Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Love Yard Sales

I love yard sales, and I think it’s because I consider them the physical counterpart to writing mysteries.  Here’s how I see the two.  First, there must be an idea for a story.  That’s easy because the newspaper publishes the sales going on each weekend.  That’s the story—Mystery writer gets up earlier than usual and takes on the secondhand world.


Now we need a plot.  For our yard saling story, it’s better to be a plotter rather than a pantser.  This is what I do the evening before.  I sit with the newspaper listing of the sales and a county map.  I then work out the order my husband and I (of course we both go.  We’re both writers, aren’t we?)  will visit the sale locations.  Usually it’s the ones nearest where we live, then those on our side of town, ending with the ones on the other side of the community.  Like all good plots, it’s necessary to leave open the possibility that we’ll pass by other sales on the way to those already in the plan or plot.  There may even be some advertised by signs on telephone poles luring us to places far removed from our original plan.  It’s best to know neighborhoods and detour only for those you have a hunch will pay off, not those known to carry only junk.  You’ll know this because you may have been drawn here before only to discover it wasn’t worth the rewrite, er, detour.


The clues come next and this is the fun part.  The goodies purchased at the sales are the clues, because you never know what you’ll find that, together with your other purchases will complete this story to your satisfaction.  Always strive for the happy ending where you achieve some feeling of accomplishment. Some articles you jump to the minute you alight from the car only to discover they are not worthy of your consideration.  They’re rusted, ripped, dirty beyond saving, chipped, too expensive and can’t be bargained down to your price or you already have twenty tea cups just like those.  Others seem like a steal, but when you get them home, you decide you don’t like them and you delete that part of the story.  Don’t be swayed by what other s are considering or your story will sound stale.  Be creative.  I find the little things, like clues that don’t seem on the surface of it to be significant, are the most exciting.  The twenty-five cent basket that looks just right on your outdoor table, or a picture frame that fits with the d├ęcor of your home in Florida.  An aside here: my husband warns me against buying items that we have to transport from one home to the other.  He claims my purchases for the other house are why we’ve downsized to a small car, but he was the one who jammed the secondhand convection oven in the trunk of the car making me leave my big suitcase home…grumble, grumble.  Sometimes shopping with a partner is as bad as writing with one.


There’s always a dark moment and sometimes, surprisingly, it comes too early in the day.  You’ve been stopping at sale after sale and you’ve found nothing.  Or you walk up to a sale and a yard flag you didn’t know you wanted, but now can’t live without grabs your attention.  Just before you hand your dollar to the seller another buyer steps in front of you and takes it.  Now you know who the villain is.  Sometimes you feel there is no way out of the dark moment.  This happens when it rains, a sale is cancelled or you find no sales advertised in the paper.  The best rescue for your story is to go to a consignment shop or Goodwill or Salvation Army and buy something there.  If you can’t do that, then another alternative, which I consider cheating although sometimes necessary, is to shop the internet and buy something or do it in a nearby mall.  I warn you this ending is a bit like reading the first manuscript you ever wrote that you’ve stashed in your bottom desk drawer.


I can’t remember doing yard sales without buying something.  I don’t purchase an item just to say I came away a winner, but I do admit one item makes the whole venture more of a short story than a novel.


Friends ask if I’ll ever find I don’t need anything at yard sales and stop going.  We don’t yard sale because we need thing.  We do it for the adventure, the fun, the quest.  Will I ever not go?  That’s like asking if I’ll ever stop write mysteries.


Yard sales yesterday?  Mostly rained out, but I did get that cute little fishy frame.  I’ll take it to Florida.  I’ll hide it in my suitcase with that sweater I bought last week.  And the tablecloth and napkins, placemats…  Don’t tell my husband.



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Letting Go


We have been back in upstate New York for several weeks.  These few weeks seem to be all about letting go.  I can’t return to our cottage here and not think of what the stream bank was like before the flood destroyed it.  It is hard for me to let go of those graceful, but gnarly old willows that lined the stream and learn to love the large boulders that now hold the water back from our lovely cottage.
Saying Goodbye to My Trees
Some friends invited us to dinner last night along with others who were colleagues of mine when I taught at the college here.  We caught up with each other after our six months absence, and since five of the six us were retired, we talked about retirement and how we found the adventure.   I commented that it has been four years since I visited the campus and observed that I don’t return because that part of my life has been replaced by my work as a mystery writer.

At another university when I was an administrator, I met several faculty who still retained their offices on campus and still went to the office each day.  They were adamant the administration not take away these spaces because they needed a space in which to work.  Perhaps, but I also sensed something else.  They did not wish to let go of the life as professor they once had.  In fact, it seemed they could not let go of it.  I vowed I would not do that when I retired.

I enjoyed my years teaching college students, but now I’m quite happy to have others do it.  I think it’s like publishing a book.  Once you have put it out there in print, it is no longer yours.  It belongs to the readers.  Once you’ve left life as a college professor, it belongs to those who come after you. 

