"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

Friday, December 16, 2016

From Our House to Yours.

My writing career actually began with Christmas letters. The first one was such a success with our friends and family that I kept doing it. (BTW, the secret to a good Christmas letter is to keep it one page or less. People appreciate brevity.)

At one point, when I was completely on the fence about trying to write for publication, my hubby's cousin Amanda said to me, "I look forward to your Christmas letters. You are writing other things, aren't you?" She is now deceased, but I thank her lovely spirit every now and then for encouraging me to sit my tush in the chair and get serious.

The Christmas letter now includes a Christmas photo, which is not as easy as it sounds. We all go to the ranch, to take a group photo with two horses and two dogs. We used to bring the cat, may she rest in peace. She hated it, and wouldn't come near me for days after the experience.

Marcus is the only one capable of smiling through the entire session.

We try really hard to face the camera and keep smiling while we wrangle the animals. We are not always successful.

Frostie really likes to sniff the dogs.

The dogs tend to get bored with the whole thing.

My job is to keep Snoopy from biting me.

Finally, with a little help from PhotoShop, we get something we can use.

And here is the letter:


These are the last lines spoken by a famous actor in a much-loved but not crazily-famous Christmas movie of yore. (Made in 1945 and 10 points to the person who can name the movie.)

This year has been a rollercoaster, both for the Carlines and the world. You can read about the world in the newspapers. As for the Carlines…

Marcus is busy doing what musicians do: chasing the money, piecing together small gigs to try to make one living wage. Currently, he’s performing in two groups, an a cappella group that sings in Downtown Disney and a nonprofit choral group that performs and teaches in local schools. He’s also working a shift here and there at Cal State Long Beach. In October, he moved back home, to save money and commute time. He helps me around the house, so I’m happy to have him here.

Dale is still one busy retiree. He spent a couple of weeks at Angels’ spring training in Arizona, where he got to volunteer to work (ushering, parking, etc), went to Massachusetts for his friend’s golf tournament, and schlepped along with me to a few of my events. When he wasn’t on the road, he was coaching the Placentia Youth League basketball teams. They’re giving him two teams now, and he enjoys helping the community. He also golfs a little, from time to time (I’m trying to find a sarcasm font here).

This year, I did something special for my 11th book release. It’s my 4th mystery set in Placentia, so I had a huge party at my favorite local restaurant, hired Marcus and a combo to perform, and made certain everyone got food, drinks, a book, and some nice swag. It was a blast! In my horsey world, I went to a few shows with Snoopy this year, most notably a huge regional show in Las Vegas. Dale went along with me, and we had a great time. Dale also joined me for a few days in New Orleans at a mystery lover’s convention.

Our family went to the mountains, as usual. This year’s trip was particularly bittersweet. In April, we lost our dear friend and fellow vacationer, Alyssa Barnes, to cancer. She was Marcus’ age, so it hit about as hard as you can imagine. I’m glad we were able to attend her memorial in Sacramento.

In 2015, we replaced most of the flooring in the house, which now looks nice, but took almost until Christmas to install, leaving me with a bleak holiday. This year, we got a new TV and furniture for the family room, both things that took mere moments to install. So even if the world around me is losing its mind, I have great hope this year for Christmas lights and mistletoe, and evenings spent in front of the fire with a nice glass of something good.

I heard a pastor recently, speaking about hope at an event. After pointing out what we can’t control, he gave us three suggestions: rejoice always, pray incessantly, and be thankful in everything. So no matter how I work to effect change, I will always be both joyful and thankful. And prayer never hurt anybody.

Wishing you all a Loving Christmas, and a Kind New Year.

The Carlines

No matter what you celebrate, or if you celebrate at all, we wish you happiness, peace, and prosperity for this and future years.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Holidays with Norman, Redux

This little story started life as a column describing my own family's trip to get a tree. I liked the concept, so I fictionalized it, toyed with it, juggled it, stretched it, yadda-yadda. Now, due to my sudden allergies, we've had to abandon the live pine tree and get an artificial tree. 

All that's left is this story. Enjoy.


     Norman Rockwell is visiting again. I never get any notice, not that I need one. He always arrives on the first Sunday in December. I sit down in front of my mirror to put on my makeup, and there he is, peeking around my shoulder.
     He looks a lot like he did in that famous portrait, holding his pipe firmly in his down-turned mouth, the glare from his glasses hiding his eyes. His neck looks more like chicken skin every year, although I don’t know why.
     After all, he’s just a hallucination. He shouldn’t age, should he?
     “Time to get the Christmas tree, Abby,” he tells me.
     Yes, Mr. Rockwell.
     “Oughta be fun,” he says. “Oughta be quite an adventure.”
     Oh, yeah, Mr. Rockwell, it’s quite the holiday escapade.
     Every year I have the same fantasy about getting the Christmas tree. I see my husband, Keith and our son, Jake, ahead of me, walking through the Choose-And-Cut lot, pointing to trees and smiling. There’s a dusting of snow on the ground, and we’re in our down jackets, bright scarves around our necks to keep the wind from whipping down our shirts.
     Keith turns back to me and smiles. “Jake thinks this one looks like his teacher.”
     I look at the small, wide evergreen and laugh.
     Later, after we’ve put the tree in our living room, I make popcorn and hot cocoa while Keith and Jake get the ornaments out of their boxes. We spend the evening putting up lights, and hanging stars. Christmas music is playing, and we are filling the room with joyous conversation, talking about nothing in particular.
     That’s the fantasy, the dream that Norman Rockwell always comes to feed.
     “It’ll be just like one of my paintings,” he says.
     “Just like,” I tell him. “Except that it doesn’t snow in southern California, we won’t need jackets and scarves in seventy degree weather, and – oh, yeah – Keith and Jake don’t look like any of the people in your paintings.”
     I stop feathering the light brown pencil across my blonde eyebrow and look at the photo propped against the mirror. Keith and Jake are in the scene, holding strings of catfish, smiling.
Keith’s skin is as dark as Hershey’s kisses, his full lips and broad nose identifying his African roots. His body is compact and muscular, his arms strong and sinewy.
     “Did you even paint any black people, Mr. Rockwell?” I ask the ghost still peering over my shoulder.
      He seems offended. “Of course I did, young lady. There was that little girl on her way to school.”
     “Oh, yeah, the one about desegregation.”
     “And how about the little kids and the moving van?”
     I look down and rub the black mascara wand into my pale eyelashes. “The black family moving into the all white neighborhood, right?”
     “And the little boy in the dining car?”
     “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Norman, the black guy was a waiter. You never painted pictures of black people just being people, having families, going to the doctor. For that matter, you never painted Hispanics or Asians or anyone of color, except that ‘We are the World’ piece you did-what was it called?”
     “You mean The Golden Rule.” He shrugs, but his expression remains the same. “That was my world.”
     I put my makeup back in the drawer and stand up, shaking the specter away. “Your world was so white, it was practically clear.”
     I look at the photo once more. If Norman Rockwell would not have painted Keith catching fish, he most certainly would not have painted our son, Jake.
     Jake is the color of latte, with his father’s broad nose and mahogany eyes, and my slender lips. His hair is not as wiry as Keith’s, but my natural wave has contributed to its tight curls. At fifteen, he is whippet-thin, with lean muscles and an expanding ribcage from running cross country five days a week.
     I check myself in the mirror. My red t-shirt needs to be tugged down over the top of my jeans. The color brings out the ruddiness of my Celtic skin, so I brush at my cheeks, wiping off some of the blusher I had applied. The scent of white ginger lotion engulfs me, and I wonder if I should switch to something warmer for the holidays, something spicier.
    Keith is in the family room, watching a football game. He sits forward on the chair, his shoes on the floor in front of him.
     “I’m ready whenever you are,” I say.
     He nods, engrossed in the play. My husband loves to watch sports; I love to watch him.
     I wander down the hall to Jake’s room. He is dressed in his holiday finery: a black AC/DC t-shirt and threadbare corduroy pants that I am not allowed to toss out. His room, however, looks like it has been tossed. Clean and dirty clothes mingle on the floor, along with video games, old homework papers, and the extra large drink he got at Carl’s Jr. last night. The room has that unmistakable smell of boy/man, musk and body odor and old socks.
     Jake looks up from his place on the floor, sprawled out, playing a nondescript riff on his guitar.
     “Get your shoes on,” I tell him. “Dad’s almost ready to go.”
     The truth is, I don’t know whether he’s ready to go or not. When Keith watches a sporting event, he is consumed by it. He does not make us stay home until it is over, but he will not leave the TV until some crucial play has been performed.
     I never know what that play is.
     My husband’s casual manner of getting from the house to the car vexes me, no matter where we are going. I cannot learn his rhythm. When he goes out to the garage, I follow and get into the car, thinking that we are on our way. We are not. Keith will have at least two more trips into the house to get something he forgot, then stop at the refrigerator to pick up a cold soda for the road.
     I’ll be waiting in the car, trying to keep my hands from reaching up and yanking my hair out by the roots.
     Today, I go out and open the garage door, then putter around, trying to waste time. Jake comes out just as I’ve found the coupon for five dollars off a Christmas tree. About ten minutes after that, Keith shows up. He immediately goes back in for his Angels baseball cap, comes out and looks for the tarp to place on the car roof so the tree doesn’t scratch the paint, opens the car door, shuts the car door, goes to the refrigerator and removes a bottle of water, opens the car door one more time, and finally gets in.
     We’re ready.
     “Where are we going?” he asks as he backs the car out of the garage.
     “Well, we can go around the corner to the Fantasyland lot, or down the street they have one of those Uncle Ernie Tree lots, or there’s the Pincher Choose and Cut.”
     Keith stops the car in the driveway and looks at me. “Where are we going?”
     I must make the decision. “I have a coupon for Pincher’s. Let’s go there.”
     It’s hard to keep a live tree from becoming a fireman’s nightmare in southern California. An artificial tree would be so much safer and easier, but I love the fresh smell of pine, and the feeling of energy that a live tree gives a room. Going to a “choose and cut” tree lot at least ensures that our tree is completely fresh, and hasn’t been sitting, waterless, at various truck stops on its way from Oregon.
     Our tires crunch along the gravel path as Keith winds the car up the hill and into a parking spot. There are rows of Monterey pines here, all tenderly nurtured and shaped into cones, canvases upon which glass ornaments and tinsel will be displayed. Young boys in oversized t-shirts and baggy jeans wait by the wooden stand to the right, saws by their sides. The stand sells fruit and vegetables in the summer, pumpkins for Halloween, and trees for Christmas. The owners have decorated it for the holiday, hiding the painted pictures of tomatoes and corn with garland.
     I want to leap from the car and scamper to the trees, but I restrain myself. That is not my family’s speed. I get out slowly and stretch as if we’ve traveled for an hour instead of ten minutes. Slowly, casually, my husband and son emerge and stand by me. They wait for my lead.
     I gesture to the right. “Looks like there are some nice trees up there.”
     We begin to walk into the forest.
     It is sunny, but not hot, and the breeze coming through the evergreens makes it almost Christmas-y. The smell of the trees is rich here. My fantasy returns, briefly, until I see the gap between my family members. Head down, Keith is trudging up the hill. Jake is wandering aimlessly, looking at nothing, his ears stuffed with music from his iPod.
     I stop at a tree, and gauge its height and heft. It seems to be about seven feet tall, well-rounded and full, except for one side, which is sparse. We place our tree in a corner of the living room, so this is not a problem; no one will see the ugly side.
     “How about this one?” I ask my crew.
     “It’s fine,” Keith replies. “Let’s get it.”
     I need a consensus. “Jake, what do you think?”
     For a fifteen-year old boy who has opinions on everything from my cooking to world politics, he is strangely noncommittal. “S’okay,” he says with a shrug.
     Not quite satisfied, I walk on and stop at another tree, slightly taller and fuller.“What about this?”
     My two lovely men give me the same answers. We do this for two more trees. At the last tree, I look up and see Mr. Rockwell again, peeking from around the evergreens.
     “Isn’t this fun?” he asks.
     If he wasn’t a hallucination, I’d throw something at him. Yeah, Norman, it’s swell.
     “Let’s get this one,” I say.
     Keith nods and Jake shrugs, indicating a quorum.
     I tear off the bottom half of the tag and tell them, “We need to go get the little lumberjack.”
     They both stand and look at me.
     I guess “we” means me, so I turn and walk toward the stand. A scruffy young man leans against the counter, joking with the young Hispanic girl as she collects money from a couple. He is in typical tree-cutter garb: a short-sleeved t-shirt over a long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, and boots that Frankenstein might have worn, all faded, all well-worn.
     Handing him the tag, I gesture up the hill, and see Keith walking down toward the car. The next ten minutes are spent carpeting the roof of the SUV with the tarp and securing the tree onto the car with twine.
     Every time I see a Christmas tree on a car I am reminded of the time my brother and I took my ’67 Mustang to get the family tree. It was a particularly cold winter in Illinois, where we lived, so cold that when you breathed in, the hairs in your nose stuck together. We couldn’t get the tree in the car trunk, so we put it in the backseat, opening the windows so both ends could stick out.
     We never even thought of tying it to the roof.
     Keith pulls into our driveway and the real fun begins--getting the tree onto the stand, and into the house. Everyone has their assigned tasks. I move the rocking chair from the corner, and place a large trash bag on the carpet, then a towel, then a sheet, in the vain hopes of keeping the carpet dry. Keith removes the tree from the roof and brings it to the front porch, where he cleans the lowest limbs away. I join him, to hold the tree while he tightens the stand around the trunk.
    “Hmph t llm,” he tells me.
     At least, that’s what it sounds like.
     Translation: Get a microphone.
     “Hold. It. To. The. Left.”
     Translation: Get a hearing aid.
     We get it into the stand, then I open the front doors and Keith carries it to the corner. He maneuvers it a little more, making certain that it’s straight, while I get the fishing line.
     One December morning, when Jake was a toddler and Keith was away on business, the tree fell over. Instead of getting ready for work, I spent half an hour putting the tree upright and cleaning the glass shards from the carpet. Ever since then, we’ve tied the tree to a nail in the wall, using fishing line. It may not be attractive, but I’ll bet OSHA approves.
     Jake’s job used to be to stay out of our way while we got the tree positioned. Now, his task is to stand in the driveway, waiting for his dad to give him permission to drive the car into the garage. At fifteen, this is his weekly thrill. I watch Keith walk from the porch, give Jake a serious look, and then smile as he tosses the keys. Our son leaps into the car and roars the engine to life, then creeps into the garage, attempting to place the SUV in the perfect space between the shelves and my minivan. He backs up and retries this two or three times, either because he’s a perfectionist or because he wants the extra driving time.
     Keith retires to his football game, a bag of tortilla chips and salsa with him. His work is done.
It’s now tree trimming time, so I begin my ritual. First, I select a bottle of wine, a deep cabernet. I open the hutch and remove a wine glass. Norman is staring back at me.
     “Hot chocolate?” he asks.
     “More like hot toddy,” I tell him.
     I see him frown a little, and wonder if the artist was a teetotaler.
     “Don’t worry, Mr. Rockwell, I can drink and decorate.”
     Jake’s voice startles me. “Who are you talking to, Mom?”
     “Just myself, honey. Want to help me hang ornaments on the tree?”
     He scowls a little. “Not really.”
     I pour a glass of deep red elixir as my son wanders out of the room. Soon I hear his guitar wailing softly. I plug a Christmas CD in the stereo and turn it on. Eartha Kitt purrs to her Santa Baby while I get to work.
     The ornaments are still in their boxes. I take them out, one by one and set them on the dining room table. After they are all out, I begin. There is a process, a rhythm, that must be followed.
     I pick up a small, muslin mitten, grey with age, its edges cut with pinking shears. There is a green tree outline painted on one side and my name painted on the other. This ornament was made for me when I was six, by Mrs. Miller. Pete Miller was my boyfriend in 1st grade. I look at my name and remember Pete’s mom. She was a great cook, but not highly educated; the “y” in “Abby” is backwards.
     The first ornament I owned must be the first one on the tree. Then the first ornament Keith and I bought together, then Jake’s first baby ornament. After that, the ornaments from friends and family who have passed, and then those who are still with us, and so on.
     Norman reappears as I hang a handmade porcelain angel in the upper branches.
     “This isn’t right,” he says. “Where’s the family? Where’s the popcorn?”
     It’s okay, Mr. Rockwell, tree trimming is just not my family’s thing.
     I am about halfway through it all, the wine and the trimming, when Jake comes back into the room.
     “Need help, Mom?”
     “Sure. Grab an ornament and find a limb.”
     When he was younger, all my son wanted to do was sort the ornaments according to size, color and shape. The only year he wanted to hang ornaments, he hung them all on the same branch. I tried to let it alone, but after the bough touched the ground, I had to re-position them.
     This time, I promise myself I will not re-hang anything he puts on the tree, although I secretly pray that he will spread them around a little.
     “Jingle Bell Rock” starts playing, and we sing along. We are getting to the end of the ornaments, the boxes of gold balls that were bought on sale and have no meaning. Our work goes faster, as we fill all of the unadorned nooks on the tree. At last, we look back at the table. It is empty, just like my wine glass.
     Jake extends his long, muscled arms and engulfs me.
     “You’re the best mom,” he says. “What’s for dinner?”
     “Leftovers,” I reply. “Still think I’m the best?”
     He laughs and wanders into the kitchen. I hear him foraging in the refrigerator.
     After our dinner of re-heated minestrone and salad, I pour one more glass of wine and sit on the couch in the living room. I’ve turned the lights out, so that only the Christmas tree is lit. The colored bulbs sparkle in the darkness. I can hear the football game on TV, the crowd roaring from our family room. Otherwise, all is silent.
     Keith sits down beside me, wine glass in his hand. We watch the tree together.
     “Pretty, huh?” I ask.
     He nods. “I’ll put the outside lights on tomorrow.”
     “Do you ever worry that we don’t really do things family-style? I mean, I decorate the tree, you put up the outside lights… it’s not very team-oriented.” I can’t help but add, “We’re not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting.”
     Keith shrugs. “It’s just the way we work. Everybody does what they are good at.”
     He leans over and kisses my temple. His lips are soft and warm.
     “Besides-” He sweeps his hand toward the tree. “This is prettier than anything Norman Rockwell ever painted.”
     Suddenly he stands up. “Halftime’s over.” He returns to the family room, leaving me alone.
     I watch the lights flicker. Norman’s shadow is dancing around the tree.
     This is my world, Mr. Rockwell.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Doing things the hard way

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted! My apologies. September was a crazy whirlwind of travel, then October was spent recovering from all the travel, and finishing the manuscript.

What? You finished the manuscript?

Yes. On the one hand, it came in a little shorter than I thought, at about 111,000 words. I was thinking it would be more like 120k. On the other hand, it told the story I wanted to tell...sort of. 

Here's the thing: I started out writing one book, and ended up writing something completely different.

When I first decided on writing a story about a girl pirate, I planned for a quick, easy tale. Take one of my favorite books, The Count of Monte Cristo, and change it to a young noblewoman who is betrayed by her friends. She comes back, years later, and gets her revenge.

The devil's in the details, folks.

There had to be a reason for these people to betray her. Ah, political intrigue. Taking place around the 16th-or-so century, they probably wouldn't put a woman in a prison. Selling her into slavery would be more likely. Why would anyone buy her? A noblewoman who is a virgin might be worth it to a sadistic man.

Suddenly, I am examining our views on women's virginity. I mean, why is that some kind of sacred gift, to be shared with only one man, blah-blah-blah? It's another first in our lives, like the first time we walk, our first words, etc. Why is sex a taboo physical pleasure, but eating a good meal is not? It was a lot for me to think about, let alone get into my "easy" story of Lisette the girl pirate.

And then the dragons came.

If you're going to write fantasy, you might as well write FANTASY--big, fat, over-the-top fantasy. I wanted a dragon. My buddy, Jeff Michaels, cautioned me about having a dragon just because I could, so I considered what a dragon might represent in my story. The idea came immediately.

My dragons are the physical manifestation of the desire for revenge.

Revenge is a strange thing. One of my characters describes it as a "beast that cannot be sated." When you are wronged by someone, you want that person to feel as much pain as you feel, but it somehow doesn't erase your hurt. I mean, if someone killed your loved one, how many times could you kill them back until your pain is gone? 

So I have a virgin and a dragon and pirates and it's all humming along, until I get to the part toward the end, where I've got two choices. I could wrap it all up, have a nice stand-alone book, one-and-done. Or, I could take Path B, which seems the most organic, the most logical path, but which begs for more story. If I take Path B, I can see a trilogy.

I've got the 5th Peri book to write, I recently thought of a sequel to Murder on the Hoof, I'm still writing my column, and now I've assigned myself two more 100K+ books to write? What is wrong with me?

I do learn the hard way every time.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Oh, the people you'll meet!

I'm currently working on a fantasy, involving pirates (male and female), dragons, and Caribbean islands. In contrast to my mysteries, where I've got everything kind of worked out beforehand, this manuscript is being written off-the-cuff, by the seat-of-my-pants, without basic regard for where it's going and how it will end.

Talk about a mystery!

I'm traveling to islands (that I'm totally inventing) with my heroine, Lisette de Lille, meeting new people and experiencing new things. It's both terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Pretty much like riding the Tower of Terror at Disneyland.

Lisette went through a transformation recently, and required a little help to get acclimated to her new life. I sent her to a small island, Ile de la Tuerie (Slaughter Island) to find an expert. I expected to find a wise crone to guide her. 

Lamya de Sang showed up instead. Lamya is Arabic, meaning "having beautiful dark lips" and "de Sang" is French for "of blood." Here is how she made her entrance:

* * * * *

I turned to face the waterfall, and my fate. This time, I did not have to wait long. As I watched the stream of white flowing from the cliff, making ripples in the aqua lagoon, a form appeared in the ribbons of water, so slow in movement, I blinked to make certain my eyes were not lying.
A woman emerged, like no one I had ever seen. Begum had spoken of a crone, an old woman. The goddess in front of me was not as I imagined.
She was tall, muscled, and with skin blacker than any native I had ever met. Her hair, copper and thick, draped her naked, glistening body. She stepped out of the water and over to a rock, where she retrieved a long, green robe, which she fastened about her. It had a way of covering and exposing her at the same time—tight at the waist, it opened wide at the top to display cleavage and was slit on the sides to reveal her legs as she walked.
She walked toward me. As she got closer, her eyes were the most curious part of her. They were gold, not a brash yellow, but deep and burnished like an ancient coin. She did not smile at me, but offered me her hand.
“I am Lamya de Sang.” Her voice had a languid, purring quality.
“I am Lisette de Lille.” I took her hand to shake, but she grabbed it and turned.
“Come.” She pulled me toward the waterfall. “We have much to do, and you are probably hungry.”

* * * * *

She reminds me of a sculpture I saw once - whether in a museum or the internet, I don't recall - of the bust of a woman, black and beautiful, with a neck like a graceful swan, full lips, large eyes. I searched all over the internet and can't find her. Perhaps it's because she walked out of the museum and into my story.

Lamya teaches Lisette many things. I hope she returns. She's a wonderful character.

Later, Peeps--I gotta go write another chapter.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

She vexes me. Who vexes you?

Now that I have my own office, my writing den, my oasis of wordsmithing (yes, okay, I'm still in love with it), I have been writing A LOT. My pirate fantasy is humming along at over 68,000 words and it's nowhere near the finish line. What is surprising me the most is that I should be in the middle of the book, where I begin to slow down and take forever-effing-long to dig my way out and head for the third act. But this story is zipping along so fast, sometimes I feel like my fingers are in a hurry to catch up with it.

Until now.

My pirate Lisette is on a long journey, through many islands in the Caribbean. (Note: These are islands I have invented because, hey, fantasy here.) She has met many people, some who've been helpful and some who've been harmful. Some have been so harmful, she had to kill them. 

(Because, hey, pirate.)

She is currently on an island to hone her new powers (teaser alert!), to find a possibly hidden treasure, and to use said treasure and powers to exact revenge against the people who betrayed her. I know on this island, she will also encounter someone from her past. I'd say she has enough to do here.

And yet...there is a woman who keeps appearing in the first scene in the village. A tall, elegant woman, with white hair piled high. Regal in manners. Her name is Adelinde Marquez, and she owns the town brothel. I can picture her clearly, and probably saw her in a painting or a movie, but I don't remember where. In my mind, she has her back toward me and is turning. I see about a third of her face. Haughty and cunning. The closest I can get is a mashup of these two:

"Woman in White" by Alfred Henry Maurer

MyAnna Buring, aka Long Susan in RIPPER STREET

When she first appeared, she was going to try to steal Lisette's gold and trap her into working as one of her putas. But that scene didn't work--a lot of drama and action, but it only got in the way. 

I rewrote the scene and had her help Lisette secure lodging for the night. Nope. Too flat. No bueno.

Then I took Madame Marquez out of the story altogether. It left a big hole, big enough to sail any ship of the Jolly Roger through.

Clearly, she belongs here, but doing what? What am I supposed to do with her?

Journal. I must take time away from Lisette to write Adelinde's story, in Adelinde's voice. As much as I'd rather be working on pirates and dragons, I must first find Adelinde's past, her reasons for being a madam, where she wants to be going in her life. I don't know that she will last beyond this meeting on this island. I only know she is necessary.

And that she vexes me.

Any authors out there with vexing characters? Come on over and share them with me. We can cry in our wine together.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

New digs.

Hold on to your seats, Peeps, I did something wonderful this week.

I got myself an office. In the house.

For years, I have roamed like a nomad through our home. Mostly, I wrote in the family room, laptop on my lap and Turner Classic Movies on, for background noise. Sometimes I would move into the living room. When I was absolutely determined to finish a manuscript, I took it to the dining room or the kitchen, sat at the table, and pounded out 20,000 words in less than a week. 

At one point, I thought perhaps the dining room would make an okay office - we only use the table during the holidays, when we have friends over.

Our house has four bedrooms. One is our master suite. Although he lives in an apartment in Long Beach, Marcus still has a toehold in his old bedroom. I kind of like it when he comes over. The third bedroom is the guest room. I like guests, so I don't want to force them out of anything.

That leaves the fourth bedroom. When we first moved in, we made this our Computer Room. We had two desks with two computers. Marcus had his little Mac (remember those little, cube-ish numbers?), Dale had his computer, and we put my old daybed in there in case we had an overflow of guests. It worked.

Over the years, the computers became obsolete, more computers moved in (they also became obsolete), and the room became known (at least to me) as the Computer Graveyard. Old users manuals and the packaging of video games and learning DVDs stuffed the shelves. Towers were lined up under the desk, and old scanners and printers were atop it. At one point, I gathered up all the cables and hard drives and other kinds of unnamed hardware and put them into Rubbermaid tubs, which I stuffed into the corner.

When I mentioned that I'd like an office and maybe I could turn Marcus' room into one, Dale scowled and said, "Why can't you use the computer room?" (He swears he never said this, but it's what I heard.) Thinking about using the computer room sent me into convulsions. How could I possibly THINK in a room that looks like this?

To be fair, this was the room at its worst.

After cleaning, but I still can't take a picture of the desks - too much stuff!

One afternoon, I was in the garage, sweating my guts out in the summer heat, digging through cardboard boxes on shelves in the corner. I was looking for more copies of THE HOT MESS, and cursing that I had to drag everything out of the way just to get to my book stuff. 

That's when it hit me.

The book stuff, the things I'm always trying to find, are out in the garage and difficult to pull out. The computer room was filled with stuff nobody was ever looking for. 

Why not switch the two?

All clean, except for the FAX machine. Sometime we need to FAX things, oddly enough.

After two days of packing, schlepping, more schlepping, unpacking, more packing, and a wee bit of decorating, I have an office. It's organized, it's quiet, I love it. And it has paid me back in two meaningful ways, in the mere three days that I've had it.

Done! That's my folded laptop on the desk. All of it was Dino approved.

1) I'm more productive. Away from the family room and its distractions, I can put on a little music and write. I've written over 5000 words in two days. I feel more driven to work out a story problem than stop and "take a little break."

2) I'm more organized with my days. I used to have a problem getting any reading done. Writers need to read, in general, and I have friends with books - I'd like to honor them by reading their words. When I was in the family room, I felt like the words I wrote were dribbling from my fingers at a snail's pace. I had no time to read. Now, I can write like a fiend until 7 pm or so, then retire to the family room and open up my Kindle (or a physical book).

So, if you need me, I'll be at my desk. Don't worry - Dino will keep me company.

Anybody need boxes?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Because it's Friday

Here's a little excerpt from A MORE DEADLY UNION, just because it's Friday:

* * * * * * *

Oh no oh no oh no. Benny’s mind raced about like a cyclone, a whirl of thoughts and ideas, swirling too fast for him to capture one and focus on it. The bright sun outside the hospital had reflected too harshly on everything. The people milling around inside the emergency room had been too loud and too colorful and too busy. It was all too much.
Thankfully, he was home. Home, where he could see all his things and relax. Now that structure was restored to the front of the house, he had been able to move back in. He went into his kitchen and poured himself a glass of milk. Milk was soothing. It was white, a blank slate to calm his brain.
Skip was shot. Skip. Shot. The words kept rolling around. Skip could be scary. Actually, all policemen were scary. He didn’t see Skip, or any of the police, often. Still, there was a leaden feeling to his insides, all the way to his toes. Skip was hurt, and some of the policemen were dead.
Dead, like my mom. I miss her so much. I miss watching TV with her and the smell of her cooking. I wish she was here to tell me what to do.
Willem had told him to give blood, but that was out of the question. Doctors and needles made him want to pass out. Of course, so did talking to police most of the time. Benny waddled from one room to the next, his dress loafers making soft clicks on the wood floor.
I should give blood but I can’t give blood. His brain buzzed in agitation again, and he started talking to himself as a way to focus.
Skip needs help. How can I help him?”
Benny ambled up the stairs to his room, and looked at the Matt Helm posters on the walls surrounding his round bed, an original from the movie set. Every night, he went to sleep dreaming he could be like the man on the poster. Matt was sure of himself, just like Dean Martin. He knew how to do practically everything. He could drink and gamble and play golf. Sometimes he even played golf for charities.
Benny stared up at Martin, smiling, surrounded by beautiful women. What would Dino do?
An idea sprouted, a tiny idea. Benny wanted to grow it bigger, but he didn’t know how. He knew who could grow it, though.
Picking up the phone, he dialed his friends, the Nickels. 

* * * * * * *

How is Dino going to help Benny out? Want more? Your copy is waiting for you, in either Kindle or Paperback.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bright side of the moon

I dream a lot.

Most of my dreams are trips through the looking glass -- everything's weird and wrong and I'm usually prevented from doing anything I think I need to do. I usually wake up and tell Dale, "Wow, I had the weirdest dream."

To which he replies, "You always say that. They can't always be The Weirdest." (And yes, his voice capitalizes "the weirdest.")

My grandmother believed in the magic of dreams, that they could reveal truth. When my grandfather died, she told me a few days later that she dreamed of him the night before. In her dream, she was afraid to tell him he was dead, but he kept nagging her to tell him what was wrong. At last he told her, "I know I'm dead." When she asked who told him, he said, "Mrs. Smith*" (*I don't remember the actual name.) 

She woke up, went to the kitchen and began to read the morning's paper, and saw Mrs. Smith's name in the obituaries. 

I hope Mrs. Smith didn't treat my grandfather like he was an idiot, just because he didn't know he was dead.

I've had a couple of interesting dreams in my life, so when I have one that's crazy-fascinating, I like to take it apart and see how it might apply to my waking life. I'm not sure if it's helpful, but sometimes it's just comforting to know that I'm dreaming of snakes because I'm stressed, and take steps to relax.

Last night, I had one of those "The Weirdest" dreams. It involved a couple I haven't seen for awhile coming to see us, an old house, dementia, and faux fur. As I drove to the ranch this morning, I was thinking about that dream and what it means in my life at the moment. I decided to record it as I was driving, so I didn't forget it.

I selected my Notepad App, turned on the microphone speech-to-text option and started telling the dream. As you can imagine, not all the words ended up translating, but the last sentence made my hair stand on end. What I said was, "I know this dream must mean something."

What was typed was, "Hope I mean something."


What about you? Do you dream? Do you remember them? Do you dissect them?

Here's a little dreamy song:

Lordy, I love her voice.

Bonus points: If you can name the song I took the title of this post from, I'll send you something!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Get 'em while they're hot!

I swore I wouldn't, but I'm doing this because I love you.

THE HOT MESS is free this weekend. Free, as in, go to Amazon, click on it, and get it delivered to your Kindle in mere seconds. Read one of my Peri Minneopa Mysteries, and you'll be hooked. Want proof? Here:

This is also absolutely the last weekend that A MORE DEADLY UNION will be available for 99 cents. Why, yes, you can try it before you buy it:

On Monday, the price of both of these thrilling mysteries hikes to a still-manageable $3.99. I'd like to point out that this is less than a tall vanilla latte, lasts longer, and contains no calories. But if you're looking for a good deal...

Get your copies today!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Feeling the love.

On Friday, I released my book, A MORE DEADLY UNION. It was fun, but on Monday, I had the release party. For two hours, we took over Craftsman Wood Fired Pizza (http://craftsmanpizza.com/), thanks to owner Joe Rasic. 

How did it turn out? I think these photos tell the story. 

Rick Ochocki was the first to arrive. And yes, I wore the tiara (and I thought of Tameri Etherton, who couldn't attend).

I get by with a little help from my friends. Dot Caffrey held the mic so I could read.
Dino came to the party. Everyone wanted a photo op with him - even PJ Colando and Garrett Miller.
Garrett, BTW, took most of these shots.

Pina Bell needed an autograph - of course I obliged!

As usual, I was moving around too fast to get a steady photo.

My lovely and talented assistant, Cristina, took over the book sales - she was phenomenal!

MOST of the folks who came - I was so overjoyed! Thanks, Garrett, for this shot!

Me and The Boy.

My only regret is that no one captured Marcus and his smokin' hot combo du jour on video - they were so damned good, everyone was throwing money and compliments at them.

Right to left: Donghee Kim, Mark the Bassist, Marcus the Sonny-boy. They were AMAZING.

And now that the book is out in the world, onward to bookstore signings, library events, and more!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A letter from the front

Dear Writer Friends Who Struggle to Get Their Books "Out There",

Next weekend, I will be releasing my 11th book. With each release, I've done about the same amount of release-style advertising. I've used social media, I've run Goodreads giveaways, Amazon promotions, blog tours, etc. It seems like each thing I do is less effective the second time around, which is frustrating.

You want to believe that your books will become more well known if you have more books out there to find. So I made the decision to try something different with A MORE DEADLY UNION. 

I hired a publicist.

My few friends who had used them gave me mixed reports, from "I love mine," to "she kept sending me places where I couldn't possibly sell anything." But I met Paula Margulies at the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego, took her workshop, spoke with her briefly, and filed her name in the back of my mind.

When it came time to start planning this release, I visited Paula's website (http://www.paulamargulies.com/) a bunch of times, spent several days wrestling with indecision, and finally contacted her. We laid out a plan, a price, and a timeline, then I took a deep breath and a deep drink of good wine. As usual, I stood atop my personal roller-coaster and looked down at the frenzy that awaited.

It's a view I'm used to.

How's it going? So far, she's sent out press releases, given me two lists of book reviewers and book contests, a sample query letter for book reviews, and set me up to sign at bookstores (3 confirmed, 3 pending), and talks at libraries (1 confirmed). That's two weeks' work.

In two weeks, I've learned two things:

1. Having someone else tell everyone I'm the bomb makes it easier for me to say it. My friends and I discuss this often -- we can sell someone else's books better than our own. You all know me. Even a couple of blog posts ago, when I was promising to be the Big, Talented Fish, I was wondering how I was going to do that. Apparently, when I read my publicist's press release referring to me as "acclaimed author Gayle Carline" and talking about my "thrilling new mystery", I can start talking about this person, Gayle Carline, and what an acclaimed author she is.

I'm either getting better at promoting myself, or I'm developing a split-personality disorder.

2. Author Gayle Carline may be acclaimed, but little Gayle Sue still wants to recoil from the spotlight. After 11 books, as hard as Paula is pushing me forward, there's still a hefty chunk of me that says, "No, wait! If I start getting noticed, and people start taking me seriously, then I'll have to get serious about this." 

So what? *in a teeny whisper that only you and I can hear* "if i become a serious author then i'll be a bigger target for people who hate my books and my writing and i'll probably have to write more and give up something that i like doing now and Life. Will. Change."

Maybe it will. If it does, I just have to suck it up and enjoy success. 

What's next? My launch party is next Monday. It's going to be My Big Fat Book Party, semi-expensive and hugely fun. In the meantime, I'm having a good time working with the fabulous Paula. I'll report back with more gigs and results!

Love you and keep writing,

P.S. For some reason, every time I think of a publicist, I picture this clip:

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