Zooming with Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copy

If anyone had said to me six-months ago a large part of being an author in today’s world would be virtual, I would have laughed in his or her face. So much for reading the future. Before the pandemic, I did my share of in-the-flesh panel discussions, book signings, writers’ meetings, board meetings i.e., the basic tools of the trade. They were enough of a trial. Back in the day, the Bay Area traffic was so bad it would take hours to travel anywhere that wasn’t your local filling station. But here I am, forced into the unlikely reality of Zoom.Zoom

First off, I had no idea how to Zoom. What do you mean, I need a camera? And a mic? Am I going to have to push a bunch of buttons? But soon I realized it was time to come kicking and screaming into 2020. This old Poodle needed to learn a few new tricks. Bow-wow.

So I took a free Zoom online class offered to those like me to learn the rudiments. For the next forty minutes, we rushed through everything that makes Zoom a gift to the virtual world. I watched the clicking of the teacher’s mouse going from here to there and back again while trying to remember what went where. After my class, I asked my heart sister to let me practice on her with a Zoom meeting. She was the ideal person because whatever I did or didn’t do, she would be all-forgiving. I managed to set up the Zoom meeting and it went great. Was this one-on-one Zoom stuff really this easy to do?

Not quite.

To attain a more professional look, I needed an interesting backdrop behind me instead of the basket of laundry sitting on the dining room table waiting to be folded. Or hubby walking by in nothing but his boxers, grateful as I was for him at least wearing those. Then I remembered my class. The look of a real background could be solved by using a virtual one. Virtuality saves the day?

Not quite.

IMG_3460Unfortunately, one has to have a fairly new computer to support this enhancement. I don’t. But wait! I could buy a green screen plus its stand to place behind me. Then a multitude of backgrounds could be superimposed on the green screen.  Once I got that, they said, I could virtually be wherever I wanted to be: the Roman Coliseum, Waikiki beach, or even outer space (which seemed pretty good at the time). Problem solved?

Not quite.

Bela LugosiThe lighting has to be just so, they warned, or you will look like Bela Lugosi. Or in my case, his mom. And the virtual background on its little green backdrop won’t work so well, either. It shouldn’t have too much or too little light, but something just right. Goldilocks aside, now I’m a lighting director?

Not on your tintype.

This all seemed a little too sophisticated for me, so I axed the virtual background thing. But after a bit more research, I did buy a ring light on a mini-tripod that sits behind the laptop. I have to admit, the lighting does smooth out some of the wrinkles in my face…ah…dress.

I’m still looking for that perfect writerly background. I’ve been prowling around the house, laptop and ring light in tow. The only acceptable background I’ve found so far is the bookcase in the bedroom directly across from the bed.  So I set the laptop and ring light on a box on top of the bed because I’ve learned the camera needs to be elevated. This is so my double chins don’t show as much. One hopes. Then I brought in a chair and sat down between the bed and the bookcase trying to look writerly. Not so comfortable and the cat was totally confused. Just who did I think I was dumping all this junk on her bed and interrupting her mid-afternoon nap?

Okay, so I’m still trying to work out the bugs of this new media stuff. I am beginning to appreciate the idea of the green screen. But I am really beginning to appreciate the idea of radio.

 

Guest Blogger – J.L. Greger

TRAVEL DURING THE PANDEMIC

How would you complete this sentence: Be careful what you wish for because…? I suspect most of would say, “…because you may get it.”

I think that expression is apt during the COVID pandemic. Many Americans are bristling under travel restrictions now and dreaming of touring exotic locations. If they swallowed their pride, many would realize they’d be happier reading a novel set in a faraway place while seated in a comfortable armchair than actually experiencing the trip. I could also add that unfortunate travel dilemmas are hilarious when you’re not the one vomiting (I hope I’m not being too blunt.) or losing money.

A BOTTOM LINE FOR AUTHORS This is a good time to include travel in your novels. It will appeal to readers who are beginning to think of grocery shopping as a travel opportunity. You can also develop characters more fully when they are confronted with a challenging location.

Here’s an example. In Dirty Holy Water, my heroine Sara Almquist guesses her boyfriend Sanders plans to propose with the Taj Mahal in the background. A true romantic author would have Sanders propose as they gaze at the Taj Mahal shimmering in the mists at sunrise. As a mystery author who appreciates realistic settings, I felt that a romantic fantasy would leave out more than half the story. See what you think.

