Thursday, December 25, 2014

Joyous Noel

by Jackie King

I haven’t loved every Christmas. I’m an old gal, and looking back through the years, there were many years I just plain faked my 'ho 
ho ho.' Some of those years were hard and to get through them I had to put on a brave face of unfelt joy for the sake of those who loved me. And oddly enough, for those who didn’t like me much. Why give such people the satisfaction of seeing you’re having a sucky Christmas?

There have been two especially tough Christmases in my life. The first was when my husband of 31 years informed me on the way to a church service that he didn’t love me anymore. That he hadn’t for a very long time. “I thought I could tough it out, and I really tried. But I just can’t stand it anymore.” Then he drove us on to church. It was a cold but sunny day and I was wearing sunglasses. I wore them all through the service, hoping people would think I’d just forgotten to take them off.

Sunglasses are wonderful things for hiding tears.

The second Christmas was after my 38-year-old son passed away in the summer. Plus, in early December of the same year, the doctors said my 10-year-old granddaughter had to have open-heart surgery.

We spend that Christmas Day in the children’s hospital at St. Francis Hospital. None of us minded, we were just thankful that the surgery was successful and that our darling girl was going to be fine.

I’m sitting at my computer and to my left is a huge stack of wrapped presents, all ready for Christmas Eve at my oldest daughter’s house. Today is December 23, the date of my once-upon-a-time marriage, but I hold no grudges and have no angst.

This year there will be no faking joy. The same granddaughter, now 19, is on vacation from University of Texas where she’s enrolled in their film school and loving it. She just called and said she’d pick me up tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 p.m. for our family celebration. We chatted a good long while. Among other things she told me her next semester schedule. She listed several classes including second year Swedish. Her plan is to travel to this country, famous for excellent films, to study for a semester.

One of her classes is the beginning course in screen-play writing. (Both of my granddaughters are writers. My grandson, a computer whiz.) She is excited about this class, and so am I. Life is good and my Christmas is Merry! I hope your Christmas is also wonderful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Around the World

by Jean Henry Mead

While researching Christmas customs around the world, I discovered that the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.

In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.

In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.

In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.

Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.

Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with  beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.

Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.

House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.

Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.

During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.

New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.

Christmas customs in this country are too numerous to list, and I'd like to wish all our blog visitors a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, no matter where you happen to live, or how you plan to celebrate the holiday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Those bloody voices

This has nothing to do with Xmas or even writing, but blogs have quite a wide remit, so this one is a sort of holiday posting. I only want to make one point but how I do so will depend on what sort of things you like doing in your spare time. I hope at least one of these clicks with you.

Let’s start with La Scala. At last you’ve made it for the season opener, December 7th. That unseemly row between Carlo Fontana and Riccardo Muti is years in the past and tonight, it’s one of your favourites: Verdi, La Traviata. OK, the seats have cost 650 euros each but, with Angela Gheorghiu and Juan Diego Florez performing, you’d have gladly paid twice as much. The lights and the applause for the conductor die down, those long, sad opening chords begin and you settle back, a smile on your face, anticipating a few hours of unadulterated pleasure.

But then, just as the tempo changes and the strings lift into that familiar opening melody, two men behind you start to chat.
‘Well, Rob, here we go then. The building may have opened in 1778, but I doubt whether it’s seen a starrier line-up than this one.’
‘True, Kevin. Von Karajan was here in July doing the Requiem, and the punters are always going on about Solti’s recordings at Covent Garden, but this’ll be a cracker.’
‘That second violin left the Berlin Philharmonic to come here.’
‘Good move.’
‘Yes. People say it was for the money, but I don't buy that. She just wants to play with the best. Simple as that.’

And so it goes on, throughout the performance. You can’t stop them, they’re constantly making comparisons with past evenings, other opera houses and remarking on tempi, the crispness of the pizzicatos, the embonpoint of some of the chorus and the evident degeneration in quality of some of the voices of the older ones.

