Monday, December 26, 2016


Sorry I'm late. I hope everyone who celebrates during this time had a good time with friends and family.

Do you create lists such as top books read in 2016; number of books read; numbers of books sold; number of books written? I think we all tend to keep stats which gives us a sense of accomplishments.

Here are a few of my stats for 2016.

  • I've read 247 books
  • I've been to 3 reader/fan conventions (Left Coast Crime, Malice and Bouchercon)
  • I've read books by four authors I met at reader/fan convention (Alexandra Sokoloff, Karin Salvalaggio, Susan Elia MacNeal, Liz Milliron)
  • I had 94 authors, for the first-time, appear on my blog

What stats do you have?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


by Kay Kendall

Tradition says that when a calendar year draws near its close, people often describe their feelings about the year that has passed and the one that looms ahead. 2016 appears likely to be nominated for the dubious prize of the worst year ever—or at least in recent memory.

Wherever we looked in 2016, there were troubles galore. The weather was extreme. Global populations were fleeing miserable conditions and causing disruption in nearby peaceful countries. International relations were frayed. American presidential politics were extreme.

Finally in the last quarter of this benighted year, I ran into a personal health scare. This was amplified by the fact that exactly two years earlier my husband had endured a similar health crisis. After coming down with a pinch of PTSD, in order to keep myself from plunging into a pit of despair and staying there, I vowed to manage my own head. It became almost a full-time job, but I did it.

When I was young—to pick a number, let’s say when I was less than 25 years old—I enjoyed experiencing my strong see-sawing emotions. Mood changes made me feel alive. I loved the wild feelings of euphoria and actually did not mind a touch of mild despair.
Over time I realized that being emotional could be overdone. After all, I never yearned to go on the stage.  When I married and raised a child, I began learning to control my emotions. One emotion I could never control, however, was dread. Playing the game of What If came naturally to me. But whenever I got stuck playing that game in my head, the What If questions always came out with bad answers. Nothing ever came positive.

Then I learned I have an anxiety disorder and actively sought to control my own head. Reading in psychology and philosophy enabled me to see that whatever moment you are in is your only reality. If you are too busy worrying about the future or regretting your past, then you are not fully alive to the wonders of the present.
One of the habits I’ve acquired that helps me most is to seek evidence that the glass is always half full, never half empty. This in turn leads to a feeling of gratitude. I have had many blessings and much good luck in my life. By emphasizing these things rather than sorrows or slipups, I have found more joy in my everyday living.

Now I study the habits of people who handle trials and tribulations with grace and forbearance. Even though I have dodged the recent health scare with the assistance of fantastic medical professionals, I know that there will be more ordeals ahead. That is a fact of life—and of aging.
Often I think of the story I was told about two boys who were given the task of mucking out stalls filled with manure. One boy dragged his feet, whining and complaining. The other boy set to cleaning the stall while he whistled. When asked about his happy attitude, the second lad explained, “I know there has to be a pony in here somewhere.”

And that is how I spend my time these days. I am always looking for the pony.  
Want to read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN? Go to her website
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.
Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Science Fiction: A Bastion of Hope

by J.M. Phillippe

Social work, I tell people, is about holding hope for others when they are unable to hold it for themselves. More often than not, I meet people when they are in the midst of some sort of crisis. That crisis has painted their world pretty dark, and optimistic isn't very high on the list of things they are feeling. And yet, the very act of going to therapy is an act of hope -- it's taking a chance that there may be another way to feel, another way to live life. They come with a spark, and it's my job to help them nurture and grow that spark. I help them see the strengths they already have, and learn to accept that being human means having imperfection. When all else fails, I sit with them in their darkness until they can contemplate the existence of light again.

The world feels very scary to a great deal many people in my life right now. Here in the US, the electoral college just elected a man that the majority of the nation did not vote for, and he is pushing for policy most of us oppose. I have teenage clients being told by bullying classmates that they will be deported, Jewish clients being threatened with swastikas, trans clients terrified for their safety, and countless female clients terrified for their rights (including the right to not be sexually assaulted). Facts are being re-branded as opinions, and science dismissed as an elitist and biased view. People don't know how to tell if the stories they are reading are real or fake -- and too many people don't even care. If it sounds like the truth (or rather, like what they already believe), that's good enough.

It's times like this that I hold on to one of my first and greatest loves: science fiction. Science fiction and fantasy have covered all this territory before. I think I have managed to read a story or see a movie about every kind of terrible thing that humanity can do to itself, or have done to them by some greater power. I have read every kind of ending as well, from the dark and nihilistic, to the fiercely optimistic. The most recent was the latest Star Wars movie, whose tag line is this:

While I can't assume to know the motivation of every author out there, I can't help but think that the reason why so many writers create such dark worlds is to show people a way through that darkness. However big the odds, there are always heroes willing to take them on. However hard the path, there are feet willing to walk it, and however horrible the consequences, there are people willing to risk it all. For hope.

Hope is one of the great themes of science fiction: where it lives, how it endures, what it can accomplish, what happens when it dies. You cannot tell a story about human beings without also talking about their hopes and dreams. My particular interest in science fiction and fantasy is the way it can take the human condition to the furthest stretch of "what if" and provide a possible answer to what humans would do then. And more often than not, what humans will do, whenever given even the tiniest chance, is hope.

Like many others, I found 2016 to be a very challenging year. I don't know if we all just collectively only focused on the bad and missed the good (though a lot good happened as well), but it seemed like the year when a lot of people realized, as the great William Goldman (of The Princess Bride) said: "Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." None of us are buying this year.

Still, it's my job to hold hope. The only reason I have been able to is that I spent my childhood practicing this skill. I usually needed it about midway through a book when everything in the story started getting darker and darker. I definitely needed it right before the end, when it seemed like any sort of happy ending would be impossible. But I stuck with it (and didn't skip ahead) and even if all the characters would not survive the story, one thing almost always did: hope.

So I'd pick up the next book, and the next, and the next, and get the same message again and again. However dark the world, there were good people in it. However horrible humanity could be, there were other humans willing to stand up for the weak, for the innocent, and for the best in all of us.

And that is why I can look at 2016 and understand -- the story is not over yet. I don't know if 2017 will be a dark chapter or not, but I do know that in the end, however long this series goes, the good will win. We just have to keep flipping the pages, and we'll get there eventually.

* * *

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She works as a therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Writers' Lessons from Paranormal or Supernatural Holiday Stories

Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life

by Paula Gail Benson

I watched It’s a Wonderful Life when NBC broadcast it earlier this year. Letting myself get caught up in George Bailey’s story and Clarence Oddbody’s struggle to get his wings, I began to think about how some of our most memorable holiday stories involve a supernatural or paranormal element. Consider Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Where would Scrooge have been without those ghosts? Even Miracle on 34th Street showcases Santa’s, or Kris Kringle’s, magical capabilities.

What is it about Christmas that brings makes us ponder the world beyond that we do not know and only through religious texts, unique circumstances, and fiction catch a glimpse? Does this preoccupation stem from the fact that during this cold time of year, memories of the past draw close? Or, does the nativity story give us the courage to ponder how humans may connect with God, angels, and dearly departed who may be looking out for us?

A Christmas Carol (1938 film)
In all three of the Christmas stories I mentioned, the supernatural or paranormal creatures have the power to show humans what they may have been unable to see. For George, how the world might have been if he weren’t born. For Scrooge, how his actions had and could influence others. And, for Susie and her mother, how believing, even if you’re not certain, can help you lead a happier, more fulfilled life.

Often, when writers think about creating paranormal creatures, we consider allowing them to swoop in and rescue humans, like super heroes. But, in these Christmas stories, that doesn’t occur. A reader might wonder why Clarence doesn’t ask Gabriel if he can tell George that Mr. Potter has the missing money. In 1986, Saturday Night Live featured a sketch introduced by William Shatner, who said the lost ending for It’s a Wonderful Life had been discovered. Phil Hartman, playing Uncle Billy, remembers where he left the $8,000 and learns from Clarence at the bank that Potter made a deposit in that amount. George (Dana Carvey) and the crowd gathered at his house become an angry mob, hunting down Potter (Jon Lovitz) and beating him to a pulp. It’s just wasn’t the same as Clarence taking his lead from George’s suggestion and by example showing him no man who has friends can be a failure.

I decided to do some background research on the story, “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern, that became the basis for It’s a Wonderful Life. According to Wikipedia, Stern was an editor and author of books about the Civil War that have been described as authoritative and respected by scholars. In 1938, he woke from a dream that inspired his 4,000 word short story, which he completed in 1943. When he could not find a publisher, he sent it around in 200 Christmas cards. Eventually, it was published and came to the attention of RKO Pictures, which optioned it due to Cary Grant’s interest in playing George Bailey. Later, Frank Capra acquired the rights and the role went to James Stewart. I found a copy of “The Greatest Gift” available through Amazon. One of the reviewers pointed out that the names of the characters in that story weren’t the same as those “in the original” movie. I guess writers whose work has been adapted for the screen have been facing that criticism a long time.

Speaking of Cary Grant, he later played, not the struggling human, but the divine intervenor in The Bishop’s Wife (a role reprised by Denzel Washington in The Preacher’s Wife). In that story, Grant’s angel, named Dudley, created more havoc for the humans, but in the end, found he had to allow them to make their own decisions, even though he had fallen in love with Julia (Loretta Young), the Bishop’s (David Niven) wife.

So, in remembering these holiday stories with paranormal elements and considering how they were constructed and created, what have I learned as a writer? Here are my thoughts:

Miracle on 34th Street

(1) Successful movie adaptations often receive more credit than the original source.

(2) A ghost, an angel, or even Santa can never “fix’ a human’s problem, only help the human find his or her way.

(3) Even if a lesson is hard learned, humans are invariably better off by allowing some of the mystical qualities of the season to transform them.

Here’s wishing each of you a wonderful holiday and a new year of happy writing!

Friday, December 16, 2016

A Time for Giving... Away

by Linda Rodriguez

It's 10 days until Christmas—days when people are shopping and buying presents to give to people who don't really need any more stuff to cram into their overcrowded homes. I have informed my family that I absolutely forbid them to give me any stuff this Christmas. It's not that I've turned into Scrooge or the Grinch this year. It's just that I'm in the throes of downsizing out of a big old house with three full stories plus attics and two-car garage, all packed with the stuff of 42 years of living and raising kids, plus the inherited belongings of several generations before us.

I have to keep driving past the small yellow house where we will move once we have cleared out this big old money pit and sold it to our oldest son, who wants to make the repairs we can't afford and rent it out. Seeing the cheerful little casita to which we're eventually moving, which has no stairs and everything brand-new and working just the way it's supposed to—plumbing, wiring, cooling and heating, flooring, windows, appliances—fortifies my will and sends me back to work on my own version of the Augean stables.

I have sorted out the too-numerous sets of fine stemware and china, taking boxes of it to my daughter, my oldest son and his fiancé, and my sister. Youngest son has driven up to the city to help me pack boxes and gone back with his car packed to the gills. He'll return this weekend to help and take more back with him. I'm on a first-name basis with the driver for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, since I've been on his pick-up route every week for the last three and he sees I'm scheduled for weekly pick-ups well into 2017.

The biggest problems are the books and papers. This is the house of a writer/editor/teacher and a publisher/editor/scholar. We are drowning in thousands of books and pounds of papers. My solution, as I try to move methodically through the house one room at a time, one floor at a time, has been to start with the books and papers and carry on that sorting and discarding process every day on a continuous basis while packing up the things in each room which must go. Ideally, by the time I've finished all rooms on all floors, plus the finished basement, two attics, and the garage, I will also have finished the books and papers. (Please don't laugh at me like that. Allow me my illusions. They're all I have to keep me going.)

I have tried to make lists of what to keep and what to give to family and what to give away or discard, but I keep finding new things that are not on any of those lists and having to make decisions all over again. This leads to odd philosophical questions, such as, How can I never have anything appropriate to wear when I have so many clothes?, or What kind of misspent life results in three huge boxes of cups with the insignia of universities, conferences, and bookstores?, or How is it that we have four of those huge scholarly collections of Shakespeare's plays and poems with essays and footnotes that are designed for 300-level university Shakespeare classes?, or Where did all of these old shoes come from?

I am determined to make it easy on us. I'm doing a first pass through each of the downstairs and upstairs rooms, packing up and moving out everything that we know we won't take with us, thus, no hard emotional decisions right off the bat, just hard labor. Then, we will have to tackle the difficult choices—Which of these wedding gifts from dear friends, many of whom are now gone, will we give away? and Which of the teapots, many hand-painted or handmade, that my youngest son started giving me every year from the age of six will I part with? and Which pieces of furniture from my husband's grandparents and great-grandparents will we give up, surely not the china cabinet and rocking chairs that his great-grandfather made himself?

Surprisingly, I have found that each box I move out of the house leaves me feeling more positive and energetic about this massive undertaking. I realize that may change when the time comes to make those tougher decisions, on teapots, for example, but right now, I'm feeling great satisfaction every time I close and tape a box and set it to go to one of the kids or my sister or to set out for my pal, the Big Brothers, Big Sisters driver. So wish me luck.

Linda Rodriguez's book, Plotting the Character-Driven Novel is based on her popular workshop. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear in June, 2017. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film. Visit her at

Thursday, December 15, 2016

See Ya, 2016

December is traditionally the month of reflection—a time to look back at the year to assess goals and accomplishments.  My husband and I were talking last night, not so much about which goals we met, but rather about 2016 events that made us happy. While engagements, new jobs and houses for our kids top the list, I’m very happy to report we finally finished our house without killing our builder.

My mom would’ve loved this house—the setting, the birds and animals, the river and pond, and especially the snow at Christmas. 

I miss Mom a lot at the holidays. One of my favorite holiday memories is Mom making cookies with the kids. While unpacking, I found the cookie cutters in one of the boxes marked “Christmas. ” I think I’ll head into my new kitchen, whip up a batch of gingerbread dough, and invite the neighbor’s kids over.

What’s on your list of “good things” for 2016?

Cathy Perkins started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams. Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories. When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure. Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

You can also visit her online at the following places:  Website Facebook | Twitter Goodreads