New Baby Arrives!

Two boxes of books arrived today, and I couldn’t be more excited and proud. A Lovely County was published in January last year. A Lovely Murder, the second in the Danni Deadline Thriller Series is out this week.

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I’m hosting a book launch this Sunday, November 13, at the Fayetteville Public Library, Fayetteville, AR, from 2 to 4 p.m. to make it official. If you’re in driving range, please come.

I want to share this moment because the thrill of publication is just as strong as the first time. It’s kind of like having a baby and then the baby’s sibling. I love both books. I love the nurturing of each word to create my babies. And I love the stories still floating as embryos in my head yearning for birth.

One thing that stays strong with me is the gratitude I feel for my publisher, Pen-L Publishing. They are the VERY best! Duke and Kim Pennell have held my hand from the first pitch of my story to this past week when lining out what my bookmarks will look like. They are supportive and diligent, allowing me to have the last word on the cover and most everything, all the while providing the best in editing and professional help through the process. On top of all that, they are nearly as excited as I am to see this baby arrive.

So, come if you can on Sunday. Hear me read a little from the book, pick up a copy of my new baby, and have a cookie and punch to celebrate!

If you can’t come, check it out on Amazon or on from my publisher, Pen-L at http://www.Pen-L.com/ALovelyMurder.html.

Laura Lippman to be at Eureka’s Books in Bloom

I’m so excited to hear Laura Lippman speak this Sunday at Books in Bloom in Eureka Springs. I intend to be there and pick up a copy of her new book, Wilde Lake while I’m at it.

I reviewed After I’m Gone a couple of years ago on this blog, and I’m confident I’ll enjoy her new book just as much. That confidence comes from the fact that I’ve yet to be disappointed with a Lippman story. She is one hell of a storyteller. Her characters are always rich, and her plots very well woven together with surprises along the way.

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My library includes plenty of Laura Lippman books, and I’ve read a few of them more than once.

After I wrote that review and noted that I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Lippman years ago, I was thrilled when she sent me a note stating she remembered meeting me. I attended “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” a conference held in Chicago by Mystery Writers of America where she spoke. I was absolutely delighted when we happened to share a shuttle to O’Hare Airport at the end of the conference. I talked to her about my book idea, and she told me to go for it, to write the book about a corrupt prison system, a serial killer and a reporter from the Ozark Mountains who puts it all together. That book, A Lovely County, came out last year. The second one in the series is due out in November. Pen-L Publishing is set to release A Lovely Murder in November, and I’m now writing the third one, A Lovely Grave.

I plan to take a copy of A Lovely County to Lippman this weekend and hope to be able to pass it to her! Wish me luck, because I’d love to personally thank Laura Lippman for encouraging me and teaching me by example about good plotting.

 

Publishing Choice is Personal

It’s a tough world in publishing these days. How do you decide which way to turn? Hold out for the big publishing contract that will likely never happen and doesn’t have the advantages it once did? Self publish and do all the work yourself?

The idea of self publishing is a viable consideration, but there’s something about the credibility that comes with signing with a publisher. Not to mention that a publisher takes care of working out a cover, formatting, etc. etc. etc.! Small indie publishers can offer so much to a new author these days that big publishing houses don’t. Namely, individual attention and a bigger percentage in royalties.

I published my first book with a small indie publisher. I’m proud of the effort I put into that first book, and the outcome.

Kimberly and Duke Pennell of Pen-L Publishing offered me a contract for three upcoming novels. My response, "Where's my pen? Then, a big THANK YOU!"

Kimberly and Duke Pennell of Pen-L Publishing offered me a contract for three upcoming novels. My response, “Where’s my pen? Then, a big THANK YOU!”

I recently signed with a different indie publisher based in Arkansas for my future books. I’m so excited that they were interested in my writing. Duke and Kimberly Pennell, who formed Pen-L Publishing just a couple of years ago, already have 75 or so titles under their belt. I opted to sign on with them mainly because of the integrity so evident in the two of them, but also because of their love of the craft and their dedication to creating a good product.

