Thursday, December 30, 2010

Reading While You Walk

I met a woman on the walking trail today who was reading a book while she walked. When I say 'met', I mean we passed each other close enough to force her to look up and respond to my hello. As soon as she was out of sight, she went back to reading the small green book she held in front of her. I know because she was reading aloud. However, she spoke so softly, I couldn't make out what she was saying.

I found this interesting for two reasons. First, that's what I used to do while memorizing operas. Somehow, I was able to remember the words better when spoken, and later sang, than I could if I read or sang them silently. Others have told me it worked for them, too.

Then it hit me, this woman was memorizing a part for a play. The book was rather thin like many scripts and there are several playhouses in the area. This made me curious and I wished I had been bold enough to ask her what she was reading. Wouldn't that be fun to talk to an actor while they were still preparing for the play and then go see them on stage? Or, perhaps she was learning a part for an audition. I'll never know.

I also found this "reading while you walk" interesting because if it could work for her it could work for me. I never seem to find time for either reading or walking and if I could combine the two, I could do more of each.

Oh, I know all about audible books if that's what you're thinking. Remember, I wrote an article about that a while back. (See: And I still think audible books are great for long road trips. The problem with using them while walking is what do you do when you get home? I usually read one fiction and one non-fiction at a time, so I would want to keep reading when I got back from my walk. The problem with audible books is that they are such a lonely endeavor, unless you and your spouse are listening together.

If I put on earphones at home, communications with Celeste could become a problem. As it is, we try not to talk to each other when we are reading, but there are times when talking is necessary. Now, I can put a finger in the book and give her my full attention. With an audible book, I might not even hear her at first and then when I did I would have to pause the machine. Not a great idea.

The woman reading on the trail also reminded me of another article I wrote called Writing While You Walk. (See: That's what I did today. I wrote this article while I walked, all in my head. Maybe I better stick to that.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Along with boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations, Celeste also placed a stack of Christmas books out to read. Most of them are short and fun. One, I found especially good.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is only 80 pages, but it tells the story of Christ's birth with humor I've not seen before. It is about six children in a family who live without supervision (father gone and mother working two jobs) and the rest of the children are afraid of them. 

Due to a series of incidents, the six unruly children get all the major parts in the church's Christmas pageant. It is funny, but it is also sad, because these children had not heard the story of Jesus' birth.

The book was published in 1988, so before writing this, I checked to see if it was still available. Not only is it available, there is a 60-minute DVD starring Loretta Swit (of MASH fame) and study guides, too. I guess a few other people found the story of value.

If you haven't read it, please do.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in Jail – Part 3 of 3

(Excerpt from Vengenace Is Mine)
I stood and quietly walked to the bars. I looked as far as I could to the left and then the right. No one was in sight. I picked up the Bible and grabbed the paper to make it line up with the pages of the Bible, but it wouldn't move. It was stuck inside somehow. I opened the Bible to release the skewed paper and when I did I saw the slip of paper was blank. However, there was a verse highlighted in yellow. I was compelled to read it. The verse marked was Romans 12:19. I knew it from memory. "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.'"

I felt a chill, but shook it off. Just a coincidence. That verse would probably apply to most of the guys here. I flipped through the pages of the Bible looking for more yellow ink. I found two more. The first was Colossians 3:13. "Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."

The third verse I found marked in yellow ink shocked me even more. It was Matthew 28:20. "…and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

A strange feeling surrounded me and I knew the Bible readings were for me. God was with me, even here.

I knelt on the concrete with my elbows on the cold metal bed and bowed my head. Nothing happened, but I didn't give up. I stayed there for several minutes, feeling the coldness of the cell, smelling the odor of previous occupants, and trying not to think about the pain in my leg that was worse when I knelt. I wanted to pray, but couldn't. "Help me," was all I could say, so I repeated it over and over again until a sense of comfort enveloped me. That's when I knew God was with me. I felt His strength surround my body. Even the throbbing in my leg from the gunshot wound was gone. I was at peace and pain free for the first time since Sarah's death. It was then I realized God had always been with me. He hadn't abandoned me even though I'd doubted His love. I'd even doubted His existence.

