Tuesday, December 24, 2013

When George Dropped In From The Next Dimension

"Mourning has its place but also its limits.” -- Joan Didion, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, quoted in Goodreads.


Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, were part of the literary elite. After he died suddenly in 2003 and their daughter died shortly thereafter, Didion wrote a book about working through her grief.

Her book, titled THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, was published in 2005 and made all the best seller lists. She explains that “magical thinking” is a term used by psychologists to describe the way we try to change reality by thinking we can go back in time and change things. We’ll wake up tomorrow and find it was all a bad dream.

Magical thinking, wishful thinking. Grief plays tricks. Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that. A familiar looking car passes us on the street and we get a glimpse of a hat, the back of a head, maybe a profile, and for a split second we think – but no, nothing changed. Reality is a dead weight on the heart.

I could tell you stories, but I won’t. Oh, all right, just one. Trust me, I’m not nuts. A little flaky maybe, but definitely of sound mind.

Years ago my favorite cat died. He was a big orange cat and his name was George. I loved that cat and couldn’t bear to give him up. When he was literally on his last legs my best friend stepped in and held him while the vet put him to sleep. I cried for days.

One morning as I sat at the breakfast bar drinking coffee and staring out the window, George walked up on my deck. He stopped, stretched, and walked off.

Maybe it was magical thinking. Maybe it was visualization. Maybe George was just showing off, his way of saying, “It’s cool, I’m fine.” I ran outside and looked around, calling him. I couldn’t find him and I never saw him again. But he was there, just once, oh, yeah.

PEOPLE magazine for Oct. 17, 2005 ran an article by Joan Didion on how she came to write her book. Here’s a paragraph that will strike a familiar chord with anyone who grieves:

Also, when you are in grief there’s something that happens to your throat. It’s from not crying. You’re choking. I recognize that, totally. It doesn’t make it easier, but I do know it will go away. Another thing is, when you wake up in the morning you have to sort of reinvent your life every day because in the dream state you try to forget.
(end quote)

“Reinvent your life every day.” We already do that in many ways. In grief it just takes more effort and energy. Eventually, it gets easier. Not easy. Never easy. Just easier. You put one foot in front of the other, and you go on, reinventing your life every day.


Photo of cats Onxy and Tango shared by Deb Bouziden, used here courtesy of Amy Shojai from her cat photos on Flickr at

Amy Shojai is a nationally known authority on pet care and behavior, a certified animal behavior consultant, and the author of 26 nonfiction pet books. She also writes mystery thrillers, making her debut with the dog-centric thriller LOST AND FOUND (2012).

See her web site at http://amyshojai.com/


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A haunted house story revisited

Counting down to Halloween -- it's a good time to re-read some of my favorite stories of ghosts and haunted houses. Here's a review I posted to Amazon a few months ago.

By Penny Warner

Event planner Presley Parker is your best girl friend. Settle in with a low-fat blueberry muffin and a double latte and let her tell you what she’s planning, how her love life’s going, and what happened at the killer séance she just produced.

It’s a killer in more ways than one. The client is Jonathan Ellington, a computer magnate who wants to launch his new 4-D holographic projector with a séance at the Winchester Mystery House inSan Jose. He plans to have Sarah Winchester, the long-dead owner, “appear” and endorse his product.

 No problem for Presley, who has loyal colleagues to help her pull off such a stunt. Jonathan brings his own crew to operate his top-secret magic machine.

All goes well until Sarah’s appearance goes off the rails. At first she does fine, “materializing” to deliver her infomercial, but the program has been hacked. Sarah begins to accuse one of the guests of serial adultery and general scuzziness.

End of séance, beginning of mayhem. When the programmer operating the 4-D projector is murdered, Presley and the police turn the area upside down looking for the missing suspect.

Presley and her helpful colleagues are a likeable lot. Her romantic interest is Brad, a crime scene cleanup operator who is handy for picking locks, massaging blood stains out of carpet and hot sex. We have to take the author’s word for the hot sex. This is a family-friendly mystery with suicide, murder and serial adultery all offstage.

The setting is a colorful one and Warner manages to get in some of the history without dragging the story. The Winchester House in San Jose was the property of William Winchester of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. He died and left his widow a half-interest in the company and a $20 million inheritance. She used the money to build what became known as the Winchester House – 160 rooms haunted by the spirits of Indians who had been killed by her husband’s rifles. She slept in a different room every night so the spirits couldn’t find her.

