Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Next Big Thing

I'd like to thank Carolyn Mulford, a fellow Five Star author,  for inviting me to join everyone in this Blog Hop. Her mystery, Show Me the Murder, is coming out next week,. So exciting! There's nothing like holding your baby in your own hands when the stork (read mailman) drops that cardboard box on your doorstep.

I have to confess that I was invited to do this a few weeks ago, but I flat out forgot to invite and post. Last week I accepted Carolyn's invitation, determined to do right this time. But the problem is, everyone's already done it. Everyone but me. Every author I invited told me he/she had already done it. Okay, I didn't actually invite Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling, assuming they might not know who I was. So I have no one to refer you to for next week's blog hop. Alas, the fate of all Ponzis is to collapse under their own weight. Of course this isn't a real Ponzi because no money is involved and the only result is that readers find out about new books.

1. What is the working title of your book?

The Man on the Istanbul Train.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

On a trip to Turkey a couple of years ago, I was captivated by the atmosphere of Istanbul. My original idea involved an ancient manuscript and harrowing chase through the Topkapi Palace. This story has nothing to do with either of these. I think I mentioned the Topkapi Palace a couple of times.

3. What genre does your book come under?

Traditional mystery or thriller. Take your pick.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Amanda Seyfried, from Mama Mia! and Les Miserables, would be wonderful as Lacy Glass, botanist and pigment expert. Beautiful, brilliant, and horribly accident-prone.

How about Hugh Jackman as Paul Hannah, archaeologist and a hard man to catch?

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

On a train from Istanbul to an archaeological dig in central Turkey, Dr. Lacy Glass sees a man she's recently befriended fly off the train, dead, and at the same time a man with the same name dies in a tent at the dig.

6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?


7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About six months.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Can't think of a single one.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My treks around Istanbul and through Turkey's great interior--places like Konya, Antalya, and Cappadoccia and especially the vast spaces in between.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

This is not a love story, but people have told me Lacy and Paul need to wise up and deal with their feelings. The story also involves archaeology, Turkish carpets, the black market in antiquities, and a wannabe spy named Milo who is one of my favorite characters, ever.

Please visit any of the online ebook sites for The Man on the Istanbul Train, and check out Carolyn Mulford's website:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Richard the Third's DNA

Ever since I read Jacqueline Tey's short mystery The Daughter of Time, I've been a little bit obsessed with the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III. May I recommend you read it too? A gripping story with absolutely no action--the whole thing takes place in the hospital room of a detective with a broken leg. Detective Grant, having nothing better to do, attempts to find the real Richard III through books his friends bring him.
Richard III, the evil hunchback, usurper of the throne, murderer of the two Little Princes in the Tower, shares a dark corner of history with Nero, Ivan the Terrible, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. That's history as written by the victors, in this case the Tudors and their scribes. Richard's death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, brought the saintly Tudors, such as Henry VIII, to the throne.

They've found Richard's bones! Not in Westminster Abbey with the other kings but under a parking lot in Leicester. Seems he died from a severe blow to the head and wasn't even afforded a coffin. His naked body was put on display to teach the English subjects a lesson. I'm not sure what that lesson was. Then they wrapped him in some cloth and buried him in the Church of the Grey Friars, which is now a parking lot.
They found a direct decendant of the king's sister living in Canada and have confirmed the relationship through mDNA. That's mitochondrial DNA. For those of you who may not understand why this evidence is definitive, let the old--ahem former--biology teacher explain it to you.
The DNA in the nucleus of your cells contains the instructions for making you you. Half from your mother, half from your father. One fourth is from your father's father and one-fourth from your father's mother. Trace it back for, say 10 generations, and only about 0.02 percent of the nuclear DNA you now carry came from your ten greats grandfather. Or your 10 greats grandmother. In other words, you are the product of about 5000 people who lived at the time of the American Revolution.
Richard III had no children, but no matter. They and their descendants would be useless for our purposes.
He did have a sister and his sister had children.
Mitochondria are tiny energy packs in cells but outside the nucleus. They have a special kind of DNA. With only a few genes, their DNA (mDNA) doesn't have nearly as much info as the nuclear DNA. Your mDNA came only from your mother. Her mDNA came from her mother. And so on. Why? Remember, a sperm is tiny. Nothing more than a half-pack of DNA with a tail. An egg is huge. It's a complete cell with mitochondria, ribosomes--the whole works, but only a half-pack of DNA. If the fortunate sperm and the egg do meet--two half-packs make a whole pack and the new individual has . . . but you already know.
What about the new individual's mDNA? It's exactly like his or her mother's. (Except for the occasional mutation) Men are dead ends for mDNA. Women who have children are forever, as long as their daughters keep having daughters.
So, when these bones were found, scientists went looking for a descendant of Richard's sister's daughter's daughter's daughter's . . . etc. They found a man in Canada whose mDNA (from his mother) filled the bill. Fortunately the English never throw anything away, especially records. They compared this man's mDNA with a little bit they extracted from the bones and--TA DA--it matched. Maybe not a perfect match but the number of mutations that would accumulate in 500 years is small compared to the total.

