Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hidden history

One of the most enjoyable things I do in my job is writing book reviews for Library Journal. LJ is a publication for libraries and librarians, with a few articles and a ton of book reviews. If a library is considering purchase of a book for the collection, the LJ review is a handy tool to determine whether the book is worth buying or not.

I don’t get paid for it, but I do receive a pre-publication copy of the book. I’ve gotten some great books this way. I’ve also gotten a few that weren’t so great, but just a few.

The most recent one was fascinating. I’m not allowed to give any details about it or even much of a synopsis yet – but it struck a chord in me.

One of the subject areas in which I review is Appalachia. I was born and raised in West Virginia, as was my dad and his parents and their parents, several generations back. When I was a kid, our family vacations were mostly spent in the mountains, camping, hiking and fishing. One of the places that we went was Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I have a picture of my mom, my sister and me at a picnic table on Skyline Drive, the road that winds around the tops of the mountains through the park.

The book I was sent to review is about the formation of Shenandoah National Park. I had always been under the impression that the National Parks were formed to preserve wilderness. Yellowstone, the first of the National Parks, was formed for that reason, as were many of the parks in the west.

What I learned from this book was that Shenandoah was a different story. It wasn’t wilderness – at least not to the people who lived there. Thousands of families were displaced by the federal and state government so that their land could be included in the park. Most of them took the money the government offered – often nowhere near the actual value of the farms – and moved. Some elderly residents were allowed to stay. Some refused to leave and were arrested; some had their homes burned so they couldn’t return.

This was happening in the 1930s for the most part, during the worst of the Depression. Imagine being told you had to leave your ancestral home, everything you’d worked to build, and been given a few thousand dollars to start over. Where would you go? What would you do?

The story was especially poignant because of another book I’m reading now, called The Highland Clearances. In the early 1800s, after the formation of the United Kingdom and the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland, the English and lowland Scots began systematically removing the Highlanders, most of whom were tenant farmers, from their homes. Some were arrested, some were burned out. The reason was that the absentee landowners wanted to make more money by introducing sheep. So they kicked the Highlanders out and moved the sheep in.

One hundred years later, the same thing happened again. The state of Virginia wanted to make more money by introducing tourists. So they kicked the people of the Shenandoah Mountains out and moved the tourists in.

None of my direct ancestors were involved in either of these events – my Scots ancestors were already in the US by the time the Highland Clearances were happening, and my Appalachian ancestors were safely to the west of the Shenandoah range. But, as I was reading both books, I found that I was taking it personally.

Those weren’t my people, but they very easily could have been.

I haven’t written my review of the book yet. I have to wait a few days, to allow a more objective mindset to prevail. Because right now, I’m kinda mad.


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A look back, a look ahead

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Time to look back on the events of the past year and time to look forward to plans for the coming year. It’s a useful exercise, I think – a way to account for what’s happened and what’s to come.

It was a good year for me, writing-wise. I published four books: Researched to Death in January, Encountered to Death in March, Psyched to Death in May, and Stacked to Death in October. I won NaNoWriMo for the third year in a row, hammering out the first rough draft of Talked to Death, and I finished Stoned to Death, which is being vetted by my archaeologist friend over the holidays and should be published by the end of January.

My original plan, when I started with Cited to Death back in 2012, was to write and publish two books a year. I had no idea I’d become an overachiever in that area! But writing Jamie’s stories¬†is still so much fun. I don’t know how long I can continue to write 3.5 books per year, but 2015 is looking pretty good.

Stoned to Death, as I said, should be out by the end of January. I’m shooting for May with Talked to Death. (I feel pretty certain it won’t be before that. The spring semester is going to be incredibly busy for me at work, and I may be forced to do my research on my own time. Darn. ūüôā ) Avenged to Death should be ready by early fall. After Avenged comes Played to Death. I’d love to have that out by next Christmas, but work may interfere again – I’m up for promotion next year and have all kinds of things I have to do for that.

To summarize: Stoned to Death, January. Talked to Death, May?? Avenged to Death, September?? Played to Death, December??

