Friday, June 26, 2015

Summer Reading - Part I - Murder on Wheels

The end of the school year always meant the beginning of the library’s summer reading challenge. My goal was to read the most books for my age level while enjoying what I was reading. Recently, when I finished the first draft of my WIP, I closed my computer and kicked off ten days of fun summer reading.  I devoured mysteries, biographies, literary fiction, and an anthology of short stories.

This post and my July 10th blog will discuss my Summer Reading and a bit of its impact on my writing. Fair disclosure, although the next blog will be devoted to books I purchased, today I am writing about Murder on Wheels, a book given to me because of my interest in reading, writing and reviewing short stories.

Murder on Wheels, published by Wildside Press, LLC (2015), contains eleven stories written by Austin Mystery Writers Kathy Waller, V.P. Chandler, Gale Albright, Kaye George, Laura Oles, Scott Montgomery, and invited authors Earl Staggs and Reavis Z. Wortham.  Ramona DeFelice Long deftly edited the “11 Tales of Crime on the Move.”

The genesis for this wheel related vehicle was a trip Kaye George’s husband took on the Megabus, a commercial double-decker bus.  Seeing the bus, Kaye’s mind instinctively wondered how one could successfully commit a murder and hide the body on the bus.  She consulted members of her Austin Mystery Writers group and their imaginations ran wild.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round ties together George’s idea and the Austin Mystery Writers' suggestions for where to hide the body.  What I found to truly make the story is Kaye George’s excellent characterizations.  With few words, she brings a reader into the heart and soul of her characters.

Although the literal me needed to ignore how a few minor things might happen in real life, much as I do when I read the Harry Potter books, Kaye George’s The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round and Have a Nice Trip, and Kathy Waller’s Hell on Wheels and A Nice Set of Wheels hit the mark for delivering perfectly pitched characters.  Each story was different, as were its characters, but there wasn’t one character in the four stories I wouldn’t want to read about again.

Gale Albright’s stories Mome Rath, My Sweet and Aporkalypse Now also depicted characters well, but their literary references to Alice and Wonderland and play on words required a bit more attention than I anticipated sharing with an author during my mindless state of fun time reading.

Rota Fortunae by V.P. Chandler was not a cozy read.  Rather, it was compelling.  Very different than the other stories in the anthology, it used setting, characterization, dialogue, and a sinister feeling to evoke a feeling of unrest that carried this reader from the first to the last word.

Whether reading about tractor, bicycle, bus or car wheels, I found myself transported by Family Business (Reavis Z. Wortham), Buon Viaggio (Laura Oles) and Red’s White F-150 Blues (Scott Montgomery).  Each individually is worth the price of a ticket for a Murder on Wheels ride.

Because it left me thinking afterwards, my favorite story in the anthology is Dead Man on a School Bus by Earl Staggs.  Staggs is a master storyteller who didn’t let his perfect use of the mechanical aspects of short story writing get in the way of crafting distinct characters and plot points. Whether talking about a pencil that isn’t being twirled, using an internal thought flashback, or juxtaposing concrete and suggestive feelings, Staggs managed to summarize a lifetime of feelings into a few pages.

Watch for my July 10th blog to see what else I read during my summer reading excursion.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Group Projects

by Bethany Maines

Remember in school when the teacher would say those dreaded five words? “This is a group project.” Your mind races into overdrive as you scan the class room, searching for the few students who will hit trifecta of smart enough, pulls their own weight, and doesn’t have BO. Select outside of those parameters are a host of problems - too smart, too lazy, too socially active, too socially impaired ­ and the group will flounder and fail. A group project is always a dual assignment: how well can you do the work and how well can you work together? And we all think, “I cannot wait to get out of school, so I never have to do another group project.”

Except, of course, that the joke is on us. Every job, with the possible exception of Ranger Gord of the Canadian forest service, requires that you have contact with someone to get the job done. Ranger Gord, in case you haven’t watched the Canadian comedy show Red Green, is a Forest Service Ranger who has been staring at the trees so long that he now believes they talk to him and that some are possibly out to get him. You would think that a writer and Ranger Gord would have about the same amount of human contact, but the more I write the more I realize that writing truly is a group project. Admittedly, I do the majority of the work and then I pass it out to several people just so they can point out problems with my beautiful manuscript. But those beta readers, agents, and editors do not have an easy task. For one thing they have to deal with someone who thinks those beech trees look suspicious and that her villain is attempting a coup to take over the book, but beyond that they have to think critically about questions that a casual reader can simply take for granted. For the end reader, the questions have been answered, the decisions made, but the beta reader has to ask all the difficult questions about when characters know something, does the timeline actually work out, do the actions taken make sense, and the all important question: “Why do you keep using that word? I do not think it means, what you think it means.”

And so, as I round out the final edits on my next book (High-CaliberConcealer out in November 2015), I must thank all my readers, editors, and my oh, so persnickety copyeditor who corrects my egregious use of their, there, and they’re. Thank you all!

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nazis and Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Brotherhood, Oh, My!

 by Linda Rodriguez
(This blog originally ran on Writers Who Kill)

I am so incensed and upset about the massacre by a white supremacist of nine African American people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston that I can't think of anything else to write about, yet I don't want to just add to the rhetoric about that atrocity. So I thought instead I would re-run a blog I wrote for Writers Who Kill a couple of years ago when white supremacists descended on my city--to remind us that they're out there and are a real danger and to remind us that there's a beautiful coalition of old and young who will stand up to them.

Yes, those are swastikas on the flags you see in that photo. Saturday, the Nazi Socialist Movement, the largest neo-Nazi organization in the country, came to my hometown, Kansas City, for a national gathering to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht with their pals the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood, and Satan’s Saints, a white supremacist motorcycle gang.

I’m a lifelong activist. The FBI has a file on me from the J.Edgar Hoover days (which puts me in very good company). I’ve been teargassed in antiwar protests and had rotten tomatoes and eggs thrown at me in civil rights marches. I’ve put in my time at trying to make this a decent country for everyone, and as lupus, fibromyalgia, and severe asthma have taken a toll on me and left me needing a cane, I had decided that I was done with going out into the streets to protest or demonstrate. I figured I’d earned my time to sit peacefully at home and finish the book for which I have an impending deadline.

Then the Nazis announced that they were coming to Kansas City. They came to KC in 2007 to celebrate Hitler’s birthday and paraded around in Nazi uniforms. I thought surely others would stand against them and no one did. So Saturday saw me downtown at City Hall facing the Jackson County Courthouse where the Nazis, KKK, and fellow travelers were supposed to bring over a thousand jackbooted thugs to parade around to celebrate the night their German forebears destroyed Jewish shops, killed many Jews, and started rounding up them (and many other minority groups) for concentration camps to begin Hitler’s Final Solution.

The same politicos who rolled out the red carpet for these Nazis, allowing them all kinds of things that we counter-ralliers were not allowed—bullhorns, ultra-large stereo speakers, microphone stands, and much more when we weren’t even allowed water bottles or purses to carry our medicine (I had to make use of Ben’s pockets for mine)—tried to keep us from protesting against them, and when they couldn’t , organized another rally miles away, effectively dividing the forces of reason for political purposes. So reluctantly, after an exhausting week of work and events every night for my husband’s job, we drove downtown early to set up for one more stand against hate.

Even with the politicians putting pressure on organizations to attend their rally safely miles away, seven hundred people arrived to stand up against the Nazis—ministers, schoolteachers, college and high school students, secretaries, longtime civil rights activists, young veterans of the Occupy movement, active-duty soldiers, grandmothers with their grandchildren, fiery young anarchists, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, white, African American, Latino, American Indian, and a few women in hijabs. What was especially gratifying to me was that the vast majority were young people.

What was not gratifying was that the police were aimed at us and apparently had orders to threaten us with teargas and pepper spray. Fortunately, none was used against us, but that’s why in some photos you will see folks with bandannas or handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. These were the ones who’d been involved with the Occupy movement and had recent experience of being sprayed with these toxic substances. Also, a little disconcerting was the militarized appearance of the police. About six clearly marked observers for the Department of Justice circulated among us—and may have been the only reason that our peaceful gathering was not attacked by the police, who paid little attention to the Nazis, et al.

The Nazis and white supremacists only managed to field about three dozen people instead of the thousand-plus they had threatened. When asked later by the press about the low turnout, they said that many turned back, afraid of the publicity that our counter rally had drawn and afraid that they might lose their jobs if they were publicly seen. Some dismissed that as fake excuses, but I’ve seen the membership numbers that researchers have compiled for these organizations, and I know they could easily field that many people. Therefore, I count our protest a success since it inhibited more from coming out in public.

The rhetoric was as awful as you might expect. Talk of putting all but Aryans into “subservience.” Talk of the fun they have arming with guns and going “hunting illegals” at the border, as if it were a sport. Talk of the “judaization” of America and the world and how they will “cleanse” it. But mostly it was the same rhetoric you can hear any day on talk radio or from the extremist politicians who have seized control of Congress. That was the eye-opener. They even played a recording from the 1980s of a deceased leader, and it was basically Tea Party rhetoric with some extra-nasty violence added. It underscored how far to the right our country has slid when the lines the Nazis have been spouting for decades have suddenly become the main themes of powerful elected politicians.

But the main takeaway of the day was the beautiful, diverse gathering who peacefully stood up against the haters and said, “No.” That and the heavy involvement of young people from conservatively dressed yuppie types to the heavily tattooed anarchists who placed themselves in the front lines, fully expecting teargas or pepper spray. I have had my days of depression and cynicism when I look at the way things are going, but I am newly optimistic after this glimpse of the upcoming generation, who, with all their differences, will still stand up and stand together against violence and hate.

REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me still):

Kay, I don't blame the police in general (though some of them seemed to really belong over with the KKK, etc.). Most of them were just doing what the politicians who run the city told them to do.

Marilyn, yes, it is scary. These groups have had a renaissance of late, growing terribly in membership. And for everyone who thinks this is just a Southern problem, not so. They're all over--Michigan, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Montana, Missouri, New York, Maine, you name the state and they've got one or all of these organizations and other like them quartered there. What I found scariest, though, was that the same rhetoric of racist and anti-Semitic hate that they've always used is what we're hearing out of state houses and the US Congress now.

Marjorie, I'm sorry for what you and your colleagues have experienced. Discrimination encountered is a bitter pain, I know. I keep hoping that this atrocity, this terrible racist act, will be the catalyst that bring our society together against this vicious scourge, but so far, it hasn't happened. I begin to despair, but not yet entirely. I still hope.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

She-Shed, Me-Shed

By Laura Bradford

I want a She-shed.

There, I said it.

Have you seen these things? They're literally backyard sheds that have been girl-ified (think man-cave but attractive).

I stumbled across this concept on Facebook the other day (saw one on my newsfeed), and I was hooked.

One day.

One day, I will have a She-shed.

And it will be so adorably neat all the time and super girl-y.

I'll go there to read.

I'll go there to relax.

And I'll go there to write.

If you had a She-shed, what would yours be used for?


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

My Ode to Online Friendship

By Kay Kendall

Remember when news articles decried the horror of online meetups? Headlines shrieked about how dirty old men preyed on unsuspecting youngsters by pretending to be their same age, plus also winsome and cute. Columnists warned that you couldn’t trust connections made online.

If memory serves, that was back at the turn of the millennium when those articles were rampant. I don’t think I’ve read that kind of thing in a long time now. The online world is so much a part of us now that using the Internet is almost as normal as walking across the street. Sure we know dangers exist when crossing the street. We do it anyway but we are careful. Same with the Internet now. 

Of course bad things can still develop from unscrupulous dealings online. But there is also mail fraud, phone fraud, and so on. Whenever humans get involved, someone is going to turn the technology to the dark side.

But, oh, what about the glories of the light side? What about those friends you would never have met
Kay and Christy--Yes, we met online!
if not for, say, your Facebook page?

This week I had a delightful meetup with a friend I made online. I don’t recall exactly how long Christy and I have been friends, but it is well over a year. She lives in the vicinity of Dallas/Fort Worth, and I live south down Interstate 45, almost 300 miles away in Houston. I feel safe in saying that the chances of our crossing paths were almost nil.

Christy is an avid reader, and she was taken with the fact that I had become an author. She had spent some time in Houston and knew the city because of visits to relatives here. Once upon a time I visited my grandparents in Dallas four times a year and know the city in a similar fashion. She has an only son. So do I.

And speaking of my son, Christy is about his age. Still, despite our age difference, she and I became friends.

A few months ago when she IM’d be to say that she and her husband and son were going to vacation in Galveston, she asked if perhaps we could meet. I jumped at the chance. We arranged to meet at a Starbucks not too far from I-45 as it passes through my big city.

She and her husband and son were delightful, so nice that they counterbalanced my occasional feeling that families today don’t take of each other very well. Her son is now a keen reader too, and he was well-mannered and pleasant, looking forward to starting sixth grade next fall. Christy’s husband was what used to be called a “good family man,” interested in talking about their three dogs, about the fishing trip they’d taken on the Gulf during their stay in Galveston.

Christy brought me a white ceramic bowl that I will treasure always. It sits in a metal nest of twigs, and a bird perches on it. I gave her a copy of my new book, Rainy Day Women, and a handful of bookmarks about it.

They got back on the road, and I left for the post office. And my heart was filled with such joy. Wonderful people still walk this earth, and sometimes the Internet can help you find them.


Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. She is also an award-winning international PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN publishes on July 7--the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The E-book and paperback are available for pre-order now, and the audio-book will be soon. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

What I Did and Learned on My Vacation

Middle daughter, me, eldest daughter, hubby, great-granddauther
We had a glorious five days in Murrieta and Temecula visiting our eldest daughter and her hubby and her two children (our grands) and their five kids (our greatgrands.)

Everyone came to visit lots. We ate delicious food in wonderful restaurants.The greatgrand in the photo cut my hair. She recently graduated from beauty school and had just graduated the night before from highschool.

We enjoyed Old-Town Temcula, tasted olive oil and vinegar pairings--ended up buying a set.

We went to the movies to see San Andreas--excting, and especially when you live in California.

Now to get the leaning part that ties all this into mystery writing a bit.

On our way home we turned onto a freeway going the wrong direction, got off to come back the right way and spotted a Taco Bell and decided to make a potty stop. Daughter (who was our driver) rushed off, and I did too--my big mistake. I tripped over one of those yellow bumps on the sidewalk in front of the handicapped parking.

Down I went, kaboom. Fell on my side, hitting my head kaboom! Taco Bell workers came out and looked and fled back inside. A nurse driving by pulled in and took one look at me and the blood pouring out of my temple and called 911.

What I tripped on, hit my head on that curb, and my blood.

Had my first ambulance ride, and first time to be the patient in the emergency room. By the way, this was a crowded but most well-run emergency room. Had a CT scan of my brain and X-rays of my back and side.

Though no breaks were seen in my ribs--that's what bothers me most. So what I've learned is how badly ribs hurt when they are injured--no way does someone who's been kicked in or has broken or even bruised ribs jump up and do all sorts of physical moving around. I couldn't even lie down to sleep for four days, and even when I could, it hurt.

Will I use any of this experience in a book? Probably bits and pieces.

I'm just thankful that nothing more serious happened--and from now on, I'm not walking on that yellow, bumpy bit of sidewalk that seems to be everywhere.

And aside--I've sent my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery off to the publisher.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Writing Fitness

In January, I wrote a blog about “Resolution as Metaphor” where I spoke about my two New Year’s resolutions (to carry less in my purse and drink more water) and wondered what those resolutions said about me. I decided, “Lightness and water are two ideas associated with movement and flow. They enable the journey and keep the adventurer fueled to seek new possibilities.”

Currently, I’ve been reading Jordan Rosenfeld’s A Writer’s Guide to Persistence (Writer’s Digest Books 2015). Most of the chapters conclude with two sections, a “Work It” segment that provides ideas to consider about your writing practice and routines, and a “Move It” segment that offers suggestions for adding movement to a writer’s sedentary lifestyle. In her first “Move It” segment (p.10), Rosenfeld points out, “Any time you’ve been sitting for an hour or more, your body makes preparations to go into ‘shutdown’ mode—essentially it’s preparing for death. Yikes!”

Yikes, indeed!

An online article from Women’s Health discussed how the “sitting disease” can lead to heart disease and obesity and perhaps shorten your life. The article indicated that long periods of sitting may (1) cause fluid buildup in your legs leading to sleep apnea; (2) encourage fat cells in your body to create twice as much fat; (3) cause blood sugar to spike after meals; (4) decrease brain activity, giving you more senior moments; and (5) make blood flow more sluggish, increasing the possibility of developing blood clots in the lungs. (See The Risks of a Sedentary Lifestyle: Stand Up for Your Health by Tracy Erb Middleton, published August 6, 2012.) The article suggested: “The key to fighting sitting disease lies in augmenting your routine with something called NEAT, or nonexercise activity thermogenesis. Translation: low-impact movements that keep your metabolism humming and your circulation flowing.”

Writing fitness was addressed recently in a guest message on Lois Winston’s Anastasia Pollock blog by Kay C. Burns, a registered nurse who writes suspense mystery. Kay also mentioned that writing for long periods without breaks can lead to backache, eye strain, wrist strain, general weakness, headache, fatigue, isolation, and depression. She recommended that writers get sufficient sleep, stay hydrated, eat healthy, stay active, control weight, and manage stress. She quoted author C. Hope Clark, who in her book The Shy Author Reborn and an online post for Colleen M. Story’s blog Writing and Wellness emphasized that keeping healthy was essential to good writing. Hope’s routine included getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of liquids, gentle exercise, and socializing.

Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, and Winston Churchill all were supposed to have written while standing. In his letters, Kurt Vonnegut mentioned that he walked, swam, and did push ups and sit ups.

In a 2006 online article titled “Exercises for Writers and Other Desk Slaves,” Elsa O’Neal suggests some gentle movements based on yoga poses to help vary the position of tired eyes, necks, wrists, fingers, stomachs, legs, and feet. These exercises can be done while seated at a desk, so there’s no excuse not to stop briefly, stretch, and vary position before plunging forward with a writing project. If time is a factor, take a look at Colleen M. Story’s message on Writing and Wellness for “How to Boost Your Health in Less Than a Minute a Day.” She recommends not only exercise and fluids, but also chocolate and laughter. Surely, those are reasons to give yourself a writing break to improve your productivity!

What do you do to safeguard your health and enhance your writing?


A legislative attorney and former law librarian, Paula Gail Benson’s short stories have appeared in Kings River Life, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, Mystery Times Ten 2013 (Buddhapuss Ink), A Tall Ship, a Star, and Plunder (Dark Oak Press and Media 2014), A Shaker of Margaritas: That Mysterious Woman (Mozark Press 2014), and Fish or Cut Bait: a Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press 2015). She regularly blogs with others about writing mysteries at the Stiletto Gang and Writers Who Kill. Her personal blog is Little Sources of Joy and her website is