Self-publishing learned the hard way

Cover - Copy (2)

Since 2009, I have self-published one novel a year with plans to continue this pace into the foreseeable future. Writing is easy for me and I always have several stories in the works. Editing is hard and requires the courage to allow other people to read and critique my work. Marketing any self-published novel is next to impossible when it comes to getting noticed among the thousands of books being published every month. But, I have learned a few things about writing, editing and marketing along the way and can confidently share it other writers who can learn from my experiences, both good and bad.

First, there’s no substitute for good writing. I wrote my first novel in a vacuum and I was lucky it turned out as well as it did. I also made the classic mistake of not having it properly edited and received reviews noting both the strength of the story and the need for editing. I joined a writers group in 2010 while writing my second novel and it was a humbling, life changing experience. Hearing the outstanding words being written across multiple genres by people who all seemed to be much better writers than me brought me to a very grounded place as a writer.

I credit my association with other writers for the improvements in my writing and opening my eyes to the value of third party editing. Sharing my work with people I trust during the writing process provides an invaluable perspective resource into my writing. In addition to catching spelling and grammar issues, other writers can look at the story and characters and provide a fresh view I may not have discovered. I don’t always take the advice of other writers who critique my work in progress, but I always consider their point of view.

Having an editing team is my most valuable resource. I’m lucky to have a retired English composition teacher in the family, plus several long time friends who are avid readers. Actually, calling them avid readers is downplaying their experience. They devour books, reading multiple books a month. Not all of them are crazy about my main genre, historical fiction, but they give me honest feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the story, along with grammar, spelling, sentence structure and overall content evaluation. I actually prefer to have at least a few people read my novels in final edit who would not normally read the type of book I write. If they give it good marks, I know I’m on the right track. In 2013, I finally did a complete re-edit of my first novel. In addition to cutting seven thousand words from the manuscript, I changed the way it engaged readers with the story and the resulting reviews have been very good.

Marketing is a building process. I have a background in media, so writing and distributing press releases is something I’ve done for years. If you’re the type of writer who doesn’t want to put more effort into marketing than writing, your book may never sell to people outside immediate family and your circle of friends. After six years and six novel in the market, I’m still not making enough from books sales to cover all my monthly needs, but I’m making progress. I measure progress by books sales, but there are other factors too.

For example, the press release I sent out for my first novel in 2009 was picked up and run by more than twenty newspapers in Oklahoma. I’ve lived in this state most of my life and my novels are set in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The reality of having the press release in so many newspapers in the first few weeks after the novel was published didn’t result in a lot of sales. Most of the publications were small town newspapers, because cracking the two big daily papers in the state requires connections and more credibility that I had at the time.

Since 2009, I have made some connections, continued to stroke the press by sending releases when a new novel comes out, book signings and events I participate in with other writers. Just this year, my sixth novel is being featured in a monthly magazine and I’m getting calls to do radio and newspaper interviews. With that progress made, there’s still no substitute for what I call boots on the ground. I do this by finding affordable, high traffic events to sell books and other events where I have an opportunity to meet people interested in local products and people. For example, small town libraries are a great place to hold an event. They will let their patrons know you’re coming go all out to bring people in for an event.

A fairly well known romance writer I follow recently published a ‘how I spend my time’ chart of Facebook. Not surprisingly, over half her time is spent on marketing. Even writers who are traditionally published are required to do most of their own marketing. A traditionally published writer recently contacted me through Lindledin to say his historical fiction novel sold more than five thousand copies in the first sixty days. I assured him that was a tremendous accomplishment, as most novels rarely sell that many copies over the lifetime of the author. He also shared that his publisher will not spend one cent to market his book until it reaches 100,000 sales. Considering he’s making less than two dollars per sale under the terms of his contract, I believe he would have been much better off to self-publish the book.

I firmly believe this is the best time in the history of the world to write and publish a book. Direct access to every phase of the publishing process has put more power in the hands of writers than any time since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the copy machine. Quality writing and good editing are more important than ever to stand out from all the books being published every day. Good marketing, which to me means working harder and smarter than everyone else is more important than ever too.

I spent decades in sales before becoming a writer. One of my bosses quoted something years ago regarding success and luck. He believed people create their own luck through hard work and out thinking everyone else. I practice this belief by doing things other writers aren’t willing to do to achieve success. I’m far from a best selling author and I know a lot of people who I consider to be better writers, but I’ve done something most of them haven’t since 2009. I keep writing, keep learning, keep publishing and continue to market my ever lovin’ arse off every day.

In addition to my own writing and publishing, I now edit for other writers and do writing and editing for a wide variety of businesses across the country. My background includes more than ten years in retail management with Wal-Mart, working as a coal analysis lab technician for National Steel, sales of a wide variety of telecom services and products, owner of a weekly newspaper, a monthly performance magazine and a TV station, sales of collection services and a metal buyer. My novels are about vampires, the media, politics, coal mining, crime, corruption, love, death, drugs, the past and the future.

