Five-legged frogs, pregnant fifty-year-olds, and centenarians on longevity drugs, plus a murder or two—January 14, 2015
Haven’t a clue how the odd blog post caption appeared.
What I thought I wrote was:
“Where do ideas for our stories come from? –and a chance to win a free book!”
If you can figure out what happened, let me know! :-)
Where do story ideas come from?
Out of the air?
Reports in the media?
Maybe all of the above, but, for me, ideas begin with a location in Arkansas that I have visited, enjoyed, and seen value in. In that I am very fortunate, because my own novels allow me to re-visit wonderful places whether or not I can make an actual trip there at the time. Right now, for example, our country home and acres in the Ozarks that we named Spring Hollow over thirty years ago is for sale, and we will be moving to a city condo when it sells. But, in my writing, I have given myself and others Spring Hollow, in both fiction and non-fiction. My non-fiction book, DEAR EARTH, is set entirely at Spring Hollow as it really is. My major characters in my mystery series (seven books “To Die For” and counting,) actually live in a place I named “Blackberry Hollow” but yes, it really IS Spring Hollow. So, I will never fully leave Spring Hollow.
All novels, of course, also feature a visit to a specific “full-of-history and interest” place in Arkansas. Such was the case for my most recent novel, A FAIR TO DIE FOR, set largely at the War Eagle Craft Fair held each October in Northwest Arkansas. (Up to 200,000 visitors during the four days of the fair.) Yes, husband and I have visited the fair many times, and purchases made there have added convenience and beauty to our home. But a mystery set there?
Well, why not? I love creating mystery stories, so how about a craft fair setting, and, while I’m at it, why not include other features of interest located near the War Eagle Fair grounds as additional plot settings? So, of course, I did just that.
Happily, my publisher, Oak Tree Press is sponsoring a give-away of ten free print copies of A FAIR TO DIE FOR on Goodreads between now and midnight, Sept. 30, 2014. You can enter to win at:
I invite you to join me at special places in Arkansas,
Radine, at http://www.RadinesBooks.com
Are you familiar with the Mystery Readers Journal magazine? It’s dedicated to all people interested in reading stories and articles related to the broad field of mystery fiction, and, in each issue, features one topic from that field. For example — the recent issue featured “Mysteries in Transit,” and, since that fit right in with my novel, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, I submitted an article. The article was accepted and, with permission, is reproduced here. For more information, go to
WHAT IS IT ABOUT A CHOO-CHOO TRAIN?
Whether you’re eight or eighty, isn’t there something about a train that causes a touch of excitement? These days few have opportunities to ride historic trains, but still, hear “whoooah-woo” and “choo-choo-choo,” and imagination can go crazy. (Need I explain why Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular mystery novels?)
My own elaborate train adventures began when six adults (parents, grandparents, great aunt and uncle) decided the time had come for one seven-year-0ld to experience a ride on a real train. Access to such a train was easy. Near the aunt and uncle’s home in Northwest Arkansas, the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad’s restored 1920’s passenger excursion train makes regular weekly and special-event round-trips from Springdale to Van Buren, AR during most of the year.
Tickets were purchased, and excited adults, accompanied by one rather “ho-hum” little girl, spent a Saturday riding the rails, and exploring the historic Arkansas town of Van Buren during the train’s four-hour lay-over. Six of us had a terrific time. The seventh had her hand-held whatever.
Wild imagination takes over.
The aunt in this story, name of Radine, is a mystery author with a series of published novels set at Arkansas tourist treats. Novel number five in the series, A River to Die For, (want to experience thrills at Buffalo National River?) was ready to achieve publication at the time. What next? Well now, how about a story featuring the excursion train? It would be–um–ah–a–Journey to Die For.
Yes! The train staff welcomes me and my novel idea being born. For the second time I board the A&M Train and settle into a green plush seat to observe, absorb, and take notes.
So, what if? That’s how must novels start.
Imagine this: On-going series’ main characters are riding the train as a special anniversary treat for the woman, Carrie McCrite. Husband, Henry King, who’s gift it is, accompanies her, and Journey to Die For begins its opening scene.
Two men, looking somewhat alike, but acting as strangers, sit in front of them on the train, attracting Carrie’s attention throughout the ride, though Henry reminds her several times this is none of her business. He fears her tendency to get involved in others’ complicated lives and problems will, once more, cause trouble and spoil his anniversary gift.
“Van Buren, Arkansas,” the conductor says. “Everyone enjoy the town, and be back here in the train station by 2:00 for the return trip.”
