Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Best Christmas Present

My best Christmas present this year is three of my books recorded on audio. Listening to some excellent narrators read them is akin to watching actors perform one of my plays. I write in a number of genres and I'm thrilled to have more books in production for the coming year.

My Wyoming historical mystery, The Sweetwater Tragedy, required more than 20 years of research and writing because it was a mystery.I came across the story on microfilm years ago while researching a centennial history book, and was angry when I read the story. I still can't imagine how rich cattle barons got away with hanging an innocent young couple for the sole purpose of confiscating their land. Witnesses to the murder disappeared or were also killed although the case
was dismissed for lack of evidence. Films have been produced about the case that made worldwide headlines in 1889, portraying Ellen Watson-Averell an outlaw called "Cattle Kate." Songs and poems have been written and performed, and people to this day still believe the cattlemen's lies that the young people were cattle thieves who ran a rural bordello (called a "hog ranch" by the locals). I had to write the true story after years of research. And because I didn't want the novel to end with their deaths, I added a young, single woman from Missouri who wanted to homestead on her own in Wyoming Territory. Susan Cameron represents some 200,000 single woman who tried their hands at homesteading. Dennis Redfield, a southern California actor, did a terrific job of narrating the book, which is now available at Amazon, Audible.com and iTunes.

Westerners: Candid and Historic Interviews contains some of the fascinating people I've had the pleasure of talking to over the years. Among them Louis L'Amour, country singer Chris LeDoux, attorney Gerry
Spence, infamous grandsons of Bill Cody and Presidents Benjamin and William Henry Harrison, who left their own imprints on society, among many others. During my years as a news reporter and freelance photojournalist in both California and Wyoming, I've met some great people whose accomplishments were more than I could fathom, among them the gifted writer Will Henry, Governor Ed Herschler, Wyoming Secretary of state Thrya Tompson, novelist Peggy Simson Curry, artist Conrad Schwiering, U.S. Senator Alan Simpson and his unusual family, and the country's oldest radio station owner and talk show host, to name a few. Humor abounds in this volume of interviews and most of them didn't take themselves too seriously, which I found refreshing, but you can determine that for yourselves. Narrator Paul McSorly deftly brought the interviews to life, and I know you'll enjoy listening to them.

My first audio book, which I wrote about in my previous post, Mystery of Spider Mountain, has been well received and I'm happy that middle-grade readers will be listening to the adventures of the Hamilton Kids this holiday season and into the new year. Chelsea Ward did a great job narrating the novel for 9-12 year-olds and will also narrate the following book in the series, Ghost of Crimson Dawn, which is based on an actual ghost who is said to haunt her former homestead land on Casper Mountain. A summer solstice celebration, which she founded during the 1970s, takes place each year on the first day of summer, with city residents dressed as witches and warlocks to the delight of area children. People have come from as far as the East Coast to take part in the festival, which I attended to research the novel.

Click on the blue title links for more details. Mystery of Spider Mountain is currently on sale for only $1.99.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Childhood Mystery on Audio Book

My first audio book was just released, an adventure-packed Christmas gift for 9-12 year-olds. Mystery of Spider Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel based on my childhood, growing up in the Hollywood Hills where, if you climbed high enough, you could see the Pacific Ocean.

Spider Mountain was home to all sorts of crawling creatures, including trapdoor spiders which my brothers and I watched spin hinged doors to hide their homes in the ground. There were also a few tarantulas that had escaped Central American banana boats that docked at southern California ports 

But Spider Mountain isn't a mountain at all, although it appeared so from the vantage points of my four younger  brothers and me. We lived at the foot of the large hill and wondered who lived in the mysterious house at our mountain's summit. It was surrounded by huge evergreen trees and we could hear dogs barking at night, imagining them the size and temperament of wolves or maybe a St.  Bernard. Some nights we'd sit around making up stories about the strange house's inhabitants. Perhaps they were aliens or bank robbers hiding from the police. Kids had vivid imaginations in the days before television and electronic devises.

One day, while our parents were at work, we climbed the hill to spy on the people who lived there. A narrow, winding road wound its way to the top but it was choked with weeds and debris, so how could anyone drive to the summit? A tall eucalyptus tree stood  halfway up the hill complete with a long looped rope that we kids used to swing on. We called it "Dead Man's Tree" because the rope resembled a hangman's noose.

