Historical Murder and Mayhem

I love digging through old newspaper archives for tidbits of information. I find the past very interesting. But, it seems that the bad stuff makes the papers more often then the good stuff. And it's the bad stuff I was looking for today.

One of my WIPs (works in progress) is a collaboration on a murder anthology with another author here in Northwest Missouri. I've been doing some limited research on my caseload for the last year, after he proposed the idea of doing such a book, and it's been great fun to dig through the old newspapers. Today, I've been working in 1872 on a murder case that lasted four days, from crime to execution. Wow, four days! Now, that's quick work.

Okay, it helps that the murderer was driving around with his victims in the back of the wagon, thus making it easier to find them. And, it helps that he parked the wagon next to a guy's house -- a guy who had enough curiosity to wonder what the rancid odor was coming from the wagon and take the initiative to peek inside. And it helps that the murderer dawdled around in the nearby town for several hours after leaving the wagon behind, taking time to buy a new suit and then get drunk. And, it helped that the murderer chose to causally ride away from the town on a horse rather than take the train, thus making himself easier to catch. And, it helps that the guy confessed to the brutal murders within twenty-four hours, saving the community the stress and expense of trying him.

Most investigators don't catch breaks like that today in cases. Neither do county prosecutors. It takes months, sometimes years to bring a case to closure, and sometimes longer to get a conviction and for all the appeals to run their course. Wow, four days, in 1872, with a group of relatively untrained citizen investigators. Wow. History is interesting.

Projects Galore

I repeatedly promise myself I'm only going to tackle one writing project at a time . . . and then I wake up from that fantasy to find I have three, or four, or more going.

Novel #9, Dying By Inches, is due to come out in a few weeks, probably. It is a work of biographical fiction and I think it will do well. The number of previews is growing steadily and I am starting to get some feedback. It's averaging 4 out of 5 stars so far.

Novel #10, The Surrogate, is in the preview and final editing phase. It has only taken 11 years to get it there. So far, it is garnering a few previews, although little feedback. I still have hope it will be safely delivered within the next few weeks.

With a little more effort, I will give these two books their own pages on this blog, as soon as they're ready to launch officially. Please check back.

In the meantime, back at the writing ranch . . . the Missouri Justice Project, a history project designed to collect and preserve the oral histories of Missouri's sheriffs, is moving forward. Interviews one and two are done, with interviews three and four already on schedule. The project was not officially supposed to begin until January of 2016, but some factors have developed that necessitated an earlier launch, and so, funding or not, it's going forward. I hope to have the press release completed this week and the first set of mailings ready to go out to let the public and Missouri's sheriffs, current and retired, know about it in more detail. Wait . . . for . . . it.

Then there are the projects still waiting in the wings. There's the crime anthology I should be researching because the co-author for that project will be ready to begin soon and I've got nothing! There's the unsolved cold case that has captured my attention and is filling up a folder of its own already. Then there's the suspense novel I started several weeks ago. The one I said I wasn't going to go back to. Yeah, you should know better than to believe me when I say that. And, oh yeah, NaNoWriMo is just over a month away and my brain is already chewing on the 50,000 word novel it wants to write for that one. Well, I have a title anyway, and maybe a sketchy outline. But, that's all. I promise.

How many projects is that? I've lost count. It's a race now to see which one makes it to the finish line first.

Missouri Justice Project

History matters. It's important that details of historical events be preserved for future generations to learn from. What is often lost in the securing of those details are the more minute biographical details of the people who participated in the events. Who were they? Where were they born? What kind of education did they have? What were their beliefs? How did they feel about what was occurring in the community, or the broader world around them? What made them choose the career that they pursued?

These are only a few of the questions that researchers may ask about someone. There are many more that could be asked in order for a researcher to develop a clear understanding of the people who have helped shape the historical narrative of our nation and, more specifically, the states in which they live.

With this in mind, I have realized, through my own research efforts, that a gap exists with respect to Missouri's system of justice. The histories of the men and women who have served in the role of sheriff, the highest elected law enforcement official in each of the 114 counties and 1 independent city in the state of Missouri, are being lost to time.

It's time that their stories were collected and preserved for the future.

The Missouri Justice Project is designed to do just that.

Crafting a Revolution

When a writer starts a new novel they must become somewhat absorbed in fashioning the characters. Most authors have a good idea in their mind how a character looks, walks, talks, and what they do for a living, even before the author has written the first sentence of the story. And, once they finish the main character's traits, there comes the challenge of developing the supporting characters. And then . . . .

The author has to give them all something to do, some project to work on, some goal to achieve . . . maybe even a minor revolution to inspire.

I just finished the rough draft of the new novel and I read it out loud to myself. That's an important part of the process, because hearing it can help the author discover where the holes in the story are, and it can expose the places where a scene has been poorly defined. It's a horror to discover that one of the main characters is in two different places at the same time. That may work in some Sci-Fi novels, but not so much in mainstream fiction where the characters are real-time, in real-world events.