The guide promised the group a spell binding view of the Taj Mahal and hurried them off the bus. Sara was skeptical. She could see the gray Yamuna River with yellow mists above it and mud flats next to it. Scraggly greenery and rubble from buildings or walls filled the area between the bus and the river. She guessed the guide’s claim might be exaggerated because only three other buses were discharging tourists. Sara figured at least she wouldn’t be jostled during this viewing of the Taj Mahal and grabbed Sanders’s arm as soon as he alighted.

They strolled along the river. Women in brightly colored saris were washing clothes on the rocks at the water’s edge. Gradually the yellow mist lightened to gray and the outline of the Taj Mahal in a darker gray became visible. Sunlight hit the dome and it began to whiten and shimmer.

Sanders put his arm on Sara’s shoulder and guided her to a low wall. “We need to talk. Yesterday everything was so crowded and noisy. This is quiet but it looks….”

“Like the banks of a river that overflows it banks regularly?”

“Yes, but I expected it to be more refined and romantic.” He fumbled in his jacket pocket.

She realized he wanted to propose and might even foolishly go down on one knee in the mud. That would be a mistake—a funny one. She remembered a quotation from Oscar Wilde: “Nothing spoils romance so much as a sense of humor in the woman.”

She pulled his hand from his pocket and stroked it. “Yes, we should talk but why not after we go back to the hotel for breakfast? We can sit on a comfortable bench in the garden behind the hotel. It will be empty and quiet this morning”

He coughed. “I can’t eat. My gut….”

“I know. We can sip tea and eat a little toast or rice and then relax in the garden by the hotel.”

Blurb for DIRTY HOLY WATER: Sara Almquist is about to become engaged and leave for a vacation in India when she becomes the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Only the friend and her family, well to put it politely, have a couple of dark secrets. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be alarmingly small in a dysfunctional family.

Book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0960028587

Website: http://www.jlgreger.com

Disclaimer and Bio: I love the challenges of foreign travel. I learned more than I taught when I consulted on scientific issues in the Marshall Islands, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. Accordingly, my protagonist Sara Almquist has consulted on science issues in the Middle East (I Saw You in Beirut), in Bolivia (Ignore the Pain), and Cuba (Malignancy) in my thrillers.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janet.greger.3

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/J.L.Greger/e/B008IFZSC4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Starting Afresh, With Hope

by Janis Patterson

Happy New Year! Hopefully 2021 is going to be a better year than 2020. It would have to work very hard to be worse!

I’ll admit I was off my game during 2020, and I’m not sure why. My life did not change that much during the lockdowns. My normal day (if writers do indeed have anything that could be regarded as a ‘normal’ day) consists of spending most of the day sitting in the den in front of my computer all alone with my invisible friends. During the lockdown I spent most of the day in the den in front of my computer all alone with my invisible friends. The only change was that The Husband was here for about two months before he had to go back to work. Then I sat alone in the guest room/my office all alone with my invisible friends. I did miss the lunches with my real living friends, but we talked on the phone and made do with that. I also missed – and still do – our various clubs’ meetings and fear greatly that some of them will not come back after this plague is over.

Now the big change in our lives is The Husband is officially retired as of January 8 and that is a big adjustment for us both. I have pretty much moved my work into my office, leaving the den and the television – and our spoilt and yappy intrusive little dog – to him during the day. The only chore left – and it’s a big one – is to train him that when I am in my office with the door closed I am working. I’m not retired like he is – and has to learn he shouldn’t disturb me unless there is death, flames or blood. I honestly don’t know how that will go; a former Navy captain, he is not used to taking orders.

So – assuming that I am able to work at least semi-uninterrupted in my office – what will I be doing? As I said, I did a lot of goofing off this year, letting my writing and publishing slide, a distressing situation which I must endeavor to correct. I must quit taking an afternoon break bingewatching Netflix and chatting for hours on the phone. I must set up a writing schedule for the year, as I have done for many years before the disaster of 2020, and more importantly stick to it. I must set a daily routine, just as if I had an office job, because we all know writing is not only a real job, it is a strict taskmaster. Dilettantes don’t last long.

