MAN, HOW TIME FLIES.

A while back I realized I hadn’t posted on my blog for quite a long time. The reason? One of the most valid I’ve encountered to date: Life just got in the way.  It’s sad to say that unexpected life events can really throw a kink into those activities at which we work so hard  to find the time in which to participate .  One barely has time to breathe, let alone to write or paint or whatever that is that provides or adds satisfaction to our lives. For the past four years, I searched for small chunks of time to write my next mystery. As I finished Treasure Among the Shadows and sent it off to  Camel Press, I began the search for more time in order to write the next one, The Mariachi Murder. This one was more difficult, as the words were trapped in my head and I was also trying to fill  every spare moment doing the things I needed to do to survive.  I was finally able to finalize it and send it off – certainly an occasion which would have called for a drink (if I was a drinker.)

I am an artist, I paint and carve and participate in an annual traditional market in Santa Fe. This is my livelihood and I need time and energy to prepare enough items to make this show worthwhile. I am also a writer, and that profession sometimes takes a back burner to my art, as one provides a greater income than the other. I’ll let you take a guess at which one, since as you know, not every one of us has been able to write the Stephen King  or J.K. Rowling blockbusters.

During this long hiatus from my own life, in which I was still able to earn a living with my art, I must say that it now all seems like a dream. After a year-long battle with terminal cancer, my brother Jimmy passed away four years ago this month. I used an event during his treatment for a character in Deadly Deception. Three years later,  another brother, Ricardo, also developed cancer, and it was my task (and honor) to care for him also. He passed away at the end of April.  One of the characters in my first mystery, Shadows Among the Ruins, was based on this brother. (All the information about growing and harvesting pot came from him.)  I am a fond believer that there are “characters” who live around us, and my two brothers were both as interesting as they were unique. I can’t say how many times I’ve read the phrase, “write what you know”, but if you don’t  know enough about anything in particular to draw on , then “write who you know.”  There is always something memorable about these characters — something they’ve said, something they’ve done, how they look and how they act.  In fact, their entire lives are fodder for my writing. I have been privy to their marriages, relationships, breakups, and most everything else they have experienced. When I wrote my memoir, “Tortilla Chronicles”, some years ago.  It was my siblings who provided so many of the memories I had either forgotten or was unaware of. They put together the pieces that eventually filled in the puzzle of my childhood.

We started off as four brothers and three sisters. Now there remain only one sister, one brother and myself, and I treasure each one of my siblings for the love and laughter they have provided, along with a few chapters for my books. My hope is that I can continue to fertilize my writing with remembrances of these wonderful characters.

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MYSTERY WRITERS, IDEAS AND PLOTS.

A recent comment I read on a blog about “most” mysteries piqued my interest, and I’ll paraphrase what the reader said:  First and foremost, most scenarios and motives for  murder are not that original.  I’ve seen similar stories many times before on CSI and every other crime show. 

Obviously this person is not a fan of mystery writers! I would like to believe that a huge percentage of writers are able to come up with original ideas and there is no standard formula such as man with gun kills man without gun. I have read hundreds of mysteries and can honestly say that I’ve never read one that was that similar to those previously read. Just by listening to Nancy Grace or any other major news program, one can see that crime occurs in a multitude of ways, and unless they are committed by a copy-cat serial killer, they are rarely the same.  Why? Because the circumstances will always be different.

Imagine that a masked intruder has broken into a house with the intention of absconding with the family jewels. In the process, a guest staying at the thought-to-be-empty residence comes down the steps,  headed for the kitchen. He sees the criminal, reaches for a nearby baseball bat and confronts the burglar. Caught in the act, the burglar reaches for his pistol to scare the man away. Undaunted and determined to protect his host’s property, the guest lunges forward, and in the process pulls the stocking mask from the intruder’s face, recognizing a neighbor who attended the previous night’s barbecue at the residence. Fearing exposure and arrest, the burglar shoots the guest, picks up his booty, and runs out into the night.

It would be naive to say that particular critic hasn’t seen a similar scenario on the news, but would it be exact? No. If the guest hadn’t come down the steps it would have been a simple burglary. Now it has become a murder, not because of the burglary, but because of the perpetrator’s fear of being discovered and hauled off to jail.  The thief didn’t intend to commit murder, but was willing to on the spur of the moment to protect his identity. The guest just wanted a glass of milk. Short of underlying additional circumstances, this would hardly seem to be good fodder for a mystery, let alone a crime show. Therein lies the writer’s task. To flesh up the story so it is not only believable, but will hold the reader’s attention to the end.

Mystery writers are a unique group. There is no knight in shining armor waiting at the end of the rainbow to transport the love-stricken heroine across the rainbow to the land of tacos and salsa.  It is a tough job to come up with enough twists and turns to keep a reader interested up to the last page.  Prolific writers like James Patterson and John Sandford lead the pack in best-sellers, churning out book after book, one best-seller following another.  Where do they come up with so many plots?  From the imaginations of the posse of writers who work closely with them. So closely that these flocks of writers do everything but publish under their own name. Instead, they publish with the writer, more than likely sharing the royalties and in some instances the honor of having your name on the cover right under the famous author’s name.

In a previous blog I wrote about writing with a buddy, the benefits and pitfalls. Now it appears to be in vogue to have a chosen group of writers send you their manuscripts. What happened here? Did writing become so financially profitable for Patterson and Sandford that they lost the desire to do it themselves? Maybe so…

I read somewhere that Patterson reached the highest pinnacle of writing in the mid-nineties, just before he started co-writing with others.  Up until then he had written the Alex  Cross series on his own, along with  one I particularly enjoy, the Women’s Murder Club series featuring detective Lindsay Boxer. The first were written with Andrew Gross and the remainder seem to be all written with (or by) Maxine Paetro, who made the NY Times bestseller list with Patterson a number of times. The Michael Bennet series was co-written with Michael Ledwidge.   Having reached a pinnacle or not, Patterson holds the New York Times bestsellers list record with 63 titles and has grossed over three billion dollars in sales.  Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment, and if you do the math, his co-writers have probably fared rather well over the years.

I had the pleasure of attending a book signing by John Sandford for his latest book, Mad River, at Collected Works in Santa Fe. I was mesmerized, listening to him talk of his life and his writing process. (Sandford, by the way, has bought a house here in Santa Fe and almost promised that one of his future  novels might have a Santa Fe background.) Sandford has written the Prey series and the Virgil Flowers series along with other stories. An interesting fact about the writer is that John Sandford is the pseudonym of John Roswell Camp, an American author and journalist. Camp won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism in 1986, and was one of four finalists for the prize in 1980. He also was the winner of the Distinguished Writing Award of the American Society of Newspaper Editors for 1985. He spoke at length that as a journalist he had seen it all, and had written tons of magazine and newspaper articles about blood shed in as many ways as it could be. At the signing, Sandford/Camp also spoke volumes about turning to a select group of writers to get his books written,  which appear at the rate of at least twelve per year.  Unlike Patterson, he doesn’t seem to give the co-authors credit on the cover, but once again, I’m sure they are generously remunerated.

So, I’m a bit sad about learning that my two favorite authors haven’t been totally responsible for holding my attention through page after page of breath-holding drama into the wee hours of the night.  But then again, how many writers will become so famous that all it takes is to put their stamp of approval on a manuscript and it becomes published gold? Makes me proud that my ideas for a plot come a little harder than they might for the mighty N.Y. Times bestsellers.

In writing Deadly  Deception, I was intrigued by a cold case in Albuquerque which had remained unsolved for almost ten years. An article in that city’s newspaper revealed that the family of the victim had been pressuring their congressman and local authorities to revisit the circumstances around the case. The family insisted that the police officer husband of the victim had killed her for the insurance money, the husband claimed otherwise.   An excerpt from the case files indicates:  State Police told the media that Melanie McCracken died in a car accident. Her husband, (a State Police officer), claimed his wife died of cancer. A medical expert determined the cause of death was “homicidal suffocation.” What is the real story? Update: May 3, 2002, Melanie’s case was featured on “NBC Dateline” winning the Edward R Murrow Award for investigative reporting.  10/31/03, NMSP Lt. Mark McCracken was indicted for the first degree murder and evidence tampering.  Grand jurors also requested that another grand jury be empanelled to review the conduct of the NMSP investigators.  4/04, family petitions grand jury to investigate NMSP.  12/30/04, McCracken won’t stand trial.  1/8/05, outcry for reform in NM.  And finally, December 30, 2004: [Excerpts] Evidence does not support murder charge, judge rules the nearly decade-long nightmare for former State Police Lt. Mark McCracken is over today after a judge ruled he will not stand trial for his young wife’s mysterious death.

Those articles were the basis of the plot for Deadly Deception and were fueled by my own anger about the case, the injustice to the victim and her family, and the husband who reminded me so much of Drew Peterson.  Of course, I built the story and embellished the circumstances, but it was the initial idea for this book. I turned the task of solving the case over to my characters, Detective Rick Romero and Forensic Psychologist, Jemimah Hodge and their sidekick, Tim McCabe. I was not surprised at all that they made the police officer a real bad guy. This stemmed from the many incidents of police brutality in New Mexico which have surfaced of late. I was pleased with how the story in Deadly Deception unfolded, and I hope so were my readers.

