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Your creepy picture is my treasure

Awhile back I was cleaning out stuff and came across an old picture. It was large, probably equivalent to a 16×20, in a wooden oval frame. The picture was old, I mean old, and had begun to crack. There was no glass protecting it. I couldn’t tell if it was on canvas or paper. The picture was of two people, a man and a woman. The setting looked like it was perhaps an early form of a portrait studio.

I was mesmerized by this picture. I had no idea who these people were. Or better yet, how it turned up in my possession. I showed it to my sister and kids and they all had the same reaction. Scrunched up noses while whispering “creepy.”


The picture of the picture

Obviously they didn’t see what I saw in this picture. They saw two creepy people we didn’t know in an old creepy picture. I saw a story.

Who were they? Were they husband and wife? Brother and sister? Lovers? How did they earn their living? Was he a man of God? A drinker? Maybe both? Was she warm and loving or cold and distant? Did she pine for a secret love? Did they have children? Were they born here or cross the sea on a ship? The possibilities were endless. They were no longer two creepy people. They had a story.

I kept that picture and swore I’d hang it one day near my writing desk. Still not knowing who these two people were. Then the darnedest thing happened.

Christmas Eve, I was going through one of several totes of old photos I have, picking out pictures of my mother’s side of the family. I was going to my cousin’s house for a get-together later in the day and thought it would be fun to look at some of the old photos.  Then what to my wandering eyes should appear?  A picture of the picture! And written on the back, in my paternal grandmother’s handwriting, were the words “Grandpa and Grandma Hall.” The man and woman in that picture were no longer just two random people, they were my dad’s great-grandparents, and my great-great grandparents.

Although finding the picture of the old creepy picture solved a family puzzle (who were these people and what am I doing with the picture?), it kind of put the story to rest. I couldn’t make up a backstory for my two random people anymore. They had their own story. I am interested, though, in discovering what that story was.

Casey’s Big Adventure


Casey and Ireland, off to see Santa

We don’t get out much. Well, let me rephrase that. Nina’s family doesn’t get out much. With one-year old twins plus a two-year old, not to mention the other two under ten, transporting (3 car seats and a booster needed) can be an issue. There’s also the need for the double stroller and an additional person (at least) with stout arms to carry Ivy (the 2-year old). Moving a platoon of soldiers may be easier.

Don’t get me wrong. The twins have been to the grocery store, the doctor’s office, grandparents’ houses, Nana’s, Uncle Garey and Aunt Ellen’s house, the park, and…(insert drumroll)…the mall. Not only the mall, but they’ve been to the mall to see Santa!


Landon, Ava, and Ivy’s picture with Santa. If you look close, you can see Santa to the right, with some random kid on his lap.

Yeah, well, that didn’t go over so well. No pictures allowed. Unless you bought the nifty package. And for two dollars more, you can get two 5x7s! Either the hefty price tag that went along with the picture package or the pain in the patootie of getting the twins out of the stroller was enough to make daddy (Allen) say no thanks. So Landon, Ava, and Ivy sat on Santa’s knee and told him what they wanted. Ivy looked like a cat about to be dunked in water. Ava read her wishes from a list. Landon was too cool to act like he enjoyed it. And the twins watched from a few feet away. Their first visit to Santa and they were sentenced to the stroller. Judging from the look on Ireland’s face, that was fine with her. Only child I’ve ever seen that can arch an eyebrow.

So after we visit with Santa, we decide to brave the masses and actually walk around the mall. Wasn’t really crowded (it’s not a very big mall) so it was a nice experience seeing the babies’ excitement over seeing new things. Like a drink machine. While the caravan was stopped to window shop, from his stroller seat, Casey was checking out a drink machine the stroller was parked beside. I mean he was checking it out. Like it was the strangest thing he had ever seen! He even put his tiny little hand up to it and gently touched it. Then touched it again. Then slowly moved in to lick it and Allen jerked the stroller away. Allen’s a germ-a-phob and Casey has developed this habit of licking stuff. I think in his one-year old mind he’s trying to “give kisses” but hasn’t mastered the physical motions yet. He’s got a couple years to master that skill. If they ever let him out of the house.