Can I do all that and become the hard-working, dedicated professional novelist I used to be? I honestly don’t know. Two years ago after a long recovery following my very first surgery ever I claimed the sloth as my spirit animal, and he is a stern taskmaster. Maybe that’s ‘anti-taskmaster.’ I can find all kinds of real and logical reasons why I shouldn’t get up and accomplish something, and let’s be honest, the madness of 2020 most definitely did not help. Sometimes it takes hours to force myself off the couch and back to the computer. Bad sloth, teaching me such self-destructive but pleasurable habits! Bad me, for giving in to them!

And, to prove I’m really working on it, tomorrow I’m releasing not one, but two brand new books. ROMANCE AT SPANISH ROCK, written under my romance name of Janis Susan May wherein an LA photographer inherits a ranch in Texas’ Palo Duro Canyon, and A WELL-MANNERED MURDER, a murder mystery written under my crime name of Janis Patterson wherein a middle-aged woman trying to survive a divorce is researching a long closed charm school and gets involved with the Kennedy assassination. Both are available as ebooks only (at the moment) on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. You see, I am trying!

2021 will be better. I will see to it. I promise.

New Year, New Chair by Paty Jager

I’m starting this year with a new desk chair and a new perspective of my writing.

The chair. My old chair would make by backside numb when I sat for any length of time in it. I tried one of those egg crate things and it didn’t seem to help either. Not that I sit for long periods of time. With two dogs who seem to think they need to go in and out of the house every twenty minutes, I get up and down plenty during the day. But by mid-afternoon, I couldn’t concentrate because of pain down there.

My new chair in the corner.

I went to a chain office products store and sat in every chair, no matter what the price. I wanted a chair that would be comfortable and I could sit back and type with out hunching over the keyboard or desk. I found the perfect chair…I thought.

It has thick padding, arm rests that fit me just right, and a little bit of a rocking motion. I like to gently rock. Especially when I’m thinking. 😉 Which I do a lot while writing a book, as we all know.

I brought the chair home and it barely fits in the area behind my desk. That’s my fault. I like to be in the corner and look out the window to the front of the house and the door into the main room of house. Which limits me of space because of 1) my husband’s desk and file cabinet. (He rarely sits at his desk. He just stores things on it…) He packs whatever he’s working out out to the nook table early in the morning and does his paperwork there.

Behind my desk looking out.

But I digressed. I love the spot where my desk sits. It makes squeezingh into the chair interesting, but once I’m there, I can put my feet up on a little stool under the desk, pull the keyboard out or set it on my lap, lean back in the chair, and type to my heart’s content. This is the most comfortable I’ve been typing a book since I started writing!

New perspective on my writing. While I tried to limit my goal on the books I plan to write this year, I also gave myself permission to not meet that goal if life intervenes. In the past if I didn’t get books out regularly, I would beat myself up and make myself miserable, pushing to get more written and put the book out there because the reader wanted it.

Now, I write the books I want to write and I still try to keep a new one in each mystery series coming out every 6 months, but I’m not as driven to make sure every genre I write has a book coming out. That was driving me insane. I’m sticking to the genre that has always called to me- Murder mystery.

I’m super excited about the Gabriel Hawke book I’m writing right now. I finally connected with someone who knows a lot about the topic in the book and feel I have enough information to make this a good solid book to help showcase a cause and epidemic that needs more attention. I’ve never considered myself an activist, but I have always been driven to write books about justice. And everyone deserves that.

Next month learn about my decision to end a series and how I hope I didn’t disappoint readers.

Just Like In The Movies

Books have been adapted into movies since Hollywood became the glittering city, drawing hopefuls on stardom promises since the early 20th century. I could look up which movie was the first to adapt its storyline from a novel, but I don’t want to, and that’s not this month’s thesis. But, as the cinematic empire evolved, I found myself thinking about books, and how this medium needs writers to captivate minds enough to open their wallets.

But before books came to be thanks to Johann Gutenberg’s printing press in 1555, what did people do for information and education, to spark dreams and ideas? They told stories. Before then, the poor couldn’t afford books, copying reads to parchment by candlelight was painstaking tedium and boring (could you imagine starting over if you left out a word or wrote one wrong? Yikes!), so oral retellings committed to memory was the only way to share. Not like they had TMZ, Hearst, or podcasts to rely on for such things.

