Sunday, May 31, 2009

In my mind I'm goin' to Carolina . . . by Nikki Strandskov aka Auntie Knickers

Nikki Strandskov was born in Maine and lived in several U. S. states as well as three German cities before settling in Minnesota, where she lived happily (mostly in Minneapolis) for 32 years. In 2005 she and her husband, Henrik, "retired" to Brunswick, Maine, near her brothers and sister and many other relatives. She and Henrik have one son and two daughters, plus one daughter-in-law and one daughter-outlaw, all of whom live too far away. At home, they have a tricolor English springer spaniel, Rusty, and a calico cat, Heidi.

Besides reading 100 or more mysteries a year, plus other books, Nikki enjoys genealogy, collecting Christmas music and stories, collecting hymnals, watching movies and blogging. Henrik writes hymn and sometimes song lyrics (two so far with North Carolinian George Keck), takes photographs, and also enjoys reading mysteries and books on Polar exploration -- a great interest to have when one lives in the home of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Nikki blogs at and at (the latter is all about movies), and also posts book reviews at as Auntie Knickers and on DorothyL as "Nikki in Maine." She is awed to find herself in the illustrious company of Kaye's guest bloggers on

“In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina….” (James Taylor)

…North Carolina, that is.

And, except for two brief drive-throughs (one on a train) when I was 2 or 3, that’s the only way I’ve ever been to North Carolina. Yet, it’s one of my favorite states, and except for the odd politician, I’m predisposed to like anything that comes from there. Why is that?

Well, of course there’s the folklore. As an old folkie (non-performing variety), I’ve been enjoying the music of Earl Scruggs,

Doc and Merle Watson,

and James Taylor

for many years. Appalachian folklore – music, storytelling, handicrafts –

doesn’t take much account of state lines, but I do know that the famous Jack Tales, collected and published by Alabamian Richard Chase, came from the Ward family in western North Carolina. As a native and resident of Far Northeast Appalachia – Maine – the Scotch-Irish basis of much North Carolina culture is part of my culture too.

The land itself is beautiful, as I am reminded nearly every day in Vicki Lane’s blog – her photographs make you want to be there. I’ve been to the Rockies, which are majestic and amazing, but – I’m afraid of heights. The Appalachians are good enough for me – beauty and awe without the paralyzing terror. Kaye, my hostess for today, takes some great photos too, most recently giving us a taste of the Carolina coast on Topsail Island. Every description I’ve read of the Outer Banks has reinforced my belief that I’d like it a lot.

And then, there are the books. You knew I’d get to the books, right? At 10 or 11 it was Inglis Fletcher’s The Scotswoman. I had become a staunch Jacobite from reading Sally Watson’s Highland Rebel and then found Fletcher’s book on my mother’s shelves of historical novels.

A few years later, I discovered Thomas Wolfe – Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. Anne Tyler is now best known for writing about Baltimore, but she too is a North Carolinian, and I “knew her when” – having read her first two, North Carolina-set books, A Slipping-Down Life and The Tin Can Tree, shortly after their publication. Reynolds Price is a fine novelist, and his memoir of disability, A Whole New Life, gave my church Faith Exploration group much to discuss, as did Kate Vaiden. Clyde Edgerton, Lee Smith, Charles Frazier, Jan Karon, and Tony Earley are also favorites of mine and all North Carolina authors. I mustn’t forget to mention a publisher – Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill – whose imprint has proven to be a guarantee of good reading.

Now, since I “met” Kaye through the DorothyL list, I need to say a bit about mysteries. What a rich crop of writers have been born in or adopted North Carolina! From Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Novels (and I am thrilled to hear that a new one is on the way, featuring Nora Bonesteel), to Margaret Maron’s series featuring Judge Deborah Knott and her large, loving, and sometimes eccentric family, to Kathy Reichs’s books about sometime Tarheel Tempe Brennan – I’d thought maybe that was all there was and then Vicki Lane started publishing her Elizabeth Goodweather books. She not only writes a charming blog and takes great photos, she’s a heck of a mystery writer, and I’m impatiently awaiting her next, The Day of Small Things. Looking back a bit, do search out the stories and novels of Manly Wade Wellman, which are also deeply informed by Appalachian folklore.

But – what is it I really love most about North Carolina? The people. The first Tarheel I recall meeting was Sunnie Strauss, the wife of my 10th-grade social studies teacher. Jack Strauss was one of those stellar teachers who still influences me after 40+ years, and not least because he and Sunnie opened their home to me and my friends with a warmth that seemed natural then. Only as I have grown up, been a teacher’s wife, and had kids of my own in school, have I realized how unusual they were. We had great, deep discussions, a lot of laughs, and enjoyed their unique blend of Jewish and Southern hospitality. Jack is gone now, but – thanks, Sunnie.

