Monday, August 7, 2017

Road Trip!

Over the years, Paul and I have developed a great many more interests than we had when we first married. Many of them have led to a lot of great adventures, but one thing that we've always enjoyed doing together is road trips!

Our first road trip was our honeymoon. We drove from El Paso, Texas to Niagara Falls, New York in a Nissan pickup truck that had no air conditioning. We drove up through Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and into New York in three days, stopping in Amarillo, TX, Springfield, MO, and Columbus, OH. Up till that time, I had never been further east from El Paso except for visiting family in Hobbs, New Mexico! The fact that this trip took place in the beginning of July during the great summer drought of 1988 and we made it without consulting attorneys bodes well for us reaching our 50th wedding anniversary! We drove back through Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and spent a few days in our nation's capital, then continued on through Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, and on to home in New Mexico, stopping in Knoxville, TN, Little Rock, AR, and then visiting Paul's sisters in Santa Fe. While we were glad to be home, we still talk about that trip!

Since then, we have made many trips--several trips to Santa Fe, NM and San Antonio, TX; Phoenix, Lake Havasu City, and Grand Canyon, Arizona; Estes Park and Canon City, Colorado; and Monterey, California. Many times family accompanied us on these trips, but mainly it was just the two of us. We love seeing new places, watching the sun come up or go down from different vistas, visiting new towns and eating in little roadside diners or from the cooler in the back of our car or truck while exploring a new state or city park. 

We have taken many trips by plane as well. On occasion, there just isn't enough time to take a leisurely drive if we only have a few days off from work and, in some instances, it was simply cheaper to fly (yes, $49 fares really are a thing sometimes!) And of course, driving to Europe is definitely not possible! But we are truly believers in the phrase "getting there is half the fun" and, given a choice, we prefer to drive.

Next weekend, we are taking an familiar road to San Antonio to spend a quick four-day weekend with close friends. True to our nature, we are excited though we can make the drive with our eyes closed and several people have pointed out that, for only a short visit, flying would definitely save us some time. But we are taking a detour, veering off the faster and more direct Interstate 10, to make a side trip to Alpine where there is a small, well-known bookstore where I hope to do a book signing. Along the way, we will drive through small Texas towns, watch the sun come up near the Big Bend area (we like to leave early--about 3 or 4 a.m.--when we go on road trips!) and eat breakfast in a place too small to have a Denny's or IHOP. 

And along the way, we'll probably reminisce about previous trips and look forward to future ones!

The first leg of our trip always includes making a left or right on US 70!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Collector's Woes--When Too Much is Too Much!

I have learned one thing about collecting and it is this: proceed with caution.

There are stories galore of people who collect some item simply because fell in love with model Volkswagon Beetle cars or Hummel figurines that they saw on their grandmother's shelf or they hoarded their childhood comic books in cardboard boxes in the family attic or basement or drove their mothers crazy with odd rocks they picked up from every family vacation and stored in empty pickle or peanut butter jars all over their bedrooms. And you know how the story ends: those childhood collections end up yielding gems that are worth thousands of dollars--either a rare first-edition Superman comic book or an odd-looking rock that turns out to be a rare gem. That's the fairy tale ending.

The reality is that, somewhere along the line, Mom cleaned house and either threw your "treasures" in the trash or sold them for a quarter at a garage sale. Or else you somehow managed to rescue them from Mom (or spouse) only to discover that their value was a great deal less than what you had hoped.

I have learned, over the years, that collections require a lot of work. And I'm not a collector in the sense that I have seashells, or paintings, or music boxes all over the house.

I collect recipes.

The benefit of collecting recipes is that, while I do have an impressive amount of cookbooks which I enjoy reading when I'm burned out on novels, a lot of the recipes I've collected have come my way via Facebook. It's amazing! I see a recipe, I read it through, I decide whether or not it's something I and my family would enjoy and I click a button. That's it! I've saved it to my collection! And I don't have to dust it or find a place for it on my already crowded knick-knack shelves! Woo hoo!