Some stories are lost to time by extinction and elemental damage, unfortunately. But oral traditions in many, many other stories survived the tellings and retellings to captivate the listener in imagination, in laughter or sorrow, or a strong lesson learned. Reading is no different. Again, many thank-yous to our innovator Johann G.
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Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara series and The Magic Kingdom stories, put it best (paraphrasing mine) of this medium: “Reading is the least expensive form of entertainment, but has the most lasting impact. It forces the brain to slow down and process this information, leaving an imprint unforgettable for some time.” And the late, great Paul Harvey once said in his broadcast of a Harry Potter film adaptation release: “Directors of movies think they have the author’s story vision for a blockbuster film, but it’s readers who hold more power. That story in your hands, Reader, is your script. You, Reader, are the true director in which the words feed your imaginations’ worlds (paraphrasing also mine).”

Okay, damn! But he and Paul Harvey weren’t wrong. The books are almost always better, and I speak from experience.

At the time of the 1982 release, I was excited as hell for the adaptation of The Outsiders. You know that story, right? No? Here’s the gist without giving away the story much: a ragtag bunch of guys eventually confronts their more privileged rivals after one kills another in self-defense. There’s more themes in this story than this post permits time for, but while the book brilliantly drew out uncomfortable truths of classism and how some are more equals than others if you have enough money to get you there, the film itself didn’t capture this in the least. Seeing the move on first-night release as an eager 17-year-old, I left disappointed and pissed. Thinking it was just me and expecting the movie to live up to my exprectations, I went again the following night.

Nope–was right the first time, and spot on since seeing this film thereafter: The movie version sucks at worst and passable at best. But hey, the guys playing Two-Bit Matthews (Emilio Estevez), Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio), Sodapop (Rob Lowe), Darry (Patrick Swayze), and Ponyboy (C. Thomas Howell) Curtis were/are super-easy on the eyes. I even thought Diane Ladd (Sherry “Cherry” Valance) was sexy as shit then and still so today. Still didn’t take from the fact Coppola could’ve taken the time to capture on film what Hinton did for me in her story pages–which validated Harvey’s point of the reader’s imagination being the best movie experience far better than any director can do, if he’s doing his job right as the author sure has to do. It’s also reported Roald Dahl–Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and James and the Giant Peach author–thought the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie was atrocious, and loudly voiced his objections (it’d been reported a third into the film, he walked out). I have wondered, though, what his thoughts might’ve been on Tim Burton’s take on the same story, but at least Burton had the stinking decency to stay true to the book! We’ll never know, sadly; Dahl died in 1975.

While watching TCM with my husband Pete one Sunday morning–Noir Alley wirh Eddie Muller, to be precise—we got to talking. The films often don’t do the books justice, but authors have to give more than enough visual guides to feed a reader’s asleep-dreams as directors do for the adaptations, Coppola and Mel Stewart notwithstanding. We authors dream about our scenes, settings, titles, characters’ wardrobe; what they look like, smell like, act like, talk like, are like. But if I’ve done my storytelling job well, what my TOMM cast looks like doesn’t just matter to me, it matters to the one reading me. Say a homeschooled teenager’s reading FROST BITE on the low (his parents are super strict on his book content, and I didn’t exactly craft a work Victorian-era prudent **smirk**). Let’s also say this kid’s bisexual on the rogue. What if he’s wildly in love with my FROST BITE narrator–hey, you’ve crushed on your past book characters, don’t judge! :)–and in this kid’s dreams, my narrator’s good with this, even though he’s told me he’s sunbeam straight? Honestly, there’s nothing either of us can do about that aspect, because I’m not in that kid’s mind as Logan, my MC, is. In other words, it could be Logan’s doppelgänger belonging to this kid who’s enjoying a Luther Vandross and scented candles romp, but the author’s fictional McGuinness isn’t. Or, as the Harry Potter director cast a young unknown at the time named Daniel Radcliffe for the part, the readers and audiences may’ve had a completely different look in mind on a more personal level–their imagination Harry is green-eyed to Daniel’s blue, or their imagination Harry was a taller eleven-year-old than the one for Sorcerer’s Stone (and while on the topic, they couldn’t’ve fitted Daniel with non-Rx green-irised contacts? The movie is pretend, after all! But it’s done, and I digress.).

