Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tributes: Lorraine Stephens and Maureen "Sadie" Dell

This is the time of year that I sadly pay tribute to the writers who left us and also left endearing memories. Lorraine Stephens and Maureen "Sadie" Dell were two very different writers but both were deeply loved by the many people who knew them.

Lorraine was one of the founders of Wings ePress. I've never known anyone who was so deeply devoted to helping struggling writers and giving them a chance in the publishing world. While she wasn't my first publisher, she did publish my first submitted romance novel, A Caribbean Summer. She was also my editor for that book. After I had returned the galley, she e-mailed me with the message that she hoped I had more manuscripts for submission. What a thrill that was! When I sent her my query letter for Amorous Ambush, ending with "May I submit the full manuscript?", she replied one word, "Absolutely!". As with many of the authors at Wings, I shall always be indebted to her.

Maureen "Sadie" Dell was a different kind of writer, an old-fashioned story teller among other things. I met Sadie online in 1999 on the old AOL British message board: Food, Glorious Food! It was in the international section of the message boards. I was planning to go to England that summer to visit my two granddaughters who lived in Cornwall at that time and I wanted to get acquainted with English cuisine. Sadie posted recipes every day and many times had personal stories to go along with them. When AOL began to disband the international boards, I told Sadie about other food message boards, especially Comfort Food. She transferred over and my friends there fell in love with her. When I returned from my England visit, I asked Sadie for her recipe for Cornish pasties, one of my favorites. But over the years she shared many, many recipes from England. She married an American after World War II and lived in Colorado. Her stories of being an English bride living in America were poignant and even hilarious.

Two lovely ladies who made the world a much better place: Lorraine and Sadie.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Popcorn Christmas

When I first started to write this little tale, I thought my first popcorn memories came when my family lived on a farm. However, my mother thought otherwise--that we had moved to town. The house we moved to in town was cold. Rooms were heated with small gas stoves.

Despite the cold my mother was determined to give us a Christmas season that would be traditional and memorable. One cold, dark evening, my little brother Mike and I huddled in the living room admiring the tree that we had just decorated with ornaments that our mother had brought with her when she married our father. However, Mother said there was more that we could do to the tree. We wondered what she meant. It looked lovely to us.

She went out into the kitchen and we huddled together on the divan. Soon, we heard popping sounds and an aroma that still lingers joyfully in my memory. We laughed happily—Mother was popping corn. We ran to the kitchen with anticipation and watched her as she shook an iron skillet full of popping corn on a gas range. We expected her to add butter and salt but to our disappointment she didn’t do so. She poured the popped corn into a bowl and told us to follow her into the living room.

The three of us sat on the divan with Mother between my brother and me, nestled together to keep warm. She handed each of us a needle and a long strand of thread. We looked at each other in puzzlement. Then to our amazement Mother showed us how to thread each piece of popcorn. We were going to decorate the tree with strings of popcorn! On one hand stringing popcorn seemed like a lot of fun but on the other, I wanted to eat that popcorn! Naturally a little girl who was five years old couldn’t resist every once in a while sneaking a bite. I could see that Mike was just as tempted and finally we gave into the temptation, hoping that Mother wouldn’t notice.

Of course now I realize that she noticed and that she didn’t care—that was part of the fun of stringing popcorn, sneaking a bite now and then. Surely my love of popcorn began then and no other popcorn has ever tasted as good as that unsalted, unbuttered popcorn of my childhood that we threaded to adorn our Christmas tree.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Interview with Sherri Fulmer Moorer

My guest this week is multi-genre author Sherri Fulmer Moorer. Welcome, Sherri! Please tell us something about yourself.

By day, I work as a program assistant in professional licensing. By night, I write. I started out as a Christian writer and published my first book, Battleground Earth – Living by Faith in a Pagan World in 2004. I switched to writing fiction and published my first fiction novel, Blurry, through Wings ePress in August 2011. My second fiction novel, Anywhere But Here, will be published through Whiskey Creek Press in April 2012.

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

I like science fiction, mysteries, and some fantasy. I recently started reading detective novels and I enjoy those as well.

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

J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis are my favorites. They had a unique perspective on life and the world and were able to capture it so well in their writing. I also like R.A. Salvatore, P.D. James, Ben Bova and the young adult writers Christopher Paolini and Christopher Pike.

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

I’ve always enjoyed writing and dreamed of being published, but I have to admit to being inspired by my favorites. I’ve also started to read works by other independent authors, and that encourages me to keep writing. Every time I read a book that I enjoy, I have the hope that perhaps one of the stories I create will inspire others.

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

I won’t lie – names give me a fit. I’ve utilized some old family names in my writing. For example, the protagonist in Blurry is named Rachel Shull. I’ve always liked the name Rachel and Shull is an old family name. Since I work in professional licensing, I see a lot of names on applications and try to note ones that I particularly like so I can mix and match them for my characters.

5) Do you plan your novel from beginning to end either in your head or by outline or jotting down notes? Or, do you go with the flow and let the characters dictate their journey?

I go with the flow. I’ve tried outlining and the outline is usually blown by the time I get a few chapters in because something develops that throws everything else out of wack. I do usually know how I want to start and end the novel, but I try to keep the middle flexible because something usually jumps out that makes the plot develop in ways that I didn’t expect. I like those surprises and usually run with them.

6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

I do most of my writing in the evenings. I’m not a morning person and getting to work on time in the mornings is enough of a challenge, so all that advice to get up a few hours early and write just won’t work for me. I find I’m more creative when my routine tasks for the day are done anyway, and I don’t have to worry about a “to do” list or getting somewhere on time.

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 wait until I’m at least halfway through my rough draft to put a title on a novel. I like to see how it’s developing and if there’s any concept that seems to keep showing itself that will lend to a title. For example, I picked the title for Blurry based on a conversation the protagonist was having with her boyfriend about how tragedy had made a crystal clear life blurry. That quote hit me as so powerful because it really summed up the entire theme for the book.

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

I’d say it’s a mixture of both. I think they do need to be based on real people to make them believable, but you have to use your imagination to fill them out to fit the plot you create.

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

Again, it’s a mixture of both. Blurry is entirely imagination. My next novel, Anywhere But Here, is backed by experience. That novel is about a young woman who becomes depressed when her life is sidetracked by reality. I have personally known many people who struggle with depression, and I have to humbly admit that some of the dirty office politics in that novel are based on things I’ve seen over nearly 13 years of working in an office.

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

I always wanted to be a writer, but I think I realized that I really wanted to be a novelist in 2008 when I got the idea for Blurry and started writing the first draft. I enjoyed writing that novel so much more than any of the inspirational writing I did, and it occurred to me that it was probably because I really was a novelist at heart. I still do occasional inspiration pieces – in fact, I’m wrapping up a blog series on my website on being authentic and finding your purpose in life – but by and large, I spend most of my time on fiction.

11) What genres do you write?

Blurry is a young adult mystery novel. Quarantine is a suspense novelette. My upcoming book, Anywhere But Here, is an adult supernatural suspense novel. Battleground Earth - Living by Faith in a Pagan World is Christian Self-help.

12) Where can readers find your book(s)? is probably the best place to find a comprehensive list of my books. I have an author profile there at . You can also find links to my books at my website at .

Thank you very much, Sherri. It's been a pleasure having you here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Earliest Thanksgiving Memory

The first five years of my life were spent on a farm in east central Oklahoma. We didn’t have electricity, gas or running water. There was a cistern near the house where my parents drew water. As a child, I was afraid of that cistern and kept away from it. But my fear of the cistern has nothing to do with this story.

One day in November when I was about four years old, I heard my father tell my Mother that she would have to cook the Thanksgiving turkey because my grandfather was sick and my grandmother wouldn’t have time to cook the Thanksgiving meal and take care for him.

Apparently my mother was astounded. Cook a turkey on a Franklin stove? A wood-burning stove that was loaded from the top? She had never cooked a turkey before in her life.

“But it will take more than a day to cook a turkey on that stove,” I overheard her say.

“Yes, I know. I’ll get it in plenty of time,” said my father.

My mother must have been twenty-eight years old at that time. The drafty farmhouse was quite different from the city home she had grown up in. Before her marriage five years earlier in 1939, her family always had electricity, gas, running water and indoor plumbing. But here she was in rural Oklahoma in a house without any of those amenities. But as I look back, I realize she must have adapted quite well. She had learned to cook not only on the Franklin stove but on a kerosene stove as well. We had a coal-burning stove in the living room. Kerosene lamps provided light. Water was drawn from the cistern. But what my mother missed the most was indoor plumbing. The outhouse, set a short distance from the house, was a nuisance to say the least, especially in cold weather.

Several days before Thanksgiving, my father brought home the turkey and killed it. He hung it upside down in the shed so that the blood would drain out.

Before going out to the shed, Mother told my three-year-old brother Mike and me to wait for her in the house. She thought that seeing a headless turkey dripping blood might scare us.

