Book Reviews

Friday, October 30, 2020

 

Bestseller Badge


If you’ve read one of my books to the end, you’ve probably noticed that I always ask for a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever the reader bought the book. This isn’t because I want to read paragraphs full of praise for my awesome writing talents. Well, I do, but that’s not primarily why I wish almost everyone who reads my books would take the time to leave a review, if only one of a dozen words or so. Reviews are examples of what’s called “social proof.”


Human beings are social animals. Most of us, anyway. Except for the occasional hermit in the woods, most of us like to live in groups. Groups of families, towns, fraternal organizations and clubs, churches, synagogues, you name it. And most of the time, we belong to groups of people like us.


We gravitate toward people who are close to our own age, have similar beliefs, and who generally look like us. That’s not to say we won’t associate with people who aren’t like us in one way or another. After all, women will speak with men. A good thing, too, or the drop in population would be catastrophic for the human race. And, personally, if I’m in a roomful of women and there’s a black woman of close to my own age, I’m more likely to try to start a conversation with her than a white woman in her twenties. The fact that she’s black is less important to me than that she’s probably a grandmother, will understand cultural references to the fifties and sixties like TV shows, and things like that.


It’s the same with books. When people are looking for a book to read, it’s reassuring to know people like them liked the book before they buy it. This drive to read what others are reading is what makes bestsellers. If everyone is talking about a book, you’re more likely to buy a copy for yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll read it. Come on, fess up. You have at least one—probably more than one—bestseller sitting on your bookshelf that you’ve never read.


I have several. In particular, I have John Adams by David McCullough and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Both were incredibly interesting men, and I’ve always wanted to know more about them. Both books were mega-bestsellers. But somehow, I’ve never made the time to read either one of them. I’m not that interested in biographies. I also have the Wheel of Time saga, all 14 books, which I’ve never read either. Much as I want to have read it, fourteen epic books is a major time commitment. At the end of the day, what I want to read is a mystery or a romance. A story that will take me away from the real world for a while. But I bought all of these, largely because everyone was reading them. Or so I thought.


While people might not always read book reviews in choosing a book, they do take note of the fact that there are some. Or that there are 1,000 or more. If there are no reviews, that must mean no one is reading this book. It probably isn’t worth my time. If there’s one or two, it’s a little better. But if a book has hundreds or thousands of reviews, lots of people have read it and taken the time to tell the world about it. Wow! Maybe I should read this one, too.


That’s why I ask for reviews.


I used to be diligent about reviewing every book I read. I know how important reviews are to an author. I also felt obligated to tell people what I thought, sometimes to warn them off a book that I had not liked at all. It’s interesting to me that my most-liked review on Goodreads is a one-star review of The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark.


But as time passes, I leave fewer and fewer reviews. I don’t like leaving one-star reviews. Amazon also rejects reviews of books by people you know, so I can’t leave reviews of books by people who are Facebook friends or who I follow on Twitter and things like that. That leaves out an awful lot of mystery writers. That’s one of the “clubs” I belong to—other mystery writers.


It also takes a long time to write a considered review, time I don’t have now that I’m trying to publish books more frequently. I almost always leave a “rating,” meaning I click the number of stars on my Kindle at then end of the book. I started that with the intention of going back online on my computer, where it’s easier to type, and writing a review. But I rarely do that now. Actually, I’ve started not to leave a rating on books that I didn’t like at all.


There is one major exception I make to this practice. If the book blew me away, knocked my socks off, was so good that I couldn’t wait to buy another one by that author, I always leave a five-star review with comments. This experience is so rare recently, I feel the author deserves to know that at least one person thought it was a great book.


And so, I’ve started to understand why so few people leave reviews on my books. But, if you’ve read one and had that “What a great book!” reaction, I’d really appreciate it if you took a few minutes to sign on to Amazon or Goodreads and write a few words.


Even if you don’t, I’d like to thank all of you for giving my books a try.

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Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

Sunday, October 25, 2020



This morning I watched one of Craig Martelle’s Five Minute Focus videos for writers. Today he followed up yesterday’s video on Branding with What is a Brand. He admitted these had probably been recorded in reverse order, but I imagine that was a result of questions that came up on the 20 Books Facebook group after people had watched the first one.

Anyway, that got me thinking about my own brand, which has changed from “Mystery, romance, and adventure in the desert Southwest” to “Mystery with a touch of romance” with the debut of my Shipwreck Point Mysteries, which take place in Massachusetts rather than Arizona. But I’ve never been really satisfied with the second version. In my heart, I know it doesn’t really capture what my mysteries are about.

Those of you who are of a certain age may recognize the words in the title of this blog as the end of the opening to the the nineteen-fifties television show the Adventures of Superman. That, along with the Lone Ranger, was one of my favorite television shows. I probably liked it better than the Lone Ranger.
The idea of a “mild-mannered reporter” who could, on demand, transform into a superhero, often to rescue Lois Lane from the bad guys when he wasn’t saving the whole world, was a young girl’s dream come true, especially when he looked like George Reeves. (His other well-known role was one of the Tarlton twins in Gone with the Wind.)

The Lone Ranger is a similar character, defending the weak against the bad guys, this time in the old West instead of Metropolis. Which brings me to what I think my brand should be.

What my two mystery series (and my first Community of Faith series) have in common is justice. My sleuths always want justice for the wrongly accused. Lilliana always wanted justice for her friends. With Titus Strong and Elisabeth Wade, the scope of who my sleuths want justice for has widened. In these books, Titus is on a mission to defend the underdog.

I just haven’t come up with a snappy way of phrasing that concept. If anyone has an idea, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Because “Truth, justice, and the American way!” are so ingrained in my way of thinking, it has sometimes led to posts here and, more often, on Facebook that may alienate some of my readers. Craig makes a big point of not getting into controversial subjects like politics for that very reason. For years, I made a big effort not to do that.

But the last four years have been different.

You see, Truth is also incredibly important to me. And, right from the beginning, I saw that the media was not always telling the truth about Donald Trump and what he said. They also didn’t get his jokes, instead fanning outrage over statements that I, as a born and raised New Yorker of roughly the same age, found hilarious. (And, yes, “Maybe we should drink bleach” was a joke.)

Don’t get me wrong. Donald Trump is far from a perfect person, and there’s lots I didn’t like about him. He’s a bit of an egomaniac. He uses too many superlatives. He started out being terribly na├»ve about politics. But he’s also very smart (anyone who becomes a billionaire can’t be stupid), and in 2016, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said. I also find the Clintons abhorrent, which didn’t hurt his odds of my voting for him.

Over and over again, I saw how the media misquoted or took out of context words that Donald Trump said in a speech or interview. And I felt an obligation to point out what he’d actually said, thus breaking my own rule about discussing politics in public forums. Some people interpreted this as affirming that I was a Trump supporter long before I became one. And the more the media lied and commenters on my Facebook posts hated on me, the more I was pushed to becoming a Trump supporter.

Even though in 2016, I really wasn’t one. It was more a case of the lesser of two evils for me.

The Democrats and the media haven’t helped their case since then. The unjustified impeachment proceedings that spent millions of dollars and stalled needed legislation, the smearing of Justice Kavanagh’s reputation based on liars’ (most likely paid liars) testimony, and the riots in the streets aren’t things I can get behind.

Nancy Pelosi, with her refusal to pass interim legislation of smaller scope to help individuals and small businesses, is more concerned with her power than the suffering of Americans.

And meanwhile, despite needing to defend himself at every turn, Donald J. Trump has an amazing list of accomplishments for his first term. There are too many for me to enumerate in a blog post. You can see them here: https://www.promiseskept.com/timeline/

I would hope that after November third, we would be able to stop all the hostility and animosity among Americans, but I’m afraid it will continue long after Election Day. For one thing, whichever side loses is bound to bring lawsuits accusing the other of malfeasance and illegal voting practices. Some fear the election won’t be decided by January 21st. That would be a disaster for the country.

