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!

Charlotte-Cover-Test-HiR-FINALFRONT     TTHA-CoverTest-Feb2018-HiRes-FRONT

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

 

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

The Writing Process

Well, how exciting is this? (That was a rhetorical question, so don’t even bother answering it.)
I was tagged by thriller author Catherine Lea to write about my writing process. I eagerly jumped at the chance … only to realize when it was too late that I really don’t have a process.
But let’s walk through my “process” anyway — if only as a negative example to the rest of you who might want to actually be successful someday…
I’ve got the bits and pieces (very large pieces, in most cases) of ten novels now. About half of those are actually written all the way through (in first draft form, at least). The rest are in a state of confusion or frustration, percolating in a [figurative] drawer somewhere until I can work through a sticky plot point or add a few more interesting characters to bolster the boring ones I currently see on the [figurative] page.
But, all but one of those novels has started at midnight on November 1 of any given year between 2004 and now. You see, I am at heart a terrible procrastinator. And, the only thing that has nudged me out of that slump has been National Novel Writing Month, which starts each year precisely at midnight on November 1 and ends with a whimper at midnight at the end of November 30.
At the end of every November, I have at least 50,000 words written on that year’s new novel project. Half the time I keep writing and finish the novel. The other half of the time — well, that’s where the [figurative] drawer comes in.
The two novels that are on the verge of seeing daylight (Secret Agent Manny and also The Scarlet Letter Opener) were both in the best shape at the end of their respective Novembers. So, those will be the first ones published.
A few other projects have special places in my heart but need a little more work — in particular, Do-It-Yourself Widow (which placed as a runner-up in Jerry Jenkins’s Operation First Novel contest a few years ago), and also Gray Area (the only non-NaNoWriMo novel in the bunch, which placed as a semifinalist in that same Jenkins contest a few years before that). We’ll see how quickly I can tidy those up.
Right now, as I work on Secret Agent Manny, my writing process looks like this:
  • Get up to feed hubby breakfast at 6 a.m.
  • Wave to hubby as he leaves at 6:45 a.m.
  • Head back to bed at 6:46 a.m.
  • Sleep until it adds up to something close to 7–8 hours of sleep.
  • Get up again, this time to feed myself breakfast and coffee.
  • Catch up on DVRed TV shows from previous night, if needed.
  • Head up to home office and go through bajillion emails from companies I have unsubscribed from thirteen times already.
  • Answer the 2–3 valid work emails.
  • Go back downstairs to grab veggies for guinea pigs, Bob and Frid, who have been wheeking at me from across the office ever since I got upstairs. Realize that I have just reinforced the wrong habit of coming upstairs without the veggies by doing it yet again today.
  • Look at clock. Panic that it is nearly noon already.
  • Shower. Dress.
  • Sit back at desk. Go through the half-bajillion new emails from other companies from whom I was sure I had unsubscribed back in 2010.
  • Continue with paid freelance work for other writers: typesetting, proofreading, copy editing . . .
  • Tell self I should take time to do my own writing once in a while.
  • Stare longingly across the office at the writing desk I set up two years ago — you know, the one I dust faithfully every week.
  • Sit at writing desk boldly. Feel invigorated and empowered.
  • Open diary program and tell it all about my day, which sounds suspiciously like the last entry in the diary program, from 2011.
  • Give myself a self-imposed deadline for finishing first draft of novel.
  • Talk myself out of self-imposed deadline because it’s not like I’m going to fire myself or anything.
  • From the office window near the writing desk, glimpse mail carrier coming up the sidewalk.
  • Squeal in delight that the mail is here, scaring Bob and Frid, and run downstairs to get the mail.
  • While I’m down here, do a load of laundry, start dinner, and mow the grass.
  • Weep uncontrollably at my own mortality.
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And this is precisely why Secret Agent Manny isn’t done yet.