Lee Smith’s Blue Marlin will make you smile. Jenny, the 13-year old narrator, takes us on a journey, both literal and emotional. She is not the first child to feel responsible for her parents’ marital problems and equally hopeful she can bring about their reconciliation. The precocious aspiring writer, however, does have a unique point of view and an insatiable curiosity.
“I had to see as much as I could see, learn as much as I could learn, feel as much as I could feel. I had to live like crazy all the time, an attitude that would get me into lots of trouble,” she tells us. And, oh, how you will enjoy reading about her many “adventures”.
Set in 1958, Blue Marlin will trigger feelings of nostalgia as the author weaves in details that anyone who grew up in the 50’s will particularly enjoy. Jenny’s and her mother’s fascination with movie stars of the era will evoke memories of what now feel like simpler times.
And as a bonus for writers, Lee Smith provides us a gift in her epilogue entitled “The Geographical Cure”. She describes Blue Marlin as a work of “autobiographical fiction”. This short piece beautifully captures the way authors take their real-life experiences and weave them into a story. As she says, “I have always felt that I can tell the truth better in fiction than non-fiction.” Thank you, Lee Smith.
If you are a fan of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, you must read William Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land. In this compelling story, four orphans set out on a river journey to escape the bleak and merciless Lincoln Indian Training School in the summer of 1932. Your heart will be with them every oar stroke of their journey.
The story is told from the point of view of Odie (Odysseus) O’Banion. When accused of being a liar, Odie says, he’s not a liar – just a storyteller. “Stories are the sweet fruit of my existence and I share them gladly,” he says in the prologue.
As Odie spins the tale, you cannot miss his resemblance to Huckleberry Finn, the boy with a heart who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. You’ll also hear echoes of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist as Odie and his brother Albert navigate, not just the Gilead River, but a grim world, uncaring and unkind to its most vulnerable — orphaned children.
If that sounds just a tad too depressing to read during this time of illness, uncertainty and social distancing, please don’t be put off. There is much love, humor and magic in this mythic tale. It is a story of profound triumph and the resilience of the human spirit. In a time of limited travel, This Tender Land is a journey well worth taking. Feast on the sweet fruit William Kent Krueger provides.
I admittedly am the worst blogger in cyberspace. When I started blogging in 2015, I was so enthusiastic. I set myself a goal of writing a blog weekly. Well, that lasted about a month and a half, when I realized I was spending more time on writing, formatting and publicizing my blog than I was writing Second Bloom, my first Holly and Ivy mystery. I knew if I ever wanted to finish the book, I had to spend less time blogging, so I went to a once-a-month schedule.
That was working fine for a year or so, but somehow last year, the wheels seemed to have completely come off the cart, and I found myself blogging sporadically. I posted a lame blog on Thesaurus Day in January, honestly believing I was off to a great start. Here it is April and I haven’t blogged since that first post in spite of all the free time resulting from the Covid-19 quarantine.
So, what? Am I now just a quarterly blogger? I understand from all those blogging advice articles that’s the kiss of death. I might not be blogging even now if my friend, Lois, hadn’t emailed me recently. She said she’d been checking the blog and was worried about me since I hadn’t written in so long. Very sad.
And it’s not for lack of things to write about. I have lists of blog topics. I’m very good about jotting ideas down based on things I read or see on TV, or even ideas that just pop into my head when I’m walking the dog. Pathetic really. That Catholic school discipline that pushed me through the most difficult challenges my entire life seems to be completely depleted.
Which brings me to my secondary topic today – wicked witches. Last week I came across an article about Margaret Hamilton, the actress who played the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. The poor woman was relegated to playing witches and spinsters forever after that movie. She had a guest appearance on The Muppet show that had to never be shown after the first airing because parents wrote that it was just too scary for their children.
I totally get that. I was terrified of witches after seeing that movie. The fact you could dissolve her with water didn’t comfort me. I mean what if a bucket of water wasn’t handy when you just happened to run into a witch?
Ah, but what’s the connection to Catholic school discipline, you ask. Well, I attended St. Hedwig’s Grade School in Kingston, Pennsylvania run by the Bernardine nuns. I vaguely remember my first grade teacher, Sister Tolentine. She was quite nice. But in second and third grade I had two much older nuns, Sister Eugene and Sister Timothy. Sister Timothy so terrified me that I had a nightmare one night that I have never forgotten.
I was in my grandfather’s bedroom, arguing with my sister, Jane, as we often did. Sister Timothy appeared in the closet. The flattened headpiece of her Bernardine habit was transformed into a witch’s hat. She warned me I’d pay. As in all good nightmares, the dream sequence shifted and I found myself swinging on a child’s swing we had in the backyard – one that had a little bar to rest your feet on. I was soaring up into the clouds when suddenly, Sister Timothy, in full witchy regalia, was standing on the swing footrest and she began stabbing me. I never went into my grandfather’s closet again .
And then there was the lunchroom lady, Mrs. Marshall – Leocadia Marshall. Just saying her name still gives me the shivers. She wouldn’t even let us talk during lunch. Now there was a bonafide wicked witch.
Well, I’m not entirely sure if those early experiences scared me straight and kept me dutifully fulfilling all my responsibilities my whole life. But I do find it telling that after the memories triggered by that article about Margaret Hamilton I actually sat down and wrote this blog. How about you? Any wicked witch remembrances in your memory bank?
Until next time – hope it’s not a year from now – I wish you sweet, witch-free, dreams!
Thanks to Sandra Beckwith (BuildBookBuzz.com) for sharing her 2020 Literary Calendar. That’s how I learned that January 18th is Thesaurus Day.
According to Wikipedia:
The first modern thesaurus was Roget’s Thesaurus, first compiled in 1805 by Peter Mark Roget, and last published in 1852. Since its publication, it has never been out of print and is still a widely used work across the English-speaking world.
Admittedly, I don’t go to my paperback copy of Roget’s thesaurus much anymore. It’s just so easy to right click on my computer, choose “Synonyms” and then just pick from the drop-down choices. Although, on occasion, I do go to thesaurus.com for more choices.
The method I choose doesn’t really matter. I just know that as a writer, I’d be lost — adrift — at sea without my thesaurus. How about you?
On Monday, a call to my friend, Nina, confirmed what I feared. She had to put down Amy, her faithful companion of fifteen years. Anyone who’s ever had a dog knows just how painful and sad a day that was.
I can still remember the day Nina called to tell me she and her daughter Emily adopted Amy at the local pet store. They were especially drawn to this dog who bore a remarkable resemblance to my then-aging dog, Brandy. They weren’t sure Steve, Nina’s husband, would approve. Steve, who was born and lived his entire life in Manhattan, never had a dog. Of course, he fell for Amy, and I must say, I think Steve was responsible for sneaking the dog more treats than the rest of the family combined.
While we enjoy a singular relationship with our own dog, we also have relationships with our friend’s dogs. I had a special fondness for Amy. Not long after Nina’s family adopted her, my twelve-year-old Brandy passed away. And though Amy’s resemblance to Brandy was part of what endeared her to me, she had a totally different personality. She was much sweeter and gentler.
Nina spends summers up at her house in the Catskills and every year I drove up for a visit with Brandy, and later with my new dog, Lucky. While Amy preferred my visits to their apartment in Manhattan, where she received my undivided attention, she tolerated Lucky . I’ll never forget the night Amy repeatedly tried to come into our bedroom, only to be met with a growl from Lucky. Every time I started to nod off, they’d wake me. After I positioned myself in the middle of the bed with Lucky on one side and Amy on the other, we finally all fell asleep.
Two summers ago, I had to leave Lucky home in South Carolina when I flew up to New Jersey for a wedding. I drove up to the Catskills for a few days, and Amy greeted me with wild abandoned when I pulled in the driveway. Since I’m an early riser, I would take her out for a walk first thing every morning. I allowed her to decide the route. The amazing thing is that each morning she took me someplace different.
One morning she was headed in a direction that I didn’t recognize. I said, “No, Amy. Let’s go this way.” She just stared at me with that knowing look only dogs have until I finally gave in and followed her lead. Of course, after we reached the end of the road, I remembered having walked that way once many years earlier. By the end of my visit, I realized that Amy had taken me on a walk to every one of the places I’d ever walked with her, Nina and Lucky over the years. Remarkable, no? Almost as if she were saying, “You remember this, don’t you?”
I know many people pooh-pooh the idea that dog’s have feelings and thoughts like humans, but I’m a firm believer they feel all the same emotions we do. They just don’t talk, and maybe that’s why we love them so much better than people. When I returned to the Catskills for a really quick two-night visit this July, Amy could no longer take the long walks. Did she somehow know that the previous visit was our last chance to reminisce as we visited our previous haunts? I think she did.
I’ll miss Amy as I still miss my Lucky who passed away in February. If those names sound familiar to you, it may be because I dedicated my last book to them — both dogs are characters in the Holly and Ivy mystery series. They’re gone, but not forgotten, and I’m very happy they’ll live on in the stories I’ve written. In the meantime, I’ll smile as I imagine the two running around pain-free as puppies in that big dog park in the sky.
I turned 60 this year and promptly retired. I’ve always loved to
write, and for the last 20 years focused on writing for a practical niche area–-education
and Internet marketing—where I could do what I loved and still pay the bills.
Retirement put me back in that great and rare place where I suddenly
had endless days without responsibilities. Everything was possible again—a
luxurious feeling that I’d not had for a few decades. Better still, I had the amazing trio of
treasures—time, money, and experience—required to launch into riskier passion
projects, like fiction writing.
I’ve devoured books my entire life, but fiction writing was a new
adventure and a huge challenge. I love mysteries, romance, and humor so I
decided to try my hand at humorous mysteries that harked back to my rural origins
in southern Indiana.
Because I love to laugh, and am a bit quirky myself, I knew humor would under gird my first fiction project. I’d write what I wanted to read and see if I could pick up a readership from there.
That’s how my small-town Indiana setting,
Pawpaw County, came into being for my award-winning “Shady Hoosier Detective
Agency” series. I grew up in a tiny river town full of nosy neighbors, quirky
characters, and kind-hearted souls.
Like many Baby Boomers born in rural America in the 60’s I found
myself growing nostalgic for an America that never did exist, but that many
still hope for. I wanted to write something light-hearted that celebrated small
I deliberately set out to replicate the “feel good” mood of vintage Hillbilly
TV sit-coms, those set in rural America. My childhood was awash in the
silliness of great comic series like The
Andy Griffith Show, Petticoat
Junction, Gomer Pyle, and Green Acres.
When it came to creating leading ladies I decided to abandon the
safe cozy mystery formula of the thirty-something, college-educated woman
escaping to a simpler life in the country.
I created instead aging and somewhat cranky heroines who would love to retire but lack the resources to do so. They are very street smart, but lack the varnish and subdued manners that often accompany college and urban living. I love them to death.
My leading lady detectives, Ruby Jane Waskom and Veenie Goens, are working class, high-school educated, both with a prior chain of everyday jobs as factory and farm workers. They share a house, overdue bills, and laughter. They co-exist on social security, taking jobs as detectives in-training hoping to scrape up a little “Twinkie money” on the side.
They are much older than the genre usually allows: 68 and 71, to be
exact. (Every literary agent I talked to loved the series and the writing but
were horrified by the age of the women.) My leading ladies are unusual—and
therefore very risky—for the cozy mystery niche today.
While the books are labeled cozy mysteries, their strongest element
is humor. They are true crime comedies. One critic called Daisy Pettles the
“hillbilly Janet Evanovich.” Another, in “Shelf Discovery” tagged them “a
wildly entertaining (detective) team—like an elderly Stephanie Plum and Lula.”
My senior crime fighting duo, Ruby Jane and Veenie, are very much a silly
Lucy-Ethel gal pal team.
Much of what is good in the Shady
Hoosier Detective Agency character-driven series is the way the two senior
sleuths slide along together through life, and their cases. Their get-it-done
“gal pal” energy enlivens the series.
My one goal as a writer is
to entertain. I love it when people laugh, and feel even better when I might be
cause of that laughter.
I have found enough of an
audience with the Shady Hoosiers that Book 3, “Chickenlandia,” is coming out as
I write this. Book 4,”Catfish Cooties,” is now steeping in the stew pot of my
Writing humorous fiction
with mysterious twists is truly my retirement heaven.
AUTHOR BIO: Daisy Pettles’ debut humorous cozy series, the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, set in fictional Pawpaw County, Indiana, won the 2019 Gold Medal as Best Humor Book from the Indie Reader, The Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and the American Fiction Awards. Prior to retiring and taking up writing she was a therapist and an Internet entrepreneur. The Chickenlandia Mystery is Book 3 in Daisy Pettles’ Shady Hoosier Detective Agency cozy humor series, which the Indie Reader describes as “Murder She Wrote meets the Golden Girls … where the fun is infectious.”
PLOT: Pawpaw County, Indiana, is all atwitter about Ma and Peepaw
Horton’s annual Chickenlandia Festival. The mood turns dark though when the
Horton’s prize-winning rooster, Dewey, and his best laying hen, Ginger, vanish,
leaving behind only a ragged trail of tail feathers. Also missing: Gertie
Wineagar, local sourpuss, and BBQ chicken cook-off queen. Senior sleuths, Ruby
Jane (RJ) Waskom and Veenie Goens, suspect Hiram Krupsky, Pawpaw County’s
self-proclaimed Chicken Wing King, of master-minding the crime spree in an
attempt to sabotage the Horton’s free-range chicken ranch. The sleuths get an
unexpected “in” when Hiram commences to court a reluctant RJ. Follow the
Hoosier senior snoops as they attempt to sort the good eggs from the bad in
this hilarious, small-town crime comedy.
Shady Hoosier Detective Agency – AMAZON BUY LINKS
Ghost Busting Mystery (Book 1)
Baby Daddy Mystery (Book 2)
Chickenlandia Mystery (Book 3) – Due out
9/15/19 check link before posting
Here in South Carolina, the kids are already back in school. Personally, I think going back to school before Labor Day is an abomination and simply un-American. That may be why I simply can’t get myself motivated to sit down and finish the book I’m writing, even though I’m within spitting distance of the finale.
I get up every day with the intention of writing at least two hundred words — my bare minimum goal as per John Grisham’s advice — but I just don’t feel like it. Yesterday I received my weekly Inspiration for the Week from Cathleen O’Connor (cathleenoconnor.com). If you don’t subscribe to her emails, I highly recommend you do. This week’s message was entitled “You Deserve a Break Today”. I felt as if she wrote it just for me. Thank you, Cathleen.
She began with a quote from writer Anne Lamott:
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”
I love that. Of course, I’ve been pretty much unplugged since I got back from my vacation at the end of July. You think I’d be re-booted by now.
I do have at least one legitimate reason for not writing the last two weeks. Each Monday when I sat down to type, my computer ground down to the slowest speed imaginable. On my own I was able to go to the settings and determine that my 465 GB’s of storage were completely filled up. I knew that was impossible. I managed to clear out the inordinate amount of temporary files that somehow downloaded themselves to my computer, not once, but twice.
When these phantom files were back again last week, I decided I needed professional help, so I called my trusty IT guy, Peter Manse, out in Colorado. Guess what? He was in California for a brief vacation. Nevertheless, he managed to get me back up Wednesday. Somehow, starting something on a Wednesday just never feels right to me. Still, I managed to get one chapter completed last week.
And then there’s the new puppy. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you already know I’ve adopted a new dog — Trixie. She’s a sweetheart, but she’s only about six months old, so she needs lots of attention and exercise. I still miss Lucky, my dog of 12 years, whom I lost in February, but I confess it’s so nice to have a little buddy once again. I mean, really. Is there anything more endearing than seeing that little tail wag when you walk in the room? Second only to a baby smiling at you. Really.
So, today, I’ve decided to take Cathleen’s advice and embrace Anne LaMott’s message and heed Cathleen’s own words:
“Just take some deep breaths. Ask yourself what you need to feel rested and restored . . . and then give that to yourself. “
Maybe next week — after Labor Day — I’ll start writing again in earnest. In the meantime, it’s a rainy day here in Mauldin this morning, so it won’t be at all difficult to go over to the couch, curl up with Trixie and finish that cozy mystery I’m reading — One Taste Too Many by Debra Goldstein.
Ah, yes. I think I’ll just release all guilt and totally indulge in what’s left of the remaining dog days of summer! Happy Labor Day, Y’all.
When the company I’d been working for decided to close their
doors, I made the leap to early retirement. Until then, I was a weekend writing
warrior. I completed my first novel, Post-War Dreams, writing on the
weekends and in fifteen-minute increments before I left for the day job. It
took me a couple of years to get the book to publication. The first book I
published and second book I wrote, Sleeping with the Lights On, was
written within the same time constraints.
After I “retired,” my time became my own, and writing became
my full-time endeavor. That was several years ago, and since then when people
ask if I’m retired, I don’t know how to answer. If I say no, I’m an author, the
verbal reactions run the gamut from oh wow to a flat oh. If I say
I’m retired but I write, well, it sounds the way I’m sure they hear it…a nice
The thing is, if I’m retired, why am I so busy? Writing
full-time as a published author ends up taking up way more time than working a
day job and writing when I found a few minutes. Getting published and taking
writing to the next level added all the business tasks to my plate…social
media, promotion, goal planning, networking, and on and on.
I will say, reaching the age of retirement has enriched my
creativity. My heroines benefit from my life experience, which is why I enjoy
writing heroines over forty. All that baggage makes for more conflict and plot
This month, I’m celebrating ten years since I signed my first
writing contract for Sleeping with the Lights On. AND it is now
available on audio in addition to eBook and print. Sandra Holiday is fifty and
still searching for the perfect hero and career in her life. She does it with
humor and sassiness. But there’s suspense brewing to keep her on her toes.
RT Book Reviews says ” Cheers to Whiteside for writing a heroine who exists outside of conventional romance novels in terms of age and marital status…novel is written with a pleasantly light sense of humor…
What’s Sleeping with the Lights On About?
A secret admirer, a redheaded stalker, and an eccentric millionaire have thrown Sandra Holiday on a dangerous path.
After two failed marriages and countless relationships, Sandra thinks she’s met the man to end her years of less than perfect choices; choices that not only derailed her travel-related career plans, but also left her single and broke.
Carson Holiday, a Las Vegas country crooner with
swoon-inducing good looks, spent his adult life pursuing a recording contract
and love, never holding on to either. After eighteen years, he drops back into
Sandra’s life, reigniting an attraction he can’t deny.
Can this handsome, country crooner save the day, or
will Sandra forever be Sleeping With The
is the author of suspenseful, action-adventure romance. Mostly. After living in
six states and two countries—so far—she and her husband have decided they are
gypsies at heart. They share their home with a rescue dog named Amigo while
splitting their time between Northern Arizona and the RV life.
Happy Memorial Day! Hope you are enjoying a great kick-off
to the summer season. In spite of the fact that I am hosting the family
cook-out today, I wanted to take a moment to share with you a reflection that
makes me smile and hope it does the same for you.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen the Apple Watch commercial set
to the tune of a childhood favorite of mine — the Hokey Pokey. From the first
time I saw it, I was hooked and no matter how many times I see it again, I’m
always filled with glee.
Remember Robert Fulgham’s book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? The older I
get the more profound I find the simple things we learned as children. The
other day at our mailbox kiosk, someone posted a sign that read: “Take the
outgoing mail. Whoever delivered mail yesterday didn’t take it.” Seriously?
What happened to “please” and “thank you”? Clearly, the writer who penned that
note missed school that day.
But back to the Hokey Pokey commercial. When I see those people dancing, jumping,
playing to the tune, I’m exhilarated. And what could be more profound than the
simple words “You put your whole self in…That’s what it’s all about.”
This summer, I hope you do nothing half-heartedly and that you put your whole self into everything you do. What chance do you have to be truly happy if you don’t? I mean, why bother doing anything, if your whole self isn’t in it? I’m especially talking to my fellow retirees out there. We have less in front of us than we have behind us. Why waste a single minute?
Just in case you need a little more inspiration, click below.
If you love to read, you probably also love discovering new
authors. It doesn’t matter if they are well-established authors. If they are
new to you, you feel the joy of discovery.
And what a special treat to find an author who’s written a series. Knowing
that, after you finish that first book, you have more adventures with the same characters to look
forward to is sheer delight.
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting , A.J. Hartley, aka Andrew Hart, who spoke at our local Sisters in Crime meeting, recounting his journey to becoming an international bestselling author of novels spanning a variety of genres. He has written several archaeological thrillers, the Darwen Arkwright children’s series, the Will Hawthorne fantasy adventures and novels based on Macbeth and Hamlet. And as if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he is also the Robinson Distinguished Professor of Shakespeare at UNC Charlotte.
For me, AJ’s talk was one part informative, one part inspirational and two parts humorous. Afterwards I selected Steeplejack, the first in his three-book YA Fantasy series. The book’s protagonist and heroine, seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga, earns her living cleaning and repairing chimneys and towers in the city of Bar-Selehm, “an industrial city resembling an alternate Victorian South Africa.”
Anglet is a Lani. In the culture of the Lani people, the
first daughter is a blessing, the second a trial, the third — a curse. Anglet is a third daughter. Nevertheless, she is a talented climber and excels
at her job. She is also independent and fierce, characteristics that draw us to
Near the end of the story, when Anglet is on the run and in great peril, she encounters a black weancat with a collar, a creature with whom she feels a kinship. She muses that the collar is a “collar of the mind” that you could simply refuse to believe in, and without the collar “all the cat had was itself: muscle and sinew, claw tooth and bone, senses, experience, skill, instinct and roaring, blood-pumping animal need.” She, of course, could be describing herself — or any of us, for that matter.
I loved this character and I loved this book. The story is
gripping, the action, non-stop, the setting, hauntingly beautiful — the
language, soaring. No wonder more and
more adults are turning to Young Adult literature. Can’t wait to finish reading the series.