Monday, October 31, 2011

With Sales Come Criticism, It's How Things Work

I've posted quite a bit lately about how thrilled I am that my book sales have been going well so I feel a little obligated to talk about the down-side that comes with the up-side. The more books an author sells, and the more people that read those books, the more likely you are to encounter people who don't like what you wrote. It's just the way things go – nobody can write a book that everyone will like. We all get criticism. If selling more books means getting more criticism I'm fine with that.

The criticism comes sometimes in negative reviews on review sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Smashwords, and sometimes it comes in emails and Private Messages. Usually those criticisms are insightful and offer observations that I hadn't considered before. I always appreciate honest critiques – sometimes they are more helpful than the glowing ones. There are also the mysterious ones in which a piece of work gets 1 or 2 stars with no explanation of why. While it is certainly a reader's right to do that if the site they are posting on allows it (Amazon does not, on Amazon you have to post a minimum of 20 word in order to leave a review) it always leaves me wondering what they didn't like.

Of course the biggest single reason most negative reviews occur is because the book was not what the reader expected and they are disappointed by that. When a reader buys a book, whether based on reviews, recommendations, or just because they liked the cover, there is a certain degree of expectation. If the book turns out to be different from the expectations some readers will adapt and, if they like the writing and the story, roll with it. Others want their expectations to be met and their attitude about the book will reflect that. As writers we have to accept that not everyone will like our work – we can't meet everyone's expectations. The more books we sell the higher our chances are of someone being disappointed. It goes with the job.

There is also the issue of spitefulness that, while usually minor overall, is a factor. Recently on a discussion board for writers I read there was a very active discussion about writers that retaliate for criticism of their work by leaving bad reviews for the books of the person who criticized them. This is always a risk when writers review other writers. I often publish book reviews on this blog and, so far, most of the responses are positive but I do get a few nasty (and always anonymous) comments which I don't post if they don't contribute anything useful. Comments like “you are a self-indulgent b#tch who thinks she is better than everyone else” doesn't really contribute to the sum of world knowledge. We already know that.

One of the things I struggle with as a writer is the urge to explain things to readers who missed something critical in a work and therefore don't understand it. That happens. If it happens a lot then it is definitely something I have to take a look at but if those complaints are the exception then I just have to roll with it. The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic is categorized as “psychological horror”. It is not the usual horror with blood and guts and creepy crawlies. Rather, the horror comes slowly, as the story is ending and the reader begins slowly, horribly to realize the truth of what the heroine, Maddie, had grown up in the presence of. There have been a few readers who told me that, while they liked the story a lot, they didn't find the ending particularly horrible. We all have our own interpretations of what is horrible.

In love, murder, etc. there is a story called The View from the Lighthouse that has also puzzled a few readers. They told me that they didn't understand the ending. I can empathize with this because I did leave the ending pretty ambiguous – I'm sort of a fan of those “lady or the tiger” type endings anyway. Consequently, I can't complain when a reader, who wants to know for sure, has something to say about it.

I love talking with readers about my stories whether in person or in discussion groups, even readers who don't like what I wrote – it is almost always enlightening for me. So, to all my readers, whether you liked my stories or not, I will repeat one more time:

Thanks for reading!!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sitting here in total shock and awe....

I try not to think over much about how my ebooks are ranking on Amazon. I'm just so grateful that they are selling! October has nearly tripled last months sales and I'm so happy about that. But this morning I did check my stats and what I found stunned me. At the moment FIVE of my books are in Amazon Top Seller categories. These categories move fast and your ranking can disappear in the next hour but, none the less, once you've gotten into a Top 100 category your visibility goes way up. This is what I just discovered:
Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter:
#57 in Genre Fiction > Horror > Ghosts
The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic:
#9 in Thrillers > Psychological Thrillers
#12 in Genre Fiction > Horror
Fry Bacon. Add Onions:
#2 in Cooking, Food & Wine > U.S. Regional > Middle Atlantic
#4 in Cooking, Food & Wine > Regional & International > European > German
The Mermaid Shawl and other beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps:
#1 in Crafts & Hobbies > Lace & Tatting
#9 in Crafts & Hobbies > Needlework
#16 in Crafts & Hobbies > Knitting


And -- thrill of all thrills:
love, murder, etc.:
#78 in Mystery & Thrillers > Mystery > Anthologies


Many, many thank yous to everyone who bought one of my books!!!!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The “Priest” Gimmick in Contemporary Novels

Because my novel Each Angel Burns has a Catholic priest as one of the main characters I may be more sensitive to this issue – or perhaps more aware – than other readers but I have to ask, what's up with all the priests in thriller/mystery books these days? Ever since The DaVinci Code there have been tons of Secrets-of-the-Catholic-Church novels, some of them pretty good, some of them pretty lame. It is a genre that has grabbed on to the public imagination and, frankly, it can be kind of exciting. With a 2000 year tradition of both pomp and political involvement, the Catholic Church, in which I was raised, provides tons of material for both investigation and wild speculation.