In every way, I want to get back to living my life as a proud American. I know I’m not alone in this. But for that to happen, we really do need Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

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Preptober!

Saturday, October 03, 2020

It’s that time again. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve taken part in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, multiple times. If you haven’t followed my blog for long or you just forgot, NaNoWriMo takes place in November. As you might guess, the idea is to write an entire novel during the month. Now, it’s not a big novel, since your goal is 50,000 words, but it still qualifies as a novel. (For comparison, most of my cozy mysteries are about 60,000 words, and The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant clocks in at 80,000 because of the largish subplot.)


While you can’t start writing this novel until November 1st, you can—and should—do planning in advance. This includes character studies, a good idea of the setting, and some idea of your plot. In a murder mystery, you need to know the victim, the killer, a few suspects, and the motive, means, and opportunity for the crime. If you want to go all out, you’ll also create a list of scenes to write. In case you didn’t guess, most of the writers participating do this preparation in October. Thus we have Preptober.


Since I’ve just finished The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant (releasing Tuesday, October 6th), the timing is perfect for me this year. It also helps that an online group I regularly write with is planning on using our sprint time in November to write NaNo novels. This group of mystery writers has made the pandemic a lot more bearable, even fun, since I haven’t seen any of my Tucson friends since March.


Yesterday, I started prepping for Preptober, and today my plan is to make a schedule of the various tasks I like to have complete before I start writing. Since this will be another book in the Shipwreck Point series, I already know the setting and the main characters. But I do have to come up with that pesky victim, the killer, and additional suspects. I’ve been thinking about Titus’s next client for a while now, and I think he’s perfect. Only, since I like him so much, I’m having a hard time coming up with who he kills. The victim is going to have to be at least as unlikeable as the killer in this book. Someone who, as we like to say, “needs killing.”


Anyway, I have a lot of work to do, so this blog post is done now. I can’t promise to make a post here every week until December, since the pace of NaNoWriMo is exhausting. But I will be thinking of you. In the meantime, you can keep up with what I’m up to in my newsletter, which you can get if you put your email address in the sidebar box.

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You Get What You Pay For

Friday, September 18, 2020

Something I’ve said often about being an indie author is that you can spend time or you can spend money to accomplish all the tasks necessary to write and publish books. I got a vivid reminder of that today.


Because money is not in plentiful supply at the moment, I decided to create my own book cover for the next novel, The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant. After all, the basic look of the covers had been determined by the first one, Mysterious Madam, and the second was similar, as it should be for a series. I paid a designer to do those.


One of the things I discovered in working with this new designer was that we didn’t communicate very well. I thought I gave her enough information so she could come up with ideas that would wow me. Not so much. In particular, she didn’t pick artwork that did much for me, and I wasn’t able to explain the kind of thing I was looking for. That was the primary reason I hired a designer. I’d already spent hours combing Deposit Photos, iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, and more looking for images. I hoped she’d be a better searcher than I was.


But she wasn’t. Although she developed the layout, for both books I had to eventually find the images that appear on the covers myself. I’m still not thrilled with the photo on the Angry Artist cover, but it was the closest I could get.


To add insult to injury, she charges three times the amount that the designer for my African Violet Club Mysteries does. I know she does great covers for other authors, in fact that’s the way I discovered her, but it just wasn’t working for me. So you can’t blame me for deciding to create the cover for the third book in the series.


I knew that would present challenges, but I’ve used Gimp, an open-source, free program with almost the same functionality as PhotoShop. I signed up for a class that I hoped would make me better at using it. And I’ve done okay up until today.


As I was getting down to the end of the project, I exported the Gimp file to a jpeg so I could see what the cover would look like online in various sizes. I did this through Mac Preview, because it’s easy to duplicate and resize images with a click or two. I keep a box that’s called the Inspector open because it tells me information about the file, such as the dimensions and how much storage the image will take.


The Inspector gave me bad news. The book cover image I had so carefully crafted at 300 pixels per inch (PPI) to get the highest quality was now only 72 PPI. That’s acceptable for an ebook cover, but not for a print cover.


To make a long story short, after much experimentation and hunting for parameters that weren’t there, I did a Google search to see if anyone else had had this problem. They had. It’s a known bug that the version of Gimp I have changes the resolution as soon as you save or export an image.


The problem is, I had already loaded an earlier version of the program because of another bug in the latest version available for Macs. (Some fonts—no, make that a lot of fonts—became unusable in Gimp.)


And, as I’d discovered when I came upon the first bug, no fix is coming soon. In fact, the Mac version of Gimp is already behind several levels because there’s only one Mac developer, and he’s had problems (unspecified), so the Mac version hasn’t been updated for a year.


Remember the part about being open-source and free? What that means is that the developers are all volunteers. They don’t get paid for fixing the software and there’s no one to complain to if it’s broken. Oh, you can file a bug report, which is what I found when I searched for my problems, but with no programmers to look at the bug reports, much less fix them, there’s nothing you can do.


I’ve had this happen before.


Years ago, when I decided I didn’t want to pay for Microsoft Office because it was never a premiere product for the Mac, I used another open-source, free program called Open Office. I stopped using it when it stopped working after an upgrade to the Mac operating system. Oh, there was a geeky workaround, but I’m not that geeky on a Mac. So I bought Office. It may not be as spiffy as the Windows version, but at least there was some guarantee it would work and bugs would be fixed. (Since then, I use the Apple programs, and when I need things they don’t support, Google Docs and Google Sheets.)


I swore back then that I would never depend on open source software again. In fact, I bought Affinity Photo a couple of years ago because I was hesitant to rely on Gimp. But Affinity has its own learning curve, and I never put in the time to master it. Guess what I’m going to do next?


Cover for The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant


If you’re a reader, you probably haven’t reached this last paragraph, but I hope you have. Because this long wail of a post is here to explain why the paperback version of The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant will have to wait a while. I have an acceptable version for the Kindle ebook, and I’ll probably tweak that before I publish, but I just can’t manage a paperback cover right now.

I’m sorry.

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Lockdown

Sunday, August 30, 2020

 

Thunderstorm

If you had asked me three months ago what I expected to be doing in the last days of August, I’d have told you I was looking forward to keeping the doors and windows open, planning a trip or two, and enjoying walks at the Tucson Botanical Gardens again. But I wouldn’t have taken into account that this is 2020, the year when nothing seems to be normal.


Our weather pattern has been unusual, to say the least. In a normal year, our monsoon season, when Tucson gets half its annual rainfall, starts around the 4th of July and continues through mid-September. Almost daily thunderstorms pop up and drench us, filling the washes and turning everything green. This year, we’ve had one thunderstorm and a couple of sprinkles.


The rains also bring cooler temperatures—not cool, mind you, but days in the 90s and nights in the low 80s or even 70s. This summer, we’ve had a ton of days that have been around 110 degrees. I don’t think our high has been under 100 since early June.


I cheered when I read the Botanical Gardens were opening on a limited basis again a couple of weeks ago. I still haven’t been there. It’s too hot to go walking, even if I managed to get myself there when they first open.


In May, I would have said I was planning on attending several writers group meetings in the fall. Because of the heat, everything usually slows down around here in the summer. People go to cooler places for a few weeks or months, and it’s hard to get guest speakers to visit from out of town. We ramp up in the fall, and by Thanksgiving have snowbirds joining us from Minnesota and Wisconsin and other wintry places.


Instead, we’re still on lockdown and no one is going anywhere. I have to say I’m getting a severe case of cabin fever.


