Showing posts with label Grape. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grape. Show all posts

19 December 2016


by Jan Grape

Yes, I know football season isn't completely over but round ball has begun. Way back in the dark ages when I was in high school, girl's basketball was rather boring. Pardon me while I loosen my corset. We could only play half the court. In other words there were three teammates on one half of the court and we were guards. We had to guard the forwards of the opposing team. When we got the ball we could dribble the ball to the center line that divided the court and pass the ball to our forwards who could then work the ball down to take a shot. I guess they were afraid we'd have a sudden case of the vapors and swoon and fall to the floor and have to be revived before the game could continue. But in all honesty beginning in the 1890s when women started playing BB, they had to wear long skirts, Only their heads, feet and hands could show. I'm assuming they had to wear corsets and petticoats so guess the idea of swooning was not actually a bad idea. I'm not sure when girl's were allowed to play five man, full court basketball. Everything I found on google mentioned 1971 but I know that wasn't correct in Texas. Seems like it might have been late fifties. One of my younger sisters played all through high school in the mid to late 60s and played by boy's rules.

My oldest son, Phil Lee (not my oldest child) played basketball in Junior high. His son, (who was Phil's oldest child) Jarred born in '89 played in junior high and his daughter, Jackie was born in '93 also played in junior high. Think they both started in Little League Basketball leagues before Junior High. Jackie was a very good player and had an excellent coach early on. She wasn't big enough to play high school or college ball as they wanted girl's who were close to six foot tall. But Jackie wanted and hoped to coach basketball when she graduated from College.

Jackie graduated from Texas State University in December of 2015, a short year ago. She got married in January of 2016 and her first teaching coaching dreams came true this past September, She's the Girl's Freshman Coach at Hays High School in Buda, Texas. Buda is a bedroom community just a few miles south of Austin, TX.

Jackie's Freshman Girls team played in a tournament, this past Saturday, Dec 11th at Bowie High School in Austin. I was excited to be able to attend and watch my granddaughter coaching girl's basketball. Talk about being thrilled. I had watched my son play, both grandchildren Jarred and Jackie play and now getting to watch my granddaughter coach was awesome.

Not only did her girls play. they won the Freshman Girls tournament. And it wasn't easy either. They played their first game at 1:30pm. If they won, then they would play the second game at 4 and if they won the 2nd they would play the third game at 6:30. The idea being you keep playing if you win. And the Hays Freshmen Girls won all three games.

Jackie's Mom, Dad and Maternal Grandmother came from Fort Worth to watch. My youngest son, Roger Grape, and youngest grandson, Lucas Grape-Kreuger who both live in Austin attended. So with myself, the Paternal Grandmother, in attendance, the coach had almost as many fans as the team did to root and clap for them.

This was just an awesome experience for me and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Merry and Happy to each and everyone of you. May your holidays and the New Year be the Best Ever.

07 March 2016

Nothing Much Here

by Jan Grape

The hour to post my blog draws nearer and I honestly don't have a topic or even an idea of what to write. I had read a blog written by a friend this week and sent her a message asking if I could repost on my blog. I haven't heard back from her and I'm sure it's because she's busy or else she's been goofing off but not on Face Book.

It was a subject I've talked about before but hers has a new take. Dealing with gaining a deeper understanding of your characters. She mentions something she uses in her writing classes and I've used it also.

Take your character on a field trip to the grocery story or perhaps a WalMart. The way your character responds can tell you a lot. Do they make out a list or do they just go up and down the aisle picking up what happens to catch their eye.

Does your character not only make out a grocery list? If the character is very organized, she may even plan a week or two of meals, that could make the list quite long.

Then how does the character dress? Just in typical jeans and t-shirt or sweats? Or does he or she dress in what might be called crazy laid-back attire? I've seen women in stores in long dresses and high heels as if they were going to a big party after leaving the store. To top it off, one lady wore her hair in rollers because she had to do the comb out in the car as she heads to the party. Okay, maybe you can believe her if she's buying a party tray or dip and chips. If not, then not so much.

Or how about the guy in pajamas? Flannel pajamas with very loose elastic at the waist so that the bottoms sag and you can see his butt crack. Do you feel like you need eye bleach?

Then there is the items your character buys. All junk food? Or all fruits and veggies? Perhaps it's a busty, fussy looking lady who buys Redi-Whip and when you turn the corner to the next aisle and there she is squirting the whipped cream in her mouth.

How about when he or she gets to the Express check-out line. Perhaps your character only has three items and is in a big hurry,  he agitatedly sighs and you can tell he has a short temper on an equally short fuse. You just know he's going to explode any minute. There's a young mother in from of him with a ten month old baby in the baby seat of the grocery basket. The baby looks up at the man and lets out a huge laugh. It's the kind of laugh that no one can ignore.

