Friday, December 12, 2014

Happy Holidays to All!

Hi, All!
     Before I get to the purpose of this posting, I'd like to mention a very special group I visited with recently.  The "Ulysses S. Grant Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans" asked me to come to their Winter meeting to talk about Ain't No Harm to Kill the DevilAin't No Harm takes place mostly in the year 1856 -- and the Civil War started in 1861 -- so the topic of the book was of great interest to this group.  The members of the Ulysses S. Grant Camp group dedicate a great portion of their lives to helping preserve American history and heritage.  They also perform an incredible array of "good deeds" every year, ranging from visiting with veterans groups to making hospital visits to helping with dedications to helping preserve important monuments and battlefields.  As a matter of fact, they seem to be constantly busy -- and help so many people.  I'm attaching a picture of a few of the members of this amazing group.  The uniforms are absolutely stunning.
     I'm also writing today to wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season.  The holiday season is a great time to sit back and reflect on past events and the possibilities of the upcoming year.  I'm grateful and thankful for so many things -- and wish all of you the very best of the holidays and a glorious New Year!
    Here's to a wonderful 2015 for all of us!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"Indies First" -- Part 2

Hi, All!
     Please forgive me, but I'm going to be a little "preachy" in this post.  Last Saturday was "Indies First" day, a day when authors donate their time to help out independent booksellers across the nation.  I mentioned in my last note that I was going to be helping out at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.  I had an absolutely WONDERFUL time doing that -- and helped find homes for a pretty good grouping of books.  What I wanted to mention today, however, was just how glorious the atmosphere was in Left Bank Books on Saturday.  What I mean by that is this:  The independent booksellers truly are unique in how they serve their patrons (incredible personal attention and care).  The stores also have a marvelous "book smell" to them, a smell that all lovers of good books know.  They are "comfortable" and "slow paced" -- as it should be when we are 
browsing through shelves of books.  They also stock titles from smaller presses, a bonanza for those who like to dig in other territory than best-sellers and "recommended" major titles.  I think my experience Saturday can best be summed up by something I saw one of the staff members do when a customer asked for a specific book and where it could be found in the store.  Rather than just pointing the customer in the right direction, the staff member said, "I'll be happy to show you the way -- please follow me."  First, it was completely obvious that the staff member was, indeed, "happy" to do this for the customer.  Second, I followed their conversation, and the staff member not only got the customer to the shelf where the book was housed, but the staff member also made the time to tell the customer about half a dozen similar titles that might be of interest.  The staff member then stayed there until all of the customer's questions were answered.  After the staff member left to go back to the front of the store, the customer and I made eye contact.  I said, "This is a great store, isn't it?"  The customer, without missing a beat, replied, "No, it's a beautiful store!"  I just smiled..... because that was so true.
     So, I suppose the "moral" to my preaching this morning is that we should all treasure the independent booksellers and do all we can to support them.  I know it is a great temptation to order books from the gigantic e-retailers out there, and I "get" why people do that: they believe they will save a few dollars here and there (but that isn't always true!).  However, is a savings worth it if doing so leads to the demise of one of our greatest treasures?  I think not.  And, many have said to me over the course of time that they make orders for books on-line because that can be done from the home computer or via a smart-phone or similar device.  Today, most of the independent booksellers ALSO have the capability of ordering the SAME books for individuals by on-line means, and if that is done, many of the independents actually profit (not a huge amount, but at least somewhat) from helping customers do that.  In short, whatever we can do to protect and support the independents should be done.  We must keep our treasures prospering!
     I'm also going to attach below a couple of pictures of "Indies First" day at Left Bank Books.  It was so much fun for me to help these good folks find their next books to read.  Oh -- the young man in the picture informed me he is actually using my book Olivia's Story in his doctoral dissertation about issues of race in America!  That made my heart smile.
     I would like to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and wonderful holiday season --and a very Happy New Year.  And, as always, happy reading!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Indies First!!!