Or maybe you’ve made it to Edinburgh to see that exhibition of the Scottish Colourists that’s had such rave reviews. You walk into the main gallery and there’s that Peploe with the apples and jug that you’ve seen so often in catalogues and online but never in the flesh. And you let your eyes wander over the bold outlines and get drawn in to the luscious reds and greens and beyond to the folds of cloth on which stands the milky jug. And you hear:

‘Brilliant, Rob. That time he spent with Fergusson by the sea around Paris-Plage wasn't wasted, was it? What a difference, eh?’
‘Just oozes class, Kevin. You don’t see brush strokes like that in Weymouth. And I’ll tell you what, you can keep all your CĂ©zannes and Manets. These guys have got it in spades.’
‘Yeah, what a line-up: Cadell, Hunter, Fergusson, Peploe. People still talk about the Glasgow Boys, but did you ever see one catch an Edinburgh interior like that? Nah.’
‘Well, for me Kevin, calling ’em Post-Impressionists doesn’t get near it. Remember the Pre-Raphaelites here last summer?’
‘Ah yes, Burne-Jones. He knew his way round a brush.’

And, as Kevin continues with an anecdote about seeing Lucien Freud drunk in Soho, you give up and walk out, the brilliance of the Colourists forever tarnished by the crassness of the experts employed to elucidate their achievements.

Extreme? Yes, but it’s what lovers of football (i.e. soccer) like myself have to put up with every time a match is televised. On show there are some of the greatest talents around and they’re playing a game which has structure, patterns, elegance, beauty, confrontations, highs and lows. But rather than watch and let us do the same, the commentator and his sidekick spew out statistics, irrelevant ‘facts’, and incisive information about the last time the defensive midfielder scored with a header in the first half. (For your information, it was in a third round cup-tie at West Bromwich Albion in September 2009.)

A recent match featured the brilliant Barcelona and their arch-rivals, Real Madrid. As the whistle blew for the kick-off, the commentator said, ‘This is it, then. Just sit back and enjoy 90 minutes of pure delight.’ And that’s exactly what I’d have done if he and his mate had only shut up.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Pet Peeve in Grammar

by Jackie King

I’m not sure when writers started using double punctuation at the end of a sentence, but anytime I read this in any story, I want to throw that book across the room. This weird, double-punctuation always consists of a question mark plus an explanation point at the end of a sentence. For example:

“Does that man have a gun?!”

Rather than:

“Does that man have a gun?”

Let’s suppose the scene had already been set up with our protagonist observing a man dressed in camo. The guy is trying to conceal himself behind a large indoor plant and a woman’s voice rings out,“Does that man have a gun?”

Note from reader: I don’t need the author calling my attention to the fact that this is exciting.

The addition of the exclamation point pulls me out of the scene, the book, and all I hear is the author is shouting in my head, “I’m afraid you’re a little dense and won’t understand how exciting this sentence is, if I don’t draw attention to it.”

Note to all writers: Readers are not dumb!

You will notice that in the above sentence that I didn't use both a period and an exclamation point, as if drawing attention to the fact this is a declarative sentence. That would be stupid, wouldn’t it? (Single punctuation mark.)

It’s equally stupid to use two punctuation marks at the end of an interrogative sentence.

Do you have a pet grammar-peeve? I’d love to hear about it.



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Traduttore, traditore

I wrote a blog a while back about the delight of receiving a copy of one of my books in a Korean translation. Then, this week, through the post came copies of the same book but this time in Spanish.

And it’s against that background that I want to set an email I received this morning. It was from a person who wrote a while back saying very complimentary things about my story Love Hurts and asked for permission to translate it into Persian. This is the same story that’s been optioned by a small film company in Los Angeles (although it’s so long since I’ve heard anything from them that I suspect I can wave goodbye to the dream).

Anyway, it seems she’s finished the translation and is relatively pleased with the result, except for a couple of sentences. She says she doesn’t really understand what I mean by them and asked if I could help ‘solve them’. The sentences were:

Outside, the sky hangs between pale blue and the peach wash of the sunset’s beginning.  Ben is in his usual place on the window seat.  Six feet two of him, folded into a corner of the sky.

And, later:

the peach wash has thickened to a buttermilk gold.

(OK, I know it’s the sort of writing that Elmore Leonard would cut because it ‘sounds like writing’, but I wrote the story a long time ago and I was deliberately aiming at being lyrical. So sue me.)

