Monday, September 30, 2019

Lydia and the Role of Women

Guest post by author Eleanor Kuhns 

Lydia Rees, wife of my detective Will Rees, is an opinionated and outspoken woman and an equal partner with her husband as they investigate murders and other crimes. This is not so surprising for modern times but during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a woman had no legal status. She owned nothing and in fact she herself was chattel, belonging first to her father and then to her husband. The portion she brought to her marriage belonged to her husband and literally everything she had, including her children and the clothes on her back, belonged to him. In one of the primary sources I read a woman divorced one man for another and had to marry in her shift. The clothing she wore belonged to husband number one and he wanted it back. Fortunately, husband number two had clothing waiting for her and as soon as they were married she dressed. 

A woman could not inherit the family home unless her husband specifically named her in the will. If he did not, she became the burden of her eldest son. If they had a bad relationship he could, and did, at least according to some of the histories I’ve seen, put her out to make her own way on the road.  

This did not mean that women did nothing. Oh no. This was an agrarian world and a man could not run his farm without his wife’s labor. Farm wives kept a garden, made butter and cheese, cooked, sewed clothing, cleaned – and all of this at the same time they dealt with pregnancy and minded their children. Wives of printers and other professional men frequently helped in the shop. It is no wonder that many men from this time are buried with two, three or sometimes more wives. 

Lydia is a former Shaker (or The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming to give them their proper name. Shakers was at first a derogatory nickname based on their physical services – it is a combination of ‘Shaking Quakers’.) The Shakers were a faith begun by a woman, Mother Ann Lee, and the Shaker Sisters have equal authority with their male counterparts. There are two Elders and two Eldresses, two Deacons and two Deaconesses for every Family. Although the work was assigned along traditional gender roles, women and their labor were considered of equal importance. And in a time when illiteracy among woman was high (even among men it was almost 50%), the Shakers educated the girls equally with the boys. (Girls went to school during the summer, boys during the winter.) So Lydia expects to have a say. 

In Simply Dead, one of my women characters flees to the Shakers to escape a life of servitude to her family.  Obedience to the rules and celibacy, however, both come with membership in this faith. When Lydia secretly marries her first husband, Charles Ellis, and bears a baby she is immediately expelled from the Shakers. Ellis’s unexpected death causes further legal complications.  

When a person joined the Shakers, he or she signed a document called the Covenant. In it, they agreed to surrender all their worldly goods to the community. Charles Ellis is almost a member of Zion; he has not yet signed the Covenant, but everyone is expecting him to. Then he dies. Because Ellis leaves his farm to Lydia in his will, the farm the Shakers were expecting to own, she inherits.  When she marries Will Rees, the farm immediately becomes his. 

Although Lydia wishes to abide by her first husband’s wishes and surrender the farm to the Shakers, Rees hesitates. Fortunately for the family. When they are forced to flee their home in Dugard, they take refuge in the farm near Zion. (The Devil’s Cold Dish).  In Simply Dead and in the next few books after, the situation is still not resolved.  I find this a fascinating problem – and it all revolves around Lydia and her status as wife (twice), Shaker and widow.

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel.           A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Your Brain on Words --by T.K. Thorne

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.

Human beings were not designed to read.

When you think about it, the act of reading is an astonishing accomplishment. It’s a complex mix  that involves:

•    Recognizing symbols
•    Relating them to sounds and spoken language
•    Extracting meaning

And we’ve only been reading for a short time (5000 years)—too short for the brain to have evolved for that purpose. The conclusion of scientists is the area of the brain (the left occipital-temporal cortex, if you’re interested) that seems to coordinate this amazing process has reorganized itself to take on the task.

We’ve known from people who have experienced brain damage, such as from a stroke, that the brain can rearrange itself, a process called  neuroplasticity. When one area is damaged, new areas can take on a task that was previously relegated to another area. Researchers have long thought that this flexibility lessens with age. But this region changes even in adults who learn to read, showing that “this area is responsive to learning throughout life."[Italics mine.]

