Maddie speaks out

At last, Maddie Porter, age 11, has her say. She’s the sidekick in the Miniature Mysteries series by Margaret Grace.

Wow, after all the drills in school, we finally had a real earthquake where I live in California. I wasn’t scared. Not too much, anyway. It was only a 3.1, but everything quaked! I was in my Grandma’s house with her and her BFF. I think they’re going to get married soon. I hope so, because Uncle Henry—that’s what I call him—his granddaughter, Taylor, is my BFF! So that would be so cool. Me and Taylor would be, like, cousins or something.

Back to that earthquake, it’s a good thing I remembered Drop, Cover, and Hold On! from our drills in school, and made sure Grandma and Uncle Henry came under the dining room table with me and held on even though it moved a little. I think a vase in grandma’s house broke, but the big thing is that downtown in the new, giant crafts store, some pottery fell off a high-up shelf, and someone died from being hit over the head. The man was a boss of the new crafts company. He came to our town from New York, and my grandma thinks maybe it wasn’t the earthquake’s fault that he died. She’s probably right, and if she is, then we’ll have a Case to work on.

I love helping Grandma and Uncle Skip (he’s not old like Uncle Henry) who’s a police detective. This time I made up a data chart so we could have an easy way to see where everyone was when the earthquake hit. That’s called an alibi, and when we looked at all the alibis it helped us figure out how the man from New York was killed.

Grandma and I work on dollhouses together, and that’s almost as much fun as police work. When I grow up (I’m almost there—I’m eleven years old), I think I want to be a detective like Uncle Skip. Or just make miniatures all day. Or maybe work in an ice cream shop, or maybe live in New York. That’s where my dad was born when Grandma and Grandpa were living there. At least I want to visit New York and see the Rockettes. Maybe Grandma will take me some day.


GIVEAWAY ALERT: go to Dru’s Musings where this blog first appeared and make a comment by MIDNIGHT APRIL 17 for a chance to win a copy of MADNESS IN MINIATURE, the 7th in the series.


From Cozy Fun to Zombie Fun

WELCOME, CHRISTINE VERSTRAETE!

What my friend Chris doesn’t know about Camille: She writes light, reads dark!

My new bedtime reading!

Why Write About… Zombies?

By Christine (C.A.) Verstraete

Thanks to Camille, who is brave enough to let me grace the pages of her blog here and there.

Now Camille is a terrific writer who writes fun, light, cozy mysteries which I adore and LOVE to read. So why in the world would she want me to come here today and write about something as awful as … zombies?

Well, I admit being a mystery buff first. Camille and I got to know each other way back in the early days of her publishing her first miniatures mystery since we both are miniatures collectors. Later, I happened to write a kid’s mystery, Searching for a Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery, which features the search for a missing mini replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night (hence the book title), and which she featured on her blog.

I’ve always been a horror fan, and loved Stephen King, Dean Koontz and others. Along the way I started writing some horror-tinged short stories and finally found something that inspired me enough to write a book—zombies.

Yes, they’re disgusting, awful, horrid—you name it. I started watching The Walking Dead and admit, even I cringed or turned away sometimes at how ghastly these monsters were. They’re like every nightmare rolled up in one. The show is fascinating, though, for both the human drama, the zombies and the fear factor involved—you never know what may be around the next corner.

So an idea came, but I naturally didn’t follow the typical route. Instead,  in GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, I thought of a story about a 16-year-old girl who turns… part-zombie. No brain eating here, though she is on a kind of gross restricted diet. (You’ll never look at a certain white meat the same way again.)

About GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie:

Life can suck when you’re sixteen. It can suck even worse when you’re not-quite-dead.

Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Herrera Hayes faces every teenager’s biggest nightmares: bad skin, bad hair, and worse . . . turning into one of the living dead.

Becca’s life changes forever when her cousin Spence comes back to their small Wisconsin town carrying a deadly secret—he’s becoming a zombie, a fate he shares with her through an accidental scratch.

The Z infection, however, has mutated, affecting younger persons like her, or those treated early enough, differently. Now she must cope with weird physical changes and habits no girl wants to be noticed for.

But time is running out… Most of all, she needs to find something, anything, to stop this deadly transformation before it is forever too late

Links:

Amazon US, print and Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/mwjn6v3

Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/ctyd9dz

B&N: http://tinyurl.com/d889gzn

I wanted to write a book with some humor, bad puns and have it told from the zombie (or part-zombie’s) point-of-view. Having the main character Becca only part Z answered the problem of having her go Uggghhh through the whole book. Bo-ring. ha!

The main part was having fun with it. It wasn’t until later that I learned that zombie books are a genre all to themselves, and can be pretty gore-entrenched, violent and have a lot of military action. Not my thing so much, even though you have to have some zombie killing. Writing the gory parts, I admit, was fun. Call mine gore and zombie lite I guess.

Now I’m hooked. I’m working on some more adventures for Becca and am almost finished with a completely different book with another different take on zombies, this time in a historical setting.

The main thing is I’m enjoying it. After all, if you don’t enjoy what you’re writing, then why bother, right? But what I really learned was, who’d think horror could be so much fun?