Hi, All!
    Thanks to the efforts of the fine author Sherman Alexie, the Saturday after Thanksgiving is now known as "Indies First" day.  On "Indies First" day, authors volunteer their time at independent bookstores all over the country.  We "mix-and-mingle" with customers shopping for books for themselves and for gifts for the holiday season.  The authors participate in this wonderful event because "brick and mortar" independent bookstores are one of our true treasures, and we'd all like to help support them in all ways possible.  In an era when more and more book sales are taking place via electronic means, we should all be helping the "brick and mortar" stores keep prospering and offering book lovers a glorious haven in which to browse books and visit with other readers.
    I've been asked to participate in "Indies First" at Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri.  Left Bank Books is, truly, one of the finest independent booksellers in America.  It is located in downtown St. Louis in the Central West End district, just a rock throw from the historic Forest Park area.  In short, it is in a *perfect* location for lovers of books and history.  I'll attach a picture of the outside of Left Bank Books to this note.
    In addition to touting my own books with the customers, I've been asked to recommend a few other titles, especially titles of books I feel would make good holiday gifts.  I have to admit my list is rather skewed toward authors who are friends of mine and those I greatly admire, but ALL of these titles would be on my "must-read" list for the upcoming holidays and beyond.  Here are the titles I'll be talking about with customers at Left Bank Books on "Indies First" day, which this year is November 29:
**Of course, my new book, Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil.
**The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates (I believe this is her best yet).
**Blasphemy, by Sherman Alexie (a short story collection - and a darn fine one).
**T. C. Boyle Stories II, by T. C. Boyle (an "elegant" collection of short stories).
The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan (I also believe this to be her best story to date.  I actually like
     it better than Joy Luck Club).
**Gray Mountain, by John Grisham (a tad different from a master of interwoven scenes).
**Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand (and the movie comes out Christmas Day in most places).

     So, those are my "holiday suggestions" for folks.  If you haven't read these, definitely put them on your list!
      If you are in the area on "Indies First" day, please stop in Left Bank Books and say hi -- and help support our great independent booksellers!
    Happy reading!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Fun with book events!

Hi, All!
     Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil has really taken off, and I've been having a wonderful time at book events and signings.  I was fortunate to be on a National Public Radio program a few weeks back with one of their best hosts, Don Marsh.  Don is always so impressively prepared, and he asks the best questions of any interviewer I've ever worked with on the air.  Basically, I love that man - he is the best!  He'll probably be  horrified, but I just have to tell a funny story about what happened at the end of the program about the new book.  We were wrapping up the program, and Don said, "Again, we've been talking about Jeffrey Copeland's new book, Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abortionist for Hire."  The exact minute he used the word "Abortionist" instead of "Abolitionist," he knew he had made a slip -- and we both howled.  I can't recall exactly, but I "think" I said something like, "No, that is going to be my NEXT book!"  As soon as we were off the air, Don grinned, laughed, and then said, "Can't believe I just said that!"  Don *never* makes mistakes, so that made the situation just all that more funny to me -- and I laughed all the rest of the day.  Times like that are priceless.  I still chuckle to myself when I think of all those who tuned in late to the program and heard that other title.  What must they have thought!
     Last week I also did the "Live From Prairie Lights" program at Prairie Lights Books, in Iowa City, Iowa.  First of all, Prairie Lights is one of America's true treasures -- and is one of the best independent booksellers of all-time.  If you ever get to that area of the country, a special trip to the store would be a highlight of your journey.  So, last week I'm on the "Live From Prairie Lights" program (which is also streamed so that those along the Armed Services Radio Network can listen in) to talk for an hour about the new book, and before the program started I noticed a nicely dressed young man in the crowd who had a very large glass of wine in one hand, and a tray of cheeses and nuts in his other hand. I walked out into the crowd and asked him, "Where's my wine and cheese?"  He laughed, took a sip of his wine, smiled, and said, "You'll get yours if your talk is any good tonight!" What I didn't know was we were already on the air!  I wonder what people all over the world thought when they heard that! Ah, the joys of book events -- I love them!
     After another recent event, I got to go on stage with one of the greatest Bluegrass groups in the entire country -- The Po' Ramblin' Boys.  Rather than just playing the "old-stand-bys" of Bluegrass music (as so many groups do), they play many songs that don't get a lot of play these days -- and the crowds love it.  Oh, it's always nice to hear "Rocky Top" for the zillionth time, but how many groups make the time to play great old songs like "I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer."  Now THAT is a great song -- and The Po' Ramblin' Boys are a MUST if you ever get the chance to go see them perform.  They are THAT good!  I'll attach a picture of me with the boys.  I'm the one in the middle of the kickin'!
     I'm also going to attach one other picture.  Yes, when on the road, I tend to eat way more than I normally do.  I may not actually look right now as I do in the picture, but if I don't stop eating, I sure will in no time at all!
     One other note:  The "Finding Fairfield" e-book companion is also selling quite well, so the

