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!

Unpacking and Repacking

legs-window-car-dirt-road-51397.jpegIn late March, I stayed overnight in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, so I could meet-and-greet “Weird Al” Yankovic at his concert appearance there. I packed a quick overnight bag, and off I went.

A week and a half later, I packed a larger suitcase to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. That trip included a cooler full of snacks and a messenger bag full of tech gadgets, cords, cables, books, medications, toiletries, and supplements—everything I’d need for four nights away from home.

A week after getting home from that trip, I’m now repacking that suitcase and messenger bag for yet another jaunt, this time to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for two days of publication board meetings. Tomorrow I’ll replenish the meds and the shampoos, put the newly washed clothes back into the suitcase, and download all the new maps to my phone.

After this trip, I get to stay home for about two months, till late June, when I’ll head off to Grove City, Pennsylvania, for the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference.

Frankly, I don’t know how some people travel for a living. Sure, I love each little jaunt for its own sake, but I really don’t like when they start ganging up on me like this. I prefer long stretches of time at home (and long walks on the beach… no, wait, that’s from somebody’s Tinder profile)… so I can concentrate on a book project or consider long-term goals like mopping the kitchen floor. (That sort of goal requires too much brain space to be accomplished in the short time in between road trips. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

In the two-month gap between Michigan and Grove City, I hope to birth two novels that have been teetering on the edge of publication for far too long. Let’s just hope no more urgent trips spring up in that gap… because I’m liable to curl up in a fetal position and weep uncontrollably. And I really hate when I do that. It’s awkward.

Although every road trip has its marvelous moments, I’ll be glad when they’re over for a while. I’ll leave the globetrotting and the gallivanting and the meandering to those of you who enjoy it a lot more than I do. Or who get paid to do it. I’d totally enjoy lots of road trips if I got paid to take them.

As I pack yet again and decide which color Converse All-Stars are going with me on this trip, my inner homebody sighs and anticipates pulling back into the driveway for the last time this year. Till then: Have GPS, will travel. Won’t always like it, but will travel.

This is a Public Service Announcement

If you get new post notifications and emails from me today, I hereby apologize. I’m migrating my website, and that includes moving and reposting some older blog entries from the previous site. Ignore any notifications about new posts for the next day or so.

I’ll come up with a catchy, obvious post title when I’m back to new blog posts.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled internet, already in progress.

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

______

*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.

Rise, Ye Mighty Tent!

The mighty Author Tent for Beaver County BookFest arises skyward today on Market Street in downtown Beaver, Pa. The greatest book festival in the state kicks off tomorrow night (Sept. 8) at 7 p.m. with an all-female author panel Q&A discussing all aspects of the writing craft and business. It’s a fundraiser for a local school library, so come on out and enjoy food, beverages (adult and otherwise), and fun while helping a great cause.
 
Then, Saturday, Sept. 8, the main event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is a free admission festival, with food vendors, other book-related retail vendors, and, of course, the more than five dozen authors inside the aforementioned big Author Tent.

 

My copies of Train of Thought: Travel Essays from a One-Track Mind showed up on my porch yesterday, and as of today it’s also available on Amazon. So now I can breathe easily. Along with copies of my four other books, I’m now officially ready for BookFest!
 
By Sunday afternoon, I’ll be ready to collapse… much like this tent will do at about the same time. Come see it while it’s still set up!
 
(top photo, credit Valentine Brkich, http://valentinebrkich.com/ )