Although I didn’t witness what happened next, I have heard the story told many times. She opened the shed door and stood in front of the turkey. It looked enormous and she wondered how she could possibly cook the thing. Suddenly, she turned and saw little blonde-haired Mike staring upwards at the turkey, his mouth open in wonder and awe.

“Mike, I told you not to come out here,” she scolded gently. She led him back to the house and told him to play with me. She could only wonder what little Mike thought when he saw that turkey. This was apparently one of my brother Mike’s first memories of the farm and I’ve heard him tell the story many times. Staring at that turkey left an indelible impression on him.

Mother gave herself three days to cook that turkey. After the turkey had been plucked and cleaned she placed it in the roasting pan. She went to the cistern and drew up some water, which she poured into the pan. She loaded the wood into the Franklin stove and lit it. Lighting a fire was her least favorite chore. It absolutely terrified her. In order to start it she poured kerosene on the wood, stood back, lit a match and threw it on the kerosene. It was a miracle that the house never caught on fire! When the fire was hot enough, she set the pan on top of the stove. And so it went for three days, lifting that pan off the stove, adding more wood to it and adding more water to the pan.

Most of my father’s family were coming and luckily my grandmother and aunts were bringing the side dishes. Because my grandmother, a sweet, mild mannered lady, had her hands full caring for my grandfather, she was only going to bake a cake that year. No one could bake a layered cake as well as my grandmother. My aunts would bring the vegetable dishes. Two of my uncles were away in the war. My father, then thirty-eight-years old, had been too old to be drafted when World War II started.

Mother’s next problem was finding enough seating for all the guests. Our family didn’t have very much furniture. My mother’s pride and joy was the baby grand piano that she had brought with her when she married. She decided that she and I could sit on the piano bench to eat and Mike could sit on a wooden orange crate. I don’t remember but I guess everyone else sat on chairs.

Thanksgiving turned out to be a cold, gray day but all of the anticipated guests arrived including our two older cousins who lived up the road on a nearby farm. The table was set and ready for the turkey that had cooked for three days. Mother was a little apprehensive. What if it had not cooked enough? There was nothing worse on Thanksgiving than an undercooked turkey.

Everyone gathered around the table and someone said a blessing. Then my father carefully removed the turkey from the pan and placed it on the serving platter. There was no need for him to carve that turkey. It was so tender and juicy that the meat literally fell off the bones.

Mother sighed with relief as she received accolades for a turkey cooked to perfection on a wood-burning stove.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hooked from the Start, Part 3: A Painted House by John Grisham

"The hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with three weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist-high to my father, over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a 'good crop'.”

Those are the beginning words of John Grisham's A Painted House. This series started out as a forum on First Lines as Hooks to get people reading and if they impacted my choice of reading material. As I go through some of my very favorite novels, I have discovered that the first words did not do so for the most part. I avoided reading John Grisham's A Painted House because I thought it was going to be a sappy sentimental journey and I prefer to read his legal thrillers. However, when it was announced that the novel would be made for television, I hurriedly read it and was amazed at how much I liked it. And strangely, that very first sentence did hook me!

Although the novel takes place in Arkansas, much of it reminded me of my early days on a farm in rural Oklahoma. Granted, we didn't have Mexicans or hill people but the overall setting, the small town and life in general was reminiscent of my childhood. As an adult, I have lived in Mexico and I was thrilled with the way Grisham portrayed his Mexican characters. The story is narrated by a seven year old boy named Luke and he observes things that no seven year old should see including violence and murder.

But this is the kind of story a reader doesn't want to end. At least I didn't. And yes, in a way, that first line did hook me although I knew I was going to read it before the TV show aired.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Embarrassing Moments: Slip 'n Splash

Now that summer is over, I thought back to the days when my son was quite young and I tried to make our summers fun. In the following he had fun--but not so much did I!

I have always joked that my idea of camping out was to stay at the Holiday Inn but, as a single parent of a rambunctious boy, I had to make adjustments in my attitude. Therefore I tried to make our “camping” experience as easy on me as possible yet fun for my son Jaime.

When Jaime was ten years old, one of our favorite weekend destinations was Garner State Park in the Texas Hill Country. However, our last trip to Garner did not quite fit the bill, especially for me.

We left early on a Saturday morning from our home in Crystal City, Texas, arriving before noon. We parked our Chevy Vega between enormous RVs and campers along the Frio River, literally all of us lined up on the river bank among large shady trees. We always tried to get there early enough to get a good, safe spot.

Paddle boating, hiking, miniature golf and swimming were Jaime’s favorite pastimes at the park. I skipped on the swimming but joined him in the other endeavors. At one end or bend of the river was a shallow area with stepping stones that led to a small island, a popular destination for the curious as well as sun worshippers. We enjoyed walking over the stones to the little island, exploring it often.

On this last trip to the park, we crossed as usual to the small island. I noticed that the stones seemed to be more slippery than usual. However, no one else, including Jaime, seemed to notice. Once on the other side, after walking across very carefully, we began exploring the island, finding it crowded with other tourists. Jaime wanted to go back and swim in the area in front of our car. Walking quickly ahead of me over the stones, he reached the other side and proceeded toward the car. Other people came and went across the stones, too.

As I stepped on the first stone, I found it to be exceptionally slippery. Losing my footing, I slipped and fell into the water. I was fully dressed in jeans, shirt, and canvas shoes. Terribly embarrassed I got up with as much dignity as possible. However, at a glance, I noticed that no one seemed to pay the least bit of attention to me, which let me hope that no one had seen me fall.

Taking another step, I slipped and fell again. As I picked myself up, I decided it might be easier to just wade across in the shallow water. But the stepping stones created a little waterfall and as I stepped into the rushing water, I lost my balance and fell yet again! Now I was beginning to panic. There didn’t seem to be any way I could take a step without falling. I momentarily thought about crawling across but that would be too undignified and ridiculous. If I had had my swimsuit on, I could have waded or even crawled into deeper water and swam across. But fully dressed I didn’t want to do that.

Finally, standing precipitously on the third stone, I decided that I was just going to have to walk across. Everyone else was doing it without any problems and some were even running across. So with great determination, I cautiously stepped toward the fourth stone, slipping and falling again. As I got up, I decided that maybe my shoes were to blame. Kicking them off, I picked them up and started to proceed barefoot. I took one step, slipped and fell. I was now in the middle of the stepping stones and there was no turning back.

With people rushing past me in both directions and others sitting along the bank, everyone seemed too busy to see me, so I continued on my way. With each step I slipped, fell into the water, and got up. And so it went interminably—step, slip, fall, splash—until finally I made it to the bank and clambered up it, soaking wet. No one gave the appearance of having seen me or of noticing anything different about me. Grateful for that much, I walked back to the car with as much grace and dignity as I could muster, got some dry clothes and went to a restroom to change.

Jaime had been waiting impatiently for me and was ready to swim. I watched him swim and go on the paddle boat but I was not about to partake of any water sports. We spent the night in the back of the Vega with the hatchback up—my concession to “camping out”. I was more than ready to go to a Holiday Inn!

The next morning as we walked along the bank in front of rows of RVs and campers and people milling about, I began to forget my slip-n-splash nightmare. Suddenly, behind me I heard a woman whisper, “Look! It’s that crazy woman!”

And that is why that was our last trip to Garner State Park!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dorothy L. Sayers: The Golden Age of Mystery

Dorothy L. Sayers was, according to Wikipedia, "a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between World War I and World War II that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante's Divina Commedia to be her best work. She is also known for her plays and essays."

This little essay, however, deals only with her mystery sleuth and some personal bits about her life. I haven't read a Sayers novel since 1998 but I have read most of her Lord Peter Wimsey dectective novels. I fell in love with Lord Peter in the British mystery series on Masterpiece Theater. After seeing the first episode, I started reading the books. Of the novels I have read, my favorites are The Five Red Herrings and Have His Carcase.

From my point of view, Lord Peter was aristocratic, rich and charming. And Wikipedia notes that he was also "well-educated and brave, as well as an accomplished musician, an exceptional athlete, and a notable lover." My goodness! Who wouldn't like the guy?? But Wikipedia also says that he had "serious flaws: the habit of over-engaging in what other characters regard as silly prattling, a nervous disorder (shell-shock) and a fear of responsibility. The latter two both originate from his service in World War I. The fear of responsibility turns out to be a serious obstacle to his maturation into full adulthood (a fact not lost on the character himself)."

Lord Peter had a love interest in Harriet Vane who was featured in four novels. Some have criticized the character for being a stand-in for the author. I can't see the harm in that. The author herself must have been in love with her own creation of Lord Peter.

After having read the autobiography of Agatha Christie recently, I have become intrigued by the personal lives of these ladies who wrote such clever mysteries. Dorothy Sayers led a most unconventional life although today her life would not seem that way. She had affairs with men she fell in love with and even had a son out of wedlock. She placed him with relatives and tried to keep her relationship with him a secret. He called her Aunt Dorothy but knew, at least as he grew older, that she was his mother. She did eventually marry and had a successful marriage.

