Skip to content

A Perfect Wedding

June 19, 2018

Something a little different this time – in honor of June, the month of brides, I’m posting a short story about a wedding, about plans memories and, most of all, about letting go. Hope you like it.

“A June wedding. Perfect. The garden will be at its best.” That little tuck appeared just above Beth’s left eyebrow, a telltale sign of resistance since she was a little girl. Surprised, I paused for a moment before I added, “Your grandmother would be so pleased.”

It’s not going to be here, Mom. Hank and I plan to be married in the chapel at the Workshop.”

“You can’t serious!”

The tuck settled in deeper.

Before either of us had a chance to say more, we heard the stamp of feet in the back hall and the clunk of pruning shears on the washroom table. Charles’s face had that shining look it always has when he comes in from the garden. He rubbed his cheek against mine and poured a cup of coffee.

I waited until he was seated. “You won’t believe the wedding your daughter is planning.”

One hand held the cup of steaming coffee; the other rested on the table, just touching Beth’s fingers. He winked at her and said, “Try me.”

“The Handicapped Workshop. That’s where she wants to be married.”

“The correct name is Sheltered Workshop. And we plan to be married in the chapel.”

“Instead of your grandmother’s rose garden.”

Charles withdrew his hand from the table and rubbed the back of his neck.

“If it were at least our church.” My voice sounded shrill – even to me.

“They can still have the reception in the garden.” Charles, ever the peacemaker, looked from one of us to the other.

“We’re having a picnic,” Beth said. Her voice was confident, almost breezy, but the rosy spots that appeared in her cheeks gave her away. “In the field by the river. Maybe a volleyball game. Very informal.”

“Like Gypsies.” I hadn’t meant to say that aloud, but it was true, so I let it stand.

Charles stirred sugar into his coffee, his down-turned face hiding his thoughts.

“This must be Hank’s idea.” I said.

Beth said, “No, it’s mine,” and put her cup down hard in the saucer, sending a dissonant jangle into the air around us. She glared into the cup, which was still vibrating from the force of her placement.

“Like a bunch of Gypsies.”

“Caroline, stop it!” Charles actually shouted at me. Shocked (we are not a shouting family), I looked from Beth to him. Over his shoulder, I saw my reflection in the window – brandishing my toast. Now I was shocked. Before I could put the toast down, Charles reached across the table and took it from me. We looked at each other, amazed, and listened to the somber tones of our grandfather clock which had begun to echo through the house. Charles broke the toast in two and handed the larger piece to me.

“Is there some reason?” We both spoke at once, directing the same question to our daughter. This was more like it.

Beth took a deep breath before she spoke. “Handicapped people are always on the fringe.” Another deep breath. “We want them to have a part in the wedding: usher, handle the guest book, help serve.” Her voice expanded as she continued. “They love Hank and me.”

“What about your family, your friends, people who’ve loved you all your life?”

“Oh, Mom. Do you know many weddings those people go to? For them, this’ll just be one more.”

“Friends, family. Don’t be too quick to take all that for granted.” Charles said.

I was glad he was standing up to her.

#  #  #

Later, when we stood at the sink, peeling potatoes, I reminded her, “This house, the garden, they were your grandmother’s.”

“I know, Mom, I know. We all know the story about how our grandfather went overseas and Grandma and Daddy came here to stay with her parents. And Grandma planted the rosebushes to keep busy while she waited for him to come home and then, when he was killed, she and Daddy stayed here. I know Daddy grew up in this house. And I know how thrilled Grandma Hamilton was when you and Daddy were married in the rose garden.” She recited it singsong, like a nursery rhyme.

I ignored the petulance in her tone and tried again, “You don’t remember, of course, but …”

“I know, Mom. I don’t have to remember. I’ve heard the story all my life. When our great-grandparents died, we came to stay with Grandma and we’ve been here ever since.”

“You took your first steps in the paths of the rose garden.” The memory of those proud, halting steps brought tears to my eyes. “You loved the garden when you were a little girl.”

“I still do. That doesn’t mean I have to be married there. Just because you did.”

“And your sister.”

“I’m not Meg.”

“Beth, are you sure?”

“That I’m not Meg?”

“Don’t tease. You know what I mean.”

“I’m sure, Mom.”

“Don’t be so quick to answer. Think about it.”

“I have thought about it,” Beth said. Then she turned and, smiling, touched my cheek with her fingertips. The pleasant, earthy scent of potato on her hands reassured me. She’s weakening. She’ll come round if I don’t push too hard.

#  #  #

I stood for a moment at the screen door, admiring them: my beautiful daughter, and her fiancé, Hank, handsome in his way, not the classic looks of my Charles, but still, a very presentable young man. I looked past them at the view I’ve come to love so: our yard, the town, the streets like a long staircase descending to the river, and the river itself curving around so that it cradles the town on three sides.

Meg and John’s car pulled up. Carrie, our only grandchild, was first out of the car. She bounced up the steps, and landed before us on the porch. She accepted hugs from Charles and me, but it was clear that she was not interested in us.

