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We have talked for the past eighteen months, every single Thursday, about what it takes to not only write a novel, but be a novel writer. My first editor said he was very happy with my second novel and that, “made me a writer, not just a guy who wrote a book.” I always remembered that.

I think now I can consider myself a blogger and not just a guy who wrote a blog. I wouldn't write consistently for any other blog because I did this one for all the right reasons. I did it because Patty, Jackie and Paul are my friends. They talked me into it. Specifically Patty did. And I'm glad that she did. It helped me organize my thoughts on writing and gave me something I could refer students to when I teach writing classes.

I have enjoyed reading about Patty's life and her search for a new agent and about Jackie's travels and the release of the latest Maisie Dobbs novel, A Dangerous Place: A Maisie Dobbs Novel. And Paul's current release of Bum Rap, which is already in the top five of the Amazon ranks and will be officially released July 1. I suspect it is going to be a monster hit.


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I also took on the blog because I like to stay busy. The last two months have been more than I could ever ask for as far as being busy. It has been absolutely crazy. Among other things, I decided to enter a retirement program with my day job which doesn't really change much except now I'm on a countdown to walking away. Otherwise, I don't know that I would just walk away.

It's a change and it's scary, but so is writing. As I said before, I do consider writing and publishing as two separate endeavors. Writing may be scary, but publishing is just terrifying. There is no consistency or reliability. I view every novel that comes out as my last novel. That way if I get another contract it's all gravy. I usually feel pretty confident in that approach. Now I have the same view of my police job. Anything from here on out is all gravy.

As I sit in this odd state of transition, I realize the best part of it is that I am busier than ever with several different (and unusual) projects in the works. Some of these are standard writing projects and some are wild swings at the fences type, all or nothing ventures. Those are easier to take when you have a career behind you and a comfortable life around you.

I'm going to take a break from the blog and thank you all for listening to me for the past year and a half. I'm sure I'll have other things to say, but for at least this summer, I'm going to focus on other things.

Have a great summer.

Your friend,

Jim B.
     
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Look, Remember, Chuck ... well, maybe, maybe not ...

from Jacqueline

My mother has just had hip replacement surgery at the age of almost 88, a procedure that came with high risk due to a heart condition.  And to add to all our heart conditions – as if the worry didn't do it – a few weeks before the scheduled operation, she decided it was time to move from her home of 33 years, to a seniors’ complex in the next village as soon as she was out of the hospital.  She was so excited about moving to the 2-bedroom apartment, that she could not wait to get there.  The good news is that we’ve managed to slow her down (she was only discharged from the hospital this week), so now the move is scheduled for early August, which gives my brother and I time to really get going on the packing.  As John is only here in the UK for a few more days, and I leave in two weeks, (returning to the UK again for the move), we have to go all out to get as much of the heavy clearing done before he leaves.  And that means going through lots of “stuff.”

For those of you who have endured this process, you know that memories are dredged up every single day, with every box, case, file or under-the-bed container you find.  Your past selves are revealed not only in your own belongings, but in those of your family, and things that never went home after being left by a visitor.

It was when I found a very old 5-year diary that I decided upon what had to be my strategy for dealing with the amount of “stuff” we have to go through. It’s my “Look-Remember-Chuck”method of house clearance. We have several categories for disposal of, well, almost everything.  There’s the stuff that clearly has to go to the dump or the recycling center.  Why did my Dad keep so much old wood, and so many old wires? They go straight for recycling.  Anything beyond repair or that would never be anyone’s treasure – to the dump. Then there’s the donation category, where everything that might be worth something to someone goes to the donation program supporting the hospice where in 2012 my Dad spent his last three weeks. Those staff were truly amazing, wonderful people, and we do as much as we can to support the hospice, which runs almost entirely on donations – there is no charge to the patient for being in their care. They have a huge warehouse distributing donated items to stores in several local towns, or selling them on eBay and Amazon, and they also have a furniture center. 

