Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Storylines from the Past Offer Lifelines Too

by Kay Kendall

“I tried so hard to sleep last night, but kept getting up to read more of Kay Kendall's DESOLATION ROW. It resonates powerfully in these troubled times . . . .”

So begins the newest reader comment on Amazon about one of my mysteries. Of course any laudatory review is a pleasure for an author to read about one of her book babies. However, while I was thrilled to see five stars, I was surprised to see an emotion expressed about reading my fiction that I never expected.

The reviewer concluded a personal email to me by saying, “I realized that the ideas/ideals are as compelling as the plot in your books, just what we need right now.”
I write historical murder mysteries, and my chosen time period is the turbulent era of the 1960s. Back in 2012 when I finished writing DESOLATION ROW and then when it debuted in 2013, I had hoped that setting my first book in a fraught time of extreme unrest would be interesting. I thought it would help readers of the baby boom generation remember their salad days and younger readers might read and learn what it was like. The plot is fiction. The background is not. DESOLATION ROW looks at the consequences of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and personal outcomes from military service. In RAINY DAY WOMEN published in 2015, I explore the hopes for female improvement held by early members of the women’s liberation movement.
One reason I write about that time period is to describe its importance to those who know nothing about it. Reading fiction is an easy way to learn about history.
After both my mysteries were in print, I spoke to classes at a community college in Alabama. Only two in one hundred students knew about Bob Dylan—my book titles come from his songs. Moreover, none of them knew why the United States was drawn into fighting a war in Vietnam. And none of them had ever heard of the “domino theory.”
Another reason I write about the 1960s is to commemorate and revivify a part of American history that has had far reaching effects. Societal upheaval was so intense in the 1960s that the aftershocks still are felt today. Until very recently, that past seemed dead and buried.
Yet only two years since I spoke to those Alabama students and right now, right now the 1960s have gained new relevance. The era is evoked often on television news stations. Old battles are being fought again in the streets of America. And readers are telling me that my books bring them hope.

After all, they say, If we Americans got through such troubled domestic times once, we can do so again. But hang on, dear readers, we may be in for a long and bumpy ride.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Visit Kay at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Running on Empty

by J.M. Phillippe

I have been trying to write this blog for several hours now. I wanted to write something about Charlottesville, VA, and about white nationalism (how it came to be, and why we can't just abide it). I wanted to write about meeting anger with compassion, and the struggle to do that.

I also really want to write about Game of Thrones, because the last two episodes have been amazing, and it's one of my favorite shows (in part because I also write fantasy). And it would be easier to write about that than pretty much anything else I could come up with.

And I also want to write about my struggle at work with clients who have little to no tolerance for the fallibility of others (including their therapist) and how hard that is to hold, again, with compassion.

But I just feel so bleh about it all. I am trying to hold on to the idea that what I write matters, both in this blog and in my fiction. I have been struggling to hold on to the idea that art matters, that novels matter, when I feel like I should be out marching instead of writing, or calling more senators and house representatives.

I am struggling to have enough energy to balance out all the things I want in my personal life with the national tragedy that is all around us. I am really struggling with dealing with the fact that so many people (again, including clients) don't believe there is a national tragedy or fear the rise of white nationalism (and literal Nazis!) in our country.

I know that art matters. I know that it doesn't have to be high and mighty, capital A Art to matter either. I know that distraction is not a bad thing when there is so much bad news happening all the time. And I know that for myself, I do best when I engage actively in creativity on a consistent basis.

And I also know that I am not the only one struggling right now, so I'm just going to put this here:

I'm going to go practice some art -- even if I do it badly -- so that I can refill my compassion well. It's been on empty for a while.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Road Trip!

A bit more than a long weekend, a bit less than a full-fledged vacation. We recently took off for Bentonville, Arkansas—an easy drive from Kansas City.

My plan, carefully thought out, was to leave at two and miss the afternoon traffic. With two teenage daughters, that plan was a pipe dream.

We left at four and everyone but me in the car seemed bemused by the number of cars on the road.

Really? Had they never heard of lake traffic? It was a Friday.

I sat in the passenger seat and pressed an imaginary gas pedal. Our tickets were for 8:30. Yes, tickets. We had tickets to the Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

Thanks to the traffic, a three-hour drive was much longer and there were rumblings from the back seat about dinner. Loud rumblings. Rumblings I ignored. We did, after all, have tickets.

We checked into the hotel and hurried down the outdoor trail to the museum where we presented our tickets and viewed the Chihulys held in the museum. Then it was outside to see the Chihulys in the forest. Needless to say the exhibits were breath-taking. They would have been even more fabulous if my youngest hadn’t taken to calling Chihuly Chilupah.

Apparently the child had Mexican food on her mind. That or the glass in the boat reminder her of hot peppers.

We followed the dark path away from the Chihulys. The very dark path. So dark we got lost.

The forest had thrown off our sense of direction and we emerged far from where we wanted to be.

I ignored the peanut gallery—“We’re hungry,”—and waved down a shuttle.

I stuck my head inside the little bus. “Excuse me, we’re lost.” I got no further.


What were the chances of running into someone I knew?

We climbed onto the never-so-grateful-to-climb-on-a-bus bus which took us back to the museum.

“All the restaurants will be closed,” said Miss Chilupah. “What are we going to eat?”

“We’ll order room service.” Did room service deliver stiff drinks?

From the museum, we took the mile-long trail back to the hotel.

We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant. They served stiff drinks. It was marvelous.

The next morning, the Bentonville square was filled with farmers selling produce, artists and artisans selling their wares, and all sorts of people. My husband and I sat in the shade, drank coffee, and watched.

Eventually our daughters dragged themselves out of bed and joined us. They had the audacity to tell me they were hungry. We got in line at the creperie across from the hotel and the girlies happily downed fruit crepes.

Next on the itinerary was Hot Springs.

Here comes an admission. I drive on inter-states. It never crossed my mind that there were roads of less than four lanes. I was wrong. Very wrong.

The road from Bentonville to Fayetteville was easy.

The road from Fayetteville to Hot Springs winds. And twists. Then winds some more.

My husband wasn’t happy. Not at all.

The situation wasn’t helped by my explanation that one could drive anywhere at 70 miles per hour. To my way of thinking that meant 140 miles should take two hours.

Not so on this trip.

When we finally arrived, the first thing the girls said was, “We’re hungry.”

How did people travel without smart phones? Oldest daughter picked a restaurant in downtown Hot Springs and the food was delicious.

We fell into bed that night.

I woke up early and wrote (deadlines are inexorable), we went out for breakfast, then we piled into the car for yet another drive down twisty roads.

We dug for diamonds. It was…fun. I never thought I’d enjoy sitting in the dirt sifting through rocks. I did. We all did. We didn’t find any diamonds.

Back to the windy road. Back to hearing, “I’m hungry.”

That night we promenaded around Hot Springs. The Grand Promenade, then a walk past the eight bathhouses that line Central St., and finally a visit to the Arlington Hotel (“Why aren’t we staying here, Mom?”). We should have. My mistake.

And, unbelievably, Miss Chilupah said, “There’s the place I want to go for breakfast.”

None of this has anything to do with mysteries or writing or the book that’s coming out in October. Except is does. Creativity springs from seeing new things, eating new foods, and, apparently, driving twisty, turning roads.

Hope the remainder of your summer is filled with adventures!

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.

Her latest book, Cold as Ice, releases October 17th.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Looking for Fun

Looking for Fun by Debra H. Goldstein

Sometimes, I don’t feel like writing a blog.  Other times, I have ideas galore, but not enough time to address them.  The reality, according to John Lennon is “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” This has been that kind of week. In fact, it has been that kind of month.
I could complain, but what good would it do? And, why would I want to?  Life isn’t perfect (ask my air conditioner), but it certainly beats the alternative. Besides, sometimes a “bad” thing turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Plans falling through may mean extra time to do something on my to-do list or to simply have fun.
Fun is something I like. I tend to be super serious, but when there is laughter and fun, no matter what goes wrong, the world is right. Occasionally, I forget to have fun. I become too overwhelmed with obligations.  Responsibilities become burdensome. Eventually, my to-do list is accomplished, but when things aren’t fun, every task takes longer. Little roadblocks, which usually never bother me, are irksome. When I reach that point, I need to step away, take stock, and find my sense of fun.  It may be a deep reach, but it always is there. Thank goodness.

What about you? How do you find your way back to an even keel?