Now I could pray. "Dear God, thank You," I said aloud. "I feel Your power and know You're with me here in this cell. I don't know what to do, but I know I will look for your guidance. Forgive me, Lord. Forgive me for my doubts. And, please Lord, help my friend, Tex. Amen."

After my prayer I was so relaxed I stretched out on the cot and rested.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Jail – Part 2 of 3

(Excerpt from Vengenace Is Mine)

I stretched out on the small metal bed to ponder what to do next. This was one of those times I wished I could pray. Or, had someone to pray to.

I may have drifted off. I'm not sure, but I felt as if I were waking from a deep sleep when I heard a voice call my name. I sat up and saw a tall black man standing outside my cell.

"Hi, son," he said. "It's Christmas eve. I thought you might like a little company."

I stared at him with what I knew must be hate as I walked to the bars where he stood. I could see the word "Chaplain" on a bright red badge attached to the left lapel of his dark blue coat that had the it. My stare didn't faze him. His smile warmed the cell. I didn't care. He was the last person in the world I wanted to talk to. Christmas eve. Hmph. Christmas without Sarah. I'd never have another Christmas with Sarah.

"Didn't you read my booking form?" I said it loud enough for the other inmates to hear. "I wrote atheist on it where it asked about denomination." Atheist might be too strong. Maybe I was an agnostic. Maybe I didn't know. That made me laugh, the not knowing part.

"I read it. Doesn't matter what you wrote, I can see in your heart that you love your Lord and God and always will."

I laughed. "That's funny. If you could look into my heart you might be surprised what you'd see. You might even have to run tell the guards what's in my heart." I turned and walked to the back of the small cell to put distance between us.

"I know, son. That's why I'm here. To help you get beyond your loss so you can feel the love of God once more."

When he said the word 'loss', I turned around quickly to face him. Then it hit me, he was just guessing. He didn't know about Sarah.

I laughed again and sat on the edge of my cot.

"I'm praying for you, son," the black man said. "Here's a Bible for when you're ready for it."

He was silent after that. I couldn't resist looking to see if he had left and when I did he was nowhere in sight. He'd placed the Bible just inside the bars on the floor. I wanted to leave it there and let him find it sitting in the same place after I was out of here. But I couldn't. There was a piece of paper sticking out of one side and it was crooked. Sometimes I hated this obsession of mine for neatness. I wasn't tempted to read the piece of paper, but I couldn't resist straightening it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas in Jail – Part 1 of 3

(Excerpt from Vengenace Is Mine)

They put me in a small holding cell at the Galveston Police Station without booking me. One of the guards said I'd probably be released soon, but after the cruise ship blew up, they changed their mind. I was photographed, fingerprinted and moved to a larger, private cell alongside other prisoners.

I started to call Angela when I was offered a phone call, thinking she might have more pull with the police, but I called Dad instead. He was in an airport in Los Angeles and wanted to cancel his trip and come to Galveston. I talked him out of it by telling him the police would learn I had nothing to do with the cruise ship bombing. They would find out that Tex and I had helped the investigation by discovering the place where the bomb was probably made. Dad's voice was more serious than I'd heard in some time while he was probably making his decision about coming or not. Finally, he said for me not to worry because he'd take care of everything.

I don't know if all the jail scuttlebutt was accurate or not, but based on what I heard from jailers and inmates, the bomb had exploded in the crew's quarters on the cruise ship. The ship's name was the same as the name on the ID card Tex and I had found in the warehouse. Since the explosion was below the water line, the ship sunk quickly. No one in the rumor mill here knew how many people had been lost, but I heard there were other ships in the area picking up survivors.

Sitting alone on the steel bed, I couldn't help thinking the bombing could have been prevented if we'd found the cruise ship uniform sooner and acted faster. I had this nagging feeling of responsibility for what had happened. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to do anything about Sarah's death. I was clearly in over my head. And what about Tex? He could end up in prison again for helping me. I didn't know if he was on parole still or not, and I wasn't sure if he had a permit to carry a weapon. What he'd said in the warehouse about putting his gun away before we called the police made me doubt it. Do they let ex-cons have permits? Probably not.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bookmobile Christmases

In Where Love Once Lived, Christmas is the cause for the break up between Brian and Karen. Well, sort of. Thirty years earlier, Brian went home from the university because his mother wanted him there to celebrate Christmas with the family. It was while he was in California that he was tempted and failed.