“Aunt Beth, when are we getting married?” she asked, dancing in excitement. She turned to Hank, “Did you know I’m gonna be your flower girl?” And then to Charles, “Grandpa, I’m finally gonna be a flower girl.”

He looked at Beth. “You going to have a flower girl, Pie?”

The oven buzzer sounded before Beth could answer.

#  #  #

“Grandpa, why did you ask Aunt Beth if she’s gonna have a flower girl?” The words came out of Carrie’s mouth almost as an extension of the grace Charles had just offered.

“Your Aunt Elizabeth has some very unusual plans,” I said.

I saw Hank reach for Beth’s hand under the table.

“Not that unusual,” she said, laughing, trying to get us to join in.

Carrie examined each adult face. She said, “Just so I get to be a flower girl and wear a fancy dress and stand under Grandmother Hamilton’s arbor.”

“This wedding’s not going to be in our garden,” Beth told her.

Hank stared at his plate, apparently intent on keeping the pickled beets from bleeding into the mashed potatoes.

“Well, where?” Carrie asked.

“Remember the Sheltered Workshop where Hank and I work?”

“Sure.”

“The little chapel by the river?” Beth prompted.

Carrie wrinkled her nose, “It smells like bug spray.” Her eyes widened. “You can’t have a wedding there. Not a real wedding.”

“Mouths of babes,” I said. I couldn’t help myself.

“It doesn’t always smell like bug spray.” I heard the struggle for control in Beth’s voice. “We’ll put flowers there for the wedding – roses from Grandma’s garden. It’ll be like taking the mountain to Mohammed.” I knew she was still trying to get us to laugh.

“That’s silly,” Carrie said, laying down her fork and sitting up straight.

“Mouths of babes,” I whispered it this time, so softly I’m surprised anyone even heard but they all looked from Carrie to me. I turned to Meg. “Did I mention that they’re planning a picnic instead of a reception?”

“Oh?”

“Complete with volleyball.”

Carrie wailed, “I can’t play volleyball in a flower girl dress.” She turned to Beth and said, “You promised me, Aunt Beth. Remember? When I had chicken pox and you brought me bride paperdolls? You said when you got married, I could be your flower girl and wear a white dress with lace.”

“Carrie …”

“And a ribbon for a belt …””I remember …”

“And a matching ribbon in my hair.”

“You can still do that.”

“You said maybe blue ribbon like my eyes. You promised.”

“I didn’t say the arbor.”

“You didn’t say NOT the arbor. So that’s like promising the arbor.”

The blue eyes were too bright now and the little pointed chin trembled as Carrie stared accusingly at Beth. I had to look away from that small brave face – out of the dining room, through the foyer, and beyond. The sun was setting and shadows filled the house. In the living room, I could see only the outlines of the things that were so much a part of our lives: the graceful contour of the sofa back; the tall wingchair; the piano, its outline crowned with the shapes of framed photographs, each so familiar to me that I needed no light to see the faces. I looked long at my mother’s picture, wondering what she would think of this wedding.

Carrie’s voice brought me back to the dining room. “It was a promise. All of it. Arbor and all. I know it was a promise. It’s bad luck to break a promise about a wedding.”

Now Beth’s face held my attention. I saw her glance at Hank, an appeal for help, which he missed.

Her father did not. He said, “I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m ready for dessert.”

“Beth and I’ll get it,” Meg said.

I started to get up.

Meg put her hand on my shoulder. “Mom, you stay put.”

They seemed to disappear instantaneously. There were two empty places at the table where my daughters had been. From my chair nearest the door, I could hear them in the kitchen.

“Look, Sis, don’t let Carrie influence you. If this is what you really want …”

“I wouldn’t hurt her for …”

“Don’t worry about her. We can make her understand.” I heard the knife scrape against the bottom of the pie plate.

And Beth’s voice: “I’ll get the ice cream.”

“You should think about Mom and Dad though.”

I heard the freezer door open and imagined the slap of cold air on Beth’s face.

“And yourself.” That was Meg again. “This house, the garden, Grandma’s roses, the wedding dress we all wore. You turn your back on all that …”

“I’m not turning my back on anything! How can you say that?”

“Just think about those things.”

“I can still wear the dress.”

“Why bother?”

“That’s not fair!”

“Think about it.” Meg’s voice again. So – she’s on my side. With daughters, you never know. Poor Bethy. Well, I’m sure she’ll be glad some day we talked her out of that Gypsy wedding. Probably is already. All she needs is an excuse to save face.

I resolved to help her out. “That chapel’s not very big,” I said after they had served the dessert.

“Ladies.” Charles made a timeout tee with his hands. “I think this pie deserves our undivided attention.”

Beth wouldn’t even look at me.

#  #  #

“Please, just listen,” Beth said later, after Meg and John had carried a sleeping Carrie to the car.

“We’ve been listening,” I said.

“Not really. You don’t understand what we’re trying to do.”

“No, I guess we don’t.”

“If we have the wedding at the Workshop, all of our people can come.”

“They can come here.”

