Research, Research, Research.

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researchI stated publicly on the acknowledgements page of my novel, “And I am especially grateful for Google.”  It’s right there, for everyone to see.

Googling shaved at least 8,760 hours off my research time while writing The Clock Of Life, (yes, I just you-know-what’d to find out how many hours are in a year).  It helped garner nuggets of inspiration and informed me of some critical points about the Civil Rights Movement, as its importance is woven through the story. And, Google introduced me to Amalgamation cake. When my protagonist’s mama got her new job with the Diversity Coalition of Legal Assistance League, as a transcriber, she took a cake into town every week for, “a little employment insurance, something to sweeten ‘em up.” She claimed it couldn’t hurt.

However, I believe it’s the walk-around-and-do-something research that infuses the writing with authenticity.

While I was comfortable with my southern characters and the setting, like the house they lived in, I felt unsure about the actual town itself. So unsure, I took a road trip through the back roads of Georgia, Alabama, and through Mississippi, to take in the spirit of the many small towns that collectively breathed life into my town of Hadlee.

In Newton, Mississippi, I sat across the street looking at the blue and orange Rexall Drug store:

“What’s goin’ on, son?”

“Nothin’, I guess.” I looked across the street at the blue and orange Rexall sign and thought they should change it to “Wrecks All”.

One day I cooked a pot of chitlins and hog maws, even after being warned about the smell. I sure garnered a great deal of respect for the process of cleaning all that body waste and slimy stuff off the chitlins. I learned it’s a lot of work, and anyone who puts in that much time and effort must have grown up loving it. I thought the dish would take on a bigger role in my book, but it got little more than a mention:

Food for the grieving covered every surface of the kitchen. Cast-iron pots of chitlins and hog maws boiled on the stove. The counter, usually tidy and scrubbed clean by Mrs. Johnson, was packed with mounds of fried chicken and catfish piled on platters.

I spent an hour sniffing Jergens Original Body Lotion to come up with a description of the smell:

Mama leaned down and whispered, “No need to worry, Jason Lee. Everything’ll be fine, son.” I breathed in the familiar almond-cherry scent of her lotion.

Some things I knew first-hand, like the time one takes their first swig of moonshine, hooch, the devils drink:

“You gonna drink that or what?” I couldn’t come up with one more excuse to prolong my reason for being there. “Sure am.” I brought it up to my lips. “This stuff smells like my mama’s nail polish remover.”

“Just drink.”

Not one second after I took my first swig a fire hit the back of my throat, then roared through my chest and settled like smoldering embers in my belly. “Tastes as bad as it smells,” I said between chokes.

And, I had my husband tell me the story about the time he got his first suit, and the unfortunate instructions his mother gave the tailor. To go further with this would be a spoiler. Those who have already read the book know the outcome of that one.

So, I agree with novelist Roman Payne when he said, “Who’s to say what a ‘literary life’ is? As long as you are writing often, and writing well, you don’t need to be hanging out in libraries all the time. Nightclubs are great literary research centers. So is Ibiza!”

Yes, Mr. Payne, and dive bars, and Reggae festivals, and bowling alleys.

 

Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story

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Truth

Because I’m a writer of fiction (teller of tales, fabricator of pretend stories), “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” is my favorite Mark Twain quote. My second favorite of his is “Get your facts first. Then you can distort them as you please.”

I’ve embraced these ideas in my writing process, and sometimes think about the restraints that producing non-fiction or memoir would put on me. I’d have to write the TRUTH. Yikes.

Let’s say the truth is this: A lady wearing a beige suit is running down the platform of a train station struggling because her suitcase has a busted wheel. She waves to the conductor who, despite the delay it will cause, holds the train for her.

Right away I want to change this, thinking a chartreuse suit would be more interesting. Just a teensy fib. Even better, a chartreuse caftan with a matching pillbox hat. Yes, better. What about a hot pink mini skirt with black fishnet stockings, and platform shoes? No, too cliché.

For me, this is where the true joy of writing lives―in the act of making up stuff and distorting the facts.

Draft 1: Dragging her crippled suitcase down the platform, Monika half-heartedly waived at the conductor, secretly hoping he wouldn’t notice her. If luck was with her, it could be her way out, her excuse. “Sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding. I missed the train.”

