Sunday, August 30, 2009

Twist Phelan

Twist Phelan is a world traveler and endurance athlete. During the past decade she has competed in Ironman triathlons, skate-skied in Scandinavia, team-roped in the American West, paddled outrigger canoe in Australia, rock-climbed in South America, and bicycled from the Pacific to the Atlantic Coast in less than four weeks.

Twist received her bachelor and law degrees from Stanford University, completing her undergraduate studies in two years. Success as a plaintiff's trial attorney suing corporate scoundrels enabled her to retire in her early thirties. She now writes full time.

Her critically-acclaimed and award-winning Pinnacle Peak mystery series includes Family Claims, Spurred Ambition, Heir Apparent, and False Fortune. Twist’s short stories have appeared in anthologies and mystery magazines. She is currently at work on a thriller. Find out more about Twist and her work at

Being brave enough . . .

A woman picked up one of my titles at a signing this past spring, stroked the cover, and said, “I wish I had the courage to write a book.” Her comment got me thinking. Was she afraid of writing the way someone (like me) is afraid to skydive? Or was she nervous in the way a person may be if she’s thinking about changing careers?

“Courage” in the former case is the stuff of bravery or perseverance in the face of danger or fear. In the latter, it’s a reference to trying something new and potentially challenging or difficult. My grandmother had a word for it: moxie. Although I’m deficit in many areas, I like to think moxie isn’t one of them.

My parents encouraged—okay, often forced—me to try things I had no interesting in trying. (Remember, these are the same folks who named me Twist.) After I was old enough to ride my bike through our suburban town, my mother made sure I could also navigate the nearby city’s public transit system on my own. At least twice a month, dinner was at a restaurant specializing in foreign cuisine. (I still remember my brother claiming he could hear the raw oyster scream before I swallowed it.) During the summer between fourth and fifth grades, I wanted a place where I could be alone, so my dad helped me build a tree house—and then had the good sense to leave me alone in it. I spent long hours there, immersed in “adult” fiction—Mom said I could check out any book in the library; a raised eyebrow was her only reaction to my selection of Lolita—and biographies, especially of inventors and explorers.

Granted, it was a less fearful time. We didn’t wear helmets when we rode our ponies. We walked home from school by ourselves. But even now that I am old enough to know better, I can’t help trying things that take me out of my comfort zone. In the past decade, I’ve learned to fly a plane, played a variety of new sports, traveled by myself to countries where I don’t speak the language, and written “Chapter One” on a blank piece of paper.

One of the benefits of getting older is that you come to know what you like, and you have the relative freedom to pursue it. But once a year I still take stock of the “new” that I was brave enough to attempt the prior twelve months. Here’s my list for 2009.

-designed and helped make a pair of nightstands and bureau (including bookmatching the veneer)

-rode my bike a thousand miles over the Rockies (Turns out that if you flat fifty miles from your car, out of cell-phone range, and with no money on you, the owner of the town diner will let you use the phone and give you a slice of pie.)

-climbed a Colorado “fourteener” (a peak taller than 14,000 feet)

-ate a radish, parsley, and tomato sandwich (I hadn’t before because I thought I didn’t like radishes. I was right.)

-rode a motorcycle (with a helmet!)

-shot skeet (rather, tried to; many skeet went free that day)

-went to a Country-Western concert

-played in a croquet tournament (I saw a sign for “Wicket and Stick It” and thought it was a rude phrase, so stopped to investigate.)

-made S’mores for the first time since Girl Scouts, using a friend’s outdoor fireplace (and then spent an hour cleaning melted marshmallows off his fake logs)

-planted herbs in small pots (they all died)

-went to a (subtitled) Lithuanian film

-DJ’d a pool party

-rode a roller coaster (but not in the front row)

-volunteered to read for the blind

-won a trip to Prague on a dare

-helped a friend train a puppy (hint: don’t wear shoes you don’t want chewed)

-read contemporary science fiction (including The Human Disguise, by my friend James Born, writing as James O'Neal)

-took golf lessons (a bit too slow for me; will try again in ten—maybe fifteen—years.)

What’s on the list between now and the end of the year? Hosting a dinner party, for starters. I’m someone to whom cook is a noun, not a verb, so the idea of feeding my friends food that I’ve prepared is terrifying (and potentially dangerous, at least for them). But a favorite restaurant is offering cooking classes this fall, and I’ve signed up for a course.

How about you? What new things were you brave enough to attempt this past year?