“It’s not the same. They’d just be guests. If it’s at the Workshop, it’ll be like they’re giving the wedding.”

In the quiet that spread around us, I could her words, could almost read them in the air. I knew from Beth’s face that she was reading them too, understanding fully, perhaps for the first time, all that they implied, but she let them stand. Charles and Hank remained silent, studying the swirls in the Oriental carpet. I looked out the window, but it was dark now, and I could not see the garden or the town or the river, just the four of us reflected in the glass.

#  #  #

The night that followed was long and sleepless. I stared into the dark, thinking, remembering, until finally, shafts of daylight penetrated the curtains. I heard light, quick footsteps on the stairs and called out, “Bethy.”

“Yes?” She sounded annoyed, but she waited.

“Going for a jog?”

“Um hmm.”

“Have coffee with me first.”

“You don’t have to get up yet. I’ll cut it short and be back in time for breakfast.”

“Shall I make French toast? You’ve always …”

“I don’t eat that way any more.”

“A little splurge?”

“You don’t have to make breakfast for me.”

“I know I don’t have to.” I brushed some hair off her face. “But wouldn’t it be nice?”

She shook her head, causing her hair to lift and then to fall again in rippling waves, just as it had when she was a little girl.

“I didn’t sleep much last night,” I told her.

“Mom, do we have to talk about this now?”

“Just listen.”

She sighed and sat down.

“I lay there, remembering …”

“I know. The roses. The fragrance. The breeze from the river.” She was using that singsong voice again. “The sounds of the town in the background.”

“No, dear.” Her head was bent so that the sunlight on her hair was almost blinding. “Well, yes, I did think of those things. Mostly, though, I remembered the town I grew up in, the church I didn’t get married in.” She looked into my eyes as I continued. “My mother. I’m not sure she ever understood why I planned the wedding I did. I know I was right, though, to do it my own way. And now it’s your turn. That’s all I wanted to tell you. That and how proud of you I am.”

A Perfect Wedding is one of a trio of short stories –http://a.co/dSpbFEU

Advertisements

Road Trip

June 2, 2018

We Americans are not a stay-at-home bunch. Not surprising since, except for Native Americans, we’re the children of people who packed up everything they owned and headed for a new land. We’re also a friendly bunch. That’s one of the reasons my husband and I love road trips. We want to see as many as possible of the wonders our country has to offer, but even more, we want to peer beyond those attractions into the hidden corners of the country and to meet the people who live there. For us, a road trip is a chance to celebrate the ordinary as well as the extraordinary, a matter of balance.

One trip we’ve taken multiple times is almost a thousand miles each way – from a small town just north of Philadelphia to a small town just west of St. Louis. We make this trip about twice a year to see family, to re-visit our roots and, believe it or not, we always drive. As many times as we’ve made this trip, we always get into the car ready to see something new – and we’ve never been disappointed.

We don’t take the most obvious route, which would be the PA Turnpike, then west on I-70 until we hit St. Louis.  Too much traffic, too many huge trucks. I appreciate the contribution truckers make to our way of life, delivering all those goodies we buy on the internet and much of the food we find in our supermarkets, but it’s no fun being in a tiny car barreling along the highway in a box made by huge semis.  I-70 - 2

I laughed when I saw this picture of I-70. I’ve never seen it that empty.

Neither do we take back roads, though the prospect is temping. Maybe some day when we have more time (like that will ever happen). We follow a route that dips south through the mountains of West Virginia, then head west and travel through Kentucky horse country.

It’s a beautiful route and a reminder of just how beautiful this country is, how large and how varied the scenery.

But the best part is always the people we run into when we stop for gas and/or meals. As I said earlier, Americans are a friendly people. We really want to like everyone. Even people wearing T-shirts that proclaim views very different from those I hold are good company when we meet on a person-to-person level and forget about the artificial barriers so prevalent these days. These encounters give me hope for the future of our country and our world.

Finally, there’s that moment when I catch the first glimpse of the St. Louis Arch. It’s my welcome-home symbol. As much as I love new places and new people, seeing the places and people that I grew up with never fails to give my heart a lift. Again, a matter of  balance, the necessity of both roots and wings.

 

My grandson, Sean, took the above picture of the Arch. He was eight years old at the time. It was a real joy to take a road trip with him – laughing, playing silly car games, seeing new sights, seeing old sights through new eyes. Yes, there were a few “how much longers” and “are we there yets”, but they prompted us to use our imaginations to engage his restless young mind and to call up memories of former trips with his father and uncle. Those always made him laugh. Most of the time Pete drove and I sat in back with Sean, an open atlas between us so he could see exactly where we were. One of our best trips ever.

Enjoy your summer, my friends, no matter where or how you spend it.

