TURNING A VICTORIAN MISSIONARY INTO A SLEUTH by Peggy Hanson

Miss Matthews touring 1909            My great Aunt Mary was a real person.  After attending Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, she went off to Monastir, Macedonia as a foreign missionary in 1888 and did not return until 1920, when I believe she was sent away by Serbian authorities for being an American spy.

During her tour of duty running a school for girls, she acted heroically through one crisis after another:  the end of the Ottoman Empire; the Young Turk Revolution; Balkan Wars I and II; and, especially, the relentless German bombardment of her school and city during World War I.

In an age when women were taught to keep a low profile and be guided and protected by men, Aunt Mary became a force of her own in Monastir, dealing with Turkish, Bulgarian and Serbian governors; providing a haven and provisions for victims of war (she did not discriminate along ethnic or religious lines); becoming in every sense a strong feminist against the Victorian odds.

And she left thirty-two years’ worth of diaries, letters and pictures for her family to peruse, transcribe, and donate to her beloved Mount Holyoke—where she had received the Medal of Honor for her work in the Balkans.

After a year of immersion in the Mary Matthews collection, intending to publish it as a diary, I realized I needed to take a different tack.  With two mysteries under my belt, DEADLINE ISTANBUL and DEADLINE YEMEN, I had my aha! moment: I am a mystery writer, not an academic Istanbul coverresearcher.  Aunt Mary will be available to academics once the Collection is archived and opened by Mount Holyoke in fall of 2015.  For my tribute, I needed to turn her into a sleuth.

At first I thought it would be easy.  Having read all her first-hand material, I knew Mary Matthews’s mind and heart.  I have researched the Victorian era until I am practically wearing bustles.  Much about life in Monastir echoed my own experience in central Anatolia as an early Peace Corps volunteer.  Even the street names were in Turkish!

Miss Matthews, as she was known, wrote in detail about daily events at her school and in her town—and many of those events cried out to be tweaked just a bit to make them murderous.  She was the “go-to” person when any crisis occurred, whether it be a sick cat, a needy neighbor, disgraceful behavior by her girls or an epidemic of scarlet fever or flu.  I would have all the names and the descriptions from Mary herself…

Except that Mary Matthews edited her own papers ruthlessly before she died.  I know that “Mr. Eftim picked a rose” in 1917.  I know nothing about the 23-year-old missionary’s feelings as she embarked from her protected life across the Atlantic on a Cunard liner, spent a few days in London when Jack the Ripper held the city in fear, or ate oysters and prime rib aboard the luxurious Orient Express.  (Since this was all pre-electricity, one almost doesn’t need to invent mysterious deaths among the passengers!)

I believe Aunt Mary deleted all this interesting material later in life when she feared it might not look “missionary” enough.  We are left with a paragraph from one of her mother’s letters naming the ship, the dates in London, and the fact that Mary and her woman companion “made their way across Europe to Constantinople.”  The only way they could have visited the cities mentioned was by the newly-opened Orient Express.

Despite not having much to go on, I wanted to start my series with the journey of that young woman.  This meant inventing characters who might have been with her or at least could have been with her.  I put in a few people who are mentioned later in the actual diaries (Miss Ellen Stone, a British nurse, kidnapped in 1901 and who eventually went to Monastir) or about whom I had read (the British journalist who made his career following Miss Stone’s adventures in the Macedonian mountains.)

As I made up characters and incidents, I had fun imagining Mary’s interactions with them.  It was delightful to research what London and Paris were like at that time.  (Did you know the Eiffel Tower was being built in Fall of 1888?)

I love dining-car scenes and began to immerse myself in the gossip and putdowns and kindly remarks exchanged among the passengers.  To do that, I had to place people at tables, sketch them out – and, where necessary, go back to the S.S. Bothnia or the respectable little hotel in London to position red herrings.

I wish I were a writer who could plan out everything before she starts!  I’m not.  I’m as surprised as anyone when something untoward is found under the berth or in a lady’s purse.

