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Quick Reads for Busy Times

December 15, 2014

Most of the time I reach for big, thick books, the ones with lots of pages, complicated plots, lots of twists and turns, where I can lose myself and forget the rest of the world for hours. But there are times (like the present holiday season) when that just doesn’t work. I can’t afford to forget the rest of the world for hours. I’m lucky to squeeze in a few minutes of reading time. That’s when I appreciate writers who have mastered the art (and, believe me, it is an art) of the short and sweet. Short stories and novellas are perfect for busy times. If, like me, you need a short fix to get you through the season, here are a few suggestions:

DEATH KNELL V Death Knell V is a collection of short stories by members of the Delaware Valley Chapter of Sisters in Crime. There’s quite a variety here:  psychological suspense, historical mystery, paranormal, humor, horror. Longtime favorite novelists, like Charles Todd and Robin Hathaway, as well as those just beginning to make their mark–J.D. Shaw, Augustus Cileone, and Kathleen Heady, among others–but also, many fresh new voices, in print for the first time. The settings take you to three continents. Something to please every reader. http://www.amazon.com/Death-Knell-V-Nancy-Daversa/dp/0741484110/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418699845&sr=8-1&keywords=death+knell+v

Leigh Verrill-Rhys has written a collection of short stories titled Nights Before. Each story stands alone, but all feature the same characters and, read together, they form a novel. The first one in the series is Twas the Night Before New Year - New Year’s Eve is a time for reflection and change. Jocelyn has more changes coming at her from all directions on this Portland, Maine winter day than she’s faced since her mother’s death. None of it bodes well for the junior editor’s fledgling career when her fiancé abandons her to spend this holiday alone. http://www.amazon.com/Twas-Night-Before-Year-Nights-ebook/dp/B00ERFMUKW/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1418700279&sr=8-3&keywords=twas+the+night+before+new+years&pebp=1418700282744

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Here’s a novella for mystery lovers by Jayne Ormerod: Behind the Blue Door - Can you have a future if you can’t remember the past?  When Skye Crenshaw Whitmore is shown a picture of a house with a blue door, she recalls living there as a young girl. At first the memories are of the warm and fuzzy variety; little moments spent gardening or reading with her mother. Upon learning that the house on Periwinkle Lane is where her mother died, darker memories bubble to the surface but fail to assemble into a complete picture. With more questions than answers, she sets off to find out what exactly happened in that house thirty years ago. http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Blue-Door-Periwinkle-Place-ebook/dp/B00C8TSHOM/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418700850&sr=8-2&keywords=behind+the+blue+door

Another novella, this one’s a Christmas romance (especially for those of you who are not dreaming of a white Christmas): Hot Hawaiian Christmas by Victoria M. Johnson  – It’s Christmas in Hawaii, but Lindsay Clark’s Hawaiian-Christmasvacation turns out to be anything but relaxing. With her uncle absent, she finds herself managing the hotel—a task at which she’s normally very successful. However, Lindsay’s life is turned upside down by the unfamiliar environment, Christmas festivities, and a very tempting guest—Chandler Lewis. He’s the honorary Santa for the Kona Christmas parade and has a great life back home in California. Romance is the last thing on his mind. But when he meets Lindsay, he begins to wonder if life could be sweeter in Hawaii. http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Hawaiian-Christmas-Victoria-Johnson-ebook/dp/B00QNR29NK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418699934&sr=8-1&keywords=hot+hawaiian+christmas&pebp=1418699938862

One more suggestion, if you’ll forgive a bit of BSP – EFairy Light-with fairyvery now and then, I take a  break from murder and mayhem and write a  short story or two.  Beyond the Fairy Light http://amzn.to/HYZREn is a trio of short shorts, one of which, All is Calm, is a holiday story. You’ll notice that I said holiday – without mentioning a specific holiday – for this is a story about a family with mixed, sometimes conflicting, traditions.

Hope all of you have a wonderful holiday, whatever holiday you celebrate – and if you don’t have a special day to celebrate – hope you’re healthy and happy.

After Thanksgiving

November 30, 2014

tree & mantelWell, here in the US, Thanksgiving is a memory and we’re rushing toward Christmas. It’s that time of year when we try too hard to cram too much into too little time. While I love the parties and sharing good wishes with friends and family, I can’t help but wish we could all slow down and savor each experience instead of dashing off to the next one. Unfortunately, the only way to do that is to whittle down our “to do” list.