If you are--[clearing throat]--beyond the stage of youth, as I am, that is very cool news!

But wait, there’s more!

Reading, according to cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis, is not just a distraction and entertainment. It’s “an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” In other words, when you read a novel, you become the person you are reading about in a very physical way.

Photo by iam Se7en on Unsplash
Another neurologist Gregory Berns, says, “neural changes associated with physical sensation and movement systems [happen while people are reading and] suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist. . . . We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

So there’s a reason why when you’re reading that good book, you loose awareness of the present. Your mind is putting you in the world of the story!

Studies have found that learning new skills, including reading or a second language creates new white matter in the brains of children and adults. White matter acts as a kind of fast neural subway, connecting different regions of the brain to one another. It plays a role in language ability, memory, and visuo-spatial construction.  Diseases of white matter are linked to cognitive and emotional difficulties. (By the way, other activites also result in increases in white matter functioning, including meditation, weight-resistance training, and practicing a musical instrument.)

Since the beginning of time, stories have allowed us to test run situations and experience emotions without the real consequences of living them. Reading may even make us more human, enriching our skills of empathy. One study found that readers of literary fiction excelled at tests involving understanding other people’s feelings.

Reading makes us generally more intelligent. In fact, recent scientific studies have confirmed that reading and intelligence have a relationship so close as to be symbiotic. Reading  increases fluid intelligence)—the ability to solve problems, understand things and detect meaningful patterns. It also helps with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence.

"Reading helps you make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you."

And here’s a final thought, going back to the idea of the human mind figuring out how to see and process written words by rearranging the organization of our brain. I don’t know about you, but that puts brains pretty high on my list of amazing things. But here’s the mind-blowing part, courtesy of scholar Maryanne Wolf—that reorganization, in turn “expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species.

I feel the honor and responsibility of writing something like Last Chance for Justice, the nonfiction story of the Birmingham church bombing case, an incident that changed the path of civil rights around the world. But sometimes I wonder if I am making any kind of difference when I write fiction, and perhaps fellow novelists feel this too. Now we know. As a writers and storytellers, we are helping to make minds healthier, humans more human, and advancing the intellectual evolution of our species.  That's good enough for me!

T.K. Thorne’s childhood passion for storytelling deepened when she became a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama.  “It was a crash course in life and what motivated and mattered to people.” In her newest novel, HOUSE OF ROSE, murder and mayhem mix with a little magic when a police officer discovers she’s a witch. 

Both her award-winning debut historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, tell the stories of unknown women in famous biblical tales—the wife of Noah and the wife of Lot. Her first non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, the inside story of the investigation and trials of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was featured on the New York Post’s “Books You Should Be Reading” list. 

T.K. loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. She writes at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, often with a dog and a cat vying for her lap. 

More info at Join her private newsletter email list and receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Finishing my manuscript by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Dear Reader,

I've been studying herbal medicine and reading books on holistic healing. I want to learn as much as I can about indigenous plants where I live. I use everything I learn from reading to develop my characters. In my manuscript, The Colorado Sisters, my private investigator, LA, learns from her abuelita, her grandmother, how to use plants to make medicine. I'm learning about dosages and experimenting on myself.

I am a lifetime learner and love to read books about astronomy, climate change, politics.

I believe to write well, a person should read lots of books.

I also read books by authors on writing.

I've learned a great deal about writing from studying master writers.

Someday, I hope to be a master writer and crank out mysteries.

I feel like an amateur mystery writer and my confidence needs boosting.

I want to go on a writing vacation. I'll write all day and read all night, undisturbed.

At home, I'm picking grapes, apples, peaches and spending time in my kitchen processing my harvests.

But this winter when the snow flies, I'll be locked down, writing. I'll ignore the laundry, the dishes, the cooking and just write. I'll escape to my room of my own, my friend, Dr. Noel, lets me hide out at her house and leaves me to write. At home, I get distracted by chores.

I know I've written about this before. I apologize. I'm trying to work it out by writing about why I put off writing to garden, harvest, process the bounty from my Chicana Garden.