 

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Mile of Cars Murders

Mile of Cars Murders will be officially released June 20, 2014 on Amazon. You can get on board to insure I have a successful launch of my most ambitious project and what is being called a great crime thriller and movie worthy by the team taking it through final edit at this link http://www.gofundme.com/8a0d70

Pre-release print copies will be mailed the first week of June. Everyone ordering a pre-release copy will immediately receive the first six chapters in an electronic format, which can be read on any device.

Here’s an overview of the novel and the first three chapters.

Mile of Cars Murders by Joe Harwell

A historical fiction follow-up to the 2012 novel Payne County Weekly

Copyright 2014 by Joe Harwell Publishing
P.O. Box 54213, Tulsa, OK 74155-0213
joeharwell54@gmail.com

No part of this material may be reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. Although historical events and the names of actual locations and historical figures are mentioned, all other characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.

I owe grateful acknowledgement to many people who help my writing become better. They include, but are not limited to members of the writers groups Unbreakable Spines, Critical Ink, Ink Slingers and Write Away. Specifically for this project I want to thank Mary Frances Hodges, Elaine Hodges, Susie McCoy, Gary England, Terry Wiles, The Mont in Norman and Redrock Canyon Grill in Oklahoma City.

“A lot of people didn’t make it home after the Oklahoma City bombing, but not all of them went missing because of it.”

Chapter 1. April 19, 1995 a day like any other
“Hey honey, did you put the ice chest in the truck?” Pat Britton called to her husband J.P. at six fifteen.

“Already done it,” he replied from the bathroom where he was brushing his teeth. “You better check on Henry. He was draggin’ while ago.”

Pat went down the hall to the bedroom of her younger sons, eleven year old Henry and nine year old Thomas. Tom was dressed and watching TV, but Henry was sitting on the top bunk bed and still in his pajamas.

Smiling as she walked into their room, Pat said, “Hey guys, you gotta move. You’re riding the bus this morning, remember?”

“Aw, do we have to?” Henry complained.

“Yes, you have to. Dad and I are going to Oklahoma City this morning, so you boys need to get movin’. Your lunch boxes are packed and breakfast will be on the table in five minutes.”

“I just want cereal and orange juice,” Thomas said, without turning his attention from the TV.

Rubbing his head, she replied, “You’re a mind reader. That’s exactly what you’re getting, plus toast with jelly. Now scoot.”

“I don’t want the green jelly,” complained Henry. “It tastes funny ‘cause Dale’s dog pees on the mint plants.”

Pat chuckled, and said, “All right, you can have strawberry, but get moving. Your father and I need to be on the road by seven and I don’t want to be late because you’re not ready.”

“What are you bringing me from Oklahoma City?” asked Henry as he climbed off the bunk bed.

“Nothing if you make us late,” she said when he reached the floor.

He hugged her, and said, “I’ll miss you.”

Hugging him back, she said, “I’ll miss you too. We’ll be home around eight and Dale is getting pizza after school and taking you to church tonight.”

“Pizza,” he said enthusiastically, getting the clothes she hung on the doorknob for him last night.

Pat knew the boys would be all right with their older brothers in charge. She and J.P. hadn’t been on their own for a full day in years, and even though she loved her children more than her own life; Pat was really looking forward to a day away from the ranch with her husband.

Her oldest son Joe Paul already had cereal bowls and glasses of juice on the table for him and the other boys when Pat entered the kitchen. “I’ll pick up some bread,” he said while placing four slices in the toaster. Holding up the nearly empty package, he continued, “I thought we had another one.”

“Don’t worry about it. Your father and I are picking up groceries in the city before we come home.”

“And bringing it back in a new truck?” asked Dale as he entered the kitchen.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Pat replied. “We’re just looking. Our credit is still tight even after Bo refinanced our note, so a new truck isn’t likely.”

“But a newer one, maybe, please,” Dale said, giving her a pleading look.

Tom burst into the kitchen saying, “New truck, new truck.”

Turning and giving him a stern look, Pat said, “Is your brother ready yet?”

“I’ll check on him,” Dale said, sensing his mother’s frustration.

Tom scooted a chair out and sat down as Pat poured cereal, then milk into his bowl. She sat beside him, leaned close and whispered, “Daddy may not get a new truck today, but I’ll bring you and Henry one if you keep it a secret.”

He smiled, reached out his arms to hug her, and said, “I won’t tell. I love you.”

Hugging him, she said, “I love you too, now eat. Your toast will be up in a minute.”

He pulled on her blouse, and whispered, “The green jelly you made don’t taste funny and it was Henry that peed on the mint plants.”

Laughing, she said, “I know.”

