Monday, December 23, 2019

The Writing Dream

Writing a novel is a popular subplot in this year’s holiday movies on television. Three movies playing this past week as I wrapped presents and baked holiday treats had main characters with dreams of writing a book.

Perhaps the dream of writing is more widespread than I imagined. I’m exposed to groups of writers and aspiring writers in my local and online writers organizations. I myself had not considered writing until 2 ½ years ago. Since then, I’ve completed and indie-published a mystery novel and a children’s picture book.

My writing dream goal for next year is to create a better book by studying the craft. I signed up for online classes in 2020 to improve my writing, revising, and editing skills.

Writing takes time and commitment, but it’s a rewarding hobby. I expect it’s even more rewarding to see your books lining bookstore and library shelves. Perhaps some year I might find out.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Scene of the Crime

For twenty years, I’ve had a Thanksgiving weekend potluck and pickin’ party called the Bluegrass Turkey Jam. Cold, rainy weather like we’ve had this holiday weekend doesn’t deter musicians. The house was packed with pickers and the music was great!

Bluegrass jams can get pretty rowdy though. Last night for instance, a glass of wine got knocked out fighting with a banjo. The banjo won.

Banjo players (undeservedly) get a bad rap and frequently are the butt of jokes. At one bluegrass festival, a crime scene outline of a body and a banjo was painted on the ground in front of the stage.

I recently joked that the murder of a banjo player at a bluegrass festival wouldn’t work for a Detective McGregor mystery because no one would care enough to look for suspects… but I’m actually considering that plotline for a book.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ladies of Intrigue

The Sisters in Crime (SinC) organization supports women (and men) mystery writers. My local chapter, Orange County SinC, held its annual Ladies of Intrigue conference on November 10 in Costa Mesa, California. The headliners were J. A. Jance and Laurie R. King. Panel discussions included the themes of setting (Greta Boris, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Wendall Thomas), research (Mary Anna Evans, Betty Webb, and Ellen Byron), and suspense (Steph Cha, Kaira Rouda, and Laurie Stephens).

The conference was educational for both readers and writers, and the 100+ attendees were able to meet and talk to the authors. The all-day event also included book sales (which could be personally inscribed), gift basket raffles, and a delicious lunch.

I thought this year’s conference was even better than last year’s, but that may be because I’d read more of the authors’ books. Or perhaps because I had the honor of driving one of my favorite authors, Mary Anna Evans, creator of the Faye Longchamp archaeological mysteries, for the weekend.

Monday, November 4, 2019

NaNoWriMo Month

November is the flagship National Novel Writing Month during which the traditional goal is to write a 50,000-word draft for a new novel. My project, though, is a work in progress I began November 2017. My goal (again) is to finish revisions on the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation. 

Yesterday afternoon I worked on defining and fleshing out Scott’s internal conflict in several scenes while struggling not to cross the line between flawed character and weak character. I thought about character development again last night before I drifted off to sleep.

This morning I wasn’t surprised to find Scott in bed with me when I woke. “It’s early, and I want to sleep longer,” I mumbled.

“No, wake up. I have an idea,” the Scott character in my mind said.

“Stop crowding me. Move over and be quiet.”

“No, get up. I have something to tell you.”

Knowing he wouldn’t give up, I sat up, grabbed the pen and paper from my bedside table, and jotted down the inspiration before it evaporated.

Yup, it’s NaNo month.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

International Travel

Photo by Kristian Marson 
New friends, new experiences, and shared memories are some of the reasons I like to travel.

I just returned from an around-the-world trip during which my fellow travelers and I zigzagged the equator, touring the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Machu Picchu (Peru), Easter Island (Chile), Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest (Australia), Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Taj Mahal (India), Serengeti Plain (Tanzania), Petra and Wadi Rum (Jordan), and Marrakech (Morocco).

By far, my favorite destination was Easter Island. The history and mystery of the island fascinate me. Instead of editing and revising the second Detective McGregor mystery (so I can finally get it published), I spent many hours developing the plot line and characters for a McGregor mystery set on Easter Island. Four fellow travelers volunteered to be characters and were amused and delighted by their roles in the story.

Moais love mysteries, and my new friend and I spent a quiet moment sharing a book.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Children’s Book Published

E. Gads Hill Press has a new imprint dedicated to young readers. The first children's book to be published was Emma’s Best Friend is a Robot.

One of my characters in the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation, browses a Las Vegas bookstore and purchases a children’s book featuring a robot. Since I couldn’t find a book I liked online, I created the story line. Deborah Anne, a talented artist who creates in multiple media, illustrated the book.

Copies of the book were sent to AHHAH for their literacy program which includes P.U.L.L. (Pop Up Lending Library) Stations where children can take free books.

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Although I predominately write mysteries, I broke from my routine and created a fantasy piece for an anthology published by E. Gads Hill Press. The call for submission specified short writings about real or imaginary animals. The anthology, Besties and Beasties, was released September 21.

I concocted a preposterous sporting event involving slugs, snails, and pixies, then wrote the story as if a sports announcer were giving a running commentary on the day-long event.

I researched the physical and behavioral traits of different slug species and embedded factual information into the announcer’s monologue. Some of the information is quite unexpected, and I’m tickled to think many readers might assume it’s fictional.

Next time you’re in the Pacific Northwest rainforest, check out the annual Slug-Fest Rodeo and Riding Competition.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Brain is ‘On’

Whereas choosing names is hard for me, sometimes the characters create themselves spontaneously.

I tried unsuccessfully to develop a character and his backstory, gave up, and tabled the issue for later. My conscious self went about tending to everyday chores as the creative part of my subconscious continued working on the problem. Shortly afterwards, WHAM! – the character, his backstory, AND his name jumped into my consciousness almost fully formed.

I’m amazed every time my brain presents me with a gift like that. I shouldn’t be, though. When I write every day, the story stays with me making it easier to slip back into writing mode. It’s exciting to be in the mode, or zone, where the brain is cranking out ideas and surprises left and right, and all I have to do is write them down.

Friday, August 2, 2019

What’s in a Name?

Choosing names for characters is probably one of the hardest parts of writing for me.

Earlier this week, I created a spreadsheet with a column for each of the ten books I’ve laid out for the Detective Scott McGregor mystery series. Each row lists a character and a label defining whether the person is a ‘core’ character appearing in most or all of the books; a ‘local support’ character at the police department or in town; a ‘repeat’ character showing up occasionally in different books; or a ‘secondary’ character in one book only. The character’s name is repeated across the row in each appropriate book column.

I like to avoid characters having similar names in the same story, but to my surprise, I found two different characters named Daniel who’ll be in the same scene a few books from now. Fortunately, by planning ahead I was able to change the names for six characters before they were set in stone (or paperback, in this case). Unfortunately, although I’ve known some of these characters for almost two years, they seem like strangers with different names.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Write the Rails

Camp NaNoWriMo and Writing on a Whim, Whimsicalitea’s writing club, converged for a July daytrip along the SoCal coastline by train. 

Our group of WriMos met at ARTIC, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, and rode the Metrolink commuter train to Oceanside. We walked to the end of the pier where we ate lunch at the Ruby’s Diner and later rode the train back to Anaheim. 

The purpose of the trip was to write undisturbed while riding the rails, but I admit I spent most of the time looking out the train windows. Great scenery. 

Metrolink sells weekend passes for $10 per day which allows unlimited Metrolink rides and connections on Saturdays or Sundays. Ample free parking and the ease of getting to the ARTIC station, combined with the inexpensive tickets, creates opportunities for affordable daytrips and has sparked a desire to explore local destinations – perhaps just for lunch or to admire architecture, or just because I love riding trains. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

July 4, 2019

Happy Birthday, America! 

At 9:00 AM, I sat on the patio drinking tea and reading a book. My dog, cuddled beside me, was finally calm after the previous night’s (and weeks’) illegal discharge of ‘Safe and Sane’ fireworks. 

At 9:40, the first aroma of barbecuing pork wafted across the fence. The smell awakened memories of home and the south. I felt like Pavlov’s dog, drooling and wondering if any BBQ restaurants would be open today. 

By 10:30, the 4th of July parade had begun. Our city claims to have the largest Independence Day Parade west of the Mississippi River. The military jet flyovers of previous years have been replaced with the aerobatic airshow I watched from my front yard. The city has an all-day celebration with food, music, and a nighttime firework show. 

It’s a perfect way to honor our country’s birthday! 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Summer Solstice

Summer arrived at 8:54 am, Friday, June 21. The pleasant SoCal “June gloom” of a low cloud cover brought in the day, but by afternoon, the morning clouds had cleared and the sunshine made the day uncomfortably warm. It was almost as if nature had read the calendar.

