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Day of the Dark Anthology!!!! – Part I (Click for Comments)

It hasn’t happened in almost four decades.  For some, August 21, 2017 will be the only time in their lives to experience a total solar eclipse passing over the contiguous United States. August 21, will you be somewhere between Oregon and South Carolina, wearing proper eye protection, watching the moon pass between the earth and the sun?  If not, beginning July 21, when Wildside Press releases the eclipse-related short story anthology, Day of the Dark, different versions of the phenomenon can be experienced anytime thanks to the efforts of twenty-four authors and the creative thinking of author/editor Kaye George.

Kaye is the prolific author of ten mystery novels in four series, numerous short stories and the recipient of three Agatha nominations.  Murder on Wheels, an anthology she helped put together with the Austin Mystery Writers, won the 2016 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award. In The Darkest Hour, her Day of the Dark story, characters Tom and Arden live in the path of totality, just south of Knoxville.  When Tom decides to rent out the spare bedroom to eclipse viewers, they come bringing unexpected problems and not everyone survives. http://kayegeorge.com

My story, A Golden Eclipse, a tongue in cheek examination of a young law enforcement agent’s plan to take down a con man also is featured.  The story reminds us that no matter what the event, there are always people ready to use any occasion to take advantage of others. www.DebraHGoldstein.com

Because I’m impressed with the quality of writing found in Day of the Dark, I’m going to spend the remainder of this week’s “It’s Not Always a Mystery,” blog, as well as my July 31st blog, telling you about the other authors and their stories.

Carol L. Wright, the author of The Dark Side of the Light, is a lawyer, book editor and academic who writes short stories in a variety of genres.  Her mystery, Death at Glenville Falls, the first of the Grace McIntyre Mysteries, comes out in August 2017. In The Dark Side of the Light, Carol shows us how a young woman plans the perfect way to reveal an exciting secret to her husband on eclipse day.  What she doesn’t know is that she is in the dark about something crucial he hasn’t shared with her. When each finally learns the other’s secret, they discover what is truly important, even though nothing will ever be the same. http://carollwright.com

Awaiting the Hour by Joseph Walker is a poignant tale of gentleness and brutality, side by side.  It is inspired by research Joseph did on how to prepare and where to go to watch the eclipse. As he read about the eclipse, Joseph, a teacher of college composition and literature courses and a member of Mystery Writers of America, realized some people have planned for the eclipse for years, even if it means traveling thousands of miles to make sure of seeing it. That prompted him to wonder about the type of man who’s been looking forward to the eclipse forever. He questioned why it would be important to him, how it shaped his life, and what exactly such a man would be prepared to do if, at the last minute, someone threatened his ability to carry out his plan.  https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00rTYF3S6

John Clark is a retired Maine librarian with a background in mental health and library systems software support who has been writing for newspapers and magazines for twenty years.  He has one published book and has had several short stories featured in Level Best anthologies. Although he is reads avidly, writes reviews, gardens, and enjoys his granddaughter, in Relatively Annoying, he produces a chilling tale which combines horror and sci-fi elements with a partial eclipse and other heavenly happenings. As he notes, the Maine woods are lovely, dark and deep, but when something is stolen and hidden in them, what happens because of the eclipse has far-reaching and frightening consequences. https://www.facebook.com/wizardofhartland

The prophecy “Near the Devil’s table, between the Devil’s backbones, blood shall seep to the earth. As the moon blots out the sun, the powerful reckoning shall be birthed” is central to Melissa H. Blaine’s The Devil’s Standtable. In the story, Department of Prophecies Agent Poppy Inca just wants to watch the solar eclipse, but she quickly finds herself in the middle of a prophecy showdown she must interpret before her blood is the one spilled. Although Melissa doesn’t worry about spilled blood as much in real life, she spent hours exploring the trails of Giant City State Park and its surrounding areas while earning a master’s degree in sociology at SIU-C.  Now living in Michigan, Melissa enjoys visiting cemeteries, hiking with her dog, and tracking down local legends. www.Melissahblaine.com