The choice was very personal to me. My writing is my heart. What I create with my voice is a part of me. I want to know that I can trust and feel proud of my choice in a publisher.

In November, Pen-L will publish A Lovely Murder, sequel to my first novel A Lovely County. I’m proud to say that A Lovely Murder took The President’s Award and 1st Place in the Unpublished Manuscript contest at Ozark Writers League late last year, so I can’t wait to see it in print.

Pen-L also graciously contracted to publish two more of my novels next year. A Lovely Grave is the third in the mystery series about small-town reporter Danni Edens. A fourth novel has yet to be titled.

Shouting in the Wind, Spitting in the Torrent

It’s not easy. I never thought it would be, but then the tiniest glimmer of hope landed in my lap. I finished my first novel and felt confident in it. I had a couple of small publishers interested and accepted the terms from one. Since A Lovely County published a year ago, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to make that a dream worth pursuing in today’s publishing world.

The waterfall that feeds the stream behind our home in Northwest Arkansas.

The waterfall that feeds the stream behind our home in Northwest Arkansas.

I feel like a drop of water in a rushing waterfall.

I blog. I’m not especially good at it, but I put my thoughts out there. I have a Pinterest presence. I Pin things writerly, beautiful landscapes, yummy looking recipes, and more. I even Tweet. In addition, I have an author’s page on Facebook and on Goodreads. I talk about things other than writing. I don’t overly push my book on social media, just try to keep my presence there and hope to be noticed. Does any of it mean anything?

I shout, I scream, I type, but it does little to bring attention to my book, my struggle to get readers, reviews, NOTICED!

I’ve even entered contests and have had some success. (Thank you, Ozark Writer’s League for the recognition with your prized President’s Award last year.)

Is Amazon, today’s Mega-God of Publishing, to blame? Surely, the legions of wannabe authors who’ve flooded the market with unedited or poorly written work can take some credit for the hard struggle of authors today. My book isn’t published by one of the big New York houses. It’s not sold in bookstores. (Maybe someday.) But, frankly, the bookstores want publishers to send them X number of copies and vow to reimburse them when they only sell Y number of copies. A small publisher, even many mid-range publishers, can’t afford that risk.

So, all the experts say an author has to push themselves on social media, get recognition and you’ll get reviews on Amazon and sales. I do that, but so do thousands of others. We shout at each other on social media, but who else cares?

I’ll never stop writing. I have dozens of Danni Edens mysteries in my head, one ready to go the publisher, a half-written thriller, and a young adult paranormal series I’d love to start writing.

I push on and hope for the best, but I have to wonder if it wouldn’t be easier on me to give copies to a few friends and family, and call it good. I love to write, love to tell the stories that bang around in my head, and that trumps all the struggle, so I press on.

If you have the same dream, tell me how you deal with the challenge.

A Tidbit From A Work in Progress

My mystery novel A Lovely County was published in January. I’m in the final stretch of writing the second in the series, tentatively titled A Lovely Murder. I’m anxious to write these last few chapters and read back through it. Over the next few months the hard part will be the editing, but I’m confident the pain will be eased with the help of my favorite editor Gil Miller, a dedicated and skilled member of the Oghma Creative Media staff.

Below is an excerpt tease from A Lovely Murder: 

“She shook her head and scanned the area around her. There was nothing but trees and brush between her and the lake. Whoever she chased had to be up the hill. Had to be trying to get out of the woods.

Running again, she tripped on something hard and fell face first to the ground. Her shirt snagged on a sapling as she went down. The cotton tee shirt yanked to the side. It ripped but held and helped to break her fall, or at least slow the momentum of the tumble.

She pulled the shirt loose from the tree, rolled over on her back, and fought to catch her breath.

Her heart pounded.

The siren grew louder, then stopped.

A turkey vulture circled in the window of sky in the canopy of leaves above her. The bird arced to one side, disappeared for a few seconds above the trees, and came back into view, its graceful flight similar to a ballerina with arms wide open gliding silently across a stage.

Silence. Only her own breathing.

“Who are you?” she screamed.

