Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 15)

Bouchercon, the Shamus, and a missing car

Margaret maron

Wink of an Eye in the book room, before it sold out.

I’ve been back from Bouchercon a week today. I think I’m recovered now.  It was my first big conference/convention and the one word that describes it best is overwhelming.  I could spend hours detailing my fan-girl moments with all the greats. All the thought-provoking panels and show-stealing panelist with their one-liners. Having lunch with friends and peers you see once a year. Rubbing elbows in the bar with the leaders in the industry.  Discovering the book stores in the book room no longer have Wink of an Eye isn’t because they shipped it back to the publisher, but rather because it sold out. Sold out. A good problem to have in the grand scheme of things.

But I won’t spend hours telling you all that stuff. I’ll get to the nitty gritty of what you want to know. No, Wink didn’t win the Shamus but man, is it ever in good company! I never knew so many well-known, A-list authors have lost that award. To lose in the same category as some of the names who have lost the Shamus is humbling. Made me feel like quite the somebody.

All of that—the Bouchercon experience, the Shamus Award, the stories!—take a backseat to the story you’re waiting to hear. The missing car.

Let me just throw this out there and see if you can piece together the puzzle. Like I had to do…

  • Ten parking decks located within four blocks of one another. Unfortunately, each parking deck can accommodate 4,567,823 cars. Dark blue cars.
  • Not knowing until it’s too late that leaving the parking stub/ticket from the little electronic dispenser thingy in your cup holder is not a good idea. If it had been in my purse, I would have found it. Eventually. Probably sooner than it took me to find my car.
  • All parking decks look basically the same. They’re made of concrete.
  • As writers, we invent details for the reader to visualize. We can’t actually be expected to notice such real details as a parking deck name.
  • The City of Raleigh actually has an entire department called “Parking Ambassadors” who do nothing but help people find their lost cars. The guy who helped me was super friendly. He said the weekends were their busiest time because you know, people get drunk and can’t find their cars. I wasn’t drunk. And it wasn’t the weekend.

Go ahead….piece it together. I’ll give you time. Like oh, maybe three hours to link it all together.

In honor of the Emmys

The Emmy Awards will be presented tonight. It’s my favorite awards show because it honors one of my favorite mediums. I have always been a fan and imagine I always will be.  I remember my mom having her favorite shows and life as a kid of the late 60s and early 70s was put on hold in hour increments. As long as there were no broken bones or arterial bleeding, of course.

403934_10150982049728460_1617799206_n1Chad Everett as Dr. Joe Gannon of Medical Center. Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett of the original Hawaii 5-0. I suppose like many women her age and at that time, my mother wasn’t above a little lust.

My favorites, in no particular order:

Hannibal: The epitome of the good vs. evil storyline, and how more often than not, those lines can blur.

Justified: Perfect characters. Again, there’s a thin line between the good guys and the bad guys and sometimes the line is crossed in both directions. Who can forget Jeremy Davies performance as Dickie Bennett? You wanted to smack him while wishing Raylan would just go ahead and shoot him—until he cried in his mama’s arms. And Dewey! Poor Dewey. He wanted to be bad. And of course we can’t talk about bad characters without mentioning Boyd Crowder. Maybe the baddest of them all. But we loved him.

The Walking Dead: Talk about the perfect “what if” scenario! Think about it a minute. What would you do if you woke up from a coma to find the world as you knew was no more? It’s not just about the zombies, or gore, or violence. It’s about so much more. Surviving. And what would you do to survive and to protect your loved ones? But the kicker? You do what you have to do to survive and hold on to your humanity.

16941415_1300x1733Hill Street Blues: Overlapping dialogue, panning camera shots, multiple point-of-view storylines, ensemble cast. Groundbreaking in so many technical aspects.

Modern Family: My go to when I need to laugh. I also find myself studying the pacing and how it’s used with dialogue.

The Big Bang Theory: Proves even the not-so-attractive, socially awkward, geeky nerds can have fun and find love.

Longmire: Who doesn’t like a cowboy? Great storytelling.

M*A*S*H: A comedy that often left us in tears. The death of Col. Henry Blake…oh my. Clutch your chest, hold your breath shocker. mash-title-960x590

Friday Night Lights: Coach. And Riggins. ‘Nuff said.

True Detective S1: Flawless.

imagesE.R.: Mark’s funeral. Doug’s redemption. And watching Dr. John Carter grow up before our eyes.

