Happy Independence Day!

For much of the 1970s, when a lot of national bitterness lingered on about the Vietnam War and it seemed like American patriotism was at a low (equaled only in recent years), I was living in Rabat, Morocco, next door to the American Ambassador’s residence, and my father worked at the American Embassy a few blocks away, literally a little piece of our homeland, where Old Glory flew overhead and the Marines stood on guard, and everything seemed homelike and familiar.

US Flag

As beautiful as that North African country was, with its Mediterranean climate, Roman ruins, and intricately tiled mosques, its delicious fruit, sandy beaches and fascinating history, I remember being amazed at how unappreciative my compatriots were of our own country. Or so it seemed to me. When I returned for visits, I was amazed at stores that were clean, with endless aisles of products to choose from, how big everything was, and especially the fact that everyone spoke English with an American accent.

Times have changed. So has America in some ways, for better or worse. People may debate the reasons and meaning of those changes, but whatever we may wish were different, we are still fortunate enough to have the oldest functioning democratic republic in the world, the highest rate of charitable giving in the world, the biggest economy, the most global influence, and the strongest military–whose members sacrifice all to protect Americans and others, often for no reason except that it is the right thing to do.

On the Fourth of July, I believe it is appropriate to spend some time appreciating the good about the United States, the country that did away with the concept of inherited Monarchy (sorry, England!), and brought the ideal of democracy to the modern world.

Today I am proud to be American, and at the same time I wish the best to all our wonderful friends in other countries around the world.

Happy Independence Day!

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Book Bub Rocks!

If you’ve read any of my posts, you know I don’t chat much about my pet (although my beloved Storm is the best cat ever), or my vicissitudes in life (way too embarrassing, you really don’t want to hear about that stuff. Or if you do, I don’t want to tell.) But today I’m going to talk about something very exciting that just happened.

Here it is….

Being a rather private, even shy person, I have found it super hard to do what it takes to market my books. Oh, I know what I’m SUPPOSED to do (blog tours, book launch parties, Instagram, etc.) but when it comes to actually doing it… well, I always find something else I’d rather do instead. Like snack on chocolate moosetracks ice cream, or clean out the garage.

Well, I finally got around to doing something I’ve been planning to do for a couple of years now. I got an account on Book Bub. Just so you know, this is not a paid advertisement for that website, but the next weekend when two of my books went on promotion…WOW! People finally knew that my books existed! How exciting!!!

So, dear reader, if you happen to pick up or download one of my novels and enjoy it, please take a minute and post a brief review, or just give it a few stars. It would be so nice for more readers to know my stories are out there. Hopefully the books will entertain or even inspire them. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH!!!

And oh yes, here is my sweet cat, Storm. 🙂

Storm Cat.JPG

Magical Meal

IMG_5236I’m lucky to live in a town with lots of entertaining things to do. Recently, my husband and I went to a new venue that recently opened, called Mystique Dining. It is basically a dinner theater with close-up magic, which, if you haven’t seen it before, consists of a magician doing card tricks and other magic, not up on a stage but a few inches from your eyes. No matter how closely you watch, it is impossible to tell how they do it!
At least that was our experience. We were lucky enough to attend the Magic Castle in Los Angeles years ago, and were just as amazed. My husband went home and immediately went online to find out the secrets. I prefer not to know! The food (prime rib) and hilarious patter from the magician were just as good as the magic. It was a splurge, but well worth it. If you’re looking for something different to do, try a fabulous magic show!
I’m currently working on a Young Adult fantasy story about a young man who is learning to be a REAL magician, because, of course, magic is even better when it’s the real thing. Haven’t come out with a title yet, but this book has been in my mind since I was a teenager, long before Harry Potter. A lesson in not procrastinating: from the beginning, my main character’s name has been Torb, but I just learned that there is a videogame that has come out with a character using that name. Grrr!

How to Fix Boring

What to do when you’re reading a book that is “well written” in the sense that the author can put a decent sentence together, but it’s just so boring that you have to force yourself to keep reading? I’ve read several books like that recently…well, the truth is that I’m STILL reading them because I just can’t seem to plow through them without effort.

This is a contrast to the kind of books you can’t put down, that you stay up late reading so you can find out what happens next even though you have to get up early in the morning for work.

What’s the difference between a worthy effort by a writer who is obviously intelligent and well-educated, and a great story with wings? Sometimes the writer without the polished grammar or amazing vocabulary is the one who wows me with their story. Why?

I’ve given this some thought and came up with the following conclusions. (I don’t claim to be the first one to come up with these ideas, but they are certainly true).

1) The main character is bland.
I can just hear the author say, “But they’re realistic!” Ironically, to make a character seem more “real,” it may actually help to caricaturize them a bit, exaggerating one or two unusual traits so they stand out.

My favorite literary characters are Amelia Peabody and her husband, Emerson, in a series by Elizabeth Peters. (If you haven’t read them check the books out!) They have exaggerated traits that make them stand out from most other fictional protagonists: a passion for Egyptian archaeology, stubbornness, and a competitive spirit. Their over-the-top characteristics make them lovable and real, and anything but flat or boring.

Think about it. All literary characters who stand out have something extreme or unusual that sets them apart. Sherlock Holmes has many: his arrogance, his violin, his pipe, his misogyny. Nero Wolfe has his love for orchids, his refusal to ever leave his house, and his reliance on that womanizing sidekick, Archie Goodwin. Madame Bovary has her vanity and longing for romantic adventure. Captain Ahab has his vengeful monomania. None of them are “normal. Each is extreme! Extreme! Extreme!

