Monday, June 30, 2014

Cover reveal

If you're on Facebook you probably saw this yesterday but I want to make sure everyone sees the cover for my October release, The Perfect Coed. This will be my first self-published novel, and I'm both excited and nervous. This is not in the Kelly O'Connell or Blue Plate series but a new stand-alone. Who knows? The editor who worked on it said to me, "Oh, I hope there will be more about these people." So there may be. But for now, here it is:
You'll notice the perfect coed has a bit of an edge to her, and that fits the story perfectly. A little bit of history--this is the first mystery I ever wrote. It's based on stories I heard not about coeds but about doctor's wives, when I was one of the latter. Believe me, I never was part of such shenanigans and, as far as I know, neither were any of the wives I knew. But the story stuck in my mind and grew.
When I first wrote it, an agent tried to market it to no avail. She wanted me to write romance, so I'm not sure how diligent her efforts were. But believe me, though there is a relationship in this, it's no romance.
Since then I've rewritten, revised, rewritten again. And now I'm ready, with trembling heart, to offer it to the world--next October. It will be published simultaneously in trade paperback and e-book, and I'm hoping enough of you who have read my other mystery series will want to try it. It's a bit darker and edgier than my other mysteries.
I'm also marketing way ahead of time soliciting advance reviews, hoping to get some attention amidst the great pond of new mysteries that are published every month.
Many thanks to those who helped me with this one: Mary Dulle and Lourdes Venard, who edited; Lynn Stanzione who did the smashing cover; and Jenn Zacek, who formatted it. After that I'm on my own, with a wing and a prayer.
Meantime, don't miss the fifth Kelly O'Connell Mystery, Deception in Strange Places, due as an e-book July 31, with print to follow. As soon as I have the cover, I'll post it. And I'm hard at work at the sixth in the series.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A little bit of heaven on earth

Notice the dog lying in the middle of their picnic.
I've just spent a good part of my weekend sitting by a small--really small--lake, watching three of my grandchildren swim, fish, catch tadpoles and generally enjoy life in the country. My oldest son and his wife, Colin and Lisa, have bought a house with character and interest, set amongst wonderful landscaping someone did at no spared expense years ago, and on a small lake--too big to be a stock tank, but a really small lake. Colin says it's not six acres, so I'm guessing it's four. Their property takes in about a quarter of the shoreline. We visited, we ate, we read, we had happy hour--all by the lake, usually with a wonderful breeze. Fun to watch cousins having such a good time together. Morgan, at nine, is the real outdoor girl...loves the bugs and frogs (good at catching baby frogs but lets them go), good at swimming, loves living in the country. Kegan, just turned seven is not quite as much into it but he swims and was quite serious about his fishing.
Jacob woke up every morning feeling like a new adventure waited for him. In the picture above, they're trying to "water catch" fish as Jacob said. When his uncle told him about noodling, he said, "I'm never doing that in my whole lifetime" (for the uninitiated, you stick an arm in the water, a catfish bites, taking  your whole hand in its mouth, and you catch it by pulling your arm out of the water, catfish attached (Colin, have we fallen for a tall tale here?)
The property has lots of banana tress, a few palms, an apple, pear, fig, and peach tree, crepe myrtle, hedges galore, flagstone walkways that lead to concrete circles around trees, a riding arena, and a two-stall barn. Next door is a commercial stable so if the kids ever want riding lessons, they're in a perfect place. (The only drawback to that is that the flies are really bad!) There are at least three patio areas by the lake, one covered with a wonderful arbor overgrown with old wisteria. Plus a covered patio up by the house and a screened-in porch. I said if it were me I'd be sleeping on the porch--but it is pretty humid down there even at night. And great but short shower-storms came through sporadically Saturday.
The house, built in 1950 and since upgraded and added onto, is really interesting--a huge room that will become office/TV room/workout room; a smallish kitchen area--storage adjustments are going to be called for, a huge room open to the kitchen which will be living area, and three bedrooms. Cedar paneling in the kitchen, gleaming hardwood floors throughout. A house with many possibilities that they've only begun to explore.
As Lisa says, this is where they'll grow old together. I added that the kids will think of their young years as spent in the country, suburban memories fading fast. A wonderful place for all of them, and I'm so happy about it. So pleased for them. It's a great place to visit too--if I could only figure out how to get their big sweet dog not to snarl at my lively, in-your-face small dog!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Murder and Mother Love

Please welcome my Wednesday guest on Thursday: Donis Casey. She is the author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries: The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, The Wrong Hill to Die On, and Hell With the Lid Blown Off (June 2014). The award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. She lives in Tempe, Arizona. Readers can enjoy the first chapter of each book on her web site She also blogs biweekly about writing at

Publisher's Weekly’s starred review of Hell With the Lid Blown Off, April 14 2014:  "A huge tornado brings unexpected trouble to the people of Boynton, Okla., in Casey’s excellent seventh Alafair Tucker mystery... As the action builds to a surprising denouement, Casey provides an engaging portrait of the close-knit society that was commonly found in the rural Midwest at the time. Alafair Tucker, her large family, and their friends are a pleasure to spend time with."

 For more information on Donis’ novels, visit


Write what you know, all the writing teachers say. I, Donis, am a childless urbanite ex-academic. So what do I choose to write about? That’s right, a mother of ten children. However: here is an experience to which all can relate. Once upon a time, while in a grocery store, I saw a woman being terrorized by her small child. “Johnny,” she kept pleading, “don’t do that. Don’t touch that. Be quiet.” And did little Johnny pay attention to his mother? He did not. My thought on observing this pitiful scene was this – my mother would have jerked my arm out of its socket if I had behaved like that in public. I know how to mother better than that poor woman, I thought, and I don’t even have any children.

The Alafair Tucker Mysteries feature a woman in her early forties who lives with her husband, Shaw, and their ten children on a prosperous farm in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during the booming 1910s. Alafair never sets out to solve murders, but all those pesky kids keep getting involved in unsavory situations and need their mother to help get them out of trouble. Fortunately for me, the author, Alafair is the kind of woman who will do anything, legal or not so legal, for her kids. It gives me some interesting--and sometimes morally ambiguous--stories to tell.

