Guest Post: Mary Feliz

Welcome back to Mysteristas friend Mary Feliz, celebrating the release of the fourth novel in her Maggie McDonald Mysteries series, Cliff Hanger!

5 Tips for Responsible Beach Walks

Beach walks rock. My daily attitude adjustment hour takes place on a beach that’s part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. I typically walk by myself, sorting through wrinkles in my real life as well as the those of my character Maggie McDonald and her cohorts in the fictional realm.

Though peaceful and world-class gorgeous, my beach can still be a rough neighborhood requiring caution. For example, the Marine Mammal Protection act prevents me from getting too chummy with those who live close by. I need to stay at least fifty feet away from them for my safety and theirs.

Leave Seals Be (Video)

With the whales, that’s easy. They keep their distance. Sea otters and their pups mostly do too. But our busiest tourist season coincides with weaning season for sea lions and seals. Yearling pups who’ve travelled far from their birthing grounds are at their most vulnerable. Exhausted and unfamiliar with their new surroundings, they’re apt to haul out for a nap on the same beaches frequented by dogs and people. And that proximity puts them in danger, even from well-meaning nature lovers who want to help.

Pinniped biology dictates that yearlings are already living on the edge. Starvation is what drives them to learn to fish. Their moms fatten them up to provide a cushion, but when food supplies are down, toxins infect the water, or the pups are too agitated to rest, human interactions can make the difference between survival and death.

Despite the dangers there are lots of ways for all of us to share the beach and thrive:

  • Obey signs asking you to stay away from protected areas whether those signs aim to protect birds, shellfish, mammals or humans.
  • If you’re within selfie range, back off. It’s fine to take pictures with a zoom lens, but a getting a good shot with your phone endangers you and the animals. (It also subjects you to thousands of dollars in fines, court costs, and jail time.)
  • Draw a circle in the sand at least fifty yards from the animal in every direction and ask other beachgoers to stay outside the circle.
  • Report the animal to the lifeguard, state park ranger, or, in most of California, the Marine Mammal Center. The main number for MMC (415) 289-7325, connects you to their Marin County rescue hospital, but they’ll get your message to local volunteers. Learn who to call about stranded animals in other locations you visit as a resident or tourist.
  • Take a photo (at a distance) of the animal with your phone and another of the general area. If you have a camera with a zoom function, take as close a picture you can get from at least 50 yards away. Your photos will help the agency determine what equipment and staff they need to rescue the animal. It will also confirm your identification of the species and location.

The National Park Service offers these additional tips: 10 tips to respect wildlife, stay safe, and avoid internet ridicule.  

What are the endangered animals where you live? How apt are you to run into them on your own daily walk? Do you know the numbers to call if you spot a bird or animal in trouble?

Cozy mystery writerMary Feliz is a certified California Naturalist and lives, walks, and enjoys the wildlife on the same beach featured in this blog post and in her latest book, Cliff Hanger, the fifth in her Maggie McDonald Mystery series.

This underweight yearling California Sea Lion came ashore on a busy beach and was later picked up by the Marine Mammal Center. (Photo by Mary Feliz)

There a few things as cute and cuddly looking as a mama sea otter and her pup. But trying to snap a selfie with one is dangerous for you and for them. Stay at least 50 yards away while you use a zoom lens to get up close. (Photo by Mary Feliz)

Cliff Hanger short blurb:

When a hang-gliding stranger is found fatally injured in the cliffs above California’s Monterey Bay, the investigation into his death becomes a cluttered mess. Professional organizer Maggie McDonald sorts the clues to catch a coastal killer before her family becomes a target.

*****

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Take care of you

That sounds familiar. I think it was a line in a movie, “Pretty Woman” maybe?

And it’s true.

We often think we are taking care of ourselves. We eat properly. We get up regularly to move, since writing is a very sedentary occupation (some of us have little devices to remind us to do this, others use standing desks). We drink water. We exercise by swimming or walking or running or yoga or whatever.

