Amazon and Etta and Guns. O My.

With the most innocent of intentions, I decided to post an Amazon “click ad” for my novel “The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone.” If you have an ereader, you know the kind of ad I mean. The full screen ad that appears & wants you to click on it so you can learn more about whatever the ad is hawking and ultimately (of course) buy that item. Amazon in its omniscient, self-satisfied way knows exactly what you’ve been browsing on their site. Knows, too, what you like to read, so any ad for Etta goes to readers who in the past showed an interest in the kind of book Etta is: adventure, Americana, western, historical romance. The best part is that I pay Amazon only when someone actually clicks on the ad. I’ve done it before, and it’s a cost-effective way to garner screen time and name recognition.

This time, though, I made a colossal and insensitive error in ethical judgment because here’s Amazon’s response to my ad:

Unfortunately, your ad campaign has not been approved to run on Kindle E-readers for the following reason(s):
This ad contains an image of a realistic firearm, or a firearm pointed at the reader or a character, or a firearm being used.

Whew! When I think of the mayhem and savagery Amazon avoided by refusing to show this cover on an ereader screen ~

The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone by [Hasley, Karen J.]

~ I am limp with relief and gratitude.

Not really.

Amazon, get a grip. The vast majority of my generation who came of age in the 1950’s & 60’s managed to survive seeing Matt Dillon shoot a bad guy EVERY SINGLE WEEK of our young lives without experiencing a moment of paralyzing trauma because of it, either then or now.

And — trigger warning! ha! That was a cheap shot! ha again! (I can’t help myself. Sorry.) — every Saturday night many of us watched a show called “HAVE G-N — WILL TRAVEL”. (1957-1963) (Talk about a firearm “pointed at the reader”!)

Sadly, while I may forget to put water in the vase of flowers, I can still sing most of that show’s theme song. Yet somehow, I and kids like me managed to make it to our present advanced years without ever committing a violent act. (I don’t count spiders.)

If the sight of a book cover showing an old-timey six-shooter resting in a field of bluebonnets distresses someone, I’d venture to say that person needs more help than Amazon can offer.

“The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone” is a fictional story that takes place in east Texas in the mid-1800’s and has as its hero a Texas Ranger. This may come as a shock, but my research showed that the Texas Rangers carried guns in the mid-1800’s. Check this out- (yowza! don’t cross these guys!)

group of Texas Rangers in 1880's /1890's
I’d guess that today’s fine law enforcement agency, still called the Texas Rangers, btw, may carry guns as they go about their business even now. Take a look at:                       

OK. Rant over. I feel better. I can go on. I will survive to write another day.

Thank you for your audience, friends, and enjoy your day.

(Since The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone won’t be advertised on Amazon any time soon, please ask your ereading friends and acquaintances to head on over and buy a copy. And all of you could leave a review on Amazon expressing heartfelt admiration for the book’s cover. Just a thought.)




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The Last Crescendo

Thank you to all my readers, but a special note of appreciation to ‘Barbara,’ who contacted me through my website to say, “…what I enjoyed most was simply the musicality of your words. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed this. I have always been a voracious reader, but it’s been quite awhile since I found a writer with that innate ability to form their words into a rhythm and pattern … enjoying the sensation of the words as much as the story they convey.”

This is the first time anyone has commented on the cadence of my written words, and her perceptive comments were special to me because that’s what I look for when I read  – and that’s also how I write. From (literary) crescendo to (literary) crescendo, crescendo being a dramatic point in the plot line. In fact, there comes a time early on in a new book idea that I list all the crescendos in a column. My task then becomes to connect the crescendos in a sensible, legato way until I check off the last one on the list.

Which explains the title of this (all too infrequent) blog. Today, I am on to the last crescendo of my latest book, What We Carry With Us, the title taken from a quote by playwright Oscar Wilde: “Memory is the diary we all carry about with us.” Writing is a funny thing (odd funny, not ha-ha) and I struggled with the previous book I started, wrote and rewrote it, put it away and got it out again, all to no avail. It wouldn’t gel. I sighed deeply, apologized to the characters, and set the story aside. But in January of 2017, I ran across the Oscar Wilde quote, and for no reason I can articulate, the words gave me the idea for a new book. Now, not quite three months later, I’m almost done with its first draft. Who-o-o-o-sh!!