An unusual feature of a house filled with unusual features is the “listening tube.” It looks like an exposed plumbing pipe on the ceiling but it runs the length of a wall, turns down in one corner and dead-ends halfway to the floor. Originally added so Sarah Winchester could contact her servants, the tubes became her means of listening in on their conversations wherever she happened to be. A listening tube plays an important role in this story.

Just as colorful is the location of Presley’s business on Treasure Island, which sits on a landfill in San Francisco Bay. Built for the 1938-39 Golden Gate Exposition, Pan American Airways launched the China Clipper from Treasure Island, offering the first commercial air service across the Pacific.

HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE is so “current” even the diseases are trendy: stroke, Alzheimer’s, sexual addiction, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Fifty years from now someone could pick up this book and get a word picture of life in the Bay Area as it was in the first decade of the 21st century.

It’s a fun read. The author begins each chapter with a party planning tip. My favorite is Tip #8:
(quote) Once the room is prepared, it’s time to join hands and summon the spirits. Use words like, “Our beloved Spirit, commune with us.” Avoid invoking the wrong spirits by saying things like,
“Yoo-hoo. Anybody there?” or “I’d like to speak to Jack the Ripper.” (end quote)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making my day -- a review of ABSINTHE OF MALICE

Canadian author Lou Allin posted a wonderful review to the DorothyL listserv. My ABSINTHE OF MALICE character -- Penny Mackenzie -- just loves the attention. Here's Lou's review:

Absinthe of Malice: Deliciously Dangerous
                 Penny Mackenzie lives with her mother and has an unfulfilling job as "Lifestyle" editor on the San Joaquin Valley's local newspaper, The Pearl Outrider. She envies her energetic and driven friend Maxie Harper, who writes the news stories.

                 Both women hunker down in the countryside on a stake-out following a rumor of trouble later that night with a group of young pot smokers: "Digger Potts's cotton field was a thing of beauty. Dense and green, with bits of white fluff popping out of the bolls, it stretched from Peach Orchard Road to a line of cottonwood trees overlooking a dry slough." Problem is, the kids unearth something frightening and flee the scene. The mystery involves a hunk of dirt and a collection of human bones, just recent enough to be a problem. Whatever happened here may involve Pearl's older citizens. Maxie wants to roll the story, but the timid new owner doesn't want anything upsetting his ship. This is a police matter, and his paper needs to cater to local needs, not chase scandals.

                 An old college beau of Penny's has returned to town. Watt Collins, dashing enough to turn any girl's head, now has his own Investigations firm and begins flirting shamelessly with her: "He was as ruggedly handsome as ever. Face just a little thinner maybe, dark hair smudged with gray, same long, thick eyebrows above eyes still hot enough to melt wax. His expensive white cotton shirt was open at the throat, sleeves turned back at the wrists." Best of all, he's divorced. Should she take a second chance on life, or let it pass her by? Even her mother has a love interest.

                 Meanwhile, there's a hot time in the venerable old town. Pearl's 100th anniversary has arrived, and not only has a book been commissioned about the founder, the eccentric Simeon Swann, but a gala "Dinner in the Round" has been planned, the kick-off first course served in his about-to-be-refurbished mansion. His son Layton and daughter-in-law Merrily will preside at the festivities, with Oysters Merrily a specialty: "The sun was almost down, a smear of melon red through the trees. Under crepe myrtles and wisterias dripping purple blossoms, Pearl's business boosters sat at round tables covered with pink linen tablecloths.." The scene is set not for dining but for mayhem.

                 During the gala, someone very dear is discovered dead on the dusty top floor of the mansion. The death is gruesome. What makes it worse is that Penny was on the phone with the victim, but learned nothing about the attack. She vows to find the murderer, perhaps with the help of their neighbour, Chief of Police Barney Press.

                 How far back does the mystery go? Rumors have always surrounded Simeon Swann and how he made his fortune in the Gold Rush, crushing anyone who got into his way. A treasure may be at stake and more than one person involved in protecting a personal fortune. Wherever she goes, Penny is met with more lies than truth. Can she even trust Watt Collins? Is he trying to use her or vice versa?

                 With a wealth of history and a thriving fruit industry, the San Joaquin Valley has been a neglected part of the US for mysteries, and Pat Browning accepts the challenge. In addition to spinning a complex and page-turning plot, she toys expertly with romance between Penny and her old flame. Who could resist liking Penny, with her Audrey Hepburn aspirations?: "I built myself a spectacular hairdo. I stuck the glittery brooch right at the top of it. God help me, I was gorgeous..but it wouldn't work."

