Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wonderful UK Trip!

Hi, All!
     I just returned from a wonderful trip to the United Kingdom.  While there, I was able to do several book events and readings.  I also visited the new library in Birmingham, England, which is being touted as the largest in all of the UK -- and I believe the claims!  The library has been open now for just a couple of months, but the staff members there have everything in tip-top shape, including a special "Shakespeare Room" on the top floor.  Entering that room is something akin to a religious experience if one is even remotely a lover of history and literature.  Paintings, illustrations, and volumes ranging from hundreds of years old to the present adorn the walls and shelves there.  A popular "tourist moment" inside the room is to have one's picture taken with a brilliant bust of the Bard himself.  Yes, yours truly just had to do this as well........ (see below).  While in the library, I was also able to do a quick reading and  leave a signed copy of Shell Games for their permanent collection; that was quite an honor, one that I will always remember. 
     As wonderful as that experience was, the highlight of my trip was being able to share information about Shell Games (and the history of early button manufacturing in the US) with the British Button Society, which was having its annual meeting there in Birmingham.  The major theme of the meeting this year was the examination of pearl buttons and their significance in history.  I was, in part, invited to speak to the group because the setting for Shell Games is Muscatine, Iowa, which was the "Pearl Button Capital of the World" for nearly forty years (from 1890 to about 1930).  About a hundred years before that, Birmingham was, itself, the "Pearl Button Capital of the World"!  The two areas, Muscatine and Birmingham, share so much in common in terms of their parallel history, and not just in their relationship to the early button industry.  Both were/are industrial hubs, and both are now making new names for themselves in all manner of commerce.  One piece of history I picked up that absolutely fascinated me was that many of the local buildings in Birmingham were actually built on foundations of crushed clam shells discarded during the waning stages of the button manufacturing era there.  The same can be said for scores of the buildings now standing half a world away in Muscatine! 
   My presentation to the British Button Society, therefore, focused upon two areas: 1). The "story behind the story" of how Shell Games came about (complete with powerpoint images and actual shells and buttons I brought with me to share with the group), and 2).  Information about the history of and the early manufacture of pearl buttons in America. 
     I *loved* being with this group!  I made so many new friends and was able to meet up with some long-standing friends as well -- and even bought a few buttons at the "button sale" I can use while giving future presentations.  The UK is a very special place for this author, and I won't soon forget this latest journey there.
   I was also able to meet up one afternoon with Piotr Kasias, one of the national poets of Poland (he is on far right in photo below).  We met at Waterstones, the great bookstore chain in the UK.  Piotr was also in England to do a few readings from his latest work.  I always enjoy meeting up with fellow writers to compare experiences while "on the road."  
     In the end, though, I'm happy to be back home now.  Travel is wonderful, but coming home to one's own surroundings and loved ones is still always best of all.  Plus, there is always more writing to be done, so it's back to the writing studio.........
     I'll post again very soon and give an update related to my next book.  I just completed the main story and now have such areas as the Epilogue, Photo Section, and Acknowledgments to complete.  I'm getting close!  More on that soon.  In the meantime, be well -- and happy reading!

Friday, July 26, 2013

New Book Teaser!

July 26, 2013
Hi, All!
     Sorry it has been a while since my last post, but I've been having the time of my life doing the background research for my next book, which is due to my publisher shortly after Christmas.  I actually have only three more chapters to write, so I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I know it isn't always the best thing in the world when an author likes his/her writing, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say this story is my favorite of all I've ever written.  There are several aspects to this particular writing that I'm especially excited about.  First, I have alternating points of view as the story moves along, which means the action unfolds through the eyes of multiple characters -- which helps keep the tension in the story tight.  Second, the time period involved, just before the American Civil War, has always held a great fascination for me -- and the research into that time period I needed to do in order to write the story has been great fun for me.  Finally, the main person I'm writing about was sort of an early "James Bond" type of character, complete with disguises, special weapons, and a vast array of survival skills.  In short, this person was a hoot!
     I wish I could give more specifics of the story, but my publisher would not be happy if I gave too much away at this time.  As we get closer to publication, I'll post more about the specifics of the story.  In the meantime, I'll just say this:  The story has murder, mystery, mayhem -- and a pretty fair love story as well.  I'll also end this with something of a spoiler-alert:  The reader will have to decide, himself or herself, if this character was really a hero -- or a villain.  You'll have to read the story to decide!
     While I have loved doing the historical research, I've also had to pay particular attention to the language used in the time period.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I never want to end up with a "Lincoln with a boombox" type of scene.  Oh -- several readers did figure out the phrase that was not historically correct in Shell Games -- and I sent each a special prize.  The "historically incorrect" phrase was "...he didn't know spit from Shinola."  The problem with that phrase is Shell Games takes place in 1910-11, and Shinola wasn't marketed until the late 1920's!  In short, I goofed by using that phrase....    I want to offer a special thanks to all those who participated in that challenge; I really enjoyed hearing from you.
    I'm right in the middle of researching a "geographic location" that a will play a prominent part in the last couple of chapters of the new book, so I better sign off for now and get back to work.  I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer.  Take care -- and happy reading!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Special Challenge/Contest!

March 4, 2013
Hi, All!
     I can not begin to tell all of you how much fun I've been having with Shell Games. I absolutely love going out to visit with readers, and I've been blessed by having a full schedule of book readings and events.  At the same time, I've been thinking about something quite a lot lately.  Before I moved into writing literary nonfiction, I had written over twenty textbooks -- and was one of the most hated people in America!  Why?  Simple: because I was the person who did the books from which students had to do their homework -- with books ranging from those for children in the early elementary grades up through books for those in college classes.  I can recall being in classrooms in the schools and finding my textbooks in the rooms, books with my picture in the back of them.  In many cases, students had drawn on my pictures arrows through my head, horns coming out of my hair, and assorted scars and other marks all across my face.  Yep -- I was not exactly their favorite person...  Now, however, it is so much fun and makes my heart smile so much to see people actually enjoying what I write!  So, I feel so lucky - and so blessed.

     Whenever I've done book readings for events related to Shell Games, I've given a "challenge" to the folks in attendance.  Here's the background of that challenge:  Whenever a writer crafts a piece about a time period some distance back (Shell Games took place almost exactly a hundred years ago), he/she must make sure that all words, phrases, and pieces of background material match what would have been said and done in that time period.  I call this "No Lincoln with a cell phone!"  Catching words and phrases that don't belong is tricky -- and is something both the author and the publisher really concentrate upon in the editing phases of a manuscript.  Well, to make a long story short, I made a big mistake with one phrase/expression in Shell Games.  Even though the manuscript was gone through with a fine-toothed comb, I still managed to use a phrase/expression that would not have been used at the time the story unfolded.  As a matter of fact, the phrase/expression in question would not have been used until almost twenty years after the story ends!  These things just happen at times.  So, I've been giving a challenge to those who attend my readings and other book events:  find the mistake!  So far, I've had dozens of readers write to me and ask if a certain phrase/expression is the one that slipped through.   None had -- that is, none had found it until this past Saturday when a reader sent me a note stating she "thought" she had found it.  Well, she really had found it!  Bravo to Judy!  I'm now going to send out to her, as a prize for finding the out-of-place phrase/expression, a good half dozen pearl buttons that were made in the same plant where Pearl McGill worked -- at the same time Pearl was there!  There is no way of knowing whether Pearl actually handled these buttons when she worked in the Shipping Department of the plant, but there is always that possibility.......    I've also decided I'll open this up this challenge to all my readers.  If you can find the phrase/expression that doesn't fit the time period of the story, I'll send to you a half dozen of the original pearl buttons as your prize!  I'll be interested to see how many of you can find it.  Have fun with this!
      I've also been asked quite a few times recently how the work is progressing on my next book.  I'm happy to report I'm well into the story -- and having a wonderful time putting it together (and am really excited about it).  I'll have more about the progress on that manuscript in the next entry.
    In the meantime, I wish all of you health, happiness -- and great reading experiences!
    Take care!