Monday, September 18, 2017

Literary Boston

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my blogging partner Dru Ann Love and write about my experiences on a recent trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always found captivating in books.

When I was young, I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and was enthralled by the young apprentice studying Paul Revere’s workmanship. Later, I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based, single-named detective, Spenser, through a television series. I avidly read Linda Barnes’ mysteries featuring cabbie and sometimes investigator Carlotta Carlyle. Not to mention Hank Phillippi Ryan’s novels about Boston investigative reporter Charlotte McNally and her Jane Ryland thrillers; some of Toni L.P. Kelner’s Laura Fleming series; and Dana Cameron’s Anna Hoyt stories that take place in colonial Boston.

In Boston’s Public Garden, a line of bronze ducks represent the characters from Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings. A plaque explains that the story made the Garden familiar to children around the world and I have read that the ducks’ bronze surfaces never need to be shined because so many little bottoms come to sit on them.

Emerson House in Concord
Growing up, I found Boston’s neighboring town of Concord fascinating for its collection of literary figures. In high school, I read about the three Peabody sisters: Elizabeth, an educator and book store operator, who introduced her sisters to their famous husbands (artist Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary became Horace Mann’s wife). Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in Boston and Concord, and Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and wrote of its local Walden Pond.

As far as I was concerned, the most famous Concord resident was Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women had been a constant companion for me and seen me through good times and bad.

I was extremely fortunate to find a tour that went to Lexington and Concord, showing us not only the Revolutionary War significant sites, but also the homes of Emerson, Hawthorne (Wayside Inn), and Alcott (Orchard House).

Orchard House
Seeing Orchard House, made even more real Meg’s garden wedding and the attic where Jo wrote her novels. Yes, this was the place where the four March girls grew to become Little Women, and I rejoiced in seeing a spot that had so long filled my imagination.

Fortunately, our tour guide was experienced enough to make a story of the journey. He traced the route that Paul Revere had taken, showing us the monument at the place where Revere was captured, and even pointing out the house that belonged to the Merriam family (of Merriam Webster fame).
Revere Monument near Concord

I also learned also that a large portion of modern day Boston was created by years of immigrants (many of them Irish) working to fill in habitable land around the harbor. The hotel where I stayed was in the Back Bay. I thought the name unique, but quickly learned it was used to describe many of the area’s buildings. An Amazon search led me to discover a William Martin novel titled Back Bay, which traces the history, and is now on my reading list.

Probably the most invigorating thing I discovered about Boston was the pride in the sense of history so clearly exhibited among its inhabitants. Everywhere I went, from Fenway Park to the TD Garden to the harbor to the theatre district, people told stories about the past and pointed to monuments that commemorated important persons and events. The city was vibrant with memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I walked near the end of the Boston Marathon course and thought of the bombing victims. May we all continue to hear and tell the stories of Boston and to remain “Boston Strong.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

She's Leaving Home--Bye, Bye

Readers of a certain age will recognize the title of this blog as the chorus to a Beatles song. Nostalgia is my mood at the moment, so I'm playing and singing all the oldies.

In this particular case, the "she" who's leaving home is me. I'm about to leave my home of the past 42 years with its marble fireplace with walnut mantel, walnut crown moldings, multiple built-in cupboards (including a corner glass-doored china cupboard), wood floors, tall ceilings, big windows, spacious rooms --and outdated plumbing and wiring. My husband and I are in the last throes of decluttering and packing for our move to a much smaller house without the great storage and space of this one but without its problems, as well. As we pack up and pile boxes and bins, I know we've made the right decision, but I'm reminded constantly of the many great years I had in this house while raising my family. So, yeah, nostalgia.

I decided I wanted to take photos of the rooms before they were turned into stacks of boxes and stripped of their furniture. Of course, my tablet's excellent camera suddenly wouldn't work, and my cell phone's too old to have a camera. I refused to be thwarted, however, and took the interior shots with my laptop webcam (which is why they're blurry enough to pass as Impressionist paintings). For the record, though, I now have photos of my living room and dining room. (My arms tired quickly--it's awkward taking regular photos with a webcam--so my ambition to snap pictures of all the rooms quickly faded.)