In my junior year, I was in a different school, a Defense Department-run high school in Germany. I know I met many North Carolinian students, but what I remember most is my U.S. history teacher, Jerry Pierce. For someone who was taught Union marching songs in my Maine first grade class, his Southern take on the Civil War (oops, I mean The War Between the States) was a salutary lesson in the different ways one can view history. He also was brave enough to be faculty advisor to a weekly “journal of opinion” that I and some other students started. We’re talking about an Army high school in 1964-65 – need I say more?

One summer in college, one of my flatmates was Cathy Haas from North Carolina. It was a pleasure living with her and I still remember that she knew James Taylor and had a great recipe for whipped cream pound cake. A couple of my old friends from various high schools now live in North Carolina at least part time (both being somewhat peripatetic professors) and seem very happy there.

And last but not least, there are the cyberfriends. Kaye Barley in particular. Yes, I know Kaye is originally and always a Marylander, but she does live in and appreciate North Carolina now. She’s the unofficial social secretary and cheerleader for DorothyL, and, I suspect, of any group she’s involved with. I’m glad to know her. I’ve also had some nice email exchanges with Vicki Lane and Margaret Maron. Reporter Allen Breed, who’s writing a book on Malaga Island, Maine, where some of my ancestors lived, has helped me with my research and I, I hope, with his. I’m pretty sure some of my RevGalBlogPals are in North Carolina too. I’m just going to have to go there some day!
Nikki Strandskov
Bayberry Hill Genealogy

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alexandra Sokoloff - Lessons from the Back Seat

As a screenwriter, Alex has sold original mystery and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios. Her debut ghost story, THE HARROWING, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award and Anthony award for Best First Novel. Her second supernatural thriller, THE PRICE, was called “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre” by the New York Times Book Review, and her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen” is currently nominated for a Thriller award for best short story. Her third spooky thriller, THE UNSEEN, is out now, and is based on real-life experiments conducted at the parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus. She is currently working on a fourth supernatural thriller for St. Martin’s Press and a paranormal thriller for Harlequin Nocturne, and is writing a book on SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS, based on her popular workshop and blog.

Lessons from the Back Seat
By Alexandra Sokoloff
Since I am on the road touring for my new book, THE UNSEEN, and I will be doing God only knows how much driving in the next month, including today (from Virginia to New York, for Book Expo America, with several dozen bookstore drop-ins along the way)… I thought for my guest post I would be extremely faithful to the title of Kaye’s great blog, here.
“Meanderings and Muses.” That just says it all. That’s maybe the story of my life – inspiration from traveling. Only, as you’ll notice, I changed it around to suit my own, um, tendencies and got: “Lessons from the Back Seat”.
I know that there are other life lessons generally associated with the back seats of cars. And okay, I’ve had a few of those, too. But for me, I really believe that the back seat was where I learned how to write.
My father is a peripatetic kind of guy. Because of various revolutions and natural disasters and immigration restrictions, his family moved from Leningrad to Tokyo to Mexico City before he was three years old. (We think we live exciting lives - but if you ask me nothing we do holds a candle to what our parents have lived through.) That sense of movement never really left Dad; he got into the U.S. when he was 15 and rode the rails all over the country before he was 18, and I’ve never seen him happier than when he’s behind the wheel of a car (“King of the Road” is one of our family songs).
Though when he married and started a family he put down roots in California, Dad and my mother are both educators, and at the time my siblings and I were growing up, schools still had those three-month long summer vacations. And we spent those long summers on the road, driving all over the country, different routes every year, because Dad and Mom thought that we should see the country. All of it. Intimately. You might even say, would definitely have said if you had seen how grimy we all got after two months on the highway, that we became one with it.
So some of my earliest and most enduring memories and sensations are – movement. Perpetual movement. Constantly changing scenery and huge contrasts: endless brutal deserts turning into palm oases. Towering craggy mountain ranges with pockets of ethereal fields of wildflowers. Geysers and glaciers… and grizzly bears trying to claw their way into the car.
I don’t think it’s any surprise, then, that I’m a sucker for big visuals in my reading and my writing, or that I crave stories that have a constantly moving pace and surprises around every bend. I definitely picked up those rhythms and preferences on the road.
But as everyone knows, road trips aren’t necessarily a thrill a minute. Especially in portions of, say, Oklahoma and Texas, where the same kind of flat landscape seems to go on for days. Oh, right, that’s because it DOES go on for days. So I did a hell of a lot of reading along some of those stretches, and sometimes would read the same book several times in a trip, which was great training for writing, because with multiple readings you start to see the mechanics of it all. I could recite whole sections of my favorite thrillers and mysteries to my family. I also learned to make up stories to entertain myself. What if that car following us was full of CIA agents? (Oh, right – the car behind us sometimes WAS full of CIA agents. My father is a scientist, and Russian, and that was a suspicious combination when I was a child).
But what if they kidnapped us? What if I was the only one who could get free?
What if those dinosaurs in Dinosaur World suddenly came to life? (Okay, Michael Crichton beat me to that one)
What if there were real ghosts in that ghost town?
You have a lot of time for those “What ifs” on the road.
And God knows all that traveling – the national parks, the different cities, the museums and art galleries and reservations and ghost towns along the way, gave me a whole lifetime of fodder for different stories.
I’m eternally grateful for the traveling because it’s made me not just unafraid about doing research traveling, but eager for it. I write supernatural thrillers and the PLACE of a ghost story is sometimes the most important part of the whole deal. I always want to visit and explore the city or region I’m writing about, because it’s the best way to give a reader a true and complete experience. I need you to believe in the reality of the story - to feel and smell and hear things - so I can sneak in there and scare the pants off you.

