Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Bliss - Old and New

As the year comes to a close, I'm still pondering my "Best of 2011 List."

It's hard!  I read a lot of really terrific books this past year.

Two books, however,  pop immediately to mind, and they will top my list - Margaret Maron's THREE-DAY TOWN and Louise Penny's A TRICK OF THE LIGHT.

Both books were books I've been waiting for.  Margaret finally gives us Deborah and Sigrid together and Louise gives us the event I started hoping for in the very first Three Pines novel.  I finished both books with a smile on my face and immediately read through them a second time.  Pure Bliss ! ! !

They were worth the wait.

2011 brought some new authors to my attention that found their way onto my "Auto Buy List."  They're a fairly wide ranging group.  I can't think of a single word that might fit each of these writers and tie them together in any manner, but they each captured me in a big way.  Well, actually, I can.   They're all women.  Something I did not realize until now.  I "think" I read a pretty good mix of both men and women, but I have to admit, this is going to send me back to the list of books I read in 2011 and see if that's really true.  Huh.  How 'bout that?  A mystery to ponder . . . .

Here are my new discoveries.  If you haven't tried any these authors yet, please do and let me know what you think.  (I'd suggest reading the Tana French books in the order written.  They're not really a series, but each novel introduces a character you'll meet in the next novel.  And I would most definitely read Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler series in order).

Sarah Addison Allen - "North Carolina novelist Sarah Addison Allen brings the full flavor of her southern upbringing to bear on her fiction -- a captivating blend of fairy tale magic, heartwarming romance, and small-town sensibility." author bio

Tana French - "Ambitious and extraordinary"  Washington Post

Julia Glass - "Glass establishes her literary credentials with ingenuity and panache."  Publisher's Weekly

Susan Hill - "Thoughtful mysteries...elegant prose."  New York Times  Book Review

Erin Morgenstern - “Every once in awhile you find a novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell. The Night Circus is one of these rarities — engrossing, beautifully written and utterly enchanting. If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it.”  Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology

Barbara O'Neal - As dark and deep and sweet as chocolate…I wanted to live in this book.” Sarah Addison Allen

Any discoveries you'd care to share?

And I'd like to wish all of you a Happy New Year!  May 2012 bring you nothing but good things!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Years Eve! by Laura Childs

Guest blogger, Laura Childs, is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Cackleberry Club Mysteries, and Scrapbooking Mysteries.


Happy New Years Eve!  While many of you are tipping back an eggnog or two, or looping arms around friends and trying to remember the words to Auld Lang Syne, I’m doing what I inevitably do on holidays.

I sneak down to my computer and dash off a few paragraphs.

Can’t help myself.  I just love to write.  I mean, there’s a reason I’ve written 29 books in 11 years.  But please believe me, it did not come easy.  There were many starts, stops, and hiccups before I was finally able to push through and finish a complete manuscript.  
And it wasn’t because I’d had a manic breakthrough or a transcendent bop on my head.

No, as a mystery author I owe a tip of the hat (click of the mouse?) to innumerable mystery and thriller authors whose fine writing spilled little puddles of light to help illuminate the way.  John Sandford and his terrific Prey series comes to mind for textbook-perfect gritty yet wholly believable characters.  Michael Connelly is a master at deft plotting with beaucoup subplots tossed in for good measure.  Jeffery Deaver taught Forensics 101 to all of us writers. And Mary Higgins Clark continues to demonstrate that ordinary women can so easily be ensnared in dangerous life and death situations.  (I also have Mary to thank for sharing her agent with me.)

But the one author that regularly knocks my socks off is Stephen King.  When I met King years ago, he talked about how his stories always began with a what-if.

What the heck is a what-if?

Well, it’s an author’s basic jumping off point.  In one of King’s earliest books, Salem’s Lot, he asked himself, What if vampires invaded a small New England town?  In The Green Mile he posed the question, What if a death row murderer possessed paranormal powers to do good?  In Misery, his what-if gave us a hapless, damaged mystery writer held hostage by his biggest fan.

