Was it murder--or something serious?
Philip Marlow in Murder, My Sweet

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Simple Pleasures - Soup

Soup has to be one of the most perfect foods. The most comforting of comfort foods. It’s soothing when you’re sick and delicious when you’re well. It can be light and nourishing or rich and hearty. Is it possible that there is anyone on the planet who doesn't like soup in some form or flavor? 


I like all kinds of soups. My mother's chicken soup, naturally. Clam chowder at a restaurant in Mystic with my bestie or Top Ramen when I'm home working on a rainy day. One of my very favorites is Wor Won Ton. A promising looking recipe right here

Remember that story "Stone Soup"?  



margouillat photo licensed thru Shutterstock

Friday, December 5, 2014

Docketful of Poesy redux

“Theater of the Absurd” takes on a whole new meaning when former high school teacher and literary scholar Grace Hollister is hired as a script doctor for a straight-to-cable film production of her own academic exploits. Although the film’s budget seems boundless, almost no one in the cast or crew seems to have any experience making movies. It would almost be comical in a Woody Allen sort of way…until history repeats itself for real, and it’s curtains for one of the cast.

Chapter One


“A film?” Peter’s voice echoed hollowly down the transatlantic line. “You’re going…Hollywood?”
“I…um…believe it’s straight-to-cable,” I said.
Silence. Then, “And this is a documentary?”
“I think so.”
“You think so?”
“Roberta Lom, the producer—” I winced, hearing my own slightly self-conscious tone as I spoke the word producer, “—was a little vague. It was a short conversation. She was late for a meeting.”
Another of those awkward silences. I glanced at the clock on the bedstand; ten o’clock at night. Peter’s time. I had been so looking forward to talking to him; I always seemed to call at the wrong hour: either he wasn’t home or he wasn’t able to talk. But now, after three and a half weeks of phone tag, I finally had him on the line—and it was almost as though I were talking to a stranger. He seemed so…far away.
Of course, he was far away—over five thousand miles of far away. Peter was in the tiny village of Innisdale in the English Lake District while I was in Los Angeles, so maybe I was letting my imagination make too much of a bad connection. Bad in more ways than one.
He said flatly, “I don’t see why anyone would want to make a documentary of your book. Who, other than academics like yourself, would care whether or not Lord Byron fathered yet another bastard child?”
Now, I found that a tad irritating, but I’m the first to admit that when it comes to my passion—my passion for literature of the Romantic period—I’m not entirely objective. So, striving for sweet reason, I said, “Well, first of all, how we determined that little fact makes a pretty good story, I think. I mean, I was kidnapped—three times—”
My gaze wandered past the assorted silver- and pewter-framed photos of my parents, me, and my brothers, Clark and Colin. Clark, four years older, had the blond hair and wide green eyes—behind the same horn-rimmed glasses—of our father. Colin had Mother’s freckles and red hair. As the middle child it had fallen upon me to somehow manage a diplomatic combination of genetic traits: green eyes and auburn hair—and if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s diplomatic relations.
“You can hardly count Allegra taking you to Lady Vee’s as actual abduction.”
Perhaps he was not defending yet another former girlfriend so much as being a stickler for accuracy. Still striving for sweet reason, but now through gritted teeth, I said, “I was held against my will. Never mind the fact that we were both nearly shot by that crazed—”
“A bit sensationalistic for a reputable documentary,” Peter drawled in that annoying public school accent, and if I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn he was deliberately provoking me.
“I assume the documentary will focus on the academic aspects of our search.”
Peter laughed. And now I was quite sure that he was trying to provoke me. “What academic aspects might those be?” he inquired as though genuinely interested. “As I recall, you were convinced we were searching for a lost manuscript.”
Now that was one for the books—no pun intended. For once I, Grace Hollister, was at a loss for words. In fact, there was the oddest prickling behind my eyes—as though I were about to suffer a dreadful allergy attack. What was happening here? We were very nearly quarreling.
This, after exchanging no more than a dozen words or so since I’d left the Lakes for a brief visit home. Or what would have been a brief visit if it hadn’t been for my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, the holidays, the difficulty in arranging the subletting of my apartment, catching up with old friends and colleagues, and now this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see my first book made into a film.
I couldn’t understand it. Did Peter regret the things—those lovely, romantic things—he had said before I left, nearly three…four…six months…earlier? Did he not want me to return to Innisdale?
Into my silence he said, “If this is a documentary, wouldn’t I need to sign a release of some sort? You’re planning to use my name, I take it?”
“Are you saying you would refuse to sign a release?”
The hiss in the long-distance line seemed ominous.
“No,” he said quietly, at last. “I’m not going to stop you, if this is what you want.”
Were we still talking about the proposed documentary film? There was something in his voice…
I said uncertainly, “Is everything all right there? Was there—you said you had something to tell me.” I’d been so thrilled that he had called me, so excited about my news; I’d hardly given him a chance to get a word in until at last his pointed lack of interest had penetrated the bubble of my enthusiasm.
“It’ll keep,” he said.
Abruptly, I remembered the beautiful and dangerous Catriona—and the much less beautiful but equally dangerous Turkish prison guard Hayri Kayaci. I remembered three murder investigations and far too many close calls to count. Peter’s past was checkered at best, and the publication of my first book alone had brought results similar to poking a stick into a nest of cobras. Was it possible that he had valid reasons for not wanting this film made?
“Peter,” I began.
“Look, Grace,” he said at the same time. “Something’s come up. I’ll ring you later, shall I?”
“All right,” I said reluctantly, but I was speaking to a dial tone.
Slowly, I replaced the handset, fearing that more than a phone connection had been broken.

*****

Available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo -- and available in audio from Audible.com

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Age of Entitlement

I love my readers. I really do. I love talking to readers. I love hearing their stories too: how they were in a relationship like A&J’s or how my books make them laugh or make them cry. How reading my stories can make a hospital waiting room bearable or offer company on a lonely, rainy night.  