“Why?” she screamed louder.

“Oh my God, why?”

A lump caught in her throat, but she didn’t cry, wouldn’t cry. Tears would make it real, not a nightmare. It had to all be a nightmare.

Holding her breath, she listened.

Nothing for a minute.

She exhaled.

A car ignition started from somewhere up the hill. Then the sound of gravel spraying behind it as it sped away.

She lay still, watching the vulture.”

Book cover by Casey Cowan, Oghma Creative Media

Book cover by Casey Cowan, Oghma Creative Media

You can pick up A Lovely County on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lovely-County-Lori-Ericson-ebook/dp/B00S5I1ILY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1435930767&sr=1-1&keywords=lori+ericson

Also, check out Gil Miller’s blog The Book of Writing at https://gilmiller.wordpress.com. He’s got a lot of good advice on the craft. I loved his recent post on Stephen King and how we can admire but not copy his work.

Thanks for stopping by!

Mothers With Regrets and Mothers With None

As I look at the world today, I know there are many mothers out there who are suffering, many who suffer with regrets over things they should have done differently. I feel for those moms, but not for the ones who know how their children suffer and take no action.

Years ago as a reporter, I met a mom who made my own heart ache for the regrets she had. Her son had been abused, abused by a man she was led to believe would help him. Her boy was struggling when a co-worker began telling her about his experience in counseling boys. She didn’t know he had served a term in prison after being a counselor for a boy’s camp. She didn’t know that he had just been released from the Arkansas 309 prison program for abusing young boys. She knew he’d been in the program but was told it was for hot check violations.

Her son was raped. Her pain and guilt over the trust she’d bestowed in this man were heart wrenching.

Featured Image -- 245I used this mother’s story as a basis for Amy in my mystery novel A Lovely County. This mom was shocked at what she’d done. She regretted trusting this man.

Yet, there seem to be plenty of mothers who know how their children suffer but take no steps to protect them, plenty of mothers who only consider their own needs and consequences while their children are abused.

Sure, I could talk about parents in general here, but today is a day for moms.

Why are some so unable to take a stand and protect the children they birthed? Why not get up and leave if they feel their child could be in danger from the man they love? I know there’s nothing that would stop me from doing all I can to protect my own. But others don’t seem to have the strength or drive.

In northwest Arkansas, a mother sits in jail along with her husband after their six-year-old son died from horrific abuse. She claims it was all her husband’s doing. Even if the mother had nothing to do with it, she had to know. She should have acted long before. The signs of abuse had to be obvious on this poor child. News stories have detailed the state of their home and a camper that was used by the family in the days prior to his death and signs of abuse were apparently obvious there as well.

This is a different world than decades ago when there may not have been much help for victims of abuse. There are shelters and agencies ready to help at any time. There are churches even that will reach out to provide assistance.

Mothers cannot turn a blind eye, deny when horrible things are happening in their own home. They must take a stand and do all they can to protect their children, care for them, and set them up for the best possible future.

I can’t imagine doing anything less than that.

Real Life to Fiction

This is a synopsis of how I came up with idea for my novel A Lovely County and the real life news stories that generated the idea for the book. I’ve included this as author’s note at the end of the novel.

A Lovely County Front

Cover design by Casey Cowan, Oghma Creative Media

The idea for A Lovely County started churning in my brain in the early 1990s when I first began writing newspaper articles about Arkansas 309, a state program that places inmates in local jails to be used as labor. Those articles detailed problems with the program in a Northwest Arkansas county jail, but there was no serial murderer involved in the real-life controversy, and no accusations of any money being exchanged between county officials and the inmates participating in the program.

The story was about an Act 309 inmate, D. Holt, who worked in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office rather than in the jail as kitchen or laundry help like most other state inmates. Holt was allowed access to the computer system and after his release in 1994 was hired for a three-month period as a computer programmer for the sheriff’s office. Once other county officials realized the sheriff had hired this former inmate to handle what they considered a sensitive information system, Holt was let go. The sheriff and some of his staff members allegedly helped Holt obtain a position in a local medical office. Several months later, he was accused of raping an eight-year-old boy, the son of a co-worker he had befriended. The sheriff was quoted stating that Holt “snowed” him, but called him a one-time model prisoner at the jail.

