Friday, July 28, 2023

Writing Scenes

Like most writers I am always interested in the processes used by other writers. Since I started working on my 1939 historical thriller I've been reading blogs and books and watching podcasts about historical novel writing.

I know how to do historical research. One of my areas of academic research is crime history. I even teach a research course for grad students  But writing a novel set in a historical era is more complex. A series set in the recent past that I lived through (2000-2004 in the Lizzie Stuart mysteries)  or a recent "near future/now alternate history" (in the Hannah McCabe police procedurals) hasn't been difficult. Even the short stories set in the late 1940s (with Jo Radcliffe, my former Army nurse) has gotten easier now that my fictional setting feels familiar. 

But in the 1939 book -- with multiple characters and a year to cover -- I've still trying to decide what to include. I've finally decided to stop struggling to decide what to include. Although I'm a plotter, I'm going to write the scenes that come to mind from the POV of any of the characters. I read that one famous -- unnamed -- author of romantic suspense does this. Then she goes back in the second draft and sorts through the scenes and uses the ones that work together to form a cohesive whole.

This makes sense as I try to deal with the fact that my villain keeps insisting on narrating certain scenes from his point of view. I'm been writing the scenes even though I plan to delete them. But I realized yesterday that one of my other POV characters is up to something I hadn't anticipated. So, instead of the maximum of four POVs that I have been striving for will be five or six, and then I will decide when the first draft is done who has a perspective that provides information or serves some other purpose.

Of course, the other issue is whether I will give into temptation and include cameo appearances by real-life people. I have a scene when my FBI agent is called down to D.C. for a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover. I could have Billie Holiday interact with one of my primary characters, who has a job at Cafe Society. Or, wouldn't it be fun to include Eleanor Roosevelt during one of her visits to the World's Fair. Or, one of my characters who is in Atlanta for the premier of Gone With the Wind could cross paths with Clark Gable while a crucial incident is happening in the background.

I've already tried this in the scene that introduces Jacob Baldwin, my sleeping car porter. He is in the crowd attending Marian Anderson's performance on Easter Sunday. There are students there from Howard University. He hears one of the  young women call one of the men "Ossie."  This works if you think of "Ossie Davis" (actor, civil rights activist, and husband of Ruby Dee). He attended Howard. But do I need to explain this? If Hoover appears, do I need to discuss this in the "Author's Note" that I always include?

I'm tempted to do footnotes. Yes, footnotes -- or end notes (putting all of the additional information at the end of the text). I know this sounds odd when I'm writing a novel. In fact, the only time I can recall reading a book in which this had been done was a novel by African American writer Ishmael Reed. Mumbo Jumbo (1972), his detective novel featuring hoodoo investigator Papa LaBas, includes citations.

I'm thinking of including footnotes because if I were reading my novel, I would be stopping to look for more information about the time period. If, for example, readers could glance at the footnote at the bottom of a page and have the most obvious question that comes to mind answered, this would keep them from leaving the book and maybe not coming back. But, on the other hand, if they are immersed in the world of my book, my intrusion with this information might have the opposite effect and be an annoyance. They might not care what is true or false. Or, if they are interested in that, might prefer to wait until they are done and read the author's note.

But this is fiction even thought I am rooting my story in truth. Maybe I'm overthinking. At any rate, I need to finally get the first draft done. I'd like to be finished by December 31. That would be a great way to begin a new year.


Thursday, July 27, 2023


When last we met, Dear Reader, I was in quite a funk. My nephew was in the hospital on life support and here in the Phoenix area we had suffered through several weeks of temperatures above 110ºF. As of today, my nephew has made it through, is off the many machines that kept him alive, and as of last report, may be able to go home to recuperate as early as today or tomorrow. 

As for the weather... No good news there. We've added two more weeks of over 110º. The forecast for Phoenix today (Wed.) is 118º ( I live in Tempe, on the outskirts of the Phoenix metro area, where it's only supposed to get to 116º) However, we've been given some hope that by this weekend we'll drop below 110 for the first time in almost a month! I'll rejoice when that day comes

In the meantime, I'm still working on my latest MS, and have nearly reached the middle. My critique group has been discussing the value of creating a detailed outline before even beginning to write. It's the old plotter vs. pantser debate. I have done both. Each book seems to be a whole new order of creation for me, and demands its own unique method of coming into being. I’ve been known to outline before I begin when I think that would help me clarify the direction of the plot in my own mind. I have also simply started writing, usually at the beginning, but I’ve started in the middle and the end, as well.  