The working title for my book is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  So…don’t expect all the religious people making the trip to be saints.  Don’t get too attached to a character who might, just might, become a victim.

Trust Aunt Mary.  She was a problem-solver in life. She will be a problem-solver in fiction!

 

Peggy brown scarfPeggy Hanson is an author and travel blogger who loves to share her international life with her readers. Peace Corps, Voice of America, teaching of English–all these have played major roles in her life. Growing up in a series of small towns in Colorado, the daughter of a mountain-climbing Congregational minister and teacher, probably helped mold her affinity to nomadism. In her adult life, she’s lived for extended periods in Turkey, Yemen, India and Indonesia.

Her first two books are mysteries in the Elizabeth Darcy series set in other countries: DEADLINE ISTANBUL and Deadline Yemen cover by AnneDEADLINE YEMEN. She is currently working on the third in that series, DEADLINE INDONESIA, and is also compiling and editing her great aunt Mary’s diaries and letters and pictures from 1888-1920 when she was a missionary teacher and principal in the Balkans. The working title of the diaries is UNHOLY DEATH ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. It is a story of early feminism and a woman’s bravery in the face of war.

www.peggyhansonauthor.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/hanusa2?fref=ts

Twitter @phanusa2

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Managing Your Time to Promote by Jan Christensen

Jan-in-Beach-Hat-800-pix-300x159I’ve been struggling with promotion for a couple of years now. I want to do it all. But I really don’t like doing it all. I enjoy Facebook. I like writing blog posts, and I don’t mind signings and personal appearances. I also like Pinterest, but frankly, I don’t see how it can be made to sell very many books and be worth the time invested.

 

So, that leaves a lot of things I don’t particularly enjoy doing. They’re like housework for me. Necessary, but I’d rather do something else. These include:

 

  • Tweet two or three times a day.
  • Ask for reviews.
  • Ask for guest blogging gigs. (I like writing the posts—I just don’t particularly like asking to do them.)
  • Ask libraries to stock my books.
  • Run a contest, then distribute the books to the winner(s).
  • Run a free offer.
  • Run a countdown.
  • Produce my newsletter.
  • Make changes to my website.
  • Keep track of everything on spreadsheets.

 

The only way I’ve found to handle all this is to set aside a specific amount of time every day and use it to do what’s most important at that time. And schedule the things I’ll do every week. Those things are write and edit blog posts (Tuesdays) for myself and for others. Wednesday, I request a review and contact a library. I take Thursdays off and work on Saturday instead. So, Friday I update the spreadsheets, and make any changes needed to my website. Saturday I finish anything from the other days left hanging, and pick something else to do to fill up the time. You’re wondering what I do on Mondays? I work on short stories. First thing I do is send one out. If I have time left over or they’re all out (never happens), I work on another one. I hope getting short stories published increases my platform as a writer.

 

You’ll notice, too, that Facebook and Twitter are not included in the specific time I’ve set aside for other marketing. I work them in during the day. I try to Tweet something every morning, again around four, and sometimes in the evening. I try to look at Facebook late afternoon, but often don’t get to it.

 

I’ve been using the schedule for a while now, and I allot one hour, five days a week. This is all just marketing—not getting the book ready with cover, editing and so on. The things I really, really dislike doing, often, I admit, do not get done. But I haven’t given up. I keep at it, I keep trying.

 

Here is what I’d accomplish in one year by sticking to this schedule religiously:

 

  • 780 tweets (52 weeks times 5 days a week, times 3 times a day)
  • 52 short stories submitted
  • 52 requests for reviews
  • 52 library requests
  • 12 or more guest blog post requests (I aim for one post a month)
  • 12 promotions (countdown, free offer, contest in conjunction with a guest post)
  • 4 newsletters sent out
  • Website always up-to-date
  • Spreadsheets always up-to-date

 

I believe that writing this down, seeing it in black and white, can help us better realize how doing something five times a week or even once a month can help us achieve our goals. Try this yourself and see how it goes.