I hope to finish the final crescendo this week, add a coda, and then start the tedium of editing and editing and editing before I offer What We Carry With Us to you. I would be hard-pressed to explain how enjoyable it is when the end is in sight, the drama resolved, the characters settled, and the tale complete.

A ff thank you to all my readers; your patient allegiance means more than I can say.

Plan on a visit to (fictional) New Hope, Nebraska, this summer.

What We Carry With Us – available soon.



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And So It Begins

I’m starting a new book, a new series really, and this is how it works:

Start thinking about the story. (All the time.) Research. Make notes. Jot down ideas. Put off starting the book. Research some more. Make timelines. Jot down potential names. Put off starting the book. Research key events & personalities in American history. Try to configure them into the story. Make family trees. Jot down physical descriptions of main characters. Put off starting the book.

You get the picture. Why this is so is beyond me, but it has progressed (or not progressed, depending on one’s point of view) in exactly that way each time I started a new book. (Except for the very first one; Lily’s Sister was rudely impatient to see the light of day and ran ahead of me all the way.)

Over the next 2 years The Harvey House Quartet will begin to take up more & more space in my head. The characters will gather flesh & bone. The back stories will fill in. For me the fictional dramas will become real occurrences happening to real people, so real that their griefs will have the power to make me weep. Their dilemmas will keep me awake at night wondering what I would do in such a circumstance. (I quake a little at the thought. Writing first-person fiction sometimes puts me where I really, really, really do not want to be. Think Etta in Dangerous Thaw. Think Hope in Waiting for Hope.)

And so I put off the moment of the first word, the first sentence, the start of the journey. Literary procrastination. I should be used to it by now but the phenomenon still takes me by surprise, this wanting to write but putting it off and putting it off…until the characters are no longer content to stay quiet and subdued. Until their voices and their stories clamor. How odd is this reluctance! How systemic! How natural as breathing!

Book one of The Harvey House Quartet coming to a book site near you. Soon. Well, kind of soon. Once I start it. Maybe by the end of the year. Does that qualify as soon?  I suppose it all depends on your definition of the word.  Stay tuned.



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Not Your Mother’s Heroine

In my soon-to-be-released novel Magnificent Farewell you’ll meet a heroine (sort of a heroine. maybe. if you squint when you look at her) who is self-absorbed and unlikely to consider others’ needs above her own. Meg Pritchard has few of the finer qualities you find in the women of my Laramie Series, in Lou Caldecott Davis or Dr. Katherine Davis or Johanna Swan. Meg does not embrace hardship like Hope Birdwell or rise valiantly above great loss as Etta Capstone does. She doesn’t possess a drop of Dinah Hudson’s altruism, and she hasn’t any of the cheerful exuberance of the young Thea in Smiling at Heaven.  There is a woman in Magnificent Farewell who possesses many of the admirable qualities that match those previous heroines but it isn’t Meg. Meg is another kind of woman altogether.

Please go into Magnificent Farewell understanding that. If you keep that knowledge in the back of your mind, you’ll  appreciate the one truly sacrificial choice Meg eventually makes. She’s seldom acted against her own desires and even the smallest unselfish act should be recognized as a victory of sorts. Now, understand there’s nothing very grand about Meg’s choice. You might even read right through the moment without recognizing it because in the big picture of world wars, it’s a sacrifice on a very small scale. But Meg has to start somewhere, and doing the right thing when the wrong thing holds more personal gratification is her first step on the road to happiness. Meg’s idea of happiness, anyway, which she’ll get to in her own way and in her own time.

Much like you and my next book, I hope.

Magnificent Farewell. Coming soon.    

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Cycles, good & bad

If you search the Internet for the term Cycle of Abuse, you’ll find over 13 million entries. (yes, I said 13 MILLION) The term as social theory was apparently legitimized in 1979; it even has its very own Wikipedia page. Cycle of Violence is similar, with identifiable phases and yet another dedicated page in Wikipedia. (Not that Wikipedia is any kind of arbiter of validation…I’m just sayin’) But if you look for Cycle of Faithfulness, things pop up like the geyser “Old Faithful” & a completely incomprehensible geometric theorem having to do with causality (What in the world -?! I’m an English major, for crying out loud!) but there is no social theorem based on faithfulness. No Wikipedia page, either. And yet, such a cycle exists. If you’re a Christian (not that you have to be a Christian to see the Cycle of Faithfulness around you) you know – on the best of authorities – that there is such a thing. (check out Proverbs 22:6)

With that intro, you understand the premise behind my Laramie Series. Children that see parents faithful to each other, faithful to a certain way of life and a certain set of values, too, have a good chance of being similarly faithful: to spouse, to family, to values. I know, I know. Life isn’t perfect and people are flawed, but I still believe my social theorem – the Cycle of Faithfulness – has worth. I see it in the lives and families of my friends and acquaintances. Louisa Caldecott Davis and John Rock Davis started out in Lily’s Sister as one faithful woman and one faithful man, and from those 2 people – and that 1 book – a whole family tree emerged. A whole series of books emerged, too.