A few months ago, I was looking forward to booking a vacation or two. My family was going to have a reunion in Dallas in October, the date set to coincide with the State Fair. I was trying to decide between a visit to a guest ranch in February or a trip back to Massachusetts in the summer. The State Fair was canceled, and with it, the reunion. I haven’t booked a trip because who knows whether I’d get to take it or not?


I’m also not comfortable traveling on airplanes just yet. Even those which promised social distancing and extra cleaning have taken to filling those middle seats and running fewer flights to economize. Airplanes haven’t been a healthy place to be ever since they stopped venting in outside air. I can’t imagine being on one for three hours or more during the pandemic.


Writers have reacted to being in lockdown in one of two ways. Some have found themselves unable to write anything. Fear, isolation, and depression have resulted in severe cases of writers block. Others are being more productive than they’ve ever been. After all, what else is there to do?


I’m somewhere in between. I’ve tried to stick to a normal writing schedule for the most part. But there are days when all I want to do is read a mystery or binge-watch BritBox. That makes it hard to figure out when my next book will be published. Three months ago, I’d been hoping that would be done by now, but I still have work to do on it. It’s getting close, though. And I have lots of ideas for my next books, so there’s something to look forward to in the future.


Photo: Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

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We're Almost There!

Monday, August 24, 2020

 


Or, as was going through my mind as I thought about writing this blog, “Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!”

Because that’s about how I’ve felt lately. I’m in the revision stage of The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant, which is where an author tries to turn the passionate explosion of words on the page, or screen as is the case now, into an entertaining novel.

Now, I generally have a good idea where I’m going to have to make some changes. For instance, as I was drafting this novel, I realized a scene I was writing had already been written a few scenes before. Rather than trying to make sense of it in draft mode (because stopping to try to make things perfect at that stage often leads to totally giving up in dismay), I kept writing, knowing I’d have to merge the two versions at a later time.

This is that later time. I struggled through that, thinking that the next time I’d have to face work of that magnitude would be in the climax of the book. I knew I didn’t have enough details there. I’d left out the clue that told Titus who was the real murderer. A minor oversight, really. I knew what it was in my head. I’d just never found a place to put it in the story.

But long before I got to that scene, I realized that I’d run out of days in my month. I’d assumed this book took place during the month of August, very shortly after The Case of the Angry Artist. But as I was working through the changes, I realized I had more than four weeks worth of story, and that the way incidents fell, I had the hearing starting on Labor Day. I crossed my fingers and hoped Labor Day wasn’t a holiday yet.

Sorry. Grover Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday in June of 1894, just in time to be celebrated in Shipwreck Point in this novel. You might think I could just have the hearing start on Tuesday, but there were other events that had to take place on certain days of the week. (You’ll understand once you read the story. Or maybe you won’t, but I’ll know that the Whitby Weekly has to publish on Tuesday morning and that other things have to happen before that.)

So, like dominoes falling, a whole bunch of scenes had to be changed and a couple of new ones added. I mean, I’d be bothered if an author told me that the trial had to start the day after Labor Day and then totally ignored anything that happened on that day.

So I stopped and spent a day with an 1894 calendar, penciling in when each chapter takes place and making sure I don’t run into any problems like putting a tea party on a weekday, when Elisabeth would be working, or a band concert on Thursday rather than Sunday evening.

I do hope to have all of this work done in a couple of days, followed by a quick run through a grammar/punctuation checker to snag all the silly mistakes, so I can send it off to my beta readers by next weekend.

Then I can chew my nails while they read it, and try to keep myself busy with other tasks so I don’t worry too much about what awfulness they’ll discover that I totally overlooked. Then a proofread and formatting, which are fairly lengthy but easy tasks, and the book will be ready to publish.

So while I haven’t reached the finish line yet, I can see it from here. With any luck, by next month at this time, so will you.
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What I Read in July, 2020

Friday, July 31, 2020
Bookshelves with Books

Archie Meets Nero Wolfe
Robert Goldsborough

I think this book came up in my Amazon recommendations, and since I love classic mysteries, I knew I wanted to read this one. But, since the price was slightly above my usual maximum spend for an ebook, I borrowed it from the library instead.

This is a prequel to the original mysteries written by Rex Stout, but it’s written in the same style. I enjoyed this origin story and learning how Archie Goodwin worked with Nero Wolfe for the first time. Wolfe’s particular habits are on full display here: his long sessions with his orchids, two bottles of beer while he talks with people, his refusal to leave his home, instead relying on a crew of private detectives to do his investigating for him. In the end, of course, it is his intellect that puts the pieces together and solves the case.

This time, it’s a kidnapping. The son of wealthy parents who have an estate on Long Island is taken during a brief moment when his governess is called to the telephone for an urgent call. There are a couple of murders, but those are incidental to the real crime.

I notice most reviewers thought this book was missing something, but I read the originals too long ago to make comparisons to the characters in those books. All in all, I found it enjoyable.


Relative Fortunes
Marlowe Benn

I would give this book three-and-a-half stars if I could.

Julia Kydd, a society girl who’s threatened with losing her income when her half brother, Philip, has their lawyers reinterpret their father’s intention in his original will, wagers him that she can not only prove that Naomi Rankin was murdered, but she can find out whodunit.

In 1924, while the Nineteenth Amendment has been ratified, women are still fighting for equality. Naomi, sister to Julia’s best friend Glennis, is a leader in the women’s movement. She’s severely punished for that. While her family is wealthy, Naomi lives in abject poverty in the basement of the family home with her friend Alice. Men still control the purse strings, and women often live on the beneficence, if you can call it that, of their male relatives. Their other option is to marry and be supported by a husband whom they may or may not love.

Sexual liaisons are rampant, even among those who are married, and faithfulness doesn’t seem to be a virtue. I’m not sure whether this is a true representation of the times or exaggerated in this novel for the sake of the plot.

Speaking of which, the author has certainly done her research as far as vocabulary contemporaneous with her story. Unfortunately, this means that many terms are so obscure, they didn’t appear in my Kindle’s dictionary, which was annoying.

Unlike other reviewers, I didn’t find the beginning of the novel slow going. In fact, I enjoyed getting to know the characters and the time, as well as the romantic dilemmas Julia and Glennis face. I suppose this means there’s not much mystery going on here, but I still found the read enjoyable.

No, my issue was with the latter part of the book. In my opinion, there was at least one, and perhaps two, too many twists. Yes, I know it’s traditional to do this with a killer revealed who’s not the real killer, but not always, and certainly not more than once. There’s also a reversal and a couple of back-tracks. It’s hard to describe that better without giving away too much of the resolution for the plot and various subplots, but at least in one instance, a character does an about face, and Julia doesn’t have any problem with that, which I definitely would.

Anyway, an interesting read, but I probably won’t be reading the second book in this series.


11/22/63
Stephen King

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for a while, but the cost of the Kindle version and the long waitlist at the library kept putting me off. Recently, the waitlist got a lot shorter, so I reserved the book and finished it this month.

The hero, Jake Eppington, learns of a time-travel portal from Al, the owner of a diner. Every time you enter it, you’re taken to a specific day in 1958. No matter how long you stay in the past, when you return to the present, only two minutes have passed. And every time you go back, history is reset to what it was.

Al is convinced that if the assassination of John F. Kennedy can be prevented, all kinds of other horrible things can be averted, such as the Viet Nam war. Al has tried to do this himself, but after several trips, he’s too old (having aged in the past) and at the point the novel opens, dying of cancer. So he persuades Jake that it’s up to him to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK.

It takes a couple of trips of his own and a lot of persuading by Al, but finally Jake accepts the mission. If you do basic math, there are five years between the time Jake goes back and the day on which Oswald kills the president, leaving plenty of time for Jake to have other adventures leading up to the big day.