A former Level Best Books co-editor/publisher and award-winning writer of biographies and books about American history, Leslie Wheeler, has authored three published Miranda Lewis ‘living history” mysteries and numerous essays and stories. In Chasing the Moon, she examines how the total solar eclipse touches the lives of four people living along the path of totality:  a single mother with a young son, who, together with her mother, runs and Airbnb in Madras, Oregon; a middle-aged man participating in the annual Little Green Men Festival in Hopkinsville, Kentucky; a down-on-his-luck musician in Nashville, Tennessee; and, a fiercely independent elderly African American woman in Columbia, South Carolina. www.lesliewheeler.com

A sampling of other stories included in Day of the Dark are the political Norse historical, Torgnyr the Bastard, Speaker of Law by Suzanne Berube Rorhus; Cheryl Vause’s psychological suspense tale, Black Monday; the quirky swindle tale, Open House by Bridges DeiPont, Women’s Work, a historical mystery set in the DC area in 1875 by K.B. Inglee; and suspenseful Ascension into Darkness by Christine Hammar.

Read about the remaining authors and stories in my July 31, 2017 “It’s Not Always a Mystery” blog.

Guest Blogger: Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D. – Writing “As If” to Reignite your Creative Mojo (click here for comments)

Writing “As If” to Reignite Your Creative Mojo by Bryan E. Robinson, Ph. D.

Act as if you’re a writer. Sit down and begin. Act as if you might just create something beautiful, and by beautiful I mean something authentic and universal. —Dani Shapiro

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been unsure which direction to take with your writing, if self-doubt has nipped at your heels, or if you’ve landed in the clutches of writer’s block or “second book syndrome.”

I thought so.

Most of us who’ve written for any length of time have gotten stuck somewhere along the way. But there’s good news. Twelve Step programs have thrown a phrase around for years called “acting as if.” This principle can help us get through periods of writing paralysis.

What does it mean to act as if? Acting as if is a simple, yet powerful tool that says we can create outer circumstances by acting as if they’re already true. We give ourselves to a certain performance as if it’s how we feel. When we act as if, the mood we pretend becomes a reality.

Suppose we’re angry and unforgiving but want to be forgiving toward someone who offends us. We can come to feel forgiving by acting as if we are forgiving. Perhaps we’re feeling cold and detached but want to be happy for a fellow author’s good news. We can be happy by acting as if we are happy. Maybe we have difficulty getting words on the page, but instead of fighting tooth and nail, we convince ourselves it’s easy, write as if it’s easy, and tackle the difficulty with ease.

Authors of all genres have used this method to jumpstart their writing mojo. The Playwright Tennessee Williams said, “I believe the way to write a good play is to convince yourself it is easy to do then go ahead and do it with ease.” Screenwriter Steven Pressfield also recommends the as if approach: “You and I as writers must write as if we were highly paid, even though we may not be. We must write as if we were top-shelf literary professionals, even though we may not (yet) be.”

When I wrote Limestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery and Daily Writing Resilience: 365 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers, I too, use the as if strategy in my fiction and nonfiction work, writing as if my books will be on the shelves beside Lee Child or J. K. Rowling, as if Steven Spielberg will beat down my door to sign me for the screenplay. I’m still waiting for Hollywood to call, but I can testify to the effectiveness of this strategy.

There’s scientific evidence for the old adage when we act as if, the rest of us follows suit. It’s based on the mind-body connection. The cells of our bodies constantly eavesdrop on our thoughts from the wings of our minds. When we’re doubtful or disappointed about our writing, our bodies go with the downturn of our feelings, making us feel worse. We might hold our heads down or slump when we walk.

In the words of motivational writer Tony Robbins, “If you change your physiology—that is your posture, breathing patterns, muscle tension, facial expressions, gestures, movements, words, vocal tonality—you instantly change your internal representations and state.” For example, making the facial expression of a smile can make us happy. Training the body to position itself the way we want to think and feel about ourselves adjusts our thoughts and feelings to the way we want them to be. Making body adjustments—pulling our shoulders back, standing or sitting up straight, walking in a more expansive way—can pull us out of self-doubt, disappointment, or any other self-defeating emotion.

When our minds and bodies proceed with the way we want to be (as if), our attitudes navigate us with easy sailing through choppy writing storms. This tool can salvage a bad writing day, repair or prevent a squabble with a fellow author, or kick-start a marathon in front of a blank screen turning dread into enthusiasm.