With the publication of Smiling at Heaven, the Laramie Series is over. If you pay attention, you’ll notice something about the first 6 words of the first book and the first 6 words of the last book (No, it wasn’t a lapse in my mental faculties, although I can lapse with the best of you!) and you’ll find several other shadows of book 1, Lily’s Sister set in 1880, throughout Smiling at Heaven, book 6 set in 1919; it’s because the Cycle of Faithfulness is replaying. With the epilogue of Smiling at Heaven – the concluding chapter of the concluding book – I wanted the reader to see and consider the long-term effects of faithfulness and steadfast (sometimes difficult) affection, not by beating the reader over the head with a literary board (figuratively speaking) but in a more subtle way, a way that I hope you will find to be satisfying and also bittersweet, as hellos and goodbyes often are.

I give you The Laramie Series – after 8 years, my own hello and good-bye, as it were –
Lily’s Sister – Waiting for Hope – Where Home Is
Circled Heart – Gold Mountain – Smiling at Heaven

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The Risk of Something Different

I leave The Laramie Series behind with mixed feelings. Lily’s Sister, the first of the six books in the series, came out in 2006 and the final book, Smiling at Heaven, will be out this fall. Right now Smiling is being scrutinized by a woman that doesn’t miss much (if anything) and the manuscript will eventually float back to me more red than black. Then I’ll review every suggested change, make the changes that seem right to me and the sense of the story, format it for Kindle, and that will be that.

I already realize that I’m ready to do something else [or maybe nothing else.] While the series has been a good friend to me and its characters are like family, I am ready to move on — move on in every possible literary way.

In September I will introduce a new series called “The Penwarrens.” Light-hearted and shamelessly romantic and meant to be read for no serious reason whatsoever, “The Penwarrens” is a trio of novels set in Victorian England. They hold no history lessons (but my research of the time is still pretty solid, I think), no moral imperatives, no lessons to learn, and no real-life women. They are written in traditional 3rd person voice not 1st person and none of them is longer than 175 pages. They will not make you think deep thoughts but I hope they’ll make you laugh and touch your emotions once in a while. I also hope that when you reach the last page you’ll say, “Well, that was fun!” because I can tell you they were a lot of fun to write. A far cry from The Laramie Series in many respects, but if I’ve done them right, I hope you’ll find “The Penwarrens” just as enjoyable and just as satisfying in their own small way. That said and with full disclosure, if sprightly little romance stories aren’t your thing, DO NOT BUY any of the books in this series.

“The Penwarrens” is a tribute of sorts, both love letter and thank you note to Georgette Heyer, whose novels have carried me through 50 years. Heyer — she of the witty dialogue and the snappy repartee and the dense vernacular of Regency England. An author able to write hopelessly, wonderfully romantic stories about characters the reader really cares about in sometimes ridiculous situations, and all that with only one staid kiss at the very end. Georgette Heyer was an author that knew how to use words — even archaic words (rap on your Kindle screen all you want, their meanings won’t show up, and – shades of elementary school! – the reader may have to use context to figure out words incomprehensible to contemporary minds.) Ms. Heyer tapped into the imagination and into the heart – tapped on the funny bone, too. We will not see her like again and it is our loss.

Book I of “The Penwarrens” titled Claire, After All is available on Amazon and in the Kindle store now, and Listening to Abby and Jubilee Rose are hot on its heels.

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The Young Soldier

It is a lot harder than I expected to write a credible murder mystery (accent on “credible.”) By page 9 in my new book a murder takes place – and I know who did it and why. But since I’d like to stretch out the story for another 250 to 300 pages I need to keep that knowledge to myself. In fact, I need to throw in viable red herrings, multiple suspects, and a few sustainable motives. Otherwise Smiling at Heaven will end up being one of the shortest murder mysteries in recent fiction. I’m having such fun with it, though, that if I can pull it off [please, please be surprised when the villain is unmasked!] I may have to try my hand at another one.

