Summer Reading Book Report

A few weeks ago I posted a list of a few of the books on my summer reading list. I have not yet read two of the five-The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Peter Mayle’s The Corsican Caper-but summer isn’t officially over until the twenty-third, right?

I highly recommend the three books that completed my list. If you are looking for a thought-provoking story, try The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Miller is known for setting a contemplative mood. In The Arsonist, the theme she examines is Belonging. Many of the characters, both main and minor, struggle, or have struggled, with a search for that place where they can make their home: physically, emotionally, and professionally. Home also includes family, whether formed by blood or shared experience. The search is not always easy, in real life or Miller’s fiction.

Tracy Weber’s Murder Strikes A Pose is a terrific start to the new Downward Dog Mystery series. Seattle yoga instructor and studio owner Kate befriends George, a homeless man, and his German shepherd, Bella. When George is murdered, Kate becomes Bella’s “foster-mother.” Weber cleverly combines Kate’s quest to find Bella a new home with her search for George’s killer. Murder Strikes A Pose has great charm and humor, and takes the reader on a visit to the beautiful city of Seattle. A bonus: in one scene, Kate directs students to imagine they are lying on a beach, soaking up the sun. I tried that one night at bedtime and had a wonderful dream that I was on a beach in Hawaii. Give it a try!

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton was also an enjoyable read. I expected this short book to be a discussion on physical looks and aging and how they are treated in Hollywood. Keaton does touch on the pair, but also ruminates on other forms of beauty-architecture, the Southern California landscape, and the inner beauty of family and friends. I appreciated Keaton’s insight and the many glimpses she gave of her life with her children. There is a bit of rambling in Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, but that’s one of the things we love about Keaton, isn’t it? It’s quite evident this book was not ghostwritten; I could hear Keaton’s voice speaking every word I read. It’s worth your time to read the musings of one of our best actresses.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Freshman Year Again And Again

The release of All Things Murder has brought me back in contact with friends with whom I had lost touch. I recently heard from Maureen, a college friend. We caught up on each other’s lives and those of our mutual friends. Our emails, and the thirtieth anniversary this week of our arrival at the University of Notre Dame for our freshman year, has had me thinking of what happens when dreams meet reality.

Some of my ND classmates are exactly what they planned to be when we began our studies back in August 1984; they are doctors, lawyers, engineers, and teachers. Many classmates have the families they had hoped for when we were eighteen, and some have seen their children pursue their own dreams at Notre Dame.

Then there are those of us who discovered our choice of major would not lead us to our heart’s content, so we switched to academic departments that didn’t always cause our parents to jump for joy. I changed my major from Accounting to Sociology and English after Economics 101 didn’t inspire me to anything more than hair pulling. I don’t know how many times I had to answer the question “What are you going to do with a Sociology degree?” over the course of my college years.

I know I am not the only member of the class of 1988 who has switched professions, and I am not the only alum who found her bliss after years of searching for it. I also know the families some of my classmates have formed are not as they expected, but are just as rewarding.

With these nostalgic thoughts in my head, it struck me how the plot and characters in my stories don’t always end up on the page in the manner they had started in my brain. As with my classmates, some storylines and characters came into being just as I had planned, while others developed as I went along.

I don’t plan every detail before I start a book. Though I do know the identity of the victim and how he or she is killed, the reason for their murder sometimes changes as “something better comes along” during the writing process. With All Things Murder, the killer’s motive in the final version is much different from the motive I had first conceived. What worked well in my head didn’t make as much sense on paper (or my computer screen).

In the second Veronica Walsh mystery (currently under review by the publisher), one character had an entire personality change between the first draft and the last. The murder weapon changed hands; that is to say, the person I originally chose as the murderer now no longer commits the deed. That does not necessarily mean the character is innocent. And a few names, of both the guilty and the innocent, were changed.

This is how writing brings me joy and fulfillment. It’s like freshman year with every new story. Lots of possibilities, room to change paths, the opportunity to make a choice and then reverse course and go in an entirely different direction.

I wish all the students heading off to college for their freshman year (my niece Shannon is one of them!) good luck in their studies. Work hard and have fun! And appreciate the friendships you will form. I certainly cherish the friends I met thirty years ago.

Have a great week, everyone.

 

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An Interview with Veronica Walsh

Writers will ask themselves questions when drawing memorable, well-developed characters. A few sample questions: What does the character look like? How old? Religion? Age? Family? Friends?

I thought this week I’d again turn the blog over to Veronica Walsh from All Things Murder to answer some of the questions I posed when creating Veronica and her cozy world. It’s part Marcel Proust questionnaire, part James Lipton/Inside the Actor’s Studio interview, and part yours truly having fun.

