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 Wings-press.com
and “Death Island" through Camel.press. Both also available at Amazon.com

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.