The demeanor of the man changes immediately. A baby looked up laughed. Somehow the time frame slows and the man can't help smiling back. Now the baby is chuckling and so is the man who now looks at the person behind him in line. It's a older man with a bouquet of yellow roses. Obviously he's bought them to take home to his wife. Maybe it's their anniversary or her birthday. Your character smiles at the older gentleman and they both laugh at the baby again. At that moment, you know your character is actually a likable person although you originally thought he was a horrible stinker.

A little shopping trip with your character constantly in your mind can make a world of difference. It adds depth to your character and to your writing. No editor will come back at you and say your characters are two dimensional or wooden.

Okay class, that's all for today. Use if you need for your own work or as an aid in your role as a writing teacher.

Am sure you all have hear about the death of Nancy Reagan. I'm sure that now she can Rest In Peace.

20 July 2015

A Bunch of Grapes

by Jan Grape

Mystery Author Jan GrapeOkay, so there's no mystery here unless you are mildly curious about a bunch of grapes. It's also not about wine making or the wrath of the grapes or even the hilarious Lucy episode of stomping grapes.

This is about the every three years gathering of folks who were born and named Grape or married to or adopted by someone named Grape. And there is really no writing classroom work this week either.

Grape family
The Grapes

In 1975, my late husband, Elmer Grape, attended the funeral of his mother Leah Gertrude Love Grape, out in CA. All of his brothers and sisters attended except for his sister Ina who was in the hospital. With the siblings all together it was decided that it seemed like a dumb idea on only get together for funerals. Each sibling lived on the East coast or the West coast except for Elmer and I. We at that time, lived in Memphis, TN. Elmer, who never had trouble making serious decisions said, "let's have a family reunion, next year, at my house in Memphis." This was without any consultation with me, but he knew I would have no objections. So our first reunion was planned, for the first two weeks in August, 1976. That time frame was chosen because one brother worked where the company closed down and everyone employed there had to take their vacation the first two weeks of August, no exceptions.

The Grapes of our side originated in Sweden although the first Grape in Sweden was Arendt Reinhold Grape who came from northern Germany where the name in German means "Iron Pot." He had an iron ore smeltering business and settled in northern Sweden, moving to Stockholm later and becoming a Burghermeister (Mayor) of that city. We have met several of our cousins when visiting Sweden and some have attended the reunions. But that first year in 1976 in Memphis, John Stebbins  from CA attended. Uncle John was 94 and he was related to the mother of  the family Leah Love Grape. We were excited to have him attend and he had a wonderful time.

We didn't have a large house, 11,500 sq feet but we had a huge back yard. And we also had a school bus which Elmer had converted onto a camping RV. And we had some nice next-door neighbor who were going to be moving and their house would be vacant. They offered two bathrooms and empty floor space. We rented some army cots and made arrangements to have some type of sleeping space for everyone who would come. Some folks from PA and VA came in their own camping trailers. One brother, the oldest sibling, Harry flew in from Seattle WA bringing his sleeping bag, and he slept on the floor in the den. We had wall to wall cots in the living room after moving all the furniture against the wall.

Without getting too sugary about it, this was the first time some family members had been together in years and really talked to each other and many fences were mended. Four girls and three boys who grew up during the depression, sometimes having little or nothing to eat but defying all odds had survived and had good jobs and families. Two sisters lived in CA, one in VA one sister in NJ. There were nieces and nephews from NY, MD, PA, VA, and NJ. Elmer built a picnic table for the back yard and put it up against the kitchen window so food and drink could be passed through easily.

Sisters took turns cooking evening meals and one nephew cooked an Italian specialty one night. One sister was an expert at packing a fridge and we took turns cleaning up dishes. We all went down to the Mississippi River and took a trip on the Memphis Queen paddle boat and the Captain announced there were 52 members of the Grape Family on board. The cousins all had a night out going to a club and dancing the night away. Some of the family could only stay a week but the best thing of all was that there were no arguments or disagreements.

This family reunion is still going on, we meet every three years, meeting over the fourth of July for several years now and different family members host the event. Elmer and I hosted three more times: In 1979-Fairfax, Virginia, 1982-Corry, Pa, 1985-Houston TX, our house again and this time we had a wedding. Adopted sister Jeannie planned it all from CA and it was beautiful. In 1988-Austin, TX we hosted again and niece Dona who lived in the house behind me helped. We had a Swedish cousin come from Sweden, Reinhold Grape that year. 1991-Hyde Park, NY, 1994-Council Bluffs, IA, 1997-Bergen, NY, 2000-Nashville, TN, hosted by my daughter Karla, 2003-Inks Lake, TX niece Dona hosted. 2006-near Disney World, FL, is the only year I didn't go. 2009-Sacramento, CA, 2012-Little Falls, NJ

This year once again in TN just outside of Memphis, hosted by nephew David and his wife, Karen O. Grape. Each year there are sightseeing jaunts, going especially to parts of the USA where we've never been before and fun things for young and old. One sister, Esther, who is the only surviving sister at age 92, used to make t-shirts for everyone. She's in CA and didn't get to attend this year but we're a bit high tech and skyped with her. Esther drew a bunch of grapes and put the current year on one grape each time. We finally got smart, began having the shirts made letting each host design their own. The one surviving brother is Roger, age 85 and still lives in Corry, PA and he attended this year. David is his son. Upcoming in 2018 we will once again be in Austin with my son Roger and his husband hosting.