But lately I've noticed something else – priests are becoming main characters in fiction and it seems to be a device that can be either well-done (Ryne Douglas Pearson's Confessions) or pretty awful. I wrote awhile back about Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson/RussVan Alstyne mystery series. I only read one of them, the first one, and, while I basically liked them, I thought the Episcopal priest, Clare Fergusson was a priest in name only. Other than attending parish meetings she certainly showed no priestly thought-process or behavior, at least in the book I read. She acted like the typical supposedly-smart-but-behaving-stupidly heroine of all too many contemporary novels.

To be fair, there are some wonderful priest/heroes in novels. Probably my favorite is Father Emilio Sandoz in Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God. She does a fabulous job of creating a priest/linguist/scientist who is both an accomplished and sympathetic protagonist and whose spirituality is integral to his character development. But characters like Sandoz are rare.

Recently I purchased Ted Dekker's The Priest's Graveyard because it got tons of 5-star reviews on both Amazon and on Goodreads -- plus it has an awesome cover. Dekker is a popular writer and his fans have nothing but praise for him. I was encouraged by the lavish praise of this book and it started out great. I could hardly put it down. There are two stories told in alternating chapters. One about a heroin addicted prostitute who is rescued from the pimp who would have killed her by a mystery man and taken to a lavish but sterile retreat on the coast where she is pampered and cared for but kept as a virtual prisoner. The other is about a trained assassin who escaped from Bosnia to the United States and spends his time stalking and taking out (as mercifully as possible) rapists and other bad guys who hurt women. The story lines were gripping and I was completely sucked in.

Then the prostitute -- Renee -- finds herself alone in her lavish prison and realizes that her hero has been killed by his employer. She escapes from the men who come after her, takes up residence in a quiet little suite-hotel and sets out to kill the man who killed her rescuer/lover. This brings her in contact with "Danny", the assassin, (why, oh why do some authors insist on giving their killer/assassins cutsy diminutive names?) and we find out that not only is he a trained assassin, he is also a Catholic priest. Why is he priest? Because he thought it would make him feel better after what he saw in Bosnia. Period.

So, okay, I am hanging in with this, though my disenchantment is growing. Renee goes to Danny's house (he lives alone in the suburbs for some reason) and tries to persuade him to help her kill the Bad Guy (who was also a Catholic priest at one time but who left the priesthood -- none of this is explained, maybe it will be later but I'll never know) . As it turns out, the Bad Guy is already on Danny's hit list but he tries to talk her out of it anyway. I'm definitely disenchanted by this point but I'll stay with it just to give it a shot. Danny sends Renee home but he can't stop thinking about her -- recovering heroin addicts/prostitutes bent on revenge toward the man who murdered their lovers are so irresistible, aren't they? So what does Danny, the Catholic priest and trained Bosnian assassin do? He goes to her hotel room when she is not there, breaks into it, and snoops around. Except he gets so caught up in admiring her choice of clothes and vegetables that he loses track of time and when she unlocks the door he is forced to hide in the closet. Right.

This brings us to possibly the dumbest chapter I've ever read in a book. It is told in alternating paragraphs between the panic-stricken Renee, who comes into her apartment and instantly realizes someone is hiding inside, and the assassin/priest hiding in the closet. Where is he? Will she find me? Will he kill me? Will she find me? On and on. I have to tell you, I laughed out loud a couple times. Finally, the scene concludes when Renee flings open the closet door and finds the assassin/priest, flushed with embarrassment, trying to hide between her Walmart t-shirts. I didn't think I could take any more but I tried.

Renee is thrilled, flings her arms around him and now knows he will help her snuff out the Bad Guy. For his part, he can't believe how cute she is. So, as if all of this isn't sufficient humiliation for our assassin/priest, he takes her on a surreptitious mission to break into the Bad Guy's mansion. Once inside they are sneaking around when Renee discovers something that makes her go ballistic. What did she find? Instructions from Bad Guy to his head henchman to take out Renee's lover ON A POST-IT NOTE!!! The henchman overhears her carrying on and confronts them, gun in hand. I gave up. 

Okay, maybe the story itself is exciting but I totally lost respect for a trained assassin (priest or not) who would get caught hiding in a motel closet. How could I take him seriously after that? But even more annoying was the “priest” part. At the point in the story where I gave up, we don't know anything at all about Danny's spirituality. He is apparently connected to a parish because he is supposed to go to a meeting one day which he blows off to go snoop around Renee's room. But, while there is ample description of him doing the dishes, fixing his meals and day-dreaming about Renee, there is not one mention of his priestly obligations, like praying his daily Office, administering sacraments, or even praying. And for a priest he sure has a ton of time on his hands which he uses to hunt down bad guys. Most of the priests I know are so darn busy they are lucky if the get time to go to the bathroom.

Well, enough of this. I'm sure Ted Dekker will sell lots and lots of books and get lots of 5-star reviews. Good for him. And I'm sure there will be lots of other priest/gum shoes in contemporary novels. It seems to be the “in” profession. I'd just like a couple of them to actually act like priests – good priests, priests like the 90% we don't hear about in the news.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Saga of Lisa's Singer Featherweight

Sometimes you get the opportunity to do something for another person that makes you so happy you feel kind of guilty for even talking about it – but you have to because it's such a cool story. I've posted here about my sister Lisa's quilts. She is a fabulous quilter and seamstress and I have so many beautiful things that she has made. She belongs to a couple of different quilting groups. One gets together every Wednesday evening to sew and one group plans “quilt camps” a few times a year where they rent rooms in pretty country inns and everybody brings their sewing machines and their fabric and they spend the whole weekend sewing, quilting, eating and gabbing. Lisa loves these groups and I love it when she tells me stories about them.