Sometimes it’s little things that you have to let go of.  Glenn and I used to go to this country bar and restaurant in Okeechobee every weekend and dance to the bands there.  Last year it changed ownership and now has become a bar that allows smoking, has installed pool tables where we used to dance and holds TV sports events.  No more dancing.  Here in upstate New York, there are no places to dance either.  I miss that part of our life.  And unfortunately it’s a part that seems to remind me I’m getting older.  Who me?

I’m aware that it is easy to assert that we should move on with our lives and for some not so easily accomplished.  I feel lucky because I have my writing.  I have friends who insist they cannot retire because they have no life other than their work.  So I feel very fortunate I found another part of myself I could develop.  As a developmental psychologist I know life is all about change, and change comes only when we are confronted by challenges and find we must adjust.  It can be fun, and it can be painful.  It can be both fun and painful.

What else have I had to let go of in these weeks?  Well, I thought we would begin renovating our downstairs bathroom.  Instead I had to let go of that idea until Glenn finishes building an extension onto our shed.  So I’m still carting laundry to the nearby laundromat.  The good news is that it’s right next to the ice cream shop.
What does letting go mean to you?



Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Funny Gal

Let's welcome Melanie Campbell to the blog.  She's one of the funniest authors I've had the pleasure to read and, you know me, I love funny.  Today she provides us some insight into her penchant for the hilarious.


Writing Comedy – and Loving It!

By Melodie Campbell

“I had the flu once.  It was terrible.  I couldn’t eat a thing for three hours.”

I hope you giggled at that line.  I think it’s one of my best.  And yes, I am a tad fond of eating.  In fact, you could list it as my major hobby.

My name is Melodie Campbell, and I write comedies.  (This is a self-help group, right?)  Sure I’d like to kick the habit and write a ‘real’ book with literary merit.

Okay, so that’s a lie.  Leave ROWENA AND THE DARK LORD behind?  Not write a sequel?  I’m starting to hyperventilate.  Actually, I love writing comedies.  It’s in my blood.


Some people are born beautiful.  But most of us aren’t and we look for ways to survive the slings and arrows of life.  Sometimes we choose to hide behind a mask.  That Greek Comedy mask was the one I picked way back.

As a means of self-preservation in the cruel world of teenagers, I looked for the ‘funny.’  More often than not, I made fun of myself.  This was easy to do.  I knew the target well and there was a wealth of material.  And it didn’t hurt anyone else, so people liked it.

When I left school and had a ‘real’ job, I started writing stand-up on the side.  I rarely delivered it – usually I wrote for others. That led to a regular newspaper humour column, and more.

So when it came to writing fantasy novels, I fell back into ‘safe mode’.  Write it funny.


Worse than chocolate and foreign Counts…  Comedy writers take a situation, and ask themselves ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen now?’  And then, what’s the funniest?

But why do it?  Why does an otherwise sane individual write zany and some might say silly comedy, and risk the inevitable hit from critics who say your book is without great literary merit? 

One reason, and one reason only: many readers love it.  Their comments and reviews are heart-lifting.  I’ve lightened their day with adventure and laughter, and in some cases given them a story they can escape into, over and over again. It’s all about readers.

 Excerpt from Rowena and the Dark Lord

I was beginning to get a very bad feeling.

“Did you volunteer for this job?”

“Yes.” Howard was now relieving himself off to my right.

Why?” My voice was perhaps a little harsh.

“To get out of fighting, of course. Everyone says there’s going to be a big battle. It seemed like a good time to leave the castle.”

I rolled my eyes. So now I had a complete newbie horse dude who was also a coward to look after on this trip. Howard the Coward. Lucky me.

“Can we sit for a bit? I’m exhausted.” He plunked down on the grass. Then he sprang up again.

“Ow! Ow! Ow!” He ran around in circles.

“What is it?” I watched in amazement.

“A bee! I sat on a bee.”

“Are you sure it’s a bee?” I said, crossing my arms. “Maybe it was a wasp.”

“Does it matter?” He was jumping up and down.

“Well, if it’s a wasp, you’re okay. If it’s a bee, the stinger will still be stuck in you. So when you sit down again…”

“Ahhh!! Take it out! Get it out!” He lifted his tunic and bent over.


I turned away. “I am so not doing that.”


Melodie Campbell achieved a personal best this year when Library Journal compared her to Janet Evanovich.  She has over 200 publications, including 100 comedy credits, 40 short stories, and 4 novels. She has won 6 awards for fiction.      

Enter for a $50 Amazon gift certificate and 15 book Giveaway!  Free!  Deadline May 10

ROWENA AND THE DARK LORD, book 2 in the Land’s End series, is NOW AVAILABLE at the special introductory price of .99! (regular price $3.99, after May 1.) Buy Link:

And the one that started it all: ROWENA THROUGH THE WALL, book 1 in the Land’s End series