                 Browning also captures the woof-and-warp of a small town newsroom, which walks a narrow line between big news and small news for its demanding subscribers as it struggles in the on-line age. This charming and alarming small town with its collection of eccentrics and colorful history is a perfect place to set an amateur sleuth novel. The clever title is a mere appetizer.

Lou Allin


And hallelujah, I'm a bum! A million thanks to the talented and gracious Lou Allin.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Father's Day Tribute

Frank Lucas

When I see coaches kicking dirt and bellowing into walkie-talkies, I remember my father standing quietly on the sidelines, arms folded, watching the action with no apparent angst. The way he figured it, if a team didn’t know how to play when the game started, it was too late to teach them.

For him it worked. The map of Oklahoma is dotted with small towns where we lived because he got a better offer. When he was in his eighties, middle-aged men and women still called him “Coach.”

This tribute to my father was written for The Selma (California) Enterprise, March 17, 1993. For Father’s Day this year I’m reprinting it with some minor cuts.

Coach Lucas And The Family Tree

 The mail brought a copy of my mother’s family tree – the McElhannon family on her father’s side. Our common ancestor was John McElhannon, a will of the wisp who kept appearing, disappearing and reappearing in 18th and 19th century records. We know that he came from Ireland about 1767. He fought in the Revolutionary War. Years later, he surfaced as a Georgia landowner when he applied for his veteran’s pension, which eventually got the attention of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

My sainted mother would have worn membership in the DAR like a feather in her cap.

My father, I think, would laugh about all this, but with no offense intended. Different as night and day, my parents were. Mother went through life making waves. Dad just tried to go with the flow.

 Mother was upwardly mobile before anyone knew what that meant. She dreamed, schemed and worked like a plow horse to make things happen. Dad seldom broke a sweat. If he ever worried, it didn’t show.

Maybe he already knew that life’s ups and downs come with the kit, along with a little pair of boxing gloves to hang on your key ring and a note that says, You can’t win ‘em all.

 In today’s parlance, Dad was a jock. An old newspaper clipping attests to his pitching arm, and he played semi-pro football for a while. After he got married and started a family, he switched to Plan B and became a high school coach. Whatever the job called for, he coached – football, basketball, baseball, track.

Today when I see coaches kicking dirt and bellowing into walkie-talkies, I remember my father standing quietly on the sidelines, arms folded, watching the action with no apparent angst. The way he figured it, if a team didn’t know how to play when the game started, it was too late to teach them.

 For him it worked. He had good teams and became upwardly mobile in spite of himself. The map of Oklahoma is dotted with small towns where we lived because he got a better offer. When he was in his eighties, middle-aged men and women still called him “Coach.”

 Dad was half-Irish and half-(Muscogee) Creek Indian. When he died, we took him back to his hometown of Wetumka for burial. Tom thought it would be nice to have the service done by a preacher who could speak the Creek language. There was no such person within a country mile.

But an old cousin remembered the Creek words to “Jesus Loves Me,” so we said goodbye with that. A slow rain had been falling all day and the cousin told us that rain is a good sign because it washes away earthly footprints.

It did seem fitting. The lovely man who was my father walked lightly in this life. Maybe his kit also came with a note that said, You’re just passing through. Have some fun.

                                                       ------- Pat Browning



Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mother's Day, 2013

This is a remembrance of a time on the eve of World War II, and a tribute to my mother, who pushed and prodded five children through the hardest of times. She did it with love, and was reasonably satisfied with her efforts. As she said to me not long before she died, “At least none of you was ever in jail.”

Three of us survive and I’m happy to say, we are still at large.

“White Petunias” was published in the  RED DIRT BOOK FESTIVAL ANTHOLOGY, OKLAHOMA CHARACTER, Winter 2009.



By Pat Browning

In the gloaming … my mother sang in harmony with remembered voices … oh, my darling ...

In that long blue shadow left by the retreating day a bird fusses in the Bradford pear tree. Leaves flutter. The neighbor’s cat drops down to a ledge on the fence that separates our back yards.

Shifting to a more comfortable position on the chaise lounge I let my gaze settle on a red clay pot filled with white petunias. They gleam in the fading light and the years fall away.

Summer, a rural community in Hughes County, before the big war … a real place, a pause in time, with some names changed for the privacy of the living and the dead.

It was a Sunday night ritual, girls marching self-consciously into the rickety little crossroads church, boys watching from a stand of hickory trees across the road. Shadows hid their sunburned faces. Their white shirts gleamed, open at the throat, sleeves turned back at the wrists. Here and there a cigarette glowed.

