Sunday, May 17, 2015

Run #Free, Little Books, Run #Free!

I'm making Bad Spelling, Book 1 of the Witches of Galdorheim series, free on the off chance somebody might be interested in books 2-3, or 0 (a prequel short). Only on Smashwords now, the price should percolate down to the distributors in a few days. I will then let Amazon know that the book will be permafree.

A klutzy witch, a shaman's curse, a quest to save her family. Can Kat find her magic in time?

Download it free from Smashwords at:
  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/490994


Another freed book: the Little book of Lemons. It'd been sitting on Kindle Select, but I'm tired of waiting for them to give up some free days. It's off Select in June, but it's free on Smashwords right now. It's very short and experimental in combining photo illustrations with the text. MY GAWD, that is hard to make work. Looks perfect in the doc file, then the MOBI file (which is the Kindle version) has one letter of a paragraph sitting on the top of the picture, with the rest of the paragraph below it.

Three cute animal stories for kids of all ages.

Download it free from Smashwords at:
  https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/543315




Saturday, May 16, 2015

Native American Mythology


Copyright Mrsroadrunner,
Wildlife Photographer
It would take hundreds of pages and a lot of research to even scratch the surface of Native American mythology. No way would I even attempt that. But I did learn a lot for my middle-grade adventure, Eagle Quest (99 cents with Smashwords coupon SV86F). Also available at Amazon in Print and Kindle editions.

I wanted a half-breed Native American boy searching for his roots. Mitchell, who calls himself Black Crow, believes that a Vision Quest will help him discover his true self. He and his friends decide to visit the Bear Valley Wildlife Preserve, which is one of the several preserve areas in the Klamath region in southern Oregon. This particular area is a nesting place for bald eagles. Mitchell would also like to collect an eagle feather for his medicine bag. He didn't know that collecting any eagle parts is illegal without permit. Enough about the story (please read it if you'd like to learn more).

Native American mythology sets great store by the animals around them. The stories imbued each animal with certain spiritual traits. The following information was derived primarily from the Encyclopedia Mythica.

Wakan: Wakan or Wakan Tanka is the name the Lakhota Sioux use to specify the general spirit of god. Every creature and object has its own wakan, a spirit without limitation. Wakan tanka kin, the wakan of the sun, is the most important in the Sioux tradition.

Bear: Bear plays a major role in many Native American narratives. The animal represents the west and thoughtfulness. Many tribes tell narratives with Bear as the central figure.

Crow: Crow is one of the most prevalent mythological trickster characters, particularly for the northwest and Alaskan tribes.

Coyote: Coyote is the trickster character in southwest cultures, but is also sometimes portrayed as the creator, but he may at the same time be the messenger, the culture hero, the trickster, or the fool. He is also a power transforming character. In some stories he is a handsome young man, in others he is an animal, and others present him as a sacred power.

Eagle: Eagles are a powerful medicine. Elaborate headdresses of chiefs and leaders often feature eagle feathers. Sometimes equated to the Thunderbird, eagles are a symbol of strength.

Inktomi (Spider): The Spider, although most tales involve the trickster nature of the spider and center on morality lessons for the young, Inktomi also created Lakhota culture. Interestingly, the Spider has almost identical role in the myths of African cultures (Anansi).

Vision Quests: The Vision Quest is a rite of passage tradition for many North American tribes. Vision quest preparations involve a time of fasting, the guidance of a tribal Medicine Man and sometimes natural hallucinogens. The quest is undertaken for the first time in the early teenage years. The quest itself is usually a journey alone into the wilderness seeking personal growth and spiritual guidance from the spirit Wakan Tanka.

Traditionally, the seeker finds a place that they feel is special, and sits in a 10 foot circle and brings nothing in from society with the exception of water. Occasionally the seeker will urinate in the water as a means to purify it. A normal Vision Quest usually lasts two to four days within this circle, in which time the seeker is forced to look into his soul. It is said that a strong urge to leave the Quest area will come to the seeker and a feeling of insanity may set in. However, the seeker normally overcomes this by reminding him or herself of the overall outcome of the quest, causing the mind to stop wandering on random thoughts. The individual can generally find solace in the fact that he or she will not die in just two to four days. It is noted that few have claimed grand visions on their first Vision Quest. Native American spirits or wakan are said to be capable of speaking through all things, including messages or instructions in the form of an animal or bird. Generally a physical representation of the vision or message such as a feather, fur or a rock is collected and placed in the seeker's medicine bag to ensure the power of the vision will stay with the individual to remind, protect or guide him.

Medicine Bags: Medicine items attributed with various supernatural abilities for the bag would often be procured in a tribal custom known as a vision quest. This ceremony includes personal sacrifice: fasting and prayer over several days in a location isolated from the rest of the community, often involving hallucinogens. The purpose was to make contact with natural spiritual forces that help or guide people to reach their potential. The spirits, or totems would aid the individual to gather magical items, increase knowledge and aid personal growth.

* Note: Any corrections to these definitions are welcome. I use the term "mythology" when discussing all religions, since none are proven by facts, but only followed by faith.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Did You Know?

Do you ever get tired of the same old fairies (fey), dragons, norse gods, greek gods, roman gods?

I try to find stuff that's not completely shopworn. Yeah, I do use some of the good old standards, but I also try to bend and twist them a bit. Other writers more famous than me do the same. Otherwise, nothing would ever be fresh and new. Sometimes I disagree with certain re-interpretations, but I appreciate that they're trying to change it up.

I thought I'd post some tidbits of mythologies that I've used in my books.

The Tales of Abu Nuwas - Setara's Genie
Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004HW6AWY/
Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/35634
(Find coupon codes for discounts here)

Throughout the seven (that's a magic number, you know) tales, I've tossed together a mixed salad of middle-eastern mythologies and just some plain old nonsense. However, things I have appropriated from the real mythologies include:

Azhi Dahaka

A storm demon from Iranian mythology. He steals cattle and brings harm to humans. It is a snake-like monster with three heads and six eyes who also personifies the Babylonian oppression of Iran. The monster will be captured by the warrior god Thraetaona and placed on the mountain top Dermawend. In a final revival of evil, it will escape its prison, but at the end of time (fraso-kereti) it will die in the river of fire Ayohsust.



