Tuesday, April 29, 2014


My response is sewing.

For the thirty years I taught school, I scheduled the clothing unit for springtime. The new beginnings and new possibilities give me a thrill I tried to pass on to my students. It was such fun to see the wide-eyed looks on their faces when they encountered a pattern book for the first time. The sound of their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahas’ still echo in my memory.

Teaching how to read a guide sheet and thread a sewing machine was not easy, but the outcome was worth the effort. The first few years I taught, the unit concluded with a fashion show the entire school attended. The event opened to the music of “Penny Lane” and was greeted by both dread and anticipation by the students who constructed and modeled two garments.

You can see the similarities.

These days, the ‘idea’ file replaces my pattern books. I still get a charge out of going to the fabric store. Touching different types of fabric gives me ideas for different garments, just as looking at images gives me ideas for different characters. Deciding if a character’s personality fits the new story you want to tell compares to choosing the right fabric for the pattern you want to make. 

And the wide eyed thrill of seeing a pattern book for the first time? Imagine the expression on your face when you visit a book store and see a display of new editions. Finally, the dread and anticipation I associate with ‘the reveal’ and publication day. The garment/book is done, now to wait for what everyone thinks about your effort.

Writing, starting a new story, doesn’t just happen in the spring, but this time of year, I feel the strong pull of old routines. 

What about you? What catches your fancy this time of year?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Morning Person or Night Owl?

Do you start your day before the sun comes up or do you end your day close to the time the morning paper is delivered? Human beings are all so different. Many get into a routine because of the hours their jobs demand, but most of us tend to form daily routines that jibe with our body’s functions.

If you’re a morning person as I am, your energy level is highest in the wee hours of the day. You might find yourself already reading your paper and drinking your coffee before the sun comes up. Are you eager to get your routine started? Does your mind start churning before your feet hit the floor? Have you ever dressed to go shopping, then realized that the stores aren’t open yet? Well, then, I don’t have to tell you—you’re a morning person.

I have friends who are on my schedule, and I know if the phone rings before 7 am, it can only be a couple of my acquaintances. They understand me when I tell them that I woke up at 4:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. They don’t laugh or think I’m ready for the loony-bin.

On the other hand, I have friends who sleep late, drag through the morning, and get their spurt of energy in the afternoon – when I’m on my downward spiral. My brain stops working in the early afternoon. My body longs for a short, 15-minute power nap. I’m ready to slow down and unwind. It amazes me that these “night owls” choose to do their important chores after the noon hour.

As my husband says, it would be a boring world if we were all alike. Luckily, he too is a morning person so we have managed to go through our 43 years together in the “same time zone.” I have to wonder how couples manage to live together in harmony when they are on different body routines.

What are you? Does the rising sun signal that you can hop up and start your day, or does the rising sun tell you that it’s time to go to bed?

Morning person or night owl? Whatever you are, enjoy your day!

Fran McNabb is a retired English and journalism teacher who now lives on a quiet bayou harbor with her husband. Her love of the English language prompted her to pen sweet, engaging romances, most of which are set along her native coastline. When not writing, she loves visiting with her two sons, their wives, and her two grandsons. www.FranMcNabb.com

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Note to Self: Don't Double Space

When I decided that I couldn’t just let my final Wally Morris mystery, Vengeance Acts Up, wallow in dejected, rejected ignominy, I made the decision to self-publish it using CreateSpace.  I read closely all the comments on the former Avaloners loop, looking for info and helpful hints from other authors who had already made the leap.  Unfortunately, I seem to have missed a few essential pieces of advice, surely given in the instructions, but overlooked by my husband, the one who actually did all the computer entries, and me.

We really tried hard.  I copied as much as possible each page of one of my earlier Avalons, to make sure that my headers were done right, and the title pages and dedications were all good.  I forgot (unbelievably, I do work in a library, after all) the copyright page, which was a shame, because it would have been one more place to list our newly formed, unofficial, publishing company, TWELVE PUPPIES PUBLISHING.  We chose that in honor of the twelve Seeing Eye® puppies we’ve raised and put our current one at the time, Nana, in the logo spot on the back of the book.  She was seven-weeks-old in the picture and had just been delivered from The Seeing Eye® breeding center.