And there they sit. In my recipe files. Unmade.

The problem with my recipe collection is that, much like Grandma's milk-glass collection, it is hardly ever pulled out of obscurity and used. Once in a while, I run across a recipe I really, REALLY want to make and I actually write down the ingredients on my grocery list and I make it. And it's wonderful! So I tell myself to make something else. Dig out another recipe and give it a whirl. But which one? There are so many....

I am tempted to write down the name of the recipes on slips of paper and pull them out of a hat and force myself to make at least one new one a week. Judging by the number of recipes I already have saved, not counting the cookbook recipes I want to make, plus the fact that I add a new recipe every time I browse Facebook (we'll leave that number up to your imaginations, okay?) and then figure a rate of one recipe per week, I might not live long enough to enjoy all those meals.

But at least I don't have to dust them!
Top photo is a standby recipe (migas), bottom is a Tuscan chicken recipe I found on Facebook. Guess which one gets made most often?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Once Upon a Time--How a Contemporary Novel Becomes a Historical Novel

Due to family visiting, today's Back Deck Blog post is a re-run from February of 2016. The fact that I have been actively engaged in a Facebook group that focuses on reminiscing about "back when" drove me to dig up this post. See if you can relate!

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A couple of things have happened in the last week that have set me to pondering about the way authors write their stories with details that should help orient the reader in the story's setting.

They also made me feel old in the process. See if you can relate.

A discussion with co-worker, who is the same age as I am, involved a mention of the term "long distance" and a brief "Remember when?" conversation about having to call after eight in the evening because the rates were lower. Another co-worker, who is less than half our age, stared at us in a puzzled manner. What did we mean by "long distance"? What rates? It took us several startled seconds to realize that, thanks to the advent of cell phones, "long distance" no longer means what it once did. When I moved to Alamogordo, NM from El Paso, TX after my marriage (almost 28 years ago!), gabbing on the phone with my mom, my sister, or my friends back home was not something I did for thirty minutes at a time... and certainly NOT before 8 p.m. when the rates were lower! Having to explain about phone rates made me feel... well, a bit out-of-date.

On Saturday, while working the register at the winery, an older couple (older than I, that is) approached and asked if, by any chance, we accepted traveler's checks as payment. Talk about a blast from the past. After I recovered from my surprise, I explained that we didn't accept any kind of check and the woman smiled and said she had figured that, but she had some 17-year-old traveler's checks and "they always said they never expired so I thought I'd give it a try." One of my co-workers, again about half my age, came over, intrigued. "I've HEARD of traveler's checks," she said. "But I've never seen one before!" So followed a conversation about traveler's checks and how they were supposed to be better than cash (this was before revolving credit came along) and so much safer and it occurred to me that, in this age of electronic banking, how completely antiquated and inconvenient they must seem to this generation.

The art of writing, itself, has undergone enormous changes. From typing a 300-page manuscript and submitting it via "snail mail" in a cardboard box with enough return postage in case the publisher (or more likely, agent) rejected it to being able to publish a book without an agent, editor, or publisher (or, alas, even any talent) shows how much the world has changed in the last thirty years.

Yet, if I had been writing a story set in the mid-'80s, talking about things like long-distance and traveler's checks would have been perfectly natural and my readers would know exactly what I was talking about and could relate. Now I wonder how many of those things would be recognizable to the current generation of readers. I recall reading the works of Agatha Christie, James Herriot, Laura Ingalls Wilder, even Judy Blume and the Nancy Drew mysteries and asking my parents what was meant by certain phrases or even looking up words in the dictionary because my late '70s-early '80s upbringing didn't include things like what was described in those books. Party lines and ration books are as alien to me as long-distance rates and traveler's checks are to this generation. Who knows what will replace texting and debit cards in the future?

Time marches on....