"publishing experiment" of adding a separate book to tell how the main book came about is, so far, showing positive results.  I'd like to ask a favor:  If you've read the companion e-book (Finding Fairfield, which is available electronically only through all major booksellers), please jot me a note and let me know what you think of it.  I'd like to know if this is something I should continue doing for my future books.  At the same time, please also send me notes about your reaction to Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil.  I'd love to hear from you!
     Well, since I've recently been surrounded by Bluegrass music, I'll sign off by saying this, "Take care, y'all!  And happy readin'!"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book signings

Hi, All!
     I have two areas I want to address in this post.  I first want to thank all those who came to my book signing yesterday at the Barnes & Noble store in Waterloo, Iowa. It's nice to sell books, but what I love most about signings is the people I get to meet and visit with at those very special times.  Yesterday I got to visit with everyone from one of Waterloo's oldest residents (a delightful woman nearing a hundred years old!) to one of my former students who is now a gifted English teacher in northeast Iowa.  I was also able to visit with presidents/chairs of several book clubs and literary associations who would like me to come visit with their groups about the new book.  Also at the signing, Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil nearly sold out -- and copies of my other books also flew off the table (I was told that Shell Games has developed something of a "cult following" now, and many people showed up to get signed copies of that!).  I'd also like to thank the B&N store manager, Steve Olsson, who has to be one of the best managers in the entire country.  He not only did amazing publicity for the event, but he also made sure there were plenty of copies of all my books -- and I even had a great table right near the front door of the store.  As a manager, Steve is tops.
     I also wanted to say a few words today about "publicity" for new books.  Working with the media is always fun, but there are times when the fun gets to the point of being hilarious.  Such an instance took place this past week.  My local newspaper ran a review of Ain't No Harm, and the review was splendid.  However, the paper chose to place my picture and a shortened version of the title of the book on the front page -- with directions about where the rest of the story could be found inside the paper.  The problem?  Well,  I'll attach a picture of that part of the front page so all of you can judge for yourselves.  Doesn't it look like *I'm* being called THE DEVIL right on the front page and for all to see!!!  All week long I've been teased.  I've lost track of the number of those who came up to me and said, "Well, we knew it all along, but we now have confirmation...."  Very funny -- very, very funny..........  Still, at least they spelled my name right, so I guess I'll just laugh along with everyone else.
     I'm going to attach two pictures with this post.  One is of the book signing event yesterday, and the other is a picture of THE DEVIL (at least according to the newspaper).
      More news coming soon, so please check back often.  In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for HIre.
   Happy reading!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Released Today!

September 15, 2014
Hi, All!
     As I have mentioned when my previous books have come out, today is the day all writers dream of. Today is the "official" release date of "Ain't No Harm To Kill the Devil"!!!  It's true it has been available in electronic version for a few weeks (because of early demand for the book), but today is the first day the regular book can be purchased at bookstores and through on-line retailers (like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Independent booksellers, and so forth).  Thus, this is a milestone day -- and one I will treasure.  It isn't just that the book will be on shelves today.  The reason the day is so special is it is a culmination of all the adventures, travel, and digging through archives it took to get the story to the pages.  This particular book was also special because I had more fun writing this one than any of my other stories.  I loved visiting all the Underground Railroad stops, exploring famous historical sites, and visiting with the dozens upon dozens of people who helped me uncover the tale behind this true American hero.  It takes me a year and a half to write one of my books -- a year to do the background research, and then it takes me about six months to write it. This puts me on a year and a half "cycle" of sorts for publishing a story, and today is the very special day when every road in the process will finally come together.  I'm going to celebrate tonight -- by having pizza and a root beer float.  Ok -- that may not sound too exciting, but by eating at home I can get lost in my memories of all the places and people I met who helped me bring this book to life.  To me, that is most important of all -- the *experiences* had while along the journey.  It is so wonderful to have the book available for all, but my life has been so enriched by the "behind-the-scenes" part of the writing process.  And speaking of that, please do remember the journey to write the story is also available in the "companion e-book" that goes with the main book.  The companion e-book is called "Finding Fairfield: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  It is also available today through all e-book retailers.  The only catch here is this "companion e-book" is available ONLY as an e-book.  This was done for two reasons:  First, this is part of a publishing experiment to see if readers do, in fact, like to know *how* writers come up with and write their stories.  Second, by making Finding Fairfield an e-book, the cost is very small.  I've been asked whether a person should read this companion e-book first or wait and read it after finishing the main book.  I don't believe it matters.  I believe readers will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look whether experienced before or after.  As a matter of fact, all of you could help me with this.  After you read the companion e-book, I'd appreciate it very much if you could write me a quick note and let me know if you liked reading it before or after the main book.  That knowledge would help me advise others in the future.
    Yes, today is a very special day for me.  Very special.  I also want to thank you, my readers, for your support of my work.  After all, without all of you, I could not do what I do!
     I hope you enjoy the story (and the companion e-book as well)!!!
P.S. I'm adding the image of the "companion e-book" for all of you to see today.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Upcoming Book Events

Hi, All!
    Today I have a few announcements to pass along.  The first is *both* of the new books are now available through all the major e-retailers (Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, KOBO Reader (independent booksellers), Apple i-Library, and so forth.  I'm thrilled by this, especially because the "hard copy" version of Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire won't be released until September 15!  Interest in the book has been so high that the e-version was released early for those anxious to dive into the books.  The "companion e-book" that goes with Ain't No Harm.... is also now available as well.  This "companion e-book" is titled Finding Fairfield: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  If one types "Finding Fairfield" into the search area of any of the e-book retailers, the full title will pop right up.  Finding Fairfield is something of an experiment in the world of publishing.  In it, readers will get the story of how I conducted my research to write Ain't No Harm... -- and readers will be able to journey along with me as I visited Underground Railroad depots, famous historical sites, museums/archives -- and even see what it was like to go on a "Ghost Walk" near where major events in the story took place.  Many readers have already asked me this: "Which book should be read first, since they both are part of the story package?"  My answer is simple: The reading order does not matter!  Finding Fairfield provides a detailed look at how the book came about, but it does not have huge "spoilers" in it.  Therefore, it could be read *before* jumping into the adventure of the main book -- or it could be read after -- and be made a delicious dessert added to the main story.
     I also have a few book events coming up, and I'd like to start posting them here.

***September 28: Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri.  I'll be talking about my book Olivia's Story: The Conspiracy of Heroes Behind 'Shelley v. Kraemer.'  The event starts at 1 p.m., and it is free and open to the public.  The 'Shelley v. Kraemer' U.S. Supreme Court decision, which had its roots right there in St. Louis, is the culminating event in the book, and I'll be talking about how the brave individuals who fought for this ruling literally changed the face of the nation.  Also, the venue, the Missouri History Museum, is located in Forest Park, one of the most beautiful places on earth.  The Missouri History Museum is also just a few short miles from where all the main action took place in the book, so one may just be able to "feel the history" as we hold our discussion.  It should be a fun afternoon.

***October 4: Barnes and Noble, Waterloo, Iowa -- First book signing for Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  The event will be held that day from 1-3 p.m.  I'll be bringing cake for everyone to help celebrate the release of the book!

***October 13:  National Public Radio program, "St. Louis On The Air," with host Don Marsh.  On this day, at noon, I'll be at radio station KWMU in St. Louis to be on this program.  Don Marsh and I will be talking about the historical significance of the events in Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  Listeners will be allowed to call in and ask questions about/discuss points covered in the program.  Please visit the KWMU website for additional details. (As an aside, I believe Don Marsh to be the very best interviewer I've ever met.  He is a true treasure on the airwaves!)

***November 13: Prairie Lights Books, Iowa City, Iowa:  Reading and book signing for Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  The event will begin at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

     Many other events will also be taking place this fall, and I'll be updating this list regularly.  Watch for an event in your area.  I'd love to meet you and visit about the new books.

     Happy reading!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Walk With Pearl McGill

Hi, All!
     Yesterday's event was, in a word, WONDERFUL!  Here is how it was billed in the promotional materials:

"A Walk with Pearl McGill" - June 21, 2014

You won't want to miss this enchanting walk with "Pearl McGill".  Jeff Copeland, author of Shell Games will be leading a bus trip throughout Muscatine following "Pearl McGill's" steps 100 years ago!!  We will also take the road to Buffalo, Iowa to check out her last living days there and finally learn about her murder!!
 Jeff will read passages from the Shell Games book and provide enchanting details of Pearl's story as a 16 year old industrial spy in Muscatine in 1911.
Seats are limited for the bus ride so you will want to book your space now.  Tickets are $35 per person for the afternoon event which is a fundraiser for the Muscatine History and Industry Center.  The bus will pick us up at the museum at 117 West Second Street at 1:00 P.M. on Saturday, June 21, 2014 and return us to the museum at 4:30 P.M.