 

 

 

Man With Two Faces – Decopunk and Self-Reflection

May 15, 2018

An unexpected perk of writing is meeting other writers and learning what’s behind the tales they tell. One of the perks of this blog is that sometimes I get to share those stories with other readers. This week Don Swaim has very kindly agreed to tell us something about the genesis of his latest book, The Man With Two Faces. http://donswaim.com/bookbeatpodcast.html

From Don Swaim:

When I was seven, I often came across stuff I liked, little poems and stories, and would ask my mother to type them for me on the portable Remington she’d used during her two years at Lindenwood College in Missouri. As my jejune demands cut into her bridge games, dainty watercress lunches, and extended cocktail hours, she insisted I do my own typing.

So I taught myself to type using two fingers and a thumb, and became so boastfully proficient that by college some omnipotent journalism prof ordered me to display my technique, and promptly dispatched me to a touch-typing class before I could continue as a J-school student. I got an A in typing, and I learned that passing Mickey Mouse courses, like typing, would boost one’s overall grade average a lot more than flunking astrophysics.

Disclaimer: I never took a class in astrophysics. But I still type with two fingers and a thumb.

Which brings me to my book Man With Two Faces. A previous novel The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce: A Love Story took over twenty years to write, and was barely saved from extinction by a prominent scholar within the Bierce orbit. But Man With Two Faces, for better or worse, was put together in record time (for me), less than a year.

I’d always been fascinated by a decorative concept of the twenties and thirties known as Art Deco, and it was serendipity that led to my discovery of a minor literary genre, Decopunk, which combines the artistic sensibility of the period with action and suspense. Art Deco itself is personified by symmetrical and rectilinear lines suggesting movement and speed. In architecture, the famed Chrysler Building in New York is a prime example.

Man With Two Faces began as a short story, which was submitted to my local writers workshop. However, the members failed to appreciate the brilliance of my work to the degree that I did. Shallow, lightweight, unrealistic, and unreal, were some of the criticisms. Undaunted, I wrote a second story with the same characters, and then another and another until I covered the years with seven tales narrated chronologically from 1934 through 1940, the final chapter being placed in Algiers on the eve of World War Two.

By then, most, but not all, in the workshop, appeared to grasp what I was trying to do: fabricate a parody of a pulp thriller in the context of the Great Depression. It was also intended to be funny.

Within ten months, I had “finished” the story sequence — while rejecting an opportunity to publish the first chapter in a magazine because I didn’t want to cut the story by a thousand pages.

Believing the story collection was too short for a conventional publisher, and planning to self-publish it as an ebook, in early January I came across two or three independent publishers amenable to accepting shorter works. Not long after my query, Montag Press, Oakland, offered me a contract.

Montag is an impudent, small publisher that calls itself a collective, and takes its name from the fireman in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, thus Montag’s motto, “Books Worth Burning.”

The following three months, after acceptance, required intensive work to turn a collection of related stories into a legitimate novel, albeit one that remains episodic. My editor at Montag provided helpful advice, and graphic artist Rick Febre designed a gorgeous cover with a period design complementing the story.

The book saw print by April, barely more than a year after I wrote the first two sentences: “The Man With Two Faces had returned to New York. To kill me.”

The story involves, not a superhero, but a flawed protagonist and his blowgun-brandishing girlfriend who escort the reader through the Great Depression’s celluloid glamour and real-life agony. The 1930s were glamorized by Hollywood films in the form of incredible dance routines and romantic stars. But the superficial elegance was undermined by poverty and desperation. Man With Two Faces attempts to exemplify the vivid incongruities of the Depression era while exposing its gritty underside.

In writing the book, I found out a lot about the Great Depression and myself.

What was surprising, even frightening, about the era was the willingness of some Americans to accept the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. The sight of Nazis goose stepping and openly flaunting their swastikas on the streets of the United States was a symbol that despotism lurked even in a democracy as it does now.

Particularly now.

What may not be apparent to the reader is that the novel’s hero, an ex-rum runner, diamond thief, and soldier of fortune, so physically unlike the author, is more like him than not, carrying many of author’s prejudices, fears, and inherent cockiness.

While there are too many literary influences for me to cite adequately, one stands out. As a child of science fiction and fantasy, I was led from raw pulp to an appreciation of true literature through the writing of Ray Bradbury. However, Ray also proved that even in pulp exceptional writing can be detected. The quality of Man With Two Faces may be assessed negatively or positively, but it is, without apology, Decopunk.

Ray Bradbury and I met twice and he was all I expected him to be.

One of my early readers, the Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, describes Man With Two Faces as “gonzo” writing, for which Joshi claims an affection. While gonzo may be interpreted in varying ways, particularly in relation to journalism, the form invariably delves into offbeat subjects and unorthodox writing styles.

How does an author determine if his work makes any contribution to literature? It is a ridiculous question for which the answer is both simple and futile. As one who aspires to write to succeed, my advice is for authors to forget contributing to literature: Do your best, write decently, avoid clichés, and take chances, big chances even if your work is labeled as shallow, lightweight, unrealistic, and unreal.

