Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas is a Catastrophe

After weeks of being exposed to positive thoughts and uplifting reading, I have come to the conclusion that happiness is overdone. This is particularly true this time of year. It is time to take a serious look at the holiday season. Trust me on this. You people need to get a grip before you go overboard and turn your kids into a bunch of sniveling liberals who want everyone to be happy.

That's right. You, in the red suit, I don't know what you're smoking in that pipe but breaking into people's houses, eating their cookies, and drinking all the milk is criminal. For that matter who told you to trash the place with all those toys and goodies. I could have broken a toe if I hadn't checked my stockings before sticking my feet in them. And another thing, giving all this stuff away is UnAmerican. Do you want to wreck our whole economy?

I am not a grouch. I just call it as I see it. This Christmas thing is a communist plot to spread happiness and good cheer all over the world. It has got to stop.

Now don't start telling me about Scrooge or how I need to get into the spirit of the season. Scrooge was just a hard working business man, and example of thrift and other conservative principals. It isn't his problem that Tiny Tim didn't have health insurance. His parents should have worked two jobs apiece and put him in an institution. That's the American way.

Do you think the folks in Congress should all be visited by a bunch of ghosts?

You do?

Well, I think you've been in the spirits a little too much. How much brandy was in that fruitcake? If you don't stop, you may be the ghost of Christmas past.

Who said anything about drinking and driving? I was going to knock you in the head with this rolling pin, the one my dad carved from a fence post. That will teach you to stay out of my kitchen, and out of my bourbon balls.

Really, Christmas is a catastrophe waiting to happen. All this joy and happiness is just a distraction from the real reason for the season. Shopping! Block the streets. Plug all the exits. Don't let anyone escape the mall until the credit cards are maxed out.

Most of all people, you need to teach your children that life is hard, cruel, and unfair.Why not make this whole season a teaching occasion? Rip the joy out of those chubby cheeks.  Teach them that the candy and Christmas cookies make them fat while you bake the next batch. Structure their time so they don't waste it with daydreams. Do you want them to have visions of sugar plums? Of course not.

So, if you must give toys, make sure they are educational. You owe it to your children to make them miserable. They've got to learn about the real world sometime.  Fill the season with stress, expense, pressure, and excess. Fill their heads with greed and guilt, and tell them that this is happiness.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking for the "Good"

For the next couple of weeks I am supposed to be actively seeking out the "Good" in my world. Two weeks of relaxing, looking at positive, funny, inspiring, books, television, and movies. Two weeks of self-indulgence in activities that give me pleasure, of spending at least an hour every day doing something just for fun--about now my hard working friends are all sighing and wishing their doctors would give them this order. It sounds like a prescription for a vacation.

What it really asks is that I change habits and thought patterns of a lifetime.

As a counterpoint to this experiment I am also asked to avoid angry, violent, negative, sad, depressing thoughts. I am to not watch the news, put down the murder mysteries, not look at crime get the idea. Death, crime, murder, violence etc. are banished. I close my eyes, snap my fingers, and poof, its gone. Right?

Okay, nobody, not even my thrity-something doctor thinks I'll magically make the bad stuff vanish. She does think that the cycle of nightmares, sleepless nights, and panic attacks can be broken. Her "I think you can" attitude seems young and naive to me. But all the doctors are looking young these days.

As for reading positive stuff, I would much rather have a good mystery. Feel-good writing is not my thing. I have never read a "Chicken Soup" book. I've always assumed that I would gag on the syrup in them. Perhaps I would, but I will give a couple weeks of anything a try if there is a chance it will get me back to writing again. This morning I read through Virginia Satir's "My Declaration of Self-Esteem" without gagging. I still want my "Chicken Soup" in a bowl, and still have doubts about feel good medicine being the right prescription for me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stumbling Along

Any of my relatives can tell you I have a talent for stumbling, sometimes over my own feet, but often over nothing at all. My knees bear many scars from falling, so does my ego. In fifty-plus years, I have done a lot of stumbling. I also fell on my face a number of times. It feels like I've done little else. Therein lies a tale of woe.

Whoa! Lets not go down that path. I don't want to spend today in the pervasive darkness that has plagued me for my entire life.  I am just letting friends know that I am still here and still stumbling along. The blunders, spills, misspoken words, and epic miscalculations make me who I am.

Instead of talking about what I've stumbled over, on, and into, lets talk about a few things I've learned from those falls:

1. Your friends will laugh when you land face-first in a cow pie.
2. Laughing at your expense does not mean you aren't loved. It means your friends know funny when they see it.
3. When friends stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation you've fallen into, they will help you back to your feet.
4. Your best friends will help you wash the s*** off.
5. The worst tumbles make the best stories.
6. Nobody will ever forget or let you live down the epic falls.
7. Someone will capture your epic fall for posterity, share it with the friends who missed it, and probably post it to Youtube, Facebook, etc.
8. When you are a klutz, the camera phone is not your firend.
9. When your mouth and brain lack Call Waiting, you can have an epic stumble without taking a step.
10. Words can hurt you, when others react to your words with their fists.

These are just a few of the life lessons I've picked up while stumbling my way through. They haven't stopped me from making missteps. Though, from time to time, they have helped me find the strength to get back up again. Now if I could just learn how to get rid of those camera phones.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Memories of Life on Four Mile Road

Today is difficult. I should be working on the story my wife asked me to help plot, but my mind keeps wandering back to a little four room house on Four Mile Road. It was a rundown old farmhouse, without indoor plumbing, and heated by an ancient cast iron stove. The house was a long way from everything. The sun set between our house and the nearest town, a thriving metropolis of nearly 3000 people, that we moved to some years later.

I didn't understand what poverty was, and didn't see anything of the world beyond our holler. Day to day life didn't change much. My brothers picked on me, my older sister bossed me around, and the younger one was a fussy baby who displaced me as the baby. We were Appalachian to the core, proud, independent, dirt poor, hard working, and barely getting by from day to day.

