spring is SpRuNg

Happy spring, everyone!Mermaid and crocus

Living in Florida there aren’t many signs that spring has sprung, but at my house in Maine, there are clearly season changes afoot. The air changes texture and loses its sharp edge.

 

Betty and Barney IIISpring flowers peek through the snow, first the crocus, then the daffodils and hyacinths….

The ducks return…

sometimes they probably wonder if they need to re-set their biological clocks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is March. It’s wild, wacky and unpredictable. And, until 1751 according to the English (solar) calendar then in effect, March 25th was the start of the new year. The English had no corner on the calendar market. Europe was rife with competing calendars. When the change happened things had gotten so out of hand that September lost 11 days! But that’s not important at the moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat is important? How much sense it makes to celebrate New Year in the spring! The cycle of life begins again after the long hibernation of winter. If you made resolutions in January, it’s a good time to dust them off and see where you are in the light of the longer, softer, days. And if you totally blew them out of the water – now’s the time to re-evaluate and re-calibrate them. A tweak here, a trim there and you’re ready to tackle the rest of the year knowing what works best.

Happy second new year!

Do you love spring? What’s your favorite sign that winter has passed?

 

 

50 State Challenge

So many books, so little time! Is everyone reading this blog a member of Goodreads? I am, and I would love it if you became a friend. You can click the link to my author page right now, I’ll wait. Thank you, welcome to my world. Feel free to ask a question. I promise I’ll answer.

Last month Barb and Mia discussed their reading challenges. I’ve signed up for both. Barb’s by reading to the challenge questions, and Mia’s by adding more diversity of author and subject matter to my readings. Goodreads sponsors challenges, too. Every year I sign up to read 50 books. Last year I read 95 – I discovered the joy of the series read. I’m nine books into this year.

For the last three years (gulp – that fading light isn’t your battery running low, it’s my over-achiever’s glow fading) I have been working my way through the 50 State Challenge. The premise of the challenge is to read one book set in each of the 50 states. Sounds easy, right? Nope. I’ve been stuck at 36 for a while now. I’ve appealed to sites such as Stop, You’re Killing Me, Cozy Mystery List and generic Google searches. No joy. If I had Alexa, I’d ask her, too.

I’m missing fourteen states. How hard should that be. One of those states is Maryland for heaven’s sake. I almost tossed up my hands and used Richard C. Hale’s Traffic to satisfy West Virginia. A good portion of the action takes place in that state. In the end, I couldn’t do it. The book is set in Virginia. A drive-by doesn’t count. If anyone hasn’t read it, Traffic is a thriller and a wonderful read.

This year, I have challenged myself to complete the challenge and I’m appealing to the readers of this blog for assistance. The books need to be mysteries and set in one of the following states: Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. All suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Does anyone else participate in Goodreads challenges? Have you succeeded?

Howdy, 2020

I love New Year. It’s a fresh, clean, slate just waiting for the book of life to be written. This year is even more exciting, it’s a new decade. Okay, I know there is some debate about whether the decade begins on January 1, 2020, or December 31, 2020, but I’m in the January 1 camp and I’m sticking to my story.

My New Year’s excitement begins in September when the new calendars come out. I have my standbys. Big grid for the day job, Susie Toronto wall calendar at my writing desk. The writing desk calendar has always given me pause. There are so many. They sound so great. I just know that this one or that one will help me get my writing life organized and keep me on track. Right? Sure, I mean, isn’t that what a calendar is for?

Diary 2

Bah! Humbug! Every year I buy a Quo Vadis Minister. It’s a calendar that works for me. I keep my word count, writing activities, and personal appointments on the diary pages. I use the large right margin for weekly goals and gotta dos. I even order the same cover from year to year. Then I hit Facebook and guess what – I’m targeted by calendar companies, and they all look great. By New Year’s Day, I’ve succumbed to the siren song of the perfect calendar and own three more. Each with their own function. This one will help you plan, this one will help you accomplish, this one is a heck of a lot of fun.

Know what happens? On December 31 of every year, I’m still using my trusty Quo Vadis Minister and the other calendars are stacked on the bookshelf behind me gathering dust—don’t judge. They may be great for some folks, not me. I don’t need another project. Yes, I keep long-term and short-term plans and I target deadlines and the success of a marketing effort, but I do it all nicely in my Quo Vadis. Best of all, there are no grids to fill out, strategy sessions, or quizzes. You know, the stuff you do when you should be writing.

This year I used personal tough-love for my calendar addiction. I only ordered my standby. It’s perfect, for me. In the words of my father, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Now, about the decade thing. The past ten years have been a mixed bag. Moved from Maine to Florida to facilitate treatment for cancer. Moved from the Florida Keys to Southwest Florida so my husband could keep his airplane at home. Wrote and published four books—two independently, two traditionally. Ran from Hurricane Irma and discovered the charm of Destin, Florida. Restored the house after Irma and decided, it’s time to move back to Maine. Started a brand-new cozy series set in the Florida Keys that I plan to bring out as an indie. All my deadlines are in my Quo Vadis Minister calendar.

What about you? Have you found a way to keep yourself on track? How did the last decade treat you?Cheers

2020 I’m looking at you—I know the picture is goofy – that’s what happens when you raise a glass and take a selfie with your camera propped on the bar.

Happy New Year to one and all. May all your dreams come true.

Apple Do Da Dey

There are several recipes that shout holiday for me. I posted about one last year – ambrosia. Yummy. This year, egged on by my fellow blog-mates, I’d like to share the story of Apple Do Da Dey.

In the days before Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida, there was a wonderful antiques area in Goulds known as the Cauley Square Historic Railroad Village. My favorite stop was the Cauley Square Tea Room. My friends and I used to meet there often, have tea, and on occasion, their fabulous Apple Walnut Pie. Yum.

On August 24, 1992 (do not do that math – I’m only 35 now :)) Hurricane Andrew roared into South Florida, changed the landscape, and destroyed much of the Cauley Square historic area. The Tea Room was a victim. It was restored sometime after the storm, and I’ve just looked at their menu — no desserts — but killer breakfasts — but for some reason, I never went back.

Apple Walnut Pie occasionally showed up on other South Florida menus, but it was elusive. My baking friends and I could never nail down anyone with a recipe, so we did the next best thing – created our own. The taste testing was wonderful. We came up with two recipes. A fall one, and a Thanksgiving one. What’s the difference – cranberries.

If you’d like to celebrate the holidays like a Floridian, here’s the recipe – if you add the cranberries, no more than a short handful, and they are optional.

Apple Do Da Dey

1 c sour cream

1 large egg lightly beaten

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar (honestly, I cut this down by a third – and use it all with the apples)

1/4 cup flour

2 pounds granny smith apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced

small handful of cranberries – optional

1/4 cup dark brown sugar firmly packed

1/3 cup flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

6 tablespoons butter cut in bits

Your favorite single pie crust

In a bowl combine the sour cream, egg, vanilla,  3/4 cup sugar (or 2/3 cup if you cut it down), 1/4 cup flour, and stir in the apples (and cranberries if using).  Pour into pie crust and bake in the lower third of a preheated 425 oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake up to 30 minutes more.  Check that the fruit does not burn.

In a food processor combine the remaining 1/3 cup flour, brown sugar, remaining 1/4 c granulated sugar (or none), the cinnamon, walnuts, and butter. Blend until the mixture just resembles meal. Remove pie from oven, smooth filling gently and spoon the topping over it. Bake an additional 15 minutes or until filling bubbles. Remove from oven, let cool, and serve – with ice cream if you are feeling decadent.

I hope all our readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and will have a wonderful holiday season!  See you in 2020!

 

 

The Rainbow Bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALately a lot of posts on my Facebook page seem to have to do with the loss of a pet. I generally read them, post sympathy notes, and let it go at that. One post touched me though. The poster’s grief was so profound that I wanted to do something more. I wanted to share a bit of a personal story to offer comfort and hope. The Rainbow Bridge is real. I know.

I died on May 21, 1992.

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Hutch and Smokey

I was undergoing emergency surgery and I didn’t make it. I remember the hubbub in the operating room, and the entry of the crash cart, and watching as the staff applied the paddles. Quite frankly, I wondered what all the fuss was about. The pain was gone, and I felt wonderful. I remember turning toward a distant place, I saw people gathered. In the front row were Georgie, my guinea pig and Mr. Jinx, my wonderful first cat. Pets I never thought to see again. Georgie waddled over to greet me, and Jinxie jumped on my shoulder. Same as he had done when I was nine.

My aunt was in the back row with my uncle. All the people I had loved in life were there.

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Missy, Fred, and Hutch

Including my friend, Blanche. She’d been murdered on New Year’s Eve 1979. She came over and lifted Jinx from my shoulder and gave him a snuggle. Then she put him down and told me I needed to leave. It wasn’t time. Not yet. Jinx rubbed my ankles and I gave Georgie a scratch on his snout. I wanted to stay. Instead, I watched the group fade away.

The next thing I recall was waking in the recovery room. The nurse’s first words to me were, “We thought we lost you.” She confirmed my recollections of actions taken and words spoken. I, however, wasn’t convinced. You see, I’d spoken to my aunt the week before I went into the hospital. I called my cousin when I got home. My aunt had died the night before my surgery.

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Elvis

The memory of Georgie and Mr. Jinx waiting for me, greeting me with all of the love they shared with me when they were alive warms me. It’s never easy to lose a pet. Even knowing what I know, I mourn them all deeply. I find comfort that they are out of pain and at peace and to Pirate, Smokey, Elvis, Starlight, Fred, Missy, Zoe, Hutch, Jack, Wes, Doc Holliday, Roy, and Mama Charlie, I can only say, I’ll be seeing you.

If you’ve lost a fur friend. Take comfort. They are not gone; they are only waiting.

FALL FELL

Pamela’s post yesterday got me thinking about autumn, and the subtlety of the seasons.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having lived in the north, I’m familiar with the bursts of color that fill the landscape this time of year. The air has a crisp texture. Similar to a Winesap apple taken directly from the tree. Temperatures dip, the comforter changes to one with substance, and it’s sweater time. I miss all of that, especially the gorgeous bursts of red courtesy of the oak trees.

Things are a little different in Florida. fall arrives with a dip in the humidity, the pool becomes a bit more refreshing, but not quite chilly, and temps fall to the low 70s overnight. Homeowners with green thumbs (not moi, I’m afraid) put in their vinca and petunia borders. Wild flowers burst into bloom. We have a bumper crop of purslane this year. It’s growing everywhere.

Halloween PumpkinsThis year, I’ve noticed a bloom of a different kind. Halloween books. All of my favorite cozy series authors seem to have one out. Halloween has become the new Christmas. All of which brings to mind a question. Is the appeal for holiday themed books limited to…well…the specific holiday?

Readers and writers, what do you think? Would you pick up a mystery with a Halloween cover in February? How about Christmas in July?

Pumpkin photo: “Halloween 2006″ by gitsul. is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Dorian

I think I started at least ten different lighthearted blogs for my post today. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to hit the right note.

Most of you know I live in Florida and that I write about the tropics.  For a good part of the 1980s, I lived in the Caribbean, traveled frequently to the Bahamas, and most of my series books have at least one hurricane event – informed by hard experience.  The first hurricane that I remember was Donna, and the last was Irma. In all of those, I have only evacuated once. For Irma.

Over this Labor Day holiday, and for much of the week before, we’ve watched Hurricane Dorian develop, slam into the U.S.V.I., and head for the Bahamas.  As Dorian grew from a category 1 to 5 we’ve been preparing for the possibility of facing him ourselves. My part of Florida is currently out of the “cone.” This massive, slow-moving storm, after devastating the Abacos, is stalled over Grand Bahama Island.

I’ve sat in my house and listened to the freight train roar of Andrew, Jeanne, Katrina, Rita, Wilma. I’ve battened down the hatches for those that came, and those that were projected to visit.  I understand that a minute in a hurricane feels like an hour, and an hour feels like a month.

Right now, the Abacos have emerged after twelve hours of Dorian, and Grand Bahama, is entering the eighteenth hour with no relief in sight. The hurricane is stalled. As someone who has listened to the unearthly howl of the wind and the sound of unknown objects bashing your shelter, I can only say that it is impossible to imagine enduring that terror for that length of time.

Instead of comments, or questions to wrap up this blog, I’d like to ask all of you who read it to spare a good thought for those who have and are enduring this awful miscarriage of mother nature, and for those who will face Dorian until he dissipates.

May all stay safe in the storm. May God bless those who perished.

On the Scent of Murder

Writers are encouraged to use the five senses and incorporate them in their books. Hearing, easy, touch, usually a slam dunk, too. Sight, yep, got it covered. Taste, yum, my characters like to eat. Then there is smell. The oft forgotten sense in a story. Smell is hard to write, but an understanding of how we process scent as humans is vital.

Science tells us that smell is more closely linked to memory, mood, behavior, and emotion than any other sense. The olfactory nerve shuttles scent to the limbic system. The limbic system is known as the “old brain” it doesn’t reason, it reacts. Scents are like natures body blows. Smell smoke, the fight or flight response is activated. Smell your boyfriend’s aftershave, you go all mushy inside. Smell your ex boyfriend’s aftershave, you feel a rush of irritation. The jerk! You get the picture. It’s also an integral part of taste, I already mentioned my characters eat!

All well and good, but how do you add scent to your writing? How do you describe what someone smells? Sour, bitter, acrid, sweet, cloying, all good descriptions, but do they get the scent across? Not really, those are all words that describe taste, too and taste is easier to include in a passage because you can accompany it with expressions and other characters can react. Scent, not so much. Scent is personal.

