Sunday, July 26, 2009

Was it Something I Said? by Simon Wood

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. Their lives are dominated by a longhaired dachshund and five cats. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His stories have been included in "Best of" anthologies and he's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest.

He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and the forthcoming, Road Rash. His next thriller will be Disgruntled out next April. Curious people can learn more at

by Simon Wood

Recently I learned that someone is convinced that something in one of my books is real and I did it. This isn't the first time this has happened. A few years ago, a woman at a book club who had read ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN asked me in all seriousness how many times I'd cheated on my wife because the story dealt with infidelity. Others have pushed me for answers about different aspects of my stories and my culpability. It can be a little bit disconcerting when someone asks you, "did you ever get caught stealing cars?" At the same time, I can understand why people will read something and put two and two together and come up with five. It might be fiction, but for any slice of fiction to be believable, the element of realism has to be strong. It has to get the reader to suspend their disbelief and buy into what they're reading.

A writer's storytelling style plays into this problem too. While any writer can proclaim that their writing is a reflection of the world around them, a book says more about the writer world view than anybody else's. I'll be the first to acknowledge that I show more than a little thigh from time to time in my stories. It's impossible for my sensibilities and insensibilities not to show.

By the same token, when someone rushes up to me and demands to know how many times I've cheated on my wife, it reveals a lot more about their life and sensitivities than it does about mine. That's the bugger about any story. Once it's out there in the open, it's a mirror and we all see something different when we gaze into it.

When it comes to the crimes I may or may not have committed, I have to fall back on Sharon Stone's defense in BASIC INSTINCT. If I'd committed a crime, do you think I'd be daft enough to admit it in writing? I'm dumb, but not that dumb. :-)

I will admit that while none of my stories are reenactments of things that have happened to me, there are flickers of personal experiences contained within the pages. While it would be nice to regurgitate life stories in my books, it doesn't work that way. They just don't fit well within the confines of a novel.

That said, I do occasionally insert a few inside jokes in my stories for my amusement and the amusement of friends, coworkers and family. Perhaps, an old boss' name is used for a character who comes to a grizzly end. Sometimes I do things for my enjoyment only and the eye rolls of others. I used Julie's name for a character whose husband was cheating on her and I killed my mother-in-law in another. Don't worry, I haven't done these things but I know I'm going to get a groan out of them when they read the story.

Of all the things I've been accused of doing in real life no one has accused me of killing anyone. I guess I should be flattered by the fact that some people think I'm an adulterer, a thief, or a blackmailer, but not a murderer.

I suppose my only advice to you, my readers, is not to wonder about the things I write about, but the things I don't write about. :-)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Books, Baking and Bwahas - Saturday Morning Meanderings

A few of my most recent posts have brought me a lot of email.

Happy Fourth and What's Cooking, Little Books I Love, and A Girlfriend Weekend.

I'm guess that means a lot of you enjoy some of the same things I do - books, eating and laughing with your girlfriends! Well - what's not to like about all that?! (and I'd gladly hear some better titles for this post than my beyond lame "books, baking and bwahas!" - Saturday mornings make me silly, that's the best excuse I can come up with. Silly and lazy.).

First - before I write one more word I have a book to squeal about. Are y'all familiar with Louise Penny? I know a whole bunch of you are, and those who aren't might want to give her a try. She writes the Inspector Armand Gamache series which mainly takes place in the tiny idyllic village of Three Pines in Quebec. I fell in love with this series when Ms. Penny, a Canadian author, seemingly came out of nowhere in 2005. Here's a run down of what this amazing woman has since accomplished:

Still Life (2005)
2006 New Blood Dagger
2006 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel
2007 Anthony Award for Best First Novel

2007 Barry Award for Best First Novel

Dead Cold (2006)
Also Published As: A Fatal Grace (2007)
2007 Agatha Award for Best Novel

The Cruelest Month (2007)
2008 Agatha Award for Best Novel
Finalist 2009 Anthony Award for Best Mystery
Finalist 2009 Barry Award for Best Novel
Finalist 2008 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

Finalist 2009 Macavity Award for Best Novel

The Murder Stone (2008)
Also Published As: A Rule Against Murder (2009)
Finalist 2009 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

The Brutal Telling (due September 29, 2009)

Look at the awards this woman has won! And I must say - well deserved - every one. And - - - because she is also one of the most genuinely nice people you could ever hope to meet, it makes it even nicer.

I was one of the lucky winners of an Advance Reading Copy of THE BRUTAL TELLING, and have to tell you - it is stunning. I'm shouting about it all over the place, and I'm already quite sure it will be in my Top Five Favorite Books of 2009. Add this to your "Gotta Read" list.

O.K. - now, what was I talking about . . .

(I'm betting you've figured out by now how I came up with the name "Meanderings and Muses" for this blog, huh? Actually, I think I perhaps should change the name to "WHAT was I talking about anyhow??")


The "What's Cooking?" blog talked about cookbooks. One of my blogging buddies, Sam Hoffer, writes one of my favorite blogs; My Carolina Kitchen. Right now she's chatting about searching for the perfect tomatoes for a BLT. It's a wonderful post! Especially for someone like me who is over the moon about BLTs, and lucky enough to be married to someone who shares my enthusiasm. What says "summer" better than a BLT?!

Sam saw my "Happy Fourth and What's Cooking" piece and let me know she shares my fondness for Pat Conroy's work. She also, for obvious reasons being a fantastic cook herself, loves his cookbook, and her favorite passage came from the chapter on "Why Dying Down South Is More Fun," which will make you laugh while it breaks your heart. (HOW does he do that?!)