This thought caused her to laugh at herself, considering every item on her body, from the thrift store Salvatore Ferragamo scarf to the Betsey Johnson “Ginger” pumps she scored on sale for $65.00, had been strategically chosen so she would be noticed.

Okay, I like that. Wondering if she’s a guest, or the bride. Let’s see what else I can come up with.

Draft 2: After three clueless attempts to find Union Station from the hotel, Veronica finally convinced the cab driver to call dispatch for directions. Despite the lameness of the cabbie and the nauseating odor inside the vehicle, her overly polite upbringing caused her to feel obligated to tip the man. That is, until he pulled her bag out of the trunk, slammed it into the curb, and broke off a back wheel.

“What an IDIOT,” she yelled, pulling her three-wheeled suitcase through the station on her way to platform 7. “I’ll miss the train.” All eyes, including the conductor’s, turned toward the long-legged woman with the fog-horn voice.

Yes, lots of possibilities. But, let’s get back to the woman in the beige suit. 

Draft 3: Jeanette was familiar with the long walk down platform 7 to her seat in the third car from the rear of the Pacific Surfliner, train 769. Too familiar. She’d walked it every Thursday for three years now, exactly. Today, their anniversary. She wore the suit, the beige one she had on the first time they met. Jerry spotted her and flashed his generous smile. She waved. It didn’t matter that the wheels on her suitcase chose to protest this rendezvous. Jerry would hold the train for her, like he did every Thursday.

Bingo!

Oh the joy of making up stuff. Thank you John, my mentor and friend, for inviting me to your blog.

The Art of Writing

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The way certain authors capture a feeling, or a place is, to me, pure art.

1877-winslow-homer-the-new-novel

 

We all know it when we read it. We’ve finished a story and been transported. We’ve delighted in the carefully honed prose and marveled at how the piece speaks to our soul. We can’t stop thinking about it, and know it has transformed our reading preferences from that day on. A masterpiece.

What is it that causes some writing to transcend from craft to an art form? In my opinion it’s because the authors are true artists and their brush strokes are put down in perfectly honed word combinations. A skilled writer imparts rhythm, tone, and flow to carry the reader along on waves of tension and release. He plays with voice and word choice and irony. He loves language and can step outside himself to play with his muse.

I enjoy a lot of authors, and when asked who my favorite is, my answer comes more from my heart than my brain. And it differs each time I’m asked. Sometimes I answer, Ray Bradbury, the man whose prose read like poetry and ideas fill the senses. I think of him as the literary equivalent to the artist Wassily Kandinsky.

“Outside the window, in the instant before she vanished, Susan saw the green land and the purple and yellow and blue and crimson walls and the cobbles flowing down like a river, a man upon a burro riding into the warm hills, a boy drinking Orange Crush, she could feel the sweet liquid in her throat, a man standing under a cool plaza tree with a guitar, she could feel her hand upon the strings, and, far away, the sea, the blue and tender sea, she could feel it roll over her and take her in.” ―Ray Bradbury, The Fox and the Forest

Sometimes I blurt out Pat Conroy’s name. His love of words continually enthralls me. His images are as memorable as a Winslow Homer piece. Just look at the first two sentences of The Prince of Tides. Those 13 perfect words set the promise of a great story.“My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” 

I imagine you’re already thinking about your favorite literary work of art. Bellow? Updike? J.K. Rowling?

How about T.C. Boyle? I’d compare his obvious joy of writing and his wickedly creative use of satire, at times raw and moody, to Lucian Freud’s portraits. Here’s a snippet from Boyle’s short story Heart of a Champion.

“Night: the barnyard still, a bulb burning over the screen door. Inside, the family sit at dinner, the table heaped with pork chops, mashed potatoes, applesauce and peas, a pitcher of clean white milk. Home-baked bread. Mom and Dad, their faces sexless, bland, perpetually good-humored and sympathetic, poise stiff-backed, forks in midswoop, while Timmy tells his story: ‘So then Lassie grabbed me by the collar and golly I musta blanked out cause I don’t remember anything more till I woke up on the rock―’” 

Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the samples, but now I’m imagining how wonderful it would be to have a museum section in our local bookstores and libraries that pairs the fine art of literature to their visual counterparts―and serves fine wine with gourmet chocolates.