###

Pat & J.P. left their farm outside Perkins, OK a little before seven and honked when they drove by Bo Stark’s house a mile up the road where lights were already on. Wednesday is paper day and Bo would soon be on the road to southern Kansas where Payne County Weekly is printed.

Chapter 2. 9:02 A.M.
Falon Dodge and LaShelle Roland were in the office of Payne County Weekly in Stillwater preparing for distribution. Since Bo invested in the newspaper and began working there last year, almost everything about laying out the paper was computerized, but distribution still involved a lot of manual labor. LaShelle really looked forward to Wednesday because the publication was running smoothly and making money, relieving a lot of stress in her life.

As Falon checked the distribution list, LaShelle heard her say, “Did you feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“Something in the air or the ground, I’m not sure which,” Falon said.

Looking at Falon’s thick sole, Gothic boots, LaShelle wondered how she could have felt anything through them. Sitting still for a moment before answering, she said, “Didn’t feel a thing.” They kept working until the phone rang.

“Turn on the TV,” said Bo’s mother Phyllis Stark when LaShelle answered. “Something happened in Oklahoma City.”

Regular programming was interrupted with a tower camera view of downtown Oklahoma City showing a large plume of smoke rising into the air. Falon turned up the police scanner and they listened as chatter from it mixed with reporters talking on TV.

After watching for a minute, LaShelle said, “I’m going.”

“I’ll come help with distribution,” said Phyllis. “What about getting in touch with Bo?”

Looking at her watch, LaShelle said, “He’s probably just getting to the printer.”

“I’ll call him,” said Phyllis.

As she unplugged the company cell phone from the charger and handed it to LaShelle, Falon said, “Call when you know what’s going on.”

Pointing to the TV, LaShelle said, “What you felt was probably the explosion causing the fire. Find Avery Puckett and tell him to meet me in Oklahoma City.”

Word of the event in Oklahoma City was passed to members of the staff at Perkins Tyron Elementary, although students weren’t initially informed. At lunchtime, an unusually large number of parents signed in to have lunch with their children as word of the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah building became known in Perkins.

Staff at the high school shared the news with students. Dale Britton wasn’t too worried about his parents because they didn’t shop in downtown Oklahoma City.

Joe Paul Britton, Debbie Stark and other students at Oklahoma State University saw news coverage of the explosion soon after it happened. All were stunned and many with family and friends who worked in downtown Oklahoma City went home. Joe Paul paged Debbie and they met in the student union at eleven.

“Falon said LaShelle went to Oklahoma City,” said Debbie when they met.

Joe Paul hugged her, and said, “Mom and dad are in the city, but I’m sure they’re OK, although things are probably crazy down there. The news said there might be more bombs and other buildings are being evacuated.”

“I heard about that. I think the airport is closed because they suspect terrorists set off a bomb. God, how could something like this happen in Oklahoma?”

Stopping and taking a deep breath, she said, “Grandma went to help Falon until dad gets back with the papers.”

“Can I help?”

Touching his arm, Debbie smiled, and said, “Do you know why I love you Joe Paul Britton?”

He grinned, and said, “Why?”

“Because you always care so much about other people.”

“I care about you.”

Giving him a kiss, she said, “I appreciate your offer. When will your mom and dad be home?”

“Around eight, but they may come back early if there’s too much turmoil down there. They were really looking forward to spending all day in the city.”

“Let’s volunteer to keep Henry and Tom if their trip gets cut short so they can have another day out.”

Taking her hands, Joe Paul said, “Debbie Stark, do you know what I love about you?”

“Tell me,” she replied, almost whispering.

Pulling her close, he said, “Everything.”

Chapter 3. It gets personal
Thomas and Henry bolted off the school bus at three forty-five and raced up the driveway. Light rain was falling and they laughed as they ran, enjoying the cool rain hitting their faces. Dale stepped out on the porch, and thought, “Mom’s gonna kill me for lettin’ them get their clothes wet and shoes muddy. Oh well, I’ll hose ‘em off and they can change before we go to church.”

Running up the steps toward Dale, Tom tripped, dropping his lunchbox as his body hit the concrete steps. Henry raced past him, and crowed, “I beat you.”

“Get your shoes off before goin’ in the house,” Dale said, reaching down to help Tom get up. Grabbing his right arm, Tom began crying when Dale turned him over.

Henry stepped down the stairs, and said, “What’s wrong?”

Seeing Tom wincing in pain with an odd angle to his arm, Dale said, “I think his arm is broke. Stay with him while I call the ambulance.”

Henry knelt beside Tom in an effort to offer aide, but there was no consoling him. Dale rushed into the house and dialed the Sheriff’s number, which was prominently displayed on a calendar next to the phone.

###

Phyllis Stark answered the phone at Payne County Weekly two minutes after four o’clock. “Is my brother there?” the caller blurted before Phyllis said hello.

“Who is this?”

“Dale. I’m lookin’ for my brother and thought he might be there with Debbie.”

“Debbie’s here, but I haven’t seen Joe Paul. What’s wrong?”

“I think Tom broke his arm and the ambulance is coming. I need Joe Paul to meet us at the hospital.”

“Oh no. We’ll find him.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Debbie.

Phyllis heard Dale hang up as she turned, and said, “Dale thinks Thomas has a broken arm and he’s waiting on the ambulance. Where’s Joe Paul?”

“Oh God,” Debbie said, reaching for the phone.

“He hung up,” said Phyllis.

“Is Joe Paul still in class?” Bo asked.

Glancing at the clock, Debbie said, “His class was over at four. I’ll call and see if I can get a message to him.”

“I’ll call,” said Phyllis. “Head over there and find him.”

“Go to the hospital if you don’t see him,” said Bo. “I’ll meet you there in a little while.”

As she drove into the parking lot of the Veterinary Sciences building at Oklahoma State, Debbie received a message on her pager, which read, “Joe knows.”

She saw his truck coming toward her and he rolled down the window when their vehicles were side by side, and he said, “Your grandma called.”

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” she replied.

###

Joe Paul, Henry, Debbie and Bo sat in the small emergency department waiting room, not saying much as a wall mounted TV broadcast continuous coverage of the Murrah Building explosion. Debbie turned to Bo, and said, “How could this happen here?”

“I don’t know. There are a lot of rumors and speculation, but the FBI will figure it out.”

Nervously looking at his watch, then at the door leading to the treatment rooms where Thomas and Dale were, Joe Paul said, “Mom and dad are gonna flip about this. Dale thinks they’ll blame him for Tom gettin’ hurt.”

“I know your folks pretty well,” said Bo. “They’ll understand it was an accident.”

Dale came through the door of the emergency section and walked toward them as they all stood. Joe Paul asked, “How is he?”

“His arm is fractured and they think he may have a concussion, but that ain’t the worst of it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Joe Paul.

“A woman from social services came in and said the doctor found a big bruise on his ribs and more on his legs and thinks someone in the family has been hitting him and maybe I beat him up and broke his arm. They also talked about when he was here a few months back with a bump on his head.”

“That’s ridiculous!” exclaimed Joe Paul. “He was here in September because the little dumb ass jumped on one of the calves and it threw him. The bruise on his ribs is from wrecking his bike last week.”

“That’s what I told them and Tom said that’s how it was too, but they called grandma and grandpa Smedley and won’t let him go home until they investigate.”

“No one is hitting him,” said Joe Paul. “He’s a kid and does stupid stuff.”

“I’ll talk to them,” said Bo. “No one could think that’s the case. Where is this social worker anyway?”

“Right here.” Bo turned to see Arlene Wagner, a classmate from Perkins High School. He started to speak, when she placed her hand on his arm, and said, “Can we talk privately?”

“Sure.”

As Arlene led him away, Debbie said, “Don’t let her do this Dad.”

Bo turned to her and said, “Stay calm. I’ll be right back.”

Arlene said, “Debbie’s a good writer. I’ve been following her columns in the paper.”

“She’ll like that, but what’s going on with Thomas?”

Opening the door of her office, she said, “Let’s sit and talk.”

When they were seated, he said, “You can’t really believe Tom is being abused by his family.”

“I don’t, but it’s my job to investigate when the medical staff raises concerns. The other complication is the drug case Pat was involved in last year. Even though she avoided prosecution because of her cooperation, she’s on probation for three years. I worked for DHS before I took this job and we investigated any exposure the children had to what she was doing. Although we found the kids were never exposed to anything, it’s a black mark on her record that’ll come up when anything happens involving the authorities.”

“OK, I get it. What’s next?”

“Dale said J.P. and Pat will be back this evening. I called Wanda and Chris Smedley, but didn’t tell them about investigating the incident. They’re listed to authorize medical treatment when Pat and J.P. aren’t available.”

“But, you have tell them, right?”

“Yes, but I didn’t want to do it over the phone. Look Bo, I’m on their side, but this has to be done by the book. I took this job last year because I’ve had my fill of child abuse cases, and believe me, it happens in this county more than you think. I’ll walk Pat through this and it will be OK. I know the DHS investigators and I’m sure they won’t find anything to cause Tom or the other kids to be taken away.”

“How do you know about Chris and Wanda being medical proxy?”

“From the DHS investigation. The kids came close to being taken away over Pat’s involvement in the drug case until District Attorney Dent and OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) investigator Zeke Rawlings stepped in on her behalf. They knew the crooked bankers financing the drug dealers were threatening to foreclose on their farm unless she transported chemicals.”

“OK. What’s next?”

