Friday, July 21, 2017

Examining the Past

by Linda Rodriguez

We are preparing for the early-August final walk-through prior to selling our big house and moving to our new, drastically smaller home in early September. I've been decluttering and downsizing my home of 42 years for months now—in the midst of final cancer treatments, multitudes of writing/ editing/ teaching deadlines, and the vicissitudes of daily life. So it's no surprise that I've been revisiting the past lately as I sort through family belongings and oh-so-many papers.

The first thing that catches my eye is that I used to do so much. It feels like I'm constantly busy now, but I've had to learn to slow down and say, “no,” because of autoimmune disease and cancer. My schedule now, packed with deadlines as it is, is nothing compared to the schedules I used to keep twenty years ago with a demanding full-time job in higher education administration, lucrative fiberart and writing commissions on the side, almost a full-time job as a community volunteer (at one point, I sat on almost 30 boards), and a grade-schooler, two young adults, and a husband to take care of at home.

I look at a week's schedule printed out, hour-by-hour, to send to my boss to show that I really couldn't take on the major project he wanted me to lead, and I shake my head at days that run from 6:00 a.m. breakfast meetings to late-night meetings after an evening event with every hour in between packed with meetings, activities, and events. (Spoiler: I gave in and added that requested project to my already bursting-at-the-seams calendar.) What I can't figure out is how I planned all the programs and wrote all the speeches, reports, and articles with days like that. Then, I read a note from one of my graduate interns, joking about a wee-hours assignment email—“Do you ever sleep?”

Suddenly, I remember that feeling of running constantly on just a couple of hours of sleep a night. That feeling of being always a few steps short of complete collapse whenever the adrenaline would run out. Those were crazy times—immensely productive but absolutely mad. It's probably no wonder that I developed a couple of autoimmune diseases, which are often triggered by constant stress for too long a period.

I'm locked in another stressful period now, as I attempt to clear my house of its decades-long collection of family heirlooms and detritus, so I can start packing for the move to the new home. It has seemed a Sisyphean task, at moments, as I've tried to fulfill other obligations at the same time, but I've made a point of trying to ensure a decent night's sleep along the way, and now, the end is finally in sight. Age brings with it some basic sense and the realization that we must take care of our bodies and minds if we don't want them to rebel against us. Now, I couldn't handle a schedule like that weekly one I found among my papers, and rather than feeling sorry for that, I'm glad I've become smart enough not to try.


Have you had crazy busy times in your life? Do you find, as you grow older, that you are much more willing to say, “no,” and set firm limits?


Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in autumn, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.


Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Making Hay

By Cathy Perkins

It's hay making season in our mountain valley. The process is interesting, even if it does play havoc with my husband's allergies. One of the things that surprised me, though, was the parallels I saw between making hay and writing. 

Stay with me. 

Let's look at the hay process first. There are three basic requirements for growing hay: land, water and sun. Lots of each one. Once the grass reaches the right stage—tall, but not gone to seed—the ranchers start watching the weather even closer than they usually do. Hoping the forecast holds, they cut the grass in wide swathes and let it dry. 

Over the next few days, the ranchers fluff—okay, the technical term is swath—the hay so it dries evenly. Once the hay is dry, they can bail it into bricks that litter the field at regular intervals. 

This year's first cutting looked terrific and the initial bids from Japan were $300/ton. The earliest cutters started bailing and there was happiness in the valley. 

Then the unexpected happened. A storm boiled over the Cascades and drenched the valley. All the grass still on the ground went from being prime hay to cattle feed—not even dairy cow feed—at a price that will barely cover the expense of bailing it. 

As soon as the sun reappeared and dried things out, the ranchers fluffed what was there and prepared to get it out of the field and make way for the next crop. 

There are other ways things can go wrong. Balers break and things get stuck. Weeds invade from untended land. But the men and women who ranch for a living keep going, raising hay for their horses and other people's cows. 

So how is any of that like writing? 

Well, you start with three basic ingredients to create a story: writer, imagination and paper—lots of each one. The author nurtures the story to The End and fluffs and cuts and edits, hoping for that premium bid for the manuscript. But things outside the author's control can ruin that venture. A decision somewhere else that Steampunk/Chick Lit/Romantic Suspense/Whatever is “dead” means that particular manuscript isn't going anywhere except a closest or thumb drive. (Hmm... considering indie-pubbing yet?) 

Like a bale in the baler, words can get stuck. It's much harder to find a repair person for a broken or missing muse than a clogged machine. 

