Recycle and Reuse

I’m looking for a plant stand. But I don’t want to spend money on something new.

Instead, I’ve been prowling second-hand and salvage shops, looking for inspiration. And I’m looking here at home to see what I have that could be repurposed into a plant stand.

So this blog post is all about making use of what we already have.

After all, I live in California, in the Bay Area, where we’re proud of our recycling rates. And I love checking out antique stores to see what old items I can give a second life.

When it comes to writing, I also recycle. I suspect many other writers do the same.

An incident removed from Till The Old Men Die found its way into Nobody’s Child. I took a scene from my first mystery (unpublished, predating Kindred Crimes) and reworked it into a scene in the upcoming Jeri Howard book, Cold Trail.

And one of the two plots in Bit Player came from something I mentioned in Kindred Crimes – that Jeri Howard was named for her grandmother, Jerusha, who was an actress in Hollywood a long time ago. For years I thought about writing a short story about that, and eventually I started the story, but it kept getting longer and longer, because it wanted to be a novel.

The first book I ever wrote wasn’t a mystery. I still have the manuscript and I think it has possibilities. Recycle and reuse – in this case add a body and turn it into a crime novel.

Waste not, want not, that’s what I say.

My real life experiences and interests have also found their way into my fiction. Jeri Howard’s apartment in the earlier books? That’s an apartment I once looked at. The murder victim in Take a Number was an old boyfriend. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed that.

The company in Where the Bodies Are Buried bears more than a passing resemblance to a company where I once worked.

In Bit Player, I recycled my own interest in movie memorabilia, as well as a newspaper clipping about a mysterious discovery at Camp Roberts, a World War II-era training base in Central California.

Something I learned at a law firm where I used to work became my Jeri Howard short story “Slayer Statute.” A remark overheard at an Oakland deli inspired me to write another short story, “Little Red Corvette.”

I know some of my work experiences at places I refer to as “the job from hell” will find their way into my novels.

You see, someone once gave a me a tee shirt that reads, “Be nice to me or you’ll wind up in my book.”

Don’t Call, Don’t Come Over

Wendy Hornsby

Don’t call, and don’t come over. Everything is fine, no need to worry. I know you haven’t seen me around for a while. And the garden could use some water. No one swept the driveway after the windstorm, but trust me, there’s no problem, no issue. Except this one: I have a book to finish and the deadline looms on the near horizon. So, thank you for the invitation, but lunch is out of the question. Ditto a movie, a hike, or a fast trip to the coast for a couple of days.

No, I have not become a hermit and I am not lonely. I spend hours every day with dozens of people. Sure, they all spring from my own imagination, and yes I do talk out loud to them, and they talk back to me as well.  That may not seem normal to you, but I’m a writer and that’s normal for me. Indeed, I wouldn’t make any progress with this book if all those imaginary voices didn’t chatter. At this point in their story they not only talk to me while I’m working, but sometimes they invade my dreams at night. Sometimes they set up such a racket during the day that I find it difficult to shut them up long enough to fall asleep, perchance to dream. About them.


The husband is fine as well. I’ll tell him you inquired about his wellbeing. He has, as he always does, picked up those chores I’ve abandoned for the duration. That should keep him busy enough, but he’s my first reader as well. It’s good to have a champion nitpicker as the first reader. He keeps a good supply of sticky notes and pencils stowed in random places, ready for those random times when I thrust sheaves of new pages his way. He does it all with good humor. Bless his heart, couldn’t get through without him, wouldn’t want to try.

I would love to stay and chat a bit longer, but as you know, there’s a looming deadline and I need to get back to work.

But thank you for your concern.

Small Things, Big Things

I’ve never thought of myself as bothered by Seasonal Affective Disorder; now I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the case. Where I live in west Michigan has not been hit with snow and cold weather as severely as the northeast, but we are in the midst of one of the worst Februaries in our history. The temperature hasn’t gotten above freezing yet this month, and the snow—well, yesterday morning I was out blowing the stuff onto snow banks that are already waist high, when the thermometer said -2 and the wind chill was -20. When you come in from 45 minutes out in that @#$%, your body feels like somebody’s been punching on you.