Above, you see my marble fireplace with walnut mantel, as well as my quilt-covered old wicker couch and one of my spinning wheels. This is the middle third of our extremely large living room. The first photo is of the front of our house with part of the front-yard gardens. The next photo is of the front third of our living room with my big floor loom and another spinning wheel partially obscured by the boxes we've started piling in the living room. The loom and both spinning wheels will join my Husqvarna sewing machine in our new home.

The final photo is of part of the dining room with its big round wooden table and chairs and one of the two freestanding china cabinets in that room. The built-in one is in the breakfast room next door. Only one of these freestanding cabinets is going with us, but the table and chairs--as old as my time in this house--will accompany us, as well.

I will not miss the extension cord shuffle which all unrenovated-old-house owners do, of necessity. I will not miss the months of the year when it's simply too cold or too hot to work in my upstairs office/studio, even wrapped in wool shawls and gloves or stripped to underwear. Modern insulation and central HVAC have a lot to recommend them. I will not miss all the stairs. Most of all, I won't miss the constant sucking sounds as all the money I make goes into household emergencies like storm-damaged gutters or yet another plumbing disaster. (When you own a house, my child, water is not your friend.)

Still, this house has been the site of many holiday feasts for the extended family. It sheltered not only my two husbands and three children but two foster sons, a nephew, and at one time or another, all my brothers and their friends or wives, as well as my sister. We've had celebrations and parties. When my oldest kids were young, the teachers went on strike for a year, and this house became a schoolroom for most of the kids in the neighborhood. Every summer, it was kid headquarters as I kept the block's youngsters out of trouble by teaching them how to make butter, soap, candles, bread, cheese, baskets, and many other projects. That dining room table has seen so many home-cooked meals and craft projects and school homework assignments and science-fair projects and family council meetings that my family's DNA is embedded deep within the fiber of the wood. It's been a wonderful home.

Now, the time is right to move on to a more convenient, safer (no stairs for me to break anything more on), lower maintenance, and smaller place. I'm looking forward to it. But yeah, I'll miss the old girl as we drive off with the moving van. 42 years is a long time, and what warm, lovely years they've been!

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 January 17, 2018. 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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Tribute to My BFF Comadre, Tracy, for her investigation skills

2010ish Tracy Harmon, investigative journalist and Juliana Aragon Fatula, private eye

The truth. I learned life's lessons the hard way; life kicked my ass.
But I learned to tell the truth and not hide things from friends and family,
I feel no shame for my past; only revelation for my future.
I'm a candle lighting the way for other writers to follow.

Tracy and I met in college about a gazillion years ago.
We were younger.
Jams with wild prints were in style.
We have been friends thirty years, three decades.
That's history; excuse me, herstory.
We shared many stories about life and love and sadness;
I don't know how I'd survive this world without her.
She's a comadre; she's a mujer muy mujer. A Chingona. A badass. 

More to come...stay tuned for my next post the 4th Thursday of the month.

September 6, 2017

My BFF, the infamous, incomparable, glorious, generous, unjudgmental journalist and professional photographer; Tracy Harmon of the Pueblo Chieftain, writes the stories that we read in the newspaper every day. Some of them are boring, some funny, some recipes. But once a year it’s a homicide.

In twenty-five years, she’s written about twenty-five homicide stories. Sometimes it was one victim, sometimes two or three, not by the same person, not the same year, but dead none the less; she’s the one who investigates and writes about these stories, so we’ll know what’s out there. And there’s some crazy mofos out there.

I feel blessed to have her in my life.  I write about fiction; I write about murder, mysteries, car chases; but she lives them: shoot-outs with the gunmen and the police, the murderers, crime scenes, coroner’s reports, and court testimonies.

She writes about the suicides; the people who jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge, or the drowned victims that go rafting in the Arkansas River every summer. She writes about toddlers playing in their backyard unsupervised and drowning in their swimming pool. She writes about inmates murdered by other inmates, that is her life.

And how she maintains such a rosy outlook on life I would have to contribute to Prozac or some anti-depressant; just thinking about those people murdered in my small town, people hung from trees by the KKK because they were not white Christians; my little town is cursed. So what better place to write about murder.

There is a bright spot though; the police did capture the person who murdered an eighteen-year-old boy at Brush Hollow Reservoir. He was assassinated by a kid with a shotgun and left to bleed to death. A senseless violence. There was a shoot-out and a police car chase and car crash on Highway 50. They caught the suspect, his girlfriend confessed to what she had witnessed. Let’s hope the sheriff’s department doesn’t take the evidence from the homicide home, forget about it for a decade, and f-up the case like they did with Candace’s murder ten years ago, and screw up the chain of evidence to prosecute.  

The clouds are massing, wind is blowing, chimes are ringing, birds are taking cover, and the sun is getting blotted out by clouds. I’m in my sunroom protected from the elements and writing about homicides, cold cases, missing persons. Tracy, mi comadre, visits and we have a cup of tea and discuss cold cases. We like to analyze the evidence and try to figure out who done it. Sometimes she vents in my sunroom on my couch about the horrific scenes she has covered. Death, murder, homicide, rape, kidnapping…

Tracy Harmon, investigative sleuth, I salute you for your undercover skills, you rock. And I love you; thanks for writing the stories we read in the Pueblo Chieftain about our town, CaƱon City, Colorado. And thanks for dragging me along occasionally on landfill digs, to collect evidence before it’s destroyed. You help put the bad guys in prison. You are my s-hero. I hope we grow old together and write these stories, these unsolved murders and never forget the victims. Never.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A New Series with Bite!

by Bethany Maines

I’ve been working very hard this year on multiple projects and I’m finally beginning to be able to share some of them with you.  I’m excited to announce that October will see the release of Book 1 of my new Shark Santoyo Crime Series.  Launching a new series is incredibly difficult and one of the hardest things to garner are reviews on reputable sites like Amazon and Goodreads.  So toward that end I’m giving all of you the opportunity to become a part of my Advance Reader Team.  Sign up using the form below and you’ll be taken to the down load page to get a free digital copy of Shark’s Instinct and in a few weeks I’ll send you a reminder email to leave a review.  That’s it.  No strings, just a free book.  I hope you’ll join me as I venture into this new series!

Shark’s Instinct: Fresh out of prison and fresh out of luck, twenty-something Shark wants back into The Organization. But when Geier, the mob boss with a cruel sense of humor, sends Shark to the suburbs to find out who’s been skimming his take, Shark realizes he’s going to need more than his gun and an attitude to succeed. With the clock ticking, Shark accepts the help of the mysterious teenage fixer, Peregrine Hays, and embarks on a scheme that could line his pockets, land him the girl and cement his reputation with the gang—if he makes it out alive.

PRE-ORDER HERE or join the Advanced Reader Team using the form below!

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, September 12, 2017


By AB Plum

Laughter, they say, is good for the soul. In The MisFits, my dark psychological thriller series, few characters laugh. The question remains open, does Michael Romanov, the main character, have a soul?

This deep philosophical question leads my writer’s mind to ask: Do politicians have souls?

Too many of them, like Michael, are self-serving. Easily corrupted. Filled with hubris. Convinced they know more than the rest of us. Lacking in empathy—though they can fake compassion if it serves them. The list could go on, but this is a blog—not a book series.

If the above description sounds cynical, maybe I’ve been at my keyboard writing about the dark side of human nature too long. But I think Michael Romanov could run for president—and maybe win because he’s charismatic, straight-talking, ignorant about his ignorance, and a master manipulator. Oh, and did I mention proud?

Woe unto anyone who dares laugh at Michael. In his view, jail time for such an offense would carry mandatory hard labor as part of the sentence. (Or since he’s a full-blown psychopath, he might choose murder to save face).

If I sound as if I’ve slipped off the cusp of reality, have you read about the woman arrested for laughing at a comment about AG Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing? 

Yes, the arrest happened. The judge threw out the jury’s guilty verdict but allowed a new date for another trial. So, what should we believe now?
  • ·        Laughter is the best medicine?
  • ·        Laughter is against the law?
  • ·        Laughter is good for the soul?
  • ·        Laughter can put you in jail?

Once we answer these questions, others pop up:
  • ·        Does a snicker carry the same possible penalty as a laugh?
  • ·        Where does a laugh end and a guffaw begin?
  • ·        Can we still use LOL in emails without fear?
  • ·        Should we ban giggles, chortles, chuckles, titters, and sniggers?
  • ·        Are cackles okay in the privacy of our own homes?
  • ·        Are babies exempt from arrest or must we teach them to stop smiling and laughing?

Perhaps to play it safe, we need to ignore Abraham Lincoln:  “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh, I should die.”

When AB’s not writing about murder and families, she laughs a lot on daily hikes, aerobic dancing, and watching old Nick and Nora movies in Silicon Valley, just off the fast lane. She’s allowing herself a big smile every day through Friday, September 15. That’s the date when The In-Between Years, Book 3 in the MisFit Series will go live on Amazon.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Voice

            There is an Irish writer I adore. Her name is Marian Keyes and she doesn’t write mysteries (her book, The Mystery of Mercy Close, isn't a mystery—not really). True confession: with few exceptions I read only mysteries and biographies. And Marian Keyes. I read Marian Keyes.

            Some might say she writes women’s fiction.

            Others might call her books chicklit.

            I say she writes novels.

            Wonderful novels. About women with problems. About children and families and strengths and insecurities. Funny novels. Novels that make me cry. Novels that make me gnash my teeth.

            Her latest, The Break, has released in the U.K. but not yet in the United States. I have seriously considered paying the very dear price for shipping from London to Kansas City.


            Marian Keyes has a distinctive voice.

            So distinctive I feel as if I know her.

            I know I’d like to discuss skin care with her.

            I know we could chat for an hour about the joy of boots.

            I know I adore her—even if she does drink tea (which she pronounces tay) not coffee.

            She’s a friend I miss and my best chance to catch up with her is to pick up her latest novel (still thinking about that shipping charge...).

            Marian (no, I don’t actually know her, but we’re on a first name basis—at least I am) inspired my writing.

            I think every writer has a Marian or two. Hopefully, one day I can be a Marian.

           If you haven’t yet discovered Marian's books, start here.

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 novel, Cold as Ice, will release October 17th.

Like Julie's voice? Sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Taking a Chance on New Writers - Guest Words from Kathleen Donnelly

Kathleen Donnelly...Photo by Piper's Pix
Every now and then a writer is blessed with a gift that provides the inspiration that fuels a dream. In 2015, at Killer Nashville, Paula and I met Kathleen Donnelly, a woman given such a gift by author Lisa Jackson. This year, at Killer Nashville, we heard what transpired after Kathleen won the scholarship. Below, are her words --- an inspiration to us.  .... Debra

Speech for Awards Dinner—Taking a Chance on New Writers by Kathleen Donnelly
There are moments in life you always remember—like a plot twist or a pivot point. For me one of those moments was the phone ringing as I took the dogs out on a cold, drizzly Colorado morning. The number was from Tennessee. I was juggling three dogs so thought I’d see if the caller left a voicemail. That number did leave a message and that person was Jacqueline Stafford calling to say I’d won the Lisa Jackson Scholarship. From that moment on my life changed and went in a new direction.

Attending Killer Nashville in 2015 was a dream come true. At that conference John Gilstrap gave a beautiful speech about dreams and how someone being called a dreamer can be seen as negative, but he saw it as a positive. That speech touched me and gave me more inspiration to push forward. That whole conference inspired me and helped fuel my dream of writing. I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if it hadn’t been for Lisa Jackson. Since that time, there are now more scholarships—the Jimmy Loftin scholarship and the Kris E. Calvin scholarship. Thank you doesn’t even seem to cover what these scholarships provide because this is more than just attending a conference; this conference is a stepping stone to our dreams as writers. Writers that might not otherwise have the means get the chance to come and learn from the best in the industry.

The Lisa Jackson scholarship provided inspiration and gave me that nudge to keep going. Persevere. Keep writing. Attending the conference gave me the knowledge, information and connections. I knew I would learn from the best, but what I didn’t know was that I would walk away with a writing family. To nourish a dream you need a community of support and that is what Killer Nashville provided.

Clay Stafford and all the staff at American Blackguard work incredibly hard each year to put together the best conference and once again, they have achieved that goal. Two years ago I realized that there was so much more to this conference. As I watched writers win the Claymore Awards and the Silver Falchion awards, I made it a goal to submit to the Claymore Awards. I took the writing advice from the manuscript critique Baron Birtcher provided, the roundtable feedback helped me realize what was or wasn’t working. I asked questions in classes that only mystery and thriller writers can appreciate about guns and types of bombs. Then I returned home and I worked on my outline. I tweaked it. I wrote. I edited. When I was stuck I looked back at my notes or I thought about the inspiration and confidence this conference gave me. I continued to work and in April I submitted to the Claymores.