My Mashup:

The Great Vizier (now entombed, waiting for something interesting to happen) had used Azhi Dahaka's blood to create a flying, fire-breathing horse. Excellent for combat, I'd imagine. Unfortunately, the Franken-Horse could only levitate a few inches and puff a wimpy flame when startled. However, Azhi escapes his imprisonment (see above) and knows this horse named Hasib is his umpteen times grandson and wants to find him.

Our erstwhile heroine, Setara tries to protect Hasib from the dragon only to learn that Azhi just wants a family reunion.

Excerpt:

As the two horses and the djinn soared upward, some people stopped in their tracks to stare. Setara almost laughed. As if a dragon demon perched on the palace tower wasn’t enough, the sight of a winged horse, another flying horse with a girl on his back, and a genie was more than they could stand. Those who were not already running away from the tower decided now would be a good time to do so.

The ground around the tower was littered with fallen arrows and men. Some brave souls attempted to save the wounded men. However, the flames were pouring down so fast they had to weave and dodge to reach them.

She gripped Hasib’s mane with one hand and worked to load a bolt and get the crossbow in position with the other. It wasn’t working, so she let go of the mane, gripping tight with her legs. She didn’t even think about looking down. Her whole attention was focused on the roaring demon wrapped around the tower. They flew directly into the path of its flames.

Hasib fought back with flames of his own. However, he was much smaller than the dragon, and his flame was not big enough to have any effect. Setara fired a bolt toward Azhi, but it fell far short. “We’ll have to get closer!” she yelled over the roaring of the dragon. Hasib spiraled upward, taking a path around the tower. Azhi twisted his body to face the flying horses, the clearest threat to him.

Setara managed to reload the crossbow and turned the winch to draw back the bolt. She held the crossbow up, aiming along its shaft. The dragon demon’s head reared up directly in front of her. She fired. The bolt shot through the air, hitting the dragon’s head. It seemed to stick for a moment, then fell off. Setara groaned. She didn’t think she’d get another chance.

“My blood!” Azhi Dahaka cried out. Setara looked to see if the bolt had done some damage, but she couldn’t see even a scratch on the dragon’s shining scales. Of course, while Hasib circled and soared, getting a close look wasn’t easy.

She saw Nasreen turn in mid-air and begin to circle the tower in the opposite direction from Hasib.

“Good girl!” Setara called out. The mare was exposing herself to distract the dragon’s attention away from her and Hasib. The dragon twisted toward the mare and drew his head back to spray flames at Nasreen.

With the dragon’s attention elsewhere, Setara loaded another bolt into the crossbow and pulled it back. Hasib drew his legs up and shot toward the dragon. As he brought her next to the dragon’s side, Setara loosed the bolt. It bounced off his scales to no effect.




Saturday, May 09, 2015

The Mamas and the Papas

Two books #free with coupons at Smashwords. Click the book link, select the format you want, check out, enter the coupon code for the book to set the price to $0.00 (free). You'll receive an email with the download link (or you can just go back to the book's link immediately). Download the format you want.

As a bonus, let me know if you bought either of the books with a comment here, and I'll give you a coupon for a free copy of the matching audio book. Give one away and keep one for yourself.

For the Mamas

MISSING, ASSUMED DEAD - Murder Mystery/Romance
COUPON: UB23Y
LINK: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/445366 

When Kameron McBride receives notice she’s the last living relative of a missing man she’s never even heard of, the last thing she wants to do is head to some half-baked Oregon town to settle his affairs. But since she’s the only one available, she grudgingly agrees.

En route, she runs afoul of a couple of hillbillies and their pickup in an accident that doesn’t seem . . . accidental. Especially when they keep showing up wherever she goes. Lucky for her, gorgeous Deputy Mitch Caldwell lends her a hand, among other things. Her suspicions increase when the probate Judge tries a little too hard to buy the dead man’s worthless property.

Working on a hunch and trying to avoid the Judge’s henchmen, Kam probes deeper into the town’s secrets and finds almost no one she can trust. With Mitch’s help, she peels away the layers of prejudice, suicide, murder, and insanity. But someone in town doesn’t like her poking around, and when they show their intentions by shooting her through the police chief’s office window, the stakes are raised. Kam must find out what really happened to her dead relative before someone in this backward little town sends her to join him.

And she thought Oregon was going to be boring.

For the Papas

TALES OF A TEXAS BOY - Homespun, humorous short stories set in Depression Era Texas
COUPON: HL34R
Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/3816

How do you handle a crazy jackass? Eddie knows. If you ask Eddie, he'll tell you pigs can fly and show you where to find real mammoth bones. Take his word for it when he tells you always to bet on the bear. These are things he learned while dreaming of becoming a cowboy in West Texas during the Depression.

Through Eddie, the hero of "Tales of a Texas Boy," we find that growing up is less about maturity and more about roping your dreams. Hold on tight. It's a bumpy ride. A wonderful read for anyone who enjoys books like "Little House on the Prairie" or "Tom Sawyer." A great bit of nostalgia for seniors, too.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Happy Mothers Day from a Texas Boy

Mothers Day is coming up. If your mom is in the same generation as my mom grew up in the 20's and 30's, experienced WWII as an adult, and is fond of stories set in rural America, this is a book she will enjoy.

These are stories about my father. He's passed now, but he took great pleasure reading his almost true tall tales. I think you'll enjoy them too.

Here's a bit on some of the stories. At the end of the post, you'll find links to the ebook, print, and audio book.

The Luck Brothers

While nobody lived so close by you could talk over the fence, there were neighbors. Some of them were just a bit stranger than the others.

FRED AND FRANK Luck lived up the road about six miles. We didn’t have much to do with them, but one time we, meanin’ Pa and me, had to go visiting. They was an odd pair, bein’ identical twins who purely hated each other. Their ma died when she birthed them and their pa pretty much let them go wild. A few of the womenfolk hereabouts helped out when they were just babies, but once they got to ten or so, they pretty much did what they pleased.