I’m a professional writer of commercial fiction. I don’t have any illusions about my role in the greater scheme of things. But if I can provide a few hours of intelligent amusement and entertainment in someone’s busy, stress-filled life, I am content.

And the fact that I can earn a comfortable living doing what I love makes me patient with the occasional rude and intrusive fan. But I have to say, I do see an increase in the number of rude and intrusive online interactions.

That’s not the only reason why I hired a virtual assistant – I hired a virtual assistant mostly because I couldn't BEGIN to keep up with everything – but it is one of the reasons.

Like this letter I got a few months ago:

I've been reading one of your books, which I'm enjoying a lot. Out of curiosity, are you a woman writing under a nom de plume? There is a similarity in your writing to another author I read. I've had the experience before reading m/m fiction written by female authors. The gender doesn't bother me at all, but I prefer it if it's out in the open.

Many thanks from a fan!

Ugh. So offensive on so many levels. I’d say misogynistic creeps like this guy/gal are one of the main reasons I’ve refused to drop the veil.

How is it even remotely your business?

But it’s the smarmy, chummy hey there! Just curious about something personal and private that clearly you don’t want to share but I prefer if it’s out in the open.

Oh! Well, heck, if YOU prefer it…*splutter*

Seriously?

The offensive part is the pretending to be a reader, let alone a fan. I’ve had several fans make the connection to Diana or Colin or Briony  – in fact, so many that I have the bad habit of thinking everyone knows now. And that’s my mistake. But the vague “one of your books” and “another author I read.” It’s a fishing expedition.

Well, people are curious about other people. That’s why People magazine sells millions of copies of what amounts to inane gossip. That’s okay. I understand curiosity.  

But this: m/m fiction written by female authors. The gender doesn't bother me at all

Sure. Except even though it doesn’t matter AT ALL, you really, really, REALLY want to know. So much so that you’re writing a complete stranger and asking personal, clearly private information.

Coz if I’m using a pen name, it's not an accident, right?

I started this journey so long ago – nearly twenty years ago now – with my original point being if you couldn't tell from the work, it obviously wasn’t relevant. Oh, if I were writing memoir or autobiography, if I were online with a fake photo and posting about my struggles or life as a gay man, sure. I could see it might be relevant. But I have said from the start I'm using a pen name and I am not writing my own experiences. I write mystery, fantasy, adventure and category romance. Sometimes with gay characters. Sometimes not. I write genre fiction. How is which restroom I use relevant?

The only people who want – need -- it to be relevant are bigots. They are outraged and insulted at the idea, but this is the truth. They are prejudiced. Biased. And if I won’t give them that crucial piece of the puzzle, they don’t know what to think. They can’t be sure and it makes them crazy. 


And it makes them very angry. Because as much as they try to rationalize it, they know in a dark and moldy corner of their heart, that they are indeed exactly what they hate and resent in others.

But it’s different coz it’s them. And I’m the bad guy.

Yeesh.

I despise them. And yet…I know that it usually isn’t fueled by malevolence. Some of it really is a product of being a reader in the Age of Entitlement. For some readers the books, the stories, aren’t enough. They want a piece of the author too. Attention, acknowledgment, recognition. And honestly, I love interacting with readers. I am happy to recognize and acknowledge readers and the role they play in my life. I have become close friends with many readers. I really do love some of my readers.

But. But in the end all I really owe any reader is the best book that I can write at any given moment. That’s it. That is the sum total. Buy my books or don’t buy them. The books are the only thing for sale.

    


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bouchercon 2014

I mean, a lot more happened, but somehow this is the only surviving photographic record...















Friday, November 14, 2014

Sonnet of the Sphinx Redux

Enigmatic love interest Peter Fox’s past comes back to haunt him. Meanwhile Grace is on the hunt for a lost sonnet by Romantic poet Percy Shelley and the solution to a dashing World War II soldier’s disappearance…


Chapter One


“Old King Tut was a wise old nut,” Grace Hollister read aloud, selecting a sheet of music from the stack beside her. She was sitting Indian-style on the floor of Rogue’s Gallery, surrounded by neatly sorted books and papers.
“Possibly a wise young nut. Though not wise enough to keep himself from getting clipped.” As Peter Fox’s mocking gaze met hers, Grace was reminded of a line by Thomas Moore: Eyes of unholy blue.
“That’s right; some scholars now believe Tutankhamen was murdered, don’t they?” She studied the crimson-and-sand-colored illustration of a cigar-smoking pharaoh peeking out from behind a pyramid. This King Tut looked more like a Vegas mob boss than Egyptian royalty. Not that Grace had much experience with Vegas mob bosses—or any mob bosses. Until recently she had led the life of a sheltered academic teaching Romantic literature to the privileged young ladies of St. Anne’s Academy for Girls in Los Angeles.
“They do. A three-thousand-year-old cold case.” Peter lifted a wooden writing box out of its wrappings. He opened it, picked out assorted pen nibs, old-fashioned paper clips, and a winged dagger cap badge for the 22nd Special Air Service. Peter studied the badge, set it aside, and made a notation on his clipboard. “Who Dares Wins,” he murmured, and his thin mouth curled in an odd smile. “Very nice.”
Summer was the height of tourist season in the English Lake District, and so naturally the busiest time at Rogue’s Gallery. Between customers, they were still working their way through the boxes and crates that had been delivered two weeks ago from Mallow Farm. The new owner, Mr. Matsukado, was a wealthy Japanese businessman. The Shogun, as he was referred to locally, had decreed all of the seventeenth-century farmhouse’s original furnishings unsuitable. Peter had bought the lot, much to the chagrin of his local competition. Much of the haul had turned out to be of the pink china roosters and bronzed baby shoes variety.
Grace adjusted her reading glasses and brushed back her hair, which had deepened to sorrel while away from the California sun.
“Why, Valentino as a sheik, he wouldn’t last half a week in old King Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut-Tut King Tuttie’s day.” She checked the date on the music. “Nineteen twenty-three. A year after Carter discovered Tut’s tomb. Had they even opened the burial chamber yet?”
“February 1923.”
She selected a faded brochure in red, white, and blue. “The Maid and the Mummy. A musical farce in three acts. This is an oldie—1904.”
“Something of a theme, no?” Peter was making more notes in his own personal hieroglyphs.
A thin slip of yellowed paper slid out from the musical brochure Grace held, and she unfolded the paper. It was a letter. The date at the top read October 8, 1943.
“Listen to this,” she said.

