MARIKO TATSUMOTO – Romance – Thriller – Historical

Piano-playing, multi-award-winning author Mariko Tatsumoto immigrated to the U.S. from Japan with her family when she was eight. She was detoured from her passion of books by becoming the first Asian woman lawyer in Colorado. But like a pebble in a shoe, she couldn’t let go of her childhood dream and began writing novels. She lives in a small town in the Rocky Mountains, where she’s often found outdoors.

She is a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Authors League, Historical Novel Society, and Romance Writers of America.

What is your latest book? BLOSSOMS ON A POISONED SEA is a thrilling coming-of-age romance based on the actual events of one of history’s most shocking industrial mercury poisoning disasters and corporate coverups that inspired Johnny Depp’s film Minamata. Two young people must fight a powerful corporation and the government to save their townspeople from a horrific neurological disease.

What made you write it? I recalled my mother showing me photojournalist W. Eugene Smith’s pictures of Minamata Disease victims in Life Magazine when I was young and wondered whatever happened to those people. I was horrified to learn there was no cure, and they kept suffering. I had to tell the world about the tragedy, which led to years of research. Ultimately, I decided to tell the story through two fictional characters.

What is it about? Yuki is the daughter of a poor fisherman. Kiyo is the son of a senior executive at Chisso. In 1956, they become friends, then gradually fell in love. But then all living things in the once beautiful Minamata Bay suddenly die. The impoverished people living around it begin suffering from a terrifying disease that causes agonizing pain, paralysis, and death … including Yuki’s family. As the sole wage earner, Yuki is reduced to low-paying, backbreaking work as a laborer and then as a housekeeper.

The city dwellers turn their backs on the dying fisherfolk. The corporation stonewalls, denying culpability. As the suffering spreads, Kiyo helps researchers find answers to the devastating neurological disease. But they’re blocked by the government and the corporate-influenced media.

Together, Yuki and Kiyo must fight the Japanese government and a powerful and ruthless corporation to save her family and the Bay.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I published several middle-grade and Young Adult novels before turning to adult fiction. Without planning to do so, my books turned out to be primarily historical set in Japan or with Japanese protagonists, and often based on actual events:

AYUMI’S VIOLIN – set in 1959, drawing from my immigration experience
ACCIDENTAL SAMURAI SPY – set in 1868, inspired by the bloody political warfare to unify Japan under one rule
SWEPT AWAY – set in 2011, recounting the devastating tsunami in Japan
KIDNAPPED AT THE ICEFALL – contemporary novella set in Colorado
BLOSSOMS ON A POISONED SEA – set in the late 1950s in Minamata, Japan

I’ve also written two nonfictions: The Colorado Bed and Breakfast Guide and How To Write A Middle-Grade Book Kids Will Love

What kind of research do you do? Because my books are often based on actual events, I spend months or years studying the incidents, history, culture, politics, styles, and fashion around that time. This involves reading books and Internet sites and watching videos and movies made around that time. I sometimes need to learn a new sport. In Swept Away, I had to study sumo wrestling in order to write the lifestyle the protagonist must endure at a sumo training center. In Accidental Samurai Spy, I needed to learn the principles, techniques, and styles of sword fighting. A climber friend showed me the ropes of rock and ice climbing for Kidnapped at the Icefall. These sports were fascinating to learn.

What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Despite painstaking hours of research, gaps in historical records pose challenges. In those instances, it may mean revising a part of the plot or a scene. I exercise creative license but try to maintain authenticity the best I can.

Going back in time half a century or more means that information at the time was all in print. If the place or incident is not well known, not many articles or books may have been written about it.

Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I often kill a likable character in a book. Sometimes several. These events force the protagonist to rethink life, learn, and make changes they would never have made. Readers remember and tell friends of these memorable moments. Shocking scenes stay with them, which is what writers want.

What are you currently working on? It’s another history fiction set in a World War II internment camp where Japanese Americans were incarcerated. Mine is different from other books written about the imprisonment because the subject matters I delve into were too shameful for the internees to have disclosed. That’s the part I like.

marikotatsumoto.com
marikotatsumoto@gmail.com
Instagram: @marikotatsumotoauthor
FB: MarikoTatsumotoAuthor
Twitter (X): @MarikoTatsumoto

7 Comments

  1. Ella

    Very interesting interview. It’s been a few weeks since I finished reading Blossoms on a Poisoned Sea and I’m still in awe of the author’s ability to create in words, an entire Japanese community with its multi-layered social strata and passionate controversies. The story and writing were so moving I’ve thought about the main characters as though they’re people I once knew. I’d highly recommend the book – it could support some lively book club and classroom discussion. As it’s based on a true story of dark choices for financial gain that resulted in an environmental disaster, reflection on the situation and outcome are highly pertinent to issues we face right now.