That comment led me to thinking about another wonderful cookbook. "Being Dead is No Excuse: The Official Southern Ladies Guide to Hosting the Perfect Funeral." I love this book. I had it on my wishlist at, and when it showed up in the mail, I realized one of my DorothyL buddies, Caryn St. Clair (a Meanderings and Muses guest blogger), had sent it to me. Thanks, again - Caryn!! It's fun and it's a hoot, AND it has some pretty mouth watering recipes. If you're a fan of "all things southern," as I am, you'll love this book too.

I have no idea why I'm such a collector of cookbooks. I'm no cook. I have a couple of recipes I do well, other than that, I am pitiful. Truly.


I do love to bake, and seem to have pretty good luck at that. So it makes a little more sense that I have a few baking books that I cherish. Although, I suspect some of that has to do with the fact that the covers are to die for. HOW do you resist buying a book with this cover?!

I swore I was going to bake this cake immediately. I bought Dorie Greenspan's "Baking, From My Home to Yours" years ago - it was published in 2006. Haven't made it yet. But, one of these days!!

Being one of those people obviously easily swayed by a pretty face, here's another gorgeous baking book I've yet to bake one thing out of - Tish Boyle's "The Cake Book."

Always on the lookout for new recipes - anyone want to share their favorites??

And to those of you who wrote to me about girlfriends and how much you cherish your old gal pals as much as I do - here are some pictures we took. Dindy and Nan are two of the most special women in my life. I hope you all have special women friends in yours.

These woman are dear to my heart. I admire them for their intelligence, wisdom, and grace.

I thank them for their generosity of spirit they have freely shown and given me for half of my life.

I love them for the wild ass adventures we've shared that we're all sworn to secrecy about and wouldn't take a million dollars for.

boy howdy.

just say the words "Moe's & Joe's, Fripp Island, Inman Park, Mockingbird Lane, or 28th Street," and see the evil little looks of glee that can pass amongst us . . .

one of these days there should be a book.

Fiction, of course.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dodge City Run by the NWMP by Vicki Delany

Vicki Delany writes everything from standalone novels of suspense (Burden of Memory, Scare the Light Away) to a traditional village/police procedural series set in B.C. (Valley of the Lost, In the Shadow of the Glacier) to a light-hearted historical series (Gold Digger) set during the Klondike Gold Rush. In April 2007, Vicki took early retirement from her job as a systems analyst and sold her house in Oakville, Ontario. After a year travelling across North America, she is now setting down to the rural life in Prince Edward County, where she rarely wears a watch. Her next novel is Winter of Secrets, coming in November from Poisoned Pen Press, the third in the Constable Molly Smith series. Vicki's web site is and she blogs at Type M for Murder (, and Fiona MacGillivray and Constable Molly Smith blog at

Watch the exciting trailer for Valley of the Lost,

Dodge City Run by the NWMP

By Vicki Delany

Thanks very much to Kaye for giving me space on this wonderful blog to babble away. First, I’d like to let everyone know about a fabulous little mystery-lovers event coming up. The Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival is held on Wolfe Island (just outside Kingston, Ontario) every summer to celebrate Canadian crime writing. Wolfe Island is the birthplace of Grant Allen, Canada’s first crime writer, and the Grant Allen Award is given every year to recognize a pioneer in Canadian crime writing. This year’s festival is on Saturday August 15th. The guest of honour, and Grand Allen Award Recipient, will be Peter Robinson. Sandra Parshall and others of split personality would love it: the Festival is small and intimate. You need to take a short (free) ferry ride from Kingston, Ontario to get there, and your ticket gives you not only authors’ readings, a lecture on a subject of interest to mystery fans, an authors’ panel, an interview with Peter Robinson, plenty of time to meet and greet and buy books and have them signed, but you ALSO get lunch and a proper Church Supper. Can’t be beat. For more info and to buy tickets, please go to I am giving the workshop this year (part of the Festival, but an additional fee to attend) and the topic is Creating Fully Realized Characters: Protagonist, Villain and Everyone in Between.

Back to our regularly scheduled programme. I enjoyed the piece by Ken Lewis about how dark influences in his life are reflected in his fiction. By contrast, my newest book, Gold Digger: A Klondike Mystery, came from a happy place in my life. I was on a wilderness canoeing trip in Ontario’s Algonquin Park some years ago. Sitting around the campfire watching stars, listening to the wind in the trees and the waves lapping against the rock, we chatted about nothing in particular, as people do in those circumstances. I commented on how strange our ancestors would have thought us – to be paying good money, and using our valuable vacation time, to do what they would have thought of as sheer hardship. Several of the people on the trip were Europeans so I began telling them about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99 and the incredible journey over the mountains the gold-seekers had to endure to get there.

Wouldn’t that make a nice setting for a mystery novel, I thought, and the idea for Gold Digger was born.

You may have heard the phrase by the late Sir Peter Ustinov that Toronto is “New York run by the Swiss.” I like to say that Dawson, Yukon, in 1898, was Dodge City run by the North West Mounted Police.

Imagine a place in the wilderness, close to the Arctic Circle, hundreds of miles from the nearest city. A place of no roads, no cars, no trains, no telegraph. Accessible only by water, for just a few months a year, or by paths over mountains so steep that horses couldn’t make it. And then imagine tens of thousands of people arriving in this place within a matter of months.

What you would get in almost any other place and any other time would be bedlam. Chaos and anarchy and lawlessness.

But what they did have in the Yukon was the North West Mounted Police (precursors of the RCMP). The border between Canada and the U.S. was at that time still in dispute. The Canadian government had established a police presence in order to strengthen their claim. So what all those miners dance hall owners, prostitutes and pimps, bartenders and adventurers, and businessmen (respectable and shady) found when they finally arrived in the promised land, was the long arm of the law waiting for them.