In this new novel, my main character inspires a revolution. The problem is, I didn't define the purpose very well in the first couple of chapters. So, in order for the readers to understand why the main protagonists are doing what they're doing, I'm going to have to flesh out the revolution a bit more. That means I'm going to have to give it some thought.

I'm learning that it's hard to craft a revolution from scratch. I wonder if the American colonists had the same structural issues in crafting theirs?

Save The Date!


The Northwest Missouri Author's Showcase will take place this Saturday, April 25, 2015 from Noon to 4 p.m. at the Maryville Hy-Vee Store, 1217 S. Main Street, Maryville, Missouri.

Detailed information about the event can be found here.

When Free Isn't Free

Be careful what you sign up for. You may be selling your email address short. Keep in mind, those supposed "free" accounts may not really be free. Online users shouldn't necessarily believe it when a site promises not to share your email address with anyone. I rarely sign up for new "free" accounts, as I know that within 24-48 hours my spam folder will suddenly be filled to overflowing with every kind of annoying piece of spam ever created. Among those messages will be a layer of phishing scams. For the most part my filters catch the garbage and put it in the electronic round file where it belongs. Every once in a while, something weird gets through.

Another thing to remember is, once you're on those free-site spammer lists, it's nearly impossible to get your email removed from them. Don't kid yourself. That "unsubscribe" link at the bottom is just your way of confirming for the sender that their spam has reached an active account. It's best just to right click on the message and add the sender's address to the "blocked" list in your email software. Better yet, add their whole domain if it's not one where you get mail from other people that you DO want to hear from.

And be nice to your online friends. Don't give out their email addresses by clicking on those "email this to a friend" links on pages. It's just another collection tool for sites. You can right click on the page link in the address bar, copy it, and paste the link into a private email you can send to your friend. That way the only list they are on is yours.

Save yourself a lot of headaches. Free online accounts ALWAYS want something from you in return -- at the very least, they want your valuable email address. Consider very carefully what you sign up for, because you may be signing up for more than you think. There are reputable sites out there who follow their own privacy policy and don't share, but be sure to read the fine print. If it says that signing up for a "free" account means they get to share your email address with "affiliates" you may decide you don't want to open your email inbox to that type of traffic.

Carving Out Writing Time

Carving out writing time for a new book is proving more difficult than I expected. I am in reading mode once again, reviewing the work of fellow writers and editing manuscripts that I wrote in the past. I recently released three new books, Tryst Twist, The Reckoning, and Wandering Belle, this last month. One of the books was a new creation for this year, and the other two were written more than a decade ago. They've been collecting dust in the electronic file box on my flash drive.

It was nice to be able to edit those two books and put them into print. The Reckoning's story deals with a rather dark subject, human trafficking on an urban scale, and was more of a challenge. Wandering Belle has changed shape so many times over the years that I barely recognized her once I finished the final edits.

To keep the momentum of polishing past novels, I recently started editing The Surrogate, which also was written over a decade earlier. It has been fun reworking it. Some of the technology mentioned in the first couple of rough drafts of that novel was seriously outdated, so I have upgraded the main character's VCR to a DVD player, but now I'm worried that I should have just given her a subscription to Netflix, as that's the happening-now way to watch movies. The social upheaval that intrigued me and prompted me to write that story is no longer at the top of the list of society's hotbed issues. New controversies top that list today. Still, I think readers will find the story interesting, if and when it gets to publication stage.

With the respect to the two nonfiction books on the burner right now, I haven't been doing as much. Carving out research time is even tougher than finding time to actually draft chapters. As usual, as soon as I begin working on any project two or three new ones come to mind and I find myself getting distracted by those and losing my momentum on projects already in the pipeline. I've admitted my procrastination issues before. They haven't changed.

I'm off to write the next book review, which you can find at my website Idyllbooks.com or at my review blog, show-me-reviews.blogspot.com . In the meantime, I hope you're carving out time for those activities that keep you interested and challenged everyday.

Back-Up Beeper Needed

Why don't computers come equipped with "back-up beepers" like forklifts and large trucks do? As I search through the numerous disks and drives I have on my desk for some long-lost personal essays I wrote years ago, I worry that the electronic files disintegrated with the computer hard-drives upon which they once lived -- because I failed to back them up. Actually, it's the computer's fault, because it didn't sound an alarm the day before it crashed to warn me. That's a good excuse. I'll stick with that. I still have the clipped copies from The Fence Post magazine that originally carried them, but the idea of having to retype the essays is a bit daunting. Nevertheless, I will choose one or two to post here.

