Friday, September 26, 2014

A Critical Eye For Weddings and Writing

A Critical Eye for Weddings and Writing 
by Debra H. Goldstein

Weddings are a time of joy, unbridled nerves, and warm, sweet and catty family moments. Last year, as the mother of the bride, I was the chief wedding planner and put-out-the-fires” behind the scenes person, responsible for keeping everything and everybody balanced so that my daughter could relax and enjoy herself.  At the beautiful wedding I attended last week, people kept coming up to me and saying, “I bet you’re thrilled you’re not the one in charge” or “Nice to be a guest, isn’t it?” Smiling, I assured all of them how right they were, but that wasn’t true.

The truth is that I can’t help attending weddings without dissecting them. Rather than simply taking in the beauty of the flowers, I take note of the number and style of arrangements, if they vary in height, whether they are composed of flowers (and if so, what kind) or if they contain cheaper accent pieces like wood or candles.  If there is a chuppa or canopy, I look to see if the décor is carried down the support legs or simply greenery wrapped across the top.  I also mentally record if the evening is black tie, the bar is open all evening, if the better liquor tiers are served, and whether the menu is multi-faceted or disguised chicken.  I also look and listen closely to understand the interaction between the different family members.

My enjoyment of weddings hasn’t diminished, but my approach to them has been significantly altered. My reading habits have undergone a similar modification since I began writing seriously. I bring the same critical approach to works I create and those, written by others, that I read. Although I take the time to rave about books or stories that are well-written and engage me, my level of tolerance for repetitive language, poor grammar, shifts in viewpoint, and plots that don’t work has diminished.

Perhaps my current reaction to weddings and things I read is an outgrowth of the hours of research needed to plan my daughter’s wedding or it could be that it reflects my efforts to improve my writing techniques.  The irony is that whatever clouds my perspective when I read is the same thing that is helping to make me a better writer.  Technique and fundamentals colored by creativity are teaching me things that work, things to be avoided, and things to be experimented with. The result, I hope, is that although my ability to read for pure pleasure has been forever changed, I have and am growing from the experience.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Puppy Training

by Bethany Maines

Recently my daughter learned to crawl. She's six months old, so basically any time she learns something it's "recently". But as she learns new tricks she forces my husband and I to adapt (and hopefully overcome).  Sadly, in our sleep deprived state we find ourselves relying on the training we did with our previous “child.”

As she learns new things my mind reaches out for words that will get the result I want. Ack! She's chewing on a power cord! Drop it! It works on the dog, so my brain now auto selects for those oh, so useful training phrases. Sadly, the phrases mean less than nothing to my daughter.  The only one she obeys is "stay" and that's only if she's strapped in the car seat.  As a result my dog, Kato, thinks I got the runty, stupid puppy of the litter.  I can practically see the thought bubble over his head.  "Look human puppy, I am demonstrating what to do. Figure it out!" The tiny daughter's thought bubble says, "Look at those shiny eyeballs; if I could pluck them out, it might be fantastic. Why is the fuzzy one leaving?" Which is a terrible way to treat a dog who is trying his best to be supportive.

Tiny Daughter & Kato the Wonder Dog demonstrate their similar interests.

Kato performs many important baby related jobs. There is the "I alert you to the fact that the baby is crying." (Believe me Kato, we know.) There is the extremely useful butt check. Kato, would you like to smell this butt? Oh, you would? Must be time for a diaper change. And the adorable guard dog duty.  He is not quite sure why the human puppy hasn’t been weaned to dog food, but if I’m going to insist on breastfeeding her, then he will do his best to guard us while we’re vulnerable.

But she is learning. She now knows her name and his name, and she knows where the dog food is and how delightful it is to spill it all over the floor. So while the dog thinks she's dumb, I can see the day coming when he will realize that her little monkey fingers are useful to help him get the delicious human food he desires.  Hopefully, by then she will also know what “sit,” “stay” and “drop it” mean. 

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery series and Tales from the City of Destiny. You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Brooklyn Book Festival 2014

The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free literary event in New York City, presenting an array of national and international literary stars and emerging authors. One of America’s premier book festivals, this hip, smart diverse gathering attracts thousands of book lovers of all ages to enjoy authors and the festival’s lively literary marketplace. It was begun in 2006 by Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who wanted to showcase the "Brooklyn voice" in literature, as numerous authors reside in the borough.

Here is my photogenic look at the festival.

The entrance to the festival
I just wanted the signage
Where's Waldo?
Crowd shot
Terrie Moran, author of Well Read, Then Dead
Tim Hall, author of Dead Stock
Mystery Writers of America booth
more crowd shots
there was a reason I took this photo
Sisters in Crime booth
the Penguin truck
Sat for awhile until the lady said she had 1 cat and 13 pythons
another chance to sit and listen.
he was drawing the young girl from memory
This is Rosemary Harris booth - selling her latest book, Bitches of Brooklyn

and that's how I spent my Sunday.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What Can We Learn From the Century’s Bestsellers 
by Linda Rodriguez

Matt Kahn is a blogger with an unusual idea. He is reading the 94 books that have been listed as the year’s bestseller by Publishers Weekly for each year of the 100 years since PW began announcing the bestselling book of each year.

