Fitness Writing, Part III

method pic
We now return this blog to its regularly scheduled program. lol

This was my main thrust at the Sisters in Crime meeting. I discussed my fitness regimen, how I workout. Then I related those workouts to writing. So, let’s spend a few weeks on just this aspect.

I discussed my workout regimen in that I have a lottery system that determines what I do from day to day (or day to the day after tomorrow or the day after that, depending on the opportunity, how my body feels, etc.) On slips of paper I’ve written the four types of workouts with two of them having subsets of two each. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll explain when the time comes. Amway, the four choices are: WarriorXFit, Running, Biking, and Form work.


A couple of years ago I discussed with my instructor about upping the intensity of my workout. He suggested If you’ve seen some of my Facebook posts, they celebrate my ‘victories’ each time I achieve them. And even if I don’t achieve one or two, I’ve still won because I exercised.

WarriorXFit is a series of six exercises (chosen from an array of over 180). You perform six sets of each exercises, twenty seconds on, ten seconds off. Again, six times, counting each rep. Take basic pushups. Twenty seconds of as many pushups as you can, counting each one, then ten seconds rest. That’s one set.

Each day, there’s a new set of exercises. Always, though you start with two cardio exercises (I discussed that last week) then two exercises using the resistance tube, then one set without, then the sixth one with the tube again. Based on the personal information (age, weight) you give the system, they set a goal for the number of reps to attain. The cool thing is that if you aren’t very good at one thing, you can make it up on another exercise because it’s the total number of reps from all six exercises that count. For instance, those pesky pushups. My shoulder has had problem lately, and I was never good at PU’s anyway. So I don’t do so well. However, I can kick butt on the calf exercise (and no, that doesn’t mean I play with baby cows).

You get a certain number of victories and you move up in ‘rank’, just like in taekwondo. Takes about twenty minutes a day, all you need is the resistant tube, and space to workout. My living room works just fine. You will sweat and your muscles will ache. The first time I did the calf exercise I could barely walk on the second day. Now, though, I love them and the last time I did them I cranked out 391 reps.

To transition this into writing, the idea is to try to write something different each time. Outline, detail the outline, a paragraph, a chapter, 5000 words, details on an idea for a new story, research questions, one scene, editing, write longhand, type on the computer, record your story to write later.

Part of the discussion at the meeting was that we all agreed that recording the story is not that good an idea. It just doesn’t sound right. But, maybe for somebody out there, it could work. The whole idea though, is to try something different, once again, setting the goal, and doing your best to be victorious.

Next week: Running.

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Around the Globe with Carolyn Niethammer

It’s a warm and humid Friday morning and I’m all ready to post part three of the recently popular series of blogs regarding fitness and writing. As mentioned last week, I suspected that an author might intrude upon this series and I was proven correct when the door burst open, the cat raced under the bed and this woman stood in the doorway. “Come with me,” she commanded. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied. (Well what else was I supposed to do? Call the cops? I only do that when the upstairs neighbor’s dog starts barking.)

I thought we’d hit an air-conditioned restaurant on the coast of England or Australia…you know someplace cool with iced drinks. Any place to get me away from this August heat. She sets controls of the transporter and I’m anticipating cool temps…only to find myself lounging moments later on the back part of her house…in Tuscon. Yes, that Tuscon.

“It’s November,” she said. I look at her and say, “You get yourself a new calendar.” “Okay,” she says, “Pretend it’s November. Look at the snapdragons and petunias in full bloom and the garden is ready for harvesting.”

(Okay, maybe I’m wrong and it IS November. Anyway, she hands me a glass of iced tea and we begin the interview.)

1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

My name is Carolyn Niethammer and on a Sunday afternoon in mid-September I’ll be fascinating because I will have brought together Tucson’s most fascinating people, my friends, as I celebrate the rollout of The Piano Player in a real tavern, no less. Among them will be a couple of novelists, a medieval historian, a glass blower, a dealer in vintage clothing, a teacher of Japanese flower arranging, several artists, a film maker, a photonics reporter, a labor and delivery nurse, a beekeeper, a dealer in Native American foods and Tarahumara crafts, an immigration lawyer, and an antique shop owner. Each one of these friends opens an eye onto another part of life for me.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

I was what some people might call a hippie in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. The long hair, the beads, the drugs. My mother was certainly scandalized. I lived on an old apple farm in Northern California and learned about edible wild plants from an Indian man down the road. That led to my first book American Indian Food and Lore, about Native American uses of edible plants on the desert..

3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as rocket scientist?

I started out as a journalism student and went to work for newspapers after graduation. Being a reporter gave me a license to be nosy or you could call it “research.” I was a little shy approaching people, but having my reporter’s hat on gave me cover. That continued when I graduated to writing books.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

I’d love to sit down with any of the great food memorists: Julia Child, M.F.K. Fisher, or Ruth Reichl.

5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?

Books can take you away to another place, or another era even centuries away. You can meet people you would never encounter in real life. I actually missed a plane once when I was sitting at the departure gate because I was deep into a book. In my defense, I don’t think they announced it all that well, but there I sat while they closed the doors.

6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

I’ve been writing books for 40 years, so the process has changed over the years. I love historical research. Originally everything thing went on 3×5 cards and photocopies that were referenced on cards. Now I tend to enter more on the computer so it is easily searchable. The Piano Player is my tenth book but first novel. I began the research hoping to do a biography of Nellie Cashman, who was well known as a miner and boarding house owner around the turn of the last century. When that didn’t quite pan out, I realized that the movement of people from boomtown to boomtown in the late 19th century always hoping to strike it rich, was full of drama. There was opportunity to tell a women’s story. So now Nellie Cashman has become a character in The Piano Player. The piano player herself is a young woman who works at the famed Bird Cage Theater and I made her up to enliven the story. The novel is heavily laced with historical events and people so I relied on those old cards. The story begins in Tombstone and I have been there many times. I even took a trip to Skagway and Dawson City in Alaska to research the second half of the book.

The computer has made the writing/rewriting process much smoother. If I come to a point in a plot where it is clear something had to have happened earlier to make this reasonable, I can just go back and add it rather than having to type a paragraph, get scissors and tape and insert it.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Take a class at a community college. Get a copy of Structuring Your Novel by Meredith and Fitzgerald or any number of other good guides. Keep trying different approaches until you find one that fits for you. And you have to actually write. Butt on chair, hands on keyboard.

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?

Earlier in my life when something seemed difficult, I’d tell myself, “Plenty of people a lot dumber than you can do this well,” and I’d get the courage to plunge ahead. Now, having just passed my 70th birthday, I know there is not unlimited time stretching ahead so Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) has become my mantra. It is time to drop the peripherals and concentrate on the essentials.

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

I am at work on a novel set on a hippie commune in 1969. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Lots of fun. It’s based on my own background and a number of memoirs I have read by other people who have written about their colorful experiences in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. I have lived with these characters in my head for years; I think about them every night as I fall asleep, and now it is time to get them down on paper. Sometimes they surprise me. I’m about a third of the way through the book, but I know much of it will have to be changed. Some of these wonderful characters might have to disappear if they can’t hold their place in the plot.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

All my books are listed on my website: The Piano Player is available from Oak Tree Press, the publisher, or on Amazon at

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Fitness Writing, Part II

I think of Means as part of the cop phrase, “The suspect had means, motive, and opportunity.” I take it and revise it just a bit so that Means includes preparation, opportunity, and follow up.

prepare picPreparation

When it comes to fitness, you have to prepare for the workout. This includes cardio work to get the heart pumping. Proper warmup starts with cardio. You need the heart going and the blood pumping, the sweat forming, the muscles warming. Then you can do some stretching. One of the worst things I’ve seen (and I’ve been guilty of this before I learned) is the instructor will get the students in a front stance and start off class with high straight leg kicks. Ugh! With no other warmup, you’re risking pulling muscles. You’ll end up with a nice hamstring bruise the size of Idaho. I’ve seen one and it ain’t pretty.

For writing, preparation includes gathering the writing materials. Pen, paper, computer, drink, special lighting, candles for mood enhancement, locked door, turned off Internet, orders to the family not to be disturbed, or whatever you do to prepare to write.

Opportunity picOpportunity

For my fitness regiment, which I’ll discuss later, I choose different times of the day for my workout. Morning, noon, afternoon, two in the morning. I’ve done it all. When I was living in the campground in southeast Iowa, I chose three in the morning to do my five mile run. I had to be concerned with only a couple of watchdogs at a farmhouse. I also vary the location. Sometimes it’s the local track, the next time it’ll be a zig-zag through town, or on the bike trail. Something to vary the routine. I’ve done running workouts up and down my stretch of Ash Street.

