Research Rejection, Part II

rejection 2My first rejection came from a rude secretary in the Quad Cities when I was driving the route Mallory took in Beta. I stopped at a plant that processed meat gelatin. (Yeah, sounds disgusting to me, too) When I asked the secretary if there was a PR person available she told me one didn’t exist. When I asked her who might help me, she said he wasn’t available. I gave her my name and contact information and I think she threw it in the trash when I left. Maybe she was upset that construction in the building was so loud or maybe ‘rude’ was her personality. Anyway, she ended up being rude to Mallory in the story.

My next stop was at the meat processors in downtown Davenport. The flustered receptionist was baffled at what I wanted, flapped a hand at an employee directory, and disappeared. When I spoke with the correct employee, she told me she couldn’t help me because of proprietary reasons. Again, I didn’t want to steal secrets, I just wanted general information on how the pig slaughtering process went. Nope, no go. I ended up speaking with a friend who worked in a similar plant in Ottumwa and he gave me the information and no corporate sabotage was committed. The flustered receptionist went into the book.

I put these next two rejections as one because they involved the same bit of research. For Alpha, I needed information about railroads and train cars. I knew someone who worked at a repair shop in Albia. I traveled all the way down there, saw the ‘Visitors Welcome’, elevated to the third floor, asked to speak to the employee and was told, curtly, no. No reason given, end of conversation. I should have given my information to pass along, but felt it probably would have also ended up in the trash. So much for the welcome sign.train

Then I visited the Des Moines rail yard with a friend. We took pictures of signs and trains and discovered a maintenance dirt road that ran along the north side and dead-ended under a bridge. I thought the location was the perfect spot for the climactic scene in Alpha. But I still needed specific information about trains. I stopped into an employee break room and was directed to another office where I was given a number to a representative in Omaha.

Back home I called the number, gave the guy my schtick, and happened to mention that I had visited the Des Moines location and that I had driven the maintenance road. He told me I had trespassed and to not do it again. Oops! Anyway, I emailed him a list of questions and he didn’t respond. Sigh! I ended up getting the information one morning from a former railroad worker who was a guest at the motel at which I worked.

Then there’s the latest one with the casino. I also called a local media representative since the woman I spoke with at the casino told me they worked with media, but although he didn’t outright reject me, he couldn’t offer the kind of assistance I wanted. Left to fend for myself, I discovered a bunch of factoids on my own via the Internet.

Of course, this means I can’t use the actual name of the casino/racetrack in the story. I do not want anything to come back upon me even though nothing bad happens in the chapter, no crimes committed. That’s okay, I’ve changed the names of other businesses.

Next week, I’ll present some examples of rejection from other authors.

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Research Rejection, Part I

rejection 1I thought about this topic several weeks ago when outlining a chapter to put at the beginning of Mallory Petersen’s next adventure, Delta. In the story she meets a classmate about halfway through the story. When I wrote the first draft, I thought the scene worked, but after reading it to a critique group, and discussing it with a friend, I decided I needed to introduce the classmate earlier in the book. The character plays an important role and I didn’t think it would be fair to the reader to throw her into a later chapter. The plot would be more believable with an earlier appearance.

To introduce her, I had to write a scene near the beginning of the book and I mulled over the problem days before I decided to have Mallory visit the local casino. I’ve visited the place numerous times (and have even won a bit of money on occasion) but I wanted to have more information the place. When I called the public relations person, introduced myself, and told her what I was working on, she declined my

Wait a second, let me back up. I have to admit I probably didn’t present myself over the phone as well as I could so I’m partially at fault for not making a good first impression. I mentioned I wanted general information regarding the history of the place, size of the property, and mistakenly asked of information regarding security. I know. I know. They’re not allowed to give that kind of information but I wasn’t asking for sensitive information like numbers of cops, shift change times, or the schedule of the money transfers. I didn’t want that. I wanted general information, maybe throw her a scenario or two that Mallory could have-that would not require private information-but I didn’t get that far. The PR rep said she works with media people when they come a’callin’ for news stories, but she’d never received a request for information from a fiction writer. Then she said said something along the lines that it wasn’t the policy to grant requests like mine.

Okay, so I was confused by the two statements and I believe she was confused as to what I was and what I wanted.