The list below comes from his blog. It’s eye-opening, I believe, to see what outsold all other books each year. Fifteen books on the list are books that still live, excepting the most recent years for which we have no real knowledge yet of which books will live on and which will sink into oblivion. If we knock off the last ten years’ books for that reason, that still leaves us with only fifteen out of eighty-four. Most of these books are unknown in the present day. Modern readers may know who H.G. Wells and Zane Grey are, but most will never have heard of Mr. Britling Sees It Through, The U. P. Trail, or The Man of the Forest. Other authors, such as Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, A.S.M. Hutchinson, and Henry Morton Robinson, will be unrecognizable to today’s readers.

What can we learn from this list then? One thing we can learn is that bestseller status doesn’t necessarily mean that the books are the best for their time—or even good. A second is that many great books don’t ever make the top bestsellers list. Missing are all of Faulkner’s and Hemingway’s, and they were both Nobel Prize winners. Also, you won’t find Fitzgerald’s, Willa Cather’s, Henry James’, Edith Wharton’s, Harper Lee’s, Truman Capote’s, and Kurt Vonnegut’s titles, to mention just a few writers with major literary reputations. A third lesson is that—witness the books listed for Wells and Grey—a writer may write his finest books without such success and then find a lesser book on the list by virtue of the quality of those earlier volumes.

The final take-away is that all of this is out of the author’s control. All we can do is write the best books we can. When I get discouraged at the difficulty of bringing my books to the attention of readers, I pull this list out and read and note the significant omissions.

Publishers Weekly Annual Bestsellers List                                                                                                          

• 1913: The Inside of the Cup by Winston Churchill
• 1914: The Eyes of the World by Harold Bell Wright
• 1915: The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington
• 1916: Seventeen by Booth Tarkington
• 1917: Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
• 1918: The U. P. Trail by Zane Grey
• 1919: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez
• 1920: The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey
• 1921: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
• 1922: If Winter Comes by A.S.M. Hutchinson
• 1923: Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton

•  1924: So Big by Edna Ferber
• 1925: Soundings by A. Hamilton Gibbs
• 1926: The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine
• 1927: Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis
• 1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
• 1929: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
• 1930: Cimarron by Edna Ferber
• 1931: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
• 1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
• 1933: Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen
• 1934: Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen
• 1935: Green Light by Lloyd C. Douglas
• 1936: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
• 1937: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
• 1938: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
• 1939: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
• 1940: How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
• 1941: The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin
• 1942: The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel
• 1943: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
• 1944: Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith
• 1945: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
• 1946: The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier
• 1947: The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney
• 1948: The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas
• 1949: The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
• 1950: The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson
• 1951: From Here to Eternity by James Jones
• 1952: The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain
• 1953: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
• 1954: Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson
• 1955: Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk
• 1956: Don’t Go Near the Water by William Brinkley
• 1957: By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens
• 1958: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
• 1959: Exodus by Leon Uris
• 1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
• 1961: The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
• 1962: Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter
• 1963: The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris L. West
• 1964: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
• 1965: The Source by James A. Michener
• 1966: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
• 1967: The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
• 1968: Airport by Arthur Hailey
• 1969: Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
• 1970: Love Story by Erich Segal
• 1971: Wheels by Arthur Hailey
• 1972: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
• 1973: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
• 1974: Centennial by James A. Michener
• 1975: Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow
• 1976: Trinity by Leon Uris
• 1977: The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Tolkien
• 1978: Chesapeake by James A. Michener
• 1979: The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
• 1980: The Covenant by James A. Michener
• 1981: Noble House by James Clavell
• 1982: E.T., The Extraterrestrial by William Kotzwinkle
• 1983: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn
• 1984: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
• 1985: The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel
• 1986: It by Stephen King
• 1987: The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
• 1988: The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy
• 1989: Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy
• 1990: The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
• 1991: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley
• 1992: Dolores Clairborne by Stephen King
• 1993: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
• 1994: The Chamber by John Grisham
• 1995: The Rainmaker by John Grisham
• 1996: The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
• 1997: The Partner by John Grisham
• 1998: The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
• 1999: The Testament by John Grisham
• 2000: The Brethren by John Grisham
• 2001: Desecration by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
• 2002: The Summons by John Grisham
• 2003: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown**
• 2004: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
• 2005: The Broker by John Grisham
• 2006: For One More Day by Mitch Albom
• 2007: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini**
• 2008: The Appeal by John Grisham
• 2009: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
• 2010: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson
• 2011: The Litigators by John Grisham
• 2012: Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
• 2013: To be determined…

* Publishers Weekly did not include the Harry Potter books in its listings. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix was the bestselling book for 2003, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the bestselling book of 2007.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Linda Rodriguez’s third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, was published in May 2014. Her second Skeet mystery, Every Broken Trust, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and a finalist for both the International Latino Book Award and the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. Her first Skeet novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick, and was a finalist for the International Latino Book Award. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” has been optioned for film.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bake, Love, Write—3 Stiletto Gang Members Contribute to Dessert Cookbook -- NEW!