At that time prostitution and gambling were illegal in all parts of Canada. But the NWMP recognized, wisely in my opinion, that some things were going to happen whether they were legal or not, and the police would be better off having some control. Thus prostitution was practiced openly and dance halls all had a gambling room. Police oversight was strict and they could, and did, close down any business stepping over the line. At the same there were things the Mounties didn’t bend on – the use of ‘vile language’ was an offence, and Sunday closing was strictly observed. People were jailed for chopping wood for their own homes on a Sunday. Guns were strictly banned. Every person coming into the Territory was required to have a year’s supply of goods with them: A lesson learned during the previous winter when the town nearly starved. Not only did all those adventure-and-gold seekers have to climb the Chilkoot Pass they had to do it about 30 or 40 times to get all their gear up. Tougher people than me I can tell you.

In 1898, the year of the height of the Gold Rush, when the town of Dawson had a population of 40,000, there was not one murder in town. Not one. Reports I have read say that people were comfortable leaving their doors unlocked and their possessions out in the open. In contrast to the nearby town of Skagway, Alaska, where gangsters such as Soapy Smith ruled and crime and corruption was rampant.

In a town where a one minute dance with a dance hall girl cost a dollar, and a bottle of champagne would set you back 40 bucks, and successful miners were known to drop a thousand, ten thousand dollars (all in 1898 funds!) in a night in the casino, a constable in the NWMP earned $1.25 a day (which was roughly the rate for a labourer in the Outside). Yet the police were largely incorruptible.

I have attempted to capture that contrast between a wild frontier settlement and a well-policed Canadian town in Gold Digger, and to largely stay in that ‘happy place’ that was the origins of the book. Because it is, after all, a mystery novel, I have had to ignore the no-murder record of the NWMP.

Sometimes, you just can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Taste of Honey by Kenneth R. Lewis

Ken Lewis is a police chief, and writer, who lives in Oregon. He is the father of five grown sons, and also the proud grandfather of three granddaughters, and a grandson; Karissa, Isabelle, Keira, and Collin Kenneth Lewis. His debut crime
fiction novel, “Little Blue Whales,” has been nominated for both the 2009 Oregon Book Awards, and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Awards. He is at the moment finishing work on his second novel, “The Sparrow’s Blade,” the manuscript of which he will be delivering to his agent Angela Rinaldi at lunch in Portland, OR on August 7th. The book is the sequel to “Little Blue Whales” and is another work of dark crime fiction, written from the heart.


Taste of Honey by Ken Lewis

Even though it’s quite desirable these days for many mystery authors to want to try and write “dark crime fiction,” when I first started writing I used to wonder, and worry about, why my own stories seemed to be just naturally filled with so much darkness…and pain. I assumed it was because the career I’d chosen early on in life, law enforcement, was mostly comprised of witnessing, and sometimes participating in, events that were filled with darkness and pain, and it had therefore skewed my vision of the world, leaking into my personal life like water from a chronically dripping faucet. But in 2006 in an incident of pure serendipity, I learned something from one of my sons that not only answered my question for me; it set my heart free both as a writer, and a father, forever.

From 1986 until 1998 I lived in the small town of Forks, WA (Yes, the same Forks, WA of Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” teen vampire series fame) with my then wife, our five young sons, and our dog “Honey Bunny.” I was the chief of police in the small community of La Push (another “Twilight” locale) 15 miles from Forks and I worked long hours, leaving home early every morning and usually getting home very late. When I say Honey was “our” dog, that’s somewhat of a misnomer. She was the boys’, and my wife’s dog from the very beginning. I wanted nothing to do with her. It wasn’t because I don’t like dogs. I love dogs. It was the fact that with five little mouths to feed, and adding the responsibility of taking care of a sixth, I believed she would only be trouble. An added burden that our already troubled family did not need.

She showed up early one September day as the school year started, a yellow Lab-Golden Retriever mix puppy, maybe six months old, who someone had dumped in our neighborhood on Trillium Avenue; for presumed reasons which would quickly reveal themselves. I happened to be home early for once, to greet my kids as they got off the bus after their first day of school, and witnessed Honey’s opening act. She was at the bus stop too, having spent the morning hanging around my wife and worming her way into her too soft heart, and when the pneumatic door of the school bus opened with a “whoosh” and the first child, our Matt, started to come off, Honey made her move. She leapt three feet into the air and clamped her sharp, needle like puppy teeth onto a sleeve of Matt’s new jacket we’d just bought the week before at Sears for forty dollars…and nearly ripped it off his arm. Then she went after another kid, and another, her excited, playful barks mixing with the screams of my boys; first in terror, and then a few moments later, delight, when they heard their mother say they could keep her, “just until we find out who her owners are.” You can probably guess the rest. We did, eventually, find out who Honey’s “owners” were, and in the end they turned out to be the Lewis’ who lived at 451 Trillium.

The dog was a complete maniac. She was the Energizer Bunny on steroids, powered by the world’s largest lithium ion battery. From dawn until dark, she jumped, barked, chewed, chased, crapped and peed her way into the hearts and minds of our family; everyone except me. And after a week long experiment to see how she might work out as an “inside dog,” and then another week of repairing all the damage she’d done, it was dear old dad who built a dog house for her in one corner of the backyard, and then went to ACE Hardware for a steel ground stake, and length of chain, to secure her there after she had chewed through three stout ropes in a row. She was what loggers around Forks in those days called “buck wild.”

We hadn’t had her a month, when playing a game of “catch the Frisbee” with the boys in our back yard, Honey boomeranged into the air wildly after the colorful spinning plastic disc, and then landed on the grass wrong, shattering one of her hind legs. I don’t know which sounded worse; her heart wrenching, pitiful cries from the excruciating pain she was in, or the heart wrenching, pitiful cries of all five of my sons who believed to a certainty that they knew what was about to happen next: a quick trip out to the city dump, and a merciful shot behind one ear with a .22 rifle to put an end to her suffering. Instead, I took one look at the suffering faces of my little boys, and then loaded Honey into the back of my patrol car and drove her sixty miles, with lights and siren on, to the nearest Veterinarian which was in Port Angeles, WA. The price the Vet quoted me for the surgery to repair her damaged leg was three hundred and eighty six dollars, the equivalent of a thousand dollars back then, and it was either surgery, or having her put down on the spot. I told him to go ahead and do the surgery, no matter what it cost. Honey had quickly become a huge part of my kids’ lives, and having her destroyed because of money would have been putting a price on their innocence and their right to happiness as children. And besides, she was a member of the family by then. An obnoxious member of our family, but family just the same.

