Lemons, Lemonade, and Loss

A friend suggested I write about effective storytelling for this post. I’ve decided to put that on my list of ideas (which I keep in a bullet journal, btw), and talk about something that many of us learned about on October 16th:

Midnight Ink will be closing its doors after the 2019 Spring/Summer catalog.

From what I can tell, it came as quite a surprise to the well-known and respected staff, not to mention the quality authors they’ve promoted and stood with in the past. Our own Becky Clark is one of those talented writers who is now exercising those muscles that allow her to get back up after taking a blow. I’m not speaking for Becky here in any way. Maybe she’ll share some of how she’s processed this news.

But this is what today’s event put me in mind of:

For years, I worked in an industry that was either scrambling to keep up with demand, or laying people off to deal with a slow market. The mortgage business is at the mercy of the local real estate economy and interest rates set by the Feds. Going into it, I had no idea it would be as volatile as it was.

I remember as a loan officer, whose income was commission-based, looking at interest rates that required our company to get a Colorado Uniform Commercial Credit Code license! Today, that means that any annual percentage rate 12% and over would require the lender to have a UCCC license. We were often looking at APR rates at 18% or even higher (somehow 24% sticks in my memory). How in the world would anyone be able to qualify for a mortgage loan at those rates? That’s when creative financing took off, but my industry still laid off thousands.

Later, as a manager, I’ll never forget earning every nickel of my salary the day I had to call people into my office and give them the news they’d been dreading… “Here’s your severance check.”

And then it happened to me. To be fair, I was offered another position within the company, but my ego just couldn’t accept it. I’m pretty sure I surprised the president when I turned him down. I know he thought of us as “family.”

I remember struggling to find my identity as a person and not a job title. It took a while.

But then look what happened!!!

Okay, it wasn’t overnight. I ran another mortgage company, started my own mortgage company, went to work for one of the biggest mortgage companies, got major burn-out and worked for a year as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, sold Mary Kay (still do), and finally, finally, finally, became an author.

The fabulous staff at Midnight Ink aren’t finished, they’ll just reinvent themselves and find purpose with another publisher, maybe even start their own publishing company! They and their brilliant authors will hold a reunion or two because friendships don’t stop just because the business does.

Change is hard. It feels like loss, but it’s only change. And almost always, mark my words, change ultimately brings something better.

Have you faced change in your life? Did it eventually put you in a stronger place even though it sucked at the time?


It’s all better with friends. Yes. Yes, it is.




LoML+Me and Train Make Three

I bet you’ve never read a science fiction novel about time travel on a train. Unless it’s one where time stops.

LoML and I recently celebrated our anniversary with a train trip from Denver to California and then up to Vancouver. We love a bit of misadventure on our trips because they always lead to something unexpected. We had it in Russia and we had it in Wyoming.

This trip allowed us to add California and Washington to the list.

Getting off our train in Sacramento, I learned from another passenger that our train to Seattle had been cancelled. The Redding Fire had engulfed the train tracks and Amtrak felt it prudent not to attempt to race their passenger train through the flames.

Our train from Sacramento to Seattle had been scheduled to leave at 11 p.m. When LoML  planned our trip, he was aware that trains often travel to their own drumbeat and that “on time” was a rarity. So we had a few hours in Sacramento. That stretched to several hours when we learned that buses, driving a detoured route to Klamath Falls, would leave at 1 a.m.

After exploring Old Sacramento we went to a movie (Crazy, Rich Asians is very cute), then checked into a Holiday Inn for a normal shower (we had one in our sleeper… sorta) and a nap. I set the alarm for 11:45 so we could be back to the nearby train station shortly after midnight.


Not actually missing a bus isn’t the same as catching one


When we got to the station three buses were filled and there was no room at the inn for LoML and me. (Some of these travelers had been bused from Dallas!)

There were two women on one of the buses who had oversized luggage (the kind you check) and had placed them on seats. When asked by Amtrak officials to allow the driver to put their luggage with the other suitcases they refused, even after admonishment that they had not paid for those seats. I wonder, were those cases filled with drugs? Or cash? Or body parts?

Later, LoML and thanked those women (in our hearts) because we got to ride in the comparative luxury of a van with the two of us and young medical student and her two well-behaved kids rather than a sardine-packed bus.

Peg's Non-Train Trip
Smokey haze at dawn on our detour around the Redding Fire

Dawn brought a visual to the smell of wildfire we’d had all night. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the fire-fighter camp we passed, but I was sluggish and barely got a glimpse of it as we drove by.

Finally, we were in Klamath Falls and, after waiting an extended period of time for a crew to arrive, we were on our way to Seattle.

And then…

Our train was stopped in Everett (I think). The conductor told us we’d be there for an indeterminate amount of time because of police activity at King Street Station in Seattle.

Naturally, I wanted to know more. I googled. Got nothing.

Our train finally moved, but then stopped again in this rather eerie part of Seattle, waiting for the all clear. I was hoping we were in a secret and safe location. We had no idea what was happening.


The only point of this photo is to show you it was dark. We were tired. And then there was that strange blue light that almost acted like a black light in our sleeper. What was that all about?

We learned later the cause for the delay was someone shooting at incoming trains. I’m told by Barbara Nickless, who knows these things via her books beginning with the award-winning Blood on The Tracks, that more than likely both Amtrak and Seattle PDs were involved. (Read her books. You won’t be disappointed.)

Finally, we arrive in Seattle. Check into a beautiful suite at the Fairmont Olympic (Yes! Go there!) and had a wonderful day at the Pike Place Market where we picked up victuals to take back to the hotel and watch the Bronco/Seahawk game while we gnawed on smoked salmon and crab legs.

And then…

An alarm. Followed by, “There has been a declared emergency. Make your way calmly and quickly to the fire exits.” Then something about physically disabled guests.

We find our shoes, walk down nine flights. At the final exit, I push on the door as I was the leader of our little band calmly and quickly leaving the hotel. The door wouldn’t budge. LoML was my hero. He kicked the damn thing wide open! 

We’re finally outside. While others milled around near the hotel (are you kidding me?), LoML and I went across the street behind some construction barriers. Sirens. Two firetrucks. Pretty lights.


Was it a bomb? Serin? An active shooter?

Walking down nine flights you think that everything is probably okay, but then you wonder if some of those people walking down the fire exits on 9/11 were thinking the same thing. 

Turns out a smoke alarm had gone off on the 10th floor. My guess is some jerk lit a cigarette. Still… it was exciting.

The rest of our trip went pretty much as planned (except for a train delay between Seattle and Vancouver… a silly Union Pacific freight train (who owns the tracks, btw) had stopped for some reason. The length of the train was blocking a bridge we needed to use.

I’m sort of thinking if you’re looking for material, you should take a train ride.


It’s all better with friends.







Writing Evolution

DSCN6469I was trying to think of something a little different to post this month, and thought this might be fun.

I pulled three old paperbacks off a shelf in my library, and chose a random short paragraph of narration. Would they have been written differently today? If you think they would, you’re welcome to share how you would update for a contemporary read.

It’s worth noting that the print is incredibly small in these old paperbacks, and there’s almost no gutter. These are not copies my old eyes will re-read—I just can’t part with them.

Also worth noting are the prices! The Jungle was purchased about 1960 for 75¢.

From the most recent to the oldest:


Parnell had had a busy morning; in fact, as he unfolded the story of his activities that forenoon I marveled that such an arthritic and ailing old man could have accomplished even half so much in so short a time. Few professional detectives could have covered so much ground, I felt, and none, I was certain, could have done so to better purpose. The old boy was a born detective: shrewd, resourceful, and always keeping his eye on the main chance, and as he talked on I stared at him with increasing admiration.

Anatomy of a Murder  by Robert Traver



John walked back slowly through the wood. When he got to the swimming-pool he sat down on the bench there. He had no regrets for his treatment of Veronica. Veronica, he thought dispassionately, was a nasty bit of work. She always had been a nasty bit of work and the best thing he had ever done was to get clear of her in time. God alone knew what would have happened to him by now if he hadn’t!

Murder After Hours (original title: The Hollow) by Agatha Christie



Note: It was difficult to find a short paragraph in this book. Some of them were full pages.

And meantime, because they were young, and hope is not to be stifled before its time, Jurgis and Ona were again calculating: for they had discovered that the wages of Stanislovas would a little more than pay the interest, which left them just about as they had been before! It would be but fair to them that the little boy was delighted with his work, and at the idea of earning a lot of money; and also that the two were very much in love with each other.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair


What do you think?

It’s all better with friends.

Diversity is Strength

I’m a sixty-something year-old white woman who had the good fortune, at nineteen, to meet and fall in love with a man of color.

My life was enriched and my experiences deepened because of what he brought to my tapestry. The treasured history and community connection of a black man in America broadened my soul, as much as it could be broadened, in ways that never could have happened without him. For all of these positive experiences I’m forever grateful.

On the other hand, my awareness of stereotypes and exclusion became profound. Really? No person of color is in this class photo? No person of color could have had a role in this movie? Oh wait… that role doesn’t count. Not one person of color as a possible candidate for office?

Not one author of color on your bookshelf?

How many crime fiction authors of color are out there? Two? Three? Walter Mosely? Kellye Garrett? Frankie Bailey? Atticka Locke? (I really, really, really want to include Octavia Butler but that would be mixing things up a bit too much.) And now that I’ve read the fabulous Mysteristas post by Alexia Gordon, she’s on my list too.

I believe that celebrating ethnic, religious, and sexual diversity by crime fiction authors makes us bigger and better and stronger. It gives us a foothold so we can reach back and pull up. It’s a shout out to other non-inclusive genres to figure it out and make room.

Here’s a list for you. I challenge you to count the number of authors you’ve read up until this very day, and then add ten more between now and July 2019. It might be your first ten, it might be a new ten.  Are you gonna like them all? Probably not. But because you’re aware of the diversity in our genre, we’re all stronger, and I wager your life will be richer.

Print this list. Take it with you to the bookstore and keep it handy when you’re online.

Frankie’s List

African American Writers

Bailey, Frankie Y.
Baker, Nikki
Bates, Karen Grigsby
Batts, Krys
Bland, Eleanor Taylor (deceased)
Brown, Elaine Meryl
Burns, V.M.
Camacho, Austin S.
Canterbury, Patricia E.
Carter, Charlotte
Carter, Stephen L.
Chambers, Christopher
Christy, Cynthia
Clemons, R. Lanier
Coleman, Evelyn
Croom, Janice
Darden, Christopher
Davis, Kyra
DeLoach, Nora (deceased)
Dickey, Eric Jerome
Edwards, Grace F.
Flowers, R. Barri
Ford, Clyde
Fullilove, Eric James
Gardner, Danny
Garland, Ardella (pen name of Yolanda Joe)
Garrett, Kellye
Gordon, Alexia
Greer, Robert
Grimes, Terris McMahan
Hall, Rachel Howzell
Hardwick, Gary
Harris, Marietta
Hayes, Teddy
Haywood, Gar Anthony (also writes as Ray Shannon)
Head, Cheryl A.
Henry, Angela
Holton, Hugh (deceased)
Jackie, Sonja (pen name of Sonja Hazzard)
James, R. Franklin
Johnson, Keith Lee
Jolivet, Myra
Jones, Solomon
Jones, Stephen Mack
Kabongo, Gledé Browne
Kelley, Norman
Lamar, Jake
Lawrence, Deliah
Locke, Attica
Lovell, Glenville
Mallette, Gloria
Meadows, Lee
Mickelbury, Penny
Miller, C.M.
Mosley, Walter
Neely, Barbara
Olden, Marc
Osborne, Karen E.
Phillips, Gary
Quartery, Kwei
Ramsey, Gail
Rhodes, Jewell Parker
Richardson, Gwen
Robinson, Angela ( lm and TV writer)
Rudolph, Wally
Ridley, John
Samuels-Young, Pamela
Singer, Gammy
Smith, Andrea
Smith, Brian W.
Smith, Ian
Smith-Levin, Judith (deceased)
Swafford, Erika Green (TV writer)
Thomas-Graham, Pamela
Tramble, Nichelle D.
Underwood, Blair
Walker, Persia
Wesley, Valerie Wilson
West, Chassie
Woods, Paula L.


Asian American / Asian Writers

Cha, Steph
Chang, Henry
Chang, Leonard
Chien, Vivien
Chupeco, Rin
Furutani, Dale
Gerritsen, Tess
Goenawan, Clarissa
Hirahara, Naomi
Lee, Don
Lee, YS
Lin, Ed
Ng, Celeste
Revoyr, Nina
Rowland, Laura Joh
Tan, Anne R.
Xiaolong, Qiu
Yi, Melissa
Yu, Ovidia

South Asian American / South Asian / South Asian British Writers

Claverton, Rosie
Jacob, Mira
James, Tania
Khan, Ausma Zehanat
Kirchner, Bharti
Massey, Sujata
Pandian, Gigi
Swarup, Vikas
Vatsal, Radha


Hispanic/Latino/a Writers

Acevedo, Mario
Anaya, Rudolfo A.
Corpi, Lucha
Cortez, Sarah (editor of anthologies)
Garcia-Aguilera, Caroline
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia
Hinojosa-Smith, Rolando
Lantigua, John
Lefeve, Claudia
LoPinto, Charles and Llamas LoPinto, Lidia
Maldonado, Isabella
Narvaez, R.
Nava, Michael
Ortiz, Martin Hill
Ramos, Manuel
Roman, A. E.
Segura, Alex
Thurlo, Aimée (deceased)
Torres, Steven
Vasquez, Ian
Villatoro, Marcos McPeek
Zamorano, Desiree


Native American Writers

Cox, Jessie
Erdrich, Louise
Hogan, Linda
Hoklotubbe, Sara Sue
Holm, Tom
Owens, Louis
Rodriguez, Linda
Smith, Martin Cruz
Welch, James

LGBT Writers

Chandler, Jessie
de Helen, Sandra
Ettritch, Sarah
Forrest, Katherine V.
Friend, Catherine
Gordon, Josie
Gordon, Max
Griffiths, Nicola
Hart, Ellen
Head, Cheryl A.
Herren, Greg
Hill, Gerri
Hunter, Fred

Isabella (only one name)
James, Renee
Kelleher, Dharma
Lake, Lori L.
Lepionka, Kristen
Lynch, Katie
Maiorisi, Catherine
McDermid, Val
MacGregor, K. G.
McNab, Claire
Marks, Jeffrey
Padgett, Abigail
Redmann, J. M.
Roberts, Ann
Scoppettone, Sandra
Sherman, Scott
Silva, Linda Kay
Sims, Elizabeth
Sweeney, Kate
Summer, Mary Elizabeth
Vali, Ali
Waters, Sarah
Wilson, Jon Morgan
Yu, Ovidia


Thank you, Frankie Bailey, for your list. And thank you, Sisters in Crime, for moving forward.


It’s all better with friends.

Book Clubs

35645600_10217320673908085_2894060512935411712_oBook clubs are among my favorite things on this earth. In no particular order, those favorite things include LoML’s laughter, a good Zinfandel, the honks and wing-noise of flying geese (bonus points to anyone who knows what that wing-noise is called), a dog who lays its head on my feet or in my lap, and a chapter easily written. Oh, and awesome mac and cheese.

But I’m talking about book clubs.

I’ll never forget the first book club I attended as a visiting author.  I’d heard about writers expecting to meet new fans only to find themselves vivisected by book club members.

So I brought chocolate.

I don’t know if it was the book or the chocolate, but that evening started my love affair with sitting down and talking to people who’d actually read my stories. (However, I still prepare myself for  knife-wielding readers with murder in their eyes.)

Since then I’ve enjoyed book clubs with as few as three people and those with more than forty. I’ve done them close to home and by Skype. One of the most fun evenings was actually 3:30 in the morning. The book club members were relaxing with their wine… in Australia.

And yes, I put on a face at 3 a.m.

Sisters in Crime – Colorado has three active book clubs in the front range area that meet monthly, inviting our crime novelist members to attend and discuss their books. One of the coolest and most natural ideas ever!

Are you in a book club? Have you invited authors to participate?

(In other news, TRAFFICKED picked up top awards for the two programs in which it was entered. Special moments…)


It’s all better with friends.


When I first learned about ghostwriting it felt wrong to me. Like someone was playing on their famous name to make money without doing anything. I thought it was deceitful. Kind of a con to readers. “Read the book by Celebrity X!” Only it wasn’t actually written by Celebrity X.

Just plain wrong.

Then I learned more about why some books are ghostwritten.

For the most part, the people who find someone to ghostwrite their book have an interesting story to tell. It might be their biography, or that of someone they love. I know of one woman who bought a book at a garage sale for 25¢ on how to make a million dollars in real estate. Guess what? She did it. It could be a book that would help someone going through the process of addiction recovery, or surviving cancer, or the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a book about building and selling a small business. It could also be a dramatic/traumatic period in someone’s life that would make for a great novel based on fact.

My bet is, the true owners of these stories tried to write the book and discovered, for whatever reason, it wasn’t going to happen. But the idea persisted. The need to tell their story didn’t go away just because they weren’t able to write it.

In comes the ghostwriter.

I’m writing one now, and happy to do it. The owner of the story has contracted with a publisher to bring something important to them to print. The publisher, who has a good reputation, brings writing talent to the table. That’s me… the “talent.”

I’m only a couple of weeks in, but here are the pros and cons as I see them now:



  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I pretty much follow a transcript from hours of interviews. Essentially, the transcripts are the first draft, which for me is always the hardest part of the process.
  • In my case, a supportive publisher.
  • Helping someone bring their idea to life.
  • A paycheck.



  • The story isn’t mine. I’m not creating it from scratch. I have to stay within the probabilities of their recollection of events. My opportunity to invent is limited.
  • If my voice isn’t the one they’re looking for I need to be able to change it.
  • At least initially, the time commitment is greater than what I’d expected. That means…
  • The new manuscript I’m working on is taking a hit. But I think it might level out in the next few weeks. That’s what I’m counting on.

I’m learning as I go through this process. So far, I’m not regretting a thing.

And oh, by the way (in case you didn’t hear me yell) TRAFFICKED walked away as the winner in the Mainstream Fiction category at the Colorado Authors’ League Awards Dinner a couple of weeks ago. 

Writers, have you ever thought about ghostwriting? Readers, does it matter to you how the story was written?


It’s all better with friends.

How Important are Book Awards?

Seriously. I’m asking.

I mean, aren’t awards just the opinion of a few people who might not like the same things I like?

Do you make a decision to read a book based on whether or not it has received an award, or even finalled?

Do you ever cynically wonder if an award was unduly influenced by a publisher?

It’s kind of the same thing with endorsements. Rumor has it that many publishers require their writers to endorse each other’s books. A few  years ago there was a lot of buzz surrounding authors who were willing to “pimp” any and all books.

Would an award for a book by an author you’ve never heard of help to make buy determination, assuming you were mildly intrigued?

So maybe you can guess why I’m asking.

TRAFFICKED is a finalist for two awards. It’s also the second novel of mine that’s found itself in this position. I’m beginning to think I’m the Susan Lucci of crime fiction.

I’m just not sure an award is a determining factor.

Maybe I’ll feel differently (and experience differently), if rather than a silver “Finalist” label it receives the gold one that says “Winner.”

I’ll know May 24th on one, June 2nd on the other.


It’s all better with friends.