

Entranced, I sat down beside my husband on the couch.

“When Pearl Harbor was attacked, thus bringing the United States into World War II,” the President continued, “the Japanese admiral who lead the attack said, ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.’ His fear came to pass.” The President’s smile was victorious. “The entire U.S. population roared to the support of our common cause. We signed up for the Armed Forces, turned our manufacturers into war machine producers, started food banks, sold and bought war bonds.  Normal citizens turned into parachute seamsters, hospital workers, night raid wardens and troops on the front line.”

My husband put his hand around my shoulder. I felt him sending me confidence through that hug.

“In the midst of this war on Covid-19–and it is a war–we as a united people under one flag, must now understand that we, too, can be part of the solution. Put on your armor, your face masks, your gloves, etc., arm yourself with sanitizer. Take orders from your generals, or in our case, the medical experts who tell you to wash your hands, stay at home, and when you do have to go out, wear a mask and stay at least six feet away from every person you see.

“Now is the time for the United States to no longer be that sleeping giant, uninvolved and inactive. Let us roar into action, together, united, knowing our attitude will be the difference between the life and death for millions of our fellow citizens. Be positive! Know you ARE the solution! Only together can we defeat this enemy.”

Yes! I thought. I can be part of the solution!

“As your President,” he continued, “I call all Americans to arms. I call the businesses of this country to retool and make the equipment our soldiers on the front lines, the first responders, need to succeed. I call on the wealthy to have a care for our service workers on whom they depend for their comfort. Remember that bartender who knows exactly how dry you like your martini. Remember that masseuse who is the only one who can get that kink out of your neck. I suspect strongly that the wealthier you are the more workers and businesses you will have on your list. I call on every person to be the support each other needs. A smile. An attitude of ‘We’re in this together and, by God (literally), we will get through this.’

“To my fellow politicians I say this.” He gazed straight into the camera. “Right now is NOT the time for assessing blame, dire predictions, threats to our medical experts, or refusing to follow the restrictions deemed best for our country. Time for all of those arguments, judgements, recriminations belongs to a history yet to be written. Right now we’re fighting a war, and as leader of this country, I say we all, including the government, will fight this war as one.”

My chest swelled with pride. We are the United States of America!

“In conclusion,” he said. “I thank all of the first responders, all of the medical experts, all of the businesses and individuals who are rising up to defeat this disease. We are a mighty country. God bless the United States of America.”

I was invigorated. Hopeful. Determined.

And apparently I was asleep.

Suddenly my alarm screamed into my hopefulness, jerking me awake. What the hell?

Then I realized it had all been a dream. Damn. My sense of empowerment and determination seeped away as I became more and more ensconced in wakefulness.

Time to get back to reality. But wouldn’t it be nice if that dream would someday come true?

Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr

 

VP Chandler

Written by V.P. Chandler

 

The first Anna Pigeon book that I read by Nevada Barr was Blind Descent, book 6 of the series, back in 1998. And I’ve read most of her books since then. I’m hooked!

Since the main character in the books is a park ranger, each story is set in a national park. I’ve learned so much about nature, each park, and its landscape and history.  I particularly liked the history in Flashback, book 11. It was set in Dry Tortugas National Park. I didn’t know that that is where those who had been accused of Lincoln’s assassination were imprisoned back in 1865!

Here is the complete list of her books and where they are set.

As you’d expect, Anna has to solve mysteries and face all sorts of dangers in each book like mountain lions, bears, natural disasters, forest fires, and of course the most dangerous of all, people.

Boar Island starts away from the park with a case of cyber-bullying. You know what? Here’s the description from Barr’s website:

Anna Pigeon, in her career as a National Park Service Ranger, has had to deal with all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, but cyber-bullying and stalking is a new one. The target is Elizabeth, the adopted teenage daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod. Elizabeth is driven to despair by the disgusting rumors spreading online and bullying texts. Until, one day, Heath finds her daughter Elizabeth in the midst of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She calls in the cavalry—her aunt Gwen and her friend Anna Pigeon.

While they try to deal with the fragile state of affairs—and find the person behind the harassment—the three adults decide the best thing to do is to remove Elizabeth from the situation. Since Anna is about to start her new post as Acting Chief Ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, the three will join her and stay at a house on the cliff of a small island near the park, Boar Island.