In the current time of the book, Karen tells her daughter Julie the only gift she wants is for Julie to go to church with her. Although the ploy didn't work, Karen is eventually rewarded for her efforts.

Julie goes on a ski trip with her father and his new family and leaves her mother for the first time during Christmas. But Karen doesn't stay home alone. She goes to visit her brother in Iowa. However, after a short visit, she wishes she had stayed in Austin.

Meanwhile, Brian is in California with his family after the head librarian shuts down the bookmobile service. He is shocked to learn his mother has Alzheimer's and there is no mention of a joyous Christmas.

In Vengeance Is Mine, Chris and Tex borrow the bookmobile to go to Galveston searching for some terrorists on Christmas Eve. They get arrested for breaking and entering and spend Christmas Eve in jail. It is a turning point for Chris so I've included the manuscript of that night in jail in the next three posts.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Prize-Winning Bookstore

Some people asked me about the reference in yesterday's post to cleaning out my bookstore since I've never mentioned a bookstore before. Here's what happened.

All my life I've dreamed of owning a small independent bookstore with space for living above the store. In the store itself, I visualized a place to write plus displays of collectible books, posters and such from famous writers. Of course, I also realized it would never happen.

Then, when my wife died, and I needed to sell the house and find another place to live, I thought that might be the time to open a bookstore. I decided to limit it to prize-winning books only and began to collect books that had won the Pulitzer Prize. In addition, I would have a corner for Christy Award winners and children's section with nothing but Newbery Medal winners.

But God had other plans for me. While I was searching for a building to buy, I met Celeste. At first, she went with me to look at the various locations. Then at some point, the idea of living alone upstairs in a bookstore begin to lose its appeal. Living with Celeste sounded much better.

Celeste and I got married and moved into a nice home close to where our previous homes were. I don't miss that bookstore one bit. I rented a storage space we called "the bookstore" and moved my books there until I could find time to dispose of them. I will sell the collectibles on eBay and give away the others to libraries.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thank You, Mary Lasswell

I read all of Mary Lasswell books beginning with Suds in Your Eye published in 1942. My bookmobile novel was going to follow her pattern of humorous episodes acted out by a lovable group of women. In my case, Liz Siedo, the bookmobile librarian and her adventures. The first title I came up with was: Mrs. Pickles and the Bookmobile.

But on the way to writing the book I realized I didn't know how. Then, when I took an online novel writing class some forty years later, I was more or less forced to add more than humorous episodes. A novel, I was told, must have tension, ups and downs, conflict, protagonists and antagonists. By the time I finished the book it didn't resemble anything Mary Lasswell ever wrote, but still I'm thankful to her for getting me started.

Mary Lasswell comes to mind today because as I was cleaning out my bookstore I found a copy of Suds in Your Eye. Since I haven't read it in perhaps fifty years, and because it is relatively short, I moved it to the top of my reading list. I finished Shawna K. Williams' In All Things last night so I was ready for another book anyway. I'll tell you about In All Things later, but for now  all I'll say is READ IT.

I have no idea what I'll find when I read Suds in Your Eye again, but I'll let you know in a future post.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Another Event Scheduled

On January 26, 2011, I'll be one of four featured speakers at the Assistance League's "Booked for Lunch" event in Georgetown. The Assistance League is a nationwide organization with chapters in local areas. "Booked for Lunch" is an annual fund-raising event for Georgetown's chapter. Read about it here: There is a $20 charge with the money going to benefit Assistance League’s Philanthropic Programs.

We each get 20 to 30 minutes to talk. I think I will tell about how Where Love Once Lived got started, read some from the beginning, and then tell them about my new book, Vengeance Is Mine.

For more information about the organization, see:

I hope all my Georgetown friends will come. Most of you have my book, but you haven't heard me talk about it. Besides, the money goes to a good cause.