So let’s convince ourselves that a writing challenge is actually a piece of cake, act as if it’s true, then notice the ease with which an obstacle becomes a cinch to work though. To say we write “as if” is another way of saying we’re resilient warriors on a literary path, determined to persevere over the long haul.

 

BRYAN E. ROBINSON is consulting editor for International Thriller Writers’ online magazine, The Big Thrill, past coordinator of their Debut Author Forum, and columnist for Southern Writer’s Magazine. After his share of rejection, Bryan authored two murder mysteries (working on the third) and 35 nonfiction books that were translated into thirteen languages. His debut novel, Limestone Gumption, was a multi-award winner for best psychological suspense. His latest books are Daily Writing Resilience: 365 Meditations and Inspirations for Writers (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2018), and the thriller, Bloody Bones (forthcoming). He maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Asheville, NC and resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his spouse, three dogs, and occasional bears at night. He is currently working on his third mystery/thriller, Michael Row the BODY Ashore and Crazy Papers: A Southern Memoir.

 

Things That Get Better with Age – Cheese, Books, and Friends by Debra H. Goldstein (click for comments)

My birthday was in March. It wasn’t a milestone birthday nor did I celebrate it in any special way, but I did receive two cards during my birthday week that I saved because they had quotes I thought might make interesting blog topics. Since March, they have been sitting on a table in my bedroom waiting for me to blog about them. Instead, I stared at them and walked away. That is, until today when I realized the problem was thinking of them separately. They belonged together in one blog.

The first card has a Maxine like woman sitting next to a cake holding a balloon on its cover with the caption, “I was just reading about how some things get better with age.” Inside the card, the message continues: “Don’t get excited. They were talking about cheese.” The other card has a boy and a dog sitting in a sailboat across from a giant bear who is reading. The quote next to the sailboat is attributed to Mark Twain. “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” The inside line is simple: “Here’s to never outgrowing good books or good friends!”

I think both cards capture the essence of being a reader and a writer. Think about the classics or some of your favorite books. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Giant by Edna Ferber. Both hold up, don’t they? Mockingbird was published in 1960, Giant in 1952, but both have messages particularly relevant today. Why do still talk about these books? I want to think it is because they are well-written and address topics of importance, but I realize there are other books that did the same in their day which are no longer in print.

So, what it is about these books that like cheese, they have only grown better with age. I’d like to know your opinion, but to me, it is that their characters seem simple, but each is complex; many are stereotypical in their biases, fears, and behaviors, but they change based upon their experiences and understanding of the times changing around them.

Over the years, I haven’t always agreed with the thoughts and beliefs of my friends, but that hasn’t been a reason to terminate our friendships. We’ve learned to tolerate each other and occasionally to understand what motivates our differences. Perhaps our consciences are a bit sleepy, but for the most part, my friends are readers, thinkers, and doers. Even when we relax, we tend to be involved in things that reflect how we’ve grown or changed in the face of conflict, concerns, family dynamics, political climates, and societal needs.

We may have mellowed a bit, but watch out. Like the cheese that gets tangier, so do we. I’m thankful for my friends, my books, and the influence both have had on me in the journey of life. What more can I ask?

Guest Blogger: S. Lee Manning – How I became a Rogue Woman Writer (click here for comments)

How I became a Rogue Woman Writer
 
By S. Lee Manning
 
I’ve always loved spy stories. There’s something that has always fascinated me about a secret world, where politics matter, and the stakes are high. Spies exist in a parallel plane to the real world, something like the magical world of Harry Potter. Spies disappear through tailor shops into secret offices. Spies take the corner seat in restaurants to watch everyone. They know what the average person doesn’t know, see what the average person doesn’t see.
 
But it’s more than that: there’s the moral ambiguity of the best international thrillers– that ask what actions are acceptable even in pursuit of an admirable goal.
 
So of course my first novel – or at least the first novel I’m willing to admit to writing – was a spy thriller.  Kolya Petrov, a Russian-born, American naturalized spy, is betrayed by his own agency for what seems to be a good reason –  nevertheless what happens to him as the expected result of the betrayal is morally and actually horrifying.
 
It was a pretty decent premise and a decent enough novel. An early version won first prize in the New York Mystery Writers of America novice contest.
 
But I’m a woman. Women have always been spies, working under the radar, and women have always been writers. But for some reason, women writing in the spy genre, like women agents, often wind up operating under the radar.  
 
