Welcome, Velda! Let’s virtually sit down and talk about books and publishing. I hear you’re getting into E book publishing.

Velda: When I began working toward EBook publishing, I never dreamed I would put books so close together. Another is still on the drawing board, so to speak. It’s an exciting time to be an author.

Lori: I’ve been seriously thinking about EBook publishing myself, now that self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma that it did until recently; also, the “royalties” from EBooks are generally higher than those from books in print on paper. What drew you to the world of EBooks?

Velda: Lori, I was probably most fascinated by Ebooks when I learned I could republish all my backlist to Kindle. Once that became a possibility, I started thinking about what books I had that had circulated in New York, had some good feedback, but never sold. Why couldn’t I submit those to E book publishers and see what happened? I had no idea that two of them would sell within weeks of my submitting them. One is still under consideration.
What I like most about E books I think is that I can do almost all my promoting and marketing online sitting at my computer. I’ve been in this business a long time and am getting weary of book signings and personal appearances. Not that I don’t enjoy meeting all my fans, I love that part, but the physical effort is getting to be more than I can handle. I also enjoy the high royalties involved. Of course that varies between E book publishers and Kindle.
You should look into publishing some of your work through Kindle. There are plenty of good E book publishers out there as well, if you wanted to go that route.

Lori: I’m not sure if I want to go through an E book publisher, or self-publish through Smashwords or Kindle, but I am putting together several of my older stories (and revising them) that I intend to at least put on Kindle, although I don’t know when that will be, or how I’ll promote it! (Maybe a visit to your blog?) Can you tell me more about the E books that you’ve sold or have “in the queue” to sell, and about your published works? I know you’ve published a fair amount, and I’d love to learn more. How did you go about selling your two E-books so quickly?

Velda: Selling those first two E books was amazing for me. I had written a western historical romance which my agent didn’t like. I really thought it was good, so I did some more work on it and sent it to Rhonda Penders at Wild Rose Press. I met her at the Ozark Creative Writer’s Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas in October. I hadn’t even thought of submitting anything until a friend who had pitched her work to Rhonda came over to me and told me that they were looking and buying (in this case, that simply means contracting, as Ebook publishers don’t usually pay an advance) and if I had anything at all I should pitch it. So I dug around in my mind, thought of this manuscript that was gathering dust and pitched it to Rhonda. She asked for it and they accepted it in November. Said they were absolutely enthralled with the story. It will be out in February as Stone Heart’s Woman, just a bit over a year from the time they contracted it. It will also be in print.

The second book I sold around the same time, I had spoken to Rhonda about it and she asked to see it also, but it didn’t fit their strict guidelines for a romance. She told me to submit it somewhere else as a paranormal mainstream, which is precisely what I did. In this case I got online and checked out several Ebook publishers, picked SynergEbooks because I liked the books they were publishing a lot. They sent me a contract almost by return mail. We just today finished the final edits on it. My editor was concerned about one important point in the book and she helped me work out what we should do to fix it. I just Emailed the manuscript a few minutes ago. I really thought it would qualify as a romance, but I guess there was too much “other story” in it. The title is Wolf Song, and it has a mystery, a lot of shapeshifting, murder and the like. It would appear that it’s a cross genre, but they’re marketing it as a YA and Adult novel. I’m excited to see how it does. They’ve been taking pre-orders for a few weeks.

I am all over the map, so to speak, with my writing. I have five regional nonfiction books out about the Ozarks of Arkansas. My creative nonfiction, which is a biography that takes place in New Mexico, was a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards for Creative Non Fiction in 2008. I have six western historical romances that were originally published in NY and four are now on Kindle, with the other two ready to edit and format. I have three women’s fiction novels about middle aged women meeting some sort of crisis in their lives. I plan on self-publishing them to Kindle. And would you believe I have a horror novel that’s still with an Ebook publisher that is taking way too much time to decide. I may end up publishing it to Kindle as well.

Lori: I would believe it. The stories I’m hoping to put on Amazon are horror stories. I think everybody has a few nightmares that they can get out by writing, if they try.

Velda: And that about covers what I’ve written so far. I tried straight mysteries, but couldn’t keep everything lined up, and I don’t have the patience to write one of those big thrillers with their layers and layers of story line. What’s next? Once all of these are headed in the right direction, I’ve already started another western historical romance I hope to get published through Wild Rose Press. Did you know they were chosen for the fourth year in a row as the best E book publisher by readers through Preditors and Editors?

Lori: No, I didn’t know that. But I’ll certainly be visiting the Preditors and Editors website before I approach any publisher. I think many authors or would-be authors don’t know about that site; I hope this can help spread the word.

Velda: I think it’s a good idea for you to get something published on Kindle. Promoting and marketing is a lot of work, but at least you’re not stomping around trying to get a few people to pay attention to you at a book signing. Though I do enjoy that a lot because of the wonderful readers I meet.