I’d love to hear about your favorite literary piece of art.

 

The Perfect Profession for a Control Freak

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control-freak_thumbA while ago I wrote a guest blog for Jersey Girl Book Review, and thought I’d share it again, here.

Control freaks come in all shapes and sizes. The calculating boyfriend who thinks he needs to control his girl’s life, the mother who micro-manages her kids every second of every day, or the shrieking wife who thinks the husband can’t do anything right.

They even have lists of the best professions for control freaks. Military Officer, Surgeon, Accountant, and Air Traffic Controller are at the top. No one consulted me, but had they, my number-one-top-of-the-list would be Fiction Writer.

Think about it. The writer crafts characters and feels perfectly at ease telling each and every one of them how to live their lives. Depending on the complexities of the story, or series, there could be 20 personalities or more―or even more. Every one of them will engage in conversation. During said tête-à-tête’s the novelist will infiltrate the conscience of the participants and dictate the exact words they must speak, and what the response will be.

The author decides the age of each person, determines where they came from and what they did before they entered the story. He controls their speech pattern, chooses their favorite beverage, and secret fears. The all powerful author manipulates them in and out of danger, and calculates whether they should be rescued, or perhaps, murdered.

The characters rarely protest. Except in the case of Harold Crick in the 2006 movie, Stranger than Fiction, written by Zach Helm. Harold’s a book character who’s an average IRS agent with a monotonous lifestyle. One day while resetting his watch, he hears the narrator explain, “This seemingly insignificant act would lead to his imminent death.” Harold, played by Will Farrell, pleads his case, and ultimately lives. That’s a rare accomplishment when dealing with the ultimate you-know-what.

I go back and forth on this one, but I think I might have let Harold Crick meet his maker. That’s just me. What would the control freak in you have done?

The Writers Debate

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debateLast year I wrote a guest post on Mason Canyons blog Thoughts In Progress blog. Check it out.

Here’s my take on the age-old writers debate.

My writing is primarily character driven.  I like to play with language, aesthetics and feelings.  My style is to work things out on the page without an outline.  Sometimes my characters go off in a crazy direction that wasn’t called for and I have to edit them back, but that’s the way I like to do it.

During one of my drafts of The Clock Of Life I asked a fellow writer friend to take a look at my work and give me feedback.  This is my fictitious account of how the conversation went with this hard-core, pre-plotting, heavily outlined, structure nut.

“Nancy, what you’ve got here is fine, but your protagonist isn’t following The Hero’s Journey.”

“I know, because I’m not writing The Hero’s Journey.”

“But you have to.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what stories are about – structure.  Without structure, a story falls apart.”

“This one is character driven.  It’s evolving organically,” I say.

“Then it won’t hold up.  You have to have structure. You do know the twelve steps, don’t you?

“I suppose you’re referring to The Hero’s Journey twelve steps rather than the AA twelve steps, right?”

He nods, amused with my attempt at humor.

“Sure I know the twelve steps.  Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, etcetera, etcetera, and I know the 7 point plot system, but plot feels contrived to me.”

“How about outlining?”

“Not so much.  I’m afraid I might stick to the outline even though my characters don’t want to follow it.”

“They can’t rule you.  You have to take control.  Look at all the great movies based on The Hero’s Journey.”

“What?”

Star Wars.  The Wizard of Oz.  Shrek.”

“Shrek?” I say.  “Really? Shrek’s what you came up with?

He shrugs.

“Okay,” I say.  “I’ll see your Shrek with Memoirs of a Geisha, and raise with The Secret Life of Bees.  Definitely character driven stories.”

Fight Club,” he says.

I come back fast with, “The Kite Runner.”

Clash of the Titan,” he says without a beat

Middlesex.”  Pow

“Harry Potter.”  Boom Bang

“Life of Pi.”  Zow

 “The Matrix.”  Crunch

“Huck Finn,” I say, knowing I’m not going to pull much more off the top of my head, and will need a Google search soon.  Aarrgghh.

It seems he’s in the same place because he thinks for quite a while, and then says, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”  And, I’m grateful the conversation is over – for the time being – because we’re both laughing so hard.

So, which team are you on?  Team Sensitive and Character Driven, or Team Structure Nut?

Who Can Forget Their First Book Crush?

