Friday, November 18, 2022

The Thirty-Second Issue

 

       


    When I started this newsletter project,  I had no idea if it was something I could sustain. It’s not uncommon for me to get sidetracked by another project or three and have something else demand my attention.  Perhaps having the deadline of the 19th helps, which is a salute to Chene’s  “Why 319?” debut novel. There’s just something about the 19th that works for me. So it's quite an accomplishment to see it still going.

          By the way, since the book was released, I’ve yet to stay in room 319 at a hotel.  Is that a coincidence? As Pappy Cantrell would say “ain’t no such thing.”

           A new podcast, with select scenes for "The Wayward Path" went live yesterday.  You can click on the link at the top of the column to hear more.

             Time for some updates, an interview with another indie author and music.  If you’re expecting Christmas music, this isn’t the place.

            Let’s roll!

 

Writing

          During the writer’s workshop last month, a question came up about outlines. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the writers present don’t use them. A few (myself included) despise them.

          I’ve always found outlines to be too restrictive. There are some authors I know who plot out every single scene, every interaction, every bit of dialogue, before they settle down at the keyboard and get started. My response: figure out what works for you and stick with it.

          In all my books and short stories, I start with a glimmer of an idea and a main character.  Then I turn them loose and see what happens. Often the story will take a dramatic turn and shift into a new direction that I hadn’t expected. That’s where the creative process kicks in.

          Another aspect of what many call this ‘seat of the pants’ style is that I don’t write sequentially.  I’ll get the idea for a scene, or some dialogue and can’t get passed it until I write it down.  Only when that segment is typed can I get on to the next passage.  Later, I’ll move those sections around and get them into some semblance of order.  Then I figure out what needs to be done to connect everything. A friend compares this to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

          As one of the nuns in elementary school once said about this method, “Crude, but effective.”

          I took that as a compliment.

Figure out what works and stick with it.



 

Work in Progress

 

          The new book is slowly marching forward.  Unlike my previous stories, this one isn’t going to be a mystery.  I’m trying my hand at a crime novel.  If all goes well, there will be plenty of twists and turns and a surprise or two.  I’ve been inspired by a few great movies, such as “Entrapment” and “The Thomas Crown Affair”  with Sean Connery in the former and Pierce Brosnan in the latter.

          If you’ve read books two and three in the Chene series, you’ll recognize a couple of the primary players.  Leo Agonasti and Maximo Aurelio, the retired mobsters who have an unusual friendship with Chene, will be featured in the book.  Leo will be telling the tale from his point of view. So far it’s set in the 1992, when both are still active in organized crime.

          Work and some other commitments have kept me from spending as much time on the keyboard with this duo as I would like. To date, a little over 6,000 words have found their way into the story.  Here’s what Leo might look like at the time of the story.




   

Author’s Interview.

 

Over the years I’ve met other authors in different ways. Through the wonders of the internet and social media, at art festivals and book events and even at book stores.  I never would have expected to meet a fellow author right next door.  Okay, David doesn’t live next door, but we both work at the local college and at one point, he was in the office next to mine.  When I learned about his writing, I invited him to join me at a few events this summer.  We enjoyed it so much, we’re already planning to hit a few more next year.

          Time to say hello to David Kobb.



Where are you from? 
I am from Mishawaka, Indiana, “the Princess City.” I recommend going to Mishawaka’s Wikipedia page and reading up on the legend of “Princess Mishawaka.”

What’s your ‘someday’ or dream vacation spot and why?
My wife and I have made travel a priority in our lives, so we’ve been able to explore several places already. We’ve been to Japan, Iceland and several European countries. Right now, we’re fascinated with Singapore, so I think that’ll be my answer for this question. It’s a city-state country, which is fascinating of itself, but it also has an interesting culture and history. It’s exceptionally safe and low on crime because, among other reasons, punishments are severe. Its supposed to have a great food culture, which has me drooling just thinking about it.

What’s your favorite thing to do for relaxation?
My relaxation is accomplished by being active. I workout a lot, play hockey, rock climb, and have recently taken up boxing. Using up my energy and safely getting out agression is what I look for in a relaxation activity.

