A Coffee Chat

I’m vis­it­ing Ally Shields for cof­fee and a chat. She asks me ques­tions while we sip. She wants to know all about my next mystery—a YA ghost sto­ry. And, of course, she wants a new fact added to my bio.

Vis­it Ally Shields blog to read about more than just me. She likes to inter­view writ­ers on the para­nor­mal side. Most inter­est­ing.

Radium Girls

Radi­um girls?” What does that mean, you ask. Think “glow in the dark.” Now cast your mind back to the 1920s. Okay, my mind does­n’t go back that far, and I imag­ine, nei­ther does yours.

Let’s start from the begin­ning. I live in Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia, home of Hamil­ton Watch and in the past, anoth­er watch com­pa­ny. A local news­pa­per colum­nist, Jack Brubak­er, has been fol­low­ing radi­um girls. He found sev­er­al, one is 102 year-old Cora Bod­key. When she was four­teen, she worked for Hamil­ton Watch paint­ing radi­um num­bers on watch­es. They used pens instead of brush­es and were warned not to put the pens in their mouths. Even then, in 1926, they knew that many women liked to point their brush­es by mouth and some were get­ting sick. Oth­er than that, they had no clue about radi­um, only that it glowed in the dark.

Even­tu­al­ly, watch com­pa­nies switched to using tri­tium and the gov­ern­ment began to strict­ly reg­u­late its use, although it was less radioac­tive. One woman, who used a brush, remem­bers they test­ed her urine every week, and, although it was always high, noth­ing was ever done about it. Few local­ly knew about any­one being sick, but one remem­bered a woman who died of tongue can­cer.

Radi­um girls were at work in oth­er places before World War I. One always thinks of the world becom­ing more dan­ger­ous. But now, in 2014, we think of a per­son of four­teen as a child, and radi­um as def­i­nite­ly noth­ing to han­dle. Come to think of it, every time I read of the dan­gers of mer­cury poi­son­ing, I remem­ber the time, maybe I was four­teen, when one of us broke a ther­mome­ter. We had a lot of fun rolling those lit­tle gray dots around the floor in semi-liq­uid balls, push­ing them with our fin­gers. Yep, mer­cury.

April Showers-And April Memories

The last day of April, and the rain is pour­ing down. I’m try­ing to remem­ber to sing the words to a song that was pop­u­lar years ago — April Show­ers. I’m try­ing to remem­ber that, accord­ing to the song, show­ers bring May flow­ers, but this isn’t show­ers. It’s a pound-through-the-umbrel­la down­pour.

Okay, instead or look­ing for­ward to those flow­ers, I’m look­ing back to Aprils of past years.

Twen­ty-five years ago the Penn­syl­va­nia Super 7 lot­tery was at a then-record high $115,500,000 jack­pot. Even­tu­al­ly, four­teen win­ners each received $317,524 per year for twen­ty-six years. They have one year more to go. (I don’t remem­ber this sto­ry. I was­n’t into bet­ting on the lot­tery.) I do remem­ber the then-pop­u­lar TV shows: “Alf” “Cheers,” McGyver,” and “Gold­en Girls.”

Fifty years ago the Ford Mus­tang made its debut local­ly, priced at $2,368. After six­ty years in busi­ness, when the 91 year old own­er retired, the Smith­son­ian accept­ed the fix­tures of his phar­ma­cy to cre­ate a “Gay ’90s Apothe­cary” at the muse­um. Movies show­ing local­ly were: “The Hor­ror at Par­ty Beach,” The Curse of the Liv­ing Corpse,” Cleopa­tra,” and “Mus­cle Beach Par­ty,” (at the dri­ve-in with Annette Funi­cel­lo and Frankie Aval­on). I prob­a­bly did­n’t see any of those movies. I was busy with a very young fam­i­ly of small chil­dren, and my hus­band was work­ing three jobs.

Sev­en­ty-five years ago the local library got its very first book­mo­bile. Most of the coun­ty adopt­ed Day­light Sav­ing Time-but one town held out for reg­u­lar time, how­ev­er their banks and busi­ness opened an hour ear­li­er to accom­mo­date their cus­tomers. Pop­u­lar radio shows were “Lum and Abn­er,” “Jack Arm­strong” (the all-Amer­i­can boy‑I do remem­ber that one), “The Lone Ranger,” and “The Green Hor­net.” These were all before I was mar­ried, so this was not my coun­ty. I def­i­nite­ly remem­ber our book­mo­bile com­ing from Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton, and stop­ping at the bot­tom of the hill, after a thir­ty-mile trip.

Now, I have no per­son­al mem­o­ry of one hun­dred years ago. I’m old, but not that old. How­ev­er, local­ly in mid-April it was Cleanup Week. Thou­sands of peo­ple includ­ing chil­dren paint­ed, scrubbed, white-washed, and swept while wan­der­ing judges toured and award­ed prizes. Anoth­er week some two hun­dred peo­ple attend­ed an after­noon social hon­or­ing Nation­al Ral­ly Day of the Suf­fragettes. The event began with singing “The Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic.” Also dur­ing April, “The Last Days of Pom­peii,” a silent mov­ing pic­ture was being shown — admis­sion price ten cents.


Revisiting My Popcorn Tree

Is spring ever com­ing?

Four years ago I was invit­ed to post on the Work­ing Stiffs blog on the last day of March. All month oth­er writ­ers had post­ing writ­ing hints. What could I write? I looked my win­dow and thought—inspiration!

Popcorn TreeWhat did I see? A pop­corn tree. Well, it did­n’t look like a pop­corn tree just then, but it had ear­li­er. I’d had to take a pic­ture. You know it wasn’t ACTUALLY a pop­corn tree. It was a tree with branch­es com­plete­ly devoid of leaves, but snow had gath­ered in so many heavy clumps it remind­ed me of lit­tle pop­corn balls. That day, I decid­ed there had to be a sto­ry there some­where! So, how could I use a pop­corn tree? This is what I wrote…

I’ll go to my inspi­ra­tion col­lec­tion, writer­ly quotes I’ve col­lect­ed over the years. My very favorite is one I’ve print­ed up and taped right over my com­put­er. I glance at it every day, and try to do my best:

That was the moment I changed from an ama­teur to a pro­fes­sion­al. I assumed the bur­den of the pro­fes­sion­al which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writ­ing, and aren’t writ­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly well.” Agatha Christie

But today, I need more advice, some­thing that gath­ers my notes and gives me direc­tion. Per­haps this one:

Keep a note­book, hon­ey, and some­day it will keep you.” Mae West

Sor­ry, not that one. (I could only wish!) Aha! How about the next quote?

The secret of being a bore is to tell every­thing.” Voltaire

Oops, that does SO not go with Mae’s quote. But I have more quotes.

Nev­er con­fuse a sin­gle defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzger­ald

VERY use­ful when one is busy sub­mit­ting that love­ly man­u­script to a mul­ti­tude of agents, but does it help me today? I must dig deep­er.

Always remem­ber, per­se­ver­ance is as impor­tant as tal­ent.” Dean Koontz

The pro­fes­sion­al writer is the ama­teur who didn’t quit.” Richard Back

Yes, I am inspired. I can do it. Let me think a bit. How about a children’s sto­ry. Maybe a pic­ture book man­u­script. Except I’m a mys­tery writer. But are there pic­ture book mys­ter­ies? Could be the first of a col­lec­tion of “what-is-it?” pic­tures, you know, the close-up that doesn’t pro­vide enough exter­nal clues to.… How about an adult mys­tery. It could make a good title: Dead Under The Pop­corn Tree, or Mur­der By Pop­corn. No, no, that’s real­ly bad! How about.… Is that anoth­er quote I hear bang­ing on my door?

Don’t think! Think­ing is the ene­my of cre­ativ­i­ty. It’s self-con­scious, and any­thing self-con­scious is lousy. You can’t try to do things; you sim­ply must do them.” Ray Brad­bury

There you go! And guess what? That’s the quote I’ll use. Just plunk a pop­corn tree down on the web­site, and ram­ble (with quote col­lec­tion in hand).

Have you ever seen a pop­corn tree? How about some oth­er strange and won­der­ful sight that inspired you? Did you find advice that real­ly helped? I must admit, the first one I quot­ed here has helped me through many a ses­sion of writ­ing that was not going par­tic­u­lar­ly well. Do you have a favorite quote?

Yes, that was it. But the web­site, Work­ing Stiffs is no longer active. But they have kept all the old posts active. There are a lot of good posts. Find mine here at Work­ing Stiffs, then look for oth­ers.

Amish Mafia—What’s That?

The Smash­words Read an E‑Book week is over, and what a great suc­cess. I won­der how many books were “sold” at free or half-price. Many copies of my two mys­ter­ies found new homes. I do hope every­one likes their new reads. (Per­haps you will post a review on Smash­words and else­where of the books you read—not just mine, but from any author. To me, that’s half the fun. Well, maybe a quar­ter of the fun.)

My new sub­ject is the Amish Mafia. Is there such a thing as shown on a cur­rent­ly pop­u­lar TV show? Well, I live in Lan­cast­er Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia, where the show is set. From time to time our local news­pa­per fol­lows up on that ques­tion. (Um, I’m think­ing arrest records of the stars, com­ments by the Amish com­mu­ni­ty, and a few oth­er things.) I’ve got to tell you, the con­clu­sion is the only thing “true” about the show is that it IS filmed in Lan­cast­er Coun­ty.

What do peo­ple in oth­er parts of the world think about this? Fol­low this link to the Amish Mafia arti­cle, then tell me what you think. (I par­tic­u­lar­ly like some of the com­ments made at the end of the arti­cle. I also remem­ber see­ing the pre­vi­ous arti­cles that one can click to.)

Free Mystery E‑Books

From March 2 through March 8, 2014, it’s Read an E‑book Week at Smash­words. That means big dis­counts. Many books are on sale, includ­ing my two mys­ter­ies based in the Chesa­peake Bay area.

Death of a Hot Chick and Yes­ter­day’s Body are both free for the week. Find my Coupon Code here on my Smash­words site.


A young wid­ow try­ing to survive…a ghost with an agenda…and a boat they share…

Vio­lent death comes sud­den­ly to Smith Har­bor, the Chesa­peake Bay fish­ing vil­lage with inter­twined and last­ing rela­tion­ships.

Cyd Den­linger wants to for­get her late, phi­lan­der­ing hus­band, keep her fam­i­ly from run­ning her life, and regain her com­mer­cial boat cap­tain’s license. What she does­n’t want is to be involved with an old flame OR a ghost.

But the nag­ging ghost offers a trade that’s hard to resist.

Find my killer!” she demands. In exchange, Cyd will own the boat Snap­drag­on. Easy for a ghost to offer some­thing she can’t use. Not so easy to solve a mur­der with too much help from fam­i­ly and friends.

Not too safe either, espe­cial­ly when Cyd won­ders: Was the killer’s tar­get his vic­tim or her boat?


Jo Durbin was­n’t under 40 or anorex­ic slim. So how did she get the job?

She won­ders, will the police find her fin­ger­prints on the mur­der weapon? And did one of those beau­ti­ful peo­ple she worked with kill Francine?

Or will they point to Jo — pos­ing as a home­less bag lady?

I very much like your voice. You project just the tone and atti­tude I love to read.”: Chris Roer­den, Author of Agatha Award-win­ning Don’t Mur­der Your Mys­tery.

Let’s Celebrate National Pie Day

I found out two days late, that Jan­u­ary 23rd was Nation­al Pie Day. Who knew? But that bit of infor­ma­tion segues right into a sub­ject I want to vis­it. Well, two subjects—pies and moth­ers. Make that four sub­jects. Add books and movies.

Last Sun­day Parade Mag­a­zine includ­ed with our news­pa­per had an arti­cle about an upcom­ing movie called Labor Day. Both the pic­ture (see below) and the sub­ject and title of the arti­cle (Life of Pie) caught my atten­tion. Of course, it’s about pie. Many years ago Joyce May­nard, author of the book of the same name, had spent the sum­mer with her moth­er who was dying of can­cer bak­ing a pie near­ly every day, while her mother’s friends vis­it­ed. She’d rolled out the crust on wax paper, just as she’d learned from her moth­er. That sum­mer inspired her to teach many oth­ers how to make pie. And bak­ing pies inspired her to include a pie-mak­ing scene in her lat­est nov­el, Labor Day.

Pie and a pie-bak­ing moth­er struck a cord with me. My moth­er loved to bake. We always had dessert of some sort, always home­made, usu­al­ly cake or pie more often than cook­ies. We lived on a farm, so we had our own fruit and berries. I espe­cial­ly remem­ber apple pies. After we chil­dren left home, my moth­er con­tin­ued to bake pies. Since she had become dia­bet­ic, she’d bake a small sug­ar-free one for her­self and anoth­er for my dad. Often she’d bake two and give one away. After my father died, Mom still baked. She couldn’t eat all the pies, so she gave them away. A neigh­bor stopped by? Have a pie. Any fam­i­ly activ­i­ty? Bring two pies. A doc­tor appoint­ment? Take a pie for the entire staff to share.

Although I don’t make many pies myself, I learned from my moth­er. She used a board instead of wax paper to roll out the dough. I use a cloth for my rolling sur­face. The author uses wax paper. But we all did one thing the same—use the absolute min­i­mum of cold water when mix­ing the dough. Those mem­o­ries inspire me to see the movie, and def­i­nite­ly to read the book, Labor Day, by Joyce May­nard. (In fact, due to the mar­vels of the inter­net and Kin­dle, I have it already, when a week ago I didn’t even know the book exist­ed.)

Life of Pie-from Parade Magazine

Life of Pie-from Parade Mag­a­zine

The illus­tra­tion with the arti­cle shows the author demon­strat­ing her pie exper­tise to the movie’s stars, Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Josh plays an escaped con­vict who hides out in Kate’s house. He makes the pie in the movie. (Kate came to the demon­stra­tion as she want­ed to learn how to bake pies too.) While they baked and ate three pies, author Joyce May­nard found a pie con­nec­tion with actor Josh. His moth­er, who had died young, had also been a bak­er. I too found a con­nec­tion with both of them—a moth­er who baked pies.

On Amazon’s page for Labor Day, I learned more about the book. It is told from the thir­teen-year-old son’s point of view. More infor­ma­tion about Joyce Maynard’s book can be found here. You can read the entire Parade arti­cle here, see a clear­er pic­ture, and even watch a video of Joyce May­nard mak­ing an apple pie. Inci­dent­ly, the movie will open Jan­u­ary 31. And, for a local humor col­umn on the sub­ject, click on Nation­al Pie Day.

Old News That’s Still New

I’ve been busy which is real­ly not a good excuse. Every­one is busy this time of year—the hol­i­days, vis­its, cook­ing, clean­ing, bad colds—and I’ve had them all. Plus, I’ve been pour­ing over the proof of my new book and dis­cov­er­ing lots of things that need to be changed. But I must take time out to write in my blog. And—I’ve found a good subject—the con­tin­u­ing real­iza­tion that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Every Mon­day our local news­pa­per has a col­umn of old news tak­en from papers 25, 50, 75, and 100 years ago. Yes, our news­pa­per has been in busi­ness that long! (Well, the paper’s name has under­gone a few name changes. It’s now a com­bi­na­tion of the two pre­vi­ous ones put out by the same com­pa­ny.) Would you believe the local news 25 years ago was sim­i­lar to one a fel­low mys­tery writer based her first mys­tery on, and inci­dent­ly, start­ed my habit of clip­ping these columns? The author is Sta­cy Juba, and her book is Twen­ty-Five Years Ago Today. Her book cen­tered around an unsolved mur­der. My local arti­cle tells of an unsolved dis­ap­pear­ance of a 15-year old girl who left with a man “well known to her.” Foul play and her death were feared and she is still miss­ing. Sta­cy, are you up for anoth­er plot? Or, since Sta­cy has sev­er­al oth­er books com­plete­ly plot­ted and pub­lished, am I?

Not only was the 50-year-ago news of a huge snow storm with ultra-low tem­per­a­tures one that I remem­ber well, those ultra-low tem­per­a­tures were repeat­ed this year. For­tu­nate­ly, the twelve-foot drifts weren’t. Of course, that affect­ed the annu­al Penn­syl­va­nia Farm Show—both times. In fact, that hap­pens so often, the fre­quent bad, cold weath­er for the same week is referred to as Farm Show Weath­er.

Now, 75 years ago the weath­er wasn’t real­ly men­tioned. That news was from 1939, a year still in the depres­sion that start­ed ten years ear­li­er and wasn’t com­plete­ly erased until the arms build-up to win World War II began after Pearl Har­bor Day on Decem­ber 7, 1941. Local­ly, 21 “relief chislers” had defraud­ed the gov­ern­ment for a total of $1,408. One woman thought the gov­ern­ment knew she had a job. Her hus­band was in jail and she had to walk ten miles to and from her job. Per­son­al­ly, I think I’d have let her keep the $100.10 she was over­paid. (There are cer­tain facts in this sto­ry that remind me of today as well. Can you say “hard times for many?”)

For­tu­nate­ly, the 100-years ago today sto­ry doesn’t remind me of cur­rent events. A man who owned the local store and ran the enclosed post office came down with “the dread­ed” dis­ease of small pox. Not only was his busi­ness estab­lish­ment quar­an­tined and closed, but his entire fam­i­ly was quar­an­tined and two near­by schools were closed for two weeks.

Have you heard any old news late­ly that could have been said about yes­ter­day as well? If my com­ments sec­tion is work­ing, I’d love to hear it.

Does This Look Like Thanksgiving?

A welcoming door

A wel­com­ing door

Thanks­giv­ing is all about fam­i­ly around the fire, turkey with all the trim­mings, bless­ings, falling leaves, and nip­py weath­er, right? Not always. We vis­it­ed our Flori­da daugh­ter and grand­chil­dren.

Florida Sunset

Flori­da Sun­set

We vis­it­ed the beach where our grand­daugh­ter took a fab­u­lous sun­set pic­ture of her moth­er for her class. We ate lots. Daugh­ter and I worked on for­mat­ting the final ver­sion of my new book. (More about that lat­er.) And we dropped grand­son off at col­lege after his break and came home. Okay, he drove, but it was our car.

Yep, we came home, short­ly to see a lit­tle more than nip­py weath­er.

Early December Snow in Pennsylvania

Ear­ly Decem­ber Snow in Penn­syl­va­nia

How was your Thanks­giv­ing? Did you cel­e­brate in the tra­di­tion­al man­ner?

Looks like the com­ment sec­tion is not work­ing again. You may com­ment on the con­tact page. I’d love to hear from you!


Cover Reveal

Some­thing new is com­ing. My first young adult book, Cher­ish, is about to come on the scene.

From the back cov­er:

Cher­ish can’t be my name. It does­n’t sound right. But who am I? I should have lis­tened bet­ter to that mini-psych course in mid­dle school. I’ve heard of bi-polar and mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties. I think. Is this the way peo­ple go crazy?

Kay­la should­n’t have tak­en that strange girl’s hand, because that’s when every­thing changed.

And, was­n’t it the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry? What’s with the date, Octo­ber, 1946? That can’t be right. It’s the same school, sort of. The same town, but dif­fer­ent.

But, if she is Cher­ish, how about the date on that tomb­stone? If she does­n’t find a way back to her own body, in her own time…,

Kay­la will die in a few days.