Guest Bloggers- Dr. Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

The Working Stiffs: How We Get Our Ideas

by Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell

Judy: I do autopsies in a big city medical examiner morgue. The murder mystery ideas come strolling through the door most every day!

T.J.: Take the plot of First Cut, our debut novel. The seed for the story came from an actual homicide, where Judy got called out to the death scene. The decedent was a petty thief. He jacked a laptop off a man sitting in a café—and the robbery victim pulled out a gun. He shot the thief a bunch of times, in front of witnesses and under security cameras, took the computer out of his dead hands, and walked away.

Judy: I was there to answer questions from the homicide detectives about the gunshot wound trajectories, but all I kept thinking was, “what was so important on that laptop that someone would kill over it?” The book’s story took off from that mystery.

T.J.: You see a lot of overdoses, too. Those came in handy for First Cut.

Judy: Fatal drug overdoses are fascinating to me, because they can be any of several manners of death. When a poison is self-ingested, it could be a suicide or an accident. If it is administered by another person, it could be a homicide. It’s the same cause of death—a poisoning—but the actions people take behind that poisoning might be accidental, intentional, or nefarious. It’s my job to make that call. The police only get involved when we are certain the case is a homicide.

T.J: And even then you can’t always convince them. The tension between the determination of the medical examiner and the findings the police can make for some juicy conflict.

Judy: Just like the tension between the district attorney trying a case and the medical examiner who gets called as a witness. Trial lawyers have to build their cases based on what the witnesses are claiming, but if those witnesses are lying—or just mistaken—their testimony might not comport with the ME’s physical findings from the autopsy.

T.J.: So that’s how we work. Judy brings these stories home and we toss them around until we’ve come up with the case-based outlines for a murder plot. She gives me the story and I work to fashion it into the narrative structure of the American noir detective novel—our corner of the genre-fiction world. When I get stuck, we talk out additional scenarios from her long experience in forensic investigation, and the plot gains a new twist. She never lets me cut corners with the science, though!

Judy: It can be really satisfying—because, unlike in real life, we get to determine the outcome of the cases and the fates of the characters. We take poetic license in the narrative, but we always write our mysteries with scientific rigor, too. It’s a lot of fun!

First Cut

A young rookie medical examiner. A suspicious case. An underworld plot only she saw coming.

From the New York Times bestselling authors of Working Stiff

For San Francisco’s newest medical examiner, Dr. Jessie Teska, it was supposed to be a fresh start. A new job in a new city. A way to escape her own dark past.

Instead she faces a chilling discovery when an opioid-overdose case contains hints of something more sinister. Jessie’s superiors urge her to close the case, but as more bodies land on her autopsy table, she uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate plot involving drug dealers and Bitcoin brokers.

Drawing on her real-life experiences as a forensics expert, Judy Melinek teams up with husband T.J. Mitchell to deliver the most exhilarating mystery of the year. Autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she has seen it all—even if it means that the next corpse on the table could be her own.

https://www.amazon.com/First-Cut-M-D-Judy-Melinek-ebook/dp/B07P1B4CJL

Bio: The Working Stiffs are the married writing team of forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek and writer T.J. Mitchell. They are coauthors of the New York Times bestselling memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Scribner, 2014), and the new novel First Cut, the debut in a forensic detective series from Hanover Square Press. Its sequel, Aftershock, is coming in February, 2021. You can follow the Working Stiffs on Twitter @drjudymelinek and @TJMitchellWS, and Facebook/DrWorkingStiff.

What to Write, What to Write, What to write? by Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copyThey say A Day Without Writing is Like a Day Without Sunshine. Unless ‘they’ don’t. Maybe nobody else says that but me. I know I’ve been paraphrasing something or other for so long, I can’t even remember what the original phrase is. A Day Without Wine is a Day Too Sober?

Hmmm. Maybe not.