Eventually, there were rules for the kids which my wife and I both agreed on; at least in the beginning. Honey was THEIR dog and therefore she was THEIR responsibility to care for; taking equal turns of course. The problem was that she had now grown so large, and was still so amped up all the time with sheer puppy exuberance; she was just physically too much for them to handle. It would take two boys to “walk” her around the neighborhood on her chain, and Honey would basically drag them all the way. One day Sam, who was, I think, nine or ten at the time, took Honey on a walk by himself and ended up being drug down the street half a block by her until he was rescued by two of his brothers.

Later at the house, as we were picking small bits of gravel from his face and applying band-aids and antiseptic cream to his road rash, he tearfully confessed that he hadn’t wanted to let go of Honey’s chain because he feared “she might run away from home.” Oh God. I could only hope.

But Honey Bunny was a survivor, eking out an existence inside her doghouse that first cold and rainy winter. Rarely was she taken for a walk, or even let off her chain. By spring she still seemed as happy as ever, wearing down and killing a huge area of new spring grass around her dog house the size of an alien crop circle, the circumference of which was the maximum reach of her chain. Another topic for my wife and I to fight over; just as we had done all winter long over a myriad of other small, domestic things, made larger than real life by the
significance of hurt we each attached to them. It had truly been our winter of discontent, and, as it turned out, it was the last winter we would ever spend together.

The next fall my wife got her own place in town and moved out, taking three of our sons with her, and I stayed in our home with the two boys who hadn’t wanted to go; Matt, the second to the oldest, and Dillon, the middle boy. And, because my wife’s new landlord didn’t allow pets, Honey Bunny. I hadn’t written “Little Blue Whales” yet and couldn’t have then, not even if you’d put a gun to my head, because I know now that I was busy living it; the darkness, and the pain. I cared for my two sons the best that I could. I threw myself into my work. I
planned my escape. I shot at Honey Bunny through my bedroom window nights with a BB gun.

I couldn’t sleep then. Not very often, and even when I did, not for very long. And I NEEDED to sleep. It was my only respite, the only relief from the never ending nightmare and agony of watching my family being torn apart in front of my very eyes; knowing that we had both let things go too far and that I was now powerless to save any of us, let alone myself. Poor Honey must have felt the same way, because in the middle of the night, every night, she would start to howl; a long, keening, mournful cry that seemed to go right through me. Racked by guilt, but burning with anger and frustration, I would throw open my bedroom window and yell at her to shut up. When she didn’t, I would fire a round or two at her in the dark in her direction until she did shut up, and then slink back inside her dog house. I’m sure I hit her sometimes, firing in the dark like that, because on occasion I would hear a sharp yelp; and then she would be quiet the rest of the night. After awhile though, it wasn’t even necessary to shoot.

All I had to do was stick the gun out the window and shake it. The sound of the BB’s rattling inside the magazine of the gun was enough to make her cower, and disappear into the shadows. But Honey never entirely stopped howling. Her emotional pain, like my own, seemed perpetual.

The day after Christmas that year I filed for divorce, and in early summer I found a new job as the chief of police in a small coastal town in southern Oregon. I went to court and fought for custody of all of my sons, and lost.

Fathers who seek sole custody of their children rarely win. Fathers who plan on moving out of state, and seek sole custody of their children, never win. But I was going anyhow. I believed, then, that was what I had to. Honey Bunny was still my responsibility, so I tried to find her a good home before I moved. But when I couldn’t, I called Animal Control to come and pick her up. The Animal Control officer came to our house with his van and put her in the cage in back.

My son Dillon was pleading with me and crying; begging me not to let him take her. And once he’d driven away with Honey to the animal shelter, to be euthanized in a week if nobody claimed her, every day for that next, longest week of my life, Dillon came to me with tears in his eyes, begging me to bring her back home. He even promised to get a paper route and turn all of his earnings over to me, so he could “pay for Honey’s fines.” He was only thirteen then. A little boy with a heart so big that it easily overshadowed my own adult one; like the moon does when it swallows up the sun in a solar eclipse.

I moved to Oregon. I cannot truly describe the loneliness, the feelings of utter despair, and regret, and loss I felt then over what had happened to all of us. Like my character, Kevin Kearnes, I sought to forget as much of it as I could, and at times I even prayed that the same black curtain of repressed memory which had fallen over Kevin in my novel would descend upon me also. But thank God I was never as unlucky as he was. Oddly, the one thing that stayed vividly in my mind, and became the iconic symbol of the failure of my marriage, and what it did to our children, was the wasted life, and ignoble death, of Honey Bunny. The memories I had of her; every unkind word I had cursed her with, every BB I had fired at her, and the ultimate death sentence I had handed down to her, turned in my gut for years like the blade of a twisted knife. I was tormented by that act, I suffered for it, I cried at times because of it. Finally, I began to write my novel, and there was plenty of darkness and pain in it to go around; a little too much for some editors, as it turned out. Kevin Kearnes, like me, had lost his children through divorce. And just like me, Kearnes had been forced to move on, ending up on the coast of Oregon. But you won’t find any scenes involving the family pet having to be sacrificed as a casualty of divorce in my book. I wanted to put Honey in it; but I just could not bring myself to write about her. It was all too real.