    Reply
    • Mariko Tatsumoto

      Thank you, Ella! Such wonderful words to keep me writing!

      Reply
  2. Mariko Tatsumoto

    Thank you, Michael. I hope you have a chance to read it and find it fascinating!

    Reply
  3. Susan

    George Cramer–thank you for interviewing Mariko–have heard her play the piano and loved it–will now buy her book too!
    And Thank you George for your enjoyable newsletter–love your life story, appreciate your tenacity (I grew up on a dozen different Indian reservations–parents worked Indian Public Health Service). Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Mariko Tatsumoto

      Thank you, Susan for supporting my writing! I wonder where you heard me play the piano.

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      Susan, Thanks for your comments about Mariko and the blog.

      Reply
  4. Michael A .Black

    Congratulations on your book, Mariko. It sounds fascinating. Your book about the interment camps sounds equally fascinating. A few years back I had a Japanese woman in my Writing a Memoir class who had been a small child in one of those camps. Her recollections were gut-wrenching. I wish you much success. Good luck.

    Reply

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ALICE FITZPATRICK — Meredith Island: Fact or Fiction?

Alice Fitzpatrick has contributed short stories to literary magazines and anthologies and recently retired from teaching in order to devote herself to writing full-time. She is a fearless champion of singing, cats, all things Welsh, and the Oxford comma. Her summers spent with her Welsh family in Pembrokeshire inspired the creation of the Meredith Island Mysteries series. Secrets in the Water is the first book in the series. Alice lives in Toronto but dreams of a cottage on the Welsh coast.

People who read the early drafts of Secrets in the Water often searched the internet for my Welsh island setting, expressing surprise when they couldn’t find it. Even though I insisted it came from my imagination, they weren’t entirely convinced. So, is Meredith Island fact or fiction? The truth is it’s a bit of both.

When I decided to write a traditional British mystery series, I wanted an isolated location. An island was perfect since I’ve always lived near large bodies of water and love the sea. While I feared using an actual location would involve endless hours researching minutia to avoid irate e-mails from readers saying I got it wrong, with a fictional setting, I could control everything—the geography, the weather, the flora and fauna.

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. When I was a child, my British family moved to Wales, and each summer would welcome me to Tenby, a popular seaside resort on the south Pembrokeshire coast. It was during this time that I fell in love with the country and its people.

Like most places in the UK, Tenby has a long history. With evidence of settlement dating back to the Iron Age, the town was founded in 1093. To defend against opposing Welsh forces, the Norman Earl of Pembrokeshire ordered a fortifying wall to be built in 1245, much of which is still standing. The following seven hundred and fifty years saw Tenby’s rise and fall, including its success as a busy port, the site of an English Civil War battle and a plague epidemic, as well as the temporary hiding place of the fourteen-year-old future King Henry VII during the War of the Roses. The Victorians flocked to Tenby’s beaches and bath houses for the benefits they believed sea bathing provided, making it the popular holiday spot it is to this day.

On the other hand, Meredith Island has been uninhabited for most of its history. It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that American industrialist Artemis Faraday, obsessed with all things British and the capital to indulge that obsession, bought the island, renaming it in honor of his young English bride, and built his vision of a Gothic manor house. When his wife died in childbirth, he abandoned the island to his workers. Except for a few incomers, all islanders can trace their family history to the Faraday estate.

While Meredith Island doesn’t have the elegant Georgian and Victorian row houses that overlook Tenby’s beaches, cozy stone cottages line the island’s cliffside road, which runs down to the harbor. There, you’ll find The Fish and Filly pub, The Sea Breeze restaurant, Craggy’s grocery store, a wharf for the ferry that connects the island to the mainland, and a shelter for fishing boats.