The third book in the series, tentatively titled Treasure Among the Shadows, is based on the memoir of a long-time Santa Fe collector and owner of a private Indian ruins near Cerrillos on the ranch which has been the site for my other books.  Forrest Fenn wrote a fabulous memoir and tossed in an honest to goodness treasure hunt for good measure.  The book is titled The Thrill of the Chase, and sets out clues where this magnificent treasure might be found.  I set about to concoct a story about a treasure hunt with a murder attached and a few bad guys thrown in for good measure.  That one will be released around June of 2013.  If you’re interested in learning more about the treasure hunt, follow Fenn’s blog,  http://www.oldsantafetradingco.com/blog/ and you will discover what made this an exciting topic to write about.

At the present time, I’m working on the fourth book of the series. That one will be about a popular Santa Fe Mariachi whose body is found buried near the Crawford Ranch, which was the site of the first mystery, Shadows Among the Ruins.  These cold Santa Fe days keep me homebound, especially when the roads are slick and dangerous.  With a nice hot cup of chai tea filling the room with a spicy aroma, it pulls me toward my computer.

Keep reading those books, no matter in what form. It’s good for the soul. And who knows, it might just spur you on to write that best selling novel you’ve always dreamed you would do. The New Year is the perfect time to do it!

 

 

Posted in case evidence, characters, jury trials, jury verdicts, murder, Nancy Grace, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing blocks | Leave a comment

Writing with a Buddy

A while back, I read an interesting article in the Writer’s Digest. It was an interview with Doug Preston and Lincoln Child about writers combining knowledge and forces to write together. Their bestselling novels include Relic (which was also made into a movie) and at least fifteen other titles. In the article, the fab two expressed the idea that two minds are better than one. I agree to a point, as there have been times I asked a friend to read a chapter or two of a current project and give me an opinion. Her suggestions were something I hadn’t thought of or she pointed out an obvious flaw in the flow I wasn’t aware of.

So how does it work if two writers set about writing a book? Assuming that one partner’s ego is not bigger than the other, who then makes the decisions of what stays and what goes?  Certainly the partners are going to have to be compatible in their thought process, particularly where editing is concerned. They are going to have to rein in their automatic inner editor, or set down a set of guidelines before they start writing so any disagreement doesn’t end up demolishing the project and the friendship.

At one point, you know someone’s going to take out a red pencil and start editing. How open will the other be to having whole paragraphs shaved down into one sentence? On occasion I have overturned a paid editor’s suggestion because it changed the way I visualized the character. He consistently tried to add a hand crawling up the woman’s skirt or inject a slimy remark into the dialogue.  I am no prude as far as intimacy is concerned, but there are certain things that annoy me as a reader, and one of them is very explicit sexual scenes which leave nothing to the imagination. Most everyone has had sex in their lifetime, so unless they’re looking for a turn-on, they don’t need everything spelled out, and if they are looking for a turn-on, they’re probably not going to find it in any of my writing unless they can read between the lines. I prefer subtle nuances which allow the reader to take it wherever they want to go. As in real life, a kiss doesn’t have to be a slobber fest.

I have found that it’s best not to ask friends for advice on writing. You never know where they’re coming from. A friend made a suggestion along lines similar to those in the previous paragraph, believing that I should include his suggestion because it would “spice things up.” My character, Gilda, found herself leaving a bar with Bart Wolfe, obviously headed for some hot sex in the back of Bart’s van. My friend proposed that I should have her hang her panties on the door handle. It was an interesting visual, but this was the first time Gilda had ever stepped out on her husband and she was a bit apprehensive about it to begin with and surprised that the encounter would even take place. Toward the end of the story, however, there were no holds barred and she would have swung from a chandelier if the occasion arose.

So let’s go back to this subject of dual writers. If a writer is so possessive of their ideas that they can’t or won’t listen to a second party, then it’s not a good idea. There is always someone out there who has a more interesting way of setting the scene, writing the dialogue, and in general balancing out the story, whether they are a published author or not. If you happen to be lacking in these categories and are willing to embark on the adventure, I would say – go for it. You could not only improve your own story, but your co-writer might just turn out to be an ideal person to work with and the two of you could end up with the great American novel. On the other hand, it might be like having your teeth pulled.

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WRITER’S CRAMP

As a writer, it has always been a struggle for me to get things moving in a story line. I’m a late bloomer and much like my woodcarvings, I had to learn everything from the bottom up.  These things didn’t come naturally.  I had to explore the wood, and now I have to explore the page.  What can I create from that chunk of wood, and what can I create from that blank page?  The final product for both has to be interesting to the viewer. So I set about trimming away the excess wood so that an image can emerge, gently tapping the sharp chisels with a mallet to refine and define the form I have in mind.  When I’ve gone as far as I can with knife and chisels, the figure then has to be sanded until every flaw has been removed from the surface.  The same goes for writing, trimming the extraneous words until the sentences flow smoothly.

