Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday's Musings: The Backstory of The Freedom Thief, Part Two

After I finished the first novel course with ICL, I knew that I still wanted to pursue my historical novel. I thought the best way to do this was to take still another novel course with ICL, but this time, ask for someone who wrote historical fiction.

Because I was a long time student (by this time) with ICL, they sent me a list of instructors who wrote and liked to teach historical fiction. So I had a choice of instructors...but not knowing any of them,  I definitely chose the wrong one.

At first, she was very interested in what I had already written, but then her comments grew longer and longer and more critical. After a few assignments, it was obvious that the story was not going in the direction I wanted. I tried to explain things to her, what I wanted from her, where I wanted the story to point of view. All to no avail. My husband told me I should ask for a new instructor, and I probably should have, but I just didn't want to go through this whole "introductory" period again, get a new perspective that may or may not go along with mine. So I stayed with her, and that was a big mistake on my part.

I finished the course in 10 months instead of a little more than a year, which the previous course had taken me.  I was profoundly disgusted with the instructor, and everything else. I put my story away, started writing non-fiction articles for pay for an on-line educational site, wrote a couple of short stories that I got published, and tried to forget the whole experience. No such luck. Ben kept haunting me, telling me that I had to write his story...but MY way.

So I dug "Escape..." out of the files, and reread the entire manuscript. The first five chapters were what bugged me the most. My instructor had insisted that there had to be a "backstory" for Ben...FIVE CHAPTERS worth! That was ridiculous. Any agent or editor reading the first three chapters they normally ask for would still not have any idea of what the story was really about. I had gone over this with my instructor until I was blue in the face, but she was adamant.

Those five chapters contained nothing but setting the stage for the reasons Ben hated slavery, and his parents and two older brothers believed in it. They told in detail why the relationship between Ben and his father was a sore point for everyone. They went into detail about his arguments with his brothers. In other words, it was an information dump of the worst kind. I hated writing it then, I hated it now.

Those five chapters had to go. I deleted every word, and started over. After a few days, I stopped. Another big flaw: Ben had too much knowledge for a boy of his age about the Underground Railroad. Worse, he had learned this information by overhearing conversations in did he get to town, and why would he be overhearing that kind of a conversation in a town that supported the institution of slavery?... and between his grandmother and her friends, all secret Abolitionists. It was all wrong. This was not the story I wanted to tell. It was what my INSTRUCTOR had wanted me to write. Once again I was going in the wrong direction.  Back to the drawing board, and more research.

Several months later, I hit upon a piece of research that was like a dash of cold water in my face. Of course! This is where you're supposed to be headed, dummy! From that moment on, everything changed, and the story began to flow. I'm not a person who uses outlines for my work, I simply sit down and let my imagination take over. This time, I was in high gear! Over the next couple of months, my thoughts came together: I edited, revised, rewrote, edited some more. A few more revisions, and The Freedom Thief was born and baptized.

In my next post, I'll talk about some of the things in real life that I incorporated into this story, as well as how the name The Freedom Thief came about...for once, the title did not come from my imagination, but from real life research on the Civil War.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Friday's Focus: More on The Big Six Publishers

Last Friday my focus was on the two Big Six publishers in New York who are actually American-held holdings. Today the focus is on the four who most people believe to also be American publishers, but who are actually owned by foreign entities.

The first is Random House, probably the best and most widely known of the big six publishers among the average reader. Random House was founded in 1927 by Bennet Cerf and Donald Klopfer, and for many years was an independent publisher. In the early 1960's, it acquired two other publishing companies, Knopf and Pantheon, and then in 1998 Random House was bought by Bertelsmann, a privately owned media company in Germany.

There is an interesting, and little known fact, about Bertelsmann, who began as a small publisher in 1835. By 1939, it had grown large enough to become the single largest publisher of Nazi propaganda. The company also benefited from the slave labor from prison camps furnished to them by the Nazi Party.

(My own thoughts about this: having lost a brother to the Nazis, I would not want to be associated with Random House or any of its imprints. Just my own personal opinion.)

Bertelsmann's US Random House Division has a long list of well-known imprints, such as Dell, Doubleday, The Dial Press, Knopf, and others...all of these are often thought of as independent publishing companies, but they aren't.

The second of the four foreign-held publishers is Macmillan, usually thought of as a British publisher. However, it is also a German company, owned by Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck of Stuttgart, Germany. Macmillan was originally founded by two brothers, Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, and remained an independent company until 1995, when the huge German media conglomerate Holzbrinck Publishing Group bought 79 percent. Then four years later, in 1999 they bought the remaining 31 percent. In the US, their well-known imprints include Faber & Faber, Henry Holt and Company, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as others.

The third is the Hachette Book Group USA, owned by the French company Hachette Livre. In turn, Hachette Livre is owned by Lagardere Publishing, the French Media giant. The US website of Hachette Book Group says their story began in 1837 when Little, Brown and Company was founded. In 1996, Little,Brown and Company merged with Warner Books, and eventually became theTime Warner Book Group. This group was then purchased in 2006 by Hachette. However, Hachette's story actually began in 1826 when it was founded by Louis Hachette, when he opened his book shop and publishing company in France.

The last is the Penguin Group, which is the largest publisher in the world. From a US perspective, their story begins in 1838 when John Wiley and George Putnam founded Wiley and Putnam. In 1848, they split, and Putnam went on by himself. The company did very well, and in 1965 bought Berkley books. Then, in 1975, the Putnam and Berkley Groups were acquired by The Music Corporation of America, as their publishing division. In 1985, the division was sold to the Penguin Group, a division of the British publishing conglomerate, Pearson PLC, based  in London. The best known imprint of Penguin, in the US, is Viking.

In July, 2013, Random House bought out the Penguin Group, and became the "Penguin Random House." Needless to say, it is now the strongest, the largest, and the most dominant publisher on the planet, in the publishing business.
The new logo, somehow, doesn't demonstrate this fact. It is a very UNinspired logo of the Penguin Group's Penguin standing by Random House's house, but looking away from the house. Hmmm...

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Musings: The Backstory of The Freedom Thief

I've been thinking about the kinds of posts I want to write, as what kinds readers might want to read. Like many bloggers, I get bogged down and wonder what in the world I can write about that everyone hasn't already heard or read about. Today I'm going to tell you a little about The Freedom Thief, and how that story came to be written.

As a kid studying about the Civil War in around the 5th or 6th grade, I was fascinated by the fact that this war came about because of a difference of opinion or philosophy. And that that difference was so great, and so important to so many people, that it set family members against one another, as well as friends against friends. Of course, as I grew to adulthood, I came to realize that wars most often start because of that difference of opinion and philosophy, but never since the Civil War have we seen a division in philosophy of such magnitutde that it set brother against brother.

As a result of this interest, I became an avid reader of the Civil War, and of the organization known as the Underground Railroad, those men and women of Abolitionist and Quaker beliefs who organzied to help slaves escape their bonds and find freedom.

At the end of my first course of study at the Institute of Children's Literature, my last assignment was to write at least the beginings of a novel. Nothing pleased me more than to be able to turn my fascination with the Civil War and the Underground Railroad into a novel of adventure for kids.

When I first began this story, I titled it "Escape on The Train Without Tracks."  My critique group thought the main character should be a boy, but about 15 or 16 years old. However, that age would bring it into the YA category, and I wanted this to be a middle grade novel. So I settled on a boy, 13 years old, but close to his 14th birthday. In the 1800s, especially on farms and plantations, both boys and girls of 13 took on a lot of responsibility in their families, working in the fields, helping train, groom, and drive the field horses, doing housework, cooking, learning to sew clothes, and so on. By the time boys turned 14, they were considered grown. I knew that this boy was going to organize an escape for his slave friends, and the younger he was, although still old enough to be plausible, the more impact it would have on young readers.

Ben McKenna became my 13 year old Main Character. I think probably I ascribed to him some of the characteristics of my older brother, who as a young boy, very often had a "difference of opinion" from my parents. And who often paid the price! Ben has two older brothers, Andrew and James, who are both very opinionated but seldom apart from their parents. All of the boys, as well as their parents, were born and raised in Kentucky, although the boys were raised in the city rather than on a plantation. Ben's mother grew up on her father's hemp plantation, where the final edition of this story begins. His father was not, yet both parents held very solid beliefs in the institution of slavery, and passed those beliefs along to Andrew and James. At the age of 5, Ben's father accepted a job in New York, and for the next 5 years, Ben grew up in the schools of the North, which taught him that slavery is a sin. He accepted those beliefs, but never discussed them or asked questions about slavery of his parents, as he already knew where they stood on the subject.

I did some heavy research into the background of the Underground Railroad, and was overwhelmed by the degree to which the Abolitionists and Quakers would go to help the runaway slaves. Thus, the first version of this story was heavily into that part of the Civil War. My instructor loved it, but even as I wrote, something was dinging me at the back of my mind.  For a while, it never occurred to me that even a responsible, almust-adult 13 year old boy would probably not be privy to some of the information I was including in the story. I finished the first version of this story with glowing comments from my instructor, and a Certificate of Completion of Writing For Children and Teenagers from the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL).

The more I read and re-read my manuscript, the more I realized that something was off. I decided a needed more concentrated help, and enrolled in the Advanced Novel Writing Course at ICL.  But there, my hopes faded away, as my instructor informed me that there were too many novels on the market about the Underground Railroad, and he didn't want me to pursue this venue. He wanted me to write a contemporary novel, instead. From his course, "The Year of The Scream, or Why I Hate Cheerleading, Chocolate, and Celine Carroll" was born. This novel's title has since been changed to "Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters," which will be published by MuseItUp Publishing in spring, 2014.

I was thrilled with this instructor, and had a ball writing Cheers, but at the same time, I never lost hope for my Civil War novel. In my next post, I'll continue my personal adventure that led to the finished and published product of THE FREEDOM THIEF. I hope you'll stay tuned!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday's Focus: Things You May Not Know About The Big Six Publishers

With one book published, and one due to come out in the spring of 2014, "publishing" seems to hang heavy over my head, and in my mind. I've also been thinking about why I chose to go the way of smaller, independent publishers, like MuseItUp.  Most aspiring authors want one of the "Big Six", publishers whose names are like the brands of our favorite foods that everyone else also knows about. For many reasons, this didn't appeal to me. However, I did do some research about the big guys, and found a few interesting facts in some articles I read. I thought I'd pass them along to you.

The names of the Big Six are: HarperCollins, Random House, Simon and Schuster, Macmillan, The Penguin Group, and Hachette. But did you know that only two of these are US companies, and the rest are foreign holdings? The two US are HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster. Of the other four, two are German, one is British, and one is French.

HarperCollins was founded in 1817 in New York by two brothers, James and John Harper, and  at that time was known as Harper & Brothers. In 1962, 145 years later, the company merged with Row, Peterson & Company, and became Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. Eventually, the Harper company by itself was bought out by a gigantic conglomerate, News Corporation Limited. In time, the company acquired a very old and distinguished publishing house, William Collins & Sons, founded in Britain in 1819. The distinguished name Collins was joined to the distinguished name Harper and became HarperColins. It is still a subsidiary of News Corp, the largest media company in the world.

In 1924, Simon and Schuster was established in New York by Richard Siman and Max Schuster. It was a unique publishing house, owned only by these two men, who approached the publishing business much differently than most along Publishers' Row: they were the first to offer booksellers the privilege of returning unsold books for credit; in 1939, they were the first to offer paperback books with the founding of Pocket Books; and in 1945, published the first "instant" book. In the year 2000, they became the first publisher to publish an electronic book, with the publishing of Steven King's eBook, Riding the Bullet, a worldwide publishing phenomenon.

More changes came about as the years passed: in 1944, Simon and Schuster and Pocket Books were sold to Marshall Field, the department store magnate. When he died in 1957, Simon and Schuester re-aquired the company in conjunction with Leon Shinkin and James M.Jacobson. These four men held the company in various combinations of ownership until Shinkin sold it to the international conglomerate Gulf + Western.

Eventually, through many twists, turns, and sales acquisitions, Simon and Schuster became part of the Viacom Entertainment Group in 1994. In 2006, when Viacom separated from CBS Corporation, Simon and Schuster became part of the CBS Corporation.

Currently, HarperCollins has fourteen imprints, and Simon and Schuster have thirty-five imprints. None of these imprints are what most people believe are small and independent publishing companies. They may have been just that, sometime in the long distant past, but now all are a part of these two mega-publishing companies.

Next week, the focus will be on the foreign companies.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday's Focus: Focus Today on Fellow Author, Penny Estelle

Today is a red-letter day...for several reasons. The first is because my book, The Freedom Thief, was featured on Kelly Hashway's blog. Today turned out to be a surprise blitz day for her, also, so the two events garnered, at last count, over a 100 comments. Woo Hoo, Kelly!

The second reason for the red-letter is not so good. I told my fellow MuseItUp author, Penny Estelle, that I would showcase her Christmas story, The Unwanted Christmas Guest, bright and early this morning, in keeping with today's new release. But things never go as planned in my life, it seems! My computer froze up, the Internet went off for several hours, finally came back up but all I could do was get on FaceBook of all things, and then I couldn't pull up my email. So I am several hours late in posting this.

And the third reason computer still is not reacting correctly, and I can't post either Penny's picture nor the lovely cover. But I'm still trying on that one.

Neverthe less, here is an excerpt from her Christmas story: please take a look, and comments are welcome!

I can’t tell you how excited I am that my very first ever Christmas story is being released today.  The Unwanted Christmas Guest is a story about Elizabeth McMurphy, an up and coming high powered attorney, who is after vengeance.  Her sights are set on one of the richest and most powerful families in Colorado. Steve York is an obnoxious reporter that thinks the ice queen has gone too far and does all he can to get under her skin.

When one of the worst blizzards in history, hits Colorado and leaves a hurt Steve York, stranded with Elizabeth in a mountain cabin, she must decide to either take care of him, or throw him out to fend for himself.



“What’s going on here? Where the hell are my pants?”

      Elizabeth practically jumped out of her skin. Steve stood in the bedroom doorway, wearing only some tight fitting pink sweats.

“I found you after your car went nose to nose with a tree.” She crossed her arms. “The question is, what were you doing up here in a snowstorm? Were you coming up here to spy on me?”

      “Jesus, my head hurts.” Steve groaned and sat at the kitchen table. “And don’t flatter yourself.” He brought up his hands to rub his eyes and push on his temples. He started to say something when a giggle and a round of undistinguishable sounds caught his attention. Steve stared at the little girl, a whisper of a smile on his pale face. “You have a daughter?”

      She chose to ignore the question. “Again, Mr. York, you were headed…where?”

      “I was going to see some friends in Granby, then on to Steamboat to spend the holidays with my family.”

      “You figured on taking a short cut on Badger Springs Road?”

      “Basically,” he muttered. “I had a phone in my pants pocket…” Steve looked down at the pink sweats. “Yours, I presume?” At her nod, he asked with a smirk, “And you’re the one that took my clothes off?”

      “Junior, my neighbor.”

      “If you’ll allow me to use your phone, I’ll call Triple A and get myself and my car out of your life.” He reached over to Katy and she latched onto his finger, the brightest smile ever illuminating her sweet face.

Elizabeth quickly picked her up, as if he would contaminate her by his touch.  “Phones are out.”



      “How the hell do you live here?” he asked irritably.

* * *


Please find The Unwanted Christmas Guest and my other stories with MuseItUp publishing @

Feel free to stop by and check out my other stories and/or leave me a message.  I love visitors!

Thanks, Penny, for allowing me to share Friday's Focus on you and your Christmas story.

Don't forget, Christmas is for giving! You can get my book, The Freedom Thief, for giving as a Christmas gift at these places: Muse It Up Publishing:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo Books. Thanks!
Until next time,
That's a wrap.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thursday's Thoughts: Thanksgiving Turned Upside Down

A week from today is Thanksgiving. Two weeks ago today, a good friend of mine died. She fought a brave fight against a cancer that would not be conquered, and finally lost that fight. Yesterday, at ten o'clock in the morning, one of my two very best friends died, suddenly and unexpectedly.

Just a few days before that, she had come over to give me a special gift, for no real reason...just to be giving. A beautiful little angel, dressed in white with red mittens on uplifted hands, and a cute red stocking cap on her head. When you turned her upside down, her hands and the end of the stocking cap made feet upon which sat her body...she was a cup.

Today, I can't look at that angel-cup without crying. And I can't help thinking, How can I be thankful this Thanksgiving, when a good friend and another one whom I loved greatly are both gone?

Several days ago, my other best friend who lives far from me in Montana, wrote a post about the "Tiny Pluses in a Minus World," and as I read that post, I realized that it is up to me to find those pluses in my world, no matter how tiny they might be.

It hasn't been easy. Especially today, when I am still reeling from Jackie's death. Jackie was Italian, from a typically large family, and she always had many stories to tell about "growing up Italian." They always put me in tears, either because they were so poignant I cried, or because they were so hilarious I laughed until I cried. But those stories, and their storyteller, are some of the pluses in my world.  I may forget her stories, but never will I forget her.

Publishing has been a long journey, and a difficult one, at best. With so much bad news around me, it has been almost impossible to enjoy the fact that, yes, I am a published book author. Yet, I know that it is a plus, and far from a tiny one. I just need to take the time to recognize that fact and take pleasure in it. After all, Jackie was one of my biggest supporters, and she was super-excited when the publishing day came around.

My beloved husband is on the mend again, and oh what a HUGE plus that is! To have him at home, to know that he is getting better and stronger each day, means more to me than anything else in the world.

My children, my son, even though he no longer recognizes me as his mother, and my daughter who lives 300 miles away, are two of the biggest pluses in my life, as are my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren. Yet, they are the "obvious" pluses, and sometimes, we fail to realize that those closest to us are the most important "pluses" we could ever have. Sometimes we think we must search out that which seems almost ephemeral for it to be a real "plus" in our lives.

Still, I can't help but feel that Thanksgiving this year has been turned upside down. We have much to feel thankful for, but also much that has happened at this time of year that we still question, and wonder, "How do I give thanks for this?" This has been a "minus" year of great note for my family, and I think we all are wondering, "What will I give thanks for at the dinner table, when it comes my turn?" Yet, the pluses are there. We just need to look for them.

How about you? Has this year been one of more minuses than pluses? And how do you go about finding the pluses in your life, even if has been a good year?

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday's Focus: Today My Life Takes Another Turn

I suppose I should be writing this all in red, as today is certainly a red-letter day in my life. Today my very first full-length novel, THE FREEDOM THIEF, was released as an ebook publication from MuseItUp Publishers.

And I should be so excited I would be shaking,  clapping my hands in glee, jumping for joy, and all of those "other things" excitement brings about.

I am happy! But, you know, it's more a kind of "sigh of relief" type happiness, instead of the "jumping for joy" kind. I suppose it's because I'm older than most first time authors...I don't think my bones would allow me to jump for joy even if I wanted to LOL

This day has been a long time years, to be exact.  So, yes, it is with a sigh of relief that I can now say, my historical adventure novel is finally on the market. And today, this journey I call my life takes just one more twist and turn, as I make the final arrangements for the launch party tomorrow, and then next week, begin to arrange for school visits. It's been a long journey, sometimes an exhausting one, with several tragedies in my family along the way that have made writing very difficult. Yet, through all of this, it has been my husband and my family that have seen me through, have been with me every step of the way, and have told me, "No matter what happens, don't stop, never stop writing."

And so, with pride and oh so much love in my heart for my awesome husband, I can say, THE FREEDOM THIEF is now a published book!

Thirteen year old Ben McKenna is leading his best friend, the crippled slave Josiah, and Josiah's parents Bess and Jesse, on a dangerous journey to find freedom across the Ohio River. Ben's father was going to sell Josiah, and Ben knew the only way to save him was to arrange an escape from the plantation. They have barely escaped with their lives from a collapsing underground tunnel, gone through a deep forest, and are now in a swamp. They are lost, and have no idea of what lies ahead.

They were deep into the swamp now, and it seemed as though the stinking
waters were all that existed in this part of the world. There were many times when a sudden burst of air bubbles, signaling the settling of a submerged tree limb, popped up and startled them. At one point, Josiah stopped abruptly. In front of him and Ben was a piece of rusted iron, twisted roughly into the shape of a cross. It was leaning precariously against a tree, but the human skull sitting on top was the most frightening aspect.
Bess and Jesse caught up to them, and Bess said, “Ben, you think that be
somebody what died in this here swamp?”
“Could have been. But that’s not happening to us, so come on, let’s keep
They kept on sloshing their way through, and with no sense of time, Ben
wondered if they were going to be in this swamp forever. Daylight left the sky, and the shadows grew longer and more ominous. An eerie glow emanated from the waters, which Ben sincerely hoped was created from nothing more than the last remnants of sunlight seeping through the trees. From time to time, the sound of dogs came to them over the water, but they couldn’t tell if they were getting closer or going farther away. They were too exhausted to speak, and after what seemed an eternity, the steamy waters trickled out onto solid ground. The swamp had ended in another deep forest, but the little group was too weary to even notice until Ben stopped. “Listen, do you hear that? It sounds like running water. We’re in a forest now, so this could be a fresh water stream.”
Jesse dropped his pole. “That be the river?”
“I don’t think so. I think it might just be a fast running stream. Come on, we all
need a drink of water.”
Jesse scowled. “I think we not ever gets to the river.”
Ben decided it would be best not to argue with the big man and headed in the
direction of the water sounds. He heard Jesse muttering behind him and Bess
whispering back.
“Hey, Ben, we be okay now? We outta the swamp so I can puts my pole
“Yeah, Josiah, I think so. See, this is pretty solid ground now. Look, I can jump
up and down and not fall in!” Ben demonstrated with a couple of jumps and had
Josiah laughing at his antics.
They reached the stream where the water was cold and sweet. Ben knelt with
the rest of his party, cupped his hands, and drank as much as he could. Bess opened Ben’s shirt again and pulled out the apples, a few biscuits, and what was left of the ham. Ben ate his share of the food before he tore the shirt into strips.
“What for you doing that, Ben?” Josiah’s eyes were bright with curiosity.
“I’m going to bury a couple of strips here, and then I’m going to walk around
in a circle and bury the rest of them. If the dogs get here, they’ll be confused and
won’t know which way we went.” He didn’t really think it would confuse the dogs
too much, but it was the best he could do.
They took another drink and followed the stream for a short distance. Now that
Josiah didn’t have his pole to lean on, his leg began to hurt. When he started
making little sounds of pain and trying to stifle them, Ben knew it was time to find
a place to rest. He led them into the underbrush in a particularly dense area and
soon the exhausted group fell asleep.
When Ben woke up, moonlight was shimmering through the trees. He heard
dogs barking, so the hunters were coming through the swamp. He shook Jesse
awake but put a finger to his lips and whispered, “We gotta be quiet, the hunters
are close by. Let’s get to the stream and follow it. Even if the dogs get this far,
they’ll lose our scent through water. Let’s go.”
When they reached the stream, Ben stepped into the cold water with the others
behind him. The sound of the dogs faded once again, and Ben drew in a deep
breath, catching a whiff of smoke. He looked around at Bess and Jesse, but they
were focused on helping Josiah navigate the swiftly-running water. He decided not to say anything about the smoke.
The moon rose, and now there was enough light in the forest for the trees to
cast their shadow. Bess caught up to him and said, “That moon be bright, Ben.
Maybe we should stop and hide so the hunters won’t see us?”
“I reckon we should keep on walking. If the hunters were close, the dogs would
be louder, and besides, it’s easier to get into the shadows now than it would be in
She fell back with Jesse again, but Ben knew she was concerned. When his
bare feet and legs numbed from the cold stream, Ben crossed to the other side and
led them into the thick underbrush of the forest. At times, Ben needed to cut heavy vines and twisting weeds out of the way. Jesse tried to step in the footprints that Ben left, so walking was a little easier for Bess and Josiah. Occasionally, Ben
heard Josiah cry out, and he knew Josiah’s leg was hurting. Nevertheless, Josiah
refused to be carried.
As the moon faded, taking what little light it shed between the trees, Ben
started looking for a place to hide during the day. The wind was coming up, and
with their clothes still damp from sweat and the humidity in the swamp, and feet
and legs cold from the stream, all of them were shivering.
Ben stopped. “Look over there,” he whispered, as he pointed to something in
the distance. “Doesn’t that look like it’s a clearing of some kind? Maybe we should check it out.”
Jesse said, “Maybe we’s stay here,
you go check it out.”
Ben sighed. Jesse still didn’t trust him completely. “Better sure than sorry, I
guess, Jesse. You stay here, and I’ll go see what it is.”
He waited until they had hidden before he moved forward until he reached the
edge of the clearing. There were no indications of people having been there, or a
path leading away. There was nothing but a small circle cleared out of the forest.
He turned to go, when a voice said, “Stop! Don’t move.” With the voice came the
sound of a rifle being cocked.

The link to buy the book is here:

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Friday's Focus: How a Story is Born

Ever since I studied about the Civil War in school, I've been fascinated by it. As a kid, I couldn't understand how family members, friends, and neighbors could disagree over a difference in philosophy to the point of being willing to go to war and possibly kill each other. That fascination continued into my adult life, although by then I knew that differences in philosphies are usually the cause of war.

Somehow, I knew that one day, I would write a novel about the Civil War, or about some element that was pertinent to that era. The Freedom Thief is the result.

Slavery was a long lost concept by the time I was born, but unfortunately, prejudice against African Americans was still alive and well. My mother was a first Generation American of French born-and-raised parents, but she was born in Texas at a time when the Southern thoughts and traditions were still prominent, and so was the belief that, in its day, slavery was acceptable. She tried to instill those same thoughts and traditions in me, but it didn't work. Looking down upon African Americans, at that time still called "Negroes," and believing them to be inferior was one of the concepts she believed in, and until the day she died, she could never understand my way of thinking, nor could she accept it.

In 1998, my husband and I took a barge trip down the Ohio and up the Mississippi Rivers. It was an awesome trip, with all the gorgeous autumn reds, golds, and browns in full bloom along the river. We went through some of the biggest locks I've ever seen, and at times, had to tarry along the river's edge, waiting for one or more working barges, loaded down with merchandice, to enter and finally exit the same lock we needed to go through. We were on River Time, like no other time in the world, and clocks and watches were of no use to anyone.

Our barge traveled slowly down the Ohio, before turning into the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi. It was exciting to see how the beautiful blue of the Ohio fought to maintain its color for almost a mile, before giving in to the powerful muddy brown waters of the Mississippi.

Along the way, we nosed our way slowly and carefully into tiny inlets full of water flowers, heavy vines trailing out into the river, and large tree roots hidden beneath the shallow water. These inlets allowed us to visit some of the oldest and most historic towns in the US, most of which were small and related in some way to the Civil War.

Murietta, Ohio, is a small town that played an important part in the Civil War as it was a major station in the Underground Railroad. Here many people, Abolitionists and Quakers, offered their homes with hidden attic or basement rooms as "safe houses" for escaping slaves. We visited a few of those homes, and in one, the basement was pretty much as it was in 1862...full of boxes and barrels that still contained the stench of rotting fruits and vegetables the owners had left there. They hid the slaves in the very back of the basement room, and the vicious smell of rotten food kept the slave hunters from going any deeper into the basement. The slaves who were hidden there over many years were never found by the slave hunters. When we were in Murietta, it was still a small town, but charming and friendly with unique shops with names like Mad Hen, Needful Things, Two Peas in a Pod, Turquoise Spirit, and Twisted Sister.

This basement, and the rotten food stored there, plays an important part in The Freedom Thief.

All of these small towns had museums with everything from spent shells from cannons and muskets, to the weapons themselves, to still-bloodied and torn uniforms of both Confederate and Union soldiers. There were dirty and wore diaries and journals, printed in faltering writing and English, all hand-written by slaves who were either still enslaved or who had been freed, either by escaping or by the end of the War. It was fascinating reading.

We visited the remnants of slave dwellings on the property of historical mansions, some still occupied, and often these occupants were descendents of the original plantation owners. We went through the narrow hallways and small rooms of forts, even climbing up to the parapets of one that had a magnificent view of the Ohio River. We saw all kinds of farm wagons with false bottoms that had been used to transport runaway slaves. I sat in one of the 'death coaches' that had carried many slaves hidden in coffins inside their glass interiors. We saw tiny hiding places in ramshackle barns, and walked up shaky staircases to hidden attic rooms. We gently fingered the terrible instruments, such as the iron collar and the Cat o'Nine Tails whip, used to punish disobedient slaves, or those who had escaped and been found by hunters and returned to their 'owners.' There were times when I was sure I could hear the screams of those being beaten.

When we returned to our ranch, I told my husband that I knew what I was going to write. That barge trip had turned into the perfect gem of an idea for a story about the Civil War. But, as so often happens to us all, life got in the way of my writing, and it was not until 2006 that I began to write for publication. I began a story, titled Escape on the Train Without Tracks, for my last assignment of my first course at the Institute of Children's Literature. It was a great story, but it didn't come to fruition until 2012, and over the years, it changed greatly. Today, only the characters I created for that first novel are left, and The Freedom Thief is vastly different from Escape...

The single most important aspect of Thief is that almost every single thing and place we saw and visited on that barge trip so many years ago is incorporated into the novel. Drifting down the Ohio and up the Mississippi Rivers on a funny little barge is not only the greatest vacation my husband and I ever took, but it is also perhaps the most important trip I ever took.

The Freedom Thief will be launched on Friday, November 8, 2013. I hope you will read and enjoy the dangerous journey Ben McKenna took when he arranged the escape of three slaves: his best friend and the boys's parents. The link to buy the book on or after Nov. 8 is:

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday's Thoughts: The Freedom Thief Is About To Be Launched!

As writers, do you ever get the feeling that you are writing in a vacuum, that no one really understands what you are trying to accomplish or why it is taking you so long to accomplish...whatever?

I've had that feeling for a long time. My family has always supported my writing, but there have been times when the unspoken look has said, "When are you going to get this done? Or just give it up?"

And I can understand that. Even though there have been three completed novels, and one almost finished during this time, it has taken me six years to get to this point with The Freedom Thief. SIX YEARS! That is a long time for one novel: two years of research, and four of writing, rewriting because my thoughts have changed, or my research has taken me in a different direction; sending to my critique group, then editing according to their well-thought out comments; a little more rewriting, more editing; finally sending the polished manuscript to a professional editor, and then on to the publisher who accepted it.

I started this novel for my last assignment in my first course at the Institute of Children's Literature. The title then was "Escape on the Train Without Tracks." That was in late 2007. At the time, the "train without tracks" refered to the Underground Railroad, the system that was in place to help escaping slaves during the pre-Civil War era.

Six years later, The Freedom Thief is about to be "born," and is a completely different novel. But then, how many times does that happen to us, when we start with one premise which evolves into another and another until the final result is miles away from day one? I seriously doubt I'm the only writer that has happened to!

It's been a long journey. One that has not altogether been a happy one, with all the tragedy our family has gone through. But my awesome husband has been with me ever step of the way, telling me, "Yes, you can do this, and no, you're not giving up." Without him, this book would never have been written. Richard, you are my hero and the love of my life.

The Freedom Thief launches at MuseItUp Publishing on Friday, November 8th, 2013. Click on the link below to reach the buy page. The price is $5.50, but for the start-up, the sale price will be $4.40.

Because it is released first as an ebook, this is what you do: if you have a Kindle:
use the prc file: download the file to your computer in a safe location, plug in your Kindle USB, and drag that file into your Kindle folder.

If you have a Nook, Kobo, Sony, or some other reader, you do the same thing EXCEPT you use the epub file.

Next time, I'll be posting more about The Freedom Thief, and I'll even give you a small taste of what's inside!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cover Art For The Freedom Thief

A week ago, a new element of the publishing business came into my life: the cover art that will go on my book, The Freedom Thief. I have really been looking forward to this, because I had no idea what the illustrator might have in mind. As an artist, I could envision different ways to paint a cover, but an artist and an illustrator are two totally different animals, at least in the way they look at something and decide how to represent it on canvas or paper.

My first cover was sent to me, and I didn't know what to think. It was brilliantly done...but it was way too esoteric for children. The CA (cover artist) had started with a large tunnel, with a shadowy figure at the far end. At the near right side of the cover, was a depiction of a carriage with four horses. From the end of the tunnel back to the carriage was a brilliant sprawl of light, so that the carriage and horses appeared very faintly in the drawing.

So this was my thought: the tunnel represented the underground tunnel that Ben had led the three slaves through to begin their escape to freedom. The carriage represented the "death coach", which was the final mode of transportation for Ben and the slaves to the point where they had to accomplish the final part of their journey to the Ohio River on foot. The bright light represented the concept of "There's a light at the end of the tunnel"...light in this case meaning freedom.

But I felt it was way over the heads of kids who are 10, 11, 12 years old. I'm not sure even 13 and 14 year olds would actually "get" the concept the cover represented. And then my husband said the light was so bright that it looked "almost God-like, while the figure could represent God or Jesus." Obviously, I didn't want anyone else...any get that impression, as this is not a book about religion.

So I sent it back, found out the CA didn't know the book was for 10-14 year olds, and then she told me she would completely redo the cover. She did, and I really like it much better. It's done in sepia tones which makes it appear mysterious and tantalizing. She inserted the tag line for the book between the lines of the title, and I think when kids read that, and look at the cover, they will be intrigued enough to buy it. I hope so!

Tell me what you think!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Some Thoughts For An Early Wednesday Morning

Friday I received my galley sheets for The Freedom Thief. I didn't know what to expect, and realized that it is a lot of work. I have to go sentence by sentence through the whole manuscript to make sure every word, every bit of punctuation, spelling, and grammar is correct. That means printing out the manuscript, and for me, using a 5 x 8 note card to cover sentences below the one I'm reading, to make sure I don't miss anything. There are no page numbers any more, as the ms has to be formatted to fit the ebook format for printing.

When I find an error, such as a word being left out of a sentence ( and I've found one of those already, but the word was in the original ms), I then have to write the sentence in the galley worksheet, highlight where the word is supposed to be, then in the space below, rewrite the sentence ( the entire sentence) and highlight the word I'm putting in. I have to do this for every sentence in which there is some kind of error. It is slow work, tiring and tedious. But it is to make sure the book is "word and SPAG perfect" when it goes to print. This is the final step before the book is printed and released.

I received my cover art, the second one as I didn't approve of the first one. It was very well done, but too "esoteric" for kids. I found out that cover artists don't read the manuscripts when they are assigned one to work on. They are told what the book is about and what the genre is, and that's about it. They have to come up with a cover that represents both the story and the genre, but in my case, my CA didn't know that the book was for kids, so her first cover wasn't appropriate. The second one is rather mysterious and hopefully, that will appeal to the kids. I'm going to post the cover here on my blog as soon as I figure out how to do it!

My publisher, MuseItUp, is in Canada, and while I was working with my Line Editor, she changed some of my spelling to reflect the British way of spelling. I find that a little difficult to accept, since I'm American, but I guess that's the way it has to be. I just hope the kids and parents who buy the book, and who are in America, will overlook that part, or at least, not think I don't know how to spell!

The promotional part of this whole process is very time consuming, expensive, and frustrating. I sincerely hope that by the time I get through this first book and its promotion, I will have learned enough to not panic...again...when the second one comes out next spring. As of now, I'm in the midst of a nervous breakdown, and praying that I'm doing the right things at the right time...and am not at all sure I am!

There are so many things to coordinate, and the timeline is iffy. The book is due out in November, but I don't have a definite date. That makes it hard to schedule the launch event, but I've done so and just hope it isn't too early. Living in a small town means open community rooms are few and far between, which in turn means they are booked up far in advance. Since I wanted to have this event in the library...hoping to snag a few stray kids LOL...I booked the only free date in November, which is the 9th. I'm doing both the invitations and the flyers myself, and have waited to print them out until I hear something more definitive about the release date, but that hasn't come yet. This week I need to get them both out, so the date will continue to be Nov.9th, and with any luck, the book will be released close to that date.

Now I need to stop writing, and try to figure out how to get my cover art posted to this blog. Wish me luck!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday's Focus: Rejection and Acceptance

Today is more of a thoughtful day than anything else. But it isn't necessarily all about writing, either.

I've been hearing and reading about a lot of writers, some I know personally, some only from the Internet, who are getting rejections on their short stories and novels, and their various reactions to them. Every writer knows that rejections are nothing more than a part of the writing journey, but for some, a rejection is a life-changing event. It can mean falling into the depths of depression, of beating one's self up about what a terrible writer they are, all the way to declaring an end to their journey and refusing to put pen to paper, or hands to computer keyboard, ever again. To me, there are only two reasons why a writer would do any of the above: either they have very low self-esteem and any kind of rejection from any person would have the same effect, or, they don't really want to be a writer in the first place. I'd put my money on the latter reason.

Alex Haley, author of the award-winning book Roots, which went on to become an award-winning TV show, went through 200 rejections before he sold this book Agatha Christie wrote and submitted for five years before she sold a single one of her mystery stories. The same kind of story exists for present day writers, like J.R. Rowlings, whose first book about Harry Potter received nothing but rejections until the 8 year-old daughter of an agent who had received the manuscript and couldn't sell it, demanded to read the whole story. That 8 year-old's reaction was the impetus that sold the first of the seven-book Harry Potter saga. These people, as well as thousands of other writers, want to write badly enough to keep on writing and submitting until finally, their work is accepted and they are rightly called authors.

You don't give up. That's the trick. A long and many times, lonely and frustrating journey, from writer to author, but you don't give up. You keep on keeping on. There's no other way. Rejections are a part of a writer's life. Keep them in a file, post them on a corkboard where you can see them every day, wallpaper your office with them, it doesn't matter what you DO with them, but they are there, they are a part of your life as a writer, and often, they are a valuable part of your writer's journey. Accept the rejection. Cry, swear, throw things, beat your desk with a wooden spoon ( just don't beat the dog who will bite the cat who will scratch your husband, and then you'll really be in deep do-do), and then...take a deep breath, do whatever you're going to do with that rejection, pour yourself a cup of coffee, take the bag of chocolate out of the fridge, and start writing again.
It's life. Live it.

Acceptance. I'm not talking about writing here. Today is September 13, but I'm talking about 9/11/2001. A day of despicable tragedy, a day which will, or should, live in infamy for eternity. Yet, I noticed something this year...very little was said about 9/11 this year. A few scattered memorials on TV, a few words from our President, and that's it. I saw nothing on FaceBook about it; nothing was said about it on the two writers' forums I'm on; no big write-up in the newspapers. Yes, it was twelve years ago. Yes, some people want to forget about it, and "get on" with their lives.

Does "getting on" with your life mean that as a nation, we have become so accepting of the violence throughout out planet, and this cowardly act upon our own people, that we don't need to remember? Does the "acceptance" of what happened, of the lives lost and the lives forever changed, mean that we no longer need or should have memorials to that day and to those people? Is "acceptance" now the equivalent of "forgetting?" I know school children who were not born yet or who were infants/toddlers twelve years ago, who know almost nothing about that day...the day of September 11th, 2001, which should have changed the entire nation, but apparently hasn't. Why aren't they being taught, in depth, about this day, and what it means...or should have not only the United States but to the entire world? I don't know, but it seems to me that the "acceptance" of that day means that over time, it has no longer become a day of much significance.

I don't understand.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday's Focus: Character interview from The Freedom Thief

Today I'm doing an interview with my main character, Ben McKenna, from The Freedom Thief, due out in November. Ben decided there were a few things he wanted to ask me about himself, why he did what he did, and how he came into being. So today, the interview is from his point of view.

BEN: Oh, hi, Missus Sadil. Come on in and set a spell.

MIKKI: Thanks, Ben, I’ll do just that. By the way, you can call me Mikki.

BEN:  Oh, uh, I don’t think I should. Ma says it’s not respectful to be familiar with people you don’t know very well.

MIKKI: Ben, I think we know each other very well, so I’m sure your ma wouldn’t mind. I understand you want to ask me some questions?

BEN:  Yeah, I do. But first, I reckon I’ve got some things to say about this story you threw me into. You sure did come up with some troublesome imaginaries for me, like that awful tunnel.
I swear I thought we’d never get out of that place alive. And that swamp? When you made me dive down into all that dirty water? What in tarnation were you thinking on?

MIKKI: (laughs). Oh, sorry. I’m not laughing at you, but the look on your face right now is priceless! Ben, you should know I would never have let the storyline get out of hand. You were always safe.

BEN: (frowns). Maybe you’re right. But I didn’t know that at the time, and neither did Josiah, or Bess and Jesse. Say, what made you make a kid like me take such a risk, any how? You didn’t even give me a plan for helping Josiah and his parents escape, you just let me do it on my own. Seems like that weren’t too smart, Missus Mikki.

MIKKI: Whoa, wait just a minute, young man. I DID intend for you to make a plan for that escape, but you got on your high horse and said you had to leave that very night. There wasn’t a thing I could do to change your mind. So, you’re right, you left without a plan. You even almost forgot to take that old compass. Then you would have been in big trouble, Mister McKenna!

BEN: (crossly) Well, I don’t see as how you had to make that Mister Pembrook come so early. Couldn’t you’ve kept him away on one of them business trips he was so fond of telling about?

MIKKI: Oh, I suppose I could have. But then the tension wouldn’t have been so high, now would it? And conflict is the name of the game, right? Besides, I had to test you, to see if you really were the kid I thought you were.

BEN: (sighing) That’s just what I mean. I’m a kid. So what’s a kid like me doing something like that…getting three slaves to escape? How come I couldn’a had some help?

MIKKI: A kid like you? Ben, you’re just the kind of kid I could do something like this with. You’re smart, you’re resilient, but most of all, you have the strength of your convictions concerning slavery. I knew you could manage that escape all by yourself. You didn’t need anyone to help you.

BEN: That’s something else I reckon I don’t understand much. How come I don’t believe in slavery when my pa and ma do, and the boys, too? I mean, Pa is downright strict in trying to make me into another slave owner when I get older, and Ma keeps saying as how we’d never be able to run the plantation without slaves. Even Andrew and James believe slavery is right.

MIKKI:  You grew up in the schools in New York, where you were taught that slavery is wrong, that humans should never be allowed to own other humans. So when your family moved back to Kentucky to your grandmother’s slave-run plantation, you took the ideas and ideals you had been taught about slavery with you. Those never changed, no matter what your family said. Of course, having such a close relationship with Grammy, the secret Abolitionist of the family, certainly helped to solidify those beliefs.

BEN: (looking thoughtful) Yeah, I reckon you’re right. You know, I’ve been pondering on something else for some time. How did I come about? Am I just something you imagined up out of nowhere?

MIKKI: (smiles) Well, no, not exactly. I kind of “borrowed” you from…well, from someone who was in my life a long time ago. He was my older brother, and he had very strong opinions of his own. I remember him being in trouble with our parents a lot because his convictions didn’t often agree with theirs. He was a remarkable young man, and you resemble him in many ways.

BEN: Huh. Do you think he would of done what I did?

MIKKI: (laughing) Oh, yes, Ben, he would have done exactly what you did. And with just as much a lack of planning as you had, too.

BEN: (scowls a bit) Yeah, well, you know, I must have hurt Ma and Pa some bad, going around all their teachings and just taking off with Josiah and his parents like that. And Grammy! I might not ever get to see Grammy again, and I reckon I love her somewhat fierce.

MIKKI: (with a sigh) Yes, I know, Ben. I’m sorry about that. But someone had to get Josiah and his parents away from the plantation, and who else was going to do it but you?

BEN: It was an awful long journey, and lots of scary places we got to. Riding in the bottom of that farm wagon, hiding in the woods, and then all that time you made us spend in the Andrews farm! And escaping in the daylight, when all those people saw us! I just knew we weren’t going to make it.

MIKKI: But you did, didn’t you? You never let up, Ben, you never gave up or let Josiah or Bess or Jesse give up. That’s the important part of the story. You started out as a thirteen year-old boy, and you ended up a fourteen year-old young man. The qualities that made you come through that long journey from boy to manhood will be with you forever.

BEN: (nodding slowly) I guess so. I’ve changed a lot, I know that now. The people along the way, like Charity and the Jeffersons, even the Andrews…I reckon they all helped to get me growed up, a little bit here and a little bit there. But every time I thought we were getting ahead, we got thrown back. That weren’t too nice, Missus Mikki.

MIKKI: ( looking puzzled) Why, whatever do you mean, Benjamim? Now, surely you didn’t think everything was going to be smooth as molasses after you left the Jeffersons, did you?

BEN: I reckon not, but riding in that death coach and being found again by Phineas and his gang was scary, and then those soldiers at the Union Fort …when I thought they were gonna capture is, now that was downright worrisome.

 MIKKI: Hmm…’downright worrisome’ huh? The thing is, you worked your way out of both of those situations, just like all the others you and the slaves encounter on your journey. You didn’t need any help, you just did what you had to do.

BEN: ( is silent, looking thoughtful)

MIKKI: You see, I gave you certain qualities, Ben, but it was up to you to develop them in a way that would enable you to go from half-way scared little boy to responsible young man, and you did just that. I admire you, Ben, because no matter how scared you were, how much you missed your family, or even how frustrated you became as each situation seemed more and more overpowering, you never gave up. You never faltered in your belief that you could, and would, get your slave friends to freedom. That’s why you came alive in this story. It’s your story, Ben, I just happened to be the one to tell it.

BEN: Huh. Well, I thank you for that. (Smiles shyly) I, uh, I reckon I have one more question.

I would really like to see Charity again. Are you maybe thinking on that?

MIKKI: (smiles slyly) You know, that’s a pretty good idea. It’s just that, well, Charity is a long way from where you ended up. I would have to write a whole new story, now, wouldn’t I? And that takes a long time. Besides, how do I know what you are going to do between now and, uh, sometime in the future? On the other hand, I guess it’s possible your journey isn’t over yet. So, let’s just say…we’ll see, Ben, we’ll see.

BEN: (grins)  Yes, ma’am,  Missus Mikki, we’ll see. Thanks for stopping by. I reckon I’ll be seeing you again some time…like maybe next year?

MIKKI: (stops as she is walking out the door, turns around) Now, Ben…you do know about Gabriela, don’t you? The sixteen year-old girl who is hearing children’s voices telling to find their killer? You don’t really want me to leave her hanging out there at Dead Man’s Crossing all by herself, do you? Just so you can see Charity again?

BEN: ( looking chastised…but only for a moment) No, ma’am, I wouldn’t cotton to that. I know Gabriela will find the killer, all right. But see, I got some inside information, and I know you’ve been making some plans about the Civil War, and me, and Union spies, and Charity, all rolled up in one! I reckon we’ll be seeing each other again, like…maybe next year. You take care, now, Missus Mikki.

MIKKI: (shaking her head as she finally leaves) We’ll see, Ben, we’ll see.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.