Sunday, February 27, 2011

Musing While Meandering by Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp is the author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox series of crime thrillers, featuring her ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine. The latest in the series is Fifth Victim in the UK, and Fourth Day in the States.

Last year the series was optioned by Twentieth Century Fox TV, and Fourth Day has just been nominated for the Barry Award for Best British Novel 2011.

Zoë blogs regularly on her own website – – and is one of the contributors to the award-nominated blog site,



Musing While Meandering 
by Zoë Sharp

A big thank you to Kaye for inviting me over to Meanderings and Muses. It’s lovely to be here. And congratulations on your retirement last month, Kaye! I bet you’re already wondering how you ever found the time to work.

This is a very appropriate blog for me, because I write on the move all the time. Sometimes, quite literally, as you can see.

Even though we live in the UK, which is barely the size of Florida, and are currently paying something horrendous like ten bucks a gallon for gas, we drive around a LOT. If I didn’t use the time in the car to good effect, I’d hardly get any writing done at all.

But being on the move is somehow very conducive to plotting, and unravelling knotty bits of $plot that just won’t sort themselves out while I’m sitting staring at my computer screen at home, although I do a lot of that, too.

I should point out, for those of you of a Health & Safety persuasion, that I’m in the passenger seat while all this is going on. I’m usually the navigator when we’re on the road – unless the sat-nav’s trying to direct us the wrong way up one-way streets or down unmade farm tracks. I haven’t quite mastered the art of driving and scribbling at the same time, although I believe I’ve seen it done by delivery drivers in London. They can also talk on the phone, steer with their knees, light a cigarette and work out a quote on a calculator balanced on the steering wheel.

But that, as they say, is quite another story.

Kaye suggested we include pictures of our workspace and, much of the time, my mobile office is it. Of course, it’s not always possible to have a laptop open on my knee – twisty roads not only make the damn thing slide around, but I’ve also found that as I get older I’m more prone to car sickness than I was. Which is most definitely Not a Good Thing.

So, in that case I resort to my neck-top computer:


This is one of the things I love about being a writer. A few sheets of scrap paper, a clipboard or similar to lean on, and a sharp pencil, and I can write anywhere. You never know where the muse will strike. In fact, some of the best ideas I’ve had for the books have come to me while I’ve been in the shower. (I know, that probably comes under the heading of Too Much Information.) I’ve even wondered about hanging a wax crayon or Chinagraph pencil in the cubicle so I can catch the gist of an idea on the glass shower screen, but getting it off afterwards might be a bit awkward. Not to mention scary for anyone else using the shower afterwards, who would find semi-deranged messages about death, destruction and mayhem scrawled all over the walls.

Kaye also suggested that pictures of us with our pets always went down well, but being on the road so much means we’ve never been able to have any (sigh). As a child my family had Siamese cats, most of whom thought they were really dogs – one would even retrieve things thrown for him. Noisy, destructive, affectionate, and incredibly cunning, I loved them.

Then I graduated to ponies and horses, but now we have to make do with the red squirrels who have built a drey in one of the trees in the garden. They are incredibly springy little animals, with tufty ears and a very high cuteness quotient. 

I think because Andy and I do all our travelling together, it hasn’t lost its appeal. In fact, we’d like to do more of it. And in March we’ll be back over in the States again. I can’t wait.

I was invited to attend the Tucson Festival of Books in Arizona at the beginning of March, and then it seemed rude not to stay on for Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe New Mexico at the end of the month. Between the two we’ll be in California – south and north – as well as Arizona, doing various bookstore and library events, and catching up with a whole host of old friends in the mystery community. It’s one of the best things about this job – we’ve met some amazing people and got to spend time with them.

Packing for Arizona, California and New Mexico in March, including two conventions and a lot of travelling, is going to be interesting. We always try to pack as light as possible, so once we get to the States we can travel with carry-on baggage only, which saves a lot of time on internal flights. This is all we took for a twenty-three-day tour I did back in 2007. This time, though, we might just stretch it to TWO wheelie bags!


The reason for this trip – apart from to escape the British winter – is the US publication of the new Charlie Fox book, Fourth Day.

Ever since Charlie started working full-time as a bodyguard in the States, I wanted to set a Charlie Fox book in California, and I also wanted to write something about cults, so the two naturally came together in this book. I did a huge amount of research about Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Synanon organisation, which initially started out as a drug rehabilitation program. Of course, the trick then is to leave most of what you’ve learned OUT of the book. I’m writing a fictional novel, not a textbook.

But I’ve always liked to pressure-test Charlie in different ways and different situations that are as realistic as I can make them, and this gave her the opportunity to be psychologically as well as physically tested, to the point where even those closest to her – those she trusts the most and expects to trust HER – are unsure of her true motives.