Like the rancher, the writer keeps putting words on the page, creating stories, because that's what writers do. 

 Can you think of any other parallels?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.
Her latest release is Double Down, a mystery novella in the So About... series 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Thrilling Lee Child

By Kay Kendall

When my first mystery was months away from publication, other writers suggested I should attend ThrillerFest, the high powered writers’ conference held every July in New York City. I protested that a) I don’t write thrillers, and b) that conference was pricy. Then I was told that International Thriller Writers, the group that holds the annual meeting, has a special program for debut authors that helps put newbies on the map. I was persuaded to attend, thinking I would go only once in order to participate in that program.
Janet Maslin of the NY Times interviews ThrillerMaster Lee Child.
That was back in 2013, and I have just returned from my fifth ThrillerFest in a row. Yes, I got hooked, pure and simple. The authorial fire power at ThrillerFest can’t be equaled, and contrary to its name, the International Thriller Writers do welcome authors across the full spectrum of crime writing. Whether you write cozy mysteries, true thrillers, traditionals, historicals, suspense, or whatever. It does not matter. All are welcome.
An awards banquet concludes each conference. Besides handing out six book awards, ITW honors one author who is deemed the year’s ThrillerMaster. Beginning in 2006 when the conference debuted, in chronological order the honorees were Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, David Morrell, Ken Follett, R.L. Stine, Jack Higgins, Anne Rice, Scott Turow, Nelson DeMille, Heather Graham, and—this year—Lee Child. Also part of the hoopla centering on the ThrillerMaster is an hour-long interview by another notable person. This year Lee Child was interviewed by Janet Maslin, long-time film critic (1977-1999) and book reviewer (1999 on) for the New York Times 
If you aren’t up on your thrillers, here is some background about the suave and ever-genial Lee Child, who hails from Coventry, England. Although a resident of New York since 1998, he has not lost his gorgeous British accent—or his elegant manners either, for that matter. Within the thriller/mystery writing community, his name is a watchword for bestseller-dom. In fact, his twenty-one novels starring the tall, sexy drifter Jack Reacher are so popular that I was shocked that Lee Child had not been named an ITW ThrillerMaster years earlier.
Near the beginning of his interview with Janet Maslin, Child announced that he had become eligible for the award only three months previously. There was a twenty-year rule that explained everything, one I had not known about. His twenty-second Reacher novel is due out in the fall, and two popular films featuring actor Tom Cruise as the legendarily tall Jack Reacher have been produced. I will never forget when the news first broke that Cruise would play Reacher. Much consternation ensued. Cruise is known to be well under six feet tall. Reacher is described in book after book as six feet five, weighing 220 pounds, with a chest expanse of 50 inches. To note: Child himself is six feet five, but his frame is rail-thin. .
Lee Child says he tires of being asked about the choice of Cruise, but his ire is never evident.  Which is a good thing. At the awards banquet, two thriller authors performed a mashup of Beatles songs with lyrics restyled to fit known events in the life and career of Child. The medley opened with “Tiny Jack Reacher” sung to the tune of “Paperback Writer.” This performance brought down the house. And Lee Child smiled through it all. He also gave everyone in attendance a hardback of collected Jack Reacher short stories that debuted just this month. Now that’s what I call class.
~~~~~~~
Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery,
RANY DAY WOMEN here! http://www.austinstarr.com/ 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville
conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book. 
Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing,
DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery
at Killer Nashville in 2014. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Heroes Vs Villians

by J.M. Phillippe

There is a saying that no villain really knows that they are a villain. We are all heroes in our own minds. But in fiction, it is also often true that heroes don't know they are heroes. They resist the title. They push back against the events that would take them to heroic destiny. The good ones, the ones we relate to most, never really feel heroic so much as overwhelmed by the circumstances they face.


I have broken the main rule of the Internet: never read the comments. In reading the comments I find, over and over again, people so opposed to each other, they resort to insults, each side assuming the other is the biased one, the stupid one, the one who refuses to get it (or is incapable of getting it). Each side has painted theirs as the one full of heroes, the other the one full of villains.

How can this be?


It is enough to give me pause and wonder how I see myself, how I live my life, even how I write my characters. How have I decided what is heroic and what is villainous? What criteria was I using and why was I so sure I could tell the one from the other?


