Sunday, October 10, 2021

A first draft for a last book

The first draft, I wrote a year ago, is the easy one. It's the "rough, unpolished blob a writer pushes out in a manic frenzy."

My thinking has changed. In some cases, the first draft is the harder one. It's the foundation that must be properly set in order to support and accommodate all that follows. Whether done quickly or not, it's the one that requires a little extra care and attention.

This is especially true with a series finale. As I learned in writing Crown City, the fifth book in the Time Box set, the first draft can be as consuming and aggravating as the last. It can be a chore.

Fortunately for me, I managed to complete that chore successfully. I produced a draft I can easily improve. I pushed out a 107,000-word manuscript nearly four weeks ahead of schedule.

Like Camp Lake, Crown City will bring a long family saga to a close. It will tie loose ends and answer questions that have lingered since The Lane Betrayal, the first book in the series.

It will also showcase the Lane ladies. Though Ashley, a high school freshman, takes center stage in the novel, set mostly in Coronado, California, in 1963, her mother and sisters play strong supporting roles. All provide depth and meaning to the story.

I intend to revise the first draft, with the help of my editor and several beta readers, in the next ten weeks and choose a cover in the next four. Crown City is still scheduled for a Christmas release.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A salute to the couples

As characters go, they are easy to spot. Though they vary in age, vocation, temperament, and even role within a series, they all have one thing in common. They have been married for a long time.

Joel and Grace Smith started it off in The Mine. From the moment they met as college students to the moment they welcomed their first grandchild, they anchored the Northwest Passage series.

Geoffrey and Jeanette Bell did much the same in the American Journey set. They managed a series of time travelers in their Los Angeles home before taking a bow in Hannah's Moon.

Then came the patriarchs and matriarchs, the foundations of my family sagas. Tim and Caroline Carson presided over a large clan in the Carson Chronicles.

Mark and Mary Lane have done the same in the Time Box collection. Both couples were the glue that held a disparate collection of characters together.

Other couples, like the Carters in The Mine, the Greens in The Show, the Scotts in The Memory Tree, the Watanabes in Indian Paintbrush, and the Prices in Sea Spray, enhanced stories in other ways. They added color and contrast and (sometimes) comic relief.

In creating these couples, stalwarts of my series, I drew inspiration from books, movies, and real people, including two very real people who will celebrate their 70th anniversary next Thursday.

If that number looks like a typo, it's not. My parents, Jim and Mary Heldt, have been married longer than many people live. In that time, they have served as splendid role models for their six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They have also provided much inspiration for characters they will only know through literature. For that and a hundred other things, I will always be grateful. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Monday, August 23, 2021

Upgrading the (cover) stock

I don't upgrade covers often. In fact, since publishing my first book in 2012, I have replaced an original image with something significantly different only three times. This summer, I did so again.

Thanks to Melissa Williams Design, The Memory Tree has a new wrap. The graphics outfit produced a cover that will soon be displayed in BookLife. A few times a year, the web site, Publishers Weekly's gift to the self-published community, features cover makeovers that showcase the skills of graphic artists. Both authors and illustrators benefit from the high-profile promotion.

The Memory Tree makeover follows two earlier overhauls. Podium Publishing, now Podium Audio, produced a new cover for The Mine in 2013. Laura Wright LaRoche did the same for The Mirror in 2014. She also modified the text elements on the covers of The Journey, The Show, and The Fire. Needless to say, I am pleased with all of the updates.

I hope to decide on a Kindle cover for Crown City, my latest work in progress, by the middle of October. The fifth and final book of the Time Box series is still scheduled for a December 2021 release.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Two audiobooks and more

For the first time in more than a year, I've added an audiobook to my growing library. Thanks to talented narrator Todd Menesses, The Lane Betrayal is now available in audio on Audible, Amazon, and Apple Books. I hope to add the remaining titles in the Time Box series by the end of next year.

Camp Lake is also on its way to listeners. Lu Banks, a veteran voice actor from Indiana, has agreed to narrate the final book in the Carson Chronicles series. I look forward to working with Lu in the coming months and completing that set.

Work continues in planning the fifth novel in the Time Box series. I will begin writing the book later this month. The work, set mostly in Coronado, California, in the summer and fall of 1963, is the last in the Lane family saga. It is scheduled for a December release.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Looking ahead to Baja

As one who often writes about the things I've done and places I've visited, I rarely let an experience go to waste. Even when I can't tie an adventure to a current project, I file it away for future use.

Last week, I did just that. While visiting Cabo San Lucas, I let my mind wander not to my next book but to my next series. Set mostly in the United States, like my first four series, it will begin in earnest in the tourist towns and rugged mountains of Baja California.

I will work out the details later, of course. My efforts now are focused on planning and writing the fifth book of the Time Box series, set mostly in Coronado, California, in the summer and fall of 1963.

Even so, I found it difficult not to look to the future. When writers walk through towns like Cabo, they find inspiration galore. They find buildings, streets, natural features, and people that all but demand to be incorporated into future works. They find ideas.

I know I did. During my time in Mexico, I found one potential setting after another. My wife and I spent a week in the kind of resort that draws tourists from around the world. I did not have to try hard to imagine conversations on high-rise balconies or lush courtyards or poolside tables. I could picture characters in future books interacting.

I could also picture them striking out on their own and taking the road less traveled. As I learned this month, Baja is more than hotels, beaches, and tourist traps. It is colorful neighborhoods, hidden treasures, and natural wonders. It is a setting, indeed a theme, waiting to be explored and described and appreciated.

At the moment, I have only sketched the broad outlines of the fifth series. Though most of the particulars will not be be determined until next year, I can say the series will initially revolve around three aging siblings -- two brothers and a younger sister -- who get a second shot at life by making use of a fountain of youth. Like many of the characters in my previous works, they will find satisfaction and redemption in the not-so-distant past. Unlike most, they will begin their journey in Mexico.

In the meantime, I will strive to give the Lane family, the focus of my current five-part family saga, a proper send-off. I hope to finish the last novel in the Time Box series by December or January.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Finding a familiar Refuge

To many novelists, World War II is like catnip. With endless themes, storylines, and possibilities, it is a subject they can’t resist.

I know I can’t. Since I jumped into this business in 2012, I have written several novels set before or during the war, including The Mine, Mercer Street, Hannah's Moon, and Indian Paintbrush.

Today, I add one more. In The Refuge, time travelers, assassins, soldiers, scientists, and spies lock horns in the months preceding the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. They elevate the Time Box series to new heights.

In book four, the Lanes, a family from 2021, pursue two objectives on Oahu. While son Jordan, a former intelligence officer, hunts Silas Bain, a ruthless family foe, in the streets of Honolulu, his parents, younger siblings, and pregnant wife settle in the village of Laie, where love, friendship, and opportunity await. Most seek refuge from the perils of time travel.