Back to the diary.  I was about 12 when I received the diary as a gift from Aunt Lil.  I wrote in it for all of about, oh, three months – but yesterday there was enough material to entertain me for a while – when I should have been packing, I confess.  I think I have remembered who “X” was – well, it was either him or his brother that I had a terrible crush on.  And cccording to the diary, I was fed up with my brother on numerous occasions.  I had great fun with my friend Ann – probably because she knew “X.”  I was shattered when Jennifer emigrated to Canada – I didn't need a diary to remind me of the shock I felt when she left. I kept every card and gift she ever gave me – from a pen and pencil set (“You’re always writing, Jackie, so I thought you needed another pen …”), to the ring she brought from Canada on her first trip home, though for her it wasn’t home any more.  She didn’t sound anything like the old Jen. The pen and pencil set are on top of another pile to go to the hospice donation center. I might waver yet.

I have read old greeting cards, remembered the friends who sent them, and then let them go.  I cannot ship everything back to the USA, so I have had to be ruthless – look, remember, chuck.

I have dug out many of my old books – books I’d left at the house I grew up in, but never took with me when I left home, so my parents brought them to this house for storage.  The local library was the source of my reading material as a child – no one I knew could afford books. Yet books were acquired, many of them very old – my dad’s job as a house painter and decorator brought him into contact with people who were disposing of unwanted items before having a room or whole house painted, so we were the willing recipients of old books, among other treasures.  But here’s the funny thing - in every book read, I’d noted very specific information on the first page. I don’t remember doing this.  I’d written my name, my address, the date and my age at the time, together with an estimate of the book’s age. “My name is Jacqueline Winspear,” followed by the address (ending with the obligatory “Kent, England, World, Universe, Infinity, Space …”), and “I am 10 years old and I estimate this book to be approximately 25 years old.”  Many of my dad’s clients were elderly and so were the books, so I would say I was out by a good 30-50 years on most of those cast-offs! One of the books I packed up today – thankfully not scribbled in – was a copy of Alice In Wonderland, published in the late 1800’s, which I think was roughly when it was first published.  But I wonder why I chose to inscribe my books with such detail?  Perhaps it was the way of the child, trying to establish her place in the world.

I have found letters from people I’ve struggled to remember, and many who I would love to see again. I have decided to let go of photographs, ornaments, and all sorts of do-dads.  Look, remember, chuck. Mum and John are doing the same, sort of.

My brother is shipping an old costermonger’s barrow back to the USA. My granddad was a Covent Garden costermonger; a man who sold fruit and vegetables from a barrow that was either pushed or horse-drawn.  His business was always up or down, dependent upon the state of his lungs, which had been damaged by gas in WW1.  When his breathing became so bad he could not function, the red ambulance would come to take him away to the coast for a while.  The horse and cart would be sold, and the business lost, leaving the family in dire straits.  Then granddad returned and started all over again with a push-barrow.  As soon as he could afford it, he traded in the barrow for a cart and he bought a horse. He’d add another horse and cart as his business grew once more. Then his lungs would go, and everything would be sold.  He would come home and struggle to start all over again. Such peaks and troughs were a feature of my father’s early life, so when my brother brought home a dilapidated costermonger’s barrow some thirty years ago – the typical costermongers barrow was of a specific design– my father took on the job of restoration, and I think it might have been some sort of cathartic process for him, though my down-to-earth dad would never hold with such psycho-babble.  My brother won’t part with that barrow, so off it goes, winging its way to a new home in California.

Each day we begin again. Look-Remember-Chuck.  John just came into the kitchen where I’ve been working, and placed a book next to my computer.  “This is yours Jackie.  Do you want it?”  It’s my old copy of The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico.  It came from my school library, and I chose it because it was my cousin Stephanie’s favorite book, and I would have read anything she told me I should read. It's interesting that I never returned the book.  My cousin Stephanie passed away almost 19 years ago at a heartbreakingly early age.  She named her daughter after the story’s main character.  She so loved that name; she maintained that, if she had a little girl, she would call her Fritha. Well, our Fritha now has three children of her own, bless her!  Look – Remember – Chuck.  No, I can’t let this book go.  Maybe Fritha would like it, though I am sure she has a ton of copies.  That’s the other option you see – pass the stuff onto other people.  When I look around the house, that’s where so many things came from – other people who were much loved.  That’s why we need our steely look-remember - chuck resolve. 