Maybe it was just circumstance -- the heroes had the most bad things happening to them. Maybe it was just perspective. The heroes are the ones that get the most time spent on their thoughts, feelings, and motives. Heroes are the ones whose pain audiences are supposed to relate to, their reactions more justified, their mistakes made smaller with familiarity. They are allowed remorse, guilt, shame, and insecurity. They are the ones fighting for hope.

Or maybe it's just about likability. Heroes are the ones we like -- they have the charm, the talent, the special magical ability to make audiences want to find out more. 

If I can't say for sure which characters I have created are truly heroic, how can I say which people in life are truly villainous? Particularly when people on both sides are so determined that theirs is the side to be on?



After much thought and consideration, I finally came up with the only definition (and a working one at that) which could even start to help me make sense of the world: heroes are the ones that are willing to admit they are wrong, and they are the ones most likely to change and grow over time. Heroes are the ones looking to be redeemed, in whatever way they feel they need to be. Villains are the ones who aggressively refuse to change.

It's not a perfect definition, and the distinction between heroes and villains, as much as there is one, is, I'm sure, much more nuanced than can be contained in one simple line (or three). But I need some measure, some way to determine if I actually really am on the right side, something that isn't an appeal to authority or tradition. I need to know that flawed people can be heroic, and that not all villains have to stay that way.



Because the truth is that things in the world often feel very overwhelming. Life often feels full of obstacles I feel less than equipped to overcome. And I don't feel like a hero. Yet I also know my thoughts and views have easily painted as me someone else's villain. It gets murky, here the middle, in the real world, away from fiction (and non-fiction) organizing events to make one side seem better than the other. It's hard to know what side I stand on, and I suppose throughout my life I will flit from the heroic to the villainous and back again, depending on circumstance, perspective, and context. Just because I think I'm right doesn't necessarily mean that I am. 

I'm prepared to be wrong though. And I think that is a good sign that maybe, just maybe, I lean toward the heroic. At least, that's what I hope. 


***

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, July 17, 2017

Rediscovering Highlights for Children

by Paula Gail Benson

Wall of History at Highlights' Editorial Offices
When you were growing up, do you remember seeing Highlights for Children (a magazine for ages 6 through 12, with the motto: “Fun with a Purpose”) in your doctor’s office? I often read it there and for a while had my own subscription.

Did you know Highlights is still published monthly and has a million subscribers? It used to have two million, but the company began a new publication for younger children (ages 2 through 6), High Five, that took over one million subscribers. A third periodical (for those under age 2), Hello, comes in a form that curious hands and mouths can explore without fear of destruction.

I became reacquainted with Highlights and learned about its affiliates when I had the opportunity to attend a summer workshop sponsored by the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, in the northeastern corner of the state bordering New York. From the experience, I came to realize why Highlights and its associated businesses represent a true American success story.

Highlights was established by Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers in 1946, at ages 61 and 58. Each had distinguished careers in education and had worked for another children’s publication, which they thought could be operated in a manner that would be more beneficial for its readers. Eventually, they took over that magazine and incorporated it into Highlights.

Boyds Mills Press
The business remains a family concern, with editorial offices based in downtown Honesdale, a quaint, lovely place with a railroad track running through it, located in the vicinity of many summer camps. Next door is the affiliated children’s trade book company, Boyds Mills Press, which publishes distinguished fiction and nonfiction. Nearby, in the rural countryside, the family home has been converted into a writing retreat with individual cabins, a lodge, and a “barn” where three meals a day plus appetizers are provided for visitors. The business offices for the companies are in Columbus, Ohio.

When I recently took a workshop in Honesdale, my classmates and I had the opportunity to tour the Highlights and Boyds Mills Press facilities in side-by-side buildings on Church Street. Our very informative guides (who welcomed some additional guests wanting to brag to their grandchildren that they had toured the Highlights headquarters) made it clear that the readers remain the primary focus. A single staff member answers every letter received from a child. In the main office, the replica of a skeletal dinosaur head that had been used in a promotion was on display. Above the archway leading to the hall was an appreciative message drawn by readers.

