Saturday, March 29, 2014

One day.

You have one day to steal The Clouds Roll Away.

      Tomorrow, this popular mystery ratchets back up to ten bucks. So grab it for $2.99 while you can. 
     Along with this screaming deal, I've been posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this third (of many) Raleigh Harmon mysteries. But this week, Life refused to cooperate with my plans (and why should it?). 
     So today--your last day to steal this book--I'm posting the remaining reasons, from Number Six to Number One. Ready?

  • Richmond, Virginia. I love this southern town so much that I dedicated The Clouds Roll Away to it. Go see America's unique historic gem.
  • Homesickness. In the previous book, The Rivers Run Day, Raleigh's transferred to Seattle, nicking her heart with longing. Now, returning to Richmond she gazes out at her hometown and realizes: "For all its troubled history and racial strife, this place was home. And few things ever feel as good as coming back to where you belong, and realizing the place waited for you."
  • Christmas. World's best holiday. Period. Gifts, food, joy, song--who hates Christmas, except stingy curmudgeons? And the holiday can even change them, as Dickens proved. While I enjoyed writing all Christmas scenes in The Clouds Roll Away, one gutted me: the scene where Raleigh watches the Charlie Brown television special surrounded by crack addicts. It wrecked me for days. "And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
  • Romance. Yep, Raleigh's in love. Only she doesn't know it, and this predicament might be one reason why The Clouds Roll Away was named among Booklist's Top Ten Romances of that year. Reluctant romance, it makes great reading.

And all of those reasons bring me to Reason One for writing this mystery:


     Readers know Raleigh Harmon is strong. 
     Capable, smart, funny.
     And desperately in need of love.
     Of course, the whole world desperately needs love, and while writing this book, the words of Christina Rossetti were on my mind. In particular, her Christmas poem, "Love Came Down."I'm certain that poem informed many scenes of this book.
     So, while I've closed each of these Top Ten posts with a quote from The Clouds Roll Away, is there really any conceivable comparison between me and Rosetti?
    That's a rhetorical question.
    Here's the full poem. And frankly, I don't care if it's March right now. 
    Merry Christmas, everyone.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

                                                           -- Christina Rossetti

Friday, March 21, 2014

Unreasonable Acts


Sometimes a story flows onto the page so smoothly a writer feels like they're receiving dictation, straight from heaven.
     The opposite also happens.
     The Hell of a writer's own making, this version begins with a lot of pounding on the keyboard, hitting Erase, pounding some more, and then, some eight hours later, walking away from the computer vowing to never-ever-ever write another word.
    The following day (because all working writers have self-inflicted amnesia), the process begins all over again. Only now it's even more horrible. Like some trip to the dentist where every tooth gets a root canal.
     I've had two novels give me serious trouble, beginning on Page One all the way to The End. It was as if the stories were simultaneously daring me and trying to assassinate me.
      Although written years apart, these two books bear some similarities.
     Most crucially, they're both adored by readers.
     The Clouds Roll Away, for instance, was named by Booklist a Top Ten read of the year. But writing that book made me realize why Hemingway put that bullet into his head. Not. Joking. When I finally turned in the manuscript, the editor sent back some suggestions. Five pages of "suggestions." Single-spaced. Here, let share with you one exact sentence: "I don't like anything about this book."
     She gave me three weeks to fix it.
    And I did.
    Because the story was begging me to tell it.
    My latest release, Stone and Spark, hit me with another gruesome writing experience. I nearly quit but for two things: a nurturing editor and, like Clouds, a story that pulled me to the computer.
     My second son "died"while being born. Twice, in fact. Thirteen years later, his neck still carries the red marks left by the umbilical cord that tried to strangle him. That kid fought his way to get here, and came out howling.
     Now he's got the spunk of ten warriors. If you tell him something can't done, it'll get done--his way.  I love that about him. I admire his spirit.
     We're human. We always hope things will go easily. But they rarely do. I'm even certain thing aren't supposed to be easy. Especially the most important things.
      If right now you feel like giving up--abandoning some project, a business, a book, a person, a new workout, a new idea--don't.
       Keep going.
      And yes, I do realize how unreasonable it all is.
      That's the point.
      "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world," wrote George Bernard Shaw."The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
      Which brings me Reason #6 for writing The Clouds Roll Away:
      It was totally and completely unreasonable.