More than once I’ve begun a novel on the fly, and then gone back and created an outline because I’ve gotten myself into a muddle and can’t quite figure the way out. It’s not like this has never happened to me before, and I must remember that miraculously it always works out. As I write the first draft, my beginnings never do match the end, for somewhere in the middle of the story, I changed my mind about this character, or this action, or this story line. I try not to waste time by going back to the beginning and fixing it to fit my new vision. No, no, that way lies madness. I can get (and have gotten) caught up in an endless merry-go-round of fixes and never reach the end. I just have to keep going until the book is done. 

I have never yet faithfully followed an outline, but I can see that disciplined outliners often are able to write much faster and tighter than we wanderers.

 I was told once by a mystery author (who also happens to be a lawyer - a significant detail, I think), that before she begins writing, she outlines each and every one of her novels to the tune of at least one hundred pages, and never deviates therefrom. One Very Big Name of my acquaintance never outlines at all, or even has much in mind when she begins her mammoth novels. She writes dozens of seemingly unrelated episodes, then arranges them in some sort of order and cobbles them together with new scenes and segues. This technique may sound pretty slapdash, but it seems to work for this woman, since she could buy and sell us all.

When I was a pre-teen, I spent several summers at Girl Scout Camp*, way out in the woods outside of Locust Grove, OK. One of our activities was something called a Penny Walk. We would hike down a long, maze-like path through the woods, and every time we came to a fork in the trail, the point-girl would toss a penny to decide which way to go. Every walk was different from the one before, yet we always found our way back.

So I hope to construct this new novel like a penny walk, and every time I come to a fork in the road, I’ll make a decision which way to go, and trust that it will lead me home.


*Camp Scott, now closed. For those of you old enough to remember, this is where the young campers were murdered in their tent, years after I was there.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!


by Sybil Johnson 

Before the pandemic I don't think I'd ever heard of Zoom. Or Crowdcast. Skype, sure, I'd heard of that, even used it on occasion. Then, suddenly, everything was Zoom, Zoom, Zoom!

Like so many others during our period of isolation, I attended meetings via Zoom and conferences via Crowdcast. While I'd rather have seen people in person, it was nice to be able to connect with others and not feel so alone.

One nice thing that came out of the pandemic is that Zoom events still happen. I can now attend talks from places around the country and see authors I wouldn't have been able to see before.

Until I became the webmaven of the Sisters in Crime Los Angeles site, I didn't realize just how many of these free talks are available. We get info from other Sisters in Crime chapters and I put them up in our Affiliates section. ( Unless otherwise noted, these events are free and available to everyone, not only Sisters in Crime members. That is the portion of the site I update the most.

I have attended a number of these events which range from interviews with authors to the history of forensics to panels with authors to how to deal with social media... You get the idea.

Last weekend, I could have attended a talk sponsored by the Buckeye Crime Writers, a Sisters in Crime chapter in Ohio, with Jessika Hazelton titled “Self-publishing Soup to Nuts.” I almost did, but 8:00 a.m. is a tad early for me. This Thursday, the Grand Canyon Writers chapter has a Zoom event with a panel of authors titled “Independence Day For Authors: What I Wish I Had Known From the Start!”

Some of the chapters archive these events on YouTube channels. For others, the archive is only available to those who register in advance.

While I only see SinC chapter events in my role as webmaven, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are free events available from other places like bookstores and Mystery Writers of America chapters. I noticed that the mystery bookstore in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania has its own YouTube channel where you can see various interviews and discussions with mystery authors. I’m betting there are other bookstores that have regular online events as well. 

An upcoming event from the Sisters in Crime LA chapter, part of the Sizzling Summer Series, a collaboration with other California SinC chapters, will feature a conversation with Sara Paretsky. It’s Sunday, August 6th, 2pm Pacific. Should be interesting. This is a chapter meeting so it's not in the Affiliates section if you're keeping track. Here’s the link of you’re interested in attending. It includes the link to register in advance.

While I’d rather not have experienced the pandemic, the availability of events that I wouldn’t have been able to attend before is one of the few positives that came out of that experience.

What about you? Do you know of any free Zoom events open to everyone that would be of interest to others?