There are a lot of people out there writing books about getting rid of our stuff, but let’s face it, any house is a big old memory box. Every time you put your hand in, you come out with something that, for better or worse, has a place in your heart. And even if X never did look at me twice, I know I loved him dearly for a good month at least.  Well, according to the diary I did.


“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby
     
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MAKING HISTORY SEXY

D.J. Niko

I’m among friends, so I can be truthful, right?

Then I’ll just be out with it: Historical fiction is not the most exciting genre in publishing. Readers either love it—and really seek it out—or not. There’s no, “Hmm, I wonder what I should read next. Oh, look, this novel about civil unrest during the time of King Harald of Norway might be fun.”

This rule also applies if you’re writing historical fiction. You can’t be lukewarm about it; you have to be all in. You have to immerse yourself in the time period you’re writing about, and you have to geek out on things like authentic language, period wardrobe, and customs of the era. And to accomplish all this, you have to do inordinate amounts of research, much of which might not b
e readily available. Like I said, you have to love it.
 
So, how to make history sexier for readers, for those of us toiling away in the genre, and for the agents and publishers who stand between the two? There has been much debate about the use of a “celebrity”—a historical figure who is instantly recognizable and to whom readers can relate. A few examples of such protagonists include Frank Lloyd Wright in Loving Frank, Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson in The Paris Wife, and the Tudors in umpteen novels. There is an inherent allure to such stories, since they promise to take readers into the intimate worlds of larger-than-life personalities from the past. I mean, who doesn’t want to know what Hemingway’s Paris was like?

There is merit to this technique. (All the titles mentioned above were major best-sellers.) But it is also fraught with peril. For one thing, if you’re going to be writing about someone that famous, you’d better get your facts in perfect order. Everything from the series of events to the protagonist’s facial ticks must be historically accurate or risk alienating the reader.

But while historical depictions can’t veer from recorded facts, the story itself has to be intriguing enough to capture the imagination (this is fiction, after all), something for which history does not always allow. One way to get around this, and to prevent the story from becoming too biographical, is to tell the story from the point of view of a character in the celebrity’s orbit. In Loving Frank, for example, the story is told from the POV of Mamah Cheney, Wright’s illicit lover. The affair between Mamah and Frank did indeed happen, but little is known about the woman who left her family to be with the charismatic architect. By inserting Frank (sexy), author Nancy Horan got our attention; but by developing Mamah (unknown) as the main character, she gripped us with Mamah’s story instead. Frank who?

Another way to make history more approachable is to bring it into a current context. In my newest novel, The Oracle, due out November 10th, I have incorporated bursts of historical fiction into a contemporary thriller, weaving the two plots together in such a way that history elucidates the present-day mystery. In my historical subplot, which focuses on the Christian persecution of pagan worshippers in the Eastern Roman Empire during the fourth century, the events are factual but the protagonist, a pagan priestess, is fictitious. Her story augments the thriller plot by giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the ancient mysteries the modern protagonists are attempting to decipher. Plus, the historical chapters add to the pacing, interrupting the adventure at strategic intervals and building suspense. 

Do any of these techniques amount to a formula for successful historical fiction? Not really. True, it’s hard to nail the historical novel without solid research and authentic settings, but, like all genres, it’s the storytelling that will catapult it to list status. And a Tudor or two wouldn’t hurt, either.


DAPHNE NIKOLOPOULOS – Biography
DJ NIKO
Daphne Nikolopoulos in an award-winning journalist, author, editor, and lecturer. Under the pen name D.J. Niko, she has written two novels in an archaeological thriller series titled The Sarah Weston Chronicles. Her debut novel, The Tenth Saint (Medallion Press, 2012), won the Gold Medal (popular fiction) in the prestigious, juried Florida Book Awards. Her follow-up release, The Riddle of Solomon, continues the story of British archaeologist Sarah Weston as she seeks the relics—and mystical secrets—left behind by the biblical King Solomon in remote Israel.