Then came another moment I will always remember. Another pivot point. I received the notification that I was one of the Claymore Top 20 finalists. Another dream come true, but this dream was fostered by this conference. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it wasn’t for Lisa Jackson providing a scholarship. I wouldn’t be here if Clay, his family and the American Blackguard staff didn’t work so hard to provide these opportunities, and I know I wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t have this community of writers that I now think of as a family.
This family is what keeps encouraging me when I think about being a new writer and the odds of someone taking a chance on one of us. When I hear about the odds of making it in the publishing industry, I remind myself that every best-selling author was once a new author. If those authors hadn’t published, there are many great characters we would have never met. Without those great characters I wouldn’t have had someone to help me through obstacles in my life because sometimes, when you have a tough day, you want to read and escape and see how your favorite character is going to get out of a bind.

Reading and writing do change lives and I believe that if we can change one life then that can eventually change our communities, our country, even our world. Two years ago, Lisa Jackson took a chance and gave a Colorado writer a scholarship to come to this conference. Now once again, my life has changed and thank you never seems like enough so I’ll continue to work towards my promise I made two years ago. I will keep writing. I will pursue my dreams and in doing so I’ll support the community around me and give back in any way I can to my fellow writers, my writing family and my fellow dreamers.

Thank you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Passionate about animals and the outdoors, all of Kathleen Donnelly’s interests end up in the written
form one way or another.  Her experiences being a part owner and handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines, a private pro-active drug dog service that works primarily in schools, has been the subject of much of her writing. She is currently working on a book with a female protagonist who's a K-9 handler for the U.S. Forest Service. In 2015, Kathleen was the recipient of the Lisa Jackson scholarship to Killer Nashville. In 2017, her novel was a Claymore Top 20 Finalist. Kathleen lives in Berthoud, CO with her husband and all their four-legged friends. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Social Media - Love It? Or Leave It?

by Sparkle Abbey

It seems lately social media is on fire with current events, opinions, and, of course, cat videos. And baby goats in pajamas, and delicious recipes, and funny memes. And sometimes very personal and life-altering events.

Isn't it amazing how much we take for granted about that connection. A connection that a few years ago didn't even exist.

As authors, social media can be dangerous. You go online to check in, or see what your friends are doing, or what's new in the publishing world and....whoosh! An hour (or two) or writing time just disappeared. True for you? Or is that just us?

So then you decide you must stay offline for a while, because you need to be getting things done. But, easier said than done, right? Pretty soon you're wondering when was that book event you wanted to go to, and what happened with that situation, and what important things are you missing. And then like a big black hole you're sucked in again.

Still with all of that, even in times like these, social media connections are important. Maybe especially in times like these. With Hurricane Harvey and now Irma, as well as the wildfires in Montana, California, and the Pacific Northwest. Scary events forcing people to leave their homes and to wonder what they'll come back to. In these instances, connections via social media have been an important way to check in with each other. To share concerns and offers of help. To let each know that we're okay. Or not okay.

On a more intimate level, personal losses, health concerns, milestones, and celebrations are also things we often choose to share with our friends on social media sites. Big and small - our disappointments, our fears, and joys. We offer each other encouragement when times are tough. A virtual hug when one is needed. Or a chuckle. Because there are times when we just need a baby goat in pajamas to help us remember to laugh.

At times, we head for that "hive mind" for answers, information, or solutions. "Has anyone seen this error message? Can someone tell me what kind of plant this is?" Or sometimes, we seek opinions. "Which author photo is better? Mac or PC? Has anyone tried this?"

When we think it's too much and we ought to just opt out, we realize blessing of the many true friends we've made via social media. Readers we wouldn't have had the chance to get to know. Other authors whose opinions we value and respect. Friends. Friends we've met and bonded with through this crazy amazing (and sometimes overwhelming) medium.

So, we'd have to say in answer to the "Love It? Or Leave It?" question we posed at the beginning - though we may need a short break from time to time - for the most part we're loving it!

What do you think? Do you mostly love it? Or often want to leave it? Please share your thoughts...

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don't tell the neighbors.) They love to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, their favorite social media sites. Also, if you want to make sure you get updates, sign up for their newsletter via the website.