While he’s back there, Jake decides he needs to right other wrongs. He also finds the love of his life, Sadie, the school librarian in the high school where he gets a teaching job. He also learns two important things: the past doesn’t want to change, and what changes Jake makes have unintended consequences.

There was one part toward the beginning which was a little slow, but I persevered through that and was swept up in the story by the writing as only Stephen King can do it. From about half-way, it was hard to put the book down.

I’m not sure this story could have had an ending that would please everyone, but I do know that I wasn’t totally happy with the one Stephen King chose. I won’t say anything more because I don’t like spoilers, but this book is definitely worth your time to read.


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Earrings and Memories

Saturday, July 18, 2020
I got my ears pierced before I went off to college. Back then, if you bought a pair of earrings at a jewelry store, you could get your ears pierced for free. They had a nurse come in once a week to do that, and she’d put your brand new earrings in the holes she made.

I tend to collect earrings from places I go, both because I like them and because they provide a reminder of different times in my life. When in doubt as to what to buy me for Christmas, earrings are always a good choice. I rarely wear any other kind of jewelry, so I make up for that with a variety of earrings.

Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse Earrings
Back in the 1980s, I was in a miserable marriage. My husband and I fought all the time, and even when we weren’t shouting at one another, there was always tension in the air. So when we finally got a divorce, I knew I wanted to do something special for my son to make up for some of that.

I took him to DisneyWorld. It was one of the best trips I’ve even been on and just what both of us needed. The minute we stepped inside the Magic Kingdom, all the worry and stress of the past few years slid away.

I don’t wear these earrings often, but I look at them almost daily and smile at the memory of that trip.

Seagulls

Seagull Earrings Purple Clamshell
Several years later, I started dating a Polish man I met online. He lived in Massachusetts while I lived in New York, but he drove down to see me almost every weekend. When he learned there was an annual Polish Festival in Riverhead, he insisted we go.

We enjoyed the music and dancing and the food. There were also vendor booths, which is where I found these earrings made out of clam shells. What could be more perfect than seagulls made out of clamshells?

Maple Leaf

Maple Leaf Earrings
The two of us stayed together for a lot of years. At one time we thought we might get married, but there were too many reasons for me not to and not enough to go ahead. But one summer, we took a bus tour of the Canadian Maritimes with a bunch of senior citizens. In our fifties, we were probably the youngest of the group, but it was nice to have someone else do the driving and planning and all we had to do was keep up with the guide.

One of my vivid memories was of driving through the blueberry fields. I knew about Maine blueberries, but didn’t realize Canada also raises a lot of them. And the lobster dinner. This was funny. Both Ted and I were from the east coast of the United States, so we’d had lobster dinners most of our lives. But many of the tourists were from the middle of the country, and the guide had to give a lesson on how to eat a lobster.

But best of all was going to Prince Edward Island and being immersed in the world of Anne of Green Gables. This was another fairy tale experience because we were seeing up close what I’d only read about or seen movies of before.

Fused Glass

Glass earrings green and purple
Seeing these earrings is now a bittersweet experience for me. Right around the time I moved to Tucson, my writer friend Sheila Connolly got a contract with Berkely Prime Crime to write what’s called a work-for-hire series about a glassblower amateur sleuth in Tucson.

Work-for-hire means the publisher comes up with the concept for the series, the main characters, location, pets, hobbies, etc. and generally the plot for the first book. They also decide on the name that will appear on the cover of the book. Then they hire an author to write this series. They usually get a flat fee for each book, meaning no royalties for each sale. It’s a good way for an author to break into getting published. And as you might know, Sheila went on to have a fabulously successful career as the author of several mystery series.

Anyway, since Sheila had never been to Arizona, it was convenient having me here who, while I didn’t know a whole lot myself about Tucson, had plenty of people I could ask questions of for her. In the second year of writing this series, she came out for a visit so she could see Tucson herself.

Since the series was about a glassblower, we visited the Philabaum Glass Studios as “research.” We walked through the gallery, then spent some time watching the glassblowers at work through a window partition. And then we each bought things. Of course, I had to choose a pair of earrings.

Oh—and they’re a bittersweet reminder for me now because Sheila passed away this year. I was privileged to know her.

Silver Spoons

earring made of silver spoon handles
As I’ve been working on the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, I’ve become engaged in the Victorian Age. Reading about what people wore and how they acted and what they did for enjoyment has been an interesting experience. Due to the popularity of romances set in this time period, you can find all kinds of clothing and things available for purchase. I seriously considered buying a Victorian dress to wear at the Tucson Festival of Books, which I didn’t because I was afraid it would be too hot to wear all day in Tucson.

But I also ran across this pair of earrings on Etsy and thought they would be perfect. When the Tucson Festival of Books was canceled, I put them on my Christmas list and received them as a present from my grandson.

Anyway, there you have a small selection of the earrings I own. I hope you found this post interesting. Or at least different.
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The Joys of an Indie Author

Saturday, July 11, 2020
As I recently worked through my to-do list with its various tasks, which sometimes seem overwhelming, I realized I also like have so many different kinds of things to do. Twenty years ago, when I started writing again, I imagined my career as an author as being very different than what it’s turned out to be.

Back then, there was only one way to get published, the traditional way. Authors wrote stories to the best of their ability, then tried to find an agent to sell them to a publisher. You submitted query letters, sometimes with the first three chapters, via the U.S. Mail. And then you waited.

If you were lucky, one of those agents would ask for a “partial,” that first three chapters, and sometimes a “full,” the entire novel, after that. The process took months, if not years. If the agent agreed to represent you, she (or he, but most agents in my experience were women) then approached various publishers they worked with regarding publication.

There might be an interim step where the agent requested some changes to your manuscript. They’d often tell you where the story dragged or suggest a scene that needed adding or cutting. The writer would eagerly make those changes and send the revised manuscript back.

And then the fabulous day would come when a publisher accepted your story for publication. After additional revisions and editing, your book went off into the machine of the publishing company to get a cover, a description, and the interior layout designed. The author had no say about any of this. The next they knew of the book was when a limited number of copies arrived on their doorstep.

Because an indie author is their own publisher, they do all the work the traditional publisher did in the past. Some of this they’ll hire other people to do. They’ll hire an editor to make their story stronger and/or improve their sentences and a proofreader to catch typos and misspellings. They write their own book descriptions, spending hours learning copywriting so they’re strong selling tools. They’ll buy a pre-made cover or contract with a cover designer to do a custom cover. Most authors can do the interior layout, or formatting, themselves now, although you can hire someone to do that, too.

I’ve found that I like doing most of these tasks myself.

There’s something about taking a raw story through all the steps to publication that I find very rewarding. Each part of the process makes the book more mine.

I do have what are called beta readers, who read my novels with an eye toward what is confusing, where the story gets boring, and inconsistencies like changing the name of a character halfway through the book, and I often hire a cover designer. But I do my own copyediting, formatting, and even, sometimes, cover designs. Maybe I’m weird, but I even like proofreading my books by reading them out loud.

After wrestling with Scrivener’s formatting function—called a compile—for months on end, now that I understand it and have a basic format I can copy and modify fairly easily. I love picking out fleurons, or scene separators, to suit the type of book, and playing with different decorations for the chapter headings. For the print book, I usually use the font that’s on the cover for page headers and footers, but sometimes I change those up as well.

Covers are the most challenge, but in their own way the most fun. My graphics and design skills are not the strongest. I’m not expert in any of the photo manipulation programs by any means, and it takes me a long time to figure out how to do what I want in Gimp (a free program) or Affinity Photo (a relatively inexpensive, but slick one). Choosing an appropriate font or font combination and arranging the words of the title and my name and whatever else goes on a cover in the appropriate size and colors (called typography), is an entire skill in and of itself. That’s why I generally hire a cover designer.

