Category : Writing

Cheaper Than a Therapist

I’m happy to welcome my friend, best-selling author LOIS WINSTON as my guest blogger today, and here’s why!

USA Today 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.

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I’m not one of those authors who always knew they wanted to grow up to write novels. The urge to write came upon me much later in life during a time of great personal stress and upheaval. We all deal with stress in different ways. Some people run marathons, others run to therapy, and still others run to the mall for retail therapy. None of these were viable options at the time.

After years of a mandatory daily mile run around the high school track for gym class—which had to be accomplished in under ten minutes—I’ll only run to escape a killer hot on my heels. Otherwise, forget it!

As for therapy, retail or otherwise, one of the factors causing me stress at the time was financial. We were eating macaroni and cheese casseroles most nights to stretch the food budget. No way could I afford a new pair of socks, let alone a shrink.

So I began to write. It all started with a dream. I normally don’t remember my dreams, but I remembered this one in vivid detail. Each night the dream returned, unfolding like the chapters of a book. Eventually, I decided to write the dream down, and before I knew it, I’d written 50,000 words. That dream, after ten years, many rewrites, and an additional 50,000 words, became the romantic suspense, Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, the second book I sold to a publisher.

I not only discovered that I enjoyed writing fiction, I realized that writing relieved my stress. Losing myself in my characters enabled me to escape my own problems, if only for a little while. I probably could have accomplished this by journaling, but many years ago I discovered my mother was reading my diary, and I hadn’t written anything truly personal since.

Writing fiction became very cathartic. I could instill various characters with bits and pieces of myself. Every book I’ve written has a little of me in at least one of the characters. But which characters and what traits remain my secret—with one exception. In my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law Lucille is patterned after my own communist mother-in-law. Anastasia’s reactions to her often mirror my own thoughts and actions from back when my mother-in-law was alive. Although I have to admit, Anastasia often handles these situations better than I did at the time. In my defense, though, I’m only human. She’s my better angel, personifying the woman I strive to be. That’s the beauty of fiction. We can recreate ourselves through our characters.

New Release!

Drop Dead Ornaments

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 7

Anastasia Pollack’s son Alex is dating Sophie Lambert, the new kid in town. For their community service project, the high school seniors have chosen to raise money for the county food bank. Anastasia taps her craft industry contacts to donate materials for the students to make Christmas ornaments they’ll sell at the town’s annual Holiday Crafts Fair.

At the fair Anastasia meets Sophie’s father, Shane Lambert, who strikes her as a man with secrets. She also notices a woman eavesdropping on their conversation. Later that evening when the woman turns up dead, Sophie’s father is arrested for her murder.

Alex and Sophie beg Anastasia to find the real killer, but Anastasia has had her fill of dead bodies. She’s also not convinced of Shane’s innocence. Besides, she’s promised younger son Nick she’ll stop risking her life. But how can she say no to Alex?

Buy Links

Amazon https://amzn.to/2MBo1xS

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/drop-dead-ornaments

iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/drop-dead-ornaments/id1431548050?mt=11

Nook https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/drop-dead-ornaments-lois-winston/1129345148?ean=2940161937181

Website: www.loiswinston.com

Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/722763.Lois_Winston

Newsletter sign-up: https://app.mailerlite.com/webforms/landing/z1z1u5

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lois-winston

A Triple Halloween

Full disclosure: I’ve preyed upon author JO MELE before to visit The Real Me. This one is a repeat from a couple of years ago, but is my favorite Halloween story. Thanks, Jo!

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My little brother Joey is the most determined; some call it stubborn, person I know. He loved Halloween and couldn’t wait to get home and sort his candy into piles eating all his favorites first.

When he was eight he missed trick or treating because he had a high fever. My mother’s decision to keep him in nearly drove Joey and her crazy. The pleading went on for hours until he gave my mother a headache and was sent to his room in tears.

I went around the neighborhood with two bags asking for a treat for my brother who was home sick. The neighbors were sorry to hear he was missing his favorite Holiday. They were very generous to his sack. He didn’t even feel well enough to do his sorting and eating routine until the following weekend.