     On an absolutely beautiful summer day, about fifty individuals seeking to "see behind the curtain" of the Shell Games story all met in Muscatine to walk in Pearl McGill's shoes and learn more about her life and legacy.  Our tour bus stopped at sites in and around the area, and at each location I read a short selection from the book related to the events that took place there.  Following the reading, I then gave additional information about the story, information that I didn't have room to include in the book.  After our last stop in Muscatine, we drove the short distance to Buffalo, Iowa, where one of the main characters of the book was murdered.  We "walked off" the events of that fateful evening, and I demonstrated how the initial accounts of the crime were flawed.  As a matter of fact, that murder is still considered a "cold case" because the coroner who investigated the events concluded "cause of death by hand unknown."  I have my own theories about this case, and I invite you to read the book to see if you come to the same conclusions.

    We will be doing more of these tours in Muscatine in the coming months, so please contact the center/museum for additional details.  For now, I'll also post a couple of pictures of our adventure yesterday.

    I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer.  Take care -- and happy reading!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Literary Tour Event

Hi, All!
     On Saturday, June 21, I will be helping with an event that should be a great deal of fun -- and I'd like those of you who will be in the area to consider joining in.  The main setting for my last book, Shell Games, was Muscatine, Iowa.  On June 21, I'll be one of the tour guides helping with the "literary tour" of Muscatine, as this relates to the events of Shell Games.  The directors of the Muscatine History and Industry Center (and museum), the hosts for the event, have secured a bus that will be used for the tour.  The directors and I will be taking the participants around the town to show *where* the events in the book took place.  At each stop, I'll be reading a short selection from the book that goes with that particular location, and the directors of the museum will be providing additional details about both the local history and the pearl button industry of the era described in the book.  To top all off, our last stop will be the town of Buffalo, Iowa, where one of the main characters of the book was murdered -- and examine all the information related to that (including newspaper accounts of that time period).  The price of the tour is $35. per person, and seating is limited.  As a matter of fact, I was told this last Friday that just a few seats remain, so if you are interested, I'd suggest you contact the Muscatine History and Industry Center to see if you can still get a seat on the bus.  This event should be a great deal of fun for all.  I'll also enjoy helping bring the history to life as we go around to each of the stops.
     I'll attach a picture of the museum to this note.
     I'll provide more information about this event as it draws closer.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The publishing process.....

Hi, All!
    One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is this: "Just what is the process a book goes through while being published?"  I think many are curious about this because very little has been written about what happens in the process after a writer, either literally or symbolically, writes "The End" at the conclusion of the manuscript. What happens between "The End" and when the book hits the shelves is actually a very interesting journey.
       I thought I'd take a few minutes this morning to talk about the part of this process where I am right now.  My publisher liked the manuscript for my next book:  Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.  So, the first thing a writer waits for is the official approval of the manuscript by the publisher.  Publishers have many options when the manuscript comes to them.  They can say "We like it," or "We like it, but we'd also like to see some changes/revisions," or "Sorry, we don't think we can use this" -- and several other responses, to varying degrees, along that scale as well.  Once they say they like the manuscript, a very interesting process begins.  Editors read through the manuscript carefully and, even for the very best of writers (which I'm not!), start marking words, sentences, paragraphs, passages -- all places where they feel changes might be in order.  Most editors do not do this with an iron fist.  That is, these "suggestions" are made, but the writer can discuss these areas with his/her editor if the writer believes the change is not necessary or believes the suggestion might be altered in some way.  At this point of the process, even though it is might tough to do, a writer has to put as much ego as possible aside and listen to the editor.  After all, the editor has a completely different perspective (and an objective one), and I do have to admit my editors have been right in what they have suggested at least 99% of the time.  As a matter of fact, the only times I've really *fought* to keep things in the manuscript were when I felt making a change would influence how characters were presented (which is of vital importance in nonfiction writing).  As fate would have it, I went to visit my publisher a few weeks back to talk about my next book project.  While there, my editor was at a point with my upcoming manuscript (the Fairfield book) where we could actually sit down next to each other and go through some of the changes that were being suggested.  This was so much fun for me I can't even begin to describe it.  First of all, I have what I consider to be the best editor ever, Rosemary Yokoi.  If there is a more talented person in that field, I've never met him or her.  In my book, Rosemary is Tops!  As we sat there and dug through her recommendations, I started to see just how *many* perspectives an editor must have all at one time: what will make the book better/easier to read, what can be chopped because it really doesn't help carry the narrative, which words are not true to the era being written about, what will help the book be more marketable, and so on.  While keeping all these balls juggled in the air, the editor also has to deal with the often fragile ego of the writer.  Side note:  A long time ago, when I turned in the manuscript for Inman's War, I ended a chapter with a page of description and narrative that I thought was the best thing I had ever written in my life.  When I finished that page, I remember sitting there and saying to myself, "Wow -- that's really awesome!"  Well, about two months later when my editor sent me the manuscript with suggestions written on it, one of the suggestions was to get rid of that page!  At first I couldn't believe it.  After all, I believed it to be the best section I'd ever written.  However, the more I looked through the editor's rationale for getting rid of those paragraphs, the more I could see the other side -- which was that this section was "too sentimental" for this point in the narrative.  So, out this section went -- and the book was much better for it.  Sorry -- I digress.......     After sitting with my editor for a couple of hours a few weeks back to dig through the Fairfield manuscript, we covered most of the major changes that were being suggested.  The next part of the process will now begin tomorrow.  I just received word the "proofs" of the manuscript will arrive to my mailbox tomorrow afternoon.  I'll then have just over a week to go through the manuscript to make sure I'm fine with the changes that we've made --and to read through the whole manuscript (from beginning to end) again to make sure no glitches have happened.  I've had books in the past where words and sentences were accidentally left out of the manuscript at this point in the process -- and nobody caught these.  I'm not sure there's much more that makes a reader irritated than when this happens.  So, it is really looking at the manuscript with a microscope to make sure all is as it should be.  I'll write more about this process later in the week as I dig through the proofs.  For a writer, this is most typically a very enjoyable part of the process -- and a very necessary "bridge" in getting the book into the hands of readers.
     One last note today:  I've been pretty darn ill of late (respiratory infection).  One day, just to get out of the house, I went to Elephant Rocks in southern Missouri.  During the Ice Age, massive granite boulders were rolled to this specific area.  Today, this area is known as Elephant Rocks because the rocks are so huge -- and, from a distance, it really does look like a group of elephants roaming through the landscape.  It is a fun place to climb on the rocks and walk the trail surrounding them.  I'm attaching a picture so you will be able to get an idea of the size of these "elephants."
     More soon......    Take care -- and have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Book Covers!