By Kay Kendall

Bake Love, Write is a brand new cookbook full of delicious desserts. It is the brain child of Lois Winston, a USA Today
bestselling, award-winning author who currently writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series.

Authors from the US, UK, and Canada contributed their favorite recipes. Of the participating 105, three are Stiletto Gang bloggers. We are Lynn Cahoon, Debra Goldstein, and me—Kay Kendall.

Here is information about this unique cookbook that may tempt you to buy it soon, available online. Lois writes, “What do most authors have in common, no matter what genre they write? They love desserts. Sweets sustain them through pending deadlines and take the sting out of crushing rejection letters and nasty reviews. They also often celebrate their successes—selling a book, winning a writing award, making a bestseller list, or receiving a fabulous review—with decadent indulgences. And when authors chat with each other, they often talk about their writing and their lives. Recipes. Writing. Relationships. In this cookbook 105 authors not only share their favorite recipes for fabulous cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and more, they also share the best advice they’ve ever received on love and writing.”

I contributed the beloved family recipe of my Aunt Martha from Texas. Her recipe for Oatmeal Cake is given below. But, to read what I advise on Love and Writing, you’ll have to buy the cookbook! 
Aunt Martha’s Oatmeal Cake
Deliciously moist cake that keeps and travels well, handed down through the Texas side of my family for decades. If you can’t eat nuts, then omit them and double up on the coconut for the topping.Note: This cake is easy to mix by hand. Does not require an electric mixer.
 Ingredients for the cake:
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup oatmeal (uncooked) 
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup cooking oil
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup sifted flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon soda
Dash of salt
 Ingredients for the topping:
6 tablespoons margarine or butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons canned condensed milk (Pet, Carnation, etc. NOT sweetened condensed milk)
1 cup chopped nuts (pecan or walnut—can be toasted ahead of time too before baking as a topping)
1 can angel flake coconut
1. Turn oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9X13 inch pan.
2. Place oatmeal in a bowl and pour hot water over oats. Let stand while you do next steps.
3. Blend brown sugar, white sugar, and cooking oil in a large bowl.
4. Add eggs, sifted flour, cinnamon, soda, dash of salt to the sugar mixture. Blend with a large spoon.
5. Now add the water-oats mixture and stir until all ingredients are well blended.
6. Pour into greased and floured pan.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Remove from oven.
8. Make the topping. In a saucepan combine margarine, brown sugar and canned condensed milk. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add chopped nuts and coconut. Blend.
9. Before cake cools, spread the topping (from step 8) thinly over top.
10. Turn oven up to 500 degrees. Return cake-with-topping to oven and bake for 4-5 minutes. Watch that nothing burns since the heat is now so high.
11. Remove from oven and cool.
 This cake is delicious immediately, but even more moist and yummy on the next day. If kept tightly covered with foil or clear wrap, this cake stays moist and lovely for many days. It never lasts a week at my house, but I bet it would be good even then.
Bake, Love Write will sell in the major e-book formats at 99 cents and will be available on Amazon also in paperback. Watch this space for more news.

Kay Kendall set her debut novel, Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery, in 1968 in an anti-war group. The sequel is Rainy Day Women, set for 2015, and this time her amateur sleuth Austin Starr must convince police her best friend didn’t murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. A fan of historical mysteries, Kay wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Jacqueline Winspear accomplishes for England in the perilous 1930s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age. Kay is also an award-winning international public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to the bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Good, the Odd and the Ugly of a Library Event

Actually the event itself was great.

The Burbank Library has a wonderful meeting room--and they made beautiful flyers which they'd been handing out to patrons. And refreshments were furnished--and enjoyed.

We had a wonderful moderator, and a great group of panelists, all members of the L.A. Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

The topic: Cozies.

Here is where it gets odd. After we all chimed in on what constituted a cozy, we realized none of our books really fit the criteria.

The cozy is supposed to have an amateur sleuth. In both of my series, the sleuths are professionals in law enforcement. Both are set in small towns--another criteria.

None of that really mattered though because we had a good time and so did the audience.

