"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It sounded like such a simple plan

I am exhausted, Peeps, and I still have errands to run. Blame it on the holidays, and my own damned creative streak. You see, I had an idea. An awful idea. I had a wonderfully awful idea.

Every year, my family takes a Christmas photo (see this blog post for how that goes), and I write a Christmas letter. I try to keep the letters brief, inject a little humor, tug on a heartstring, etc. For years now, I've been submitting our picture to either an on-line service, or schlepping to the local drugstore, to make picture cards. Some years, it would be the 4 x 8 card, with our photo on one side and some kind of "Season's Greetings" on the other. Some years, I opted for the 5 x 7 folded card with the message inside.

But each year, I had to print the letter separately, and then find a way to fold it into the card. Neither style of card lent itself to inserting an 8-1/2 x 11 inch piece of paper, unless I folded it into some kind of origami critter.

This year, we ended up with some good pictures, and one really funny one. I couldn't decide which photo to use. Then I got the Most Brilliant of Ideas. If I used a brochure template, I could put one photo on the front, then the other photo on the first fold-out, and finally, the letter on the inside. It would be Per.Fect.

I went to Office Max and behold! They had brochure paper, nice and thick, and already scored for easy folding. I could print as many cards as I needed, without wasting. I wouldn't have to wait for my cards to be processed and shipped to me. And no more origami letters!

Here's the thing: I have two printers and they BOTH hate the brochure paper. It's the wrong weight for them. It's like I'm trying to feed a hamburger to confirmed vegans. Neither of them like to grab it and feed it in, to be printed. They get a corner, wrinkle the paper, then announce that they "need paper." They do not need paper. They are both big wussies.

So in order to implement my brilliant plan and save money/time, blah, blah, I spent all morning in front of my wireless printer, feeding it one sheet of brochure paper at a time, in order to produce 60 copies of our Christmas card/letter. Many bad words were said. Many names were called.

It did not feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

So here's the front of our "Christmas brochure:"

Open it up and you'll see this:

Unfold the last flap to read:

If I need to make more, I may just take my files to Office Max and let them make copies. It costs a lot more to make color copies, but it will definitely save my sanity.

Got any Christmas photos/letters floating around the internet that you'd like to share? Perhaps a story or two of the sacrifices you've made to get those cards in the mail?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hit or Missus - Chapter 3

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Unless you're not American and you don't celebrate the third Thursday of November by overeating, watching football games, and getting into some kind of tizzy with the relatives. Then I just hope you're having a nice weekend. Here's another chapter of HIT OR MISSUS. As always, if you want to purchase your own copy, see the right column. It's available in paperback, in ebook and I can even send you an autographed version. After all, I'm here for you.

* * * * *


Skip had smelled the decay as soon as he stepped onto the front porch. Too bad Peri's not here, he thought, she could probably determine TOD from that super-sniffer of hers.

He still felt vaguely uncomfortable about their conversation this morning. Peri's reaction surprised him. Granted, her trip through menopause had resulted in some enormous burrs under her saddle, but he didn't expect her to be so combative, when he was trying to be complimentary.

Officer Ella Mason held the door for him. In her mid-thirties, Ella had been on the PPD for five years, beginning as the property room clerk. She had worked her way into the field, keeping her uniform sharp and her mind sharper. Skip noticed she held the back of her hand to her washed-out face. He smiled a little, remembering his first murder scene.

"First D.B., Ella?"

She nodded, and turned to face the rose garden before taking a deep breath.

"She's been here a few days, sir. No sign of foul play."

Skip walked through the door into the small bungalow. He saw a petite brunette kneeling by the body, which was already showing the signs of decay. Covering his nose with a handkerchief, he knelt down beside her.

"Hey, Blanche, how's it going?"

She paused from her work and looked over her glasses at him. "Hey, Skip. Peri with you?"

"Why would she be?"

Blanche's look became a stare. "Because she lives two blocks away, she used to clean the Peters' house, and she wouldn't pass up a chance to look at the scene."

"She was going to come, but-" Skip couldn't admit their argument. "She's got a meeting this morning."

"Meeting, huh." Blanche scribbled in her notebook, then stood up. "Well, offhand, it looks like a heart attack, which only means there aren't any signs of anything else. I don't know if she was under a doctor's care. Pretty coincidental that Bob had a heart attack less than a month ago."

Skip stood and looked at the scene. The coffee cup lay on the carpet, a dark patch in a splatter from the chair. "Yeah, that's what Peri said. I suppose two heart attacks in two elderly people isn't that odd." He paused, thinking. "But a blood panel would be a good idea, even if she has a note from her doctor. I'd like to rule out poisons, overdose, that sort of thing."

"You bet."

"Maybe it's a coincidence, but we should cover our bases." Skip walked through the small house, to the single bathroom. He opened the mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink, checked under the counter and opened all the drawers.

"I don't see any prescriptions," he told Blanche as he returned to the living room.

He saw Officer Mason standing in the doorway. She appeared to be talking on a cell phone, her face flushed and body tense. He walked toward her; as he approached, she pushed a button and stuffed the phone into her pants pocket.

"Everything okay, Ella?"

She looked at him, opened her mouth, and burst into tears.

Crying women were not Skip's forte. He tried to be comforting, but he really wanted to tell them to snap out of it. Peri understood. Sure, she cried sometimes, but mostly when she was physically injured, and usually she acted like she wanted to tell herself to snap out of it. Bracing himself, he stepped in closer to the young officer. Her hair smelled like a piƱa colada.