I’ll probably end up doing NaNo again. Every year when it’s over I think, “I don’t know if I want to do that again!” Then when late October rolls around, I change my mind. We’ll see. Right now, I don’t know what I’ll be ready to write at that time.

Looking into the more distant future…Played to Death will wrap up a few story lines, but it won’t be the end of Pete and Jamie’s adventures. I have a few more in mind:

Pictured to Death – Jamie digs into his mom’s family background and finds some surprises – and an unsolved mystery.

Filmed to Death – murder on the set of a TV show. This one will involve Abby, her no-good ex-husband, Jamie’s old boyfriend Nick (a cinematographer), and the director that used to work for Dixon Gill in Encountered to Death.

Accounted to Death – shady business dealings lead to murder.

Launched to Death – Steve invites Pete and Jamie to a launch at Cape Canaveral, which gets delayed because of a murder. (This will allow me to put the boys in a setting I’m far more familiar with – Central Florida.)

Another one doesn’t have a title yet, but will take place in Washington DC and involve the Library of Congress.

Will that be the lineup for 2016? I’m not sure. I don’t know which order those will be in, either. But they’re already bubbling around in my mind, so they will happen.

Stay tuned!


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Reading historical fiction

Historical fiction has never been a favorite of mine. I’d almost always rather read the actual history than a fictionalized account.

There are exceptions. Charlie Cochrane’s Lessons series comes to mind immediately; her stories take place before, during and after WWI, and star two of my favorite m/m characters, Jonty and Orlando. There are others. But generally, it’s not a genre that I seek out.

I’ve made an exception for Hilary Mantel’s books about the reign of Henry VIII. Wolf Hall made such a splash when it came out, I felt like I needed to read it. I finally found it at the library, and enjoyed it, for the most part. Now I’m reading the second book, Bring Up the Bodies, about Henry’s efforts to rid himself of Anne Boleyn in order to marry Jane Seymour.

The story is entertaining. I have no idea how historically accurate it is. The author’s note says that she left some people out. I wouldn’t know; I don’t know a lot about that era. So I can enjoy the book without thinking every other page, “oh, that’s wrong.” I worked in hospitals for years before I became a librarian, and I can’t watch medical shows on TV because the medical details are so wrong. (Two exceptions: M*A*S*H and St. Elsewhere.) I expect that cops feel the same way about cop shows and CSI.

There is one odd thing; Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are written in third person, present tense. Present tense is weird, and it’s weirder because of the third person, I think. The main character of the book is actually Thomas Cromwell, and he refers to himself as “he.” So, when there’s a sentence that might refer to two or three different men, Mantel writes something like, He – Cromwell – thinks this and that and the other. (Not a direct quote.) It’s very odd, and throws me out of the story every time it happens.

I wonder why she didn’t write it in first person? Seems like it would have been easier to keep the “he-s” straight.

And isn’t that a bit of arrogance on my part, an amateur writer of cosy m/m mysteries, thinking I’d have written¬†a winner of the Man Booker Prize differently?? ūüôā

(But I would have.)


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Writing is weird sometimes…

Right now the next-to-final draft of Stoned to Death is getting fact-checked by a British archaeologist friend of mine, and the first draft of Talked to Death (produced during NaNoWriMo) is being read by a friend. While those things are happening, I’m writing the first draft of Avenged to Death, Jamie Brodie Mysteries #10.

Sometimes writing is a struggle. Stoned to Death was a good example of that. I knew what I wanted to make happen, but I had a real problem figuring out how to do that. With the help of my fiction writing group I think I figured it out, but it was a long slog.

Talked to Death was done quickly, but only because it was NaNo and I knew I had to get those 50K words on (electronic) paper. But it’s going to be a tricky one to finish, too. There are lots of moving parts and I’m not sure they’re moving in the right direction yet at all.

So, for me, sometimes writing is sort of a grind. The “grind” books are still fun, but it’s certainly more aggravating.

And then, sometimes, it’s not a grind at all.

Avenged to Death is pouring out of me. POURING. The concept for it didn’t even occur to me until four months ago, and it’s

Pouring, I tell you.

