Tips for Characters Who Must Walk Quietly

In my series of prehistoric fiction, Man vs. Nature, quiet is important. My characters usually try to blend into nature, become invisible. I did a lot of research on how special forces and survivalists do that but also how animals–like elephants–can be so quiet despite moving quickly.

Turns out, there’s a science to walking quietly. Most trackers emphasize the same techniques (see below) but to understand what they mean takes time. I became intrigued with native populations who could move so quietly, they were there–and gone. I started reading about their life style, their understanding that to remain hidden from danger means to be part of Nature. To sound like her, not apart from her. If you can sound like the animals, the trees, the wind, danger is less likely to find you.

Here are some of the books I studied to reach an understanding of this topic:

  • Nature’s Way–Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man
  • The Forest People, by Colin Turnbull
  • The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior, by Tepilit Ole Saitoti
  • Tracking and the Art of Seeing, by Paul Rezendes
  • Tom Brown’s Field Guides, by Tom Brown
  • The SAS Guide to Tracking, by Bob Carss

If you don’t have time to read these books, here’s a quick summary of a few of the ideas I got from them:

  • Watch the next place you will step. Be mindful of objects you may step on.
  • Try walking on bare dirt or live grass. Dead foliage creates a perceptible “crunch” even when lightly stepped on. If you must walk through these, proceed slowly, bent over. Remove obstacles if necessary.
  • If following someone, match the cadence of their steps (i.e. when they step with their left foot, you step with your left foot). This will mask noise your feet make.
  • Place the heel of your foot down first and roll your foot slowly and gently onto the ground. If moving swiftly, run/leap from location to location. Avoid landing flatfooted. For moving backwards, this is reversed, so that the ball of the foot is placed down first, and then the heel lowered to the ground.
  • To get close to a target, walk on the outer edge of your feet, rolling from heel to pinky.
  • If you have to walk on gravel, bend low at the knees. Hit the ground heel first. Roll forward to the ball of your foot and then put your other foot down, heel first, directly in front of the first foot, almost touching it.

Tips

  • Running on the balls of your feet helps with speed and quietness but requires strength in the feet and lower legs and flexibility in the ankle and foot joints.
  • When climbing trees and cliffs, try to place the toes and front padding of the foot in between branches and on crevices of the cliff. A little force on a branch or crevice may dislodge a shower of debris or break the twig, alerting watchers.
  • Avoid shifting your weight until your forward foot is firmly on the ground.
  • You don’t just walk with your foot; your whole body is involved, from arms and head for balance, to hips and torso for driving the leg movements, to the legs themselves for creating the distance.
  • When breathing, breathe through your mouth rather than nose to reduce the noise of breathing. If you feel the urge to sneeze, suppress it by firmly pressing on your upper lip.

If you put all of these tips together, you get what’s called the Fox Walk, the Weasel Walk, and the Cat Walk, methods taught by experts like the American tracker Tom Brown and taught to him by an Apache elder.

The Fox Walk

The basic movement of the ‘fox walk’ is to plant the foot on the ground before weight is placed on it and the stride is shorter than a ‘normal’ one. If you have studied Tai Chi, you will have been taught a similar way of moving. The centre of gravity for this walk should be in the hips.

The Weasel Walk

The Weasel Walk is great for stalking where you want to move not only silently but slowly.  It is similar to the fox walk with the arms very close in to the body and the hands often on the knees for support.

The Cat Walk

For this one, begin your step by lifting your foot straight up, toes pointing down to avoid snagging. Place the outside of your foot down first. Press the ball of your foot into the ground consciously, rolling from the outside in. Bring down your heel, then slowly shift weight to that foot. Be prepared to lift and shift whenever you feel any obstacle that might snap or crackle under your weight.

If you have a character who makes a living–or life–out of stalking, tracking, avoiding detection, he’s likely to use these methods of silencing his movement.

Do you have a method your characters use?

More on nature

How to Write Descriptions People Want to Read: Nature

Walk With Me…


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021.

