Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guest Blogger Linda Swift with a Message of Hope and Giving and a New Release

Linda Swift is my guest at The Word Place today, celebrating the season with a new release from Willow Moon Publishing, A Time to Give. It's available as an ebook from their website in a variety of downloadable formats for $2.99.

The small roadside restaurant where Ellen works is busy with travelers rushing home on Christmas Eve. She is counting on her employer's bonus and tips to take her over the top for the gift she plans to buy today for the guy she loves. Bruce is a college student in need of a typewriter he can't afford and Ellen has been saving for months to surprise him. A mother and two young children stop in while their car is being repaired next door. Ellen learns they have a long drive ahead in a worsening snow storm and little money. She invites them to stay over with her but the woman wants to try and make St.Louis in case her husband calls. If Ellen helps them she will not be able to buy the gift Bruce requires for school. How can she choose who has the greater need?
 Linda recounts her personal experience with 'a time to give' here: 

     All of my family is musical except me. And it was after a performance of her husband's band at a casino in Tunica, that my daughter had an almost fatal accident. While standing on the sidewalk in the wee hours of morning as he loaded his equipment, she was run down by a casino employee, high on drugs, thrown onto the windshield of his car, which hit a wall and caught fire. She was helicoptered to a trauma hospital in Memphis with multiple injuries. Her dad and I arrived from Kentucky and after an all-day wait, she had hours of surgery. Our first miracle was that she lived.
      We stayed in a motel for a month, taking turns with her husband, sitting at her bedside, so that she was never alone for a moment. When word spread that she was injured, fans of her band and her husband's filled her room with flowers. There were so many and the scent was so heavy that one physician who entered remarked "Why, this is like a funeral home." A very inappropriate remark in my opinion!
      Still too weak to travel to her home in Nashville, she was moved after a few weeks to a rehab center nearby. And when she was finally given permission to travel, my husband and I went ahead to prepare her condo for an invalid. Both bedrooms were upstairs and not wheelchair accessible so we had to buy a bed for the living room. Her dishwasher didn't work and neither did the stove oven.  Remember, she and her husband traveled with their respective bands and domestic life did not have  priority. But since I was responsible for cooking nutritious meals, I needed proper equipment. 
      After a couple of days of frantic shopping for appliances, a bed, and groceries, then a frenzy of cleaning as we had been warned of her wounds getting infected, we fell into bed for a few hours sleep before her homecoming.
      Sometime after midnight, I was awakened by a loud noise like someone hitting a wall. I tried to ignore it but it only got louder. Muttering something unprintable, I staggered to the window and looked out. And there by the front steps was a lone figure doing something with wood and a hammer. At first, I couldn't figure it out, and then it dawned on me. A man was building a ramp over the concrete steps.
Something we had not even thought of!
      I called my husband to wake up and join me. And together we determined that it was the young man next door. We had met him and his wife and son when we came two days ago and had heard our daughter and husband speak of them before. They had come to Nashville from New York City because he wanted a career in music. For the time being, they were both employed at the nearby mall, where he worked a late shift as a security officer. Since they had lived in a big city, they had no car and both walked the couple of miles to their jobs as they had no other mode of transportation. My daughter and husband had loaned them their car at times for buying groceries and other necessities.
     The night was freezing cold and the guy was bundled up in a jacket, sock cap, and gloves as he determinedly hammered away at those boards until he had the ramp finished.  And as I stood there watching with tears in my eyes, I felt such gratitude for this simple gift of kindness. It was truly more beautiful than the roomful of flowers I had tended every day. And even more special because I felt it had been a financial sacrifice to buy the lumber as well as a difficult task to build it in the middle of this frigid night.
     My daughter came home, and after a fourth surgery and many more weeks of intensive therapy, she was able to walk again. And the much-used ramp was finally taken down. Now only a few scars remain to remind her and us of that almost fatal night. And this is the second miracle.
     The neighbor couple went back to New York City after a time because their family needed them there. And the full time career in music hasn't happened yet. But I remember them from time to time and make a wish that all their dreams may soon come true.
 Linda also has two Christmas themed ebooks available.

LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY ($2.10) from The Wild Rose PressTHE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS ($4.99) from Awe-Struck Publishing                                 

 What great Christmas gifts, especially for someone with an eReader! 