We have lost family but we also have gained through marriage and children born and it's exciting and gratifying to meet and talk to everyone. There is lots of great food and drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and cakes and pies and cookies. We only stay a week now and most stay in nearby hotels because the host family can generally reserve a block of rooms at a reasonable price. We only had thirty-two attending as the California branches didn't make it. Sometimes there are new jobs or immediate family crises or even weddings that crop up and mess up reunion plans.

The major thing for me is we can all be together for a week without a disagreement although some conversations can get a bit heated. We somehow manage to have a week feeling love and a connection that we'd never have otherwise. A week with a bunch of Grapes just works for me.

Next Time: writing, mystery, intrigue, I promise.

24 September 2012

Childhood Memories

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

This week I opened a quart carton of orange sherbet. Yum. I've had orange sherbet through the years yet, somehow, this time my childhood memories flooded back (maybe old age kicking in, who knows?) I suddenly felt as if I were eleven again, visiting my dad for the summer in Fort Worth, Texas. My parents divorced when I was young. Both parents remarried and during the whole school year, I lived with my mother, step-dad and two little sisters, out on the high plains of Texas, forty miles from Lubbock in the small town of Post, TX. Post then had a population of about three thousand folks and this was back in the olden days when ice cream was only available in grocery stores and drug stores. The most flavors I remember were vanilla, chocolate, Neapolitan, and strawberry. In the summer, when I went to visit my dad in the big city of Fort Worth for a couple of weeks, one of the first things we did was to drive over to Baskin Robbins where, at that time, they offered thirty-one flavors of ice cream. I'd look at everything they had and every single time order the same sherbet, served in an ice cream cone. I have no idea why. They had banana nut, peppermint, chocolate mint, cherry vanilla, regular vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, peach, Neapolitan, and something with nuts, maybe butter pecan. They also had orange, lime and pineapple sherbet. I don't remember any of the other thirty-one flavors but for some strange reason orange sherbet really seemed like the best of the best to me and that's what I'd buy.

This nostalgic trip got me thinking about my childhood memories of reading. I honestly don't remember not liking to read and really not sure when I began reading. A little before first grade and then from first grade on I read and still read as much as I can now. I lived with my grandmother in Houston for my first grade and then my mother remarried and I moved to Post, TX when school was out. I spent a lot of the summer playing outside, but I also spent a lot of time reading...sometimes reading outside. My parents bought me books. Post didn't have a library then but there was a small library at our church. Most of the books at the church were biographies but written for children. So I learned about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, and George Washington Carver from these bios. At home mother bought, Heidi, Black Beauty, Grimm's Fairy Tales and Bible Story books. I loved the Bobbsey Twins and a series called The Sugar Creek Gang, which was about a boy and his pals but I liked adventures and the boys were always having those.

I probably started reading Nancy Drew when I was nine or ten years old and devoured those. I think I tried the Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belton, but Nancy was my idol. She had a really cool dad, an even cooler convertible and she solved mysteries. But my big love for mysteries really grabbed me totally when I was twelve and my father handed me a stack of his paperback books: Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott and Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason and his Bertha Cool and Donald Lam detectives, and John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. I thought Private Eye books were awesome and Perry Mason was so exciting by the revelation of the murderer in the trial.

Soon I matriculated to high school and devoured as many of their mysteries as I could find...Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Agatha Christi, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammet, Rex Stout. I could go on and on but you get the idea. I still read spies and thrillers, Ian Flemming, John le Carre, Alistair McClain and I soon discovered John D. MacDonald wrote other books besides the Travis McGee series. In the meantime, Post TX got a public library and my mother became one of the volunteer librarians and when they were able to hire a librarian full time, my mom got the job. She had only gone to the 8th grade in school but she had gotten a GED and she took some college classes by correspondence. She took many of the continuing education classes the library offered. That was her dream job and also helped add to my "have read" growing list of books. Is it any wonder that I wound up writing mysteries and owning a mystery bookstore?

In exploring my childhood memories which I decided to share with each of you I reveal how I managed to fall in love with mysteries and private eyes in particular. What about you?

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to the kitchen to have a bowl of orange sherbet.

10 September 2012

Short Stories or Novels?

by Jan Grape

Sometimes people ask me why it took so long for me to write a novel? I was writing and selling short stories. Well, the honest answer is, I was writing novels they just weren't selling. I wrote two or three novels that didn't sell. One came really close about three times to being published but the editor left or the publishing house went out of business or the novel buyer at the publishing house who was supposed to recommend my book got sick and died. Yep, that all happened. All with one novel. I think it's called being snake bit.

But in stead of giving up, I kept plodding along and because I was selling short stories, I found a editor who liked my work. That person was Ed Gorman and at that time he and the late Marty Greenberg were selling anthologies right and left and actually both of them liked my short stories, interviews, articles, reviews, etc. I was writing a regular column for Mystery Scene magazine.

In 1998 one of my short stories, "A Front Row Seat," published in the Vengeance is Hers anthology edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins was nominated and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

A project came along that Ed and Marty had working. It was to be a coffee table style book about women mystery writers. There were to be interviews, articles and articles, by, about, and written by women mystery authors. They asked me to co-edit with Ellen Nehr and the book was titled Deadly Women. Unfortunately, Ellen got sick and passed away when we were about half-way into the project. Dean James took over in Ellen's slot and we continued the project. We were fortunate enough to be nominated for an Edgar for Best-Non Fiction and at Bouchercon we won a mccavity Award.

About then is when Ed and Marty formed a company, Tekno, and began working out a package deal with Five Star Mysteries. They would find the book for Five Star to buy, and once Five Star editor read and liked the book, Tekno would get the contract and get it signed, get the book copy-edited, get a cover, the blurbs, jacket copy,and whatever else was needed to get the book ready to be published.

Eventually, I had a chance to send my book, Austin City Blue, featuring my Austin policewoman, Zoe Barrow to Mr. Gorman and he recommended to Five Star they buy it. Five Star liked it and as they say, the rest is history. Soon I also had a contract for Five Star to publish a collection of my short stories, Found Dead In Texas. And soon after a contract for the second novel, Dark Blue Death, in my Zoe Barrow series.

In the meantime, I kept writing short stories and getting those published. Yet shortly after my husband passed away, and I began having health problems. I had a really rough four years. I had one novel I had written earlier which had never been published, I dusted it off, did some rewrite and in 2010 Five Star published, What Doesn't Kill You, a non-series or stand alone as some people call them. I certainly didn't do much other writing. My creative muse was trying to reassert itself I guess.

About four years ago, the American Crime Writers League, of which I was President, decided we needed to help get our name out a bit more and also wanted to earn a little money to go into our treasury. We came up with the idea of an anthology of original stories, all written by our ACWL members. I volunteered to co-edit and my co-editor was R. Barri Flowers. Barri was the one who had suggested the anthology. His agent sold the project to Twilight Times and our title was ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present. It was published in 2009. I wrote a short story for it, titled, "The Crimes of Miss Abigail Armstrong."

In May of this year, ACWLs second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There was published by Twilight Times. Again the anthology was co-edited by R. Barri Flowers and myself. My short story this time was, "The Confession." The story featured my long-time female Private-Eye characters from several short stories, Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn. It was a lot of fun to visit with the PIs from G & G Investigations once again.

So most of my writing career has been both short stories and novels. In some ways I like short stories better because you can usually write one in a very short time. I've had ideas and written a story in a day and the longest only took about a week. However, because you do only have a short frame work to write in you have to be more precise, more determined to have characters who seem real and you have to be ready to work and rework until the story is finally finished. It helps to have a great or even a twisted, you never saw that coming ending.

With a novel you have more room to develop your plot and sub-plots as well as develop your characters. There are many more characters and more scenes and it definitely takes much more time to write a novel. It takes me a year or so. But it's so satisfying when you get that book complete and polished and you send it out. There are more chances to make better money (at least that's what I've heard.) More chances for people to believe you are a "real" writer if you have a novel published.

I actually enjoy doing both and since my writing career first began with short stories I love doing them. But I also love that feeling you get when you go into a book store and see your novel on the shelf. Your own...the book your wrote.

I guess it's all how you feel about it. I remember an author telling me years ago, that he didn't write short stories because he only had one idea a year and didn't want to waste that idea. He felt he needed to spend his time on a novel. I can understand but I'd hate to give up either one.

How do you feel? Writers? Bloggers?

02 July 2012

What’s Up With a Bunch of Grapes?

by Jan Grape

As I write this on Friday night I’m trying to finalize some housekeeping chores and getting everything ready to pack  because I’m flying to New Jersey for our Tri-annual Grape Family Reunion. Yep, a whole bunch of Grape get together every three years to see what’s going on in the lives of the seven offspring of the family I married into forty-four years ago.  In 1975, Mom Grape, who lived in Loma Linda CA, passed away and my late husband, Elmer went out for the funeral.  His oldest sister, Ina was in the hospital in VA having just undergone mastectomy surgery and was unable to attend.  Elmer thought it was just too cruel to only get to see his brothers and sisters in the time of tragedy but half lived on the west coast and half on the east coast and he’d settled in Texas.  He was next to the youngest but always seemed to be listened to because of the three boys he was the most outspoken and so his idea was to have a family reunion the next summer, 1976, and have it at our house in Memphis TN where we’d lived since ‘72.