"Something you want to talk about?"

"Sorry, sir," Ella replied, taking several breaths to calm her sniffles. "Personal matter."

"Need some time?"

"No, sir." She straightened and looked him in the eye, her face puffy.

Skip stepped back. He and Ella stood and stared at one another while a clock in the living room ticked through the awkward silence. Ella blinked first.

"It's my son. He's in the principal's office again. I can't keep him out of trouble."

"Do you need to go take care of it?"

"No, not this time." She shook her head. "I've been jumping down to the school every time they call. Jorge treats it like another day off. I told him this time he'd have to tough it out in the office until my shift ends."

"Can't his dad help out?"

"We don't see much of him."

"That's too bad." Skip didn't know what else to tell her.

"It's just hard for Jorge. He lives with me and my mom and my sister, and I think he feels like there are too many moms in his life and not enough dads."

"I understand. Maybe if he was on a sports team, or maybe he could be in that Big Brother program."

She looked up at Skip with a smile that told him his suggestions were nice but not new, or helpful. "We'll work it out, Detective."

"All right, then," Skip said, patting her shoulder. "See if you can find a name around here of someone to notify. Talk to the neighbors."

He watched Ella turn for the door, wondering if he had just been as useless as he felt, but was interrupted by Blanche. "Why don't you call Peri? She used to clean their house."

"Yeah, I know." Skip opened the top drawer of the desk next to him and rifled through some papers. Most were stubs from bills, a few lists written in a shaky hand, but nothing said, In Case of Emergency.

"She probably knows where their contact information is."

Skip opened another drawer. "Yeah, I know."

Blanche held up her phone and smiled. "I got her on speed dial."

"Thanks, Beebs, I'll take care of it." He retrieved his phone from its holder and pressed Peri's number. His finger poised over the Send key, he hesitated. Peri's sarcasm was the worst part of her.

Man up, Carlton, he thought, and pressed the button.

"Hi, you've reached Peri Minneopa, Private Investigative Services…"

Skip waited for the end of the greeting, happy to have avoided any more arguments. He left a message, and then resumed his search of the house. More papers were in a pile on the small accent table next to the recliner. Skip leafed through them, documents in legalese, describing a parcel of land, title searches and name affidavits. It appeared the Peters had bought land out in Palm Desert. The documents were dated within the last year, but Skip wondered why they were lying out on the table. On a hunch, he dug his cell phone out again and pressed a number. It answered after one ring.

"Bonham here." Placentia's crime scene unit consisted of one officer, Jason Bonham, who tagged and bagged evidence before sending it to the Orange County forensics lab.

"Jason, can you bring your kit to the Peters' residence? …Yeah, it looks like natural causes, but her husband died recently, too… I know, but I just don't like coincidences."

Skip hung up and walked back through the house. Blanche was watching the gurney with Dottie's body being wheeled out by two young men.

"Everything okay with you and Peri?" Her gaze remained on the black bag.

Women were like sharks, he thought, when it came to relationships, they could smell a drop of trouble in a sea of love. "Sure, fine."

Blanche walked toward the door. "I've got another call, but I'll get the autopsy and tox screen results to you as soon as I have them." She smiled and waved on her way to her car. "There's Peri now."

Skip watched Peri lope up the sidewalk, then slow to a walk. She took her iPod from its casing around her arm and pressed some buttons, then put it back and took her ear buds out, draping them around her neck. He studied the way she pulled her cap down and her ponytail back as she started up the path to the house.

She stopped by the coroner's van and talked to Blanche. Skip saw the way the two women smiled and grimaced and laughed in a way that made him feel like he was the main event. Peri glanced up at him and waved, confirming his suspicions.

He stood at the door, ready to hold it for her, but she paused again, at the clump of police officers, chatting and smiling. They smiled back.

He had to admit, even in sweaty running clothes, Peri was a good-looking gal. Craig Daniels, a recently divorced detective about their age, laughed at something she said, and Skip felt just a pinch of jealousy, mixed with the pride of being her – her what?

"Boyfriend" was so high school, "significant other" so dry. Forget "soul mates", that was just plain chick-flick. There was no term to describe them, but he was hers and she was his and they knew it, even if they had no rings or paper or even shared living quarters to prove the fact.

Peri bounded up the steps to the front door. "Hey, Skip, did I miss much?" She took a deep breath, followed by a shallower one. "Wow, it smells in here."

"Body's gone, but come on in. I was trying to find a number for someone to notify."

She gestured toward the hallway. "You can check Bob's nightstand, but I know they didn't have any children. They might have siblings - I think I remember a Christmas card from a brother."

A plaintive meow came from the hall as a large, orange tabby appeared. He trotted over to Peri, only looking at Skip to blink before leaning his body into her legs.

"Mr. Mustard, I forgot about you." She bent down to scratch his back. He arched his spine into her nails, his head cocked and eyes closed in kitty bliss. "This is Dottie and Bob's cat."

"He won't be able to stay here," Skip said. "I'll call Animal Control."

Peri continued to massage the cat, from face to rump. "Like, the pound?"

"I guess. Why?"

"Hmm, nothing. Well, actually, when I was little, I used to go to the shelter in Salinas with my mom. She was a rescuer."

