Monday, April 26, 2010

Pretty in Ink!

A good friend of mine, a vivacious woman in her early sixties, has been a nurse for almost forty years. Lest you think that this column will be filled with elements of the recent raging health care debate, lectures from my perspective on the matter, or other political diatribe, let me reassure you: I only want to share a joking observation that my friend has been known to make on more than one occasion. The biggest difference in the last ten years’ of taking patient histories? The number of patients with more than one tattoo, especially women.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the latest protagonist of the cozy mystery series which are so popular with women should be an intelligent, young amateur crime-solver who owns – not a catering business, or a quilt store, or even an herbalist shop, like so many of her sisters-sleuths – but a tattoo shop. Move over, Miss Marple and Nancy Drew. Meet Karen E. Olson’s latest character, Brett Kavanaugh, owner of “The Painted Lady”, a tattoo shop in Las Vegas offering ink body art to upscale clientele.

Brett, originally a Jersey Girl, had been supporting herself in New York City by learning the tattooing business: her degree in art (concentration in painting) from the University of Arts in Philadelphia was not bringing the kinds of job opportunities she’d hoped it might, namely the kind with a paycheck. As her Broadway actor fiancé became more enamored of himself, she’d found herself enjoying her new trade more than she’d thought she would – and more than he liked. His asking her to give up her ‘disreputable’ job was the final straw, motivating Brett to move to Vegas to live with her police detective brother, and buy the tattoo shop from its former owner. Thus, a cozy mystery series for the new generation is born!

Brett, with her bright red hair, tattoo “sleeve” featuring Monet’s water lilies, and Chinese dragon tattoo wrapping her torso, is a colorful character herself, but mystery author Olson keeps on giving, surrounding her with everything you’d expect in Vegas. Brett’s fellow tattoo artists and co-workers include ‘Bitsy’, a beautiful blond little person, who is the office manager; Joel, a gentle giant who can’t stay away from the gelato offered at the café in the Venetian-themed square where the “Painted Lady” is located; and Ace, more than slightly vain, whose movie-star looks actually make him the least exciting of the group.

In their first adventure, The Missing Ink, a young woman comes to the “Painted Lady” to make an appointment for a devotion tattoo – a heart with the name of her beloved inside – only to show up all over the national news when it is discovered that she has gone missing, less than a week before her wedding to one of America’s richest bachelors. The staff at the “Painted Lady” were the last to see her. The plot thickens, pandemonium ensues, with Brett in the middle of it, much to her police brother’s displeasure. Readers will laugh out loud and bite their nails as Brett’s search for answers takes her through the best resorts on the strip, the seedier side of the Vegas “tat” shops, and to an Elvis karaoke bar.

The “Tattoo Shop Mysteries” are a combination of the best elements of both hard-boiled mysteries and their softer cousins, the cozies. Brett, who is edgier than many of the librarians and knitting-club women from other cozy mysteries, reminds me more of Stephanie Plum (bounty hunter from the wildly-popular series by Janet Evanovich) or of Kinsey Milhone (private detective in Sue Grafton’s long-running ‘hard-boiled’ mysteries). This new mystery series, however, from Karen Olson, retains this important trait by which cozy mysteries are known – the sex and the violence are discrete, usually happening ‘off-screen’, without much description of the more risqué or gory details. Though the characters and the ambience are wilder than those in “Murder She Wrote”, this series is definitely a “safer” bet for teen readers and more appealing with its contemporary take.

To tattoo or not to tattoo? Email Hobo your tattoo secrets at his new email address, Not sure how to eat a red herring? Check Hobo’s recipes at his blog, Look for Hobo in his upcoming mystery, How to Get a Cat to Work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Among the Gentler Books

A great bonus of being in a bookstore on a regular basis is the opportunity to overhear, and often partake in, fascinating conversations. A frequent theme is the difference between books and movies, as well as reading versus watching television. I hear many a bibliophile declare – with at least a little hint of pride – that they don’t have TV at their house.

