Friday, July 29, 2011

Missing, Assumed Dead

Prejudice, murder, insanity, suicide: Every small town has its secrets. And Marva Dasef’s book Missing, Assumed Dead – released today from MuseItUp Publishing – contains all those things!

When Kameron McBride receives notice she’s the last living relative of a missing man she’s never even heard of, the last thing she wants to do is head to some half-baked Oregon town to settle his affairs. But since she’s the only one available, she grudgingly agrees.

En route, she runs afoul of a couple of hillbillies and their pickup in an accident that doesn’t seem...accidental. Especially when they keep showing up wherever she goes. Lucky for her, gorgeous Deputy Mitch Caldwell lends her a hand, among other things. Her suspicions increase when the probate Judge tries a little too hard to buy the dead man’s worthless property.

Working on a hunch and trying to avoid the Judge’s henchmen, Kam probes deeper into the town’s secrets and finds almost no one she can trust. With Mitch’s help, she peels away the layers of prejudice, suicide, murder, and insanity. But someone in town doesn’t like her poking around, and when they show their intentions by shooting her through the police chief’s office window, the stakes are raised. Kam must find out what really happened to her dead relative before someone in this backward little town sends her to join him.

And she thought Oregon was going to be boring.

You can find Marva at her blog or her website and her book here. Be sure and check out the prize page for a chance at a free copy, as well as Marva's blog tour schedule and Weekly Character Rant.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Jury Duty


I got lucky! I was assigned to jury duty today and tomorrow, but when I called the "jury hotline" last night, I was told not to come in today. Woo hoo! A totally free day -- because of course I kept my calendar open, thinking for sure I'd have to go in.
I’ve only been called for jury duty once before – four or five years ago. I was told by someone knowledgeable to bring lots of stuff to keep busy, because there was no chance anyone would choose a school teacher for a jury. “Too opinionated,” this person said.
Er … That’s a compliment, right?
Well, this person (who shall remain nameless) was wrong. I was snapped up in the first ten minutes for a civil case in which a woman was suing her employer for wrongful dismissal and threats against her life. Yikes! Threats against her life!!! It was horrifying and exciting all at the same time.
In the opening statements, the woman’s lawyer told us that the employer had repeatedly threatened his client with a knife in his office and that he had even injured her severely by hurling a softball at her.
Turns out, the knife was a Swiss army knife he used to fiddle with while talking to people (flipping it open and closed while he talked – to everyone, not just her) and the “softball” was literally a SOFT ball, a stress ball made of foam which was routinely tossed around the office as a tension reliever. It supposedly bruised her upper arm. In short, the trial was a waste of everybody’s time and money. The City of West Chester even had to buy me a lunch, because the jury was sequestered (SEQUESTERED!!!) on the second day so that we could deliberate on the verdict.
I still have to call in tonight to see if I need to go in tomorrow. Can’t wait to see what Thursday has in store for me! A day full of sitting in uncomfortable chairs with unhappy strangers, trying to write on my laptop? Another riveting civil case? Or another lucky break?
Have YOU ever had an interesting jury duty?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Gina Review: The Kane Chronicles

I have my daughter Gina here today reviewing the first book in The Kane Chronicles: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan.

The Red Pyramid -- reviewed by Gina Salerni

This is one of the best books I have ever read and I highly suggest you read it too. This book is by Rick Riordan who is also the author of the Percy Jackson series.

This book is about Carter and Sadie Kane. Carter travels the world with his dad to many places such as Egypt. Their mom died when they were younger so Sadie lives with their grandparents and only sees her dad a couple of times a year. One night they go to a British Museum where their dad casts a spell which releases several gods. One god is Set who is a god of chaos and traps their father in a coffin and takes him away.

They find out that they are descendants of the Pharaohs and learn that they are hosting the gods Horus and Isis inside of them. And that they must go defeat Set with the help of the goddess Bast and a sorceress named Zia to get their father back and save the world from turning into total chaos, while also avoiding other dangerous enemies.