Anyway, this had me thinking about past research endeavors. I like to visit the sites I put into my books. I jot down as much information, descriptions, and details as I can. I’ll take pictures (or have my friend take them because on one jaunt I didn’t have a camera. I do now.). I’d rather have too much information than too little and need something later.

I’ve been doing research for many years and I can recall only four times I’ve been rejected. Most of the time people are very nice, will talk with me, answer my questions, and I come away happy. The police are extraordinary if at times busy to get into too much detail. A fireman I spoke with gave me some important information that had I not obtained would have had readers writing me nasty emails. A business owner was so sweet I remembered her by putting her into Alpha. (Not her personally, but her personality.)

val airI mentioned in interviews that one of the reasons I travel to sites is because things can happen and I may meet people I can add to the story. The time I crashed a quinceanera at the Val Air Ballroom is a classic example.

I meet all sorts of people and even when they’re not helpful for what I want, they are helpful because I remember them and put them into chapters.

Let’s discuss those next week.

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Review Regrets

regretsI wanted to write this on one of the reviews I’ve done on my other blog, but decided instead to write this up as a regular blog. One of the reasons I chose to do it here instead of there is because I initially thought I’d write this at the beginning of one review and it might seem like I was lambasting the author, which, essentially, I am. I could have written up a separate blog type post over there to insert between reviews, but again, I’d have to insert it between particular reviews and I didn’t want it to be as if was pointing a finger at a specific book. This pertains to one particular book, but on a more general note to many I’ve read.

I’m posting this early before the reviews in question but in time, it shouldn’t be too difficult for someone to figure out to which reviews I’m referring.

I started reviewing books a few years ago. I love to read and have hundreds of my own books to read (and if I had been smarter, would have stuck to reviewing those) and decided to hop onto a couple of websites to review books. The problem I should have realized was that I would have to actually read the books (duh!) and that would take time and would take time away from my own books. But I persevered. I felt obliged to finish the reviews as quickly as possible.

When I moved last year, I had to inform two sites that I needed to go on hiatus because I just wouldn’t have the time. I stayed with one site and am only intermittently reviewing audio books for them.

However, I decided to sign up on another site where the authors themselves made the requests. This was back in the spring and I’ve been asked to review over twenty books so far with three (as of this writing) waiting to be read.

When I signed on to do reviews for the first review site I was informed how they wanted the reviews written and that I could refuse to review any book I didn’t want or didn’t care for. I was told that some books just weren’t worth the read and the very first book I received fit that category.

However, with my site, I could be a bit more honest and inform potential readers some of the good points of the books and any mistakes I found. If you’ve perused some of the past reviews you will see that many authors have made many mistakes, a lot of which should have been caught by an editor and many which should have been caught by the author.

There have been some good ones although in my ranking system, very few Black Belt ranks have been given which tells you that the quality has to be there in many fashions.

Jump ahead to this spring and the recent spate of books. If you’ve read any of the reviews since that time, you’ll notice a startling pattern. Many of them have been below par. An enjoyable book will get a Blue Belt and even some Purples are worth reading. Most of them, however, have fallen short.

So recently, I finished a couple of books I found lacking quality in many areas and gave them low ranks. I then read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It had one or two problems, but nothing egregious. I praised it and gave it a higher rank.

For a few days, I was back to reading my own books before the next set of requests came through. In two days I accepted three reviews. I started on the first and…

Let me say this. After finishing the previous and having a break, I was feeling good. The previous one was a good book. Then I started another one and wanted to throw away not just the story, but the computer I was so disappointed. Mistakes in the prologue and throughout.

I suppose I should be thankful for the quality books that come through. They’re not all bad.

I was told by one of my review sites that I had to stay positive about the books I accepted because just because I didn’t like them, somebody else might. I agree, and for the most part, I enjoyed the books I received from that site. Those I took a pass on, I still reviewed for my site and I did so because those I wanted to point out the mistakes. Not that I just ‘didn’t like’ the book because some of them had potential and a fairly decent plot. But when you have problems with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and basic sentence structure, I don’t think anybody is going to enjoy trying to read through it. I’ve had to endure some truly awful material and I’m not writing this to be cruel to the author. I’ve read some glowing reviews for books that made no sense to me, that had glaring and obvious mistakes. I wouldn’t have cared if Margaret Mitchell, Raymond Chandler, or Agatha Christie wrote the books, they wouldn’t have been worth reading.