Several sources informed me that women don’t buy or read spy novels. I was also told by a well-known editor that men wouldn’t buy espionage thrillers written by women, even though I’ve cleverly disguised my gender by using my first initial and my middle name. (Did I fool you? Bet not.) The editor advised me to change my novel from a thriller to romantic suspense. Turn Kolya into a woman.
 
I refused and marketed the book as written. Five Star offered me a contract for Trojan Horse without my changing anyone’s gender or softening any of the violence. (It’s still not published, but that’s a long story, involving Five Star’s decision to leave the mystery market. I have a new agent and am working on a new novel –  but this is best suited for another blog.)
 
Soon after signing the contract, I met New York Times best selling writer Gayle Lynds, author of such fabulous espionage thrillers as The Book of Spies, The Spy Master, Masquerade, Mosaic, and most recently, The Assassins. She gave me a wonderful blurb and even more importantly gave me a call to talk about my career.
 
“There’s not many of us,” she told me. “Us” being women writing espionage thrillers.
 
As hard as it is to publish traditionally for any author – it is harder for women writers of espionage fiction. Once published, it’s harder to get noticed.
 
A reviewer told me he didn’t like to read women espionage writers. Articles listing authors of espionage fiction often list only men. Advances for women writers of international thrillers tend to be smaller than advances for men writing similar novels.  Women’s espionage thrillers may not get the same backing from publishers as those written by men.
 
So what to do? What women always do – and do well. Organize.
 
Thus, Rogue Women Writers. It started with Gayle Lynds and Chris Goff, author of Dark Waters and Red Sky, who contacted me a year and a half ago with a plan to take women writers of international thrillers to a new level.
 
The circle widened to include Francine Mathews, author of many spy thrillers, the latest being Too Bad to Die; Jamie Freveletti, who writes the Ludlum Covert One series as well as her own series featuring chemist Emma Caldridge; Sonja Stone, whose award-winning young adult novel Desert Dark debuted last August; Karna Bodman, author of four international thrillers, the latest, Castle Bravo; and K.J. Howe, whose international thriller The Freedom Broker debuted in January.
 
We are kickass women. Some of us know how to shoot, and others how to kill with our bare hands.  Our various credentials include working as lawyers, spies, journalists, intelligence analysts, and White House insiders, and we’ve joined forces.
 
Our mission: to change perceptions of international thrillers written by women. To fulfill our mission, we blog together, and we appeared together on panels at Thrillerfest and Bouchercon last year. Most of us will be together again this year at Thrillerfest.
 
It’a an exciting ride.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Guest Blogger: Manning Wolfe – Song Lyrics: Using Them in Books

Song Lyrics: Using Them in Books by Manning Wolfe (click for comments)

Writers often include music references in their manuscripts to establish a mood or setting without consideration of the legal issues surrounding their use. Song lyrics are copyrighted, just like books. And, like books, the copyright is created the minute the tune is written, even prior to registration.

When I give my Legal Issues for Authors presentation, use of song lyrics is the number one area of discussion and chagrin at my response to questions.  I often hear: “It’s just one line;” or “I’m not planning to sell that many books, how would they know?” I respond: “Even one line is protected by the song writer’s copyright;” and “What if your book is a big hit and the music company holding the rights decides to enforce it?” It’s a vulnerable position to be in. I remind attendees that the same laws that protect their books from being pirated are the laws that protect a song writer’s lyrics.

Fair use: Even if an author squeezes in under the fair use statute (which is very limited for use in commentary, education, or parody), defending that position in a lawsuit may cost more than the book revenues.

Permission: If an author is determined to use particular song lyrics, permission can be obtained by sending a request to the music publisher and paying a fee. The cost may be higher than revenues from the sales of the books, and the process can be slow and frustrating.

Titles in Lieu of Lyrics: In my own writing, I try to find a way to get the same effect from the song lyrics I’ve quoted without using the actual lyrics. Most of the time, I use the song title and the artist’s name, which is acceptable under copyright statutes. For example, if I’ve written:

Boots drove along the highway singing (lyrics omitted).

I’ll replace that with:

Working Man’s Blues was playing on the radio.

“Merle Haggard really knows how to turn a phrase,” Boots thought.

