Friday, January 29, 2016

January in Bishop Hill

On a day that promised NO SNOW, I left for a quick drive to Bishop Hill and Galva. I was on a mission. I needed to touch base with the manager of the Colony Store, Glenda Wallace, and the editor of the Galva News, Doug Boock.

Doug Boock helped me get started writing. He offered encouragement, an outlet, an editor’s perspective on how to write—better—and I got to see my name in print. Bonus, I had the opportunity to make a new start—reinvent myself. The response to my writing went from, “Who does she think she is?” to “I’ve got a story for you.” A pretty good deal at the time.

On my current trip back I was interested in getting names of potential book reviewers. He was very helpful and gave me a nice list of possibles to get started.

From Glenda Wallace I got information on how to get books, my books, into the Colony Store and how the pricing would work. She was friendly, helpful, and also encouraging.

All that made for a successful trip. Everything else fell apart.

After living in Bishop Hill for twenty-four years you’d think I’d have remembered how hard it would be to catch anyone at home or with their shops open in January. The pickings were pretty slim. All my friends were unavailable and I wasn’t in the mood to buy anything more than a bag of Swedish Löfbergs coffee.

Before leaving the village, I stopped for a nice lunch at The Filling Station. I was lucky enough to share a table with a former neighbor, Crystal. We got to catch up a bit. Fortunately, I remembered to show her how I came up with the name of one of my characters, Talli Walters. Talli came from a mash up of two names: crystallinda. Walters came from Walter, the namesake of the Wally burger, a delicious hamburger smothered with grilled onions. Add some cheese and it’s pretty close to prairie heaven.

I was well stuffed by the time I headed back to the Quad Cities. A shorter day than I’d expected, but still worth the price of admission.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Life Imitates Art?

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”     
Oscar Wilde

Real news stories:

1.    Someone found a previously unknown Olof Krans painting. It made the Galva News just in time for Krans’ birthday party. (The painting is now on display in the Bishop Hill Museum.)
2.    A 75-year-old Texas grandma swerved her car to avoid hitting an animal and went off into a ravine. She went undiscovered for 48 hours.

I think I have to disagree with Wilde’s quote, because I dreamed these ideas up for my novel—before reading about them in the newspaper. I’d like to think I was just ahead of the curve for a change.

I had a calculus professor lecture on the frequency of odd coincidences happening. The infinitesimal and improbable happens all the time if you look at it the right way. (The right way is working backwards. It’s highly unlikely to predict the rare occurrence, but you can appreciate it after it happens and then work out the equation.)  

I believe my work comes down to art imitating life. I like to use elements of the real world to shape and fill out such things as: characters, places, and situations in my fiction. I feel I’ve created something wholly new out of these bits and pieces.

Perhaps a better example would be a PBS episode of Father Brown. The Wilde quote was used with the emphasis placed on the later part—art imitating life. In that mystery, scratches and soot on the floor where used as fictional devices in a fantasy novel, but when Father Brown noticed the real scratches and soot that inspired the fantasy story—he used them to discover a secret room. Art led to solving the mystery.

Maybe it is all a matter of perspective, but I hope my art will lead to bigger things and larger themes.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Charlotte Murray Russell and Jane Amanda Edwards

Years ago, when my “novel” was just a young thing, I went through a reading phase where I searched out authors’ first books. I wanted to get a feel for their starting points. I wanted a measuring post for where I needed to be for my first efforts as an author.

I kept at the task up until the time I joined two book clubs offered by the Davenport Public Library and had to work on their reading lists. Both approaches have their place and I’m glad I started where I did.

I mention it now because I did not start with Charlotte Murray Russell’s first book. Murder at the Old Stone House was published in 1935 as part of Doubleday’s Crime Club series. It’s difficult to get. The Rock Island Public Library has a copy in protective custody.

I had to settle for Cook Up a Crime. It was originally published in 1951 and a newer version was reprinted in 1979 by permission of her daughter, Marianne Nelson.

In 1953, Russell went to work for the Rock Island Public Library as a cataloguer and was never published again. So, I read her last book. I have to say I struggled with a large cast of characters, some of whom I guessed would be quite familiar to readers of the eleven other books that featured spinster sleuth Jane Amanda Edwards.

Jane Amanda Edwards was not a petite, polite Miss Marple by any means. I’ve read that the busybody Jane was a role model for other meddlesome amateur detectives.

Russell recast her home town of Rock Island as Rockport and navigated its streets with serious determination. I was tempted to look up some of the intersections to see how real they were, but I haven’t yet. I will stay with the small town everything-is-close-together tone she set a little longer.

