Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

25 May 2010

Interview with debut mystery novelist Stephen Parrish

In Stephen Parrish’s mystery-adventure novel The Tavernier Stones (Midnight Ink), a varied cast of fortune hunters race to decipher the secret code on a centuries-old map that leads to a treasure trove of fabled jewels.

Welcome to my blog, Stephen, and congratulations on your new novel!

Thanks for having me!

You’re a cartographer and gemologist by training, and you live in Germany. How much of your own background ended up in your novel?

Practically everything. You're familiar with the old adage, write what you know. I knew maps, I knew gemstones, I knew Germany. When the idea occurred to me to put them all together I couldn't resist. I had also lived among the Pennsylvania Amish and have long been interested in codes and ciphers. After reading my book you'll know pretty much all there is to know about me.

One of the things I really enjoyed about your novel was that it was full of interesting tidbits about maps and cutting gems. How much of that did you already know and how much did you have to research for the book?

I'd already had the formal training and experience, but I needed to brush up a lot. There's a big difference, it turns out, between knowing something and knowing enough about it to construct a believable scene. Basically I just went back and read all my textbooks again, only this time I actually took notes.

Was living in Germany a help or a hindrance in writing, researching, and selling your manuscript?

The research on this side of the ocean was of course easier, but I had to fly to Philadelphia (someplace I'd never been) to write the scenes that took place there. As for selling the manuscript, a few people warned me I'd have trouble because I lived so far away, but the issue simply never came up.

What attracted you to study cartography?

Initially, the mathematics of map projections, the science of deforming the sphere. Then the art, the graphic design. Finally the history. I said what the heck, let's get paid to do this for a while.

What was your favorite part of writing The Tavernier Stones?

The very first scene. I needed a bog in northern Germany, and after studying some maps I decided to try the area around Hamburg. So one weekend I drove up there, stayed in a hotel, and spent a couple of days driving and stomping around until I found the right bog for the story. Unfortunately most of my description of that bog has been cut, but I couldn't wait to get back home to write the opening chapter.

Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code made mystery novels about lost knowledge and treasure popular. How does it help your promotional efforts for The Tavernier Stones to be in such a hot subgenre, and how does it hurt?

I didn't read The Da Vinci Code until after Tavernier was in submission. Afterwards I figured being tagged as a copycat was inevitable. My publisher is using the similarities to promote the book; maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't. I don't care. The two works that probably influenced me the most were Edgar Allen Poe's short story "The Gold Bug" and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

I was intrigued that one way you’re promoting your novel is by having a treasure hunt on the Web. Could you explain more about that?

I didn't want Tavernier to get lost in a sea of debut novels, most of which are ignored by a reading public overwhelmed with choices. Bookstores can only carry a fraction of what's being published. I decided to do something bold yet related to the story: Give away a diamond. As soon as I can I'll make it a bigger diamond. And bigger still. Clues to solving the "armchair treasure hunt" are embedded in the novel, so the contest is promotional in a very direct way.

[Comment from S.R.: Rules for the treasure hunt can be found at]

My mother’s family is Pennsylvania Dutch, so I was surprised and pleased that one of your main characters was Amish. How did the character of John Graf come to you?

I lived for a while in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, home to the greatest concentration of Amish in the country. As I looked around me, trying to figure out what kind of cartographer would serve best as protagonist, it was only natural that the Plain People occur to me. I wanted a character never remotely employed before. John was born, and he's been very much alive to me ever since.

What is your writing regimen? Would you recommend it to aspiring authors?

Long hours in front of the computer screen, accomplishing almost nothing, interrupted by furious bursts of clickety-clack. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

The Tavernier Stones resolves all the characters’ lives satisfactorily at the end. Does that mean there won’t be a sequel? What will your next novel be about?

There won't be a sequel. My next novel is about an American soldier who is recruited to spy on his country, and it turns out his own country is the one that recruited him.

Thank you, Stephen, for visiting my blog today to talk about writing and your new book.

Learn more about Stephen Parrish and The Tavernier Stones at his Website at and his blog at The Tavernier Stones is available and can be ordered from your favorite bookseller as well as online from, Borders, and Barnes & Noble.

19 May 2010

Write a marathon, or support those who do

Students may think the cost of writing workshops high; the true cost is higher. Many writing programs exist on shoestring budgets and must hold fundraising events and solicit money so they can keep costs as low as possible for students and give scholarships.

One fundraising device I was unaware of—until my own workshop alma mater, the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop, decided to have one—is the writing marathon. A time is set to write. Some people set writing goals for the marathon and then try to meet them. Some people "sponsor" a writer or three by donating money to the organization. Some people do both.

Everyone benefits. Writers—perhaps you?—produce pages they may not otherwise have done. Donors get a tax deduction (in some cases) and may win prizes (in some cases), as well as experience the satisfaction of increasing the crop of good writers. The organization gets to exist another year and train another batch of students.

The Clarion marathons last the six weeks of the workshop. Thus, you are writing along with the Clarion students themselves. You can set a writing goal of any size. To write in a Clarion marathon this summer or to support someone who does, check out these links:
Original Clarion, 27 June to 7 August
Clarion West, 20 June to 30 July

The New York Writers Coalition marathon is more of a sprint than a marathon. Its "Write Your A** Off Day," this year scheduled for Saturday, 12 June, is only one day long, and all participants have the same goal: Produce 3,000 words between 10:30 am and 6:00 pm Eastern time.


Professor Kenneth Schneyer—a fellow member of the Clarion class of 2009—wants to teach less this summer so that he can write more. So he has set up his own "marathon" of sorts. If donors contribute at least $2526.00 by Tuesday, 22 June, he will write six short stories this summer. Everyone who donates at least $1 receives news of his progress or lack thereof. Those contributing at higher levels get to see first drafts, critiques, even editor comments. To learn more about Ken's project (and perhaps get some ideas about finding backers for your own writing projects), click here. It's worth a visit to the site just to view the video.

Yes, it's cheesy and gimmicky, as he himself admits. But it harks back to the Medieval and Renaissance system in which writers supported their work through patronage and perhaps is a first step into what a writer's life will be like if the "art wants to be free" advocates have their way and writers no longer earn money from their stories and books.


Author interviews are back! Coming in the next couple of months are interviews with:
Edward Gauvin (A Life On Paper, a book of stories by speculative fiction author Georges-Olivier Ch√Ęteaureynaud translated from the French)
Stephen Parrish (The Tavernier Stones, a mystery novel)
Kathryne Kennedy ((The Fire Lord's Lover, a fantasy romance novel)

04 May 2010

Fight diabetes and make your cat a star!

It's May, time again for Brenda Novak's annual auction to benefit diabetes research.

As some of my readers know, my specialty as a science and medical writer is diabetes. I've written hundreds of articles about diabetes in magazines, newsletters, and journals such as Diabetes Forecast, Diabetes Advisor, Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Care, Diabetes Spectrum, Veterans Health System Journal, Caring Today, and The Bark.

At its best, diabetes is a major annoyance to live with, affecting most choices a person makes during the day. At its worst, diabetes can affect nearly every organ in the body and can lead to blindness, amputation, and early death. An estimated 23.6 million people in the United States have diabetes, and the number grows yearly. (To learn more about diabetes and its consequences, follow links to consumer-friendly information at MedLine Plus here.)

Two of my grandparents died from complications of diabetes, so my interest in diabetes is personal as well as professional. As a result, I urge you to visit author Brenda Novak's auction at this May.

All money raised by the auction goes to The Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, a research institute that focuses on finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes often starts before age 20, and affected people must take insulin every day. Last year, sale of items donated by authors and others to the auction resulted in nearly $280,000 going to diabetes research.

This year, many items of interest to authors are up for auction—chapter reads by agents and editors; critiques; mentoring sessions; publicity services; writing of your query letter; lunches with agents and editors; copyediting of your manuscript; even writing convention fees. In addition, you can bid on signed books, ARCs of books that have not been released yet, gift baskets, jewelry, vacations, an iPad, and many other Very Cool Things. For example, if you win item 1711654, your cat will be a character in a future novel by Beth Cornelison.

If you visit the auction, please check out my own donation, the Gilgamesh Gift Basket, item 1773940. You might win a copy of Like Mayflies in a Stream and related swag, including jewelry of carnelian and lapis lazuli, two gemstones favored by the ancient Mesopotamians.