Because I am a member and never get to participate in much with this chapter, I agreed to be on this panel even though I live far away (a 3 hour drive.) Not wanting to turn around and come home afterwards, I booked a hotel room in a place that was near the library. No longer driving in L.A. or at night, I talked my middle daughter into being my driver.

This is where the odd and ugly begin. The first room we were given had not been serviced. The linens were not clean at all. Called the desk and the manager brought us a new key for the room next door.
It needed to be vacuumed, but the bed lines, though dingy, were clean.

Though the event was at 7, we decided to leave at 6 just in case we ran into traffic or got lost. I put the address into my GPS and we laughed when it told us we were only 1 mile away from our destination. A good thing we left at 6--the GPS took us up the hill, over a bridge, to the left, to the right, back over the bridge, down the hill, on another long street and finally to our destination and we got there at 6:30 p.m. Good time to get set up and meet my fellow panelists.

One funny thing, the panelists really wanted to know what the F stood for in F.M. Meredith. I didn't tell them, though I did give them the clue that it was an old-fashioned name. they had a lot of fun trying to solve the mystery, coming up with many, many names beginning with F.

Later I received an email from the moderator who guessed the right name. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.

After the panel, we headed back home, this time it only took about 10 minutes.

We settled down in our room, watched a little TV and went to sleep.

I woke up to my daughter looking out the window and saying, "This is our room." Someone had a key and was trying to get in. They finally left.

Back to sleep. Again someone woke us trying to use a key to get in.

Both times the key worked, they didn't get in because we had the night latch on.  This time we called the front desk. Of course it had something to do with the manager not changing our room assignment.

It wasn't easy to go to sleep after that.

When we woke in the morning we decided to try Frank's Coffee Shop which was on the premises of the hotel. It turns out that this cafe has been used for several movies.
Notice the picture of the owner and Tom Hank's on the wall.

Larry Crowne starring Tom Hank's is one of many movies and TV shows that have used Frank's Coffee House for scenes.  It was not odd or ugly, though the restaurant has been around for years, the breakfast we at there was outstanding!

So this was another good.

Despite the bad and the ugly, daughter and I enjoyed the panel and our time together.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith
Quite a bit of seating room and the…Frank's Coffee Shop

Friday, September 12, 2014

PEEVISH by Debra H. Goldstein

Peevish by Debra H. Goldstein

Peevish is my word of the day.  The dictionary says it means “cross, querulous, or fretful, as from vexation or discontent,” but that doesn’t begin to describe my present mood.  Put out, frustrated, angry, tired, and a word that begins with b and rhymes with witchy are ones that easily come to mind.  The funny thing is that I have no one reason to be feeling like this.

Oh, sure, my newest full-length work in progress (that’s finished) hasn’t sold yet, but I signed two contracts yesterday for short pieces that will be appearing in the next six months, along with one that was previously accepted, in two anthologies and one online magazine.  I’m having a kind of writer’s block but it isn’t from not having an idea, it is from having too many and not being able to focus on one.  My time doesn’t feel like my own, but that is because I’m overscheduled with lunch and dinner engagements with good friends, visiting the kids, exercising, and attending 2 weeks of kick-off meetings for the charity organizations I’m involved with.

Obviously, a lot of things going on are point counter-point of my own doing, but there are some things that nothing can offset a desire to pull my hair out.  For example, the telephone calls that come in for surveys, solicitations or proclaiming I’ve won something despite my number being on the no call list; my mother telling me what her doctor said and then doing the opposite because she knows best; or, a the neighbor dog leaving a deposit on my lawn during its walk that its owner fails to pick up.

I really blame my mood on a series of things that happened last night. Tired, I went to bed early. Being a person who doesn’t need much sleep, I found myself awake, but not in the mood of doing anything productive, in the middle of the night.  From that point on, my sleep was intermittent.  It was made worse when Joel took most of the blanket (too much info, I know…. but it was a major cause of my present dissatisfaction).  Joel then woke early and his cheerfulness was almost unbearable.  I thought about murdering him, but decided that would probably put me in a worse mood so, instead, I took back the blanket plus.  It wasn’t enough to change my mood.  Stymied, I got up and went to make coffee while I read e-mails, but the Keurig was too low on water to heat up. Annoyed, I opted to run errands and buy a cup of coffee.  As I turned into the fast food place’s parking lot, I had to pause while a black cat sauntered across the driveway in front of my car.  It was beautiful.  At that moment, watching the cat move with grace and poise, I didn’t think about bad luck. Instead, I decided I could wallow in pity or make my peevish mood work for me.

Funny thing, as I write these final words, I realize I found my focus this morning and I’m beginning to feel a lot calmer.  Can’t wait to see what I accomplish after I meet a friend for lunch.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


by Bethany Maines

I was staring at an app advertisement on my phone the other day when a brilliant idea for a novel came to me.  I’m not going to tell you what it is, because it’s awesome and I don’t want the net gremlins to steal it.  But as I pondered the awesomeness that was my own idea, and then shining beacon of sheer stunning gloriferousness that is my brain  (Yeah, I just made that word up.  What are you going to do about it?), it occurred to me to wonder – what would happen to me if I didn’t have my brain?

