Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Change

A few years back, the rallying cry went out: If you want to become a writer, you need to BlogFacebookTwitter. (And yes, usually as one word.) And I, with thousands of other aspiring fiction writers, dove into blogging and social media. But I've discovered blogging, in particular, to be a bit of a pyramid scheme. The first ones to blog blazed trails, and people followed them in droves. Those later to the game garnered a few followers, mostly people we, in turn, followed.

And at the bottom of the pyramid, very few blog posts get much exposure. I won't say I regret creating this blog. I basically taught myself to write while blogging. Now I feel my time and energy are best spent writing and editing, not talking about writing and editing. (That's the nice way of saying that most blogs aren't being read, so why bother?)

So this blog has been mostly suspended. You can still read all my ramblings and grumblings as I was trying to find my way in the writing world.

If I discover things I really want to say, perhaps I'll come back and add to this blog.

In the meantime, you can find me elsewhere online:

I still blog on Inkwell Inspirations, a team blog of 12 writers. I tweet once in a blue moon. But I'm most active on Facebook, where I respond to most friend requests on my personal page, or you can like Beverly Allen's (my pseudonym) page, or my novella page.

Thanks for visiting!

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Bouchercon Challenge

I recently registered to attend my first Bouchercon, this October in Cleveland. With this year's event held in Cleveland and next year's in Albany, it's great to have two events within an easy drive--something that doesn't happen much when you live in Buffalo which, frankly, does not offer much to its own struggling literary community.

But one thing I wanted to do, in order to appreciate the event and all the panels a little more properly, is to read as many of the authors as I can before the event takes place. Now, with all the wonderful authors attending, there won't be time to read all of them, so I'll tend to focus on the more well known names and on the cozy writers, since I love cozies.

The first thing I did is print out the list (which I might have to do again, since it is still growing) and highlight all the authors I've already read.

They are:

Donna Andrews. I've read a few in Donna's bird series. I love her witty titles and her main character Meg.

Rhys Bowen. Now I understand Rhys Bowen was injured at Malice Domestic, and I hope her physical therapy progressive smoothly enough for her to attend Bouchercon. (Now, didn't that sound selfish? I also hope she gets better soon!) I love her Molly Murphy series and her Royal Spyness series, and I tend to read them the day they come out.

Mary Higgins Clark. Oddly enough, I haven't read a lot of Mary Higgins Clark, even though I collected a number of volumes at used book and garage sales--not that I didn't like what I read. I think I'm saving them for special occasion--like a snow storm.

Sheila Connolly. An author I read in a similar challenge prior to the Festival of Mystery in Pittsburgh a few years back. I love apples and apple orchards, and that just made for a great setting.

Joanne Dobson. Took me back to school. I really enjoyed Quieter Than Sleep, and the intellectual challenge in her writing.

Barbara Early. Wait, that's me. Nice to be listed, even though I'm only published in short form. So far. ;)

Hallie Ephron. I owe so much to Hallie Ephron and her book on writing mysteries, Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel. What a great tool--especially for beginners. But I still pull it out every now and then when plotting a new story.

Amanda Flower. I was really curious about Amanda Flower's career, since she's also a member of ACFW (I did meet her briefly at conference, when I was a Genesis finalist and her first book had recently been released through Five Star) and a cozy writer--and cozies in Christian fiction have been...well, a hard sell. So happy she seems to be changing that, with recent sales to both ABA and CBA houses. Go, Amanda! Blaze those trails. Hope to be right behind you.

PL Gaus. I had an idea for an Amish mystery, so I wanted to see what was out there already. Nothing like I had in mind, but an interesting story. While Amish mysteries are increasing, I think he was one of, if not the, first.

Elizabeth George. Another pick of my reading group. Not as tame as the cozies I prefer, but I can see why she has the following she does. Interesting characters and plot development. Very well written.

Rosemary Harris. I've read one or two, and liked the idea of a landscaping artist as a sleuth. Talk about digging for clues.

Laurie R. King. Laurie King is another author I'm nutty over. She hooked me in The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and I've been reading her Mary Russell series--usually on the day they're released.