I really wanted to help with her translation but my first thought was: ‘Well, they’re just images, self-explanatory really’. But I remembered that I wrote the original version of the story for a competition on the theme ‘The Colours of Love’. (It came second and I won £100.) So I wasn’t just trying to paint pretty pictures.

In the end, my answer to her email went as follows:
‘Both sentences are really there to contribute to the theme of colours that runs through the story. The changing colours indicate its development – so there’s lots of brightness and sunshine during the happy days but, as her relationship with her son goes sour, it’s the darker colours which predominate. So here, specifically, the sky is pale blue but the sun is setting, so the blue is giving way to a peach wash (‘wash’ is a term from painting which suggests the colour isn’t intense but diluted). Both colours are fading – the blue is pale, the peach is a wash. And all of this is a visual background seen through the window for the silhouette of Ben. He’s folded into a corner of the sky, which means that he’s a dark, colourless shape. And, as the peach wash thickens to a buttermilk gold, it means the sky gets darker, gold is darker than peach and buttermilk is thicker than a wash. So, in the end, the colour images – which are an important part of the story – help to stress how what starts out as a beautiful, clear love becomes corrupted and evil. Darkness takes over from light, except in the mother’s troubled mind.’

Well, that was the theory, but I certainly didn’t have such conscious thoughts as I was writing it all. But if readers are puzzled by it, it means Elmore’s right and the writing is getting in the way of the meaning. My real reaction, though, was that translating is incredibly difficult, even if you’re truly bilingual. Is a ‘horse’ exactly the same as a ‘pferd’, a ‘cheval’, an ‘equus’, a ‘hippos’ or a ‘cavallo’? And even if you’re convinced they’re all equal, what happens to the meaning when you put it into a context that maybe carries a subtext? And how does the actual sound of each relate to the other sounds around it? And what if its main contribution is rhythmic rather than connotative or literal?
And all of that before you take into account the cultural baggage every language carries. I’ve no idea what effect my story will have in Persian, but, in case you’ve never come across the expression Traduttore, traditore, it’s approximately ‘A translator is a traitor’, which sort of sums up the problem.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Murder with Monsters

by Carola

My next Daisy Dalrymple mystery is going to start at the Crystal Palace.

This vast glass and iron building was first erected in Hyde Park in 1851, at the Great Exhibition. A couple of years later it was taken down piece by piece and rebuilt in Sydenham Park, south of the Thames, with two large wings added. It was in its way a precursor to Disneyland, but with an educational bent. As well as Roman chariot races (and racing automobiles in due time), it had displays of architecture from various time periods, art and sculpture, and other attractions too numerous to list. And the first public ladies' conveniences (loos/restrooms) ever.

The Crystal Palace burned to the ground in 1936. All that's left of the building is the foundations, stretching for hundreds of yards across the hilltop.

One exhibit was unaffected by the fire.  A sculptor, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, created huge models of prehistoric animals in the first attempt to show what the skeletal discoveries of the past half century might have looked like in life. He worked under the scientific direction of Sir Richard Owen, according to the latest scientific knowledge. They are so big that Hawkins gave a dinner party inside one of the sculptures before completing it. Inaccurate as we now know them to be, they are marvellous monsters, now restored and still lurking in natural settings in the park.

I simply can't decide whether to leave a body lying beneath one of the monsters or in the ladies' convenience. Or both.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I’m Thankful for Everything (Except Earthquakes!)

by Jackie King

There are three things I do most every day: write, exercise and pray, which includes counting my blessings. One extra thing has recently added itself to this list: an afternoon rest/nap period. I don’t acknowledge this fourth thing, because I didn’t invite it to join my list. It sort of added itself. I’m an old gal and sometime after lunch my energy disappears. When this happens, I lie down and use the time to count my blessings.

A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving I was doing just that while stretched out on my bed. It was Wednesday on November 12, about 4:20 p.m. Killing two birds with one stone, as my grandma used to say.

The bed began shaking. When you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, your bed isn’t supposed to shake unless you’re in a sleazy motel and have put a couple of quarters on the vibration gizmo. After a split second of shock, I realized I was in an earthquake.

Earthquakes have been reported in Oklahoma before, but this was the first time I had experienced one. This part of the country suffers through tornado season. We’re not supposed to have earthquakes, too. Not fair! my inner child shouted inside my head. The tremors seemed to go on forever, but it was probably only 5 to 10 seconds. And for sure, when my bed stopped vibrating, I had something new to be thankful for: being alive and safe.

