Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween by Julie Mulhern

 I love Halloween.

Truly, I love it.

It is the perfect holiday. No big meal to fix or digest. Instead, a pot of chili simmers on the stove. Gifts? Bags of bite-sized candy bars, opened and shared with all comers. Stress? Practically non-existent.

When my children were little, a groups of dads would escort our crew of princesses, goblins and Jedi knights around the neighborhood. The moms stayed home to pass out candy. The reality? We drank wine.

Show me another holiday where men do the lion’s share of the work.

As I said, the perfect holiday.
Add to that the inexplicable fact that my children don’t like Snickers. I do. When they emptied their pillow cases I was waiting. While they traded for Milky Ways and Kit Kats, I collected Snickers.

Now that they’ve outgrown trick or treating, I buy my own. Don’t bother asking, I’m not sharing.

This year, there’s a Halloween mystery rattling around my brain. I’m thinking about a haunted house (the kind with fake zombies, scary people with chain saws, and lines of screaming teens), an all too real corpse, and an unfortunate amateur sleuth who has an uncanny knack for finding bodies. There will also be Snickers bars. I am going to start writing it as soon I complete the draft for my third Country Club Murders mystery.

So, this Halloween, I wish you pots of chili, happy children, plenty of wine, and lots of Snickers bars. If you don’t like Snickers, you know who’ll take them.

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions. 


Friday, October 30, 2015

Selling A House

Selling A House
 by Warren Bull

Our house is now on the market.  Yesterday we signed the final papers for selling it with our realtor.  We dropped off an ugly but useful black metal filing cabinet at a donation center, went to a restaurant we like and ordered lunch. Before the food came we had four calls from realtors wanting to see the house. 

One realtor wanted to come at 12:30.  The time on my watch was 12:31.  Being unable to instantly transport ourselves through time and space, we said we could not manage that. And we were hungry.  That realtor rescheduled for later in the afternoon.  I believe three out of the four people who said they wanted to view the property actually did. 

Much of our stuff is relocated to out of the way nooks and crannies.  If I want to do something like practice singing, I have to 1) remember where what  I need is located 2) dig through the other stuff interposed between what I want and me 3) check the time to see how much longer I have to work on whatever before …4) returning said object to its previous location so I can bail before the next showing. 

Why, you may ask, don’t I put the whatever in a location easier to access? 1) if I start moving things I will have to remember their new location and … 2) the new locations of all the intervening material 3) it is likely that next timeI will want another buried treasure next which, if I also move that whatever to a new location… see 1) 2) and 3) above. 

I would tell you more but right now I have to put my toys away so I can vanish before the next scheduled showing.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Invasion of Plants by Gloria Alden

Plants in my bedroom including resting orchids
Every spring when all chance of a late frost has passed us by, I take almost all my house plants outside for the summer. Only my orchids remain inside and a few other plants I keep inside so it won’t look too bare. Orchids that are still blooming remain downstairs, and orchids no longer blooming go to their rest home upstairs in my bedroom by the east windows until they are ready to bloom again the following winter.
The front window in my library with my new orchid in front
A few weeks ago I started bringing in my house plants. I had a lot of house plants to bring in and find places for around the house. In didn’t help that my daughter-in-law was going to pitch four huge beautiful hanging ferns because she thinks they’re too messy so I adopted those abandoned ferns. But where to put them was a problem. I already had two healthy although smaller ferns, and one that looks rather pathetic. Just like I can’t kill anything other than mosquitoes, flies, slugs, or Japanese beetles, I have a hard time murdering house plants, too. Some of the plants in pots are getting quite large, heavy, and awkward to carry. Well, I got them all in including two hanging baskets of fuscias which I put on top of the large bird cage. Then I decided that one of the matching pots on pedestals next to the bench beside the sidewalk was too beautiful to leave out for the frost to kill the impatiens, lobelia and a vine that had filled in. So I hauled it into the house to place in front of the laundry room window near the bird cages. I considered myself finished now, until I looked at various geraniums blooming. Such cheerful colors and they’ve been known to bloom almost all winter in pots so I put some in long planters that would fit in several spaces if I jammed other plants together. Now I was done and could relax and enjoy my indoor tropical garden. I wouldn’t be tempted by any other plants, I told myself. I’d even skip any poinsettias this December.
The front window in my living room.