So, yeah, right now it’s difficult for me to see the half-full part of the glass, and it makes bad things look worse and what are actually small things seem much larger. If you want to stay upbeat, you probably should stop reading right now.

One small thing: I will hit 70 later this year. My doctor said last week that he considers me a “young old patient”—someone not afflicted with a variety of debilitating problems. One big thing: my mother died at 75 and my father at 79. I do seem to have, so far, avoided many of the health problems that did them in—colon cancer, prostate cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease. All of those genetic toxins seem to have been funneled into my poor brother, to be exacerbated by his reckless lifestyle choices.

It may be just as well that I die at 79, though. My financial advisor says that, if I retired today, my money would run out by the time I turn 80. And people wonder why I haven’t retired yet. (I had four kids and didn’t make a lot of money when I was younger, so not much went into savings.)

Another not-so-small thing: Bob Ingalls, the owner of the publishing company with whom I currently have a book under contract, died last week. Bob was one of the most gracious, congenial people I’ve ever worked with. Right now his wife and others who run the publishing company are deciding what they’re going to do with it. For the first time in over a decade I’m not sure if I’ll have another book published. Yes, I do know there are all sorts of self-publishing options, but I’ve grown accustomed to working with traditional publishers and, at my age, I’m not sure I can master the technology to self-publish, or if I want to.

I have several book projects in various stages of development. A couple are mysteries, a couple of others are in other genres (historical, middle-grade). At my age I doubt I can find an agent willing to take me on. I haven’t had any luck so far. One of my latest projects is a cozy mystery, one of those about a middle-aged woman who owns an antique store/quilting shop/garden store/pottery shop in a small town and has a dog/cat/dog-and-cat and is always stumbling over dead bodies. You know the type. Those do not appear with a man’s name on the cover. Can I find an agent/publisher who would let me use a pseudonym? I don’t know, and I’m so down right now that I can’t convince myself it’s worth the effort to try.

One big thing: I’m scared to death that the situation in the Middle East is far more serious than anyone realizes or will admit to realizing. James Baldwin said, “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.” Or, as Cicero put it two thousand years ago, “We fight to great disadvantage when we fight with those who have nothing to lose.” That’s exactly the situation we’re in. Jordan and Egypt joined the fight only when their own nationals were harmed. Glad to have you aboard, but if we have to wait for other countries to react in that self-interested way, ISIS will win. We have to see ISIS for what it actually is, a threat to civilized society—not western society but any sort of civilized society.

Well, have a nice day.

Keeping Warm in New England Winters … Now, and Then

DSC02122DSC01871Lea Wait, here. And although I can’t officially claim to be a Mainer (I was born in Boston, and have only lived here ‘year round for 17 years) I do live there. I live in a house built in 1774 on an island in the Sheepscot River, one of Maine’s many tidal rivers, about twelve miles from the official “ocean.” The North Atlantic.

This winter has been an especially challenging one for those of us who choose to call Maine our home.  Normally, we have 25-40 inches of snow by this time in the area where I live, along the coast. This winter we’ve had almost 80 inches … in the past month. And as I write this … and as you read it … the snow is falling again. The next storm is due in a couple of days. And – did I mention? For the past month the temperatures have been in single  digits or below at night, and, some warm days, they’ve risen to the teens during the day.

But, considering it all, few people really complain. After all, we chose to live here. And this is an unusually snowy and cold winter.

Plus –  let’s not forget. This is 2015. Most people have  some form of central heat.  Storm windows. Insulation. Grocery stores. Running water. Stoves. Silk or thermal underwear. Fleece. Flannel. Wool. Plows. Salt and sand. And heated cars or trucks to get us from one heated place to another on plowed roads.

For hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years people survived here without most of those things.

I’m not an expert on the ways Abenakis and Micmacs survived winters.

But I do know a little about how Europeans lived here when my home was built. When the river wasn’t just patchworked with ice floes. It was  frozen so  hard  people use it for sleigh  races.