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Thorn Bird

“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…. Or so says the legend.”

The first time I found myself more consumed with the way the words on the page were written―over and above the story itself ― was when reading The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough. While the story is epic, the characters memorable, and the book iconic, it was the writing that took center stage. Like a first crush, I still remember where I was, and the heat of that summer. This book was an unforgettable milestone that greatly enhanced my reading journey.

Ms. McCollough offered poetic passages throughout her tale that captured raw human desire and desperation so powerfully I had to stop reading and savor them, in the same way I must interrupt a brisk walk to take pleasure in the smell of a flower that has caught my attention.

I felt smitten with her words in the very first chapter when she described the scenery.

“Yet it was a gentle, gracious land. Beyond the house stretched an undulating plain as green as the emerald in Fiona Cleary’s engagement ring, dotted with thousands of creamy bundles close proximity revealed as sheep.”

And since that day, so long ago, when I read her description of making love, as a body poem, it remains how I think of it today.

“From the moment he had pulled her back from the door it had been a body poem, a thing of arms and hands and skin and utter pleasure.”

Remembering back to how the prose in this book literally defined my reading tastes, I began to wonder about the books that have touched others in the same way.

I’d love to hear about your “first book crush.”

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nancy Klann-Moren

klanncy@aol.com

nancyklann-moren.com

760-809-3253

Indie Author is Racking-up Awards and Accolades for her Debut Novel.

  • The Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards for Fiction
  • Next Generation Indie Book Awards
  • Readers’ Favorite Book Awards
  • San Francisco Book Festival
  • Great Midwest Book Awards
  • BRAG Medallion Honoree

Book with Next Generation Award Sticker

Laguna Woods, CA, March 5, 2014 — Indie author Nancy Klann-Moren’s debut novel, The Clock Of Life has been recognized as a front runner in the expanding world of indie-publishing, aka, self-publishing.  And, five-star reviews are the norm.

“Since the door is open to all who want to publish independently, the reader’s concern about the quality of writing and story is understandable.  Nobody wants to get stuck with a bad read.” Klann-Moren said.  “To have my novel validated by professionals who care about high standards is an honor.”

Set in Mississippi, this southern tale of right and wrong portrays young Jason Lee Rainey’s struggle to become his father’s son.  This story explores how two unsettling chapters in American history, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, affect the fate of a family, a town, and two boyhood friends.

Look Inside

“This is not only a fine read, this is an important novel by an important new voice in the art of blending fiction and fact and making sense of it all.” Grady Harp, Literary Aficionado

“Giving the gift of experience is one of the most important functions of literature as is conveying important moral messages and lessons. ‘The Clock of Life’ does both extraordinarily well. You gotta love a book that lets you walk in the shoes of the characters, feel their hearts and souls and live their lives. This is just such a novel.” Sandra Shwayder Sanchez for Book Pleasures.com

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKlann-Moren is a former marketing executive who took up writing as an outlet on long flights while traveling for work.  “This novel began as a short story,” said Klann-Moren, “until one morning I read it aloud while in a workshop at a writers conference.  When finished, the instructor asked what I was doing for the next couple years, because, ‘What you have written isn’t a short story, it’s a novel.’   At first I rejected the idea, but soon realized the importance of the subject matter, and I wrote the novel, The Clock of Life.”

At present she is working on a new novel loosely based on the time she and her friend found an intriguing old diary in an antique shop and took a road trip to find the lady who had written it. The girls will not be named Thelma and Louise, but the story will take them on an unforgettable trip cross country.

Twitter @klanncy

Facebook:  Nancy Klann

 

Sample Q & A

Q. Your Southern setting and characters feel so authentic.  How much research into the time period did you do, or were most of the details from memory?

I did a lot of research for this book.  Google helped me check important facts, and saved me many hours that would have been spent in libraries, etc.  It introduced me to Amalgamation cake and the idea that a bottle tree wards off evil.  One day I cooked a pot of chitlins and hog maws, from a YouTube demonstration.  It seemed I Googled something every day I wrote.

A friend and I took a road trip through the Alabama and Mississippi back roads to take in the spirit of the small towns still unscarred by the invasion of chain stores.  They’re disappearing quickly.  The ones we did find helped breathe life into my fictitious town of Hadlee.