"No wonder you don't do pets."

"It was nothing like that. I've told you about my folks. They were free spirits, but they weren't hoarders. Helen would take the adoptable pets home, spend some time socializing them, then unload them on gullible neighbors."

Skip laughed. "Gullible, huh? How'd your dad like your mom's hobby?"

"Erik didn't mind."

"I still can't believe you call your folks Erik and Helen."

Peri stood up and stretched her arms skyward. "Like I said, free spirits." She looked over at Mr. Mustard, who had strolled away to sharpen his claws on the leg of the sofa. "How long does he have, til, you know?"

"Til what? Oh, I think they keep them for a week before they put 'em to sleep."


"Yeah, I think." He watched Peri walk over and scratch the cat again. "Maybe less."

Mr. Mustard, having reached his fill of attention, nipped Peri's hand and ran back down the hallway.

She sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I know I'm going to hate this, but I'll take him home with me."

Skip looked at her. "The woman who can't keep goldfish alive? You know, you can't flush a cat, Doll."

"Ha ha. It's just temporary, until I can find a new home for him. Besides, I doubt if he'll let me forget to feed him. Fish don't meow."

The cat bounded back into the room, stopping at Peri to butt his head against her shin before dropping something at her feet. She reached down and picked it up.

"Mr. Mustard likes to play fetch." She opened the wadded paper and read. "'Decide now, five-five-five, oh-two-six-four. Think it's anything?"

Skip took the note from her. "I don't know, but we'll run it down. As soon as Jason gets here, I'm off. Want to get together later for lunch?"

"Sure, um, I've just got that meeting." Peri looked at her watch. "Crap, I'm running late. Can you drop the cat over at my place? His crate's in the hall closet, litter box in the bathroom, food should be on the second shelf in the pantry."

"Oh, Doll, I don't have time-"

"Come on, Skipper, please? I can't carry all that stuff back without a car." She reached up and kissed his nose. "I'll buy lunch."

Skip smiled. "Think you can afford me?"

She leaned into him and ran her hand down his shirt, her fingers massaging his chest. "I think I can make you forget about lunch altogether."

* * * * *

Monday, November 21, 2011

Who's thankful?

When I was young, I was destined to be an artist. My mother's side of the family all drew and painted. My mother's brother was a professional artist. He spent a good chunk of his life working at ad agencies and drawing whatever schlock they required, but he also drew and painted and sculpted prolifically, and was finally able to leave the advertising world behind and support his family on his artwork.

Everyone saw my potential. I could make a tree look like a tree! I could draw Fred Flintstone and I was only ten! So even though my favorite thing to do was tell tales (which I did, using my crayons, see the Crime Fiction Collective blog on this subject), I was happy to go down the rainbow-colored road with ma familia.

When you're a kid and your parents and grandparents are all screaming BRAVO every time you pick up a paintbrush, what else is there to do?

After one year as an art major at Millikin University, I discovered two important things:

1. If I really wanted to be an artist, I was going to have to fight my parents' idea of artistic quality in order to forge my own artistic identity and vision.

2. If I didn't get out of my parents' house soon, I would have more in common with Van Gogh when he was going crazy than when he was being a brilliant artiste.

Either way, it was going to be uphill all the way. My discovery led to my decision to marry my boyfriend and "start living my life." It was not a wise decision, but I folded those lessons learned into future choices. We'll leave the discussion of how that worked out for a later time.

I didn't save much of my artwork from my youth. The only thing I have is a rather bizarre painting of a girl in a one-horse open sleigh. I do have one remnant from my year at college: an animation I did for my Winter Break class, a one-month session. In four short weeks, I drew and colored over 1800 pictures, took the stack to my uncle to be shot with his 16-mm camera, then took the film to be processed. Being the Stone Age, the film had a turnaround of five days. This meant I really had three weeks to do everything else.

I remember finishing the camera work at 3:30 in the morning and sleeping until about 4:00 p.m. the next day. My dad was kind enough to take the film in to be developed.

My instructor screened it in my presence. He not only loved it, he pronounced me "twisted." Art professors love twisted students.

For years, the film traveled around with me, spending time with the mayo in my fridge. At some point, I had the contents transferred to videotape. The VHS version also wandered from address to address. Yesterday, it dawned on me that VHS was moving on to greener pastures, so I had Dale transfer it to a DVD, which I then loaded on my computer and fiddled with. It is a completely silent film, so I added some sound effects. They are, admittedly, less than stellar. Perhaps my son could write a soundtrack for it. Just sayin'.

At any rate, for your viewing pleasure, here is the reason we can all be thankful I am not an artist today. (Note: it is also the reason to be thankful I am not an actor.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hit or Missus - Chapter 2

Hola, Peeps. Hope you're all having a wonderful weekend. Here it is, just as promised. Chapter 2 of my latest mystery, HIT OR MISSUS. If you're interested in purchasing it, just look over to the right side of this blog.

* * * * *

"Peri, you see my other sock?"

"In the kitchen, under a chair."

"And my tie-"

"On the printer in my office." She rolled over on her side and pushed herself from the bed. "Okay. I'm up."

Skip walked over and kissed her forehead. "Stay in bed, Doll. It's only six."

She stretched her long legs out before putting her feet on the cool wood floor. "And yet, we've already had such a lovely chat." Yawning, she shuffled toward the bathroom. "I should run before my meeting, anyway."