Many writers have set times of day to write. That’s fine. I know a guy who gets up at five in the morning and writes for two hours. Janet Evanovich takes part of the afternoon. If you have a set time and it works for you, great. What would happen if you vary the routine. Write at midnight. During the lunch hour. After work and before supper. Could you write when the opportunity (and the ideas) strike? In a restaurant (yes, I have). At a coffee shop. (Stereotypical, I know but why not?) Waiting in line at the grocery store (might be a bit difficult). I wouldn’t suggest writing at the red light, but what about during break time at work?

follow up picFollow Up

In fitness, we call it the cool down stage and at age 48 in T-minus two months and counting (give or take a day or two) I have found that cool down after working out is not just a suggestion. It’s vital if I want to keep my joints and muscles from tightening up. I made the mistake a few weeks ago of talking with a guy for twenty minutes after my laps instead of walking and keeping the muscles stretched. At the time of this writing, I’m still dealing with a knee problem I think stemmed from that neglect.

How does this relate to writing? Well, maybe you write longhand on notepaper or a legal pad. The follow up could be transcribing that written page to the word processor. Or it could be reviewing what you just wrote, making some quick edits. If you’ve scribbled down an idea, maybe follow up could be discussing it with another person, writing down or starting research for the idea. Also, as I mentioned last week, a great follow up to writing is to celebrate what you’ve done. If you’ve promised yourself an extra cookie for finishing the chapter, then munch away.

Next week: Method. 

Note: next week’s post may be interrupted by one of those pesky authors who, from time to time, step in to take the reins. lol

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Fitness Writing, Part I

snoopy-writingTen days before July meeting of my local (and only Iowa branch of) Sisters in Crime I was asked by the chapter president to assist with the presentation. In previous meetings, we’ve were visited by a law enforcement officer, a wonderful woman who self published a couple books, and other wonderful presenters. In July, though, K. didn’t have anybody scheduled so she asked me if I wanted to share the two hour meeting as she was planning on presenting a seminar on editing.

For a few days I could not think of a topic. Really, what is there to say about writing that hasn’t been said before? I didn’t want to talk about character or plotting or emotion but I was a blank. The following week, with the deadline looming, I was out running laps around the high school track across the street and it dawned on me that my fitness regimen could be transitioned into different ways to write. So, in order to distract my mind and body from the fact they were both tired, out of breath, but that I should finish my laps, I started outlining the following presentation.

I entitled it Means, Method, and Motivation. I focused mainly on the Method part, and threw the others in there just for fun because they helped round out the presentation (and because it’s cool alliteration. Lol.).

I discussed the fitness side, then transitioned that into writing. First, I talked about my taekwondo classes and how, at the beginning of each taekwondo class I announce the goal of the class. This way, the students know what to expect and have something toward which they can work. Maybe the goal is to learn a round kick or the next section in the form.

For writing, I want to give you, the readers some ideas which may spur your fitness regimen and/or writing. That was my goal at SiC and it’s my goal with this current series of blogs.

goal picIn my classes and my fitness exercises, I set a goal before I workout and before class. For class, I will prepare a class planner which consists of warm up exercises, the ‘meat’ of the class, be it form work, technique refinement, one step practice, etc. I try to vary the exercises so the students are always doing the same pushups, situps, or laps every time. I keep an eye out for new exercises to incorporate to see how they work, what they accomplish.

For writing, I take from Todd Stone, who wrote The Novelist Boot Camp. Back in 2007 (I think it was that year), I attended a seminar with him as speaker. One of the areas he discussed was setting a reasonable goal when you write. Many writers boast 5000 words a day or two hours a day or set aside an entire afternoon. Some manage only a page, maybe a paragraph. He didn’t criticize any of these goals. He said to set a goal that you know you can reach and do it. I took it a step farther and related the fitness side into this because I like to challenge my students to reach higher. So if you know you can write a page, try for two, or five. I’ll mention this later, but celebrate when you reached the goal and if you don’t, then revise the goal for the next time.

Next week, we’ll tackle the first M: Means.

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Scammed, Part II

Email-ScamGood day,

I am very grateful for the interest you have shown in my plight and I want to assure you that you will be greatly rewarded for what you have chosen to do. Although we are just knowing and communicating with each other for the first time but I believe that our heavenly father has directed me to you as I have already prayed and searched over the internet a long time for assistance before I saw your profile on a list of registered email addresses provided from some search engines where I picked you.

Be rest assured that you stand no risk as this is my money. Myself and my late husband labored for it and me being the next of kin has the sole right to do whatever I want with it. I am a born again Christian and take delight only in the things of our savior and Lord Jesus Christ, I have prayed a lot on this already and I believe so much in the manifestation of Christ that I know he will not fail me so I want you to know that you have to be strong in your faith as he {Almighty} will surely strengthen you.