Bain, a mercenary from the 2020s, has his own agenda. He intends to delay America’s entry into the war and indirectly save a brilliant German physicist, his employer's grandfather, from certain death. He has prepared for every contingency in Hawaii, except meddling by his old adversaries and the charms of a beautiful heiress.

In The Refuge, readers see the Lanes spread their wings. They see Laura and Jessie manage pregnancies, Ashley evolve as a teenager, and Jeremy fall for a beautiful coed with a common interest in a nineteenth-century socialite. They see a familiar family grow.

They also see the war. From the first chapter on, they experience history's greatest conflict from the perspective of time travelers who know that trouble -- big trouble -- is coming to paradise.

Filled with suspense, romance, history, and thrills, The Refuge follows a modern family through a perilous moment in time. The novel, my nineteenth overall, goes on sale today at Amazon.com.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Review: At Dawn We Slept

The book has aged well. Even four decades after its initial release, it remains the definitive work on a defining American moment.

That was enough for me. When I needed background on Pearl Harbor, I turned to a source I could trust. I opened Gordon Prange's At Dawn We Slept and reacquainted myself with December 7, 1941.

A comprehensive, absorbing account of the time before, during, and after the day that lived in infamy, Prange's non-fiction masterpiece reads like a suspense novel. I consulted it often when I needed the kind of detail only a dedicated scholar of a subject can provide.

Prange devotes roughly half the book to the months preceding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He introduces readers to the issues, the players, and events that led up to the strike. He provides a well-rounded treatment of one of history's most iconic events.

Those familiar with Prange know Pearl Harbor was his passion. As the chief historian on Gen. Douglas MacArthur's staff, he interviewed many Japanese military men and turned his research into several notable works, including Tora! Tora! Tora! Colleagues published Dawn a year after the University of Maryland professor died in 1980.

In Dawn, Prange does not refrain from asking tough questions or assigning blame for the stunning attack, which drew the United States into World War II. He addresses the matters head on from the thoughtful and even-handed perspective of a serious historian.

I found Prange's scholarship useful in preparing my current work in progress, which is set on Oahu, Hawaii, in the summer and fall of 1941. That novel, The Refuge, is still set for a June 1 release.

I would recommend Dawn to students of history and anyone fascinated with an event that changed America forever. Rating: 5/5.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

When character(s) matters

The question is as old as fiction itself. In a novel and other works of literature, which is more important? Writing or story?

Depending on who you ask, the answer is clear. Some readers value writing more than the story. Others do just the opposite.

Most novelists value both. They try to write a great story in prose that shines. I know I do. Even when I fail, I attempt to do both.

Then there is the third element. Often shoved to the side, it is as vital to the success of a novel as the writing and the story.

That element is the characters. Without compelling characters, even a well-written story can founder. It can fail to hold a reader.

I did not pick this up right away. I wrote several books, in fact, before readers reminded me, sometimes not so gently, that characters matter. I learned that flawed, sympathetic protagonists and nuanced villains are as essential to a work as a solid plot.

In my next book, The Refuge, readers will see flaws and nuance galore. They will see good guys (and gals) show their harsher sides, confident souls struggle with major life decisions, and ruthless killers find love. They will see people at their best and their worst.

They will also see old friends in a new light, colorful secondary characters, and historical figures in familiar roles. They will see the human mosaic that was Oahu, Hawaii, in the months leading up to the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Refuge, the fourth book in the Time Box series, is in the second stage of the editing process. It is set for a June 1 release.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The charm of Coronado

As book venues go, Coronado, California, is one that never gets old. Brimming with beaches, boats, shops, charming houses, funky trees, and regal hotels, it is a small town worthy of a story, if not two.

For that reason and more, I visited the town again, this time with an eye on the last book of the Time Box series. Set mostly in Coronado in 1963, the book will apply the final touches to the Lane family saga.

Unlike in The Memory Tree, where it got a passing mention, and in Caitlin's Song, where it played second fiddle to Boulder, Colorado, Coronado will get star treatment. It will get the attention it deserved in the Carson Chronicles books.

So in preparation for the Time Box finale, I scoured Coronado's library, walked its streets, and visited dozens of its businesses, including a 1950s diner that will be the setting for at least one chapter.

I got reacquainted with a town I now know as well as Wallace, Idaho, and Virginia City, Nevada, small towns portrayed in The Fire and The Fair. I hope to begin writing Time Box 5 in the fall.

In the meantime, I will complete Time Box 4. I plan to finish the first draft of The Refuge, set in Hawaii in 1941, sometime in the next three weeks and publish it by July 15.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Keeping an active pace

The slogan, popular on motivational posters, tee shirts, and coffee mugs, has been at the forefront of my mind for weeks.

"Three months from now you will thank yourself."

While the saying is intended for dieters, it could easily apply to authors attempting to write a novel within Stephen King's recommended 90-day limit. I know I've taken it to heart.

Since February 1, I have written at least a chapter a day, with the goal of completing 94 chapters by May 1. As a result, I expect to finish the first draft of The Refuge on schedule.

Set mostly on Oahu, Hawaii, The Refuge will cover the Lane family's adventures in the summer and fall of 1941. The fourth book of the Time Box series is now set for a July 15 release.

This winter, I also welcomed two new book collaborators.

The first, L.J. Anderson, put together the cover for the Time Box boxed set, released February 9. The illustrator represents Mayhem Cover Creations.

The second, Todd Menesses, began work on The Lane Betrayal audiobook this week. The veteran voice artist from Louisiana has narrated more than three dozen books.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Review: Night Over Water

I rarely read books twice. There are simply too many new ones to waste time on old ones. I prefer discovery to rediscovery.

On occasion, though, I make an exception. I read a book I had long filed away in the library of my mind. I explore a novel a second time.

This past week, I did just that. I picked up Night Over Water, by Ken Follett, one of my favorite authors, and immersed myself in 1939. I did so to reacquaint myself with the Boeing 314 Clipper, a flying cruise ship I will include in The Refuge, book four in the Time Box series.

In his riveting 1991 novel, Follett tells a tale that evolves, for the most part, over the span of two days. He describes the trials of two dozen passengers and crew who take the final commercial flight from England to America following the sudden outbreak of World War II.

For much of the book, Night reads like Murder on the Orient Express, a mystery propelled by nobles, celebrities, criminals, police, business icons, and a dedicated crew. Most bring stories aboard the Pan Am flight that are as interesting as the time. A few find unexpected romance.

Though Follett, Britain's answer to John Jakes, presents history as soap opera, he nonetheless delivers the goods. He offers a glimpse of an era and an aircraft that disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived.

Readers who like their history peppered with humor, sex, and intrigue will find much to like in Follett's spicy tale. Buffs of the early days of commercial aviation will find even more. Rating: 4/5.