Writing can be a thankless job, as there is no-one but yourself in front of that keyboard, clicking away and watching the words form sentences on the screen.  The delete button works just like the sandpaper I use to smooth out the surface on the wood.  Writing is definitely not like cooking. You can’t have someone taste it, and then you add a little more seasoning until the soup is palatable.  And I’ve learned not to ask my friends to read what I’ve written.  They don’t have a stake in it.  The last thing I need to hear is that something is “cute”, a comment my own daughter made some years ago when I had her read one of my short stories.  I realized then she probably hadn’t read it. The story was far from cute.  And to add insult to injury, I recently had my feelings hurt when I asked a friend to read one of my manuscripts. His comment was that it was taking me forever to get to the gist of the story and the reader wasn’t going to stand for it.  He said it looked as though I was just putting down sentences to reach my 65,000 word quota.   Ouch. That harsh but probably well-deserved criticism made me wonder what the reason was I was writing for and it also made me realize I was trying too hard to describe the characters, the setting and the plot.

Where is the dividing line between too little and too much?  It was taking a while for the action to get started, but without the character development, there is no action.  So there was the dilemma.  I was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard spot.  Just who was I trying to please? No wonder I was having a hard time. You can’t please two masters.  If I wasn’t happy with my writing, how did I expect the reader to be?  This is where you have to make a decision to either scrap the whole piece and start over, or place your ego in a holding pattern until you figure out where you want to go with the story.  I firmly believe that good writers have to learn to look at their work objectively, and until that process becomes second nature, a lot of mediocre writing isn’t going to pass muster with the reading public. So, excuse me while I pour myself another cup of coffee and take a good look at what I’ve written here.

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SHADES OF O. J. SIMPSON

Well, I must say that the jury’s verdict issued today in the Casey Anthony trial in Orlando, Florida  astounded anyone who took the time to tune in to any of the major news channels.  This case played out for three years in the media. As the verdict was read, bells started ringing in everyone’s head. Did they hear right? Did the jury just find her NOT GUILTY on all of the major charges? In everyone’s mind, which probably included the defense attorneys, there was absolutely no way the jury was going to return anything but a Guilty on all counts charge.  Unfortunately, the ghost of murders past surfaced again by providing a jury who mimicked those assigned the O.J. Simpson trial.

The Anthony family was trashed numerous times from the beginning to the end of the trial. Casey Anthony claimed a multitude of unbelievable events which included being molested as a child by both her father and her brother, that her daughter Caylee had drowned and her father George Anthony had hidden the body, and the largest of which was that the imaginary nanny had kidnapped the child.  There is no backtracking on this verdict. She will probably get away with time served and soon be out on the streets, resuming her party life where she left off.  Like O.J., she will have to face that great jury in the sky, after which they will probably burn in hell together. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in case evidence, Casey Anthony, jury trials, jury verdicts, justice for Caylee, murder, Nancy Grace, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT?

Three years ago I was surfing with my remote looking for something to hold my attention for more than ten minutes. In my opinion, night-time cable television suffers from a severe case of the blahs, except on those nights when Criminal Minds or The Mentalist are on.  At the time, I was writing my first mystery and interested in gleaning whatever information I could from a well written plot. I stumbled on the Nancy Grace program and after a couple of weeks of tuning in, my ears tuned out her sensationalist catch-phrase, “Bombshell tonight!” That night she was featuring a story about a missing two year old Florida child, Caylee Anthony, whose mother had just admitted to her parents that the Nanny, Zenaida Rodriguez Gonzalez, had taken her over a month ago. Casey Anthony insisted that the nanny, later to become a glorified figment of her imagination, had taken off with the child after taking care of her for more than a year. As luck would have it, a woman by that name does actually exist, in the same town where the child went missing, and her life has turned to hell from all the publicity.

This is one of those cases where truth definitely becomes stranger than fiction. It wasn’t too long before law enforcement had wasted precious time chasing these figments. Turns out Casey Anthony hadn’t worked at Universal Studios for years, yet she “went to work” each day, dropping the child off at the imaginary nanny’s apartment. As the story unfolds, Casey’s parents received a notice from the post office that they have a registered letter to be picked up. That letter revealed that their daughter’s car (which is in their names) had been picked up some time before as abandoned and was now sitting at the tow area waiting for them to retrieve it and pay the fine. Meanwhile, Casey has been telling them she’s been in Jacksonville either attending a wedding, doing something for Universal, pursuing a potential boyfriend, etc. After they  bring the car home,  if it hadn’t been for Cindy the grandmother going ballistic about not seeing her only grandchild since Father’s Day and confronting Casey about that and about the abandoned car, this would have probably gone down as a stranger abduction and subsequent finding of the child’s body.

