I’ve spent most of my career as a newspaper editor, and over the years I’ve developed an attitude that I’ve tried to convey to my colleagues — particularly my younger ones, who have yet to develop a sense of perspective:
I’ve just read a new blog post here by Betty Webb, acclaimed fellow Poisoned Pen Press author, who wrote something personal she has never told before.
It’s a fascinating story that relates to the books Betty writes, but I thought, oh, dear, I have nothing that dramatic to tell today, or ever.
In fact, I am in limbo. My next mystery novel, Brooklyn Legacies, is complete, in the hands of the publisher but not out until December. I have no cover yet, or pr material or any ARC’s to offer as a gift. It is too soon to pre-order. The (next) next one, after that, is just a gleam in the author’s eyes, a fun first chapter and some scrawled pages of notes. And It’s been awhile since the last one, Brooklyn Wars. Life got in the way, and the Legacies story itself took some wrestling to get into shape. Maybe I can just tell a little about where the December book came from.
All of my books are about different Brooklyn neighborhoods. My protagonist is an urban historian who researches and writes about changing Brooklyn. That gives me a good excuse to have her stumble upon old and new mysteries and questions no one wants answered. After writing four, I realized I had overlooked Brooklyn Heights even though I actually lived when I was just getting to know New York. That’s surprising, because it is a natural for my kind of book, with a rich history and both old and current conflicts. (Conflict is where we find plots) It was New York ’s first suburb and first official historic district. It is both dramatically beautiful and charmingly quaint. When I lived there, in an attic at the top of a townhouse, I had a sliver of a view of Brooklyn Bridge, a witchcraft shop down the street in one direction and Truman Capote’s old home in the other. There was a Jehovah’s Witness dorm across the street. How had I overlooked this as a setting?
But my attic apartment was a whole lifetime ago. What did I remember? And was any of it accurate, anyway? I went over there for a few note-taking walks. I did some extensive library research, catching up on politics I ignored when young and on what has happened since. I interviewed someone who was deeply involved in the epic civic battles between preservationists, real state developers and city planners. The famous and scary Robert Moses was involved. Somehow, that would become the perfect background for my book..
I was disconcerted to find out that it didn’t. A lot has happened since then. Now the largest landholder was a religious organization. Huge tracts were being sold, bringing unknown changes. And there were secret tunnels connecting many buildings. That was news to me and fascinating to a writer of mysteries. And that witchcraft shop was long gone but well remembered. Was there a way to slip it in? I certainly found wonderful material I could not fit it into the book and turned some of it into stories. (People really did sell the Brooklyn Bridge – repeatedly – and there was once a house there shared by Carson McCullers, WH Auden, Benjamin Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee. )
Did I succeed in turning this material into a book? A mystery? That will be up to readers to decide. I will be back here when Brooklyn Legacies is much closer to being out in the world. Today is really step one in the birth announcement process. “It’s a book!” Many thanks to PJ Nunn for inviting me to start here.
Triss Stein is a small–town girl from New York farm country who has spent most of her adult life in Brooklyn. She writes mysteries about different Brooklyn neighborhoods and their unique histories, in her ever-fascinating, ever-changing, ever-challenging adopted home. In the next book, Brooklyn Legacies, murder gets in the way of heroine Erica Donato’s efforts to understand historic Brooklyn Heights’ clashing cultures and seismic current changes.
Setting my first series in South Carolina came with no choice because the first book in my series is quasi-autobiographical. I’d been offered a bribe at my work which, in a wild unraveling of events, led to my handling internal investigations for a federal agency in South Carolina. Knowing the state like the back of my hand and loving it dearly, I used it as practically a character in the Carolina Slade series.
I showed off my state, wanting to become the Sue Grafton of South Carolina, meaning I’d put Slade’s investigations in each of the 46 counties. My mission was clearly defined for the rest of my writing career, but my publisher felt otherwise.
