Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taphophilia and Memorials

Several years ago, I needed character names and decided to take a walk through a cemetery to "borrow" names from grave markers. Around that same time, the city organized a cemetery walk, which is fairly common with historical societies, etc. What better way to walk through the cemetery than with a guided tour? The anticipation sparked my imagination with a woman who is more comfortable in a cemetery than in the real world, and I started to write the story.

When I looked into taphophilia (defined as "morbid interest in graves and cemeteries," but why does it have to be morbid?), I began to understand the attraction. The cemetery is dotted with angels and obelisks. From mausoleums to flat stones. Old markers, new markers. Taphophiles seem to prefer older cemeteries, the spookier ones with the more interesting stones, but that's the point. They're interesting

The cemetery I toured has a wide variety of monuments across a varied landscape. Mausoleums are built into hillocks (they're called french mausoleums, for the record). Different shapes and colors of stones adorn the graves and different types of engraving mark the stones. In this day and age, granite stones are either sand blasted or laser etched. Most stones are made of either granite or marble.

French mausoleums

As part of my research, I visited a monument shop - the granite works and the memorial works. Cutting the stones has become a computerized science which is no less interesting, and while I had pictured a guy holding a sandblaster in a small room, what I actually found was that same small room, with the "guy" standing outside the room, looking through a window, setting the computerized sandblaster to etch the stone, and he could either watch, or walk away while the computer followed its program and did the work. 

More of what I learned: 65% of people opt for cremation these days, and many of those people don't ever end up in the cemetery (on grandpa's mantel, dispersed into the ocean, etc.) either as a measure of cost or choice. There are cremation niches in the cemetery, and those niches commemorate the life of the deceased much the same as a headstone would. Some cremains are buried and have a headstone. What's the impact? Future genealogists may never find relatives without a grave marker annotating their life. Some people would like to be commemorated, remembered for who they were, or at least have their life acknowledged. Some people don't care if anyone ever remembers their contribution to the world.
An Epitaph

Last but not least - epitaphs, and this is the theme in my novel. I've been told people who want an epitaph carved on a stone generally have an idea what they want to say. The front of the stone is meant to state the facts. Name, date of birth, date of death, with limited space for another line or two, such as beloved mother, devoted father, etc. The back of the stone is wide open for any additional thoughts. While I was at the memorial works, I saw a three-foot stone with the entire 23rd Psalm engraved on the back. 

I found the stones and the symbolism interesting, and spread across a wide green lawn, I can see how some people would develop an interest with it all.

How do you want your life to be memorialized when you die?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Where in the world... ?

Chicago spring fling
Book Signing Information

This weekend, I'll be attending the Chicago Spring Fling Writer's Conference. These ladies always put on a great conference. Looking forward to reconnecting with people I know and making new friends. At past conferences, I met some of my favorite authors and was introduced to new favorite authors. The conference also provides informative workshops. It's an energizing weekend at a time when I need to be energized! SO looking forward to it.

If you're in the Chicago/Schaumburg area, the book signing is in Schaumburg, at the Hyatt, on Saturday from 3-5 (click on the link beneath the picture for additional information). They always have dozens of excellent authors, and this year's headliners are Courtney Milan, Robyn Carr and Christina Lauren. There's a long list of many more of my favorites (including moi) - just had a fan girl moment as I was looking it over!

I'm meeting with a new publisher at the conference, and will be pitching my new series to her (wish me luck). In preparation, I've been revisiting everything I know about writing a query letter and a synopsis. Can I just say those two things are among the very hardest parts of writing a book?

When I get back next week, I'll fill you in on the research I've been doing. Although I started this same research years ago, there was one last component that I hadn't gotten around to, and now that I'm wrapping this one up, I'm making the rounds and verifying my information, and its fascinating!

In the meantime, pop over to the book signing if you can. Pick up some summer reading materials (I know I will be) and make sure you say hello!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What I'm Working On

Life it hectic, life is busy, so I thought I'd just share a piece of what I'm working on with you.

Kevin curled his arm around Amy's waist and they strolled down the sidewalk. “Listen, I don’t want to make a big deal out of this, but I’m curious. That woman in the restaurant. Did you write an epitaph for her?”
No point in denying it. “Yes.”
“That’s amazing. You didn’t know her before tonight, did you?”
Amy clenched her teeth. “I thought the interview was over.” 
With one step, Kevin stood in front of her. “Amy, that was impressive. She actually thanked you.” 
“They don’t always.” She locked eyes with him. 
“How do you do it?” 
“Can we talk about something else?” she asked. 
“The people who don’t thank you—what’s their reaction?” 
Amy swallowed. He was one of those people. “I don’t want to talk about the epitaphs.” 
His cell phone rang and he answered the call. This was where “something suddenly came up” and he’d have to go. Credit him for making it this far. When he proved her right, she had to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep from commenting. If she said anything, it would probably be accompanied by tears. 
She’d scared off another potential boyfriend. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Where do authors get their ideas?

I'm sure I've spoken to this subject before, but it's the question I'm asked most frequently. When I speak to a group, they almost always want to know where I get my book ideas. The easiest answer? Everywhere.