My husband’s relatives are pagans and they have used my husband’s wealth and properties which he left behind in ways that do not glorify God, they have lavish nearly everything on vain things and as I lay here in my hospital bed they are all around me, they have sold virtually all I have here in Solomon Island that which my husband and I labored for and what they are waiting to hear is that I am dead so that they can finally lay their hands on my wealth here on earth, I now find it difficult to trust anyone around me here, because I do not know who they can use against me, though that does not really bother me because the things of the earth are canal and there is an eternal home for me (John 14: verse 2). I do not want them to know about this particular money that is why I am communicating with you only through email and I am also communicating with the finance firm who also understands my predicament.

All I need is your absolute trust, commitment, confidentiality and honesty because I want to see my late husbands vision fulfilled before I leave this sinful world. My spirit directed me to you as I have already prayed and searched over the internet for someone to help me since I can no longer trust my family members and friends and I do not want this particular deposit to be used for canal things, I want it to be used to the glory of God. I will want you to get back to me, and I want to be sure that you will be absolutely honest in this transaction and you will use this money to the Glory of God.

Also you have to assure me that you will keep this transaction confidential and you will be willing to contact my finance firm which is located in the United Kingdom and finalize all necessary formalities as to the release of the fund to you. I will also want to know a little more about you regarding your life, your spiritual life, what you do for a living so as for me to know that you will be able to complete this. At the moment I cannot write much because of my health and I do not know when my time will be up so I require your urgent response to know if you are trustworthy and willing to help me finalize this transactions, so that I will immediately write to my lawyer to prepare a court injunction/power of attorney to appoint you as the legal beneficiary to my fund, all other documents are with the finance firm as I already sent it to them for safe keeping so that my husband’s relative will no longer have access to it due to their canal ways.

To prepare this document I will require your full names and address, with this documents, you will contact the finance firm to arrange the transfer of the fund to you. As soon as you have received the fund then you will help me set up a charity foundation or distribute it to charity organizations and hospitals. God permitting, I pray to be alive when you receive this fund and start this project so that you can visit me here if you wish to.

God bless you.
Mrs. Heather Walker

Once again, the above is an actual email. It was the reply to my reply of her first email which read: I am Heather Walker,This is my Third Email to you,I am at the end of the road, and about to donate a huge amount through you. I promise that your assistance would be rewarded. Please reply back to me for more information. Remain Blessed

This was first email I received from her, not the third. I decided to play along and see how far it get me. I will reply to the longer email regarding the ‘plight’ of the poor rich woman who can’t seem to find a competent lawyer who is able to help. I also wish to know the types of ‘canal’ things on which she doesn’t want the money spent.


Following up on the dating site profiles who emailed me regarding their financial needs (the medical and hotel bill scams), I emailed back and forth a few times with a couple of them who, apparently didn’t read my replies, or at least didn’t understand them. I flat out called them liars and they wrote back with more affectionate words. Wouldn’t a typical response be to get angry? Guess not.

Beginning in June of last year I started receiving calls from somebody (foreign sounding) from the ‘U.S. Grant Office’ telling me they had a grant for me for $7000. She told me I could use the money for school, car payments, medical bills, but nothing illegal. I’m serious, that’s what she told me. I was certainly happy to have that bit clarified because when I heard the amount I could receive, I began wondering how many pounds of marijuana $7000 would buy. (Joke here, don’t send the DEA.)

So, I played along. I asked her how I could receive the money and she started in with some questions. First thing she asked me was my zip code. Her information had me living under a New York zip. I told her I wasn’t living there and she asked me for the correct one. I told her that if she had all of my information, she should know where I lived. Again, she said her info listed me in New York. Again, I said no and she repeated her request for a correction. Once again, I told her if she had info on me she should already know. And her reply was (and forgive me for using profanity) “F— you. You hear me? F— you!” And she hung up.

The next time the automated caller computer called and when the woman answered I managed to get through a few more questions to where she asked me if I had a full or part time job. When I wondered why that was relevant, she hung up. From then on, I did the hanging up. There was a period of several weeks when I was given a break but soon after I moved to Carlisle and was trying to acclimatize to the new job, exhausted for the first week, they began again. I hung up on the first but when they called again, I told the guy that if he ever called again, I would track him down and kick his @$$.

About nine months have passed with no further calls.

The emails and messages keep coming, though I don’t mind them and sometimes I just delete them.

One had a separate email address I could contact to be assured that the money was truly real. The contact person was a man of the cloth. I played along for awhile trying for further verification but eventually they stopped replying.

