Friday, December 27, 2019

It's a Dickens Christmas Y'all!







Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.






It's a Dickens Christmas Y'all!

 
Every December, I hide. This has nothing to do with the fact that it's Christmas and I'm Jewish. Like many Jewish families in the South, I was raised with a Christmas tree and presents in addition to Hanukkah traditions with beautiful menorah candles lit each night and (yea!) more presents.  What kid can complain about that?

No, my allergy to December has to do with my husband. He is a beyond-the-pale Dickens fan. Every iteration of the more than two dozen versions of A Christmas Carol plays on our television repetitively all December.  I head for the hills . . . or at least another room.

But last year at the Left Coast Crime Conference (that's crime writers, just so you know), someone mentioned a Dickens festival in California.  My ears pricked. (Okay, I wish my ears could prick because it's so expressive, and I've always wanted a fluffy tail too––can't you just imagine having it drape saucily over your shoulder?  But I digress).

This year is hubby's 60th birthday and our 30th wedding anniversary.  Seemed like going to a Dicken's festival would be a great surprise gift. The problem was we live in Alabama and the festival was in California.  I angsted for months about how to plan a secret trip to California. Finally I broke down and told him what I had up my sleeve.

"I'll arrange the whole thing, if you want to go."

"I would," he says, "but why don't we just go to the one in Tuscumbia, Alabama (2.5 hours away)?

"What?"

He pulls out a brochure he had put in his drawer (thinking the last thing I would ever want to do was have a Dickens-immersion experience) with info about Tuscumbia's 9th annual "It's a Dickens Christmas Y'all!" (And I thought it was just the birthplace of Helen Keller.)

Yes!

A few days later, he shows me a dapper Victorian costume of Ebenezer Scrooge online. It was so spiffy!  Hubby communicates in code, and it  dawned on me that maybe he was feeling out what I thought about him actually getting it and wearing it to the festival.

If he is going to dress in a top hat, vest, and coat, I am all in. What girl does not want to be Cinderella? Found a red and black gown with black lace sleeves, foo-foo hat, lace white gloves, and a bustle (as close to a tail as I am likely to ever get) and we are going to the ball . . . or 1843 London in Tuscumbia!


Christmas Present, Christmas To Come, Christmas Past, Mr. and Mrs. Scrooge, and Marley's Ghost

 

Festivities began Friday night with a feast, a reading from A Christmas Carol, music, and a chef-prepared dinner. Saturday, the streets were closed to traffic, sporting gift venders, snow machines, and horse drawn carriage rides. Scones and hot chocolate (or coffee) awaited with the spirits of Christmas and Marley's ghost at "Scones and Moans," poetry readings and song at a mid-19th Century church, a high tea, and cookies with Tiny Tim at the beautiful Cold Water Bookstore.

Such a charming town and charming, warm folks!  We had the best time meeting people and couldn't walk but a few steps without being asked to pose for a picture with someone.  Paparazzi! 
 
 
 

"There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast."––Dickens

Ironically, sometimes this is a very difficult time of year. Whatever your faith, whatever your situation, I wish you peace and joy now and in the coming year.

––TK




T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch.


Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list.


T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with a dog and a cat vying for her lap.

More info at TKThorne.com

Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”


Thursday, December 26, 2019

One World One Love by Juliana Aragon Fatula




Dear Reader,



Happy Holidays. Tis the Season to be jolly. I never understood religious holidays. Not being religious. I understand celebrating. I enjoy festive parties and decorating and eating goodies. I just don’t get the idea that if you are not religious you should have to say Merry Christmas. So, I don’t. My husband does. He’s Catholic and even though he hasn’t been to mass in decades, his family still attends, and of course they think he married a heathen, which he did. 



My maternal grandmother called us kids heathens because we didn’t go to church. 

My paternal grandmother was Catholic, but she died young, so I never met her. She might have also called us kids heathens for not attending mass. 