Ma’s Story

Mothers have their own joys and sorrows. Too often they keep their feelings to themselves and even their own families don’t know.

WHEN I WAS a boy, my Ma was a woman of few words, which surprised quite a few folks. The town ladies came out to visit on occasion and she’d go to town to return the favor, but mostly she listened. That did set her apart from the gossipers and them that just liked to talk to hear themselves.

Cage McNatt’s Prize Sow

Even small towns can come up with odd characters. Cage McNatt had to be one of the oddest.

I’VE HEARD OF men gettin’ all fired up about their horses. I’d even heard of a man who had a steer he took with him duck huntin’. But, I still can’t understand how Cage McNatt was so taken with a pig. After all, a pig generally ends up bein’ ham and pork chops, but Cage McNatt was mighty fond of his sow. He even named her, which is unusual right there. He called her Petunia, which I thought was a darned silly name for anything, even a pig.

Crossin’ the Creek

Kids went to school, but they didn’t exactly catch the school bus outside the house. Getting to school could be an adventure.

IT’D BEEN RAINING forty days and forty nights is what Ma said, but I only counted up eleven days myself. She did tend to put things in Bible sayin’s, so I won’t say she was lyin’, just exaggeratin’ for effect.


The Thief

The Great Depression was beginning to seep into the lives of the people in West Texas. Insulated to some extent, they began to see the repercussions of the droughts by the people who came south from Oklahoma for relief from the dust storms.

IT ALWAYS MEANS a good time when Pa lets me go with him in the truck. I liked the truck a lot and sometimes he’d let me drive a ways, too. This time, Pa planned on goin’ further than Hereford. We were goin’ to go to Amarillo, the trip some fifty miles. It would take us most of one day to get there and do what we needed to do, so we’d have to camp overnight somewhere along the way.

Chance Encounter

All kids eventually grow up, but in that in-between time interesting things can happen. When Eddie moved to East Texas and began High School, he joined the football team. The team was good enough to go to the State Championship. Along the way, he meets a woman who turns his head around.

LIFE WAS TOUGH in the 30s, but people didn’t complain, they just tried to get along as best they could. When I was gettin’ in my teen years, times were tough enough that Pa decided we’d move the family to East Texas. The reason for this is in one word: oil. My uncle Alex started up in the oil business and he’d invited Pa to come help out. This was fine with Ma, as Uncle Alex married her sister Alma. 


Ebooks:
Smashwords (all formats) $0.99 using coupon EC36P

Large Print Paperback Amazon

Audiobook (also available through Amazon) Audible.com $1.99

Saturday, May 02, 2015

New Cover - Otherwise the Same

Since I had some Shutterstock credits, I thought I'd put up a new cover for my short story collection, "Mixed Bag 2: Supersized." I don't need anybody's opinion on it. I just don't want anybody fooled into thinking it's a new book. It isn't. It's from 2011. All I did is change the cover and add a table of contents.

SAME OLD BOOK WITH AN UGLY NEW COVER


Kindle Ebook and Print: Mixed Bag II: Supersized $1.99 for ebook

Smashwords:  Mixed Bag II: Supersized  Use coupon XY88V for 99 cents






Thursday, April 30, 2015

If You Haven't Read...

the latest version of "Tales of Abu Nuwas 2: Faizah's Destiny" then you're missing a lot. The book as been converted from a loft apartment to a 2-story condo. My story teller, Abu Nuwas, steps in to tell the tale of Faizah, a farmer's daughter, who saves the world from Armageddon.

Only $0.99 at Smashwords using coupon code XX54B ($2.99 at Amazon).

Here are the NEW opening pages.

The Teller of Tales

ABU NUWAS SHADED HIS EYES and checked the position of the sun as it crept nearer the roof of the building across the street. The lower edge had yet to touch the peak. He sighed. Another hour at least before he could gather his sign and offering cup and wrap them in his rug.

This day had dragged more than usual. While the bazaar’s crowds buzzed around the merchant booths, none had stopped to read his sign, “Tales Well Told” and “One Drachma” on the next line. He considered if his price was too dear. Perhaps, he shouldn’t specify a price. Of course, he always told a tale no matter what the customer could offer, a piece of fruit or a slice of bread. He fondly recalled the young spice seller, Najda, paying with packets of spice to hear the tales of an adventurous young woman named Setara and her not-so-helpful genie, Basit.

He glanced at his cup and give it a gentle poke. No jingle of coins greeted him. He wouldn’t mind if some harried young mother offered him an orange to entertain a restless child with a short fable. He could always delve into the tales told by the venerable Scheherazade who stayed the hand of the murderous prince by leaving the man hanging in the midst of a story. Night after night, up to 1001, she kept her head securely upon her shoulders. At last, the prince was appeased and promised her love instead of death at dawn.

Abu Nuwas nodded. Yes, he’d tell some short story to capture the attention of passersby. One might stop to listen and be pleased enough to offer a coin in return. The old man picked up his sign and stuffed it into the folds of his robe.

But what story would suit? Everyone and their hound knew of Ali Baba and Aladdin. While entertaining, both were too well known. One of the more obscure tales from the Arabian Nights might be more suitable. Something fresh to listeners’ ears. He began to speak. Loudly, of course. Otherwise, he’d garner no attention and have nothing to eat for supper.

“O listen ye! From the annals of Scheherazade, the most blessed one, comes this story titled ?The Enchanted Horse.’” Abu Nuwas noted no eyes turning his way. Maybe he hadn’t spoken loudly enough. He started again.

“I tell you now of a most wonderful creature, a horse looking in every respect exactly like a real horse, but was much more.” Abu cleared his throat, preparing to launch into the tale of the mechanical horse.

“It was the Feast of the New Year, the oldest and most splendid of all the feasts in the Kingdom of Persia, and the day had been spent by the king in the city of Schiraz, taking part in the magnificent spectacles prepared by his subjects to do honor to the festival.”

