Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zeke: Just an Ordinary Dog, with an Extraordinary Skill

Zeke can talk. Well, sort of. Zeke has the unique skill of identifying people he likes with special sounds. This is kind of cute except Zeke is also a bloodhound and he knows things people he knows might not want others to know. It is fitting that this A-to-Z Challenge should end up with Zeke since he is, without a doubt, one of the best characters I've ever created. In my novel Each Angel Burns, Zeke is Gabe's dog, part bloodhound, part black and tan coonhound, and all devoted lovableness.

Creating Zeke happened by accident. When I was first working on the book I was having trouble with the character of Gabe because he is a strong-silent type who doesn't talk much and I had a very difficult time getting his thoughts into the story. Then one day I thought, "What Gabe needs is a dog." Thus Zeke came into being and he presented a very interesting and clever new possibility for the plot which worked out rather nicely, too. So Zeke accomplished 2 things, he provided Gabe with someone to talk to and he drove a very important part of the story.

I've always been a dog lover and, having created one dog character I know I will make more of them. In my current WIP I have another wonderful dog. Her name is Toots and she is Oliver's constant companion in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. Dogs make great characters.

And so this is the last day of the A-to-Z Challenge. It has been a lot of fun sharing my imaginary friends with those who read this blog and I look forward to doing more of it. I've also been introduced to a lot of terrific new blogs and some great ideas. Tomorrow I'll be back to my normal blogging including the continuation of my Writers-On-Writing series. Thanks for stopping by.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Paul Manship's Leda in "Depraved Heart"

People often ask me about the images used on the covers of my books. I love creating digital collage and always try to incorporate imagery that relates to the story. One of the images used on the cover of my new novel Depraved Heart is a sculpture by the great Paul Manship, the sculptor of the iconic golden Prometheus in front of Rockefeller Center. The image on my cover is his Leda which I photographed when it was on exhibit in the North Shore Arts Association some years back.

Because the core of the story is about a fabulous art collection in a mansion on the (imaginary) island of Hephzibah Regrets off the coast of Salem and Gloucester, I had a wonderful time weaving in stories about the various artists who lived and worked in this area. There are a number of scenes set on Rocky Neck and some in Lanesville, too. But one of my favorite parts of the story is when Anjelica, the young heiress, reveals a hidden statue she was keeping secret afraid that she would be asked to sell it. The statue, hidden in an overgrown grotto, is Manship's Leda and when Tempest, the art curator hired to catalog the Ravenscroft art collection sees it she is moved to tears by the poignancy of the statue and its symbolism. Leda, in mythology, was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan (what all those girls did fooling around with critters is a whole other story) and from their union she gave birth to twins: a boy, Polydeuces, and a girl, Helen, who was later known as Helen of Troy.

In my story the wild, undisciplined Rosalind Ravenscroft has an affair with a local fisherman who later abandons her leaving her with twins, a boy Wyatt Ravenscroft Silver, who is called Raven, and a girl, Rachel. Raven and Rachel are distinguished ballet dancers. One night, during a wild party, Raven is shot and killed and his sister's husband, Syd, is convicted of  "depraved heart" murder. So the statue of Leda is a wonderful metaphor for this tale. 

I love Manship's statue. I love the way Leda stands with her arms over her head, eyes downcast, longing for her lover while her tiny babies cling to her skirts. While I was writing I often thought of Rosalind in the same pose, longing for her fisherman, with Rachel and Raven clinging to her. It is a beautiful image to me that tugs at my heart and was instrumental to the creation of my tale.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for Yearning: Characters We All Can Relate To

At the core of most people's lives is a sense of longing, yearning, desire -- maybe it's for someone to love or to be loved, maybe it's to acquire wealth or fame, maybe it's to do good and make a difference. We all yearn for something and the quest at the core of our lives is the fulfillment of that longing -- raising healthy children, writing a book, being a good citizen. Longing is both a blessing and a curse, it gives us purpose and it frustrates us when it seems unattainable. For writers creating characters that readers can relate to requires that those characters yearn for something. It gives them motivation and purpose and it makes them come alive.

