Home Is Where You Hang Your Hang-Ups

So far, there are eighteen different residencies that I have called home. A combination of apartments and houses, each holds a cadre of memories and takes me back to a specific time in my life. I don’t know about you, but eighteen seems like a lot. It’s an average of a new place to call home every 2.5 years.

When I stay at a hotel on a business trip or writers conference, I very easily refer to the room as “home,” although there’s nothing about the sterile hotel environment that reminds me of the place I hang my metaphoric hat. I’ve been known to travel with stuffed companions who make my stay-away more familiar, but I’ve never gone so far as to rearrange a hotel room or even bother with the empty dresser drawers.

But the subject of home got me thinking. What is it that makes a home our home? Is it knowing your stuff will be there when you return? Is it the family or partners who will return to the same home or be there when you arrive? Is it simply having a place to go vs. literally being homeless?

I think there’s an inherent skill involved in writing fiction, and that is the ability to draw on scenes and settings to create a world through words. Mapquest can show you where something is and how to get there. Google Maps can tell you what that place looks like. Wikipedia can give you the background of a city, and Realtor.com can tell you the specifics of a house on a certain street.

But can a website tell you what it felt like to be two years old, descending worn gold carpeting on Christmas morning and seeing a pile of presents that Santa left?

Can a website tell you what it’s like to be seventeen and hear footsteps outside of your bedroom window in the middle of the night and know you’re too old to call out to your dad, but to need him to reassure you that it was only a deer?

Can a website describe what it feels like to start your life over in an unfamiliar apartment in an unfamiliar part of town, to hear someone cursing and breaking bottles in the parking lot under your new windows, to be so scared you sleep with the windows locked even though you have no air conditioning and the temperature outside is 89 degrees? And to know that even in these circumstances, you’re in a better environment than the one you left behind?

No. And that’s why, no matter where you stay, no matter where you live, there’s no place like home.


The Meaning of Home

I recently returned from a trip abroad. It was a fabulous, exciting trip, possibly the best one our family has ever taken. We lived with family while we were away, so there were no generic hotel suites or bathrooms shared with strangers. It was lovely. And yet, when I walked through the doorway of my house upon our return, there was this amazing, almost indescribable feeling that washed over me. The stress of travel washed away, and I immediately was more relaxed than I had been since our journey began two weeks prior. What is it about home that can make us feel so darn good?

For me, home represents an anchor, a tether to the place that I can always return to, feel safe, and–to some degree–be in control. If I think about the stories I love most, home is often a character itself. In J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Eve and Roake live in a mansion, a veritable fortress where they can be vulnerable with each other, where only their true family–in this case, mostly treasured friends–are welcome. For Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, the custom-built apartment that Henry built for her represents perhaps one of the few constants in her life, and, more importantly, is symbol of the very real friendship she has with Henry. It is, I think, one of the first true gifts she’s received since becoming an orphan as a child. Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse lives in her grandmother’s home, where so many important memories and events are based.

But, home doesn’t have to be a structure I don’t think. Instead, it’s that intangible something that makes us feel good, really good, about where we are, even when events are, perhaps, not making us feel very good. Home can be family, a special place, a beloved group of friends. So, how does this inform a story?

When a writer threatens, alters, or removes that special something we call home, they allow us to relate and connect to the characters who may, in every other way, be so very different from us; the concept of home is that something most of us share, so by using that commonality between reader and character, a writer draws us into the story in a visceral way. The reader feels the fear, sadness, or loss as home is threatened; the reader shares the happiness and joy if home is restored. But, perhaps most of all, it can make the story  and the characters’ experiences very, very real.

And it’s delicious.

Pamela Oberg

Interview: Gail Carriger

Please welcome Gail Carriger, author of the Parasol Protectorate series and the Finishing School series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Up, tea, slow start – perhaps read a bit of a good book. Then out for a tasty breakfast (should involve poached egg, tomato and spinach and a great latte). Clothes shopping in some vintage heaven, like Haight Street in San Francisco, followed by a light lunch then more reading and tea. I’d end the day with a quiet walk on the beach watching the sunset. Sushi orC&CFinalCarriger_CurtsiesAndConspiracies_HC copy something equally fishy for dinner, a new episode of QI, and then a hot tub before bed. Some variety of French macaron would also be included in there somewhere.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I like to wear spoons, octopus jewelry, and the occasional fake mustache. I usually smell like food (vanilla apricot is my favorite scent), say the word “lovely” too often, and drink too much tea. I eat leafy greens, raw fish, and custard at any given opportunity. As a cook, I’m known for killer brownies, boozy banana bread, shepherd’s pie, and eggie cups.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Erin when drunk, Phrannish most of the time, and many of my history teachers.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Short answer, nope. I’m a dancer. If music is playing I want to dance, not write.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A dark chocolate turtle: sweet but not too sweet, chewy in places, and full of nuts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
The book I’m writing right now is the third in my YA Finishing School series. It’s all about manipulating boys. Victorian young ladies who are trained as spies can wreak havoc with the young men around them. In the best of all possible ways, of course.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Strong willed smart women, the benefits of practicality and sensible thought, tolerance of alternative lifestyles, an appreciation for silliness and good food, and achieving goals with the help of friendships that become stronger and stronger as the books progress, because these are things important to me and whether I like it or not they’ll sneak in.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her to be the person she is today?
Sophronia is secretive and a great observer of human nature. At first she has a hard time fitting in to polite Victorian society, but once she is taught how to manipulate it ridiculous hijinks ensue.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
A fourteen year old British Belle Boyd meets Sarah Walker (from the television series Chuck) meets Yo Saf Bridge (from Firefly) only with less flash and more sarcasm.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie

What’s next for you?
Curtsies & Conspiracies, the second book of the Finishing School young adult series, will be released November 5th.


New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She survived her early years by reading most of her local library and memorizing Greek battles. Eventually, she escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. In pursuit of further finishing, Ms. Carriger traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London. Her latest book, Curtsies & Conspiracies, the second in her Finishing School steampunk series for young adults comes out November 5, 2013.

Interview: Stacy Juba

Please welcome Stacy Juba, author of Sink or Swim and a number of other adult, teen, and children’s books.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A perfect day is a day on vacation with my family where we are fully relaxed and having a good time together. I’d start it by waking up to meditate and then reading an engrossing mystery or light romance novel. Throw in an exercise class, sinkorswimsome chocolate and a new episode of my favorite show Once Upon A Time and it would be even more perfect!

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My favorite color is yellow because of its cheeriness and warmth. I don’t have many clothes with yellow in it, but I use it in  my decor. I had my bedroom walls painted yellow and I have a lot of yellow flowers tucked away here and there around the house. I do have a couple of signature bracelets that I wear as a reminder to be positive and if I catch myself being negative, I switch it to the other wrist. Both bracelets, naturally, have yellow in them.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
My fifth grade teacher encouraged my creativity at a young age as he recognized that I had a knack for writing stories.  As a teenager, I was inspired by S.E. Hinton, who wrote and published her famous book The Outsiders as a teenager. That inspired me to write my book Face-Off as a teenager and it was published when I was 18. Most recently, I have been inspired by author, educator and spiritual director Janice Lynne Lundy as I find her books and audios full of down-to-earth wisdom.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I don’t as I find it hard to focus on my writing when I am listening to music. I need to tune in to hear my thoughts. Sometimes I will listen to music or listen to a podcast if I am doing marketing tasks such as scheduling tweets.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
It would be a Snickers bar, which has some nuts  in it. Sink or Swim has a few oddball characters in it, like Spike the weasly health club owner, Rhonda Sue the obsessed fan, and Pepper, the protagonist’s quirky mom.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Sink or Swim was inspired by the reality TV show craze. I wanted to explore what might motivate someone to go on a reality show and how her life changes as a result of the brush with fame. There are some books that take place while a reality show is being taped, however, I wanted to focus on the aftermath once the character returns to her normal life. In this case, the character of Cassidy Novak must deal with a stalker who may or may not be the person killing off former contestants.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I recently rebranded my website to Characters at a Crossroads as that is the one central theme that goes through all of my books, whether it’s an adult novel, young adult novel or children’s book. My characters are flawed, regular people who are at a crossroads in their life, a fork in the road. They can either stay on the same path and keep repeating the same negative patterns, or they can explore a new and more intimidating path that ultimately can lead them to more fulfillment. On my blog, from time to time I will write blog posts that help my readers to build their own characters, pointing them toward resources that they might find helpful during their own forks in the road.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Cassidy from Sink or Swim is driven, stubborn, impulsive  and independent. Her father left her when she was a child and her mother had some failed marriages. As a result, she has a hard time trusting others and has a chip on her shoulder. During the book, she meets easygoing photographer Zach Gallagher as a love interest and she starts to let down some of her walls.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
She’s Nancy Drew meets personal trainer Jillian Michaels meets Katniss Everdeen from  The Hunger Games. Cassidy is forced into playing the role of detective and she is a personal trainer associated with a reality show, hence Nancy and Jillian. Like Katniss, she is tough, strong-willed and loyal to her family, but she has a lot of vulnerability beneath that tough exerior.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’d love to meet some of my online mystery and suspense writer friends in person such as Darcia Helle, Carmen DeSousa, Libby Fischer Hellman, Jenny Hillborne, and Jen Blood, and I’d also love to meet Mary Higgins Clark.

What’s next for you?
My romantic comedy, a non-mystery, Fooling Around With Cinderella, will be my next book and should be out in 2014. It’s a sweet and sparkly romance about a reluctant theme park Cinderella.


Stacy Juba loves to write stories about Characters at a Crossroads: individuals who are finding themselves and getting on the right life path after overcoming obstacles. Her goals are to entertain readers of all ages as well as inspire them. She has made numerous bestseller lists including GalleyCat’s Barnes & Noble Bestsellers and GalleyCat’s Mystery and Thriller Bestsellers. Stacy has written about reality TV contestants targeted by a killer, an obit writer investigating a cold case, teen psychics who control minds, twin high school hockey stars battling on the ice, and teddy bears learning to raise the U.S. flag. Browse her website for more information on her mystery, romance, and contemporary fiction books for adults, teens, and children, and resources on how to build your own “character.”

Website: http://stacyjuba.com/blog/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stacy-Juba/100155471301
Twitter https://twitter.com/stacyjuba
Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2988212.Stacy_Juba
Pinterest http://pinterest.com/stacyjuba/
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Stacy-Juba/e/B002OXLSDE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Guest Post: Tracy Ward

Witchy Wonderment

Ever since I was a little girl I have been drawn to anything to do with witches, vampires, ghosts and ghouls. The Addams Family was my favourite television show (when I could catch it on re-runs).  I watched the movie Beetlejuice so many times I could probably still recite the screenplay line by line. And there was nothing more fascinating to me than the Salem Witch Trials. By chance I found the book, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare in my grade school library and from then on I was hooked. I could not get enough of this dark period of history.

It’s probably no surprise, with such an interest in all things dark and mysterious, why I became a mystery writer but not too far down on my bucket list was a visit to the legendary village itself, Salem, Massachusetts. The opportunity arose a few years ago and despite being a mom of two young(ish) kids I had little trouble convincing my family to come along for a five day adventure into the past.

So much of my introduction to Salem had been through history books that I was surprised to find it was no longer a quaint pastoral village trapped in the pages of time. I am not sure what I expected really. Today, despite a number of witch museums and historical attractions, Salem is an urban bedroom community to the bustling city of Boston. But don’t be fooled, first impressions aside, Salem is steeped in history that begs to be discovered.

Any visitor with an interest in the Witch Trials will have a hard time choosing which museum or attraction to visit. We were able to visit all but one. Each independently owned attraction held its own appeal but if a traveller had to choose just one, I would recommend “Cry Innocent,” a live re-enactment of the trial of Bridget Bishop, the red-wearing suffragette before her time who was the first person executed in the hysteria. Arrested in the street, re-enactors guide you to the Old Town Hall where the trial takes place.

The hidden gem has to be The House of the Seven Gables, immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer and unwilling descendent of the Salem Witch Trial judge,Salem 2008 118 John Hathorne. Nathaniel despised his connection to the notorious judge so much he added an ‘w’ to his name as a means to distance himself (ahem… worked like a charm, I see).  Somewhat altered to better resemble the home from the book, the historic house is an amazing museum and the tour is a must see. Nestled next to the water The House of the Seven Gables acts like an oasis from the urban feel of the rest of the village and makes any visitor feel transported.

The Witch House is the most popular attraction and the oldest surviving buildSalem 2008 181ing from the Witch Trial era. Reportedly haunted, the building would have been an impressive structure in its day far exceeding the standard dwelling at the time but the neighbourhood that has sprung up around it is worth a slow stroll today. Inside, the rooms are all adorned as they would have been during the time when Judge Jonathon Corwin inhabited it. It was behind these walls accusations were made and trials began.

In the centre of Salem Village is a Witch Trial Memorial, where the names of all the Salem 2008 055innocent victims are forever etched in stone to recognize the injustice of their trials. And immediately behind is a centuries old cemetery filled with gnarly trees and simple headstones. Nathaniel Hawthorne (there’s that name again) would steal away with his bride-to-be, Sophie, while courting in order to have some alone time (ahem!).

A visit to the Friendship, a 1797 replica of the East Indianman sailing vessel of 18th century trading fame, is also a must. Operated by the National Park Service, the tour takes you on the ship and across the road to a spectacular early 19th century building, the U.S. Customs House where millions of dollars of imports were tallied and taxed. Nathaniel Hawthorne (again) worked here for a number of years and its believed this is where he was inspired to write The Scarlet Letter. The tour culminates at small shop reminiscent of general stores of old where visitors are able to buy sweets and bulk spices as villagers would have done during the port’s heyday. The best part of this tour is that it’s free.

When the sun goes down a walking tour is the best way to explore Salem. Who better knows the ins and outs of a place than the locals? Ghostly tales and murderous deeds abound in a place with over 400 years of history.

Though sometimes overlooked during times other than Halloween, Salem is a great place to visit. The buildings still hold much of the New England charm it became known for and despite a modern city sprouting up around it in the last hundred years visitors can still feel the ghosts of the past… if they are only willing to stand still and pay attention.

Recognize this house? It’s the house of Max’s love interest, Alison, in the movie, Salem 2008 178Hocus Pocus. The Salem Commons and other locations in Salem were used during the filming.


A journalist in her previous life, Tracy L. Ward is the author behind the Peter Ainsley Mystery series featuring thescavengersVictorian morgue Surgeon Peter Ainsley and his highborn sister, Margaret Marshall. The first book in the series, Chorus of the Dead, was released in July 2012 and its sequel, Dead Silent, was published earlier this year. Tracy is finishing up the final details of her third installment and expects it to be available in the spring of 2014.  She lives near Toronto with her husband, two kids and a dog named Watson.

Facebook: /TracyWard.Author
Twitter: @TracyWardAuthor

New Release: The Star Family

Theresa Crater’s latest book, The Star Family, is now available!

A secret spiritual groupthestarfamily

A recurring dream

A 400-year-old ritual must be completed

before it is too late

Jane Frey inherits a Gothic mansion filled with unexpected treasures. A prophecy claims it hides an important artifact – the key to an energy grid laid down by the Founding Fathers themselves. Whoever controls this grid controls the very centers of world power. Except Jane has no idea what they’re looking for.

The Star Family . . . explores the esoteric aspects of a progressive Protestant sect called the Moravian Brethren and weaves their history into a fascinating piece of speculative fiction. What if the Moravians had continued to observe some of their controversial practices in secret? What if their rites and music have played a role in withstanding the malignant forces that threaten to overwhelm modern society? What if one woman who discovers her true ancestry could oppose dominion of darkness through music and erotic spirituality? What if a town in North Carolina holds the key to bringing harmony to the world? Readers who enjoyed The Historian and The DaVinci Code will enjoy The Star Family.”   –Dr. Craig Atwood, Moravian College, Director of the Center for Moravian Studies

For more information, please visit theresacrater.com.

Congratulations, Theresa!

Interview: Judy Alter

Please welcome Judy Alter, author of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My idea of a perfect day is to spend the morning at my computer, maybe with time out for my yoga routine, eat an early lunch widangercomeshometh a glass of wine, nap, get my grandson from school and do his homework, and spend the evening dining with friends, end the day with a book of more work at my computer. Ah, heaven!

 Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I wear Jean Naté cologne, and my grandchildren have been known to say I smell like my house.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Fred Erisman, once my graduate school prof and now a longtime good friend; my mother, who taught me to love books and to cook; Susan Wittig Albert, who told me to join Sisters in Crime and gave me insights into the world of writing mysteries when I thought I couldn’t do it.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No. Sometimes I have the TV on but muted.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Milk chocolate with chopped peanuts and jalapeno—-sweet yet hot—-and my favorite chocolate.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Danger Comes Home is the fourth Kelly O’Connell Mystery. I wrote it because I didn’t think Kelly’s accidental involvement in criminal situations is over yet. The main idea that came to me was rescue of an abused child, but I can’t bear to write about physically abused children, so Jenny is emotionally abused—-still hard.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Family, neighborhood, women’s issues, food

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Kelly O’Connell, about whom I’ve written the most, was autobiographical at the beginning—-a single parent, a career, curiosity about people, love of old houses. She’s grown . . . and married . . . during the series, becoming more self-confident but she still gets in trouble trying to help others. She can’t resist.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I’m absolutely at a loss on this question. Kelly O’Connell is who she is—-maybe a dash of Erma Bombeck, though not as humorous and clever; a bit of Agatha Christie in that she always walks into “situations”; and a wee smidgen of June Cleaver, because she really is a good mother.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

I’d probably invite the authors, mostly from Sisters in Crime, whose work I enjoy today: Polly Iyer, Kaye George, Julie Hyzy, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Deborah Crombie, and Diane Mott Davidson

What’s next for you?
One novel each in my two series, Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries—Murder at Tremon House comes out in February, and the fifth Kelly novel, probably Deception in Strange Places, is due next July. I’ve written a stand-alone which I’d like to edit, polish, and possibly self-publish as my next big project.


An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of four books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, Trouble in a Big Box, and Danger Comes Home. She is also the author of Murder at the Blue Plate Café.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame.

Judy is retired as director of TCU Press and the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven. She and her Bordoodle, Sophie, live in Fort Worth, Texas.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857?fref=ts
Buy link: http://www.turquoisemorningpress.com/p/bookstore.html
Judy’s Stew http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com
Potluck with Judy http://potluckwithjudy.blogspot.com
Twitter: @judyalter