“You really have turned into a reporter,” Arlene said with a smile. “I hope you and LaShelle never stop asking questions. You did a good job exposing the drug corruption, but there’s still a lot of crooked stuff going on in Payne County. As for what’s next, the faster we get Pat and J.P. together with DHS, the quicker this will be resolved. Looks like Tom will be fine, other than a headache and having a cast on his arm, which he’s actually looking forward to.”

“I bet he is.”

“Dale said he left a note for his parents before the ambulance arrived. Poor kid, he feels so bad about what happened.”

“He’s a good boy and I’m sure he feels responsible.”

Both were silent for a moment, when Arlene said, “I’m sure you’ve been following the news. What do you think happened?”

“I don’t know. All kinds of rumors are going around, but LaShelle is down there and she called in Avery. The police are being tight lipped, but they’ll get to the bottom of it pretty soon. With federal offices in the building, the FBI will have all their resources on it.”

“Is there any chance Pat and J.P. were in the vicinity?”

“Joe Paul doesn’t think so. He said they were just going to have a day together and do some shopping.”

“I hope that’s the case. Let’s go talk to Joe Paul and Dale. They’ll have to be interviewed by DHS, but I promise they’ll make it as easy as possible for them.”

“These kids have been through enough. They don’t need this.”

Here’s the order link again. http://www.gofundme.com/8a0d70

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An Easter Memory

A couple of days ago I ran across this ring that belonged to my dad among some things we haven’t looked at in a long time. I barely remember it and don’t even remember the last time I saw it. I slipped it on my ring finger and it fit, so I’ve been wearing it. Wearing the ring got me thinking about dad and an event on Easter morning 1967 came rushing back to me. We moved into what we called the ‘red and white’ house at Fairview Crossroads off the old Cameron highway a couple of miles east of Poteau in 1966. Dad owned a lumber yard and built houses with some carpenter partners and by then I was old enough to hang out with him. Plastic plumbing pipe (PVC) was kind of a new thing back then and to save some money building the house, dad decided to do the plumbing and I helped. We’d go out to the house after the lumber yard closed and on the weekend and he and I installed all the plumbing. On Easter morning 1967, we were up early getting ready for church when we heard a loud pop somewhere in the house and quickly discovered the connection between the plastic and copper water line leading from the hot water tank was broken. Dad shut off the water to the house and in short order was able to temporarily bypass the hot water tank to get the water turned back on. The problem was, we had no hot water for showers that morning and being a typical spring day, the temperature wasn’t cold, but taking a shower with no hot water was a real thrill. We made it to church looking good in our Easter best without anyone knowing we’d taken cold showers. After church, we ate lunch and dad and I went to the lumber yard and retrieved the necessary items to fix the plumbing and all was well. I haven’t thought of this particular Easter in years. Funny how things fade from memory and can be brought back by the simplest things. Happy Easter everyone and may you have plenty of hot water for your Sunday morning shower.ring 1

ring 2

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New release from Maria Savva

Maria Savva 2

Our lives are a series of stories, and we are the characters with the starring roles. The memories, regrets, secrets, and struggles that fill these pages are at once unique and relatable. These stories belong to us all. Eight unforgettable tales reaching out to a place Far Away In Time…

Here is the purchase link and the bio of my friend Maria Savva.

Maria Savva lives and works in London. She studied Law at Middlesex University and The College of Law. She is a lawyer, although not currently practicing law. She writes novels and short stories in different genres, including drama, psychological thriller, and family saga. Many of her books and stories are inspired by her years working as a lawyer, although she has not written a courtroom drama to date. She has published five novels, the most recent of which is Haunted, a crime fiction/psychological thriller. Far Away In Time is her sixth collection of short stories. You can find out more about her work at her official website: http://www.mariasavva.com

Maria Savva 1

http://www.amazon.com/Far-Away-Time-Maria-Savva-ebook/dp/B00J0G11S0/

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My awesome truth about being an April Fool

April 1st fell on Saturday in 1972. The day was sunny and like many Oklahoma spring days, the evening air cooled quickly as the sun went down. I was seventeen, a senior at Poteau, OK High School, a nerd by my own admission, very immature, crazy about cars, worked at Wal-Mart, outgoing to cover extreme shyness (especially around females) and totally smitten with one particular female who I had a date with that night.

This date was only the third or fourth in my life. All previous dates were one time experiences, so my track record wasn’t good in this area. I asked a girl to a movie in the sixth grade, which totally freaked my parents and hers, but we were allowed to go through with it. Our parents reaction probably led to my reluctance to ask more girls out.

I went to the movies by myself a lot, mostly on Sunday afternoon. My parents dropped me off at the Victory Theater after church and lunch most Sunday’s and didn’t have to deal with me for a few hours, which I totally enjoyed because I didn’t have to deal with them either. OK, enough about childhood memories. Let’s get back to April 1st, 1972.