Lori: Thank you for the advice. I did a lot of that stomping around with my first book, Spooky Creepy North Dakota, and I didn’t enjoy it — except for the people I met that way.
Thank you so much, Velda, for visiting my blog. I hope to be reading your new books very soon.

Velda: I appreciate you having me. It was tons of fun to converse with you this way. Sort of like having coffee together and chatting.


Today’s post isn’t about me or my life (imagine that!). Today I’m posting an interview with Meg Justus about her new novel, Repeating History, available in Kindle format on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005E8S8UM) as well as Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76672). This is the first stop on Meg’s blog tour, which I hope will be a long one. If you want to host a blog stop, you can contact her at mmjustus@nwlink.com. Her own website is http://mmjustus.com/ so stop by and check that out too!

Meg’s book doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, which to me is a good thing. The protagonist of Repeating History is Chuck McManis, 20 years old in 1959, a college drop-out, and taking a road trip to Yellowstone Park. While watching Old Faithful erupt, Chuck finds himself in the middle of a major earthquake, which throws him around and knocks him out. When he comes to, he realizes that he is no longer in 1959. He learns that, in fact, he is in the 1870s, and everything he knows can’t help him survive here — not only that, he is apparently his great-grandfather, and returning to the future means that he’ll lose Eliza, his great-grandmother from his time, but now the woman he loves.

1. I know we all get tired of people asking, “Where do you get ideas for writing?” but seriously, what inspired you in starting this book?

I actually like this question for this book, because I’ve never met anyone else who was inspired to write a time travel novel after watching a geyser go off. A few years ago I was in the middle of watching my first-ever eruption of Grand Geyser (not Old Faithful, but just down the boardwalk from it), the tallest predictable geyser in the world, when I suddenly thought, wow, this would make a terrific time travel device. I started researching Yellowstone’s history and things just kind of snowballed from there, especially after I found a firsthand account written by one of the tourists kidnapped by the Nez Perce.

2. Can you describe your experience with the setting? It’s clear you’ve been there, and love it, but tell us more!

At age four I was too young to remember my first visit to Yellowstone. I went back again as a teenager and as a young adult, but I did not fall in love with the park until I spent a week there as part of a solo 3-month cross-country road trip in the fall of 1999, when I saw that eruption of Grand Geyser and was absolutely enthralled. Geysers are said to play, and I’ve actually seen people applauding geysers because they’re so much fun to watch. Each geyser has its own personality, too. I’ve been back to the park numerous times since then at various times of the year, and have spent as much time as I could in the park archives doing research, as well as in other archives and libraries in the area. And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time wandering in Chuck’s footsteps, and in the geyser basins waiting for things to go off.

3. How did you choose your protagonist? Is there a reason you chose to use a man rather than a woman? And do you feel that you’ve written a believeable male character?

Chuck started out as a military officer, on bereavement leave to bury his father. I keep trying to make characters into soldiers. I don’t know why that is, but Chuck rebelled almost from the beginning. For one thing, his voice kept sounding younger than I had originally intended him to be (mid-thirties, turned out he was twenty), and for another, I kept seeing him in my mind as a young blond Buddy Holly, gangly, glasses, and all. The reason Chuck is male, besides the fact that he absolutely positively couldn’t be anything else, is because in every other time travel novel I’ve ever read, either we have a man coming forward from the past to the present, or we have a woman going back from the present into the past. I’d never read one where a man went back into the past. And so that’s why I chose a male protagonist.

I like to think Chuck’s believable. I hope he is. I agonized more about him being believably from 1959 (the year I was born) than I did about him being male. I had a harder time writing Eliza, who is a very traditional woman of her time, than I did writing Chuck. But I think that’s more a function of me being about as untraditional a female as it is possible to be than anything else, which is probably one reason why it was easier for me to write a male character.

4. Who are your favorite characters in the book, and who was the most difficult to write about (and why)? And do you incorporate bits of people you know into your characters, or parts of yourself?

I’ll start with that question about the most difficult. Killing someone with gangrene resulting from a gunshot wound to the hip was not fun. I had to research it, of course, and I did, and the character really did have to die, but I didn’t have to like it.

I like all my characters, even the ones I’m not supposed to like, which sometimes makes things difficult. The character who turned out to be the most pleasant surprise was Lucy. She simply strolled onstage about two-thirds of the way in and started talking. She never tried to take over the book, but she turned Martin, who had been pretty much a pain in the neck up to that point, into a real grown-up. And she enabled plot point after plot point. I have no idea what part of my subconscious she came from, but I’m extremely grateful she showed up.