Throughout my reading life the characters I've loved the most were those driven by a longing for something better. So, as a writer, I've tried to create characters driven by purpose. Clair and Pio long for adventure, Baptiste longs for self-respect, Gabe longs for love, Peter longs for God. In my newest novel, Depraved Heart, now available in paperback and digital, all three of the main characters are driven by yearning. Anjelica, the "poor little rich girl", yearns for a family. Tempest, the tormented empath, longs for inner peace. Syd, the strong stoic, yearns, too, though we are not sure for what and that forms the core of the story.

Of course, I, as a writer, long to write good books -- books that people will enjoy and think about and remember. It is an endless journey but a good one, a journey filled with purpose and joy.

Paperback: from Amazon & from Barnes & Noble
Digital: for Kindle & for Nook

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for eXcited: My New Novel "Depraved Heart" is Live!!!

On a mysterious island off the coast of Massachusetts stands Hathor, the site of fabulous parties, an astonishing art collection, erotic misadventures, and murder. Hathor's owner, Wyatt Ravenscroft, died recently and left his entire estate to his great-granddaughter Anjelica who is fifteen, the daughter of Wyatt's granddaughter Rachel and her husband Syd Jupiter a former NFL football star who has recently been paroled from prison where he was serving a 25 year sentence for the "depraved heart" murder of Rachel's brother, Raven. In his capacity as executor of his daughter's inheritance Syd invites Tempest Hobbs, an art curator from Salem, to spend the summer at Hathor cataloging the art collection. Tempest is an empath who has recently gone through a traumatic experience resulting in her being confined to a psychiatric hospital.

This is the basis for my newest novel, Depraved Heart, which is now available in paperback or digital format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It will soon be available through other outlets, too. I am very eXcited (forgive the cheating on the letter X) that it is out in public for the world to read but, of course, I am also very nervous about it. It is my baby and I think it is a beautiful baby but who knows what the rest of the world will think? Anyway, I will be writing more about this in the weeks ahead but, for now, I invite you to click on one of the links below and enjoy my latest effort, Depraved Heart.

Paperback: from Amazon & from Barnes & Noble
Digital: for Kindle & for Nook

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Whiskey Bottles: Ancient Ones, Hidden, with Notes Inside

Some years back my Dad got a phone call from one of the priests at the "German Church" in town who had made a strange discovery. Hidden in the walls of the church up in the choir loft was an old whiskey bottle with a note in it. It was discovered while renovations were being made and the priest asked Dad to come by the rectory. Dad did so and the priest showed him the note which was dated on Christmas Eve in the 1920s. It said simply, "Drunk by us" and was signed by three men, one of them being William Valentine, Dad's father. The men had been working on the church and decided to drink a bottle of whiskey on Christmas Eve then plaster it into the wall where it remained for 80 years.

I loved this story because it is just one of the many wild tales that contribute to my colorful heritage. It is also a tale that has inspired a story for the collection I am working on now called The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Marienstadt Stories. All the stories can be read alone but they feature the same locale and the same characters and, if read in order, build to an exciting conclusion. I hope to have it ready by next Christmas. If you liked Fry Bacon. Add Onions and The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, these stories will please you.

Set in the mythical Pennsylvania Dutch town of Marienstadt they feature the characters from the Belsnickel story plus more including the devastatingly handsome Chief of Police, Henry Werner; Candy Dippold, the shopkeeper with a guillotine; Lola Eckert, a beautiful but bashful strudel artist; Peeper Baumgratz, who is ready for the Apocalypse; Sister Ursula, the nun with a snowplow; Mulligan Wolfe, the pig farmer who can dance, and many more.

Spinning tales based on my life is more fun than I ever imagined it could be but it is also a wonderful way to remember -- remember the stories that turned me into who I am.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Virtue: An Old-Fashioned Value We Need More Of

In the last year or so I have read a number of books by new writers that have sort of shocked me by their total absence of any redeeming value in any of the characters. The great Sol Stein said that in order to consider a manuscript for publication he needed it to have at least one character he could root for. The even greater John Gardner said that in order for writing to be true art it needed to be moral "it must seek to edify not to debase." I suspect both of them would be discouraged by many of the characters in some contemporary novels. 