These are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

The truth about True Crime

I did this blog spot for Flying Turtle Publishing last year about the toll writing true crime can take on a person. Since Unholy Covenant is part of the Kindle Daily Deal today, I thought it might be worth repeating…

You’ve probably heard the old saying “it’s all fun and games until…” fill in the black. Usually, the statement is followed by until someone gets hurt, or until someone gets killed.

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Patricia’s parents, Sheila and Richard Blakley, embrace after Ronnie Kimble’s trial

In my world, nothing could be a more true testament to “it’s all fun and games until someone gets killed,” than writing in the True Crime genre. I’ve written fiction and I’ve written non-fiction and without a doubt, the non-fiction is the one that took its toll.

My first published book (Unholy Covenant, Addicus Book, 2000) was in the true crime genre. It was the story of two brothers who conspired to kill the older brother’s devoted wife. I was fortunate that the murder happened in my own community so there was no travel or years long research involved. I knew both families, the victims and the suspects.

It’s one thing to do research for your fiction, you know—how to murder someone 101—but it’s an entirely different thing when you’re sitting across the kitchen table from the victim’s mother asking her to share her thoughts on her daughter’s cold-blooded, premeditated murder. Some writers can do it and not blink twice. I discovered, after the fact, I wasn’t one of those writers.

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Ted Kimble, Patricia’s husband

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Ronnie Kimble, Jr. at his trial

The case, and book, garnered national attention. I did radio shows, television and newspaper interviews and even negotiated with a producer who wanted to buy the movie rights. I walked away from the bargaining table when he told me what he had planned—he wanted to make the victim a school teacher and the veteran detective a rookie. These are real people, I kept telling myself. They’re not made up characters.  

I did agree to do a couple detective-type shows because they were based on the facts of the case, not characters created by a producer. One was for the Lifetime network and featured interviews and recreations. By this time, the book had been out a few years and the victim’s death had occurred several years prior. Yet, for the victim’s mother and brother—the pain was still there. No matter how many years had passed, each time another network called, the wounds were opened yet again. How could they ever move past the trauma of losing their daughter and sister when we kept pulling them back in?

Although I don’t have plans to ever write another true crime book, I’m using what I learned from that experience in my fiction. Primarily, the varied emotions of the victims of crime or like in Wink of an Eye, the survivors.

In Wink of an Eye, a young boy hires Private Investigator Gypsy Moran to investigate his father’s alleged suicide. 12 year-old Tatum McCallen doesn’t believe his father (a deputy sheriff) would have ever taken his own life and wants Gypsy to prove he was, in fact, murdered. To Tatum, it was about restoring his dad’s honor. To let the people of their small town know his father died a hero and not a coward. I drew on those past interviews with the mother of the victim in Unholy Covenant to tap into the raw emotions of losing someone to murder. The longing to see them again, the need to know why, the confusion of not understanding how an investigation works…I used this knowledge to create the drive and tenacity of a twelve year-old boy out to prove his father didn’t kill himself.

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Patricia Blakley Kimble

I have no regrets about writing Unholy Covenant. It’s a tragic story and because it’s down on paper, Patricia’s story is immortalized. The book is in its third printing which means, fifteen years later, people are still reading Patricia’s story. For that, I’m truly thankful.

Unholy Covenant, Kindle Daily Deal

How my mind works

I think I’ve figured out my clown phobia. And dolls. And especially puppets. And fun houses. And those distortion mirrors that make you look either really tall and skinny or short and stumpy. Fairs and carnivals? Oh hell no.  Scary-doll1

Let me preface by saying I did not have a traumatic childhood. No big yikes moment.

I had my share of dolls and loved everyone of them. Even the armless, nappy haired, scuffed up, missing-an-eye ones. I had my share of puppets and participated in my share of puppet shows. I ventured in and out of many fun houses and stood laughing in front of many weird mirrors. Even got to know a couple clowns from Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey one year when the circus came to town. They were fun and crazy.

All of it was perfectly normal and safe. It wasn’t until I started writing mysteries that the happy-go-lucky things of childhood became the creepier-than-all-get-out trauma inducers of adulthood. Why? Because I started looking beneath the masks and behind the mirrors. I started looking under the surface, peeling back the layers, page by page.

il_570xN.805565391_tobtFun houses became crime scenes. The distorted features seen in those fun mirrors became the twisted view of a killer. Clowns hid deep, deep secrets beneath the make-up and fake smiles. Dolls pretended to be something they were not—alive. They cried, they wet, they ate and they pooped. Some of them said “mama” in uber creepy voices. And puppets…oh my. They’re the worst. Because they have no backbone. They have no sense of self until someone, probably someone deranged, puts them into motion. And carnival workers, or carnies as they’re often called—don’t even go there. I’m sure some of them are fine people. And I’m sure some of them are serial killers. Those are the ones who seem to always find their way into my imagination.