With any luck, you and the designer “click” in your vision for a cover and a process for creating new ones. Sometimes the combination doesn’t quite gel. That happened recently, and it’s plunged me into an attempt to do my own cover for The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant. In the end, I might hire a cover designer to do that one as well, but I’m kind of enjoying the process of putting pictures and shapes and colors and typography together myself. Even if it’s taking me f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

I suppose what brought this enjoyment to mind lately was reading Relative Fortunes by Marlowe Benn. This is a historical mystery set in the 1920s in New York. The amateur sleuth is Julia Kydd, who runs a small boutique press that prints slim volumes with carefully chosen endpapers and covers and typesetting. There are several passages where the heroine talks about her love for doing this. It’s not about the content to her—apparently, the trend then was to choose something out of copyright or by an obscure author, but about the making of beautiful books. And I kind of feel that way about my own books. Putting the whole package together, including the prose, is something I love doing.

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United We Stand

Sunday, July 05, 2020


Happy Fourth of July, America!

It was a very strange Fourth this year, with few public celebrations of our nation’s founding. Here in Tucson, the traditional fireworks show on A Mountain was canceled not only because of the coronavirus, but because of the fear of fire. A thousand firefighters spent the month of June battling the Bighorn Fire in the Catalina Mountains just north of the city. It’s still not totally contained, nor totally extinguished, so the thought of starting another fire is frightening.

But I don’t want to talk about the fire. I’ve done enough of that on Facebook.

No, I want to talk about being proud to be an American, of supporting our nation’s traditional values, and to condemn those who attack them, and by extension, attack all of us.

This has fallen out of favor in recent times. Too many people want to focus on the bad things about our nation and its history. They want to erase significant people, cultural icons, and events and replace them with a political narrative fabricated (yes, I said that) to suit themselves. The hate in our nation, and indeed the world, has become a fire threatening to eradicate all that is good and true about us.

The spark that started this was the murder of George Floyd at the hands of some bad cops. The act was universally denounced as horrendous, and the police involved were removed from the force. You would think that we would have all come together in this situation and vowed to do better in the future.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, rioters joined the throngs of protesters and let loose a surge of lawlessness whose like we haven’t seen in decades. Worse, rather than condemning the violence and the threat to public safety, too many government officials praised the rioters and ordered the police not to interfere.

Needless to say, this demoralized the police everywhere. Those who had always had our backs found that no one had theirs. This was compounded by the movement to defund the police and use the money for social services and “marginalized” communities, as CNN calls them.

In what universe does this make sense?

I’m not disagreeing with trying to work on many of the problems at the source, but eliminating law enforcement seems to leave most people with two choices: barricading themselves in their homes or arming themselves for personal protection. Maybe both. It would be abandoning our streets, parks, and public places to lawlessness.

It is the first responsibility of government in a democratic society to protect and safeguard the lives of its citizens.

This statement, in various forms, goes back to English Common Law, and has been reiterated many times over the centuries. (If you’re the studious type, check out this document from Duke University: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3172&context=dlj )

If we abandon this principle, we are abandoning the very reason government exists. Unless you’re an anarchist, this isn’t something you want to happen.

What I keep trying to figure out is why this reaction at this time? Every other time in our past, when faced with adversity, Americans have banded together to conquer it. This was true during both World Wars. It happens every time a community is destroyed by a tornado or flooding or other natural disaster. Not that we haven’t had disagreements, mind you. But perhaps 9/11 happened too long ago for it to seem real for many people.


I will never forget that day. Radical Islamic terrorists hijacked four commercial flights and flew three of them into buildings that symbolized the strength of America: the two towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Rumor has it that the fourth was targeted for the White House, but by that time passengers on that plane had learned what was happening and fought back, forcing the fourth plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field. They gave their lives to stand for our nation.

And what happened afterwards was no less heartening. People came together to aid the victims, others joined the military with a vow to make those who had done this horrible act pay, people hung flags everywhere: on flagpoles, buildings, and even car windows. It didn’t matter what your race or creed was. We were all Americans. We were all in this together.

Make no mistake, we are now under attack by a less tangible, but no less dangerous enemy. I’m not going to go into a long conspiracy theory rant—although I could (see this for a recent article: https://news.sky.com/story/former-head-of-mi6-says-theory-coronavirus-was-made-in-wuhan-lab-must-not-be-dismissed-as-conspiracy-12021693), and sometimes a conspiracy is the simplest way to explain the facts—but I don’t believe the pandemic was an accident. Certainly, the world’s reaction to it was highly unusual.

Back when I grew up, the only vaccine that everyone got was the one for smallpox. When I was in first grade, medicine came up with one for polio. Other than those two, you just got sick. Everyone got measles and mumps and chicken pox. You got German measles (later renamed to rubella) and sometimes whooping cough and scarlet fever. While all of these could be deadly, the vast majority of children recovered with no lingering effects. (We also ate dirt, but that’s a different blog post.)

We still have a pretty good chance of getting the flu every year, despite educated guesses about what strains will be prevalent and a tailored vaccine each time. Thousands die from the flu, but it doesn’t make headlines.

An interesting piece of data about COVID-19 that hasn’t been mentioned a whole lot is the declining death rate. Despite a horrendous spike in the number of cases in the US (which the media would have us believe has nothing to do with the protests where hundreds, if not thousands of people didn’t practice social distancing or wear masks), the number of deaths has remained consistently low. The graph below is from https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus .

US Corona Virus Number of Cases Versus Number of Deaths

So why the sudden reinstitution of at least a partial shut-down? I can only think that there is some other factor at work that has nothing to do with keeping people safe. The media and the “experts” have heightened the level of fear to such an extent that we voluntarily self-isolate and give up our basic human need for association with other people. With forced unemployment causing financial stress for many as well, is it any wonder the anger is so intense?

Rather than coming together, we have turned that anger on one another.

The cure has indeed become worse than the disease.

We expected the number of cases of coronavirus would rise as we reopened our country. We expected more people would get sick, and yes, that more would die as a result. But it’s a fact of life that we all die eventually. Some of us die on the battlefield. Some in a Pennsylvania field. And some die of old age. I would rather die of coronavirus than of isolation.

I am tired of being quiet for fear of offending someone. Matters are too important right now to worry about that. So I’m going to start speaking up. Because in this country, we still have freedom of speech, and I’m proud to be an American.
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Writer's Block

Sunday, June 28, 2020
Girl Writer with Laptop Cartoon

I’ve seen a lot of writers bemoan their battle with writer’s block over the past four months. Most recently, I read an essay by one I’ve known for years. Her pain was palpable in the words she set on paper, and I empathized with her struggle. But her piece also irked me.

This article isn’t to minimize or belittle any writer’s feelings. We all have times when we have difficulty writing, most often from emotional shocks that torpedo our motivation. I know I struggled to get my daily word count done—and failed miserably—several times over the past few months.
But I don’t believe you have to give up when life events assault you.

“Writer's block? That's just another word for ‘lazy.'”— ROBERT B. PARKER

I first heard Robert B. Parker say this at a book signing at the Borders in Braintree, Massachusetts. If I recall correctly, he attributed it to Elmore Leonard, but I can’t find anything on the internet that confirms that.

I know my hackles rose when I heard him say it in response to a question from the audience about how he deals with writer’s block. This was a follow-up question to an earlier one about his writing schedule, which was eight hours a day, every day. In the morning, he’d work four hours on one novel, take a break for lunch, then write four hours in the afternoon on a different book.

Anyway, I think most (amateur) writers in the audience reacted with something close to, “Yeah, easy for you to say.”

At that time, I was working for a boss who also had a favorite quote when one of us was having a difficult time solving a programming problem.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you're right.” — HENRY FORD

Which is what I think Robert B. Parker was trying to tell us.