It’s not their fault they don’t like Rudolph

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer was on television this week. So was Frosty the Snowman. I was way more excited than the grand kids. I asked Landon if he was going to watch Rudolph and he gave me “grandma’s a little weird” look. He finally shook his head and said, “we’ll probably record it.”

Ahhh. The truth comes out. There’s no urgency to watch it because they can record it. So Landon got the ol’ “Back when I was a kid….” speech.

Remember when we were kids and Rudolph, Frosty and Charlie Brown Christmas came on one time a year? If you missed it, you missed it. You had to wait an entire year to see it again. There were no VCRs, DVRs, instant playback, start over, 1001 cable channels that may show it in “marathon” fashion.

Back when I was a kid, CBS showed Rudolph the Friday evening after Thanksgiving. It was a staple. And  Friday nights were often the night the family went out to eat. I remember thinking when mom and dad ordered pie for dessert and a coffee refill and lit that cigarette while they waited, I’M GOING TO MISS RUDOLPH!!! I’d have to wait a whole ‘nuther year to hear Clarice sing “There’s Always Tomorrow”. My gosh, it must have taken them ten hours to eat that piece of pie!

And now, poor Rudolph has to compete with Pixar and Disney animation which makes older animation look like…older animation. My grand kids have grown up on Pixar and Disney. The level of animation improvement from then to now is no comparison. It’s like comparing a store bought tomato to a homegrown tomato.

Their childhood is their childhood and I can’t force them to like some of the things I liked as a kid. It’s not that they don’t like Rudolph…they just have other options. My daughter Nina tried to get Ivy (2) to watch Rudolph. Ivy wanted to watch Dora the Explorer. My heart broke just a little, but I’ll get over it. It is their childhood.

What childhood tradition do you miss the most?

Apples vs. Oranges

I blame Demetria Gray. She had to miss our critique group meeting the other night and her absence has put poor Sandra Rathbone in a pickle. We’re not a big group. There’s just four of us but we’re very good at what we do so one can rest assured, one’s work is getting a thorough critique.

So when we met the other night to critique Sandra’s manuscript, there were only two of us actually critiquing, Myself and Cynthia Bullard. Cindy went first in giving her verbal critique. I was sipping my coffee, following along, when I began to notice something a little odd. We (Cindy and I) agreed on all the technical stuff (comma placement, sentence structure, passive vs. active, etc…) but then came the biggie. We were at totally opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to characterization and character motivation.

Cindy thought the protagonist’s boyfriend was being a controlling jerk. I thought it was sweet he wanted to help. Cindy thought he was sticking his nose into someone else’s business by sharing details about his own life. I thought it was great he was opening up. Cindy thought the protagonist should have stood up to her boyfriend better and told him to back off. I thought the protagonist was being rude and argumentative.

You can see where this is going. Sandra got a lot of help with her commas and sentence structure, but the big picture questions…she was on her own. A good rule of thumb for having a group critique your work is majority rules (most of the time as it is still your story).

Festivals, fairs, and conferences – oh my!

This year is quickly heading toward a close and naturally, we begin thinking of the coming new year. Next year, 2013, I will have one, maybe two, could be three who knows! books to promote. So I’ve started looking at the annual book festivals and conferences I’d like to attend so I can properly budget for them.

Book festivals and fairs close to home cost little money but the payoff can be enormous. As a writer, it gives you the opportunity to sell a couple books but more importantly, it gives readers the opportunity to meet you and get to know you a little as a person. You’re not just a Facebook Author Page anymore, or a tweeter, or even a blogger. You’re a living breathing person readers can relate to.