Outside, muffled voices and laughter mingled with the creak of wagon wheels and the soft snuffling of horses. The smell of dust and dung, fresh hay and old leather hung on the air.

Inside, the crowded pews were fragrant with shoe polish, starched cotton and talcum powder. Cardboard hand fans whispered to Brother Henry’s hypnotic cadences as he herded us on a long trip through several books of the Bible. His breath came in long bursts when he finally emerged from a Hell peopled with murderers, whoremongers, idolaters and liars.

My sister Carolyn gave me the elbow and I looked around. Orvie, the boy of my occasional dreams, peered through a side window, nose pressed to the screen, hands cupping his soulful blue eyes. It was a sure sign that he was working up nerve to walk me home after church. I gave him the full benefit of my classic profile.

The pianist struck a thunderous chord. A baby squalled. Someone dropped a songbook as we stood to sing. I gave silent thanks for the close of the sermon and a chance to let a little air get at my sweaty limbs. Squall. Cough.

“Amazing grace!” Brother Henry shouted. “How sweet the sound!”

That was the cue for the saved to line up onstage in front of the pulpit. The preacher never closed a service without lining up the saved to shame the sinners. A gaunt and faded old woman known as Aunt Perlie led the reluctant shuffle toward the stage. Her dress had stuck to her bottom and she tugged at it as she moved forward.

I shuffled along with the others, mainly because my mother would not want me to stay in my seat. I knew that for a fact. God, I could bargain with. Mother had certain expectations. Assembled, we stared down at the miserable few still stuck to the pews.

“Rock of Ages!” the preacher shouted. “If you want our prayers, raise your hands now. Every head bowed, every eye closed … God bless you, brother … God bless you, sister … God bless you ...” We were dismissed with an “Amen!” that echoed and shook the rafters.

Carolyn and I had barely cleared the front steps of the church when Orvie came alongside, slipped his hand under my elbow and said, “Walk you home?”

I might have fainted except for his firm grip on my arm and the bracing smell of his clothes—starched cotton, line-dried in fresh air, dampened and ironed. And so we started off, walking through moonlight and shadow, past the graveyard, here and there a darkened house or barn, with Carolyn tagging along behind.

We made the kind of useless talk only 12-year-olds could make. If Japan invaded China, if bombs fell on London, if someone packed up and moved to California, it had nothing to do with us. Our world was a dirt road in the moonlight.

After a while a familiar pasture came into view and I could see my own house just ahead. We stopped there in the middle of the road. Orvie made a move to kiss me and missed my face completely. Then he wheeled around and loped off back the way we had come.

Carolyn and I crossed the big grassy yard at a half-run, slowing down as we approached the front porch where my father dozed in a rocking chair. He opened his eyes, closed them again. No lights burned in the living room or bedroom. The little ones—Beth, Frankie, Tommy—were down for the night.

I stepped onto the porch, and through the screen door I saw my mother. She stood at the ironing board in the kitchen, lifting a flat iron from the top of the wood stove, testing it with her fingertip, and I heard her singing.

Memories come in bits and pieces.

We were seven people living in a three-room house, sleeping two or three to a bed. Sometimes after supper we lay on pallets in the front yard, breathing the cool, green smell of grass while Daddy talked about the stars in the sky, the places he had been, the sights he had seen. Some days we picked dewberries or smashed hickory nuts with a rock, digging out the meats with a hairpin. On Sundays we polished our black patent leather shoes with biscuits.

In those hard times Mother lived on hopes and dreams and found a way to make most of them come true. Her father was an old-time fiddler who played for dances almost until the day he died. She and her sisters sang like angels. Surely, she reasoned, her children had inherited musical talent.

She went into Holdenville and bought a Hallett-Davis spinet for $300, to be paid in installments, plus $10 for the bench. Spinets were new, a stretch for the budget but just right for a small living room. When I could ripple through the scales with relative ease I was assigned the thankless task of teaching Tommy to play the piano, either by persuasion or coercion.

Freckle-faced, tow-headed Tommy spent his days outside in the dirt and heat, chasing chickens, climbing trees, running up and down the road, sweating like a pig. If he could be coaxed inside he climbed onto the piano bench and scooted his bony little bottom next to mine, smelling to high heaven, kicking at the bench with his dirty little feet, plinking the piano keys with his grimy little fingers. As it turned out, neither of us had a lick of musical talent.

Too soon, those years passed into the deepest recesses of memory, taking everything with them: My parents and the old house, the barn, the smokehouse, the outhouse, even the ruts in the road. Carolyn went back not long ago and found nothing left to suggest that we were ever there. We might as well have dreamed it, and perhaps we did.