After three Slade books, they asked for a new series. Admitting that I loved the Carolina setting, they dared me to choose one place and stick to it. One place that had immense appeal, but also that I felt passionately about. Thus, the Edisto Island Mysteries were born.
The largest seller of my books, other than Amazon, is the Edisto Bookstore. Who’d have known that a tiny bookstore, set at the end of the world on an island, would sell hundreds of my books?
Setting defines Callie Jean Morgan in the Edisto series. She reluctantly arrived on the island, leaving her other self behind, across the Big Bridge as is said on the island. I incorporated every saying, venue, street, and custom of the island into the mysteries. On an island where everyone escapes the rat-race, where doors remain unlocked, and people relax without reservation of what others think, I created crime where people assumed there was none. The juxtaposition of nonchalance and hidden danger.
Readers loved reading about where they visited, or where they lived. They cross the marsh on highway 174 and see where the officer drowned. They drive down Pine Landing Road and envision the shootout. They cruise Jungle Shores Road trying to identify where the police chief lives. . . where her mentor was murdered. . . where her yoga mistress best friend resides a stone’s throw away. . . where the break-in took place. Readers have come to signings asking if they got the addresses right as to where things went down in the books.
And they are hungry for more. Every time they come to the beach, they want another mystery to solve. . . something else to make them peruse the island beach and envision the crime, the sleuthing, and the place where it all went down in the end.
So now, when I have a new release, I start with setting first. . . and work outward. The locale is likewise the big splash for the book announcement, like my last book, Newberry Sin. Newberry is a small town in South Carolina, and when the book came out in 2018, the Friends of the Library had a luncheon that was well attended by 200 people eager to read fiction about their town. The year I released Palmetto Poison, the tiny town of Pelion made me their guest of honor at their annual festival.
By deeply entrenching a book into a real community, I gained loyal fans who repeatedly invite me back to libraries, bookstores, and book clubs for each new release.
So if I had to define what makes my series unique, it would be a strong sense of place. Strong enough to make people want to live there. A church, a silt road, a marshy bog, or the big bay where dolphins play. Each becomes a central, pivotal point around which the characters react. . . and the crime happens. And if readers gravitate to my stories for place first rather than mystery, I’m quite happy with that, because once they savor the story, they’ll be back to read anything else….that takes place anywhere else.
BIO – C. Hope Clark’s newest release is Dying on Edisto, a crossover book set on Edisto Island, where both her series protagonists finally meet to handle a lethal situation. Hope is the author of nine novels and three nonfiction books. She is published with Bell Bridge Books. Also, she is founder of FundsforWriters.com, chosen by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 18 years. Her newsletter reaches 35,000 readers. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com
One death. Two detectives. And unexpected backup.
A Callie Morgan and Carolina Slade crossover, standalone mystery!
When a renowned—and now dead—travel blogger washes ashore on the banks of Indigo Plantation, Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan agrees to head the investigation as a favor to the county sheriff, whose reasons are as questionable as the death itself. When death turns to murder and a watchdog from the county makes her investigation difficult, Callie reluctantly turns to Carolina Slade and Wayne Largo, vacationing agents with the Department of Agriculture.
Because poison is growing on this plantation and someone knows how to use it well.
Writing is hard. Marketing is even harder – especially when the rigors of marketing force you to look deep inside to find out the reason you write. Why? Because in your marketing pieces, readers (and bookstores and libraries) want to know what drives you to write such dark, puzzling books. You’ve already written the books themselves; now the marketplace wants you to fess up.
While going back over my blogs and Facebook posts for the past year, I discovered a trend: while seemingly appearing open, I keep evading the very reason I created Lena Jones, my orphaned protagonist in the “Desert” books. Yes, Lena came to me in a dream – as I’ve told everyone — but in our dreams we seldom create what wasn’t already there. For instance, during my childhood I was constantly shifted around from family to family, until I got to the point where I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged in the world.
Just like Lena.