The next year Joey had two costumes ready, the pirate from the previous year and the new cowboy costume, (complete with boots and pearl handled Lone Ranger six-shooters) he got for his birthday. He was counting the days to trick or treating.

Unfortunately, he came down with the flu that day and couldn’t even stand.  My mother wouldn’t allow him to go out into the frigid New York afternoon.

I went around the neighborhood with his sack and mine and everyone said, “Oh no, poor guy, not again!” They poured goodies and change into his bag saying he could buy what he liked when he felt better. He made two dollars but wasn’t happy.

When October came around again Joey was ready. He was ten years old, full of energy, had three costumes waiting to be worn. He was determined, and on a mission. My parents had already decided they’d let him go trick or treating – no matter what.

Halloween fell on a Saturday that year, so Joey could rest before his long-awaited adventure and stay out late since it wasn’t a school night. It was a beautiful warm fall day and after whining “Can’t I start yet,” for the hundredth time, my mother gave in and let him start.

He was the first kid out and the last one home. When his bag got heavy he came home, changed his costume and got another one. He started over again, and again, determined to make up for lost time. He had the Halloween of his life.

When Joey finally dragged in and saw his three bags full of goodies waiting for the sorting, he hugged them and burst into tears of joy. He’d won his battle with Halloween. I admired his determination. He never gave up and wouldn’t settle for one round of trick-or-treating when he deserved three. I’m sure I would’ve quit after the first trip out into the cold.

Joey was no quitter, he needed to even the score, two traits he would carry with him for the rest of his life.

Jo and Patience at the NYPL

JOSEPHINE E. MELE is a tour director who lives in California and loves to travel.

Her former job as Director of the Emeritus College, a Life-long learning program at the local community college, enabled Jo to lead groups of travelers interested in education and history to: Cuba, Italy, China, Amsterdam and Egypt.

On her return she schedules a travelogue for those who couldn’t make the trip. Groups of one hundred or more people turn out for these lectures.

An art background enables Jo to draw people into cartoon strips to help remember their names and idiosyncrasies; and provides comic relief.

Several of her travel and non-fiction articles have been published in Parent’s Magazine, Reminisce, The Contra Costa Times Newspaper and the Lamorinda Press.

Jo is an adventurous traveler and opts for the less traveled itineraries. A recent trip to Monaco led her to write Mystery in Monte Carlo. Last year she traveled by herself to Bulgaria and Eastern Europe where she found a few good locations to drop a body or two.

It Takes a Village

It’s only May, and I’ve already been to 3 significant writers’ events this year: Left Coast Crime annual conference in Reno, Nevada; the Edgar™ Banquet; and Malice Domestic, a conference in Bethesda, Maryland. In a couple of months, I’ll be attending a 4th, ThrillerFest, in New York City.

Jeffrey Deaver (the tall one) and me at the podium for the Edgar™Awards

In between there have been writers meetings, bookstore events, and book clubs.

One of the things that worried me when I thought of writing as a career was that it would be a solitary occupation. So much for that.

I’d been a physicist for a long time. No one does physics alone, not since Newton, anyway. Who can accommodate something like a 17-mile-long tunnel to house a collider, or a 192-beam laser, in her garage?

Physicists gather around huge equipment in giant laboratories these days, working as a team. My graduate school mates and I spent long hours together in the same laboratory every day, sharing power supplies, monster-mentor stories, and data. We became close friends and knew each others’ families as well as our own for a few years.

All the while, I’d wanted to be a published writer—something with more popular potential than my technical papers on the scattering properties of a titanium dioxide crystal. But I couldn’t imagine sitting alone in a room with pen and paper, or keyboard and monitor, pouring out my thoughts and plots, in solitary confinement.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that writing—mystery writing especially—was a community endeavor. I discovered not only professional organizations and critique groups, but book clubs, conferences, Internet lists and groups, and blogging colleagues. Who knew?