Only a piano proves otherwise. The little Hallett-Davis spinet survived. It went down the family tree to Beth, who hauled it with her through several states, and eventually deposited it with her daughter in Alaska. It’s an heirloom, an artifact from the old days, tangible proof that we didn’t dream them after all.

Like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” I sometimes wish to go back again, just for a day, any ordinary summer day with the sun shining and the wind blowing and puffs of white cloud drifting across a blazing blue sky. I might nab a piece of cold fried chicken and spend the afternoon sitting under a pear tree, reading A Tale of Two Cities.

It wouldn’t work, even if it were possible. Like Emily, I would be heartbroken by the carelessness of love, the transience of youth. There’s an invisible line between past and present. Memory is the only bridge where we can cross in safety.

The world seems to pause before a cataclysmic event, as if gathering itself for what is to come. So it was that summer, in that small rural community, before the boys in their Sunday clothes scattered to fight a global war in places they had never heard of.

The Sunday nights are gone, and everything with them, the church, the friends and neighbors, even the hickory trees. All gone, except for that pause in time and the boys in the shadows, where white shirts gleam and laughter lingers, brought back to me now in the twilight of a summer day, by a pot of white petunias.

© Pat Browning 2009



Monday, March 25, 2013

Jean Henry Mead and NO ESCAPE

Small world. Jean Henry Mead worked for The Hanford (California) Sentinel in the 1970s. She lived about two miles from me and yet in a town of some 15,000 people our paths never crossed. Only recently we met online and now we’re blog buddies. Small world, indeed.

For years now Jean has lived in the West—the real West—digging into its history and heritage and setting her novels against its colorful landscape. Her newest release is NO ESCAPE, THE SWEETWATER TRAGEDY. It’s based on the hanging of a falsely accused couple in Wyoming Territory during a dispute between cattlemen and homesteaders.
A prolific writer, Jean Henry Mead is a Press Women’s national award-winning journalist and author of the Logan and Cafferty mystery/suspense series as well as Wyoming historical novels, children’s mysteries and nonfiction books. She began her career as a news reporter and later worked as a photojournalist. She also served as a news, magazine and small press editor. Her magazine articles have been published domestically as well as abroad, and she’s published 19 books, half of them novels.
NO ESCAPE can be purchased in print and on Kindle at http://tinyurl.com/bztson2

I came across contradictory reports during the mid-1980s about the hangings of a young Sweetwater Valley couple while researching a centennial history of Wyoming. Reading old microfilmed newspapers published a hundred years earlier, I noticed articles written in Cheyenne about homesteaders who ran a rural bawdy house and accepted rustled cattle for their services.
The six wealthy cattlemen responsible for the murders of Ellen Watson-Averell and her husband James claimed the murders were justified. But when they came to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or died. The case was thrown out of court instead of being investigated.
The Cheyenne Leader, a newspaper controlled by cattle barons, railed against homesteaders, whom they said were rustling the poor cattlemen’s stock, so vigilante law was necessary. The Rawlins newspaper, however, said that James Averell was well thought of and considered a good citizen. Averell had been appointed postmaster and justice of the peace by Thomas Moonlight, the Wyoming territorial governor.
James’s wife, “Ella” had worked as a cook for the Rawlins House and was known as a kind and caring young woman. But the couple made the fatal mistake of filing homesteads on Albert Bothwell’s hay meadow, government land the cattleman had been grazing his cattle on for years without paying it for it. James apparently signed his and Ellen’s death warrants by writing letters to the editor of the Casper Weekly Mail, complaining that cattlemen were gobbling up homestead land for 75 miles along the Sweetwater River.
I didn’t want to end the book with the hangings so I decided to add another character, Susan Cameron, a young woman from Missouri, Susan is a composite of some 200,000 single women homesteaders who attempted to prove up on their own land. She filed for land next to the Averells, placing her own life in danger along with her veterinarian friend, Michael O’Brien, and three boys whom the Averells had taken under their wings.
Upon their deaths, Ellen was vilified and called “Cattle Kate.” News of the hangings spread worldwide and the murder of a woman in Wyoming Territory was publicly condemned, yet Ellen’s own father believed the lies spread about her and forbade his family to speak her name again.
A number of films have been produced and books written about the outlaw, “Cattle Kate.” I’ve even read poems and heard cowboy songs sung about her. The full truth didn’t surface until George W. Hufsmith was commissioned to write an opera about the hangings and spent the next 20 years researching the subject. Thanks to George’s research and that of my own, I was able to complete my novel, No Escape, the Sweetwater Tragedy.
Thanks for hosting me, Pat. I enjoy visiting your site.
Jean’s website: www.jeanhenrymead.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's up with Blogger -- or is it just me?