Ten minutes later, Peri followed the smell of coffee to the kitchen and found Skip sitting at the table, reading the paper. He looked handsome in his creamy button-down shirt and chocolate slacks. A Placentia Police Department detective badge lay on the table, along with his gun.

"I thought you had to leave early." She dug around in the refrigerator, moving last night's takeout boxes to get to the cranberry juice.

"I've got enough time to read the sports page. What's on your agenda for the day?"

"New client at ten. Don Keller."

"Don Keller? The developer?"

Peri closed the refrigerator, a small bottle of juice in her hand. "That's him."

"Why does he want to see you?"

"Oh, I don't know, because I'm a private investigator and he has something to investigate?" She frowned. "What's wrong with him coming to see me?"

Skip put the paper down. "Nothing. It's just that, he's kind of high-end."

"So was Mrs. Cheavers, but she came slumming to my part of town." She swallowed a handful of vitamins with her juice. "Of course, her husband shot me, which only proves you can never judge people."

Skip rose and picked up his badge and gun. "Well, if this is another cheating spouse case, maybe you should ask Keller if his wife is packing before you take it." He pulled Peri to him for a kiss, then took a step back to look at her.

"Shouldn't you get some new running clothes?"

Peri looked down at her gray tee-shirt and black spandex shorts. She grabbed the shirt and held it out toward Skip. "Property of the PPD. Don't you like it?"

"It's just looking kinda old and sad."

She laughed. "Since when do I care how I look when I'm running? As a matter of fact, why do you care?"

"You got a great body, Doll-"

She patted his cheek. "For a fifty-year old."

"Well you don't look more than thirty-five. But those shorts are all stretched out, and I'm pretty sure that's my shirt."

"Again, who cares? I'm running a couple of miles, after which I'll be a sweaty mess anyway."

"I just think you could look a little nicer-"

Skip's cell phone interrupted them. Peri wrapped a scrunchy around her thick, blonde ponytail and stuck it through an Angels baseball cap.

"That was Dispatch," Skip said. "They got a call from your neighbors. It's Mrs. Peters."

"Uh-oh. Is she?"

He nodded. "It's gonna be pretty gruesome over there. I guess no one noticed they hadn't seen her in awhile."

She winced. "Eew. Poor Dottie. Bob died of a heart attack just a few weeks ago, and now she goes."

"Sometimes it happens like that."

"Can I come with you to Dottie's?"

"I thought you were going running."

Peri leaned into Skip, tilting her face to meet his. "I was, but I'd rather visit the scene."

"You have that meeting at ten."

"It's not even seven. I just want to peek in, Skipper."

He grimaced. "Dressed like that?"

"Oh, dear God, what is it with you and my clothes this morning? Did you get up on the fashionista side of the bed?"

"Now, Peri-"

She threw the juice bottle into the recycle bin, causing the other plastic bottles to spring up and scatter on the floor. "Never mind. I'm going running."

"We on for dinner tonight?"

Peri turned to face her boyfriend. "I don't know - I gotta get my tiara out of the dry cleaners." Her final word hit at the same time as the slamming door. "Later."

Who does he think he is? Peri's mind raced as her legs pumped along the sidewalk in her Placentia neighborhood. Normally, she started out at a slow trot, stretching, and increasing her speed. Today, her anger spilled into her muscles.

Stevie Ray Vaughn played a scathing riff into her ears, louder than usual, but she didn't adjust the volume. Instead, she let the shrill music goad her into running faster, the cool October air waking her lungs. Small, Spanish-style bungalows flew past her vision as she loped down the street. Even in this working-class neighborhood, the tiny front yards were well manicured. She caught glimpses of flower beds with a variety of color, from tall birds of paradise to the lower night-blooming jasmine. The occasional whiff of the jasmine smelled delicious, and Peri noted how much she loved the tiny, tempting wafts of scent, even if she hated the same smell in a perfume bottle.

She moved to the pavement, where she liked to run whenever possible, as the asphalt was kinder to her knees, even if it meant keeping an eye on the traffic. All the way, she griped soundlessly at her boyfriend.

Skip Carlton, thinks he's all that, just because he's a detective on the Placentia force… a good-looking, single detective… how dare he complain about my running clothes? It's because of that stupid article in the Register last week.

The Orange County Register had published an interview with Skip as part of Chief Fletcher's desire to raise the dial on the PPD's friendly meter. Peri couldn't wait for the article to be published; after she read it, she couldn't wait to burn it. The female reporter made it sound less like a career profile and more like a resume for a dating service.

"Placentia's most eligible detective?" she'd read aloud. "Because we're not married, you're eligible?"

Skip acted perplexed. "I don't get it. All she asked was, if I was married."

"And you said?"


Damn his police training, she thought, remembering the conversation. Never offer more information than you're asked. Now he thinks he's hot stuff, giving me fashion tips - about what to sweat in? What a horse's ass.

Peri rounded the corner near Morse Elementary School and headed back toward her home. She could hear a vague cacophony of sound and glanced over at the campus. Children of various sizes and shades littered the grass, running and jumping and standing and falling. It seemed early for the school day – this was probably the day care shift. Adults, teachers perhaps, hustled in and out of the low, brick buildings.

A ball jumped against the metal fence surrounding the playground, and a small boy ran up to get it, red-faced. His mouth moved, but Peri couldn't hear him over the music pounding through her head. She decided to make a little detour and run by Dottie's house, just in case there was something to see.

