Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Serenity Now!

The first half of September was NOISY. The constant sound of jackhammering was in full force six days of the week while two neighbors had a large retaining wall removed and rebuilt. Our townhouse walls shook and I felt the reverberations throughout my body. It was like being in a stadium filled with Seattle Seahawks fans who jump and stomp so vigorously that seismologists say they cause minor earthquakes.

I tried to relax and rise above the commotion by repeating the mantra, “I feel calm and serene.” But my teeth remained clenched and my left eye kept twitching. It reminded me of an old Seinfeld TV episode where George Costanza’s father is advised to quietly say “serenity now” every time he feels tense in order to help control his high blood pressure. Instead, he becomes agitated and throws his hands to the sky yelling “SERENITY NOW”.

One Saturday, to escape the continual auditory assault, my husband and I went to lunch. Driving home, the car alarm went off. You know, the bee-bah, bee-bah, bee-bah, whoop, whoop, weeooo, weeooo, bloooop, bloooop. It stopped for a moment, then repeated. We couldn’t figure out how to disable it and continued driving. Need I mention the stares directed at us? After we arrived home and pulled wires from the battery, the noise thankfully stopped. Sweet peace and serenity.

As I write this blog, construction has ceased and I have the windows open for fresh air. However, my neighbor’s dachshunds are yapping, a bird is making a repetitive shrill call that sounds like a cross between a ringtone and a squeaky porch swing, and the cicadas are winding up. Yap, yap, squeak, squeak, ting-a-ling, buzzzzzz. On the bright side, the cacophony is drowning out noise from the freeway and Metrorail.

What a contrast to my summer vacation in Hawaii! Every day spent at the beach with only the sounds of waves crashing, kids laughing, and tropical birds softly warbling. Geckos skittered around tree trunks chasing each other. Occasionally, someone played a ukulele or sang.

We discovered a coffee plantation nestled in a hillside about a half hour’s drive from our condo. I felt
calm and centered sipping a morning mocha while sitting in the open air coffee shop, gentle trade winds blowing. The view was breathtaking—trellised coffee plants in the foreground with white sailboats dotting the blue ocean in the distance.

While in this tranquil place, I was unexpectedly besieged with ideas for new stories and characters. Now I’m on a quest to maintain daily inner peace no matter what is happening.

How do you find serenity in this crazy, noisy world?

Monday, September 29, 2014

SinC Up: What's On Your Nightstand?

The wonderful Mary Ann Corrigan, author of the upcoming By Cook or By Crook, the first in her Five Ingredient culinary mystery series, and short stories in the Chesapeake Crimes anthology series, tagged me in the September Sisters In Crime Blog Sinc Up. Taggees are given a choice of questions, including the opportunity to dish on what books are on their nightstand.

Books on my nightstand? How about the books by the cozy chair in the living room, the books on the coffee table/foot rest in the family room, the books in the tote bag, or the books by the front door waiting to go back to the library? And the book club book on tape I’m listening to on my commute. (Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Beyond good, go check it out).

Since my husband and I have a mixed marriage (he’s an early riser, I’m a night owl)  I don’t read in bed. I do my reading on the fainting couch in the living room (Chaise longue if you’re feeling fancy, half couch I won in a furniture store contest if you’re wondering where I got it).

The chaise longue is furniture made for reading. Its arms wrap around you as you recline in Victorian-lady comfort. There’s even a spot on the arm that’s wide enough to hold a cup of tea or margarita – depending on what I’m reading. Yes, it’s a couch with a built-in, stealth cup holder.

Sisters in Crime wants to know about my TBR book stash, so here is a list of the books by the chaise: The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (Thanks for those bags under my eyes, Sophie. Your infernally twisted book kept me up way too late last night); The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, a story in that special category reserved for books that change the way you look at life; and classics of two kinds: Peter Lovesey’s Skeleton Hill and David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

Sisters and Misters in Crime are represented in the TBR by Louise Penny’s latest, The Long Way Home; a copy of Ellery Queen Magazine; Fat Cat at Large by Kaye George/Janet Cantrell; and Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber. Was Dorothy Gilman a Sister? I adore her Mrs. Pollifax books. She’s represented in the TBR by Mrs. Pollifax Pursued.

Last, but not least, is the book that makes my husband nervous, Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons by Serita Stevens. Just a little light reading before bed, I assure him.

Many thanks to Mary Ann for the tag.

What books are on your nightstand?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September Surprise

I was perusing Facebook this morning and I spied one of those photo sayings that folks are so fond of posting. This read ‘Surprise me September.’ The lovely fall scene made me pant here in 90 degree Florida and I wondered what the surprise was supposed to be.