Although I have read most of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, there are several books of short stories featuring him that I have not read and I look forward to reading those as well as the mysteries that don't include Lord Peter.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hooked from the Start? Part Two: Daphne du Maurier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." This is the first line of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, one of the most memorable of opening lines. I don't remember how old I was when I first read Rebecca--perhaps I read it in college or during my first year of teaching.

Rebecca is the most famous of du Maurier's books but the novel that stands out the most in my mind is The House on the Strand. According to Wikipedia it was considered as science fiction but to me, it was my first foray into time travel. The book mesmerized me.

And the first line: "The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land." No, the first line was not the reason I started reading the book. I read it because I loved du Maurier's books. But the time travel element hooked me and has been the greatest influence on a series of time travel novels of my own, which I'm writing now. I read the novel in the early 1970s and the aspect of time travel lived on in my sub-conscious. In subsequent time travel novels by other writers, the protagonist interacts with the people of the culture he/she is visiting. Not so in The House on the Strand. The male protagonist took a drug that transported him back in time to early 14th century England and he was an observer only except that as he followed one of the inhabitants of that time period, he traversed over 20th century terrain, not noticing where he was in reality. My time traveling protagonist will be an observer also but she won't be drugged. Her ability to go back to the past will come from something inherent inside her and from ancient relics that she touches.

Of all the novels I've read, The House on the Strand is the one that has influenced my way of thinking about time travel and how I want to write my own time travel novels.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Embarrassing Moments: Tumblin' Tumblewig

Here is another of my embarrassing moments from the files of Hopalong Ganny:

One March day I decided to walk the four or five blocks to the shopping center where I worked in Midwest City, Oklahoma. For some inexplicable reason I decided to wear a black wig that I hadn’t worn in a long time. Maybe I wanted to see if my co-workers would notice that I was wearing a wig.

It was a cloudy, windy day as I set out on my little trek. As I approached the first corner, I vaguely noticed a car pull up at a stop sign and wait for me to cross the street in front of it. The moment I stepped off the curb, a gust of wind blew my wig off and it went rolling down the street past the waiting car like a black “tumblin’ tumbleweed.” Embarrassed, and that’s putting it mildly, I ran after it.

Just as I got close to it, another gust of wind blew it out of reach. And so it went, with me running after my wig and the wind blowing it away each time that I made a grab for it. I became extremely frustrated and worried that I might not be able to retrieve it. But I was determined—I had to get that wig! Finally I made a desperation grab, and yes, managed to hold onto it. I tried to put it back on but immediately realized that the wind wasn’t going to let that happen.

I knew then that I would have to return home, wig in hand. I had never, not once, had a wig come loose or fall off until now. As I turned back I could imagine what a terrible sight I must seem with my own hair pulled back, tightly pinned to my scalp, with the wig tucked securely under my arm.

As I was going back up the street toward the corner where the “incident” had occurred, I noticed that the car that had stopped to let me pass was still parked at the stop sign. The passengers had all turned around, apparently to watch my progress, and were now convulsed in laughter!

I ducked my head down and ran home as fast as I could.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Margery Allingham: The Golden Age of Mystery

I am a list person. I list the books I read in the order in which I read them and write reviews of each book. I have been doing this for many, many years. I also make lists of my favorite books and my favorite authors. And those I don't put in any kind of order, especially when it comes to the Ladies of The Golden Age of Mystery.

Although their books adhere to a certain formula, their heroes or male protagonists are as different from each other as humanly possible. For example, Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie), Roderick Alleyn (Ngaio Marsh) and Albert Campion (Margery Allingham) are three sleuths who not only solve crimes differently but are complete opposites in personality and appearance. Hercule is the little persnickety (in my opinion) egg-shaped genius. Roderick is tall, dark and handsome. And Albert is a quiet, mild-mannered man. I love all three who solve crimes in their own individual style.

This week I am concentrating on Margery Allingham and my favorite of her novels: The Gyrth Chalice Mystery, featuring, of course, Albert Campion. In fact when I read it in 2006, I also included it as number one in my list of best books read that year.

My review of the book was short and I included a quote that I found somewhere, probably on the back cover blurb:

An Albert Campion mystery, published 1931. "A mystery at its British best. The Tower Room holds a priceless relic, a a chilling secret...and Campion face to face with Death!" A rousing tale, implausible but great fun.

I gave the book an A+ rating.

Wikipedia describes Campion this way: "Campion is thin, blond, wears glasses, and is often described as affable, inoffensive and bland, with a deceptively blank and unintelligent expression. He is, nonetheless, a man of authority and action, and considers himself to be a helpful and comforting "Uncle Albert" to friends and those in need." The actor Peter Davison portrayed him in the 1989/90 British TV series. I thought he personified the above description perfectly.

Supposedly, Allingham first created him as a parody to Dorothy Sayers' crime solver, Lord Peter Wimsey. Since I didn't know that while I was reading both authors' books, I never made the connection and considered the two crime solvers to be completely different.

I always enjoy an Allingham novel or short story featuring Campion and have tried to read them in the order in which they were written. After Allingham died, her husband finished her last manuscript.

I have read fifteen of her twenty novels featuring Campion and look forward to the last five. She also wrote many short stories featuring him also.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summertime and the Eatin’ is Easy

A Tribute to Hotdogs and Hamburgers

Ah, it’s that time of the year when many people go on vacation—a time to explore new horizons, relax and not worry about preparing family meals. One of the easiest ways to enjoy food while traveling is sampling the street food of the region one is visiting, such as Spanish empanadas, Portuguese salgados, Puerto Rican bacalaítos, Mexican tacos, to name only a few. And if one is visiting the U.S.A., especially large cities such as New York and Chicago, there is the dependable hotdog.

A hotdog? How can a hotdog compare to the antojitos of other countries? As I pondered this question I reflected back on the hotdogs of my childhood. At home I usually spread mustard on my bun, added the boiled hotdog, and topped it off with relish, either sweet pickle relish or the mustardy hotdog relish, sometimes even sauerkraut or ketchup. At picnics we also had the choice of topping grilled hotdogs with chili, cheese and chopped onions. Yes, I concluded—hotdogs when prepared properly with lots of toppings can be quite tasty even, perhaps, as much as the street food of other countries.

When my son was small we spent our Sundays at the beach and when it was time to eat, we bought hotdogs from street vendors who walked along pushing hotdog carts. My son, who was never into eating as a child, always wanted his hotdog plain. How boring, I thought, but at least he was eating something. I, on the other hand, wanted my hotdogs with everything! And everything in this case consisted of the bun, mustard, the hotdog of course, chopped fresh onions, relish, grilled onions and a barbecue-like sauce. These were the best hotdogs that I have ever eaten!

Perhaps some might say that hamburgers are the definitive American street food but hamburgers aren’t usually purchased from street vendor carts--as far as I know. However, they are what most people think of as the most popular of American fast food. I am one of those people who must have pickles, onions, and mustard on my burgers. Or at least until I attended college one summer in Monterrey, México. There, when I ordered an hamburguesa at a downtown eatery, the pickles were replaced by pickled jalapeño peppers! And suddenly my taste buds came alive and began to crave those hamburguesas. But, of course, back in the U.S.A. I had to return to the traditional burger. But by some quirk of fate, many years later, I have discovered restaurants—at least in the Southwest—that offer jalapeño burgers! Many are served with grilled onions to create a burger taste treat that can’t be beaten.

So, wherever one travels this summer, whether in the U.S.A. or abroad, part of the fun is experimenting with the street or fast food of the region—not only is it fun but economical and easy on the family cook as well.

Oh, and those street vendor hotdogs that I loved so well? Those weren’t American hotdogs at all—we ate them at San Gerónimo Beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico!

(Originally published in Pensamientos on a bilingual webside, Está Aqui, the summer of 2001).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hooked from the Start? Part One: Mary Stewart

“Hook your readers from the first sentence.” I don’t know how many times I have heard or read that bit of advice. And I have tried to follow it with my own stories although I’m not sure I always succeed.

But I started to think about some of my favorite books by favorite authors. Did their first sentences hook me from the beginning and was that the reason I read the books? So, I went back and researched some of those first sentences to see if there was any influence on why I read those books.

I will start with Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael. I read this novel one weekend during my senior year in college. When a friend lent it to me, I thought it was going to be something tawdry and I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. The first line read: “Nothing ever happens to me.” Now for a seasoned reader in the romance suspense genre, this would have rung warning bells because the reader would know that of course something was going to happen to the heroine. But at the time I wasn’t a seasoned reader in this genre.

As I continued reading the book, I was blown away. I had never read anything so beautifully written with so much suspense. I began to read all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels, looking forward to the publication of each one.

But the first sentence was not the reason I started reading the book although it is considered one of the best of first lines. A boring weekend at college did that but “the magic of Mary Stewart” captivated me and I wanted to read her other novels.

