Saturday, December 03, 2016

5 Books To Curl Up With This December

In my part of the world, it's cold outside. For me that means it's time for a hot cup of cocoa, tea, or coffee and a good book. I've got 5 suggestions for your reading list. Some old, some new, and all worth your time.

Let's start with one of my favorite books, Tea With The Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy. I first read this in college. I'd never read anything quite like it before, and I've never read anything quite like it since.

It's about Martha Macnamara, a 50ish musician in search of her missing daughter in 1980s San Francisco. She meets Mayland Long, a mysterious wealthy Chinese businessman and scholar who also claims he's actually a dragon. This is part fantasy, part mystery, part romance and completely marvelous. I definitely suggest reading this with a good cup of Oolong tea.

Up next on my list is The Thin Man. It's a slim volume, so an avid reader might be able to get through it in a day. But, wow! Even if you've see the movies, this 1934 classic will be a revelation. If you tend to think of the 1930s as a more innocent time, you might be a little bit shocked.

This dialogue in this book is some of the best ever written. The witty, liquor-fueled, non-sentimental romance is among my favorite love stories. Hard-boiled retired private dick Nick Charles and his young, socialite wife are a force to be reckoned with. And the mystery is a good one, too. You'll probably want to spike your hot drink with a stiff shot. That's what Nick and Nora would do.

A recent discovery is Marriage Can Be Murder, a sweet and cozy English countryside mystery set at the beginning of WWII.  The attention to historical detail makes this book not only interesting, but educational.   The budding relationship between a young doctor who has been severely injured both physically and emotionally and an awkward, eccentric noblewoman is funny and touching.

It's an easy, fun read that will make you feel as if you're watching one of those really great British series on Mystery. And there's a sequel!  This definitely calls for a hot cuppa.

And now for something completely different!  If Marriage Can Be Murder feels like an show from PBS, Midnight Riot feels like a show that might come on after Doctor Who on BBC America. It's like a cross between Luther and Harry Potter.  It feels like you're getting a real look at contemporary London and its police force... only there's magic... and ghosts...and scary stuff.

This book and its sequels create a compelling, yet believable world where the paranormal becomes a part of everyday police work.

You'll want a spot of tea with this one.

And now I'm going to toot my own horn and suggest that you check out American Goth, my first mystery novel. Why?  It's an easy, warmhearted read that introduces you to two of my favorite characters, Goth-chick artist Trinity Goode and straight-laced deputy sheriff Bobby Grace.

When Trinity's grandfather dies mysteriously, she heads back to her small hometown to save the family farm and figure out just at happened to the man who always accepted her just as she was.

Trinity’s ready to lace up her Doc Marten boots to be a church lady and bake pies for the county fair, but is her hometown ready to welcome her back?

With some help from her old friend Deputy Bobby Grace, she tries to solve the mystery of her Grandfather’s death and track down just who has been hell-bent on ruining her reputation. What she finds out could get her killed.

You'll want to have this one with a good hot cup of coffee, just like the coffee that keeps the main characters going in the book.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Killler Clowns From Out Of State: 5 Fun Facts

My latest mystery novel Killer Clowns From Out Of State is now available on It's the first book in my new Ballardville Mysteries series, and it introduces you to Police Chief Andrea Taylor.  She wasn't even supposed to be working the night she mows down handsome stranger Dash Fletcher during a police chase. Now she’s got an injured circus performer on her hands who might or might not be the guy she’s been waiting for all her life.

But since her last romance ended with her pumping a bullet into her boyfriend, she’s a little gun shy. Plus, she’s got a murder to solve, a murder that might be tied to the handsome stranger with the broken leg her aunt has moved into the family home.

With her career in jeopardy and her heart on the line, her whole life is turning into a three-ring circus.

But just how did this particular three-ring circus come to be? 

Here are 5 fun facts about this novel:

I got the idea while at the circus.

I was innocently enjoying a performance of the Cirque Du Soleil's Alegria at the Huntington Arena and an idea popped into my head. So you have all of these performers in makeup and costume, including the band and the singers. And it occurred to me that these people have to tell people things like, "I'm an accordion player in the circus." I had a great seat behind where the technical people had their boards and I became fascinated watching the director and other people work during the show. So this guy popped into my head. A guy who might be the accordion player's understudy and also a technical guy that works on the show. And then there's my main protagonist a small town police chief named Andrea Taylor who runs over him in the course of a high speed chase. Leaving him unemployed and stuck in the small town. And as these things often do, within fifteen minutes, my mind knew who he was, why he was in that small town, why he would stay in that small town and the crimes that would drive this particular story along. I also knew why the police chief had shot her last boyfriend. By the time I was headed home from work the next day, I knew about a stunning surprise that would change that former accordion playing clown's life in the second book. It involved a... Oh well, you'll see when the sequel comes out.

It's a love letter to theater geeks

I did plays in college. My husband was active in theater in high school. I know and love so many actors, writers, and others who have given their heart to community and professional theater.  I've had the privilege of seeing so many plays brought to life by the love and care of people who live and breathe theater. 

The Meet Me In St. Louis Connection

I watched one of my favorite movies, Meet Me In St. Louis,  while working on this story. And the character of Lucille Ballard, played by June Lockhart, inspired two things: The name of the town of Ballardville and the first name of the very important character of Lucille Gerber. That's June Lockhart as Lucille on the left. She later went on to be the mom on Lassie and Lost In Space. You will also notice that one of the characters in the story takes a trip to St. Louis. Sadly, no one sings "Clang, clang, clang went the trolley!"

I named my characters after their spirit animals

Andie is named after Sheriff Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show. It's also meant to reference one my favorite TV couples. I explain why in the book.

Dash is named after the writer of The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett. 

FYI, the Thin Man is not Nick Charles, but the person he's looking for in the book.

Nick and Nora have my favorite romantic relationship in print or the movies. They are each other's wingman.

The title comes from a 1980s horror movie

The title comes from the 1980s horror movie Killer Clowns From Outer Space. The summer after I graduated college, I worked in a convenience store/ gas station. Back in those days everyone and his brother felt the need to add video rentals to their business. We had a video department in the back of the store. A TV continually ran trailers for the movies offered. One of those movies was Killer Clowns From Out Of State. I watched the trailer for that flick 50 times a day for months. It is burned into my brain. Now it finally gave a little something back to me.  It's really the least it could do.

You can check out a free preview of Killer Clowns From Out Of State below

Killer Clowns From Out Of State is available as a Kindle book for $2.99

The paperback is available for $19.97  and you can read it free on Kindle Unlimited.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Coupla Writer Chicks Sitting Around Talking

I thought it might be fun to do interview a fellow author and have her interview me. So I sat down on a Saturday afternoon for a Facebook chat with fellow writer Wendy Burke.  Wendy is the author of 6 books including the recent Safe at Home.

Cyn: Ready to do this thing?

Wendy:  Sure...I'm just looking up what an OHP hat is called...other than 'hat'.

Cyn: Let’s talk a little about ourselves.  I'm a mystery writer and Wendy writes... What would you call your particular romance genre?

Wendy: Porn.

Cyn: Lady porn?

Wendy: Erotic romance. Mommy porn works too.

Cyn: I once had a male coworker complain that guys
can't sit in the lunchroom thumbing through Playboy,
but ladies can read romance novels and nobody

Wendy: With a novel -- the pictures are in your head...not in print! And for the most part, women paint a better mental picture than men do.

Cyn: Most romance novels are spicier than Playboy. Especially yours.

Wendy: True-- but mental pictures aren't interrupting the daily work flow.
And mostly go  unnoticed ...especially since the invention of eReaders!

Cyn: We've known each other for like one million years.

Wendy: and a half, I think

Cyn: What's one question you've always wanted to ask me about my work?

Wendy: Are there people in your head that pretty much talk to you all day long?

Cyn: Oh yes. The inside of my head is like a Robin Williams routine.

Wendy: Less hairy, I would imagine!

Cyn: There's some hairy people in there, too.

Wendy: you keep them impeccably well-groomed from what I can see...

Cyn: I've always wanted to ask you when you wrote your first story.

Wendy: When I was old enough to realize there were people in my head more fun than those around me. I would imagine it was BEFORE I even knew what 'writing' was. As for concrete writing, most likely late grade school-- as for thinking I could make money off of it -- 10 years ago.  I always 'wrote'...

Cyn: Me too. I distinctly remember drawing a little book about two brothers who lived in a windmill. I had confused a windmill with a lighthouse because they had boats.


Wendy: What author do you admire most?

Cyn: The first author I ever truly loved was Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wrote Michael Landon angry letters over the TV show Little House On The Prairie versus the book. Like a 7-page letter. Robert B. Parker is a huge influence on me as well. The way he writes dialogue, how prolific he was. How he keeled over while writing at this desk. Who inspires you?

Wendy: Poor guy...not the way I want to go.

I'm not really 'inspired' by any one writer -- as I don't read what my writing genre is.

I like the story like of a Brad Thor and James Rollins. I'm more inspired to 'write' by something that happens during the day. I like sad heroes.

Cyn: Me, too. I collect little bits of every single day to use in stories.

Wendy: you know how that works in my head!

Cyn: We've both worked in newsrooms and that's a great place for plots in general

Every single crime in any of my books has been inspired by a similar real-life crimes. Even the awful things that go down in What The Chat Dragged In

Wendy: Because a newsroom is also filled with 'characters.' All with have their own weird flaws

Cyn: More specifically what inspired what you're working on now?

Wendy: I"m going to have to plead the 5th on that one--as it stemmed from a real life conversation with a real life law enforcement officer -- some would say an 'inappropriate' conversation from an elected official! But 'he' probably didn't realize my reaction to it...just a simple innocent comment --which pushed the people in my head in to high gear! And just remember -- text me at 2 a.m, for no apparent reason -- you're in a book...

Cyn: The hazards of dealing with writer folks. For me it was tamer, a visit to the Cirque de Soliel. I was sitting in the audienc eand was impressed that the clown band was playing their own instruments and singing

Wendy: Ah---Killer Clowns From Out of State!'

Cyn: And I started thinking, wow these are super-talented people. I wondered what their lives were like when not performing. What do accordion playing clowns do in their off time?

By the end of the performance, I had most of the book.

Wendy: And our poor spouses wonder what's going on in our heads!

Cyn: That's the dual track running in a writer's life. Watching and liking the circus, writing a book, too. On the drive home, my husband said, "You're writing in your head, I can see the way your eyes are moving."

Wendy: Some would call that schizophrenia

Cyn: My friend the psych nurse tells me my eyes move exactly like a schizophrenic’s when I write

Wendy: Scary! I just blurt things out now...and the old man gets it. Like how looking over the treetops into Green Bay in WI's Door County -- I just said, I want to sit here and writer forever -- in my head I was doing just that -- could see the characters on the deck having a conversation...people just don't get that

Cyn: My husband gets it. He usually just brings me coffee when he sees it taking over

Knowing you in real life, you would be the person I would least likely peg as a romance writer

Wendy: Why?

Cyn: You are super-duper practical. How did you find your genre? Crime, I'd buy in a minute.

Wendy: I had promised to write a cheesy baseball romance for a friend...

And so I did. I'm a romantic at heart -- people don't see that side of me. I still want to write a political thriller --- but with sex ....lots of it!

Cyn: People tend to think the opposite about me. They think I am chipper. So, the dark edge to some of my work surprises them. At least I think I am regarded as chipper.

Wendy: Knowing you-- didn't surprise me!

Cyn: I've yelled at you more than most people! All in the line of duty at work. Newsrooms are intense places.

Wendy: It's sometimes difficult to be 'nice' in a setting like that -- which is why I'm glad I don't have the responsibility I once did in a newsroom

Cyn: I wanted to ask if there was another genre you'd like to explore, but you already answered. So for you it's a political thriller?

Wendy: I wanna be Brad Thor or James Rollins when I grow up! But for now, I would rather just work in the realm of fantasies --- too much of that political crap right now.

Cyn: I'd really like to be able to write a good piece of sci-fi or fantasy. I love that genre, but I don't feel that I write it well. I have a half finished book called Araknj's Quantum that's a steampunk mystery about time-traveling murderous robot chefs. I let my friends pick my National Novel Writing Month project by naming random things and that's what happened.

Wendy: See...I can't write something that doesn't 'exist' or can't actually 'happen'...just the way my head works.

Cyn: You wouldn't believe the research I did for that book, the real world research to create a feasible alternate reality. In that world, India was part of the Holy Roman Empire because I expanded the Pourtugese influence that exist in part of India to most of India. I researched Catholic Indian names.

Wendy: And here I am looking for a hat. My brain doesn't work that way -- I can't relate to it.

Cyn: I was also researching how you resign from the Ohio National Guard today.  When you can do it, what the procedures are.... That may be a spoiler for my next book.

Wendy: I got it figured out! Deputy Hottie?

Cyn:  We’ll see. Speaking of books... I will ask an impossible question. Which of your books is your favorite?

 Wendy: Probably The One He Chose, Haste Ye Back a close second. Of course, I like them all...but those two stick out to me for some reason. You? Which of yours?

Cyn: Probably What The Chat Dragged In. Because it was so hard to write, but I think I pulled it off.

Wendy: You did, very well.

Cyn: We need to promote ourselves a little

Wendy: You know how NOT good I am at that.

Cyn: So, talk about what you have out now and what you're working on

Wendy: Safe at Home has been out a couple of weeks -- a story I really enjoyed writing, because, although the 'seed' for it was much more baseball oriented - it still came out as the story I was looking for. Currently I'm now in love with two new characters ELI & ZOE -- he's a widowed sheriff and she's a newsroom 'jack of all trades' -- they've never met -- but OH they will...they SURE will!

Cyn: Right now, I'm finishing up the final edits on Killer Clowns From Out of State.

Wendy: Such a great title! Reminds me of the ICP incidents.

Cyn: It's about a small town female police chief that runs over a circus performer

who may or may not be connected to a murder. Did I mention that he's handsome?

Wendy: The circus performer?

Cyn: Yes.

Wendy: With or without clown make up?

Cyn: Without, he's only a fill-in clown. He's actually an assistant stage manager who knows how to play the accordion. I'm proud of how it all comes together and makes sense.

I'm finishing my edits on the sequel to American Goth:  A Maze & Grace.

Do you remember a few years ago, me telling you before the morning news meeting about a dream I had about a guy who had a dream and woke up to find that things in real life were happening in the dream. I dreamed the whole story in one night as a dream?

Wendy: Yes...I read part of that one.

Cyn: It's a novella, and it’s going to be out soon as well.

Wendy: Title?

Cyn: Oh yeah, that's helpful for promotion. The Girl of His Dreams, A little different for me.

Though there is a mystery, it's just not a murder mystery,

Hey, when are you ever going to write that book about NASCAR we talked about?

Wendy: Eventually maybe.

Cyn: So many ideas, so little time.

Wendy: I know.

Cyn: That's the hardest part of being a writer, don't you think?

For me, not what to write, but when to write.

Even if I had every hour of the day free to write, I don't know that I could get it all down.

On that note, we decided to end our conversation and actually get back to writing.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Carrrot Apple Slaw With Maple Vinaigrette

One of my favorite things about cooking is how dishes you throw together from leftovers can turn into magic. This delicious carrot apple slaw is the perfect example. 

I wanted some type of side salad to go with pork chops. I had a partial bag of matchstick carrots, an apple, a few grapes, and a sad stalk of celery. Since I have a mandolin slicer, I got the idea of making the apple into matchsticks the same size as the carrots. Then I made a variation on one of my favorite dressings. And a star was born. 

This crunchy salad is not only delicious, there's nothing in there to wilt. It stays crunchy for days, even after it's dressed.

Let's check out the ingredients.

For a large batch, you'll need a bag of matchstick carrots, two sweet apples like Fuji or honey crisp, seedless grapes, and two or three stalks of celery.

For the dressing, you'll need 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, (real maple syrup, please. No Aunt Jemima's brown pancake goop. If you can't get maple syrup, use brown sugar.) 1 tablespoon of mayo (not Miracle Whip), and some salt and pepper. And about 4 tablespoons of olive oil.

I like to use a small jar to shake the dressing in. If you don't have a jar, you can whisk it in a bowl.

Combine the vinegar, mustard, and maple syrup with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Give it a good shake or whisk.

Once it is well-combined, add the mayo and olive oil. Then shake or whisk again to combine it all. Now let's make the slaw.

Having a V-slicer or mandolin like this with the matchstick blade makes this incredibly easy to put together. Otherwise, you can just cut into neat slices with a knife.

I start with a bag of matchstick carrots. You could also cut them into matchsticks yourself or just grate the carrots on a box grater.

Then I use the v-slicer to make matchsticks out of the apple. I leave it unpeeled to add color from the peel. Thanks to the acidity in the dressing, the apple will not brown in the salad. But don't leave them undressed for very long.

Now thinly slice the celery. The mandolin will make it super-thin, but you can use a knife.

If the seedless grapes are large, you can halve them.

Mix it all together. Pour on the dressing and coat everything thoroughly.

This is especially good for summer picnics. It was also absolutely beautiful on an Easter buffet.

The Accidental Christian Author

I wrote a book called What The Chat Dragged In that I'm very proud of. It's a mystery, an intense one that deals with some very dark subject matter. It's also a romance about two people who feel as if they are each irretrievably broken. And there's a lot of cracking wise, too. Because that's how I am in real life. The darker the situation, the more likely I am to let fly with the jokes. There's also a lot of talk about food in there, too. I like to cook, I like to eat. Generally my characters do as well. Part of it is that I can't imagine not loving cooking and it also gives my characters an interest I can write about without having to do a great deal of research. I don't know how to play golf, but I can tell you how to score a hole-in-one with a pot roast.

But as I read reviews for this book and talked to friends who read it, I discovered something else as well.

This was the first Amazon review: 

"I cannot pin down exactly what genre to put this book in. It's a quirky romance, it's a witty mystery, it's a foodie book, it's a crime novel, it's a little bit of a police procedural, there's elements of Christian fiction, it deals with non-combat PTSD... This is not entirely an easy novel to read because even though it's fiction we know that the evil that is a main character actually exists in our world."

I don't know that I've ever thought of my work as what is considered "Christian " fiction, at least not the kind that would end up under that genre on a bookstore shelf.

But according to another review, it's a pretty dominant theme.

"This is the second book I've read by this author and I liked them both. That's surprising because they have a bit of a Christian slant and I usually avoid these. Here it is not intrusive and it is part of the story. The ending is satisfying and I'm looking forward to the next book.

Unless you have a strong anti Christian bias this book is worth your time."

I'm not complaining at all about that review. It was five stars and I think the reviewer was honestly concerned that some people might be put off. 

So is What The Chat Dragged In a piece of Christian fiction? As I said before, you wouldn't find it in a Christian bookstore. There's violence, lots and lots of unapologetic pre-marital sex, and it deals with the dark, dark subject matter of pedophilia.  There's also some church-going. But I wonder if that shows my Midwestern self more than my faith.

Most people I know go to church. It's not a big deal. It's just part of their lives. White, straight conservative or gay, black liberal, church is just part of their lives. It comes up in conversation. People say they will pray for each other, and they mean it. It's not weird. It's not preachy. It just is.

In What The Chat Dragged In, a main character's brother-in-law is a pastor and that does figure into the plot. And the choice between the ideal of forgiveness and the satisfaction of revenge is central. I suppose that perhaps the unusual thing here is that in a book that features pastors and pedophiles, the pastor is not the pedophile.

I see much stronger religious overtones in my first mystery American Goth, though I promise you it was not something I planned. It just happened.

Although as my main character in that book explains, she doesn't think she's that good of a Christian, “Sometimes I am. I don’t tithe and I take the Lord’s name in vain and I don’t have much sympathy for people in prison and sometimes I wish the homeless would just go home.”

In my books, as in life, questions about God and faith and doing the right thing are mixed in with tragedy, comedy, sex, and all kinds of other stuff.

Like a lot of folks, the first thing that pops into my mind when I hear a piece of popular culture labeled "Christian" is the hope that it will not be preachy or bland. Which is interesting, since the Bible is one of the juiciest, spiciest, most violent reads you'll ever see. It's chocked full of flawed individuals that fall short of their ideals. It's kind of what I aim for, too.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Star Trek Deep Space Nine - House Ishka: How Quark's Mom Won The Game Of Thrones

I've had the pleasure recently of re-watching all of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine again on Netflix and Amazon Prime. It has always been my favorite Trek series, even though back when I watched it for the first time in the 1990s, I thought the pace was a little slow sometimes. 
Now that I'm binge-watching, I see something else. Of course, I don't have to wait a week or months between episodes now.  While you might think at first glance that DS9 is the story of The Emissary and of Bajor, I think it there's another story arc that stands out: the rise of the House of Ishka.  Quark's mother played the game of thrones perfectly - and she won.
In the first episode, we meet Quark, the greedy, shady, Ferengi bar owner and his nephew, Nog, a petty thief who is breaking into quarters .  Later, we meet Quark's brother and Nog's father, Rom. Rom is seemingly a babbling idiot.

Early on we learn that there's a little more to everyone than we first saw. Nog wants to go to school and learn. Rom actually takes part in a plot to bump off his brother. And we learn that Quark is sharp and smart and sometimes has a tiny bit of a soft spot.

We also learn that Ferengi females do not have it easy. They are forbidden to travel, so they can't leave the home world. They are not permitted to wear clothes. (It invites others to unclothe them)  They cannot earn profit own. (Profit is to Ferengi what honor is to Klingons and logic to Vulcans - the entire basis of your standing in society) They mustn't speak to strangers, and they even have to chew the food for their husband and sons. 

By the time the series moves into season 3, we learn that Nog wants to be the first Ferengi to attend Starfleet Academy.  He knows, that like his father, he's not good at earning profit, and he wants a different kind of life for himself.  Rom, it turns out is a mechanical genius. (he once fixed a holodeck with string and a spoon)  However, being a mechanical genius doesn't matter in Ferengi society, so he's stuck as a lackey for his brother Quark.

Then we meet Quark and Rom's mother, Ishka.  She's in big trouble back on their home world. Not only is she wearing clothes and talking to strangers, she's EARNING PROFIT. If she doesn't fess up and give the profit back, Quark will lose his assets and his mother will be put into indentured servitude.  Quark is horrified to learn that his mother has earned far more money than the Ferengi authorities know about. Much more than he could ever pay back by turning over all of his profit. 

We learn that Rom is Ishka's favorite because he is just like his late father Keldar. Keldar had no head for profit, but he was a kind man who understood people. Quark, on the other hand is just like his mother, ruthless with a sharp head for business.  But he's unwilling to budge on Ferengi law. He thinks the law is the law.  

Rom and Ishka come up with a plan where it appears to Quark and the Ferengi authorities that Ishka has given back her profits and repented, when she's actually kept 2/3 of her profits and plans on doing a better job hiding her transactions.

Meanwhile, Rom's mechanical abilities do not go unnoticed and he begins to work with engineering on Deep Space Nine as his son goes off to Starfleet Academy.  Since, we know that Nog has gone back to see his grandmother for extended visits, you have to wonder if she wasn't the one who put the bug in his ear about attending Starfleet.

Ishka begins a relationship with Grand Nagus Zek - the political and economic leader of the Ferengi Alliance. His mind is beginning to fail, and Ishka becomes the power behind the scenes, offering economic and political advice.

Quark ultimately sees that his mother is doing what's best for their people and supports her, even though it troubles him to see society change so rapidly. When she's kidnapped, he helps lead a rescue along with his brother and nephew.

When the Nagus decides to retire, he names Rom as his successor. Ishka's son begins to implement rights for females as well as introducing a legislative body to rule the Ferengi along with other reforms.

Ishka retires to the Risa leisure planet along with Zek, though you can assume that her firm hand is still guiding her son Rom in his role as the Nagus.

Her grandson becomes a decorated officer in Starfleet and is surely on his way to being a captain, perhaps even an admiral someday, paving the way for other Ferengis to succeed as part of the Federation.

Quark, who just like Rick in Casablanca has his large ears open of everything, is still at the bar, taking in important intelligence that he can share either with the Federation, his brother, or to turn a tidy profit for himself.  Because everybody comes to Quark's.

Ishka changed Ferengi society forever and rose to a position of power without killing anyone and while ensuing the safety of her boys and he grandson.

She played the game of thrones, she won, she made profit, and she got to retire and enjoy it.

Well played, Ishka. Well played.