But the move east doesn’t solve the problem. The stalker has followed them east. And Heath (a paraplegic) and Elizabeth aren’t alone on the otherwise deserted island. At the same time, Anna has barely arrived at Acadia when a brutal murder is committed.

While this does describe the setup, it doesn’t come close to describing the action and complex story that weaves together. Poor Anna! By the end I think she could totally commiserate with John McClane of Die Hard. She’s a physically fit character, but the injuries that she’s had in past stories still plague her at times. As they should! And the choices that she’s made, good and bad, also haunt her. She’s a life-like character that you can relate to.

Boar Island is a good book that will keep you turning pages. I sped right through it. Cyber-bullying, obsession, murder, feuds, high tech, and a harsh environment in a remote location, it’s got it all!

You can learn more about Nevada Barr at: http://www.nevadabarr.com/homepage

 

Review of Daughters of Bad Men

 

 

Written by V.P. Chandler

Back in September Daughters of Bad Men, by our own Laura Oles, was chosen as the book for the Murder In The Afternoon Book Club at Book People. Now if you’re an author, or even if you’re not, your TBR (To Be Read) pile of books is probably extensive. And if you’re an author, that pile includes books written by friends.

Laura and I hitting the road to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans!

So, since Laura’s book was chosen as a book club choice, that gave me an extra incentive to pull it from my shelf and delve in! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to the book club so I’m still brimming with the need to discuss it.

 

So right off the bat, I enjoyed it! It takes place in Port Arlene, Texas, a fictional tourist town near Corpus Christi. Since I grew up in CC, I was immediately interested. She captured the feel of a tourist beach town. I could smell the food, the salty air, and feel the gritty sand that invades everything. And while tourists are having fun eating, basking in the sun, and fishing, they aren’t aware of the seedier side of life that exists along with the plastic fish stuck in nets that are ever-present in the restaurants.

The antagonist is Jamie Rush who is a skip tracer. She also has an extra skill set because she grew up in a family of con artists. She can easily see a con a mile away and she knows all of the tricks that people use when they don’t want to be found. But instead of using her talents to con people, she’s chosen to help people, or at least earn her money honestly. And although she lives in the same area with most of her family, she’s distanced herself and has nothing to do with them.

 

So when her half-brother contacts her, she ignores his messages. The messages become more urgent when he explains that his daughter, Kristen, is missing. This still doesn’t raise a red flag with Jamie because her niece has pulled a disappearing act before. And Kristen usually has her own cons going on the side. But what if she’s truly in danger? Jamie wouldn’t be able to live with herself if something happened to Kristen and Jamie didn’t check it out.

Added to the mix of characters is Jamie’s trusty sidekick, Cookie, an over-sized, intimidating, tacky Hawaiian shirt-wearing, huggable, fiercely loyal friend. (Enough adjectives for you?) Another friend, a woman who runs a betting operation, who learned the ropes from her father. And another woman who comes from a violent organized crime family. (It’s very interesting to see how these daughters of bad men interact.)

Jamie begins digging in Kristen’s life and what she uncovers is a complicated web of love, revenge, and “just business”.

I thought that this story was going to be a typical “p.i. procedural”. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the laid-back pace of beach town life and then it accelerated non-stop to an incredibly satisfying ending. There were a few surprises in there that kept me turning the pages!

So, if you haven’t gotten this book, get it!

 

*Warning- Reading this book will also make you crave fried shrimp, cold beer, and the perfect fish taco. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Seriously, now I need to take a trip to the coast for some fresh seafood and to hear the seagulls.

Sharks: Who, Where, and How to Get Rid of Them

by Kathy Waller

This is a shark:

This shark does not live in the ocean. It lurks in bookstores, coffee shops, libraries:

Disguised as an aspiring writer, it invades critique groups and, fueled by ego, envy, jealousy, and just plain mean-spiritedness, can do untold harm.

Writer, instructor, and “genre-hopper” Maralys Wills describes its pernicious effect:

“Nothing will stifle creativity faster than the critiquer who’s ‘out to get’ other writers. Subtly, or not so subtly, a shark is so impossible to please that other authors become frustrated, then discouraged, and finally defeated.”