The word "virtue" is traditionally used to mean "moral excellence" or at least the striving for that. The greatest stories throughout literature seem to always feature one character who may well be personally flawed but who is called to something greater than himself or herself and has to rise above all manner of personal flaws in order to triumph. I think one of the reasons that the Harry Potter books have been so consistently excellent is because young Harry, despite what he may want for himself, is called to rise above his circumstances and embark on the hero's journey -- no matter what it takes.

Recently I wrote a review for a book I read that was very discouraging because, by the end of the book, I did not like one single character in it. They were all whiny, self-absorbed, narcissistic twits. The author of the book responded to my review (a very unprofessional reaction, in my opinion) and said, among other things, it was too bad that I "needed" a certain type of character to enjoy a book. Sigh.

As a writer who has written about murderers, psychopaths, abusers and other nasty people, I know how to make unlikable characters but I hope I always offer someone in the narrative who, even in spite of themselves sometimes, rises above the situation and strives for some level of virtue. I think our culture needs more of that.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Undercurrents: The Key to Suspense

I've never really thought of myself as a suspense writer but a lot of readers have told me that they love the way there always seems to be this undercurrent of anticipation in my stories. That's wonderful to hear because I have long been of the opinion that the most interesting characters to write about are characters that have a secret. As a reader when I sense there is something else going on here I find it hard to put the book down until I find out if I am right or not. It doesn't necessarily have to be something evil, just something that will change the script if it was known.

Some of the critics of The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic say it was "too predictable." Perhaps their powers of detection are more powerful than others because most people seem to think the ending was quite horrible. One reviewer on Goodreads said it made her sick to her stomach (sorry) but what I would say is that it is not so important that you know exactly what was going on throughout Mattie's young life but rather that it it was going on, and why, and how coldly and callously it was carried out.

My new novel, Depraved Heart, which went off to the printer this weekend, is loaded with secrets. I found this story especially interesting to write because the story is told not only through narration but also through letters and blog posts. It was a fun way to write! As I move on to my next work, The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, I am keeping an eye on that undercurrent of tension that builds to what I think is a powerful conclusion. I don't know how readers will find it but this writer is having a great time.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Tessie: Now She's An Old Woman But Once She Was A Mermaid

One of the best parts of writing The Old Mermaid's Tale to me was creating Tessie, the "old mermaid" of the title. To me Tessie is one of my best characters of all times. She fascinates because for much of the book lovely, young Clair is haunted by her and what her relationship is to Baptiste so when we finally meet her -- on Christmas Day at the Old Mermaid Inn -- the reality of her comes as a surprise.

The truth is I've known several Tessies in my life, a woman who started out full of hopes, dreams, and a love of good times but then fell for the wrong man and their lives changed forever. Tessie has made the best of her love for Rocky but it's left her a good-hearted but hard-living woman with a tender soul. Toward the end of the story, when Clair is struggling with what to do about her relationship with Baptiste, it is Tessie, who takes her aside and tells her her own tale, the old mermaid's tale, that helps Clair make her decision.

Sometimes the most flawed characters are the most endearing. There is something so poignant in the contrast of her toughness and bravado on the outside and the tender, aching girl inside. I truly love Tessie. To me she is an enduring, heart-wrenching character, the kind of person that makes me say, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Stories: The Loves of my Life

"Tell me a story." To me those are some of the sweetest words in the world. When I was little my Dad used to say to my brothers and me, "Did I ever tell you about my adventures in darkestAfrica?" (we thought darkestAfrica was one word.) "Nooooo!!!" we'd say even though we'd heard the stories a dozen times. So Dad would tell us a story about he was a hunter in darkestAfrica. 

It wasn't until many years later that I realized a.) Dad had never been to darkestAfrica, and b.) most of his adventures were awfully similar to the plots of Tarzan movies (the Johnny Weissmuller ones.) But that didn't matter, it was the telling of the stories that was wonderful. Throughout my childhood I can remember hundreds of picnics, parties, get-togethers or just sittin-on-the-porch times when someone would say the magic words, "Remember the time that..." and another story would begin. I grew up loving stories and I've loved them all my life.

