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Friday, October 21, 2016

Finding Inspiration in Weather

The past two weeks have felt surreal with the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, the resulting storm surge and subsequent flooding in Lumberton, North Carolina. For those who have read The Tempest Murders, you'll recall that it takes place as Hurricane Irene is barreling toward the North Carolina coast. Lumberton was in its crosshairs and though we received a lot of rain, Hurricane Matthew was far more destructive to the Carolinas.

In the beginning chapters of The Tempest Murders, Detective Ryan O'Clery is investigating the murder of a young woman found along the banks of the Lumber River in clear view of the Robeson County Courthouse. In the picture here, the courthouse is the light tan building near the upper left, and the river is just one block away. It is normally the width of a few cars, but you can see from the picture how it flowed well beyond its banks to flood businesses, homes, streets - and anything in its path.

I was originally inspired to write The Tempest Murders when I came across information regarding one of the most massive storms in Ireland's history, called The Night of the Big Wind. It took place on the day of Epiphany (January 6, 1839), a date that some in the religious community had forecasted the world would end. And the residents of Ireland must have thought the world was ending, because the winds came in at 115mph, literally blowing the Atlantic Ocean across the island as it tracked from west to east. The book actually begins as Ryan O'Clery's uncle several generations back was returning to his home after a trip to Dublin, only to find that the water had washed away whole villages - and his lover.

I was further inspired by Hurricane Isabel. In September, 2003 I was living in Chesterfield, Virginia, a county that lies between Richmond and Petersburg. At 3:00 in the afternoon, the skies became pitch black, the electricity and water abruptly stopped, and I retreated to a room of the house with my dogs. For more than twelve hours, I could hear the sound of 100+ foot tall oak trees hitting the ground and could only pray that none hit the house. It wasn't until the next morning when the sun rose that I was able to look outside. Giant trees had fallen like matchsticks, one hitting the house next door to mine and more than two dozen falling in my yard - but thankfully, none hitting the house. They came down with such force that when one tree with a diameter of several feet was being removed from the front yard, they found another tree the same size embedded in the ground under it.

Then as luck would have it, I was living in Lumberton, North Carolina as Hurricane Irene came ashore. I have been extremely fortunate not to have suffered the devastation that many have, having lived through three hurricanes.

I've chosen to add extreme weather to my books because the weather can be a formidable opponent, one that is impossible to fight - and yet many must make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye. Weather can also place a critical time element on unfolding events, such as Ryan O'Clery discovering that his lover is a serial killer's next target and history is poised to repeat itself.

I find books that pit ordinary people against extraordinary events impossible to put down, like The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, regarding the true story of "the storm of the century", the meteorological events that created it, and the crew of the Andrea Gail that was caught in its crosshairs. I knew as I was reading it that they could not fight an opponent with hurricane force winds and a sea bent on tossing the ship like a paper model, and yet I was riveted by the courage of the men who fought to keep their vessel afloat against all odds. (Shown here, actors portraying the crew of the Andrea Gail in The Perfect Storm, which also starred George Clooney.)

Hurricane damage may get a lot of publicity in the days after it occurs, but in reality it may take years to recover from loss and sometimes the losses are irrecoverable, leaving an imprint on people for the rest of their lives. The waters are receding in Lumberton. The town is filled with the friendliest people I've ever known, and during this time of need, I have seen ordinary people perform extraordinary feats. Will this experience inspire me to write Hurricane Matthew into a future book? Once the pain subsides, yes, I think so. After all, pitting man against the weather is as old a story as man himself.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books, including two award-winning series set in Lumberton: Black Swamp Mysteries and the Ryan O'Clery Mystery Series. Visit her website for additional information on these books and others.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hurricane Matthew and North Carolina Storm Surge

Only one week ago I wrote an article about evacuating pets and emergency supplies. Little did I know the drama that would engulf my region when I wrote it.

I live in Lumberton, nestled in the southeast corner of North Carolina about one hour from North Myrtle Beach, SC and one hour due west from Wilmington, NC. Hurricane Matthew’s path came closer to shore than expected. Power went out last Saturday and during the height of the storm, countless trees came down on power lines and blocking roads.


During the night—after the storm had passed—people all over this region were awakened by the sound of water rushing into their homes. The storm surge—water pushed in from the ocean by the strong hurricane-force winds—was pushed upstream into rivers that were already swollen from record rainfall the month before.

If you've read my Black Swamp Mysteries series or Ryan O'Clery Mysteries, you know the Lumber River cuts right through the heart of town. The flood has completely submerged the water treatment facility so residents are without water for the foreseeable future (possibly four more weeks), but more importantly, it became a life or death situation for thousands of people here.

