Craft: Research

Interlibrary Loan

When it comes to obtaining books for research, lucky for me, I live in one of the biggest urban areas in my state. There are six different libraries within a five mile radius from where I live, not to mention three colleges too (one of them I’m an alumni so I get to check out books for free). Even with the internet and e-books, there still comes a time when either the book hasn’t been digitized or the copy that’s available is too expensive. One of the easiest ways to get a hold of a book is using interlibrary loan in conjunction with  Often times I’ll use Worldcat to see if the book is available through my library. If it’s not, I’ll use the bibliographic information from Worldcat’s site to make my interlibrary loan request. One of the most expensive books I requested was Glena Collett-Vare’s Ladies in the Rough (New York: Alfred A.Knopf, 1928). Most sites show it available from $75.00 to $200.00 depending on the condition. No way was I going to plunk down that amount of money for a book I planned on only reading once. Surprising enough, a school out East was willing to loan the book. I just had to wait awhile and read it in a week. I suppose there are times when there is a need to purchase a book, but I’m too cheap. I’d rather pay $1.25-$3.00, then pay $10 – $25. That saves more room on my shelves and in my wallet for books I really need.

The Changing Face of YA

To get in the zone for my current work in progress, I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. One of the trends I’m noticing is how much YA has changed in 20+ years. Gone are the romantic and mystery series, and in their place are gritty historicals, hope driven dystopians and supernatural star-crossed romances. Looking back, I don’t remember a whole lot of YA appealing to me. I moved on to adult fiction by the time I entered junior high. Lucky for me, YA today has great crossover appeal. Victoria Hanley even speculates that 47% of women and 24% of men ages 18-24 still read YA. Even a current article in Writer’s Digest contends a new sub-genre of YA is on the rise online and soon to hit book and mortar store shelves. It’s New Adult and centers on characters in their early twenties struggling with adult responsibilities (think Gossip Girl) while still feeling the pull of teen fears and anxieties.

In researching the fifties, what amazes me is the ages current publishers are targeting, were the same ages many teens marched to the alter (average age for women was 19, men 22, qtd in Stuart A. Kallen, The 1950s). I can’t image marrying someone in my teens or early twenties. There are still people that marry out of high school, and I commend them for it. I just couldn’t image myself doing the same. I didn’t know what I wanted out of a significant other much less myself in my early twenties. Much of the YA I’m reading, kids aren’t contemplating marriage either. I guess the state of YA fiction and marriage has changed, I think both are a good thing.


  • Brown, Teri. “New Adult The Next Big Thing?” Writer’s Digest, July/August 2013, pgs. 28-30.
  • Falk, Kathryn and Cindy Savage. How to Write a Novel for Young Readers and Get it Published
  • Kallen, Stuart A. The 1950s. A cultural history of the United States Through the Decades, series. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, Inc., 1999, pg. 53.
  • Halverson, Deborah. Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2011.
  • Hanley, Victoria. Wild Ink. Second Edition. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press Inc., 2012.

This Sucks, Start Over

After a couple bouts of the flu, I’m finally able to plow through my manuscript after getting it back from a development editor.

What’s a development editor? Well, they look at plot, characterization, tone, ect. After you’ve built a house, they’re the first line of inspection so to speak. They’re going to tell you what works and what doesn’t. If your manuscript is suffering from an identity crisis (like mine). They’ll tell you. If they’re a great development editor, they’ll also give you the tools to take your manuscript to the next level, even if it means telling you to take the thing apart and start over.

As a writer, you have to develop thick skin. You have to be able to step back and look at your manuscript through someone else’s eyes. If you’re not willing to do this, then maybe you should just stick your manuscript in a drawer and start something new.

While I am starting something new, I don’t think this story belongs in a drawer (Well, maybe it does for a little while). Sometimes the best/freshest ideas come when you’re not thinking about them.

Craft: Writing

The Question – Outline or Not to Outline

I just finished How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and I thought I’d discuss outlining.

Now, I outline. I need a map. It’s usually a chapter by chapter sketch of the POV, general setting, and what I want the chapter to accomplish. Usually, I have the first 1/4 and the last 1/4 of the book outlined in my head. It’s always the middle 1/2 where I have trouble. It comes eventually, though.

Not everyone outlines. Kathy Emerson outlines as she goes. Benjamin Leroy, founder of Tyrus Books, consideres himself a ‘pantser‘. Meaning he says to ‘hell with it’ and simply writes what flows from his fingers. I admire the writer who does this. My brain simply doesn’t work that way.