And ok, yeah, obviously, dead. Plop.  But what about if I had someone else’s brain?  We all look at the world from the unique transponder of our brains. We see the world differently, if only by a hair, than the person sitting next to us. 

For example, I have a friend who is somewhere around seven feet tall.  That’s not an exaggeration, that’s his actual height.  We met in college and we had several classes, including life drawing, together. (Life drawing, for those who haven’t been to art school, is code for “drawing naked people.”)  For one semester our life drawing instructor was a curly haired, 5’2” dreamer who once suggested that zoning out while driving on the freeway was a good place to get creative ideas.  (We don’t have time to really go into that statement.)  Anyway, at some point, she went around to my friend’s drawing board and suggested that his perspective was wrong.  He checked, he double checked, he thought about it, and then politely suggested that he really did have it right.  She stared up at him, she stared at the model.  Then she drug a chair over next to him and climbed up on it.  “Oh, nope, you’re right.” Your perspective is just different when you’re an extra two feet up in the air. 

Two feet and an entire picture changes. If I had someone else’s brain, surely the ideas I have for writing books would be totally different.  If I had them at all.  But since I love my ideas, I love my brain, I don’t think I’ll be heading to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab to test out that experiment.  But go ahead and thank your brain today, because it’s awesome.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery series and Tales from the City of Destiny. You can also view the Carrie Mae video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Surprise Visitor

by Marjorie Brody

I just love surprises—well, the happy kind of surprises. Like when my husband actually succeeds in throwing me a surprise birthday party without divulging a single clue, or when a long distance friend calls unexpectedly, or when I win the Powerball. Well, okay, that hasn’t happened, but I’d welcome that surprise. (It’ll be even more surprising because I rarely buy lottery tickets.) So, imagine my
excitement when I’m working on my next novel, and a character from TWISTED pops up like an excited four-year-old and says, “I-can-play-this-role. I-can-play-this-role.”

Like, get real. That character? In this role?

“No way,” I say.

“Let me have the part,” the character says, “and you’ll have my entire backstory to use—not that you'd need to tell anyone in your current story about my history, but wouldn’t you and the readers of TWISTED delight in having a deeper understanding of the whys and wherefores of my personality?”

The character’s argument raised a point I had contemplated myself. I could express my gratitude to the readers of TWISTED by giving them “insider information” about a character new to readers of my next novel, while still thrilling the readers of this next book. I crossed my arms and refused to type further. Whatever character I cast in this role had to heighten the psychological suspense I was creating for the story, and frankly, I wasn’t sure this character could fulfill that mission.

“I need to give the star power to a fresh, new face,” I said. “Encountering an unknown character will provide more intrigue for the reader. I’m sorry.”

This character informed me that he (I don't want to give any indication as to whom this character might be, but to make it easier to talk about, I'm going to use masculine pronouns) had grown and  experienced more of life since I left him in Canonville, Texas, and he remained persistent. “At least let me audition for the part.”

I’m always one to see if there’s a better way to express a story, so I agreed. I wrote several scenes with that character, and wrote the same scenes with alternate characters in the role. At the risk of being accused of having preconceived judgments about this character’s potential, and a desire to see him fail, I wrote scenes to challenge Said Character, to ensure he had the emotional fortitude to handle the role. I pushed Said Character. I scrutinized not only how he delivered the lines and how he interpreted the motivation for the actions I required, but how he reacted to the harrowing experiences I put him through.

When characters are on-stage, i.e., “in-scene”, they can enhance each other’s performances, elicit the best from colleagues and push them to shine. Or, they can magnify the worst in each other. I needed to see how the other characters would relate to him. How would his backstory impact the rest of the cast? Would he be satisfied playing a supportive role or would he try to steal every scene? Every Hollywood actor knows roles don’t have to be big to be Oscar worthy. They just need to showcase the actor’s skills. Well, I wasn’t convinced Said Character possessed the skills needed in a story of this intensity.

So, I wrote the hard scenes. I wrote the emotional scenes. I made them powerful and gritty and raw. I allowed the audition to proceed. And guess what? Blow me away. This character was a natural. He gave a performance that readers will remember long after the book is closed. In fact, I’m still a bit stunned. Magically, mystically, surprisingly stunned.

What will surprise you today? Hope it’s something wonderful.

Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at or Marjorie invites you to visit her at

Monday, September 8, 2014

Trust Yourself

By Evelyn David

My son got married a week ago. His bride is everything I could hope for. It was a beautiful wedding, held outdoors in a gorgeous setting (see photo left). It rained five minutes before the ceremony was to begin, but stopped fairly quickly. The hotel staff dried the seats and a rainbow emerged just before the bridal procession began. Blessed indeed.

During the dinner, my son gave a brief speech that left me close to tears. He thanked his bride's parents for the warm, loving welcome to their family, then turned to thank my husband and me. Surprisingly he made special mention of an event that had happened 20 years earlier.

It was his first time at sleep-away camp. He was scheduled for a four-week session, but on Parents Visiting Day, two weeks in, he said he hated it and wanted to come home. We spent several hours trying to convince him to stay, and finally agreed that if he still hated it in a week, we would pick him up. He thought that was fair and to be honest, since even he acknowledged that he was actually enjoying himself at least some of the time, I felt sure that he would decide to remain the last two weeks. But seven days later, he called to say he wanted to come home and my husband duly drove two hours each way to retrieve the reluctant camper. A deal was a deal.

I got a fair amount of criticism from other parents when I told them the story, but my gut instinct was that this was what our son needed. Conventional wisdom about making him "tough it out" didn't fit my child. So I was especially touched when in his wedding speech, our son talked about the love and support we'd always given him, including he laughed, picking him up from camp.

What does all this have to do with writing? It's to trust your instincts when it comes to your characters and the stories you have to tell. Ignore the conventional wisdom about what works and what doesn't, what's currently popular and what's not. Create the world that works for you. You know YOU best. Believe in your talent, creativity, and determination, even when, or especially when, faced with criticism or rejection.

Trust your gut. Who knows? You might even get thanked later.

Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David


 Kindle e-book -

Brianna Sullivan Mysteries - e-book series
I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Dog Days of Summer in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
The Holiday Spirit(s) of Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Undying Love in Lottawatah- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
A Haunting in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Twister - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Missing in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Good Grief in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Summer Lightning in Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Lottawatah Fireworks - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Leaving Lottawatah - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords

The Ghosts of Lottawatah - trade paperback collection of the Brianna e-books
Book 1 - I Try Not to Drive Past Cemeteries (includes the first four Brianna e-books)
Book 2 - A Haunting in Lottawatah (includes the 5th, 6th, and 7th Brianna e-books)
Book 3 - Lottawatah Fireworks (includes the 8th, 9th, and 10th Brianna e-books)
Book 4 - Leaving Lottawatah (includes the 11th Brianna e-book and some special features.)

Sullivan Investigations Mystery series
Murder Off the Books Kindle - Nook - Smashwords - Trade Paperback
Murder Takes the Cake Kindle - Nook - Smashwords - Trade Paperback 
Murder Doubles Back Kindle - Nook - Smashwords - Trade Paperback
Riley Come Home (short story)- Kindle - Nook - Smashwords
Moonlighting at the Mall (short story) - Kindle - Nook - Smashwords







Friday, September 5, 2014

What Makes A Good Writer’s Group by Linda Rodriguez
Over the years, I have been a part of many writer’s workshops, groups, and organizations. I have been a founder of several. When I was a young wife and mother, I desperately wanted the companionship of other writers, other people who understood this difficult thing I was trying to do.

Since those days, I have developed many wonderful writer friends who truly understand this difficult thing I still try to do. Better yet, I am now married to a writer-editor and have a son and foster-son who are talented writers. I also belong to four writer’s organizations that I helped found—The Writers Place, Latino Writers Collective, Border Crimes, and The Novel Group—three that I had no part in developing but still love and support—the Macondo Writing Workshop, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Con Tinta.

Before these groups, there others that were not so helpful or successful, a series of undergraduate and graduate writing workshops, a group of activist writers putting out an underground newspaper (back in the day of underground newspapers), a short-fiction critique group, a freelance writers group,  a novel critique group, and even a romance writers group. So I have broad experience with writer’s organizations and groups.

One of the key elements of a good writer’s group, whether it is nationwide like the Macondo Writing Workshop, citywide like The Writers Place, or just a few writer friends like The Novel Group, is respect, respect for the group, for the other members and for the purpose of the group. Respect involves giving honest and helpful criticism without making it hurtful or personal. Respect involves valuing the distinctive differences of each member, as both a writer and as a person, appreciating what those unique qualities bring to the group as a whole.

Another hallmark of a good writer’s group is enthusiasm. Good groups are excited about writing and the writer’s life. When members grow discouraged, they can come away from a meeting of their group re-energized and back in touch with their passion for writing.

If a writer’s group or a subset of the group functions as a critique group, it is important for all the writers in the group to be writing at a similar level of experience and ability, otherwise the group will eventually fail as a critique group, no matter how congenial the individuals are. Often, however, beginners may be a part of a group led by an experienced author for a fee. This can be a good foundation—if the goal of both the leader and the members is for the members to outgrow the group.

What has your experience of writers groups been? If you have not been able to find one, would you consider starting one of your own?

Check out the award winning Skeet Bannion series.  Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was selected by Las Comadres Conversations With…, and was a Barnes & Noble mystery pick. The second book in the Skeet Bannion series, Every Broken Trust, was published in Spring 2013 followed by the third book, Every Hidden Fear.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Sense of Place

One of the comments we see frequently in reference to the beautifully written and award-winning Louise Penny series is: “I want to live in Three Pines!” Or words to that effect.

And isn’t that exactly what we authors hope for when we create a fictional world? We hope readers love our worlds so much they want to take up residence! It’s true with all books but seems especially true with a series where the community created is revisited with each book.

Also this sense of place is a big part of who the characters are. Just like where we’re all from tells so much about us. How they feel about where they're from is important. And whether they've always lived there and continue to do so; or perhaps they couldn’t get away from their roots fast enough.

Some strong examples of series with a sense of place are:

  • Stephanie Plum and her irreverent Jersey burb surroundings,
  • Jessica Fletcher and her cozy Cabot Cove community,
  • Tess Monaghan’s rough and tumble Baltimore,
  • And, of course, the aforementioned, Three Pines with Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and the cast of complicated characters who invite us into their village.
We chose Laguna Beach, California for the setting of our Pampered Pets mystery series for several reasons.

Our two amateur sleuths aren’t originally from California, they’re from Texas. Those Lone Star roots are a big part of Caro and Mel even though they both have pretty distinct reasons for leaving the great state of Texas. 

Laguna Beach is not only the perfect place for a pet-themed mystery with its pet-friendly merchants and off-the-chart number of pet owners (more registered dogs than there are kids), it’s also the perfect place for Caro and Mel.

The community is a seaside resort in southern Orange County located midway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It has spectacular cliffs, glistening beaches, and breathtaking views of the Pacific, but it also has a uniquely artsy and almost European feel. The quaint boutiques, coffee bars, and sidewalk cafes provide a sense of place that brings together people who care about their community and each other. A community interested the greater good and setting things right when they go wrong.

In our fictional Laguna Beach there are some great restaurants and stores, just like in the real village. However, though we’ve used a real place we’ve populated the tree-lined village area, the Hills and the fabulous beachfront homes with characters from our imagination.

In our make-believe world you'll find: 

  • Judd Malone, no nonsense, stay-out-of-police-business homicide detective, 
  • Diana Knight, former screen star who still brings to mind the magic and glamour of a bygone era in Hollywood, 
  • Darby Beckett, wholesome and sometimes naive owner of Paw Prints pet photography, 
  • Ollie Hembry, former rocker turned pet rescuer, 
  • Kendall Reese, flamboyant dresser and pet groomer extraordinaire, 
  • Fan favorite, Betty Foxx, silk pajama-wearing senior with a strange sense of fashion and an eye for the gentleman, 
  • And, of course, assorted adorable cats and pups.

They all, like us love the unique and close-knit community. We think it's the perfect place for Caro and Mel. And for a bit of fictional murder... 

What specific things do you love about the settings in your favorite mysteries? Do you enjoy returning to those favorite places? 

Our most recent book, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, has been called "A real tail-wagger!" (That's from Buttercup aka Trixie the smart puppy who stars in the Paws & Claws series by NYTimes bestselling author Krista Davis). It follows Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Yip/Tuck. Next up is, The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo

Find out more and sign up for updates by visiting our website!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Big Macs, Moscow, and My Epitaph

By Kay Kendall

Twenty-four years ago I decided to write my own epitaph. On my tombstone would be these words—She led the worldwide publicity when McDonald’s opened in Moscow. Although I sensed my PR career was not near its end, I also realized I would never have a greater triumph.

The first Moscow McDonald’s opened on January 31, 1990, when the world held five billion people. Media monitoring showed the success of our publicity. Three billion knew 
the Golden Arches of capitalist fame were now installed only blocks from Moscow’s Kremlin, behind whose walls worked Soviet communism’s leaders. Russians will recall the symbolism—how the restaurant’s opening heralded their government’s increased openness to the West. In the two-plus decades since the flagship store debuted in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, the number of McDonald’s in Russia grew to more than 400.

Now Russia’s relationship to the West is changing again, while media commentators herald a renewed Cold War. And one aspect of that relates to McDonald’s. Two weeks ago, the Russian government closed the McDonald’s flagship for so-called health violations, and gradually more and more McDonald’s are being shuttered, across Moscow and in other Russian cities too. Once again, Moscow McDonald’s has become a symbol and snagged worldwide media attention. My pals in the US, UK, and Canada email news reports that show photos of the opening, and I know I was there, in that crowd. 

Two decades of negotiation by the Canadian wing of McDonald’s lay behind the event. George Cohon, CEO of Canadian McDonald’s, led the charge. It was personal for him. His grandfather was born in the same Russian village as the grandfather of Brezhnev, leader of the USSR when Cohon began his quest.  For political reasons, the U.S. parent company kept hands off. Back then only joint ventures with foreign companies were allowed by Soviet law, so McDonald’s partner was the Moscow City Council.

The restaurant accepted only Russian rubles, not hard currency. Due to Soviet shortages, the company developed its own supply chain in the Soviet Union, and the company prided itself on sourcing everything within the USSR. I remember meeting potato experts who had come from the province of New Brunswick (Canada's equivalent to Idaho in terms of potato excellence) to teach Russian farmers how to grow better potatoes for their fries. When Cohon wrote his autobiography he called it To Russia with Fries.

Just as Cohon’s long campaign to take McDonald’s into Russia was personal for him, so my participation was emotional for me. Not only was it the triumph of my public relations career, it also took me back to the USSR at an exciting time, made even more meaningful because of an earlier seminal visit.

By a fluke,* as an undergraduate I had studied Russian at a language institute in the USSR and then got bitten by the Russian bug. The tragic past, the indomitable spirit of the Russian people, the exotic architecture of the tsars—all this and more intoxicated me. I also wanted to understand America’s Cold War enemy. Russia was novel for someone who knew only Kansas and Texas well. My love affair with Russia was deep and compelling, driving me to earn degrees in Russian and Soviet history.

That student trip to the USSR was in the sixties, and I only returned two decades later with McDonald’s. My four long stays in Moscow during 1989-1990 came at a critical time. The Berlin Wall fell, and Soviet leader Gorbachev indicated the Soviet Union might be allowed to grow more democratic overnight. With all the Russian history I had been immersed in, I understood the enormity of the potential change and was beyond thrilled with my good fortune, working in Russia at such an electrifying time.

On my final trip to Moscow for the grand opening, I walked up to the airline counter in Toronto. The woman checking me in asked how many pieces of luggage I had to declare. “One hundred twenty,” I replied.  Yes, the launch of Moscow McDonald’s was a mammoth undertaking—and my load was only for the publicity.

Many scenes at the grand opening were intense. Moscow police warned us terrorists were driving around the city in a van with a small nuclear device inside. Chechens intended to make a statement by blowing up the new McDonald’s, and hundreds of world media were on hand to report the catastrophe. (That is, if they survived!)  My PR team grew nervous, but we were too busy to stop and worry much.

One photojournalist sent from a London tabloid wept when he got scooped by another paper. He had failed his assignment—to capture on film the first sale of a Big Mac in Moscow.

Speaking of tears, on opening day, one elderly babushka cried when she got her package of sandwiches and french fries. One man bought two bags full of Big Macs to carry home to his relatives living thousands of miles away in Novosibirsk. All the customers on opening day (also for months afterwards) stood in line for hours before they were served. Even with twenty-seven cash registers working full-time, the lines stretched for blocks outside Moscow McDonald’s.

Memories of those glorious days fill me now. I recall the severity of Russian weather that January of 1990—even though I had already endured the snows of Ontario for many years with my Canadian husband. In Moscow I trudged through knee-deep drifts, visiting international media outlets in person, hand-delivering news releases. Just imagine—how quaint. Yet that was more efficient than faxing, since there weren't enough telephone lines for use in Moscow. Our team already monopolized too many with calls back to North America. I stayed long enough in Moscow to hear native speakers say I had developed the accent of a Muscovite. Finally, my Russian language ability was gaining traction.

But those recollections mean more to me than they would to you. Suffice it to say, with my love of the sweep of history, the latest change in Russia’s relations with the West saddens me. I would like to think that history marches on towards harmony and light, but my studies tell me that is not true. So I cling to precious memories of my last stay in Moscow.

My room was in the National Hotel, only two doors away from the room Lenin had occupied—right after he grabbed ultimate power in Russia. That was long before, in 1917, when workers and soldiers hoped for a brighter future after their revolution. We never do know where history will take us, do we? 

 * I believe in lucky flukes. The headhunter who called me for the McDonald's assignment had no idea I knew Russian. She was looking for someone to "take a tough assignment" and figured I could handle it since I was already VP of public affairs for another huge American corporation at its Toronto office. When she gave me sketchy details on the job possibility, I said, "I have visions of Big Macs." She laughed and replied, "Oh, could be." Thank goodness I read the papers and knew all about McDonald's Russian adventure. In fact, the year before at a cocktail party, I had met George Cohon and offered my PR services. The headhunter's call had nothing to do with that. It was mere luck. 


Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Growing up during the Cold War, she grew excited when an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) was installed near her hometown in Kansas. A fan of historical mysteries and the brilliant spy novels of John le Carré, she set her debut mystery DESOLATION ROW during the Vietnam War, a key conflict of last century not already overrun with novels.