Agatha Nominee-WRITES OF PASSAGE

WRITES OF PASSAGE frontMy five-star pick this week was nominated in the non-fiction category and includes essays from 59 Sisters in Crime members (I’m one of them). Hank Phillippi Ryan edited Writes of Passage and is the author of a mystery also up for an Agatha. Publisher. Henery Press, is a hot-bed of Agatha winners and nominees. With a line-up like that, how can this book miss?

Readers agree. This is one review on Amazon. 

“I purchased this book to support Sisters in Crime. What the heck, I thought. I can read a story a day with my tea in the morning. Then I can read my “other book” later in the day. Except I didn’t. I found myself reading four or five stories in the morning (each one is about 2 pages), and then picking it back up later in the day. So much for my “other book!”
“If you’re a beginning, established or emerging writer, or simply interested in the writing journey, there’s something in Writes of Passage for you. Many somethings. Encouragement, passion, truth, advice, humor and angst resolved.
“I won’t pick my favorite stories here — couldn’t if I tried. But I will give a major kudos callout to Hank Phillippi Ryan’s exemplary job of editing. This could have been just a bunch of stories. Instead it’s a cohesive blend of many voices, coming together as one.”
For two months, Sisters in Crime posted a clip from each author. This one was from my contribution called: The Guppy Connection. “I’m a Guppy who is still learning, but also offering any help I can to my favorite group.” (That’s the Guppy chapter—originally named for the Great UnPublished, but now, many consider themselves the Great Under Published, as many have gone on to publishing even multiple mystery series.)

Eagles on the Nest

The temperature is about to hit zero in my part of Pennsylvania. Who knew it is eagle nesting time? Not me, until I noticed an article about a nearby eagle nest with an eagle cam mounted to see all the eagle’s intimate moments. Laying egg one? Got that. Egg two? You bet. I just checked the eagle cam and saw one of the eagles standing by, watching the eggs, before she (or he—they take turns) settled back down.

I also learned a little bit about eagles and their eggs. Cold as it is, it evidently doesn’t hurt the eggs to be uncovered for ten or so minutes. In fact, that keeps them from being overheated. Another fact—it takes thirty-five days for an egg to hatch.

Here’s a few links to follow our local eagles, named Liberty and Freedom by newspaper readers. That’s unofficial, since the Pennsylvania Game Commission, whose camera is livestreaming these eagles and their nest, does not “personify wildlife.” (I should imagine the eagles are unaware of these names as well.)

The Valentine’s Day love story.

The first egg. The second egg.

And, since every story should have a bit of controversy—were the eagles scared off the nest?

And here’s the eagle cam, so you can watch at any time. Plan on viewing on March 21, the estimated time for the first hatching.

Are there any eagle cams near you? Are there any other animals watched by camera?

Five Stars for MAIDS OF MISFORTUNE

My five-star pick this week combines two of my loves—mystery and historic fiction. Maids of Misfortune takes place in 1879 San Francisco. A young widow supports herself as boarding house owner Annie Fuller, and, in disguise, as psychic Sibyl who gives personal and financial advice to clients. As a woman, she knows that no one would ever accept such advice from her, but they will accept it as coming from the stars. When one of her clients dies, supposedly by suicide, she knows his finances weren’t in the shambles the police claim. When the police realize it was murder, they look to his family. Annie poses as a serving girl for the family to find the truth.

The author, M. Louisa Locke, seamlessly puts the reader squarely in that time and place. While we are engrossed in the plot we notice the work involved to keep up a house, the attitudes of everyone toward a Chinese cook, Annie’s belated realization of what her laundry girl does, and the problems of travel and communication in an earlier age.

Maids of Misfortune is the first of a series (the ebook is now free). There are several short stories as well. The fourth full-length mystery in the series will be out this month.

Of interest to the writers among my readers, M. Louisa Locke’s blog shares her ongoing marketing plans for an independent writer. (Next week I’ll revisit the upcoming Agatha awards with another good read.)

What is it about Grandmas?

I remember, when I was a little girl, my grandmother was a police matron. This was in the 1930s, way before women were in the regular police force. She was there for questioning female prisoners. Once she even arrested a man she recognized from a local wanted poster. She walked up to him, told him she had a gun in her purse, and requested that he walk with her to the police station. He did.