It was a fun book to write – and yes, a lot of musing about the plot and characters was done in the car, whilst meandering about the country!

A Fun Thing

I have a special place in my heart for Western North Carolina Woman Magazine, which celebrates the "strength, wisdom and grace of women."  It's a magazine that I can always count on for interesting profiles and articles along with some outstanding pieces of prose and poetry.  Even more fun is that all these things are from and about women in my "neighborhood," Western North Carolina.

I was lucky enough to have a piece included when they re-printed some of the essays and poetry from Clothes Lines back in December 2009.

The March 2011 issue focuses on "Coming of Age."  My friend, Marlisa Mills, contributes to WNC, and chose me as a person to profile.  Marlisa is one of those exceptional women who always manages to make others feel special.  She has a talent for making us all sound interesting, even though we know, deep down, we're not.  EXCEPT, in those small ways that we each own.  Our own uniqueness makes us each special.  It takes someone like Marlisa to sometimes help us remember them.  And celebrate ourselves.  Thank you, Marlisa for helping me see the little bit of specialness that is me.

If you'd like to read this fun piece - here you go - Kaye Wilkinson Barley Enjoying the Mysteries of Life -  I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

For Love of a Good Cat by JT Ellison

JT Ellison is the bestselling author of the critically acclaimed Taylor Jackson series, including All The Pretty Girls, 14, Judas Kiss, The Cold Room, The Immortals and So Close the Hand of Death. Her novels have been published in 21 countries, and she was named "Best Mystery/Thriller Writer of 2008" by the Nashville Scene.

Her short stories have been widely published, including her award winning story "Prodigal Me" in the anthology Killer Year: Stories to Die For, edited by Lee Child, "Chimera" in the anthology Surreal South 09, edited by Pinckney Benedict and Laura Benedict, and "Killing Carol Ann" in First Thrills, edited by Lee Child.

She lives in Nashville with her husband and a poorly trained cat.

For Love of a Good Cat
by JT Ellison

I’ve been having trouble working lately. It’s not what you’re thinking - I’m not blocked. I’ve got plenty of ideas. I’ve got lots of time, full days free of encumbrances, all waiting patiently for words to fill the moments.
No, the reason I’m having so much trouble is my cat.

Jade is a tiger striped rescue who has never let me forget how much she appreciates the fact that I picked her.  When I first saw her at the pound, she was five weeks old, suffering from a bad cold. So bad that they were going to put her down. They can’t afford to have sick kittens in the cages; disease spreads too quickly among unloved animals.
They’d named her Tori. She had the most inquisitive, if rheumy, green eyes. I knew immediately I had to take her. I couldn’t let this poor thing get put down because she’d been weaned too early and struck out on her own, a little stripedy runaway. She had gumption, I could see that. Desires, dreams. She wanted a bigger world than the one she’d been dealt. She was a renegade. Perfect.

She was also a five-week-old kitten who was terribly sick. The vet around the corner took her in, nursed her back to health, and she came home with us. A yowling little ball of fur who was the most fiercely independent cat I’ve ever had.

She took up residence on the pillow at the corner of the l-shaped couch and pretty much stayed there for the next several months. She was a sweet, lovely little thing who didn’t like people food, wanted her chin scritchies on her terms, and determinedly made a friend out on my husband, who wasn’t what we like to call a cat person.
I adore her, as you can tell.
We go to special lengths for this cat. When we travel, she has her own personal babysitter who comes over and stays with her, watching television and reading books to her. She absolutely can’t be boarded, she turns into a neurotic, shaking mess around other animals. She’s afraid, afraid! of other animals – so scared that she’s an only child. When my parents come to visit, she takes up residence under my bed, hissing and growling at everyone who dares come near.

It’s hysterical, especially since she’s a regular hussy with anyone else who shows up on our doorstep. It’s only my parents, who arrive bearing their own cat and a little dog, that send her into paroxysms of kitty terror.

What must she have seen in those five weeks before we made her our own? What terrors haunted her days and nights? I’ll never know.
So Miss Jade, my fiercely independent, won’t allow herself to be picked up, I am my own cat, thank you very much, cat has suddenly turned into a lap cat.

This is a problem on numerous levels.
First, I use a laptop. Operative word – lap. I’ve been spreading a bit as I age, but I’m not to the point where I can accommodate a cat and a computer. And she doesn’t take no for an answer – she’s going to get in my lap whether I want her to or not.
We battle for several hours in the morning. She curls up while I’m going through my RSS Feeds, then jumps off. Rinse and repeat times about ten. The teakettle will be whistling, and I can’t get her off. Okay, okay. I should say I don’t have the heart to kick her off. It’s been a wintry winter in Nashville, with lots of snow and little sun, and she’s getting older, and her joints get cold. I debated getting her a heated blanket. But it’s nice to have a furball in your lap. She’s warm. She purrs. She gazes at me adoringly when I scratch her ears.