Friday, January 15, 2021

January update and more

As an indie author, I never tire of being recognized by those who have traveled the same road. So I was delighted to learn that London-based writer Rose Auburn has included The Lane Betrayal among her Top Ten Reads by Indie Authors from 2020. Rose is the author of Cobwebs of Youth. She can be found online at roseauburn.com.

Also this month, I released the paperback edition of Sea Spray, the third installment of the Time Box series. Like my first seventeen novels, it is available exclusively through Amazon.com.

I intend to spend the rest of January finalizing the Time Box series boxed set. Then I will turn my attention to converting my most recent works to audio and producing the fourth book of the Time Box saga. Set mostly in Hawaii, it will follow the Lane family in the months leading up to the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

Here's to a happy, healthy, and productive 2021 for all!

Monday, January 4, 2021

Review: The Queen's Gambit

I don't play chess. I haven't in years. I haven't since the fifth grade, when I joined and briefly participated in a school chess club.

A lot of boys did that in 1973. Nearly all, I dare say, wanted to emulate Bobby Fischer, the 29-year-old American wunderkind who defeated the Russian Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship.

I say boys because chess clubs and organizations in those days were mostly male domains. Even now, women make up less than fifteen percent of the members in the U.S. Chess Federation -- an all-time high.

So I was delighted to see Netflix shake things up with The Queen's Gambit, a riveting story about a female chess prodigy. Set mostly in the 1960s, the miniseries follows Kentucky orphan Beth Harmon as she rises from obscurity to international stardom.

In the series, Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, overcomes personal tragedies, crushing sexism, and drug addiction as she weaves her way through the intriguing and competitive world of professional chess.

From the first episode to the last, I found it impossible not to root for Harmon as she bounced from one trial to another. Taylor-Joy portrays a young woman who fears nothing, it seems, except Vasily Borgov, the reigning world champion, whom she plays twice in the story.

Marielle Heller, who plays Harmon's adoptive mother, also shines in the series, based on Walter Tevis's 1983 novel. So do three young men, former chess adversaries, who become the prodigy's biggest supporters as the tale races toward a satisfying conclusion. All lend weight and nuance to a "sports story" that could easily stand on its own.

I highly recommend the seven-part series. For viewers looking for a rags-to-riches story, particularly with a strong, flawed female lead, The Queen's Gambit is hard to beat. Rating: 5/5.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Roaring into the Twenties

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald depicted the Roaring Twenties in sharp contrasts. "The parties," he observed, "were bigger ... the pace was faster ... the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper."

He also opined on the rich. He said "they are different from you and me," in case you've forgotten, and "possess and enjoy early." They are "soft where we are hard" and "cynical where we are trustful."

In Sea Spray, the third book in the Time Box series, I offer a more nuanced view of the era. Though the Lanes, my time travelers, see 1920s New York as Fitzgerald saw it, they also see its softer side. They experience the family dinners, the silent movies, the classrooms, the boat rides, and the quiet walks. Along the way, they meet Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig in person and see George Gershwin in his prime. They became an integral part of a memorable decade.

The Lanes, seven in all, predictably embrace the era. Ten months after fleeing 2021 with two time machines that a madman billionaire desperately wants back, they are eager to settle down and resume normal lives. For a while, each succeeds with typical flair.

Parents Mark and Mary find housing in affluent East Hampton, where a gracious elderly couple offers use of their mansion. Son Jordan and his new wife, Jessie, plan a family. Siblings Laura, Jeremy, and Ashley pursue fun and adventure. All form strong friendships with the Prices, a mysterious mirror-image family that lives next door.

Robert Devereaux could not care less. Still reeling from the theft of his million-dollar devices, he sends a ruthless hit man to the past to retrieve his property and rid the world of his former business partner and his troublesome clan. He wages war on a family.

Randy Taylor, who programs the machines, is determined to stop him. He tries to undermine his boss and save the Lanes, even as he tries to help his mother beat a deadly illness. He pines for the day he can join his fugitive friends and rekindle a relationship with Laura Lane.

I confess this was a difficult book to write. Not because the story didn't come together quickly, but rather because of the subject matter. Smiles and frowns get equal time in this novel. So do laughs and tears.

Like Indian Paintbrush, the third book in the Carson Chronicles series, Sea Spray is a bittersweet bridge that connects two halves of a sweeping historical saga. It is a tale that tests the courage and resolve of a strong clan and forces them to rearrange their priorities.

It is also a stage that showcases two formerly minor characters. Thirteen-year-old Ashley shines in this work. So does Randy. Laura and Jeremy develop in new ways. The Lanes grow as a family.

Filled with romance, humor, and heartbreak, Sea Spray continues a story that began with The Lane Betrayal and The Fair and will resume with at least two more books. The novel, my 18th overall, goes on sale today at Amazon.com and its twelve international sites.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Enjoying the season again

The holidays are under way. No matter where you look, you can see the trappings of the season. Those of us who cannot see snow or Christmas lights (yet) outside our windows can see other signs of the time.

With COVID-19 still a factor, many of the signs have moved online. People are sharing photos on social media. Advertisers are flooding retail web sites. Streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, are touting a slew of holiday movies and programs.

In spite of the commercialism, I love Christmas because it prompts people to take stock of their lives and situations. Along with Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's Eve, it reminds us of things that are bigger than ourselves. It invites reflection and introspection.

Writers have known this for some time. Some of the most beloved works of literature have holiday themes, from A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker, and Little Women to children's favorites like The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The most famous newspaper article of all time is still an 1897 New York Sun editorial that proclaims, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Despite being a fan of the season, I have not explored it much in my own works. Only four of my eighteen books even touch Christmas and only two, The Journey and The Show, address it with substance.

Even so, I inject the season into my stories whenever I can. In Camp Lake, Cody Carson refers to a beautiful vision, later a love interest, as the Ghost of Christmas Future. In Sea Spray, coming out next month, thirteen-year-old Ashley Lane alludes to It's a Wonderful Life when she teases a friend who likes a boy named George Hailey.

I hope to do more with Christmas in future books, including book four of the Time Box series. Set in Oahu, Hawaii, in 1941, it will portray life in prewar America as it edges closer to a December to remember.

In the meantime, I plan to make the most of this one. I wish my readers and others a happy, productive, and most of all, safe holiday season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Blending fact and fiction

I like history. I like studying it, writing about it, and visiting it -- or at least visiting the places where it was made. For that reason, I have set all of my novels in the past and wrapped several around notable historical events, ranging from hurricanes, floods, and wildfires to wars, fairs, and volcanic eruptions. Even speeches and shipwrecks get their due.

Some of the events, like the 1900 Galveston hurricane, described in September Sky, are big. Others, like the 1964 Beatles concert in Seattle, described in The Mirror, are small. Still others, like the 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds, featured in Mercer Street, are both. All form essential backdrops to works of historical fiction.

