Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day

By Maxx Danielson (Guest Barker)
Happy Leap Day everyone! Once every four years Dad lets me post a guest blog, and since I’m only three years old, this is a real treat. Normally, I’m jumping for joy, but lately, Dad’s been so busy editing his next book that I barely get any attention. Oh, sure, he’ll play for a few minutes when I press my stuffed squirrel or knotted rope into his side, but then he goes right back into his office and bangs away on the keyboard. At that point I have no choice but to lie down next to him and supervise. My job is never done.

Two days ago Dad went back to work after being home for an extended time. Now it’s just Mom and me, and as much as I love her, I do miss my dad. I don’t really understand why he leaves us for days at a time, but it must have something to do with his black suitcase. Whenever it comes out, Dad disappears. I’m having serious thoughts of ripping up that stupid bag so he won’t leave us again.

It’s been a real interesting winter for me. Denver has had more snow this February than anyone can remember, and that has been a problem for me. You see, I love tromping in the snow, but my coat is so fine and curly that it turns me into a walking snowball. And since Mom and Dad don’t like wet floors, they scoop me up at the door and spend the next five minutes toweling me dry. It’s annoying, but I tolerate it because I love them.

It’s also squirrel season, and I really hate squirrels. As the head of security for the Danielson household, my job is to keep these furry rodents out of the backyard – and I take my job very seriously. They see me coming and they spring up a tree. Sometimes they taunt me when they get to the top and all I can do is bark and wait. If I could fly like my dad, there’d be in trouble.

Dad’s next story is about ghosts, and that concerns me. He keeps telling everyone it’s based on a real haunting in a Fort Worth theater, but I’m not so sure. Personally, I think he’s flipped his lid, but what do I know? All I want is for him to come home.

Dad, if you’re out there, you’re welcome for me taking up the slack while you’re out flying around the country. Four years seems like a long time to wait before I can do this again, but I suppose that’s how it works. For those of you who are Irish, it’s Leap Year, so get engaged. If you’re not, get with someone you love and celebrate the extra day any way you can. As for me, I’ll be at the front door waiting for Dad to come home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Christmas Walk on the Wild Side

I know it’s nearly Spring (in theory at least) but, although this is set on a day near Christmas, it’s really about how my mystery writer’s mind works. We were staying with family in a picturesque English village – thatched roofs, cottages, fields, all the images you’d associate with a typical Miss Marple mystery. In fact, it’s the village in which the UK TV drama The Midsomer Murders is filmed. Christmas was a couple of days away. The kids were excited. The overnight snow was quite thick. After breakfast, all gloved and scarfed, I set out to buy the paper – a walk of maybe a mile there and back. Not many people about. As I walked, various alternative scenarios unfolded. I’ll switch to the present tense to convey the immediacy, because all these things were immediate rather than considered restrospectively.

A burly man in a tee shirt comes wading through the snow towards me. He’s obviously crazy. No one can step outside the door in these temperatures without proper insulation. He clearly has no nervous system. I know for a fact that he’s going to produce a club, maybe an axe from the hedge beside him and I’ll become a stain on the snow and a headline in tomorrow’s paper (or, rather, a secondary headline because the burly guy will get the lead). As he passes me, he smiles broadly and says a very cheery ‘Good morning’. I smile back, wish him the same, we cross paths and I wait for the axe in the back of my skull. Nothing.

Further down the hill, a woman with an Irish wolfhound. The dog looks lean, hungry, huge. One wrong move from me and it’ll defend its mistress to the death – mine. We pass, the dog doesn’t even look at me. The woman smiles and I get a second ‘Good morning’. When they’re behind me I wait to hear the command ‘Kill’, the crunch of speeding paws in the snow and the hot canine breath on my neck. Nothing.

Near the paper shop a group of old women (not as old as me but old nonetheless) wait at the bus stop, no doubt on their way to their coven. Three of them stand well back, the other two bar the narrow pavement. These are old women, they’ve earned the right to stand where they like. It’s their pavement. I anticipate having to step into the road to get past them. I’m pretty sure that, as I do so, I’ll be struck a glancing blow from an SUV which will break my hip. In the event, as I reach them, they stand back. No ‘Good morning’ but I’m just grateful to get by without mishap or a malevolent spell.

I get the paper. On the way home, I notice a short, steep driveway leading up to one of the cottages and speculate idly about its owner being an old, bespectacled woman driving a Ford Anglia (Miss Marple sans bike maybe) who, in these snowy conditions, would scream round the corner, put the car into a broadside slide, hit the accelerator at the appropriate spot, crest the drive and execute a handbrake turn to skid to the front door and step calmly out with her shopping bag.

Further on, a man stands filming a young girl with a sledge and a dog. He’s looking through branches at her. As the unwelcome images begin to form, the girl calls ‘Hurry up, Daddy. It’s cold.’

I’m almost home and safe again. Striding down the hill comes a tall man with a brisk, military gait and bearing. He’s swinging a black walking stick. Here I should mention that the paper I bought is The Guardian. I imagine the man seeing it and setting about me with his stick, calling me a communist and hoping I rot in hell with all the other pinko, planet-saving homosexual intellectuals who are undermining the way of life he fought for. As I prepare myself for the assault, his face lights up into a big smile and, again, I’m wished a good morning.

Nothing’s wrong with any of these people. They’re good, friendly citizens. The problem is me. I’m the alien. I’m the one carrying the Satanic menace through this country idyll. I obviously read and write too many crime novels.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Interview with mystery author Robert Spiller

My guest today is fellow mystery author, Robert Spiller, who writes the Bonnie Pinkwater series. I’ve had the pleasure to be on panels with him and have enjoyed reading his entertaining novels, which are full of action and humor. His published books include The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, Irrational Numbers and the recently released Radical Equations.

Mike: Radical Equations is the fourth book in the Bonnie Pinkwater series. Tell us what inspired this exciting mystery novel that combines math teaching, murder and mayhem.

Robert: In 2001 the school I model my series after was destroyed by tornado – a beloved teacher had died and everyone was at the wake, so no one was in the building and no one got hurt. I wondered how it would be if someone had been in the building as the storm raged and dismantled the school. So obviously I placed Bonnie at the heart of this danger. Also I had just hiked the famous Paint Mines hike in Calhan, CO and wondered (again) ‘wouldn’t this be a great place to stash a body?’ Lastly, I had always wanted to do a disappearing body mystery, so this also became a theme of this particular novel. Also, I had become enamored with the 18th century mathematician Leonhard Euler, so I wanted to feature him as the first male mathematician in a Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.

Mike: You make the world of teaching as exciting as that of Indiana Jones. Mathematics puzzles and history also play a part in your series; Bonnie Pinkerwater uses these to inspire her students.Tell us how your teaching experience influenced your mystery series.

Robert: I myself taught high school math for 35 years (this is my first year of retirement). I used many of the puzzles Bonnie uses and discussed many of the mathematicians (particularly the female ones to inspire my female students) that Bonnie talks about. My goal in the books has always been to offer a little education along with an entertaining mystery. I loved teaching and hopefully my readers can get a taste of the life of a person who also loves the profession and who thinks teenagers are just a hoot.

Mike: Why did you choose a female protagonist?

Robert: Bonnie is modeled after a wonderful teacher friend of mine who has many of the qualities that Bonnie possesses: a phenomenal memory, a love of teaching, a boat load of dogs. I thought a female mathematician would be more interesting, especially an older one (in my case a widow). Also I featured historic female mathematicians in the first three books ( a bit of a hobby of mine) and thought a female math teacher sleuth would make a better conduit for this info. The only problem I had was that my real life model was too sweet and nice. Bonnie needed to be a tad more cranky. For that I threw in a bit of myself.

Mike: Why did you select a fictional town (East Plains) to set your story?

Robert: I taught Mathematics for eighteen years in the small Colorado town of Ellicott out east of Colorado Springs. I went to teach there after a business venture failed. I intended to only stay for one year and ended up staying for almost 2 decades. I loved the community, the ranchers, the survivalists, the small town feel of the place. My first year teaching I taught in a building housing all thirteen grades. I knew every child in the hallway. When it came time to write a mystery I naturally fell into this special locale. Plus there are stories and situations circulating out there that I could mine for ideas. I still travel out to Ellicott to see antelope, and red-tailed hawks, coyotes, and miles and miles of prairie. And I still travel there (now named East Plains) in my mind every time I write a Bonnie Pinkwater mystery.

Mike: Motorcycles play a key role in Radical Equations. Is this a passion or something you researched?

Robert: Actually, in my whole life I’ve owned but one motorcycle – and that was for a couple of years while working in Ellicott. That said, the bike was a blast. I never stunt rode but I used to weave in and out of the lines on the road. It’s a wonder I survived. Now I would like to own a scooter. In fact my wife and I call retired life our scooter life even though we don’t own a scooter.

Mike: Your secondary characters are very entertaining. Tell us about the choice of Bonnie's friend, Rhiannon, who is a witch.

Robert: When I worked in Ellicott I knew a family of Wiccans. They were fun and gracious and agreed to teach me a thing or two about the Wiccan life. Gypsy, the mother dressed like Rhiannon dresses in The Witch of Agnesi (the first Bonnie Pinkwater mystery) and Radical Equations (Number 4). The daughter, who was in my class one year, used to have a small hour glass around her neck that held a few of her dead father’s ashes. You might think this kind of morbid but I found it endearing. The girl herself was a sweetheart. A few years back Gypsy died but I never forgot her. Whereas Rhiannon (who is named after the song by Fleetwood Mac) is not a copy of Gypsy, and is different in many respects, she was born with Gypsy in mind. I find Rhiannon the perfect companion for Bonnie.

Mike: Bonnie Pinkwater is always getting in trouble with school district administration. How much of this rebel behavior is part of Robert Spiller?

Robert: I’ve universally been blessed with wonderful administrators, but a number of my teacher friends have complained about principals and superintendents that were surly, non-supportive, clueless, egotists, jerks, bullies, and all around pains-in-the-butts. These folks were channeled into Superintendent Divine (I won’t give his nickname here) and Principal Zwieback (nicknamed Baby Toast). Bonnie has an affliction I stole from Edgar Allen Poe called The Imp Of The Perverse. This is an internal voice that prompts her into rash behavior. She is not always in control of what she says and does, and many times later regrets her actions. Several of these confrontations are with folks who just so happen to be her bosses. I’m not like that at all. In fact I’ve been told I’m a sweetie.

Mike: Radical Equations is full of non-stop action. Tell us about how you developed these scenes of motorcycle chases, tornados, confrontation and murder?

Robert: I’m glad you think so. I’ve tried to balance Bonnie’s cognitive musings (murder related usually) with Bonnie up to her elbows in trouble, and often danger. I like the idea of a fifty-something year old school teacher willing to put herself in harm’s way (and sometimes in harm’s way unwillingly). Bonnie is braver and smarter than me, so she has to perform at a higher level to keep me satisfied I’m utilizing her to her full potential. Plus I know what I like in suspense and mystery. I like to see the main character in one scrape after another.

Mike: You have been published through a traditional print publisher and have also self-published. Share your experiences of the two approaches.

Robert: My first three novels: The Witch of Agnesi, A Calculated Demise, and Irrational Numbers were all published through Medallion Press. I loved working with them but we parted company in 2008. I had already finished writing Radical Equations and was shocked when it wasn’t picked up because I thought it was one tasty little number. I went on to write some other things (two historic YA mysteries in particular) with the idea of following a similar traditional path, although I wanted a somewhat larger publishing house. All the while there was this Bonnie Pinkwater novel just sitting on my flash drive. Finally, I partnered up with Courtney Literary and together we went through the process of birthing a novel on our own. Last December we released the e-book of Radical Equations and late February the print copy of the book will see the light of day. I have loved having a say in the selecting of art, being responsible for final edit (I have to confess I am a bit anal), and all the legions of decisions along the way.

Mike: What and who inspired you most in your writing?

Robert: First and foremost Agatha Christie. Bonnie is my Hercule, my Miss Marple. I love the cozie (not much sex or violence) genre. But I also read a lot of mystery and learn from them. I read Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Robert Crais and every read I have these moments when I think ‘that is something I might try.’ As for my all time favorite read: The Count of Monte Cristo.

Mike: Tell us about your writing journey.

Robert: In 1992 my second marriage evaporated and I went on a three week bicycle ride into the Four Corners area of Colorado. I brought along 5 spiral notebooks. I had a vague idea of a science fiction story I wanted to try my hand at. This tale blossomed into the novel The Children of Yei. I won second prize in the Paul Gillette (the writing contest connected with the Pikes Peak Writing Conference). Although no one bought TCOY, I found that I fell in love with writing. I wrote another Sci-fi novel, which I also couldn’t give away. Then I decided to try my hand at a mystery. This story was The Witch of Agnesi. I fell in love with Bonnie Pinkwater and I’ve never been the same again. There’s nothing like holding your book in your hand.

Mike: What's Robert Spiller's writing space and time of day for inspiration?

Robert: I have just recently built an office in my basement (in honor of my retirement from teaching and going full time into writing). The entire space is decked in fabric, billowing and burgundy, the walls and the ceiling. The space is exotic and I love descending into it. I try to write every day, but to be truthful it’s only lately that I’ve returned to my discipline (writing every day). I am working on the fifth Bonnie book.

Mike: How are you finding the retired life?

Robert: I love it, but I miss the kids.

Mike: What's next on your writing agenda?

Robert: I just recently began the fifth Bonnie Pinkwater mystery, Napier’s Bones. I’m also a third of the way into a horror novel that is based on a story my father used to tell. The darn thing gives me nightmares.

Mike: Any final comments?

Robert: Please visit my website:
My Facebook page. Every week I give another math puzzle that folks can solve for fabulous non-prizes.

Also I now have a blog, imagine that.
Please, please, please, if you read my books e-mail me : and talk to me about it. I promise I will always write you back.

Mike: Thanks, Robert. For you blog readers, if you haven’t read any of Robert's books yet, add them to your must-read list.

Mike Befeler

Range Day Lessons

by Ben Small

It's a good thing my neighbors can't see what I took out of my trunk today. An M4, a M1A, a Glock 34 and an XDm. For those who don't know, the first two are battle rifles, the latter two semi-auto pistols. Two of the above hold thirty rounds or more, one twenty rounds, one sixteen. I'll let you figure out which is which.

Guess you can tell: I spent the day at the range.

There's a certain exhilaration from firing a firearm, a release of tension and a dose of either immediate satisfaction or disappointment.

Sorta like a modern era third date.

And it's tiring. I've been haggard all evening, exhausted, de-hydrated and spent.

Sorta like the morning after that modern era third date.

But there are always lessons learned from a day at the range. And today was no exception. Just observe; you'd be crazy not to look around. People are firing live ammo, you know.

I noticed two things today that at first glance might appear to be unrelated. Not so. Indeed, they represent illustrations of something that writers about shooting should understand.

Let me tell you what I saw.

First, I saw an eight year old girl shooting a .22 rifle from a rest, her barrel supported on a sandbag, the butt end on her shoulder. Her target stood ten yards away, with holes all across its four foot span. The rifle, an old Winchester, a lever gun, its wood stock chipped and gouged, the bluing of its barrel only partially remaining. No rust, no butt-pad. The girl's parents stood behind her, marveling at the way she worked the smooth action, laughing when she said she aimed at the target's armpit. Occasionally, one of the parents would shoot another, more powerful rifle at the table next to her. Their guns were newer, but their setup was the same, barrel on a sandbag, butt on the shoulder. Their targets stood at fifty yards, but their aim wasn't much better than their daughter's.

At another table, a man struggled with accuracy from a brand new rifle. His fifty yard shots spaced too all over his target, the rounds key-holing. I knew his rifle; I own one similar. I knew the ammo he used.

Why couldn't these folks hit where they aimed?

Simply put, it was harmonics, torsional vibration that they'd screwed up. Their stuff wasn't working well together.

As I learned from years of working with engineers who designed complex equipment incorporated into sophisticated systems worked into products which accomplish complicated tasks, everything vibrates, even stationary objects. We just don't always recognize vibration because we can't always see it; we can't always feel it. But when the separate vibrations of components combine into a whole, the vibration of that whole is called "torsional vibration." And when that torsional vibration goes out of tune, things go wrong.

Think of the weird shaking of your car when you hit a certain speed. Go slower or faster and the vibration disappears. Sometimes that vibration can be severe. Indeed, such out of tune vibration can tear some of the components apart. In vibration terms, the out-of-tune harmonics are called "criticals." A critical occurs when something vibrates at its own frequency instead of in a harmonized blend. It shakes, rattles and rolls.

Bored yet? I'm getting to the point.

Let me tell you what each of these people did wrong.

The girl and her parents: They rested the barrel instead of the stock on sandbags. While their rifles were cared for, in no worse condition than most, her parents didn't realize that by resting a barrel on anything, they ruined the barrel's float, throwing off the rifle's harmonics and causing it to fire differently with each shot. A rifle is designed to minimize any direct link interference between the bolt, action and barrel. It's designed to spiral a balanced round straight through a perfectly round tube and out toward a target, all at thousands of feet per second.

Like how Peyton Manning fires a perfect pass to a receiver, scaled differently of course. Ever see a wobbly throw? It's hard to toss a perfect pass when one's arm is smacked during the throw. Same principle for this girl and her parents, their rifles (throwing arms in this analogy) operating at much higher pressures and speeds than any linebacker nailing poor Peyton.

And same result: no accuracy.

The other guy: Wrong bullet weight for his rifling. That's why he had no accuracy, why his target looked as if someone had thrown keys through it.

You see, the guy fired a weapon with 1:9 rifling, and the spiral couldn't stabilize the heavy bullet he used. To spiral, a heavy bullet needs a fast spin. Otherwise it wobbles -- "tumbles" in rifle parlance. And tumbling causes key-holing in targets.

Again, think of a football: the heavier the football, the more spin required to make it spiral.

A 1:9 rifling means a bullet makes one turn in nine inches. A 1:7 rifling means one turn in seven inches. So a  1:7 rifling means a faster spin.

This guy would have been better served with a lighter bullet weight. The rifle functioned properly; he just didn't mate it with the right bullet. The torsionals were off.

Of course, I could have butted in and said something to the girl, her parents and the other guy, but, well...we all know people who do that sort of thing...butt in, that is. One can usually tell when someone wants help. They say something; they scratch their heads, or they stare at you with that lost look. I got none of that. Despite no accuracy, these people were having fun.

Well, okay, I lie...maybe just a bit. During a break, the guy came over and remarked about my tight target groups. As often happens during range-break chats, we discussed our rifles. When I told him I owned a rifle similar to his, he asked what ammo it ate.

Wham, bam! I threw a perfect spiral right through his open ear hole.

Just like Peyton Manning.

And, well...I learned something, too. I learned that if I don't clean my XDm once in a while, it occasionally may not fire.

Some people are just idiots.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Do You Like to Figure Out the Killer?

by June Shaw

When you're reading a mystery, do you want to figure out who the killer is? Are you disappointed if you figure out that person before the end of the story? Or do you really care about whether you determine the killer at all?

I know lots of readers really care -- I mean REALLY care about determining the antagonist long before the sleuth does. Many readers say they will toss a mystery if they figure out "who done it."

I won't. Whenever I'm reading a mystery, I need to stay invested in its characters--the people who bring it alive. Once I am, then I don't normally care whether I can determine the bad guy or not.

But I seem to be in the minority.

Okay, so I am a big fan of Janet Evanovitch books (some have compared my books to hers, and I'm thriled.) By the time she's letting us know the bad guy, I really don't care who it is. I'm just having fun with her stories.

Of the three books in my humorous mystery series, I have never had anyone say they determined the killer before my main character. No one does. I kind of planned it that way, although actually what I wanted to do was write books kind of similar to Janet E.'s, but with a more mature heroine.

People tell me my books are fun. That's what I was going for.

If you are a mystery reader and can determine the bad guy or gal before my sleuth does, please let me know. I'll tell people, "Your name ... is the only reader of my books that I know of who's ever figured out who the killer was long before my amateur sleuth does." And who knows -- maybe I'll send you a ribbon or something.

So how about you? Do you always like to figure out who the killer is, or do you even care?

Thursday, February 23, 2012


My name is Jackie King and it's a great honor to be a member of MURDEROUS MUSINGS.  I thank Chester Campbell for inviting me. I also wish all my friends and readers in cyberland a warm welcome.

THEODORA WESTMACOTT, Grace Cassidy's friend and side-kick, thinks she's in charge of this Mystery Series. She insisted on interviewing me. I had intended to ask Grace Cassidy, lead character in my mystery THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE, to do the honors. However, before that (usually) calm and collected woman could so much as form a question, her quirky pal, Theodora Westmacott, just took over. Short, plump and sassy, this 60-something woman, who taught seventh graders for years and years, loves sticking her nose into other folks business. Especially Grace's.

 “Grace is too busy just now, Jackie, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her. I’m well acquainted with your life in general, and will do my best to make you sound interesting. After all, who wants to hear about a woman who spends most of her time hunched over her keyboard in her pajamas? Let me be in charge, I often help out Grace in that way.”
“And it makes her madder than h...” I paused a minute to get control of myself. “Heck,” I finished.

 “Oh well, she always gets over it, doesn’t she?” Theodora fluttered her heavily ringed fingers as she always does. (I think it’s to draw attention to the flamboyant nail polish she wears, which today is Passionate Pink.) The woman is so charming it's impossible to stay mad at her, but today I needed to show her who was boss of this series. So I kept arguing.

“You make me sound just awful, Theodora, and I'm not. Just yesterday I went to the ballet.”

“My point exactly, but I can see that I've made you angry. You always seem so sweet, and yet your temper often gets away from you. I’m afraid it’s that red hair, titian haired women are often neurotic, you know.”
By this time I was gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes. “Are there any more of my faults you’d like to voice abroad?” I made sure that my voice showed heavy sarcasm.

“Yes, you take all of the credit for the humor in your series and most of it comes straight out of my mouth. Your readers should be told that actually, you're a very dull WASP and that I'm responsible for my own smart-aleck remarks.”

“Theodora, this is a ridiculous conversation. You’re not even real. I conjured you up out of my imagination. I’ll admit that you’re a lovable character, but I’m the one who puts words into your mouth and walks you across the page!”

“Well we both know that’s not true,” Theodora snickered in a most lady-like way. “I’m always saying something that both surprises and shocks you. Be honest and admit that I’m the one in charge, and sometimes Grace. But right now, Grace is busy baking cookies for afternoon tea here at Wimberly Place, the loveliest bed and breakfast anyone has ever visited. And I don’t care if people do keep getting murdered on the premises.”

“God help me! Somewhere along the line my characters have all gotten out of my control.”

“Tch, tch, darling girl, no need for such drama, just relax and let me guide the conversation. I’ll make you look both sweet and interesting. We do want our readers to keep downloading your books, after all, the royalties paid for your dental implants this last summer.”

“That's enough, Theodora, it's tacky to talk about money. This conversation is already way too long and the only thing you’ve told our readers about me is that I had dental work.”

 “Well, you whined enough about it last summer. Next post, if you’ll stop arguing with me, I’ll tell them how you came to write THE INCONVENIENT CORPSE.”

Urgh! Don't listen to Theodora. I promise that on my next post, Thursday March 8, I will hogtie Ms. T and be conversing with Grace Cassidy.



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter Vacation

(Photo courtesy of Brekenridge Resort)

By Mark W. Danielson

Colorado is beautiful, particularly during winter. With it meringue mountains, cotton clouds, and sapphire skies, what’s not to love? For skiers, February is a perfect vacation time because kids are still in school and the slopes aren’t crowded. Since February weather can also bring ice, snow, and strong winds, it’s also a great time for airline pilots to take vacation. I’ve been doing this for years, and most of the time it’s worked out quite well.

But this February has been unique. It’s brought Colorado record snowfall, which has had skiers flocking to the slopes. But the odd weather patterns have also made the avalanche danger high. Several people have been killed, and more are certain to fall. But since I gave up skiing years ago, I had other priorities. First, do some interior painting to get the house ready for sale. Second, to have fun. Turns out it’s far easier to paint than have fun. Allow me to explain.

Shortly after returning from my January trip, my daughter needed to borrow my car because hers was having mechanical problems. My schedule was wide open so I drove it down, and she drove me back home. The only downfall is she had been sick with the flu. The result? She had transportation and I got horribly sick. That meant I missed my next trip because I was barely able to move. The good news is I lived to paint another day. After getting well, my step son visited for several days and he had been sick with a sinus cold. Needless to say, his visit sentenced my wife and I to more misery, and yes, we’re still battling this virus a week later. On the positive side, our interior painting is completed. On the down side, we have barely left the house all month.

But what staycation is complete without chirping smoke detectors? My rule of thumb is if one battery dies, replace them all, so right after changing several, two detectors started chirping. Okay, I say. Maybe the spare batteries from the cupboard have been in there so long they’ve gone bad. So off to Lowe’s for more batteries, and when I return, Badda Bing, Badda Boom, they’re in. But no sooner that I step back that I hear, chirp, chirp. Fuming, I go downstairs to think. The thing about batteries is there is only one correct way to put them in. The bad thing is in smoke detectors, batteries fit either way, and you need far better eyes than mine to see its polarity markings. So I get my reading glasses, climb the ladder, check the polarity, and determine that yes, I’m an idiot. After properly installing the batteries I hear the wonderful sound of silence. Bear in mind that neither of these detectors chirped before I replaced their batteries.

But wait, that isn’t the end of my staycation fun. No sir, no ma’am, not by a long shot. First, you need to add my multiple doctor visits -- and who doesn’t look forward to them? Then add my multiple physical therapy sessions for my bad back and you have my list of things that made this winter vacation special.

But there is a plus side to all this nonsense. Prior to my getting the stomach flu, Lyne and I had been considering taking a short cruise. You know the type -- one of those last minute package deals that make it irresistible, except four cruise ships suddenly had major illness outbreaks, so maybe our viruses prevented us from spending a couple thousand dollars to be sick at sea.

Of course, there’s always next year. Hopefully by then we’ll be in a different location waiting for our new house to be built. Between illnesses, we did make it to the Denver Home and Garden Show, so that’s something. I’ve also gotten a lot of editing done on my next book. But what vacations really come down to is spending time with my wife, so in this regard, it’s been great. As for the bugs we’ve both suffered though, I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Different Words Have Different Places

By Chester Campbell

People who advise us on the craft of writing fiction are fond of saying make every word count. If it doesn't help define character or move the plot, it doesn't belong in the story. Okay, they allow us a little leeway in painting the setting, so maybe that's the crutch on which we can hang our little peccadillos.

I got a new review by Gloria Feit, who with her husband is probably the most prolific reviewer on the DorothyL mystery listserve. She posts her reviews on nearly a dozen other sites, including Spinetingler and Crimespree magazines and Midwest Book Review. At the end of her review, she commented that I gave a "tip of the hat from the author to Tim Hallinan and his Bangkok mystery novels, and to Lee Child and his Jack Reacher books."

I like to stick in little plugs for authors I know and like.  In one scene I had my secondary protag, Jaz LeMieux, reading a Tim Hallinan mystery to take her mind of her troubles. I don't recall how I brought in Jack Reacher. In other books I had used well known authors as well as lesser known but equally great writers like Beth Anderson, an old pal from Chicago.

I've just finished revising an early manuscript of a thriller I plan to put up as an ebook. Much of it takes place in South Korea, and I included a lot of Korean food and Korean customs to give a better feel for the setting. My first visit to Seoul took place in 1952-53 during the little fracas between North and South. My wife and I journeyed there in 1987 with our son and Korean daughter-in-law. During a visit to her parents' home in Inchon, I got a good look at how non-Westernized people lived.

One interesting little tidbit I used in the book was that you should make noises while eating to show the cook that you enjoyed her meal. When my son was married over there while on duty with the Army, it was with a civil ceremony. I Pun, my daughter-in-law (her maiden name was Han I  Pun), wanted a real wedding, so they had a formal ceremony at a wedding house. The preacher spoke in both Korean and English. Afterward, we ate at a Korean restaurant and joined several of her girlfriends for a tour of the town. We visited a Korean War museum and the Port of Inchon, where they let my son open a lock to let a boat in. The book, titled The Poksu Conspiracy, winds up with a Korean wedding.

Some of these little snippets probably advance the plot, others may add to character, but they all help give the reader a feeling of being there.  And that's what I like to create.

Visit my blog at Mystery Mania

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Signings in Unusual Places

by Susan Santangelo Greetings from chilly (though sunny) Cape Cod. Just back from a weekend of book sales/ signings in non-traditional settings. There are two dogs -- English cocker spaniels, to be exact -- in my Baby Boomer mysteries. The breeder of our dogs -- big surprise, they're English cockers -- is great at getting me booked to do signings at dog shows. No, I didn't get to Westminster this year, though she did with one of her dogs. But I spent Saturday in the XL Center in downtown Hartford CT (which happens to be the city where I was born) signing and selling books at the Elm City Kennel Club Dog Show. What could be better than spending the day hanging out with lots of nice folks who love dogs? And I sold lots of books. Plus, I met a prison guard (yes, you read that right) who is also a dog breeder, and he's now become a resource for writing my books. I don't know if I'll ever need him, but it's nice to know he'll answer any stupid questions I may have. Today, back on Cape Cod, I spent the afternoon at a lovely local inn which was the site for a wedding show. Yes, signing and selling books. The title of Book 3 in my series is Marriage Can Be Murder, and I met some very nice brides and grooms-to-be, plus their parents. And I got to ask very nosy questions of some of the other vendors, including one minister who shared a story with me about a wedding she'd performed when the bride's face was covered in red blotches. She attributed it stress/nerves,but as it turned out the bride in fact had the chicken pox! Wow. What a way to begin married life. I don't know how I can work that into my plot, but we'll see. I'm wondering if anybody else on this blog does signings at unusual (that is, not book stores or libraries) venues, and if so, where??

Saturday, February 18, 2012


by Leighton Gage

Some say capoeira has it's roots in the n'golo, the zebra dance of the Macupe of Southern Angola, a tribal ritual in which a young man could win a bride without paying the dowry if he could demonstrate great skill in fighting with his feet.

Others say that Brazilian slaves, recently imported from Africa, who were forbidden to possess firearms, knives, or clubs invented capoeira as a way to fight with the sole weapon left to them: their bodies.

Still others claim capoeira never had a martial side, that it emerged as a sport, or recreational activity.
And that it took place around the slave cabins when the day's work was done.

The truth of the matter is we don’t know how capoeira got started. We don’t even know, with any degree of certainty where the name capoeira came from. What we do know is that this mixture of martial art, dance, music and ritual is native to this country and that it was developed here among slaves brought from Africa.

There are three basic movements in capoeira, four defensive movements, eight basic kicks, fifteen takedowns, twenty-one other kicks and movements. If a given player uses any one of them, his/her antagonist uses another to respond. Mastering the give-and-take of capoeira takes years of practice.

In the Portuguese language, capoeira isn’t “fought”, or “danced”, it’s “played” (jogado).
Two players begin play by taking up a position in the center of a group (roda) formed by other players, spectators and musicians. As play progresses,  other players step in to challenge one of the two. The unchallenged one, the one judged to be the loser, drops out.

Rodas don’t occur in silence. They happen to the sound of hands clapping, chants (chulas) and musical instruments.

The chulas tend to be somewhat melancholy. Here’s how one of them begins:

No céu entre quem merece,
Na terra vale é quem tem

You enter heaven on your merits.
Here on earth, what you own is all that counts.

The instruments generally include at least one drum (atabaque), a tambourine (pandeiro) and birimbaus of three different sizes.

Birimbaus are single-stringed musical bows with a gourd at one end to amplify the sound. The strings are steel wires, generally taken from the sidewalls of automobile tires.

It’s the birimbau that commands the movements in capoeira.
To best appreciate a roda, you have to see one, which you can best do by visiting Rio de Janeiro, or Salvador, in Bahia. Hang around in the streets of the old city, or go down to the beach, and you’ll stumble across them all the time.

But I know that many of you will never visit Brazil, and there are really no decent videos I know of that transmit the energy you’ll encounter at a genuine roda.  So here’s the next best thing, a roda shot at a batizado (baptism) in which students are moving up in rank by demonstrating their ability in the presence of their master.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Self-Publishing with R. P. Dahlke

by Jean Henry Mead

Rebecca Phillips Dahlke operated her father's crop dusting business in California during the early 1980s, and began writing her mystery series following the death of her son, a career aero agricultural pilot. Rebecca calls her books "murder mysteries with some laughter."

Rebecca will be featured in The Mystery Writers with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and a host of other well-known authors. The book will be released next month by Medallion Books.

Rebecca, how did you happen to take over the family business? And was flying part of your job?

I sort of fell into the job when my dad decided he’d rather go on a cruise than take another season of lazy pilots, missing flaggers, testy farmers and horrific hours. After two years at the helm, I handed him back the keys and fled to a city without any of the above. And no, I was never a crop-duster.

Tell us about your writing background.

A few short stories were printed in a now defunct magazine and I was hooked. They say you should write what you know and at the time, I was able to use what I’d gleaned from my own experiences along with stories my son, John, who was a career crop-duster, shared with me. When he died in a work related accident in 2005, I was unable to go back to it until 2010.

How important are organizations such as Sisters in Crime to a mid-list mystery writer?

SinC is like a big fat favorite granny. She’s warm and comforting and tells you you’re wonderful when everyone else tells you your writing is crap!

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you aim for a certain amount of words per day and do you outline?

Well. if I’m very very good, I can smack out 2,000 words a day… but then life gets in the way… like the Monument Fire this last week, and we were evacuated and living in our RV with two dogs and I was eating on nerves about our home burning to the ground instead of writing. I’m happy to say that the house survived and so did we!

What’s the most important ingredient in a good amateur sleuth novel?

I’m glad you asked that question because in A DEAD RED CADILLAC and A DEAD RED HEART, I write about a tall, blond and beautiful ex-model turned crop-duster who, to quote Lalla Bains, says: “I’ve been married so many times they oughta revolk my license.” I wanted to give readers a peek at the not so-perfect -life of a beautiful blond. Lalla Bains is no Danielle Steele character, she’s not afraid of chipping her manicure. Scratch that, the girl doesn’t have time for a manicure what with herding a bunch of recalcitrant pilots and juggling work orders just to keep her father’s flagging business alive.

Between a philandering famous Puerto Rican baseball player husband and her long time widowed father’s triple by-pass, Lalla is now content to run her dad’s crop-dusting business in Modesto, California, and avoid the paparazzi hounds who feast on the remains of those who aren’t famous anymore.

In A DEAD RED CADILLAC Lalla is once again brought into unwanted limelight and as she sees it, the only way she’s ever going to get her life back is if she can solve the mystery . And, as luck would have it, along the way finds the man who becomes the love of her life.

How do you promote your books? And how much time to you devote to online networking?

I believe that authors MUST use as many avenues as possible to promote their work. Branding is a term that comes from major corporations, like Pepsi and Ford and these companies understand that one ad in one magazine is not necessarily going to equal one sale. Your name over and over again, along with the name of your series; like A DEAD RED CADILLAC and A DEAD RED HEART gives you an edge on that branding.

Advice to aspiring mystery writers?

Self-publish because it encourages you to write instead of pinning all your hopes on that NY publisher. Besides, the more you write the better you get. And you’re branding your name, developing a fan base. Who knows, you may get an offer from that NY publisher—which you can then accept or not. Which reminds me; I gotta get busy and finish my latest book, a romantic sailing mystery set in exotic Mexico. I hope to have A DANGEROUS HARBOR ready for publication by the end of this summer.

Thanks, Rebecca.

You can visit Rebecca at her website: Facebook page:
and her Amazon page:

B&N page:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bill Crider's Dead on the Island

by Jaden Terrell

I recently finished a PI novel, Dead on the Island, by Bill Crider, an author I hadn't read before. Dead on the Island introduces private detective Truman Smith. Tru has been working as a house painter and trying to recover from the loss of his sister, Jan, whose disappearance has not only left him grieving but doubting his abilities as an investigator. When an old friend, Dino, asks for help to find a missing girl, Truman must overcome his own demons, as well as some dangerous and unsavory characters with an interest in keeping things hidden. Crider's writing is polished, and his humorous, often self-deprecating voice makes Truman seem both likeable and real.

I knew I would like Truman in the book's opening scene, which showed Tru's compassion toward a wild rat who lives near the beach where Truman goes for his morning run. Of course, I'm a sucker for animals. In Janet Evanovitch's series, Stephanie Plum's affection for her hamster, Rex, made me like her immediately, and Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware is made more appealing by his love for French bulldogs Spike and Blanche.

My detective, Jared McKean, has two horses (and later rescues a third) and shares custody of an elderly Akita. In the second book, he and his housemate inherit a papillon, a small breed Jared would not normally choose but which he comes to love.

When handled well, a relationship with a pet can add dimension and humanity to a character. Does a character with a love of animals pique your interest? Can anybody recommend some other authors who use animals to add dimension to their books?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tales from the Road

 by Carola Dunn

I headed north last weekend to sign my new book, Gone West, and the paperback of Anthem for Doomed Youth in Seattle and Portland, at Seattle Mystery Bookshop 

and Murder by the Book. The signings went very nicely--I had a couple come all the way from Vancouver BC to Seattle to see me, and lots of Facebook friends turned up in Portland. However...

Parking on the street in Seattle is murder. So when I saw a parking lot with lots of empty spaces, I decided to park there in spite of the exorbitant cost. I wanted two hours but the only option was all day for $10. Plus $2.20 in tax. And the machine didn't give change. So I put in a 10 and three ones. The machine failed to deliver a ticket to put on my windshield.

The meter provided a number to call to report problems. So I called to report the problem. I entered all the figures they asked for, hoping against hope to get to a Real Person. Instead I was told that my credit card was refused, for a refund call xxx-xxx-xxxx, goodbye, and the automaton hung up. Of course I wasn't ready to write down the number so it sailed right by me. I got out pen and paper and called again. They wanted my credit card number again before they'd give me that phone number. And I wasn't going to give it again--endless loop, endless charges??

Being in a hurry to get to the store, I ended up putting my credit card in the machine and being charged $12.20 on top of the $13 cash. This struck me as a bit pricy for two hours of parking in a half-empty lot.

Several "contact forms" and phone calls later, they're supposed to be emailing me a refund form. As I had to spell my email address five times before she (at least it was a Real Person) got it written down, I'm not hopeful.

The Portland bookstore isn't downtown; it's on the edge of a neighbourhood where I've never had any trouble finding a place. No problem. I had a most enjoyable signing with an audience who asked lots of questions and bought lots of books. And then I set out for home, 100 miles south.

I always have trouble getting onto I-5 southbound in Portland. It's unbelievably complicated whatever your starting point, but I did think I had at last figured out how to do it from the bookstore. I headed for the Hawthorne Bridge, prepared in my mind to make the loop at the other end and hopeful that I knew which way to turn on the surface streets leading to the freeway.

Hawthorne Bridge was closed.

I studied my map. Go north a few blocks and cross the Willamette on the Morrison Bridge, I decided, having once got lost going south to the Ross Island Bridge.

Morrison Bridge was closed.

What was worse, there was no choice of which way to go from there--you were funneled onto I-5 northbound.

You may remember that what I needed was I-5 southbound.

Just in case you're worrying, I didn't end up back in Seattle. I made it home--

but now I'm hoping that trip wasn't an omen for my coming signing trip to San Diego. All I have to do is follow I-5...

Black Valentine

By Mark W. Danielson

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. Lyne and I had a great time dining at McCormick’s at the historic Oxford Hotel in Denver. The Home and Garden Show had just opened at the Convention Center so we made a stop there, spending far more time researching windows than expected. Each year, we make the trek to see what we’d like to put in our new home. For us, Valentine’s Day will extend into the next evening when we go out to dinner and then to a concert to see Lady Antebellum. We consider ourselves blessed to have each other and love celebrating this day.

But Valentine’s Day is one of those days you either love or hate, and the number of negative Facebook comments seemed to have outweighed the positive ones. One post stated that fifty percent of the people together this Valentine’s Day won’t be together next Valentine’s Day, and of those couples who stay together, twenty percent will be cheating on each other within the next 364 days. Now, I have no idea who came up with these statistics, but I hope they’re wrong.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I still believe in monogamous relationships, so long as you’re with the right person. Admittedly, I’ve experienced relationships that didn’t work, and at times shared the bitterness of this lover’s holiday. But as with writing, perseverance prevailed, and I know that Lyne and I will always be together.

So for those of you who didn’t have such a great day, I’m sorry, but remember that Valentine’s Day is not only about romantic relationships, but a day to celebrate our relationships with family and friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Words, words, words.

Last December, I did one of the relaxing, pleasurable things connected with writing; I read through and signed a contract. And, since the first draft of the book to which it relates has already been written, it means I can sit back, cash the advance (no, it isn’t enough to get a Ferrari or even solve the debt problem of a small uninhabited island but it’s money), and await further instructions.

As I was reading through it, though, it did occur to me that it had probably taken the lawyers a day or so, three at the most, to draw it up and, on a purely word-count basis, their remuneration would be significantly higher than mine. Fine, they studied for their degrees, worked as juniors (or however the system operates today) and, if anything nasty hits the fan, they’ll have to clean it up, so good luck to them.

It is, though, rather ironic that, whereas we (usually anyway) work to make our meanings clear, their technique is to multiply the ‘howevers’, ‘notwithstandings’, ‘heretofores’ and let clauses be as promiscuous as they like and reproduce themselves inside swelling paragraphs which are desperate for the relief/release of a full stop. Different worlds, different words.

Then, when I went to post the signed contract, I stood in the long Christmas queue at the counter and more words jumped out at me. I’ve tried to avoid saying too much here about writers who fail to distinguish between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’, ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’, ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ and all the rest of them. I’ve come to accept it in general but writers ought to be more respectful of their medium. It’s fine to break the rules of grammar but only if it’s for a purpose and only if you know them in the first place.

But I thought these other two examples were interesting in their different ways. First, a woman with a quite refined English accent (I’m in Scotland, remember) said to the server ‘May I purchase this calendar?’

Now there are all sorts of things that could be said about such a request. The calendar was hanging on a hook, with a very evident price tag on it, so the betting was that, yes, she probably would be allowed to buy it. There was the tiniest stress on the word ‘I’ so did she think it was only for sale to a chosen few customers?

But it was the word ‘purchase’ that struck me. Why not ‘buy’? Does she go home to her husband, partner, elderly aunt, or whoever she shares a house with and say ‘I purchased a calendar today, darling/sweetie/Aunt Murgatroyd/whoever’? If she does, it’s delightful to imagine the ensuing conversation, which would be full of:
‘Was the vendor helpful?’
‘Indeed, most accommodating.’
‘Will you be imbibing any wine this evening?’
‘Copious amounts, but first I must micturate.’
I’m not being nasty or superior, I love it that we have these different registers and that people actually use them, but that word ‘purchase’ seemed so incongruous in a shop full of people stressed out with Christmas shopping and having to wait to buy a couple of stamps. But the woman duly purchased her calendar and went home content.

The other example is again grammar-related but interesting in a different way. A young man with a strong Indian accent was posting bundles of cards to places in the UK, France, Canada and Australia. I’ve had one to one sessions with students brought up in India and they speak a much more correct form of English (if slightly outdated) than the majority of British people. One card in each of the bundles had to be weighed to determine the cost of the postage and, at first, through no fault of his own, the man wasn’t doing it right. The reason was that the man serving him was an Aberdonian and spoke in the local vernacular. On this occasion it wasn’t that the accent was distorting the actual sounds (although that happens very often) but he was making a familiar ‘mistake’ by saying ‘Put one of that cards on the scale’. We all know that, technically, it should be ‘those cards’ – and that’s what the Indian man had been taught, so the mixture of singular and plural had him baffled momentarily. (Another blatant example is the use of the past tense where it should be the past participle – ‘I’d ran to the bus stop’, ‘He’s gave her a present’, etc.) But I’m definitely not mocking either man. There are many such grammatical ‘mistakes’ that are accepted currency and some of them are perpetrated by characters in my books. If they didn’t speak that way, they wouldn’t be authentic. The important thing is to be understood. I suppose I only noticed it this time because of my struggle with lawyer-speak and the woman’s use of ‘purchase’.

Language is wonderful.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Priorities in the Writing Life

As writers we are constantly bombarded by demands, either outside or self-imposed. With this in mind, we all need to define our priorities. For me they sort out as follows:

1. Family and friends – Although writing is important, family is number one. When our kids and grandkids are visiting or when we’re visiting them, I do little writing. Since they live in different parts of the country, it’s a treat for my wife and me when we can get together with them, and during these visits grandkid activities take top priority.

2. Writing – Not promoting, not social networking, but actual writing is the next on my list. Nothing ever gets written unless I’m brainstorming, outlining or putting my hands on the keyboard. I include editing in this process as well, since I go through numerous editing passes on each manuscript I write.

3. Exercise – I try to get out for exercise every day. This keeps me both physically and mentally fit. I walk, hike, snowshoe and play platform tennis. Walking provides another benefit—it’s a time I practice my speeches and brainstorm on my current writing projects.

4. Critique groups – I’m in two online critique groups, and these are the next priority for me because this is how I tune my writing through critiquing others and getting feedback to improve my manuscripts.

5. Promoting my current novels – I do numerous events including book signings and speaking at service organizations. My current talk is titled, “How to Survive Retirement.” It advocates a positive image of aging and is a platform to indirectly promote my geezer-lit mysteries.

6. Selling manuscripts – This includes searching for a new agent and sending manuscripts to publishers. I have sold ten contracts myself and keep working on new opportunities.

7. Social networking – Some may place this higher on their list, but for me it hits number seven. I focus on Facebook, follow a number of Yahoo loops and do some Twitter and LinkedIn.

8. Administrative stuff – in last place is all the administrivia that needs attention. Being a morning person, I write in the morning, exercise in the middle of the day and do administrative tasks in the afternoon.

So this is my short list. I’d enjoy hearing how others set their priorities.

The Physical

by Ben Small

Having reached the ripe old age where I need a yearly physical, I find that I dread this ritual even more than a trip to the dentist's chair.

It's not the blood-letting I fear. One doesn't reach my age without learning to ignore the needle, even though my veins feel otherwise. They jump around and play hide and seek, usually resulting in frustration so intense, the needle-bearer stabs at one, hoping to get lucky. Sorta like the fisherman who can see his bass but can't get it to bite, so he ties on a treble hook and attempts to spike his fish onto the line.

You see, blood running down my arm doesn't bother me. Nor does the red tear-drop tattoo on the cheek of the needler. And I'm man enough to take lab results in stride. Good cholesterol bad, bad cholesterol worse, triglicerides -- whatever they are -- just awful.

Hell, nobody, 'cept Chester Campbell, lives forever or without pain.

So, it's not blood, the needle or lab results that cause me to dodge my yearly physical like Obama ducking budget cuts.

See, it's all about the finger. OMG, the finger.

Yes, women have their own crosses to bear, and I have no clue what indignities or pain they must endure on account of their gender and its plumbing. So I don't know what it must feel like to have my breasts squashed flat against a cold metal surface; my boobs are already flat. And I'm ignorant as to what doctor scopes or fingers a woman must endure in her goody-spot, or how those procedures must feel. That's all woman-stuff. Like child-birth. I just can't imagine what squeezing a watermelon through a keyhole must feel like.

But I know the finger. I get it each year. And every year, my doc's poker feels fatter and longer.

I realize prostate cancer is serious, that for most men it's just a matter of time, but I also know there are blood tests for that, the results of which show up in my lab reports.

So why the finger?

I have two theories on this:

a) My doc enjoys inflicting pain, likes the notion that I won't be sitting for a few days; or

b) My doc spent time in prison.

As to the first, credibility comes from the way he sticks his hand in an ice-bucket before he starts and because he uses Elmer's Glue-All instead of Vaseline. My fine legal training instructs me that these acts constitute intention to do harm.

As to the second, my doc attended Penn State, played football, and has a hand-made corbra tattoo coiled around his neck. I think these are indicators, but I don't know for sure. Every time I ask if he knows Jerry Sandusky, he cites the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

I'd go to a different doc, but I can't find one who will take me: I'm eligible for Medicare soon. Besides, I like that this one gives me whatever meds I want without question. Oxycotin's not addictive, is it? Or Vicodin or Percodan? My doc says, "Hey, don't worry about 'em."

So I don't. After all, he's a professional: He must know best. I get 'em by the crate. Yee haw. I saw a unicorn yesterday, and my dog speaks French.

But still, there's the finger. Always the finger.

And how do I know what he's doing back there? I can't see; no eyes in the back of my head...most times. But it worries me a bit when my doc hangs a Do Not Disturb sign on the back side of the door. And it's questionable why he thrusts and grunts during the procedure. Is this part of the physical supposed to take fifteen minutes? Can the prostate be that hard to find?

The first time he probed me, I questioned my doc's credentials. He assured me his degree came in the mail and said if I had further questions or refused to bend over, I could find another doctor. That Medicare thing again, even though at the time Medicare was years ahead for me.

I dodged my last appointment using the toothache excuse. I told his nurse assistant I wouldn't be able to bite down on the rawhide stick he gives me. She wasn't buying that excuse, claiming she had no idea what I meant, and only agreed to re-schedule when I told her the appointments overlapped and the dentist  scheduled me first. I got a lecture, but I got the reprieve.

My next scheduled appointment is this week. I doubt they'll buy the toothache or overlapping appointment excuse again, so I'm planning a car wreck. My Tahoe is ten years old and has run over a hundred forty-eight thousand miles, so I could use a new car. Granted, a car wreck alone probably won't do the trick. Cabs, you know. So, I'll strap a rock to the gas pedal, and shift gears as I exit, let the car roll into a rock at high speed. Then I'll roll around in the dust and scuff myself up before I call 911. An overnight stay for "observation" should do the trick. The appointment is for 8:00 A.M., and our local hospital doesn't release patients before 10:00.

So while I'm good this week, I'll be in the market for a new, credible excuse next week. If you have suggestions, please pass them along.

I'll do or pay most anything to avoid that probe.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Do You Write or Read Besides Mystery?

June Shaw

If you normally write and/or read mysteries, do you ever read or write in other areas? If so, what would that be?

I've been lucky enough to sell a series with three humorous mysteries. Currently, I'm trying something else. I'm writing a picture book with my granddaughter.

A few months ago eight-year-old Claire (who's adorable) asked if I'd hurry and finish my third mystery so I could get back to writing the book with her. I had gotten the idea for this book and asked her for suggestions. Then I purchased two books about writing for children. I read a number of articles about it, too, and borrowed a lot of Claire's books so I'd feel more competent to write a book (or two or more) with her.

Now it's almost ready! And I do hope you'll be looking for it soon for your own children or grandchildren or just because you love the idea.

HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR PET GHOST by June Shaw & Claire Naquin should be out soon.

Claire is so excited. So am I. We're making a list of people who'll want to buy a copy once it comes out. Anybody want your name added? : )

And no, I won't stop writing and reading mysteries.

Friday, February 10, 2012


by Earl Staggs

Back in November, during the Mystery We Write Blog Tour, I wrote this piece just for fun. You won’t find any historically verifiable facts, but maybe you’ll enjoy a chuckle or two.

I called it

The History of Publishing. . .according to Earl

Long, long ago, a bunch of guys were sitting around the cave telling stories to each other and one of them named Hiero came up with an idea.

“Hey,” he said, “we should preserve these stories on rocks.”

So Hiero came up with a bunch of symbols for animals and fish and birds and people and other things. They invented a hammer and chisel and started chiseling their stories on rocks using the symbols. Since Hiero made up the symbols, they called them Hieroglyphics.

I was just a kid then, but I studied hard and became a chiseler.

Then one of the women fell on a basket of grapes and squashed them into liquid and one guy said, “Hey, we can use that to draw our stories on the cave walls.” We took some hair from a mastodon’s leg, tied it to a stick, and used it as a brush. Soon we learned to drop women on other fruits and berries and came up with other liquids. We named it ink, and soon were drawing our symbols all over the cave walls.

That went fine for a while until some guy invented something he called paper. He said, “Hey, let’s put our stories on paper.”

A guy over in the corner named Webster said, “Hey, that’s fine, but enough with the symbols. Let’s use words. I just made up a whole lot of them and someday everybody will be using them.”

So we invented pencils and pens and started putting words on paper. That became very popular, once you got the hang of picking the right words.

Now, some people were better than others at picking which words to use. Webster came up with a word for what we were doing. He called it writing. The ones who were good at picking the best words became known as writers. I was tired of chiseling, so I studied hard and became a writer. It was tedious work doing one page at a time, though.

A few months later — and you’ll notice I’m condensing the time frame to make this move a little faster – a guy named Gutenberg invented a machine he called a printing press. What a boon that was! Put words in a flat plate, smear ink on it, and print thousands of pieces of paper. Oh, my. We were on a roll.

Then another guy had the idea of putting those pieces of paper in a pile and gluing them together. His name was Booker, so we called them books.

About the same time, a couple of guys named Royal and Underwood invented gadgets called typewriters. That made it a lot easier for writers to write books.

That was great. Soon we had stacks and stacks of books. Remember Webster, the guy who came up with all those words? Even he got into the act. He gathered up all his words, put them in a book, and called it a dictionary.

But what to do with all those books? A guy named Barnes said, “Hey, I have a friend named Noble. We’ll go in together and open a store to sell the books.”

Before long, we had huge companies called publishers cranking out books, and we had bookstores all over the world selling them. The whole system needed more people to make it work, so editors, distributors, shippers, and warehousers were born. Another group of people said, “Hey, we’re agents. You writers send us your stuff, and we’ll sell it to the publishers.”

Yes, a lot of people were involved in the system, but it worked. Everybody was reading books.

Meanwhile, up in Seattle, a couple of kids named Jobs and Gates were putting things together called computers. Not the huge things big companies were using. These were small enough to sit on a desk and soon everybody had one. This made it even easier for writers to write. These machines could even communicate with each other over a web that covered the whole wide world called the Internet. Wow! Talk about progress.

Things were about to change, though. A guy named Amazon started selling books over the Internet. You didn’t even have to go to the bookstore. Just order them through your computer, and they’d be shipped to your door. This Amazon guy went one step further. One day, he said, “Hey, look what I invented. I call it a Kindle. I don’t have to ship the books to you anymore. I’ll just send you the words and you read them on this thing. We’ll call them ebooks”

Remember those guys named Barnes and Noble? They said, “Hey, we have one of those, too. We call it a Nook. Soon, there was a bunch more of them. A lot of people weren’t reading printed books anymore. They were reading ebooks in the palm of their hands. Talk about change!

More changes were coming, though. A bunch of writers were sitting around one day and one of them said, “Hey, we don’t need agents and publishers and distributors and all those people. Let’s publish our ebooks ourselves. Since all those other people won’t be getting any of the pie, we can sell them for only a couple bucks and still make more per book than before.”

And that’s how it all happened and that brings us to where we are today. Writers have a choice of going the traditional way through agents and publishers or we can publish our own ebooks.

No one knows what changes the future will bring. It could be the entire publishing industry will crumble, and we’ll go back to preserving our stories on rocks. If that happens, I’ll be okay. I still have my tools and I can be a chiseler again.

If you’ve read all the way to here, you now know everything I know about publishing. If you’re still in the mood for reading, here are some things you can read on my website at

MEMORY OF A MURDER. A mystery novel with a long list of Five Star reviews. Click on it at the top of the page and read Chapter One.

SHORT STORIES OF EARL STAGGS. A collection of 16 short mystery stories in an ebook. A variety of stories ranging from hardboiled to soft to humorous. Click on “Earls Short Stories” for more information. Now on sale for 99 cents for all ereaders.

Click on “THE DAY I ALMOST BECAME A GREAT WRITER” and read the story some say is the funniest one I’ve ever written.

There’s also “WHITE HATS AND HAPPY TRAILS” about the day I spent with a boyhood idol, Roy Rogers.

Good reading and good writing to you, and let’s make 2012 the best year ever for all of us.