I don’t consciously incorporate bits of myself or other people into my characters, with two exceptions, one large and one small. The small exception is Chuck’s looks. The large exception is that Repeating History is based on real events. The Nez Perce did flee through Yellowstone in 1877, and they did kidnap at least one party of tourists along the way. Eliza is based on a real person. So are Martin and Anna Cooper, and William Byrne. Unconscious incorporation of bits from any source is another matter altogether.

5. Why did you choose first person over any of the other main types? (third person, multiple third persons, omniscient, etc.)

Because when I first started writing the story, I was working in single viewpoint tight third person because that’s what I’d been told sold easiest. The words had to be pulled out with pliers, and they sounded terribly stilted. So, on a whim, I started over in first person, thinking that once I had a draft I’d rewrite it in third, and it was like turning on a fire hose. The story just started running, and it didn’t stop. I never did do that rewrite. The sequel of sorts I am working on right now is also in first person, but it is not in Chuck’s point of view. It’s from the point of view of a !horrors! woman, which I fought for far longer than I should have. But she’s decidedly not traditional, which helps.

6. Do you start with a written outline of some sort(either with numbers or just a paragraph), or do you just get the ideas in your head and go for it? Will you use the same process in the sequel — if you’re writing a sequel and I hope you are?

For Repeating History I borrowed a system I had heard discussed by author Lois McMaster Bujold, who talked about plotting turning point to turning point, or, to use her term, to the next event horizon. I figured out where things were going until I couldn’t anymore, then I wrote to that point, then I figured out where things were going next and and wrote to that point and so forth, to the end of the book. The kidnapping and escape part was plotted for me, since I was writing a version of a story that really happened. For the sequel, and, yes, as I said there’s a sequel, sort of — one of the main characters in my work in progress is Chuck’s son/grandfather, and True Gold is about his adventures in the Klondike in the late 1890s with a young woman he rescues along the way, which I hope to have up on Amazon and Smashwords by June — I tried writing a full outline, using techniques I read about on author Holly Lisle’s website. At least I thought it was a full outline. It appears now, however, that I was just plotting to the first event horizon, so I am apparently using the same method I did last time, just coming at it from a different angle.

7. What is your favorite part of the writing through publishing process, including marketing, and what is your least favorite?

Call me insane, but I love revision. I feel about revising the same way I do hand quilting, which is my favorite part of making a quilt. The writing process (as I do it, at least) does have a lot in common with the quilting process, come to think about it. First I get the idea, then I figure out how to make it work, then I write the first draft/cut and piece the top, then I revise and layer in the rest of the story/do the quilting, then I proof and go over it one last time/bind the quilt. It helps to think of it that way, too. That way I don’t expect a finished story when all I’ve got is a pieced top. Because my most complete rough drafts are, to put it kindly, only about half of the finished story.

My least favorite part so far is marketing, but that’s because I have a lot to learn. This interview, I hope, is a good first step. Thank you for the opportunity.

8. Why did you choose self-publishing over the agent and book publisher route?

Honestly, if, in the seven or eight years I wasted submitting Repeating History to agents and publishers only to be told over and over that it was a good story but not something they thought they could sell, someone had offered to take me on, I would have jumped at it. But self-publishing suddenly became more acceptable and economically possible at just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel on traditional publishing, and I thought, why not? Besides, I have a fairly entrepreneurial spirit — I am an independent museum curator in my other life — so being in control of the entire process appealed greatly to me.

9. What is your favorite part of the book?

There are two, both have to do with Chuck’s realizing what’s happened to him and who he is. One is when the party of tourists he’s stumbled into tries to plug up Old Faithful (the early tourists did a lot of stupid things, but then I don’t think the early tourists had a monopoly on stupidity) and he recognizes what’s going on as one of the stories his great-grandmother told him when he was small. The other is when he and Eliza and Anna arrive at the Bottlers’ ranch and he’s standing out on the porch staring at the stars and realizing that if he really is his great-grandfather, he’s going to marry Eliza. And that he’s not unhappy about that turn of events at all. I know a lot of people look at the whole “I’m my own great-grandfather” storyline and roll their eyes (several agents certainly did so), but honestly, it’s my favorite part of the plot. What would you do if you had the chance to live the life of someone you idolized, only to find out that things didn’t happen the way you always thought they had at all? Second chances has always been the main theme of my writing, and Chuck’s story is the ultimate in second chances, so far as I was concerned.

Thank you, Meg, for providing us some insight not just into your book, but into the writing and publishing proocess!

Meg Justus clearly knows a great deal about subjects ranging from Montana history to geysers and anything in between, and I’m sure she’d be delighted to visit your blog to talk about them!