And then there’s our story of lore in who had to be casted as Margaret Mitchell’s Rhett Butler for the iconic film–no question Clark Gable was the only one to fit that bill (To be fair and in her defense, though I don’t claim to know if Mitchell’d had him in mind while writing GWTW, her knowing the cast so well automatically connected the actor with the character in the readers’ minds before the film came to be–much like we prefer young Elvis over old, or the late Sean Connery as the 007 James Bond.). Does this make sense?

I read a lot as a child, even more when I moved to, and lived in, 6,000-strong Page, AZ in 1980 (pop. today: 73,442, based on most recent U.S. Census compilations). I didn’t make many friends, I was quite ostracized for being different–ho-ho, much like today after shedding three writing orgs, right, #RioLinda? :). Lacking means to get around other than walking, I needed an escape from my family and nothing-to-do-in-Podunk-AZ surroundings. Books were that, like movies and drawing horses were for The Outsiders‘ narrator Ponyboy Curtis. I wore that book out reading it so much, I could near quote whole chapters from memory, which was why the film still disappoints today. Though impressive, it didn’t win me many friends or influence people, writing did. It became another escape, like some watch old movies, or play aquash, or take long distance runs for the same thing. Just like those movies, imaginations are stirred enough to find a fedora to wear like James Coburn or James Stewart did in their films. And on occasion, because of this sparking my imagination, I don’t mind rabbits, love the name Harvey, and look fierce in a fedora.

Books are the readers’ personal movie scripts they get to direct. Some readers may become writers and authors themselves as result. Some stay readers and want more scripts. We spin yarns for your imaginations. And always for ours, too. That’s doing-it-for-Johnny, “Outsider” enough for me.

Words, Words, Words by Heather Haven

Being a writer and author of 14 books and counting, I like to think I know a thing or two about words. However, I am constantly reminded that such is not always the case. I am reminded of this often by my hubby who is a walking dictionary. Truly. I’ve never known the man not to know the meaning of a word in the 41 years we’ve been together. He and Daniel Webster have a lot in common, only hubby is cuter. Sometimes when I run across a word I’ve never seen before and often don’t even know how to pronounce, I will look it up, get the meaning, and then turn to hubby with a quiz. If he doesn’t know the exact meaning immediately, he knows the roundabout. You know, a glimmer of it, enough to use it in a sentence and not make a total jackass of himself. This is where I hee-haw.

The other day I wrote to my doctor asking if it was okay to use melatonin on the rare occasion when I can’t sleep. I have sleep apnea, use a CPAP, and try to be very careful not to impinge my breathing at night. I got a message back from her that dumbfounded me: Answering your question:
Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Having said this is very important to treat sleep apnea with CPAP machine.
Please let me know if you need anything else I will try my best to help!

Okay. I had never seen the word contraindicated before and had no idea what it meant. In fact, I pronounced it con – train- (as in choo-choo train) -di-cated. I was at a loss and turned to hubby. He knew the word, pronounced it correctly, but wanted us to look it up to be sure he had it right. After all, my health was at stake here. So we did. Here’s what I found online:

con·tra·in·di·cate/ˌkäntrəˈindəˌkāt/verbMEDICINEpast tense: contraindicated; past participle: contraindicated (of a condition or circumstance) suggest or indicate that (a particular technique or drug) should not be used in the case in question. “surgery may also be contraindicated for more general reasons of increased operative risk”

I still had no idea whether I could use melatonin with my sleep apnea or not. Hubby was a little flummoxed, as well. So I called my heart sister, who was a medical assistant. I had to read her the message twice, especially the phrase Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Apparently, it was the double negative in the sentence that was confusing, at least once you knew what the word meant. Not contraindicated meant it was okay to use.

This was another reminder to me to watch how how I phrase things. The doctor could have said, Yes, melatonin is fine, Toots, and be sure to use your CPAP. I don’t think we even needed contraindicated in the sentence although now that I know the word I simply love it. Besides, broadening your horizons means learning a new word here and there. And using them. As a wordsmith, I should know that. It’s my bread and butter. But sometimes things that are contraindicated are counterintuitive.