 

But I do the most important thing almost every week for six days (yes I do this on Thursday, too). I write for about an hour, or until I have one thousand new words written. I also usually get in another hour five evenings a week editing another project. Now, if I could just get on with this marketing plan every single day, I might be doing better with sales. Which is why I still keep trying. Anyone have any shortcuts to all of this? I’d love to hear them!

 

Jan Christensen grew up in New Jersey. She bounced around the world as an Army wife, and in Texas when her husband retired. After traveling for ABrokenLife_200x300eleven years in a motorhome, she settled down in the Texas Coastal Bend.

Published novels are: Sara’s Search, Revelations, Organized to Death, Perfect Victim, Blackout, and most recently, A Broken Life. She’s had over sixty short stories appear in various places over the last dozen years. She also writes a series of short stories about Artie, a NY burglar who gets into some very strange situations while on the job. Learn more at her website: www.janchristensen.com

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jan.christensen.9275?fref=ts

Twitter @JanSChristensen

Stephen King: My Favorite Teacher   ~ by Joan Hall Hovey

Joan with Stephen King

Joan with Stephen King

The year was 1984, a lovely summer’s day and I was sitting in the packed, buzzed audience waiting for Stephen King to appear.  To say I was excited is an understatement. Uncool? Totally. I’d bought my hardcover copy of his book Different Seasons for him to sign.  I wouldn’t be denied. I had all his books in hardcover – Carrie, Cycle of the Werewolf, Danse Macabre, Salem’s Lot –  there would be  many more to come. He was my hero in a time when I was already much too old to be star-struck.  I’ve read that it is mainly teenagers who are addicted to Stephen King’s work, and I was hardly that.  Though probably immature.  I’m at a much more more advanced age now and that hasn’t changed, and I hope it never does.  Stephen King was  the Elvis Presley of the literary world.

I hadn’t had a novel published yet; that was still a dream, floating somewhere above the horizon. But I’d written and published some articles and short stories, enough to make me eligible for a travel grant through the NB Arts Council to London, England to the writers workshop at Polytechnic Institution  on Marylebone Road, aptly across the street from Madam Tussauds wax museum.  Stephen King would be a panelist, along with authors P.D. James, Robert Parker and some others.  I was eager to hear all the celebrated authors, but I’d flown all this way from New Brunswick, Canada to see and hear Mr. King.

He came into the large room through the back door and I swear I knew the instant he did.  You couldn’t miss the rising buzz of the audience, of course, the shifting of bodies as people turned to look, but I also felt the change of energy in the air. On stage, Stephen King joked about his ‘big writing engine’ and I had heard (within my third eye – yes, it can hear) its power, its purr.   Or maybe there’s more to it.

As he talked to us about writing, he spoke about seeing with that third eye.  The eye of the imagination.  He told us to imagine a chair.  Then he said it was a blue chair.  I saw it clearer now.  He added the detail of a paint blister on the leg of the chair.  Now I saw it close up, with my zoom lens.  We hung on his every word.  He was funny and brilliant and entertaining, and we learned. Everything he said was not necessarily something brand new, but were reminders to pay close attention to details.  To always tell the truth in our writing.  I even got to ask a couple of questions.   And his answers to all our questions were thoughtful and insightful.   I try to pass along a few of those lessons to my own students.

Stephen King has been teaching creative writing to aspiring and even established writers for decades, long before his wonderful book On Writing came out.  Such a gift to writers that is, regardless of the genre you write in.   I am gushing.  I don’t mind. It’s true.

I have been fortunate to have had many highlights in my life –  an anniversary trip to Niagara Falls with my wonderful husband, the births of my children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren – a trip to the Bahamas with my eldest son – my own first novel published and several more after that – and I have to say that that workshop in London, England, where Stephen King spoke to us about writing, is right up there.  Thank you, Mr. King.