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summertime

It's been a long time since I've experienced a true "summertime" season like I did when I was a kid. Back then, when my days and seasons were defined by school schedules, there was always the anticipation of summer that started sometime after Mother's Day. That was usually a signal that there were only a couple of weeks of school left and everyone was gripped with excitement when they walked into the neighborhood discount store (Winn's or TG&Y in my case) and saw inflatable swimming pools, swim suits, sunglasses, and "summer" toys and games--soap bubbles, water guns, pool toys, and snow cone makers. They all signaled that the school year was coming to an end and a seemingly endless summer awaited us!

Back then, things were at a slower pace. I don't recall many of my friends being involved in organized sports or activities that regulated their days. Sundays were the only days when we had something scheduled (church and Sunday school) and, during the week, we were only ruled by mealtimes. Breakfast and chores had to be finished before we could leave the house; lunch was usually a sandwich, sometimes hastily eaten at home or at a friend's house, so we could get back to whatever we were doing; and dinnertime was signaled by everyone's dad pulling into the driveway after work. That meant we had to get home, wash up, and eat, knowing we would have a few more hours of play after dinner before the streetlights came on.

Even during the years I was raising kids and homeschooling, there was still a clear delineation between summer and the rest of the school year--namely, no school! But now that we are at the point where the kids have outgrown school and before there are grandkids whose schedules include school, summer had taken on a different meaning. Perhaps it's because summer no longer means long, lazy unplanned days, where anything could happen or nothing at all. Now every day, all year long, work schedules keep us from a lot of spontaneity. Vacation trips must be planned, time off requested, and all the work our parents did--packing, making reservations, and all the attendant tasks--suddenly make us realize why we felt so carefree! We used to just get in the car and go! 

But summertime also is marked by the simple things that we suddenly realize we had missed during the winter. The grill is used much more frequently than in the colder months (though we occasionally get the hankering for barbecue chicken during snowstorms); we have more time for sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee in the mornings or a cold beverage in the evenings; flip-flops, tank tops, and shorts take the place of warm socks, sweaters, and jeans. In some ways, though it's far more subtle than when we were kids, we still get that carefree feeling of time stretching before us and only occasional glances at the calendar remind us that these days won't last forever. 

So pour another glass of lemonade, put your shades on, and kick back in a lawn chair. Labor Day is still seven weeks away!
Enjoy every day!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Two of the Best Friends a Writer Could Have

I've often reflected on how nice it would be if I had an extremely successful writing career, one where I didn't have to work a "real" job forty hours a week, one where I didn't have to look for places to sell my book (my agent would take care of that, but it would be a simple matter of picking which of the dozens of clamoring booksellers I should arrange to visit), one where there would be bidding wars among a half-dozen movie and TV producers who were clamoring for the rights to put my stories on the screen.

My chances of winning the $100 million PowerBall are only slightly better. And I don't play regularly.

Still, the odds have been very kind to me. So many writers have spent years searching for a traditional publisher, one that pays royalties. Many have skipped the heartaches and headaches and gone straight to self-publishing, only to discover that there are still plenty of heartaches and headaches in trying to get their work out to their audience. But I have been blessed; not just one, but two publishers have expressed their belief in my work.

First, thanks to the encouragement of "Pot Thief" author, Mike Orenduff, I discovered Oak Tree Press and Billie Johnson, the publisher who accepted my first Black Horse Campground mystery and subsequently published the next three books in the series. Nothing has ever quite matched the thrill of being able to use words like "my publisher" and "book contract" without using imaginary quotation marks!

Secondly, due to unforeseen health issues, my fifth Black Horse Campground mystery ended up being published by a different publishing house. With Billie's blessing, I submitted "A Summer to Remember" to Aakenbaaken & Kent, the publishing house that belongs to... Mike Orenduff!

One thing that hasn't changed is the unrelenting belief and incredible support both of my publishers have shown me. It is matched only by the support and encouragement from my readers. And in return, I try to show my gratitude by working just as hard as they do at getting my books out to those faithful readers. First and foremost is, I keep writing. It's hard, sometimes, with working a full-time and a part-time job, besides caring for my family, but I owe it to myself, my readers, and my publishers. They count on me to produce and I won't let them down.