Hi, All!
     My publisher has recently provided me with "mock-up" designs for the front covers of *both* books that will be released this coming fall.  I'm incredibly happy with both covers, but I'd like to hear what others think of them.  Do they capture your attention?  Do you like the colors used?  The designs/layouts?  I'd appreciate it if you could jot me a quick note and let me know your opinions about these -- and any other areas related to the covers.

***Cover #1:   This is the mock-up for the main book:  Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.
     Please examine it, and then, if you have the time, please let me know your thoughts about it.
     NOTE: There is a special story behind the "Wanted Poster" on the cover.  John Fairfield was wanted "Dead or Alive" because of his work helping slaves to their freedom.  Therefore, he did *not* want his image captured in pictures, for the obvious reasons.  Photography was still relatively new when Fairfield was doing most of his work for the cause, and he managed to avoid all cameras, which was wise given his situation.  However, I wanted to know what he looked like.  While doing research for the book I was able to uncover ample written, physical descriptions of Fairfield, and the Wanted Poster represents a blend of these accounts.  There is MUCH more to the story of how this particular Wanted Poster came about, and it is detailed in the "companion e-book" (see below).

***Cover #2:  This is the mock-up for the "companion e-book," which is titled:  Finding Fairfield: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of Ain't No Harm to Kill the Devil: The Life and Legend of John Fairfield, Abolitionist for Hire.
    NOTE: This cover was designed by Maryana Britt, an incredibly talented and gifted artist/illustrator; we were SO lucky to have her help with this project.  This "companion e-book" was so much fun to write.  Basically, it tells of my adventures while doing the travel and conducting the background research needed to write the main book.  It is part travelogue -- and also a "behind the curtain" look at what a writer of nonfiction must do to in order to capture the essence of the story and characters involved.
     Again, if you have the time, please let me know what your impressions are of this cover.

    Thank you for examining these covers.  I really do appreciate it.  And, finally, don't forget:  Both books are now scheduled for release in the fall.

Monday, April 7, 2014

St. Louis history & event

April 7, 2014
Hi, All!
    I thought I'd pass along a quick bit of news while I had the chance.  As most of you know, I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and that city has always been my "spiritual home."  This is a very special year in St. Louis -- the 250th anniversary of its founding!  Celebrations are taking place all over the city this year to commemorate this special time.  One such celebration is taking place at the Missouri History Museum (known as the old "Jefferson Memorial" to those who grew up in St. L.) in Forest Park, right next to the St. Louis Zoo and the Jewel Box.  The Missouri History Museum has a special exhibit called "250 in 250."  The curators have put together an absolutely magnificent "walk-through" exhibit, which is free and open to the public, that shows the city's history in pictures, artifacts, and visuals and sound.  In short, walking through the exhibit is like strolling through the city's storied history, from its beginnings to the present.
    One part of the exhibit is devoted to the 50 most notable people/events in St. Louis history.  One part of this special exhibit describes the sacrifices made by J. D. Shelley and his family as they fought to help end racially restrictive real estate covenants, covenants which said where people could live -- and not live -- based upon their race, religion, or in some cases national origin.  I was very pleased to see this section describing the Shelley family and their fight to end this type of discrimination.  I also had a pretty broad smile on my face as I looked at this exhibit because I chronicled their battle in my book Olivia's Story: The Conspiracy of Heroes Behind 'Shelley v. Kraemer.  After viewing the rest of the exhibit, I asked for the name and contact information for the main curator of the exhibit.  I contacted the curator the next day and told him how wonderful I thought it was that the museum chose to spotlight this dramatic part of not just St. Louis history, but *American* history as well.  Basically, the "Shelley v. Kraemer" decision, eventually taken to the U.S. Supreme Court level, ended these horrible restrictions.  I was also delighted when I was then asked if I'd do a presentation about Olivia's Story and  its description of St. Louis history -- and have this as a part of the special exhibit at the Missouri History Museum!  I said I'd be happy to do this, and it is now being scheduled for one of the weekends in October (please check back here for an update when the date is chosen).  I can't wait to do this presentation at the museum.  At the same time, I'd like to invite all of you in the area to stop in to see my presentation when it takes place.  I'll be sharing how "Shelley v. Kraemer" literally changed the face and color of America.
     I'm also attaching to this message a picture of the Museum Shop at the Missouri History Museum.  I'm also so proud they carry Olivia's Story there for those interested in St. Louis history (the book is at the center of the top shelf in the photo).
     Also, for those who'd like a little more information now about Olivia's Story and how it fits into the exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, here is the link to a short discussion I have about the subject on YouTube:
    More soon.........

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Approaches to Interpreting Literature

February 20, 2014

Hi, All!
     At times, an author blog site can serve as a wonderful repository for information.  I'm going to use this site today to place some material for the Literature for Young Adults class I'm now teaching at my university.  The students in that class will be using this information for an assignment they've been given.  For the rest of you, I also encourage you to read through these six approaches to literature study. Why?  Because a reader can better understand "what a story does" by looking at the story through these six approaches.  In short, think of each of these approaches as pieces of an apple pie.  Together, they form the shape and taste of the pie -- and allow for full appreciation of it.  Think of the parallel to this in the world of literature study and your reading experiences just might become more intense and fruitful.
    Here are the six approaches.  Read on -- and enjoy!
P.S. In my next post I'll be giving more information about my next book project -- so stay tuned!

                            Six Basic Approaches to Interpreting Literature

The Historical Approach:  This approach emphasizes the biography of the writer and the literary and historical events of the age in which the writer lived.  Overemphasis on this method often makes literature appear secondary to the history and biography.  However, if this method is used skillfully, students see how literature is a changing, developing art.  More importantly, students are better able to see where they fit into the calendar of literature and human development.

The Socio-psychological Approach: This approach has a threefold purpose.  First, it helps students increase their knowledge of people (through study of characterization). Second, it helps students understand the age in which the literature was written.  Third, it helps students apply these insights to current living.  This approach does overlap the historical approach.  However, it is different in that there is an attempt to compare the flesh and nerves of the there-and-then with the flesh and nerves of the here-and-now.  The weakness in this approach is that it may lead to the neglect of some of the qualities we call "literary."  However, this approach depends upon helping the students understand the Universal Themes in literature and life.

The Emotive Approach:  This approach leads the teacher to say, "isn't this beautiful," in referring to a certain work -- or "This is fun!" in referring to literature as a whole.  In a practical sense, this is when a teacher points out to students what and why specific portions of a piece of literature are thought of so highly by that teacher.  In other words, this is sharing with students what the "experienced teacher" finds to be most satisfying in the literature.  Students often will not see this love for the literature immediately.  However, this helps students develop, over time, their own "rubrics" used when evaluating literature -- and in determining the "quality" of a piece of literature.

