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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bubba to the Rescue- Book Review

Bubba to the Rescue is book two of the Green Meadow series for young adults, by Jennifer Walker. If you read Bubba Goes National first, you will have an appreciation for the characters, but it is not necessary to read the books in order.

Bubba to the Rescue
Both books are perfect gifts for tweens through young teens. In an age when there is so much emphasis on paranormal activities, goofy behavior, fantasy, and urban lifestyles, it's refreshing to find a book that kids are sure to enjoy which promotes hard work, good ethics, a moral lifestyle, and family relationships. Walker is not afraid to take on difficult topics, but in doses which young readers can process.

Bubba is Leslie Clark's Arabian horse (she named him Lucky, but her father calls him Bubba). In book one, she found the horse for sale as a castoff and was able to purchase him, and then ride him to a national championship. Book two begins with Leslie and her boyfriend, Alex, trail riding. They see smoke and discover a forest fire which is threatening a neighbor's ranch. Leslie and Alex save those horses, then ride furiously back to Green Meadow to check on their own ranch. However, during the ride, Bubba is injured.

This is the set-up for the rest of the story. It's exciting and believable. It's also the reason for what I think is the only real problem with this book. Bubba, the title horse, and one we've come to love in book one, is mostly sidelined for the rest of this volume. Instead, the book focuses on a horse that followed Leslie and Alex home during the fire. This horse had apparently been abandoned to the woods, and is in need of a lot of care. Leslie falls in love with the new horse, whom they name Spark, and the book is the story of how they find Spark's owner, and whether Leslie will get to keep Spark. Although Bubba was put out to pasture for a while to heal, I wanted Leslie to care enough to go interact with him more often.

That said, the book was otherwise excellent.

There are a number of serious themes developed (at least to some extent) in this book. Sometimes, I thought perhaps there were too many, but kids have really complex lives these days, so I doubt it will faze most readers. Some of these topics are: injury to a beloved animal, adjusting to a new step-parent, early dating relationships, unhealthy controlling relationships, and father / teen daughter relationships.

Although the plot line is the story of Spark, the character development is at least as important as the plot. Many of the chapters are devoted to Leslie's home life with her new step-mother, Helen, or to her friendships. Of course the whole setting of running a stable and caring for the horses is the necessary background for the series.

Bubba to the Rescue
Anyone who loves horses will like this book. It's perfect for ages 10 and up (possibly younger), and adults may enjoy it as a light read.

One of Walker's gifts is the natural way she describes all the "horsey" elements. Her personal experience as a horsewoman shows through loud and clear.

On a 10 point scale, I give this book a 9. Just one point off for abandoning Bubba (even temporarily) for Spark so early in the series.

AND... if you'd like a chance to win an e-copy of the companion short "Leslie and the Lion" just leave a comment for this post. Make sure you do that before midnight EST March 16 (end date of the book tour). One winner will be picked at random.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Newspaper Column- February

This month was an easy topic. There was a group of hammock campers at the state park. I interviewed them and wrote about their experiences.

I've got the topics for the next two months, too. So I'm in good shape.

The newspaper column is more human interest, but you can read about the event at Hammock Campers Rendevouz at Ludington State Park.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp- Chapter 15

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
I keep wondering if these recent chapters are "working." But I let chapter 15 sit for a day, and just re-read it, and I think it's basically solid.

I have two people from my local writing group who are going to read everything I have written in sequence, and then provide feedback. This should be extremely helpful.

Don't think that I'm just being self-deprecating and uncertain of my ability to write a good book. I've recently read a couple of self-published e-books that were quite good, but both of them would have been even better, excellent, with a bit of cleaning up. I think that if the authors had taken time to get some reaction from other people those improvements would have been made. We so often have blind spots in our writing, or we only see one possible interpretation of a sequence when there could be others.

I've come a long way from the days when I thought that everything I wrote was perfect, and I didn't want anyone to "mess" with it. If you are reading this, and you knew me when... you can start cheering now.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 15:
    “That’s helpful, at least,” Milford admitted. “Stay in groups of two, but I’ll keep the girl and the dog with me.”
    I assumed I was included with the dog. We continued straight east, while the two Sheriff deputies veered southeast. Tracy and Tom angled to the northeast. We walked silently for a few minutes, until Sunny said, “I don’t remember this place at all.”
    We had reached the edge of some open water with standing dead trees breaking from the surface and clawing at the sky. There was a small island about a hundred yards away. On the shore, practically at our feet, was a small broken rowboat, turned bottom-up.
You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp- Chapter 14

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
Chapter 14 is the first of the chapters after everything in the story has changed. There has been a crisis and people are going to begin to react differently to each other, new characters will come in, and relationships will change.

Sometimes I think I'm really dense when it comes to this sort of thing. I'm not sure why I didn't realize this story could become quite "heavy" when I thought up the plot line. At the time, it just seemed like an interesting story, but the people who were affected by the events weren't "real" to me yet.