Use of titles is permitted, and the reader can often create the mood of the song in their own mind.

(Note: Use of song titles on the cover or as the title of the book is protected.)

Original Lyrics: Another safe option is to write original lyrics. Often a mood can be created by song lyrics and the reader may feel that they know the song or at least the type of song even if it’s not a classic or current hit.

Public Domain: There are lyrics in the public domain that are free to use and may be appropriate to a scene. Any song published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923 is fair game.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Manning Wolfe, an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first in her series, featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. The second in the series, out in June of 2017 is Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs L.A. BaronA graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peak into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them. To request her presentation, Legal Issues For Authors. or to subscribe to her newsletter go to: www.manningwolfe.com

Guest Blogger C. A. Newsome – Discovering Your Secret Sauce (click for comments)

Discovering Your Secret Sauce by C. A. Newsome

There is a lot of advice geared to “writing to market.” In my opinion, that leaves you chasing both the cart and the horse with little likelihood to catch up. You might make a few dollars cloning “Twilight,” “Fifty Shades of Gray,” or Harry Potter, but you’ll have no sustainability after the market moves on and you’ll be back to square one because your backlist will not serve you

Better to find your own “secret sauce” and build your own audience.* To do this, you need to do what every breakthrough author has ever done: write what you love. You have to create a premise close to your heart, for four reasons:

  1. Your excitement about what you are writing will carry you through the frustrations that inevitably come with writing a book (and they always come!)
  2. You’ll know enough about this thing that your writing will be believable.
  3. Your love will shine through and engage readers.
  4. You won’t get so sick of the series by book 3 that you hate the idea of writing book 4 no matter how many readers are clamoring for it.

To be successful, you need to find a vehicle for all the things you want to say, one you can come back to year after year. How do you find that concept?

If you read five pages of “Fifty Shades of Gray” and thought, “any idiot can write that,” just stop. If you don’t love and respect a genre, you’ll never understand what pleased the people who made the author wealthy. Instead, take the authors and genre(s) you read the most and the books you read more than once.

If you are truly ready to write a book, you are an avid reader with a slightly jaundiced eye. While enjoying a book you’re also criticizing or admiring plot twists, the author’s skill, and the nature of the characters. You have random thoughts like, “Somebody should write about a woman who (Fill in the Blank)” and, “If I were a writer, I’d NEVER (Fill in the blank) to my readers.”

Make a list of things you think when you’re reading, all the things you’d like to see that you’re missing, all the things you hate and never want to see.

List your favorite authors. What do you love about their books? What makes you roll your eyes? Who have you quit reading and why did you stop?

Think about genre norms. Are there tropes you’d like to blow up, or at least violate? What elements of your genre keep you reading those books?

If you sort through these things you’ll find the elements of your own secret sauce. Focus especially on what you’d like to see in a book that you aren’t finding elsewhere. Pile on everything you gleaned from your lists. Hone this down to your idea of the perfect book.

“But what if nobody else likes it?” Seth Grahame-Smith found an audience for Jane Austen and zombies. If it pleases you, love it enough and it will please someone else.

*      The advent of self-publishing makes this increasingly easier to do, as you don’t need to convince an agent, who has to convince an editor, that your book will sell. Instead you can market directly to readers. A quirky premise that won’t sustain the immense feeding chain of a publishing house can provide a nice living for a self-published author.

C. A. Newsome is the author of the Lia Anderson Dog Park Mysteries. Her newest book, Fur Boys is available for pre-order on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0727RFDK1/ . She lives in Cincinnati with a chow-mix street urchin named Shadda and a furry piranha named Gypsy Foo La Beenz. You can find her website at http://canewsome.com and her Facebook author page is https://www.facebook.com/AShotInTheBark/.

Malice and Me (click for comments)

When you read this, I’ll be getting ready to attend my fifth Malice Domestic. Although I didn’t leave the bench until two years later, this conference marks the fifth year of my formal commitment to a writing career.

Malice is a mystery fan and writer conference. While there, I will wear both hats while appearing on a panel, networking with writers and fans, attending the Sisters in Crime breakfast, having lunch with the Guppies, sharing a drink with the Short Mystery Writers Group, and holding my breath at the banquet hoping nominated friends take home an Agatha. The conference is a busy few days, but it doesn’t end there because invariably I go home having new people I stay in contact with.