Except we neglect one critical piece. Our mental health.

For the past few days, I’ve felt sluggish. What was it, the weather? No, I felt this way even in the cool of the morning. I reviewed my routine:

  • get up around 6am – check (well, mostly – I’ve been having trouble sleeping again so who am I to argue when the body says “Nope, you’re giving me another hour and that’s final”)
  • feed Koda – check
  • make and consume my yogurt and granola – check
  • make my first cup of tea for the morning – check
  • write for an hour – check
  • check my favorite blogs and social media, including Instagram and Facebook – check
  • start the day job – check

It all seemed in order. And then it hit me.

Facebook.

Image courtesy of Book Catalog on Flickr – used by Creative Commons license

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it because…

  • it lets me connect with so many friends who live in far-flung places;
  • it lets me keep up with my family, who all live outside Pittsburgh;
  • I get to interact with readers;
  • I participate in Ramona DeFelice Long’s “sprint club,” which keeps me focused on my writing because I have a daily obligation to check in and report;
  • I get to wish Dru Ann Love good morning and receiver her cheery reply;
  • I get to keep up with Dru Ann and BOLO Books on new book news.

I also hate it because…it’s angry.

I scroll past soooo many angry posts. It’s gotten to the point where I hide 2-3 of every 5 of them. Republicans yell at Democrats. Democrats yell at Republicans. The President yells at everybody. Women yell at men. Men yell at women. People yell about the wall, and immigration and the migrant camps. People yell about sports.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve noticed this yelling (and it doesn’t have to be literal yelling) has extended to so much more of our culture. I can’t watch the news anymore, or even listen to it on the radio. I would sell my soul for the return of Walter Cronkite, a man who gave the facts and just the facts. I’m sure old Walter had plenty of opinions, but he saved them for another venue than reporting the news.

I can’t even listen to The Boy’s sports programs. It inevitably leads to yelling (and yes, this times its often literal yelling). Was it a good idea for Kawahi Leonard to sign with the Clippers? Who should worry more about Odell Beckham Jr – the Steelers because of his skill or the Browns because he could become a distraction?

Okay, I get it. It’s important stuff (okay maybe not Odell or Kawahi). We need to be informed. Terrible things are happening and it’s more than Not Right.

But the yelling – it’s wearing me down. So much so that I don’t want to write. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to do anything.

So I signed off Facebook, at least mostly, for the time being. I check my notifications in the morning, say “good morning” to Dru, check in with the Sprint Club, cruise by Dru’s Book Musings and BOLO Books. I post to my author page for the day and respond to reader comments. I check one fan group for my friend Annette Dashofy.

Then I sign off.

Now, admittedly – the pull to just “take a peek” is tough. I used to use Facebook to relieve the my brain at the day job as I switched from task to task (there’s a lot of mental stress in multitasking this way, look it up).

Fortunately, Instagram remains a source of nice pictures – of flowers, dogs, cats, travel, books, and yes, food. But no yelling. And I’ve started playing WordScapes. I’m good with relaxing pictures and crossword-type games.

It’s Day 1. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

What about you? How to you take care of your mental health when it all gets to be too much?

Habit Rabbit

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to develop bad habits rather than good ones?

  • Streaming the next episode of the new series you’re watching instead of working out that problematic plot point in your story.
  • Going on Facebook to see what’s happening rather than writing that blog post that’s due.
  • Googling “Icelandic Sheepdogs” instead of going to the grocery store.
  • Researching the history of thread (or anything else) and convincing yourself it’s relative to your manuscript

There are rabbit holes everywhere you look, and it’s easy to fall into them.

rabbit-1903016_640

 

At the same time (and you know this) it’s those good habits that make you feel… well, good.

  • Getting some exercise in first thing in the morning before your workday (or that next episode) makes it more difficult.
  • Avoiding carbs.
  • Prioritizing your To Do List and getting things scratched off.
  • Making your word count.

And even though I mentioned rabbit holes a few lines up, that isn’t where I was going with “Habit Rabbit.”

I tend to rabbit between good habits and bad ones. I know which ones make me happy, and which ones end up making me miserable and disappointed in myself. The trick is remembering that good feeling, and making the decision every single day to find it again.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes (and I have no idea who said it—I learned it at Weight Watchers, but it applies to so much more):

The chief cause of unhappiness is giving up what you want the most for what you want at the moment.

Do you rabbit? Have you ever? And if so, what things bring you back to those good habits?

It’s all better with friends.

 

Interview: Layton Green

Let’s get to know Layton Green, author of A Shattered Lens.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Well…..that depends whether I’m working or not. I love being an author, but a PERFECT day would involve explore some far-flung foreign capital with my wife in sixty-five degree weather, with nothing to do but visit museums, eat great food, and dream up future novels. 

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

The central premise–Is a mother capable of murdering her own child–came to me one day, and I knew I wanted to explore it. And not in a sensationalistic manner. The knee-jerk reaction is of course ‘hell no she isn’t.’ But that should be the reaction to almost any question of murder. Some famous crime novelist once said that a great crime novel is not truly about how the detective works the crime, but how the crime works on the detective. I think that’s right.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

I love the mystery/suspense/thriller genres because the themes of good and evil, justice, and crime and punishment and inherently built-in. I’d also say the question of humankind’s place in the multiverse, that melancholic longing for meaning and immortality in the face of the unknown, is also a regular invitee.

Tell us about your main character. / Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

In some ways, Preach is a classic noir detective: tough, brooding, quiet, tenacious. Yet he’s also blond and very good-looking, a former high school ‘golden boy’ who people are always making assumptions about. Sort of the ‘misunderstood blond’ stereotype applied to a male noir detective. Instead of a shallow womanizer, he’s an ex-preacher and a very deep person who loves literature and has lots of thoughts about the Big Questions.
I’d call him a mash-up of Humprhey Bogart, one of the Hemsworth brothers, and Tom Hardy. I know. Weird.

Tell us a bit about yourself. / Where do you see yourself in five years – this is the time to dream big!

I see myself exactly where I am: writing full-time and traveling as much as family and work allow. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing (unless Batman, Indiana Jones, or James Bond are on offer).

*****

Layton Green is a bestselling author who writes across multiple genres, including mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, and fantasy. His novels have topped numerous lists (including a #2 overall Amazon bestseller) and have been nominated for major awards, including two finalists for an International Thriller Writers award. Layton is also the co-editor of International Thrills, the online magazine of International Thriller Writers (ITW).

In addition to writing, Layton attended law school in New Orleans and was a practicing attorney for the better part of a decade. He has also been an intern for the United Nations, an ESL teacher in Central America, a bartender in London and a seller of cheap knives on the streets of Brixton. Currently based in Durham, North Carolina, Layton has traveled to more than sixty countries, lived in a number of them and has a burning desire to see every country, city, beach, moor, castle, cemetery, twisted street and far flung dot on the map.

Attention Grabbing

Why do we choose to read the stories that we do? Lately, I’ve engaged in several casual conversations with new-to-me people, who have asked who/what I like to read, and why. It was a surprise to find that I struggled to answer the questions. For the who, the challenge was where to start my list! I love reading, and there is an ever-growing list of authors that I recommend to others.

But, how to boil down what captures my attention into a small-talk-worthy sentence or two? That has been a struggle, so I’ve been thinking about it for the past week or so. I still don’t have an answer, but I’m actually enjoying the self-analysis!

Currently, I’m re-reading a fun and incredibly well-written series (the Ordinary Magic series by Devon Monk). Set in the fictional town of Ordinary, Oregon, the stories revolve around three sisters who represent both traditional law enforcement for the town, as well as specific roles related to managing the gods that vacation in Ordinary.

Yep, gods. Death, War, and so on, come to Ordinary, Oregon to put down their god powers and vacation like normal humans. Great premise, right? I highly recommend the series (five books so far, with short stories as well). Here’s the beginning of the blurb for book five, Dime a Demon:

Myra Reed’s life is going great. . .Being a cop is great. Guarding the library of arcane secrets is great. Even dealing with the monsters and gods vacationing in the little beach town of Ordinary, Oregon is great. Then the demon, Bathin, strolls into town and steals Myra’s sister’s soul. So much for great.”

Whoa! Grabber, there. But, what about this series captured my attention before I even read the blurb? Why, when Amazon is driving me crazy by putting seven books by the same author, who I have NEVER read (and will never read; can I please have a “stop showing me this” option?!?), in my “recommended for you” list, for weeks at a time, am I choosing something else? (Other than a wee bit of passive aggression, of course.)

When selecting a new read, I usually start by checking for new books by my favorite authors; books that we’ve mentioned on this blog; or books by authors speaking at a conference I’m planning to attend. When none of those options result in a new book to read, I’ll scroll through the options presented by Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Interesting titles, great blurbs, an appealing cover are things that draw me in, but even after some thought, I can’t really define why one book sounds better than another – especially when the blurbs are similar.

I’d love to know what captures your attention – what makes you buy or borrow a book? Is there a particular theme that you are particularly drawn to? What magic draws you in, readers?

Having a Heat Wave, An Alaskanal Heat Wave

 

heat dome
Graphic by University of Alaska

There’s a giant heat dome hovering over Anchorage, did you hear? So far the official high has been 90, but there was a photo of a midtown Walmart temperature sign that said 100. The 7-day forecast is “hotter than it’s ever been before.” Very funny.

Thing is, we don’t have air conditioning. And newer homes, like mine, are built to hoard heat, not to release it. If I bake cookies and do a load of laundry, the house temperature goes up three degrees. Needless to say, all the hardware stores sold out of fans immediately, ordered more, and then sold those in one afternoon. Oh, and you’ve never seen so much sunburned, untoned, tattooed flesh in your life. I’ll just leave that image with you.

One of the things I’m doing is opening up the house at night (learned that when living in California) and shutting it up during the day and running the overhead fan. Operate the dishwasher and clothes washer in the middle of the night. Turn off all the lights. It’s not like we need light to keep from bumping into stuff anyway, it’s the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Ak Air conditioner

My clever daughter, the engineering student, constructed her own Alaska air conditioner. She cut a hole on the lid of a tote, punched holes on the side, put ice inside it and put a fan facedown. I made one too. It works, but mine isn’t nearly as tidy-looking.

I’ve been running the sprinkler every day for the dogs. They love running through the water. They’re smelly but that’s okay. That green stuff in the rocks under the dog is chickweed. I’m slowly digging it out during the cool hours of the morning. Not what I had planned for my rock garden. You could eat it if you didn’t have dogs. (You get my drift?)

The roses are really happy. My John Davies, which sometimes only puts out one rose so quickly that I miss it and only find a blackened hip, is thriving. (The green stuff around the rose is meant to be there. If you can see the ground, you don’t have enough plants.) Had I known it was going to face east, I’d have sited it differently. But there you have it.

In a brilliantly-contrived FB marketing campaign, Rejuvenation Hardware is advertisingFan fans with free shipping. Did you see that or are they only advertising in Alaska? Free shipping is a big deal to Alaskans. Most of the time, when a vendor promises “free shipping,” they tag a big “surcharge” for shipment to Alaska. So I ordered a fan from them. Hope it gets here before winter.

My question to you, Dear Mysteristas, is this: What do you eat when it’s too hot to cook? We have a burn-ban because of the fire hazard, so BBQ  is out of the question. So far, I’ve been living on smoothies and granola. I bought a spiralizer after seeing Catriona McPherson’s post on zucchini so there will be many squashes spiralized and consumed raw. After that, I have no idea.