In any event, for the past few days, I have CCFAC-SMdone very little writing. July 1st saw the preorder status for Casting Call for a Corpse, which debuts August 1st, and I am at loose ends. I know I want to start another book as soon as possible, but which series do I choose?  I am at a loss as to what that book should be. I was thinking to start Spring Thaw, Book 2 of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Novels. But then, Percy Cole is calling me to write The Mother’s Day Murders, Book 4 of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries.  Then, of course, I could write Book 3, Divorce Can Be Murder of the Love Can Be Murder Mystery Novellas. And let’s not forget….wait. I just forgot.

Oh, yes! I could start Book 8 of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, titleless at the moment. But let’s face it, Book 7, Casting Call blah blah, hasn’t even gotten off the assembly line yet. What to write? What to do?

So here’s what I’ve done. Or am doing. I’m sending out a survey in my next newsletter asking my readers which series they like the best, from which series they’d like to have the next book. On a lot of levels, the question is presumptuous. I am assuming that these people will take the time to respond, care enough to respond, or even read my work in the first place. Then I add to the presumption by asking if they will be reading more of my work.

But what they hey. This is my 14th novel and sometimes I wish I had my nerve in my teeth. If you can’t throw out a little presumption at my age, when can you?

You know what this all stems from? Or rather, from which all this stems? Loose ends. This is the most useless time to be a writer that I know. That’s because, as I’ve stated, A Day Without Writing is Like a Day Without Sunshine.

Guest Author June Trop

ANCIENT FORENSIC SCIENCE

My mysteries are set in Roman-occupied Alexandria during the first century of the Common Era. Why then? Well, one reason is I thought my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, wouldn’t have to deal with forensic technology. Little did I know that, although the Romans didn’t have a formal body of forensic knowledge, they used some methods similar to what we have today. One example is bloodstain pattern analysis.

In The Deadliest Sport, Miriam examines the blood spatters in the room of a sleazy waterfront inn to solve a “locked-room mystery”, that is, a mystery about a crime, usually murder, that appears impossible to have been committed. The crime need not take place inside a locked room, as it does in The Deadliest Sport, but in any utterly inaccessible place.

The most famous case of a Roman jurist analyzing a bloody handprint is titled “Paries Palmatus” or “The Wall of Handprints.” A blind son is accused of stabbing his father in his sleep to obtain his inheritance. Purportedly, the blind man took his sword from his room, walked across the house in the dead of night, and entered his father and stepmother’s bedroom. Then he stabbed his father once, killing him instantly without waking his stepmother, who found her husband dead in bed when she awoke. A trail of bloody handprints led from the parents’ room back to the blind son’s room, and his blood-covered sword was found as well.

The defense argued that the stepmother did it, upset because she would lose out on the father’s fortune to his blind son. So, she framed the blind man using his own father’s blood:

It was the stepmother, yes, the stepmother who set this up with her sure sight; it was she, with her right hand, who brought that poor blood there and made the imprint of [her] hand [on the wall] intermittently! The wall bears the imprints of one palm, has them at intervals, with a certain empty space in the middle, and everywhere the palm-print is intact; a blind man, on the other hand, would have dragged his hands [along the wall].

What other forensic techniques did the Romans use? Emperor Tiberius used footprints and drag marks to argue that his praetor, Silvanus, threw his wife out their bedroom window rather than, as the husband asserted, she chose to jump. Unfortunately for Silvanus, the marks of her struggle and his forcible ejection convinced the Senate of his guilt.

The point for me was that I learned every setting, especially a historical setting, is going to have its challenges, even its surprises. So, set your story in a time and place you’ll enjoy researching and then take your readers there. 

FOR THE DEADLIES SPORT by June Trop

Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?

Buy links: https://www.amazon.com/Deadliest-Sport-June-Trop/dp/1626947554

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-deadliest-sport-june-trop/1127167995

As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling.

Her books have been cited for excellence at the New York Book Festival, by Wiki Ezvid, the Historical Novel Society, and as a 5-star Readers’ Favorite.

An active member of the Mystery Writers of America, June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, NY where she is breathlessly recording her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.

Connect with June on her website www.JuneTrop.com or her Facebook page: June Trop Author.