Btw, the title –Smiling at Heaven– is from a poem called “The Young Soldier” by poet Wilfred Owen. The last verse reads: “It is the smile / Faint as a (waning) myth / Faint and exceeding small / On a boy’s murdered mouth.” Google Owen and/or the title of the poem for the whole piece, but I had a yippee moment when I read it. So very perfect for my purpose! The only thing that subdued my happy satisfaction at the find is the knowledge of Owen’s death in World War One at the too-young age of 25. He died November 4, 1918, exactly one week before the armistice that ended The Great War was declared. Such fine talent wasted! Perhaps this last book of The Laramie Series will, in its own way, offer Wilfred Owen a kind of humble homage. He and all who lie beneath military white crosses on foreign soil deserve to be remembered.

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Thank you, Anthony Zerbe

The Laramie Series has been for me the quintessential labor of love. Not just loving the finished product – though in varying degrees, depending on the book, I do – but loving the process itself: growing absorption in a story, watching characters come to life and scenes play out in my mind, creating a believable context for what should be an unbelievable event. [Could you really fall through Lake Michigan ice in the dead of winter dressed in a heavy ball gown and survive? Really?] I’d said from the start that the series would be six books, and the first five books arrived in a timely fashion and without a lot of fuss and bother. The book I planned for #6, however, was a problem child from the start. The characters didn’t interact properly, not with each other or with me! Three starts to the book and none of them a go. The series finale had to be exactly right, that was important to me, yet the book I started and started and started again, wouldn’t come together. I even traveled to France looking for inspiration. (Wonderful croissants. No inspiration.) That book remains a good story with solid potential, and I’ll go back to it later, but it’s not a fit for The Laramie Series. I passed the time and scratched the writing itch with this year’s Breakthrough Novel contender The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone but always in my mind was the puzzle of The Laramie Series : How to conclude it in a way that would satisfy readers and as importantly satisfy me?

Then last Saturday, a cold and blustery Ohio afternoon, I plopped down in front of the tv, flipped through the channels, and found Anthony Zerbe. More accurately, I found “Gunsmoke,” a tv show of my childhood and the kind of show that was my mainstay for a lot of formative years. Good guys and bad guys. Heroes and villains. Violence but no gore. Love but no instruction-manual sex. All foreign to today, of course, and I’m not necessarily saying better than today, but just fine for a dreamy kid in the mid-1950’s.

You’ll recognize Anthony Zerbe (his face if not his name; put his name in your browser & hit Enter.) In that particular “Gunsmoke” episode he was a quick-draw bank robber saved from a life of crime and an ignominious, lonely death by the pangs of conscience and the love of a good woman. I know, I know, I know. I can spell cliche’ as well as the next person, but the story worked for me. I watched it start to finish and enjoyed it in an oddly heartfelt way. No plot surprises, but I’m a sucker for a good love story and a redeemed hero. “Gunsmoke” and the shaggy-haired Zerbe with his gap tooth and distinctive voice led me straight to Book #6 of The Laramie Series.

In 2014 I will bring out a 2nd edition of Lily’s Sister, the book that started the series, from a new distributor able to offer it in both hard copy and as a Kindle book (a format not available in its previous publication.) Lily’s Sister was set in 1880 western Kansas in the fictional small town of Blessing, and I realized that the as-yet-unnamed concluding book of the series must take place there, too, but forty years later in 1919 at the conclusion of The Great War. Blessing has changed a lot through the intervening decades – as has the country – shifting from sod houses and rowdy cowboys to the Model-T, Prohibition, national women’s suffrage, and the shock of a worldwide war, but in certain core respects the Kansas prairie town hasn’t changed at all. Several of Blessing’s characters from Lily’s Sister will reappear and the parentage of both my hero and my heroine will be familiar but the story, on the edge of America’s Roaring 20’s and spinning relentlessly into contemporary life, will be fresh. If soldiers returning from war and the changes in American society and culture aren’t enough of a plot line for you, I’ve spiced it up with a dramatic murder mystery, besides.