The Historic (Haunted?) Adams House in Deadwood SD

In April, I survived a 5-day trip through the Black Hills with my sister. I say survived because I was exhausted by the end of the first day, and my fatigue level just got worse from there; the day we drove south from Deadwood to Hot Springs it decided to rain (why do we always say “it’s raining?” What is “it” that can do such things?) and fog came up (or down) (or maybe it was clouds; we were much higher than usual), and it got very windy. So I have many photos with raindrops on the camera lens (I need some sort of thingy to put on the end of the lens to protect it, although since some of the rain was blowing at us, I’m not sure that would help) and my photo of the famed Crazy Horse Memorial-in-progress looks like a photo of fog, with a black blur behind it. Not book-worthy, I fear.

I did wonder, as I looked at the mountain being shredded, what Crazy Horse himself would have thought about the monument/memorial. Remember that the Black Hills were sacred to the Lakota, even more sacred than the rest of Mother Earth. I can’t imagine a Lakota leader and spiritual man, which is how he is described by his people, would appreciate having a mountain blasted and carved into his image, or any other for that matter. But maybe it’s just me. The fact that there are no known photos of him makes it even worse, at least to these white eyes. The Lakota name for us, “wasichu” (meaning both fat or greasy, and greedy) seems even more appropriate when you enter the visitor center after paying the $20 to get close enough to see the monument. When it isn’t raining and foggy.

Hot Springs was a wonderful break for my sister and me. We stayed at an old hotel across from the railroad station, the River Rock Resort and Spa? I apologize to the owners; I was exhausted and looked like a drowned rat when they welcomed us in and led us to our room. The owners have been remodeling it, trying to keep to the spirit of the original hotel (ca. 1890?), but modernizing the bathrooms for our modern tastes, and of course including televisions! The high-ceilinged rooms, hardwood floors, and vintage furniture were a delight, and the restaurant, open only for dinner, was amazing. (Blue Vervaine, it’s called, if my sieve-memory is working.) And the spa — oh my, we were ready for that. If you’re a hotel guest, you’re welcome to use all the amenities — sauna, hot tub, hot sand room, and hot granite room. Hot sand room? you may ask, like I did. Yes, a room with six or so inches of sand on the floor, covered with canvas and then topped with a layer of sheets and rimmed with pillows. Heated from the bottom, and the light had a dimmer. I spent half an hour in there, in the spa robe they gave each of us for the duration of our stay, lying in the hot sand that I shaped to accomodate the needs of my aching body. And oh, it was heaven. The heat soaked into muscles and joints, and put me right to sleep. I spent another half hour there right before bed.

Mostly I spent that last half hour there because Shari hadn’t mentioned anything about hot tub and bathing suits, and the name “HOT SPRINGS” apparently didn’t register in my brain. So she was in the hot tub, joined by the couple who had been sitting next to us in the restaurant. She told them why we were there, of course, and as so often happens when our mission is made public, stories appeared. I spoke with the woman myself the next morning, since they’d gone to bed by the time I emerged from the hot sand room (Oh, I want one in my HOUSE!), and she told me two stories that aren’t in any source I’ve ever found. Wonderful stories! I also got a story from a woman in a coffee place in Lead, with the wonderful name “Sacred Grounds” (the coffee place, not the woman…), where we also stopped to get out of the wind and light rain the previous day.

Sometimes I am told ghost stories, and sometimes I eavesdrop on other people’s conversations (those times when you can’t help it, when they’re in a booth behind you, for example, and speaking LOUDLY), and get ideas that become seeds for stories. One such seed came to me at a coffee and muffin place in Carson City, NV, where I wrote much of the first draft of my novel-in-progress, currently in its a hundred-and-eleventy-second revision. Behind me one morning were three elderly women, speaking very LOUDLY. They were talking about funerals, of all things, and one of the women was very concerned that the funeral home might steal the gold teeth from her body when her time came. She told her friends that she had decided to leave them to her nephew in her will. I’m not sure what story that will be, but what a detail! (And of all the things I may leave my nephews, my teeth will not be among them!)

You just never know where a story will start. A casual conversation, someone else’s conversation, or a dropped remark about the fastest gun in the west, who briefly worked for Ambrose Bierce as a coach guard, and who never got the kind of fame, or infamy, of other fast guns like Wild Bill Hickock, or Billy the Kid. Keep your eyes and ears open all the time, and stories will come right up and sit in your lap!

While this won’t sound like much to published authors, yesterday I received the galleys for what is now to be titled “Spooky, Creepy North Dakota.” This is the first major step of the publishing part of writing a book (the writing parts are the ideas, the organization, the writing, the revising ad infinitum, and submitting the manuscript, with photos in this case) and I am SO excited!

The galleys have been reviewed by an editor (my editor! What sweet words to an author! especially on a first book, as this is!), and marked for corrections, additions, deletions, etc. It doesn’t yet look like it will look on book pages, but I can see the type they’ll use, and I like it. The corrections (in red) are very few (Yeay!) and are almost all things like “We need one more sentence here” or “This is a reaaalllly long sentence, don’t you think?” or “Can you get a photo to put here?” which makes me feel good; it means that my writing is good and doesn’t need either basic corrections (grammar and spelling — aka line editing), or much style editing. Except for those loooooong sentences. (Yes, I do ramble… Mea culpa.)