Yes, yes, I know. She’s playing into my ego. I’m enamored of the idea that this cat, who I chose, has also chosen me.
But wow, it’s hurting my word counts.
Jade is also the reason I got published. I worked for the vet who patched her up for three days (I thought I’d be working the desk, but he wanted me as a tech in the back. Bad. Bad. Bad. After my first neutering, I was done.) I was quitting on Friday, and on Wednesday I picked up a large golden and herniated a disc in my back. That led to surgery, and recovery time, and library books, where I discovered John Sandford. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tell me about your critters today! I’ll send one of you a copy of my new book, SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, which definitely isn’t about sweet, soft kittens, and make a donation to your local animal shelter.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tana French

Every once in awhile I have to pop in to squeal loudly about a new author I've discovered.  Actually, Tana French isn't that new - I was just (once again) slow to pick up her first book.

Now, I can say I am officially hooked on Tana French.

This is one woman who has moved quickly onto my "auto-buy" list and I can only hope she will continue writing for years and years.  And years.

And a few more years.

The first book she wrote was IN THE WOODS.  Published in 2007.  It won the 2008 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, 2008 Barry Award for Best First Novel, 2008 Macavity Award for Best First Novel AND the 2008 Anthony Award for Best First Novel.  Pretty impressive stuff, huh?!  WHY did I wait so long to pick this up.  Oh well.  I did and I loved it and I hope you'll give it a try.

From the back cover: "The debut novel of an astonishing new voice in psychological suspense.  In Tana French's powerful debut thriller, three children leave their small Dublin neighborhood to play in the surrounding woods.  Hours later, their mothers' calls go unanswered.  When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.

Twenty years later, Detective Rob Ryan - the found boy, who has kept his past a secret - and his partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a twelve-year-old girl in the same woods.  Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him, and that of his own shadowy past."

I didn't pick this up in the beginning because it sounded darker than what I normally read.  But once I did start reading,  I was fully entranced from paragraph one and stayed that way through the end of the story.  Warning:  If you like all the lose ends tidied up when you reach "The End," wellllll . . .  let's just say that's not exactly the case with IN THE WOODS.  But the writing is so lush and beautiful, the protagonists so likable and believable, the story told with such perfect restraint, I forgive this writer anything. 

Here's a little taste.  This is from the very first paragraph of the prologue:  "Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s.  This is none of Ireland's subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur's palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue."

Before I was half-way through IN THE WOODS, I ordered the second book, published in 2008.  THE LIKENESS.

If you enjoyed meeting Detective Cassie Maddox in IN THE WOODS, you'll probably want to read more about her.   

From Tana French's webpage - here's what people had to say about THE LIKENESS:

‘French has written another winner… The Likeness has everything: memorable characters, crisp dialogue, shrewd psychological insight, mounting tension, a palpable sense of place, and wonderfully evocative, painterly prose.’ Thomas Gaughan, Booklist (starred review)

'Police procedures, psychological thrills and gothic romance beautifully woven into one stunning story.' Kirkus

'Stunning...French cleverly subverts the conventions of the locked room mystery, ratcheting up the tension at every turn with her multidimensional characters. Readers looking for a new name in psychological suspense need look no further than this powerful new Irish voice.' Publishers Weekly (starred review)

And here's a wee taste:  "The house is always empty.  The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings.  Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wide-open windows, and of beeswax polish.  Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill.  Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.

In the sitting room the piano is open, wood glowing chestnut and almost too bright to look at in the bars of sun, the breeze stirring the yellowed sheet music like a finger.  The table is laid ready for us, five settings - the bone-china plates and the long-stemmed wineglasses, fresh-cut honeysuckle trailing from a crystal bowl - but the silverware has gone dim with tarnish and the heavy damask napkins are frilled with dust.  Daniel's cigarette case lies by his place at the head of the table, open and empty except for a burnt-down match."

The third, FAITHFUL PLACE, came out last year and is a 2011Edgar Award Finalist in the Best Mystery Category.  

I have not read this one yet.  But.  I've ordered it through one of our little indie bookstores - Black Bear Books.  It should be arriving in the next day or two.  oh boy oh boy oh boy.  Following tradition, one of the characters from THE LIKENESS, Frank Mackey, is featured in this one. 
From Tana French's webpage again - people are saying: "French's emotionally searing third novel of the Dublin murder squad (after The Likeness) shows the Irish author getting better with each book." Publishers Weekly (starred) 
"[French] revisits, evocatively and lyrically, themes she's used before: love, loss, memory, murder, and life in modern Ireland. French's writing remains brilliant, and her dialogue is sharp, often lacerating, and sometimes mordantly funny. Faithful Place is her best book yet." Booklist (starred)
"The charming narrative will leave readers begging for a sequel." Kirkus Reviews 

Since I haven't received my copy of this yet, I can't give you that little taste for this one.  dang.  Maybe in a day or two . . . 