After an amazingly short time, the brand-spanking-new proof arrived.  You can imagine our dismay when the book came in at a hefty 450 plus pages.  We’re talking doorstop.  It was huge.

It turned out that we should not have sent the book in double-spaced. There were a few other mistakes I didn’t pick up until I looked at the proof in person (rather than the convenient and free version on the computer screen.)  Also, there was the biggish mistake I won’t name that was in the Kindle version http://www.amazon.com/Vengeance-Wally-Morris-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00CW5DGS4/ref=tmm_kin_title_popover  (does anyone know what to do to get that fixed?) that my daughter caught.  Actually, that was another mistake we made—doing them in that order. And, because I didn’t quite understand the terms, I managed to make the book semi-unavailable, especially to the vendors who sell to libraries.

The next time I use CreateSpace to publish one of my books (I have a huge backlog so I hope it’s soon but we always seem to be too busy) we will try to follow the rules.  Right now we are raising our thirteenth Seeing Eye® puppy, Holliday (no, we don’t name them), but I don’t think it’s really wise or practical to change the name of the publisher. One never knows for sure, so we’ll all just have to wait and see.  We could be at the beginning of a publishing dynasty.

Two proofs after the doorstop, and still missing the verso page, (we are a little boneheaded at times) we had a copy we liked.  I had a book signing at home (really a cake fest with wine, beer, cheese, fruit, ten things my daughter and I baked, and oh, yeah, books for sale), tons of people came, and everyone had a good time.

But we didn’t let anyone see the doorstop.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Six Ways to Find New and Exciting Plot Ideas for Mystery Novels

Novel ideas come to writers in many different ways—by what they’ve personally seen or experienced, through an interesting event they’ve heard about, or because of something read about in a nonfiction book.

As an author, sometimes ideas just come to you, other times you have to dig for them.  Here are a few places to look for plot ideas.

1. Read the Newspaper

The newspaper is a good place to find mystery plots or those involving intrigue and scandal.  Murders and other crimes, the details stranger than fiction, are planned and executed daily by real criminals.  Who would believe that a man could get away with keeping women hostage in his house for decades without being apprehended?  Celebrities are always getting into mischief.  Husbands and wives sometimes commit murder for unknown reasons.  How many books have been spin-offs of the Scott Peterson case?  If you get ideas from a news source, it is best not to use real names and to change the events and the settings for legal reasons and so your book will not be just a re-hash of the news.

2. Search the Internet

There’s also a wealth of information in the Internet about true crimes, forensics, and other aspects of murder.  By “googling” certain keywords such as “murder”, “crime” or “forensics” a list of good sites to browse will likely appear.

Crime Library (http://www.crimelibrary.com/index.html) has a huge listing of serial killers, gangsters, and spies.  The Writer’s Forensic Blog (D. P. Lyle, MD) (http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/)  also has quite a few good links for crime and mystery writers.

3. Watch True Crime TV Shows

TV documentaries such as the Forensic Files (on Netflix) can provide valuable information on the details of crime scene investigation.  Taking notes while watching these types of true crime programs can add realism to fictional crime scenes.

4. Read Books on Crime and Forensics, and History

There are many good books on true crime and forensics where a reader can find ideas.  Author Jay Robert Nash has about ten books on murders and disappearances in the United States.  Two books that are good for starters are: Murder, America and Homicide in the United States from the Revolution to the Present.

History books also can provide good ideas for stories that might happen in a certain time era.  Loretta and I often read books on the Old West and travelogues of certain areas to get background and ideas.  When traveling, it is a good idea to visit the book rack of tourist attractions for stories about unusual crimes, ghost sightings, and other bits of history related to a certain area.

5. Visit Museums

A trip to a museum can often be rewarding when it comes to finding an idea for a story.  My sister and I have found several in that way.  Sometimes a display or one of the stories below an exhibit will spark the imagination.  We were going through a museum when we came upon an old class photograph.  Under one name someone had written in pencil, NEVER GRADUATED.  This gave us an idea for our Jeff McQuede mystery, Murder in Black and White, where a young man goes missing just before graduation.

6. Take a Course or Talk to Locals about the Area’s History

If there is a local university or place where you can take a course, this is also a good way to find a plot for a mystery.  In the local area, there are some archaeological digs that my sister and I plan to sign up for.  While living in Wyoming, I took a few classes in forensics and Wyoming history.  The tale of the Pedro Mummy, who had been found in the 1930s by miners near Shirley basin, began to spark my interest.  The tiny mummy was examined by scientists at the time, then disappeared.  This led to our writing Whispers of the Stones, where this curious artifact appears to have resurfaced--along with collectors who might kill to own it.