One of the most compelling stories I've heard is about a woman whose son drove all the way from Texas to rescue her. He found her in a flooded home surrounded by alligator-infested water. 

( or ) She was able to get one of her dogs out; the ASPCA, hearing of her story, went back after the second dog (see below).

Here are some news reports with video that can more adequately describe the situation here, pictures and video from Lumberton about halfway down:





(Lumberton about halfway down with video with the caption “Lumberton Flooding” in which the Governor said that Lumberton and Robeson County are “the greatest challenge to this state”)


The interstate was washed out here. (Picture at right taken from the service road at Exit 22.) 


If you want to help, here is information from our state representative Jane Smith: Supplies can be sent to Robeson Emergency Operations Center at 38 Legend Road, Lumberton, North Carolina 28358. Monetary donations can go to United Way of Robeson County at PO Box 2652, Lumberton, NC 28360.


p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books, including two award-winning series set in Lumberton: Black Swamp Mysteries and the Ryan O'Clery Mystery Series.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Keeping Your Pet Safe During Natural Disasters

This is a departure from my usual posts. I live in coastal North Carolina and like millions of others, I have had an eye on Hurricane Matthew this week. I have three rescue dogs, Simone (a collie), Eddie (a Jack Russell) and Lucy (a terrier/dachshund mix), all adopted through the Robeson County Humane Society. Two have made appearances in my books - Simone and Eddie.

So one of the issues I hold near and dear is animal rescue. Here are a few things to consider if you are in the path of a natural disaster like a hurricane:

  1. Dog Crates. If you have to leave your home for an emergency shelter, you'll be relieved to know that after Hurricane Katrina, legislation was enacted that requires emergency personnel to assist animals as well as people. H.R. 3858 (109th): Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 was passed ( which modified the Standards for State and Local Emergency Operational Plans to include “the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency in the provision of rescue, care, shelter and essential needs… to such pets and animals.” Even if your pet travels well in your vehicle, they can become disoriented or confused during a storm and when you reach the emergency shelter, you may need to keep your pet restrained - possibly for several days.
  2. Identification.
    Always keep identification on your pets. I have collars and harnesses with my dogs' names and my telephone number embroidered like this one at amazon. Keep tags on your pet, including proof they have had their shots. And microchip your pet. In the event of a disaster, they could become separated from you and their collar could be pulled off. Emergency personnel are required in many jurisdictions to scan lost pets for microchips. Check out Home Again for more information.
  3. Proof of Vaccinations. Place your pet's vaccination records into a clear zipped plastic bag and keep it with items you intend to take with you if you need to evacuate. You may be required to present them, especially if your pet must be boarded at an emergency shelter.
  4. Plan Ahead with Hotels. If you know you are going to evacuate, plan your route and call ahead to make certain the hotel will accept your pets. During natural disasters and emergencies, many hotels will waive their "no pets" policy.
  5. Pet Emergency Kit. Pack your pet's leashes - preferably one long and one short - along with their water dish, feeding bowl, food and bottled water. If they drink water from a storm surge, they can contract intestinal issues like giardia. Bring any pet medications as well.
  6. Beds and Toys.
    This is a very stressful time for your pet, just as it is for you. Bring along items that will comfort them, such as a blanket, their bed, and their favorite toys. (Shown at right: Simone chilling in her bed.)Bringing something for them to chew is particularly useful, as it helps to relieve their stress.
I can't imagine anyone leaving their pets behind to face a disaster on their own and yet, sadly, many do. During flooding, many dogs drowned who might have otherwise lived because their owners kept them tied or confined so they could not escape.

We know that animals feel pain - physical and emotional pain. If you have a pet, you have a legal obligation to care for it.

If you have fish aquariums, check out my other blog - Vicki's Angelfish - for tips on how to keep your fish alive during a power outage.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books in several genres. An avid animal lover, she helped to raise money for the Robeson County Humane Society by auctioning off the role of a dog in her book, The Banker's Greed. Dogs are also featured throughout many of her books.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Clash of Civilizations

This fall marks the 237th anniversary of the Donelson journey, a river journey of 300 settlers moving west to Fort Nashborough from Virginia and North Carolina. My ancestors, children and grandchildren of Ulster Irish immigrants, were among the group.

They were actually violating the Royal Proclamation of 1763 signed by Britain's King George III. This Proclamation used the Appalachian Mountains as a dividing line between the settlers to the east of the mountains and the Indian tribes to the west of it. It agreed that the settlers would remain out of the Indian-held territories in return for the Indians giving up their claim to lands between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean.