The other day, I heard a variation on this conversation about the American television diet, and it still has me thinking. A new author commented how his book is about the rural American life, in part because he wants to give rural people the chance to read a story to which they can relate. He said that, of late, the only programs on nightly TV are about murder, sex, drugs, and criminals, or the lifestyles of the spoiled and metropolitan. Almost every single one of these popular shows is set in a city.

This is an excellent observation. Gone are the days when we came home to watch the Waltons, or Little House on the Prairie, or the Andy Griffith Show. There’s not even any more Seventh Heaven or Northern Exposure. I guess “rural” isn’t in right now for “Must-See” television. This may have resulted in another recent trend – the genre of Christian fiction becoming a major financial force over the last five years. Several years ago, there were only a few popular, contemporary writers regularly publishing bestselling Christian fiction. Moreover, there were only one or two authors writing “Amish” Christian romance. In the last year, that number has increased exponentially. Suddenly, readers are faced with a plethora of books about “Rachel’s Choice” or “Leah’s Redemption”. If rural isn’t hip, then why the demand for stories about a simpler life?

The need for an alternative to nightly scenes of forensics and cleavage became even more clear to me as I read Gentle Forbearance, the first novel from Christian author Rachel Castellanos. Though the plotline is fairly predictable, that’s not unusual for a romance book, even by the most experienced of authors. Surprise twists and deep symbolism are not really the reasons people pick up a romance. With Christian romance, readers expect a gentle love story, with lots of references to the hand of God at work in the characters’ lives. Rachel Castellanos delivers these within a well-developed setting and amidst a network of believable and likeable characters. In Gentle Forbearance, the main romantic leads, Cassie Wilson and Jacob Dawson, do fall in love, but Castellanos credits her readers with more intelligence than many of the “Love Inspired” or “Steeple Hill Café” series books, allowing her characters to struggle through old hurts and other relationship challenges before coming to a satisfying resolution.

Although I only dabble in Christian fiction, I found myself drawn to this book, wanting to see how Castellanos would show God’s path in the lives of her characters. This reminder of faith, of believing that God is working in one’s life even when it seems painful or difficult, represents some of the best of what Christian fiction has to offer its readers. I have hesitated to write a review of Christian fiction in general, because I don’t want to offend in my observations that too many Christian authors dumb down their stories, or rely on too-neat “coincidences” to make their stories work, or do little justice to the real pain that people suffer – even people of deep faith. I have enjoyed books by Karen Kingsbury, Bodie and Brock Thoene, and Janette Oke; however, these criticisms can be fairly directed at a number of chapters in these authors’ works. While readers may want to read stories of gentleness, a simpler life, less ugliness and maliciousness, fewer crimes, and more heroes and heroines who strive for the deeper and higher meaning of hope, love, and faith, the bottom line for me in critiquing Christian fiction comes down to this: Christians aren’t dumb. Or, at least, they are no dumber than the rest of the population, or of the representatives of any other faith.

Rachel Castellanos’s first book shares some of the same problems as those from her sister authors in Christ, but she is just as good as Janette Oke and Marta Perry – if not better – and each of these women has thirty plus published books on their resumes, with literally hundreds of thousands of copies sold. Just like her main character, Cassie, it is my guess that Rachel did not believe in herself and her talent as much as she should have, and so went with a publishing firm that offers “author-financed” plans, giving Gentle Forbearance a higher cover cost than is usually comfortable for buyers. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that fans of Oke, Perry, Lewis, or Kingsbury take the plunge: we’re sure to see more from this talented new author, and you can say you knew her when.

Beverly Hillbillies or 90210? Check out Hobo’s past zip codes at his blog, City Christian or country Christian? Tell Hobo about your creeds at Watch for Hobo’s new Amish book, where he travels to an Amish farm.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Write a Screenplay

Kevin Coolidge

Furious typing. Shuffling of papers. Desk lamp silhouetting a man mumbling

(to himself)
Okay, okay, I have to finish this column on how to write a screenplay. Hmm, there are hundreds of books on the market, all trying to teach me how to write a screenplay. How is How to Write A Screenplay by Mark Evan Schwartz different? Well, for one, this screenwriting manual is written in the form of a screenplay.