Tech Tips for Writers: Google Drawings

Google Drawings is a free Google Drive-based drawing tool that allows users to create drawings, devise marketing pieces for their writing, brainstorm stories with concept maps, and more.

To use Google Drawings, here’s what you do:

  • Open your Google Drive account; go to New and select Google Drawings (it’s probably located under ‘More’).
  • Insert shapes, lines, an image, or text with the editing tools.
  • When finished, publish the drawing as a stand-alone or add it to a Google Doc, slideshow, or spreadsheet. As will all Google tools, it can be shared with others in a wide variety of methods.

There are a lot of drawing programs available — SumoPaint, KidPix, and TuxPaint to name a few. All are wonderful in their own right and many more powerful than Google Drawings. So why use Drawings? Here are eight reasons:

  • It’s collaborative which is nice if you’re working with a team.
  • Projects are easily shared with others.
  • It syncs between locations so you can start a drawing on your laptop and finish it on your tablet. 
  • It is minimalist which means it is easy to learn, intuitive to use, and with only exactly what you need for most drawings.
  • It’s easy to find. Rather than trying to remember where you created your drawing, Drawings are all saved to your Google Drive. 
  • Edits are easy. Just open the project from Drive and edit.
  • The project can be shared as a link or embedded into many different locations with an embed code found under File>Publish to the web
  • A project can be downloaded as a .jpg, a .png, a vector graphic, or a PDF

Here are eight projects perfect for writers:

Brainstorming, mindmap to plan your story

Create the bubbles and arrows popular to mindmaps with Google Drawings rather than a dedicated mindmap tool like Bubbl.us. Since Drawings allows for collaborating and sharing, it’s easy to brainstorm a story if you’re co-authoring and come up with a collaborative solution everyone likes.

Here’s an example I created:

google-draw-mindmap-brainstorm-k

Comic strip another way to share your story

Create a comic strip trailer for your novel quickly and visually. Here’s an example:

Infographic about your story

Introduce your story with an infographic created in Drawings. Here’s a good video on how to create the shapes required for infographics. Once that’s done, add text boxes to describe your story.

Timeline (events in your plot)

I love timelines but most of the online tools are less than satisfactory (I won’t mention names). Google Drawings has become one of my favorites because of its minimalistic approach–add text boxes to identify events in the story and then add pictures. The example below uses a thick line, text boxes for events, and one picture to sum up the story:

Clickable map of your story

Create a map of the locations in your story. Add a picture that links to a rundown of what happens there in your story. Use this to inspire interest in potential readers.

Here’s an example of a story, based in the USA (though you won’t be able to click the red stars because I’ve uploaded a screenshot only):

plot map in google draw

***

In a literary world where getting noticed is critical, Google Drawings could be exactly the right tool.

More on Apps for Writers:

Digital Storytelling Tools

How to Screenshot

How to Use Canva in Your Writing

Interview with Jackie Fraser


I met Jackie years ago in an online writing forum. We later spent time in the same writer’s group and whenever I’ve had to take time away from the group, I beg Jackie to keep sending me her stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to read a lot of her books and I’m rereading her latest now. Jackie is so good at creating characters who feel like real people – the kind you think about long after you’ve finished reading. A big reason for that is her ear for natural dialogue that makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation. Her new novel, The Bookshop of Second Chances, is like that. I got her to talk to me about her writing style and publishing journey.

 

Talk a bit about your most recent book. How long did it take to write? Who is your audience?

The Bookshop of Second Chances is commercial women’s fiction. It’s about Thea, who loses her job and splits up with her husband when she discovers he’s been sleeping with her friend. Her great-uncle has left her his house and collection of books in Lowland Scotland. She goes up there to sort out the house and sell the books. She meets Charles and Edward, estranged aristocratic brothers, and decides to stay for the summer, getting a job in Edward’s second-hand bookshop. And so on.