Today is Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving rocks! You don’t have to buy anyone a present, and I don’t even have to bake a turkey anymore. I’m lucky enough to have a daughter named Jennifer Sohl who is the best cook in the world. Or at least in our family. She and her firefighter husband, Jim, host family and friends, and concoct a fabulous feast. Then they serve this banquet on a beautifully set table.

The conversation will be sparkling and fun…it always is. I have two teen-aged grandchildren, the redheaded twins Justin and Morgan. They will spar with their adopted Aunt Bob (Sheryl Lewis) keeping me laughing. I will eat too much and laugh until I’m exhausted.

I’ll also give thanks for everything…except earthquakes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Be Lucky by Bill Kirton

Two recent experiences made me start thinking about the role of luck in our writing and publishing careers. First I received an email from an online writer friend whose books weren’t selling and who was beginning to doubt her writing abilities. I tried to reassure her with my answer that it’s something most writers feel some of the time.  Then came news of some other writers who’d decided to give up because they’d been targeted by trolls who’d written nasty reviews of their books, sometimes without even having read them. My friend needed some luck to generate interest in her books, the others were being brought down by bad luck (and the incomprehensible desire of some people just to hurt others for their own amusement).

I remembered having written an article a few years back about the balance between luck and laziness in my own writing career. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here but it concerned one of those weeks that make being a writer very satisfying. I was feeling good because I’d started a new novel, there was a good turn-out at a reading and talk I gave, then came news that a publisher was interested in some of my sci-fi/fantasy stories and finally, on the Friday morning, proof copies of a non-fiction book I’d written arrived along with a message saying the publisher wanted to commission two more in the series.

So, all good news when I set off for Glasgow for the weekend of my grandson’s 5th birthday. Needless to say, my two grandsons weren’t particularly  impressed by any of this. As far as they’re concerned, my writing skills are judged on whether I can make them laugh when they come into my bed in the mornings. Needless to say, their laughter isn’t provoked by elegant turns of phrase or dramatic linguistic and thematic juxtapositions but by me doing funny voices and creating characters who live inside walls or have two mouths so that they can talk and eat simultaneously. (This particular detail involved an interesting sub-plot about the anatomical separation of vocal chords and alimentary canal and, if the listeners had had their way, would also have involved an exploration of what happened at the rectal end of the process.)

So altogether it added up to a happy weekend. But what’s it got to do with luck?

Well, when lots of ‘results’ of this sort come together, it feels like (and it is) luck. But it has to be put in the context of the many weeks or months, of ‘lucklessness’ which preceded it. We get pleasure out of writing, we work at it, cut, edit, polish, to make it as good as we can, and we send it away hoping that it reaches someone who appreciates it and recognises its quality. So when we get the usual rejection slip or, worse, no acknowledgement at all, we’re deflated, and it’s easy to start wondering whether we’re deluding ourselves and should maybe start a paper round or a window cleaning business. No. Keep writing, keep submitting material. Rework it, resubmit it because, yes, in the present market you need luck but (clichĂ© alert) you make your own. If you stop writing and submitting you’ll never get lucky. I know, that’s so obvious it’s hardly worth stating, but it’s too easy to start thinking it’s all a waste of time. It isn’t. Look back over material you may have forgotten, look at it critically, amend it if necessary, and start sending it away again.

As for the trolls, their need to hurt others reveals more about them than it does about you. How many of them ever have the pleasure of opening a package, taking out a shiny new book with their name on the cover, cradling it and feeling as if they’ve just had another baby?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Moors, mystery, and murder

by Carola

Moorland has provided a setting for a great deal of fictional (and some real) mystery and mayhem, at least since Wuthering Heights and probably before. The example everyone knows is, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which is set on Dartmoor.

