Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Reflection

Many of us will be taking time today to reflect on the year that just past - too quickly for some of us - and considering the things we left undone. My friend Slim Randles is here today with some wise words about dreams. Enjoy...

There is a nighttime sweetness and hope that hovers over us this time of year here at home. This is a time for summing up and looking ahead … and a time for dreams.

Image Courtesy of Desktop Backgrounds 4U
 And at night… ah, that’s the time, isn’t it? Outside it’s dark, December dark, and we’re inside and warm and cocooned up. The cold makes our world shrink, especially at night.

But we have our dreams.

For Janice Thomas, our art teacher at the high school, it’s that painting she’s planning. She makes starts at it, from time to time, but she’s wise enough to know she isn’t good enough to paint it yet. She paints other things well, but that one … it has to be perfect. It will be the painting of a lifetime, she knows.

Doc will drift off to sleep tonight thinking about that new fly rod. He has half a dozen, of course, that will take about any weight line, and let him catch anything from mouse to moose. But even the most expensive rod isn’t what he dreams of. This year, for Christmas, he’s giving himself a rod-builder’s jig, and he will make his own rod from a Sage blank. That will be the one. It will have his own wrappings and he’ll put the ferrules on it himself. He’ll be able to feel the fish breathe with this one. It will be true and wonderful and last forever.

For cowboy Steve, the December dream is always the same: building a little corral up at the cabin for Snort. Maybe putting knotty pine walls in the turret. And perhaps figuring a way to get that coffee pot from the stove, up the ladder to the loft without Steve having to go fetch it for refills. He’ll have to work on that a bit. But that’s part of the December fun as well.

There is a nighttime sweetness and hope that hovers over us this time of year. Here’s to dreams.

Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing 

Be safe this New Year's Eve and fulfill your dreams in 2015

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Eye of the Storm...

.... or The Days Between Holidays

I remember when I was doing my various newspaper columns these few days between Christmas and New Year's Eve were always a little strange. It was too early to do New Year's related material, and Christmas was gone, so... what on earth should we write about?

Nothing has changed, except I am now doing my "column" online. I'm still challenged as to a topic worthy of an entire blog post, so I'll just do my usual Monday thing.

What I'm Reading: The Merry-Go-Round by Donna Fasano. I just started it, but so far it has my attention. Of course, I've always loved a carrousel and one figures prominently in the story.

 What I'm Dismayed About: The great divide between police officers and the general public that is rift with hate and violence. Rioting and looting are not answers to injustice and killing police officers isn't either.

What I'm Happy About: I had a terrific visit with my kids at Christmas. We had the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of lasagna, and I had a good time helping my daughter-in-law make it. The lasagna in Taiwan is much different from the American version. After dinner we did a White Elephant gift exchange, which is always great fun. There were threats to life and limb over the sausage balls my son-in-law makes every year.

Other gifts were given, too, and one that I got was a Garmin Vivofit Activity Tracker.  So far today I've walked 6784 steps, 2.89 miles, and burned 1104 calories. I need to walk a lot more to make up for the pumpkin bread I will eat later today.

Some Monday Fun: This cartoon from Shoe was in Sunday's newspapers. Shoe is sitting at his trash-can desk reading a letter to the editor: "Dear Editor, I'm fifty and still live at home with my mother, who cooks, cleans and does my laundry for me.

"Everything was fine, but now she wants to charge me #400 a month for room and board!!

"What should I tell her?"

Shoe puts the letter down, fires up his laptop and writes, "Tell her I'll give her $800 and that I can move in Thursday."

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor: Not really. I just like saying that. However, I do want to mention that my YA novel, Friends Forever, is currently discounted now through Jan 2 for Kindle and Kindle Apps. This is the new edition from White Bird Publishing.

Friendship is a tenuous thing when you're thirteen and everything in your life is changing, especially your best friend.

"4 1/2 Stars! FRIENDS FOREVER beautifully captures the pain and confusion of early adolescence." (Sharpwriter review)

Friday, December 26, 2014

'Twas the Day After Christmas And...

Going back to older blog posts, I found another from 2009 that is appropriate for the day after Christmas. I do hope everyone had a wonderful celebration with family and friends. 

In keeping with the Holiday season, here is another excerpt from A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Enjoy.....

The day after Christmas was usually one of the best and one of the worst days of the year for our family. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, I'm not sure it does to me either. But let me try to explain.

It was the best because:

There were now 364 more shopping days until Christmas.

It was the one day of the year when perhaps the kids were just as tired as we were, and they’d sleep off and on all day.

All the build up for the Big Day was finally over, and the noise level in the house had dropped about 20 decibels.

I didn’t have to cook since we had all those leftovers from Christmas dinner. (If we didn't have a big Christmas dinner, I was in trouble on that score.)

The kids would decide they liked each other after all, and we could go the whole day without a fight – maybe.

The kids would invite me to color with them, or play a game, and we could share some really good times together - as long as they let me win now and then.

But every coin has its flip side, and the other side of this day was:

After the glitter and tinsel of Christmas, after the giving and receiving, the celebrating, singing and eating, we could all sit back, unbutton the waistband of our pants and try to decide who would clean up the mess.

Who would get to spend the next four days sorting through the thousand-and-one little pieces of games, toys, and puzzles that in less than one day managed to get tossed together from one end of the house to another?

On Christmas day, nobody seemed to care, but the day after nobody was being nice anymore, and the house was filled with moaning and wailing and the sounds of blood-letting and bones breaking ...

"Find that Stratego piece or I'll break your arm off and beat you over the head with it!"

"I never touched your Stratego game! Mommeee!!"

I guess four days out of my life wasn't too much to ask.

Who would dig through the 22 bags of trash to find the instructions for assembling the model airplane, because, for once in his life, a kid cleaned up after himself and threw them away with the wrapping paper? (Since that same kid would think nothing of digging through the neighbors' trash to see if they threw away anything he could put to good use, maybe I could pawn that job off on him. )

Who would accept the challenge of figuring out what to do with all the unidentifiable things we received as gifts, such as the strange looking thing from Aunt Mildred that could either be a doily or a dishrag.

The gadget from Uncle Willie that favors a Chinese puzzle, but could actually be his eccentric approach to the can opener.

The game that takes an IQ of at least 300 just to open the box.

The funny little knitted things from Aunt Lucy that are either thumb-less mittens or toe warmers.

I could have called them all personally to thank them for the gifts, and hope that somewhere in the conversation they will mention what they are. But that would have taken some of the fun out of lazy summer afternoons when we’d drag this stuff out again and play a new game called “What on Earth is It?”

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Greetings

It seems particularly fitting to have an offering from Slim Randles this Christmas Eve. Here's hoping that those of you who celebrate Christmas have the best one possible. For those who celebrate other winter holidays and holy days, my best wishes to you and yours, as well. 

Windy had sent off for a doo-dad for his small kitchen, and that’s why he checked the mailbox. If you’re Alphonse “Windy” Wilson, and you’re long-in-the-tooth and single, you find yourself not checking the mailbox very often unless there’s a reason. It saves the disappointment of finding it empty, you see.

But there was something in there today.

He opened it up. It was a Christmas card from Mrs. Morris. In it, she had written “Thank you so much for fixing my shed.”

Wow! As Windy would say, it was a “transfigurational enlightening.” Of course, he only used his fancy English when there was an audience of one or more. But it led him to thinking he might have to check the ol’ mailbox more often.

He had straightened up Mrs. Morris’ shed that was perilously close to becoming kindling in her back yard. That Mrs. Morris had wanted it to become kindling so she could use the space for other reasons didn’t really figure in. It all happened on one of Windy’s helping days. One day each week, he looked around for someone who needed help and helped them, whether they wanted him to or not.

The next day there were two more Christmas cards. One from Mrs. Lopez, whose arthritis prevented her from weeding her flower patch, and one from someone who didn’t sign it, but just wrote “Thank you so much” inside.

