Book Signing — Naples Barnes & Noble

Did a signing Saturday, 25 March in Naples. Thanks so much to Jessica Olson and staff!

Long drive from Tampa (about 180 miles the way I go) and, as I cruise along at 60 MPH, EVERY vehicle on the road passed me. I passed no one, going or coming. Was even passed by an antique car on its way to some car event. Trip complicated by the fact that my GPS thing went on the blink. Tampa to Naples is no problem, get on I-75 and follow the signs. But inside Naples I found myself wandering around. Finally I found myself driving up and down a major street looking for the intersection with U.S. 41  — the Tamiami Trail mentioned so often in my books. After a mile or so it dawned on me that I was ON the Tamiami Trail and only a few blocks from the book store.

I never got lost with maps. But with GPS  …

Is Writing Long a Sign of Senility?

Was James Joyce senile when he wrote Ulysses (at 265,000 words, one of the longest novels in English literature)? Was William Faulkner habitually drunk when he wrote his famously-fragrant

.             James Joyce in Dublin

prose? Probably not.

But “rambling and long-winded anecdotes could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research that suggests subtle changes in speech style occur years before the more serious mental decline takes hold.” Read the article here

“Sherman cites studies of the vocabulary in Iris Murdoch’s later works, which showed signs of Alzheimer’s years before her diagnosis, and the increasingly repetitive and vague phrasing in Agatha Christie’s final novels – although the crime writer was never diagnosed with dementia. Another study, based on White House press conference transcripts, found striking changes in Ronald Reagan’s speech over the course of his presidency, while George HW Bush, who was a similar age when president, showed no such decline.”

My fiction writing problem seems to be the opposite. More than thirty years of writing nonfiction — articles, news, even grants — has made me habitually spare. When I’m told, a few thousand times, to be as brief as possible (often more brief than possible) to meet 1800 to 2000-word magazine lengths or 250 to 500-word news reports, it’s hard to relate to writing a novel 70,000 words long.

So my stories’ rough drafts usually end up at about 50,000 to 60,000 words and must be 70,000 to meet the standard length for the type of mystery I write. It’s worse in fantasy where my final-draft 80,000-word stories fall well below the standard of 120,000.

This is not all bad, though. That 50,000-word rough draft gets better as I rewrite to add depth and color. And with each rewrite it gets longer. After ten or a dozen rewrites it’s no longer nonfiction-news telegraph style but a more rounded, colorful, pleasing story.

And I love rewriting. Someone once asked me who my favorite author was. “Me,” I said. The obvious danger is that I could rewrite and rewrite and end up ruining the story through overblown padding. I try not to do that, pad. I notice that later rewrites are less and less rearranging or adding verbiage and more and more focusing on grammar and punctuation.

This is as it should be. To continue to expand each sentence might be considered — senile.


*NOTE: WhenI wentto Wikiopedia COmmons to find a graphic to use, I typed in the search box “big books” and it asked me if I really meant “big boobs”. What have we come to?


Upcoming Author Events:

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by Steve in Fiction | Mystery - (0 Comments)

Upcoming Author Events:

Springtime and book signings. Great!

Saturday, March 25, Naples from 2-4 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Waterside Shops, 5377 Tamiami Trail, Naples

Weird Literary Agents

February 21st, 2017 | Posted by Steve in Fiction | Nonfiction | The Writing Life - (0 Comments)

Weird Literary Agents

So I’m once more using my database of agents to look for a partner in a new project.  I try to get all the information I can about an agent before wasting my time and his or her time. I carefully examine their web sites, any other web sites listing them, and I have several printed books to refer to as well, the best being Jeff Hermann’s annual guide. I do this in order to submit to them queries carefully tailored to their wishes.

I add to my database as I go. I always prefer agents who are members of AAR, the Association of Authors Representatives. That web site has a wonderful agent search engine and it’s free, so go use it. These are the gold standard and sworn not to rip off authors. Not being a member of AAR doesn’t necessarily mean an agent is bad; merely that he or she is not a member. But membership is a handy way to screen them. If I were a literary agent I would certainly want to be a member so, as a writer, I want an agent who thinks like I do.

