Typed Tales

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Vanishing Town Square

     Watch any western on television (Gunsmoke, Big Valley, The Rifleman, Bonanza) and visit a town with a Main Street and not much more. But eventually towns began to be laid out in ‘squares’ around a courthouse (if the town was the county seat) or at least around a park, historical statue, or plaza. Then I thought about my own hometown, San Angelo, in West Texas.
     Founded in 1867 with the establishment of Fort Concho at the confluence of the North and South Concho Rivers, it was a wild and wooly place filled with saloons and other establishments not mentioned in polite company. Families tended to settle in nearby Ben Ficklin, a nice quiet place which became the county seat of Tom Green County. A two-story stone courthouse established the little settlement’s ‘authority’ over San Angelo.
     However, in August 1882, a devastating flood destroyed the town and took the lives of many of its respectable citizens. The rest, as they say, is history. San Angelo took over as the center of the area. Seven years later, the last company of soldiers occupying the fort marched away, and ‘the little town across the river’ came into its own.
     It does NOT have a town square, and so far as I can tell, it never did. There is a Main Street, but more businesses tended to build along other streets in the downtown area. Chadbourne Street divides the town into north and south, while Harris divides it into east and west. The residential areas spiral out from there. 

     Most of the smaller towns of the same age have town squares:  Sterling City, Sonora, San Saba Lampasas, Granbury—all being county seats, of course. These towns with their historic courthouses plunked right in the middle exude a certain charm. Farmers bring their produce to sell “on the square”. Festivals and celebrations mark holidays and changing seasons. People still tend to congregate to discuss the weather, politics, and anything else which comes to mind. The ambiance of community and slower living thrive—or at least, they did when I passed through these little towns in my travels. View some assorted town squares here. (The European 'plaza' is always magnificent!)
     In my husband’s hometown of Seneca SC, the ‘square’ was three-sided. The railroad track composed the fourth side, but the essence of “the square” remained. Other towns I’ve seen have the same configuration without really changing the effect of “the square”.
     So when I wrote the Penelope Series, I never envisioned Amaryllis AR, (pop. 5492) as anything but a small town with a square, nor did it occur to me to change the format for Dreamland AR where Trixie Blake plants her stubborn feet and very nearly gets swept off them by disaster rather than romance.
     Perhaps these are towns lost in time or behind the times. Or perhaps they represent the best of times. Penelope thought so, and Trixie discarded the idea of getting back to the big city in spite of intrigue and threats. And just maybe I’m a small-town girl at heart, too.

Start your visit to Amaryllis and then move on to Dreamland.
Stop for a while on your journey at Someday Is Here.

And don’t forget:

Get hooked on a good clean read!

Friday, October 17, 2014

I've been there-done that, and maybe that helps Trixie out

   My amazing Macy. She beat a congenital heart condition which doctors warned would kill her before she was a year old. In the end, one night on a rain-slick highway, I killed her instead. She was my life, my best friend, my hero. From the night it happened, I’ve always believed I should be dead, and maybe I am.
   My name is Mitch Langworth, and I’m an attorney specializing in real estate law. It wasn’t easy growing up with a father like Guy who had his hands in every dirty little pie that came along. I didn’t like him, but the night he told my mother he was glad she was dying of cancer, I started to hate him. He remarried when I was thirteen, but that didn’t last long. I still have a relationship with my former stepmother and stepsister though.
    I also keep in touch with Macy’s parents. Linc and Rose never blamed me for the accident. They said Macy had thirty happy years, a lot of them because of me. But I blame myself and always will.
   When Rudy James introduced me to an old high school classmate, I couldn’t believe I actually felt some interest in her. Trixie Blake is cute and feisty, but she’s also still grieving the loss of her husband in an aircraft accident. Ned was career Air Force. Like me, Trixie didn’t even have a child to help keep the memories alive.
   Trixie needed a friend who’d been there-done that, and I have. So we’ve gotten to be a regular at Rudy’s place, the Twilight Bar and Grill. And I’ve gotten sucked into the on-going drama between my father and her over her refusal to sell the Quimby Building and move on. I don’t like to see anybody bullied, and she’s getting more than her share right now and doesn’t deserve it.
Dreamland used to be a nice little town, and some people think it still is. After I lost Macy, I didn’t care where I lived. One place was as good as another. But now I’m beginning to wonder if this town isn’t worth salvaging. Rudy and some others want to try, and now Trixie’s dug in her heels, too.
   The Drummond sisters, who rent the downstairs of Trixie’s building swear Al Capone still haunts the upstairs—which is just where Trixie wants to put in a tea room and boutique. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ll admit there’s a lot going on I can’t explain. The police chief, Doug Everton, seems to have it in for Trixie and is telling her to get out of town. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s not a good idea, at least for right now.
   But Trixie says she’s not going anywhere. So when she asked me about buying a gun and applying for a concealed carry license in Arkansas, I helped her do both. Against my better judgment, you understand, but I did it.
   I don’t know what’s going to happen next—but I’m betting it won’t be good. 

Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland, Book 1 of The Dreamland Series would love to find a home on your Kindle!

Find out more at Someday Is Here.

Get hooked on a good clean read!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What is your brand?

I confess to closing the barn door after the horses have all escaped. When I decided to start writing for publication, I spent a year learning everything I could about the subject. But writing was writing. Marketing? It never entered my mind. Seven years later, I’m still out looking for the missing equines!
There’s a lot of information in the writing world, and it can be overwhelming. Taking things one step at a time is always a good ploy, so that’s what I’m doing:  reading widely, making notes, formulating/adding to a detailed marketing plan, and implementing one strategy before moving on to another.
I’ll admit my ‘author platform’ isn’t as sturdy as it ought to be, but after reading several articles, one of the planks—namely branding—isn’t as wobbly as before. Ranching was an integral part of the culture and the economy of the West Texas town where I grew up. So when I thought ‘brand’, I thought of a bawling calf being roped and thrown and having a red-hot iron plunged onto his flank, marking him as the property of his owner.
Most people think of ‘brand’ as a certain kind of product—shampoo, paper towels, canned vegetables, cars, and so on. We usually visualize a picture—a logo—differentiating said product from its competition.
So what about an author brand? Do we own it? Does it set one author apart from another? And last but not least, is it really necessary?
Most writing gurus agree that a brand is necessary. As a recipient of their combined wisdom, I’ve also found the process of branding myself almost as painful as the calf probably finds his branding experience. However, one pearl of wisdom stood out:  your brand is who you are and what your writing is. So I thought about it.
Not writing in one narrow genre made the journey a bit more difficult. I write ‘vintage’ romance, contemporary romantic suspense, cozy mysteries, and short stories which likely defy genre pigeonholing. But one thread ran through the lot:  they’re clean. And, yes, there is a reading audience out there who looks for and enjoys a good clean read.
Eureka! I found it! A good clean read—that’s me. I added that to my email signature, ordered a banner for my table at book events, and finally found the perfect ‘logo’ in the form of a graphic on Fotolia, which I added to my blog and website.
You can read a lot more about branding here and here and here—and I’d recommend these articles. But when I finally realized that branding is just figuring out who you are and who you want other people to know you are, it got a whole lot easier.
I’d love to hear from any other writers who have made this journey to self-proclamation!
Meanwhile, visit me at Someday Is Here,  and follow me on Twitter.

And don’t forget to get hooked on a good clean read!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Move over, Al Capone!