As much as I love them, I can certainly understand these books not being everyone's cup of tea.  

Have you read them?

What do you think??

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Not Just a Stogie by Alan Orloff

Alan Orloff's upcoming release, KILLER ROUTINE, is the first book in the Last Laff Mystery series (April 2011, Midnight Ink). He's also the author of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, which came out last April, also from Midnight Ink. 

DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD has been nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

For more info, visit his website:

Not Just A Stogie
by Alan Orloff

Somewhere between all the math, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, chemistry, vibration analysis, and physics classes I took in college, I managed to squeeze in a Psych 100 class. I’m pretty sure that single survey class provided me with more motivation/ideas/useful info than the other classes combined, at least when it comes to writing fiction. (Not too much material science finds its way into mystery novels, thank goodness!)

I remember being fascinated by all the experiments we learned about: salivating dogs (Pavlov), blind authority-followers (Milgram), changing conditions (Hawthorne effect), and deviant behavior (Pee Wee Herman). It wasn’t so much the conclusions I liked. The best part for me, I think, was the deception involved in the studies. The researchers told the subjects one thing, and measured something entirely different. Deception in the name of science—how sneaky! And how cool!

I’ve always been a fan of “good-natured” deception (I know, the people in the Milgram experiment probably weren’t having much fun). That’s one reason I loved Candid Camera so much. Where else could you see people being deceived and then watch them laugh about it?

On more than one occasion, I have considered the fact that I am a little warped in this regard (For the record, let me reiterate, I’m a fan of good-natured deception, not deception with malicious intent). But that never stopped me from engineering my own practical jokes. I haven’t perpetrated many, but I have pulled off a few whoppers. Like the time I fake-proposed to my then-girlfriend (now wife) right in front of two good friends and she turned me down, much to their jaw-dropping amazement. (A classic, but maybe you had to be there.)

It’s likely that my love of deception was a prime reason I found myself writing mysteries. I mean, where else is deceiving people one of the goals? Red herrings, buried secrets, double-crosses, evil twins—it’s not just fair game, it’s expected!

In mysteries, a cigar is rarely just a cigar.

Thanks for inviting me to your wonderful blog today, Kaye. I hope you are enjoying your retirement!

I don’t really have a pet, so here’s a picture of me with my favorite cat

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jill Harman Smith

You may have noticed a few new pictures in my sidebar.  They're the ones that are professional looking - obviously not taken by moi . . . 

They were taken by a very talented woman who lives up our mountain road.  

My friend, Jill Harman Smith.

For more photography around her farm, some sneak peeks at some of her award winning paintings and a glimpse at some of her other on-going art projects, visit her blog - Jill's Life

You can also follow the tales of her three horses, her three mini-mules, three dogs and a cat.  Along with other wildlife that manages to find its way onto a little piece of heaven in our neck of the woods.

It's a lovely way to spend a few minutes enjoying Mother Nature at her finest in these gorgeous mountains.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Frequent Liars and Frequent Fliers by Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister is an avid mystery reader, a writer, and a librarian at a small college in Minnesota, not necessarily in that order. She recently joined the board of Sisters in Crime and lives with her husband and three cats in a renovated 19th-century fire station. Her most recent mystery is Through the Cracks, the second in the Anni Koskinen series. 


Frequent Liars and Frequent Fliers
by Barbara Fister

You may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of college students say they actually like to read books. I know this, because we did a survey at my college and, when we wrote up the results for publication, we found a handful of previous surveys that pretty much said the same thing.

They like books, they really like books.

You may also be surprised to learn that people under 30 are not terrifically enthusiastic about e-books. When students in a class I taught took an unscientific poll of their fellow students last month, out of 176 students who responded, most had never purchased or read an e-book, and most said they preferred print books. A total of 7 students said they thought they would prefer e-books to print; 140 said they preferred print. 

This finding astonished the book buyer for our local independent bookstore when I shared it with her, but it didn’t surprise me. I’d already seen something similar in the Sisters in Crime-sponsored study of mystery book buyers. Readers under 30 were nearly as resistant as the over-60 crowd to embracing e-books. 58% of respondents under 30 said they would never read e-books and would buy print books forever. That figure was just a couple of points higher, 60%, for those over 60. It was people in their 30s and 40s were most open to e-books, and even those folks weren’t jumping and down with joy at the prospect. Most said they might read an e-book in the near future, but only a small percentage said that an e-book reading experience was very likely something they’d do soon. (All this fun is in Figure 30 in the study, if you want to check. Or take a look at figure 3, which a friend said looks just like Dr. Who’s scarf. And so it does.)