My mother worked ten hour days in a sewing factory. My father worked in a steel mill in Columbus, Ohio. He came home on the weekends bringing most of his paycheck and the occasional treat. Being neither the youngest nor the oldest in the family, my life was a constant attempt to avoid being yelled at, beat up, or given more chores. It was a hard life. Everyone had to do their part to keep the family going. We grew our own food, made most everything we had, and wasted nothing. I didn't understand then how hard it was or how much harder it could get. Between age four and five, the bottom fell out of our isolated little world.

My father got hurt in the mill. I wish I could remember him better before a thousand pounds of steel crushed his back, turned his hair white, and left him in pain for the rest of his life. He eventually was able to return to the labor force, but the years of recovery were a strain on all of us. After his injury, we had to be very quiet around the house. Perhaps that quiet was the beginning of my writing roots. Who knows? We had no books. The biggest comfort I had growing up was my imagination. There I could escape to places where I wasn't little, lonely, or frightened. Heroes populated my imagination and magic worked wonders in my make-believe world.

If any family needed a little magic, ours did.

With Mom at work and Dad laid up, we kids pretty much raised ourselves. The major burden of that fell on my oldest sister, Kay. Believe me, the rest of us were a huge burden. I wouldn't wish my family on any teenager. My youngest sister was just a baby, I was about four and a half, and the brother nearest my age was barely six. Then there was Don. His twin died shortly after he was born. I often wondered if he would have been different if Ronny had survived too. Some of my earliest stories revolved around a brother I never met. Unlike Don, his dead twin liked me. He would never have tied my pigtails to the clothes line and left me hanging there until Mom got home.

My brother Don was the kid who is always a little slower, a little less able. He didn't learn to walk until he was nearly four. My brother Don had about nine tenths of the necessary skills to manage his own life, let alone manage to turn out well under the conditions we grew up in. That missing tenth, that small part that gives us common sense, just wasn't there. That would have held him back in any course his life might have taken. As poor kid in Eastern Kentucky, he never stood a chance at having a decent life. His brain worked just well enough to get him into trouble and his temper worked too well. Over time, Don and trouble became synonyms.

At sixteen Don got tired of walking home, so he stole a bicycle from a classmate. For that lack of impulse control, he was sent to reform school until he turned eighteen. Before his nineteenth birthday, he went to prison for the first time. Perhaps went to prison for a lifetime is a more accurate account. He turned a three year prison sentence into a career as a prisoner. There were brief respites when his keepers granted parole, but those could be measured in months.

On television we see criminals commit complex, well planned crimes. Maybe he was aiming at being one of those criminal masterminds, but if that was the case, his aim fell really short. Don committed crimes like driving the Baptist minister's car up the courthouse steps, and breaking into a hardware store and sleeping in a hammock overnight. My personal favorite crime was his first escape from jail. Yes, there were other escapes. Don's biggest talent was was getting out of or into a locked room. However, that first jail break was the most memorable.

His great jail break was particularly noteworthy because the jailer didn't know it had happened until his next arrest. 

In the jailer's defense, the breakout and arrest were only about an hour apart. 

That day, my wiry brother decided that if he stripped and soaped himself down he would be able to slide between the bars. At this point, I should point out that the cells were on the second floor of the jail and the jailer lived on the first floor. This is important because Don forgot to throw his clothes down before climbing out. With no way to retrieve his drawers without turning himself in, he tried to run home before anyone saw him. 

Even in a small town in Eastern Kentucky it is difficult to run half a mile buck naked through downtown without someone noticing. His subsequent arrest was for “streaking.” The “escape” charge was added when the officer brought him in and the jailer realized he was supposed to already be there.

If you are wondering why I am talking about this, it is because I am thinking about Don today. He has found a new prison to occupy. One he created all by himself through years of smoking, a habit he picked up in reform school and mastered through years of prison. They actually let him come home when his lungs were so bad he had to be on oxygen all the time.

He is hooked to a ventilator now, and sedated so he won't remove the tube. I am not sure how I feel about what's happening to him. I know he doesn't want to be on this ventilator. He has stated frequently that he doesn't want to be kept alive. But the hospital doesn't have a Do Not Resuscitate order on file for him. Whether he neglected to give it to them or they lost it is anybody's guess. He is in no condition to sign a new one. Nothing he or I or anyone else can do can change his situation.

It seems to me that life has been so utterly unfair to him in every possible way that this is a fitting end. From his birth as a premature twin before neonatal care could have helped him develop, to his impoverished childhood and the lack of special education programs in the 1950's, to the years of prison, my brother never stood a chance of having a decent life. Perhaps, it is somehow fitting that the end of his life is as utterly messed up as the rest of it. I would like to think that when his struggle is over, he will be reunited with that missing twin - the twin who was kind and loving and would never stick his little sister in a bucket and drop her down the well.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stepping out of the "Crazy" Closet

Most of my friends know that I've had a lifelong battle with depression and anxiety. I don't mean that I get a little sad or that occasionally I don't want to get out of bed. I've never really wanted to get out of bed in the morning, but that's another issue altogether.

Of the two problems, the depression is usually, but not always, worse. Depression is a crippling disease. It is also the sort of disease that isn't taken seriously. Well intentioned friends and family members told me to "snap out of it," "stop feeling sorry for myself", and my personal favorite, "just don't think about it." Anxiety really isn't taken seriously. Everybody worries. Everybody has fears. Not everybody has an anxiety disorder. Those who don't, have trouble understanding what happens to people like me. It is just "crazy."

Therein lies the stigma of having a mental problem. Yes, I know half the commercials on television are cute depictions of how drugs can help. In the real world, people still distrust those with mental illnesses. One of my nephews is quite upfront with his opinion. He refers to me as his Crazy Aunt Gwen.

There are things that can make life better. Drugs help, most of the time, but there is no cure.

What I learned from living with this illness was not to talk about what was going on inside my head. The problem with that approach is that it falls into the same category as not talking about being gay. Unless we talk about it, the stigma, the injustice, and misunderstanding continues. Pretending only makes life harder. Not being able to talk also makes it harder for those who do understand and want to help. I am sure that one of the great frustrations of Sarah's life is not being able to get me to talk when I am in the middle of an attack. I don't know how much of my inability to talk is the illness and how much of it stems from my experiences with therapy.