But how, you may ask, can an early-twentieth-century farm wife and mother of ten solve murder mysteries? After all, she has to fix dinner and do the laundry. She doesn’t have the freedom or the inclination to go about gathering forensic evidence. She leads a life that is so busy that it wouldn’t be realistic if she could easily drop everything on a whim and go off to gather clues. But Alafair knows everybody in the county and doesn’t have a second thought about worming information out of anybody who crosses her path. She has her army of grown and half-grown children to snoop for her.  She knows the postmistress, the neighbors, and the ladies at church; a web of women who are willing to help her.  Her information network is better than the sheriff’s. She has a way of knowing things about people, too, almost a sixth sense that comes from having so many children. She doesn’t believe for a minute that being loving makes her weak or vulnerable. Love gives her teeth and claws. It makes her dangerous. It makes her a remarkable sleuth.

Once upon a time people learned to parent by observing their own parents and grandparents and
practicing on their many younger siblings, nieces and nephews. By the time a person grew up, s/he was already a skilled child caregiver. It’s not so easy for young parents any more. People don’t grow up in big family groups like they did in Alafair’s day. As for me, I have much younger siblings and observed expert parenting first hand. I was also an elementary school teacher for a while, which enlightened me, as well. (Interestingly, when I became a supervisor of adults, I found that the same techniques I learned for getting 12-year-olds to behave worked just as well on grown-ups.)

My observation is that twenty-first-century parents have different child raising goals than did parents in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Alafair’s day, the general belief was that a parent’s job was to raise children to be self-sufficient, good citizens, and moral. Happiness and success, though hoped for, were secondary. (I do not intend to denigrate modern parents. It’s a hard task and a hard world out there. It’s just different.)

It’s true, though, that it’s easier for me to romanticize parenting, having never had to do it. Somebody asked C.S. Lewis how he could write so well for children, not having any himself. “I was a child, once,” he replied. All I can say about myself is that I’ve seen some pretty skilled mothering in my day. And I was a child once, too.





Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Slops Up!

Diminutive English rose, JL Simpson, was stolen away by a giant nomad and replanted in a southern land filled with gum trees and kangaroos. She quickly grasped the meaning of G’day and mate whilst steadfastly refusing all attempts to convert her to Vegemite. She loves sharing tales about unexpected twists of fate. Holding on to a steadfast belief every obstacle can be overcome, she spends her moments of solitude creating adventures where mystery and mayhem collide. Please welcome Janet as my Wednesday guest.


Slops Up!

When Judy offered me a spot on her blog I was delighted and a little bit concerned. What on earth could I write for a blog with the name stew in the title?  My lovely husband is the cook at my house. The man is a magician. He spends hours reading up on recipes and experimenting with new flavors. We rarely eat out, and why would we when I have my own personal chef.

When we were first married, and our boys were little, I was the homemaker, chief cook and bottle washer.  I used to announce that dinner was ready by yelling, ‘slops up,” which might give you some idea about why he took the apron off me. It’s not that I can’t cook, it’s just not something I enjoy doing, unless it’s dessert. I make a killer lemon meringue pie, but you can’t live on pie.  When I went back to full time work we reversed roles and a chef was born. My husband had hidden talents that even he knew nothing about. Once he discovered his culinary bent I was happy to step back and let him go for it.

My aversion to cooking even spills into my writing. I’ve never had a heroine who can create a meal anyone would actually want to eat. In fact I kind of like writing anti-heroines. In my new book,  Lost Cause, Daisy Dunlop is hopeless in the kitchen but her husband loves her anyway. When you write stories with a humorous bent it’s fun to create characters with flaws. Burnt food, inappropriate clothing and a woman with an aversion to physical exercise is a great foil for an immaculately dressed male PI with a love for the good things and a lifetime membership at the local gym.
Before anyone points the finger, Daisy is not based on me. My cooking has never poisoned anyone, I have a unique sense of style and my personal trainer will confirm that I am fully paid up member of the local gym. Also, I have never been shot at or blown up, unlike poor Daisy.

Daisy Dunlop thinks heir hunting will be an adventure. The man charged with ensuring her safety thinks it will be murder.


Learn more about Janet at these sites: Website:;

 Twitter: @jlsimpsonauthor








Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The glories of rain in a Texas summer

Normally in North Texas we have rain in April, maybe May, but we didn't get much this spring, not enough to do any good. But this week, we've had glorious rain, almost unprecedented in a Texas summer. Yesterday it was gentle steady rain all morning. I took a nap and woke up to a sunny afternoon. This morning was sunny, and I thought they were fooling about rain, but this time when I woke from my nap, it was storming (did I mention I come from a napping family?). And I mean storming big time. Some thunder and lightning but not a lot--apparently in surrounding areas there was a lot of lightning. But oh, my, did it rain in sheets and blow--I watched my old elm tree, which anchors my property in front, and it swayed but held firm. Friends nearby have two limbs down in their backyard. And it kept raining--I can't remember the last time it rained that hard for that long. Apparently we got about two-and-a-half inches. And they say there's more to come in the next two days.
About forty miles from us, the level of a lake rose five feet overnight--of course with the damn system they'll release some of that, but it was so sad to see piers and docks sitting on bare ground and boats dry-docked. I hope they keep enough water for water sports this summer. I doubt this has broken the back of our drought but it's sure a help.
My week started off peacefully but has gotten complicated for the next few days. Jacob is visiting his grandparents in Coppell and I miss him a lot--suppose I have to share. He's still is afraid of storms, so I hope he's safe and happy tonight. On the other hand, I enjoy a good storm, though I am leery if tornados are possible (they weren't mentioned today).
When I was growing up my family had a cabin high on a dune (three flights of stairs above the beach--from which we got our pure drinking water). It sat right at the bottom tip of Lake Michigan, and one of my fondest memories is of watching storms roll down the lake bringing dark and thunder and enormous whitecaps on the lake. I guess that's why I still enjoy storms, and I sat and watched the one this afternoon in awe. Then I went in my backroom to do my yoga workout--something lovely about doing yoga with the wind and rain blowing outside a wall of windows.
Glory and praise for the rain be to God.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Writing Process

