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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 So outdated.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:

Amazon author page: 

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.



And the Winner is …

August 1, 2014




Judy Alter was the name I pulled from my imaginary hat filled with the names of those of you who were kind enough to leave a comment this past week. A million thanks to all of you. I know that time is a precious gift and I do appreciate your using some of yours to read this blog and leave a comment.

print version

Judy, I’ll get in touch with you privately so you can let me know where to send a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.


Exploring an Unexpected Path

July 24, 2014

?????????????There are few things more exciting – or unsettling – to a writer than admitting you’re not in control of your story. Most of us like to think we’re in control of our lives, but, deep down, we know that’s only partly true. In reality, our lives are subject to a million and one curves the universe can throw at us. As writers, though, we’re dealing with a universe of our own creation, so we should be in control. Right? You’d think so. But, as in other aspects of our lives, it’s not always the case. Sometimes a character or even the story itself throws us a curve.

I wrote LOVE AND NOT DESTROY as a stand-alone – or so I thought. It’s the story of Peace Morrow, a young woman who was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a strong, loving woman who gave her a nearly perfect childhood, but still, Peace can’t help wondering about her biological parents.

Thinking back over it, I remember that my original intent was that she would never discover who her biological parents were. The idea was that she would come to realize that it doesn’t matter whose blood flowed in her veins. She is what she makes herself.  Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was unfair to the reader and to my protagonist to leave that part of the puzzle unresolved and, truth be told, I wanted to know myself. So, by the end of the book, Peace has learned that her father is dead and her mother is someone she doesn’t really even like. That’s a complete turnaround from my original intention. The story took over and told me what needed to happen. I thought I’d tied up enough loose ends that the story was finished.

But Peace’s situation haunted me. I had to know what happened next and, unless I wrote the story, I’d never know. So, there you have it – I’m writing another Peace Morrow book. I planned to write about Peace’s relationship with her adoptive and biological mothers, and, almost as important, the relationship between the two mothers. It seemed like an interesting premise for a book. I had what I thought was the perfect title: ALL THAT I AM. I felt confident that I could make an interesting book out of this situation. I wrote a couple of chapters, introducing new characters as necessary to flesh out the story and, since I write mysteries, I inserted a mystery element into the book  … and, wham, the story took over. I realized the new characters’ lives were impacted in ways that could not be ignored. Peace and her two mothers are still there, but the focus has changed.

That’s where I am now. I’m being led down an unexpected path by characters who I thought I’d created, but who have assumed lives of their own. That’s what characters do; they demand that their story be told and even reveal to those of us who consider ourselves their creators what that story is. All we have to do is find the right words to do justice to the lives of these people.

Writing is an unpredictable endeavor – sometimes unsettling, always exciting.


Amazon Kindle:
Barnes and Noble: 

Leave a comment by August 1 and you could win a copy of LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.

Putting Your Ego Aside

July 5, 2014

It's Raining MenHave you ever collaborated with another author to tell a story? I haven’t actually done it, but the process fascinates me. A friend of mine, Beate Boeker, recently teamed up with another writer, Gwen Ellery to write It’s Raining Men. 

Since I’ve known Beate for a while and have read quite a few of her books, I thought I’d be able to tell which chapters she wrote. I was wrong. It’s Raining Men has all the trademark humor and mischief I’ve come to associate with Beate, but since I’m not familiar with Gwen’s other work, I can’t say how much her input affected the style. The two of them did a good job creating one voice. I had fun trying to figure who wrote which chapter, but there was only one chapter I was sure had been written by my friend and that was because of the setting, not the voice.

As I said, the collaborative process fascinates me. I think of writing as a deeply personal experience and can only imagine the patience and discipline it must take to shape the visions of two individual writers into one cohesive story. The closest I’ve ever come was several years ago when a group of then-Avalon writers decided to write a joint novel for our Avalon Authors blog. Since Avalon Books no longer exists, the blog has moved on (we’re now Classic and Cozy Books) , but the old blog and our collaborative book, Along For the Ride, are still floating out there in cyber space. Here’s a link if you’re curious:

If you’d like to sample It’s Raining Men, there’s an excerpt on my website –

I can think of two other writing  teams whose work I enjoy. One is the mother and son team who write the Bess Crawford series and the Inspector Ian Rutledge series as Charles Todd. The other is the sister team, Loretta Jackson and Vickie Britton, who write the High Mountain Mystery series. I wonder if being related makes it easier or harder to put aside one’s ego. That, I think, must be the key - being able to put ego aside for the good of the story.

Link to It’s Raining Men:

Any other collaborators out there? I’d love to hear from you.


Celebrating Independence – reprise

July 1, 2014

I wrote this two years ago, but it still expresses what I feel about the holiday we’re celebrating later this week, so I’m going to break the rule which states that all posts should be fresh and original and repost it. I hope you’ll forgive me and share some of your own thoughts and feelings – not just about Independence Day, but about the concept of independence.

After basics like food and shelter, I can’t think of anything more precious or more essential to the human spirit than independence. And there’s probably nothing more taken for granted by those who posses it. That’s too bad, a grievous sin. It’s also probably true that we here in the United States are more guilty of this sin than most. However, once a year we at least try to redeem ourselves; we set aside a day to remember our heritage and to celebrate it. That day is the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that condenses into six paragraphs the ideals on which our nation was founded.