Family, friends, and I celebrated the solstice with an afternoon equivalent of a champagne brunch. (What would that be called? ‘Linner’? ‘Dunch’?)

The summer solstice marks the ten-day sign post for July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ll be writing a short story and continue editing and revising the second Detective McGregor mystery, but there’s so much to do before then. I’m beta reading for a writer friend. My children’s book needs editing, and I’ll be meeting with the illustrator to review the artwork. I also have commitments with family and friends. Time marches on whether I’m ready or not.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Back to Work

I started this blog post last week but…

Daniel (Webster) defines procrastinate as ‘to put off doing [something] until a future time.’ The online Urban Dictionary plans to define the word next week.

As a retiree of almost two months, schedules and goals are self-imposed. As a hobby writer, I have no publication deadlines. I started writing a few years ago when I’d stopped watching television, but the time-killing habit crept slowly back into my life. I took a clear look at the calendar this week and saw my writing goal of publishing one Detective McGregor mystery a year will be hard to accomplish if I continue dawdling.

The daily writing habit I’d embraced during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo evaporated. I know books don’t write themselves; they require work and seat time in front of a computer. I’m getting back on the writing bicycle. I haven’t forgotten how to write—accomplish small goals daily. Vacation is over. It’s time to get back to work.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Morning After

It’s May 1, and NaNoWriMo’s April Camp session is over. The good thing about NaNoWriMo is that you don’t answer to anyone except yourself. For me, that’s also the bad thing.

I started the month with a goal of 30 thousand new words, enough, when added to the existing draft’s word count, to push it to the 50 thousand words considered to be a novel. Half way through the month, I reduced my goal to 15 thousand. I wanted a Winner badge on my Profile page even if I didn’t reach my true goal of finishing the draft. Yesterday, I felt like I’d “sold out.”

During April, I restructured and revised the existing draft to reflect the addition of a major conflict the detective faces while out of his jurisdiction; wrote over 15 thousand new words for the current story; and wrote several thousand more words developing the plot for a future book in the series. Yesterday, I felt like shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh, well,” but today I’ve given myself permission to write slowly and be proud of what I accomplish.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Not Enough Time!

I’ve been retired just over two weeks now. The first week was strange… I kept feeling like I had to go to work. By the second week, though, I’d settled right into the rhythm of not working.

I realize I’m already having the problems many retirees have.

What day is this? 
This only matters because I need to know which day to go to the Senior Center for my Pilates class. And which day I go to the chiropractor because of the Pilates class. (Why in the world did I think I could handle a vigorous exercise class when I’ve been a slug for the last several years?)

Financial shock 
The financial shock of not having paychecks automatically deposited to my checking account won’t really hit until the end of the month. Fortunately, I started practicing a reduction in careless spending last year, and I’ve tightened my financial belt even more this month.

Not enough time 
There’s not enough time to do all the things I need to do. How did I ever have enough time to work?

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fools’ Day

I walked into my supervisor’s office today and told her I quit.

Retirement on April Fools’ Day is a joke come true. Last year, whenever I asked my supervisor for permission to retire, she either told me ‘NO!' or 'Sure, after she did in another 20 years’ – all humorously, of course.

My Project Director had heard me joke about retiring on April 1st and immediately initiated training for two additional staff to learn what I did throughout the year-long work cycle. So, two co-workers are now trained in my job duties, and my tasks have been reassigned to three people. And that begs the question: does it take two or three people to replace me, or is this a simple case of attrition?

Sometimes you get what you ask for. Whether retiring on April Fools’ Day is irony or an omen has yet to be seen. Anyway, I smashed my alarm clock. Retirement begins tomorrow.

And my publisher is already waiting for my next book.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Springtime in SoCal


March has arrived, and with it, springtime in southern California. Rosebuds are patiently waiting for the sun and heat’s help to open into glorious displays of color. Rose-breasted house finches have begun weaving their nest in the sheltered area under my patio cover using grasses collected from my untended rose garden. The dog is shedding bushels.

The time change occurred last weekend, and now an extra hour of sunlight illuminates the evening and attempts to lure me from my computer.