Nothing ever goes wrong except on weekends or holidays or the middle of the night. It's almost 4 o'clock in the morning and I can't get Blogger to post any of the photos I spent so much time on!

I'll try again tomorrow.

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Welcome to this blog hop. What is a blog hop? It’s a virtual event that helps readers discover new authors. The first author tags five others whose work he or she admires, who each tag five more, who each tag five more, and so on. If you’re reading this, then the world did not, in fact, end on December 21st, which leaves you another millennia or so of reading pleasure. Why not start with the authors I spotlight after this Q&A?

Before we get to the questions, I’d like to thank Chester Campbell for inviting me to participate. His Burke Hill thrillers, a post Cold War espionage trilogy, surely deserve to be the Next Big Thing. The first one, BEWARE THE JABBERWOCK, is offbeat, fast-moving and a world class thriller inspired by the real-life adventures of an FBI agent. THE POKSU CONSPIRACY, Book No. 2 in the Burke Hill thrillers, takes place mostly in South Korea, and is now available on Kindle. The third book will be titled OVERTURE TO DISASTER.

For more about Chester and his books, see his web site at
In this particular hop, the five authors I’ve chosen and I will each answer, on our respective blogs, the same 10 questions ranging from our current works in progress to our writing processes and beyond.  I hope you’ll enjoy learning about our work. Please feel free to share comments and questions.
Now, here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?
My first book in the Penny Mackenzie series is ABSINTHE OF MALICE, published by Krill Press in 2008. My work-in-progress has a working title of METAPHOR FOR MURDER.

2: Where did the idea come from for the WIP?
From the manager of the gift shop in China Alley, Hanford, California. China Alley is called “Shanghai Street” in my series but the real thing exists. Except for its restaurants, China Alley was deserted for years but restoration is now an ongoing process. My friend was also cleaning up the old Chinese cemetery on the outskirts of town. Taken together, with the history and folklore surrounding them, the Alley and the cemetery made a perfect hook for a mystery.

I had already set my series in a small Central California town in the Fresno area, and my protagonist was Lifestyle Editor of the local newspaper, so slotting in the Chinese story was a perfect fit.

3: What genre does your book come under?
Cozy/amateur sleuth – Miss Marple in pantyhose. By Book #2 (my WIP) my protagonist  also has a lover. They have progressed beyond the friends-with-benefits stage.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Good question. I’ll take a stab at an answer. For the protag, my first choice would have been Audrey Hepburn when she was 50 and if she had put on a few extra pounds. Alas, Audrey is long gone, so maybe Sandra Bullock would fit the character. For her lover – Patrick Dempsey might work. He’s the epitome of cool, with enough smolder-and-swagger to make him irresistible. He had a nose job which made him look suitably  mature and rugged. The rest of the cast is up for grabs.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? My logline comes courtesy of Thomas B. Sawyer, who knows a thing or two about a synopsis. Quoting: “A small town reporter tracks an offbeat Christmas story and finds herself in the middle of a murder and the mysterious desecration of an old Chinese cemetery.”

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
I published Book #1 myself through iUniverse in 2001. In 2008 Krill Press came along and me an offer I couldn’t refuse, so that book has a history. As for Book #2, who knows? Maybe Krill Press will be interested. If not, I might find another small publisher who doesn’t require an agented book. If not, self-publishing is a whole new ballgame these days. I could take my manuscript downtown to Mardel Books and have them crank up their Espresso Machine and print out 10 copies while I waited. Or I could go straight to Amazon’s Kindle for an e-book original.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
That’s a trick question, right? For Book #1, I started from scratch and on a whim. It took me about four years, umpteen online writing classes and about nine “final drafts” before I finally said, put a fork in it, it’s done. As for my WIP, it has been making slow-to-no  progress since 2003. That’s 10 years. Life interfered. I should be writing a memoir instead of a mystery.

I’m halfway through METAPHOR FOR MURDER – 16 chapters polished to a high gloss and the rest strung out in Post-it notes on my story board. Maybe January will be my magic month. Or February.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I would sound self-serving or just plain silly. Seriously, I would have to do a lot of thinking to answer that and my thinking time is limited this month.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
True story. When I worked as a reporter/feature writer at The Hanford Sentinel, the editor decided to add book reviews to the Sunday paper. I went to the library and walked along the shelves, pulling out books that looked interesting. They turned out to be mysteries. A few weeks later I took a break on the smokers’ patio and said to the managing editor, who was also out for a smoke: “I think I’ll write a mystery. How hard can it be?” You can file that under Famous Last Words.

That was for the first book. For my WIP, I explained that in Q#2.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The Chinese experience in California is the subject of several good books, both fiction and non-fiction. My book touches on it, thanks to the setting. Romance readers might be more interested in the love affair – the second time around – between two characters pushing 50.

Read on to learn more about the following authors who responded to my “tag.”
1. Bob Avey
2. Amanda Ball
3. Vickie Britton
4. Shalanna Collins
5. Janet Dawson

Bob Avey

Bob Avey lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, where he works as an accountant in the petroleum industry. He writes the Detective Elliot mystery series and loves roaming through ghost towns in search of echoes from the past. He’s a member of Tulsa NightWriters, Oklahoma Writers Federation (OWFI), Oklahoma Mystery Writers and Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

Bob’s new book, FOOTPRINTS OF A DANCER: A DETECTIVE ELLIOTT MYSTERY, was free on Kindle in time for Christmas. It was a nice Christmas present. Thank you, Bob Avey!

The story: When one student disappears off campus and another one is murdered, Detective Kenny Elliot takes a leave of absence from his job as a Tulsa police detective and launches an unofficial investigation, which leads him into the world of an Aztec deity with an appetite for blood.

The Opening:
(Quote) Seeing old friends isn't always a good thing. Not many people run the trails along Riverside Drive after the sun goes down, one of the reasons Detective Kenny Elliot chose to do so, but another runner occupied the trail, and her silhouette bounced quickly toward him. A sluggish wind blew across the Arkansas River, carrying an odor of decaying marine life, and suddenly a mood of darkness that had little to do with lack of sunlight engulfed Elliot's senses. (End Quote)

What kind of character is Elliott? His captain's assessment:
(Quote) Elliot had more levels and layers than anyone that Dombrowski had ever met. A hard guy to figure, keeping to himself for the most part. If you were looking for the life of the party in Elliot, you'd be looking in the wrong place, but if you were in the field and needed someone to watch your back, he was your man. You couldn't do better. Saying Elliot had a strong survival instinct was an understatement. What he possessed was a come-out-on-top, win-at-all-cost monitoring system that was humbling to say the least.
(End Quote)

For more about Bob Avey and his books, enjoy his blog, “Faith, Fantasy & Fiction” at

Amanda Ball

Amanda Ball is an Oklahoma author with six books in print under three different names and in three different categories: mystery, romance and chick lit.  Don’t try to pin this woman down; you’ll wear yourself out. Go instead to her web page at
and to her blog at

Plan to spend some time there. Then you can hop on over to You Tube and listen to her sing “HeartBreakVille” -- a song for football fans at
and “I Got The Blues” at

Snapshot: Amanda Ball is her maiden name. She spent a lot of years in England and France, and now lives in a small north central Oklahoma town where she belongs to the Chamber of Commerce. She’s a world-class photographer, makes movies and has her own You Tube channel where she sometimes sings with her band, the Ballroom Bruisers.  

Music being her first love, she plays (among other things) piano, organ, guitar, clarinet, and dabbles at bass, drums, mandolin, banjo, accordian, lap steel and dobro. As a songwriter/publisher she has a 380-song catalog. Whew! So what about her mystery,
FOREVER 11:59?

It’s the first book in a new series featuring Carter Thompson, a witty, sarcastic, observant woman who arrives in Autumn, Kansas to help her Great Aunt Edna celebrate her 80th birthday. When a murder is committed and Carter finds she can't leave town, her powers of observation and curiosity kick in.

Go, Amanda! I think I’ll eat a sandwich and then lie down for a while.

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson

Sisters Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton have co-authored more than 40 novels and currently write three mystery series. WHISPERS OF THE STONES is the newest entry in the High Country series. They also write the archaeological Ardis Cole series and the Pre-Columbian mystery series,

The sisters, who live in Kansas, are drawn to out of the way places, old mining towns and vast rangelands where the legends and history of the past live on. Inspired by the rugged mountains of Wyoming and Colorado, they find the lonely, high country region a perfect setting for their novels.

They also travel to exotic places for the Ardis Cole series. On my Kindle for PC right now is their novel, NIGHTMARE IN MOROCCO, just waiting to be read, and THE CURSE OF SENMUT, waiting to be re-read.