Windy was rendered speechless, which is the equivalent, here in Home Country, of the Pacific Ocean tides deciding to take the day off.

But the capper came on Christmas Eve. Windy returned from eating at the Mule Barn and explaining to the guys all about “experiential trans-wisdom” and its effects on education these days. And there, on his front porch, was a cardboard box with holes punched in it. It was vibrating a big, too, and making whining sounds.

On opening it, Windy found a brown puppy with an overabundance of enthusiasm and an active tongue and smile. There was no note. He hugged the pup and took him in the house. It was going to be a great Christmas.
Brought to you with warmest Christmas season wishes by Slim and Catherine Randles.
And now a Holiday Greeting from one of my publishers, Five Star Cengage

Monday, December 22, 2014

Visiting Christmases Past

This post originally ran December 2009. I loved the picture of our cat, John, under the tree, as well as the essay, so I thought I would run it again today.

At this time of celebrating winter Holidays, I want to wish everyone the happiest of times with family and friends, and all the best for the New Year. I celebrate Christmas, and our cat, John, has decided he wants to be a Christmas present. Either that, or he is waiting to see what Santa is bringing him.

The following is an excerpt from my humorous memoir A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. Please accept it as a small gift to you.

The Christmas Season was always a source of great excitement at our house. It was also a time of great panic. Every year I found the Christmas Season closing in fast with me panting to cross the finish line before Santa Claus.

I’d immediately start my “Holiday Hustle” working non-stop for three weeks to get everything done. There were gifts to send out of state, and cards to mail. Since I didn’t start early enough on that task, I had to decide if I would write one let­ter and copy it for all our friends, or try to find the time to write individual letters. This was before the birth of The Holiday Letter, which has now become a standard way for friends to stay in touch. Some people don’t like them, but, you know, if the alternative means not keeping up with friends, I’m all for it.

Maybe instead of getting angry at the stores that were putting out their Christmas stuff before Halloween, I should have taken their reminder seriously. Then I wouldn't have let Thanksgiving slip by without a thought of the next holiday.

My basic problem was, and still is, the fact that I don't get in the Christmas spirit until a couple of weeks before "The Day" , and then the frantic juggling act begins. If I could just bring myself to think about Christmas in October I wouldn't be faced with the necessity of regimenting my time down to the last second to get everything done -- structure and discipline being the closest thing to medieval torture I can think of.

However, I knew that I must have some structure, so sometimes I made a calendar with Things to Do. Monday was slotted for shopping. No giving in to the urge to sing carols with the kids or start making decorations. Friday was slotted for singing, and decorating would start the following week. Tuesday was the day to finish the Christmas cards. No fair claiming writer's cramp as an excuse to quit for a while and play with the dog.

Wednesday of that week started out easy. That was the day to write my newspaper column, and I didn’t have to stress over what I would write about as I had all this great material to work from. But the strangest thing happened as I wrote about all the things I hadn’t done yet. I had to fight the urge to quit working and dash out to the store when I thought of the perfect gift to get Uncle Barney. Not to mention all the other things I’d forgotten on Monday.

While fighting down that urge, another distraction popped up. The Girl Scout caroling party. I still hadn't called the leader to tell her what songs I'd planned for the girls.

Then I remembered someone else I should have mailed a card to.

Then I remembered I was supposed to get soda for a neighborhood holiday party.

I don’t even remember the rest of that week.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Fun - Got Some M & Ms?

In revisiting past blogs I found this piece that first appeared in October 2008. Thought you might enjoy the humor as you end the workweek and look ahead to the weekend. This is another one from Tracy Farr, a very funny guy who used to be a regular contributor to Winnsboro, an online community magazine where I was Managing Editor. Enjoy

 Peanut M & Ms Anonymous

Hello, my name is Tracy, I’m addicted to Peanut M & Ms, but I haven't had any for 13 hours and 22 minutes.

"Hello Tracy, and welcome to the group."

Thanks. To be honest, I was reluctant to come here at first because I didn't actually think I had a problem. I thought I could control my desire to eat Peanut M & Ms by myself, but I was wrong.