But my mother, a Pentecostal holiness Sunday School teacher, married my father, a Catholic. who left the church when the priest yelled at him for tithing in pennies. 


So, they tried sending us to Sunday school, but it never took. We’d walk home and find them in their pajamas, hung over, and drinking coffee, on Sunday morning. Eventually we stopped going to Sunday school, but not before we learned about hell and brimstone and burning in hell for sins. 





One Christmas, I joined my Catholic aunt and cousin and attended Mass. I stood, sat, kneeled, and listened to them recite words I didn’t understand. I left confused and angry. Why did religion have to be so difficult. 



I said my prayers every night for years. One night, I got drunk and forgot and never remembered again to say my prayers. Then I sobered up and began praying again, not at bedtime, but at morning upon rising. I began thanking God, or whoever, instead of praying, now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep and should I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take. Or something like that. It always scared me that I might not wake, or I’d wake without a soul, whatever that was. Kids scare easily. 


I began thanking God for my blessings. Thank you for my life. Thank you for letting me live. Thank you for that A in algebra. You know, thank you for my ability to breath and laugh and feel joy. 



Then I went through a few years of debilitating depression. 
I thanked God for letting me suffer, so I could realize what others experienced and be more sympathetic or empathetic or less judgmental about why they were a drunk, or drug addict, or homeless, or mean, or crazy. I learned through my suffering to understand pain and feeling helpless, hopeless.


I never tried suicide. I thought about it a lot. But the idea of burning in hell kept me from throwing myself in the raging river with rocks in my pockets. I struggled with my demons and I survived.


Now it’s 62 years later, I’m a grown ass woman and I still don’t understand religion. Why can’t I decorate the house for the fourth of July with my candy canes and stockings and decorate a tree with firecrackers? Why do I have to make turkey and stuffing on certain days? Why can’t we eat tacos for the jolliest day of the year? Tacos are jolly. Why do we have to drink eggnog only in December? Why not drink eggnog every day? It’s delicious.   


And the gifts and the greeting cards and the tree and the lights and the fat guy in a red suit. Why? Why do we spend money on things we don’t need or want because some commercial tells us we need a new big screen television with voice activated remote?




So, this year, no cards, no tree, no lights, no presents, no carols, no holly, no ho ho ho. I refuse to participate in something I don’t believe in. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, his reindeer, or his no room in the Manger on oh, holy night. 


My refusal to participate in organized religion makes me a heathen, but I do believe. I believe everyone has a right to celebrate their beliefs in whatever they want to wear, wherever they want to pray, and in whatever language they wish.



I practice the old ways. I burn sage and sweet grass and cook frijoles and tortillas and drink atole and thank the gods for my blessings. All the gods. 


So, this holiday season, remember your friends, all of them, even the non-believers and respect their belief system. One world. One love. 







p.s. Juliana has suffered from depression most of her life. About fifty years take a decade or two. She continues to believe in magic, miracles, angels, and healing. She tries to manage the holidays with humor but some years are more difficult than others. She hopes you found this illuminating, or at the very least, not too depressing, but remember she is after all, the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!

by Bethany Maines

Some years I'm more into the Christmas spirit than others.  This year I started listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I've squeezed in my favorite Christmas movies - White Christmas and Die Hard. I have decorated the mantle with every single Christmas card, including the one from the distant family friends that came with a two page letter (who has the time for that??).  And I have wrapped all the presents and bought all the stuffs. Christmas is happening at my place. 

But not all years are filled with the Yuletide joy.  And I do remember a few seasons in which I wanted to stab the eye out of the next bell ringer and I deeply resonated with Hans Gruber.  Well, I mean to be honest, I still resonate with Hans Gruber.  Who doesn't want 600 million in bearer bonds and who wouldn't get mad about some stupid NYC cop ruining a perfectly good heist?  I mean, really.