I would recommend this book because it is excellently written and has a great story line. My favorite part was when they met Bast who was possessing Sadie’s cat Muffin. (That was a surprise for them.) One part I didn’t like was the 5 Elements. I’ve heard of the 4 Elements: Earth, Air, Wind, and Fire, but I thought making Cheese the 5th Element was kind of dumb.

Personally, I think Cheese as the 5th Element sounds pretty cool, but Gina assures me she was not amused.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Show-n-Tell

Two weeks ago, my sister’s family drove in from Kansas for their yearly summer visit, and the week was capped off by a barbecue at my parent’s house.

At some point during the meal, my mother started talking about cleaning out the stuff in the basement, wondering if she could send some of it to Goodwill. In particular, she asked if she could send off the Show-n-Tell. “Does it still work?” we asked. And nothing would do except for my sister and I to fetch it out of the basement and dust it off.

“What is it?” our kids asked.

“This is an iPod Nano from the ‘70’s,” I replied. “It played music and videos.” I held up a plastic filmstrip and the adults laughed. The kids didn’t get it.

But my sister and brother and I were really excited. We put on the Wizard of Oz record and inserted the film strip. The film no longer moved by itself, but the record played, and Laurie and Brian and I all chimed in with the dialogue. We still remembered it by heart.

“So, can I send it to Goodwill?” my mother asked.

“Goodwill doesn’t want it,” my father said. “Just throw it away.”

Meanwhile, my husband and brother-in-law were already surfing eBay on their phones. “No, no, no!” they hollered. Even though it’s not completely functional, it’s worth some money – for parts – and for all the records we have to go along with it.

So, of course, now it’s sitting in my front room, until we decide what to do with it. Next family gathering, we’re going basement diving – for the Micronauts, the Space Lab 1999, the Six Million Dollar Man Lunar Module … Who knows? I could see us scoring dinner at a 5-star restaurant in Philly with the proceeds.

And of course, there are some things we would never sell … the Star Trek Enterprise playset, the 12-inch Star Wars dolls, and our entire set of – ahem – Dungeons and Dragons Manuals.

What’s in YOUR parents’ basement?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Return of the Hound

Last fall, my brother-in-law Larry did some dog-sitting for Sorcia and wrote a brilliant account of it in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (The Hound of the Salernis). As noted by a few of my savvy readers (that’s you, Lenny), it was apparent that Larry and his wife were hankering after a hound of their own. And so it came to pass …

The Return of the Hound by Larry O’Donnell

(Apologies to Arthur Conan Doyle)

As I looked through my dispatch box, securely held by my banker, I found this tale. Though formerly the world was not prepared for it, times have changed and, with due discretion, it may be told.

The first encounter with the hound ended happily enough. All the parties found their own way to deal with the Beast and it can be gainsaid that Beast herself accommodated humanity as well.

In my household this general tranquility was, perhaps, a thin veneer over the maelstrom that was my beloved wife. She was left unsatisfied by the brevity of that first encounter and the cats proved themselves inadequate solace to her. Commands to come, sit, down, or stay appeared to have no observed effect on the felines, although I swear I saw some response to the opposite of the command.

So it came to be that a purveyor of monstrous beasts, somehow knowing of my wife’s innermost desire, provided her a chance to meet and perhaps take possession of a similar creature. A family outing was organized and the Hound made our acquaintance. So reasonable were the terms of the purveyor, my wife immediately agreed to take possession, in spite of the lack of a coupon.

On the first night at home, in the hours of darkness where the powers of evil are exalted, the Hound exhibited those powers which cause mortal men to tremble. He roused me from sleep several times and went about claiming his territory. It was then that we first heard the Hound – his bark shook the house and caused neighbors’ pets to flee.

Since that time, the legend of the Hound grew beyond measure. Neighbors whispered of a spectral beast that wandered my estate. Peddlers gave my home wide berth, one having been scared witless after ringing our bell. The pitiful wreck of a man, reduced to mumblings of his sighting of the beast, was led away by his associates, never to be seen again.

