Sunday, January 25, 2009

Research Begets Hobby

The fun of research for me is learning new facts, finding new layers to use in my stories and discovering new interests. My research about the Underground Railroad for my April release, The Innkeeper: An Unregistered Death, included field trips to Graue Mill and John Hossack’s home and the courthouse in Ottawa, Illinois.

The research also uncovered escape routes, disguises and ‘stations’ or hiding places, along the journey to freedom. One method used to signal to freedom seekers hiding in the woods or field if it was safe to approach the house, was a quilt thrown over the railing. The pattern on the quilt might indicate safety or give directions to the next station.

I became curious about so many of the patterns and meanings spending hours pouring over books and patterns. Next, I became obsessed with creating an Underground Railroad quilt to raffle off at my book launch in April. But I wanted to keep one to display at signings and libraries and well, just to have.

You see where this is going. I have convinced my friend that we need to make small quilts. I found on a digest I read. We begin this afternoon. My friend has lots of fabric squares; I’m bringing the wine.

Has anyone else succumbed to the lure of research? Be careful what you research. It could become your next hobby or money pit!

Luisa Buehler

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What (Historical Fiction) Are You Reading?

I have always loved history, to the point that it became my college major. Given this bent, I suppose it's not surprising that I chose to write historical fiction, albeit in the murder mystery genre.

My Steve "Snap" Malek books from Echelon Press are set in the Chicago of the 1930s and '40s--hardly ancient history, but history nonetheless. My own fiction reading has included the historical novels of several authors, including E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime," "Billy Bathgate," "World's Fair") and Max Allan Collins ("True Detective," "Stolen Away" and "Black Hats" among others). I like the way these writers intertwine historical and fictional characters and events in their work, and I have aimed to do the same in my Malek books, infusing the stories with major historical events and real people who were part of Chicago's rich past.

What historical novels, mystery or otherwise, do you recommend? I would like to hear your choices, and for the individual who writes the most compelling short review (75 words or less), I'll send you a copy of my first Snap Malek novel, "Three Strikes You're Dead," set in Chicago in 1938. Let me hear from you!

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Red Wigglers

“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle in your snout!”

You know how when you ask your husband, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” He is supposed to answer, “Nothing, sweetheart. I have everything I want with you.”

Okay, maybe it’s not that exact dialog.

This year I said, “Honey, what do you want for Christmas?” He said, “Red Wigglers.”

My expression must have been priceless. He quickly added, “Worms, they’re red worms.”

Oh, I felt so much better.

You know how they tell you don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to. I’m beginning to understand. Well he asked for worms—that’s all the guy wanted. Well, not exactly. The worms need a house, a worm pagoda. And they need bedding; coir is the best.

I know all this because he’s been on line researching worms. My son and I thought he was researching sites for rescue dogs. We wanted a Border Collie mix for Christmas.

I mean how do you pet 2,000 baby worms?

The pagoda came (unassembled). At least we didn’t need to wait until he went to bed Christmas Eve to assemble it. In fact, it arrived when he was home so he assembled it and prepared it with coir and shredded newspaper.

The big day came last Tuesday when the little darlings arrived via the FedEx stork. My husband carefully handled the little ones from their paper sack to their new home. Did I mention the pagoda is on a table in the spare bedroom which Gerry uses as an office? He wanted them close by so he could chat with them while he worked on paperwork, or so he could shout out (worms don’t hear well) bits of news from the internet.

My son thinks his dad is going around the bend and needs a dog. “Disrespectful, ingrate,” my husband said. “If government funding decreases for college loans, these beauties might put you through college.

Who knew about the huge market for worm castings and worm pee?

Gardeners clamor for the stuff—worms can’t poop and pee fast enough!

Write to me if your spouse surprised you this Christmas with a new hobby. I’d love to know who else won’t be asking, “Honey, what do you want for your birthday?”

Luisa Buehler

Thursday, January 8, 2009

When a Story's Too Good to Be True...

We fiction writers have enough trouble as it is trying to elbow into an already crowded marketplace. It's not enough that seemingly dozens of new novels of all genres come out every week, and each of us tries to find ways of standing out from the crowd. Now we also have to compete with writers of memoirs, those supposedly factual accounts of interesting and dramatic lives. These days, it seems that memoir writers aren't about to let facts stand in the way of a good story.

The most recent case of memoir-as-fiction is that of Herman Rosenblat, a 78-year-old holocaust survivor whose "Angel at the Fence" was scheduled for February publication. It tells how Rosenblat, a teenager in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II, developed a friendship with a girl living near the camp who smuggled him food over the fence. Years later in New York, he had a blind date with a woman who was, yes... that same girl...and they married.

Great story, except not true. Skeptics started punching holes in it, including the fact that the girl never lived near that particular camp. After the house of cards fell in on Rosenblat, the publisher canceled the memoir. This is not an isolated case.

James Frey's 2005 memoir, "A Million Little Pieces," turned out to be less-than-factual. And last year's "Love and Consequences," by Margaret B. Jones, the memoir of a mixed-race girl growing up in South Central Los Angeles as a foster child running drugs and hanging out with gang-bangers, was total fiction. The author: real name, Margaret Seltzer, is white, grew up in the upscale Sherman Oaks neighborhood of L.A., and attended a private day school. She has since confessed the book was a fabrication.

Cut it out now, memoir writers! You're giving fiction a bad name. Leave it to us to come up with bizarre characters, convoluted plots, and improbable denouements. It's what we do.

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New Year's Day Tradition

Most people commit to resolutions written down or wished for in the New Year. Most people have a plan, a program on how to follow through.

Not disciplined enough to exercise—hire a personal trainer.

No time, lots of guilt over housekeeping—hire a cleaning lady.

Yearning for a higher level of spirituality—join a Bible study group.

There are as many ways to insure a successful resolution as there are resolutions.

My personal approach is steeped in maternal tradition and Italian superstition.

My mother would ring in the New Year with a tradition that I have carried forward into my adult life. I don’t know if her mother passed if on to her. I never asked just followed her lead. My husband and son know the drill all too well.

On New Year’s Day, I insist that we do a little bit of everything we’re hoping for in the New Year. A sort of passing it forward blessing on our lives. Upon waking my day is filled with a bit of this and a bit of that until I make myself a bit nutty.

One of the things I insist on for my family is that they wear something new, never wore before, on that day; this signifies they’ll have new clothes in the New Year. The article of clothing has been anything from new handkerchiefs to a belt to new socks. It doesn’t have to be a big ticket item it only has to be new.

How does this shake out during the day?

organize a drawer to lessen of clutter in my life;
or those with less;

clean a room to insure a modicum of good housekeeping all year;

read a little to insure there’s always time to enjoy a good book;

work on my WIP because I can’t not write every day;

write a check to a favorite charity because we can;

attend Mass—who can’t use more God time;

cook a big meal as a harbinger of plenty;

go for a walk as a metaphor for healthy activity;

visit with a friend to promote strong friendships;

talk with my family to keep us in touch;

glance over some business stuff to encourage prosperity;

finally get a good night’s sleep to promote good health.

What does this mean throughout the year? Usually means I don’t join a health club, don’t hire a cleaning lady, don’t join a Bible study group.

Does it work? The process helps me achieve a positive transition into the New Year.

Why do it? As the fiddler on the roof would say, Tradition!

And if you like this tradition wait till LaBefana arrives!

Anyone else have a quirky way to welcome the New Year? I'd love to hear it.

Luisa Buehler