Some people find therapy helps. Both Sarah and her mother have had good results from therapy. Many of the people I know also believe in therapy. Me, not so much. My experiences on that front have been anything but helpful. In the 70's I had the worst sort of therapist. In the 80's I was misdiagnosed and put on drugs that nearly wrecked my life. My family doctor figured out what was happening and thankfully told me to stop taking those medications. I stayed away from psychiatrist after that, but did try therapy again some years later. It was not pretty.

Nothing about this illness is pretty. I really wish I could "just snap out of it." Wouldn't that be great?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Posting from the Edge or the World

The shallow waters of the Gulf or Mexico might not seem like the edge of the world, but in my mind any place where earth meets sea is the edge. I can go no further. Never mind that boats and explorers have ventured out on much rougher seas. They had to work with others, build ships, find others willing to risk falling off the edge of the earth.

From the shore, alone and unaided, they saw the horizon. They knew humans had had reached the edge of the world.

When the most adventurous ventured beyond the edge they were uncertain. Some places resisted exploration. There the maps were marked as "here there be monsters."

Perhaps, there are monsters out in those peaceful waters. Perhaps, we humans took our monsters with us when we ventured out beyond the edge. There have been enough horror films about dangers of the deep to fuel many nightmares. There are still unexplored depths where exotic creatures remain undiscovered.

Here on the edge, we look to the horizon and wonder. We feel the awe of vastness. We wade the shallow waters at the edge. Brave souls venture out beyond the horizon. Unlike our ancestors, today's explorer no longer believes the world is flat. We won't fall off the edge. Will we?

"Here there be monsters."  Perhaps, my writing friends should be thinking about what monsters lurk in the depths. Mystery and Horror, LLC loves exploring topics like this. "Here there be Monsters" would make an excellent anthology of our eternal human quest to explore what lies beyond the edge of the world. What monsters await? Are they creatures of the deep or did we bring them along for the ride?

Think about it.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Cover Reveal: HA-HA! Horror

HA-HA! Horror by Monster Matt Patterson is the very first single author book from Mystery and Horror, LLC. Those who are fans of Monster Matt know his jokes are so bad they make me cringe, but they also make me laugh. If you want a sample of his humor visit him at HaHaHorror or tune in to 6 Foot Plus for the Monster Matt Minute. They bill the latter as either the worst or best minute of the show.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Launch Day for All Hallows' Evil

There is a listing of authors and story titles on the Mystery and Horror blog today but launch day is about the end of a long process of construction, revision, and reworking the parts to create the whole. In the beginning, a book is an organic project. An idea becomes a cover which becomes the inspiration that spreads through creative minds. On launch day that idea becomes a concrete item, but through the process of spreading the idea changes.

The first change takes place when I give the cover to Sarah and she sends out a call for submissions. It isn't mine anymore. As editor, she has to make the tough decisions about what stories are included and which she turns down. I don't see the contents of the book again until it is time to do the layout.

In the meantime the writers who answer the call and create the stories do their part in shaping the book. Imagination multiplied is a wonderful process to experience. Great stories come from all over the world and only a select few make it into the final product.

All Hallows' Evil sits in front of me, a giant glop of mismatched text by writers who think they have followed the guidelines, but probably have not. I get to discover how they added hidden codes, tabbed instead of using the indent feature of word, emailed themselves the text and worked on a different computer. All those lovely hidden crimes come out when I FORMAT. The final task is to turn that glop into a book that the reader won't throw across the room.

Finally, the book is off to the printer and we can throw a launch party. Today I will be celebrating the completion of the book. So stop by our Facebook page, have a slice of virtual cake, click the "like" button and say hello. Go to Amazon and order a copy. Most of all, send a nice thought to a poor unloved publisher who gets no credit for her mind numbing work.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

New Contest on Facebook

 I have started a new contest on Facebook. The prize is getting to dedicate  Mystery and Horror, LLC's anthology Undead of Winter to the person of your choice. Horror fans, family members who would get a kick out of seeing their name in print, your best friend from high school, the choice is yours. All you have to do is like the Mystery and Horror, LLC Facebook Page and leave a comment telling us why you want the dedication.

If you are all ready one of the people who likes our publishing company that's great. We would never exclude our friends. You can still leave a comment and be entered for the prize. But to win you have to like the page and ask to be entered in the drawing. The contest runs through the month of September.

On October first I will put all the entries into one of my many hats and draw out one winner. That person will get to decide who the book is dedicated to. It can be serious, funny, or a slap in the face to someone you wish were dead...the only limit is a dedication that would get me sued.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Mystery and Horror...Beginnings

Today is a big day for our little press. The first box of books arrived from the printer. There have been a lot of important first-time events since Sarah and I announced our plans to add publishing to our accomplishments. We held our first business meeting, drew up our first business plan, announced our first anthology, did our first book cover, and put together a list of books we were going to do this year.

Along the way to publishing those three books we announced for 2013, we have had to make some difficult decisions. One of the hardest was the day we sent out our first acceptance and rejection messages. We made mistakes, ruffled a few feathers, and got rapped on the knuckles a few times by folks who thought we were out of our minds.

Maybe we are. There's a rumor that writers, publishers, editors, and just about everyone else involved in the book business is crazy. The publishing industry is in the Wild Wild West of business. Which is why we are starting slow and keeping our day jobs. We may be crazy, but not entirely foolish.

Everything we've done so far has been a first. But today is a little different, because today I am holding the finished product in my hand, not a proof, the actual first box of books is stacked on the sofa beside me. Tomorrow, I'll be shipping those first books out to authors and people who ordered copies. Hopefully, they will be as happy with the results as I am. I think we have put together a great book. This is not to say it is a perfect book, but we've given it our all.

I have learned a few things the hard way. I expect All Hallows' Evil to be better for the education Strangely Funny has given me. By the time we announce next year's, publications we might have a clue or two about what we're doing. Who knows, we might convince a few of our critics that two dedicated people can create books worth reading.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Excerpt: "A Proper Job for a Lady" from Strangely Funny

Since today is my birthday, I've decided to share a bit of my own story from Strangely Funny with readers. This is neither the beginning or the end of "A Proper Job for a Lady" but the excerpt should give you a good feel for the story.

Enjoy! I'm off to the beach.

Conversation stopped. Every eye in the room turned to watch as the huntress moved catlike through the assemblage.