When Holt was arrested, it was discovered that he had stolen numerous items from the jail’s evidence room and had printouts in his home of official police documents detailing child molestation and rape cases from throughout Arkansas.

The local prosecutor eventually dropped the rape charge, claiming the witness was not credible and there was no physical evidence of the alleged rape. At his arraignment, Holt admitted stealing from the county during his confinement as a 309 inmate, stating that he wanted items to sell after his release. He pleaded guilty to theft by receiving and was sentenced to ten years in the state penitentiary.

In a diary that became part of the prosecutor’s file, Holt provided details of trips he made away from the jail during his incarceration. He alleged that he programmed the computer of a sheriff’s captain at the captain’s home, was taken out for Thanksgiving dinner by a deputy, and to another department employee’s home to help build a fence over a weekend period, all while a 309 inmate at the county jail.

In a twelve-page letter to the mother of the eight-year-old boy he allegedly raped, Holt said he knew he was a pedophile and had made a point over the years to study the issue and read about crimes by other pedophiles. He claimed to be an expert on the issue of how to entice children into his confidence, and suggested that she join with him to form an organization to help victims using his expertise on pedophilia.

“I knew I wasn’t violent because I never could hurt anyone physically. I was just the opposite, I ‘loved’ too much and too openly,” he wrote in the letter to his victim’s mother.

Holt’s charges for sex crimes with children dated back to 1951, and included sodomy, indecent molestation, soliciting a child for sex, rape, and carnal abuse in several states from California to Arkansas.

Among the Arkansas 309 inmates housed in that same jail in the 1990s was a John Huffman, convicted of first-degree murder in 1982 and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison. During his stay in Washington County, he made leather goods for sheriff’s deputies, including holsters. Deputies complained that the hip holsters didn’t provide any type of safety features and were flimsy. However, upon accepting employment with the department, deputies were reportedly told to see Huffman to purchase their belts and hip holsters. The homemade leather goods became a big issue in November 1995 when an inmate who’d taken a gun from the deputy’s hip holster used it to kill the deputy and a private citizen. The deputy had transported the inmate to a local clinic for medical treatment when the inmate overpowered him, took his .357 revolver and shot the deputy in the chest. The inmate then shot a man in the clinic’s parking lot, stole his truck, and later used the gun to kill himself after wrecking the truck in a police chase.

I wrote in 1996 in a Northwest Arkansas daily newspaper, that Washington County was then housing twenty-six of the Act 309 inmates and several of them were the worst kind of hardened criminals. Two were serving time for first-degree carnal abuse, one for rape, and three for murder. The program at one time allowed more hardened criminals to participate, but now excludes those convicted of sex crimes, first degree or capital murder, and those with a history of escape attempts. Inmates eligible for the program also have to be within thirty months of their release date, which wasn’t always the case.

I’ve taken some liberties in A Lovely County with the way the Arkansas 309 program is administered in present day. Act 936 of 1997 brought about some needed changes. No longer can Arkansas sheriffs request specific inmates to be assigned to specific jail facilities, and inmates have to be supervised at all times. The changes require inmates to have the job skills to meet the needs of the facility requesting participation in the program. The changes also require that victims and prosecuting attorneys be given ample notice of the pending transfer of an inmate from the Department of Corrections facilities to a local jail.

The Arkansas Act 309 program has been good for the most part for the Arkansas Department of Corrections and many of the inmates and counties that participate. However, problems still plague the program occasionally. Most of the controversies have centered on the misuse of inmates for personal gain by local officials. The program has been suspended in a number of county and city jails for that very reason. It’s still being used in Washington County, but the present day sheriff and his staff seem to understand its restrictions and its benefits.