I want to leave you with a quote from an interview with contributing writing for the Atlantic, Jessica Lahey, published in The Atlantic,  Sept  2014.  She asked him if teaching was craft or art.

“It’s both,” he said.  “The best teachers are artists.

Stephen King is an artist on every level.   He tells the truth.  In his fiction.  And in his teachings.

~~

Joan Hall Hovey, Photo: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph-JournalIn addition to her critically acclaimed novels, Joan Hall Hovey’s articles and short stories have appeared in such diverse publications as The Toronto Star, Atlantic Advocate, Seek, Home Life Magazine, Mystery Scene, The New Brunswick Reader, Fredericton Gleaner, New Freeman and Kings County Record. Her short story Dark Reunion wasSONY DSC selected for the anthology investigating Women, Published by Simon & Pierre.

Ms. Hovey has held workshops and given talks at various schools and libraries in her area, including New Brunswick Community College, and taught a course in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. For a number of years, she has been a tutor with Winghill School, a distance education school in Ottawa for aspiring writers. She is a member of the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick, past regional Vice-President of Crime Writers of Canada and International Thriller Writers.

Website URL:  http://www.joanhallhovey.com

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/joan.h.hovey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/joanhh

The Great American Novel by Robin Tidwell

That’s the goal of every author, right? But sometimes we get distracted.

Back in, oh, 1997, I got my first computer, a hand-me-down from my sister. I couldn’t even get online with that thing, but I kept trying. Finally, familyphotoknowing I wanted to write a book, my husband bought me a used machine and I learned how to operate it—even went to some message boards and met a few people that I still keep in touch with.

But no book was written.

I outgrew that computer pretty quickly, and snagged a brand new, custom-built job—still no book. Over the next ten years, I thought about that Great American Novel, but I didn’t actually start putting pen to paper, so to speak, until 2005.

Oh, happy day! My husband was thrilled, kept the kids away, took over the cooking and cleaning. And I wrote.

A whopping 1000 words.

I mentioned distractions, right? Well, we had five kids between us, and I ran our various businesses, and then I went back to college. Again. And I kept upgrading my computer system, and wow, have things changed or what?

But still no book.

Recycled coverOne night, January 31, 2012, to be exact, I had a dream. The next morning, and over the next six months, I wrote a book; dystopian fiction—REDUCED. That was followed by REUSED, RECYCLED, and, coming in March 2015, God willing and the creek don’t rise (actually, rising creeks are a hazard around here), REPEAT will be, um, released.

Still no Great American Novel.

I found the file today. It was under “book.doc.” Nice, huh? As an author and publisher, I have many, many files with the word “book” in them. Many. It took me a 30 solid minutes of searching and clicking. But it’s there—all 1000 words.

Wow. Only 80,000 or so to go . . .

After I read it, and managed not to cringe, much, I remembered that I’d introduced a few more characters—so where did they go?? Fortunately, they had unique names, old-fashioned ones, so I searched again. Found another file: book (autosaved).doc.

Impressive, yes? I really need to give this at least a working title . . .

Maybe it’s right that things turned out like this. Maybe I needed all those years to gain more experience, more skill. Maybe I’ll get it written. Soon. Ish.

It’s epic—in the truest sense of the meaning of that word—twists, turns, parallels, flashbacks; it covers five generations of women in one family. History, love, war. And after finding that second file, well, I’m up to nearly 3000 words.

I might even be able to keep some of them.

And while I have, as yet, no title, and no synopsis, it does have a genre: family friction. No, that’s not a typo. It’s a new genre—and this may be the first book categorized as such. You can thank my mother . . . she knows!