The other thing special about the 2012 conference was being invited to be one of the twenty-four authors showcased at the new authors breakfast. I arrived at the room and discovered there were twenty-four round tables each set for ten people. The authors were expected to grab a table and act as its host or hostess, except for the few minutes the author went to the microphone to answer a question and give a book blurb.

My table was in the back of the room. Not being well known, it wasn’t one of the first to fill.  Two women, looking for seats together, sat with me when the next table didn’t have room for them. From their faces, I knew they were disappointed at being unable to sit with that author. That changed when I comically handled my interview question. When I returned to the table, I had two devoted fans who I have enjoyed spending time with at each Malice since then. Although I have developed other fans, those two are very special to me.

Since that first Malice Domestic, I have been fortunate to be a panelist or a moderator at every Malice I’ve attended. Between the panels and my seating at the banquets, I have the opportunity to earn fans for Maze in Blue, Should Have Played Poker, and my short stories (this Malice, I’ll be on a short story panel and you can be sure I’ll mention the May/June Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine features, “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” my first story accepted by AHMM) and I am able to mingle and become a fan and friend of established and starting writers

I love the books I bring home and the memories created, but I treasure the friends I make.  That’s what Malice is to me.

Guest Blogger: Carolyn Mulford: How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend (click here – comments)

How I Chose My Imaginary Best Friend by Carolyn Mulford

When I write my Show Me mysteries, I spend many more hours with my characters than with anyone else. I choose them carefully, for they have to entertain me through a series.

Unlike some writers, I don’t write about people I know. I prefer creating my imaginary friends by combining traits of many individuals who’ve intrigued me over decades.

Developing a real or imaginary friendship takes time. Here’s how my protagonist came into being.

I was looking for an action-oriented woman to anchor a series when the Bush administration outed CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. The illegal outing put her in danger, ended her career, and exposed casual friends to charges of working with the CIA. Plame’s plight resonated with me. While working in Vienna during the Cold War, I accidentally discovered that a friend was living the dangerous double life of a covert operative. I was extremely curious and a little scared.

I contemplated using a covert operative as a protagonist. I couldn’t afford to research settings and CIA operations in Eastern Europe, but the idea of a former operative who applied her tradecraft to crime investigations appealed to me. Besides, I was planning to move from the D.C. area to Missouri, my home state. My main character would return there, too.

Before imagining a specific person, I needed a broad profile. I read former operatives’ autobiographies and attended meetings at which they spoke. I concluded that typical operatives were intelligent verging on brilliant, daring but not foolhardy, energetic and committed enough to do two jobs, and self-confident to the point of arrogance. Not exactly warm and fuzzy. On the plus side, my friend in Vienna had been witty and charming and, seemingly, relaxed.

I began to picture my character: a fit 55-year-old, five foot six so she could pass for a short man, short black wavy hair that easily scrunches under a wig, brown eyes, skin that always looks tanned and allows her to blend in well in many crowds, regular features so no particular one makes her memorable.

Then I sketched a backstory. She grew up in a financially strapped but loving family that stressed personal loyalty and community service. She joined the CIA after her cheating husband shook her assumptions about people. For years she led two lives in Vienna, employed as an expert on Eastern European economies as a cover for her CIA job. Her dual career complicated her relationships. Survival required her to deceive friends, colleagues, and assets.  As a covert operative, she dealt with scum and accepted that the ends justify the means. In her post-CIA career, matching venture capitalists with Eastern European start-ups, she made a fortune.

This tough, cynical woman didn’t sound like great company, so I allotted her some saving graces: loyalty to friends, an obsession with fairness, empathy for the innocent and powerless. Drawing on my own experience, I knew that she’s stayed in Vienna because she loves music. An accomplished pianist, she’s used her talent to “become the life of many communist parties.”

All along I’d been considering what to call her. I couldn’t know her well until she had a name. Naming an imaginary friend is as difficult as naming a child. I use a baby book that gives the meanings of names and an online site that lists each year’s top names.

The right name didn’t come to me until I envisioned the incidents that brought her back to her hometown and compelled her to investigate a murder. So what happened? She was severely wounded during a post-retirement freelance mission in Istanbul and sent home to recover off the shooter’s radar. She adapts her tradecraft to help a lifelong friend unearth the truth about her husband’s violent death

I named my imaginary best friend Phoenix Smith. Phoenix symbolizes crashing and rising again from flames. Smith is a good name for a spy because it sounds fake.

