Monday, April 24, 2017

A Personal Mystery

One day last week a van with a logo pulled up across the street and parked. A man climbed out and looked busy, and yet it didn’t seem like he was really doing anything. He was there for a couple of hours and finally took off.

The next day a pickup truck with a different logo pulled up across the street and parked, and again, a man climbed out and fiddled around, not looking like he was really accomplishing much. He left after a few hours.

On the third day a larger truck (again with a different logo) pulled up and parked across the street. Surprise, surprise, a man climbed out and looked busy without seeming to do a darned thing.

Okay, they had my attention. My office is in the front of the house and my windows are placed so that I can see everything that goes on across the street. This went on for the rest of the week, with trucks or vans always parking in the same spot and leaving after some time had passed.

I joked to my daughter that I felt like Big Brother was watching. She laughed and said, “Oh, you’ve got to do a blog about that.”

I suppose these trucks could inspire a book, or my story might make you think I’m nuts. I’d rather think in terms of having an overactive imagination.

Of course, I’m positive that each of these trucks was here for a legitimate purpose. I’m not really nuts. I’ve just read too many mystery and suspense novels, and watched too many television shows. Yeah, that’s probably it.

Come to think of it, there was one driver who got out and stood between the two houses across the street. All he did was look up, from one roof to the other, before he… Well, he didn’t do anything else except stand around – for quite a while. Hmmm. I might have thought he was going to give them a roofing estimate, but he never wrote anything down.

Almost everything we observe can be a basis for a book. Life has a way of handing us interesting situations. What we do with those is what makes us writers. It’s what entertains readers.

In my mind, observation and research are two of the most important parts of writing, and sometimes they’re one in the same.

The trucks reminded me of another story. Many years ago I lived in an apartment complex. I came home late at night and there was a man in the alley between the buildings. When he saw my headlights he started banging on some meters. Being the suspicious sort, and having had prowler problems in the area, I called the police. They came out and checked, and later told me he was a meter reader. I couldn’t imagine reading meters at ten o’clock at night. I called the electric company the next day. Uh, they didn’t have anyone out reading meters in our area the night before, or any other night. Repairs were sometimes done at night, but not meter reading. Fodder for a story?

I’d be willing to bet that you, both writers and readers, have observed some unusual things. Can you imagine these incidents in a book? Sure. Why not?

Until next time, have a good week and keep your eyes open. Don’t miss any of the good stuff. You might need it for a story the next time you think, “I’m out of ideas. Now what?”

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Monday, April 17, 2017

J.R. Lindermuth, Guest Author

My guest this week is J.R. Lindermuth. He presents an interview between himself and one of the characters from “Geronimo Must Die,” his latest novel. This should give you a little insight into the story. I’m looking forward to reading this book. Thank you for joining us, J.R.

Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce Mickey Free, protagonist of my novel Geronimo Must Die. It was with some reluctance Mr. Free agreed to this interview, but he has promised to be forthright in answering my questions and to refrain from profanity.

JRL: Good morning, Mickey. Will you tell us where and when you were born?

MF: Well (scratching his head), I'm not altogether certain. It may have been here in Arizona Territory or maybe down in Mexico. My Mama was a Mexican woman, Jesusa Martinez, but I've never been certain about my Pappy. I know Mama was living with John Ward in the Sonoita Valley when I was taken by the Apache. I was about 13 or 14 then, so I figger I was born sometime in 1847. I was adopted by Nayundiie and lived with the Apache until Rope, my foster brother, and me joined up with Al Sieber as scouts.

JRL: Do you consider yourself an Apache, a Mexican or a white man?

MF: (He shrugs) Most people consider me a bastard. Is it all right for me to use that word? Don't want to offend nobody.

JRL: Why don't you just tell us a little about yourself?

MF: I'm a scrawny, one-eyed, near-illiterate fellow who’s trying to make my way in life as best I can. My kidnapping stirred up a war against the Chiricahua and a lot of people blame me for that, though I don't see how it's right to blame a kid for something he had no control over. It wasn't the Chiricahua stole me and it sure wasn't me said they did. They should put the blame where it belongs--on the Army officer who couldn't tell one Indian from another.

JRL: So you're a man with a moral code?

MF: (He grunts) I try to mind my own business and get along with people as best I can. Save myself a lot of knocks on the head that way.

JRL: Tell us a little about San Carlos.

MF: It's a miserable place. There's never enough food. People are forced to live cheek to jowl with some of their worst enemies. Lots of them were sick through the winter and had no medicine. Don't blame 'em a bit for trying to run away--even if it is my job to keep them on the reservation.
JRL: And now there's this rumor Geronimo is behind this plot for a big runaway.

MF: Some believe it. I'm not one of them. I was there when somebody took a shot at him.

JRL: When you saved his life?

MF: (Nods) For the second time.

JRL: You admire Geronimo, don't you?

MF: I do. I don't totally trust him. But he's a man I respect--even if he doesn't like me and isn't grateful to me for saving his skin.

JRL: What about Al Sieber? What do you think about him?

MF: Al has been like a father to Rope and me. We'd both follow him to heck and back--even if he doesn't always understand us or the people.

JRL: And what about this girl you've been following around and making moon-eyes at? What can you tell us about her?

MF: Let's leave her out of it. She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. If you want to know more about her, read the book.
If you'd care to read the book, it's available in print and e-format from Sundown Press, the publisher; on Amazon and from most other quality booksellers.


A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill--which may have helped inspire his interest in the West. His 15 published novels are a mix of mystery and historical fiction. Since retiring, he's served as librarian for his county historical society, assisting patrons with genealogy and research. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.


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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Thank You!

This post is coming to you from Marja the Reader, not Marja the Writer.

Every once in a while I feel the need to say thank you, and this is one of those moments. There are so many writers who have given me so much pleasure, and you all need to be thanked and acknowledged.

There are times when we all (readers) need an escape, and your writing offers that opportunity. There are times when we need a good laugh, and many of you provide that, too. Of course, there are moments when we just want to read about people we can relate to, and authors never let us down. Drama can take us away. I’ve heard many people say they can relate to a character in a book or the situation a character is going through and it’s given them a different perspective to things in their own lives.

I know people who’ve been through some tough times, and books have been their salvation. People who are going through health issues have used books to sooth their minds and fears, if not their pain.

I’m applying this to all genres, even those I don’t read, because if you’re not entertaining me, at least you’re entertaining someone.

I know from experience how difficult writing can be. You have to come up with an idea, and then you have to follow through with your idea to come up with an entire story. We stumble over moments in a story that can take different paths with different outcomes. Sometimes just trying to think of a particular word or phrase can stump us. The end result is someone who reads a book and sets it down with a sigh of contentment.

I once heard that if you sing a happy song to yourself in the morning, and find other ones to sing throughout the day, you’ll discover a joy you hadn’t expected. The same can be said of reading a book. (By the way, if your singing voice is anything like mine, you might want to think about humming. There are times, in church, when I simply mouth the words because I don’t want to clear the place out.)

Short post today, but I’m offering a huge Thank You to each and every one of you.

Keep those stories coming because you offer so much to so many.

Until next week, read a good book, sing (or hum) a happy song and enjoy your week.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Note to Self

A long, long time ago I wrote a post about the appearance of characters, and by that I mean their physical appearance. I get so busy with other details when I’m writing that I sometimes forget how much appearance can define a character.

Sometime back I watched a vintage movie (1932) titled Penguin Pool Murder, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. So many times the acting in old movies is corny, not at all what we’re used to seeing now, but this one turned out to be quite a surprise. The heroine in this story is a prim school teacher named Miss Hildegarde Withers, and she’s quite a character.

I discovered, to my surprise, that this movie was based on a series written in the thirties about Miss Withers and written by Stuart Palmer. So I ordered a couple of the books to read because I wanted to see if they were as good as the movie. They’re even better, but that’s not where I’m headed.

 In reading Murder on the Blackboard (also by Stuart Palmer), I discovered that I’m going to have to rethink my descriptions of characters in my books.  Let me give you a few examples of why Mr. Palmer made me feel derelict in my writing.

In describing one of the characters, he wrote, “He was a man of medium size, with a thick head of colorless hair and a face that was seamed and wrinkled as a potato left too long in a damp, dark place.” Colorless hair or not, that was a colorful description. I think this type of writing makes the characters come to life for the reader.

Miss Withers isn’t approximately forty, but she’s in “the neighborhood of forty – the close neighborhood…” Her face has “most of the characteristics of a well-bred horse.” Excellent!

Too many times I don’t go into enough detail about the appearance of characters. That’s coming to a screeching halt (I hope). So what if one female character is short with red hair? Who cares if a man has a small scar at the corner of his mouth. And so what if Sandi has longish light brown hair? Surely the redhead has something like freckles that form a smile on her arm to distinguish her. Maybe she has skin as pale as the full moon in the midnight blue sky. Maybe the man with the scar has eyes that dance from object to object but never really look at anything, and they’re draped by eyebrows that a lawn mower couldn’t help. Does Sandi’s brown hair have highlights that leap out at you in the sunlight? She must have some distinguishing features that set
her apart from every other woman.

So from here on out, I’m going to work on my descriptions a little more. They don’t have to be lengthy, just memorable. I have one character that I really like, and I described her this way: “The door opened again and a very short gnome-like woman with a slightly hunched back pulled the door wide, inviting me in.  She had scraggly short white hair, huge dark brown eyes, a bulbous nose that was too large for her face, and she looked around eighty. Her ears, slightly protruding, were also a bit big for her face.  She hugged a housecoat around her middle.” I might have pulled this description off, although I was off the mark by not having her look like a Mrs. Potato Head.

Writers need to read the books of others because sometimes it opens our eyes. Maybe no one else would have read Murder on the Blackboard and had the epiphany I did, but in this case it just might have been the reminder I need to write more outstanding characters (at least in appearance).

Let’s see. “He had the ears of a fighter. What do they call those? Oh, yeah, cauliflower ears. He’d been punched too many times. His nose resembled a volcano after an eruption.” No, that needs more work.

Do you ever find that reading someone else’s work makes you take a second look at your own? Thank you, Mr. Palmer, for reminding me that there’s more to a story than just the storyline.

Until next time, have a great week and think about the people you see around you. How would you describe them?

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