I’d hesitate to say it’s entirely romance, although it’s stuffed with romantic tropes, some more foolish than others. I wanted to see how far I could go with that and still write something I’d like to read. So the audience is ‘me’ and by that I mean ‘women of 45 plus who like a happy ending but don’t always find older women in romance novels particularly relatable’.

It took about five or six months to write altogether – I began in September 2016 and it was more or less done by the following spring, although I had some trouble with the ending. I did a million drafts.

Tell me about your writing process. At what stage of writing do you find outside feedback helpful? How do you sift through differing advice?

I have an idea for the beginning of something, and usually an idea about the central relationship. Then I just hammer it out. I don’t fight it if I get stuck, but I do make myself keep going if I’m bored of typing. I work it out scene by scene (at night usually) and sometimes I’ve done that well enough in my head that actually getting the thing into the computer seems a bit tedious.

Like everyone, I have good days and bad days, on a good day I can write 8000 words, but usually I manage much less than that. I edit as I go along but not in a decisive way – I just often re-read and amend sections as I’m going. My aim is always to just get the first draft finished, though, not to make it ‘good’ in any way. I put the speech marks in at the end, because writing dialogue is my favourite thing and punctuating it gets in the way. Apparently this is a bit weird.

I do a number of drafts and don’t share it with anyone until I’m pretty happy with it. I go on the waiting list for the Women’s Fiction Critique Group (on Facebook, run by ex-Authonomites). The Bookshop went to be critiqued in February 2018, so I’d probably waited, I don’t know, six months for that? I can’t remember. I was writing something else by then, anyway. So it went off to be critiqued. I think it was the fourth of my books that went to the WFCG, and the response was pretty good. I’d been a bit worried that it might be too ‘romantic’ (they don’t do standard romantic novels) but generally it went down a storm. I was slightly surprised, even though I did think it was quite good. (British sense of ‘quite’ there – as in ‘reasonably’.)

I got some good, useful feedback, particularly about the end as I recall, plus a significant suggestion about changing the location of one scene. I usually copy and paste all the comments into a document and work through them. Critiques are so useful, even if you disagree wildly with what people are saying. Anyway, I did a ‘final’ draft, and then probably another three. By 2019 I was trying to make myself submit it. I don’t always submit my books, I find it quite difficult, even though rejections don’t really bother me. But submitting is hard work, I hate writing synopses because my books have very small plots that can look quite feeble, and the whole thing is wearisome.

Do you plot it all out on note cards or does the ending come as a surprise to you, too?

Ha, no, I don’t really plot at all. I just ‘put some characters in a room and see what happens’. As I say, I usually have a vague idea – I mean the question is always ‘will X and Y KISS?’ and the answer is ‘YES, OBVIOUSLY’ – it’s not very complex. However how they get there and what the ‘apparently insurmountable barrier to congress’ will be is less clear.

What do you do if you get stuck?

I stop and do something else and assume my subconscious will fix it, which is usually does.

Do you read in the same genre(s) you write in? Are there particular authors who inspire you?


Ah, so this is a tricky one and the answer is… not really. I like literary fiction best. Which I can’t write, although I do try sometimes. I also read a lot of non-fiction (which I also write). Recently I have read a few more books at the lighter end of the women’s fiction spectrum because one ought to read in one’s genre. But I read all sorts of things, and I’m basically inspired by everyone who writes well, in whatever genre.

In terms of my own genre, Georgette Heyer is my greatest inspiration because her books are funny, and her characters are almost always convincing, however silly her plots may appear. My favourite authors include Iain Banks, Douglas Coupland, Claire Fuller, Terry Pratchett, Hilary Mantel, Susanna Clarke, Sarah Perry, E M Delafield, Stella Gibbons, and Kate Atkinson, who I absolutely love. (Interestingly, Atkinson says she’d write books even if they never got published and I would too – that is, after all, what I’ve done my whole life up to now.)

Can you describe your path to publication?

Well. Simon & Schuster UK have a Digital Originals imprint and every year in July they have a one-day open call for commercial women’s fiction submissions. Last year I noticed this on the actual day, and the extremely short deadline was very motivating. I sent off ‘five hundred words about me’ plus my first chapter. That week they came back and asked me to send the full manuscript. I’d never been asked for a full before, so this was quite the thrill.

Then everything went very, very quiet. In October one of the team shared a pic on Twitter of their Kindle with my words on it, which was exciting, but then it went very quiet again. In January they started talking about #OneDay2020, so I assumed it was a no, and planned to email and ask for a formal rejection (for my Rejection Spreadsheet). But when I opened my emails that morning there was one asking me to go to London for a meeting. Obviously I cried.

Anyway, I went to the meeting (I was extremely, surprisingly nervous) and we talked about the book and my soon-to-be-editor suggested a couple of revisions. I went home and did those and then we signed the contract. As an editor myself, receiving my copy-edits was really exciting, and, dare I say it, enjoyable.

I’ve been very lucky, as they’ve sold the rights in Germany and the US, so there will be a German edition (for my German in-laws to read!) and an American one – which will be a physical paperback. (The US edits were extremely bracing – I also had to write an extra chapter for them.) Plus there’s going to be a large print library edition, and US and UK audio books. I’m astonished frankly.

What can we expect to see from you next?

I’m writing two new things at the moment and hoping they’ll want to publish one of them. One’s about a woman who runs away from home, and the other one is about a woman who owns a fancy house that she rents as a retreat for artists and writers. I’ve nearly finished the first drafts of both, and am at the stage of having no idea whether they’re any good.

For more information on Jackie, follow her on Facebook!

Writing Tips from the Master–Stephen King

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

When I first heard about Stephen King’s how-to book, On Writing, I didn’t even check it out. I figured a horror writer couldn’t teach me what I needed to know about writing in the thriller or historical fiction genre.

I was wrong. Turns out, his book is chock full of common sense, easy-to-understand hints about how to write a great novel, be it literary fiction, historic, horror, or any other genre. King just seems to get it–the twists of plots, the fascination of characters, the uniqueness of settings.

Here are seven of his tips. For more depth on them, visit the Positivity Blog:

  1. Get to the point
  2. Write a draft. Then let it rest
  3. Cut down your text
  4. Be relatable and honest
  5. Don´t care too much what others may think
  6. Read a lot
  7. Write a lot

More tips from writers:

18 Tips on Grammar from William Safire

A Bunch of Tips from Jeff Goins (Who’s He?)

Tips from The Careful Writer

Click to have Writer’s Tips delivered to your email box

Questions you want answered? Leave a comment and I’ll answer it within the next thirty days.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Summer 2021. 

Thoughts That Run Through My Brain Now That I’m Published

An efriend writer originally published this as a guest post on their blog to help me launch Against All Odds August 2020. In case you missed it there, here are my anecdotal thoughts on how to add drama to your story:

***

K.M. Allen has a wonderful blog subtitled “Writing Advice From A YA Author Powered By Chocolate And Green Tea”. It’s hard-hitting, upbeat, and covers many of my musings as a write. Months ago, she wrote a post called Thoughts That Run Through Your Head Now That You’re a Published Author. It’s a good read and spot-on (as are all of her posts). It sent me into a tizzy of what I thought about after my first book in the prehistoric fiction genre, and then after each subsequent ones. With Against All Odds now out,my fourth in the Man vs. Nature ecosystem and final in the Crossroads trilogy, here are my thoughts on writing in a genre that few even know exists:

  • Ever since I started my prehistoric fiction series, it’s been like having one foot in quicksand and the other on a sheet of ice. I was told over and over it wouldn’t work–that I wasn’t Jean Auel (duh) so don’t waste my time. I guess I like wasting time.
  • There are times I feel that my keyboard might as well be a potted plant except it’s a lot more annoying.
  • I’m a Trekkie–long time Trekkie. I felt what the Starship captains might have felt when I started writing my first prehistoric fiction, boldly going where few have gone regardless of risk, reasonableness, or advice from those who know better. I can count successful prehistoric fiction writers on one hand. There’s probably a good reason for that. If I could stop, I would but passion isn’t something that can be controlled.
  • Wondering if my book will be a Blockbuster is like watching a long fuse burn on a stick of wet dynamite, pretty sure that the dynamite is a dud.
  • I hate when people replace facts with hyperbole. Let’s relate that to my books: Someone declares my latest novel the ‘best story since Jean Auel’ but doesn’t buy the book, as though calling it ‘best’ replaces the purchase.
  • A lot can happen between “I’m a writer” and “I finished my novel.” For example, I might never get there. That will happen some day but I guess I’ll keep writing until it does.
  • There seems to be no cure for writing in a genre that most people don’t read. I don’t care.
  • Writing about life a million years ago is like trying to put a jigsaw together without the picture. Almost no one knows what that world looked like.
  • If we are defined by the choices we make, what’s that say about my choice to write in a genre with arguably one of the smallest reading populations? Never mind. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

More on being a writer (humor)

Are you a Writer?

What Worries Me When I Write

Tricks of Being a Writer

11 Bits of Wisdom I Learned From a Computer

 


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature, Winter 2021. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Book Review: Now They Call Me Infidel

Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on TerrorNow They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror

by Nonie Darwish

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Nonie Darwish’s fascinating peak into the mind of a Muslim woman, Now They Call Me Infidel (Sentinel 2006) takes the reader through her life as she shares the events that shaped her opinions and ultimately caused her to leave her homeland Egypt and make her life in America. It is a history of Egypt and why it changed from a middle class somewhat prospering nation that valued effort, hard-work, kindness, and honesty to a socialist society that ultimately destroyed the middle class of workers and the capitalist economy that scaffolded their lives, and the part that played in their move to a government of radical Islamic values.

Nonie Darwish was the daughter of a Muslim shahid–a man who was martyred for the Islamic cause. He, and Noni through him, was honored, almost worshipped for giving his life so the religion of Allah could move forward. Her life was blessed because of her father’s work. Nonie’s mother seemed to find her stride with the death of her husband (she did unusual activities for a female in Egypt like drive a car). Through her, Nonie was able to study, educate herself, and make decisions that other Islamic women were not able to do. She began to question some of the beliefs she’d grown up with, such as that all Jews were horrible and that women should serve their husbands.

Through Nonie’s experiences, we the reader get insights into innate differences between the Islam society and American. For example:

  • No Arab could avoid the culture of jihad. Jihad is not some esoteric concept. In the Arab world, the meaning of jihad is clear: It is a religious holy war against infidels, an armed struggle against anyone who is not a Muslim
  • God expected us to embrace jihad
  • The word ‘shahid’ means ‘martyr.’ It is the highest honor bestowed on a Muslim and absolutely guarantees entrance to heaven. Shahaida can be achieved by being killed during jihad against the perceived enemies of Islam
  • Because of that verse in the Koran, many Muslim men feel that it is within their legal and religious right to beat their wives
  • At the time I left(1970’s), Egypt had a 70 percent illiteracy rate
  • In the Muslim world there are no real distinctions between moderate or radical Muslims; all are Muslims
  • The non-practicing Muslims are often as biased, extreme and supportive of jihad as the religious extremists
  • I soon discovered that rabid anti-American feeling is rampant in the majority of US mosques
  • Many American mosques show no respect to their host country. They have come with the agenda of changing the culture and not to be part of America.
  • For those of us who fled tyranny, if not for America, where else could we run? If it weren’t for America, where would I be now?

One of the greatest take-aways from this book is that I am reminded why immigrants are the most patriotic of Americans for they see us for what we are, not for our failures.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Man vs. Nature saga, and the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Laws of Nature Fall 2021. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Labor Day 2020

Labor Day is meant to celebrate the contributions we make to our country. Here at Today’s Author, we want to celebrate the contributions we make with our creative efforts.  What better day to spend a few minutes, choose a prompt or two (or more) from our archive of Write Now prompts and share your work with the Today’s Author community!