Wills speaks from experience. She was once in a critique group with a writer who wrote “golden prose” that Wills could only praise. But she was the only one who saw flawless writing.

“Sure enough, each week,  the others ripped and tore and nit-picked to death the work I found so perfect. . .  and all the time I was thinking, You guys must be desperate to flaunt your hatchets. None of you are as good as she is.”

Wills has a rule covering toxic critique groups: “Any group dominated by a shark should be disbanded. Preferably, you should kill the shark on your way out.”

In critique groups, intentions matter. Relationships matter.

In the most productive groups, members behave like professionals. They look for the positive and address the negative in language designed to help their colleagues improve. In the best groups, they behave like friends. Sometimes, members even morph from friends into buddies. And in a buddy-style relationship, anything can happen.

For example, in a chapter I submitted to a short-lived two-person group—we called ourselves the Just for the Hell of It Critique Group, for a reason I won’t go into here—a  contentious old lady says to another character, “And you and that Claudia person can just go right back where you came from.”

Gale, my partner, objected to the word person; she said the old woman knew Claudia and so would say, “You and Claudia can just go right back where you came from.” I didn’t argue (a rule: no arguing),  but I knew the character, and I could hear her say, “that Claudia person.” Because writers are free to reject advice if they wish, I left the word where it was.

Some time later, commenting on  a revision of that page, Gale again said I should remove person. But I still liked person—it was one of my darlings—so I quietly declined to do so.

By the third go-around, Gale had  had enough: “That Claudia person thing is driving me crazy.”

She wouldn’t have said that to just anyone. We’d worked together and learned to trust each other. We spoke the same language. We were buddies.

She knew I would laugh. I laughed. She laughed. I removed the offending person.

So here is my love song, not fancy or fine, but most sincere, to the Austin Mystery Writers, the Just for the Hell of It Writers, and all those groups that give aspiring writers the knowledge, support, and  courage to keep aspiring, to publication and beyond.

By the way, the toxic critique group Maralys Wills wrote about—she and the writer of “golden prose” left the group. I don’t know what happened to the sharks. Wills and the other writer might have killed them on the way out. Or they might still be out there, destroying other writers’ creativity.

Maralys Wills, however, became an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction.

And the writer of “golden prose” that the sharks trashed at every meeting? She became the author of the best-selling Inspector Lynley mysteries—Elizabeth George.

***

These are not sharks:

For your reading pleasure, I recommend Maralys Wills’ Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published. 

***

Kathy Waller’s stories appear in the Austin Mystery Writers crime fiction anthologies, Murder on Wheels (Wildside, 2015) and Lone Star Lawless (Wildside, 2017), and at Mysterical-E. She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and has a novella coming out this fall.  She lives in Austin with two cats and one husband.

PLAYING FOR PIZZA – by John Grisham

Written by Francine Paino

  The master of suspense took a break from his usual mystery, crime, and thriller books to write Playing for Pizza; a football story hatched as he researched settings for another novel.  

Playing for Pizza tracks a third-string quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in what turns out to be a life lesson – the question is, will he learn?

Poor Rick Dockery. With only minutes left to play, in the AFC Championship game, Dockery comes in as Quarterback with a 17- point lead and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.  Rick ends up in a hospital, recovering from the concussion he suffered along with the loss. His agent, Arnie, and the duty nurse discourage him from remembering too much of what had happened, but eventually, poor Rick does remember and then learns that virulent Cleveland fans want to storm the hospital and dismember him – or at least run him out of town on a rail. In addition to the disaster, his agent informs him that the Browns have released him and no other team wants him – he is unemployable in the NFL, but Rick isn’t done with football – he can’t be; it’s all he knows.

Dubbed by an unforgiving and vicious press as “the greatest goat in the history of professional sports,” Rick has hit rock bottom.  His agent suggests that it might be time to find another profession; Dockery, however, refuses to give up. Arnie is running out of patience and ideas, not to mention the fact that he isn’t making any money representing the disgraced Quarterback, yet he makes “one more call,” to an old buddy.