Alice Loweecy. I "met" Alice over at Absolute Write before she was published, and was surprised to find out that she was also a Buffalo Gal. Glad to have met her in person when she visited our mystery reader's group when we read her first two Nun-turned-PI novels.

Nancy Martin. I think I read How to Murder a Millionaire also in preparation for a Festival of Mystery. A fun read, if I recall.

Louise Penny. I read Louise Penny's first novel for our local mystery reader's group, and it floored me. She is a master of character development. And worthy of not only reading, but study.

Sara Rosett. I recall reading (and enjoying) one of Sara's books featuring her professional organizer sleuth during a similar challenge when I was preparing to go to the Festival of Mystery a few years back in Pittsburgh.

Hank Phillippi Ryan. She made me do something I swore I would never do, and that is read a book written in present tense. I still can't say I'm a fan of present tense, but after a while reading her lovely voice, she made me forget.

Joanna Slan. I love the name Kiki Lowenstein, Joanna's scrapbooking sleuth. Just so much fun.

James Thompson. No, not a cozy writer. But my mystery reading group chose the first of his books set in Iceland. I'm still trying to warm up. Talk about bringing setting to life.

Heather Webber. I'm not big on paranormals (unlike the rest of the planet, it seems), but I did read and enjoy one or two of her Nina Quinn mysteries.

Cathy Wiley. Every now and then I like to look through the bargains on Kindle, which is where I found Cathy Wiley's first novel. Usually, I download samples and don't end up finishing them. Kudos to Cathy for hooking me and keeping me until the end. What mystery writer wouldn't like a sleuth who is also a writer?

It wouldn't surprise me if I find a few more on the list--either late registries or names that just didn't register on my first scan of the list. Hope to update the list with more authors soon.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gifting E-books

Not very long ago, or so the story goes, (my apologies if this is simply hearsay) a major Christian publisher decided to have a give-away. The prize was an e-reader loaded with books from that particular house. They promoted and people signed up. It was a highly successful promotion.

Until it came time to give away the prize.

And they discovered it was nearly impossible to give away ebooks. They were tied to the buyer's account. If someone loaded a Kindle and charged the books to his account, the new owner would be able to perpetually buy books using that account. But once the account was removed from the device, the books would disappear as well!

But those days are history--gone the way of the rotary phone and the Walkman.

Now, Amazon at least, allows the gifting of ebooks. (And as the proud author of an ebook, I think that's a very good thing.) If a reader likes a book, he could always recommend it to his friend. But now he can go a step further--and actually BUY the book for his friend.

Here's how that's done:

Go to the Amazon page for the KINDLE edition of the book you'd like to give. You'll have to have an Amazon account and be logged in to make a purchase, of course. For a purely hypothetical example (wink), here's mine: Gold, Frankincense, and Murder.

Once there, find the "Give as a Gift" button. Click away.

On the next page that comes up, you'll have the option of typing in the email address of the recipient and the date you want the gift delivered. Consider how handy that is for giving e-books for special occasions.  Graduations, birthdays, weddings--that parenting book for a baby shower. And, oh yeah, A HOLIDAY ROMANTIC MYSTERY NOVELLA FOR CHRISTMAS. Yeah, what a great idea!! And you can have it arrive promptly on December 25th. How convenient is that! Especially for those people who are getting a new e-reader for Christmas, and don't know it yet. Shhhh....

You can also elect to have the email delivered to you instead, so you can send it yourself, or hand deliver it on a plate of snickerdoodles.

You can also type in a personalized message. Hats off to Amazon--they've created a great system here.

Now that you've seen how it works, why not practice sending Gold, Frankincense, and Murder to a friend. You might need to send it to several friends to make sure you've got the hang of e-book giving. Practice makes perfect. ;)

E-books make great stocking-stuffers, since they leave plenty of room in the stocking for things like candy. And they are ideal for the last-minute shopper. An inexpensive e-book, such as a 99 cent holiday novella, would be perfect as a special little something for your friend, spouse, brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, cousin, child's teacher, school principal, Sunday school teacher, pastor, paper delivery person, hair stylist, gardener, snow plow operator, and first responder. You can even print out extra to have on hand to give to neighbors who drop by, carolers, and the harried waitress at the local diner.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How You Can Read Gold, Frankincense, and Murder

If you have a Kindle:

You can order from, and have it downloaded to your device.