Abu Nuwas glanced left and right. No ears were bent his direction. This was not a good sign. He needed something to catch attention, startle, excite, and be of such a fantastic nature that no one could resist the listening.

He dug through his memories of all the tales he knew. Then, he recalled his good friend, the Magician Wafai, and the very real and dangerous tale Wafai had told Abu years ago. Yes, he would tell the tale of Faizah, a poor farmer’s daughter, who had faced death-defying dangers, had communed with the very gods, and, by her brave efforts, had staved off Armageddon. Now, that was an exciting story. And it had the added benefit of being completely true.

The story teller pondered. He could simply jump into the story at the point the demons of hell attacked the earth spirits. That was certainly thrilling. But that part of the tale made little sense without all the events that led up to the confrontation.

He decided to start with the first event Wafai had related. A trivial thing, a fight between boys, for it was truly where the story began.
* * *

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Writing Tips: Good Starts

A few posts back, I talked about prologues. One thing I didn't mention about prologues and should have is that they're often big piles of telling the reader background stuff. Snooze city.

Even if you have a prologue, you will need to make your opening page exciting enough to make the reader turn the page or punch the Page Forward button on their e-reader. In the case of presentation on e-readers, you don't even have a traditional length first page. A half page, maybe. With my larger font use, you've barely got a middle-sized paragraph to grab me.

As the world moves faster, so must your magnum opus. Less on the magnum and more on the opus.

Here's my favorite first sentence of all time. Three little words:

"Call me Ishmael."

Melville grabbed the reader in three short words, one of them a name. Maybe not as pop musical as "Call Me Maybe," but I'm not quite sure who Maybe is. Of course, I don't know Ishmael yet either, but his name alone gives me a lot of information. To the original audience in 1851, the name was immediately recognizable. With few books around, and stern parents, kids had read the Bible from cover to cover (something evangelicals don't do or they might realize how stupid they are). If for nothing else than the Song of Solomon (how about those two breasts like two young roes?). Yup, the Bible was the book hidden under the bed like a stack of Playboys with certain pages worn and smudged with ... well, very well worn.

So, who was the Bibical Ishmael and why did Melville decide to use the name for his main character? I'll make this brief, since we're talking about opening pages, not literary or Biblical history.

Ishmael was a bastard born to Abraham and his wife's maid servant Hagar. An angel informed Hagar that Ishmael would be a wild man, and he'd hate everybody and they'd hate him right back. Abraham sent Hagar and her son away when Sarah, his wife (at 90 years old!), got pregnant. You can read all the soap opera details in Genesis around about chapter 16-20. It's also got all that smutty stuff about Sodom and Gomorrah too.

Ishmael, then, was an outcast from the favored tribe of Abraham which is the lineage of all the holy folks in all three major religions based on a unitary god.

The readers in the 1850s immediately recognized Melville's main character as an outcast and a wanderer. Indeed, Ishmael continues, "Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."

No explosions, car crashes, sword battles, or any other action. Just a disaffected young man at odds with his life who decides to try working on a ship. However, I'm hooked, lined, and sinkered. I was when I was twelve, and I am now re-reading that opening and want to read it again. Yay, for Amazon's free Kindle books!

Okay, I've completely lost my thread now because I want to go snuggle on the couch and see what happens to Ishmael next.

I would like you to write a comment with the best opening sentence you can recall. It can even be one of your own books. That's a dare. Make me want to read your book with one smashing opening sentence.

The best opening line I've read lately is from Rosehead by Ksenia Anske:

Lilith Bloom had a peculiar feeling that the rose garden wanted to eat her.

I wish I'd written something as good as that.

Blurb:

Misunderstood and over-medicated, twelve-year-old Lilith Bloom finds the prospect of a grand family reunion decidedly dull... That is, until she discovers that the rose garden surrounding her grandfather's Berlin mansion is, well, completely and utterly carnivorous. Armed with Panther, her talking pet whippet, and the help of the mute boy next door, Lilith must unravel the secrets behind the mysterious estate, all while her family remains gloriously unaware that they are about to be devoured.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Writing Tips - Down with Obese Books!

What's the most obese book you've read? I'll nominate "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" at a hefty 1024 pages. BBC is making a TV mini-series out of it because it's too hugely overwritten to fit into a 2-hour movie. What is with people writing bloviated books? But what do I know? It's a best seller, so my dislike of it is irrelevant. I did read the entire thing and was queasy for days from all the lard. Not that I'm averse to reading long books. I found Neal Stephensons' Baroque Cycle trilogy absolutely top notch entertainment.

Apparently, Susanna Clarke (note she even has an extra letter at the end of her name) had no use for Stephen King's good advice for writers in his book "On Writing." The one that struck me the most is to write your book, then cut 10%.

I have the opposite problem. I need to add 10% (at least) because I tend to write tersely. That's my 35 years of tech writing kicking in. Say whatever you have to say in the fewest words possible. A couple of reviewers thought my murder mystery, "Missing, Assumed Dead," moved too fast and resolved too quickly. Go figure. An action story having too much action and not enough lolling around in bed or describing the view.

In reading many of my fellow authors work, I tend to think Mr. King's advice is not followed often or well. Here, in my opinion, are the areas in which writers should just learn to shut up.

Environmental Description: Let the reader use their imagination a bit. You don't need to mention everything the protagonist is seeing everywhere they go. If your hero is spending two minutes in a village asking questions, then we really don't need to know everything about the village from its inception to the current time.

Is the description furthering the storyline? If there's a building with many columns and open windows, you had better have a darned good reason for mentioning those details. If the hero isn't scaling the columns or climbing into or jumping out of the windows, why would we care? Less is more.