I write books for one reason: I love telling stories. All of my books start out when some little thing captures my imagination and the story starts to unfold. My Uncle Buddy told me a story about an old sailor and the seed of The Old Mermaid's Tale got planted. My Mother told me a story about a man's hunt for a missing angel and Each Angel Burns began to grow. On and on. Some of my best stories are family stories which I tell in Fry Bacon. Add Onions which is free for Kindle today through Monday. 

Even if nobody wanted to read my stories, I'd still write them but I'm eternally grateful when people tell me they love one of my stories. They are my babies.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Romance: First, Last and Always

The word "romance" has endured considerable corruption in the last few decades. Originally derived from the Latin word "romanicus", an adverb meaning "of the Roman style", the original meaning of romance was not necessarily connected to love but rather to chivalry and adventure. A romance was a brave soul setting out on a noble quest to prove his (or her) courage and strength. In the seventeenth century the concept of love was added in that the adventurer did so on behalf of a beloved. Until the middle of the twentieth century, a romance referred to a novel which usually involved love but was more focused on the adventure, the quest, the journey of two people in search of each other. Nathaniel Hawthorne's novels were called romances. Probably the greatest American romance novel ever written is James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans.

However, in the 1970s the term "romance novel" was hijacked by the romance novel publishing industry and, because of the rigid guidelines imposed by publishers like Harlequin, readers came to have very rigid expectations of romance novels. The heroines would be young, vulnerable and either virginal or widows who were most likely abused. The heroes were robust, manly, alpha-males who were always in control. Above all, the genre romance novel HAD to have an HEA ending -- "happily ever after." True romance has never been the same.

I love the original meaning of romance and, while my stories are not formula romance (I rarely find writing about 20-somethings to be very compelling), I'll never give up on the original meaning of romance: adventure, passion, the quest for the higher meaning.

R is also for Ruby, the heroine of the title story in my collection, My Last Romance and other passions. Of all the female characters I've ever created, Ruby is closest to my inner self. 

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quest: The Core of Good Storytelling

Joseph Campbell called it "The Hero's Journey" and it is at the core of all good storytelling, the quest, the search, the longing. Without a quest it is hard for me to care about the protagonist(s) in any story. As a writer, if I don't know what my quest is, my story won't go anywhere. In The Old Mermaid's Tale Clair is on a quest for mystery and romance, while Baptiste is on a quest to reclaim some sense of dignity. In Each Angel Burns it is Maggie who is on a quest for the missing statue of the angel Gabriel. Now, in Depraved Heart, I am writing about Tempest whose quest is to rid herself of her empathic powers while Syd's quest is to protect his daughter. All of these are journeys that give the characters depth and purpose. At least I hope so.

Q is also for Quinn as in Wyatt Quinn Ravenscroft, the powerful Boston financier who used his considerable fortune to built the art filled estate called Hathor, the setting for Depraved Heart. One of the pleasures of writing that book was being able to write about some of the many artists whose work is so well-known on Cape Ann. Among the artists whose lives figure in the story are Walker Hancock, Emile Gruppe, and Paul Manship. Weaving their talents into the story to create atmosphere was exciting for me.

And Q is for quality -- something I aspire to at all times. In fact, I could say that creating quality is my quest.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Port Presque Isle: A Mythical Place Born from My Youth

Port Presque Isle, the setting for The Old Mermaid's Tale, doesn't really exist except in parts. When I started writing Mermaid, I set it in Erie, PA but as the book progressed I realized that the story I wanted to spin, the web I wanted to weave, was incompatible with the actual layout of downtown Erie. Plus my over-50 brain couldn't recall details of location from my childhood. So Port Presque Isle was born. 

Of course the peninsula in Erie, on whose beaches I spent some of the best parts of my youth, is called Presque Isle State Park so the name was easy to come by. As I built my city I built in many places I recalled with great pleasure -- the bookstore on French Street, Sullivan's Pub and the Crazy Horse Saloon, Waldameer Park, the museum on Sixth Street, the watch tower on the docks. But I was also able to adjust the locations to place businesses where I needed them to be, especially the Canal Street Diner and the Old Mermaid Inn itself.

There's something sort of lovely about inventing a place that is similar to a place you love but has charms of its own. For my new novel, Depraved Heart, I invented an island that I named Hephzibah Regrets off the coast of Salem and Gloucester. And my next book, The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, is entirely set in a mythical Pennsylvania Dutch community, Marienstadt, which is based on my home town. Of course, inventing place is one of the joys of writing which I need to get back to now.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Oliver: The Character I Couldn't Let Go

Dorothy L. Sayer said that she was so in love with her Lord Peter Wimsey that she didn't have time for other relationships. I think authors often fall in love with our characters and I think that is a good thing. If we don't love them how can our readers? Last fall I wrote a novella called The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood with the intention of telling a story about an old childhood tradition I grew up with. In the process I created Oliver Eberstark, a quiet, good-hearted man who was raised in the woods by his grandfather. The story was well-received and has garnered wonderful reviews but, after I published it, I missed Oliver. I missed him a lot -- so I decided to write more about him.

The result is a collection of stories that I am still working on but which I call The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Marienstadt Stories. Each of the stories features the same cast of characters and cycles through a year and a half in the lives of the people of my fictional Pennsylvania Dutch town Marienstadt. Included in the stories are Oliver, Father Nick, and Gretchen who owns the quilting shop in Marienstadt. Other characters include the devastatingly handsome Chief of Police, Henry Winter; Candy Dippold, the grocer with a guillotine; Lola Eckert, a beautiful but bashful strudel artist; Peeper Baumgratz, who is ready for the Zombie Apocalypse; Sister Ursula, the nun who runs a snowplow; Mulligan Wolfe, the pig farmer who can dance, and many more.

I am having such a good time writing these stories! Some are sad, some are romantic, some are very funny (my buddy Ray, who ha been reading them as I work on them, said the one about the kids who build a tank out of an old washing machine makes him laugh every time he reads it.) So I hope you will keep an eye out for it.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Nieces and Nephews... and Nostalgia!

I am genuinely blessed in the nieces and nephews department with 9 nieces, 8 nephews and, at last count, 10 greats! It was for them that I decided to write Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook. Because families have become so scattered in recent decades there isn't the sense of "family" that was once an everyday part of many people's lives. Fry Bacon. Add Onions contains nearly 400 recipes gathered from 6 generations of my family. It also has dozens of black and white photographs, some going back to the 1800s. It also has a collection of "stories" -- memories that have been in my family for a long time.

Though this is a cookbook/memoir about MY family it could be the story of any immigrant family. There are memories of old family customs and traditions and of people long gone but whose lives add color and dimension to who we are now.

I'd love to see more families create cookbook/memoirs to celebrate their own heritage. I think it is a beautiful thing and it is something to pass on to young family members. I cannot help but think that someday one of my great-nieces or nephews will give a copy to their child on his/her wedding day and say, "My Great-Aunt made this, I remember her. She was a character."

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mermaid: Shawls, Scarves, Inns, Tales

I never really meant for Mermaids to become such a theme in my books. It sort of happened by accident. I gave The Old Mermaid's Tale that title because the tavern on State street in Erie, PA that inspired the book was called The Mermaid Tavern. Somehow the title caught people's imaginations and then it seemed mermaids were a theme throughout my writing.  My first knitting books is The Mermaid Shawl and other Beauties for the simple reason that, when I knit the original shawl, the soft, dreamy aqua color made me think of mermaids. The knitting pattern I'm working on now is going to be The Mermaid Garden Shawl. This is also coincidental because the color of the yarn I used -- KnitPick's Gloss -- is called "Mermaid."

Because of all this when it came time to make a logo for Parlez-Moi Press, my own publishing business, I selected the little mermaid in the logo above. She was part of a huge design in an old book of printer's ornaments and I loved her. She has her hand cupped around her ear and I thought that was perfect because, of course, "parlez-moi" means "tell me" (a story) or "speak to me" (of love) so a mermaid prepared to listen seemed the ideal symbol of that. 

Later, when I decided to set up a separate imprint for my knitting patterns, I decided to call it Knit Your Tail Off because of the cute little mermaid logo I had created of a mermaid winding yarn from her upturned tail. So mermaids have, quite accidentally, become a theme for my books. I never meant for them to be so bossy but I think that's how mermaids are -- they decide what they want and you just have to fit it into your plans. 

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Love Stories: Three of Them to Tantalize Your Senses

These three love stories grew out of true stories. All of them are close to my heart. Even though men don't always talk about it, a lot of them really do love a good romantic story -- especially if they can relate to the characters involved who are far from perfect. I've had a number of male readers tell me they loved stories of mine. They tell me they wouldn't let their buddies know but... The stories in Mardi Gras Was Over: Three Love Stories all center around women who fall in love with bad boys, tough guys that others warn them to stay away from. A waitress falls for a tattooed, Harley-riding vet, a lonely craftswoman pulls a drowning sailor from the sea, and a sophisticated business woman falls for a fisherman with a bad reputation.

The title story, Mardi Gras Was Over was inspired by a romance between an old friend of mine and the "dangerous" bad boy she fell in love with. I especially loved writing this story because of the way that romance turned out. The Mermaid Shawl is a story I dreamed up while knitting the lace shawl for my first knitting book. I had read about a woman who moved to an island in the Great Lakes and who wound up rescuing a man who was shipwrecked. Sailor's Valentine is a deeply personal story with a paranormal twist that I know to be based on reality.

I find something very satisfying in writing these short stories. I hope you will enjoy reading them.

Also, today, I am interviewed on the lovely Layered Pages blog. Stephanie always asks such interesting questions. Please stop by and visit.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Knitting: Shawls, Scarves, Shrugs and More

My brother Wayne is the one who actually got me started knitting. He learned from the nuns at Queen of the World and taught me. Later on one of nuns showed me how to purl (Wayne hadn't gotten that far yet) and then how to bind off -- which was a good thing because I made a scarf that was orange and brown that was about 9 feet long. Heaven only knows how long it would have been if she hadn't come along. 

But it wasn't until I started knitting lace that I really fell in love with knitting. I don't remember what my first lace project was but it is so addictive that I have been knitting it ever since. My first knitting book was The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties: Shawls, Cocoons and Wraps. It grew out of this blog actually when people wrote to me asking me to post the patterns for the projects I posted pictures of here. Then when ebook readers came along I published more patterns for ebook only. Maybe someday I'll combine them into a paperbook like The Mermaid Shawl. You can find the patterns on Amazon or at Some are also available through Ravelry.

I love knitting and it is the perfect accompaniment to writing. Sometimes I listen to audio books while i knit and sometimes I just think about the next writing project!

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Julie Morris: She Thinks She's Special, She Must Be Killed

Julie Morris is beautiful. Julie Morris is rich. Julie Morris always gets what she wants -- until she wants the wrong man. Then Julie Morris must be killed. Killing Julie Morris is the second story about revenge in my 2 story collection Home-made Pie & Sausage / Killing Julie Morris. Both stories are told from the perspective of an unnamed woman who is the sort of person people too often take for granted. In this story she drives an ice truck for her brother Vinnie's ice company and she's spent most of her life feeling invisible. In high school Julie was one of the mean girls who loved to torment her. Now Julie is married and has everything any woman could want, so why does she have to flirt with her kid's Little League coach, too?

Sometimes the most entertaining stories to write are the ones that grow out of very mundane experiences. I was driving down Rogers Street behind a Cape Pond Ice truck when I started fantasizing about using it to commit a murder -- yes, I think about things like that. I love stories that are in everyday settings and populated by everyday people but where there is something dastardly going on. Killing Julie Morris is one of those. I've said before that zombies, vampires, and werewolves don't scare me but a quiet, reclusive woman who has been pushed a little bit too far and who knows how to plot revenge certainly does!