Any favorite hobbies?
Some of my hobbies were mentioned in my relaxation answer, but I enjoy other things, too. I like to spend time with my wife and my dog. Of course I enjoy reading and writing, too. I play guitar and am trying to learn French.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing off and on since I was a kid. I remember one of my first stories, complete with illustrations, was about a dinosaur that wanted to play football. I’ve only been serious about writing in the last few years, though.

Are you able to write full time or do you also have a job/career?

Writing is more of a hobby for me than a profession. I’ve made some money off my books, but nothing to replace a full-time job. While I would love the freedom that could come with writing for a living, I am happy with my current situation.
Is there a particular genre that you write? 

I like to write horror and especially for children. I grew up devouring R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and wanted to take a stab, pun intended, at writing my own series of spooky books for kids.
Do you use friends or family as characters in your work?

There might be some personality quirks from my family and friends or colleagues or even stranges I saw at a café that make their way into story charecters, but I’ve never written a character that is primarily based off of someone I know.
What authors had an impact on you growing up and as an adult?

I adore Ray Bradbury’s work. I love his short stories, his novels, and, really, everything he’s written. He has such a unique voice that express beauty and fear with the same alacrity.

Has anyone in your life influenced you or encouraged you to pursue your interests of writing? (teacher, family member, friend)

I never took my writing seriously until my older cousin and now co-author encouraged me to write something with him. He’s written several international espionage thrillers because his day job is a diplomat for the US State Department. He wanted to write something scary for kids and knew that was an interest of mine, so he hit me up and we worked on our Terrifying Tales series together.

What is your favorite aspect or writing? Your least favorite? 

I enjoy story, themes, characters and plot. My weakness is the technical side of writing, ensuring I’m avoiding passive voice, and getting all of the commas in the right places. I want to be Cormac McCarthy and just avoid punctuation alltogether.

What aspect of writing would you most like to improve on? 
The technical side. I never imagined that I would make money from my writing, and at the time of writing the books, I was in gradschool and wasn’t making much money, so I was loathe to spend money on profesional editing services. Now, that I know that my books can make money, I’ll utilize profesional editors on my future works.

Is there a common theme or item that appears in each of your work?  
 
I try to think about what fears I had as a child and utilize them in my work. A lot of childhood fears are universal, I think. The fear of the unknown and unseen. The fear of darkness.

What have you learned the most from being in the writing business?

There’s no shame to self-publishing if your work is of quality. Getting published at all is difficult. Getting published at a high-level publishing firm has the money and other resources to really get your book out to a wide audience is even more difficult. Self-publishing can be the best route for many authors. You need to wear many hats, though, if you go the self-publishing route. You have to be a promoter, marketer, graphic designer, sales person, and more. But, you get to keep more of the money you earn and you have full control over your work.

How did you decide on your story plot?  

Usually, I start with a scene. I think of an interesting scene and then build a story off of it. What if a kid is out riding his bike and he notices someone following him on their bike, and then that someone is the Grim Reaper? What is the story from that scene?
Describe how this method works best for you. Outline or ‘seat of the pants’? 
Usually, I think of the scene and then build a very rough outline from it. I like to have a general idea of what the story is and then piece all the scenes together. I am more than happy to go another way as I am writing the story, though. If the characters take me another way, then I’ll follow them, and sometimes that ends up creating an entirely different story than what I had set out to write.

Do you have a favorite scene you’ve written? What makes it special? 

No, too often I look back on my work and only see what I wish I did differently.

Here’s an excerpt from one of David’s stories. 

New House

 

Isabell Adams’ new house reminded her of a rotting gravestone, half crumbled into cemetery dirt. Fuzzy green moss smothered the roof, and creeping vines clutched at the windows like grasping hands. She had no idea why, but her mother loved the place.

“Isn’t it great?” Mrs. Adams said, beaming with pride. “And it’s all ours. It was dirt cheap, too.”

Isabell sneered at the house, and then turned the sneer on her mother. “Yeah, mom. It’s great.”