When the Hound drank, he buried his face in the water and appeared to be possessed by demons. Water flew everywhere as he took in copious amounts through his terrifying maw. He used his snout as a battering ram, opening doors at will. He charged out the scullery door, oblivious to the closed screen door. The result was a destroyed door and the Hound gave me a puzzled look as if to ask, “Do you seriously believe such a flimsy barricade could restrain me?”

As time passed, the Hound won the affection of my family and, I daresay, myself. He proved himself stout of heart and a fierce protector of us all. I only wish he would not drag me from my bed during those hours of darkness when the night is blackest to wander the estate, seeking just the right spot to make his mark. These sojourns often last for a half hour. Nonetheless, the Hound continues to thrill and amuse us. I believe the legend grow ever larger, along with the Hound.

Bravo, Larry. For those of you wondering, the newest addition to the O’Donnell family is named Houston. (His pedigree papers have him saddled with the full name of Houston We Have a Problem.)


Monday, July 18, 2011

Does YOUR Refrigerator Tweet?

Dagnabbit! The refrigerator that came with our house gave up the ghost last year, and we bought a new one. It keeps food cold and also dispenses ice and cold water from the door. So, we probably won’t be in the market for this new gem – the Samsung refrigerator that accesses Pandora while you cook, lets you type memos or keep the family Google calendar right on the refrigerator door – and Tweets! Yes, you can Tweet right from your refrigerator!

My husband says the Twitter function can be useful for maintaining your diet, if the refrigerator automatically Tweets every time you open it and posts what you remove on your Facebook account.

(I shudder to think what my refrigerator could tell the world about me.)

Check out this video below, and sound off – what do you want YOUR refrigerator to be able to do?



Friday, July 15, 2011

Character Mannerisms


Whether it’s a matter of consciously choosing them, or visualizing my characters and letting them naturally develop, I try to give each of my characters specific mannerisms that belong to them alone. I usually give them more than one, because most of us have more than one habitual thing that we do, and I work hard at making sure characters in different manuscripts aren’t too similar.
So, Evie blushes and wrings her hands, but Ann bites her nails and paces (and swears), while Miri chews on her lips and draws with ink on her arms. Verity – well, Verity is one character of mine who doesn’t seem to have a nervous tic. She just blurts out what she's thinking without any regard to tact. She used to burst into tears at emotional situations, until one of my crit partners pointed out that being a crybaby didn’t fit the rest of her character. So I turned off the waterworks unless they were really called for. Hodge tends to wipe his hand across his face and cast a rolling glance around the room, as if looking for a quick exit, while Mick rubs the back of his neck or scratches the back of his head when perplexed.
Minor characters don’t escape, either. Tesla twiddles a pencil between his fingers; Dr. VanBerk obsessively rearranges knick-knacks by size, and Viola always has her nose in a Kindle. None of my characters has an actual facial tic – but now that I’m thinking about it, perhaps I’ll give one to somebody!
How about your characters? What mannerisms do they have? How do you make sure we can visualize your fictional people, as well as hear their dialogue, listen to their thoughts, and understand their actions?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

She Recoiled in Dismay ...


It takes months for most of us to write an entire manuscript, and unless you recursively read all your chapters as you go, there might be quite a gap between the writing of Chapter 1 and the writing of Chapter 30. I find that when I go back and read the entire thing straight through, I always find surprises. Some are pleasant surprises (I forgot I wrote that – That’s pretty funny!). Others make me slap my head.
I’m very repetitive. I tend to forget what information I’ve already given the reader. So, Mick thinks his mother favors his younger brother, Will. Noted. I don’t need to repeat it five times! On the bright side, it gives me an obvious place to cut the word count!
I also find that certain words tend to get overused. I really have no idea while I’m doing the writing, but when I read through the whole thing, they tend to jump out at me. For instance, in VOLTAGE, people recoil a lot. They recoil in fear, disgust, surprise, and guilt. Yup, that’s a lot of recoiling. In my last read-through, I replaced some recoiling with other words, but I just now checked – and there are still 7 instances of recoiling in my current draft.
They stagger a lot, too. And furrow their brows. They’re just a recoiling, staggering, brow-furrowing kind of crowd!
Do you catch yourself using the same verbs or descriptive phrases over and over? What are they? Do share!