Sure, there’s a lot of me-and-my-chair for hours at a time, but I always know I can call or email any number of colleagues if I want to brainstorm a plot point, or discuss a new character I’m developing. With each book, my acknowledgments list gets longer.

Also, like physics, writing requires research. Most of it is people-oriented, which has turned out to be quite a bonus. In the course of writing themes and subplots for 25 books, I’ve interviewed an embalmer, a veterinarian, a medevac helicopter pilot, an ice climber, a telephone lineman, a hotel administrator, an elevator maintenance man, a postmistress, a musician, and countless experts in forensics, and—uh—ways to kill people. I even have a special cop who never minds answering procedural questions.

I’ve gone to conferences in cities I’d never have visited otherwise, like Omaha and Boise and Milwaukee (I usually fly over these states on my way to and from San Francisco and Boston or New York.)

And the readers! In each series I’ve tried to make the protagonist sleuth someone readers would like to have lunch with. I’m still amazed and pleased when readers approach me, through email or at a signing, with a kind word about my books, and I remember whom I’m writing for.

Research at the Morgan Library

I’m sure some writers prefer go it alone, but I never would have made it.

The writing and reading community are smart, fun, and generous.

I’m glad I found them.

Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m pleased to host MAGGIE KING today. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, you’ll enjoy this post . . .  and maybe never read the news the same way again!

Maggie is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m often asked where I get my ideas. They come from everywhere, especially the headlines. I don’t even need to know the whole story—headlines by themselves are great writing prompts.

My “idea file” is stuffed with newspaper clippings with intriguing headlines. Here’s a peek at a few of my favorites:

FBI: Cruise Ship Passenger Killed Wife Because “She Would Not Stop Laughing at Me”

In July, a Utah man was charged with killing his 39-year old wife aboard an Alaskan cruise ship. When asked by a witness why he had attacked his wife, he responded: “She wouldn’t stop laughing at me.”

I’m bursting with questions after reading this article. What kind of life did this couple lead at home in Utah? Did the wife often laugh at her husband?

Their stunned neighbors described them as the “perfect” couple, celebrating an anniversary at sea. They gave no hints of the horror to come. Really?

The answers to my questions don’t really matter, because I can spin my own story around this tragedy.

People don’t like to be ridiculed and traveling can be fraught with tension. Laughter has been the motive for many a murder. In the story I’m currently writing, the victim was given to freely laughing and may, just may, have laughed at the wrong person.

Consider this headline from the Ask Amy advice column (advice columns are a goldmine of ideas):

Neighbors’ Partying Creates a Disturbance

A couple moves to a beautiful new house in the winter months. Come summer, the neighbors are having raucous parties until the wee hours. What should the couple do? They don’t want to alienate their new neighbors.

In real life, this couple probably would balk at actual murdering the offending neighbors. But in murder mystery land it’s as good a motive as any. Enough sleepless nights will put anyone in a murdering mood.

Also from Ask Amy:

Boyfriend’s Social Scrutiny is Troubling

A woman’s insecure boyfriend was sure she was having an “emotional” affair with a male friend, who happened to be gay. The boyfriend created secret social-media accounts to monitor the woman’s daily activity. He also monitored the friend’s activity. In addition, he even felt threatened by his girlfriend’s female friends.

The woman concludes with “He’s wonderful in so many ways.” Hmm.

Oh my, does this give me ideas. Who will be the victim(s) here?

Clancy Sigal, Novelist Whose Life Was a Tale in Itself, Dies at 90

Novelist Clancy Sigal died last month. He went to jail at age 5. His mother, a Socialist union organizer, had been arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee for violating social and legal norms when she met with black and white female textile workers. Hauled away to the jailhouse, she took Clancy with her.

As an American Army sergeant in Germany, Clancy plotted to assassinate Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Later, he landed on Hollywood’s blacklist. During a 30-year self-imposed exile in Britain as an antiwar radical, Mr. Sigal was the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s lover and often flirted with suicide.

This man’s life could fill several books.