I started this blog piece by telling you about something one of my sons told me eight years later, that put an entirely new perspective on my personal feelings about writing darkly, and painfully, in fiction. I guess I should tell you now what that was. Ironically, it came about my through my own blog that I had for a short while, but took down from the internet because I was being stalked by a local mentally ill man, and I didn’t want to give him another five gallon can of gasoline to throw on the already raging fires inside his psyche in the form of intimate, and personal information about me. In 2006 I did a short confessional piece on my blog (can’t even remember the blog’s name now) about Honey Bunny; what had happened to her, and how guilty I still felt about it. I just couldn’t keep it inside any longer, so I thought, why not do it up right, and spill my guts to the world?

The following day I received an email from my oldest son, Shane, in Washington. He had read my blog and was writing to tell me that, in fact, Honey Bunny had only recently passed away a couple of months before. A girl he knew from his high school had adopted her. Their family lived on a little ranch in the woods a few miles outside Forks and had all kinds of farm animals as well as other dogs, and even some cats, too. This girl’s family was very involved in 4H activities, and Honey had been entered in several 4H contests over the years. She had been a
cherished, and much loved member of her second family when she passed away. She had lived a good life; a great life in fact. At first, I was stunned. Then bewildered. Then absolutely, joyously, elated! This wasn’t some fictional “happy ending.” This was real life. My life. And now this one painful part of it had not only been repaired, it had been restored to me. Not every terrible thing had befallen us after all, and to me, this truly was a miracle of redemption.

Now I don’t worry about my writing so much. I subscribe to the belief that a writer should write what they must; what is deep inside of them at the time they are engaged in the act of creating. Whether it’s darkness or light, pain or pleasure. Or something, or somewhere, in between. Because your writing, like your life, will someday all come into balance for you…if that’s what is meant to be. I don’t think that we write so much for the purpose of having an effect on others, as we do because we have already been affected by others ourselves. And that even goes for little stray dogs.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Girlfriend Weekend

I've been busy, busy this week!

Cooking, baking and cleaning - oh my.

Precious old friends are on their way to Boone as we speak.

Nan and Dindy have been dear friends for about 35 years. Since many miles separate us now that Donald and I are living in Boone, we don't see as much of one another as we once did. But, the friendships - as do all truly true friendships - have survived and those lovely and fun girlfriend feelings have not dwindled a speck. I do dearly love these women. And I've worked my buns off this week to prove it! (See now - When you're REALLY good friends, you get away with saying stuff like that and everyone understands it's all in fun).

And 'cause I've been so busy, I've neglected my blog a bit. But I'll be back!! In the meantime - meet Nan and Dindy - -

This is Becky, me and Nan during the summer of 1981. Becky isn't going to be with us this weekend and we will miss her! But. Another time.

And here's Dindy and me (again!), and Beck (again!). This was taken during Christmas 1981.

And here's Nan and me and Dindy this past Christmas.

And I'm betting I'll have a few more pictures to add in a few days . . .

Here's a couple of recipes. Good "Girlfriend Weekend" recipes! Enjoy!!

We're having a Broccoli Chicken Braid tonight since we're not sure what time we'll get around to eating. This is easily made ahead, tastes scrumptious and it's pretty to boot.

Broccoli Chicken Braid

2 cups diced, cooked chicken meat
1 cup fresh broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove crushed garlic
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons dried dill weed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1/4 cup diced onion
2 (8 ounce) packages refrigerated crescent rolls
1 egg white, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees F).

In a large bowl, toss together chicken, broccoli, red bell pepper, garlic, Cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, dill weed, salt, almonds and onion.

Unroll crescent roll dough, and arrange flat on a medium baking sheet. Pinch together perforations to form a single sheet of dough. Using a knife or scissors, cut 1 inch wide strips in towards the center, starting on the long sides. There should be a solid strip about 3 inches wide down the center, with the cut strips forming a fringe down each side.

Spread the chicken mixture along the center strip. Fold the side strips over chicken mixture, alternating strips from each side. Pinch or twist to seal.

Brush braided dough with the egg white. Bake in the preheated oven 25 to 28 minutes, or until golden brown.

Here's a recipe I love. I cut this out of Gourmet Magazine many years ago. (MANY years - like maybe 30). I only make it for my very most special friends for very special occasions.

Country Pâté

20- 25 servings (if this is too much for your girlfriend weekend, make it anyway - cut the loaf in half and freeze for another girlfriend weekend later on down the road).

4-6 bay leaves
6 thin slices bacon

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped parsley
½ cup chopped green onion
½ cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, minced

2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 1/4 cups beer
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound ground veal

1 thin slice bacon, chopped
2 cups crushed herb stuffing mix
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt & freshly ground pepper
½ cup shelled pistachio nuts

Put bay leaves in single layer in 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Line length of pan with bacon; set aside.

Half fill a large roasting pan with water and place in oven. Close oven door and preheat to 350.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ½ cup parsley, green onion, onion, garlic and shallots and saute about 2 minutes. Remove to large bowl.

Place sausage in large skillet; add 1/4 cup beer and cook over medium heat, mashing and turning with spatula, just until sausage starts to lose pink color but is only partially cooked. Stir in fennel. Remove from heat and add to parsley-onion mixture.

In same skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add veal and saute until partially cooked, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup beer and cook 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add to bowl.

Place chopped bacon in same skillet and saute about 2 minutes. Add stuffing and blend thoroughly. Stir in remaining 3/4 cup beer and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir into onion-meat mixture. Add eggs, remaining ½ cup parsley and salt and pepper to taste; blend thoroughly. Mix in pistachio nuts.
Carefully pack mixture into loaf pan, pressing down firmly. Wrap entire pan in heavy duty foil (or doubled regular foil) as if wrapping a package. Place carefully in roasting pan and bake 1 hour. Very carefully remove from roaster and weight pâté for 3 to 4 hours by placing another loaf pan filled with heavy objects (such as books or canned goods) on top of a cookie sheet on top of wrapped pate loaf.