The Didactic Approach:  This approach helps students find the author's purpose and the author's observations made upon life.  These observations may or may not be ethical principles or morals.  The search for and discussion over the author's purpose leads to improved reading ability and to a thoughtful attitude toward the text.  Students usually enjoy finding a significant idea or a memorable thought capsule in a text.  When used carefully, the Didactic Approach may ultimately help the students to shape their own life philosophies.  When this approach is carried too far, the discussion may disintegrate into a hunt for all the "morals to the story."

The Paraphrastic Approach:  Using this approach, the teachers tell students to re-state a passage from the text using their "own" words.  This is related to Bloom's "Knowledge" and "Comprehensive" levels of thought.  This approach is particularly valuable in interpretation of literature which is difficult to comprehend (because of a dialect used, unknown historical references, or misunderstood character motivations -- just to mention a few areas).  The usual objection to this approach is that paraphrasing only gets to the approximate meaning.  However, without understanding of what is going on at the "surface level" in a text, the students will not be able to move into interpretive responses and higher-order work.

The Analytical Approach:  When teachers use this approach, they encourage students to examine how the elements of literature are used by the writer to build the story (setting, plot, characterization, language use, etc.).  This approach also helps students see the function and inter-related nature of each element -- and provides a look at the craft of the writer (his/her particular skills and weaknesses within the story).  The weakness of this approach is that students often feel the literature is being "picked apart."  However, with careful planning, teachers can use this approach to help students understand both how writers build stories -- and why readers respond to the literature as they do.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

New Contact Information...

February 1, 2014

Hi, All!
     I hope everyone is off to a healthy and happy 2014.  Here's to a great year for us all!
     This is going to be a very short post.  The "Contact Me" section of my author website has just been updated, and the new e-mail address is up and running.  Therefore, for those who'd like to contact me, please to go my website address (see below) and navigate to the "Contact Me" page:

   I love hearing from my readers, so feel free to send comments about the books to this address if you wish.  Of course, also feel free to contact me through Paragon House as well (their address is also on the same Contact Me page).  Please note that I check this e-mail account only on weekends -- and only when I'm not on the road doing book events -- so please be patient if you do send a note.  At times it takes me a long time to get through the messages.
     While I'm speaking of updates for websites, I'd like to pass along something for those of you who also write.  In my opinion, "" is THE best group helping writers with such things.  If you haven't already, check them out.
     The weather here in Iowa is, well, typical for Iowa this time of the year.  I'm attaching a picture of the view of my backyard from my writing desk.   We have several feet of snow piled up everywhere, and it will likely be here until spring!   Brrrrrrrrrr!
     I have already started doing some "background work" for my next book, and I'll talk more about that in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, enjoy your reading!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Upcoming book!

January 13, 2014
Hi, All!
     I just sent off to my publisher the manuscript of my next book.  Such times are actually very bittersweet.  I love, more than anything, the background research I do to get to know the characters and events I write about.  For me, I typically take a year to do the research, and then it takes me about six months of time in front of the computer to get the story written.  This puts me on a "year and a half cycle" for completion of one of my pieces about important people in our history and heritage.  So, while it is incredibly satisfying to complete a story, I really do miss digging into the characters and events within.
     I am "doubly" excited about this next book.  I can now say that it is about one of the most important abolitionists who helped slaves to their freedom in the period shortly before the Civil War -- a person who helped pave the way for freedom and equality for all at that time.  The main character was something of an early "James Bond" figure -- in that he used disguises, was typically "armed to the teeth," and used elaborate ruses to accomplish his goals.  The story is full of adventure, mystery, and what I believe to be a pretty darn good love story as well.  The book should be available in Fall 2014.  I mentioned I'm "doubly" excited about this book because there will actually be two books in one.  That is, because this is a literary nonfiction story, the background research was conducted in part at historic sites that are still standing today (Underground Railroad sites and other historic buildings associated with those who helped slaves to their freedom).  While I traveled to do the background research, I kept a diary of my adventures and took plenty of pictures.  I've turned this material into a second book which will be the "story behind the story" of how the main book came about.  I think readers will enjoy this "companion book" that will be available along with the main one.
     In future posts I'll be giving additional information about the process a manuscript goes through on the way to the shelves of the bookstore.  I'll also be giving additional information about the main characters in the story -- after the final edits and the final title of the book has been decided upon.  So, stay tuned!  I'd like to give more information now, but I'll have to end with this teaser for the time being:  Of all the stories I've written, none has touched my soul as much as this one.  Through doing the background research, I discovered so much about our history and heritage -- and about why we are the way we are today.
    I hope all of you have a wonderful, happy, and healthy 2014!
    More soon.......

**I'm also adding a picture of the "England trip" as well. That was such a wonderful time!