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Raft Without Your Raft


That’s a picture of the Salerni crew whitewater rafting on the Lehigh River in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains a couple weeks ago. Yes, we’re all having a great time, except possibly for Gabbey, who is clearly wondering, “WTH were my parents thinking???”

This picture was also taken before I was de-rafted.

As near as I can recall, I was yelling at my husband right before we hit the big rock, arguing with him about how to steer the darn raft. And the next thing I knew, I was in the air – and then in the water.

Didn’t seem like it would be too hard to grab the raft and climb back in – except that suddenly the raft and family were yards away, and I was floating on my back downstream next to a gentleman who had also abandoned his family involuntarily. “Uh, meet you on shore?” he said.

“Looks like it,” I replied. I figured we’d float to a calmer section of the river and swim over to the bank.

Then we hit more rocks.

I wasn’t alarmed until one of the rafts nearly ran me down. That’s when it occurred to me that I could actually get hurt. Enough of this, I thought. I’ll just climb up on one of these rocks and wait for someone to rescue me. Huh. Easier said than done.

Finally, a raft full of strapping, 20-something young men with Caribbean accents snagged their boat on a rock beside me and hauled me in like …(I won’t claim to be anything as graceful as a mermaid) … like a great big flounder.

Eventually, they steered me over to my family’s raft. Turns out my husband had managed to haul in the floating man. Afterwards, I mentioned to Bob that maybe I should have stayed with the nice-looking Caribbean guys, because they seemed to know what they were doing. And my husband replied that maybe he should have kept the fellow he found, because he paddled a lot stronger than I did.

Over a week later, I’m still black and blue. Nevertheless, I might be persuaded to go rafting again, sometime in the future -- when the memory of this event is more humorous than humiliating! ;)

Friday, July 8, 2011

First Impressions #15


Our final critique for First Impressions in July is Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade, a novel by Susan Swiderski.
Pearl Bryzinski emerged from her house, sniffed the air, and stretched. Dark clouds bulged overhead, poised to dump yet another load of wintry delight, but she didn’t notice. For the first time in weeks, tentative spears of grass peeked through the snow, so sunny thoughts of springtime bloomed rampant in her head. When she started her car, she was singing about summer.
She tapped the steering wheel and sang in sync with the cheerful chick-chick-chick of her snow chains, and smiled as she drove past a red mitten lying in the gray slush beside the road. It reminded her of the time her father took her to an art show. Every painting was done in shades of Payne’s gray, with a single splash of red: a cardinal in a snowstorm, a rose atop a coffin, a pair of lips in a crowded bus. She’d never forget those paintings, or that day. They even got a strawberry shake at Arundel’s. Best shakes in the world. Best father, too.
Still smiling, she turned onto Kinship Road. Her parents had lived here in the same sprawling house for the past seventy years, and even though Pearl hadn’t lived there for almost thirty-five, every visit felt like a homecoming.
Strange. An ugly brown Pinto was backing out of their driveway. She watched the unfamiliar car, and then, with a grin, rolled down her window as fast as she could, stuck her head out, and yelled, “DADDY!”
He kept staring straight ahead, but the woman behind the wheel glanced in her direction, so Pearl waved and yelled again. But while she was still hanging out the window, panting white breath into the cold January morning, the Pinto drove away. She watched until it drove out of sight, and then parked in the driveway behind her father’s Cadillac.