I could just let others pick it and haul it off and do all the work. So I've compromised and let my son and his girlfriend pick the apples. If they take the apples and bake pies for me that would be great, but I have a feeling they are too busy to do the real dirty work. So I'll be peeling, slicing, dehydrating and storing apples for the winter.

My husband is off hunting this month. He provides our meat: elk, deer, moose, that I then have to cook. I can't just let it go to waste. I have to cook every night because we have a freezer full of game.  Maybe I should just let my husband cook it since he killed it. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with the amount of work I do to keep him fed and happy.

I've decided to leave home when he returns from hunting and let him deal with the apples. I've made grape juice, peach juice, pies, zucchini bread...

I'm pooped and I need a vacation. A working vacation where I can write all day, undisturbed. I've earned it and I'm going to do it.

My husband and son are going to have to fend for themselves and learn that mom has other priorities besides taking care of them.

I advise my students not to learn to cook so they don't get stuck in the kitchen. I realize it is my own fault that I'm stuck in the kitchen because I'm a good cook. Y, que?

This mystery isn't going to write itself. I have a book waiting to be born and my dedication to my craft has to have precedence. I have to set goals and deadlines and finish my story.

This is my life and I am setting boundaries.

Just saying.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

All the News!

by Bethany Maines

The last few years have been extremely busy for me in terms of writing and that means that in 2020 all of you will be seeing the results. So I thought we should do a little re-cap of everything that's happening.  Here is an update on all things Bethany.

THE SECOND SHOT- Release Date: 10.24.19

My romantic suspense novel was named a Pacific Northwest Writer's Association 2019 Finalist in the Romance category! Although, I have to admit, my love story shares it's DNA with a mystery-thriller I'm extremely excited and proud of this award.  It was also featured in Frolic - the online magazine for people who love love-stories.  And it has made it onto the Goodreads "Most Anticipated Release for October" List.  This list is voted on by Goodreads readers, so if you're on Goodreads, please go vote The Second Shot!  AND, last but not least, there's a Rafflecopter Giveaway for a $25 Amazon Giftcard.  Entering is easy, just go click a few things and follow me on social media and you're entered!

COMING 2020!

An Unfamiliar Sea - Book 3 of the San Juan Islands Mysteries will be released in January.  
Tish and Tobias Yearly are back to business finding bodies, solving mysteries and delivering death pie to the bereaved.
Shark's Fin & Peregrine's Flight - Book 4 of the Shark Santoyo Series, along with a Peregrine Hays centered novella, will be released in late April of 2020. 
Shark and Peri are finally facing down mob-boss Geier and no one is safe.
The Cinderella Secret - Book 2 of The Deveraux Legacy will be released in October.
Aiden Deveraux has a secret - he's not the Prince Charming he pretends to be and the Deveraux enemies are about to find that out.


Short Stories - I have two out on submission - stay tuned for whether or not they get accepted into their respective publications!
Galactic Dreams Volume 3 - After taking a hiatus for 2020, Galactic Dreams, the Blue Zephyr Press Sci-Fairy Tale anthology, will be back in 2021!

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Move Over, Partner!

By Lynn McPherson

I’m in the process of developing a new cozy mystery series. Part of that is figuring out all the characters. I’ve known for a while who the protagonist is. But now I need an ally —someone trustworthy enough for her to share secrets with. How else am I going to bounce ideas off about who the murderer could be with the readers?

Today I’ve decided to share my top three characteristics in a sidekick. I’m sure there are lots of ideas. Here are mine:

1.     Good Listening Skills!
What is the point of having great insight if there is no one around to share it with? A sidekick in a mystery must be willing to indulge the protagonist no matter what they are prattling on about. It goes beyond the passive ability to hear. The character must absorb what the sleuth is saying and sometimes even help progress ideas along so they are not mere musings. The amateur sleuth can either turn them into coherent theories, or pass them off as sheer observations.

