Join AMW for the Launch of Murder on Wheels ~ August 11

Please join

Austin Mystery Writers

Gale Albright, Valerie Chandler, Kaye George,
Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Kathy Waller
&
Earl Staggs and Reavis Wortham

as they celebrate the launch of their first crime fiction anthology

MURDER ON WHEELS:
11 Tales of Crime on the Move

“Eleven stories put the pedal to the floor and never let up! Whether by bus, car, tractor, or bike, you’ll be carried along at a breakneck pace by the talented Austin Mystery Writers. These eight authors transport you from an eighteenth-century sailing ship to the open roads of modern Texas, from Alice’s Wonderland to a schoolbus yard in the suburbs of Dallas. Grab your book, hold on to your hat, and come along for the ride!”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015
7:00 p.m.

BookPeople Bookstore
6th Street and Lamar

Austin, Texas

“There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon Review

“…light-hearted (and occasionally black-hearted) collection of short stories… I thoroughly enjoyed it. … take your choice–historical, humorous, dark and light. Good reading for mystery fans.” ~ Amazon Review

 “… dialog that is realistic and makes the characters believable and three dimensional. There is something for everyone…” ~ Amazon review

“… a diverting read.” ~ Barry Ergang, Kevin’s Corner

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Petting Zoos, Methodists, and Misbehavior

The petting zoo has come to BookPeople!

Consequently, the average age in the coffee shop–aka my office–is considerably lower than usual. I estimate it at approximately two.

Normally I filter out noise and activity to concentrate on writing. The ability to hyperfocus is a gift.

Today, however, what’s going on around me is more interesting than the story to be revised.

Behind and to the right, a little-bitty with black eyes and a pixie cut sings, “E-I-E-I-OOOOO.” She began in atonal mode but soon picked up the melody.

Directly behind me, a little boy I imagine as blond protested. “I don’t like to sit down.” Then he shrieked and wailed.

“OoooooooooooooooooOoooooooooooooooooOooooooooooooooo.” Finally he settled down to snuffling. I assume at some point, probably while the Ooooooooos were wearing down, he sat. Now he’s either resigned to his fate or he’s left the store.

There’s been a lot of wailing today. I don’t know why, considering the petting zoo is here. Maybe it’s tension. Maybe it’s that little kids are like adults: some days you get out of bed in a snit and you just have to share it.

Mothers have changed since I was a child. In my day, a mother would have taken the child outside and given him a choice: behave or go home and not get to see the animals or have a cookie or whatever special treat has been promised. I don’t know a child who was actually hauled home, and I don’t know a parent who meant what she–or he–said, but generally things quieted down a bit.

Something similar happened to me when I was a child. But I wasn’t offered a choice. And I wasn’t hauled home. I imagine a lot of people wished I had been.

At church one Sunday, the Methodist little-bitties–or, as one of my teacher friends calls them, ankle-biters–were all decked out to stand at the front and sing a song. Our teacher, who should have known better, had seated us in a pew, side-by-side. While the adults were doing their thing, Helen Ruth and I took the opportunity to converse.

My parents sat in the pew right behind us. They disapproved of talking during the service. My father picked me up, took me out on the front porch, and gave me a swat.

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First United Methodist Church of Fentress, 2015. By MKW.

Ours was a small country church, and Daddy and I were maybe twenty feet from the back pew, so the congregation got the full benefit of my caterwauling.

And when we returned to the sanctuary, I refused to perform with the rest of the class.

Have I mentioned I don’t remember any of this?

Talking in church got me in trouble, but the swat got Daddy in trouble.

Because Mother blamed him for my declining to stand in front of the communion rail and be cute–and she was right; no way would I display myself in front of a bunch of people who’d heard that swat–and she stayed righteously indignant for the rest of her life. Periodically, she would say, “I was so mad at your father. All he had to do was lean over and say, ‘Girls, stop talking.'”

What really got her goat was that I refused to perform in Sunday school programs for several years thereafter.

