Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Grief and the Holidays

by J.M. Phillippe

Every year when the holidays come, I have to brace myself. I know that as the decorations go up and the celebrations begin, my frustration tolerance will shrink, my patience get strained. The stress of the holidays will feel heavy on me, not just because of all the prep I have to do and all the gifts I have to buy -- but because of all the gifts I won't be buying.

For those who have lost loved ones, the holidays are always bittersweet. All the joy of the season is tinged with this deep sadness, a hard nostalgia that shows up in every ritual and tradition. There are also those who are physically far from their loved ones, and those who just feel isolated and alone, not able to connect to others during the season.

Bad news hits harder at the holidays in part because the expectation for joy is so high. It's difficult to make space for your own sadness while surrounded by others' celebrations, and difficult to reach out to others when you feel like they are occupied with family and other obligations.

For me, I have to recognize why I feel tired all the time, why my energy drops lower than I want it to be, and why I struggle to connect to some parts of the season: grief is taking up space in my heart and body, and whether I acknowledge it or not, I carry the weight of loss with me in every activity I do.

So I acknowledge it, as much as I can, and make space for it along with the decorations I put up around my home. Because I don't think sadness and joy are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that to feel one deeply we must allow ourselves to feel the other just as deeply.

So as we head into the home stretch of the holidays and another transition into a new year, I hope those of you dealing with heartache of any kind know that you are not alone, that it's okay to be sad, and that it's also okay to do the happy things anyway. Feel all the things.

And I hope you have as good a holiday season you can have, and that the new year brings you as many joyful moments as possible.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of the novels Perfect Likeness and Aurora One and the newly released The Christmas Spirit, a story about a Christmas ghost finding joy even after life.  J.M. has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a clinical social worker in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free time binge-watching quality TV, drinking cider with amazing friends, and learning the art of radical self-acceptance, one day at a time.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Special Christmas Gift from a Special Person

by Paula Gail Benson

D. Reece Williams, III
I met Reece Williams when I had the privilege of working with him on a federal court of appeals case. He immediately impressed me as being the quintessential lawyer and Southern gentleman. As we sat waiting for the judges to enter the courtroom and the arguments to begin, I noticed him reading a small book. It was a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Reece, who traces his family to Lancaster, South Carolina, in territory where Andrew Jackson was born and spent his early life, has always been a supporter of arts and community organizations. I’ll never forget him coming to a program I presented with friends at the Museum of the Waxhaws and Andrew Jackson Memorial as well as a play I wrote and directed for my church. He has served as a member of the S.C. Philharmonic board and asked me to join him as a guest on the front row for a performance. After being able to see the pianist and orchestra up close, I told him, he’d spoiled me forever for seats further back.

He adores his wife, children, and grandchildren, and has told me he would be content for all of them to live under the same roof with him. Also, he is an avid traveler and food connoisseur. Before I take a trip, I try to consult Reece, who always graciously tells me about the places he has found most interesting to dine in and see. I’ve never been disappointed in his recommendations.

This past week, Reece was in the news. When those of us who know him heard the story, we weren’t surprised.

After law school, Reece purchased a $250 Rolex watch, which he used in his adventures with flying and sailing. The Rolex required a periodic $200 maintenance, so when he later found a less expensive watch that provided all the extra time keeping functions he needed, he put aside his Rolex.

Recently, he came across the watch and took it to a jeweler to be serviced. Amazingly, he learned he had a collectible. The appraised value was almost $40,000.

For many years, Reece had worked with the local Salvation Army and served on its board. I’ve heard him say that he has seen people he has known in other walks of life become dependent upon the Salvation Army’s services.

Reece asked the jeweler to find a buyer for his watch. When that was done, he gave the watch to the Salvation Army.

To Reece, the gift just made sense. To his friends and colleagues, it was simply quintessential Reece. Here's an article with more information about his donation:
Merry Christmas, Reece, and happy holidays! Thank you for the many gifts you’ve given us.

Friday, December 14, 2018

My Little (Southern) (New England) Town by Barbara Ross and Debra H. Goldstein

It’s axiomatic that settings in cozy mysteries are a part of the subgenre’s appeal. In the ideal cozy series, the reader mentally moves into the series setting. People who don’t read cozies often think the towns are generic, but actually, a setting for a cozy has to specific. Even if the town is fictional, it needs to feel like it could exist for the magic to work.

Debra H. Goldstein and Barbara Ross both recently released mystery novels. Debra’s One Taste Too Many, the debut in her Sarah Blair Mystery series, takes place in Wheaton, Alabama. Barbara Ross’s Steamed Open, the seventh in her Maine Clambake Mystery series, takes place in Busman’s Harbor, Maine.

Recently, Debra and Barb got together to talk about the differences between their small southern and New England towns.

Barb: First off, Debra, congratulations on your series debut. So exciting!

Before we dive in, tell the readers something about Wheaton, Alabama. Is it a real town? Is it near
a bigger metropolitan area?

Debra: Thank you!  Except for the bridge and river walk I stole from Wetumpka, Alabama, Wheaton
is a composite Southern town. A center square houses its Alabama crystalline white marble public
buildings, including city hall, the library, and the fire and police departments. Standing in the square, one can turn in three directions to find where most of Wheaton’s five thousand residents reside. While married, Sarah and Bill lived in a big home on Main Street, with his mother in the carriage house behind them. The streets in the fourth direction contain businesses, including the law firm where Sarah works and the strip center with the restaurant where her twin is employed. There is a big city fight going on as to whether Main Street should be rezoned as an entertainment district.

For contrast and excitement, I located Wheaton about fifteen minutes from Birmingham, the largest city in Alabama. Birmingham has more than two hundred thousand people and has become a foodie destination

How about Busman’s Harbor? Does it being a tourist town have any impact on your series?

Barb: Busman’s Harbor, Maine is also fictional, though it has a lot in common with Boothbay Harbor, Maine where my husband and I owned a house for many years. As the name indicates, the town is on the water and the primary occupations are lobstering and tourism. The populations swells to over 20,000 in the summer, but is only a little over 2,000 in the off-season. Midcoast Maine is beyond the more populated southern part of the state, but it’s still a lot more populated than other parts of Maine

Being a tourist town has a huge impact on the Maine Clambake Mysteries. My protagonist, Julia Snowden, runs a tourist business, an authentic Maine clambake. One of the really fun things about writing the series is the effect the seasons have on the stories. One thing my town has that I imagine yours doesn’t is big snowstorms. There’s one at the climax of the fifth book, Iced Under.

Does being Alabama-based have any significant effect on your series?

Debra: As you noted, we don’t get many snowstorms. Every few years, though, we have an ice storm that completely closes everything and, unfortunately, we have a tornado alley. Other than the weather, being Alabama based influences my character portrayal. My protagonist, Sarah Blair, speaks slower and softer than, for example, a New Yorker. Many residents, like her mother, are colorful story tellers; all of them take religion, politics, friendship, loyalty, and their animals very seriously; and, none, except the Sarah we meet in One Taste Too Many, have a problem looking anyone straight in the eye and saying, “Bless your heart” before delivering an expression of sympathy or an insult. 

Do your characters reflect your region of the country?

Barb: I’m laughing because the main regional trait all my characters have in common is that they don’t feel the need to chat when they run into one another in the grocery store, and they don’t butt into (or even comment on) each other’s business, which is occasionally handy when I don’t want Julia to get information too quickly. My Main-i-est character is Gus, the proprietor of a restaurant and Julia’s landlord. Gus only serves people who he knows, no tourists. He is based on a real person who really did that. Julia’s mother comes from a wealthy summer family, which is another kind of Mainer.

What about the food in your series? Is it regional?

Debra: For dishes prepared by Chefs Emily, Marcus, or Jane, I incorporate a lot of farm to table fresh ingredients, but there are some recipes that must be breaded and fried. Sarah, being allergic to her kitchen, uses as many pre-prepped short-cut foods and methods as she can find.

Barb: The other difference to my mind is the food. In addition to the clambake, the recipes in my books focus on seasonal, local ingredients, so lots of fish, chowder and wild Maine blueberries.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Barbara Ross is the author of seven Maine Clambake Mysteries. The latest, Steamed Open, was released December 18, 2018. Barbara’s novellas featuring Julia Snowden are included along with stories by Leslie Meier and Lee Hollis in Eggnog Murder and Yule Log Murder. Barbara and her husband live in Portland, Maine. Visit her website at http://www.maineclambakemysteries.com

Steamed Open by Barbara Ross

It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?

Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of One Taste Too Many, the first of Kensington’s new Sarah
Blair cozy mystery series. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Find out more about Debra at www.DebraHGoldstein.com

One Taste Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah, her cat, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and Emily wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Taste-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719476

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How I Learned the Hard Way by Juliana Aragon Fatula

This week I taught  my Bridging Borders students how to write poetry. I'm a poet and I know it. I'm a good poet. Maybe even a great poet. But I'm not yet a great mystery writer. I had to learn the hard way how much work, effort, determination, and skill the great writers, the master writers use to write a great mystery.

Well, I finished my first draft. Bah humbug. It stinks. That's okay. My first meatloaf tasted like shoe leather. Today I'm a great cook. This I know. Like my mother, I know how to make tamales, etc. etc. etc.

I just stole that from the King and I. Ha.

So I did the brave thing writers must do and I submitted my manuscript to a wonderful writer who I trust and admire to read and give me feedback. And she did. She did an incredible job and I owe her big time for her experience and wisdom. I am proud to be her mentee. I have several great master writer friends. That's what gives me an advantage. I learn from my master writer friends and I know when I've not written a great book but instead a good book. It's a great main character that everyone loves and wants more of. But my skills in writing my story need to be fine tuned, like an instrument. I must learn to play solo without my teachers.

I'm prepared to do the work. I've resolved myself to this task. It's my new bucket list. I mean we're all dying, right. Someday I'll fly high in the sky with a bird and I want to leave my words behind. My great words. Not my good words.

In truth, I'm blessed with a great husband and great son who love me and I'm spoiled with technology. Some of this tech stuff, I don't even know how to use, but I'm learning something new everyday. I put on my beats blue tooth headphones, turn on audio books, select a good book, and listen to a digital book.

It's fascinating. I fall asleep with the book going and have to rewind what I missed while I'm sleeping. I've read a few great books already and I'm on my way to writing reviews of these great books, just give me time to adjust to my new attitude. I appreciate all of you readers who want to read my poems, watch my facebook cooking videos, and who attend my workshops and readings at bookstores. I love you. Keep reading, writing, and mastering the art of being a writer.

The Crazy Chicana in Catholic City
Red Canon Falling on Churches
The Road I Ride Bleeds