What-ifs are a lot like log lines for a TV show – or an elevator test for a killer sales pitch. They’re short, punchy summaries.  In novel writing, what-ifs help you hone in on a single, compelling premise that forces you to confront the very essence of your story line.  A what-if premise strips your story down to bare bones, preceding even words and internal architecture.

Which means that, after much mumbling and stumbling and analysis of other author’s novels, the proverbial light bulb really did flicker on above my head.  And I realized that I, too, needed to figure out a what-if, then lay out the premise of my novel like a hapless leopard frog in a biology lab.  And once I did that, the blue print was there!

In Skeleton Letters, one of my Scrapbook Mysteries, I asked myself, What if a scrapbooker tasked to design a haunted house interior encountered a flaming body tossed from a third floor tower?  That launched me head first into a first chapter filled with non-stop action.  No fussy back story, no long-winded character introductions.

In Agony of the Leaves, my new Tea Shop Mystery that comes out in March, I asked myself, What if my tea shop owner, bored with serving tea and scones at an aquarium grand opening, wandered off to peak at a new ocean wall exhibit and discovered a floating body tangled in a net?

I want to tell you, that crazy what-if premise really works like a charm.

And now, as I’m hunched over my computer, strains of New Year’s festivities tinkling down from upstairs, a few snowflakes tick-ticking at my window, I smile to myself and think, Thank you, Stephen King.  Because my brain just binged out another what-if idea that ought to jump-start my next chapter from zero to sixty!

Happy 2012 everyone!  Peace, health, and best wishes!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Requiem for a Fallen Star by Shane Gericke

Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold sweaty hand of Liberace. He was born to write thriller novels! His latest is Torn Apart, a finalist for the Thriller Award for Best Novel, and a Book of the Year at Suspense Magazine. Shane, whose last name is improbably pronounced YER-kee, spent 25 years as a newspaper editor, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before jumping into fiction. An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York City and founding director of its agent-author matching program, AgentFest. He also belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors. His novels—available in print and e-books—are in translation worldwide, and his national bestselling debut, Blown Away, was named the best first mystery of 2006 at RT Book Reviews. He lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the home of world-famous detective Dick Tracy, with whom Shane shares no resemblance except steely jaw and manly visage. Check him out at, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Requiem for a Fallen Star
By Shane Gericke

People ask why I write.

I respond with a variety of answers, all of which are true:

Satisfaction. Money. The nobility of honest work. The fact I’m happy when I write and I’m cranky when I don’t.

But there’s one big reason that dwarfs everything else:

I want the good guys to win.

That doesn’t always happen in the real world. In real life, evil triumphs and goodness gets its lights punched out. Not always, but often enough to discomfort and sadden. To make us reflect too often on the what-might-have-beens of decent lives snuffed too soon.

But in fiction, I rule. From a moon made of green cheese to bullets that bounce like sponge rubber to heroes that run seemingly forever, I can make anything happen.

And I do.

In my fictional world, heroes win and villains get what’s coming to them. That can be jail. More often, it’s death, usually painful, always creative. 

Because in real life, the good die too tragically and too young. Here is how it happens in real life, when you’re a cop in Chicago . . .

You’re born. You grow. Your family adores you. So do your friends. Likewise the neighborhood that shaped you, and you in turn helped shape.

When you’re old enough to know what’s what, you decide to join up, give a little back. Two tours in Iraq; Army green, hoo-ah! Breaking the bad guys, defending the good.

You survive the killing sands, move back into the ’hood. It’s changed. Once vibrant and free, it’s slouching toward Gomorrah, infected with killers and dopers, bangers and thieves. Good people run. More run scared.

You decide to join up again; this time the cops, Chicago blue, hoo-ah! Just like your Pop, retired now, but then, as now, a hell of a sergeant-man. He’s not scared like the other good folks. But he’s worried. And if he is . . .

You decide to double down.

You could live anywhere in Chicago: Downtown. Uptown. A safe-as-the-suburbs neighborhood of cops, firefighters and politicians: Mount Greenwood. Sauganash. Edgebrook. Beverly. But you chose the ’hood because you want to make it better, and only personal commitment counts. So you find a place, start working with the children, the ones that can still be swayed, still be saved. Become guardian of your neighborhood park, the one named after Nat King Cole.