“You can’t go out unescorted,” Constance insisted. “Let me call Peter to take you to your cottage. Better yet, forget the cottage and stay here in the inn.”

“My dear cousin,” Atalanta said. “I’ve come to Bridgeport to hunt the monster, not be protected from it.”

“Yes, yes,” Constance replied, “but surely that can wait until dawn. You need rest.”

“Is your monster likely to wait for the light of day to strike?”

Constance’s face flushed.

“Tell Peter to saddle horses and pack provisions for a few days' travel. Theodora and I will ride for the mountains as soon as we change.”

Constance stood silent, her eyes forming a question too horrifying for her lips to speak.

“It has returned,” Atalanta said. “Have you reinforced the wards around the Inn? We’ve two days until the new moon brings the beast to the height of his powers.”

“That’s just an old story, told around the hearth on stormy nights. You can’t believe such a creature exists.”

Atalanta picked up her bag and turned toward the door. She had nothing to say to the willfully ignorant. There was no turning away from the heritage of Wilde-Woods, but Constance had chosen to learn only the most basic protections. She could believe or not, fight or remain inside the relative safety of the inn; either way, the new moon would bring darkness to their doorstep.

“Good-night, cousin,” Atalanta said. “See to the wards.”

“What are you planning to do?” Theodora asked when they were safely out of earshot.

“I am going to change into something more suitable for the task.”

“Really, Atalanta? Just like that, you are going to change your gown and the monster will bend to your will?”

“Theodora, many of my male acquaintances are of the opinion that all I have to do is appear in town, gaze wistfully into the distance, and the local monster will be naturally drawn to me.” She sighed. “If only it were that simple.”

“There was that vampire in West Madison,” Theodora said. She grinned at the memory.
“He practically fell at your feet declaring his love. And what did you do?”

Theodora’s voice held a note of reproach as she answered her own question. “For his trouble, you drove a stake through his heart and cut off his head.”

“Theodora, it is much easier to stake a vampire while he is prostrated at your feet than it is after you reject his proposal.”


Read the rest of the story and many others in Strangely Funny, now available in print, Kindle, and other e-book formats.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Interview with Gloria Alden

Gloria Alden and Her Gnome

Today I am chatting with Gloria Alden, one of the authors in Mystery and Horror, LLC's new anthology Strangely Funny. Gloria has a number of published short stories, including “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed,” winner of the 2011 Love is Murder contest and published in Crimespree Magazine; “Mincemeat is for Murder” appearing in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, “The Professor’s Books” in the FISH TALES Anthology; and “The Lure of the Rainbow” in FISH NETS, the newest Guppy Anthology. She is the author of the Catherine Jewell mystery novels and a middle-grade book, THE SHERLOCK HOLMES DETECTIVE CLUB. She lives on a small farm in Southington, Ohio with two ponies, some cats, five hens and her collie, Maggie. She blogs on Thursdays with Writers Who Kill and once a month with the Fish Tales Anthology Blog.

So Gloria, tell us a little more about yourself.

I’m a retired elementary school teacher with a Master’s degree in English. I’ve been writing mysteries for some time and have had five short stories published now and this past year I decided to indie publish the first in my Catherine Jewell mystery series – TheBlue Rose and the 2nd one Daylilies for Emily’s Garden came out in May. I’m in the final edit of my third. I also have a middle-grade mystery out – TheSherlock Holmes Detective Club based on a writing activity I did with my third grade having them follow the adventures of an elderly woman, who was traveling around the U.S. on the track of two jewel thieves. Because the letters came postmarked and unopened from places she was having her sometimes dangerous adventures – thanks to friends and relatives around the country, they believed in her and their letters to her are funny and precious. I live on a small farm with two ponies, a few hens, two barn cats, two house cats, and my companion, Maggie, a tri-color full sized collie. I’m also an exuberant gardener who doesn’t know when to stop making new gardens which is why my books have a gardening theme. I took up backpacking when I was 60 and only stopped when my younger sister couldn’t do it any longer.

What event in your life helped you know you wanted to become a writer?

A year after my oldest son died of cancer at eighteen; I entered college for the first time to become a teacher. The first essay I wrote for an English class was “Saying Good-bye” about his death. My professor liked it so much that she suggested I submit it to the campus’s literary magazine. I did and it was accepted and from then on I wrote a lot of poetry and submitted it and also had a short story win an award for freshman writing. I also took an overload of every literature and writing class offered in addition to my elementary education courses and did well in all of them. I even enjoyed writing research papers. I think going to college as an older student is what led me to become a writer.

What made you decide on writing mysteries?

That’s easy. Although I’m an eclectic reader, mysteries have always been my favorite reads starting with Nancy Drew. I love trying to solve the problem of who done it before the end as well as getting totally immersed in a place and characters that make me feel like I am there.

You write adult and young adult mysteries. What do you see as the difference in writing for a younger audience?

Actually, I don’t write young adult, but middle-grade. I love middle-grade kids and after teaching that age for 20 years plus having Cub Scouts and then a Girl Scout troop for 10 years, I relate to this age, and in some ways my sense of humor works well for them. But writing for a mature audience is more full-filling for me. I can include topics including murder as well as others that would not be appropriate for youngsters.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m more of a pantser; however I do create characters, especially my murderers by writing a biography of them showing what leads them to murder. In doing so, I actually have sympathy for my murderer and wish he/she didn’t take that final irreversible step. Once I start the book, I have some notes of things I want included, I have a plot in mind, but from then on the characters and story kind of take off on their own.

What makes you so sexy?

After I got up from the floor from laughing so hard, I thought about it. Maybe it’s because I wear very little makeup? Or maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable in jeans or shorts? Or could it be my white hair worn in a simple style that I never fuss with? And then I decided it was the barn boots I wear when it’s wet outside for my walks in the woods or cleaning the pony stalls. If I asked my son and daughter-in-law whose house I pass each morning, they might say it’s the raggedy and well-worn, but warm old snowmobile coat I wear in the winter with a red knit hat, although they’ve been nagging me for years to buy a new one even if I have to go to Good Will.

Okay, so you’re an author. What do you enjoy reading?