Before Europeans claimed the "New World" for their respective countries, this country was as old as any other and was home to more than 500 Indian nations.

As part of the research I performed in writing River Passage, I watched 500 Nations, narrated by Kevin Costner. It was eye-opening in the complexity and sophistication of many of the tribes, some that even thought the Europeans were primitive in their habitats, culture and skills.

So when I began writing my book, I decided to write it from two perspectives: my ancestors who violated the Royal Proclamation and moved west beyond the mountains, as well as Dragging Canoe and his followers who were determined to stop their progress.

Dragging Canoe, Nipissing and Natchez by birth and Cherokee by abduction and adoption, rose to become the leader of the Chickamauga nation. It originally consisted of Cherokee but others soon joined from the Shawnee, Chickasaw and Upper Muskogee tribes. They established sites along the Tennessee River near present-day Chattanooga where they could mount attacks against the settlers moving westward by boat. Their plan was to drive the settlers back to the east of the negotiated land divide.

Many of these tribes had been in the region since the late prehistoric times. I think of this in the context of my own history: the Neely family has been in America for 296 years. How would I react if someone from another country landed on our shores and began claiming U.S. soil as their own? Yet that is precisely what Europeans did; they considered the "red man" inferior because they were different and systematically began driving them out of lands they had occupied since ancient times.

Mary Neely was 19 years old during this river journey. Her father William had moved to Fort Nashborough (now Nashville, Tennessee) after Henderson's Purchase, an agreement between several Indian tribes (predominantly the Cherokee) and a group of white settlers in which the Indian elders sold land in present-day Middle Tennessee and parts of Kentucky. The purchase was never legitimate, as Richard Henderson was violating the Royal Proclamation and the tribal elders didn't actually own the land they sold. (Owning land was not part of Indian culture.) It was during this land sale that Dragging Canoe left the mainstream tribe and formed the Chickamauga.

In the autumn of 1779, Mary Neely began preparing with nine brothers and sisters and her mother Margaret to join William Neely. They joined John Donelson's party that would travel west by river. The journey was expected to take about four weeks. Instead, more than four months later, survivors of the party reached the fort with a harrowing tale of repeated Indian attacks that lasted from present-day Chattanooga past Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They also faced starvation, frostbite, white water rapids their boats were not prepared to navigate, and even small pox.

It was Mary's friend Hannah Stuart and Hannah's younger sister who first contracted small pox. As a result, their boat was sent to the rear to keep them from infecting the others. During one of Dragging Canoe's attacks, the two sisters were captured and brought back to one of their villages. They infected others in the village and because the inhabitants regularly traveled between other villages, it resulted in a small pox epidemic. The two Stuart sisters died in captivity and because the tribes had no natural resistance to the disease (which had been brought to the Americas by the Europeans) they died in large numbers. This is one of the stories told in my book.

River Passage has been determined to be so historically accurate that the original manuscript is held at the Nashville Metropolitan Government Archives for future researchers and historians. It is a tale not only of my ancestors' journey westward but also of the clash of two civilizations, told through the eyes of each side. It was also the winner of the 2010 Best Drama Award.

If you enjoyed The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, you would enjoy River Passage and its companion book, Songbirds are Free.

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books in several genres. Read an excerpt from River Passage, watch the book trailer, and view pictures from her months of following in her ancestors' footsteps at her website,

Sunday, September 25, 2016

You're Never Too Old

You're never too old to follow your dreams.

Take Anna Sewell, for example. Anna was the author of Black Beauty, one of the best-selling books of all time. Did you know that she was 57 years old and in declining health when her first and only book was published?

Anna was born in 1820 in England. When she was only twelve years old, she slipped and injured both ankles. In a time before x-rays and advanced medical treatments, her injury never quite healed and she spent the rest of her life unable to stand or walk without a crutch. In her later years, she was often confined to her bed.

She had a great love of horses and was often surrounded with them. Because of her injury and being unable to walk for any distance, she depended on her horse-drawn carriage. She had a great deal of empathy for the horses, which no doubt contributed to the theme in Black Beauty.

Anna wrote Black Beauty from 1871 to 1877, sometimes writing bits and pieces on paper while she was bed-ridden and at other times, dictating to her mother. Her mother combined all the information from various scraps of paper into a manuscript. The publisher Jarrolds purchased the rights to the book when Anna was 57 years old.

Anna unfortunately died just five months after the book was published. However, she did live long enough to see her book become a huge success. Ironically, she did not write it as a children's book. She wrote it to raise awareness of a horse's plight and how they should be treated more humanely.