And – this will come as a surprise to people who know me as the independent woman I now am – because I felt like such an outsider, I did what a lot of “outsider-feeling” people do: I joined a cult.
I’m not going to name the cult because it isn’t very well known in the first place, and it didn’t turn out to be one of those cults where people wind up dead (as they do in Desert Redemption and other Lena Jones mysteries). It was just a cult that wanted to take over every facet of my life. The cult told me who I could have a relationship with, and who I couldn’t. It told me what I could do with my bankbook, and what I couldn’t. It told me what I could eat, and what I couldn’t. It told me how to exercise, and how often. Why did I allow this? Because when I followed the cult’s rules, for the first time in my lonely life I felt like I belonged.
In the great scheme of things, that was rather a low-level reason for my declaration of independence, but there you are. It was my reason. In a way, that cult was responsible for an important step in my growth as a human being. I’d always wanted to feel like I belonged, and I’d found a place where I could do that. But then – ah, the law of Unintentional Consequences – I discovered that “belonging” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Every one of the ten Lena Jones books touch on the interpersonal dynamics of cults, and each of them look at one particular aspect of the life: the desire to be loved, the desire to belong, the desire to let others relieve of us of burden of thinking for ourselves. Growing up is hard, which is why some people – including myself – keep putting it off. But it has to be done.
It especially has to be done when you strike out to write a series of books that, regardless of their fictional plots, share a piece of your own life story. And it especially has to be done when the creative part is finished, and it’s time to start marketing. It’s time to stop making up the stories and to start telling the truth.
And my truth is that I’m a lot more like Lena Jones than even my closest friends suspect.
To learn more about the Lena Jones “Desert” books, visit www.bettywebb-mystery.com
Most of my books are shortish around 60 to 70 thousand words. But last year, after I discovered that three of them are one continuous story, I collected them – Midheaven, The Very Least, and The Answer to Everything — into an ebook I call Hickey and McGee. And now I am revising, for maybe the final time, a single story of around 170 thousand words.
Here’s one reason this new one, For America, is so long:
My career as a novelist began with Midheaven, considered “literary” and honored as a runner up for the PEN Ernest Hemingway Award. As the earnings didn’t match the honors, friends suggested I try a mystery. I did so and won the St. Martins Private Eye Writers best first novel competition, which led to a ten book mystery series.
Recently I discovered a statement by Fredrick Buechner concerning his favorite novel and mine, Dostoyevski’s The Brother’s Karamazov. Mr. Buechner suggests the story’s magic may have arrived because Dostoyevsky left room to include whatever came up.
Early in my writing life, I learned, in school and in the mystery community, an attitude here expressed by Flannery O’Connor: “If the writer’s attention is on producing a work of art, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to the work’s central meaning and design.”
As a follower of and advocate for that attitude, I found Buechner’s implied suggestion, that we might consider leaving room for excess, both problematic and immensely refreshing.
Since I am keenly aware of the wastelands to which leaving room for excess can lead, I imagined inviting Mr. Buechner and Ms. O’Connor to discuss the issue:
Buechner presents O’Connor with his assessment of The Brothers Karamazov. She points out that what applied to Dostoyevski doesn’t necessarily apply to us all. He replies (as he expressed in an article), “Still, writers ought to exercise their freedom from restraint to the outermost limits of their gifts and skills.”
And while she considers his amendment, I humbly suggest that a crucial part of our task as artists is to recognize our limits and apply them.
To my profound relief, both masterful writers nod in agreement.
Returning to For America after years of writing stories that taught me to recognize my abilities and limits, I have granted myself more liberty than ever before, which is one reason the novel requires all its 170,000 words.
Also, it’s a big story.
Set in the aftermath of WW II, For America dramatically explores the failure of traditional beliefs and political systems and the rise and fall of counter cultures. Poetry, folk music, hippie communes, Jesus freaks, the Manson family, the People’s Temple, and New Age cults all find their place in the story.