In Sea Spray, the third book in the five-book Time Box series, readers will get history both big and small. They will get a big dose of Charles Lindbergh and smaller doses of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and George Gershwin. They will see the Roaring Twenties unfold in real time.

In the novel, set on Long Island, New York, in 1927, the Lanes, a time-traveling family from 2021, see Lindbergh as a person and an icon. They meet the unassuming airmail pilot before he flies across the ocean and later celebrate his triumph in a ticker-tape parade. They participate in history as millions of Americans did nearly a century ago.

Blending fact and fiction is fun. It's also problematic. Doing it right requires homework and guesswork. In Mercer Street, I had to research Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt before introducing them to my time travelers. In River Rising, I had to read up on Mark Twain. I wanted conversations and interactions that never happened to ring true.

In developing my Lindbergh, I researched the real-life pilot and acquainted myself with the screen version. The Spirit of St. Louis, a 1957 movie starring Jimmy Stewart, inspired two chapters and several story ideas in Sea Spray. I added passages about Lindy's cat after reading about the feline's footnote role in the historic event.

Sea Spray, my eighteenth novel, is now in its fourth revision and in the hands of the editor. It is still set for a January 2021 release.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Writing the second draft

The first draft is the easy one. It's the rough, unpolished blob a writer pushes out in a manic frenzy. It's the tentative opening act.

Many finish it in three months, the time Stephen King recommends in his Twenty Rules for Writers. Some complete it in one. Thousands of prolific scribes, participants in NaNoWriMo, are trying to do so now. Few, I dare say, will give as much thought to the second draft.

I do. I do because the second draft, the first revision, is where writers turn a jumble into a story. It's where we find glaring errors, embarrassing inconsistencies, and plot holes a reader could drive a truck through.

The second draft is also where we read our story with fresh eyes and sometimes rediscover it. It's where characters and plot lines often look different than when we created them three months earlier.

Later drafts are also important. The third is where I fine-tune the prose, enhance description, and incorporate suggestions offered by my editor and beta readers. The fourth is the final upgrade, the detailing before the new car leaves the lot. All are vital steps in the process.

This week, I began revising Sea Spray, the third novel in the Time Box series and my eighteenth overall. I hope to finish the second draft by Thanksgiving and publish the book itself no later than February 1.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Review: North and South

The questions from readers usually begin with why. Why so many characters in your books? Why so many points of view? Why so many settings and story lines? Why are you making my head spin?

The answer, of course, is John Jakes. From the moment I read his Kent Family Chronicles in high school, I've leaned toward family sagas with multiple themes and perspectives. I've favored the big picture over the small -- as a reader, a television viewer, and now as an author.

For that reason, I have read most of Jakes' books and viewed the television adaptations, including North and South, which I revisited on Hoopla this month. I found the series, the first of three, as thrilling, entertaining, and yes, sappy as when it came out in 1985.

North and South, you may recall, is not just America's story before, during, and after the Civil War. It is history as soap opera, with characters as good and evil as the characters in Dallas and Dynasty.

What I like, though, is the way the story moves from place to place and person to person. Jakes keeps the reader (and the viewer) engaged by shifting the focus early and often. He keeps the Hazards and the Mains, the families in the series, front and center. He stirs things up.

The adaptation stirs things even more with an all-star cast. If you've ever wanted to see Patrick Swayze, Kirstie Alley, David Carradine, Elizabeth Taylor, Wayne Newton, Johnny Cash, Linda Evans, Lloyd Bridges, Olivia de Havilland, and Billy Dee Williams in the same series, this is the show for you. Two dozen A-list actors appear on screen.

I plan to resume my journey down Miniseries Lane this week and then continue my own series in progress. The first draft of Sea Spray, the third book in the Time Box saga, is eighty-percent complete.

As with most of my other works, it will feature multiple settings and points of view. Enough, I dare say, to make John Jakes smile.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

The best tools in the box

Artists, it is said, are only as good as their tools. With good ones, they can soar. With bad ones, they can't leave the ground.

Writers are no different. Though it is possible to produce quality works without the tools of the trade, it is difficult. It's a lot more difficult.

Since publishing my first novel, The Mine, in 2012, I have relied heavily on a handful of tools. Available on the free Internet, they are as indispensable to me as typewriters are to old-school novelists.

My favorite, Thesaurus.com, is the digital version of a staple that has been available in print for nearly 170 years. Comprehensive, versatile, and easy to use, it is one of two tools I can't do without.

The other is OneLook.com, a dictionary search engine that indexes more than 19 million words. Though the site draws from hundreds of dictionaries, it highlights results from the most important ones, such as Webster, Oxford, Collins, and American Heritage.

If OneLook.com is useful in finding the words of today, the Online Etymology Dictionary and Google Books Ngram Viewer are vital in finding the words of yesterday. OED, a "map of the wheel-ruts of modern English," explains what our words meant and how they sounded six hundred to 2,000 years ago. The Ngram Viewer displays the occurrences of words and phrases in books dating to 1800.

On occasion, I will consult grammar resources. Both Grammarly, a powerful proofreading tool, and the Hemingway App, which evaluates writing for clarity and simplicity, are excellent and easy to use.

I touted a few of the tools above in an April 2016 blog post. Go to Touting the tools of the trade to learn more.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Next stop: The Jazz Age

For years, I've had a fascination with the 1920s. I don't know if it began when I read The Great Gatsby, watched people dance the Charleston, or first listened to Rhapsody in Blue, but I've had it.

It's hard to dislike a decade that crams flappers, speakeasies, Gershwin, Ruth, Lindbergh, and runaway prosperity under one roof.

For that reason and others, I decided to set my next novel, the third in the Time Box series, in the Roaring Twenties. I can think of few more fascinating stops for the Lanes, my adventurous time travelers.

I can think of few more interesting eras to study. For the past four weeks, I have reacquainted myself with everything from Prohibition to the movies and music of the time. I paid particular attention to East Hampton, New York, in 1927, the primary setting in the book.

I hope to finish the first draft, now twenty percent complete, by Christmas. I intend the publish the book itself by February 2021.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Fair setting for a sequel

When it comes to selecting settings, I am a creature of habit. I usually pick the time and place of a novel weeks, if not months, in advance. On occasion, though, I break form. This was one of those times.

Until I finished The Lane Betrayal in February, I struggled with where to set the second novel in the Time Box series. San Francisco in both 1849 (gold rush) and 1906 (earthquake) was a possibility. So was Philadelphia in 1876. The city hosted the Centennial Exposition that year. Neither setting grabbed me.

Then I read about the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, a fair in Chicago that introduced the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack, the automatic dishwasher, and scores of electrical innovations. When I learned that 1893 was also the year of a severe economic depression, class conflict, and H.H. Holmes, America's Jack the Ripper, I decided to jump into that exciting and turbulent time. The Fair, the continuation of the Lane family saga, is the result of that decision.

