Friday, August 23, 2019

Summer's Over

Well, not for most people. It's still hot, muggy, stormy. There are still a few weeks before night falls early. There is still Labor Day weekend and last picnics and barbecues. But for those of us who have never left school or are coming back, summer is over. The first day of classes is on Monday.

This year is no different than any other. Every May for three decades now, I have looked with joy and hope at all of the long days of summer. I have started with a to-do-list, had a calendar, been in control. Every summer I have planned to get so much done. Every summer I have found myself rushing to finish something before school begins.

Monday we start. Today I need to do my syllabus and plan my first lecture. I never made it away for a real vacation this summer. Didn't get to Maine. Didn't set by a lake or river. Didn't spend a summer afternoon at a matinee. Didn't have an ice cream cone (did do a decadent cup or two of my favorite blend). But I am planning to take advantage of a two-day "fall break" to get away for an October trip. A friend talked me into a "Road Scholar" tour of Kansas City. I'm going to do some background research for a jazz musician character in my 1939 book.

But meanwhile, I have a manuscript for a book about gangster films due next month. Have to clean up my dress and appearance book. Need to work on the 1939 book and a new Lizzie.

Lots of projects. . . .and summer's over. Got to go and do all I can to enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Bianca Dangereuse to the Rescue

I was struck by Tom Kies excellent entry of Aug 12 on an author's multiple personalities, because I have been thinking that very same thought lately. You can base every character you write about on a real person, or you can make somebody up out of whole cloth, but the truth is that every character you create has to be somewhere inside of you.

Yes, every little girl or knight in shining armor or housewife or serial killer is in you, and somehow you have to find that living place inside that you share.

For the past dozen years, I've been writing a historical series set in Oklahoma that features Alafair Tucker, a 40ish farm wife with ten children. She fits her life perfectly and finds deep meaning in it. She's content with her place in the universe. I admire her immensely, but I could never live like she does. Yet she is me. How could she not be?

Alafair and I have been raising her children for a long time, through the decade of the 1910s. but now the world is changing. World War I has played havoc with everything. The 1920s have dawned. Alafair's children are mostly grown. And it occurred to me that I'd like to see a little farther into the future. I've gotten several of the older children settled, but what is going to happen to the younger ones, who are coming of age in a very different era?

Besides, children don't necessarily grow into the people you wish they would. What would happen to someone who was raised in a secure, loving environment, but grew to lust after adventure and excitement?

Bianca LaBelle is cock-sure, headstrong and headlong, adventurous. She's also disappointed, wounded, and angry. But no matter how much you reject the values you were raised with, you are shaped by them. Bianca goes from being a sheltered farm girl to one of the most famous and admired women in the world, but she doesn't do it without applying a whole lot of the good old-fashioned creativity and bootstrap self-sufficiency she learned by growing up in early 20th century Oklahoma.

Bianca gets in an awful fix and has a lot of help to overcome it. But she was raised to know that you can't count on having your fat pulled out of the fire every time. You have to rely on yourself. So in the end, Bianca always takes care of it.

The Wrong Girl, the first Episode of the Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse, is finally available for pre-order on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Remember that early reviews and preorders are important for authors, so we always appreciate it if you can do your bit to keep us in print! Want to learn how to get e-copies of books before they're published in exchange for an honest review? Check out Netgalley.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

On switching hats, or boats in mid-stream

Today I'm tempted to take Rick's approach from yesterday. See ya later, all! I'm off to the beach.

But before I go to the beach – AKA my cottage – I'll just make a few comments about another reality in a writer's life. Multi-tasking. Or multi-writing. If you write more than one book, or even worse, more than one series as I do, sooner or later you'll run up against it. You'll be doing final edits on one book, doing readings and talks about an earlier book, and beginning the creative process of imagining a third book.

In my case, I have just finished Book # 4 in the Amanda Doucette series, entitled THE ANCIENT DEAD. No sooner had I pressed "send" and emailed the manuscript to the publisher last week (exactly on its due date) when the mail carrier deposited the author copies of my fourth Cedric O'Toole on my doorstep. Time to promote BLOOD TIES and give Cedric his time at centre stage.