From the opening page to the “Fade to Black”, this book is just what the aspiring screenwriter needs. There are many great books on how to write a screenplay, but they mostly feel like textbooks. The best can tell you the “how to” of the art and craft of screenwriting. The worst are often dull and lifeless, and they all feel like books.

I love books, but a screenplay is not a novel. What I found so useful about How to Write a Screenplay is that it looks like a movie script, feels like a movie script, and reads like a movie script. It follows the cardinal rule of scriptwriting by showing and not telling. Instead of explaining on how to write a script, the book is one.

Our protagonist, the aspiring screenwriter Danny, is hopelessly in love with a Hollywood starlet. But she won’t go out with Danny until he proves he can write a brilliant screenplay to showcase her talents. The script’s story is loosely and comically based on Dante’s Inferno. There’s a modern Virgil who guides our hero through the different levels of screenwriting hell, explaining the writing faults that condemned the victims. Throughout his journey, he is given examples of how to write better dialogue, create strong characters, and build effective conflict.

In addition to the screenplay itself, the book includes a short scene on “the pitch”. Some writers make the pitch before committing the time and energy to writing a screenplay in the hopes of finding support and financial backing. Others finish the draft, and then start the quest for the greenlight process. You can have a great story, but if you fail in showing that big-shot producer what a prize you have, you are going to fail in selling that little gem. Schwartz shows how to keep it simple, clear, and entertaining while avoiding lengthy explanation.

There’s also information on other items frequently requested by producers and agents during the pitching process—such as the logline, synopsis, and treatment. Also included are tools that will help make the script easier to write, like the character profile and the beat sheet. Once you’ve written your masterpiece, you are going to want to guard it from greedy executives, and there’s information on copywriting and registering your precious baby as well.

I found this book to be a fast, informative and a fun read. How’s the best way for you to use How to Write A Screenplay? I suggest reading it several times and then reading the scripts of some of your favorite movies. You’ll get the format down in no time, and perhaps soon you can see that brilliant idea opted for the big screen.

The illumination of a computer screen shows the columnist contemplating the words he’s written. With a subtle nod, he hits save and sends it to his editor.

The End.

Writing a screenplay? Or the great American novel? Email me at Have writer’s block? Visit htpp:// and be inspired by past columns. Hobo the cat is currently working on the screenplay for “Hobo Finds A Home”, but read the book before you see the movie. The book is always better…

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

From My Shelf Newsletter: April 2010

News! : “Winter hours” are over! We are open again on Wednesdays, AND, beginning the Sunday AFTER Mother’s Day, we’ll be open from 11 to 3pm each Sunday. So, from now until May 16th, our normal hours are Monday to Saturday, from 9am to 6pm. Beginning Sunday, May 16th, we will also be open 11 to 3pm on Sundays.

*New inventory, updated shelves! The last two weeks, we have been hard at work, really cleaning & culling the shelves, updating some sections, moving some genres to different shelves for better display. A part of this process has been in preparation to begin doing more business with Storey Publications and with ChelseaGreen Press, both leaders in publishing wonderful books on homesteading, gardening, community sustainability, the environment, local politics and economics, and do-it-yourself skills. We’re really excited to offer you more of these helpful and interesting books.

Upcoming Events at the Bookstore: (see calendar on website for details)

*Saturday, April 10th, 10am to 4pm: Hannah Wilkinson “People to People” fundraiser: We are helping Hannah raise funds for her trip to Europe this summer with the fantastic student leadership & ambassador program, People to People. Hannah & her family have been working extremely hard to fund this trip, and we want to support her efforts! 15% of today's store proceeds go to Hannah's trip. Hannah’s family will be holding a bake sale here at the bookstore during the book sale, so grab a book and a cookie to support a local student and your local bookstore!

*Saturday, April 10th, 4 to 7pm: GAME NIGHT!! For this game night, regular players have suggested that they’d like to play the following games: Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon, Horrorclix, and/or Pirates. People will definitely be here with their cards and/or figures for these games, if you’d like to bring your collection to play. Don’t know how to play these games, or not interested? Bring one of your favorite card or board games to share! Game Night is free and open to the public. Light refreshments served.