After three years of incarceration drama revealed by Nancy Grace featuring every jail-house video she could get her hands on, the case recently went to trial after the Court was forced to change the venue to Orlando, Florida, where efforts were made to impanel a jury who might be open-minded enough to give the defendant a fair trial. Casey Anthony has become one of the most hated people on television. Linda Baden, one of her former attorneys, seems to know more than what she’s letting on (citing attorney/client privilege) as she staunchly defends Anthony’s conduct as stemming from the sexual abuse inflicted on her during her childhood. Yes, that was the “bombshell” dropped by defense attorney Jose Baez during opening statements – that the child wasn’t missing and wasn’t murdered, but instead had drowned in the family pool and the grandfather, George Anthony forced his daughter to dispose of the body the best way she could. He went on to say that the reason Casey had woven an intricate web of lies for the past three years was because she had been sexually assaulted by her father from the time she was eight years old and victims of sexual abuse tend to zone out into another dimension when things get to be more than they can handle.  The courtroom was hushed as Baez went into great detail about George Anthony’s acts on his daughter. During this whole three year ordeal, there had never been a word uttered about this alleged abuse. Casey had continued to pile lie on top of lie about Zanny the Nanny, her many boyfriends (any one of whom she figured might have disposed of the child) and her month of partying right after little Caylee went missing.  Added to the drama are discovery by the detectives that Casey Anthony had been exploring various methods of murder on the web, including how chloroform worked and how to break someone’s neck.  The toddler’s body is eventually discovered in a wooded area some three blocks from the Anthony’s neighborhood, coincidentally a place where Casey Anthony  played as a child. The bizarre evidence includes duct tape over the mouth of the skeleton, with a red plastic heart in the center, an identical sticker found in the child’s room.

Geraldo Rivera has now joined the fray, as have most popular night-time news anchors. Rivera pounded out his theory that Casey Anthony was never properly Mirandized and if she’s convicted, the case will be overturned on appeal. Gloria Allred, famed California attorney, agrees with this theory, and many of them are taking it as fact that the defendant was abused, (just because she says so) and that’s the reason she’s such an expert at weaving a web of deception.  Dr. Drew, another popular television psychiatrist who deals with severe addiction, calls it all lies and deception by a woman who is jealous of her parents’ affection for the child.   Like most of the American public, I too have expressed an opinion that this woman is guilty of being tired of having to deal with her young child’s interference with the party life, and was probably using chloroform to knock her out and keep her quiet while she partied down the night. I figured at some point she either overdosed the child accidentally, or just decided to do away with her so she could devote more time to her new boyfriend.

So how is all this going to play out? Your guess is as good as mine. The jury is going to have their hands full in dissecting all the circumstantial evidence the State has amassed. Who knows, this might just turn out to be another infamous acquittal like in the O.J. Simpson case. The Casey Anthony case is filled with lies told so effectively that even she believes them. This is one case where truth is definitely stranger than fiction. There’s a best-seller in there somewhere. Many people hope she gets the death penalty. All I hope for is justice for the child.

Posted in case evidence, Casey Anthony, jury trials, murder, Nancy Grace, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

COVER ART AND BOOK TITLES

Last summer as I was in my Santa Fe studio, working on a sculptural art piece, I stopped to think about what I should name her.  This was a woodcarving of a woman on an antique metal bike, her hair and polka-dotted scarf flowing in the breeze.  (For a photo, see my  other blog, marieromerocash.blogspot.com ) When I added the last bit of color, and proceeded to brush varnish over it, I stopped to think about what the piece represented to me.  I named her Running from La Llorona. One of the legends of La Llorona is that she represents a mythical bogey woman who hides out in the arroyos of northern New Mexico, waiting to grab mischievous children and cart them off until they straighten up their acts. (Loosely translated, her name means “The Crier” although it sounds much more beguiling in Spanish, La yo-roh-nah.)

Along with a whole slew of artists who have been zinged in the kiester with the downturn of the economy (more than those with regular paychecks), I realized I had been running from the economic bogey person, trying to keep it from grabbing me from behind and stuffing me in a crevice somewhere. In a recession, art is the first of the commodities to go. People still need shelter, food and gas, but most don’t need art.  I’ve been creating art for thirty-five years, so it’s a little late to change careers in midstream, and I haven’t had that million selling book yet, so patience is turning out to be a virtue I need to cultivate.

In the past I have found that collectors prefer that the art they purchase have a title. Most don’t want it to be just a painting or just a sculpture. They want the artist to tell them what the piece represents. My son, Gregory Lomayesva, is a Native American artist.  He rarely adds titles to his paintings, preferring to let the viewer’s imagination take them wherever they need to go.  Much of his art comes from a space deep within which makes it doubly difficult to attach a title that anyone else would understand. If a gallery insists, he will come up with a random name, but most of the time he leaves it to the viewer.