2.    Loyalty
Of all the qualities in a friend, this one always tops of the charts. The main character in a cozy needs someone to rely on through thick and thin. This is especially important in the business of amateur sleuthing since the protagonist is almost always mixed up in murder! It’s important for the reader to have faith in the friendship, as well. With so many suspects on the loose, there should be at least one dependable friend at all times—someone who will always be there, even when things go awry.

3.    Humor
Part of the charm of mysteries is the knowledge that a solution lies at the end of the book. The puzzle will be solved, order will be restored. Light mysteries require an element of joy that is brought about through close relationships within the surrounding community—most notably, with her ever-present true friend and confidante. Why not make them a funny? It’s a great way to lighten the mood and show the sleuth doesn’t take herself too seriously all of the time.

So there you have it, folks. My take on what makes a good sidekick. Agree? Disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until then, happy reading! 

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has three books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder, and The Girls Dressed For Murder.  

Monday, September 23, 2019

Bethlehem Writers Group

by Paula Gail Benson

Since 2006, the Bethlehem Writers Group has been showcasing short fiction through its online literary journal, the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable (now a paying publication -- $20 for featured stories, $10 for other stories, and $5 for poetry -- issued quarterly), and through its terrific anthologies, which include:

Each year, the Group holds a short story contest with a celebrity writer judge. Three winning stories receive cash prizes. First place is usually published in the Group's anthology and the other winners and honorable mentions often are included in the online journal.

I'm proud to say that my story, "Long in the Tooth," was a third place prize winner the year that Hank Phillippi Ryan was the celebrity judge. It's also included in the Let It Snow anthology.

If you haven't already discovered the Group or its Roundtable, please check it out. You'll discover some delightful reading.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Downton Is Here!

by Shari Randall

It’s here! September 20 – the release date of the new Downton Abbey movie!

How I adored the original series, especially the first episodes. The dishy debut season, complete with scheming Thomas and O’Brien, the Titanic disaster, Lady Sybil’s shocking modernity, and Lady Mary’s “incident” the Turkish ambassador was an Edwardian delight. 

The new movie already has a 79% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but we’re not going for the story – we’re going because everyone at Downton became our very gossip-worthy friends.

The trailer has many of the faces we’ve come to know and love and be irritated by (I’m looking at you, Mr. Bates) but I’ll still be there, sighing over the clothes, coveting the castle, and laughing as Lady Violet gets in a good dig at Mrs. Crawley.

Are you going to see the Downton Abbey movie?

Thursday, September 19, 2019


We recently returned from a week at the beach (Pacific NW style - no, it does not include bathing suits!) with our kids and granddaughter.

Whew, what a whirlwind! I did, however, edit all 320 pages of my latest novel.

One of the many things we discussed last week was the upcoming holidays and the chaos of coordinating many, many people's schedules.

It gets more complicated as we get older, doesn't it?

But as the holiday season rolls toward high gear, rather than gathering with my family or writing buddies, this week I'm gathering with my day job peers. I’m stuck in an Orlando conference center, spying an occasional palm tree through the window, and trying not to find the Christmas carols, oversized gingerbread houses, and 80 degree weather too weird.

Between the day job, building a house, dealing with the flood, keeping an eye on my latest release and promotion--and oh yes! the holidays—writing time has evaporated. Instead of becoming frustrated, I’ve decided to consider it a chance to gather my thoughts. To allow the plot points of the next Holly and JC book to simmer. To let the characters nag at me to tell their story.

Strange as it may seem, I'm looking forward to the six hour flight back to Washington state when this conference ends. Six hours without email or a ringing phone. Sounds like writing heaven to me.

What about you, my writing friends? Are you finding time to write? (Do share how you manage that!)

My reading friends? Is curling up with a book a respite or a vision as fleeting as a Thanksgiving turkey's lifespan or a sugar plum fairy?