Q. What inspired you to explore both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in your story?

The idea of human inequality and how it comes to be has always baffled me, so the foundation for The Clock Of Life was more emotional than cerebral.  Few things in our history magnify unfairness more than the Civil Rights struggle.  Also, it was hard for me to stomach the politics of our involvement in Vietnam.  In exploring both these events, it’s clear that our American protests changed the status quo.

Q. What made you decide to self publish?

Because of the state of the publishing industry today, the submission, rejection, rejection, rejection model of getting my novel into the hands of someone of consequence was challenging.  I grew weary of diligently following submission guidelines, only to never receive a response, EVER.  And, in their defense, why should they give my book, or me, the time of day when they have Grisham and Patterson, Collins and Brown. Who am I?

I knew my book had merit, and felt frustrated I couldn’t get anyone to look at it.  I knew I write well as many of my short stories had won competitions and are published in anthologies. The book manuscript had won Best Unpublished Novel at the San Diego Book Awards, and I still couldn’t get anyone to read it.  So, I thought to hell with them and their instant reject buttons. They will no longer be given the opportunity to validate my work. They will no longer own my fate.   So, The Clock Of Life turned off the road to “traditional” publication and on to one of “indie” publication.

Q. What was the experience like? Did you hire any freelance help (editors, designers, etc.)?

The experience felt satisfying because I had creative control, and scary because it was new territory.  I had an editor go through the manuscript first. Then I formatted the book and created the cover myself.  Instead of waiting two years for the book to see the light of day with a publisher, it was available in less than a month.  Publishers no longer help unknown authors in the marketing, so you’re on your own anyway, and the indie author’s share of the sales is quadruple what the publishing companies pay.

Q. Any advice for authors thinking about doing the same thing?

There are many challenges to “Authorpreneurship.”  Number one is the task of getting the work known, especially when it’s impossible to spread the word through established review venues like Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times, or even “established” local newspapers.  Even today, they will only review traditionally published books.

Q. I understand you were awarded second place in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published eBook Awards for fiction.  How will people find out about the award?

 I was told Writer’s Digest Magazine will publish a page about the contest in the May/June 2014 issue, and introduce the winners at that time.

Q. As an artist and a writer, do you look to different means of inspiration for each, or does one compliment the other?

They’re alike in the sense that they both tell a story.  Art is more playful and inspired by objects, and writing takes a lot, lot, lot, longer.

 Q. What is your writing process? Do you have a ritual that you follow to get yourself in the mood?

I’m more of a whenever-the-inspiration-strikes girl.  There are times when I suffer with the idea that the writing is lacking creativity and its boring—as if the “muse has gone down for a nap.”  When that happens I let it sleep for a few days, then I return to the work refreshed and creative again.

SO WHY DOES HOOP STUT,STUT,STAMMER?

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Author photo by Clark Lohr

Author photo by Clark Lohr

As a fledgling writer, John Daniel was the first person I met on the first day of my first writing conference.  Ever since, he has encouraged, supported, and guided me on my writing path. 

Enjoy this great post from my teacher and friend John, on his decision to burden some of his characters with thematic “flaws”.

 

SO WHY DOES HOOP STUT,STUT,STAMMER?

 I’m proud to say it: my new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery is off to a fine start. Sales have been healthy, I’ve had two successful book signings, and the book has been reviewed generously in the local press and in online media sites. Publishers Weekly gave Hooperman a starred review. The customer reviews on Amazon make be blush out loud.

 The reviews that have meant the most to me have come from friends who have bought the book and have taken the time to write me directly (mostly via email), telling me they like the book, and why.

 Two responders, though, told me they liked Hooperman but asked me why I decided to give my hero a stammer? Was that necessary? What was the point? I did not take offense at their objection, and I admit that a stammering protagonist tends to slow down what otherwise could be a pretty fast read. In fact, I’m grateful for the question, because it gives me a chance to talk about talking, and about communicating.

 Hooperman takes place during the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in. The war in Vietnam was raging, and on the home front the rage about the war was loud and passionate. Our country was divided between the Establishment and the Counter-Culture, and never the twain would listen to each other. The division was loud and unpleasant. To paraphrase a line from Cool Hand Luke, what we had here was a failure to communicate.