Uh oh. I think Pearl is in for an unpleasant surprise. I think I can see where this is going, and I cringe at the image of this poor, naively happy woman rolling down her window and waving energetically at “Daddy,” who seems to be departing the premises with “Another Woman.” The set up is quite clever. Just from this little bit, I get the idea that Pearl is a cheerful sort who dotes on her father and perhaps dwells on a romanticized version of her childhood.
A few notes: If it is January, would spring really be on the horizon? (What state is this? Slipping that in might help – because in my state, January is just the beginning of snowfall.)
Also, if Pearl’s parents have lived in that same house for 70 years, that must make them around 90, right? So, Pearl’s 90-year old father is running off with another woman? Or wait – have I misinterpreted this? Is he senile and being driven off by some kind of nurse? I hadn’t thought of that till now. Okay, maybe I don’t know where this is going after all!
The only other suggestion I would make is to clarify that Pearl sees her father in the passenger seat of the Pinto. I had to read those paragraphs twice to realize he was in the passenger seat staring ahead, and the woman (who glanced at Pearl) was driving.
Susan, thanks for sharing your first page with us! You can find Susan at her blog, and please stop by Mainewords for Marcy’s critique!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

First Impressions #14

Today’s post is our second First Impressions critique for July. This is the opening page of a YA dystopian novel called MASQUE, by Sarah Keith.

I knew what was wrong even before my mother started weeping. There was only one reason for someone to ring at our house at this time of night. Something was wrong with Molly.

My eyes snapped open as soon as I heard the little tinkling at the front of the house. My parents entered the hallway about the same time that I did. There were no locks on our doors, or on the doors of any other house in the hamlet. And as soon as I saw Charles standing inside the front door of our home, I registered how short my nightgown was, how sheer.

I wasn’t used to seeing him so close. On stage, he’d always looked so confident. Framed in my tiny front room, he looked taller than usual. His strawberry-blond hair, usually slicked back, fell into his eyes now. His face was etched in a strange sorrow. I wrapped my arms around my chest as I stood in the hallway. I watched my father go up to Charles and take the small letter he held in his hand.

“Please read it,” Charles said. “I don’t know what it says. I don’t even know what has happened.”

My father opened the parchment and scanned it quickly, then looked up at Charles. “You have no idea where she could have gone? Why?”

Charles shook his head. “I wish I did, sir. This letter was given to me by the writer. I was given no other information.”

“But you two were so close. Surely you must know something.” This time, my mother spoke. She was a stout, careful woman, and she had been suffering in an unnatural silence since she awoke. The sound of her voice comforted me. My mother only really frightened me when she had nothing at all to say.

This first page causes me to make several assumptions. I am guessing Molly is the narrator’s sister, and I also suspect the narrator has a slight crush on Charles, considering how she thinks of her own appearance as soon as she sees him. Molly has vanished, but the family isn’t entirely surprised because they seemed to be expecting bad news about her, according to the first paragraph. So far, the story has my attention! I want to know what Charles is to Molly, what the letter says, and who gave it to him, if it wasn’t Molly herself.

I think the dialogue between the father and Charles is a little stiff. Unless this formal style of speech is purposely part of the dystopian setting, I would suggest using more contractions. Also, if Charles cares for Molly at all, I’d like to see more distress in his words.

These lines gave me some trouble: This letter was given to me by the writer. I was given no other information. I had trouble putting my finger on it, but finally decided it seemed a strange response to the question: You have no idea where she could have gone? I am thinking it might seem more natural for Charles to say something along the lines of: I wish I did, sir. But as you can see, the letter doesn’t say.

Finally, the first line reads: I knew what was wrong even before my mother started weeping. But the mother doesn’t weep in this passage. In fact, it says that she’d been suffering in unnatural silence since she’d been awakened. So, I think it’s got to be one or the other – weeping or silence. And if it’s weeping, then I want to know when she bursts into tears. Is it when she recognizes Charles, when she sees the letter, or at some other point?

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing your first page with us! It’s a tantalizing beginning, and I wish you luck with it!