And what is on this year’s list?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Improbable Objects of Deep Affection

Do you have some little something in your life that you just love to pieces? Something that someone else would take a look at and go, "whaaaat?"

Every once in awhile I'll go through the house and pick up some things to get rid of. It's a bit problematic 'cause Donald and I are both pack-rats. It's hard for either of us to part with our "stuff" cause we're both long time collectors. But as we've gotten older we've become a little more discerning about what we pick up. At one time, we were on a constant hunt for Barley canisters.

You know - those old china canister sets that had coffee, tea, sugar, flour, rice and sometimes barley?

Who needs a canister these days for barley?! Well, if your last name is Barley, then it's important to your life to have one (or a whole bunch of 'em), right?!

Donald's mother started us on this, and it became a fun reason to go antique-ing. The hunt for something specific and elusive is just the most fun thing. Finding a treasure is rewarding, but the hunt is what it's all about. We now have quite a few Barley canisters, so the allure is not quite what it once was. Although - I must say, the thrill of the hunt is not totally lost. Not completely. We still look, but now if we see a "Barley Jar" included in a whole set of canisters, we no longer try to talk the dealer into letting us break up the set. If we ask and the answer is no, we can now walk away without the pleading and begging we once reduced ourselves to.

Donald is a locksmith, and has a pretty amazing collection of antique padlocks. It's gotten harder to find one that appeals to him now since his collection is so extensive. But we still look.

I'm a sucker for white ironstone pitchers. But, because I now have a nice collection, I've become pretty picky about what I'll pick up. Not just any ol' pitcher will do. Add in the fact that we now live in a very small house, and the fact of "space" comes into play. There's just not a lot of room for "stuff." But. We still look.

and . . . sometimes the perfect antique padlock (original key included!), or the perfect white ironstone pitcher presents itself and insists on coming home with us.

Hence, occasionally, there are some things that have to go in order to make room for new "treasures" coming in. But, of course, there are the things we'll never bring ourselves to part with. Oddly enough, one of the most loved objects in the house is one which doesn't go with a thing. Isn't an old family heirloom. Didn't cost but a few dollars. And causes a lot of people to look the other way rather than say "Oh. that's . . . . interesting."

Here's the story.

When I was growing up we would take family car trips. Did y'all do that? And while the drives seemed forever, they were well thought out with things to keep everyone entertained, and they were fun. Games included seeing how many different states were represented by the license plates of other cars on the highway. Back then highways weren't the wild and crazy and scary super expressways we have now with people flying by at a beezillion miles an hour intent on reaching the end of the journey, with the journey itself not being a part of the fun.

We did fun things during the journey.

We played games.

We sang. I was not a child who sang well, just as I'm not an adult who sings well. But - oh well, it's still fun. One of the songs my mother and I sang was "Playmate, Come Out and Play With Me." Remember it? I loved that song! Still do.

(Words and music by Saxie Dowell)
Copyright 1940 by Santly-Joy-Select Inc.

There's a catchy little tune a floatin' through the air,
You hear it here and there,
They sing it ev'ry where
How it started, where it started
seems nobody knows.
But what's the diff'rence where it came from,
here's the way it goes

Oh PLAYMATE, come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three.
Climb up my apple tree,
Look down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends forever more.

It was a rainy day, She couldn't come out to play,
With tearful eyes and tender sighs
I could hear her say:

I'm sorry Playmate, I cannot play with you
My dollies have the flu,
Boo-hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo.
Ain't got no rain barrel,
Ain't got no cellar door
But we'll be jolly friends forever more.

Then I grew up and moved away from home and the family car trips were a thing of the past.

Mother and Dad were taking vacations without me. But, memories are amazing things, and the memory of us singing "The Playmate Song" had stayed with us all.

On one of their trips my dad came across a music box. Not just any ol' music box. This one played "The Playmate Song." When he showed it to my mother, they both just hooted and laughed because it was without a doubt the most singularly ridiculous looking music box in the history of music boxes. And it made no sense at all. Why THIS particular music box played "The Playmate Song" made not a whit of sense. But. There it was. It brought back fun memories, and it made my mom and dad laugh. So they bought it for me.

I don't remember the occasion on which it was given - either a birthday, or Christmas. But I do remember opening the package and looking at this thing and thinking "whaaaaaat . . . " Then my dad said, "turn it on." Turn it on? Whaaaaat . . . .? Took me a minute to figure out what he meant, but I did and when I turned the little thingie and heard that song I was filled with emotion. And cried. Of course. I am a tad sentimental and shed tears easily.

That was probably 35 years ago.

I still have this funny little music box, and it still works, and it still makes me smile. It's not going anywhere.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Serendipity by Margaret Maron

Margaret Maron is the author of twenty-six novels and two collections of short stories. Winner of several major American awards for mysteries (Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity), her works are on the reading lists of various courses in contemporary Southern literature and have been translated into 16 languages. She has served as president of Sisters in Crime, the American Crime Writers League, and Mystery Writers of America.

A native Tar Heel, she still lives on her family's century old farm a few miles southeast of Raleigh, the setting for Bootlegger's Daughter, which is numbered among the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association. In 2004, she received the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for best North Carolina novel of the year. In 2008, she was honored with the North Carolina Award for Literature. (The North Carolina Award is the state’s highest civilian honor.)

SERENDIPITY / Margaret Maron

Ser•en•dip•i•ty \ n \: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

When people ask why I don’t outline, I always say that I find that my books come out better if I leave them open to serendipity.

So many lovely things have happened in my life and in my work by not planning for them, not expecting them, that I begin to think one really can cultivate the “faculty of finding valuable things not sought for.”

Recently, a reader who had stumbled across Bloody Kin, my first NC book, excitedly asked me, “When you were writing this book seven years before you wrote Bootlegger’s Daughter, did you know that you would be having the main protagonist of that book turn out to be Deborah Knott’s sister-in-law many books later? And that she would be the one to repaint the wedding cake topper for Deborah?"

No. But when I needed someone to repaint that cake topper, there she was. Already in the family.


Years later, when writing the 9th DK novel, Slow Dollar, I needed for one of the new characters to suddenly appear out of nowhere and be closely related to Deborah. I took a look at the family tree that I created for the first book to see where I could put her and was startled to realize that she was already there. She even had a name and a bit of a mystery as to where she was and where she’d been all those years. I certainly didn’t plan it out when I first stuck that twig on the family tree, yet there she was, waiting for me when I needed her.


It works for real life, too. Years ago, I favorably reviewed a first novel, knowing absolutely nothing about the author except that I liked the book and with no expectation that it would come to anything more than any other review. The author sent me a thank-you note, we began corresponding and became friends. A couple of years later, when I needed a new agent, she introduced me to hers which is how I came to meet the agent I will have till one of us dies. (Insert that S word again!)

Early in my Deborah Knott series, someone wrote me that she had read that I planned to take my judge to
courtrooms all over the state of North Carolina.“If you ever want to bring her over here to the mountains, I’d be pleased to show you around and act as a resource person.” I wrote back and thanked her and stuck the letter in a folder marked Possible Future Books: Mtns. Eventually, I decided that yes, it might be fun to send Deborah out to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I rooted out the letter and wrote, “You once offered to be a resource. Does the offer still stand?”

Which is how Kaye Barley came into my life and will be in my life forever.

I mentioned Bloody Kin before? It actually triggered the main serendipitous turning point in my career. I had
written three books set against the NY art world with a NYPD homicide detective, Sigrid Harald. The books sold well enough to keep my editor happy, but they didn’t seem to catch on and after writing three of them, I sneaked in that stand-alone set right here on our family farm. It sank like a rock, so I went back to writing about NY.

Two or three years later, the Triangle Romance Writers decided to put on a multi-genre conference in Raleigh. I was invited to do a workshop on mysteries. They had snared some associate editors and a couple of agents to come down from New York. I wound up having supper with one of the editors. She was nice. It was a pleasant meal, but others were at the table and we didn’t really connect.

When the conference began, it was early spring, a chilly rain all weekend, too raw to walk outside, but on Sunday morning, spring arrived as only spring can in our part of the state. Forsythia popped out, azaleas and dogwoods spread their blossoms, wisteria dripped from the pines, pansies came back to life—it was beauty everywhere you looked and after a weekend in the hotel, I was ready to go home and enjoy the farm.

As I passed through the lobby on the way to my car, I heard the editor I’d met ask the hotel clerk what there was to do within walking distance for three hours until her plane left. He suggested that she walk across six lanes of traffic to the mall that was across from the motel.

Now my husband is always telling me that I don’t know where my parameters end. That I always feel I must make things nice for others whether they want them made nice or not. That I don’t mind my own business.

But I couldn’t bear to think that this was her first time in NC and all she was going to see of it was a shopping mall no different from the stores in New York?

“Excuse me,” I said, “but if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill, would you like a quick tour of Raleigh?”

I showed her the Capitol Square (dogwoods and azaleas everywhere), our Victorian governor’s mansion and the
historic section of town. I took her out to Meredith College and showed her the collection of dolls that each graduating class has dressed in contemporary clothes since shortly after the college was founded in 1891; and we wound up looking at the historic 1912 Dentzel carousel in Pullen Park and just sitting on one of the benches in the warm spring sunshine talking,talking, talking.

By the time I took her back to catch her airport shuttle, we were friends. Back in New York, she immediately hunted out a copy of Bloody Kin and loved it. “You really ought to write another North Carolina book,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Nobody wants to read a mystery set in the rural South” and I continued to write another couple of Sigrid Harald books.

“Seriously,” she said whenever we met at conferences over the next couple of years. “You really should write another North Carolina book.”

So I did and she bought it (Bootlegger’s Daughter). Sara Ann Freed was my dream editor for ten books until her death and I will miss her forever. Every time I stop and think how close I came to missing her friendship when I passed through that hotel lobby, I shiver.

So yes, I will keep on leaving myself open to serendipity. (As does Kaye!)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Friday Morning Meanderings

What an interesting week I've had.

I got a hearing aid. Just the one. Still getting used to it and next week will be the true test. This week it's still quiet in the office, but when Fall Semester starts next week and all the students and faculty come back - many of whom will find themselves in front of my desk for any number of reasons, then we'll see how it goes. This week has given me, my ear, and my brain an opportunity to adjust to this little contraption, and all in all I'd have to say it's going pretty well. Said contraption sits behind my ear, with a little wire that dangles over my ear with a little speaker that goes inside my ear. Wish me luck with all this. Conversations at home were getting a little strange . . .

any of you have hearing loss/hearing aid experiences you care to share? I'm in brand new territory here.

AND - Fun News!!!

Meanderings and Muses has received five award nominations from BBAW. wow. BBAW is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Here's what it their homepage says about them -

"Book Blogger Appreciation was started by Amy Riley of My Friend Amy in an effort to recognize the hard work and contribution of book bloggers to the promotion and preservation of a literate culture actively engaged in discussing books, authors, and a lifestyle of reading.

The first Book Blogger Appreciation was observed in the fall of 2008 and occurs every September. The week spotlights and celebrates the work of active book bloggers through guest posts, awards, giveaways, and community activities. Book Bloggers are encouraged to register their participation for inclusion in a database of book bloggers."

The categories we've been nominated for are:

Best New Blog
Best Writing
Most Eclectic
Most Chatty
Best Reviews

Since I don't really do reviews, I asked them to remove my name from that category. When I come here and squeal loudly about a particular book, it's not really the same as reviewing it, after all. That whole reviewing thing is tough - it's an art and done professionally and fairly by a number of people I have a great deal of respect for. Unfortunately, there are also a few people out there who will just slap the title "reviewer" next to their name, but fail, in my opinion, to do the title fair justice. JUST my opinion.

I'm tickled and honored to have had Meanderings and Muses noticed and nominated. What happens next is a group of panelists review nominated blogs based on 5 submissions from nominees. I sent the same 5 submissions for each category -

Bouchercon 2008 - My First B'con

Small Town Girl

Smoking and Not Smoking

Needing a Little Red in My Life

Is There a Favorite Writer You Patiently (Or Impatiently) Await?
(at least one submission was expected to be a book review/recommendation or spotlight post. I chose the piece I wrote spotlighting my favorite author - Pat Conroy & his new book - South of Broad).

What do you think? Did I choose well? Or not? It was a hard thing to do! Now looking back, I'm thinking I could have done better - - - maybe the "Let's Chat About Hats" piece, or the "Father's Day" piece. OR how 'bout that fun piece about Sissyfriss Sockmonkey and Lou Lou Skiptoo . . . . But you know - can't change it now, so we'll just see what happens. The world of blogging is chock full of great blogs and for Meanderings and Muses to have even gotten this far and receive even one nomination is pretty awesome.

Next the panelists will review all the nominations and submit scores based on Quality of Writing, Originality and Diversity of Content, Audience Engagement, and Visual Aesthetic and Functionality. whew. this is going to be a very tough job.

Next. On September 7, the short lists (based on the above) in each category will be announced and voting begins. Voting closes on September 12, and then . . . ta DA! Winners Announced! It'll be fun to see who they are, and will add, I'm sure - names to all of our existing blog rolls.

And here's another little bit of pretty exciting news! Remember Archie and Jughead and Betty and Veronica?

I'm so sorry to admit this, but I am a very pop culturally challenged person. I don't know what I thought might have happened to Archie and the gang, but I truly had no idea they were still around.

Until I saw this - - -

Now don't you just know this will be one heck of a wedding!

Anyone out there still following Archie? or any of our other childhood comic book friends? Anyone still have any of those old comics? Oh, how I wish!!!!!


That about sums up my week.

The week also brought my summer to a close.

As I mentioned, Fall Semester starts at ASU next week . . .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Margaret Maron's Sand Sharks Launch

Donald and Harley and I had a great little road trip to Raleigh last week.

We left Harley to guard our hotel and had a nice dinner out before going to Quail Ridge Books and Music for Margaret's launch for SAND SHARKS.

This is the first time we've made it to one of Margaret's launch parties, and I think it's probably something we'll now add to our list of things we'll want to do every August from now until forever. It was easy to see that the people who came were not only exceptionally supportive long time fans of Margaret's Deborah Knott series, but they all just love Margaret to pieces and feel a strong connection to her. Not surprising in the least. She greeted each and every person with ease and graciousness as though they were the only other person in the room besides herself. She's a woman who sets the bar high for other writers, both with her writing and with her genuine friendliness, gentle elegance and candid humor.

I nominate myself #1 Margaret Maron Fan. What can I say - I adore her. And I absolutely, for sure, adore her Deborah Knott series and hope it lasts another 50, 60, or 70 so books cause I'm just sure there's lots more to learn about all those brothers, nieces and nephews. I just love those brothers, but mostly I have the biggest soft spot in my heart for Kezzie Knott, and as Margaret shows us from time to time - Kezzie still has some surprises for us. I also still hold out hope for another Sigrid Harald book. I know the chances of that happening are pretty much in vain, but a gal can hope, can't she?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Things We Do for Research by Suzanne Adair

Suzanne Adair writes am ystery/suspense series set during the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War. Her first book, Paper Woman, won the 2007 Patrick D. Smith Literature Award from the Florida Historical Society. More recently, Camp Follower was nominated for the 2009 Daphne du Maurier Excellence in Historical Mystery/Suspense Award.
Check her web site or blog for more information.

The Things We Do for Research
by Suzanne Adair

Writers of mysteries, suspense, and thrillers dabble with ligatures, poisons, blades, and firearms. They read up on sociopaths and schizophrenics. They pester cops, hack hard drives, sketch plans on cocktail napkins for invading countries, study how to build bombs and organize cults, and verify procedures for manufacturing street drugs.

What fun! And to think that my ex-husband labeled me weird, obsessed, and admitted that my interests scared him. Poor fellow.

So why do we pursue these activities and risk being labeled odd birds? Well, one of our goals is to suspend our readers' sense of disbelief so they'll buy into our fictional worlds. No getting around the fact that world building requires a chunk of research. You must make sure that things work right, or readers will dismiss you.

On the Guppies discussion list several years ago, a subscriber confessed that she'd had her husband duct-tape her mouth, hands, and ankles, then close her into the trunk of her car so she could determine the difficulty of escape. (Note: That's a fate she'd planned for her protagonist in her manuscript.) My initial thought was, "Wow, I never would have trusted my ex to do that." But as I recall, she rewrote the scene because she learned just how difficult it was for a human being to escape duct tape. Do you think she was weird?

The things we do for research are unique and amazing. In my case, early into the first draft of Paper Woman, I realized that I take modern technology blissfully for granted. You know, stuff like indoor plumbing, central heat and air-conditioning, refrigerators, automobiles, cell phones, even the grocery store. Convenience and accessibility underpin my culture and shape my values and reactions. But during the Revolutionary War more than 225 years ago, very little was convenient or accessible. Danger and scarcity shaped decisions, especially for the middle and lower classes.

How well could a woman of the 21st century comprehend that from reading books and interviewing subject matter experts? Rather poorly, in fact. If I intended to create believable fiction about people who lived a couple of centuries ago, I had to get inside my characters' heads — learn what clothing of the era felt like, which everyday challenges people faced, how their world smelled, tasted, and sounded.

That's why I originally became a Revolutionary War reenactor. My family and I — yes, obsessed as I am, I dragged my family into this hobby — spend a typical reenacting weekend at the site of a historical battle, camped in white canvas army tents with no mosquito screens, dressed in eighteenth-century clothing made of natural fibers such as wool and linen. Our menu is limited by what meals we can prepare over a wood fire. Food sometimes gets eaten scorched; the temperature of an open fire isn't as easy to regulate as the temperature in an oven. Running water? Sometimes available. Flush toilets? If we're lucky. Heat or air-conditioning? Ha ha ha!

This is undoubtedly what prompted one interviewer to tell me, "Honey, you really suffer for your art!" My "suffering" is temporary, a mere forty-eight hour sample of what our foremothers and forefathers dealt with 24/7. My hat's off to them. They were hardy folk.

But the peculiar payoff from hands-on research is the world-broadening effect it has on the researcher. At almost every weekend event I've attended, I've encountered an experience that no one could accurately anticipate from reading a book or interviewing an expert. These experiences have supplied me with a far deeper understanding of the trials faced by eighteenth-century people.

For example, learning to load and fire a musket with powder only, no ball. (Note: Reenactors use only powder. Otherwise, there'd be litigation issues and arrests.). Nothing I'd read prepared me for the noise of the musket, how hot it gets after firing, the weight of it, or how long it takes to reload. One time, I fired a ball in a secluded location, so I could feel the difference in the musket's kick when fully loaded. My smugness over hitting a pine tree at human heart level quickly vanished when I realized the musket ball could have ricocheted and killed someone. How often did that happen in skirmishes 225 years ago?

How about learning to start a fire from flint and steel? (Note: This is an exercise in hyperventilation.) Not until I'd fumbled this feat a few times did I comprehend the impact of natural variables, such as wind and humidity, on establishing a fire when you don't even have the convenience of matches. Try starting a fire with flint and steel on a windy, wintry night.

And learning to move in a petticoat. Imagine the difficulty of doing so when sweat plasters your shift to your upper thighs beneath the petticoat, or a brisk wind provides the "Flying Nun" effect while you carry firewood, or your petticoat becomes soaked with rain. No reference book could have prepared me for how quickly a sudden breeze whipped my petticoat into the campfire at one event. Did you know that being burned was one of the top causes of death for women in the eighteenth century? (Note: Every year, a few reenactor women have to be extinguished after their petticoats catch fire.)

Not all my moments of enlightenment have been so blatant or instantaneous.

My family and I reenact on the Crown forces side. For every battle, I watch the three most important guys in my life don scarlet coats and line up on the battlefield with their weapons. Across the field from them is a swarm of guys in blue coats. So I get asked the inevitable questions at booksignings and reenacting events, sometimes shyly, sometimes with indignation. Why have I chosen to portray a loyalist, rather than a patriot? A loser, rather than a winner? A villain, rather than a hero?

Initially, I sought the Crown forces camp because the protagonists of my first two books are neutrals. Since school age, I'd had the patriot point of view drilled into me, and I felt I needed the other point of view to create balanced, believable neutrals on the page. But I remained in the Crown forces camp because I absorbed another truth while there. Soldiers who fought for King George the Third in the colonies didn't see themselves as villains or losers. Neither did many colonists see them as such. History is, indeed, written by the victors, and there are two sides to every conflict. I don't forget that when I develop my characters. The pièce de résistance from my research has been raising two sons who have learned to pause and value the other side of an argument.

Research gives me a panoramic, three-dimensional perspective. It enables me to texture my stories differently from those set in contemporary times — and those stories should be different. How believable are fictional worlds in which historical characters are, beneath their period clothing, merely people with their hearts and heads in the 21st century?

My blessings upon you the next time you unroll the duct tape, take fencing lessons, leave another message on the answering machine of an elusive crime reporter, or read up on Charles Manson or Jim Jones.

Thanks for stopping by Meanderings and Muses today, and a big thanks to Kaye for having me as her guest.

What's the wildest thing you've done for your own research?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who's Reading What We're Writing? Sit down my friends, and let me tell you a story . . .

Just when I think I have things figured out, the world does a shift. I have no idea why that might surprise me, you'd think I'd know all about that by now, huh? If there's one thing we can count on happening in this world, it's that things are going to change.

Still, I thought I just might, at the very least, have this blogging thing pretty much figured out. At least to some extent.

You would think.

There are a few concrete things bloggers know about what's going on at their site. By comments left, by the number of hits shown in the counter, along with information captured by and analysis given by the site meter - such as who's visited, for how long, etc.

But here's what I don't know much about, and what I'm learning a little bit about, and what I'm finding fascinating.

Those anonymous people who type a word or a name or a phrase into Google and somehow end up here.

Earlier this week I had someone ask me to send them a recipe out of the Secrets from Atlanta's Best Kitchens. This was someone in Atlanta who owns the cookbook but can't find it since they moved to a new home. They had eaten Shrimp Scampi at The Ambassador many years ago and decided it was time to have it again. Being unable to find the cookbook they knew the recipe was in, they Googled it and ended up at Meanderings and Muses, where I had recently written about some of my favorite cookbooks. Cool! Don't you think that's cool? I am fascinated by the internet. I've said it a million times - look and dig hard enough and you can find practically anything you want. For someone who has a bit of curiosity about things and who loves to research things, the internet is just a whole bunch of fun.

And then this morning one of the saddest things ever occurred.

And with the permission of the person behind it, here's the story.

I received a little note that touched my heart and brought tears. It was from a woman named Lisa Wainwright.

In the piece I wrote here about attending Bouchercon last year, I talked the teeniest bit about the man who drove the limo to the airport from the hotel.

His name was Darryl Wainwright. and here's what I wrote:

"Mr. Darryl Wainwright, our driver, was typical of the kindness and grace I had basked in since arriving in Baltimore. We had a wonderful chat about the days when citizens of Baltimore were world famous for scrubbing down the marble steps to their brownstones. When Baltimore culture included window screens painted by local screen painters with murals. Mr. Wainwright is a gentleman, a husband and a dad who has raised five children in the City of Baltimore, and is now the proud grandparent of one grandson in college. He was gracious and humorous and gladdened when we voiced our appreciation to his fine city for a few days that will live in my heart forever."

and here's a copy of the note I received this morning.

Hello Ms. Barley,

My name is Lisa Wainwright the sister of Mr. Darryl Wainwright. I was searching the internet about other articles on my brother when I came across your article. I’m so very touched with your message regarding your encounter with Darryl. Your description of him being “kind, gentle and a gentleman” describes him completely. Thank you for your heart felt expressions and I’m glad you had the chance to meet one of God’s greatest gift “my brother”. Unfortunately, Darryl passed away on August 5, 2009. I wanted to contact you because it is not everyday that a person touches your life for a brief moment and leave such wonderful impression. Thank you for your kind message.


Lisa Wainwright

This note from Ms. Wainwright moves me to ponder a couple of things. One being the power of a man named Darryl Wainwright to touch lives. We, as a society, tend to measure success by a person's monetary assets. We could all be well served, I think, to remember another measurement is by the things people might say about us once we're gone. I think Darryl Wainwright was probably an exceptionally successful man if judged by the lives he apparently touched, and the things many - myself included - are now saying about him. I feel quite blessed to have had an opportunity to spend even a short little bit of time with a man who just may have been one of those angels who walks amongst us. I appreciate Lisa Wainwright letting me know of his passing so that I can spend a few minutes remembering his graciousness, his laugh, his pride of family and his smile as he said good-bye to me at the Baltimore Airport. It's a smile I will never forget.

So, along with that sadness that Lisa's note brought me, and through the notes she and I have exchanged this afternoon, comes something else. And it's lovely, I think. The fact that Lisa went on-line looking for articles about her brother, found quite a few, including this little snippet I had written last October, and felt moved enough to write to a complete stranger about a sadness that she's experiencing through the loss of her beloved brother. I'm quite honored. And I'm very humbled.

Imam Darryl Wainwright

July 25, 1950 - August 5, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unexpected Favorites by Neil Plakcy

Neil Plakcy is the author of Mahu, Mahu Surfer, Mahu Fire and Mahu Vice, mystery novels set in Hawaii, as well as the romance novels and Three Wrong Turns in the Desert (coming September 29 from Loose Id). He edited Paws & Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog and the gay erotic anthologies Hard Hats and Surfer Boys.

Plakcy is a journalist and book reviewer as well as an assistant professor of English at Broward College's south campus in Pembroke Pines. He is vice president of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Unexpected Favorites by Neil Plakcy

If you know me as a writer of a police procedural series featuring a gay cop in Honolulu, Hawaii, you might make some assumptions about what I like to read. For the most part, you’d be right. I love mysteries, an affection I nourished throughout my teen years on a steady diet of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, and other classic detective authors.

I read almost everything that comes out in the gay mystery niche, which is bigger than you might think—there were 19 nominees for the Lambda Literary Award for best gay men’s mystery last year. It’s not a stretch to assume I’d read other gay fiction and at least a few books from the best-seller list. Delve a little deeper into my background and find that I was an English major in college, that I have a master’s in creative writing and I teach writing at a college, and you can see that I might appreciate James Joyce, Jane Austen and George Eliot.

But I have a few unexpected favorites, too. There’s a fantasy trend that runs through my reading, from Tolkien to Rowling to Neal Stephenson, whose works encompass historical and speculative fiction. Naomi Novik and her Napoleonic dragon series, and the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, feed that appetite.

Those British mysteries honed my appetite for Anglophilia. I read the R. F. Delderfield historicals in high school, as well as the village stories of Miss Read, a pseudonymous country school teacher whose books are as charming as Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma. Ramotswe series, without quite so much murder and mayhem. (Though when the gypsies bring their carnival to Fairacre, watch out!)

When I ran out of library books at home, I could always dip into my mother’s teetering stack of Harlequin romances, and from them I developed a taste for chick lit and humorous romance. I love what are called “Aga Sagas” in Britain, big thick romances by Jilly Cooper and others, named for a kind of stove.

Maybe that’s what led me to Laurie Colwin.

For the most part, I don’t reread books. Colwin is one major exception. Happy All The Time is like comfort
food to me, something I dip into over and over again. Colwin’s charm, insight into human behavior, and the way her domestic details illuminate character draw me back to her whenever I need a boost.

I’ve worn out one paperback edition and replaced it with a newer one. I’ve read and enjoyed her other books, including the two collections of her Gourmet magazine essays called Home Cooking. But Happy All The Time is the book that draws me back. It’s the story of two young men of wealth, education and privilege, living in 1980s Boston and New York, and the women they fall in love with. It’s a simple story, in the end, but the characters are so vivid, the locales so perfectly evoked, that it somehow transcends its simple material.

I’ll bet we all have one or more of those unexpected favorites. What are yours?

What might your friends or fans be surprised to learn that you read?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday Morning Meanderings . . . and one of the prettiest, easiest desserts ever

One of my favorite mystery series is written by Vicki Lane; the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mystery Series. It just so happens, Vicki also writes one of my favorite blogs. Sometimes she writes about her writing, sometimes she writes about what wonderful foods are cooking in her kitchen, and sometimes she takes us for a stroll around her farm in these beautiful North Carolina mountains, which is a pure piece of heaven. Always she includes some of the most gorgeous photos imaginable.

I love Vicki's books. And I'm not alone - her In A Dark Season is up for an Anthony Award this year - a very prestigous award in the mystery world. The Anthony Awards are presented at Bouchercon, this year to be held in Indianapolis. While I'm waiting for Vicki's next book, I get a great deal of joy from her Vicki Lane Mysteries Blogspot. I hope she'll take my little attempt at copying the peace, serenity and joy of her lovely blog here at Meanderings and Muses this morning in the spirit meant and remember that "imitation is the greatest form of flattery."

It's a gorgeous, cool day in the mountains. We're lucky for not having to suffer extreme heat or humidity here in Boone, but I must say - this is the coolest summer I can remember. Perfect!
Let's get out and enjoy it -

Time for a walk, Harley!!

hmmm. . .
maybe not.

okay - I'm going without you . . .

oh? changed your mind, huh?

well, then - let's take a little stroll

wonder when this bed is going to fill in enough to hide the telephone pole thingie, since that was the whole purpose of putting it here . . .

okeey doke, Harley; let's run run run -
back to the house.

Time to fix a dessert.

When Donald and I were still in Atlanta and working at Georgia Tech, I worked for awhile with a young woman named Gigi Markyna. Gigi is a fantastic cook, and an even better baker - ooooooh mercy - those desserts! One of my favorites is her Obsttorte (or fruit torte) which she bakes from her mother's recipe, and which she was gracious enough to share with me.

Funny coincidence concerning Gigi and her Obsttorte. I made this lovely dessert for our neighborhood 4th of July party. I had not made it in forever; simply because I had forgotten all about it. Donald suggested it, saying "how 'bout that dessert Gigi used to make?" I remembered immediately which dessert he meant, and we wondered how Gigi might be and what she was up to.

Then not even two weeks later, Gigi and I rediscovered one another at Facebook and are in the process of playing "catch-up."

So - get yourself a torte pan, like this one - - -

and pull out your prettiest platter (I happen to be addicted to pottery. More about that another day in another blog).

Whip up your torte, and choose whatever fruit and/or berries you want to use on top. On this one I used strawberries and blackberries, but the choices are endless.

Spoon a little whipped cream on top, and Voilà, a taste of summer!