In the year 2012, an estimated 150 THOUSAND people attended the Library of Congress’s Annual National Book Festival. That’s a bunch of people. 75 thousand is the average attendance at the Decatur Book Festival in neighbor state Georgia.  Further up north, 45 thousand readers and 250 authors attend the annual Brooklyn Book Festival. The lists goes on with similar numbers.

photo by Petr Kratochvil

As a writer, if you’re planning on “doing” a couple festivals next year a writer friend, Mary L. Ball ( offers this advice. After attending a festival last summer promoting her book Escape to Big Fork Lake, Mary said she could have sold 100 books – if she had a debit card reader. No one carries cash anymore. Invest in a debit card reader. The most popular one right now is the Square. Look into it. I certainly am.

For readers and writers:

  • What do you look for in a festival? Do you have a favorite?
  • How far would you travel to attend?
  • For readers – how do you normally pay? Would a portable debit card reader entice you to purchase a book when you otherwise may not have?

Happy festivaling!


I don’t know why this particular Veterans Day has brought back a flood of childhood memories, but it has. So I’m going to wander away from my usual “writer-themed” posts for this one and just share some “snapshots.” Hope you don’t mind.

Front row (l-r) Uncle Gene Chandler, Uncle Sammy Chandler.
Back row (l-r) Willie Chandler (daddy) and Uncle Jimmy Chandler

Yes, my dad was a WWII veteran. Navy. I mean, seriously, were there even other branches of the military? Not in the Chandler family – unless you were my dad’s brother, Sammy. See, my dad and Uncle Sammy had  these uncles that were about the same age as they were (sometimes happens in a big family). My dad and his “uncles” all joined the Navy to fight in WWII. Uncle Sammy joined the Army. Even my mom’s brothers were Navy men. But noooo…Uncle Sammy joined the Army. I never told daddy this because it would of been kind of blasphemous but later on, during the re-telling of their war stories, I kind of admired Uncle Sammy for doing his own thing. Regardless of the teasing his brother and uncles gave him.

I asked daddy once when I was a kid if he was ever in any hand-to-hand combat during the war. Yes. He hand-fought the Germans. Or maybe it was the Japanese? It’s hard to remember now. Either I’ve forgotten what he said, or it changed from story to story. Years later, as an adult, I asked him the same question. He smiled that crooked grin (anyone who knew my daddy knows that grin) and paused a moment as if he were gauging my ability to handle the answer. The truth. “If you call a fight in a bar in New Orleans hand-to-hand combat, then yeah. I saw hand-to-hand combat in the war,” he said. Whether he fought a German or a Japanese, or another drunken sailor, he was still my hero. That memory makes me smile.

My mom used to tell a story of daddy and his blond curls. My dad was a very good looking man with a head full of loose blond curls. Mom and dad were dating at the time and had a lunch date. Mom was giddy happy that she was going to get to “show off her man” to her co-workers that day and made certain to tell him to wear his sailor uniform. But daddy made a stop before picking mom up – the barber shop. He didn’t do it on purpose. He had no idea he was the object/subject of such discussion. Mom was horrified when he showed up at the office with all those gorgeous curls cut off. But she married him anyway, with or without hair.

March 2013 will be the 15th anniversary of their deaths. They died twelve days apart. I’d give anything to hear one of their stories again. No matter how many times I’ve heard it before.

My daddy and me, Nashville TN, 1972 maybe? Always was, always will be…a daddy’s girl.

Creating Unique Settings for the Cozy Mystery

Happy to have one half of the dynamic duo writing team of Joyce and Jim Lavene guest blogging for me today! Take it away Joyce…

Setting can be anything, anywhere, which conveys the mood, place and time of a mystery.
A story’s setting is what puts readers in the same place with the character. It gives the reader a sense of who a character is, and what that character is experiencing. Creating a believable setting is vital to any fiction.
A cozy mystery is no exception. The story can be humorous or thoughtful. It can be scary or paranormal—loaded with ghosts and demons. It can take place in the past, in the future, or in present day. All of these details become real in your setting.
Make your setting as dynamic as possible. Don’t throw in a bunch of unimportant facts that have nothing to do with the movement of your story. Use setting consciously to communicate specific information and achieve a particular effect on your audience.
Providing the backdrop for the sleuth
Where the cozy sleuth lives, works and plays is important to the overall picture of his/her personality. If the sleuth travels, where they travel, problems with travel, become part of the story. (Losing their luggage, being stranded at an airport where they find a dead body.) The backdrop doesn’t have to be exotic. The most important thing is that it provides exactly the right place for the sleuth.
Be familiar with your setting. If the story isn’t set somewhere you know intimately, be prepared to do adequate research or travel there. A good mystery reader can tell a fake location.
In our Missing Pieces Mysteries, our sleuth is Dae O’Donnell. She is the mayor of her small town, Duck, North Carolina. Duck is a real place in the N.C Outer Banks. We visited the area frequently as much to give our readers real landmarks (Kitty Hawk, the Hatteras Lighthouse) and a sense of what it’s like to live in this place. Pirate and ghost stories abound here. It’s a much different life than Dae would have if we’d put her character in Raleigh!

Giving the reader a sense of time and place

The cozy mystery reader wants the whole picture. While the personality of the sleuth is important, so is where they live and solve crimes. The setting provides the reader with important information that can be used to help ferret out the clues to the mystery.
Be conscious of time. Don’t start a story by telling your readers that the sleuth woke up Monday morning then skip to Wednesday. Today’s readers are sophisticated and detail oriented. Think of your setting as the background of a tapestry that you’re weaving. Include specific details. Let your reader know what it tastes like and smells like. (What does your sleuth see? What do they hear?)
Because our mystery series are in the South, we include plant life, foods, customs and some dialect from our home in North Carolina. We try to bring our readers a small slice of southern living, without falling into stereotypes, in every book. Each of our books is set in a distinct season.

Making the story seem realistic

While realism in the cozy is not applied to details of the murder, it is important to suspending the disbelief of your reader. Every reader must be convinced of your reality. The setting of the story can be a powerful tool to enhance belief, take the reader from his/her armchair, and catapult them headfirst into the mystery.
Sight, sound, smell and impressions of other people who inhabit your sleuth’s world are crucial to making your story a success. If your sleuth catches a bus in Atlanta at midnight, be sure the buses run at that time. If your sleuth lives near the ocean, include the gritty sand and the sound of gulls. 
Our next book in the Missing Pieces Series, is A Haunting Dream (December 4th, 2012). We hope to transport our readers to Duck again with the smell of the salt air, the sounds of the sea, the feeling of living in a small town of less than 600 people. Our mayor is facing re-election in this book and she’s forced to work with a woman she fears to find a missing child.
What do YOU use to convey time, place and ambiance to readers in your work?
Joyce Lavene writes bestselling mystery with her husband/partner Jim. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley and Charter Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. She lives in rural North Carolina with her family, her cat, Quincy, and her rescue dog, Rudi. She enjoys photography, watercolor, gardening and long rides in her car. 

Want a FREE copy?? Enter to win a copy of Joyce and Jim Lavene’s book, A Haunting Dream, by commenting at their blog site,! 

Careful or fearless – Which are you?

Ireland and Casey. Notice how Ireland is holding on while Casey is wide open.

Casey and Ireland, my twin grandbabies, will turn one November 10th. I’ve had the joy and pleasure of being a big part of their lifes since their birth. Mainly becasue they have an older sister, Ivy, who will turn two on November 12th. Yeah – you read that right. They’re 363 days apart. Or two days shy of a full year. Any way you look at it, my daughter and her husband had their hands full.

So, during this past year, I’ve been paying close attention to the twins and waiting for that whole ‘twin telepathy’ thing to kick in. So far it hasn’t.  They’re just now really starting to play with one another. They do show a kind of odd interest in what they other one is doing. They take toys from one another, laugh at one another, and clap for one another. But they’re polar opposites.

Casey is fearless. He loves to be rough-housed by daddy or big brother Landon. He laughs so hard he snorts. He’s a stair climber and and plots his next attempt each time the baby gate is left open for a fraction of a second. He climbs over, crawls under, bulldozes his way through whatever is blocking his goal. Ireland, on the other hand, is cautious. She’s not timid by any means but she thinks things through before diving in like her brother. Try swinging her upside by her ankles like her brother and she reacts like a cat hovering over water. The hands stiffen, she is not smiling, eyes wide with fear. Yeah, we no longer play with her like that. She’s much happier and more content for you to play a ‘thinking’ game with her. Like matching shapes, or cause and reaction games. Casey doesn’t care what the reaction is going to be – he goes for it. All out.