For the Lanes, six time travelers from 2021, five months in the Gilded Age is a chance to catch their breath following a perilous and tragic journey to 1865. While physicist Mark Lane, 53, and wife Mary try to build a home in the Windy City, their children use the time to grow. Fun-loving Laura, 22, befriends a mischievous Irish artist. No-nonsense Jeremy, 19, falls hard for an engaged debutante. Younger daughter Ashley becomes a teenager. Former Army officer Jordan, 26, finds his answers elsewhere. Still grieving the death of a murdered lover, he trades Chicago for rough-and-tumble Virginia City, Nevada, where he finds adventure, purpose, and new romance.

Robert Devereaux has no intention of letting the Lanes rest. Determined to recover two time machines his former business partner stole from him, he sends assassin Silas Bain on two missions to retrieve his property and eliminate a pesky family. The billionaire commits his company to finding the Lanes, even as one of his trusted aides, a Lane confidant, secretly attempts to undermine him.

Like The Lane Betrayal, The Fair offers suspense and thrills, particularly in the last twenty chapters. Unlike the first book, it focuses primarily on relationships and motives. Readers see different sides of Mary, Jordan, and Jeremy; learn more about Devereaux and Bain; and view the limitations of 1893 through the eyes of its women.

They also see the fair. From the day President Grover Cleveland launches the exposition to the day the Lanes leave it, readers see one of history's greatest spectacles in all its glory. They see an event that is still in the news 127 years after it closed its doors.

The Fair is the second of five planned books in the series, which spans the century from 1865 to 1963. My seventeenth novel goes on sale today at Amazon.com and its twelve international sites.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Finding history in Virginia City

Even now, I can rattle off the names like days of the week: Wallace. Galveston. Princeton. Evansville. Gulf Shores. Chattanooga. Flagstaff. Sedona. Johnstown. Boulder. Coronado. Washington, D.C.

Between 2013 and this January, I visited each venue, a significant setting in one of my novels, before publishing that novel. I wanted to at least get a feel of the place — and even a time — before committing its particulars to print.

This week, I added Virginia City, an important setting in The Fair, to the list. Though the Nevada mining town of 900 is not what it was in the early 1870s, when more than twenty thousand people flocked to the Comstock Mining District to make their fortune in silver, it is nonetheless still impressive.

Some buildings mentioned in the novel still stand. They include the Storey County Courthouse, Piper's Opera House, First Presbyterian Church, Fourth Ward School, and the Territorial Enterprise, where Mark Twain worked as a reporter in the early 1860s. The Silver Terrace Cemeteries and the Mackay Mansion, which inspired other venues in the book, are also still around.

Other buildings, like the palatial International Hotel, are gone. The six-story, 160-room structure, once the most prominent hotel between Denver and San Francisco, burned to the ground in 1914.

Despite these and other changes and the passage of 127 years, I did not have difficulty imagining Virginia City as it existed in the spring and summer of 1893. The town exudes the late nineteenth century. It still embodies the spirit of an industrious time in American history.

For practical reasons, I did not visit Chicago, the primary setting in The Fair. Unlike Virginia City, Chicago today is much different than it was in 1893. The grounds of the World's Columbian Exposition are now a public park. The Midway Plaisance, site of the first Ferris Wheel, is an expansive lawn at the University of Chicago.

The Fair, the second book in the Time Box series, is in its final editing phase. I still intend to publish the novel in the first week of July.

Photographs: Territorial Enterprise building, Fourth Ward School, Piper's Opera House, First Presbyterian Church.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Creating covers by committee

According to an old proverb, too many cooks spoil the broth. While that may be true with some things, I have not found it to be true when arriving at book covers. As one who is as artistic as a dog with a paintbrush, I depend on the insights of others when developing the right wrapper for a particular novel. This month, I did so again with The Fair, my latest work.

Thanks to my committee of advisors, a select group of friends and relatives, I settled on a cover that I believe is appealing and strikes a balance between the book's competing themes. Set mostly in Chicago during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, The Fair is a mix of time travel, history, romance, humor, and adventure, with grandeur as a backdrop.

For this cover, Laura Wright LaRoche, my longtime illustrator, enhanced an original photo of the fair's Administration Building and Grand Basin. Others helped me choose the style and color of the title font, a font that reflects the serious and whimsical themes of the fair, which introduced the world to the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack, and the wonders of electricity. I was, and remain, grateful for their help.

Though the book itself is still a work in progress, it is one that is getting much closer to publication. I expect to publish The Fair, the second novel in the Time Box series, sometime in early July.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Writing around the future

I have been in this position before.

When writing Mercer Street in 2015, I had to contend with the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs, you may recall, were a bad baseball team for a long time. Between 1946 and 2014, they did not reach the World Series even once. So assuming — in the novel — that they would NOT reach the World Series in 2015 seemed like a safe bet.

Then the 2015 Cubs started winning and messed things up. They tore through the National League playoffs and put the World Series matter in doubt until October 21. The New York Mets, who swept the Cubs in the league championship series, saved me from rewriting a book I had held in reserve for four weeks.

In The Mirror, written in 2013 but set partly in 2021, I had to guess what the world would look like eight years hence. In Indiana Belle and Class of '59, published in 2016, I had to write around a presidential election because I did not know the outcome.

Enter the coronavirus. What once looked like a short-term problem for everyone has turned into a long-term problem for someone setting a series, at least partly, in the years 2021 to 2023. Like other writers setting books in the near future, I am forced to ask what the world will look like next year — or the next.

In The Fair, my current work in progress, I make only two passing mentions to social distancing and none to COVID-19. I assume that the pandemic currently sweeping the globe will be old news by the time the Lanes, my time travelers, leave the present in August 2021. I hope, for many reasons, that I'm right.

The safe approach, of course, is to set books far into the future. When you write about events decades or even centuries away, you limit the number of finger-waggers who can remind you that you got it wrong. You give yourself wiggle room.

Some writers, of course, stick their necks out anyway and come out smelling like a rose. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, written in 1948, seems eerily prescient today. So do the works of H.G. Wells and other authors. TIME magazine mentioned several in 2018.

Fortunately for the Lanes, they will spend more time in years like 1865 and 1893 than the 2020s. Writing about their battles with influenza and tuberculosis will require more research the guesswork. The Fair, the second book of the Time Box series, is now in the revision stage. I hope to publish it by August 1.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Noticing the world around us

Since joining the ranks of the sheltered in place, I have noticed the little things. Clean air. Quiet streets. Fewer planes in the sky. The smell of briquettes and not fast food. Even animal sounds. A mourning dove, my neighborhood's rooster, now announces each day at six.

Such is life in a COVID-19 world. When our mechanized civilization shuts down, our senses open. We notice more and appreciate more. We do more too. We speak to people we have put off for far too long. We watch the movies and prepare the dishes we had filed away. We pull the weeds and plant the flowers. We take the long walks.