I even had what I assumed was a scam on Craig’s list with someone trying to buy my book Alpha. I had it listed on that site and was contacted by someone who I thought wanted to buy it. The problem was he didn’t have the money but wanted somebody as a go-between. I didn’t understand the scam and finally told him to keep it simple. Send me the money and I send you the book. He never replied back.

A good one was a medical supply company in England. It’s a real company (I looked it up on the Internet. lol) but I wondered about their representatives (or purported reps). The scam here was, because of certain international laws, they couldn’t receive payment directly from the customer and wanted me as a go between. The customer would pay me, I’d keep a portion, and send the rest onto the company. Didn’t quite make sense, but I knew it would involve giving them my bank account.

Scams have been around since the snake chatted up Eve. I wonder, though, how the Nigerian scam worked with people actually living in Africa at the time?

What scams have you encountered and how did you handle them?

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Scammed, Part I


This message may be coming to you as a surprise but I need your help.Few days back we made an unannounced vacation trip to Kiev Ukraine.Everything was going fine until last night when we were mugged on our way back to the hotel.They Stole all our cash,credit cards and cellphone but thank God we still have our lives and passport.Another shocking is that the hotel manager has been unhelpful to us for reasons i don’t know. I’m writing you from a local library cybercafe..I’ve reported to the police and after writing down some statements that’s the last i had from them.i contacted the consulate and all i keep hearing is they will get back to me. i need your help ..I need you to help me out with a loan to settle my bills here so we can get back home, our return flight leaves soon. I’ll refund the money as soon as i get back. All i need is $1,950 ..Let me know if you can get me the money then I tell you how to get it to me.


Jean Morrison

This is the text, copied verbatim from a recent email. I left in the errors of spacing, punctuation, grammar and spelling.

I receive these types of letters about once every couple of months. Usually, they don’t arrive like this right out of the chute. Since I’m on several social media sites I first receive an invitation to be a friend and am asked to contact the individual accompanied by a typical line being something like, “I have something important to share.” Dating sites are notorious for these. After years of receiving these scam letters I’m able to spot them right away, even before the actual letter arrives. I can recognize the intro-get-ready-for-the-pitch email.

I used to just dump them, but then I started playing along. Asking questions, see how far they’d go before they realized I wasn’t going to send them money. For the one above I wondered:

1. Who she was and why did she pick me to contact.

2. Why she didn’t contact family for assistance.

3. What was the reason she went to Ukraine in the first place.

4. Did she visit the U.S. Consulate or just call?

I haven’t heard back.

For awhile, the letters came from the all too infamous Nigeria. Yes, I received the one from the banker who had money for me, but also some similar to the one above. “My boyfriend stole my passport and left me here in a Nigerian hotel and they won’t let me leave until I pay the bill.”

Another was the girl’s mother had been in an auto accident and needed medical assistance. Another was some distance relation named Brayton who had money for me.

Then one came, supposedly, from Ethiopia. At least this time, the scammer decided on another country as did the writer of the one above.

One of the ways I could tell a scam letter was how the original profile was in excellent English but the email was written by a person with barely a grasp on how to write the language. Plus, they put in too many ‘dears’ and affectionate terms too soon. I remember one where the woman said she came from a place in southeast Russia. I looked up the city on a map and saw a huge lake nearby. When I questioned if she was able to visit the lake, do some sailing, camping, etc., she wrote back saying she didn’t have a lake near her city. Hmm…

More scams next week.

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Variety Is The Spice Of Writing

varietySince I’m involved in martial arts, I write a series with a character who is a taekwondo school owner as well as a private investigator. Yes, she carries a gun, but she relies on her martial arts skills more often.

Two challenges I have in writing this series are 1). to create scenes where my main character, Mallory Petersen, can use her skills and 2). for her to use a variety of those skills.

What fun would it be for the reader if all she ever did were a couple of punches and a front kick?

So, I’ve taken some of my training and put that into the scenes. Yes, punches and front kicks are used, but also: round kicks, sweeps, side kicks, and a variety of weapons such as the long staff and bahng mahng ee, or single stick.

I’ve looked back over my training and taken some of my favorite exercises and technique and have allowed Mallory to use them in a practical situation.

In an upcoming story she has to execute techniques in order to avoid being killed by an assailant wielding a knife. She doesn’t have a weapon, is in danger of freezing, is suffering withdrawal symptoms, and can’t mess around too long or else somebody else dies. The scene should be quite interesting.