I wondered how very odd it would be if writers didn’t put titles on their work.  I know, this is a stretch,  but bear with me. I’m trying to make up for losing that hour to Daylight Savings Time.  So think about going into your favorite bookstore and finding shelves and more shelves filled with nothing but books with blank covers. A person would have to imagine what’s inside.  So, I’m thinking that choosing a title for a book can be very similar to choosing a title for an art piece. When I wrote my memoir about growing up in Santa Fe, the title of Tortilla Chronicles came from the idea that through my entire childhood, there was always a stack of freshly made tortillas on the kitchen table.  You could put anything inside or on a tortilla, fold it over and place it in your  lunch sack along with whatever meager assortment of foodstuffs was available. Tortillas were our staff of life, and we never tired of dipping torn segments into warm bowls of beans and chili.

Some years ago I picked up a book with an intriguing dark cover, the author wearing a turtleneck sweater pulled up all the way to her nose against a black background. The book was by Nora Ephron titled I Feel Bad About My Neck, a reference to the wrinkled turkey necks that seem to appear out of nowhere as one ages.  The cover and title spoke to me, and for that reason I believe that in order to be effective, both title and cover should stir something in reader.   When I’m browsing for a book to cuddle up with on a cold or breezy Santa Fe night, I am attracted to the cover first and then the title, probably because of my artistic background.  I appreciate that some authors can pick a number or a letter of the alphabet and go with it, although “A is for Asinine” sure isn’t going to tell you much about what’s on the inside.  If you’re drawn to food, as most of us are, one  mystery writer adorns the cover with an assortment of baked goods . Somehow I never wanted to read a book about a missing cupcake, but hey, if it caters to your inner baker, buy it.  It isn’t unusual for me to change a title several times before I’m satisfied that it’s going to be the one that makes it to the final cut.  I read somewhere that the title should speak to a reader as much as the inside cover, but I believe that’s also true for the image you choose for the cover. A book about turkeys sure wouldn’t have a zebra on the cover (duh) but wouldn’t a book about a zebra sure look nice with just a black background and some carefully placed white stripes?  That would be compelling enough for me to pick it up and take a look inside.

I’m presently working on several writing projects, and decided yesterday that it’s time to get back in the studio and create a few works in anticipation of a well-mended economy by the time Spanish  Market comes around at the end of July on the Santa Fe Plaza.  Not to worry. My mind is conditioned that even while I’m doing something else my subconscious is working on writing. That’s when I should keep that voice recognition gizmo I spoke about in the previous post next to my carving knives. Then I won’t have to stop to make a note about something that just came to mind and I can just speak into a laptop, but then my Border Collie will wonder who I’m talking to since she’s the only other person in the room.

Posted in art and writing, folk tales, The Writing Life, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

KEEPING UP WITH TECHNOLOGY

In a previous post I mentioned that much of my writing begins in longhand, utilizing the many new gel pens that flow like honey and spiral notebooks. I have honed my skills in this manner because of my dislike for the laptop keyboard. If one of these companies would invent a keyboard similar to the desktop, I’d be first on their list to buy one. However, since  it appears that I’m probably in the minority, I’ll have to continue writing my own way.

The other night I was  at home kibitzing with a friend and I happened to mention that another friend in New York and I were discussing speech recognition software. Most of her writing sits in dozens of notebooks, waiting for her to process them into her Word program.  She admits to not being a very proficient typist and loathes having to start putting these chapters in order, and doesn’t feel comfortable in paying someone else to do the job for her.  We both thought it would be nice if we could just dictate everything right into the computer. (We’re both in our sixties, so that will account for the lack of savvy in certain areas.)

Sitting in my kitchen on a blizzardy Santa Fe evening, I noticed Doug was tapping on his E-phone or I-phone or whatever the latest cell phone gizmo happens to be.  He picked up one of my notebooks and read a few paragraphs out loud, then showed me his phone. Voila! There it was, one of my pages transcribed onto a Word document. My cell phone, of course, is the kind that only has one ring, Phantom of the Opera, and all it does is receive and send calls, nothing fancy. But his phone did everything but fix him dinner. He said he had a Dragon program on his phone, and as a realtor, it saved him a lot of time writing notes.

The next day I went online and found this  Dragon – Naturally Speaking, Speech Recognition Software. Since my daughter works at Staples, I had her pick up the least expensive one, which is Version 11. (The only difference in this one is it doesn’t have the I-Pod and phone apps that the more expensive versions do, but I’m not hard to please.) It took at least an hour to get everything set up, as the program needs to develop a user profile for your voice. It prompts you to read sentences and paragraphs until it “gets you”, and also takes a short voyage through all your emails and documents to determine the vocabulary you use in writing. That done, you’re all ready to go. Pop the headset on, plug it into a port, and start talking.