*Saturday, April 24th, 12 to 3pm: We’re hosting another double author event, with two local authors. We’re welcoming back Ida Temple, local mystery writer, with the second book in her series about Kate Spry, amateur sleuth. The first book in the series is “Troubled Nightmares”; this new one is “Lizzie, the Bag Lady”. Ida is an enthusiastic writer who loves people, so meeting her at this open house will be fun for everyone. Joining Ida for his first book signing is Rev. Ernie Jelliff, from Daybreak Ministries here in Wellsboro. At the request of many of his parishioners and friends, Rev. Jelliff put together a book of daily devotionals in a beautiful collection entitled “Just A Thought”.

Book club: will be re-grouping, with a new kick-off meeting planned for an evening in May. Stay tuned!

Writers’ workshops: The writers’ workshop on self-publishing, held in late March, was a huge success! We had too many people show up … we actually ran out of chairs! This 3-hour workshop discussed such topics as reasons for self-publishing, pros and cons of self-publishing, the self-publishing process, tips and tricks for navigating the self-publishing world, what bookstores are looking for from authors, and a little bit on self-promotion. Participants gave us great feedback, and suggested holding not only another workshop just like it, for people who missed the first one, but also going on to host a “part two”, concentrating more on promotion and marketing for authors who have already self-published. We will definitely be holding both of these seminars at a later date, so watch the website, the newsletter, and/or the Wellsboro Gazette for more news.

Read It Before You See It– Recap: the new movie “How to Train Your Dragon” started life as a really fun series by British author Cressida Cowell. For the longest time, these books were only available in hardcover, though well worth it. Now, with the opening of the movie, we now have them in softcover as well. Perfect for the reluctant middle reader or fantasy lover.

On deck for this fall: an animated, family-friendly fantasy movie, “The Legend of the Guardians”, based on this series we’ve loved, “The Guardians of the Ga’hoole” by Kathryn Lasky. We always have this series in, and often have used copies (at least of the first several), so you can try it to see how much you’ll like it! The preliminary movie trailer looks beautiful, but you know the book is always better….

Michelle’s corner:

The Black London Series by Caitlin Kittredge

Street Magic Book 1

Demon Bound Book 2

This series is one of the darkest I have read. It is gloomy & gritty. This may not sound appealing, but I liken it to a black & white movie. In a b & w movie it is gloomy, but by it being that way, with no color to distract, the characters are what holds your attention and this is what happens in this series.

The books revolve around Jack & Pete (a woman). Pete watches Jack perform a rite in a cemetery that goes horribly awry and leaves Jack dead and Pete haunted by what she saw. Fourteen years later, you find Pete working with the police and investigating the disappearance of children. During the investigation she comes upon an ALIVE Jack, who is now living as a junkie. He has turned into an angry, crude talking shell of a man. How can he be alive? What happened at the cemetery? What is the strong bond that is between them? Can Jack help her find the children?

I promise that after you finish the second in the series you will be just like me… waiting and watching anxiously for the third to come out and put us out of our misery.

Michelle’s picks for new releases not to miss

(This series needs to be read in order)

April 27th - Lover Mine: The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward

April is a rough month for new releases, but watch out for May. There will be lots of

can’t miss ones!!!


This just in! New releases/new inventory to celebrate!

· The Small Budget Gardener by Maureen Gilmer

· The Missing Ink by Karen Olson

· The Vampire Diaries: The Return: Shadow Souls by L.J. Smith

· Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams (not sci-fi! Nature/Travel commentary)

· The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

· Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon

· Good Bug, Bad Bug: All You Need to Know about Insects in Your Garden
by Jessica Walliser

· The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (now in paperback!)

· The Ultimate Book Club Organizer from Chronicle Books

· Fading Echoes by Erin Hunter (the newest in the Warriors series)

· Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals
by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D.

· When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (newest Newbery Winner!)

· Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor

PLUS, we just got a new order of BEAUTIFUL jigsaw puzzles in, with spring and summer themes … our puzzles are made in the USA and are NOT sold in big chain stores J