I also take every opportunity that comes along to promote and sell my books. I don't wait for my publisher to find me venues to speak and places to sell my books. Library and author events, bookstores of all kinds, church festivals, local art events, any place that comes to my attention that has the remotest possibility of gaining me one more reader is always pursued. Sometimes it's a lot of work for little or no reward, but the reward comes in knowing that I'm paying my dues as a published author.

Yes, it's true: writing the book is just the beginning. Rarely does a popular author hit the jackpot on the first time out and very few authors make a cushy living solely from their writing. Whether that is what is in my future or not matters little to me. I am living the dream of writing my stories and having them published.

And I owe a lot of that to Billie Johnson and Mike Orenduff. You both have been a blessing to me and I only hope I've done my best for you! I am eternally grateful!




Monday, June 26, 2017

Looking at the Positives--What Keeps Me Writing

I'm eighty-plus pages into book 6 of the Black Horse Campground series (no title... yet), and, in some ways, things couldn't be better.

But things can always be better, right? I could be making a ton of money, have given up my day job as a cake decorator, and have thousands--if not millions--of adoring fans.

However, I choose to look at the positives. Though I have a small readership, I know many of my readers personally. And I know that they like my work. They are willing to pay for my books, not just get them for free. I can go on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble's website, and GoodReads and see my books listed (and not as self-published!) whereas that once seemed to be an impossible dream. My day job, though the fodder of many jokes, still gives me a measure of creative satisfaction and pays the bills as well, which allows me to spend time on writing. And traveling to book signings, where I get to meet a few new "fans" and sell a few books... perhaps enough to cover travel expenses.

"Seems like very little pay for a lot of work," so I've been told. Well, a lot depends on your definition of "work" and "fun". When it comes to the writing, work = fun... even the stuff that many writers (including myself) bemoan. The editing, the rewrites, the promotional stuff sounds like a lot of dull, boring work, but it's part of the process and a writer can either choose to let that overshadow the fun stuff and make it all seem like drudgery... or they can choose to focus on the positive.

Focusing on the positive sometimes seems unrealistic, perhaps sappy and overly sentimental. It's more "real", some will say, to be honest about the hard, thankless work, the long hours, the lack of success in finding readers and--the big one--selling books. However, I don't really think that focusing on the negatives will make the job any easier or more fulfilling. After all, I write for the fun and the joy of it. To me, having readers and seeing my books for sale is already more than I expected. Being a writer is not one of the most well-paying jobs out there and very few people actually make a living, much less millions, from writing.

What keeps me going is the satisfaction of doing what I love. It's not a job I absolutely HAVE to do in order to make a living. I have been in situations where I had to make myself show up to work out of a sense of duty and responsibility, mainly to my family that was counting on my paycheck, and I managed to make it through the day with smile. But that is not the reason I write. I could walk away from my writing this moment and it wouldn't make any difference in my bank account or lifestyle. I even believe that my family and friends would still love me if I did so. So if I'm not happy, then why do it?

But I am happy. And so I write....


Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting a Clue: How Suspense is Built into Books and Films--A Guest Post from author Vivian Rhodes

Today's Back Deck Blog post is by Vivian Rhodes, mystery novelist and award-winning television writer. Vivian will tell us about how suspense is built into a story and also about her latest book, "If You Should Read This, Mother". 

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I love good suspense, whether in the form of a book, a play, or a film.  Some of my favorite authors over the years have been those who have mastered the art of keeping me in suspense: Ken Follett, Jonathan Kellerman, Gillian Flynn, and of course the Mistress of Mystery, Agatha Christie. In fact, uppermost in my mind when I wrote my latest thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother, was how to balance telling a good story while keeping readers in suspense.