What’s a writer to do then? Leave out scent and go with the big four? Tempting. NOT. When tied to emotion or memory, subtle scents become easier to write. Your character can smell the sea and feel terror as it brings up memories of a near drowning experience, or relaxed and at ease when memories of a great trip to the Caribbean surface. It can be a clue. Every individual has a signature scent and your sleuth can identify her villain by recognizing it in her everyday life. Fear has a scent, so does Joy – it smells like roses – sorry, couldn’t resist. (For those who might not know, Joy is a pungent rose scented perfume that’s not much worn today.)

Scent opens up your story and used well, opens up your characters. There’s more to it than smoke and fire.

My favorite scent? Gunpowder and popcorn. It transports me to my childhood, running with friends and watching the 4th of July fireworks.

What’s yours?

Then and Now

I’m a journal junkie. It’s in my DNA. It must be. I remember my very first journal. It wasjournals then Girl Scout sanctioned green in color and sported a trefoil on the cover. It also had a key, and a tiny lock and I poured my eight-year old heart into it. Discovering my brother picking my precious lock with a safety pin made me a lot more circumspect! Moral of the story, if you’re going to be a serious journaler, don’t have a teenage brother. If you do, don’t tell your journal you want to marry Paul McCartney.

What began with a Girl Scout journal morphed into a lifelong habit. The books above are a small sample and most of them are full.  When a personal computer became affordable, I decided having searchable journals would be great. So I typed a number of my more exciting entries into the Wordstar program and stored them on discs.  Five and a half inch floppy discs. FAIL. Who knew those discs failed over time. To say nothing of the whole disc thing becoming obsolete.

It was a harsh lesson. Nothing lasts forever, but the hand-written word on the page comes pretty darn close. My next journal project had a longer life history. I re-read and color coded the entries so I would have a system for ready reference. It’s not as bad as it sounds, although it was sometimes embarrassing. Once I got out of high school  the books chronicled travels, interesting personalities, story ideas, and sometimes complete short stories.  Even now I’ll thumb through the books seeking nuggets to mine for works in process.

There’s an app for everything if you look for it, including journals. I use one called Journey. It’s fun, flexible, I can add photos, and with the click of a mouse, the weather and location appear. It’s resident on my computer and my phone so it’s handy when inspiration strikes. All good, right? This modern day dear diary. It does have one major downside. It fails the hand/eye/flowing ink/paper interface.  Poetry happens when thoughts travel from the mind through the hand and on to paper. Nuances and shading appear that are fingers on the keyboard can’t match.

journals nowThese days I’ve discovered another use for journals. Planning and productivity are hallmarks of The Freedom Journal and The Mastery Journal. Both are available from Amazon and they offer something none of my other journals did. Accountability. The pages are filled with templates designed to help the journaler keep on track to attain goals in 100 days. These journals force me to focus, and hold me accountable every ten days. Will I attain my 100 day goal? I don’t know, but I look forward to the time I spend with the journals. That can’t be bad.

Are you a journaler? Do you refer to your past journals? Is journaler a word?

 

To Stay in it, Stay on it.

I recently had the sad experience of deleting four chapters of my current work in process. I blogged about that unhappy experience on Writers Who Kill last month. It was a hard choice, but necessary. The removed chapters haunted me. No matter how many times I tried to get on with the book, I returned to the scene of my literary crime and tinkered with those chapters. Let me be clear. I loved those chapters – but they had to go. And finally, they did.

Since I write in a semi-linear fashion, I needed to replace the removed content before I moved forward. Over the course of the past few weeks, that is exactly what happened. Some of the material came from the deceased darlings, but much is new and fresh, and it moves the story (and this writer) forward. Whew!

Not so fast. There’s a reason most how to write a book advice suggests writing every day. Now that I had covered my plot hole and fixed my storyline I needed to get back in touch with the overall story, not merely the reworked part. There’s more to writing than simply moving ahead. There’s the destination and I needed to be reacquainted with my plot, red herrings, and overall story line.

In the normal course of events, daily writing solves the problem of staying in the story. The story grows organically from the prior day’s efforts. Of course, some revisiting of prior scenes is necessary, but it’s more in the nature of swing your partner and not dosey do. Now that I’ve fixed the past, I’m re-reading the chapters that followed – and holding my red pencil at bay, this is a first draft after all – and ready to move forward and see where my characters and the story take me.

Writers, do you find plot holes in the first draft tend to draw you back or do you prefer to keep moving forward?