Otis, the narrator, born the day the atom bomb destroys Hiroshima, becomes a star pitcher. But wicked conflicts visit in the person of Cynthia, mother of Casey, Otis’s best friend and catcher. Paranoid yet possibly prophetic, Cynthia believes that the adopted son of her powerful sister, will use his prodigious scientific mind and occult knowledge to abet the downfall of western civilization.
From there, the story requires lots of pages to show how Cynthia’s outrageous vision and wild dedication shapes the lives of the principal characters for decades and perhaps alters the fate of the world.
Some of Ken’s favorites are early mornings, the desert in spring, kind and honest people, baseball and other sports played by those who don’t take themselves too seriously, most kids, and films he and his Zoe can enjoy together.
He reads classic novels, philosophy, theology, and all sorts of mysteries. On his blog, he offers some hard truths and encouragement about living as a writer.
He has long been the author of novels, stories, articles, poems, and essays. Lots of honors have come his way, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; Poets, Essayists and Novelist’s Ernest Hemingway Award; Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel and Shamus Best Novel; and several San Diego and Los Angeles Book Awards.
Though he advocates beer in a video, he actually prefers Scotch.
I attended a local writers’ network luncheon a few months ago and listened to a guest speaker who talked about her books and her writing process. Her genre is paranormal romance. Not my cup of tea, but I found her to be thoughtful, interesting, well informed, and entertaining. All in all, a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.
One of the questions she fielded was, “When you dreamed of being a writer, now that you’re published, is there a reality that’s different from what you thought it would be?”
She answered, “The marketing of my books. It’s much harder than I had imagined.”
Baby, ain’t that the truth.
Back when I was struggling to find an agent (much less a publisher), I had a fantasy that I’d fly somewhere (first class, of course), be met by a stretch limousine, drink champagne on the way to a book signing, autograph books until my arm hurt, then head over to the local television station for an interview. The day would end with a steak dinner, glass of scotch, and a suite at an expensive hotel.
I’m very lucky that my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, gets my books into the hands of the people who review novels on a national (and international) level: Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, Bookreporter, Booklist, etc. That’s a big deal and very helpful.
They also have a publicist who kickstarts the book launch with interviews in magazines and on websites that specialize in mysteries and writing. I’m deeply grateful.
But then the heavy lifting is left to the writer. This entails contacting your local radio station, pitching yourself and your books to the regional newspapers, and hitting your social media platforms like there’s no tomorrow.
It’s up to the writer to reach out to bookstores to schedule signings. And those can be humbling. If you’re in a market where you’re not well known, you’re apt to be sitting at a table by yourself where people are shopping and avoiding eye contact at all costs. Luckily, I’m gregarious by nature and not adverse to saying, “Hi, do you like a good mystery?”
Who doesn’t like a good mystery?
It’s helpful to reach out to local writers’ groups to give talks and workshops. I gave a workshop called Good Guys, Bad Guys and Plot Twists at the NC Writers Network conference last year. When I was in St. Petersburg for Bouchercon, I ran into another writer who told me how much he enjoyed that workshop.
Oh, and don’t forget writers’ conferences. I was asked to sit on two panels at a conference in Phoenix and one at Bouchercon. I was also lucky enough to attend the annual Librarians Conference, PLA Philadelphia last March. In addition to signing books at the conference, my distributor, Ingram, threw a party for about two hundred people in the Pyramid Club, fifty-one floors above downtown Philly, with all the food you could eat, an open bar, and a live band. I was one of two authors signing books that night. We ran out of books. I felt like a rock star.
All the hard work pays off. I’ve been accepted as a guest speaker at the Virginia Festival of the Book on March 23. Then the following Monday, I’ll be signing books at the Winchester Book Gallery in Winchester, Virginia.
The point of this blog? It takes shameless self-promotion. If you have a difficult time talking about yourself or your books, you better get over it. I met some of the biggest names in mystery writing over the last couple of years, and they’re still out doing panels at conferences, doing signings, speaking at book events, doing interviews.