This series will continue next month with Daphne DuMaurier.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

My Favorite Agatha Christie Novel

I don't know when I started reading Christie but I've been reading her most of my adult life. Out of her 80+ novels and short stories, I have read 65 of them and hope to read the rest. I fell in love with Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple from the beginning and continue to enjoy them on PBS's Masterpiece Theater. The actor David Suchet is the quintessential Poirot--he has nailed the character to perfection. So many actresses over the years have played Miss Marple that I don't have a favorite.

But my favorite Christie novel, They Came to Bagdad, does not feature either of those sleuths. It's a stand alone among all of her works. I read it in 1989 and it was the one novel of hers that I enjoyed the most. I have even mentioned it in one of my novels, Who'll Kill Agnes? In fact, that novel, a satire on gracious Southern living has quite a bit of Christie influence and some people have told me that the novel reminded them of Hyacinth Bucket (Boo-kay)in the Britcom, Keeping Up Appearances. However, I wrote the novel long before I ever saw that show.

But I digress.

According to Wikipedia, the book "was inspired by Christie's own trips to Baghdad with her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan and is also one of few Christie novels belonging to the action and spy drama genres, rather than to mysteries and whodunnits."

The novel centers around a young tourist named Victoria Jones who discovers a dying secret agent in her hotel room who says three mysterious words to her before he dies. Without giving away more of the plot, suffice it to say that Christie's own marriage to an archaeologist may have been the inspiration for one of the characters in Victoria's life.

I have always been a fan of international intrigue and this one entertained me more than most.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How Not to Jump Start the Morning

If there is anything I must have to get me started writing in the morning, it’s a cup of strong black coffee. Years ago, when I first moved into an apartment after moving out of my house, I had not yet purchased a coffee maker and was drinking—pardon the expression—instant coffee. But instant is better than none at all I told myself each morning.

One morning I was groggier than usual and stumbled around my tiny kitchen going through my daily ritual of coffee making. The ritual was simple—fill the mug with tap water and add several teaspoons of instant coffee granules then pop the mug into the microwave. My big, dark brown mug was a Christmas gift from a friend who had made it for me in a college ceramics class. For some reason I became quite attached to that mug and had to have my coffee in that particular one.

That morning when the microwave dinged I took out the cup and began to sip the coffee slowly. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted. That was the best cup of instant coffee I had ever had. I continued to sip slowly, relishing the hot liquid as it went down. Then for some reason I glanced down into the dark mug and noticed that the liquid didn’t look as dark as it usually did.

Suddenly, it hit me—I had forgotten to add the coffee granules. I had been enjoying a mug of hot water!

But I wonder--what if I had not noticed I was drinking hot water? Would I still feel that jolt of energy that coffee gives me and start writing with renewed energy? I'll never know because I immediately added coffee granules to the water.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview with Marilyn Levinson, Mystery and YA Author

This week I am very happy to have Marilyn Levinson drop by for an interview. Please tell us about yourself, Marilyn.

For years, I wrote novels for children. My first book, AND DON’T BRING JEREMY (Holt), came out in the late 80s. It was a nominee for six state awards. NO BOYS ALLOWED came out in 1993, and is still in print. RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK (Marshall Cavendish) was selected by the International Reading Association and the Children’s Book Council for “Children’s Choices for 2002.”

More recently, I’ve been writing mysteries. I was delighted when two epublishers offered me contracts. A MURDERER AMONG US is coming out in June, 2011, with Wings ePress in both ebook and paperback. GIVING UP THE GHOST (title to be changed) will come out in the spring of 2012 with Uncial Press.

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

I love to read mysteries, of course, but I enjoy well-written mainstream novels. In fact, I’ve started writing about some of my favorites under Great Reads on my website

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

So many favorites. From the past I love Edith Wharton, the mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mystery: Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham. Of the most recent authors, there are far too many to name.

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

I read mysteries as a child: Trixie Belden, Judy Bolton, Nancy Drew. I’m sure they influenced me and encouraged me to write mysteries.

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

The names simply come to me. I like my main characters to have interesting names. I was a Spanish teacher, which might be one reason that many of my female protagonists’ names end in an “a.” Lydia is my sleuth in A MURDERER AMONG US. Although, the sleuth in my work in progress is Lexie--the name of our neighbors’ dog and of a character on a favorite TV show.

5) Are you a plotter or a “pantser”?

I roughly plot out my novels, but leave plenty of room for surprises. Every time I sit down to write, my characters surprise me.

6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

I find I write best late in the late afternoon, about the time I’m supposed to be preparing dinner.

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?

Titles usually come to me in the early stages of a book, though twice I’ve been asked to change a title, and was able to come up with something else. I like having a title when I start a novel because a good title reflects the essence of the story.

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

My characters are creatures of my imagination. I think in the first novels I wrote for children, the characters were often composites of people, real and imagined.

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

A writer’s imagination is fueled by what he/she experiences, reads, and hears. I never use a real experience per se, whether it be something that happened to me, to someone I know, or was something I read about in the newspaper.

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

When I was in elementary school, I started writing stories. I returned to writing when my sons were very young. I started writing short stories, but discovered I’m essentially a novelist.

11) Where can readers find your books?

NO BOYS ALLOWED! is available through Scholastic and Amazon
A MURDERER AMONG US can be purchased through Wings ePress, and will soon be available in Amazon paperback, Amazon Kindle and Fictionwise.

Thank you, Pat, for letting me visit.

And thank you for dropping by.

Plotter or Pantser?

Not long ago, I read a comment by John Grisham in that he writes an outline for his novels and by following it, the novel is easy to write. So, I decided to follow his advice and wrote a detailed outline for my latest work in progress (WIP), The Groundhog Lounge. And, it was the easiest novel that I have written so far. I finished the rough draft in two months. Of course, I still have a lot of editing, rewrites and polishing to do but the story itself is finished. I have done this before with my novel The Pool Lizards, which took me about two years to finish. I hope this time I can complete the current WIP in much less time.

However, for Death by Salsa, I wrote a brief summary of what I wanted my two male protagonists to achieve. But as soon as I started writing it, they took off on a journey that was as much a surprise to me as it was to them. Every time they arrived at a small town or bump in the road, the people they met were not only strangers to my protagonists but to me also. I knew what their destination was but had no idea how they were going to get there. This novel was one of the most enjoyable that I have written.

For romance, although one knows the outcome, the journey is the adventure or the mystery. With my romances, I usually start with a setting such as the Island of Palmaltas for A Caribbean Summer or Texas and Connecticut for Amorous Ambush and Colorado for A Colorado Destiny. For one of my WIPs, I have in mind an A-frame house set in the woods of Vermont and for another a cabin on a lake inspired by my walks around Lake Texoma. Two of my completed manuscripts (not yet submitted) resulted from dreams I had. But although I have a setting in mind for my romances, I also have a theme or plot in mind, which, as I go along, I tend to change. Many things happen along the way that I had not anticipated. This happened, especially, in A Colorado Destiny where towards the end, the hero behaved in a quite unexpected manner, to say the least. And, it’s my favorite part of the book. The first complete manuscript I ever wrote was the result of a dream but the novel itself has nothing to do with dreams. Another novel came from my own repeating dreams and I used those dreams throughout the novel. For that one, I wrote the ending first. I knew exactly how I wanted it to end. One might say authors and readers know exactly how a romance is going to end but this one, I hope, will be a pleasant surprise.

So, am I a plotter or a pantser? I’m both, of course. I plotted (outlined) The Pool Lizards and The Groundhog Lounge. For my romances and at least one mystery, I wrote “by the seat of my pants”, never knowing exactly how the protagonists would arrive at their destination. And many times I combine the two techniques.

Whichever way I go, I have fun writing and my wish is that my books will be entertaining for my readers.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Ladies of the Golden Age of Mystery

My love of mystery stories began in childhood: the Nancy Drew stories, The Bobbsey Twins and The Hardy Boys drew me in and kept me in the world of mystery and suspense. As I grew older, I was drawn to the ladies of The Golden Age of Mystery, most of whom were from the British Isles: Margery Allingham (1904-1966), Agatha Christie (1890-1976), Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957, Josephine Tey (1896-1952). But I would also include Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982) who was from New Zealand and American Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958).

These days not only do I still read these ladies (I may never finish all 80+ novels by Agatha Christie) but I have gone from these original cozies to hard-boiled to suspense to slash and gore to international intrigue and to anything that has a puzzling mystery to it. As I researched this piece, I wondered where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes fit into the mystery genre. I discovered that the fictional detective's stories are generally considered a major innovation in the field of crime fiction. I still read the fictional Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen and Perry Mason plus the blockbusters of today: Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, John Sandford, David Baldacci, Stuart Woods, Michael Connelly and the late Robert Ludlum to name just a few.

But for the time being, I will remain with those illustrious ladies of The Golden Age although many male writers excelled in the genre. According to Wikipedia, "The Golden Age proper is in practice usually taken to refer to a type of fiction which was predominant in the 1920s and 1930s but had been written since at least 1911 and is still being written — though in much smaller numbers — today." According to Ronald Knox, a detective story "must have as its main interest the unravelling of a mystery; a mystery whose elements are clearly presented to the reader at an early stage in the proceedings, and whose nature is such as to arouse curiosity, a curiosity which is gratified at the end."