A couple weeks ago she called me one evening and she just needed someone to talk to. She's going through a few of life's challenges – we all have them – and she needed to blow off a little steam. In the course of our conversation she mentioned that she had been saving extra money here and there to buy herself something she'd been wanting but now an unexpected expense had come up and she was going to have to start all over.

I asked her what she was saving for and she said, “Do you know what a Singer Featherweight is?”

“Sure,” I told her. “There's one I my living room under the end table.”

There was a long pause and the she said – with no small amount of disbelief, “You have a Singer Featherweight?”

Yes, I told her. I've had it for close to twenty years. I used it to piece a few quilt tops but I don't do much quilting and I prefer to use my Husqvarna for regular sewing. I said that I hadn't taken it out of its case in close to ten years and every time I banged my toe on it or had to move it to clean I thought about putting it out on the sidewalk with a “Free – Take It” sign on it. I thought she was going to faint.

Well, we discussed it a little longer and I had no idea they had become so popular and so coveted. I looked them up on eBay and they are going for anywhere from $300 on up. I was stunned. Lisa said, “Would you sell it to me?” Apparently they are particularly popular among women who attend these quilting and sewing groups because they are so small, portable and reliable. I told her I most certainly would NOT sell it to her but I'd be happy to give it to her.

So it took me a couple weeks to find the right box to fit it in but I bundled it up and called UPS and they came and got it and off it went to Coudersport, Pennsylvania. I think I was more excited about giving it to her than she was about getting it. She called me a few days later and was just about speechless. “It's in such good condition,” she said, “it's nicer than any of the ones the ladies in our group have. Where on earth did you get this?”

I told her about the old house I used to live in and, when the people who owned the house decided to sell it, we found it in a storage closet. Nobody there wanted it so they told me I could have it. I took it but hardly ever used it. There were some other things in the case – some 50 year old interfacing, a box of tools and accessories, and I added a stack of leftover quilting fabric I had no use for. Just listening to her raving about it made me so happy.

She called me again the other night and said she'd looked the serial number up online and it was made in 1947. She said, “It sews perfectly. Just imagine all the things that were made on this, baby clothes and aprons and patching kids' clothes. I just love it so much.”

I can't begin to tell you how happy it has made me to listen to her talk about it. And I'm even happier I didn't put it out on the street with a Free sign on it. Hearing her talk about it has made all those stubbed toes worthwhile.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Learning to Love Spiders

News from the Gloucester Garden Club:


If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then spiders are among man’s very best friends. So says Mass Audubon’s Chris Leahy, who will be giving a talk, Spiders! Learning to Love Them, at Sawyer Free Library on Thursday, October 27 at 7:00 pm. Spiders help control all sorts of nasty human foes, says Leahy, from disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes to voracious, crop-devouring hexapodies (six-legged insects) that literally want to eat our lunch.


“There are more than sixty species of spiders in New England and all but a very few are harmless,” Leahy says, “in fact, highly beneficial. Many are not only fascinating but quite beautiful.”


If you find this hard to believe, the sponsor of the event, the Gloucester Garden Club, invites you attend as Leahy, an author and recognized authority on birds and insects, describes our amazing arachnid neighbors in words and pictures. You’ll never want to step on a spider again. The event is open to the public (kids welcome) and free of charge. Refreshments provided.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Lovely Reviews for "Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter"!

I'm always thrilled when I get new reviews from readers so I decided to post two that were posted for my new novelette, Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter.


The first review comes from France and is from Mel Comley who is a talented writer whose work I appreciate so her praise is doubly appreciated.


5.0 out of 5 stars Great story-tellingOctober 23, 2011
This review is from: Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter (Kindle Edition)
I loved this story from beginning to end, and what an ending. Loved Layla's character, she certainly had to put up with a lot from her old man!

Great settings and an enchanting tale. Looking forward to reading more from this author.
***
The second one is from a reader on Goodreads where I offered the book to be reviewed:



4.0 out of 5 stars Great psychological novelette!October 17, 2011
By 
This review is from: Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter (Kindle Edition)
This is the first of Kathleen Valentine that I have read and what a great read! The book was given to me by the author to read and review and even though it is very short I enjoyed it. It immediately reminded me of The Shining but with a twist. I would love to see it fleshed out into a full novel and hear more about Layla's character and the backstory of Muriel, Fitz, Herc, and the Geezers. I always love a book set in New England. Not many books are set in Ohio, which is where I currently live, but I did live in the Boston area for a few years and its fun reading about places that I am familiar with. The north shores are a perfect setting for a story like this. I can't wait to dive into her other stories.
***
So, this is a nice beginning for a new adventure. The book has already made it into Amazon's Top Selling Ghost stories list so I'm thrilled by that too.


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

#SampleSunday: A Gift To My Beloved E-Readers

To celebrate the sale of my 2000th copy of The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic I've created an e-book that is a sampler of my other work. It is called Romance, Crime, Good Food: The Kathleen Valentine Sampler and it is FREE on Smashwords and Goodreads. I am trying to make it free from Amazon and B&N, too, but that takes longer. This little sampler offers 4 short stories, three chapters from three novels, two essays from my cookbook/memoir and eight traditional Pennsylvania Dutch recipes.


