Friday, July 3, 2020

What Crow Says by Linda Rodriguez

WHAT CROW SAYS--a poem for National Poetry Month

I have a strong propensity for crows. They're birds that don't get the love and respect that other birds do because they're not as flashy in appearance and their voices are harsher, even though they are classified as songbirds.

Crows are intelligent, can make tools and remember the faces of those humans who have been a threat to them or their community, even have rituals to mourn their dead. They often bring us messages of wisdom from the Creator and show us the way when we need guidance.

This poem is the first in a sequence of mine called "First Cousins Speak." In these poems, some of our relatives in the larger world discuss humans, those troubled, puzzling late-come additions to Creation.



WHAT CROW SAYS

This is how gods are made.
The land is wild and free,
soil just beginning to cover the warm rock.
One day, the stone lights up
with the dreams of animals.
Out of the shining,
something other awakens.
These things happen so easily.
Nature is crowded,
everything intent on being warm.
Who knew what damage dreams could wreak?

This furless, clawless thing created
from whatever’s wasted or not wanted in us,
we watched it arise
walking on two feet like Bear
but so weak and slow.
Bear can outrun a horse,
kill a deer with one blow.
It should have died but didn’t.
Some tenacity kept it alive
and breeding and changing
the very world around it

We all spoke the same language
until that changed, too.
Now we’re left with consequences.
Now we are the other,
everything other to this being.
We are the constant target in the crosshairs.
Now we live with the burden of being seen,
living into our observed death.
Great plans never work out.
Chaos is forever seeping in.
All it takes is a crack in creation
like this to ruin everything.

Here is a wound no spell can heal.
We’ve tried them all.
Not even Spider can weave us whole again.
Spoilage creeps over the whole land.
Cherish your wildness.
It’s all we have left.
Live close to the edge.

Published in Dark Sister (Mammoth Publishing, 2018)

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Mysteries in a Series - In Order or No?

by Mary Lee Ashford aka 1/2 of Sparkle Abbey

Do you like to read books that are part of a series? And, if you enjoy reading series fiction, do you always read them sequentially? 

When asked most authors will say that each book stands alone and that they don't neccessarly need to be read in order. And, of course, that's the goal, right?

Whether it's the tenth book in the series or the first, the goal of the writer is always to create a story that can stand on it's own. A self-contained adventure that doesn't rely on the reader knowing something that's not on the page in the installment they're reading.

Many well-known authors with long-running series, such as the late Sue Grafton with twenty-five books from "A is for Alibi" to "Y is for Yesterday" or Janet Evanovich, who is headed for her twenty-sixth Stepanie Plum novel, have purposely created story arcs (and character arcs) of limited changes.

Others such as G.A. McKevett aka Sonja Massie, author of over seventy books, defty uses life changes and character growth to add richness to her plots. Her latest "And the Killer Is..." is on my bedside table right now.

And then there's yet another approach. The inimitable Laura Levine, simply tells you, the reader, in an aside what you need to know. "You'll have to read about when that happened in..." And though I was always taught that author intrusion is something to be avoided at all costs. I'll be darned if it doesn't work just fine when she does it.

You know, I have to say that I enjoy each of these different approaches to storytelling.

But I also have to admit that my preference is always to read a series in order. I like getting to know the people and the places as the series unfolds. Occasionally, I have started with a book that was in the middle of a series. Usually because a friend has shared it or it was part of a conference giveaway. But if I really enjoyed the story, I'm going to track down book one and start at the beginning. Otherwise, to me anyway, it would seem like starting with season three of Downton Abbey or any other great continuing television series. I want to be a part of the story from the beginning.

Is it just me?

How about you? Are you a reader that always wants to read a series in order or do you not care about reading the books strictly in order?

Mary Lee Ashford writes the Sugar & Spice mystery series for Kensington Books and also writes as half of the writing team of Sparkle Abbey, authors of the Pampered Pets series from Bell Bridge Books. 

GAME OF SCONES is the first book in the Sugar & Spice series.

DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS is the first book in the Pampered Pets series.

Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for both of these "first in the series" titles. Or if you already have them both, any book you're missing in either series!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Clicking Our Heels - Dreams

Clicking Our Heels – Dreams

Today, members of the gang admit whether they think things through in your dreams or are you a concrete thinker?

Robin Hillyer-Miles - In my dreams I see vivid colors and words and numbers. I trained myself to lucid dream at age eight. I can go into a dream, tell myself I am dreaming, and direct the dream to create a better story, change the entire dream to my liking, and write entire stories while asleep.

Julie Mulhern - A little bit of both. Answers to plot problems frequently show up in my dreams.

Dru Ann Love - I’m probably a little bit of both.

Juliana Aragon Fatula - I dream while sleeping, while awake, while eating, while driving…

Debra Sennefelder - I like to plan but I know life is unpredictable, so I like to be flexible. 

Kathryn Lane - Ideas for some of my short stories have come from dreams. One story, titled Behind the Murals, came from a dream about a painter who created murals on all the interior walls of his house. For my mystery novels, I tend to be a more concrete thinker since I plan out twists and turns, and surprises.

Debra H. Goldstein – I work out problems in my stories or novels in my dreams, but I rarely get a new story idea while sleeping though I regularly dream.

Shari Randall - That time upon waking, halfway between sleep and full consciousness, is a great time for dreaming a story.

Lynn McPherson - I'm a concrete thinker.

Paula Benson - I’m more of a concrete thinker. However, I don’t overlook insight that comes in dreams.

Sparkle Abbey:

Mary Lee Ashford: I sure wish I could. That would be awesome! If I'm having a story problem I often have to talk it out. So, I'll call Anita or one the other people in our critique group and talk through the problem and potential solutions. But sorting it out in my dreams, not so much. 

Anita Carter: If I’m thinking about my story before I fall asleep, I’ll dream about it or I’m able to work through a problem, but that’s not very often. I’m more of a take a shower, fold laundry, or take a walk kinda girl when I need to ponder an idea or problem.

T.K. Thorne- My dreams are often bizarre and rarely relate to what I am writing (that I can tell) but the best ideas come, like sleep, when I am daydreaming and not trying too hard.

 

 

 


Friday, June 26, 2020

Breaking the Code of Silence—by T.K. Thorne




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.



We are living History, a moment of angst and hope, of isolation and involvement, a time to look deep.

In the beginning of my novel, House of Rose, my police officer heroine shoots a man in the back. I deliberately placed Rose in that situation, because it put her in trauma, and that is how character is built. I wanted readers to experience that from her perspective, to be uncomfortable. Having to pull the trigger is not a comfortable place. I am a former police officer, and, like my fellows, I always dreaded having to make such a decision and having to live with it—right or wrong.


My fictional shooting is a circumstance very far from the blatant lynching of George Floyd, which—along with a dark cloud of other racial encounters and shootings—have stained the badge that so many wear proudly and with honor. For the first time in my memory, law enforcement officers have broken their “code of silence” and stepped forward to voice their outrage, some to walk and pray with protesters.

I am proud of those voices, but I understand they do not make black people feel safe.

I am not black and not trying to imply I understand what it feels like to be, but I am listening and trying to imagine that and to relate it to my own experiences. I am Jewish.

Recently, I watched a documentary on the growth of anti-Semitism in the world, including the U.S., and it awoke in me something that I try to ignore in my daily life, an underlying fear of being different and what might happen to me or those I love because of who I am and what I believe. The outpouring of sympathy and expressions of horror at the Tree of Life massacre did not make me feel safe either.

How are we not beyond this? I yearn for there to be no need for police to have to make awful decisions or even to be armed, only to perform their highest calling—solving problems, protecting and helping people. I yearn for soldiers to put down their weapons and say, “Ain’t gonna study war no more.”

I also research and write about history and know we have moved the needle significantly from the past, but we have not left the darkness behind. It is a chasm looming before us. I fear we are on a precipice as a country and world.

What can I do?

I am a writer, so I am doing what I do—writing about my pain, confusion, my passion for justice. Sometimes I do that through my characters, but sometimes I just have to struggle for the words in my own voice.






T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, roam wherever her interest and imagination take her.  Want a heads up on news about her writing and adventures (and receive two free short stories)? Click on image below.  Thanks for stopping by!


https://tkthorne.com/signup/

Thursday, June 25, 2020

This Land is My Land. Fifty-three percent estimate DNA Indigenous to Americas, Mexico, North America, Haiti and Dominican Republic, and Northern Africa. by Juliana Aragón Fatula





June 25, 2020

Juliana in 1971


Juliana and the Chicana Icon, Denise Chavez

Dear Reader,

I am disgusted by the turmoil in this country about race. The hate against people of color and their dark skin makes me outraged. I cannot pass for white. I am married to a white man and he cannot pass for Mexican Indian. We are a mixed-race couple living in southern Colorado, in Trump Country. This is my land.

I have hope for the future; however, my depression has changed to anger with a heavy heart filled with rage. The state of the country disturbs me for not just the U.S., but also the planet. I have discovered in my genealogy research many heartbreaking stories of my ancestors.

I am Chicana, fifth generation indigenous to Southern Colorado and my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents are buried in Villa Nueva, New Mexico, Alamosa, and Cañon City, Colorado. If you do not understand the difference between Chicana/Chicano and Mexican American and Hispanic, read some books and learn the difference.

My dark skin is from my Native American ancestors. My sister’s fair skin is from the Spanish ancestors. I don’t speak English only, but I don’t speak Spanish. I speak Spanglish. My ancestors had large families. My parents raised nine children in Southern Colorado. My cousins are in the hundreds. We are a tribe. We are Mexican Indians/Chicanos/Mestizos/mixed blood. We are not Hispanic. That is a governmental label. There are Chinese Chicanos, Black Chicanos, etc., and we come in all colors.

My ancestors were Navajo and Ute. I discovered documentation by Indian Agent, Lafayette Head, who sold Native American orphans and women to farmers. My great-grandfather was a four-year-old Navajo orphan sold to the Gomez family in Alamosa for food and horses. I discovered documentation that my great-great-grandmother, Abrana Quintana, was full-blooded Ute, but the publication does not state how she ended up married to a white man, a minister named Albert George Jacobs in Alamosa.

Her daughter, half-white and half-Ute, married my great-grandfather, Jose Gomez, a full-blooded Navajo, and my grandmother on my mother’s maternal side, Febe, was mixed blood. My mother’s father, Miramón Mondragon, was a Mexican Indian, but I haven’t found any documentation on where his ancestors originated, but they lived in Southern New Mexico and migrated to Alamosa in Southern Colorado during the 1800’s. He was most likely, Apache, Navajo, Pueblo, or Ute. That information alludes me. My mother’s side were dark skinned like me.

My father’s grandfather was Navajo, Diné from Villa Nueva, near Santa Fe. I don’t know how he came to be named Aragón, but my belief is that he was raised in one of the Catholic missionaries and was sold to a farmer named Aragón. My grandfather, Juan Aragón, married a Mexican Indian/Spaniard mixed blood. My father told me that his grandfather was a Navajo sheepherder and he didn’t speak English. I know their names but little else about their history. They were peasants and baptized, married, and buried Catholic. I hope that church records will lead me to more answers someday.

I’ve visited my father’s and grandparents’ birthplace Villa Nueva, New Mexico, my mother’s birthplace, Howard, Colorado; my grand-parents birthplace in Alamosa, Colorado and found only memories. It’s all I have. The Mexican Indian ancestors have very little documentation of their existence in the history books.

I can trace the European ancestor back to Hingham Norfolk, England. I discovered my mother’s ancestor, George Jacobs Sr., who was born in Salem, Massachusetts and was hung in 1692, during the Salem Witch Trials. George was brought to trial after being in chains for several weeks. When accused of being a wizard (male witch) by the magistrates, he stated “You tax me for a wizard; you may as well tax me for a buzzard.” And his last words were, Well burn me or hang me. I’ll stand in the truth of Christ”. His headstone at his grave states, “Here lies the body of George Jacobs, Sr., hanged August 19, 1692. His granddaughter, Mary Jacobs, was also hung. The remainder of this family fled to Maine and eventually headed to the West and landed in New Mexico.

My great-great-grandmother, Abrana Quintana, was full-blooded Ute and married Albert George Jacobs Sr. He worked as a Presbyterian minister in Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Pueblo Indians. Was she sold to him? I’ll never know. She had my great-grandmother who married my great-grandfather a full-blooded Navajo.

My Ancestory.com DNA estimates my indigenous blood at almost 53%. The remainder is a mixture of African, European, and Spanish. I’m mixed blood. We are all related. We all come from Africa.

I have faced racism and bigotry all my life because of my dark skin. I stand for Black Lives Matter. I am trying to educate my friends and loved ones why I stand for Black Lives Matter. A few of them tell me all lives matter. Claro que sí. Until the people no longer have to protest in the streets and chant no justice no peace, I will stand for Black Lives Matter. I will also stand for the rights of Indigenous people and all people of color. I will also stand for the LGBTQ community. I will stand for the rights of people who are marginalized and discriminated against and who are not treated equally.   

If you don’t understand Black Lives Matter, don’t ask your friend to explain it to you. Read a book. Buy a book. Buy a book from a bookstore that is operated by a person of color, like Denise Chávez. She is an activist in Las Cruces who operates the Casa Camino Real Bookstore and works with the refugees at the border.  In her own words her bookstore, “Casa Camino Real, began distributing books to local refugee hospitality centers where families would be sent after being released from the ICE facility in El Paso, en route to their sponsors somewhere in the U.S. by either bus or plane. I also began to distribute books on Wednesday mornings at Peace Lutheran Church, in Las Cruces. My husband and fellow book steward, Daniel Zolinsky, and I spread out a large table of donated books, one side for children, the other for adults. After I introduced myself and the program, families would join us. In time, I began storytelling sessions and language lessons. I knew then that I had found my call to service.”

Casa Camino Real, in Las Cruces, hosts Bookends, a program that allows visitors to creatively connect with the stories, art, and culture of the borderland region. The program is currently gathering stories, art, and photographs for a forthcoming anthology titled We Are Here to Represent. The anthology will address the voices of the refugee, asylum, and immigrant families and those who continue to work with and serve them.”  

“Casa Camino Real, an independent bookstore, collects books for Libros para el Viaje. Donors have included major publishing companies, including Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and many independent publishers and hundreds of bookstores in the U.S., Latin America, and New Zealand. Authors, artists, filmmakers, and countless readers have also donated. For more information about Libros para el Viaje, contact Denise Chávez at 575-523-3988, comezon09@comcast.net.”

Border Servant Corps sponsors a Border Immersion program, which brings high school and college students, as well as working adults, to the U.S.–Mexico border. Such programs enable visitors to speak with first-generation immigrants, visit local organizations working with immigrant populations, meet government officials to hear about border protection and law enforcement, learn about immigration law, and build an understanding of economic policies and realities affecting people on the border.”

Denise Chávez fights for justice daily at the border. She is my shero, and she gives me hope. I urge you to read about the real history of this country. Not the history that was fed to us in school. The true history of how this country was built on the backs of slaves and marginalized people of color.

Please educate yourself and your children so we can end this injustice and finally have peace in this country. No justice, no Peace.

And if you want to help Denise in her Libros para el Viaje or Border Servant Corps working on the border, please, please consider donating to their cause and don’t just pray for the man or woman with their neck under someone’s boot. Do something.  Thank you for continuing to follow my growth and progress as a human being. I am blessed to have you read my work. Until next month, Juliana. p.s. I still have a dream. Do you?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

In The Mood For Writing...

By Lynn McPherson

Today I want to address a question a lot of writers face at some point in their career. What should I do if I don’t feel like writing? The short answer is to write anyway. My opinion is not shared by everyone. For that reason I’ve decided to give you my thoughts on how to get it done and hope I will persuade those who disagree. Let’s get started.

1. Find your focus. Writing requires a clear head. With the turmoil and difficulties facing the world over the last few months, it is no doubt almost impossible to naturally fall into that sweet space where the thoughts clear and the imagination roams free. So how can one reach the level of concentration required to get their stories down on (virtual) paper? Here are a few ideas:
a) Meditate—I’m not talking hours, how about 2-5 minutes?
b) Get up early before the mind is clouded by news and chatter
c) Go for a walk. Simple yet effective.

2. Be Creative. Writing time doesn’t have to mean adding to the manuscript every time you sit down. Editing, Plotting, and Character Development are all essential elements that don’t always require the same level of concentration first drafts do. Why not use the time to work on other parts of your book if you’re not in the mood to push the story forward?

3. Eliminate distractions. For an hour a day, whether it’s early, late, or during your lunch break, sit down in front of your laptop (or whatever device you write on) and stare at it. Make sure your phone and wifi are switched off and put your email on hold. One hour. My guess is that blank screen won’t stay blank for long.

There you have it. My thoughts on how to write even when you don’t feel like it. I’m not saying you should write every day. That’s up to you. But it’s a good idea to figure out a schedule and stick to it—whether that means once a day, three times a week, or only on Sundays. What works for me is to get up with the sun and write every weekday morning. It gives me about 8-10 hours a week of concentrated writing time. It’s not a lot but it’s something.

What works for you?

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.  

Monday, June 22, 2020

Reading and Meal Deliveries by Dru Ann Love

Reading is my savior. Because I don’t have to commute to work, I miss that routine of an hour of reading before and after work. I lost my reading mojo when this global crisis started, as I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Words were just words to me.

I’m glad I got my reading mojo back, however, I’m struggling with it. Normally I would read two to three books in a week and now it takes me at least one week to finish a book. I think it’s the routine I miss.

No matter what, I continue to read and enjoy the stories being told for my reading pleasure.

How is everyone else doing with their reading?


So in between that, I've been trying out a few grocery delivery companies:
  • Amazon Fresh: I get 98% of what I ordered delivered.
  • Instacart: I get at least 85% of what I ordered delivered, so the shopping cart cost always fluctuate.


And home meal deliveries.
  • HelloFresh: The program wouldn't let me pick my own meal for the first time, so I had to settle on their choice and of the three, the only one I like was the flatbread and that is if I didn't put the stuff they wanted me to put on it. Plus I had to do prep work. And the reason for cancellation, they did not deliver the box to my apartment door. They left it where the mailbox are and if I would not have said, hey where are they and went down there, someone could have walked away with the box.
  • Now, I'm experimenting with Freshly now. The food is prepared and all I have to do is put it in the oven (it's meant for a microwave, which I don't have). In week one, I liked two of my choices. This week I picked something different and we'll see if I continue beyond that.
  • The other delivery companies all involved prep - yes, I'm lazy like that.

So, have any of you tried grocery deliveries or home meal deliveries?

Friday, June 19, 2020

Clue - the Movie


By Shari Randall



The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. It’s certainly changed my tv and movie streaming habits. I’ve never really binged before, movies or tv shows, that is. But now I’m binging with the best of them, and am currently on season four of Brooklyn 9-9. Yes, I’m looking for laughs. Back in March, I made a list of Oscar winners and other serious films that I intended to watch. Have I watched Parasite or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Nope. Am I catching up with Agatha Raisin and What We Do In the Shadows? You bet.

After working through as many free options on Netflix as possible, my daughter mentioned that there was a movie version of the Clue board game. How did I not know this? One of my favorite games was made into a movie? With a cast starring one of my favorite actresses, the magnificent Madeline Kahn? In Clue the Movie, Kahn plays Mrs. White, a mysterious widow – not the cook/housekeeper of the original game.* On a dark and stormy night, she and several other suspicious characters are invited to a dinner party at the mansion of Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). Boddy's butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), assigns each guest a colorful name: Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), and Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren).

Before watching, I checked reviews. The critics were not kind, with most concluding that the game was more fun than the movie. Rotten Tomatoes said: “A robust ensemble of game actors elevate Clue above its schematic source material, but this farce’s reliance on novelty over organic wit makes its entertainment value a roll of the dice.” Translation? The “plot” doesn’t make sense, the jokes are of the boob, dog poo, and rimshot variety, and it could have been funnier. What does makes the film fun? The stellar cast flinging dignity out the window and giving the less-than-stellar material the old college try, plus three different endings. 

Why three endings? Different versions of the ending ensured movie audiences wouldn’t be able to give away the solution to the murder. (The streaming version has all three endings.) Though the solution brought to mind Raymond Chandler’s take down of Murder on the Orient Express (“only a halfwit could guess it”), I had to admire the writers.

Three endings! Granted, they were wildly, manically convoluted endings. But every writer knows devising one satisfying ending is hard work. Three? The movie isn’t Oscar material, but I gave Clue four stars for effort.

Have you played Clue? What shows and movies have you been bingeing lately? 

*Parker Brothers sold Clue to Hasbro. In 2016, Hasbro replaced Mrs. White, the housekeeper, with Dr. Orchid, a scientist specializing in plant toxicology. https://www.thewrap.com/clue-mrs-white-dr-orchid-hasbro/

Shari Randall is the author of the heartwarming and humorous Lobster Shack Mystery series. The first, CURSES, BOILED AGAIN, won the Agatha Award for Best First Mystery.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Calling Our Readers

Calling Our Readers

By Cathy Perkins

The days leading up to a new release are always hectic for an author. Add in a nerve-wracking pandemic, wrenching racial and political crises, and life can feel downright overwhelming. Other members of our group have posted thoughtful discussions about this turmoil and I hope you will read through those posts and think about their words. Whatever your personal beliefs are, may you be a force for change, a positive note in the chaos. 

Ready for an escape? Without further ado, I bring you Calling for the Money

Cover of Calling for the MoneyHolly Price has it all—or does she?

Holly finally has the dream job at the top of her field, the money and prestige she’s worked so hard to attain. But when a friend disappears while Holly is working a make-or-break career assignment, she’s drawn into another criminal investigation. A ruthless con ring will stop at nothing to extort its victims and her friends are directly in their cross-hairs.

While she's searching for her missing friend, behind the scenes she’s wrestling with a backstabbing boss, a hurtful family situation, and the devastating worry she’s made a massive life choices mistake. When the gangsters target Holly, however, facing certain death has a way of making her reevaluate her life.

Now Holly must confront her painful past in order to redefine her future...and hope she lives long enough to see it.

Available at all major online retailers: https://books2read.com/CallingForTheMoney

Note, each book in the Holly Price Mystery Series is a standalone novel or novella. Although these books can be read individually, they are best enjoyed chronologically.

Holly Price Mysteries:
So About the Money
Double Down
In It for the Money
Calling for the Money
Malbec Mayhem