So I’m immersed in Kansas history, early 20th-century American technology, the great flu pandemic of 1919, and the emerging power of labor unions, in Henry Ford and Flo Ziegfeld and Woodrow Wilson. I’m in the trenches along the Western Front and hurtling across the Great Plains with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. I’m searching the quiet heart of a young woman that longs to see the world and the weary soul of a former soldier, older than his years, that’s seen too much of it. They’re meant for each other, I think, but that could change anytime before the Epilogue. What an adventure I’m having with this book! And I owe it all to Anthony Zerbe.

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The “Pitch”

I’ve been writing Query Letters to agents and publishers (think cover letters for employment resumes) for 11 years now, and I still find distilling a story line and characters into 1 page or into 300 words to be – in its own way – more difficult than writing the book itself. You try it: with 300 words max, summarize the plot of your favorite book to convince the reader s/he simply must have the book ~ have it right away and at any cost ~ (that “at any cost” part is especially important!)

What follows is the pitch I offered the Amazon novel contest judges for “The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone.” It appears simple enough, but believe me ~ a lot of time and many rewrites went into the finished product!

“ ‘Revenge is very good eaten cold’
For most people food serves a purpose and the purpose isn’t complicated. You eat it. But for Etta Capstone it’s not that simple. An excellent cook and the owner of a successful Texas restaurant, she’s had years to perfect other uses for food besides the obvious. Food as shield. As wall. As love letter. As peace offering. Food as life—well, half a life, anyway.
Etta’s not like other women. She’s been frozen in the past, frozen heart and soul for a long time, captive to memories of unbearable violence. Until suddenly, with the sighting of the man she holds responsible for her painful history, Etta begins to consider the possibility of a more satisfying future. She knows that with a good cooking fire and the steady heat of a patient man’s love, a lot of things are possible—even change, even happiness—and to her way of thinking, all that stands in the way of a bright future is one wicked man, one necessary execution, and lessons in good penmanship. So as a woman used to creating dishes from diverse and rare ingredients, Etta concocts a deadly recipe using just those elements. She knows better than most that life offers few guarantees, and if all it takes to free her from the past is one wicked man, one necessary execution, and lessons in good penmanship, she’ll take the risk and make the effort, no matter who gets burned. Because after years of keeping the fires of love and the warmth of hope at a distance, Etta Capstone is finally ready to thaw. ”

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“Commercial Prospects”

I recently read an older thriller & was reminded why I write historicals. Technology has changed so much that a book written in its contemporary time can become dated pretty fast. The detective hero wasn’t able to contact anyone when he found the murder victim’s body…in this day & age of cell phones that do everything short of warming up your Lean Cuisine in the microwave, when is that likely to happen? It’s like watching reruns of “Friends”…still entertaining but am I the only person totally distracted by that big brick of a phone with the pull-out aerial they use? I figure my stories start out dated so there are no risky distractions from the plot. IMO, however, there’s a different kind of risk to writing historicals & that’s to give the characters contemporary thoughts & motivations. 21st century women wearing 19th century skirts, so to speak~ Not that there aren’t universal, human, timeless feelings but people wrote & spoke & (yes) thought differently 145 years ago. The challenge is to take those differences & weave a good story around them so that for the reader the fact that it’s 1870 is really secondary to everything else – to plot, characters, action, & emotions. I ramble about this particular subject because “The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone” is close to being out although no agent or publisher wanted to introduce her to the reading public. “While I found your material very well written and enjoyed reading it, I was never fully convinced of its commercial prospects.” (that from a kind agent who at least took the time to read what I sent) True, my book doesn’t have a single vampire in it & it’s no shade of grey at all (what does it say about the reading public that what they sent to the top of the best seller list is a trilogy of contemporary pornography? I don’t mean to sound superior in any way when I say, ‘I don’t get it,’ but I don’t get it. The reviews of the “50 Shades” books – reviews from ordinary readers on Amazon – called the writing repetitive & trite… repetitive & trite & still mesmerizing, I guess.) Anyway, after being told my book wouldn’t sell I put it away for well over a year. But that Etta! She wouldn’t let things be (which is just like her.) So I decided to bring out the book myself through a website called CreateSpace. I simply couldn’t keep Etta in a (figurative) drawer any longer. “The Dangerous Thaw of Etta Capstone” is in the queue to go up on Amazon soon & I accept the fact that it has “no commercial prospects.” I’ll keep my day job. Besides, I don’t make that call, not really – you’ll be the judge. I just know that I think it’s a good story about a remarkable woman. “Write what you love; love what you write,” a successful author once advised. So I did.

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