You can download your free copy at Smashwords in your choice of many formats and at  Goodreads in ePub. Currently it is 99 cents on Amazon and B&N -- I'll let you know when they make it free. But, seriously, the recipes alone are worth 99 cents. Inside of it you will find:
  • Flynnie and Babe (romantic short story)
  • Danse Avec Moi (romantic short story)
  • Home-made Pie & Sausage (crime/horror short story)
  • Mardi Gras Was Over (love/adventure short story)
  • the chapter from The Old Mermaid's Tale in which Clair meets Pio and Gary
  • the chapter from Each Angel Burns in which Maggie encounters Peter after 30 years
  • the Prologue from my soon-to-be-released novel Depraved Heart
  • two essays: Dandelion Salad and Tell Me a Story from Fry Bacon. Add Onions
  • eight yummy, traditional family recipes from Fry Bacon. Add Onions.

I hope you will enjoy them. Happy reading and Bon Apetit!


Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 21, 2011

For All Writers Discouraged by Their Critics

Take a look at these:


For any writer whose ever felt discouraged by an Amazon review: THE TEN BEST AMAZON REVIEWS:


1) "That's the biggest waste of 127 pages in the entire universe...The only other character is Manolin, a young boy. He also has no friends other than Santiago. This is because he is a little nerd." Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway


2) "It would have been a better book if Steinbeck had made it longer and put more effort into it. When you read his books you get the feeling that he started out with this great idea, and then got bored so he just finished the book real quick." Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck


3) "Walker is the worst writer ever to sell 100,000 copies. I mean it; she's worse than any crappy romance writer, any best-selling writer of thrillers, anybody." The Color Purple - Alice Walker


4) "It didn't catch my attention until the very end, when I knew I wouldn't have to read it anymore." Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier


5) "If you are really looking for reading this awful in your spare time, I would suggest a line-by-line read of the manual to a mainframe computer." Beloved - Toni Morrison


6) "I am sorry to see all the reviews mentioning this as required reading--the sorry state of education the world over, I guess." The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood


7) "Buy the book and burn it. Or lastly read it and ponder suicide. Its that bad!" Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - JK Rowling


8) "...it seems he forgot that he was writing a fiction story about 200 pages in and proceeded to bore the hell out of me with wale biology. It took me a year to pick it up and finish it." Moby Dick - Herman Melville


9) "It is not hyperbole to say that *I* could write better. If freestanding gerund phrases, missing apostrophes, and minimal character development are all it takes to win the Pulitzer Prize, then I weep for the future" of American Literature." The Road - Cormac McCarthy


10) "First of all, it seems the author couldn't decide what kind of book he or she (no author name or bio is provided) wanted to write. The end result of this indecision is a book that is part history, part poetry, part self-improvement manual, part science fiction, part children's fable, and so on." The Bible

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We interrupt this blog....

I am suffering through another bout of tendinitis in my right hand and typing is slow and painful.So I'm taking a few days off and will be back blogging when the inflammation and swelling go away.


Thanks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lest we forget how this mess began...


Nearly 10 Years Ago Today, The U.S. Began Borrowing Billions To Pay For The Bush Tax Cuts

As debates about deficit reduction continued to be heavily tilted toward cutting spending, which threatens to undermine a fragile recovery, rather than raising revenue from those who can afford it, it’s important to remember the budgetary impact of the Bush tax cuts.
Nearly 10 years ago today, on August 1, 2001, the Associated Press reported that the Treasury Department was tapping $51 billion of credit in order to pay for the budgetary cost of the first round of Bush tax cuts’ rebate checks. The AP reported at the time that Democratic Party opponents of the tax cuts worried that they’d return government budgets to “red ink“:
The opponents of the tax cut turned out to be right. The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts combined have blown a $2.5 trillion hole in America’s budget and created deficits stretching on for years.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Astonishing Gift -- from Hawaii

I wrote recently about re-discovering the work of the wonderful Hawaiian writer Kiana Davenport. In the 1990s I fell in love with her book Shark Dialogues and have recently read Cannibal Nights (which I will write more about later) and House of Skin. Yesterday I received an astonishing and humbling gift from her. She wrote a review of my novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, on Amazon. It is just thrilling to me:





5.0 out of 5 stars PASSIONATE, TRANSCENDENT! A GREAT NOVEL!October 15, 2011
By 
DAVE PORT (HONOLULU, HI.) - See all my reviews
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Kindle Edition)


If we are fortunate, sometimes a novel interrupts our lives with its grandeur, superlative writing, its memorable, heroic characters. THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE is such a book. Instantly intriguing, wildly imaginative and informative, it swept me into the Great Lakes region of the United States, bodies of water I had always thought of as mysterious, even mythical. With the Great Lakes as background, Kathleen Valentine has created a tale of Everywoman who has ever been drawn to the unknown, even the forbidden, in search of her destiny.