Over five books—Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, Show Me the Gold, Show Me the Ashes, Show Me the Sinister Snowman—I’ve come to know Phoenix well. Her experiences and relationships have softened her a bit, but she remains a force. I enjoy spending time with her. I hope readers feel the same way.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Carolyn Mulford worked on four continents as a nonfiction writer/editor before turning to fiction. Her award-winning Show Me series features Phoenix Smith, a former CIA covert operative who returns to rural Missouri and adapts her tradecraft to solve crimes with two old friends and a K-9 dropout. In Show Me the Sinister Snowman, the fifth book, a blizzard traps Phoenix in an isolated antebellum mansion with an abusive husband outside and an unknown killer inside. You can read the first chapters of the Show Me mysteries and of two middle grade/YA historical mysteries on her website: http://CarolynMulford.com.

Today You Are A Man (click here to read or leave comments)

Today You Are a Man by Debra H. Goldstein

Last weekend, our oldest grandson had his Bar Mitzvah.  When he was called to the Torah, he became a man in the eyes of our religion. In my mind’s eye, he still is the infant his grandfathers supported on a pillow during his Bris. Somewhere, along the way, I blinked and thirteen years passed.

I kid that I’m not old enough to be the grandmother of a Bar Mitzvah boy, but that isn’t true. His mother (and her brother) were part of the package when I married their father. That gave me an edge on having a grandchild sooner than might have been the case, but the reality is many of my high school and college friends, who didn’t go to grad school or work, have grandchildren in this age range or older.

But, I digress from the most important thing – our grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. With grace, humor, wit, and intelligence, he stood on the pulpit before friends and family and became a man. He spoke from the heart, he recited time honored prayers, and he made his parents and grandparents proud.  He was perfect.

During the past thirteen years, he hasn’t always been perfect.  There are times he’s been rude, sloppy, bossy and occasionally mean to his sister.  At other times, he stood up for his sister, was considerate and sweet, and did an act of kindness without being asked. His curiosity and intellect prompted him to be a reader, challenge ideas, and explore new worlds.

His grandfather and I alternated smiling and frowning as he matured, but since the day his parents and he were assigned his Bar Mitzvah date, we tingled with anticipation. Yet, our excitement was tinged with nagging thoughts about the passage of time.

The Bar Mitzvah was everything we wished and prayed for him. Deep voiced and with a sense of confidence, he became a man, but I couldn’t help wiping away a tear remembering him as a boy

The Crud (click here for comments)

girl with runny noseThe Crud by Debra H. Goldstein

Well, I finally got back on my feet (literally) and what happened? The Crud. In case you have been lucky enough to miss it this season, and I hope you have, it is a stuffed head or runny nose (in my case, think two to three boxes of Kleenex), deep chested cough, chills, low grade temp, lethargic feeling bug. Apologies for the language, but I can only best express it by saying, “It sucks.”

For a week, I didn’t want to do anything except feel sorry for myself. Talking to others who have had The Crud, dr. teddy bearthis apparently is another fairly common symptom until the achy feeling goes away. I did manage, when I wasn’t hacking or blowing, to read a few books, watch some TV, and cuddle under my favorite blankie. So, I can’t say it was all bad. It might even have been a nice break had I not been laid up for the past few months.

In fact, in the old days, when I put in long hours at the office, ran from meeting to meeting, and structured almost every waking hour, The Crud, once I’d give in to it, often proved to be a nice break. Sort of a mental health day or two off. Of course, in that life, I only took the days off until I was beyond being contagious because I had obligations. Things were scheduled, people were depending on me, and every day I took off meant others had to step in for me or add to their workloads rearranging mine. This time, there was no office to run to, no scheduled hearings to be held, nor any reason not to cancel all social activities.

blowing nose smily faceIt took a good week to get rid of The Crud. I wonder how long there would have been a residual cough, the need for another box of tissue, or evenings of exhaustion if this was three years ago? I’m glad I didn’t have to find out. Having The Crud wasn’t fun, but the flexibility of this new life of following my passion for writing certainly is.