Dining: The hero does have to eat on occasion, but he or she doesn't have to stop for three meals and an afternoon snack every day. If the villain is poisoning food, then the dining experience might be important. Otherwise, a simple statement that the hero (or villain) took a moment to snack is fine. We don't need the details. A SciFi I read many years ago described the characters eating at least once in every chapter. Good story, but the constant chowing down was distracting. *See "Bathing, Sleeping, Eliminating Below.*

Clothing: Aside from weaponry or armor, we really don't care. The exception to this rule is if the character's attire plays into the plot. High heels on a female sleuth are only important if she can't run down the creepy guy because stilettos are impractical for hot pursuit. Not being a fashionista myself, I rarely consider what my characters are wearing unless it has a plot-driven purpose.

Secondary Characters: If the hero stops to inquire if the villager has noticed any unseemly activities recently, we really don't care what said peon is wearing, the status of his facial hair, or the curviness of the barmaid's figure. This is excess information. Leave it out or I'll leave it out by dropping your book in the virtual wastebin.

Sleeping, Bathing, Eliminating: You can mention these activities only to allay the readers' fears the character doesn't perform any of these functions. They sleep because they're exhausted from plot-worthy activities. The cleanup when they've been splashed with blood or other vile matter. The eliminate only if they're pissing on their defeated enemy's body.

I mentioned Missing, Assumed Dead at the top of this essay, thus it wins the tail end honors.

MISSING, ASSUMED DEAD
Amazon Kindle
Amazon Print (buy the paperback and get the ebook free)
Smashwords (all ebook formats) Coupon AU73Z for $0.99
Audible Audio Book

Prejudice, murder, insanity, suicide: Every small town has its secrets. 

When Kameron McBride receives notice she’s the last living relative of a missing man she’s never even heard of, the last thing she wants to do is head to some half-baked Oregon town to settle his affairs. But since she’s the only one available, she grudgingly agrees.

En route, she runs afoul of a couple of hillbillies and their pickup in an accident that doesn’t seem...accidental. Especially when they keep showing up wherever she goes. Lucky for her, gorgeous Deputy Mitch Caldwell lends her a hand, among other things. Her suspicions increase when the probate Judge tries a little too hard to buy the dead man’s worthless property.

Working on a hunch and trying to avoid the Judge’s henchmen, Kam probes deeper into the town’s secrets and finds almost no one she can trust. With Mitch’s help, she peels away the layers of prejudice, suicide, murder, and insanity. But someone in town doesn’t like her poking around, and when they show their intentions by shooting her through the police chief’s office window, the stakes are raised. Kam must find out what really happened to her dead relative before someone in this backward little town sends her to join him.

And she thought Oregon was going to be boring.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Writing Tips: Making the Big Cuts

I've read lots of writer blogs which talk about "killing off your darlings." This means, of course, you shouldn't be afraid of getting rid of characters if they need to go.

The same can be true about research. Not every interesting tidbit you discover when you're researching background has to be in the final product.

When working on Scotch Broom, I did a lot of research on Thurso, a small town on the northern Scottish coast. It's where my main character, Kat, arrives in Great Britain. One thing I discovered was a Bed and Breakfast, which was just too cool to not include. Alas, it was a diversion from the plot. A fun diversion, but really not needed at all. Hack, slash, wince. Goodbye cute Bed and Breakfast and 1200 words of interesting, yet useless research.

My opinion mirrors that of Stephen King, who said after finishing your draft, cut 10% of the words. The best place to find those excess words is where you fell in love with your research and just HAD to include it.

This is the final few lines of the chapter in Scotch Broom in which Kat arranges train transportation southward:

* * *

“Can I buy my ticket now?”

“That you can. It’s an open ticket; you can use it whenever you want. Maybe you’ll enjoy Thurso and want to stay a few days.”


“That’d be nice, but I do have people to meet in Inverness.” Kat handed over the twenty-pound note, and the clerk counted back her change. “I’ll come back this evening.”


“There’s a good fish and chips place right down the road if you’d like a bite to eat.”


“Thanks. I’ll try it out.”


This is the original scene in which I burned my lovely Bed and Breakfast. Fun as it was, it just didn't further the plot:

“Can I buy my ticket now?”

“That you can. It’s an open ticket; you can use it whenever you want. Maybe you’ll enjoy Thurso and want to stay a few days.”


“I do have people to meet in Inverness.” Kat handed over the twenty-pound note, and the clerk counted back her change. She turned away from the ticket window and took a few steps, when the clerk called out to her. “If you’re needin’ a room fer the night, you might try the Waterside. It’s decent and not too dear.”


“That’d be great. Which way?”


“Head north on Princes Street. That’s the street right out there,” he replied pointing to the street on the opposite side of the train platform. “Turn right on Sir John’s Square, then left on Sinclair. Walk quite aways, and take a right on Sir George’s Street, a quick right on Janet and keep going ‘til ya see it. Ye’ll be right by the river.”


“Um, north then Sir George—.”


“Nae, lass, right on Sir John’s, then Sinclair, then Sir George.” The station master paused, and seemed to notice the expression on Kat’s face. “Here. I’ll draw ye a map.”


Kat grinned. “That’d be perfect.”


She followed the map the station master had drawn. On Janet Street, she stopped in front of an old brick, two-story house. Windows on both floors faced the street, and a single door led inside. Since it looked so much like a private home, she wasn’t sure whether she should knock first or just go inside.


When she got close to the reddish door, she saw a beautiful brass doorknocker. Taking that as a need to knock before entering, she reached toward it. When she touched it, the knocker spoke. “Welcome to Waterside House. Please come in.” Kat jerked back, surprised. While talking doorknockers were the norm on Galdorheim, she didn’t expect to find one in the mundane world. 


The door didn’t open on its own, so she grabbed the handle and pushed it. Stepping in, she found herself in a small lobby. To the right, an archway opened to a wallpapered, well-lit dining room. The wallpaper was a little too flowery for her taste, but it was overall a pleasant room. Turning back, she saw a dark-haired woman standing behind the small counter, wearing a dress straight out of the 19th Century MacSears catalog. Kat was certain she wasn’t there when she came in.


“Good day, may I help you?” the woman said in a sweet contralto voice. 


Kat stepped to the counter. “I’d like a room for the night. I’m waiting to take the train south tomorrow. I missed today’s.”