If you have a Nook:

You can order from Barnes and Noble and have it downloaded to your device.

If you have another e-reader that uses epub format: (Such as Sony)

You may order from a number of sources, including Barnes and*, and Bookstrand. Download the file to your computer, and then load it to your e-reader using your USB cable.

* For some reason, Christianbook is now saying GF&M will be released on the 15th of December. Not sure what is going on there, but will keep you posted.

If you want to read from a computer or other device:

Kindle format: If you would like to download a free Kindle reading app for your computer or other device, check availability here: Kindle Reading Apps. Then order from Amazon.

Epub format: You may already have an epub reader on your computer or other device, but if you don't, you can download a free Nook reading app from Barnes and Noble. Then order an epub version from one of the sellers listed above.

PDF format: You can also purchase Gold, Frankincense, and Murder in PDF (Adobe Acrobat)  format from Bookstrand and Pelican Book Group.  PDF files can be read on most computers. If you need a PDF reader, you can download one for your particular operating system from Adobe.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments. I'll help if I'm able!

Happy reading!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Interview with Lilly Maytree, Author of Gold Trap

Where are you from?
I’m not at liberty to mention it, although I will say it was one of the most beautiful places in the world, at the time, peopled with more creatives per acre than possibly anywhere else on the planet. Sometimes, imagination rubbed off just bumping into them. You can’t go back there, anymore, because it isn’t the same. But when I was growing up, it was still golden. Oh, dear, now, I’ve probably said too much. Maybe we should go on to the next question.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Everything. Absolutely everything. Which I wasn’t allowed, so, there was the angst. Still, that was probably the very reason I came away with such an active imagination.

What inspired you to write your first book?
The longing for those adventures I couldn’t have. Not only was writing my escape, but the words themselves enchanted me. I was fascinated with their ability to evoke emotions and create worlds. In fact, I was a collector of them long before I learned how to weave them into my own stories. But once I discovered the thrill of that, I never quit. My first book was a south sea sailing adventure I never stopped changing. I grew up and learned my craft writing it. I still take it out from time to time, thinking I might polish it up and do something with it. Might very well be my “magnum opus” (great work), the beginning and the end, as I will have had a lifetime of learning when I come to that place. But it isn’t time, yet.

What are your current projects?
Right now, I’m working on an adventure called THE PANDORA BOX. It’s about a young newspaper reporter who befriends an old man in a state hospital she is investigating, who tells her about a fortune in diamonds he hid during the war. So, she sets out on the adventure of a lifetime to find them, without knowing the CIA has been following the case for many years, and there is much more to be recovered than diamonds. It’s the second in my “women of adventure” series, that links a true-life heroine out of the past with a contemporary story of today.

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with?
I have always been enamored with heroes, and you find them in all races, ages, and time periods. I am especially interested in ordinary people who are molded by experiences that lead them to do extraordinary things. I believe there is a “hero spark” in all of us that could easily be fanned to flame in the right place and time, and I greatly enjoy telling stories about those kinds of people. I’m a bit unusual in my methods, though, as I like to build the story around interesting quotes from the real heroes. Of course, the adventures, themselves, are pure fiction.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I suppose for GOLD TRAP it would have to be that not only does God have a plan for our lives that is better than anything we could dream up, ourselves, it is also something we will love doing. Because He has created and equipped us for that very thing. “Divinely appointed,” you might say. A lot of us have a hard time believing that, though. But when you think about it, what could be more wonderful?