When he got back home and told me, I readily agreed.  I had met all of his brothers and sisters already and knew there was a good chance we’d have a darn good time.  And we did, despite the fact that the last two weeks of August turned out to be one of the worst summers for Memphis because of unusually high humidity.  We’d lived in Houston previously but you never get used to high humidity. All of the brothers and sisters came with spouses except one sister recently widowed and one sis who have never married.  A number of nieces and nephews came, I don’t recall exact number of each but we had 48 people who came during that two week time-frame. We had a small house, (1350 sq. ft. 3 bedroom,1-1/2 bath) but we had a camper and a friend loaned us a trailer and a next-door neighbor who was out of town loaned her house for bathroom privileges.  A couple of people came in a camper of their own and everyone else fought for a space on the floor for a sleeping bag. We had snagged 3-4 army cots for a females only dormitory in the living room. We claimed all step-children and adopted children without any problems and still do. Everyone took turns cooking and everyone helped with clean-up. We took a riverboat ride on the Mississippi, visited the new shopping mall that Elmer had built. He was a superintendent in commercial construction and this was the first two-level mall within a five hundred mile radius. 

It was decided that we’d have these reunions every three years because everyone lived so far away and that long time in between would give folks a chance to save up vacation time and extra money to make the trip to the next location.  In 1979 we went to Fairfax, VA,  to Ina’s house. And our sweet  never married Esther  had just married at age 57. She came but her new hubby couldn’t make it, then in 1982 we went to Cory, PA to Roger’s who is the youngest boy.  In 1985 Elmer & I had moved back to Houston and once again hosted. Oh horrors, heat and humidity once again but we survived. We also had a wedding that year, Easter & Mom Grape had raised & adopted Jeanie and she and Alan had a lovely formal wedding with the reception at our house.  Our house was a little larger, we did have 2 bathrooms yet somehow we managed although we had suitcases lining the hallway and sleeping bags once again littered our floors.

In 1988 we had moved to Austin and our niece Dona lived directly behind us, so guess who agreed to have the reunion.  She had 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and so did we. We had a gate in the back yard fence so people could walk back and forth easily. Plus we also had a Motel 6 just across I-35 which worked out nicely. But that year I said it was time for the younger set, the nieces and nephews, to take over the hosting job. In 1991 we went to Hyde Park, NY, in 1994 Council Bluffs, IA, in 1997 Bergen, NY and in 2000, our daughter Karla hosted the reunion in Nashville, TN.  In 2003, our niece Dona hosted us at her lovely home on Inks Lake, TX (75 miles west of Austin.)  In  2006, Kissimmee FL, I missed  our reunion for my first time. Elmer had passed away only 5 months before and I just wasn’t up to going. In 2009 we went to Sacramento, CA. We had a fantastic time and as usual did a lot of sight-seeing.

This year, a nephew who lives in Little Falls, NJ, which is only 20 min. from NYC is hosting and I’m so excited to be going. I’m leaving from Austin Airport about noon on Sunday, July 1st and will stay until the 7th or 8th.  I’m really looking forward to getting together with everyone.  We try not to dwell on the ones we’ve lost because there are new little ones and new spouses every time you turn around.  As usual we’ll enjoy each other’s company and see some wonderful new sights.  I have no idea who will volunteer to host this awesome family reunion in 2015, but you can bet I’ll be going and having a “GRAPE” time.

Sorry, I didn’t talk about writing this time, but I’ve been recovering from a ear and sinus infection and with this upcoming super family reunion constantly on my mind, it just naturally was the only thing I could think of to write about.  In case anyone is wondering, Knut Grape,  the patriarch of this family (1871-1953) was 100% Swede. In Sweden they have an umlaut over the E but since we don’t use those marks in the USA we’re happy to just say our name is Grape. Elmer and I made two trips to Sweden and met a number of distant cousins. We now have some who come to our reunions and that is way cool.

Next time…I will be back on script.


18 June 2012

To Fathers, Step-fathers, Adopted Fathers & Foster Fathers

by Jan Grape

As I write this it is June 17th, Father's Day, however this won't be posted until the 18th which is the day after Father's Day. But I'd like to talk a bit about fathers. I had two. My dad and my step-dad. They both were decent, honorable men who did the best they could for me, helping me reach adulthood as a productive, considerate, educated woman. I lived with my mother and my step-father, Charlie Pierce. I only spent two or three weeks with my birth father or as I called him, my "real" dad, Tom Barrow. It was difficult as a child to only see my father for such a short amount of time each summer. When I returned back home to my mother's house, I usually cried for a week or two, knowing it would be another year before I saw my dad again. I didn't understand it at the time and the idea of joint custody or even more reasonable longer visitation was not an accepted idea. My father wasn't married the first few years when I visited with him. And I think I must have been nine or ten before we had those visitation weeks. My mother and father had divorced when I was around two years old and shortly after that my father went to China and India as an Army man during World War II.

I do remember him visiting me when I was six years old. I was living with my grandmother in Houston, TX at the time. My mother was working at an aircraft factory, Consolidated, in Fort Worth and it was very difficult to have and take care of a small child with the hours she worked. My grandmother and her husband lived ten miles from the city limits of Houston on a dirt road. One day, a yellow taxi drove up to our house and a tall, lean man in an Army uniform got out of the car. It was my dad. He was home on furlough and wanted to see me. I was just getting over chicken pox and I got so excited that my red-spots seemed to pop out again. Of course it was just the excitement.