LaborDay

#IndieAuthor Book Blast for Against All Odds–Can You Help?

In place of a scintillating post about writing, I am making a plea for help in launching my latest prehistoric fiction novel, Against All Odds:

Xhosa’s extraordinary prehistoric saga concludes, filled with hardship, courage, survival, and family.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man tries to make their new home on what we now call the Iberian Peninsula. There, they find enemies as well as help from unexpected sources. To survive, Xhosa and her People must be bigger-than-life and capable of doing the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

If you’d like to know a little more about Against All Odds, here’s the trailer.

I need your help

I need help in my book’s Book Blast. Here’s how it works:

  • You agree to tell your community about my latest book, Against All Odds, at some agreeable date between August 3rd – August 14th (or a custom date that works better for you).
  • I will include a link to your books and/or your blog post on the Book Blast post which will headline my blog for about two weeks. I want this to work for your marketing as much as mine!
  • Once you sign up, I’ll send you everything you need–blurbs, marketing pieces, videos, quotes. You use what you want, what suits your blogging style.
  • Just sign up on this Google form.

Before you begin: The form gives you options for what type of post you’d like. I can 1) answer a series of pre-designed questions, 2) be interviewed by you, or 3) send you one of nine newly-written articles about writing.  The questions–you won’t know what they are until you get them. The articles–you may choose but it’s first-come-first-served. When I’ve assigned all articles, no one else gets them. I hope this helps to drive traffic to your site to read a fresh, original article.

Here’s the link or fill in the form below:

I’ll publish a list of everyone who’s helping me on my blog with links to your Amazon Author page (or similar) with your latest books as well as to the post. Last year, it looked like this:

If you would like to help (and earn my unmitigated love), please click here or complete the form above to let me know which activity you would like to participate in. I’ll spring for the virtual coffee and cookies for everyone who visits!

Questions? I’m at askatechteacher@gmail.com.

Thanks in advance for signing up!


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

7 Westerns that are Amazingly Good

If you like reading about or need to create characters who are strong and passionate, who value justice over anything else, who respect the difference between right and wrong, who live by their wits and their ability to think problems through to successful conclusions, you might consider reading westerns. That is their core. A book in the western genre without these traits just wouldn’t make it.

So no surprise that during the lockdown, I powered through a bunch of Westerns. With their hard-driving heroes who tolerated lots of problems both from nature and man, they seem particularly suited to the angst I felt. Here’s a long list of books I read in this genre during April-May 2020:

  1. Rising Fire–a new generation of Jensen’s get themselves in trouble–just like their parents
  2. Die with the Outlaws–Matt Jensen agrees to help a friend of a friend herd horses to markets; that’s harder than it sounds
  3. They Came to Kill–Preacher and Jamie MacCalister help the transcontinental railroad clear the way for their tracks
  4. North of Laramie–Buck Trammel, former NY cop and former Pinkerton and current bouncer at the Gilded Lily, find trouble
  5. Pray for Death–Will Trammel finds out that a quick job to complete prior to his wedding day isn’t
  6. Buzzard’s Bluff–what does a long-time US Marshall do for excitement? Run a saloon in a small town.
  7. Ambush Before Sunrise–set in today’s western ranch with all the Old West plot points
–all received free from NetGalley in return for an honest review
–a note about my reviews: I only review books I enjoyed. I need to be inspired to write. That’s why so many of my reviews are 4/5 or 5/5

Rising Fire

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In Book 3 of the Jensen Brand series, Rising Fire (Pinnacle Books 2020), Smoke Jensen’s son and daughter are in Europe where the doctor’s who keep his son’s illnesses in check can take better care of him. While taking a tour of the civilized centers of the various countries, Smoke’s daughter, Denny, falls in love with a Count who unfortunately turns out to be after her money. She finds out just in time, dumps him, and returns to the family ranch in Colorado. Fast forward ten years and to Denny’s surprise, the Count steps off the train in her town. Hoodlums try to gun him down and Denny saves his life before realizing this is the cad she once loved and now wants nothing to do with. He pretends his presence there is simply coincidence but Denny is suspicious, especially when he again acts as though he wants to court her which makes the US Marshall who quietly loves Denny pretty annoyed. It gets a lot more complicated from there. Lies are told. Innocents are accused of crimes. People are killed. And out of it all, a new love is born.