But I run across odd agents. Not many. Some. A few funny, a few sad. Some general categories:

– The 20th-century fans. These refuse to use email for communication, preferring stacks of paper in packages with small stamps plastered all over the outside. Stamps went out with buggy whips. Do they use telegrams too? The sheer labor and expense involved aside, the main question is this: Do I want an agent who is uncomfortable with modern communications technology out there representing me? (Answer: No. I skip them. They’re likely too busy with their letter openers anyway.)


– One (only one, and no more, I hope) with an unchangeable and sweeping indemnity clause in the submission form I must fill in at their web site. Pass. I’m not going to cover their legal fees because some weirdo chooses to claim that my manuscript was something remotely like his manuscript. I’m accustomed to indemnity clauses in my nonfiction work but was always able to modify them to be more reasonable. But this one was a required checkbox on a form. I told Laura Gross, the agent, she was cutting herself out of may of the best professional writers — and then reported her to the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) of which I am a long-standing member. They agreed that the agent was out of line.

– I’m so special. The agent who insists upon an exclusive look at your manuscript. Only rarely encounter this any more. In fact some agents make apoint of saying they assume yours is a simultaneous submission — you have sent to more than one agent — and they are fine with that. I like to compare an exclusive demand to your telling a new car salesman to park that shiny car in his back lot and not show it to anyone else while you take up to two months (optimistically) to make up your mind. Let me know what his response is.


– Bad web sites. Lots of bad web sites. Literary agents aren’t the most technically-savvy bunch and some web sites were painful to navigate. But even that was better than the ten percent or so who had no web sites at all and no other clue as to what they want or how to communicate with them. Probably more 20th-century fans; I have no way to know. Pass.

– Burying the data inside the blather. Most agent web sites’ descriptions of their agents tell me where they went to school (I don’t care) or the names of their pets (I care even less) and brag endlessly about the authors they’ve repped in the past (usually far past; they don’t often update these web sites.) I don’t care, or care very little. I want to know what genres of writing they prefer to rep. I just wish to know if this is a person who wants to see the type of manuscript I have prepared. I don’t know why they make it so hard to learn that — and then complain about getting so many emails from authors who are off-topic. That information, if available at all, is buried in the endless verbiage. I’ve gotten good at scanning but, even so, it’s a pain.

– The dead. I even ran upon a few I could cross off my database because they died or retired. Even finding out someone is dead is not that easy; their listings in the various online sites go on and on. We’re all immortal on the Web, I guess.

But, with all the flaws, most literary agents are trying to do their best in a tough business and I appreciate their work. Spend a few hours per day reading agents’ web sites, interviews, blogs and personal descriptions and you can respect their efforts. Now, if you excuse me, I have some tweaking to do to my database …

Support Planned Parenthood!

January 30th, 2017 | Posted by Steve in Fiction | Mystery - (0 Comments)


Buy our books.
Support Planned Parenthood!

I have teamed up with my publisher, Untreed Reads, to help out!
Untreed Reads will donate 5% of book sales to Planned Parenthood.
I will match that, for a total of 10% going to fund health care for women.

Click here for details

Book Signing, St. Petersburg

January 16th, 2017 | Posted by Steve in Fiction | Mystery | The Writing Life - (0 Comments)

Friday, February 3, St. Petersburg from 6-8 p.m. Books at Park Place, 10468 Roosevelt Rd., St. Petersburg
(might be there a little earlier). Click here for the Facebook event listing. And a personal note: For some time now, these folks have had to deal with having the road torn up in front of their store. Let’s turn out and support them!

Springtime and book signings

January 9th, 2017 | Posted by Steve in Fiction | Mystery - (0 Comments)

(update): Thanks to Cynthia and Book Swap for a pleasant outdoor event with some other writers.

Had to laugh at one point. A customer kept insisting the name was “mango” as in “Death Among the Mangos” and turning my Mangrove Bayou police chief into the Florida Horticulture Detective. Come to think, that seems an unexplored niche in the mystery field. hummmm . . . I’ll be planting some poinettias today. I’m thinking “The Poinsettia Poisoning” first in the Black Thumb mystery series.

“Professor Thumb, this man appears to have been done in by eating poinsettias.”

“How would you know that?”

“Well, he’s got about three pounds of poinsettia leaves stuffed into his mouth.”

Springtime and book signings. Great!

Saturday, January 14, from 12-4: Book Swap, Tampa. Free (used) book if you buy one of mine. If you cannot make the signing, you can reserve an autographed copy by calling 813-963-6979, or emailing Six authors will be at the event:

  • Jeffery Hess: Beachhead (1980’s Tampa Bay area)
  • Stephen Morrill: Mangrove Bayou (Mangrove Bayou, #1), Death Among the Mangroves (Mangrove Bayou, #2) (Florida mystery)
  • Allan Drake: Harriet’s Journey (general fiction)
  • Chris Widdop: Velrco: The Ninja Ka, Velrco: The Green Lion, Velrco: The Masquerade (middle school fantasy)
  • Liza M. Garcia: Never Drink Coffee During a Business Meeting (business book to help get promoted or for the new grads)
  • Ana Aluisy: Reinvent Your Relationship: A Therapist’s Insights in Having
    the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted




Saturday, February 3, from 6-8 p.m. St. Petersburg. Books at Park Place (I might be there a little earlier). Click here for the Facebook event listing. And a personal note: For some time now, these folks have had to deal with having the road torn up in front of their store. Let’s turn out and support them!

Thanks to UntreedReads for their good work, Mangrove Bayou is now available for preorder in both ebook and paperback ahead of its May 26th release date from the following vendors:

Amazon (Kindle only):
OmniLit (EPUB, PDF, Kindle):
Apple’s iBookstore:

The Untreed Reads Store:
The paperback is ONLY available for preorder from our store. All preorders through May 31st will be eligible to be signed by the author. See the link for details.

Comments, corrections, advice, are always welcome. Click here to send those.


This is just a fun post, no deep thinking being done here.

When I set out to write a series of mysteries set in a small Gulf coast Florida town I named the town Mangrove Bay. Not terribly original, I suppose but descriptive enough as a place name. I wrote two book manuscripts before I discovered I’d made a big mistake.

Once I had two manuscripts in hand, I went looking for an agent. “Why, maybe I need to have a web site to tout my books,” I said to myself. Myself answered with “Good idea. Let’s go to the internet and buy that domain name.”

Hah. No such luck. was already taken. And I wdotURLsanted a .com, not a .something else. On top of all that, the name Mangrove Bay is on a dozen or more housing developments and (I think) some sort of clothing line. Annoyed, I started playing around with the options and discovered that merely adding two vowels would get me MangroveBayou and that was available as a .com.

Now I had to go back into my two manuscripts — not yet sold to anyone — and change all Mangrove Bays to Mangrove Bayous. Thank goodness for global search-and-replace!

With Sorcet Chronicles it was easier. I’d learned a lesson: Secure the domain name first and only then name your books. Sorcet Chronicles is my (so far) four-volume fantasy series starring Sorcet, a sort of druid/sorceress.

This time I first did a web search on several variations on the theme of ‘sorcerer’. One word, Sorcet, came up entirely blank. There was no Sorcet web site, no Sorcet anything at all. Sorcet wasn’t a word in any language except Turkic where it refers to (I think) some obscure form of bread.

So I bought and then wrote the books.

Is this a backwards sort of world we live in, or what?

What’s in a (character) Name?

March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Steve in Fantasy | Fiction | Mystery - (0 Comments)

Interesting discussion on about English surnames:

There Are 7 Types of English Surnames — Which One Is Yours?
Many of us have surnames passed down to us from ancestors in England. Last names weren’t widely used until after the Norman conquest in 1066, but as the country’s population grew, people found it necessary to be more specific when they were talking about somebody else. Thus arose descriptions like Thomas the Baker, Norman son of Richard, Henry the Whitehead, Elizabeth of the Field, and Joan of York that, ultimately, led to many of our current surnames… (more)

Long post:

What to name your character in your novel? Several factors come into play:

Of what country/nation/tribe/whatever is this person a member.
English names (see the link above) are easy for Americans. Other racial/ethnic background names, not so much. A current trend in the African/American community is to give kids names more African-sounding. Seems reasonable, given that Asian/Americans have used Asian names forever. (It’s harder to have last names Africanized, as that requires a court order. So we end up with our young woman named Shasmecka Williams — combining a Nigerian given name (“princess”) with an American “slave” name. This is not bad — I don’t consider any name as bad — but it is an interesting historical comment in a way.

But if your character is from (or the story set in) an Asian country, or a Spanish-speaking South American country, then what? I ran up against this issue when I worked for Reuters many moons ago and had to track down Spanish-heritage people in the U.S. court system or elsewhere. Mr. Raul Herrara Gonzalez would likely call himself Raul Herrara to his U.S. friends but the government would list him as Raul Gonzalez because the U.S. government seemed to have no concept of patrilineal/matrilineal nomenclature. Confusing.

African names? Well, what’s ‘Africa’? Egypt? Nigeria? Tanzania? South Africa with English and Dutch influence? It’s not a country, it’s a continent. Choose names wisely.

In what time period is the story set?
As any expectant mother who has pored over lists of baby names knows, names have periods of popularity. I don’t know what’s ‘in’ or not; I have never named a baby. I mean, I called my Savannah-breed cat Spots and even his predecessor was Spots. Not terribly original.

I once knew an author who said he got his character names from cemetary tombstones and obituaries. “Those people don’t need their names any more,” he explained. Amusement aside, he was inadvertently naming his current-era characters with names that had been all the rage seventy years or more ago.

How old is your character? How old is your anticipated reader?
You’re writing your book today, but your character was born fifty years ago. Your average-age reader of fifty is surrounded by people with fifty-year-old names too. What to do?

Do you wish the name to do more than just identify the character?
Charles Dickens was famous for choosing names that conveyed some personality-aspect of his characters. Seems like a lot of thought-work to me but if the result is not too tortured, I suppose it would work today. Your track-and-field heroine could be named Francine Pettijane or Jane Armstrong. Which sounds more athletic to you?

And Lynda Schab has a good discussion of this at How 2 Choose Character Names:

So, what’s the big deal about naming your character? I mean, a name is a name, right? Everybody has one. Some are long (think, Winnifred Patricia Hinkleberry), some short (Ty Cook), some rhyme (Larry Berry), some even have the same first and last name (Jeff Jeffries). In real life, you may chuckle at the names you hear but probably don’t give names much thought. Why should you take the time to choose a great name for your character?  . . . (more).

All right. Now, I admit to laziness here. I sort of scramble around when I need a character name and the more important the character the more I pay attention. But I also tend to grab up scraps of paper off my desk — bills, notices, ads for the local grocery store, whatever — and sort of transmogrify some word there into a name. My private investigator character, Cord Macintosh, is named for (a) Cordwainer Smith, a penname for Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger, who wrote science fiction that I read when I was a teen and (b) my computer. I was casting about for a name and there it was, right in front of me. If I ever name someone ‘Logitech’ you’ll know I was looking at my keyboard.

My police chief of the Mangrove Bayou books, Adam Troy, is a case where his name is relevant. Adam was named for the first man in the Bible by the director of an orphanage in Troy New York. He’s constantly having to correct people who think his last name is Adam or who tell him his names aren’t terribly original. Well, duhhh.

For my Sorcet Chronicles fantasy series, I knew I wanted a web site to promote the books. Web site names are hard to come by. I looked for something vaguely similar to ‘sorceress’ and came up with Sorcet. It’s not anyone else’s name. It’s not even a word in any language but Turkic, where — I think — it’s some kind of bread. Anyway, Sorcet it is and the website URL was available. (The narrator of those stories, incidentally, is Tachi Green Fujiwara, so back to our ethnic names.)

Speaking of Mangrove Bayou, the first two books called it Mangrove Bay. But, surprise, surprise, that name was taken for a web site URL. So I added two vowels and bought the URL of Then I did a global-search-and-replace to change the name in the book manuscripts which I had not yet sold. (But I have now; first book is due out in May, second at the end of 2015.)