One item on my list is addressing Christmas cards. This should be pure joy. It is, after all, wishing peace and happiness to the people about whom I care the most. For some of them, it is the only contact I have from year to year. They are former neighbors, distant relatives, old friends – people who at one time I probably saw on an almost daily basis, but our lives have taken different paths and the relationships have faded. That doesn’t lessen their importance. I firmly believe we’re all a composite of the people and ideas we’ve been exposed to over the course of our lives. A note in a card at holiday time is a small way of keeping the connection alive – definitely not an item to take off the list.Isolated giftboxes

Then there’s shopping. I’m not a “shop ’til you drop” person, but there’s no way to eliminate at least a trip or two to the shops this time of year. I know, checks are an option and are appreciated, but I still like to have a little something extra for my favorite people to unwrap. (I admit this is probably more for my pleasure than theirs.)

chocolate chip cookiesCooking – I’m not a great cook, but I do love to bake and cookies are one thing I’m not about to give up.

Decorating – Who can resist decking the halls! Besides, green is my favorite color.

Housecleaning – (the less said about this the better.) Still, even I want my house to sparkle to show off those decked halls.

Parties – Another item I’m not prepared to scratch off the list.

So, as much as I say I want the world to slow down and savor the season, I have to face the fact that there’s no mysterious “they” to blame; I’m the one who makes my life so busy. The solution? Take a deep breath. Relax. Enjoy the bustle. Try to remember why I’m doing each of these things, how blessed I am to have people in my life to do them for and how lucky that my resources allow it.

How about you? What are your holidays like? How do you manage to keep the stress down?

Where Did the Idea Come From?

November 3, 2014

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve been asked that question. If you’re not a writer, but have friends who are, you’ve probably asked it and have been given a different answer each time. Here’s what my friend, Karen McCullough, has to say:

Karen_McCullough_2013It’s the question authors get asked most often by non-writers: Where do you get your ideas? Most authors have some sort of flip answer: an idea store in Schenectady or the idea tree behind my house. Why don’t we just say something like, I read this story in the newspaper and it inspired me to write this book? Mostly because that’s not what happens.

The basic problem is that it’s the wrong question. Ideas are easy. They’re all over the place. I have more ideas in my head now than I’ll ever be able to write. But it takes multiple ideas to create a novel and they have to fit together in ways that are both comfortable and uncomfortable. Ideas don’t make a novel. Conflict does. Plot does. Characters do. It takes work to meld a group of ideas about conflict and character and events into a cohesive plot.

The Detective’s Dilemma started for me with the first scene of the book, when intruders in her home brutally force Sarah Martin to Detectives_Dilemma_200shoot her much older lover. I can’t remember exactly when that scene popped into my head, but it came to me as a vivid vision. From there I had to build a story, and I knew that I wanted it to be about more than just the police investigating the murder and figuring out who was really behind it. Of course, that is the spine of the story. But there’s a lot more going on.

I thought a lot about Sarah Anne Martin. Why was she living with a much older lover? Who is she? What kind of life does this young woman have and what does she want? I had to make her a person with a personality, with desires and aspirations, and with problems that would get far worse before they got better. She proved to be someone trying to rebuild a life that had been shattered more than once and struggling to create a place for herself in the world.

When the police detectives showed up, Jay Christianson walked on the scene. He has issues as well. He started with a prejudice against Sarah because he’d already been burned once when he got involved with a woman in distress. He doesn’t want to believe in Sarah’s innocence initially and he most definitely doesn’t want to fall for a young woman who is the prime witness and possibly the prime suspect in a murder case.

To add another complication, it becomes clear fairly quickly that Sarah has something the killers want. Unfortunately, she has no idea what it is or where it is, but they get increasingly desperate to get it from her or make sure she’ll never get a chance to find it.

It took a great deal of mental work to bring all those threads of character, events, conflicts and plot into a 65,000-word novel.

 The Detective’s Dilemma is a short romantic suspense novel published in paperback and ebook by Kensington’s Lyrical Press imprint. If you would like to learn more about Karen McCullough and The Detective’s Dilemma, there’s a short bio of Karen and a brief excerpt from the book on the Guest Excerpt page of my website:  http://www.sandracareycody.com/guestexcerpt.html 

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Detectives-Dilemma-Karen-McCullough-ebook/dp/B00OA9WFQY/
BN: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-detectives-dilemma-karen-mccullough/1120500707?ean=9781616506520
Kensington: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/31106

Golden Hours

September 8, 2014


220px-James_Matthew_Barrie00“You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by. Yes, but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.”
 -James M. Barrie 

Being by nature a daydreamer, I savor quotes like that. They give me permission to do what I’m prone to do anyway: let time just slip by. That usually makes me feel guilty so I was glad when I came across the quote by Barrie. The man who created Peter Pan and granted him the pleasure of perpetual childhood surely knew the value of time. I’m sure there were some who thought dreaming up fantasy adventures was a silly way for a grown man to spend his time – until he succeeded. Success has a way of validating silliness.