The woman consulted a watch hung on a gold chain attached to a brooch. “Just missed it seems. I thought I heard the train pull out, but I’m so used to the sound I don’t notice.”


Pulling a big leatherbound ledger from beneath the counter, she opened it facing Kat. “If you’ll fill out the information, I’ll have the maid check your room. A single, yes?” She tapped on an old-fashioned bellhop bell, which dinged pleasantly. 


“Yes. Just me.”


Kat wondered how anybody in the house could hear it, but a door behind the counter opened right away, and a young girl stepped in. She also wore a 19th Century maid’s costume, complete with a frilly white cap over her thick red hair. “Is the single ready?” the woman asked.


“Yes’m, but I’ll go check.” The girl lifted the hinged counter on one end and headed for a stairway to the left.


Meanwhile, Kat had been puzzling over the questions in the Guest Book. Where should she say she was from? Auto plate? What was that? Maybe she’d only fill in the things she knew and see if that sufficed. She wrote the date and her name. That was all she did know. The woman leaned forward to read the ledger upside down, a talent of innkeepers all over the world.


“Where do you live?” she asked.


“On an island north of here. I rode a boat down from the Shetland Islands.”


The woman nodded. “Just write Shetland Islands in the space then. No car? That’s fine. Not many people have them.”


Kat did as requested, then the woman turned the book to face her and made a notation of the check-in time. “One night will be nineteen pounds, sixty pence, including tax, of course.


Kat unslung her bag from her shoulder and rummaged into the foldbox for another twenty-pound note. She handed it across the counter. The woman handed her a few coins in change. By that time, the maid had come back down the stairs.


“Here’s the key to your room,” the woman said, handing over an old brass key. “Tara will show you the way.”


Kat picked up her bag and followed Tara up the stairway and down a hall to the end room. “The bath is through that door,” she said, pointing out the obvious, since it was the only other door in the room. The room was already opened, so she walked in and laid her bag on the single bed. She turned to hand the forty pence to Tara, but the maid was already gone.


She wondered if the woman at the desk had chosen the decor for the house. A faux wainscot separated the top and bottom of the walls. The bottom wallpaper had vertical stripes of lavender and green wallpaper. The top was lavender with little flowers all over it. The one window looked out onto a pleasant garden.


She flopped down on the bed and bounced a couple of times. Her first hotel room! Kat felt more grown up already. She glanced up to see a black box. It took her a moment to recognize the first television she’d ever encountered. The Witches' Council had an LCD flat screen. “Well, might as well get cleaned up then find someplace for dinner.” She didn’t have to go far for dinner. A Fish and Chips walkaway sat directly across the street.


* * *

After a good night’s sleep, Katya rose early, repacked, and went down to the dining room. Her room tariff included breakfast. She intended to eat a lot to keep her going all day on the train. She sat at a table for two by the window overlooking the street. The same maid she’d met yesterday, Tara, came to her table and set down a teacup and small teapot.


“Would ye be wantin’ coffee, Miss?” she asked.


“No, tea is fine. Do I get a menu or—?”


“Nae. We serve the full breakfast. It’s what we offer.”


“Okay, but isn’t it wasteful if I don’t like something. Wouldn’t it have to be thrown out?”


“We collect the leftovers to feed to the pigs. Missus has a cousin with a farm.”


“Okay, then. Bring it on.”


Tara curtsied and left the dining room by a swinging door in the back. She soon returned with a huge tray balanced in both hands. Katya watched as Tara laid dishes on the table. Sausage formed in a square, something fried and brownish, scones, another kind of muffin, and a fruit cup.


“What’s that?” Katya asked, pointing at the brown stuff.


“Fried haggis. Will that be all?” Tara asked.


“Um, no, this looks like more than enough.” Wanting to get the flavor of the countries she visited, she thought she should try the haggis. She’d already set the sausage aside since she didn’t eat meat any longer. She stopped before biting into the haggis, remembering that they cooked it in a sheep’s stomach or something like that. Sometimes it’s better to be a vegetarian. She wished they served eggs, but found the scone delicious, especially with the thick jam that came with it.



SCOTCH BROOM
A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good.
A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good. Kat expects to have a great time on her graduation trip to Stonehenge. However, from the moment she leaves the witches' arctic island, Galdorheim, she gets in nothing but trouble.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Tips: More on POV

One multiple POV method not mentioned is called the Rashomon effect because of the excellent way it was used in the Japanese film, Rashomon. A Wiki article lists several more examples of the technique used in popular culture.

This quote from Wiki is quite good: The Rashomon effect is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.

In "Missing, Assumed Dead" several characters are telling the main character, Kam McBride, what had happened in the past (a flashback). To avoid simple telling, I switched to another character's POV. I delineated these flashbacks into scenes, and even made them italic to set them off from the narrative.

The fun part is that the characters are relating the same incident to Kam, but each one has a slightly different view of the events, usually making themselves a bit more heroic than the other people in the same scene. This allows the reader to be suspect of the truthfulness of the characters.

It's not my original idea. That's why it already has a name, Rashomon Effect, in honor of the great Samurai movie of the 50s, directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring the wonderful Toshirō Mifune.

In the film, a crime occurs, and the film maker presents it four times, each from a different character's POV. Needless to say, the versions of the events vary, sometimes wildly, from each other. By the end of the film, you still don't know exactly what happened since none of the characters can be fully believed.

In addition to the contradictory retelling of the events by the different characters, there are two additional flashbacks. By the time they appear in the book, I hope the reader will be looking at everyone with suspicion.

Here are a couple of excerpts from "Missing, Assumed Dead," illustrating the Rashomon Effect in action. Two characters, Ray and George, describe their meeting to discuss the disappearance of Salvadore Vasco, the missing man of the title. Same event, but a big difference in the perception.

Ray's Story:

Ray went up the three steps into the Courthouse and turned left into George’s office. The self-appointed police chief sat behind his desk with his boots propped up on it. He raised his eyes from the Zane Grey novel he’d been reading.

“Hey there, Ray. What can I do you out of?” The fat man’s belly jiggled when he laughed at his own stale joke.