On the site I’ve signed up to take requests, I suggest that authors read previous reviews on my blog to understand what they’re getting into when they ask for reviews. I’m not going to hold back. I will try to stay tactful, but when there are mistakes, I point them out.

Does this make me an expert with a big head? No. All authors make mistakes and work on their craft. I’ve made mistakes and am constantly trying to improve my own stories. I’m going to try to put out the best manuscript possible. I’m going to hope my editors will catch my mistakes and correct them.

I think that’s part of the problem with many of the poor quality books I receive – no editing or poor editing because many are self-published. I’m not here to bash SP authors because I’ve seen some good ones out there. But for heaven’s sake, take the time and spend some money to get some assistance. Don’t just put out the first, second, third, or even the fourth draft, just because you think it’s time.

I entitled this Review Regrets not because I regret accepting books to review, but regret having to read and give an honest opinion on stuff that I found wanting. My regret is the time spent on these when I have many more books I’ve rather be reading.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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Fitness Writing, Part VII

Motive picOne day in August of 1991, I was uptown and saw the local taekwondo club had a special offer of two weeks’ free classes. I’d always been interested in martial arts, so I thought this sounded like a good deal and started classes.

I’d been in Oskaloosa less than a year and soon after starting my job at the radio station I joined the local community theatre group. I had been acting in plays since high school and enjoyed the friendships made.

When I discovered I was pretty good at martial arts, I had to make a choice. Rehearsals for each play conflicted with taekwondo classes. Although I still wanted to act, I enjoyed TKW more so I gave up the theatre. Sorry, Hollywood and Broadway.

Because of an injury as a child, I had had trouble with my right arm when participating in sports. Taekwondo brought back some of those issues, but in time, they relieved themselves with the constant exercise. Because I’ve kept up the workouts, I don’t have as many elbow problems.

I earned my first degree black belt in 1993 and immediately joined the instructor trainee program. I had been teaching a lot of classes for several months but this program helped determine my future. I became certified (as opposed to certifiable), helped a friend of mine with her club for a year or so, then took it over and moved it to Grinnell. In 2003, I assumed ownership of the Osky club and although Grinnell had some problems, I still run the Osky club, even from an hour away.

I enjoy martial arts. I look forward to the tournaments and the camps. I look forward to seeing friends. I wish I had more time to participate in many of the activities around the country and I still strive for more students in my club.

I still work on my form and compete in tournaments. I train because I want to improve myself. I’m not in the best shape but I am strong and a lot more flexible than I would be without TKW. My body responds well to exercise. It revels in sweat, the sore muscles, the increased heart rate, and exhilaration of accomplishing my goal for the day. I suffer when I don’t exercise and it’s that much harder to do the next time. I feel good when I finish a workout. I recover faster today than I did six months ago. The coming cold weather will restrict some of the outside exercise, but I will cope as best I can.

Why do I exercise? Because I want to stay healthy. I try to watch my diet and think about what I ingest. Sure I have the occasional cookie and soda and fast food, but not as much as I used to. I’m more into salads and the right amount of lean beef and chicken. I love fish.

Chief Master Larry Hoover, an excellent high rank in my region, once related at one of our winter camps that up to age 30, people exercise to build. Building muscle, etc. After 30, we maintain. We may build a bit of muscle and lose some fat, but we’re maintaining what we have already gained.

I don’t want to be overweight. I don’t want high blood pressure. At my next physical I want to see what my cholesterol level is but I’ve been watching the fat.

And I exercise. I run and bike and do WarriorXFit. I used to lift weights and would like to be in a position to get back to the gym. I still work on my form for flexibility, stamina, balance, and for self defense. I hope never to have to use martial arts against an enemy, but I’m training my instincts and responses to be able to deal with it if that time ever comes.

That’s my motive for working out. Because if I didn’t, then my body suffers.

Why do people write? For money. Fame. To say to people, “I am published.” Some people feel the ‘need’ to write. Some write for the pure enjoyment of writing, of expressing creativity. Some write only to share with family.