What a Difference a Lockdown Makes

I’ve been sheltering in place, more or less, since mid-March, when I got back from Left Coast Crime, which turned out to be about 24 hours long instead of the usual long weekend. I flew to San Diego on Thursday morning and the San Diego County Health Department cancelled the convention that afternoon. After rescheduling my flight to Friday morning, I adjourned to the bar. Me and a lot of other attendees. Prosecco helps!

A few days later, the governor issued the first stay-at-home order for California. Aside from my weekly jaunts to do errands and buy groceries, I’ve been—no surprise—staying at home. I did venture as far as Sonoma County at the start of the summer. From time to time, I get together for lunch with fellow authors Marcia Muller and Margaret Lucke, at a nice restaurant where we sit and talk as we eat delicious food. Not happening in 2020. We brought our own lunches and ate while socially distanced on a sunny back deck.

That’s the farthest I’ve traveled, including that jaunt to Berkeley to see my dentist after his office finally reopened. The good doctor wore a face shield and one of those paper suits. He ruefully informed me this was the “new normal.” Right now, normal is my collection of masks in a container near the front door, ready to grab and wear whenever I leave the house.

The lockdown of 2020, which has now spilled over into 2021, did not propel me into cleaning house or decluttering the closets. You know, those things I said I would do if only I had more time. Well, I had more time, but I can put that stuff off another year or so, just watch me.

More time to write, yes. And I used it. I finally finished a book called The Sacrificial Daughter.

I started the book over five years ago, in 2015. It took me a long time to write it because I was also writing books for Perseverance Press.

During that time, I wrote two books each in the Jeri Howard series (Water Signs and The Devil Close Behind) plus two books in the California Zephyr historical series (The Ghost in Roomette Four and Death Above the Line). I was under contract to finish those books by a certain date, so they took precedence.

Once I finished each book, I went back to The Sacrificial Daughter, reading through what I’d already written to get the creative juices flowing again, making decisions about characters, settings and point of view.

When the lockdown came in mid-March, Death Above the Line was on its way through the publication process. Suddenly I had time. My 2020 calendar, full of dates to go to the theater, the symphony, museums, now had page after page of cross-outs. Not going anywhere. At that point, I was already well into The Sacrificial Daughter, about three-quarters of the way, with a good idea of how it was going to end—and how to get there.

I got there. I finished the first complete draft. Then I read and tweaked and polished my way through revisions, with an assist from several readers.

I plan to publish the book myself, in my role as one-half of a publishing company called Bodie Blue Books. Back in the day, my publisher handled all that stuff. Now it’s me, shepherding my new book through formatting, cover design, and copyright.

Come February, I hope, The Sacrificial Daughter will be published, by me, in my role as publisher for Bodie Blue Books.

So I did get something done during lockdown, even if it wasn’t cleaning out my closet.

REFLECTIONS OF MY 2020 WRITING LIFE

As you may have already guessed, this past year was nothing like I expected—and no surprise to any of you because your lives weren’t anything like you expected either. For this post, I’m going to stick to what happened or didn’t happen as per my writing life.

Before I’d made up my mind whether or not to attend the two big mystery cons, Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon, both to be held nearby, the virus struck and they were both cancelled.

I’d signed up for a local writer’s conference in March, and it wasn’t long before it was canceled too, as well as the wonderful Central Coast Sisters in Crime conference in April.

My favorite conference of all, the Public Safety Writers Association’s, held in July in Vegas. was axed too. Two big book fairs in October disappeared from the calendar.  In November, I was supposed to be the speaker for the Nightwriters in San Luis Obispo—but of course, that was cancelled too. 

The only in-person event that survived was a two-day holiday boutique held in the Porterville Art Gallery, and yes, I had a booth. People wore masks and kept their distance. I sold books and others sold crafts. No one got sick.

My latest book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series came out, End of the Trail, and I really thought it would be the last in the series. However, I’ve changed my mind, because when I made a trip to visit my eldest daughter, I got a great idea for another  mystery in the series.

I also finished Not As We Knew It in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. I did the forbidden and included the virus because I felt I had to—the series is in real time and to be honest, I had fun writing it.

This is where a problem came along. I’ve always had parties on the occasion of a new book coming out, held in various locations. Of course, this year it couldn’t happen. This meant all my promotion efforts had to be online, and online they were.  I did a free e-book promotion for one of my favorites in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series. It did a fairly good job enticing people to buy some of the other books in the series.