Monday, September 16, 2019

Learning about the DAR and the Constitution

by Paula Gail Benson

I remember hearing about the DAR or Daughters of the American Revolution most of my life. While I had no family who were members, I grew up in South Carolina, the location of 200 Revolutionary War battles. As a child, my parents took me on a trip to Washington, D.C. and Virginia to see Monticello, Williamsburg, and Mount Vernon, which was restored by a South Carolinian, Ann Pamela Cunningham, in the 1850s.

Ann Pamela Cunningham
Cunningham grew up in Laurens, South Carolina. As a teenager, she was crippled from a riding accident. She never married. During a time of mounting discord between the states, she devoted herself to raising money and awareness about the condition of the first President’s home and appealed to women throughout the nation to help in the restoration effort. With help, she raised the funds to buy the property and established the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the oldest historical preservation society in the United States. For more information see:

Theodosia Burr
Last week, a dear friend, Gini Abee, invited me to attend a meeting of her DAR chapter, located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and named after Theodosia Burr, the daughter of Aaron Burr and wife of South Carolina Governor Joseph Alston. (Musical theater enthusiasts will recognize the name from a beautiful song in Hamilton.)

The chapter’s projects include historic preservation, education, and commemorative endeavors. Their program had a “Conservation Minute,” endorsing a “no straw September” campaign to help eliminate the environmental effect of discarded plastic straws, and a “National Defense Minute,” highlighting the forever stamps to be released in February to honor military working dogs. Please check out the chapter’s activities on their website:

I particularly enjoyed the presentation given by author and constitutional scholar Ron Gragg, who spoke about the work of the Constitutional Convention and the concerns arising from incorporating the principles of the Declaration of Independence into the Constitution with care in order to balance the power of the government with the rights of the individuals. He described George Washington, aged fifty-six when elected President, taking the oath of office. Gragg said that Washington added the words “so help me God” and, at the end, bent to kiss the scriptures where he had placed his hand.

What I did not realize was that the Constitution Convention met for the last time and signed the draft Constitution on September 17, 1787. In recognition of this anniversary, the Myrtle Beach Chapter will gather to ring a bell thirteen times, for the original thirteen colonies.

The meeting was a delightful celebration of the Constitution combined with efforts to help future generations understand the importance of that document and the history that created it. I’m very grateful to Gini and the members who welcomed me so warmly. And, this week, I’m proud to join with them in remembering the signing of the Constitution of the United States.
Gini Abee and Paula Gail Benson (Photo by Michelle Cox)

Friday, September 13, 2019

Countdown to a Joyful Form of Insanity

Countdown to a Joyful Form of Insanity by Debra H. Goldstein

Two things I’ve noticed reading the Stiletto Gang blogs for the past few years is that we are a diverse group of women in terms of ideas and lifestyles and we are a group of overachievers. There isn’t anyone in the group who isn’t over-extended in terms of family, writing, volunteering, handling health issues, teaching, or things I’m not even aware of.  Occasionally, in a post, we bemoan our status or announce we are prioritizing our lives, but the fact is there isn’t anyone whose picture appears on the side panel who ever fully has changed her lifestyle. While there might be some who have learned to balance better than others, the truth is we’re all some version of a Type A personality.

Periodically, I say I’m going to slow down and smell the proverbial roses, but I don’t. Right now, I’m in a countdown to true insanity. As you know, One Taste Too Many, the first of the Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, was published in January 2019. Although it already is up for pre-order, the second book in the series, Two Bites Too Many, will be in stores on September 24. Because of the close sequence of these books, I’ve been feeling mildly pressed.

In the past two months, I’ve turned in the final copy of the third book in the series, celebrated the birth of a grandchild, attended festivals and conferences as I continued promoting One Taste Too Many (btw, Kensington has reduced the e-book to $1.99 through October 1), and started writing blogs and other promotional pieces in anticipation of the release of Two Bites Too Many.

It sounds like a lot, but it works because I do one thing at a time, but even I’m a little nervous about
the next three months. The reality is I’m not good at balancing promotional activities with the other things I need to do. Somehow promotion always takes longer than I anticipate or when I finish a public speaking engagement or attending a conference, I have an adrenaline drop that makes me only want to do laundry or veg out in front of the television.

So what’s on my agenda for the next three months? Family obligations, which always come first; Kensington cozy cons, conferences, speaking engagements; my Birmingham book launch at Barnes and Noble at the Summit 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 6 and at Little Professor on October 17 from 4:30-7; the writing of blogs and other promotional pieces tied to the new book or that I write on a monthly basis; trying to make time to work out; and, beginning to write the fourth book in the series (yes, Kensington has contracted for a fifth and sixth book in the series which means there will be more Sarah Blair in 2020, 2021, and 2022).

I don’t think I’ll see daylight until December, but I’m not complaining. In some ways, I thrive on this type of insanity. What about you? What tips you into feeling insane? What makes you happy?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pay it forward and help a sista' out. by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Dear Reader,

Today the weather changed from summer to autumn overnight and my Chicana Garden ripened into Concord Grapes, Peaches, Sunflowers, and Colorado Wildflowers. The grass is high and the tree leaves are full ready to burst into color.

So, a friend asked a favor. I agreed. I'm reading some poems for a writer applying for a fellowship.

I'm happy to help when I can afford to. I've learned to say no, thank you, when I can't help.

I enjoy reading poetry. This writer has a publishing date for her first book of poetry and I'm happy to help a fellow poet.

Her poems are about nature and who doesn't dig Mama Nature?

I like her poems.

I'm going to be honest and give her good feedback. The way I was taught to critique a writer's work by the master writers I've studied with and learned the art of editing and positive criticism, but honest comments to help her grow as a writer.

I've learned so much in my years of endless study. And I'm happy to teach others what I've learned.

I hope she earns her fellowship and lets me know if my suggestions helped her. But if she doesn't get this one, I hope she keeps trying. Persistence. Patience.

Her name is Heidi Barr.  Award-winning author of Woodland Manitou, What Comes Next and Cold Spring Hallelujah.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

New Things

by Bethany Maines

Yesterday was the first day of Kindergarten for my daughter.  She looked a little bit nervous, but mostly seemed to be taking it in stride. Many of the other parents weren’t.  Someone kindly went around and passed out tissues.  My husband and I made it through without tears, but we did feel a bit glum about our baby not being a baby anymore.  And like many events that are symbolic markers of something new, even when we poo-poo it as “just another day,” there is still the sense that it is the time to begin a project and shake up the routine.

Toward that end, I took a stab at cleaning my office.  It was a very small stab.  Sort of a paring knife kind of stab rather than a meat cleaver, but efforts were made.  Then I started a new short story because, let’s face it, I’ll do anything to avoid cleaning my office.  This one I think will be a reverse Miss Marple (the old lady is the killer).  We’ll have to see how it turns out.  I also started a Facebook Group called the Reader B's.  Facebook groups add greater interaction and flexibility than pages, making them more equivalent to conversations.  If you would like to belong to a group dedicated to readers and authors, please do join.  I’ll have posts about books, book reviews, posts from other authors and discussions about all of my books and short stories.

My next novel, The Second Shot, is releasing October 24 and is now a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Literary Contest.  If you have a netgalley account and want to read a great new book for #free, check out this blogger/reader sign-up!  Don’t want to be officially a part of the excitement, but want to keep tabs on all the news? Add The Second Shot to your Goodreads list or pre-order for iBooks today.
๐Ÿ’Œ Sign up today:
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Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Travel: A Path to World Peace

By Barbara Plum aka AB Plum

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness …"  (Innocents Abroad)

On the other hand, there's no place like home.

After a summer of living in Denmark, with side trips to Iceland, Scotland, Finland, and Estonia, I boarded what I hoped was my last airplane for a while on August 31. We stood in line to clear security at Kastrup, and I wondered if any other country besides our Scandinavian haven had withstood such an onslaught of tourists.

Despite the hordes—and my being patted down at the airport—the multitudes and I proceeded to our flights without incident. Standing in front of Customs, I felt a frisson of tension. (We learned before departing the US that Iceland is part of the Schengen Area).

So? You might ask.