Writer’s Block or Writer’s Rest

During the last month or so my mind has been a blank. I haven’t had a single new idea and have plodded forward on the fiction I’ve been working on—editing and proofing—all the while wondering where I would be when this work was finished. This is called writer’s block, but I have learned to call it Writer’s Rest.

At first I called it a drought. I felt dry, used up, empty, as though I had reached the end of the line, the finish line for fiction, the moment when I retire and try something else. Photography? Embroidery? Gardening? Sleeping? I’ve been dabbling in these for years. Was one of them about to take center stage? Unlikely. I began writing as a teenager and knew at once that this was something I had to do. The desire was far stronger than something I wanted to do. It was something I had to do, something I could not not do.

Over the years I’ve become accustomed to my personal quirks and mostly learned to live with them. Inspiration comes in the form of a general idea for a short story or a novel, the vivid image of a person or a situation from which a character emerges. In the AHMM July/August 2020 issue is my story “The Pledge.” The idea came from a news report of a police chief talking about a young man from the Midwest who got himself into trouble in the winter because he couldn’t read the landscape—what looked familiar to his rural eyes was quite different in New England. The police chief’s comments remained with me until the story idea shook them into shape.

In another short story I was struck by the relatives of a foster child who tolerated him but didn’t really want him around. He showed up after school and lingered till he was sent home at dark. This seemed cruel until it occurred to me there might be a reason for their awkwardness. From that came “Just Another Runaway” in AHMM November/December 2019.

These and other story ideas show up on their own, not when I’m rattling around at my desk looking for a good writing prompt and definitely not when I’m trying to force an idea into existence. Since I’m writing every day, you might say I always have a writing prompt in progress so what need do I have for more? Well, how about the moment Writer’s Block hits?

My suggestion in this post is different. It is to think about the purpose of a month or perhaps only a week of writer’s block. While I’m fretting about coming to the end of my career, my unconscious is rearranging the snippets of life I’ve collected and looking for something interesting, intriguing, riveting, revealing. My unconscious is at work creating while I’m fretting consciously about losing my imagination to ageing or boredom or something else.

While I typed the first few words of this blog post I got an idea for a short story and had to stop to write it down. Fifty years ago I met a Catholic priest who had such a clear dislike for secular women (and perhaps women religious as well, though I can’t say) that I had to force myself to keep appointments with him and conduct the business I was required to do. That kind of experience remains with you, and as I began typing this evening, the story revolving around him finally came to me. I’ve waited for a long time for this. After fifty plus years I’m going to get that man out of my head, and in a way that preserves his offensive biases and the damage they can do.

When I’m not obsessed with it, Writer’s Block is nothing more for me than the required rest for my unconscious to work out problems and deliver the results to my conscious mind. Sometimes a number of ideas arrive all at once in an afternoon, so I spend a few days trying them out. Do they resonate with something I learned or experienced recently? Do they give me a new way of looking at someone or a particular problem? Do I feel this will lead to personal discovery and deepen my understanding of a character? By asking these questions I get deeper into the idea and discover if it will sustain attention over several pages or thousands of words. Is there a story here worth the effort? Am I drawn in deeper just by thinking about it? If the idea falls apart on closer inspection, then I’m glad to let it go. But if it rewards me with twists and surprises, then I’m glad to write out a short paragraph about it and think about when I can begin work.

My drought, or Writer’s Rest, has ended. It came to an end while I was preparing this blog post and left me an idea for a short story featuring Ginny Means, a social worker, and a novel featuring a fortuneteller who has more talent than she realizes. I’d say that’s a pretty good ending to what can be a grim time.

Questioning Everything

This is actually a good place to be, though it sounds dismal. I’m questioning why I’m writing my work in progress. Readers get very attached to my series characters, but in each book there needs to be something meaningful to engage them as well. The story needs marrow in its bones. The key question is: why do I need to tell this story?