Man With Two Faces is available from Amazon.com in both print and ebook: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Two-Faces-Don-Swaim/dp/1940233542

Don Swaim is a novelist, journalist, broadcaster, and a winner of the Pearl S. Buck International short story award. His novel, The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce: A Love Story, was published in April 2016 by Hippocampus Press, New York. Swaim’s literary thriller, The H.L. Mencken Murder Case (St. Martin’s Press), was republished as a trade paperback by the Authors Guild’s Back in Print program. His fiction and articles have been published in small magazines and on the web, as well as his ebooks Steampunk Electroblaster Romance and Bright Sun Extinguished: Ode to Norman Mailer. Swaim is a Kansan by birth, Ohioan by education, Manhattanite by inclination, and Pennsylvanian by preference. His long-running CBS Radio broadcast about books and writers, “Book Beat: The Podcast,” continues on the Internet. He is also the founder of the venerable Bucks County Writers Workshop, and edits the web’s definitive Ambrose Bierce Site:  http://donswaim.com

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

April 23, 2018

I’m excited to have my friend and Sister in Crime, Matty Dalrymple, as a guest today. Matty is the author of the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, “The Sense of Death” and “The Sense of Reckoning,” and the Lizzy Ballard Thriller, “Rock Paper Scissors.” She lives with her husband, Wade Walton, and their dogs in Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is the setting for much of the action in “The Sense of Death” and “Rock Paper Scissors.” In the summer, they enjoy vacationing on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, where “The Sense of Reckoning” takes place. Matty also blogs, podcasts, and speaks about independent publishing as The Indy Author™. She is obviously a busy women. I can tell you from personal experience, she’s also a very nice person. So, from Matty:

Readers often ask me where I get the titles for my books and short stories, which include the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning and the Ann Kinnear Suspense Shorts Close These Eyes and May Violets Spring. (I have also authored the Lizzy Ballard Thrillers Rock Paper Scissors and, coming in June 2018, Snakes and Ladders.) In this post, I share the backstory of how my Ann Kinnear works found their titles.

Ann Kinnear is a woman who is able to sense spirits, and who has a consulting business based on this ability. When I was finishing the first novel, I turned my mind to possible titles. I wanted the title to represent the centrality of death to the plots, as well as to reflect Ann’s sensing ability.

I came up with The Sense of Death, and went to Google and Amazon to find out who else might be using that title. Book titles are considered “short slogans” and are therefore not eligible to be copyrighted, so finding another book with the same title wouldn’t necessarily have been a deal-breaker. However, I didn’t want my readers to have to contend with the confusion I faced when I downloaded a movie titled The Girl on the Train and was well into it before I realized it was not the movie version of the Paula Hawkins novel. (My advice is to make sure you’re getting the Paula Hawkins version.)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no other books on Amazon with the title The Sense of Death, but my Google search reminded me that I was not the first person to think of that phrase—Shakespeare had beaten me to the punch in Measure for Measure.

Dar’st thou die?
The sense of death is most in apprehension;
And the poor beetle that we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
As when a giant dies.

I was so excited when I read this passage because it encapsulated many ideas I touched upon in the book—the apprehension of death, the suffering we anticipate will accompany death (but which might be no more than the instantaneous demise of the squashed beetle).

When I was working on Ann Kinnear Book 2, I thought that a continuation of the “sense of” theme would be interesting, and returned to Google to discover what else Shakespeare might have in store. I found this fantastic passage from Henry V:

O God of battles, steel my soldiers’ hearts.
Possess them not with fear. Take from them now
The sense of reckoning ere th’ opposed numbers
Pluck their hearts from them.

Perfect! The second Ann Kinnear book was all about how Ann overcomes the fear resulting from the experiences related in the first book.

I was now enthusiastic about the idea of having the entire series based on Shakespearean quotes. I started out looking for other quotes that included the phrase “the sense of”:

  • “The tongues of mocking wenches are as keen as is the razor’s edge invisible, cutting a smaller hair than may be seen, above the sense of sense,” or “Sweet royalty, bestow on me the sense of hearing” from Love’s Labour’s Lost (“The sense of hearing” is obviously a non-starter, but there are lots of other title ideas in the “mocking wenches” quote!)
  • “More spongy to suck in the sense of fear. More ready to cry out ‘Who knows what follows?” from Troilus and Cressida (Anything with the word “spongy” in it sounds better for sci-fi or horror.)
  • “From the barge a strange invisible perfume hits the sense of the adjacent wharfs” from Anthony and Cleopatra (Uh … no.)
  • “The sense of all civility” from Othello (I’d be afraid it would get shelved next to Miss Manners.)
  • “Say that the sense of feeling were bereft me, and that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch, and nothing but the very smell were left me, yet would my love to thee be still as much” from Venus and Adonis (I’ll have to file that away in case I switch to Romance).

Undeterred, I decided to venture beyond “the sense of” options. My first Ann Kinnear Suspense Short involves revenge, and a search of “Shakespeare quotes revenge” uncovered this wonderful passage from Henry VI:

I’ll never pause again, never stand still,
Till either death hath closed these eyes of mine
Or fortune given me measure of revenge.

From that I pulled the story title, Close These Eyes.