C Me? I C U

In the third grade, I won a spelling bee. My prize was a shiny new green pencil and a pristine pink eraser, wrapped together with an oft-used rubber band (we called them “elastics”).

I have no recollection of the words I spelled, but I checked what today’s third graders are spelling. Some examples:

enough

thought

difference

easy

photograph.

There was no way Mrs. Johnson could have known how much the spelling of these words would change in a few decades. I feel like turning back my pencil and eraser.

In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin proposed a new, phonetic alphabet (what didn’t the man take an interest in?) His alphabet consisted of all the letters we’re familiar with, except there was no c, j, q, w, x, or y, on the grounds that they were redundant; and there were six additional letters, such as th, to provide for sounds that needed representation.

There wasn’t much interest in his proposal, even though he had the means to commission a foundry to prepare type for the new letters.

I wonder what he or Mrs. Johnson would think of “spelling” in today’s world of texters? I don’t recall a formal proposal or RFPs for new type foundries, but there’s no question that we have a more phonetic approach to spelling, much as he’d recommended:

enough –> nuf

thought –> thot

difference –> diff

easy –> EZ

photograph –> foto, or pic

Will improved technology (better ergonomics for finger/keyboard interaction, e.g.) take us back to enough, thought, difference . . . ?

It’s not so simple. Here are some examples from a list of 1400 abbreviations I found for texting and chatting on line.

TMI means  too much information

411 means information

POS means parent over shoulder

And more Netlingo:

**// means wink, wink, nudge

*$ means Starbucks

Even if you use only the most common acronyms (LOL, BFF, ROFL), I’ll bet you don’t write

I won’t be late; I’ll see you soon, but rather Not L8; CU soon.

Or some variation.

It seems to me that technology is driving this “evolution” of language, starting with spelling and grammar. Has it always been that way – technology as the tool of change?

Do you text? How’s your spelling?

Is anything the same as it was in third grade?

LCC in Monterey

Monterey has a special place in my writing history — I attended my first mystery conference there in 1997, with The Hydrogen Murder the only book in my publishing repertoire. I knew 2 or 3 people, and stuttered my way through my first “new author” panel. Last week, Left Coast Crime was held in Monterey again, and it was quite a different experience, meeting old friends and feeling more a part of all that went on.

I was happy to participate in 2 panels—moderating one on “Traditional Mysteries,” and a member of “Those Who Write Many Series Under Different Names” (or something like that.) Here’s a shot of the panel I moderated, with Laura Bradford, Kate Carlisle, and Parnell Hall.

laughing at the paparazzi

One of the best panels I heard was called “Pulp Fiction & Beyond: Very Untraditional Mysteries,” moderated by Juliet Blackwell, and featuring Dale Berry, Chris Holm, and Gary Phillips. All were impressive with their knowledge of the history of comic books and graphic novels, in all their reincarnations. Here’s the start of my new Dale Berry collection, “Tales of the Moonlight Cutter”—Evil stalks a forbidden palace and only the Cold Moon Sword can defeat it. How could I resist?

Not your father's comic books

I should be waking up in Monterey, CA today, for the start of Left Coast Crime, one of the most popular conferences for mystery readers and writers. A long weekend of panels on all aspects of crime fiction and nonfiction, hosted at a hotel a short walk from the Monterey Bay wharf. Tough duty.

Among the many features are 2 auctions, one silent, one live, to benefit a local charity. Here’s my contribution this year– a miniature writing scene (regular size nail file included for scale). Note that the vase is a *real* bullet casing. I’ll be back next week with a report and more photos!

Oh, the pressure!

Interesting conversation with a young art graduate student the other night: He’s not thrilled with his classes, especially with the exercises his professor assigns. Bottom line—he just wants to be able to go into the classroom/studio and do his own artist-thing. Nothing should be right or wrong in an art class.

Can the same be said for physics classes? The discussion prompted me to resurrect an old physics story. As the legend goes, a physics teacher posed this question on an exam and got surprising results.

Show how it’s possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.

One student answered this way:

“Take the barometer to the top of the building and attach a long piece of rope to it. Lower the barometer until it hits the sidewalk, then pull it up and measure the length of the rope, which will give you the height of the building.”

What? The teacher expected a different answer, using an equation involving the difference in pressure at the top and bottom of the building.

ΔP/Δh = (-mg/kT)/P

When challenged to come up with “the right answer,” the student gave several. Among them:

1. Take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building. Using simple proportion, determine the height of the building.

2. Take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and this will give you the height of the building in barometer units.

And so on.

My favorite remains this one:

“Take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door. When the superintendent answers, say: ‘Mr. Superintendent, if you will tell me the height of this building, I will give you this barometer.’”

How would you grade this student?

** Legend has it that the student was Niels Bohr (1885-1962, Nobel Prize in physics, 1922), but then a legend can say anything and get away with it.

Take my book, please.

Read me! Read me! You'll love me!

Tomorrow, March 7, is National Salesperson Day.

The site recommends that we recognize salespersons of all kinds—store clerks, manufacturers reps, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, even car salesmen. (Telemarketers, who have a knack for calling during dinner time, are not on the list, but that’s another blog.)