Although they’re twins, they’re as different as night and day. They each have their own style, their own way of doing things. Neither is wrong or right. Ireland’s style works for her and Casey’s works for him. Much the same way writing styles differ.

I’m a ‘pantser’ writer. I write by the seat of my pants. I know how my story ends, I know how my characters are going to get there, I know what happens in between but I don’t outline. But I have friends who do. Every scene is carefully outlined down to the dialoge. More power to them. They need that precise roadmap, including the dirt roads and side streets, to take their character from beginning to end. I like the adventure of not completey knowing. Kind of like Casey.

So in honor of the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writering Month), which style fits you better? Are you a Casey or an Ireland? Do you bulldoze ahead or do you think it through?

Either way you do it, just do it. Doesn’t matter how you get there as long as you enjoy the journey.

Open or closed?

Remember when Rhett carried Scarlett up that majestic staircase? Oh what a scandal! Because we knew what was going to happen behind that closed door. The actual scene, though, played out in our imaginations.

Then came a little book called Fifty Shades of Grey. And the bedroom door was thrown wide open. The reader no longer had to imagine what happened—it was right there in their face. If they didn’t like it, they could always close the book. But judging by the sales numbers, few did.

So it makes me wonder if that’s what readers are wanting these days. Do they want the bedroom door open or closed? Has a tender kiss been taken over by a tongue down the throat?  How far is too far?

Is it the language that’s sometimes used you find offensive? Not everyone likes to hear, or read, certain words describing body parts. But if that’s the way the character talks…

In my novel Wink of an Eye, the main character is a guy named Gypsy. He’s smoking’. He defines hot. But he can also be a bit of a jerk (it’s what makes him so lovable). And yes, in the novel he actively participates in a couple sex scenes. But what made these scenes difficult to write was the point of view. The story is told in first person (Gypsy’s point of view) so I, a woman, had to write these scenes from a man’s point of view. So what happened? My smokin’ hot lovable jerk is quite the gentleman before/while/after loving on the ladies. He’s actually a very thoughtful lover. On purpose or by accident? Tee-hee. I’ll never tell!

How do you like it, readers? Door open or closed?

The Next Big Thing!

I was blog tagged by Mary L. Ball who was invited to participate in The Next Big Thing! with Lynette Sofras. So here we go…the answers pertain to my soon-to-be-released novel, The Rising (Pelican Book Group, 2013)

What is the working title of your book? The Rising 

Where did the idea come from for the book? Believe it or not, I was grocery shopping at that big chain store, you know the one with roll back prices, and somewhere between the frozen food section and the coffee isle, I thought what would happen if…

What genre does your book fall under? Inspirational mystery

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Let’s see…I’ve always imagined Ashley Greene as Ellie and Eduardo Verastegui as Jesse. Google him – he’s gorgeous!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Can a dead child that isn’t dead show a detective who’s lost her hope the way back?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I’m very honored to say it’s being published by the wonderful Pelican Book Group.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? About nine months. Same as giving birth to a baby!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Not really sure. I’ve been told it’s kind of edgy?

Who or What inspired you to write this book? I have nine grandchildren all clumped together in close age range and they speak so much truth. They seldom hold back, especially the younger ones. They don’t understand inhibition so they say what’s on their minds. They keep me in stitches and can also make me cry with their sweetness and honesty. We can learn so much from a child. We just have to be still and listen, much like listening to God.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? It has romance, suspense, action, and a great sidekick names Jesse. He was supposed to be a minor character but nearly took over! I kept telling him it was Ellie’s story, not his.
Thanks so much for dropping by! I do hope you’ll come back and visit again. And now I’m going to pass the baton to these five great authors. I hope you’ll check out their blogs, too.

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