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Fall Class!

Probably my favorite title, for a blog, an email, a spot on my calendar.

In October I’ll be giving a 3-Saturday Creative Writing Workshop.

The timetable:

3 Sessions, each 11 am to 2 pm:
Saturday, October 8
Saturday, October 15
Saturday, October 29

Ready to write and need some help? Register here!


image by Steve Johnson from pixabay

If you’re writing, or always wanted to — a novel? A short story? Your memoirs? This class emphasizes the craft of writing: plotting, developing characters, point of view, dialogue, and setting. You’ll learn techniques for submitting a proposal to an agent or publisher. Each class includes lecture, discussion, critique, and writing exercises.

Looking for Mishka

— a short story by Jim Guigli, appearing in Rock and a Hard Place Magazine Issue 7

This week my guest is Jim Guigli. I’ll let him explain!

Looking for Mishka — Why?

by Jim Guigli

My short story, Looking for Mishka, is now available in Issue 7 of Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.

This story, like most of my fiction, is about private Detective Bart Lasiter.  After he had enough time serving the Berkeley, California PD, Bart moved north to open a tiny office in Old Town Sacramento.

While plotting a Bart Lasiter novel, I faced a research problem.  In my respectful parody of the Marlowe/Lew Archer genre, Under the Black Flag, an important question about the laws and legal codes directing California private investigators stumped me and my inexperienced private detective.

In helping a wealthy Lake Tahoe woman deliver ransom to the kidnappers of her husband, what were Bart’s legal obligations?  His client didn’t want police involvement.  Was Bart required to notify law enforcement?

I couldn’t find a straightforward answer, even after a lot of online research and consulting both a working private investigator and a San Jose PD detective.  My solution was to have Bart remain as unsure as his author:

Did he have to report it?  He wasn’t sure.  He’d never had a kidnapping case before, except for Mrs. Tereshkova’s cat.

I continued with the novel, but Mrs. Tereshkova’s cat needed a life.  In time I invented the back story that became Looking for Mishka.

Another cat, Aggie/Agamemnon, appears in this story.  This guy was real, our pet, until he died last year at 18.  The Bart Lasiter stories featuring Aggie describe him as he was in life — except for drinking whiskey.

I hope you enjoy Looking for Mishka and Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.

Kill Your Darlings

by Anastasia Pollack and Lois Winston, her author, my guest blogger today.

As anyone who has read about my life knows, I have many bones to pick with my author Lois Winston. Not only is she constantly placing me in the path of dead bodies, but she also saddled me with the communist mother-in-law from Hades. You may remember that Lucille Pollack is based on Lois’s own communist mother-in-law. I suppose it’s one of those “write what you know” things I’ve heard authors talk about when they don’t know we characters are eavesdropping on them.

When I reminded Lois of William Faulkner’s writing advice to “kill your darlings,” she told me the saying actually comes from a Cambridge University lecture given by English writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch about a century ago when he advised, “Murder your darlings.”

However, Lois explained that neither Faulkner nor Quiller-Couch was talking about the characters that populate a novel. They were referring to the need to be ruthless when it comes to eliminating anything that an author may personally love about her writing but has no reason for being in the story.

Quiller-Couch’s full quote is, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Lois will tell you that one of the best pieces of writing advice she’s ever received is that everything in a book, whether narrative action, internalization, or dialog, must do one of two things—either advance the plot or tell the reader something she needs to know about the point of view character at that moment. In other words, ditch the filler.

However, unfortunately for me, the same is not necessarily true of the characters who populate stories. And yes, I get it. Mystery authors need dead bodies. Otherwise, there would be little need for me or any amateur sleuth to figure out whodunit—unless the mystery centers around who stole the cookies from the cookie jar. And we all know the answer to that—Cookie Monster!

Lois has a friend who adores both me and the novels Lois writes about me—with one major exception. With a passion bordering on obsession, this woman absolutely hates Lucille. She has begged Lois on numerous occasions to kill Lucille off or barring that, ship her to Siberia. However, Lois insists that Lucille is the character many of her readers love to hate. Yes, she’s irritating, but she provides both conflict and comic relief.

Unfortunately for this friend, as well as yours truly, Lois plans to keep Lucille around. She justifies this by citing the reader backlash when Elizabeth George killed off a beloved character years ago. Although, I doubt any of Lois’s readers would classify Lucille as a beloved character. Even Lucille’s son, AKA my deceased husband, liked his mother best when an hour’s drive and a river separated the two of them.

Thanks to Lois, Lucille is back again, causing more trouble for me and my family in Guilty as Framed, the newest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery

Are there characters you’ve come across that you wish the author would kill off? What about characters you wish an author hadn’t killed off? Let’s hear from you. And feel free to tell me what you really think of Lucille. Misery loves company!