Mysteries, of course, mostly traditional, but I’ll read others, too. I’ve always enjoyed Jane Langton for her intricate plots, characters and great sense of humor. I like Elizabeth George and Louise Penny, and so many other authors I can’t list them all. I also belong to two book clubs and almost always I enjoy the books that are chosen that I might never have read if it wasn’t for them. I also read TIME magazine and the daily newspaper. I have a library/dining room/office with several walls of book plus book cases in almost every room of my house and where there isn’t a book case, books are still somewhere in the room.

What books have most influenced your life?

I’ve been reading since I was six – a lot of years - so that’s impossible to say. I can’t imagine a life without reading books. If I had to pick one book that I’ve read three times and would be on almost everyone’s list as one of the best, it’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Do you see writing as a career?

It’s one of the things I really enjoy doing and plan on writing for as long as I can. I have so many stories still inside me. I’m editing my third book in the series and have my plot for the fourth, and actually some notes for future books. My series is on a monthly basis; 1st in June, 2nd in July and on. I also write a blog for every Thursday on Writers Who Kill. But do I consider it a career? Not really. I won’t get rich at it, but I have a pension and it’s not so much about the money as wanting to be read. I’m not going to put in hours and hours every day on writing my mysteries. I have a rather large family, friends, and other interests like gardening, volunteering, and reading to name a few. Plus my critters take time, and I can only stand just so much clutter surrounding me. 
Thanks for being my guest today. 

Strangely Funny is now available in print, Kindle, and other e-book formats.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Catriona McPherson Author Profile

On her website, Catriona McPherson says she was born in Edinburgh, in south-east Scotland and lived there, in Ayshire, in Dumfrinshire ,and in Galloway before moving to California in 2010. She, her husband, and their two cats currently live on in a farmhouse near Davis, California, where she spends her non-writing time gardening, swimming, roaming the hills, and occasionally escaping to San Fransisco.

Catriona is the author of the Dandy Gilver mystery series, which is set in 1920's Scotland. She has also written one stand-alone mystery, As She Left It. This year, she tried her hand at writing short fiction: a ghost story titled "One Scareful Owner." That's right, her one and only short story to date was written for Strangely Funny. After reading her first story, I am hoping to see others. Her writing is crisp, and her humor infectious. 

I first met Catriona in the pages of Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains. We were going to be on a panel together at Bouchercon and were asked to read each other's work before the convention. This was my first, but certainly not my last Dandy Gilver mystery. Dandy kept me coming back for more. The panel made me a fan of the author instead of the character. Catriona introduced herself as the only one on the panel without a funny accent, and kept the audience smiling throughout the discussion. Later, she joined our table at the hotel bar and cracked my spouse up when she looked at the raw broccoli I was munching on and exclaimed, "Don't eat that, that's garnish! Here, have some of my chips!"  So much for healthy eating. I took a handful of her fries and enjoyed an hour of chatting with my new friend. 

Check out her story, "One Scareful Owner," and those of the other Strangely Funny writers that make up Strangely Funny. It is a purchase you won't regret.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Launch Party Kick Off!

Bourbon Punch

Today we are launching our first book from Mystery and Horror, LLC. Since our authors are scattered through several countries we couldn't get together for a launch, so we're doing the party in the virtual world. For the next ten days we are going to PARTY. 
Now, in the virtual world, all party food is calorie free. So for those of you who want a little more bang, I'm going to post a few recipes that I only bring out on special occasions. 
Being from Kentucky, bourbon is a part of our heritage. This particular recipe has been handed down from my great-grandmother and is a perfect refreshment for a hot summer day. Of course, it is a ladies' recipe and for the gents you might want to leave a bottle of your favorite bourbon around so they can add a little extra kick.

Bourbon Punch

1 Quart Cherries, pitted
3 T. Rose’s Lime
1 Quart iced tea
3 T. brown sugar
1 Pint bourbon
1 1/2 Quarts ginger ale
Thin slices of lime (optional)

Soak the cherries overnight in bourbon. (If you don't have cherries, you can substitute 1/2 cup of sour cherry juice for the fruit.) Steep your favorite tea in hot water. Sweeten the tea with the brown sugar, chill for an hour, and then drain the bourbon from the cherries into a punch bowl. Add the Rose's lime juice and mix.  Add ginger ale and stir. Add ice and garnish with lime slices just before serving.

Now if you used cherries instead of taking a shortcut with cherry juice, you have a quart of bourbon drenched cherries. You could always eat them, but my great-grandmother's solution was to turn those cherries into a warm rich cherry-chocolate brownie pie. If you'd care to try a slice, here is the recipe:

Cherry-Chocolate Brownie Pie

1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup baking cocoa
1 quart pitted bourbon soaked cherries
1 package chocolate chips

Mix butter, sugar, and eggs until smooth. Add vanilla, salt, flour, and cocoa and stir until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and cherries and mix until the cherries are coated in brownie batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide the brownie batter into two buttered 9 inch pie tins and bake 25-30 minutes or until almost set. Do not overbake. Serve warm from the oven with a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Now, don't you wish you were here to have a slice of this pie and toast the book with us?

Strangely Funny is available in print, Kindle, and other ebook formats.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Strangely Funny Stories and Authors

Yesterday I promised that I would reveal the names and story titles of all the stories selected for our first anthology. This is a lineup that is sure to leave you laughing. So here goes:

The Best of Taste 
Once Upon a Gnome 
The taste of Copper 
by Alex Azar
County Water 
by David Bernard
Something Plucked this Way Comes 
Tom & the Roadside Cafe 
by Kimberly Colley
Criticus Ex Machina 
Happy Anniversary 
by Laura Huntley
Window Watching 
by Joseph Jude
by John Lance
Jake Blossom, Pixie Detective 
A Proper Job for a Lad
Tommy and the Trolls 
by James McCormick
One Scareful Owner 
What were You Drinking  
by David Perlmutter
No More Blue Pills 
The Homunculus Caper  
Aunt Bessie and the 'It' 
If You Can't Trust a Rhyming Demon, Can You Trust a Demon not to Rhyme?
 by David Seigler
We Bring Them Back. For You! 
I Must Be Your First 
Down for the Count 
by Ted Wenskus

As you can see it is quite a cast of characters. The stories are pretty good too.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Counting Down to Release of Our First Anthology

On August 1st Mystery and Horror, LLC will release Strangely Funny, the first of three anthologies planned for 2013. Now we are in a wild race to release date, and have tons of work to do every day for the next month. Along with the countdown to publication there is a sense of excitement as the date approaches. We will be talking more about plans for the online release party.