We also view our fellow citizens differently. I know I will never again grumble about a long wait in a doctor's office or a keypad mistake by a distracted grocery checker. When people we often take for granted risk their lives for society, I, for one, take notice and applaud.

We work differently as well. Though not all of us can return to our jobs or return to them in the same capacity, we can still be productive. Thanks to technology, creative approaches, and the willingness to adapt, some have not stopped working at all. I know such people.

I have used the down time to finish one work and begin another. Caitlin's Song will be out in audio this month. The Fair, book two in the Time Box series, is 30-percent complete. I hope all of you are making the most of this trying and unusual time. Stay safe!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coping with the coronavirus

Let me say first, I feel fortunate. Unlike many who are struggling in these desperate times, my wife and I have the resources to weather the storm -- at least for now. My heart goes out to those who do not.

My community of Las Vegas is feeling the brunt. For the first time since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Strip has shut down. Casinos, hotels, and restaurants, the economic engine of this tourist town, are closing their doors. Like many, I wonder when the worst will pass. I wonder when I will be able to resume work, look at a 401k statement without closing my eyes, or visit a store without seeing empty shelves and long lines. The challenges created by the spread of COVID-19 are both serious and numerous.

But so are the opportunities. If there is one thing that tough times force you to do, it is to rearrange priorities. Difficult experiences also prompt you to do things things you might not otherwise do. For some, it means volunteering, exercising more, or tackling projects around the house. For most, it means finding productive and meaningful uses of time when that typically scarce resource is suddenly in abundance. I know it does for me. I did not plan to start my next book for several more weeks. But it did not take me long to realize that home quarantine was an opportunity to do now what I might not be able to do -- or do as quickly -- later. Time, to a writer, is a gift.

So I jumped back in. I finished a chapter summary, ordered some research materials, read a few books, and watched some documentaries. I did and will continue to do what I can to make the most of a trying situation. I will begin writing the second novel in the Time Box series before the end of the month and plan to publish it by the summer. I hope that when the book does comes out, the world will be a healthier, happier, and less stressful place. I think we all do.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Review: Outlander (TV series)

For someone obsessed with time travel, I took my time getting around to the gold standard of the genre. I didn't read Outlander, published in 1991, until ten years ago and didn't take on the rest of the story until it became a miniseries in 2014. But as they say, better late than never.

For those of you with trial STARZ accounts, or Facebook pages with advertisements that remind you of those accounts, the Outlander series, now in its fifth season, is a pretty big thing right now. And for good reason. It is world-class entertainment.

The series, based on Diana Gabaldon's novels, follows nurse Claire Randall Fraser from 1946 to 1743 and beyond on a journey through time. Along the way, Claire, played by Caitriona Balfe, tries to find her place in two worlds -- the world of Frank Randall, her professor husband, and that of James "Jamie" Fraser, her hunky highlander.

Though the Outlander series has long been considered a staple of romance, I appreciate it most for its attention to other things. Even without the sex scenes -- and yes, there are plenty of those -- it would stand on its own as an achievement of historical fiction.

It does not matter if an episode is set in Scotland in the 1740s, Boston in the 1960s, or the colony of North Carolina in the 1770s. The writers and producers make it work. They give you the glory and misery of each place and era. They provide the grit, the costumes, the accents, and the settings that so many others do not.

Beyond the attention to historical detail, I like how the main characters adapt to their changing surroundings. Claire evolves from nurse to "healer" to modern physician and back in the series and makes the most of what she has. In Season 5, she makes homemade penicillin from bread mold to treat colonial neighbors who think mercury pills and blood-letting are the answer to every ill.

Similarly, Jamie, played by the charismatic Sam Heughan, evolves from soldier to printer to landowner while supporting and mentoring a host of family and friends. Though Claire is the central figure in the series, Jamie is the most compelling. He retains his humor and his humanity despite challenges that would break other men.

I would recommend the series, in any format, to anyone. In a world where so many books, movies, and television series are overrated, this magnificent collection delivers the goods. Rating: 5/5.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Driving in a familiar Lane

I admit I considered another course. After writing the Carson Chronicles, an exhaustive five-book set, I was ready for a change.

But as I pondered my options for my next series, I realized I was not quite ready to say goodbye to time travel, family sagas, or even historical fiction. So I jumped back in. I took the best elements of my first fifteen novels, focused a little more on suspense, and came up with a storyline for what I hope will be my best series yet.

Like the Carsons, the Lanes of Fredericksburg, Virginia, are a family with a problem. Weeks after noted physicist Mark Lane, 52, creates the world's first time machines, he learns his corporate partner wants to use the portable devices for nefarious purposes.

Rather than give him the chance to do so, Mark takes the time boxes and his family to the relative safety of 1865. For Mark, wife Mary, and their four children, the adventure is a chance to grow. Mary runs a business selling modern cosmetics. Jeremy, 19, and Ashley, 12, befriend an abolitionist and two escaped slaves in wartime Washington. Laura, 22, finds her place as a nurse in a military hospital. Jordan, 25, falls for a beautiful widow on a recovery mission in Virginia. All hope to find peace in the past.

But billionaire Robert Devereaux has no interest in giving the Lanes even a moment's rest. Shortly after Mark's betrayal, he sends an assassin to 1865 to retrieve his property and set matters straight.

Like most of my previous works, The Lane Betrayal combines history, romance, adventure, and multiple points of view. It also features my first true villain and cameos by Abraham Lincoln, Mary Lincoln, Edwin Stanton, John Hay, Walt Whitman, and John Wilkes Booth.

The Lane Betrayal is the first book in the Time Box series, which will span 1865 to 1963. The novel, available as a Kindle book on Amazon.com and its international sites, goes on sale today.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Review: Where Crawdads Sing

Like others, I suspect, I put this one off. I prefer other genres and wasn't eager to jump into a long novel when I was in the middle of producing my own. But 4.8 stars on Amazon and Oprah's blessing are hard to ignore, so I made an exception. I'm glad I did. I found Where the Crawdads Sing, the debut novel by Delia Owens, every bit as poignant and captivating as most readers say it is.

The story begins in 1952, when Kya Clark, a girl of six, is abandoned by her mother, her siblings, and finally her abusive father. After trying and failing to make her peace with the outside world, Kya raises herself in a shack in the wilds of coastal North Carolina. What follows is a coming-of-age story that spans two decades.

The story is implausible at times. Kya, dubbed "The Marsh Girl" by her many detractors, never gets sick, even though she has never been immunized. She never gets pregnant, despite dabbling in unprotected sex. And she becomes the published author of several reference wildlife books, despite the lack of a formal education.

But these flaws did not hinder my enjoyment of a story that grabbed my attention from the first chapter. The depictions of life in a small Southern town in the 1950s and 1960s are first-rate. So are the descriptions of the plants and animals of the exotic and sometimes forbidding wetlands. Throughout the book, Kya, a recluse, is at one with nature, the one thing that never betrays her.