Coach Russo is looking for a QB for the Panthers—of Parma, Italy. They play at a Division 3 level – maybe. Russo wants an American QB to lead his team of tough Italians, whose professions range from truck drivers to airline pilots and everything in-between. These men hold full-time jobs and play for love of the game, and pizza!  As one of the three Americans allowed on any team in Italy, Rick will be provided with a car, rent money and a very small salary – nowhere near the pay scale in the NFL.

With no other options available, feeling the pressure to get out of the States, filled with resentment and self-pity, Rick Dockery accepts the job. He flies off to a country he barely knows exists and a city he’d never heard of before.

The coach meets him at the airport and immediately realizes that Dockery is in for a few shocks. Coach Russo crash courses Rick in Italian football. The Panthers are on an eight-game schedule with play-offs and a shot at the Italian Super Bowl. At the same time, Rick must cope with stick-shift small cars, bumper-to-bumper parking, and the culture of food, wine, and opera– things about which Rick Dockery knows nothing. By his own admission, his education consisted of football, Phys. Ed., more football, and cheerleaders. 

Rick begins the process of adjusting to his new circumstances and his new team. Secretly, he believes he would be hiding out in Parma for a while and would return to the States after other NFL teams forgot his humiliation and offered him a spot.

One vicious reporter from Cleveland, however, finds out where Dockery is and has no intention of allowing him any salvation in football. The reporter stalks him and reports back to the Cleveland Post on Dockery’s progress, turning anything Dockery does well into a series of “lucky breaks.”

Throughout, we watch Dockery cope with the culture shock of a completely alien environment while melding with teammates who are unlike any he’d ever encountered in the States and somehow, play his best football.

Sometimes the story feels like a travel guide through northern Italy and a play-by-play in football, but it’s told through the eyes of a lost soul on a life journey. Dockery learns that in Italy, although “it (footfall) was just a club sport, winning meant something – commitment meant even more.”

By the end of Rick’s story, we see a man emerge from the immature self-absorbed, culturally deficient boy/man who’d arrived in a foreign country only a few weeks before. Moreover, if you are a football fan, the last game is a heart-stopper.

There’s no fairy-tale ending here. Dockery has choices to make, but he finds confidence, becomes comfortable in his own skin, and learns the real meaning of playing for pizza.

It’s not a new release, but it’s still a great summer read.

Review of Billy Kring’s book Degüello

by V.P. Chandler

I just finished reading Degüello: A Hunter Kincaid Mystery (The Hunter Kincaid Mysteries Book 6) by Billy Kring and have to tell you about it.

My introduction to Billy Kring’s writing began with his first Hunter Kincaid book, Quick, and I was both hooked and blown away.

Hunter is a tough, female border patrol agent who doesn’t back down from a fight. She faces incredibly tough situations with grit and feeling. I love her! She can drink beer and eat spicy tacos with the rest of the guys, on both sides of the U.S. southern border. And her tenacity and instincts are still strong in Degüello.

(Some of you may be wondering what “degüello” means. It can mean, slaughter, massacre, a killing off, or a beheading. Wiki also says that there’s a bugle by the same name. “The Degüello is a bugle call, notable in the US for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo to signal that the defenders of the garrison would receive no quarter by the attacking Mexican Army under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.”)

And when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see that this description is appropriate. I don’t know if Kring knew about the bugle when he came up with the title, but it sure fits!

So let’s get to the story. Children are being kidnapped in Mexico and brought to the U.S. to be sold to the sex trade. They are put on an airplane near San Angelo, Texas and transported to other parts of the world. Kincaid comes across the transfer of children along the border and is able to save a child but the kidnappers escape. Then a mother of a missing child begs Hunter to find her daughter. Hunter hesitates because there are rules that she has to follow, but she wants to do what she can to help. Through circumstances, it ends up being all up to her and Ike, a former body guard of a drug cartel kingpin.

The story is full of action and cunning characters. (Poor Ike is taken to the hospital twice.) As the description says on Amazon. “Sorely outgunned and outmanned, but to save the captives, Hunter puts a desperate plan into motion, and what follows is a storm of smoke, fire, and blood, and who will survive is anyone’s guess.”

You can’t beat that!

