Monday, December 23, 2013

Big Ideas


A few weeks ago I once again jumped into the deep end.
I signed on as a volunteer for a regional FLL competition. My assignment: Project Judge!

After donning my volunteer T-shirt I met up with the other judges to receive my instructions. A room full of enthusiastic volunteers, mostly engineers, all willing to give up their weekend in support of science, technology, engineering and math learning for kids. Oh, and fun with Legos of course. FLL and jrFLL use the Lego Mindstorm robotics.

I teamed up with two other judges and we went into the assigned classroom (my offspring’s high school hosted the competition and the robotics team kids volunteered set up, running, and clean up) to rearrange the desks the way we thought best. Then we tested our seats, decided we needed coffee and water, as well as pens, to look professional. We studied our rubric sheets and decided who would write what portion.

Each team would have 5 minutes to present followed by 5 minutes of Q&A. After they’d left, we, the judges, would have 5 minutes to score the rubric for that team. No time for goofing off or deep discussion, we were on a tight schedule. There were 40 teams competing each day that weekend.

A quick overview: in FLL the teams are given a challenge for the Mindstorm robot they build and that one will be judged on how well it does in competition. It will also be judged on mechanical and programing aspects in a separate judging. Then there is the challenge of creating a presentation that solves a problem in relation to this year’s challenge, which was Nature’s Fury.

As project judges we got to see these presentations. A few teams had barely prepared, some presented their solution as an acted-out skit, and others still, were very prepared and showed us prototypes of their solution to a problem that might arise during or after a natural disaster.

After the third team left the room I felt much more comfortable in my role as judge. I also realized something very important ... These kids almost all had phenomenal ideas. Some went so far as to price out what their solution would cost and how it could be implemented. The writer in me sat back and soaked up the imagination, letting it spark mine. Will I ever use any of the ideas I heard there? Maybe, maybe not, but the main thing is, it sent my thoughts off in different directions. It allowed me to think more creatively and consider subjects from different angles. It also made me realize how important it is that there are books out there that hold the attention of these kids as they grow up.

I’d love to share some of the ideas these kids came up with, but as they might go on to compete in the state championship I think I should keep it quiet for now.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December Book Review

                                                Deadly Provenance

Deadly Provenance
By: Lynne Kennedy

After interviewing Lynne Kennedy and learning more about her book ‘Deadly Provenance’, I decided I really wanted to read it. A mystery, a Van Gogh, and history... just the thing to read in the dreary days of early December.

A quick click at Amazon and the book was downloaded into my E-Reader.

I was not disappointed. From the first page I had trouble putting it down. Every free moment of my busy weeks I would pick up the reader and dive back into the story. Each time getting sucked deeper into the search for the missing Van Gogh, the history of the massive and systematic confiscation of art by the Nazis, and the (private and professional) challenges of the main character; a spunky redheaded professor of digital photography and forensics. Of course I adored her dog, Rosie, too, modeled after the writer’s own yellow labrador.

The historical segments blend seamlessly into the fiction. The writer’s passion for history is very clear in the details she puts in without cluttering up the story.

Her descriptions of Paris made me feel like I was there on the terrace having a coffee and watching Parisian life go by in all its chaotic glory. Her use of occasional French in the story seemed completely appropriate. I know there are people who have trouble with authors who do that, but even if you don’t know the language, you can extrapolate the meaning from the story.

I found the main characters very warm and human, and the thrill of the chase like those you would find in any satisfying detective story.

I look forward to more by this author! Do keep an eye on her blog where she chronicles her ongoing search for that missing Van Gogh painting. It would be wonderful if it was found again.

Monday, December 2, 2013

November/December interview with Lynne Kennedy

                                          Lynne Kennedy 
Blog interview with Lynne Kennedy

This month I welcome author Lynne Kennedy who deftly combines fiction, history and science to create gripping mysteries. Her latest is “Deadly Provenance” about a Van Gogh painting that’s been missing since it was taken by the Nazis in WWII. I have eagerly started reading the book, curious to find out where this author will take me during the dreary and dark December days.

Lynne, welcome.

1. You write fiction yet use real life mysteries, or unsolved crimes, as the jumping off point and then you apply a healthy dose of science to solving the mystery. It’s a neat concept, how did you come to it?

For almost thirty years I was a science museum director, so science is my life. I particularly loved our programs and exhibitions on forensics and loved working with the police department to solve mysteries with modern forensic technology. 

History is my second love so naturally I looked for a way to blend the two in my writing.  The first book I wrote was “Time Exposure,” a mystery which revolves around Civil War photography.  The idea happened by chance.  The Smithsonian was in San Diego presenting programs at the various museums. We sponsored two talks at our science center.  One on space science and the other, ironically, on Civil War photography.  I sat in on the second one and was hooked.  I knew I wanted to write about Civil War photography.

But how would I blend this with modern forensics?   Through digital photography.  It really worked.  My modern character, a digital photographer, stumbles upon a mystery through a Civil War photograph.  Through her analysis, she comes up with the killer.  Well, something like that.

2. Your latest book “Deadly Provenance” deals with a beautiful Van Gogh painting, missing since WWII. How did you even find out about its original existence? And where has your search led you so far?

Besides the Civil War, World War II has always fascinated me.  Years ago, I saw a movie called “The Train” with Burt Lancaster.  It made me start thinking about the Nazi confiscation of art.  I started reading up on the subject and found a book (and later a movie) called “The Rape of Europa.”  I was astounded to learn the extent of the looting that was done at the time.  I knew this was going to be a book.

As I kept researching, I found a number of paintings that were still missing, one of which is Vincent Van Gogh’s Vase With Oleanders.  Since he’s one of my favorite painters, I decided to check further and found this amazing story of what had happened to it. 

I wrote “Deadly Provenance” and came up with a fictional ending to the painting.  But now I wanted to find the real painting.  You can read about my “hunt” on my web page: 

By the way, I’m still looking!  Got quite a bit of publicity on it too.  This is a KPBS radio interview several months ago:

I was even featured on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune:

What’s amazing is that Nazi stolen art works keep appearing in the news today.  History never ends. 

3. How do you start one of your books? Do you have an idea of where it will go before you even start your research?

My last weekly blog is on this subject exactly.  It’s about jump-starting your book.  Rather than repeat, here it is.

4. What has your journey to publication been like and why did you choose self-publishing, as so many are doing these days? 

I landed an agent for my first book but she was not able to get a publisher interested.  The general response was: great writing, characters, etc, but too complicated a story to market.  Right.  So I tried with my second and third books, but, frankly the response was the same.  Marketing was always the issue.  Is this a mystery?  An historical mystery?  What?  The two storylines threw them into a tizzy.  You’d think they’d be excited to have something different.  So I decided to self-publish. I’m not sorry, but learning how to do it correctly was a real struggle.  So I wrote a blog about this in two parts.  The first part is “Self-Publishing: Dream or Nightmare.”  Kind of says it all.  Here’s the link:

The second part is “The Good, The Bad and The Real Ugly:”

5. eBook vs Traditional?

This was a no-brainer.  I wanted to hold my precious books in my hands so I had to do a traditional, albeit, paperback version.  E-Books were the wave of the future (still are) so of course, I produced that version too.  Now I’m a real e-book fan.  I rarely buy hard or paperbacks anymore.  Sad in a way. 

6. Pen & Paper or a computer?

Always the computer, although, occasionally, when I’m out having a Starbuck’s or something will jot down notes with a pen and scrap of paper.  I make too many changes to not be able to delete!

7. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

Read, read, read. Re-write, re-write, re-write.  Find a fabulous critique group and do it all over again.  Basically, the first step is to write the best book you can.  Then, whether you self-publish or publish traditionally, you will have to learn the marketing business.  Social Media is key, but other marketing avenues are necessary too.  Wrote another blog on that, ha! The point is not to let marketing take over your writing life:

8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Oh, if I had a secret talent, it’s hidden from me too.  Or have something crazy I did in the name of research.  Nah, I’m just persistent.  I try to find answers to fill in the details of my stories.  What kind of dress would my character have worn in 1911, if she only had $2 to spend?  What sort of camera would a Nazi photographer use in 1942?  What kind of foods would be on the table of a rich patron during the Civil War?  Those are the details I love to ferret out, and hopefully, my readers enjoy!

Thank you, and I look forward to your next mystery!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Big Words

Spellchecker is my best friend. I know it shouldn’t be, but wait till you hear my reasons. It’s not so much for finding those misspelled words, it’s more for weeding out the long words that are not supposed to be long in English.

I came up against this recently while working on a translation job and it got me thinking about language again. In Dutch, and also German, there are words that are stitched together to make one long word explaining exactly what it is you're dealing with. They show that together these words perform a function that they otherwise would not as independent words.

Let me give you a simple example.

kitchen + table would logically make ‘kitchentable’ but not in English. It works in Dutch and indicates that there is absolutely no ambiguity about the purpose or place of that table. In English they stay separate, I suppose in case you want to use the table somewhere else.

High+school+ student another one which in Dutch would be one word, such as “havostudent” (havo indicates the level of high school but that’s a different story). In English it’s 3 words. You may not smush them together into one nice long word that tells you exactly what you’re dealing with... not that we ever truly know what we’re dealing with when it comes to high school age.

So this is where spellchecker saves me every time I build long words in the Dutch tradition that don’t exist in English. Although sometimes we can use a hyphen to indicate that two words belong together, such as a "long-haired cat", it’s still not the same as actually making a satisfyingly long word.  A friend with considerable experience in the English language recently told me hyphens are on a fast track to extinction.

It’s a bit like a puzzle, I suppose, taking words and making new ones by adding or taking away other words to change meanings and uses of words. But then again in English, at least American English, we take that in a different direction by turning words and expressions into quick and easy acronyms, such as LOL and ROFL. This makes for a different kind of puzzle and a new kind of shorthand that's supposed to make communications faster. And that is the way language evolves and grows, it is after all a living thing that through daily usage changes and develops.

I’m learning to adapt, though, I will confess, it took me a full 10 minutes to figure out the response to a simple question, which I thought was short and to the point, I texted my offspring recently:
ME: “Do you have math homework?”
HE: “idk”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November Book Review

                                                                  Death Comes for the Archbishop (Vintage Classics) Cover

Death comes for the Archbishop
By: Willa Cather       

A classic and a book often included in top 100 book lists. Certainly a book that stuck with me, as much for the storytelling as the beautiful writing. It’s descriptive without being flowery or cluttered, but gives just enough to leave you with a rich impression of time and place. Almost like ‘reading’ a large watercolor tableau.

Willa Cather was a very insightful and intelligent author with great understanding of human nature. In 1927 when she wrote this she was able to evoke the time in the 1850s when her characters lived with uncanny detail. 

The story is that of two childhood friends from France, one driven by his faith and the other by his devotion to his friend (to the exclusion of all else), who enter the Catholic church and become missionaries to the new territories on the North American continent, New Mexico in particular. Both must endure considerable hardships in terms of the climate, the terrain they travel - often by mule - and the characters they encounter.

The beauty of the book is that it captures not only what these two outsiders are feeling but also the growing pains of a country as it’s being settled. It shows lives lived quietly and simply; often making due with very little as they travel around and spread the word to people too busy surviving in a harsh land to understand it. But through their kindness and faith they bring a new richness - however subtle - to the people.

The one with his unshakable faith makes greater progress in the church and eventually builds a church and becomes archbishop, whereas his friend is content to be a parish priest, Father Joseph. His faith grows as he struggles against the land, the people and his own demons, but always finding solace and strength in his friendship.

It’s a quiet book which is surprisingly hard to put down. Though the action is not what we have come to expect from our entertainment today, it is fitting with the lives these two men lived, from boyhood through the adult years, to the end. It’s a love letter to the American Southwest, and a deep exploration of friendship.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another interview with me

Building a career involves talking to people and Dianne Lynn Gardner, fellow writer, was a pleasure to talk to. Below find the link to her interview with me. You may recognize her from an interview I did over the summer. The Seattle area is rich in authors and stories!


Tale from the Fountain Pen a historical novella written by Lynn Hooghiemstra

A few months ago a lady from Seattle offered to do an interview for me, and to feature my book on her blog. Authors are always interviewing one another but this lady went the extra mile. Several in fact. She took the Washington State ferry over to Bremerton where I met her and we sat and chatted at a local Starbucks. Today I have the extreme pleasure of reciprocating that gesture and interviewing Lynn and her new novella

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Talking it Over

This weekend I had the pleasure of meeting up with my publisher, Jay Hartman from Untreed Reads, and talking writing and stories for well over 2 hours. Nothing like a quiet corner in a Starbucks to tease out the intricacies of the publishing and writing business.

We talked at length about the challenges of getting ‘eyes on the page’ with so many E-Books and paper books out there. How do you differentiate and how do you get your name out there? Or, better yet, how do you build the brand that is you?

Truly that is what it’s about these days. Of course good writing and storytelling is ultimately what will help you go the distance, but there is a need to find that niche and connect with readers.

I’ve been thinking back to the marketing and business books written by the guru Peter Drucker that I had to read in college, but sadly not much of that information is still available in my long term memory vaults. My creative brain tends to focus on other things than marketing. And let’s face it, even as recent as 20 years ago an author didn’t have to market their book to nearly the extent they do now; a publisher would see to that.

From that topic we moved on to the book I’m currently working on. I have been struggling with the format and Jay, without reading the rough draft, suggested that perhaps it was not a good format as the main story is strong enough and possibly epic enough to stand on its own.

I had been wondering if perhaps I was writing two different books in one. Or if I was possibly typecasting myself by trying to blend 1940 and 2013 into one book. But then again, if I do it right, it might become my trademark.

The ‘magic’ element, as Jay calls it, works for Tales from the Fountain Pen, but might not work as well for a different book. Even if done differently it might still become gimmicky and stall a career. 

As I’ve said before, much as we think of ourselves as lone creators writing away in our little writing garrets, it is very much a collaborative effort.

I’ve sent the, rough, first 6 chapters to a few beta-readers and I’d like to find a few more. If nobody comes forward in the comment section, then perhaps I’ll post the first two chapters here for comment sometime in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Megan Cundy Interview


This month I’d like to share an interview with another newly published author.
Welcome Megan Cundy, author, writing under the name M. Cundy, of the Young Adult Serissa series.

1. Book one in the Serissa series is out now. What, or who, was your inspiration for the series?

I have always believed music could genuinely heal people, and maybe even the world. Music is a universal language and what a better way to convey a message, and doing so with a tinge of anonymity to the bigger picture.

There isn’t a specific person that inspired Serissa, but much of remembering how awkward it was to be a teenager caught between adulthood and childhood. I wanted to create a story that gave purpose to big dreams and believing in the impossible in a time when big dreams are typically about growing up and moving on with our lives. In Serissa, she gets to grow up, hold onto the past she loves, and still dream big, but she has to choose to take the opportunity.

2. As a singer/songwriter, I imagine the leap to Serissa being a singer was a logical one, but did you find that your character took the story in unexpected directions?

Absolutely! I actually began with something far more YA contemporary, and ended up with something between YA paranormal and fantasy. That aside every character has their secrets, some I know, some I’m waiting to unravel. There’s a lot more mystery wrapped around my characters than I initially intended, but each book in the series will reveal more of who each character is, and how they all tie into Serissa’s life. It’s probably one reason the series has been in the works for so many years. They keep changing the game on me.

3. How do you plan out your series? Do you already know what the next book will be about? Or how many books we can look forward to?

I have four books as of now planned out. Two are written, two are partials, I’m getting ready to finish up on the second book in the series, Serissa’s Song, to hopefully release it soon.  I may have other spinoff books as well down the line, I’ve spent over four years with my characters, and I’m not ready to let them go yet. I also have a couple other books started.

4. Can you share a bit about your path to publication?
I took the typical route initially. I sent query after query to numerous agents. After almost two years, I realized I’m fighting a current, and decided I have no choice but to self publish. The Paranormal genre is completely oversaturated, and agents realize this. They aren’t going to pick up something if they can’t pick up immediately how unique it is, but it all boils down to opinion. I had a great experience being rejected however, most just gave me simple no’s or even sent nice comments on what they liked but it wasn’t a right fit. No horror story responses.

After that, I did my research and put my book out on Amazon.

5. eBook vs. Traditional?

I like the accessibility of the eBook, not to mention as a person who still likes the paranormal/fantasy YA genres, it’s easier to locate books I like and even get the occasional freebie. I still have a private library of my oldies though, and books that I’m certain I’ll reread again and again.

6. Pen & Paper or a Computer?

Both. I do tend to favor the computer, but there have been times when I’m at my day job on a slow day or the electricity is out and all I have is pen and paper.

What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

Be patient. Everything takes time from writing a quality book to getting it out there and recognized. With all the work it takes you can’t afford to rush. And with that patience advertise anywhere and everywhere.

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Writing was my secret talent! I didn’t know I was going to put a book out there. I always thought I was going to be a professional singer or something in entertainment, but I grew up and had a family instead.  But I’m weirdly talented at whistling, painting crazy things on my nails, and I even used to juggle to entice people into my store.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and I look forward to more Serissa books in the series!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Author Interview

Everything you ever wanted to know, but were afraid to ask.... well, not everything.

Author Interview with E. Lynn Hooghiemstra

Today’s Page to Page interview is with E.  Lynn Hooghiemstra. Welcome E. Lynn!
A Little on the Personal Side:
  • If you weren’t an author, what would you be? I wouldn’t be.
  • What is your all-time favorite book?  There isn’t just one, but a few stand-outs are: Kim by Rudyard Kipling, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, The Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton.
  •   What types of books do you read? I read a wide variety of books ranging from historical fiction, to mysteries all the way out to science fiction and a little about quantum physics. I’m a very curious person and enjoy a well-written book regardless of genre, though I won’t read horror or true crime; I just don’t have the stomach for it.
  •   Books and writing aside, what’s one of your favorite things about your life or yourself? The beautifully agonizing joy of raising my son and being able to see the world through his eyes as he grows up . I feel I’m given a chance to learn again as a child and see things I might otherwise have missed. Especially since he’s growing up in a culture different from the one I grew up in.

A Little on the Professional Side:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October Book Review


Kim by Rudyard Kipling       

This month I thought I’d reread a classic and a personal favorite. Though Kipling’s not widely read anymore, or so it seems, he is a wonderful author with a good grasp of humanity and the times of empire that he grew up in.

Kim is no exception. His mischievous street urchin playing the game to stay alive and get ahead in colonial India is a very endearing protagonist. Through a series of events he goes in search of a better future, armed only with the two documents conferred on him by his father, a former Irish regimental soldier who fell on very hard times and ultimately succumbed to drink and drugs.

Along the way young Kim meets a variety of characters, such as the Tibetan Lama on a pilgrimage to free himself of ‘the wheel of things’. And then there’s the horse trader,  Mahbub Ali, a native operative in the British Secret Services playing in the ‘great game’.

The time is between the second and third Afghan war in the late 19th century. A time when both Britain and Russia had designs on the mountainous Afghan region and were each trying to establish dominance across Asia. A time when espionage and intrigue ran high.

By chance Kim is recognized as the son of a regimental soldier and sent to school. After three years there he must choose between a position in the great game or to rejoin his Lama friend on his quest. This is not an easy choice for a young man who’s head’s been filled with the romance of intrigue and espionage.

The characters are drawn with great care and Kipling uses different forms of English, from the more modern speech to the archaic to indicate the different types of people Kim meets. The modern language is obviously spoken at the school and in the regiment, but the archaic, which almost adds a frailty to the speaker, is spoken by the native peoples he encounters.

Kim is a book that appeals to me on many levels; as an historical commentary, a coming of age story and as an almost spiritual tale of longing and redemption.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tales from the Fountain Pen

By: E. Lynn Hooghiemstra
Maggie was ready to embrace life and enjoy attending vocational college when the war came to her village in the Netherlands and changed everything. In a series of interconnected stories Maggie struggles with fear, shortages, the resistance, the dangers of falling in love and who to trust. Nothing is as it had been and, as the holder of the fountain pen learns from her comfortable office in the present day, fear and uncertainty are ever-present companions. 
As the narrator fills and refills the inherited fountain pen from the 1940s, the pen takes on a life of its own as it relates the details of the events that shaped Maggie’s life, and strengthens the bond between Maggie and her future daughter.

A novella now available at your favorite E-Book seller.


I have avoided the siren’s call all day and only now on the cusp of twilight do I have the courage to go where the pen wishes to take me. It is, however, a fleeting courage. With some trepidation I unscrew the cap on the old pen.

Why I should feel this much fear I cannot say. Perhaps I feel every time I uncap the pen I am Pandora releasing a multitude of horrors, not necessarily upon the world, but upon myself. Will hope remain behind in the pen once I’ve set free all those memories, or will my life become overly burdened and perhaps irreparably harmed by my mother’s stories? Was that why she kept them secret; hidden in her pen?

Before I can lose myself in these contemplations the pen pulls me in, faster than before. I find myself in the dark, and disoriented.

Where am I—or rather, where is my mother?

* * *

Slowly my eyes adjust.

I am outside. The breeze is cold, but not unbearably so. Stars shine brightly overhead, but I see no sign of the moon. Perhaps that is why I am out this night. But what am I doing here on a deserted back road surrounded by farmland?

“Are you coming?” the familiar voice of my brother whispers. “We don’t want to get caught by a patrol.”

“Oh, right. I was just admiring the stars,” I say, and look at my brother. His face is almost hidden by the dark; I can barely make out his features.

He takes my arm and we walk along the empty road toward a structure in the distance. Of course: the Adema farm. I am taking my brother to the farm to hide him from the Germans. 

But, wait. This is not the way to the Adema farm. Are we going even further away?

Just then, Theo puts his arm around my shoulder and pulls me close.

“Patrol, act married,” he hisses in my ear. 

“Right.” I remember what our plan was now. 

I snuggle against his shoulder. My left hand is in my pocket and I can feel our mother’s wedding band on my ring finger. Everything has been set up to give the appearance of a married couple. 

“Halt,” a gruff voice behind us calls out.

We stop and slowly turn around to find a small German military vehicle with its headlights shuttered. 

Fear spreads from the pit of my stomach through my whole body. This is no ordinary patrol. These are people on a special mission, I’m sure of it. There are twice as many soldiers on the vehicle as normal and they have a Gestapo member with them. 

They are after somebody big and I only hope it’s not us. It can’t be us. There is no possible way they could be after us. 

“Who are you and why are you out after curfew?” the man in the long leather coat purrs malevolently. He’s a Dutch man who’s joined the enemy. How I hate those. 

“I’m Theo Hooghiemstra and this is my wife, Maggie. We received word that my mother is dying and we have traveled for most of the day and half the night to get to her,” Theo says smoothly.

The man purses his lips in thought while some of his soldiers openly leer at me. 

I realize how incredibly vulnerable I am here in the dark with just my brother for protection. My teeth start to chatter, perhaps from cold but more likely from fear. 

Why does this man not control his soldiers? I had heard they were under orders not to molest Dutch women. 

Two of the soldiers slowly circle us, like predators circling prey.

Theo’s hand is holding mine, tightly, and I am grateful he is there, though I’m wondering why I thought this “adventure” was a good idea. My courage seems to have deserted me.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bernadette Pajer Interview

Bernadette Pajer courtesy Alexa Rae Photography.2 copy

On one of the last few days of an extraordinary Seattle summer I had the pleasure of interviewing Bernadette Pajer, author of the Professor Bradshaw series of mystery books. Book one was the book review for this month so this seems extra fun. Oh, and did I mention she lives in the Pacific Northwest as well. We do have many, many talented writers here.

Bernadette, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

My pleasure, and to be honest, I am happy to see the rain.

1. What, or who, was your inspiration for the Professor Bradshaw mysteries?

Well,  I've answered this question in several ways over the past couple years, and they're all true! Such is the genesis of characters. Professor Benjamin Bradshaw came to me rather fully formed, plodding through life with a wounded heart and a brilliant, although practical, mind. Featuring him in a series allows me to explore the fascinating people and social forces that took the world from candlestick telephones and Stanley Steamer cars to astronauts and computers—in just six decades.

2. The technical descriptions of early electricity are wonderful. Electricity is something we take for granted, but it does have a long history before it came to power our laptops and iPods. How did you tackle the research and pick the time period?

While it's true the history of electrical exploration goes back hundreds of years, it was in the early 1900's, the time of Edison and Tesla and the Professor Bradshaw Mysteries, that the accumulated discoveries and inventions built to this sort of critical mass that allowed ideas to leap forward at a crazy pace and practical electrical inventions to begin to become part of the average person's life. Research is my favorite part of writing, and thanks to technology, fairly easy to get my hands on. While I do some research in person at the University of Washington Libraries and MOHAI (the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle), and I have some fabulous historical electrical engineering texts, most of the primary materials I use and peruse are online. Historical newspapers, scientific journals, magazines, books, photographs, maps. Nearly all I need is available online through the digital archive resources of libraries, schools, museums, and more.
3. How do you set about writing a Professor Bradshaw book? Do you map it out before writing or do you listen to the professor to find out where the story will take you? Describe your process.

Every book evolves differently, but my basic approach is to begin with the whodunit or howdunit. As I look for an electrical invention to feature, I also consider motives for murder, a possible victim, a villain. I also think about Professor Bradshaw's personal story, what personal conflicts will develop or be overcome and how I can tie those in with his investigation. I give some thought to other recurrent characters, Bradshaw's son, his friends Detective O'Brien and Henry Pratt, his housekeeper Mrs. Prouty. Then I begin to research both for science and history, and often I will get more ideas from what I learn as to how the story will develop. When I feel I know the skeleton of the story and the major scenes, I begin to write, often pausing to do more research. In the first draft, I figure out the story at the scene level with dialogue and major action and a bit of setting. In the second draft, I flesh out those scenes more, adding more detail and layers to the narrative and emotional reactions. In the third draft, I continue to add detail, refine the language, find more eloquent ways of describing things. In the fourth draft . . . well, you see how it goes. It's not really as tidy as I describe it. Some chapters get to the final draft stage months before others, but eventually it's all done, and that is a wonderful feeling!

4.You’re published through Poisoned Pen Press, an independent publisher specializing in mysteries, how has that experience been and did you need an agent to get read by them?

Poisoned Pen Press is a medium-sized award-winning traditional publisher so authors have the benefits of national distribution and reviews while also enjoying a comfortable, almost casual relationship with the publisher and editors and others that keep the Press running. I do have an agent who's awesome (Jill Grosjean) but PPP accepts unagented submissions and gives all authors equal consideration.

5. eBook vs Print?

I like both, actually. They fill different needs for me. I love that I can always have an ebook or an audio book on my smart phone to sneak in a bit of reading whenever I have a few spare minutes. I love that I can inexpensively buy or freely borrow books 24 hours a day, download them to my phone or Nook in seconds, and read immediately. I also love the feel of a print book in my hand, the heft of it, the sound of the turning pages, the smell of books both new and old. Especially old. When both are available choices for me, I'll always choose the print book to curl up with.

6. Pen & Paper or a computer?

Oh, I'm a computer writer. I'm not one of those writers for whom lyrical prose drips from my pen. I build a story one layer at a time, and a computer serves my process well. See answer #3!

7. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

Goodness, I wish I knew! You're right that the most important thing is to tell our stories as best we can and to just keep writing. Beyond that, success is an elusive thing, and not always bestowed fairly.  Perhaps the most important thing beside writing well is to keep writing. Keep learning, keep challenging yourself, keep completing books and sending them out into the world. Most writers aren't overnight successes. Some of the biggest authors were published for years with very modest sales before a book suddenly took off and launched them into bestsellerdom. Or over the years, a readership built up to bestselling levels. I'm kinda hoping that happens to me and the Professor.

8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Ha! I have no secret talents, but what a fun question. Makes me wish I had something to share. And I'm afraid I'll disappoint you with my crazy research answer. I built a homemade Leyden jar, but that's not crazy, and only takes a glass and a bit of foil. My go-to science guy, electrical engineer Bill Beaty, once burned sulfur in his basement for me. That's not crazy either, just smelly.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, and I look forward to more Professor Bradshaw Mysteries.

Thank you for the opportunity to introduce my series to your readers, Lynn.

A book trailer can be found here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Fish Out Of Water


One of the ways to boost learning, imagination, and to kick-start slow moving braincells is to do something completely outside of your comfort zone. Or maybe that’s just my way, since I’ve found myself in a ‘sink or swim’ situation often enough that it’s become an accepted occurrence.

My latest ‘situation’ occurred when I signed on as a mentor for a local high school robotics team. No, not as a technical mentor, but to help out with fundraising and communications. Learning to write a good press release or grant application are useful skills for budding roboticists/scientists. And certainly among the encouraged skills to learn by the world wide organization that supports the robotics teams: FIRST.

I’ll admit, at my first meeting I felt like a fish out of water, but by the second meeting I started to get a feel for the team; a group of about 30 students with near boundless enthusiasm and a desire to be part of this group and participate in the competitions.

A first cursory glance at the various documents that will need to be created over the next few months, showed me that I will have more than enough to do at weekly meetings. A little coaching, proofreading and offering helpful suggestions are just a few of the things I’ll be doing.

Though I’m there as a mentor, I suspect I’ll learn at least as much as the kids, which will enrich my writing in countless ways, especially my stories for teens. I may even pick up some technical knowledge that I can use for future sci-fi stories.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fall coupon for e-books and stories

I just received word from my editor that Kobo ( is offering a coupon code that is good for the entire month that will give readers 50% off their purchase. That means that every single title by Untreed Reads and all of its distribution clients can be purchased at 50% off with the code, and there is no limit to the number of titles that can be purchased. See below. This is too good not to share!

This would be a great time to try out some short stories for around 50 cents each. A great way to try a new author, or to get my short story "The Fountain Pen" as this may be your last chance to get it. It will get rolled into my novella "Tales from the Fountain Pen" in a few weeks time.  

This special Kobo sale is great for a number of reasons:
1. All books purchased through Kobo are EPUBs, meaning they can be read on every single device or computer in the world except for a Kindle or the Kindle app.

2. Kobo has its own free app for all reading devices and computers. My editor has it installed on his Mac,  iPad, Galaxy S3 and  Barnes and Noble Nook!

3. Readers from around the world can buy from Kobo! 

4. Kobo has a program that supports your local bookstores and enables your local brick-and-mortar to sell ebooks and stay open.

Please consider purchasing through the link below so Untreed Reads can track sales of items they publish (for a complete listing of their books and stories, go to Untreed Reads). 
Please use the following URL for the sale:
and use coupon code Sept50

Thank you and happy September reading!
(next posts won't use the word 'great' quite so much, I promise, but the idea of selling one of my stories and having it read by someone is still very cool!)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

September Book Review

                                                     A SPARK OF DEATH

September book review

A Spark of Death
By: Bernadette Pajer

The first Professor Bradshaw mystery.
(Seattle in the time of Tesla)

A treasure of a read picked up by chance at Sparks; Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham, which by the way, is a hidden gem of a museum.

A murder mystery set in 1901 Seattle using electricity (no, that’s not a spoiler, trust me) and the mere mention of maverick inventor Nikola Tesla, were enough for me to buy this book.

The author has done her research and the story is liberally populated with historical details without crowding out the characters and the actual story. The details are just there to give you a sense of the place and time.

Professor Bradshaw (teacher of engineering at what is now the University of Washington) is a very human protagonist; a widower with a young son, and feeling himself withdrawn from the world, meticulously keeping track of what he has to do each day in an effort to give order and meaning to his life. The professor is drawn in fine detail and his knowledge of electricity and its uses at the time appears very accurate, which for me, adds an extra layer of interest to the story.

When he is falsely accused of the murder of his colleague he stops at nothing to find the real killer, and to figure out how it was done, in the process rediscovering himself as well.

Ms. Pajer writes as if she stepped back in time and lived the events described. Not just by including the right details for Seattle at the time, a city on the cusp of explosive growth, but by placing events in a greater historical context. In particular America’s first, failed, experiment in colonialism; the war in the Philippines which had a tremendous impact on many of the young men who came back from the conflict and returned to university (such as the University of Washington).

Also included is mention of Tesla’s alternating current power plant as demonstrated at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 which changed the field of electricity.

I look forward to reading more in the Professor Bradshaw series.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kitchen Table Scribbler

As the excellent and often underrated British author Penelope Fitzgerald once observed ‘women are all kitchen table scribblers...’ She meant that we write when and where we can find a moment, in between the demands of work, kids, spouse and household chores. I myself have been known to run away from the stove where things were threatening to bubble over to jot down a quick note or a line of dialogue before it disappeared again.

In all honesty, and to head off any cries of sexism, this can apply to male authors too.

It seems these days many of us start our literary careers at work. In my case, and I seem to be in good company there, it started while working an endless string of dull temp jobs. I can remember a few where I was able to fill at least half a notebook.

One temp job in particular stands out in my memory. Not because it was a fun one or particularly easy to get to, I had to sit in traffic for almost an hour each way, but because there was truly, absolutely, nothing to do. To alleviate the boredom that mushroomed in between two or three phone calls I had to answer and the odd person coming to the counter, I decided to put the old computer at my workstation to good use and write a book.

It wasn’t a very well thought out book, but I was working my imagination and keeping busy between 8 am and 5 pm. The mandated lunch break was just a chance to stretch my legs, find a decent cup of coffee and have a sandwich before returning to ‘my book’.

The office was staffed by total of 3 people, women with conflicting ambitions, and there didn’t appear much communication between any of them as they all huddled in their individual offices, ignoring me. As long as they signed my work card I was happy to be left alone.

Once I’d finished ‘my book’ I realized I needed a way to get it off that computer and home with me. I’d already printed out each days‘ progress as I went along; just a few pages a day so as not arouse suspicion if the printer went on too long. I carefully selected the woman to ask for a diskette (yes, it was that long ago), assuming she was the least likely to give me away as she was quite junior there, and there were whispers she would be transferred to another office soon.

I picked wrong.
I got my diskette and blissfully went home with 'my book' on it ... but the next morning I got a phone call from the temp agency saying my contract had been cut short due to budgeting issues, or some such vague reason. I shrugged it off and moved on.

Two days later I had another temp job. This time I was told I could read if things were slow, as long as I would hide the book if a client showed up at the counter. It turned out to be a great opportunity to catch up on some of the classics in literature.

All time well-spent in honing the craft of a writer.

PS: No interview this month. It wasn’t possible to organize one with the end of summer vacation looming and back-to-school details to attend to.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Train Writer

An underrated pleasure of travel in the US is train travel. Sure the rails are old and bumpy making my pen sway across the page in an inelegant scrawl, but I have legroom, a view and no traffic jams. Good coffee and a decent sandwich can be had on board as well.

I don’t have to do any driving and the wait at the station before boarding isn’t nearly as long or onerous as at the airport ... and I get to keep my shoes on before boarding!

There are no distraught children because there are no air pressure changes that hurt their ears.

In short, nothing to distract me from making up stories about my fellow passengers and the things I see rushing by outside the window to the soothing clickity-clack of the rails with the occasional clanging of crossing guard bells.

We rush past farm houses and fields of corn and potatoes. There’s a crumbling jetty, once we start hugging the inland coast line, with an old towel and no-trespass sign that’s bound to have stories to tell.

Then there’s the grandmother with her 2-inch hot pink nails, rhinestone bedecked white denim clothes and small grey braids wound around her head, playing bingo on her big purple cellphone. A very cheerful woman with a ready smile off to see her grandchildren. Life has given her permission to be eccentric.

There are the young students headed to Canada for some late summer adventure, their faces flushed with excitement, smiling, no, grinning happily. It must be some adventure! My imagination runs wild.

And what of the family of four from somewhere in the former East Block? I can’t manage to place their language, but I’m sure it will come to me before the end of the trip. Only one of them speaks English, and I wonder if she’s perhaps a university exchange student traveling with visiting relatives.

Theirs is certainly once conversation I won’t be eavesdropping on.

Not that I make it a habit to listen in on the conversations of others, but snatches caught on the air of a train can make for good story material. If only to get a sense of the colloquial speech patterns of various generations on that train, which might come in useful in some future book.

I can see why Alfred Hitchcock placed so many of his movies on trains, they offer no end of possibilities.

I’d also like to use this opportunity to give a big shout-out to the very cheerful staff on the Amtrak Cascades train who made the trip even more pleasant.
Amtrak Cascades logo

Friday, August 16, 2013

August Book Review

Cuckoo's Calling Cover

The Cuckoo’s Calling
By: Robert Galbraith a.k.a. J.K. Rowling

This book intrigued me and found its way into my shopping cart before I knew Robert Galbraith was the pen-name for J.K. Rowling.

I’m not sure, to be honest, if I enjoyed the book more or less after finding out the author’s true identity. In some ways I’m saddened that she was outed so early on as I think Robert Galbraith could have stood on his own as an author without Ms. Rowling’s fame. Galbraith could have enjoyed that slow, agonizing trek up the publishing ladder ... well, except that there was already a decent marketing machine behind him, something many first-time published authors don’t have.

What I did notice while reading the book - which is a good read by the way - is that I kept looking for hints of Rowling’s more famous characters, just to see which traits she would transfer, carry over into other writing. Somewhere in one of the more important characters I did spot a hint of Hermione Granger, which by Rowling’s own admission is a character closest to her own. So it should come as no surprise that we find her in this book.

But it’s not my intention to pick a good read apart and certainly I do not want to comment on Rowling’s style. I just want to review what was a satisfying, well-crafted detective story.

It has many elements of the ‘hard-boiled’ genre, but would probably be placed on the tamer side of that shelf because it wasn’t as gritty or cynical as say a Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammet book, but certainly fitting with the things the down-on-his luck private eye, Cormoran Strike, has already witnessed in his own extremely dysfunctional upbringing and military career and now his detecting business.

As this was the author’s first foray into the whodunit genre there is still room for growth, and I look forward to more.

For me it was a satisfying summer read, nothing too heavy, just a good page-turner, and that is what summer reading should be all about.  

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tricia Lawrence Interview

On a beautiful, sunny, July day I had the pleasure of welcoming Tricia Lawrence, Associate Agent and Social Media Strategist for Erin Murphy Literary to my table.
Tricia, welcome and thank you for agreeing to this interview.

1. A question I’m sure many beginning and fledgling authors have is what can a literary agent do for an author? And why would it be good to work with an agent instead of going it alone?

A literary agent is not an absolute necessity, especially in this publishing environment. If an author plans to self-publish, plans to go with a small press first, wants to publish digital only (either with a press, or self-pub), those situations usually do not require an agent’s assistance.
But if I can press the pro-agent side for those who are interested in the trade market, want to submit their work to publishers that utilize agent relationships, and want a partner in this publishing game, please do consider finding an agent.
An agent can rescue an already published author who finds his/her career has stalled midlist, an agent can take a prepublished author and set them on a path with a book a year, two books a year, a mix of small press and large trade publishers. With an agent, an author finds more exposure, introductions to people and publishers, which can work for them. I often sign clients who want to have an agent so they can focus on the writing and let me focus on the selling and strategizing.

2. With all the changes in publishing in the past 5 to 10 years, from mega-mergers to the growth of E-books and Indie E-publishers, how has that changed an agent’s role?

It’s definitely changed a lot. We see a lot of contract terms being altered, evolving, and some of it’s good and some of it is not so good. I also see power returning to authors in so many ways. There are growing opportunities to be seen and to prove your writing skill and what used to not ever mix now mixes. Traditionally published authors self-pub and then find a publisher for their next book. Authors do both self-pub and trade pub at the same time. Authors start with digital only and then get a print-only deal.
We also see a lot of not-quite-ready-for-primetime manuscripts. Just because there is a fast way to get pubbed does not mean a manuscript doesn’t need critique partners and beta readers and editors. ;)

3. How has social media changed the way an author interacts with an audience?

Everything you say and do online is held up as you. I caution all writers to be careful about responding to rejections or bad reviews without first taking a deep breath and thinking about what those mean in the long term. A bad review or rejection is quickly forgotten (once we’ve all had chocolate!), but responding in an emotional state publicly keeps it alive and keeps you focused on the negative.
I find social media to be good in small doses. A little bit in the morning and a little bit in the afternoon and then get off the social media and go write.
I also advocate for authors to find out who they are and who their audience is and to actively work to talk to that audience with their authentic message, otherwise, social media can get overwhelming very quickly.

4. What gets you excited as an agent? 

A wonderful manuscript that won’t let me put it down and a professional author who is open to revision and can handle waiting (and waiting and waiting) and oftentimes rejection after rejection after rejection. Because I know that the author and oftentimes that manuscript will succeed. Eventually. Reminder: This is not an industry for those who are in a hurry.

5. E-books vs traditional publishing?

Both. I buy both. I read both. I encourage my clients to do both, as long as we’re balancing it so that their career is enhanced, not inhibited. ;) I think we’ve seen that traditional publishing is still there and e-books are growing. We’ll see what it looks like in six months to a year. So much changes every single week!

6. What is the most important thing an author can do, aside from write well, to further their career?

To be aware of the realities of the industry they are in. Publishing does not owe you, an agent does not have to respond, an editor does not have to buy your book, readers don’t have to give you starred reviews, book buyers don’t have to stock your book . . . To write and to be agented and edited and published and reviewed is part of a great and wonderful tradition. It’s an honor.

And it’s also a business. Pay attention to what’s going on in the industry, read piles of books in your chosen genre, find out who edits your favorites, make this work your passion, the love of your life. If writing is (channeling Heather Sellers, author of PAGE AFTER PAGE) the love of your life, it will be the center of your life and you will adore it and cherish it and find no fault with it. Those authors inspire me. As an author myself, this is what I aspire to. Love is patient, love is kind . . . as the old saying goes.

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your work as an agent? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get an author published? 

My secret talent is attention to detail. My curse is that I was raised to be a perfectionist, which I am learning to live with, but with that comes an incredible noticing of every significant or not significant detail. Perhaps because I was born on Martha Stewart’s birthday? But no, alas, I do not have drawers of organized trinkets neatly labeled. I wish! My office is a disaster.

Tricia, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview, you've given some wonderful advice that I, for one, will take to heart!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Perils of Research

I always thought I would be writing science fiction, even though my knowledge of science is limited. My fountain pen collection would be my one-off foray into historical fiction, or so I thought.

Admittedly, there are some minor elements of magic realism in the Fountain Pen stories, you could even call it science fiction elements, if you like; the pen being the portal into the past.

In planning my next book I happened to ask an old friend in France a simple question which touched off a flurry of emails racing back and forth across the continent and the Atlantic Ocean. Historical fiction seems be my niche after all. The combination of science fiction and historical fiction seems to working well for author Connie Willis, so why not me?

I have stacks of emails with more information than I could possibly cram into one book. My friend, too, is finding out much more about the Alsace region of France during WWII than he imagined. It’s a complicated and very human history, deeply entangled with the land, culture and the past. Much of what happened in 1940 was set in motion after WWI and the Treaty of Versailles.

But in between the interesting, the shocking, the surprising and down-right fascinating exploration of individual stories we’ve been collecting, there is also the occasional buried secret. A secret so dark and so unpleasant that it has been buried in the very fibers of the individuals tasked with keeping it. To reveal it would cost too much and do too much damage, even now, so very many years later.

Relentless digging, following trails that lead to dead-ends and then suddenly open onto side roads nobody really wanted to walk on. In order to protect some very good people we have now become the keepers of this particular secret.

Not to worry though, I have more than enough research to fill at least two books and I will continue to throw in tiny bits of magic realism where I can. My first chapter has already been rewritten three times, but that is the nature of historical fiction. How else can I make my characters seem alive and true?

What started as an idea for a ‘simple’ ghost story has grown into quite a bit more!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

July Book Review

World War Z
By: Max Brooks

I wasn’t at all sure I’d like this book. Zombies are not really my thing, but at the urging of my offspring I took up the challenge of reading it; reading only during daylight hours and steeling myself for the gruesome bits.

Much to my surprise, though, World War Z is actually a very good book. Yes, there are gruesome bits, but they are in context, not gratuitous. The format of first person accounts as related to the narrator is inspired, and I marvel at the author’s in-depth knowledge of the history and socio-political state of the many regions his narrator visits to collect these stories.

What strikes me most of all is the seemingly very accurate descriptions of how easily a society unravels when faced with a threat on the scale of the Zombie epidemic. That humanity prevailed in the end is in no small part due to individuals who step up and go outside established the rules of society, some willingly, some under orders.

Societies are in essence nothing more than groups of people who have chosen to live together for economic and security reasons. These groups agree to abide by certain rules in order to enjoy the benefits of the group, and they know the consequences of breaking the rules. The concept of how and why societies form is a theme that shows up in many of the early books by Robert Heinlein, “Tunnel in the Sky” in particular comes to mind.

What happens when that group agreement faces an extraordinary threat, in this case Zombies, is something we’ve seen at various points in history. It unravels. Panic ensues, and the social niceties disappear. The majority of humans seem to revert to some dormant character trait stored deep in the lizard brain, the home of the fight-or flight response.

All this is what Max Brooks describes in eloquent vignettes of ‘real‘ people who have survived the horrors of the Zombie epidemic. Many of these characters stayed with me longer after I finished the book, along with an inkling of how truly fragile is our society... 

And, a bonus book review from a teen.
Here are Spencer's impressions of World War Z

It was a quick read, you can get into it easily and it reads quickly. It was super-realistic, you feel like you were there with the survivors, and not just with the military types but also with the people who made no contribution at all but just tried to survive. Or those who did the seemingly unimportant jobs that needed to be done too.

It didn’t focus too much on the horror that most zombie materials focus on, instead it focused on the human element. It felt like it was a real chronicled history instead of a fictional what-if. It also had a lot of realism and emotion in it. You could get a good sense of the feelings of the interviewees, and how they thought and reacted to everything.

The book made you think how things would play out if this really happened and how much it would follow what happened in the book; the reactions of governments and people. In the book it really comes down to people.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dianne Lynn Gardner Interview

On a beautifully cloudy day, like you only find in the Pacific Northwest, I gathered up my notebook, bus pass and a copy of Dianne Lynn Gardner’s book Deception Peak, and took an hour-long ferry ride across Puget Sound to meet with this remarkable author and artist. We picked each other out at the Ferry Terminal without a problem and set off for a nearby Starbucks to talk about writing.

Welcome, thanks for meeting me today to talk about your work.

1. What was the inspiration for the Ian’s Realm Saga? I’ve just started reading the first book, Deception Peak, and am enjoying the adventure. As readers of my blog will know I have a weakness for dragons.

I really wanted to write a book for boys. I always loved the adventure books like Tom Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland, and others like it. I wanted to write something in the fantasy genre, with adventure, troubles, etc. I have 9 grandsons and sadly they don’t read a lot of books as there just aren’t that many good YA books out there for boys.

I also wanted an excuse to paint a dragon. I painted a large panel of the dragon then added two more, one on either side. Each panel shows the cover of each book in the trilogy. The entire painting measure 9 ft by 4 ft.

While painting the dragon the story and Ian came into my head. The books grew from there. 

2. You have an uncanny ability to get into the skin of a teenager. How do you do it?

Maybe I never grew up. I love teenagers and I have teenage grandchildren, 9 of them are boys.
I can get into boys heads. Some part of me is a tomboy. I feel a deep compassion for young boys. I can see that struggle in them of the boy wanting to be a man, but not being quite ready yet. Their task is to prove to themselves and to the world they’re learning. It’s a struggle.

3. You are also an accomplished and award-winning visual artist, how does one feed the other and vice versa?

I studied art longer than writing. Art taught me about ‘seeing’
daVinci said: Art is knowing how to see.
So in my writing I can explain things with an artist’s eye. It adds a layer of richness, I think.

4. Your books are available through a small independent publisher, Hydra Publications, what has your experience been working with them?

Hydra has been great. It’s almost impossible for a new author to get into a big publisher. Since I’m in my 60s I didn’t want to wait another 10 years to get a book published. I also didn’t want to self-publish as that does still have a bit of a stigma attached to it. With a publisher, and an editor, you get validation that someone is backing your work.
It’s been a very positive experience working with Hydra and they published 4 of my short stories and 3 of my books.

And now a few of my standard questions that are designed to help other writers and give an insight into the business. 

5. ebooks vs. traditional publishing?

Ebook is the best way to start these days. If you wait to be picked up by a traditional publisher you’ll find it can take a long time. Epublishing offers a great way to hone your craft while building an audience.

6. Pen & paper or a computer?

Computer, but I always start with pen and paper to draw a map of the story or book since I’m a visual person. The only time I hand write is in the car if I have a thought I want to keep (obviously not while driving).

7. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

Blog, use social media, get the word out. Have an online presence. I had a blog before I even began writing. On there I started blogging about wanting to write and how that process developed.


8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your writing? Or what is the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research for a book or artwork?

I’ll take the second part of that question:
- I learned all about yurts and blogged about it from my friends who do historical reenactments.
- Explored a mile-long lava tube near Mt. Saint Helens which would make a perfect dragon’s lair.
- Had the opportunity to sail on the Lady Washington which gave me a lot of information.

Thank you and happy writing! Now I’d better go catch my ferry back before the weather gets bad.

I've included one of Dianne's book trailers below. Enjoy!
Dragon Shield Trailer

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guilty Pleasures

I know what you’re thinking, guilty pleasures must mean sex, drugs and rock & roll, or at the very least chocolate. But you’re wrong. For me a guilty pleasure is reading old superhero comic books.

Yep, Superman, Batman and the Justice League. Preferably from the 1940s and 1950s and some from the early 1960, with an occasional one from the early 1990s.

I do branch out into the Martian Manhunter, the Flash and others as well, but Superman and Batman were the first, and a girl never forgets her first.

For me they continue to provide a cultural history lesson into this country I choose to live in. The early stories of both Superman and Batman were started in the 1930s at a time of great economic uncertainty and much social injustice, not just in the US but across the world. The rise of Nazi Germany created another opportunity for superheroes to flex their superhuman muscles to protect the innocent and the downtrodden.

Throughout the stories you can see the progression of ills befalling society that require clean up. The old stories so clearly illustrate the desire of young men (they wrote and drew these stories and also read them) to believe that there might be someone out there, a little different, a little stronger (okay, a lot stronger), and with unshakable moral convictions of what was right and wrong, who could make their lives better.

For example it’s been speculated that one of Superman’s powers, the fact that bullets can’t hurt him, was put into the story because one of the creators of the hero lost his father to gun violence. (Superman was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, high school students living in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1933.)

But the actual super powers are less of what draws me to the stories. The earlier stories show me a country in turmoil trying to find its identity in a world teetering on a precarious cusp between good and evil. The stories, as they progress, show me how America found its place in the world, for better or worse. From almost cowering isolationism, to -initially reluctant - hero of WWII, to ebullient economic super-power. With the launch of the space program stories joined in and added more threats from outer space.  I’ve not read many of the more recent comic books as the extremely exaggerated muscles and profusion of blood and gore are a bit of a turn off, and a distraction to the story for me.

The recent movie trilogy of Iron Man has made me curious about the progression of his story, so I shall delve into those starting at the beginning. Time permitting of course.

Of course, reading these books is also a great way to stay connected with my offspring.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June Book Review

Inferno: A Novel Cover

Inferno by Dan Brown
(spoiler in the last paragraph)

I wanted to like this book, I really did, because I enjoy puzzles and mysteries and the symbolism found in Renaissance Italy. The idea of traipsing through Florence and seeing some great art and architecture along the way should have been icing on the cake.

This cake however was underdone and overdecorated.

The pace of the story, a basic race against time, kept getting slowed down by the endless, detailed explanations of every bit of artwork, building and mosaic the narrator passed by.

In addition there is considerable repetition of information, as if the reader won’t remember what was said only a short chapter or two before. It reminds me of the admonishment brandished by my favorite writing teacher, “Don’t underestimate the intelligence of your reader. Don’t explain what should be obvious from the previous sentence.”

Ultimately the book feels more like a long lecture on the dangers of overpopulation with endless history and art-history lectures woven in. It feels like maybe it should have been two separate books. Two very different, separate books.

I was left with the impression that perhaps Mr. Brown feels some considerable sympathy for the actions of his antagonist ... to randomly sterilize one third of the world population to eliminate future population growth. I suppose in that sense the book succeeded in that it made me think about the perils of population growth that face our fragile planet. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Craig Orback Interview

This month I welcome award-winning illustrator, and my former neighbor, Craig Orback, for apple pie and a chat about illustrating.
   My Photo 

1. Welcome Craig. Your illustrating career is going quite well, are you at a point yet where you can choose projects?
I don’t really get to choose, often it’s an assignment and there’s little choosing. I do on occasion turn down a project because I’m too busy with other projects or if I really don’t like the story, but I rarely do that. I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
This illustrator rarely gets to choose projects.

2. How does an illustrator work with an author? Can you walk me through the process and how involved are writers with the illustrations? 
For picture books the publishers tend to keep the author and illustrator separate. An illustrator works with the publisher’s art director who will show initial sketches to the author. But the illustrator must be free to come up with their own ideas.

3. You’re currently involved with a rather unique project, can you tell me some more about that.
The project is called “Gifts from the Enemy” and is an exciting nonfiction picture book project that I have been working on with bestselling author Trudy Ludwig. Trudy's inspiration for “Gifts from the Enemy” is Alter Wiener, a teen survivor of five prison labor camps during WW II and the author of "From a Name to a Number".

“Gifts from the Enemy” is carefully crafted to educate young readers in an age-appropriate way about the dangers of hatred, stereotyping, and prejudice. It’s also a story of hope for anyone who has ever been devalued or treated poorly by others—not for what they’ve done but simply for being who they are. The cool thing about this children's book is that it also includes a brief history overview, vocabulary, discussion questions, AND activities to promote social justice and kindness in kids!

Trudy found me through an extensive search of the SCBWI Northwest site. She wanted just the right illustrator and someone in either Oregon or Washington who might be able to travel to Portland to meet with her and Alter in person.

I had previously illustrated a Holocaust picture book called “Keeping the Promise”, about ten years ago, and I always wanted to do more. I have an interest in WWII and I also felt I could do a better job now that I have more skills and experience.

Trudy gave me the story and after I read it I had my agent negotiate the contract. By January we were set to go and by March I had the story board, sketches and a working layout. I worked closely with the designer at the publishing company to determine the layout.


I did lots of research, online, at libraries and from the author’s notes before she wrote the picture book.

I had a month to paint two larger paintings for the Kickstart Campaign to fund the production of the book. For that I had to find a model who could stand in for a young Alter. No pictures of his youth have survived the war.

4. How do you manage to get your people to look so realistic and detailed?
 I like working with live models. I’ll put the word out on the SCBWI blogs when I need a certain type or look and then I take lots of pictures to work from. For my most recent project “Boys Camp” I took lots of pictures of different boys involved in outdoor activities. It gets pretty chaotic at times.

5. ebooks vs. traditional publishing? How has the growth of ebooks changed how you work?
Ebooks haven’t changed my work at all. If a publisher wants to do an ebook of a book I’ve illustrated they simply buy the digital rights.

6. Paints & a brush, or a computer?
I work traditionally. Most of my work is in oil paints or acrylics but I do use Photoshop to tweak things. Often I have to give digital files so I scan in my work and adjust things like contrast in Photoshop before I send them off. 

7. What do you think is the most important thing an illustrator can do to increase their odds of a successful career?
I started out on my own for the first few years and had some success. What really helped me was going to New York to show my portfolio to publishers and leave samples. I go back every few years.
Getting involved with SCBWI helped me learn about the business and the craft, especially at the conferences.
Having an agent helps once you're busy working. An agent can keep you in front of publishers and bring you new assignments.
Also, read your contacts carefully, meet your deadlines and be open to changes.

8. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret, and does it help in your art? Or what is the craziest thing you’ve ever done as research?
I think I’ll take the second question. The craziest thing I’ve done is have my wife wrap me in toilet paper to make me look like a mummy. She took many pictures!


Thanks for stopping by, Craig, and good luck with your current project!