Yeah right! This past Saturday my sister Elaine’s good friend, Joan, took us along with their friend Sue, to visit Grace Meadows, a lovely 90 year old woman in Lewisville.  Grace has lived almost her whole life in what was once a brick schoolhouse. All around her home are lovely gardens she manages herself with only the help of a son, who comes to mow the extensive grounds. True, most of the plants are done blooming after the frost, but some were still blooming and the bones of the garden as well as little clever additions allowed us to see how beautiful the garden would be when everything was blooming.

Fuchsias on top of doves' cage next to Pavarotti's cage. 
What really impressed us were the two greenhouses attached to the side of her house with tables and shelves full of clivias and exotic orchids called Cymbidium orchids much more expensive than the cheap ones I buy at Aldi’s or Home Depot. She also had huge pots of geraniums blooming as well as a lemon tree with three green lemons on it and many other plants, too. But most of the greenhouses were devoted to the orchids and clivias. She was willing to sell some of her plants to us because she has so many of them. I bought a clivia and one of the orchids called Sunset. She also gave me a small clivia that won’t bloom for three or four years, but the older one and the orchid should bloom for me in March or maybe earlier.
Plants in window in upstairs hall

Grace invited us in, and served us coffee or tea and fresh baked apple dumplings with vanilla ice cream. We asked her lots of questions about plants and her life which she shared with us. When someone mentioned I’m a writer, ( I mentioned I’d love to use her name for a character in a future book.) she got very interested and brought out two thick three-ring binders with long lists on each of the pages with the titles of books, the authors, and a brief synopsis of each book. Although she’s an eclectic reader, she loves mysteries and had the whole series of specific writers she’s read and enjoyed like Dick Francis and others. Although her eyesight is too poor to drive anymore, she can still read and every week her son stops at the library and brings at least three new books home for her to read.

We left with promises to be back in the spring to visit with her and see her gardens, and I promised a signed copy of my first book which pleased her very much. My only regret is that I forgot to bring my camera with me that day.
A fern & a night blooming cerise that hasn't bloomed in 45 years
So now I had three more plants to fit in. Okay, I guess I’m a hoarder not only of books but plants. I just can’t seem to resist either one. So rationalizing my addictions, as I do, I remembered having house plants actually makes a house healthier. So to prove it to others that I’m filling my house with plants for a healthier life; I went online to get the facts to post. There were so many links to the health effects of house plants and lots of them were repeating the same facts so I’m going to just post “15 Fabulous Health Benefits of House Plants” by Leslie (no last name given) at:

1.     One.    Plants can help fight colds: Indoor plants have been shown to reduce cold-related illnesses by more than 30%. This is due to their effects of increasing humidity levels and decreasing dust.

      Two Plants can remove airborne contaminants: We breathe the same air again and again, potentially inhaling harmful substances that are trapped inside. Indoor plants can help to remove pollutants including VOCs that cause headaches, nausea, and more.

           Three: Plants can stop your headaches: Filling your home with plants can decrease or eliminate headaches. With plants, you’re much less likely to be breathing the kind of stuffy, stale air that contributes to headaches.
      Four:  Plants can make you happy: House plants can contribute to a feeling of well-being, making you calmer and more optimistic. Studies have shown that patients who face a garden view in their hospital rooms often recover more quickly than those facing a wall.
      Five: Plants can improve your mental health: Caring for a living thing can help when you’re depressed or lonely, giving you a purpose in life.
      Six: Plants can decrease your blood pressure: People with plants in their homes have less stress, and plants have been known to contribute to lower blood pressure.
         sEVEN:  Plants can reduce carbon dioxide: During photosynthesis, plants draw carbon dioxide from the air. Removing this substance can help prevent drowsiness from elevated levels.
       Eight: Plants can offer treatment: Some indoor plants, like aloe, can be applied to skin and offer pain relief.
      NinePlants can prevent allergies: Exposing children to allergens such as plants early in life can help them build a tolerance and immunity to the allergen. It works like a custom allergy shot, naturally.
         Ten: Plants can negate cigarette smoke: If you are a smoker or live with one, a plant may help you remove the airborne chemicals from cigarettes. In particular, the Peace Lily is a good choice for this health benefit.

