Dancing for the General

I’m very pleased to announce my latest release, Dancing for the General.

Dancing for the General-Web

It’s the story of an American woman in Ankara, Turkey in 1957.  The mystery of her missing fiancé pulls her into a murder investigation and a plot for revolution to unseat the government.  She doesn’t know whom to trust–her American colleagues, who struggle to do their jobs during the Cold War; the Turkish detective, who’s caught between his duty to uphold the law and his loyalty to Ataturk’s ideals; or the general who lives next door and will end the chaos one way or another.

The story behind the story:   This book has been fermenting at the back of my mind for many years while I’ve written other projects.  I’ve crashed at least 2 computers with drafts of this book, and research materials for this single project occupy almost half of my entire office.  Goodness knows how many trees I’ve personally destroyed with my reams of notes.  To see the mess on my desk finally transform into the real shape of a book feels like a vindication (shout out to this month’s theme!)  This is my tenth book, and it never gets any easier or any less sweet.

It’s available now from your favorite bookseller as either a trade paperback or an e-book, and soon it will become available as an audio book as well.

Meet My Narrowboat

Tempest is 30 feet long and 6 feet wide.  At full speed, she putters 2 miles per hour, racing swans, ducks, and coots.  We cruise 45 minutes to the grocery store, where we tie up while we shop.

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Inside, she has all the comforts of home:  2 bench-style beds, a kitchen, with pull-out table, a snug wood-burning fireplace, and even a wet room.  What more do we need?

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Narrowboats used to be working boats, delivering supplies and products to and from factories along the English canal system.  Families lived in tinier quarters than ours at the back of the boat, giving over the rest of the boat to their payload.  Workhorses towed the boats and plodded along miles of towpath along the canals, connecting most of England.

Highways and trains changed all that.  Engines power the narrowboats now.  The canal system is being restored for recreational use.  Boats have been converted into homes, and they come with a lot of tradition from their gypsy-like history.  Castles and roses traditionally decorate these boats, including Tempest:

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I might have to write a book set here.  Should I?

Carry On & All That

I never expected to become an Anglophile.  And now I’ve got the tee-shirt: 20170708_083743

So, how did this happen?  After all, we Americans are the ones who threw tea into the harbor.

Reading.  The love for England creeps up on us.  It starts with books and stories.  Some of my childhood favorites–like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows–showed lovely England as the jumping-off place for extraordinary adventures.  Then, as a young adult, I moved on to King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie, which led to lots, lots more.  England is our literary culture, and books are delightfully insidious.

Tourists.  And then, if we’re lucky, we get to visit.  We see the sights that our bookish heroes experienced, scenes that resonate back to those stories that first inflamed our imagination.  It’s as if we become children again.  On an early trip, Hubby and I visited 221B Baker Street and played at Sherlock (embarrassing the heck out of our then-teenaged daughter!)

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But lucky for me, it didn’t stop there.  We carried on, privileged to become tuition payers at University College London, which gave us more opportunities for trips (checking up on the daughter, you see).

There have been some memorable moments.

One time in a pub, one of our friends used various pint glasses and utensils from the table as props to try to explain to me the difference between Great Britain and the UK.  I’m still not sure I get it, but that’s okay.

Our daughter eventually settled there after school with her new husband, and now the in-laws chuckle about how American our grandchildren sound.  To me, they sound so British!

We love going to visit, so it’s no surprise that we took the next step.  When the opportunity arose to buy a place of our own–our own little canal boat–we thought about it for approximately ten minutes and then sprang for it.

Extravagant?  You bet!  But worth every penny–that is, pence.  And maybe there will be a book in all this one day.

And to think that it all started with the power of books.

What favorite places has your book reading taken you?

Grumpy Fries & Crazy Lies: Part 13

Three unanswered texts later, I jumped into the Maserati and headed back across town to Persephone’s place.  Traffic blurred past me.  My knuckles ached as I gripped the leather-wrapped wheel, and my temples pounded from the glare of late-day reflections.  I didn’t want to think that something bad had happened to her.  She had a habit of inserting her nose where it didn’t belong.

Halfway there, I let up on the pedal.  She was on deadline.  Probably ignoring me on purpose.  Man, I could already see the fireworks if I interrupted her.

And the kissie-kissie later, after the fight.

I sped up.  In record time, I pulled into her quiet neighborhood where the shade trees cooled the worst of my headache.  In case I was wrong (not that I ever was, but there was always a first time), I eased the Maserati into a space down the street from her place, behind the bumper of a dirty, white van with Louisiana plates.  I checked my phone.  Still no response.

Oh, F— Fred.

There was no one around on the sidewalk, so I climbed out of the car and darted across the street.  Pretending to bend down to tie my shoe, I cased her block.  Still empty.  So I dove behind a hedge and made my way across neighbors’ yards to the back of Persephone’s place.  Her office window was at the back, overlooking a patio.

I crept closer.

A handy bush gave me some cover as I peered through her office window.  And there she was, Pretty Persephone, hunched over, in front of her monitor.  With her back turned to the window, I could see what was on her screen.  Some file was open about faulty processing at the Granny Berry Fruit Plant.  I guessed she was writing another one of her investigative reports, now that she’d been cleared of murder.  Squinting, I could barely make out something about tainted applesauce.

I tried to read more, but then a car door squeaked not far away.  I dove back for cover, not wanting to be caught in this compromising situation.  Anyway, I figured Persephone would stay busy for a while.  She wasn’t going away anytime soon.

From the bushes, I had an okay view of the street.  And what do you know?  That pole dancer, Merry Goosebury, stood beside the dirty white van, yanking open its driver’s door as if there was a fire somewhere.  She jumped in behind the wheel, started up the engine, and the van screeched away from the curb.  I sprang out of the bushes in time to note the numbers on those Louisiana plates.

Back in the Maserati, I gave chase.  It didn’t take too long to catch up, and then I kept my distance, staying half a block behind the dirty white van.  Cradling my cell against my neck, I phoned up Poundacre to get a make on those plates.  And dig up everything she could find on Goosebury.

From the evasive manner in which she drove, I figured she’d seen me.  But that van was no match for the Maserati.  I stayed on her butt like a tick on a dog.

On the other side of the tracks was the industrial side of town, and that’s where she headed now.  Just a few yards past the Blue Parrot, which Duncan Meadows had trashed last Saturday night, the van turned into the guarded gate at the Granny Berry Fruit Plant.

As for me, I knew just the place to take up a position to watch that gate.

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By the time Patty Poundacre joined me at the Blue Parrot, I was on my second ginger beer.  Hell, I was on duty.

She slammed a file folder down on the table before me.  “Looks like we’ve got five suspects.  First, there are the two Fries siblings, who stand to inherit and whose shoes put them at the scene of the crime.  Next, we have the ex-son-in-law Duncan Meadows, not only fingered for the crime by his ex-wife but also he has a proven track record for violence, having trashed this place.”  She looked around at the grimy, dim interior.  “Got to wonder why, being out here in the industrial zone.  Mighty handy, too, being next door to the Granny Berry Factory.  Next, suspect number four is Aloysius Everslam, who will go to any lengths to protect his new boyfriend from said boyfriend’s grumpy dad.  And, I might point out, Everslam happens to be handy at breaking and entering.”

I grunted.  “Very good, Poundacre.”   Perfect Patty thought she was the rising star, did she?  “We can eliminate Everslam.  Fries didn’t know him, and he clearly knew his attacker.”

Poundacre frowned.  “Okay, then that makes four suspects.  The fourth one is your Merry Goosebury, the heir apparent to the Granny Berry fortune.”

“What’s her motive?”  I said.   “And what about that van?  Why would she drive an old heap like that?”  I remembered how she fawned over the Maserati.

“Van is registered to Elton Fries,” Poundacre said.  “He drove it up here from the Gulf, where he used to work.”

“That explains the plates,” I said, “but it still doesn’t explain why Goosebury was driving it.”