Now, the ending…

The ending felt rushed. In the last four pages she designed her trap, recruited her ally, sprung the trap, caught the killer, and still had two pages left for explanations and wrapping up loose ends. If that isn’t rushed, I don’t know what is.

But then, maybe I don’t. Russell’s mysteries kept her family afloat during the Depression. An impressive feat for a writer who contributed a great deal to the cozy mystery genre and probably should be better known to today’s readers. 

Friday, January 8, 2016


I had two close calls in one week. By close call I mean that gut-clenching moment of dread when the only thoughts are, “Have I just lost my computer?” “What about my book?”

Yeah. Those. Twice.

The first one was entirely my fault. I know not to open unfamiliar attachments on emails. I know not to be enticed to follow some shady link into the unknown. I know better…

So, what got me? The appealing allure of a cute cat video. Yes, they’re always lurking over there on the right side of my Facebook page. I’ve indulged in the past and have been fine. I think. At least nothing bad happened. That I know of. However, this time I clicked on one and I instantly got a strange looking screen, frozen controls, and no choice but to summon in my expert IT guy. Who looked at the damage and said, “Well, I haven’t seen that before.”

At least I had a husband to help me. If I hadn’t—things would have gotten very ugly very fast. I have little patience for computer problems. Goes along with my lack of technical knowledge. I’m sure neither of my children would have welcomed a frantic call from their mother in this case. There are some tech pros down the street. That would have been embarrassing and expensive.

As it happened, I was saved by the good old standby: control, alt, delete; and ignoring a request to “refresh” the page.

I’ve heard lots of horror stories about viruses, ransomware, and worse. I got off easy.

A couple of days later, without me doing anything (I swear): my desktop icons disappeared, another screen came up, and I again lost control of my computer.

I feared that this was somehow related to the first incident. My writer’s imagination turned it into a scenario where foreign baddies had covertly waited for me to let down my guard and then swept in to reclaim my computer.

Little did they know how unimportant my data was … except for my writing, my novel, a complete personal and business history documented with hundreds and hundreds of photos—a big chunk of my life.

Fortunately, it was just a massive Windows update.

So, the lesson learned here: no more careless clicking on cat videos.

And in any case, be sure to have a way to backup data. Paying for a service that stores the information offsite can be money well spent. During my crisis, I knew I had a paper printout of my novel. It would have taken me a couple of weeks to type it all back into a new computer. Not an entirely comforting thought to say the least.

Friday, January 1, 2016

52 Books

Thanks to a cute feature of I found out that I’d read 53 books during this past year. Incredible! I had no idea I would ever, ever come close to reading that many books in a year. Very nice for them to point it out to me, since reading is so vitally important for an author.

Being in 2 Davenport Library book clubs was a great help that got me almost half way there. The rest came from picking books off the library shelves, buying from local writers, and receiving a few loans and gifts.

Of course the total doesn’t count the short stories from Shorts & Sweets, another Davenport Library group. It also doesn’t include reading other writer’s manuscripts. (I did that twice.)

I tried to do all this reading as thoughtfully as I could. I made a point to notice POV and verb tense first. Then I paid attention to how the dialog was presented. I made myself notice any unfamiliar grammar and punctuation usage. Voice and descriptions, too. All in an effort to make up for not paying attention to those things when I was in school.

I’m playing catch up here, but I’ve met people who can read a book a day. I’ve only had a couple of times when I had reading jags that might have come close to that level of total immersion.  

As I recall, I had my first spell of binge reading as a kid, age 10 or so. I had been given a stack of old magazines and Reader’s Digests by a neighbor. He was probably clearing out his garage, but I reveled in the magic of having more reading material than at any other time of my young little life.

I had another spell of binge reading during one summer when I was a teenager without enough to do. I read all the James Bond novels in our small town library. (Quite the racy thing for me at the time.)

Somewhere in that time period, I discovered science fiction by way of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. I stayed with that for awhile.

Fortunately, I was a high school senior by the time I came across In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The most disturbing thing I’d read so far.

Sadly, somewhere after college I fell out of the habit of reading books for pleasure. I would read to learn skills for jewelry making or whatever craft I was interested in at the moment—that was about it for a long time.

Then I decided I wanted to write my novel.

So—I had to pick up those old skills again, give them a good polish, and learn some new ones.

Reading 52 books in the past year was an important accomplishment for me and gives me a ready-made resolution for the upcoming New Year.