When I create one of these scenes, I have to choreograph the movements. Many times I’ve mentally written the order of technique-reaction-counter techniques while doing laps around the local high school track. Running, for me, is a great way to free up the mind for thinking about writing. By concentrating on a problem within a story, I am not focusing on how my muscles are hurting or wanting to quit after only a few laps. Back home, I’ll write down the steps in order, then physically work through them, either alone or with a partner. Of course, I’m not actually going to incapacitate my partner, but I am able to get a feel for how the techniques will work. I also will have a sense of time, whether the scene runs too quickly or drags. Also, whether I need to add more material to spice it up a bit.

One of the areas I need to keep in mind is that Mallory is human and feels pain. My writers group has commented on this several times after I’ve read portions of Mallory’s action scenes. This cannot be like the movies where nobody gets hurt, the heroine fights through any injury with no consequence. Mallory has to experience pain and injury. Sure, she can grit her teeth and still fight on, but I can’t make her Superwoman.

I know I’ve done my job when I hear comments that when people read the action scenes, they can follow the movements and know that what I’ve written-and what Mallory has accomplished, actually works.

Creating new scenarios and using the variety of martial arts techniques I know is part of the fun of writing. The imagination can run free to do whatever is necessary to make the scene worth reading. There are a few authors who write series and even though I enjoy them, I could probably tell you the highlights of each book because he/she uses the same formula over and over. Not that this is necessarily bad, but after awhile, I sometimes long for something new.

Now, I’m not saying mess with success. If it works for an author, and people continue reading, fine. For me, I want to keep putting Mallory in different types of adventures. I’ve outlined a future story where I highlight more of the Des Moines metro than I have in previous Mallory stories. I want her to visit more places, be able to use her martial arts in other locales.

One last area of interest I have in writing these stories is that Mallory’s usual array of cases are somewhat humorous. These are usually covered within a chapter or two. The challenge is to create a variety of cases at which she can roll her eyes or end up in a situation that contains humor. This gives the reader a small break between the intense scenes of the main plot. Humor is a delicate aspect and I run the danger of taking it too far so that Mallory-and the reader-are removed from the reality of the moment.

Keep it real but keep it varied. These are two keys to a successful novel

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Chapters – I

C01NOTE: So, I should point out here at the beginning that I’ve decided to go with the title Chapters for this series of blog posts. I suppose nearly any of the stand alone posts could fit under this category, but I think I’ll try to keep these with where there is a humorous complaint or comment. Searching the web I’ve discovered several other sites to tap when this current crop, originally listed back on 4/25, is depleted. And when the time arrives, I can switch to something else. Enjoy!


I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

Maybe it should also state in the brochure that the store doesn’t sell dinette sets or Corvettes either.

Come on, be reasonable.


Anyway, this had me thinking about bookstores and how many people enjoy visiting the large spacious stores with two floors, a coffee shop, bakery, auto mechanic, and shelves upon shelves of novelty items that have nothing to do with books. In the store of which I’m thinking that shall remained unnamed unless you can figure out this complicated code: arnes-Bay & oble-Nay, I actually saw a box containing a screen the size of an average laptop with a small paintbrush. Apparently the goal is for to paint with the brush anything you want. A few seconds later, the picture magically disappears and you can begin again. This is supposed to help you relax after your stressful day…for only $39.95.

First, I wouldn’t be relaxed after shelling out that kind of dough for a modern version of an Etch-a-Sketch. Second, I wouldn’t be relaxed after concentrating on the perfect picture only to have it go away. I’d be prone to throwing the palette out the nearest open window.

My point is that in these types of bookstores you can find a lot of things. However, many times I feel overwhelmed because, well, I love bookstores. In fact many times, the manager is on the verge of calling the police at closing time because I won’t leave even though I’ve spent the past nine hours roaming the aisles I haven’t looked at every single book and I may want to refresh my memory on one particular shelf. I may not buy anything, although I’ll see several carts full of potential books I WANT to buy but have enough sense not to make my Mastercard scream in pain any more than it already does.

Here in Des Moines, is a store called ½ Price Books where the books cost-now follow me here-half the regular price. Or more in some cases, even more, namely on the clearance shelves. What I really enjoy about this store is some of the collectibles I can’t find anywhere but on eBay or regular book sales at the fairgrounds or the mall. I find many of the novels I’m missing in a series. Plus, they buy books. They only give you maybe .000001 cent per book when you know could sell it on the aforementioned eBay for $4.50 plus $6.50 shipping and get more from the gullible buyer than you originally paid for the book, but at least the store offers some pittance for you to trade in read books. (As opposed to wrapping them in plastic and putting them in boxes which then clutter up your parents’ basement. Not saying I do that…okay, I do, but you don’t have to is my point.)