The ironic thing about this date is it occurred because of a failed date a few months earlier. There were only two girls in my speech class for the 71-72 school year. One was a freshman who’d just moved to Poteau and the other was Becky Craig, a junior. As luck would have it, the blonde freshman sat behind me and Becky sat behind her and I was usually turned around talking to both of of them.

Sometime in the fall, I ended up being the default date of the freshman girl when several of us from Poteau went to see Jesus Christ Superstar in Ft. Smith. I acted nerdy and committed the unpardonable sin of not giving her a good night kiss. I told you I was shy, but it was par for the course since I’d never kissed a girl for any reason. The fateful and lucky part for me was the freshman girl talked Becky into trading seats with her the following Monday. The shy, pretty Becky turned out to be much more fun to converse with and it didn’t take long for the hopeless romantic in me to fall in love.

Remember I told you about being shy, so it took weeks for me to work up enough courage to ask Becky on a date. Instead of choosing to attend a movie, I asked her to accompany me to a stock car race at Tri-State Speedway on April 1st, totally expecting her to say no. Of course I wouldn’t be writing this if she’d declined, so we ended up on the wood bleachers watching cars go round and round on an asphalt track for a few hours, sitting closer and closer to stay warm. She was soft and warm, smelled like heaven above, we held hands; it was glorious!

After the race I took her to Sambo’s Restaurant at Central Mall in Ft. Smith. It was my favorite, so I assumed she’d like it, which she did. For those of you not familiar with Sambo’s, the menu was like Village Inn, Denny’s, etc. with breakfast served all the time along with lunch and dinner entrees. I ordered blueberry waffles and she ordered a patty melt, even though she admitted it was the first time she had one.

Conversation was kinda one sided because she was even more shy than me, if it was even possible. The good news for me again was she actually seemed to enjoy listening to me ramble on about any old thing. We made it back to Poteau in time to meet her midnight curfew and true to my old habit, I did not kiss her goodnight. It took me a few weeks to work up the courage, but once we crossed the line on kissing there was no stopping us.

If the story ended here, you’d be happy, right? There’s one more short chapter you need to hear to demonstrate how close I came to blowing the deal for the happy life I ultimately enjoyed with Becky. Prom was coming up and I didn’t have a date. I asked Becky about it and she was noncommittal. I should have tried harder and been more understanding, because weeks later I learned why she didn’t want to go. I didn’t attend the prom my junior year, so I was determined not to miss out my senior year. A complicated series of events set me up to attend prom with a girl I knew as a friend. This same series of events also blew up on me when Becky found out, which abruptly ended our relationship. I went to prom, graduated from high school and began working seven days a week at Wal-Mart for the summer.

On one of those hot summer nights, I cruised Poteau after Wal-Mart closed. Ahh, the good old days when Wally World closed at nine PM. The home of Becky’s parents was one block off main street and I made several passed up main to the top of hospital hill, turned around and cruised back downtown. On one pass, I looked toward Becky’s house and saw someone sitting on a car beside the house. I turned on her street and to my great surprise, Becky was sitting on the car. I slowed, then stopped and said hello expecting her to go inside and not speak to me, but she responded. This wasn’t the first or last time she forgave me for being immature, a jerk, less than a good boyfriend, husband or father over the next thirty-six plus years.

Now, one more thing about going to the movies before ending this story. Becky and I went to the Victory Theater in downtown Poteau several times the rest of the summer of 1972. One evening, we were in line to buy tickets standing on the sidewalk in front of the drug store and barber shop beside the theater and I looked at our reflection in the store windows. This was the first, but not the last time I thanked my lucky stars to be standing there holding hands with the most beautiful girl in the universe. Now I can honestly say with confidence, the rest is history. I miss you sweetheart. Happy first date anniversary and happy April 1st everyone. I encourage you to do something foolish, like kiss someone, tell them you love them and be happy for the rest of your life.
Becky Harwell Senior 1973

Becky swimsuit

Rebecca Craig 1971 Rodeo - Copy

Joe & Becky Harwell & Teri Harwell 1976 - Copy

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becky's 52nd birthday

Becky not camera shy 1996

Kims tattoo of Becky

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Becky 6-29-13

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Chapter 1 and back cover copy of The Indian Rock Vampire

The Indian Rock Vampire
Copyright 2014 by Joe Harwell
No part of this may be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.
http://www.indianrockvampire.com

Back cover copy

Julia and Laura should have been at home studying Bible verses for the Easter service, but on this Good Friday evening in 1910 they were determined to experience the full moon rise at their favorite place called Indian Rock. The twelve-year-old friends hiked to the foothills of Poteau Mountain conjuring up stories of the ancient tribes who carved symbols on the stone. When Indian Rock was fully illuminated by moonlight, a magical and beautiful feeling began to flow throughout their bodies.

Within weeks, both girls begin dreaming about strange people at Indian Rock who don’t look like Indians. When the dreams evolve into nightmarish scenes of a man being savagely tortured, both feel he is reaching out to them for help. As the frightening dream would become more than their sleeping minds can endure, they always wake with the sensation from the night of the full moon.

Powerful forces have known the origin and meaning of the symbols for centuries and fiercely guard against anyone discovering the truth. In 1958, Julia’s fourteen-year-old granddaughter Michelle disobeyed her parents and went to Indian Rock one evening with two older boys. When the dazed boys return without her looking like they’ve been savagely beaten, the meaning and power of the symbols begins to be revealed.

This is the legend of Michelle Sands, The Indian Rock Vampire.

Chapter 1: February 11, 1958 – The pretty young girl

“Hey, Uncle Bill, thanks for saving me a seat,” said Ronnie Majors as he sat down between his aunt and uncle on the second row of bleachers in the Poteau, Oklahoma High School gymnasium. “This ought to be good game.”
Ronnie’s Uncle, “Big Bill” Armstrong said, “My money is always on the small school. How are you bettin’ tonight?”
“Bet with you, Uncle Bill? I know better, but I’m sure Poteau is gonna win.”
Bill laughed and put his arm around his nephew. “Good answer Ron. You’d lose if you bet with me and you know it.”
Ronnie’s aunt, Lou Armstrong, leaned across in front of her nephew and said, “Bill, stop talking about gambling.”
Bill nudged Ronnie and said, “If you think bettin’ with me is dangerous boy, try crossin’ your Aunt Lou.” Bill and Ronnie both laughed as the crowd noise drowned them out when a player from Howe sank a big shot. Every school in Leflore County, from Arkoma in the north to Talihina in the south looks forward to this annual tournament. The large, medium and small schools play each other with an equal opportunity to win the coveted county championship, which is often won by a smaller school.
“How’s baseball practice going?” asked Lou. “You boys are probably looking forward to some nice spring weather.”
“Yeah, we are,” replied Ronnie. “We’ve been freezing our tails off out there, but I love it. I think this team is the best I’ve played on.”
“They better be good,” said Bill. “Our abstract company donated money to the booster club for new uniforms and equipment this year.”
“Oh, Bill,” interrupted Lou. “Stop pressuring the boy. He’s gonna make us proud like he does every year. Isn’t that right Ronnie?”
“Thanks Aunt Lou. And thank you too Uncle Bill. The guys really appreciate your support. We’re gonna take state this year if we keep playin’ like we are now.”
The crowd roared again as one of Poteau’s players hit a basket. Bill turned to Ronnie and asked, “How are you and that lil Nancy gal doin’? She’s a real cutie.”
Lou interrupted again. “Now Bill, don’t embarrass him like that. He doesn’t want to discuss his love life with you.” Lou turned to Ronnie and continued, “You’re taking that pretty little girl to the Valentine dance, aren’t you?”
Ronnie smiled and said, “Yeah, we’re going to the dance, but I gotta tell you, I’m not so sure how we’re really doin’. All she talks about is weddings. Heck, I just turned seventeen in December and got my car. She kinda scares me talkin’ about wedding stuff all the time.”
Bill Armstrong laughed and wrapped his arm around Ronnie’s neck in a wrestling hold, and said, “Lou honey, he’s just gettin’ started with his Tom cattin’. He ain’t ready for the taste of weddin’ cake. She’s got the hook out for you boy. You better run like hell.” Bill and Ronnie both laughed.
Lou wrapped her arm around Ronnie and said, “I can’t blame her. He looks like Elvis Presley. All the girls are after him.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” said Ronnie. His friend Larry Pate drew a foul, and Ronnie yelled, “Hey Larry, flatten number seven next time!”
Bill said, “That’s the spirit. Never let ‘em see you get mad over a call. Just bust their butt the next chance you get, ain’t that right?”
“You watch. Larry will lay that guy out before the game is over. He’s been gettin’ an elbow in the face from him, and the ref only called a foul when Larry gave it back.”
“You guys are terrible,” said Lou. “It’s just a few seconds until halftime and I’m heading to the concession stand before the crowd hits. Do you boys want anything?”
“No thanks,” answered Ronnie.
“I’m good too,” said Bill.
After his Aunt left, Ronnie nudged his uncle and asked, “Do you know the name of the Howe cheerleader standing over on the far right?”
“You mean the one on the end with long dark hair put up in a ponytail?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Look, she’s turning around talking to a lady in the stands.”
“Oh, my goodness. She couldn’t be Julia Stone’s granddaughter?” Bill slapped Ronnie on knee and said, “Yes, I know her. The woman she’s talkin’ to is her grandmother, Julia Stone and the one sittin’ next to Julia is the girl’s mother, Amanda Sands. Her father, Jonnie Boy Sands, is sittin’ next to the mother. Damn that girl is cute, and all grown up lookin’ too. It’s no wonder she’s cute considering her heritage. Her grandmother was a real looker in her day and still looks good for an older gal. Amanda’s a nice lookin’ woman too. I believe the girl’s name is Michelle. Man, I haven’t seen her since she was a little kid. What’s the matter? She caught your Tom Cat eye?”
