Monday, March 31, 2014

Characters like me

Readers often wonder how closely we writers resemble our characters. In my case, I have to say, “Not a bit!” After all, I write the madcap Tracy Eaton mysteries, Revenge of the Gypsy Queen, Dem Bones' Revenge, Revenge for Old Times' Sake, and the latest, Revenge on Route 66, a humorous romp along the Southwestern Route 66. Tracy is too much the offspring of her reality-challenged, zany parents, movie legends, Martha Collins and Alec Grainger, to be anything like me. 

The question I often hear from fans is, “Who are you parents? Anyone we'd know?” See, they assume my parents are also major motion picture stars, or how else could I write the hilarious scenes I create between Tracy and the banes of her existence? I'm flattered that readers regard Martha and Alec as so real, they can't imagine that I simply made them up. But that's what I did.

Tracy also brings the most eccentric approach to crime solving. I'm sure if I were an amateur sleuth, I'd never make my escape from captivity by shimming up a rope with my mother on my back, as Tracy and Martha did in Dem Bones' Revenge. Or when they eluded the bad guys by posing as hookers so the cops would arrest them for solicitation and whisk them away.

In Revenge for Old Times' Sake, free-spirit Tracy cheers when her stodgy husband, Drew, finally loosens up enough to rearrange the nose of his boorish boss, Ian Dragger. Too bad the next time anyone saw Dragger, he was floating face down in the Eaton pool, deader than disco.

I certainly didn't draw on my life for that. Not only isn't my hubby Joe at all stodgy, I don't even own a pool.

Still…I have to admit offbeat things always happen to me. Wherever I go, if there's a person who merely flirts with the periphery of sanity, he gloms onto me like I'm his long-lost twin. My husband always asks if I send out a homing signal that only wackos can hear. I don't know. Do I?

I also always find myself faced with problems that nobody else has to deal with. For instance, I went to a party recently in a gate-guarded community, The road that leads to it is a tough-to-navigate, narrow S-curve that takes a sharp dip where it crosses a creek, which is heavily studded with boulders.

When I stopped beside the gate speaker box, I realized I couldn't remember the code to open the gate. No problem. There were instructions for dialing the houses. Too bad that didn't work. Again and again. In six tries, I got mostly busy signals, although I also hit the voicemail a couple of times. I didn't feel too helpless babbling, “Uh, I'm here, but…”

Okay, Plan B. I decided to call my husband at home, since he wasn't coming. If he didn't know the code, he could call our friend and get it. Why do we have cell phones if not for emergencies? Oops! No network.

Hmmm. There was no way I could back out of there. I must have played hooky the day they taught reverse in Driver's Ed, since I've never learned it. I could barely navigate that entry going in. If I lived there, I'd just park the car in the water and get it over with. And the road was too narrow for a k-turn. Maybe a hundred tiny k-turns would do it, but I'm not too swift on those, either.

Since I arrived late, I wasn't sure when someone else would pass that way. I ended up staying there until a woman walked near the gate and shouted out the code. I was the only partygoer who didn't just breeze in.

Turns out the gate-phone connection stopped working sometime before I showed up, but after everyone else did. But that kind of thing always happens to me. I can't be the only one who's out-of-synch with virtually everybody else. There must be others marching to the un-syncopated beat of goofball drummers that nobody else can hear.

If I were writing that experience for a character, I'd make it read funny. Tracy's always wrecking her vehicles, so that would be perfect. I'd just send the car off the road, where it would float along, crashing into boulder-after-boulder, like Mother Nature's own bumper car ride.

Only in real life, I make payments on that car, and I pay for insurance. I'd be the idiot whose claim the folks working at the insurance agency would laugh themselves silly over — right before the company cancelled my coverage.

Okay, so maybe I am more like Tracy and her gang of daffy misfits than I'd like to admit. Maybe I really am living my wackiest characters' lives. I'm just not having as much fun with them as they are.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Guest-blogging with me today as part of her blog tour is my old friend, Marilyn Meredith. Marilyn is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation. She does like to remind everyone that she is writing fiction. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at  Read to the end for news of her blog tour contest and a link to where you can buy Spirit Shapes.

Kris and I have known each other for a long time. I’ve done several talks at her wonderful book store, The Well Red Coyote in Sedona Arizona.

In my opinion, Sedona is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. The town is also known for all of its artists and craftsmen and for its intriguing mystical and spiritual leanings. Because of the latter, I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the mystical and spiritual things in Spirit Shapes.

Because a lot of the story in Spirit Shapes, my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, takes place in a haunted house, of course there are ghosts. Do I believe in ghosts? Sure, I even live in a haunted house. Haunted by whom? I have no idea. I only know that doors open and shut on their own and our two cats see things we can’t. I don’t know why our ghosts don’t move on, but in Spirit Shapes Tempe finds out the answers.

Evil spirits play a big part in Spirit Shapes and yes, I do believe in evil spirits. I don’t see how anyone can live in our world today and not see evil spirits at work. All you need do is turn on the evening news to see what horror evil spirits have done or prompted people to do.

And the most spiritual of all characters in this book are angels. Their appearance is brief but mighty. Once more my answer is I do believe in angels. I think they are present in our world and busy protecting us. Unfortunately, the news doesn’t give as much attention to miracles angels are responsible for.

As an author, I enjoyed adding these mystical and spiritual creatures to Spirit Shapes and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them.


The person who comments on the most blogs on this blog tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting at

Blurb for Spirit Shapes:

Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Tempe Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and the present, and demons and angels at war.

Buy link:

To buy directly from the publisher in all formats:
Also available directly from Amazon.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Stinkin' Rose

Is it possible to use too much garlic in cooking? Maybe, but I haven’t hit my personal garlic tipping point yet.

Case in point: Recently, Joe and I planned to make a pesto to use with cheese raviolis, along with some garlic bread. While I picked basil leaves in the garden, he crushed most of a head of garlic. Apparently, he planned for that bowl of crushed garlic to go in both the pesto and on the garlic bread. I misunderstood and threw it all into the food processor for mixing into the pesto.

Okay, that was probably a lot of garlic even for me. And I’m one of those people who buys into its natural antibiotic properties, baking up a head of garlic whenever I feel a cold coming on. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — but it’s always so good, I never seem to mind a getting a cold so much.

Back to the pesto…I had to admit that when I tasted it raw, the garlic came through a tad too sharply. However, after only a little time on the stove, allowing it to warm, and when it blended with the creamy ravioli filling, it became deliciously mild and nutty, and remarkably balanced. Well, for my taste. 

I probably can’t be objective when it comes to garlic. I’ve always been nuts about it. When I was much younger, I lived for a time in San Francisco. While we lived there, someone opened the most unique restaurant, The Stinking Rose, in which every dish on the menu contained staggering amounts of garlic. In a city filled with great restaurants, The Stinking Rose remains my favorite. Enough other people must agree because not only is the original in San Francisco still thriving, they now have one in Beverly Hills, too.

Garlic in California isn’t limited to one restaurant, either. Gilroy, California calls itself the “Garlic Capital of the World.” In actuality, Gilroy doesn’t grow more garlic than anywhere else in the world, though they do grow loads there. Its claim to fame comes from the fact that one business, Gilroy Foods, processes more garlic than any other factory worldwide. If you buy your garlic fresh, it may come from Gilroy, but it may not. If you buy it in a jar, however, there’s a good chance that garlic began its life in Gilroy.

Gilroy is also famous for its annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, which truly is the mother of all garlic-celebrating festivals, and I’ve attended more than a few such events in various places. If you plan to go, plan well in advance. It’s tough to get a reservation in a local hotel if you haven’t made your reservations months, if not more than a year, in advance. After all, more than a hundred thousand stinkin’ souls invade this small farming community at festival time. There, you’ll find every kind of food made with garlic. My favorite is garlic French fries. Hot potatoes, hot fat, hot garlic — yum. What’s not to like?

There’s also a Great Garlic Cook-off, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations, a garlic braiding workshop, arts and crafts, live music, and much, much more. They even host a beauty pageant, crowning a Miss Gilroy Garlic Queen and her court, which they choose partly on the girls’ speeches about…well, you can probably guess — garlic. In the arts and crafts section, I still remember a beautifully painted platter depicting bulbs of garlic growing in a colorful garden. Deciding it was too expensive, I didn’t buy it. Sigh…I still wish I had, though.

The only garlic dish I’ve ever tried that I didn’t like is garlic ice cream. If you’ve never had it, you don’t have to attend a garlic festival to find it, you can make it yourself. Chop up lots and lots of garlic. Then mix that with a serving of your favorite flavor of ice cream. I had it mixed in vanilla. It tastes just as you’d imagine, with the raw garlic taste proving to be an oddly sharp compliment to the creamy, sweet ice cream. I somehow thought they would blend into something unique and wonderful. The “unique” certainly happened. But the “wonderful”? Not so much.

But other than ice cream, I think virtually everything can be made better with the addition of garlic.

How about you? What’s your garlic tolerance like?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

WriteNow Conference

Writing conference open for all genres

Hear from the national president of Sisters in Crime (SinC) as well as a New York Times bestselling author and more at “Polish, Publish, Promote,” the annual WriteNow 2013 Writers Conference Aug. 16-17, 2013 at Millennium Resort, 7401 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, AZ.
It’s a day-long writing workshop for those writing in any genre, preceded by an evening reception, and sponsored by the Desert Sleuths Chapter of SinC, an international organization supporting the professional development and advancement of women writing crime fiction.
SinC president and award-winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan is among the conference speakers. Her latest mystery, “The Other Woman,” is the Agatha Award nominee, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award and was selected as a Best Book of 2012 by Suspense Magazine. An investigative and consumer reporter for Boston’s WHDH-TV, Phillippi Ryan has also won 28 Emmy Awards and 12 Edward R. Murrow Awards for her television work.
In addition, Los Angeles resident Gregg Hurwitz will lead a writing session. The New York Times bestselling author of 12 thrillers, including his most recent “The Survivor,” Hurwitz’s novels have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been translated into 22 languages. He has also written comics for Marvel, (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin) and produced and written screenplays for film and television. 
Another conference presenter is Liz Fichera, who writes stories inspired by teenagers “who do extraordinary things.” Most of her stories are set in the American Southwest, and as one who relocated to Phoenix from Chicago, she finds the desert to be “an intriguing and mythic place.” Fichera has published two previous novels, and “Hooked” is her debut Young Adult novel from HarlequinTEEN.
Rounding out the panel of speakers are Kris Tualla, an award-winning and internationally published author of historical romance and suspense, with “The Hansen Series” and its spin-off, “The Discreet Gentleman Series,” at;  and Connie Flynn, bestselling award-winning author of 10 published novels who teaches fiction writing at Mesa Community College. Writing paranormal romance, romantic comedy, action-adventure and contemporary fantasy with mystery and suspense under the pen name K.C. Flynn, she has been reissuing her legacy books in the Amazon Kindle store.
Conference organizer Roni Olson announces that Jessica Trimble, publisher at Poisoned Pen Press, will be accepting a limited number of 15-minute pitches from writers for $15 on Aug. 17.
In addition, the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter anthology, “SoWest: Crime Time,” will be unveiled and on sale at the conference. This latest anthology contains 20 original short stories by author members of the Desert Sleuths.
Conference fees, which includes continental breakfast, box lunch and afternoon snack, are $95 for members; and for nonmembers, $115.
To reserve an appointment to pitch to Trimble, contact Desert Sleuths by email at
Conference checks, payable to SinC Desert Sleuths Chapter, may be sent to P.O. Box 9352, Phoenix, AZ 85068.
To register online, visit and click on WriteNow conference.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Ups and Downs of Book Signings

I’ve been asked the question many times, as I’m sure other authors have as well: what was your worst book event?

No contest. My worst signing occurred in the months after my second book, Dem Bones’ Revenge, was published, at an LA-area Barnes & Noble. I’d rather not get more specific than that because, although the store in general did nothing wrong, some employees didn’t acquit themselves too well.

When I arrived I was thrilled by the turnout. I was scheduled to present a workshop on getting published. This was before the self-publication explosion when people still wanted to know the how-tos of getting an agent and finding traditional publication. Some of my established readers who lived in the area and a current student were in attendance, along with about forty or so strangers. The evening’s prospects looked good.

Then a wackadoodle wandered into our midst presumably to hear the talk, wearing filthy clothes, with snot running down his face, and clutching a messy, yellowed manuscript to his chest.

While I spoke to the audience, the wingnut began mumbling some nasty neo-Nazi crap to himself, just loud enough to be heard. Well, he was either saying it to himself, or me, or the audience, or the universe in general — I was never sure about that, but while it was a low mumble, people around him could hear well enough.

I kept trying to make eye contact with the CRM, who was seated in the first row of chairs, looking for some direction about how I should handle this situation. She mostly kept her eyes on me, though not intently, wearing a vague benign smile on her face that never changed, which told me she was off in never-never land somewhere. I’m sure she never heard a word I said, and she really didn’t pay any attention at all to the Aryan disaster. 

I’m not sure I made the right choice, but since he kept his diatribes mostly at a muttered level, I carried on as if he weren’t there. I don’t think I would do the same today — I’m a lot more outspoken now — but I was newer to book signings then, and trying to make the best choice for everyone.

Throughout this, though, my anxiety spiked off the charts. At one point, he placed his manuscript on the floor and began reaching into his pants and grabbing something there. He was probably just grabbing what men have in their pants. That would have been gross enough. But I secretly feared he might have been reaching in for a weapon. I kept expecting him to pull a gun out. This was a really scary wackadoodle.

Obviously, he made others in the audience as uncomfortable as me. People began to get up and leave. Some of them were nice enough to grab a copy of my book and, with a little wave, took off. Mostly, however, they simply left. I didn’t know that some had stopped at the front desk and suggested they call the police and have them get rid of this guy. But the employees chose not to.

Towards the end of my talk, he quit mumbling and groping, picked up his manuscript and wandered off. By the end, two-thirds of the good audience I started with had left. My fans and my student had stayed, as had some strangers. I ended up having adequate sales to my surprise, given the diminished crowd. But fear had turned my legs to rubber, and I thought I might have developed an ulcer during the prior hour. Thankfully, that didn’t actually happen.

While I signed books, all my customers could talk about was the wingnut and the stuff he was saying. The CRM claimed not to have heard any of it, even though she only sat two seats away, and people much farther away had heard plenty. I wish I could turn off my hearing like that.

Since then, I’ve had great signings and I’ve had crummy ones, as all authors do. But none of the so-so ones have ever been a fraction as colorful. Never before or since have I ever seriously believed that someone might shoot me. Books do tend to bring out more cerebral people, though not exclusively that day.

I can laugh about it now. I’ve actually laughed about it for years, just not then.

It’s on my mind because next week, I will soon be taking off for my latest Southern California signings for Revenge on Route 66, and that memory always reminds me that no matter how my signings go, they’re always better than that. But no matter what happens, there will probably also be less to laugh about, too.

Mind you, I expect my SoCal events to be great because they’ll be at some of my favorite stores, including Book ‘Em Mysteries in South Pasadena, and the two Mysterious Galaxy locations, in Redondo Beach and San Diego.

I am saddened that two of the other stops I’ve always made there — Mysteries to Die for in Thousand Oaks and the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood — have closed their doors. As an independent bookstore owner myself, I know what a challenge it is keeping an indie store going today. Boy, will I miss those stops.

If you read below, you’ll see my schedule. If you’re in the area, I’d hope you’ll stop by one of my events. It would be great to connect with you. 

But if anyone there, or at any future signing of mine, sticks his hand in his pants — this time, I’m ducking.

Signing Schedule:

Saturday, June 8, 2 pm: Book ‘Em Mysteries, 1118 Mission Street, South Pasadena, CA. (626) 799-9600.

Sunday, June 9, 2:30 pm. Mysterious Galaxy – Redondo Beach, 2810 Artesia Blvd Redondo Beach, CA. 310-542-6000. I’ll be signing there with Kate Carlisle.

Monday, June 10, 7 pm. Mysterious Galaxy – San Diego, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd., Suite #302, San Diego, CA. 858-268-4747. I’ll be presenting a writing workshop, Creating Memorable Characters, in addition to signing copies of REVENGE ON ROUTE 66.