When I completed my second Suspense Short, I started my search again. This was a completely non-traditional Easter story—not appropriate for those who object to violations of the Third Commandment—that was about faithfulness and forgiveness. Despite vigorous Googling, I found that these were much rarer topics for The Bard to address than death and revenge. A search for “Shakespeare quotes about faithfulness” usually brought back, “Women may fall when there’s no strength in men” from Romeo and Juliet, which wasn’t right for my story, and the quotes I found related to forgiveness dealt with much darker topics than I wanted to conjure up for my fairly light-hearted story.

Still casting about for a title, I sent the story to a few trusted beta readers for their input, one of whom turned out to be a Shakespeare scholar. He suggested I not focus so exclusively on the overarching themes of the story, but instead pick up a detail I had thrown in—the fact that violets reminded one character of a romantic episode with his wife many years before. Since, as with all Ann Kinnear stories, this one dealt with death, we came up with this quote from Hamlet:

Lay her i’ th’ earth,

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

And so my second Ann Kinnear Suspense Short became May Violets Spring.

Title problem solved. I suppose that considering the theme of death throughout my books, I shouldn’t have been surprised that my final challenge was convincing my book cover designer that the title was not May Violence Spring.

Good news: LIZZY BALLARD BOOK 1, ROCK PAPER SCISSORS has been named a Notable Indie of 2018 by Shelf Unbound Magazine. Book 2, SNAKES AND LADDERS will be launched in June of this year.

Matty’s novels and short stores are available on Amazon …

The Sense of Death

The Sense of Reckoning

Close These Eyes

May Violets Spring

Rock Paper Scissors

… and all major online book retailers.

Thanks, Matty, for sharing your process for naming your books. Good luck!

 

Favorite Characters

April 16, 2018

Asking a writer to name her favorite character is a little like asking a parent which of their children they love most. I, and I assume most writers, love all my characters – even the bad guys. Having said that, I admit some have a special place in my heart.

Put Out the Light was the book that introduced Jennie Connors to the world beyond my imagination. It also introduced Nathaniel Pynchon, who started out small and went on to become a favorite. He’s become my go-to guy. When the plot starts to stall, I can count on Nate to do something outrageous and get things rolling again. He’s an 84-year-old Shakespearean actor, who has trouble remembering that, while trickery works out on the stage, it can have serious consequences in real life.  A big help to a stalled plot!

Another favorite is Tess Zumwalt. Tess is a former FBI agent, a graphology expert. She’s quiet and soft-spoken, someone people tend to overlook, a quality she uses to her advantage. She was in the background in the first couple of Jennie Connors mysteries and came into her own in By Whose Hand when an illegal funds transfer prompted a murder and the only clues were some notes Jennie found in a trashcan. Tess is the perfect foil to Nate’s bravado and good person to have around if you’re an amateur sleuth.

Another character I have a special affection for is Caroling Morrow, a peace activist who found a baby in a basket when she went to a folk fest. She adopted the baby, named her Peace, passed along her own Quaker values and … turn the page, 22 years go by  … Peace Morrow is all grown up, just in time for me to write Love and Not Destroy . I had fun writing this because it features an actual museum just up the street from where I live. Strange though it may seem to some, The Mercer Museum is more than a place; it’s a character in its own right.

I said I love my “bad guys” too. An Uncertain Path, the book that follows Love and Not Destroy, was a change of pace for me. It’s not a traditional mystery. The reader knows from the beginning whodunit. We watch Rachel Woodard commit the crime and see how it affects her, how it forces her to examine the impact of her actions on the people she loves. I told this story as a dual narrative, a format I’ve always enjoyed reading, but I wondered how readers would feel about my switching gears. So far, feedback has been good. (Huge sign of relief.)

Those are just a few of the individuals who started out as vague ideas and became real to me as I put them in difficult situations and gave them tough problems to solve. I could go on, but I won’t. The list is too long. That’s the beauty of writing – you meet a lot of interesting people – made according to your own specifications. That last statement is only partly true. More than once, a character has informed me that what I had planned for them wasn’t possible. It wasn’t true to their character. Interesting, since I had created their character in the first place.

Perhaps a more interesting list would be characters created by other authors. (Sounds like an idea for another post.)

How about you? Do you have a favorite fictional friend (or foe), either created by you or another author?

Put Out the Light http://a.co/9A3Ad61

By Whose Hand – http://a.co/dmlVdRb

Love and Not Destroy – http://a.co/30yaaP4

An Uncertain Path http://a.co/3wlVVlm

 

 

Celebrate National Library Week with a Writer

April 8, 2018

Marilyn LevensonWhat better way to celebrate the 65th anniversary of National Library Week than with the author of The Haunted Library series? I had the privilege of meeting Marilyn Levinson, a/k/a Allison Brook at a conference several years ago. and felt an immediate kinship. Since then, as so often happens, we’ve continued our friendship through social media connections. I’ll share more about Marilyn/Allison later. Now, let’s hear from her in her own words.