Daphne is currently at work on The Oracle, book 3 in The Sarah Weston Chronicles, which releases in 2015. Also slated for publication in 2015 is her first historical novel, The Judgment, which is set in Israel and Egypt in the tenth century BCE.

In addition to writing fiction, Daphne is editor in chief of Palm Beach Illustrated magazine and editorial director of Palm Beach Media Group. Prior to that, she was a travel journalist who logged hundreds of thousands of miles traveling across the globe, with emphasis on little-known and off-the-beaten-path locales—many of which have inspired her novels.



Daphne frequently lectures about her research on the ancient world. She is an instructor at Florida Atlantic University’s Lifelong Learning Society, teaching on the subject of archaeology. She has also spoken to audiences at the Jewish Community Center of the Palm Beaches’ Academy for Continuous Education, and several libraries and private groups throughout Florida.
Born and raised in Athens, Greece, Daphne now resides in West Palm Beach with her husband and twin son and daughter. You can find her on the Web at djnikobooks.com and connect with her on Facebook (AuthorDJNiko) and on Twitter: @djnikobooks.



     
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My Droughtlander Trip to Scotland

Patty here

Have you ever been to a place where the land and the people resonate with you on a cellular level? I’ve traveled a fair amount, but for me there are only two places that fit that description. Scotland is one of them. Years ago, I traveled through the country by car and was charmed by its beauty and complex history. Scotland is the ancestral home of several branches of my family, so I was excited to return a couple of weeks ago, this time traveling by boat. After stops in Cornwall, Wales and Dublin, Ireland, I headed to Scotland. Here are a few highlights from the trip:

Isle of Iona, Scotland 

Iona is a 1.5 wide and 3 mile long island off the coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. Irish missionary St. Columba established an abbey there in 563, which is considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. Macbeth and Duncan are allegedly buried in the cemetery...or not.



"Out damn spot!"


Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland 

Skye is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides. It has 900 miles of coastline. Gorse, 2,500-foot snow-peaked mountains, misty skies, streams winding down mountains in shimmery ribbons, black-faced sheep, breathtaking beauty.

Portree Harbor


Skye Bridge to the mainland in the background. Yellow gorse on the hillsides.


An interesting side-note with a French twist for Outlander fans, especially for upcoming seasons:

“The story of Drambuie begins over 267 years ago in July 1746. Prince Charles Edward Stuart (known also as Bonnie Prince Charlie) was on the run, after defeat at the Battle of Culloden had ended his hopes of restoring the Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain. The Prince was pursued by the King’s men across the Highlands and Islands of Western Scotland, bravely aided by many Highland Clans. Among them was Clan MacKinnon whose chief, John MacKinnon, helped the Prince escape from The Isle of Skye. In thanks for his bravery the Prince gave John MacKinnon the secret recipe to his personal liqueur, a gift that the Clan were to treasure down the generations. An extraordinary elixir that would, many years later, become known to the world as Drambuie.” 

 Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland 

“We dinna have a lot of trees.” An understatement. Only 14 miles from the mainland, the island is covered by peat bogs (85 million tons of it), which makes the ground inhospitable to trees. I was told that during the Bronze Age, an Icelandic volcano erupted and blocked the sun for two months, creating a landscape that is windswept and barren. Wind in excess of 100 knots is not uncommon. The island experiences heavy rains and 80-knot winds about every 2-weeks, so the houses are low with small, inset windows.


Peat burning on the hearth


The residents still burn peat in their fireplaces. Each crofter has an allocation. No money changes hands. Collecting peat is not a commercial enterprise. It is a shared community effort.

Peat drying


Ninety percent of the residents here speak Gaelic (the Scots pronounce it GAL-ik. The Irish say GALE-ik). Most of the signage is in both English and Gaelic.

The Standing Stones of Calanais, Scotland’s Stonehenge, which dates to 3000 BC. There are a total of 32 stones in a circular and avenue design, perhaps constructed to observe the stars. The stones stand on the top of a peninsula that spills into East Loch Roag.




Jamie? Claire? I'm baaaaack.

Gearrammam Blackhouse Village, a reconstructed settlement of traditional blackhouses where people and animals shared the same door, but lived at opposite ends of the house. The houses are built with stone masonry and thatched roofs. Looking for a unique vacay locale? Several of them are available to rent.

