Vote for Secret Agent Manny!

Hey, gang! Do something for me, wouldja? Vote for Secret Agent Manny to win in the Mystery/Thriller category for the 50 Best Indie Books of 2018. Thanks to Readfree.ly for holding this contest!

VOTE HERE!

Thanks so much for taking a few minutes out of your crazy schedules to do a big favor for this pathetic little humorist, novelist, and scapegoat.

You guys are awesome. I love what I do, and I love taking you all along for the ride.

Secret Agent Manny

NaNoWriMo 2018: And so it begins…

Somehow, today starts my fifteenth year of participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Somehow, I’ve completed the previous fourteen and won. Somehow, two of those books have become available to the public (here and here).

Will this fifteenth attempt turn into something Amazon-worthy? Only time will tell. But if Day One is any indication, I’m excited to see what happens this month. Wherever this new story takes me, I’ll be traveling there with my IBM Selectric II typewriter for the first draft, with my trusty NaNo Rhino cheering me on as a mascot. (I’d call him a muse, but he’s a bit of a jerk and doesn’t always like to help me solve plot dilemmas. He’s too busy eating leftover Halloween candy. Jerk.)

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Why a typewriter, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. (Actually, no, I’m not. I get tired of this question after the 237th time.) I use a typewriter because sometimes—just sometimes—you need to see the paper move. Physically move. And you need a device that makes it impossible to self-edit along the way. During NaNoWriMo—during any first-draft stage—you need to move forward, always forward.

Don’t look back! That’s what I hear when I listen to the hummmmmming of my Selectrics. They’re marvelous beasts for typing for long periods of time. I often have to tear myself away from the keyboard because it’s such a delight to use. Give me a Selectric keyboard over any computer keyboard any day.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, leave a comment and tell me what your process looks like. Mine involves not only the Selectrics and the rhino mascot, but also copious amounts of caffeine, a lot of ’90s alternative music in the background, and a heavy reliance on voicemail.

 

Granny to a Weasel

If you’ve endured any amount of time around me, you know I’ve whined about wanting grandchildren for the past few years. Between us, Wayne and I have six grown kids. Three of them are married. You do the math. (It involves multiplying, of course.)

I was starting to wonder how many more of our kids we’d have to marry off before we started to see grandchildren. I mean, honestly, kids, what’s your rush? You’re only in your thirties! By the time I was your age, I was wrapping up the whole childbearing-years thing … and I had four of you by then! FOUR.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Who does a gal have to sleep with around here to get herself some grandchildren? (That was rhetorical. I know exactly who I had to sleep with to get myself some grandchildren.)

Okay, for now I’ll stop whining. Because this is all going in the book and I don’t want to spoil it too much. I’ll save the spoiling for the grandchild.

Yes, in a few weeks, dear reader, I’m going to be a grandma! My son and his wife are expecting, and she’s positively glowing. (And we’re the ones who live near the nuclear power plant, go figure.) I haven’t noticed if my son’s glowing or not. He’s a bit of an introvert and sometimes I’ve gone years without noticing him. Just ask him.

I think about my impending grandmahood all the time now. As for my beautiful grandchild’s parents, I’m trying to stay out of their way and not hover (and it helps that they live about fifty miles away), but boy, do I want to hover. I’m coining the phrase “helicopter grandma” now, before the baby’s even here. Because clearly it’s all about me.

My son sends me a text every week: a picture from some app that tells them what size their little offspring is this week, compared to some other animal. This week Li’l B’s the size of a Pomeranian. (Probably without the fur.) Last week I got a comparison picture of a skunk.

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Before that, a chihuahua. Before that, a ferret.

Most of these were cute and funny. Around the middle of the pregnancy, though, they were just weird. The naked-tailed armadillo was a particularly troubling choice at the end of April.

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Not to mention the slow loris in mid-March or the least weasel. (What the heck is a “least weasel”? I suppose it’s a compliment to say, “You’re the least weasel you can be.”)

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Naturally, I found guinea pig week (in mid-February) kinda cute. Of all the animal pictures, this was the only animal that was eating something. Clearly the artist has owned guinea pigs.

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There were never any squirrels, though, which was a little disappointing.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the book.

It didn’t take long after hearing about the pregnancy last November for me to develop the urge to push. No, I don’t mean THAT. I mean, to push my opinions and wisdom on this poor kid. So, I started taking notes. Keeping a journal. Stuff like that. And what do writers do with a whole bunch of words when they think they’ve got ’em in the right order? They publish ’em.