The problem with my work in progress is that the initial idea intrigued me and amused me, but it didn’t make me excited or impassioned. The villains were “inspired,” if I can call it that, by people who annoyed me, not people who outraged me. None of my villains are murderers, but they use, betray, and manipulate people in a variety of ways, based on actions that have appalled me in real life. A clever plot and a great setting blinded me to the weaknesses in the work in progress. I started it three years ago, set it aside to write book seven, Shadow Family, and now that I’ve resumed revisions on book eight, I understand why it’s been so hard to finish.

Perhaps I can recycle elements but change the villains and the crime. Or perhaps I simply need to start over from scratch. What matters is the quality of the book, not the speed at which I finish it. I’ve always been a slow writer, and I’m willing to slow down more to get this book to work.

As I said, I’m questioning everything, and glad I’m doing it.

My Early Experience with E-Books

Final Respect full cover 2020This is the first of my books that was published as an e-book. Unfortunately at the time, there was no such thing as an e-reader. If you could figure out how to buy it (complicated) it had to be read on the computer.

E-publishing progressed, and a Rocket E-Reader came along that made reading e-books a great experience. It had many of the features of a Kindle, though bigger, it was back-lit and if you fell asleep while reading it shut off automatic. My husband and I showed the Rocket off at a writers’ convention and were disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm.

I joined an organization called Epic that was for authors who were electronically published, and these folks made up tor others not wanting to even hear about e-books.

When I went to a big writers’ conference in California where I live, I brought up the subject of e-books and was treated like a heretic. I was battered with comments like, “An electronic book is not a real book.” “A book has to be in paper and smell like a book.” People booed, laughed and made rude noises. I often wonder if any of them ever remember that time. Many of the writers who said e-books would fade away are now happily published electronically.

My first e-book, Final Respects, was subsequently published by four more publishers, both as an e-book and in paper. One publisher didn’t bother to keep track of sales, another decided not to be a publisher anymore, one died, and my last one who took over that house and it’s authors, became too busy. It’s now been re-edited and self-published, along with other books in the series.

Needless to say, I’m still happy with e-books.

Marilyn who writes the Rocky Bluff P.D.series as F. M. Meredith

To buy the e-book, Final Respect go to:https://www.amazon.com/Final-Respects-Rocky-Bluff-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B08B6F4STF/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Final+Respects+by+F.+M.+Meredith&qid=1592840429&s=books&sr=1-1

 

 

Guest Blogger – Dwayne Clayden

Why I write Thrillers

For most of my 42 years as a paramedic and police officer, each day had the potential to ramp up my fight-or-flight response. I leaned toward the fight response. But not every day raised my adrenaline to toxic levels. There was a night shift in February, the temperature was minus thirty Celsius, and the only other vehicles on the streets were other police cruisers, tow trucks, and cabs. None of us had anything to do. We frequently checked in with dispatch, to make sure our radio was still working, but mostly to hear another voice.

There were many times where I felt my arteries pulsing in my temples. A foot pursuit, a car chase, walking into a bar fight, or checking an abandoned building at two A.M. There were the frequent times I got myself in nasty situations and needed backup from my team. There was the emotional response to traffic fatalities, suicides, abuse, and murder. Some will stick with me forever.

Now that I am writing crime thrillers full time, my goal is to write realistic police and paramedic scenes that evoke a response in the reader. I want to put the reader in the cruiser with the banter between partners, then the sudden shift to a crisis. They are in the foot pursuit with the officer. Their hearts beat faster, and their breath comes in gasps. That, maybe, there is a tear as they read about a serious injury or death.

In my third novel, Wolfman is Back, I was struggling with the last scenes. They wouldn’t come to me. We were on a flight back from Las Vegas when it hit me. I knew the ending. I grabbed a pen and my notebook and started writing. I wrote from takeoff to landing three hours later. But there was a point I was so emotionally involved in the story, that the tears flowed. I sniffled and watched the tears drop on my notebook.  I continued writing. At home, I typed those scenes into the manuscript. I cried again. Readers contacted me to tell me they had cried during those scenes. They had felt the emotion I felt, and I conveyed that onto the pages of the novel.