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Books I read in May and June 2020

Friday, June 19, 2020


The Cuckoo’s Calling
By Robert Galbraith


I see why J.K. Rowling took a pen name to publish this book!

This is a standard PI novel, complete with F-bombs. I liked the opening, and my first thought was yeah, she really can write. The middle was good, and I got impatient for the reveal toward the end.
Supermodel Lula Landry committed suicide by diving off the balcony of her luxury apartment. Or did she?

Her brother, John Bristow, doesn’t believe the conclusion the police come to when they close this case, and so he hires Cormoran Strike, private detective, to investigate the situation and find out who killed her. The connection is that Bristow’s brother, Charlie, and Strike were friends as children, so Bristow trusts Strike to do a good job.

Strike can certainly use the money. Not only doesn’t he have another client, he’s broken up with Charlotte, his long-time girlfriend, and had to move out of her luxury home and set up a cot in his office, eating Pot Noodles, which from the description I assume are like ramen, because he owes money everywhere.

In the end, the book wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful either. I didn’t figure out who the killer was, so that’s a plus. The explanation of one disguised clue was, to me, unbelievable. I definitely liked his secretary, Robin. I assume there will be a romance in the future, despite the fact that Robin’s engaged.
I’ll have to read the second book in the series to decide on whether to continue reading these books.

The Case of the Substitute Face
By Erle Stanley Gardner


Yeah, some Perry Mason titles are a little weird. I understand the ones where the pattern of alliteration might have forced a peculiar combination, but that’s not the case with this one. To get the explanation of this title out of the way, the client’s daughter, who is kind of the client also, bears a strong resemblance to a popular movie star. The daughter delights in this resemblance and has gone so far as to get a publicity photo of the actress, then have a photograph of herself taken with with her hair arranged in the same way, wearing a similar gown, and in the identical pose. At one point in the mystery, the daughter’s photo is removed from a frame and the actress’s substituted. Thus the Substitute Face.

Perry and Della are returning from a vacation in Hawaii on a cruise ship. Following the morals of the time, Perry has his own cabin while Della is sharing a cabin with another female passenger whom she’s never met before. (There’s no explanation of how this was arranged, so I have to assume it was a common practice in the 1930s.) This enables Della to meet and talk with a number of the characters that Perry doesn’t have access to.

The murder happens early on in this book, with the wife of the victim suspected of shooting her husband, then pushing him overboard in a storm. It turns out the husband had been suspected of embezzlement from his former employer, and the wife is concerned for the reputation and marriage prospects of her daughter. The husband claimed to have won a lottery, which is why he suddenly changed their last name, quit his job, and took off on a trip to Hawaii.

The plot is complicated, with several surprises along the way, which makes for a very satisfying mystery. I can definitely recommend this book in the Perry Mason annals.

The Haberdasher’s Wife
By Scott R. Rezer


First a confession: I know the author from many years in Facebook writers groups. This is the first book of his I’ve read, though, since I haven’t been a fan of historical fiction in the past. Because I know he writes “real” historical fiction and this new release sounded intriguing, I pre-ordered the book to compare it to what I was writing.

My first comment is: leave it to a man to not realize he’s written a romance novel. LOL 
Okay, it doesn’t follow all the romance tropes. For example, the story is only told from the viewpoint of the female character, Maria Johanna Ludovika Eleanora von Bandel, commonly called Josefa, rather than both the male and female characters. The hero doesn’t arrive until more than halfway through the book. The author also leaves out what I think is a scene important to romance readers, just giving a brief mention later on that it happened.

But never mind all that. This is a beautiful emotional story of a woman of the lower nobility who dallies with a playboy (I’m not sure what a playboy would be called in the late eighteenth century) and finds herself with child. Of course, the cad denies the child is his, and Josefa faces some hard choices.

In those days, it was common for women who were pregnant with an illegitimate child to be sent away until after the baby was born. Since Josefa is Catholic, the place she chooses to go is a convent. At this point in the story, she’s Catholic in name only, attending church when she must, praying but frequently getting distracted by the art and architecture inside the buildings. Her father, who died three months after she was born, was a strong supporter of the church, both financially and spiritually. Her mother is also very devout. They provide a vivid contrast to the heroine.

While she is in the convent, a group of refugees from the Napoleonic Wars arrives and asks for shelter. The leader, whose name is Josef, is a tall, quiet man with a warm heart. The two are drawn to one another immediately. Of course, the path of true love never did run smooth, and these two face their share of obstacles.

Scott Rezer has a wonderful grasp of description and narrative, with vivid language that brings every scene to life. The characters are memorable and each is unique. I don’t want to say too much more about the story because I don’t want to spoil it for any future readers, but I was delighted to discover this novel about faith and love and how lives can change in ways we never imagined.

Buy The Haberdasher's Wife

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Space, the Final Frontier

Friday, May 29, 2020
NASA SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts


On the morning of Wednesday, May 27, I tuned my TV to the NASA channel and stayed there. Scheduled was the first manned flight launching from US soil in eleven years. That’s how long ago the space shuttle program was retired. I remember thinking at the time that that was a bad idea. It was embarrassing to think that we’d now have to depend on the Russians for transportation to the International Space Station. And we had no ability to go anywhere else.

I was in third or fourth grade when I found a book called “The Rolling Stones” in my school library. It was about a family named Stone who took a rocket ship into space. Wow! A story featuring a family with the same last name as me! It was fortunate that Robert A. Heinlein wrote a lot of what were called “juveniles” in the days before YA, because I read every one of them that I could get my hands on. That led to discovering other science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Lester del Rey. My reading life was made up of exploring the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

In 1960, I stood out in my front yard at night watching Echo I, the first American communications satellite, pass overhead. Echo I wasn’t very sophisticated; it was a shiny balloon off which signals were bounced. That made it very bright in the sky, not hard to see at all.

And in 1961, we were all glued to our televisions to watch Alan Shepard go into a trajectory that barely qualified as being in space. He wasn’t the first man in space. That honor went to Russian Yuri Gagarin. That rankled, and not just me. It’s also the reason I was so aggravated when the US decided to let the Russians handle our travel to the International Space Station.

As I watched the preparations for the SpaceX flight on Wednesday, all the feels of man’s first ventures into space came back to me. I couldn’t help but compare the trim fit of the suits the astronauts were wearing with the clunky ones worn by the Mercury 7. The twin Teslas that drove the astronauts to the launch pad with the industrial vehicle Alan Shepard rode. The LCD displays as opposed to the green-tinted cathode-ray tubes in the command center.

But the adventure was the same. We were taking another step toward that future in space after a very long hiatus. Dreams of landing on the moon, of building a colony on Mars, of someday leaving our solar system for unknown worlds beyond, were all possible again.

When I was twelve, I thought it might be possible to one day vacation on the Moon. But after a number of missions—and some spectacular disasters—we pulled back. We weren’t taking trips to the Moon. We gave up rocket ships for the space shuttle, a fancy airplane that could go no farther than Earth orbit. And then we gave up the space shuttle.

It’s been a very long wait for me to see us once again blasting off for the stars. (Okay, we’re not going to the stars yet.) It got a little longer when weather forced the postponement of Wednesday’s flight. They’re going to try again tomorrow, but Saturday’s weather isn’t certain either.

Nevertheless, I’ll be back watching the NASA Channel from the beginning of coverage until SpaceX Demo-2 docks safely with the ISS. And once again dreaming of conquering the final frontier.
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Mapping the Story

Friday, May 15, 2020
One of the things I have to keep track of while writing a series is where all the landmarks I’ve described are. Sometimes this is simple. For my African Violet Club mysteries, I had a simple handdrawn map of the retirement home and its surroundings. That included the small town of Rainbow Ranch, but, as I said, that was a small town.