It’s getting close to lunchtime as I write this and I have to admit I’m having trouble with it. Every sentence I write seems trite and inadequate or overly gushy and sentimental, unworthy of the holiday we’re celebrating. I go back, edit and delete until there’s nothing left. This morning’s paper has a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed in it. Many of us memorized those words sometime during our school years and promptly forgot most of them. But some phrases are so powerful and so evocative of what we as a nation hope to be, that they remain locked in the recesses of our brains–phrases like: “decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” “self-evident that all men are created equal” and, of course: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Is it any wonder that I’m having a problem? How can I write anything good enough to honor the tradition of Thomas Jefferson? I’m tempted to blame the times in which we live for my problem. The country is so divided that the crack in our Liberty Bell seems ominously appropriate. I believe that differences in opinion are good and even necessary to create a society that embodies the ideals of that brilliant Declaration. If only we could remember the phrase “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and listen to all opinions, even those with which we disagree. Not just listen, but actually consider that there might be some truth in a viewpoint different from our own. After all, if all men are created equal, shouldn’t all men (and women and children) be allowed to express their opinion? But perhaps not quite so vociferously. A little civility goes a long way.

The times seem bleak indeed, but history reminds me that this is not new. There has always been conflict among men, especially during periods of change. I understand that even the men we so lovingly call our Founding Fathers lost their tempers and shouted at each other from time to time. The story goes that George Washington wondered if he was witnessing a rising or a setting sun. So, maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.

Go forth and celebrate your Life and Liberty. Pursue Happiness.

Meet Robin Rivera

June 22, 2014

Robin Rivera has mastered the art of keeping a lot of balls in the air. She is a founding member and one-sixthwoman juggling of the blog team of She holds degrees in history and has worked as a consultant, a museum curator, an archeologist and an educator. She knows way too much about WWII submarines and old Land Rovers. You can find her every Wednesday posting to her blog and on Twitter @robinrwrites. Here’s what she has to say about the birthing of a novel:

It occurred to me that before the labor and delivery of the novel, writers engage in a long wondrous courtship, the one where we embrace becoming passionate readers. We start this intimate process young, in my case as a child. I was lucky; I grew up the youngest in a large family of readers. My mother’s bedside table teetered under the weight of her nighttime reading material, mostly Michener. My eldest sister converted her walk-in closet into a library. My other sister perfected the repeated read, cracking the spines on her favorites until they practically turned to dust. If there was a spare minute in the day you’d find us scattered, one tucked into a crook of the backyard walnut tree (my personal favorite), one flat-backed on the sofa, one curled in an armchair. I could go on, but the point is they surrounded me with reading options. I didn’t need to go to the library or a bookstore to meet new writers. I could move from room to room sampling writing styles and genres, and I did, often flicking the pages of books my parents deemed inappropriate for my age. I was experimenting and searching for my literary soul mates.

The summer I turned ten, my brother brought home four or five brown paper bags bulging with novels. Classic crime spilled out of the GIRL READINGbags, lurid pulp covers painting a colorful mosaic on the floor. We all prowled through this wondrous horde, laying claim to our favorites, and guarding them from our sibling’s thievery. That summer I started the most inappropriate of all my underage affairs, the one with Chandler, Fleming and Hammitt. Soon the Grand Dames joined the party, Christie, Tey and Sayers. I speed-dated my way through the genre’s best for the next ten years of my life. I lingered over the heroes who reluctantly rose to challenges, or who stumbled through life on good intentions, but poor execution. I worshiped the writers who tricked me with red herrings, teased me with cleaver clues, and threw me into tailspins with sudden reversals. But I fell in love with the authors who gave me endings I never saw coming.

Growing up on a steady diet of crime novels isn’t for everyone, but I’m convinced this long courtship, gifted me with some valuable life skills. For one thing, it turned me into a critical thinker, someone who scrutinizes and prods the facts. I’m never satisfied until all the information shards fit together in a logical pattern. I used this skill every day of my adult life as a professional historian. I tickled and teased facts into place, hoping to entice people into learning about history though my museum exhibits and magazine articles.

However, I didn’t realize the full impact of my old sweethearts on my writing style until I shifted my hand to fiction. It turns out I’m a writer obsessed with creating rough, defective characters. Classic crime taught me not to expect perfection; even the good guys embrace some sin. They drink, smoke and wallow in a host of mental conditions ranging from depression to chronic guilt. Their faults didn’t make them less heroic in my eyes, it just made them human. My old flames showed me why motive matters, and if you hide a few admirable qualities in your villains, you make readers ponder the human condition long after the book is closed. Now I embrace their example, and I marry it to my own work. Because of their influence, my fictional baby is about an art thief protagonist, with a philanthropist as the antagonist. I know I’d never be satisfied writing about beautiful happy people, because my first paramours were not fairy tales. I never wanted to read about unicorns and princesses. Well, maybe if the unicorn was a ruthless killer, and the princess was a tough-as-nails bounty hunter. Now that’s a mash-up I could get behind.

As I take a moment to reflect on the fussy infant I currently edit into the light of the world, I am grateful for all my book obsessions. I learned something valuable from each literary affair, maybe in ways I didn’t expect or understand at the time. Before I settled down to write a word, they helped me to arrive at this point in my life. Best of all, they fostered my deep affection for all writers. I respect and admire my siblings in ink, and I can think of no greater company to aspire to than the family of authors.

Thanks, Robin, for this glimpse into your writing life. Good luck with all your many projects.


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