You step up to community leader, then to president of the local advisory council. All the while you’re driving that CPD blue-and-white, a cop three years next month, working your snitches, warning the bangers, swinging a stick, keeping it real, hoo-ah! Telling anyone who’ll listen, and a bunch of knuckleheads who won’t, that your Chatham neighborhood’s gonna be great again, just you wait and see. 

You love the work and it loves you back. You become good at it. Become exceptional. The ’hood starts believing and begins to rally. Some long rows to hoe, no argument. But you’re 30, you’ve got the time, you can hack it. You’re son and soldier, cop and protector, and the good start breathing again. You’re happier than don’t know when . . .

It’s May 19, 2010. A nothing-special Wednesday, day floating by, plunging into night. You hop on your motorcycle. The shiny one you bought ’cause you’re young and you’re single and you survived and you can. 

You’ve pocketed the pictures you just snapped at a D.C. memorial service for fallen police, knowing Pop’ll like them. 

You roll over to your parents’ home. You park at the curb, admire the neat, meticulous brickwork laid by your grandfather. You’ve got your own place, sure. But home is where you grew up, where your ancestors’ spirits breathe, where Mom and Pop still live. 

You’re home.

You walk inside and have a chat. You can tell Pop’s proud. Of your shiny new ride. Of your decision to put on a uniform and fight for your country, then strap on a gun and fight for your city. Of going to the police memorial in your nation’s capital. Of bringing home the pictures.

Of you. Pop is proud of you.

Police Officer and Iraq combat veteran Thomas Worthham IV

You talk about everything; gas about nothing. Before you know it’s 11:25. Time to get gone ’fore night slides back to day. Smiling, you walk to the curb, swing your leg over your steed. Pop’s waving from a front window. You’re waving back . . .

Two young skinnies pop from nowhere, screw a gun in your ear: Gimme the motorcycle, fool! Pop sees ’em from the window, belts a holler: Leave my son alone!

Punk turns, busts a cap.

You might have waited this out. No choice now with bullets flying. Scream you’re Chicago Police. Pull your gun from under your shirt, open fire. Banger-man pulls his trigger. Metal craters your head. You tumble off the bike, blood showering asphalt. Your brain says you’re dying. Your body won’t accept it. Your fingers crawl toward your gun. But metal’s a wolf pack and brains are bleating lambs . . .

Your lights are winking out.

Pop charges from the house with his own cop gun. A red Nissan getaway screeches into the curb. Four skinnies now, two in the car, two in the street, their kill-gun hunting fresh meat. Pop fires. One’s dead. Pop fires. Second’s crippled. Pop’s going for the triple then the grand-slam . . . 

The two in the car roar off. They run you over. They drag you a quarter-block, over asphalt and garbage and glass. Finally you fall off, roll unceremoniously into the gutter.

Sirens shriek. Blue lights flash. Shots fired. Officer down. Sirens shriek. Blue lights flash. Shots fired. Officer down. Officer down. Officer down . . .

Pop races to your side, kneels on the cold unfeeling street . . . 

The officer's motorcycle and the sheet-covered body of one of the robbers—who was shot dead by Wortham’s father moments after his son was slain by four men trying to steal the motorcycle—are seen at center. (Chicago Sun-Times photo)

Your name is Thomas Wortham.
Your Pop is Thomas Wortham.
His Pop is Thomas Wortham,
and so is Grandpa’s dad.

Four generations,
from a Chatham once so lovely,
they’re gathering ’round an angel now,
blood dripping from his hands.

They’re praying for a miracle
they know will never find you,
’cause you’re gone now, dead and gone now,
’cause four killers didn’t care.

You’ve been dumped into a gutter
cold and lonely, garbage mounting,
and only God can mourn you,
’cause four killers didn’t care. 

Because that’s how it happens,
when you’re a cop in Chicago.
When murder’s in four shriveled hearts,
your blood drips on your hands . . .