For a very limited time, Amazon's offering The Book That Almost Killed Me--otherwise known as The Clouds Roll Away--for just $2.99. 
   It won't last long.
   So steal my book. Please.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

      Here's the deal. And I do mean deal.   
     Amazon is offering The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. That's an 81% discount. 
     But it ends March 30. So steal my book. Now. 
      I'm also posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this third Raleigh Harmon mystery that Booklist awarded a starred review.
       Reason #7:


    Despite preferring flip-flops to shoes, I still say winter's my favorite season, perhaps because a childhood in Alaska. 
     But the reason could run deeper. As painter Andrew Wyeth once said: "I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape--the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
     In The Clouds Roll Away, winter plays a starring role, and it was captured by the book's cover who illuminated the magic of the season and the mystery it brings to Raleigh Harmon.
     Here's an excerpt where our formidable forensic geologist reflects on the Virginia winter :
Winter rode into Richmond on the chattering breath of the Atlantic. Each year the season blew itself into existence. The ancient elms crystallized and frost crocheted the birches into lace doilies. On this particular December morning, with a bright sun overhead, I drove out New Market Road past fields that glistened like crushed diamonds. For this moment, my hometown looked cryogenically frozen, preserved for future generations to discover Richmond's wide river, verdant soils, and the plantation lifestyle forged through generations--gone tragically, humanly awry.

P.S.  The Stones Cry Out, the first Raleigh mystery, is just $3.99. And so is the NEW young-adult mystery, Stone and Spark, featuring teenage Raleigh Harmon. Don't miss it!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Forward Back

Readers, here it is! The new Raleigh Harmon mystery:

Stone and Spark. 

I'm thrilled about this book. Not only does Raleigh once again prove herself full of fire and spunk, Stone and Spark answers some questions bandied about by readers ever since the first Raleigh mystery, The Stones Cry Out, appeared more than five years ago.

Specifically: Raleigh's dad.

Readers want to know about David Harmon. What was he like? Will Raleigh ever solve his murder? (Man, I hope so!) And what was her life like when he was alive?

After I finished writing The Stars Shine Bright, those questions started percolating in my mind. I didn't push them away because as my favorite Englishman (Winston Churchill) once said: "The farther back you can look, the farther forward you can see."

And as so often happens with writing, my imagination knit itself to "real life"as a beautiful and brilliant 13-year-old girl came to live with us.

Now, I'm a Tomboy-mom with only sons. So having a teen girl around the house was quite the adventure, especially a girl who was so smart and so ready to tell me when I was full of . . . you know. (I love this girl. She's now family).

But the whole experience reminded me of how teen girls struggle to find their way, to forge an identity, to figure out where they fit in this great big world.

That's when Raleigh, age 15, appeared on the page. She began telling me about her growing up years--her dad's alive, her mom's still nuts, and Raleigh's just beginning to understand geology is the coolest thing in the entire universe.

Stone and Spark grew from that seed of wonder. And this new Raleigh mystery launches the parallel teen series that will run alongside the adult Raleigh series. We'll get to follow Raleigh through high school and into college, right up to the point where The Stones Cry Out begins. The second book in the teen series will come out this fall.

And yes, I'm working on the next adult book, the one that follows The Stars Shine Bright. Don't worry. (And yes, Jack will be returning for an encore performance--who could expect anything less from the Alpha Agent?)

I hope you enjoy Stone and Spark. Let me know your thoughts. Better yet, leave a review and let the whole world know: Raleigh's back!

Also for a limited time, Amazon is offering the third Raleigh mystery The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. That's 81% off the regular retail price. So steal my book. Please. I don't know whether this deal will happen again because I don't set these prices--I just celebrate with readers when it happens. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Real Racism

Here's the deal--and I do mean deal. For a limited time, Amazon is offering The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. That's 81% off the regular retail price. So steal my book. Please. I don't know whether this deal will happen again because I don't set these prices--I just celebrate with readers when it happens.  But with the forehead-smacking deal, I'm posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this third Raleigh Harmon mystery. 