1    Eleven:  Plants can make your brain work better: Potted plants and flowers can improve your idea generation, mood, and more.
      Twelve:.  Plants provide clean air: In addition to filtering chemicals, plants also put out clean air, improving the air quality around them.
      Thirteen: Plants can clear congestion: Eucalyptus in particular can help clear phlegm and congestion from you system. In fact, eucalyptus is often found in congestion remedies.

1    Fourteen  Plants are natural humidifiers: Instead of buying a humidifier machine to soften the air, just bring in a plant or two.

      Fifteen:   Plants can improve your sleep: Gerbera daisies give off oxygen at night. Filling a vase in your bedroom with these flowers can improve your night’s rest.
A few plants beside my bed.

Other articles listed certain house plants that were especially good; some I have, some I don’t. I do have aloe, but I’ve never used it for pain relief. I almost never get a cold or get sick at all. I can’t remember the last time I had one. Even when teaching third graders, I seldom got one. Now I’m crediting that to the house plants I always have in my house. My blood pressure is fine. I rarely get headaches, either. I love the idea house plants make your brain work better. I need all the help I can get with that.  And yes plants make me happy, especially during the gloomy, dark days of winter. As for having something to take care of helping you fight off loneliness and depression, pets do the same thing, but even without plants and pets, I’m rarely lonely or depressed. In fact, I tend towards being optimistic by nature. But then, maybe it’s because of a super abundance of house plants.  Who knows?
An orchid on my kitchen windowsill & a dahlia in a jar

Do you have house plants?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Interview with Toni LoTempio

 by Grace Topping

Claws for Alarm (Nick and Nora Mysteries)

Since inheriting her mother’s sandwich shop, Nora Charles is more about hot grilled paninis than cold-blooded murder—until her sister Lacey is arrested. The victim, an esteemed art collector and Lacey’s bullying professor, was stabbed in the heart. Apparently, all over a lousy grade.

Off campus, things were just as dicey. The prof had an ex with secrets, a trophy wife set to inherit a fortune in masterworks, and a scorned student mistress. Going undercover, Nora realizes that investigating this crime is the biggest test of her sleuthing career. Because if she fails, even Nick’s animal instinct won’t be enough to rescue Lacey from a perfectly executed framing.

Toni LoTempio’s editor recently informed her that she is now qualified to use the phrase: National Bestselling Author. After years of writing and being published, her book Meow If It’s Murder put her on the bestseller list. Fans of that book are anxiously awaiting the next in her Nick and Nora Charles series, Claws for Alarm, which will be released on November 3, 2015.

It is a real pleasure to welcome National Bestselling Author, Toni LoTempio, to Writers Who Kill.

Grace Topping

Your characters are a reminder of a gone-by era and classic movies. What prompted you to base your main characters on Nick and Nora Charles? Are you a fan of classic movies?

Toni LoTempio
Yes, definitely. I love the classic movies, and the classic actors. Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and, of course, William Powell. As for how I decided to base my series on characters from the Thin Man, my then-supervisor at my day job advised me I should write a book about my cat. That night, Turner Classics was playing The Thin Man, and my cat Rocco jumped onto my lap when William Powell appeared on the screen. So that started me thinking: What if Nick Charles were reincarnated as a cat? That became the basic premise for the original Meow If It’s Murder, which Berkley nixed in favor of a non-talking cat.

Nora finds herself pulled between making a success of the sandwich shop she inherited from her mother and her former career as a crime reporter. You've done a good job of balancing those in your books. How hard was it finding that balance?

Not very, because in my own life I have to balance a full time career as a compliance analyst (it’s not as elegant as it sounds) with being a writer. I have a pretty good rhythm going right now, but it also means not having much of a personal life.

Nora's partner in crime solving turns out to be the cat that adopted her. This uber intelligent cat points her in the right direction using all kinds of tricks, including Scrabble game pieces and scratching pages from his former owner's diaries. What was your greatest challenge is making Nick a part of the team?

In the original version, Nick was supposed to be the reincarnation of his former owner and the cat actually talked. Berkley nixed the idea of him talking, but said that the cat “could do anything else” so that gave me plenty of latitude. My own cat Rocco has been known to bandy Scrabble tiles about (although its more for the purposes of chewing than spelling out clues), so I took a page from his behavior.

A theme in Meow If It's Murder is the far-reaching arm of organized crime mobs and witness protection. Are these subjects you've written about and researched before turning to fiction?

I’ve always been a big fan of true crime, and I think I must have read every book Ann Rule has ever written. I did research organized crime and especially the witness protection program when I did Meow.

Writers are often told to ditch the prologue. You've effectively used a prologue in both books. Did you face resistance from your editor or others using a prologue?

Not yet. J  Hopefully not ever, because every Nick and Nora I’ve penned so far has a prologue. It sets up the murder/crime that Nora and Nick are faced with, and then, of course, there are other murders along the way….

Nora's friend Chantal helps guide her by reading her tarot cards. Do you have someone who helps guide you in your life or career? Using tarot cards or otherwise?

I have been fortunate in having many good friends who have helped me out, as well as wonderful parents. I did have one friend in particular, Sally Ann Morris, who was a gifted psychic. Events she predicted years ago still come out to this day, and her accuracy rate was truly astonishing. The character of Chantal is patterned after her.

Family relationships play a major part in both of your books. Out of loyalty to her mother Nora leaves a job in Chicago to return to California to carry on her mother's sandwich shop. She was also willing to risk her life savings to save her difficult sister when she is accused of murder. Do you think Nora is getting the short end of the stick?

Probably, but it wouldn’t matter to Nora. She’s one of those people for which family will always come first, no matter what. And that includes Nick, of course!

In Claws for Alarm you discuss the problem of art forgeries. In doing research for this book, did you discover ways that buyers can protect themselves from purchasing a forged piece of art?

Research what you are buying carefully, and know whom you’re dealing with. I think this applies to pretty most everything.

What inspired you to write mysteries?

I’ve always loved mysteries, ever since I read my first Nancy Drew at age ten. Perry Mason quickly followed. My mother was a big mystery lover too. She used to read my Nancy Drew books before I did!

Tell us about your journey to publication. Was it a difficult one?

Is there an easy one? I tabled writing for a long time due to family issues, and got back into it in 1997 at the urging of my friend Vi Kizis. I went the usual route of trying independent publishers, trying to get an agent, and I did have some luck having my horror stories published by a small press. In 2010 I decided to self-publish a paranormal called Raven’s Kiss, which went over pretty good, but not great. Then in 2011 I landed my agent, Josh Getzler, but we didn’t hit a sale until I wrote Meow If It’s Murder. Once I made the changes Berkley asked for, it sold quickly. If you’re the type of person who’s in a hurry, writing is not the profession for you. It takes a lot of time and patience, a virtue I honestly never thought I possessed.

What's next for Nick and Nora Charles? Will we ever discover what happened to Nick's owner, Nick Atkins? 

I have several more adventures in the can for Nick and Nora. Now all I need is for Berkley to offer me a contract for them. J  I am contracted for at least one more book. Of Crime and Catnip will be out December 2016, and in that book we get a sense of what may or may not have happened to Nick Atkins. The whereabouts of Human Nick will be a big question mark for Nick and Nora…at least for now.

Thank you, Toni, for joining us at Writers Who Kill.

To learn more about Toni LoTempio and her other books, visit her website:

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Sandwich By Any Other Name

 I recently moved back to New England from Virginia and realized that I have forgotten how to speak the language.

When I was ordering lunch the other day, I asked the server for a tuna “sub.” She looked at me blankly. “You mean a grinder?”

Yes! A grinder! How could I forget? Just when I think I’m settling in, some little detail like that pops up to remind me that I am not in Virginia any more.

I started thinking about these differences in regional dialect and discovered a great resource for writers who want to make sure their characters are talking like natives.

The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has been in the works since 1962. It was the brainchild of the American Dialect Society and the English Department at the University of Washington-Madison. Staff at the university has toiled for fifty years to compile a dictionary of all the regionalisms that make people from different states incomprehensible to each other.

DARE’s website is fun to play with, and is a valuable resource for writers. There are dropdown menus that make it easy for you to choose your state and explore some of the lingo that your potential characters may speak.

So if your hero is hungry, he can order a hero in New York City, or a po’boy in New Orleans, or a hoagie in Pennsylvania. Who knew that in southeastern New York, such a sandwich is called a “wedge?” When he is done eating a peach, depending on where he is from, he will toss away the seed, pit, stone, or kernel.

The dictionary is fun to browse. Most of us know that soda and pop mean the same thing, but who knew that a dust bunny is called a “dust dolly” in New Jersey?

Are there any regionalisms that only folks in your neck of the woods use?