Because I visited Tenby during my teenage years, many of my memories are tinged with wonder and innocence. It was where I had my first crush and heartbreak when a young man took my address, promising to keep in touch but never did. It was also the location of my aunt and uncle’s hotel, where we often sat in the large kitchen and drank tea—sherry for my aunt—ate buttered scones and shared jokes. So my island became a place of young love and friendship, warm kitchens full of sweet smells, and a pub where people gather for a natter and gossip. But it’s also a place where people are murdered. It’s this jarring juxtaposition that sets the tone of the book as protagonist Kate Galway digs deep into the islanders’ memories of their youth to unearth clues about the identity of her aunt’s killer.

The first photo shows the remains of the medieval fortifying wall around Tenby, and the second is the church beside my cousin’s house, which inspired the church on my island.

Tenby is an ancient town with curious streets like Merlins Court, Upper and Lower Frog Street, Tudor Way, Crackwell Street, and Paragon. My fascination with these names led me to bestow upon my islanders similarly unconventional names, such as Basil and Peregrine Tully, Old Alred, Drucilla Cragwell, and Feebles, Gooley, and Smee.

But it wasn’t just the town that inspired me. All along the Pembrokeshire coast, jagged cliffs rise high above the water, creating a menacing seascape where I imagine Kate’s aunt drowned over fifty years ago. The church next door to my cousin Jim’s house is the inspiration for the island church presided over by the Reverend Imogen Larkin, and its graveyard is the islanders’ final resting place. At St. Govan’s Head, a long flight of stone steps leads down the steep cliff face to a 14th-century chapel built over the cave where St. Govan lived and preached seven centuries before. I took the liberty of reducing a similar building to ruins so that in A Dark Death, the second book in the series, a team of archaeology students can excavate it, only to discover something a lot more interesting than foundation stones.

Tenby has long been a vacation spot and inspiration for writers, including Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Beatrix Potter, and Dylan Thomas. Likewise, for this humble crime writer, Tenby was the inspiration for an idyllic island community where everyone is family and life is celebrated with whiskey, tea, and home baking.

To learn about upcoming tales of the eccentric inhabitants of Meredith Island and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit www.alicefitzpatrick.com.

I belong to:
Crime Writers of Canada,
Sisters in Crime (including the Guppy and Toronto chapters),
Crime Cymru – a group of Welsh crime writers

Here are the buy links to my book:
Amazon.com: https://tinyurl.com/3hdme96k
Indigo: https://tinyurl.com/4shmb7fz

6 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Great blog post, Alice. You sound like you have some great writing plans and should be the next Agatha Christie. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  2. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Wow, George and Alice, this thought-provoking post really shows how much of ourselves and our lives we pour into who we become and what we write.

    Reply
    • Alice Fitzpatrick

      It’s hard to escape even when we think we’re not doing it, at least for me. So much go what we write comes out of our unconscious. You’ve just got to trust that creative side of the brain that it will come out right.

      Reply
  3. Peg Roche

    Loved the background for your mystery and just signed up for your newsletter!

    Reply
    • Alice Fitzpatrick

      Thank you, Peg. I hope you enjoyed the story I send to all my newsletter subscribers. There is a lot more Welsh in the coming books.

      Reply

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M.E. ROCHE – Loves Writing & Follows Characters

I’m the product of a Midwest upbringing, but I’ve lived on both coasts as well as in Ireland. As a registered nurse, I’ve had the opportunity to work in many facets of nursing. Once officially retired, I began volunteering with the local coroner—part of the sheriff’s department—in northern California.

My favorite books have always been mysteries.

What brought me to writing? I first decided to try my hand at writing when I discovered there were so few books written about or by nurses and nothing for young readers since the student nurse mysteries of the 1950s. I started with three young adult mysteries modeled on those early works. I liked the writing process—of having a character tell me where the story would go—and when I decided to bring my student nurses into adulthood, I began writing for an adult audience, and now I have an additional three mysteries and two standalones.

New Book My newly released novel, TOOTS, is a historical stand-alone work based on one of my great aunts, one of my grandmother’s sisters. Growing up, I only knew my aunt as living with my grandmother. She was quiet but warm and generally retreated to somewhere quieter in the house when my family of eight kids arrived. I don’t remember ever having any extended conversation. We were told that her husband and children had died in a fire, and she had come back to her family in Chicago from wherever they had been living. I began thinking about this story several years ago, and I wanted to know more, but there was no one from that generation left to ask. And so I began trolling the memories of my siblings and cousins, but they were no wiser

Research TOOTS required spending a lot of time with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com and my local genealogy people at the library. The amount of information out there is amazing. My grandmother and her sister, Toots, came over from Ireland by themselves at ages 12 and 10. They came to work as servants—first in New York and later in Chicago. My grandmother married and stayed in Chicago, but Toots met and married a homesteader from Nebraska. So many questions! I began by tracking down the ship manifests. Census reports, marriage records, obituaries, and homestead records. Finally, I made a road trip to Nebraska to see the homestead for myself. But then…what happened after Nebraska?

