Monday, August 28, 2017

Literary Weekend

As the non-writer of this group, I really had nothing to say for my blog post today. But then I thought about my girl’s weekend and how we met and it was quite literary.

Thanks to Joanna Campbell Slan, Yifat C., Marla H. and I met when Joanna hosted a gathering of her beta readers to explore the setting of her Kiki Lowenstein series. So off I went to St. Louis, Missouri and had a wonderful weekend of exploration and crafting and I’ve bonded with the two women mentioned above. Bonus is that Yifat and I are both from New York and her husband grew up in the same neighborhood as me. We’ve kept in touch and every year when we had a beta babe event, off we went. . .to Florida to check out the location of Cara Mia, Joanna’s other series and last year, we went to Washington D.C. So, as you can see, books brought us together. Literary.

This year it was just us three women headed out to Boston for a girl’s weekend and as we are walking around the hotel’s neighborhood, who should we walk into. . .Joanna Campbell Slan who was meeting a classmate. Since Joanna’s had some spare time, we invited her to join us in our foray of Boston. How does literary work into this scenario. . .well, we took one of those highlights tour and the first statue that we see is Edgar Allan Poe. How appropriate to see this – my first thought was the Raven Award that was in my possession. Literary.

Edgar Allan Poe

One of the sites I’ve wanted to see was Paul Revere’s house. . .so near to closing time, there we are, with no crowd, checking out his house and I was impressed that he had 16 children who at any one time lived in the house. Then we followed the Freedom Trail to see The North Church which was the site of the light, and the “one if by land, and two if by sea” and it is a magnificent building. Literary because of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Paul Revere's house

Other Boston sightings

Signage on wall in front of Paul's house

The front of Paul's house

The North Church steeple

Signage on The North Church

The North Church

And in Boston, one must visit the Cheers bar and if you can, eat there as well. The food was delicious.

Headed to Cheers for dinner

Have you ever visited the location of a book that you’ve read? Did it live up to your expectation?

Friday, August 25, 2017

In Memory of Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens

In Memory of Bonnie (B.K. ) Stevens by Debra H. Goldstein

In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, there is a line “No man is a failure who has friends.” The outpouring of testamentary comments on list servs, Facebook, and exchanged through private e-mails as people learned of the sudden death of Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens demonstrates what a success she was.

Her success was based on talent as a writer, but more importantly the ability to be a mensch as a person. Whether through a congratulatory note, post, or other gesture, Bonnie let people know she cared about them. In a date of social media, she took the time to use those devices to connect with a human touch.

Bonnie and I became list serv acquaintances in 2014, but our true friendship began in January 2015 when, while reading back issues of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, I came across her short story, Thea’s First Husband. I didn’t know it had been nominated for Macavity and Agatha awards, only that it moved me in a way few stories, other than Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, had. As a bottom of the heap short story writer, I recognized I was reading how a master interweaves plot, dialogue, and setting to escalate tension and intrigue a reader. I wrote Bonnie a fan e-mail telling her this and asking if she ever taught classes. I told her I had had some success with having stories and two novels accepted, but hadn’t had the guts to try for AHMM or EQMM, but reading her story moved me and I hoped there was a way I could learn from her.
Her reply was, as I came to learn, classic Bonnie. Humble and a lesson in itself:

Hi, Debra--

Thank you so much for your kind words about "Thea." My goodness! That didn't just make my day--it made my week, possibly my whole month.

No, I don't teach any online classes. I'm a retired English professor  (at least a temporarily retired
one--who knows what the future holds?), but even when I was teaching, I usually taught composition and literature; I taught creative writing only a few times, and I'm not sure I was very good at it. I don't know of any classes to recommend, but I can tell you that my favorite books on writing fiction are Stephen King's On Writing (especially the second half of the book) and Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer. I also like Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers--I don't agree with everything the authors say, but it's a thought-provoking book. Blake Snyder's Save the Cat focuses on screenplay writing, but I find the advice on story structure helpful (especially Chapter 4). And if you'd be interested in some old-fashioned advice that still seems sound to me, you might look at Anthony Trollope's An Autobiography, especially chapters 12--14 (though there's good advice scattered in many other chapters,too).

I hope that's helpful. Again, thank you for what you said about "Thea." I'm going to treasure those words!


We exchanged further e-mails and posts of mutual encouragement and congrats in the next few months and agreed to meet in person in Raleigh at Bouchercon. We met, embraced, talked and began a tradition with Paula Benson and Art Taylor of sharing a meal.

In the months that followed I read more of her stories, as well as her adult and YA novels: Interpretation of Murder and Fighting Chance. We talked a lot about Fighting Chance, which I five starred and she wrote a blog about on my personal blog, “It’s Not Always a Mystery.” The book also was nominated for an Agatha and other awards.

We agreed to have dinner at Malice, but she couldn’t join Paula, Art and me after she fell and was injured just before the conference. We toasted her in abstentia, but made up for it with a delicious group dinner at Bouchercon New Orleans and drinks at Malice 2017.  Because she couldn’t do a private dinner at Malice 2017 (I sat at her table during the banquet where her novella, The Last Blue Glass, was honored as an Agatha nominee), we made definite plans for dinner in October at Bouchercon 2017. Malice, in Bethesda, was only drinks because she used her dinners, other than the banquet, to visit with her daughters Sarah and Rachel.

That brings me to the true passion in her life. Family. Bonnie was like a school girl in her love and adoration for her husband, Dennis. Seeing them together at conferences or in pictures she posted on Facebook from their wedding, there was no difference in the looks of devotion and joy they shared. Her talk of her two daughters, Sarah and Rachel, and of Sarah’s children’s accomplishments combined praise, love, and pride. This year, we compared nachas (happiness) of having our first grandchildren’s bar/bat mitzvahs and kidded we should introduce her unmarried Jewish daughter to my single Jewish son.

There won’t be any more dinners or talk of introducing our children, but what I will remember is a package I received a week after Malice 2017. It contained a note and five copies of the May/June 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine that Bonnie and Dennis collected from their registration bags and the giveaway room. The note told me she knew I would want extra copies of the issue that had my name on the cover and my first AHMM story, The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place in it and that she thought it was an award winning story. Who knows if it will be nominated for anything at the next events at which it is eligible, but it won the biggest award in my book – Bonnie’s approval.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A few other excellent tributes to Bonnie can be found at:
Remembering B.K. Stevens - Art Taylor - Sleuthsayers

B.K. "Bonnie" Stevens: True Friend and Good Writer - Paula Benson - The Stiletto Gang

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - Summer Reading List

Summer is almost over, but there still is time for a few great summer reads before Labor Day. Here are a few suggestions from members of The Stiletto Gang.
Paula Benson:
Gigi Pandian’s Accidental Alchemist mysteries -- The Accidental Alchemist, The Marauding Magician, and The Elusive Elixir -- I love the living gargoyle, Dorian Robert-Houdin. His vegetarian recipes almost convince me to try that lifestyle.

Anything by Lori Rader-Day -- The Black Hour, Little Pretty Things, and The Day I Died -- Her novels will all keep you on the edge of your seat.

Lee S. Robinson’s Lawyer for the Dog and Lawyer for the Cat -- two great legal chick lit virtual journeys to Charleston, SC. They will keep you laughing and turning pages.

Cathy Perkins:

I’m a little burned out on mysteries (perish the thought!) so this week, I’m reading Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane; Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone; and Glen Erik Hamilton’s Past Crimes (because you can never not read mysteries).
Dru Ann Love:
Lowcountry Bonfire by Susan M. Boyer 
The Tell-Tale Tarte by Maya Corrigan 
Death of a Bachelorette by Laura Levine 
Down a Dark Road by Linda Castillo 
Cat About Town by Cat Conte 
Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett

Barbara Plum:

HOW EMOTIONS ARE MADE by Lisa Feldman Barrett--a surprising and different twist on the brain and emotions. THE ACHIEVEMENT HABIT by Bernard Roth, a Stanford engineer who has created a program to harness the wanna-save-the-world ideals of young students.

Juliana Aragon Fatula:

Sherman Alexie Memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,
the absolute true diary of a part time indian,

by Denise Chavez: The King and Queen of Comezon, A Taco Testimony, Meditations on Family, Food,  and Culture, The Last of the Menu Girls

by Joy Harjo: A Map to the Next World

by Leslie Marmon Silko: Storyteller

by Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In

Linda Rodriguez:

I'll go with what I want to read myself (but probably won't have a chance to until summer's gone).

REEK OF RED HERRINGS by Catriona McPherson
ARACHNID VERVE by Shauna Osborne
CITIZEN by Claudia Rankin
COURT OF FIVES by Kate Elliott

Jennae Phillippe:

Oh man. Whatever makes you happy? I tend to go lighter in the summer, heavier in the winter. But I find recommending books really hard. I would suggest people check out The Stiletto Gang authors. :-P

Sparkle Abbey:

Anita: I haven't read as many books as I'd like. I've been reading meal prep cookbooks. I finally finished Death but Tiara and Death of a Bachelorette by Laura Levine.

Mary Lee: I'm doing a lot of reading different things this summer. Mysteries, of course, women's fiction, and non-fiction. Some I'd recommend are: Flight Patterns by Karen White; Death of a Bachelorette by Laura Levine, and The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach.

Kay Kendall:

*Trail of Echoes: A Detective Elouise Norton Novel by Rachel Howzell Hall  

*Kilmoon: A County Clare Mystery by Lisa Alber

*Quiet Neighbors: A Novel by Catriona McPherson
*The Darkest Secret: A Novel by Alex Marwood      

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Food of Thoughts

By Bethany Maines

Last weekend, I participated in a local author program called Food for Thought.  Put on by the local business district in partnership with a local literary group, CreativeColloquy, the program hosts different authors each week at a farmer’s market for a minimal fee ($5).  These type of events are great ways to connect with readers, brush up on my “elevator pitch” for books, and see what’s resonating with the public.  The elevator pitch is essentially a one to two sentence synopsis of a book.  And with that many people visiting the booth, I can try out different versions and wording to see what pitch makes people look interested in a book.  For my Carrie Mae Mysteries, slightly older ladies resonate with “It’s the story of what would happen if Mary Kay ran an international espionage organization.”  But the younger women and men do better with “If James Bond was a woman.”  Even if I didn’t end up selling a good amount of books, that kind of market research is pretty invaluable.  But, of course, being out in the public is also a way to connect with the… um… unique individuals that walk among us.

My favorite unique person this last weekend was the gentlemen who told us a series of stories about his experiences with ghosts including some “Indians” because he had been staying at a house built on an “Indian Burial Ground.”  The problem was that as he meandered on about his experiences, the Native Americans he described sounded straight on out of the movies, and lacked any resemblance to the actual tribes that populate the area.  Not all tribes wear “leathers” crazy face.  Our tribes used capes woven from cedar bark and a type of fabric woven from the hair of a now extinct type of dog.  <LEARN MORE HERE>  So… try being more educated before doing drugs. Also, and not for nothing, if a housing developer were to find human remains, archaeologists and police would have to be called and the local tribes would claim the bodies.  Nobody wants to build on top of human remains – they disintegrate, leaving cavities in the ground and make foundations unstable.  It’s unsound construction, OK, nut job?  And also, also, you’re scaring people away from my booth.

But he’s just the tiny fly in the ointment. The majority of people at such events are at minimum polite and usually excited about talking to an actual author.  And in the end, talking to such enthusiastic readers and writers are what keep me coming back to these type of events.  So if you see me out and about, stop by to say hi.  Just don’t tell me about your ghost experience… unless it’s historically accurate.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, 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.

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.