The outline of He’ll Bring You All Down (my new YA novel) is about 3/4 complete with about 1/4 written. There’s still some kinks I have to work out in the first draft, but I’m getting there.

Craft: Research

Research – First Hand Accounts

When I began researching Papa’s Bones eight years ago, I did an over view of the period by using recent publication about the time period. For something more specific, like what kind of bra women wore, if any, with backless dresses, I tried to find this information with primary sources.

What are primary sources? Yale defines them as: “Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.”

Now, that I’m diving into my next YA thriller/mystery set in the 1950s, I’m attempting to follow the same procedure. One primary source = two seconary sources. One thing I’ve noticed while mining for historic facts, there are a lot of lamenting nostagia pieces. Maybe I’m noticing it more because the early 1930s and mid 1950s were two seperate words. There are more people alive now that grew up in the 1950s than those who were in their twenties in 1932. As I’m reading these diary’s or reminices, a voice in the back of my head keeps whispering, ‘now come on, really, the 1950s really were that wonderful?’ I don’t think so.

Primary sources are great for discovering the additudes of the times. You get an ‘in the moment’ feel more so than a second hand source. But like authors and editors of secondary sources, primary sources have agendas too. I thought I’d ask a friend of mine, a retired homicide detective, who dealt with first hand accounts everyday while on the job, just how valid are they? The numbers he gave surprised me.

Stranger viewing a stranger, an eye witnesses testimony is usually right about 50% of the time. Now, if that same crime involved friends or relatives, that number jumps to 90%.

L. said: “It’s all in the follow-up. Start out by figuring everyone is wrong, but trying to tell you what happened. Then it’s door to door, witness to witness, ask much, ask often, sort lies, learn what you can and get lucky with the Ident stuff to make it work.”

Kinda sounds like the art of historical research, L. Maybe I should have been a cop. But thinking on it, maybe not. I’ll leave chasing the criminals to the more qualified pesonale. There are no guarantees, but at least from where I’m sitting, in front of a computer screen clacking away, I won’t get shot.

Oh, if you do want to know if women wore bras with backless dresses, you’ll have to listenfor yourself.

Craft: Writing

First Chapters

I’m in the process of revising several chapters before I submit my manuscript to a development editor. I kept returning to the most important chapter. Chapter One–and I didn’t like it. I felt I wasn’t hooking my reader fast enough. Yet, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. Then one afternoon, while reading one of my ex-critique partners blogs, I noticed she’d recommended a book by Less Edgerton.
It worked.
Edgerton provides a list of essentials for any first chapter:
1)Inciting incident (no. 1 MUST lead to no. 2)
2)Initial surface problem (All of them must lead to no. 3) 
3)Story-worthy problem (If you don’t have one of these, you don’t have a book)
4)Set Up
5)Back story
You must blend all five of these requirements (1, 2, 3 are the most important) together in an action scene. If done right, and begun in the right place, he insists your first chapter should ‘grab the reader and never let them go’.
My main problem was I hadn’t begun my story in the right place. Once I found where that was, I was able to use all of Edgerton’s points to fix my issue. Now, I certainly like where my first chapter begins. But that doesn’t mean I won’t revise it again 😉

A New YA Thriller

I’ve immerced myself in another writing project again. This time it’s a YA thriller set in the mid 1950s and tentatively titled, He’ll Bring You All Down. What’s surprised me the most about this story is how easily it’s coming together. The writing. The research. Perhaps the reason is this isn’t my first go around at writing a novel.

In He’ll Bring You All Down, everyone has secrets. Some are just darker than others. You’ll find a sample of the first chapter below.

Chapter One

Lucy Dobbs

No. 1: Gayle Fisher

At the end of this story, I’m going to kill my brother. This may sound callous to you now, but when I put the barrel to his skull and pull the trigger, you’ll wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

It was the fall of ’55. An Indian summer had taken hold. Uncle Corky and I had just finished repairing Grandmother’s orchard fence. Again. A couple of two-by-fours were no match for two half ton Percherons who thought apples were far more appetizing than scrounging for fodder in the adjacent field. Sweat streamed down the sides of my face. Some plopped into my eyes. I squinted against the burning pain and fumbled in the back pocket of my overalls for my handkerchief. I took my time wiping my brow. I knew my perspiration wasn’t entirely due to the weather. My stomach knotted again. I needed to get Uncle Corky to the opposite end of the orchard, but I couldn’t make it appear too obvious.