“I come about Salvadore.”

“Vasco?”

Ray shifted his weight from one foot to the other and glanced at the chair on his side of the desk. His legs ached, but he didn’t want to settle in for a long chat. George tended to run on some. “Only Salvadore in these parts far as I know. Anyways, has a habit of comin’ to town once a week, but he didn’t come last week nor this ’un.”

“So, what do you want me to do about it? Man’s gotta right to come to town or not.”

“True thing, but you know us old fellas like to stick to a schedule. It ain’t like him to not come in. I think someone oughta go up there and check on him.”

George glanced at the copy of Riders of the Purple Sage on his desk. “Why don’t you go, Ray? You’re his friend.”

“Yep, but he’d think I was buttin’ into his bizness if he’s okay. If you go, you can say sumthin’ about looking for someone else or what not.”

“So, I should lie to him but really just be checkin’ on his welfare, eh?”

“Yep. That’s what I’m thinkin’.”

George's Story

George sat in his office reading the latest statewide all-points bulletins for wanted criminals and stolen vehicles. Old man Ray from the Jack and Jill’s came in looking worried.

“Chief, I ain’t see Salvadore in a couple a weeks. I thought I’d better tell ya, since you’re the police and all.”

“Now, don’t get yourself all worked up, Ray. Old Salvadore prob’ly just don’t want to eat no more of your burnt burgers.”

Ray shook his head. “I don’t know what to do, George. Can you go check up on him?”

“Why sure, Ray. I’ll head up tomorrow morning for a welfare check.” George stood and walked around his desk. He patted Ray’s shoulder to comfort him. “You go on home and don’t fret. George is on the job.”

* * *

Missing, Assumed Dead is available in ebook, print, and audio.

Paperback

Kindle Ebook

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Audiobook (purchase with the ebook on Amazon for a great deal)


Sunday, April 19, 2015

How Did the Author Know What Happened?


You've heard the phrase "A Legend in His Own Time." That's when somebody does something so extraordinary they create a legend around themselves. As time moves on, the legendary aspect grows and morphs into something bigger and, well, more legendary. That legend is helped along by authors writing about the person. Some people have reputations built on very little reality.  19th Century writers hungry for audience share exaggerated the feats of such legendary characters as Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody. These mostly untrue stories made good press for the city folks back east.

Then there's another type of legend. It's when an author bases a book on a real person nobody has ever heard about, but exaggerates the person's feats to make for good reading; the writer creates the legend. Can you think of a case where this has occurred? I imagine there are many, considering possible biographers who hero-worship their subject past the point of reality.

Then I come to my own mini-legendary person: Little Eddie from Tales of a Texas Boy. The stories are mostly based on some brief vignette passed to me from my father. Those of you who have read the print edition might have slowed down enough to peruse the Foreword where I lay out that Eddie is my father and some additional background on his life. Nothing too exciting there. He just happened to have a few incidents in his life that I could turn from a passing comment into a short story.

I made my father a legend. The stories I wrote about his experiences are so enhanced, they have become the stuff of legends. Yes, a very small part of the population know the stories. However, how long will the Tales books be out in the world? I published the first edition in June, 2007. Coming up on the 3rd anniversary next month. In three years, more than 2000 people have had possession of the book in some form. They may have even read it. If I keep the book in print, how many people will get to know Eddie in ten years? I should mention that the majority of those potential readers picked up the book in the last year.

What's my point here? Not sure other than to state my realization that even not so famous people can become legendary to some extent from some author deciding to write about them.

Tales of a Texas Boy is available in ebook, print, and audio formats. Side note: this book in large print is a popular Mothers' or Fathers' Day gift for those who may have lived through the Great Depression themselves or simply grew up in a rural area. They'll feel right at home.

Large Print at Amazon

Ebook at Amazon and Smashwords (all formats)

Audio Book at Audible (also available through Amazon)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Writing Tips: POV (Points of View)

Many newbie writers have trouble maintaining a consistent point of view (POV). It's entirely possible to develop scenes and chapters in different POVs if you don't allow your mind to meander all over the place. Clean POV also requires a consistent use of person. First, second, third, etc.

FIRST PERSON

Suppose you write in first person. That means you say, "I walked down the path." Third person means you say, "She walked down the path." Let's forget about verb tense for now. If you want to write in present tense, then go for it. However, you're not as likely to have me as a reader.

SECOND PERSON

Second person is possible, but incredibly awkward. Speaking to the reader is sort of like breaking into their apartment and acting like a serial killer. "You are walking down the path." The poor reader might think, "No, I'm not! Wait! Am I supposed to be walking someplace? But I'm sitting here reading. I don't want to walk elsewhere. It's hard to read when I'm walking!"

So, let's just say that second person is out of the picture. I really couldn't advise you on how to do this with any grace or style. If you insist upon second person, then I commend you for your chutzpah.

VOICE

Okay, 1st person and 3rd person are both fine, but what if you want to get into the head of another character, perhaps the villain? Can you do this when writing 1st person? If both your main character and your villain are talking aloud referring to themselves, it might be a tad confusing, but it's doable if you carefully divide scenes and chapters and make it entirely clear who the "I" is in each. Also, you'll need to be watchful of voice. Oh, right. Voice. Did you think everybody talks exactly the same way? Of course, your MC is nice, good, heroic, etc. and your antagonist is mean, awful, and villainous. Here's some first person examples if you decide to present both MC and villain in first person:

"I walked down the path, my heart yearning for any sign of my beloved, but I continued to be ever watchful of signs that Mr. Blackness had passed this way."

"I stood in the shadows, watching the poor, sad sucker meandering down the path without a clue that I've got his beloved stashed in a dungeon guarded by ogres."

These examples, of course, are exaggerated to make the point of voice incredibly important when you're writing with multiple points of view.

THIRD PERSON

Easiest to do is third person. Everybody can have their say with little difficulty for the reader recognizing who's the star of a given scene.

Thing is, 3rd person is the writer's voice, the omnipotent story teller from on high (imagine your god-like presence hovering over the characters in your work).