In the coming months I will review a favorite novel by each of the "Golden Ladies" mentioned above.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Embarrassing Moments: Paint Spill

Not only have I had adventures and misadventures in other countries but I have had many here in this one as in the following anecdote. From time to time I will share some, which are from a booklet I wrote quite a few years ago titled The Adventures of Hopalong Ganny.

Celebrate Secretary’s Day? There was one year in particular when my boss, the manager of the paint department of a large retail store in Midwest City, Oklahoma did not feel particularly inclined to celebrate. I wasn’t his secretary, exactly—he didn’t have one—but I was the assistant manager of the department and because I was a woman, certain “secretarial” duties fell to me, i.e., dusting and polishing. (Yes, we had janitors but they never touched the shelves.) However, I was determined to prove that a woman could do everything a man could do—mix paint, stock shelves, carry paint cans to customers’ cars, and certainly wait on customers. After a year of learning the paint business, I felt that I could handle any problem that might arise.

One day my boss mixed a can of paint for a lady who then proceeded to walk through the store with it. She had assured him that she could handle one can while she continued to shop in other departments. Several minutes after the lady had departed the paint department, my boss got a call from the TV department. The lady had dropped her can of paint and spilled it. My boss grabbed two pieces of cardboard that had always been by the register but I had never known what they were for.

“Follow me,” he said.

We both rushed to the TV department where he quickly, efficiently, and expertly scooped up the paint and put it back into the can. I was amazed that he had not only gotten almost every bit of the paint back into the can but that there was practically no evidence that anything had happened! He handed the paint can back to the lady and explained that since she was the one who had dropped it she would have to keep it. If he had dropped it then he would have had to mix another can. The lady accepted this quite nicely and left.

“Now you know what to do if you or a customer should drop and spill a can of paint,” he said to me.

Since in my one year on the job this was the only time that had happened, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about. Besides after observing my boss, I knew how easy it would be to scoop up the paint.

A few days later while he was on his lunch break, I mixed a can of dark olive-green paint for a customer, rang up the sale, and, as I turned to hand the can to the gentleman, either one or both of us misjudged the timing and I let go of the handle before he had grasped it.

Plop-plop-plop—I shall never forget that sound as the paint and the can fell to the floor. The paint spilled everywhere—especially on other customers who had lined up to pay for their merchandise. And I? I was standing in the middle of a spreading puddle of green paint.

Another salesperson hustled away the gentleman who had purchased the paint and mixed him another can. The poor customers who had been splashed were advised to go immediately to the restrooms to wash off the latex paint. I found myself abandoned in my sea of green paint.

I looked down at my clothes—a dark green plaid jumper, long sleeve white blouse, nylons, and dressy sandals—and thought, I can handle this and I bet I won’t even get paint on me. I grabbed my boss’s two pieces of cardboard and began scooping paint into the can. Miraculously, I did get most of it back and very little on my jumper and white blouse. But my shoes and nylons were not so lucky! My feet and legs were covered in green paint and it felt like the paint had a life of its own as it oozed up my legs toward my thighs under my jumper. I couldn’t move without making a mess.

By now my fellow salespeople had gathered around—at a distance—and were laughing themselves silly. But one salesman across the aisle in hardware stared at me intently, not laughing. Later he told me that he was wondering how to get me out of my mess. He said that he had thought about picking me up and carrying me to the restroom but then he would get paint on himself. Then, he said, he had the brilliant idea of wheeling me out on a dolly.

Thus to my rescue he came. “Here,” he said, “hop on.”

I did so to the applause of salespeople and customers as he wheeled me away. I looked back at the register and saw that I had done a pretty good job of scooping up the paint. What had not gone into the can had gone up my legs!

He wheeled me to the ladies’ restroom and before getting off the dolly I removed my shoes. I walked in, then removed my nylons and washed both them and my sandals. As I was leaving I saw that the paint must have soaked through my sandals to the bottoms of my feet because I had left little green footprints across the floor of the ladies’ lounge.

Secretary’s Day came soon after and for some reason my boss managed to be out of the store all day. No special lunch with him that year!

And those little green footprints in the ladies’ lounge? They were still there when I left a year later!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cats & Cat Owners

This week’s guest blogger is Angela Verdenius, the Australian author of sci-fi/futuristic romances, a short horror story, and is currently working on a contemporary romance. Her ambition is to write the million dollar bestseller and retire to the country to read, write and be ruled forever by her cats!

Cats & Cat Owners
Angela Verdenius

I’m a firm believer that most dedicated cat owners are a little nutty. We have to be to cope with our furry babies.

Let me clue you in to my life (and I assure you, I’m a perfect example of a nutty cat owner).

Firstly, over the years of cat ownership (I still operate under the illusion that I own them and not the other way around, though reality would point the other way), we have a track record with our vet. Our assorted cats have had: diabetes, renal failure, asthma, fractured toes (ironing board, don’t ask, but while it was different to have a cat clomping around with a paw in plaster, it was a tad un-nerving when she used it to bash the male cat around the head), snapped ligaments (not a clue, but father and daughter both got it at different stages of their lives), mental issues (currently on-going, don’t ask), suspected congestive cardiac failure, pancreatitis, form of Bells Palsy (DT’s right eye will never shut and the whiskers are smoothed back forever against her cheek), cancer, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, pyometra, allergies, and then the usual assortment of kitty illnesses that keeps the vet’s business thriving and my bank balance crashing.

If I front up to the vet and he/she says ‘It could be **** but it’s unusual in cats’, then you can bet your bottom dollar that’s exactly what they have got. Now the vet usually tacks on, ‘Of course, he/she is one of your cats’. Getting the idea now?

Middle of the night visits to the vet, night time vigils of birthing and illnesses, we’ve done it all.

Shopping is always where you find cat nutters – I mean owners. You can see us in the pet food aisle, staring at all the enticing tins of cat food, and wondering if the kitties are going to eat what you buy them this week, or turn their finicky noses up at it. One of my boys used to suddenly decide he LOVED a certain brand of food, and couldn’t possibly live without it, as he informed me with soulful looks and meows. So Mum would faithfully buy him that same thing the next shopping day, only to have him look at it in disdain and turn his nose up, his expression quite plainly stating that he didn’t know how we could possibly think he could eat this garbage, and really, didn’t we know better by now? Sorry, your Highness, obviously not. So back to the shop to see what else we could get for him.

And cooking food! Good grief, don’t get me started on cooking food. I love crumbed chops. If Mum cooks one each for us, then every cat in the house will be hovering around my chair, pleading for a bit, and I end up with none while they all have a taste. BUT if we cook one extra chop to share with them, not one cat comes near the table. Too full, they say, couldn’t possibly eat another bite. So I eat both chops (‘cause I’m weak) that I really shouldn’t have done.

Fish and chips, anyone? Who else in this town buys 6 pieces of fish to feed two adults? We do, because the other four pieces are to share amongst the furries. I thought we were the only nuts in that department, but no, sure as God made green apples, I have found like-minded nuts – er, cat owners – who do the same. And before you sneer, I have met dog owners who buy themselves a burger, and one for the dog, too!

Sleeping on the beds or sofa. Yes, cats will love to stretch out on the sofa and you can find a weeny spot to squeeze into if you’re lucky. Shift them to make room and they’ll make you feel like you threw them to the wolves. ‘Cause shifting them 3 inches is cruel. Lucky they don’t know how to dial the RSPCA or we’d be in trouble.
As for the beds? Give up any notation of thinking it’s yours. Many is the time I’ve woken up, cramped and in awkward positions, and had to move carefully around the furry piles so I didn’t disturb them.

Ah me, I could go on forever. So why, you may ask, do I put up with the cats? Fellow cat lovers will know what I mean when I reply – how can I not? They are my furry babies. They are there to greet me when I get home (okay, most of the time I have to look for them, but they open those big eyes, stretch and purr – rewarding!). They don’t judge me…well, a little bit, but they assure me it’s for my own good. But seriously…they are just them. Cats. Mysterious, infuriating, lovable, laughable, and very much their own person. You gotta love a cat that can purr and make you feel a million dollars in seconds!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Motherly/Grandmotherly Cooking Memories

Because this is the week before Mother’s Day, I thought I would write about memories from my grandmothers and my mother. And also because food seems to play such a big part in many of my writings, it’s only fitting that I pay homage to those who inspired me.

Just as my grandfathers were different, one, a country farmer, and the other, a city man, my grandmothers were quite different also. I knew my grandmother Amy, who died when I was fourteen, but I never knew my grandmother Daisy, who died while my mother was in college. My great-grandmother Sarah died when I was fifteen.

My grandmothers didn’t use recipes very much. They weren’t expected to prepare elaborate meals. They just fixed whatever they raised or grew and had pretty much the same thing day after day. That was especially true of my grandmother Amy and her mother-in-law, my great-grandmother Sarah. In fact, Sarah churned butter and made a pot of beans everyday. At the end of the day, she threw anything out that had not been eaten and the next day would start all over again.