Description of WHISPERS OF THE STONE from Amazon.com:
“Sheriff Jeff McQuede finds 'Bartering Bill' Garr murdered at his rural antique store. Only one item is missing -- a rare artifact believed to be the Pedro Mummy. First discovered in a cave in Wyoming, the Pedro Mummy was reported missing in the 1950s.

“Dr. Seth Talbot, newly arrived in town, has put out a fifteen-thousand-dollar reward for any information on the mummy, hoping that modern technology will prove his theory that a tiny race of people actually existed: one the Shoshones call the Nimerigar, or Little People.

“McQuede is astounded to find the mummy in the trunk of Seth Talbot's car. Talbot swears he's being set up by rival co-workers who plan to benefit from his research. McQuede suspects the theft of the mummy is a red herring used to cover up the true motive for the crime. The closer he comes to the truth, the deeper McQuede is drawn into an elaborate hoax that threatens his career and places him in grave danger.”

Vickie Britton’s excellent articles on writing can be found at Suite 101:
The blog for Vickie and Loretta is “Writing Tips and Fiction” at
Their web site is at

Shalanna Collins (Denise Weeks)

One of my favorite books is MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS by Denise Weeks aka Shalanna Collins. Quoting from my review:

“Once in a while I stumble upon a book so good I wonder where the author has been all my life. Such a book is MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS, an amateur sleuth mystery that's funny and fascinating, with a sense of place that's almost overwhelming.

“The setting: Marfa, a quirky little town in West Texas with a couple of claims to fame. The movie "Giant" was filmed in Marfa, and Marfa is bedeviled and bedazzled by unexplained ghost lights that have tantalized locals and tourists since Civil War Days.

“I wouldn't call this a classic mystery novel, but I found it enormously entertaining. It's a colorful (if fictional) account of life in Marfa. The author takes us through a chili cookout, a close encounter with the ghost lights, and a tornado. We meet a snake handler, a character who collects poisonous spiders, an Apache lawyer who listens to Navajo prayers on his car radio, and a musician who keeps a pet wolf and smuggles illegal aliens.

“The book's three main men are a thief, a slimeball and an embezzler. They are also good-looking computer whizzes and con artists. Ariadne, the protagonist, is attracted to all of them.”

No grass grows under Shalanna’s feet. Just reading about all the things she does makes me realize what a slug I am.

Now Shalanna – or Denise – has a new book out there in the wilds of the book world. The title is NICE WORK. The main character, Jacquidon Carroll, is diagnosed with diabetes and laid off from her job in the same week. Worse yet, she becomes a suspect in the murder of her ex-boss. Clues lead to the Internet and Jacquidon is sure that someone recruited through the Internet is the killer. Jacquidon and her sister Chantal follow clues right into local sex clubs and the murderer decides to put an end to their snooping.

Shalanna’s blog
and the Website

Janet Dawson

Janet Dawson is a longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, but she was born in Oklahoma, where her mother's family owned movie theaters in a small town. Dawson's novel, BIT PLAYER, -- a novel of old movies, old memories, old crimes and present-day murder -- is dedicated to her mother. Janet was nominated in 2012 for Left Coast Crime's Golden Nugget Award for BIT PLAYER.
(Dawson’s photo by Charles Lucke)

PI Jeri Howard, Janet’s series character, has sleuthed her way through ten books, the first of which won the St. Martin's/PWA award and other mystery award nominations. Dawson is past president of the MWA NorCal chapter, and works for Cal Berkeley.

Her newest book, WHAT YOU WISH FOR, is her first stand-alone novel.
(Quoting from Amazon.com)
“History professor Lindsey Page has a quiet, well-ordered life, but it's about to get complicated. Her daughter, with whom she has a troubled relationship, shows up on her doorstep. The immigrant woman Lindsey is interviewing for a book asks her for help in reclaiming the son taken from her during a massacre in her Salvadoran village. And her closest friends, the three women Lindsey has known since their college days in Berkeley where they witnessed the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, are hiding secrets that will forever change those friendships.

“Lindsey must grapple with questions of family identity, nature vs. nurture, truth in wartime, the ethics of power for latter-day robber barons in the US and Central America, and the law of unforeseen consequences. Moving back and forth from the 1970s to the present, from the San Francisco Bay Area to El Salvador this sprawling saga follows Lindsey, her friends, and family through tumultuous political, social, and cultural changes and choices.”

Janet's delightful blog, Got It Write, is at http://janetdawson.com/blog/