Blackhouses


While on the trip, I compared samples of several regional Scotch whisky (p.s. there is no e in Scottish whisky). Having smelled peat burning on the hearth, I finally understood the smoky taste of some. By law, in order to be an authentic Scotch whisky, it must be:
  • Produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
    • Processed at that distillery into a mash
    • Converted at that distillery to a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems o Fermented at that distillery only by adding yeast o Distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% (190 US proof)
  • Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres (185 US gal; 154 imp gal) for at least three years
  • Retaining the colour, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation
  • Containing no added substances, other than water and plain (E150A) caramel colouring
  • Comprising a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% (80 US proof)

Stromness, Orkney, Outer Hebrides, Scotland 

There are 71 islands in the Orkney chain. You will find few Gaelic speakers here. In fact, the people don’t consider themselves Scots. They are descended from Picts, Norse and Scots and call themselves Orcadians. They have a strong allegiance to Norway due to proximity and the Viking’s 500-year reign over the islands. Orkney didn’t become part of Scotland until 1468.

Here is the 5000-year old village of Skara Brae, one of the best preserved stone-age settlements in Europe.

The original would have had a roof of some sort


St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall (the biggest town and capital of the Orkneys) build by the Vikings in the 1137. It still has a Church of Scotland congregation, but is open to any Christian denomination by arrangement.



Aberdeen, Scotland 

This highland town of just over 200,000 features rolling hills and verdant forests of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, sequoia and silver birch, all imported from North America. The Scots Pine is the predominant native tree. The Highland Clans are still alive and well. I was told that four local Highland clan chiefs still play golf together every Wednesday. In nearby Ballater, the Highland Games are held the first weekend in August.

Balmoral Castle. About an hour’s drive from Aberdeen near the village of Craithe, is Balmoral Castle. Prince Albert purchased the castle for his wife, Queen Victoria, who called it "my dear paradise in the Highlands.” It is an astonishingly beautiful place, remote and serene.

Victoria and Albert


This is where Queen Elizabeth parks her car while staying at the castle

View from the ballroom

Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Slàinte Mhath!
     
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Mystery writers Key West Fest 2015

James O. Born

Michael Haskins
Over the past decade I've attended a lot of conferences.  I tried to give them support before and after.  Some of them have been good.  Some have not.  At almost all of them I at least see good friends and have a lot of fun.  An upcoming conference I want to mention to everyone who is a fan of crime fiction is the Mystery Writers Key West  Fest that runs from August 14 through August 16, 2015.  There is much more information here: Mystery Writers Key West Fest

The organizer of the conference, Michael Haskins, is an excellent mystery writer from our southern most point and has done a phenomenal job putting together the conference in one of the most entertaining and unusual venues in the country.

Jeff Deaver
Heather Graham
This year Mister Haskins has managed to convince bestseller Jeffrey Deaver, the wonderful Heather Graham and a host of other mystery authors to attend.  Of course I will be there or I wouldn't be blabbing about it now.  There is no downside to this conference.  The location alone makes the trip worthwhile.  The one on one time with authors and the panels are all just gravy.  That's my new favorite phrase "Just gravy."  It sums up the Keys' attitude.  It's all good so anything beyond just being in the keys is great.




One of the highlights of the weekend is a new award called "the Jerry," after crime author Jeremiah Healy.  It's a kind of thing he would've approved of wholeheartedly and so do I.  Many of the events are set at bars or local restaurants and feature alcohol.  Something I wish some events had more of.

There is also a law enforcement panel featuring the big hitters in the field.  I am moderating the panel and look forward to it.  Incredibly, it is the first time I've ever moderated a panel featuring real cops.




Even the hotel is ridiculously cheap for that area coming in at under $200 a night, so I would expect to see some people get off their asses and sign up for this thing soon. The conference is starting to fill up, but I would definitely recommend it over some of the larger, busier conferences where you can get lost in the shuffle.

If you have any questions you can contact Mr. Haskins directly, or the conference or even drop me an e-mail and I will forward it.  Hope to see you there.
     
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