Trixie Collier Blake of The Dreamland Series

     It’s all Ned’s fault. He died, and he shouldn’t have. I get so mad at him sometimes for leaving me alone. Twenty-eight is too young to have the moniker ‘widow’ hung on you. I don’t even have his child to keep his memory alive.
     So when I found out about the building my grandfather left me in Dreamland, I thought, “What the heck?” and drove back to my hometown to check it out. I never saw John Quimby Lloyd again after my mother took my older brother and me away when she divorced my father. I was only five, so my memories of Dreamland were pretty sketchy, too. But back I went, and all you-know-what broke loose.
     It was nice to find two old high school classmates living there—Rudy James and Delores Jefferson James. Rudy was the class clown and everybody’s pal. Delores lived with her widowed mother and younger brother Danny who has Down syndrome. But when Rudy decided to settle down in Dreamland, he brought the whole family along.
     Rudy introduced me to Mitch Langworth, an attorney, who married his high school sweetheart and then lost her in a car accident. He blames himself because he was driving. Rudy also made sure I met Candace King, the town’s self-appointed historian. She was married to Mitch’s father for a while, which makes her Mitch’s ex-stepmother. It’s sort of a tangled mess. And, it turns out Guy Langworth is having an affair with my mother Lucy! A mess indeed.
     My grandfather’s lawyer tried to convince me to sell the building, take the money, and run with it. Currently, two sisters, Miss Stella and Miss Letha Drummond, lease the first floor for their dress shop. They're feisty older ladies, and it seems a shame to displace them. But the whole town is being turned upside down by some shadowy development company who’s trying to buy up the whole square for unknown reasons.  And, oh, yes, Guy Langworth has his hand in that, too.
     Miss Stella and Miss Letha are convinced the ghost of Al Capone haunts the Quimby Building because they smell cigar smoke several times a day. According to Candace, Al and my great-grandfather were pretty tight back in the day. There was even a gambling casino on the second floor and a place for Al to park himself on the third floor.
     Al’s ghost may be the figment of the Drummond sisters’ imaginations, but the threats I’m getting are real—and scary. All the police chief does when I report them is glare at me and tell me to get out of town. I don’t think so. I’m not going to be scared off, and the building has possibilities.
Dreamland is a nice town—or was until outside people weaseled their way in—and some people believe it’s still a good place to live: Rudy, Mitch, Candace, Mayor Ellard, Miss Hetty Green, the Drummonds—and now I believe it. I’m staying around to open a tea room and gift shop on the second floor, so move over, Al.
     As for Guy and my mother, Chief Doug Everton, and anyone else out there who thinks they can push me out…think again. Not even murder is going to make me move on. At least, as long as I’m not the one who gets murdered!

 Read about Trixie, Mitch, Candace, Miss Hetty, Danny, and the Drummond Sisters in Book 1 of The Dreamland Series. Available in print or for Kindle at Amazon.com

Visit Someday is Here for more information about author Judy Nickles. Don't forget: It's a good clean read!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Look up! The art's on the ceiling.

     The fictional town of Amaryllis, Arkansas, setting for the Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series, had its beginning in the post-Civil War era. Among the places showcased in the books, buildings like the old feed store and possibly the first school—at least its additions—featured pressed tin ceilings similar to those you can see when visiting restored historic buildings in any real town. (See images here.)
     Though these decorative ceilings peaked in popularity at the turn of the twentieth century, they graced many commercial buildings and homes constructed between 1880 and 1930. Today, they’re being replicated by many companies, and original ceilings, covered by dropped acoustic ceilings and drywall are being uncovered and restored.
     So why were these metal ceilings used? First of all, they were readily available. The ornate plaster used by wealthy Europeans had the disadvantages of being expensive and time-consuming to mold, difficult to ship, and a real pain to install. So North Americans (with a few Australians and South Africans thrown in) turned to pressed tin.
     Tin was a generic name for sheet metal, so the ‘pressed tin’ ceilings were actually tin coated with steel (think tin cans). Also these decorative squares were durable, lightweight, fireproof, soundproofing, moisture and mildew resistant, and pretty easy to install. (They still are!)
     These sheets of metal were pressed one at a time with a variety of designs and often painted white to look as if they were hand carved or like molded plaster. You can see a picture of a press here.
In a sense, the ceilings were like artwork which had heretofore hung on the walls of a room. Check out images of pressed tin ceilings both old and new here.
     Of course, styles change, and desirable home d├ęcor changed around the 1930s. Now new owners of historic buildings and homes are busy restoring the original architectural vision of their edifices. One roadblock is getting rid of the lead-based paint commonly used in earlier eras. Damaged squares must be removed and repaired or replaced. Many companies manufacture these ‘old’ ceilings.
     Growing up in a town which sprang up around a West Texas military fort, these pressed tin ceilings were commonplace. Now I have a new appreciation of them and, whenever I visit an older building, I automatically look up. Sometimes I’m gratified by a glimpse of the real thing.


©Judy Nickles