Most of us were surprised to learn that Highlights acquired all rights from the submissions it accepted. A member of our group had sold more than one hundred works to the magazine and advocated submitting. She said Highlights paid generously for the rights and, if a story was subsequently sold to another market, Highlights often sent a royalty check to the author.

When we asked how Highlights managed to maintain such high subscription levels in a digital age, the answer made perfect sense: children still love to receive something of their own in the mail. I have to admit, when I told my work colleagues where I was attending the workshop, most said that they had given subscriptions as gifts for children or grandchildren.

Obviously, Highlights has found the secret to presenting quality materials for children while continuing to develop new technologies and encourage emerging authors. It’s a true winning combination for both readers and writers. If you would like to know more about my workshop experience, check out my post tomorrow at Writers Who Kill. Even if you don't write for children, you might want to consider this wonderful facility for a possible retreat.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Day of The Dark Anthology Debuts by Debra H. Goldstein


Day of the Dark Anthology Debuts by Debra H. Goldstein
Forty years is a long time.  In this case, on August 21, 2017, it will have been over forty years since a total solar eclipse passed over the continental United States. That’s why, according to news reports, people are booking hotels, signing up for excursions and making other plans to find a spot somewhere between Oregon and South Carolina to experience the eclipse. The location one chooses is important because it can mean the difference of having a second or up two minutes and thirty-eight seconds to view the moon pass between the sun and the earth.
Of course, when mystery writers think about the word eclipse, their excitement can become slightly skewed. Twenty-four authors proved that point in the anthology, Day of the Dark, which will be released by Wildside Press on July 21.

Edited by author Kaye George, who also has a story, The Darkest Hour, in the anthology, the stories roughly track the path across the United States that the shadow of the eclipse will take. A few occur on different continents and in timespans other than August 2017. The tales range from medium to dark, traditional to supernatural, but all meet the same standard of excellence.

Of course, I’m biased. One of my short stories, A Golden Eclipse, was accepted for the anthology. It reminds us that no matter what the event, there are always people ready to use any occasion to take advantage of others.

But don’t just read Day of the Dark for Kaye and my stories. There are twenty-two other authors included in the book.  These include Margaret S. Hamilton, Toni Goodyear, Kristin Kisska, Harriette Sackler, Joseph S. Walker, LD Masterson, Paul D. Marks, Katherine Tomlinson, Leslie Wheeler, Carol L. Wright, Christine Hammar, John Clark, Bridges DelPont, M.K. Waller, Laura Oles, Melissa Blaine, Cari Dubiel, Suzanne Berube Rorhus, Dee McKinney, Nupur Tustin, Cheri Vause, and KB Inglee.  Some are well known like Paul D. Marks, a 2013 Shammus winner and 2015 Anthony and Macavity nominee while, for others, like Nupur Tustin, this is their first published short story.

Not only are the authors diverse in their writing styles and story ideas, but they also proved their diversity when, after deciding that a portion of the proceeds Day of the Dark should be donated, they agreed that the causes to be supported will include Earth and Sky, Petconnect Rescue, Natural Resources Defense Council, Science Center in Finland, DonorsChoose.org, Friends of Goldendale Observatory, Friends of the Earth, Morehead Planetarium, Texas Museum of Science and Technology, DAPCEP.org for STEM education for future astronomers and scientists in Detroit, and personal friends in need. 

Whew! And so is the book.  I won’t be able to be anywhere to view the eclipse, but I’m okay with that.  I plan to be holed up with Day of the Dark. I’m certainly not waiting forty more years for this eclipse treat.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Glossed Cause

by Bethany Maines

Today I’m excited to announce that the fourth book in my Carrie Mae Mystery series—GLOSSED CAUSE—is available for pre-order!  (Available August 8th!)

In the Carrie Mae Mysteries you’ll enter a world where the Carrie Mae Cosmetics Corporation has decided that helping women form their own home-based cosmetics sales businesses isn’t enough.  They want to help women everywhere, and sometimes that requires more than the protection of waterproof mascara—sometimes that takes a silenced .38 and the ability to kick more than a little ass.

In Bulletproof Mascara we met the red-headed, hot-tempered Nikki Lanier and followed her through training and a first mission with partner, turned traitor, Val Robinson. And in Compact with the Devil and High-Caliber Concealer, we learned more about Nikki, her staunch team of friends, and her tempestuous relationship with the drop-dead-sexy and drop-dead dangerous boyfriend Z’ev Coralles, but in Glossed Cause we’ve come full circle.  Val is back and she’s brought nothing but trouble…