You can find Sarah Keith on Twitter – and be sure to check out Mainewords for Marcy’s critique as well!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fourth of July Facts


Look for the continuation of First Impressions on Wednesday and Friday. Today, I have just a quick post in honor of the holiday – a few interesting facts about the day and the reason for it, our Declaration of Independence:
  • The Declaration references the “united States of America,” but the word united is not capitalized. It was used as an adjective, not as a proposed name of our new country.
  • Thomas Jefferson originally included a statement criticizing slavery in the Declaration, but was talked into deleting it, for fear the southern states would vote against the resolution otherwise.
  • In a letter to his wife, John Adams proclaimed that the adoption of the Declaration of Independence should be celebrated with “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” However, he was talking about July 2nd, the day the Continental Congress actually voted to adopt it, not July 4th.
  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were lifelong political adversaries. John Adams was often quoted as vowing “I will outlive Jefferson” even though Jefferson was the younger man. When Adams died on the Fourth of July, 1826, his (supposed) last words were, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” However, he was wrong. Jefferson had died earlier that same day.
Hoping that all of you enjoy much Pomp and Parade, Shews, Games, and Illuminations today – but please, stay away from the Guns! Happy Fourth!

Friday, July 1, 2011

First Impressions #13

I’m opening First Impressions for July with the beginning of a YA Dystopian Series – The Love Code by Lee Libro (which has the most awesome cover, doesn’t it?)

Chapter 1

Can a single moment, an action or inaction, determine your character? Can it become forever embedded in your destiny like a string of DNA defining who or what you are?

For a long time I didn't think so. It was all in the DNA. But now, along with genetics, I know that moments of failure or success are just like dominant and recessive genes working internally to fight it out to the end. If we aren't aware of this, we can be twisted against the grain of our true nature.

Alongside other GeniSom scientists, I've worked with these principles in the GMO labs cultivating the super wheat 30 that can nourish a nation from only a one-pound bag, cows with the protein content of elephants, and flowers that can inebriate men and women. But that one moment in time where you don't even know that you, as an organism, are being shaped, a punch in the eye or a pat on the back is just as much a factor as the rest of these principles. Behavioral science. That's how I was made, and yet I never figured it out. As brilliant a scientist as I was groomed to be, I never realized that I myself am the result of a manipulated recombinant cultivation.

The single-most important of these moments was my failure when I was still a child. The thing I failed to do should have been a simple task. In light of our hardships, I should have put blinders on, and as the old Nike ad said, been able to "just do it."

I could have made the task a simple aversion from our normal routine. Ma and I had finished our work early and we'd gone to run an errand. We were walking along the road leading along the outer perimeter of our Sector. I always liked that end of the Farmmune because you could get a glimpse of what lay beyond the barbed wire fences, the golden hills to the west of Salinas Valley, our former home.

I like this intriguing opening and the juxtaposition of genetics versus experiences for the shaping of character. It sets up the conflict in the book immediately, even though we don’t know the particulars yet.

I think the first page could use a little tightening of the narration. For example the first 3 sentences of the second paragraph might run more smoothly as:

For a long time I didn't think so. But now, along with DNA, I know that moments of failure or success are just like dominant and recessive genes working internally to fight it out to the end. (I’m also not sure about the phrase “fight it out to the end.” Maybe “shape our lives?”)

I’d also suggest tweaking these sentences:

But that one moment in time where you don't even know that you, as an organism, are being shaped, a punch in the eye or a pat on the back is just as much a factor as the rest of these principles. (I really like this idea, but I’m not sure what principles are being referred to. There are no principles mentioned in the prior sentence.)

The single-most important of these moments was my failure when I was still a child. (How about “was a failure from my childhood.”)

I would also say “In light of our family’s hardships” to clarify the plural pronoun “our” and change “aversion” to “diversion” – because I think that is what Lee meant.

Thanks, Lee, for sharing your work with us! And who designed that gorgeous cover?? You can find Lee at her blog – and also check out her published work Swimming with Wings, set in Portland, Maine. Marcy Hatch will also be critiquing this page at her blog, Mainewords.