My aunt, Wilma Allen, who passed away a few weeks ago, told me a long while ago how much she enjoyed reading those earlier essays and she suggested that I gather them all up and reprint them in a book of essays. So, I have been giving that serious consideration. 

Even though my present, rapidly-aging, and somewhat outdated computer has issued no "back-up" warning, I have learned from my mistakes and keep most of my work -- no really all of it -- on removable drives and disks to prevent loss. There is some comfort in that. And, I'm glad the computer doesn't beep at me all the time for I would be forced to find a way to disable the warning alarm. Like alarm clocks in the early morning, they can be quite annoying. 

Wandering Belle


Ailis Belle and Adelio Beaumont find themselves in dire straights after their only parent, their mother, dies in a local hospital after a long illness. Belle, the oldest of the two, barely seventeen, is forced to start making grown-up decisions. Belle knows she cannot take care of Adelio. She isn't even sure she can take care of herself. She decides to seek out a home for him and enlists the help of a local preacher to find Adelio a loving and adoptive family. Belle then sets off into the world on her own, heading for Louisiana, the state where both her parents were born and raised. There she hopes to carve out an existence for herself. 

Along the way, Belle is befriended by Gideon "Highshine" Brown, a young man from the Ozark country of Missouri, and a young man with a desire to take his trumpet-playing talent to New Orleans and make a name for himself among the jazz clubs there. Belle and Highshine's friendship gets off to a tumultuous start. When Belle is ensnared in a life-threatening situation, Highshine seeks out help from the only power big enough to gain her freedom, God. He finds God's help in the person of Jaimin Aiton, a preacher of the gospel ministering to the lost in New Orleans. 

When Jaimin enters the picture, the lives of all three take on new directions, with a few detours along the way. The biggest hurdle they face is the onset of World War II and the very real danger that some of them may not come out of it alive. 

Flurry is Past

Unlike the deluge of snowflakes and ice that have blanketed much of the country during this last winter, the biggest flurry around here has been the editing activity taking place. I have three new fiction titles being released in the spring of 2015.

Some may think I've been really tearing up the keyboard in writing these books, but in reality, with the exception of Tryst Twist, what I've been doing is shoveling through a backlog of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novels that I penned in past years.

The Reckoning has changed titles three times, but the story has largely remained the same. You can click on the page tab above to learn more about the story.

I also did a lot of wondering about Wandering Belle's title. The story, too, underwent some changes from the original draft. The main characters changed much over the years after sitting in a file box in the closet. After much editing and the addition of several chapters, I finally managed to extricate the characters from their troubles and get them moving in the right direction.

Tryst Twist is a completely new tale for 2015. I began it in February. I originally intended to enter it into a fiction contest. I decided that I didn't have the patience to wait six months to hear whether I made the grade or not. So, I decided to publish the novella-length story on my own.

The flurry of editing and publishing is drawing to a close for the time being. I am off to spend a bit of time researching for the next two nonfiction works. The first is an anthology of true-crime events in Nodaway County, Missouri since its founding in 1845. It is a collaborative work with another author from Northwest Missouri. The second work of nonfiction is a history of the old Nodaway County jail, built in 1882 and torn down in 1984, also known as a "rotary jail" or a "human squirrel cage jail" because of its unique design.

I hope you will enjoy the three new works of fiction for 2015 and that you may even take a chance on one or more of the fiction and nonfiction books listed below.

The Reckoning


Just released in March of 2015, The Reckoning is the story of Miguel Munoz, a doctor with a true heart of compassion, who is dedicated to helping those who often go without medical care for lack of funds to afford it.  Mig, as he is known to his friends and patients, soon runs afoul of his more affluent professional colleagues and their clientele, and gets on the bad side of Dr. Peter Arliss, a powerful and influential man with a lot of dark secrets to hide.

Mig's life takes a downturn and he soon finds himself thrust into a world he is unprepared for, his medical practice all but nonexistent, and belief in himself seriously compromised. Befriended by two men from the local church, Mig soon learns that no situation is impossible for God, and no enemy too great to confront.

Mig's story is not only one of personal and professional challenge, but also of redemption, and a reminder that for everyone there comes The Reckoning for a life lived.

Tryst Twist - New Release

Mrs. Hoyle has been found dead, on a quiet spring morning, in the bed she shared with her husband at their farm near Gainesville, Missouri. Her death was quite unexpected . . . or was it? Is Mr. Hoyle to blame or did Mrs. Hoyle do herself in? The local sheriff is uncertain. Dr. Merryman, the county coroner, is immediately suspicious of the assumption of suicide. With the help of his part-time nurse, Miss Jaymes, he conducts his own examination and investigation into the circumstances of the young Mrs. Hoyle's life and death. The secrets uncovered keep readers wondering. What they discover sets the whole Gainesville community talking.

I hope you will find Tryst Twist an interesting and entertaining novella.