Van Buren was founded in 1809 (as Phillips’ Landing) to sell wood to steamboats on the Arkansas River. Today, unusual details along Van Buren’s vibrantly restored Main Street entertain the reader and Carrie as she browses jewelry and antiques shops, seeing some surprising items for sale. She eventually buys a lovely blue-green pendant that matches her eyes (Henry says) and looks like an emerald–but of course can’t be for the small price asked. Meanwhile, Henry has been sitting on a sidewalk bench, people-watching. When the two of them walk down Main Street to the bank of the Arkansas River (“Looks as wide as the Mississippi at Memphis,” Carrie says), a heap of wet rags seen from a park sidewalk is, at a closer look, a dead body. Is it one of the men from the train?
Henry, a retired Kansas City Police Major, is asked by the Van Buren Police Chief to help with research into the life of the murdered man. The man’s home was in Kansas City, and Carrie and Henry have already planned a trip there to visit Henry’s daughter and her family. Henry doesn’t want to be involved in the investigation, afraid secrets from his past will be uncovered. Carrie, knowing nothing about this, is “rarin’ to go” to help the chief. She prevails.
One of Kansas City’s tourist attractions is a transportation museum and, while visiting there, Carrie and Henry discover a link to the Van Buren murder. Henry’s friends in the Kansas City Police Department get involved when Carrie is attacked. The couple is then moved from their motel to a safe house while crime research continues.
(Isn’t this fun?)
Eventually, after a fire scare at the safe house and other dangers, we move from trains to steamboats. Treasures that could have come from boats sunk during the Civil War have begun appearing in Van Buren shops. And the “emerald?” Someone sure is eager to get it back.
In the exciting (!) climax, there’s a gun battle in a shop full of china and crystal. Oh, was that fun to imagine. Well, fun for the most part since three people–the good and the evil–do get in the way of gunfire and falling shelves of glassware. But isn’t that all in a day’s work for amateur detectives who will try to solve other people’s problems?
And, for now, that’s all folks!
I haven’t been on a vacation since my first mystery novel (A VALLEY TO DIE FOR) was published in 2002.
Until that year, husband John and I went on yearly vacations in August. The gift/decorating/antique shop where I worked closed for three weeks in August to have cleaning and painting done, and so I could take a vacation. Since it was August and we were camping–sleeping in the back of our van–we went north for comfort. We love the ocean, so most frequently headed for a northern coast in the United States or Canada, though we saw quite a bit of the Great Lakes and central Canada as well. I have wonderful memories of all those vacations.
However, by the time my second novel, MUSIC TO DIE FOR (Ozark Folk Center State Park), had appeared, vacations turned into book research/and/or book promotion trips. In some ways, these were mini-vacations as well. Conferences and conventions? We have seen Austin, TX at a Bouchercon Writers’ Conference, and El Paso at Left Coast Crime. We fell in love with Omaha over and over during repeated visits to Mayhem in the Midlands, and enjoyed visiting the Washington DC area after a long trip by car to attend Malice Domestic. We have seen some of Indiana and Tennessee, several additional locations in Texas, plus Missouri and Kansas and, of course, Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Which brings me to another type of “vacation.” Book research trips. Since I site my novels at tourist destinations in the Arkansas Ozarks, most of my research is done on day trips. One of the more distant exceptions is A TREASURE TO DIE FOR, set in Hot Springs National Park. That required one two-week vacation stay, and two additional overnight trips. This was all the fault of my major characters, Carrie McCrite and Henry King. Carrie wanted to attend what was then called an Elderhostel, sited in Hot Springs. (As did her creator, Radine. What a happy coincidence.)
John and I enrolled in the chosen Elderhostel. Carrie, wanting to lure Henry into attending with her, followed friend Elinor Stack’s advice, and made a meatloaf, since (Elinor assured her) feeding a man meatloaf and oven potatoes was guaranteed to make him say yes to most anything. However, Carrie is no cook, and her road to meatloaf is covered, I hope humorously, in that novel. The eventual result did the trick, and Henry agreed to go along. ( He may have had regrets later because he ended up in more pain and more danger than even Carrie, though she had trouble enough on her own.) At the end of the novel, moved by many exterior and interior hazards lived through, he finally asks Carrie to marry him.
Which takes us to A WEDDING TO DIE FOR (The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs, AR), A RIVER TO DIE FOR (Buffalo National River), JOURNEY TO DIE FOR (A&M RR Passenger Excursion Train ride to historic Van Buren, AR), and A FAIR TO DIE FOR (War Eagle Craft fairs and Hobbs State Park).