I've been tagged by Rebecca Allard, Reckless: A Memoir, to participate in a blog tour about writing processes. Reckless is the absorbing story of Rebecca’s addiction to danger. She is currently working on her second memoir. (

Ask an author about his or her current project and answers will vary from “I can only work on one at a time” to “I have several works under way.” I currently have two projects: I’m editing the first draft of the as-yet untitled sixth Kelly O’Connell Mystery (how does A Jigsaw Puzzle of Revenge strike you?). Some Kelly novels seem to write themselves, with ideas flowing; this one was like pulling teeth—two steps forward and one back. But when I finished the draft and reread it, I thought it all hung together pretty well. As usual I gave it to my mentor to read, and he pronounced it a lot better than the train wreck I’d led him to expect. So, now I’m editing with renewed enthusiasm, especially since he pointed out some big holes in it.

But I’m also beginning to do advance marketing on a stand-alone (for now) mystery I will publish mid-October: The Perfect Coed. I’m sending out ARCs (advanced review copies), targeting blogs and figuring out a very limited marketing budget. This will be a simultaneous trade paperback/e-book publication. Self-publishing is new territory for me, and I’m taking baby steps. But I’m enthusiastic about this book. It’s a tad darker than my others.

How my work differs from others is a tricky thing to figure out. I’m not sure it does. The conventions
of the cozy mystery are pretty well set and in my first ventures into mystery—the Kelly O’Connell and Blue Plate series—I stuck pretty close to them. Granted, Kelly is not a craft person, she’s a realtor and renovator of Craftsman houses. And the Blue Plate books are as close as I’ll come to culinary mystery—Kate is the owner of a down-home café in a small East Texas town. The Perfect Coed differs in that it fits into the sub-genre of the academic mystery—but there’s a lot more mayhem (and a murder) than academics, so I wouldn’t want people to think it’s ivory-tower stuffy.

I write what I do because I’m basically a storyteller, and I want to interest people—maybe I have a message, but I don’t think I’m out to push a theme, solve social problems, etc. I do bring some themes up in my novels—single parenting, neighborhood revitalization, protecting historic neighborhoods, academic infighting, etc.—but that’s not my main thrust. I want to create believable worlds in habited by people that readers will like and want to revisit.

My writing process is haphazard—life gets in the way. I’m fairly involved in one grandson’s life, I’ll drop everything for a chance to be with others of my family, and I have a network of friends to keep up with. So I write when I can, often in the evenings. I wish I were the kind who sits down every morning to write for three hours but it doesn’t work. For one thing, I can’t write for three hours straight; for another, there’s often a niggling errand on my mind. But it seems to work because others say I’m so productive. I’m waiting for inspiration to strike on a new and next project after the two I’m in the middle of.


Next week watch for writing process blogs from these exciting authors:

Joan Leotta has been writing and performing since childhood. Her “motto” is "encouraging words through pen and performance.” Her award-winning poetry, short stories, books and articles have been published in many journals, magazines, and newspapers. She performs folklore shows and one-woman shows on historic figures at venues up and down the east coast. She lives in Calabash, NC with husband Joe. You can learn more about her at

Ally Thomas loves writing fantasy and paranormal books for that showcase vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, and any furry monsters who go bump in the night. She enjoys imagining new origins for these traditional creatures and seeing where it'll take her. Ally's paranormal series, The Vampire from Hell, has been on the Top 100 Amazon bestsellers list in Fantasy since its release in 2011.Her links can be found at



Saturday, June 21, 2014

TCU's chanaging campus

Jamie (my second son, third of four children) and his lovely family--Melanie, and their daughters 15-year-old Maddie and 11-year-old Eden, spent the night last night after Jacob's family birthday--a delightful warm affair with lots of laughter and catching up and kids. I goofed (again!)--forgot to turn on the a/c in the guest house and it was hot, so I had them all under my roof. It always somehow  gives me a warm glow to have my kids under my roof, and Sophie was ecstatic. They all loved on her, and I thought she'd sleep with the girls but when I woke up she as on her bed next to mine.
As he usually does Jamie went for a run this morning, through the neighborhoods of his youth--Berkeley, Park Hill, TCU, Westcliff, etc. and came home to report that our city is changing--in a good way. I've been concerned about all the look-alike quadraplexes going up, but his argument was that in most instances they're an improvement over poorly maintained small houses (we'll see in five years). He thinks our part of Fort Worth still has its charm but is looking sharper.
This is not a family that hurries, By the time we got everyone up and dressed, we went to breakfast--breakfast, mind you--at 12:15. At Ol' South--Jamie is also nostalgic about eating about the pleaces of his high school and college years.
Then we drove around the places he'd passed while running. Wish I'd been smart enough to have a camera. Began with a behind the scenes trip through thee TCU Campus--places I'd never seen, didn't know you could drive--I've been off campus four years and the change is amazing. Mel said, "Wow! I'd come back here and go to school again." I said I didn't think you could drive these places, and Jamie, a law unto himself, cheerily said, "I don't think you're supposed to." Made me a little edgy because I'm a rule follower, but it was a fascinating look at the campus, with Jamie and Mel pointing out their dorms, where the main used to be, etc. Not sure how fascinated the girls were.
I'm so used to back roads that when we drove by the new grand front entrance to the library I realized I'd never seen it--and it's apparently been under construction for some time now. Finally, we drove by the chapel where they were married.
I felt like I had my eyes opened. Maybe I need to pay more attention to my surroundings these days. But TCU is in a world of change--I guess it's all for the best but I tend to cling to the past. If you're in Fort Worth and haven't seen TCU for a while, it's worth exploring--but I think you'd have to go on foot for much of it and not Jamie's route which was probably slightly trespassing.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Birthdays are the joy of life