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson are authors of the Jeff McQuede High Country Mystery Series: Murder in Black and White, Whispers of the Stones, Stealer of Horses, and The Executioner’s Hood.  To read more about the Pedro Mummy visit  Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson's Writing Tips and Fiction. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Suppose You Write a Book...

...And what?

Why do we tell stories? For me, this activity became a lifelong occupation from the age of three. One night, I woke from a nightmare that, to this day, fills me with dread and a feeling of sick emptiness. I crawled into my parents' bed for safety. I had no words for the terrible dream or the terror I felt. 

Instead, I told a story to my wakeful father about the house I wanted to live in when I grew up. My father was a carpenter, so it was possible to believe he would build the house for me. Concentrating on a future possibility took me away from a present danger.  

From that night on, I found great comfort in using my imagination to tell stories about an alternative reality. I spent long hours alone, content to fill my thoughts with the people and events I created, and 'rewriting' the endings of movies I had seen. During my teenage years, I added drawing to my work box of tools but the stories still took place in my head. 

Not long after this, my first year in high school, I moved to another state. I made two friends in my new high school, both of whom had a similar story-telling penchant. We told each other stories, interactive between the three of us, exchanging ideas and characters, building worlds around make-believe situations. In my second year in high school, back in California, I continued this collaborative effort with other friends and again during my early college years. 

In college, my first choice of a major was art but, finally, writing emerged as my true avocation. Once the decision was made, I entered a phase of my education that was so incredibly rich and textured, I have continued learning ever since. Fortunately, writing is an art form that demands constant discovery. 

But why do I write? One answer is clear: not for the money!  

Our ancestors told stories to explain the mysteries of the
environment, for comfort, for entertainment during the long dark, winter nights. Our own reasons for story-telling are similar. In antiquity, knowledge of the forces of the universe were explained by the imagined existence of magic and the supernatural. How is that different from our own society's love affair with Dracula, Terminators, Angels and the Once Upon a Times of 21st Century entertainment? 

What was formalized by Aristotle and Euripides is our premier source of coming to terms with a universe we understand only marginally better than our cave-dwelling progenitors. The depth and breadth of human imagination, and the drive to express it, cannot be contained, no matter how frequently a story is told. Every one of us has our own, individual interpretation of events. If our telling strikes a chord with others, we have succeeded in expressing a basic human truth and kept the terrors of dreams at bay.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Words to Remember

I’ve put aside my fiction La-La land world for the moment and am contracted to write a book of devotions/encouragement for mothers. As a single of mom of three grown children, I took on this Herculean task with little thought. Surely having juggled for years rearing those three kiddos I learned something I might pass on. Wow! I think I am the one learning. 

When you put pen to paper (okay, Times New Roman to blinking cursor) and begin to think of words of wisdom, you realize it’s a daunting task! What might I say to another—something they might read several years from now—which has any impact at all? 

I can speak of how different everyone is.Much like these lovely Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, we are individuals, no two are alike. Take my two daughters: one is a morning person, one doesn’t know there is a morning. How did I manage to get them running on the same clock?
I can speak of endurance; running the race; organizing; coping. My son is the leader of the pack in his company. Did I help him learn the skills he uses today? Is he the one in charge like this guy seems to be? 
I can’t answer those questions. I can plot a book, jot a story in make-believe land, create fictional characters who act like I think they should, but as a mother I did the best I could. That’s all any of us are called to do.

What I know I can pass on which will be of value, everlasting, and meaningful is God’s Holy Word. Nothing I say can ever improve on what He says. So. That’s what this writer is currently dealing with. Praying, then combing through the Bible to find words which will speak to a mom’s heart.   

But you know, praying? That’s how I begin every story I write! I heartily recommend that strategy. 
Signed: A-Mom-Who-Tried-Her-Best 
(Thanks to Gerry Olive Brown of New Braunfels, TX for the beautiful pictures!)

Eileen Key retired after teaching school for thirty years. She is a freelance writer and editor.  Mother of three, grandmother of four, Eileen resides in San Antonio, Texas.