Granted, they’re doing it on a much larger scale.
But even if you have one person show up and tell you how much they enjoyed your last book, there’s no feeling like it.
Author of the Geneva Chase Mystery Series, Thomas Kies lives and writes on a barrier island on the coast of North Carolina with his wife, Cindy, and Lilly, their shih-tzu. He has had a long career working for newspapers and magazines, primarily in New England and New York. His next book, Graveyard Bay, is scheduled to come out in July 2019. He is currently working on Trauma House.
“Multiple murders and shocking twists are key components in Geneva’s ultimate uncovering of the truth. The flawed but dedicated heroine anchors Kies’ second mystery with a compassion that compels readers to root for both justice and redemption.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Kies’s debut mystery introduces a reporter with a compelling voice, a damaged woman who recounts her own bittersweet story as she hunts down clues. This suspenseful story will appeal to readers who enjoy hard-nosed investigative reporters such as Brad Parks’s Carter Ross.” (Library Journal starred review of Random Road)
“Journalist Geneva Chase, the flawed narrator of Kies’s entertaining sequel to 2017’s Random Road, once did stints at the nation’s top news organizations, but has worked her way down the career ladder to the point where she’s now an editor and crime reporter at the local paper in Sheffield, Conn., her hometown. The crime beat pulls her into two stories that at first seem straightforward but turn out to be quite complex. One of them involves the murder of a low-level thug by his abused wife; the other focuses on the disappearance of beautiful 15-year-old aspiring actress Bobbi Jarvis. The connection between the two stories keeps the plot humming. Chase’s life is further complicated by being the legal guardian of 15-year-old Caroline Bell (Bobbi’s best friend), by the potential loss of her job if her newspaper is sold, and by the struggle to control her drinking. Kies neatly balances breathless action with Chase’s introspection and sleuthing savvy.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The plot begins when Caroline’s classmate disappears, and as Geneva covers the search for her, she comes across links to the toasted husband. There’s a solid thriller here – the key is sex trafficking – but the real pleasure is watching Geneva work. Cheer her on as she wrestles with that vodka bottle and trembles with fear as she confronts the monster behind the child-slavery ring. She’s also pretty good at standing up to a newspaper publisher about to screw the help into the ground.” (Don Crinklaw Booklist)
Just when you believe that you have heard of them all, more ways of committing fraud are appearing in Costa Rica where I reside and elsewhere in the world. For a few years, most of us have been aware of bank swindles, which occur when a man calls and says he is from your bank. Other than calling to thank you for “Christmas baked treats” if you gifted the staff, banks usually send a message to clients on their cells, asking them to call the bank. If you do not trust calling per a message, it is worth a trip to a branch. Basic recommendation: Do not give any personal financial information in an email or over the phone unless you have initiated the contact using a known number or address. Verify the email is legitimate by contacting the sender in a separate email if you have any doubt. Also, beware of attachments; use caution before opening them unless you are sure they are legitimate.
Another fraud perpetrated on people involves those selling personal items online at sites like E-Bay. The alleged buyer declines to meet to view the item but requests a bank account number allegedly to post a payment. Instead of paying for the item, the thief removes funds. Beware if a person asks for a bank account number on the phone without seeing an item you have for sale; do not do business with him or her.
Lately, especially in the United States, gift cards are a current method for swindling funds. For example, a grandmother in her mid-seventies received a call from a man identifying himself as her grandson. He asked her for help with his college tuition. The man warned her not to answer any questions from the salespeople when she bought $4,000 worth of cards. Thieves prefer the cards to a bank transfer or other means of payment that a bank or legal authority could intercept. To read more about gift card fraud, click here: https://www.scambusters.org/giftcard.html
If you receive an email from a person or company asking you to call a certain number, do not. Call the organization’s number that you know and ascertain it is a legitimate request.
More recently, Q Costa Rica, an online publication, ran a post about a scheme that involves “facturas electrónicas,” or electronic vouchers. The Ministerio de Hacienda (like the IRS) instigated this voucher system to catch tax evaders. Read about scam using the system here: http://qcostarica.com/if-you-get-an-email-with-subject-factura-electronica-careful-it-could-be-a-scam/
The Ministerio de Hacienda currently has a warning banner on its legitimate website about a possible fraud that has become a means of emptying taxpayers’ bank accounts. From the methodology used when perpetuating the scheme, which also involved creating remotely a “factura electrónica,” it makes sense that the thief has worked for, or illegally accessed Hacienda client files. A native friend, when informed of a Hacienda fraud scheme, explained that he too received a call from a person saying he was with the Hacienda who asked him about his tax return. About an hour into the phone interview, the person asked for a credit card number. At that point, the man realized the inquiry was fraudulent and hung up.
Recently, a woman received a call from a man who spoke Spanish like a Tico (as natives of Costa Rica call themselves). When she did not totally understand him, he gave the phone to a man that sounded like an American. The second man named Jorge, immediately explained, “I grew up in the States and later learned Spanish in Costa Rica.”
This woman had recently unsubscribed from the Hacienda in order to avoid filing a tax return because she no longer had a paid job in Costa Rica. This made her believe that the call might be about that. Had she read the article in the Tico Times posted in early December 2018, she might have become suspicious immediately. You can access the piece here: http://www.ticotimes.net/2018/12/08/op-ed-happend-to-me-scam-costa-rica
The Hacienda incident proved an ordeal beyond the money she lost from her bank account. A recount of it, along with the swindles mentioned here, will become a chapter in the fourth edition of Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs, and Pura Vida that I will publish later in 2019. Besides losing money, it took many trips to the bank to get a new debit card, an ATM code, and data associated with the fraudulent transaction for proof. In addition, many telephone calls, and a trip to San José to the the Organismo de Investigación Judicial, (OIJ), a unit of the Supreme Court of Justice of Costa Rica to make a Denuncia followed, plus follow-up with the OIJ. The bank is also researching what happened and will be in touch with the victim. Do not hold your breath because investigations like this often take months to years to complete.
Helen Dunn Frame graduated from the Journalism School at Syracuse University and subsequently earned a Master’s Degree from New York University. She has been widely published in subsequent years. Her books include Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida (third edition), Greek Ghosts, Wetumpka Widow, Secrets behind the Big Pencil, and Retirement 101. They are available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. She has lived in Costa Rica for fourteen years.
BETWEEN THE COVERS OF THE THIRD EDITION OF RETIRING IN COSTA RICA OR DOCTORS, DOGS AND PURA VIDA
To retire fulltime, part time, or not at all, that is the question. As you approach what could be the last quarter, or even third of your life, it is a major decision to make. You want your adventure to turn out well in order that your golden years will be happy, healthy, and content.
This book offers a great first step in doing your due diligence beginning with the first Chapter, Retirement 101. This encourages you to look beyond your financial plans and to consider what you will do with your wonderful free hours You’ll undoubtedly discover if retiring to this emerging nation is for you. You may decide that living abroad anywhere is not for you. If your choice is a different foreign country, you may recognize what you might face when adapting to a different culture.
The book contains a lot of information that will enable you to carry your due diligence to the next level. In addition, you may contact the author through her website to download a Moving Guide and workbook, useful for any move.
KUDOS: If you are contemplating permanent retirement, investing, or even birding in Costa Rica, then you must read this book. It is an in depth, comprehensive guide by U.S. expat Helen Dunn Frame. It provides you with a systematic guide for the entire process of making your tropical retirement dream easily come true. Rowdy Rhodes, Semi-retired Freelance Writer.
iHeart Radio Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7kInKOWcp4
Amazon: Author’s Page: http://www.amazon.com/Helen-Dunn-Frame/e/B0054LDOBW