I discovered that there is also a ton of information to be found in obituaries. A good example: I knew my grandfather was a train conductor on the Northwestern railroad, but I had always thought of him as a passenger conductor (he had passed before I was born); his obituary stated he was a freight conductor! Tracking down the routes—possibly through Nebraska—that his train would have taken in 1915 led me to the tiny town of Albion in Nebraska, where my aunt’s husband’s homestead happened to be. There is no one alive to verify my guess, but I’d say my grandfather played matchmaker for his sister-in-law!

Setting the Location: I think it’s important to know something about the setting of one’s story, which is why I felt the need to see Nebraska. How many people plan to visit Nebraska? It was, however, a great experience—visiting the Homestead museum and learning something about the Dust Bowl period, of which I knew little beyond The Grapes of Wrath. It is beautiful farm country; the cover for TOOTS is a photo of their homestead. Similarly, I lived in San Francisco and northern California for some time, as well as in Boston, so I enjoy adding bits of local color to stories set in those locations.

Writing Process My writing process is changing. I’ve always felt most creative in the early morning hours, but not so much now. I do my own editing and preparation for publishing, and the more I write, the more time it takes to complete these non-creative tasks. I’ve discovered that my head doesn’t work for editing in the early morning. So now, I have coffee, walk, have breakfast, and then work on editing. But as I finish those tasks required by a new book, I think I’m almost ready to start writing something creative again. We’ll see.

Current Project Before turning to the final edits and publishing aspects of TOOTS, I finished the first draft of a mystery that spans the two coasts and centers on an arson group of firefighters in Boston. In the first re-read of that draft, I saw some serious problems, and now I’m looking forward to seeing what can be done to fix those problems. After that, I have the start of a black widow murder mystery.

Please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at https://www.meroche.com, where I am now adding a section for Book Clubs with questions and personal recipes.

5 Comments

  1. Michael A Black

    Sounds like you’ve got a very interesting family and a great plan for writing. Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming projects.

    Reply
  2. Pamela Ruthj Meyer

    Great Aunts are the best! Love this idea. And the title, TOOTS, is absolutely perfect.

    Reply
  3. John Schembra

    Interesting background, Peg! You are very meticulous in your writing. and I’m betting it shows in the quality of the book and the story! Looks interesting- I’ll be ordering my copy tomorrow!

    Reply
  4. Marie Sutro

    It must have been so fun to follow your characters into adulthood!

    Reply
  5. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Nice to “meet” you! I imagine you’re happy to be retired from the medical arena after the COVID nightmare. I do my best creating in the morning hours (after working out, walking the dog, and breakfast), but I find I can edit/revise and do business items any time of the day. Wishing you all the best on your new release.

    Reply

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MICHAEL COOPER – Historical Mysteries in the Holy Land

Michael Cooper writes historical fiction set in the Middle East; Foxes in the Vineyard, set in 1948 Jerusalem, won the 2011 Indie Publishing Contest grand prize, and The Rabbi’s Knight, set in the Holy Land in 1290, was a finalist for the CIBA 2014 Chaucer Award for historical fiction. In December of 2023, Wages of Empire, set at the start of WW1, won the CIBA 2022 Hemingway first prize for wartime historical fiction and the grand prize for young adult fiction.

A native of Berkeley, California, Cooper emigrated to Israel in 1966, studying and working there for the next decade; he lived in Jerusalem during the last year the city was divided between Israel and Jordan and graduated from Tel Aviv University Medical School. Now a pediatric cardiologist in Northern California, he travels to the region twice a year on volunteer missions for Palestinian children who lack access to care.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write in the historical fiction genre with added elements of mystery, action-adventure, mysticism, coming of age, and a dash of romance. Having lived in Israel during my formative years (between the ages of 17 and 28), I fell in love with the immediacy of history that awaited you around every corner—especially in Jerusalem. This comes in handy since all my novels are, at least in part, set in the Holy Land, and having lived and traveled extensively throughout Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, I have a wealth of first-person knowledge of the physical topography of this part of the world.