Thanks to Linda for sharing her story and her news. She'll be guest-blogging again soon about a terrific new release Humanly Speaking, a book of unique poems which I've read and thoroughly enjoyed!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Blogging Again

With NaNoWriMo and assorted other interruptions behind me, I'm back to blogging. And what better way to return to the boards than with two pieces of good news?

First, Champagne Books has offered me a contract for my novel The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall. The story was suggested by a visit to Miss Laura's Social Club for Gentlemen, now the official Visitor Center for Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It is a beautifully restored house that speaks to a time when women alone had few options for survival--prostitution being on of them. Looking at the pictures of some of those who had "worked" in the house in its hey-day, the thought occurred to me. "What would happen if a visitor recognized great-grandma on the wall?" 

The book, scheduled for January 2012, is both a romance and a mystery. It treats the subject tastefully and with compassion for those young women who found themselves in such a situation. Stay tuned!

Second, a fellow author, Linda Swift, is celebrating the release of a new book of poetry, Humanly Speaking: Conversations with God, just released as an ebook by Willow Moon Publishing. Follow this link to Linda's website to read more about the book, including some excerpts.(Click on the above words, Linda's website, as it doesn't show up as a link but does work as one!) I downloaded it yesterday for $5.99 and am looking forward to an afternoon of good reading.Linda will be guest-blogging here in the near future. 

During NaNoWriMo I completed just over 50K for the second in my Penelope Pembroke cozy mystery series, The Stubborn Schoolhouse Spirit. It still needs completing, while the first, The Bogus Biker, needs revising. I'm anxious to start work on the other four:  The Feedstore Floozy, The Theatrical Thoroughbred, The Possum Hollow Problem, and An Almost-Happy Ending.

First, however, I need to finish whipping another vintage romance into shape for submission by January. Dancing with Velvet is set in my hometown in West Texas during World War II and is close to my heart. 

The Showboat Affair from The Wild Rose Press releases on April 15, 2011. More on that later.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writing Retreat #3: The Bugle Call to Go Forward

     Rather than ‘retreating’ on Friday, I had lunch in town with a new writing acquaintance from the conference in Eureka Springs. It was a long lunch—and a productive one. A retreat signals getting away from, but meeting with a fellow writer always signals new ideas and directions.
     I came away from the meeting committed to being part of a new Facebook page featuring local writers, as well as a blog featuring same. Platform. I can remember when I didn’t know what the word meant, and now I look for every possible plank to plunk down! So stay tuned here for future developments and opportunities to guest blog at a brand new blog that may well reach a brand new (local) market.
     The weekend turned into a ‘double whammy’ as I decided to brave the unknown and find my way to the regional NaNoWriMo Kickoff in Little Rock. For those of you who are unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it is National Novel Writing Month in which people from all over the world—and I mean that quite literally!—commit to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. Just type in the full name or the abbreviation for a more complete explanation and all the information you could possibly ask for.
     So why do writers get involved in something like that? I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a couple of reasons why this is my fourth year and, hopefully, my third ‘win’. No, there’s no $$ involved, just a nice badge to download to your website or blog that says you’re a ‘winner’—and the self-satisfaction of having accomplished a rather monumental feat. I write for the satisfaction of the badge—and also because it gives me yet another ‘completed’ work to revise and perhaps submit somewhere.
     The most important reason why I’m part of NaNo is the camaraderie of it. To be a part of a world-wide people who are, wonder of wonders, ‘like me’. To get to know new people and soak up ideas both online and in person. To write—because that’s what writers do.
     If you’d like to see what I’m pursuing this year, visit my website at and click on the NaNoWriMo tab.
     As for writing retreats, I’ll still be doing them this month, mainly at local weekly write-ins where watching another person’s fingers fly over the keyboard will inspire mine to do the same. At the end of the month, I’m treating myself to a long weekend of R&R in a nice hotel. Of course, the lappy will go along as there will be more words to write in order to finish. With the necessity of turning out an average of 1,667 words per day to compete the task, one doesn’t want to waste a single day. 
     NaNoWriMo 2010 officialy begins at 12:01 AM. I’m smiling in anticipation!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Retreating from the Retreat OR the Retreat That Wasn't