One of the most frequent questions asked of mystery writers is where do you get your ideas. Take a look around you. Have fun at the fair this year! print24-6

 

 

Back to school back then

The grandkids go back to school tomorrow. For me, they range from kindergarten to a senior in high school, with one in middle school and a heavy concentration in elementary grades. The start of a new school year is always fun and filled with new things. Like clothes and binders and really cool pencils.

When she was in school, my daughter Nina looked forward to back-to-school shopping more than Christmas morning. All the new fangled pencils, pens, markers and other office type supplies marketed as must-haves for every ten year-old girl brought a twinkle to her eye.School-Vintage-Ads

I suppose I can relate. I had a Donny Osmond notebook and a pencil bag filled to the brim with the good ol’ No. 2 pencils.

Back-to-school shopping back then was an all day event. It took careful planning. We’d start in downtown Greensboro and go to the shoe store where mom would buy me a new pair of Buster Brown shoes. I’d pitch a hissy to wear them while shopping and by the end of the day, after walking the sidewalks all day, my little girl feet were killing me. Those shoes had no give whatsoever. They required a breaking in period. Like about 6 months. And by that time, you’d out-grown them.

Then we headed to Sears & Roebuck where, if you weren’t naturally slim, you shopped in the Chubbies or Husky section. How’s that for building positive body image in a young mind? Back then, we of the female persuasion, couldn’t wear jeans to school so good ol’ polyester and double knit were our friends once we graduated from pure 100% cotton plaid dresses. 429763662_6d9ec682e0

With bags and bags of new clothes, shoes, and supplies—probably bought for under $50—we’d head home and the biggest decision of your life would come. What to wear the first day. It didn’t matter that everything you bought was for fall and winter and it was still August and 90 degrees, you were going to wear that turtleneck.1970-girls-fashion-01

And then the years pass and you got your drivers license and your mother trusted you to do your own shopping. So she gives you $100 and tells you to shop smart. Yeah, that might have been a mistake.

One 100% silk peasant blouse, a floral maxi skirt and a kick-ass pair of boots later, your mother tells you she hopes you enjoy wearing that outfit because it’s the last thing she’ll ever buy you. I mean, seriously? Those boots would have made Stevie Nicks herself proud.stevie-nicks-1981

 

Is your cell phone causing you anxiety?

Why doesn’t he/she/it text me back? I mean, it’s been like two minutes since I hit send. cellphone

Sound familiar? We of a certain (clears throat) age, are often less tech savvy than our three-year-old grandchildren so please, show us some mercy. Reply back as soon asour texts comes through. We don’t consider that your phone isn’t attached to your hip or that you might have been at the movies, or that, gads, the battery was dead and you didn’t even read the text until an hour after it was sent.

We think you no longer love us. We see you rolling your eyes, mouthing “her again.”

And why did you let you battery go dead in the first place? What if something happens to you? Suppose you fall and break a hip—oh, sorry, you at your youthful age don’t worry about things like that—we of a (clears throat) age, do. That’s why I take my phone to the bathroom. Fully charged. You think I’m checking Facebook. In reality, it sits on the counter, just in case. It could happen. Don’t laugh. Look what happened to Elvis. Oh, I forgot, that was before your time.

You may not remember this, but there was a time we, of a certain age, left home without phones. If we had a flat tire on the road we did what any reasonable person would do—we walked to the nearest payphone and called Daddy. Now, these days, since my daddy is in heaven (probably shaking his head that I still don’t know how to change a flat tire) and God invented cell phones to use in emergencies, I never leave home without it. And it’s fully charged. I’ll postpone my run to the grocery store a half-mile away if my phone isn’t charged. Never know what might happen. cdfa54053805c4a7f07a2686eb2f2fc9_L

But then again, I’m not sure who I’d call if I did have a flat tire, break a hip, or fall off the roof of the house (just saying, it could happen). Because people under forty don’t answer their phones or reply to texts in a timely manner to suit anyone over 40 and my friends over 40 don’t know how to change a tire, either.