Dearest Girl,
It’s difficult to know what to write. I’m a devil to treat you so. Oh, I know it too well, and to wrap it up in thumping philosophy only cheapens…

She broke off. “I can’t read the next few lines.” She squinted at the lines long ago dissolved by…a watermark? Tears? Gin?

There’s a kind of high comedy in our breathless obsession with tetchy old Fen’s verdict, while half the youth of Europe is churned to powder in the cogs of this mechanical slaughter of modern warfare. And yet if our little discovery should turn out to be one of Shiloh’s poesy, then there is a rightness to it, a queer poetic justice. I must let this go. One day, I suppose we will look back on this time and shake our wise gray heads over all this doubt and uncertainty.

Goodnight, Dearest. I’m better for loving you so.

For a moment they were silent. The lazy hum of bees and the sunlit fragrance of the garden drifted to them through the open window.
Grace blinked rapidly behind her specs. “It’s signed ‘John.’”
“Helpful,” said Peter. “There can’t be many chaps named John.” He reached for the letter, which Grace held in one still hand.
Huskily, she said, “Nineteen forty-three. World War II. I wonder if—”
He directed a quizzical look her way. “Why, Esmeralda, I believe the heart of a romantic beats beneath that leathered academic hide.”
Momentarily distracted, Grace spluttered, “Leathered hide?”
“Never having had opportunity to fully explore the hide in question—”
“Take my word for it, my hide is perfectly…” She stopped, aware that they were digressing rather wildly.
“Soft? Supple? Silken?” He ran light fingers down her bare arm.
It was a touch she felt in every cell. With great difficulty, Grace ignored that casually seductive caress, holding the letter up and out of his reach. Her brows drew together as she reread the elegant faded hand.
Shiloh,” she said slowly. “Poesy.” She turned to Peter, green eyes bright with excitement.
His thin clever face reflected amusement. “I recognize that feverish expression, if not the cause for it.”
It was absurd, and yet stranger things had happened—and to Grace and Peter.
“The mere word ‘poesy’ conjures his ghost.”
“Surely not.”
He was still joking. Grace was not. “In the still cave of the witch Poesy, seeking among the shadows,” she quoted.
Peter appeared to consult some inner and extensive reference section. “Shelley,” he identified. “Percy Bysshe.”
Shiloh,” Grace agreed triumphantly. “Lord Byron’s pet name for Shelley.”
“Pet name?” he objected. “Must you put it quite like that?”
“Albé and Shiloh, that’s what they called each other,” Grace persisted eagerly. “Byron and Shelley. Two of the greatest poets of the Romantic Age.” Two of the most intriguing, anyway; Grace had a private yen for the bad boys of poetry. The frail, sensitive, and iconoclast Shelley had always proved a huge hit with her freshman and sophomore classes.
Peter was unconvinced. “You can’t be serious. An unknown work by Shelley? Where would this ‘John’ find such a thing—assuming that vague reference to Shiloh is meant to indicate Shelley and not some other Shiloh.”
“What other Shiloh? I don’t think he’s referring to the American Civil War. It’s not exactly a common name. Not even in the 1940s. I mean, there was that Neil Diamond song—”
“If this is a confession,” he interrupted, “I’m not ready to hear it.”
She laughed. “But it was Shelley’s nickname, and a name by which Shelley scholars know him. And just because we don’t know where the letter writer might have found such a work, doesn’t mean the work couldn’t exist.”
Peter said nothing, holding the paper up toward the light streaming through the front window. His black-winged brows drew together. Turning, he flattened the letter on the counter behind him and studied it closely.
“What do you think?” She joined him at the counter as he studied the yellowed paper.
“Even if this bloke managed to get his mitts on an original work of Shelley’s, this was written over fifty years ago. The item, whatever it might have been, is long gone.”
“But it might not be!” Grace gestured to the boxes still unopened, the stacks of partially sorted papers. “And the clue to its whereabouts might be here, maybe in another letter. It looks like some of this stuff hasn’t been gone through in decades.” The layers of magazines, newspapers, bills, circulars, letters, and other assorted paperwork formed a kind of pulp strata.
“My dear girl.”
Dearest Girl…
Who was John? What Mallow daughter or sister had been his “dearest girl”? Grace adored the riddles of the past. Her idea of a good time was exploring an old churchyard or whiling away an afternoon in a library archive. Maybe that was why she was pushing thirty and still unmarried.
“It’s not that far-fetched. There was a lost Mary Shelley story discovered in a wooden chest in Tuscany a few years ago. And what about back in 1976, when that trunk was opened in Barclays of London and a slew of previously unknown works by Byron and Shelley were found? It’s not impossible.”
“Mary Shelley lived in Tuscany,” Peter pointed out. “And the Barclays trunk belonged to Scrope Berdmore Davies, who was a friend and confidante of Lord Byron. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did Shelley ever visit the Lakes?”
“I don’t see how that matters. Thanks to Wordsworth and Coleridge and Southey, the Lake District was the center of the Romantic Movement, and Shelley was a huge admirer of Wordsworth. Perhaps he made a trip that no one documented.” It was difficult to imagine that such a meeting wouldn’t be recorded in those days of fanatical journal and letter writing, but it was possible.
“Or perhaps he mailed a copy to his idol,” he suggested blandly.
“Yes! Or no.” She saw that this brought them back to the original problem. If a poem had been mailed to Wordsworth or another literary figure, it would surely have turned up in someone’s papers. Even in their own lifetimes, the most casual writings of these men had been valued and preserved by their friends and family. “It doesn’t matter how it got here—assuming it is here.”
“Here?” He seemed to consider the idea for the first time. “But the item, whatever it is, appears to have been in John’s possession, and for all we know, John may have lived in London. Or Tuscany.”
The man was most aggravating when he was right. But Peter wasn’t finished dashing her dreams. “Has it occurred to you that perhaps this is too much of a coincidence? A letter hinting of a work by Percy Bysshe Shelley just happens to turn up in an antique shop where you, a scholar of Romantic literature, just happen to work?”
Grace was to appear as guest speaker at the annual Romantic literature conference held at Amberent Hall in Carlisle. Nearly two years earlier, she and Peter had been involved in the search for a lost work by Lord Byron. She had written a book on their adventures, which had sold to an obscure press back in the States. Though the book was not yet published, word rippled quickly across the academic pond Grace paddled in, and she was basking in her fifteen minutes of fame.
As much as she disliked the notion, Peter had a point. “You think someone is…salting the mine?”
“I should be very skeptical of any unknown works by long-dead literary giants that mysteriously turn up on your doorstep,” he said dryly.
The bells on the gallery door jangled, and Grace guiltily snatched at the letter. She was not quick enough. Unhurriedly, Peter slid it beneath the leather blotter on the countertop.