“Oh, sarcasm. How original. You’re such a tween,” Mrs. Adams said, matching her daughter’s sarcastic tone.

“It was cheap, because it’s a death trap, Mom,” Isabell pouted.

Mrs. Adams took a breath. “Listen, I know you didn’t want to move, but we did, and there’s no going back. You might try to make the best of it.” Mrs. Adams smiled hopefully.

“But it’s falling apart, Mom! I think I got tetanus just by looking at it.”

“It’s all we could afford, okay? We’ll fix it up in no time. I bet the inside is nice!”

The inside of the house wasn’t any better. As the sun moved to hide behind the tall willow trees that surrounded the house, Isabell and her mother spent most the night unpacking their moving boxes.

“Okay,” Mrs. Adams said, wiping sweat from her brow, “let’s take a break for dinner. Pizza?”

Isabell did not feel like eating. All she wanted to do was take a shower and sleep in her old bed at her old house. “Pizza’s fine,” she grumbled.

Mrs. Adams pulled out her cell phone and found a nearby pizza place. She called and ordered a large pepperoni and mushroom, which was Isabell’s favorite.

“They said it’d be half an hour,” Mrs. Adams said, hanging up the phone. “Until then, we clean and unpack.”

Mrs. Adams was downstairs, still trying and failing to make the living room livable. Isabell explored the house’s upper level. She found a small door, just a couple of feet tall, in the hallway near the stairs. She opened it and saw a dark crawlspace. The little light that leaked in from the hallway was just enough for Isabell to see that the crawlspace was filled with spider webs. Wind from the outside whistled in from a crack in the wall and played a funeral lament. Her skin crawled and she quickly closed the door. That crawlspace was like a nightmare she often had – a dark space, tight like a coffin, and crawling with spiders.

After shutting the crawlspace door, she began to walk away. After just a couple of steps, she heard a click. She turned around and saw that the crawlspace door was open. She walked back over, grabbed the small latch on the door, and pulled it shut again. She frowned at it for a moment and then turned and walked away. Again, after a few steps, she heard a click. She stopped, turned her head, and watched as the crawlspace door crept open.

“Mom!” she yelled, racing down the stairs.

 



You can find more about David and the Terrifying Tales series of short scary stories for kids at his website http://www.davidkobb.com . All of his books can be purhased on Amazon (click here.)

 

Music




          Sir Paul McCartney has been a contanst player in my music collection for years. Whether as part of The Beatles,  Wings or his solo work, McCartney has always delivered memorable music.  Even at age 80, he’s still composing and performing. He’s known as one of the most successful composers and performers of all time.

          McCartney has had over 30 songs top the Billboard Hot 100. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a member of The Beatles and once as a solo artist and in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.  He’s won an Oscar and an Emmy, 18 Grammys and been recognized by the Kennedy Center.

          Here are my top five favorites for Sir Paul McCartney

Let it Be:  https://youtu.be/u6T5C-jzSH0

Twist & Shout: https://youtu.be/ohql4weWrqk

Ob La Di Ob La Da: https://youtu.be/mvbs07wwBjo

Maybe I’m Amazed: https://youtu.be/DNh5Ca1dIXM

Band on the Run: https://youtu.be/d4ZLt-lWRms

Bonus track!

I’m Going to Sit Right Down:  https://youtu.be/AI9oVAHEpJY

 

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Thirty-First Issue

 





                                            Rocktober!

That’s the way to kick off the month. Things have been busy here in the Mitten, with a two-day event, a writer’s workshop and my first appearance as a guest at a book club.

Details you ask?

Just keep reading.

 

Writing

 

          Goes to show you never can tell.” That’s a great line from a song by Chuck Berry, the father of rock and roll. It even shows up in “The Wayward Path” during an exchange Chene has with another character.  The same line popped into my head earlier this month.




          I was participating in the final outdoor festival for the season. My booth was set.  David Kobb, co-author of scary tales for kids had his display ready. My table set up, complete with Crime Scene tape. It was a perfect fall day.  While there wasn’t as large of a crowd as we’ve seen at other events, there was a steady flow of people.