So yes, this life-saving device can, and often does cause additional anxiety. If you’re over 40.

 

 

Summertime back then

It’s winding down. You can smell fall in the air. Or maybe it’s the anticipation of everything pumpkin spice flavored we smell. Walmart will have the Halloween stuff out in another two weeks when the Back-to-School aisles are empty.

But before we let it slip by unnoticed, here’s a few of my memories of good ol’ summertime back in the day.

If you grew up in Greensboro or around south Guilford County back in the 60s and 70s, you had probably been to Ritters Lake. It was THE place where friendships were forged, loved bloomed, hearts were broken, class rings and virginity were lost. How many class rings are buried at the bottom of that lake? How many of us learned to swim at that lake? Waves hand in the air. For most of us, it was out of necessity. Sink or swim when pushed off that massive tower or accidently slipping off the pier.0623131

Kids these days have splash pads at neighborhood pools. Nothing wrong with that. Probably a lot safer in the grand scheme of things.  Sure you can have fun in a 1/2 inch of water.  But does it really compare to the adrenaline rush one feels while falling 40 feet off a wobbly platform into a great murky darkness? It’s a wonder we survived childhood.

If we survived Ritters Lake, we graduated to the swing at Belews Creek. A fraying rope attached to a thousand-year-old oak that swings out over a bottomless reservoir. What could go wrong?  I never was brave enough for the swing. Maybe perhaps by the time I went to Belews, I was older (16), wiser, and the fear of dying was real.

Then of course there were the various rock quarries, snake-infested ponds where you could sink in the silt up to your knees, and the icy water of the Hanging Rock swimming lake. The water was so cold in that mountain lake, you had to catch the two-week window of opportunity around the first of August when it warmed up to non-hypothermic temperatures. meandNina

And ah, yes…the beach. I never fully appreciated all the packing that went into a week’s stay with kids, until I had to do it myself. How come sand in the bed of a 10-year-old is tolerable but to an adult, it’s right up there at the top of the list of things that annoy you the most? And those sticky things you step on barefooted. Cockleburs? Holy crap! Do feet get more tender as we age? Sunburns and sand where it shouldn’t be and no amount of conditioner is going to work on your hair memories.

Good times. Every last one of them.

That’s what mothers do

If I could take away the needle pricks, the million question that never change—name, birthday, address, how long have you been experiencing seizures—I would.

If I could crawl in the hospital bed and stay there for a month so that you could sleep in your own bed, listening to your youngest two chattering through the wall, I would.

If I could drag the I.V. pole and the portable electrodes monitor with me every time I went to the bathroom, I would. I’d offer my own hair if I could. If they’d take mine instead, I would.

If I could make it all go away, I would. Because that’s what mothers do.

But sometimes, as much as we want to, we can’t make it go away. So we bury our guilt, our fears, our feelings of failure because we can’t make it better so you won’t see. Moms are supposed to make it all better. That’s what mothers do.

Before you were his wife or their mother, you were my daughter. From the moment I learned of your existence, I worried about you. After you were born, I worried every time you were out of sight. And tomorrow the surgeon will have you for six hours and you’ll be out of my sight that entire time. When they tell us afterward everything went fine and you can see her in an hour or two, or however they chose to quantify the time—that time—the time when they won’t let me hold your hand, or stroke your cheek, or hug you—will be the hardest hours I’ve ever lived.

But I’ll pace the hospital floor holding my breath, being strong, keeping the faith. Because that’s what mothers do.

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Summer 2015…13 days down

13 days down; 41 days to go. Day 27 is the halfway mark. Not sure of the exact hour. Probably around 11:00. Not that I’m counting or anything.

So far we’ve been bowling, to the library, swimming, and to a BMX pro show at the Food Truck Rodeo where I spent $21 in Italian Ice because I did not want to have a kid admitted to the ER for heat stroke on my watch. What happens to them after I leave, is not my concern. Okay, maybe a little. Okay…I’d be right there with them pacing in the ER but as a grandmother, not the nanny.

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Just some random dialog heard so far, 13 days in. Not that I’m counting or anything.

Emma: (screaming) We have a bleeder! We have a bleeder!

  • Aiden was running in the house—which he wasn’t supposed to so—and caught under his eye/upper cheek bone on the corner of the table. Thinking he’d get in trouble for running, he ran into the living room, bleeding pretty good. High adrenaline, sweaty, facial area + sharp corner of table = lots of blood, but little damage.