Coming next year, A GARDEN TO DIE FOR. Now that doesn’t require a long trip at all.
Radine, at http://www.RadinesBooks.com
I have many reasons to be grateful, even in the middle of current chaos in my life (most of it related to a planned move from country to city), not to mention in the world — seems like problems are looming all around. So, it’s time for me to think of the good in my life. Darkness can not and should not prevail!
Major on my list is gratitude stemming from strong belief in and practice of my Christian religion.
However, as a writer, I am thinking today of thankfulness related to that profession.
1. I’m grateful for a mother who read to me from books and made up original little stories for me before I could read on my own. Later she took me on the bus (our family’s one car was used by my father only) to a library in Tulsa where I could check out stacks of books every week.
2. I’m grateful for teachers in all my schools who encouraged me as a writer.
3. Grateful for early writing contacts in Tulsa, Oklahoma through Tulsa Nightwriters, and for their meetings with speakers on so many writing-related topics based on inspiration or craft.
4. Grateful to Peggy Fielding, TNW member who taught adult writing classes at what was then Tulsa Junior College. I think I took every single one of her scheduled classes on topics from writing for confession magazine to submitting a literary novel to publishers. All classes had invaluable ideas and advice on the business of writing. Other benefits were making connections with other aspiring authors in the classes, plus enjoying Peggy’s encouragement and humor–a terrific boost. (A favorite example of Peggy’s humor was seeing her act out the role of “Ms Poo-Poo.” the editor at an unnamed publishing company who would be looking at our submissions. We also learned about the mail room attendant who collected stamps, therefore saw to it that our submissions with carefully selected unique stamps, got to Ms. Poo-Poo’s desk on top of the stack!)
5. I’m grateful for the editors and publishers who eventually bought each of my books, and for the sources that helped me connect to them.
6. Grateful to the bookstores and many other venues who host programs and signings for me.
7. Grateful for advice, criticism, and, yes, praise from countless people.
8. Grateful for conferences and conventions designed for writers and all who plan and host them. Wonderful experiences. I wish I could attend them all. They are great help in a writing career and I can’t even begin to be grateful enough for friendships made there.
9. Grateful for my critique group, Spavinaw Authors Guild, which has been a huge help in giving me a potential reader’s viewpoint about my novels, and in correcting speed bumps and grammar problems in my work.
10. Grateful for you, and you, and you, and all friends met online. This is a huge interest field with so many participants, both readers and writers, isn’t it.
I could continue, but you get the idea. I have so much to be grateful for today!
Join me in gratitude for something in your life today!
Radine at http://www.RadinesBooks.com
This is a hard one, at least for me. Problems with time and with all sorts of “other” demanding my concentration right now led to this blog.
Of course writing is the biggest priority, and my much-loved occupation. Without doing the writing, I have nothing to sell. And, truth be told, I believe most all authors do enjoy the writing part. (Most of the time.) I sure do.
But, of course, any published author needs to spend a LOT of time as a salesperson as well as a writer. I am familiar with this type of work because I worked in retail sales for thirty years, and enjoyed meeting the public face-to-face. But that was before the Internet.
Different times now. Much of our work presenting and promoting our published writing is on the Internet. Of course we promote in many other ways, arranging appearances and signings, connecting with media, attending conferences and conventions, and much more, but, for me at least, the need to promote on the Internet is the most difficult.That’s partly because I’ve never taken the time or given the concentration to figuring out how it all works. I know the basics, but am still not at ease holding a little screen and communicating with the world! ( I promise I’ll work on it this summer. )
Okay. Writing, promoting, and a bit of housework and personal stuff make a full-time job for many, and a real trial for those with full-time day jobs as well. Proves all active authors must love writing. Right?
We adjust schedules, make routines, and we manage.
But, what if something more intrudes? A needy parent, a sick child, or, in my case right now, a planned move from a three-story homestead on twenty-three acres in the Ozarks to a five-room condominium in a city an hour’s drive away. Not as needy an event as helping a parent, child, or other relative, but still a source for some degree of stress, and a turning away from writing for a time.
One reason for the planned move actually is my writing career. I have let our gardens and surrounding area languish untended while I wrote and promoted. My husband, my wonderful helper, is in the same boat, since taking care of the business end of my writing activity and getting me out of occasional mess-ups on my computer demand a lot of his time, too. We simply don’t have time for the work Spring Hollow in the Ozarks demands to function well. Therefore, a move to simpler accommodations was indicated.