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Iris: Baptist Denies He Cares but Clair Isn't Buying It

Iris Carlisle has it all -- beauty, wealth, style, position. She's head of the arts council and in a position to help those artists she finds interesting to succeed. One of the artists she has chosen to promote is Baptiste. She loves his music and she has arranged little soirees at her place to showcase his talent. Naturally, Clair hates her. Clair has never seen herself as attractive. People tell her that she is but she's insecure about her looks and really doesn't understand what Baptiste sees in her. So when Baptiste takes her to a Christmas Eve dance and Iris Carlisle is hanging all over him, poor Clair is miserable.

Creating the character of Iris Carlisle and her relationship with Baptiste was one of the most entertaining parts of writing The Old Mermaid's Tale. For one thing, I love ambiguous characters -- the kind that you don't know if you should love them or hate them. Iris, the elegant, sophisticated patroness, is a perfect contrast to Clair, the naive, tomboyish farm girl. Actually, throughout the course of the story, Clair has to cope with her fears around several women although Iris is the most worrisome. There is also Karen, the smart-mouthed, promiscuous waitress, and Tessie, the mysterious original "mermaid" that the Old Mermaid Inn was named for. And through it all, Clair marvels that Baptiste loves her.

The Old Mermaid's Tale has, if anything, some tantalizing characters. Not folks you meet every day but the kind you have a hard time forgetting. I hope you'll give them a try and let me know what you think!

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, April 09, 2012

H is for Home-made: Pies, Sausages, Plots, Revenge

Long ago I heard Stephen King say that the things with the most potential to frighten were the homey, everyday things. He said finding a way to turn something people take for granted into horror had the greatest power to terrorize. I thought about this a lot and one day I started thinking about a home-made pie (okay, I think about pie a lot) and how it could be made horrifying. The result was a short story that I called Home-made Pie and Sausage. 

I enjoyed writing that so much that I kept it in the back of my mind hoping for more inspiration. One day I was driving down Rogers Street behind a Cape Pond Ice truck. I started thinking about how we see certain vehicles every day -- delivery trucks, postal trucks, etc. -- that we just take them for granted. Out of those musings grew another short story that I called Killing Julie Morris. Both stories were published in Level Best Books anthologies of crime stories. Because I retained the rights to them I decided to bundle the two together and make them available through KDP. 

Home-made Pie and Sausage / Killing Julie Morris is about revenge. Both feature female protagonists who are the sort o women that get overlooked a lot -- plain, hard-working young women who have put up with a lot for very little reward. Both of them have had enough and they take action to do something about it. They are short stories with a little bit of a twist and a tinge of humor. Available for 99 cents for Nook or Kindle. Enjoy!

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

An Unexpected Easter Gift - 5 Stars for The Old Mermaid's Tale

I'm a little bit astonished by this review that appeared on Amazon today. I know who Ruth Madison is, she writes romance novels and is particularly interested in stories that feature characters with disabilities. Of course Baptiste, one of the main characters in The Old Mermaid's Tale lost one of his legs in a shipwreck so he very much qualifies. This is the review Ruth posted to Amazon:

5.0 out of 5 stars
This is what a romance should beApril 7, 2012
This review is from: The Old Mermaid's Tale (Paperback)
This book is so beautiful that I'm a little bit speechless.

The language soars. It is rich and melodic and evocative. There are very strong characters and I really related to Clair and her romantic wanderlust. I enjoyed seeing the world through her eyes because everything glowed with magic.

The title and the cover threw me off a bit. I was expecting it to take place in the 1700s and be far removed from reality. Actually it takes place in the 1960s and calls forth startling detail of the area as well as the emotions of the characters. I found it to be realistic, believable, but with a dash of romanticism sharpening the whole beautiful world.

This is the best book I've read in recent memory. I highly recommend it.

So this was a wonderful Easter gift for me. wishing everyone a beautiful Easter and the A-to-Z Challenge will resume tomorrow with "H is for Home-made!"

Saturday, April 07, 2012

G is for Ghosts: a Beach Town ... in Winter

Several years ago it was a cold November afternoon and I was driving back to Gloucester from Portsmouth, New Hampshire when I stopped in Salisbury Beach to get some coffee. It was a cold, blustery day and, in those days, Salisbury Beach was a bleak, deserted place in the winter. All the summer cottages tucked in the dunes were shut up, the Ferris wheel was stripped of its seats, and the midway was entirely boarded over except for one small coffee shop which was where I stopped. While I was waiting I happened to overhear a conversation (trust me, I wasn't eavesdropping, old men talk LOUD) among 4 old guys who were sitting at a table with their coffee. They were talking about how happy they were that the tourist season was over and speculating about the future plans of someone who had just sold his games arcade and was moving to Florida. They were generally agreed that he would hate it.

Their conversation stayed with me for a long time and I kept thinking about how much fun it would be to write a story set in a town like Salisbury Beach in the off-season. I had started a story about a beautiful woman from a poor family who had married well above her class. Her husband was a college professor and his family was very wealthy. Though she went into the marriage thinking it was going to be thrilling she soon discovered she was way out of her league. Somehow I got the idea to move Layla and her college professor husband to my version of Salisbury Beach (Halcyon Beach) and to introduce a mysterious lover. A ghostly lover. I even got to use my old guys from the diner. The result is Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter which shoot up to Amazon's Top 10 Best Sellers in Ghost stories and has remained in the Top Twenty on and off since its publication in October 2011.

I love the story because I love Layla who is in a bad situation and knows it. She is really an innocent and the end of the story invites the reader to decide just how innocent she is. I hope you will give it a try.

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, April 06, 2012

F is for Flynnie: He Has Big Shoulders, Too Bad Babe Just Cries on Them

Flynnie may not be much to look at but he's a sweet guy, a good poet, a devoted friend, and fries a mean clam. His clam shack sits on a bluff overlooking the harbor where all the artists gather to paint by day and congregate in his place for clams and beer by night. Flynnie knows Babe wants to find Mr. Right -- he's listened to her tales of heart-break for years now. He just wishes she'd notice that the one guy whose always there for her is Flynnie. Flynnie and Babe is just one of the eight stories in My Last Romance and other passions, my collection of stories about the wonder of finding love.

All of the stories in this collection grew out of real-life stories I either heard or read about quite a few years ago. Some are sweet and tender, a couple will challenge your thinking about love and what love is. Some months after the book was published a woman came up to me in a coffee shop and asked if I was the person who wrote that book. I said that I was and she said, "My husband of sixty three years died a few months ago. In the last weeks of his life I read your book to him. In the end, that was how we were able to make love." I don't think I've ever had a sweeter review. I still get choked up just writing about it.

The book is available in paperback or digital and features lovers of all ages from a wild 19 year old who runs away from home to sing with a big band, to a woman in her eighties who found a unique way to keep her philandering husband faithful. 

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

E is for Each Angel Burns: Sex is Sacred, the Sacred is Sexy

Possibly the most controversial thing I have ever written, Each Angel Burns is a full length novel about three very extraordinary people. It is also a novel that has generated a lot of controversy because it deals with two intense passions: sex and spirituality. I've long thought it interesting that the word passion -- which derives from the Greek word πάσχω meaning "to suffer" -- is used both to describe sexual pleasure and Christ's suffering. Freud argued that all passion -- physical, intellectual, and spiritual -- was the same energy, that there was no contrast but rather continuity. Studies on the human brain indicate that it cannot tell what the source of the passionate experience is, it just knows how it responds.

In Each Angel Burns (the title comes from a line in Ranier Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies) I created three characters in their early fifties all struggling with their shifting passions. Gabe is a faithful husband, loving father, and accomplished craftsman. Maggie is an accomplished artist who escaped into fantasy through the years of an abusive marriage. Peter is a devout priest, brilliant thinker, and elusive mystic. All of them approach their lives with an intensity of passion but sometimes those passions go off course causing them personal anguish and also personal awareness of their love for one another.

This is hard for some readers to process. Because so many fundamentalist religions demand strict adherence to rules without acknowledgement of human passions, the passionate natures of these three characters seems incongruous. I have been told that the strong sexual themes conflict with the strong spiritual themes but I, like Freud, believe those passions are the same thing, the same energy, just directed differently. I am always pleased to hear from readers of Each Angel Burns. Their reactions vary greatly and passionately. 

This blog post is part of the April 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. Thanks for visiting.