My country grandmother Amy cooked breakfast for my grandfather, my father and his brothers early in the morning when they came in from their chores. After they went out to work in the fields, she would begin preparations for the noon meal. After that meal was over, she would leave the leftovers on the table and cover it with a tablecloth and it would be ready for the evening meal. There was no electricity or refrigeration in those days but as far as I know, no one got sick from spoiled food. And summers in Oklahoma could get very hot.

After my parents were married and lived on a farm near my grandparents, my mother learned to make chicken and dumplings from watching Amy who did not have a recipe for them. She used a pinch of this and a hand full of that. I don’t remember my grandmother’s dumplings but I do remember my mother’s, which were very rich and delicious. (At one time I made them from scratch also but these days, I’m sorry to say that I use Bisquick and a fat-free chicken broth.) After we moved to town, the meals my mother fixed when I was growing up seem elaborate now because everything was made from scratch. My father was a meat and potatoes man and my mother became quite creative with all the ways she fixed potatoes. And she insisted that we have at least one green vegetable with the noon and evening meals. And we always had a homemade dessert!

My city grandmother Daisy cooked mainly from canned goods from the department store that my grandfather and his brothers owned. Although for most of her youth, my mother’s family had a real electric refrigerator, they did at one time have an icebox when she was a child. It had a well next to the partition that held the ice. Water was poured into the well and because of its proximity to the ice it stayed very cold. The well had a faucet so the family could have cold water. Under the ice was a drip pan that had to be emptied as the ice melted.

When my mother was young she and her siblings fixed their own breakfast, which usually consisted of cocoa and toast. Then they would fight over who should wash the dishes. My mother’s usual excuse for not washing them was that she said she had to go to the bathroom.

Daisy brewed coffee in a large kettle by wrapping coffee grounds in a bag and dropping it into the kettle. When my mother came home from school on the days that Daisy gave a party the aroma of coffee brewing was divine.

I asked my mother what kind of parties Daisy gave and she said, “Old lady parties.” They called themselves the Hyacinth group and as far as Mother knew they just ate, drank coffee, and talked. Since Daisy died in her early 50s, I said that she was never really an old lady. Mother said, “But she always looked like an old lady.”

A few years ago, while Mother and I were eating an English-style beef stew with drop dumplings that I had made, Mother said, “These are the kind of dumplings that my mother added to vegetable soup.”

“Was the soup homemade?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “but the dumplings were. Your dumplings look like hers but I can’t remember what they tasted like.”

But the most delicious recipe handed down from Daisy was her Strawberry Shortcake. And that was a recipe that she actually wrote down. My mother refined it and the memories of hot shortcake from the oven, covered with defrosted frozen, sweetened strawberries and strawberry juice seeping into the shortcake and topped with real whipped cream conjure up a time when homemade desserts were the norm, at least when I was growing up. It has been years since I made it and I wonder if I did so today, would I use Bisquick and Cool Whip?

In closing, the following is a humorous tidbit about my mother:

During prohibition my grandfather bought his liquor at the police station—liquor that the police had confiscated. They always kept a brand of whiskey called Four Roses in the refrigerator. When no one was looking, my mother, who would have been a pre-teen or young teenager, would sneak a sip, feeling very brazen. Never mind that it tasted awful!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


I love to read and consider myself a chain reader with a to-be-read pile and a to-be-read list. With more than eighty favorite authors and counting, I try to read a book by each one every year, although many times I fall short. One of my problems, though, is that I feel compelled to read everything that my favorites write. Of course, I realize that the book police are not going to invade my private library and force me to read something I don’t want to read. Nonetheless when I come across a novel by a favorite author that steps out of the norm of that author’s style, and although I balk at reading it, I usually read it anyway. Totally ridiculous, of course—the author would never know whether I had read the book in question or not—nor would anyone else for that matter. This reminds me of a friend from Illinois who once told me that Norah Lofts was her favorite author and that she felt guilty if she read a book by any other author. That was even more ridiculous than my reading everything my favorites write. Norah Lofts lived and died in England and never knew of my friend’s existence.

After years of reading for pleasure and experimenting with various kinds of fiction, I realized that I preferred mysteries of all kinds—from cozies to international intrigue to gory murders—more than any other kind of literature. However, it has been difficult to ignore certain novels written by favorite authors who sometimes changed their genre. The following are examples by three of my favorite but very different authors.

The first is a novel by the English mystery writer, P.D. James. I had read all of her Dalgleish mysteries and had postponed reading her novel The Children of Men because it wasn’t a mystery. In fact I knew it was a novel set in the future, a complete departure from the enigmatic Inspector Dalgleish. I dreaded reading it because when I pick up a P.D. James novel, I want to read a good mystery and I knew that I wasn’t going to get one from this novel. But, because I wanted to say that I had read all of her novels, I reluctantly picked it up and began to read.

With disdain I realized that it was worse than I had anticipated. It painted a picture of a dreary world without hope—the demise of human beings. I plodded on, although halfway through the book I seriously thought about stopping. All at once the plot turned in a different direction and the protagonist and his cohorts became involved in a race against time, which had me turning the pages, reading as rapidly as I could. I do love caper novels (and movies) that involve chases and running from the law and/or bad guys. As I read I tried to imagine how this bleak novel could end because I knew that the second half had to be more upbeat than the first. The author gave a rather obvious clue—Part One was titled Omega and Part Two Alpha. Despite the depressing story line, P.D. came through for me. She pulled a surprise ending that almost justified having read the novel. I say, almost, because while reading the first half of the book I seriously considered putting it on my list of the worst books I’ve ever read. The ending salvaged the book. Also, it was made into a movie and nominated for an Academy Award.

The next book I chose to read was Caper by Lawrence Sanders. I have ambivalent feelings about Mr. Sanders. I have read two of his novels that I hated and many that I enjoyed very much. I never know what to expect from him. But the title intrigued me and I began to read. The plot was very clever but I became impatient during the first half because he took his time setting up his premise, a necessary task nonetheless. Then wham!—the novel took off and I have never read a book as fast as I did that one. Although it didn’t end the way I would have written it, nonetheless I was left smiling at the end. I have now included Caper on my list of favorite novels.

A novel that I decided that I was not going to read was John Grisham’s A Painted House because I knew for one thing that it was not one of his “lawyer” novels and I assumed, erroneously as it turned out, that it was going to be some kind of sentimental twaddle. The reason that I finally decided to read it was that I learned that the book had been made into a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation and I wanted to read it before I saw it on television. So, with misgivings, I began to read. Sentimental twaddle? Hardly. Grisham presented a world full of hardship, yes, but one also with action and mystery, plus both evil and lovable characters. The reading was fast-paced and it was hard to put it down and most surprising of all, I found the story to be, well, just plain fun.

This is not intended to be a book review or recommendation for any of the three novels mentioned here. Everyone has his/her own tastes in reading enjoyment and far be it from me to suggest that two of the books should be read and the other not. If only I could convince my inner being that I don’t have to read everything my favorite authors write. Or maybe I should leave that little voice alone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Raven Tree - A Texomaland Memory

There was nothing so invigorating as my daily walks over shady lanes winding around the homes that overlooked Lake Texoma where my mother lived. Occasionally I encountered other walkers. One in particular often greeted me with, “Another day in Paradise.” And indeed it was Paradise for more than one reason. The only “crime” in this tranquil setting was the loud music coming from a radio belonging to construction workers who were building another lakefront house. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this peaceful locale, and especially of my daily walk, was encountering the wildlife that abounded here—the usual birds and squirrels plus deer, armadillos, rabbits, and, occasionally, roadrunners. And no, the roadrunners didn’t say “beep-beep” but they did uncannily resemble Wile E. Coyote’s clever nemesis.

My daily walks followed narrow roadways that twisted and turned with glimpses and views of the lake beyond. I usually followed the main road that formed a figure-eight with several cul-de-sacs branching away. Along the last cul-de-sac that I traversed before returning home, I always passed a dying tree with twisted, gnarled branches. It seemed to be the favorite morning gathering place for a group of large, noisy ravens that would squawk loudly as I passed underneath—almost reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. But I didn’t fear them and usually greeted them with a return squawk of my own. I loved that tree—it was different from all the others that were covered with leaves. This particular cul-de-sac was my favorite part of my walk. I looked forward to greeting those ravens and watching rabbits scurrying about.

Then a tremendous storm blew through one night and the next day I arose, discovering the power was out, and that fourteen utility poles along the road to town had been snapped in two. The next day after the poles had been quickly replaced, I resumed my morning walk. There was devastation everywhere—just like the utility poles, huge trees had come tumbling down, littering the roadways. I had to step carefully. When I reached the last cul-de-sac, I saw that several of the branches from the raven tree had fallen across the road but otherwise the tree was still intact. All was still well with the world.