So I’m really excited. Not nearly as excited as I will be when my book is in my hands, but still, really excited. The first big step! I’ve been waiting for it since January (since my manuscript was submitted before December 1st) and now it’s here. The timing could be better; I’m leaving tomorrow for five days of photographing spooky creepy locations in the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, and the (hard copy) is due back in my editor’s hands the 29th — four days after I get home. ACK! But, there’s a way out — “If revisions are minor, you can email them to your editor with the hard copy to follow.” And I think that’s what mine will be.

But first, I have to go over it with a fine tooth comb, and then have my eagle-eyed sister do the same thing. After all, what else did we have planned for evenings in South Dakota?

Overwhelmed by Deadlines?

February 23, 2010

Unlike most bloggers, I find it next to impossible to blog every day. Or even every week. Maybe it’s because I feel no one wants to, or will, read it, but mostly I think it’s because I feel overwhelmed by all that I need to do. And maybe that’s the best reason of all to blog.

What do I have to do? Well, there’s researching South Dakota ghosts. I have some books, one in particular; my current fear is that my book will sound an awful lot like that one. So I’ll need to tread carefully, and take lots of pictures. I also plan to send letters to the county historical societies in South Dakota for which I can find addresses. I have a partial list of addresses that I made in early January. It’s not finished, and not a letter has been sent. I have yet to look at the “haunted” or “ghost” website that listed ridiculous and false ghost stories about North Dakota, with one or two that actually had substance.

Then there’s Associated Content. I have, I believe, 8 articles due by the end of this week. I’ve researched one of them. I’ve known about all but one of them since, oh, the first of the month? And that other one, about a week ago. That’s the researched one. It’s about Bouviers des Flandres, a large Belgian dog breed in the Herding Group, for AKC followers. It’s also considered one of the most flatulent of dog breeds, which has finally succeeded in convincing me that I don’t want to get one. That, and my house is too small. A sleeping Bouv would completely fill my little kitchen.

I will need to do some editing/revision on Spooky North Dakota. I wish I knew WHEN. I’ve been waiting since the beginning of December for someone to contact me. I know that once it starts, I won’t have much time, so I rather hope it won’t be this week, but I’d like to get it done soon so I can be absolutely sure that the book will come out this spring. If it doesn’t come out until fall I’ll be terribly horribly disappointed. Although that might make it to the WWW conference. Not that I can go; it costs a bit too much.

I’m revising my first complete novel. Obviously not as complete as I’d like it to be. I want it to be good. I want it to SELL. I want to get an agent and a publisher and a three-book contract (do those exist anymore? Or do only people like James Patterson, whose writing, at least in my humble opinion, ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, get those?). I’m writing my second novel, although that exercise came to a complete halt in November, when I was in the crunch zone to complete Spooky North Dakota, and I haven’t managed to dive back in.

I want to write true crime books about two of the mysterious murders I included in Spooky ND. I don’t think there’s enough evidence for one of them; there were no diarists or letter writers in that family, and it was hard enough to find family members (The Minister and the Maid — see old post…). The other is a more involved story, but I need to find out if there are police records of the case that I can copy, and if there are court documents that I can copy. This can’t really be done until Spooky South Dakota is finished, because it will involve a fair amount of driving. And copying.

So what am I doing? Well, I revised Chapter 3 of the first novel today. Yeah. Uh-huh. 9 pages, double-spaced. Ooooh, I feel like it was — nothing. The Bouviers remain to be written about (and being active, energetic herding dogs, I can feel the entire breed nipping at my ankles; at least I can’t smell them!); three as-yet untitled beauty articles await my attention, as do two, or is it three? articles that are “replacements for Zappos blogs” until Zappos gives me new blog titles. (I guess they finally figured out that it’s a little late, or maybe now early, to write about fall festivals… and maybe that I know very little about mountain biking… shhhhh, that’s a secret!) And there’s this blog and Kimiko’s blog.

What is wrong with me? Well, I’ve been sicker than usual, and I’m so tired of winter that I’d be willing to take a trip with that humming Gnome with the British accent (I’ve got to get out of here…). I’m more tired than usual, in part because the unhealing sore on my right ear means I have to sleep on my aching left hip (OH, poor me… My sister the doctor said that the sore is probably squamous melanoma and I’ll end up with a notch in my ear, but I shouldn’t worry; she knows some good plastic surgeons. So upbeat, my sister the doctor… meantime, I’m taking antibiotics and I think it’s getting better, just not better enough!). And maybe I’m having the midwinter blahs. I feel lazy. When I write, I think of all the things I should be doing around the house. When I do anything around the house, I think I should be writing. And now it’s after 6:00 p.m. and my body says it’s time to get out of this chair, and my brain says “Huh? did you say something? Sorry, I missed it…”

So maybe I’ll catch up later in the week.