GLOSSED CAUSE: Top Carrie Mae agent Nikki Lanier’s nemesis and ex-partner Val Robinson has returned from the dead and she wants Nikki’s help. When Val said that Phillipe Lanier—Nikki’s long-absent father—had been kidnapped, Nikki dropped everything—friends, family, boyfriend, to fly to the rescue. But soon Nikki realizes that her father’s kidnapping may not be what it seems and she may have just tanked her life for one of his ridiculous schemes. As Nikki and Val arrive in Amsterdam, Nikki realizes that if wants to her life back, she’s going to have to not only stop an international arms dealer, but convince her boyfriend, CIA Agent Z’ev Coralles, that she’s not the bad guy and that Carrie Mae isn’t a terrorist organization. But with Philippe refusing to be rescued, and an INTERPOL agent gunning for Val and Nikki, as well as making moves on Z’ev, Nikki is starting to doubt her own abilities. Can she do it, or is it a Glossed Cause?

PRE-ORDER GLOSSED CAUSE




***
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Impact of Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse and Goat Yoga

By AB Plum


Have you ever noticed how the perfect plans you make so often fall apart? Go straight to hell in a handbasket? Turn quiet to chaos?

The end of June seemed perfect for two home projects: 
  • installing new carpet in the MBR 
  • painting all the woodwork throughout the house. 


Tricky to get the timing of each job right—painting first, carpet second. Packing and repurposing required a lot of planning and our sweat. But we pulled off both jobs pretty much as planned.

Thought we were home free. Paid contractors. Moved on. 
  • Started making sure we grasped all the details about our trip to Oregon to view the total solar eclipse with our son and DIL. 
  • Confirmed our reservation in Bend—handled totally by our wonderful DIL. 
  • Double checked our airline reservations. 
  • Reconfirmed time of pickup at PDX..

Feeling good. Good enough to think about getting our house back in order after the painting and carpet installation.

Then, wham! The washing machine turned on me. Died three days before July 4.The tea towels and table cloths and napkins started breeding in the laundry room. Opening the door put us at peril. 

My husband’s back also went out the same daymeaning boxes of stacked books sat here, there and everywhere but on the shelves. 

Yes, every appliance store had the stackable units we wanted in stock—somewhere in Outer Mongolia, requiring ten days shipping to Northern Cal. Call after call, online search after online search, confirmed this fact.

In the meantime, the laundry was rumbling against the door trying to erupt from the laundry room and take over our house like lava. 

Our tempers … simmered. We gave in to a rant or two. We lived in a huge metro-area. Yes, July 4th loomed two days away. But …

What was happening? Was it the planets converging for the upcoming eclipse? How the heck does goat yoga fit in here?

Somewhere in between Internet searches for washer/dryer combos that fit in our space and didn’t require additional plumbing and/or electrical updates, a link to a YouTube video distracted my scattered attention. Watching it once, then twice more in the same setting, I laughed enough I finally corralled my “downer.”

Goats in a yoga class did the trick.

Just like in the movies, the next place I called did, in fact, honestly, truthfully, have the washer and dryer we wanted in their local warehouse. Yes, they would, absolutely on the head of the salesman’s first-born son, deliver said purchase to our home on July 4!

Uh-huh. Riiight. Yeah. I swallowed the impulse to demand the salesman’s home address.

July 4. Zoom in on me doing the happy dance when two young men arrived at 8:00 AM, installed the new appliances, gave us a demo, loaded the dead washer and companion dryer on their truck, and left by 9:15.

Whistling, I immediately loaded the washer. While it purred away, I turned on my computer, fired up the goat yoga video, and laughed through three re-runs. 

The solar eclipse was still on track (as if it wouldn’t be), and my husband’s back was better. What more could  I wish for—except my books magically back on the shelves? I'd then have time for goat yoga!


********************
When AB's not shelving books or washing clothes or watching goat yoga videos, she writes dark, gritty psychological thrillers. Unless the roof falls in, she plans to release in mid-August  The Lost Days, Book 2 in The MisFit Series.









Monday, July 10, 2017

Fleeting Summer

Independence Day has come and gone. Summer is half over. I hate that. I haven’t had time to sit by the pool or catch fireflies or sip wine on a night when the air is like velvet and the stars are so close I could pick them from the sky if only I could find the energy.

All too soon my oldest will take off for college and my youngest will return to high school.

How do the days pass so quickly?

If I blink, will I miss another year?

If I take a nap, will I miss their weddings?

Does every mother feel this way?


I suppose I’m lucky, their exploits are fodder for the teenager, Grace, in the Country Club Murders. 

Twenty years from now, I’ll be able to read Cold as Ice and remember the party at my house that got out of control. I’ll be able to remember their time on the knife’s edge between being a girl and a woman. I’ll be able to remember the bittersweet pain of watching them leave me.

Here's hoping the rest of your summer is filled with wonder...or at least fodder for a book.


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 next book, Cold as Ice, releases October 17, 2017.