Clean up began all along the roadway and life resumed as usual in this tiny bit of Paradise that some called home. I greeted the wildlife as I came across it, including my noisy ravens. Then one morning as I turned down that last cul-de-sac, I stopped short. Someone had chopped down the raven tree, leaving a very neatly sawed stump. The terrain and the atmosphere had changed—there was an empty space that would never be filled. My ravens were gone. Maybe they would find another tree nearby, maybe not.

But I missed them and their tree. “Sayeth the Raven, Nevermore.”
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Interview with Sci-Fi novelist Diane Compagno

This week I am interviewing sci-fi novelist Diane Compagno who has also written a nonfiction book about her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, Stolen Memories, under the pen name Marie Cloud.

Diane, it’s a pleasure to have you here.


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

I always loved to write, mostly poems and short stories but while I was working full time and a single mother of three, I had not time nor thoughts of doing any type of professional writing. It was after I worked for a large corporation for over 17 years that I began to think about writing again. I had often been in charge of writing and preparing newsletters for work as well as for our condo association. Once my mother, who lived with us began to have symptoms of Alzheimer's and I quit my job, I began to do a lot of freelance writing for women's magazines, articles on Alzheimer caregiving, as well as for seniors and family publications. I found I was beginning to enjoy writing so much that I started taking classes on writing and in particular I enjoyed the classes I took in novel writing. After my mother died in 1996, I was feeling very tremendous grief and began to immerse myself in even more classes and writing. As I began to address my feelings, sadness and regrets about my mother and her illness, I started to write down moments and thoughts that I had gone through during her long fight with Alzheimer's disease. I remember only being able to write about a chapter before I would be crying so hard I would have to leave the computer. Little by little these words seem to evolve into my first book, Stolen Memories. I think it came from a deep sense of healing on my part. I guess you could say it was the catharsis I needed to be able to move forward with my life in a meaningful way. I wanted to help other caregivers who may have gone through some of those same feelings, problems and issues as I had. Once the book came out, I began to work closely with a wonderful woman who later became a dear friend from the Alzheimer's Association. I began to volunteer as a facilitator for the Alzheimer's Caregiver meetings and did that for several years. This too helped me to gain perspective and move forward. We would go to Senior Fairs and she worked to promote my book to other caregivers.

2) Did you always want to write science fiction and do you know what prompted that interest?


Having worked in the computer operations area as well as technical areas of a large corporation, futuristic technology fascinated me. I loved Science fiction movies and watching Nova. Often as I would watch these things a story line would pop into my head. I had a feeling at some point, I would begin to write that genre but actually surprised myself when I did write my first science fiction novel, Deadly Rains.


3) When reading for pleasure do you read only science fiction or are there other genres that interest you also?


No, I love reading a wide variety of genres. My favorite types of books are mystery, conspiracy thrillers. I love political type thrillers such as the Camel Club series written by David Baldacci.
4) Who are your favorite authors, past and present?
I also enjoy Patricia Cornwell, Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler and many, many others. I also enjoy an occasional Romance novel by Tricia Lee as well.
5) Are there any authors who have inspired you to write and, if so, who are they?
I would have to say Dean Koontz gave me my inspiration. I think I have read all or at least most of his books. I love his use of words and the characters he develops. From there I would have to say every book I have read and enjoyed is yet another form of inspiration for me to write.
6) How do you choose your characters’ names?
Some are chosen from people I know but most come from a sense of who the character is and how a name will suit that character best. I have even gone though the phone book looking for possibilities a few times. Once I even came up with a name through two characters I liked from television or movies. One was the first name and the other the last name of a male character in my last book Mind Games.
7) 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 am definitely a pantser. I have a story line in mind. I do however interview on paper each of my characters before I create them. I find out what they like, what they don't like, what political affiliation they might be, if they are frugal, and many other things to help me develop them in my head. Then I start to write. I try not to do more than two chapters at a sitting. I seem to have better focus when I get up, move around and then go back to my work. That might just be that I am not so young anymore and walking around gets the kinks out both physically and mentally.
8) Do you have a set writing schedule or do you write whenever the muse strikes?
Now that I am retired, I do not. I used to schedule writing time but these days I write more as a hobby and only do it when I feel like doing it. I no longer push myself like I used to when I was younger.
9) 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?
My titles evolve. I usually start with a working title and rarely end up with that title by the time I finish the book. I seem to need to process the story to a certain point before I can fix in on a permanent title.
10) Do you base your characters on real people or are they completely from your imagination?
I would have to say a little of both. Sometimes they are purely fiction but more often they are developed from characteristics from several people I know or have known in the past. My favorite line is "Be careful what you say or you could end up in my next novel." It has happened. Perhaps they would not even recognize themselves because I may intermingle two different ideas and make one character from those ideas.
11) Have you used real life experiences in your novel or is everything from your imagination?
Stolen Memories is all based on my life but my other two books are totally taken from a combination of experiences that have happened to others I know, myself or an image of what I perceive could happen. On several occasions they have come from research I happen to be doing at the time. I will come across some really interesting subject and my mind seems to funnel through ideas and thoughts to add to the story line. I think that is why I love research so much.
12) Stolen Memories is a true story about how you dealt with your mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. This must have been an emotional story for you to write and it must have been difficult to put those feelings aside to tell such an important story.
As I mention previously in our interview, at times I could only write a page and have to remove myself from my writing. It was gut wrenching and I don't think I have ever cried as much as I did when I was writing this book. I know now what others go through when they write about such things and I have a new found respect for anyone who can actually complete a book written about such a difficult and personal subject. I will say it helped me to move forward with my life. I'm honestly not sure I would have been able to, had I not written and completed Stolen Memories.
13) Where can readers find your books?
My books are available at nearly all online book stores such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Alibris for used and out of print books and as well as many others.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Driving without a license!

When I wrote about my grandfathers in my previous blog, I didn't consider that there was another back story to "The Burglar" until my Aunt Jerry added a bit from my Uncle Mick, who was a young teenager at the time the story took place. When my grandfather left the Boy Scouts on a camp-out because he was sick, I didn't think to find out who took charge after he left but obviously someone had to be in charge of those boys--someone who could take them home and someone who could drive. But there was more to it than that, especially regarding driving. And that got me thinking. Just when did drivers' licenses come into being?
During my research on the subject I discovered that each state in the early 20th century issued them at different times. But apparently, the world's first driver's license was issued in 1888 to Karl Benz, the inventor of the modern automobile. And all along, I thought the inventor was Henry Ford! Sometimes research can bring more information than one might want. Other countries began to issue drivers' licenses before any of the American States did. On September 29, 1903, Prussia was the first locality to require a mandatory driving license and test. Other countries, especially Germany and France began to require them also.
Because there were many automobile-related deaths in North America, legislators were provoked into studying the French and German laws as models. On August 1, 1910, North America's first driver test law went into effect in New York but only applied to professional chauffeurs. In July of 1913, New Jersey became the first state to require all drivers to pass a test before they could receive a license. Because my grandfather stories both happened in Oklahoma, I decided to limit my research to that state.
The history of Oklahoma driving goes back almost as far as statehood. According to Wikipedia, "In 1912, there were only sixty-five hundred automobiles in the entire state. But by 1929, over 600,000 vehicles were being driven up and down state roads. Oklahoma had become a state on wheels, although the roads those wheels were rolling over were designed for horse and buggy travel. One clear indication of the arrival of the automobile age in Oklahoma was the shocking number of people killed in vehicular accidents - about five hundred a year by the mid-1920s." However, Governor E.W. Marland, the 10th Governor of Oklahoma, pleaded for a Department of Public Safety and he prevailed over a hesitant legislation on April 20, 1937 and by July 15, 1937 the Department of Public Safety was a functioning agency.
Now I come back to the story of Grandpa Kennedy, my Uncle Mick, and "The Burglar". If my mother (Cha) was a senior in high school when this happened, then the year must have been 1934 and Mick must have been about 14 years old. However, this is what my Aunt Jerry wrote recently, adding to the story: "The one he (Grandpa) put in charge of the boys was your Uncle Mick. At the time he was 15 or 16 years old. He drove the boys back in a lumber yard truck (a big flatbed truck with no sides, and all the 12 to 14 year old boy scouts rode there). Of course, Uncle Mick did not have a driver's license, but neither did anyone else. No one in Oklahoma had a driver's license at that time." And now we know why they didn't.
And Granddad Chancey didn't have one either when he almost drove off into a gully.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Grandfatherly Wisdom

Stories can come from anywhere: from our imaginations and fantasies; from episodes in our lives; from observing people while sitting on a park bench or on a bus or on a towel at a beach; from the tales of our ancestors. And there are many more places where inspiration or our muse can strike. A few years ago at a family get-together in Oklahoma, one of my cousins stated that there are tales in our family that have been lost forever because no one wrote them down. Sadly, that is true but I have tried to collect as many as I can remember.

From time to time I will share those tales from the family archives: the Chanceys on my father’s side and the Kennedys on my mother’s side. This week’s stories are about my grandfathers. My brothers and I called our Chancey grandfather Granddad and our Kennedy grandfather Grandpa.