I can’t fault my father, however. An inexperienced parent, he was trying to do the right thing.

Knowing what I do about myself, I’m sure I was angry and embarrassed. I was an eminently embarrassable child. I was also obstinate.

I know something else, too.

Years later my parents and I were sitting in the First Methodist Church in San Marcos, waiting for the choir to perform selections from The Messiah, when Daddy said, “I haven’t been in this church since I was ten years old.” That was 1925. “I went to Sunday school with Johnny Graham [a cousin], and they made me stand up and say my name and where I was from, and I never went back again.”

So there you are. Embarrassable is hereditary. So is obstinacy.

It gives me satisfaction to know that if my father had been removed to the front porch and given a swat, he wouldn’t have just refused to sing with his Sunday school class.

My father would have waited fifty years before he darkened that Methodist door.

 ***

I started this post for the purpose of telling a personal anecdote about a petting zoo but somehow got off onto Methodists and lost my way back. Because I have much more experience with Methodists–and Presbyterians and Baptists–than I do with petting zoos, it’ll be a while before I return to the animals. But that’s okay, because the church stories are a lot more interesting. And you won’t read them anywhere else.

My Writing Writing Writing Day: Yeah, Right

In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
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Ernest

At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.

After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.

The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was

William
William

determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.

Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
  • Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
  • I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
  • Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
cropped-img_31112.jpgWhen this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.

 ***

If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.

Book Not-Quite-Review: Terry Shames

Back in my teaching days, I handed a student a copy of T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and told her I thought she might like it. She did. So much, in fact, that she volunteered to write a review for the school newspaper.

The review went something like this: I loved this book. It was just so…Guinevere was terrible. She was just so… It was so sad…It’s a wonderful book. I just love it.

Unfortunately, the review was never published, because instead of turning into ideas and thence into sentences and finding its way onto paper, it remained a clump of molecules of emotion lodged somewhere in the vicinity of the student’s corpus callosum. Only a few tiny bits escaped as babble.

The reason was no mystery: The writer was too close to her subject. She lacked distance, detachment. She needed, as Wordsworth said when defining poetry, to recollect her powerful emotion in tranquility.

Lack of detachment is a common condition. I’ve suffered from it for weeks.

IMG_2814Several days ago, I posted part of a paragraph from Terry Shames’ first novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and illustrated it with a photograph of four white-faced Herefords. That was all.

That’s still all. I’m too close to the book. I wouldn’t dare try to review it now.

If I did, it would come out like this:

I love this book. It’s just so…There’s this wonderful sentence on the second page about hovering cows…That’s exactly what cows do…I can just see those cows…The person who wrote that sentence knows cows…And the dialogue…It’s just so…I just love it.

As soon as I saw it, I fell in love with that cow sentence.* I’ve read well past page two, but I can’t erase hovering cows from my mind. So I’ll say no more about A Killing at Cotton Hill.

I can report that yesterday evening I attended a reading at BookPeople celebrating the release of Terry Shames’ second book, and the second Samuel Craddock mystery, The Last Death of Jack Harbin.

Terry spoke, read an excerpt from the book, and finished up by taking questions from the audience. To prevent the possibility that this part of the post turn into babble, I’ll simply list some of the notes I jotted down:

  • Terry is from Lake Jackson. She graduated from the University of Texas and then worked for the CIA. [KW: I have your attention now, right?]
  • Both of Terry’s books were finalists for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award.
  • The Last Death of Jack Harbin is about a veteran who comes home from war damaged in body and in spirit. The book is about what people do with their guilt.
  • Library Journal gave Jack Harbin a Starred Review. [KW: And they don’t hand those out to every book that comes along.]
  • Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, says Jack Harbin “subtly works on you”–that you don’t realize its depth until you’ve finished–and you’ll still be thinking about it a week later.

Because of the hour, as well as my lack of detachment, this is as far as my not-quite-review will go. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed Terry’s reading, that I love A Killing at Cotton Hill,** and that The Last Death of Jack Harbin has gone to the top of my To Be Read list.