 

RTidwellRobin’s writing career began at the age of eight, when her grandmother insisted she read Gone with the Wind before taking her to see the movie. gwtwInspired by Margaret Mitchell, she began scribbling little booklets of stories, and was the editor of her elementary school newspaper and a columnist in high school. She submitted a short story to Seventeen magazine and was promptly rejected, but still keeps a copy of the manuscript in her desk.

Robin has worked as a snack bar cook, a salad prepper, a camp counselor, a waitress, a receptionist, a housekeeper, a freelancer, an editor, and an employment consultant and manager. She’s also been in car sales, skin care sales, cookware sales, advertising sales, and MLM. She’s owned and operated an entrepreneurial conglomerate, a cleaning service, an old-time photography studio, a bookstore, and a publishing house.

Six years ago, Robin and her husband Dennis moved back to St. Louis, after many years in Columbia, Sedalia, Colorado Springs, Durango, and Granbury and Tolar, Texas. They live with their youngest son, a dog, a cat, and a new puppy. www.robintidwell.com

Website URL:  http://www.RobinTidwell.com

Blog URL:  RobinTidwell.Wordpress.com

A Root Awakening by Kate Collins

A Root AwakeningA ROOT AWAKENING

by Kate Collins Kate Collins

Coming Out 

February 3rd 2015

 

 

“Another triumph in the well-loved Flowershop Mystery series.”—New York Times bestselling author Lorna Barrett

 

Now that they’ve tied the knot, flower shop owner Abby Knight and her husband, Marco, want to put down roots. When it comes to picking a house, Marco can’t wait to get his hands dirty, while Abby isn’t ready for a fixer-upper. But conflict really sprouts when they’re checking out a dilapidated Victorian and watch a construction worker take a life-threatening tumble.

Since witnesses claim the man shouted for help, suggesting that the fall was no accident, the victim’s flamboyant wife hires Marco to find the person responsible. Meanwhile, Abby keeps secret from Marco her own investigation into the home’s inhabitants, a family whose off-kilter behavior has aroused her suspicions. If only Abby’s very pregnant cousin, Jillian, will stop distracting Abby with false labor pains, she can conclude her own inquiries before Marco finds out…and her case blossoms into a disaster.

 

 

 

Want to Write a Novel? by Patricia Skalka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGet Ready to Make a Zillion Small Decisions

 

On the day I sat down to start writing the third book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series, I came across an insightful comment about the process of writing a novel.  “It is like reconstructing the whole of Paris from Lego bricks. It’s about three-quarters-of-a-million small decisions. It’s not about who will live and who will die and who will go to bed with whom. Those are the easy ones. It’s about choosing adjectives and adverbs and punctuation. These are molecular decisions that you have to take and nobody will appreciate, for the same reason that nobody ever pays attention to a single note in a symphony in a concert hall, except when the note is false. So you have to work very hard in order for your readers not to note a single false note. That is the business of three-quarters-of-a-million decisions.”

The comment comes from Amos Oz, an international award-winning writer and author of nineteen novels. Oz sets a very high bar and it’s up to us as writers to decide whether to accept the challenge or not. It’s easy enough to get by, to dash off a thought or a scene or even an entire book with barely a glance back, with little regard for what he calls “the small decisions.” But should we?  Doesn’t that cheat the writer of the opportunity to excel and deprive the audience of an enjoyable read?

Writing a good, solid book is hard work. Writing well demands concentration, dedication, and perseverance.  We’re all capable of doing better, and perhaps that’s the challenge to embrace as the new year unfolds. Not to settle for the mundane. Not to allow ourselves the luxury of good enough.  But to strive to write the best we can. To focus on quality not quantity. To create complex characters and intriguing plots. To carve out descriptions rich in detail.  To write crisp, realistic dialogue. To research and learn facts essential to the story. And then when we’re finished to go back and rework again and again until the words dance off the page.

Even then, the job of writing isn’t finished. We need to publish, to promote, to slip from the comfortable anonymity of the writer’s cave and venture into public places like bookstores and libraries where readers await with questions and comments.  And we need to accept that we are fallible and to accept with humility the typo and the awkward phrase that have slipped past the censure of the author, the editor, and the publisher. Mea culpa, we say and then strive to do better the next time.

