Friday, April 27, 2018

Ten Words in April


      Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

April is my birthday month. We’re not going to talk about exactly which one. It’s been a hectic month that included working with my editor on my new police witch book, House of Rose. April also is the month for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in between working on my book, I had the privilege of playing a small role in helping to host “Violins of Hope” in my city of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a unique and amazing experience.

Amnon Weinstein, a violin maker in Israel came to Birmingham this month with his family for a week of concerts and educational programs. Like his father, Weinstein dedicated his life to making and repairing violins. As a child, Amnon never heard his parents speak much about the Holocaust. The trauma of losing hundreds of their extended family was too overwhelming to give it voice, but one day after Amnon’s father had died, a woman came into his shop with a violin that had been through the Holocaust. When he opened it, there were ashes inside. The woman explained that it’s owner had been forced to play it inside a concentration camp while prisoners were marched to their deaths.

Shaken, Ammon looked with new eyes at the numerous violins that had been brought to his father in Israel after WWII because people didn’t want anything that was made in Germany or associated with that country, and he decided those violins had voices that needed to speak and stories that needed to be told.  Some of the instruments, he learned, had kept people alive during the Holocaust, others brought the beauty of music into a dark place and time, and so, they were not just violins of tragedy but violins of hope.

Many Jews in Eastern Europe played the violin, as reflected in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It is said that the violin is the closest instrument to the human voice and also that it is the easiest instrument to pickup and run with. Professional musicians, called klezmers, traveled from village to village playing for weddings and other events. Amnon and his family came to Birmingham, a city with its own story of violence and repression of a people who loved music. 

In April—the season of azalea, dogwood and redwood blooms—the restored violins were displayed and played by students and professional musicians. Youth who had been studying the Holocaust heard Amnon speak and the violins sing. Their voices honored those before, those who who had held them and loved them and drew beautiful music from them, those who had lived and those who had died. I expected to be touched by the music of the violins, and I was, but it was the words that gave shape to the music’s power—that explained the unexplainable.  

Amnon’s wife, Assiel Weinstein, spoke at the commemoration of Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Though she did not play the violin, with ten words, Assi changed my understanding of the meaning of Israel. Assi’s father had been a partisan in Eastern Europe during the war, one of the famous Bielski brothers who escaped to the surrounding forest and waged guerrilla warfare against the Germans who were murdering the Jews of the villages and taking them away to death camps. At the same time, the Bielski brothers established a refugee camp deep in the woods, harboring those fleeing the Nazis, many of whom were old, weak and sick. Assi’s father, who was in charge of food and raiding parties said, “Let the Russian partisans do the fighting. It is more important to save one old Jewish woman than to kill ten Germans.” Hungry, sick, clinging to survival through harsh winters, the group became a community and kept their humanity. The movie Defiance was based on this historical event. 

Toward the end of the war, in August of 1943, the Germans gathered soldiers to surround the forest, determined to flush out the partisans, the Bielski brothers and their camp of refugees.  Inexorably, they closed in. There was no escape. “All the people wanted to run in different directions,” but Tuvia Bielski, their leader said, “No we stay together. If we die, then we will die fighting, but we’ll do it together.”

Miraculously, two Jews, a forester and a peddler told the brothers that they knew a path through the swamp to an island. Hundreds of men, women and children followed them, as their ancestors had followed Moses, through the swamp to a small island where they hunkered down in absolute silence, waiting while the Nazis came closer and closer. For hours, they were still and quiet, even the children. Assi’s mother was among those who huddled, terrified, on the island, listening to the sounds of shouted orders and bullets flying overhead as the Germans searched all around them, certain they would be discovered and killed at any moment. But they weren’t. At the war’s end, 1,200 Jews walked out of that forest.

After the war, Assi’s mother insisted on immigrating to Israel. She told her daughter, “I came to Israel because I will never run again.” 

I knew, of course, that people fled to Israel for safety, but those words were not those of a woman seeking shelter, but a place to fight from and to fight for. She would take her stand there. And with those ten words, I realized that is what Israel is, not a safe haven to hide, but a place to make a stand and a home for Jews, so they never have to run again. 

Click here for a 1.5 minute video of Amnon and Violins of Hope

T.K. has written two award-winning historical novels, NOAH'S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, filling in the untold backstories of extraordinary unnamed women—the wives of Noah and Lot—in two of the world’s most famous sagas. The New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, which details the investigators’ behind-the-scenes stories of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. Her next project is HOUSE OF ROSE, the first of a trilogy in the paranormal-crime genre. She loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. T.K. writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, Alabama, often with two dogs and a cat vying for her lap. She blogs about “What Moves Me” on her website,  Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

My Black Moments by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Juliana 1971 a survivor

Dear Reader,

This is my fourth Thursday of the Month of April 2018 post. I've decided to tell you my story of how I became a writer. 

I love a good murder mystery. I love to look for clues into solving a good mystery. I also dig it when the writer throws in a red herring or two: a fact or idea that distracts, misleads your attention from the central clues. I asked Google for the precise meaning of the idiom, a red herring. The complete saying goes drawing a red herring across a path. The fish is cured and smoked turns a rusty red. A Herring is dragged across a hunting trail to throw the hounds off the scent. I learned the meaning and now when I throw in a red herring I think about a dead red fish being dragged down the path to throw the hunting hounds off the scent. 

I grew curious to another mystery description: the black moment. Bryant McGill said, "Life had dark moments and it is out of our darkness that we often find our greatest beauties and strengths. The synonyms: secrecy, mystery, grim gloom; and a definition: a dark period of time that is unpleasant or frightening, a serious secret, evil or threatening without hope. 

I've studied murder cases and the lessons I learned about the dark moments: you give up hope; however, I realized I've had several dark moments, black moments in my life.

I wrote poems about my black moments. I survived them, lived to write about those life threatening fears. Those moments enabled me to see the beauty in life. How fleeting our lives can be, in a heartbeat, a nano second. One moment our life feels hopeful, enter the black moment and wa la: terror, fear, pain, sorrow, anger, remorse, hopelessness; but the sun rises every day and life goes on and on and on until it doesn't.

When I was fourteen I saw the edge of the cliff. My friend and her boyfriend fiddled with the car radio. I saw from my passenger window the dark, deep canyon below us and screamed. It frightened me and I quit driving until I was eighteen, the trauma cased by fear of dying. 

I gave birth to my son in San Francisco. His father used heroin. My child came the year I finished my freshman year in high school. The doctor explained to me my baby's blood condition. He wasn't making enough platelet blood cells and needed a blood transfusion.

My parents, family, friends were in Colorado. I was alone, fifteen, scared to death and prayed for a miracle. My son turns forty-six this December and lives a healthy life. We survived and I grew stronger.

At eighteen, I almost bled to death in the restroom of the hospital Emergency Room. When I came to consciousness, I found myself in a hospital bed, an incision in my abdomen from my pelvis to my belly button.

I weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet. I had lost half my blood supply in that dark moment. My fallopian tube burst from an ectopic  pregnancy; the pain was so intense, I fainted and collapsed in a heap. The  nurse on duty found me in a pool of blood and saved me. I never even thanked her. I didn't die that day, but I felt so much pain I wished I were dead. I survived.

I married at twenty-one the man I met when I was sixteen and he was nineteen. It was a big mistake. When I told him I wanted a divorce, he threatened to shoot me and then himself. My black moment: I stared down the barrel of his gun.
Juliana, survivor, and sister, Lynette 1980's

He did not kill me; he did worse than kill me; he kidnapped my five year old son. I never gave up hope, but I knew my ex-husband was capable of murder/suicide. We both survived and forty years later we're still here.

I learned to cherish every day and remain calm in times of crisis. My common sense kept me alive, my fight or flee response saved me, listening to my body kept me from bleeding to death at home, alone. Now I write heinous murders, serial killing sprees, I write black moments and I know the hopelessness will not last. There's always hope . 

I write about murder, serial killing sprees, mercy killing and I love the dark moment. My characters enter the darkness hopeless, but on the other side there is salvation, unless they're the victim; if they're the victim, they get killed. 

Writing about murder comes naturally to me. I see the movie playing in my head and I write down the words to those pictures. If I had never experienced black moments, I might write fairy tales, but even those have their black moments. Tell me about some of your black moments and how you survived. 

Juliana 2018 a survivor

Monday, April 23, 2018

A little of this, a little of that

It's my turn to write a post and I really have nothing.

Next week will be a busy one as Malice Domestic convention is upon on. Some will trek to Bethesda, Maryland to attend panels and listen to honored guest and be one with the reading/writing universe. I look forward to attending this convention as it was the first one I ever attended.

I will also be attending the memorial for Sue Grafton on Tuesday. Later that evening I will be at the Mysterious Bookshop for the 2018 Edgar Awards celebrations where I will be hobnobbing with 2018 Edgar Award nominees, authors, and people in the publishing industry.

That's all I have. Oh wait, did you know that there are five separate areas on my blog? From Monday - Saturday and sometimes Sunday, my "day in the life" feature is showcased. I save the Saturdays for non-cozy titles. Sundays are for cover reveals (although lately I had a couple in the middle of the week), reviews, and releases.

You can check out my blog at

Friday, April 20, 2018

Visiting With The Killer Coffee Club

by Shari Randall

One of the biggest perks of being an author is getting to spend time talking with readers. Because I’m a writer, reader, and former librarian, I love talking books! I feel torn while writing because I stay away from the type of books I love reading most – mysteries. I’m afraid I’ll unconsciously pick up another author’s voice or plot point. While writing a first draft, I switch to nonfiction, biographies, or craft books, or delve into whatever I’m researching for the work in progress.

So I was especially thrilled when I received an invitation to visit the Killer Coffee Club to talk to readers about my new mystery, Curses, Boiled Again! The Club is run by Nikki Bonnani, a college instructor, personal trainer, and writer who moderates this long-running book group. Nikki is high energy - she reminds me of an Energizer Bunny. I think she’s met every author out there. The authors who have visited the Killer Coffee Club - in person or via Skype - are a Who’s Who of the mystery world: Brad Parks, Donna Andrews, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Rosemary Harris, Edith Maxwell, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Lee Child…. I could go on. The Club has been meeting at the Barnes and Noble in Ithaca, New York since 2009 when they discussed Louise Penny’s Still Life. The fact that Nikki chose that book tells you about her excellent taste in books and I’m not just saying that because she invited me.

I was thrilled to be invited, but also a bit terrified. I couldn’t make the trip to Ithaca, so I’d be doing the visit via Skype.

Not familiar with Skype? Wikipedia says Skype is “a telecommunications application software product that specializes in providing video chat and voice calls between computers.” In plain English, Skype lets you video chat on your computer.

I love what Skype does but I’m not keen on how Skype makes me look – like my passport photo. Still I was happy to do it. By the way, Nikki looks great on camera. She’s been doing Skype for a long time and is a pro. I noticed a few things that she did and that I didn’t do which might help you if you ever get to do a Skype interview:

1.     Check the position of your screen. Nikki had her computer camera set in one stationary spot. I Skyped on my laptop, while I was curled up on the couch. Not a good idea. After a while I noticed that I was veering in and out of the frame as I shifted position. If you Skype, set your computer in one spot, preferably in a way that makes you lift your chin while you talk. Not only was I looking down at my laptop, I realized that particular posture muffled my voice.

2.     Practice ahead of time. I Skyped my older daughter, who was bemused to be using this, to her, antiquated technology. We worked out a couple of kinks, most especially something I’d never thought would be an issue – lighting. I’d planned to sit on the couch with a floor lamp beside me, but I ended up looking a mobster in witness protection being interviewed on Dateline, all shadowy and obscured. Overhead lighting will make you more visible, but may be harsh. Be sure to experiment.

3.     Test your link. I had the link to Skype, which I confirmed with Nikki before the meeting, ready to go at interview time so I could simply click a button to connect.

The bottom line? I had such a good time talking and laughing with the Club I forgot to be nervous. Because Nikki is a writer, she asks thoughtful questions that spark great discussion. Her group also asked great questions, and an hour flew by.

I hope these tips are helpful for your Skype visits. If you have any tips on using Skype or on author visits to book clubs in general, please share them in the comments.

Shari Randall is the author of Curses, Boiled Again, Book One of the new Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. RT Book Reviews called Curses, "a delicious cozy with deadly outcomes and plenty of probable culprits."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Retreating to Advance

By Cathy Perkins

The weekend marked the 10th anniversary of our writing retreat. Wow, ten years. Ten years ago, Rachel Grant, Rebecca Clark, Courtney Milan, Darcy Burke and I were Golden Heart finalists and staged our first retreat. (We invited Elisabeth Naughton to join us several years ago and Kris Kennedy couldn’t come this year.) We’re all multi-published authors now, but we’re also friends. We’ve seen each other’s children grow up, celebrated successes and consoled losses.

The primary focus of the weekend is writing. Usually silence reigns except for the clicking of Elisabeth’s keys, but there are lighter moments too. We reviewed the 432 pictures from Darcy’s photo shoot and picked favorites for book cover potential. Of course, we had to stage our own “shoot.” 

This is our “thoughtful” pose. 

Yeah, not.

One of the most helpful things for me was the business discussion. We talked about goals for the upcoming year and mouths gaped as Darcy described her publication schedule. “I treat it like a job, because that’s what it is,” she explained. In order to meet her schedule, she sets—and meets—daily word counts. 

Her comment echoed Steven King. I listened to On Writing during the drive to Portland. (We change the location every year, but the house is always in the Pacific Northwest.) King said he goes to his writing space every morning and doesn’t come out until he has at least 1500 words on the page. Some days he’s done by noon. Others, he’s there until dinner time.

That’s my takeaway from this year’s retreat. Consistency. Discipline. Sure, I wrote nearly 15,000 words this weekend. Some of them will turn out to be lousy, but the first draft of my latest novel is nearly complete and editing will deal with the clunky sections. But every day since I’ve been home, instead of checking email, social media, and the news when I get up, I write. I’m roughly two scenes away from reaching “The End.”

And then the editing will begin…and the plotting of the next book.

Thanks Darcy. And Steven.   

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd. 

She's hard at work on the next book in the Holly Price series, 
In It For The Money.