I write for all of those reasons. I write because I want to write and feel bad on those days I don’t, just like exercising. I suffer when I don’t write, and yes, it’s that much more difficult to begin when I’ve stopped. With working out, I have to remember to stretch and cool down and push myself when I want to quit. With writing, I have to remember the rules, when to break them, proper grammar and punctuation, how to show and not tell. When I miss a weekly writers’ group, I really miss it.

So, there you have it. I hope I’ve helped and spurred some ideas. Let me know your ideas for fitness and writing. How do you do either?

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Fitness Writing, Part VI

FormI really enjoy the forms of the American Taekwondo Association. The white belt form has 18 moves and you work yourself up to 81 moves for the first degree black belt form. White belt starts with some very basic moves, punch, front and side kicks, low, high, and middle blocks, and a knifehand strike (karate chop). Each form thereafter introduces a new move or combination move with some extra turns, and so on.

I’m certainly not going to disrespect other styles of taekwondo to other martial art styles because I’ve seen some talented people do some amazing things. I will, however mention that I attended a tournament in Keokuk last year that was open to all styles. I don’t know how the judges decided who was better when they saw so many different forms. Kung Fu, karate, taekwondo, etc. One thing I noticed was that though many of the forms were intricate, not many had very many kicks. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, I’m just saying that the ATA forms have a lot of kicks, especially the higher in rank you go.

My form, the Fifth Degree Black Belt form, for example has 95 moves. Now, like the other forms, many of the moves are repeated. (Left punch in one section and right punch in another, for example). However, I have front kicks, round kicks, hook kicks, jump spin kicks, wheel kicks, jump outer and inner crescent kicks throughout. With the number of kicks and types of kicks I do, I’m constantly working to improve the quality of them. Ditto with the hand techniques.

Kicks can be intricate. Lately, I’ve been working on a combination side-hook-round kick and having balance issues. So I keep working, practicing, breaking down each kick to it’s smallest components to figure out the problem. I work on the technique.

Maybe I’ll take a section of the form and concentrate on the flow or timing. The entire workout could consist of only five moves, but I’m doing them over and over, looking for the best technique I can get.

One of my instructor’s favorite challenges focuses on stamina, both mental and physical. The challenge is to do the form seven times in a row, full power. Remember, my form has 95 moves, including all those kicks. So, I begin, I complete 95 moves, I go back to the ready stance, and begin again. Seven times. Somewhere around the fourth time, the body may be used to it, but the mind is saying, “Three more. Arg!) So it becomes a mental game to strive to keep up the energy.

Of course, you can’t just go out and rip out seven in a row first time. I had to work up to it. Three times one session, four times, the next, and so on. I don’t do the seven in a row all the time, but everynow and then I’ll do it, just to sweat and keep up the stamina.

Even so, during those seven times, I look at technique. I may go back and do something again if I don’t like it, just to stay honest. Sure I could whip out seven times but if the quality isn’t there, what’s the point? I’ve lost the integrity of practice.

How does this relate to writing? We’re always learning and honing the craft of writing. Following the rules, breaking the rules, changing the rules to suit our story. Some of the areas of writing to help are challenges. In my Thursday night writers’ group we have a weekly challenge for those who might need some inspiration in between bouts with the work in progress. Maybe the challenge will focus on point of view, or certain words, or scene, or developing character. Some nights, all of the writers may be having the same general problem, so the challenge for the next week is to explore that area and improve upon it. Many of the hot-to writing books will have challenges to try.

Other areas of practice are blogs. Such as the wonderful one you’re currently reading. Writers can work on the rules of writing, the craft of writing by pumping out a weekly blog. Again, I don’t want to put down other blogs, but some I’ve read, well, I don’t feel they’re as much a blog as they are a lengthy Facebook post.

Letters (remember those?) can also be a way to practice writing. News articles, too.

One of the ways a friend of mine tried was to open a favorite book and start writing it. Longhand, write the book as the author wrote it. By doing this, one might be ale to see the ‘how’ of the writing. The reasons paragraphs were formed in such a way, how dialogue flows, etc.

You’re working on technique.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll look at motive. Stay tuned!