     Ah, Friday, and time to retreat! Lady and I headed for Lake Ouachita, not too far from here, and reputed to be a lovely spot. It wasn't far, and it was lovely, BUT. Always the disclaimer. The picnic area was totally inaccessible for Lady. Backed into the parking area, she was faced with a sharp drop-off over a concrete wall and nowhere to go but down.
     All right, there's always Plan B. Off again to the scenic overlook we'd visited before. We hadn't been there long, mostly time enough to get 'set up' and ready for the day, when car #1 arrived. These nice folks were down for a week from Buffalo NY, and we had a nice conversation. When they got ready to leave, I moved the car (the turn-around is a tight squeeze), and the driver maneuvered expertly past me with a wave and a smile.
     Comes out the laptop...and comes car #2. These folks (locals, wouldn't you know?) stroll to the overlook where they view the scenery for perhaps 10 seconds (I'm not exaggerating) and stroll back to their car. I asked if they could get out. "I don't know" came the rather frosty answer. I moved the car again, but they made no attempt to go around me. Ended up driving totally out of the overlook area, down the road, turning around, and coming back.
     Back to laptop. Lady slumbers peacefully under the Trailblazer amid fallen leaves. Arrives car #3. At this point, I give up. Packing everything up, not forgetting my disturbed dog, I find myself hemmed in by these folks and spend awhile inching forward, inching backward, etc. until I am able to make a get-away.
     Obviously, Plans A and B are off the table forever. However, I did get some writing done at home, and after some reflection, I find the following analogy for writing in general:
     With the best planning, the best of intentions, the best effort, we put our words down and sit back, only to find the first attempt 'inaccessible' for submission...and frustrated by unpleasant disturbances. The characters are wooden, the plot is stagnant, the story is going nowhere. Sometimes all we can do is pack up and move on. Hopefully,there'll be a new day, a new place in our writer's mind, and a successful outcome.
     Meanwhile, the words of an old song echo mournfully:
Will I find a place,
a little space,
that's meant for only me?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mini-Writing Retreat #1: What IS a retreat after all?

Thanks to those who shared links to lists--they'll appear in a blog when I take up 'resources for writers' again. For the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about mini-writing retreats and what can be gained from finding a new and different place to write. 
BTW, congratulations to Lori Robinette who won the CD with my books, Where Is Papa's Shining Star? and Finding Papa's Shining Star.
 There are an even dozen definitions for the word ‘retreat’, most of which don’t apply to what I did yesterday and plan to do once a week for the foreseeable future. My goals were to (1) get away and see something new and (2) accomplish more writing in a shorter time by virtue of no internet access. Both goals were met. (More on that later.)
Lake Catherine State Park is located just over 40 miles from home, so I loaded up everything on a carefully-prepared list—and the dog, who is always ready to go somewhere—and headed out. Temperature: cool. Sun: warm. Breeze: constant, like the sound of rushing water. Leaves: crunchy underfoot. Scents: earthy. Music: classical. Diet DP: of course. Dog: loving it.
We found an unoccupied picnic spot (um, guess there were ALL unoccupied, actually) and pulled in. Dog out on long tether, water bowl filled, tablecloth spread, CD in player, computer booted, DP open, first writing project completed in no time at all. I deserved a break, so I settled back to consider just what a ‘retreat’ is really all about.
I wasn’t running away from anything. As Nellie Forbush said in the inimitable South Pacific, it was more like running to something. I had the satisfaction of having taken control of my day. Now there was time to think and, most importantly, to sort out those thoughts and make sense out of them. And what better way to preserve them than by writing everything down? I filled three pages of a spiral notebook in just over half an hour.
Feeling quite smug and self-satisfied (or are those one and the same emotions?), I leaned back and squinted up at the tree branches which formed a canopy over my cozy place. Look closely at the picture, how the branches grow randomly from the trunk, ending up virtually nowhere. Ah, but do they really? 

Look again. Those branches are necessary for growth. They provide the base for the leaves which shield the observer from the sun. I noticed that even Lady’s attention seemed to be drawn upward rather than outward.     
Being a writer, I naturally began to make a comparison between the growth patterns of the trees and writing. Consider the limbs (ending nowhere) as the foundation of writing—call it ability, talent, determination, desire, whatever you please. The leaves are the words and ideas that flow from that.
But, you say, they don’t go anywhere. They just hang out. That’s right—that’s all they do. But the point is, they DO something, just as we do something when we write. Whether we publish traditionally, independently, or not at all, we’ve grown those limbs and filled them with leaves, and they are there—and useful—and beautiful.
One of yesterday’s projects was more reading in Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, in which he says, “…you must express your creativity, your true nature, or die…”
When the trees cease to grow new limbs, to produce leaves, they die.
When the writer ceases to write, he dies (the creative part of him anyway).
There are many reasons to write. Mine is simply to write for the sake of writing.
I’m alive.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Resources for Writers #33: Lists, Lists, and More Lists

How many times have you moaned, "Why can't ALL the resources I need for writing be in ONE place?" Like everyday for me! Of course, that's what bookmarks are for, and I try to keep mine fairly organized. So, from those bookmarks comes this week's blog--Lists, Lists, and More Lists!