With End of the Trail it was mainly Facebook and Blog Posts. Certainly this was not nearly as profitable as doing in-person events.

What I’ve missed most is my writers’ critique group, being with my writing friends, and sharing out writing.

Lifting my cup of Chai latte, “Here’s to a better 2021 for all of us.”

Marilyn who also writes as F. M. Meredith

Yes, I forgot . . . by Susan Oleksiw

This post is late because, well, I forgot. But I’m in good company. 

My daily newspaper hasn’t arrived for the last four mornings, though one arrived late in the afternoon. This seems to happen every year, right after I send them a check to thank them for their very reliable delivery the rest of the year.

Every year my husband and I pick out a tree about two weeks before Christmas, but this year all the trees were gone by then. Not even a live tree (in a root ball) could be had. So we bought what was meant to be an urn tree, and so we have the smallest tree we’ve ever had. I rather like it—easy to maneuver, easy to decorate, and easy to move back outdoors for the rest of the winter.

Last year we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Salem, MA, but that wasn’t possible this year. Nevertheless, we received an email confirmation for a reservation for Christmas dinner—one year late! 

On dismal weather days, of which we’ve had several, our dog is slow to get moving, which means he wants his morning walk later in the morning, closer to noon. This means that my husband’s midday walk comes earlier. I consider this another category of lateness but my husband considers it an unnecessary disruption to his schedule. In previous years, with a different dog, I had to drag the animal outside. During a snowstorm he would go no farther than the porch. I no longer do that. If a dog wants to go out in bad weather, he can ask.

Every year I make Christmas cookies. This year I burned several—I was late taking them out of the oven—but my husband is too nice to point that out. Besides, they’re still tasty.

My wishes for a Happy New Year are early, which makes a nice change. In 2021 I hope to get in sync with the rest of the world, or perhaps the rest of the world will sort itself out and we’ll all end up on the same page—emerging from isolation grateful to have survived healthy and ready to meet people without fear of infection.  I look forward to being on time in 2021, along with everyone else.

Snow, Snow, Snow!

Every time I watch either A Christmas Story or Prancer on television, I am a kid again in the Mid-West, knee-deep in Christmas snow. And, as everyone knows, a Christmas snow is magic. The stars seem brighter, the possibilities endless, and joy abounds.

In the Mid-West, every hill is a possible sledding hill. The best ones have a stream at the bottom meant to be dodged or jumped. We glided through orchards, through woods, down steep hills fast enough to launch ourselves over that stream and around a corner, laughing the while. We each had your standard flexible flyer, and someone always trailed a toboggan. The type of sled used depended on whether the snow was wet, dry, or icy. The worst part of sledding was dragging your flyer uphill for the next run. And, of course, the occasional crashes.

A certified sledding hill!

Toboggan crashes were the worst, especially when the driver yelled right. Always. Trust me, always, half of the riders leaned right and the other half left.  The toboggan hit the tree dead-center every time, skyrocketing the riders up, out, and head first in the snow. When we were tired beyond standing, bedraggled, and frozen, we lumbered home, sleds and toboggans in our wake.  If we were lucky, a cup of hot chocolate loaded with marshmallows was bubbling on the kitchen stove. If we weren’t, we heated milk and spooned in chocolate powder from a can. It worked.

Back then, we walked to school, the girls in skirts, half-socks, boots (sometimes leggings), coats over the whole, hats and earmuffs and mittens and… The camaraderie of walking, picking up friends at each street corner, teasing, and throwing the odd snowball took our minds off our blue lips and pink legs all the way to our two-story brick school building. Yes, with a flagpole just out front. Cloakrooms were invented for winter. It took us an extra ten minutes to hang up our heavy coats and get our feet out of our dripping boots. Once in class, we spent the day mooning out the classroom window, hoping the snow would stay until the weekend so we could romp and stomp in it until dark, about 4:30 in the afternoon.

A weekend snow was the best. Waking to a sparkling, uninterrupted field of white ripe for snow angels, or a game of fox and goose stomped intricately on the lawn (complete with the berry patch) was heaven on earth. The rules of fox and goose were as loose as the design, sort of a Sorry gameboard but trickier. It was a Dr. Suess version of tag gone mad with safe zones and castle keeps.