On Monday, November 23rd, I mailed my “Spooky North Dakota” manuscript (on a CD; no paper except the original signed photo releases) plus all the extra files (marketing contacts, biography, about the book, picture file, caption file, and on and on) to my publisher by overnight mail. Since I’m in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota, and they’re in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, “overnight” translated to “second day” delivery, but that still beat the December 1 deadline for submission.

I’m not sure what I was expecting at that point. I knew that my “writing process” editor would be replaced with a book editor (which I’m not sure I’m happy about; I feel like I have a really good relationship with that first editor and working with her would have been so much easier! but we’ll see). I also knew that the first editor would go through my submission and make sure everything they needed was there before passing it on. On the following Monday (Nov. 30th) I sent two more photos and a revised caption list by email, since I HAD the two more photos by then (foolish oversight on my part the first time, but not a problem). And was told that my book would go to one of five editors who’d be handling the 25+ manuscripts that were due on the 1st.

Now it’s January 15th. I still haven’t heard from a new editor, and I am so ready to make whatever revisions I need to do (and I know of one typo that somehow both my first reader and I missed, despite the many times we went through each chapter; I also need to make a change in one story and give the real people false names because they’ve decided they don’t want the world to know it’s their house that’s haunted — which I understand because I did the same thing!).

I guess I didn’t expect much in December; there were holidays coming up, and probably “the editors” were just getting the books and deciding what order to do them in. Apparently they do one at a time, which seems strange to me, especially since the “Writers Guidelines” stressed the importance of speed in getting the “ready to print” manuscripts actually ready to print, and said that any time that the editor had to spend “fixing” things (like grammar and spelling) would come out of the author’s miniscule royalties.

But I thought that by mid-January (today, in other words) that I would at least have gotten an email saying “I’m your editor and we’ll start working on (fill in the date). I’m looking forward to working with you!” or words to that effect. But no, nothing yet. Is this typical? I have no way of knowing!

I did hear from the “process” editor, who will be my process editor through Spooky South Dakota (or, help me, Spooky CREEPY South Dakota…), that “Pete” had stopped by her office after looking over the Spooky ND manuscript, and told her that it was too late to switch ND to color photos (which I’d been assuming all along that it would be; some of the photos have exquisite colors, especially the ones in the Badlands) but that he thought South Dakota should be in color. “Pete” is the owner/CEO/President of the publishing company (woo hoo!!! seriously!)

I do realize that it costs a lot more to print in color than in B&W, so I’m wondering what I should think about this (other than that I need a WHOLE lot more photos, as they want one on each page if they’re going to print in color — not a problem). First I thought it was because he thought my North Dakota manuscript was so good. Then I thought it was because he thought South Dakota would sell better (let’s face it: South Dakota has a LOT more tourism than North Dakota, and in all those gift shops at National and State Parks, it should do well). Either way, I think it shows a faith in my ability to write it well and finish it on time. Can anybody with experience respond to that? Is it me, or is it the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore?

Either way, I’d hoped to be working at revisions by now, so that it would be over with well before I’m nose-deep in research for South Dakota. It’ll be late April or May before I can actually go to South Dakota and start getting photos (and on-the-ground research), because of Dakota winters, which are worse in the Black Hills. (Something to do with altitude, maybe?) Honestly, I think at least half the book will be in Black Hills locations. One could write an entire book about haunted Deadwood, I think.

But either way, I’m starting computer and book research for South Dakota, while writing articles for Associated Content (dot-com) where (don’t laugh) I’m now a featured beauty contributor. (Actually you can laugh; what I don’t know about make-up and skincare could fill many volumes; I rarely wear it, and my skin care regimen is pretty basic. Clean and moisturise with Cetaphil, and wear at least a 15 SPF sunscreen when going outside. Different sunscreen –gentler–for face. And if I’ll be outside for more than 5 or 10 minutes at a time, it goes up to 30 SPF, reapplied every 2 hours. That’s it. Pretty simple. No serums, no revitalizing, none of that. Make-up if I feel I must!) But I digress.

I really want to hear from my book editor. REALLY. I’m not going to bug them, since I don’t know who to bug, but I’m really looking forward to finishing that book and having it in my hot little hands!

A Monkey Trap

September 1, 2009

As I’m trying to finish my first draft of “Spooky North Dakota” (belatedly), I find myself feeling like I’m caught in a bear trap. Reconsidering, I think it’s more like a monkey trap.