On a recent trip to London, I dropped by the National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square and studied the best-known painting of Richard III (not the one you see here) No matter how long I looked, I couldn't see a villan. I saw a worried man. I hope historians will take another look him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How do we look to them?

If I asked you, "What do people from other countries notice most about us when they visit the U.S?" What would you guess? My own guesses would be that we're rude, loud, rich, and stupid. That we're trying to control the world. That we're so stupid we believe what the (government, news media, people who are really in control, choose one) tell us.

As you probably know, I'm an inveterate traveler and I've had a lot of opportunity to hear what others think of us. You might be surprised. I'm especially amused by comments I've heard from foreigners who've actually visited and aren't just repeating what their own media (or ours) have told them.

Here are some real-life examples.

From an Australian I met in South Africa: "Your restaurants serve too bloody much food! They bring you a plate that a normal person couldn't eat in a week."

From a Chinese girl: " I love your blue sky."

From a Turkish man: "I hate to drive in America. It's boring! Why do you obey the traffic laws? We don't."

From a young German man: "Americans are fatter." This, after puzzling for some time over the question, How are Americans different from Germans?

From a teacher leading a group of Hawaiian school kids from Hampton, Virginia to Washington, D.C.(Okay, I know Hawaii is in the U.S. but the Eastern seaboard is a looong way from Hawaii.)

"Nevermind the history. They're only interested in two things. Your squirrels and your lightning-bugs."

I love that! It puts us in our place. We're neither the best, or the worst, or the richest, or the ugliest. We, like they, run the gamut. And you'd be surprised to hear what they notice when they visit.

I'd love to know what you've heard from foreign visitors to our shores. It might make an interesting book.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rethinking social media

How should a writer spend his time?

Writing books or Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking and updating the old website? How much of your time should you spend doing what you do and how much time advertising it?

How's your platform?

I'm getting bored with this.

For years we've been told the only way to sell books, especially ebooks, is by maintaining a high profile online, but it's beginning to look like that Internet bubble we watched pop at the turn of the millenium. It's getting out of hand. Would you like to read a novel written in 10 days? Current wisdom says that's all the time you've got if you want to turn out a book a year.

Here's how I figure it: Take one of the lucky few who, like myself, don't need a day job and can write full-time. You're advised to spend 80% of your time in social media on topics that have nothing to do with selling books. If  more than 20% of your Facebook presence is about your books, your friends will feel like they're being used. And they might be right. Okay. You're also advised to spend 80% of your writing time promoting yourself, 20% actually writing.

Hasn't Amanda Hocking switched over to a traditional publisher so she can actually have time to write? I have news for her. The traditional publishers also expect you to promote yourself. Agatha Christie, too shy to speak in public, would never have made it in today's market.

Back to the numbers: Let's say I work a standard 40 hour week, and I don't take any vacation.  52 weeks X 40 hours/week = 2080 hours/year pursuing my dream. 80% of my social media time is stuff like photos of my dogs, what I did last night, happy birthday to friends, etc. and 20% is stuff like photos of my new book cover, check out this review, etc. But 80% of the time I spend with my laptop on my knees, is spent on these pursuits vs 20% on making up stories. What is 20% of 20% of 2080 hours/year? It's 83.2 hours/year. Working 8 hours/day that's 10.4 days per year. To write a book.

Who's actually doing this? Nobody much, I think. I've recently discovered how very naive I am. Other writers are making up alter-egos (called "sock-puppets") to toot horns for them. They're hiring agencies to tweet for them, often several times a day. They're hiring people to write reviews for them and post on Amazon. The more honest ones are hiring people to teach them how to tweet. Isn't that like "tutoring tooters to toot?"