A few more headlines:

Illinois Man Killed by Cyanide Poisoning after Striking It Rich in Lottery

A Woman Ponders Grounds for Divorce

Using Work to Avoid Life after an Act of Infidelity

Virginia Man Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy Case

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As writers, we can come up with our own headlines, creating a stockpile of ideas. Writing coach Ann Kroeker challenges writers to compose 50 headlines in one week. For more information, see her post at http://annkroeker.com/2016/05/15/50-stop-waiting-last-minute-writing-inspiration.

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Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaggieKingAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaggieKingAuthr

Instagram: maggie8208

Buy link for Murder at the Moonshine Inn: http://amzn.to/2dtozWa

Q/A Week

Now and then, I allow some time to de-clutter my files. I found this interview, the questions from a high school boy doing an assignment. I thought I’d share today

• What is the first book you remember reading?

There were no readers in my family, and no “children’s sections” in bookstores (actually, no bookstores in my hometown!). So the first book I read that wasn’t for homework was when I was in college. I wandered into the science library and found a biography of Marie Curie – the scientist who won 2 Nobel prizes for her work with radioactivity. I remember thinking, maybe all these other books are just as fascinating. And I began my reading life.

• What or who inspired you to begin writing?

My high school teachers inspired me to keep learning. My Italian teacher told us that she took classes every summer in something she knew nothing about, so she’d understand what her freshmen were going through. So, once I learned all the math and science I could, I took writing classes, and when I was 60, I thought it was time to start a new career.

• If you could have lunch with 3 authors (past and present) who would they be and what do you think you would all talk about during lunch?

First, Dante Alighieri, who wrote La Commedia, later called The Divine Comedy, which I read in Italian in high school and in English later; Second, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; Third, Stephen King, contemporary author of many stories. They all write about themes that I love: good and evil; mathematics and logic; and the mysterious ways that people behave. We’d have a great lunch!

• How do you avoid or defeat writers block?

UH-OH (Photo credit: Author Jo Mele)

By not believing in it! I tell myself that if I were a cab driver, I’d have to go to work every day even if I didn’t feel like it, even if yesterday was disastrous. I’m a writer – I write even when I don’t feel like it, or even if yesterday’s output was a car wreck.

• How do you define success as an author?

I’m the kind of author who requires readers! When even one person tells me she enjoyed one of my books, or learned something from it, I consider myself successful.

Any questions from The Real Me readers?

How to Turn Your Day Job into a Mystery Series

www.storiesofyou.org

Reprinted from STORIES OF INSPIRATION, ED. SUZANNE FOX

Lucky me—I’ve managed to turn every aspect of my life into a mystery series. It started with Camille the Scientist and the Periodic Table Mysteries.

I’d had the idea for years, ever since Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi hit the stores in the early eighties. I realized that a guaranteed 26 books was nothing compared to the 100+ possibilities I had at my fingertips as a scientist. The alphabet? A piddling list. The periodic table was where it was at, and it was still growing.

For the next 10 years or so, I told everyone within earshot about my great plan—to write a mystery series based on the Periodic Table: The Hydrogen Murder, The Helium Murder, and so on, up to the last atomic number recorded. I talked about my series as if I’d already written it.

I see this now as a common phenomenon—like Dorothy Parker’s “I love having written.”

Eventually I stopped using my computer for endless games of yahtzee and solitaire and started my first novel. There was no question about who would be my protagonist, what her background would be, what career she’d have. No question either about the setting.

Enter Gloria Lamerino, Italian-American physicist from Revere Beach, Massachusetts. In other words, me, except for the part about being smart and brave enough to take on a murder case. Gloria needed a connection to a cop, who’d look like a cross between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, with the heft of Paul Sorvino. And she’d need an interesting place to live—how about the abode of one of my first boyfriends, a mortuary intern whose apartment was above a funeral parlor? Imagine the fun of following Gloria as she creeps down to the laundry area, on the same floor as the embalming room.

This was my math: A Periodic Table Mystery Series was a perfect opportunity to present my view of females in STEM; my knowledge of Italian scientists and Italian-American culture; and my love of the town I grew up in, the site of the country’s first “theme park” and the first public beach in the United States. Uberambitious! And a poor example for my current writing students when I warn them not to cram too many themes and “messages” into one book.

But I was young, barely 60 years old.

The first eight books of the series wrote themselves. Each element of the table is fascinating, with great potential for good or evil. Lithium, for example,  can be used in manufacturing and in medicine; it also reacts violently with water, forming a highly flammable gas and corrosive fumes. In The Lithium Murder, a janitor at a lab overhears secrets concerning the dangers of lithium waste disposal and is murdered when he tries to blackmail the researchers.

My sorry job was to explore the possibilities of crime and criminals surrounding each element. The worst part was sometimes turning scientists into killers. Otherwise, after a few books, readers would realize, “Well, we know it’s not the physicist.” I managed to spread the wealth of criminal pathology around characters with various occupations.

By the time I reached The Oxygen Murder, my agent asked, “Do you have any other ideas?” I quickly learned that this question was code for Enough of the elements; give us something more popular.

I had to acknowledge that not everyone was addicted to the splendor of the periodic table and mined the rest of my life for ideas and potential series. My life long hobby as a miniaturist gave birth to Gerry Porter and her 10-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, in the Miniature Mysteries (writing as Margaret Grace). When the “code” came up again, I tapped into my tenure as a college professor with the Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries (writing as Ada Madison). And most recently, my brief stint as a postal worker led me to Postmaster Cassie Miller (writing as Jean Flowers).

All four series are ongoing in one form or another, either as novels or short stories. And, since I did a stint as a “Kelly Girl,” I still have jobs to tap into—paralegal anyone? How about German translator? As long as I can keep thinking up pen names, I should be okay.

Cinco de Mayo

Tomorrow, May 5, is Cinco de Mayo. I realize all I’ve done here is translate the date into Spanish, but the date has a special place in my writing heart.

In my first book, The Hydrogen Murder (1997), I have my protagonist say the following:

Besides the changing seasons, another thing about the east coast that I’d missed were holidays like Patriot’s Day on April 19 and Bunker Hill Day on June 17. Berkeley parking meters called October 12 ‘Indigenous Peoples Day,’ and California residents in general emphasized a different set of holidays, like Mexican Independence Day on May 5, and Admission Day on September 9.

It’s changed in later editions – how many of you know why?

DUH. Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. Mexican Independence Day is on September 16. I found this out the hard way – from a professor at a college in Mexico City. The woman was not too pleasant about it, and who could blame her? Just like a gringa, she wrote in an email, and I could almost hear the disgust in her voice.

I wonder what the parallel would be for the United States. Calling the  Battle of Gettysburg (1863) “American Independence Day?”

I learned my lesson and have never made the “Mexican Independence Day” error again, even though I don’t know anyone who celebrates on September 16.

If you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

So much harder to write on a cake; no wonder I made a mistake.

Irritating Reads

What good is a rant if you can’t reuse it?

Here’s my latest, on The LadyKillers blog a couple of weeks ago.

One of my biggest pet peeves in crime fiction is HEAD-HOPPING. You know what I mean – the practice of switching point of view within a scene.

I spend a good deal of time discussing POV with my writing students, and invariably one will point out a best-selling author who does this willy nilly (at random, every which way, here and there, all over the place, in no apparent order).

After I ungrit my teeth, I try to explain. And I try to find good articles on the topic. Here are a couple of favorites.

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/blog/2014/04/30/head-hopping-fiction-writing/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/09/10/head-hopping-gives-readers-whiplash/

https://ellenbrockediting.com/2013/11/26/the-difference-between-omniscient-pov-and-head-hopping/

Head-hopping is common and acceptable in the romance genre:

As Billy Bob and Sally Jo danced, he felt he was in heaven and she couldn’t wait for the last chord.

But in a romance, it’s the relationship that’s the main character, the romance matters more than either Billy Bob or Sally Jo.

Head-hopping in a mystery, however, is detrimental to the story. The best-selling author (I’ll call her P. L.) who invaded my class most recently at least plays “fair,” in that she gets into the head of every principal character except one—the killer’s, of course. So, after four or five head-hopping chapters, you can identify the killer.  He’s the one whose thoughts you’re not privy to. Booo.

Another best-selling author (I’ll call him S. J.) cheats! You get into the head of every character, including the killer, but while you’re in the killer’s head, he “acts” as innocent as all the others, wondering what the killer’s motive was, how the killer managed to escape, and so on.

Both the cheating and the non-cheating versions are IRRITATING. (Yes, I’m shouting.)

Now—your turn!

Does head-hopping bother you? What does?

My Best

Last week you saw my Worst — a limerick about a typewriter, or was it a typist? So, what was the best thing I’ve ever written?

If “best” equals “memorable,” then I have to admit I wrote my best scene in the last century. At conferences, I still meet people—readers, writers, even authors with far more star power than I’ll ever have—who tell me how compelling that scene was.

My guess is that it’s because The Scene was a thinly disguised true story.

The True Story

I was strolling through Walnut Square in Berkeley, California, a multilevel shopping structure. To access the restrooms, one had to start at street level and climb an outdoor flight of stairs to a mid-level, half-indoor, half-outdoor facility. Some time in mid-afternoon, I made my way up the steps, and entered the women’s area, on the left.

The short version of the rest of the story: I was flashed.

The long version became a scene in my next novel, THE BERYLLIUM  MURDER, detailing my panic, my response, my eventual escape.

The Scene

Here’s the scene in its entirety.

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It might have been Rita’s extra-fit body that inspired me—when I left her, I had a rare desire for physical exercise and decided to walk to Elaine’s. Invigorated by the weather of a typical Berkeley morning—still a bit of fog, cool, and breezy—I went at a good clip and approached Walnut Square just before ten o’clock. I looked up at the brown wood multi-level structure with about a dozen shops and restaurants, and realized it offered a painless way to pick up a few souvenirs for Matt and the Galiganis.

It also offered a restroom, which I would need if I weren’t going straight home. I remembered exactly where it was, up a flight of stairs on the Walnut Street side, behind one of the coffee shops.

I walked up the old wooden steps to the public facilities. Just as I’d left them, I noted—unheated, cracked cement floor, ill-fitting door to the outside—more like an outhouse, but adequate for the purpose.

Soon after I’d locked myself into the center of three empty stalls, I heard someone enter the area. The person walked to my door and stood there. I couldn’t tell from the heavy, black athletic shoes whether a male or female was facing me on the other side. I detected a faint, sweet scent that might have been perfume, but I couldn’t be sure the aroma hadn’t already been there, as part of the mix of smells in the room. What I did know was that he/she was not waiting for a stall since there was an empty one on either side of me.

I sat there, all bodily functions suspended, my heart pounding in my chest. The shoes didn’t move. I could hear no breathing but my own, louder than a vacuum pump.

It’s broad daylight, I told myself, and there are shops opening all around me. If this were an attacker, why wouldn’t he break through the flimsy lock on the door. Or shoot through it. Or throw a bomb over the top. Why just stand there?

I shuffled my feet on the floor and rattled the toilet paper holder, as if to tell my would-be assailant I was going about my business unaware of his presence. I knew I couldn’t yell loudly enough for a shopkeeper to hear me, and the street traffic was a whole story below me. I didn’t want to alert my stalker that I was aware of the threat with a useless scream. I swallowed hard and thought, but my head seemed empty except for the echo of my heartbeat.

I reached into my purse for a weapon of some kind, opting not to go down easily. I wished I’d been in the habit of taking care of my nails—at least I’d have a file in my purse if I did. The half-eaten roll of peppermints, the calculator, and the small flashlight I fingered on my way through the contents weren’t going to be much help.

At the bottom of the bag, I found my cell phone. I’d forgotten to leave it home in Revere. I knew it wouldn’t work after all the hours away from its charging base, but I had an idea how I could use it—if it had enough power to make sounds when I pushed on the numbers.

A fake call. Is that the best I can do? I thought. The unfortunate answer was yes. Who shall I pretend to call, then? 911? The attacker would know he had enough time to spare before a response team could get to me. Whoever it was still hadn’t moved, or cleared his or her throat, leaving me with no clues about gender. The sweet odor faded in and out as I sat there.

I made my decision. A fake call it would be. I abandoned the idea of “Rocky,” as too obvious for a strong man, and “Bill” or “Bob” as too wimpy. I chose Mike. I punched seven numbers at random, as if I were making an ordinary call within the area code. I was thrilled to hear the sound of the connection at each button. After a moment, I said, in as loud a voice as I could summon, “Mike. Come up the stairs. Into the ladies room. Quickly.”

The unisex shoes turned in the direction of the door, giving me hope for a moment. What followed, however, was a ghoulish jig, the bulky shoes stopping, turning back to me, then finally shuffling out the door, like a dancer uncertain of his steps. I breathed out and listened intently. No further sound. Had my bluff worked, in spite of the uncertainty I’d sensed at the end? Had the person left or was he or she waiting for Mike?

I could hardly believe my pitiful scheme was effective, but I knew it was my best chance to leave the stall. I tugged at my clothing, took a few breaths and went outside, rushing down the stairs to the sidewalk. I looked around and saw no one who looked like an attacker, and no one who could have passed for Mike.

What I did see on the ground at the bottom of the stairs was a ski mask. A navy blue ski mask, in Berkeley, in June. I glanced up and down the street, as if I’d be able to spot the owner and compare shoe sizes with those of my pseudo-stalker, but the only people in view were a noisy family of four alighting from a teal blue minivan.

I shivered and walked away.

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What about the next 20 books I’ve written? Apparently nothing stands out.

If you’ve read anything of mine that’s better than this, I’d really like to know.

Xtreme Halloween

The Real Me is always happy to welcome author and educator, JO MELE. This time she’s sharing a great Halloween story. The piece first appeared in Reminisce Magazine.

Halloween Trick or Treating

by Jo Mele

The Real Joey

My little brother Joey is the most determined; some call it stubborn, person I know. Joey loved Halloween and couldn’t wait to get home, sort his candy into piles, and eat all his favorites first.

When he was eight he had to miss trick or treating because he had a high fever. My mother’s decision to keep him in nearly drove Joey crazy. The pleading went on for hours until he gave my mother a headache and was sent to his room in tears.

I went around the neighborhood with two bags asking for a treat for my brother who was home sick. The neighbors were sorry to hear he was missing his favorite Holiday and were very generous to his sack. He didn’t even feel well enough to do his sorting and eating routine until the following weekend.

The next year Joey had two costumes ready, the pirate from last year and the new cowboy costume complete with boots and pearl handled Lone Ranger six-shooters he got for his birthday. He was counting the days to trick or treating. Unfortunately, he came down with the flu and couldn’t even stand. My mother did not allow him to go out into the frigid New York air.

I went around the neighborhood with his sack and mine and everyone said “Not again.” They poured goodies and change into his bag, and said he could buy what he liked when he felt better. He made two dollars but wasn’t happy.

When October came around again Joey was ready. He was ten years old, full of energy, had three unused costumes waiting to be worn. He was determined and on a mission. My parents had already decided they’d let him go trick or treating – no matter what. Halloween fell on a Saturday that year so Joey could rest before his long-awaited adventure and stay out late since it wasn’t a school night. It was a beautiful warm fall day and after whining “Can’t I start yet,” for the hundredth time, my mother gave in.

He was the first kid out and the last one home. When his trick-or-treat bag got heavy he came home, changed his costume and got another bag. He started over again, and again, determined to make up for lost time. He had the Halloween of his life.

When Joey finally dragged in saw his three bags full of goodies waiting for the sorting, he hugged them and burst into tears of joy. He’d won his battle with Halloween.

I admired his determination. He never gave up and wouldn’t settle for one round of trick-or-treating when he deserved three. I’m sure I would’ve quit after the first. Joey was no quitter, he needed to even the score, two traits he would carry with him for the rest of his life.