I’m not sure where I first heard about monkey traps; I suspect it may have been in a Rudyard Kipling story. But if you don’t know about them, let me explain. Monkeys are both greedy and curious. So, take a jar with a mouth just large enough for a monkey’s paw to get in, and fill it halfway or so with peanuts. Then tie the jar to a tree. A monkey will come along, and being curious, stick his paw in. He’ll feel the peanuts, and grab a handful. With his hand full like that, he can’t get it out of the jar. So, he has a dilemma. Give up the windfall of delicious peanuts, and leave, or sit there with his hand stuck? Usually he sits there with he greedy paw full of peanuts until whoever set the trap comes along and takes him.

It’s not peanuts for me. It’s the mystery and clues around one of the stories I’m including in my book. It’s not a huge haunting. In fact, it’s not a haunting at all. It’s a “spooky.” (Since I’m stuck with the title I might as well make the most of it.)

The story is that of a Lutheran minister, Heio Janssen, who  in 1938 poisoned his pregnant 16-year-old maid, Alma Kruckenberg, while his wife was out of town, then burned the parsonage down to hide his crime. (This happened in Krem, ND, which is no longer there, but the church is — and the lawn next to it where, they’ll tell you, the parsonage was before it burned down. Church members don’t volunteer why it burned.) Such things don’t stay hidden, of course, and the firemen found the body almost as soon as the flames were out, and the coroner found the pregnancy. Janssen denied quite stoutly that he had anything to do with it, even when the parents of the girl confronted him, begging him to tell the truth, since they’d entrusted him with their youngest daughter, who was “a good girl.”

He didn’t break down until he was shown her body, which was just a torso, and the jar that contained their child. Then he confessed, saying the devil got into him and made him do it. (Really. He said that.) He actually made so many conflicting statements that when he was taken to Mandan’s then-notorious “midnight court” (mostly to prevent a lynching) he was convicted of perjury along with all the other charges (rape, murder, arson, etc.).

The people of Marsh, MT, read about this. He had been their pastor from late 1915 until 1933, when he’d left abruptly. They recalled how he’d seemed close to Rosa Opp, the teenaged daughter of one of the church deacons. She disappeared in September of 1930, and her body was found a few days later in the Yellowstone River. The coroner said she’d died from drowning, and called it a suicide. No autopsy was done. Now the folks in Marsh began to wonder. Rosa was a happy girl. Just before she disappeared, she was preparing to be a sponsor to one of her sister’s children at his baptism, and was very excited about that, and making herself a new dress. No one knew of any reason why she would kill herself.

When questioned about Rosa, Janssen said he had nothing to do with her death. But then, he wasn’t facing her body or her father…

Then the people from his very first parish, Lincoln Valley, started to wonder as well. Lincoln Valley no longer exists as a town, but it’s near Harvey, ND. In 1915, just before he went to Marsh, his teen-aged sister-in-law, Margaret Monseur,  disappeared. She was never seen again, and no body was ever found. They went to the judge who’d convicted Janssen of Alma’s murder, and he ordered that Janssen be questioned about that, too. Under intense questioning, he confessed to having “relations” with his sister-in-law, and with at least one member of his congregation in Marsh, but still denied killing them.

These are the peanuts. I have a story — I have everything I need to put it in the book. But I can’t seem to let those peanuts go. I’m searching for information about Margaret. Did she reappear somewhere? I didn’t  find her with a Google search or in newspapers, or on http://www.findagrave.com — although a friend of my sister, who is helping me search, found Alma’s grave in a cemetery near the Krem church. But I already knew that. The friend also found the grave of a man who is more than likely one of Janssen’s sons, in Colorado. I want to try to find his children, if he has any, and find out what they know. I’ve been in contact with a man whose roots are in Marsh, and he’s sent me photos of Janssen with the church there, and stories from his late father and his 93-year-old aunt, who remember Janssen with dislike (their stories of finding Rosa’s body are much gorier than the actual death certificate tells — but make a great story). I want to know more from the people of Marsh. I want a seance, so I can talk to Rosa and Margaret, who by now is undoubtedly dead, even if Janssen didn’t kill her.

But, if I don’t let the peanuts go, I’ll never finish the book. I have all the story I need. I’m promising myself that when I’ve finished my commitments, I’ll return to the murderous minister, and search for more clues. Maybe there’s enough for a book, or at least a longer story. Or perhaps fictionalize it. Not so much a whodunnit, since the answer is clear, but a why. What makes a man of the cloth, top of his class in seminary school, become a rapist and murderer? What demons lived in his soul? Did something happen to him when he was growing up, or while he was crossing the Atlantic on a great ship? What makes a murderer — or was he born bad? I’m about 60 years too late. He died in 1946 in the State Penitentiary, of natural causes. But I want to know more…




Well, my worst fear happened: I missed the deadline for Spooky North Dakota. It’s OK with my editor; she said to just have it in by December 1st. It will cut into initial sales, though, since the State Museum Stores and most of the other places that will carry it, other than Barnes and Noble across the state, and maybe in Minnesota and South Dakota, do their buying in the spring. So they won’t be buying until spring of 2011. (My, that sounds like it ought to be so very far away!)