In the 1960's, Claire Wagner, from rural Ohio, enrolls in college in Western Pennsylvania on the shores of Lake Erie and as we follow her life-journey we forget her youth, as she is drawn into the dark, seedy edges of the waterfront town of Port Presque Isle, a seaman's town abounding in history, legends, dark secrets. As each year passes, Claire inevitably wanders from the safe academic path into the lives of the town's seafarers and their women - their passions and tragedies - in a way that will alter her life forever as she becomes part of their history, their lore.


It is in the minutely detailed and beautiful writing that the legends of the Great Lakes, their maritime history, comes stunningly alive. And in that same way the characters come alive, rich and vivid, each offering their personal epic so that they become memorable, and resonate long after the novel ends. People move in and out of Claire's life, each on their own existential errand, but it is Pio, the handsome seaman who first awakens her to sexual passion, and Baptiste, the magnificent, heartbreaking Breton, who will guide her, transform her and become the enduring love of her life. These are seafarers whose lives have been defined by the cruel obliquities of mighty lakes and oceans, and in that sense they represent Man, his human fragility against the forces of Nature. On a second reading of this novel, I saw them in a broader, Biblical sense and the book took on a new depth of meaning.


Some readers might call this an historical-romance novel. But for me, THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE transcends mere genre. It is writing on a epic scale, addressing tales of grand proportions -life, death, joy, sorrow, love, and always the quest for the meaning of existence. And it is accomplished with superbly-crafted writing, a joyous and lavish exuberance of descriptions, an appreciation of folk music and classical music, and of languages. There is so much to love here.


Let me also applaud indelible scenes of poetry that summon up the senses. The intoxicating smell and stickiness and crimson stains on a mother's fingers as she pits bowls of cherries. The rhapsodic sounds and smells and flavours of a homemade Italian dinner. And the visual beauty of that Italian family. The rusty, mildewed smell of old seamen, and the briny, ancient odors of their taverns. The smell of unwashed women, and of loneliness. And the blinding and near-deafening of a massive ice-storm, that leaves the town as if buried under shattered glass, "a world encrusted in diamonds." And, most memorable, the sensuous tastes and textures and scents of Baptiste's body as Claire maps his wondrous geography.


Near the end of the novel, a characters asks, "How can we know if what we remember is truly ours to remember and not some fragment that has claimed us? Even in the face of what seems real, to whose version of reality is it bound?" This, too is poetry, a philosophical musing not meant to be answered, only posed. For such questions give the reader pause, and add to our depth as thinking humans.


At the end of THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE I bowed my head in wonder at what Kathleen Valentine has accomplished, a novel that is a treasure-house of the Great Lakes maritime history and lore. But more importantly, a magnificent story of obsession and redemption, of finding one's destiny, then finding one's way home. Here is an old-fashioned story that transports us and educates us as epic novels do, a story that reminds us of the power of unconditional love, and of the miracle and brevity of our human existence.


I want to reiterate what another reviewer has said: 'THE OLD MERMAID'S TALE raises the bar for those publishing independently. It casts adrift the myth that indie-published novels are inferior to novels published traditionally.' Amen. This is a great novel. Like great novels, it engaged all my emotions, and I wept at the end. I feel privileged to have read it. Thank you, Kathleen Valentine


Kiana Davenport, author of CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II 


I appreciate her words so much and I cannot wait to read her other novels. There is nothing quite so thrilling and also humbling for a writer than support for our work -- especially from one of our literary goddesses.


Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

#SampleSunday: A New Story "Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter"

In time for Halloween I'm excited to announce my very first ghost story: Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. This romantic, atmospheric tale has an ending I bet you won't see coming. It was just released and is already an Amazon Top 100 Seller!


I think it is going to be even more tantalizing than The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic, which has been in Amazon's Top 10 Horror & Psychological Horror categories for three weeks now. Let me know what you think:


Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter
          They're getting the ferris wheel ready for winter today. I've been standing by the sink watching out the window as a gang of men with enormous arms unbolt the carriages and stack them on the flatbed of a truck to take away for storage. The wheel itself will stay in place until Spring looking like a giant skeleton against the gray sky.
          “We're running low on gin and bourbon,” Joel calls from behind the bar.
          “What?”
          He pushes through the swinging doors and frowns at me. “Gin and bourbon, put them on your list and I'll make a run to Stateline Liquor for more. What are you looking at?”
          I nod toward the window. “They're taking all the seats off of the ferris wheel. It looks naked.”
          He peers over my shoulder as two roustabouts with arms the size of hams hoist another carriage onto the truck.
          “They have to,” Joel says, “if they leave them up and we get a bad storm this winter they could do a lot of damage.”
          “I know.” I lower my eyes and continue unloading beer mugs, Pilsner glasses, rock glasses – all kinds of glasses – from the dishwasher. They are scorching hot and my fingers burn as I touch them. “How are we ever going to get through this?”
          Joel takes a deep breath. “Come on, Layla. How many times have we discussed this? It's only for a few months so I can work on my book. You hated living at St. Basil's. I thought you'd like being somewhere quiet and ...”
          He pauses but I know what he is thinking. He is thinking “someplace like where you're used to,” meaning in a bar among people who are the polar opposite of the faculty and their spouses at St. Basil's Preparatory Academy where Joel teaches literature and composition. When I met Joel he was a horny egghead just past thirty and pathetically ignorant of women like me. I wasn't far from thirty myself but I looked ten years younger, which was a good thing. Working in a casino takes its toll on a woman. I knew my looks were getting harder and harder to maintain. The only reason a guy like Joel was even in a place like Mohegan Sun, where I waitressed, was because his cousin was getting married and all the guys had taken him there for a final fling before tying the knot.
          “... low key,” he concludes. He puts his arms around me and turns me to face him. “Stop worrying, Layla, it'll be fun. Just the two of us. No faculty parties. No high teas. No volunteer projects that drive you crazy.” He nuzzles my neck. “Just the two of us and the Geezers, what could be more romantic?”
          The Geezers are a bunch of local guys who hang out at the pub that we – mostly I – will keep open all winter. Halcyon Beach, probably the most ironically named beach town in the world, is a popular tourist spot for people who like a lot of noise and kitsch and who have a strong sense of nostalgia. During the summer it is loud, bright and busy twenty-four hours a day. By the end of September all the tourists leave and most of the business owners board up their ice cream stands, arcades, souvenir shops, and cocktail lounges and head south for the winter. The families who pack themselves into the little bungalows behind the dunes shutter their windows and lock their doors unless they have managed to find a winter renter. Mostly artists and itinerants, the renters are willing to put up with the drafty windows and poor insulation in exchange for cheap rent and proximity to three sandy miles of beach on the other side of the dunes.
          A few of the locals stay around though, which is why the owner of the Snuggle Inn and Pub, where Joel and I will spend our winter, keeps it open. Halcyon Beach is just a few minutes off of Route 95 North in an area where motels rooms are scarce in the off-season and the owner, who also happens to be Joel's Great-uncle Fitz, never one to pass up the opportunity to make a nickle, has kept the place open through the winter both for the locals looking for a place to get a meal and some company, and for the random travelers in need of food and rest. Which is how I got stuck with this job.__________________


Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How I Learned To Stop Being a Snot and Love e-Books.

About a year ago I thought that digital books were sort of silly. I didn't own an e-reader and, though I had downloaded Amazon's Kindle for PC in order to read a few e-books that were not available in paper, I had a snotty attitude about them and stomped around grumbling about people who didn't have "real" books. I said all the usual things that snotty people like me say: “Oh, I could never give up my books! I love the smell of a new book, I love the feel of a new book! I can't imagine not having 'real' books!” Gad.

Then I read an article about the environmental advantages of using e-readers instead of dead-tree books. The production of 1 e-reader is the environmental equivalent of producing 40 books. But 1 e-reader can hold as many as 3000 books and more than that if you delete your books when you are done reading them. Plus it saves an untold amount of environmental impact because cases and cases of books do not have to be packed and shipped and carted around to bookstores. Whispersyncing (that's what Amazon calls their delivery system) is instant, silent and has virtually no environmental impact. Plus e-books are never “remaindered”.

Then a few things started to change -- I read two exceptionally good books that were only available in e-format: Maureen Gill's January Moon and Ryne Douglas Pearson's Confessions and I got a royalty check for the 2 books I had in e-format. I decided I needed to wise up. I read up on how to format my books for Kindle, Nook, and ePub and uploaded all my books to all the major e-sites.

At first results were slow but every month there was a lovely little check and before long that check (actually, it's a direct deposit) was larger than the royalty from my print book publisher. Then in July I published, in e-format only, a novelette called The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic. It was a fun story to write which grew out of an article I had read in the Marblehead Reporter many years ago. In July it sold about 20 books which wasn't much because my royalty on it is only $.35 but there were other book sales, too.

By August all my books had picked up a little steam and it was kind of fun to see the states soar past the stats for my print books. Then September came and WHOOSH! The Crazy Old Lady took the lead and zoomed out in front of all my other book sales. By the end of the September I'd sold a little over 1,000 books and The Crazy Old Lady accounted for ¾ of the figure. Even though I still only get $.35, the other books have royalties from $2.10 to $5.50 so things were kind of impressive.

October started out even better. The Crazy Old Lady kept right on climbing and she dragged the other books along with her. Sales passed 1000 yesterday and are still climbing – and the month isn't half over!

Plus the big thing is The Crazy Old Lady climbed into Amazon's Top Ten Sellers in both Horror and Psychological Thriller and stayed there for a couple of weeks.

The e-book business is very, very, very competitive and it takes awhile to catch on to all the tricks of the trade but, so far, I am thrilled by the way things are going and so I am presenting the new cover for TheCrazy Old Lady In The Attic:

She worked hard for it, she deserves it. Of course, success is fragile and always fleeting but it is exciting. I know my seller ranking with slip and fluctuate on a daily basis but, having once made it into the Top Ten, my Crazy Old Lady has bragging rights.

And I'm encouraged to keep writing.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Do You Tell A Ghost Story?

When I was a kid I loved ghost stories. In fact I was kind of famous in outr neighborhood for telling scary stories. There were favorites like The Golden Arm and “It Floats” but sometimes I just made up stories and I still remember the joy of sitting on our front porch at just-about-dark with a mixture of younger siblings and neighbors, spinning tales. I've always been a story teller. My very favorite picture of myself was taken by my sister Lisa in my mother's kitchen. I am telling a story to my niece Alicia and my nephew Cal. I love the looks on their faces – Cal, totally fascinated, and Alicia, totally delighted. It's good to tell stories.

My Grandmother Werner had some good ghost stories that were in her family. Most of them had to do with the Black Forest back in Bavaria and I told a couple of them in my cookbook/memoir about growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. I also wrote a sort of paranormal/love story based on a true story. It is called Sailor's Valentine and is included in my love, murder, etc. collection. But when you set about to tell a tale for grownups about a ghost it is quite another challenge.

I've had this story brewing in the back of my brain for several years now and, because I so much enjoyed writing The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic, I decided to try writing another novelette. I started it back in July and my goal was to get it polished up and available for Halloween. Actually, I should say that I wrote a different version of the story some years ago and called it Michelle Pfeiffer's Evil Twin but I never did anything with it. I liked it though because it had a sort of mysterious quality to it. So I decided to rework it and see what happened.

The thing about writing about a ghost is that you never know how much you can afford to risk. How do humans interact with ghosts and what will readers accept or reject. The answer, of course, is you can get away with almost anything if you set it up correctly. One of my very favorite movies of all time is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I mean, Rex Harrison... what more is there to say???

So, when I set out to write my ghost story I had all these ideas in my head. I wanted it a little sexy and romantic like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but I also wanted it pretty scary. And the one thing I learned from telling ghost stories on the front porch all those years ago is that ghost stories are best when there's a shock at the end.





About 20 years ago I was driving back home on a cold November afternoon from a trip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I stopped in Salisbury Beach to get some coffee but there was hardly anything open. I had never been there and was amazed at the dark, creepy atmosphere of a town known for its amusement parks and arcades and entertainments in the depth of off-season. I was in a little coffee shop/gas station/convenience store when I overheard three old guys sitting at the lunch counter talking. One of them had recently sold an ice cream shop in town and had moved to Florida but hated it and turned around and came back. The other guys were giving him a hard time about that and that scene stayed in my head. So when I started writing – or re-writing – my story, I decided to build on that memory.

So I wrote my ghost story which grew out of my love of scary stories as a child, and my memories of a ghostly experience of my own, and the allure of Capt. Daniel Gregg, and some stories told by old men in a dark afternoon in a beach town. The result is Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. It is now available for Kindle or Nook and the people who have read it so far said the ending took them completely by surprise. I love that.

So, if you want a Halloween treat with a few chills (I hope), give it a try. I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Re-Reading To Kill A Mockingbird

In high school To Kill A Mockingbird was required reading and I read it. I liked it and sort of fell a little bit in love with Atticus. Recently a book group I belong to decided to do a group read of it so I thought it was high time I read it again. I did and I loved it – and I fell a whole lot in love with Atticus. Nice to know I had some good taste as a kid. But more than all that, this time I really appreciated it – especially because of the times we live in now.

First of all, I have to say to Harper Lee that this is a gorgeously crafted, skillful work and, the author in me wonders what on earth it must have been like to create ones first work and know it would be damn near impossible to do anything as superb again. I think I would have quit writing, too.

Because the book is told from the point of view of a young girl there is an innocence and naivete that has as much to do with the age of the child as it does with the period of time and the location. The Deep South during the Great Depression has never been more skillfully and carefully described. The book is jam-packed with characters who are so believable that even if you didn't live in the Deep South during the Great Depression, you know them. You know Heck Tate, the decent sheriff, and Miss Maudie, with her cakes and her flowers, and all the neighbors and townspeople and country folk. As I was reading I thought that there was not a wasted word in any sentence – every word was as necessary as the brush strokes in a detailed painting. I loved the voices and manners of speaking and that you could tell so much about a character just by the words they used and the way they talked.


Of course the heart of the story is the trial of Tom Robbins, a young, strong, virile black man accused of rape by an ignorant white trash girl and her vile, despicable father. There are hints of family incest and abuse but the simple truth is a black man – no matter how honorable – does not stand a chance against an accusation by a white woman – no matter how low.

I was struck again by the contrast between the townspeople and the country folk in the story. The townspeople lived proscribed, mannered lives and just hoped nothing bad would happen. The country folks were bitter, angry, steeped in resentment and also in terrible poverty. I guess I missed it when I read it the first time that it was no accident that Atticus was chosen to represent Tom. The judge knew Tom was innocent and that the Ewells were trash but he also knew that wasn't going to matter. Appointing Atticus to defend Tom probably wouldn't change the outcome of the verdict but it would most definitely change what everyone would believe despite the impending injustice.


And, of course, there is Atticus – the good lawyer, good father, good citizen and good man. The thing that struck me on this reading was the great, great dignity that was the core of his character, the kind of dignity that all too many people do not even begin to understand. Atticus Finch brings dignity to every scene whether it is helping a neighbor whose house is burning down, shooting a rabid dog, guarding a man he knows to be in danger from a lynch mob, or cuddling his little daughter on his lap and explaining the complications of the world to her.

Throughout my life I've known people like that and what I am always struck by is how their dignity and decentness is so difficult for other people to grasp. There will always be people whose only way to relate to those with dignity and decency is to try to “cut them down to size”, undermine and belittle because the simple truth is a person like Atticus Finch is not dignified and decent and intelligent for any particular purpose, they are that way because that is simply who they are. It is how they are made and it intimidates the hell out of people who aren't like that.