When I was little (day before yesterday? Seems that way.), I used to think that the ‘real’ New Year was September 1st and the adults were just too dim to notice. School started in my district the day after Labor Day. The surprises started with the ritual of buying school supplies. Nothing smells better than new composition books and fresh pencils. I still get odd looks in Staples this time of year. Then there was the excitement of new clothes, discovering the name of your teacher, catching up with old friends, and celebrating that your best friend was in your class. Yes, September was full of surprises.

September is surprising me in different ways this year. My wedding anniversary is September 1st. I don’t know why it’s always a surprise. We did everything we could to make it a date we would both remember. But every year, it’s the same story. One of us remembers, usually him, and the other, usually me, scrambles to figure out what to do about it. I lucked out this year. It’s number seven and the gifts are wool, copper and desk sets.  What a great anniversary for a writer. Bring on the desk set, dear.

Then I participated in the Writer’s Police Academy. This conference is in its fifth year. I’m kicking
myself for missing the first four and vowing to return next year. WOW – talk about three intense days. The action starts from the second you arrive at the hotel on Thursday and doesn’t quit until noon on Sunday. It’s probably one of the most wonderful and intensive conferences a writer can attend. Very hands on. It’s designed for writers and geared toward avoiding common mistakes – like those you learn from a lifetime of watching TV. The stuff these folks effortlessly know makes a huge difference in the veracity of the words on the page. No more throw the book across the room cop mistakes for me. If I make them, it’s because I wasn’t paying attention.

The WPA surprises for me started at the mass casualty scene the first day of the conference. The woman standing next to me was none other than CJ Lyons. I’m a huge fan, and yes, I told her. Then, while the drama of trauma was playing out before our eyes, CJ gave a behind the scenes commentary from her perspective as a trauma doc. OMG, I was in heaven.

More surprises were in store this month. I was invited to be a guest blogger on this very blog. I’m filling in, although not filling the shoes, for Sarah, who will be back in November. So, I’ll be Sunday’s child for three blogs. At the same time, I was offered a regular blogging spot on Mysteristas. I’d wanted to blog for a while, but the thought of doing one of my own was daunting. These offers are the perfect solution, and a surprise.

There’s still a few days left in this month. Wonder what more surprises September has in store. How about you.  Was your September Surprise filled?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

As Usual—Juggling

Progress on my novel faltered every time I wrote short stories. In January, I received Ramona
Long’s edits on my manuscript. I vowed to focus on revisions, which were going well until I realized that there were three opportunities for short stories with March 31st deadlines. I caved, wrote the stories, and took myself away from revisions. In addition, I decided to enter my novel, Toasting Fear, into the RWA Daphne Du Maurier Contest in the unpublished paranormal category as that seemed like the best fit. Its deadline, too, was March 31st. I scrambled.

The upshot? I’ve been dealing with a lot of rejection this year. Overcoming fear of failure, keeping a thick skin, and boosting my self-confidence are posted on my “to do” list along with losing weight and going to the gym. A remedy of success would please me more than mantra.

The feedback I received from the Daphne Contest gave me hope. Most of the comments were positive. I received high marks. Trying to present a coherent story, written in four POVs, while adhering to the minimal word count required by the contest elicited a few negative comments. Many of those comments included the word “disjointed.” No kidding. With four POVs, Mission Impossible. But the readers thought it would be a good read despite that problem.    

By the end of March after two months away from my novel, I lost steam and spring chores beckoned. Another editor put out the call for short stories. I again heard the siren’s call, wrote my fourth short story, and submitted it. Today marks the deadline of that last anthology. I’ll know soon whether this fourth one lands in the rejection pile, too.

Spring turned to summer. Although I’d love to call myself a full-time writer, my time isn’t my own. Our business and family comes first. When I first started to write fiction balancing it all was a problem. Nothing has changed. Between real life and blog interviews, five months have passed since I’ve worked on my novel’s revisions. I’ve promised myself and beta readers that I would see this book through.

But then, I have to think of a Christmas short story for this blog.

What is the longest time it has taken you to complete a novel?     

Friday, September 26, 2014

Two and a half days

Two and a half days

I was recently released after spending two and a half days in the hospital for severe diarrhea.  The cause was diagnosed (an infection in my colon) and treatment has started. I am grateful to the people who took very good care of me. 

I was struck by the experience of adapting to the 24 hour, 7 day a week schedule of the hospital as an institution.   It took from 10: 00 AM one day to 2:00 AM the following day to get into the hospital.  I spent an additional two hours in Admission before I was sent to a room.  Because of my symptoms I was kept off food and water for more than two days.  I’m not complaining; medically it was the correct way to go.        I slept only briefly and rarely. So I had time to examine the system. 

At first, being quite unsteady on my feet, I wore a contraption between my knees and my feet that I felt was based on a Victorian dream of punishing bedwetting children.  Balloons inflated on one leg hissed and deflated as balloons inflated on the other leg.  Afterward I was told that the device presented blot clots in a bedridden patient.  Again medically sound.

People working in the hospital had individual schedules. As a patient, I was aware when four hours passed by the arrival of someone to take my vital signs or a blood sample.  Which four of any twenty-four hour period was often unclear to me. The clock might read 11:00.  Was that in the morning or at night?  I could tell morning from night, but I might have had a very busy day before 10:00 in the morning.  Starting at 4:30 AM, people would come around to check on me.  There was the surgery group, the GI group and the medical group. People came individually or in clumps.

I always appreciated their interest.  They also gave me something to think about.  I was on an IV pump that became alarmed if I did not keep my left arm straight.  When I was prone with one arm immobile, there were a very small number of things I could do.  I could ask for assistance with something tricky like toileting.  I could stare at the ceiling.  I could let the television drone on. If it was daytime, I could talk to my wife, Judy. Or I could think. 

I tried to not listen to the people around me.  I was unable to avoid hearing a discussion between physicians about when to label a patient as advanced level three as opposed to level four. Apparently if you use level four too early in the process then you might have to explain to an insurance provider why the patient is not yet dead.  One patient admitted to a room much too close to mine moaned for hours between bouts of paranoid raving (I will call down the wrath of hell from room...)  That patient preferred to avoid the call button in favor of bellowing, “Nurse, nurse.” 
I thought about a story I wanted to write. I developed a flash fiction version, a noir black and white movie script, and a convoluted novel approach.  I don’t know if I will actually write up the story.  I may need an expanded mental exercise again.

When I returned home I felt as though I had been gone for an extended period of time.  It was only two and a half days but it feels like longer than a week. 

Have you had a similar experience?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Things found in the Daily Newspaper

My lunch with the Tribune
I enjoy reading my daily newspaper to find out what’s going on locally and in the world. Of course, a lot of the news beyond the local, I’ve already heard on the radio. I always read the obituaries to see if by any chance I’m in there – that’s an old joke my father used to say a lot. The only news I don’t follow is the sports page and not much of the celebrity news, either. I love the comics and save them for last – sort of a dessert, as you will, after all the tragedies going on in the world.

One feature I really like is the human interest ones. A little over a week ago, there was an article about American pediatrician Alan Jamison who was treating patients with Ebola. His medical missionary group pulled him out early as a precaution, but the 69 year old retiree plans to return. “This is where the need is,” Jamison explains, “This is my calling.”

Hospital volunteer Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly were already in Liberia when the outbreak began and they decided to stay at the charity run ELVA hospital in Monrovia to help. Richard Sacra, a 15-year ELWA veteran, immediately volunteered to leave his family in suburban Boston and return to the hospital when Writebol and Brantly got sick. Jamison also worked there. Rendi Murphree, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will soon be leaving for Monrovia, Liberia, to work at the airport screening outbound passengers for the Ebola virus. These are just a few of the many volunteers who are fighting this dreaded disease for no financial reward only a strong desire to help where help is needed.

Another article in the Tribune also caught my eye. It got a lot of hype. It seems that women celebrities have had their nude photos hacked. Poor women. Yes, hacking is wrong, but I have to wonder why they had nude pictures on the web when everyone knows hacking is a reality. Also, I guess I also wondered if they didn’t want people looking at them in the nude, then why did they have the pictures taken at all. Okay, I guess I’m a bit of a prude, but it’s hard for me to feel sorry for them when ISIS is brutally murdering people, people throughout the Middle East are losing their homes, lives and families, and many people in Africa are dying from Ebola or from the fighting going on throughout many areas of Africa. The Ukraine is suffering from an invasion, and wildfires are a serious problem in the west. And then there is Central America, neighbors of ours who live in fear from the crime cartels.

I’m retired on a fixed income, but I do give to some charities. Unfortunately, I think I’m on the mailing list of almost every charity in the country and much as I would like to, I can’t donate to very many of them. Of course, some I send a donation once a year, but then that means I get begging letters from them every month.  One of the charities, I do donate to more than once a year is Doctors Without Borders. I think these brave and caring doctors, nurses and others who risk their lives to help others deserve all the help they can get.