I grew up in snow country then joined the Navy and ended up in California. In the second book of the Cooper Vietnam Era Quartet, Head First, Lieutenant Robin Haas, from Michigan, stationed in Monterey, CA, sings my lament.

After five years in California, it still seemed ridiculous…to buy a Christmas tree when it was sixty degrees outside. At least there was some hint of seasons for those on the Monterey Peninsula, though you had to be astute to detect it. Winter was more a chilling down and brightening up than anything. Summers were cold, foggy, and filled with increasing numbers of tourists…  

Robin picked out a six-and-a-half-foot Jackpine from the Christmas trees leaning against the Base Exchange wall. She shook it out to check its shape, ignoring the disapproving Monterey pines that shadowed her in the setting winter sun.

Towhee bathing in a new snow!

A fresh snow still thrills me. Each one holds the promise of fun. I suppose that is why I love to be in our cabin in the Sierras when the flurries begin to fly. The dream of a bright morning sun shining on a field of unbroken snow, waiting for that first footstep, first sled ride, or the first ski run. And is why I dream of buying a little Cape Cod house on a horseshoe-shaped street with the wild toboggan hill (stream at the bottom) just off the next road up but one.

Happy Holidays and Snows to all!

D. Z. Church

Head First is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Head-First-Cooper-Vietnam-Quartet-ebook/dp/B07QG4M97T

A Love Story by Karen Shughart

“He alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.” Khalil Gibran

In the fall of 2016 my mother suffered a series of strokes and went into a nursing home in Pittsburgh, where she lived. My father had died; I became her power of attorney and had her mail forwarded to me here in New York. That December she received a letter with a return name and address that I vaguely recognized. I opened it.

It was letter from a man named Norge Santin, who was inquiring after my mother, our family, and Leonard, my mother’s brother. Then I remembered that Norge was a childhood friend of theirs when they were growing up in Ohio.

My uncle had died earlier that month; after reading the letter I wrote back, apprising Norge of his passing and my mother’s health issues. He responded quickly, saddened by my news. He knew who I was, he wrote, we’d met when my parents lived in Ohio shortly after I was born.

What ensued was a friendship between us, for a time through letters, then by email and phone. Norge grieved with me when my mother passed three years ago and comforted me when one of my brothers died last summer. Each time we made contact, he ended by offering prayers and blessings for my uncle and mother and sending love to me and my family.

He filled in some blanks. I learned that he and my uncle were not just friends, but best friends, starting in third grade. When the two young men graduated from high school they were drafted, it was World War II, and their college plans were placed on hold. Norge returned from the war, got his degrees, married, and had children.

Leonard was not so lucky. Suffering a breakdown during the war from which he would never recover, he spent his remaining years in and out of VA hospitals and group homes. My siblings and I knew his tragic story; our parents made sure he was always part of our lives. What I hadn’t known was that Norge remained a devoted friend to Leonard throughout his life. During visits when Leonard was withdrawn and unresponsive, he’d sit quietly with him, holding his hand.

Eventually our family moved Leonard to Pittsburgh. Norge, despite living in Ohio, continued visiting my uncle until Leonard decided that he no longer wished to see him. Maybe it was too painful to be with Norge, we’ll never know. Norge respected his wishes and never contacted him again, but his love for his friend never ceased; he contacted my mother to receive updates, up until the time when I opened that letter.

By 2019 Norge’s health had declined, he had trouble reading emails and spoke haltingly over the phone. I wanted to meet this man I’d grown so fond of, so that October my husband and I drove to Ohio to visit Norge and his wife, Therese. We were warmly welcomed and spent a lovely afternoon; all of us feeling as though we’d known one another forever.

Because of Covid there were no return visits, but we talked regularly, most recently just before Thanksgiving when I promised to call again before Christmas. Before we ended that conversation, Norge confided he thought his time was near. I told him I loved him, he said he loved me back.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from one of Norge and Therese’s daughters that broke my heart. This tender, humble, gentle and honorable man had passed and Therese, despite her own grief (they were married for 68 years), wanted to make sure I knew. His death, at 94, occurred almost four years to the day of the death of my uncle.

I’m so glad I decided to open that letter, my life is immeasurably enriched because of it. Therese and I share a strong bond; I’ll keep in touch with her and visit when it’s safe. And I miss Norge already. Rest in peace, dear friend.