What are you currently working on? That’s easy. I’ve already completed the next book in the “Empire Series,” Crossroads of Empire, which immediately follows Wages of Empire and is also set at the beginning of WWI. This will be published in the Fall of 2024.

How long did it take you to write your first book? I began writing Foxes in the Vineyard and finished in about eight years. It took a while since I was also working full-time.

How long to get it published? It took about the same amount of time to write as to get published. Having finished Foxes in the Vineyard in 2003, it was published by being the grand prize winner in the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference Indie Publishing Contest. The grand prize was a complete publishing package from iUniverse.

In writing historical fiction, how do you strike the right balance between history and fiction? The wonderful thing about crafting historical fiction is that historical events and characters provide the scaffolding for stories that are at once incredibly old and still being written since “history” is a continuum and flows from the past into our present.

It’s also invigorating to create compelling fictional characters—for their nobility, humor, brilliance, passions, human failings, and interesting, ingenious, and sometimes evil designs. These fictional characters allow me to play within the historical scaffolding.

I will leave it to the reader to determine if I’ve hit the “right balance” of historical and fictional characters in my current book, Wages of Empire.” But what is true for me in writing about all my characters—historical and fictional—are those wondrous times when the character takes over, dictating the action and dialogue. At these times, all I have to do is transcribe.

How did you research the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you? I researched the historical backdrop for the book by reading iconic histories about the roots and initial months of the First World War. To capture the essence of the historical figures and to inform the development of the fictional characters, I devoured everything I could find in the way of autobiographies, biographies, and collected letters. For the reader, I’ve included some of these references at the end of the book in a section called “Suggestions for further reading.”

As to surprises I’ve experienced during research, I was often astonished by fascinating elements of hidden history, unsolved mysteries, and interesting, even bizarre, character traits of some historical characters. I also encountered some engaging and bizarre characters that insisted on being included in the final draft.

In this manner, storylines arose organically from the historical timeline and the historical characters themselves—creating a portrait that could be enhanced by the fictional characters who allowed for additional surprises, plot twists, betrayals, loves, and alliances. And as the book progressed, I loved watching the weave tighten as storylines were drawn together.

Regarding elements of hidden history that I uncovered during my research for Wages of Empire, I don’t want to issue any “spoiler alerts.” Still, one extraordinarily rich trove of evidence implicated Kaiser Wilhelm II as having acted in many ways to bring on the First World War. Though I would hasten to add, he certainly wasn’t singly responsible for it. However, as a narcissist in control of a global power, his unpredictability, his need to be acknowledged, his arrogance, his hypersensitivity to perceived slights, his excitement at the idea of flexing his muscles, his sense of entitlement, his clumsy and often insulting personal diplomacy—all these raised tensions in Europe, combining to bring Germany closer and closer to war.

What do you hope readers take away from the story? Wages of Empire is a novel about war that is being published in a time of war—both in Europe and in the Middle East. I hope the reader can appreciate the richness of this historical wartime setting since it offers all the elements for a compelling story: drama, heroism, conflict, tension, intrigue, action, betrayal, heartbreak, and romance. Indeed, the effect of armed conflict on history is itself dramatic since war accelerates history, often with dramatic changes in human and natural topography.

I also hope the reader feels the compelling tension between knowing and unknowing as they engage with the historical characters in the grip of their threatening present, infused with their anxiety at the uncertain outcome, their unknowable future. And that the reader, knowing their future, might be touched by the poignancy of their ignorance.

Michael’s Editorial Assistant

Lastly, I hope that Wages of Empire, a novel about war, will hold up a mirror to time past that reflects on current wars and present uncertainties. I hope the reader will ask questions—what do present wars have to do with the past? What do our present travails have to do with history? Because the answer is…everything.

You can learn more on his website, which also includes links to a variety of platforms where his books can be purchased: https://michaeljcooper.net/

6 Comments

  1. Lisa Towles

    What a great interview, Michael nice to meet you and good luck with your book!

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Dear Lisa, Thanks for the support! Look forward to assisting fellow authors along our journeys.
      Michael

      Reply
  2. Peg Roche

    Best of luck, Michael. Your writing is certainly timely.

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Thanks, Peg. Appreciate your picking up on the interface of my WWI historical fiction with current realities, especially in the Middle East. As I stated toward the end of the interview, “What do our present travails have to do with history? The answer is…everything.”

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    It sounds like you are a man of many talents and true humanitarian as well. God bless you and good luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Michael J Cooper

      Thanks, Michael – I hope you enjoy reading Wages of Empire, which at present stands alone, but will soon be followed by Crossroads of Empire. These books are also connected with my “stand-alone” back-list, which are all inter-connected by two threads; the St. Clair/Sinclair blood line and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

      Reply

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CHARLENE BELL DIETZ – Move Over Susan B. Anthony

Charlene Bell Dietz lives in the central mountains of New Mexico. She taught kindergarten through high school, was a school administrator, and was an adjunct instructor for the College of Santa Fe. After retirement, she traveled the United States, providing instruction for school staff and administrators. Her writing includes published articles, children’s stories, short stories, and mystery and historical novels.

Elevator Pitch: Move over Susan B. Anthony. There’s an unsung woman asking for the vote 224 years before you, and murderous rebels and bigoted gentlemen can’t prevent spinster Lady Margaret Brent from wielding her power to defend Maryland settlers from plunder and obliteration.

The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor by Charlene Bell Dietz – Lady Margaret Brent, compelled to right wrongs, risks her life by illegally educating English women, placing her family at risk. She fights to have a voice, yet her father and brothers exclude her from discussions. Worried the king’s men may know of her illegal activities, she flees to the New World, where she can enjoy religious tolerance and her own land, believing she will be allowed a voice. Once in Maryland, she presents cases in provincial court, where she’s hired as the first American woman attorney. Still, she uncovers perilous actions there, prompting her to build a fort to shield those within from being murdered. Can Margaret Brent’s integrity and ingenuity protect Maryland from being destroyed?

Note:  The American Bar Association honors five deserving women attorneys each year with the Margaret Brent Award. Little has been written or is known about her because she left no primary source material. My research studied the conflicts and social mores of the times and places as well as what the gentlemen of note said about her. Her 134 cases tried before Governor Calvert’s provincial court gave me insight into her personality and voice. What’s astounding is even the gentlemen of the time, 1638-1648, hired her as their attorney.

One of life’s secrets nobody ever tells you is that life is full of unintended consequences. Bet if you think back through the last few days, you’ll discover several times when you wanted to or started to do something, and along with the doing of it, it changed. Maybe slightly, maybe a whole messy lot. I started to fix a leaky faucet. With my wrench and washers in hand, ready to go, the built-up calcium deposits stopped me. Argh. I’d need to get some Blaster-penetrating catalyst. A slight change of plans isn’t a big deal, but here’s how some more serious unintended consequences turned me into a writer.

Never, ever did I want to become a writer. My chosen college classes encompassed art history and studio classes, but I needed a saleable profession. Education became my life. Then, close to retirement, I inherited my mother’s elderly sister. Our family had no other female to be a caregiver (it seems it’s always a female—guess we’re designed to do these things).

Yikes! This redoubtable woman turned the air blue with her chain smoking and language. She started drinking at noon and until she turned out the lights at night, after smoking and reading in bed. This aunt read everything quickly, always begging for more books. Her stories encouraged my husband and me to drink rum and coke with her just to hear more. She ran away from high school at age sixteen to Chicago in 1923 to become an entertainer during prohibition a Flapper in the Roaring Twenties.

When she died, she had left me holding the memories of her incredible life. I couldn’t turn my back on her stories. These were too good not to be told.

After writing a few chapters, I saw a teaser on the internet. “Send us your first page, and we’ll tell you if you have talent.” Ha! I know the scheme, but I did it anyway. Here’s the opening line of my story: “Die, old lady, please just die.”

Within minutes, a New York editor contacted me and asked to see the rest of the few chapters. A week later, he emailed me and praised my quality writing with dialogue but told me this story wouldn’t go anywhere because I didn’t have a plot. Plot? I replied, “But this happens, and then this happens, and then…”  Clearly, my ignorance showed brightly.

He responded, educating me on why that wasn’t plotting. I told him I didn’t have a clue and asked if he would teach me. He agreed. My purse became lighter, but my head became fuller. Ten years later, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur found a publisher and went on to win a Kirkus Review’s (starred review) and be named to Kirkus Review’s Best Book of 2018. Now, there’s a huge unintended consequence.