Back to the daily newspaper; in addition to news and ideas for blogs, it’s a wonderful place to find characters and plot ideas.

Do you read a daily newspaper?

How do you get your news?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Kathy Aarons Interview

I read Death Is Like A Box Of Chocolates over two days and enjoyed every page. Kathy Aarons’s main character, Michelle Serrano, a chocolatier, sells her sweet concoctions out of Chocolates and Chapters, the store she shares with her book-loving BFF, Erica Russell, a Fulbright scholar. If you like chocolate, the descriptions of Michelle’s chocolates will drive you out of your chair and straight to the Godiva store. However, the recipes at the back of the book did not prompt me to melt up a batch of chocolates. I’ve had enough bad experiences working with chocolate to know that it scorches easily, tempering is temperamental, and that gray bloom occurs more often than a glossy, silky surface. So don’t say I didn’t warn you. But, it does make me like and admire Kathy’s main character all the more. Berkley released this first book in the series on September 2nd. Look for it at your favorite retailer and learn more about Kathy at her website.  

Please welcome Kathy Aarons to WWK.                                                                          E. B. Davis   

Kathy, would you provide our readers with a synopsis of your plot?

Whether it’s to satisfy a craving for chocolate or pick up the hottest new bestseller, the locals in charming West Riverdale, Maryland, are heading to Chocolates and Chapters, where everything sold is to die for….
Best friends Michelle Serrano and Erica Russell are celebrating the sweet rewards of their combined bookstore and chocolate shop by hosting the Great Fudge Cook-off during the town’s Memorial Day weekend Arts Festival. But success turns bittersweet when Main Street’s portrait photographer is found dead in their store, poisoned by Michelle’s signature truffles.
As suspicion mounts against Michelle, her sales begin to crumble and her career seems whipped. With Erica by her side, Michelle must pick through an assortment of suspects before the future of their dream store melts away….

Fleur de Sel Caramel, Amaretto Palle Darks, Mayan Warriors, Bacon-and-Smoked-Salt Truffles, Dark Passion Fruit Truffles, Raspberry Surprise Milks, Banana Toffees, Mocha Supremes, Pistachio Surprises, Spicy Passion Fruits, Black Forest Milks, Acai and Blueberry Chocolate Bars, Lavender Truffles, and Applewood Bacon Truffles are some of the chocolates Michelle makes. Are these real products? Did you gain weight researching them all? Did you make some of them?

Yes – they are all real products, although I may have changed their names. I definitely gained weight but that was more to do with huddling at my computer for so long than eating chocolate. J I did make several of them and even if they didn’t look perfect, they tasted good!

Michelle and Erica seem like the odd couple due to their differences in interests, education, and temperaments. Do opposites attract?

I’m not sure about opposites attracting, but even with their differences, they still have a lot in common – love of family, appreciation for what they bring to their customers, and a strong sense of justice.

Would you explain why West Riverdale, the Maryland setting, has no river and why it is west when there appears to be no east?

The fictional town of West Riverdale was founded by the River family. You’ll learn more about them in Truffled to Death, the second book in the series. There is an area called Riverdale in Maryland, so I added West to the name.

Although Michelle and Erica attended high school together, they only connected two years prior to the book’s timing. Michelle doesn’t seem to know much about Erica’s past. Will you reveal why Erica returned to their hometown and what she did as a Fulbright Scholar in future books?

Good question! And yes, in future books, you’ll learn more about the past of Erica and other characters.

Your plot involves computer cracking, security code breaches, and GPS pinging. Are you a techno-geek?

I am not, but I have a computer programmer daughter, a technical husband, and friends who know current technology. I just like to turn my computer on and have it work!

I’m not sure which secondary character I liked the most. If I had to pick, I’d choose the cat. How many names does the cat have, and will “Coco” ever become Michelle’s cat?

Coco will continue to add names as she adds friends with food. I don’t think Coco will ever belong to someone – she’s pretty independent and has the life she prefers.

What are “covenant weapons” and “CGI special effects?”

Covenant weapons are a gaming term and Computer Generated? Imagery.

Why is Michelle child-resistant?

Because she comes from such a small family, she’s unfamiliar with them.

Do you know any veterans suffering from PTSD?

No. I have a very good friend who works with them and has helped me with Leo’s character.

Michelle often refers to Erica’s communication as “snotty talk.” Do you think readers will agree with Michelle’s assessment? 

It’s said with affection, so I hope that comes through.

Erica starts to reconnect with her high-school boyfriend and now deputy, Bobby. Michelle sparks with Erica’s brother, Bean. Will those relationships develop in future books?

Sorry – you’ll have to read them to see!

Are you a beach or mountain person, Kathy?

Beach! I live in Southern California and walk the beach a few times a week for exercise and to unwind.                                      

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lost and Found

How many times have you finished the laundry, folded your clothes, and come up a sock short? You backtrack and examine the washer and dryer, but one sock has mysteriously vanished. You frown and consider the possibility that house elves really do exist and yours have cold feet.

One family in Portland, Oregon solved the mystery of missing socks in their home. Their three year old Great Dane became very ill and subsequently the veterinarian pulled out 43 1/2 socks from the dog’s stomach! The article didn’t say where the other half of the sock went.

Last winter after an ill-considered snowball fight when I wasn’t wearing gloves, I noticed my wedding ring was missing. I looked everywhere—the front yard, the car, through pockets in my clothes and coats, even in drawers in the house, but no luck.

After a few months I had given up hope of ever again seeing my old but cherished ring. One day as I was walking through the living room, a sparkle from under a side table next to the couch caught my eye. I bent over to see what it was and, EUREKA, I found my ring along with a few dust bunnies. But how in the world did it end up there?

Some homeowners have found treasures as well as creepy things in their attics. They probably never expected to discover a Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece, cash in a bag from WWII, an original Huckleberry Finn manuscript, a mummy, or (scarily) a man stalking his ex-girlfriend.

Sometimes during renovations of very old houses people find objects like charms, bottles, dried cats, skulls, shoes, and clothes hidden in walls, ceilings, floors, or chimneys. It’s speculated that these hidden tokens follow ancient traditions to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck, or aid in fertility.

Shoes are the most common items discovered. If you happen to find old shoes (really old shoes, not PF Flyers or penny loafers) hidden in your house, Northampton Museums and Art Gallery maintains a Concealed Shoe Index and would like to add your find to their collection.
Have you lost or found anything unusual in your house?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Why Write a Series?

The mystery field is full of series. Why? Because they sell. Readers become familiar with series characters. They feel comfortable with them, know their families, their lovers, and their quirks. They wait with baited breath for the next book to come out to continue their love affair with the characters. Some popular series writers are James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, John Sandford, and Daniel Silva. Some authors like Harlan Coben, Nora Roberts, and Robert Ludlum, among others, write both series and standalones.

Polly Iyer

I'm a self-published writer with one series, the third book of which will be out on September 30th. I'm not racking up the sales, but the first two books in my series outsell my other books by far. I resisted writing a series for a long time because I consider myself a standalone writer, but when I got an idea for a second Diana Racine book, I published it. Then it happened. Readers posted on Facebook asking when the next book would be out. Eventually I relented.

One of my favorite characters is Karin Slaughter's Will Trent. Trent is dyslexic. Because his brain is wired differently, he sees clues other detectives miss. Of course, it's highly unlikely he'd be hired by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, considering he can't read, but this is fiction, isn't it?

Daniel Silva's series character, Gabriel Allon, is a prominent art restorer. He's also an assassin working for the Israeli government. How's that for a mix? Art and murder.

My all-time favorite thriller writer, Robert Ludlum, kept me glued to his early work. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Ludlum wrote more standalone books than his Jason Bourne series, but Bourne took off and is unquestionably Ludlum's most successful character. Three movies prove my point.

Ellis Vidler

If you create a really good character who appeals to readers, you’ve hit the jackpot. Those are the ones we can’t wait to read. Anticipation is a wonderful thing. It builds excitement, and we eagerly look forward to the next book. Who doesn’t love Harry Bosch?

Standalones depend more on the author. There are authors I love, no matter what they write, and I look for their new books with the same anticipation I do for characters I love.

Robert Crais, one of my favorite authors, writes standalones and series, so Amazon has me on a watch list for anything by him.

Then there’s Dennis Lehane. He’s had one series book, at least two standalones, and a short story, “Animal Abuse,” made into movies. In a way, the Boston area is a recurring character. “Animal Abuse” was changed to The Drop and the setting moved to Brooklyn for the movie.

Kay Hooper wrote standalones for a long time, but in recent years she’s linked her books through a group of FBI agents who work for a mysterious man named Bishop.

I’m in her camp, neither a standalone nor a series writer. My books are linked through the characters. In the McGuire women, each book (two so far with a third in my head) features a different member of a family with a psychic streak. The others are linked through Will Porter, all characters who work for him at Maleantes & More. The second M&M book, Prime Target, will be released October 1, and the third is underway.

If I ever find ways to sustain the interest (both mine and the reader’s) in a single character through several books, I’ll become a true series writer.