Sunday, October 28, 2012

REAL HALLOWEEN MONSTERS?

Once upon a time Halloween was a most enjoyable and safe holiday for children. My childhood memories of Halloween trick or treating in the late 1940s through the early 1950s are among the happiest that I have. It was the one time of the year when all the kids in the neighborhood could roam from house to house and stay out very late (even on a school night if that was when the holiday fell) without any adult supervision. The most fun, along with collecting candy, was trying to fool the adult neighbors as to who we were when we knocked on their doors. And oh what candy! My favorites were peanut butter logs, peanut butter kisses, candy corn and wonderful homemade popcorn balls. Nothing to worry about—it was a time of fun and freedom.

 Strangely though, the first Halloween that I can remember was very scary. We lived on an Oklahoma farm with Kerosene lamps for light and a coal-burning stove for heat. On that typical evening of the last day of October, my little brother Mike and I were seated on the divan with our mother between us. Our father had not yet come home from work. Mother began to read one of our favorite stories, The Poky Little Puppy. The story scared me because I felt sorry for the puppy who was always late coming home and missing his supper. I wanted him to be safe and sound at home with his brothers and sisters.

 Suddenly, someone knocked at our door. That in itself was strange. Certainly our father wouldn’t knock. Mother went to the door and we heard her laugh. Then—a monster walked into the living room! My brother and I huddled together and almost cried at the sight of this strange apparition. “It” was dressed in shirt and jeans and boots but its head was made out of a paper sack with the eyes cut out. We started to cry because we had never seen anything like that before. We couldn’t understand why our mother was laughing. The monster said, “Boo!” and we jumped. He sounded like our twelve-year-old cousin who lived up the road on another farm but we knew it wasn’t him because that wasn’t his head. Mother gave him an apple and the monster left. We were happy to see him go and hoped that he wouldn’t come back. But we couldn’t understand why our mother didn’t return to finish reading the story. Immediately, another monster came into the room and we both screamed and began to cry. The monster was dressed like our mother but had a paper sack head just like the other monster. It also spoke with our mother’s voice. Finally this monster left and our mother came back into the room, saying there was nothing to be afraid of. She said that people dressed in costumes on Halloween and tried to scare other people, especially children. She didn’t fool us—we knew that two monsters had visited us.

 First Published in Seasons for Writing October 2002

Monday, August 27, 2012

Do authors have favorites among their own books?

The standard response to this is usually, "The book I'm writing now." That's true for me. I always love what I'm working on at the moment. But as I look back on the books I've published there are two that stand out in my mind, maybe because they have lived within me for a very long time.

Whenever I think about A Caribbean Summer written under my romance pen name Tricia Lee, I immediately wonder just where in the story my two protagonists are at the moment. Of course, I know how they end up but I spent so much time thinking and writing this book that certain scenes pop into my mind and I get homesick for them at times. Crazy? More than likely. I love the characters. I love the setting. Sometimes I wish I were still writing it. Okay, still writing it is not quite true. I wish I could be there with them again in that time and space when certain scenes were created. The book itself gives me great joy.

The Chameleon Chase, written under my mystery pen name Lea Chan, was not meant to be a dark comedy like my other Lea Chan novels. From my point of view it isn't a comedy but if readers think that it is, that's fine with me. I conceived it long before I wrote the others. After I had written it and left it for many years, I came back to reread it and couldn't believe I had written something like that. One scene in the book surprised even me although I knew it was coming. The inspiration for the novel came after watching an old Barnaby Jones episode in the 1980s featuring actress Mariette Hartley. But as my fantasy evolved, it had nothing to do with that storyline. I fantasized so much about it until when I finally started writing it in the 1990s, my original ideas had dissipated. The novel also has scenes on my fictional island of Palmaltas with a romantic subplot. Palmaltas is a magical place for me.

I wonder--do other writers have favorites among the books and stories they have written?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

ALLITERATIVELY SPEAKING

By

Anna Arlene Amsterdam

Redheaded Rosie played with perky Patsy and sassy Sally while daring Dan dived into the deep, dark water. Now, isn’t that clever, I asked myself.
When I was very young I wrote a little story and asked a teacher to read it. There was one passage that I thought was very clever such as the one above and I anxiously waited to see if she would comment on my creativity. When she finally returned my story, I quickly turned to the aforementioned passage to see if there were any comments. And yes, there were—but to my dismay, she had marked out several of the words and written in “alliteration”.

What could alliteration allude to, I asked myself. I looked the word up in the dictionary and saw that it meant, more or less, the repetition of a sound at the beginning of two or more consecutive words. And this was a bad thing? When I had read poetry with alliteration, I had thought the poets to be very talented and creative.

I asked the teacher about this and she smiled and said, “It just depends on the poet and the poem. It’s certainly acceptable when the poet intends for his work to be alliterative as in satire. But you must try to avoid it in prose.”

“But why, what’s wrong with it?” I asked alliteratively.

She smiled and simply said, “Read your passage out loud. Listen to how it sounds to you. If you had to read an entire story like that, you would lose the gist of the story and be bogged down in bouncing rhythm.”

“Oh, okay,” I answered, still alliteratively.

What a disappointment—my admirable alliteration couldn’t compete with my teacher’s exemplary expertise.

Palmaltas note: The above is a work of fiction.

(Published in Seasons for Writing, March 2002)

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Golden Age of Mystery: Ngaio Marsh

I am ending my essays about the ladies of the Golden Age of Mystery with my favorite of all of them, Ngaio Marsh. I fell in love with her sleuth Roderick Alleyn from the first book I read. I picture him as tall, dark and handsome--the way one wants a detective to be. Or at least I do. In fact when I started writing my first novel, a romance, I subconsciously named my hero Roderick Allen who lived on a Texas estate named Allensford Manor.

After I had written the first draft, I visited my mother and stepfather at their home on Lake Texoma where they had an extensive library of mystery novels. I spied their collection of Ngaio Marsh novels, grabbed one and started to read it. To my horror, I realized what I had done. Nonetheless I kept the names Allen and Allensford Manor but changed Roderick to Rockwell. I considered it my way of paying homage to Dame Ngaio.

Ngaio Marsh was born April 23, 1895 although that date can't be verified because her father didn't register her birth until 1990. She died February 18, 1982. She was born in Christchurch, New Zealand and died there also. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966.

She studied painting and became an actress with a company that toured New Zealand. According to Wikipedia, from 1928 until the end of her life she divided her time between living in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand.

According to Wikipedia, she wrote 32 detective novels featuring her British detective Roderick Alleyn. There are only two remaining that I have not read and I'm looking forward to reading them. She has been considered as one of the four original "Queens of Crime" along with Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie.

Although all of her novels feature Roderick Alleyn, several also revolve around her other main interests, the theater and painting. Alleyn even marries an artist, Agatha Troy. All but four of her novels are set in England and those four are set in New Zealand.

My favorite of her novels is Clutch of Constables although when I pick up one of her books, it's with a feeling of great joy and anticipation and now I have only two remaining.

Of course, there's no law against rereading old favorites.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Hooked From the Start, Part Five: "Never open a book with weather."

One of my literary heroes is Elmore Leonard and in his ten rules for good writing, number one is "Never open a book with weather."

Say what? In the previous installment of this series of first lines by favorite authors, I talked about Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle, which indeed did begin with weather. Gripping, icy cold weather.

And other favorite novels also begin with weather:
"She was dead. What did it matter if icy needles of freezing rain flayed her skin raw . The young woman squinted into the wind pulling her wolverine hood closer. Violent gusts whipped her bearskin wrap against her legs." From The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel. As this was the second in Auel's Earth Children series, I knew I was going to read it before I ever read the first lines. It didn't matter to me how she started it. I was hooked from the first novel in the series--truly hooked from the start but not from the first lines. And after reading the subsequent books, this one remains my favorite of all of them.

From Tony Hillerman's Listening Woman:
"The Southwest wind picked up turbulence around the San Francisco Peaks, howled across the emptiness of the Moenkopi plateau, and made a thousand strange sounds in windows of the old Hopi villages at Shongopovi and Second Mesa." This was the first of Hillerman's novels that I read and I read it because I saw an interview with him on the Today Show. My interest was peaked because of the subject matter and his Navajo policemen. And after reading this book, I was determined to read every book by Hillerman. The first lines had nothing to do with my love of his books. On a side note, three years after reading Listening Woman and several of his other books, I found myself substitute teaching on a Ute reservation in SW Colorado. I remember one cold winter day when the students were quietly working, I looked out the window on the barren landscape and the mesas in the distance. A feeling of peace and tranquility came over me along with the realization that I was in Hillerman country. Incidentally, Hillerman's books were on the shelves of that classroom.

My first published novel The Pig Farm (by my alter ego Chancey HernĂ¡ndez) began with a reference to weather:
"The tropical night air lay heavy and dense as three men stumbled and shuffled over the stone pavement of the dark, narrow street." Whether or not those words would prevent someone from reading the novel, I have no idea. I hoped when I wrote them that they would entice readers to want to read the novel.

However, with my subsequent novels, I have not opened with weather references, heeding Leonard's advice. The Pool Lizards (the sequel to The Pig Farm) begins this way: "A body was floating in the pool Sunday morning but it was a while before I or anyone else noticed it." That first line was read at a meeting of romance authors and one lady raised her hand and said those lines made her want to read the novel. And The Pool Lizards is most definitely not a romance novel!

So, I try not to start with weather when I begin writing a novel but if weather is the subject of another author's first sentence, I will still read the novel. In fact, this leads me to the next topic in this series. Many times I am hooked from the start not with first lines but with the title such as Death in Zanzibar by M. M. Kaye.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Golden Age of Mystery: Josephine Tey

This week as I continue my little essays on the ladies of The Golden Age of Mystery, my subject is Josephine Tey, a pen name used by Scottish author Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896-1952). She also wrote plays under the pen name Gordon Daviot.

She created Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant as her sleuth and wrote five novels featuring him. The Daughter of Time is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, mystery novel of all time. Alan Grant also appears in a sixth novel The Franchise Affair as a minor character. She wrote two other mystery novels that did not feature Grant.

Although her mystery novel output was small compared to other writers of the Golden Age of Mystery, she had great influence on authors such as Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters (pen name of Barbara Mertz). She is mentioned in Stephen King's novella Apt Pupil. Nicola Upson wrote a series titled the Josephine Tey Mysteries in which Tey is the main character.

It has been many years since I read her mysteries and, as a result of researching this little piece, I want to go back and reread them. I am also intrigued by the Nicola Upson series.

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Strange Odor and Apple Peelings

A STRANGE ODOR

On the Oklahoma farm where I lived when I was a very little girl, my parents began to notice something very strange about me. When I came in from playing outside, they noticed dirt around my mouth and that I had very bad breath. Finally, my mother decided to watch what I did when I went out to play.

The next day when I walked out of the kitchen, Mother stood behind the screen door and watched me head for the garden nearby. I went to the rows of onions and began pulling them up and eating them!

Even at such an early age I liked strong-tasting foods!


APPLE PEELINGS

When my brother Mike and I were little, Mother for some reason thought that apple peelings weren’t good for us although in those days fruit wasn’t sprayed with insecticides and herbicides as it is today. She carefully peeled the apples and quartered them for us to eat.

However, I much preferred the tangy taste of the peelings and while she was peeling and looking away, I would quietly grab some and run to the bedroom and hide under the bed to eat them. I would tell Mike to do the same thing although I doubt if he understood why he should do this. (In those days he usually did what I told him.)

Of course, eventually Mother found us hiding under the bed eating apple peelings and must have realized that they couldn’t have harmed us.

When I told this story to my two youngest grandchildren, they thought it was hilarious that I would have to hide under a bed to eat apple peelings. Of course, I didn't have to do that but I thought I did.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hooked From the Start, Part Four: The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Continuing my series on the first lines of some of my favorite novels, this month I concentrate on The Eye of the Needle. I loved this book and the movie. It was the first Ken Follett novel that I read many years ago and remains my favorite out of all his books.

The first lines:

"It was the coldest winter for forty-five years. Villages in the English countryside were cut off by the snow and the Thames froze over. One day in January the Glasgow-London train arrived at Euston twenty-four hours late."

it has been such a long time since I read the book (first published in 1978 as Storm Island) that I cannot remember what drew me to it. I doubt however that the first lines had anything to do with it. More than likely it was the genre: a WWII spy thriller.

But today as I read the above lines, I shiver as I read them and I wonder what I thought the first time, perhaps expecting something dire to happen during that cold winter. Dire things do happen as a German spy kills people with a stiletto (hence his name "The Needle") and is then sent to Aberdeen, Scotland where he sets out on a small trawler to meet a U-boat but he is not used to the open sea and becomes shipwrecked on an island called Storm Island, The island is inhabited by a young married couple. The husband lost his legs in a car crash and his young beautiful wife tires of him and their loveless marriage. And then enters an exciting but unknowingly murderous German spy.

No, those first lines did not entice me but they provided an icy terror as I read about the young wife and the attraction she felt for the German spy.

And this leads me to the topic of the next article in this series: From another of my all-time favorite authors, Elmore Leonard: "Never open a book with weather."

Monday, February 6, 2012

Life’s Embarrassing Moments: Locked out on a Rooftop

Many years ago my young son and I lived in Puerto Rico with a Cuban lady and her three children on the second floor of a spacey, new, modern house. The house faced a busy highway that connected San Juan to Caguas, a city in the interior. A frontage street ran between the house and highway. We entered our living quarters via a narrow staircase, which was located next to the garage on the right side of the house. Above the garage was a large concrete porch with a nice view where we did our laundry. One of the kitchen doors opened onto this porch. On the opposite side of the house was a corresponding porch, which led to the living room. Neither porch had a roof. A waist-high concrete railing lined each porch and a ledge below the railings encircled the top floor of the house.

Monday was my day off from the Sears Retail Distribution Center where I worked as training coordinator, one of the most enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had. On Mondays I did my laundry early and then I would catch a bus for the beaches in the Condado area of San Juan. My son was in a pre-kindergarten, the Cuban lady room-mate was at work in a business across the highway and her children were at school. It was my day of complete freedom.

On one bright sunny Monday morning, I straggled out onto the laundry porch after everyone had left. I had on nothing but a faded little housedress. I was also barefoot. I put the clothes in the washer and went back into the kitchen for breakfast. Thirty minutes later I went out to hang up my clothes on the clotheslines. It was now a quite windy day and I knew my clothes would dry in no time and I could leave early for the beach. But the wind blew the kitchen door shut and in horror I remembered that it could only be opened from the inside.! I was stranded for the morning, at least, on that porch!

I had no idea if the Cuban lady would come home for lunch or not but, at any rate, that was hours away. I began to panic. I desperately wanted to get back into the house. I was having “lock-out claustrophobia” or some such panic attack! Then I had the brilliant idea of climbing over the railing to the ledge and crawling around to the other porch.

No sooner had I climbed over and found myself standing on the ledge clutching the top of the railing did I remember that the living room door was locked also. Then looking down, a fear of heights swept over me. Although paralyzed with fear I finally managed to sit on the ledge, dangling bare legs and bare feet, wondering how I was going to get out of this predicament. Traffic was roaring past. It was a normal day, everyone was busy and minding one’s own business, no one paying any attention to me. Or so I thought.

Then I saw the milk truck slowly approaching up the frontage street and I knew I had found my savior. When the truck finally pulled into our driveway and stopped a few feet away, I rather timidly asked the driver as he got out, “¿Me ayuda bajar, por favor?”

He got back into the truck and pulled it up until the car was directly under me. Then he got out, raised his hand to mine as I leaned over and helped glide me onto the roof of the cab and then to the ground. At that a loud ovation broke out. The entire neighborhood had suddenly gathered and I had not even noticed them!

Extremely embarrassed I turned to open the gate to the stairs and to my dismay discovered it was locked also! Luckily one of the neighbors ran across the highway for the Cuban lady who came quickly to let me in! Sadly, it was too late for my sojourn to the beach.

Now one would think I had learned my lesson about being locked out on rooftops but many years later, it happened again! This time I was living in an apartment building with a friend in Marbella, Spain. We washed our clothes in the apartment but took them to the roof to hang them to dry. One had to be very careful to make sure the door to the roof remained unlocked because it could only be unlocked from the inside. As I was hanging my clothes, another tenant appeared, gathered his clothes, left and, for some reason, locked the door.

And there I was once again, stranded on a rooftop. Granted I had a beautiful view of the Mediterranean, Gibraltar to the southwest and the Atlas Mountains of Africa across the sea but at the moment that view was the last thing I cared about. I walked around the roof and discovered that I could see the porch below in front of our apartment. I started screaming for my roommate but she didn’t appear. I don’t know how long I was there growing panicky by the moment when finally she ambled out onto the porch and I started yelling. She looked up, disappeared into the apartment and finally reappeared, walked up the stairs and unlocked the rooftop door.

And that was the last time I hung my clothes out to dry on that rooftop or any other.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Golden Age of Mystery: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart is often considered as the American Agatha Christie. However, she was sixteen years older than Dame Agatha and began her writing career before her. Some people say she was the creator of "The butler did it" phrase but apparently she never used it. According to Wikipedia, "She is considered to have invented the "Had-I-But-Known" school of mystery writing."

My favorite novels by Rinehart are The Red Lamp and The Wall. Many years have passed since I read The Red Lamp and I had to research the novel to refresh my memory. It is a seemingly supernatural story, eerily suspenseful. I read The Wall in recent years and was impressed by its clever plot regarding the murder victim who was beautiful and devious and hated by apparently everyone. This past year I read The Bat, "a costumed super criminal", which, according to Wikipedia was one of the sources of inspiration for Batman although I couldn't see a connection at all.

In 1907, she wrote The Circular Staircase, the novel that made her famous. I remember reading it during a visit to Cuernavaca, Mexico many years ago. I must have found it in a bookstore that sold used books to tourists.

Luckily, I have not read all of her books and have many hours of pleasurable reading ahead of me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interview with Marja McGraw

My guest this week is Marja McGraw, mystery author. Welcome, Marja, and please tell us something about yourself.

Good morning, everyone! I’m delighted to be Pat’s guest today. I write mysteries that are lighter with a little humor. I write two series; The Sandi Webster Mysteries and the Bogey Man Mysteries. Sandi Webster is a female P.I. who’s constantly learning and growing, and for some odd reason dead bodies keep showing up on her radar. The Bogey Man is actually a man named Chris Cross who’s a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, and he’s a family man. He seems to have the same radar problem as Sandi, but he has a wife and young son who want in on the action. And there will be more action in February, 2012, when the Bogey Man’s latest adventure is released. Watch for Bogey’s Ace in the Hole from Oak Tree Press.

1) What kinds of books do you like to read?

I enjoy mysteries more than any other genre, but I’ll read just about anything that’s humorous, too. One of my favorite books is Marley & Me by John Grogan because it made me laugh, and cry, and then laugh again. Occasionally I read biographies and other non-fiction books, but you’ll usually find me with a mystery in my hands.

2) Who are your favorite authors, past and present?

Harper Lee tops the list. There are so many. Rhys Bowen, Janet Evanovich, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, Dorothy Bodoin, Elizabeth Peters, Marilyn Meredith, W.S. Gager, Beverly Connor… The list is so long that I can’t list everyone. I’m hooked on Stuart Palmer from the 1930s. I just finished one by Stuart Kaminsky and started one by Carolyn Hart. Rita Lakin, Earlene Fowler and James Harriot. Oh, I don’t know where to stop. I used to read only the books by big name authors, and finally branched out. I’m discovering some wonderful writers that I would have missed if I hadn’t started paying attention to what’s new and who’s new. You’re a great example.

3) Are there any authors who have inspired you to write and, if so, who are they?

Harper Lee in particular. Her characters felt so real to me. Also, any author who creates characters I can relate to and any author who includes humor in their stories inspires me. A reader has to like the characters as well as the story or it just isn’t memorable, in my opinion.

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

Interestingly, for the most part I wanted names which people could relate to, because (and this is just me) I can relate to a character named Susan easier than I can relate to a character named Esmeralda Hickeltoff. Okay, the story behind that is when I was a kid my sister and brother convinced me they went to school with a girl who had a tail, and her name was Esmeralda Hickeltoff. Siblings! Although, you’ll notice I never forgot the name.

5) Do you plan your novel from beginning to end either in your head or by outline or jotting down notes? Or, are you a “pantser”?

I’m more of a pantser. I know the general direction I want to go, but I always have to figure out as I go along how I’m going to get there. I do keep copious notes as I write or I’ll forget details. I always know the beginning and ending, but I have to figure out what comes in between.

6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

Generally I work about five to six hours a day, seven days a week, but that includes marketing and promoting. Occasionally I remember that I have a family who’d like to see my face once in a while, so I come up for air. Lately we’ve been taking trips out into the desert on an All Terrain Vehicle. That’s both a fun and interesting trip to make.

7) How do you choose your titles? Do you have a title in mind before you start writing or does something occur after you have begun to write or after you have finished?

I usually find the title somewhere in the book. For instance, in A Well-Kept Family Secret, at one point Sandi comments on something being “a well-kept family secret”. Occasionally my husband comes up with a great title, such as Old Murders Never Die. It was perfect because that particular book was about a ghost town and its murderous past.

8) Do you base your characters on real people or are they completely from your imagination?

I wouldn’t say they’re completely from my imagination, but I don’t base the characters on real people either. I find myself looking at traits in people I’ve known over the years, and then I mix them well and serve them up as a whole new personality.

9) Have you used real life experiences in your novel or is everything from your imagination?

I’ve actually led a relatively interesting life, so many times I call on experiences on which I can base a scene or story. I used to be extremely shy and learned the great art of listening. Sometimes the stories are based on things I’ve heard about. And, occasionally, my imagination runs away with me. I did a lot of research for the ghost town book I mentioned, but the story didn’t come from anything I’d ever heard about. Bubba’s Ghost, about a woman who’s being harassed by a bum, was loosely based on something that happened to me many years ago.

10) When did you realize that you wanted to write novels?

I honestly can’t answer that. I’ve always loved writing letters and notes and telling stories in those letters, and suddenly it just seemed like the thing to do. Well, in all honestly, one of the women I used to write letters to talked me into trying my hand at writing because she said the letters entertained her. I enjoyed writing and now it’s a huge part of my life.

11) Where can readers find your books?

I have two publishers. My Wings eBooks (Sandi Webster) can be found on the Wings website, Amazon.com and Fictionwise.com, and just about anywhere else where ebooks are sold. They’re also available in paper format, not just ebook format.
The Oak Tree Press Books (the Bogey Man) are available on the Oak Tree website, Amazon, on the Barnes and Noble website, and any bookstore can order them.

Pat, Thank you so much for having me in for a visit today. I really enjoyed the questions you asked. It’s been a lot of fun.

And thank you, Marja, it's been a pleasure having you here. I am looking forward to reading Bogey's Ace in the Hole.

Friday, January 13, 2012

BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS

Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. My goal every year is to try and read at least one book by my ever-growing list of favorite authors. I have between 80 and 90 favorites right now although some have died and I have read all their works. As I finish reading each book, I list it in a notebook of books read each month and list it again under the author’s name in another section of the notebook. In another notebook, I write reviews of each book read and give them a letter grade. At the end of the year, I make a list of all the A+ books that I had enjoyed greatly.

I didn’t read as many books as I had planned in 2011 but I did have more A+ books than any other year. In the past I would list the top ten books and sometimes I had a hard time reaching at least 10 A+ books. But last year was different. I counted 25 A+ books out of only 64 read! (My goal each year is to read at least 100 books but I don’t always reach it.) And there was no way that I could determine which one was better than another. In years past, my favorite book of the year would be number one, of course, and so on. But not in 2011! I enjoyed each of the 25 books for different reasons.

My favorite genre is mystery: all kinds of mysteries from cozies to police procedurals to detective stories to bloody slash and stab to international intrigue, etc. In other words, all the sub-genres that fall under mystery. But I do read other genres, especially ones written by author friends: romance, paranormal or supernatural, historical. I prefer fiction but do read an occasional nonfiction.

Of the books read last year, only one was nonfiction: The Autobiography of Agatha Christie. And what a book it was! It was the second nonfiction book of hers that I had read and my main complaint with her was that she didn’t always bother with dates, making it difficult at times to figure out when certain episodes in her life took place. But in her case, that was a minor complaint. Her life was extraordinary and so much different than what I thought it was. While reading her many, many novels, I always pictured a lady with leisure time sitting at an old manual typewriter pecking out her manuscripts. Nothing could have been farther from the truth!

Although many of my favorite books of 2011 were by my traditional favorite authors (Stuart Woods, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Sue Grafton, Carola Dunn, Jack Higgins, Marja McGraw, Clive Cussler, Elmore Leonard, Janet Evanovich), last year I discovered new authors also or rather new to me: Wanda Luttrell, Stieg Larsson, Suzanne Forster, LJ Sellers, Kate Morton, Jasper Fforde, Pat Bertram, Beth Anderson, Jean Joachim, Marilyn Levinson.

My goal in 2012 is to read at least 100 books. When I was younger I could read a book a day but now my eyes cannot handle that much reading. I am looking forward to reading my favorite authors and discovering new ones. In other words, I hope this will be a greatly enjoyable murderous year!