Remove weight and refrigerate pâté several hours or overnight. To serve, remove foil, loosen completely with knife and unmold onto serving plate. Pat off excess fat with paper towel.

and I've made us a pound cake. But of course! Y'all know how much I adore pound cake!

Blueberry Pound Cake presented by Sweet Biscuit Inn, Asheville, NC

1 lb butter, salted
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsps lemon extract
1 tsp fresh lemon rind, grated
1 Tbsp baking powder
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time mixing on medium speed. Combine milk and lemon extract in a separate bowl. Combine baking powder and three cups of flour in a separate bowl. While running the mixer on low speed alternately add the wet and dry ingredients. Mix until smooth and well combined. Fold in lemon rind. Toss the blueberries with the remaining 1 cup of flour and gently fold into the batter. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Bake for approximately one and a half hour, cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a platter. This makes a delicious breakfast bread or a mid afternoon treat with tea or coffee.

And there's a pitcher of Iced Latte chilling in the fridge . . .

Southern Living's Iced Latte

Iced Latte
2 cups ground coffee
12 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 quart Half & Half
1 quart milk
1 Tablespoon vanilla extact
Brew coffee using 12 cups o water. Stir in sugar untl dissolved. Stir in Half & Half, milk, and vanilla. Chill. Serve over ice.

okey doke - off I go to get ready for my girlfriend weekend!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let's Twist Again by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Award-winning investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan is currently on the air at Boston's NBC affiliate, where she's broken big stories for the past 22 years. Her stories have resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in refunds and restitution for consumers.

Along with her 26 EMMYs, Hank’s won also won dozens of other journalism honors. She's been a legislative aide in the United States Senate (working on the Freedom of Information Act) and at Rolling Stone Magazine (working with Hunter S. Thompson).

Her first mysteries, Prime Time (which won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, was a double RITA nominee for Best First Book and Best
Romantic Suspense Novel, a DAPHNE finalist and a Reviewers' Choice Award Winner) and Face Time (Book Sense Notable Book), were best sellers. They were re-issued this June and July from MIRA Books. The next in the series are Air Time (MIRA/August 25, 2009) (Sue Grafton says: "Sassy, fast-paced and appealing. This is first-class entertainment.") and Drive Time (MIRA February 2010.)

Her website is

Let’s Twist Again

by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Here’s the scene you’ve got to imagine. Me, and my dear husband, side by side on the couch. (He looks a bit like Donald Sutherland, if that helps. Not scary-spooky Donald Sutherland, but nice Donald.) We have wine. Some little snacks. And a movie.

Jonathan clicks the remote to ‘play’. The mystery thriller—you pick the movie--whirrs into life. Opening credits, big opening scene, setting the stage and introducing the characters. About five minutes in, a woman enters the plot.

“Dead,” I say.

Jonathan pushes pause. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing,” I say, taking the remote and pushing play. “I’m just saying, she’s toast.”

Four minutes later: KABLAM. Jonathan takes a sip of wine. “Anyone could have predicted that,” he says. “Plus, you guessed.”

I shrug.

Soon after, someone who is someone’s friend/lover/teacher/husband/neighborhood cop arrives into our plot. “I like him for it,” I say. “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

Jonathan, who I might add is a criminal defense attorney and more used to real-life murder than any of us, is not happy. Pauses the video again. “Can’t you just watch the movie? Can’t you just wait and see what happens?”

I push play. Of course, the answer is no. For the rest of the movie, I—mostly—keep my suspicions and guessing to myself. Unless I just can’t stand it.

“I’m…,” the almost-heroine says.

“Pregnant!” I yell.

“Pregnant,” she says.

“Ha!” I say, raising a victory fist. “The twist.”

Jonathan’s face is some combination of annoyed, impressed and affectionate. He’s married an investigative reporter turned mystery writer, and we can’t stand not to predict what’s going to happen. Or think of a way that it could happen better. Or happen more interestingly.

It may have started with Perry Mason. When I was a little girl, with a lawyer for a step-father, when Perry was on, there were rules. Like: total and absolute silence. My little sister and I were not allowed to ask things like—who’s that guy? What’s embezzlement? Why is she crying? If we wanted to watch Perry on our 17th inch Philco (or whatever it was) we had to be very, very quiet.

Even my dad was quiet. But my 12-year-old brain began to figure things out. Like—the pattern. Of course, you had a head start with Perry. His client, except for that one famous time (what was the name of the case he lost? Anyone?) was not guilty. And the most obvious second choice didn’t do it either. The twist was--it was always the third person, kind of the guy who was not in the forefront until abut two-thirds of the way in. And soon, I could always guess. And I was always right. Of course, I was never allowed to say it out loud.

((“Foreshadowing!” I say, all grown up now and on my own couch. “See the river in the background? Someone’s going to drown.”))

Figuring out Nancy Drew was a snap, even though I loved her. Sherlock Holmes? Yeah, even Arthur Conan Doyle had a pattern. I realized that after devouring every Holmes story I could find. It was kind of—a rhythm you could tap in to and figure out the end. Like Law and Order, right? They’re fun to watch. But get the rhythm, and you get the bad guy. (Tum TUM)

And when I read now, I still can’t just let go and let the author take me away. I do try. Try not to think ahead, nail the foreshadowing, find the clues, figure out whodunit before the author tells me. I always, always fail. (But that’s also why I don’t read mysteries while I’m writing. I can’t. I only want my story in my head. I don’t want to be trying to solve someone else’s puzzle.)

Of course, I don’t always guess the bad guy. And it doesn’t really matter. If I do, that’s okay. If the author has written a careful, fair and clever book, I give them props for that.

When I don’t, though, that’s just great. I go back through; looking for the clues I missed, seeing if it was fair. And when it is, when I’m fooled and deceived and misled, that’s the best.

