Sunday, July 31, 2011


The novel I'm currently writing takes place in December.  The location isn't the coldest place in winter, but daily highs average 59 F and lows average 38 F.

In the past two weeks where I live, afternoon temperatures have been between 85 and 103, and nights between 67 and 83. Sitting here in my shorts and sleeveless shirts, it's not easy to remember to put jackets and gloves on my characters. It's hard to recall what a winter breeze feels like on naked skin. Or to picture little white puffs of breath while people talk.

I had a similar situation while writing HANG MY HEAD AND CRY. That story takes place in July in Virginia, during a heat wave and drought. I wrote much of that novel during the winter.

Still, I believe in getting the weather and climate right for whatever setting I'm using.  I think I mentioned once in this blog a book I'd read in which a family from Florida goes to Virginia for the Christmas holidays. The author had put far too much snow on the ground for the location. The characters were forever doing things like sitting under a tree for a half hour with no sign of discomfort, or walking on top of the snow without sinking in or slipping. One character said she'd forgotten her gloves, then went on to help build a snowman. The author was a Floridian. I suspect that, since she had no clue snow was wet and freezing cold, her only experiences with it were through visual media.

These days, it's easy to Google monthly average temperatures and precipitation for just about anywhere on earth. Writers researching historical novels can use weather descriptions in dairies and local newspaper archives. I did this with FEAR ITSELF. My 1933 characters had to deal with messier weather, but I had the satisfaction of knowing it was authentic and much more interesting than relentless nice days (which is rare for March in Southeastern Pennsylvania).

Weather adds depth and mood to a setting. Yet writers seldom use it except in the extreme, like the blizzard that stranded the train in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

As I finish this blog, the sky outside is turning an ominous dark gray. I can hear thunder from the southwest.

Think I'll go enjoy the impending show.

Stay cool,

Saturday, July 23, 2011

EBOOKS: Fear Itself and Two-Faced

If I had any doubts about the future of electronic books, they were laid to rest by one question I've been relentlessly asked the last 3 months:  "Is FEAR ITSELF available on Kindle?"

I'm happy to announce that, at last, FEAR ITSELF, the 4th book in the Pat Montella series, is available in both Kindle and Nook formats, at a better-than-reasonable price.

In addition, for those of you ebook fans who are completely insatiable, I've begun a new Kindle-exclusive series.  The first novel, TWO-FACED went live today and, best of all, it's cheap.

TWO-FACED introduces my Twins Mystery Series, featuring forensic psychologist Gen Ziegler and her mirror-image twin, Sara.  If Pat Montella and Miss Maggie could be considered my Poirot and Miss Marple, Gen and Sara are definitely my Tommy and Tuppence. They're young and more adventure-prone.  I can throw all sorts of danger at them without worrying about things like osteoporosis.

Gen and Sara also let me show-off a bit of my local Pennsylvania culture.  They're half Pennsylvania Dutch, half Sicilian, and they were brought up in the Schwenkfelder Church (only a handful of these churches are left in Southeastern PA).  Apple butter and pizza sauce flow through their veins.

So go check them out and let me know what you think.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Retreat, Regroup

As I'm writing this, I'm sitting on a screened porch, enjoying my last hours at my second annual writing retreat.  I think I mentioned last year that the location is so remote, my host has to lead me to it, a half hour in from the main road.  No Internet access here, and this week, thanks to Verizon's efficiency (yes, that's sarcasm) not even a land line.  A cellphone signal can be had if you've got a decent carrier and don't mind walking down the driveway a bit.  With the phone out, last night's gorgeous full moon and the murder of crows that hung around all week, it's been rather like living inside a Hitchcock movie.  Perfect mood for mystery writing.

The week was filled with lovely walks down farm roads, good food, and wildlife sightings (songbirds, bunnies, deer, a huge family of wild turkeys (mom, dad, 6 adolescents and 8 babies), and my first close-up look at a bald eagle).  Evenings were spent listening to old radio plays.

But, of course, the purpose of the retreat was writing.  While it's nice to have a quiet place for uninterrupted work, I find the real benefit of a retreat is for the thinking writing demands.  At home, with all the distractions, it's hard to find time to step back from your project to ruminate on why a scene isn't working, or whether the book is flowing properly, or should the story take a whole new direction?  Walking seems to get the creative juices flowing.  Country air clears the mind.  Ice cream at the end of the day rewards the soul.

That's the kind of mental rejuvenation these retreats offer.  Honestly, I could use one 4 or 5 times a year.

Now back to reality.  But I'll arrive home with loads of fresh Jersey produce and fresh ideas for my writing.  And a great memory of a bald eagle sighting.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Doodle Comes to Visit

No writing yesterday.  Sprout TV was filming scenes from two episodes of the children's show Noodle and Doodle right in front of my house.  I camped out at my front window with iced tea and munchies.

I hadn't heard of N & D so I Googled it.  It's an online show for preschoolers,  featuring Noodle, a muppet who teaches kids how to cook healthy meals. The other title character is Doodle, sort of a cross between an Etch-a-Sketch and an iPad (really he's a hand-held blue screen that's later animated back at the studio). Driving these two stars around in a double-decker bus is human host Sean.  The bus and Noodle were absent.  Too hot for them perhaps. It was humid and 88 degrees in the shade where my thermometer hangs. They were filming in the sun.  They hung white scrims overhead to diffuse the light, and had cases of bottled water and a big fan, but it must have been stifling out there.  But Sean and Doodle were present, along with a production crew of about 30 people.  I have to say, they were all very nice and friendly, apologized for making us all move our cars and closing off our street, and at the end of the day, they cleaned the whole block so it looked better than when they began.  In my prior experience with film companies (I was an extra in Twelve Monkeys), this isn't always the norm.

They use different preschoolers on every show, and yesterday's certainly weren't seasoned actors (what 4 year-olds are?).  The directors both deserve Emmys just for coaching the tots through take after take (for instance, fifteen minutes of shooting them saying "Bye, Sean!" and waving, when their attention spans lasted no more than 5 minutes). One little boy simply stopped doing anything.  One little girl relieved her rising boredom by getting more creative, running into the street instead of stopping on her mark, waving her stuffed animal instead of her arm (and hiding her face in the process).

Here are some of photos of the shoot:

Setting up scene 1.  More interesting than actual shoot.

Sean holding Doodle. Sean spent a lot of time down on that knee.


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