Amos Oz is correct. Writing a novel is about making decisions. Good decisions burn the brain. But, oh, the thrill of getting it right!  The joy of receiving an email from a stranger who says “I loved your book.”  Or of having someone whom you’ve never met approach you after a reading and say “When’s your next book coming out? I can’t wait.”

I love reading really good books. As a writer, I feel an obligation to readers to offer them a well turned story. Even as I can’t wait to get started on book three, my brain aches at the prospect because I know it will be a tough process. But I also know it will be worthwhile because, in the end we reap what we sow.

So it’s onward to making the tough decisions. Onward to good writing in 2015.

 

DeathStalksDoorCountyPatricia Skalka’s debut novel Death Stalks Door County was short-listed for the Chicago Writers Association 2014 Book of the Year Award and named one of the year’s best mysteries by Kings River Life Magazine. Death at Gills Rock, the second in the Dave Cubiak Mystery Series, will be released in June 2015.

Five-legged frogs, pregnant fifty-year-olds, and centenarians on longevity drugs, plus a murder or two—

Author Betty Jean Craige

Author Betty Jean Craige

Five-legged frogs, pregnant fifty-year-olds, and centenarians on longevity drugs, plus a murder or two—that’s what I wrote about in my new murder mystery Downstream.

 

According to publisher Black Opal Books, my novel is a “cozy mystery” in that both the crime and the detection take place in a nice, small community where all the characters know each other. The reader does not witness the murder itself, so he or she must use his or her brains to figure out who the murderer is on the basis of the information provided. I like this kind of novel because I prefer solving crimes to watching them transpire.

 

Downstream, which I’d originally called “We All Live Downstream,” focuses on the medication of our DOWNSTREAM coverplanet. The drugs that some of us take to improve our health get into everybody’s water supply—I won’t say how—and then into the bodies of others who don’t have prescriptions for them. So humans of all ages, and birds, bees, bears, frogs, and fish, all take estrogen, anti-depressants, and tranquilizers. Some of the fish get happy, some of the frogs develop five legs. Some of the humans, with the help of their husbands, get pregnant after menopause.

 

The conflict in 2015 between proponents of the longevity drug Senextra and defenders of the natural environment happens in a town I called Witherston in mountainous north Georgia. It is here, in southern Appalachia, that two centuries ago white settlers stole gold and land from the Cherokees in the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush and the 1830s Land Lotteries, and then in 1838-39 force-marched them to Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) on the “Trail of Tears.” Those events of the early nineteenth century form the historical context of the environmentalists’ fight against the pharmaceutical industry.

 

Here’s the situation. At the celebration of his hundredth birthday, local billionaire Francis Hearty Withers announces to the people gathered on the front lawn of Witherston Baptist Church that he has finalized his will. In it he bequeaths $1 billion to the municipality of Witherston and another $1 billion to be divided up equally among the town’s 4,000 residents—in recognition of their support of a Senextra pharmaceutical factory. Senextra is a drug that enables individuals to lead healthy lives well into their second century. The group listening to the geezer do not all applaud. One person carries a sign that says SENEXTRA VIOLATES MOTHER NATURE. Another, KEEP SENEXTRA OUT OF OUR SYSTEM. A third, WE DON’T NEED MORE OLD MEN. Withers flies into a rage. He vows to change his will and disinherit the community. Two days later he is found dead.

 

Detective Mev Arroyo begins the investigation. But she has a health issue of her own, so she allows her fourteen-year-old mischievous twin boys, Jaime and Jorge, to do much of the detective work. The boys pore over old documents, interview suspects, and provoke the killer into revealing himself.

 

I’ve been told that all the characters in Downstream are “quirky. I reply that I view them as normal.

###

Dr. Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art.  She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist.