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Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor 10/20/2010
Paul L. Gaus has been studying the Amish culture
in Holmes County, Ohio for thirty years, and he has thirty years of
stories to tell. It's too bad we only had forty minutes to hear
the author of the Ohio Amish-Country mystery stories talk about his
was born and raised in Ohio, and he has lived in Wooster, Ohio, for
the past thirty-three years with his wife, Madonna. His
interest in fiction writing was a result of college classes he
taught. His students examined a variety of American cultures,
and he often took students to Holmes County on field trips. On
the advice and encouragement of Tony Hillerman, he began working on
mystery novels set among the Amish of Holmes County. His first
book, Blood of the Prodigal, was published in June of 1999,
followed by five more. However, the books are being
republished by Plume, a division of Penguin Group (USA). The
series will be title The Amish-Country Mysteries. Blood of
the Prodigal, and Broken English have been released,
with the others to follow, about once a month for the next four
Paul began by telling us if you want to meet
the Amish in Holmes County, it's helpful to drive a sports car.
He described the countryside as rolling hills, with hardwood forests
and creeks. The Amish settled there because the land was
similar to the farmland in Germany where they originated.
One fall day, Gaus drove his Miata convertible
to Millersburg, the county seat of Holmes County. He parked at
the courthouse, an old stone building reminiscent of the old
Carnegie libraries. There's a red brick jail on the square,
and a Civil War monument, common to small midwestern towns, and a
patch of grass in front of the courthouse.
While he was parked, a small Amish man came
over to his car. He was about sixty-years-old, dressed
properly Amish with a blue denim outfit, a vest with hooks, not
buttons, work boots, and a black felt hat. He glared at Gaus
in his Miata, and then started making jokes, bad jokes.
"How many horses are under the hood of that?"
"How many oats do you need to feed your horses?"
And, then he said he had a serious situation. "How about
you driving me to Nashville?" Well, Gaus went to Holmes
County to meet the Amish, and he thought the man only meant
Nashville, Ohio. But, would he drive him to Nashville,
Tennessee if that's where he wanted to go? He decided yes, but
fortunately, it was Ohio.
The man managed to get into the low seat in
the Miata, and they headed out on the black top country curvy
country roads. When they went over a hill, and hit the
straightaway, the man said, "Just so you'll know, I've always
wanted to say I went 100 miles per hour."
Paul took Andy Weaver to a machine shop first.
And, he went in, talked to the man, made an agreement, and shook
hands. Once Andy was back in the car, he said to Gaus,
"Fellow thinks he's hot stuff. Spray a little gravel when
you pull out." It was like that all day. They went
to a carpentry shop, and Andy went in, made his arrangements, and
came out. They went to a leather shop, a wheel shop, a saw
blades shop. It was 11:30 at night when Gaus dropped Weaver
off at the bus depot.
Andy Weaver travels around on Greyhound buses.
He buys broken down sawmills from Amish families, and has them
hauled up through Holmes County. He stopped at all the shops,
because the sawmills will go to all of those shops to be repaired on
their way to Weaver's home in Minnesota. He makes a good
living. By the time he gets back to Minnesota, the sawmills
are all sitting on his lawn. He sells them to Amish families
all over the country. So, he's rich, but he never even bought
Gaus lunch. About 5:00, he did suggest to a family that they
were hungry, so they did get an Amish cooked dinner at that house.
One day, clear out of the blue, Gaus answered
the phone to hear Andy say, "How about if you drive me to West
Virginia?" Andy Weaver was living a proper Old Amish
lifestyle. He was in the sawmill business, and making a
living. He was probably a millionaire. He couldn't farm
anymore. He had divided his farm among his sons.
In Holmes County, Ohio, the land has
disappeared, paved over, divided between sons. Taxes are too
high, and the cost of farmland is steep. Young boys
can't farm. Middle-aged men have taken jobs off farms.
That's what will change the Amish society. Twenty-five years
ago, they would have said all people were intended to live as
peasant farmers. The Amish are set apart and cloistered from
society. But, things are changing out in Holmes County.
So, the Amish are moving to other states, looking for farmland,
Kansas, Missouri, Iowa.
Asked about the Mennonites, Gaus said they're
not the same, although they are similar. They both rose in the
16th and 17th century in Germany. In fact, the Amish are not
the same. There are twenty-five different types of Amish
congregations in Holmes County. The Amish try to be just like
everyone else, so they're not considered prideful. They call
us "High and Mighty," because we dress as individuals.
To be truly Amish, they must submerge their identity into the
identity of the congregation.
One summer day, Gaus parked the Miata on a
ridge overlooking a pasture. The hay was fresh mowed.
And, he was enjoying the view, when off in the distance he heard the
annoying, growling sound of a weed-whacker. Then, he heard
that noise go behind the barn below, then the next building, and
then it curled behind him, over his head, and swooped, and landed in
front of him. It was a radio-controlled airplane. Down
below was a ten-year-old boy, dressed in proper Amish clothing.
He waved the control box at Gaus to show he was the one who buzzed
the car with the airplane.
When Paul went down to that farm, he found
something peculiar at the driveway. When he drove into the
driveway, it broke the plane of an infrared beam, and down in the
shop, a man knew to come out. He was not farming, either. Jonas
had divided his lands for his sons. He drives a buggy.
He's Old Amish, and he's not going against his Bishop's wishes.
Jonas' first job off the farm had been doing
electrical wiring in RVs in Indiana. He became interested in
electricity, and took correspondence courses to learn. He
studied electric circuits, passed that, and then studied
electronics. He continued to study, microelectronics, computer
chips, all of it through the mail. Now, he installs
high-security system in English (non-Amish) homes. In
fact, Gaus had him put a system in his house. So, Jonas goes
all over the Midwest to install those systems. He has a Buick
station wagon and a chauffeur to drive it. The chauffeur owns
the car, and drives, because Jonas isn't allowed to drive.
P.L. Gaus has been traveling Holmes County,
Ohio for thirty years, studying how and why the Amish live the way
they do. So, he puts as much as he can about the Amish in his
mysteries. The Amish are pacifists, in fact the most
convincing pacifists. So, Gaus made a bargain with his readers
that it was not going to be Amish people who committed murder in his
The books feature three men, and the women in
their lives. There's Michael Branden, a professor at a small
college, and his wife, Caroline. There's the sheriff, and his
wife, the Holmes County medical examiner. And, there's the
pastor of a small church. So, Gaus' books are bout friendships
in small towns in the Midwest.
And, he writes murder mysteries, because he
likes them, and they say write what you like. And, mysteries
provide a great opportunity to illuminate a culture. Tony
Hillerman proved that with his mysteries about the Navajo.
Gaus writes about how Amish people lives, and why they live that
way. They have scriptural reasons for all of their choices.
They don't have electricity, cars, insurance. They're exotic,
although they're all plain as can be. The Amish are immune to
worries of ordinary life that we ponder. They're set apart,
and don't need us at all.
The first six books in the series were
published by Ohio University Press, and they did fairly well in the
Midwest. For an author starting out, it was a good experience.
But, a Penguin editor has picked up the whole series for the Plume
division. In six months, all six of the books will have been
reprinted. The whole series will be available by February.
Gaus has written a seventh book, Harmless as Doves.
It opens with a confession to murder by an Amish twenty-year-old who
confesses to his Bishop that he had just killed a man. If it
looks as if Gaus broke faith with his readers by making an Amish man
a killer, it's because in the last couple years there have been two
murders by the Amish.
Paul told us there was an Amish man who
borrowed the first book, Blood of the Prodigal, from a
neighbor who had all of them. He read it, liked it, and asked
to borrow the next one. He passed Broken English
among his family. When he borrowed the third book, he told the
neighbor the books were so authentic, and to think they were all
true. When the neighbor told him they weren't true, he turned
bright red, and went storming out. He angry that they weren't
true. A few weeks later, he came back and apologized, but the
Bishop in his district didn't permit them to read fiction.
Gaus took it as a great compliment that the man found them that
P.L. Gaus has made friends among the Amish.
One day, he walked down a steep gravel lane toward a red barn.
He was worn out, and hot, and he heard a high voice call out,
"Drink of cold spring water?" He heard it, but
didn't see anyone. So, he continued on toward the barn, and
heard it again, "Drink of cold spring water?" He
went over to the barn, looked in and there was an Amish man, a
dwarf. he had a goiter on his neck the size of a football. He
was missing three fingers from an accident. Gaus took some of
his college students to meet him. He was the happiest man Paul
has ever known. Everything he did was right out of the Bible,
including the way he dressed, with suspenders, no leather belt.
One of the Amish orders lives as close to the
soil as possible. They've never been to a city. They
have no bank accounts, shopping centers, pharmacies. They see
cities as evil. They've dug in as peasant farmers.
There are other writers who tackle the
Amish culture. Linda Castillo approaches the culture from
the outside. Her character, a sheriff named Berkholder, is not
particularly sympathetic to the Amish since she was part of that
culture at one time. In her books, the sleuth comes from
without to solve the crime.
But, Gaus' stories start in Amish
society, and draw you through it, so you can think of the mystery as
the Amish do. The seventh book in the series will be out this
Asked about the practice of dividing land
between the suns, Gaus said the Amish manage their estates in order
to control the behavior of the children; "I have land, and, if
you live a proper life, you might get some of it." It
comes from the European tradition that land stays in the family, and
pieces are given to the sons. With the lack of land, fathers
don't have as much leverage with their estates.
Paul was asked if the Amish had any sort of
government or leaders. He said they do have strict government
policies. A Bishop is in charge of a congregation. Each
congregation is entirely separate, ruled entirely by the Bishop.
They rule everything from how men cut their hair to how many pleats
must be in a dress. The Bishop also presides over religious
aspects of life, baptisms, marriages. They interpret the
scripture. They have authority over everything. Gaus
said that's why he was careful to say Andy Weaver and Jonas were
both in compliance with the wishes of their Bishop.
There are 250,000 Amish in North America, and
they're growing at a rate three or four times that of the English
population. A congregation usually consists of thirty
families, including all the children. And, you can drive
through the county and see one-room schoolhouses.
How are the Bishops selected? They're
chosen by lot. The person who draws the short straw becomes
the new Bishop. That's also based on scripture. In the
Book of Acts, the Apostles needed to select a new twelfth Apostle
after Judas' death. So, they drew lots.
But, they don't allow just anyone to become
Bishop. The nominate the best men in the congregation, those
that are seriously versed in scripture. They must have led a
sober lifestyle. There are four or five Bibles put in a room,
and there's a slip of paper in one Bible, at the passage about the
Apostles drawing lots. The man who selects that Bible is
Bishop for life.
Gaus knew a thirty-seven-year-old man who had
just been elected Bishop. He asked Paul all kinds of questions
about the English and sexuality. Some were so detailed it made
Gaus blush. The man apologized for making him uncomfortable,
but said the kids see videos, and all kinds of things, and ask
questions. So, he had been looking for an English scoundrel to
answer his questions since he didn't know how to answer the kids.
When someone in the audience expressed
surprise that the kids had seen videos, Gaus said they all have cell
phones under their pillows, although they're not supposed to.
But, they have access to cell phones because many of the Amish are
so wealthy. The tourist industry is vast and profitable in
Holmes County. The Amish sell everything - quilts,
dry goods, baskets, desks, and other furniture. Money runs in
an underground economy. It's not reported. It's all
cash, never in the bank. The Amish have money. They
don't vote. They do pay property taxes. But, they don't
pay social security taxes, and, if they don't have to, don't pay
Asked whether the intermarriage caused any
problems with disabilities, Gaus said there are a number of genetic
problems. There are hundreds of dwarfs in Holmes County.
There are some disorders that are known only among the Amish.
If you see gravestones, most are of children. Life is
dangerous on an Amish farm. They have ancient farm equipment.
One question was about marriages, and Paul
said most are not arranged. But, the Bishops are aware of
genetic danger, so young people are encouraged to travel to
far-flung Amish communities in search of a spouse.
People don't leave the Amish community very
often. Occasionally they are expelled, shunned, but not often.
The Amish retain more than 90% of their children. They
do answer census questions. They won't vote for President or
sheriff, though, because those people have the power to take a life.
And, remember the Amish are pacifists.
P.L. Gaus' appearance on his tour for the Ohio
Amish-Country Mysteries, was one of our most successful recent
Authors @ The Teague programs.
Blood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus. Penguin
Group, (USA), reissued 2010. ISBN 9780452296466 (paperback), 256p.
Review - Blood of the Prodigal by P.L. Gaus
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor 10/20/2010
Gaus' first book in the Ohio Amish-Country mystery series came out
in 1999, but Blood of the Prodigal has been reissued.
I'm so glad it has been, or I might not have found this series of
six books set in Amish Country in Ohio. Gaus combines an
intriguing mystery, an interesting trio of sleuths, and the Amish
culture in a story that gets my "family
recommendation." That means, I liked it so much, I called
my sister, and told her to read the book.
It takes a great deal for a Bishop of the Old
Order Amish in Holmes County, Ohio, to leave his community, and seek
out an outsider, someone "English," for assistance.
But, the disappearance of Bishop Eli Miller's grandson
counts as a big deal. He turns to a trusted minister, Pastor
Caleb Troyer, but, with Troyer about to leave the country, he's
going to need assistance from a boyhood friend, Professor Michael
Branden. But Bishop Miller isn't telling them everything,
just, that they can't talk to the police, and they only have a short
time to find Jeremiah, whose father probably took him.
Four days later, Branden doesn't know
much. "A young dreamer of a student put too tight a roll
on his trouser cuffs and ended up a smoking, drinking, fast-living
scoundrel who deserted his pregnant girlfriend, drove her to
suicide, kidnapped his own son ten years later, and is being hunted
by his father who shunned him, and by the girl's brother, who has
vowed to kill him." It seems life in Amish Country isn't
quite as peaceful as we all imagine.
Branden and his wife work slowly to develop
sources in the Amish community, but it isn't fast enough. When
the boy's disappearance leads to murder, the local sheriff is
suddenly involved. And, Branden's other boyhood friend,
Sheriff Bruce Robertson, can't be taken lightly. He may be
manic-depressive, with mood swings when he's not on his meds, but
he's a shrewd judge of character who has worked with the Old Order
Amish for a number of years. Now, can the friends put their
knowledge together in time to save another life?
According to Gaus' website, his
"extensive knowledge of the culture and lifestyle of the Ohio
Amish comes from over thirty years of travel throughout Holmes and
surrounding counties in Ohio, where the world’s largest Amish and
Mennonite population sprawls out over the countryside near
Millersburg, Wooster, and Sugarcreek. " He brings that
knowledge to this mystery, one that emphasizes the Old Amish culture
and lifestyle. At the same time, Blood of the Prodigal
is a strong mystery, with interesting twists. Blood of the
Prodigal is a solid debut mystery, set in an interesting
culture in our own country. Broken English is the
second book in the series. I can't wait to read it.
When Camille Kimball appeared at the Velma Teague
Library to discuss her new true crime book, What She Always Wanted,
she talked about the important people that had shown up for her recent
programs. When she appeared at the Poisoned Pen, six of the jurors
in the Orbin case showed up. But, she said the most important
people had shown up at Velma Teague, but she'd introduce them in a few
Camille described What She Always Wanted as
the story of a woman who had the chance for a loving life with a
wonderful man, and it wasn't enough for her. Jay Orbin was a
dealer in Southwestern jewelry. His wife, Marjorie, was a
Scottsdale wife and mother who had once even appeared on Lifestyles
of the Rich and Famous. But, Jay Orbin made a sales run to
Florida, and was not seen again by family
or friends in Arizona. On Oct. 23, 2004, his remains were found in
a bin in the desert. Six weeks later, Marjorie was arrested.
In the audience at Velma Teague were Jay's
brother, Jake Orbin, and his wife, Shelly. They are the guardians
for Jay's son. And, Camille said she writes true crime books to
bring justice to those who are hurting. When Kimball received a
call from her agent, asking if she wanted to write the book, she was at
a car wash. She told her she couldn't hear her. Could she call her
back. The agent said they were in an editorial meeting right then, and
needed a yes or no. So, Camille called Jake, and talked to him.
He said it was alright with him, although he really didn't know Kimball
at the time. He had faith that she would write something the
family would be satisfied with. And, when she first received her
copy, she gave one to Jake to read. He called the next day, saying
There are sixteen photos in
the book, which is typical for a true crime book. But,
Kimball had a number of photos not in the book, so she showed
slides and discussed them. She began by showing the book
cover. That's a picture of Marjorie Orbin, in jail, when
Kimball interviewed her. Patrick Milliken, who works at
the Poisoned Pen, took the picture. Patrick is himself an
author, who writes and edits short stories. He's the
editor of the collection, Phoenix Noir. Patrick
accompanied Kimball when she went to the jail to see Marjorie.
Marjorie didn't know who was coming to see her, because the
prisoners are not told who their visitors are. But, she
talked to Camille right away. Kimball visited with
Marjorie twice, and then Marjorie was moved to the state prison.
The state prison won't allow visitors to bring in media tools,
and Kimball wasn't going to interview Marjorie without a tape
recorder, because Marjorie had strong opinions, and wasn't
afraid to express them. After that, the two exchanged
One of the slides was showing Marjorie at the
top of a pyramid of girls in high school in Florida. People said
Marjoire always liked to be at the top of the heap. Eventually,
she entered the world of stripping. One picture showed Michael
J. Peter, who she took up with when she was stripping. He was an
important man in her life. As a well-known impresario in the
stripping business, Peter had access to private yachts, islands, and
the jet-setting world. At his side, Marjorie enjoyed that world.
Marjorie split with Peter because he had women
throwing themselves at him.
Then, there were pictures of Jay Orbin,, who
promised to give Marjorie "What she always wanted," a baby
of her own. He asked her to marry him, committing to pay for her
fertility treatments, and committing to be a father and her partner.
Marjorie Orbin went from a jet-setting life to true love. She
poured her energy into creating a home environment, and there were
pictures of Marjorie with the baby's room. Kimball said
that's all you need, a child and someone who loves you.
There were also pictures of a karate school that
figures prominently in the story.
Jay went missing in September 2004. He
never made it home from a Florida sales trip. While friends
started looking for him, Marjorie bought a $12,000 piano. She
spent a great deal of money, but the police were watching. She
was too busy to look for her husband. When Marjorie was
arrested, there was lots of cash in her purse. She had been
liquidating assets. And, there was evidence that she had been
One photo showed the site in which Jay's remains
were found. It was in the desert, near a busy intersection.
Kimball said that murder required strength, and someone with ice-cold
blood in their veins. Marjorie had the strength, and the
knowledge. She had built an island in the kitchen. The
police thought Jay might have been buried under the island.
Marjorie had replaced the tile, and moved the island. She put on
the laminate top, according to Jake Orbin. She was very capable.
She did the island during the search for Jay. Jake said Jay's
remains were not found under the island. As brother of the
victim, and guardian for Jay's son, Jake sold the house in 2005.
The new owner let the police come in and take the island apart to
check for remains.
Kimball also pointed out that Marjorie and a
previous husband had worked in construction. She owned Marco
Contracting Co., and could operate heavy machinery.
One slide showed the garage
door. Camille said they'd never know what happened in
the garage. But, there had been a large hole in the
garage door. Jake saw it when he was in town at the
end of September, and, a week later, when he returned from
San Diego, the door had been refinished and painted.
There was a shadowy figure in
Marjorie's life, her mother. The story in the book
discusses her, and her marriages. Marjorie had an
older sister who she was close to, and two younger
half-brothers that she didn't talk about. Marjorie's
personality echoes her mother's, according to Kimball.
Photo at left by Lesa Holstine
Everywhere that Jay went, people loved him.
He had lifelong friends, and business friends who had been friends for
years. In contrast, when asking about Marjorie, people were
irate, and slammed down phones.
It was Jay who made arrangements for the little
boy he loved. He loved his son. Jake described his brother
as open, fun, and loving. He would throw a party on a whim, and
have people over. But, Marjorie was not a warm person.
That's what the story is about.
Camille said she was nervous about the impact of
the book on the family. She called Jake when she received her
copies, saying she could take it to him the next day. He said he
could be there in twenty minutes. The next morning, she had
email from him, saying, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank
you. Your friend, Jake." Jake said it meant the world
to him that she did her brother justice. Camille even had
inventory from Jay's business that Jake gave her. She said she
wanted the family to have a positive experience with the the true
Kimball's previous book is A Sudden Shot:
The Phoenix Serial Shooter. The victims' families
from the case still interact on Facebook. In February 2011,
there's an anthology coming out, and Kimball has a story in it.
In England, the book is called Hard Bastards. In the
U.S., the title will be Tough Guys. It's true stories
about he-men or people in macho situations. Camille's story is
about a man who ended up in the middle of a murder in Scottsdale, and
saved his own life.
Jake Orbin did a short update. He said
Marjorie has never seen her son since she was arrested. He was
eight at the time, and is now fourteen. He does read the letters
from his mother, rolls his eyes, and gives them back.
Kimball said the six jurors who came to the
Poisoned Pen had lots of questions, because there were times they were
sent from the room during the trial. The state went for the
death penalty, but the jurors saved her life, recommending life
without parole. Jake said the family had no say in the decision,
but they also wanted life without parole, because someday Jay's son
may be able to go see his mother and ask why she killed his father.
The jurors said they were convinced she stalked Jay, and sent him up.
And, they made the observation that Jay had a large number of family
and friends at the trial, but nobody came to the trial to support
The case was covered on 48 Hours Mystery.
You can see it online on YouTube, and it's called Diary of a
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor 10/13/2010
I don't often read true crime books.
The emphasis on the cruelty of the murder, and the inhumanity,
is totally different from reading a mystery novel in which the
story is fiction, and justice is served. But, Camille
Kimball brings a heart to her true crime books. And, What
She Always Wanted: A True Story of Marriage, Greed, and Murder,
is a perfect example of the care she takes in writing,
emphasizing the victim, and the loss of that person to the
people who loved him.
The contrast between the couple in this book couldn't be
greater. Marjorie Orbin became a well-to-do Scottsdale
wife and mother after she married Jay Orbin. But, she was
a former stripper and choreographer who had been married six
times before leaving the life of a Vegas showgirl to marry
Jay. Jay Orbin was a successful businessman whose business
ventures and partnerships over the years led to deep, lasting
friendships, and he had parents and an older brother who loved
him. But, he fell for Marjorie, plied her with gifts, and
promised to pay for her fertility treatments if she'd marry him,
so she could have a baby, "What she always wanted."
But, on Oct. 23, 2004, a man's torso was
found in a Rubbermaid tub in the scrub desert outside Phoenix,
near a busy intersection. And, Jay Orbin had last been
heard from on Sept. 8. As Jay's family, friends, and
even business acquaintances frantically searched for, and
tried to find the missing man, his wife, Marjorie, behaved
oddly, attracting the attention of the police.
What She Always Wanted is the
story of a relationship that ended in tragedy, the
investigation, and subsequent trial. Kimball has done a
beautiful job in bringing the people to life. By
focusing on the victim, instead of the details of the murder,
she has reminded readers that in a murder case, the
important element is the tragedy of the destruction
of a life, a person who lived, loved and was loved.
Camille Kimball's What She Always Wanted is a
recognition, not that the killer and crime is important, but
that Jay Orbin's life and death were important.
Kimball writes true crime books with heart.
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor 10/08/2010
Hilary Davidson will be appearing at the Velma
Teague Library on Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 2 PM as part of the Authors @ The
It's a pleasure to introduce the debut
novelist. Hilary Davidson is a travel journalist, and the author
of eighteen nonfiction books, but The Damage Done is her first
crime novel. She marks that debut with an emotional story of a
lost woman searching for her missing sister.
Travel journalist Lily Moore had escaped to
Barcelona because she could no longer cope with her sister, Claudia.
Claudia was an emotional heroin junkie, who knew how to push every one
of Lily's buttons, beginning with guilt. When she's called home
to New York City, it's because Claudia's body has been found in the
bathtub of Lily's apartment.
But when Lily goes to identify the body, she
knows it's not Claudia. So, where is her sister? Who was
the woman in the bathtub? Who were the women who had showed up
at the apartment, identifying Claudia, while seeming to know so much
about Lily's family history? Now, the police aren't looking for
Claudia's murderer. They're searching for a missing person, and
Claudia must know something about the dead woman.
Hilary Davidson's story reveals the
complications of family relationships. Love, hate, guilt,
resentment can all be combined in the feelings about family.
And, Lily and Claudia share a history of family tragedy that united
them, while it also drove them apart. How does Lily describe
Claudia? "My sister, the magpie who had a thing for shiny
jewelry, bad boyfriends, and hard drugs." And, Lily feels
compelled to search for her sister, and answers, while at the same
time, she feels used. "I was sure that my sister had
deliberately lured me back into her web. I was trapped as surely
as if her hands were still closing around my throat."
Lily is the daughter of an alcoholic, the sister
of a junkie. Her best friend, Jesse, safe because he is a gay
man, knows her better than anyone. "You want to protect
your little sister. You've been doing that your whole
life....You never tell anyone the full story. You'd rather keep
it locked up." Lily doesn't trust her own heart, and very
few people. That makes it difficult for her to accept help, even
from the police. And, her anger, and fear, are buried deep.
Hilary Davidson's debut, The Damage Done,
is a powerful crime novel, the story of a missing woman. But,
it's so much more. It's the story of all the damage done
in family relationships, including the damage done by addiction.
Davidson's given us a profound story that shows the depth, the pain,
and the collateral damage caused by addiction, problems that extend
far beyond the person with the addiction.
The Damage Done introduces readers to a
powerful new voice in crime fiction. Welcome, Hilary Davidson.
Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime back to Velma Teague
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Top photo - Front row -
left to right - Lori Hines, Diana Marley, Roni Olson, Judy
Standing - left to right -
Howard "Doc" Carron, JoAnne Zeterberg, Deborah
Ledford, Chantelle Aimee Osman, and Nancy Redd.
a pleasure to welcome Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime
back to Velma Teague. Nine of the authors whose work appears
in the mystery anthology, How NOT to Survive a Vacation,
appeared at the library to discuss and sign the book. These
authors are members of the only Arizona Chapter of Sisters in
Crime, an organization that promotes the work of women mystery
writers, although the group also has male members.
Roni Olson (R.K. Olson) is the President
of Desert Sleuths, and she moderated the panel, introducing each
author, while giving a little background about their story.
She began by introducing Howard
"Doc" Carron, whose story, "The Old Miner" takes
readers on a trip to an Arizona mining town, a trip back in time.
Howard said this is two stories in one. It started as an
exercise for a writing group, and it just laid there. Then,
when he heard that the new anthology's theme dealt with vacations,
he used that exercise, and built his story around the original
one. So, it's two stories in one. Roni mentioned that
Howard is a librarian at the Queen Creek Library. He said
they've been so busy lately, that at his medium-sized library,
they had 10,000 books on hold last month. Roni pointed out
that Howard is an example of a Brother in Crime. When it was
mentioned that he was sitting on the end, by himself, she
responded there still is a glass ceiling, so they put him there.
Hines and Deborah Ledford were the next authors to discuss their
contributions. Hines' story is "Tragedy in the
Pines." She said she's always been attracted to the
paranormal genre, and an incident she had in Sedona provided the
material for her story. She was a paranormal investigator
for a few years, and that's how her story came about.
Deb Ledford's story, "Loose
End," takes place in North Carolina. Ledford is also
the author of the thriller, Staccato. Deb said she
writes in a variety of genres. Most of her stories are
thrillers or literary short stories. When she writes crime
fiction, she sees the stories visually. She saw a
mesh-covered bag of stones for this one, and that's how her
stories come about. It started as a story with a male lead,
and she switched it to a female.
discussing the background of her own story, Roni introduced Diana
Manley, author of "Checkmate." Manley's story is
set in Hawaii, and it features a bored trophy wife. It's a
May/December romance. Diana said she was visiting her son in
Hawaii, and they were walking a winding path, with large rocks
below. She commented that you could kill someone here
easily. So, when the theme was picked for the book, it was
natural for her to think of Hawaii. The young trophy wife
knows her husband's family lives long lives, and she decides she
can't put up with her husband any longer. Her mistake?
She doesn't realize her husband knows a lot more than she does.
Roni said mystery writers can find good
places to kill someone anyplace they go. Her story, "A
Real Hula-Dunit," is also set in Hawaii. Olson said her
stories are usually more character-driven, but in this one, the
setting took over. She had been in this place in Maui just
before her divorce, a perfect place for murder.
"Wish You Weren't Here" is by Chantelle Aimee Osman.
It's set in Santa Monica, California when a fan is killed at a
mystery authors' conference. Osman said the story was
originally supposed to be set in Costa Rica. She had gone on
vacation with friends, and had jewelry stolen from her room.
She was going to use that scenario. But, a bunch of the
Desert Sleuths went to Left Coast Crime last year, a mystery
conference, and all of that stuff about the mystery conference
just came pouring out in this story. Situations just came to
her, and Chantelle had never written funny stories before.
Nancy Redd said before she discussed the
setting of her story, she just wanted to mention that it sounded
as if being an ex-husband was dangerous. Redd found the
setting very important for "The Haunted Hogan."
Landscape is always important to her, so much so, that it's almost
a character. This story, with the Lake Powell and Navajo
reservation settings is based on her own experience. She
lived there for thirty years, and ran a trading post on the
reservation. The man she murdered in the story was one they
had been in business with, and in some ways, he deserved to die.
Judy Starbuck's "Cowgirls Don't
Cry" is set in Prescott. Judy said she likes to write
landscapes she knows nothing about. The world of the cowgirl
was unfamiliar to her, and she found it intriguing. So, she
researched the wisdom and quotes of cowgirls. She found all
sorts of interesting quotes, and mentioned a couple. One fit
her Annie O'Dell character, "Full of sass, strong as a bull,
and proud as a peacock." While trying to give a name to
this cowgirl wisdom, and audience member suggested, "Buckle
Bunny Wisdom." Starbuck said she wished she'd had some
of that wisdom when she taught for thirty years.
Although JoAnne Zeterberg was the last on
the panel to be introduced, her story, "Death on the
Intergalactic Seas," leads off the
collection. It features a fantasy cruise, and an alien is
found dead on the cruise ship. JoAnne reminded us that if
you know a writer, everything is fodder for stories. She
picked up her idea from a co-worker who attends fantasy fan
conventions, and comes back talking about all the costumes.
Zeterberg thought a fan convention would be a fun place to kill
someone, since everyone was in costume. So that no one could
escape, she set her story on a cruise ship.
As moderator, Roni asked the panel if
living in Arizona influenced their writing. Lori answered
absolutely. She said boulders up by I-10 were used in the
setting of her first novel, along with tunnels and caves.
She likes to write about places she's familiar with.
Judy Starbuck set her story in Prescott,
a setting that reminds her of her midwestern upbringing, but the
culture is not familiar. She's been inspired by the Spirit
Ranch, where she's stayed with friends who own a ranch in Skull
Valley, outside Prescott. She's used her friends' names, the
cabin she stayed in, and the terrain. Prescott is even one
of the places that claims to have the "World's Oldest
Rodeo," although other places make the same claim.
Howard Carron said he left the U.S. in
1969, and came back in '93, so most of his stories are set
overseas. He likes to use settings and customs that people
aren't familiar with. He likes playing with those settings.
Olson put Deb Ledford on the spot, asking
her the difference between writing a short story and a novel.
Ledford answered "Time." Short stories are more
encapsulated, and you have to tell a whole story, bringing if full
circle. Novels can leave some elements open-ended,
particularly if you want to write a series. There can be
unanswered questions. Short stories should be complete, with
Olson quoted another author, and
member of Desert Sleuths, Kris Neri, as saying a short story is
more about the destination, and a novel is more about the journey.
Chantelle said she had never written short stories until last
year's anthology. She said you needed to parse the story
down to what the point is. Roni said she had written short
stories, but last year was the first time she wrote a mystery
short story. She saw it as an exercise in discipline.
She found herself, with only between 2500 and 5000 words to write,
telling a story, and then abruptly, and then he died. In a
short story, the story has to be reined in. Osman agreed,
saying like homework, a short story has to have parameters.
There has to be some sort of mystery, and there's the arc of
beginning, middle, and denouement. And, there are "So
many places to write about, and people we want to kill."
JoAnne also said last year's story was
her first short story. She said you have to get characters
readers care about, mystery and tension, all in 5000 words.
But, the short story form is a good way to try new characters, and
see if you want to expand the story or characters into a novel.
Ledford agreed, saying she's writing a novel now with a lead
character from a short story she wrote five years ago. The
character never left her.
Carron said everyone thinks librarians
only read all day, but you're lucky if you ever get a chance to
read. He never has much time to sit down and write for a
straight period of time. Short stories are the perfect
medium for him, forcing him to edit.
Roni wanted to mention that Chantelle
Osman and Deb Leford were the editors of How NOT to Survive a
Vacation. She said that's a challenge because the
stories always need another look. Nancy Redd also wanted to
compliment the editors. She said just when she thinks she's
distilled the story to its essence, they prove her wrong.
They have wonderful suggestions. Judy Starbuck added that
the formatting was first class, and she's proud to be a part of
Asked if it had been a blind submission
process, Chantelle said yes. She said it's a small community
of authors, and it's important to make sure they don't know who
submitted the stories. She said just when you think you can
guess who wrote a story, you're wrong. The stories have
totally different voices. There is so much freedom to play
with the parameters. They used Sue Flagg's story, "The
Place I Was Before," as an example. Sue wasn't at this
program, but she based her story on a song, "Hotel
California." It's a three-page story, very different
from what she normally writes, and very well done. Chantelle
said a short story allows you to explore. Her story was
unusual for her, silly, and a cozy. There are cozies,
thrillers, and paranormal stories in this collection.
They did ask the audience for suggestions
as to topics for the next anthology. They've now used
holidays and vacations. Roni said they should use "How
Not to Survive a Trip to the Library." Someone
mentioned April 15. Reunions were mentioned, with all the
different types of reunions.
Roni said authors are always asked,
"Where do you get your ideas?" She said, that's
why you write. You write because you have so many ideas.
Everything is fodder for a story. Asked if friends recognize
themselves, Olson told a story about the author Louise Penny.
She said her friends are in her books, but none of the recognize
Picking up on the theme that everything
is fodder, Chantelle said she's just back from California,a nd she
had been staying in an apartment there. Right across from
the apartment were community dumpsters. And, every day, a
well-dressed woman would go out to the dumpsters, go through them,
and then get in her nice car and drive away. Osman is
working on that short story now.
In How NOT to Survive the Holidays,
Judy Starbuck wrote about a woman running away from a stalker.
That idea came from two sources. In Anne Tyler's Ladder
of Years, she wrote about a woman who went on vacation
with her demanding husband and three teens. One day, she
went for a walk, and just kept walking. That story always
stayed with Judy because she was the mother of three teens at one
time. Then, she borrowed the movie, "Sleeping with the
Enemy," about a woman who disappeared. Starbuck was
envious. How do you do that? Things you read provide
ideas. Now, Starbuck has a library of books on how to
Deb Ledford said sometimes she bases
stories on a CNN crawl, because you never know the details, or how
a story ends.
One audience member asked if the authors
had always written. Howard drew laughter when he said he'd
written so many educational papers, and so many of them were
actually fiction. Most of the panelists had always written.
Olson said, in her opinion, to write well, you must be honest and
reveal yourself. That's what kept her from pursuing her
writing for almost fifty years. Roni said she believes
everyone is a writer. And, we must write because it's good
to get that out of our heads and heart.
Chantelle said mystery writers like to
see justice done. There was laughter because she finished
that by saying, "We're like superheroes."
At one point, it was mentioned that
Chantelle wrote flash fiction, so I asked her to tell us about
that. She said those are stories under 1000 words. She
said you can be given prompts. Here's your subject.
Write about this; you have ten minutes. It could be rocks,
or various items. Once, she was given lipstick, and knitting
needles, so she wrote a piece, "The Case for Killing
Granny." When a cop investigated the death of a woman
killed with knitting needles, and asked the victim's sister who
might have wanted to kill her, the sister said possibly members of
the woman's knitting circle, because she was always stealing
patterns. When the cop asked where to find them, the sister
replied, "I guess now I'm the only one left."
Osman has a piece in an anthology called, "A Cup of
Joe." It's an anthology of a flash piece a day, with
365 stories. Flash fiction is a great way to get your name
out. You're put on the clock and have to write.
Going back to Chantelle's earlier comment
about superheroes, Diana said, that's why Chantelle is wearing
spandex, and is called "The Flash."
Howard mentioned he had once taken a
course from a behaviorist, who told them they had to be an
inanimate object. He was told to be a rock. Or, you
could be in the hot seat. There are two seats. You sit
in one, and ask a question that has been bothering you.
Then, you get up, go to the other chair, and answer it.
Olson's last question was, why write
mysteries, in times like now. Diana Manley said everyone is
looking for order. They want to know that good triumphs.
Judy Starbuck said she writes mysteries because it's fun.
But, she also likes order. Chantelle agreed that it's fun,
and she likes black humor. She also likes the patterns of
mysteries. Mystery is ill-defined as a genre. It
can be funny, or a thriller like James Bond, or involve cats.
There's not even always a dead body. Lori said for her, it's
an adventure and fascinating.
Nancy Redd said she's always loved
mysteries, and the changing times won't change that. She
started reading mysteries with Nancy Drew. Osman said,
"Mystery writers aren't made. They're born."
Olson said mysteries come to a conclusion, and there's usually
justice. Deb Ledford said there's nothing more thrilling
than creating a puzzle. We watch the news, and feel
powerless. With mysteries, readers and writers feel
And, I don't know which author summed it
up. Why short stories? "They're short."
Roni Olson, President of Desert Sleuths, said, "There's
something to be said for that."
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
"Remember, books have no calories, they last longer than a
latte and you can
enjoy them again and again. The police won't stop you if you go on
bender." - Elaine Viets
Betty Webb is always a favorite to welcome back for Authors @ The
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
author Betty Webb is always a favorite to welcome back for Authors
@ The Teague. Although she was here to publicize her latest
Zoo mystery, The Koala of Death, she also discussed her
said she is probably best known for her Lena Jones mysteries,
series books set in Arizona. But, one of them, Desert
Run, even has a section set in Glendale. She thinks she
put her favorite German restaurant, Haus Murphy's, in that book.
Her books, Desert Wives and Desert Lost, deal
with polygamy. Those books were instrumental in getting laws
against polygamy put in place in Arizona.
Then, Webb packed up to tell us about her
background. She was a reporter for twenty years for The
Tribune. She was hired as a music critic, for no good
reason. Maybe it was because she could tell the difference
between Bach and Mozart, and Metallica and other bands.
After a while, she realized there was no book reviewer, and
asked if she could review books. She was told no, because
they already used the syndicated reviews from the New York
Times. But, Betty covered all the bands and
symphonies that came to Arizona. So, she said, why can't
we treat authors in the same way? If an author is coming
to Arizona, let me interview them. After a while, those
articles started to be picked up by the New York Times.
Webb said she was nosy, born nosy.
She always asked unacceptable questions. When she noticed
the oddities about Arizona living, she started doing articles
about odd things. From there, she started covering
everything from domestic abuse to polygamy to child abuse.
She made her career up as she went along.
Betty Webb's Lena Jones mysteries are
based on real crimes and problems in Arizona. Desert
Noir, the first book, came from the abuse of eminent
domain. When they wanted to build the stadiums in downtown
Phoenix, they used eminent domain to take a neighborhood of old
adobes. Webb said most people sold for $25,000, but there
was a grandmother who held out, saying she was born in that
house, the one her own grandfather built. She'd never
known another house. The publicity favored her, and
finally she was given a much larger amount, enough to buy a
decent house. She sold, reluctantly, the same year she
died. A subplot of Desert Noir is eminent domain.
The second book, Desert Wives,
dealt with polygamy. Webb wanted to cover it for
the newspaper, but was told it wasn't about their service
area. So, she went to Colorado City on her own, the
largest polygamy compound in Arizona. She found a slum
there, because as long as a home is not finished, the owner
doesn't have to pay taxes. Then there was the major
financial reason for polygamy in Arizona. Since a man
can have only one legal wife, all of the sister wives, the
concubines, are not legal. So, their children are
illegitimate, and eligible for welfare. Many of the
sister wives are "married" at thirteen, and have
twenty or more kids. There are welfare checks for each
of those children. Then, many of those children are
disabled because intermarriage has been common for one hundred
years. According to Webb, 65% of the children are born
with genetic defects. Those children receive SSDI and
SSI for their entire lives. Warren Jeffs, the prophet in
Colorado City, was getting all of those checks, since the
members were required to turn them over to him. It made
him a multimillionaire. Although Desert Wives
was a novel, Webb put her research in the back of the book.
When the book came out, there was a national explosion.
And, Arizona was forced to address the issue. Janet
Napolitano was the Attorney General at the time.
Desert Shadows came about
because, as the newspaper's book reviewer, Webb received all
kinds of books. Self-publishing was starting to boom, and
Webb was receiving some whacked-job books. Two books she
received at the same time sent her over the edge. She
received two racist books in one day. One claimed the
people in the Japanese internment camps were happy. Webb
said anyone who publishes with a reputable publisher would have
to prove their argument, but with self-publishing, people can
publish anything they want. Desert Shadows
deals with self-publishing.
The old German prisoner of war camp in
Phoenix in World War II is the subject in Desert Run.
Sailors taken prisoner in the North Atlantic were sent to this
camp, because the best place to imprison sailors was considered
to be the desert. Thirty-two hundred German POWs were
there, but the security was quite lax. There are stories
of German prisoners who crawled under fences to meet
girlfriends, and came back to camp. They were well-fed,
had a softball field. Many of them did not want to return
to Germany after the war, and some came back. Several live
in Glendale, and every few years there is a reunion with the
guards and the ex-prisoners.
But, officers were supposed to attempt to
escape. So, they came up with a plan, and twenty-five
people went along with it. They'd dig a tunnel out, one
176 feet long. They had a map with squiggly blue lines,
and blue lines indicated rivers. They built a
collapsible boat, thinking they'd sail it down the Salt River
Canal, and end up sailing to Mexico.
On December 24, Christmas Even, they took
the boat through the tunnel, just to find a dry canal. So,
they carried the boat to the Salt River, only to find it was all
sand. Then, they dropped the boat, and decided to spread
out through the desert. They had no food or water with
them. They were living on roadkill. Soon, they
started to surrender. They even surrendered to housewives
and kids. The Arizona Republic published their pictures,
saying there was a $25 reward. That was a good amount in
1944, so some of the Pima Indians went back to tracking, and
went out in the desert, and brought them back. They were
all caught. Desert Run is told from two points of
view, that of Lena in present day, and, in 1944-45, that of a
sailor who escaped.
Desert Lost is Webb's other
polygamy book, a story of the lost boys. In polygamy, if
one man has many wives, some men won't have any. Some boys
don't survive, but others, at the age of thirteen or fourteen,
are loaded into vans, and dumped in cities such as Phoenix,
Flagstaff or Salt Lake City. They lead terrible lives.
The Lena Jones books are hard to write,
with heavy subjects, and a great deal of research. So,
Webb wanted to cheer herself up, and write something funny.
As a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, she works in Monkey Village,
where zoo guests are allowed in the enclosures where monkeys run
free. There are no barriers. It's a personnel-heavy
exhibit. They have to make sure no one picks up a monkey,
or gets bitten.
By this time, Webb had retired from The
Tribune, and her volunteer duties at the zoo got her out of
the house. One day, on her lunch hour, she took the back
path, and saw the anteater. The anteater, Jezebel, had a
baby. An anteater baby crawls up on its mother's back.
It looks just like mom. Anteaters also have a three-foot
long blue tongue. So, Jezebel and her baby were chasing
each other, and then they were laying down boxing with each
other. Webb thought it was so cute, and she should write
an article about the anteater. Then, she decided to try it
out as a book.
The Anteater of Death was fun to
write, but Betty never thought she'd get it published. She
sent it to her editor, Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Press.
It usually takes Barbara a couple months to respond because
she's so busy. Poisoned Pen Press is now the second
largest mystery publisher in the U.S. But, by the
end of the week, Barbara contacted her, and said we want to do
it. And, it is going to be a series, isn't it? And,
Betty assured her she has several more planned.
Then, they had to decide if the books were
going to be published under Betty Webb or a pen name.
Sometimes there is a reason to use a pen name. If an
author is publishing in a different field or genre, a pen name
separates you from your other books. Webb had a good
reputation with her Lena Jones books. If The Anteater
of Death bombed, Webb would have egg on her face.
Fortunately, the book was very popular, and had good reviews.
said she kills herself to write the Lena Jones books, but the
Zoo mysteries are easy, breezy. But, Betty had to choose
another animal. So, she went to the zoo bookstore,
where, as a volunteer, she gets a hefty discount, and bought
an $80 book, Encyclopedia of Animals. And, she
saw a koala, and knew she'd have to research it. The
Phoenix Zoo didn't have any koalas, although there are now
some coming in October.
The Koala of Death includes
some of the other animals in the zoo. One activity in
the book is one Webb's participated in, Bowling for Rhinos.
It's a fundraiser for rhinos, because it's scary for them.
They're killed for their horns, considered an aphrodisiac by
some men. The horns are also used as hilts for swords
and daggers. Betty has participated in Bowling for
Rhinos for two years, and it's a fun fundraiser. She
incorporated it in the book.
The Great Flamingo Round-Up is another
activity that was included. How do you give flamingos
avian flu shots? A band of zookeepers use large plastic
walls, and move the herd down the enclosure to a V, where vets
are waiting to give them shots. It's not easy to sweep
them into that V. And, the zookeepers have to grab them
around the body, while the flamingo is trying to get them with
their beak. That's included in The Koala of Death.
A major part of the book involves a
killing near the koala. Animals are a part of the
mystery, indirectly. Webb thought of these books are
funny, written for the sheer pleasure. The Lena Jones
books involve social service, but Betty didn't think of the
Zoo mysteries that way. But, many people have told her
they've learned so much about zoos and animals, and they're
volunteering at the zoo.
Webb is working on the seventh Lena
Jones book, in a series projected to go to ten. All she
would tell us is that it deals with a serious problem in
Arizona and elsewhere, but Arizona is ground zero for the
problem. That book will be Desert Wind.
The Zoo mysteries feature Teddy Bentley,
a zookeeper at the Gunn Zoo in California. The town is
based on Moss Landing, a town ninety miles south of San
Francisco. Moss Landing has a population of 500, and
they all live on boats. There are only two streets.
One has antique stores, and the other has warehouses.
There is a big natural harbor that's protected.
Everyone has to live on a boat. Teddy has to live on a
houseboat. This has enabled Webb to take tax-deductible
trips to Moss Landing every summer.
Webb said this is the life of a writer.
Life happens, and if you're alert and paying attention, you'll
have wacky opportunities. If Betty hadn't taken a lunch
break at the Phoenix Zoo, she wouldn't have written The
Anteater of Death.
Webb started and ended The Anteater
of Death from the anteater's point of view.
But, koalas sleep 75% of the day, so she didn't write The
Koala of Death from the koala's point of view.
Critics liked the second book, but someone said they liked Anteater
better because they liked the anteater's point of view.
So, never try to write for anyone else.
Betty said she has planned the next Zoo
mystery, but she won't tell. She got the idea when she
saw something, and was so tickled it made her laugh. She knew
it would be her next book when she saw the person and animal
so disgusted with each other.
The next Lena Jones mystery will
probably be out in December 2011, because the research is
As always, it was a pleasure to host
Betty Webb for Authors @ The Teague.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
"Remember, books have no calories, they last longer than a
latte and you can
enjoy them again and again. The police won't stop you if you go
on a book
bender." - Elaine Viets
Local author Betty Webb will be
appearing at the Velma Teague Library on Thursday, Sept. 23 at 2 PM on
behalf of Authors @ The Teague. Her latest zoo mystery, The
Koala of Death, will be available for purchase and signing after the
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
you only know Betty Webb's books from the Lena Jones mysteries, you
know the dark side of her writing. If you want to know the fun
side, you'll have to check out her zoo books. The latest one, The
Koala of Death, has all of the elements that made the first book
in the series, The Anteater of Death, so successful. If
you're looking for mystery, interesting characters, and fascinating
animals, combined with some humor, you won't go wrong with The
Koala of Death.
Theodora "Teddy" Bentley is a zookeeper
who lives on a houseboat in Gunn Landing Harbor in California. She
headed home early after a party on one of the other boats, but that
doesn't mean she slept well enough to face the body she found bumping
against her boat in the morning. When the body turned out to be
"Koala Kate," the new koala keeper at the Gunn Zoo, Teddy's
troubles were just beginning. Now she was involved
in another murder case, to the despair of her wealthy mother, and the
frustration of her boyfriend, Sheriff Joe Rejas. And, the zoo now
needed a PR person to appear on a weekly TV show, so Teddy was drafted
for that job.
Teddy Bentley has a very complicated life.
Her family was always wealthy, but her father embezzled millions, and
left for Costa Rica. Her mother,Caro, still loved him, but found
ways to recover her money and pride, by marrying one man after another,
each wealthier than the previous one. And, despite Teddy's
relationship with Joe, Caro was always trying to fix her daughter up
with eligible, wealthy men. Teddy values her independence,
her life on the houseboat, and her job at the zoo, but a second murder
drives her back home. She might be forced to live with her mother,
but she's determined to continue to dig into the death of her friends.
Teddy is a likable, intelligent amateur sleuth.
Throw in her sense of humor when it comes to her beloved animals, and
it's a pleasure to read about her. The book is filled with a
wealth of material about various animals as Teddy and the zoo staff
promote them on TV, and raise money to save endangered animals.
Readers who loves animals will have to respect Teddy's knowledge. She
does have a sense of humor about the animals, though, and she enjoys
their antics as she copes with a self-important TV journalist.
And, her relationship with the koala, Wanchu, is wonderful to
Despite warnings from Joe and Caro, Teddy and the
Gunn Zoo are once more deeply involved in a murder investigation.
Readers will only say thank heavens Teddy cares enough to investigate.
Betty Webb's zoo mysteries, The Anteater of Death, and, now, The
Koala of Death, are enjoyable treats.
mystery author Betty Webb will discuss and sign her second Gunn Zoo
Koala of Death, during this Authors
@ the Teague event.
In this sequel to the prizewinning The
Anteater of Death,
houseboat-dwelling zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley is forced to
take over a chaotic zoo TV show after she finds its current host, “Koala
Kate,” floating in the harbor. It looks like Teddy better find the
killer before she’s next on the hit list! "Teddy's
second case showcases an engaging array of quirky characters, human and
animal." (Kirkus Reviews)
As her website
reveals, former journalist and literary critic Betty Webb has
“interviewed U. S. presidents, Nobel prize-winners, astronauts who’ve
walked on the moon, polygamy runaways, the homeless, and the hopeless,”
not to mention working as “a folk singer . . . picked cotton, raised
chickens, . . . worked in a zoo, been a go-go dancer and horse
breeder, taught Sunday School, founded a literary magazine, helped rebuild
a long-abandoned 120-year-old farm house, and back-packed the Highlands of
Scotland alone.” Also known for her darker Lena Jones mysteries,
she keeps up her research for the Gunn Zoo mysteries by volunteering at
the Phoenix Zoo.
The program is free. Books will be
available for purchase and signing. For more information, please
ten local mystery authors from the Arizona-based Desert Sleuths chapter of
Sisters in Crime when they discuss and sign their themed anthology, How
NOT to Survive a Vacation, at the Velma Teague Branch Library.
The usual hazards of traveling are bad enough,
but what happens when lost luggage and sunburn escalate to murder?
Packed full of original short stories by 18 authors, this locally written,
designed, and published collection will give Arizona mystery buffs a
chance to take their own mini-vacation anytime they like—no trip
insurance required—to locales ranging from Arizona to Alaska.
Authors scheduled to attend the panel discussion
include Howard “Doc” Carron (“The Old Miner”); Barbara Goodson
(“Hell to Pay”); Lori Hines (“Tragedy in the Pines”); Deborah J
Ledford (“Loose End”); Diana Manley (“Checkmate”); R. K. Olson
(“A Real Hula-Dunit”); Chantelle Aimee Osman (“Wish You Weren’t
Here”); Nancy Redd (“The Haunted Hogan”); Judy Starbuck (“Cowgirls
Don’t Cry”); and JoAnne Zeterberg (“”Death on the Intergalactic
Arizona’s Desert Sleuths is one of almost 50
chapters of Sisters in Crime, a national organization dedicated to the
advancement of women authors in the mystery field. Desert Sleuths
holds monthly meetings and an annual conference. For more
information about both the Desert Sleuths and this new anthology, please
refer to the Desert Sleuths website.
Books will be
available for purchase. The program is free. For more information, please
Cano-Murillo's appearance at Authors @ The Teague - The Crafty
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Lesa Holstine and Kathy Cano-Murillo
Photo by Judy Marlette
I anticipated Kathy Cano-Murillo's appearance for Authors @
The Teague. The author of the novel Waking Up in the Land of
Glitter is familiar to readers throughout the Valley because
of her long-time column, The Crafty Chica, for the Arizona
Republic. I wasn't disappointed when I expected a fun program.
Before the program even started, Kathy's fans were showing her
their crafts. She told a teen that she does random acts of
craftiness, and, at holiday time, gives ornaments out to
clerks in stores when she thinks they need them. She also gave
us peeks at her next books, telling us she has a Mexican
bakery in the third book, so she was heading to La Purisima
Bakery in Glendale after the program. And, she said La Perla
Cafe in Glendale is in her second book.
After the introduction, she said so many books are set in New
York or L.A. But, Cano-Murillo was raised here, and her
parents and grand-parents grew up in Phoenix. They have a lot
of stories about the area, and, at 45, Kathy has a lot of
stories to tell as well. There are a lot of cool things here,
and, as an artist and crafter she can showcase different
aspects of the Valley in her books.
Everyone thinks Kathy Cano-Murillo was a crafter before she
was an author, but she has been writing much longer than she's
been crafting. She remembers writing in fifth grade when her
teacher told them to write about something that made them
happy. Kathy went home, and deliberately provoked her family
in order to get something to write about. She loved Erma
Bombeck back then, and wrote her stories as if they were
sitcoms. When her parents when to school for parent/teacher
conferences, the teachers gathered around, and said we love
Kathy's stories. We loved the story of the cupcake fight. And,
Kathy's parents said, you told them about that? The entire
family got into a cupcake fight one evening. Cano-Murillo
loved the reaction to her stories. She had the writing bug,
and planned to be a writer throughout high school and college.
Kathy's husband is a painter and musician, and he's the one
who got her into crafts. At one time, they were actually too
good, with an enormous business and two national sales reps
and 300 accounts. But, Cano-Murillo had a family life, and two
kids, and still had the dream of writing. She wanted to work
at the newspaper. So, she took a job as a customer service
rep, and hated it. It was just complaints. Was this the end of
her dream? One day, she just didn't go into work, telling them
she had pneumonia. Then, a job came up in the tearsheet room.
She worked her way into the newsroom. Then, she volunteered
for stories. Then, they asked her to write a craft column.
In 2003, Cano-Murillo was blogging, and it was the time when
editors were looking at blogs for book ideas. Two editors
asked her if she was thinking about writing a novel. Kathy
thought maybe it was a sign from the universe. Maybe she
needed to do this. She wanted to tell writers that National
Novel Writing Month made her buckle down and write. November
is the month, and if you participate, you just write. Don't
second guess yourself. By the end of the month, there's a
structure for the manuscript.
Then, an agent told her the novel was a mess. He couldn't even
read it. So, Cano-Murillo set it aside. Then, when she was
booked to speak about crafts at a writing convention, she
listened to authors, and knew she could write a novel.
In 2007, Cano-Murillo's novel sold, in a two book deal. It was
a lot of work, and her husband pushed her. She knows she was
meant to do it. She said you have to go through fire, and get
burned, to come out the other side.
Kathy said her book, Waking Up in the Land of Glitter, is a
fun, fast read. It's set in Phoenix. She wanted to capture the
emotion behind crafters. She wanted to show them overcoming
things, and learning new things. Her first book shines a light
on crafters, and how they work.
The second book, Miss Scarlett's School of Patternless Sewing,
will be out in March. The book features a patternless sewing
class. Cano-Murillo taught a class with a patternless purse,
and people freaked. The book discusses the patterns we're
given when we're born. Families give us a pattern, and some
people follow it, and others don't. This book is set in
Glendale. Scarlett works as a high end fashion designer in
Phoenix, and thinks she's going to get to teach a sewing class
in the building where she works. But, her boss turns her down,
and she ends up teaching the class in a record store in
The third book, Miracle of the Sacred Cupcake, is about cake
decorating. All of the books have different characters. The
second book was started from scratch, so it was easy. But, it
was difficult to come up with different characters again for
the third. That was extra work.
Waking Up in the Land of Glitter features three women. Star is
a Bohemian. She wants to be an artist, but she was raised with
too much openness. She's lazy when it comes to goals. Her best
friend, Ofelia, is crafty. But, some of her crafts are so
over-the-top that they're horrible. The third woman is a local
television personality, Chloe Chavez. Kathy read a chapter
from the book, in which Star needs help with centerpieces for
a big craft convention, and Ofelia suggests tumbleweed.
Asked about submitting material, Kathy, who has written
nonfiction craft books as well as fiction, answered for both
types of books. She said, with nonfiction, an author submits a
proposal before writing. Outline the book. Talk about
comparative titles. Why is this book different? Cite specific
If writing fiction, write the whole book. Agents won't look at
you unless the book is done. There's a difference between
talking about writing a book, and actually doing it. People
must show they take it seriously and submit a full manuscript.
How did she start with crafts? She originally started crafts
when she was manager of her husband's band. She always danced
while he performed, and he told her he was jealous watching
her dance. So, he suggested she make something to sell at
concerts. She made watercolor paper earrings, and they did
well. Then they sold them at a consignment store. They started
taking orders, and branched out, for more income. She did
research to find other niches to fill.
When Cano-Murillo did her craft column, she also worked with
local channels 3 and 12. Kathy said personally, she's all
about colors, purples and greens, reds and oranges. But, she
was writing for a different reader, someone Martha Stewart
focused who did scrapbooking. She had to design for a
mainstream audience. She did the column for ten years, taking
Kathy down a few notches. Instead of vivid colors and glitter
and varnish, she accommodated the mainstream reader.
Kathy left the newspaper in 2007. She had an offer to do her
own Crafty Chica line. She loved her job at the newspaper, but
in the last few years there, the editor wasn't her favorite.
It made it worse when she loved something, and someone took it
away. So, Cano-Murillo thought the lesson was it was time to
do something new. Duncan Enterprises, later ILovetoCreate,
asked her what her wishlist was to leave the paper and work
for them full-time. So, Kathy came up with an outrageous
wishlist, and they met it. She did the column for another
year. But, it reached the point where she couldn't do a book,
a product line, and a column. She had to let something go.
Cano-Murillo's last Crafty Chica column was in 2008.
Cano-Murillo said the crafting industry is fun, with so much
drama. Asked if glitter has a bad reputation, Kathy said she
recently did a workshop with a brown bag craft. And, a woman
said, "Wow, glitter adds glamour to a brown bag."
Kathy laughed and said anything adds glamour to a brown bag.
She said there are book characters at some of those
conventions and workshops. At one held here in Phoenix, for a
week, there was a Steampunk Barbie class. They took a Barbie
doll, torched it, and worked with it.
Before signing books, Kathy Cano-Murillo read from next year's
book, set in Glendale, Miss Scarlett's School of Patternless
Sewing. We hope to have her back next March when that book is
Kathy Cano-Murillo's website is www.craftychica.com
Author Beth Kendrick is a Valley resident, so
we recently reviewed her latest novel.
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
If you had to do it all over again, would you still be working in the same field you originally went into after college? Beth Kendrick gives four English majors the chance to start over again ten years after graduation in Second Time Around. (Oh, and if you were an English major, as I was, this is a power trip.)
Five graduates of a small liberal arts college, Thurwell College in upstate New York, gather for a
mini-reunion every year. It's been ten years since graduation. At thirty-two, Arden is a successful lawyer, while the four English majors bemoan their jobs, and say they all should have gone to law school. Jamie is a bartender in California. Brooke, their Southern belle, works in the alumni office at the college. Caitlin has her PhD in English, and is an assistant professor at another small college, while Anne is a copywriter. Now that they're all mature women, they have other dreams; to be an events planner, to own a bed-and-breakfast, to be a novelist, to have a baby. They're burned out, tired of their lives.
And, then they're given one million dollars, split four ways, to achieve their dreams. But, each woman will discover that dreams can be hard work. They each are empowered to change their lives, to discover what life could be like. And, sometimes it takes dreams, and hard work, to find the strength in ourselves.
If you've read this blog long enough, you'll know I'm a fan of women's fiction with groups of friends. I can also be quite critical of those books if the women aren't individuals. I want the characters to stand out so I can tell them apart. Kendrick succeeds in Second Time Around. The women all have unique personalities and life plans. But, they share a deep friendship, and love of life, that leads to laughter. It's fun to watch them continue to grow, to find their own strengths. When Brooke buys her dream bed-and-breakfast, she doesn't know what awaits her. There's humor and romance in the book, but men alone are not the answer for any of these women. Second Time Around is a satisfying story of women who discover their own possibilities.
Beth Kendrick's website is http://www.bethkendrick.com/
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Authors @ The Teague - Women Who Kill
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
(Left to right: Zoë Sharp, Juliet
Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Jeanne Matthews. Photo: copyright Ed
Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)
What a treat to host the program "Women Who Kill" for Authors @
The Teague. It was a celebration with friends. I welcomed back Zoë Sharp,
who did the very first authors program at the Velma Teague Library three
years ago. She kicked off the series that became Authors @ The Teague.
Juliet Blackwell is the author of the recent book, A Cast-Off Coven.
Under the name Hailey Lind, she writes the Art Lover's Mystery series with
her sister. Sophie Littlefield's first book, A Bad Day for Sorry
has been nominated for all kinds of awards, and it won the RTBookReviews
Reviewers' Choice Award. Her latest book is A Bad Day for Pretty.
Jeanne Matthews is the author of a debut traditional mystery, in the style
of Agatha Christie. Bones of Contention, though, is set in the Top
End of Australia. After that short introduction, I turned the program over
to Juliet Blackwell.
It was flattering when Juliet told the audience I was a treasure in the
world of mysteries. She said I'm a reviewer and reader, and it's wonderful
to have librarians who love books, and spread that love of books.
She went on to say the authors were all in town for the Poisoned Pen
Conference, and you could find the entire program on the bookstore's
Then, Juliet said, the program was called "Women Who Kill," so how
many people have your protagonists killed? Or how many have you killed off?
Is killing ever justified?
Jeanne Matthews' protagonist is southern, from Georgia, in
her debut, Bones of Contention. She does know how to shoot. Dinah
is a wannabe anthropologist. She's diverted by the planned euthanasia in
Australia of a man she regarded as a father. Her life falls apart all at one
time. She finds out her boyfriend is unfaithful; she loses her job, and her
uncle is planning an assisted suicide.
Jeanne asked if we'd heard, "The past is a dance. It isn't ever
past." That's the story of Dinah's life, childhood, and the myths of
family. The book involves Dreamtime, the Aboriginal beliefs that they can
communicate with their ancestors. Dinah as to deal with secrets of her
family, and then she's confronted with murder. Family members are all
Bones of Contention is set in the Northern Territory. That area makes up 20% of Australia's land, but only has 1% of
the population. There's colorful slang, with the language, Strine. The
characters are colorful. And, of course there's the Aboriginal language.
Matthews said she was only in Australia for six weeks, but she read a lot,
and did a great deal of research. So, the final answer? Her heroine would
kill if she had to, but she'd shoot to wound first.
Juliet mentioned that Sophie's protagonist has killed. Sophie
Littlefield's character, Stella Hardesty, is a fifty-year-old rural
housewife. She suffered from years of abuse from her husband. She finally
killed with with a wrench, but it was an accident. After that, she thought
she should offer to kill other abusive men. But, the publishing world wasn't
really ready for a woman to kill, at least not a woman who isn't glamorous.
She's a housewife. So, once the editors were done with her, she
"retains, restrains, and retrains men." Sophie laughed and said
she just thought of that phrase. Her books have been called bondage cozies.
Stella is overweight, medium height, not beautiful. Sophie said she learned
SO much about restraints online. A Bad Day for Sorry is her second
book. Sophie is not an advocate for violence or vigilantism. Although she
knew she was speaking in a state where residents can carry. Juliet mentioned
that Sophie's latest book is written up in People this week.
didn't have to ask Zoë if her character kills. Sharp's Charlie Fox does
kill, but not on a regular basis. But, it's her business, since she works as
a bodyguard. She does use deadly force. And, Zoë corrected Jeanne, saying
you don't shoot to wound. You aim for the central body mass, and fire until
the person goes down.
She did say, however, that she may have to pretend that she is
Australian. She was heading to New Orleans next, and she understands the
British are not very popular there right now. So, she's changing her name to
"Sheila," and going to talk about the barbie.
(Photo: copyright Ed Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)
Charlie Fox discovers her ability to kill early on. The first book in the
Charlie Fox series has finally been released in the U.S. Killer Instinct is
published by a small press, Busted Flush. This is the start of Charlie's
she discovers her inner strength. Charlie's backstory is that she was a
victim. This is the turning point, and she's no longer a victim. She's now a
woman who kills.
Zoë said women who kill seem different than many of the male protagonists.
Robert B. Parker's Spenser can shoot someone, and then go out and have a
drink with Susan. But, it's not that easy for Charlie. She responds to
threats, but she's not happy to live with herself afterward. Sharp's eighth
book has just been released in the U.K., and she's delivered the next one to
the publisher. She's put Charlie through the wringer.
Juliet asked if Zoë was tempted to rewrite the first book when it was
released in the U.S. She answered that she's never quite finished with a
book, so she was tempted to redo it. But, it's as if a snapshot was taken
when the book was published. She could go back and photoshop it, but it was
right for Charlie's life then. Sharp said she hopes she continues to
progress with her craft. When asked which book is her favorite, it's always
the next one.
As Juliet started to move on, Zoë reminded her that she was a participating
author on the panel. She said as Juliet Blackwell she wrote Second
Spirits. The second book in that series, A Cast-Off Coven, is just
out. Juliet's character is a natural born witch. She has paranormal
abilities, and was run out of her west Texas hometown at an early age. She
lands in San Francisco in Haight-Ashbury, a good place to fit in as a witch.
told us she takes witchcraft seriously. She does lots of research about it
all over the world. Witchcraft and the healing arts often overlap. And,
women are often the healers in a community, and tend to be the first accused
Now, if you had powers, would you be tempted to use them? Blackwell's series
character, Lily Ivory, doesn't hesitate to use hexes and charms. But, she's
going to have Lily confront those issues. How far should she take her
Now, in Sophie's book, Stella has no memory of killing her husband. Often,
people don't, because they were too traumatized. Compare that to Charlie
Fox, who was trained to kill in the military. Juliet said she learned to
shoot when she was ten, and her father gave her a gun. He was a military
man, and that's how she bonds with her father. Now, he likes to help her,
and tell her what kind of gun her character would use. At the same time, her
father taught her, if you use a gun in self-defense, you must be ready to
kill. So, Juliet said she took killing seriously, even at ten.
Juliet wanted to discuss something a little different, so she asked everyone
the same question. What's your character's drink of choice. Jeanne said
Dinah drank dirty martinis. According to Sophie, everyone knows Stella
drinks Johnny Walker Black. She buys it at Costco, and keeps her
"soldiers" in a cabinet.
She said when she first went to a conference, everyone told her crime
writers needed to drink scotch. So, she learned to drink scotch. And,
fortunately, since she and Juliet ususually go to conferences together, she
has a friend who drinks it, too.
Zoë said she's a teetotaler. But, she still stays in the bar with the other
authors until 3 or 4 in the morning. Charlie does drink, whatever's at hand.
But, she doesn't drink much, because of her job.
Sharp went on to say that guns are no longer allowed in Britain, in the U.K.
You're no longer allowed to shoot. She herself was a competitive shooter.
Even so, at the beginning of June, a man in Cumbria, where Zoë lives, took
a shotgun, and killed twelve people. He was the thirteenth. He also injured
another thirteen. The other tragic aspect was, in the U.K., the police are
not routinely armed. So, they were following him, but they couldn't stop
Juliet couldn't think of a time when her witch drank. Sophie reminded her
she must have had champagne because there were some champagne brunches.
Juliet said Lily probably drank tequila. Now, there's a question. What
affect does alcohol have on a witch? Juliet couldn't know because it hasn't
happened yet. Sharp suggested slurred spells. Blackwell countered with,
they're all helping her write her fourth book in the series.
Blackwell said on screen, tough women seem to be portrayed as men with
breasts. So, how are they all exploring themes of murder, death, and
self-defense, with women?
In Killer Instinct, the first Charlie Fox book, she's teaching
self-defense to women. Sharp said, if you have to do it, you've failed. The
trick is not to put yourself in that position. It's been shown that more
people will respond if a woman shouts "Fire" than if she shouts
Zoë went on to tell the story from Bouchercon, a mystery convention. Meg
Chittenden is a very petite woman who looks like a wonderful granny. She and
Meg were going to do a workshop on self-defense, "You Can't Run in High
Heels." So, they practiced at the end of one room ahead of time. And,
there Zoë was, with her hands around Meg's throat, and no one paid
When questioned, Sharp said avoidance should be the first lesson to
everyone, even men. Young men, 17-21, are more likely to die violently than
any other group in the U.K. Zoë had an excellent instructor who taught
karate, pressure points, and knife work. She said she'd get home at the end
of a session, and have the bruises from pressure point practice.
Self-defense is a last resort. You learn to use an opponent's size and
weight against them. You use leverage. She practiced her her husband, Andy,
who is 6'3". She knows how to dislocate a shoulder, but you don't want
to do that.
With a laugh, Sophie said she certainly didn't try everything that Stella
does. Stella actually doesn't have an attitude of violence. She's a
community nurturer, a defender of the weak. She thinks that comes from her
own role since she's been a mother for seventeen years. But, when her baby
was born, she discovered she was a rage vehicle. She'd do anything to
protect him. So, she sees Stella protecting people who can't protect
themselves. The longer people are abused, the more opportunity they have to
become a victim. It's a failure of the system. There are wonderful people,
police and others, working to prevent violence, but the system is at fault.
If someone threatened your sister, or mom, could you take someone out?
Jeanne admitted she committed a no-no and gave Dinah a relationship with a
policeman. But, she ended it on page one. Dinah had heard of violence, and
knows about it. But, she had few occasions when violence was appropriate
until she went to Australia. She tries to sneak out of it. How can she avoid
violence? She uses her brain. That doesn't always work, but she does
Juliet mentioned cozy mysteries such as Agatha Christie wrote. If there are
cats and knitting, chances are it's a cozy mystery. People who read cozies
say they're not as violent as other mysteries. But, Juliet said she's always
found them more twisted. There they sit with a cat and knitting, and deal
with a dead body. It makes more sense for a bodyguard to deal with a dead
Matthews said she needed to give her protagonist enough gumption. Dinah
isn't risk adverse. She just doesn't anticipate violence. She tries to solve
the mystery, but tries to avoid violence. When asked, she said firearms are
very restricted in Australia.
One of the audience members said Juliet mentioned acknowledgements at one
time. What do you acknowledge people for? Blackwell answered that many
people were very generous with their time. She met with a homicide detective
for two hours over coffee, then she followed up with him. He did that
because he wanted people to get it right. Sophie went on to say many people
are acknowledged because of help in a field where they're specialists.
People like to talk about their passions.
Juliet used the example of Cameron House in San Francisco. The next
book in her Art Lover's series, Arsenic and Old Paint, comes out in
September. It includes some of the history of Cameron House in Chinatown.
It's a mission that is also a community center. Donaldina Cameron, who
worked there, rescued Chinese girls who had been smuggled into the country,
and sold as property in the "yellow slave trade." There were
tunnels in the basement where she hid the girls. The staff at Cameron House
gave Juliet a tour, showed her the tunnels. They were generous with their
time. She acknowledges the staff at Cameron House because she wants people
to know it's a real place, and an active community center.
Zoë Sharp mentioned Doug Lyle, who she acknowledged. He is a cardiologist
and mystery writer. He answers all the strange questions and forensic
questions that mystery writers ask. In one book, Charlie is shot. She's
injured for 3/4 of the book, and that alters the way she deals with things.
As part of her research, she talked to Doug as to how that injury would
Zoë went on to say you do research, then throw away 90% of it, and use just
snippets, nuggets. Readers are on a magic carpet ride, and anything that is
wrong, anything that bumps them off is a wrong mistake. It spoils the book.
Juliet said in personal acknowledgements, you can thank all of your family.
She once forgot her parents in a personal note.
Jeanne Matthews said, although Bones of Contention is published by
Poisoned Pen Press, Carl Lennertz at HarperCollins spent several months
editing her book. He was her lucky charm. She also acknowledged her writing
group, since she's been it for years.
Sharp said she still goes to a local writing group. To her, it's important
that you read your book out loud. The voice attracts you to a book. When a
reader starts a book, you know almost immediately if you like the author's
voice. Reading it out loud helps.
A writer's community, of some sort, is important. Juliet said she and Sophie
go out for chicken and waffles with another friend. They can talk about what
doesn't work. Sophie's brother is also a writer. She said she gives all the
hard questions to her brother and her friends. Her deadlines are now more
demanding. She values the input of her fellow writers. They know her
weaknesses and strengths.
Juliet brought up titles, and wanted to know who picked them. Jeanne's
title, Bones of Contention, comes from the Aboriginal myth of
pointing bones, plus the contention between the family members. So, it was a
double entendre. Sophie came up with Juliet's next title. Blackwell's
publisher likes a combination of vintage clothing and witchcraft in the
title. Sophie came up with the idea in a bar. Juliet said she couldn't come
up with a title.
Sophie submitted about forty titles for her first book. She had a hard time.
Author Craig McDonald told her to go with the Bible and country songs. But,
it was a painful title process. She submitted about forty titles, and they
finally went for A Bad Day for Sorry.
Zoë asked if they ever had a title they wanted to use, and no story to go
with it. She's always wanted to use the old Shakespearean stage direction,
"Exit. Pursued by a bear." They did mention that titles aren't
I asked the authors what they were working on, or what their next book would
has a YA paranormal series coming out. The first book is Banished,
followed by Unforsaken. It's for readers thirteen and up. Then, she
has a new series, a Post-Apocalyptic one, coming out under another name.
Jeanne Matthews' next book is called Bet Your Bones. It's set in
Hawaii, and deals with Hawaiian myths.
Sharp has already delivered her next Charlie Fox book. The titles have
caused problems. Her fourth book was called First Drop. The book
starts on a roller coaster, and when you hit the first drop, there are no
brakes, and you're stuck until the end of the ride. That symbolized the
book. But, that was the first book published by the American publisher. They
wanted that to stand as the first book in the U.S., and the next one to be called second something.
So, it became Second Shot. That book was supposed to be called Fall
Line. It takes place in New England. And, the fastest way downhill when
skiing is the fall line. Then, there was Third Strike. She changed
publishers. Her current book out in the U.K. is Fourth Day, about a
cult. She's working on the next book.
Juliet's next book is due out Sept. 9th. It's under the name Hailey Lind. Arsenic
and Old Paint is a book in the Art Lover's series, written with
Juliet's sister. It's a continuing story, and she joked that she wouldn't
know if it was good until Lesa reviewed it.
Blackwell has a new series starting, the Haunted Home
Renovation series. Her character is a failed anthropologist who took over
her father's construction company. It's two years later, and there are
paranormal elements in the book. Juliet also said her own father is the
father in the book. That book, called If Walls Could Talk, is due
out December 5th. The third book in the witchcraft series is due out in June
or July next year. It's called Hexes and Hemlines.
One audience member asked why authors use different pen names. Julie
answered that Hailey Lind is a family name that she uses when she writes
with her sister. But, she might have changed it anyways when she wrote the
paranormal series because readers expect authors to write a particular type
of book. There's a contract between authors and readers. Sometimes, a new
publisher wants another name. Tim Myers, a cozy writer, was mentioned. He
writes under a number of names. The publisher wanted female names.
Sophie thought about using a male name for her Post-Apocalyptic book,
because most of the authors are male. However, this publisher has a number
of female readers, so she's using a different name, but it's female.
might have picked a male name if she was doing it over. Thriller writers
tend to be male. She once had a review that said the book was, "The
best thriller written by a woman." She might have changed to a male
name because there is a prejudice against women in thrillers.
The final question of the afternoon involved setting. Is it easier to choose
a place you know, or more fun to pick an exotic setting. What's easier to
write? Jeanne Matthews enjoyed learning while she wrote about Australia. She
learned a euthanasia law passed in the 1990's in the Northern Territory was
very contreversial. The Aborigines feared it, because they thought they
would go to the doctor, and be euthanized. They had been experimented on in
the past. Matthews was able to put her own spin on the setting, using an
Zoë's Charlie Fox is a Brit looking at the U.S. through a Brit's eyes.
She's an outsider. So, she's looking at things slightly off from how
Americans see it. It's been said we're two people divided by a common
language. But, Sharp said the best books are ones in which the setting
becomes a character, and the story can only be in that place.
In talking about language, Juliet said one phrase Americans never use, but a
British friend used to say to her, was, "I'll knock you up."
Sharp's answer was that came from mill towns in England. No one had clocks,
and a man would bring a stick and wake people up with it. In north England,
they would "knock you up."
Juliet said Sophie's books are set in rural Missouri. And, the people talk
in a special way. Blackwell tried to move her book to Oakland, where she
lives. She loves it. But, her publisher said let's keep it in San Francisco.
Zoë ended the program by saying it's hard to think of books as being set in
the "mean streets of England," as they are in American cities,
such as LA or Detroit.
It was a wonderful afternoon! Maybe the last picture will show what a good
time we all had with "Women Who Kill."
(Photo: Copyright Andy Butler, ZACE Photographic, used with
A Cast-Off Coven
by Juliet Blackwell
Blackwell will be appearing at the Velma Teague Library for
Authors @ The Teague on June 24 at 2 p.m. as part of the panel,
Women Who Kill.
Somehow, Juliet Blackwell manages to
combine witches, vintage
clothing, history, humor, romance, murder, and a serious evil
threat in a marvelous story, A Cast-Off Coven. This
isn't a lighthearted cozy witchcraft mystery. It's a story with
a great deal of depth.
Lily Ivory was introduced in Secondhand Spirits, a
story that took place just a few months before A Cast-Off
Coven. After a troubled youth, and a period traveling the
world, the witch has settled in San Francisco where she owns a
vintage clothing shop, Aunt Cora's Closet. And, in the short
time she's lived there, she's gathered a group of friends, a
small coven of witches, the art student who works for her, a
powerful male witch, the reporter she's interested in, and, of
course, her familiar foisted on her by Aiden Rhodes. Oscar, the
goblin who takes the form of a miniature pot-bellied pig, adds
the humorous touches to the story.
And, Lily's life could use a little humor right now. The
students at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts, including
Lily's employee, Maya, are complaining of noises, and a ghost.
Lily isn't really in the psychic business. As she says, she's
"One bona fide witch who could not communicate with the
dead, much less with the undead, if her life depended on
it." But she's willing to check out the school in exchange
for a trunk of Victorian-era clothing found in a closet. Lily
finds much more than a trunk in that closet. Someone has been
messing with magic, and there's a strong presence of evil that's
hanging over the third floor and that closet. When a man dies
from a tumble down the stairs in that building, it's hard to
know if it was murder, or magic.
Lily may have to call on her friends for help, including a
homicide detective who questions why she's been in town for
three months, and involved in two suspicious deaths. And, she
might run her chance for romance with the reporter, Max, by
taking responsibility for dealing with the forces at the school.
But, a witch who has never had a home, now has friends and
allies who need her, and she's determined to shoulder her
responsibilities as a powerful witch.
Secondhand Spirits was an excellent introduction to
Lily Ivory. But, A Cast-Off Coven shows a witch who is
growing in power, and friendship. Blackwell is writing a series
that manages to demonstrate the best of genreblending, filled
with fascinating characters and a good mystery, but adding
magic, romance, and, even some fascinating history of San
Francisco. A Cast-Off Coven is genreblending at its
Note: Juliet Blackwell will be appearing at the Velma Teague
Library for Authors @ The Teague on June 24 at 2 p.m. as part of
the panel, Women Who Kill.
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Mother's Day is the perfect day to recap Jenn McKinlay's appearance for
Authors @ The Teague. Jenn is one of those accomplished multi-taskers.
She's a wife, mother of two active boys, works part-time as a teen
librarian, and, somehow, finds time to write three mystery series.
I introduced Jenn by saying she's a fellow librarian who works at
Phoenix's Burton Barr Library. She wrote the Decoupage Mystery series
under the name Lucy Lawrence, but her latest book, Sprinkle with
Murder, is written under her own name. Jenn responded by saying she
can't believe the authors who come through the Velma Teague Library,
telling the audience they are very lucky to have all of the authors
appear at the library.
Jenn said she works part-time at Burton Barr, and has worked there for
seventeen years. She said it's good to work part-time because she's now
writing three series. She recently sold the third series. It's set in
Connecticut, where Jenn lived at one time, and where she earned her
library degree. The first book, Books Can Be Deceiving, will be
out next July.
Jenn said her book, Sprinkle with Murder is set in Old
Town Scottsdale because Jenn lives nearby. She pointed out her tee
shirt, a Mother's Day gift from her mother. She said the tee shirts are
done by a man named "Johnny Cupcake." He'd been in various
bands, and had a number of nicknames, but Johnny Cupcake is the one that
stuck. So, he started selling those tee shirts. The bands never took
off, but the tee shirts were popular, and he was selling them on his
lunch hour, out of the back of his car. She said it was just perfect for
with Murder has been popular, appearing at #9 on Barnes and Noble's
mystery bestseller list. The second book will be out in January, Buttercream
But, it looks like her Decoupage Mysteries will be ending after three.
She isn't sure, but it probably will. So she hasn't written the ending
yet to the third book.
She's about twenty-five pages short, and she's ready to write the ending
either to end the series, or continue it.
Jenn said she wanted to be a mystery writer, but thought she wasn't
smart enough to write one. So, she wrote romances. She had three
published by Harlequin, but they were really bad. She mentioned her
husband probably wasn't happy that she's better at murder than she is at
Finally, she started submitting her mysteries. She received rejection
letters, and some would say they loved her characters, but the plot was
horrible. Others would say they loved the plot, but hated the
characters. She said she submitted millions of proposals, and finally
she was told Berkley Prime Crime was looking for someone to write a
decoupage mystery series. Asked if she was familiar with decoupage and
could write the books, Jenn said well she did it when she was twelve.
Jenn was a sent a copy of Writer for Hire, the five-page bible. It told
where the mystery would be set, some of the names of characters, and she
could name others. So, she debated whether she wanted to sell her
soul as a writer for hire. Jenn decided it would get a foot in the door.
Cut to the Corpse is her recently released book in that series,
the second one. There will be at least one more book.
with Murder has a cupcake story. Three different people were
talking about cupcakes. First was a friend debating whether to have
cupcakes for her wedding reception. Then, Jenn's agent wrote that she
checks out cupcake bakeries wherever she goes. Finally, a friend called
and said Sprinkles had just opened in Scottsdale, and they even sell
shots of frosting. So, she submitted a proposal for a series set in a
cupcake bakery, and it was accepted in less than five days.
Jenn had the idea to write a mystery series about a book club because
she loves her book club. But, when she sent in the proposal, she was
told someone was already doing a book club. When asked if she knew
anything else to write about, she said well she works in a library. So,
she sent that proposal, and it was accepted in a week.
So, she warned people that she made a lot of false starts before she was
published. She must have spent ten solid years trying to get published.
I asked Jenn to talk a little about the story for Sprinkle with
Murder. She said it's a fun series. Since it's set in a cupcake
bakery, with characters who are in their thirties, she decided it could
be a little off-the-wall. On the other hand, her library series will be
Sprinkle with Murder has three main characters, Melanie, Angie
and Tate. They've been friends since childhood, and they bond over old
movies, spending nights together watching them, and challenging each
other. Now, Melanie has opened a cupcake bakery with Angie. Tate, who is
wealthy, is getting to a fashion designer that neither of the others can
stand. She's truly the bride from hell. Jenn commented that she watched Bridezilla
a couple times to get pointers. But, Melanie found her dead, and she had
some of their cupcakes. So, Mel and Angie are suspects, while Tate
admits he had mixed feelings about his bride-to-be. Jenn said this one
has potential to be a long series, so she's building a story arc for it
because she likes to see changes in series that she reads.
Jenn was asked if she went to Sprinkles to write the book, and she
answered that she and her boys went to Lulu's Cupcakes to do research.
When she told them what she was doing, she was allowed to work in the
kitchen. She got to play with the mixer, and go into the pantry. She
checks out cupcakes wherever she is.
Another question was about writing. Does she start with the plot and
then create the characters, or does she start with the characters, and
come up with the plot? She said with the Cupcake Series, she came up
with the bakery as a setting, and then created the characters before the
plot. But, with the library series, she came up with the plot first. She
knew who she wanted to murder, and why, and then had to create the
characters. So, her answer was, a little of both.
Someone asked one of my favorite questions. What do you read when you're
not writing? McKinlay began her response by saying bestselling author
Randy Wayne White said he stopped reading fiction when he started
writing it. Jenn said she was lucky. When she wrote romances, she read
mysteries. She started reading the Harry Potter books when she wrote
mysteries. Then, she moved on to Percy Jackson. She loves YA (young
adult) books. She said they're so wonderful now. Her husband, Chris,
said he loved the Hardy Boys books as a kid, but not so much now. That's
why Jenn hasn't gone back to read Nancy Drew. But, she said YA books are
of such high quality now. It's such a fascinating niche.
Jenn emphasized that she sees teens who are avid readers. People who say
kids don't read don't see all the kids reading that Jenn sees. She said
she was an Anne of Green Gables fan as a kid. She read all of
the books, and wanted to go to Prince Edwards Island. Those books made
her want to be a writer. And, she sees kids still reading those books.
Jenn doesn't see adult books that are as good as the YA books. And, she
said some adult authors dominate the bestseller lists. If you like
Stephen King, there are so many other Stephen King books for you to
read. It's the same if you're a fan of Danielle Steel or James
Patterson. McKinlay thinks YA books open doors. Teens say, I read all of
the Harry Potter books. What do you suggest now? Adult authors close
doors. If you like Stephen King, you have a lot of other Stephen King
books to read.
She was asked if her teens at the library know she's a writer. She said
some know. The younger ones don't care, but some of the older ones ask
about it. It's possible to write? You can do that? They tell her they're
going to read all of her books.
One question was about her decoupage books. How do you write a book when
you know nothing about decoupage? Jenn answered, research. She said
that's where it pays to be a librarian. She used piles of books about
decoupage. And, YouTube has clips about everything. She watched them
about decorating cupcakes and decoupage. And, she found a decoupage
expert who answered questions.
What is her writing schedule? Jenn writes every day. You have to write
every day. She quoted Walter Mosley as saying that. It's the best way to
keep ideas. Jenn said she works part-time, and she can write. She tries
to write ten pages a day. On a busy day, she'll try to write five.
McKinlay said she does compose on a computer, but she's old school.
Then, she prints it out, and takes a red pen to her manuscript. Jenn's
not giving that up. She feels bad about printing all those pages, but
she's not giving it up. She sees the work better on paper.
Jenn ended the program by discussing the blog, Mystery
Lovers' Kitchen. Before Sprinkle
with Murder came out, Krista Davis contacted her. Krista writes the
Diva series, and some authors were starting a foodie mystery blog, and
wanted to know if Jenn wanted to be included. McKinlay jumped at the
chance. Each of the authors has a day, and, on Sunday, they have a guest
The authors at Mystery
Lovers' Kitchen include Avery Aames who
has a cheese shop series coming out soon and Riley Adams (Elizabeth
Spann Craig) whose Memphis Barbeque series is due out in July. Then,
there's Julie Hyzy, who recently won Anthony and Barry Awards for her
White House Chef series. Cleo Coyle writes the Coffeehouse Mysteries,
and Krista writes the Diva books.
Jenn said they a talk a little about writing, but the blog includes
recipes and food. The blog will be a year old this summer. It's been
written up in the LA Times, and has received some nice
promotion. According to Jenn, it's like a little club. You can throw
things out at the other authors, and say, how do you do that? They
authors work well together. She said Krista Davis is the perfect person
to have organized the blog. She's truly like her Diva series. She has
wonderful recipes, even how to make your own vanilla. She's
detail-oriented, and her ideas are great.
Following Jenn McKinlay's book signing, we treated everyone to treats,
mini-bites from Shelley's Specialty Desserts in downtown Glendale. A
perfect ending for a program featuring a book about a bakery.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
for Authors @ The Teague
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
We just hosted international mystery and thriller author, Peter May, for
Authors @ The Teague. He is on a two-month book tour in the United States
for his books. When he and his wife, Janice Halley, arrived, they never
expected it to be so warm in Minneapolis. It was 65 degrees there. Now
Seattle was wet, and windy, and he said that felt like home since they're
His publisher is Poisoned Pen Press, and they did a house swap with
Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald. They're staying in the house in
Scottsdale, and said they think they got the better part of the deal.
Peter and Janice live in France, and it snowed just twenty minutes from
their home yesterday.
Peter said he's promoting his books because there was a rush of books out
at one time. The China Thrillers have six books, and the fourth Enzo Files
book just came out.
But, May began by talking about his standalone, Virtually Dead.
It's set in the parallel virtual world of Second Life, a world accessed
through the Internet. There are 14 million inhabitants of Second Life. In
their time there, they can buy and sell goods, property, real estate. It's
a major occupation. The world has its own economy, its own currency.
People have made millions of dollars there. Trading goes on there.
Everything in this world also exists in Second Life, libraries,
bookstores. People have the opportunity to be creative. They can modify
their avatar to look like anything. If you're old, you can be young. If
you're disabled, you can lose the disability. You can be anything. May
said he saw a show about criminals using Second Life to launder money.
years ago, Peter May joined Second Life under the name Flick Faulds. Flick
had long silver hair as May did then. He created his own detective agency,
and was amazed that he was flooded with clients. Ninety to ninety-five
percent of the requests involved infidelity. May said he had to learn to
be a detective in Second Life; he had to track people, take photos.
So, that led to the book, Virtually Dead. Michael Kampinsky
is a crime scene photographer whose wife died six months earlier. He's
taking it very hard, and his therapist suggested he might want to
participate in her group therapy experiment in Second Life. Michael found
that real life crime scenes were replicated in Second Life, and people
were actually killed. Someone is bumping off people in real life in order
to steal their Second Life money. When a huge amount of money was
deposited in Michael's Second Life account, he was tempted to keep it.
Virtually Dead was a diversion for May, a little different from
his series. For fifteen years, he's been writing two series. There are six
books in his China thriller series. They're set in contemporary China, and
they feature a Beijing cop, Li Yan, and an American pathologist, Dr.
Margaret Campbell. Their stormy relationship is a metaphor for the
relationship between the U.S. and China. There are culture clashes, but
they have a genuine personal relationship. They work together to
investigate crimes in different areas of China. The settings of the books
change. In France, a movie producer is making the third book into a movie,
and they hired Peter and his wife, Janice, to write the screenplay.
However, they changed the setting, which took some work to change.
(Picture: Janice Halley & Peter May)
Snakehead, the fourth book in the China Thrillers series, is set
in the United States. It's about illegal immigration, Chinese brought
across the world. Their families promised enormous amounts of money for
them to come, but when they arrive, they're thousands of dollars in debt,
and their families are in peril. The book is set in Texas, most of it in
Houston. Dr. Margaret Campbell, the American pathologist, is now
working in Texas. Beijing detective Li Yan is working for the Chinese
embassy in Washington, D.C.
May said when he first started writing, he took lots of photos, then
pasted them up on sheets so he could see them. He used that method for the
books set in China. Then, when it came time for the U.S., he used a
digital camera, and made video so he could listen and see Texas.
When May first started writing the China Thrillers in the late 90s, there
was nothing to research about the Chinese police. There was nothing
available. He spent a long time trying to get inside the Chinese police.
Finally, he heard of Dr. Richard H. Ward, an American criminologist. In
the 90s, he taught criminal justice students from all over the world at
the University of Illinois. He had gone to Shanghai, and trained the top
100 police in China. Finally, May connected with him when Dr. Ward was
attending an international convention on terrorism in Paris. They met for
lunch, and May must have passed an invisible litmus test because Dr. Ward
was able to open channels in China. Doors opened for him to do research in
china. He had full access to police departments. He asked for, and was
granted, access to places no Western writer had ever been.
May told a
fascinating story about the police morgue in Shanghai. It looked like a
Swiss chalet, with green lawns. It was a brand new facility, state of the
art, with viewing rooms. The chief pathologist ended up in one of the
books. He asked May if he'd like to see a body, and May said no. But, the
pathologist said, you've come a long way. I think you should. So, he had
two attendants bright a body of a young man. The body had been completely
opened up. May asked what he had died of, and he was told the man had been
executed the day before. When asked why they did an autopsy if they knew
he'd been executed, they answer was, to harvest the organs. That was the
kind of information May was looking for. After that, Peter was feeling a
little queasy, but the pathologist said, fine. Let's go to lunch.
Peter said he met with the Chinese Crime Writers' Association, and was
made an honorary member, the only Westerner to receive that honor. He met
a crime writer from China who was born the same day, and same year as him,
and they ended up in the same profession.
May said he's finished the China Thrillers, but he receives emails asking
for more books because readers want more about the characters. But he said
he's finished, because he said every series has a sell by date.
By this time, May was living in France, and wanted to set something there.
Then, he wouldn't have to go so far for research. He would have the chance
to see parts of the country that he wouldn't normally visit, and he could
research there. So, he created Enzo Macleod, Scottish like him. He had a
ponytail like May did at the time. He lives about an hour away from May's
home, but all resemblance stops there.
Macleod was a Scottish forensics pathologist, who fell for a woman he met
in France, Pascale, and left his wife for her. But, she died in
childbirth, leaving him with a baby daughter. He spent the next twenty
years raising her, and the first book, Dry Bones, starts at that point,
when he meets his estranged daughter from his first marriage. Enzo has not
been working in forensics because his French is not good enough, but he's
teaching biology. At a dinner party, he rashly bet that he could solve the
seven best known recent cold cases in France, ones that had been written
up in a bestselling book by a French journalist. Enzo Macleod says he will
use the latest technology to relook at cases, and solve them.
The Enzo Files deal with the investigation of those cases. The fourth book
is Freeze Frame. May just finished the fifth book.
May said he loves the research almost more than writing the books. The
second book in the Enzo Files, The Critic, dealt with the
vineyards in France. He said it's important to him to get the facts right.
He wants the backgrounds accurate because readers trust him to not get the
facts wrong. He said he has to make huge sacrifices for the books. He had
to drink so much wine for The Critic.
Book five is set in the world of French cuisine. May spent three days in
the kitchen of the top chef in France, Michel Guérard, a three star
Michelin chef. His restaurant is so popular, reservations must be made six
months in advance. There are twenty chefs working in the kitchen. May said
he watched, and saw how professional it was, like a well-oiled military
operation. He said he's been in other kitchens that were chaos. There was
no chaos in this kitchen. May said it was such a sacrifice to have to eat
so much French cuisine for the research.
Freeze Frame, the fourth Enzo Files book, has received the best
reviews so far of May's books. It's set on an island off the coast of
Brittany, Ile de Groix. The island has historical military significance. A
medieval fort guarded the entrance to the point, and spices were brought
into the port. During World War II, it was a major base for U-boats. The
Germans used the fort to guard the base. Ironically, the Allies launched
an air raid on the submarine base. The base was never touched, but the
town was totally destroyed. The town is totally new, since none of the old
Freeze Frame is reminiscent of the Golden Age of mystery. It has
an insular island environment. It's about a man who knew someone was going
to kill him. He left clues for his son, and knew those clues would allow
his son to unmask the killer. But, his son died soon after he did, and the
killer was never found. This is where Enzo comes in. He's the last hope
for the dead man's daughter-in-law. He explores the islands, and the
Sometimes location suggests the story. It took May four to five months to
develop the storyline. He had done the preliminary work, and then he went
to the island. He discovered the medieval fort, and a crevice in the
cliffs called Trou de l'enfer, hellhole. These suggested
important locations for the story. The time of year when May was there was
also important. He was there at Halloween, when characters were running
around, skeletons, and ghosts, and skulls were hung in windows. It added a
sense of color, so he set the story then.
May ended by repeating that it's fun to do the research. He links places
and people he's met in the course of his research to his books.
In answer to a question, he said it is expensive to travel to do the
research. He worked as a screenwriter for TV, and was well-paid. He quit
to be a writer. The money in the bank subsidized him while he was starting
to make a living as a writer. And, he said he was stupid enough to choose
China as a setting. Each trip cost $5,000-$6,000. But, the people he
meets, and his experiences add authenticity to the books.
He was asked if he knew all seven of the cold cases before he wrote the
Enzo Files, and peter said had ideas for the first five. The last two are
developing, and they'll bring the series to a climax.
With the China Thrillers, the first book was supposed to be a standalone.
But, a British publisher wanted to publish it, but she said she'd buy it
with one caveat; she wanted another one with the same characters, and
she'd give him a two book contract. May said he saw it as one book, and he
didn't know how to do that. However, he had written serial dramas for
British TV, so he knew he could develop the characters.
May said he met his wife, Janice Halley, when he was working as a
scriptwriter. She's also a scriptwriter. They worked on a series in the
Gaelic language, the ancient language of Scotland. Scotland spent millions
to preserve the Gaelic language and culture, and the series was part of
that. He did a series on the Hebrides Islands, and they lived there for
five months, for five years. According to May, it's a bleak existence on
the island of Lewis, where they lived, with no trees.
It's a backward and primitive society, particularly in the form of
religion. They have an almost medieval form of extreme Presbyterian
Protestant religion. Any form of entertainment is viewed as the work of
the devil. On Sundays on the island, nothing is open. They even chain up
kids' swings. At the time they were there, there was no way off the island
on a Sunday. You can't even hang out the wash on that day. The joke was,
if you're going to Lewis, don't forget to set your watch back 200 years.
May said that each year, twelve men from Ness, in the Hebrides, make a
voyage to harvest young birds, gannets. They do that once a year, and it
has become a rite of passage. By an Act of Parliament, they're allowed to
kill 2,000 birds.
Peter wrote a mystery, The Black House, a novel about the
Hebrides that sucked the life out of him. He thought it was the best thing
he ever wrote. His agent liked it. But, it was rejected by every major
publisher. However, eighteen months ago, his French publisher asked him to
send it to her. Six weeks later, she bought the world rights, paying more
for it than she had for the China Thrillers. It came out last October in
France, gaining him the best reviews ever there. His publisher bought the
foreign rights, which included English. Then she took it to Frankfurt, the
big international book fair. She sold it all over Europe. Six German
publishing companies had a bidding war. It sold to Italy and Spain.
There's a small British publisher call Quercus. It was founded by a couple
men who said they were only to publish books they loved. Their instinct
was good, and their first book went to #1. They've published prize-winning
books, and they published the Stieg Larsson trilogy. They wanted Peter's
book, The Black House, to be part of a series. Finally after
negotiation, they agreed that he would make it a trilogy, using the same
setting and some of the same characters in the second and third books. So,
The Black House will come out next year in the U.K.
Peter May brought a wide-ranging group of books, covering China, France, a
virtual world, and, finally, the Hebrides, to the latest Authors @ The
Lesa Holstine and Peter May - Photo by Susan
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Winspear Returns for Authors @ The Teague
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
What a treat
to welcome New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline
Winspear back for Authors @ The Teague! The audience packed the Velma
Teague Library to see her on her tour for her new Maisie Dobbs novel, The
Mapping of Love and Death.
Jacqueline signed books before the program, and then slid the table out
of the way, saying when she did her student teaching, she had been told
to never use a table as a barrier between the kids and herself. If the
supervisor came in and found the teacher behind a table, you'd be in
trouble. To this day, she doesn't like a barrier between her and the
Winspear introduced The Mapping of Love and Death so she could
tell us about the inspiration for the book. The story begins with a
young man, an American, Michael Clifton. He has just bought land in a
valley above Santa Barbara, California. His father emigrated from
England, married for love, and invested in land. He made good. So,
Michael believes in buying land. He's a cartographer and surveyor He
believes there is oil beneath the land he bought. He's getting ready to
return home when he hears a newsboy outside his hotel shouting,
"Britain goes to war! Kaiser to fight whole world!" (Even then
the headlines were outrageous.) There's a march to war in Europe, and
Michael makes the decision to go back to his father's homeland, and
fight. He knew he'd have adventures to talk about because the war would
be over by Christmas.
Of course, the war wasn't over by Christmas, and Michael went missing in
France. His remains were found sixteen years later. And, that's where
Maisie Dobbs, Winspear's investigator comes in. Michael Clifton's
parents came to her, bringing a collection of love letters, with the
hope she could find the woman who wrote them.
Now for some
background. Winspear said she's been to the Somme and Ypres battlefields
several times in northern France and Belgium. It just breaks her heart
with the sheer numbers of missing involved in World War I. She knows
what it meant to the countries involved. One memorial was to 54,000
missing from the Britain and the Commonwealth. There are a number of
memorials to the missing, and that's all families ever knew, that a son,
or husband, a loved one was missing. The graves at battlefields read,
"A soldier of the Great War, known only to God." The British
used a composite material for dog tags, and it would disintegrate with
time, that's why there were so many bodies found with no dog tags, and
There was a great sadness in Britain, with so many known to be missing.
A military chaplain had the idea to create a public memorial to the
unknown soldier missing at the time of war. The king thought it was a
ridiculous idea, but within three days of the war ending, people
realized their loved ones were not coming back. The Tomb of the Unknown
Soldier has a great significance in Britain. So, bodies of four unknown
soldiers were taken into a room, and a general put his hand on one, and
said this one, for the one to be in The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The
day the gun carriage took the casket to Whitehall, 100,000 people turned
out. Winspear brought tears to eyes as she asked, "Is that my
boy?" "The love of my life?" "The boy I grew up
Jacqueline Winspear said she always knew she wanted to address the
missing in one of her books. And, then she was given an article ripped
from the local rag, the Santa Barbara Independent. The Nov. 24,
2005 article was a letter to the newspaper, a letter so striking the
newspaper featured it. It was written by David Bartlett, an ex-British
policeman who runs battlefield tours for small groups, often groups
doing research. He was helping to track down identities of the missing.
There are bodies still be uncovered. Just a couple years ago, 200 bodies
of mostly Australian, but some British soldiers were found near the
letter was about a body that had been found. The man had been buried
with reverence, holding a Dutch Bible. There were no dog tags. There was
service equipment, and a watch that wouldn't open. There were little
details in the description. There was a cap, with the badge in the
soldier's pocket. That wasn't unusual, because if they lost their badge,
they had to pay for it, so they often took it off, and, if they
survived, put it back on the cap. There was American money in the
wallet, from the bank of Santa Barbara, which is why Bartlett wrote to
the Santa Barbara newspaper. The body was taller than most British. And,
there were expensive colored pens, like engineers would use.
Winspear said her character, Michael Clifton, was not based on that
young man, but she was inspired by that young man. She breathed life
into a young man, wondering why he was inspired to leave beautiful Santa
Barbara and go to war.
Jacqueline mentioned that the last time she was at Velma Teague she
quoted Stephen King from his book, On Writing. He said when two
ideas come together, a story is born. That's what happened to her. She
had a deep reverence for the missing. The catalyst for her idea for a
story was that letter in the Santa Barbara newspaper.
In The Mapping of Love and Death, Dr. Charles Hayden referred
Edward and Martha Clifton to Maisie Dobbs. Winspear read an excerpt from
the book in which the Cliftons brought Michael's journal and some
letters to Maisie. Martha wants the letter writing identified. Edward
wants more, because he knows his son was murdered.
Once Winspear left us hanging, with the comment about murder, she took
questions. When asked about her interest in World War I, she said she's
been curious about it since childhood. Her grandfather survived the
Great War, but he was wounded, shell shocked and gassed. To the day he
died, he was picking shrapnel out of his leg.
She was asked about her process, and how she keeps it all strength.
Jacqueline said she wished she knew. But, she said she can't be guided
by her research. She doesn't have to put everything into a book that she
learns. Research is like an iceberg. Only 7% is over the surface. She
learns what her characters are doing in each chapter, and then weaves in
the historical details to support the story. Winspear said she's a
storyteller, not a writer of history. She's going with the flow of the
story. She asks what happened to the characters today. What might inform
the future as well?
When someone mentioned that Maisie Dobbs was very independent for the
age, Winspear disagreed. She said many women were independent in that
era, and Maisie is a woman of her time. The Great War broke down
barriers. Women went to war, and went into every field of endeavor.
Lloyd George and the suffragettes were in collusion. After the war,
there was a surplus of two million women. In 1921, single adult women
only had a 1 in 10 chance of marrying. Virginia Nicholson wrote a book, Singled
Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First
World War. Women moved into public life, travelled, became Justices
of the Peace, wore trousers. They were independent, strong, opinionated
women. The archetype of that type of British woman was born then. They
were different from American women at the time, much more like the
southern women after the Civil War. The effect of that era stayed in
Britain for a long time. During World War II, American soldiers
stationed in England were given a handbook as to how to behave. They
were told to always salute a woman in uniform, no matter what her rank,
because women had earned their place in Britain. She said Britain
wouldn't be what it is without those women. They have health service
there because of the women. The women got the vote, and there were more
of them to vote.
Someone asked how she found the time to write, and Winspear said it's
her job. A professional writes, just as a plumber goes to his job.
Everything revolves around her job.
A reader familiar with Maisie Dobbs asked what was the inspiration for
Maisie's meditation. Jacqueline said at the end of the 19th century,
beginning of the 20th, people of a certain class had a great interest in
Eastern philosophy. There are books from then about yoga. People had a
great interest in the psyche. The original meaning of Freud's psyche was
soul, rather than ego. So, Maisie's meditation has historical
underpinnings, and she would have been exposed to the people interested
Asked about her education and teaching, she said her original degree was
in Education and English, but, when she graduated, there was a surplus
of teachers, and she couldn't get a job. She went to work for an
airline, so she could travel.
The perfect concluding question was, do you have long term plans for
Maisie. And, to laughter, Jacqueline Winspear said, yes, she did have a
long term plan. But, she wasn't going to tell us.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Frederick Ramsay for
Authors @ The Teague
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Dr. Frederick Ramsay has quite an interesting background. He taught
anatomy at medical school. He was a clergyman. Now, he is a writer, with a
series of books featuring Sheriff Ike Schwartz, a standalone novel about
Judas Iscariot, and, his most recent book, Predators, a mystery
Ramsay started his program at the Velma Teague Library by showing a map of
Botswana, a country the size of France, with a population similar to
metropolitan Phoenix, 1.8 million. It's a landlocked country in southern
Africa. When it received its independence in the 1960s, it had no capital.
The capital of South Africa was also Botswana's capital. But, the
President, who was married to a white woman, could not go to the capital
of his own country in South Africa. Dr. Ramsay said there is a terrific
book called The Color Bar about the history of Botswana, and the
change from a protectorate to independence. There are game parks
everywhere. The ordinary people do support the game parks. Most people
live in clusters around towns. Seventy percent of the country is covered
by the Kalahari Desert. He went on to show us a book, saying this is
Botswana. It's a country with beautiful modern buildings, and cattle
grazing in front of them. It's a country of contrast, trying to be in the
modern world. For instance, there are no telephone lines in the country.
They have cell phone towers, and everyone in the country has cell phones.
You might see a person riding a donkey, talking on a cell phone.
Predators, Frederick Ramsay's latest book, was written as a
standalone. But, he's working on a sequel, because his editor wanted one.
His son, who is Communications Coordinator for the Government of Botswana,
will be his co-author for the second book.
The featured character in Predators is a lion, Sekoa, whose name
means invalid, because he's sick. In the next book, the lead character
will be a gorilla, but there are no gorillas in Botswana, so the story
will have to cross the border. In this one, the other main character is a
man named Leo Painter. Leo is rich and famous, the head of a large
corporation, but he's had two heart attacks, and there are those who want
to take him down. Sekoa and Leo are the predators. Sekoa is challenged by
a younger lion, just as Leo is challenged. There isn't a lot of difference
between the two predators. Sekoa has the feline version of AIDS, along
with pneumonia. Sekoa, the real lion in the book crosses paths with
Leo,the hypothetical lion, just as there are real hyenas, and hypothetical
hyenas in the story. The hyenas are waiting to eat Sekoa when he dies, and
the human hyenas are after Leo. There's a grey monkey in the book, who
causes a great deal of trouble, and a woman who does the same. Brenda is a
former exotic dancer who snagged Bobby Griswold. Brenda is a naughty
woman, and Bobby thinks it would be best if Leo dies. He needs money to
According to Ramsay, it was a challenge to write Brenda because she has a
potty mouth, but he doesn't write that kind of language. He had to
insinuate she was using the language, without actually writing it. So, the
narrator will tell about the effect of her words on others. She does get
her comeuppance. There is a clash of greedy people in this country that is
proud of being the least corrupt country in Africa.
Two characters are contrasted - the old, white, male, rich man, and a
young, black, poor female, Sanderson. She is a game warden. Both of them
have sons dying of AIDS. The real predator is AIDS because it cuts across
Ramsay said he's capturing present-day Botswana. It's not Alexander McCall
Smith's country. That's a description of 1985, a country that no longer
exists. The people like Alexander McCall Smith for bringing attention to
the country. But, Ramsay said he thinks of him as a Joel Chandler Harris.
His stories feature stereotypes, just as Uncle Remus was one. Botswana is
now a modern country with a booming economy.
The book takes place in the north, in the Chobe region of Botswana. The
countries were told they couldn't change borders when they got their
independence, so even if tribes were cut in two, the borders remained the
same. There is an character in the early part of the book from Zimbabwe.
Botswana has a problem with illegals, and crime. They are often people
from Zimbabwe who slip across the border, and resort to petty theft in
order to eat. There are problems with Zimbabwe, but as long as "Crazy
Bob," Robert Mugabe, is President, it won't get better.
Ramsay said as Communications Coordinator, his son, Jeff, is also press
secretary for the President. Jeff is married, and has three children, so
Ramsay usually has to go to Botswana if he wants to see his son.
Botswana sees the U.S. as a friend, and admires us as the most productive
country per capita in the world. They have gone from being tribes people
in villages, to a protectorate, to an independent country. So, they have
to learn to run a country. They have to be shown, this is how you run a
library. The economy there is fueled by diamonds. Botswana owns 10% of De
Beers. They want to bring in industry, including cars. There is a large
collection of Japanese cars. It seems as if everyone if Japan turns in
their car every three years. So, there is a surplus of right hand drive
cars that can only go to British countries or former protectorates.
Predators is actually Frederick Ramsay's love song to Botswana.
He loves the country. It has a climate like Arizona's. It's a high desert.
Think of Arizona if it had elephants and lions. Ramsay loves the people,
and their spirit. Seventeen percent of the people are affected by AIDS.
Everyone in the country knows someone with it, or someone who died. They
are attacking it head-on. There are billboards, condoms on the counters in
stores. Motels provide them at bedside.
The current President of Botswana is the son of the former one. He was the
former head of the army. The current President is a conservationist who is
trying to reintroduce rhinos. You can't hunt in Botswana. There are game
trucks to take people to see lions, elephants, and hippos. But, the
animals are dangerous. Hippos are the chief source of homicides in the
In Predators, there is a corollary between animals and humans. If
you strip everything away, we're not that far away from the animals.
Ramsay recently did a book signing with Betty Webb, author of Desert
Lost. Her book is about young males who have been dumped from
religious sects in northern Arizona and Utah. It's not that different from
the lion in Predators. Lions force young males out of the pride,
and when a new lion takes over, the cubs are killed.
Tourism is important to Botswana, but, they want eco-tourism. They don't
want to be an amusement park for the world. In fact, they were upset with
Greenpeace trying to talk them into taking down fences, and wanting the
tribes and cattle to be able to wander. They didn't want Greenpeace trying
to tell them what to do. They want to be a modern country.
Throughout the talk, Dr. Ramsay allowed the audience to ask questions. In
response to one question, he said the literacy rate is high. People can
read and write, but they read newspapers, not books. There are ten
newspapers in the capital of Gaborone. His son told him Predators
won't do well in Botswana since the people don't read books.
When asked how his son ended up in Botswana, he said when he was in high
school in northern Virginia, he had a friend from northern Rhodesia, who
invited him to visit him and his family. Jeff went, and fell in love with
the continent. When he went to college, he thought he'd be an Arabic
scholar and a lawyer. But, he quickly discovered how difficult Arabic was.
So he took African subjects, and history. He moved to Botswana, and
According to Dr. Ramsay, there is a very stable government in Botswana.
The President can serve for two five-year terms. It's a parliamentary
republic, but the President's terms do not overlap Parliament's terms. The
people elect representatives to Parliament, then the Majority elects the
President, who chooses the Vice-President. The President cannot be from
Parliament. And, there are four appointed seats, not elected ones, because
the Cabinet needs a different skill set than the members of Parliament.
It's a system of checks and balances, and it's very stable.
The British told them they could become their own country, but warned them
against it. The people were dirt poor, and Botswana was the poorest nation
in Africa. They got their independence, and then found diamonds. They are
building a first-rate country. The buildings in the Capital are forty-five
years old, or newer.
Ramsay's next book will be about a mineral called coltan. Coltan is used
in electronics, such as cell phones. Eighty percent of coltan is found in
Congo, and that's what the conflict in Congo is about. The world is
turning a blind eye because they need coltan for electronics. That's the
subject of the book. And, here's a tip about it. Coltan and mountain
gorillas are found in the same area.
In response to a question, Ramsay said he wrote his first book a long time
ago, and it was terrible. His wife knew a person who knew a person, who
had a connection, so Ramsay suddenly had a Hollywood agent. And, he kept
offering him books, that weren't the action books he wanted. He went to
some workshops, and rewrote that first book, Artscape, the first
in the Ike Schwartz series. It sold to Poisoned Pen Press. Ramsay has
another book in that series coming out in July, The Eye of the Virgin,
about a Russian icon.
He was asked about his book, Judas: The Gospel of Betrayal.
He replied that he never liked that whole the devil made him do it angle
of Judas' story. That angle didn't work for him. Judas was trusted with
the money, and, he was the one disciple Jesus called friend. John's gospel
is hard on Judas. But, read Acts, and see what Peter says. He didn't
Judas Iscariot's name itself is questionable. Some have said Iscariot was
for the region he came from, but there isn't such a region. However the
Aramaic word for red is close to that, and, if you add ish, it means,
"the," so it means Judas, the reddish one, or Judas the red.
And, pictures show Judas with red hair. So, Ramsay
wrote a story he thought was plausible.
When asked about research, he said some of his books are researched, and
some are made up. He has an art thief disable alarms in Artscape,
and he's been asked about his research. He didn't do any. He created a
system, and then he disabled it.
But, he did research Judas. He's been to the Holy Land six times.
He took courses, and studied scripture. Where his story intersects
scripture, he used Luke's Gospel. He made Judas the advance man who
handled the money, and made dinner and room arrangements. He presents his
take on Mary Magdalene and Thomas. He was asked why he didn't publish with
the book with a religious publisher, but he said he wasn't conservative
enough for Zondervan, and he's too conservative for other publishers.
Ramsay was asked about the difference in writing women characters, and he
said he writes them carefully. He finds it presumptuous to write women.
But, his books have been well-reviewed for his treatment of them. The
female in the Ike Schwartz series, Ruth Harris, has a PhD, and is
president of a women's college. Her banter with Ike makes her work. But,
Ramsay doesn't do a lot of description of his characters. Readers know the
characters by what they say. People know what they say or do. He doesn't
describe them visually. He said he's from the radio generation in which
listeners made up what the characters looked like. He said you can tell
the age of a writer by their character description. If a character looks
in a mirror for a description, the author is from the TV generation.
The final question dealt with the sequel to Predators. He said it
was meant to be a standalone, but Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Press is
his editor, and she tells him what to do, and he does it. The sequel will
be called Reapers, about the harvesting of coltan. The World Cup
will be the background, bringing in celebrities and money.
It was a successful afternoon, when an Arizona author could bring Botswana
to the audience for Authors @ The Teague.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
our BOOK TOPICS editor this week lost her husband Jim, a bright and humorous
fellow who you got to meet in our past year's Fiesta Bowl coverage at
the Glendale Daily Planet here. Goodbye Jim... You
will be missed. - Ed Sharpe, Publisher - Glendale Daily Planet
Jim died today, at 12:30 a.m., on Presidents' Day, the perfect day for a man who loved history, particularly of the Presidency. Since I prepared this epitaph ahead of time, at his request, I'm able to make this announcement.
Jim didn't want a newspaper obituary. Instead, he asked that I write an epitaph about his love of books. Jim's parents, Harry and Joanne Holstine, were both readers, and Jim learned to read at any early age, reading the sports pages in the newspaper, sharing that love with Harry. He was always so proud that he read the greatest number of books one year for the summer reading program at the Berlin Heights (Ohio) Public Library. And, I always laughed when he told about getting in trouble for an overdue book because he loved it so much, he hid it under his bed.
Jim and I met at the Huron Public Library in 1981, soon after I returned home to be Director of my hometown library. Jim's mother sent him in, saying there was a cute new librarian at the library. And, my children's librarian, Millie Schilman, formally introduced us, saying, "This is Jim Holstine. He's one of our most prolific readers."
Over the next couple years, we talked about books, and when he went to Florida in the winter, I told Millie I missed Jim Holstine because he was the only person who got as excited about the boxes of new books as I did. We went on our first date on May 1, 1983, and married on October 1. Since we met at the Huron Library, we married in the meeting room there, and Jim even played the piano beforehand. My staff tied paperback books to the bumper of the car.
From the very beginning, books were an important part of our lives. Jim often said he didn't think we would have gotten together if we hadn't both been fond of Leo Buscaglia's books, Love and Living, Loving and Learning. When I invited him to speak at the library, Buscaglia sent me the most gracious rejection letter, which is still framed on our wall. We had no idea he had heart problems, and would die soon after writing that note.
I made Jim read Jeffrey Archer's Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, his favorite book. I never told him Archer was British, and Jim wouldn't read British authors. Ironic that Lee Child became one of his favorite authors years later, but when he first went to see him at the Poisoned Pen, he turned to me and said, "You never told me he was British." And, I said, "You never read the back flap of the book."
Jim loved Florida, and we moved there with my job, first at the Charlotte-Glades Library System, and then the Lee County Library System. He enthusiastically participated in my work there, acting as a volunteer for the Lee County Reading Festival. He was thrilled when he escorted Douglas Brinkley during the festival, and we had the chance to have lunch with Brinkley and Rick Bragg. We picked Sue Grafton up at the airport. And, he had a lengthy conversation with David Morrell, "Rambo's Father."
It was Jim who pushed me to apply for jobs, and spent a great deal of time talking on the phone with my new boss in Glendale, AZ. I think she hired me because she liked him so much. And, he encouraged me every time I worked on my blog, buying me the camera to take pictures of authors, and then a minicam. He always challenged me to be better
I took Jim to meet Brad Meltzer on his birthday. He loved meeting Lee Child, and sharing a cigarette break outside the Poisoned Pen. He met Jeffery Deaver for the first time in the restroom (they didn't shake hands - grin). We even went to see Barack Obama when he was on his book tour, and we had the chance to shake hands, and urge him to run for President. But, it was always books that brought us these opportunities.
Jim never had the chance to read Lee Child's 61 Hours. His illness was so quick that, even though Maggie Griffin, Child's webmaven, graciously sent me an ARC so Jim could get the chance to read one more book, he was never able to read it. Jim loved thrillers, books by Lee Child, James Patterson, Alex Kava, Brad Meltzer. He loved American history and big biographies, and anything about the Kennedys. Now, he'll know the answer to his favorite joke. It's about a man who dies, goes to heaven, and is told by God that he can ask him anything. The man says, "I want to know who really killed President Kennedy," and God answered, "Well, I have a theory about that." Jim's favorite joke, his favorite subject for nonfiction, and his favorite topic for theories. Now, he'll know.
Jim always loved the people I worked with, at Huron, Lee County (particularly at Rutenberg), and, here in Glendale. Someone made the comment that if you knew Lesa, you knew Jim, and, at least in the library, that was usually right. He threw my
50th birthday party with the help of the library staff.
There's one part of Jim's life I wanted to mention, unrelated to books. Jim and I shared a love of sports, and together, we enjoyed them on TV and in person. He loved Duke basketball, baseball, in recent years, the Detroit Tigers, NASCAR, thanks to a dear friend. But, we were both passionate about Ohio State football. My family always knew they could buy Jim gifts that related to Ohio State.
Jim always told people we only got married to read. And, when his father lived with us, he would walk out of his room, find us both reading, and say, "It sure is quiet out here."
Jim, you left it very quiet out here. I'm going to miss sharing books, authors, my blog, and our life. Rest in peace. I love you.
If you want to remember Jim, please donate to your local public library. And, tell them it's in memory of a man who loved books, libraries, and one librarian.
Sue Grafton, Presented by
Poisoned Pen Bookstore
Story and Photos By:
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Sue Grafton doesn't do many speaking engagements on her
book tours anymore, so it was a rare opportunity to hear her when the
Poisoned Pen Bookstore brought her to the Arizona Biltmore on her U
is for Undertow tour.
I attended with a friend and librarian, Cathy Johnson. When we walked in
the door, Sue was working the crowd, so I reintroduced myself, reminding
her I had hosted her twice in Florida, and picked her up at the airport.
She looked at me, and said, "Kind of a vagabond, aren't you?"
She was just as kind and warm as always, and spent a half an hour going
through the audience.
Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, introduced Sue by saying they
go way back to the beginning of the bookstore, when she contacted Sue,
and asked her to appear at the new bookstore. Sue said, so you're asking
me to change my entire schedule and come to Arizona, and Barbara said,
yes. And, she did. Barbara and Sue said they're aging together.
Sue said her current tour was almost over. She left Louisville, went to
New York, back to Louisville, then to Atlanta, Kansas City, and Houston.
So, she thought, I'm going to Phoenix, and I can finally get warm.
Instead, with our current cold weather, she was huddled in the cold
while people here were in their shirtsleeves.
Barbara responded that we're always lucky to have her in Phoenix, since
she spends half her year in Kentucky and half in California. She said
she was very grateful that the event was being held at the Biltmore,
because most of the time people stand in a conga line, wrapping around
the bookstore to get books signed, and it sometimes cold in December, as
now. Then, she told Sue the people in shirtsleeves ere from New Jersey,
and the ones wrapped up were from Phoenix.
Barbara thanked the Biltmore for partnering with the bookstore for the
celebration of the 21st Kinsey Millhone book. She told the audience they
are projecting the end of the series for 2020, and Barbara promised
she'd be there for that book, even if the bookstore closed, and she had
to rent a shed. Then she asked Sue about the people who were
"betting against her" when the series started.
Sue acknowledged that she said when she started the alphabet, there were
people betting she couldn't write the entire series. When, she reached
M, she said readers were cheering for her to finish. So, when she's
asked what she's going to do with Z is for Zero, she told us
she's going to hold therapy sessions to help everyone through their
separation anxiety, and we'll all hold hands and hum. She said she's
going to take a long nap, and then party. But, she assured us she's
going to live to 108, so she'd have time for two quick series. They
might be about old people, though.
Barbara asked her if she has the manuscript of Z is for Zero in
a vault somewhere, in case something strikes her down before the end.
The answer was, there's nothing in a vault anyplace, so we'd better root
for her to stay alive. She asked the audience to make a commitment to
make it for the next ten years, so we could come back. She told us she
was going to make us sign a paper saying we'd be there. Barbara said she
hated to tell Sue this, but when an author passes on, people come into
the bookstore, and they don't say, "I'm going to miss Sue."
They say, "What about Kinsey?"
Grafton said it was very cheeky of her to start a series, using the
alphabet. She'd never written a mystery before. But, it was a sign she
was committed to the future, a way to say, I'm shooting an arrow out,
planning an entire series. But, the books are getting harder to write,
and she has five to go. Everyone has their own demons, and she's had to
outargue her demons. Every book is a struggle, a challenge. And, if you
don't like one book, big deal. "I did twenty-one you liked."
She said she never lets go, and never cheats with her book. She said she
tries to get pity sales, and asked us to just buy one book.
She admitted she thought she'd write five or six books, and get the hang
of it, and whiz through to the end. It was a sign she was young.
When asked which decisions she would not have made about the series, Sue
responded she would have done everything the same. It's like life.
Haven't we all done things we'd regret, but we'd live our life over
again, with the divorce and the decisions?
She did make a critical decision that Kinsey would not age one year per
book. When the series ends, it will be 1990, and Kinsey will turn 40.
That's a good age. We won't have to watch her go through menopause. Sue
assured everyone, though, that Henry Pitts and his siblings will
survive. His sister is only 99, and she doesn't feel bad, so why should
Grafton said she wouldn't make different choices. In J is for
Judgment, she thought it would be fun to have Kinsey investigate
herself, and she found cousins and a whole family. Half of the readers
loved it, and half were bored. So, she didn't pick that storyline up
again until M is for Malice. In L is for Lawless,
Kinsey was stranded, and forced to call her cousin, Tasha. Can you
imagine how mortifying that was for her? But, she didn't know how to
resolve the family issues. And, it's been many years, but finally, after
T is for Trespass, she resolved a letter from a reader who
said, "If you don't settle that family business, I'm never buying
another book. So, Sue wrote back, and said,
whoa, I'll take care of that. So, in U is for Undertow, she
settled the family issues, and that's enough of the family for now.
Barbara commented that we all know Sue lives in Santa Barbara, although
now she spends more time in Louisville. But, she said in Santa Barbara,
there's a long shadow cast by Ross Macdonald. He wrote a long series
featuring Lew Archer. He thought a detective should not be visible. Sue
said she was originally going to do that with Kinsey, and make her a
shadow. But, she said Macdonald was so wrong, but he was an old man.
Grafton said readers want a continuing character to have depth, quirks,
Barbara mentioned that in U is for Undertow, the story goes back to the
1960s, a turbulent time. Did she plan that? Grafton replied, "I
don't tell the book what's going to happen. The book tells me." It
takes a year for her to understand the story.
Sue said she's told this before, so if we heard it, we could ignore it.
She keeps journals of each book on the computer. The whole journal is
there, with every trivial thought and idea. She puts her emotional state
there on paper. That keeps her from sabotaging her work. She struggles
internally. All of her research and everything else is in that journal.
If she has an idea for a dialogue that comes later in the book, she puts
it in the journal, and when the right part comes, she just inserts the
dialogue. Grafton said her journal is boring. There are no treasures in
it. Sometimes she makes nasty remarks about other writers, and then
erases them because if she gets run over, people won't think, boy, she
was a bitch. She tries to appear much nicer than she is. Sue said 1 out
of 30 days her writing is dynamite. The other 29, it's stupid, but she
never knows which day is going to be good, so she has to write every
When asked about her research, Sue admitted she's had to humble herself.
She said it's a real boat on the cover of J is for Judgment.
She was interviewing someone about the book, standing there with her
notebook, and asked, what's that part that sticks up. "Well, Sue,
that's called the mast."
Barbara thought she remembered that Sue went undercover as a chambermaid
for one book. Sue said, no, she's a housewife, so she doesn't need to do
that. (And everyone laughed.) According to Sue, at one time she worked
for a friend who ran a home domestic business. Grafton was poor, and had
kids, so she cleaned toilets, and cleaned up after people. So she knows
how to clean toilet bowls, and has a back-up plan if she ever needs it.
Sue said she believes in Jungian psychology, the ego and the shadow.
There's what you'd like to be seen as. Grafton would like people to see
her as cheerful, cooperative, kind, and helpful. Then there's the real
self, the shadow. We put those traits behind us. If you look at people
you truly despise, they carry your shadow. We project our shadow on
others, and denounce them.
Grafton said when she writes, she has to disconnect the ego, and let the
shadow come through. The shadow is right brain; the ego is left. She
writes in her journal, and that's her shadow. She'll do anything -
self-hypnosis or anything, to get a piece that really works. She needs
to meet the shadow. Families usually have a black sheep, and they are
the shadow in the family. Barbara commented that writers of crime
fiction have to have shadows for people to want to read the story. We
read crime fiction to get rid of our own shadows. In fact, she was
recently editing a book, and told the author to kill a person, to get
rid of the shadows.
Barbara mentioned that Sue Grafton has received many honors. She was
named a Grand Master by MWA. (And, it was just announced that Dorothy
Gilman, author of the Mrs. Pollifax books, will be the 2010 Grand
Master.) Sue's also received the Diamond Dagger, the U.K. equivalent of
Sue said it's very nice to get the awards and accolades, but her job is
not to get stuck on herself. That doesn't help her write. Reviews don't
help either. If they're bad, and say her books are crap, how does that
help? And, good reviews don't help either. All of those ceremonies are
great, but Grafton said her battle is in the chair. She appreciates the
honors, but it doesn't help if she thinks of herself as "hot
Barbara told a story of a Diamond Dagger winner who outraged people when
he had it made into an earring for his wife. People were upset, saying
she had no right to wear it because she didn't win the Diamond Dagger.
She went on to announce that U is for Undertow will be #1 on
the New York Times Bestseller list on Sunday. She'd heard it from Sue's
publicist. They both went on to thank the audience. They said we had to
buy books. It's the reader's job to buy books, and the author's job to
make it worthwhile.
Then, questions were taken from the audience. How did Sue come up with
the name Kinsey? Grafton said she was working in Hollywood, and reading
the Hollywood Reporter. She saw a column in which it mentioned
a baby named Kinsey. She liked the name, and snatched it. Millhone was
probably taken out of the phone book. It has no meaning.
Which comes first, the title, such as V is for..., or the story. The
answer was, it varies. When Grafton first started the series, she
sketched out crime related words, and used them for A-D. But, she had
planned to call E, E is For Ever. She switched it to
"Evidence," and the story just came. For a long time, she
thought F would be forgery, but she found it boring. When she made it
"Fugitive," she could hear the story. K was for kidnapping,
and she wrote four chapters, and realized kidnapping is a federal crime.
No one was going to hire a small-town detective for a kidnapping case,
so she dumped it. That was the book that caused her to say to her
publicist, I have to have more than a year to write the books. Sue liked
Q is for Quarry, with its double meaning. The latest book is U
is for Undertow. She admitted she gets out the dictionary, and
makes a list of words that might work. There's no hard and fast rule for
the title and plot.
Barbara confessed she had wanted T is for Lipton, and, when Sue came to
the bookstore, she brought a box of teabags, with T is for Trespass
With S is for Silence, there was a switch in time, and multiple
points of view. With T is for Trespass, Sue said sometimes the
content dictates the form. When Solana Rojas, the villain, took over,
she had to tell that story from her point of view. Grafton said she
doesn't make it up in advance, but she can't imagine telling a story
from Henry or Rose's point of view. People might like it just because
they'd like to see Kinsey from another point of view.
Grafton mugged to the audience, saying she's taking heavy mediation, and
has a live-in therapist, trying to keep things fresh. How does she do
it? "I only have five more times, baby!" She said it helps to
see readers, and converse with us. She also said the journals help. It
helps to look back, and see her previous battles.
She said her tour was done on Thursday. Then she does Christmas, since
we all have to do Christmas. And, in January, she has to do battle
again. She runs 5.4 miles a day, five days a week, to deal with her
Barbara mentioned that Grafton has had the same editor, Marion, for the
entire series. "How would you feel writing without her as an
editor?" The answer was scared. Sue said she's had the same agent
since B is for Burglar. She said Steve, her husband, is her
first reader of her manuscript, but he doesn't get to see it until it's
done, because she has to write the entire book. Then, if he says it's
OK, she'll send it to Marion and Molly. Then, she waits to hear what
The final question involved another format, the audio, and why didn't
Judy Kaye do the most recent one. Sue replied that Judy Kaye does all of
her audios for Random House. She said Books-on-Tape may have another
narrator, but, otherwise, if it's not Judy Kaye on the audio, it might
be a pirated version.
Barbara ended by asking Sue to tell us about her train project. Sue said
her husband, Steve, had this wonderful idea to get a private train car,
and take it at the end of her tour. So, there were three couples, and
the plan was to get on the train at the end of the T is for Trespass
tour. They were going to go from Louisville, up to Cincinnati, and
then to Chicago, and across North America. They had their pjs, and train
movies, and a private chef, and they were all set for a romantic trip.
But, it started to snow, and unbeknownst to them, the snow was packing
up under the train. And, over time, because of that, one toilet after
another, and the showers, began to break down. So, it was a romantic
idea until the toilets and showers broke down. They had to fly home. Sue
said it was the best half day ever on a train.
Sue Grafton then signed books, and, gracious as ever, insisted people
check pictures, and make sure they were good ones before they walked
away. And, then she signed my book.
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Samantha Brennan "Went through life in search of naked
emperors to snicker at." As a fake psychic, she thought she
knew all of the tricks. But, she didn't know anything about
Celtic goddesses, shape-shifters, flower fairies, or murder.
She'll learn about all of that in Kris Neri's fun mystery, High
Crimes on the Magical Plane.
Molly Claire was a movie star who had been stalked by four guys
dressed as clowns. When Samantha Brennan saw a clown car leaving
the parking garage where Claire lived, she saw a way to
capitalize on that knowledge. She worked her way into Claire's
apartment, only to find a dead man there. But, Samantha's plans
were foiled by FBI Special Agent Annabelle Haggerty. Imagine the
shock of a fake psychic when she sees an actual vision of the
missing woman. Imagine Samantha's shock when she realizes she's
seeing those visions because Annabelle is an actual Celtic
goddess with unusual powers. And, Annabelle can use Samantha to
channel those visions.
It's a good thing that Samantha's aura is "Very happy,
carefree...But really simple and childlike." She's able to
accept gods and goddesses and winking gnomes, but she's a better
student of human nature than she gives herself credit for. And,
when Molly Claire shows up at bank robberies, à la Patty
Hearst, Samantha is dragged further into the investigation. And,
what is Molly's connection to an exhibit of Egyptian art?
Samantha wanted to be the center of attention, but she hadn't
wanted the attention of someone powerful enough to kill clowns,
and force an actress into a life of crime. Samantha thought she
was just a fake psychic, but Annabelle Haggerty brought out
hidden strengths in her.
Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty mystery was full of
surprises, humor, and a little romance. The two women are a
complimentary pair; Samantha, so light-hearted, harmless, and,
at times, clueless, and the powerful Celtic goddess, Annabelle,
who takes her job so seriously. It takes two women with a
psychic link to solve the crimes that could send Los Angeles up
in flames. High Crimes on the Magical Plane may have
started out with clown cars and a fake psychic, but it rushes
into danger and excitement at a fast pace. Neri's mystery is
suspenseful, and fun, with an original pair of heroines.
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
What a treat to host Libby Fischer Hellmann for Authors @ The Teague! After I introduced Libby to the audience, she reintroduced herself as "The best author you've never heard of."
Libby told us about the first four books in her Ellie Foreman mystery series. The books are Chicago-based. Ellie is a video producer, a single mother of a teenage daughter, who has a senior father. These books are not cozies. Hellmann said she wanted to write suspense. She loves staying up late, reading suspenseful, fast-paced books.
In her third book, An Image of Death, a character popped up that Libby knew she wanted to write about again. Ellie is outgoing, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and, if you went to lunch with her, she'd tell you everything about her life. Georgia Davis is just the opposite. She was a cop, with serious baggage. Hellmann said she's still learning about Georgia's baggage. But, she's a darker character, and Libby waited to write more about her, wanting the right story.
Libby said she found Georgia's story about five years ago, an incident that led to the first Georgia Davis book, Easy Innocence. Five years ago, there was a hazing at Glenbrook High School, in a suburb of Chicago. Senior girls were hazing junior girls, and six of them ended up in the emergency room. This resulted in all kinds of lawsuits, parents suing each other, the school, the police. Hellmann said mystery writers play a what if game. What if this happened? That hazing incident took place in a forest preserve less than one mile from Libby's house. And, she had a daughter in high school. So, it led her to play the what if game. What if a girl was murdered? Who would have done it? Was it another girl? Was it someone else? This was the perfect vehicle for Georgia.
According to Libby, she's made a number of mistakes in her career, but she did one smart thing. At the end of An Image of Death, she suspended Georgia from the police force. Hellmann said she didn't think she could continue writing about Georgia as a cop. In Easy Innocence, she's a private investigator. It did well, and it went into three reprints. It's a book that peels the layers off North Shore society. There are two groups of North Shore residents. There are the affluent parents whose daughters can get everything they want as to cars and phones and other toys. But, there's an equal number of families who moved there for good schools and good neighborhoods, and those families can't afford all of the toys for their daughters, all of the toys that are badges of acceptance for teenage girls. So, what do those girls do to get money? Libby wouldn't tell the audience what they do in Easy Innocence, but said they go to absurd lengths to get the money to buy the things to be accepted by their peers.
Hellmann's latest book, Doubleback, is the sequel to Easy Innocence. The realism factor forced her to write a new series. By the fourth book in the Ellie Foreman series, Libby knew she was running out of credible reasons for Ellie to get involved in murder investigations. But, it's a lot easier to write about a private investigator as the main character.
There's an implicit contract between writers and readers, according to Hellmann. Whether it's an Ellie book or a Georgia one, readers suspend disbelief, and accept the fact of the murder or crime. In exchange, Libby promises to give readers the most credible, realistic read. The setting and location will be accurate. The motivation of the characters will be realistic. There will be logical development of the plot. She takes that contract seriously. She will research so her facts are correct, and her characters do the logical thing.
In Doubleback, Hellmann gives Ellie a rest as the sleuth. Ellie and Georgia were friends, and she brings the two characters together in this book, but Georgia's the one with the active case.
Libby said if we knew her better, we'd know she's neurotic. She hates to fly. She hates bees. And, she hates the idea of being stuck in elevators. So, the first chapter of Doubleback opens with six people stuck in an elevator in an office building on the Loop in Chicago. It stops abruptly; there's chaos in the elevator, and then a minute later the gears grind, and the elevator starts up. When it arrives at the ground floor, people are still afraid and angry. But, the last man out looks at his watch, and says, "Right on schedule."
Hellmann started to get the idea for this book when Blackwater was all over the news. The head of Blackwater claimed his employees, mercenaries, were not really military personnel, so they weren't responsive to military law. But, they were not really civilians, so they were not accountable to civilian laws. Libby said she was angry, and then she discovered that private security firms were often hired to protect the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Private security firms were hired by some of the towns. And, the borders in Arizona re the most porous. So, she created a border town in Arizona that looks a lot like Douglas. She changed the name to Stevens, and made its Mexican sister city Esteban. Douglas was the perfect town because there had been rumors in Douglas that the brother of the mayor had a drug tunnel under his property.
The story has drug smuggling, and mercenaries who are supposed to be guarding the boarder. But, what if those mercenaries were available to the highest bidder? It was an interesting subject, with great opportunities for conflict and danger. That opening scene with the elevator is linked to the contractors.
Doubleback starts in Chicago, goes to Wisconsin, back to Chicago, and the last third of the book is set in Arizona. Ellie's in the book, but Georgia does the "heavy lifting." Ellie's learned not to endanger herself, because she has a family.
When asked, Libby said she doesn't outline. She did three practice novels that she outlined, and they were never published. She thinks she was writing the outline instead of backing off, and letting the characters lead the story. That might sound spooky. But, Hellmann said she has to get out of the way, and let the characters tell the story.
She does have 10-pole scenes, important scenes where she thinks things will happen. But, Libby said she has the most fun when the character does or says something, and she doesn't know why the character is doing that. It's like magic when, 100 pages later, she realizes why the character did what she did.
She also finds the research fun. It gives her story an angle, such as when she discovered that security contracting firms were hired domestically. She's now writing a book that takes place in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, in 1979 and 1980.
When writing An Image of Death, she knew there was a woman murdered, but she didn't know who that woman was. She decided she was Armenian, and had to research Armenia. In 1988, 20,000 people died in an earthquake in Armenia. Russian troops were sent in on a humanitarian effort, but the troops that went in got sick. The rescuers had to be rescued. So, she decided the woman met a Russian soldier in the hospital, moved with him to Georgia, in the Soviet Union, and was caught up in the fall of the Soviet Union.
Hellmann admitted she has changed her mind as to the ending of books. While writing both Easy Innocence and Doubleback, she changed her mind as to who did it. In her Iran book, a woman falls in love with an Iranian student, moves back to Iran with him, and he's murdered. She's the primary suspect. Hellmann originally planned to have the student's first girl friend as the killer, a woman whose engagement had been arranged, and he broke it off. But, Libby started to like that character, and changed who the killer was.
Libby said her craft just wasn't ready when she wrote her first three books. She hadn't elevated the craft yet. She was telling, and not showing. Her pacing and dialogue weren't right. It takes time to refine it. So, her fourth book was her first one published.
Hellmann said she never thought she'd be a writer. She wanted to be a filmmaker, and her graduate degree is in film production. But, she discovered she wasn't going to make a name for herself there, and she didn't want to be a starving artist in a garret. So, she worked in TV news, since she'd been a history major. If you grow up in D.C., as she did, the national news is about your neighborhood. She worked eight years at different networks. But, when she was forced to work the overnight shift at NBC news, she quit, and moved to Chicago. She worked for a PR firm for eight years to prove she could stay in one job. By then, she had married and had a son, and went freelance, but kept her hand in the film business.
At the time, Libby was reading thrillers, suspense and espionage - Ludlum, Len Deighton, le Carré, but they started to all seem the same. She complained to her mom, who at 90 is still an avid mystery reader, and her mother gave her Jeremiah Healy's The Staked Goat, and said, try this. She loved it. Fifteen years ago, Healy was popular. He wrote about issues, and the Vietnam war. He had a "ballsy" character, John Cuddy. Now, Libby's writing an article for January Magazine's The Rap Sheet about a forgotten mystery that shouldn't be forgotten, and she's writing about The Staked Goat.
So, Hellmann read widely in the mystery field, finding books she loved, such as ones by James Lee Burke, and she said she couldn't ever write a paragraph as well as he did. Then there were the books she threw across the room, saying I can write better than that. So, four months after father died, she emerged from the basement with the worst mystery novel ever written. But, she joined a writers' group, and twelve years later, she's still in it. Most of the writers are published, and most are mystery writers. She will never leave that group.
With her second novel, Hellmann was accepted by a New York agent. By the time she started her third novel, he told her she needed to change voices, plots and agents because he couldn't represent her anymore. So, she did what anyone else would do, cried and drank a lot of wine. She also wrote short stories, which she really likes. Libby said short stories are like an affair, and a novel is a like a marriage. She wrote a short story set in the 1930s in a thriving Jewish Chicago community. It was about a boy with eyes only for an actress who had a thing for a man who might or might not have been a gangster. The story was called "The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared," and the story won awards and was published. It was set in 1938.
Then, Libby had her Eureka moment. What if she moved the characters ahead in time. The boy, Jake, would be in his 70s. His daughter, Ellie, would be a video producer with a daughter, and live in the suburbs. Libby lived in the suburbs, was a video producer, and had a daughter. This sequel to the short story became the novel An Eye for Murder. Hellmann rewrote it three times, then sent a query letter. She found a new agent who sold the book ten days later to Berkley. But, she had a very savvy editor there, who contacted Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Press, and suggested they publish the hardcover, and a month later, Berkley would come out with the book in paperback. All four of the Ellie books were published that way, and then Berkley dropped them. But, Barbara Peters kept her in print, and reprinted Ellie in trade paperback. Now, Hellmann is with Bleak House, and they publish both a hardcover and a trade paperback at the same time.
Hellmann said writing is the hardest thing she's ever done. She loves writing dialogue, and has an ear for people talking. She should be writing plays. She said she's good at pacing. But, she struggles with narrative. But, she's just learned to write ugly, and dribble it. She quoted Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott about writing, about writing "Shitty first drafts." It gave her permission to write ugly. Libby said she hates to write, but loves to edit. So she writes ugly, and now edits it six or seven times. If there wasn't a deadline, she would always be editing. She rewrote her fourth book three times, and that was the first one published.
In Doubleback, Hellmann writes Ellie in first person, and Georgia in third person, because that's how the characters came to her. Some readers have problems with that, but she said Robert Crais did it in LA Requiem, and won an Edgar.
She was asked about sources for her research, and Hellmann said she does a workshop on research. She uses primary sources, such as interviews, field trips, and conversations with people. When she wrote her first book, she took an Armenian family to breakfast, and had a list of questions about growing up in Armenia in the 1970s under Russian occupation. Then, the grandma told about the Armenians and Turks in the country, and having to do a forced march on foot across Armenia, and that's where she met her husband. She also uses the Internet for research. There are good sources there, but you have to check their authority. In preparing for her Iran book, Libby read 12-14 books, fiction and nonfiction, about the Iranian Revolution. She also has five Iranian friends who she emails with questions.
Hellmann said she did go to Douglas to research Doubleback. She and a friend stayed at the Gadsden Hotel, went to the border, crossed over and back, and took pictures. She also has a friend who moved to Douglas who is a big help, and read the parts set there.
It takes Hellmann about a year to write a book. She gets distracted, with writing, promoting, her family, and an occasional day job. In her day job, she trains people for better presentations, to be better speakers, and consults, but she doesn't market that anymore, and her client base has dropped off.
Libby just got back from Bouchercon, an annual mystery convention. She said last year when she was there, she got the idea for her Iran novel. When she's sixty to seventy pages from the end of the book, she gets antsy for her next idea. This year, at Bouchercon, she got the idea for her next Georgia book. In An Image of Death, she left one thing pending, and the book stems from that. It's going to be a dark novel.
When asked her favorite books, she said that's like choosing between your children. But, An Image of Death is her favorite Ellie book. She's happy with both Georgia books, Easy Innocence and Doubleback.
Libby was asked her favorite mystery novels, and she answered with William Kent Krueger, Dennis Lehane, C.J. Box, Zoë Sharp, Jerry Healy. She loves them. Hellmann said she likes darker stuff.
Libby Fischer Hellmann ended her program by saying when she starts a book, the world is in order. A murder, or other crime causes the world to go into chaos. The sleuth brings the world back into order. The book may not have a happy ending, but justice is served.
Libby Fischer Hellmann's website is www.libbyhellmann.com
Lesa Holstine and Libby Fischer
Hellmann - Photo by Stephanie Rumsey.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Libby Fischer Hellmann,
author of Doubleback, will appear for Authors @ The Teague
at the Velma Teague Library on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 10 AM
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
It started with just a stuck elevator,
and a missing little
girl. But, if the little girl hadn't mysteriously returned,
and a woman hadn't been traumatized by the elevator problem,
Georgia Davis might never have become involved in a
complicated case that took her from Chicago to Wisconsin, and
then to Arizona. Libby Fischer Hellmann's Doubleback
is a troubling case for her PI, and her friend, Ellie Foreman.
In fact, it's Ellie, a video producer who calls Georgia Davis,
a former police officer turned PI, when Christina Messenger's
daughter is kidnapped. Ellie likes Christina, but Georgia
doesn't trust her. And, when the little girl shows up, Georgia
thinks something is really strange. But, Georgia agrees to
investigate when Christina calls again, if only for the sake
of that little girl, Molly. And, that's when everything starts
to fall apart.
Christina works in IT at a bank, and suspects something is
strange when her boss dies in a car "accident." She
only has time to tell Georgia that she made a mistake before
she herself dies as well. Christina's ex-husband offers Davis
the case, since he's afraid his ex-wife may have been over her
head, and Molly still might be in danger. Georgia, whose
mother walked out on her when she was young, is drawn to
vulnerable kids, especially girls, so she agrees to take a
case that will lead her into danger.
Davis' case leads from the bank to Delton Security, a company
similar to Blackwater, and then to Arizona. It's a story of
mercenaries, greed, illegal aliens, drugs, and drug cartels,
so, of course it involves an Arizona border town. Georgia flew
into Tucson, driving past Tombstone, Bisbee, and Douglas, on
her way to the border. And, a reporter gives her a warning
that sums up the entire book. "Despite the appearance of
civilization, this is still the Wild West. People like to take
the law into their own hands." It's the story of Georgia
Davis' entire investigation, a complex story that will keep
the reader guessing until the end. It's the story of people
who take the law into their own hands, whether it's in
Chicago, Wisconsin, or Arizona. And, readers will discover
it's the story of Georgia Davis, a complex woman, who is out
on her own, in a frightening story, in Doubleback.
see Lesa's other articles on the Glendale Daily Planet HERE
Libby Fischer Hellmann, author
of Doubleback, will appear for Authors @ The Teague at the Velma
Teague Library on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 10 AM
Kris Neri, author of High Crimes on
the Magical Plane, is the owner of The Well-Red Coyote Bookstore in
Sedona. She will be appearing at the Velma Teague Library for
Authors @ The Teague on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2 PM, as part of Desert
Sleuths, the Arizona Chapter of Sisters-in-Crime, with their anthology,
How "Not" to Survive the Holidays.
High Crimes on the
Magical Plane by Kris Neri
Samantha Brennan "Went through life in search of naked emperors to
snicker at." As a fake psychic, she thought she knew all of the
tricks. But, she didn't know anything about Celtic goddesses,
shape-shifters, flower fairies, or murder. She'll learn about all of
that in Kris Neri's fun mystery, High Crimes on the Magical Plane.
Molly Claire was a movie star who had been stalked by four guys dressed
as clowns. When Samantha Brennan saw a clown car leaving the parking
garage where Claire lived, she saw a way to capitalize on that
knowledge. She worked her way into Claire's apartment, only to find a
dead man there. But, Samantha's plans were foiled by FBI Special Agent
Annabelle Haggerty. Imagine the shock of a fake psychic when she sees an
actual vision of the missing woman. Imagine Samantha's shock when she
realizes she's seeing those visions because Annabelle is an actual
Celtic goddess with unusual powers. And, Annabelle can use Samantha to
channel those visions.
It's a good thing that Samantha's aura is "Very happy,
carefree...But really simple and childlike." She's able to accept
gods and goddesses and winking gnomes, but she's a better student of
human nature than she gives herself credit for. And, when Molly Claire
shows up at bank robberies, à la Patty Hearst, Samantha is dragged
further into the investigation. And, what is Molly's connection to an
exhibit of Egyptian art? Samantha wanted to be the center of attention,
but she hadn't wanted the attention of someone powerful enough to kill
clowns, and force an actress into a life of crime. Samantha thought she
was just a fake psychic, but Annabelle Haggerty brought out hidden
strengths in her.
This Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty mystery was full of
surprises, humor, and a little romance. The two women are a
complimentary pair; Samantha, so light-hearted, harmless, and, at times,
clueless, and the powerful Celtic goddess, Annabelle, who takes her job
so seriously. It takes two women with a psychic link to solve the crimes
that could send Los Angeles up in flames. High Crimes on the Magical
Plane may have started out with clown cars and a fake psychic, but
it rushes into danger and excitement at a fast pace. Neri's mystery is
suspenseful, and fun, with an original pair of heroines.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
By: Lesa Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
As author Vicki Delany said, history was made on Saturday, Oct. 24 when Poisoned Pen Press presented the first mystery virtual conference. For just $25, anyone had the chance to talk with authors such as Lee Child in the "coffee shop," listen to live panels, and ask questions, and discuss mystery and crime writing with authors from France to Alaska.
The morning was kicked off when Robert Rosenwald, owner of Poisoned Pen Press, officially opened PPWebCon by live video from Scottsdale, Arizona, as people logged in from North Carolina, Texas, Alaska, California, Arizona, all over the country. Immediately following Rosenwald's welcome, visitors could watch and listen to Peter May in France, discussing "Behind the Scenes with the Beijing Homicide Squad." May's videos of ordinary people in China were much more impressive than most scenes of China. Just as intriguing was the book trailer for his forthcoming book, Virtually Dead, set in the virtual world of Second Life.
Participants could move from May's discussion to a live video with Lea Wait from Maine, where she discussed "The Traditional Mystery: How to Avoid the Dreaded Cabot Cove Syndrome." After listening to that for a while, it was time to drop into the virtual coffee shop, where it was a pleasant surprise to have Lee Child drop in for a few minutes before his live interview.
For ten hours, participants could move from live events, where we could listen to, and question authors, to "on demand" recordings, where we could watch book trailers, listen to eighty interviews of authors, done by Barbara Peters from the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. She did one live interview with Dana Stabenow from Alaska, to give us a taste of the in-depth discussions. Some of the live events were broadcasts via
BlogTalkRadio, giving us the chance to listen to authors who were all over the world.
No, we didn't get to actually meet authors as at an actual convention. But, participants are lucky enough to have access to all of the interviews and panels for the next year, so if there are any we missed, we can go back and catch them. And, we received a goody bag filled with downloadable short stories and excerpts to read from authors such as Clea Simon, Ann Parker and Frederick Ramsay. There was music with Jeff Cohen performing, "It's Just a Mystery," a tongue-in-cheek song for aspiring mystery authors. And, it was an honor to be mentioned in Pat Browning's essay,
"Blogging 101," with her reference to Lesa's Book Critiques. We even received a $20 gift certificate to the Poisoned Pen.
If you've attended Authors @ The Teague at the Velma Teague Library, you would have recognized some of the authors that participated in the conference. Vicki Delany and Deborah Turrell Atkinson, Leighton Gage, Ann Parker, Cara Black, Rebecca Cantrell, Larry Karp, and Betty Webb were participants. And, two authors who will be appearing at the library took part, Libby Fischer
Hellman, and Frederick Ramsay. In fact, since Hellman will be appearing at the library on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 10 a.m., to discuss her book,
Doubleback, here's the book trailer, as presented at PPWebCon 2009, as a sneak preview.
Author panels, interviews, time in the coffee shop, book trailers. In a tight economy, PPWebCon 2009 offered mystery lovers ten hours of fun, discussion and debate, and we didn't even have to leave home.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Camille Kimball, Author of A Sudden Shot:
The Phoenix Serial Killer, for Authors @ The Teague
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Camille Kimball, author of A Sudden Shot: The Phoenix Serial Shooter, appeared for Authors @ The Teague in order to honor the victims, and thank the heroes who solved the case, and brought Dale Hausner to trial. She brought pictures taken during Hausner's trial, pictures of some of the crime scenes, and two retired Phoenix police detectives who had been involved in the Phoenix Serial Shooter case. Detectives Darrell Smith and Cliff Jewell's contributions to the program were fascinating.
From May 2005 to July 2006, the Phoenix Shooter was credited with shooting at 27 people, and knifing two victims. Of those, eight people died. Five horses and eight dogs were shot. Buildings and cars were shot at, and buildings burned. As the back cover of the book says, Phoenix "fell victim to one of the most publicized serial killing sprees in history....Often using shotguns with buckshot, Dale Hausner and Sam Dieteman tormented the city for an entire year....They took aim at men and women, white and black, Latino and Indian, homeless and rich - even horses and dogs."
Camille said her book was a tribute to the victims, the forgotten people who were shot, and the ones who died, on the street. She showed photos of Hausner in the courtroom, and said some of the pictures showed his personality, as he peaked at her through his hands, and fidgeted with papers throughout the trial. The witnesses against him were nervous when they saw him at the table, unshackled, but they weren't aware that he was wearing a shock belt around his waist that would shoot 50,000 volts of electricity into him, if the guard needed to shock him. Family members had expressed their fear of Dale Hausner when they had to cross in front of him on the way to the witness stand.
One of the photos was of Vincent Imbordino, prosecutor, whose closing argument, included in A Sudden Shot, was so moving that people cried. There were hours of testimony, and Kimball's photos included pictures of witnesses, among them some of the women who testified. Dale Hausner was quite successful with women. One witness was a school principal and professor at ASU who dated him. He tried to use her as an alibi. Dale's ex-wife drove in from Texas to testify against him, and she was so terrified she trembled, and had to be reminded to speak loudly. Another woman who dated him was a student teacher, who denied that she was with him when he tried to use her for an alibi.
There was even a child with Hausner in the apartment when he was arrested. Kimball quoted the mother as telling her, "We were delivered from evil." Hausner himself had a little girl who suffered from an illness, and he lied to play up her illness for sympathy, saying his little girl wouldn't make it to first grade. She's in first grade, doing fine.
Kimball even showed pictures of Buddy, the burro, "the first victim she interviewed." Buddy had been shot from 30 to 40 feet away. Almost all of the animals shot had been in fenced yards, and they were shot at night. Buddy might have been the least of the victims, but he had been purchased as a pet for the owners' foster children.
Detective Cliff Jewell, the detective followed through the book, said he believed Dale and his brother, Jeff Hausner, shot all of the animals, but they only charged them for the cases where the shell cases or a bullet was left at the scene.
Included in the photos were ones of victims and their families. Paul Patrick, was shown in several pictures and he is shown in a YouTube video with Kimball.
When asked, Camille said the victims, and their families, have appreciated the book, saying they saw it as an opportunity to have their loved ones introduced to a larger audience.
After the pictures, Kimball introduced both detectives. She said usually Detective Cliff Jewell speaks first because he has the longer arc in the book, but since Darrell Smith had closest connection to Glendale, he spoke first.
Smith said he entered the case when Wal-Mart went up in smoke in June 2006, because he was investigating the arson. He became involved in the shooter cases after the fires. The ATF and fire departments worked hand in hand in the arson cases, and Smith and Kimball acknowledged Mike Blair from the Glendale Fire Department. With the Wal-Mart fires, the police now had video of cars, and pretty good ones of the suspects in both stores. Following that information, Darrell Smith received a phone call from a woman who said she thought she knew who one of the men was. Everyone met at the Phoenix Police Department because Smith had the computer equipment. They ran the information about the suspect, Sammy Dieteman, but he had no history of arrests.
Besides the fire, Smith received a phone call claiming the shooter shot at a bicycle at 89th and Camelback, and gave the date and person involved. After checking with the assault team, that was just one of the calls that didn't match the facts.
Then, the police pulled what phone records they could. As Kimball reminded us, just three years ago, they couldn't pull cell phone records like they can now.
The police hit bars and apartment complexes in West Phoenix, looking for the car from the Wal-Mart videos, but couldn't find it. They were deadended. They then joined a task force; hundreds were brought in to combat the serial shooter case. The police would sit on street corners at night, listening for shots. It didn't work. Darrell Smith said he lived in the West Valley, and he always watched for the car when he was out. He and his wife even hit bards, looking for that car. There were stakeouts, and they couldn't find the two men.
But, Smith had a "file stop" on Sammy. In July 2006, he received a call from Silent Witness. A man named Ron Horton wanted to talk to someone about the serial shooter. He said a man named Sam Dieteman was the guy doing this.
Horton, who looked like a scary man to meet, was, according to Smith, "the meekest, mildest person to talk to and interview." He said Sammy had once said to him, "Do you know what it's like to kill someone," but Ron blew it off because they were drinking in a bar. But, Ron was able to tell Detective Smith details that Sammy had told him, including that a .410 shotgun had been used to kill people, a fact the police had not revealed. Ron Horton said he was sure Sam was one of the killers, but he didn't know the second shooter. After the videotaped interview, Smith took the tape downtown, and things moved quickly. He then went back and videotaped Ron again, and he told the same story.
Darrel Smith said he did phone calls and surveillance, the interesting work, and didn't have to do the paperwork. He said the asked Ron to get Sam to meet him somewhere Finally Sammy agreed to meet Ron at the Star Dust Bar. There were hundreds of police there, hidden, when two men drove up. Sammy was dropped off, and the car left. Darrell followed the car to Metro Center, where the driver went in. The car license plate was registered to Dale Hausner. Smith followed Dale into a video store in the mall, where he stayed long enough for the police to put a GPS on Dale's car.
Smith said he wanted so badly to see the case through that he slept in his van two nights with other detectives, two nights in July. But, that night, Sam and Ron went to another bar, and then the casino at Wildhorse Pass. The police kept getting calls from Ron, reporting in. But, Sammy said he'd have a friend pick up him, and Dale came by and picked him up. Then they cruised Gilbert and Chandler for three hours. Smith is convinced they were stalking people, but it had started to rain, so there were not a lot of people out. He said as the police followed them, that was a terrible fear, that they couldn't get to them fast enough if they pulled out a shotgun and shot someone. In the wiretap room, they couldn't believe the things they heard the two men say.
Detective Darrell Smith said he never testified at the trial because everything he knew was hearsay from Ron Horton. And, Ron died before the trial, so Darrell couldn't testify, saying yes, Ron said that to me. But, in thirty-one years as a cop, he never got closer to a snitch as he did to Ron. Horton did get the reward, and, after he died, there was a fundraiser for him at the Star Dust Bar, a biker bar. Smith said he felt out of place there when he went, but the family welcomed him, and introduced him. The mayor had given a coin to everyone who worked on the case, and Smith gave his to Ron's family.
Ron Horton said when Robin Blasnek, the last victim, died in July, he knew he had to come forward. When asked, Smith said he had been involved in an incident when Ron went to pick up the reward money. The detectives knew when he'd be picking it up, and, knowing it was a lot of money, they worried about him. They went in a van, grabbed him when he came out with the money, told him they were there to protect him, and take him to his bank so nothing would happen to him. He gave away a lot of his money before he died. His friends don't regret what Ron did.
Following Detective Smith's presentation, Camille Kimball introduced Detective Cliff Jewell, "a real hero," and the main hero in A Sudden Shot. Cliff said he became involved several months earlier than Darrell. When Kimball said it was a dogged investigation, Jewell said he counted over 200 times he was mentioned in the book, so it was embarrassing. Three hundred forty-eight people were involved in the case. The Glendale Fire Department, a civilian volunteer with the Glendale Police Department, the Mesa and Scottsdale Police Departments were involved.
Jewell said Jeff Hausner, Dale's brother, lived at 91st and Camelback. Cliff believes Jeff and Dale shot all of the animals, and started shooting people. They told Sam they shot a bunch of people downtown. They all hung around the west side where Jeff lived. Camille's pictures included one of a church at 9th Avenue and Woodland, south of Van Buren. There were shootings outside that church on December 29. One witness survived, Timmy Tordai, but he was a registered sex offender, and not a good witness. They did have five surveillance cameras on a nearby parking garage, but they didn't know what vehicle they were looking for on the cameras.
Then, there were the stories they had to chase down that turned out to be false. One was a detailed story of how the December 29 shootings occurred. One was from a man who said he rode to work with the shooter.
Cliff Jewell mentioned the various cases that eventually came together, but seemed unrelated at the beginning. He heard from people in the Tolleson area about animal shootings, and someone who lost their dog gave him the casing. Dale Hausner complained that when Jeff shot someone, he put the gun too far out the window, and the casings went out the car. That's why they didn't find casings or shells at all of the scenes.
Dale Hausner took classes at ABC Bartending School in Tempe, and remained friends with someone there. When a car windshield was shot out at the bartending school, there were six shell casings found, but that case wasn't connected at the time.
When discussing serial killers, the FBI says serial killers don't change weapons. But, there was a .22 and shotguns used. It's not typical of serial killers to change weapons. Jewell had a case with dogs shot, and shell casings left. The same night, a prostitute was shot, and it was the same shell casings.
At the same time the Phoenix Shooter case was going on, the police were investigating the Baseline Killer case. Homicide was all tied up in that case, so Jewell had little help.
On April 15, he went on America's Most Wanted. He was upset that the show mentioned the .22 caliber because they weren't releasing it. He knew the shooters would then change guns.
Detective Jewell said he asked the FBI to come out and give him a profile. They told him it was a white male 18-24, alone, but the shotguns and .22s were not connected. They said, "Cliff. You're wrong. The cases aren't connected." Cliff still thought they were wrong. He got called in as part of the Task Force toward the end. He did get to call the FBI, and say, "I was right." He got his credibility back with the department. It was a fifteen month investigation.
The audience was asked if we'd heard of Charlie Starkweather, a spree killer. Dale Hausner had red hair, and was from Omaha. Charlie Starkweather had red hair and was from Lincoln. They thought Hausner was emulating Starkweather.
Dale Hausner was a serial killer with no criminal history, but profiling is based on generalities. Hausner is not stupid. He did things to change the scenario. He set dumpsters on fire, and Wal-Marts on fire.
Hausner won't talk to the cops, and didn't talk to Camille. He's appealing his conviction. On the other hand, Sam Dieteman is remorseful, and says he has no idea how he allowed himself to get involved. He met Dale through Dale's brother, Jeff. Sam lived with Jeff, and, when he had an argument and moved out, Dale went looking for him. It was that night, driving around, that Dale shot someone, then gave the gun to Sam. Sam shot Claudia Gutierrez-Cruz, and killed her.
Someone mentioned alcohol and drugs. Sam was educated, and an alcoholic. They would shoplift liquor from Target, Walgreens, and grocery stores. They stole dozens of bottles of liquor. They stole videos, and Dale sold them to people at the airport. Dale got Sam on meth.
The final question was about the caliber of the guns, and why it was a .22. We were told it was part of a game they would play, experimenting to see what the different guns would do.
But, Camille Kimball said her feelings are that their personalities and characters are specific to them. It wasn't the drugs or alcohol that made them do it.
Camille Kimball's book, A Sudden Shot: The Phoenix Serial Shooter, and the program at the Velma Teague Library, with Detectives Cliff Jewell and Darrell Smith, showed the importance of dogged police work, and heroes - heroes such as Cliff Jewell, Darrell Smith, Glendale fireman, Mike Blair, and Ron Horton, along with the victims, their families, and the witnesses in the trials.
Camille Kimball's website is at www.camillekimball.com
Camille Kimball and Lesa Holstine Photo by Judy Marlett
email@example.com See book
Sir Terry Pratchett, Presented by Authors @
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
What an honor to host Sir Terry Pratchett at the Velma Teague Library! Actually, we expected a large crowd, so the event was held in the Glendale City Council Chambers. People stayed over from the North American Discworld Convention, including men from Switzerland and Mexico. One fan flew in from San Francisco, just for this event. And, one woman drove up from Yuma.
It was definitely a fun program, filled with laughter, beginning with his introduction. After I introduced him as Sir Terry Pratchett, he said that always bothers him to be called Sir Terry in America. Didn't we fight a war not to have to say Sir Terry? Well, actually we fought it because we owed England money, and we didn't want to pay up.
He said, when they call you and say they'd like to knight you, they're very nice about it, saying they would fully appreciate that you might not want to be knighted. But, the family gets to go. He said when he went to be knighted, two burly policemen pulled him over, and told him, park over there, and we'll come get our books signed later. He went with his wife, daughter, and mum. His mum is about the same age and same size as the queen, so they could have swapped places in the dark. They had tea, and then went off with a flunky to go through the whole kneeling bit. It wouldn't be proper to pull the queen over. It was good fun, and she whacked him on the shoulder with a sword.
He said it's nice to be a knight, usually when dealing with bullies. He said we could use a few knights in America, especially when dealing with Homeland Security. He said he hopes that the English Customs men aren't as cheeky to us when we go to England, as Homeland Security was to him. Terry asked, "Do they ever smile?" He said maybe England should send a few over to us to teach them how to smile. He said a couple of them would have made Mr. T run away. He gave his name to one of them, and, when asked, said he was a writer here for a convention. Pratchett said, you don't want to hear customs get on the phone, call someone, and say, "I got him." Another man came over, and said, "I can't make the convention. Would you sign this book for me?" So, after he signed to his "best friend, Stan", Stan went back to his own line. So, there were two lines waiting while Terry Pratchett signed Stan's book. Once Stan had left, "Mr. T" said to Terry, "I need to see your I.D." Even while pulling out his passport, Terry looked at him, and said, "Stan didn't." And, "Mr. T" gave him a little smile.
Instead of a formal talk, Terry walked in front of the podium, and said, "You know me and what I do. Ask me a question." After a few gasps that they would actually get to ask him questions, the first one was, "How are you holding up in this heat?" He responded, "You have ferocious heat and ferocious air conditioning. The air in my hotel room didn't need to be that cold. It could be brought down to the temperature of a spring day."
Someone said, "You've always said you have quite a sense of timing. You took a job in a nuclear power plant at the time of Three Mile Island. How's your sense of timing now?" He answered that he's more in control of his own destiny now.
He went on to talk about that. He said tug-of-war is played with a rope. There was a tug of war at Three Mile Island, and the rope broke. Lots of fingers were caught up in that rope. Apart from Chernobyl, the most damage ever was done at Three Mile Island.
Pratchett went on to say, they always say, we're putting in three completely independent fail-safe systems, and they're all a long way apart. However, the cables for all three fail-safe systems go in one cable in one wall.
Terry said a power station is a small town, with its own sewage system. And, naturally, the man sweeping up items there swept three pieces of radioactive iron into the sewage system. So, there's 800,000 gallons of sludge, with a small number of radioactive pieces that can't be seen. So, there's a meeting of the people who know about radioactivity, and the people who know about sewage plants. And, the sewage people say they know sewage, but they're not going to handle it when it's radioactive. And the radioactivity people say they know about radioactivity, but it's the shit that worries us. Terry said he never had to sign anything when he worked in a nuclear power station. How do you find tiny particles in great piles of sludge? Pump it out, and then take it to an enormous coal power station, and feed it carefully in there. Then beep, beep, beep. All three of the pieces were found. They got it 100% right that time. But, weird stuff happened there, including a man who was too radioactive to come in to the power station. He eventually gave his six months notice. Now, he has enough money so he never has to do another honest day's work.
When asked what he was reading, Terry replies, he's been away from books for a few days, but at home, he's reading London Labor and the London Poor. The author was a social reformer. It's set in Georgian England. The Thames was a sewer at the time. And author was appalled by what he found. London was so unbelievably awful that even Morpork was better. At times, soot was London's most valuable export. People used to forge it, fake soot. Chimney sweeps would clean chimneys for free to get soot.
London was actually, people who have jobs, and the underclass, just as right now in England. Everyone was scared, a bit like America right now since you don't have a National Health Service. One accident, and you're in the poorhouse. Charity did not come from the rich, but from the not too poor to the poorer than them. Charity rained from the lower middle class to lower class. Nothing was wasted. House dust was sold for fertilizer because it had human skin in it. Paper was recycled. Metal was valuable. This was just as Queen Victoria was coming to the throne. One thing to say for Prince Albert is that he was a reformer. The River Thames finally gave up, and it made such a great stink that Parliament couldn't sit because of the stench. Then, the English built the best sewer system ever.
Terry was asked how he got into the head of a nine-year-old girl, Tiffany, in his books, since he did it so well. He asked if we had Girl Scouts, Brownies, here. He said he had been contacted by a Brownie troop that wanted to do a spoof for a show. Can we photograph you being kidnapped? They would take that photograph, and use a stand-in to do the rest, since one girl's father looked enough like Pratchett. He said they'd have to film the kidnapping, and he wanted to coordinate it, but they had to bring a rubber chicken. He wanted to have two girls stand behind him as he was signing; then one girl would pick up his hat, and the other would hit him over the head with a rubber chicken. Hit him, and then while he slumped, they were to put his hat back on. The problem was, people saw him signing, and he would have to say, wait, I'm going to be hit by a rubber chicken. He has a plaque now, saying he is a Brownie Guide.
He said, actually, you just watch. He said girls are different, and I just watch and take notice. He could do a monograph on how people clap. An author has to be interested in people. He will talk to anyone who takes the time to talk.
Anything interests him. In Nation, they dipped a womb in a bucket of tar. Only the Royal Navy might have done that. Nation was just channeled. It pured through him.
He said the Victorians never actually covered furniture legs because they were indecent. That was a gag. The mid-Victorian period was a time of "things". People didn't own things before. But, manufacturers were making things, and people wanted as many things as possible. Terry knew a woman who lost her husband, but as he kid, when he went to her house, it was so cluttered with things that Terry thought maybe her husband was in there somewhere.
He leads an inquiring life, and it comes out as a story.
When asked if he was going to incorporate Twitter into any books, he said he doesn't Tweet because he has real flesh and blood friends. He said he was on the Internet about as soon as it was around. Then he asked, "Don't you people want me to write the books?"
A question from the audience began, your books contain a number of moral and ethical dilemmas. Are there any philosophers you admire? Terry Pratchett answered, "Jesus was pretty good." Pratchett said he considers himself a humanist. His god is the god of Carl Sagan and Espinoza. Science is a sacrament. He thinks people should abide by the Golden Rule. Terry said we should close churches, and just put up signs, "God is love. What part of this don't you understand?" He makes up his philosophy as he goes along.
Terry was asked if he had advice for someone going into the priesthood, and the man who asked the question admitted he was thinking of going into the Greek Orthodox priesthood. Terry answered, it's all work and no technique. You don't hear of priests being laid off, but no one is sinning now, so there's not much confession lately. He said one of the long-term triggers for the Industrial Revolution was the closing of monasteries by Henry VII. Craftsmen such as herbalists and carpenters were pushed out into the world. They took apprentices, and those skills were one of the long-term triggers. Pratchett went on to say the priesthood is an interesting job, one of the most interesting, other than his. He asked, Thou Shalt Not Kill should be actually read as Thou Shalt Not Murder, shouldn't it, and the audience member said yes, that's closer to the Hebrew.
Terry said people shouldn't read the Old Testament unprepared, or they come away thinking we're in the hands of a maniac. He said it's actually a guide for getting an argumentative people across the desert, filled with cooking and building tips. He wishes more people would read the New Testament.
When asked who his favorite characters to write about were, Pratchett answered Vimes or Tiffany. But, Tiffany isn't as much fun to write about now that she's older. He said witches were wise women. He knew a nurse once who admitted she had helped people die. She also said she carried shoe boxes with her because she was a nurse/midwife in rural areas with small gene pools, and babies often didn't live. The shoe boxes were just the right size for burials. Granny Weatherwax came from these stories. All those stories are tools for an author. He interviewed an elderly postman, and some of Going Postal came from those stories.
Pratchett said you must be hugely interested in people to be a successful author, and particularly doing what he does.
He said he can remember the '60s, so that means he wasn't there. He was too busy working a job, and trying to have sex. He said those who wanted rock-n-roll and drugs, didn't have sex.
He mentioned his wife, Lady Lynn, who isn't so sure about that title, but it impresses her mum. In his inimitable style, he told of his first date with her. He had no money, but Chinese restaurants were new, so he asked if she wanted to go to one. So, with his lack of money, he couldn't afford to take a taxi all the way from his town to hers, pick her up, and go to dinner, and back. So, he worked it all out. He got dressed up, then put his motorcycle gear on over that. And, it's raining. So, he rode his bike, got off in a farmer's field, dropped the bike, put his motorcycle clothes on top of it, and then ran to her house, just in time to get there when the taxi did, so she thinks he arrived in the taxi. They had a nice meal, and the taxi picks them up. They have a chaste little first date kiss. He pays off the taxi driver, then goes back to the farmer's field, gets into his wet motorcycle gear, and it takes four or five times to start the bike. Then, halfway home, it conks out, and he had to push the bike home.
When asked if Mr. Dibbler, who can sell anything to anybody is based on an actual person, Terry said as a boy he would accompany his Granny to street markets, and they were full of Dibblers, who were selling cheap crockery, "Cutting-Me-Own-Throat" to sell it. He listens to language, how people speak.
When a man died, he was lying in his coffin and people came in to have a glass of sherry, and greet the widow. The man had been on holiday, and dropped dead at his door. Terry's Granny said, "Well, he looks well." And, the answer was, "Yes, undertaker's done good."
One question concerned the editing of his American books. Pratchett said it's been better in recent years. At times, he's argued with his editors, such as when Mister should be spelled out. John Wayne never said, go for your gun M-R.
Terry reminded the audience he has Alzheimer's. He said he will not die of Alzheimer's, but he doesn't like the term assisted suicide. As a journalist, he's seen suicides, such as a woman throwing herself from a bridge. But, he's been writing and making arrangements. In his mind, that doesn't fit the frame of suicide. It's adult homo sapiens looking the inevitable in the face, and making sensible decisions.
He had problems with his books, up until the '90s, when two publishers collided, and suddenly he had an editor who knew his name, and liked his stuff, and a publicist who felt the same. Up until then, his books were poorly published and publicized. Because of the changes in wording for American books, when he would come to the United States, fans would have U.K. hardcovers semi-legally in the U.S. But, in the '90s, the language was allowed to stand. He said he doesn't put a lot of odd language in the books, because Morpork wouldn't come out right. But, when told Webster's wouldn't allow it, he tells them what they could do with Webster's. But, for his children's books, for American kids, it's sensible to have American usage.
Pratchett was asked if he has plans for another Night Watch book. He said he's been feeling chipper, and has a dictation machine in his office. Fortunately, the people who built it are nerdy and Discworld fans. He's dictated more than 10,000 words of a book. He's speeding along with it. They dumped Discworld books into the memory of the machine, and it knows how words should sound. So, if it doesn't recognize a word, he asks for the Spellbox, and he can choose which one is correct. It's going faster than a keyboard.
He told the audience he has a rare disease. He has a large brain, which is unusual, with lots of brain cells. But, it upsets him that so many of those brain cells are used up by lyrics from '60s advertisements. Terry said we should disinvent television. He feels it's the sole excuse for what's going wrong with civilization. Babies are put in front of TV to amuse them.
But, he said the best thing you can do for a child is develop their vocabulary. The more words you know, the more articulate you can be. The better you can express yourself, the happier you are. He said kids love semi-made-up Scottish language in his books. He combines Gaelic and Glaswegian slang, and kids think it's dirty words. Kids are built to be learning.
In his new book, Unseen Academicals, Glenda is uneducated, but she taught herself to read. She reads cheap novels, but she's never heard words spoken, and doesn't know exactly what words are or how to say them, words such as boudoir or reticule. So, when a woman asks her to join her in her boudoir, and she sees forty people there, she's relieved because she didn't know what a boudoir was. Pratchett said education advances through women. They read, and shared, cheap novels. Then, they taught their daughters to read. Mothers made sure their daughters, and some sons, were literate.
So, someone asked Terry what he read as a child, and he said, nothing. He said reading was associated with pain. He had to learn words in school. He said when he was eight or nine years old, his uncle gave him a copy of The Wind in the Willows, and he was reading it in London. All the way home, he was reading it by streetlights. He was hooked by the time he got home. By the next week, he was a member of his local library, and helping the librarians on Saturday. He read children's books and adult books at the same time, with no distinction. School didn't show him reading pleasure; it was a chore. His mother did bribe him to read, offering 6 pence a page.
When asked if he and Neil Gaiman would write another book together, like Good Omens, he said neither wants to do another. He said, "He does his thing, and I do mine." He said then it was easy for two guys. Now, it would be problematical. He said it's not likely they'd do another because there is no obvious reason to do it.
Pratchett was asked if there's anything that appeals to him about America or anything that annoys him. He said Americans don't despair easily. He said people in Europe, and, particularly, England, are cynical. He loved the way we celebrated our new President, although we all know how we'll feel in a few years. He thinks America is the last best hope for mankind, because we have so many examples of mankind. Every individual person is important in America. G.K. Chesteron said, "I pity the man who believes in socialism because he believes in something that doesn't believe in him."
An audience member asked if he had plans for someone to continue Discworld after his death. Terry responded that his daughter, Rhianna Pratchett, is as sharp as a tack. She's a writer of computer games. She and his publicist will have the responsibility for Discworld. But, there's no hard and fast decision, because would she do it because of the money, or because she wanted to? He said he'll be dead, so he won't be a major player in the decision. But, he's renewing copyrights, and it would be nice if things happened. He said his daughter could do it if she wanted; she has talent. But, it's her life, and he won't put his hand on it beyond the grave.
When asked if he had the chance to see the Grand Canyon, he said not on this trip. But he went to Tombstone, and had a good guide, author Emma Bull. He said he didn't know that, basically, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in a place the size of a phone booth. He said Wyatt Earp died in 1929, but England thinks it was in the 1880s. Pratchett said history is closer than people think. In the science of Discworld, grandfathers is a way of measuring time. Fifty years is a grandfather. Actually, measured that way, the pyramids are not that far back.
Terry Pratchett said it's far too dangerous living here on earth. There have been a number of times that life forms have been destroyed from space. He'd advise us to get off the planet as soon as possible. A Mars or moon colony would be fail safe.
He was asked if he has a recurring theme in his books, and he answered, "Smart is better than dumb." He said another book helps his characters in every book. His characters share the way he thinks of things.
He ended by telling about his books made into movies. He likes the small company that made them, because he could tell them things needed to be changed. So, after Hogfather, he had lots of leftover plastic teeth. So, he took them with him to a conference in Australia.
Pratchett said he likes Australia. Every Englishman feels at home in Australia. He never felt at home in America. But, Australia was colonized by Cockneys.
So, he went through Customs in Australia, and had the plastic teeth with him. He was asked if he had any animal products, and he said no. So, the woman at Customs asked him what he had in his suitcase, and he said, lots of plastic teeth. When asked why, he said, "I don't think it's any of your business," an answer he knows he couldn't have given in the U.S. She said, OK. And, then he asked if she wanted to know about the black box marked "Death". In it, was a statue of Death. Then, he asked her if it was the strangest luggage she'd seen all day. She said, yes, but it was only 10:30, and the the Japanese were coming next.
Thank you to Sir Terry Pratchett, the North American Discworld Convention, the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, and the staff and volunteers from the Velma Teague Library who made this a very special event from visitors from around the world.
Sir Terry Pratchett and Lesa Holstine
by Anna Caggiano
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Big Read Time Again “Fahrenheit 451”
15,19, 21 and 26
– If it is fall, it is time for The Big Read. This
celebration of literature returns this month with Ray
Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”
Now a modern day classic, “Fahrenheit
451” is probably on the reading list of every high school
student, but it remains popular with adults of all ages. First
published in 1953, it tells the story of a society gone awry.
Instead of putting out fires, firemen burn books and the state
suppresses learning. Are the citizens up in arms? Hardly. They
are sitting around in a drug-induced and media-saturated
indifference. The book is more relevant today than ever.
The West Valley Arts Council, with
funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the
Glendale Arts Commission, is sponsoring the local Big Read,
which runs from September 25-October 31. Thanks to the local
sponsor, multiple copies of the book will be available for
Glendale library card holders and library reading groups to
Five library events have been planned
in Glendale, three for adults and two for teens (ages 12-18).
Joe Lockard, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of English at
Arizona State University, will lead the discussion at the Oct.
19 book group at Velma Teague Branch Library.
“Fahrenheit 451” teen events
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m. in the
storytime room at Foothills Branch Library, 19055 N. 57th
Ave. –Teens, get involved in the ultimate community book
discussion. A book-related craft will also take place.
Pick up a copy of Fahrenheit 451 at the youth desk. Call
623-930-3837, then press “6” at the prompt for more
Monday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. in the
storytime room at Glendale Main Library, 5959 W. Brown St.
Kearsten’s Book Club will read and discuss Ray Bradbury’s
classic sci-fi book. Snacks are provided; bring a friend.
To register and get a copy of the book, call Kearsten at
Adults can take part in the
Thursday, Oct. 15, 2 p.m. in
the large meeting room, Glendale Main Library, 5959 W.
Brown St. The Afternoon Book Group will discuss “Fahrenheit
451.” Call Melanie at 623-930-3549 for more
Monday, Oct. 19, 10 a.m. at
Velma Teague Branch, 7010 N. 58th Ave. The 58th Ave.
Book Club is delighted to welcome Joe Lockard, Ph.D.,
an associate professor of English at ASU, to lead
discussion and provide insight into Ray Bradbury’s
timeless “Fahrenheit 451.” To register and to get
a copy of the book, call 623-930-3431, then press “5”
at the prompt.
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m. in
the Hummingbird Room at Foothills Branch Library,
19055 N. 57th Ave. A Novel Approach Discussion Group
will discuss “Fahrenheit 451.” Call Sarah at
623-930-3844 to register and get a copy of the book.
For other Big Read events around the
Valley, go to www.westvalleyarts.org. The Big Read is
an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in
partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services
and Arts Midwest. It is designed to restore reading to the
center of American culture. The Big Read brings together
partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure
Release Party for Brent Ghelfi's The Venona Cable
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
The Tuesday, Sept. 18 release party for Brent Ghelfi's The Venona Cable packed the ballroom at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. There were so many people it was hard to get near Brent for the book signing before the actual program began. The Poisoned Pen Bookstore and Lisa Ghelfi worked together for the party, providing desserts, drinks, and tables with Russian nesting dolls.
Since the Arizona Biltmore is celebrating its 80th birthday this year, and the Poisoned Pen is celebrating its 20th, they have partnered for four programs. Brent Ghelfi's release party was the first one. Sept. 1 is CSI: Phoenix with Dr. Kathy Reichs signing 206 Bones, followed by Jack Ballentine, author of Murder for Hire, introducing Camille Kimball, author of The Phoenix Serial Killer for her book release. On Sept. 22, Diana Gabaldon will sign her new Outlander novel, Echo in the Bone. The event will even feature a piper. On Nov. 14, John Sandford hosts a Guys Night, a party with Martin Limon, Thomas Perry, James Rollins, and Don Winslow.
Following the announcement of upcoming events, Barbara Peters, owner of
the Poisoned Pen, introduced Brent Ghelfi by quoting Lee
Child. "Brent Ghelfi writes like Dostoevsky's hooligan great-grandson on speed." Brent responded that he was grateful. Not only is Lee Child a bestselling author, but he is a gentleman, and very supportive of other authors. He was very supportive of Ghelfi's first book, Volk's Game. That support is one of the nicest things Child can do for another author. Peters said Volk's Game was the Poisoned Pen's bestselling book of 2007.
Barbara mentioned that, naturally, Ghelfi was influenced by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, but she understood there was another author who was a bigger influence. According to Brent, people thing of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, but Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a greater influence. One of the characters is a prison guard, Lieutenant Volkovi, a character no one likes. Ghelfi picked that name, Alexei Volkovoy, for his character.
When asked who else he reads, Ghelfi said he reads almost everything. Naturally, he reads Martin Cruz Smith. But, James Sallis
(photo at left) influenced, and helped him. He started reading Sallis in 1990-91, when he wandered into the Poisoned Pen, and Barbara suggested a book. When he returned, she asked what he thought, and he said it was a little light; he wanted something more...And, she said I have an author for you. She gave him one of Sallis' books. Since Sallis was at the party, Brent said he wanted to acknowledge him, saying, in his opinion, he was the most likely candidate to win a National Book Award. Brent said Sallis taught him all he knows about writing.
Barbara Peters said as long as they were discussing Sallis and Ghelfi together, she wanted to mention that Maricopa County is doing Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for this year's Big Read. She's hoping to have Sallis and Ghelfi do a program together about the book. She said she has a whole new life planned for Brent since he acted as host for Clive Cussler and James Rollins, and did such a wonderful job.
Peters told Ghelfi that his books, set in Chechnya, almost seemed as if they were written from today's headlines. According to Brent, in 1995, Grozny, Chechnya had a population of 600,000. After the Russian tanks rolled in, only 50,000 people lived there, most of them in burned out buildings. Chechnya has been fought over for years. Tolstoy wrote about Russians invading Chechnya. Recently, a human rights advocate was accosted, dragged away, and shot in the back of the head. Her purse, with contacts intact, was left by her body. It was strictly an assassination. Volk is a part of that Chechen politics. Modern Russia is a place where history, life, politics, and religion collide. The outlandish stories that come out of Russia are true.
Ghelfi's first book, Volk's Game, was his art book, about lost da Vinci painting from the Hermitage Museum. Volk's Shadow is his Chechen book. The new book, The Venona Cable, deals with untold stories of World War II. The British and the Americans deciphered cables sent back and forth from Russia. They were able to identify spies. The Soviets had the greatest spy apparatus in the world, after the Revolution until the '90s. So, the relationship between the U.S. and Russia was the jumping off point for this book.
If you go to the NSA's website, and search Venona, you can find stories of 1943. Roosevelt and Churchill had a private meeting, with just a couple other people in attendance. Stalin knew the result of that meeting before anyone else, including Congress. They made the decision not to open up the second front. The actual cable is reproduced on Brent's book, altered just a little.
There's a Hollywood film director in the book, who is a foil to talk about Hollywood and the Communist Party in the U.S.A. A number of people from Hollywood explored Communism in the 50s and 60s, and some ended up on the Hollywood blacklist. Ghelfi explores a little of that history in the book. And, the story includes Volk's father, a veteran of the Cold War air wars.
Peters said it was strange to read this book, back-to-back with Joseph Kanon's forthcoming book, Stardust. (Kanon appears at the Poisoned Pen on October 14.) That book deals with a Hollywood director in 1944, and the beginning of the blacklist. Kanon sets his book in 1944, and Ghelfi writes his book looking back at that period.
Ghelfi asked how many in the audience grew up thinking the Rosenbergs might have been innocent. He said they were not. Julius had a darkroom, and he actively recruited spies. Ethel probably knew about it, and, allegedly typed the notes. The U.S. had the Venona Cable saying this. Julius was a spy.
When Peters mentioned that Ghelfi's books were anchored in history, she said Volk's Game dealt with da Vinci, Volk's Shadow has a stolen Faberge egg, this one deals with the Venona Cable. Brent said he likes to start with something that actually happened.
He went on to say that Russian life seems to change very little. There's a saying, "Joseph Stalin straddled the oceans and filled the skies." The people yearn for that kind of powerful figure, which is why Putin is so popular.
Peters said a killer thriller also has to have sex. Ghelfi went on to talk about Valya, Volk's lover. They have a stressful relationship. She is a Chechen refugee. The tribes turned on each other in Chechnya. Valya was one of the disenfranchised tribes. They have a stormy relationship. She's unpredictable, and it's a surprising relationship.
When asked what was next, Ghelfi said the fourth book in the series is in the works. It's due to his publisher in late October. It deals with Russia's terrible record with nuclear technology. They had one plant explode in 1957, before Chernobyl, but they not only denied the explosion, they denied the plant existed. Gary Power's u2 was headed to take pictures of it when he was shot down. The book is tentatively titled The Burning Lake.
Before turning the questions over to the audience, Barbara Peters said discovering new authors is one of the pleasures she shares with her staff. She said Brent Ghelfi is one of the finest new writers she's read because he entertains, and makes you think.
The first question was whether Ghelfi's books were available on e-books. He said no. All three are available on Kindle. He said the first two are also unabridged audios, but he doesn't know when The Venona Cable will come out.
He was asked how we learned about the Venona Cable, and he said American researchers in Moscow found out through Russian KGB files. They also learned about American Communist spies there. In 1995, those researchers brought it back to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who chaired the Commission on Government Secrecy. Moynihan secured the release of the FBI's Venona files. Researchers know dates and times from the KGB files.
Barbara reminded everyone that Russia was our ally during WWII. In the 1930s, many people embraced Communism as an ideal. Ghelfi told the story of The Lost Spy by Andrew Meier. It's the true story of a Princeton/Yale graduate who was caught up in Stalin's secret service. They arrested him, sentenced him for being a double spy, and sentenced him to seven years of hard labor. He was released exactly seven years later. But, he was immediately picked up, taken someplace, tortured, and killed. Meier's book includes notes from Stalin saying he needs to die. But, at that time, people who believed in Communism, such as that idealistic young man, thought they were working to build a brave new world.
Someone asked when the movie was coming out. Brent said Volk's Game has been optioned, and it even has a script. But, there's a slim to none chance of filming unless a major star, director or producer wants to get it made. When asked who should play Volk, he said he could see Jason Statham in the first two books, and
Clive Owen, as he appeared in Inside Man, in the third.
He was asked if there has been any interest in publishing his book in Russia. Brent responded that it's unlikely to get a Russian language publisher because he's critical of Putin, but it has been published on the Western edge of Russia, in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Before returning to sign books, Brent Ghelfi ended the program by thanking everyone, particularly his wife, Lisa.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
The Desert Hedge Murders
by Patricia Stoltey
It takes a great deal of patience for a
former judge to accompany her mother's travel club to Laughlin, Nevada
and Oatman, Arizona. Sylvia Thorn was a reluctant recruit to her
mother's trip. But, it will only get worse in this mystery, reminiscent
of the Keystone Cops, The Desert Hedge Murders by Patricia
How could Sylvia ever expect to keep tabs on the Florida Flippers, a
group of seventy and eighty year old women? They're independent,
opinionated, and out of control. And, it only makes it worse when Sandra
Pringle finds a body in her bathtub, soon after check-in at the hotel in
Laughlin. While the Florida Flippers are excited about the body, and
want to investigate the murder, Sylvia suspects Sandra and her roommate,
Patsy, know a little more about the dead man than they're letting on. It
only takes one evening of the Flippers running around the casino, asking
questions, for Sandra to take the opportunity to slip away from the
Patsy's stories about Sandra's whereabouts are a little suspicious, but
the Flippers' vacation plans aren't squashed by Sandra's absence. The
women all board the bus to Oatman, Arizona, anticipating their visit to
the ghost town. But, their tour of the Lone Cactus Gold Mine is
disrupted by a grisly discovery. Between the dead man, and the tour
group's problems, Sylvia suspects the Flippers might be in danger. A
visit from an FBI agent confirms there's something more involved than a
suspicious death. Sylvia may think something is wrong. The Flippers see
it as more to investigate, getting in the way of the police and FBI as
they scatter all over.
Back in Florida, Sylvia's brother, Willie, knows his sister is in
trouble. After his experiences in Vietnam, Willie suffers from Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder. But, he is also psychic. His comments to his
octogenarian father, Peter, and their inability to reach Sylvia, sets
the two men on a wild-goose chase. After flying into Las Vegas, they
team up with an old friend of Peter's from World War II. A trip in an
old motorcycle sidecar on Old Route 66 isn't quite what Willie had in
mind when he knew he needed to reach his sister.
Since the Flippers need to return to Oatman a couple times, Stoltey has
the opportunity to capture the town with all of its charms. She includes
the ghost stories, the hotel and restaurant, the old gold mine. Sylvia's
reaction to the wild burros that actually roam the streets is priceless.
She feels quite threatened by the animals. So much of the town is
included in the story, including Oatie the Ghost, and the Gable/Lombard
Stoltey's madcap mystery is highlighted by the odd group of seniors.
Sylvia's mother is right. The former judge comes across as too prim and
stuffy. She needs to loosen up. Willie, with his lovable quirks, is a
more likable character. The Florida Flippers, and the motorcycle ride
from Las Vegas to Oatman, add humor to a complicated story. The
Desert Hedge Murders is called "A Sylvia and Willie
Mystery". Poor Sylvia is overshadowed by the Florida Flippers and
Willie. But, the ending leaves possibilities for future adventures for
the brother and sister. Sylvia's already an avid fan of mysteries. If
she learns to loosen up, she might even enjoy future cases.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Dial Emmy for
Murder by Eileen Davidson
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Eileen Davidson's second "Soap Opera Mystery", Dial
Emmy for Murder starts more dramatically than many cozies,
but, of course a mystery set in the world of soap operas should
start dramatically. And Davidson's mystery uses many of the soap
Alexis Peterson recently moved from one soap opera to another.
As the star of The Bare and the Brazen, she's popular on the red
carpet before the Daytime Emmys. She's just as popular with the
paparrazi after her co-presenter's body falls from the rafters
at the Kodak Theater, dripping blood on her before he tumbles to
the stage. She's already familiar with the police detective who
shows up, Detective Frank Jakes, so its easy for him to ask her
to work with him, probing into the world of soaps. Alex takes
the murder seriously, but quickly gets caught up in the
detective business, thinking, "I was in amateur detective
mode and he was spoiling my buzz." And, Jakes, who has
fallen for Alex, allows her to accompany him on his
investigations, as they discover that the dead man looks quite a
bit like a few other recently dead actors.
I started by reading this book as a cozy mystery, thinking it
was not well done, using every overused, cliché in the book.
Then, I realized if I read it as it says in the series title, as
"A Soap Opera Mystery", it's a funny send-off of those
shows. Take an actress who can't make up her mind between two
men, one a police detective. He's a hunk, sexually harassed by
his boss. Throw in the best friend, a gay hair dresser. There's
an embezzler ex-husband, out to take away the soap star's
darling daughter, when he reappears from nowhere after a three
And, Davidson throws in all of the plot formulas that readers
dislike in mysteries. Alex goes off on her own to talk to a
suspect without telling the cops. When she gets to his place,
and finds the door ajar, she has three choices, get out, call
911 or open the door. Naturally, she'd pick number three, and we
all know what happens when a heroine opens the door! Body in the
bathtub! Of course, there's the scene when someone tries to run
Alex off the road. And, a combined satire of the cozy genre and
soap opera has to have a terrible stage mother with a wimpy son.
Eileen Davidson's Dial Emmy for Murder is either a
poorly written cozy, or a terrific take-off, combining soap
formulas with the cozy genre. I prefer to read it as a clever
take-off, or I would have been very unhappy with the comment,
"You look...severe. Like a librarian." But, it's my
guess that Davidson is clever, poking fun at the soap opera
world she knows so well, since she starred in The Young and
the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days
of Our Lives.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
The Deadly Combination @ Velma Teague
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
(left to right, Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Ann Parker Photo
by Lesa Holstine)
The Deadly Combination of Juliet Blackwell, Sophie Littlefield, and Ann Parker were a hit at the Velma Teague Library when they appeared to discuss "Strong Heroines in Crime Fiction". They themselves exemplify strong women showcasing their talents. And, it was obvious they're having fun touring together. They brought that sense of fun to the library program.
After introductions, they thanked me, and said how pleased they were to be at the Velma Teague Library. They said they told other people in the mystery community they were coming to Glendale, and everyone said, oh, you're appearing at the Teague. Sophie told the audience the library was lucky to have so much community support, and it was good to see people turn out for a library program.
Each author introduced their books and characters. Ann Parker said she
almost feels as if she's local because her publisher is Poisoned Pen Press in Scottsdale. She told the audience that she writes a historical mystery series set in Leadville, Colorado during the biggest silver rush in the world. People came from all over, but weren't prepared for Leadville. At 10,000 feet, it's winter for nine months of the year there. Some people thought they could just pick silver off the ground. Ann's character is a woman who runs a saloon in Leadville, Inez
Stannert. She calls her a woman in a man's world. The three books in the series all have rhyming titles, Silver Lies, Iron Ties, and Leaden Skies. She said they've had a good time teasing her about future titles. She thought Golden Thighs might be going too far, but the others assured her it might be a hit.
Juliet Blackwell is actually Julie Goodson-Lawes. She said she wrote her first mystery series with her sister, using a family name, Hailey Lind. Those books made up the art forgery mystery series. The fourth book in that series will be out next summer, with a new publisher. The first book, Feint of Art, was nominated for an Agatha for Best First Mystery Novel, and then, after three books, the series was dropped. Juliet said she's writing her new books by herself. It's a paranormal series, beginning with Secondhand Spirits. Some readers have told Julie this is the first paranormal book they ever read.
Julie said Secondhand Spirits was fun to write. When she first decided to write a book about a witch, she said the only fun witch she knew was from Bewitched, and she didn't want to write Bewitched. But, her background is in anthropology, so she researched the history of witchcraft. There has been a lot of mystery, and atrocities still committed in the name of witchcraft. Witchcraft is important to women's issues because most people accused are women. Witchcraft is often associated with healing. The wise woman is respected in villages until things go wrong, and then she takes the blame. There are serious themes about witchcraft and culture. Juliet showed her cover, and said you can tell it's a fun book because of the sparkles on the cover. But, she said she thinks it's a little more serious than the cover indicates.
A Bad Day for Sorry is Sophie Littlefield's first published book. She said it's considered part of St. Martin's hardboiled publications. When she thinks of strong women, she thinks of the middle-aged woman, often overlooked by society. Stella Hardesty is fifty, and she suffered from domestic abuse. She kills her husband, and that unleashes a part of her she never knew she had. Sophie said she herself went through a mid-life crisis, and had a bad attitude. She was frustrated with her experiences, needing reading glasses, etc. She complained that no one warned her about changes - she can't see to put her mascara on. Women of a certain age are not respected by society.
The authors asked the audience what they thought when they heard "strong women". Responses ranged from determined, problem solver, goes against convention. Julie said if anyone watched The Closer or Saving Grace, the characters were more mature women. They said the people buying books are women, grown-ups. One woman in the audience commented, "We have time to read." Another word thrown out was flexibility. Julie said at one time women protagonists, such as Sara Paretsky's
V.I. Warshawski, were just women put into the male role as a private investigator. Now, female characters are strong, and very individual. Sophie said that might have been the source of some of her irritation. She used to have to wear men's suits, with the floppy white bows that women wore. Now, books celebrate that women are themselves.
Juliet summed that part of the discussion up, saying women show strength in culture, family relationships, romantic relationships, physical, beauty and self-image, strong opinions and politics. Sophie said culture focuses on physical beauty. Her character, Stella, is twenty pounds overweight, ordinary-looking. She acknowledges that she's aging. Some agents were willing to take Sophie on as a client, but they wanted Stella to be more attractive. Fortunately, she found an agent comfortable with the character.
Juliet said her books always have an element of romance. She said a woman can still be strong with an interest in romance. Blackwell said she's willing to argue that men's fiction also has romance, but in a different form. She said readers want well-rounded characters, and life had romantic relationships, connections with friends and community. For a witch, romance is an issue, because women are the most dangerous when sexual. In Europe, the traditional belief is that the more sexually attractive one is, the more dangerous. Isn't it the sexy ones who are likely to kill you?
The Malleus Maleficarum was a witch-hunter's handbook that covered sexual magic. Part of the handbook covered those who believed in witchcraft, and those who didn't believe. The more people believed, the more likely they were to turn in their neighbors. If a witch cast a spell sexually, someone would fall for them.
Blackwell's character, Lily Ivory, is a natural witch. She was born with powers. Lily is afraid of romance and sex because it might stir up something primal in her. Her feelings are part of the character arc in the series. How do you let yourself become vulnerable? In her previous series, Hailey Lind wrote of a character with two love interests. It reflects contradictory desires and interests, and provides tension.
Ann Parker said she wanted to provide context for the world Inez Stannert lives
in, her woman in a man's world. The 1870 census said there were 300 saloons in Leadville. Three of them were run by women. So, she plays around with assumptions when people come to town, assumptions that a female saloon keeper might be easy. It's a boomtown in Leadville, and, like Inez, people are coming from all over to make new starts and shed their pasts. In the 19th century, everyone came to Leadville, investors, prospectors, women who followed the miners, as prostitutes, bakers, launderers, and miners themselves. Inez walks a knife's edge. She is a saloon keeper, but she's also spiritual. She attends church, but can handle herself in a brawl at the saloon. Her husband disappeared. He's been gone eight months. People often disappeared back then, just took off, or fell down a mine. Inez doesn't know if she's a married woman or not. In Silver Lies, she meets a man, and almost has to seduce him. How does the outside world view her? She wants to make her position public with the man she's seeing. At the same time, she wants to be perceived as a successful business woman.
According to Juliet, when writing women in mysteries, family becomes an issue. It's better to have characters without small children, because a mother wants to protect her children. Lily Ivory, Blackwell's heroine, was run out of a small west Texas town at seventeen. She's spent her life traveling, looking for a place to settle. The Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco is safe for a witch. Lily runs a vintage clothing store. The book, Secondhand Spirits, is about motherhood. Lily was rejected by her mother, raised by an elderly woman who was a witch herself, so was comfortable with one. She provided Lily with a sense of family. The book also includes La
Llorona, a demon. Spanish-speaking cultures have variations of the legend about her, that she was a woman of humble means who had children with a man who left her. In Mexico, the story says he left her with the children, and she drowns the children in the river, and then herself. She wanders the riverbanks, calling for her children, and wailing. La Llorona means "the weeping woman", and she takes children if they're out at night. The stories of La Llorona are like the Bogeyman. In Secondhand Spirits, Lily deals with a mother of lost children, and comes to grips with her own fears.
Sophie Littlefield brought up Robert
Crais' Elvis Cole. When she thinks of physical strength, she thinks of a bad ass such as Elvis. She said all of the male protagonists in crime novels are strong, and they never seem to work out. Littlefield's character, Stella Hardesty, tries to intimidate men into not being abusive. It's unrealistic for a fifty-year-old woman who hasn't worked out to have physical strength. So, Stella starts a fitness program. She looks for ways to handcuff men, so she buys herself bondage items for restraining men. Sophie said she knew her character needed to restrain them, and she was looking for the plastic handcuffs police use, but the Internet led her to bondage sites, and that's what happened with Stella. When creating women characters, physical strength must be considered. Julie pointed out that Stella has another weapon, a gun. Lily Ivory doesn't need a gun. And, Inez Stannert has guns, and her words.
According to Ann Parker, Inez is a woman with strong opinions, and she uses those against others' opinions. She said, if we think politics are bad now, the politics of 1880, as shown in Leaden Skies, included shady dealings. Grant was expected to run for a third term as president, but he didn't get the nomination. In 1876-77, there was a push for the woman's vote, but it didn't happen in Colorado. In 1880, there was a woman running a woman's newspaper, in Colorado, that was for woman's suffrage, and supported prostitutes. These are elements in Leaden Skies. Inez doesn't get suffrage. Characters were not interested in women's rights because they were making their own way.
The authors were asked about their writing schedule. Sophie said she had been a stay-at-home mom, and volunteered. Once her children were 12 and 14, she transferred her energies to writing. So, she gets up, writes, takes the kids to school, writes, picks the kids up, and she yells at them, and they yell at her, then she writes. Once she was published, the writing time was cut in half. It's important to be part of the book community. She works all the time, but, if she's not writing, she's working on promotion.
Juliet responded that it takes absolute determination to write constantly. She gets up at 4, and writes. She's a Peet's Coffee addict. It's a very strong coffee. She has no transition time. She just gets up at 4, and starts writing. Nobody talks to her at that time of morning. She's discovered nothing is open, so there are no distractions. She gets more done in those first two or three hours than later. She has a day job; she works for herself. She writes for several hours, gets her son up and off, works at her job, takes a nap at 2, and gets a second wind. She'll research later in the day, and does her
blogging, Tweeting, and correspondence with her editor. She's president of her local chapter of Sisters in Crime. She spends time reading other people's manuscripts (as they all do). She doesn't watch TV. It's hard to tell friends that work (writing) is what she loves to do, and she'd rather write than go out with a friend. When writers get together, they talk writing.
Ann told the audience she doesn't write at the pace of the others. She has a job, two kids and a spouse. She said it takes a while for her to write. She's always motivated to write the book, and is all excited to start, and then she loses steam. Then life hits, and then she'll get a call or contract from her publisher that nudges her. Once she has a deadline, she's propelled by panic. She blasts through to the end of the book. When readers told her Leaden Skies was fast paced at the end, she knew it was because she was rushing when she wrote it. She has a friend, Margaret Grace, another writer, who lives nearby, and invited her to her house to get away and have the chance to write. So, she went to Margaret's house, disappeared into the guestroom, and wrote big chunks of the book on weekends.
When asked if they ever run out of ideas, Sophie said she wrote eight books before her first one was published, and they were all kinds of genres, inspirational, horror, everything but science fiction. She said as you learn one thing, other things fall into place. Now she understands more as to the process of writing mysteries. She has mental muscle memory. But, she won't run out of ideas.
Juliet said she has to trim back ideas, rather than worrying about running out of ideas. She does research, and said she could write 100 pages on a topic. Stephen King called it "killing your little darlings", saying there are sections of your writing that you loved, but they just don't fit. If it doesn't fit, you have to kill it. They said they all have files for rejects, thinking they'll use them someday. Juliet said she has scrap paper with ideas on them. It's only the new author who doesn't know what to write.
Ann Parker, Juliet Blackwell, and Sophie Littlefield are definitely a deadly combination. It was a treat to bring them to the audience at the Velma Teague Library.
(left to right, Juliet Blackwell, Ann Parke, Sophie Littlefield
and Lesa Holstine in the middle front! Photo by Cassandra Sollano)
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Authors @ The Teague
presents Strong Heroines in Crime Fiction Panel
The Authors @ The Teague will present three authors to discuss
"Strong Heroines in Crime Fiction" on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 2
PM. Join us for a panel discussion and book signing with three authors
with varied backgrounds.
Ann Parker is the author of three historical mysteries set in
Leadville, Colorado during the Silver Rush. Her latest book from
Poisoned Pen Press is Leaden Skies. Once again, saloon owner,
Inez Stannert, is caught up in murder and intrigue. This time, former
President Ulysses S. Grant just happens to be in town.
Juliet Blackwell, who once wrote mysteries with her sister under the
name Hailey Lind, has started a new series, beginning with Secondhand
Spirits. Secondhand Spirits, first in the new Witchcraft Mystery Series,
features Lily Ivory, a witch who opens a vintage clothing store in the
Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.
Sophie Littlefield's debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry,
is one of the most talked about debut mysteries of the year. Publishers
Weekly called Sophie, "Spunky, unapologetically middle-aged
and a tad cantankerous."
So, we have an author with three books in a historical mystery series,
an author who is starting her second series, and a first-time author. It
should be a fun discussion!
The Velma Teague Library is at 7010 N. 58th Ave., Glendale, AZ 85301.
Call 623-930-3431 for more details. Hope to see you Saturday at 2 PM!
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
Review of Leaden Skies by Ann Parker
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Who would expect that a book review would find me discussing
bordellos, politics, saloons and murder? But, Ann Parker's new book, Leaden
Skies, takes readers back to Leadville, Colorado, and Inez
Stannert's world in 1880.
Leaden Skies follows hard on the heels of Parker's Iron
Ties. Former U.S. President and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant
has arrived in Leadville, and it seems as if half the town of 30,000
turned out to welcome him, including someone who tried to assassinate
him, since the former general isn't popular with some of the southerners
who moved to Leadville after the war. But, Inez Stannert, owner of the
Silver Queen Saloon, made her way in the mud and the muck to see him
arrive by train. When the gun and fireworks go off, Inez loses control
of her horse, and almost runs over a surveyor and mapmaker, Cecil
Farnesworth. But, she's easily distracted when she sees a fire on State
Street, where her saloon, and a bordello are located.
That fire is just the first of Inez' problems. The dark clouds that hang
over the city during Grant's visit seem to hang over Inez' life right
now. With her husband missing for a year, she's ready to file for
divorce. And, the whole issue with her husband leaves her in limbo.
She's uncertain about her share in the business, worried about the
divorce, and yearning for her two-year-old son, living in the east with
her sister. When she tries to make a business deal with Flo, the owner
of the bordello, hoping to buy her property, Inez Stannert makes a deal
with the devil, a deal that only leads to more trouble, as Flo is
arrested, one of her girls in murdered, and another girl becomes a
suspect. And, the trouble just seems to swirl around Inez. Even when she
tries to help her lover, Reverend Sands, she puts herself in more
danger, catching the attention of a policeman.
Ann Parker packs a great deal of social history into a mystery.
Leadville, Colorado is a growing town in 1880, involved in politics,
mining, and, even the suffragette movement. It's a mining town in which
the saloons and bordellos play host to the men from the mines, as well
as visiting dignitaries. And, it's a culture in which women who want to
be independent business owners don't have a great deal of choices. Even
when they hope to become independent, they still must deal with the
powerful men who control the town.
Readers should really go back and read the previous two books in the
Silver Rush mystery series, Silver Lies and Iron Ties.
Most of us aren't familiar with this post-Civil War part of our history
in the West. And, it's a fascinating part of our history. Parker
skillfully, and vividly, portrays it. The Silver Rush in Colorado
brought all kinds of people to Leadville, saints and sinners. And, they
were all trying to make a killing of some sort. Parker's book is
intriguing, both as a mystery, and, as a social history.
Once you've read these three books, pick up Vicki Delany's Gold
Digger, and compare the lives of the two saloon owners, Inez
Stannert during Leadville's mining days, and Fiona MacGillivray's during
the gold rush in Dawson, Yukon Territory in 1898. The authors gave us
two strong women, trying to make a living in a man's world. However,
Inez Stannert is due for a break sooner or later, and it doesn't appear
to be sooner. Ann Parker's character seems doomed to live her life under
There is a downloadable copy of the Author's Note that was omitted in
the first printing. If you'd like to read it, go to http://www.annparker.net/book.htm,
and click on "Click to read the Author's Note."
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
A Bad Day for Sorry by
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
Don't pick up Sophie Littlefield's debut mystery
you're offended by foul language or violence. But, if you want to read
about one of the most original characters in crime fiction, a
fifty-year-old woman, a Redneck with a heart of gold, who survived her
own abusive marriage only to become a champion for other abused women,
a caring mother and neighbor, then you need to pick up A Bad Day
Stella Hardesty killed her husband after suffering through thirty
years of his abuse. Now, she's gaining a reputation in Prosper,
Missouri for taking on abusive husbands. She has a silent group of
appreciative women, and a larger group of people who spread rumors as
to Stella's skills with a gun and other instruments of torture. But,
she just can't seem to get through to Roy Dean Shaw that he needs to
let his ex-wife, Chrissy, alone.
When Chrissy shows up at Stella's house, though, she's not looking for
help for herself. Her eighteen-month-old son, Tucker, has disappeared,
and Chrissy suspects Roy. But, Chrissy hasn't told Stella everything.
What about her first ex-husband, who happened to be in the house when
Tucker disappeared? Then, there's Roy Dean's association with the mob,
involving drugs and stolen cars. Stella's determined to save Tucker,
but it could prove to be her last attempt to save an innocent child.
There are two groups of people Stella cares for in life - abused
women, and innocent children. It's evident in Stella's humorous
relationship with a neighbor boy. She acts tough, but provides him
with meals, gives him money for mowing his own lawn, and tries to
encourage him to grow up to be a good man.
Stella Hardesty is a study in contrasts. Stella is introduced as a
hard-nosed woman who delights in torturing the men who beat women. Her
reputation has grown beyond the local community, and Stella is proud
of that. At the same time, she's capable of taking a neighbor boy
under her wing, feeding him, watching TV with him, and advising him as
to life. She and her daughter are not on speaking terms, but she
mothers Chrissy. Stella is a woman who could be arrested for a number
of crimes against men, but her own father was a Highway Patrolman, and
she's smitten with the local sheriff, Goat Jones. She has a proper
business, selling sewing notions, and a sideline business, threatening
If Stella appears dislikable in the first few pages, a tough broad
with no redeeming qualities, keep reading. A Bad Day for Sorry
is a thought-provoking story, with humor and warmth. You won't be
sorry you gave Sophie Littlefield's debut a day in your life.
Sophie Littlefield will be part of the Authors @
The Teague program, "Strong Heroines in Crime Fiction" on
Saturday, Aug. 15 at 2 PM at the Velma Teague Library.
Call 623-930-3431 for details.
book blog: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com
at Velma Teague Library
Holstine Glendale Daily Planet Book Topics Editor
The Velma Teague Library was fortunate to host Jana Bommersbach for the
latest Authors @ The Teague program. Bommersbach is an award-winning
journalist, and the author of the true crime book, The
Trunk Murderess: Winnie Ruth Judd. Now, she has a new true crime book,
another one about a Phoenix murder, Bones in the Desert.
Bommersbach began the program by saying people
ask her how a fun-loving, happy person like her could write about murders.
She said she's fascinated by murders involving women. Her first book, The
Trunk Murderess, is her beloved book, the love of her life. But, it came
out in 1992, and it took her that long to find another book to write, a
story that spoke to her.
Bones in the Desert is the story of Loretta
Bowersock, mother of Terri of Terri's Design and Consign. It was reported
that Loretta died, then her boyfriend, Taw Benderly, said she disappeared.
Loretta went missing, and then Taw killed himself, which was the final
insult to the family. He left no note saying where Loretta's body was. It
was an insult to everyone who loved Loretta.
This case became famous in Arizona. Terri was
well-known, and anyone who knew Terri, knew her mother. People had a real
sense of personal connection to them because of their TV commercials. They
had a sense they knew someone who had been murdered. People felt grief for
Terri, that she did not have a body to bury. There were lots of pieces of
this case that upset people.
Bommersbach was in North Dakota with her own
parents over Christmas when this crime happened. It was in January, after
her return, that she heard Terri on TV talking about her mother missing in
the desert. Jana immediately called Terri, and spent an hour talking to
her on the phone. Terri was the first person Jana knew in her life who had
a parent murdered. Bommersbach asked Terri if she could write about it,
and what had been discovered. Terri said, oh you wouldn't believe what
they had discovered.
Magazine carried Bommersbach's first article about the crime, called
"Where Is My Mother?" Thirteen months later, Loretta's body was
found. Hundreds of people had searched the desert. Jana was so close to
her own mother that this case disturbed her. A family doing rock hounding
found Loretta's bones in the desert, and called the police, and waited.
The autopsy and teeth revealed the body was Loretta's.
"He Buried My Mother By a Blue Motel"
was the second story that ran in Phoenix. Psychics flocked to the story.
Dozens of them were interested in helping Terri. Some were well-meaning;
some helpful; some not. Terri was grasping for answers. The police said
Taw was the suspect. He was dead, so they were satisfied, and walked away
from the case. The police went on, and Terri was left on her own.
Psychics said they saw a lot of blue around
Loretta. Bommersbach said anyone who knows the Arizona desert knows the
desert "wears yellow and purple like school colors." There are
different colors, but the only blue in the desert is the sky. When they
finally found the body, it was near a hotel on I-8 on the road to San
Diego. Jana said there must have been a sale on blue paint that year,
because everything around the hotel was blue, including an old truck.
Terri's brother was skeptical, saying psychics always pick a primary
color. But, two police said one psychic was right on target. A New York
agent liked the story, and contacted Bommersbach to see if she would
develop it into a book.
Jana Bommersbach said Loretta's case was a
classic case of elder abuse, and this was a way to tell the story of elder
abuse. Phoenix, and Arizona, are #1 in a lot of bad things. But, they have
the first and only shelter devoted to elder abuse in the nation. Doves
Shelter was opened by the Area Agency on Aging. Terri operates a small
shop with all profits going to Doves. When Bommersbach wrote a column
about Doves, she met the local cops assigned to elder abuse. Only Phoenix
and San Diego have units assigned to it. She discovered that elder abuse
is very long term; it goes on for years, and it could be verbal, physical,
emotional or sexual, or a combination. It can go on for years until
something crashes, and the victim needs a break.
Loretta discovered the treachery of her boyfriend
of eighteen years. She discovered the level of his exploitation. Loretta
was professionally dressed that day, but with her shoes off, as so many
people are who work at home. She tried to confront Taw and throw him out.
They surmise she had a violent, angry response to his treachery because of
the type of person she was. Both people are now dead who were involved.
There is a thin line between abuse and murder. Taw crossed it when he put
a bag around Loretta's head, and strangled her.
Jana Bommersbach's dream is that someone will
read Bones in the Desert while barefoot, put on their shoes, and walk out
the door. She wants them to read the book, and see there is a way out.
Jana said it was a difficult book to write. She prayed for a different
ending for it the entire time she wrote the book. Since then, she's heard
from famous women in Phoenix who said they were in that situation, and got
out. She did a recent signing with Terri, and someone bought 9 copies,
saying she had sisters and friends who needed to read it.
Bommersbach said she wrote the book while she was
in Brainard, Minnesota. She never spends summers in Arizona. But, two
summers ago, in 2007, she found a house on a lake to rent. It was a
wonderful summer. Her parents came, and celebrated her father's 85th
birthday there. Her brothers both married, and honeymooned there. Jana's
dad died the following spring, so she's grateful she had a magnificent
summer with her family while she wrote the book. She finds it incongruous
that she was writing about a family torn apart, while she had a
magnificent summer with hers.
Bones in the Desert is doing extremely well. It
was #2 on the list of bestselling crime books. Terri and Jana are trying
to get on Oprah. Terri's been on before, as a successful businesswoman who
was dyslexic. They're hoping that contact will help. Billie Jean King and
Lily Tomlin both read the book. It's been well-received in Arizona. The
publisher is printing another 4,000 copies. Jana said she's hoping people
are buying and learning from it.
Jana was asked about her background, so she gave
us her biography. She was born in Fargo, North Dakota on Dec. 5, 1945.
She's a product of North Dakota, and the women's movement. She went to the
University of North Dakota, and her first job after graduation was in
urban Michigan, in Flint. She said she had a lot of growing up to do, and
received quite an education living there. She was from a white community,
where she didn't know any blacks, and hadn't lived in a city. She won her
first national award while in Flint.
Bommersbach went to grad school for journalism at
the University of Michigan. She was student body president, winning
against a law school student. She discovered she didn't like politics, and
she'd rather be a reporter reporting on politics than on the other side.
When she graduated, she had hoped to go east, and
work for the Washington Post. But, it was hard to get a job, and she was
offered a job at The Arizona Republic. So she drove out, and found Arizona
was a weird place. She was a Democrat who had campaigned against Barry
Goldwater. She met him, and came to love Goldwater. But, it was weird out
here, and The Arizona Republic was a conservative paper. She asked herself
what she was doing here. She finally decided they needed her her. She
helped to organize a union. She finally left because she couldn't work for
them anymore. She went to New Times, and worked there for twelve years,
and was even owner for a while. In 1992, she wrote about Winnie Ruth Judd,
and she left to write the book. She got an interview with Ruth. She is
proud that The Trunk Murderess was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award
for best nonfiction that year.
Then, Bommersbach started a column for Phoenix
Magazine. She's been writing that for fifteen years. She did commentary
for Channel 3 for seven years at 7:15 AM, but had to get up at 4 AM, read
three newspapers, and then go on at 7:15 to talk about three things that
ticked her off that day. After 9/11, she was laid off at Channel 3. She
still had her Phoenix Magazine job, and she did "Books and
Company," for the local PBS station, Channel 8, for five or six
seasons. Now, she's freelancing. She does a column for True West Magazine.
Then this book, Bones in the Desertt, came along. She's still finding a
way to pay the rent.
When asked if she'd ever write about the murder
of Arizona Republic reporter, Don Bolles, Bommersbach said everyone
expected her to write it. She got into the hospital that night with his
wife, who heard Jana's voice in the hall, and insisted they let her in.
Don was a good friend. But, she never covered the stories in 1976 when his
car was blown up. In 1996, at New Times, she did a retrospective. They did
a special report about the murder that opened up new avenues. But, the
crime is so old that people have served time, and walked away. There are
so many holes in the story, and Bommersbach said she doesn't know where
else to look to write that book. But, the police tend to cling to a
decision because they don't want to face reality. This case is always an
open case. There have been twenty-five bad books about it, but she sees no
reason to write about it until the case is solved.
Bommersbach was asked if Loretta was an unusual
victim for this type of violence, and she said, no. Domestic violence
happens all the time. That generation of women always had someone tell
them what to do for their entire lives. The first time they were
independent was when they were widowed. But, many of them felt it was
better to have a bad man that to be alone.
She was asked if any family members suspected
Loretta would be murdered, and she said no. Prior to the murder, one
sister watched every episode of America's Most Wanted, thinking Taw would
show up. He was nice, good-looking, a gourmet cook with a great voice.
But, the family suspected he would bankrupt Loretta, not kill her.
Within hours of the death, psychics sought out
Terri. Terri and her mother were estranged because of Taw, and they had
just started getting together. Loretta fought with Terri over Taw. Terri
had a tough time on various levels. Bommersbach said Terri was
"Searching in death for a mother she'd already lost in life."
It was a pleasure to host Jana Bommersbach at the
Velma Teague Library. She drew the largest crowd we have ever had for an
Authors @ The Teague program. Bette Sharpe, our Programming Librarian,
presented Jana with a thank you gift, the new Authors @ The Teague mug.
(Photo - Lesa Holstine, Jana Bommersbach, and
Bette Sharpe - copyright Ed Sharpe, CouryGraph Productions)