People prepared all year for winter. In snowy months men took sledges into the woods and  lumbered.  Wood was chopped in summer so it would be dry for winter fireplaces.  Fires were kept burning all day and night. On the coldest days, warmly dressed people slept 2-4  to a bed or pallet near the fire. Pine boughs were woven together in fall and piled around a house’s foundation. Snow would fill the holes, helping insulate the building. Snow was melted for water, for occasional washing, and for the soups and stews that, with bread, were sustenance. Fish, meat, vegetables and fruit were harvested in summer and dried, to be resurrected in winter stews. Clothes weren’t washed for months. Even infant’s clouts (diapers) were hung to dry in kitchens without rinsing.DSC00782

In Maine, small workrooms (the ell) connected houses to their barns, so animals could be fed without going outside. Privies were often located in the far corner of the barn. Roads were not plowed. Sleighs pulled heavy pieces of wood to push deep snow down so horses and sleighs didn’t sink in it.

But most people stayed home for the winter. “Winter well!” was a common farewell in fall. Those who didn’t live in town might not see neighbors until spring. Babies would be born, people would die, and no one outside the family would know for months. Sometimes a whole family would die, of disease or hunger or cold or fire or depression that led to violence, and no one would know until late spring, when muddy roads dried and were again passable.

I think of those people in winters like this one. I wonder how they felt. What they thought. How glorious spring must have seemed.

And I thank them. They, and others like them in other parts of our country, were survivors. And so our country survived.

A little snow? Just part of life.

Death of a Mystery Writer

By Meredith Phillips

It is my sad task to report the recent death of our forthcoming author, Tony Hays, at age 58. His mystery, Shakespeare No More, will be published next September.

The only information on his death that I have is from the funeral home’s obituary,!/Obituary

Since last fall, Tony, a Tennessee native, had been living in Saudi Arabia, teaching English as a second language. He contacted us frequently by email concerning the editing, proofs, and cover of his book. The last time we heard from him was a few weeks ago, when he said he was going to Luxor in Egypt on vacation. According to the obituary he fell ill there and died. I was concerned that he hadn’t been in touch, and when his monthly blog post didn’t appear today I asked our blog web maven Sue Trowbridge if she’d received it. Somehow she found the link above (which doesn’t come up from just Googling his name).

I never met Tony in person, and knew him only through emails. He was charming, collegial, and very cooperative in doing anything possible to benefit the book, and make it the best it could be. He was quite a scholar on Shakespeare and various theories on his possible murder. This was the first in a projected series about Shakespeare’s friend, a Stratford constable. Tony had written a previous four-book Arthurian mystery series that garnered nine starred reviews and an award nomination. He will be missed from the company of historical mystery writers, as well as by other colleagues, friends, and family.

Meredith Phillips, Editor
Perseverance Press/John Daniel & Co. /

Giving My Books New Life

Every day you’ll find a handful of blogs, maybe more, telling you about the joys of going indie. You have more control over timing, editing, copy-editing, design, distribution, everything. You have the chance to make more money and you also don’t have to worry about giving up rights.

But that’s when you’re starting out fresh. What you don’t read as much about is authors like me whose careers were based in traditional publishing, who then got the rights back to books that were in limbo and launched them on Amazon and B&N. These were mainly five Nick Hoffman mystery novels, set in the mythical State University of Michigan, a snake pit that would put the Borgias to shame, according to The New York Times Book Review.

I started the series at St. Martin’s Press, then moved when Walker offered more money. Two books later, Walker’s publisher fired the mysteries editor, which left his authors orphans. But in a few weeks I found a home for the series with Perseverance, a wonderful indie press in California which did the next two Nick Hoffman books as paperback originals.

I was writing the series as a break from more serious work in other genres, and if I’d had to write one a year, had to be funny and mysterious on command, it would have killed me. But even without that kind of pressure, I ran out of ideas.