Presumed Innocent, of course. And Roger Ackroyd. And movies the Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects.

But know what I’m wondering now? Is it fair to promise a “twist ending”? If I’m told there’s going to be a twist, I read the whole book differently. Looking for the twist. Which is somewhat distracting. Isn’t it twistier not to say so? All my promo material for Prime Time promises a twist ending. Which it does have. And people say they never guessed it. But I wonder—should I have left it a surprise? Or does promising a twist make it more of a challenge?

What do you think? Do you try to solve the puzzle as you read or watch? Or can you just—relax and get carried away? And if there’s a twist, do you want to know?

Friday, July 10, 2009

South of Broad - oh boy oh boy oh boy!

Did everyone hear me squeal?

Yesterday afternoon?

About 5:00?

The UPS man dropped off a package - - -

If you've been following Meanderings and Muses, then you already know I've been pacing the floor, tapping my toe, waiting very impatiently for the newest book from my favorite author.

I chatted at length about Pat Conroy right here awhile back.

And I am over the moon excited that I'm one of the lucky ones who now has an Advance Reading Copy of South of Broad.

Yippee Skippy!

Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?!

Life is Good.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Little Books I Love (and some big ones too)

and while we're talking about books . . . .

Do you just love "little books?"

One of the cookbooks I mentioned a few days ago as being one of my favorites is the Pound Cake Cookbook. Besides being a terrific cookbook, I'm attracted to it, I think, because of its size. I have a fondness for "little books."

I have a small collection of these little books and they seem to seek me out. One of the first ones I fell in love with was a gift from a friend. It was the first in the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock. I fell head over heals in love with it, and of course, couldn't wait for the rest of the story.

If you're a fan of collages, you will adore these books. In addition to the lovely art work, they're full of fun little "pull-outs." Letters are tucked into envelopes, and give a sense of secretiveness to it all. There's also a mystery. And the mystery that each ends with carries into the next.

Similar to the Griffin and Sabine trilogy are the lovely Pistoulet books by Jana Kolpen.

and there's Mary Emmeling's Hearts,

and Hart and Calvert's The Love of Lace

and Roberta B. Etter's Tokens of Love.

But my very, very favorite is Merchant of Marvels and the Peddler of Dreams by Frederic Clement. It's a wonderful little book full of whimsy and magic.

This is the story of Frederic Knick-Knack, the Peddler of Dreams, who is hunting for the perfect gift for a very special, very dear friend. Here's a sampling - - -


Looking back at what my very favorite childhood books were, it makes it pretty easy to figure out where my fascination with these artsy little books must come from.

Big books.

but beautifully illustrated.

Like a lot of little girls, I fell in love with Kay Thompson's Eloise, and never quite outgrew it. Oh my - the allure of living at The Plaza, shouting "Oh, my Lord!" as I skibble, skidder, slomp, scamper and sklonk up and down those glorious halls. Me, and Weenie and Skipperdee while Nanny relaxes in our suite watching the fights and enjoying a cold pilsner.

In addition to the never-ending adventures of Eloise, there were the perfect illustrations by Hilary Knight. The Eloise books just would not have had quite the appeal, I don't think, without Mr. Knight's contribution.

A kind of grown up version of Eloise is Lulu Guinness' Put on Your Pearls, Girls. It even has pop-ups!

And one more favorite - -

The Library by Sarah Stewart. "Elizabeth Brown's obsession begins in childhood: "She didn't like to play with dolls,/ She didn't like to skate./ She learned to read quite early/ And at an incredible rate."

Sound like anyone you might know? Like perhaps your very own self, just maybe?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book Club Memberships

Y'all know I spend a lot of money on books.

a LOT of money. This can be a problem since I don't have a lot of money.

One of the ways, in the past, I've helped defray some of the cost of my addiction is through Book Club Memberships.

Do any of you belong to any of these??

We know the quality of the books isn't great 'cause many used book stores won't accept book club editions, so I try not to buy books by my favorite authors at one of these clubs. Lord knows, I am not going to ask Lee Child, Ken Bruen, Louise Penny, Margaret Maron or anyone else I know to sign a book club edition when I see them at Bouchercon in Indianapolis in October.

It's a moot point anyway. Seems my days of book club memberships are behind me. I'm pretty sure I've been asked to leave.

I've been trying for almost two months to re-join a club after I canceled my membership after fulfilling my obligation. Two months. I'm finally guessing (just guessing!) that they're weary of me joining, fulfilling my membership, canceling and then joining again. But. No one will tell me that. After several weeks and emails, and notes to and from Customer Service and finally finding a supervisor who I thought would help me, here's the end of the saga.

I received this note in my mailbox today -

Dear Ms Barley,

Thank you for your interest in (insert name of book club).

The information obtained from our Technical Support Group today indicates that the zip code issue has not been resolved. Unfortunately, we are unable process your enrollment order at this time.

Per your request all information originally provided to our Technical Support Group has been destroyed.

We appreciate your patience and are sorry to disappoint you and lose a membership opportunity that would have been mutually beneficial.

Please feel free to contact us again, if you have any additional questions or concerns.


See. Here's the thing. They're telling me that there are "issues" with the Boone, NC zip code that they've been trying to resolve for weeks and weeks. So. I "guess" if you live in Boone, NC you can't belong to this book club. Mercy. Boone is a small town, but honey - there are enough people here who read that I'm thinking I'd kinda like to hold on to the business. We do, after all, even have a college here! But. Zip code issues are apparently too tough for the IT people at book clubs to handle, hence - lose a whole zip code worth of business. oh well.

So. That's the end of my relationship with book clubs.

Am I the only person on God's green earth who has been kicked out of a book club membership??! If not, please come tell me about it so I won't feel like such an outcast!!!