One of the most flagrant abuses to the system was discovered in 2006 in the city of Lonoke. The police chief there and his wife were arrested on a number of charges regarding the use of 309 inmates for not only work around their home, but also what was described as their own sexual gratification. The chief’s wife allegedly provided some of the inmates with drugs and alcohol, and at least one with a cell phone. The mayor of Lonoke was also implicated for using 309 inmates for numerous repairs, yard work, and even hanging Christmas lights at his home.

Although the idea for this book was based on a true abuse of the Arkansas 309 program, all characters and events described in A Lovely County are fictitious.

Check out my author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/loriericson

The Thrill of FINALLY Getting in Print

After years, I mean decades, of working toward a goal, it’s really a great feeling to meet it. I started thinking about writing a novel based on a series of stories I wrote in 1994 about problems in the Arkansas 309 prison program. Lack of confidence, life, and other issues kept me from ever starting to work on the novel for ten to fifteen years. Then I piddled at it forever. My daughters will even tell you that I wouldn’t even call it a book for years. It was “my project.” Seven or eight years ago I got more serious about it, joined Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop and rewrote it. Then I rewrote it again, and again, and again.

A Lovely County FrontThanks to Shannon Press, a division of Oghma Creative Media, A Lovely County has been published and released on Amazon this week!

I can’t tell you how thrilled and excited I am with this accomplishment. Yes, I am writing still. I have a thriller in the works that may turn out to be a novella, and I’m working on the second in a series about reporter Danni Edens, the protagonist in A Lovely County.

Thank you to everyone who supported me through this process, especially Sara and Hillary, my daughters, and my ever-proud husband Lloyd. Also, I doubt I’d ever get to this place without the Northwest Arkansas Writer’s Workshop. Thank you to everyone who read and critiqued and encouraged in our weekly sessions.

Here’s the link to my newly born Amazon page:

Laura Lippman Offers Another Great Read

Photo by Lori Ericson

Photo by Lori Ericson

Laura Lippman has the ability to put together a mystery plot like a tightly stitched patchwork quilt with a mixture of fabulous fabrics that you want to wrap yourself in and never let go. I get to the end of one of her books and am always amazed at how the story comes together with twists and turns around amazingly real characters that are fleshed out in revealing layers. This is particularly the case in her 2014 novel After I’m Gone.

The story easily jumps around a time period spanning several decades of family life, albeit a unique family life. Told from the perspective of five different family members and a few additional key characters, each reveals human qualities that bring out the best and worst innermost workings of heart and soul.

It’s a story of love, greed and betrayal as Felix Brewer creates a life of luxury for Bambi Gottschalk and their three daughters with somewhat shady business dealings that eventually catch up with him. He takes the chicken’s way out, avoids the penitentiary, leaving behind his family and a lover, along with a briefcase full of instructions and clues to where enough money is stashed to keep them living in style. But his family never knows about that briefcase and are left wondering if his mistress is the only one he cared enough about to provide something to sustain her in the wake of his departure. When she disappears exactly ten years after Felix vanished, it’s assumed that she has joined him on some tropical island. Years later her body is discovered. That discovery brings out secrets the Brewer women have kept from each other that nearly cost them all, until one of Felix’s women puts it all together. She finds that long-held desire created the mess and robbed her family of a life they deserved.

After I’m Gone is an excellent read, a complex mystery that won’t disappoint. The reader is likely to be slapping their forehead as the story unfolds in the end. I find myself doing that often at the end of Lippman’s books. I particularly like her standalone novels, but her Tess Monaghan series is also worth every turn of the page.

In full disclosure here, I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Lippman years ago. I attended “Of Dark and Stormy Nights,” a conference held in Chicago by Mystery Writers of America. I was fascinated to hear one of my favorite writers explain her craft, but absolutely delighted when we happened to share a shuttle to O’Hare Airport at the end of the conference. And, of course, I took a few precious moments of her time and shared a story idea I had brewing in my brain. She told me to go for it, to write the book about a corrupt prison system, a serial killer and a reporter from the Ozark Mountains who puts it all together. That book, A Lovely County, is coming out in a few months, and I’d like to thank Laura Lippman for encouraging me to get it written. I can only hope to be a Lippman kind of writer that keeps readers enthralled until the final page.