Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Fisherman’s Daughter

The Fisherman’s Daughter is the working title for my latest novel. I’ve plotted the story, but I still have some questions and issues to work out along the way. Authors debate over whether or not to use an outline for a novel. Some write outlines that are hundreds of pages long while others just start writing with only a whisper of a story idea in their minds. I fall somewhere in between those two extremes. If I don’t have an outline, I get sidetracked and lose sight of where I’m headed. I think a mystery novel needs to be tightly written, and the reader will not be happy if the author leads him down too many blind alleys. On the other hand, an in-depth outline can lead to a plot that is rigid, making it appear contrived. It is a cliché for an author to say that the characters take on lives of their own, but there is some truth to that statement. I’ll often be in the middle of writing a prepared scene when it occurs to me that a character would never do what I’m about to have her do. At those times, a different but usually much better action occurs to me, and that action sometimes sends the story in an unexpected direction. I don’t want to plot my books so rigidly that I miss those “Aha!” moments because they always make my story better.

Writing a mystery is a challenge because the murderer cannot be the obvious choice, but when he is revealed, he must be the logical choice. I want the reader to say, “Of course, why didn’t I consider him? I should have known.” That’s not an easy trick to pull off since I know who the killer is from the very beginning of the book. The highest compliment a reader can pay me is when he says, “I was so shocked she was the killer. I never suspected her.” The twists and turns that keep the reader guessing are the meat of the novel, and I try not to outline those areas too tightly because the best plot twists often happen when I write myself into a corner.

The Fisherman’s Daughter takes place on Kodiak Island and starts out with a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat (a skiff) heading back to her family’s commercial fishing site after she attends a Fourth of July party. Here is an excerpt from the prologue.

 “No!” She slammed the shifter into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

 “Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.

 “Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured into it. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves. She realized that her parents had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.

 Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something else. She opened the tool box that was secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands trembled as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could just bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and studied it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think. She grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, a wave hit and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.

Did I have to use my imagination to write this scene? Not really. Unfortunately, I’ve been there and done that. It was not at all difficult to imagine how terrified Deanna would be in that situation, but this is nothing compared to what happens to her next! I’ll post more excerpts as the novel progresses.

Don’t forget to sign up for my Mystery Newsletter. I’ll send you a copy of the latest edition about Alaska’s most notorious serial killer.




Writing Projects

Last week I posted that my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released, and this week I’ll tell you about my current writing projects. As I mentioned recently, I never have enough time to get everything done, and sometimes it seems as if I never complete anything. I am guilty of tackling massive projects with no end in sight, and then I start something new before I complete the first project. I am presently working on a technical non-fiction book, a cookbook, and a novel. I also write this weekly blog and a monthly newsletter. I’m not a patient person, so I would love to finish all these projects by next week. I know, though, that writing a book is a long, slow process, and once I finish the rough draft, it needs to be edited, re-edited, and edited several more times again.

Six years ago, I started writing about the animals of Kodiak Island, species by species. My original plan was to post the information on our Munsey’s Bear Camp website, and I have been doing that, but it occurred to me a few years ago that if I put all this information together, I would have an interesting guide book. Since then, I’ve been compiling a rough draft along with photos. I find researching this book interesting, but writing it is hard work, and it moves forward at a snail’s pace. Each fact must be attributed to its source, and too often, the sources do not agree with each other, so I must research other sources until I’m satisfied I’ve reported the best information available. I plan to cover the mammals endemic to Kodiak Island. These are the Kodiak Bear, the little brown bat, the short-tailed weasel, the tundra vole, the red fox, and the river otter. I’ll also detail some of the introduced mammals, including Sitka black-tailed deer and mountain goats, and I’ll cover marine mammals, including harbor seals, Stellar Sea Lions, sea otters, porpoises, and whales. In addition to mammals, I want to include a few birds, such as bald eagles, puffins, oyster catchers, and arctic terns. I still have quite a bit of work to do on the book, but it is beginning to take shape. Many of my blog posts about wildlife are a product of the research I’ve done for this book.