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Fitness Writing, Part V

bikingMy first bike was a 5-speed Schwinn. The gear shift was in the middle with a big black knob on the end. Banana-type seat. Later, I had a ten speed which I outgrew. In Oskaloosa, I had, for a short time, a three speed several decades old, complete with a headlight. Unfortunately, I kept it in the laundry room and someone stole it. Now I have a ten speed that is just a bit small for me, but it works.

Earlier this summer, I spent about two and half hours biking down to Indianola via the Summerset Trail. The next day, I visited a bike shop and bought a new seat. Not only were my knees swollen from the 25 miles, my rear hurt because of the narrow seat. Recently, I also bought a helmet.

My biking regimen is similar to my running. Intervals and Distance.


This has proven a bit more difficult because I can’t just pick a street and race up and down. I could, but I’d have to watch for traffic and I’m not sure how the intervals would go. Maybe I’ll experiment one day. Anyway, I use a section of the bike/walking trail, a portion of the first length of the Summerset Trail. Again, I’ll pedal slowly for a distance, then a bit faster, then all out. Usually, I do eight rounds with the last two rounds the entire length.

To transition this to writing, I still use burst of writing, quick stuff, but this time I’m not worrying about quality. I just want to get something down. Quick scenes that I’ll rethink and edit later. The annual event in November where writers try to get down an entire novel within the month, can be like this. Usually, it’s just words without the quality. This is not necessarily bad, but be aware that the material will have to be reworked with much of it thrown out.


Here again, one can relate the trek on the trail, but usually I set the alarm for half an hour, pick a direction and go. So far, south has been covered by the Indianola trip. I’ve gone east past a little town called Hartford approximately five miles away. The last distance was north where I headed out what I call the back way from Carlisle and ended up going toward Des Moines.

For writing, I think of this distance as on a long trip, perhaps a vacation, on a plane or a bus, or in the car. You’ll have plenty of breaks, but it’s perseverance that counts. Again, you can get into the ‘zone’ when you write because, let’s face it, a lot of the scenery out there is pretty boring. I’m not dissing Iowa, but there’s a lot of farmland out there and one field looks a lot like another, especially in February. And no, Iowa is not completely flat, but it is in a lot of places. Long trips when you’re not the driver are perfect for sinking into your imagination and letting it flow onto paper.

Next week: Form

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Fitness Writing, Part IV

RunningI went out for track in both junior high and high school. I never placed in any of my races. I went out for basketball as a junior in high school but the first warm up made my legs hurt for three days.

I’m not a fast runner but I’ve built up the endurance through taekwondo and through persistence.

I break down my running exercises into two categories. Intervals and distance.


This is build stamina. My normal regimen is walk fifty yards, jog fifty yards, sprint fifty yards. That’s one set. I’ve worked myself up to eight and sometimes twelve sets. Then I’ll change the routine and do eight sets with the ninth and tenth being walk, jog, sprint one hundred yards. Or, I’ll vary the intervals each set. The first will be the usual fifty, then on the second set I’ll walk forty, jog and sprint sixty. The third set I drop the walking down to thirty and the jog/sprint to seventy. I’ve done the intervals around the track doing hundred yard stretches each time. I’ve done the intervals on the street in front of my apartment using the apartment buildings’ (there are five in all) mailboxes as my distances.

For writing, I liken the intervals to writing in spurts. Quick pages here and there, different times of the day. Short scenes. Dialogue. Description. Sometimes this works just to get down an idea or to detail a scene.


This is done one of two ways (a subset of the subset if you will). Either I will set the cell phone alarm (usually for fifteen minutes) and take off running in one direction or zig-zag through town. When the alarm rings, I turn back. The second distance is set myself a specific number of laps around the track. Usually ten which is about two and a half miles. I can vary the routine by using a different lane each lap.

In writing you can set the time factor to a specific number of hours to write or a certain goal, such as the end of a chapter. Many times when I ‘distance’ write I get ‘in the zone’. For runners, there’s a point where they push past the pain and the exhaustion and they can run for many more miles. For writers, the zone is when they know they’re on a roll and the words just flow. I’ll know when to quit when I’m writing longhand and my hand starts to ache.

Again, it’s good to celebrate the achievement of that goal. I push myself to do one more lap or push myself to go a little bit farther.

Next week: Biking

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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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