Paisley: (to Aiden) Do you ever shutup?

  • You’re wise beyond your years, Paisley. But always remember, unless they’re asleep, you should always, always investigate when they get too quiet.

Ivy: (when asked what she wants for lunch) Macaroni & Cheese

  • So you fix mac & cheese. Then she says she doesn’t want mac & cheese. She wants cereal. So you fix her cereal. Then she doesn’t want that kind of cereal, she wanted the other kind. While your eye is twitching and you step outside in 98 degree heat to take a deep breath, she magically eats the mac & cheese.

Casey: (said with a half smile) Hey grandma.

  • I can only see half of his smile because that’s all the previously closed—now open bathroom door will allow me to see as my foot is blocking him from opening it more while he peers through the crack while I’m sitting on the toilet.

Ireland: (shrieking in eardrum splitting decibels) Bug! Bug! BUG!

  • It was a fly.

Ava: (asked with the slightest bit of upturned lip) Are we going to do anything today? Like, fun?

41 days to go. Not that I’m counting.

 

My daddy was THAT guy

Yes, even as an adult, I refer to him as “daddy,” not dad, not father, not Pops. He was, and is,”Daddy.” To me, anyway. He was also that guy.

NBOutline_0001He was the neighbor other neighbors came to for advice. We had one neighbor, who it seemed, couldn’t change a lightbulb without step-by-step instructions and he always seemed to need Daddy’s advice about everything from home maintenance to family matters, right at our dinner time. Can’t count the number of times we sat down to dinner only to hear that knock on the back door. Mom would roll her eyes while Daddy would go stand outside with the neighbor solving life’s great problems while his dinner went cold. Daddy could have told him it wasn’t a good time, maybe they could talk later, but he didn’t. He listened.

He was always that guy—the one everyone else poured their hearts out to, wanted his opinion, sought his wisdom and broad shoulder to lean on. He could have said “no.” But he didn’t, because he was that guy. One time a neighbor up the street returned home with her family to find her elderly mother unconscious on the sofa. Rather than call 911, she called my Daddy, hysterical, begging “Mr. Willie” to come up there because she thought her mother was dead. The woman was an RN, a trained nurse.  Daddy, who wasn’t in the best of health himself, went and I tagged along with him because mom didn’t want him going into an unknown situation by himself. When we got there, Daddy pulled the very heavyset unconscious woman to the floor and began CPR, after telling the daughter to call 911. Hello? The woman wasn’t a kid. She, her husband, and their teenage kids were all standing around wringing their hands wondering what to do. Finally, after the paramedics got there and were tending to the poor woman, Daddy and I walked out on the small back deck. Daddy was exhausted from the CPR. I asked him if she was going to make it. He said, without missing a beat, “She’s dead as a doornail.” I still chuckle every time I think of that. But Daddy, being that guy, did what he could to help. NBOutline_0003

He was so full of wisdom it wasn’t until I was an adult, that I started seeing through some of that wisdom for what it was and it makes me laugh out loud. One day we were coming back from somewhere, I was driving and he was riding shotgun. The kids were in the backseat. We passed a pasture of cows and they were all lying down. It was winter and the sky was threatening snow. I thought it would be a good learning lesson for the kids, hearing some old wife’s tale about animals predicting the weather, so I asked Daddy what cows lying down in the pasture meant. Did it mean we were going to get snow? Daddy shook his head and said, “it means they’re tired.” Even with my eyes on the road, I could see the grin on his face.

Father'sDay2_0003I miss him. Sometimes so bad it makes my heart hurt. It breaks my heart at times knowing my grandkids only know him through stories. He would love each and every one of them so much. He would love Jeana because she’s learning the value of work. He would love Landon because, just like himself, Landon has that quiet sense of humor, a sarcastic wit about him. He would love Emma because she’s so smart and sensitive, a gentle soul just like himself. He would love Ava because, like me, she’s the adventurer, the tom-boy he’d take fishing. He would love Paisley because she’s a little on the sassy side and I can see him looking over the tops of his glasses at her with an “I don’t think so, little girl,” expression. He would love Aiden because Aiden is his spitting image, from the snow white hair to the handsome face. He would love Ivy because she has a flair for the dramatic, and like Paisley, she’d get the over the tops of the glasses glare often. He would love Casey because of his rambunctious spirit and curiosity about everything. And he would love Ireland because she’s the baby, because she would be the one to climb in his lap with a book.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

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