Where do you live?

I recently moved back to my hometown of Barton, New York, a small village in the Adirondacks.

What is your occupation?

I am a soap opera actress. Unemployed, I hate to say, since my show was canceled.

How old are you?

Fifty-three.

What is your astrological sign?

Virgo.

What do you look like?

I’m brunette, about 5’7″, have more-or-less a slender frame.

Do you have siblings?

No.

What was your childhood like?

I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Barton. My parents opened a bookstore, Orchard Street Books, in the early 1960’s. I’d go there every day after school. In the beginning, I’d clean up the children’s section after I had taken a good number of books off the shelves to read them. As I got older, my dad made me responsible for the Mystery and Travel sections as well. I’d also help customers and my mother and I would alternate hosting Story Time for the kids.

I attended Catholic school for sixteen years. The acting bug bit me in the second grade, when I got to play the Virgin Mary in the school’s Christmas pageant. I participated in the drama club, performing in shows such as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and South Pacific.

What are your closest relationships?

I have a wonderful bond with my mother, Nancy. Though we like to tease each other, we never had the antagonistic relationship many mothers and daughters have. Not even when I was a teenager. She and my father always told me I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard for it. They supported my dream to be an actress, though they insisted I take a second major in college, Business, just in case acting didn’t work out.

Carol Emerson has been my best friend since our first day of kindergarten. She owns a fabulous flower shop that I often visit for some girl talk and floral therapy. She always gives me great advice and is a calming presence when I get a bit freaked out.

Mark Burke is another friend I’ve had since my school days at Saint Augustine elementary school. He’s now a history professor at nearby Arden College. Mark is an intelligent, sweet, solid man who is always there for his friends.

And then there’s Alex Shelby. He was my leading man on Days and Nights. Our characters were married three times! Alex is a good guy, though he’s a bit distracted by himself, in a charming sort of way. Like me, Alex is having a bit of trouble letting go of the soap.

What is your current state of mind?

Worried. Not only am I unemployed, but I live next door to a murder scene. I won’t rest easy until the killer is behind bars. And I get a job.

What is something no one knows about you?

Carol, Mark, and Alex know this, but I’m trying to keep it hush-hush that I’m investigating my neighbor’s murder. I don’t want to paint a target on my back.

What profession would you not like to do?

Pathologist. I found my neighbor’s body. That was as close to a corpse as I ever want to get.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

I have recently developed a deep appreciation of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. I could use her crime-solving expertise.

What is your favorite curse word?

*@#%

 

Have a great week, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday This and That

Hi, everyone!

I submitted Murder, By George to Five Star on Thursday. I’m crossing my fingers and, as my dad used to say, sitting on my hands because that brings extra luck. Let the waiting, and the writing of the third Veronica Walsh Mystery, commence.

Other than that, it was a quiet week and a lazy first weekend of August. I thought I’d share some articles I came across in the past days that sparked my interest and tickled my funny bone.

What do you think the C.I.A. does to the agent who ends a sentence with a preposition?

I clicked on this link because I am a big fan of Sudoku and thought this had something to do with those wonderful puzzles. I didn’t realize I needed a support group for a whole other habit.

When I look at this, I wonder what the men’s version would look like. Would it include a peach wearing jeans and a plumber’s tool belt?

Have you ever held an overdue library book? When I was a kid, I once racked up $16 in late fines. I was mortified, my mother furious. I have been diligent in returning my borrowed books since that embarrassing day. Live and learn.

This one is for those interested in presidential history, mystery lovers, and conspiracy theorists. I’m two of the three. Okay, I like a good conspiracy theory, too.
Have a great week!

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A Trip To Barton

It’s vacation time! This time of year, many people are off to the beach or the mountains, a national park or a cruise ship, for refreshment and relaxation. Many take a book with them to give their minds a vacation, too.

I have written before about how my family vacations to Lake George, NY inspired me to set All Things Murder in a fictional village in the Adirondacks. Barton is a charming town that attracts many tourists, just as the real locales in the New York mountains welcome visitors each year.

I thought I’d let the star of All Things Murder, Veronica Walsh, give you all a tour of her hometown during this vacation season. Perhaps you will enjoy it so much that you will decide to pay a longer visit by picking up a copy of All Things Murder to take on your upcoming holiday!

 

Hello! I’m Veronica Walsh and it is my pleasure to welcome you to my beautiful hometown of Barton, New York. I have always considered our small village my home, though my acting career kept me close to Manhattan for thirty-two years. I’m back in Barton for good now and know all the places you should visit during your stay.