There's nothing like a eight-year-old boy on his birthday. When I picked Jacob up for his last swimming lesson, he as higher than a kite with excitement--he got a mini iPad for this birthday from his folks. They gave it to him this morning before his summer program at Clayton Yes! He has already loaded iTunes and games and Facetime, so when he's here overnight or with his other grandparents, he can talk to his parents. He was wearing the birthday shoes he wheedled out of me last night. Being eight is great.
When I picked him up at four, he was less happy. He wanted to go right home to his iPad and was upset that I said we weren't going to two hours. He got over his pout (he usually does) and two hours passed. We went to his house for family birthday, and he showed his iPad and shoes to everyone, but he pretty much put the iPad down to play basketball with his oldest cousin, 15-year-old Maddie who is a terrific basketball player. He was surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. We had hamburgers, hot dogs, the potato salad I labored over, a good orzo dish, beans, and a cake shaped like a football.
When I left, Jacob was still high as a kite with excitement, and I was rapidly wearing out. But it was one of those evenings that make me realize how blessed I am with family--and how blessed Jacob is. I hope he grows up to appreciate his good fortune.
And I realized I didn't get a single picture. Well, darn!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

One good deed begets another

Jacob has a new hero...and it all falls under the heading of paying it forward. Christian found a wallet in the Walmart parking lot last Saturday and rather than leave it for some less honest person he brought it home and called the owner, who turned out to be TCU football player Ju'juan Story. They met to return the wallet Monday afternoon, and Christian arranged to take Jacob with him. Ju'juan brought him an autographed TCU hat and his gloves from last year plus said he might come to Jacob's pool party Saturday--Jacob realizes that is a long shot, but I can tell he's still hoping.
And then his aunt and uncle presented with an NFL autograph football signed by one of the Dallas Cowboys. I do NOT want him to play football, but he is so excited about all this.
Earlier, he went to TCU Baseball camp and loved every minute, said he was liking TCU better all the time. Watch out Baylor, I some divided loyalties at the least, an outright switch as a possibility.
This has been a Jacob-centric week, since I've taken him to a
private swim lesson each morning from ten-thirty to eleven. Hope I'm not repeating myself, but the first day he sat on the end of the diving board, told the instructor which way he was going. She gave him a gentle shove, and he swam to the edge. The very next day he stood on the end of the dividing board, went in (okay it was a belly flop and he said it hurt) and swam the length of the pool. I was astounded. Today he learned the breast stroke which she says is hard to master (I do it on a yoga mat!) He' made progress and had a wonderful week.
I've found the swim lessons took a chunk out of my day but enjoyed sitting under the trees reading, and I've had Jacob for company Tuesday afternoon and all day today. Tuesday, just after his swimming, the summer program at school was going on a swim field trip. Today they went to the zoo all day--he hasn't mentioned missing the zoo, so I guess it's okay.
Things can only get better. Tomorrow his eighth birthday. He's already close to wheedling me out of his present tonight.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Looking at a previous life

A good friend came to visit and spend the night last night. Gayla is the marketing director of Texas A&M University Press, and we worked together and have been close friends for years. She had an event in Fort Worth last night, so it was ten before she got to the house...and midnight before we put away the wine and went to sleep. We caught up on families and all kinds of doings and started all over again with coffee on the deck followed by a lazy, late breakfast at the Old Neighborhood Grill.
Much of the talk was trade talk--about publishing, presses, people we knew professionally. It was good to hear about people I worked with and liked, but I was surprised at how removed I felt from that world and all the workaday problems of academic publishing. I've been retired three or four years (we couldn't decide which) but I've moved into a different world--still in publishing, but different--and I wouldn't go back for anything, much as I loved my work for thirty years. In truth, I love my life these days even more.
Because Gayla is a dog lover, Sophie was in heaven. Gayla said during the night (she's a light sleeper) Sophie would check on her and then run to check on me. We talked a lot about Gayla's dogs--the late and gorgeous Eppi, a mahogany collie that I was responsible for her getting. She told me she wanted  a dog; someone in my neighborhood knew of a collie that needed a home, and I sent the information to Gayla. She wrote to ask if I would "interview" the dog. Have you ever interviewed a dog? She had been shaved for the summer, so I couldn't tell what a beauty she would turn out to be but she seemed sweet and friendly. End of interview. Gayla came from College Station to get her and fell in love. Eppi was seven or eight, but they had four or five good years together. Meantime, one of Gayla's neighbors died and left behind Jake, who looks like a border collie mix to me but is apparently many things including adorable but not border collie. Jake, like Sophie, is an affection hog.
The whole visit made me think how glad I am to have longtime friends--even if our worlds have moved in different directions, they in some ways remain the same and our affection for each other remains unchanged. Good days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Scottish heritage

I'm a Scot and proud of it, an enrolled member of Clan McBean (only my father spelled it MacBain). Today I brought home a piece of Scotland that I'd taken to a metal shop to have polished. I'm not sure what to call it--I think my parents called it a trivet--but it's a solid brass small stand. I think it was meant for holding your mulled cider in a heavy glass mug as you sat by the fire and, when not in use, tilted upward. You can't see it in the picture, but the MacBain Clan Crest is in the center--Touch Not the Cat Bot a Targe (Touch not the cat without a glove, or beware of messing with the MacBains). I've had this whatever-it-is for years, getting more tarnished by the year. When Jordan and I rearranged the living room, I decided it should sit by the fireplace in the living room and took it to be polished. They put protective lacquer on it, which is the reason, I think, that the crest is hard to see.
The crest shows plainly, however, on a hooked wall hanging that my mother did when she and Dad lived in North Carolina. Hooking, the old fashioned way with a punch needle, was one of the things she took up in retirement. One of the prizes in my house is a quilt made by my oldest son, Colin, who ordered the MacBain plaid fabric and a gold crest from Scotland, and his wife who did all the tedious work of quilting. I proudly hang it in my living room, amidst the mostly southwestern/territorial theme of my house. It's hard to see the plaid in the picture, so there's a close-up of it. (I'm getting more pictures than text.)
One more picture if I can figure out how to fit it in. It's a drawing portraying Gillies McBean at the Battle of Culloden when Bonnie Prince Charles and his Highlanders were soundly defeated (slaughtered is a better word) by the English who had rifles--they had only their claymores. Gillies, however, was a hero/martyr and reportedly slew fourteen men before he was killed. An apocryphal quote from the British general in charge (his name escapes me) is that he wished his men hadn't killed that brave man. The print hangs in my bedroom. Scotland the Brave--forever!


Monday, June 16, 2014

Weird day

A weird day in which I accomplished almost nothing. Jacob has started private swim lessons--by the time I get him from the summer program he attends, get to the pool, wait half an hour (where could I go in that time?), and return him to Clayton Yes! it takes a little over an hour right out of the middle of my morning, including my usual yoga time. This morning I took my iPad, intending to read in the car, which turned out not to be comfortable. So I sat at a table under some wonderful big trees--shady with a nice breeze. But the trees reflect in the iPad and make reading difficult--whine, whine, whine. I did listen to the instructor's talk with Jacob and heard splashes that indicated he was going off the diving board. At the end of his lesson, he demonstrated--he sits on the end of the board and she gives him a gentle shove--but he goes like a trooper. On the way back he asked why he couldn't just come home with me, and I explained his mom wants him to go to the Clayton Yes program. At my house, he'd just sit and watch TV. Tomorrow he'll do that because the Clayton Yes folks are going swimming at 12:15.
I'm loving my free afternoons, though I do miss him. But late, long naps are great, and I do get some work done after lunch--today it was neighborhood newsletter stuff, but I got a start on the July issue. Slept hard and found myself wandering around the grocery at 5:30, still a bit dazed. I never go to the grocery at 5:30--I watch the news. But I was obsessed with getting the ingredients for the potato salad I have to make for the multitudes Friday night for Jacob's birthday. Now I'm obsessed to get a brass stand from the shop where they polished it--think I can do that before I get Jacob tomorrow if I get up early enough. Wish I'd stop setting these deadlines for myself but I hate loose end! Being compulsive is not always easy; neither is breaking your established routine.
I'll probably adjust to this swimming schedule eventually...and then the week of lessons will be over. Oh me oh my.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Musings

Sophie and I are spending a lazy, quiet Father's Day at home, just the two of us. My father has been gone thirty-seven  years, and I've been single thirty years. The fathers in my family to celebrate are my brother (father of two, grandfather of five) and my wonderful sons and sons-in-law but they are all far away. The local family has gone to Denton to be with Christian's family and watch the TCU College World Series baseball game. I was invited but declined--a long day was not what I wanted after our doggie birthday party last night. The dog honoree half of this household is totally tapped out. Has slept all morning.
I've piddled--watering plants, watched Sunday morning TV and read the paper--used to take an hour; now it takes ten minutes. But I did make a meat-loaf--two lbs. of ground meat may sound a bit much for one person but it will make great sandwiches...and I may share either with the Burtons or the houseguests I'm expecting this week. It's a mix of mostly ground lamb with a bit of ground pork.
I've actually made some progress on editing my work-in-progress, and my mentor sent me a critique with lots of helpful suggestions, so I'm anxious to keep working. But I do think I feel a nap coming on.
Father's Day of  course brings back memories of my dad, and I wish I had digital images to post  like so many others have. Dad was forty when I was born--not so old today but old in that day. He was a workaholic, so I don't remember much playing but I do clearly remember hearing the story of the day he took me as a toddler, to sled on the small hill in the park by our house. Another gentleman came along and said, "Well, I guess I'll go home and get my granddaughter too." Dad was crushed.
There are other good memories--vacations in the Indiana Dunes, trips to Canada, his birth place, but I came closest to my father when I worked for him.
He was president of an osteopathic college and administrator of the associated hospital, and yes, he brought his work home with him at night. I was his executive secretary for several years while in college, and whatever management and organizational skills I have I got from him. Nothing angered him more than to answer his phone and hear a secretary say, "Please hold for...." He answered his own phone and thought others should place their own calls.
Dad was a voracious reader, and sometimes he and Mom read aloud to each other at night. They particularly liked Will and Ariel Durant's histories, and Dad was a huge fan of Winston Churchill. On weekends, his spent his time gardening and when he retired, gardening was his principal activity. He loved it. And he made a terrific grandfather, spending more time with his grandchildren and taking great delight in them. He particularly thought Jordan, my youngest, was created especially for his delight. But they all also remember how strict he was about table manners.
Thanks, Grandfather, for making me the person I am and for giving me standards to live up to. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A woof, woof birthday

One thing I have to say about the Alters is we know how to celebrate. Tonight it was a birthday party for the dogs--Jacob's two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Sophie (whose third b'day was in May). This picture is Jacob, his dad, and their two dogs. Jordan did the majority of the work of putting this party together, and about fifteen people gathered--old folks on the deck, young 'uns on the lawn. I did two appetizers, but Jordan did the bulk of the work, all of the organizing. We had bean dip, corn dip, Reuben dip, veggies and hummus, classic onion soup dip, and brownies. What was billed as a five o'clock happy hour lasted until ten--not unusual around my house.
The dogs were funny. Sophie is always enthusiastic, ready to play with any creature that happens into her territory--plus all those adults who adore her. She was in heaven. June Bug and Cricket were not so sure--they are quiet, a little uncertain about this slightly bigger dog who rushes at them, and a bit timid in the crowd. June Bug found a nest on a towel next to the ice bucket, and Cricket eventually parked herself next to her leash in the living room, as though a signal she was ready to go. Sophie meanwhile went from person to person, and was extremely jealous when Jordan or Christian picked up one of their girls. The world, according to Sophie, should revolve around her.
I thought tonight, as I often do, how fortunate I am to be surrounded by people of all ages who seem to love me and like my company. But I also decided I maybe can't do big parties ever again without Jordan--and this wasn't that big. Whatever, it was fun, and both Sophie and I are tuckered. She hasn't even eaten her dinner and shows no interest.

Friday, June 13, 2014

America as a Nazi state?

We’ve heard it a couple of years, like an innuendo floating around on social media. America is headed the same direction as Germany in the mid-1930s.  This dire prediction comes from all sides and ends of the political spectrum—conservatives blame President Obama; liberals blame the House of Representatives. I sort of ignored the whole thing, thinking “That would never happen in America.”