Schengen Agreement … 

This Agreement allows people and goods to cross 26 EU borders without visas or other kinds of border controls. US citizens can remain in the entire area a total of 90 days within a 180-day period. Pretty straight forward. (My husband traveled on his Danish passport and so avoided the "rules).

Yes, but …

I knew about the restrictions before leaving the US on May 27 for Iceland. Iceland is part of the Schengen Agreement. Six days there before going to Denmark meant I would exceed the 90-day allotment. I called the Danish Consulate near my home in late April and got the reassurance that I could go to any police station in Denmark and receive an extension of my 90 days.

Once upon a time, yes. In June 2019 … I had to go to Danish Immigration with a long form filled out by my husband's lawyer-cousin. The clerks who handled my request warned us I would very likely have my request rejected. (About a hundred people—Mid-Eastern women, mostly, with small kids and babies—queued up to other lines to submit their papers). I never learned the outcome of their petitions, but I realized my extension mattered nothing compared to immigrants seeking asylum.

Ever optimistic about my own case, I thought playing the "family" card would over-ride bureaucracy. Family is a very big deal in Denmark. My husband's family had planned a major reunion for us and dozens of cousins on August 25. Our adult kids were coming from the US to take part in the festivities. Et cetera. Et cetera. Etc.

Nothing personal … and no narrow-mindedness … just the rules …

In less than a week, we received the official word, delivered by Priority Mail. I had to leave on the 24th or risk a hefty fine and exclusion from the EU for an unspecified time if I violated the rules.

A trip to the American Embassy resulted in no hope. Naively, I assumed someone in the US Embassy would take up my case. Denmark, I learned, now has some of the strictest immigration policies in Europe. And no, I could expect no help from US personnel.

A loophole …

A light shone at the end of the tunnel though. One loophole existed. I could leave Denmark for 6 days (the number by which I would exceed my stay) and then return to Denmark, giving me a total of 90 days in the country.

But … but … where could I go?

The UK or Croatia. Or, of course, back to the States. Choices, choices.
Brexit mania was all over the European news in mid-July. Did I really want to go to London under those circumstances?

After five minutes of discussion about cheaper airfares, shorter flights, and another visit to Croatia, my husband and I chose Scotland for our sojourn. I'd always wanted to tip-toe through the heather—if I could visit during a rain-free period.


Raindrops keep dancin' on my head …

Sunshine shone on us every day except for our bus trip to Stirling to visit the castle. Since we'd enjoyed perfect weather at Edinburgh Castle, we didn't complain. Dozens of Scotsmen told us how lucky we were not to have to resort to rain-gear, and we agreed.

Our six days in Edinburg flew by. We missed the heatwave that hit the week after we left, and we returned to Copenhagen almost glad for the need to make the side trip.

And yes, we tried haggis—almost edible with a couple of cold local beers.

Our trips to Finland and Estonia, planned before our imposed trip to Scotland, proved uneventful. Great weather. Manageable crowds. Quiet and relaxing.

Heading home …

By the last week of August, despite an amazing summer, we were ready to go home on the 31st.  An eleven-hour flight lay ahead of us so we decided to check for lounge availability and pay for a more quiet place to relax before takeoff. Pay, because Norwegian Air no longer provided free lounge entrance for Premium passengers. If we upgraded to Premium-Plus status, then we could stay for the 2-hour wait time for free. Another thousand dollars seemed excessive …

As we checked with the desk attendant regarding available space, she told us the charge would be $40 each.  We hesitated. Then, a young woman behind us, offered to make us her guests. Surprised, but quite happy, we accepted. We thanked her and discovered she'd grown up in Silicon Valley. She now lives in Boston, but the world is a small place.

We settled in with coffee and comfy chairs and marveled at our good luck. "Travel [really] is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."

How about you. Do your travel experiences support Twain's statement?
When not traveling the world, Barbara Plum and her alter ego, AB Plum, live in Silicon Valley. Her latest romantic comedy, Crazy Daze and a Knight is available FREE through Thursday.