And the traveling was especially good preparation for THE UNSEEN, interestingly enough, because it gave me an angle on how to write realistically about the South (the book is set in North Carolina) even though I’ve lived in California my entire life and wouldn’t begin to pretend that I could speak from a Southerner’s point of view.
But I sure can write from the point of view of a transplant, a fish out of water, because I have been that, in so many places, for so much of my life.
In THE UNSEEN my main character, Los Angeles psychology professor Laurel MacDonald, has a precognitive dream that makes her aware that her fiancĂ© is cheating on her. It shatters her life, of course, but also her whole sense of reality. She decides to take the “geographic cure” and moves to North Carolina to take a professorship at Duke, where she becomes obsessed with the long-buried files from the Rhine parapsychology department there.
Laurel is so out of place in the South that she’s a good observer, which makes her a perfect person to solve a mystery – but also, being in a strange new place with people who look at her as an outsider contributes to her sense of alienation and disorientation – a great undercurrent for a supernatural thriller.
All that traveling also prepared me for the author’s life – although I never would have known that going in. I don’t think anyone can possibly realize how much traveling is required of an author: the conventions, the book signings, the workshop gigs. It’s a wonderful gypsy life – you go to different cities every year for Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, Book Expo America, the Public Library Association conference, Thrillerfest, Malice Domestic, Romantic Times – and all your friends are there, including your agent and editor, so you end up doing business in all these different cities. It’s a huge traveling circus, really.
And it helps me with dreaded book promotion that I have no problem jumping in the car and driving all over the state – any state – to stop in at bookstores and sign stock. I’d prefer to be driven, but driving itself is relaxing to me, and a welcome break from writing, so I find it a great balance – exhausting, I won’t lie about that, but also rejuvenating.
I don’t panic if I get lost, I don’t worry when little things go wrong, and I really do end up enjoying the ride. And I never, ever forget how lucky I am: I always wanted the kind of life that would take me to new places all the time, and now, well, I’ve got it – in spades.
Thanks for having me, Kaye, and I hope I see you all on the road!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Toni McGee Causey - Dear God, the stick turned blue . . .

Toni lives in south Louisiana and along with her husband, Carl, owns a civil construction company. They have two sons who managed to survive the crazy. Sort of. She’d love it if you visited her site (with links to other blog entries) at

The first book in the Bobbie Faye series, Charmed and Dangerous, is a romantic suspense that follows Bobbie Faye Sumrall as she tries to rescue her brother from the kidnappers intent on killing him, while trying to stay ahead of the cops and out of the clutches of her own hostage. You can read an excerpt here, or see what other people are saying about Bobbie Faye here. A starred review from Publishers Weekly described her first Bobbie Faye adventure by saying this: "Causey doesn't miss a beat in this wonderful, wacky celebration of southern eccentricity."

Dear God, the stick turned blue… by Toni McGee Causey

Dear God, Universe, or Elves (I am covering all bases, I cannot afford to be picky here):

The stick turned blue. I'm 19. And a half. The stick turned blue. I think my brains just leaked out of my ears because THE STICK TURNED BLUE. It cannot turn blue. I only had sex once. Okay, maybe twice. That's in base 200. Or something. (Shut up, I am an English major, we're not expected to know higher math.)