        


          Sales were slow, until a guy stopped by and started checking out all of my books. Then he pulled out his credit card, nodded and said, “All of them. I’m camping and love to read.”

          That’s the second time this summer someone has bought all seven of my books.  That’s when I referred to Chuck’s line.

          Twice during the weekend I sold copies of “Devious” and the young lady buying the book was named Jamie.  Two women at the booth beside me bought copies of “Why 319?” then proceeded to sit in the sunshine and read the book while the event was going on.

          Last Monday was the second writer’s workshop at the local library. I’ve been recruited to facilitate the meeting. Ten authors were in attendance. We had some excellent conversation on a few writing related topics. Six people read excerpts from their current projects and received feedback from the group. The reactions were all very positive.

          And then, last Thursday, I was invited to a book club meeting. One of the group had suggested “The Wayward Path” as the selection for the month. I joined them to answer their questions.  We talked about Detroit, mobsters, cops, dialogue, humor and even Chene’s interactions with Simone, his lady fair.

          A finishing touch here. I stopped at the library yesterday and out of curiosity, checked the shelf for local authors.  Normally I’ll see a few copies of my books on hand. Not this time. Only “Vanishing Act” was there. The rest have all been checked out.  That’s confirmation that people are reading my stories.  Gotta love that!

Work in Progress

 

          With feedback from my beta readers in hand, I cleaned up the manuscript for "Chasing Favors” the fourth novel in the Jamie Richmond series on the last Thursday in September.   A quick note was attached and sent to Melissa at Inkspell Publishing.  Since I’d contacted her a few weeks before, she knew it was coming.

          What I wasn’t expecting was her message the next day. Less than 24 hours later, not only had she read the story, but Melissa was accepting it!  The contract was attached. 

As Jamie would say “What the hell!”

Sure, there are some authors whose work is accepted that quickly. Or they may have a contract for a certain number of books in a series. But this is unusual for me. One day later and we’re moving forward!

The publication will probably take place in July. There is still editing to be done (of course!) and artwork for the cover. That time will go quickly, as it often does. Yet knowing the book has been accepted is quite a thrill. Jamie is obviously delighted.




Meanwhile, I’m getting started on my next effort. This one is going to be a little different. Instead of a mystery, this may be more of a crime novel.  Ideas for the plot are already brewing. I’ve written about 2,000 words to get it started.

 

Author Interview

The wonders of technology make it easy to reach across the miles and make a connection.  Over the years I’ve developed such contacts with people in Australia, Taiwan, Italy and various parts of the US and Canada.  One such connection is with the very talented M.S. Spencer.

We share a love of a good mystery, engaging characters and realistic adventures. We’ve traded emails on a variety of subjects during the course of our friendship.  I’ve read several of her novels and enjoyed each one. She’s been in my corner with the Chene series and I think she’s become fascinated with Leo Agonasti.

Let’s get to know her.

 



Where are you from? 
Oh gee, that’s a toughie. I was born in upstate NY, but left for sunnier climes (Maryland) after 6 months. After that we moved some 22 times before I went off to college and proceeded to move another maybe 15 times until I settled in Florida some 8 years ago. My goal was to move before I had to wash the windows, which usually meant every 2 years. I lived in various cities in the US, Europe, and the Middle East. I did spend a big chunk in the DC metro area—part of my childhood in a tiny Victorian town in a large Victorian house, and then after marriage in a Sears farmhouse that still had a well in the basement.

What’s your ‘someday’ or dream vacation spot and why?
It’s a tossup between the Galapagos Islands and Florence.

What’s your favorite thing to do for relaxation?
A good dinner and a stimulating conversation.

Any favorite hobbies?
Not anymore. I used to do needlepoint. I took it up so as to be doing something productive while my mother-in-law droned on and on about the price of green beans. Possibly the dullest human being I’ve ever known. However, while maintaining the polite mask on my face, I made Christmas stockings for every member of the family, plus so many eyeglass cases that she begged me to stop.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since my chubby baby fingers could hold a piece of chalk. I wrote stories and poems from elementary school on. A friend sent me a poem that we published in my middle school newspaper. In a word? Sappy. My first novel was released in 2009. Before that speeches and statements I’d written for different US Senators and Dept. of the Interior officials were published. I’m probably best known for an article on the Ethiopian national epic published in the Vth Journal of International Ethiopian Studies (6 weeks on the bestseller list)(jk). Sadly, out of print now 😊

Is there a particular genre that you write?  Or more than one?  What led you there?
I started out writing spicy romantic suspense—so spicy that to this day my adult children refuse to read my books. The spice gradually disappeared—I knew I was done when my draft was sprinkled with /sex scene here/ instead of the actual sex. In its place dead bodies began to crop up. After awhile I took the hint and moved on to murder mystery. My favorite part is sneaking in obscure clues and inserting red herrings into the story.

What authors had an impact on you growing up and as an adult?

I loved the Oz books (I collect them) and E. Nesbit, P. L. Travers (Mary Poppins), and the Dr. Doolittle books. From early on I read anything and everything, particularly the classics (I figured, they were classics for a reason). My favorites were English writers—Austen (mistress of perfect prose), Hardy, Waugh, Iris Murdoch, but I also loved Thomas Mann and Dostoyevsky. Later I read the great British mystery writers (Christie, Marsh, Sayers, Allingham) and they colored my current writing. Nowadays I enjoy thrillers (Rollins, Baldacci) and eschew modern angst fiction as trite, boring, inauthentic, and unhelpful.
Has anyone in your life influenced you or encouraged you to pursue your interests of writing?

Not really. It was more or less a personal ambition. Maybe spurred on when my husband threw away my first manuscript (by accident).

Is there a common theme or item that appears in each of your work?  
Each of my 15 books is a stand-alone story, with its own set of characters. The settings vary, although they generally occur in either Maine or Florida. I try, with minimal success, to have some character mention or go to Paris at least once per book.

Do you have a favorite scene you’ve written? What makes it special? 

I love the funny bits involving secondary characters. In Mrs. Spinney’s Secret there’s a scene in which two brothers—both actors—attempt to spar. A lot of bluster and very little actual hands-on fighting. Imagine George Clooney and Steve Martin. Then there are the Miss Marples in The Mason’s Mark. Andromeda Miller Bliss and Letitia Canfield are equally sharp and sophisticated and yet you can’t imagine either without a set of pearls and a pillbox hat.

Tell us about your latest work:

I have a romantic suspense novel awaiting my editor’s imprimature entitled The Wishing Tree: Love, Lies, & Spies on Chincoteague Island. My latest publication is Hidden Gem: the Secret of St. Augustine. (It is currently a finalist at Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards.) Here’s the story:




Barnaby and Philo’s story begins with very bad chili and a dead body.

Barnaby is in St. Augustine, Florida, to teach a college seminar, and plans to use The Secret—a treasure hunt book—as a framework for his class. He enlists Philo Brice, owner of an antique map store, to aid him in seeking clues in the historic sites of the ancient city.

Together they face murderers, thieves, thugs, and fanatics, heightening their already strong attraction to each other. Can they solve the puzzle and unearth the treasure before the villains do? Philo and Barnaby pursue several twisting paths and false leads before arriving at a startling conclusion.

 

Excerpt: The Black Raven

Across Avenida Menendez lay the city marina. At the end of one of the floating docks a ship was ablaze with red and green lights. Philo tugged Barnaby’s sleeve. “That’s the Black Raven. Let’s go have a dekko.”

They walked carefully down the dock, compensating for the slight sway caused by the incoming tide. Just as they reached the ship, the lights winked out, leaving the marina in darkness except for the feeble glow of the gibbous moon. Next to the galleon, tied up stern in, was the Queen Anne’s Revenge. “That’s Blackbeard’s flagship.”

“So, do the pirates board the Black Raven and have their way with the wenches?”

“The only wenches on board are pirates too—Lady Red and Georgia Fury—and they aren’t exactly attractive.”

“You mean, no man in his right mind would rip their bodices?”

“Something like that.”

“Darn. I hope there’s at least a mock skirmish.”

Philo tried to remember what the young man had told her. “I’ve never actually gone on the treasure voyage, but—”

“Treasure? Fantastic! Now who did I assign this to?” He snapped his fingers. “Lincoln, that’s it. They have a cocktail cruise, which seemed to attract his notice.”

She looked over the ship. “How do you suppose they have a proper swordfight if everyone’s drunk?”

“ ‘Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.’ Sir Francis Chichester.”

Anyway.” Why do I even attempt to have a normal conversation? “Blackbeard arrives on the Queen Anne’s Revenge and boards the Black Raven. He steals their treasure chest and makes off with it. The captain orders the crew—which consists of a couple of college kids on summer break and the paying passengers—to chase him and retrieve it. Which they do.”

“And what happens to the redoubtable Blackbeard?”

“I think they make him walk the plank. Or…” She stopped to think. Behind her came a splash. She whirled around. “What was that?”

“It came from the port side.” Barnaby walked past the ship’s stern and peered into the water. “Probably just a fish jumping.”

“It sounded awfully big.”

“A big fish then.”

Philo scanned the deck. “Someone’s up there. I saw a shadow against the moon.” She yelled, “Hi there!”

There was no answer, but they heard a bang and another crash. Barnaby ran around to the starboard side. Philo caught up with him. He stood, facing the darkness. “Nothing.”

They waited for a few minutes, but all was still. Finally Philo said, “Must be a crew member preparing for tomorrow.”

“Okay. Come on.”

As he took her hand, she pulled back. “There it is again!”

“What?”

“The shadow.”

Before Barnaby could respond, a whistling noise rent the air. A large iron ball attached to a thick rope came swishing down from the mast and crashed at their feet. The entire dock vibrated. Barnaby jumped to one side, but he must have slipped on the decking, for he fell, landing hard. As Philo reached for him, he slid off the slick surface and into the dark water. “Barnaby!”

He surfaced, spluttering. “What the hell?”

“Are you okay?” Philo paced the dock trying to see him in the faint light. She knocked into something. “Barnaby! I found a ladder!”

“Where?”

“Follow the sound of my voice.”

He let out a bark of laughter. “Yes, my Puck. ‘And we fairies, that do run / By the triple Hecate’s team, / From the presence of the sun, / Following darkness like a dream.’  He swam to the side and climbed out. “God, that water’s freezing.”

Philo wrapped her arms around him. “Let’s get out of here.”

“No, wait. I want to know who just tried to kill us.” He took a step toward the ship but suddenly bent down and picked something up.

At that moment a light flashed in their faces, blinding them. “You there. What do you think you’re doing?”

Here are the links where you can find the book.

Goodreads

Bookbub

Books2Read

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

ITunes

Rakuten/KOBO

GooglePlay

Indigo

Angus&Robertson

Social Media Links:

Blog: https://msspencertalespinner.blogspot.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/msspencermysteries

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/msspencerauthor

GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/msspencer
Pinterest:
http://pinterest.com/msspencerauthor/

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/m-s-spencer

MeWe: https://mewe.com/i/msspencer1

Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/M.S.-Spencer/e/B002ZOEUC8/

 

Music

          I can’t work in silence. Music is part of life, so it’s always playing, except when I’m teaching. I’ll jump from Pandora to Spotify to YouTube for some variety. 




          Recently Prince has been popping up in the rotation on all of these sites and the radio.  More than six years after his death, his music remains popular.

          Prince was a singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. His flamboyant style and wide vocal range helped him cross genres, mixing funk, rock, rhythm and blues, soul, pop and jazz.  During his career, he captured multiple awards, including an Oscar for an original song, multiple Grammys and a Golden Globe. His album sales have topped more than 120 million worldwide.

          Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. 

Here are my top five favorites.

Kiss: https://youtu.be/H9tEvfIsDyo

Let’s Go Crazy: https://youtu.be/svqYueRzAh0

Raspberry Beret: https://youtu.be/l7vRSu_wsNc

Little Red Corvette: https://youtu.be/v0KpfrJE4zw

Purple Rain: https://youtu.be/TvnYmWpD_T8