My step-father has been gone since 1995 and I miss him a lot.. He and I had a lot of problems during my teen age years but I think that's fairly normal. Teenagers are an alien species as I have mentioned before. Charlie had a lot of little sayings, like "I ain't had so much fun since the hogs at my little brother." Don't ask me to explain that one. And the standard when I asked him for money was, "If money was germs, I'd be as sterile as St. Vincent's hospital." You get the picture. One saying he had that stayed with me all these years was "There are two things in this world that can't be beat. One is a good education and the other is a good reputation." Those are words to live by for sure. I miss you and love you, Daddy.

My dad has been gone for twenty-four years and I miss him almost daily. Immediately after I graduated from high school, I moved to Fort Worth to live with my dad and step-mother. I graduated from school on Friday night and started to X-ray school on Monday morning. And during all those year afterwards I spent a lot of time with them and we grew very close. We made up for all the years we had not been together. I'm very glad he got to know my late husband, Elmer. They were alike in many ways and they were close too.

My dad loved to read and he had scads of books, mostly mysteries. Mostly private-eye mysteries and from the time I was about 12 years old and visiting my dad in the summer, he was handing me books by Mickey Spillane and Richard S. Prather and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was in heaven reading their books. Of course they were hard-boiled and womanizers (well, Perry Mason wasn't but Donald Lam was) but I just loved the style of writing these guys wrote and enjoyed the mystery plots. I decided then and there if I ever did learn to write it would definitely be mysteries and mostly likely private-eye stories. And most of my short stories did feature my female PIs Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn.

One major thing my dad taught me was, to do what you love. And if you can make a living at that, you're ahead of the game. That's true. I loved being in the medical field, but my unspoken dream was to write and be published. I'm really glad my dad lived long enough to read many of my short stories. He died before my novels were published but I'm sure where ever he is, he's read them as I wrote them.

The other big thing my dad taught me is that you can't live in the past with regrets. And you just can't wallow in guilt about mistakes you made. And he didn't mean not to acknowledge your mistakes, but learn from them. Everyone fails at some things and that's the way you learn how to succeed. This is very true in writing too (you thought I never would get to the point about writing didn't you?).

The only way to ever learn to be a better writer is to keep writing. When someone who knows about writing and is willing to pay you for writing gives you a critique or suggestion about your writing, then pay attention and learn. Few people are born with enough talent to be a good writer. However, you can learn how to write and how to write very well, but you have to learn from your mistakes.

Actually all the great writers that I know were not "born" writers. They were just persistent and willing to learn the craft and then learn the business or lean on someone who could guide them to the right way to become published.

So today, I say, Happy Father's Day to my dad, Thomas Lee Barrow. I love you and I miss you.

04 June 2012

How Do You Write a Crime Novel?

by Jan Grape

Jan GrapeAt the recent book signing I did at The Book Spot in Round Rock, TX I asked the usual question first myself, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ll give you my answer at little later in this article. But I want share some cool information about writing that I just read today. There’s a group blog, much like ours except this one is specifically written by Maine Crime Writers. I asked my friend Kate Flora who is one of the bloggers for that group if I could “steal” some of the info and she gave me permission as long as I credit it and send her a link to my blog. I readily agreed.

The first is by Kaitlyn Dunnet who starts a new group topic and the others in their group respond.

Kaitlyn: “Writers often compare writing a novel to something non-writers can more easily understand. The analogy I used to use when talking to school children was baking a cake. You mix together basic ingredients. In the case of a cake these are flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, shortening, milk, vanilla, and eggs.
With a mystery novel you have plot, setting, a crime, a protagonist (sleuth), a villain, secondary characters (suspects and sidekicks), conflict (which includes suspense), and a subplot. After you put all these things together, you put them in a pan and bake them. When the timer dings, you take a look and see what you’ve got. If the cake fell, you may have to start over. Even if it looks okay, it still has to pass the taste test. And even if it tastes okay, you still need to ice the cake to make it special. That’s the revision process, during which you expand, find perfect details to add, and so on.”

Back to Jan: What a wonderful analogy. I read this and was duly impressed. She goes on to compare writing also with putting together a puzzle. And now more from these talented writers.

Lea Wait: “One of your analogies is also mine, Kaitlyn : the enormous picture puzzle. In my case I say the author has to make up all the pieces: the characters, the time, the place, even the weather, the year, the costumes, the clues … and that sometimes, even though a whole group of puzzle pieces fit together just right … they don’t fit with the other pieces, so the author has to be brutal, and push the whole group off the table and let the dog (or the baby sister) chew on them, and start again. I think that’s especially important with historicals, since so much research goes into the planning stages, but even in contemporary mysteries, backstories, forensics, time of year, current events — all have to fit together to have the puzzle (= novel) work. Since I’m the sort of writer who plans 80% of her mystery ahead of time, that all makes sense. I suspect those writers who don’t plan further than a chapter ahead would have very different analogies in explaining how they write!”