Also not on the list of salespeople are WRITERS. And yet, more and more, authors are looking like salespeople. The release of a new book is the occasion of launch parties, and a flood of postings to yahoo groups, writers and readers organizations, and email lists pilfered from who knows where. Like my book, please, and if you do, consider giving me a 5-star review. It used to be that publishers paid attention to sales for the first couple of months, then, the first week, and now, the statistic on which a writer’s career stands is PREorders– if your book doesn’t get enough preorders, that may be the end of your career. 20,000 people bought your book in the first month? Sorry, too late.

More and more book announcements are accompanied by requests for Likes and reviews. The phenomenon of “street teams,” popular in the music world, has taken hold among writers and readers. Spare me.

Blurbs are another nuisance. Though I’ve never refused to write a blurb when asked, I *hate* asking another author to blurb my books. Don’t readers know that blurbing is about as meaningful as a message from a “doctor” in a television commercial?

I recently received an email from a stranger. He had an offer I shouldn’t refuse. He’d send me a free copy of his amazing book IF I promised to give it a 4- or 5-star review, if I liked it. If I didn’t like it, would I please NOT post a review, and also reimburse him for the cost of the book.

Whoa. Win-win for the author. If you like his book, he gets rave reviews; if you don’t, he gets money.

So far, with my 19th book coming out in a month, and my 20th and 21st (not counting e-only books) in the pipeline, I’ve avoided any direct pleas to buy my book. Yes, I send out postcards; I blog, I Facebook; I do book events. And in this blog and this particular paragraph, yes, I’m marketing/promoting my books.

Is there a difference?

What do you think?

Sister Whodunit

I’m getting ready to launch a “whodunit” featuring a nun detective on Kindle. A nun detective is nothing new, I guess, but Sister Francesca is MY nun :)

To lay the groundwork, I’m repurposing an earlier blog on nuns. What do you think?

Can you tell which one is me?

Maybe it was that “Nuns Having Fun” calendar a friend sent me. Or a dumb-nun joke someone told me last week. In any case, I’m moved to write about nuns.

First, a fact: Nuns aren’t cute. Little kids can be cute and, I suppose, small animals, though I’ve never seen the attraction.

Nuns are adults, usually well-educated and/or experienced at a significant skill like teaching, nursing, or praying.

So, why are nuns so often pictured as silly women, giggling at who knows what, sliding down a snowy hill as if they were fifth graders? Maybe real nuns posed for these photos, maybe for a good cause, like feeding pagan babies. But seeing them pedaling tricycles, using a swing set, or riding a carousel, their veils blowing in the breeze, makes me embarrassed for them.

It could be about sex, i.e., that nuns seem childish because they’re celibate. So, is having sex the only thing that makes us mature? Maybe it’s about the habit. But lots of people wear uniforms, from medical professionals to airline employees. They’re not generally ridiculed or made to look infantile.

The first nuns I met, the ones who inspired me to enter their order were college teachers. They taught physics, math, English lit. I watched them in chapel, in the lab, in the library. Never at an amusement park.

They had great faith and a great spirit of generosity. They were smart, and if they ever played hopscotch, it was out of camera range.

Recently I reconnected with a Sister I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years. (Sister, by the way, is the more accurate term for the religious I’m talking about—those who have a mission that deals with lay people. Technically, only cloistered orders, who live a life of prayer without outside contact, are nuns.)

Sister MJ and I were in the same entering “band,” as we called it, and went our separate ways after final vows (well, final for her; for me, a step on my journey).

Sister MJ’s current mission is running a shelter for trafficked women. Along the way she has worked in Rome, learned to cut and style hair to service those who can’t afford regular salons, picked up social services and medical knowledge, and ministered to countless patients around the world. She deserves respect for what she has accomplished. I hope I never see her pictured on a rocking horse.

A language problem?

Could it be the language that sets Sisters up for a comic role? The fact that they invoke the saints instead of saying “f*&^ you?” That they’re more likely to say, “God be praised,” instead of “Damn, that was lucky.”

I have to admit there’s a language barrier for me when I visit women who are still in the order I once belonged to. They say “God bless you” the way most of us say “Have a nice day,” or “Take care, Dude.” And their offers of prayers leave me stymied.

Can a few Our Fathers really make my plane leave on time or my flu go away? Who knows? But I’m always grateful for the thought.

Going Postal

Waiting for input

I couldn’t let this day pass without a mention of an important milestone in American history: On February 20, 1792, George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, creating a national postal service.

I must confess, I’m addicted to mail. I love sending it and receiving it. I love seeing a stuffed mailbox at the end of our drive, even if the stuffing is only what others call junk mail. To me, every piece of mail means someone has a message for me; someone knows I exist. So what if it’s just from the dry cleaners down the street or another cause seeking a donation?

For a long time I’ve been thinking how cool it would be to read a mystery series set in a post office. The protagonist would be a female postmaster (no such job as postmistress, I’m told), in a small town, where all kinds of fascinating stories would come alive. The series would be set in Western Massachusetts and—wait! I think I’ll write that series!  More news coming soon to a mailbox near you.