March also means that April’s Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the calendarial corner. April’s project is to finish the draft for Murder Goes on Vacation, the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery. A spreadsheet tracking plot points and actions for every character was created while I was still writing the first book. Now I’m working on the second book, but I’ve stalled about one-third into the draft. April is another chance to ‘get ’r done’!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Tied up in Vegas

The second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation, has McGregor, his girlfriend Lynn, and his best friend Ryan in Las Vegas for a computer convention where a woman collapses in front of them. She did not die of natural causes and a murder investigation ensues.

Scott knows his detective skills would be valuable in the investigation. The problem is that he has no jurisdiction in Vegas and is not allowed to assist because he’s a witness. He manages to make a few benign-sounding comments that are acted upon in the investigation, but he’s warned repeatedly not to interfere.

With his hands officially tied, the binds chafe his behavior but not his determination. He knows he would investigate unofficially if the need arose.

Monday, February 4, 2019

McGregor’s Super Bowl Party

Guest post by Detective Scott McGregor who attended a Super Bowl party thrown by his best friend, Ryan Talbrook, who teaches at the university. 

Even though I love football, watching the party goers was more exciting than the game. Several mathematicians and statisticians debated hotly over the appropriate weighting of team variables in predicting the winner. Two die-hard Steelers fans attended wearing Steelers jerseys, rooting for the Rams to win to preserve the Steelers’ singular claim to the most Super Bowl victories. Several grad students intended to celebrate team touchdowns with shots of tequila and ended up dismally sober.

A football pool was created, and the winner of every quarter received a cheap trophy. The winner of the game received the grand prize, the “Armchair Quarterback Morning After Relief Pack” full of sports injury-related remedies: elbow, knee, and ankle supports; Ace bandages; sports tape; cold packs; and athlete’s foot ointment.

Great party. Hoping for a more exciting game next year.

Monday, January 28, 2019

J. Vance Miller - Artist

J. Vance Miller 
 Used with permission.
Several people have asked me if the artist and painting featured in the book, The Disappearance of Millicent Hart, are real. Yes, they are.

I had the honor of viewing several J. Vance Miller paintings in a private collection decades ago and immediately fell in love with his work. Since then, I’ve seen his paintings in art shows, at art galleries, and online.

Vance Miller was born in West Virginia and later moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, where he painted Blue Ridge Mountain landscapes using a palette knife.

Glow Along the Little Stony, the impressionist painting described in the book, was found on the website (shown last on the Paintings tab). Prints of Miller’s work can be purchased through the website. The Contact tab lists an art gallery website with images of J. Vance Miller paintings currently offered for sale. Occasionally, Miller paintings come up at auction.

Miller’s paintings have enriched my life. I hope you enjoy them, also.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Launch Party

Photo by Pamela.
Used with permission.
Last weekend, I hosted a Disappearance of Millicent Hart book launch at Pamela’s Tea Room. The party began with a champagne toast followed by an introduction of the guests according to the characters in the book who used their names (with permission), or the role they played in the book’s publication.

For our meal, we had shepherd’s pie (prepared in the book by Pamela Powell, Millie’s neighbor and dear friend); egg salad sandwiches (a humorous nod to the hard-boiled detective stereotype - which McGregor is not); and salad. We had scones and a cake topped with an icing picture of the book cover for dessert. Of course, there was plenty of tea.

My publisher asked me to tell the group about the book I’m currently writing, and I read the first chapter of the second Detective Scott McGregor mystery, Murder Goes on Vacation. Literatea book-based goodie bags (E. Gads Hill Press) containing personally inscribed and signed books were given to the guests. What a fun and memorable book launch!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year!

I hope you enjoyed last night’s parties and don’t have much to show for it this morning in the way of a hangover or party residual (glasses and half-eaten plates of party goodies) stashed in various and unexpected locations in your house. I usually find those for days after a big party.

My neighbors party with illegal fireworks that rival Disneyland’s display. I usually stay up to watch those and the city’s fireworks, but last night I was so tired, I dozed off sitting up and dropped my drink. The shattering of glass startled me back into wakefulness. We’ll see if I get invited back to that party again next year.

I’m adding new entries to the standing resolution list of ‘eat better’ and ‘exercise more’:
  • Retire
  • Write in earnest every day
  • Leave a guitar in the living room in case I get motivated to practice
    (I’ll leave an empty space in case something important occurs to me later.)
I wish you happiness and personal fulfillment in the New Year.