All these things and more are incorporated into Mystery of Spider Mountain, the first novel in my Hamilton Kid's mystery series (the second, Ghost of Crimson Dawn). The three and a half hour recording is also available in print and ebook editions, but I'm most excited about the audio book version, which was skillfully narrated by Chelsea Ward. 

The book may be ordered at Audible.comAmazon.com (soon on iTunes) in time for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Realm of Mystery

A ouija board introduced me to the realm of mystery. As a young teen, my cousins and I also discovered table tapping. Sitting around a small table with our hands lightly resting on its top, we asked the table questions. The room was dark with the exception of a burning candle.

After the question was asked, the table would lift high enough to tap two legs on the floor, once for yes, twice for no. Each of us swore we weren't causing the table to move, but tap the floor it did, causing some of us to run from the room screaming. But that didn't stop us from repeating our spooky game every chance we could.

The ouija board was supposed to predict the future, but my cousin Mary didn't marry Sam Gufstason, the name spelled out on the board more than once. It was during this period that I discovered my psychic ability. One night before spending the night at Mary's house, I dreamed she would be waiting to scare me in a dark, L-shaped hallway.

The following night, after leaving the bathroom to return to bed, I knew that she was there in the hall, although I couldn't see her. From then on, I had premonitions of things to come. Once, unbeknown to me, my sister-in-law gave birth to a premature baby. When the phone rang, I grasped the receiver, saying, "It's a boy." When I put the phone to my ear, I heard my brother-in-law say exactly the same thing. I always seemed to know who was on the phone years before caller I.D. was available. I have to admit it was a bit unnerving.

A news reporter during the Vietnam War, my beat was the nation's largest Naval Air Station, in Lemoore, California. I instinctively knew which pilots would never return home. I didn't want to know and did my best to block out any psychic revelations that came my way. Eventually, I was successful. Now, I welcome them and the premonitions are beginning to return.

I also found that I could accurately read palms and people appeared at my door asking for readings. I obliged them and probably could have made a career of it, but foretelling unfortunate events really takes its toll.

I haven't read a palm since visiting my brother at his coast guard station years ago. One night at the base in Neah Bay, I conducted  an impromptu reading at the NCO club. A young man asked if I knew when he had been born. When I told him, he backed away, yelling, "You're a witch." Another reason I blocked my psychic power. I don't look good in tall, black, pointed hats. And I now realize that I was probably responsible for the table taping as a teen. 

Years later I actually met Sam Gufstason, who was married to a woman named Mary. . .A good plot for a future novel.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Polishing Your Manuscript

I’ve rewritten a first chapter many times before progressing to the second, only to find that it had to be rewritten to fall in the line with the rest of the novel. I finally learned to write it once and forget it until the first draft is finished.

I’ve never been able to outline a novel because I literally give my characters free rein. And they rarely submit to what I’ve planned for them. They have minds of their own and I wouldn’t want them doing something out of character. In my current Logan and Cafferty series, my feisty 60-year-old senior sleuths surprise me by doing things I’d never consider before sitting down to write. Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty live with me 24/7 while I’m writing about them, and they have their own plans for what should happen that day. Sometimes I have to retreat to chapter one to include some of their "brilliant" ideas.

In my latest release, A Murder in Paradise, the fifth Logan and Cafferty novel, Dana and Sarah decide to vacation in a northern Texas RV resort with millionaires and other affluent travelers. Until the third quarter of the book, even I didn’t know who the killer was, and I had to return to early chapters to flesh out the characters by adding inner monologue. 

In the second novel in the series, Diary of Murder,  I take my sleuths out of California and place them in a motorhome in the middle of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. Fortunately, that had happened to me, so I could write convincingly about the life and death experience. The blizzard starts the novel off with a bang, but they face a similar situation later in the plot, so I had to swap some snowy details between the first and later chapters so that they didn't appear too similar. Weather plays a large role in any northern state, and gives the plot an element of suspense.

In A Village Shattered, the opaque San Joaquin Valley tule (too-ley) fog hides the serial killer, but I didn’t even think about the fog until I was writing chapter three. Having lived there for a dozen years, I know the horror of trying to drive in pea soup fog, so I switched seasons and went back to chapter one to add it to the plot. In doing so, it tied all aspects of the story together. 