Like most avid readers, I’ve been spending time in libraries as far back as I can remember. I learned early on that while libraries might look different on the outside, inside all were full of books, magazines and helpful librarians. I remember walking to the library when I was in elementary school in Brooklyn and how I loved spending time in the old library in Danbury Connecticut, when my parents would bring me to town from our summer cottage on a nearby lake. Over time, I checked out every book of fairy tales along with animal stories. I appreciated the helpful librarians’ suggestions, even though they occasionally reminded me that no, I couldn’t take out books from the adult section.

I did eventually graduate to the adult section, and borrowed many of the classics. While attending Syracuse University, I often studied in the library. I even worked in the library stacks for a period of time, sending requested books down to the circulation desk via a creaking dumbwaiter and reading Nietzsche in between “orders.”

Electronics have become an important aspect of our daily life, and nowhere is this more evident than in our local libraries. Patrons order and renew books on line, borrow e-books, and sign up for classes via the internet. These days libraries are often the center of our communities. They offer all sorts of classes and lectures; they show movies, host bus trips, and present live entertainment.

It was while attending an outdoor drumming presentation at my own library that I got Death Overdue cover copythe idea for my Haunted Library mystery series. It occurred to me that a librarian in charge of Programs and Events would make the perfect sleuth! She could bring in all sorts of programs and introduce various presenters. The perfect setting for a mystery series. Add a library ghost and a library cat and presto! A series was born!

One or two readers have complained to me that the Clover Ridge Library where Carrie Singleton, my sleuth, works is not like real libraries. Not true! Almost all of the programs offered in DEATH OVERDUE are also offered in my Long Island library and others in the area. We are offered musical presentations, movies, exercise classes, and my favorite—food demonstration programs. The reading room is always filled with patrons reading newspapers and magazines. The library continues to play an important part in my life. It still offers books and reading material and so much more.

Thanks, Marilyn/Allison, for sharing your love of libraries with us. I wish you the best of luck with The Haunted Library books and your other projects. I look forward to following Carrie Singleton’s adventures.

As promised, here’s a bit about Marilyn/Allison. A former Spanish teacher, she writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for young readers. DEATH OVERDUE was a Library Journal’s “Pick of the Month” on Goodreads’ list of 200 Most Popular Books published in October 2017 and is a nominee for an Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel. As Marilyn Levinson, she writes the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series. Her website is: www.marilynlevinson.com   I hope you’ll stop by and visit. She loves to hear from readers.

The next book in the series, READ AND GONE, will be published in September 2018.

DEATH OVERDUE –  http://a.co/gec3YJ7 

READ AND GONE – http://a.co/cQTU98k

 

A Conversation With Beate Boeker

March 20, 2018

Author_Picture_Beate_Boeker_at_waterBeate Boeker is a USA Today bestselling author with a passion for books that brim over with mischief & humor. She writes sweet sophisticated romantic fiction and cozy mysteries, many of them set in beautiful Italy.  While ‘Boeker’ means ‘books’ in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as ‘Happy’ . . . and with a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write novels with happy endings?

As with so many of my author friends, I met Beate via the internet when we were both writing for Avalon Books. Since then, we’ve become good friends (emphasis on the word good). Not only is she a fine writer, she’s a generous friend who never passes up a chance to help a fellow teller-of-tales. I had the pleasure of a face-to-face meeting when she visited New York a couple of years ago.

You can learn more about Beate at her website www.happybooks.de

Enough from me. Let’s hear from Beate.

CODY:   I love your Temptation in Florence series. What inspired you to write about this crazy Italian family? Did you know it would be a series?

BOEKER:   The Mantonis sort of happened. I knew I wanted to write a cozy mystery series with a romantic relationship that spans over several books, but I didn’t plan the Mantonis! At first, I needed some more suspects, so the murderer wouldn’t be too evident, and then, they simply refused to leave. They grew on me and amused me, and I honestly don’t know what they come up with when I start a book. I do know the murderer, and the culprit, and one to three red herrings – and the rest just develops as I write.

Temptation in Florence

CODY:    How much of yourself is in Carlina? Is her family like your family?

BOEKER:   Carlina is more serene than I am – I know I would frazzle at the edges if I lived in close contact to my family. I am several hundred miles removed from them and see them once or twice a year — and then, I have the necessary distance and can laugh about things. And yes, of course I borrow some things from real life. My father, for example, was a perfectionist and had a tendency to be a fanatic. He had these “phases” in life that I borrowed for the first book (though I changed them for the book). He also had the “health food phase” that I gave to Fabbiola in book no. 3 – and we really did wash corn to get rid of little, black beetles! I still have to laugh when I think about that. The funny thing is that all the things I invent sound totally possible, but whenever I put something in my books that’s based on real facts, then people start to frown and say “I think you’re going overboard on this.”

CODY:   In the first book, Carlina hides her grandfather’s dead body, so her cousin’s wedding can go as planned. How do people react to that?