At the same time, however, having sent off THE ANCIENT DEAD, I am already turning my thoughts to the next book in my contract. The book that will be occupying my mind for the next year until its fall deadline. The book that has the provisional title (to appease the publisher) of DARKEST BEFORE DAWN, although that will probably change once I know what it's actually about. The book that has yet no shape or plot points and only the vaguest idea of a theme. The book that brings me from the badlands of Alberta, where I have been with Amanda for the last fifteen months, back to the the familiar streets of Ottawa.

The eleventh Inspector Green novel. After five years, he's back! It will feel very strange to step back into his life and surround myself with old friends I've known for years. Ottawa Police Inspector Michael Green is back but older, maybe wiser, and no longer in the thick of things in the police service.

This week, however, feels like a transition. I've never been able to write two books simultaneously. I can edit one book while writing the first draft of another; in fact, this is almost always required because the editor's critiques from the publishing house always arrive smack in the middle of the first draft efforts of the next book. But even so, I have to set the draft aside and re-immerse myself in the first book for however long the edits take. The setting, characters, mood, and even the styles feel different from one to another. Skipping between them would feel shallow and unauthentic. I don't think either would profit from the lack of full focus. I need time to get into the feel of each book and to get the creative muse humming.

So for the next couple of weeks, I am fiddling around doing nothing very profound but celebrating the arrival of BLOOD TIES. The book is due out on August 27, and received this very nice review from Booklist:

And then I'm off to enjoy the beach! Maybe give Inspector Green a quick call.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Off for an adventure!

by Rick Blechta

It’s time for a little rest and relaxation — and writing!

Here’s where I’m going to be and this is the view that will inspire me for the next several days:

And after looking at that, there’s really not much else to say, is there — except for “See you later!’

Monday, August 19, 2019

Edinburgh is Full

It's Edinburgh Festival time.  You can tell this by the fact that the natives forced to traverse the streets of the city going about their work have black scowls in their faces as their commute takes three times as long because the buses have been diverted to make way for the shacks, selling overpriced drinks and Disney-style souvenirs, that disfigure some of the most elegant streets in Europe and they have to dodge clowns prancing in their path trying to force flyers on them inviting them to shows where the performers will almost certainly outnumber the audience.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have a choice, forswear all visits to the center and stay at home and at night pull the duvets over our heads, hoping to sleep through the midnight fireworks at the Royal Military Tattoo and the bongo drums that play on till three in the morning.  Like many other Lonely Planet top tips for tourism,  Edinburgh has Had Enough.

I guess we've all been tourists.  I'm as guilty as anyone of wanting to see the Bucket List places and I've been very lucky - try Tutunkamen's tomb,  the Summer Palace in China, the Acropolis, Niagara Falls, the Doge's Palace in Venice, among others.  But these are the memories I cherish because at the time I visited none of them were so crowded that I was hemmed in on every side and couldn't look at what I wanted to see - look at, not take a photo or an i-Pad film - without being jostled.  Go very early in the morning - tourists tend to rise late - or choose an unpopular time of year, and you can be lucky.  (Tip here - if you want to see Venice at its best, book the weekend immediately after Easter.  At one point we were the only people on the Golden Staircase in the Doge's Palace, which was magical).

But there are other visits I've made where the crowds were so thick that that magic vanished - like the Winter Palace in St Petersburg when we had to move in unison with the people round about. Astonishing interiors, but only the sort of memory that ticks a box, like having seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, when all I can remember is the plastic screening and the queues.

Over-tourism has become a serious problem.  Of course it's a major boost to the local economy but the quality of life for the local inhabitants is increasingly threatened.    Venice is talking about imposing a charge for entering the city and limiting the number of tickets it sells as well as banning cruise ships above a certain size.  Popular Scottish islands like Skye and Orkney are also becoming overwhelmed.

