Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tributes 2016

2016 was a heartbreaking year considering how many celebrities died, people who gave so much of themselves by entertaining us. But my year ending blog always deals with the authors whom I’ve read and died. And this year only two authors fit that requirement: Harper Lee and Pat Conroy.

There isn’t anything I can add to all the accolades for one of the greatest American novels, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a classic and will endure forever. It has been a long time since I read the novel and it’s the movie I remember best. I was thrilled when Gregory Peck won the Academy Award for his performance.

I only read one novel by Pat Conroy, The Great Santini. And like Mockingbird, it’s the movie I remember more than the novel and the performance by Robert Duvall. But unlike Ms. Lee, Mr. Conroy left behind a substantial body of work.

The deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds touched me immensely. I never read Ms. Fisher’s books and I don’t know if Ms. Reynolds wrote any or not. The reason I mention them is that Debbie Reynolds, my idol when I was a teenager, was the inspiration for a character in three of my own books. In my Tiger Sister trilogy, she was the oldest of six sisters and a rambunctious mischief maker who terrorized her younger sisters. But Debbie Tiger got her come-uppance with a surprise ending in one of the stories and would never have existed in my mind or my books if Debbie Reynolds had never existed.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hooked from the Start—The Blurb, the Setting and Key Words

When I first encountered the novel Disappear by Iain Edward Henn, the blurb caught my attention immediately. A man had disappeared eighteen years previously and his body suddenly appeared—looking exactly as he had looked back then. That was a book I had to read! And read it, I did, plus all of Mr. Henn’s subsequent books.
The same happened when I came across Sendero by Max Tomlinson. In that novel the main character is a woman called Nina caught up in a war in Peru. She becomes an officer in Cuzco’s tourist police and goes in search of her brother. But it wasn’t just the blurb that caught my eye. It was also the Peruvian setting. I know very little about South America as my own experiences take place in Mexico and Puerto Rico. The troubles in Peru presented an alien world. And again I was hooked and proceeded to read all the novels by Mr. Tomlinson, including the ones not set in South America.
But there are key words that hook me also such as “tropical island”. That kind of setting will always catch my attention. But I have been burned by just buying a book because it’s set on a tropical island. Romantic suspense on a tropical island becomes a must read but it does pay to read the book’s blurb and reviews first.
Other key words that intrigue me are “time travel”. Years ago, I read House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and I was hooked for life with that genre. My own time travel mystery-romances were inspired by that novel (these are still works in progress although one short story has been published). And, of course, I had to read the recent novel by Marja McGraw--Choosing One Moment: A Time Travel Mystery. Time travel and mystery in one book? What more could I want?
A blurb, an intriguing setting and certain key words will grab my attention and the result is that I will buy the book, whether I know the author or not.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hooked by a Title

The year was 1989, I lived in a small Texas town and I perused the local library for mysteries to read.  Suddenly one afternoon I spotted an intriguing title Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye, an author I had never read. And a "faraway place with a strange sounding name" could not be ignored.

Fast forward to four years ago when I started a blog series titled Hooked from the Start and the fifth and last blog dealt mainly with first lines. I don't know why I put the series on hold but I did mention that Part Six would deal with titles, especially Death in Zanzibar by M.M. Kaye (M.M. stands for Mary Margaret). Obviously, I intended to continue the series but life got in the way and I forgot all about it. Hopefully now I'm back on track. 

Yes, I am a great lover of mysteries and of far away places and six of Ms. Kaye's books began with "Death in...." a faraway place. I read most of those books in 1989 and read one right after another. Later I discovered that not all of these titles originally began with "Death in" and must have been changed to indicate a continuity of sorts. She and her military husband moved 27 times and she used some of the places as inspiration for her novels.

 I learned, by reading her biography on Wikipedia, that she was born in India and her father was an intelligence officer in the Indian Army. Her grandfather, brother and husband all served in the British Raj, which was the rule of the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947. Death in Zanzibar was the first of her mysteries that I read and as I said, I was hooked. The novels that I read next were all Death in a faraway place: Kashmir, Berlin, Cyprus, Kenya, the Andamans. She wrote other novels also but her most famous novel was The Far Pavilions.

In 1989 a public library was my sanctuary to search for mysteries. And certainly a series that began with "Death in..." suggested mystery. I discovered a lot of mystery writers that year just from browsing through titles. Of course the Internet later made it a lot easier to find mysteries or any genre, for that matter.

Part Seven in this series will continue not with titles or first lines but with blurbs that caught my attention.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Tribute to my Father

Yesterday, June 18, my father, F.L. “Cotton” Chancey would have been 110 years old. My father loved to tell tales of family life on an Oklahoma farm in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, I didn’t write them all down. One was about my grandfather when he was shot while riding his horse out in the woods. A man who lived alone in the woods found him and nursed him back to health, patching him up the best he could. Although the “patching” was amateurish, my grandfather lived until he was 90. There was more to the story but I can’t remember it.
The story I do remember was told to me by my father on a long car trip. It was about a time when he was quite small, maybe five years old. He had to go round up the cows for the evening but while he was riding his pony through the woods, a blizzard hit. He was completely lost.
And that story means more to me than all of the stories I’ve written. In early 2001, I submitted it to a magazine for boys. Two weeks later I received a letter from them. I knew that such a quick response meant a rejection and with great sadness I opened the envelope. Inside was a card that said my story titled Cotton would be published in the 2004 March/April Horse issue of Boys’ Quest Magazine. I couldn’t believe it. Tears streamed down my face. This was my first acceptance from a major publisher! If only my father could have lived to see his story in print. I had to wait three years for the story to be published but those three years passed quickly.
Of course, I can’t tell the story here because, as far as I know, that particular issue of Boys’ Quest Magazine is still available. But it had a happy ending and it is still the most thrilling of all the acceptances I have received since then.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cha--a Tribute to my Mother

(My mother's nickname was Cha--rhymes with chat. The following is a true story.)

Wake up, Cha, let’s hurry so we can beat the others to the river. For once let’s be first.”
Ten-year-old Cha Kennedy slowly opened her eyes and looked at her older sister.
It’s morning already?” she asked. Then she remembered how she wanted to be the first to jump in and swim across the Chikaskia River to a sandbar on the other side.
During the ride yesterday from their home in Blackwell she had overheard her parents talking about the spring rains and how they hoped that the river hadn’t flooded. The family had arrived very late last night at Camp Phelps Grove in northern Oklahoma and had not had a chance to check out the river that ran in front of the cabins.
Springing into action, Cha, accompanied by her older sister and little brother who was also awake, crept out of the cabin with eager anticipation. Their parents and little sister were still asleep. Once outside they saw that some of the other vacationing kids had beaten them to the bank and were staring anxiously at the water. Cha had a sinking feeling when she saw how worried they looked. After all, none of them had jumped in yet.
As soon as the other kids saw Cha they began to challenge her to be the first one to take the plunge. She wondered why they were picking on her. They should remember I’m not a good swimmer.
Come on, Cha, you go first.”
Yeah, see if you can make it across.”
Cha looked at the river and saw why they had hesitated. The river was higher than normal and the racing current visible on the surface was quite intimidating.
The kids continued to egg her on and she was tempted to jump in. Could she make it across? The others seemed to think she could--or were they just goading her?
As the taunting increased she gave in and decided she could at least try. Surely the river wasn’t so bad. She had swum in the Chikaskia many times before. She plunged into the rapidly moving water—and was immediately swept away.
Overcome with panic, she began to scream. “Help! Help!” She gulped and sputtered as the water washed over and around her, pulling and tugging her further and further away from the shore.
The other kids began to scream too as they ran along the riverbank following her. At least one had the presence of mind to go for help.
Mr. Kennedy! Help! Cha can’t make it to the other side of the river! She’s caught in the current—help!”
Cha’s father immediately stepped out of the cabin, surveyed the scene, pulled off his shoes and jumped into the river. To Cha’s great relief he was soon beside her. But to her distress he didn’t grab her and haul her back to shore. Instead, he swam alongside her, firmly urging her to swim onward.
She couldn’t believe that he wasn’t helping her. Was he just going to let her drown?
Come on, you can do it,” he repeated over and over.
Disappointed and angry, she had no other choice. She continued with all her strength and swam downriver with her father beside her.
Despite the pull of the rushing water, Cha, impelled by her father’s stern, “You can do it,” struggled to reach the shore. She kicked her legs and moved her arms furiously over and under, over and under, with her father swimming alongside her continuously pushing her with his words. “You can do it! You can do it!”
She wanted so much for him to grab her and hold her as he swam to the shore but he refused. You can do it! You can do it!  The words became an echo inside her head as she frantically propelled her body onward through the water. All at once she knew she could do it—she had to.
And she did it—she reached the shore by herself. But she was still angry with her father for not helping her more. Standing up, she shook the water off and looked around, ready to complain to him. They had swum quite a distance downstream but they were safe. Suddenly she smiled, no longer quite so angry with her father who, she realized, should have been angry with her for so carelessly endangering herself.
However, as he waded onto the shore he said simply yet sternly, “I knew you could do it.”
Grateful that he had not reprimanded her more, she thought to herself, I did it but I’ll never do it again. By the look on his face she could tell that he knew she had learned her lesson.

No one else went in the river that day.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

GRAHAM CRACKER DILEMMA--a Tribute to my Mother

This month and next month for Mother's Day I am writing about little incidents (among many) that occurred when I lived with my mother during the 2000s decade.

About fifteen years ago my 85-year-old Mother gave me a grocery list and I went to the grocery store to get the items, one of which was a box of graham crackers. I was surprised that of all the cookies that are available that she would want those specifically. She and her companion Fred always ate a sweet snack every night at 10:00, snacks that varied from snack cakes to ice cream to cookies but I never realized that she was so fond of graham crackers.

When I came to the cookie section, I found that I was facing a dilemma of sorts. Should I get the more expensive brand or go for the generic brand that contained twice as many crackers? I also noticed that both kinds offered two choices: honey graham and cinnamon graham. Finally, I decided on the generic brand, figuring that a graham cracker by any other brand was still the same and also the larger size box was half the price of the smaller brand box. But which would Mother prefer—the honey or the cinnamon? I finally decided that the honey was the traditional graham cracker and Mother would prefer that one. (Please note that this occurred before I had a cell phone so I couldn’t call her.)

So, along with my other purchases, I left the store with a generic brand of honey graham crackers, hoping that Mother would like them.

When I arrived home I gave her a detailed explanation on how I had worked through my dilemma of which graham cracker box to buy.

To which Mother replied rather nonchalantly, “Oh, they’re for Fred and he’s not picky.”

What? I had spent all that time worrying about a treat for Fred, her Cocker Spaniel?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Loved the Book, Hated the Ending

Now that may seem like an oxymoron but there are novels I loved until I got to the ending. But the journey was so intriguing I still count some of those books as favorites. I’m going to mention a couple without giving the story or plot away—just simply state the book was a great read in spite of the ending.

The first novel that comes to mind is House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a time travel and the inspiration for my future time travel stories featuring Dr. M.M. (Lynnie) Tiger, whose first time travel adventure occurred in a short story in my YA book The Happy Tigers. House on the Strand was a book I couldn’t put down. And although the protagonist was able to go back into the past by taking a drug, my protagonist will go back by touching ancient artifacts. The ending, however, was a downer but the fact I couldn’t put the book down until I got to the end still puts it in my all-time favorites list.

Another novel I loved until the ending was Sullivan’s Sting by Lawrence Sanders. This was a fun read all the way through until I got to the ending., which was a great disappointment but I still gave the book an A+. Sanders wrote some series that were fabulous (and I always looked forward to the sandwiches one of his protagonists ate). Other novels by him were great disappointments all the way through. Sullivan’s Sting was a fun read but, for me, the ending fizzled.

On an opposite note, I have read novels I hated until I got to the end where the ending was so good it made up for the rest of the novel. One novel that comes to mind is The Children of Men by P.D. James whose Dalgleish mysteries I love. But this is a stand a lone. For me the first half was beyond depressing but the ending more than made up for the rest of the book. It was even made into an award winning movie.

And in regard to my own writing, my novel Who’ll Kill Agnes? has an unexpected and not so happy ending. There were a few miniscule clues along the way but I doubt any reader saw that ending coming. In fact, I, as the writer, didn’t see it coming until I got to the end.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Interview with Mystery Author Patricia Gligor

      My guest this week is mystery author Patricia Gligor. I have read four of her books in her Malone mystery series and am looking forward to the next installment. Welcome, Patricia, and tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Patricia Gligor (rhymes with “tiger”) and I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I grew up in a big, old house with lots of nooks and crannies and a woods behind it as far as the eye could see, a fertile ground for a young girl’s imagination. My favorite books as a child were Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew mysteries and I started “making up” mysteries to entertain my friends at a very young age. So, I guess it was only natural that I would grow up to be a mystery writer. I love a mystery! 

1) What kinds of books do you like to read and is there one special book that is your favorite overall?

I read (and write) mystery/suspense novels. If I had to pick my favorite book, which is also the book that influenced me the most as a writer, it would be “Where are the children?” by Mary Higgins Clark. 

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

My favorite author is Mary Higgins Clark. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person at a book signing in 2002. Not only is she a great writer but she’s also a wonderful, kind person who took the time to encourage me to “write that novel.” There are lots of other authors whose books I enjoy reading but the list is too long to mention here.

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

See questions 1 & 2.

4) How do you choose your characters’ names?

I have a “Name your baby” book and I frequently use that to come up with a name whose definition fits the character I’m writing about. For example, my main character’s sister loves the ocean. I named her Marnie, which means “of the sea.” And, although I’m not really “into” astrology, I do give my characters birthdays based on their astrological signs. My main character, Ann, is a Capricorn (a mountain goat,) and she is loyal and persistent, qualities that define her and are crucial to the story.

5) Are you a plotter or a “pantster”?
A plotter BIG TIME. Before I begin to write, I create a chapter-by-chapter outline, listing what absolutely has to happen in each chapter. The outline is subject to change, of course, but I need to have a guideline. I think of it as a road map when I’m taking a trip. As I drive, I may revise my itinerary a bit (take a few detours) but I want to end up at my designated destination.               
6) What kind of writing schedule do you have?

When I’m in the midst of writing a book, I write every morning for three to four hours. But it doesn’t end there. Throughout the day (and sometimes, the night), an idea will come to me and I have to jot it down. That’s why I keep a pad of paper and pen in every room, in my purse and in my car.
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?
When I first come up with the idea for a book, I seldom know what the title will be. As the story develops, the title usually suggests itself. For example, in Mixed Messages, my first Malone mystery, Ann is receiving mixed messages from several sources. I like to use titles that have double meanings whenever possible. Unfinished Business, the second book in my series, is a perfect example of that.
 8) Do you base your characters on real people or are they completely from your imagination?

Most of my characters have some personality and/or physical traits in common with a real life person but they are each their own “person.” Some are composites of several real people but they’re ultimately figments of my imagination.

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

I draw upon anything and everything when I write. Experiences I’ve had, stories other people have told me. Somehow, it all comes together at just the right time. The whole process constantly fascinates me.

10) When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

When I was ten years old, I saw my “byline” on a poem I’d written for my Sunday school magazine and I knew instantly that I wanted (needed) to be a writer.
11) What books have you published and where can readers find them?
I’ve written four books in my Malone Mystery series and I’m working on the fifth. My books can be found online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and they can be ordered from your local book store. Here’s the amazon link:

Questions for fun:

12) What is your favorite color?
I love all shades of turquoise, from aqua to teal.
13) Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Milk Chocolate yogurt ice cream
14) Favorite cookie and/or candy bar?
 Chocolate chip cookies and Hershey dark chocolate candy bars
15) Favorite movie?
 Double Jeopardy starring Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd

16) Favorite TV show?
17)  Favorite place to write:

At home in my office in total quiet and solitude.

Patricia with her favorite author Mary Higgins Clark:

Thank you, Patricia for a most enjoyable interview.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New (to me) Authors of 2015

One of the most enjoyable things about reading is discovering new authors. In the past my goal was to read at least 100 books (mainly novels) each year. I rarely made that goal. Nowadays my goal is to read at least 50. A lot of that has to do with my poor eyesight. In 2015 I read only 45 books and out of those only three were new authors to me. But I considered their books to be outstanding and I wanted to share my thoughts about them.

They are not necessarily new authors just coming out. I simply had never encountered their books before. The following is not a list beginning with the best of the three but the order in which I read these books. I find new books that are recommended by Amazon Kindle Daily Specials or offered as specials by sites such as Bargain Booksy or posted on the Facebook site Saturday Self Promotion Extravaganza for Suspense/Thriller Writers. And one was given to me. But I loved each one.

1. Secrets in the Fairy Chimney by Linda Maria Frank. I loved this book so much I gave it a score of A++!!! It's a wonderful romantic, suspenseful tale of a dig near Istanbul, Turkey. The heroine and her soon-to-be fiancé become involved with evil smugglers who have stolen artifacts from Iraq. Two precocious children, a brother and sister, are involved also. This is my favorite kind of novel--danger, intrigue, romance and an archaeological dig!

2. Cinders' Bride by Kathleen Ball. This is a romance novel, Book One in the series Mail Order Brides of Texas. This novel was a welcome change from all the murder and mayhem type books I usually read. However, there is violence, which appeared in the beginning of the book. The heroine goes to Texas as a mail order bride and is stunned (to say the least) that the man who bought her was not the rancher she thought he was. But a good-hearted rancher does come to her rescue. The research for this book was very impressive. 

3. Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman who continues the series started by her father Tony Hillerman (one of my all-time favorite authors). This is a Chee and Leaphorn mystery with Bernadette (Bernie) now married to Jim Chee. It begins when Bernie and Joe Leaphorn leave a café and he is shot. From there begins a search by Bernie and Chee for the person who shot him. The journey takes them through Indian country from Shiprock to Santa Fe. The climactic scene is one of the most terrifying I've ever read but Bernie overcomes all odds. It felt wonderful to be back in the world that the author's father created. 

It's a wonderful feeling to discover new authors and know that there are many of their books waiting for me to read.