And, that means priorities right now have little to do with writing. I am working with carpenters, painters, and electricians preparing the condo for John and me, and also planning for a bit of painting and fix-up here at Spring Hollow. Questions must be answered, plans looked at, measurements taken, shopping done, plus new utilities and other connections arranged for.
My once daily writing schedule is dead in the water though I had begun another novel in my “To Die For” series. I promise myself — and readers who are asking — as soon as we are moved and this house sells, I’ll go back to A GARDEN TO DIE FOR.
In the meantime, that story gurgles only in the background of my thoughts while home and move demand my attention. I have discovered I am not good at some types of mental multi-tasking.
Do any of you understand this? How do priorities work for you? I don’t love writing less, but, still . . . .
WHAT? I’m not a loner? But . . . .
Many here know the story of a grade school Radine who hid in her closet to read while her mother entertained friends at her 8th Birthday party. (Mom, when she found me, insisted I join the party.)
My disinclination to enjoy large group events has persisted through the years–even in high sch0ol and college where a date to a party or dance with one nifty guy (and of course there were several of those over a number of years) did not constitute interacting on a loud level with a raucous group outside my personal sphere.
It isn’t that I don’t like people. I am just content, most of the time, to enjoy very small groups, the companionship of my husband, or my own company. Anti-social? I don’t know, it’s okay if you call it that.
However, I do know this, that the Internet has changed interpersonal connections just as it has changed so much else in the writing world.
I wrote for magazines and the news for a number of years before I settled down to write and sell my first book. After that, even before the Internet, publicity needs did dictate I do public signings and programs. Okay, I was focused on my special interest, talking about that, and relatively comfortable in my slot.
By the time my mystery series featuring amateur detectives Carrie McCrite and Henry King was making its way, one book at a time, into the public, the Internet was beginning to be a factor in publicity. But, still interested mostly in personal appearances and hampered by slow rural Internet connection, I was similarly slow to adopt extensive Internet publicity. For an additional time I remained largely safe in my private world.
And now? As much as anyone, I depend on Internet connection to the “outside” world of writers and readers. This is only partly for publicity purposes.
There are a number of lists and groups connecting mystery fans on the Internet, plus many other groups with members involved in writing everything from enlightened poetry to–porn. We are a truly varied profession. Along the way I have discovered it is very difficult to even think of pursuing my career without these multiple connections to people I will probably never meet face-to-face. (Hm, maybe this is rather like hiding in my closet?)
Via these connections and through reading online lists of comments, I learn what is going on in the writing profession: Who read and commented on this book or the other; what list or group or firm made decisions possibly detrimental or beneficial to publishers, bookstores, writers and/or readers; how other authors are promoting; what conventions and conferences are coming up–and on and on. All the information I read keeps me connected to my profession and its news.
We need the information pouring into our computers to help us make informed decisions about our work as authors and the next steps in our careers. Therefore, like it or not, we must pay attention to our larger group and our world. We are, and must be, joiners and participants and learners. We need connections.
Are you a loner? What do you think?
Responses to my ongoing series about what I see as benefits for the fiction author from writing poetry have taught me a surprising thing. In comments and responses scattered over the Internet and sent to me personally, all but one who responded said they had or were writing poetry. Kaye George’s response about continuing to write haiku intrigued me, though she said she thinks her role as a musician is more relevant to her prose than the poetry.
Haiku was not a type of poetry discussed when I was in school, and, in fact, I didn’t know much about it until a nephew by marriage gifted me with a couple of his framed haiku poems written in honor of Spring Hollow after a family visit here.
Haiku is a Japanese poetry form–and you sure might call it minimalist! Writing this way takes a degree of quiet concentration for most of us, not to mention an urge to complete something beautiful in our few words.
The form traditionally is only three lines long, the first and last lines have five syllables, the middle one seven. That’s it. The haiku most frequently says something about the natural world . . . like this:
Satin glass snake twists/ringing the branch in green art/beauty cancels fear.
(I guess your reaction to this depends on how you feel about snakes?)
Okay, that’s my first ever haiku so don’t judge too harshly. Would you like to try one? I am now eager do go further in this intense and stunning art form.
By the way — do you think stopping to concentrate on writing a haiku could help those stuck in writers’ block?
Just wondering today, how many writers reading this consider the value of writing poetry as a move forward in their writing career? Oh–I don’t mean poetry to publish, necessarily, but poetry as practice for word control (see last week’s blog) for learning rhythm, and so much more.
What do YOU consider the most helpful idea you’ve received to forward your own writing career? Maybe we should have a round robin of ideas?