I've been writing stories all my life, from the time I could first put pencil to paper, but it took until I was "grown up" to take the time to formulate those stories into something digestible. I wrote mostly for diversion. Entertainment. And then one day I had a wisdom tooth pulled. While I was curled up in a chair nursing my wounds, I watched Indiana Jones, which was followed by a PBS special on Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. That was the moment I knew I had a "real" story idea. What if Mt. Vesuvius buried the Holy Grail at Pompeii? St. Paul visited the region in a reasonable time frame to have carried it, and the Bible stories I'd learned growing up provided portability. Such was the beginning of The Treasure of St. Paul, later re-released as Touched by the Sun.

From there, I was rarely short of ideas. I've always had a fertile imagination, and once I learned to focus my writing into a cohesive theme and plot, it became a matter of refining my art. I've been inspired by pictures, by buildings, by real life events, by venues, by random conversations on a train. The project I'm working on now was an idea that came to me about a girl walking through a graveyard, very much at home there. I've written a story about a walk through a French market in Aix-en-Provence. About a Night Gallery episode showing someone walking inside a painting (my version isn't quite as spooky, but its just as supernatural). About a gorgeous house set back off the road and my experience with bed and breakfasts. And some of my stories have been inspired by the characters themselves.

When several readers commented how much they disliked a secondary character in LIVING CANVAS, I was determined to redeem her. Admittedly, she was fashioned after a bad example of a friend, but everyone has a reason for who they are, including that character. Those readers who didn't like her when she was introduced formed a different opinion after reading RETURN TO HOFFMAN GROVE, and I have to admit I loved the challenge of fixing a broken character. Likewise with cheating paramedic Matt, who appears in both those books. I figured he deserved a chance, too, and so I wrote COOKIE THERAPY. Apparently I did a good job, because one of my readers asked me to redeem Mike (from both those books), but I also had a reader who came into the series late, who didn't know Mike's history, tell me they didn't understand why people were sympathetic to an abuser. To that person, I would direct you to read RETURN TO HOFFMAN GROVE, and to the others, I'm afraid I don't have confidence Mike can overcome the darkness he's fallen into.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Break on Through to the Other Side

Hooray! This week is the last major deadline at the day job. Can't wait to break through to the other side of work/life balance. Another week of administrative loose ends, and then I can get back to MY life.

It feels like the last day of school and the doors are flung open to a bright, beautiful day. When I was a kid, that meant more time on the tennis courts. Evenings on the softball field. Cubs games in the Big City (I can say that this year, they're GOOD this year!). Hot days spent at the swimming pool. And for the rainy days, nerdy girls like me spent extra time at the typewriter/computer making up stories, giving vent to an overactive imagination.

As a grown up, it means more date nights with friends. Holiday time with the DH. Long walks on warm summer nights. Concerts in the park. And I'm still a nerdy girl. More time to make up stories.

What kinds of things did you do when school let out for the summer? Anything that carries through to your grown-up self?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dates Gone Bad

The first thing that came to mind when I typed the title for my post today was Indiana Jones. "Bad dates." (That's the way my mind rolls.)

What I actually intended was to describe the other kind of dates. Between men and women. But I figured the title amused me, so I left it. (Easily amused some days, even if I'm the only one who's entertained.)

In my current work in progress, I'm writing the first date for a girl who has a long line of first dates--and no second dates. It got me to thinking about first dates with bad impressions. Those dates are the fodder for numerous movie plots, and in real life, do we actually know when we've made a bad impression? Sometimes, for sure, other times?

I have a wealth of "not good" first date experience to draw from. There was the guy who wanted to meet at a fast food place, made me buy my own food, and then left as soon as we'd finished eating. There was the guy who talked about his two-times ex wife, and about how they couldn't seem to move on. If he wasn't so frustrated with her, he'd still be married to her. .

I'm glad those days are behind me!

Do you have any first date stories to share? Who knows! Maybe one of them will be backstory for my beleaguered heroine! You know, that one guy (or gal) who ....

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ghost Stories

I grew up watching Creature Features and reading Dracula and Stephen King books. As a young girl, I liked those macabre stories, the ones that relied on your imagination to frighten you. Then along came the slasher flicks and it wasn't only imagination anymore. Somehow, that ruined the "scare" factor for me. I liked to be frightened, as long as it was imagined. Once those scares became real, I didn't like them quite so much.

Some of those "movie of the week" stories were developed from books like "Ammie Come Home," which became "The House that Would Not Die" (Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Egan). It was made for TV, but that movie  prompted me to read books authored by Barbara Michaels.

My next release will most likely be in October, or late September (optimistically). Assuming I continue on the path I've started, it's going to be a "Halloween treat," a haunted house story inspired by Ms. Michaels and by that outdated made for TV movie. It will be the first in a new series - "The McCormicks." There's a part of me that wonders if I start the series with a supernatural twist, will you expect that in the subsequent books? Or is it okay to write the one as a Halloween treat, and the others as more standard romantic mystery fare? I can ask the pros when I attend the Chicago writer's conference next month, but what do you, my readers, think?