Whitby, a.k.a Shipwreck Point, is a little more difficult, and as I’ve started writing The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant, the third book in this series, it became imperative that I do better than a map sketched out by hand.

Now, since Whitby is based on an actual location, I was able to start with a Google map of that. But there were a lot of adjustments to make. Slight changes to the coastline, moving roads, then designating where the landmarks were.

Gimp is capable of doing the first part. I tried using Affinity Photo, which makes some tasks easier, but I’m more familiar with Gimp, and once I downloaded the latest version, I got started using various brushes and colors to modify the original map.

Then I had to figure out how I was going to show the hotels, the boardwalk, and the houses I’d mentioned in the books. Fortunately, I’d already purchased credits at Vectorstock.com, where I spent a lot of time searching for the appropriate icons. Most of these come in collections, which means you have one picture with multiple graphics in it. That required cutting out each icon I needed, then resizing them so they were appropriate for my map.

I also had to refresh my skills in Gimp to rotate text when I labeled the roads and buildings.
Making a map is a detailed, time-consuming task. I’m not quite done with the places I’ve invented yet. And as I write more books, I’ll have to update the map. But if you’re curious as to what Shipwreck Point looks like, here’s what I’ve got so far:


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Mind Trips

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Once a month, I like to write about things I’ve been doing for the past four weeks. Not only does this monthly post let you get to know me better, it provides me with a record of when I went somewhere, what I saw and heard and smelled.

But I haven’t gone much of anywhere this month except the grocery store because of the Wuhan Virus, which in politically correct terms is being called COVID-19. I’ve always considered politically correct terms dangerous because they hide the truth. I prefer to call things what they really are. But before I veer off into the political, let me get back on topic.

This is the time of year when Tucsonans spend a lot of time outdoors. Between the winter rains and the summer heat, we have a glorious few months of wonderful weather. The sun shines and the temperature is in the seventies and, possibly, the eighties. The wildflowers bloom, followed by the cactus. Those things still happened, but I didn’t see them in person.


Right now, I’m missing trips to the Reid Park Zoo. Five years ago, the elephant herd grew when Nandi was born to Semba. I made several visits to the zoo during her first year and took lots of pictures of the baby elephant. This year, Nandi got a baby sister, Mapenzi. All I’ve seen of her is photographs and one video.

The zoo has cameras throughout with online feeds, which seem to be down this morning, so I can’t even tell you how I went to the zoo virtually.

When I lived on the northwest side of Tucson, I made lots of trips to Tohono Chul Park at this time of year. They have several different gardens, as well as one area which is off the beaten track where, when the park is crowded, you can get away from other people.

That statement made me smile. A year ago, I would have been looking to enjoy the quiet. Right now, I’d love to be part of a throng of people enjoying the flowers. Sadly, that’s not possible. But they’ve posted pretty pictures of what’s blooming.

Last year, I joined the Tucson Botanical Gardens, because that’s closer to me now. This beautiful place was once someone’s home, and when you walk around it, you’ll find little signs describing what some parts of it were. The herb garden behind the house is one of my favorite places.

They’re live-streaming the butterfly garden. It’s hardly the same as being there. As a desert person, the first thing you notice when you enter the greenhouse is how humid it is! It feels like being wrapped in a blanket of moist air. You hear the sound of running water from the several pools they’ve set up among the plants. And it’s not unusual for a butterfly to zip past your face if you stand still.

The Fourth Avenue Street Fair went virtual, too, but since there was no actual street fair, that was just another online shopping site. I didn’t go.

They’ve only just started to loosen the stay-home order. It will probably be months before all the parks and museums are open. So I guess I’ll just have to wait until the Fall to visit some of my favorite places again.

Note: All photos are from ones I took in prior years.
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Mysteries I Read in April

Friday, April 24, 2020



You would think, what with social distancing and all, I would be reading a lot. It turns out I haven’t. For some reason, reading hasn’t been at the top of my list lately. Of course, I’ve been really busy working on my new series. I’ve also been promoting the first book. And, because I want the third book to be the best historical mystery ever, I’ve been watching a number of YouTube videos on writing, as well as dipping into the myriad writing books I own.

But I’m always reading at least one novel, so here are two I read in April.

Revenge is Sweet (Vintage Sweets Mysteries #1)
By Kaye George

First, a disclosure:
I’ve known Kaye George, at least virtually, for decades. We were members of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime together, which is where we met. We’ve also met in person a few times. I like Kaye a lot.

She’s also been nominated for the Agatha Award several times for her both her short stories and novels. She’s written several series, including a historical mystery series featuring a Neanderthal tribe and sleuth Enga Dancing Flower. Now, that’s something completely different!

This book isn’t. Different, that is.

In standard cozy style, this book takes place in a small tourist town in Texas. The sleuth, Tally Holt, owns Tally’s Old Tyme Sweets, a shop where she makes and sells candy and cookies cooked from her grandmother’s recipes. Next door, is Bella’s Baskets, owned by Yolanda Bella.

Local handyman Gene Faust, handsome, sweet-talking ladies’ man, has one bad habit. He uses his charm to borrow money from these ladies, and he doesn’t pay it back.

So it’s no surprise that when he’s found dead in Tally’s kitchen with Yolanda’s scissors poking out of him, that there are a lot of suspects.

Needless to say, I wanted to like this book. And I did. But “liked” is the operative word. I didn’t love it. Part of that is probably me. I’ve grown tired of the modern cozy mysteries that seem to have cookie-cutter characters, settings, and plots. There was nothing particularly different about this one, except having dual points of view, which turned out to be not an asset, but a problem. The women’s voices weren’t different enough to make it easy to tell who was narrating the story at each point.

But if you like conventional modern cozies, this might be a book you’ll love.
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The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant and Other Miscellany

Friday, April 17, 2020
I’m finally adjusting to the new reality, just in time for things to change again. I’ve got my mask (with another one on order from Etsy) and my hand sanitizer, cans of vegetables, tuna, and salmon, and have finally been able to concentrate on writing for some period of each day. As an aside, I can tell you this mask thing is not gonna fly in Arizona in the summer! Not unless someone comes up with a way to put air conditioning in them.

So, where are the books?

I’m in the middle of proofreading The Case of the Angry Artist and should be done no later than tomorrow. (Unless I need another nap. Naps are good.) I’ve also put some serious work into plotting The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant. I think this is going to be a good one. I’ve been reading several history books for background on the Suffragist movement and the role of Spiritualism in it. I’ve also dipped into the smaller history books of the town Shipwreck Point is based on for the political atmosphere in general at the time.

While the first two books are like television show episodes, The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant is starting to feel like a feature-length film. It’s as if I was just getting warmed up so I could write this new book. The town of Whitby, aka Shipwreck Point, is being populated with a number of interesting people. I think you’ll enjoy meeting them. I know I have. It really is fun to have your own imaginary place to go to when you’re mostly staring out the windows at empty streets.

I’ve also gotten the first couple of takes on the new covers for this series. Wowzer! It’s amazing what a cover artist can do. As soon as she does the cover for The Case of the Angry Artist, I’ll put it up for pre-order. If you want to know when that will be, sign up for my newsletter (it's in the sidebar), since I’ll announce it there first.

I think that’s it for now. I have to get back to writing. Stay safe!
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Scituate Lighthouse

Saturday, April 11, 2020

To me, summertime always meant trips to the beach. While I preferred Tobay, a town beach on the barrier island of Jones Beach, my father often chose to drove to one of the rocky beaches on the north shore of Long Island. That would frequently include a stop to buy clams on the way home, which we’d eat “on the half shell” while waiting for dinner.

But it was always the large waves of the Atlantic Ocean that attracted me, pounding the coastline, the water rushing in and then pulling back endlessly. The rhythmic pulse of the surf has always relaxed me, made me feel calm, no matter what personal storms raged within me. So it was only natural that I developed an affinity for lighthouses as well.