Someone recently told me the stories she had read planted an image of moors in her mind that she found to be very inaccurate when she went to England and saw the Yorkshire Moors for herself. When I was in Cornwall last month, I hiked a corner of Bodmin Moor that I plan to use in my next Cornish mystery, so I'll share some pics of the hazards to be met there:

Animals, domestic and wild, and what they leave behind them

   Vicious plants

Rough country

Unexpected sink holes

 and mine shafts not guarded by restored pit-head buildings

Plenty of room for mayhem, methinks!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Featuring Guest Blogger Marilyn Meredith

My Writing Process

by Marilyn Meredith
The author at a writer's conference

First I should say that I am not an outliner. However, that doesn't mean that I don't plan ahead.

Because I'm writing a series, I know my main characters. I begin by thinking what kind of crime Deputy Tempe Crabtree will have to solve--usually a murder. If a murder, who will be the victim, the motive, and who had a motive--usually more than one person.

At the same time, I want something to be happening in Tempe's private life. Sometimes it's a continuation of what was happening in the last book. 

I have a notebook where I start writing things such as character names and descriptions and plot threads. 

My goal is always to come up with a first sentence that will hook the reader. Once I have that I can usually start writing on the computer.

While I'm writing, I continue keeping notes, especially what happens on each day. I started doing this when an editor pointed  out that I'd left out a day in one of my manuscripts. 

I try to write five days a week and the best time for me is morning. 

I read each chapter to my critique group, and make changes and corrections the following day. I consider that as my first edit.

Once I've finished, I go through the whole book. I do the Word edit and spell-check. 

Next, I send it off to the publisher and it is assigned to an editor. The edits may come back to me a couple of times. 

And last of all is when the galley proof arrives--that one I print out and go over carefully. 

As most authors know, no matter how many times a book is checked,  a typo or two seem to slip into the printed book. I think there are gremlins afoot that attack a book right before it goes into print.

And for those who often ask, I don't play music when I'm writing. As for what I drink, I begin my day with Chai latte.


Blurb for River Spirits:
While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty. Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty-five published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest River Spirits from Mundania Press. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at and her blog at 

The winner will be the person who comments on the most blog posts during my current tour.
He or she can either have a character in my next book named after them, or choose an earlier book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series—either a paper book or e-book.

Tomorrow you can find me hanging out with George Cramer and I’m talking about taking a break—or not.

From the publisher, all formats:

For Kindle:

Amazon paperback:
For Nook

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Series or Single Title?

by June Shaw

In years past there were Nancy Drew mysteries, which countless people who became writers of mysteries read. I've heard many multi-published authors say they became inspired by reading those books. I am sad to say I read none of them. I wonder if it would help for me to read them now, although I think not. I think that to write modern mystery series better, I need to continue to read current ones. But if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time.

I was blessed to have many people my age in my neighborhood and a park and large public pool and schoolyard with lots of activities that kept me outside having fun, so I must confess I seldom sat inside reading a book that wasn't for homework while I grew up. There was band and twirling practice and sewing for home ec, and if my English I teacher told me he was sending me to a literary rally for English, it wasn't my fault. Most of the test was grammar, which I knew well, especially because my mother annoyed me by always correcting the way I spoke as a young teen. Yeah, I won. Blame it on her and our excellent teacher.

But none of the fun I was experiencing included much literature. In class we read poems (Ugh, I thought, although I wrote and sold a few years later) and short stories (better), and mythology (fun!), but we never had to read a novel, so I didn't. Just occasionally someone handed me Little Women or some other classic and I sat still long enough to read it. Then wonderful people and events came to life.

But none of those books started a series. They stood alone, strong and proud and making me wish I could read more of them. I guess that's why more authors started to write series. By that time I was a young bride having one baby after another (yep, good Catholics down here in S. La.), and who had time to think of reading a novel, much less a series?

Now the kids are grown. Their kids are growing, too. And I have discovered series--for mysteries and romance. I find that I often enjoy series more than stand-alone, although not always. It's characters that will keep me going back to spend more time with them. I also write both--series and stand-alones.

What about you? What type books do you enjoy? Does a series hook you and keep you, or do you prefer to discover someone and some place totally new in each book you read?


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Knit one, kill one...

posted by Carola

Julie Turjoman is a widely published knitwear designer, who is so enamored of 
1920s fashion and period mysteries that she suspects she must have been a flapper in a 
former life.
'It was inspired by Carola Dunn’s lady detective character, Daisy Dalrymple, who never left home without her “emerald green cloche” in the first few books of the series.'