“You got to wonder,” Poundacre said, tapping the file folder.  “As it turns out, Merry Goosebury and Duncan Meadows were quite the item before Claudia Fries entered the picture and stole him away.  Merry never forgave Claudia for it, and she has a rap sheet to prove it.”

I mulled that over.  Poundacre fell silent, too.  And then my phone beeped.  I thumbed it on and said, “Yeah?”

“Fred Boschman here.  I’ve got your results for you.  You got a minute?”

“Go ahead, Fred.”   I was beginning to see a picture in my head.

“Cause of death was due to poisoning,” Fred said.

I made a few impatient sounds.  He wasn’t telling me anything new.

“But it’s not what you think.  Sure, Fries was allergic to apples, which brought on a respiratory event, but that wasn’t enough to kill him.  It was the level of arsenic in the applesauce that caused it.”

“Okay, thanks,” I said, thumbing off.  I stared at Poundacre.  She stared at me.

Finally she broke the silence.  “You think Merry did it and now she’s trying to frame Claudia with that shoe? Make it look like Claudia knocked off her old man, when it was really her, Merry who did it.  That’s why you’re here, keeping Merry under surveillance next door, am I right?”

I shrugged.  “The evidence isn’t all in yet.  What if Claudia really did do it?  The evidence so far points to her, with that glitter.”

“No motive, Sterling.”

Maybe she was right, and I was gonna have to change that picture in my head.  Just then the door to the Blue Parrot opened, and in walked a couple new patrons.

“Well, speak of the devil,” Poundacre said.  “It’s the Fries siblings, Claudia and Elton.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but what I really want to know is where is Duncan?”

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 6

Holy cow!  How had Delicious Detective Sinful guessed?  Little innocent me, in the wrong place at the right time?  No way.

Okay, maybe I lied.

It would serve him right.  Him and Merry, huh?  Turning my back on that pair, I let my sweatshirt slip a fraction more off my shoulder as I sashayed back down the sidewalk.  I wiggled with each step and fluttered my hand close to the neighbor’s picket fence.  In case I lost my balance.  You never know what a klutz like me will do.

It wasn’t far to my bungalow, where I lived all alone now that my parents had passed after that freak accident at the Brickyard.  Darn it, why was Sinful deliberately tormenting me with that reference?  He knew what happened.

Oops.

“Are you okay, dear?” said a tiny woman’s voice from under a Texas-sized straw hat.  Widow Winnie Wilton rose from her gardening stool on the other side of the picket fence and steadied my arm through her work gloves.

“Thanks, Mrs. Wilton,” I said, leaning against the little spears of her fence.  I glanced over my bare shoulder to make sure Sinful hadn’t seen my klutz moment, but luckily, he’d disappeared inside Grumpy’s house.  “I’m fine.  Guess I’m not so good at walking in these things yet.”

“I’ll never understand why you young folks even try.”  Winnie laughed good-naturedly.

I laughed too.  “I wouldn’t do it, except for…”

If I didn’t get more practice walking in these four-inchers, I’d fall flat on my face tonight.  That nerdy Fred Boschman would probably never even notice, but still.

“Except for what, dear?” Widow Winnie said.

“There’s a party tonight,” I said.  I don’t usually do blind dates, but a girl living on her own has got to party sometimes, right?  And besides, the retro disco ball was going to be a charity fundraiser for the police department, so maybe Sinful would be there.  A girl could hope.  That’s the only reason why I’d agreed to go with Fred.  Really.

“I’d break my neck for sure.”  Winnie’s tittering laughter died, along with the reminder of death in the neighborhood.  We both turned to observe the scene of flashing blue and red lights.

“Tsk, tsk,” Winnie said.  “Such a shame.  And his boy, Elton, just come to town for a visit.  First time in a long time.  He works down on an oil rig in the gulf, did you know?  They say that ever since that shark attack took Mr. Fries’s leg, he and his boy never saw eye to eye.  It was something to do with politics and the environment, they say.”

“Who says, Mrs. Wilton?” I asked.  She’d been the neighborhood gossip for as long as I remembered, and I’d grown up on this street.

“The spirits, dear.”  She winked.

Oh boy.

I couldn’t waste anymore time prattling with my crazy neighbor, because I had plenty of work to do, if I was going to be ready for tonight.  I waved goodbye, pulled off my sandals, and hurried on down the street, barefoot.

The sunlight glared, and something sparkled, blinding me as I turned up the sidewalk to my front door.  Owww!  I stubbed my toe against a crack, and my four-inch sandals fell from my arms one at a time, plunking into my weed-infested lawn.  Darn crack!  Home repairs never seemed to end, even though the bank balance kept sinking.

What had blinded me was something glittery, half sticking out of my mail slot, although it wasn’t time yet for the mail to arrive.  Which reminded me of that other delivery I’d received, well past mail time.  “Dear Duncan,” my ex boyfriend, Aloysius Everslam, had written, although the envelope had been addressed to me.  The creep.  Luckily, I’d broken it off with Alo before things had gone too far.  It had been just like him to make sure I knew he was in a new relationship.  Like I cared.  Him and Duncan Meadows, so what?

I shivered at the memory of my close call, and ran up onto the porch, reaching to yank the paper from the slot.  Glitter dripped across the plain white sheet of typing paper, forming words.

“I see you,” it read.

I sucked in my breath and glanced over my shoulder.

A dirty white van with a Saints bumper sticker parked across the street.  Had its driver seen me over at Grumpy’s place earlier this morning?

Designer Seeds

“Write the story that only you can write,” one of my writing teachers once told me.

I wasn’t sure at first what that meant.  At the time, I was writing a historical mystery set during the days leading up to the first Turkish coup, when Ataturk’s generals stepped in to restore his vision of westernization, which was gradually eroding.  It was an exciting story, with lots of drama and suspense, and it was inspired from my personal experience.

But it wasn’t my story.  A historian could’ve written it, and probably a lot better.

The manuscript spent a lot of time languishing in the bottom drawer of my desk while I pondered and researched even more.  And then that writing teacher’s advice finally clicked with me.  He had been talking about a sort of “designer seeds.”  The story seeds that were designed especially for me to write weren’t about the historical events but instead about the American dependents living there at the time and interacting with those events.  That was me, and it was my story.

So, my imagination got to work, with the help of those story seeds designed just for me, and I embroiled my fictional American dependents in those events preceding the coup.  It became the story with a slant that only I could write.

Once we writers find our “designer seeds,” I think we end up with stories that are more unique and filled with passion.

Continuing this month’s metaphor, I’m super pleased to announce the planting of seeds of my book.  Dancing for the General will finally sprout in the garden of books in July!

Ten Little Seeds of Encouragement

You can be anyone you want to be.

You can do anything you want to do.

You can live anywhere you want to live.

Yes, I absolutely believe this to be true.  BUT (and there’s always a “but,” right?) you have to have enough desire, followed by a lot of hard work.  Goals start as dreams, and every dream needs a seed of encouragement.  Those seeds help us make the right choices to follow our dreams and convert them to real goals.

You want to be a writer? Or course you can.

How you define “success” in terms of being a writer is up to you.  It should be a definition you can control.  Winning the lottery is probably not a realistic definition.  No matter what, all the writers I’ve ever met have worked exceptionally hard to get to where they are.

Somewhere along the way, something encouraged them.  Maybe something as simple as one of these ten little seeds:

  1. at home, your family thinks you’re the cat’s meow
  2. at school, your teachers brag about you
  3. critique group partners laugh or cry in all the right places (it may take many sessions of hard work to reach this point)
  4. pros stop to talk to you at conventions
  5. you receive a “good” rejection, asking to see more of your work
  6. you win or place in a contest
  7. an editor asks to see your work after hearing your pitch
  8. you (finally!) receive a contract in the mail
  9. a reader reports that she stayed up all night reading your book
  10. when someone, anyone–be it an editor or a reader–asks “what’s next?”

Who knows where your dreams will take you, or how far?  You’ll never know if you don’t try, so go for it!  The choice is yours to make.  So, I’m asking you?  what’s next for you?