My grandfathers were quite different. I always thought of Granddad as the country grandfather and Grandpa as the city grandfather.

Granddad Marvin Chancey lived on a farm all of his adult life. He married at age nineteen and my grandmother was sixteen. After marrying he worked on a railroad before settling down in a cabin in Oklahoma and later building a very nice two story farmhouse. He was the kind of person who seldom worried or let life’s downturns get to him. My grandmother Amy was just the opposite as this first little vignette will demonstrate.

A Sunday Drive

“Nice day for a ride,” said Marvin absentmindedly as he drove the Model T Ford along the country road that led to their farmhouse.

“Yes, I guess so,” said Amy, “but I wish you would watch where you’re going.”

She had never gotten used to Marvin’s lackadaisical attitude about driving.

“Nothing to worry about,” said Marvin.

But Amy did worry. She worried all of the time. She knew she should relax and enjoy this Sunday afternoon drive but Marvin just wouldn’t keep his eye on the road ahead of him.

The road went straight for a few miles between fenced-in fields then meandered alongside a deep gully with a creek running at the bottom of it. Amy could see that Marvin was driving too close to the edge but she bit her tongue and kept quiet, holding fast to her seat.

Suddenly they came to a sharp curve and just when Amy thought Marvin was going to make the turn she saw that he wasn’t paying the least bit of attention to the road.

She screamed hysterically as the car headed straight for the gully and the creek below.

Just in time Marvin came out of his reverie, grabbed the steering wheel, and steered the car back onto the road.

“You lacked an inch going off into that gully!” yelled Amy.

“An inch is as good as a mile,” replied Marvin nonchalantly.

He drove on as if nothing had happened.


Grandpa Jo Kennedy ran a department store in northern Oklahoma with his brothers until the Great Depression came and then he moved his family to another town in east central Oklahoma where he became manager and part owner of a lumber company named after him. The following story takes place when my mother was in high school. Her nickname was Cha and my grandmother’s name was Daisy.

The Burglar

One hot summer day, Jo took his Boy Scout troop out on an overnight hike. He took his young son Mick along also.

The female members of the family, namely his wife Daisy, his daughters Pink, Cha and Em decided to sleep in the backyard. They dragged their mattresses out there and, after looking at and discussing the stars and the constellations, they finally fell asleep.

Cha woke up in the middle of the night and saw a light moving around in the house. She immediately woke her mother who saw it also. Daisy went to the next-door neighbor’s house and called the police.

While waiting for their mother to return, Cha, Pink, and Em huddled together and whispered among themselves, wondering who could be in their home. Daisy returned and soon a police car drove up. She met the two policemen by the side of the house and tried to explain about the mysterious light moving through their house.

Suddenly, a voice called out of the nearest window, “What’s the matter, Mommy?”

Mommy was the affectionate name that Grandpa always called my grandmother. He had felt sick and had left someone else in charge of the Boy Scouts and came home. He didn’t want to wake the family, not knowing they were sleeping outside, and had crept around the house with a flashlight.

The next morning he said sternly to Cha, quoting from the Bible, “It’s a wise child who knows her own father.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

"That Book Made Me Hungry!"

When a relative finished reading the draft for The Pig Farm, she exclaimed that it had made her hungry. My characters had eaten a lot of Caribbean style dishes, which I had added to give authenticity to the setting. Then I remembered reading the novels of the late, great Virginia Rich who perhaps started the culinary mystery novel sub-genre. She always included a recipe or two at the end of her novels. Sadly, she died after only publishing three novels. But culinary mysteries are now a staple of the cozy and not so cozy market. Diane Mott Davidson “sprinkles” recipes throughout her books as do many other culinary mystery writers. So, I added a recipe section at the end of my novel and titled that section, A Taste of Palmaltas. The sequel, The Pool Lizards, takes place in Florida and once again I added a recipe section at the end with original recipes by the main female character of both novels. As I finish the trilogy with The Groundhog Lounge, I will once again end it with a recipe section.

But there are many authors who do not write culinary mysteries but do insert food, and lots of it, into their novels. One of my favorites is Lawrence Sanders, author of the Deadly Sins, Commandments, and Archy McNally series plus many other books. And his novels definitely are not cozy. His Deadly Sins novels have so many mouth-watering recipes for sandwiches that I started writing them down and adding them to my own recipes. I love reading about his sandwiches as much as I do reading his novels. And his Archy McNally not only likes a good sandwich but haute cuisine as well.

So mystery writers like food. But what about romance writers? If there is a culinary romance sub-genre, it has eluded me. However, I have included a lot of food descriptions in my romances. (The novels in the trilogy mentioned above are quirky mysteries.) A Caribbean Summer takes place on the same island, Palmaltas, as The Pig Farm does. Although food is not as prominent in that novel as in the first one, the characters do sample Palmaltan cuisine. My next romance Amorous Ambush, which takes place in Texas, might very well fit into a culinary romance sub-genre. Both female and male protagonists try to outdo each other in the kitchen. In my third romance A Colorado Destiny, the female protagonist does not cook but the male protagonist does and he whips up a fairly sexy dinner for two.

When I mentioned to one of my brothers how much I loved reading about food, especially in Lawrence Sanders’ books, he replied, rather gruffly, “I skip that part. Has nothing to do with the story.” Maybe, maybe not. I also wrote a comical mystery where the lady of the house hired a young man who claimed to be a French chef. He wasn’t, of course, and the dishes he served were beyond ridiculous but they fooled the lady. When she died eating a salad, he became the prime suspect in her death.

Oh yes, I love reading and writing about food. My protagonists love to cook and to eat. And so do I.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Interview with Joan Conning Afman, author and editor

This morning I am starting a new monthly interview section with authors who write in various genres. My first guest is author and editor Joan Conning Afman who writes both paranormal and suspense thrillers.

Good morning, Joan, and welcome to the Island of Palmaltas. I hope you enjoy the visit.

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

My very favorites are political intrigue novels, and I especially like to play tapes of them when I’m on a long drive. I also like stories with a mystical bent.

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

I grew up on Louisa May Alcott and Ray Bradbury and -- The Sherlock Holmes guy—Arthur Conan Doyle. There is a series of books by an English author, Susan Howatch, who writes novels about clergy with all their faults and fetishes. Love that series! And, Jodi Picoult, and Anita Shreve, and Ian McEwan.

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

I don’t think so, really. I could always put words together, and my mother, a former English teacher, always said to me, I think you could write. I used to answer, “I know I can write, Mom, but I don’t have anything to say.” At this stage of my life, it just seems like what I should be doing. I love language, the way words make pictures on paper. It’s a different kind of art. And now I say that to my daughter, Heather. “Heath, I think you could write…”

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

Oh, that’s so much fun! I’ve always loved names, had so much fun picking out distinctive and beautiful names for my own kids. I use some family names, like my son Dane’s name in “The Last Time We Were Here”, and my three daughters’ (Mindy, Heather and Sarah) in “Death Island”, coming out in June. Otherwise, I just use names I really like, and then the characters grow into them. For sci fi stories, like “Cheetah Princess”, which I hope will get published some day, I made the names up…Dsanna, Vadent, Arshane….

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”?

The idea is pretty much in my head before I start. I usually know, vaguely, what the plot is and what the outcome will be. But I write by the seat of my pants! If I did an outline and tried to stick to it, the characters would wander off course and do their own thing anyway.

6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

I’m most geared up in the morning, so I write or edit for a few hours then. If I can’t use that time, I write whenever I do have time. But, every day I write a little bit—or if the spirit moves me, a lot.

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?

Yep, the title comes to me when I think of the idea. “The Last Time We Were Here” is what my daughter said to me when she was about three. “You know, Mommy, the last time we were here, you were my baby.” So when I decided to write that novel, with a reincarnation theme, that title was a natural.

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

Both. In “The Last Time We Were Here,” I based many of the characters on my high school classmates. I’m just lucky they’re still talking to me! But—the “Cheetah Princess” people are totally made up, as are the “Death Island” crew. The minister’s wife in that might be a little like me! And sometimes I put the characters from one novel into another—that’s a lot of fun.

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

I use real life situations when they fit into the story. The two childhood incidents in “The Last Time We Were Here” really happened—whether anyone believes that or not. “Kingsley Woods”, which doesn’t have a publisher yet, is based in Pittsfield, MA, where I grew up, and there are “real people” and places in that. And a lot of made-up stuff, too. It all jells together in my brain.

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

I took a course in writing for children—banged out about a dozen kids’ stories, and got totally bored with that. Took a course in writing novels, got involved with other writers in a critique group, and that was it. Started editing for a publishing company, and they published “Last Time.” I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas—there are so many broiling up there in my head that I’ll probably run out of time before I run out of plots and people to perform in them.

11) Where can readers find your books?

"The Last Time We Were Here" through
and “Death Island" through Both also available at

Thank you so much, Joan. I can identify with running out of time before running out of ideas. I have read both books and enjoyed them and our little chat immensely.