Monday, August 21, 2017

B.K. "Bonnie" Stevens, True Friend and Good Writer

My first panel at Malice with Sally Goldenbaum, Liz Stauffer, Bonnie, me, and Wendy Tyson

by Paula Gail Benson

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

When we learned last week about B.K. “Bonnie” Stevens passing, Shari Randall (writer, librarian, blogging partner, and friend) reminded me of E.B. White’s novel and his description of the barn spider Charlotte who, by weaving carefully chosen words into her web, saved Wilbur the pig’s life.

Bonnie embodied the phrase, “true friend and good writer.” Her life was a testament to the importance of constantly reaching out to others, eagerly opening your mind to learn, and joyously communicating.

Like Charlotte, Bonnie spoke truthfully, honestly, and with respect for the complexities of the world. She also understood the power and wonder of individuals sharing their lives with each other.

Chronologically, I did not know Bonnie for a long period of time, but our connection and friendship is enduring. I know that her inspiration, advice, and encouragement are part of my life forever.

Maybe one thing that drew us together, besides my great admiration for her prose, was our backgrounds in and appreciation of education. Bonnie spent a good portion of her life as an instructor and I came from a family of teachers. From that environment, you realize how delightful discovering new facts and information can be.

As I read Bonnie’s longer biography on her website, I realized that her philosophy of remaining open to whatever life brought her continued to enrich her own experience. Through her fiction and nonfiction, she passed that joy along to her readers.

While reading Bonnie’s stories or being able to discuss writing with her were incredible treats, experiencing her generosity of spirit was truly humbling. I once got up the nerve to ask if she would read one of my stories and give me feedback. She did so promptly with excellent suggestions, but also asked what others had told me about the story. All perspectives of the writing process were fascinating to her. Later, she asked me to read and react to a play she had written. I hesitated, wondering if my comments possibly could be of any help to her. After all, she had won an award for this play. She assured me that she wanted to hear from me because I wrote plays and directed them for a drama ministry, and my view, as someone who had staged a play, would give her valuable insight.

One of the kindest and most incredible gifts that Bonnie and her husband Dennis gave me was a phenomenal birthday celebration during Bouchercon in New Orleans. In advance, Bonnie sent me a list of possible venues, each sounding more wonderful than the last, and asked me to pick the location. She gathered good friends Art Taylor, Debra Goldstein, and Riley Miller to join us. By the end of the blissful evening, we had a table full of desserts (including the most delicious jalapeno lime cheesecake as well as an Almond Joy chocolate cake) and the great satisfaction of an unforgettable time spent in lovely conversation. [Please look for Art Taylor’s “Remembering Bonnie Stevens” message and other tributes by fellow bloggers on and Debra Goldstein’s “In Memory of Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens” to be posted on Friday, August 25, 2017, here on The Stiletto Gang.]

Bonnie gave selflessly to so many. Just recently, I saw Kaye George’s remembrance of meeting Bonnie when she came to Kaye’s book signing at Malice Domestic. Kaye asked, “Are you the B.K. Stevens?” Bonnie said she was and asked Kaye, then President of the Guppies, the online chapter for Sisters in Crime, how she could join. From the time she became a member, Bonnie was constantly sending out words of welcome and congratulations.

When she began her blog “The First Two Pages,” Bonnie set out to highlight other writers’ work by allowing them to analyze the beginning of a short story or novel. Her initial post came from Kaye George and the latest messages are from the contributors to Kaye’s anthology to celebrate the solar eclipse, Day of the Dark (Wildside Press), some of whom are making their debut publication.

As I prepare to post these words on Monday, August 21, 2017, the day our country experiences the eclipse from coast to coast, I’m reminded of a special theatre tradition to recognize the passing of well known members of the Broadway community -- the simultaneous dimming of all the marquee lights for one minute at the 8:00 pm curtain hour. When the lights come back up, the shows go on.

While I experience this solar eclipse, I’ll remember Bonnie, my true friend and good writer, and think about all that she has done for the many lives she has touched. Thank you Dennis and daughters Sarah and Rachel for sharing her with us.
My New Orleans Bouchercon Birthday

Friday, August 18, 2017

When a Writer Faces a True Life Crisis

Recently, I have been trying to help a dear friend, who’s dealing with major chronic illness, the results of unhealed traumatic brain injury, vision problems, flood and tornado damage to her farm and house, and a right hand where a bone has come completely unmoored, requiring hand surgery. This woman, almost 70, is a major poet and novelist. In fact, her most famous and successful novel is often included on lists of Best Novels of the 20th Century. (The problem is that she was robbed of all royalties for this book that’s just been issued in a new edition after twenty printings. Never saw a dime, was told it just wasn’t selling, and now has a lawyer from the Authors Guild working on trying to recover some of her stolen monies.)

My friend struggles to deal with all these issues, including massive amounts of pain, as she lives a financially precarious life based on reading and workshop fees and visiting writer gigs. She lost her tenured professorship years ago when she suffered TBI, and they wouldn’t allow her time for rehabilitation. She has recovered her ability to write beautifully, to teach, to give talks and readings, but the executive ability of her brain is permanently damaged, meaning she can’t organize her papers, she loses track of dates and commitments, and she basically can’t find what she needs when she needs it. And now the vision problem and the need for surgery on her hand have struck.

As part of what I’ve been doing to help her, other than to be a shoulder to cry on long distance, I have been researching sources of help for writers in real crisis like this. And I have discovered that there are a number of resources out there. I’ve sent them to her and am now helping her to apply for some financial aid to hire someone to deal with the tornado and flood damage and to hire a college student to help her organize her papers, set up a filing system, coordinate her calendar, and help her with typing on the new novel she’s been trying so hard to finish during all this.

It made me think about the knife edge many of us live on as writers. I’d have been in her situation recently when going through cancer treatments and surgeries while already dealing with chronic, disabling illness—if I hadn’t had my dear, supportive, gainfully employed husband but had been all alone like her. So I thought I’d post the resources for writers in emergency situations here for all our readers. Maybe save it for a rainy day—because you never know when you might be facing similar difficulties. - This is the granddaddy of all emergency grants to writers. PEN realized how vulnerable writers could be many, many years ago and set up this fund, which has grown through the years and allowed them to help hundreds of writers in emergency situations. - This is a foundation funded by Stephen King after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver and lost years of work to surgeries and rehabilitation. King, of course, was a millionaire, so it wasn’t a financial hardship for him, but he came from poverty and thought about what this would have done to him when he was starting out and hadn’t had a bestseller yet. This fund not only provides a sum up front for emergencies, but can provide up to $2,000/month for six or more months while someone is going through a major situation and trying to get back on her/his feet. Yay, Stephen King!
Change, Inc.
(212) 473-3742
Change, Inc. provides one-time emergency grants of up to $1,000 to artists of any discipline. Applicants must be professional artists who can demonstrate need. Each applicant must submit a detailed letter describing the financial emergency, copies of outstanding bills, medical fee estimates and current financial statements, along with a career resume, reviews, exhibition or performance announcements, and two letters of reference from someone in affiliated field. For more information, write to:
Change Emergency Funds
Change, Inc.
P.O. Box 54
Captiva, FL 33924
Carnegie Fund for Authors
The Carnegie Fund offers grants to published writers who are in need due to an emergency, whether medical or otherwise. The fund does not award grants for work projects.
Individuals wishing to apply can write to the following address to request an application:
Carnegie Fund for Authors
Post Office Box 409
Lenox Hill Station
New York, NY 10021

Author’s League Fund 
31 East 32nd Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10016
Fund offers interest-free loans of between $2,000 and $3,000 to writers with severe medical/health-related problems and other serious misfortunes. No membership necessary. Application and details available on web site: Most supportive of older authors
American Poets Fund- Emergency Funds
The Academy of American Poets
584 Broadway Suite 1208
New York, NY 10012
The fund assists poets of demonstrated ability who are in a state of urgent financial need. Grants cannot be used to promote or otherwise enhance literary talent or reputation, and applications are not accepted. Academy Chancellors, Fellows, and prize winners must bring the circumstances of qualifying poets to the attention of the American Poets Fund committee by sending a letter of nomination, including specifics about the nominee's current financial situation, to the Executive Director of the Academy. For more information, please visit: 
I hope none of our readers or bloggers ever need these resources, but even then, one of our friends might, so I’d suggest you save this information somewhere permanent. Often people like my friend will struggle alone in silence through heartbreaking circumstances because they have no idea that such help exists.

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear January 17, 2018. 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 St. Martin's Press/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.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wedding Countdown

Wedding countdown is in full swing in the Perkins' homes!

My daughter and her fiance have handled most of the planning (thank goodness!) allowing me to play with the fun parts. Don't worry, there'll be no spreadsheets and seating charts, they aren't as much fun to look at.

Things were much simpler when my husband and I got married - well, the ceremony part was simpler, but that's a different story. For this couple, the planning started last year. Seattle has a really short "wedding season" given its intensely beautiful summers and the kids' preference for an outdoor wedding. Once they decided on a venue, the adventure began.

We shopped for the dress - no, she didn't select this one, but I love the swirl of the train - and sipped champaign to celebrate when she found The Perfect Dress.  

Wine tasting in Woodinville is always fun. The wine for the reception dinner? Cases and cases stacked and ready. Caterer? Check. DJ? Check. Flowers? Check.

On and on.

And so their list of tasks clicked into the "done" column.

I got to do more of the fun stuff.

Shower with her Besties? Oh yeah.

Shower in the most beautiful backyard of my new... what do I call the mother of the groom...?

Wonderful Woman :)

I'll see her at the wedding 😊

Did you do most of the planning for your kid's wedding or let them handle it? Or does a quick trip to the courthouse sound like a better plan? Your turn! 

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.

Her next book, DOUBLE DOWN, releases in September - after the wedding is over and all the guests have gone home. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Storylines from the Past Offer Lifelines Too

by Kay Kendall

“I tried so hard to sleep last night, but kept getting up to read more of Kay Kendall's DESOLATION ROW. It resonates powerfully in these troubled times . . . .”

So begins the newest reader comment on Amazon about one of my mysteries. Of course any laudatory review is a pleasure for an author to read about one of her book babies. However, while I was thrilled to see five stars, I was surprised to see an emotion expressed about reading my fiction that I never expected.

The reviewer concluded a personal email to me by saying, “I realized that the ideas/ideals are as compelling as the plot in your books, just what we need right now.”
I write historical murder mysteries, and my chosen time period is the turbulent era of the 1960s. Back in 2012 when I finished writing DESOLATION ROW and then when it debuted in 2013, I had hoped that setting my first book in a fraught time of extreme unrest would be interesting. I thought it would help readers of the baby boom generation remember their salad days and younger readers might read and learn what it was like. The plot is fiction. The background is not. DESOLATION ROW looks at the consequences of the Vietnam War, the anti-war movement, and personal outcomes from military service. In RAINY DAY WOMEN published in 2015, I explore the hopes for female improvement held by early members of the women’s liberation movement.
One reason I write about that time period is to describe its importance to those who know nothing about it. Reading fiction is an easy way to learn about history.
After both my mysteries were in print, I spoke to classes at a community college in Alabama. Only two in one hundred students knew about Bob Dylan—my book titles come from his songs. Moreover, none of them knew why the United States was drawn into fighting a war in Vietnam. And none of them had ever heard of the “domino theory.”
Another reason I write about the 1960s is to commemorate and revivify a part of American history that has had far reaching effects. Societal upheaval was so intense in the 1960s that the aftershocks still are felt today. Until very recently, that past seemed dead and buried.
Yet only two years since I spoke to those Alabama students and right now, right now the 1960s have gained new relevance. The era is evoked often on television news stations. Old battles are being fought again in the streets of America. And readers are telling me that my books bring them hope.

After all, they say, If we Americans got through such troubled domestic times once, we can do so again. But hang on, dear readers, we may be in for a long and bumpy ride.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Visit Kay at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Running on Empty

by J.M. Phillippe

I have been trying to write this blog for several hours now. I wanted to write something about Charlottesville, VA, and about white nationalism (how it came to be, and why we can't just abide it). I wanted to write about meeting anger with compassion, and the struggle to do that.

I also really want to write about Game of Thrones, because the last two episodes have been amazing, and it's one of my favorite shows (in part because I also write fantasy). And it would be easier to write about that than pretty much anything else I could come up with.

And I also want to write about my struggle at work with clients who have little to no tolerance for the fallibility of others (including their therapist) and how hard that is to hold, again, with compassion.

But I just feel so bleh about it all. I am trying to hold on to the idea that what I write matters, both in this blog and in my fiction. I have been struggling to hold on to the idea that art matters, that novels matter, when I feel like I should be out marching instead of writing, or calling more senators and house representatives.

I am struggling to have enough energy to balance out all the things I want in my personal life with the national tragedy that is all around us. I am really struggling with dealing with the fact that so many people (again, including clients) don't believe there is a national tragedy or fear the rise of white nationalism (and literal Nazis!) in our country.