In this time of rampant economic problems, covert racism and bigotry, and raging emotions, the Atticuses among us are a threat – just like defending the innocent Tom was a threat to the fragile civility of the townspeople, so trying to seek justice to a population that is being diminished into servitude by 1% of the populace is a threat to those who don't want to believe our freedom is anything but free.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a great, great book – and more relevant now than ever.

Thanks for reading.  

Sunday, October 09, 2011

"Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter" is LIVE!

When I was a kid I adored ghost stories but as an adult writer I never attempted one -- until now. In time for Halloween "Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter" is available for Kindle and will be available for other devices within the week. I really loved writing this story. The setting alone was fun to write and, well, I'll leave it to readers to decide whether they like it. Happy reading and "BOOOOOOOO!!!!"
Novelette (20k words) Psychological horror / suspense / ghost story – When Layla's professor husband has an opportunity to spend the winter at an old motel in a seaside amusement park resort, she reluctantly agrees to run the pub attached to it while he works on his book. The arcades, food stands, souvenir shops and tattoo parlors are boarded over for the winter but the bungalows tucked in the dunes are occupied by artists and transients looking for cheap rentals. She faces a long, cold, lonely winter but a bunch of old guys she calls The Geezers soon begin regaling her with stories about the “old days” and about an ill-fated romance between the beautiful wife of a Boston mob boss and The Great Hercules, a sideshow strongman. She is also increasingly fascinated by an elusive roustabout who flirts with her and shows her the secret spaces in an old beachfront ballroom. As winter gets darker and deeper Layla's husband is both struggling with his writing and becoming suspicious of her behavior. What Layla doesn't know is that nothing is what it seems and her options are growing fewer every day.


Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter

They're getting the ferris wheel ready for winter today. I've been standing by the sink watching out the window as a gang of men with enormous arms unbolt the carriages and stack them on the flatbed of a truck to take away for storage. The wheel itself will stay in place until Spring looking like a giant skeleton against the gray sky.
“We're running low on gin and bourbon,” Joel calls from behind the bar.
“What?”
He pushes through the swinging doors and frowns at me. “Gin and bourbon, put them on your list and I'll make a run to Stateline Liquor for more. What are you looking at?”
I nod toward the window. “They're taking all the seats off of the ferris wheel. It looks naked.”
He peers over my shoulder as two roustabouts with biceps the size of Sunday dinner hams hoist another carriage onto the truck.
“They have to,” Joel says, “if they leave them up and we get a bad storm they could do a lot of damage.”
“I know.” I lower my eyes and continue unloading beer mugs, Pilsner glasses, rock glasses – all kinds of glasses – from the dishwasher. They are scorching hot and my fingers burn as I touch them. 
“How are we ever going to get through this?”
Joel takes a deep breath. “Come on, Layla. How many times have we discussed this? It's only for a few months so I can work on my book. You hated living at St. Basil's. I thought you'd like being somewhere quiet and ...”
He pauses but I know what he is thinking. He is thinking “someplace like what you're used to”-- meaning in a bar among people who are the polar opposite of the faculty and their spouses at St. Basil's Preparatory Academy where Joel teaches literature and composition. When I met Joel he was a horny egghead just past thirty and pathetically ignorant of women like me. I wasn't far from thirty myself but I looked lots younger, which was a good thing. Working in a casino takes its toll on a woman. I knew my looks were getting harder and harder to maintain. The only reason a guy like Joel was even in a place like Mohegan Sun, where I waitressed, was because his cousin was getting married and all the guys had taken him there for a final fling before tying the knot.
“... low key,” he concludes. He puts his arms around me and turns me to face him. “Stop worrying, Layla, it'll be fun. Just the two of us. No faculty parties. No high teas. No volunteer projects that drive you crazy.” He nuzzles my neck. “Just the two of us and the Geezers, what could be more romantic?”
The Geezers are a bunch of local guys who hang out at the pub that we – mostly I – will keep open all winter. 
Halcyon Beach, probably the most ironically named beach town in the world, is a popular tourist spot for people who like a lot of noise and kitsch and who have a strong sense of nostalgia. During the summer it is loud, bright and busy twenty-four hours a day. But by the end of September all the tourists leave and most of the business owners board up their ice cream stands, arcades, souvenir shops, and cocktail lounges and head south for the winter. The families who packed themselves into the little bungalows behind the dunes shutter their windows and lock their doors unless they've managed to find a winter renter. Mostly artists and itinerants, the renters are willing to put up with the drafty windows and poor insulation in exchange for cheap rent and proximity to three sandy miles of beach on the other side of the dunes.
A few of the locals stay around though, which is why the owner of the Snuggle Inn and Pub, where Joel and I will spend our winter, keeps it open. Halcyon Beach is just a few minutes off of Route 95 North in an area where motel rooms are scarce in the off-season and the owner, who also happens to be Joel's Great-uncle Fitz, never one to pass up the opportunity to make a nickle, has kept the place open through the winter both for the locals looking for a place to get a meal and some company, and for the random travelers in need of food and rest. Which is how I got stuck with this job. Read the rest....

Share It