It’s a quirky theme, I admit. But the opportunity to combine my profession as a knitwear designer with my twin passions for Roaring Twenties fashion and period mystery novels was simply too tempting to resist.

A Head For Trouble: What To Knit While Catching Crooks, Chasing Clues, and Solving Murders is my latest knitting book.

 It draws on fictional 1920s lady detectives for inspiration, and the result is a collection of 20 hand knits that combine vintage glamor with a modern sensibility. And throughout its pages, murder and mayhem lend a dangerous edge to the traditionally gentle image of knitters with the quiet clicking of their needles and their skeins of soft and colorful yarn. Ten fashionable crime busters from popular period mystery novels swan through the book’s pages, wielding binoculars (the better to spot a villain from a distance), tipping back flasks of Prohibition-era gin, inspecting poison bottles, and of course, wearing the knitted designs with great panache.

Let’s consider these lady detectives, and examine their place in the world of traditional mysteries. Agatha Christie’s deceptively sweet little old lady, Miss Jane Marple – a knitter herself - is among the early female detectives to achieve lasting fame in the genre. In several modern mystery series that look back to the 1920s and ‘30s for inspiration, their authors capitalize on both the skills that women bring to the art of detection, and the societal shifts and contradictions of the “between-the-wars” era that made it a viable career option. Detective work became possible for women only once they had achieved the independence brought about by WWI, when many served as volunteers, munitions factory workers, nurses and ambulance drivers. After the war, women lived independently in greater numbers than ever before, owned and drove their own cars, and continued to work in professions previously open only to men. 

Like these fictional lady detectives, whose sleuthing skills are usually undermined or dismissed outright by their male counterparts in the local police force or Scotland Yard, the knitting needle itself has been given short shrift. Its potential as a murder weapon should not be underestimated. While its true that knitting needles are traditionally employed in the creation of baby blankets, tea cozies, and tweedy cardigans, few realize that sharp-tipped metal needles are in almost every knitter’s project bag, and that they’re positively lethal. And then there are circular needles: two sharp points joined by a length of strong plastic cable. Perfect for garroting one’s intended victim, wouldn’t you say? 

And let’s not diminish the role of yarn as an accessory to murder. A ball of yarn makes an ideal gag when stuffed into the victim’s mouth. An unwound skein, with its tremendous tensile strength, is just the right length to loop around a victim’s throat for quick, neat, and fail-proof strangulation. And yet whenever I travel by plane with several of these potential weapons in my carry-on bag, not once has a TSA agent either confiscated them or even pulled them out of my bag for inspection. As a knitter, I appreciate their trust – but if I had murder in mind, it would be another story!

In fact, I’m hoping someone will write that story. Already I can imagine the opening scene; a demure-seeming woman sits quietly knitting under the warm glow of a lamp in her living room. Her needles click softly, yarn spooling out of the ball at her feet into the beginnings of a new sweater for her husband.

But wait; downstairs, her husband lies crumpled in his ‘man cave,’ light from the televised football game playing over his frozen, startled features. A small, circular wound in his chest glistens with blood, but that’s the only sign of what transpired.

Who will take it from here?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Canadian Angle – an interview with Eden Baylee, part two.

by Bill Kirton
Continuing my chat with writer-friend Eden Baylee, whose debut mystery novel Stranger at Sunset was published in June.

Right, Eden, last time we talked about your first venture into the mystery genre,  Stranger at Sunset. What’s the next step?
I hope it sells, of course, both to people who enjoyed my previous books and to those who’ve never read my writing. I know I’m competing for a different readership now, but that’s not something I can control. In a way, it feels like starting over, but the advantage is I’ve amassed a wonderful network of writers and readers and supporters, so it’s a matter of continuing to write.

Stranger at Sunset is planned as the first of a trilogy. I’m laying the foundation of the next books, and I’m currently writing book two called A Fragile Truce. There’s a taster at the end of my book.

I know that, in your erotica, you frequently use first person narrative and the strength of the narrator is always evident. Here, though, it’s all third person. How much did you feel any identification with any of the characters?
I lived the life of my main character, Kate Hampton, while I wrote the book. I had to crawl under her skin to be able to write her and speak as her. Actors call it method acting, a technique to create in themselves the thoughts and feelings of their characters in order to develop lifelike performances. As a writer, I tried to do the same thing by connecting to Kate. It forced me to draw on personal emotions and memories, which allowed me to write realistic scenes and have her behave in a way that was plausible.

And, apart from the pleasure of reading it, what do you hope readers will take away from Stranger at Sunset?
First and foremost, it’s fiction and should be entertaining. It’s the same feeling as spending two hours at the movies or going to a concert—you want to feel like your time wasn’t wasted, that you enjoyed the experience because it connected you to something interesting, new, or enlightening.

Beyond this, the theme of the book speaks to the intolerance of its many characters. I call the book a psychological mystery because it addresses our perception of others as people. Human beings are extremely complex, and what’s seen on the outside isn’t always indicative of our true selves. Most of us live our lives filtered by what society and others think of us. Laws and morals dictate our behavior. In Stranger at Sunset, I explore what happens when we’re not bound by these restrictions.

From all you’re saying, and from my readings of all the other stories of yours which I’ve read, I’d say your interest is mainly in your characters. Is that right?
Definitely. My emphasis is on characterization. For me, it trumps plot, setting, and imagery. I feel if my characters are fully and authentically developed, then the rest will fall into place. There’s no point in having a great story if the characters are stereotypes, wooden, or elicit no feelings from the reader.

In reading literary erotica, (and I mean the classics of the genre, not some of the modern-day tripe), I’ve learned to write to appeal to a reader’s senses. Make them FEEL for your characters. I don’t necessarily want all my characters to be likeable because they’re not, but whether they trigger feelings of love, lust, like, or hate, it’s important that they evoke something.

My biggest failure as a writer would be to have characters that readers could care less about. Once they stop caring, they will stop reading.

As an aside, that answer gives me the opportunity to comment on a Canadian/American turn of phrase which has always puzzled me. We say ‘couldn’t care less about’ which seems to me the more logical form of the expression. And yet, bizarrely, they both mean the same thing. Anyway, as a final, trivial question, tell us something personal about your writing, some quirk, some ritual. Do you have any?
Hmm…Bill. Regarding that expression, I’m probably just saying it wrong! It’s amazing how many words and phrases I’ve been saying incorrectly for years, and I would’ve never known until someone told me. That’s the power of seeing words written down.

No, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the USA and my friends there all use your version of it. It’s another example of us being ‘separate nations divided by a single language’.
As for my quirk … In the cold weather, I wear a wool hat to write. That’s about eleven months out of the year in Canada (just kidding)! Actually, it’s a ‘comfort’ thing for me like a favorite blanket. I hate the cold, and I can’t think, let alone write, when it’s cold.
Other than that, I think it’s important to write daily. Exercising the brain by writing is what feeds my imagination. If I don’t do this, I’m afraid the muscle will wither and I’ll run out of ideas. The hat helps to keep all the good ideas warm too.

Interesting. Well, since Aberdeen’s hardly tropical, maybe I’ll give it a try. Eden, it’s been a great pleasure. Thanks for the insights and good luck with the book.
Thanks Bill for having me here. I really appreciate it.

Stranger at Sunset
Vacation can be a killer.

Dr. Kate Hampton, a respected psychiatrist, gathers with a group of strangers at her favorite travel spot, Sunset Villa in Jamaica. Included in the mix are friends of the owners, a businessman with dubious credentials, and a couple who won the trip from a TV game show. 

It is January 2013, following the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The luxury resort is struggling, not from the storm, but due to a scathing review from caustic travel writer, Matthew Kane. The owners have invited him back with hopes he will pen a more favorable review to restore their reputation. 

Even though she is haunted by her own demons, Kate feels compelled to help. She sets out to discover the motivation behind Kane’s vitriol. Used to getting what he wants, has the reviewer met his match in Kate? Or has she met hers? 

Stranger at Sunset is a slow-burning mystery/thriller as seen through the eyes of different narrators, each with their own murky sense of justice. As Kate's own psychological past begins to unravel, a mysterious stranger at Sunset may be the only one who can save her.

Amazon worldwide:

Music playlist for Stranger at Sunset – sold via iTunes

Links to Eden’s pages:
Website and blog:
Amazon Author page US
Amazon Author page UK