Kate Flora: “I have to confess that I have never tried to explain the process in the ways that you ladies have. When readers ask me how I plot, I tell them how the book often begins with a character in a situation, and having to face the challenge of understanding who they are and why they are in that particular situation. Then I go on to talk about the prewriting phase of the book, what I call the “cooking” phase, where I carry the story around in my head, working it the way you’d knead dough, until I understand the major pieces of my plot: who was killed, where they were killed, how they were killed, why they were killed, who did it, who might have done it or might have wanted to do it, who will be the holders/divulgers of essential information, and how my protagonist is the right person to solve that crime.
When I’m writing about my cops solving a crime, I very often use the analogy of putting together the puzzle–finding all the pieces, building the frame, and finally finding a way to put all of those pieces together. I also use the image of the old paint-by-number set. (I don’t know if they have those anymore.) The detective will fill in dabs of this color and that, and gradually, a picture of what really happens will emerge. This one is good because it ties into something quite essential about detective work–that it requires the detective to use his or her imagination, along with the gathered facts and knowledge of the parties, to come to an understanding of what probably happened.”

Barb Ross: “I use E. L. Doctorow’s quote all the time, ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ Because that’s how writing feels to ME.
When I’m trying to describe it to other people, I used to go with the whole pottery metaphor. First you make the clay (first draft) and then you make the pot. But lately, watching my sister-in-law who works in a high-end knitting store, I’ve gone much more with the first draft being like spinning the yarn and the rest being like knitting. I remember as a child watching my mother knitting argyle socks, with all the little spools of color. Somehow, it has to come out with both a pattern AND a shape. And, sometimes you have to rip out rows and rows to get back to the mistake and knit that part over.”

Kate Flora: (once again)…“I often use a different knitting analogy which also brings in my legal background–that writing a mystery, like writing a brief, is like knitting a complex pattern with several colors of yarn, and having to carry one strand in the back while you work on a different part of the pattern, then bringing it forward again. I’m awful at knitting. Was reasonably good at writing briefs, and am grateful that the ripping out and rewrite doesn’t involve actual stitches.”

Paul Doiron: “’Writing a crime novel is like playing a piece of music written for the cello.’ So says Yo-Yo Ma. I know absolutely nothing about classical music and cannot even carry a tune, but I’m reading a book called Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, and I was taken by his chapter on Yo-Yo Ma’s creative process. ‘Perfection is not very communicative,’ says Ma. ‘If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing. You will have missed the point of making music, which is to make people feel something.’
Ma then describes how the search for emotion shapes his performance. ‘I always look at a piece of music like a detective novel,’ he says. ‘Maybe the novel is about a murder. Well, who committed the murder? Why did he do it? My job is to retrace the story so that the audience feels the suspense. So that when the climax comes, they’re right there with me, listening to my beautiful detective story. It’s all about making people care what happens next.’
“Of course, all of us on the MCW blog actually write detective stories, but it’s intriguing to think of ourselves in the reverse way. Aren’t we all musicians, too? When we write, aren’t we’re on stage, performing, trying to connect? We want our audience to feel something. I love Ma’s line about not worrying making a mistake. I, too, try to cultivate a certain recklessness in my work because I want my readers to feel emotions when they immerse themselves in my novels. I’d rather take big chances and fail than write neat little books that are safely structured, carefully conceived from beginning to end—and instantly forgotten as soon as the reader finishes the last page.”

Okay, Jan again: Wow, did I learn a lot here, sharper minds than mine have created some fantastic visuals to explain what we do. I’ve never really been able to explain it myself. I do know that most of the time, I “hear people in my head talking,” and somehow that translates into something I think is going to be a story or a book. Often it’s one or two or three people arguing about something and I have to find out who or why and how come? I also know that I can’t outline a book before I start. If I do, then I lose the “flavor or juice” and it becomes boring. I do sometimes sort of think about and write notes about upcoming chapters after I get about halfway into the book. But not always.

And back to my opening of where do I get ideas: On Friday night before my signing on Saturday, I was sitting on my sofa watching television. Suddenly I heard a very loud report that sounded to me like a gunshot. I don’t know much about guns but this had that deep-throated ka-pow like a heavy caliber weapon. I checked the time, 10:55. After about a 10 second debate with the cats, I called 911 and reported what I heard. The shot sounded like it came west of my house, maybe a block or less away. County Sheriff’s dispatch said they’d check it out and did I want to officer to report to me. I said, only if necessary.

I didn’t want some bad guy finding out where I lived if the officer came to my house. Nothing happened until shortly after midnight. There were four or five more shots, sounding a lot like a gun battle or something. I turned off the TV, living room lights, got the cats, went back to my bedroom, turned off that lamp and dialed 911 again. Dispatch said, it’s not gun fire, ma’am, it’s fireworks. I said, are you sure? And she said, yes ma’am. My officer is on the scene and she says it’s fireworks.

Okay, it was the Friday before Memorial Day and you’re not supposed to set off fireworks inside city limits. And honestly this did not sound like fireworks, but if you think this won’t wind up in a story or a book, then think again. Picture a little ol’ lady huddled in her bedroom, with two cats counting gunshots and dialing 911. And as my daughter said when I told her the story, yeah, and the killer disguised his gunshots with the noise of the fireworks.

And people wonder where we get ideas. They are all around us, everywhere. When you need one just pull one out of the air.

My gratitude to Maine Crime Writers for the use of their material

26 September 2011

From 375 SQ Feet in 180 Days or Less

by Jan Grape

I’ll admit I was reasonably happy living in my 30 ft. 5th wheel RV with my two 14 year old cats, Nick and Nora, when my daughter, Karla, said she wanted to buy me a house. “Buy me a house?” said I. “I barely have energy enough to clean this trailer, how the heck will I be able to keep a house clean?”

“But, Mom. Just think how awesome it will be to live in a nice house, decorated with plants and nice pictures and nice furniture. You can have a real bathroom without dealing with emptying the black water tank. You won’t have to worry if your propane tank is going to run empty in the middle of the week-end and a Blue Norther is swooping down from Amarillo. You can have a washer and dryer and not have to use the laundromat at the RV park."

“Hmm.” She did make it sound enticing. Except all I could think of was vacuuming, mopping and dusting all that knick-knack sh** that I knew she wanted to decorate with to make the house look awesome. “But a house, a whole house. I’m just not sure.”

“Okay,” she said, “but you think about it and I’m flying down there next week and we’ll look around.”

My daughter came down from Nashville, where she lives, to Central Texas where I was happy as a lark in my RV and guess what? We found a great house, she and her hubby bought it and I moved in the last week in August. And I love it. Three bedrooms, two baths, a fire place, a bay window and a kitchen island. It’s decorated with plants, super pictures, positive sayings, and all that knick-knack stuff that make a place warm and awesome.

My late husband, Elmer and I had semi-retired in 1990, then decided to open a mystery bookstore. Mysteries and More was a wonderful store, and we featured our local Austin and Texas area mystery writers. Mysteries, because that was my first love and I was also writing mysteries.

In 1999, Elmer and I decided to retire and follow our dream of traveling the west and southwest so we sold-out the bookstore, bought a 5th wheel and took off for New Mexico and points west. We spent three summers traveling and coming back to Austin to our house, then decided to give up the house and live in the RV full time. We enjoyed every minute of it and so did Nick and Nora, who you might suspect were named after The Thin Man’s Nick and Nora Charles.

I’d penned a Private Eye novel in the mid-eighties but it wasn’t good enough to be published although I did get close a couple of times. In the late-eighties I published a couple of short stories in a small subscription magazine that paid in copies. I was writing a column for Mystery Scene magazine, did interviews and wrote book reviews. Soon I began selling stories to Ed Gorman, Marty Greenberg and Bob Randisi for anthologies. The ones for Ed and Marty were for theme anthologies; the Cat Crime Series, holidays like Christmas and Mother’s Day, White House Pets, etc. For Bob Randisi who founded Private Eye Writer’s of America: stories for Deadly Allies and Lethal Ladies. In 1998, I won an Anthony for Best Short Story, “A Front Row Seat,” in the Vengeance is Hers anthology, which was also nominated for a Shamus award.

Dean James and I co-edited Deadly Women which had articles, interviews and stories by and about women mystery authors. We were nominated for an Edgar, an Agatha and a macavity. We won the macavity, given by Mystery Reader’s International.

I sold my first mystery novel in 2000, titled Austin City Blue, featuring Zoe Barrow an Austin policewoman. It was nominated for an Anthony for Best First Novel. The second Zoe Barrow, Dark Blue Death came out in 2005, and in 2002, Five Star, my publisher, released a collection of my short stories titled, Found Dead In Texas.

Last September, my third mystery, What Doesn’t Kill You, a non-series book was published by Five Star.

In 2009, R. Barri Flowers and I co-edited, ACWL Presents: Murder Past, Murder Present, an anthology of stories written by members of the American Crime Writer’s League, published by Twilight Times. In April, 2012 our second anthology, Murder Here, Murder There will be released by Twilight Times. I have a short story in both.

“What does this all have to do with my moving?” you ask. For one thing, I now have a room that is going to be a real office. With “Going To Be” being the operative phrase here. After living in an RV for over nine years, I had accumulated more books, tablets, pens, reams of paper, etc., than you could imagine and now I’m slowly, very slowly trying to get the “office” set up.

This entailed getting internet access, which isn’t always easy or affordable in the TX Hill Country, getting my old computers set up and operational. It’s just NOT that easy for a person who has the cyber-technology skills of a horned toad to do.

However, having said, all that I’m delighted to be joining my fellow writers in this great new blogging adventure and look forward to seeing each of you readers every other Monday. My writing partner is Fran Rizer and I certainly expect her to keep me in line, online and on time. So y’all come back now, you hear?