My second book project is a cookbook that my friend, Marcia, and I are working on with Mike’s mother, Pat, and Mary Schwarzhans. Marcia was the cook at our lodge for many years, and Mary is our current cook. Marcia is the driving force behind this project, and I feel as if she has done most of the work on it so far. Little by little this project is also taking shape, though. Marcia has a vision of what the book should look like, and when she talks about it, I get excited. In addition to being a cookbook, it will tell the history of Munsey’s Bear Camp with short stories, and we also hope to give the reader a feel for what it has been like over the years to cook at a remote Alaskan Lodge. Our working title for this book is Tales from the Kitchen at Munsey’s Bear Camp.

Book number three is my next novel. I love writing fiction, and this is my project of choice. To write fiction, though, I need a large chunk of uninterrupted time, so I can let my imagination roam, and those chunks of time are difficult to find. I hope to spend more time on this project over the next few months. Next week, I’ll post an excerpt from the prolog of this novel. Its working title is The Fisherman’s Daughter, and as with my last novel, it will be set on Kodiak Island.

My blog is fun, but it takes time. So far, I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, but I worry that won’t last. My Mystery Newsletter profiles a different Alaskan crime or criminal each month, and it is a great deal of work, but I find it fascinating as well as disconcerting and creepy. I’ll write more about my newsletter in two weeks.

Speaking of my newsletter, I just sent out the latest edition. If you are signed up for it but didn’t receive it, check your spam filter. If you would like to receive my newsletter, go here to sign up, and I’ll send it to you. As always, let me know if there is anything about Kodiak Island you’d like me to write about on my blog, and I’ll do my best to fulfill your request!

Murder Over Kodiak

NewCoverAs I mentioned last week, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, will be re-released soon. I self-published this novel a year ago, and then I signed with a publisher this past fall, and he is now in the process of distributing the new edition. Before I published the book, I edited it numerous times and then had it professionally edited. It has now been re-edited; although, not much was changed this time. The biggest change in this edition is the cover, which I think is a huge improvement and will hopefully result in more sales. I have Publication Consultants, the publishing house I am now working with, to thank for the eye-catching design.

These are tumultuous times in the publishing business. Self-publishing a book has become easier and easier to do, and if an author works with Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing or an e-book publisher such as Smashwords, it costs nothing to self-publish an e-book. The booksellers make their money by retaining a percentage of the book’s sales. Print copies are also fairly easy for an author to produce. Companies such as Create Space allow an author to design and upload the cover and text of a book for no charge. Once the author correctly formats the book to the website’s specifications, the book can then be listed for sale at any online bookseller. The book is printed on demand and shipped to the buyer within hours. Of course, a physical book is much more expensive than an e-book to produce, so the list price must be higher to pay for this service.

The wonderful thing about self-publishing is the author has control over her creation. Of course, I have learned that it is wise to get help with the cover design and to have the text edited at least once by a professional editor. It’s a good idea to have it proofread by as many volunteers as you can find, and unless you are a computer whiz, formatting can be a headache. In my opinion, though, the real downside to self-publishing is that you also must self-promote, and that is not easy! Following the boom in the self-publishing industry are numerous legitimate businesses as well as scammers with their hands out promising you they will help you sell your book. These businesses include everything from high-end publicity companies who will manage your writing career for you to individuals who, for five dollars, will tell everyone they know about your book on Twitter. I couldn’t afford a publicity company, but I did sign up for several publicity opportunities, mostly newsletters that promoted my novel to their readers. It’s depressing to remember how many I tried, but only a very few produced results. I read every book, blog post, and newsletter I could find on promotion, and I tried most of the suggestions that didn’t cost me anything and too many that did. I have an author Facebook page, and I even tackled Twitter and am now taking an online course on how to better use Twitter. It is overwhelming, but I have learned a great deal in the last year about what works and what doesn’t.