I love creating characters readers cheer for, and ones, well, that they don’t cheer for! Some of my characters are composites of partners—quirks and all.

I have received emails from readers complaining that they stayed up half the night because they couldn’t put the novel down. I love those comments—and I can totally relate!

I love reading thrillers. When a thriller has me up at midnight, and I say one more chapter, then damnit, I need to read the next chapter—those are the stories I want to write.

My goal is to write the novels I love to read.

I guess I’m continuing my career, and the emotional rollercoaster I rode for so many years, by putting my experiences and emotions on the page. And I love every minute!

Crisis Point book one in the Brad Coulter Novels

When his partner is killed during an armed robbery, Brad Coulter is left grappling with the loss along with a sudden burst of criminal activity in his quiet city. His new partner is a bitter veteran who challenges Coulter as he lands a spot on the newly developed Tactical Support Unit.

Between a violent shootout with a lone gunman high on glue, and a confrontation with a deadbeat father and abusive husband, Coulter and the TSU become experienced in managing extreme cases. But nothing can prepare them for the real crisis point that will forever change the face of a city and the cops that patrol its streets.

Crisis Point is a bestselling action-packed thriller set in Calgary, Alberta, that will have you racing to the showdown.


Kindle https://www.amazon.com/Crisis-Point-Brad-Coulter-Novel-ebook/dp/B07BGBMQGX

Dwayne Clayden combines his knowledge and experience as a police officer and paramedic to write realistic crime thrillers.

Crisis Point, Dwayne’s first novel, was a finalist for the 2015 Crime Writers of Canada, Arthur Ellis Awards.

OutlawMC and Wolfman is Back are the second and third novels in the Brad Coulter Thriller Series.

The Brad Coulter Series will continue in 2020 with 13 Days of Terror.

In August 2020 Dwayne will release the first novel in a new crimer thriller series, Speargrass-Opioid.

In his 42 year career, Dwayne served as a police officer, paramedic, tactical paramedic, firefighter, emergency medical services (EMS) chief, educator, and academic chair.

Dwayne is a popular speaker at conferences and to writing groups presenting on realistic police, medical, and paramedic procedures.

The co-author of four paramedic textbooks, he has spoken internationally at EMS conferences for the past three decades.

Email:                            DwayneClayden@gmail.com

Website:                        http://www.dwayneclayden.com

Connect with me:         LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

All in (Not So) Innocent Fun.

Last week, the house directly across the street from us caught fire. It was a really dramatic one, with smoke everywhere, flames shooting up through the roof, five fire trucks, including a hook and ladder unit (which I had to wonder about since the house, like most in our neighborhood, has only one story).

Picture of dead rubber duck on a computer keyboard.

Fortunately, my neighbor and his girlfriend got out okay, as did their two cats and dog. And I want to triple emphasize that no one, but no one, deserves to lose their home and possessions to fire. We almost lost our place in a fire, and even though it happened while the house was in escrow and no one was living here at the time, it was bad enough.

But…

You knew that was coming, right? But there are rumors in the neighborhood that the owner, “M,” got arrested. He’s been around and restoration workers have been there, so I think it is just that – a rumor. It was probably born of more than the usual sort of schadenfreude, since M is a real jerk. He’s noisy, obtuse, loud music and power tools at all hours of the night, fighting with his girlfriend out on the front lawn. He’s even been mean to his dog. Oh, and then there’s all the weird equipment in his driveway.

It’s that last bit that’s got me and the rest of us wondering. We have no idea why it’s there or what he’s doing with it, but he’s been doing it for a couple years now. I’ve come up with all kinds of interesting scenarios, only some of them legal. So, if M got arrested, I’m dying to know on what charges.

Which brings me to my point. Yes, the fire was terrible. I’m glad my neighbor, his girlfriend, and critters are okay. But what if..?

What if he torched the place for the insurance? (Not at all likely, since it looks like the insurance people are there setting up the clean up services.) What if there are bodies buried in his crawlspace and the firefighters found them? (Also, not at all likely, or he wouldn’t have made bail.) What if all that equipment in his driveway was there to build a state of the art studio so that he could shoot porn videos. Definitely not likely, since I’m not seeing any cameras or any other film-related equipment.