Somehow, I don’t think that would work today. But grandmas have a surprising amount of authority. Think about it. They’ve raised children, and raised them well enough so those children are now parents. I think it’s that voice and look of The Mother. The child knows exactly what it means.

So, I was not surprised at all to hear about a grandmother who is a bouncer at a local high-end restaurant. When asked, What do you do when people get unruly? she replied: I can sit there and not say a word, and I don’t know how many times people say to me, “You scare me.”

To see the rest of the story, and view a pleasant-looking woman, go here.

I would not be surprised if, among any group, and especially among writers, there are quite a few grandmas with amazing stories. Am I right? Is/was your grandmother one of those amazing women?

Agatha Nominee-CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE

My five star pick today is a two-fer—five stars plus Agatha nominee for Best First Novel!

It’s winter, the snow is piling high, and Zoe Chambers, paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania is on the road with the emergency vehicle, trying to save lives. But someone is murdered, and in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, there are a lot of secrets and connections.

I read Circle of Influence last May with lovely warm sunshine, but author Annette Dashofy made me feel every bit of icy precipitation as I settled down to read one great mystery, with unexpected revelations on almost every page.

If you haven’t yet read Circle of Influence, snuggle into a blanket before a roaring fire and settle down to read one great not-quite-cozy mystery with an excellent plot and memorable characters. And, if you attend Malice Domestic in May, consider voting for Circle of Influence.

Quilts and Barns

How do quilts, a handmade bedcover, and barns, a large building forquilt-barn cows, go together? Answer—when a barn sports a quilted decoration.

It’s a natural for the place where I live, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the home of Amish quilts, dairy farms, fields of hay and corn. But we are sort of a Johnny-come-lately. Quilt trails are found in 48 states and Canada. A local quilting farm woman saw her first barn quilt in Ohio which inspired the one profiled in our local newspaper.

Some 7,000 wooden or Mylar quilts were created by groups such as the Grange (a farming organization I belonged to as a teenage farm girl). They can be found following quilt trails, and they aren’t all on barns.

Here is the article from our local newspaper. And, of course, something so popular has its own Facebook page.

I had never before heard of quilts on barns, or quilt trails. In the summer, we have corn mazes, tours of dairy farms, and Hershey candy factory. Do you have similar activities where you live? I’d love to hear about them.

Five Stars for LOWCOUNTRY BOIL

I read Lowcountry Boil two years ago, shortly after it was published by Henery Press. Then I went to my first ever Malice Domestic in 2013, and voted for it to win as Best First Novel of 2012. Of course, I was sure I’d picked a lot of other winners as well, but Lowcountry Boil was the only winner I picked. Since I was sitting at one of the Henery Press tables, I got a front row seat as the other Henery Press authors helped Susan Boyer celebrate.

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

Susan Boyer-Agatha winner

To do justice to this book, I’m rereading it now, and enjoying it just as much as I did the first time. Some things come back to me immediately. I remembered the ghost (I love ghosts). When the locket turned up, I thought, aha! Other plot points had slipped my mind. Oh, yes, now I remember, I thought as a new danger unfolded.

But this isn’t telling you about a great read. A Great Winning Read! Not only did it win the Agatha, but it won the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery Suspense.

The lowcountry of the story is a South Carolina island along the Intracoastal Waterway (Did I pass it on one of several boating trips, I wonder?) It’s a close-knit community of friends, relatives, and often, enemies who may be both friends or relatives.

Liz returns to the island homestead after her grandmother dies. She learns it was murder. So, why would anyone kill a sweet old lady? There are conspiracies afoot, and a ghost who confers with Liz, looking to save the island from the bad guys.

Are the problems broken marriages, land grabs, long remembered slights? Or, none of the above? Although Liz runs her own private investigation agency in the city, her brother, the local police chief, does not want her help in solving one murder and trying to prevent further mayhem.

Other reviewer comments: “I can see why this debut mystery is getting a lot of buzz.”

“The paranormal aspect adds to the story rather than taking it over, striking the perfect balance.”

“A Southern Mystery to be Savored!”

I agree with all of them.

A Writing Room

A room dedicated to writing—that’s an ideal for any author. Or not. Some authors prefer toting a laptop or pencil and paper to the local coffee shop, or outdoors where there’s a lovely view and pleasant weather.

Years ago, when I was a twenty-something and living in Seattle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My brother had a beautiful voice, my sister played the piano. I had illusions of a family trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a boarding house with a landlady who said, “No practicing at MY piano,” I rented a practice room several days a week. All around me, others behind other doors practiced voice, clarinet, bassoon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I started writing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writers who rented office space, set it up with typewriter (before most people used anything resembling computers), and escaped into another world. I set up my typewriter in the basement. After a while, I, too, had a computer.

Fast forward a lot of years, and my husband and I are living in retirement. Our children have children, and even a grandchild. I have my writing space in the retirement home basement. I don’t need to escape from a hectic household. But a couple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local building, a restored tobacco warehouse divided into individual offices.

Gee, should I consider that?

Nah. I look out my window, and think—drive through weather like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with articles I must save, my desktop computer, my printer, my rolling chair, the full bookcases surrounding me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change perfection?

I’ve always wondered—does taking your work to a new place, one without a dishwasher to empty, a dirty clothes hamper full to overflowing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writing?  Or, does taking oneself away from daily life also take away the inspiration? Somehow, I think that answer changes by individual, and perhaps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried moving your work to a new space?

Five Stars For JUST ADD WATER

I didn’t have to dig very deeply into my favorites list to come up with 5 star A Just Add Water by Jinx Schwartyz. I understand that this author is as at-home on boats as she is in front of her computer writing about Hetta Coffey.

Hetta doesn’t have a boat as the book starts. She has women friends, an ex fiancé, and a dog named RJ. Let’s just say, boy friends come and go, and their coming isn’t always good. Could be fatal, as a matter of fact. But, oh, that does make for good reading!

The dead body doesn’t appear right away, but the action is non-stop. Hetta is after a man, any man. Perhaps buying a boat is the way to go. Then, again, perhaps not. But Hetta has a boat, and she is intends to learn how to use it. (That’s a quote, more or less, from the author’s tweets, “Hetta has a boat and she’s not afraid to use it.”)

This is my first Hetta Coffey Mystery and won’t be the last! I read Jinx Schwartyz’ Land of Mountains before giving it to a granddaughter and absolutely loved it. It is semi-autobiographical. I don’t think Just Add Water is, but it certainly could be, if the child in the earlier book grew up to get involved in murder instead of just into boats.

I’d like to quote from a few others who liked this book:

“First, I must say this book was a chuckle a minute—except for the parts not designed to elicit chuckles, of course.”

“Whether you’re a fan of mystery, chick lit, or humor, you’ll be a fan of Hetta Coffey and author Jinx Schwartz.”

“Hetta is brash and bold with a mouth that doesn’t have much of a filter.”

There are many more reviews, but that gives you an idea. Almost all of them are positive.

Just Add Water is available here.

Cloud Nine

Cloud Nine

Of course, I know a little something about boats as well. Just for kicks, I’ll add a picture of the boat my husband and I sailed for a good many years. We didn’t find any killers, but we did run into a few killer storms. And, knowing a little bit about boats myself, only made me appreciate Just Add Water even more.

Does knowledge of the subject affect your reading? I know, if an author doesn’t get something right that I do know about, that does affects my reading pleasure. It down-right destroys it.

A Bionic Hero

This is a story that unites recovery from the Boston Marathon bombing, my memories, and a young man who lost his legs to mountain climbing while still in high school. Hugh Herr was the boy’s name, and I followed his progress in the media. He attended a neighboring high school; I met his parents, and even a sister at one time or another. His first ambition was to get back on the mountains, climbing. And he did. He learned how bionic legs work, invented his own bionic feet to help him climb, and conquered impossible mountains.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. He left the mountains and returned to bionics. Together with other experts at MIT, he now works to help amputees returning from war as well as the dancer who lost her foot in Boston. The local article that reminded me of this amazing man is “Hugh Herr and ‘the healing power of high technology’.” From that article, I found the site and video (at the end) with Hugh Herr’s talk and Adrianne Haslet-Davis‘ dance. Mr. Herr includes videos of his teen-age climbs, explains the progress of bionics, and shows a variety of examples as he walks on his bionic legs. The dancer gracefully demonstrates the fulfillment of her dream. Both are truly inspiring.

This post is nothing about books, but one that’s inspired me for years and one that I wanted to share. There are many such people, even though we writers focus on the evil and dangerous to amuse our readers. Of course, each story must include a hero, one to bring the world back into balance. Just for today, I want to focus on those heroes in life.