“God damn, worthless pieces of shit.” Uncle Corky tossed the hammer into his opened tool box. The metal gave off a clatter of protest. I winced as the sound vibrated inside my skull. “I should turn those stupid horses over to Ol’ Man Jones and he can turn them into fuckin’ glue.”

Obscenities. Grandma said it was one of the many things he’d brought back with him after his time in the Pacific. I didn’t think anything of it. To me, his profanity was as much a part of him as his angled face, short, stocky frame, thick black curls, and piercing brown eyes.

“Grandma would have your head,” I said. “As far as she’s concerned, Bob and Bill are family.”

“Well, your Pop should have put a bullet through their heads a long time ago. That’s what a tractor is for, damn it.” He gathered up the remaining tools. “Someday, your Pop’s gotta realize, pleasin’ women gets you nowhere.”

I shoved my handkerchief into my pocket and plucked a few torn leaves from my musty overalls. How was I going to get him to the other side of the orchard? My heart pounded faster. I was running out of time.

“Speaking of women,” Uncle Corky rose and tucked the tool box beneath his arm like a football. “Where is your brother’s lazy ass this morning?”

Maybe if we talk about James, he’ll stick around?

“Homecoming,” I said. “Sleeping it off. Why?”

“And you didn’t go?”

I bristled and shoved my rust colored braid over my shoulder. Even if I’d wanted to go, no boy had asked me. My hair and stick-skinny frame didn’t amount to much on the popularity scale. I had to deduct a point for not playing basketball. Another because I wasn’t a pomp-pomp shaker. I got decent grades. I wasn’t a bully. But those weren’t traits that made one popular at William McKinley High School. Unlike my brother.

“So, what unfortunate girl got to go on a date with your brother?”

Goose bumps prickled my skin. My heartbeat echoed in my ears. I swallowed the lump at my throat. Take it easy. For God sake, don’t give it away. Not yet. “Gladys Fisher.”

“The banker’s daughter?”

“Yeah,” I couldn’t help it. My voice quivered with sarcasm. “And when the star quarterback and captain of the basketball team asks your daughter to homecoming, you can’t exactly say no to a god, now can you?”

He snorted. “Your brother is no god.”

No. He wasn’t. But that didn’t stop everyone in town from thinking it. The football and basketball team had made it to the state championship two years in a row. By the way people talked, James had done it single-handedly.

Uncle Corky began to walk away. Panic assaulted my brain. My breath came short. Why hadn’t I done something earlier? I kicked a rotten apple. It imploded on impact. Juice and rotten fruit splattered my boots. I wrinkled my nose in distaste.

“Wait a sec!” I grumbled as I braced myself against the rough bark of tree while I scraped the mess from my boots. When I raised my head, I found Uncle Corky staring at something past my shoulder. A frown furrowed his forehead and drew his bushy brows into a deep vee.

Exhilaration shot through me. Did he see it? I turned in the direction of his gaze. “What?”

“I don’t know. Thought I saw something.”

Long, brown grass. Multi-colored leaves. Naked branches danced in the breeze, obscuring the view of the repaired fence and black, cultivated fields. Then something white flickered in a sea of greens, reds and browns. In attempt to squash my relief, I bit my lip. Good. He saw it.

I tried for nonchalance and shrugged. “It’s probably just a piece of trash.”

“Maybe.” Uncle Corky’s frown lingered. He didn’t sound convinced. “Come on, let’s check it out.”

I followed him. The orchard floor was a carpet of tangled grass, dried leaves and rotten apples. The debris crackled and popped beneath or boots. The scents of earth and decay tickled my nose, igniting another spark of exhilaration inside me. He cleared a fallen tree with ease. I was about to holler for him to stop, to let me catch up, when he stilled. His stocky shoulders looked like a taught wire pulled taunt and about to snap.

He held out his hand as a warning. “Lucy! Stay there.”

He was too late.

A white and black dress. Ruffles. Tulle. They’d been torn and rucked up to her waist. Steaks of blood stained the porcelain skin of her thighs. One of her white shoes was missing. Leaves and twigs were mangled in her shoulder length curls. My gaze halted at her face. I can’t get it out of my mind, even now. Her blue eyes bulged with fear glazed over in death. A purplish-blue welt branded her cheek. Another two inch bruise encircled her neck. Most people would probably feel pity. Fear, maybe. I clenched a fist at my side. The only thing I felt was an acute sense of anger that made it hard to breathe.

“You know her, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” My voice broke. I swallowed. “It’s Gladys.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

He let out a sigh. It was heavy and long, as if he’d been holding his breath for years. I hoped he was thinking the same thing I was thinking: James.

