Over My Dead Body

On May 1, the second Father Frank Mystery, Over My Dead Body, is scheduled to release.  So, today, I’m going to preview chapter 1.  Let me know what you think.


Chapter 1

Syd snorted and thrust his chin toward his adversary. “Over my dead body.”

The man almost smiled. “If you insist,” he said easily.

Seventy-two year old Syd Cranzler squinted against the bright Texas October sun and scrutinized the well-dressed man in front of him. Syd was probably six inches shorter than the man, but Syd’s voice had more iron in it. “Was that a threat?”

“No sir, Mr. Cranzler,” Duke Heinz said.

Syd didn’t like this city slicker, wouldn’t have even if he weren’t trying to steal Syd’s homestead. Even Duke’s clothes irritated him. The conservative black pinstriped suit, power-red tie and black wing-tips polished to perfection made the man look like he was posing for a magazine picture in New York City. And what was this “Duke” bit? Did he think he was John Wayne? “Why don’t you just mosey on down the road a mile?” He jerked his hand up and pointed. “Lots of land there.”

They stood on pine needles under three towering trees. Forty feet behind them was Syd’s small, frame house, looking like a giant, square tumbleweed.

Bud Wilcox, Pine Tree’s City Manager pushed his straw hat back a little and took a step forward. “Syd, Pine Tree wants this shopping center here, inside the city limits. Think of all the tax revenue we’ll get.”

“So’s you can waste even more’n you do now? It ain’t your house and land, Pipsqueak”

Bud reddened at the nickname Syd often used on him, but kept his mouth shut.

A mud-caked ‘92 Camaro rattled to a stop half off the black-top road. A man got out and started across the yard to where Syd was shaking his finger at Bud.

Duke started to speak, but Syd cut him off. “And don’t tell me again it’s twice what it’s worth. You don’t know what it’s worth to me. And what’s this ‘fee simple’ bit?” He cocked his head to the side. “You think I’m simple? Take your money and go back to Jersey.”

Bud waggled his balding head. “It’s a lot of dollars.”

“He don’t need your money,” said the man from the Camaro. “He stole enough from me.”

“Stay out of it, W.C.,” Syd snapped. But his focus never left Duke. “You keep your money; I’ll keep my land.”

Duke spread his hands. “Mr. Cranzler, the Supreme Court says eminent domain can be used to obtain land needed for a project in the public interest.”

“I know all ‘bout the Supreme Court, and how they trampled all over people’s property rights. I’d like to see some private company try to take the land they live on. They’d change their tune right fast. But that case was decided for a Yankee town. This is Texas. We still believe in property rights down here. And this ain’t in the public interest. It’s in Lockey Corporation’s interest.”

Duke smiled as he pulled a folded paper from the inside pocket of his coat. “Here’s the court order, and it’s signed by a judge right here in Texas.” He held the paper out to Syd.

Syd ignored it. “Judge McFatage, right? He’d sign anything for a price.”

Bud Wilcox leaned in. “Now, Syd, you shouldn’t talk about the Honorable McFatage that way.”

“Honorable, my foot. He’s for sale. Common knowledge. You know what they say: he’s the best judge money can buy. And it looks like Lockey’s the buyer.”

“Look, Mr. Cranzler,” Duke said. “We’re going to start dirt work in three weeks. I’d like to have all the paperwork in order by then. You’ve lost this fight. You might as well recognize that. You can delay signing. But by fighting this, you may end up getting less money and paying a lot of it to lawyers. You can’t stop it. This project will be built. And it starts in three weeks.”

“Three weeks?” Syd pulled on his chin and a sly grin crept onto his leathery face. “I’m bettin’ my lawyer’ll have my appeal filed before then. And I’m thinkin’ I can tie this up for years. You sure Lockey wants to wait that long?” His head bobbed up and down as he continued. “Be a lot faster to go somewheres else.” Now he laughed. “Bet they’re gonna cut you loose when this don’t happen. Can your butt.”

Duke’s smile faded and his eyes turned hard. “Two months from now, this will all be asphalt.”

“Like I said, over my dead body.”

Duke put the paper back in his pocket. “Old man, you’ll hardly make a bump in the pavement.”

 End of Chapter 1

 Jim:  Let me know if you think this works as an opening.  Thanks.

What’s in a Name?

Today, we have a guest blog from Joyce Brown, who says she ownsBrown - Joyce rental properties, but none of her tenants have (so far) been involved in theft, kidnapping, or murder.  Still she finds ideas for her Psycho Car and the Landlady Mystery series. Today, she talks about naming characters.

Nicholas Nickleby, Tom Sawyer, Anna Karenina, Jane Eyre—people remember those fictional characters’ names because they are also the titles of books. Names from books that were made into movies—James Bond, Jack Ryan, Scarlett O’Hara, Scout—are memorable because we see the movies over and over, and the characters are referenced again and again.

What character names do people remember from books that have not become movies or book titles? Or do they remember the names? Are the names of some book characters memorable because the names are distinctive, or do people remember monikers only if they’ve seen them often?

I did a little casual research by asking my friends what character names they remember. Men remembered the names of male characters, especially those from books that are also movies. Women tended to remember the names of female characters. They also came up with the names of characters from children’s books, having been reminded from reading books to their children and grandchildren.

The names these people remembered weren’t necessarily unusual; rather, the characters were exciting and special. No one came up with a long list of names. They were more likely to say something like, “Oh, you know, the main gal in Gone Girl. What was her name? “

So—are authors wise to be creative when choosing character names? Scout is unusual, as are Sherlock and Huckleberry, and there’s Goldie, the name of Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary sleuth. Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt—well, both the author’s pen name and the name of the author’s super investigator are out of the ordinary. My question is: would those characters be just as memorable with names like Kinsey (Sue Grafton’s sleuth), Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy (from Little Women), or Harry ( of Harry Potter fame)?

I remember some characters’ names (mostly female) because I’ve read a whole series with the same main character—Kinsey Milhone, Goldie Schultz, Stephanie Plum, Bilbo Baggins, Henry Huggins. The main character in the book Delicious is Wilhelmina, nicknamed Billie. I loved the character, and her name is fresh in my memory because I recently read the book, and the author made so much of the name. But, a year from now, will I remember the name or just the attributes of the character? James R. Callan’s Father Frank is a wonderful character, one I remember vividly. Nevertheless, even though I know the character is a caring, charismatic, basketball-playing priest who solves mysteries, I had to look back in the book to remember the name Frank.

An author should use common sense and follow the rules. Use names appropriate for the character’s age, unless you are going for a name appropriate for the headmaster of the wizard school, Hogwarts, in which case Aldus Dumbledore works, or for the name of a small, slimy creature in a fantasy series, where Gollum is perfect.

brown - CATastrophic Connections Cover-cDon’t give important characters names which are too similar. That could be disastrous. In one draft of my mystery, CATastrophic Connections, I realized I had a Libby, an Abby, and a Liz. No problem, right? Make a global change—Find and Replace All—with new names.  However, when I changed Liz to Lisa, I didn’t leave a space before and after Liz. The liz in every word containing those contingent letters changed to lisa. Civilize became civilisa, and realized changed to realisaed.

To add to the calamity, I accidentally changed Abby to Beth when I wanted Libby to become Beth. When I went back and made my intended change, I ended up with two characters having the same name. After hours and hours of manually changing the mistakes, the first publication of the book still contained two Beth which should have been Abby. Mistakes my editor didn’t find. Drat. Learning curves can be painful.

Most of the characters of my second book, FURtive Investigation, have had unusual names from the beginning, and I didn’t change them. Lesson learned. The title, on the other hand…

What book character names do you remember without looking them up? Why? How do you choose the names for characters in your stories and books? Are there any characters you would have given a different name?

JIM:  Thanks for some interesting thoughts on naming.  I devote a chapter to the selection of names for characters in my book Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel (the 2nd edition now in Kindle as well as paperback).   I certainly believe names are important.

Joyce Ann Brown’s book can be found on Amazon by clicking here.  I’ve read it and can recommend it.

Where the Bayous Meet the Mountains

Today, we are visiting with Marian Merritt, an author from Louisiana, currently living in Colorado, who likesmerritt to mix the two areas in her novels. Her new book, Vigil, releases TODAY. But, she had time for an interview.

Jim: Tell us a little about your latest release, The Vigil that releases today!

Marian: Like all my stories, there is a Louisiana/Colorado connection. The connection in The Vigil is subtle and happens near the end. The story is set in the fictional town of Bijou Bayou in south Louisiana. Here’s the book blurb:

merrit-cover Cheryl Broussard made two vows: She’d never fall for an abusive man, and she’d never return to her Louisiana hometown. But she’s learned all too well the lesson of never-say-never. Now, back in Bijou Bayou after fleeing from an abusive boyfriend, Cheryl finds work as a Hospice nurse. While reading a dying patient’s Korean War love letters, family secrets shatter Cheryl’s beliefs about her family and herself and shed light on the reason she fled her hometown. When the Broussard family secrets are revealed, can Cheryl deal with the truth and accept the blessing of a second chance for relationships with her family, old friends, and with the God she never really knew?

Jim: If you weren’t a writer, what would be another dream job?

Marian: I think I’d like to be an architect. I love pouring over floor plans and designing functional ideas for new houses. If only in my dreams! I also do the same when I’m working on a book.

Jim: What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing? Hobbies, etc.?

Marian: I enjoy motorcycle and four-wheeler riding in the mountains (summer time only). I also enjoy gardening, photographing, and exploring the benefits of Essential oils.

Jim: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Marian: Many times the characters seem to go off in a direction that’s surprising. At that point I have to get to know that character a little better. I usually do an extensive Character Interview before I start writing, but sometimes I get a little surprise!

Jim: Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

Marian: Yes, I do read my reviews. I feel if someone took the time to write something about my book then I should read it. But I do not respond to them—good or bad. It’s the person’s opinion and they’re entitled to it. If it’s a blatant error and they’ve reviewed the wrong book, I may respond. Otherwise, I won’t.

Jim: Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before and is it a place you’d set a story?

Marian: I’d love to visit the south of France and yes, maybe set a story in the Provence Region one day.

Jim: Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?

Marian: Growing up “at the end of the road on the bayou” gave me a lot of free time alone. Books became my gateway to new and fascinating worlds and people. It was a way to travel for this Cajun girl. So I read voraciously. Making the leap to writer was a natural progression. If I can do for one young woman, what the authors of my childhood did for me then I’ve succeeded.

Jim: What can we expect from you in the future?

Marian: I’m currently working on three books.

A Women’s Fiction set in Mandeville, Louisiana and Tuscany Italy tentatively titled, Four Weeks in Tuscany.
A Christmas Novella set in Cavazzale, Italy – The Christmas Bells of Cavazzale

A Women’s Fiction, The Moon Has no Light. The story is set in Louisiana and takes the reader to Colorado. Two mothers. One son. Can the adopted son of one woman be the abducted son of another?

Look for it Summer 2015.

Jim, thank you for having me here on The Author’s Blog!

Jim: To get an idea of the setting in the Vigil and to get recipes from the book visit the Pinterest board she set up while working on the book.
Pinterest Board.
To buy this just released book, Click here.

And give us a “like” or a “share” by just a click of the buttons below. Thanks.


Last week, something went terribly wrong with my blog site.  And it took me several days to find the problem and correct it.  As a result, Stephen’s blog was not available when it should have been.  So, to make it up to Stephen, I’m leaving his blog up for a bit longer.  We’ll get back on our regular schedule next Friday with an interview with Marian Merritt, who will tell us a little about her Louisiana & Colorado connection.  Be sure to stop by.  Thanks.  And now for Stephen.


Today’s post is from Stephen L. Brayton, who lives in Iowa and Braytonowns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy (so, don’t mess with him).  He has been writing since grade school and he has written many things from comic books to horror and mystery. He fiction works now are mysteries.  Here’s Stephen’s take on THE LETTER.

Unless you’re one of those authors who, by some miracle, had a manuscript accepted by the first publisher you contacted, (and, by the way, if you are one of those people, the rest of us want to smack you), you’ve received the dread rejection letter.

They come in a variety of forms. From the standard: “This does not meet our needs.” to: “Thank you for your query, but I think I’ll pass.” One author told me she received the first page of her manuscript (back when the majority of publishers wanted snail mail) with the word NO written at the top. Nothing else, just NO. I received a letter that tried to let me down in a nice way by saying I shouldn’t consider it a rejection but as an opening for somebody else to accept. Uh, no, it was a rejection.

Brayton - cover I’ve had rejections show up two years later after the book was already published by someone else. It would have been interesting to see that be a letter of acceptance. The record for shortest duration between query and rejection was about thirty minutes. I emailed a query at 9:45 in the evening and by 10:15 I had the rejection. So much for the trite phrase also often seen: “We have carefully reviewed your material but have decided…”

I’ve kept every rejection letter. I printed the email rejections and they and the rest are bundled up with rubber bands. I have a large collection. I keep them to remind me to stay focused and determined and motivated.

I know, you hear how J.K. Rowling was rejected scores of times before she made it big. Dr. Seuss was rejected 27 times before being accepted. Others who have been rejected multiple times:

Stephen King (“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”)

John le Carre (“You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.”)

Tony Hillerman (“Get rid of all that Indian stuff.”)

William Faulkner (“Good God, I can’t publish this!”)

Rudyard Kipling (“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”)

For a list of others go here: http://www.examiner.com/article/30-famous-authors-whose-works-were-rejected-repeatedly-and-sometimes-rudely-by-publishers

JIM:  Anybody out there have a good story to tell on getting a rejection letter?  I also had one of those that arrived two years after the book was published by another publisher.  Oh well.  Tell us your story – please.

Alpha,  one of Stephen’s mysteries, features Mallory Petersen, a Fourth Degree Black Belt detective.  It can be purchased at: http://www.amazon.com/Alpha-Stephen-L-Brayton/dp/1610091159/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420699752&sr=8-1&keywords=alpha%2C+brayton

Pickles and Ice Cream?


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Today’s guest blogger is Elaine Faber. She lives in northern California with her husband and multiple feline companions (naturally). She is a member of Sisters in Crime, California Cat Writers, and Inspire Christian Writers where she serves as an editor … Continue reading

4 Tips All Writers Can Use


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Today, Jennifer Slattery is offering four tips that all writers can use.  Jennifer writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers.  Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, was released last summer and her latest, When Dawn Breaks, released in December. Here’s Jennifer’s tips. … Continue reading

Add Suspense – in Chapter 1


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 Today, Stephanie Pritchard talks about creating suspense in a novel.  I just finished reading her book Stranded: A Novel.  She’s knows about suspense. So take a look at what she has to say about it here.  And leave a comment for … Continue reading

Yangtze: Beauty and economic value join forces

The Yangtze River

The three Gorges Project on China’s Yangtze River is the largest hydro-electric project in the world, in terms of installed capacity.  Appropriate for the country with the largest population in the world.

 Fully operational in 2009, fourteen years20141022_195210 after start-up, the dam now backs up as much as 32 million acre feet of water.  But to create such a reservoir, it was necessary to relocate over 1.3 million people.  When filled, it flooded about 244 square miles.

 To kimberly-7 copynegotiate the 360 feet difference between the downstream river and the upstream river, a system of five gigantic locks were built for each direction.  These allow for multiple ships to move upriver at the same time multiple ships are moving downriver.  Each ship will require approximately four hours to pass through kimberly-5a copyall five locks.


 To help speed things up, a ship lift has been built which will cut the time to traverse between the two levels to about thirty-seven minutes.  However, the elevator will handle only ships with gross weights between one thousand tons and three thousand tons. Of course, the elevator also has to haul the water necessary to float a three thousand ton vessel.  Impressive.  At the time we were there, the elevator was complete but had not been put into operation. 

 20141024_044827aNow, five years after completion of the Three Gorges Project, several million Chinese live on the banks of this fourth longest river in the world. In some area, hundreds of twenty-five to thirty-five story apartment and condo buildings line the banks.  Huge bridges tower over the waterway with amazing frequency. Unfortunately, even on the Yangtze, pollution is a serious problem.

 The scenery through these gorges is spectacular. Sheer kimberly-3cliffs cascade to the water, sometimes allowing a narrow road to pass; sometimes not. As you float along, ancient pagodas high on the mountains are highlighted against the sky. And while modern architecture can be seen from almost any point on the river, the influence of ancient China is evident everywhere.

 pagoda on YangtzeOur four days on the Yangtze River were a constant exposure to nature’s grandeur and beauty. As visitors, we could ignore the tremendous economic value of this section of river.  But the striking beauty and the closeness to ancient China made this yet another highlight of our visit to China.

Please leave me a comment on China and the Yangtze, and “like” or “share” this post.  Thank you.

Jim Callan