When I moved to the south shore of Boston, Boston Light was frequently in view. This tall, white spire can be seen for miles just off the coast of Hull, Massachusetts. It’s the oldest lighthouse in America, originally built in 1716. The current lighthouse was built 1783 to replace the old one. You can take a tour during the summer, which I did at least once.

But the lighthouse that captured my imagination was Scituate Light, built on the coast of a small town south of Boston. A latecomer when compared to Boston Light, this smaller structure was built it 1811, just in time to play a part in the War of 1812.

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Books I Read in March

Saturday, March 28, 2020

This month it seemed as if I was always reading something in a frantic hurry to get through one more book, but looking back, I read very little fiction. Some of my reading was devotionals, some historical research for my mysteries, some articles about the coronavirus.

I also read the instructions to fill out my 1040, but no one wants to hear about that. LOL

Without further ado, here are the novels I read this month:

Personal Solicitor (Tyler Kane Legal Thriller Book 1)
By Michael Pickford

Too much description, but much important information is left out. This book has gotten rave reviews, so I thought I’d give it a try, but it’s not for me.

Fury (End Times Alaska Book 4)
By Craig Martelle

After a disappointing third book in this series, the fourth and final book delivers.

After wading my way through two slow reads and totally giving up on a third by three different authors recently, I decided to give End Times Alaska another chance. I loved the first two books in the series and hoped the third was an aberration. I'm glad to report I was correct.

This book has plenty of action and plenty of heart. Chuck Nagy faces numerous challenges to overcome in this book, not the least of which is getting over the death of his wife, Madison. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Chuck emerges stronger than ever, with a lot of help from family and friends.

It was just the thing I needed to read while sitting out the social distancing from the coronavirus.

Saddled with Death (Emma Berry Murray River Mystery Book 0)
By Irene Sauman

An interesting historical mystery that takes place on an Australian ranch.

I read this book at the request of the author. I didn’t realize it was a prequel, which explains some of the weaknesses in this novella.

Primarily, there are so many characters we’re introduced to right from the beginning. I found it hard to remember who each of them was until later in the story. There are also long sections of backstory which don’t necessarily add to the mystery.

Authors frequently write this kind of story as they get to know the bones of their series. In a way, my own Unsafe Harbor was one of those stories, but it turned out longer than I expected and so became book one instead of a free bonus.

I definitely enjoyed the setting and the taste of armchair travel. And Emma is an engaging heroine with a romantic dilemma that I’m sure will get worse before it gets better.

I do plan on reading book one of this series.
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Progress on The Case of the Angry Artist

Saturday, March 21, 2020
Cozy up with Christian Fiction

In this weekly blog, I usually report on my writing progress. Let’s just say it has been slow. I’m spending too much time on Facebook and too much time on watching news updates about the coronavirus.

I’m also ahead of schedule with The Case of the Angry Artist, the next in my Strong and Wade Mysteries series. I finished the revisions I needed to make after my beta readers read the book. They had a lot of good points!

Next is putting the manuscript through AutoCrit, an editing program, then reading it aloud. Hearing the words as I read them not only highlights typos I’ve made, but also calls attention to awkward sentences. If my tongue stumbles over something as I read it, I try to rephrase whatever it is that’s causing the problem.

I’d love to put this book up for pre-order, but there are a few problems with doing that right now. The biggest is coming up with the book description or, as Dean Wesley Smith calls it, fiction sales copy. I got fairly good at copywriting with my African Violet Club series because I was doing it regularly. Now that I’ve taken a year off from doing anything like that, it feels like starting over again.

Writing a book description is very different from writing the book. The whole idea of selling myself or my work doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve been working on collecting the descriptions from books in the same genre this week. Hopefully, on Monday, I’ll be able to work out the one for The Case of the Angry Artist.

The other “problem” is that I decided to contract with a cover designer for the covers for this series. While I rather like the cover for Unsafe Harbor, I’ve spent days, maybe weeks, trying to do a similar cover for Angry Artist. I still don’t like what any of my attempts looks like. Rather than spending more time creating a mediocre cover, I thought it would be better to pay someone to do it for me. The cover designer will start working on that the second week in April.

With any luck, I’ll get all the pieces put together so you can pre-order The Case of the Angry Artist by the end of April.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined nineteen other authors in a promotion to give away our Christian Fiction books. In thinking about what we might do to help in these trying times, the obvious answer was give away books to people practicing social distancing by staying at home.

I’ve made Faith, Hope, and Murder, the first book in my Community of Faith Christian mystery series, free for this promotion. It’s been rocketing up the free charts all week. You can get your copy by clicking here.

But hurry! The promo ends Sunday, March 22, 2020.
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Coronavirus Panic

Friday, March 13, 2020
woman using hand sanitizer

I’m having a hard time understanding the panic over the coronavirus. Maybe it’s the perspective of age. Life used to be a lot more dangerous than it is now. Other than the danger from the hate of our fellow citizens.

When I was growing up, there were a whole slew of “childhood diseases”—measles, chicken pox, mumps, German measles (yeah, named after a country)—that most children had. We only had two vaccines, DPT, which stood for diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus, and smallpox. The only way to get immunity from the others was to have the disease and survive it. No one I knew died from any of them.

I managed to get chicken pox and measles at the same time, long after most of my friends had survived those two separately. I was pretty sick, out of it, maybe delirious, for three days. But then my fever broke and my biggest concern was that I was going to miss The Lone Ranger on TV. My mother promised to put it on, but only if I kept my eyes closed. I promised her I would just listen to it, but after she left the room, I did take a couple of peeks.

Yeah, when you got the measles, supposedly you could go blind from bright light. You were kept in a dark room, and my eyes, at least, got glued closed by some crusty stuff.

One of my friends got scarlet fever, a rarer and more dangerous disease. She was kept isolated in her bedroom. Fortunately, she was the only girl of five children, so she already had her own bedroom while her brothers shared one. She, too, recovered. Neither of us went to a hospital.

My biggest fear was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nikita Khrushchev had placed Russian missiles 90 miles off our coast, with the cooperation of Fidel Castro, the dictator who controlled Cuba.

All throughout my elementary school days, we’d had “duck and cover” drills, where they announced a nuclear bomb was headed our way, and we should dive under our desks and cover our heads. (Like that would do any good.) In junior high, this changed to going out in the hallway, sitting down facing the walls, and covering our heads. So this imminent threat was all too real.

We’d all grown up knowing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, seen newsreel clips about the devastation afterwards, so we were fairly certain a nuclear attack wasn’t something we’d survive. I lived in a constant state of fear.

Fortunately, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved without using weapons.

I’ve faced other dangers in my life, and I’m still here, relatively healthy, with a roof over my head, food to eat, and my cats to cuddle with.

One thing I have realized over the past week is that I’m no longer afraid to die. I kept hearing how the people most at risk were those over sixty and those with underlying health problems. My first thought was that sixty wasn’t so old. I’m seventy-two. This was followed by, “Wait. They’re talking about me!”

I turned that thought over in my mind for a while. Apparently, my odds of dying from coronavirus are higher than average. I don’t feel more vulnerable. But suppose I did catch coronavirus and die? Okay, I’ll go to heaven.

I stopped and said that last to myself again. I’ll go to heaven.

I’ve had a lot of doubts about religion in my life. Even now, when I go to church and say the ancient words and sing the hymns, I wonder if I really believe everything I’ve been taught, if I’m a good-enough Christian to qualify for eternal salvation.

But deep inside me, I do believe I’ll go to heaven when I die, which is a good place to be. So maybe it isn’t age that makes me unafraid during a pandemic. Maybe it’s the faith I didn’t even realize I had.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
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