I suppose you could say that Anna has lived on in the pages of her book, now considered a classic.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Five Things Authors Do Wrong on Social Media

Here are five things that authors do wrong on social media:


  1. You Don’t Have a Plan

    I know how difficult it is to go from a chosen profession as an author to a forced profession as a marketer, but only the most successful self-promoters will sell enough copies of their books to earn a decent living. Most authors hop on social media haphazardly, sometimes flooding their feeds and alternately ignoring them. You should always start with a plan or campaign: When will it start? When will it end? What is your message? What will you post to capture your readers’ interest? Even if you’re posting continuously, break it down into monthly campaigns. It will help you focus.

  2. You Confuse Number of Followers/Friends with Success

    It isn’t the quantity that matters. It’s the quality. If you have a million followers but only 10 buy your book, that won’t convert to success as an author.

  3. You’re Not Connecting with Your Ideal Audience

    This ties into Number 2 above. Take some time to look at your followers’ and friends’ feeds. Who are they? Where do they work? What are their hobbies? Are they buying your book? Tap into your ideal audience by finding out where they hang out and join them. Interact without the hard sell.

  4. You’re Not Listening

    Successful marketers engage in Social Listening. A lot of authors flood their social media with advertisements for their books without reading others’ posts or establishing relationships. And today, it’s all about relationships.

  5. You Give up Too Soon

    I’ve seen a lot of authors engage in a month-long campaign and then declare it a failure when book sales were not immediate. Consider your own buying habits. When was the last time you heard or read about a book that would interest you? Did you rush right out or click right through to buy the book immediately? Or did you make a note of it, planning to buy it sometime in the near future? Especially if books are sold through retailers such as independent book stores or brick-and-mortar chains, the sales might not be reflected in your royalties for another 3-6 months.

    Selling books is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. You can’t promote it for a month or six months or a year and then think it will grow legs and take off. Sure, some do. But we hear about those because they are not ordinary. The average author, whether traditional or self-published, must continue to market throughout their career.


Are you a successful author who has used social media to your advantage? What are your tips?

p.m.terrell is the critically acclaimed, multi-award-winning author of more than 20 books in several genres. She has been a full-time author since 2002, the founder of the Book 'Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair, and will soon be launching her advice column for authors of fiction, called The Novel Business. Learn more about her, read free excerpts from her books, and watch the book trailers at

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Changing Face of the Publishing Industry

Bowker released its annual Self-Publishing in the United States Report, and it’s worth noting even for traditionally published authors because it underscores the changes that are taking effect in the publishing industry.

Bowker is the official ISBN Agency for the United States, US territories and Australia, which means that all ISBN’s are issued through Bowker for these jurisdictions. Bowker was once known as R. R. Bowker and got its start way back in 1872 when they founded Publishers Weekly. It first published Bowker’s Books in Print in 1948, and in 1968 they became the official ISBN Agency for the United States.

When my first book was published in the mid 1980’s, around 75,000 titles were published that year. Compare that to 2015 in which 727,125 ISBN’s were issued to self-publishers according to Bowker’s Self-Publishing in the United States Report. This does not account for titles published by traditional publishers such as Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Hachette.

Of those 727,125 ISBN’s (which represent a 375% increase over books published in 2010), 573,965 were printed books. To give you an idea of the increase in printed books as a result of changing technology, in 2010 only 114,215 titles were printed. By far, the biggest increase has been due to the rise and popularity of CreateSpace, who is owned by amazon and who printed 423,718 titles in 2015. Their nearest competitor—Lulu—printed 46,972 in that same period.

When we add ebooks into the mix, the field becomes even more cluttered. In 2010, only 38,763 ebook titles were generated. In 2015, there were 153,160—which actually showed a decrease from the year before, in which there were 172,511.

Self-publishers and small publishers (printing less than 100 books per year) are changing the face of the publishing industry. They are driving the growth and in an age in which almost anything can be sold on the Internet, they are changing the way in which books move from the author to the reader. 

Some years ago, there was a record store in every shopping mall. Today, they are increasingly harder to find. Some experts predict that books will go the same way: readers will browse and purchase online. 

As a reader, where do you buy your books? Do you still browse the shelves of a brick-and-mortar store? Or do you turn to an online source?

How do you find a new author? Is it through the recommendation of a librarian or physical bookseller, or is it online in social media? Or is it through advertising or other means?

p.m.terrell is the author of more than 20 books in several genres. A full-time writer since 2002, her first book was published in 1984, launching her computer business. It would take nearly 20 years for her to circle back around to her true love: writing. Take a look at her books, view the book trailers and read free excerpts at