If you don't click on but one of these links, make it the last one! At $1.99 for immediate download, you can't beat these little gems of information about markets for everything from science fiction to romance--and much more! Beats a more expensive book that you won't use but part of!

Leave a comment on this blog with one link to another LIST and be entered in a drawing for a CD of Where Is Papa's Shining Star? and Finding Papa's Shining Star.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Resources for Writers #32: So Proudly We Hail

If you’re writing a story in which the military figures prominently—and the hero of your book is also a hero on the battlefield—it will help to know something about the medals awarded to those who fight for our freedom.

When speaking of medals, the Medal of Honor usually comes to mind first. Find the history of the medal and stories of the recipients from the Civil War to the present here. You’ll also want to check out the Official Site of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Check out this site for other US Army Individual Decorations such as the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross and others.

 Silver Star                                                         DFC

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by the President of the United States, while not a military honor, is a prestigious one. Recipients from diverse fields are honored: business, economics, computing education, history, medicine, philosophy, science, sociology, space exploration, the arts (including film, literature, and music), journalism, radio and television, philanthropy, politics and government (including the military and even espionage!), sports, and humanitarian contributors. 

You’ll find the lists of recipients and their stories a fascinating read! And don't forget to scroll to the bottom left of this site and Say Thanks to some real heroes!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Resources for Writers #32: Keep It Real

1.  something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, esp. a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time: The sword is an anachronism in modern warfare.
  2.  an error in chronology in which a person, object, event, etc., is assigned a date or period other than the correct one: To assign Michelangelo to the 14th century is an anachronism.

If you're writing a story about the future, you can say anything. Make up stuff. Invent words. Create characters that would never fit in the 21st century or in previous ones. What a great writing adventure! 
BUT--say anything except the truth in a story about the present and/or past, and you're in trouble. Especially the past. Don't invent anything, at least not anything that doesn't somehow 'fit' with the time period. Make sure your characters speak and appear as they would have 'back when'. The adventure is in the research!
What brought all this to mind was picking up one of those booklet-type birthday cards from 1944--which just happens to be when I was born. If I were writing a story that took place in this particular year, adding a few facts would lend credibility to the setting, plot, and characters. For example:
  • FDR was in his third term as President of the United States
  • We were still at war, and ads for almost everything spoke to that situation. For example, Westinghouse ran an ad promising new features in the appliances that they would be allowed to produce AFTER the war. Consumers were cautioned that "Food fights for freedom". And Elsie the Cow (of Borden Milk fame) lectured Elmer the Bull about not buying anything he didn't actually need: "Use it up--wear it out--make it do--or do without!"
  • The average income was $2,378.00 a year.
  • A new house could be had for $3,475.00 IF you could get the materials and people to construct it.
  • Bacon was 45 cents/lb. and eggs 21 cents/doz. Meat rationing ended in the United States.
  • Doctors still made house calls.
  • "Going My Way" with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
  • People listened to Dinah Shore sing, "I'll Walk Alone" and to the Andrews Sisters belting out, "Shoo Shoo Baby".
  • Christmas and New Year's fell on Monday.
  • V-1 rockets pounded London.
  • Big Bend National Park was established.
  • Seventeen Magazine hit the newsstands.
 All of these items could be worked into a story, making it even more realistic, especially for readers who could say, "Been there, done that." I love to read vintage stories set in a time in which I remember living. But make a mistake, and I'll know it, and so will a lot of other readers out there. 

I still remember the humiliation of sitting in a graduate English class and being asked by the professor to point out the anachronism in the passage we'd just read--and I couldn't do it. I could've crawled under the conference table! That experience spurs me to research the truth of anything I write as fact...because I'm just too darned old to crawl under the table any more!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Resources for Writers #30: Copyright and the Public Domain--Be Sure You Know the Difference

New writers—and even experienced ones—often confront the question of copyright when using quotes, song lyrics, passages from books or articles, pictures, and other created material. Penalties can be severe, so it’s a good idea to be sure what you want to use is not currently copyrighted—or to get written permission, a process that can be lengthy as well as expensive.

What IS public domain? This website defines and explains it, stressing at the end of the article that once a work is in the public domain, it is there to stay (variations excluded).

Go here for more general information on public domain.

Another good site is Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States(current as of January 2010)

Check out these other sites to find what is in the public domain in music, books,  and pictures.

When I was teaching and wanted to do something innovative in the classroom, I harked back to the old adage, “Better to ask forgiveness than permission.” But copyright infringement is no joke—so be careful. 

If anyone finds any questionable or incorrect information here, please let me know! Or, if you'd like to share other links or personal experience, leave a comment or be a guest here at The Word Place.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Resources for Writers #29: Something for Everyone

Note: I've had to begin moderating comments here due to spam. So if your comment doesn't show up right away, please know that I'll get to it ASAP. It's a shame that one person with nothing better to do can create a problem for those of us who tend to business!

Here are some ideas that have popped into my head this week. Not everything works for everyone, but they’re worth taking a look at anyway.

(1)  If you’re a published author and have books on, look into setting up an author page. The link is hard to find—a friend had to point it out to me—but basically if you type in, Author Central, you’ll get to a starting point. You can find your books and designate them as yours, write a bio and upload a picture, even start a blog which can be posted using an RSS feed.

Hint: will set up your page and let you know when it’s ready. Then you can work on the blog. It may take a couple of times before it ‘catches’, but you can keep going back and editing, etc. until it does. I set up a new blog, Someday Is Here, just to chat about writing in general rather than feeding this one in.

(2)  Check your local library’s genealogical section for the publications of various genealogical groups. Look for the ‘quarterlies’ in which people have written about their families, the history of a particular location, an event etc. You’ll find tons of good ideas for stories!

(3)  As soon as The Showboat Affair goes to print, which should be sooner than later, I’m taking a break from novel-writing and concentrating on some short, for-pay stories. Everyone knows about the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market published yearly by Writer’s Digest, but it’s a lot to plow through and easy to get bogged down in. (I use it, but…) Take a break by browsing the periodical section of your local bookstore and jotting down names of promising magazines in the notebook which OF COURSE YOU CARRY WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES! Then go home and look up their submission guidelines online and print them out if you think you want to pursue the market.

(4)  Now is the time to stock up on three-prong pocket folders cheap cheap cheap! I always watch the back-to-school sales and buy my limit. They’re perfect for organizing research notes, writing tips, market listings, and the thousand and one other things writers seem to hoard.  Stick a blank address label on the outside and specify the contents. Where to keep them? Visit your nearest Michaels or Hobby Lobby and look for sales on those pretty shoebox-size storage boxes. Put the cover on the bottom and stand the folders inside.

(5)  I’m always out of printer ink, it seems. It’s cheaper to buy online when there’s free shipping included in the deal. Check the website for your brand of printer. Also, I’ve had pretty good luck with 4InkJets, which are recycled and refilled. Buy three or four at a time and make out like a bandit!

If you have any tips you’d like to share, email me at, and I’ll include them here AND credit you for the idea. Remember—we’re all in this together. Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely business!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Resources for Writers #28: Top Tens

            My sage advice this week is to RUN, not walk, to your nearest newsstand and purchase the September 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest. It’s called “The Big 10” issue. Inside you’ll find the following:

  • 10 questions to ask yourself about where you fit in to the future of publishing
  • 10 Tips for delivering a killer reading (Barbara Croft)
  • 10 essential rules of poetry (Robert Lee Brewer)
  • The 10 best places for writers to live (Rob Woodiwiss)
  • 10 of the all-time best thrillers chosen by 10 bestsellers
  • 10 questions answered by agent Suzie Townsend
  • 10 Notable debut novels (what ‘they’re’ saying and author’s words)
  • 10 tips for maximizing your MFA experience (Lori A. May)
  • 10 experts take on the Writer’s Rulebook (to follow or break the rules) (incl. Donald Maas)
  • Top 10 essentials to a writer’s life (Erik Larson
  • Top 10 writers I admire and why (Jodi Picoult)
  • Top 10 things I’ve learned since becoming a bestseller (Ellen Hopkins)
  • Top 10 Pieces of writing advice that I’ve been given (Sherman Alexie)
  • Top 10 things every writer should do (Mary Higgins Clark)
  • Top 10 things that would make the writing world a better place (Chuck Palahniuk)
  • To 10 ways to stay true to yourself in publishing (Wade Rouse)
  • Top 10 hints for a successful series (Jennifer Chiaverini, author of the Elm Quilt Creek novels)
  • Top 10 things every aspiring writer should know (Kirby Larson)
  • Top 10 ways to stay sane when frustrated with your writing (Karin Slaughter)
  • 10 ways to be a productivity pro (Sage Cohen)
  • 10 ways to write what you ‘no’ (use frustration, hurt, and anger to fuel your writing) (Bill O’Hanlon)
  • 10 reasons the freelance life in a good life (Art Spikol)
  • 10 quick questions with really short answers (Brian Klems) (Great ones here!)
  • 10 creative ways to beat writer’s block fast (Fred White)
  • (10 ways to) Brush up on your style in 10 minutes or less (Brandon Royal)
  • (10 ways to) Make the most of any writing event (Linda Formichelli)

AND ‘Staff Picks’

  • Top ten writers we wish would write books on writing
  • Top ten worst places in the world to write
  • Top ten things to do when procrastinating writing
  • Top ten writers we’d love to discover (more) posthumous works from
  • Top ten writers dead or alive we’d love to have drinks with
  • Top ten unlikely writer collaborations we’d love to see

The list appears overwhelming, but once you start reading, you’ll just keep going.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Resources for Writers #27: How to Kill a Character

Feeling well today? Read no further. But if you are strong of stomach and engaged in writing a historical in which a character isn’t going to make it to the end of the story, then check out these websites.

The best by far is Cyndi’s List   If you follow no link except this one, you will find a wealth of information related to medicine and health in the good old/bad old days.

This site, a great quick reference, has several broken links at the bottom, so I added the ones that do work.  Old Disease Names

Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms

Old Disease Names Frequently Found on Death Certificates

While some of the old causes of death sound amusing to us, the tragic fact is that people died of relatively minor illnesses that are quickly curable today. Women, infants, and children were at high-risk for death by disease. Men died from disease, too, as well as from occupational accidents and by violence.

The scourges of tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and pneumonia took their toll. Childhood diseases such as measles often meant a death sentence for children. Diabetes and kidney disease were known but not really understood and certainly untreatable.

Most early doctors had only limited, rudimentary training. Added to the lack of medicine, especially antibiotics, and inability to aggressively treat disease, they could only see lives into the world and, sooner or later, see them out again.

Children born with (survivable) defects were often hidden away and, later, warehoused in unspeakable conditions. The same ‘solutions’ surrounded those with mental illness. Until Dorothea Dix’s crusade for more humane treatment for these unfortunate souls, they suffered without mercy. (A good book about her work is Stranger and Traveler: The Story of Dorothea Dix, American Reformer by Dorothy Clarke Wilson.)

Life wasn’t easy in the good old/bad old days, nor was it long. Here are two links to life expectancy charts specific to the United States.

Life Expectancy in the U.S. 1900-1998

Life Expectancy by Age, 1850-2004

So the next time you go to the doctor and are asked to fill out one of those endless (often redundant) ‘patient information’ forms, have some fun. Write that the reason for your visit today is ‘crop sickness’ or ‘foeter oris’. Unfortunately, you may not get the last laugh, because I don’t think anyone ever reads this so-called critical information anyway!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Resources for Writers #26: A Century of Settings


The Vintage House Book: Classic American Homes 1880-1980 by Tad Burness (Krause Publications, 2003) is one of the best finds I’ve plucked from the shelves of the local library. The 256-page book is jam-packed with pictures of exteriors and interiors of houses spanning an entire century. A brief introduction to each of the ten chapters gives an overview of the prevailing architectural trends of the particular decade.
           Over 2,500 images and photographs (both black-and-white as well as color), including some floor plans, have notations offering fascinating tidbits about the history and/or construction of a particular house. If you ever wondered about the evolution of the modern kitchen and bathroom, you’ll find it illustrated here.
            Imagine my surprise and delight when, on page 166, I found the exact house that my parents built before their marriage in 1940 (they were then married in the living room) and in which I spent the first four years of my life. Pictures of long-forgotten appliances and fixtures brought back a lot of memories!
            Knowing this book is one I’ll turn to again and again as I weave my vintage tales, I checked one of my favorite sites, ABE Books, and found it available from several bookstores at excellent (low!) prices. I’ll be ordering my copy soon!

FTC Disclaimer: I received no request to recommend this book or remuneration for doing same.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Resources for Writers #25: Getting Real

Did you ever have a fabulous idea for a book in a particular genre and then realize that you didn’t couldn’t ‘speak the language’? By that I mean, you simply didn’t have the vocabulary to write the dialogue for an FBI agent, for example. Or an equestrian. A circus performer. An old-time Vaudevillian.

 Unfortunately, there will be people who pick up your books only to close them unfinished if you try to bluff your way through. If your characters aren’t authentic, then neither is your plot. You’ve heard the old adage, “You are what you read.” I submit that your characters are what they say, and if they use the wrong words, they’re toast.

I’ve been playing around with a ‘cozy’ mystery, the first of what I hope to make a series of six. Many of the characters will carry over from one book to the next, so if they don’t come across as the real thing in book #1, why would a reader go on to book #2? I began to write a main character who is undercover with the FBI, and I hadn’t written much before I realized I had no clue what I was doing. Therefore, in the story, neither did he!

So it was off to the friendly local library. (And mine is extraordinarily friendly and helpful, btw.) First stop, the computerized ‘card catalogue’. Keywords such as ‘FBI’ and ‘undercover’ brought up several possibilities. I settled on The Last Undercover by Bob Hamer. Without reviewing the book, I’ll just say that I read it with a yellow legal pad and pen at hand, noting how he referred to various people, situations, etc. Rather than ‘carrying a gun’, he was ‘packing’, for example.

Nothing beats research for authentic characters, settings, plot, and dialogue. Yes, we read in many cases as an escape, and that’s fine. But if you’re writing about ‘real’ people, they need to walk the walk and talk the talk. Otherwise, speaking as a reader rather than a writer, I don’t have time to figure it all out. Tell me. Better still, show me.

IMO—the best resource is research.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Resources for Writers #24: Mail Marketing Campaign

One important resource that a (published) writer needs is marketing tips, and cheap is good. However, if you have a little money to spend, it’s important to use it in the right venue. I looked at a number of ideas and, after the local library bought both my books outright, I settled on targeting libraries, based on the following premises:

1)     Libraries buy books.
2)     People who work in libraries buy books.
3)     People who work in libraries know people who buy books.

First, I found a listing for every library in the state (197) and made a set of labels (Avery 8160 is a good size). Typing the labels took some time, but I have them saved if I ever decide to do this again.

Next, I designed postcards at VistaPrint and ordered 250, of which 100 were free in a special offer, so I paid $27.11 with postage. I included:

  • my website where the books/trailers can be previewed
  • the email address of the publisher’s online store (for purchasing)
  • a note that the author is available for book signings, reviews, and workshops

Postcards require a 28-cent stamp. (Remember the days of the penny postcard?) Postage came out to $55.16. However, I already had almost 100 17-cent stamps, so I only had to buy the extra postage for those this time around.

Using Avery 8160 again, I made another label to use on the back with the address label. On this one, I made sure that the recipients would know that I was a local Arkansas author. Then, just for good measure, I added the title of my upcoming 2011 release. To make this label stand out from the address label, I added a border, shading, and used colored font.

All that was left was to label and stamp the postcards. The post office said that sorting by zip code wouldn’t facilitate delivery, so I didn’t do that. Speaking of zip codes, the list of libraries didn’t include those, so I had to look up them up individually from another printed list. Also, if a city was large enough to have more than one zip code, I had to look up the library itself. However, none of that took as much time as you might think. (Hint: Not every state thoughtfully provides one concise list. I looked for one in Texas and found that I had to check out the library systems to get the names and addresses of individual libraries!)

I chose not to use a return address label, electing to have the business contracted between the library and the publisher.

So for the investment of under $100 ($82.27), I’ve made contact with libraries all over the state. If half of them look at the postcard, that’s almost 100 potential buyers. Sales could come from both libraries and from individuals. Or, they could come not at all. That’s always a possibility, especially with books being something of a luxury in a poor economy. If I receive any requests for speaking/workshops, that’s exposure as well as an opportunity for individual sales. It seemed worth at least a one-time effort and investment.

I’m not sure if I can get any information from the publisher regarding sales from this mail campaign, but I may inquire about it anyway. It would help to know how many sales  (if any) resulted so I could decide whether or not to make the same investment of time and money again. 

I’d love to heard from anyone who has done something similar—or has other marketing ideas. Consider yourself invited to guest blog here at The Word Place anytime!