Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Mystery You Can't Put Down



I love a good mystery. So when Catriona McPherson -- current President of Sisters-in-Crime at the national level -- was speaker at the local chapter (Capitol Crimes), I was delighted. I was already hooked on her Dandy Gilver series, featuring an aristocratic sleuth in 1920s Scotland.  

But it’s one of McPherson’s stand alone contemporary mysteries, that recently grabbed me: As  She Left It is a layered mystery that keeps unfolding in new surprises, just when you think you’ve figured it out.

In As She Left It, Opal Jones left her alcoholic mother when she was twelve to live with her father and step-family in Whitby. After her mother’s death, Opal finds the old home --  one half of a cottage on Mote Street in Leeds -- is now hers, and she moves back.

At first it seems the old neighborhood really is “as she left it” thirteen years ago. The Mote Street Boys in the corner house still play their gigs. Opal used to take trumpet lessons from one of them, Fishbo, who is so happy she's come back.

But Margaret Reid’s three-year-old grandson, Craig, disappeared ten years ago, on a Saturday, and the neighborhood has never recovered. And in the crooked foot posts of a bed delivered from an antique store, Opal finds secret messages that hint of a little girl's  abuse many years ago.

When Opal sets herself to solve these two mysteries, she uncovers only more: Someone was paying the house bills after Opal’s mother died. Who? And why? Mrs. Pickess, the neighborhood gossip, provided brandy in large quantities to Opal’s alcoholic mother through the years. Why? On some nights, Opal hears a man crying in the other, rented half of the house. Who is he? What secret is Fishbo, her beloved old music teacher, hiding? And why does it start looking like little Craig disappeared on a Friday instead of a Saturday?

I was mesmerized by both the brilliant plot and the lovely writing. The characters, some of the most endearing you’ll meet in a mystery, are three dimensional. Opal is unforgettable, by turns brave and nervous, gullible and cynical, bitter and hopeful, and thoroughly believable. 

And a picture in her head, the little lost boy and the little girl -- who sounded pretty lost to Opal -- had joined hands and were walking away into darkness, maybe going to be lost forever, unless Opal followed them and brought them home.

As She Left It -- winner of the 2014 Anthony Award for best paperback original -- is the kind of mystery you read more than once.

To learn more about McPherson's books, see her Amazon page HERE 
or visit her website HERE
You can also contact her on Facebook HERE
And on Twitter HERE

What kind of mysteries do you prefer? Series or stand alone? Cozies or psychological? 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mysteries Prevail Today

The long silence since my Christmas
posting was due to the exciting news that my middle grade mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, will be published in June by MX Publishing. I was busy with formatting and editing issues to get it ready. (MX Publishing specializes in Sherlock related books, so Sherlock fans can go HERE to see a wonderful selection.) You can also read more about my book  next  door on my Victorian Scribbles blog HERE:

Not surprisingly, I have been reading a lot of mysteries both for young people and for adults. I recently joined Capitol Crimes, the local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime, since I'm currently working on a cosy mystery for adults. I was invited there by a friend, and it's her book I want to talk about today: Flint House, by Kathleen L. Asay, published by Bridle Path Press.

Flint House is a mystery, in fact a bundle of mysteries revolving
around what happens when disparate lives intersect over what should be a tragic event and stir up past events each character would like to forget.

Liz Cane, a cynical journalist with The Sacramentan, goes for an interview with Maisie Flint, the unpleasant owner of Flint House, a Victorian landmark in town. At one point, Maisie interrupts the interview to check on something upstairs. A few minutes later she tumbles down the stairs and dies.

Did she trip? Or was she pushed?

The tenants of Flint House are life's strays, hiding out from life in this rickety, shabby old Victorian. One mysterious tenant is called The Princess. No one knows her real name, but all the tenants seem to adore her, whereas none of them were especially fond of Maisie. The tenants also face eviction once Maisie's distant relative shows up to claim the house. The Princess claims to have a solution that will save Flint House. Then she is found in an alley, beaten nearly to death.

A random attack by a stranger? Or was she attacked by someone who knew her?

Despite herself, Liz gets drawn into their lives. She finds herself pursuing the story, partly as hard-bitten reporter, and partly because she cares about this motley collection of people who have become a family to each other. She's also obsessed with solving the mystery of The Princess's real identity.

I know it's almost a cliche these days to say "I couldn't put the book down," but I couldn't.  It was an engrossing read, and the characters are memorable. Despite the events I've mentioned, it's also a heartwarming read. I highly recommend it.

And no spoilers here. You will have to read the book to answer the questions raised above.

You can buy the book HERE: and HERE:

You contact the author at her website HERE:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A CHRISTMAS MOMENT WHEN PEACE PREVAILED


German soldiers of the 134th Saxon Regiment pose with men of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 'No Man's Land' on the Western Front, in December 2014. Photo is in Public Domain
Taken from an article
  HERE 





Twice, now, I’ve blogged at this time of year about Joyeux Noel, a 2005 film that was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. The individual stories highlighted were fictitious, but the overall story is based on a true happening on a Christmas Eve in 1914, in the theater of war: Scottish, French, and German troops agreed to a cease fire and put down their weapons to celebrate Christmas Eve, even warning each other of planned shellings the next day and offering refuge in each other's trenches when the shellings occurred.

For all three military groups, the only thing that saved troops from being tried for treason was the fact that 200 or so in each case would have to be tried. Instead, all the participants were transferred to other fronts to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a remarkable film, and a story I won't forget.

I was reminded of it again when the Sacramento Bee published an article in Saturday’s paper about this phenomenon, a phenomenon that occurred in several places across Belgium and across the Western Front.

In Flanders Field, the site of John McCrae’s famous poem comparing the blood of slain British warriors to red poppies, German soldiers began playing music familiar to both German and British soldiers. Soon an informal truce was struck. Troops visited each other, gave each other food and even small gifts. Some played games. For a little while, Peace broke out. And then, as in the movie above, army generals made sure it would not happen again. In the following war years, at Christmastime they stepped up the fighting to ensure no one would even think of a truce.


So here it is again, the New Year approaching, and the Christmas message hovering still. 

Best wishes for the coming year, and for a time of peace, when people can forgive the atrocities of war and unite again in their common humanity.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back with a Review of a Marvelous Book on Writing

My writing corner when it's tidy.
         
Although this is what is usually looks like.





Hello, again, at last, after the long silence. I have keenly missed blogging and connecting with blog friends, but I had to put writing first these last few weeks, and it's paid off. I finished my mystery, and now I'm doing the re-thinking, re-conceiving, additional research, etc. that is so much of the re-writing process. And I have been reading a wonderful book that I just have to share. The Art of Character, by David Corbett.



I first came across Corbett's insights in an article titled, "Characters, Scene by Scene", in the January, 2015 issue of Writer's Digest. (Yes, I know it's not January yet, but that's how magazines do things.)

In his article, Corbett emphasizes that "dimensional characters are born from drama—not description." Yes, you should know descriptive and biographical details: eye color, hair color, height, weight, hobbies, work history, biographical information, etc., but that doesn't create characters who live and breathe. What brings them alive on the page is interaction with others in scenes that serve a purpose in the story.

To paraphrase just one of his examples: How your character looks isn't as important as, say, how her appearance makes her feel, how it makes others feel, and how this translates into behavior. The same is true of age: How does her age affect her interactions? I have to say that just reading this article inspired several insights into my main character and a couple of others, and I immediately sent off for his book, The Art of Character.   Here's the book at Amazon, although several sites sell it.                                                      
And I bought the paperback, not the kindle. (When I read something this pithy, I do a lot of underlining.)

The Art of Character does not disappoint. It's like a course in creative writing, with exercises that are challenging but oh-so useful if you want rounded out characters that truly drive your story. It's also like a course in psychology, probing your characters' fears, desires, hates, loves, spirituality or lack of it. Or a course in sociology. Or philosophy. Or literature. (Corbett gives solid examples of stories, plays, novels, that illustrate the concepts he covers.)

You can tap into this book as deeply as you feel your work calls for, but the advice and insights gleaned from it are useful for any genre: light fiction, cosy mystery, MG or YA novel, literary adult fiction. It's the best book on writing I've come across in a long time. And it's the kind of book you can return to again and again.

You can visit his website to learn more about this book and the best-selling mysteries he writes. Meanwhile, I have to get back to the last chapter, the one on "voice". Happy reading.

And happy writing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Out While I Finish My Book


One of the most interesting bookshops ever: Centésima Página
on Avenida Central in Braga. That's me, there, wishing I
could read Portuguese, a beautiful but challenging language.

A delightful café bar called Copa. Again, in Braga, Portugal.

Hi, Friends,

I have not been posting because I've been working hard at finishing my book. Almost there, too. I have two more chapters that I'm determined to finish this week before we head home.

Next week I'll be posting again, and when I take writing breaks, I'll be visiting and reading your blogs, as so many of them inspire me. Meanwhile, I leave you with two pictures above from Braga, Portugal. Once we are home, I'll be writing more about that trip as well as bits and pieces about Galicia.

Hasta entonces . . .


Monday, October 6, 2014

Having Pulpo at the Feria in Monforte


A plate full of pulpo. You eat it with
toothpicks, bite by bite. Then you
break off chunks of crusty bread and
sop up the spiced olive oil. Yum!

Our wonderful neighbor,
Miguel
Today, despite the fact that it's nearly two weeks since our return from Portugal, I had every intention of writing a post about Fado, the Portuguese art form of song we both love so much, to be followed by a later post mid-week about the photography festival we attended when we were in Braga Portugal.

But then our neighbor across the lane from us treated us to pulpo at the feria in Monforte, 20 minutes away from our village, and, as usual, we were enthusiastically swept away. (This is the neighbor who keeps sheep, and sometimes in the mornings, we awaken to their soft bleating.) Off we went, my Fado post tabled for another day.

Pulpo is octupus, boiled, cut in small pieces, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pimiento - which in this area, means hot red pepper. All of our neighbors simply love pulpo, and their enthusiasm has been contagious. Though vegetarians, we do eat pescados and mariscos (fish and seafood), but octopus was a new experience for us. When done right, meaning boiled long enough, it comes out moist and tender and just delicious. It is served at long tables, in special buildings at all the fair grounds, and one of the servers comes around with a bottle of the house red wine and a loaf of fresh bread to go with it.

The woman boiling this pulpo
 is the neighbor of a woman in
Turiz, Melucha, whom we met
years ago when she was walking
  her cows down the road to graze.
The people in these neighboring
villages all know each other, so
Miguel was able to tell us this.

Rajan, adding his touch. We
actually see this woman and
another (who is distantly re-
lated to Miguel), at ferias in
the other villages, since the
market days in the villages
fall on different days. 

One of the long tables set up for this
event. For those who don't like pulpo,
 there is also barbequed beef or sausage.

Despite the note about beef, most of
these people are eating pulpo,
always the favorite.


Good to the last drop.
















Definitely a satisfied customer.









Feria is "fair" or market day, and in the mornings, nearly everything is sold at a feria: shoes, blouses, scarves, belts, beaded jewelry, plants, fruit, all kinds of produce, honey, bread loaves of all types, utensils for making wine, utensils for making the home-made brandy so popular here, aguardiente. One shot of that will blow your head off, but most people around here confine it to a little shot in their coffee when they do decide to have it. There is also a special drink they make, using aguardiente, called quemada, with orange peel, apple peel, coffee beans, and sugar, blogged about, beforeHERE.  (Scroll down to the very bottom of it, and you'll learn about the drink and the history behind it, as well as seeing the clay vessel they make it in and the clay cups they serve it in; the set is also called a quemada, and it is also sold at the ferias.)

While we were there, a gypsy playing an accordion came in and played some melodies that were so familiar to the crowd, some sang along. It was an absolutely charming touch (and he gained a few coins for that) but, alas, I didn't take pictures. A memorable lunch, for sure.

How about you? Have you ever eaten octopus? Have you ever found yourself eating a dish you thought you never would?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Two Awards and Apologies for the Long Silence

Inspiring Blogger Award from
Julia Hones

Liebster Award from Sandra Cox
See below the info that comes with
the Inspiring Blogger Award















First the apologies for not blogging. 
1.) I've been busy working on my mystery. My goal is to finish this draft by mid-September. There's 24-25 chapters in mind, and I'm on chapter 17 so far. 
2.) We've had company and made a couple of out-of-town trips to visit folks we hadn't seen for a long time, due to travels. 
And 3.) We are getting ready for another long trip to Spain and Portugal. (I haven't even finished blogging about the last trip, but that's how it goes sometimes. Oh, the stories I'd like to tell!)

Meanwhile, two very nice blog friends gave me awards that you can see at the top of this page and read about below. Thank you so much, ladies!

Julia Hones gave me the Inspiring Blogger Award, which I find quite an honor. Julia has a marvelous blog called My Writing Life that I love to read and find inspiring in its own right, and you will too, so do check it out. She's also had many short stories and poems published and is the poetry editor of Southern Pacific Review

As a recipient of the award, I'm supposed to reveal 7 things about myself and then pass the award on to others whose blogs I find inspiring. Hmm. 7 reveals . . . Okay, here we go.

1. In my junior year in college, after finals, I let a girlfriend talk me into bleaching my hair blonde. (She was bleaching her hair, and we were hyper from finals, so I thought, "Why not?") Because I have a lot of red in my hair, it went red instead of blonde. Because I have a few freckles, everyone who met me as a redhead thought I really was a redhead -- to the point that when I got tired of it and decided to dye it back to dark brown, I was told, "No, don't do that, it won't look natural."

2. My favorite dessert is a cookie. Forget pies, cakes, and rich creamy custards. Give me a cookie. Any cookie, although I like sugar, shortbread, oatmeal, or peanutbutter the best.

3. I am a crossword puzzle nut. I love the New York Times crossword puzzle. I can't always finish it (Fridays and Saturdays), but I usually start the day with it. For one thing, it wakes me up and gets the wheels turning for writing later in the day.

4. My husband and I met through a cat named Meathead. That is a ve-r-r-r-y long story, that only some of our friends know and would take up too much space here. But we have very fond feelings for our feline cat-alyst from long ago.

5. I used to write everything in longhand first, but the computer has spoiled me. Cut and paste is so convenient. Even so, I miss that feeling of connection between pen or pencil and heart, and I still write my poetry first in longhand.

6. This is probably a horrible confession for an author to make, particularly one who writes children's books, but . . . I never liked The Wind in the Willows. I know, I know, one of the world's great classics. What's wrong with me! But I never could get into it, no matter how many times I tried. 

7. I loved Edith Nesbit and Edgar Eavers, though. And they stand the test of time. I re-read a couple of their books recently and still found them so funny.

And now the nominees:
1. Keith Wynne has a truly inspiring blog called Musings of an Unapologetic Dreamer . He'll also send a little blurb via email called Thought of the Day, if you sign up for it at his site. I bookmark nearly everyone of these blurbs, as they are quite pithy and inspiring.

2. Catherine Ensley is an author of inspirational romance novels and is writing a four-part series. On her blog she "shares her thoughts on country life, simple living, adventure, reading, writing and faith that transforms." I think you will find it very enjoyable. 

3. Victoria Lindstrom's Writ of Whimsy blog is rich with Middle Grade book reviews, poetry tidbits, thoughts on writing, and a section I love, "Whimsical Word of the Week." Check out her site; it's great fun.

4. Lynda Young has a wonderful blog called W.I.P. It: an Author's Journey in which she addresses many issues for writers with insights and reminders that are so helpful to all of us on this common journey. 

5. Check out Carol Riggs, a published YA author with a personable writing style. Her blog, Artzicarol Ramblings, is full of writing tips, YA book reviews, and shares of her own personal journey with agents and publishers. 

6. Renee Hand's The Crypto-Capers Review is a children's book review blog as well as a platform for her radio show, Stories from Unknown Authors. Renee also writes winning interactive mysteries. How cool is that? Check out her site, and you may find yourself being interviewed if you've written a children's book.

7. Mark Noce has a rather eclectic blog, sharing news about his flash fiction publications, gardening, music he likes, and news about other writers. It's always a feel-good experience to read one of his posts. 

On to the Liebster Award, which Sandra Cox kindly gave to me. Sandra's blog is called, not surprisingly, Sandra's Blog  . Sandra is a prolific blogger as well as a prolific author. Spend a little time at her site. Her pictures will make you smile. Meanwhile, the Liebster Award is given to bloggers with less than 200 followers, ferreting out blogs you think are worthy of more followers. (Thank you, Sandra!) The rules for accepting the award are to share 11 random facts about myself, answer 11 questions posed by the blogger who nominated me, nominate 11 bloggers who qualify, and pose 11 questions to them. Happily, Sandra modified the rules, asking 6 questions, and nominating 5 newbies. So I am following her lead:

The questions she asked:
1. If you were an animal, what would you be? Probably a dog. I love animals, but dogs have a special place in my heart. They are so loving and loyal.
2. What is your favorite genre? That's a hard one. Mysteries and historical novels are about equal.
3. When reading, do you prefer paper or a hand held device? Paper, for sure!
4. What's your favorite vacation spot? Galicia, Spain. 
5. What's your favorite charity? Another hard one. We contribute to a number. I suppose Southern Poverty Law Center, a remarkable organization that goes after hate groups in this country and prosecutes hate crimes.
6. If given the choice, where would you live? Right where we live now. As a runner up, Galicia would be next, but we are quite happy where we are.

Okay, my nominees are:
Richard Hughes at Writing and Living by Richard P. Hughes , is an eclectic blogger, sharing thoughts about writing, art, life in general, publishing issues. Right now he's running an interesting series of interviews with other bloggers, called, "Where I Live and Why I Like It.

Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff reviews children's books, interviews authors, and does a wonderful job of culling and sharing links to help writers in every sphere of writing. I always look forward to her posts, and you will too.

Kenda Turner at Words and Such posts book reviews, interviews, and shares rich thoughts about the writer's journey. Always a good read.

Loretta Proctor at Books and Other Things blogs about books, art, and music, "and all things creative and beautiful." Her current post is about Seamus Heaney, one of my favorite poets.

Jeanmarie Anaya's delightful blog, Jeanmarie Anaya is definitely worth your while. Humorous, pithy, eloquent. She writes about a number of writing issues, and wrote a lovely tribute to Robin Williams. 

And here are my six questions for these worthy recipients:
1. Where is your favorite place to read a book?
2. When beginning a new W.I.P., do you write by hand or wordprocess?
3. What are three of your favorite books? 
4. If you could be a character in a novel you've read, who would you be?
5. Which author, living or dead, do you wish you had the opportunity to meet?
6. When did you begin to write for yourself (as opposed to doing early homework assignments)?

And that's it, folks. I look forward to your comments, (feel free to answer any of the questions I posed for the nominees), and I do hope you check out the blogs in both sections of this post.

Ciao for now . . .