Because this first story received so many awards, it pushed me to continue writing. Each of my stories strives for suspense and mystery. Interestingly, they all have a historical element, which requires lots and lots of research. My current work in progress is a murder mystery series set in Albuquerque in 1967. This is the year marked by the downturn in America’s educational excellence. It takes place in a fictitious high school, Duke City High, and abounds with quirky characters, a flummoxed teacher, and dead bodies. My latest book is a historical biography novel about a spinster, an English woman in 1638, The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor. This story tightly follows historical events, revealing how she, as a woman, accomplishes the impossible and saves precolonial Maryland from destruction.

Contact: chardietzpen@gmail.com

https://inkydancestudios.com/ or Char Bell Dietz @CharBellDietz

Purchase: http://apbooks.net/srg.html

12 Comments

  1. Charlene Bell Dietz

    Thanks, George, for hosting an interview with me. So much fun. I’m in the middle of your gang infested book, NEW LIBERTY. I swear you plucked some of the kids right out of my high school classes. You depict a way too accurate portrait of gang members and their families. Yikes!

    Reply
  2. Peg Roche

    Loved hearing your story, Charlene, and that you took the time to hear the stories your aunt had to tell over rum and cokes and cigarette smoke! Good luck!

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Peg, the rum and cokes sure beat the smoke. Ugh. However, it seemed to be time well spent, and my aunt totally enjoyed recounting her quirky past.
      Thank you for your comments.
      Best!

      Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Loved The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, can’t wait to read your latest, Charlene, off to purchase! I remember reading the queries for it and was intrigued even then.

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Hi Donnell!

      Oh, I’m so behind on my stack of books to be read, and I keep finding more to add. Guess that’s our life. I’ve certainly enjoyed your mysteries. Excellent reads just before bed–ha-ha.
      Happy writing, and thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  4. Charlene Bell Dietz

    Oh, Michael–that opening line got me into a whole lot of trouble with my critique group. They argued that I just could not dare to start a book with such a mean, shameful thought.
    Convinced, I redid the beginning and this story went NO WHERE. My husband said, “Put it back in. That’s what caught the NY editor’s eye, right?” I put it back, and then the magic happened. Thank you for your comments about how I started writing. I have a tendency to jump up to my neck in stuff I know nothing about. I started bee keeping two years ago. Yikes! What an education. However, writing and bee keeping makes my heart sing.

    Happy writing to you!

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    Thank you for sharing your story, as well as Margaret Brent’s!! Just bought the The Spinster, The Rebel, and the Governor and can’t wait to read it!!

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Wow! Thank you so much, Marie. I’d love to meet and talk with you. I’m always so curious as to how readers respond to my writing. Even more so with this story. I learned so much, and I wonder if my readers learn too.

      Again, I really appreciate your reading my book!

      Reply
  6. Alfred J. Garrotto

    Thanks for sharing your initial writing experience and your humility. A self-centered writer would’ve said, “My writing is just fine. Ask any of my closest friends and they’ll tell you.”

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Well, you just made me giggle. Alfred, I have found that I can use all the help I can get. After learning how to plot that editor also gave me other insights for writing with excellence,. I am quite lucky to have been opened minded for this help. Currently, I judge hundreds of books for contests, and I feel so joyful when I discover well-written stories. When I come upon one that “isn’t there yet” it’s all I can do to keep from contacting the author and saying, “This is what’s preventing your book from shining. Try doing such and such.” Sigh. That would get me into forbidden territory, I fear. Thank you for your comments.

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    That’s one hell of an opening line. Your story of how you got started writing is like a novel itself. Good luck to you.

    Reply
    • Charlene Bell Dietz

      Michael, thank you! Just submitted a reply, but then it disappeared. Here goes another. That opening line created a whole bunch of trouble for me. My critique group argued with me about how I could not start a story with such a mean, unsympathetic first line. Hmmm. Finally, I got rid of it and started submitting it to agents and editors. It went NO WHERE. My husband reminded me it was that first line that grabbed the attention of the NY editor. It stood again as the opening line of the book, and bingo! The magic happened. I do have a tendency to jump into things I know nothing about–like last year I started bee keeping. Yikes! So much work, and what an education–but now writing and bees make my heart sing. I really appreciate your comments.

      Reply

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MICHAEL J. BARRINGTON – Whatever Happened to Punctuation?

Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.

The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.

 I have just finished reading my third novel by Sally Rooney, followed by Cormac McCarthy’s latest,  Stella Maris, and I’d like to report the speech marks are missing! Punctuation goes in and out of fashion, and the marking of text with inverted commas to signify direct speech seems, in the current moment, is decidedly going out of fashion.