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's Official—Come See Me at BookPeople

I've been bragging for some time now about the book signing I have scheduled at BookPeople in downtown Austin, Texas’ leading independent bookstore since 1970. In fact, my friend Rollo has called several times to ask me the date so that he could put it on his calendar and, hopefully, invite his friends.

However, yesterday, as I sat down to address postcards to my friends in Austin, I started wondering if the date was locked in or not. I had not seen any mention of the book signing on the BookPeople website, even though they have advertised such writers as Jimmy Carter, Laura Bush, and Fannie Flagg.

So, I sent an email to BookPeople to tell them my concern. A short time later, I checked the events calendar and found my name there.

So, it's official.

It doesn't say much yet, but at least I know I have the right date and time. I don't know Jennifer Hritz, but I hope she brings in lots of friends.

That date again, Rollo, is January 15, 2011, 7:00 p.m. Tell your friends. I'd hate sit next to Jennifer and not have anyone stop by to see me.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Christmas Gift by Diane Craver

This story is told by a seven-year old girl who's faith is strong enough to comfort her whole family and positively affect many other people for years to come.

The book begins in 1957 when Debra Reeves discovers her father cannot read. He is trying to teach himself, because he is embarrassed to ask for help. Being seven, Debra decides the only solution is to pray for her father. God's answer to Debra's prayer solves more than one problem. Debra learns she is loved, the teacher sent to help is released from a life of grieving and Debra's sister finds happiness.
I have to warn you I cried more than once while reading this rather short book. Of course I laughed some too. All good books affect me this way.

A prologue sets the scene and adds a depth of reality that might not be possible without it. The epilogue lets the reader know what happens to all the characters for the next fifty-three years. It was a real delight to read that part. At first I wondered how the author was able to stop where she did with all that back story available, but it worked perfectly the way it was written.

Despite the title, this is not one of those stories that only makes sense during the Christmas season. This is one you'll enjoy all year long.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Google Maps Takes the Fun Out of Research

In my work in progress, Vengeance Is Mine, the protagonist travels a lot. To make it easier for me, I only let him go to places I've been. That way I can create better descriptions of the locations. But the other day I wished I was in Albuquerque again to get a bit a detail I needed for a scene. I wanted there to be a house close to the Petroglyph National Monument, but I didn't know if there was one or not. In the old days, such research might require a tax-deductible trip to look around first hand. But, no longer.

Here's all I had to do. I opened Google Maps in my browser and typed in Petroglyph National Monument. Then I clicked on the little orange Google man and moved him to the streets around the park. I found just what I needed. There was a whole neighborhood near the park's parking lot. Close enough to serve my needs.

From Albuquerque, my characters went to Rowe, a small town in Massachusetts I know quite well, but a place where most people don't vacation. My memory of the place was good, but I had not been to a private airport in nearby North Adams that I wanted to use in the story. With Google Maps I was able to start at the airport and follow the road to Rowe. I learned there are many turns along the way. I looked for photos as I made my virtual trip in hopes of finding a winter scene but there were none. Luckily, I went to Rowe this year and a friend there had some photos taken while there was snow on the ground.

So, no longer must we go to a villa in France or spend time on a barge in the Netherlands to absorb details enough for a realistic description. All we have to do is turn on the computer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Planning a Subsequent Book In a Series

Where Love Once Lived developed over a long period of time because it was my first novel and, quite honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing. Vengeance Is Mine, may second effort, was much easier because of the experience I had gained with my first book. However, it has mostly new characters. Although there are references to a few others, only Liz, the librarian plays a part in both books. At the time I wrote Vengeance, I noticed a methodology emerging, but I didn’t stop to record it.

All I remember about the method was starting with an Excel worksheet with a row for each scene. I was aiming for a particular market with a maximum of 80,000 words and knew from my first book that a  scene length of 2,000 words was about right. So, I started with 40 scenes. Next, I identified the first ten scenes as Act I, the next 20 as Act II, and the last 10 as Act III. For more information about acts, see Elements of Fiction Writing - Beginnings, Middles & Ends by Nancy Kress.

By the way, the completed manuscript contains 72,334 words divided into 44 scenes.

With Vengeance Is Mine off to the publisher for review it is time to start Do Unto Others. This is the second in the bookmobile series, so I already know the characters. There will probably be a few new ones pop up and some of the ones from Where Love Once Lived will get bigger parts this time. I have a story question developed as well as the gem of an idea for each act. So I can start writing as soon as I organize the scenes.

I teach Microsoft Office at Austin Community College and, while teaching a class on integrating PowerPoint and Word, thought of a new way to get started on this book. Instead of Excel, I’m outlining with PowerPoint. Why? Because PowerPoint slides are so easy to move around using the slide sorter view.

This is similar to the way writers once used 3 x 5 cards for scenes and taped them on the wall as a guide to follow. Perhaps some still do that.

The title of each slide contains the scene number. Then there are bullets for POV, Time, Location, Goal, and Conflict. This is as far as I've gotten in my new method, but I'll continue to share the process with you as I go. Just so you'll know, my plan is to create 40 scenes, sort them as needed, then there is an automated way to convert the slides to a Word outline. Once in Word, I will convert the outline to hidden text to use as a guide for writing the book.

Do you have a method to share?

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Open Letter to the Austin History Center

As you know, I dropped off two copies of my novel, Where Love Once Lived, last week. As a long-time resident of Austin who is now living in Sun City Texas in Georgetown, I know you have a place for the publications of local authors because my last book, Automated Law Office Systems, is in the Austin History Center according to the online catalog.

What you don’t know is that the idea for Where Love Once Lived came to me when I worked in the building now called the Austin History Center. At that time it was the main library building. This was back in the 1960s when I was a part-time bookmobile driver while going to the University of Texas.

The librarian I rode with most was Jean Siedo. She was outspoken and somewhat unorthodox, and clearly not the typical librarian. However, she was loved by all the patrons. Liz Siedo, the fictional bookmobile librarian in my book is an exaggeration of the real librarian based on my half-century-old memories.

Another thing you don’t know is that my next book, currently called Vengeance Is Mine, also involves Liz and the library. However, in this book, she has been promoted to director of libraries. She likes the old building where the Austin History Center is and has her office there. The manuscript for that book is with a potential publisher, but I’ll make sure you get a copy when it’s published.

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to Brenda Branch, the director of libraries in Austin because Ms. Varner, head librarian in my book is a villain. I didn't set out to make her evil, but early readers of the manuscript said it needed more conflict. Everyone loved the Liz character, so getting Ms. Varner fired presented a way to promote Liz. Remember, it is fiction.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Find the Perfect Name for a Fictional Character Part 5

In previous posts, we talked about several ways to find perfect names for fictional characters. Even though we go through the steps of finding the right name, sometimes we still need help. That's where the Internet comes in handy. It wasn't too many years ago that I used to search through phone books for character names. Now, I don't have to leave my house to find the perfect name.

I had to laugh out loud recently when Camy Tang, Christian author of Sushi for One, Deadly Intent, and more, went to Facebook to find a name for a character. In the middle of the night, she wrote: Anybody around? Quick, give me first and last name ideas for a nasty old lady. Twenty-four suggestions came in. Then Camy posted this: Thanks guys! I chose Velma Crackenburg (Tryphena Sturgeon was close 2nd). When this book comes out, I'll blog & mention all of you by name!

An hour later (still in the middle of the night where I live) another SOS came in from Camy: I need some ideas for names for old, rich men. Twenty-eight responses came in this time and I tried to come up with a suggestion. I never did see the name she selected, but at 8:23 pm that night Camy posted this: THE BOOK IS DONE!!!!!! HALLELUJAH!!!!!

I don't know if the person who suggested Velma Crackenburg used it or not but it sounds like one of the names you get when you use the Fictional Character Name Generator available on the web. See: It is fun to play with. All you have to do is click on the male or female button to get a name, first and last. Here are two examples: Trevin Wostfoot and Scarlet Frelfly. I would never use it, but it is interesting to play with, and great for people who want a fictional sounding name.

One source on the web I would use is This site is loaded with useful information that will help you find the perfect name. And, it is easy to read. There are eight short tips plus comments from readers.

I would love to hear from you about how you select names. As a reader, I sometimes wonder why writers pick names that are so similar I can't remember who's who. How about you readers. Let me know what you think about names of fictional characters you encounter as you read.