“Well, she is cute. I’ve never seen her before. She must be at least a junior or senior. I thought maybe she just moved here or something.”
“Let me see,” said Bill as he counted on his fingers. “I remember when she was born, so that would put her about…. Oh hell, you ain’t gonna to like it.”
What do you mean?”
“Well boy, looks can be deceiving, and she certainly looks like she’s your age, but she ain’t more than fourteen years old.”
“Fourteen!” Ronnie exclaimed. “You’re kidding me, right? If that’s a fourteen year old girl, she’s the best lookin’ one I’ve ever seen.”
Bill laughed and said, “Calm down Tom Cat. I ain’t kiddin’ ya. I know her entire family and remember exactly when she was born. She’ll be havin’ her fifteenth birthday pretty soon.”
“I still can’t believe it. Wow, she’s really something.”
Bill was still chuckling, and continued, “I know some twenty year old gals who’d kill to be put together like that, but I’m tellin’ you boy, if you got your eyes on her, you better stick with the Poteau cheerleader. She’ll be a lot less trouble for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“First of all, Michelle’s only fourteen, and damn, I know you like ‘em young and dumb, but fourteen? Plus, I’ve been hearin’ some rumors about you and Larry’s shenanigans with the freshmen girls in Poteau this year. You better be careful. If you get in that kinda trouble, I doubt if all my connections will enough to save your butt.”
“Don’t believe a word of it Uncle Bill. Those freshmen girls are always throwin’ themselves at me and Larry. Anyway, what’s the harm in showin’ a good time if they’re beggin’ for it?”
“Well boy, you still need to watch it. If you try somethin’ with that one over there, her old man and the rest of the family will wanna cut you up into pieces.”
Ronnie started to say something, but Bill stopped him and continued, “You damn sure don’t wanna cross Julia Stone. She and I went to school together in Howe. She helped me with my school work, and I would always try to sit across from her when we took a test to look at her papers. Later on she went to college in Tulsa and married a guy from there who was a lawyer and settled here with her, but he was killed in a car wreck a few years later.”
Bill paused, and then said, “Julia showed everyone she could handle her own business back then, including me. I have more respect for Julia than any other woman I know, besides your Aunt Lou of course.”
“Wow, Uncle Bill. I’ve never heard you talk about anyone like that. Was her grandmother your girlfriend?”
“No, it wasn’t like that.” Bill smiled and said, “Julia Stone’s granddaughter. Damn, she’s really somethin’, but I’m not kiddin’ Ron, you need to leave her alone. I know she looks all grown up, and you boys may be out of freshmen girls to have your way with here in Poteau, but she’s just a little freshman kid. I’m tellin’ you, stay clear of her for your own good.”
Lou Armstrong returned from the concession stand and said, “How’s the game goin’?”
Bill scooted over so Lou could have more room to sit down, and said, “Well honey, Ronnie and I have been people watchin’ and kinda’ lost track of the game.”
“Let’s get back on it. We gotta win the first round so we don’t have to fight our way back through the losers bracket the for the rest of the week.” Lou sat her pop down and put her hands on the sides of her mouth and yelled at the top of her voice, “Let’s Go Pirates!”
Bill and Ronnie both yelled with her, then Bill looked over at his nephew and said, “Your Aunt Lou yells for the Pirates like she was born a Poteau gal. You’d never know she was from Fort Smith, would ya?” Leaning closer to Ronnie, he continued, “I’m tellin’ you the truth about that other deal. You’d be better off to steer clear, OK?”
Ronnie nodded in agreement and they all cheered as the halftime buzzer sounded.

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The Mile of Cars Murders

I’m writing a followup to my 2012 novel Payne County Weekly which will be released later this year with the title, The Mile of Cars Murders. The story begins on the day of the Murrah Building bombing in 1995 and concludes on May 3, 1999 as the devastating tornado rips through Moore, OK. The premise is, not everyone who doesn’t make it home on the day of the OKC bombing didn’t die at the Murrah Building. Two sadistic killers with ties to the automotive business take advantage of the chaos created by the bombing to kidnap four people, including two of the characters from Payne County Weekly. Investigative journalism, a family torn apart, storm chasing, love tested to the limit and lots of twists and turns created this story with an ending you won’t expect. As in Payne County Weekly, you’ll recognize familiar settings throughout central Oklahoma in the story.Image

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