Is this like... trial-sies? Practice run? Just to see how good my adrenal system works because let me reassure you right now, IT WORKS JUST FINE, though I think my neighbors might need a hearing aid after all the shrieking died down.


Seriously, you're kidding, right?

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

This is pregnant? This can't stand to move morning sickness bloated pasty can't fit into anything anymore look like a whale and where the hell is my GLOWY feeling? What? Were you out of Deep Fried Crazy Hot for the highs this summer and thought you'd just go ahead and substitute Miserable Seventh Level Of Hades and thought I wouldn't notice?


So very not happy with you right now.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

It's a boy. Two-and-a-half weeks overdue. GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT GET HIM OUT.


Hate you and your shoes.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

HE CAN STAY IN, I swear, I will shut up, forever, please do not make me have to OHMYGODTHATHURT. If I die and there is a heaven, I am bringing a LEAD BASKETBALL and you'd better not bend over.


Never having sex again, ever.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Wow. I just... wow. He's perfect. Unbelievably perfect. And just... wow. Who knew?


Okay, you're forgiven.

Dear God, Universe, Or Elves:

Oh, damn. How am I supposed to know what to do? How am I not going to break him? I don't know enough. Maybe when I'm forty. Or fifty. Maybe. I am so going to screw this up.


What the hell were you thinking, trusting me?

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Um, I hate to mention this, but there is one SERIOUS flaw in your design here. WHERE IS THE OFF SWITCH? I'd like to be able to shower, five minutes. Five. I don't think that's too much to ask.


So bringing my stinky self to your doorstep in about three seconds if you don't FIX THIS.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

My husband came home and heard me arguing with our two-year-old and took me aside and said, "You're the adult. You have to outsmart him." The sad thing is, I'M TRYING TO.


Send brains. Quick.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Okay, I get the whole "have sex, can get pregnant" thing, you can't fool me. And okay, I'm not wholly surprised that I look like I ate an entire football stadium, but they just told me they expect this one to be over nine pounds. NINE. That's like giving birth to a TWO MONTH OLD. WITH TEETH. Why not just go ahead and shoehorn in a COLLEGE GRADUATE while you're at it. Maybe you've got a couple of missing OCEAN LINERS from the Bermuda triangle you don't know what to do with; you can just SHOVE THEM IN MY UTERUS, I DON'T MIND.


I hope your hair falls out.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

That was really freaking EVIL of you, playing that "cutest kid on the planet" card, twice in a row. It gets easy after this, right?



Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Look, I know you're really busy with all that famine and war and mythical alternate universe of Reaganomics and Wham!, but if you could just take a couple of seconds out of your busy schedule? Because my kids are infected with the HE'S TOUCHING ME HE'S LOOKING AT MY STUFF OH WOE!!!! disease. How much trouble will I be in if I duct tape them together?


Duct Tape On Sale Now

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

He's never going to forgive me for wrapping him in multiple rolls of aluminum foil to turn him into the Tin Man for Halloween, is he? Or the eighteen blocks I made him walk (while re-wrapping him) because we were going to trick-or-treat and we were going to BY GOD HAVE FUN, DAMMIT. I'm still going to hear about this when he's twenty-five, aren't I?


Seriously thought about tying the bathroom rug around him for "lion fur"-- he doesn't know how lucky he is.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

They are sticking a needle in my four-year-old's back. A needle. They are holding him down in the other room, and he is screaming. They made me leave, because he was lunging for me and he's supposed to be absolutely still.

I just sat across from one of my childhood friends. She's our pediatrician now, and one of the smartest people on the planet. We made mud pies together when we were five and six years old. We even managed to sell them (well, she did, she is that smart).

I never dreamed I would be sitting across from her one day and that she would have to say, "meningitis." That the words "risks" and "death" and "possible brain damage" and "spinal tap" and "could paralyze him" would float, jumbled, over the space between us, that we'd ever talk about the fact that she had to stick a needle in my son's back. A pediatric emergency.

She is sending me to the ER. I'm carrying him (passed out), while my oldest son is clutching his brother's spinal fluids in some sort of glass flask, and I'm supposed to drive to the ER, because we do not have time for an ambulance.

She said to try not to stop for red lights. I CANNOT BREATHE right now, and there is no oxygen going to my brain and I CANNOT STOP FOR RED LIGHTS.

I don't care what it takes, do it to me, not him. I will give you anything. I will give you everything. Just do not do this.



Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

Four days later, and his brother and he are making a slide out of the hospital bed's mattress. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.


thank you.