Today is Reason #8:

Slavery, Rap, Lott Cary and the source of racism

     Yeah, that about covers it. 
      The Clouds Roll Away swirls with conflicts arising from the history of a small but significant place in Virginia: Charles City. 
     Bordered by the James River just east of Richmond, Charles City is the home to America's most historic plantation homes, a seed pod for several US presidents, and the first colonial settlement outside of Jamestown.
      But there's also storied black history here:
      One of America's first free black communities.
      The nation's third-oldest free black church.
      Birthplace of Lott Cary.
     Who was Lott Cary? We ought to know his name. He was the first black missionary to Africa and the founding father of Liberia-- the west African nation founded in 1820 by freed American slaves, most of them from Virginia. 
    The idea of Liberia sounded great: free African Americans sailing back to the mother land, sponsored by white abolitionists. They planned to build schools, businesses, even colleges, repatriating what was taken from them by force.
    But good intentions often pave the road straight to Hell. And Liberia might be one such construction project.
      As I was researching Charles City for The Clouds Roll Away, I stumbled upon Bitter Canaan: Story of the Negro Republic by Charles Spurgeon Johnson. His 1930 book ought to be required reading, particularly by people who constantly scream about racial inequality, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a copy. Johnson's manuscript was rejected by every publisher he approached; nobody wanted to print the acrid truth about Liberia. ( Bitter Canaan was finally published in 1987 by an obscure house. It's now out of print).  
     Johnson, who was black, writes with both compassion and disgust as he documents the grand social experiment. Everyone had high hopes--from the freed slaves to the white abolitionist Christians. But when the abolitionists returned to Liberia to check on the progress, they were horrified.
Denver News, public domain
   The former slaves now had their own slaves--and were proud of it. Even more appalling, these freed slaves were treating the human property worse than anything experienced in the American South.
    Johnson, writing without defense or apology, recognized that what gave birth to American slavery had nothing to do with skin color. But it had everything to do with the evil residing in the human heart. 
     To this day, encyclopedias will skim right past Johnsons' authorship of Bitter Canaan, choosing instead to highlight the scholar's many other worthwhile achievements. But it makes me wonder if simply can't handle the truth about the human heart. About ourselves.
   And it's why I love writing about Raleigh Harmon. The girl's honest, to the bone.
    In The Clouds Roll Away, she comes up against everybody from black separatists and white supremacists to the descendants of former slaves and slave owners. Here's an excerpt, as she's driving through Charles City looking for a woman connected to the Ku Klux Klan.
         On Wednesday, December 13, I drove down Lott Carey Road -- named for the Liberian founder who grew up here -- and searched for a driveway that DeMott assured me was here. 
I finally found the dirt road. It was covered with dry walnut shells that exploded under my tires. The sound made the lowland plain seem even more timeless, as if the fallow fields might suddenly bloom with torn and ragged soldiers, staggering home from a lost cause, the air still acrid with an incinerated city.  I passed wooden grave markers that looked watered by the blood of the dead, and a dilapidated plantation house stood empty, waiting for once-beautiful women to step inside, their faces etched with bitterness.
      Out here, it could still be April, 1865.

PS Raleigh deals with many of these same themes in the first book of this series, The Stones Cry Out. That book's offered at $3.99, thanks to the cool folks at Cool Gus Publishing.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Virginia Is for (History) Lovers

Here's the deal--and I do mean deal. For a limited time, Amazon is offering The Clouds Roll Away for $2.99. 

That's 81% off the regular retail price. 

So steal my book. Please. It might never get this inexpensive again (because I don't set these prices, I just celebrate with readers when it happens).

This forehead-smacking-good deal also means I'm posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this Raleigh Harmon mystery. 

Yesterday we covered Reason #10. Now for Reason #9:

                      Virginia's Historic Homes

Along Virginia's James River, the plantation houses date back as far as the 1600s. Elegant testaments to a bygone era, these homes are the birthplace of American history: Childhood stomping grounds of Presidents Tyler and Harrison; dinner parties for as many as eight presidents whose current events were the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Stepping into these homes--some of which are still occupied by descendants of original owners-- is literally to touch history. Oil lamps and Flemish-bond brickwork. Slave quarters and Union-forged cannonballs stuck in the dining room walls. Soldiers in blue and gray, buried in the graveyards.

For historical fiction, these places make ideal settings.  

But they also work amazingly well for contemporary crime fiction.

In The Clouds Roll Away, FBI agent Raleigh Harmon gets called to "Rapland," a historic estate once known as "Laurel" because somebody's burned a cross in the groomed lawn. It appears not everyone appreciates the "improvements" being made by the new owner, a rich black rap star who goes by the moniker RPM. Among the remodeling choices? Pink stucco, aluminum windows, and heavy-duty sound systems.

Was it fun for me to write about this clash of cultures? Oh, yeah. It's my dream material.

At the same time, it was disturbing to explore just how invested people get in houses and history and lineage, and how that investment can twist their hearts and minds. In Clouds, an old classmate of Raleigh's named Flynn Wellington runs a B-and-B on the equally-historic property neighboring Rapland. Flynn's blind devotion to Virginia history sends her to the top of Raleigh's suspects for the cross-burning:

      I drove down the oyster-shell road. A column of walnut trees reached for the blue sky like ancient black hands. It was mesmerizing land and I sympathized with Flynn's devotion to it. But as I pulled onto Wiliamsburge Raod, heading back to town, I wondered about the past's magnetic hold. Flynn clung to her history like someone afraid of perishing, someone drowning who succeeds only in taking the saving grace down with her.
      But most of all I wondered about her statement and the question it left hanging in the conservatory's moist air.
      She did not have time to terrorize an unwelcome neighbor, she said.
     But if she did . . . ?

You can read the rest of the story for a mere $2.99.

At that price, consider it a steal.

P.S. The first Raleigh Harmon mystery, The Stones Cry Out, is also a screaming steal, courtesy of Cool Gus Publishing. The revamped book includes a dozen historic photographs from the Library of Virginia. Which means you can see these historic locations for yourself. Don't miss it. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dirty Forensics

For a limited time, Amazon's offering The Clouds Roll Away as part of The Kindle Big Deal.

A very big deal. Readers get this Raleigh Harmon mystery for a mere $2.99. (An 80-percent discount!)

In honor of this screaming deal, I'm posting my Top Ten Reasons for writing this mystery.

First up, #10

My FBI sources often surprise me. 
No. That's not right. 
They always surprise me. But especially the bureau's geologists. 
But outside of the FBI's materials analysis unit, the rock-hounds don't get much glory. Nothing even close to hairs-and-fibers. Or blood spatter. Even duct tape analysis is far more famous than mineralogy. 
And that's odd. Because on any significant crime, forensic geologists are usually among the first-responders.
Sniper shoots at the White House?
FBI geologist and Special Agent Bruce Hall got the call. He was at a local mall, sped into DC, left his daughter in the White House kitchen eating cookies, and ran upstairs to check the window.
Why call a forensic geologist?
Because glass is made of silica. A good forensic geologist can study a window's fractures and get a good idea of a gun's caliber, sometimes even the location of the shooter.
Embassy blows up in Kenya? Again, call the geologists. 
The FBI's forensic mineralogists pawed through the blown-up building because construction products contain everything from nickel and gypsum to marble and dolomite. Since each elements has a distinct melting point, geologists can sometimes determine a fire's temperature, which then leads to clues about which explosives might have been used.
When I was researching The Clouds Roll Away, I called that same agent who had bolted to the White House after sniper's shot. (By the way, in my little Black Book of sources this now-retired agent Bruce Hall is listed as "Batman.")
"Batman," I said. "I'm kicking around this idea. Could forensic geology solve a cross burning?" 
"Sure," he said.
As he laid out the possibilities, while I asked my usual stupid questions, I suddenly saw the crime unfolding. A crime so good, so bad, so deliciously evil, it could easily wrack Raleigh Harmon's brain for 300 pages, even if she is a geological genius.
"You see?" Batman said. "It always comes back to geology."
Forensic geology makes its first appearance in The Clouds Roll Away in Chapter One. More geology shows up later--everything from chemical weapons to diamonds. 

It always comes back to geology. 
Here's an excerpt from The Clouds Roll Away:
    The cross had burned the back lawn like a branded emblem. The main beam seared twelve feet, four inches. The intersecting beam scorched almost five feet of grass.
     Releasing my aluminum tape measure, letting it rattle closed, I wrote the numbers in my notebook and took several photographs. RPM stood to the side, quietly watching as I snapped on latex gloves, kneeled and pinched the soil. It smelled of soot and scorched minerals, like a doused campfire. But I pinched another sample and waved it back and forth under my nose, detecting something else. 
     It smelled bitter and acidic.
     Hate didn't have a smell, I told myself. But maybe I was wrong.

PS. Cool Gus Publishing also another screaming deal: The first Raleigh Harmon book, The Stones Cry Out, complete with a dozen historical photographs from the Library of Virginia. Don't miss it.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Forward

At some point I lost count of the emails that started with this question: "When is the next Raleigh Harmon novel coming out?"

My reply was always the same: Soon.

Of course, I said "soon" for months and months. Maybe even an entire year. But I felt it was true because Raleigh's next mystery flew from my fingertips, begging to be told.

My only obstacle was how to release the book.

Traditional publishing was an option.  I've been blessed with good publishers and even larger publishing houses had voiced interest in picking up the Raleigh series. Plus I'd found a stellar agent.

So, what was the problem?

That traditional route would mean months--possibly years--before the book would be available for readers. That's how traditional publishing works: The manuscript travels down a long course of committees, editors, publicists, so forth, before the book eventually arrives in stores and online and by that time the author's completely forgotten what the book's about.

When I said soon, I meant it.

Some smart people suggested I self-publish this next book. And believe me, I'm digging all these hallelujah's from writers cutting their own paths straight to their readers. But I also know myself. My technical expertise runs right alongside plow horses.

So just when I was ready to give up (isn't that always the way?), opportunity walked in.

Better yet,  opportunity was a Green Beret speaking my kick-butt language: "Hey! Are you ready to write--really write?!"

Oh, yeah. Literary love: Hit like lightning.

I'm bouncing off the walls pleased to introduce you to Cool Gus Publishing. It's the brilliant brainchild of best-selling author Bob Mayer and marketing wizard Jen Talty. (Read more about Jen's amazing work, including what she's doing with the Raleigh books here. The woman's seriously incredible).

Cool Gus will be partnering on the newest Raleigh Harmon mystery, Stone and Spark. 

You readers deserve a huge shout-out. Because not did you keep asking When's-the-next-book, you also wondered about Raleigh's life before her dad was murdered.

Excellent question.

And the answer is: Stone and Spark.

This book is a prequel to The Stones Cry Out, with Raleigh's dad still alive and Raleigh just beginning to figure out how soil evidence can solve crimes.

But Stone and Spark also launches a new parallel series with Raleigh. Yes, there is book following The Stars Shine Bright. I'm working on it now. But personally I think teenagers are totally awesome (yes, seriously), and I've long wanted to write a young-adult  novel.

When Stone and Spark opens, Raleigh's 15 years old. Her dad's alive. Her mom's still nuts. But her best friend has just gone missing. I loved writing this book.

More details are coming--soon! promise!-- so stay tuned.  I'll be giving away copies and other goodies with the launch. You don't want to miss it (sign up for my newsletter, if you haven't already).

As always, I want to thank you readers.

Your questions made so much of this happen, and I'm so grateful to you all.

P.S. Cool Gus also picked up The Stones Cry Out!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Words, Words, Words

Photo by robenmarie
Among the better gifts I've received was a quote journal. My friend Marge Anderson, a poet by temperament and taste, presented me with this journal after having launched its first pages with pieces by Emily Dickinson, bits from "The Hobbitt," and excerpts from T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland." 

The rest of the journal she left empty, awaiting my choices.

For several years, the quote journal lay fallow. Lately I've been inspired to relaunch it since subscribing to Words for the Weekend, a terrific blog that not only dispatches soul-stirring quotes each week but includes images by great artists such Vladimir Kush (one of my personal favorites). Also, playlists to go with the quotes. 

So the quote journal and the iPod get stocked. What could be better?

This week, with Valentine's Day, Words for the Weekend focused on Love. Plenty of great material, of course. But in light of losing a loved one, I particularly appreciated reading this:

“It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” 
                                         ~E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

photo by cohdra
Being human, we tend to forget these important things, which is why books are so important. And why I recommend subscribing to Words for the Weekend. You'll be surprised how often some just-right quote slips into your life, exactly when you need to hear it.

And maybe it'll even inspire you to start a quote journal. If so, be sure to share what you find. 

We need good words.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Wind in the Door

Someone very very dear to me died yesterday.
Although he was given a good long run--98 years of robust life --I wished even longer for him.

Once again, I'm reminded that I'm not God. (Thank God).
For many years, I've prayed daily for this man's soul. In the last six months, my family and I prayed his heart would open to the truth, that he would renounce his adamant atheism; that God would have mercy on his soul (which at least one atheist now acknowledges is necessary).

But this side of heaven, I'll never know what my dearly departed decided during his last days on earth.

In my heartache, which is severe, my hope keeps returning to something like this:

     A man on his deathbed turned to his physician and mumbled, "What is Heaven like, Doctor?"  
       How could the physician describe Heaven in such brief moments? As his mind searched for an answer for his friend, the doctor heard his dog, scratching at the door. 
        "Can you hear my dog, scratching at your door?" inquired the physician.
        The sick man assured him that he could. 
       "Well," the doctor said, "Heaven must be like that. My dog does not know what is in this room. He only knows he wants to be with me. So it is with Heaven. Our Master is there. That is all we need to know!" 
 -- James Jeremiah, The Place Called Heaven

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Say What?

How do writers come up with dialogue?

Eavesdropping, that's one way.

But some genius just put together an entire break-up scene using only movie titles.

Brilliant and witty.

Here's the video.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Top 10 Reasons: #1

This is it.

This is your last day to grab The Mountains Bow Down for $2.99.

Tomorrow the price shoots up 81%. (Don't blame me. I can't set these prices).

I've been posting my Top 10 Reasons for writing this Raleigh Harmon mystery, the fourth book in this series. And now we've reached (...drumroll, maestro...) Reason #1:


In my last post, I mentioned my family's Alaska roots that reach back to 1885. Most pioneer families didn't manage to stay four generation because, frankly, Alaska's a tough place to survive. Winter sunlight hours can be counted on one hand; summer lasts about 70 days. 

But yesterday, after the Seattle Seahawks won their first Superbowl (just had to get that somewhere), quarterback Russell Wilson said the team's guiding philosophy all season long was: "Why not us?"

I knew exactly what Wilson meant. Not because of football. But because I grew up among this country's tallest peaks, in the only rain forest in North America, eating the biggest fish, the hugest crabs, in the coldest temperatures, with the most colorful human characters. 

Alaska owns the patent on superlatives. And that landscape inspires writers to push farther, aim higher, go beyond all limits. From John Muir to Robert Service to Jack London--even your humble mystery writer--we chose to write about this place because it's like nowhere else on earth. It must be told.

The Mountains Bow Down. 

It's why I chose to open the novel with a favorite poem:

        "There's a land where the mountains are nameless,
        And the rivers all run God knows where;
        There are lives that are erring and aimless,
        And deaths that just hang by a hair;
        There are hardships that nobody reckons;
        There are valleys unpeopled and still;
        There's a land--oh, it beckons and beckons,
        And I want to go back--and I will."
                                                    -- from "The Spell of the Yukon" by Robert Service

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Top 10 Reasons: #2 and #3

Here's the deal--and I do mean deal.

Until tomorrow, February 3, Amazon is practically giving away my fourth mystery.

A mystery starred by Booklist. Rated 5-stars by nearly 40 reviewers. And you get to tour Alaska by cruise ship. 
For $2.99.

Try buying a real ticket for that price.

In honor of this amazing Amazon deal, I'm posting my Top 10 Reasons for writing this Raleigh Harmon mystery. 

We're now at duel reasons #2 and #3:

                                                       MY GRANDMOTHERS

When I was 16 years old, I rode up the ski lift with a complete stranger who gazed down at my skis, read my name, and said, "Sibella, I know your grandmothers. They're amazing."

Yeah, it was like that. All the time.

My grandmothers, Belle and Frances, also happened to be my best friends. A late child, I was the last of their ten grandkids. And the only girl.
Departing Juneau 10 pm, first week of May

Although my grandmothers appear in all of my books, one way or another, I fully reveal their importance to me in The Mountains Bow Down.

Without these two women, my family wouldn't be able to call Alaska its native country. 

This novel is dedicated to these Alaska pioneers. In the acknowledgements I also reveal a bit of their remarkable lives:

"In 1885, a family of fierce Othodox Jews carved their way from Russia to Juneau, Alaska. That same year, the Goldstein family opened a mercantile on the town's muddy docks and welcomed their eighth child, Belle. That daughter would live one hundred years and see Alaska change from a distant US District into a Territory into our 49th state.