 I wanted to write about this failure to communicate, and so I endowed some of my characters in Hooperman with speech impediments and listening disorders. Hoop stammers. Janie, his life-long love, is so shy she’s practically mute. Lucinda, Hoop’s new love, can’t control her back-sass. Jack and Frank are good friends, but one’s a socialist and the other’s an anarchist, so they make a point of disagreeing on everything. Martin, the returns clerk, has a neurological disorder similar to Tourettes Syndrome, which peppers his every sentence with barnyard scatological cusswords. And so forth.

 It’s true that these characters don’t speak clearly. But it’s also true that generally people don’t do enough listening. If we really paid attention—really listened—the speech impediments would not impede communication.

 End of lecture.

 But there’s another reason I gave my hero, Francis “Hooperman” Johnson a stutter and a stammer. Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery is, after all, a mystery, even though nobody gets killed. A serious  crime (major book theft) is going on, and Hoop is hired to find out who’s guilty and to bring that bibliokleptomaniac to justice. He’s an amateur sleuth, a bookstore cop, a private eye.

 I’ve always admired crime novel protagonists who have a special problem to overcome. Michael Collins’s Dan Fortune has only one arm. James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux has an on-going battle with alcoholism. William Doonan’s senior sleuth, Henry Grave, has to deal with aging issues like nodding off and forgetting facts. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn has Tourettes, big-time. Nero Wolfe is obese. Not to mention the problems Virgil Tibbs has to face in the Jim Crow South, or that Jane Tennison has to overcome as the first female Detective Chief Inspector in London’s male-dominated Metropolitan Police Service.

 Compared to the obstacles faced by some of these sleuths, Hoop Johnson’s stammer is a walk in the park. In any case, and in spite of his disability, he does manage to earn the respect of his fellow booksellers, and in so doing he solves the mystery.

 To those of you who still object to the stammer, because it slows down your reading, I urge you to read slowly, and to listen. I think you’ll find that the stammer is (in the words Mark Twain used to describe Wagner’s music) “not as bad as it sounds.”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:

Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.


Who’s stealing the books? Martin West, the foul-mouthed nutcase in charge of shipping and receiving? Millie Larkin, who hates the boss because he’s a man? Could it be Lucinda Baylor, the black and sassy clerk that Hoop’s in love with? Jack Davis, the socialist, or Frank Blanchard, the anarchist? Or maybe even Elmer Maxwell himself, the world-famous pacifist bookseller?


Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

For more information about Hooperman, including ordering info, see: http://www.danielpublishing.com/jmd/hooperman.html

 

John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).

Thank you John for sharing this technique with us.  What flaws have you imparted on your characters?  I’d love to hear.

Two and A Half Pounds of Inspiration

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raybradbury-mainLast month I wrote a guest post for Donna and Dave’s eclectic blog called Tweedle Dee and Tweddle Dave.  I’d like to share it here, too.

 

“Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”  Ray Bradbury

The ultimate reference book sits on my desk, within reach, as I work to better my writing each day.  It weighs two and a half pounds, and it has 1,059 pages.  A dictionary, you might guess.  Thesaurus?  An out-of-print Columbia Encyclopedia?   No, no, and no.

It’s my go-to book for inspiration. It’s titled, The Stories of Ray Bradbury, and it contains one-hundred stories penned by the ultimate dream-catcher.  I like to start my day with a cup coffee and a page of Bradbury ―just one of each―enough to charge my creative batteries.  One day I can read about a giant sea creature who falls in love with a lighthouse, the next day a “wonderful white ice cream summer suit!  White, white as the August moon!”

Yes, he inspires me.  So much so, that when asked in a recent interview, “If you could ask your favorite author one question, who would it be and what would you ask?”  My answer came fast, without any thought.  “Ray Bradbury,” I said.  “I would ask him to come back to us and grace us with more of his brilliance.”

The first time I had the pleasure of seeing the man whose prose read like poetry, was 1997, when he opened the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.  He stood before us, bouncing with enthusiasm as he shared precious gems of encouragement with seasoned and novice writer’s alike―each one of us hungry to learn his secrets.  I went back many more years, heard him speak again and again, and each time walked away touched by his brilliance, and his love of life.

“The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you’ll come along.”  Written by Ray Bradbury on his 80th birthday.