And this is the perfect time for me to start doing more shopping with the Indies anyway, right?! Right!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

LET'S GO SOMEWHERE! By Radine Trees Nehring

Before we get started, I have an announcement - - -


Okeey doke - - and now . . .
HERE'S Radine!

RADINE TREES NEHRING spent ten years as a broadcast journalist and feature writer for magazines and newspapers before her first book, DEAR EARTH: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow, appeared in 1995, winning the Arkansas Governor's Award for best writing about the state. Her TO DIE FOR Ozarks mystery series began in 2002 with Macavity nominee, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR. The series has earned many other awards including two David nominations from Deadly Ink, and an Arkansas Book of the Year award. Several short stories featuring her major characters, Carrie McCrite and Henry King, are available in anthologies. One of her stories was included in the Wolfmont Press Anthology, DYING IN A WINTER WONDERLAND, a top ten bestseller on the Independent Mystery Bookseller's Association list for 2008. The fifth Carrie and Henry mystery novel, A RIVER TO DIE FOR, was released in April, 2008. Her 2010 novel, A JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, took first place in the unpublished mystery novel category at the Oklahoma Writers Federation seven-state conference this past May.

Radine is a member of Sisters in Crime, Authors Guild, Ozarks Writers League, and represents Arkansas on the board of Mystery Writers of America SW Chapter.

LET'S GO SOMEWHERE by Radine Trees Nehring

I love both travel reading and travel writing. Nope, I don't do magazine features that begin something like this: "The yellow sand beaches of San Poopio will take your breath away this time of year, and the meals at Nightmare's Inn manage to surpass my ability to describe them...."

You guessed it! There are better ways for me to travel at little cost. For example, when I want to escape extreme weather:

Ahhh, the driveway is shoveled and my toes are thawing in fuzzy slippers. Think I'll begin reading one of my new book purchases. Um, which one...? Oh yes, that one!
Page 1:

"Summer in Benteen County, Kansas, is a season possessed of all the gentle subtlety of an act of war.... A week ago, the thermometer had risen past the unbearable mark...and, in automatic response, the humidity rushed after it-to a level technically described as obscene." (From J. M. Hayes' mystery novel, Mad Dog & Englishman.)

But it gets hot in the Ozarks, too. In August I prefer escaping into something like Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger, (where you can experience a white-out blizzard and frozen body in northern Minnesota), or Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters.

Good mystery writers are master manipulators, aren't they? They create atmosphere and location inside minds, take us to places dark and stormy or glaring and sharp, thrill us with chilly caves, steaming jungles, and worlds far away from the familiar. The more skillful the writer, the more willing we are to believe, share, travel, and enjoy--riding along eagerly with characters and events and seeing new places that become real for at least the space of a novel.

Many works of fiction offer this real place reality, some taking us into actual locations where we are intrigued by the story unfolding there. I love this type novel. Readers don't have to pack a bag, endure airlines, or make long car trips, though quite often they do end up wanting to see the described location for themselves at a later date.

One author who gives readers a vivid location experience is Ellen Elizabeth Hunter, a real place writer sharing the area in and around Wilmington, North Carolina. I learned about her novels while planning a trip to the Cape Fear Crime Festival, a mystery fan convention once held on the North Carolina Coast. Someone recommended Ms. Hunter's mystery novel, Murder on the Candlelight Tour, as an introduction to the area, but the book ended up being much more than that. My husband and I toured Wilmington by using Murder on the Candlelight Tour as our guide. We visited historic buildings and restaurants portrayed in the story. We even ordered the same dishes Ms. Hunter describes so deliciously.

Hunter is not a Carolina native--perhaps one reason she notices Wilmington details with a newcomer's freshness and a tourist's excitement. She says, "I fell in love with Wilmington and wanted to live there, but couldn't because of my husband's work. I decided the next best thing to living in Wilmington myself would be creating a character who did." (If you'd like to enjoy the Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach area wherever you are, go to:

Meanwhile, back in the Ozarks, my own fiction writing career was getting under way in the same time period as Ellen Hunter's. She and I are both relative newcomers in our areas. My husband and I chose Arkansas for our home after spending time thinking about going "back to the land" in several parts of the United States. My love for Arkansas led to an interest in writing about it, and I spent more than ten years selling articles, essays, and poetry about the Ozarks to publications in the United States and other countries. After publishing one non-fiction book set here,(DEAR EARTH, A Love Letter from Spring Hollow) I decided to try my hand at writing the type of book I enjoy reading most-the traditional mystery.

My first effort, A Valley to Die For, (St Kitts Press, 2002) was set in the same remote Ozarks area as Dear Earth, an easy location to describe, since it's where I live. In my second novel, Music to Die For, I sent my protagonist, Carrie McCrite, accompanied by her friends, to another Ozarks spot I love, Ozark Folk Center State Park. (Picture Sturbridge Village with an Ozarks setting and a theater where old-time music can be enjoyed.) From then on, each novel's setting has been at a different Arkansas tourist destination.

It wasn't long before I, and my location destinations, discovered it was not only fun to site books in areas enjoyed by tourists, it was good business for the locations themselves. Settings are real enough that, at signings, I give actual tourist brochures and location maps to everyone buying one or more books in the To Die For series.

As a reader, I'm excited when I find a new author who takes me to a real place, tells me about a career I'm not familiar with, and joins these with mystery/adventure puzzles. As a writer, I love telling stories set in places I have chosen to visit, absorb, and share with readers. As a result, many tourist-oriented publications, including airline and National Park magazines, have carried feature articles about my writing.

My next To Die For story takes Carrie McCrite and Henry King to three popular tourist destinations: a ride on a restored 1920's Arkansas train, the historic district and river front in Van Buren, Arkansas, and The Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. Danger times three! I had a wonderful time traveling to do research for this novel, and hope you'll soon enjoy this Journey to Die For with me!

Radine Trees Nehring
The "To Die For" mystery series...touring the Ozarks, one crime at a time.