But a couple of recent incidents have changed my head-in-the-sand denial stance. One was the Congressman who suggested we stone to death all gays. Barbaric beyond words. And wasn’t there a suggestion of the death penalty for women who have abortions (in Texas, I believe—of course). The logic of that defies understanding. Has America sunk that low?

But then the stunning defeat of Eric Cantor caught me up short. I hold no brief for Cantor. He always seemed cold, calculating, and heartless. His defeat was a negative in some ways because, as someone suggested, “The devil we know vs. the one we don’t know.” That would be Mr. Brat I suppose. I have no idea who the Democratic candidate is.

But the really scary thing about Cantor’s defeat is how few votes were actually cast in the election. What that means to me is that if voters don’t wake up, the far right, Tea Partiers, wing nuts, whatever you want to call them, will take over this country. And then we will be headed toward the kind of regime Hitler instituted. They may not hate Jews (so much) but they hate gays, abortion, liberals, etc. It scares me even to think about it.

The key to me is that people have to get out and vote—I don’t care how you vote, just do it. The right-wing fringe is just that—a fringe. But they’re the ones voting. The rest of us seem apathetic—and that indeed is how the German citizenry were!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Missing my friend

My good friend, Jan Fox, died almost two weeks ago. We all knew it was coming. Jan had fought a battle for several years, but in recent months it was clear she was losing. I stopped going by, because she was often in bed; friends and I stopped asking to take her to lunch because she'd say she forgot or she didn't feel well enough. We were reduced to telephone conversations, but once she told me that if people like me would call from time to time she was just a happy camper sitting in her cozy house. She had one friend--her family called her Jan's earthly guardian angel--who she let into her life all along, but of late she didn't seem to want the rest of us too close. And I respected that, though I felt guilty that I didn't do more.
I used to try for years to get her out of the house, involved in life, but now I think I was wrong. She was where she wanted to be--not where I thought she should be. And I'm a bit ashamed about that. Never judge until you've walked a mile in a person's moccasins. And I truly believe that in the last year or so she didn't have the energy to get out.
But I valued those phone conversations. She seemed to welcome them and wanted to talk for a while. We exchanged news of our families, gossip from TCU where we'd met and both worked for many  years. She had one son, and I had four children, but we kept up on all their doings. Jan gave a wedding shower for one of my daughters and was always at all the other wedding and baby showers (there were a lot). Once a great cook, she wasn't too interested in recipes of late and I gave that up as a conversational gambit. But she seemed interested in news of my life--the books I was publishing and so on (I doubt she read any).
A few days after the memorial service, I drove by her house, drawn there I don't exactly know why. But I was pleased to see that the lawn was mowed, the bushes neatly trimmed. Jan would like that. She could spend more time than any woman I know cleaning closets and her house, but she rejected all invitations to come work on my closets.
Today I had lunch with a friend at Carshon's, our local deli, and she ordered a Rutherford sandwich--open-face turkey and cheese on a Wolferman muffin. My first thought was, "That's what Jan always ordered--and then she had strawberry delight for dessert."
At other times I felt myself thinking, "I need to call Jan," only to realize she's not there to call. One day I had a question about somebody at TCU--Jan knew absolutely everybody--and I thought, "I'll call Jan. She'll know." But I couldn't. It reminds me of my mother, whose been gone almost thirty years--but I still have questions to ask her and sometimes I look heavenward and think, "Mom, where are you when  need you."
Jan was five years younger than I am, and her death brought me a sense of my own mortality. I have to keep telling myself that while I grieve for her, I'm a different person.
As a good friend of mine says, RIP, Jan, and Rise in Glory.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dogs and kids

My dog and my local grandson had a lovely day today. Greg came to mow--Sophie adores him, and when he stood in the back yard she ran large circles around him at high speed--the border collie in her comes out because she can really run fast. It was as though she was saying, "Color me happy." Then later in the day she got a bath and a much-needed hair-cut. I swear she lost twenty pounds, but she looks so pretty. And between the two, she's tuckered tonight.
Jacob came home from baseball camp the happiest camper I've ever seen, simply bubbling with excitement because he'd gotten a poster that most or all of the TCU baseball team signed. Since TCU's team is about to advance to the World Series of college baseball, this is an exciting time to be at camp there. I so hope we can keep him focused on baseball and forget his aspirations to play football. He's always been a Baylor fan but he tells me, quietly, that  he's liking TCU a lot more now than he did before. His mom made the mistake of going to watch him play for a bit carrying a Baylor cup--says she almost got evicted from the game. I told her she wasn't thinking when she did that. LOL.
And my Houston kids are absolutely loving their house in the country. Here's Morgan cooking breakfast for her mom in their new kitchen. She tells me I can bunk with her when I come to visit. She has a bunk bed--double on the bottom, single on top.
Austin kids mom reports that the boys are in a music camp--guitar and drums, I think--and loving it. They elected not to go away to camp this year, and their folks went along with their decision, which  I think is really smart. I imagine their house resounds with music during practice sessions. Good thing I can take my hearing aids out.
No report from Frisco girls except that one of Maddie's classmates caught an elbow in a game over the weekend and went down. Got up, walked to the bench, and then was non-responsive. Taken away in an ambulance. Okay the next day except she didn't remember the previous day and was scheduled for more neuro tests. And I thought basketball wasn't a contact sport.
So good to know that all my grandkids are happily settled into summer activities. So scary to think of how many school shootings there have been--averaging one a week since Sandy Hook. Makes you consider home schooling--and pray a lot.

What keeps you reading a book?

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Sheila Lowe. Like Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in handwriting-related cases. She also authored the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis and Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, as well as the Handwriting Analyzer software. Finder her at and email her at


I recently finished reading a book by “Big Name Writer.” I’m a relatively fast reader, but this one took weeks to get through. It wasn’t badly written. The plot was interesting. One issue was the annoying POV changes mid-scene that the rest of us are told are verboten. Another was the way the female protagonist was treated by her former lover, which really ticked me off. But still, the plotting was fine, everything was “fine,” and the book was easy to put down.

On the other hand, as usual, I devoured John Sandford’s latest Lucas Davenport story in a couple of days. And yesterday I picked up a book by Hank Phillipi Ryan and found myself spending a lot of time on the porch, wanting to keep reading.

So, I’ve been puzzling over what “it” was that didn’t keep me interested in that BNW book beyond the ten or fifteen minutes a day it took to eat lunch or dinner. What is that certain something between a “good enough” book and a “can’t put it down book?” I suppose it’s different for everyone, but I do believe that the relationship the reader develops with the characters is a major factor.

I kept wanting to yell at the protag in the BNW book and tell her not to be so stupid and allow her ex, who was now her boss, to treat her so cavalierly. Bottom line, I didn’t respect her. And that brings back the comments of my own first editor, who told me that, frankly, my character, forensic handwriting examiner Claudia Rose, was not likeable because she was too weak. She was constantly feeling guilty, which I never realized until it was pointed out (nasty shock!).

That editor said, (paraphrasing) “Your readers want a character who is basically strong. She can grow through her arc, but they want someone they can look up to and believe in.” Once I followed that advice and bucked Claudia up, Poison Pen finally sold. That was after seven years of sending it out. Well, cutting out the adverbs helped, too, but it was amazing and empowering to see how small changes could make a big difference in the way people saw Claudia.

I’ve kept that in mind as I wrote the next four books. With Inkslingers Ball, released on June 10th, I did something new. For the first time, much of the book is written from the POV of Claudia’s love interest, Detective Joel Jovanic. Readers seem to like their relationship, so it will be interesting to see how they feel about getting to know Joel up close and personal. Will they keep reading past their lunchtime sandwich? All remains to be seen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Moving On Up

My oldest son and his wife just moved their family into a new/old house northwest of Houston, with 2.5 acres, a stock tank, a riding arena, and a two-stall barn. No, they don't have horses (yet)--the children are a little young at seven and nine. But they love the quiet, the peace, the view. Their seven-year-old snapped this picture of them because they look so happy, and I agree--they never looked happier. I am so delighted for them.
Lisa told Morgan, nine, she needed cowgirl boots, and she retorted, "Out here I can go barefoot."
I am proud that they've been able to provide this for themselves and the children. Can't wait to visit. Jacob says he's moving down there, but I said, no, I was. Then he said, "Me and Juju, we're moving in with Uncle Colin. Actually do hope to visit soon. Lisa posted a picture of where she had her morning coffee Sunday--looking out over the stock tank which looks like a small lake. It reminded me of the view from the porch where we visited dear friends when the children were little. This is a view she sent today. These kids have moved around a lot--from two places in the Caribbean to several homes in the Houston area and one in Colorado. I predict they've found their forever home.
Meanwhile back on the home front, Jacob went to his first day of baseball camp at TCU today, hit a ball over the fence, and enthusiastically described the entire day as a success. He met the TCU player who hit the winning run in last night's close game--but didn't ask for an autograph. I suspect he'll build up to that during the week. Tonight was neighbors' night at the Old Neighborhood Grill, with seven adults and Jacob who manages to dominate the conversation. I do have to say the adults egg him on. But we all had a jolly time with wide-ranging discussions.
Life is good.

Monday, June 09, 2014

An old friend visits

My old friend, anxiety, paid me a visit over the weekend. She doesn't come very often, and this time her visit was sort of like a whisper. First she descended on me when I was at the grocery, but I'm a good faker--I visited with friends I ran into and one of my favorite checkers and drove home without incident. After lunch and a nap, she was gone.
She came again Sunday and gave me shaky hands, which I so hoped Jordan wouldn't notice as we fixed poor boy sandwiches for lunch. But she said, "Why are you so shaky?" I didn't know, had no idea. I fiddled at my desk until about 10:30, then got up and did a bunch of housework in a hurry and suddenly was shaky. Of course when someone notices, then you become self-conscious about it and get shakier than ever. A good lunch, a little wine, and a nap fixed it.
But anxiety leaves a hangover behind her. I spent much of the morning being terribly introspective: How do I feel? Am I all right? Am I anxious? By noon I went to lunch with a good friend who happened to mention another friend who has such severe anxiety attacks that he calls in desperation for someone to sit with him. I realize the value of sitting is distraction, and lunch did that for me, got me "out of myself." But I also realize that I'm lucky that anxiety's visits to me are lighter and less frequent and that I am not the only one afflicted with these unwanted visits. Anxiety tends to isolate you--you think you're the only neurotic one who experiences these visits when, in fact, it's much more common than most people realize.
In retrospect, it was a good day. And tonight I'll get some reading done if not some writing. My neighbor--the good-looking one--came over to dislodge a dead fluorescent bulb (usually I can do that) and free a corkscrew from a cork I couldn't budge--he said he figured that would be an emergency. We had a nice, front-porch visit.
I can feel the lazies leaving my and my ambition returning. Feels good.


Saturday, June 07, 2014

The week in retrospect

It occurs to me that I haven't blogged much this week, partly because I didn't think I have much to say. I've been riveted by the controversy over the release of the POW from Afghanistan but don't want to get into that here, though I've entered the fray on Facebook. Most of you can guess my opinion anyway. I'm avoiding downtown Fort Worth like the plague this weekend--not because of the Republican convention but because of all those open-carry people parading around with their assault weapons. I'll be surprised if the weekend goes by without an accidental shooting. And I'm sure the Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves at this interpretation of a "well-disciplined militia." I am getting a bit of amusement out of the Republican platform--they abhor critical thinking (how are we ever going to progress?) and they voted for a conversion program for gays. Now that surely will win over the Log Cabin Republicans. Remind me again that I love living in Texas, and I just have to put up with the crazies.
But although I think it's been a quiet life in my own personal world, it really hasn't been. I'm as ready as the kids and other parents and grandparents for school to be out. Three is a bad combination, and yesterday I had three little boys. One went home and the other two quickly got into a fight. Monday is the last day and I was so looking forward to being able to nap on my own schedule...but I have to pick Jacob up at three, not handily across the street but about a mile away where he is going to TCU Baseball Camp--and very excited. The next week, it's swimming lessons from 10:45 to 11:15. Then after that maybe quiet for a while.
Meantime I really did finish a manuscript and turn it over to my beta reader, Fred. Saw him at the grocery store this morning but knew it was to soon for a comment--didn't expect him to rush home and read immediately. And I successfully posted my October self-published, stand-alone novel to Amazon which, to me, is a big, huge, out-of-my-realm accomplishment. Many thanks to Melinda Esco who did the cover mechanical for me. Now I'm waiting for proof copies, some of which I will send out as Advance Review Copies. Next chore: start my own editing of the untitled Kelly O'Connell manuscript I gave to Fred on Friday. And read a book I promised to review.
I don't like spending a whole day, from morning to bedtime, alone without company--one thing I'll miss with Jacob's summer schedule. But yesterday, his parents both came, at scattered times, for happy hour. Today I went to the grocery, and friends are coming by for a glass of wine on their way to dinner. I'll make a feta guacamole for them. My horoscope said I could expect a romantic interlude tonight, so I guess having these lovebirds (they're a fairly new couple) in my house fulfills that expectation. Am wondering if I should dress for the occasion. After they leave, I'm fixing myself seared scallops and a leek--I've never cooked a leek before, so this is a big experiment.
Tomorrow, I'll meet Jacob and family at church (we haven't darkened the door often enough lately) and then we'll have poor boy sandwiches for lunch--I discovered that Jacob loves them.
Meantime, there are plants to water, laundry to do, garbage to take out--how can I be bored over a long weekend?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Little Boys and Puppy Dog Tales

What a time the last week of school has been. The other day, four second-grade boys played tag football and then dodgeball in my front yard. It was in the 90s and I sat on the porch in the shade, but it was still hot. One of the boys' grandfathers sat with me, as he often does, but every time the ball went in the street, he had to go get it. Even though I just sat there, I was exhausted when we went in the house after an hour. The soccer ball or whatever it was remained stuck high up in a  youpon where it stayed until today when I showed Jacob and Collin how to poke it down without beating the tree to death. Today I just have the two boys and it's much more peaceful--they threw the ball in the back driveway (securely fenced) where I didn't have to watch them all the time. Maybe it's my age but I don't seem to have the energy for four as I did when I was raising my four--except two of mine were girls.
But Jacob proves my three-stages of Jacob theory: with a friend here he's a bit of a smart-aleck with an attitude. Tonight, when he and I build poor boy sandwiches, I'll bet he'll be fun. And when he sleeps he still looks like an innocent baby.
Not only did I have to worry about boys this week, I worried about Sophie. She ignored her food Monday night and Tuesday night--she'd drink and take tiny bits of cheese from me, but no dog food. And I began to watch her neurotically--was she lethargic or was that normal quiet when nothing was going on? By ten o'clock Tuesday I was planning a vet visit the next morning, when she suddenly ate every bit of food and wanted to go out. She's been lively and energetic ever since, so I guess her stomach was upset or maybe the sudden onset of heat got her.
Today all is well, Sophie is ecstatic to have the boys here, and I am ecstatic that we only have two more days of school. Of course then comes baseball camp--pick him up at three--and then swimming lessons right in the middle of the day. Then, I think, a peaceful spell.. I'm ready.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Publishing is A-changing

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Vinnie Hansen, Vinnie is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series: Murder, Honey; One Tough Cookie; Rotten Dates; Tang Is Not Juice, Death with Dessert and Art, Wine & Bullets.  She was a 2013 Claymore Award finalist for her upcoming Carol Sabala mystery, Black Beans & Venom. Vinnie lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband, abstract artist Daniel S. Friedman.
The publishing industry is changing and I’m happy to be part of the change!

In May misterio press re-released the first in my Carol Sabala mystery series, Murder, Honey, as an e-book with a trade paper edition to follow in June. The sixth and most current book, Art, Wine & Bullets, is also available as a misterio press e-book with a paper version soon to follow. I look forward to the re-release of all six titles in my series.

Misterio press is part of a new phenomenon known as cooperative or collaborative presses. Its name means mystery in Spanish, and the imprint’s mission is to produce top-quality fiction for mystery lovers.

The press originated when Shannon Esposito and Kassandra Lamb, two self-published authors, grew concerned about both the stigma attached to indie authors and the cost of self-publishing. These concerns gave birth to misterio, a cooperative that operates as a small independent press.

I submitted work to misterio as one might to any press. Once my book was accepted by misterio and I became one of its authors, I also became part of its work pool. We are dedicated to swapping talents—proofing, editing, formatting each other’s finished works. (The talent pool does not serve as beta readers or as a critique group.) To insure quality, a mystery must pass through the hands of two members before it can be published as a misterio book. Belonging to the cooperative allows one the pride of producing a quality product with a publisher’s name on it.

The printing expenses still fall to the author, but huge sums are saved by not paying for other services. At Left Coast Crime 2014 I heard authors say they had paid up to a thousand dollars for editing alone!

Misterio is a cooperative, not a vanity press. There is no charge to join and misterio does not keep money made from the sales of misterio books! While misterio authors cover printing costs, they keep all the profit from their sales.

We pool not only our talents, but also our promotional efforts. Misterio maintains a professional website and active blog to which members may contribute.

Even though my upcoming Carol Sabala mystery was a finalist for the Claymore Award, conventional wisdom says that it difficult to find a traditional publisher for a series once an author has self-published. When I heard about misterio, I was very excited by the idea of a cooperative. Now that I am one of their authors, I am thrilled.

 Here’s a taste of Carol Sabala’s adventures in Vinnie’s books:

 In Art, Wine & Bullets, an innocent visit to a premiere Santa Cruz gallery turns into a nightmare case for Private Investigator Carol Sabala. The strangled body of the gallery owner offers an opportunity to cement her reputation and to save her employer from insolvency. But precious time spent assisting her photographer boyfriend impedes her investigation, while his sudden obsession with photographing her impedes their relationship.

When Carol plunges into an art world offering urban graffiti to paintings of polka-dotted cats, she confronts the age-old questions: What is art? What defines an artist? She also confronts what defines a successful private investigator as she unravels much more than a murder case.