2) Nothing is at stake.
Another problem that can derail an otherwise promising story is when there’s no ticking clock, no sense of impending disaster. Yes, there may be a mystery to solve or a bad guy to stop, but the reader doesn’t feel much will happen to the protagonist if he DOESN’T figure it out. Even if we know something terrible might happen to another character if the problem isn’t stopped, it must be someone close enough to the hero for the reader to share his desperation.

That’s why so many movies, both good and bad (Die Hard, Air Force One, Paul Blart, San Andreas) involve a protagonist who must accomplish something before a loved one is killed. Even though this trope has been used over and over, it always keeps me on the edge of my seat. That’s because the hero’s success MATTERS.

3) Too many digressions from the main plot.
I love a good subplot or two, but sometimes rather than adding tension, an uninspiring subplot can cause a reader to feel the main character is wandering around at random instead of focusing on the job at hand. That defuses the tension. At such times my mind meanders while waiting for the story to get back on track, and after a while I forget what the story is about and set the book down.

There is likely much else that makes a book a page turner (or not), but any author would benefit from working on these three—including myself! Namely: colorful characters that capture our imagination, a sense that something truly important is at stake, and forward momentum that keeps us reading to find out what happens next.

New Book Out – Phew!

The best thing about self-publishing is no deadlines. The worst thing is…no deadlines! That means tinkering around making endless changes to the story, starting other projects, and, without oodles of self-discipline, what is intended to be a few weeks can stretch out to… Well, never mind. It’s done! Over! Finished.

Yes, my long-awaited (by me, at least) western is finally out. I don’t really consider the novel a “western” but rather a historical that happens to be set in the western United States immediately after the Civil War. There are horses, bandits, six-shooters, and American Indians, yes, but it’s mostly about three displaced young persons finding “home.” And of course there’s a love story in there too.

Many thanks to my wonderful friends and critique partners who helped me whip it into shape. I could not have done it without you. And thanks to my daughter for the new banner featuring my book covers, including my next historical with romantic elements, New Hope, which should be out in a month or two.

If anyone’s in the mood for a fun story with lots of action, Chance’s Bluff is available as an ebook or paperback at https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=chance%27s+bluff

(If you like it, please post a kind review. Thanks!)

Love & War Anthology

I have just finished an anthology of novellas, written with three of my friends as a salute to soldiers and veterans of different wars. A sampler with the first chapter of each story is now available on Amazon for 99 cents. Love & War Anthology shares the stories of soldiers and veterans of the U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the war in Afghanistan. The full-length anthology is soon to follow. Keep posted!

Love and War Anthology (1)

Gad — a Great New Word

My daughter came up with a useful new adjective, which I find myself using regularly these days: “gad.” It describes things that are both good and bad at the same time. For example children growing up and moving away from home is good, because that’s what we want for them, but bad because their absence will leave a hole in their parents’ hearts. What are some situations that have happened to you that were “gad?”

A Western Novel With Romantic Elements

Here is the prologue to my western novel, tentatively titled Westering Home (borrowed from an old Scottish song my late father taught me). Set shortly after the end of the Civil War, it’s the tale of three young people whose lives are thrown together by an act of violence. I hope it piques your interest!

The novel should be available on Amazon as an ebook by September, 2015. Look for further details!

Westering Home

Prologue

Willy hated the emigrant from the moment the canvas-topped wagon lumbered into view. It stirred up a cloud of dust, almost obscuring the lone cow that ambled behind with a bell clanking mournfully around its neck.

From his perch high above the trail, the red-bearded miner crouched on his haunches, shook tobacco into a square of brown paper and twisted it before clamping it angrily between his teeth. The unfairness of it all—of life—made him nearly chomp through the cigarette. Here he squatted, pockets empty, amidst the tall weeds and fallen rocks of the Southern Cascades while everyone else was pulling bucketsful of silver out of the mines or setting up prosperous farms in the valleys beyond.

Now along rolled this cocksure emigrant, a darned foreigner from the looks of the ruddy face and thick blond beard, big white teeth grinning as if life was spread out before him like a banquet. It was the wife sitting beside emigrant, though, who fired Willy’s envy into white-hot envy. Her bonnet had fallen back so sunlight glinted off her golden hair, and the blue calico dress, faded from months of travel, displayed a trim figure.

Willy sucked harsh tobacco smoke deep into his lungs. How smug the man looked with his barrels and fat bags of seed lashed to the wagon. Must be plenty more goods inside. Maybe even a chest filled with banknotes, or gold coins. And that pretty wife….

He ground out the stub of the cigarette under the heel of his boot and held chapped-knuckled hands toward the small greasewood fire, dimly aware the burning resentment was unjustified. Hundreds of other wagons passed this way every year. This was just a straggler, no different from the rest. Truth be told, life was probably just as hard for the farmers as it was for him, but as Willy shivered in his threadbare coat, misery left no room for sympathy.

A plan was hatching itself. Soon a grin spread across his wide, sunburned face.

For two days he followed the wagon. While the couple unwittingly made camp below, he tethered his horse in the hills, squatted, and watched. Finally, he thought, Willy Ratzel was going to have his due.

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I just switched to WordPress from Blogspot, so please forgive me while I go through the learning curve.  It seems appropriate to make the change in July, a month where Americans celebrate change — the change from old ways to new, as exemplified in the Declaration of Independence.

My first book, The Gardener, is set soon after that world-changing document was signed. In it, a young English gardener is forced to leave his homeland and make his home in the newly formed United States of America. Quite unintentionally, it seems that most of my stories have similar patriotic themes, as well as the struggle between the yearning for independence and the longing to belong and be safe.

Although I write mostly historicals, I believe those themes are true today, as we continue to debate how much freedom we are willing to trade for security.John-Trumbulls-painting-Declaration-of-Independence-depicting-the-five-man-drafting-committee-of-the-Declaration-of-Independence-presenting-their-work-to-the-Congress-1819