People who are good at math are fond of telling us how many seconds/minutes/hours we are given every day. It’s a formidable number. Granted a large portion of that time is spoken for. We all have things we have to do: a paying job, children or elders to care for, meals to prepare, a house to maintain, commitments to worthy organizations … the list goes on … and let’s not forget sleep. Still, if we’re honest, most of us can do all these things and have at least some time to call our own.

If we choose to spend every second engaged in a productive endeavor, imagine what we can accomplish. On the other hand, what if we put the “to do” list aside, slowed down, sipped lemonade, read a frivolous book, or lay on a quilt in the back yard Hourglass front viewand watched fireflies while the time slipped by? What would happen? I’m pretty sure the world wouldn’t end. In fact, maybe the idea for an ingenious invention would germinate and grow from those idle moments. Maybe we’d be inspired to create a soulful poem or a great painting. Maybe we’d write a blockbuster novel and make literary history. Or maybe not. Maybe we wouldn’t accomplish anything tangible. Maybe we’d just be … nicer (not an insignificant accomplishment).

So, do yourself a favor. Slow down. Daydream. Let the time slip by and don’t feel guilty about it. Remember … you have the opportunity to create a golden hour.

Summer Afternoons

August 30, 2014

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“Summer afternoon – summer afternoon: to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” Henry James

I came across this quote recently and am ready to change my opinion about Henry James. Not that I don’t already admire him for the characters he created, but I never thought of him as a summer afternoon kind of guy. Fairly or not, I think of him as a character in one of his novels – living a life bound by rules and tradition (though his writing certainly shows that he understood and sympathized with rule-breakers).

Look at him. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to imagine anyone setting out to enjoy a summer afternoon looking like that. Though I guess that’s due mostly due to the changes that have occurred in dress codes since Mr. James’s day.  I suppose if he were alive today, he’d don flipflops, shorts and a tee shirt. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Why these thoughts now? It’s Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer, a summer that seems to have flown by. We’ve had more than our share of perfect days – warm, but not hot; low humidity – the kind of days you wish would last forever. At least that’s the case here in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania. I know many parts of the country have had devastating weather events during the past few months. I hope the end of summer brings an end to the chaos for them – that it gives them perfect conditions to start rebuilding.

I view this weekend with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m sad to see the season of lazy days end; on the other, I’m excited by the prospect of change that a new season brings. To me, September has always seemed like the beginning of a new year, much more so than January. I think that’s because it marks the beginning of a new school year and, as such, a chance to start anew. Back in my school days, I began each new year with resolutions for a perfect year – perfect attendance, perfect grades, a perfect me. I was eager to see who my teacher would be, to meet any new kids who’d moved to the area since the old school year. That’s changed, of course, but not too much. In September, I resume activities that I’ve taken a hiatus from for the summer, and I look forward to that in much the same way I once looked forward to the new school year. In other words, I’m eager to discover what the new season will bring.

So, to all of the readers of Birth of a Novel, I wish a happy Labor Day Weekend, one filled with … whatever you want it to be. And, once this weekend is over, I wish to you, a new season filled with many discoveries – happy ones, of course.

 

A Few Words from Norma Huss

August 18, 2014

Cherish12-1-2013-Front-400I’m pleased to welcome Norma Huss as a guest blogger this week. Norma calls herself The Grandma Moses of Mystery. The original Grandma Moses was a primitive artist who only received recognition when she turned eighty. She continued painting until she was one hundred one. Since Norma’s first book was published a month before her eightieth birthday, she qualifies on one end. Since her mother lived one hundred three years, she has every hope of qualifying on the tail end. Norma and her husband sailed on Chesapeake Bay and beyond for many years, which is why she set her first two mysteries in that location. Her non-fiction, A Knucklehead in Alaska, was written with her father many years ago, in his words, telling the story of a hot-headed nineteen-year-old who went to Alaska hoping to earn college money.

Today, Norma’s going to tell us a little something about her most recent work, Cherish.

Back in the day before e-books and accepted self publishing, I thought of many ideas for novels, and wrote several that failed to find a publisher. Most were for children or young adults, since my own children were only beginning to outgrow that stage. Then I switched to writing mysteries for my own age group and finally found a publisher. But my grandchildren were great readers, and an audience I wanted to reach before they got too old.

I pulled out those dusty pages so long forgotten. So outdated. But I found a germ, a spark, that kindled a new idea. An updated idea. Yeah, that teen doesn’t dig up a skeleton—there isn’t really a skeleton after all. There’s a ghost. Yes. A ghost from the past. Cherish, a tormented ghost, in fact, a ghost who doesn’t know where her body is. A teenage ghost from…where?

Hey, I know about teens from World War II and shortly thereafter. I was there. But how did that teen die in 1946? And what was her life like? She was a high school sophomore, just like the current teen who sees the ghost. But her life was so different. No cell phone. No TV. An ex. G.I. in her Lit class, finishing high school on the G.I. Bill.

So I did it, wrote a story for today’s teens (with technical help from the younger generation). I placed a teen from today into her grandmother’s world. Of course, I had to reverse that as well, placing the teen from 1946 into a world of grungy jeans, cars with seat belts, and no trick-or-treating by anyone over twelve. (Or is it ten now?) And, would I find a way to bring today’s teen home? That could be a problem.

I needed plenty of help with today’s technology. I needed help with my memories of 1946 as well—readily available on the Internet. Some things I relearned played into my plot. Mention of the Nuremberg trials of war prisoners worked for one character’s paranoia. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services-later the CIA) was cited by another character’s rumors. But the teen, with memories of the war years, the rationing, the shock of men she knew dying in battle, the lack of coupons for new shoes, wanted to ignore those background noises, just as today’s teen would. She lived in the moment without thoughts that her words might lead to danger.

 Cherish (A Ghost Mystery) was a lot of fun to write. I’ve just revealed the cover on Goodreads (and here). Publication date is September 1, 2014, right in time for a pre-Halloween read. Early readers have enjoyed it. In fact, they think this book is the perfect grandmother, granddaughter read. The two generations will each discover much about the other generation. (Might I be a bit egotistical and agree? Why not? One must believe in her own work!)

One certainly must! You have every right to believe in your work – and to be proud of it. Cherish sounds like a great story. I love the idea of different generations reading it together and learning about each other through its pages.  Thanks for sharing your news and a bit about yourself with the readers of Birth of a Novel.

Readers, here are some links if you’d like to learn more about Norma and her books:

Website: http://www.normahuss.com
Blog: http://www.blog.normahuss.com
Amazon author page: http://tinyurl.com/nuy7ugv 
Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/od28jfp
 

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

August 6, 2014

fortune cooky stripsI always save the little strips from fortune cookies. Sure, they’re generic but, simple soul that I am, I can usually find wisdom in those few words. At the very least, they provide good conversation – usually accompanied by laughter and some gentle teasing. Here are a few samples from a recent family dinner at a local Chinese restaurant:

 Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

I assumed this one wasn’t intended for me, so I passed it along to my son, who, in turn, passed it across the table to his son. On second thought, though, maybe it’s advice we can all use. Temptation does indeed often seem like opportunity – and actually sometimes it is. Sometimes yielding to temptation reveals a new path, which could be good or bad. The advice both my son and I hoped to convey to my grandson is to stop and think before acting on temptation – and maybe, just maybe, he’ll avoid some of pitfalls offered by the wrong path.

It is sometimes better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

No argument with this one. We love taking long car trips, always with the hope of seeing something new and surprising – and we’re seldom disappointed. A journey, begun with hope,  is one of the best experiences life has to offer. Not that arriving is bad, but  journeys are full of promise.

 Don’t be surprised by the emergence of undiscovered talents.

Since I’m deep into a new book – at the point where I need to deliver on the promises made in my riveting (typed that with crossed fingers) first chapters – this is a most welcome thought.

 There will be many surprises; unexpected gains are likely.

Another welcome thought for the reason mentioned above. To tell the truth, I have no doubt that at least the first part of this prediction will come true. There are always surprises in writing, moments when one of my characters surprises me by taking over the reins and leading me where I need to go. Love it when that happens! Almost as much fun, sometimes I’ll surprise myself with a description that reveals something about the plot that I wasn’t aware of before. As for the second part, that unexpected gains are likely – crossing my fingers again.

Stop wishing. Start doing.

Okay. No need to interpret what this one means. It’s just good, solid advice – and a message to me that it’s time to uncross my fingers and get to work.

One  final thought, not from a cookie, but from the heart: wishing good fortune to all who read this.

 

 

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