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Competing Narratives

 I'm starting a new novel. With as much experience that I have as a published author and as a creative writing instructor, it would seem that the words would flow like honey from my fingertips and onto the digital page. But no.

I realize that the first draft is exactly that, the first draft, a place to start from. And that the second draft of the manuscript is where the story is close to what you're trying to tell. And that you won't really know what to say in the first chapter until you've written the last.

Still, when I started this manuscript I was frustrated in that the narrative didn't congeal. The story ideas swirled about like puffs of smoke, defying my attempts to create solid components of prose. Part of the problem was that I didn't understand the main characters. They had names and descriptions but they all seemed like plot devices meant to advance the story, rather than the projections of actual people. Another obstacle was that of world building, even though the setting is Denver, Colorado, a place I've lived in for over twenty years. Again, it seemed like a fog enveloped everything. 

Another concern that mired my efforts at word count was that of style as I was intimidated by what I've recently read. Pretty much every book I've finished lately are superb examples of writing craft. Two in particular ring in my head: Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda and The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Though both books focus on very damaged and dangerous people, they are quite different in writing style and story structure. Pochoda's book is a layered narrative that ricochets from character to character and from scene to scene. Thompson's style is pulp, in the same first person throughout, brisk and matter-of-fact, sometimes lapsing into cliché. Even so, his characters pop off the page as vividly and with as much personality as those depicted by Pochoda. Another contrast is how Pochoda illustrates her social environment in long, eloquent sweeps while Thompson presents his world in quick, visceral jabs. Yes, I know that my style will show itself and I hope my story will be as compelling as either from these two masters.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Short Stories to Novels

This is my first full summer as a Michigan resident. The weather, excluding some air-quality concerns, has been excellent –– unlike everywhere else, it seems. The sun doesn’t set until 9:30 each day, at the tail end of the Eastern Time Zone. We are having a great time exploring downtown Detroit and all that the region has to offer. And work is slower without students in the building, so I've been bringing the dog to work. 

On the writing front, I finished a novel that I hope kicks off a new series. My agent is currently shopping it. While I wait to hear, like Sybil, I’ve been working on short stories. One is under review, the other is based on my outline and notes for what would be the second novel in the new series (yes, I’m a serial optimist). 

I like writing short stories based (pretty loosely) on an idea I have for a novel. It’s a nice way to try out the plot, work with the characters, and see what sidelines I want to expand in the book version. I got the idea when I read “Sadie When She Died,” by Ed McBain, (a short story I love) and found that McBain must have loved it, too, because he later turned it into a novel. I did this first with “Autumn’s Crossing,” which appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and later led to Bitter Crossing. The endings aren’t the same –– something I find that happens often; short stories can be open-ended, even in our genre, and I’m a sucker for a good open-ended finish. But the characters are the same, and I learn a lot about them as I work with them, which saves me (some) revision later when I write the book version.

It’s all about process, and in this fickle business, you need to enjoy the process, as Tom wrote about recently. 

I’d love to hear from our readers who likewise bridge short fiction with novels.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Cowboy Mike

 by Charlotte Hinger

A beloved member of Western Writers of America, Michael Searles, died the day before our annual convention in Rapid City. I was devastated. He was always at this event. 

In this era of bitter culture wars he was a diplomatic ambassador and deeply loved. He joyfully shared his heritage and had the most infectious laugh I've ever heard.

This year, he received the prestigious Homestead Award and it was to be presented at the awards ceremony. He received it early and made a video thanking the organization. Below is a paragraph written in History Net that describes his abilities far better than any of my attempts to capsulize his vibrant well lived life in mere words. For those of you who have a Facebook account, look up his video. 

From History Net:

Beneath his black hat and behind his boisterous laugh beats the heart of a diligent historian. Michael N. “Cowboy Mike” Searles spent a career as a teacher, engaging students from elementary school through college age before retiring as a professor emeritus from Augusta State University in Georgia. The focus of his classes was the American West, specifically the experience of black cowboys and buffalo soldiers. As a writer and editor Cowboy Mike continues to tackle both subjects. He wrote a chapter of Black Cowboys of Texas (2000) and with Bruce A. Glasrud edited Buffalo Soldiers in the West: A Black Soldiers Anthology (2007). The two also collaborated on Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, on the Stage, Behind the Badge (2016).