Crawdads is also a riveting murder mystery. When Chase Andrews, a philandering former football star who is obsessed with Kya, is found dead under an abandoned fire tower, all eyes turn toward the beautiful marsh girl. The whodunit is not solved until the last chapter.

I would recommend Crawdads to anyone who loves a good story, particularly one with an appealing, strong-willed female protagonist. I look forward to seeing the movie version. Rating: 4.5/5.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Taking a second look at history

The row houses of F Street were more colorful and ornate. Ford's Theatre had a smaller lobby and a bigger stage. Even the forests of Northern Virginia were different. They had more oaks, fewer pines, and much greater density than I expected. But that's why I went. As I wrote last year after visiting the settings for three novels, writers cannot get a true feel of a place without seeing it in person. So this week I traveled once again to Washington, D.C. and put some lingering questions to rest.

Unlike in August, when I gave the capital a brief inspection, I was thorough. I walked miles of the city's streets, visited important historic sites, and did the kind of research one can only do in the District of Columbia. As a result, I learned a lot about places that will be featured in The Lane Betrayal, my current work in progress.

Among other things, I learned that row houses are cool. Really cool. Even those without black-wrought-iron gates, sash windows, and ornamental facades evoked a much earlier time. So did Ford's Theatre, which is still a functioning performance hall. Though President Lincoln's suite was less lavish than I imagined, the theater itself was grand. I had no difficulty picturing the place on April 14, 1865, when it became a tragic footnote in American history.

Like Ford's, the Round Robin Bar, with its circular bar and oak-paneled walls, has changed little in a century and a half. Part of the luxurious Willard Hotel, it is still a go-to site in the capital.

For that reason, I set three chapters in the fabled bar. I set one in the Star Saloon, where John Wilkes Booth mulled his plot over a bottle of whiskey. Now a commercial space, the saloon is adjacent to Ford's.

When I wasn't visiting venues, I was researching them at several museums and the Library of Congress. Among my top finds were old maps of Maryland and Virginia, native plant guides, and information on early settlements in what became the federal city. I plan to include what I found in the novel.

The Lane Betrayal, the first book of the Time Box series, is now in its second revision. I hope to publish the novel in early April.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Doable goals for a new year

New Year’s resolutions, according to a popular saying, are a bit like babies. They’re fun to make but extremely difficult to maintain. Though I tend to agree, I think the second part doesn't have to be true. When resolving to do something in the coming year, we, as dedicated individuals, can always resolve to do something doable.

That's the approach I'm taking to 2020, with resolutions and goals. Though I have compiled a list of writing and work-related goals for the next twelve months, I have managed to make it manageable.

Topping the list is a new series. I will finish a draft of the first book in the Time Box series in two weeks and hope to publish the book itself in twelve. Set mostly in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., in early 1865, the novel will introduce readers to the Lane family.

I don't plan to stop there. Though I have not yet outlined the second book in the set, I intend to start work on it in April, after book one is out, and publish it by the end of the year. Like the Carson Chronicles, the Time Box series will follow a modern family over a century. Like each of my first three series, it will consist of five books.

I also intend to convert two more novels to audio and my newest books to print. If there is one thing I've learned as an author, it's that readers like choice. I intend to give them more of that in 2020.

I hope to give fellow authors something as well. Beginning this month, I will offer marketing, research, formatting, and proofreading services at reasonable rates. Aimed at new authors, Proof Plus will augment, not replace, my writing, which will remain my primary focus.

Here's to a happy and productive year to all of you!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Getting (another) early start

Those who know me best know how to process the pledge. When I say I won't start a new book for eight to twelve weeks, they know they can cut that time in half, add maybe a week or two, and wait for me to break my promise. Like a lot of writers, no doubt, I always do.

And so it goes again. With most of my research and preparation in the rear-view mirror, I have started writing my next novel and next series. Set in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., in the final three months of the American Civil War, it will document the triumphs and tribulations of a contemporary time-traveling family.

In this case, the Lanes of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and not the Carsons of Flagstaff, Arizona, will take the stage. It's my hope that this family of six will prove to be as compelling as the family of seven I retired this fall. As with the Carson Chronicles series, I will look for new ways to develop familiar themes and explore American history.

I hope to finish the rough draft of the still-unnamed novel by January, when I travel to D.C. and visit at least a few of the settings. I intend to publish the finished work no later than the end of April.

In the meantime, I will devote some time to other priorities. I hope that all of you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Revisiting a time of conflict

If there is one thing I like about researching a new book, it is learning about people, places, and times I have never met or experienced. I particularly like seeing a historical period through the eyes of the people who lived in that period.

This is especially true when exploring significant eras and events, such as World War II, which was a backdrop for The Mine, Mercer Street, Hannah's Moon, and Indian Paintbrush, and the American Civil War, which will be the primary setting for my next work.



In October, I began reintroducing myself to a conflict that claimed 600,000 lives and forged a modern nation. Though I had read or watched many of the works at least once before, I enjoyed them nonetheless. I expect to peruse many more before I begin writing the first novel of my fourth series, set mostly in Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia in early 1865.

Some of the less familiar sources -- like Abraham Lincoln: A History by John M. Hay and John George Nicolay, Mary Boykin Chesnut's Civil War Diary from Dixie, and The Lady Nurse of Ward E by Amanda Akin Stearns -- are in the public domain and available online. All three were produced by individuals with a front-row seat to history. Filmmaker Ken Burns cited Chesnut's diary often in his epic 1990 television series, The Civil War, which I revisited in September.

I have also begun reading more recently published books, like A Guide to Civil War Washington, D.C.: the Capital of the Union by Lucinda Prout Janke, The Willard Hotel: An Illustrated History by Richard Wallace Carr and Marie Pinak Carr, and The Civil War in Spotsylvania County: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads by Michael Aubrecht.

My next work, the first in a new time-travel saga, will follow a modern family from 2021 to the final three months of the Civil War and focus on the civilian side. Though most of the characters will be fictional, a few, such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert Lincoln, John Hay, Edwin Stanton, and John Wilkes Booth, will not. I learned more about Robert Lincoln, the president's oldest son, and Hay, one of his secretaries, by reading Jason Emerson's Giant in the Shadows and John Taliaferro's All the Great Prizes, the definitive works on the two men.

I hope to begin writing the first draft in January and publish by June. (Photo: Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Sweating the small stuff

As one who has written fifteen novels that blend both fact and fiction, I know firsthand the importance of getting it right. Writing about time travel, after all, requires more than describing the means of travel. It requires accurately depicting the past. It requires meeting the standards of quality historical fiction.

The challenges are often daunting, particularly when writing about the recent past, as I have done on multiple occasions. When writing about places and times that are in the living memory of many readers, you have to make an extra effort to get even the little things right.