Available through Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Kobo -- and also in audio

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vintage Lake District photos

By Nella and licensed through Shutterstock. These really make me miss writing about Grace and Peter!



Aren't these lovely?

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Day in the Life

Licensed through Shutterstock
SUNDAY




6:30 - Stumble out of bed, turn on desktop, stumbled downstairs and make coffee, stumble back to desktop and open Diana email.

7:00 - 8:30 - Pretend to do email while Facebooking with bestie in other realm of publishing - mutual panic over Christmas stories we must write in two weeks. HOW DO WE GET OURSELVES INTO THIS? (Answer: The same way we do every year)

8:30 - Discuss Diana website makeover with Mr. Thrilling (Thrilling Detective Website Guy)

9:00 - Begin to peruse Diana email in earnest - spot notice of Raymond Chandler bus tour for Bouchercon early birds. Alert the media! Okay, alert Mr. Thrilling. We agree we love this idea. Book tour.

9:30 - Mr. Thrilling inquires as to why I am posting pictures of myself with big glasses everywhere when in fact I only use glasses for reading. He mentions Rick Perry, but I forgive him. Decide I need a new, cuter photo and begin looking through iPhone.

9:35 - Remember that I am supposed to be weeding through 500 emails

9:40 - Go downstairs for another cup of coffee -- remember it is our day to water!!!

10:30 - Realize I am looking at wrong email box

10:35 - Deal with panic over Italian translations in other part of publishing world -- realize I have never dealt with Diana Spanish translation and hie myself back to Diana in-box

11:00 - I am starving! I have not had breakfast! What kind of employer am I that I do not allow peak performing employees to take a break?

11:01 - Holy hell! I have forgotten to send excel spreadsheet with Browne Sister newsletter names for November concert mailing.

11:30 - What was I doing?

11:31 - God in Heaven, I haven't brushed my teeth yet!

11:32 - Where was I?

11:33 - Diana pictures...

11:34 - Must remember to re-do Diana newsletter...
Licensed through Shutterstock

12:00 - Determine that I need a new official Diana author photo. Choose blurry iPhone photo for the meantime.

12:08 - Breakfast

12:30 - Jump over to Twitter account and begin wedding out everyone who doesn't follow me back. HOW VERY DARE YOU?!

12:35 - Brush teeth

1:00 - Open laptop. Begin writing Girl Dective blog posts

3:00 - Go for swim in arctic waters

4:30 - Write more Girl Detective blog posts

5:00 - Look over proofs for print High Rhymes and Misdemeanors

6:00 - Get distracted midst researching posts and start reading Margaret Scherf's Curious Custard Pie.

8:00 - Stomach is growling. Notice the time. Close laptop. Tomorrow is another day.







Saturday, October 25, 2014

Trip, Trap, Trip, Trap, Trip, Trap

I’m not sure why I’m thinking of The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Oh yes. Trolls. Trolls and this fairly scary article in Salon.

A novelist who stalked an online critic shows us how twisted the dynamic between writers and commenters has gotten.

 Being married to a reviewer/blogger who has received more than his share of death threats -- and having now and then irked a few people with my own reviews -- this is unsettling stuff.

Crazy author stories are always a favorite with reviewers and bloggers, but at the risk of sounding self-absorbed, I think authors are probably far more likely to be the victim of harassment or violence both online and in real life.

For one thing, a review is only likely to spark real passion in one breast and one breast alone -- the author’s. Whereas the author of a work of fiction can spark passion in the breasts of many. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions in the case of religious works or, er, Harry Potter. So I can't help thinking an author has a much higher chance of triggering the wrong person. 


Anyway, it does give one pause for thought. And maybe for pause for pause as far as some of these other plans of mine…

Friday, October 24, 2014

That Thing You Do -- But Really Shouldn’t

Licensed thru Shutterstock
Two things authors should not do. Ever.

Or at least in public.

1 - Bitch about reviews

Frankly, you shouldn’t even read them -- certainly not after the first couple of years of your publishing career -- but if you are going to read them, you sure as hell shouldn’t complain about them. And since that’s nearly impossible for most humans who feel unfairly treated and badly used, I reiterate: you should not read your reviews.

2 - Bitch about not selling many books

Part of why you should not do this is…so much of success is about perception: the more successful you appear, the more successful you will be.

Well, okay. Not always. But certainly whimpering about poor sales adds nothing to your author cachet.

And anyway, it goes without saying. We are all anxious about our book sales. From the newbie author who just self-published her first book and is busily spamming her Facebook friends, to whoever is atop the NYT Bestseller list this week. We all worry that we’re not selling enough (and seeing that most authors aren’t selling enough to support themselves writing, fair enough) or that our sales are dwindling or that there’s too much competition.

I am appalled at the number of authors who post about their terrible sales or a mean review and then ask their Facebook friends whether they should keep writing.

What. On. Earth?

I’m not saying these aren’t valid concerns. I’m saying they are a given. Crying in public may gain you a little sympathy -- or pity -- but it doesn’t gain you respect and it doesn’t sell books.

Quite the opposite.

And if you need other people to tell you whether you should keep writing or not, let me help you out. No, you should not keep writing. Find something else to do. 









Monday, October 20, 2014

Simple Pleasures - Cold Water

And the water is very cold now. 58 degrees this afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to keep swimming this late into the fall before. But it feels wonderful. The cold, cold water and the bright sunlight. The mockingbird who keeps me company every afternoon.

And it feels so good to kick and splash and move. The water flies up and then rains down in crystal droplets. Sometimes I do Tai Chi in the water and sometimes I get a little “whirlpool” going and try to swim against it. I am playing. And I guess that’s why I am always so sorry to see the summer -- and swimming pool -- go.

Brown and gold leaves keep falling into the pool now. I pick them out and splash some more.




Licensed thru Shutterstock

Friday, October 17, 2014

Scotland in 2015



Licensed thru Shutterstock
My writing buddy Lisa B. and I will be in Scotland around this time next year.

We’re taking an escorted vacation with my old pals the Men of Worth. This will be a little odd -- my writing world colliding with my music world. But I think it will ultimately be inspiring on both fronts.

So. Inverness and Orkney.

The description on the website fills me with delight: A stay on Orkney as well as visits to Culloden, Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle and the Jacobite Cruise.

I. Can’t. Wait.

Lisa toured Scotland with a friend when she got out of college, and I’ve never been (which is kind of shocking, really), so this is going to be an adventure for both of us. And if I can convince the girls to go too…? We could have a Browne Sister thing as well as a writing research thing. 




Friday, October 10, 2014

Verse of the Vampyre Redux

Now working on her sabbatical, Grace becomes a kind of technical advisor to a local theatrical production of a play called The Vampyre, a really awful play based on a snippet of story by Lord Byron. Right on schedule mysterious accidents begin to plague the players, and it’s only a matter of time before one of the cast falls victim.

Chapter One


In Grace Hollister’s opinion, only a character in a book—or a real idiot—would agree to a midnight rendezvous in a graveyard. So it was truly aggravating to find herself crouched behind a thicket in the Innisdale cemetery waiting for Peter Fox.
Not that this was exactly a “rendezvous,” and not that she was exactly “waiting” for Peter. No, this fell more under the heading of “spying on,” and that was truly the most aggravating thing of all. To be reduced to—but here Grace’s thoughts were cut short as the rusted gate to the graveyard screeched in warning.
Ducking back into the branches, she listened to footsteps crunching down the leaf-strewn path near where she hid. She waited, holding her breath, till the newcomer passed, his shadow falling across her face and gliding away. Grace swallowed hard.
The October night was cold and smelled of damp earth and something cloying. A few feet to her left, a tangle of wild roses half concealed the entrance to a crypt, and Grace blamed the night’s funereal perfume on the colorless flowers twisting up and over the cornices.
Cautiously, she peered through the thicket. She knew that confident, loose-limbed stride—that long, lean silhouette—even without the telltale glint of moonlight on pale hair. And with recognition came bewilderment. What in the world was going on?
What was Peter up to?
For that matter, what was Grace up to? After all, if Peter wanted to arrange midnight assignations with women…it wasn’t like he and Grace really had an “understanding.” Well, not an understanding that most people would…understand. Grace’s parents certainly couldn’t comprehend it. Her ex-boyfriend Chaz didn’t get it. Even Grace sometimes wondered if she had failed to read the fine print when it came to her relationship with Peter Fox.
Peter started down the hillside, taking himself from Grace’s view. She weighed the risk and left her hiding spot, scuttling across the grass to huddle behind a tree.
The tree offered poor concealment; so after a moment’s hesitation, she scooted over to a headstone. Peering over the top, she spotted Peter a few yards down the slope. He stood very still, apparently scanning the nightscape; then he continued along the path that jogged down the hillside. In a moment he would be out of sight.
What next? wondered Grace. The more she moved around, the greater her chances of being discovered, but there was no point in following him if she couldn’t figure out what he was doing.
She looked around, but her next move would take her into the open.
Peter gave a low whistle that could have passed for some nocturnal birdcall. Instinctively, Grace leaned forward, watching him pass through the crowd of stone lambs, sleeping marble cherubim and tilting crosses that stretched across the clearing to the dark woods beyond.
Was someone out there, hiding and watching from the dense shelter of the forest? It was a creepy thought.
Tree branches stirred in the night breeze, but no one appeared. Grace looked toward Peter, but he stepped to the right, out of her line of vision. Once again she was tempted to leave her hiding place, but the ornate headstone provided good cover. And she knew from past experience how sharp Peter’s hearing was.
Beyond the graveyard, pine trees stood in black attitude, their jagged tops resembling fangs. Grace tried to make out a shape that shouldn’t be there. If anyone was out there, she stuck to the shadows. It would be a woman. The voice on the phone call that Grace had inadvertently overheard had definitely been female. And a woman would indicate romance, a tryst perhaps; although the caller’s husky, mocking voice, while seductive in tone, had held a hint of threat. Had there been something familiar about that voice? All afternoon Grace had tried and failed to pin down the caller’s identity.
High above, the moon was veiled in mist, its diffused light shimmering on the headstones. The inscriptions wavered like incantations.
Another bird trill issued from the direction Peter had gone. At least, Grace assumed it was Peter. Maybe it really was a bird this time.
But again the signal, if it was a signal, met silence.
Grace smothered a yawn. Surveillance work was tiring. She peered at her watch. Difficult to read the tiny Roman numerals in the gloom, but it had to be late. Very late. Decent folk would be in bed. Bed. Longingly, Grace thought of her flannel sheets and goose-down comforter. It was chilly, and she had put in a full day at Rogue’s Gallery, where she worked to supplement her sabbatical income. The knees of her jeans were soaked from kneeling on the damp ground, and her legs prickled pins and needles.
She shifted her cramped position. Peter was still lost to view behind a flat box tomb. Uneasily, she glanced back to the overgrown crypt. Trails of mist were rising off the ground like ghosts taking form. She shivered.
This is crazy, she told herself. What if he catches me? How am I going to explain? The truth was, there was no explanation. Her decision to come here tonight had been on impulse, triggered by Peter’s odd behavior the last few weeks. Now that she thought about it, he had seemed to change right around the time the jewel thefts had started.
That’s right, a little voice in her head jeered. This is about saving him from a life of crime. It has nothing to do with moonlight tête-à-têtes with sultry-voiced females.
Quick footsteps returning up the path had Grace flattening herself against the sheltering headstone. Peter was coming back.
There wasn’t time to move, to find better concealment. Grace shrank down and held her breath. He didn’t pause, didn’t glance her way. He was a shade moving through the silver shadows.
Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon.
The quote from Shakespeare came unbidden; Grace bit back a rueful grin. She couldn’t believe that Peter Fox, ex-jewel thief extraordinaire, had returned to his former profession, but something was going on. If he wasn’t involved in the recent rash of jewel robberies, she bet he knew something about them.
In a few moments Peter’s footsteps died away. The gate groaned and clanged shut. Grace was left with the sleeping dead and her own less-than-comfortable thoughts.
The tree above her creaked in the wind. Grace gave it a quick look. Just her luck if she was knocked out by a falling limb.
In the distance she heard the engine of Peter’s Land Rover revving up; the hum of the engine died away, leaving only night sounds. Lonesome sounds.
Feeling very much alone, she stared up at the sky, at the milkweed dust of stars. How long did she have to wait? Absently, she massaged her thigh muscles.
Listening to the soft tick of her wristwatch, she pictured Peter driving down the country lane back to Craddock House. The cemetery was out in the middle of nowhere; so the chances of running into anyone else were infinitesimal—unless his quarry was still lurking about, and that seemed unlikely.
At last Grace moved to rise, reaching for the headstone to pull herself up. Abruptly, she realized that this was not a park; she was kneeling on someone’s grave. The thought jolted her. In the shifting moonlight she could read the words carved there.
And all is dark and dreary now, where once was joy.
It sort of put things into perspective. With a silent apology, Grace gathered herself to stand.
Midrise, a scrape of sound froze her. She listened.
Nothing.
Cautiously, she raised her head over the smiling cherubs atop the tombstone.
There was movement to her left. Something inside the portico of the crypt stirred. Grace’s eyes widened.
There it was again. Motion. And then, as her brain tried to assimilate this, a figure in a cape stepped out of the doorway and into the moonshine.
Grace’s hand covered her gasp.
Even across the distance of grass and graves she recognized the tall, gaunt figure of Lord Ruthven, Innisdale’s newest resident. His hair was black and lank; his obsidian eyes shone with fierce intelligence in his bony face.
Not that Grace could tell in this light what his eyes were shining with—or if they were even open—but she’d had plenty of opportunity to study the man during the past weeks.
Am I dreaming? Grace wondered. Did I fall asleep waiting? That would make sense. What didn’t make sense was Lord Ruthven, the London producer who had volunteered to help with the local theater group’s production of The Vampyre, hanging out at the village cemetery. Granted, Grace, who had been roped into acting as technical advisor to the production, had pegged Ruthven as an eccentric, but this was turning into an episode of Tales from the Crypt.
Could Lord Ruthven have been the person Peter intended to meet?
Then who was the woman who had called Peter? Lord Ruthven’s secretary? That would be some job. Grace smothered a jittery giggle. But if Ruthven had arranged to meet Peter, why would he remain hidden?
No, hard to believe as it was, it did appear as though Lord Ruthven had also been observing Peter.
As she stared at the caped figure, the moon slipped behind the tattered clouds; its lantern light flickered and went out.
Even a year ago Grace would not have dreamed of doing what she did now, but acquaintance with Peter Fox had been…empowering. (Although that was probably not the word Ms. Wintersmith, principal of St. Anne’s Academy, would have used.)
Grace slid down and began to crawl very slowly and cautiously across the wet grass for a better view. Her knees and elbows dug into the soggy ground as she moved ahead foot by foot.
But the treacherous moon glided out of its cloud cover, and the glade was bathed in radiance once more. A radiant emptiness.
Grace sat and stared.
Lord Ruthven had vanished.

Available thru Amazon, Smashwords, B&N and Kobo -- also available in audio! 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Don't Encourage Them, Paul

Licensed thru Shutterstock
Readers are lovely. Aside from buying and reviewing our books, they send heartwarming emails and cards and even presents. They rejoice with us when we are successful and they encourage and support us when we are down. But one thing readers should not do -- that none of us should do -- is encourage our fellow authors who whine that their lack of success is due to the restrictions and demands of The Genre.

I don’t mean when a book has been misclassified due to the honest mistake of a publisher or a bookseller -- that is a genuine disaster for an author -- no, I mean when the author has chosen to mislabel his work in hopes of attracting a more commercial audience. Categorizing a book as Mystery, for example, when it’s actually a Romance or Literary Fiction. And then whinging because mystery readers complain that the book isn’t a mystery.

Whenever I analyze these posts calling for a redefining of a genre (why must romance have a happy ending?!)  -- and there seem to be more and more of them with the proliferation of self-publishing -- they really boil down to one thing: the author earnestly believes that if readers would just give his book a chance, they would love it.

But this is not the case. Every book is not for every reader. Period.

And most readers who are searching for a who-dunnit will not be charmed and won over by an incorrectly labeled book. Oh yes, once in a while a reader will enjoy the book, but that’s going to be the exception to the rule. Most readers are simply going to be irritated. And probably voice the irritation on one of the many review/social media sites.

An author bitching and moaning that the genre he’s chosen to work in is too narrow for his vision/genius is essentially saying he’s unqualified for the job he applied for. That doesn’t call for sympathy, it calls for reassessment. It calls for course correction.





Friday, September 26, 2014

Bouchercon Update

I got a panel assignment!

That’s both startling and delightful. Of course, it’s also a little tiny bit weird in that I haven’t written anything as Diana for…how many years now? Two? Three?

In a publishing environment where quarterly publishing is pretty much the rule, that’s a long time. And it’s weirder still because this year I’ve written three full-length novels, a novella, and I’m about to do a holiday novella as well.

In fact, adding that holiday novella into the mix is why there won’t be time to do anything for Diana this year. Which is a shame, but if there was one thing I learned from the alarming experience of burning out, it’s to follow my heart when it comes to writing the stories that inspire and move me.

Anyway, I’m so pleased they found room for me on a panel. I don’t think I know anyone else beyond  Sue Ann.  I hope to take at least a peek at everyone’s latest work before the conference.

Panel info:

YOUR PANEL ASSIGNMENT:


Make 'Em Laugh: Balancing the Lows of Loss with the Highs of Humor

Moderator Terry Shames

Melodie Campbell
Sharon Fiffer
Sue Ann Jaffarian
Diana Killan
Helen Smith 
  

 Friday Nov. 14, 2014 11:30- 12:30 Shoreline




Friday, September 19, 2014

High Rhymes and Misdemeanors Redux

Grace Hollister is vacationing—under guise of researching her dissertation on the Romantic poets—in the English Lake District when she stumbles upon her first (but not her last) body. Before long she’s involved in kidnapping, murder, and the hunt for what she firmly believes is a lost work by Lord Byron.

Chapter One


The stream chattered merrily over the rocks, undeterred by the motionless form of the man lying facedown in the shallow water.
It seemed to Grace that she had been standing there for an eternity, not moving, not even breathing, trying to focus and telling herself it was a trick of the light.
But though the tall copper beeches cast long, sinister shadows, turning grass and water black, this was no illusion of the lingering English twilight. Nor was this a figment of her own active imagination. There really was a body lying in Grace Hollister’s path.
As the realization slowly sank in, it seemed to Grace that all the world hushed and paused, waiting, waiting… Only the burble of the stream and Grace’s own harsh breathing met her ears, and unexpectedly a feeling of light-headedness crept over her.
Impatiently she blinked back the weakness, forcing herself to focus on impersonal details. The body was male; a tall, graceful body ungracefully sprawled in the rocks and mud. It—he—wore Levis and a white shirt. His thick pale hair ruffled in the breeze revealing a sickening dark patch on the back of his skull.
Grace’s stomach rose in protest. She recognized him; it was Mr. Fox, a fellow guest at the inn where Grace was staying. Only that evening Grace had observed him in the dining room—or rather, observed the two young waitresses observing him. Mr. Fox with his copy of Punch, and his odd, not quite handsome face.
The lax, long-fingered hands moved delicately, feeling nothing as the stream rippled through them. Beneath the water Grace could see the second hand of his watch still methodically ticking away.
Only seconds had passed since Grace came upon the scene in the woods; it took far longer to describe than live those unreal, intense moments before she stumbled forward, clutching at the inert, sodden mass, dragging the body back out of the water and stones and mud.
Though he was a tall man and a dead weight, and Grace was only a medium-sized woman in average shape, adrenaline gave her extra strength. She hauled with all her might; the body of Mr. Fox slithered forward, the stream releasing him with a squelch.
Grace rocked back on her haunches, landing in the mud. Panting, sweating, she crawled over to the drowned man, rolling him onto his back. His head lolled, face white and wet in the gloom.
He looked dead, no doubt about it. He wasn’t breathing, and there was no telling how long he had been underwater. Grace hadn’t spotted Mr. Fox during her twilight ramble through the woods; he could have been soaking there since dinner.
So much for my nice, restful vacation in jolly old England, Grace thought, ripping open the dripping shirt and pressing her ear to a broad and clammy chest. Sparse golden hair tickled her cheek. There was no sound beneath her ear. At least nothing Grace could hear over her own thundering pulse. She stared and stared but could detect no rise and fall of his chest.
Pushing away the thought that it was already too late, Grace tipped back Mr. Fox’s heavy head. Face close to his, she listened intently.
Nothing.
Not a flicker.
Feeling the wet silk of his hair beneath her fingers, Grace stared down at the death mask of a face wiped clean of all intelligence, all emotion, all life. It was a strange face: high-boned and clever, a reckless slash of black brows, a wide, mocking mouth. It was a strange moment; Grace knew she would never forget it. Never forget Mr. Fox.
Accepting this, accepting that it was too late, still Grace went through the motions, pinching shut the man’s nostrils, taking a deep breath and covering his slack mouth with her own.
As Grace exhaled strongly she felt a faint resistance. This was so different from practice with dummies in a noisy gymnasium.
Between snatches of air, Grace breathed forcefully into Mr. Fox’s unresponsive lungs four times. Then she paused, feeling for the pulse in his throat with uncertain fingers.
It had grown too dark to see; dusk’s slow retreat falling back beneath the night which swallowed the green woods and fells, the mountains and dales of the Lake District. Feverishly Grace labored under the black tracery of leaves blotting out the first faint stars.
Still nothing? Not even a twitch?
Grace shifted around on her knees. Mr. Fox was all long, strong bone and muscle, no excess flesh as she felt cautiously over his rib cage, brushing over a hard, flat abdomen, finding the place where ribs met breastbone.
To pick the wrong place meant risking injury to the ribs and chest wall. Like it matters at this point, a pessimistic little voice whispered in Grace’s ear. She shrugged off the voice of doom. Surely a strong man like Mr. Fox wouldn’t give up his life so easily.
She placed the heel of one hand on Mr. Fox’s chest, the other hand on top. Locking elbows, Grace began compressing, at first tentatively, then more strongly. She counted, her voice sounding loud and fierce in the darkness.
“One and two and three and four and five.”
How many minutes did it take before the effects of drowning were irreversible? She couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. She had no idea how long Mr. Fox had been in the water.
Down and up, down and up. Finding her rhythm, Grace leaned into Mr. Fox’s body and relaxed. It was like squeezing a giant, sodden sponge. Grace worked over the body till her arms began to ache.
And then, just as she was giving up hope, Grace was startled to hear a great rattling cough. The corpse became a man again, suddenly giving up the stream water he had swallowed.
Grace had never heard a more beautiful sound.
Mr. Fox’s chest heaved beneath her palms, and she heard him gulp in huge lungfuls of the night air. Amazed at herself, at what she had just accomplished, Grace rested on her heels, her teeth chattering with reaction while Mr. Fox coughed and spluttered and continued to catch at gusts of air like a landed fish.
It was like a miracle. Heck, it was a miracle. One minute he had been a drowned thing. Dead. Ended. Finished. And the next, he was alive. Grace hugged herself against the cold, offering a silent prayer of thanks to the distant stars above.
“What…happened…?” Mr. Fox’s rusty voice trailed uncertainly. He made an effort to push himself up.
Grace bent over him reassuringly. “It’s all right. You’re going to be fine. Just rest here. I’m going for help.” She patted the long fingers that clutched weakly at her wrist.
“Wait—” Mr. Fox broke off to shiver convulsively.
Shock and the damp could undo all that she had fought for. Gently Grace freed herself, rising from her cramped position. “I’ll be right back,” she promised. “Just take it easy.”
Picking her way blindly over the roots and grass, Grace at last found the path and started back to the inn. She walked as quickly as she dared over the uncertain terrain, back toward warmth and light and people.
But a few yards down the trail a feeling of alarm swept over Grace. It wasn’t logical, it wasn’t even something she could explain, but she plunged back the way she had come, feet pounding the dirt, dropping to her knees once more beside Mr. Fox...

Available thru Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Kobo and also in audio

Friday, September 12, 2014

In My Experience...

When it comes to matters of style and craft, there is no more irrelevant comment than..."As a gay man..." or "As a married woman..." or "As a yoga instructor of ten years...." or "As someone who has suffered mental illness..."

This is not to say that one's personal experiences and history are not of interest. They might even perhaps be of consequence when it comes to fictional content. Although that's unlikely if the writer has done her research and has sufficient imagination. Or has her own personal experience to draw upon. The ending of my first marriage was probably unlike yours. My college experience was probably not yours. My bouts with various illnesses may not resemble yours. My writing career is probably quite different from yours.

We all want to believe that our human experience is the definitive one, but...not so much.

So even when it comes to content in fiction, the reader who objects to something based on their own personal experience is generally skating on thin ice.

And when they try to apply their personal experience to matters of craft they are, quite simply, talking through their hat.

It might be a top hat or a beret or a cloche knitted by their granny. The point is their hat is not my hat. Their bag is not my bag.

I am so weary, weary unto flipping DEATH of our increasing narcissism as a society and an industry. I don't want to get specific here because I am always bumping into the difficulty of What Would Diana Do. I'm quite serious. Running several different writer personas has resulted in my only being myself in one corner of my writing universe (and it's the corner where most of my mainstream friends are astonished, even appalled to find me leaning on a lamppost, cigarette hanging from my lips as I coolly appraise all passersby).

Passerbuyers?

Anyway. The result of this decades long balancing act has been...well, difficult. And I think I've reached the breaking point. I can't be everywhere at once, and that has resulted in my giving up half my writing career. And I have come to resent that. Also, I grew weary of subtle attempts at blackmail and coercion (oh, I kid you not!) and simply the fear that others might not understand. I guess I no longer care if others understand or not. And maybe that comes from having managed to achieve a ridiculous amount of success by being myself -- even when that "self" is unrecognizable to a lot of the people who believe they know me best.

It could all go away when the truth comes out. Although I know many, many people already know the truth and are simply, courteously and kindly waiting for me to choose my moment.

And now I really do sound like my bout of mental illness is not YOUR bout of mental illness. :-)

This has all come to a head with my decision to return to mainstream -- and the lesser decision to attend Bouchercon. It is the freakiest thing in the world to try and attend a conference like Bouchercon and somehow conceal what I've been doing for the past how many years? To conceal my experience and success...heck, just my output (60+ bestselling books in how many years?!)

And so I am thinking a great deal about how to handle this. I dread the idea of hurting people. And there will
be people who are hurt. The people who will be shocked, I could care less about. But the readers -- even writer friends -- who I've felt it necessary to conceal the truth from? I am sick about this. It's what has kept me silent for the years since sabbatical.

And it's not like I'm ever going to discuss my whys or wherefores. There isn't going to be some dramatic announcement in that sector of the universe. I'm never going to delve into my personal experience as far as sexuality or gender or any of that. The very idea makes me feel faint. It's no one's business. I am appalled to find myself living in an age where so many people believe these things ARE other people's business.

I expect the re-release of Murder in Pastel will take care of much of it. I'm doing it quite consciously and deliberately, but there will still be those who think they've stumbled onto some inadvertent revelation. And I'll just have to politely put up with it.

Anyway. That was quite a digression! More later.




Friday, September 5, 2014

Corpse Pose now in audio

Narrated by the very talented Lauren Fortgang.

Listeners will bend over backward for the debut of the first yoga mystery series. Ever since her husband ditched her - for another man - A.J. hasn't exactly been on the road to inner peace. Then her yoga-guru aunt is found dead, and A.J.'s named the sole heir to her lucrative yoga studio - making her a multimillionaire, a prime suspect, and the killer's next target. 

(Audible still has this listed as though all four books in the series were included, but it's just Corpse Pose)



Now available through Audible.com.