Thinking about the ways this man has sparked my creativity, I began to wonder about the writers that have touched others in the same way.  I’d love to know what authors inspire you.

 

 

My Friend Kendra

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 A while ago I wrote a guest post on Val Muller’s blog Musings Of a Writer.  Check out Val’s books on her website.  Corgi Capers is a mystery series for kids, and Faulkner’s Apprentice is a supernatural chiller for grown ups.

writing

cor·re·spond·ence   [kawr-uh-spon-duhns, kor-]   noun

1. communication by exchange of letters.

2. a letter or letters that pass between correspondents.

I received a card from my friend Kendra today.  An honest to goodness card, sent through the postal system.  She put pen to paper just to say hi, you’re my friend and I like you enough to make the effort.

Other than the rare individuals like Kendra, it seems the only hand written cards traveling the pony express routes these days are from children forced to send thank you cards to Grandma and Grandpa for the latest birthday gift, or to dispatch a “Flat Stanley” school assignment to that same set of grandparents. Every time I get something in the mail from Kendra it makes me feel great.

Of course, that’s the intention.  She has the thought, makes the effort, puts in the time―and the cherry on top; she chooses a novelty stamp to fit the occasion. I once got a note on the back of a deposit slip because she thought of me when she was in line at the bank.  Well, that just blew a hole in the “I don’t have time to write” excuse, didn’t it?

She once cut the front panel off a Mac and Cheese box, wrote on the backside and sent it like a postcard.  “You’re the Cheesiest,” was all it said.  Just, “You’re the Cheesiest.”  For me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

She says she loves pretty paper.  And pens, of every size and color.  And stickers, and stamps.  She says there’s something that goes on in the brain when you transfer your thoughts on paper trough handwriting―that it slows you down so your intentions are more deliberate, your thoughts more true. I’m sure that’s all spot on, but I think she simply wants to share a part of herself to lift someone’s day, and let them know they are appreciated in the most personal way possible.

There’s a heartfelt moment in my novel, The Clock Of Life, where my protagonist mails a post card to his mother:

“I sulked for a good while, then remembered an old, unused postcard I’d seen in the catch-all drawer. The background showed two paddleboats, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen. Big red letters across the middle said Hello from the Mississippi River Parkway. I wrote in the small section on the backside and told her it’d been seven days since she left. “I know you’re working real hard to get better, and Uncle Mooks and me are working real hard, too.” That’s all that fit. I didn’t mention anything about the box, or the many secrets she’d kept from me, or how I was starting to feel like a man. I stuck my thumb in a jar of beet juice and pressed hard where the signature would be, then signed J.L. inside the smudge―just J.L.

Have we all been using the computer so long we’ve forgotten what Kendra (and J.L.) know?  Tangible trumps virtual every time, and I plan to stalk up on pens and pretty paper, and “correspond” more.

Book Babes group shot

The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren is a compelling book-club delight that engaged our members in lively discussions running the gamut from race relations in the Deep South to mental illness; from the Vietnam War to coping with death; from what it means to be a friend to what it means to be a hero. Our members were thrilled when the author joined us to share insights into her writing process. And our clever hostess served Mint Juleps  and a Amalgamation cake, both taken directly from the novel. What fun! Eva Ditler, Coronado Book Babes Book Club

Book Babes Amalgamation Cake

The Clock Of Life

Book with Next Generation Award Sticker

“The Clock of Life is a book club’s dream. A well-written novel rich with characters and subject matter that spark conversation and debate.”

In the small town of Hadlee, Mississippi, during the 1980s, Jason Lee Rainey struggles to find his way amongst the old, steadfast Southern attitudes about race, while his friendship with a black boy, Samson Johnson, deepens. By way of stories from others, Jason Lee learns about his larger-than-life father, who was killed in Vietnam.  He longs to become that sort of man, but doesn’t believe he has it in him.

In The Clock Of Life he learns lessons from the past, and the realities of inequality. He flourishes with the bond of friendship; endures the pain of senseless death; finds the courage to stand up for what he believes is right; and comes to realize he is his father’s son.

This story explores how two unsettling chapters in American history, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, affect the fate of a family, a town, and two boyhood friends.

“The Clock of Life is a book club’s dream. A well-written novel rich with characters and subject matter that spark conversation and debate.”

Now available on Amazon.