When I wrote my first novel, The Mine, a story set mostly in Seattle in 1941, a few older readers gently reminded me that chocolate-chip cookies were more commonly called "Toll House cookies" and that aluminum foil was generally called "tin foil," even after aluminum replaced tin as its primary component. Since that time, I have done what I could to ensure the historical accuracy of my books, which have spanned eras ranging from the 1880s to the 1980s.

Like many writers of historical fiction, I favor primary sources, such as newspapers, documents, letters, photographs, and oral histories. I generally find eyewitness accounts of events and eras, produced by those who lived through them, to be more compelling than even the best research compiled decades – or even a few years – after the fact.

Even so, I don't limit myself. When preparing to write about times I did not experience, I will often sample the movies, music, and literature of the day. I find it easier to describe Americans of the 1950s and early 1960s, for example, if I immerse myself in the very things that drove them to theaters, concert halls, and libraries.

On some occasions, I look closer to home. When writing The Journey, set in 1979 and 1980, and Camp Lake, my newest book, set in 1983, I relied mostly on memories of — and mementos from — my senior year of high school and my experience at a summer camp in Maine.

No matter where I turn for answers, however, I follow advice that has been around for decades. When writing historical fiction, even in the context of time travel, pay attention to details. Note the nuances and the particulars. Sweat the small stuff.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A review, guest post, and more

Camp Lake makes its first big media splash this morning at the Reading Cafe. The Canadian blog, which has reviewed all but one of my fifteen novels, takes on my latest today. Many thanks to Sandy and Barb at the site for running the review, a guest post, and a giveaway of the entire Carson Chronicles series. Readers can find all three here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Saying goodbye to a series

I admit I miss the characters already. Even though the proverbial ink has not yet dried on the Carson Chronicles series, I miss the fictional family I have lived with for more than two and a half years.

With the release of Camp Lake, the fifth and final book, I say so long to the seven original members of the Carson clan and their significant others. I close the door on a memorable time-travel series.

Like River Rising, The Memory Tree, Indian Paintbrush, and Caitlin's Song, Camp Lake embraces a place and a time — in this case, Maine in 1983.

Though the novel begins and ends in the Carsons' home state of Arizona, it finds a home in the Pine Tree State.

Nineteen-year-old Cody, the youngest of the three sons, takes center stage in this one.

Along with Caitlin, his brainy twin sister, and Dennis Sawyer, his talented and thoughtful friend, he travels to prestigious Camp Washington, where his missing middle-aged parents met as college students and where jobs, romance, and danger await.

For Cody, a nature counselor, the summer in New England is an opportunity to develop a friendship with a beautiful colleague, a young woman with a tragic secret. For Caitlin and Dennis, it is a chance to grow as a couple and test the boundaries of sacrifice.

For the five siblings, the summer is the next stop on a journey that started in 2017; continued in 1889, 1918, 1944, and 1962; and ends in the era of big hair, space shuttles, and MTV. For all of the Carsons, parents and children, it is a last chance to reunite as a family.

Filled with humor, adventure, and suspense, Camp Lake answers the questions and ties the loose ends of a tumultuous family saga. The novel, my fifteenth overall, goes on sale today at Amazon.com.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Audio, sales, and new releases

Some important updates . . .

For the fourth time in three years, I will work with talented actor and voice-over artist Allyson Voller on an audiobook. Voller, the narrator of The Mirror, Hannah's Moon, and Indian Paintbrush, has agreed to narrate Caitlin's Song. I hope to publish the audiobook on Amazon, Audible, and Apple iTunes by the winter of 2020.

Mercer Street will appear, for the first time, as a featured book on BookBub on September 15. Set mostly in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1938 and 1939, the novel is the second in the American Journey series. I will discount the other Kindle books in the series in the week following the promotion.

And last, but not least, Camp Lake is coming in October! Thanks to some significant and unexpected progress in revising the first two drafts, I now expect to release the novel, the fifth and last book in the Carson Chronicles series, sometime next month. I will provide more details on both the Kindle and paperback editions when I can.

In the meantime, I will continue working on other projects, including a new series. I wish everyone a happy and productive autumn!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

For writers, advice is abundant

In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King advises fellow scribes to "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open."

It's not bad advice. I even follow it on occasion when I'm not trying to drown out distracting sounds both inside and outside of my urban Nevada home.

Distraction can sometimes result in inspiration. And inspiration can sometimes result in a better book. King's recommendation is just a pebble on a beach that is accessible to writers. No matter where I look in libraries, in bookstores, and online, I can find easily find experts willing to impart knowledge on writing, editing, and marketing.

Some of my favorite sites include: writersdigest.com, createifwriting.com, thecreativepenn.com, janefriedman.com, victoriastrauss.com, and selfpublishingadvice.org. Promotional sites like authormarketingclub.com, thefussylibrarian.com, and bookbub.com, which will feature Mercer Street among its September 15 listings, also offer useful resources for those in the trade.

I intend to utilize at least some of the advice from these sites in the next two months, when I put the finishing touches on Camp Lake. The fifth and final novel in the Carson Chronicles series is now set for a November release.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Review: Young Men and Fire

When I was a resident of the Treasure State, I knew all about one of its most tragic chapters. One cannot live within a stone's throw of Helena, Montana, without knowing at least a few details about the Mann Gulch fire, a deadly 1949 inferno that spawned films, books, songs, and changes in how firefighters are trained. Even so, I did not read -- or, in this case, listen to -- the most famous account of the event until this month, shortly after its 70th anniversary.

In Young Men and Fire, winner of the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award, Norman Maclean tells the story of 15 smokejumpers and a Forest Service ranger who battled a blaze in a rugged and remote ravine near the Missouri River. Published two years after the author's death, the detailed nonfiction account is a staple of Montana literature.

Maclean, a University of Chicago professor and the author of A River Runs Through It, approaches the fire as a scholar, a former firefighter, and a woodsman who was in the area when the fire broke out. Though he spends much of the book examining the scientific particulars of the fire and firefighting, he also offers touching portraits of the heroes and those directly affected by the tragic event.

Only three of the men walked away from the site, including 17-year-old Robert Sallee, the youngest member of the crew, and Wagner (Wag) Dodge, the oldest. Dodge, the 33-year-old foreman, survived by lighting a small grass fire, sitting in the embers, and waiting as the larger blaze passed around him. Sallee and Walter Rumsey, 21, escaped by beating the inferno to the lee side of a ridge.

Though Young Men and Fire does not have the depth or scope of The Big Burn, Timothy Egan's work on the Great Fire of 1910, or even similar books on natural disasters, it is nonetheless compelling, informative, and highly readable. Maclean offers both science and poetry in explaining a tragic event that still defies understanding.

I would recommend the book to general readers, fans of Montana literature, and those who love stories of heroism and sacrifice. Rating: 4/5. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)