Pouring, I tell you.

been begging to be written ever since. When I’d finished the story on Talked to Death during NaNo and wasn’t at 50K yet, I started writing the scenes for Avenged that were hollering in my head to be let loose. Once NaNo was over I turned my attention to Avenged, and I’ve been writing, writing, writing ever since.

It’s a good thing that I’m on break for the holidays, because I have to WRITE. I’m at 33K words already and there are far more to come. It’s a complicated story too, but all the pieces are falling into place.

It’s a weird feeling, but I’m rolling with it.

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The soundtrack for Stacked to Death

Making book playlists is fun! I’ve run across songs I forgot about, and songs I’ve never heard but fit a scene perfectly. I’ve discovered that my playlists are more like soundtracks. I’m choosing songs that I think would make great background music for a particular scene, or occasionally, a song or piece of music that gets mentioned or sung in the book.

Since Stacked to Death was published fairly recently, I’ve gone back and created a playlist/soundtrack for it. Here it is, with the corresponding scene.

1. “You Gotta Be” – Des’Ree. “You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser; you gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger; you gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together.” This is Jamie’s anthem at the beginning of the book, when he’s trying to convince himself, his boss, and everyone else that he’s fine after the events of Psyched to Death.

2. “I Wish It Would Rain” – The Temptations.¬†“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away…” When Jamie is walking to Kevin’s apartment after discovering Austin’s body.

3.¬†“Oh Very Young” – Cat Stevens. ¬†“And though you want to last forever, you know you never will…and the goodbye makes the journey harder still.”¬†When Jamie and Frank find Austin Sharp’s friends creating a memorial to him in the stacks.

4. “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd.¬†“I can’t explain, you would not understand;¬†This is not how I am;¬†I have become comfortably numb.” When Jamie sees his doctor for sleeping pills.

5.¬†“Devil Inside” – INXS.¬†“Every single one of us the devil inside.” When it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose.

6.¬†“Librarian” – My Morning Jacket.¬†“Simple little bookworm, buried underneath is the sexiest librarian; take off those glasses and let your hair down for me.” Kristen Beach’s theme song.

7.¬†“Lean On Me” – Bill Withers.¬†“Lean on me when you’re not strong.” Pete supporting Jamie.

8.¬†“True Colors” – The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.¬†“Don’t be afraid to let them show; your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow.” When Justin comes to Jamie to talk about coming out. This is my all-time favorite arrangement of this song, recorded for the It Gets Better project.

9. “Better Days” – Goo Goo Dolls.¬†“And you ask me what I want this year¬†And I try to make this kind and clear¬†Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days.” Near the end of the book, when Kevin and Jamie are talking about how recent events have changed them.

10.¬†“Work in Progress” – Alan Jackson.¬†“”Just be patient, I’m a work in progress.” The last scene, with Pete and Jamie in bed.



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Supplemental material

In my fiction writers’ group at work the other day, we were talking about self-publishing and the inclusion of photos or drawings in our books. None of us have done it successfully. One of my friends wanted to include a drawing. He read the instructions, followed them step by step, checked it three times – and the picture still didn’t show. Another wanted to include an author photo, but could never get it to show on the Kindle page.

And that’s just the Kindle experience. I’m sure Smashwords is equally¬†problematic.

Stoned to Death, Jamie Brodie Mystery #8, will be out in January. (With any luck.) Since it takes place in another country, and involves family history (Pete’s this time) and travel, I wanted to include some things – a family tree, some maps. Those things, especially the family tree, will help readers figure out who’s who and who’s where.

But if I can’t figure out how to get them into the book – what to do? Then, of course, it hit me – duh! I have a blog!

What I’m going to do is create a new page for each book to come, with supplemental material. For Stoned to Death I’ll have maps, pictures, that Ferguson family tree, even a playlist. (I am totally stealing that idea from Josh Lanyon.) I’m going to get the page started before the book is published, so you’ll get – not a sneak peek, but an idea of the flavor of a book.

Let me know what you think.


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