How did this happen? A number of reasons. First, procrastination and writer’s block; I couldn’t really get going on it until I decided to start writing first drafts the way I write fiction: on a notepad with a pen. That broke the dam and words began to flow. Another reason was illness. Every time I took a day trip to get photos, I’d lose not only that day but at least one more, if not two or three. I also managed to have bouts of everything I have bouts of to put me “down” for days at a stretch. But just as I thought it was going to happen, catastrophe struck.

I sat at my computer on July 8, typing in a section with several stories (true or not, depending on your beliefs!), when suddenly I caught a whiff of a vile odor. I looked under the table (always suspect the dog…) but realized that innocent Kimiko was outside. The odor grew in strength and horrendousness (and if that’s not a word, it should be), and I got up and walked towards the back door. Right inside my back door is the landing of the stairs to the basement, and the odor was emanating from the depths. I turned on the light, and walked down a few stairs, trying not to inhale, and saw that one of my worst fears had come true.  The sewer had backed up into my basement. Oh dear lord, the stench.  The area that was flooded, about 6 inches deep, happens to be my laundry area, and three or four plastic laundry baskets of clothes, sheets and towels were gleefully soaking up the sewage (I know, I’m anthropomorphizing — but that’s what it looked like!).

This has never happened to me before, so I didn’t know who to call. I called the plumber I have usually used. He came over promptly, walked down part of the stairs, and said, “The sewer line has backed up into your basement.” (well, duh. That’s what I’d said when I called!). “What can you do?” I asked. “Nothing until it gets cleaned up,” he replied. “Then I can look for the clog.”

Now, because my mother had the same thing happen in her house shortly before she died, and didn’t have insurance to cover it, I decided, since my house has a basement, that I should get the rider my mother didn’t have to cover sewer back-up — meaning that the clean-up would only cost the $1000 deductible.  My insurance company has a preferred (premier? some fancy word) service that does that, so they came out and looked, and suggested that it would save me time and money if I hauled the laundry, etc., out of the basement. Me? with no immune system and no protective gear? I think not. That’s why I’ve been paying that little extra premium all these years! So he said they’d come back the next day.  My dog went to the kennel, and I came to my sister’s house, with a few things because I didn’t think it would take long.

Of course, I couldn’t see what was past the laundry area, so I didn’t know about the damage to the basement bathroom or to the finished bedroom in the basement that I don’t use because in the massive storm of 2002 there was water seepage there, and I had to pull out the carpet and pad, as well as everything stored in the closet (if it’s not one thing…). But I digress.  No, not really. The cleaners put all the stuff in my garage (which leaks like a sieve, and it’s been raining far above average since then), and finally finished their work, including replacing and repainting some drywall,  just this last Friday, the 31st of July. The plumber charged $85 to say “The sewer backed up,” then about $700 to come back after the sewage was removed run cable and a camera 100 feet and find nothing (which the insurance won’t cover) , then another $400 to come again and run cable and camera 130 feet and push “tree roots, probably” into the main line, which the insurance agreed to cover since “determining the cause” is mentioned in the rider. So, $1700 later, I can theoretically return to the basement. Uh-huh.

Then the planned remodeling of my upstairs bathroom and new kitchen flooring began on the 20th (actually they gutted the bathroom the Friday before that, right down to the 1920’s era lathe and plaster, to remove all the mold and mildew and start over).  They said they’d be done by the 25th. It’s now August 2 and there is no floor in the bathroom, the tile isn’t done, and nothing but the tub is in place. In the kitchen, the floor remains, although painting has started. It’s been one thing after another. And one of the crew wants to live with me when they’re done (I’m like flypaper for strange folk…). I really, really hope they’re done by the 5th, but I’m not holding my breath. More than I miss my home, I miss my dog; I am grateful that she actually enjoys the kennel.

I found, and continue to find, that it’s nearly impossible to work here.  This computer is old and so is the software; I can’t get my email here; there is no place to spread my research material and notes, and my sister, or her “presence,” is here always, hovering.

But, there is a blessing in the midst of this. Thanks to a fellow writer, I am in contact with someone who has more info — almost firsthand, stories from his father and aunt — about one of the incidents in my book. At least two, and hopefully three, of the haunted places I’m including will be investigated by Dakota Paranormal Investigators in August, and they’re willing to share their reports and photos with me at no cost (they’ll be credited, of course, in the acknowledgments and bibliography, and the caption of any photo I use — and probably any text, too).  So I now have, and continue to get, information that will make the book better. I guess that’s something to be grateful for, right?

This weekend my sister from the Twin Cities is visiting, so I haven’t much time. I do intend to do a family and birthday related post soon, along with another sneak peek  of  Spooky North Dakota.  I hope someone looks at this, once in a while!