Once the Edinburgh Festival was truly a feast of culture in a stunning setting.  The sad thing for me now is that while the festivalisation of Edinburgh goes on with more and more new 'festivals' being introduced every year, the visitors who genuinely want to see the glories of our beautiful city - the vistas of the Georgian buildings, the wonderful medieval Royal Mile, the views of the gardens and the Castle - are being cheated by the Ferris wheel that dominates Princes Street, the sordid market stalls by the National Gallery, the hoardings with tacky posters right along the famous Gardens.  Taxi drivers now say they are taking visitors back to the airport who say they're not coming back.  It didn't used to happen.

If you do want to see the real Edinburgh - the Edinburgh of Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, of David Hume and Adam Smith, of Arthur Conan Doyle and yes, of Alexander McColl Smith and Ian Rankin - brave its weather (so much milder than New York's!) and come in January, when the old grey town truly reveals its soul.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Two Weeks in One

Ever feel like you've packed too much living into a very short time?

It was that kind of week for me. My daughter had a bad car accident the first of the month. She's doing just fine and will come home Monday. Despite extensive breakage in her upper body (sternum, clavicle, three ribs, and a punctured lung) there were no internal injuries and she was fully alert from the very beginning.

She has a terrific attitude and set to work cooperating with the physical therapists.

Logistics in our family are always complicated. Her youngest daughter will soon start classes at CSU. Her oldest is starting a new job. The deadline for my new mystery is September 1. We've worked everything out. I'll even have the mystery finished by the end of next week.

I drove to Kansas Tuesday to give a talk to the librarians in the Northwest Kansas Libraries System. What a terrific group of people! I was grateful for this opportunity. However, I drove through cascades of rain. It was bizarre. Kansas is usually dry.

Accidents always take a toll and I'm tired. Persons who wait for inspiration before they write are making a mistake. Once a line is crossed--when one assumes the responsibilities of a professional writer--the rules change. Or rather rules come into play for the first time.

I've read there are 75 persons involved in the production of a traditional book. There are many little deadlines that involve creating cover copy, a synopsis, courting the sales reps.

Life becomes capsulized. We learn to juggle. And before you know it, there's a new happy normal and all the balls are back in the air again.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Summer musings from a nostalgic writer

Delaney, Dad, Audrey
Each year, autumn rolls around, and my emotions are similar: summer has ended, and a new school year is upon me. It’s a time for renewal and fresh beginnings. Often, I’m starting a new book.

This year, though, my emotions are a little different. My wife and I will drop our two eldest daughters off at colleges in Ohio, two days after you read this. They will be only twenty-six miles apart (at Kenyon College and Denison University, respectively) but a twelve-hour drive from home. One, entering her senior year, works on a document she hopes will represent her well, working on it and then working it over repeatedly (welcome to Dad’s world!). This is her resume. The other packs excitedly for her own new beginning: life as a first-year college student.

And I’m left in an emotional grey area, falling somewhere between nostalgic and even sad. Where did those twenty-one years go? What has changed as the girls grew? What has stayed the same?

As I think back –– recalling four jobs, six houses, four towns –– one constant has remained: writing. The characters have passed through, sprinting it seems from my imagination, to the computer screen, to the pages, and onto my bookshelf (or the netherworld). Series have seemingly evolved into the next. And through good times and trying times, as the girls grew into smart, strong women, and I have aged (at least a little), writing has always been there, through hundreds, no, thousands, of predawn hours and late nights. Through it all, I have learned this: if you dedicate yourself to a writing life, to putting the craft above the industry, writing will never let you down.

Delaney, 21; Dad (age unknown); and Audrey, 18
I have friends we have raised children with, wonderful people with whom our kids brought us in contact. These lifelong friendships have remained. They are in the same stage of life as I am. Yet they speak of retirement, of “next phases,” of making significant life changes. But a writer doesn’t retire. My house might eventually get smaller (on many days, a condo sounds pretty good). Yet I can’t imagine a time when I won’t write. The girls will graduate and move away. Family meals will shrink to two. But the next phase will be only a new page.

And thank God for that.