I set up a Word Document as usual, with the font I generally use, spacing, pitch, etc. I dictated several pages and watched with fascination as it appeared on  my screen. There is a catch to all this, of course, so reading the next few lines will save you a lot of grief. Here’s how you must dictate, using your normal voice:

tab The detective was surprised to discover that such an innocent looking nerd of a young man could have a rap sheet period But there it was period He had been arrested in Tacoma comma Washington four years before for assault on his employer period paragraph tab  (you can also say “Correct that” and it highlights a few words and you can either dictate or type over them).

So you get the idea. Reading the instructions is very important, as other things like numbers and dates have specific references. The nice thing about this is that once you get most of it down, you can scroll back and edit just as you would if you had typed it in yourself. I had to laugh, of course, since there’s not a human mind enclosed in the box, and there lies the need for proofreading. I was writing about a 1956 Chevy Impala, and it came out as “Shave E him Paula”, so the program certainly doesn’t have everything  down pat. But hey, it was a fun experience and I got a lot of typing accomplished by just sitting there reading out loud.  Right now the program is on sale at Staples for $44.00 – quite a bargain, I must say.

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THE DAY THE WORLD STOOD STILL

This year we’ll be noting (not celebrating) the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Was it just a coincidence that 911 is our universal code for emergency or was it the warped sense of humor of a terrorist who understood how the American mind works. Emergency? Dial 9-1-1.  Death and Destruction?  9-11. That bit of irony didn’t escape me. It’s bothered me ever since. I am a firm believer that the tragedy of that September day affected us all, and has continued to do so. No matter if we live over a thousand miles or fifty miles from New York City, thoughts of that day bring forth emotions secluded deep within the crevices of our brain.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is exactly 1,758 miles from New York City.  I woke up early that lazy southwest morning eager to greet a day full of warm sunshine and turquoise blue skies. I flicked the TV on for a look at the news. I fixed myself a cup of Earl Grey tea and leaned back against the re-plumped pillows, eager to spend a few minutes more relaxing before I ventured into my studio.  When I saw the images of the jet plane headed toward the towers in some imaginary city, I thought I was watching a Tom Cruise movie, so I changed the channel, in search of the morning news.  That was the morning news. I stared into the screen, paralyzed by the images I was viewing.  No, this couldn’t be happening to us.  Not here, not in America, not in the land of the free. It must be a mistake.  I called out to my teenaged grandson to wake up.  “Something’s happened in New York, “I said. “It looks pretty awful.”  We sat together on my king-sized bed, mesmerized, the slow-motion images replaying over and over on the screen.  Ten years later, those pictures are still in my head.  The impact of the news is deeply embedded in my psyche.

I have never been to New York, but I have passed through it on the way to Boston when Amtrak put all the passengers on a shuttle when the train broke down. And I do have a friend whose nineteenth story apartment overlooks ground zero.  She doesn’t’ talk much about the events of the day. She’s been trying to write about them for ten years. The words seem to be trapped in an irretrievable whirlpool.

As writers, our words can be fueled by horrifying events such as these. I was just an observer from afar, caught in the loop of repetition of something so terrifying that I wasn’t able to wrap my mind around it. I continued to be in my own little state of denial for days, until the media storm surrounding it squeezed the life out of every single minute of each ensuing day.  I can’t begin to imagine what thoughts would be rooted inside someone who was experiencing the event first-hand. Some years later when I was putting a series of short stories together for publication, I wrote this about September eleventh.

As the road winds its way toward home, I have mixed feelings. Did I find what I was looking for all these years, or was it always there? I was pedaling my bike as fast as I could, running toward myself. Somewhere along the way I saw my reflection off in the distance, but when I arrived at the fork in the road, I was gone.

My heart thumped with the realization of how close I actually came to finding me. But then one day the world changed. Jet engines roared and skyscrapers collapsed into rubble. Silent screams echoed through the dust. Suddenly I no longer felt safe, in this America, the land of the free.

Bogey women peered from jagged curtains covering closed windows, beckoning me to come closer, to look into the depths. But I turned and ran, feigning blindness. Who was there left to believe? The straight and narrow path had become a winding road leading to uncharted territory. Scarecrows sat ominously in fields of corn whose kernels baked in the late summer sun. All that was reliable disappeared from view. In its place came chaos, panic, fear, unrest and a hunger to find, regain, or retain love. I was no longer wrapped in my blanket of security, my American flag.

My tears flowed behind me as I spun around in every direction; a great whirlpool of black dust swallowed everything in my midst. I was alone again. I wandered across the landscape, ever hopeful that a knight would come to my rescue. I had no magic slippers to transport me to the depths of my imagination; no Calgon baths to take me away. I was not the same. I will never be the same.

I gathered the charred remains of my life and gave them up to God; this Lord, this wizard, who had carried me across the yellow brick road more times than I could remember.

Excerpted from  “Lowrider Blues: Cantando, Gritando y Llorando”, (which translates to Singing, Screaming and Crying). ©Marie Romero Cash

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DISSECTING THE WELL WRITTEN MYSTERY

A few days ago I was attempting  to  add a little juice to a story I was writing, and plagued by an overwhelming lack of direction. Instead of calling it writer’s block, I usually say my word bank is temporarily inaccessible due to inclement weather, and the weather here in Santa Fe has been off the charts. We’re either bundled up like an Eskimo or walking around in a light jacket. Apparently it was also affecting my mood. So I did the next best thing and drove downtown to Collected Works, my favorite book store. I browsed for a while in the mystery section, and picked up a book that looked interesting. I took it home and plumped up the pillows on my bed, grabbed a hot cup of green tea, and proceeded to spend the rest of the day chillin’. It was a good read, and I finished it off the next morning. The writer made me sit up and take notice of her particular way of presenting a story, and since I’m always sliding around the learning curve, I managed to absorb a few things. Here’s how the plot was laid out:

In the introduction you start to believe the wife is first missing and then dead.
From the way the husband reacts, you think he killed her.

Then the pedophile down the street is introduced – you start thinking he’s probably the murderer. How could he not be, he lives just a few houses away.

The detectives interview the couple’s four year old and she technically implicates the father by repeating what she heard in the hallway right before her mother went missing.

We find out that the missing woman is a teacher and she’s been spending a lot of time with one of her students,  a computer whiz, learning about how she can break into her husband’s laptop, suspecting he might be visiting porn sites. The kid is only thirteen, but you start to wonder if there’s a possibility that he might be responsible for her disappearance, since once in a while you see a news story where a twelve year-old killed off his entire family.

Then we meet the computer kid’s uncle, who is much better at helping her crack into her husband’s computer because he works for the cops and that’s what he does for a living. So we get the idea she’s starting to fall for him while the computer kid looks on. Perhaps he’s a little jealous of his uncle?

About the time the author has convinced us we’re on the right track to solving this mystery, the missing woman’s father finagles his way into the story. He wants custody of the little girl, a child he never even knew existed until he read about his missing daughter in the newspapers.

So it continues to appear as though the husband isn’t quite telling the truth, so the cops  interview the child a second time. The grandfather obtains a court order to see his granddaughter, and while the husband is processing this in his beleaguered mind, the old man shows up inside their house and tries to kill the husband.

Now the story starts moving forward at a rapid pace. The missing wife shows up in the house just in time to shoot her father while he’s trying to do away with her husband. They have a sit-down and she tells him the whole story – in a nutshell she was afraid of the computer kid’s uncle’s reaction when she tried to break their affair off so decided to run off to keep him from harming her husband and child.

But we’re not finished. The computer uncle is killed by a bomb in his car at the same time the grandfather is trying to kill the father, and bomb components are found in the grandfathers hotel room tying him to that crime. The husband then discovers that years ago the old guy had killed his wife in front of the daughter, and then continued to molest her. He divulges his own childhood secrets to her.

So the detectives close the file, the couple is back together, they’re having another baby, and we find out later the wife set up her father by putting the bomb stuff in his room after she killed the computer uncle. And everyone lives happily ever after.

I won’t divulge the author or the title of the book, but clearly I can see why this writer is always on the best-selling lists. The story moves along at a rapid pace and there are so many red herrings that the book starts to smell like a fish hatchery, but it keeps you turning the pages. I have spoken to several mystery writers in the past, and I’m amazed at how differently everyone approaches their writing. One fellow surely has A.D.D. as he indicates that before he even sits down at the computer, he already has the entire story in his mind so he just starts writing. That’s a skill I’d sure like to have in my box of tricks. Another writes down his story line on 3×5 cards and then begins to expand from there. Yet another author creates an entire story board on a large piece of newsprint, breaking out the entire story like a cartoon before sitting down to write. Other writers fill in character and story line sheets, so they don’t repeat the same incident in the next book and they always know what their characters have done in the past. The character sheets contain the name of the character, along with their physical description, where they work, what they do, and how that character has been developed in previous stories.

In my own writing, as a novice mystery writer, I tend to create a skeleton sketch of a story in a notebook which might just be one idea, and then sit down at my desktop. I usually start with a prologue and a first chapter if there’s something that will start the action moving forward. But the rest is a crap shoot. Sometimes I’ll write the last chapter and then go back and fill in the story as I go along. Once in a while it does seem like rocket science.

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