After a good night’s sleep at the Farley Inn, your day should begin with a hearty breakfast in the inn’s five-star dining room. After a cup or two of their coffee, you’ll be ready to check out Barton’s shops during a stroll along Orchard Street.

Your first stop should be at All Things. You are sure to find many lovely items for your home, and gifts for friends, in this fantastic boutique. Why not buy a memento of your visit to Barton with an ornament for your Christmas tree? All Things maintains a Christmas corner year-round, with a tree decked out with gorgeous decorations for your own celebration at home.

After giving All Things a thorough inspection, head just three doors up Orchard and drop in my mother’s bookstore, Orchard Street Books. The shop has been a mainstay of Barton and my family since my parents opened it in the 1960’s. I spent my childhood among the stacks, shelving books and helping customers. My mother, Nancy, will make you feel right at home and give you a great book recommendation or two.

By the time you get out of Orchard Street Books you’ll be ready for a snack. Walk just a few steps up Orchard and pop in at Rizzuto’s Bakery. This is another longtime family business, started by baker Nick Rizzuto’s parents in the 1930’s. Nick and his wife Rita will welcome you with hot rolls straight from the oven, cheese danish, and Italian leaf cookies that they will not give me the recipe for, no matter how much I plead. That rumbling in your stomach will certainly be sated by one of Nick’s delicious treats.

Now that your taste buds have been satisfied, make a stop at Emerson Florist to treat your other senses with beautiful buds of the floral sort. Carol, my best friend, owns this shop that sells gorgeous fresh flowers and wreaths as well as decorative arrangements of silk and dried flowers to brighten your home. I’m very proud of Carol for the successful business she has run for more than a decade. Tell her I said that and she will allow you to wander around the shop, enjoying the scents and sights to your heart’s content. Perhaps she will even give you the friend’s discount on your purchase.

While you’re on this part of Orchard Street, head one block north to see the former Griffin Inn. The Griffins’ ancestor Godfrey Griffin helped found Barton in 1765 and in 1770 he established the inn. The current-day Victorian stands on the same ground on which Godfrey built the family business. I consider the stately home the jewel of Orchard. Though no longer open for guest stays, Madeline would be very pleased to give you a tour of the residence. That is if Ella is not home. If the eldest Griffin sister is “in the house,” you’d be wise to keep your distance and admire the house from across the street.

Next you’ll want to explore Orchard Street’s antique shops and art gallery. It will be lunch time when you’re done, so head down the street to The Barton Hearth to relax and enjoy a juicy burger, delicious club sandwich, or hearty bowl of chili. The Hearth is one of my favorite spots in Barton, so maybe I’ll see you there!

Take a drive around Barton in the afternoon to see the beautiful homes in styles such as Adirondack, Craftsman, and Folk Victorian. You can finish your tour at Pierce Farms on Sunrise Lane. Take a stroll through the orchards and then head to the farm stand for a taste of their fresh fruits and homemade pies, cookies, and doughnuts. Pierce Farms offers something year-round: hayrides and apple and pumpkin picking in the autumn; fresh Christmas trees, poinsettia, and abundant mistletoe during the holiday season; and a wide selection of annuals and perennials for your Spring planting.

You’re probably ready for a nap after this whirlwind tour. I hope you enjoy your visit to Barton. It was my pleasure to host you and show off the wonderful sights our village has to offer. Please tell all your friends about us and do come again!

 

Have a great week, and if you’re heading off for a vacation, have fun!

 

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The (Not So Dreaded) Synopsis

I have been writing the synopsis for the second Veronica Walsh mystery over the last few days. A description of the plot, including the ending, the synopsis acts as a sort of calling card for a novel. It’s a writer’s sales pitch. When literary agents and editors enjoy the first chapters of a manuscript, they will look to the synopsis to see how the rest of the story unfolds before committing to reading the full work. The synopsis will demonstrate the writer’s ability to develop the plot and bring it to a satisfying conclusion. Are the characters three-dimensional? Is there sufficient conflict? Does the ending fulfill the promise of the beginning?

A synopsis can range in length from one page to more than ten. Some agents and editors want the one-page, others want a complete account of the plot and sub-plots of the novel. I prefer writing a longer synopsis; I can include the points from the sub-plot I wrote for comic relief, add a bit of dialog, and slip in one or two rhetorical questions. With a one-page synopsis, I have to be very concise. I cannot introduce every character or detail each twist. And I can forget about asking: Did Penelope murder Oscar because he discovered she was his wife’s long-lost evil twin?