(your hair grew back in nicely, by the way)

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

The oldest is fifteen, and in this state, he can legally drive. HAVE YOU FREAKING LOST CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE, OR WHAT? How in the world am I supposed to let him drive? I can barely keep from hurling myself in his path to keep him safe while he's WALKING AROUND, BREATHING AIR, dammit. I have tried to remember that they are supposed to grow up to be independent, strong men. I have tried to remember to reinforce their decision-making skills. But this is just asking TOO DAMNED MUCH. It's too soon.


Where is the time machine?

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

ANY PHONE CALL THAT STARTS WITH "Mom, I'm okay, DON'T WORRY," is NOT GOING TO BE GOOD, I don't care HOW earnest you make them sound.


Like I am that easily fooled. Ha.

Dear God, Universe, or Elves:

I sat on the floor in the hallway today where I could see into the door of each of their rooms. They are empty, now, of boy stuff. One is an exercise room, and one a guest bedroom.

I did not break them. I screwed up. A lot, sometimes. I got self absorbed and busy and short tempered. I lost confidence and lost my way, but I did not break them. I remember the smiles, the laughter, the tooth fairy, the Christmas mornings, the late night talks. There were baseball games, wrestling tournaments, graduations and hysterically funny meals. I remember tears and heartache and not knowing if just loving them more than breathing was going to be enough. I remember too many close calls where it seemed like it might not be. But they are funny and smart and good hearted men. They have (mostly) outgrown the HE'S TOUCHING ME HE'S LOOKING AT MY STUFF OH WOE!!!! disease, and so get along pretty amazingly well. They make me laugh and surprise me and are fascinating people. They are kind. They treat people well, and they not only love deeply, but they are loved deeply in return. They are both the kind of men who, if I just met them somewhere, I'd like them tremendously. They have started families.Wonderful women I'm so lucky to have in our family. A granddaughter (the most beautiful, happy baby in the world).

You did not tell me when you gave me that blue stick that you were giving me my heart. You did not tell me that you were giving me everything that mattered.

Dear God, the stick turned blue.



toni, a mom.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Magical Place! AND a Party! oh my!

This is TOO delicious not to share -

I've discovered one of the most clever, totally delightful blogs ever.

A Fanciful Twist,
through the secret keyhole


there's a party planned -

"A Party, A Party, A Mad and Gloriously Enchanted Party!"

and we're all invited - Hooray, Hooray !

It's the Second Annual Mad Tea Party


it's just going to be much too fun to miss!

Visit A Fanciful Twist to see details.

You'll also want to

take a peek at the First Annual Mad Tea Party to see (sadly!) what fun we all missed last year.

I intend to don my party frock and attend Vanessa's party, and Meanderings and Muses will be playing along that day - June 27th. Stay tuned for details.

images used with Vanessa's permission

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Photos from Topsail Island, NC

I've already told you all how much we loved Topsail Island. We had such a great time, and we're sorry to have our vacation behind us. But. We have wonderful memories, and lots of terrific pictures. Lots and lots of pictures.


My Favorite Picture - Kinda says it all, doesn't it?

Harley says "Welcome to Topsail!"

Here's our house

We had some gorgeous, sunny days . . .

and we had some rainy days, which were still pretty gorgeous . . .

our kitchen - LOVED our little kitchen, didn't use it much, but I loved it

We had great beach walking days . . .

and great shopping days! I discovered a new favorite North Carolina artist by the name of Ivey Hayes

We had fun days to drive around and just explore and admire beautiful beach houses

And we had days to just sit very very still on our deck and watch pretty amazing sunrises

and some evenings to watch some pretty spectacular sunsets.

And when it was time to leave, our little deck buddy popped out to say goodbye.

and Harley was sad.

And then. On the way home, we pulled off the expressway for a little rest stop and saw this - just what we needed to make us chuckle and get over those "time to leave the beach blues."

and life is good.

June 2010.
Sadly - there's a postscript I'd like for you all to know about.
Skip ahead a year to May, 2010.
We were scheduled to come back to Topsail, but my Donald suffered a heart attack.  He's now doing well, thank you, but we, of course, had to cancel our trip.
The morning we were to leave for Topsail, Donald was airlifted by helicopter from Boone to Asheville Mission Memorial Hospital and was there for five days.
And because of the way we were treated by the owners of the house we had rented and paid for in full, we're unsure as to whether we'll be back.  We will not, for sure, ever be staying at this house again.  The owners were unable to find it in their hearts to allow us to reschedule our vacation; a near fatal heart attack notwithstanding. They said if we had bought rental insurance it would have been a different story, but they stuck to the contract.  No refund/No rescheduled stay.  I've written about it here: