Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Auld Lang Syne

The time between Christmas and New Year's was always a favorite time for me. Maybe it was because of the relief from the relentless charge towards Christmas Day, cooking, cleaning shopping. It's all done and there's something wonderful about the season of lights which will finally dim after New Year's Day. I can sit and enjoy the Christmas Tree and remember all those who are no longer with us. But it's not a sad feeling, it's more that I feel them there, our parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins. I envision them sitting quietly with us, my mother feeling superior to my wrappings - hers were always works of art with beautiful paper and ribbons. My sister eating a Christmas cookie, she who never gained weight. My father somehow has acquired a whisky and water and a box of chocolates. My Victorian grandmother is there, too, rocking in the chair right next to the tree.Somehow my husband's family are present also, although in real life we celebrated separately. His father is enjoying his drink along with my father and maybe they are talking about a boxing match. His mother is working on an afghan. I feel the connection of family through the ages. Recently we learned more about my husband's ancestors and their life as early settlers in New York and Nova Scotia. Maybe they have stopped in, too, to see what life is like in 2011, as opposed to 1780. I wonder if they notice our tree is artificial, not cut down fresh from the pine forests?  One of his remote grandfathers has brought a bottle of the rum he distilled in Boston in the 1600's and he is going offer a glass to our fathers. Wonder what they would think of it? Then my mother's family arrive with their instruments and begin to play. It's a joyful scene, out of Charles Dickens. My aunt sits in a corner sketching them all. With the New  Year, they will quietly steal away again and our daily lives will slip back into their familiar groove. Time to look ahead.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Write

OK, it's almost time for the Man in Red to make his final and most important appearance. Not that he's not already in the area. We saw him having breakfast with kids at the Mall, and all the kids were strangely well-behaved.

I've got my little shopping list done, mostly and now I'm wrestling with putting ebooks online. There's a lot to learn about this subject and I suppose you could say it is in its infancy. It's VERY exciting for authors who are already published and have lots of books to epublish. It's also exciting for writers like myself who are new to publishing but we have to try to write and publish at the same  time, because we don't have a large "backlist",which is a heck of a big job.
I'm not complaining, I love it. All I want for Christmas is four more hands, Santa and a couple more laptops. Can you do that? An extra brain might be a good thing, too. And maybe you better not forget a hamper of wine and chocolate. If you can manage a muse somehow, I wouldn't say no.

At least we have all those great people out there in writerland who post on their blogs and websites and share so much information. Thanks to them and I hope Santa brings them all their Holiday wishes.

As my gift to you, I've made my latest mystery, "Dangerous Inheritance" free on Smashwords.com, for a limited time. I'd love it if you'd read it and make a comment.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nanowrimo Days

I just finished NaNoWriMo once again. This term is short for National Novel Writing Month and it happens every year in November. The task is very simple. Write 50,000 words (a novel) in 30 days. Then you submit your wonderful prose to Nanowrimo, who will validate the count and issue you a nice little sticker that says winner. I'm making it a little simpler than it is because the Nano site gives  you all kinds of advice and encouragement as you toil away and some goodies after it is all over.
Nanowrimo will not critique your work at all. It is simply there to encourage you to put the pedal to the metal and write, write, write. It is a unique experience, especially if you are like me and are either a slow writer or have trouble writing prolifically. Believe me, it is like blood, sweat and tears for me to produce that 50,000 words! Every day, I sit down and stare at my computer, willing it to produce about 2,000 words. Guess what? It doesn't. I actually have to write it myself. Each day I am convinced that nothing will happen. It will all stop right there. But knowing that there are thousands of people registered at Nanowrimo who are out there writing and GETTING TO THE FINISH LINE is the one spark that keeps me going.
Why is it hard to do this? I think for some people it isn't hard at all. Those are the people whose word count shows them at 80,000 words while I am toiling away at 35,000. For a lot of us, I think it is a real challenge. But when you gasp your way to the finish line somewhere around the 30th day, what a feeling of accomplishment! You can say to yourself, I can do it! I DID IT! I wrote a novel!
Now, it may not be a very good novel and it will probably need a lot of editing, but that doesn't matter.
You did something. Yes you, you did it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowfall


 
The snow had fallen steadily that afternoon and was now drifting lightly on a landscape of white, the evergreens looking like lumps of green frosting on an iced cake. Danielle wondered when the snowplow man would come to clear her long driveway. She had been out already, brushing snow off her red Cherokee. It had been snowing since yesterday and the road crews had been by several times, keeping the country roads clear for travel. Back in the house, she had taken off her green parka and tall boots. Looking in the mirror, she saw that her cheeks were red from the cold, giving life to her white skin and short dark hair.

She heard a meshing of gears and scraping sound and looking out the window, saw the welcome sight of a truck with snowplow  fighting its way towards her house.
 She dialed the phone.
"Jackie, it looks like I'll be able to come by to pick up the puppy today. The guy is just clearing my driveway now."
The phone squawked a response and she put it down, watching the snowplow shoving the piles of snow to the side. She hoped her elderly friend, Agnes, had got home OK yesterday. She had left when the snow was just starting. Danielle had tried to call her but there had been no response. Perhaps she had taken her hearing aid out or her son had come and taken her somewhere. When she got back she'd try to reach her son, Rob Stratton, a local businessman.

The driveway was now cleared and she went out and started her Jeep. She had a crate in the back for the puppy that Jackie had found wandering on her property.
Jackie had told her it was not unusual for animals to be dropped off there. "Just because we have a farm, those dopes think they can discard their unwanted animals here. I'm sick of it, but I don't want to blame the animals for something they can't help."
They both belonged to an animal rescue group which tried to make up for the ignorance and cruelty of others by finding homes for strays. Danielle would take the puppy to a vet who volunteered his time to examine, treat and neuter the animals they rescued.

As Danielle started down the driveway, her cell phone rang. She answered, "Hi, Rob. How's your mom doing? I tried to call her this morning."
"Danielle, I don't know, she's not at home."
"She left here at 11 AM yesterday and I thought she was going home."
"That's where I'm calling from now. She's not here. I've tried her friends and nobody seems to have seen her." His voice had risen at the end of the sentence, and she could hear the concern in it.

"She can't have broken down somewhere, could she? You'd have heard about it. I'm going out now, Rob. I'll keep an eye out for her car in case it did break down somewhere and somebody took her in."

He said, "Thanks, Danielle. I'm going to call the police next. I'll let you know.

Danielle drove along the snow covered road, watching out for any cars that might have been stranded. There was one car by the side of the road and she stopped to look into it but there was nobody there. As far as she could see, no footprints led away from it unless the person had walked along the road, in which case, the driver must have been picked up by someone. She realized it was not Agnes's car, anyway. In this part of New Jersey, they sometimes got several feet of snow during a winter storm. The road crews came out as soon as the snow stopped or even sooner and did a good job keeping the roads clear because people had to get to work and the school buses would need to run as soon as possible.  However, some of the back roads in this rural community would be plowed last. There were not many houses on her road.

 She was approaching the farm now where Jackie lived. The driveway was near a bend in the road and there was the entrance to a long driveway beside it to an abandoned farm. The farm driveway was drifted with snow. Danielle wondered what it had been like living on that farm in days gone by. She knew that farm kids had gone by horse drawn sleigh to school as recently as one hundred years ago. She made the sharp turn into Jackie's driveway and drove along towards the farm house. The drive had been plowed and she had no trouble on it. As she negotiated the narrow lane, the sun came out suddenly and blindingly. She blinked away from it, over the fields towards the old farm. The sun caused the shadows of the trees to be blue, ending in a more intense blue far along the farm driveway. The effects of the snow were beautiful in the country.

She stamped snow off her boots on the mat before entering Jackie's kitchen. A hound puppy snoozed on a mat in front of the wood stove. He looked as though he might grow up to be a good sized dog with, she thought, a mix of Labrador and possibly even bloodhound or some kind of hound in the longish ears She took off her coat and accepted a cup of tea. Jackie, a tall blonde in her thirties, like Danielle, was taking a break from her computer. She worked at home several days a week. After they’d had tea and a few homemade molasses cookies that Jackie was experimenting with, Danielle asked Jackie if she'd seen Mrs. Stratton lately. Jackie said that she hadn't run into her at the supermarket or any of the local spots. They agreed that it was unlike Agnes not to have communicated with her son or someone. She had just turned 80, but still liked her independence and to drive herself everywhere. Since she lived alone, Jackie and Danielle liked to keep an eye on her as they would have done for their own mothers.

Danielle petted the puppy who seemed friendly and in fairly good condition, although Jackie said he had been hungry when she found him. Danielle put on the collar she had brought and attached the leash. The puppy bounced up and down.

She got ready to go again and  Jackie came with her to help load the puppy into the crate in the van. As they left the house, Danielle's cell phone rang again. Rob Stratton now sounded panicky.
"Danielle, my mom seems to be missing. You were the last person to see her, apparently. Which way did she go?"
Danielle thought and said, "The way she always does. She drove down the road towards the highway. It had just started to snow. I thought the roads weren't bad but the visibility was not that great. I looked for stranded cars on the way to Jackie's but I didn't see Agnes anywhere."
Rob said, "The police are looking for her now. "
Danielle said, "I'm sorry, Rob. I hope they find her."
As she clicked off her cell phone, the leash dropped from her gloved fingers and the puppy bounded free into the snow. As puppies do, he thought the snow was the most wonderful invention for puppies ever created. He bit it, threw it up and ran around in circles like a mad thing. Jackie and Danielle ran after him, laughing.
Suddenly, he took off, running and leaping through the snow.
Danielle shouted at him, "Bad dog! Come back here!"
But the puppy was gloriously free again and he wanted to run.
He ran and ran through the snow, through the trees, over the field and presently he found a trail where the snow was not as deep. He followed his nose after the scent of a rabbit and then there was the smell of something he recognized. He explored it, running around. Then  he opened his mouth and called loudly in his ringing voice. There was something here he did not understand, something of despair. It made the puppy sad.
Danielle and Jackie were following the dog's tracks through the snow, floundering into drifts until they reached the old driveway, where the ground was harder underfoot. The dog’s tracks ran along it. They heard him in the distance, calling a hound call. Danielle looked around at the evergreens whose branches swept the ground with their heavy load of snow. It was cold and wet but so beautiful. A hound dog would love to track on this old farm.

As Danielle came around a bend in the driveway, she saw the puppy sitting beside what appeared to be an old car covered by snow. But as she got closer, she recognized the blue car that Agnes Stratton drove. She approached it with a thrill of fear. What was it doing here all the way down a long abandoned driveway?  It was under the branches of a very large spruce so anyone flying over would not have seen it. She looked in the driver's window and saw Agnes with her eyes closed, still in the driver's seat. Was she dead? She opened the door and suddenly Agnes' eyes opened. She said, weakly, "I ran out of gas and then it got cold. I couldn't get any farther down the road."

Danielle used her cell phone to call 911 and then Rob Stratton. Soon  the “whupping” sound of the blades of a police helicopter let them know help had come and Agnes was picked up and loaded on a stretcher. The stretcher was put aboard the helicopter. Agnes opened her eyes and gave them a weak smile and they knew she would fight for her life. The helicopter rose into the blue sky, turning the snow into a storm of white crystals, and the deafening sound gradually got less and less. Danielle and Jackie caught the puppy and trudged back across the fields.

 Rob called Danielle later to tell her that Agnes would be staying in the hospital to regain her strength but they expected that she would recover. He explained that she had said she had mistaken the old farm driveway for the road. At the bend, she went straight ahead, blinded by the snow falling and confused by her own poor eyesight, and just kept on along the driveway until she could go no farther. The country roads were just slightly wider than a driveway, anyway. When the snow deepened and she got stuck, she kept the engine running for heat as long as she could, believing someone would come along soon. She had thought she was still on the road, not in a driveway. But it might have been months before anyone would have driven down that old farm road.
“If you hadn't found her when you did, she couldn't have held out much longer. Thanks for saving her, Danielle."
Danielle said, "I'm glad we found her, Rob, but a lot of the credit has to go to a little puppy that somebody abandoned like trash. How would you like to adopt a dog?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Agatha Christie's Legacy

Both my mother and I enjoyed reading Agatha Christie mysteries. My mother was a contemporary of Dame Agatha's, who was 17 years older. But I also could feel comfortable with Agatha Christie's world. My grandmother was a Victorian and so many of the references in Dame Christie's works rang true to me. Some people accuse her of using stereotypes. But she had only to mention a certain kind of person and I could see them. They came alive to me. I read her novels partly to enter back into that lost world and live in it again. Of course, I was born in the United Kingdom and that plays a part, too. There are a lot of little things in her novels I enjoy and that are essentially the British view of life. Or at least, the view that people had in that day and time.

I find that I can read her stories over and over again. I let a certain amount of  time elaspse so I can forget some of it and then it is fun to plunge in again and read it. It is the one time when my faulty memory is an asset!

I love Agatha Christie's characters. Again, some have said that they are wooden. Not to me. Her people lived in a time when people were expected to live up to a certain image and standard, and I understand that. Underneath, they were still human beings. This comes through to me.

There must be a reason why so many people love Dame Agatha's mysteries. I would say, they are fun to read. Maybe that's the best reason of all.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Broadway, Here I Come!

I was recently surprised with a trip to the "Lion King" on Broadway. The whole family is going so I'm excited. It seems to be a show that a range of people might enjoy, from 5 to, well, we won't discuss the top number, now will we? I don't think I've been to a show since "Cats" was playing. Is there an animal theme here? Especially cats. I think our cats must have arranged this. I'll come back and tell Inky all about it, how his big cousins sang and danced. It will be December so we'll try to go over to Rockefeller Center and look at the tree and ice skaters. Once my mother took us to ice skate there, not that I'm any good at it. That was indeed a long time ago, when I was probably about 12 years old. I have fond memories of my time growing up in the city. I'm sure it's not the same city as it was in the days from the 1940's to the 1960's, which was the time I was going to school there. But the same feeling is there, I know. Hard to explain unless you were there yourself. Something about the glitter of Fifth Avenue, hustling of traffic which either is mired in gloom or attempting to emulate the Daytona Speedway, a rush of people of all colors, garments, personalities and purpose, the smell of dust, exotic spices, perfumes, exhaust from cars, trucks and buses, and under all the brine of a port city. You could go on forever listing this kind of thing for each different neighborhood, because New York, if it is anything at all, is a city of small neighborhoods. I spent overall 8-9 years largely in Manhattan and the rest in the borough of Queens. I understand the leafy neighborhood where I lived in Queens is mostly a Chinatown now, which of course, is quite normal for a city. Things change over time drastically. Or not. You could go back years later and maybe the street you walk on hasn't changed but then again you could come back and not recognize it. New York reinvents itself constantly and yet remains the same. Somehow. And I'm glad of that. So I look forward to this little trip to pay my old friend, New York, a visit.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Snow Depth Charge

The day before Halloween, Mother Nature decided to drop a depth charge on us. This was in the form of a large quantity of heavy wet snow. Like its watery counterpart, this load of snow had severe consequences -  for the trees around us, which were still almost completely leafed out. Some hadn't even had a chance to fully turn red and yellow yet. My favorite tree in the back yard, the linden tree, gave a mighty crack and one of the topmost branches, loaded down with snow, gave way, split and fell to the ground. This scene was repeated all over the county. I don't recall ever seeing snow this early around here.
Usually, either late November or maybe December, we almost look forward to the first snowfall. Snow can have a magical quality. I love the snowflake dance in the Nutcracker where snow begins to fall on the stage. Also, the beginning of the Chronicles of Narnia start with the children entering a wardrobe hung with old coats smelling of mothballs and then opening a door in the back and stepping out into a snow carpeted forest.
Once only, I went skiing and did not enjoy being cold and wet after falling into the snow multiple times. Winter sports are another story entirely, indeed!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Champagne from the skies

A huge dark shape descending from the skies, hissing and shooting flames. If you are visualizing a , scene from Harry Potter, you would be wrong. A balloon landed last night in our back yard, with a bottle of champagne for us.  It's life in the country. If a passing balloon has to make a landing on your property, the proper etiquette is to gift the owner of the land with a bottle of champagne.  After 20 years of watching balloons pass overhead, we finally got our reward. I understand it was a kind of emergency landing, as it was almost dark and one of the crew told us that they had to be down by dark, sort of the reverse of a vampire. I understand that the promimity of the road, where the "chase cars" could get in to truck the balloon out, was the deciding factor in their decision to set down chez Watson. It took them a while to get around our yard avoiding various trees, to finally arrive at the side. They had to fire up the balloon to lift it slightly off the ground, push it and then set down again. Then a lot of backing to get the truck into position. The passengers climbed out early in the process and went off to dinner to celebrate a birthday.My husband got a couple of very nice pictures of the balloon as the heater shot flames up inside it to create the warm air that lifted it.  I suppose balloon pilots never know for sure where they are going to end up because they are at the mercy of the winds and weather.Whatever the reason, it made for an exciting night for us.And I'll store away this incident for possible use in a story. Who knows?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We Can't Choose Our Ancestors!

Genealogy is something that I became more interested in as I grew older. Maybe it's something about perspective, I don't know, but I suddenly started wondering why I never asked questions about those who came before me. Not that my parents didn't talk about relatives. My mother, especially, talked frequently about some of her family. But now that I have decided to try to make sense of this information, I find that there are gaps. For my mother, it was always the same stories told in the same way. My father actually sat down one day and just typed the names of as many relatives as he could think of. Whether I will be able to make an actual family tree out of this, I don't know. My parents are gone so all I have is all I have. Now that we can go online and get more information, a new world has opened up. But still, the farther back I go, the more difficult it becomes. I did have some recent success with my husband's family, and this was interesting. No one in the immediate family knew much. However, they did have a few starting points (one was a marriage certificate and another was a basic family tree.) From there, I went on and discovered some very surprising things.

I had written "Dangerous Inheritance" before doing this family research, but oddly enough, it also is about a surprise and it affects three cousins. In my own case, there is, unfortunatley, no inheritance to discover, but what if there was? What if finding your ancestor or ancestors changed what you knew about yourself and your parents? These are some of the questions asked in this story. I hope the reader enjoys this little exploration of ancestry.

This ebook, "Dangerous Inheritance," will be available on http://smashwords.com/ and eventually on Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sailing off into the blue

A cruise ship holds many different individuals, all with their own plans and expectations. Although the cruise director provides entertainment and ways for people to pass their time, there is no predicting what will happen. I had this in mind when I decided to follow Edie Malone aboard a cruise ship and see what happens to her and the wedding party she is attempting to record on video. Edie sees this as an easy way to do a job - plenty of down time to relax on the first vacation she has had for years. Well, things don't go exactly as she thought and the bride ends up giving her an extra assignment over and above her video chores. Oh, and Edie meets a retired policeman who stirs up some mixed feelings in her. Her cousin Violet is along to be her cheerleader, but Violet is reluctantly drawn into the activity when she'd rather spend the voyage on a lounge chair. Things come to a climax on a foggy day on a Bermuda sandbar.

To get more information, please go to smashwords.com and download a free sample of my ebook, "Deep Blue Murder."

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Her Own

When I decided to write a mystery, I called on some of my own experiences in having a home business,which was pretty much just me and a video camera. For several years, it was quite an experience. I met a lot of interesting people. I found that mostly men get into this field, but there are couples and women, too. I thought I would make that the focus of the story I would tell. I hope you enjoy it.

Women can do so much more today than when I was really young. Today it is pretty much taken for granted that a woman can do any job she wants, start any business. Well, it wasn't that way only a few years back. Both men and women were expected to play certain roles. Men took care of women and women didn't get into professions that competed with men. Of course there were exceptions, but those restrictions don't apply any more in the United States of America.

I suppose it's both good and bad, in a way. There are certain people who will always need taking care of, I guess. But then, there are those like Edie Malone, who wanted to strike out on her own and did without anyone giving it a second thought. Except for her ex-husband and her Aunt Rose, of course. But Frank and Aunt Rose will never give Edie credit so she doesn't let it bother her. Most of the time.


It's not easy running her own business and she doesn't always make a lot of money at it, but she gets by. She doesn't expect too many luxuries but she's free to do her own thing the way she wants to do it. That is worth a lot to Edie, who is old enough to appreciate being free to be, but still young enough to enjoy life, at least when she gets the time. Her business which is recording video, takes her to some different kinds of places, like a nursing home, in Point and Shoot, and then of all places, on a cruise in Deep Blue Murder (coming soon). She never knows what the next day will bring and that's the way she likes it.

You can find further details about her adventures at smashwords.com. Just put the titles in the search box and they will appear.