Now they are, and for the book to remain a "light" mystery, I need to let the characters be emotional in a natural way, and yet not let them get bogged down in the tragedy. Bad stuff happens, and there is a fair amount of it in this story.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 14:
    “How are you related to these girls?” Milford interrupted.
    “I’m not,” I answered. “Their grandfather is on his way. He’s their guardian. And Angelica’s father.”
    “Okay, we’ll wait until he gets here.”
    Milford pulled Brown aside and said something to him, after which the deputy went out to the car, and the detective sat down heavily at the kitchen table and clamped his jaw shut. We sat there in uncomfortable silence.
    The girls became tense and increasingly frightened at the man’s gruff demeanor as the minutes ticked by. I was more than relieved when I heard another car approach. As soon as I said, “It’s your grandfather,” both girls jumped up and ran toward the front door.
You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp- Chapter 13

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
Getting this chapter written is HUGE! It's a pivotal moment in the book when everything changes, very emotional. I hope I've done it justice. I'm sure with some input from beta readers I will get it there, if I haven't done so already.

Now, I need to take a symbolic deep breath, because that's what Ana would need to do, and make decisions about what she would do next. About how it changes the pace and depth of her interest in the "mysterious" situation.

Here's an excerpt from the current Chapter 13:
    Sunny’s face darkened and her eyes flashed. “I didn’t! It’s not mine.”
    Although Sunny was looking stormy, I watched the color drain away from Star’s face. Her skin turned a muddy gray-brown and she began to sink to the ground. I grabbed for her, and managed to keep her from toppling over, but she ended up on the grass in a tangle of knees and elbows, clutching the bracelet. Tears were running down her face.
You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp- Next Chapter

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
In which the opening of Chapter 13 becomes Chapter 12, and other feats of reformation.

Writers will often state that a work will take on a life of its own and dictate what should happen next, or when. I've been a victim of that phenomenon this week.

I have an outline, supposedly through Chapter 18 (when I have to make a plot decision). So, I started Chapter 12 on Thursday, right after finishing 11. I thought I knew what was going to happen in it. But I got a few paragraphs in and stalled. What should John Aho tell Ana? What was the real reason for the attack with the tire iron? Then I stalled. I didn't know the answers to those questions yet.

Finally, I decided to just finish that chapter later and move on to the next one where some action was due to occur. Last night I couldn't sleep, so I began writing that scene. But the more I wrote, the more I realized that it needed a long build-up, which became its own chapter, but delaying the action any more might be unwise. So much for the original Chapter 12! I reduced it to seven sentences, left those unanswered questions unanswered (it's a mystery after all) and it became the ending for Chapter 11.

I'm back to matching with my outline (not that it matters a bit... it's just a tentative way to track the timeline of the story), and something big is about to happen in Chapter 13.

Meanwhile, here's an excerpt from the current Chapter 12:
    Len was seated on the couch folding a basket of laundry, and Sunny was eating toast with red jelly at the counter which served to divide the kitchen from the living room. It was a typical set-up for a single-wide trailer, made with cheap materials. The cupboard doors were chipped and the Formica countertop was worn. Everything looked beat-up and dingy, but clean. There were no sagging curtain rods, or gaping holes in the paneling with erupting insulation, so typical of old mobile homes which have been subjected to years of family life. I was impressed.
You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp- Chapter 11, Twice

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
I've actually written two chapters since last posting about it. However, I decided to combine the previous chapters 6 and 7 into one since they both were short and took place in the same location.

In this chapter, Ana gets some advice from her friend Cora, whom you met in the previous book.

Here's an excerpt from the current Chapter 11:

    “You’re welcome to read the papers, of course, but they won’t tell you much more than what Len probably told you. The whole thing came to a dead end really quickly. There wasn’t much of an investigation, to tell you the truth.”
    “You remember when it happened, then?”
    “Sure. The Sheriff questioned that boyfriend of hers...”
    “I’d forgotten his name. But, anyway, his whole day was accounted for...
You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Value of Good Feedback, Early

West Side Gang

I've mentioned my local writer support group here, the West Side Gang, several times. I definitely want to talk about my participation with these people again. Last night there were six women and two men in attendance. (I tell you that only because the picture shows just women.)

Although I'm up to chapter 11 of Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp with the writing, the group only meets twice a month so my sharing is way behind the writing. Last night I read chapter 4 to them. It's the chapter where the crux of what the mystery will be is revealed.

I learned some things from their reactions. This is perhaps an even better story than I anticipated (assuming I can carry it out as well as I introduced it). They were obviously gripped by the "facts" of the case, and are already identifying with the two children in the book, Star and Sunny.

Based on that observation, I think I can dismiss any ambivalence I was feeling about "moving the plot forward" fast enough. It is taking a lot of chapters to create the back story and set the reader up for a big discovery. But I think the interaction of the characters is going to be enough to hold attention.

I am continuing to do at least an adequate job of ending chapters so that people want to read the next one right away. Every meeting, someone says something like "Is that all?" When I finish my chapter.

Somehow, this book is turning out to have more depth of meaning than the first one. Although both are cozy mysteries, the story line of this one is clearly more poignant.

Of course, the group also serves as my "alpha readers." They help me catch errors, repetitions, boring sections, etc. The fact that there are people with many backgrounds and styles who attend gives me varied perspectives.

If you are writing, and seeking publication of any sort, I strongly recommend joining a writing group. Remember, this advice comes from a group avoider, so you can be sure I really mean it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp - Chapter 10

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers

This chapter is really long. Is it too long? Should I make it even longer and break it into two? Does it make any difference? All rhetorical questions at this point.

One thing is certain. I always knew the plot for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp was going to be more complex than News from Dead Mule Swamp, and that would make for a longer book. It seems to me at this point, it's going to be a lot longer. That's fine, but it might be a bit of a surprise to people who read the first book and expect a similar length.

The pacing of this book is also different. I'm hoping that will work out all right.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 10:

    From the kitchen window I watched them play with the pup. They had forgotten to put on their long pants, but they seemed adept at keeping away from the dog’s toenails, dancing around him and teasing him with a stick. Paddy got tired of lunging for a stick he couldn’t get, and brought a yellow tennis ball to Sunny. She tossed it to Star. Of course, Paddy raced toward the older girl, who threw the ball to Sunny. The girls seemed completely at ease with the dog. While they played keepaway, I tore up lettuce and washed the other vegetables and fruits we’d bought.

You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp - Chapter 9

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
One of the things about writing a series of books is that certain elements of the protagonist's life and locale will appear over and over. In fact, as a lover of serial mysteries, I expect certain things in (almost) every book. For example, what would a Nero Wolfe novel be without a scene in the orchid room, or would we love Anna Pigeon books as much without the various National Parks as backdrops?

So, I am trying to determine, even at this early point, what are the key parts of an Ana Raven mystery. Based on the feedback I've received so far, people seem to love the descriptions of the rural area, and Ana's interactions with her friends. Chapter 9 has Ana exploring a back route to her house, revealing more of the county.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 9:

    I was a little confused, because I had already crossed the Petite Sauble River, back on Kirtland Road. So, had the road wandered north again, or where was I?
    The map quickly revealed that there was a small river, the Thorpe, coming in from the southwest and flowing into the Petite Sauble. I was only about two miles from my house, and could drive right home if there were still a bridge. I could see a matching dirt road with a guardrail across the water and realized it had to be the seasonal road that continued beyond my place.
    I looked upstream on the Thorpe River. Much to my amazement there was a bridge just a short distance away.
And yes, I am mapping the whole county on graph paper.

You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp - Chapter 8

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
Chapter 8 takes Ana to the next county, to a larger town called Emily City. She's learning a lot about taking care of a large puppy, and has just been shopping at a pet store.

Sometimes I feel as if the chapters that don't move the plot along are extraneous. Yet, I know from reading many mysteries, that the parts of the story that fill in details of the characters' lives are part of what makes a book well-liked. I'm working at finding a good balance.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 8:

    In just a few minutes I had pre-paid for an hour of dog-sitting, and was about $50.00 poorer all together, but feeling much better about doing the other errand I hoped to complete. It was good that Paddy seemed happy to go with almost anyone who would pay attention to him. I petted the red head, looked deep into his brown eyes and told him I’d be back soon. His standard answer was a lick and a tail wag, after which he let Brad lead him toward the back door.
As you may have guessed, this book strongly features Patrick, Paddy, the Irish Setter. He makes friends wherever he goes.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp - Chapter 7

cover for Paddy Plays in Dead Mule Swamp cover design by Farah Evers
I was hoping to write two chapters this weekend, but so far I've only managed one. One is better than none!

I'm sort of hung up on wanting to have some action in Chapter 8, but I really need to bring in another conversation first... unless I can find a way around that. So I'm thinking about it. I know some people say, "just write" and figure it out later. But I do better if I figure it out first.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 7:

    “There we are.” Paula’s gaze roamed over the dining room. “I need to get back to work, but it’s been nice to meet you. Stop in again. I’d like to know how those babies are doing.”
    “Some babies!” I said. “Maybe I’ll bring them here for a treat.”
    “That might work. But you should make sure they feel all right about coming, first. Star was old enough when it happened to have plenty of memories of her mother.”
Chapter 7 just sort of happened. The character and what she would have naturally done next dictated it. It wasn't in my original plan.

You can buy book 1, News from Dead Mule Swamp, for only 99¢ at Smashwords, or Amazon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ludington Daily News Column- January 2012

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For my monthly newspaper column this month, I expanded on the blog post at Scanning the Bar Code. I turned it in on Monday, but am just getting around to this posting.

Here's an excerpt
Did you know you can learn to read bar codes without a machine? It’s true. Each code begins and ends with 101, and has a 01010 in the middle. These lines are longer than the others at the bottom. There are four different line thicknesses, and a sequence of four lines forms a digit from 0 to 9...

I much prefer scanning the bar codes of items one can shop for in the great outdoors. The codes are usually easy to read. In fact, I would wager that you can read almost all of these bar codes without any help at all.
And tomorrow, my weekly column will begin at Mason County Press.