Monday, February 18, 2019

I HEART The Stiletto Gang!

by Paula Gail Benson

In this lovely month, I have to admit, I adore my Stiletto Gang blogging partners.

What a truly delightful group with which to be affiliated!

My opportunity to join this blogging band came from two outstanding writers: Linda Rodriguez, acclaimed mystery author, poet, and writing teacher, and Debra Goldstein, former judge, award nominated short story writer, and author of several mystery series, including the new Sarah Blair One Taste Too Many. Not only do I respect these wonderful women, but I feel incredibly lucky to count them among my friends. So many times they have come through with a word of encouragement to me when it was so needed. And, I love reading their work!

I was fortunate enough to room with Debra and Kay Kendall at Killer Nashville the year Kay’s novel Rainy Day Women (how could you not love a book with that title?) received two Silver Falchion awards: (1) best mystery/crime novel (presented by Anne Perry), and (2) best book by an attending author (presented by conference founder Clay Stafford). On the night of the banquet, I had called it an early evening, but understand when they came in from celebrating that I raised an arm in salute before returning to sleep. We continued partying after we all woke the next day.

Debra introduced me to T.K. Thorne’s beautiful writing by sending me a copy of T.K.’s Noah’s Wife. T.K. tells history in an involving manner and her descriptions bring you right to the heart of the story.

Shari Randall and I got to know each other by blogging with Writers Who Kill. We met in person at Malice Domestic. This year, I am so proud to be celebrating her Agatha nomination for best first novel, Curses, Boiled Again!, an Allie Larkin/Lobster Shack mystery. I’m also glad that we share past careers as librarians!

Bethany Maines continues to amaze me with her boundless enthusiasm and the scope of her work. As Publishers’ Weekly put it: “Maines deftly combines humor with action.” You go girl, and keep going!

I had the privilege of moderating a Malice Domestic panel with the Sparkle Abbey team of Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. What a Dynamic Duo! I loved hearing about their writing process and they are so much fun.

Bless her, Dru Ann Love, brings joy to so many people just by signing into Facebook early each morning with a hello and happy message. Her blog has spotlighted so may fine authors and been nominated for numerous awards. She is the proud recipient of the 2017 MWA Raven. But, I’ll never forget, when she made a trip to Charleston, S.C., she asked me to join her with Dorothy McFalls for a day of fabulous exploration and food. Thank you, Dru!

USA Today bestselling author Julie Mulhern writes the Country Club Murders and has just begun a new Poppy Fields Adventures series. A.B. Plum has an impressive list of psychological thrillers. J.M. Phillippe made my holiday season with her paranormal holiday novella, The Christmas Spirit, about Charlene Dickenson, who must navigate her way through an unexpected spirit life. It’s a terrific read.

Cathy Perkins and I share a background of being raised in South Carolina. Cathy now lives in Washington and writes financially-based mysteries. Her work has won several awards, including the distinguished Claymore at Killer Nashville.

Judy Penz Sheluk and Lynn McPherson are our Canadian contingent. Judy and I have been fellow Guppies (members of the online Sisters in Crime group that originated to celebrate the “great unpublished”). I’m so impressed that in addition to her own writing, she also runs Superior Shores Press, her own imprint. Lynn McPherson writes the light-hearted Izzy Walsh mystery series that takes place in the 1950s on the New England coast. Her second novel, The Girls Whispered Murder, came out in September.

Colorado poet extraordinaire Juliana Aragon Fatula has just joined us. I love what Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street, says about Juliana’s work: “[she]writes histories so terrifying they feel as if they were written with a knife. . . . Her fearlessness is inspirational.” Wow. I can’t wait to read Red Canyon Falling on Churches.

So here is my Valentine’s message to my terrific blogging partners:

Red heels in the morning
Means a day of nonconforming.

Red heels at night
Means a dancing invite.

With stilettos of red
No one can be blue
I’ll follow the thread
Of your writing bold and true
And, don’t let me finish without saying, I heart each of YOU!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Book Review: A Different Kind of Fire by Suanne Schaefer

by Shari Randall

My preferred genre to read is mystery but occasionally I branch out, usually into historical fiction. I especially enjoy novels about women breaking barriers and finding their voice. Gilded Age stories and stories of artists are also my go to’s, so debut novelist Suanne Schaefer’s A Different Kind of Fire was right up my alley.

Schaefer’s passionate tale of love, art, and first wave feminism centers on Ruby Schmidt, a talented artist who leaves her family and fiancé, Bismarck in Truly, Texas, to attend art school in Philadelphia in 1891. Despite her obvious talent, Ruby struggles against the restrictions placed on women, not just by society but also by her art school. She finds solace in the bohemian world of her fellow artists, and begins a lifelong love affair with Willow, daughter of a wealthy Philadelphia family. 

When Willow’s family discovers the affair, Ruby is left destitute on the streets of Philadelphia. She becomes pregnant by a volatile Italian artist and marries him, but when he leaves her, she is forced to return to West Texas, to face those she left behind.

Ruby is a gutsy heroine - headstrong, determined, driven to pursue her art but longing to reconcile her love for art, love for her family, passion for Bismarck, and her longing for Willow – the “different kinds of fire” of the title.

The love scenes are erotic and explicit. Schaefer’s thorough research into and knowledge the art world of Gilded Age Philadelphia provides fascinating context, and her love of her West Texas roots is evident. 

Ruby’s struggle to reconcile her passions – for art, for those she loves – made for an enthralling read. 

I’m already looking forward to Schaefer’s next book, Hunting the Devil, about a biracial American physician who gets caught up in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. 

You can learn more about Suanne at her website, The Art of Words.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Dillon Beach, California and my first experience conducting a Writing Workshop by Juliana Aragón Fatula

My Chicana Garden of Eden 2018

Dear Reader.

I have an update on the post I wrote in 2016. My favorite cousin, my sister, my friend, Aimee Medina Carr, was my first attempt at helping another writer break into the world of publishing. It was at Dillon Beach, California that we worked on her first novel and dreamed of someday getting it published. I'm proud to announce that on September 24, 2019 her first book, River of Love will be released by Homebound Publications.

Aimee's blog page can be found at the following link:

Juliana and Aimee at Dillon Beach, CA

The week we spent writing at the beach has come full circle and now she can add her name to the long list of Chicana writers. Her novel is a coming of age about two young Chicana's growing up in Southern Colorado. It's not memoir but the characters are eerily similar to me and Aimee

So please check out her website and her publisher and watch for updates to her release. I will keep you posted to her journey as a first time writer. 

Dillon Beach is a hideaway that sits along the Pacific Ocean near San Francisco. It is one of my favorite places in the world. It was at Dillon Beach that I held my first writing workshop. My sister, Aimée, listened to an interview by Sandra Cisneros on NPR and called me from her home in California very excited. She wasn’t making sense. She threw out words like writing on the beach, workshop, Sandra, me, her, the Pacific Highway, Airstream, seals, fishermen, Bodega Bay, and the River of Love.

She invited me to visit her in California for a couple of weeks. Relatives and fish stink after three days, but we were more than family, we were best friends for 45 years. She kept the notes from high school that I wrote to her and we had a grand time laughing about how silly we were in the 1970’s. Apparently, I was a writer even back then, I had no idea I would become a member of the Sandra Cisneros Macondo Writers Workshop or that Sandra would become my mentor and friend. I told my husband, “I’m going to a writing retreat in California and if you know what’s good for you – help me pack.” He was happy to send me away. Two weeks of eating out and watching sports and hunting shows on TV for him and a wife coming home rested, grateful, and happy.

I enjoyed my train ride across the west and wrote about what I viewed out the window. The Rocky Mountains past Denver, the Utah Canyons, the wild Mustangs, the rural train stops in small towns. 

We drove to Dillon Beach along the Pacific Coast highway. It was July and the eucalyptus trees gave off a magical scent. The sand between my toes, walking on the beach in sunrise and sunset hours, visiting small towns on the coast for shopping and dining out, sharing stories, listening to our favorite Neil Young songs, dancing in the moonlight. It was a transcendent awakening.

I worked on my manuscript, Gathering Momentum: A Spiritual Memoir. I read poetry and meditated. I walked alone on the beach and watched baby seals swimming out to sea.

At night, the solar panels would shut down the electricity and we switched to lanterns and candles. It was sublime. Our time was spent enjoying the fresh sea air, and the sky full of birds. I learned how to coach someone writing their first novel, she learned how hard it is to write well. I shared Sandra’s writing wisdom: “If you’re going to write, don’t be good, be great.” We set our expectations high.

At the end of the two weeks I rode the train home to Colorado and relived the experience as I wrote in my journal. It was the happiest two weeks I’d had in a long time. To be with someone you love, with the freedom to write or read all day long uninterrupted, to walk the beach, collect sea stones and starfish, to read poetry and meditate, to be free to be a writer; it was the perfect atmosphere and we worked our asses off.  

Aimée finished her manuscript, River of Love and began submitting short stories on my recommendation. You’ll never get published if you don’t submit. She has helped more than she knows. She gave me confidence when I had none. She encouraged me with her words and wisdom and gave me a room of my own in Dillon Beach and I will forever be grateful.  
I have other news about my work. The poet laureate of Colorado, Joseph Hutchinson, invited me to submit work for a project he created for educators K-12. It is a colorado encyclopedia with search words for teachers and students to find poetry by local poets in Colorado. I am proud to be part of this great program. I have added a link to the site. I hope you will take a peek at what I've been up to with my writing.ón-fatula

Juliana Aragón Fatula is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, founded by Sandra Cisneros, which is a group of dedicated and compassionate writers who view their work and talents as part of a larger task of community-building and non-violent social change. Crazy Chicana in Catholic City  and  Red Canyon Falling on Churches, was published by Conundrum Press, Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press published her chapbook, The Road I Ride Bleeds. Her poetry has appeared in Open Windows III, El Tecolote and Pilgrimage; she is currently writing a mystery. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Galactic Dreaming

by Bethany Maines

The sci-fi fairy tale anthology Galactic Dreams Volume 2, featuring my novel The Seventh Swan will be released next week. Today, I'm interviewing one of the the other authors featured in the anthology: Karen Harris Tully.  Karen generally writes sci-fi YA novels, including The Faarian Chronicles trilogy, and creates elaborate worlds for her novels aided by her bachelor’s in political science and economics. We met through a mutual friend and I have had the pleasure of beta reading some of her manuscripts.

For the Galactic Dreams series, myself, Karen, and fellow Stiletto Gang author J.M. Phillippe, were given the task of creating a literary universe that could be shared across the anthology series. We have to agree on the history of the universe as well as technology and vocabulary.  Each of us is venturing into unexplored territory, whether it's by sharing a world, trying out the sci-fi genre (that's me!), or attempting to write on a shorter deadline than normal, the Galactic Dream series has been challenging for all of us. I'm asking Karen about some of the challenges that came with writing as part of the Galactic Dream Team.

What is the best/worst part about sharing a universe with two other writers?
KHT: Like Cerberus, three heads are simply better than one. I may come up with some good ideas, but when I'm lucky enough to put those together with the imagination brainpower of JM Phillippe and Bethany Maines, well, the stuff we come up with as a trio is mind-blowing. And when our brains flow and mesh together to create something bigger, that I never could have imagined on my own, that's the fun part. Of course, the worst is when they don't like my amazing ideas! As if that could ever happen, right? ;)
BMM: You have great ideas—we're probably missing out on sheer awesomeness whenever one gets voted down.

How do you develop the technology in your books?
KHT: The ideas, you mean? They come from extrapolating real, amazing s**t that is happening right now! I am so fascinated with CRISPR gene editing for example. I love science news and listen to a lot of NPR and science podcasts. I read online articles about new tech that scientists and companies are developing that isn't even out yet, from gadgets and tech to clean up our oceans, to weapons of the future, to tiny interstellar disk probes on shiny, laser powered sails, and pretty much everything else. I think to myself, what happens with this technology next, what does this look like in a hundred or a thousand years? And then I write it in. 
BMM: I'm interested in the tech, but I think the social ramifications of a technology become more interesting for me. I think you're more science-minded than me. Which is beneficial.  Definitely don't leave me in charge of the tech.

Do you think fairy tales adapt better to sci-fi than other genres (and if so, why)?
KHT: Of course! Because what used to be magic, strictly relegated to the realm of fantasy, is becoming real, through technology. Waving a magic wand is too easy. Making miracles happen in real life, that's science. I love it most when science and fiction, fantasy and imagination, all crash together to create something new, weird, and wonderful.
BMM: I completely agree with this, but also, I think some of the disjointed plotting of fairy tales can more easily be explained in sci-fi because... aliens.  :D

The core of your plot is a mystery of who is behind an impending war—do you approach that plot line differently than the sci-fi portions? 
KHT: I think all good sci-fi starts off with a mystery. Strange stuff is happening in a weird location and the science and imagination of that fascinates me. But, without the mystery of why the drama is happening, and who's behind it all, fighting the alien horde would just be visceral stimulation without a purpose, you know?
BMM: That's right. You heard it here, folks. Even the sci-fi people admit... Everything is Mystery!

Many thanks to Karen Harris Tully for being interviewed today!

3 novels, 1 low price
Release: 2/19/19
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, 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 fourth degree 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 YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Snow, Rain, Rainbows, and Writing Fiction

By AB Plum

Taxes. Traffic. Too many people. Californians departing the state routinely cite these facts of life as reasons for leaving. Few—in the San Francisco Bay area at least--ever mention the weather. Our sunny days and mild temperatures rival the Mediterranean. In other words, expect the same o’ same o’ temps and sunshine day after day. (OBTW, we do have four seasons in the Bay area).

This year, though, we’ve seen rain every day for the past month. Not the kind of gully washers Florida and other parts of the country experience, but slow, steady downfall that has turned our world vibrant shades of green. And given us some amazing rainbows. Every color is distinct—and dangerous because too many drivers stop and gape.

Mosey up into the foothills a few hundred feet and find enough snow for at least one good snowball or a teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy snowperson—without the sub-zero temps.

What do any of these observations and comments have to do with writing?

They remind me of how often I read novels with little or no mention of the weather (considered borrrring, right?). Personally, I like to use the weather as a metaphor for a relationship or a specific place or a cosmic reminder of how insignificant we humans are. I like trying to capture moments of being wet or sweaty or freezing or burning up while the main character tries to overcome an obstacle unrelated to the weather. 

One of the joys of writing fiction for me lies in amplifying a snowstorm, making it the “storm of the century.” I love writing about rains that have characters checking on how to build an arc—or ready to lose their minds because of the constant hammering on the roof. One of my favorite scenes is a heat wave that drives the overheated couple into her swimming pool. The water fairly sizzles.

More rain predicted here this afternoon, and I plan to go search for a rainbow. I need to write more about rainbows.

What about you? Do you find weather scenes boring? Do you prefer minimal weather descriptions? Do you have a favorite scene featuring the weather?

****AB Plum lives in the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay—within the shadow of Google, which returned a surprising number of hits for the search “writing weather scenes in fiction.”

Barbara Plum, AB’s alter ego, used the tornado in The Wizard of Oz as inspiration for a “new twist on love and the red slippers” in her Weird Magic Trilogy.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hitting Delete

This path—writing—it’s not linear. Sometimes the way forward is shrouded in mist. Sometimes a fork appears out of nowhere. And, sometimes, I follow the wrong trail.

It would be nice if I realized the wrongness of the trail right away. I’m not that lucky.

And so, I recently tossed most of a book.

I won’t go into the angst that went into that decision or the number of days I spent looking for something to salvage. In the end, the wrong path is the wrong path.

Today, I thought I’d share with you what the wrong path (in all its unedited glory) looks like…

Maybe Grace liked the sunny yellow hats and coats. Maybe she liked the symmetry of twelve little girls in two straight lines. Maybe she related to a distant, doting father. For whatever reason, my daughter’s favorite book, since the time she was old enough to turn the pages, was Madeline.
            I liked Miss Clavel, the woman tasked with the thankless job of keeping order.
            I was definitely channeling Miss Clavel when I opened my eyes in the darkness. An uneasy feeling had pulled me from a sound sleep. Something was not right!
            My feet were on the carpet and I was halfway across the bedroom before I remembered Grace was spending the night with her friend, Peggy.
            I’d awakened Max and he was yawning.
            “Should I call?”
            “I think I should call.”
            Max settled his head back onto his paws. He had no opinion.
            I glanced back at the clock radio on my bedside table. The numbers glowed a soft yellow.
            I dithered. It was too late—or too early—to call. I was being ridiculous.
Something was not right.
I picked up the receiver and dialed.
            “Hello.” Blythe was talking but she was at least half-asleep—at least her voice was.
            “Blythe, it’s Ellison Russell. I am sorry to call at this hour, but I have the most horrible feeling something has happened. Are the girls all right?”
            “How would I know?” Blythe sounded noticeably more awake.
            “They’re at your house.”
            “No.” She was fully awake now. “They’re at yours.”
            My stomach lurched. “They went to a concert and Grace assured me they’d be back at your house by half past twelve.”
            “They went to a movie and are spending the night with you.”
            My stomach tied itself in a complicated, painful knot. “I’ll call you back.”
            I dropped the phone in the cradle and flew down the hall to Grace’s room—Grace’s empty room. With Max at my heels, I descended the back stairs, raced to the family room, and flipped on the lights.
            Grace wasn’t there either. A choking fear took hold of my throat, cutting off the supply of air to my lungs.
            Brnng, brnng.
            I lunged for the phone. “Hello.”
            “Mrs. Russell?” asked a stranger’s voice.
            “Yes,” I croaked. “This is she.”
            “My name is Mary Jansen. I’m calling from St. Mark’s.”
            The hospital. My knees crumpled and I slid to the floor. “What’s happened?”
            “You need to come.”
            “What’s happened? Is Grace all right?”
            I waited. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t move. I prayed with every cell in my body. Please, let her be all right.
            “She’s fine but we had to give her a sedative.”
            “A sedative?”
            “She was hysterical.”
            Grace didn’t get hysterical. “Why?”
            “Her friend—”
            “No. Her friend, Debbie. She found her—”
            She found her? I’d found enough dead bodies to know what came next. “I’m on my way.”
            I hung up. I should have asked what happened to Debbie. I should have called Blythe. I should have checked on Peggy. But panic pushed those thoughts from my mind until I was in the car, speeding down dark streets toward the hospital.
            I parked in the Emergency Room lot and exploded through the doors.
            The waiting room was dotted with people who were so sick they’d ventured out at two in the morning. I felt their pained gazes settle on me as I ran to the check-in desk. “I’m here about my daughter, Grace Russell. Where is she?”
            A woman with tired eyes looked up from some paperwork. “If you’ll have a seat, I’ll check with doctor.”
            There was no way I could quietly wait. Not for so much as a second. I had to see Grace, whole and unhurt, right away. “I can’t wait.”
She peered over the top of her glasses at the half-full waiting room. “It won’t be long.”
            I didn’t know the woman sitting behind the desk. She didn’t know me. It was time for the big guns.
            “My mother is Frances Walford, she’s the chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees—”
            The poor woman paled.
            “I don’t want to call her—” that was the understatement of the decade “—but I will. I need to see my daughter. This instant.”
            The woman stared at me as if she couldn’t quite believe Frances Walford’s daughter would fly into the hospital in the middle of the night, her hair an unholy mess, her limbs covered in paint-splattered blue jeans and a wrinkled shirt. Mother was always perfectly turned out.
            The woman stared an instant too long.
            I reached for the phone. “Nine for an outside line?”
            That got her moving. “This way, Mrs. Russell.”
            Ignoring the resentful gazes of those still waiting, I followed her into the Emergency Room.
            She led me past bustling nurses and slow-moving doctors to a waxed curtain the color of old oatmeal. A uniformed police officer pushed out of a chair positioned next to it.
A police officer? The blood raced away from my head in a giant whoosh and remaining upright was suddenly a challenge. “What happened?”
“You’re Mrs. Russell?” he asked.
“Yes. What happened to my daughter?” I reached for the curtain.
He reached too. “If we could talk a moment—”
“After I see Grace.” I yanked back the curtain.
Grace lay on the hospital bed with a blanket drawn up to her chin. Her eyes were closed and she snored softly. I breathed my first real breath since I’d called Blythe. Grace was all right. Unharmed. Alive. And I was going to kill her.
Now I turned to the police officer. “What is going on?”
He shifted his weight and frowned. “Your daughter and a few of her friends snuck into a bar.”
“A bar?” I was definitely going to kill her.
“Have you heard of Dirty Sally’s?”
Did I look like the kind of woman who frequented a place called Dirty Sally’s? I smoothed my messy hair. “No.”
“The girls say they went to listen to a band.”
Grace was as good as dead. And grounded. And she was never, ever spending the night at a friend’s house again. She’d be putting her dead, grounded-for-life head on her own pillow every night until she went to college. “How did they get from the bar to the hospital?”
“One of the girls your daughter was with got herself into some trouble.”
“Debbie Clayton.” It figured. Of all Grace’s friends, Debbie was the flightiest. “Is she all right?”
“Your daughter found her in the alley behind the bar.” The expression on his face was as serious as the punishments I planned for Grace.
Found her? I tightened my hands into fists. “What happened to Debbie?”
“The doctors are with her now.”
At least she wasn’t dead. I sank onto an empty chair. “What happened?”
A ruddy hue stained his cheeks. “Your daughter says Miss Clayton was raped.”

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures (book three, Fields' Guide to Voodoo, releases February 28th).

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.