Still, separation of points of view by scene or chapter is the best, easiest, cleanest way to keep the reader on track. You can change points of view between paragraphs, but expect your reader to have to backtrack to figure out who is out front in the story.

If you think you absolutely need to change POV without a scene or chapter break, then your last resort is a paragraph break and a time or place changing word to allow the reader a moment to switch gears.

Fred walked along the path, hoping to find some clue to Hilda's disappearance. MEANWHILE, Hilda pounded on the bars and screamed, desperately hoping to attract attention.

Here the time/place changing word is MEANWHILE. It signals the reader that the story is jumping elsewhere.

RECOMMENDATION

Stick to 1st or 3rd person. Change POVs only on a scene or chapter break. Keep the voice consistent to the character.

See? That's not so hard, is it?

Excerpt from "Missing, Assumed Dead" - Using Flashback

These scene fragments illustrated changing POV using a definite break between the first part which is in the 3rd person point of view of Ray. It's a flashback to a time when the main character isn't present. Rather than just having Ray TELL Kam what had happened, the point of view shifts to Ray in the past. Both the scene break (* * * *) and Kam asking Ray a question, returns the POV to the main character.

George glanced at the copy of  Riders of the Purple Sage on his desk. “Why don’t you go, Ray? You’re his friend.”

“Yep, but he’d think I was buttin’ into his bizness if he’s okay. If you go, you can say sumthin’ about looking for someone else or what not.”

“So, I should lie to him but really just be checkin’ on his welfare, eh?”

“Yep. That’s what I’m thinkin’.”

George swung his legs off his desk and thumped his boots on the floor. “Well, I s’pose that fits under the category of law enforcement.”

Ray suppressed a smirk. “That’s what I thought. Somebody official should do the checkin’, and that’d be you.”

“I’d be happy to do my duty, Ray. I’ll head out that way tomorrow morning. He prob’ly just got tired of your burnt burgers.” George leaned back in his chair and put his feet back up on the desk “When I get back with the good news he just didn’t want to come to town, I’ll sure as hell let you know.”

Ray nodded. He left George’s office and headed back to the café and his living quarters in the back.

* * * *

Kam leaned across the counter. “What did George tell you?”

“He didn’t tell me nothin’.” Ray shrugged. “I asked, but he just said the judge was takin’ care of it.”

Mitch’s heavy, black brows formed a V. “Ray, if you know something the sheriff should hear about, you need to say.”

The old man took Kam’s drained glass and refilled it from the pitcher. “I don’t know nothin’ for sure, so’s I’m not sayin’ no more.”

**********************************************

MISSING, ASSUMED DEAD
Prejudice, murder, insanity, suicide: Every small town has its secrets.

Smashwords $0.99 with Coupon AU73Z: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/445366
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Audio: $1.99 when purchased with the ebook at Kindle.

When Kameron McBride receives notice she’s the last living relative of a missing man she’s never even heard of, the last thing she wants to do is head to some half-baked Oregon town to settle his affairs. But since she’s the only one available, she grudgingly agrees.

En route, she runs afoul of a couple of hillbillies and their pickup in an accident that doesn’t seem...accidental. Especially when they keep showing up wherever she goes. Lucky for her, gorgeous Deputy Mitch Caldwell lends her a hand, among other things. Her suspicions increase when the probate Judge tries a little too hard to buy the dead man’s worthless property.

Working on a hunch and trying to avoid the Judge’s henchmen, Kam probes deeper into the town’s secrets and finds almost no one she can trust. With Mitch’s help, she peels away the layers of prejudice, suicide, murder, and insanity. But someone in town doesn’t like her poking around, and when they show their intentions by shooting her through the police chief’s office window, the stakes are raised. Kam must find out what really happened to her dead relative before someone in this backward little town sends her to join him.

And she thought Oregon was going to be boring.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Model for Nyra and Remy

*** I just heard from Dawn after years apart and decided to re-run this post in her honor. She didn't know she was a role model.***

In honor of my friend Dawn, I've lowered the price from $2.99 to $0.99 on
Amazon:  First Duty and Ultimate Duty 
Smashwords: First Duty and Ultimate Duty

Tall, redheaded heroines kick ass. Yes, they do. But mostly only in fantasy and science fiction. When I wrote a redheaded heroine in my books "First Duty" and "Ultimate Duty," I used as my model a real-life person I had known years ago. She was a natural redhead, close to 6' tall (and more in her Frye boots), and she kicked every single ass while barely moving a muscle.

I hung out with Dawn a few years of my college life. Her brother was a temporary boyfriend of mine (also a redhead and quite tall). When that relationship ended, I kept his sister. One excellent reason for doing so beyond her being a funny and witty woman, was her ability to attract men. They flocked to her, growling at each other like the wolves they thought themselves to be. Dawn would laugh.

She flat out told me she could get any guy (who was looking for a hook up, and some that weren't) just by standing up in a room. As that magnificent mane of red hair rose above the crowd, it was as if somebody threw a bucket of chum in the ocean. The sharks circled for a few moments then moved in for the kill.

Dawn would laugh. Place her ringed index finger gently on the chest of the closest and give the guy a tiny push. She had just kicked his ass...big time.

I miss Dawn. She went off to Alaska, then on to places unknown. She's still out there and, even at our age, she's probably still kicking ass even with a few gray hairs peeking through the red. She contacted me recently and is no longer a lost friend - YAY!

When I released "Ultimate Duty" after it ran for more than three years under the Eternal Press banner, I found another kick-ass redhead to adorn the cover. She looks a lot like Dawn. Dawn would laugh.

So all you other SF/F writers with your tall, redheaded kick-ass heroines, find yourself a real live one like my friend. I have the rights to her (whether she knows it or not), while you all are probably just thinking how cool a tall redheaded kick-ass heroine would be. Have you actually met one? I thought not. Dawn would laugh.

If you have modeled your tall redheaded kick-ass heroine after a real person, tell us about her in the comments. I'll give you a copy of both of my tall redheaded kick-ass heroine books.