BOEKER:   About fifty percent of the readers find it totally acceptable – and the other fifty percent find it hard to swallow. That’s one of the things I based on real life. A good friend of my grandfather lost two brothers in the war. When her third and favorite brother was killed, the news came during her engagement party. Her parents learned about it but didn’t give out the information until the next morning. Something similar happened to my grandfather. My grandmother’s brother and sister wanted to come to my grandmother’s birthday party and got killed in a road accident on the way. The police came to the door while the party was in full swing, and he kept the news to himself until the next day.
They decided to keep the terrible news, so the beautiful moments would not be destroyed. I found that heroic and incredibly strong, and I admit I was a bit surprised that many people can’t relate to Carlina’s decision at all. It’s not even a question of upbringing or culture – my sister thinks it’s a terrible decision, while I find it perfectly viable.

CODY:    Are you planning more Temptation in Florence books? (Please say “yes”)

BOEKER:   Yes, I am. The Mantonis are so real to me that I can’t imagine giving up on them. I wish I’d reach a still larger audience, so I could spend more time writing and be quicker. As it is, I’m happy if I manage one new volume per year. I also spend quite some time on translating them into German. The first three have come out in German so far, and I try to keep both the English and the German readers happy with the output.

CODY:   The books are full of details about places and customs in Florence. How much research is necessary to make sure they are accurate?

BOEKER:   I visited Florence several times, and I have Italian friends I ask for help when I get stuck. For example, in book 6, I wrote in the first draft that the undertaker took the body away right after the murder, and my Italian friend was horrified. There has to be a wake, of course! I quickly corrected that. And then, thank God, there’s the internet that can bring up the most amazing details. It helps that I speak Italian. For book no. 7, which takes place in Milan, I booked an extra trip and spent several days trying to soak up details and the spirit of the city. It’s never enough, and I wish I could go and live in Italy for longer stretches of time . . . it’s one of my dreams!

CODY:   We’ve talked a lot about the Temptation in Florence series. What else have you written?

BOEKER:   I write sweet sophisticated romance, 10 full length novels so far. My personal favorite is “Mischief in Italy”, which is a romantic comedy set at the lake of Garda. The idea for this book (a personal ad with a twist) was born while I was sitting on a boat, enjoying the blue lake and blue sky and sunshine on lake Garda. I started to scribble the first chapter that evening in front of our tent, and it made me laugh as much as the Mantonis do.

CODY:   You’ve put together bundles with other authors in the past. Can you tell us something about how this works and how it benefits you?

BOEKER:   The bundles are called Sweet Christmas Kisses, and more than ten authors take part in each volume. I published short stories in 3 of the 4 that were published each year so far (and I’ll also be in volume 5). Each of us writes a short story with professional editing, and then, we publish it together, using a distributing company. It makes a bit of money, but the more important part is that it gets our names better known, so that readers can look us up and read our other books if they enjoyed the short story. I have decided to throw in the Mantonis this time, even though the hero and heroine are not Stefano and Carlina, as in the mystery series. The preliminary title is “Christmas with the Mantonis” – but I might rename it “Christmas with the poker group”. It’s almost done.

CODY:   What are you working on now?

BOEKER:   I have to finish the short story “Christmas with the Mantonis”; I’m currently translating book no. 4 from English into German; and I’m plotting (so far, only in my head) book no. 8 in the series in English. I think this time, Lucio, Emma’s husband will get into trouble (Emma is Carlina’s cousin). I always try to get some personal emotional crisis connected to the murder, and as Emma will have a baby, we have plenty of potential for difficult situations.

CODY:   What do you do when you’re not writing?

BOEKER:   I work in marketing. And I sleep (really quite a lot). Of course, there’s my daughter and husband, who come up with crazy ideas all the time, so I can put them into my books. I’ll never forget the day when we tried to find out if you can strangle someone with panty hose (a fact I needed for book no. 2). We wanted to try with a teddy bear but simply didn’t have the heart to do it, so in the end, we strangled a cushion one day during breakfast.

CODY:    Do you have a favorite writer who inspires you?

BOEKER:   I love Georgette Heyer because she has such a knack of describing people with their weaknesses. I love her hidden irony, and the characters she created. I’ve re-read her romances so many times that her characters are almost real to me.

CODY:   Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

BOEKER:   Not really, but I’ve always loved to read. My mother says I was an impossible child, always up to mischief, but that I settled down the day I learned to read. I also had a diary, and I soon started to make up stories in my head. I did write a book about horses and friends when I was in my teens and found it so embarrassing that I lost it. When it came to choosing a profession, I did think about writing, but I knew I didn’t have enough experience in life — and I felt the need to earn good money and be completely independent. That’s why the next novel only came into life after my studies, when I was in my late twenties. I found my day job too boring and needed something to distract me. Once I’d written that novel, I realized I needed to learn some skills to write a really good book. It’s not something you have or don’t have. It’s a craft. I sound found out that the US has a huge network for beginning authors, and so, I decided to write in English in spite of the fact that I’m German. I found a professional editor, she recommended Avalon Books as a possible publisher, and that’s how my first book got published – in 2008.

Beate, thanks for so much for telling us a bit about yourself and your books. As always, it’s a pleasure to spend time with you.

A reminder of Beate’s website www.happybooks.de