Then there are the independent bookstores found in many towns large and small. Here you find some of the popular novels but you may find some books written by local authors. At one store I have visited several times, they have an entire wall dedicated to Iowa authors. In these stores, the selection isn’t that large but like the bigger places, they will order books for you. And you may find some novelty books such as the cookbook I saw recently called “Pumpkins” which was in the shape of, you guessed it, a watermelon. No, seriously, it was orange and round and textured, roughly like a pumpkin.

The ‘indie’ stores are more willing to work with ‘indie’ authors on selling the ‘indie’ published books. Usually, the stores take a commission and send the author whenever a book is sold.

I’ve heard from many publishers that people should patronize these indie bookstores and I agree. First off, if you have one in your town, that makes it local and you don’t have to drive to the big bad city to buy a book. Plus, if you’re Internet savvy (and you’d have to be somewhat intelligent to have navigated to this blog) then most of these stores have websites where you can order a book and then pick it up at the store.

As the Ebook explosion is coursing through the world, some, if not most of the indie store are going E.

I did experience frustration with one particular store as the E-wave started crashing, in that they were unsure of the E-market so they didn’t want to risk having me do an author appearance (my first two books are exclusively eBooks) because they didn’t know how successful the event would be. Okay fine, but then not six months later they had a guest speaker in to have a discussion on…eBooks and how wonderful they are. If I had not had another commitment that day, I would have hung around outside handing out bookmarks. “Hey, now that you’ve heard the talk, here are a couple of books to try out.”

And maybe it’s just me, but I’ve also had problems scheduling events with indie bookstores. “Oh, we’re planning on an authors’ fair later this year. Let’s get you in on that” I’ve heard that twice and both failed to materialize.

I think the problem is that a lot of times, the indies don’t have enough time to properly promote the author. They love for them to come in, don’t misunderstand me, but attendance is usually low (or zero in my one time event) and space will be limited. For a book signing during the Christmas rush I was placed in a chair blocking the entrance to a section of books with a plastic table to display my books measuring one foot square and shorter than the average lawn gnome’s kneecaps. People were looking at me liked I’d pooped on the carpet or bending over so they could peer at my book, then looking at me like I’d pooped on the carpet. Most of them just ignored me because they didn’t know why I was there. My one benefit was, I managed to get two solid hours of writing accomplished.

Please don’t think I’m trashing indie bookstores. I love them. I love bookstores and I think that if you see an author is appearing at one, please attend and listen. You don’t have to buy his/her book, but at least show the bookstore that somebody cares enough to attend. That way they’ll be more inclined to have more authors visit and that’s a win for all of us.

You might learn something from the authors. They might be interesting. The ones with whom I associate are. Plus, while you’re in the indie store, you might find some surprises. The hand-woven bookmark. A special clip-on book light that doubles as a clock. Or you may find a title you never expected to see like, “47 Uses For Pantyhose.”

(I assume you already know about putting a pair over your head when you rob a bank.)

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“Take down this number…”

write-it-down-inspirelsOne of my recent Facebook posts mentioned a trend in several radio commercials currently airing on the stations to which I listen. The ads concern debt repayment, loan repayment/default, tax problems, and I think even one on cleaning up negative material about you on the Internet. I think these companies offering assistance must use the same advertising agency or else the script is handed to one writer. During each of these commercials, the announcer is very dramatic and urgency laces his voice. Most of the time you can tell he’s reading from a script because the rhythm is not natural. During the spiel he reads a piece of text that runs along the lines of “Grab a pen and take down this number or store it in your cell phone, but call…”

This line is in every one of these types of commercials. And the ads play during nearly every break in the regularly scheduled program. And after about the third time with the same line, I want to throttle whoever came up with it and insists on it being in every commercial.

Normally, I tune out commercials unless they’re interesting or humorous. Jingles are nice and stick with you, which is the point. Many companies use jingles. Oscar Meyer, Coca-Cola, etc. Either with words or just a tune that you’ll recognize. Or be bothered by in some cases. There was a phone company, Vonage, I think who used a song that was really annoying because it was the same series of notes over and over…and over and over. I wouldn’t call the company just BECAUSE the tune was so irritating.

Radio commercials are the same. I catch myself singing along to some. “Midwest Basement System’s got the fix, call 289-1606.” That’s for a local company who specializes in all things…basement-y. (Yes, that’s what they say, too.)