P.S. As a side note I’d like to add my favorite line that comes towards the end of the book. A character says that Hunter came to the rescue  “Like Wonder Woman charging into No Man’s Land.”

I love Wonder Woman and that’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. And the description is spot on.

So I guess you can tell that I liked it. Go check it out and the other Hunter Kincaid books. Here’s a link to his Amazon page.

Billy Kring on Amazon

Interview With Terry Shames: Discussing A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary, and More

Terry Shames

Tonight (June 3) Terry Shames will be at Book People along with SC Perkins. Don’t miss it!

Terry Shames was kind enough to agree to an interview.

VPC: Thank you for letting me interview you. Tell us a little bit about Samuel Craddock and how he came to you as a character.

TS: I attended a workshop where one of the speakers gave an impassioned speech in which she said a writer needs to reach deep inside and find the story that only she can tell. I had heard that line before, but for some reason this time it resonated. I realized that I wanted to write a story set in the town where my grandparents lived when I was a child. I also wanted an older protagonist who was still vital. I was tired of reading crime fiction in which older characters were described in disparaging terms. I was very close to my grandfather, who was active into his “golden” years, and he seemed like the perfect model for my protagonist. So Samuel Craddock was born.
 
VPC: This is number 8 in the series, right? How is this book different from the previous books in the series?

TS: It’s probably a little lighter in tone than most of them. The last book, A Reckoning in the Back Country, was very grim, so I decided to step back a bit in this one—if you can call it light when one of your main recurring character is in harm’s way. In each book I focus on something of current social importance. I had read about the particular vulnerability of seniors going on dating sites—especially their economic vulnerability, and thought it was a perfect setup for Loretta to be in trouble.
 
VPC: Sounds funny and a little scary. I know you can’t share everything, but what can you tell us about your days working for the CIA?

TS: At this point, anything I did at the CIA is long past its “do not tell” date. I’ll share the thing that used to amuse me. I was tasked with reading incoming documents in my section and assigning security labels to them—secret, top secret, “eyes” only, etc. First of all, why they thought a 21-year-old should be in that job was odd. It was more or less boilerplate labeling, based on particular buzz codes, but still there was a certain amount of decision-making to be made. Second, the assessments were strictly set, so that I sometimes had to assign Top Secret Code Word labels to things I had read in the Washington Post the day before. That’s why when current political figures hyperventilate about people leaking top secret documents, I view that problem with a healthy grain of salt.
 
VPC: Thanks, good information to know. What is your typical writing day or week like?

TS:I would really prefer to write first thing in the morning, but I am dedicated to keeping physically fit, so every morning I work out either at the gym or at home. Then I go to my desk and fool around until I get anxious. (Fooling around includes reading the news, answering emails, updating my website, doing promo, checking in on social media etc.) Finally, when I’m antsy enough or when my stern voice kicks in, I get to work. Usually the actual writing time is not that long. But while I’m working, I am very focused and can pound out 2,000 words in a couple of hours. I think that’s because while I’m “fooling around” my lizard brain is working to figure out what I’m going to write when I finally get to it.
 
VPC: What do you do when you’ve hit a wall and can’t seem to solve a plot problem or when the words don’t want to come to you?

TS: This doesn’t happen often when I’m working on the Samuel
Craddock series. I don’t know why. I can only remember one time, when I was writing Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, when I couldn’t figure out where I was going with a plot, so I just forged ahead without really getting a grip on it. I ended up having to excise and revise a lot of the last 20,000 words because I went on a tangent that didn’t work out. The book I’m working on now is much more difficult. I hit places where I simply don’t know what should happen next. When that happens, sometimes I will brainstorm, which consists of quickly writing down ten possible things that can happen. This usually gives me at least one idea. And sometimes I just write blather. What I mean is that I set up a conversation or do a lot of description that may not necessarily end up in the book but just gives me a sense of where everybody is in the book and what they’re up to. And one other thing I do is really think about what I want to accomplish, not just in the scene but in the book as a whole. That can help. And then….there’s the old, “write anything. ANYTHING. But just get some words down.” That can actually be very freeing.
 
VPC: What do you co to blow off steam?