In addition to being her neighbor, Dottie had been one of her clients when Peri owned her housecleaning business. She gave a discount to every elderly client, but she especially liked the Peters and knocked a few dollars more off their bill.

Two police cars, the coroner's van, and Skip's dark SUV were still parked in front of the house. Peri slowed down to a trot and crossed the street. She saw two shadows just inside the screen door. The smaller shadow, a female, leaned into the tall, male frame, who bent over her.

Peri stopped short of the yellow tape as soon as she recognized the tall shadow. Skip looked cozy with someone.

Part of Skip's job entailed comforting people, so she had no reason to be jealous. Still, something tugged at the bottom of her stomach, like sour milk. She wavered, briefly, and glanced down at her tee-shirt, which was dark with perspiration. Was that a hole next to the 'D'? Maybe this wasn't her best look, even if she did want to snoop around Dottie's house.

Peri made a U-turn and headed for home. She trotted easily for a block before stopping. The hell with appearances, she wanted to see inside that house.

Sorry, Skip. Looking good will have to wait.

By the time she returned to Dottie's, she saw a familiar brunette walking toward the Coroner's van. In addition to being the assistant coroner, Blanche Debussy had been Peri's best friend since high school.

Peri slowed to a walk and met Blanche at the van. "I heard about Dottie. How bad was it?"

"She was definitely on the compost side of the street." The petite woman put her glasses in their case and looked up at her friend. "How are you?"

"Good, considering Skip and I started off with a fight this morning."

"How many rounds?"

"Fifteen. No decision." Peri laughed. "He got on my case today about my running clothes. I mean, really." She looked down at her outfit, gesturing. "What else do you run in?"

"Looks like what I wear."

"Exactly. I guess now that he's the PPD's most eligible bachelor, he needs me to dress like arm candy."

"What a horse's ass." Blanche's husky voice made every opinion sound like fact.

Peri looked up and saw Skip at the front door. She smiled and waved. "Yeah, but he's my horse's ass."

* * * * *

Friday, November 18, 2011

Popcorn for the brain

At one time in my youth, I pictured myself as a literary novelist. You know, the Serious Writer, who wears black and sits at the Big Kids Table. If you fast-forward a couple of years, you know that didn't exactly happen. I write humor and mysteries. They are not Deep Metaphorical Life Lessons. They are easy to read, digest, and perhaps forget. I only say that because, of all the mysteries I like to read, many of them are satisfying reads but few of them stick to my ribs.

I have no problem embracing who I am as a writer. When I am in the middle of writing, I am quite serious about finishing the piece, even if it is not a Serious piece. I do wear a lot of black because it's slimming (I'm told). And I don't believe it's sour grapes to think the Big Kids Table isn't as much fun as the Little Kids, where you get to tell jokes and spill stuff and then run off to play as soon as you've convinced the grown-ups you're FULL.

My son and I were talking about what it means to be an "independent" artist. There are people who grit their teeth and argue that self-published authors are NOT "independent authors". They equate the word "indie" with indie film and indie music, all of which takes a team of people and has some financial backing, so that more than one person has vetted the work and believes in it enough to get it in front of the masses. An indie author needs only to write a book, make a cover for it, and upload it on Smashwords. Ta.Da.

"Books and music are really apples and oranges," my wise, music-major son said. "Indie music was developed to fill a need for people who didn't fit the mold of popular, Top 40 stuff, whatever the style. It was for stretching the boundaries of what music should sound like. Although I'm sure indie artists wanted an audience, they were looking more for the niche, cult group of loyal listeners. Some groups even lost fans when they started to become more popular."

The other point he made about music that makes it difficult to compare is, with most listeners, as long as it's got a beat and the singer isn't godawful, it has a chance of being accepted. There aren't 'typos' or 'grammatical errors' to interfere with the listening pleasure, and it's so brief, compared to reading a book. It interests you for a few minutes or it doesn't and you move on. When you've invested several chapters into a book and keep seeing the author use it's for its, you get a little pissy. You don't listen to a song and tear at your hair, saying, "It should be E Major, you fools!"

At least, I don't.

This made me think about the music and movies made by "indie" artists. Sure, they're passed through a bunch of hands and developed using state-of-the-art technology and someone believed enough in them to toss money their way, but at the end of the day, they can still make dreck. Good-looking dreck, but it's like putting sewage in a Waterford glass. The packaging might look lovely, but the insides reek.

I think the self-published authors out there can call themselves Indies, without trying to fit into the film or music model. They are, for their own reasons, doing things the way they want them done. And no matter how many hands touch their manuscript, and how pretty the cover is, and how well formatted it is, they could be writing dreck. Vetting is no guarantee of quality.

So, just for the record, I'd like to state that I am an Indie author of mysteries and humor. My books are not going to fill your cultural cravings. They are popcorn for your brain.

Just like this:

BTW, I still don't know what it means, and I want the moves like Jagger.

Have a great weekend, and tune in on Sunday for another chapter of HIT OR MISSUS.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How deep are your roots?

I'm a mutt, ancestrally speaking, and yet... On my mom's side, we're Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch, Cherokee, and Sioux. On my dad's side, there is Welsh, Swedish, and Cherokee. Let's leave the Native Americans out of the picture for a moment. First of all, this is all according to family lore, so I'm not certain of my native heritage. Apparently, it's kind of popular to claim you are Cherokee. I don't know why. Second, if you look at my picture, I dare you to find any genetic evidence of any ancestor with dark skin, hair or eyes.

What do you see when you look at me? That's right: Irish, Scottish, Welsh - Celtic. Strong genes, those Celts.

Not that it mattered growing up. We didn't cater to anything but being Midwesterners, with a slight Southern accent. Our songs were country & western. Our folklore was family stories about Great Granddad getting drunk and painting his car John Deere green with a whisk broom. Our food was fried or otherwise cooked past the point of recognition.

So imagine my surprise one Christmas eve when my husband popped a tape in the VCR as we were getting ready to go to church, and the music it played felt like a fisherman tossed a line in my soul and reeled me to the TV. The tape was Riverdance, which is a Celtic celebration. I'm sure many people think the music is beautiful, but honest to God, I thought the mother ship was calling me home.

I didn't do anything special about this. I enjoyed the moment, but I didn't seek out more music, more Celtic entertainment or enlightenment or knowledge.

Skip forward a few years. The family is up in Big Bear, celebrating the New Year, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. A bunch of us are wandering through the shops downtown. We stop at a mystical shop, where one of the girls is getting her palm read, and Marcus is bugging me to buy him a Pan flute, and I am absentmindedly looking at all the shiny things. Hanging on a display are "Celtic Birth Charms."

Of course, I looked up my birthday, February 21. This is what I found:


How interesting is it that the mystery writer has a mystery birth charm? Here's the full text:

"The Hounds of the Underworld, Cwn Annan enliven the Celtic folk-tales of the famed Mabinogion, bounding across the cold night sky in an exhiliarating and impressive wild Hunt. In Wales, they are said to appear around St. David's Eve. Cwn Annan individuals project mystery and hidden depths."

The charm now hangs on my wallet. It may just be advertising. It may not mean a thing. Or it may be a piece of the puzzle that is my heritage. My background has never been important to me, mostly I think because it was never important to my family. I've always considered people to be the luck of their DNA draw.

Now I'm wondering. Does it matter to you that you were born Irish or German or Hispanic or Jamaican or whatever? Should it matter to me?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hit or Missus - a freebie, just for you!

I think I've given you all a Sunday Sample of one of my books before. Maybe it was even Hit or Missus. At any rate, I'm old and get easily distracted by shiny objects, so I'm giving it to you again. Here, for your reading pleasure, is the Chapter 1 of Hit or Missus. Enjoy.

* * * * *

In the end, it was a good thing Mr. Mustard didn’t like coffee any more than he liked baths.

"I'm sorry, Mister," Dottie Peters told the large, orange tabby. "But you were stinky."

The elderly woman wrapped a thick towel around her wet, struggling cat and lifted him to the rim of the bathtub. She rested a moment, then hugged the bundle to her chest and rose. Steadying her body against the wall, she finally stood erect, more or less, while the cat fussed in her arms.

"Oof, hold still."

Dottie put her nose to the towel and inhaled the warm, primal scent of feline, mixed with baby shampoo. She moved the morning's newspaper from the old leather recliner and sat down, still gripping her entrapped cat. After fumbling with the remote until the TV clicked to life, she leaned back into the overstuffed chair and began massaging her furry hostage. The morning news show burbled with happy tones, but Dottie didn't smile.

"Bob used to sit here," she said as she rubbed. It had been two weeks and a day since her husband's heart attack, and in his absence, the cat had become her confidant. "He used to have his coffee here in the morning and watch The Price Is Right, remember?"

Mr. Mustard howled.

"I know, Sweetie." Dottie rubbed at the tears stinging her eyes. "If coffee didn't give me heartburn, I'd turn the channel, but I can't watch The Price Is Right without a cup of coffee. It just wouldn't be the same."

Mr. Mustard gave one last growl and disentangled himself from his terrycloth prison, leaping from his mistress's lap. He marched out of the room without glancing back, his tail twitching.

"Fine, Grumpy." She turned back to the TV and watched a young woman point out the latest traffic snarl, happy she didn't have to navigate southern California freeways. Everything she needed was less than six blocks away from her small bungalow. Bob usually drove their little beige sedan anywhere she needed to go.

"Suppose I'll have to do all the driving now," she said to no one, tears pooling again before they tumbled to her cheeks.

She and Bob were no spring chickens - she knew that. Still, the sight of him slipping from his chair like a bag of potatoes from a shelf, kept replaying in her mind. Death was inevitable, but did it have to be such a damned surprise?

She rose and shuffled into the kitchen. "I think I'll have a little coffee anyway – for Bob. I can always take some Tums later."

The yellow paint on the walls of the small kitchen had faded, and there were grease spots over the stove that could have been wiped away, if Dottie's eyesight was better. An oak table stood in the corner with two matching chairs. Only one of them had a cushion, for Bob. Dottie always joked she brought her own padding to any chair she sat in.

She stretched up to the cabinet above the sink and retrieved a small tin of coffee, decorated in a gay autumnal theme, an orange bow still on the lid. After filling the coffee pot, she made sure it gurgled and sputtered before she walked back into her bedroom.

While the coffee brewed, she changed into a housedress, a shapeless swath of blue cotton with small pink roses decorating the collar. She returned to the kitchen and filled a green mug halfway with dark, aromatic liquid, then went back to the recliner.

A cooking show blared on the TV, the celebrity hostess showing the viewer how to make grilled shrimp escabeche for a family of four.

"Whose child would eat that?" Dottie switched the channel to watch the game show. She sipped her coffee, and puckered.

"This tastes different than I remember." She took another drink and watched Drew Carey invite a screeching young woman on stage. Dottie sighed. Different host, different coffee, nothing stayed the same.

She picked up the paper from the table next to the chair and read it while she drank. "Damned vultures. Think just because Bob is gone, I'll sell out."

Her pale brow wrinkled as she pushed her glasses back up on her nose.

An adhesive note was stuck to the paper. She pulled it off and looked at the message scribbled in bold black. DECIDE NOW, with a phone number, screamed at her.

"Pushy SOB." She wadded the note in her gnarled fingers.

A feline voice trilled from the hallway and Mr. Mustard trotted into the room, his tail high and vibrating. Dottie smiled and tossed the note across the floor. The cat ran to the paper and batted it with his forepaws, before picking it up in his mouth and carrying it back to his mistress. He leapt to the recliner's arm in one graceful bound and dropped his toy on Dottie's lap.

She threw it again, and, once again, the tabby gave chase. Retrieving scraps of paper was the cat's favorite activity. Bob often joked they couldn't teach the cat to use the scratching post, but he could fetch like a damned dog.

Dottie looked up at the TV. Drew Carey appeared fuzzy, so she took off her glasses and cleaned them on her dress. It didn't help.

A moment later, she clasped her right hand over her breast, just as Bob had done two weeks ago. As she reached out for the telephone, she lost her balance and fell to her knees. She managed to dial '9' before losing consciousness.

Mr. Mustard returned to the recliner and sniffed the coffee, splashed across the carpet. Sneezing, he walked out to find a warm spot for a nap, taking the crumpled paper with him.

* * * * *

You can order in paperback or ebook, from a variety of sources. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, lots of bookstores for paperback. As far as ebook, just go to whatever e-store you shop in (iTunes, Kindle, Nook, Sony, etc) and it'll be there, for the very affordable price of $2.99. Or, of course, you can order an autographed copy from me, if you just look at the Paypal link on the right.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How much character do you want?

Now that I've got Are You There Erma? It's Me, Gayle on its way to immortality (or is that e-mortality), I can go back to writing the third mystery in my Peri Minneopa series. I took a few convoluted turns and twists before settling on the plot (see Thursday's edition of the Crime Fiction Collective blog for an explanation) and am now thisclose to completing the outline. I really like this story and can't wait to tell it to you.

Usually, I get so wrapped up in what I'm writing that I can't imagine another plot and think once this book is complete, the well will dry up and I'll never come up with anything else.

Not this time.

After this third book is written, I have an idea for a new series, with new characters. So far, I only have the location and the murder. I still don't know if my main character will be a man or woman, single or married, childless or a parent. I only know they'll be a sleuth and not a member of law enforcement. Probably no close friends in the law enforcement field, either.

The only thing I know for certain is they must be a character.

The lead must be someone a reader wants to follow through the story, at a minimum. It's hard to care about boring people in books.

A friend of mine mentioned she really liked Columbo. "You should make up somebody like that," she said.

I'm pretty sure I don't want to write Columbo, Part Two. But I started to think about the detective's signature style. To the world, he bumbled and fumbled and acted so disorganized it was a wonder he ever got a shield. And yet, he caught the killer every time.

Was he really that much of a scatterbrain? I mean, I never pictured him acting any differently, so when he went home and his wife asked if he picked up a loaf of bread, he'd touch his forehead and feel around in his overcoat and finally pull a loaf out of one of the pockets. Was that really him, or did he come home with a grocery bag like normal people? Was he secretly winking at us all, having his little joke?

More importantly, why did we believe in him? Millions watched him every week, knowing he'd solve the crime, and finding him completely endearing.

Here's my question: What if Columbo was a woman? I mean, maybe not in a rumpled trench coat and a cigar, but a woman in sensible shoes and outfits from Land's End, digging in her tote bag for a notebook and fiddling with her earring in thought. Would you find her endearing? Or unbelievable?

What if we changed her to be a young blonde wearing designer clothes and a Coach bag? How about adding some fake boobs and a squeaky-high voice? Could she solve a murder? Or is she too ditzy?

There are no right or wrong answers here, and I have no resolution. I'm just investigating the nature of characters and who we'll root for and who we'll roll our eyes at. I'd love to hear from anyone out there about what makes a character both believable and likeable.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My weekend pot pourri

I don't have anything earth-shaking to say. Just a few notes on this and that, some random scribblings, and a slight touch of news.

This morning I got a craving to have red beans and rice for dinner. I don't have "a recipe" for red beans and rice. I usually look it up in my cookbooks and online and pick something new to try. Anyway, while I was trying to figure out whether to add a hamhock or andouille sausage, a friend of mine called. She was in a bind, being away from home on a field trip with her class, while her babysitter bailed on picking up the youngest kiddo. Could I do her a favor?

Of course.

The Fates were actually in her favor, since I had to cancel riding lessons today due to rain, so I had the afternoon to pick up her daughter, take her to dance class, then take her home. The only thing I didn't have time to do was do the quick soak of the beans, because they'd be soaked too soon. I didn't want to start them cooking before I ran my errands because I never leave the stove unattended. I did, however, have time to let them soak for 6-8 hours, then start cooking when I got home, which is what I did.

The bad news is, by the time I got everything chopped and dug the ground thyme out of the spice cabinet, it was 7:00 p.m., so the beans won't be ready until 10. They'll be great tomorrow, although I'll probably still have a small taste of them before I go to bed, just to confirm they're good. (Note to self: learn to chop faster.)

What's a girl to do? I ate dessert first. A decadent chocolate cupcake, heated ever-so-slightly, with vanilla ice cream. Show of hands - who thinks that was wrong? Okay... and how many of you think it was the only reasonable thing to do? One, two, three, you - in the back - is your hand up or down? Okay.

Reason wins.

50 books - and Duffy's ball
I'm pretty sure postal workers hate authors. Even if you are published by the big houses, I'm betting you have a cache of your own books to hand out. Those books have to be delivered by someone. Someone with flat feet and bad knees and hip replacement in their foreseeable future. To all the UPS drivers, postal workers and delivery people in general, please accept my apologies. Someday we will all be so wrapped up in the digital age, we will not need physical books to give away and autograph. Until then, can I offer you an Advil?

I've got a giveaway going at Goodreads (say that fast five times, I dare you). If you want a chance to win an autographed copy of Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle click on the link and enter.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle by Gayle S Carline

Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle

by Gayle S Carline

Giveaway ends November 14, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Since my books are physically here now, I'll be updating my Paypal button so you can order autographed copies of them. If you just can wait for me to get my act together, shoot me an email and I'll get a copy to you.

Don't forget to set your clocks back tomorrow night. Doesn't that extra hour seem luxurious?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Start making sense

Most of you know I live in southern California and today it's Santa Ana Winds week. We get static-charged dry air along with 60-mile an hour winds (no, I'm NOT kidding) that rearrange everything everywhere. Me? I get a headache.

I read some doctor's claim that there are very few sinus headaches and people who say they get them are simply misdiagnosed. I'd like to exchange heads with him for one of these Santa Ana days and see if he still believes that.

But even though I'd like to take a rock and hit myself in the head (unconsciousness would be good right now), that doctor has given me something to post about.

Science - what does the data really prove?

In my very first psychology class as a college freshman, my professor said the most astounding thing: "There is no scientific proof that cigarettes cause cancer." What?!? He then explained. To establish scientific proof, scientists would have to set up three groups of people of the same age. One group of people would never EVER smoke ANYTHING. One group would begin smoking a pack a day at age eighteen. The third group would smoke something that looked like cigarettes but were placebos.

"Then when they were all sixty, we'd count the survivors and have our proof," he said. "There is, of course, a moral and ethical code about running these kinds of experiments, which is why we have laboratory mice and we make comparisons and extrapolations and it takes years to convince anyone to put a warning label on a pack of cigarettes, instead of a skull and crossbones."

(By the way, he smoked. He just admitted it was not his safest choice.)

From that moment, I looked at all pronouncements, scientific or statistic, with a degree of skepticism. How was the testing done? How were the results gathered? Who is behind the study or poll? What do they have to benefit from the results?

I can say this attitude has served me, in that I no longer panic when a headline screams, "Analysts Predict Worldwide Financial Collapse Within Fifty Years." Which analysts? Define "financial collapse." How did they arrive at their conclusion?

It also made me fall in love with the idea of the pure test, without any anticipation of results. Let the data prove what it proves, instead of looking for your own personal AHA.

What does any of this have to do with books and writing?

Because I read Publisher's Weekly and a bunch of other publisher/agent/author blogs, I'm always reading about how e-books are overtaking print books - NO WAIT - the print books are still in the lead - NO WAIT - independent authors are becoming more legitimate - NO WAIT - the Big Six Publishers are still calling the shots - NO WAIT...

Good grief, I'm exhausted just trying to figure out what kind of data they've used to arrive at their conclusions. At the end of the day, I can only do what seems right for me at the time, but I do consider the headlines because 'what's right for me' has to include what the market is doing.

So when Joe Konrath threw this little test up in a recent blog post, it got me very excited:

Visit publishers' websites. Pick ten books by new authors that are being released in November. Then set up a Google alert for each title, so you get all the marketing, news, and publicity associated with it. Also watch and track Amazon and BN.com rankings.

Follow these books for a month. See for yourself how well publishers do in breaking out these ten new books. Do any get on the bestseller lists? Visit some local bookstores. How many copies do they stock, if any? Contact the authors and ask how they're being treated.

Then you can find out for yourself what a Big 6 publisher does for a new author, and you'll have a much better reason for either taking, or rejecting, any deal they might offer you.

A test with real data I could collect and use! This is useful to me because even though I've self-pubbed my last three books, I may still want to submit the next one to a publisher. Maybe - if they can do things for me that I can't do for myself, such as reach a broader audience. But how do I know they are helping their authors sell as many books as possible?

Joe's test can be a more analytical, less anecdotal, way to determine that, which can only help me.

If you're an author, is there any criteria you use for determining what path to take your career? Do you find yourself relying on anecdotes for your choices?

If you're a publisher or agent, are you seeing any differences in authors these days? Are you also looking at the anecdotes and making adjustments in your own career/company to meet the market needs?

I hope this makes sense, in spite of my "non-sinus" sinus headache.

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