Okay, he could be a perfectly nice person and still be producing porn films in his backyard – these things happen. But because he’s a jerk, there is the temptation to assume that there is something else rotten going on. And because I’m a mystery writer, I can really put some flesh on my musings.

My friend has a t-shirt warning people to be nice to her, since she’s a mystery writer and could make anyone mean to her the icky stiff in her next book. I have a small desk plate reminding those who peeve me that if they were in my book, they’d be dead.

In real life, I would never intentionally hurt someone. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to say who any of my characters are, although I suspect the odd real-life characteristic has slipped in unconsciously. But in my fiction life, all you-know-what frequently breaks loose, and if I muse about what my neighbors are really up to, it’s all in innocent fun. And that’s on a quiet day. I hate to say, but once I saw that M was safe, I had more than a little fun.

What Goes Around… by Karen Shughart

I grew up in the 1950s, a time shortly after the end of World War II when all most people wanted was a simple life that included a modest home, food on the table and a little bit of money for extras. We had one TV, a black and white at first, and sometimes we ate TV dinners, prepackaged with meat loaf and macaroni and cheese or chicken pot pie, as we sat on chairs in the living room and watched the evening news.

Shughart,Karen-0016_ADJ_5x7 (1)

Our recreational activities were, for the most part, ones that cost little money. Our family had picnics with neighbors, relatives, or friends at a local park. One of my friend’s dad had a pick-up truck and on a summer evening he’d pile 6-8 of us into the back of it and take us for ice cream, which we ate standing around the truck or sitting at a picnic table. We played hide-and-seek outside when the sun set late, board games with our parents on cold or rainy days, or put together jig saw puzzles. Sometimes we went to movies; in the summer to drive-ins in our pjs; or to a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon. At least once a year we had a family outing to an amusement park with a wooden Ferris wheel and penny arcade.

One vivid detail that stands out is how bright the sky was then and how clear the air. When we couldn’t go to the community pool my mom turned the sprinkler on, and I remember loving the rainbows and diamond-like sparkles that were created by the sun hitting the water as we jumped and danced through the ephemeral spray. I remember, too, looking up at night and marveling at the carpet of twinkling stars that covered the sky.

Each July or August we went to the Jersey Shore, an eight-hour driving trip from Pittsburgh, where we lived.  All six of us (four kids and two parents) piled into our car, leaving at 2 a.m. so we could get to the beach by mid-morning, thus extending our week-long vacation by a day. My mother packed breakfast, small foil-lined boxes of Kellogg’s assorted cereals and a cooler filled with milk and fruit, and we stopped on the shoulder of the highway to eat it. Once there we played on the beach, body surfed in the ocean, ate bologna sandwiches on Wonder Bread, and at night walked the boardwalk.

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Photo by Karen Shughart

We were fortunate. For many, life wasn’t so blissful. There were scares and concerns. The Korean Conflict. The Cold War.There was no pandemic, but the epidemic of polio shattered a multitude of families, closed swimming pools, movie theatres and religious services; instead of ventilators there were iron lungs. The Salk vaccine, and then the Sabin, helped alleviate some of the concerns, but even so fears lingered, there were no vaccines for measles and mumps or other disabling childhood diseases.  Despite so-called prosperity many still struggled; there was rampant discrimination, and gross inequality. During this time a pot simmered slowly, but it wasn’t until the 60s that the pot boiled over, paving the way for the beginnings of change. Perhaps, though, not enough and it appears the pot’s boiled over again, as it should.

As we’ve woven our way through and around COVID 19, it’s been feeling a bit like the 50s to me, and, because of the recent protests that have occurred here and around the world, reminiscent of the 60s, too. Isn’t it odd how things that go around come around?

God Winks: It’s The Little Things

Being a bombastic big mouth from old school NYC, it’s hard to get me to willingly shut up. When I do, you best believe it’s intentional, purposeful, and to hold my attention. 9/11. A sun dog. A newborn with her fantastic Heaven-scent aroma on her onesie and in my nose. A great sleep.

And . . . God winks.

Although I’d drafted this on the 27th anniversary of turning 27–that’s called “Awesome 54some!” for those of you in #RioLinda **smirk/sarc**–it’s been dreadful to find fresh words for my Casebooks, my Threesome of Magic mysteries, even this platform. We were in the biggest game of cooties I’ve seen in life via COVID. A shutdown wrecking economic havoc. The pokiness of re-opening states so people can resume their lives–or move on in them to settle loved ones’ affairs. These stupid city burnings after an unfortunate series of events in Minnesota. And still having to wear a mask, it becoming a symbol of murdering logic, common sense, and reason in favor of groupthink, fear, and forced compliance.

But I digress.

I prayed, mainly because I couldn’t take the overwhelm anymore. It was the one thing I had some control over, some input for, some say in. When I wasn’t praying, I was sleeping. A lot. No, I’ve no plans to harm myself or others–don’t tempt me on the “others” part, please! :)–but I found it a solace He was listening.

That’s when the little reminders popped up like mushrooms do overnight. Specifics only I’d know. Hoo-boy, did I know them.

Ever heard of Squire Rushnell? Oh, yes you have. If you’re familiar with Schoolhouse Rock and other Saturday morning children’s programming on ABC back in the day, that’s the name behind this part of pop culture. He put that network on the map for inspiring 3 to 7 minute animated segments in history, science, math, government (“I’m Just a Bill”), and grammar in between cartoons, much like CBS did In The News with Christopher Glenn in between theirs (and I switched channels often to not miss either one!). Anyhoo . . . Rushnell kept adding up little coincidences in his life leading to the big ones like Schoolhouse, and how that lead him to be ABC’s Children’s Programming Prez. And hey–if he helped kids do better in school with these subjects of the songs and visuals they provided, #360Win.

Mushroom #1: My husband Pete picks up flowers in bright purple and vivid yellow. I gasped, cried, then asked if he remembered if I told him of my villain’s signature colors in my TOM mysteries. He said no–he just felt he had to get them when he saw them as a sweet birthday gesture.

Mushroom #2: Somebody shares a meme on social of an entryway from the movie adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Almost immediately, a scene drops in mind for my TOM mysteries I can plenty use to move the plot(s) forward. Yes . . . I gasped in sweet surprise again.

Mushroom #3: A Times fan since my mother, God rest her, gave me a back-to-school Snoopy watch for third grade when I was seven (I skipped second, being so bright), fostering my love for analog timepieces since. Along with the flowers, my husband gifts me a watch called Vincero (pronounced vinchairro), and the brand translates in English from Italian, “I will win.” Vincero’s pretty damn close to missing-his-ear van Gogh. Vincent Price. And my Casebooks Jay Vincent. Oh, sure–Casper’s and Logan’s names’d pop up plenty of times outside of their Casebook lives in my life, but Pedregon’s seldom did . . . before that watch company came in over my transom.

Mushroom #4: A numerology newsletter I’m subscribed to, the author suggested in part of her communique for this month that, for those who draw, to keep drawing. Those who create and craft, keep creating and crafting.

And for those who write?
You guessed it: keep writing.

Squire Rushnell created God Winks when he thought coincidence did a disservice to those unexplainable-timing-in-a-good-way little things that make you take notice. It’s not a religious aspect you must believe to see the treatise behind the belief, although Rushnell is a Christian. It’s more like Chicken Soup for the Soul’s cousin or bolder little sister. I haven’t read the book, but I plan to. It’s an occasional nod you’re headed in the right direction when you’re not sure you are, to keep staying on track–or need a boost when you don’t want to stay the course, as was my circumstance, but poignantly special after a monstrously trying week in a disgustingly taxing first half of 2020.

But in the middle of our national storm, another birthday’s come and gone. That, all things considered, is the best God wink there is.

Apologies for the heavy use of adverbs in this update. “Lolly’s Adverb Store” takes full blame for that!