TS: Exercise helps. But I also rant on Facebook, write letters to the NY Times or to members of Congress. I drink. I love to cook, so cooking a meal can feel very freeing. I love to watch basketball. I love to hang out with friends.
 
VPC: I’ve read some of your pieces in the NY Times and I was impressed! I understand that you lived in Italy for a while. What can you tell us about your time there? What was your favorite thing about your experience?

TS: We lived there in the early 1990s. My husband was doing some research with a scientist in Padua. We decided it would be fun to live in Florence while their collaboration was going on. It was a wonderful experience. I loved the art, the people, the beautiful countryside. We had great plans to see a lot of Italy, but mostly we took an opportunity to really get to know Florence. I hiked, went on excursions in the Chianti, explored in depth. Our son went to the fourth grade and part of fifth grade there, in an international school, so we met people from all over the world, and loved every minutes of it. When we go back on visits, I feel as if I’ve gone home.

VPC: Sounds wonderful!
Thank you so much for doing this interview. I hope that we’ve introduced some new people to you and your work.

For more information about Terry Shames and her books, you can follow her at https://www.terryshames.com

I Love Research and Nolan Ryan!

by K.P. Gresham

Writing for me is both a compulsion and an exploration.  I know, I know, they say “write what you know”, but I’d add another clause on that. Write what you know and/or what you’d like to research.

The best book prompt that I know of is “What if?” For example, what if my heroine wants to become a professional baseball player?   (By the way, that is a cheap plug for my first novel, Three Days at Wrigley Field.) Even though I am an avid baseball fan, there’s no way I had enough baseball knowledge in my head to complete a novel on the subject.  More important than knowing that Nolan Ryan pitched seven no-hitters in his career (a record known by thousands of fans), I needed to know how he pitched those no-hitters. To that end, I purchased Nolan Ryan’s video on how he pitched. That information is integral to making the book work. (Side note: I’m nuts about Nolan Ryan. When I lived in Houston, I’d drive an hour to his hometown of Alvin just to get my hair cut. I kept hoping on the off-chance I would see this super-human walking down the street.)

Research for me is one of the most fun parts of creating a fictional piece.  For example, in my Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series, I do indeed write what I know. I grew up a PK–preacher’s kid (I prefer the term TO for ‘theological offspring’, but alas, that never caught on). I know a whole lot about what a preacher does, about how congregations work (or don’t work), about the ever present pitfalls for even the most devoted. But I didn’t know anything about the Federal Witness Protection Program or how to own and run a sports bar. (I hope that’s a tease–what is my series all about??)

In the coming blogs, I’m going to talk about how and/or where I do my research.  A writer may write in a bubble, but IMO they certainly can’t research in a bubble. She has to join groups, go to conferences, hit the bars J, and talk to experts in the field. (Hence why I had to hit the bar.) She has to get the facts right, or she risks losing the trust of the reader. Why is this important? A “This is bogus!” reaction from the reader means they’re slamming the book shut never to pick it up again, and, worst of all, telling others not to read it.

Research is necessary, but fun! I hope you’ll enjoy my escapades into research that I’ll share with you in coming blogs.

Bad Men, Lawless, and BSP

Laura Oles celebrates doubly this month–today her debut novel, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, was released by Red Adept Publishing, just a week after Austin Mystery Writers’ LONE STAR LAWLESS, in which Laura’s story “Carry On Only” appears, was released by Wildside Press. Here’s what I posted about these publications at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. Laura will be along presently to tell you more.

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I turned on my Kindle today to find Laura Oles’ Daughters of Bad Men, had appeared in its library, overnight, as if by magic. That’s a perk of pre-ordering. Laura is one of my critique partners in Austin Mystery Writers, and Daughters of Bad Men is her first novel.

I’ve been in AMW for six or seven years–can’t remember exactly–but membership is one of the best things that’s happened since I began writing for publication.  Examining others’ work and hearing their comments on mine has made me a better writer. Members have become my friends. Together we’ve enjoyed workshops and lunches and weekend retreats.

And I’ve acquired a new virtue: I’m genuinely happy when other members get their work published.

My skin turns Shrek green, but I’m happy.

Offsetting today’s greenish tinge over Laura’s debut, I’m also happy to announce . . .

Read the rest of the post here.