So, sometime toward the end of this year, be on the lookout for my book of grandmotherly wisdom for this first grandchild (and any subsequent grandchildren we have … I HOPE YOU OTHER KIDS ARE LISTENING! Tick-tock, tick-tock). I’m fiddling with titles, and I already have my cartoonist, Mike Ferrin, on board for the cover art. The tentative working title right now is something like: Dress in Layers at the Casino … and Other Wisdom for My Grandchildren.

Because I’m nothing but classy all the time.

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(photo: Slot Machine Queen, from Photobucket [@SatuS_albumi]

The Secret Is OUT!

It’s ready!
It’s available!
It’s for sale!
It’s… well, you get the idea!

What, exactly, is “it”? Well, see, it’s this little story. It kinda goes like this:

Bored empty nester Amanda Charles has too much time on her hands. After an “incident” at the house while Amanda is away, she begins to suspect that her husband, Manny, is not really an engineer, but is instead a spy… and she inadvertently turns their lives upside down in her quest to discover the truth. Does Manny really work at the nuclear power plant… or is he a spy? Does Manny really take endless trips to the hardware store for power tools and plumbing parts… or is he a spy?

Amanda enlists the help of two of her friends to find out what’s behind Manny’s increasingly suspicious behavior. And, she’s going to find out what’s going on if it kills her.

MANNY AVAILABLE RED BACKGROUND

And now, just in time for National Sea Monkey Day gift giving (What? Doesn’t everyone give gifts for National Sea Monkey Day? You totally should!), you can get your very own copy of Secret Agent Manny! Both the paperback and Kindle editions are available now!

You want the Kindle edition? Click here: Secret Agent Manny Kindle edition.

You want a paperback copy? Click here: Secret Agent Manny paperback edition.

You want 200 copies for your closest friends and family? Click here: No, seriously, click here!

I’m so excited about this book release I could wet my pants! Seriously, I—oh, dear, excuse me!

 

Can You Keep a Secret?

5-SecretAgentManny_PrintProof2-FRONT (LindaHPLaptop's conflicted copy 2017-01-11)

Today I’m ordering a proof copy of this book—Secret Agent Manny—so I can make sure it looks pretty and beautiful and marginally correct. Wait, I mean, to make sure the margins are correct. We typesetters care about these things.

This book started as a dare (as most great books do) … by two writer friends of mine, Fara Linn Howell and Jim Watkins. The first line of the book (“There’s been an incident at the house”) was spoken to me over the phone by my electrical engineer husband while I was at a writing conference … and Jim and Fara thought it was a perfect jumping-off point for a story. Then again, bungee jumpers think high bridges are perfect jumping-off points, and I think they’re all insane.

That year, their idea turned into my NaNoWriMo novel, written on my IBM Selectric. And I’ve been tinkering with the story ever since. This past autumn I spent five wonderful days at Forest Edge Cottage in Kane, Pa. (in the Allegheny Forest), where I wrapped up the story on my Smith Corona Coronamatic.

Yes, I use typewriters to write fiction. Don’t get all up in my face about it. If these particular typewriters were good enough for Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski and John Irving and James Baldwin, they’re good enough for me.

Plus, I have no real hobbies to speak of.

Anyway, now Secret Agent Manny is edited, typeset, and proofread. And it’ll soon be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website. (Don’t panic. I’ll post direct links once the book’s available. Take some deep breaths into a paper bag or something before you faint. I said, don’t panic!)

If you’re going to see me at a conference or festival this year (like this one, or this one), I won’t mind if you wait till then to get a copy (so I can sign it for you and make it worth ten or fifteen cents more than you paid for it).

Otherwise, watch out, world! Secret Agent Manny is coming your way—sometime in May!

Chariots of Fire—The Sequel?

978-1-4964-1994-1I can still remember the first time I watched the movie Chariots of Fire in the early 1980s. Belonging to a Reformed Presbyterian denomination steeped in Scottish heritage and sabbath-keeping, I was overcome with emotion at many points in the movie. And believe me, I’m no sports fan. The only time you’ll catch me running anywhere, I’m sure it’s because something in the kitchen is burning or I got up too late for church … again.

So what captured my interest in Eric Liddell’s story? His commitment to his faith, even when it was inconvenient, gripped me throughout the movie. What I didn’t understand then, though, was that his commitment went well beyond his victories in the 1924 Olympics. Those closing words on the movie screen in Chariots of Fire shocked and saddened me when I first saw them: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of Word War II. All of Scotland mourned.”

Those words were an abrupt shift from the previous scene of Liddell, climbing into the back of a car, after getting off the train that brought the U.K. Olympians home, amid the cheering throngs. Those words were sobering. I felt as if the real story still needed to be told—that the 1924 Olympic Games were only a blip on the radar of Liddell’s life. There had to be a story there that was worth telling.

Turns out I was right. And I’m so glad that Eric T. Eichinger and Eva Marie Everson have decided to tell the rest of Liddell’s story in The Final Race. When Eva told me about this project last summer, I immediately preordered it on Amazon and, in the ensuing months, checked for any updates on the release date. Mid-March couldn’t get here soon enough. And, I was not disappointed.

In The Final Race, there is enough of Liddell’s early life and those Olympic victories to remind me why I still place Chariots of Fire high on my list of favorite movies. The book corrects a few of the movie’s details (which I appreciated for their own sake) and adds a few more. But it’s beyond that point in time where this book truly shines.

The writing itself yanks you in and keeps you engaged, in ways that many nonfiction books never achieve. The writing is almost lyrical in spots, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I can easily get lost in novels for hours this way, but it’s a rare nonfiction book that pulls me inside so thoroughly. I’d been waiting for this story for a long, long time.

Liddell’s story beyond those Olympic Games was not an easy one. Without blinking an eye, he gave up the fame that his amazing athletic skill (and unorthodox style) had brought him. He saw the advantage in speaking up for his faith for a time after the games, pairing up with D.P. Thomson, but he always felt missionary work in China calling him. I’m in awe of Liddell’s ability to walk away from everything he’d come to know in order to preach Christ and Him crucified in a dangerous land.

And Eichinger and Everson do his amazing story justice as they tell it to us.

I’ve waited more than thirty years to hear the rest of Eric Liddell’s story—the part of his story that gave God as much glory as Liddell’s running victories ever did. Now, with The Final Race, I learned what really became of Eric Liddell. I can’t wait to meet him in heaven and say, as I’m sure God Himself has been saying to him since 1945: Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

When in Doubt, Hire a Cartoonist

Occasionally* I stall on a writing project. Let’s face it: novels are big projects. So are humor books. They take up a lot of time, a lot of brain space, and a lot of caffeine. Juggling all three for months on end gets tiring. So, when I slow down, crawling toward a finish line I can no longer see, I need something to jump-start the project.

That’s usually when I email Mike.

Mike (a.k.a. Mike Ferrin, for the uninitiated) is my cartoonist. Some people feel they need an attorney on retainer. Or an accountant. I need a cartoonist. And let me just say right now that I love being able to say I have a cartoonist.

Once I’ve emailed Mike (typically this happens around 3 a.m. in a coffee-driven, adrenaline-based panic brought on by another plot hole I’ve fallen into), I wait for him to get on board with whatever harebrained idea I’ve conjured for the book’s cover. (This takes anywhere from two minutes to two-and-a-half minutes.) Then we get started on the artwork proper. By this time I’m so wrapped up in the ideas for the cover that I’ve completely forgotten that there’s supposed to be a bunch of pages with words on them inside.

And also by this time, there is a directly inverse correlation between how much time I’m spending on the cover for the book and how much time I’m spending on the text for the book. As the time spent in Scrivener writing the book withers, the time spent in InDesign fiddling with the eyedropper tool skyrockets.

Now, I know not all of my books have cartoon covers—and therefore didn’t need Mike’s services—but I’m at a point in my career where most of my books have utilized Mike’s services. Part of that’s because he’s so much fun to procrastinate with… I mean, to work with. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Um, yeah. But part of it is that I hear people talking about branding. It sounded painful at first, till I realized what they actually meant. Turns out it doesn’t involve cattle at all. Huh.

Anyway, Mike’s cartoon artwork for six of my book covers has become part of my brand. And I wasn’t even trying to have a brand. I just wanted an artistically talented goofball to talk me down off the creative ledge. Again.

So, this is my long, drawn-out way of saying that, although I have a completed first draft for each of the next two books in the Red Ink Mysteries series, I’m plodding through editing them and not really enjoying it.

But I love working on covers, so… Mike got that late-night email a while ago and is finishing up the artwork for Charlotte’s Website. And, along the way, he entertained me, made me laugh, and got me excited about the project again.

I predict both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website will be available by summer 2018. And that’s due in no small part to an amazing cartoonist named Mike Ferrin. Thanks, Mike!

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*By “occasionally,” I mean nearly every week.