Another great story for the Jensen ecosystem. I love this series.


Die with the Outlaws

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In Die with the Outlaws (Pinnacle 2020), Book 11 in the Matt Jensen/Last Mountain Man series, Matt Jensen, the adopted son of Smoke Jensen, is an itinerant wanderer, cowboy, former-Mountain-Man, and reliable friend to those he cares about. He’s a hard worker but simply can’t make himself put down roots. When a friend of a friend needs to get a herd of horses to market, Matt agrees to help. He is between jobs and this is just the type of job that appeals to him. It should be quick, easy, and safe, except it turns out to be none of those. To get the horses to market he must first stop the rustlers trying to steal them and fix the town law that isn’t fixing the problem. Really, not that hard for a Jensen.

Though not Smoke Jensen’s blood, Matt Jensen in every way is the hard driving strong willed talented member of the Jensen family. He can’t turn his back on injustice and will always be there for a friend in need. His adventures always make for great reading. Highly recommended for fans of the Western genre.


They Came to Kill

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

I love Preacher stories. He was my introduction to the survivalist world of the old west’s mountain men, Americas hardy never-quit folks who lived off the land, got along with the Indians, and respected a life that was one with their surroundings. The mountain man called Preacher does that better than anyone. Preacher’s friend, Jamie MacCalister needs the old mountain man’s help. Jamie is as much a legend as Preacher:

“There’s no better fighting man west of the Mississippi. . . or east of there, either, for that matter. Jamie Ian MacCallister is one of the best-known frontiersmen in the nation, spoken of in the same breath as Kit Carson and Jim Bridger.”

The army wants Jamie to help them build the transcontinental railroad through the Apache-infested west. He agrees and puts together a team of tough folks–mostly mountain men and including Preacher–to do the job. Jamie knows that for one General, this is about more than the railroad. His son disappeared on a scouting expedition in that area and he fears he’s been taken by the Apaches. He knows if his son is still alive–however unlikely–MacCalister is the General’s best chance to bring his son home.

And so starts one of the best of this series. As usual, it’s filled with bits of old west wisdom:

“An unloaded gun might as well be a hammer, except you can’t drive a nail as well with it.”

“Santa Fe The streets, or so the old saying went, were laid out by a drunkard on a blind mule.”

“They were a nomadic people but didn’t travel much by horseback. He had been told by an old-timer that the Apaches trusted their own legs not to give out more than they trusted those of horses. They could run all day when they needed to.”

If you are a Preacher fan, or a Jamie MacCalister devotee, you’ll love this book.


North of Laramie

by William Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

The Johnstone ecosystem of western heroes is vast, deep, and ever growing. I’ve read quite a few of the standalone and series but here is another new one. North of Laramie (Pinnacle 2020), first in the Buck Trammel Westerns series promises to be an excellent addition. Buck Trammel is a down in his luck former New York cop, former Pinkerton detective who ends up a bouncer at a small-time saloon called the Gilded Lilly. That changes when he defends a gambler accused of cheating and ends up killing two sons of a local big shot rancher. To this enraged father, it doesn’t matter that the gambler wasn’t cheating or that his sons pulled their guns first or that Trammel just defended himself. He just wants revenge. Trammel flees town, taking the gambler with him–otherwise, he would be killed. The two form an unlikely partnership that works well enough that they survive and make a fresh start. Well, at least for a while.

