Friday, May 27, 2016

Talking Politics and Memorial Day

Talking Politics and Memorial Day by Debra H. Goldstein

I love politics and politicians. In studying historical trends and how people react to different stimuli, I’ve taken classes, read books, and listened to the pundits. As you can imagine, the last few months have provided sensory overload and given me much to think and comment on, but this isn’t the platform I choose to share my views on the current election race or the issues that face our country. Hopefully, if we sit down in a living room and talk, we can find a way to listen to each other and respect what each of us thinks - even if our opinions differ.  In the meantime, I pray, as this Memorial Day approaches, we can agree on one thing:

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Clicking Our Heels - Our Favorite Vacation Spots

Clicking Our Heels – Our Favorite Vacation Spots

It’s that time of year.  We’re all thinking about summer and that, invariably, leads us to considering where we would like to be if we could go to our vacation spot.  As usual, our answers are as varied as we are.

Dru Ann Love – My favorite vacation spot is any place where I am not obligated to do a thing.  I like the idea that I can go to a place and take one of the area’s highlight bus tours where the touristy attractions are pointed out to me while I sit, look and listen.

Bethany Maines – To be perfectly honest, every place I just visited is my favorite spot.  But the anything that has delicious food and cheap lodgings is the best.  M most recent favorite is Iceland.  Their butter is delicious.

Juliana Aragon Fatula – Stonehenge.  When I visited Stonehenge I had a river of electricity/magnetism run through my body and move my head physically toward the ground.  It was freaky/cool.  I wanted to stay all night and stargaze while lying on my back feeling the earth’s pull.  I had a similar experience at Chichen Itza, but it was a power pulling my whole body down to the ground.  I couldn’t climb the pyramid because my balance was wacked out.

Jennae M. Phillippe – The best vacation that I have actually been on:  Maui.  Best that I daydream about: an English cottage with lots of books and unlimited tea near a quaint village.

Linda Rodriguez – My favorite place I’ve ever visited was Oxford, English.  I felt as if I had come home.  I stayed there for two weeks and loved everything about it.  I think I need to write a series of books set in Oxford, so I can visit there for tax-deductible research every year or so.  Until then, there’s always Morse and Lewis on Netflix.

Debra H. Goldstein – Australia. When my daughter was studying abroad, I made a quick trip to visit her.  Between the beaches, lush greenery, rocky areas, I was impressed, but the most fun was seeing the countryside and the famous sites like the Sydney Opera House (we took the backstage tour at four a.m. – the two of us and a journalist from London) through my daughter’s eyes.  As she led me around the country, I realized we had reversed roles – she had become an adult.

Paffi Flood – My favorite vacation spot is Siena, Italy.  The entire city is the color found in the crayon boxes, and near one edge, a black-and-white marble cathedral rises from all the brown, and it’s absolutely stunning.

Sparkle Abbey – We’d have to say Laguna Beach, California.  Not only is it the setting for our mystery series, but I’s also just a great place.  It almost has a European flavor with all the wonderful shops, restaurants and galleries.  And then there’s a beach itself….

Marilyn Meredith – My favorite vacation spot is anywhere on California’s Central Coast.  I once lived close to the beach and I miss it.  Morrow Bay is a place we try to get to once a year.  My Rocky Bluff P.D. series is set in a small beach town, and I like to get energized by visiting similar places.

Kay Kendall – I cannot choose just one favorite vacation spot.  Here is my list.  Small to mid-sized European city in these countries:  the UK, France, Germany, Italy.  Plus these historic larger cities that really grab me:  Prague; Venice; St. Petersburg, Russia.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Now is the time...

Late in the month, it seems like almost everyone suddenly wakes up and realizes that the deadlines that seemed so very far away are now, like, almost here, man.  Cue panic.  Cue sudden uptick in workload for yours truly.  The problem is that I’m exactly like everyone else.  I’ve been noodling over several pieces of writing and now the deadline is like, almost here, man! 

Now is when the marathon of writing becomes a sprint. Just how fast can fingers type?  We’re about to find out. 

Now is also about the time when back pain and carpal tunnel set in.  Time to start juicing writers!  No, I mean literal juicing.  It’s important to stay hydrated – prevents muscle spasms.  Although, I personally prefer copious amounts of tea, liberally applied, at regular intervals.

Now is the time when the tiny proto-human you’ve been carefully nurturing like a hot house bloom looks up from a coloring book and says, “Sorry mom, work. Four more minutes.”  Gee, wonder where she got that?

Now is the time that my face looks like this:

So wish me luck as I sprint to the end of the month.  And wish my family luck as they get abandoned for fake people that I made up. 


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.


                                                                                                 by Sally Berneathy

     I’ve always been a huge proponent of Mens sana in corpore sano ever since I first heard it in Latin class in high school. A sound mind in a sound body. Great concept.

    Unfortunately, practical application isn’t always easy.

     I’ve never been athletic. I was the nerdy little kid in grade school who was chosen last in recess sports.

     “You have to take her. I had her last time.”

     “No, you didn’t. You won last time, and you wouldn’t have won if you’d had her!”

     Big deal. So I couldn’t hit a baseball with a bat two feet wide. Couldn’t put a basketball in a hoop right in front of me. Those other kids couldn’t tell stories!

    But I did recognize early on that organized sports were not for me.

    Then running became a popular activity. I could do that! I could get up before dawn and run around the lake, put one foot in front of the other with nobody to criticize that I’d missed the blasted ball again. If sometimes those feet got tangled up and I fell, nobody knew but me! I loved running. I ran three miles a day. I wrote poems about running. I was going to run the rest of my life. Jim Fixx died while running. What a spectacular way to go!

     When I started writing, my running time was also my plotting time. As I ran through the early morning mist, along sidewalks and park trails, past houses and trees, the creativity increased along with the endorphins. I plotted new books, my chapter for the day, how to write out of the corner I’d written myself into. I had found the perfect exercise.

     I had great leg muscles, great lung capacity, great creativity…and bad knees. Eventually I had to have knee replacements.

     Knee replacements do not inspire creativity. Writing while in pain sucks. Writing while on pain meds can produce some very interesting…but not necessarily good…pages. I’m glad I’ve run out of knees to have replaced.

     I can no longer run. I had to find a replacement. On the advice of my orthopedic surgeon, I bought an elliptical machine. Much easier on the knees, especially bionic knees.

     But it’s boring. It sits in the basement next to a wall and never goes anywhere. No trees sprouting new leaves in spring and dropping those leaves in the fall. No houses with people inside, all of whom had stories I could tell. The only saving grace is that I can read my Kindle while spinning endlessly and going nowhere beside the wall that never changes.

     Exercises change but the writing must go on. Adhering to a routine works best for me.
·         Get up around 7:00.
·         Do thirty-minute yoga routine while listening to writing workshop CDs or, if these get boring, there’s always Investigation Discovery to get me thinking of murder.
·         Spend thirty minutes on the elliptical machine.
·         Shower.
·         Have breakfast of bacon, eggs, and Coke. Coke is essential to creativity.
·         Spend the rest of the day happily working on book in progress.
     That’s what I strive for five days a week.

     However, life frequently interferes.
Monday: Take car in for routine maintenance so the damned “Maintenance Due Soon” light will stop coming on every freaking time I start the car.
Tuesday: Take eyes in for yearly exam so I can throw away the reminder card that’s been sitting on my desk for two months.
Wednesday: Make two Triple Chocolate Mousse Cakes for Bunco group because I’ve been going to meetings for a year and eating their desserts and now it’s my turn.
Thursday: Journey across town to chiropractor and then to medical doctor because I mopped the floor after all that baking, slipped, and pulled muscles from shoulder to ankle resulting in so much pain, I couldn’t even catch my breath to curse.
Friday: Thursday’s injury makes sitting extremely painful. Must regularly change ice packs strapped to butt. Nevertheless, soldier on.

     If I’m lucky, I manage one ideal workday a week.

     Writing isn’t always convenient. It’s not always fun. But because it is as essential to me as breathing, somehow it always happens.

     By the way, I’m writing this while waiting at the chiropractor’s office.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Coming out of my comfort zone

I’ve recently attended my sixth Malice Domestic Convention where I had a great time. I came out of one comfort zone when I first attended this conference and stuck like glue to my friend who convinced me to attend. Also, I was traveling all alone to the unknown where I only knew the one person. Six years later, I’m all over the place and I like it.

The following year, I attended my first Bouchercon in St. Louis and once again, I was going into the unknown, traveling to a city I’ve never been to and knowing only a few people. I had a good time and there were moments where it got overwhelming with the crowd that I had to escape to my room. Again, coming out of that comfort zone.

At the Albany Bouchercon, I was asked if I wanted to be on a panel and my immediate answer was “no.” Going forward one year and at the Long Beach Bouchercon, not only was I sitting on a panel, but I was also moderating a panel for the first time. Talk about double anxiety. I was a nervous wreck right up to me sitting on the panel and then moderating one the following day. Again, coming out of that comfort zone.

When I attended Bouchercon Raleigh, there was a comfort zone I was not sure I could do and I’m happy that I didn’t have to address that one.

In February, I headed to Phoenix to attend my first ever Left Coast Crime convention and once again, I was moderating a panel and sitting on a panel and yes I was nervous, but once again, I’m coming out of my comfort zone.

And early in the month, I moderated my first panel at Malice Domestic and yes, I was nervous, but I was better prepared for all that needed to be done and it helped that I had met most of the panelists at other author events. Once again, coming out of that comfort zone.

Next year I tackle another comfort zone, traveling direct (11 hour flight) to Hawaii and I’m thinking I want to wade in the waters in Hawaii. If that is accomplished, that is a BIG coming out of my comfort zone.

So readers, have you come out of your comfort zone and done something you never thought you would?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Surviving Fitness Stuff


This month, Bethany challenged all of the members of the Stiletto Gang to think about and possibly write a post revealing our thoughts on “Author Fitness.” She specifically asked: “What do you do to keep yourself in shape for writing?  Anything physical (running, meditation, secret wrist stretches) or mental (journaling, daily free writes, writing by hand) that you do weekly or daily to keep you on your writing game.”

Because Linda has been ill with a nasty bug this past week, I’m posting for her.  I think it is a safe bet to say none of the above would be Linda’s response this week. Consequently, before I write my response, join me in wishing Linda a speedy recovery by leaving a comment.

My answer also is nothing.  It’s not that I haven’t tried.  I tried water aerobics with a trainer a few years ago.  When she said, “Raise your right arm,” I complied. Although I felt a sharp pain, I attributed it to being out of shape not to having just torn my rotator cuff. I pressed on with exercising for several weeks before an examination revealed a tear necessitating surgery.  Perhaps the morphine helped my creative thinking at that point in time.

Earlier this year, I signed up for a F.I.T. class.  Let me give you the entire perspective of this class.  It
was taken at a new gym that my husband and I recently had joined.  Previously, we were members at two different gyms, so we thought it would be nice to consolidate and actually go to the same place when we exercised.  Two of our friends accompanied us to the try-out afternoon.  As she and I were ambling on two of the many treadmills, my friend leaned over and whispered, “I don’t see our kind of people here.” She was right.  Everyone in our line of sight was buff, handsome, beautiful, and able to wear spandex without it clinging to their bodies.  Still, my husband and I joined and I even coughed up extra for the F.I.T. class.  When I arrived at my first session, I looked around at the other women and realized “I had found my people.” Even with their comfort and support, I washed out after a few months when I got dizzy jumping from pushups on the floor to jumping jacks and then dropping for ten more. 

Next, I tried a personal trainer.  He was kind, he was smart, and he quickly realized I wasn’t going to be one of those people who strives for a marathon or high intensity exercise level. I was assuring him my goal was merely to be healthy by losing some weight when I did a sit-up and something in my back popped.  Between epidurals, physical therapy, and plain old doctor visits, I didn’t have time (or permission) to exercise. 

Now, I’m back in the pool, but with my signing schedule for Should Have Played Poker being so crazy, who knows what calamity exercise might induce?  I’m not sure, but I’m not going to take any chances.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Bad Do You Want It?

By Cathy Perkins

We’ve been chatting about fitness at The Stiletto Gang this month, which inevitably has led to discussions about discipline. Or the lack of it. On my other group blog, several people have debated whether they’ve lost their creative spark and burnt out, or if they’ve simply lost their discipline. Oh vey, my friend Toby says. Discipline…

When I admired what another friend had accomplished—her discipline in sticking to her schedule—she bluntly upended that notion.

It’s not that I’m disciplined, it’s that I’m committed to having the result.”
You don’t need discipline when you’re committed to the outcome, because the result tells you what choices you need to make. If you want X, then you do A, B and C. Period. End of sentence.
I mulled that concept over for a few days, wondering if it was a yet another platitude or a different—better—way to look at the question. The song, How Bad Do You Want It? kept cycling through my head. If you’re committed to a goal—be it losing that ten pounds or finishing your first, second or tenth novel, or eating the broccoli you finally remembered to buy—then taking the actions to make it happen follow logically and naturally.
The next set of questions churning in my head weren’t as nice. Basically, I had to rethink everything I thought I was committed to. It made me question the goals I’m willing to do the work for.
None of these things make for sound sleep at 3AM by the way.
Who wants to admit—even to themselves—that maybe they’re not as committed as they thought they were?
Then again, maybe it’s a chance to reassess what you really want and break it down into the little pieces and determine what you really care about and what you can die without having accomplished and not be the least bit bothered by it.
If you want to write your novel (or lose that blasted ten pounds), are you committed enough to that result, that goal, that you’re doing the work day in and day out? The harsh truth is, if you’re not, maybe you’re not as committed to that result as you thought you were.
And that’s what I’m wrestling with right now.
To have what you want, you have to be committed.
If you’ve got goals or dreams in your head that really truly aren’t your goals—maybe it’s something you think you ought to want, or you’ve been told you should want, but you don’t really care about it, or if you didn’t make it happen you wouldn’t lose sleep, then give yourself permission to drop those “goals”. Don’t waste time and energy or even think about them.
Instead, refocus on what you do want to pursue.
That’s what alignment—commitment—is about. It’s about knowing what you want deep down. Knowing and being willing to let go of the other stuff.
My friend continued: You’re going to lose your focus sometimes. You’re going to fall off the wagon and be unproductive. It happens to all of us. Checking in with yourself on a daily basis is a great way to stay aligned with what you want and where you’re going, and also to pick yourself back up faster when you do lose focus.
So stop forcing yourself into dreams and goals that have other people’s names on them.
If you know you truly want something and wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you didn’t get it, maybe it’s time to focus and define that goal and then commit to it. No discipline needed.
Challenge for the week, the month, however long it takes: Dig deep and really question your goals and dreams. If you’ve been after something for a while and you’re still coming up short, maybe deep-down you don’t want to do it and it’s time to let that goal go. Or, maybe you’ll find you want it more than anything and now it’s time to step up your commitment to the result.
What’s one result you’re so committed to you don’t need “discipline” to take action? 


Cathy Perkins is questioning her commitment to releasing a new novella next month, Malbec Mayhem, a spinoff related to So About the Money. She has lists--lots of lists--and may survive the day to day activities needed to make it happen. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Is “Author Fitness” an Oxymoron?

By Kay Kendall

Most writers now spend countless hours each day seated at their computers pouring words into their machines. Oh, for sure, a few rare birds do exist who live otherwise—British writer Graham Greene wrote his usual 500 words each day and then called it quits. Few of us are that disciplined, however, and besides, the literary pace has picked up considerably since Greene’s heyday (and more’s the pity).  

As Greene grew older, his daily word count even slid to 300 words. He said he couldn’t sit still longer than 90 minutes, comparing himself unfavorably to Joseph Conrad whose ability to sit and write for twelve hours at a stint was legendary.

Pity today’s poor authors. We no longer get the exercise that our predecessors did decades ago. After all, they pounded typewriter keys. Surely that burned up a few extra calories compared to the soft touch used on computer keys? And remember this—writers from the 1860s to the 1960s also had to fling their mechanical typewriter carriages when they reached the end of lines on their pages. Until electric computers were invented, there was that nice little workout too.  

Lately I’ve mused about the unhealthy life of a writer. Not only am I getting creakier as I sit for longer hours at a time, but also I’m reading that my lifespan is threatened if I sit too long each day. Health and fitness gurus are now encouraging everyone to stand up—and walk too, preferably—at least ten minutes out of each hour.

I think about doing that, but so far that’s not been added to my routine. If I’m really cooking on a chapter, I scarcely want to glance at the clock that’s telling me to stand up, walk around—heck, and even smell the roses, for all I know. At least when Graham Greene stopped after writing his required words, he then would imbibe too much alcohol and consort with willing women who were not his wife. That was some kind of incentive to get moving, I guess, at least for him.

I may not get up and move—or even wiggle in my chair—each hour that I am writing, but I do exercise at least five times a week. I use a stationary bicycle and recently added an elliptical machine to my workout routine. Once upon a time I was proud of these exertions. I was exercising more than the suggested number of hours each week. Yet that’s not good enough now. I am still sitting for up to four hours at a stretch each day. My bottom gets numb and sometimes—like now—my back aches a wee bit too.

So, I guess I’m ready for a new addition to my fitness routine. Either that, or I could adopt part of Graham Greene’s pattern and take up heavy drinking. Now there is a topic for another blog one day—Let us consider the great number of writers who were alcoholics.


Kay Kendall’s historical mysteries capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s, and her titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. DESOLATION ROW (2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) are in her Austin Starr Mystery series. Austin is a 22-year-old Texas bride who ends up on the frontlines of societal change, learns to cope, and turns amateur sleuth….Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fit to Write

by J.M. Phillippe

In 1988, a group of advertising execs created possibly the greatest, most influential fitness campaign slogan ever: 

An entire generation, MY generation, has been living by these words of wisdom ever since. Or, at least aspiring to. Want to get good grades in school? Just do it. Want to learn to play guitar? Just do it. Want to see if you can eat an entire bag of cookies in one go? Just do it. Whatever it is you want to do, just go on out and do it.

Do an internet search on writing, and you'll find much the same advice:

Writer's write. The end. Want to be a writer? Write. Want to become good writer? Write more. Want to become the greatest writer that ever lived? Write, write more, and then write some more after that.

The doing makes you the thing. Runners run. Swimmers swim. Competitive food champions eat lots of food in really short amounts of time. Writers write.

If only it actually were that easy. 

What the ad execs were getting at (in an attempt to sell shoes and other various fitness apparel) is that there really should be no excuses between you and the thing you are setting out to do. "Just do it" cuts through any possible block you could put up. "I don't have time" becomes "make time." "I don't have the right equipment" becomes "get the right equipment." "I don't know what to say" becomes "say anything, keep saying anything until it becomes something, and then say more about that."

There is -- or there should be -- nothing that keeps writers from writing. Like running, swimming, and sure, probably competitive eating, daily practice is the key. Just do the thing. Just write. 

People obviously underestimate just how creative writers can be in coming up with excuses why they can't, in fact, just write. 
I have had some of the best naps of my life starting about 20 minutes after I sat down to write, because something about the process suddenly makes me super tired. The amount of resistance I have to the actual doing of writing is tremendous, so much so that it often takes a Herculean effort to even sit in front of my computer for ten minutes. It's as if I am a beginner runner trying to convince myself I can make it through this one lap, or this next minute, without stopping (or actually dying from an acute inability to breathe). In fact, I have gotten in better running shape with more ease than I have gotten through certain sections of a book -- and I am not in any way, shape, or form, someone who has ever actually enjoyed running; running, like writing, is something I have only ever enjoyed have had done. 

I have never been a particularly disciplined writer, relying on the sheer terror that a looming deadline evokes in me to get me through that giant cloud of resistance so that I can actually write. I don't have great writing discipline, or, really, any writing discipline, and it frankly shocks me every time I actually finish any piece of writing. It's almost as though I finally force myself into a fugue state, after which I have something I can maybe sort of push and prod into something else that I feel mostly okay having other people read. At some point, despite all my best efforts not to, I finally do in fact, just do it. I write. 

This is less than ideal. I would love a daily writing practice. I would love to get to the point where I can sit down in front of my computer and get to work without a certain tightening of my chest, a sudden thirst or hunger, or a desperate need to just rest my eyes, just for a few minutes, and then I'll totally knock out some pages. It's not like I don't know what I have to do. Nike has been telling me what to do for the past almost 30 years. Just do it. Just. Do. It. 

And I'm totally going to. 

Starting tomorrow.


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City.  She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work.  She works as a family 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, May 16, 2016

The Year of the Short Story

by Paula Gail Benson

From right, Art Taylor, Debra Goldstein, Cathy Pickens and husband Bob, and me.
Like Debra Goldstein, I’m a writing conference junkie. I completely understand the attraction that compels so many sci fi and graphic novel enthusiasts to flock to cons. First, you’re surrounded by people who have as great a love of the subject as you do, and second, you draw inspiration from proximity to the practitioners.

I’ll never forget my first visit to Malice Domestic about fifteen years ago. Everything about it seemed to spell impossible expectation. The time of year. The distance to travel. Getting leave from work. Arranging for my mother to travel with me. Yet, Mary Higgins Clark would be there, and I was obsessed with her books. When I imagined my future, it was writing novels like Mary Higgins Clark’s.

Somehow, all the pieces came together. Impossibility became reality. I went. Standing in line to get my picture with Mary Higgins Clark, I met Dana Cameron, who has become a wonderful, supportive friend. The photo with Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter Carol Higgins Clark has become a talisman for me, a symbol of what I can achieve. When one of my relatives asked who those people were (not recognizing me), I convinced myself I looked enough like an author to be mistaken for one. I’ve continued that happy delusion ever since.

I dub this year’s Malice “a celebration of the short story.” Malice revived its tradition of publishing anthologies with Malice Domestic’s Murder Most Conventional, with twenty two original stories and one reprint all set at conventions. (Another anthology is planned for next year featuring historicals.)

While I missed lunch with the Guppies, I had a wonderful time with Debra Goldstein, Barb Goffman, and others. Barb won her first Agatha this year for “A Year Without Santa Claus,” her first publication in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

At the SinC Breakfast, the announcement of a new initiative, “We Love Short Stories,” organized by Debra Goldstein, was met with applause and great expectations.

I thoroughly enjoyed being on a short story panel with James Lincoln Warren (a first class moderator who brought his panelists California wine), Teresa Inge, K.B. Inglee, and Jayne Ormerod. We missed being with Eleanor Cawood Jones, a contributor to the new Malice anthology, who had became ill. During our discussion time, we explored the diverse themes, characters, and settings for mystery short stories. Jim kindly read selections from each panelist's stories to the audience.  

At the banquet, so many attending had backgrounds as both short story writers and novelists. Terrie Farley Moran, who won an Agatha for best first novel last year, was nominated in the short story category this year. B.K. Stevens, who broke her arm and sadly could not be there, had a table full of supporters, cheering her nominations for short story and young adult novel. (Notice in the photo below that B.K.'s daughter Rachel and publisher Carla Coupe are holding up Her Infinite Variety, a new collection of B.K.'s short stories.) I had the pleasure of celebrating with Art Taylor when his novel in short stories, On the Road with Del and Louise, received the teapot as best first novel.

Hurray for another wonderful Malice and double hurray for the recognition of the importance of the mystery short story. It's going to be a wonderful year for reading!