I can see why e-books are more popular with people heading into middle age.  Older readers often have more disposable income than people under 30, they may be running out of room on their bookshelves, and they might just be at that age when being able to adjust the font size helps. The people I know who love their Kindles and Nooks best are middle-aged avid readers who travel quite a bit, buy lots of books, and are terrified of being caught short without something to read.

I’m not against e-books, though I have some reservations about them. I’m just pointing out that “what everybody knows” about books and reading is often not true. To read the paper, you’d think people who want print books will soon have to haunt antique stores to find them, that young folks find books passé, and if they’re going to read at all, they’ll want their books in digital form, ‘cause you know those youngers, all they want to do is tweet and update their Facebook profiles.

Okay, the college students I work with tend visit Facebook often, but did you know  the average age for Facebook users is 38? That only 17% of those who go online use Twitter – and their average age is 39?

All I’m saying is that you want to check your facts before you make predictions about the future. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. As a writer, I want to know everything I can about the direction that the publishing industry is taking. As an avid reader, I want to be reassured that I will have books in the format I want for the rest of my life. As a librarian—show me the evidence. Just the facts, ma’am. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

In Defense of Hand Holding by Julie Dolcemaschio

Julie Dolcemaschio is a writer and a poet. She has written several books of poetry, including Jewels in the Dim Light, The Phoenix Elegies, Map of Me, Musings, life, untitled, Surface Cuts, and An Angel Walked In, dedicated to her mother.

Testarossa is her first novel. She is currently slogging through rewrites of the sequel while mothering and wifing.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. She is not Italian.

In Defense of Hand Holding
by Julie Dolcemaschio

“Mom, if I ever get hurt, will you help me, even when I’m old?”

“Yes,” I answered him. “Of course.”

“Even when I’m old.” This was a statement, not a question.

“Yes. Even when you’re old.”

That was my six year old, back when he was six. We were in the car, going to, or coming from—I don’t remember which. He and I had conversations like this a lot.

“Kids get lost, you know,” he’d stated, as if this were late-breaking news.

“Yes,” I’d answered.

“If more kids held their mother’s hands, they wouldn’t get lost, right?”

Right. How could I tell him it wasn’t that simple? That once in a while we had to let go, for their sake as well as ours.

“I have a feeling something bad is going to happen,” he said. He had been saying that a lot. I settled on my pat answer.

“You stick close to me for a while, then, alright?”

The first time I said this, a week or a month prior, in answer to his statement, I never elaborated on what I meant. But he knew. He held my hand tight that day, whenever we were out of the house and not in the car.

“I’m sticking by you,” he reminded. “Just like you said.”

He was looking out the window at the passing cars, deep in thought. “Mom,” he said. “If I ever get lost, will you find me?” The pain in my stomach was so rich that I stopped breathing. You read, you hear on the news all the time about kids getting lost and never found, no matter how much their parents love them. I couldn’t help but think about how many children go missing each year. To me, a mother, the numbers are staggering.
In reality, stereotypical kidnappings, where the kidnapper intends bodily harm upon the victim, is quite low—around 100.

Small comfort if you’re that kid’s mother. The question threw me, stunned me. I knew without a doubt that I would die trying. Would he wait, patiently unafraid, because he knew I’d be there? Or would he worry that I wouldn’t show up, that I’d forget? This discussion, framed differently, was like all the others. They all held a central theme. The same idea remained; the same question hovered in the air, but never asked directly.

Do you love me?

The sun was out, I remember that. John Legend was on the CD player, I remember that, too. He was sitting in the back, in a booster seat he wished he didn’t have to use. His brother, who was 13 at the time, didn’t have to use one, so why did he? He’d had a haircut recently, and it was shorter than it had ever been—almost shaved. He wanted to look like his brother. He had a foot up on the seat, while the other one hung down.  Between the haircut and the way he was sitting, he looked much older than his six years. I knew what my answer would be, but I questioned the success of it.

He had good reason not to trust. I’d let him down before. I write. I never expected it to take up so much of my time, both physically and emotionally. I have a book out—a crime novel, oddly enough. Marketing and promoting Testarossa, while putting the finishing touches on the sequel, takes up a lot of my time, and it’s time I take when I’m not mothering—or wifing. I am not as present as I should be. I’m always thinking of the next scene, the next red herring. I forgot to read to him last night. We ran out of time. But really, I didn’t make sure we took the time. When I first began writing, late in life after children were had and finances were secure, I felt guilty, devoting myself to something other than them. I was distracted from them, preoccupied with something else—and enjoying the hell out of it. I wasn’t spending enough time. I was forgetting. I didn’t care enough. I wanted to be good at something, because I certainly wasn’t good at motherhood. And now we have all settled into a familiar pattern, where I disappoint and they are disappointed. Perhaps I am a better writer than I am a mother. The sooner they accept this, the better off they will be. No disappointments when you understand the way things are. No expectations then. No expectations, no disappointment.