Another great story from the clever minds of the Johnstone crew. Keep em coming.


Pray for Death

by the Johnstones

5/5

In Pray for Death (Pinnacle 2020), Book 6 of the Will Tanner Westerns series, Will Tanner, US Marshall, is supposed to get married on Christmas. He loves his fiancee but planning this wedding is like pulling porcupine quills out of his foot so he jumps at the chance to help an Indian policeman, Jim Little Eagle, with ruffians who are shooting up his Nations-based town. It doesn’t take long to stop them–

“There was not enough intelligence between the two drifters to fill a whiskey glass.”

…but these two are part of a larger group that are themselves part of a town–Muddy Boggy Creek–created by not far from the Nations with the express purpose of supplying the Indians with liquor and owl hoots with a safe place to stay when pursued by the law. Will realizes he must clean out this town–the source of the problem–or he won’t have solved anything. That will take longer but Will is sure he can take care of it before his Big Day (well, pretty sure) and that’s what he sets out to do. Being Will Tanner, he won’t quit until he succeeds and he always has clever ways to face problems.

The first sentence of this book sets it firmly in the old west genre I love. Read this:

“Jim Little Eagle reined his paint gelding to a halt on the bank of Muddy Boggy Creek about fifty yards upstream of the log building bearing the crudely lettered sign that identified it as MAMA’S KITCHEN.”

This is another in the excellent Johnstone Old West saga. I am so happy it is a series.


Buzzard’s Bluff

by William and J.A. Johnstone

5/5

In the Johnstone’s Buzzard’s Bluff, part of their newest series, Ben Savage Saloon Ranger, Ben Savage is an excellent US Marshall, has been for twelve years, but when he inherits a saloon from a fellow retired US Marshall, he decides to travel to the small town of Buzzard’s Bluff, check out the saloon, and see if it is time to settle down. With the unlikely name of Buzzards Bluff, he takes over managing the Lost Coyote Saloon, making the current female manager a 50/50 partner. He quickly ends up in a battle with the other saloon on town for supremacy. This isn’t what Ben wants. His desire is to simply run a good business that is good for the town, but this other saloon has a different goal: to drive the Lost Coyote out of business.

This is another excellent Western you won’t want to miss from the Johnstone’s.


Ambush Before Sunrise

by B.J. Daniels

4/5

In Ambush Before Sunrise (Harlequin 2020), JoRay “Jinx” McCallahan must take over running her family ranch when her father dies. She hopes her new husband, T.D. Sharp, will help her to do this but he ends up to be lazy, uninspired, and a gambler. She files for divorce and he fights her every step of the way including making it impossible for her to hire wranglers to move her herd to their summer range. She manages to hire the nephews of her mothers friend, Angus and Birk as well as their cousin, Emily. When TD sees his plan foiled (to prevent her from the drive), he tries something else, and this more deadly.

Overall, this is a good story with a nice balance of western ranching and budding romance. The problems in today’s ranch are similar to those you’d find in the old west including horses, cows, stampedes, a chuck wagon, bad guys with guns, a black bear, and broken hearts. My only complaint might be that the writing gets a bit repetitive in some parts, sharing backstory, but not so much I didn’t keep reading!


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Summer 2020. 

Tech Tips for Writers #171: Turn Your 2-in-1 into a Tablet When Flying

tech tips for writersTech Tips for Writers is an occasional post on overcoming Tech Dread. I’ll cover issues that friends, both real-time and virtual, have shared. Feel free to post a comment about a question you have. I’ll cover it in a future Tip.

Q: I’m traveling with my Surface Pro (a 2-in-1 tablet-laptop) and want to avoid having to stow it when they say “Turn off all digital devices”

You’re in luck. All you have to do is remove the detachable keyboard and it is now considered a tablet.

More on Tech Tips for Writers:

7 Google Apps Tricks Writers Should Know

My Internet Stopped Working

3-step Solution to Computer Problems


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Against All Odds, Winter 2020. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning