Friday, December 28, 2012

A Plea for Restoring Sanity


Mark W. Danielson

The above photos show a dog riddled with twenty-nine BBs.  If they came from birdshot, it means she was shot twice.  If it was from a BB gun, then she was shot twenty-nine times.  Amazingly, she survived and went on to be adopted by my daughter who had no knowledge of this horrific act until her dog had X-rays.  As of now, there is no plan to remove them due to the possibility of inflicting more damage.  Sadly, there is no way to predict how long her dog has been suffering or if it was lead shot that could lead to lead poisoning, but the two of them share a very close bond.  Truly they were meant for each other. 

When my daughter sent me these X-rays, I angrily wondered what kind of monster squeezes the trigger on an innocent and defenseless dog, and then I realized it’s the same type that shoots kids and teachers in elementary schools, high schools, or randomly shoots from college towers.  Clearly the first solution in preventing more killing sprees is to identify people like this dog shooter and give them psychological help before they explode and cause another massacre.  As a minimum, they should never have access to a firing range or weapons.

I am a strong believer in the right to bear arms, but unless we are facing a Zombie Apocalypse, I fail to see why any individual needs a large-magazine, rapid-firing assault weapon.  For the purpose of this article, I will arbitrarily define large magazine as anything over nine rounds, and classify any weapon having more than nine rounds as an assault weapon because no one needs more than that to go hunting.  But as the NRA will point out, the real danger behind any weapon is the person pulling the trigger.  I agree, and go on to say that our system has failed miserably in identifying people with violent tendencies.  Even worse, the records of those who have been clinically identified as disturbed are sealed to protect their civil rights, which means there is no way authorities can be proactive.  Only after a mass murder like the Connecticut shooting are the details of the deranged assailant’s background revealed.  If we started seeing these people as domestic terrorists, we might have a shot at preventing future killings.  When we finally realize that protecting the general public is more important than protecting a potential murderer’s civil rights, we might have a fighting chance.  Agree or not, this is definitely something to think about the next time you cast your ballots.  

The great irony is those who fear authorities will be delving into their personal information willingly share their life’s story on social media sites.  They complain about Big Brother’s security cameras and then rant when criminals are released because video didn’t record their crimes.  Neighbors complain to authorities when they were not warned that convicted rapists and child molesters are living among them and yet these same people rush to protect criminals who claim their civil rights were violated.  What will it take to realize that only those people who violate the law have reason to fear increased scrutiny? 
The first step in restoring order is to enforce existing laws, not create new ones as a reaction to public outcry.  The second is to restore censorship to enhance decent core values.  People are far less tolerant now than when I was a child, and a big reason is electronic stimulation and media sensationalism.  Thanks to texting and social media, bullying has gone from school playgrounds to cyberspace.  Movies, television shows, and video games have not only become increasingly violent and graphic, they encourage disrespectful behavior.  Music has gone from innocent teen romances to explicit commentary on abusing women, doing drugs, killing bitches, and language so foul they require warning labels, and yet we protect all of this in the name of Freedom of Speech.  So before we blame everything on the criminally insane, it’s time we identify how we can restore sanity.  Before this can happen, we must first accept the blame for letting our society go mad.  Until we regain our work ethic and refine our scruples, more mass killings will be coming to a theater near you. 

By nature of their jobs, law enforcement and military personnel will always have a need for improved multi-magazine assault weapons.  On the contrary, someone who shoots a young dog may also possess the mental capacity for riddling humans with bullets.  If you are against assault weapons, then ask your elected officials to explain why they lifted the ban.  With the New Year upon us, now seems like a good time for meaningful change.     


Thursday, December 27, 2012


By Jackie King
I’ve always loved Christmas Eve, and that, my friends, is a great mystery.

As a child we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. My brother, sister and I couldn’t wait and Mother just wanted to get it over with. She wasn’t a Christmas enthusiast…except for putting on Christmas plays with her students at school. Everything else was another nuisance and unneeded expense. (She wasn’t a cruel person, just unusual…a woman who marched to her own drummer. And her drummer didn’t do Christmas carols.)

But nothing could discourage me. Not even the year I was 16 and received a gift-wrapped gift box of rocks. I was disappointed but not angry, not even hurt, really. That was just Mother’s idea of humor. But she must have realized belatedly that this was inappropriate because when I was leaving to go back to college (yes, I was in college at 16) she gave me back the turquoise chenille robe that I’d given her. (In her defense: she was a single-mom school teacher with three kids in college. She was in debt and her life wasn’t easy.)

Tonight I’m going to my family’s annual Christmas Eve party to be held at my oldest daughter’s house. My granddaughter, Lauren (who will head to college next year at the appropriate age of 18) will pick me up. That’s because a huge snow storm is toward both Tulsa and Oklahoma City and an extra car in the driveway would be troublesome.) I’m packing a bag and my Christmas stocking. Daughter Jennifer and her family will be with us, and gifts will be opened and enjoyed.
There will be no wrapped rocks.

I’m not writing this as a sad story, but as a joyous one. In spite of every difficulty, I absolutely adore Christmas, always have and always will. And this, my friends, is one more story about the great mystery of Christmas.
Christmas hugs to all,

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in College

A facetious, totally unreliable glimpse into academia.
DR MCBRIDE: Can’t it wait until later? I really need to finish this critical analysis of that late Beethoven quartet which…
PROFESSOR DEELEY: We don’t have time, McBride. You know the date, I take it?
DM: Of course. it’s the 4th. Why?
PD: Yes, the 4th of December. They’ll be here in a couple of weeks.
DM: But this Beethoven score – I’m so close to finalising it. That b minor viola shift…
PD: I know the feeling only too well, McBride. I felt exactly the same about what was to be my definitive article on Tolstoy’s debt to Victor Hugo. But there are other considerations. We must be realistic. We need to get ready.
DM: Damn. Every year it’s the same. Every year I vow I’ll move to some respectable provincial university. But I never do.
PD: And why would you? There’s Oxbridge, us, and the rest are nowhere.
DM: I know that. But every Christmas, with all the damned tourists, the carols, that absurd charity pantomime. It’s so demeaning.
PD: Tradition, McBride. And, of course, economics. They bring the dollars, we deck the halls with holly, ivy, mistletoe and dress up like munchkins. It’s a small price to pay for 11 months of academic freedom.
DM: Professor Deeley, I have a PhD. I’ve published monographs on atonal shifts in Bartok.
PD: And your point is? Remember that you’re speaking to the editor of two volumes of Dostoevsky’s correspondence.
DM: I know. I remember the reviews of it. An outstanding piece of work.
PD: Thank you.
DM: But also, in and of itself, a confirmation that we should not need to do this … these Christmas things. They’re demeaning.
PD: It’s what people expect. Who are you this year?
DM: I’m sorry?
PD: In the … performance.
DM: Father John.
PD: Ah, showering reprobation from the pulpit.
DM: That’s the cross I bear this year. What about you?
PD: Well…
DM: You’re not driving the sleigh again, are you?
PD: No, I…
DM: You’re Joseph.
PD: No.
DM: Not Mary, surely?
PD: Er…
DM: Professor Deeley, you seem reluctant to divulge it. Is it something shameful?
PD: Not exactly. I’m … I’m the beau.
DM: The beau?
PD: Yes. Under the mistletoe.
DM: I know where the bloody beau goes.
PD: Please, McBride.
DM: And who’s the belle this year?
PD: Holly Devere.
DM: Holly Devere? The 4th year medic? The one who does lap-dancing in the Union?
PD: I believe so.
DM: You swine. I’ve been after her for a month.
PD: Don’t you think I know that? It’s damned embarrassing. Bad enough having to canoodle with a student without knowing she’s … well, not mine. I didn’t choose her.
DM: Maybe not, but you’ll be doing the canoodling with her. You swine. That should’ve been me.
PD: Has it occurred to you that perhaps they wanted a beau who wouldn’t be a laughing stock?
DM: A laughing stock?
PD: Oh come, McBride, you may not be a linguist but… Beau? Beautiful?
DM: What’s your point?
PD: Nothing of any consequence. Hugo’s theory of the grotesque. Inner beauty is what counts. You may resemble Quasimodo but I don’t doubt that, inside, you also have his capacity for love, compassion.
DM: You patronising sod.
At which point, we leave the Professor of European Literature and his colleague from the music department to settle their academic differences with a mixture of vitriolic abstractions and playground taunts, but with no danger of any physical contact. Their Holly-induced enmity will, in due course, lead to McBride, during an enforced leave of absence occasioned by the need to investigate a claim of sexual harassment against him, penning a stinging refutation of Deeley’s interpretation of Beowulf. Deeley, in turn, will use his influence to ensure that McBride never gets to be the beau. And the tourists will be beguiled by a pantomime which affirms the old enduring values.
So happy Christmas to you all and…
God bless us, every one!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word

Authors have to put up with rejection. It comes with the territory. When I started writing, I sold my first story on my112th submission, meaning I received 111 rejections. This is nothing. Famous western author Louis L’Amour received over 350 rejections for over 200 stories before selling his first story.
I’ve learned that I have four choices when dealing with rejection or other adversity:

  1. Change my attitude
  2. Change the situation
  3. Suffer
  4. Get out (give up)
As I writer I chose not to pursue alternative four—I wasn’t going to give up. Perseverance is key to success. And after brief moments of number three, suffering, I decided I didn’t want to wallow in misery. This left a combination of options one and two. As Victor Frankel says in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, the one thing no one can take away from us is our ability to control our own attitude. This supports perseverance.

The Stockdale Paradox states, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” Admiral John Stockdale came to this conclusion as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Although rejection as writers isn’t in the same category as being a prisoner of war (it might feel like it at times), the lesson is equally appropriate. We have to do everything possible to succeed (keep writing no matter what) but have to also be realistic about the difficulty of our situation.

At a conference I attended in September, one literary agency stated they had received 37,000 queries in one year and out of this signed seven writers. That’s less than .02%, not good odds. We have to be realistic that writing and getting published is not easy.
So with a combination of changing my attitude and changing the situation by continuing to write and learn from feedback, I now have four published novels with two more under contract.
I’ve heard it stated that you need to write a million words to refine your craft. I’ve written over a million words, and I’m still learning. And I keep writing more words. As Nora Roberts stated, “You can’t edit a blank page.”

So why is rejection not a four letter word? Because we can learn from it, move on, persevere, and improve. It’s a badge that we’re on our path in our chosen area of expertise. And what keeps me going are the emails I receive from readers, such as this one: “I have read your books and enjoyed them immensely, but even more fun was listening to my husband read them. He snorted, chuckled and guffawed his way through them. And the idea of geezer lit tickled the bejabbers out of him.”

I may not be the best writer in the world, but I can put together a story that entertains and makes people laugh.

Mike Befeler

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Valley of the Shadow: out at last

by Carola Dunn

The Valley of the Shadow, my third Cornish Mystery, is out at last.

I'm happy to say that it was picked up from the Indie Next booksellers list by USA TODAY, and is one of their BOOKS: NEW AND NOTABLE.

Lifeboat--the book is full of them!

Besides several signings, I've been doing a bunch of guest blogs. Don't be alarmed--none of them is very long. Here are some links:

Two excerpts from the book

A chatty letter from Eleanor

A "cozy" writer's dilemma:

Here's one about dogs in my books:

And one I wrote for Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Handicrafts in my mysteries? I didn't think so, until I started looking, for Lois Winston's craft blog:

The Valley of the Shadow is available from all booksellers and ebook sellers. Support your local independent bookseller!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hello from the Saddest Place in the United States

It's very hard to write this post. I am sitting here in my warm cozy kitchen in the beautiful state of Connecticut. Came down from Cape Cod to do a book signing for my latest Baby Boomer mystery, Marriage Can Be Murder. Now, the title gives me chills as I think about the horrific events in Newtown CT, very close to where I am. Connecticut is a small state, and it is my home state. Many of my high school and college classmates are teachers. The connections are very strong. One of my best friends taught for many years with the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, who bravely confronted the gunman as he stormed into her school, intent on committing the most despicable act ever -- the murder of innocent children. She sacrificed her life for her kids, as did the brave 29-year-old kindergarten teacher who hid her entire class in closets and convinced the gunman that all her children were in the gymnasium. Her class was saved. She lost her life to protect her kids. The stories of heroism go on and on, as do the connections in this state. The granddaughter of one of my closest friends was a student at that school. I spent all day Friday worrying and praying that she was all right, and i was afraid to call and find out. Yes, she is safe, thank God. I'm leaving now to do a book signing for a humorous mystery involving a murder. And I'm wondering how funny it really is. Because my heart breaks for this country, and for the families in Newtown who have lost loved ones. When will this senseless violence stop?

Saturday, December 15, 2012


by Leighton Gage 

Some three-quarters of a century ago, my mother-in-law accompanied a friend on a visit to a coffee plantation in the interior of São Paulo. While there, they visited a family she’d never met before, and has never seen since, but has always had good cause to remember. Because their home was filled with paintings by a young nephew named Candido Portinari.

Portinari, the son of immigrant laborers from Veneto, Italy had been born on that very plantation.

He went on to become one of the two leading Brazilian artists of his generation (the other being Di Cavalcanti, five years his senior).

Classified as a neo-realist, the range and scope of Portinari’s work is remarkable.

It includes images of childhood…

…paintings depicting labor…

…refugees fleeing the hardships of Brazil's rural north-east...

…treatments of key events in Brazilian history…

…portraits of members of his family…

…and leading Brazilian intellectuals…

…even book illustrations…

…and decorative tiles. 

At the United Nations Building in New York, you can also admire his enormous panels Guerra e Paz (War and Peace).

Not, however, as of this writing, because they happen to be in Brazil for restoration.

Like some other countries proud of their painters (France and the Netherlands come  immediately to mind) the government once saw fit to honor him by putting his image on the currency.

And these are the images of him, that Brazilians will most readily recognize.

Of Portinari, it can truly be said he gave his life to his art.
He died in Rio de Janeiro, in 1962, of lead poisoning contracted from his paints.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I don't normally write reviews and don't consider myself good at it. This is a special circumstance because Kevin Tipple is a personal friend.  Actually, Kevin is a good friend of everyone in the Mystery writing community. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the many excellent reviews he writes at:
You may not know Kevin is also a writer.  He has gathered and published seventeen of his short stories into a collection and I highly recommend it.
With all that said, here's my review.
A Collection of New and Previously-Published Stories
By Kevin R. Tipple
Reviewed by Earl Staggs 

You know the author is taking you on a different kind of reading experience when a story begins with this:   

“I am Dantelus, the many-generational grandson of Dante. I have received special permission in the past to visit Hell in the hope that my works would bring a message to a world bent on self-destruction.” 

That’s how Kevin Tipple begins HELL, HERE AND NOW, the first story in this collection.  

That’s not the only unusual experience waiting here.  In BARTHOLOMEW MORTIMAN, you meet  a man who tells you he has. . .”drifted, searching for meaning, a truth to the universe and my existence. “ He‘s sure he’s found it when he meets Sarah, but she leads him to more than he could ever have imagined. 

Not all the stories in this collection introduce characters in an altered reality.  Some explore the minds and psyches of ordinary people pushed to the edge of endurance and reason.  They may remind you of people you know who have had the worst of life dumped on them.  THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND SO ARE WE tells of a man who is out of work, his wife has left him, it’s stinking hot, the city will shut his water off soon, and his kids are driving him to the very edge of chaos.  In NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, a security guard patrols a desolate mall parking lot late at night. He has every reason to believe he’s been ambushed and takes appropriate action, but the results are disastrous. 

That’s only a sampling of what you’ll find in this eclectic collection.  In these seventeen short stories, Kevin exhibits a talent for developing characters in a mixture of genres, then peeling back their skin to expose the pain and anguish inside.   

Ordering this collection will not only provide an interesting reading experience, but will also help the Tipple family in their devastating and ongoing health-related financial struggle. 

MIND SLICES is available for $.99 at:


Thursday, December 13, 2012


Christmas Special Featuring Amy Shojai!

Amy Shojai, author and animal behavior specialist, is answering questions and sharing her secrets!

A dog finds his true purpose...when he disobeys
Amazon Book Link:

Question: You wrote nonfiction books and articles for years before penning your first mystery. What prompted you to decide on this career change?

Answer: I haven’t stopped writing nonfiction books and articles, but have simply expanded my audience with the writing of my debut thriller. Actually when I first began writing more than twenty years ago, I wanted to publish fiction and wasn’t able to get an agent or publisher interested. When I submitted a YA horror novel to one agent, she had no interest because “YA doesn’t sell” but encouraged me to submit nonfiction book ideas. I became her client and we sold more than a dozen nonfiction pet care books together, and I became so busy fulfilling those deadlines, the fiction fell by the wayside.

More recently, though, the publishing industry has changed. My nonfiction pet books are prescriptive, information-heavy works and these days, people prefer to “Google” and find information for free in the Internet—never mind if it’s accurate or not. Publishers care most if the book sells, so the market for my nonfiction titles shrunk. Suddenly I had more time on my hand, and it occurred to me that I could still provide solid pet information—with entertainment—but in fiction books instead.

Question:Tell us about your new mystery, and why you decided to write from a dog’s point of view?

Answer: I like to call LOST AND FOUND a suspense thriller rather than a mystery, because the reader knows “who dunnit” from the beginning—they just don’t know why, or if the good guys will overcome the evil. Since my background is in dogs (and cats), and I have an expertise in animal behavior as well as medicine, I wanted to layer those aspects into the story. Now, I’ve read LOTS of novels that include “animal viewpoint” and some are done well while others leave me cold.

Magic, Amy and Seren

Most are written as the animal character is a human wearing a fur coat, LOL! That’s fine in fantasy, and may work in other types of fiction. But I wanted my animal characters to BE ANIMALS in all their furry glory, and to act, react, and sense their world as would their true animal counterpart. In other words, the dog character Shadow, truly behaves like a nine-month-old puppy, and he doesn’t talk—but he scents, sees and feels the world around him and reacts to that world in a realistic way. I’ve had readers tell me they now understand their dog’s behavior and reactions in a fresh way, and better recognize how easily dogs and people misunderstand each other. Basically I wrote the book that I wanted to read.

My heroine is an animal behaviorist, September Day. She came home to Texas after the murder of her cop husband, and has trained a service dog for her autistic nephew. When the seven-year-old and his dog get lost in a freak blizzard, September must find the missing. And of course, all kinds of mayhem and complications stand in the way of success.

Question: You have several pets. Did you model any of your four-legged characters after your own cats or dogs?

Answer: Ha! Absolutely! In my first draft of LOST AND FOUND, the dog character’s name was Magic—that’s my own German shepherd. I began writing LOST AND FOUND when Magic wasn’t too much beyond that puppy-stage and it was very easy to “channel my inner dog” with him as an example.

My cat Seren, though, has only a few things in common with Macy, the trained Maine Coon cat in the book. Seren is also trained, and she does some of the same tricks as Macy. But while Seren is a 6-pound Siamese wannabe and now an old-lady cat at about 15 years old—and very persnickety about strangers—Macy weighs over twenty pounds, is a young boy cat in his prime, and never met a stranger. Although Macy does “nail” the bad guy at the end of the book, it’s not out of meanness but only when prompted by September’s command.

Question: Tell us about your work(s) in progress?

Answer: I’m recording audiobooks! *s* The first two should be released before the holidays. I’ve already finished recording my current Kindle nonfiction best seller, COMPLETE KITTEN CARE, and am in the process of recording LOST AND FOUND. The thriller is quite a challenge because different voices for characters are needed.

I’ve also begun outlining the sequel to LOST AND FOUND. The tentative title is HIDE AND SEEK (yes, I have a theme going!) which will continue September and Shadow’s story. I have plans for a third book in the series, as well.

Question: Other than writing, what gives you the most pleasure in life?

Answer: Music and theater. I have degrees in both and love to perform. This past year, I’ve had the great pleasure to combine my three great loves—writing, music and theater—and collaborated with a co-writer to create and perform a musical comedy, KURVES, THE MUSICAL. Together we wrote the script, the 12 original songs, orchestrated the show, cast and directed and performed for standing ovation crowds. What a rush!

Question: Who designed your book cover? Did you have any say in the final result?

Answer: I’m blessed to work with a small independent publisher, Bob Mayer and Jen Talty, who created Who Dares Wins/Cool Gus Publishing. Jen is my editor, and she also designs a good number of the book covers, and asked me for input. She sent mock ups and we worked through eight or nine versions before we had the final version. At one point the only dog pictures she could find just weren’t right—wrong color dog, too old, the look simply wrong. So I offered to find pictures of a young black German shepherd, and set up a photo shoot. The cover dog is a nine-month-old bred and owned by Magic’s breeder.

Question: Tell us a bit about your schedule and work habits as a writer.

I’m a fulltime freelance writer, with weekly and monthly deadlines that pay the bills. So it’s a “real job.” Generally I start work at 9 am, work at least 6 days a week (I try to take Sunday off), and am at my computer until the day’s to-do list is done. For instance, as I type this, it is 8:50 pm on a Tuesday night. *s*

Question: How do you motivate yourself to write when you’re not in the mood to create even one more sentence?

Answer: I look at what bills are due. That’s a great motivator!

Isn’t that the truth! And Readers, Amy is known for her quick wit and snappy dialogue. For a fun and exciting read, be sure and get your copy of LOST AND FOUND, a thriller with bite!

Solving Pet Problems & Thrillers With "Bite!"

IAABC Certified Behavior Consultant

Author, 26 Award-Winning Pet Care Books

Follow Me on Facebook and Twitter

Amy's Website
Amy's Facebook:

Amy's Twitter: @amyshojai

Thanks, Amy for stopping by. I’ve learned a lot from you and hope my readers will, too.


Jackie King