On May 19, 2010, a Chicago Police officer named Thomas Wortham IV—an Iraq veteran who came home to police one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago, the South Side’s Chatham, because he loved the good people still living in the ’hood—was gunned down in front of his parents because four young robbers wanted his motorcycle. It was an outrageous symbol of a deadly year for American law enforcement: line-of-duty deaths leaped 37 percent from the previous year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, to 160. Five of them were Chicago cops: Worthham, Thor Soderberg, Michael Flisk, Michael Bailey and Alan Haymaker.

I can’t keep them safe. I can’t keep anyone safe. I don’t have that power. Nobody does.

A police squad car sits in front of the home of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV's parent's home, as residents do their morning walk at Cole Park. (Chicago Tribune photo)

But what I can do is create an alternate world for my readers to slip into when the real one overwhelms. A world where good guys win and bad guys don’t, where decency is rewarded and jerkdom slapped. Where tension and trauma and crazy and outrage and love and caring and hope reign just like the real world, but at the end, justice triumps.

For everyone.

And that, ultimately, is why I write crime fiction.

So the Thomas Worthams can live. 

Thomas Wortham III (center) salutes as the casket of his son, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV, is brought out following funeral services at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Wortham was shot to death May 20, in a robbery attempt across from his parents' home in the Chatham neighborhood. (Chicago Tribune photo)

Monday, December 26, 2011

A New Year's Resolution

I stopped making New Year's resolutions a long, long time ago.

And then, just a couple days ago, I posted two resolutions here at Meanderings and Muses.  But they're fun things, so are they still resolutions?  They're not at all those evil hard resolutions that mean sacrificing something you love - like ice cream, milkshakes, potato chips, pizza or chocolate.  Heaven forbid!  I know better than to make that kind of empty promise to myself.

The resolutions I make these days are fun and fulfilling, but things that I seem to get busy and "lose."  Lose the time, I guess, to do them.  But this next year, I'm going to try to plan my time better to do these fun, creative, fulfilling things and spread my wings a bit.

Especially with my writing.

And I'm going to put this quote up on my laptop as my screensaver in hopes that it will help me remain fully focused and committed to the novel I've finally started working on -

"The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It's not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work."

- Augusten Burroughs, author best known for "Running With Scissors, a Memoir"

Wish me luck!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Boone 2011

It was a quiet Christmas in Boone.

It's just us, and we keep it simple.

Mother comes over on Christmas Eve and we have a nice dinner and visit,

Then we relax while we play a quiet, fairly sedate and somewhat serious game of Canasta.

And Christmas morning we all get up and are always excited to see what Santa has left under the tree.

And we're all happy for the blessings and joys of our life and look forward to another year of the same.

But Wait!

We get one more Christmas celebration with Donald's family! Yippee! Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Home of My Heart

This was one of the original versions of a piece I wrote a few years ago.  There were many.  A better version (edited by the incomparable Celia Miles and Nan Dillingham) was published in the regional anthology WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES.  It's a wonderful collection from a group of extraordinary women.  I'm proud to be included. 

(isn't the cover wonderful?!  It was done by Karen Hollingsworth.  You can see more of her work at her webpage)

This is dedicated to Celia.  She may not remember this, but I'll never forget.  When we were at the "Meet & Greet" for WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES, standing around chatting, having pictures taken, etc., she looked at me and said, "You were born to write.  I want you to stick with it."  Celia, every word I have written since you said those words - and every word I ever write until I am no longer able to find words, or to write them, will all - always - be dedicated to you.  With my heart.

I spent the first 16 Christmases of my life in the home of my heart.  The Arcade Apartments.  It wasn't fashionable, but oh my, it was special.   Made special by my parents, Hazel & Al Wilkinson, their families and friends and my friends who they always welcomed with open arms.
And as those of you who know me already know, it was in Cambridge, Maryland where I was born and raised and still hold dear.

Here's my Christmas gift to all of you.  I hope you enjoy it.


As much as I dearly love these mountains and our life here, my heart often gets a longing for my childhood home. 
I grew up in a small town on the water and it’s essential to my very soul to get back to it when I can.  Back to where I learned how to ride a bike.  Learned how to drive a car.  Kissed my first boyfriend.  And even learned what it meant to have my heart broken by a best girlfriend.  Back home to stand on a riverbank and stare out into the expanse of forever where the sky and sea become one, in a small town named Cambridge, on the eastern shore of Maryland.  A land of charming, gracious living.

I feel its pull, and know its tug at my roots; calling me home.  I feel that need to cross bridges over huge expanses of water.  To watch white sails skimming elegantly across sun speckled azure seas like ballerinas on-stage.  When I mention this urgent need for water to Donald he points out that we have a creek, and we have a pond - a pond chock full of rainbow trout, by golly.  True enough.  And quite lovely.  But.  Not big enough for need of a bridge, and certainly not big enough that I'll ever see a sailboat out there.   I need to smell marshy smells.  Need to eat crabs that have recently been blissfully swimming along minding their own business.   I need to spend a little time with friends who have known me since we were kids.  People I can just be myself with; letting down all walls and defenses. So off I scoot to where I’m safe in the knowledge that lifelong friends will open their arms and their hearts yet again and give me back my sense of home.  Where I can feel salty air cling to my skin.

I get to cross my bridges over huge sweeps of water, and, just as lovely – smaller ones.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge makes my heart swell.  The Choptank River Bridge into Cambridge makes me cry buckets. 

Once I’ve crossed that bridge, there’s an almost indefinable pervasive sense of wholeness that wraps me in a hug.  A sense of peace not easily explained, but effortlessly understood by anyone who has experienced the joy of returning “home.”

From the time I was 3 months old until I was 17 we lived in a grand, if somewhat bedraggled, old apartment in The Arcade. All the rooms were big and spacious and the living room and dining room had immense bay windows.  Those two rooms opened into one another through an archway. The kitchen was huge with a separate pantry and our stove was an old timey thing on high legs.
This kitchen was “the” place to be.  Many an hour was spent sitting at the kitchen table looking out the windows.  One window overlooked a big grassy lawn, which sadly, after a few years, became a parking lot.  Sad for me as a kid ‘cause there went my back yard.  Fun for me as I got older, however, and enjoyed observing some of the goings-on that took place when folks didn’t realize there were eyes above them.  Oh my – the tales this girl could have told! 
From the other kitchen window we would watch the rear door of Woolworth’s and see who was coming and going.  Thus began my love of people watching.
This was not Eloise at the Plaza. This was small town living. We were not wealthy people; not by any stretch of the imagination. There was no private entrance into our apartment. There was a downstairs lobby, and in the lobby was the entrance to the Arcade Movie Theater. If we had been out and arrived home before the movie started, it meant socializing, mixing and mingling with the folks buying tickets to see a movie. Since everyone knew everyone, it sometimes took awhile to get through all the "Hi, How are you’s?" to get up those stairs. 
None of us had a key to the apartment, which meant it was never locked.  Which also meant we never knew who might be there waiting for us.  Rest assured, there was always someone. It might be one of my aunts, uncles or cousins - there was a gracious plenty of them. Or it might be one of dad's cronies, or one of mother's girlfriends, or friends from school. Amazingly enough, as odd as it might now sound to some, it was never cause for concern back then. That apartment was, as my mom often said, "Grand Central Station."   And the kitchen was the hub where everyone gathered.  Even if we weren’t there.
That wonderful old kitchen was where we had most of our meals.  The dining room was for “special occasions.”   We had, of course, that ubiquitous chrome and leatherette table and chairs; a set I’d surely love to have today.
This was where we sat for conversation and gossip over a cup of coffee.  Hot chocolate for the kids.
And it’s where I sat and watched my mom and dad cut a rug.
There was a radio that sat right inside the kitchen door.  I have the most delightful memories of my dad scootin’ through that door, turning up the radio and leading my mom into a vigorous jitterbug all over that room.  Oh my.  Could they dance!
I remember a lot of laughter around that table, one day in particular . . .
(Laws, I hope my dad forgives me for telling this one!)
When I was growing up there were a couple of "stag" bars in Cambridge. No women. I don't know if they specifically ever said "No Women," or if women just wouldn't be caught dead in them. There was one not far from our apartment called the DD Bar. It was owned by a friend of Dad's, and it was a wonderful little place. I adored it.  The DD Bar was one of those grown-up "No Kids Allowed" places I would sneak into under the guise of “needing to see my dad.”  Then acting all stunned and bewildered about why I had to leave when my mom showed up at the door to retrieve me.  It was a long, narrow, and dark.  With a charm that only bars from that era can possess, without a smidgen of artifice. There were maybe 4 booths in the front, along with a long mahogany bar with a brass foot rail. There were also pinball tables, a shuffleboard table and a dart board.  Nary a fern to be seen; plastic or otherwise.
If Daddy needed to work for a couple hours on Saturday afternoons, he thought it was a great way to make some extra money.  Where else could he earn a few extra dollars while hanging out with his buddies laughing and watching a ball game on TV?
We had a local radio station and on Saturdays the DJ, Ed Brigham, would make a phone call to give away a free prize to someone if they could answer the question of the day. 
On this particular Saturday, Mother and I were home, in the kitchen, and the radio was on, of course. We heard Mr. Brigham announce that the question of the day phone call was about to be made.  We crossed our fingers hoping it would be our phone to ring. Well, it didn't, but we did hear a very familiar voice over the radio say "DD Bar, Al speaking." 
How fun!  My dad!!!! 
Mr. Brigham said "Hey Al, this is Ed Brigham, how ya' doin'?" After a few minutes of small talk exchanging some "how's the family" kinda stuff, Mr. Brigham told Dad he would win two free tickets to the Arcade Movie Theater if he could answer the question of the day. 
You could hear all the local Cambridge bar flies talking and hollering and laughing in the background, along with the TV blaring and pinball machines ping-pinging.  Dad told everyone to quiet down 'cause Ed had a question. 
The question was "How long is a decade?" 
Well, Mother and I laughed and she said she guessed she and Dad would be going downstairs to see a free movie soon. 
Then we heard dad over the radio yelling to the guys in the bar "Ed wants to know how long is a duck egg?" 
Mother and I just about fell in the floor screaming we were laughing so hard.
You could hear all these men saying stuff like, "a Duck Egg? Hell, I don't know, Jim Bob - what do you think?" Answers like "2 inches, 3 inches - oh hell no, an inch and a half," and things like "Who even cares??"  “Is that a real question??” were all loud and clear over the radio. This went on for awhile and finally dad stopped laughing long enough to say "Well, Ed, we think maybe an inch and a half." 
Ed Brigham was hysterical and said "Al. Hazel is going to kill you. NOT a Duck Egg! A DECADE!!!!!!!!" 
Dead silence on Dad's end. Then he started laughing really hard and had to tell the guys he'd made a mistake.  When he told them what the question really was we could hear them hootin’, hollerin’, shoutin’ and a brayin’ – mass hysteria.
For years, when we went out to eat or went shopping downtown, someone would holler "Hey Al! How long's a Duck Egg?!" 
We all share a common bond of memories of “home.”  Those special moments which make our homes unique and special. 
I have a beezillion of them. 
There was a little mini-community besides the movie theater in the Arcade lobby.  There was a jewelry store, a beauty shop, an insurance company, and the gas company. I was in and out of those places like I owned them. I don't know why those people put up with me. If some poor woman was having her hair washed, I'd just march right over while she had her head in the sink and strike up a conversation. 
The three of us were also piling into the car for a weekend away every so often; usually to the beach and boardwalk in Ocean City.  One particular weekend while we were off doing who knows what, one of my uncles was going to paint our dining room.  Mom & Dad bought the paint and said it should be enough to cover the walls well enough if he was careful. 
Our dining room was a big room with a big bay window.  The sun would shine through that window seems like all the time.  Well, that ol’ sun told some tales on those painters. 
When we got home on Sunday evening, everyone was really pleased about how terrific the room looked with its new paint.  Mother was pleased as punch. 
The next day was a whole different story, let me tell you.  Wheweee. 
Seems my uncle, who was quite the artist, invited a friend to help him.  Adult beverages were involved.  Artistic tendencies arose.  From the muses came pictures of Mickey Mouse and all his pals on our dining room walls.  The painters, at some point, realized this was not what my folks had in mind when they asked to have the walls painted, so they painted over the Disney guys.  But, not well enough.  With the sun streaming into the windows, those images showed right through the paint. 
Its made for hilarious stories since, but things were a little tense around the apartment for awhile.  They did put up another coat of paint and it did help, but even years later, if you knew where to look, you could find a shadow of Mickey's face.  Or Goofy's.  And, honestly?  It was a fun and lovely thing.  What is lovelier, after all, than a home that possesses a bit of whimsy and can make you smile?  That is, after all, what makes it "home."

Note:  If you're interested in purchasing a copy of WOMEN'S SPACES WOMEN'S PLACES, I think there are still some copies available through Celia's webpage.  Along with another regional anthology I'm quite proud of, CLOTHES LINES.    AND some of Celia's books may still be available there also.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Things I'm Promising Myself I'll Do in 2012

Read Julia Cameron's THE ARTIST WAY and do the exercises.

And read David Busch's book so I can actually learn how to use my camera  the way it's meant to be used, and not just point and shoot it.

Did I just make two New Year's Resolutions?

Well, yes.

I guess I did.

I'll be darned.

And there's still one to come . . . .

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I'm the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle by Lou Allin

Born in Toronto, Lou Allin grew up in Cleveland. She received a PhD in English Renaissance Literature and spent three decades in Northern Ontario as a professor of English.
With a cottage on a frozen lake as her inspiration, she started her Belle Palmer series, featuring a realtor and her German shepherd, beginning with Northern Winters Are Murder.
Lou has moved to Canada’s Caribbean, Vancouver Island, with Friday the mini-poodle and Zodie and Zia the border collies, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her island series stars RCMP corporal Holly Martin: And on the Surface Die, She Felt No Pain and the upcoming Twilight is Not Good for Maidens.
Lou’s standalones are A Little Learning is a Murderous Thing (set in Michigan) and Man Corn Murders (Utah). That Dog Won’t Hunt is designed to appeal to reluctant adult readers. Watch for Contingency Plan in the same series.

I’m the Bush Poodle, not the Blind Poodle
by Lou Allin
          "The hunchback of Notre Dame with a Rastafarian haircut. Cute," Belle Palmer observed as a six-pound bundle of coppery fur with a woolly chest squirrelled past, leaped to pose standing on thin, shaved legs on a rocky outcrop, and then sprang off to clamp onto Freya's nodding German shepherd tail until long hairs dangled from its tiny jaws. An insult to the dog kingdom, she thought, a $700 rodent.
          "Strudel's her name. She's good enough to eat," Miriam MacDonald said.
          How many dogs have their own mystery novel? I’m a writer and a dog lover, so all of my dogs get that privilege. This excerpt comes from Bush Poodles are Murder, written in 2001. Friday (her real name) is now ten and blind. It’s both a special responsibility and a great honour to have her as my friend and companion.
          I first saw Chile Pepper (as she was called by her breeder) when she was eight weeks old. We had gone down to southern Ontario to buy a mini-poodle to fit well with our German shepherd when traveling in our truck’s extended cab. At that time we thought that poodles were low maintenance since they didn’t shed. Big mistake, that.
          The GMC’s rear seats had been replaced with a padded platform. That’s where Friday’s crate went. Her 120 pound  “brother” Nikon was instructed firmly not to approach the baby. He became her guardian for the five years he had left, a gentle giant.
          On our honeymoon night we camped in a crowded provincial park near a shale beach. It was humid and hotter than hell, even for Ontario. As we took her leashless around the large campground, she stayed by our feet like a furry magnet. But just in case, we put a collar and rope on her and tied her to a picnic table while we made dinner. Like a wild colt, she thrashed and screamed like she was being tortured. What she was telling us was that she was bonded. Friday was smart enough to know that she was home wherever we were.
          As we sweltered in the small tent, flaps open, with our two dogs and bulky air mattresses, Nikon stepped out for a breath of air. Fumbling in the dark, I went after him. When he got back in the tent, he stepped on the keys and hit the remote horn. The truck started blasting all over the campground, waking two hundred people before we found the control tangled in the sleeping bags. It was an auspicious start.
          How could I resist putting her in my next series book? To hype the necessary conflict, I made her a spoiled little girl, but a gutsy heroine in the final scenes where she and the main character find themselves without shelter during a Northern Ontario blizzard. There’s a reason that in the picture she has blood on her mouth and a look of satisfaction. She’s also wearing her Anna Karenina cape. A picture of her jumping with snow in the background put her on the cover of Dogs in Canada. Not bad for a six-month pup.       
          Since we lived in the woods, aka the bush, she was out every day, winter and summer, hiking or snowshoeing. A mighty mouse, she was fearless but prudent. Speed was her salvation. Once an agile young Doberman met us around a corner and started chasing her. Off they went down the woodsy paths and out of sight. “My money’s on the poodle,” my partner said. I envisioned the worst, but in a few minutes, back she came, having led the hapless Dobe on a wild chase and looping back through the woods. Agile lightning.
          Even at -25C, she never missed a trek, wearing her monogrammed purple fleece and nylon parka with slots for handwarmers. The corkscrew nature of poodle hair meant that her paws would become duck feet and have to be “deballed” every fifteen minutes. Once we tried a pair of Mutlucks, but they flew off as she sped along. I tied them in a fir tree on our favourite path.
          As five years passed and we moved to Vancouver Island, Friday’s night vision was worsening. An exam showed the beginning stages of retinal atrophy, a  common genetic weakness. Since the onset occurs after the age of five, her parents wouldn’t have shown the disposition.
          She carried on normally for a few more years as we moved into border collies and started agility training. Friday would chase hell for leather after the bouncing tennis balls from the Chuck-it. Woe to the border collie who got in her way. She was Alpha Bitch at fifteen pounds. She soon adapted to the winter rains and traded her parka for a yellow rain slicker.
          Two years ago, cataracts put her lights out. There was no use operating on them with the underlying retinal problem. But the blindness had come so slowly that she adapted perfectly. Now she uses her sense of smell and hearing to follow our feet into the rainforest and up and down clear-cut roads. Only near a precipice do I use a leash just for precaution.

          When we reach a lake or creek, she remembers that she used to dive for stones, pull them onto shore, and then paw at them in an homage to her terrier roots. She still does this at shore’s edge, but we spit on the stone so that she can better locate it and drop it only inches from her powerful nose. She’s still in on the game! Next treat for her will be a salmonberry or blackberry as they ripen on our magical island. As for mud, she slogs with us through the worst bogs in spring, navigating roots and rocks and up to her knees in muck. At home it’s into the bathtub with me for a good soaping.
          Does she bump into things? Of course. She gives an “oof,” has a restorative shake, and marches on. We never leave her behind, even when we’re backpacking into the wilderness where she might (and we might) might be cougar bait. Life is no fun behind the door. Inclusion is a debt we will happily pay for the years of happiness she’s given us.
          In the tri-level house, she goes up and down the stairs like a pro, then jumps onto the ottoman where she holds court in safety while the border collie chases a toy. The ritual is familiar. “Ready, steady,” then “break!” On the last word, she jumps to a pouncing position. “Ruff, ruff!” she calls down in that commanding poodle way. She’s still participating.
           While she used to jump on the bed with aplomb, that was one trick she had to abandon, or so I thought. Having been in a kennel for a few days while we flew to Arizona, she was very excited on my return. She leaped up on pure faith when I patted the bed. The other day she did the same thing in the rear of our Ford Focus wagon where she rides in a crate. So eager was she to leave for the walk that she leaped up into the back by herself. Our border collie Zia, already crated, might have been telling her that the way was clear.
          Friday depends on us to watch out for her without setting too many limits.  She is as much a lover of life and challenges as she ever was, teaching us lessons about bravery and adaptation AND the sheer joy of action. I’m not her owner. I’m the partner of one very intelligent and truly amazing little dog.