Cormac McCarthy called punctuation, “Weird little marks. I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” Since this was his first novel after a 16-year hiatus, I started reading it because I was intrigued by the subject matter, dedicated solely to a dialogue between two people, a woman who self-committed to a mental institution and a psychiatrist. It was a disaster. After twelve pages, I’d had enough and just couldn’t handle page after page with no italics. However, I was sufficiently intrigued to purchase the audiobook. And oh, my goodness, what a difference. I didn’t want to stop listening. I was enthralled by the female and male voices that gave color and texture to a dynamic, intriguing, and labyrinthine script.

But with Sally Rooney, not so. Why she has chosen to use this technique in her novels, only she can say. I found it gimmicky at best since her lack of italics didn’t enhance the flow of the story or blend with the rest of the text. But a greater irritant for me was her use in all three novels of another technique, the way she attributes the spoken word. No writer wants their characters to become disembodied, but attribution, clarifying for the reader who’s saying what, is key to maintaining good order in dialogue. It sustains the novel’s pace and orients and relieves the reader from unnecessary guesswork. As writers we shouldn’t have to send the reader window-shopping in search of a speaker to “assign” the script to! Distractions of that sort break the spell of the interactive flow, and are really an earmark of the inexperienced writer.

I’m speaking here, of course, of “she said” and “he said” the most common attributions, and their host of variants. When it’s evident who’s talking, the reader can readily do without them. Often enough, in a brisk exchange between two people once the talk gets rolling, it takes nothing more than a paragraph change, the customary tool for differentiating speakers, to make clear to the reader who’s saying what. Repeated attributions can serve to heighten the intent of the exchange two people are having. Beginning writers in particular are prone to suppose that “she said” and “he said” become too humdrum, are used too frequently, and need to be replaced by such alternatives as “she replied,” “he explained,” “he responded,” “she murmured,” “she protested,” and so on… all of which, when used judiciously, are useful.

Repeated indications as to who’s doing the talking can also be used for dramatic effect. And this is where Sally Rooney drives me crazy. A creative writing teacher advised, not to labor too much about attributions, “Go ahead and use “she said” and “he said” with little fear of over-use! They soon enough become mere transparencies for the reader, barely noted in passing as the reading proceeds.” If this is the case, why does it irritate and distract me from the story line making me want to stop reading? In Rooney’s Normal People on just one page I counted thirteen times her use of “he said, she said.”

An additional curiosity is Rooney’s point of view as she described her characters. In Beautiful World Where Are You much of its tension comes from the disconnect between the spare prose of the third-person sections, (I can’t remember seeing a semi colon in any of her books) with sometimes one paragraph filling an entire page, and the rambling soliloquies of the emails. Once they have been named, she ghosts her characters through page after page by simply referring to them as ‘she’ and ‘he,’ and given that she rarely fully develops them, I found it annoying and my attention flagging.

But there is a reason her books are bestsellers. In addition to her famous sex scenes, described as “the best in modern literary fiction,” she captures with unembellished, often plaintive prose, the angst of her millennium audience, albeit, her sometimes meandering chapters while reflecting the time and milieu, can be perplexing to those of us north of 40. But be that as it may, I still need my punctuation.

Michael’s latest book is No Room for Heroes: A novel of the French Resistance 1942-44.

Contact: majb7016@gmail.com

Books on website: www.mbwriter.net

3 Comments

  1. Harlan Hague

    Enjoyed the post and will welcome a discussion about the topic one of these days.

    Reply
  2. Mihael A. Black

    I totally agree. I refuse to read McCarthy’s books for exactly the reason you listed. I haven’t thought about an audio version, but I think I’ll pass. I remember struggling to get used to the James Joyce’s use of a dash instead of quotation marks in Dubliners. And what about the current “woke” trend of using the plural pronoun “they” in place of “he” or “she?’ It makes my blood boil. Writers like McCarthy corrupt the language by not following the basic rules of grammar, not that these rule can’t occasionally be ignored. Faulkner did the same thing in the long version of “The Bear,” but given his proclivity to tip the bottle, this was probably not totally intentional. Anyway, thank you for an entertaining and thoughtful blog posting. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
  3. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This post got me thinking, Michael. Very thought-provoking. Thank you.

    Reply

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