All right, that’s not the plot of this second book. It’s simply an example of a synopsis space-waster. Fourteen words lounging around, doing nothing.

Some authors write the synopsis before they start their novel. I write a one page and multi-page synopsis when I’ve finished the last draft of the book. It’s like taking a step away from the project and objectively viewing the work. Composing the synopses helps me pinpoint any plot holes or inconsistencies I didn’t notice while working on the story. I sometimes discover a scene where I need to work on the dialog, or add a line or two more of description. And writing the synopses helps me condense the entire story to the one sentence pitch I will include in not only the cover letter I send to Five Star, but will utter countless times as I describe to everyone who asks me, “What’s the book about?”

By the way, this second installment in Veronica’s amateur sleuthing adventures is titled Murder, By George.

Have a great week, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

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A Sister in Crime

This week I joined a wonderful organization, the Sisters in Crime, Inc. This is a terrific group composed of not only mystery writers, but also editors, agents, librarians, and readers. Their mission statement is to “Promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.”

This is the first professional organization I have joined; I am proud and delighted to be a member of the Sisters in Crime. I’m eager to investigate their website-to learn, discover, participate. I am also hopeful that I will grow into the role of mentor, and glad that I will have opportunities to give back and pay forward.

I have to say I’m a bit amused to be a member of the Sisters in Crime. As a Catholic, the only “Sisters” I have known are nuns. The Dominican Sisters, who taught me in grammar and high school. The Daughters of Wisdom, my aunt’s religious order. I was once asked if I would like to join the Dominicans. That was back in 1984, during my senior year in high school. I politely declined. Now here I am, part of a group that, among other things,  discusses the most efficacious poisons, DNA evidence, and getting away with murder. Life is funny.

Finally, I’m pleased to note this is my fifty-second post on this blog. Where’d that year go?! I am grateful to everyone who regularly visits the site, and to those of you who follow the blog (if you don’t, why not take a moment now and sign up?). I appreciate your interest and support very much. Thank you for joining me as All Things Murder traveled the road to publication.

Have a great week, everyone!

 

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Summer Reading

Summer is officially here!

I’ve recently read a few “Books To Read This Summer” lists and decided to make my own list of books I plan on checking out in the coming weeks. I thought I’d share it on this second day of the season.

The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Miller wrote one of my favorite books, The Lakeshore Limited (if you haven’t read it, READ it!), a thought-provoking story filled with very human characters. The Arsonist, described as a novel “about what it means to lead a fulfilling life” looks like another profound tale.

The Corsican Caper by Peter Mayle. I adore Mayle’s books, starting with A Year In Provence. He has a sterling wit and a terrific ability to describe the people, places, and customs of France. The Corsican Caper, the third book featuring protagonist Sam Levitt, promises to be a light, entertaining read for the hot days of summer.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton. I have been a fan of Keaton for a very long time (who hasn’t?). She is an Oscar-winning actress, giving remarkable performances in  The Godfather trilogy, Annie Hall, Reds, and Something’s Gotta Give (one of my favorites), among many other films. Her autobiography, Then Again, is wonderful. Keaton is unabashedly herself, all the time. I can’t wait to read her take on beauty in her new book. You know there will be nothing conventional about it!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. I have read nothing but stellar reviews of this book that debuted in April. It is billed as an homage to books and bookstores, and as a wise story of love and loss, friendship and hope. I have a feeling this will be on more than a few Top Ten of the Year lists six months from now.

Murder Strikes A Pose (A Downward Dog Mystery) by Tracy Weber. This is the first in a series about a Seattle-based yoga instructor. In the story, Kate Davidson rescues German shepherd Bella after her owner George, a homeless man, is found dead behind Kate’s studio. Kate turns amateur sleuth to solve George’s murder while also trying to find a new home for Bella. This is the first in a well-received series that promises more cases for Kate to solve.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

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Fathers – Real and Literary

A Happy Father’s Day to all dads!

Today I’m thinking of my dad, Bob, who passed sixteen years ago. He was a good husband, father, son, brother, uncle, and friend. He was not a boring accountant. Dad was a fun and funny guy, always the life of the party.

For several Christmases back in the 70’s, Dad bought my mother a gadget (he did also buy her presents she liked). The tag on the wrapped box should have had his name on it, for Dad was the person who made the most use of the gizmo that plugged into the wall and cooked food. I think the first gift was a meat slicer. Followed by an appliance that cooked bacon. An egger. A hot dog cooker. A deep fry. Dad particularly loved the deep fry. My mother did not; she was the person who always had to wipe the grease off the walls.

But Dad was a good cook, and was particularly known for one meal. Every Friday he would come home from work and make dinner-pizza. Dad was, actually still is, legendary for his pizza. There was nothing fancy about the dish- it was made from store-bought dough, sauce, mozzarella cheese-but Dad made a great production of preparing and serving the pizza. It brought everyone around the table for good conversation and lots of laughter.

Dad

Dad was a fan of the New York Rangers, the Saint Louis Cardinals, and Saint John’s basketball team (he was an alumnus of the university). Dad was also an avid reader; Tom Clancy was one of his favorites. Dad would have gotten a kick out of my book. I think he would be very intrigued by blogs; he may have even had one of his own.

And since this is a book blog, how about literary fathers? Here are a few of my favorite fictional dads.

Atticus Finch ( To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee) – Is there a more honorable character in all of fiction? Atticus, the widowed father to Jem and Scout, is a wise, patient, courageous man who risks his life fighting for justice in 1930’s Alabama. The lawyer saw the humanity of every person he met, regardless of their skin color, wealth (or lack of), and mental capacity. Everything you need to know about Atticus is encompassed in his simple reply to Scout at the end of Lee’s classic. After Scout comments on Boo Radley’s niceness, Atticus says: “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”  The world would be a much better place if we all had Atticus’s vision.

Father Timothy Kavanagh (The Mitford Series by Jan Karon) – At the start of Jan Karon’s series, Father Tim is a father of the clerical sort – an Episcopalian pastor.  The sixty-year-old bachelor leads an adoring parish at Lord’s Chapel while living a staid, quiet life in the rectory. Then Dooley Barlow, the grandson of church sexton Russell Jacks, shows up on Father Tim’s doorstep, barefoot and dirty. When Russell falls ill, Father Tim takes Dooley, eleven, into his home and becomes his unofficial foster-father. Father Tim knows nothing about being a parent, and Dooley knows nothing about having a parent. The two stumble along together, with Father Tim making his fair share of mistakes as he guides Dooley with love and teaches the young boy, and readers, about faith, grace, and forgiveness.

Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) – Bob endures his boss’s scrooginess more than any other character in Dickens’ classic tale. And yet he remains ever-cheerful and forever kind. He is a loving, playful father to his brood of six and a gentle caregiver to son Tim. Though the family’s Christmas dinner is meager, thanks to Scrooge’s refusal to pay Bob a just wage, Bob sincerely offers a toast to Scrooge’s health. Bob’s generosity of spirit is well-rewarded by the story’s end: a big salary raise, the prize turkey, and Tiny Tim’s good health.

Arthur Weasley (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series) – Arthur, though he possesses magical talent, is a typical dad. He’s always building something, or tearing something apart, in his backyard shed. He’s also often in an alliance with his children, keeping their misadventures a secret from Molly, his wife, or asking his offspring not to tell Molly of his magical experiments gone awry. And though he has enough children to care for (seven), he takes Harry under his wing, guiding him and protecting him as if he were his own son. I’ve never understood, though, why the Head of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts would be so clueless as to the use of said artifacts.

So, who are your favorite fathers of literature? Do you see your dad in a particular fiction papa?

 
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Turtles!

Why did the turtle cross the road?

To get to the Shell Station.

A priest visiting our parish told that joke at a recent Mass. It’s cute, and appropriate for the season, when turtles are migrating to areas where the females will nest and lay their eggs. Do you live in an area where turtles are on the move? I pass through a migration zone (actually, it’s only about a quarter of a mile) every day on my way to and from work.

For years, homemade signs warning drivers to Slow Down! because there are Turtles Crossing! dotted the side of the road.

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Two or three years ago, professionally made signs replaced the placards the turtles’ human neighbors thoughtfully made to assist them in their jaywalking.

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Notice the migration time span is listed, as if the crossing is a festival or the turtles a planet in retrograde for three weeks.

A new sign was added to the mix this year.

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An electronic board! How cool is that!

I’ve also seen humans directing traffic around a turtle in mid-crossing this year. One morning two residents were in the middle of the road, pointing out a slow-moving ectotherm (yes, I had to look that up). Of course, I don’t have a photograph of the turtle. I didn’t have my camera with me that morning. Oh, well. The signs are enough to tickle my funny bone, which you may be thinking is easily tickled. Yes, it is. Anything that adds a bit of color to my routine day is very welcome.

So how about you? Do you share the road with turtles for two or three weeks out of the year? Or have you recently encountered something during the course of the day that seemed a bit absurd, but isn’t really, that just makes you smile and giggle?

 

 

 

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