His question hung in the air like a wet fog. I imagined him sitting back there, waiting for me to answer, and knowing what my answer would be. Would I disappoint?

He is nine now, and he still takes my hand, still sits on my lap, still stops me on my way to something else, grabs on to me, holds on until I return the love. The day is gray and still in anticipation of the coming storm. The TV is on. I am folding clothes. He is making an AK-47 out of sticks and camouflage duct tape. If he weren’t such a gifted baseball player and linguist, he’d be a ballistics expert in some big city police department. For now, I’m content that he’s a sweet, funny fourth-grader who’d like to play for the Yankees someday—or announce games for them.

The newscaster, a blond woman too perky and wide-eyed to be anything but, informs us that a mother waited thirty-one days to report her child missing. As the evidence mounts against her, she flirts in court with her attorney. Evidence of death and chloroform were found inside the trunk of her car.

“She didn’t hold her daughter’s hand,” he says, not looking up from the perfect replica of the killing machine he has almost finished building. His hair sticks up on one side, his refusal to comb it evident to all but him. His oversized shorts, his red t-shirt with some pithy baseball slogan plastered across the front, still serves as his uniform, even on a cold, almost-wet day. The fire is on, we are warm inside our house, and we don’t know about suffering—we only hear about it from others. By his comment, I see that he doesn’t understand, wasn’t paying attention to the story, and for that I am beyond grateful. He does not realize that this woman is being accused of killing her own child, then partying for thirty-one days before reporting her missing. I cannot fathom this, and frankly, I’d like for him not to fathom it either, at least right now.

“If she had,” he said, “I bet she wouldn’t have killed her. Can’t kill something you’re holding. Impossible.”

“If you ever got lost,” I answered my six year old, “I would absolutely find you. If it took me forever, I would find you, and I would bring you home.”

He smiled and looked out the window. “I knew it,” he said. “I just knew it.”

And in the quiet loaming, under a moon full and a love ripe, I shed a child, and became blessed.

The 2010 Agatha Award Nominees

Agatha Award Nominees

The 2010 Agatha Awards are given for materials first published in the United States by a living author during the calendar year 2010 (January 1-December 31), either in hardcover, as a paperback original, or e-published by an e-publishing firm. They will be presented at Malice Domestic.

Best Novel:

Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
Drive Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Best First Novel:
The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames
Murder at the PTA by Laura Alden
Maid of Murder by Amanda Flower
Full Mortality by Sasscer Hill
Diamonds for the Dead by Alan Orloff

Best Non-fiction:
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: 50 Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran
Sherlock Holmes for Dummies by Stephen Doyle & David A. Crowder
Have Faith in Your Kitchen by Katherine Hall Page
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang

Best Short Story:
"Swing Shift" by Dana Cameron, Crimes by Moonlight
"Size Matters" by Sheila Connolly, Thin Ice
"Volunteer of the Year" by Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: They Had it Comin'
"So Much in Common" by Mary Jane Maffini, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - Sept./Oct. 2010
"The Green Cross" by Liz Zelvin, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine - August 2010

Best Children's/Young Adult:
Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham
Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus
by R. L. LaFevers
The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee
Virals by Kathy Reichs
The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith

Congratulations to all the Nominees! 
And to the following for special recognition - 
Ta DA! 

Lifetime Achievement: Sue Grafton

Poirot Award: Janet Rudolph

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It Takes Guts and A Bit More by Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn Meredith married the cute sailor she met on a blind date nearly sixty years ago. They raised five children in a beach community much like Rocky Bluff and now live in the Southern Sierra in a place which resembles Bear Creek. She spends a great amount of time writing and promoting but also loves being with her children, 18 grandchildren and 11 great grands. They share their home with three independent inside cats and hubby cares for who knows how many visiting cats.

It Takes Guts and A Bit More
by Marilyn Meredith

Often, I have people ask what ever gave me the idea or guts to write about people in law enforcement since I’ve never been in law enforcement myself.

It all began long ago. First, I had an uncle who was an L.A.P.D. motorcycle cop who often got to escort important people and talked about it a lot. When I was a young teen I babysat for a family with two kids and the dad was a police officer. (He always left his gun loaded and told me where it was in case I needed it. I think I was about 13 at the time.)

When we bought our first house it was in a development where the down payment was a mere $100 and no, that’s not a typo, located near the Port Hueneme Naval Base. Among our neighbors were other sailors like my husband and a lot of police officers who were also among the lowest paid. We became good friends with the cops and their wives, and my eldest daughter started babysitting with some of the kids when she was only 10. (It was a different time, but I don’t think anyone told her where a gun was.)

A few years later, my youngest daughter married a police officer. He came to my house for coffee every morning after his shift and always said, “Hey mom, you want to hear what I did last night?” Of course I did. I even went on a ride-along with him after promising to not mention to anyone that I was his mother-in-law. By this time I was formulating my Rocky Bluff P.D. series with the intention of focusing on how the job affects the families and what is happening at home affects the man on the job.

Years passed and we moved from the beach area to the foothills of the Sierra where we now live. For awhile I worked for the local newspaper interviewing people for personality pieces. One of my interviewees was the female resident deputy for the town where we live. Later, I went on a ride-along with the only female officer in a small department and from about 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. she poured out her heart about the problems of being working with an all male crew and being a single mom. And one more person came along, a young Native American woman. We were together for a long period of time and she told me all about growing up on the nearby reservation and some of the problems of attending school and being an Indian.

Anyone who has read my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries has probably figured out that the three women became my Tempe. I’ve had a great time writing both of these series, drawing a lot on what I saw in real life, a great deal of research, and a generous helping of imagination. After all, I am writing fiction.

The Rocky Bluff series began as a single book, but I wanted to know what happened next and to other characters and so the series began. Many of the characters appear in each book, but often the book is more about one or two characters than the others. In the book that will probably be out in March, Angel Lost, the focus is on Officer Stacey Wilbur and Detective Doug Milligan who are planning their wedding, but a lot comes along to interfere, a man who exposes himself to female joggers on the beach, Sergeant Navarro’s mother wandering from home, an angel appearing in a furniture window, and something horrifying happening to Stacey.

Invisible Path is the latest in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series and though Christmas is coming, Tempe is busy trying to find out about a mysterious group of pseudo-soldiers who seem to be operating from somewhere in the forest and is asked to help with the investigation into the murder of a popular young Indian man on the reservation.

I’ve had people ask how long I’m going to continue these series, and I suppose the answer is as long as I remain curious enough to find out what is going to happen to all these people next.

Thanks, Kaye for having me on your blog again.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Valentine for Older Lovers by Pat Browning

Pat Browning was born and raised in Oklahoma. A longtime resident of California's San Joaquin Valley before moving back to Oklahoma in 2005, Pat’s professional writing credits go back to the 1960s, when she was a stringer for The Fresno Bee while working full time in a Hanford law office.

She is a veteran traveler. Her globetrotting in the 1970s led her into the travel business, first as a travel agent, then as a correspondent for TravelAge West, a trade journal published in San Francisco. In the 1990s, she signed on fulltime as a newspaper reporter and columnist, first at The Selma Enterprise and then at The Hanford Sentinel.

At the Enterprise, her lifestyle coverage placed first two years in a row in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Better Newspapers Contest. She was also a co-finalist for the 1993 George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism. The award was for a story she and a colleague wrote about AIDS, which was a recent phenomenon at the time. At the Sentinel, her feature story on the Japanese-American "Yankee Samurais" of World War II, placed second in the CNPA contest.

Her first mystery, FULL CIRCLE, was set in a fictional version of Hanford, and published through iUniverse in 2001. It was revised and reissued as ABSINTHE 0F MALICE by Krill Press in 2008. An extensive excerpt can be read at Google Books --

The second book in the series, METAPHOR FOR MURDER, is a work in progress.

WHITE PETUNIAS, Pat’s nostalgic essay about growing up in Oklahoma, appeared last winter in the RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY. An earlier version won second place in its category in Frontiers in Writing 2007, sponsored by Panhandle Professional Writers, Amarillo, Texas. WHITE PETUNIAS can be read on her blog, Morning’s At Noon –
When you click on the URL, the first thing to appear is Pat's review of the late Kirk Bjornsgaard's novel, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER ROCK QUEEN. Take a minute to read it. This stunning novel revisits the 1960s in the beguiling story of a young farm girl who wants more than anything to get out of Oklahoma and make it big in the New York music world. WHITE PETUNIAS follows, so scroll on down.

Pat's articles on the writing life have appeared in The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She is trying to find time to build a new website. In the meantime she has a page at Author’s Den –

A Valentine for Older Lovers
By Pat Browning

Let me tell you why I wrote a perfect man for the love interest in my book ABSINTHE OF MALICE. Somebody posted a review on Amazon saying she didn't like the perfect man. Too perfect.

Ha. There's no such thing as a too-perfect man, but her complaint fits right in with Valentine’s Day.

I've known two perfect men in my life. I was married to one of them and I invented the other one. He's rich, he's handsome and he's sexy. What's not to like? I hope that negative review won't deter a potential reader.

Besides, it's not as if my fictional perfect man never made a mistake. He let my protagonist get away, spent more than 20 years married to the wrong woman, lived long enough to regret it, backed up and started over. A perfect man is not afraid to admit his mistakes.

But enough about a man who exists only in my imagination. Let’s talk about the real man who graced my life.

“When Ed and I decided to get married and live in his house, I wondered what to do with my camel.”

So begins a column on later-life marriage that I wrote for The Hanford Sentinel in the mid-1990s. My old friend and road buddy, Marlene, came across the clipping recently and sent me a copy. It brought back a lot of memories. The camel was a special souvenir from our 1978 trip to the Costa del Sol, with a side trip to Tangier.

We were at the dock in Tangier, ready to board the boat for the trip across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, when the camel seller showed up. I had spent all my money. He had a credit card machine. I didn’t have a credit card. We used Marlene’s card, and I hand-carried my souvenir camel all the way home.

Here’s the column as I wrote it about 15 years after the fact.


When Ed and I decided to get married and live in his house, I wondered what to do with my camel.

We're talking trivia here. That camel is a souvenir I carted home from Tangier and kept on display to remind me of good times. By the time we moved out some of Ed's belongings, moved in some of mine, and sold or gave away the rest, there still was no place for the camel. It's in a cabinet in the garage. I see it when I look for the electric knife.

The road to marital bliss is full of potholes at any age. Later-life marriage adds a few of its own. For openers, you have two people who are saddled with the habits of a lifetime. You hate to get up in the morning, love to stay up at night, you’re crazy about cats and like to jet off to exotic places. Why should you change?

Because there's someone sleeping in your bed who's up at the crack of dawn and thinks nine-thirty is the middle of the night, who doesn't even like dogs, and wants to visit a buddy in Oregon. Not important, you think, but it was a straw, don't forget, that broke the camel's back. Love is so grand. Life is so daily.

For some older couples the jolt of adjusting goes right off the Richter scale. They're in a lawyer's office before the ink dries on the marriage license. Couples who make it are those who care enough to give up some attitudes that probably weren't important in the first place.

On some issues, of course, you can stand fast. For me, it's ironing shirts. I don't do shirts. Never did, never will. I'm fair, though. I don't do blouses either. If it doesn't drip dry I don't wear it.

My friend Marlene and I hashed all this out last week over a Denver sandwich and a bowl of beef barley soup. We agreed that marriage later in life is special because you're really ready to settle in and grow old with someone.

My camel was small potatoes compared with the furnishings and frou-frou Marlene kept when she got married. In a weak moment, no doubt, Wayne told her she could refurnish his house any way she wanted. Like a flash, she hauled out his stuff and moved hers in.

She sold his patio table while he was sitting at it. When he said, "Whoaaaa!" as she took his favorite mirror down from the wall, she just reminded him of his promise. She has a frog collection you wouldn't believe and dispersed it to every room in the house. Obviously, she married a saint.

Couples who make it to their 40th or 50th wedding anniversary often seem so compatible that you assume the marriage was made in heaven. More likely, they just learned early on what they could or couldn't do or have, and decided that very few things are worth a fight.

As someone (Mark Twain, I think) once said, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Younger couples face the daunting task of building a life from scratch, of doing everything for the first time. Older couples are ready to start unloading responsibilities like mowing an acre of lawn twice a week. There are bank accounts, insurance policies and property titles to sort out. Grown-up children don't always look kindly on Mom's or Pop's latest adventure.

But some things never change. Love is a wonder at any age. A first date is as nerve-wracking at 60 as it was at 16. You get married when you're older for about the same reasons as when you were younger: for love and companionship, and someone to care when the world caves in on you.


The memories are bittersweet. Ed died in 2003. Wayne died in 2006. We had some good innings, but the men we chose to grow old with left us too soon. Marlene still has her frog collection. The camel went out with my other souvenirs in a garage sale before I left California and moved back to Oklahoma.


The further adventures of my protagonist and her too-perfect man are still in the works—a book getting its umpteenth revision when I’m not out shoveling snow during the Great Blizzard of 2011. Thank goodness for my story board. I only have to rearrange the sticky notes stuck on each chapter square. The story board leans against wall and the pictures have stared back at me for months going on years. I cut them out of old Vanity Fair magazines, and they fit my characters perfectly.

If the pictures could sing, they would be singing Jelly Roll Morton’s famous song, Hesitation Blues – “How long … how long do I have to wait?” In fact, I use the song in my sequel-in-progress, working title METAPHOR FOR MURDER. Stay tuned ….

Copyright © 2009 by Pat Browning