When asked when 19 century black men came to be cowboys, Mike told the interviewer:

Black men ventured west as trappers and mountain men before the era of the cowboy. Some even migrated with the Spanish from Mexico. The largest influx of blacks into cow country came as slaves and mastered the craft of cowboying, which they continued when slavery ended. Being a cowboy lacked the romance found in Western films. Not everyone was suited to the cowboy life, so once a man seemed to adapt to the lifestyle, he often found continuous work on ranches. The largest influx of blacks into cow country came as slaves and mastered the craft of cowboying, which they continued when slavery ended.

Mike was such a gentle and effective educator. I wish teachers everywhere had his magical touch. I wish those who are intent on turning education into a battleground would magically acquire the ability to listen.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Summer of My Discontent

 Like Tom wrote a couple of days ago, I've begun writing a totally new series, though I'm enjoying it very much, it's so different from anything I've ever done that I'm feeling quite insecure about it. However, writing it has been a lifesaver for me, since this has been a horrible summer, and I'm not seeing any immediate relief on any front.


First of all, the extended Casey clan is undergoing a crisis. My youngest sister's son Joe Potter suffered multiple organ failure (due to his heart) over the Independence Day holiday and had to be transferred from a hospital in Tulsa to Oklahoma City where a team of specialists have inserted a pump into his heart (an impella), and put him on a machine to oxygenate his blood (an ECMO). He has been on life support and in an induced coma since the 6th. As of yesterday, my sister informed us he is doing better and they are going to try to wean him off the machines. Needless to say the whole family is in shock. Joe is 46 years old, married with three children, the youngest of whom is eight. He's big, energetic guy, and nobody was expecting such a thing. Which goes to show you, things happen fast in this life, and you cannot take a minute for granted. Joe was a smart, funny little kid, who loved to eat 'maters' off the vine, and I can't help but still think of him that way. If you have good thoughts and prayers to spare, Dear Reader, please send them his way.

Less important but certainly not helping my mood is the fact that it is hot as hell here in Phoenix. I mean, this is no surprise for southern Arizonans, but this is particularly hard to bear right now. We have not had a day below 110ºF since July 1, and it's just supposed to get hotter over the next week In fact the forecast high for this coming Saturday, Sunday, and Monday is 117º. Actual degrees, not heat index.

So all in all, I hunker down, wait for news, try to stay cool, and write. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Insecure Me


by Sybil Johnson

I found Monday’s post by Thomas on Writing and Insecurity very interesting. It’s nice to know other writers are as insecure as I am at times. It was also fun to see the quotes from famous writers. Perhaps insecurity is a trait needed to write. Maybe it makes us work harder or something. Courage is certainly needed. I wrote a post on Courage for Femmes Fatales a few years ago and reposted it on Type M. You can find that here:

The problem with insecurity is that it can be paralyzing and prevent you from putting anything down on paper. This is when I say to myself, “This isn’t rocket science. No one’s life is at stake. It’s just fiction.” That little pep talk usually helps me get going.

I find that once I start writing something, anything, those insecurities start to fall away. I also find it soothing to read my own writing out loud to myself, at least the writing that I’ve worked on a bit. I don’t what why that is. Maybe it’s the rhythm.

I also tend to be the most insecure when my writing has been rejected. I’ve had a couple of short stories making the rounds for a while, both of them rejected multiple times. I have to keep telling myself that they’ll eventually find homes.

Right now, besides the short stories, I’m also looking over the final formatted pages for my next book, Brush Up On Murder, the 6th book in my Aurora Anderson series. The book isn’t ready for pre-order yet. That will come soon. Right now, though, I can share the cover of the book. So here it is: 


And here’s a bit about it.

Love is in the air in the quiet Los Angeles County city of Vista Beach, home of computer programmer and decorative-painting enthusiast, Aurora (Rory) Anderson. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches, residents are training for the annual Love Run and expressing their undying affection for each other by attaching love locks to the pier railings. But a string of bank robberies is ruining the romantic vibe.

While Rory helps friends prepare for a Valentine’s Day wedding, a body is found and the groom is implicated in the murder. Convinced of his innocence, Rory puts her heart into the investigation. Can she identify the killer before someone else encounters their own brush with death? 

It’ll be out October 10th.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

What Do You Mean By That?

 by Charlotte Hinger

When our daughter, Michele, was a little girl she brought home a sheet of paper from school with her name written in perfect mirror image. She had beautiful handwriting.

I freaked. I immediately suspected all kinds of complicated learning problems. However, with this child I had already learned to ask for explanations. The world--from her point of view--was delightfully unpredictable. 

Her explanation was that when the teacher handed out notepaper for them to practice cursive writing they were to begin at the red line and write to the edge. Sometimes the red line was on the right and sometimes it was on the left. It didn't matter to her. She wrote equally well in either direction.

Understanding point of view is an essential part of the craft of fiction writing. Originally I began the last sentence with "mastering point of view" but I don't think any writer ever does. Although there doesn't seem to be any connection between viewpoint in fiction and a school girl's acceptance of a teacher's whimsies, in a way there is.

In addition to the complexity of understanding first person, second person, third person, etc. when writing in third person or an omniscient viewpoint the story is greatly enriched by reaching into the soul of the character and using words and descriptions that reflect his or her view of the world.

The world outside can be "promising Spring. The tips of crocus bulbs are trying to break through the soil. A robin is spotted on a bare branch. And yes, there are geese overhead returning North. Splotches of color are everywhere." Right away you know, this character has a happy view of the world.

Or a sour person might view the same scene as "winter still dragging down the streets like that homeless person shoving his foul-smelling carts through the crowded sidewalks. Old geezers hawking phlegm like they were competing with the honks of the hapless flight of geese flapping sluggishly through the grey sky."

Every word paints a picture of how one's characters sees the world.

I love to read books narrated in unreliable first person. Done well, they are immediately arresting. I think one of the greatest first lines ever is "Call me Ishmael." It's terrific! We are put on guard from the get go. Why would he want us to "call" him something instead of stating his name. Clearly, he's not to be trusted.

In other posts I'll discuss what is usually meant by viewpoint in writing. But for now, give some thought to how other people view the world. It's fun to write a paragraph or two from the viewpoint of a friend or family member who sees the world entirely differently than you do.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Writing and Insecurity

By Thomas Kies

I’m nearly finished writing the first draft of a new book.  It’s not part of the Geneva Chase series which I’ve loved doing.  This has a male protagonist (kind of nice not writing as a woman for a change), different location (I love Connecticut, but the cost of living is wicked high and it’s time to write a mystery using new scenery), and a different vibe.

My publisher hasn’t committed to the book, and I don’t know if they will. I hope they do.

As a matter of fact, there’s no guarantee that it will ever see the light of day.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written a novel that was never published.  As a matter of fact, before I found an agent (she’s the best) for Random Road, I had written four other books.

Before Random Road, was I feeling insecure?  Hell yes.

I still am. 

As I continue to steam ahead on the new book, there are some days where I think this is the best piece of fiction I’ve ever written.  And then, later that same day, I wonder if it’s the worst piece of crap ever knocked out on a laptop.

Yeah, insecurity.  

I asked my browser if any other writers have suffered from insecurity.  This is what it said:

Yes, many famous writers have suffered from insecurity. For example, Ernest Hemingway was known for his insecurities and his tendency to compare himself to other writers. F. Scott Fitzgerald also struggled with insecurity throughout his life. Virginia Woolf was known to have suffered from depression and anxiety, which often made her feel insecure about her writing.

"I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances." - John Steinbeck

"I have spent a good many years since―too many, I think―being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent." - Stephen King

"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within." - Gustave Flaubert

"I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering." - Robert Frost

I’m going to get back to writing.  Luckily, at this point, unlike Frost, I know what the end looks like.  When I started, the characters were foreign to me.  The villain or villains unknown.  The story yet to unfold. 

Now the characters are like old friends.  I hope you get to spend time with them as well.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Summertime trials

 Happy Canada Day (July 1st), Happy Fourth of July! It's been a weekend of contradictions - Wild storms and sweltering heat, smoke, fire bans, and fireworks. As I write this (July 4 in the evening) I can hear the crashes and bangs echoing around the lake from our American contingent. Much of Eastern Canada's cottage country is a mixture of of local Canadians from nearby cities, like Ottawa and Toronto, and Americans who travel up to enjoy our beautiful lakes from New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other states in the northeast. Many of them have been coming for generations. So in early July, the lake reverberates with fireworks. I enjoy the spectacle but it freaks out my dog (and most pets) and it also very stressful for wildlife, so I have concluded we need the "noiseless" variety. 

I have taken a few days at the lake by myself to work on the first draft of my latest book. It has been extremely hot, so I have spent much of my day in my bathing suit, sitting in the shade on my chaise longue or rolling in and out of the water. I have just emerged from my final sunset swim of the day and I have the fan aimed directly at me. I can't imagine how unbearable it must be for people in small, airless apartments in the city.

The lake is my inspiration. The peace and quiet (well, except for fireworks and tubers and jet skis), the solitude, the lack of distractions, and the slower pace help me focus and imagine. The heat, not so much. Tomorrow I head back into the city because I have a presentation to do to the Lac Bernard Cottage Association about my research for my Amanda Doucette books. My talks to book clubs and groups have normally been informal and low-tech, just me sitting on a chair and yakking for an hour or so. When the pandemic disrupted all that, the talks went virtual. Zoom was a wonderful way to stay connected, and it also allowed listeners to tune in from anywhere. But it's not very dynamic. You are  staring at a screen of thirty tiny photos or just staring at your own face. 

To liven things up, I started experimenting with sharing photos on the screen, and I prepared a number of talks with Powerpoint slides peppered through them. At first, many things would go wrong. I couldn't share or coordinate with the person running the event, but we all became ore adept with Zoom, I found it a lively way to add variety to the talk (and keep people awake). Tomorrow's presentation is in-person, but I decided I wanted to transfer some of the benefits of screen sharing to the in-person stage. 

In the course of researching each of my Amanda Doucette books, I spent weeks on location and took hundreds of photos. So I have prepared a slide show of some of the iconic photos of each trip and I will use them to illustrate my talk. What could go wrong? Lots. First, we needed a projector and screen, and that projector had to be compatible with my MacBook Air (which has almost no ports. No USB, no HDMI, just the miniUSB). The projector uses an HDMI cable. One of the event organizers tested his own computer with the projector, and it works, so the plan was for me to email him my PPT slides and then run the slide show from his computer. But the PPT file was too large for email. He suggested linking via the cloud. I use iCloud and Dropbox, he has Google and Microsfot's OneDrive. I was able to find a long dormant Microsoft account from my Skype Days, but I spent several frustrating hours trying to get my email and password to let me in. But it is done. Tomorrow is the test! All fingers crossed that it works. If not, it will be just me on a chair at the front, yakking away for an hour or so.

Ain't technology grand?

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Blurbs and Front Material


By Charlotte Hinger

The publisher of my historical novel, Mary's Place, University of Nebraska Press, needs one of my blurbs by the end of this month. Luckily, one of the persons I've asked for comments had one ready to go right away. 

I don't mind being asked to write a blurb, but I hate to ask for them. It used to be my least favorite kind of writing was nudging an editor to respond to a submission. Now, I just cringe when I ask people for comments. But it's all part of the business. 

The business side of writing is minimized by writers. In fact, it's a critical part of building a relationship with one's publisher. I wish I knew at the beginning of my career what I know now.

Prepublication material is very important. It seems to me that the pages grow larger every year. It takes all my wits to write descriptions of the book and catchy phrases that will help the publisher's pre-marketing efforts. Nevertheless, it's an opportunity to help the sales and marketing people get it right. I do my very best to help them understand the thrust of my book.

Fortunately, I've had some great covers. I've never had one I dislike, but I drew a blank this time when I was asked to come up with images. There are two story lines: an old banker who is trying to save his 100-year-old bank and his conflict with his best friend, who wants to save his farm that has been in family since Homestead times.

The most obvious images are fields of wheat, a large house, the prairie, barns, silos, plus banks, coins, storms. Yet, farmyard settings have been used for everything from the Wizard of Oz to The Shack. Plus, practically every calendar with photos of country living.

None of these images have appealed to me. A sweet farmyard setting doesn't have the right tone for a book about the tragedy of the 1980s bank failures that devasted whole communities. I drew a blank. 

Then I found my cover. Right there on my dining room wall. A friend who had read my book mentioned golden fields of wheat, and I had talked about the importance of the color green. I associated wheat with green. We plant winter wheat in Kansas, and the bright emerald shoots announcing the arrival of spring has never failed to thrill me. 

My late aunt, Helen Terrill, was an artist. She painted a farm scene with the foreground dominated by a rather unsettling sinister field of wheat. It shows wheat in all its stages. It's strange! 

In her picture, there's a farmstead in the background, that may or may not be peaceful. That's just the suspenseful tone I aimed for in my book.