For more about Terry Shames and her books, read Terry’s “What’s Next for Samuel Craddock” and “MysteryPeople Q&A with Terry Shames,” both on the MysteryPeople blog.

_____

* The sentence isn’t really about cows. It’s about Samuel Craddock. But I am fond of white-faced Herefords, and the image Terry painted is so vivid, the cows overshadow the protagonist, at least in my mind.

** I forgot to take my camera to the reading, so I’ve illustrated with a photograph I took myself. The fur on the right of the book shouldn’t be there, but it was easier to just take the picture than to move the cat.

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AMW Workshop: Special Invitation for Procrastinators

Austin Mystery Writers spent Thursday making last-minute preparations for Anatomy of a Mystery, the free workshop it’s sponsoring today from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at BookPeople in Austin. I offer two photographs as proof. Some of the people in them are duplicated. (My assigned task was to cut up paper for the raffle. Mission accomplished.)

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This post, which is being typed around a large cream tabby who insists on operating the space bar, is directed to people like me–people who forget to register, to sign up, to RSVP. People who put things off.

Part of large cream tabby
Part of large cream tabby

The message is this: RSVPs are not required for Anatomy of a Mystery.

If you wake in the morning with an insatiable urge to attend a workshop about how to write the mystery novel, do not despair.

Come on down to BookPeople.

Authors Reavis Wortham, Janice Hamrick, and Karen MacInerney, all of whom have proved they know how to write–and have accepted for publication–multiple mystery novels, will share some of their secrets with other writers, aspiring writers, and readers.

It would be a shame to miss this opportunity just because you forgot to tell us you were planning to come.

It would be more of a shame to miss the great swag we’re handing out.  One example is pictured here. There are also some books and who-knows-what-else.

Swag
Swag

So take the advice of a veteran procrastinator: show up at Anatomy of a Mystery–and if you can’t stay all day, spend the morning or the afternoon with us.

And don’t worry about crowds. If the room is SRO, you can have my chair and I’ll sit on the floor.

Provided, that is, that you promise to help me get back up.

IMG_2439.1AMW- logo

Mystery Novelist Janice Hamrick & Death Rides Again

The day Eddy Cranny got himself murdered started bad and went downhill from there . . . especially for Eddy. ~ Janice Hamrick, Death Rides Again

Janice Hamrick
Janice Hamrick

When I reached the second floor of BookPeople for the June 19th launch of Death Rides Again, Janice Hamrick’s latest mystery novel, my day turned around and started uphill at a gallop.

Janice, who lives in Austin, made news in the writing–and reading–communities when the manuscript of her first book, Death on Tour, won the 2010 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition. Published in 2011, the novel was nominated for the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award.

Scott Montgomery and Janice Hamrick, 2012 Texas Book Festival
Scott Montgomery and Janice Hamrick, 2012 Texas Book Festival

In 2012, Janice followed Death on Tour with Death Makes the Cut. Now she presents the third in the Jocelyn Shore series, Death Rides Again.

Critics have been complimentary. So have readers. From her tour of Egypt, to the high school where she teaches, to a family reunion at her Uncle Kel’s ranch, main character Jocelyn Shore has a talent for solving murders and gathering fans as she goes.

DeathRidesAgainCoverWebAt the book launch, Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator of MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s store-within-a-store, interviewed Janice before an audience of mystery lovers. This was the second time I’ve seen the two together: at last fall’s Texas Book Festival, Janice appeared on a panel Scott moderated. The subject was using humor in mysteries, something Janice does well. (See quotation from book, above.)

I took copious notes, as I always do on such occasions. The conversation ranged far and wide, however, and my notes comprise two pages of scrawl, on the diagonal, a series of jottings devoid of connective tissue. Turning them into paragraphs would take several hours and considerable energy (for reason, see “Why I Am Not a Journalist”), so I’ll share a few bullets:

  • Janice got the idea for Death on Tour from a trip she made to Egypt (during which no one was murdered). The idea for Death Rides Again came from a setting–her family’s ranch near Brady.
  • Some reviewers class the Jocelyn Shore novels as cozy mysteries; others don’t. Janice is glad the books aren’t easily categorized. She describes them as funny but hopes they have more depth than the typical cozy.
  • Asked what she learned while writing the series, she said that between Death on Tour and Death Makes the Cut, she learned, “I can do it.”
  • She’s working on another book–not a Jocelyn Shore–but she doesn’t talk about that one yet.
  • Janice rises about 5:00 a.m. and writes before going to work. She sets out to write 1500 words a week: 300 words a day, five days a week. On a bad day, she says, she can produce 300 words and feel okay. On a good day, she can “blast right through” her goal.

DeathMakesTheCut_cover_webNow this is where things get personal. I began this post by saying my day went uphill because I attended the book launch.

Goals have never been my friends. Most people find them energizing. To me, setting goals is stimulus for digging in my heels, heading off at a 45-degree angle from the rest of the group. When my CP, who likes goals and thinks I should like them too, makes me set some for the coming week, I growl, scribble in my notebook–almost, but not quite, singing Nyah nyah nyah to myself–and then ignore them.

But Janice’s description of her 300-word goal–low enough to attain and feel good about, low enough to sometimes blast right through–spoke to me. Her system is so logical, so sensible, so humane. Sitting there in that folding chair, I heard the little light bulb above my head click on, and I said to myself, Well, d’oh.

So, on that basis, I’ve decided to jump into Round 3 of  A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, with the following goal:

  • I will write 1500 words a week: 300 words a day, five days a week;

and this stipulation:

  • I will not rise at 5:00 a.m. to get the job done.

Now back to the book launch:

deathontourcover

The question on the mind of nearly everyone in the audience was, What happens next?

When you’ve spent quality time with a character like Jocelyn, gotten to know her and her family, watched her fall in–and maybe out–of love, deal with matters of life and death, turn shaky post-divorce self-esteem to strong self-confidence–you don’t want the relationship to end. Three books, the number Janice contracted to write, aren’t enough.

So what might influence Janice’s publisher to ask for a fourth Jocelyn Shore novel?

Here’s Janice’s answer: Buy the book! 

***

You can follow Janice’s blog at blog.janicehamrick.com.

The Jocelyn Store mysteries are available from booksellers listed on Janice’s website.

On Saturday, July 20, Janice and Hopeton Haye, host of KAZI Book Review, will appear at the Pflugerville Library for an interactive discussion about the Jocelyn Shore series, mysteries, and writing. On Saturday, August 31, she will sign copies of her books at the Round Rock Barnes & Noble.

***

For more information about A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80) click here.

To read what other ROW80 participants are writing, click here.

***

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Seeing Fannie

As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted–

Never mind.

The section that vanished when the wireless network disappeared concerned A. S. Byatt’s Possession. It’s a magnificent novel.

My comments were anything but.

So I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

Now to the update on Fannie Flagg: I heard Ms. Flagg speak last Saturday at BookPeople. She read from her latest book, I Still Dream About You, and signed.

Before the program, a BookPeople staff member announced that Ms. Flagg would stay until every copy was signed, and that she would be happy for people to take photographs. In other words, she was gracious. She demonstrated appreciation and respect for the people who came out to see her.

Ms. Flagg took her reading from the chapter titled “Hazel Whisenknott Begins.” Hazel is a real estate agent, the smallest one in the state, not much more than three feet tall. She is also dead when the book begins. When she is five years old, she starts a weed-pulling business that becomes remarkably successful.

I Still Dream About You is a murder mystery. I don’t know the victim yet. I presume it’s not Hazel. I also presume I will know who by the end of chapter three.

I hope I know by the end of chapter three. That’s when everyone says I have to have my murder taken care of. I wouldn’t like to think there there’s a set a rules for me and another set for Fannie Flagg.

In summary, regarding Fannie Flagg’s appearance at BP, a good time was had by all. Especially me.

My hero(es)

William is curled up in my clothes closet, either napping or plotting an outrage.

He looks so darling, wearing his little orange cream striped pajamas, that I’d like to post a photo of him here. But then you, Gentle Reader, would know more about my closet than would be good for either of us.

Moving on.

Fannie Flagg will appear this Saturday at BookPeople. Her latest novel, I Still Dream About You, is described as “equal parts Southern charm, murder mystery, and that perfect combination of comedy and old-fashioned wisdom…” That quotation appears on the Random House website but is probably accurate even though the possibility of bias exists.

Emma Hagestadt, writing in The Independent, (see link, below), says the book is “a comedy-mystery featuring a group of post-menopausal estate agents – a golden-girl romp every bit as eccentric as it sounds.” Ms. Hagestadt is an experienced reviewer who obviously knows funny when she sees it.

Here is my favorite story about Fannie Flagg: In 1975, Flagg, who had never written fiction, went to the Santa Barbara Writing Conference because her “idol,” Eudora Welty, would be there. As part of the conference, she wrote the story “Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.” But instead of submitting it under her own name, she used a pseudonym. Flagg’s story won the contest and later became the basis for her first novel.

I don’t know which amuses me more: the fact that Fannie Flagg, an experienced actor and television writer, was too shy to enter a fiction contest under her own name; or the thought of the twinkle in Eudora Welty’s eye when she presented the prize for best story to Pearl Buck.

 

Day 22: Sneaky booksellers

A couple of years ago, while Christmas shopping in a chain bookstore I won’t identify, I flagged down a salesperson and told her I’d like a closer look at a set of Twilight Zone DVDs. She spun on her heel and strode across the store toward the locked media cabinet.

Following, I heard her mutter, “There are only about two dozen of them.”

I knew the set I wanted to look at–I’d scouted it out before seeking help–but I hadn’t realized I needed to be specific before we reached our destination.

Hearing the snide comment, I was tempted to switch into schoolteacher mode: “I beg your pardon? I didn’t hear what you said. Would you repeat it?”

But I didn’t. She was young and it was December. Her feet probably hurt.

(As I re-read that sentence it occurred to me that her youth might have been a good reason to speak up and let her know she wasn’t winning friends and influencing people.)

Anyway, I pointed to the box I wanted and she took it to the counter for me. The whole transaction took less than a minute. I escaped to the fiction section, where merchandise isn’t kept behind lock and key.

Later, at the sales counter, I listened to another salesperson tell her co-worker about the stupid man who called asking for a book whose title and author he couldn’t remember. He said he knew what it was about, though.

This woman–also quite young–told the caller if he didn’t know what he wanted, how did he expect her to know, there were only a few thousand titles in the store.

She didn’t look as if her feet hurt at all. She had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, as if she had enjoyed hanging up on a potential sale.

I was tempted to slide into librarian mode and tell her what I thought of her take on customer service. But I didn’t.

Instead, I thought about what would have happened if the gentleman had called the library where I used to work. We’d have run circles around each other trying to figure out what book he wanted and how to get it.

As a friend once observed, “All you have to do to make a librarian happy is ask a question. They just brighten right up.”

There’s an independent bookstore in Austin where the salespeople remind me of librarians.

BookPeople staff don’t wait for customers to approach them. They sneak up behind you and ask how you’re doing.

When they find you lurking in the mystery section, unable to make up your mind, they ask who your favorite authors are. Then they suggest something else you might like and take off to find a copy.

The day I told the clerk at the upstairs information desk that I was looking for the YA novel about teen-aged girls hunting flesh-eating unicorns, he barked, “Rampant,” and led me right to the shelf.

That’s the reason–one of them anyway–I like BookPeople.

The folks there act as if they enjoy working with books.

In fact, they act as if they’ve even read them.