Last September I attended the Alaska Writer’s Guild Workshop in Anchorage, and that is where I met Evan Swensen from Publication Consultants. He was interested in publishing my book, and I was thrilled. Rightfully or not, I felt validated as an author, because someone in the business thought I was worthy of publication. Evan told me right away, though, that I would still be the one primarily responsible for advertising and selling my book. That’s just the way it works anymore. Publishing houses can’t afford to spend time and money promoting an author unless that author has already proven himself, and the publisher knows he will be worth the investment. “So why am I doing this?” I asked myself. I’m giving up control of my creation – my baby – for what? I will get a lower percentage of the profits, and I can’t really expect to sell more books. Of course, Evan and the folks at Publication Consultants will help me, and with their resources, hopefully, I will be more successful. Probably the most frustrating part of working with a publisher is that things happen on his schedule instead of on mine, and I must exercise patience and trust his expertise. While I wait for my novel to be released, I keep busy working on other projects, such as my next novel. The best advice I’ve heard is that to be a successful author, you must keep writing books, and that is something I enjoy doing.

I noticed last night that the new edition of Murder Over Kodiak is now available on for presale, and that is an exciting step forward. I’ll invite you all to my online book release party once my book is released. I plan to give away some copies of my book, as well as other prizes, including gift certificates. The best part is that you don’t have to dress up for this party. I don’t care if you arrive in your underwear!

Next week, I’ll tell you about some of my other writing projects. Don’t forget to sign up for my mystery newsletter if you haven’t already done so. This month’s letter will be about the most infamous serial killer in Alaska’s history.



Bald Eagle in Flight

According to the calendar it is spring, but in Alaska, we won’t see much evidence of spring for another six weeks. The days are getting longer, and when the sun shines, I can feel some warmth in its rays, but it easily could snow six inches tomorrow, and no one would be surprised if the temperature dropped into the low twenties or even the teens.

After an abnormally warm winter this year, I don’t mind waiting until late May for wildflowers and leaves, but before the first forget-me-not blooms, other signs of spring will be evident. Bald eagle pairs will soar, circle, dive, and even cartwheel during their mating rituals; schools of herring will arrive to lay and fertilize eggs; and baleen whales, seals, and sea lions will follow the tasty herring into the bays. I dream about sitting on our dock on a sunny day, watching whales and other sea mammals chase and feed on herring. Some years the show is spectacular, and other years, the herring run is insignificant, and the whales are absent. The red foxes are also active in the spring, and their haunting mating screams often awaken me. By early June, we should start seeing does and their newborn fawns. By then, the eagle pairs will be tending their nests as their eggs hatch and the chicks depend on them for a nearly constant supply of food.

I am busy this time of year getting the camp ready and the meals cooked for the spike camps for our spring hunting season. I also have a trip planned to visit my family in Kansas in mid-May, so I can watch two of my nephews graduate from high school. Meanwhile, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released by a small publishing company in Anchorage, so I’m preparing for another round of promotion, and that is hard work. The first thing I’m planning to do is to host a “virtual” book-release party on Facebook. I’ll write more about this next week. For now, I’m trying to learn everything I can about hosting a virtual party. It’s overwhelming, and I hope I’m not in over my head! I admit that I have an uncomfortable relationship with social media.DSC_0168

Between my day job, promoting my novel, keeping up with my blog and my mystery newsletter, working on my next novel and my other writing projects, and getting ready for a trip to visit my family, my spring will be busy. No matter how rushed I am, though, if the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, you can find me sitting on our dock, craning my neck to watch eagles circle and soar, and inhaling the sweet, salty scent of the low tide while scanning the beach for foxes eating clams and mussels. I’ll also be glancing hopefully at the ocean for roiling schools of herring, and listening for the powerful exhalations of large fin and humpback whales. Spring is my favorite time of year, and I am never too busy to enjoy it. I’ll let you know what I see.

Fin Whale near Kodiak Island

Tell me about your spring. I want to hear about the beautiful tulips, daffodils and other flowers already blooming in most places, or if you live in New Zealand or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, how is your autumn?

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for my mystery newsletter. I am working on my next edition. Also, I apologize to anyone who has recently tried to order my novel Murder Over Kodiak. As I mentioned above, it is currently being re-released, and it will be available again soon with a bright, new, shiny cover. I’ll give you a sneak preview next week and tell you about my mixed emotions going from an indie author/publisher to working with a publishing house.