“I want you to go up to the house,” he said. “Don’t talk to anyone. When you get there, you call Pat. You wait for him. Once he’s here, you bring him to me. Understand?”

He called my name, but my brain was so numb his voice was too far away for me to answer. Rage boiled in my veins. I could feel the heat in my face. I still couldn’t get the image of Gladys’ face out of my brain. What a stupid fool. She should have known something like this could happen if she trusted my brother.

“Lucy!” He punched my arm. Hard. My trance broke and my gaze skittered to Uncle Corky’s face. Pale, his lips were set in a firm line. He watched me and not the body. I wonder how he could stay so calm. Then, I remembered. He’d seen a lot more dead bodies than me.

I gave a shaky nod and scrabbled toward the house. I tripped over dead branches—even my own feet. James—all my life he’d been like one giant armed atomic bomb waiting to implode. But unlike those poor suckers in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, we’d all been warned.

And I was the only one who’d listened.

Craft: Writing

My Writing Spot (App)

After converting my Nook to an Android tablet, I began perusing the Google Play store for productivity apps. I wanted something I could sink with Dropbox and not have to worry about juggling around my flash drive (not using the laptop so the flash drive is kinda moot at this point).

If you’re looking for a writing app that doesn’t have too many bells and whistles, try My Writing Spot. It’s available for download with both Ipad/Iphone and Android. You can also use its website and sink what you write on the website to the app on your device (make sure you have a wi-fi connection and a gmail account handy).

The app is simple. No formatting to get in your way. You just type. You can title your sections whatever you want and group them together by colors. Once grouped, the app syncs them together and provides you a total word count. A handy dictionary and thesaurus is also provided. So, so long

The only glitch I’ve found in the program concerns titling sections. The app allows only so many characters. But the website has no restriction. To bypass this restraint, I’ve just been retitling it on the website and synching it later.

Oh, and as for the Nook Color running Android’s Gingerbread, it’s working great. The small keyboard is an adjustment, but well worth it. The only flaw in the whole system I’ve noticed is you have to take the device out of usb host mode for it to charge correctly.

Craft: Research

Fiction vs. Real Life

I’ve put my sequel to Papa’s Bones to bed for while. I was getting frustrated with where the plot was going. Instead, I’ve decided to concentrate on a story I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. It’s a YA historical loosely based on my fifteen year-old step-uncle who grew up on a northwestern Iowa farm at the beginning of WWII.

Farming’s in my blood. I spent a lot of time on my grandfather’s farm (4th generation). I worked at a museum that specializes in Iowa farming. I figured I’d stick with what I know for this one.
The one thing about farming and Iowa, there’s a lot of primary sources available. One source that I just picked up from my local library is titled: Sunday Afternoon on the Porch: Reflections of a Small Town in Iowa, 1939-1942, w/ photographs by Everett Kuntz. The black and white snap shots are a perfect slice of 1930s & 1940s Iowa small town rural life.


Craft: Writing

Nook to Android

Things have been crazy busy with a new baby. The only time I’ve found to write is when he’s sleeping. My laptop and Alphasmart keyboard are too cumbersome. Even my husband’s Ipad is just too big. So I’ve made due with the Nook Color–and it’s fine, but all you can do is hunt and peck and it makes for excruciatingly slow writing.

As an E-reader, the Nook Color works great, but it has limitations. I have an Amazon account with a few Kindle books and I can’t read them on my Nook. The Nook app store is terribly lacking. Much more so when compared to the Google Play store or Apple store. After doing some research, I discovered I could turn my Nook Color into an Android tablet running on Android Gingerbread.

I thought about rooting the Nook myself. I’m computer-savy, but I didn’t have the time. Nook to Android will do the rooting for you (for some cash), and you don’t have to worry about voiding your warranty or ‘bricking’ your Nook. Once I received the SD card, the installation was fairly simple. I slipped the card into the SD slot. Followed the directions provided, and in less than five minutes, I was downloading apps from Google Play and accessing my writing via Dropbox. I also purchased a keyboard and a USB connector I purchased from Radioshack (Just a word of caution here. Don’t order the SD card off of the developer’s website. They haven’t developed a kernel for Android 4.1 (Jellybean) yet so your keyboard won’t work). To link my Nook to my keyboard, I then downloaded the free app: Nook Tweaks or USB Host Controler (To get the keyboard and Nook to work together try visiting this site).

So far, I’m impressed. And I don’t have to lug around my heavy laptop anymore.