I promise I'll never do that. If you read something I allegedly wrote, you can be sure I wrote it. If you read a review of one of my books, you can be sure I had nothing to do with it. But I'm seriously considering stopping this lunacy and writing a book.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't miss it if you can!

Come to Barnes and Noble, Jefferson Ave, Newport News, VA on Saturday July 28th (the day after tomorrow) between 2 and 4 p.m. I'll be signing my new hardcover from Five Star, Death of a Second Wife. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Going first class

Airfares make no sense.
How much does it cost to fly New York to London, roundtrip, in say, December, on a major airline? I found prices from $640 to $43,000. Same dates, same airports. Okay the $43k flight does take you through Hong Kong, but nonstop flights still range from $640 to $19,000. This makes no sense.
Prices vary by date, by airline, by number of stops, and by website. But the biggest differences are between classes: Economy to First. Travellers on the same plane have paid vastly different prices. Why? Comfort.
I've heard that airlines are phasing out first class because it's a money loser. Huh? They say it's because no one actually pays these exorbitant prices. Companies make deals to fly their employees for less.
I've also heard that airlines lose money on economy seats but make up for it on first class.
Both of these cannot be true. Somebody's lying.
Sleeps on a plane
I used to wonder why anyone would pay for anything better than economy seats. That was before they started shrinking the seats and my bones got some age on them. I still, for short flights of three hours or less, think economy is perfectly okay. I'm a medium sized woman. But for long flights, I'm going for the upgrade.
Some airlines have added a new class called Economy Comfort, or something similar. I took one of these on a recent Washington to Amsterdam flight and found the extra room to be well worth the extra $165.
 Some airlines are upgrading Business Class until it's as nice as First. It's all about room, and how much your seat reclines. For overnight flights, there's nothing like a bed. I like to use Seatguru and compare. But there is a difference between "lie-flat" and "flat bed" seats. Lie flat seats do flatten out but they're still on a bit of a tilt. Flat Bed seats are better for sleeping.

Let me tell you about a perfectly wonderful Upper Class trip I took on Virgin Atlantic. VA is not paying me to say any of this. It was a splurge, but not a huge splurge. I paid a bit more than double what it would have cost me to fly Economy.
The flight attendants greeted me with a glass of champagne and I suppose I could have drunk myself blind for no charge but I didn't want to arrive hung-over. My seat was more like a little suite, with everything I could possibly need built in near my head. I had chosen the "Sleep Zone" so I wouldn't be disturbed. They gave me jammies and a place to change, a pillow and blanket of course, and a toiletries kit (which they give everyone) It was so nice I could hardly get to sleep, wanting to savor the whole experience. Nevertheless, I did doze off and arrived in London feeling ever so much better than I usually do. You can go to the fast lane for Immigration.
To freshen up before hitting the streets of London, I went to the Upper Class lounge in Heathrow, where they take charge of your luggage while you eat anything you want for breakfast, shower in a truly luxurious private room with big towels, a hairdryer, lotions, etc, and hang around until you're ready to leave. You could even get a manicure or a facial.
Totally worth it.
Advice? Start with Kayak or whatever to get an idea of the price range. Choose an airline and go to their website to book. Consider upgrading on long haul flights. And as always, don't forget to bring your sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Like the feel of paper? Oh, really?

In the battle of ebooks vs paper, the comment I hear most often from people who like paperbacks best is, "But I like the feel of paper. You know?" This is usually accompanied by rubbing the fingers together in a "feeling" gesture.

Are you sure? You don't like the feel of paper plates, do you? How about those paper gowns you get at the doctor's office? May I suggest that it isn't really the feel of paper you like, but it's the easy answer. It avoids the real answer(s) which, in most social situations, would take entirely too long to explain. And no one really wants to hear it, anyway.

Here's my take on the real reasons some people prefer paper and the real reasons some people prefer the e-options.

1. If you leave it on the seat in the boarding area, you aren't out much.
2. You can write on the pages or even tear them out, if you want to.
3. If you enjoyed it, you can hand it to a friend with a casual, "Don't bother to return it."
4. There's no cybertrail so no one will ever know you read it.
5. You can throw it at the wall.

1. You don't have to go to the store to get it.
2. The pages don't turn yellow.
3. They're never out of stock.
4. Some of them are free and many cost much less than a paper version.
5. You can carry thousands of them in one hand.

All things considered, I have no intention of giving up any of my options. I'll still buy paperbacks, hardcovers, and ebooks.