"In 1934, amid the Great Depression, a young actress and widow named Frances Kennan Connor sailed to Juneau by steamship. Classically educated, from an affluent mid-West family, Frances was completely ill-suited for the rugged atmosphere of a gold-mining town. And she stayed.
My grandmother's store on an Alaska postcard

"Perhaps more than anyone, Belle and Frances are responsible for [The Mountains Bow Down]. They were my grandmothers and they poured stories into me. Belle talked about her life, which was epic and included a kidnapping by Tlingit Indians when she was five years old and a thiry-year feud with her eldest brother, Charles, who rescued her from that kidnapping. (In Juneau the buildings that Belle and Charlie erected continue to glare at each other across Seward Street.) 

"Meanwhile, Frances--ever private about her own personal tragedies--fed me books. A city librarian, she designated a shelf behind the front counter and left adventures there. Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle. Better still, she was eager to discuss them.

"Whether writers are born or made, I can't say. But it certainly helps if their tribe cherishes stories."

How much of the story began...

Friday, January 31, 2014

Reason #4

You have four days.

Four days to steal my fourth mystery. 

Until February 3, Amazon is offering The Mountains Bow Down for $2.99.

That's cheaper than a gallon of gas. Cheaper than a cup of Starbucks' coffee. Cheaper than Raleigh's favorite meal of cheeseburgers and fries--with a side of mayo.

Those real-life prices bring me to Reason #4 in the Top 10 Reasons why I wrote The Mountains Bow Down:

                     REAL PEOPLE IN MY LIFE

Novelists get plenty of cathartic miles out of recycling annoying people into fictional characters--especially villainous characters. 

But I've found even greater joy by doing the exact opposite: Honoring people I love within the pages of my books. 

For instance, in Mountains I used the names of two adored friends: Bob Barner and Robert Stoller.

Readers get to meet Bob Barner in Skagway, when he races after a fugitive. In real life, I met Bob Barner in Virginia, when I was a reporter.  

Bob was 34 years old, handsome, with a gorgeous wife, and four perfect children.

And he was dying. 

He had a terminal brain tumor; hospice was called in. 

With reportorial chutzpah (or, more accurately, rudeness) I asked Bob Barner if I could write about his hospice care. Long-term. Like move in with the family until, you know, whatever happened.

I know. But that's how God built me. Deal with it. Because I also asked to bring along uber-photogrpaher Dean Hoffmeyer.

After thinking about it for several days, Bob Barner agreed to my request. With one condition: "Make God famous." I really wasn't sure what he meant, but Dean and I did indeed spend months watching Bob die. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. And among the greatest blessings. The story did indeed make God famous: The Barners were Christians who walked the walk and the resulting story was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize after Bob died. Not because of me. It was because of this family, and Dean Hoffmeyer's tender yet unwavering way with a camera. Those photos still make me cry.

On a lighter note, the second real name in Mountains belongs to Robert Stoller. A brilliant attorney in Alaska, Robert Stoller was the first person to teach me Chess. I was about six years old and he was the second smartest person I'd ever met (my dad gets first-place). 

Many years later, at my dad's memorial service, Stoller delivered a laughter-through-tears eulogy that landed on my heart like a healing balm.  Later still. Stoller sent me some autobiographical sketches of his early years in the law. One story was about an attorney he met. The sketch was titled: "The Lawyer Who Pissed in the Sink." (Not Stoller, by the way). 
In Mountains, Raleigh Harmon interviews the Alaska Medical Examiner about a suspicious death. (Aanother cool thing about writing fiction? I can hand out medical degrees--to lawyers!).  Since I knew this fictional ME was super-smart, didn't suffer fools, and was funny, I chose to name him Robert Stoller.

Here's an excerpt, when Raleigh's speaks to Dr. Robert Stoller from the cruise ship:

         “You continue to assume," [he said] "Haven’t you heard the saying?”

“I’m from the South, sir. I’ve heard quite a few sayings.”

“Indeed,” said Dr. Stoller. “But perhaps you need to hear this one. Though it sounds vulgar initially, it provides an unforgettable mnemonic device. Would you care to hear it?”
“You can remember how to spell ‘assume’ because it puts an ‘ass’ in front of ‘u’ and ‘me.’”
I almost laughed. 
“Thus, assuming nothing, we cannot say how she was suffocated her. Only that I’m fairly certain she was suffocated.”