I know that art matters. I know that it doesn't have to be high and mighty, capital A Art to matter either. I know that distraction is not a bad thing when there is so much bad news happening all the time. And I know that for myself, I do best when I engage actively in creativity on a consistent basis.

And I also know that I am not the only one struggling right now, so I'm just going to put this here:

I'm going to go practice some art -- even if I do it badly -- so that I can refill my compassion well. It's been on empty for a while.


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 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, August 14, 2017

Road Trip!

A bit more than a long weekend, a bit less than a full-fledged vacation. We recently took off for Bentonville, Arkansas—an easy drive from Kansas City.

My plan, carefully thought out, was to leave at two and miss the afternoon traffic. With two teenage daughters, that plan was a pipe dream.

We left at four and everyone but me in the car seemed bemused by the number of cars on the road.

Really? Had they never heard of lake traffic? It was a Friday.

I sat in the passenger seat and pressed an imaginary gas pedal. Our tickets were for 8:30. Yes, tickets. We had tickets to the Chihuly exhibit at Crystal Bridges.

Thanks to the traffic, a three-hour drive was much longer and there were rumblings from the back seat about dinner. Loud rumblings. Rumblings I ignored. We did, after all, have tickets.

We checked into the hotel and hurried down the outdoor trail to the museum where we presented our tickets and viewed the Chihulys held in the museum. Then it was outside to see the Chihulys in the forest. Needless to say the exhibits were breath-taking. They would have been even more fabulous if my youngest hadn’t taken to calling Chihuly Chilupah.

Apparently the child had Mexican food on her mind. That or the glass in the boat reminder her of hot peppers.

We followed the dark path away from the Chihulys. The very dark path. So dark we got lost.

The forest had thrown off our sense of direction and we emerged far from where we wanted to be.

I ignored the peanut gallery—“We’re hungry,”—and waved down a shuttle.

I stuck my head inside the little bus. “Excuse me, we’re lost.” I got no further.


What were the chances of running into someone I knew?

We climbed onto the never-so-grateful-to-climb-on-a-bus bus which took us back to the museum.

“All the restaurants will be closed,” said Miss Chilupah. “What are we going to eat?”

“We’ll order room service.” Did room service deliver stiff drinks?

From the museum, we took the mile-long trail back to the hotel.

We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant. They served stiff drinks. It was marvelous.

The next morning, the Bentonville square was filled with farmers selling produce, artists and artisans selling their wares, and all sorts of people. My husband and I sat in the shade, drank coffee, and watched.

Eventually our daughters dragged themselves out of bed and joined us. They had the audacity to tell me they were hungry. We got in line at the creperie across from the hotel and the girlies happily downed fruit crepes.

Next on the itinerary was Hot Springs.

Here comes an admission. I drive on inter-states. It never crossed my mind that there were roads of less than four lanes. I was wrong. Very wrong.

The road from Bentonville to Fayetteville was easy.

The road from Fayetteville to Hot Springs winds. And twists. Then winds some more.

My husband wasn’t happy. Not at all.

The situation wasn’t helped by my explanation that one could drive anywhere at 70 miles per hour. To my way of thinking that meant 140 miles should take two hours.

Not so on this trip.

When we finally arrived, the first thing the girls said was, “We’re hungry.”

How did people travel without smart phones? Oldest daughter picked a restaurant in downtown Hot Springs and the food was delicious.

We fell into bed that night.

I woke up early and wrote (deadlines are inexorable), we went out for breakfast, then we piled into the car for yet another drive down twisty roads.

We dug for diamonds. It was…fun. I never thought I’d enjoy sitting in the dirt sifting through rocks. I did. We all did. We didn’t find any diamonds.

Back to the windy road. Back to hearing, “I’m hungry.”

That night we promenaded around Hot Springs. The Grand Promenade, then a walk past the eight bathhouses that line Central St., and finally a visit to the Arlington Hotel (“Why aren’t we staying here, Mom?”). We should have. My mistake.

And, unbelievably, Miss Chilupah said, “There’s the place I want to go for breakfast.”

None of this has anything to do with mysteries or writing or the book that’s coming out in October. Except is does. Creativity springs from seeing new things, eating new foods, and, apparently, driving twisty, turning roads.

Hope the remainder of your summer is filled with adventures!

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Her latest book, Cold as Ice, releases October 17th.