Then I started noticing strange news stories across the country about out-of-control SWAT teams running and tiny police forces in towns with minimal crime rates buying military grade hardware, even armored personal carriers, from the Pentagon. The War on Terror had morphed into the War on Us.

Because the University of Wisconsin Press had done such a bang-up job on my memoir My Germany–which got me three different tours, two in Germany–I gave them Assault With a Deadly Lie and the cover they came up with knocked me out.


The mysteries from St. Martin’s, Walker, and Perseverance I’d gotten ebook rights to had all been launched at different times with different covers.  I was tired of them. They were dissimilar in type font, cover art style, and feel–because I had worked with two different artists.  It couldn’t be avoided.  So with all the kudos I was getting from readers for the new book’s cover, I decided the older ones needed a makeover by one artist who could give them a “series” look that somehow echoed the new book. Well, DDD came through with designs I’m very happy with, and now the books feel brand new to me.  Wonderfully reborn.

blog header for Nick books

That’s all because I took the plunge years ago and took control of my own books, something I never would have dared think about as a young author.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery to Jane Austen mash-up

I Go Virally (to the tune of “Aura Lee”

Whether there is such a thing as a written dialect in the strict sense of the term has to interest writers of fiction, because language differences set people apart more than anything–politics or religion or geographic distance.  Language as a tool of characterization weighs even heavier in novels and short stories than it does in drama.

I suppose headline-talk may be taken as a variety of written dialect, its own very peculiar language.  It connects to the general topic of fiction writing only because headline cliches seep into speech and using them in fiction is a good way to establish the era in which the story takes place.  When I was trolling Yahoo news headline the other day, looking for newspeak, I discovered that we are in the “adorable” era, at least in the world of Yahoo.  Babies and small animals are always adorable as are female celebrities sporting “baby bumps,” an expression that makes me grateful to be past the age of bumping babies out.  “Iconic” and “going viral” could be erased from the language with no loss, but they too are signals of the times.

Wars are now conducted by means of stale cliches (as opposed to fresh ones like going viral).  I noticed, for instance, that someone or something was “on the front lines” of the war against ISIS.  It used to be that each war generated its own jargon, but Yahoo seems stuck in World War I.  The great German novel of that war had a title that could have been translated as “Nothing New in the West,” but that would have lacked the punch of “All Quiet on the Western Front.”  The idea of front lines made sense in the western theater of WWI, but was already nonsense by 1940 and is certainly so today.  A military term that has been cut loose and wanders pitifully in newspeech is “to take by storm.”  A successful ad campaign can take a whole country by storm these days.

Not all newspeak cliches derive from military usage.  My favorite is “event.”  Our neighborhood grocery store had not just a sale of wine but a “wine event” last week.  And President Obama and the Dalai Lama are apparently scheduled for a “prayer event,” meaning a prayer breakfast, which is an odd enough idea in itself.  I was raised to think in terms of prayer and fasting, but we now have prayer and sausage.

However obnoxious, these examples of news dialect will serve to set a story firmly in our time, as authors writing historical novels collect terms that first popped up in the middle ages or Shakespeare’s day or the Regency for their works.

Re-reading Patrick O’Brian over the past month has led me to marvel at his use of dialects and especially the peculiar dialect called a jargon–in his case nautical speech.  Belay the mizzen there, lubber.  I’m bound to say I think he overdoes it, especially in Master and Commander, but he has the huge task of transporting readers from their recliners to the deck of a three-masted vessel full of English sailors in mid-ocean, as like as not in a storm.  I feel a bit seasick at the beginning of each lump of nautical jargon but nothing less would take me there so virally.

Newspeak ransacks jargons in its search for headline lingo.  The obvious one is medicalese with business/economics a close second.  Film-making contributes a surprising number of technical terms like “segue,” but let us “cut to the chase.”  Most fiction writers consider regional speech usage when drawing characters.  Mystery writers like Margaret Maron are masters of regional dialect, suggesting it without sinking into it too far for the general reader to follow.  Most mystery writers also master the basic jargon of policework.  Jargons and timely phrases can help set character as well as place and time–excuse enough to collect them.




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