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
GOLD TRAP was inspired by the true-life adventures of Mary Kingsley, who survived some of the most incredible experiences in Africa. Much wilder than my character, Meg, went through. You couldn’t get away with putting such things in a novel, though. Which is another proof for that old saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

What do you think makes a good story?
A good universal concept or premise. Because they give you a jump start on your story by having already built-in emotional responses for the reader. Like a free ticket for a ride they already want to go on. After that, I think you have to have characters that people can get attached to. There are a lot of characters people can relate to because they see themselves in them. But they don’t always like themselves.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
The kind of traveling I like to do for my books is my own version of time traveling. This because many of the people and places I write about are no longer there to travel to. I do travel in more conventional ways, as well. My husband (who is an adventurer by nature), and I, travel several months out of the year. Right now, we are busy planning a “Mystery Tour” for GOLD TRAP that will begin sometime in the spring. I can only tell you that we’ve got some very mysterious stops scheduled, already. Of course, I will be documenting our travels for my readers, and taking enough friends along that it’s shaping up into quite the traveling show. But that’s all I can tell you about that, right now.

If you could be any character in fiction, whom would you be?
Mary Poppins. Definitely.

Thank you, so much, for having me over for a visit, Barb!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interview with Jayne Self

I'm glad to have Jayne Self here today. I recently interviewed Jayne about her writing and her new mystery, Murder in Hum Harbour.

Tell us a little about yourself and where you're from.

I am Canadian. I’ve lived coast to coast (Vancouver Island to Labrador) so it’s hard to say where I call home. I’ve been at my present address in southern Ontario for sixteen years—the longest I’ve lived anywhere. Our house is a two-storey, red-brick, century home, adjacent to the church my husband pastors. My upstairs window overlooks the church’s stone wall and the old apple tree in the back yard. Very inspirational.

My life experiences are as varied as the places I’ve lived. I’ve been a chambermaid, a telephone operator, a nurse, grocery clerk, pastor’s wife, mom and, most recently, a grandma. Through it all, I’ve written. And I’ve dreamed of the day I’d have books published.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Although I had difficulty learning to read, I’ve always loved story. As a teen I fell in love with Lloyd C. Douglas’ The Robe, and decided to write my own sequel. The project never made it past four foolscap pages of character names, but I think that’s when God planted the vision in my heart.

Years later, I struggled with the teaching that imagination is wrong (2 Cor 10: 5) and set the vision aside. It was a difficult period in my life, characterized by an emptiness I couldn’t understand. It wasn’t until God reignited His call, confirming imagination was His gift to be shared, not buried, that I started writing seriously and the emptiness fled.
I am so thankful.

What inspired you to write your first book?

1998—I’d been toying with a time-travel idea that revolved around the millennium. Now seemed the perfect time to put that story on paper. I bought a dozen little hard cover books from the dollar store and began writing my epic. By hand. I wrote and wrote until I ran out of ideas. I attended Christian writer’s conferences, made contacts, sent out queries, amassed rejections. Some were quite lovely, but they were still rejections. I’ve rewritten that book a dozen times, though I can now type. Each draft gets better and maybe some day that book will be published. As, I hope, will the four other novels I have filed away on my computer.
Murder In Hum Harbour is the fifth novel I’ve completed and the first to be published. I guess God rewards persistence.

Tell me about the book.

I set out to write a cozy mystery for a specific publisher who was looking for cozies.
Reviewing my previous novels I recognized some commonalities. My stories were set in small towns. The main character struggled to belong. There was always a health-related subplot. And there was humour. With those in mind, I created my amateur sleuth, Gailynn MacDonald, my setting, Hum Harbour, and my cast of quirky characters.

Unlike many mystery series, I want my protagonist to develop over time. I believe growth is at the heart of our Christian faith. Any characters who don’t grow through the challenges they face, aren’t a helpful reflection of a follower of Jesus. Does that mean my characters intuitively avoid mistakes, making only Spirit-inspired choices in their march toward ever-growing maturity? Hardly.

For me, that’s one of the “funnest” parts of story writing. Creating disasters that teach.

Is Hum Harbor a real place? If not, where did you get your inspiration?

As for Hum Harbour, I created the fiction village from a composite of Nova Scotian communities. (We have summered in Nova Scotia for over twenty years.) The village’s name is derived from the HMS Humphrey which ran aground in 1779  while transported a motley group of Scotish settlers to the new world. The survivors waded ashore and went no further. Like Hum Harbour, the HMS Humphrey is fiction, derived from fact.

Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s ten provinces and three territories, is known as Canada’s Ocean Playground. Although the province is only 357 miles long (smaller than West Virginia), it boasts 4,600 miles of spectacular shoreline. Its rolling, sometimes mountainous countryside is mostly forested; its people are down-home friendly. Culture flourishes in Nova Scotia. Her people are fiercely loyal, and their art and music reflect the provinces strong Celtic and Acadian roots.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I write from an outline. Before I begin each scene I copy the scene’s goal, conflict, and disaster, from my outline cards to the top of the page. The outline keeps me on track, but is thin enough to allow discovery as I write. Sometimes, if I venture too far from the original plan, I have to redo the outline. But it’s important for me to do the plotting homework before I start writing. I find if I don’t have an outline, I stall. If I ignore the scene goals I write myself into implausible corners. Then I have to start all over again.

I don’t insert chapter divisions until the manuscript is completed. Once the first draft is finished I pass it along to a trusted reader who vets the plot, pointing out the inconsistencies and errors. I rewrite, making the necessary changes, and repeat the process.
Sometimes I grow weary of the details but I never tire of the process. I love writing.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Three words that describe me? I polled my family on this one.
Caring, said one son.
Light-hearted, said another.
Smart, said my husband.
I’ll add short. Although, perhaps I could all be summed up in one word, with all its connotations: blonde.

You can learn more about Jayne's book and read my review on today's Inkwell Inspirations blog.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Treadmill Desk

I have a confession. I've been coveting a treadmill desk for some time now. Spending a lot of time on a computer (for work and recreation), it seemed an ideal way to get a little more exercise in. But the cost seemed prohibitive. So I designed my own.

First, I took a look at the treadmill:

(Ignore the mess behind it.) But the first thing I noticed is that the side grab bars would make a good support. Only if you just rested a plank on top, it would be awfully low to set a lap top. So I needed a way to attach to these bars, but also raise the height.

So during a trip to the discount hardware store, I purchased the following:

  • 1 oak board, 1x12x3' (on clearance. I love clearance)
  • 1 oak board 1x2x3'
  • 2 pine boards 1x4x4'

(Ignore the floor--I've been meaning to replace it.)

And then I went to the larger hardware store, and purchased:
  • four round fittings from the plumbing department (larger in diameter than the grab bars)
  • a roll of self-adhesive weatherstripping--otherwise known as foam tape.

I already had an assortment of fasteners (screws, nails, wooden dowel pegs) at my disposal. Amount spent? Just over $25.00.

Step one: Using four screws, attach the 1x2x3' oak board to the 1x12x3' desk surface. this will form a lip to keep a laptop from sliding forward.

Step two: Cut the 1x4x4' boards into equal length sections, based on the length of the your treadmill grab bars. I cut mine to 9" lengths.

Step three: 1. Use two wood dowel pegs to join two 9" sections together, end to end.  Repeat four times.

2. Using four screws, join two of these sections together.

3. Using four screws, add the top to the T.

4. Repeat to make a second 'T'.

Step four: Using a coping saw, cut off part of each fitting so that it fits over the grab bar.

Step five: Drill a pilot hole at the bottom of each of the round 'feet'. (These will fit over the grab bar) Attach to T as shown. (Optional--add a scrap of wood to one side of each T to level the desk on the guide bar. Otherwise, it will be pitched slightly forward)

Add weatherstripping to the inside curve of each foot (to protect guide bar from scratching)

Step six: Place both assembled Ts (inverted) onto grab bars. Place desk top assembly on top. Make sure all pieces are level and square, the screw into T's from desk top using four screws. You can also add a strip of weatherstripping to the lip of the desk for comfort.

Step seven: (IMPORTANT) Add an anchor rope to the front of the desk. This will keep the desk from pitching forward.


This plan worked for me and my particular treadmill. You may have to make changes to the design based on your treadmill the height of the user.

And as always, I expect someone will read this and figure out a way to do it better (I'm not a carpenter). Please feel free to post suggestions in the comments.