Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guest on Edin Road Radio

If you like books and haven't heard of Edin Road Radio, you should pay a visit. Jesse V. Coffey has a wide range of guest authors who read selections of their work, talk about what they write, and share a half hour on air with her. I had the privilege of being her guest on December 27 and am happy to say she has invited me back when my next novel, Concealed in Ash, is published.

Between readings, we talked about my love of Kentucky history and the great special collections at the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. I also complimented the wonderful effort of Kentucky and Indiana historians in building the Kentuckiana Digital Library, and put in a good word for the Morris Book Shop here in Lexington. The Shop always has my book in stock.

When you have a half hour to listen, stop by and play one of the shows on Edin Road Radio. Jesse does a great job hosting blog talk radio. Her guests cover a wide spectrum of work, her show is great fun, and I look forward to listening to more of her broadcasts. Closing out the year on Edin Road is poet David Nelson Bradsher on December 29. Her website lists upcoming guests in January and early February.

The list doesn't go far enough to include Sarah E. Glenn, but she will be on the show next year. I'll be blogging more details of that closer to the date of her appearance.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Book Review: Civil War Lexington, Kentucky

The History Press has just released a new book by Joshua and Karen Leet, titled Civil War Lexington, Kentucky: Bluegrass Breeding Ground of Power. In the interest of full disclosure, I was introduced to the Leets by fellow author Stephen Zimmer who invited me to their launch at The Morris Book Shop, here in Lexington, where I am sure you can still get autographed copies.

At first glance, you might think that Lexington is an odd choice for a Civil War book. There were no great battles fought in the city, nor was Lexington a key strategic location. Instead, Lexington contributed her greatest minds, bravest hearts, and most loyal citizens to the war. Civil War Lexington, Kentucky reflects the people, North and South, who loved their home state and fought for what they believed was in her best interests.

Joshua and Karen Leet take a history lovers' look at Lexington's leading families and Lexington's role in shaping United States history, and how Lexingtonian lives were changed by the war that divided the country. There is no deeply footnoted scholarly text to wade through; this is a book that is friendly to the lay reader. It's also the sort of book for history lovers, Civil War buffs, and anyone who loves Kentucky history. Certainly, there is enough meat to the text to be worthy of the researcher's shelf, but it also belongs in the gift shops of state parks and Kentucky historical sites, particularly those in the Bluegrass.

I am very happy to have this slim volume as a new addition to my Kentucky history bookshelf, and will be referring to it often to enrich the background of my novels.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: There's a Little Grinch in All Bad Guys

"The Grinch" is the go-to bad guy of childhood, particularly during the holiday season. Children everywhere Christmas is celebrated have been exposed to Dr. Seuss's Ghinch. He is one of the most memorable bad guys ever created. Love him or hate him, the Grinch is the bad guy who puts the mean in green.

As a writer, I am more impressed with the author than the character. Dr. Seuss has endowed his children's books with complex characters and simple actions that make those characters understandable. Everything from the Cat in the Hat to the Butter Battle teach children to think about the world in new ways. In a world where what we get overshadows why we give, this bad guy reminds us to give of ourselves.

The Grinch is an excellent example of the annoying aspects of holiday excess and exclusion. Who-ville's happy people are a sharp contrast to the bitter, hateful, cold cave of occupied by the Grinch. But even the Grinch has one friend in his dog Max. We are saddened by poor, loyal, Max being forced to pose as a reindeer and help steal Christmas. Max is ashamed of being part of the evil. But without evil we would not feel for Cindy Lou Who and the denizens of Who-ville. But, it is the personal growth of the mean old Grinch's character that gives us the warm fuzzy feeling.

There is a little grinch in all bad guys. A small part of the villain that ma
kes him human. Not all bad guys have hearts that can grow three sizes at the end of the book. Not all stories of the bad guy end with redemption, or even end in the book we are writing. All of them do end with our villain making a choice. We writers have to understand what our bad guy's story is, we have to know the warts and weaknesses that make him the hero of his own story. Only when we have a grasp of how the evil garlic grew in our bad guy's soul can we come up with a hero equipped to pluck it out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Reader and Writer Nightmare

I'm at that "certain age" that has me expecting words like bifocals and stronger reading glasses. So when I went in for my annual eye exam I was expecting to get a new prescription. After all, my eyes were getting tired faster and highway signs didn't come into focus quite as fast as they once did.

What I was not expecting was the eye exam to become an adventure in abstract art. Really, those little letters on the screen did things I had never seen them do before. Instead of E, A, F, B I saw an artistic study in black and white worthy of a museum wall. Letters bulged in places, narrowed in others, jumped on top of each other, appeared angled in odd ways, and created patterns. Crisscrossed black lines formed designs across the screen and stars flickered through my vision. My left eye was unable to distinguish a single letter on the entire screen.

Maybe, it was the point where I couldn't tell her how many fingers she was holding up or the topographical map of my retina that looked more like the mountains of West Virginia than the surface of a lake that turned eye appointment into an a frantic search for a retina specialist. It is scary when a specialist starts looking for a more specialized specialist to consult with while I'm still in the office. My exam really wasn't going well.

The retina doctor scheduled surgery at the first available date. Now, when I think of surgery I think of being put to sleep and waking up with whatever the problem is fixed. That isn't exactly how retina surgery works. They use twilight sleep, which means that I vaguely realized that someone was there and a big needle is moving around inside my eye, but I couldn't do anything about it. I didn't feel any pain but it did creep me out. I realized how much it bothered me when I work up whimpering like a puppy.

It is going to be a while before I know how successful they were at removing Mt. Retina from my eye. The world around me is brighter but not any better focused. The doctors tell me that recovery will be a process of gradual improvement just like the loss of sight. In the mean time, I have lots of eye drops and more doctor appointments to get through on the road back. There is also about a 30% chance that I will have to do this again one day. I'll try not to worry about that.

You might think that eye surgery is the nightmare, but it isn't. The real nightmare is the possibility that I would be part of that small percentage of people that surgery wouldn't help. I was legally blind in my left eye. For a reader and writer blindness is a horrible thought. Where would I be without my eyes?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

I began reading this book because Carolyn Wall and I were going to be on a historical mystery panel together at Bouchercon 2011. Though I love American historical mystery, depression era ones are not my usual read. Wall surprised me with vivid characters trapped in a harsh situation in a troubled community.


I was drawn in quickly and held tight to the end. I would not want to be Olivia: from childhood through her experience as a grandparent, life was harsh, impoverished, and filled with pain. There are moments of happiness, small treasures in a world of misery; the greatest of these is her grandson. Together they find hope, friendship, and love in their small Kentucky community. They also find a world of troubles. Most of their problems are no mystery.

The only reason I gave Sweeping up Glass four stars instead of five is the mystery. The plot is excellent, but for mystery readers, the puzzle is weak. In talking with Carolyn, I discovered she did not write this book with the intention of marketing it as a mystery, but the book was picked up by Poisoned Pen, a mystery publisher. They took it on the strength of the writing and the fact that the search to find out who was killing Olivia’s beloved wolves was a mystery element in an otherwise literary novel.

Whatever you think of the reasoning, I am very glad the book was published and would like to see more from Carolyn Wall. If you come to the book without the expectation of untangling a great mystery, I’m sure you will be delighted with the story. I highly recommend you read this book.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: The Unreliable Narrator

Not all unreliable narrators are villains. Dean Koontz's character, Odd Thomas, is one of the most famous unreliable narrators. Odd Thomas is more hero than villain. There are times when he leaves you wondering. Wonder and questioning are the essence of the unreliable narrator.

With villainy, the unreliable narrator blurs the lines between good and evil through obfuscation, withholding essential truths, outright deception, distracting the reader by espousing views that are repugnant, or being incapacitated in a way that contradicts his or her version of events.

Another way mystery authors accomplish the unreliability of the narrator is to present several versions of the same story from the point of view of different characters. In this version, villainy is depicted through the biases and character flaws of the different points of view. The essential facts remain the same, but each storyteller presents them in a different light. Citizen Kane demonstrates this very well in presenting five varying views of the main character through the eyes of acquaintances. This kind of story leaves us questioning who we should believe.

In mystery, Agatha Christie experimented with the unreliable narrator as a villain in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Endless Night. Not being able to trust the narrator of the story was almost unheard of before Christie. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, her villain withheld information, obfuscated facts, and evaded answering questions, but never outright lied. Although I enjoyed the story, she was widely criticized for "not playing fair with the readers." Having read the story, as well as all the other Christie books, I can say that she did not play unfairly in presenting the facts. The murder can be solved with the information given, but the controversy serves as a warning to writers today.

Being unfair to the reader is a cardinal sin with mystery readers. If your readers feel cheated by the omission of details, it can damage your reputation as a mystery writer. I'm not trying to warn you away from writing unreliable narrators, though. Excellent mysteries can be and have been written using all states of reliability. Some of the best stories depend on ambiguity and shades of truth to create the desired mood. The real question to consider: are you up to the task of writing this kind of bad boy? If you are planning to use this villain, you must pay attention to presenting all the clues readers need to solve the puzzle.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Magna cum Murder 2011

Magna cum Murder is a great little mystery convention that Sarah and I discovered shortly after our first short mystery stories were published. We look forward to it every year. This year is going to be particularly fun because Parnell Hall is the guest of honor. Below is a sample of what to expect from him:

I'm going to be on the "how to use the internet to entertain and increase your fan base" panel with him. Don't worry. I have promised our moderator, Larry Sweazy, that I won't sing and all of us have agreed to focus on entertaining our fans. After all, that's why we write.

If you are not familiar with Larry Sweazy, shame on you for missing my presentations on writing historical fiction. Larry is a great writer of historical mysteries set in the American West. I love his books and quote him shamelessly when I talk about the nuts and bolts of writing a good historical. He has an exceptionally visual talent with setting. When I grow up I would like to emulate him.

When you add to this the fun of hanging out with gal pal authors, Brenda Robertson Stewart, Marian Allen, and T Lee Harris, we have the makings of a spectacular weekend.

My spouse, Sarah Glenn, will be kicking it off on Friday afternoon with her panel focusing on the book for this conference, Dame Agatha's DEATH ON THE NILE. Her topic is: "Strangers on a Boat: When almost everyone is a new character, who can you trust?" I am a huge Christie fan. Even if my favorite living author wasn't hosting the panel you could still expect to find me in the front row for this one.

I hope I'll see you there too.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mystery and Horror at That Book Place, Saturday, Oct. 15

What do vampires, neighborhood associations, nano-technology, detectives, secret societies, university bureaucracies, corrupt police, hell-houses, and ghosts have in common? All these subjects have appeared in stories by the writers of Mystery and Horror, LLC. Sarah Glenn and I, the writers of Mystery and Horror, will be at That Book Place in Madison, Indiana this weekend talking about all these things and more. If you would like to ask us questions or hear what we have been up to this year, we would love to see you there.

Come by and pick up bookmarks, post cards, and a little chocolate. Stay and chat for a while. You don't have to buy a book to have a good time. Of course, if you do want one of our books, we will be there to sign it for you. We will also be reading a few selections from our work and maybe from upcoming novels.

Like a good mystery? Sit back, relax, and let me take you into Nessa Donnelly's world of secrets... secret identities, secret societies, and the secret plots hatched in Lexington during the 19th century. I'll bet you didn't know life across the river was so full of intrigue.

Sarah will introduce you to everyday horror and outrageous humor as Cynthia Leach tries to cope with life after death. It's not easy to be a vampire in an Irvine, California, gated community. Just don't let her humor fool you into thinking everything she writes is as funny as her novel, All This and Family, too. The mystery she's written for Pill Hill Press's Big Book of New Short Horror is one of the creepiest stories I've read in years.

Anyone in the mood for something truly different might want to take a look at a mystery the two of us teamed up to write. Emails at the end of time make up the ePocalypse anthology. For this book, writers teamed up to write apocalypse stories in an email format. I don't have any to sell, but we will have one on hand for you to look over. Drop by for a few minutes or stay until we leave, either way, we'll try to make sure you enjoy the time spent with us.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Weekend Writer: Advice?

Weekend writer isn’t an entirely accurate title for this entry. Writers are always working. I’ve made two trips downtown this week to inspect historic buildings for a scene I am working on in my novel, spent hours discussing promotional efforts with my spouse, worked on getting things together for upcoming events… You get the picture. This week I have also taken on a new writing project. I am the newest Lexington area Examiner columnist at

You might think that my writing background would make me the ideal person to write about historic buildings or neighborhoods. I’ve always been a political activist, so they could have requested that I write about local politics, but no. I am the new relationship writer.

I am not kidding.

I am writing about relationships. I am going to be answering letters from readers about their problems with home, family, love life, co-workers, and anyone else who puts them into a situation they don’t quite know how to handle. You are reading the blog of the Lexington Area’s “Dear Aunt Gwen.”

Why me?

Maybe it is that large family I grew up in, or the fact I studied politics and history, or my history of being a Girl Scout leader? I am not quite sure what the thinking was, but when I expressed doubts about doing the column, my friends assured me that I would be great at doing an advice column.

What do you think?

Do I have what it takes to give good advice to people about their problems? Stop by and check out my first couple columns and tell me how I’m doing?

Right now I feel like I could also use some advice on my own fears. So far my mail has been a trickle (only two people have written to me), but I worry what will happen if the column catches on. How much time will I have to write novels and take on learning to write a play? Can I handle doing a column and keeping up with the rest of my life?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Lethal Lineage by Charlotte Hinger

Lethal Lineage is the second book of the Lottie Albright series by Charlotte Hinger. You don’t need to have read the first book to understand what’s going on in the small Kansas town where Lottie lives. This is a big plus, because I was introduced to the character with this book.

The first thing that impressed me was the sense of place. Hinger takes us into the vast Western Kansas plains and wraps us in the relentless wind that shapes her characters. Readers who have driven across Kansas can appreciate Lottie’s sister’s opinion of the drive and her husband’s remark about having heard all the jokes.

Lottie is a busy woman, working for the historical society, holding down a second part time job as county under-sheriff, and dealing with the problems of church, home, and family. Life gets complicated on all fronts when the minister drops dead during the first service at their tiny new Episcopalian church, St. Helena. The death sets us up with all the makings of a locked room mystery. Readers must untangle knots of family relationships and delve into grudges as old as the Kansas frontier before discovering what really happened at that fateful Sunday service.

One of the biggest problems with Lottie’s investigation is her prickly relationship with the sheriff of the adjacent county. She steps on his toes early and gets locked up in his jail overnight. From there, the relationship goes downhill.

Hinger is an historian and a talented writer. I was impressed with her firm grasp of the history and politics of Kansas. She also has a talent at creating complex characters. Mystery writing is a tricky art, and I felt that the red herring on which her plot turns left me twisting a little in the Kansas wind. This is a small flaw in an otherwise perfect gem of a book. I look forward to seeing more from Charlotte Hinger and encourage you to read her work.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Dandy Gliver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

I was introduced to Catriona McPherson’s novels last month when preparing for Bouchercon. Molly Weston, owner of Meritorious Mysteries, and moderator of the panel I was on, suggested that each panelist read one of the works by the others. Consider this your disclaimer. Now that I have met Catriona in person, I am delighted to number her among my friends. That said, let’s talk about her book.

McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series falls into the “cozy” mystery category on book store shelves. Judging by Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, the book is not an entirely comfortable fit in the cozy category.

The series is set in the 1920’s and mirrors the style of mystery’s golden age. Dandy is McPherson’s genteel lady sleuth. I have not read the other books in the series, but in this book her amateur detective goes under cover as a ladies’ maid to assist an acquaintance who fears her husband is planning to murder her. The plot becomes more complicated when the husband is murdered and Dandy must confront the possibility that her client, Mrs. Balfour, has brought her into the household as her alibi for the crime.

The book is a well plotted and well written puzzle mystery handled with a humorous hand. However, there are deeper layers to the story. Below stairs, Dandy is drawn into the world of the serving classes. She must watch the political upheaval of general strike that made her own class fear a European revolution similar to the one that had just occurred in Russia. Though the book does not bash us over the head with politics, the political climate of the time is too important to allow us to take the subject lightly. McPherson does an excellent job of balancing the details of a socially tense time with tongue in cheek humor and irrepressible wit.

What I found most interesting in this book was the fact that the more Dandy learns about the working class, the more she must examine her own values. I doubt that Mrs. Gilver will emerge from her encounter with the serving class unchanged. I look forward to seeing what sort of character growth shows up in the next book.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Weekend Writer: Bouchercon, Magna Cum Murder and More

In case you're wondering, no I haven't forgotten my blog. Life for a weekend writer gets crazy sometimes. These days, life is crazy most of the time. Maybe I'm just crazy...humm...I could see getting a lot of writing done while confined to a mental hospital.

Seriously, Sarah and I have a lot of events coming up and are busy preparing for all of them. We each have one panel at Bouchercon 2011, September 14-18 in St. Louis. Her panel is early in the event, and I do mean EARLY! From 8:30 to 9:30 AM on Thursday morning, she and her paranormal cohorts will be discussing the creepy side of writing. If you like things that send a chill along your spine, stop in for:

Making things go bump in the night.
Monette Draper (M), Dakota Banks, Angie Fox, Sarah Glenn, M.R. Sellars, Jason Starr

My panel is talking about that delicate balance between story and research. Which means that I need to do some research on my fellow panelist. By this time next week I hope to have finished reading at least one book by each of the other panel members. If you care about the details stop in and give a listen to us, 1:00 to 2:00 pm Friday afternoon.

Balancing research and the whodunit
Molly Weston (M), Charlotte Hinger, Gwen Mayo, Catriona McPherson, D.M. Pirrone, Carolyn Wall

As exciting as Bouchercon is, it isn't the only event on our schedules this fall. October 15 we will be heading across the Indiana border to visit THAT BOOK PLACE in Madison, Indiana. This is our first trip to this bookstore, but our friends Marian Allen and Stephen Zimmer speak highly of Frank and Kim Hall, who own and operate the store. We met Frank while attending the Harrodsburg Festival of Books and Art this past June and are looking forward to seeing him again.

October 22 is a hometown event. Sarah and I will be attending a Halloween event here in Lexington. It was originally named A Day of Mystical Blood Lust: Vampyres versus Lycans, but now that it has been moved to a college campus they've toned down the name to "A Halloween Event by Mystical Events" to keep National College happy. Since Sarah and I both signed the contracts for the new Halloween Horror anthology from Pill Hill Press, we should have that to promote along with our novels and existing short stories.

October 28-30 we will be heading back to Indiana to attend Magna cum Murder. Sarah is really excited about this one because Parnell Hall is the Guest of Honor. Magna is put on by Ball State University. The event is always great and I am looking forward to participating again this year. Look for updates on this one as we get our panel assignments.

Once we get back from Ball State, we will be kicking into high gear getting ready for the Kentucky Book Fair. I don't have a new novel this year, but Sarah does and we are really looking forward to showing it off in Frankfort. The Kentucky Book Fair is an awesome annual event for Kentucky authors. I can't wait to see old friends again this year.

As you can see, we weekend writers are spending a lot of weekends on the other side of the writer's life. Promotion, meeting fans, talking about books, and learning from other authors is almost as essential to writing success as producing a good book. But, as you can see from this post, it is a time demanding task. Writing and promoting don't go hand in hand. Instead, each pulls in different directions. I have seen many good writers give up the business because promotion took too much time and energy. I am not likely to do that because I really enjoy meeting and talking to people who love books. That doesn't mean it is easy for me.

There are times that I am discouraged. It is hard to finish a full day at the office, then go home and try to write. Sometimes, I use the evenings to work on blog posts or do research. Sometimes, when I am not pushing up against a deadline, I just kick back on the couch and rest.

When words flow from my brain, when the manuscript is coming together, when the story is working and I know what to write next, being a weekend writer doesn't seem hard at all. Those are rare times, but they are the times that make it worthwhile to keep tapping away at my keyboard.

I feel the same way about promoting. When I am on a panel discussing my work with others, when a fan comes up with my book to be signed, when a review is good, or someone stops to tell me how much they liked my book, I am ready to keep writing forever.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Secret Societies: The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

The Pinkertons! It is not your usual thought when secret societies come to mind but, when talking about secret societies it is important to realize that some societies are so secret that their very existence is brought to question, others rely on keeping membership rolls secret, but most were organizations that simply kept some of their activities or inner workings secret. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency qualifies on several fronts as a secret society.

Allen Pinkerton didn’t create an ordinary detective agency. His agents were spies for the Union Army. The Pinkertons were the first Secret Service, charged with protecting the president. After the war, many employees of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency were hired to protect businesses. It is easy to see why the identities of Pinkerton’s operatives required secrecy and why they kept so many of their activities secret. If an agent’s identity were known it could very well cost his or her life.

Yes, I said her life. In my Nessa Donnelly mysteries I draw on the real life history of the women Pinkertons who risked everything to preserve the Union. The intrepid lady detectives of the Pinkerton National Security Agency worked under dangerous, difficult circumstances. The job they did was critical to the agency and to the security of the nation. Throughout his life Allen Pinkerton defended his decision to hire women, and argued the necessity of lady detectives in collecting information inaccessible to men. It was a battle he was unable to win.

Once his sons took over the agency, they got rid of the women agents. They also took the company in a different and more controversial direction. Pinkertons were primarily used as the muscle behind big business. Pinkertons were charged with infiltrating and bringing down the labor unions, protecting non-union laborers, and stopping labor violence (by force if necessary).

Branching out into pseudo-military and police work also raised the level of secrecy and the number of agents needed. At one time there were more Pinkerton agents in the United States than there were soldiers in the United States Army. These agents were responsible for the massacre of union strikers and the assassinations of labor leaders. Behind the scenes, the Pinkerton agents were hired for their brains, but in the coal camps and factories, the face of Pinkerton was often a thug.

The secret, military, brutish nature of the Pinkerton agency was worrisome to government officials. Pinkerton's private police force in Pennsylvania created a labor incident that cost the lives of 16 men and required the state militia to be called out to restore order.

Ohio banned them from working in the state for many years because they feared the company might move to take over state government.

Other states placed restrictions on how many agents could work in the state and began to require that all private detectives apply for a state license. States also began to pass laws restricting the activities of agents and protecting the rights of laborers.

When your PI gets into trouble with the law or has his license suspended, just remember if it hadn’t been for the secret activities of the Pinkerton agents, today’s PI’s might not need a license.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Historical: Brucetown Day

Tomorrow the Brucetown neighborhood is having a block party Since I can’t be there in person, I am writing this blog to share a little of the history of Brucetown.

Brucetown was founded in 1865. It was one of several communities that were formed to accommodate the influx of former slaves into Lexington. Let me make it clear that these communities were not generally founded out of the goodness of Lexingtonian’s hearts. Most of these communities were in low lying areas, near railroad tracks, cemeteries, or factories where property was less valuable. Developing African American communities on these properties served the dual purposes of profiting from otherwise useless land and keeping African Americans as hidden from view as they had been in their former slave quarters.

W. W. Bruce was one of the men that took advantage of the opportunity to profit from these new citizens. He decided to subdivide the land next to his hemp factory and built homes for the African Americans he employed as factory workers, allowing them to pay for the houses from their earnings. Homes were available for sale to non employees, but most were sold through interest free loans from the company. The factory owned the mortgage. It took years to pay for a home in Brucetown. If the factory worker left his employment before the house was paid for, his home reverted back to the factory. Becoming disabled in Brucetown could leave your family homeless.

Despite the disadvantages I have pointed out to these loans, getting a job at the hemp factory and buying a home through the company was a better deal than most poor people of any race could get in the nineteenth century. Owning their homes was a source of pride and whole families worked to pay off the mortgage early. The little community might have disappeared into the city like Lees Row (which exists only as Leestown Road) had it not been for the ability of homeowners to sell the small cabins Mr. Bruce built and build larger homes on the outskirts of Brucetown.

Tomorrow’s block party isn’t about the success of Brucetown or its much deserved neighborhood pride. It is dedicated to the memory of three African American men murdered by a white mob in 1878. The murdered men were Tom Turner, who was shot, Edward Claxton, and John Davis, both of whom were lynched. The murdered men were not criminals. They were ordinary working men who were merely suspected of having knowing something about of the murder of a white man killed two weeks prior. A man named Stivers had been hanged for the murder. Killing one man wasn’t enough to satisfy the thirst for blood.

Tom Turner refused to be blindfolded and taken from his home by the five men who broke into his house in the middle of the night. Mustering as much dignity as a man could while facing a mob in his nightshirt, Turner pushed his wife aside and told the invaders that they might as well shoot him where he stood because he wasn’t going with him. Four of the men obliged and fired. Any one of the shots would have been fatal.

The other two victims were Edward Claxton and John Davis: both agreed to be blindfolded and taken away by the mob. The next morning they were found hanged in the woods on the Northeast side of Lexington.

None of the men involved in the murders of Turner, Claxton and Davis were ever identified. Arrests were made, but Mrs. Turner was unable or too frightened to identify any of the suspects as the men who shot her husband. No other witnesses came forward.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Weekend Writer: Reaching for New Writing Experience

I love Halloween and my spouse adores it. She runs around singing "the most wonderful time of the year," drives all over town looking at the decorations, and gets excited by scary stuff. On Halloween we used to do an event in our house called "Scary Story Night." Friends stopped by with a short story they liked and I decorated for the season and set out yummy treats. We all gathered around and read or told stories for hours. It was a great event. Writing cut into our ability to host a party, but scary stories still play a part in our lives.

Naturally, when I had the chance to participate in the anthology "A Halloween Whodunit" I jumped at the chance. This year I was offered the chance to participate in a new Halloween anthology. This time the theme is first response was but I'm a mystery writer.

Sarah tells me that I have a talent for writing horror, particularly when writing stories from my life. She reminded me that I had won a contest for writing micro fiction Halloween horror and creep-ed out my friends with my scary story night contributions. What does that say about my life?

Seriously, horror stories are hard for me to read, let alone write. They give me nightmares. So when I was asked to write a Halloween horror story for an upcoming anthology, I paused for a few minutes before saying "yes."

Why "yes" when it is hard work to write horror?

Because I love the holiday...because writing this story forces me to hone my skills in new ways...because Sarah was invited too and I love being in anthologies with my wife...because my editor asked me to contribute...but most of all, because any story that can give me nightmares should be one the readers enjoy.

For me, writing is all about the readers. I don't want to be Emily Dickison, hiding my work away. I write with the intent to be published and the hope of being widely read. I love meeting and hearing from readers. Nothing pleases me more than having someone tell me this story is the best one I've ever done. That challenges me to reach for the next level. If I can make each new writing experience a great reading experience, I've succeeded. So if you're into creepy, stay tuned and we'll let you know when this year's Halloween anthology arrives.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Weekend Writer: Following the Rules

For me, writing fiction is the end product of the storytelling that happens inside my head. Long before I ever started writing stories, I told stories. My head buzzed with "what if" and "how did that happen" questions. Some of the stories were wonderful and I wish I could remember the details that made them sparkle in the minds of the listeners. Not committing them to the page means I may never write them at all. Others were downright awful. I am so glad that group was never written down.

Now I take a more professional approach to story telling. There is a folder on my computer titled "unfinished." It contains the germ of a story that may someday be written. I go back to it regularly. When I am stuck or unsure of what to write, I read through those ideas. Sometimes I pluck one out and write the story. More often, a whole new "what if" question pops into my brain and a new story is born.

This is why my number one rule for writing fiction is: write down the story idea. It doesn't have to be good. Just write it down. Put it away somewhere where you can go back and visit it now and then. If it doesn't become a story, so what? Not every idea is worthy of becoming a story. But for me, those ideas are memory triggers and at any time I may need to see just that thought to build a great story.

Second on my list is read, read, read... Did you get the point of that one? If writers don't read, they miss more than just a good story. Good books, bad books, books on the craft of writing, books about history, math, science... Read. Let your reading take you wherever your imagination wants to go. You'll learn from all of it. More important, perusing your interests will enrich your life. Reading will begin the process of furnishing your mind.

Pay attention. That may seem like a silly rule but hear me out. If you pay attention to the world around you, the world will help you furnish your mind with details the unobservant miss. For instance, you pay attention to a room of full bored people. Not a very interesting emotion to pay attention to? I have to disagree. If you pay attention, you can walk away with a head full of ways to show the reader boredom, body language, facial expressions, actions, and reactions are different in every single person in the room.

Write. There two kinds of writers in the world, the ones that plant their butts in a chair and write and the ones that find reasons not to write, the former finish manuscripts.

Edit. Nobody, no matter how practiced or professional, writes without needing to edit. Once you have a finished manuscript go back and edit. Typos, misuse of grammar, words, and punctuation sneak into the best of manuscripts. Auto-correct will slap you in the face with a totally wrong “correction.” So edit with an eye toward detail.

Read the work aloud. I will confess that I sometimes feel a little stupid for sitting in an empty room reading my story aloud, but not as stupid as I would feel standing to read my work aloud in front of an audience and realizing that I let something that doesn’t sound right get past me in the edits. I read aloud, every story, every chapter, because that is the only way I can be sure that anyone reading my work hears a natural sounding voice.

Use smart beta readers. Don’t just give your draft to a few close friends or family members to review. Find the best beta readers you can get and ask them to give you an honest evaluation of your work. It pays off big time.

Submit your work to publishers. In the electronic age everyone can be published. Go that route and you don’t have to deal with rejection. Go that route and you don’t get to know what it feels like to get an acceptance letter from a great publisher. You don’t get editors who can say no to your work if it isn’t up to standard. Even if you self-publish after paying a pro to edit, you should still send some of your work to others. It helps you grow as an author.

Learn from rejection. Any writer who hasn’t been rejected hasn’t submitted enough work. If you are lucky enough to get an editor that sends more than a form rejection read their advice. If not, go back and read the work they accept and see how yours is different. Then try again.

My final piece of advice for this blog post is: don’t stop. Don’t stop writing, don’t stop editing, don’t stop submitting and above all don’t stop growing as an author.

There are lots of other rules I have for myself about writing, but this is only my top ten. What about you? What are your top rules for writing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe

I love historical novels, so it was a delight to be offered the chance to review a Gothic romantic suspense novel, set in a spooky old New England house, complete with a decrepit lighthouse. However, I couldn't post a review of this one without making the following disclaimer. Patty G. Henderson and I are both members of the online Sisters in Crime (Guppies) chapter and occasionally interact on the chapter's email list. That said, the following is, in my opinion, a fair and honest review of The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe.

From the first page I was caught up in the desperation of her heroine. Patty G. Henderson excels in writing great characters. Constance Beechum is a penniless young woman teetering on the brink of suicide after being dismissed from her job. The arrival of a letter from her uncle is the call to adventure that saves her from herself. He has arranged a job for her.

Elizabeth Gerard, the dying matriarch of the family, is in need of a nurse. Accepting the job plunges Constance into the shady world of the Gerard family. It is no secret that the Gerard brothers want their mother dead. They view Constance as an impediment to their inheritance and plot to get her out of the house. Constance must confront their open hostility to her presence in the household, cope with unwelcome advances from both the Gerard brothers, and try to make Elizabeth’s last days easier. The job is complicated by her attraction to Elizabeth’s mysterious tenant, George Kane.

Patty G. Henderson has well honed skill as a storyteller. Her pacing kept me turning pages. The plot turns on dark, sometimes sinister, secrets. The Secret of Lighthouse Pointe captures the mood of the dark brooding family and its decaying fortunes very well. The only place where Henderson fails is that in 1812 one could not send a telegram. Fortunately, the error occurred near the end of the book and did not stop me from enjoying an overall excellent read.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Historical: Kentucky's Confederate Legislature

At the onset of the Civil War, Kentucky’s elected government was Union in its sympathies. Many citizens of the state, particularly those in the Bluegrass Region, were equally resolute in their support of the Confederacy. Even though Southern support was most common in the Bluegrass, hostilities in the North/South debate were not as clearly drawn as regional differences appear on the surface. The debate had raged for years in almost every household. When war came, brothers, and, sometimes, fathers and sons met on the battlefield. There was, however, enough support for the Confederacy to lead to the creation of a shadow government in Kentucky.

On October 29, 1861, representatives from 68 counties traveled to Russellville, Kentucky for the express purpose of planning a Confederate Government for the state. At the month long session, delegates voted for secession, created a new state seal, set Bowling Green as their state capital, and elected General George W. Johnson governor.

President Jefferson Davis had some reservations about circumventing the duly elected Kentucky Legislature in forming the new government. Copperhead members of the Knights of the Golden Circle convinced Davis that thousands of Kentuckians were ready to rise up and join the Southern cause once the state was part of the Confederacy. Hungry for troops from his home state, Davis put aside his ethical reservations. Kentucky’s Confederate government was recognized, and Kentucky was admitted to the Confederacy on December 10, 1861.

Kentucky is represented by the center star on the Confederate Flag, giving the state the unique position of being both a Northern and Southern state at the same time.

There was great hope that the shadow government would be able to funnel troops and money to the Confederacy. Those hopes were consistently crushed. The Confederate State of Kentucky had little impact on the war effort either in or outside Kentucky. General Johnson had to withdraw from Bowling Green in 1862. The Confederate government left with him, traveling with the Army of Tennessee until Johnson’s death at the Battle of Shiloh. They made one attempt to reenter the state, but were driven out permanently with the Confederate loss at the Battle of Perryville.

Our shadow government existed only for the duration of the war. Its legacy continues in the history of the commonwealth. Historical markers in Russellville and Bowling Green remind travelers of Kentucky’s two state governments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kentucky's Nineteenth Century Secret Societies

I have decided to start a new feature in my blog discussing Kentucky's Secret Societies. Anyone who has followed me knows a little about the Knights of the Golden Circle, who figure prominently in CIRCLE OF DISHONOR. The KGC was just one of the many organizations active at that time.The Nineteenth Century was home to a plethora of Secret and Semi-secret Societies. These societies rose in membership and power in Kentucky as the political structure of the state divided and rushed headlong into Civil War.

No state was more divided, more pivotal, or more ill equipped to deal with war than Kentucky. That fact is perhaps best demonstrated by the formation of Kentucky’s shadow legislature, which formed for the express purpose of keeping a Confederate government in Kentucky during the Civil War.

Secret Societies were not all related to the hostilities that threatened to dissolve the United States into two nations. The Nineteenth Century was a time of rapid growth in these types of organizations in Europe and the Americas. Many scholars attribute the spread to the repressive nature of the Victorian Age combined with the rapid social changes forced by industrialization. The world was changing. Immigration, secessionism, industrialization, and social reform placed pressure on every community. Kentucky was ill prepared for change as it shifted from its former place as a western frontier state and struggled with its new identity as a hinge pin in the conflict between slave and free states.

Whatever the problem facing Kentuckians, for good or evil, a society formed to fill the gap. Most were benevolent organizations taking on the monumental task of improving conditions in their communities. Some were church or community outreach societies where members banded together to perform charitable work, often anonymously, within their community. The level of secrecy each organization kept varied by the wishes of organizers or the needs of members.

Kentucky harbored societies with far ranging goals. Men and women organized to explore the occult, engage in acts of evil, and gain mystic power. There were societies planning overthrow the government, establish a new world order, and defend white supremacy. Kentuckians also banned together to fight slavery, protect homes and families, maintain peace, and above all survive the long, bloody war that touched every life in the nation. The history of these societies play a part in the history of every county. Together they tell us a great deal about where we came from and who we are as Kentuckians.

Secret societies divided along the lines of color, creed, political affiliation, opinion on social ills, and ethnic origin. To understand why they had such an enormous growth in the 1800's, we must look at them through these lenses. We must consider their successes and failures, the impact on the time, and why some of them no longer exist. If the feature is successful, we may also take a look at those that remain and the changes that have taken place within their ranks to keep them active today. I invite you to step back in time with me as I explore this aspect of Kentucky's past.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Book Review: Appalachian Justice

My Review of Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Appalachian Justice is a powerful story. It is Billy May Platte’s story, told mostly in her voice, and filled with the beauty and hardship of her mountain home. Her voice is strong enough to give the story rich texture, but to an ear unaccustomed to the Appalachian mountain dialect it might be difficult to follow. This book is not an easy read, but I encourage readers to make the effort. The characters alone make it a worthwhile story.

Aside from the Appalachian dialect, which will seem like another language to some readers, the book poses other challenges to the reader. Perspective shifts are frequent and sometimes last only a paragraph, and Clayton employs abrupt changes of time and place. Appalachian Justice travels regularly between 2010 and 1975, sometimes going back to the end of World War II. It is often violent. The book slices open the harsh realities of child abuse, rape, prejudice, suicide, and the closed lipped silence of those who know the truth. It is a critical story of home and finding our way there.

Melinda Clayton also does an excellent job bringing even minor characters alive on the page. Her main characters have astonishing depth. The honesty of her protagonist lingers in the mind long after the book is finished, as does the venom of her tobacco spitting antagonist. Clayton has created a villain that makes cold chills run down the spine. Rarely have I seen a character that could get under my skin like this one. Therein lays another one of the difficulties of the book. Appalachian Justice grabbed me by the emotions and did not let go. It took me back to my own childhood, growing up in Eastern Kentucky and reminded me of painful truths about being lesbian in a rural community.

The mountain twang of Clayton’s protagonist rises off the page like the notes of a dulcimer, wrapping the reader in crisp mountain air. Billy May’s story is essentially a love story, but it is also a story of courage and compassion, loss and redemption, and of an impoverished mountain town searching for its lost soul. Appalachian Justice pries into the dark recesses of small town life in a way that is uncomfortably personal. I could easily follow Billy May’s speech, but didn’t always like where her words took me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oh No! I'm Dead and Google Alert had to Tell Me

Like a lot of writers, I use Google Alert to tell me important information, like the fact that someone commented on my book or mentioned me in a blog.

Hey! A girl's got to keep up with these things. Who knows when some important Hollywood producer might discover my book, and put out an all points bulletin to his peeps in search of little old me?

It could happen. So what if most of the hits on my name have to do with the Knights of the Golden Circle, or some group of treasure hunters discovering my book? Just because I include real historical information in my novels doesn't mean that Hollywood wouldn't consider doing a movie about Nessa/Ness.

Anyway, I'm drifting off topic. Lets get back to when I opened my email this morning and discovered that I had passed away. Having seen my obituary once before, I was not entirely shocked to again be reading about Gwen Mayo's demise. I was a little surprised to learn that this time I was in New Zealand when the grim reaper arrived.

I clicked on the link provided and leaned in close to read the details. A few seconds later, I breathed a sigh of relief... it wasn't really me.

Thank goodness I don't have a bad heart. With news like that, tomorrow might actually have been a report of my demise. Can't you see the headline?


That might be a slight exaggeration, but I can dream, can't I?

Anyway. I am sorry the world has lost a Gwen Mayo. With a name like that, she must have been a wonderful woman, but I am thankful that I am still here to get that Google Alert.

Watch out though. You never know what will pop up on Google.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Writer: Visiting Harrodsburg

This weekend, Sarah and I paid a visit to Lexington's Pride Festival, then decided to check out the Harrodsburg Festival of Books and Art. This was the second year of the event and our first for attending. Since we had not originally planned to participate, we weren't registered for a table. Sarah's publicist, Bertena Varney, was there and had a table to promote her newly released book, LURE OF THE VAMPIRE. The book was supposed to be available at the festival, but unfortunately her copies did not arrive in time. She kindly offered to share her table with us, so we ended up being last minute participants in the festival.

Writers are so cool.

I went back to the car for the chairs we use at events and soon a stack of Sarah's book ALL THIS AND FAMILY, TOO was on Bertena's table.

I had a few copies of CIRCLE OF DISHONOR along, but I'm in serious need of reordering before doing another event. I put the few I had out and talked to lots of people about the book. The event had an open mic in the afternoon. Writers are a shy lot. Fortunatly, I'm not among the bashful. Sarah and I were very happy to read a selection from our books for the audience.

I am pleased to have had the unexpected chance to visit with Kentucky writers and learn more about this new arts festival. Deciding to attend allowed us to do readings, visit with new friends, and meet a bunch of nice people. Hydra Publications had a booth across the street from Bertena. Frank, who runs Hydra and That Book Place bookstore, came over and invited the two of us up to Madison, IN, to do a book event. We'll be emailing him later to work out the details.

We both gave our email addresses to Elane Hammons, the event organizer, and hope she invites us back next year. It is an excellent and much needed event in Kentucky. I expect it to gain a lot more interest from Kentucky writers as it becomes more widely known. I am really looking forward to seeing that happen. It is a lovely, historic Kentucky city and the perfect spot for writers and artists to gather.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Convention Hangover

Now that I am back from the GCLS convention in Orlando, Florida, I am suffering from that post convention hangover, or the real life smacked me in the face reaction. Those of you who travel for business know what I'm talking about. Smack matter how good or bad the trip is, days on the road are exhausting, then you come home and everyone thinks you've been on a vacation. Smack two...something always needs your attention when you first walk through the door. Smack have to get back to work.

Sarah and I along with many others from the con stayed over on Sunday night and flew out on Monday. It gave us a little more time to rest. A group of us got to go out to dinner and actually talk to each other instead of rushing through a meal to get back to the con. I actually came up with a great idea for handling the problem I have been having with my second book. I love talking to other writers.

Then came Monday. I woke up with a stuffy head. We had to rush to pack and check out, get to the airport, turn in our rental car, and go through the hassle that has become the norm at airports. We were early, so check-in was the easy part. Of course, TSA took Sarah's cold cream and that very dangerous jar of peanut-butter we carry for times when we are too rushed to have a meal.

Our flight home was not the worst flight I have ever had, but it was a bumpy ride. The seat belt light was on the entire trip. Bouncing around makes Sarah worry. When my spouse is tense I worry about her. We are both good at finding reasons to worry about each other. That means we were kind of wired when we got home and all the raw nerves were prickling. All our worry comes through the door with us and there are no buffers.

We have a friend who stops by and looks after the house while we are away. Still, there is that closed up feel our house gets when we've been gone. It will take a day or two for home to feel homey again. Then there was the evil computer problem. Our home network isn't working. The pile of email will have to wait until I get home tonight with the new modem and hopefully get web connected again (we are running out at lunch to get the new modem). Then there is the real mail piled on the kitchen table. The lawn needs attention too. Oh, the joy of coming home.

Today it is back to the office, stuffy head and all, and to the pile of mail and problems that will be waiting for me.  I am not sure what waits, but I'm early enough to not have to deal with it just yet. The university server is up and running. Now, if only I could get rid of this hung over feeling and get a little air to go through my nose...I might get some work done.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Live at GCLS

Last night Lara Zielinsky broadcast her internet radio show live from the 2011 Golden Crown Literary Society meeting in Orlando, Florida. Sarah and I were both guest on this special two hour broadcast which featured the debut authors attending the con. This is a list of her guests on the show and their books:

Terias McKlay ("Guardian: The Surrender"; PD)
Kate McLachlan ("Rip Van Dyke"; Regal Crest)
Sarah Glenn ("All This and Family, Too"; Pill Hill Press)
Gwen Mayo ("Circle of Dishonor"; Pill Hill Press)
Pol Robinson ("Open Water"; Bella)
Saxon Bennett (Marching to a Different Accordion; Bella)
Layce Gardner ("Tats"; Bella)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Review: Beloved Pilgrim, by Nan Hawthorne

My Review of Beloved Pilgrim is reposted from Bosom Friends with permission of the blog owner.

Beloved Pilgrim is an engaging historical coming of age story set during the disastrous Crusade of 1101. Elisabeth, the hero/heroine of the story, is a young noblewoman, more inclined to wield a sword than an embroidery needle. She chafes against the constraints of social expectations of her position and longs for the freedom her twin brother enjoys. Sixteen-year-old Elisabeth is forced into a marriage to a much older knight. She barely knows the husband her father has chosen for her. The brute has no regard for her feelings or well-being, and makes it clear on their wedding night that his desire is for her dowry and a noble wife to produce his progeny.

Shortly after her marriage, her mother passes away. Elisabeth’s grief stricken father departs for the Holy Land, leaving the estate in her brother Elias’ hands. Elias longs to join his father on crusade, but falls ill and dies before he can depart. Elisabeth is left to suffer the abuse of a husband she loathes. Desperation drives her to assume her brother’s identity and run away.

Elisabeth/Elias is aided in her disguise by her brother’s squire and lover. Together, they face the challenges and trials of traveling as knight and squire on holy crusade. Beloved Pilgrim is a complex story of love and loss, honor and duty, and more importantly, of the differences in individuals that show us the commonalities of the human condition.

Hawthorne weaves the tale of Elisabeth’s adventures with historical accuracy, excellent detail, and respect for all the factions involved. We laugh and cry with characters that come alive on the page. Her work confronts the deprivations, hardships, and violence of an army on the march. She ably handles the difficulty of posing as a woman traveling in the world of men and wonder and excitement of a young knight seeing the exotic Byzantine Empire for the first time.

Nan Hawthorne is a historical novelist and blogger and an editor for Wilde Oats Magazine. Her novels include An Involuntary King: Tale of Anglo Saxon England and Beloved Pilgrim, and her one nonfiction book is Loving the Goddess Within: Sex Magick for Women, a book about body image and sexuality. You can find out more about her work at .

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday's Thugs Guest Post: Villains in Medical Mysteries and Thrillers

No, I didn't write this book.

Hello! I'm Sarah Glenn, guest posting today on Thursday's Thugs. If you'd like to know more about me, check out my blog or the bottom of this page.

Anyone who knows me in person knows that I like medical mysteries. I've watched everything from Marcus Welby to House, MD. I've read everything from Coma to A Heartbeat Away. I'm not the only one, either, as sales figures and TV rating attest. Sickness and death come to us all. Physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers are the police - and sometimes detectives - who identify and battle the enemy.

The hero of a medical mystery is usually a physician or a nurse. I did read Pharmacology is Murder from Dirk Wyle, but that's the only pharmacy-oriented mystery I believe I've ever seen (feel free to recommend others). The author is frequently a member of the same profession as the hero. Medical mystery is a subgenre where Mary Sue is expected, and often preferred by the reader. The villains in these novels can come out of a wider selection of professions, but they tend to fall into a group of specific tropes.

Big Business: HMOs and Big Pharma are soulless, greedy entities whose qualities extend to their flesh-and-blood representatives. Neonates in the NICU cost too much money, so the HMO in The Provider by David Shobin finds a vile way of removing them from the caseload. Our Hero must figure out what's going on and stop it.

Medicine Gone Wrong: Medicine is being misused or has gone awry. The first book I read from Robin Cook, Mortal Fear, hooked me with its answer for why salmon die after they spawn. In Acceptable Risk (also by Cook), a scientist tests the psychotropic properties of a mold by injecting himself and other people in his program with the mold. Bad idea? Oh, yeah. I think that Tess Gerritsen provides one of the most jarring perversions of medicine in Life Support. Truly horrible - but I couldn't set the book down. As a side note: most medical novels that involve Science Gone Wrong should carry a gross-out warning.

Serial Scientist: Someone is killing people via medical means to get their jollies. Contagion by Robin Cook, possibly my favorite medical thriller of all time, has an antagonist who loves collecting deadly viruses because -well- he likes collecting deadly viruses. Naturally, he must infect a few people so he can see them at play. Jack Stapleton, forensic pathologist, is the only one who recognizes that a conspiracy is afoot. One of the other villain types on this list usually exploits the serial scientist for his/her own agenda. 

Terrorists and the Military: Two sides of the same coin - medicine offers a strategic advantage. Good guys and bad guys both start to get ideas when Dr. Wonderful or Serial Scientist comes up with a supersoldier serum/really scary way to kill people.

The Patient Who Won't Take No for an Answer: Dr. Wonderful must treat a VIP/deranged powerful lunatic - or else. Like the Serial Scientist, often involves one of the other tropes. Michael Palmer's The Patient, for example, is a terrorist who will do horrible things to his hostages unless the heroine removes his inoperable tumor.

One of Us: A doctor or nurse is behind the crimes. The reasons can vary from revenge to mercy. Robin Cook combined this with an Unreliable Narrator in one of his novels, but telling you its name would spoil the story for you.

Do you think I've covered them all? Do you have better examples than I do for these types? If so, let me know. I'm always looking for new material to read.


Sarah Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism. She's worked as an art intern at the billboard company, as an NCIC operator for her local police department, and as a teaching assistant for medical terminology. She currently works in continuing healthcare education.

Sarah's first novel, All This and Family, Too, is the story of a lesbian vampire who moves into a gated community and discovers the true meaning of horror. Will she survive the experience with the mixed blessing of a loving but dysfunctional family?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weekend Writer: Are you living your dream?

When I first thought about the writing lifestyle, I pictured myself in a mountain cabin with a wood fire, a cozy blanket, some hot tea, a kitten curled on the rug, notes scattered around, and my computer clicking away as golden words spread across the screen. In essence, I dreamed of a quiet retreat from the world where I could indulge my creative side.

Then reality set in.

In order to afford my cozy cabin (i.e. little house in the burbs)I needed a real job. There's no fireplace, but sometimes I get to curl up in my recliner with a cozy blanket and a cup of tea. The notes scattered around sometimes take over the room and don't always sound golden when I see them on the screen.

The kitten is a different matter. Mr. Pwyll, my wife's cat, was fully grown when we met. He wasn't the curling up kind of kitty, but did make the perfect writer's cat in one way. When he spread that long blue-gray body of his across the floor his tail curled into a big question mark. He seemed to always be asking us "what comes next." He died after being Sarah's "little boy in a cat suit" for more than eighteen years. His ashes still sit beside his favorite toy on the shelf above her computer. Since years of living with Mr. Pwyll proved me allergic to cats, he will likely be our last kitty. I do occasionally need air in my lungs.

The biggest conflict with my dream of writing is the reality that I cannot have that quiet retreat from the outside world. My creative side must be indulged in the moments when I am not working at my day job, promoting my book, rushing through the chores, and trying very hard to hold everything together for just one more day.

Do I feel cheated?


I am a published author. Someday I would like to give up the day job and devote all my time to my second career. It would also be nice to have a quiet retreat now and then in a mountain cabin. Having other things to work for keeps me working away to achieve those goals. Overall, I have no complaints. For the most part, I am living my dream.

If on occasion, you hear me say "traveling is expensive and tiring", don't believe for a second I want to give it up. Those promotional events we writers do require as much creative energy as the writing. Throwing my talents into promotion brings out skills I didn't know I hand. Meeting and talking to readers and other writers is wonderful. The readers who take the time to come to an event, drop me an email to say they loved my book, or post a review make it all worthwhile.

Dreams are wonderful possessions to hold, to build upon, and bring to life. I hope you are living yours.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book Review: Eel's Reverence by Marian Allen

In Eel’s Reverence, Marian Allen has created a delightful fantasy world and a great cast of characters. The "Eel" is similar to our world in more agrarian times. Battles are fought with knives, fists, clubs, and crossbows. Travel is by horse or cart. Humankind and mermayds come into contact and conflict with each other in a complex, prickly relationship. The complexity of relationships is not confined to race. Aunt Libby unwittingly stumbles into the role of foil to an alliance of reaver priests who have taken over the Eel. She and the belligerent, brooding “tad” who befriends her must sort through a tangle human and non-human agendas.

I enjoyed following the adventures of her protagonist, Aunt Libby, an aging "true" priest of Micah, who grows tired of watching parishioners abandon the true faith for the showy temples of reaver priests. She intrigued me because she is not in the usual vein of the scantily clad and beautiful heroine. Aunt Libby’s naiveté, her adherence to the true faith, and her age are both strengths and weaknesses in the struggle to peacefully resolve differences between races and faiths.

In Marian’s world, nothing is quite what it seems. The machinations of the rich and powerful to control the masses is one of the oldest, but Eel’s Reverence gives it a fresh and inviting treatment. In the Eel, everyone has their own agenda and Aunt Libby is pushed to both resist and collaborate with the revers. Often her faith is tested. Her friends and enemies shift allegiances and forsake her at the most inopportune moments. Through it all Eel’s Reverence shines with humor, great pacing, and plot that is filled with mystery and tension. I highly recommend you read this book. Better yet, have someone read it aloud to get the full impact of Marian’s skill with language.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Weekend Writer: Confessions of a Procrastinator

Once upon a time I had intentions of writing this weekend. Of course, that was before Thursday brought my great nephew to town in an emergency helicopter, before I misplaced my sister's house short, writing plans came before the weekend actually arrived.

Now it is early Monday morning. The workweek is looming on the horizon. I'm sitting here waiting for dawn to burst onto the scene and force me back to the office. I haven't added a single word to my manuscript. Instead of rushing to get a little work done before going to bed, I'm blogging. So what does that tell me?

You guessed it. I'm avoiding working on my book. It isn't hard to put off working on a book that's being troublesome. I found lots of good reasons that managed to burn the entire weekend.

The weekend started to vanish when Thomas was flown to the UK Hospital on Thursday afternoon. A ruptured appendix put him in the Peds ICU. I know he isn't immediate family, but I really needed to hang out at the hospital with Thomas and his folks. They weren't familiar with the UK Hospital or Lexington. I was being helpful and considerate. Besides, sick children just love a bunch of adults hanging around looking at them when they feel bad.

There was shopping that had to be done. The family didn't have anything with them when they arrived at UK. Anyone who knows me is aware of how I feel about shopping, but this was important. If I am going to have to force myself into the stores, what better time than when the book isn't going well?

I had to get a haircut. Really, my haircuts are scheduled weeks in advance. I suppose I could have put it off, but I was going to visit Mom and didn't want to show up looking like a bum. It is amazing how shaggy my head looked.

I went to visit my mother on Saturday. This was the Mother's Day weekend. What kind of kid would I be if I didn't go visit, take her a present, and buy her a nice dinner? While I was in my home town, I also got to watch my grandson play soccer and take both grandsons to dinner with me while my daughter went to Lexington to see Thomas.

I was behind in my reading and needed to squeeze in a little time with a good book. It had nothing to do with the fact that it is much more fun to sink into a finished novel than figure out how to fix a scene that isn't working. Sarah and I spent a few hours with Marian Allen's fantasy novel Eel's Reverence this weekend. What a great way to not write!

Max, the grandpuppy, was missing his family. My daughter and the grandchildren were visiting the hospital, and poor Max wasn't considered part of the family. Grandma couldn't possibly ignore him by writing during dog sitting. Sock games and lots of petting are important while Mommy and the boys are away. The fact that my third grandchild is cute, furry, and adores me has nothing to do with why he got to sit on my lap most of Sunday.

Christy wanted to take her mother out to dinner Sunday evening. After all, it was Mother's Day. So I had a nice long dinner with my family, then we went back to the house so they could collect Max before heading home.

Now where did the whole weekend go?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Weekend Writer: She's Alive...Well, sort of.

After writing, rewriting, editing, and going down the long road to having her first novel published, this weekend I got to wake my spouse up to tell her that her book was live. Yes, Cynthia Leach, the reluctant vampire, stepped out of her coffin and onto the bookshelf May 1. She is out there, in broad daylight, and didn't burst into flames. Maybe fictional vampires don't really burst into flames in the sunlight. I'm not sure, though.

Dead or alive, Cynthia and her strange Southern family are ensconced in Slippery Elm and putting down roots, California style. The neighborhood association isn't happy about it. UC Irvine isn't all that keen about having a professor who can't keep daylight office hours either. What's a poor undead lass from North Carolina to do?

Pick up a copy of All This and Family, Too and find out.

How's that for shameless spouse promotion. What can I say? I'm so pleased to have my wife join the first novelist club.

My writing friends know what an awesome moment it is when that first novel hits the sales rack. They do their day jobs, confine their writing to evening, weekends, and wherever they can squeeze in an extra moment of time. They know the juggling act we go through to have time to write, query, submit, dive into the deep end of promotion while wait for the book to show up.

This weekend gave us the second coolest day in a writer's life. The first coolest day is still ahead. I'll probably be gushing again, and posting pictures too, when she finds that first box of books on her doorstep. I may need somebody to grab me though...she isn't going to be happy if I open the box.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

President Rutherford B. Hayes Announces Plans for a Midwestern Tour, April 26, 1879

Before George W. Bush and Al Gore battled over the presidency, Rutherford B. Hayes was thought to have "stolen" the office of president. The election of 1876 was plagued by corruption, back room deals, and bitterly contested election results. When it was over, Samuel Tilden of New York had 51% of the vote and 184 electoral votes. Hayes had 185 electoral votes but only 47% of the popular vote. Elections were contested and electoral votes up for grabs in Florida (have we heard this before, Louisiana, and South Carolina. One of the electoral votes of Oregon was declared illegal and not counted. Hayes, the Republican candidate, was awarded the contested states giving him the victory and forever marking his presidency as the "stolen election."

When the spring of 1879 rolled around, the Republicans were starting to panic about the upcoming 1880 election. The suddenly remembered that Samuel Tilden had carried the entire Midwest and all of the South except those three contested states. It also occurred to them that the deal that gave President Hayes Florida, Lousiana, and South Carolina wasn't very popular in those states. They were pretty certain that they were going to lose the whole south. To win in 1880 they needed the Midwest and West to vote decisively republican. The President was persuaded to take his message on the road.

Kentucky wasn't very receptive to the idea of hosting the president. Washington politics were not kind to Kentucky. In fact there was a great deal of fear that any stop in the state of Kentucky would be dangerous. Politically, touring the Midwest and skipping Kentucky was also filled with danger. The Republicans decided to limit the tour to one visit to hostile Kentucky. Louisville was the President's preferred stop, but the city was too connected to Northern businessmen to be considered. Frankfort, the State Capitol, had just assassinated Judge Elliott, and therefore ruled out as a possible stop. After much consideration, Lexington was deemed safe enough for the President to visit.

In April the tour was announced:

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Greenfield, Ohio, September 9, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 10, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 11, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati, Ohio, September 11, 1879

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Lexington, Kentucky, September 12, 1879

Presidential Midwestern Tour, Youngstown, Ohio, September 17, 1879
Reunion of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Youngstown, Ohio,
September 17, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Merchants and Manufacturers Exchange, Detroit, Michigan, September 18, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Fremont, Ohio, September 20, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Aurora, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Mendota, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Galesburg, Illinois, September 23, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Fort Scott, Kansas, September 24, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Parsons, Kansas, September 24, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Appleton, Kansas, September 25, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Neosho Falls, Kansas, September 25, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Dodge City, Kansas. September 26, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Tootle's Opera House, St. Joseph, Missouri, September 29, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Springfield, Illinois, September 30, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Springfield, Illinois, September 30, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Cleveland, Ohio, October, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Indianapolis, Indiana, October 2, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Sandusky, Ohio, October 2/3, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Clyde, Ohio, October 9, 1879
Presidential Midwestern Tour, Delaware, Ohio, October 18, 1879

The President never left his train. He delivered a brief speech from the platform of his private rail car, gaining some approval from his audience when he shared memories of voting in his first presidential election for Lexington's Henry Clay. For the most part, Lexington's citizens were polite but not enthusiastic about the speech. Hayes spoke for less than five minutes before introducing one of the generals he was traveling with, there is dispute over whether it was General Sherman or General Sheridan who spoke. The public event ended. The train remained at the station for about an hour to fulfill the party's obligation of inviting some of Kentucky's top leaders to a private reception with the President).

Hayes didn't change many opinions in Kentucky. He didn't expect to accomplish much, and Kentucky wasn't expecting much from him. Not a lot has change since then. At least we haven't shot a judge lately.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Victorian Villains

Like most mystery writers, I came to the genre as a mystery reader. I particularly have a fascination for Victorian Era mysteries. Loveday Brooke, Sherlock Holmes, and Auguste Dupin held fascinating insights into the human character. In particular, they held knowledge of the criminal classes that made me look sideways at my junior-high classmates. Which of them held villainy in their heart?

So, aside from telling you that I was a weird child, what does this have to do with Victorian Villains?

The Victorians not only gave us the detective genre, they passed down their fears in the form of villains. It is not Holmes that gives us insight into what his society feared, it is the bad guys that show us the shape of evil in the minds of readers in his time. Today I thought I would talk a little about what the Victorians feared most in their society and the six basic types of villains I gleaned from reading them.

1. The Visual Villain - character showed in this villain's appearance. You could tell by looking at the physical deformities, the nervous twitches or speech problems, harsh features or scarred flesh gave this bad boy away. The Victorians not only feared deformity, they carried it to the extreme of studying bumps on the head and facial construction as a way of determining criminal behavior.

2. The Working Class Villain - yes the butler did it, or the coachman, even the upstairs maid might harbor reasons to take the master's possessions away from him. If they killed the master, so much the more affirming of the black-hearted working class mindset. If they were good people, they would be rich too.

3. The Upper Class Other - this guy is dark, foreign, elusive, and often mysterious in origin. He may be of the upper class, but he's NOT one of us. The British were particularly good at this typecasting of other races and cultures.

4. The Mysterious Woman - sometimes this is portrayed as the fallen woman. She is exotic, mysterious, and/or erotic. A woman on her own is suspect. An attractive woman of independent means is exponentially more suspect. If she shows signs of being well read, educated, and able to hold her own in a conversation... watch out.

5. The Supernatural Villain - one of the most feared. The Victorians consulted the mediums, created Hellfire Clubs, brought mystery objects from Egypt, drugs from the orient, and picked up superstitions from dozens of conquered cultures. Detectives might explain the phenomenon as a fraud, but the bad guys frequently resorted to supernatural threats to prey on the upper crust.

6. The Domestic Villain - this is the friendly villain that can hide in plain sight. He blends in: a college chum you would never suspect of holding a grudge, the professor in gold-rimmed glasses you met on the train to London. He blends in, he is one of us, but behind the smile, evil lurks.

That's my take on Victorian Villainy. What do you think? Are there more ways the nineteenth century writers shaped their bad guys? The more interesting thoughts to me is how often these types of villains show up in our today and how often our own fears color our writing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Oldest Mental Hospital West of the Alleghenies

Eastern State Hospital is moving. The old buildings will be torn down. In their place, the Bluegrass Community College and Technical School will build a larger campus. I have nothing against the Community College expansion, or against modern, state of the art, facilities for Eastern State. But I find the move an incredibly sad event because the hospital is a living part of Lexington's rich history.

Eastern State Hospital was started by private citizens, mostly from Lexington, through a fund raising campaign announced in the Lexington Register. Many gave anonymously. Some of Fayette County's most famous citizens were involved in the efforts to raise money for the hospital. John Hunt, Andrew McCalla, George and Samuel Trotter, Alexander Parker, Thomas January, John Bradford, JD Young, William Morton, Thomas Pendell, J. Postlethwaite, John Pope, Lewis Sanford, John Bradford, Robert McNair and Samuel Ayers were among the contributors. A ten acre tract of land at Sinking Spring was purchased for construction of the Fayette Hospital, as it was originally named. Henry Clay not only supported the effort financially, he delivered the oration when the cornerstone for the first building was placed.

Fayette Hospital was intended to treat "lunatics" and the "sick poor." But the Panic of 1819 halted construction. Lexington was devastated by the panic. Thomas January, one of the largest contributors to the project, had to close his factory after 24 years of operation. Governor Adair was able to keep interest in the project alive in the legislature. He pressed the state to take over and finish the hospital. After studying the advisability of the project, the state decided to purchase the property and complete the hospital, but wished to use it exclusively as a mental hospital.

Eastern State is the oldest hospital in the United States built for the express purpose of treating the mentally ill. The hospital opened on May 1, 1824 with a single brick building 66 feet square and three stories tall. As news of the work done there spread, the hospital became more and more involved in the care of mental patients from all over Kentucky with diseases of the mind were sent to Eastern State. Later, additional property was purchased to provide a park and farm to the hospital. Eastern State was a village within a growing city. Within the walls of the hospital grounds there were medical facilities, a farm, houses for employees, stores, parks, trails a cemetery and a private lake. Events like the "Lunatic Ball" allowed local citizens to visit with residents of the hospital community, but there was little interaction beyond these special events.

Today there is archeological research going on at the site of the cemetery and volunteers are trying to build a database of information about the patients buried there. Some of the graves discovered contain as many as four bodies. Geological studies have indicated there could be more than 10,000 people buried on the grounds. Many will never be identified. I truly wish there were some way to preserve what remains of this historical site.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Writer: Follow-up to Authorfest

Discussing Writing Historical Fiction at the Schaumburg Township Public Library
It isn't often that I have the chance to talk about two of my favorite topics, history and writing, at the same time. This past weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to do a presentation titled "The Devil is in the Details: Incorporating History into Your Novel." I couldn't resist.

On Thursday evening, armed with a PowerPoint presentation and a handful of novels from some of my favorite historical mystery writers, Sarah and I headed out to Illinois. It is good that we both write mysteries. Our deductive powers got their first workout when "Greta", our rented Garmin, quit working. It wasn't Greta's fault that the rental company neglected to recharge her and gave us a charger that was broken, but just when we had to detour from our planned route, she died. We had to rely on our powers of deductive reasoning to find our hotel. 

The next morning, we drove about twenty miles out of our way to the Indianapolis Airport to get a replacement charger for Greta (we named her for the great Greta Garbo). Confident that once we got out of the airport parking garage there would be no further complaints from the Garmin, Sarah and I set off again for Schaumburg. It didn't take long to realize that we were right about getting no complaints... Greta was still dead.

We got a map. For the next fifty miles, we discussed the fact that in another generation knowing how to read a map will be as foreign to children as understanding the difference between clockwise and counter clockwise.

Despite resorting to archaic navigational techniques, the rest of the trip went as smoothly as it could in eight to twelve lanes of traffic on unfamiliar roads. We arrived safely in Schaumburg and headed to the mall. Yes, the mall. Schaumburg once hosted the largest mall in the United States until the title was stolen by the Mall of America. It is still the largest shopping mall in a five state area. Besides, we had some time to kill before checking into our hotel.

On Saturday, we were up early. The car rental company opened at 7:30 AM and we were finally able to get the Garmin a working charger.
By 10 AM we were at the library. I was amazed to discover that there was a line of people waiting for the doors to open. It was awesome. For a moment, I thought everyone was there to attend Authorfest. Then the first people I spoke to didn't even know there was an author's event. The crowd waiting was there for the library. My ego might have been wounded if the nice couple hadn't wanted to hear all about my book. It is impossible to feel bad when a little old lady is really interested in what you write and thinks your wife is beautiful. I think I could live in Schaumburg, if it weren't for those Chicago winters.

The second surprise of the day was learning that the library has funding to run a lot of programs. Having a dozen authors come in and speak on a Saturday was just a normal business day for them. At the same time we were talking, there were photography classes, children's reading times, and a host of other events. When I think of the little libraries in Kentucky and the struggle they have just to keep the doors open, I can't help wondering what those librarians would think if they had funds for even one of the programs going on regularly in Schaumburg. Even here in Lexington, where we have some of the best libraries in the state, there are no lines outside waiting for the doors to open. 

This isn't a complaint. I love our libraries; I just got a look at how much more is possible.