As far as films go, keeping the viewer in suspense entails a bit more and no one did it better than Alfred Hitchcock.  Unfortunately, not every director was as capable as Hitchcock, and often viewers could see things coming way before they were meant to.  Of course, many viewers actually enjoy the ride and figuring out the ending early on.

Do you love watching a suspense film and knowing what’s ‘around the corner’?  Many  movies, especially the vintage ones, offer the viewer plenty of clues as to what lies ahead. The obvious cliché, of course, is the young woman in the horror film who, alone in the house, decides to go down to the basement in order to ‘investigate a noise’. 

Ten giveaways that portend what is going to happen by the end of the movie:

1.   If someone is lying on his deathbed cheerfully relaying what his plans are for the immediate future, odds are there is no future in store, immediate or otherwise.

2.   If a questionable character poses the question, ‘Do you have any close family or friends, anyone who would miss you if, say, you disappeared?’ it would be best for our hero or heroine to proceed with caution.

3.   If we are only witness to a gloved hand committing a murder, the murderer is most likely a woman. (It also stands to reason that if a serial killer is not committing sex crimes, there’s a good chance that, here too, the killer is a woman.)

4.   In a mystery where someone has done something very, very evil, a look at the credits will often suggest who the heavy is even before the film has begun. (ie. Don Porter in older films and perhaps Christopher Walken in newer ones).

5.   A former bad guy who turns good and fingers his cronies will still have to die, but will die a ‘noble death’ (ie. saving the life of the heroine).

6.   If a woman lets go of her toddler’s hand for any reason (ie. to pay a cashier or to powder her nose) said toddler will inevitably wander into traffic with dire consequences.

7.   It is rarely the guy on the lower end of the food chain who is morally responsible for a crime committed. Usually the heavy is a man of influence (editor of a newspaper, politician, or corporate heavy).

8.   If a woman marries a man about whose background she knows very little, she will probably live to regret it. (This is particularly the case in films made prior to Google).

9.   If a beloved pet is introduced at the beginning of a murder mystery there is, unfortunately, a good chance that said pet will not be alive by the end of the film.

10. If a woman laughs at a furious man and he warns her to stop laughing at him, it’s a safe bet that the man, often a psychopath, will put an end to the laughing by either strangling or stabbing her to death.

            And of course, if a film ends in an intentionally ambiguous way, we can assume that the producers are thinking ‘sequel’.
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Blurb for "If You Should Read This, Mother", by Vivian Rhodes


Megan Daniels was only three years old the day President John F.  Kennedy was assassinated, but flashes of that day begin to trigger other disturbing memories that have lain dormant within her.  At first they are merely snippets, but as they begin to appear more frequently Megan has difficulty separating what is real from what is imagined. In her attempt to learn more, she sets out to find her biological mother, but keeps hitting brick walls. No adoption papers exist, and all she has to go on is her possible birthday: November 22. In the small town of Meredith, CA, Megan’s search takes on a dire, domino effect—one woman has already been murdered as a result of her inquiries. As she digs for the truth, Megan eventually unravels a sinister plot that began decades earlier, but in doing so she places her own life in jeopardy.





 Vivian Rhodes, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communication, is a published mystery novelist and two time Emmy-nominated television writer, having written for daytime serials such as General Hospital and As the World Turns. Her Lifetime movie, Stolen from the Womb airs frequently, most recently in May 2016. Her suspense thriller, If You Should Read This, Mother is available at www.Blackopalbooks.com , and Amazon, and can be ordered through local bookstores as well. Her novel, Groomed for Murder is now available as an e-book on Amazon, Ms. Rhodes lives in Los Angeles, where she is an adjunct instructor at Cal Lutheran University. She is presently completing work on her next novel, Girl Obsessed, and writes about all things nostalgic- from film noir to vintage toys- on her blog, Rhodes Less Traveled. (VivianRhodes.blogspot.com)

Amazon links: https://www.amazon.com/You-Sould-Read-This-Mother/dp/1626946957/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1497895444&sr=1-2&keywords=Rhodes%2C+Vivian