Starting in August, the Mystery and Horror blog will have a new author profile each day. In conjunction with the online launch party we will be hosting on our Facebook page, Sarah and I are going to be doing a blog tour and giving away books. We may even show up on Blog Talk Radio, but more on that later. I can't tell you everything today. You wouldn't have a reason to click that like button on our Facebook page. Of course, if you just can't wait to buy a copy, visit our pre-order page and reserve one now.

Don't think that Sarah and I will be the only ones excited about our first release. Several writers in the anthology are planning their own events. Those too will be listed on Facebook, so check it out. If you want to know who those writers are, come back tomorrow and I will post a list of story titles and authors to this blog.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I am on vacation this week, visiting my family in Kentucky. After a year in Florida, the deep green hills of home are a welcome change. The beaches in Tarpon Springs are not exactly hard on the eyes, but change is nice.

You can see from the picture of Grayson Lake above that it is lovely here. Hanging with the grandchildren at the lake and watching movies in the evening may not sound like the most exciting vacation, but it is just what I needed. This is a quiet relaxing time with people I love.Most of all this is home. From my perspective, the only thing that would make this vacation better is to have Sarah here with me.

That may not be the case for the whole family. Shawn, my oldest grandson, is a year away from college and the two of us have been looking at what he needs to accomplish this year to get ready. He isn't always happy with what he's finding out about the costs of slacking off early in his high school career. He had to rule out a couple of his top choices for colleges because he didn't work hard enough. Also, my son-in-law might want his recliner back. Jim always insists that I stay put when he comes in and finds me in his chair, but has made a comment or two about how comfortable it is. I should feel guilty about stealing the recliner from him, but he's right. I may have to get one like his.

Next week, I have to get back to polishing my pitch for Concealed in Ash. The Historical Novel Society meeting is just around the corner. Now that Strangely Funny is closed to submissions, my job as publisher kicks into high gear. I've got a presentation to polish, a short story to finish, and a stack of corrections to finish. My desk is piled high. My bare feet don't care. I'm home. I'm lazy. I've laid claim to a great recliner. Best of all, I have a wonderful Kentucky family all around me. Who could ask for more?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Gearing Up

After more than a year of not being able to do much of anything creative, Sarah and I are gearing up for an exciting year in 2013. We are hard at work on our first novel together. Murder on the Mullet Express is set in the Roaring 20's in Homosassa Springs, Florida, and will feature the intrepid trio of geezers Theodora Lawless, Cornelia Pettijohn, and Professor Percival Pettijohn. The three of them will make their debut in a short story, "The Odds are Always Uneven"  this October, in the Speed City Sisters in Crime anthology Hoosier Hijinks.

Sarah is going to be pitching our joint novel at the Historical Novel Society meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, this June on the same morning I am scheduled to pitch the new Nessa Donnelly novel, Concealed in Ash. It should be an exciting and busy weekend for both of us. We're looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones while we are at the event. We will also be distributing business cards for our new press, Mystery and Horror, LLC.

Along with our personal writing projects, our little cross-eyed bat logo is going to make several appearances on new books before the end of the year. We have decided on three anthologies this year and will be opening for mystery novels later this summer. Covers for Strangely Funny, All Hallows' Evil, and Undead of Winter are on the Mystery and Horror, LLC website. Strangely Funny, our paranormal humor anthology, and All Hallows' Evil, our Halloween Mystery anthology, are open for submissions. Undead of Winter isn't open yet. There are only so many hours in the day.

Our first non-anthology will be a series of collections of monster art and humor by Monstermatt Patterson - Ha Ha Horror! Volumes 1 and 2. Volume 1 is due out later this year. In the meantime, catch his podcast at 6 Foot Plus. He is truly a man of many talents.

Our plan for the press is to do a limited number of anthologies each year. We want to devote the rest of our time to working with our authors to develop and promote their books. In the world of small press publishing it isn't enough to create a great book, authors and publishers have to work together to get that book in front of an audience. Everything we do is geared toward the goal of getting our books noticed. It is an exciting, scary, and daunting course we've set for 2013. Together we've gone from planning to building, but every day I wake up asking myself what I can accomplish and what I can do better.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


In the wake of yesterday's bombing in Boston, news stories are popping up all over the net lambasting domestic terrorism. Before readers go ballistic, let me say that I do not approve of terrorism of any sort, domestic or otherwise. However, homegrown terrorists are not a new phenomenon. In fact, if it were not for domestic terrorists it is unlikely that the United States as we know it would exist. Boston Tea Party anyone?

Terrorism, by definition, is the use of violence or threat of violence to intimidate a population into making religious, political, or ideological change. That's right, folks. The events leading up to the American Revolution were acts of terrorism against the British government.  Once we rabble-rousers in the American Colonies got what we wanted, we patched up our differences with the British and got on with building a country.

Never mind that building the United States involved taking most of the land away from the people already living on it. I say this because the acts of terrorism against the Native American population are too numerous and go back too far for me to even list them in a blog post.  A hard look at ourselves through Native American history is enough to sicken the strongest stomach.

Slavery also brought out the terrorist in the American heart. Officially, the first act of terrorism visited on the white population was November 7, 1837.  A pro-slavery mob attacked a warehouse used to print an abolitionist newspaper owned by Presbyterian minister  Elijah Parish Lovejoy. Lovejoy died in the attack. I wish I could say that the Civil War ended the racial terrorism, but the Civil Rights Movement is ongoing and black people still die for being black.

Issues of race are far from the only issues bringing out the terrorist in us. Labor unions resorted to violence to fight their corporate oppressors. Women were not above using violent action to gain equal rights. Anti-war movements used violence to gain PEACE! How many of us can still remember the terrorism connected to student unrest in the 1960's? Gays took to the streets in the Stonewall riot of the 1970's. A lot of these movements brought significant change, change that made us better as a nation. The question is "at what price?"

Two things need to change to stop the violence. First, show some respect for public protests. We need to listen to the grievances of others before those suffering feel that violence is their only recourse against injustice. Our media tends to accept police and official undercounts of protest participation without question. We play down the importance of social movements. We ignore issues that cause distress to others. We as a people need to change. Protest, peaceful demonstration, should be respected and encouraged as ways to address issues. The media should cover this kind of event and work toward making the issue part of public discourse. Instead of covering the sensational footage of a bomb going off, we need to give causes attention before they become horrific scenes of violence.

The acts of terrorists are large scale temper tantrums. Tantrums should never be rewarded with attention. What would happen to these violent terrorists if we didn't give them or their actions the attention they want? How would things change if terrorists were met with a wall of silence from the media? I think it is time to find out.

One final note: we Americans are quick to point fingers at the Middle East or worse, at Muslim-Americans when a bomb explodes. We like to pretend that we are better than our Islamic neighbors. The World Trade Center is quickly pointed out every time a bomb explodes on American soil. Islam is not our enemy, terrorists are. If the Saudi suspect is behind the bomb yesterday, then he is following a long tradition of drawing attention to a cause through violence. Perhaps, it is time that we address the violence as the problem, not the particular group of people involved.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Speaking at FHNS Meeting April 6

The photograph above is one I took of the Coastal Region Library, in Crystal River, Florida.  Our Florida Chapter of the Historical Novel Society will be held there on Saturday, April 6. The group has invited me to speak about, "Bringing the Past into Your Fiction."

Friends who have ever got me started talking about the history of Kentucky are probably groaning about now. I can spend hours talking about the history behind my Nessa Donnelly stories. Just so you know, I will only use one example from my own work. This talk is about the wide range of historical fiction and how different authors approach bringing the history they love into the their work. I'm going to get to talk about books by some of my favorite historical authors: Beverle Graves Myers, Catriona McPherson, Suzanne Adair, and many others.

If you like historical fiction, which I am sure this audience does, this should be a great opportunity to discover new favorite authors and revisit with some old friends. Members of the group who write their own historical novels should also enjoy seeing how a number of other writers make the past come alive on the printed page.

I'm looking forward to Saturday. If you are in the area, drop in and say hi. Meetings are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FCHNSblog: Writing a "Good" Story

FCHNSblog: Writing a "Good" Story: I often tell beginning writers that the most important lesson in writing is to tell a good story. That may sound simple, but it isn't. ...

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Switching Hats

Hats are one of the wardrobe essentials of strange characters like me. Whether it is the top hat that I don to hang out with my gangster gal or that Greek fisherman's cap I use to keep the Florida sun from baking my tiny brain, hats bring little personality changes that give me a lift.

About now you are probably wondering if I am going to post tons of photos of me in various hats. Well...No. I'm just using these hat photos to show that at different times and for different reasons, I decide on a change of hats. In the figurative sense, switching between author and publisher is the same kind of hat trick.

When I write short fiction, the story is usually written with a specific publication in mind. In the best cases the story was requested by a publisher who knows me and wants me to write a story for their publication. More often, the story goes to someone who hasn't heard of me and I am judged by how well I fit their needs and the quality of my story. One of three things happens with cold submissions. The editor loves the story and sends me an acceptance email. Sometimes, the story is short listed, and I have to wait to find out if I make the final cut. The final possibility is rejection. My author's ego gets bruised by editors who reject my work.

Like most authors, I find rejection difficult. It is hard to remember that the editor isn't singling me out. Intellectually, I know it isn't personal. Emotionally, it hurts. Rejection will always hurt because my stories are personal. They are part of me.

Now that Sarah and I have started a publishing house, rejections are part of the job.We are the ones putting out calls for submissions. That publisher's hat is an uncomfortable fit. I have to look at the work writers send, work they have tailored to my request, and poured their talent into creating. I must say "no" to many writers and send acceptance emails to the precious few who make the cut.

Maybe, in time, this new hat will have a more comfortable fit. I hope not. I don't ever want to feel entirely comfortable with rejecting work that I know is created through the sweat and dreams of an author. Even if the work submitted isn't ready for print, the words on the page are much more than words. Stories are part of who we are and what we know. Stories are the human experience. The best ones take us beyond the story and into the world created by the author's imagination.

How do I find a good hat for that?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lexington's Phoenix Hotel

In 1806 Colonel Aaron Burr visited Lexington, Kentucky and stayed at a little place named Wilson's Tavern. This is one of the earliest famous national figures to rent accommodations at the address that would become the Phoenix Hotel.  In the late eighteenth century, Lexington was building a reputation among travelers as the "Athens of the West." Postlethwaite's Tavern opened in 1800 to provide comfortable lodging for visitors to the city. Over the next twenty years the tavern changed names many times. The Wilson's Tavern Aaron Burr visited was just one of the names for Lexington's finest lodgings before it burned in 1820. One of the Lexington newspapers printed a story about the mythical Phoenix being reborn from the ashes. The popularity of the story inspired the property owners to build a grander hotel on the site.

Out of the ashes, the Phoenix Hotel rose. Perhaps the owners should have considered the relationship between the myth and the hotel. The Phoenix lived up to the name. In 1833 the three story hotel burned to the ground. There are no known likenesses of the original Phoenix Hotel, but the hotel that replaced it was photographed in 1860.

One of the interesting things about this picture is that both the rooftop of General Leslie Combs' house and the steeple of the old Main Street Christian Church are visible beyond the hotel.  The church hosted the  1843 Campbell-Rice debate presided over by Henry Clay. General Combs home was considered one of the architectural jewels of the city. It was lost on May 14, 1879, when the Phoenix was again consumed by fire.

The history of the Phoenix doesn't end here, but this is the incarnation of the Phoenix Hotel that is part of my fictional world. Several scenes in Circle of Dishonor were set in or around the hotel. Concealed in Ash opens on the evening of May 14, 1879, and takes us into the grand ballroom on the fateful night the flames took her.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Opening to the Future

My in-laws were an active retired couple for more than twenty years. Nine of those years were spent in the Philippines working as missionaries at Silliman University. When they returned to the United States, the two of them purchased the house next door to us. But the ice storms in the winter of 2003 were too much for them. They moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. We went back to seeing them only on vacations.

Pulmonary hypertension changed our relationship very little. Sarah's father managed the disease very well for many years, but he did ask one thing of us. He wanted to be sure his wife was taken care of when the time came. Being a manly man from the era when American men were expected to be stoic about life and death, there was no mention of his needing care. He would let us know when he was no longer able to "take care of her" himself.

Last February, he passed out at his computer and spent the next month in the hospital.  Things in Florida were falling apart while we were going on with our lives in Kentucky.

We were in Indiana doing research on a story when the call came. Sarah's mother panicked, almost incoherent, our cell phone breaking up because we were miles from the nearest tower, we lost the connection twice before we found a place where we could pull over and get reception. They needed us, NOW!

We dropped everything, took vacation time, and came to Florida to deal with the crisis. For fifty years he had managed all the bills, bank accounts, retirement planning. Now he couldn't remember how to use his computer. It didn't take us long to realize that the crisis was going to be life changing. In his case, it was fatal, for the rest of us it put life on hold. 

Sarah struggled through the immediate crisis of paying monthly bills, talking to the doctors about his prognosis, and arranging for her brother to come down until we could wrap up our lives in Kentucky. Joel took over things in Florida. We gave notice to our bosses, sold the house, packed up and moved.

From April to September of last year, life as I knew it ground to a halt. Each day centered around keeping my father-in-law alive and as comfortable as we could make him for one more day. Toward the end the focus was one more hour, one more minute... Hospice was great, his friends and my family were wonderful, but Sarah, her mother, and I were on watch twenty-four hours a day. There were close calls, and moments that broke our hearts. There was laughter at things other people couldn't understand and times when we were downright silly.

When it was over, there was nothing. The three of us got through the days, but we had all given so much that it was hard to even think. Little by little, the numbness is fading. Only now are we starting to think  about the future, opening our minds to life after Frank.

I've finished my novel, just in time to learn my publisher is closing.  One more door to the past is closed. I guess we will just have to keep opening doors to the future.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Writing is hard work. There are days when I feel like the entire day was spent stomping on my brain. So why would I want to compound the agony by dealing with a group of writers who have all suffered the same way? First and foremost the reason is to make money. Anyone who tells you they have taken on the headaches of running a small business for any other reason is either lying or crazy. Don't trust them.

Don't get me wrong. I love short fiction, drabbles, flash fiction, short shorts, and short stories are the popcorn of reading. Give me a tub full of little stories and I am set for the day.
As a writer, there is nothing more satisfying than crafting one of these little gems.  I have experimented with everything from 25 word stories for the Guppies contribution for the Sisters in Crime 25th anniversary to the novella. Tight, clean, writing in a limited number of words is harder than you might think. Some of my novelist friends quake at the thought of trying to tell a story in under 5000 words.

I believe the short story needs as much respect and support as a novel. Last year I took on the challenge of coordinating the Derringer Award entries because a great short story deserves to be recognized. I have also volunteered to help young writers and critique the work of others. All these things are part of belonging to a writing community.

It is that community of writers that kept me going when life was roughest. They have encouraged and advised me, commiserated with me when I struggled, and helped me celebrate my successes. As I step into the publishing side of this business, my writing friends have given me advice and support. Now it is time to take my first steps into publishing. Today drawing up a marketing plan for our first anthology Strangely Funny is on the agenda.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

To Publish or Not

Since the announcement that Pill Hill Press was closing, Sarah and I have been giving serious thought to starting a small press. The discussions have been centered around the kind of books Pill Hill loved most, anthology publishing. Yes, the two of us write novels, but our first love was short fiction. Our first publishing credits were in anthologies. Since then, we have both been in a number of anthologies. We love the form and are keenly aware of the declining number of short story markets.

The loss of short story markets is a personal loss for us. Our next publishing credit will be for a short story we wrote together. I'll write more about that closer to the time that book is released. In the meantime, we are thinking of what to do about another press that mentored and published short fiction writers closing its doors.

Do we stand by and watch the short fiction market continue to contract, or do we step in and try our hand at filling the gap? Is there enough of a market for short fiction to make a living publishing? Do we have the combined skills to run a small press? These are some of the questions we are exploring.

We are also looking at the issue of how much of our time will be eaten up on other people's writing. Will the demands of running a press stop us from working on our own writing? I have just finished my second novel. Sarah and I are a third of the way through a novel we are writing together. She also has a work in progress of her own to consider.

We've spoken to friends who self-publish their own novels and/or run a small press, read articles on the subject, looked at the costs of publishing a book, and judged enough writing competitions to trust our judgment of writing skills.

Half of the process is completed. Last year, Sarah and I asked our attorney to help us set up a Limited Liability Company to protect our interest in each other's work. The structure of our company allows us the ability to extend into publishing. Should we publish or not?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Concealed in Ash

Finally! The first draft of Concealed in Ash that I am willing to let anyone read is finished and in the hands of my spouse. I've done my happy dance.(Be grateful that you didn't have to witness that. I dance nearly as bad as I sing.)

Now comes part two of my writing process. I emailed the draft to Sarah. She will look it over for spelling and grammar errors, then together we will take this draft to a print shop to be printed and bound.

This is our read-aloud copy. Together we will be spending several days reading and listening to my words. We'll question word choices, and occasionally I'll exclaim "What was I thinking?" or "That was awkward." Mostly we will read and talk about improvements that need to be made before anyone else looks at my book.

Sarah is a great reader. If she stumbles or has to go back and look at another page, I know that I have work to do. That work isn't done while we're reading. All the way through, red marks are made on pages, notes are scribbled in the margin. By the end, our bloody fingerprints are all over my newborn baby.

When the reading is finished, it will be time for me to go back to the text and make those marked changes. It is perhaps the hardest part of my writing process. I can always disagree with the changes an editor tells me to make, but facing what I see wrong with my baby takes guts. It is particularly hard when a passage of good writing has to be cut because it just doesn't belong.

If I am brave enough to do this next part well, Concealed in Ash will be ready to face its next test...Beta Readers.