Guilty as Framed


An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.

Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.

A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.

But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?

Buy Links

Paperback (available 9/6/22)

Kindle: https://amzn.to/3tLnT3d

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/guilty-as-framed

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/guilty-as-framed/id6442846272

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guilty-as-framed-lois-winston/1141500980?ean=2940185728703

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Mini Burgers

I’m counting on a poor memory on your part as I fall back on last year’s holiday weekend blog! Would it excuse me if I whined about having to submit grades for 30+ students a week ago, and how fall classes start this Sunday (yes, Labor Day Sunday) with 50+ students this term. (Never mind that I love teaching these classes!)

NO BAKE MINI HAMBURGER DESSERT OR SNACK

TIME TO PREPARE: about 15 minutes

YIELD: 12 mini hamburgers

INGREDIENTS:

I box vanilla wafers

1 box soft chocolate cookies (SnackWells or the equivalent)

1 tube green frosting

1 tube red frosting

1 tube yellow frosting

1/8 cup sesame seeds (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Arrange 12 vanilla wafers, flat side up, on a tray or platter. These are the bottoms of the “hamburger buns.”

2. Using the green frosting tube, squirt a ring around the edge of each wafer. Using your finger or a toothpick, rough up the frosting so it resembles ragged lettuce.

3. Place 1 chocolate cookie (the meat!) on top of each green-ringed wafer.

4. Using the red frosting tube (ketchup!), squirt a ring around the flat edges of a dozen additional wafers (the tops of the “hamburger buns).

5. Using the yellow frosting tube (mustard!), squirt a yellow ring over the red ring of Step 4, allowing the two colors to mix in places.

6. Place each newly ringed wafer, flat side down (top of the bun!), on top of a chocolate cookie/wafer.

DONE!  You now have 12 hamburgers, with lettuce, ketchup, and mustard.

7. (optional) Dot the top of each “burger” with egg white, and use as adhesive for a few sesame seeds.

Be creative: add a smooth ring of white frosting for an onion, a square of orange frosting for cheese, or smooth the red ring so it looks more like tomato.  

Happy Labor Day Weekend — let me know if this recipe *works* for you!

Manual Manual

No, not a typo.

I need a manual to help me understand my manuals.

It seems everything I buy lately comes with a manual. And it takes a manual to decipher the manual.

Some examples:

A car. This is a big one, of course, and takes 3 manuals. Our car is a year old and I still can’t figure out how to adjust the side mirrors. I think they have their own manual.

An old bed. Maybe some duct tape will do?

A bed. Our 20+ year-old bed needs replacing. All I wanted was the same brand, same size, just new. Yeah, right. The manual for this is actually a folder of materials, starting with instructions for the day before the bed arrives (in 6 weeks!), the day of the bed’s arrival, and, of course, the care, feeding, and controls for the bed. (I did order a bed and not a baby, right?)

• Zoom. Here’s a sentence from the Zoom manual:

You manage what you’re sharing in its own window or portion of a window, while Zoom uses the floating window as with Speaker view’s full-screen mode, as shown in Figure 31 in Speaker View and Figure 57, below.          (from p. 146 of 280)

• A Turntable. A friend told me she just bought a turntable so she could play old records. You guessed it. It came with a manual. No longer just “lift needle and place at edge of record.”

• A phone. Never mind. Not enough space.

Anything you’d like to add?

Suffrage in History

Upon Tennessee’s approval on August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. After 41 years of debate, the Senate finally approved a constitutional amendment to provide for woman suffrage, 56-25.

This day in history. All you need to know from the National Women’s History Museum.

Still Kicking, But Not High

Not only a great title, but a great first novel by BILLIE HANSON DUPREE. I’m pleased to share the first chapter here.

For more about Billie, visit her website.

Still Kicking but Not High

Chapter 1

“He didn’t do nothin’ to me! Why did I have to kill him?” Bill slid out of his nightmare, the same every night. He awoke covered in a light coat of sticky sweat, his body shaking and his mouth open, gasping for breath. 

He looked around the closet. Since he came home from the hospital in Italy, he had been sleeping in this closet, alone. The first time he ever had a ‘private room,’ if you could call this a room. With nine sisters and brothers, privacy was unheard of in his family. His nightmares changed that. Mama fixed him a pallet in the living room closet so that he would not break his brothers’ sleep in the boys’ room.

The door squeaked open, and his sister Jo entered. She tightened her chenille housecoat around her body, then knelt on the pallet and embraced him.

“Billy, you were screaming again.” 

 Bill stared at Jo’s thin face, his eyes wide. 

“It’s ok, Billy. It was just a dream. You’re home now brother.”

Bill felt his quivering dissipate. He continued to hold on to Jo. “Yeah, I know Sis, but why do the dreams have to come every night?”

Jo shrugged her shoulders.

As his breathing returned to normal, he stopped shaking, and let go of her. His eyes fixed on the wall in front of him. Blue wallpaper with tiny yellow daffodils. Bill continued staring, still as stone. 

“You ok now, Brother?” Jo’s gaze seeking reassurance. “Mama’s in the kitchen so you need to wash up. Breakfast be ready shortly.”

Jo stood up and backed out of the closet. Bill continued to sit, staring at the wall. Tears rolled down his face, his shoulders trembled as he tried to stifle his sobs. When will I get back to being Bill? 

He stood and began to gather his clothes. His faded denim trousers, leather belt and blue work shirt hung from nails on the wall. He dressed himself, cinching his belt tightly to hold up his jeans, which had fit before the war, but now hung from his scrawny body.

Bill opened the closet door and walked out into the living room. The air felt cooler here. There had not been time for the cool of the night to evaporate into the heat of the San Joaquin Valley day. 

“Morning Son.” Papa moved toward a window.

Bill glanced at Papa, ashamed that he had slept so late. 

“Morning, Papa.”

Pulling down the window shades and closing the windows on the side of the house where the sun would soon be heating the walls and warming the house even more, that should have been him, not Papa. As the eldest, he was supposed to be an example for the younger kids. Not anymore. 

Slipping down the dim hall to the bathroom he knocked and not hearing an answering yell, entered. He turned on the water faucet and splashed his face with the cool water. He soaped his hands with the strong, homemade soap and washed his armpits vigorously. Bill dried himself on the damp communal towel that hung limp from the wooden peg on the wall. He had stopped looking in the mirror to see if he had washed his face well, unwilling to look into his eyes.

Bill was the last to enter the warm, noisy kitchen, but no one had begun to eat yet. Mama put the bowl of eggs on the table and walked over to the sink. She never sat down to eat with them. 

Papa spoke. “Heads bowed, eyes closed. God is great, God is good and we thank Him for this food. Amen.” Papa did not put much store in the God Mama worshipped, and his blessing was always short, just enough to placate her. 

Times had changed. Before Papa and Mama bought the farm, they would only get corn meal mush and a biscuit with Mama’s homemade jam for breakfast. The farm had been a blessing, purchased from the money he and Samuel sent home during the war. The only blessing from the war. Samuel had been killed, and he had come back a different man.

“I’m leaving after breakfast to pick up the workers for the fields. Bill, you wanna come with me today?” The room became quiet, movements stilled. Bill felt the eyes of his brothers and sisters on him. Ruthie, the youngest, the only one who continued eating.

“No Papa, I’ll just stay here and help Mama today.” He stared at the scrambled eggs and thick slices of bacon on his plate and waited for Papa’s response in the heavy silence. 

“Boy, the doctor says your shoulder and leg are healed. You been helping Mama for the last three months, and she don’t need no more help. Right Ella?”

Mama turned from the sink, wiped her hands on her thin blue apron, folded her arms across her flattening chest, and stared at Bill. 

“Papa’s right, Son. It’s time you got out of the house. We’ve all been praying for you, but now it’s time foryou to do something.”

Bill looked at Mama, and she returned his gaze without a smile. So, Mama has finally sided with Papa on this, he thought. He knew it would come, but not this soon. The quiet days on the farm were like balm to his unreliable mind which skittered like a calf from images of bloody deaths to the crashing sounds of battle.

“Alright, Papa,” Bill replied, his voice low. He looked at his plate and continued to eat although the eggs and bacon now tasted like sawdust in his mouth. Conversation resumed at the table. 

Talk about understatement.

That’s how King began his testimony in the case of the government vs the merger of Penguin-Random House and Simon & Schuster.

In case you missed it — here are a few links that summarize King’s 30-minute testimony.

https://www.npr.org/2022/08/02/1115110927/stephen-king-is-set-to-testify-for-the-government-in-books-merger-trial

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/stephen-king-testifies-against-publishers-merger-consolidation-is-bad-for-competition-01659487197?cx_testId=3&cx_testVariant=cx_2&cx_artPos=6&mod=WTRN#cxrecs_s

I think many of us would agree that mergers between 2 giants seldom help any but the mergees (new word; has the sinister tone I was going for). So this is King, who doesn’t need the help, standing up for those who do.

Thanks Mr. King!

Sand Sculpture

Revere Beach Boulevard, Revere, Massachusets

Granted, it doesn’t take much for me to wish I could make a trip to Revere Beach, preferably the way it was when I was 12 and worked the concessions, from cotton candy to pepper steaks to pizza.

To my dismay, the 2+-mile boardwalk of amusements has been razed. But a positive addition has been the annual Sand Sculpting Festival with an international competition, earlier this month.

Here’s one of many videos you can capture on line.