Another one is “The Woodsmith Store.” That’s the entire line for the West Des Moines store and it a bit distracting because when the person sings this I expect more words to come but none do.

“There’s a helpful smile in every aisle.” Hy-Vee grocery stores.

“Duea treat you right? We do.” A car dealer pronounce do-wee. Get it?

So I get it with these companies. A jingle helps. The same action-oriented line, however, in every commercial for some financial assistance or the like, just grates on the nerves. And they never change. I can tell, just by the tone of voice, that the line is coming. I’m not going to take action because first, I’m not in need of their services, and two, I’m driving so I’m not going to be doing anything like storing a number in my cell phone.

I’m this way about books. I’ve read some that lack strong writing because the author uses words or phrases in a way that does not fall under the term ‘creative license.’ I remember one book that was a spy thriller with government agencies listening to the enemy’s phone calls, tapping into emails, and other such things a’la the NSA. However, when the people discussed what was happening, it was all ‘chatter.’

“Yes, the chatter today was about…”

“I agree because yesterday’s chatter…”

“We’ll analyze the chatter from the tapes…”

Way too much ‘chatter’. Yes, I know that’s what they call it, but find a different word, okay?

Many characters use catch phrases. In many books, Eve Dallas says, “Bite me!” Robb, the author, however, doesn’t overuse it so it’s cool.

Anyway, I just wanted to get in a minor vent this week because I’ve been tuning to another station whenever these ads begin. The line is just awful because of the repetitiveness.

What lines, phrases, words do you hear often enough to warrant a groan?

If you can’t think of one off hand, grab a pen, write down this website or store it in your Favorites, but comment.

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Food For Thought: Iowa Beef Steakhouse

iowa beef steakhouse

Iowa Beef Steak House

1201 East Euclid Avenue

Des Moines, IA



On this Friday morning, investigator Harry Reznik enters the homicide department.



“Mornin’ Harry,” greeted Captain Glynis ‘GG’ Gravatte. “Why the long face? Still thinking about the Nielsen case?”

“Huh? Oh, hi Cap,” Harry said. “No, I’m not worried about that. I’ll probably have an arrest this afternoon.”

“The sister in-law?”

“Yeah, jealousy can be a heckuva motivator.”

“So why the frown?”

“Just wondering where I might go to dinner tomorrow night.”

Gary Wang, another investigator, stopped inputting information into his computer.

“How’d you like the steakhouse last week?”

Harry shrugged. “It was okay.”

“Not too impressed?” Glynis asked.

“Well, I enjoyed the decor,” Harry said. “Some woody tones and colors, like if you’d come in off the ranch.”

“Sounds all right.”

“One of the features is that customers can cook their own meat. They have a large charcoal grill. Several good selections. A 14 ounce filet, 20 ounce New York Strip, even chicken breasts.”

“Chicken at a steakhouse?” Wang pondered. “Doesn’t seem right.”

“Hush,” Glynis said. “Go on, Harry.”

“They’re a bit pricey. Your chicken, Gary, was the least expensive item at around $15. The rest were $24 on up. I had the 20 ounce ribeye. I chose to let the kitchen cook it.”

“How was it?”

“Pretty good. I enjoyed the taste of the steak. The potato was about average.”

“I hear a ‘but’ coming,” Glynis said with an arched eyebrow.

He shrugged again. “I figure if you’re going to charge me twenty-eight dollars for a steak, everything should be above average, including the salad bar. I like a good salad with my meal but the choices of toppings were limited-no mushrooms and I like mushrooms-and the lettuce wasn’t fresh. It wasn’t brown and wilted, just not fresh.”


“They’re open every day at five, so no lunch menu. They do have nightly specials and accept reservations. The seating area can accommodate larger parties.”

“So where are you thinking about for tomorrow night?”

“I don’t know,” Harry said and sat behind his desk. “I’m thinking maybe pizza.”

“Okay then,” Glynis said. “Well, keep me up to date on Nielsen.”

“No problem. I should have the evidence later today to get an arrest warrant.”

“The sister in-law,” Gary said. “Heard she was a feisty one. Are you sure you won’t need some backup?”

“If I do, I know who to call.”
“Why thank you Harry.”

“Yeah, I just passed Ol’ Morton out in the hall.”

“The janitor? He’s like 89 years old.”

“You ever arm wrestle him?”


“He’d kick your behind without breaking a sweat. Yep, I think Ol’ Morton would do just fine.”

“You’re cruel, Harry,” Wang said and turned back to his computer. “Real cruel.”

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