But whether you're feeling like curling up away from everyone with a good book (ahem, here's a few you might like - Bethany Maines on Amazon) or you're going to be rocking it with family and friends - I wish you a Merry Christmas and a restful vacation.  And as Hans once said, "It's Christmas, Theo — it's the time of miracles." So maybe this year we'll all get our Christmas wishes (and 600 million in bearer bonds).



**

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Eats and Treats!


By Lynn McPherson

There are so many great things about the holidays. Today I’m going to talk about one of my favourite parts—the food! After conferring with my kids we’ve come up with some of our picks for the holidays. Let’s start with appetizers and finger foods…

Our top three choices for Go-To Snacks when friends drop by:

1.     Veggie Tray—okay, let’s get the healthy stuff out so everyone can make sure to take care of their bodies and keep everyone feeling good.
2.     Bread and Dips: fresh or frozen, bread can be warmed quickly and easily in the oven. Even if you haven’t been to the store in a few days, taste buds won’t suffer. Now, the dip? Hummus is always a good choice. Then there’s olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Finally, butter. On the holidays, butter is a treat I never skip.
3.     Chips: With so many varieties, you don’t have to stick to the basics. And why not add in a healthy choice for fun? Lentil chips. Quinoa chips. Veggie Straws. The list goes on.

Let’s move on to entrée ideas. You can’t have turkey every night!

1.     Schnitzel: Meat or plant-based, schnitzel is a fun alternative for the whole family. It's worth the effort.
2.     Lasagne: Why not? This is one meal everyone seems to enjoy. Filling and tasty. The best part is the entire meal is contained in one tray so it's minimal mess.
3.     Stir-Fry: Cut up your favourite veggies or pick up a frozen bag. Then it’s just a matter of some rice and your favourite protein—chicken? Tofu? Beef? Up to you.

Finally, we reach the desserts. With so many options, what should you choose? Here are my picks for holiday fun:

1.     Shortbread Cookies: Butter anyone? Enough said.
2.     Box of Chocolates: And why not? Everyone has a favourite.
3.     Gingerbread Cookies: Simple, classic, and fun for the whole family.

Now once you’ve bid your guests farewell and the house is quiet again, it’s time to grab a nice cup of tea and your favourite mystery. What better way to end a busy day?

What are your favourite holiday foods? Is there something you always have on hand for an impromptu get together?

Happy Holidays everyone!




Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Friday, December 20, 2019

Comfort Reads

by Shari Randall

It's the most wonderful time of the year...and the time of the year when the sound of sniffles and sneezing is as prevalent as carols and silver bells.

If you do end up getting sick this winter, I hope it will be with the kind of cold that keeps you home, but doesn't knock you out completely. The best case scenario is that you're sick enough to stay cozy in bed, but well enough to binge all those shows your friends are talking about or enjoy one of the books on your nightstand.

I'm a realist. I stock up on Kleenex, chicken soup, and tea so I'll be ready when a cold hits. Being cooped up with a cold is bad, but being cooped up without something good to read or watch while on the couch is worse.

When I have a cold, there's nothing better than a warm cup of tea and a comfort read. So before flu season starts, along with chicken soup and Tylenol, I'm stocking up on good comfort reads. My comfort reads are classic cozy mystery favorites, short stories by Agatha Christie, the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman, or Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective series.

I wish you happy holidays, good health, and a great stockpile of comfort reads when you need them.

What is your comfort read go-to?

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack
mystery series from St. Martin's Press. Her latest is a holiday story called "The Queen of Christmas."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Holiday Traditions – Time for a Change

Holiday Traditions - Time for a Change

By Cathy Perkins

Clicking out Heels is also changing. Rather than our group’s question and answer posts for First Wednesday, we’ll focus on a peek behind the scene element. Barbara Plum kicks it off for us in January. Can’t wait to see what she shares!

Sometimes change is good. Doing the same things over and over can provide continuity and a sense of tradition, but they can also become stale and lose their original meaning.

Holiday traditions are changing in our family. Our children are grown, married, and starting their own families. While certain foods are still ensconced on the holiday table, this year, the family will gather around one of our children’s table. Added bonus? I don’t have to cook!

Because I’m not the hostess this year, rather than spending hours preparing, my husband and I took off for a working vacation in Hawaii. The vacation part? With warm sunshine, vibrant foliage and a blue ocean for inspiration, we had a wonderful time, hiking and snorkeling. 

While my husband played golf, I drew on that inspiring scene and finished Calling for the Money, the next book in the Holly Price mystery series. Now that we’re home again, initial comments are returning from my beta readers. The good news is they like it. Even better, they had a couple of great suggestions that I’ll work in before sending the manuscript to my editor.

What about you?


Are there certain traditions that endure with your family? Or are you making changes as well? 



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.  Visit her at http://cperkinswrites.com or on Facebook 

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place.

She's hard at work on sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, which was recently presented with the Claymore Award.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Debra & Kay "Do" Houston

by Kay Kendall

Avid readers and writers of crime fiction make up a warm and supportive community, both IRL (in real life) and online. This fact often astonishes folks outside this community. Isn’t it odd, they ask, that people who spend lots of time steeped in criminal activities of all kinds—even if it is fictional—are so nice?

Debra H. Goldstein & Kay Kendall, 2014, Killer Nashville
And now one of the nicest and funniest authors I know is coming to Houston. Debra H. Goldstein and I will do a talk and book signing together at Houston’s renowned store, Murder by the Book.
On Saturday, January 4 at 4:30 pm. (location: 2342 Bissonnet Street) you’ll find us doling out cookies, tea, wine, and opinions aplenty about reading and writing mysteries.
Debra writes funny cozy mysteries and will talk about her newest book, Two Bites Too Many. I write historical mysteries and will discuss my latest, After You’ve Gone.

Watch this space for news of a live feed on Facebook!
               
Debra and I are both bloggers here on the Stiletto Gang, but our pal-hood predates that by several years. We first met at the Killer Nashville conference in the summer of 2014 and hit it off immediately. Both of us came to our mystery writing later in life.


She had been both a successful labor lawyer and one of the youngest individuals appointed as a U.S. Administrative Law Judge. I had won international awards in my two decades of corporate communications. Both of us then cut our careers short (hers as a judge was a lifetime appointment!) to become fulltime mystery writers. Since meeting five years ago, we’ve each published more books and participated in several organizations promoting crime novels. This year our paths crossed again as members of the national board of Mystery Writers of America, with Debra representing the Southeast Chapter as president, and me as president of the Southwest Chapter.

I always have fun when Debra is around, and also learn lots of interesting things. I know you will too. If you are lucky enough to be in Houston on January 4, swing by Murder by the Book and see us. And everyone can see our live feed (and/or later video) on Facebook. We guarantee a great time!

~~~~~~~

Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries. 
She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, two house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Her second book Rainy Day Women won the Silver Falchion for best mystery at Killer Nashville. Visit Kay at her website http://www.austinstarr.com/  
or on Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor
 
















Monday, December 16, 2019

Love in the Air

by Paula Gail Benson

When I first became serious about writing, a friend took me to a meeting of the Lowcountry Romance Writers (LRWA), a chapter of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), based in Charleston, South Carolina. At the time, LRWA was the one venue close to where I lived that consistently provided good information about the craft and business of writing. Although I didn’t write romance, I joined both the chapter and the national organization and I benefited a great deal from the programs and fellowship at LRWA.
http://lowcountryrwa.com/
By the beginning of last year, I had more options. I didn’t have to make the two hour drive to Charleston because I was actively involved in the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters in Crime that provides monthly programs and meets in the city where I live. In addition, I belonged to the Guppies, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime, and several other organizations that gave me the opportunity to learn about writing craft and business. I considered the matter carefully before renewing my membership with LRWA and RWA. Finally, I decided to give it one more year, even if I couldn’t make the meetings held in Charleston.

I’m so very glad that I did. LRWA decided to publish an anthology this year and allowed any of its members to participate. I had fifteen published short stories, mostly mysteries, but the first had hinted at a love story. Could I write another one?

The requirements were that the story had to be a romance taking place in Charleston, S.C., during the winter holidays. Any time period. 7,500 words (although that got extended later).

I faced two initial challenges: (1) could I write a credible romance, and (2) could I write a 7,500 word story (most of mine are in the 3,500 word range)?

https://www.amazon.com/Love-Lowcountry-Winter-Holiday-Collection-ebook/dp/B07XJZSRBT/ref=sr_1_1?crid=39SS7H3SQCNG5&keywords=love+in+the+lowcountry&qid=1576438516&s=digital-text&sprefix=love+in+the+%2Cdigital-text%2C171&sr=1-1
Through the great process set up by LRWA, I found I was able to do both. In addition, I had the opportunity to network with some wonderful writers who became beta readers, editors, and marketing directors. Romance writers have developed an incredible ability to reach their audiences. From the experience of working on this anthology, I’ve learned so much and made many valued friendships.

My story is a time travel tale about two English graduate students, both unlucky in their first relationships, finding love with each other when transported back to a Charleston where the literary figures they have been studying lived. I was amazed to discover how many famous persons happened to be in Charleston the day before Thanksgiving 1936. I hope you might read my story to learn about those connections!

In addition, the anthology features stories about ghosts, pirates, magic, new loves meeting, old loves reuniting, families working out how to spend the holiday together, and people who thought love couldn’t possibly be in their lives encountering it. Here’s a list of the other authors, among whom I’m very proud to be included: Amy Quinton, Angela Mizell, Carla Susan Smith, Casey Porter, Elaine Reed, Gracey Evans, Jen Davis, Jessie Vaughn, Michele Sims, Rebecca A. Owens, Robin Hillyer Miles, Savannah J. Frierson, and Zuzana Juhasova.

Are you looking for a great holiday gift or a virtual trip to Charleston? You can’t go wrong with Love in the LowcountryHere’s the link on Amazon.

P.S. This first volume has been so successful; a new one is in the works. Guess who signed up to write another romance?

Friday, December 13, 2019


Failing the DHG Challenge, or Did I? by Debra H. Goldstein



I’m disappointed. I failed the DHG Challenge.



In my October 11, 2019 blog post, I wrote: “I’m making a conscious decision to stop and announce, “Not me, anymore.” I’m going to go back to making time for myself – whether exercising, reading, or hanging out on the couch, I’m taking back a few hours for myself. Will you join me?”



Later in the blog, I asked people to comment or write what they planned to do and how they were doing on the challenge. Initially, the response was positive. Most people were going to make more time for reading. One said exercise and a few can best be described as making time to veg. Did they succeed? I don’t know because very few wrote again after their first or second responses. What I do know is how I succeeded.



I failed in that I only exercised twice, read four books and didn’t hang out that much on my couch
(maybe I did succeed at that one when I was home). What I did do was more PR than I want to think about for Two Bites Too Many during its launch weeks; visited my sister, nieces, and new grandniece in California when I added a few days to attending the Kensington cozy cons in Redondo Beach and San Diego; hosted the entire family for the weekend when we blessed my newest grandchild in temple; spent a week in Dallas at Bouchercon; sadly said good-bye to a younger friend who died unexpectedly; held other friends close having been reminded of how valuable my friend “sisters” are; and joined friends at the Biltmore estate to see what the house looked like lit for Christmas (a bucket list item). All in all, I was a very busy lady.



And you know what, I may have failed some aspects of the DHG Challenge, but I lived every moment of the past two months and realized the importance of sometimes sacrificing “me time.” I also understood that there were times I needed to make for myself – and I did. That balance for me is the key to mental and physical health.



So, maybe I did pass the DHG Challenge.