"Tell us your story, Tracy. You're among friends."

Well, I can say I'm luckier than most. Some kids are born with the need to eat M & Ms because their mothers ate M & Ms while they were pregnant. Even though the doctors warn and often beg these mothers to stop eating M & Ms during pregnancy, they don't listen. And then they have M & M babies -- newborns just twitching with the need to eat something round and chocolate. Luckily, that was not my case.

For me, my addiction started when I was quite young. I was hooked the first time I saw M & Ms, tore open a package and let them melt in my mouth and not in my hands. Those were just the plain chocolate kind -- the kind kids love -- but as I grew older and my tastes grew more mature, I naturally gravitated to Peanut M & Ms.

The first time I popped a Peanut M & M, my universe just sort of exploded with new possibilities. I could see things more clearly. I could understand things that I never understood before. It was like my senses were attuned to higher and more sensitive levels. And once you pop one, you have to pop another to keep that high going.

It wasn't long before I found myself buying a bag of Peanut M & Ms and eating the entire thing without even realizing it. And I'm not talking about the little $1 bag you get out of a vending machine. I'm talking about the family-size, 6-pound bag that costs almost $12 and should last a lifetime.

It finally hit me that I had a problem when my little girl said she needed new shoes and I told her I didn't have any money, when in fact I did. I was saving that money to score me another bag of M & Ms before the weekend. And that's why I’m here at this meeting.

I’ve tried stopping cold turkey, but it's just too hard. I figured with help, and with belonging to a group of people who have suffered through the same problem and survived, that maybe I, with support, could pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

But, maybe I should start slowly. Maybe I should only eat a small bag a day and ease off this addiction gradually.

Maybe this was a bad idea.

Is there a vending machine around here?

And can somebody loan me a dollar?

You can meet Tracy at his website The Farr Place, where you can also find more humor. Be forewarned. He likes to write about goats.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Protect the Children

My heart is particularly heavy today due to the horrible massacre of children  in Pakistan. How Taliban terrorists could purposely target children in a school is beyond comprehension. Who can stand behind a gun and look at a child and pull the trigger? The death toll is 141, most of them children, and another 120 were wounded. 

When I went looking for an older post to share today, I found this one that had been written by a former contributor to the online magazine I managed.  Imelda Tatsch is the Executive Director at the Northeast Texas Child Advocacy Center (NETCAC) located in Winnsboro, and her "Caring For Kids" columns   appears in their bi-monthly newsletter. This essay first ran in December 2009, and what a contrast it is to the horror in Pakistan. This is how children should be protected and treasured. 

Now here's Imelda. She also makes the best cookies for my drama camp, so I thought we could all have one while we read. Enjoy...


Christmas is HERE! We just finished off the last of the turkey leftovers and here we are just days from the big day….Where time goes I do not know, but it sure seems to be going there faster every year.

This year we have rarely heard any good news on television or read anything hopeful in the newspapers. With all that being said, I would expect very little in the way of help for those in need. This is certainly not the case here in Northeast Texas. At least not that I have seen in recent weeks.

If you are a regular reader of these articles, you know that I work at the Child Advocacy Center. Each year we see several hundred children from the eight counties we serve. The children have possibly suffered either severe physical or sexual abuse, or may have witnessed a violent crime. Abuse is no respecter of age, gender, or social class. Many of our families are put in desperate situations due to the obvious interruptions to life when something like abuse takes place. The entire family is affected.

This can take a toll on the finances of an already struggling family. To ease some of this stress during the Christmas season, we offer our Angel Tree Program to the families of children that have been through the center during the year. Families are given the opportunity to place their children on the angel tree and while many decline the offer, many more feel the need to accept. This offer is not limited to only the child or children that come through the center but for their siblings as well. Our angel tree list includes families of one child to often as many as seven or more. This is where my favorite word for the month comes into play…. GENEROSITY!!!!

In a time when we only hear of the negative economic conditions, we have been extremely blessed by an outpouring of love for these children.

We know that the economy has brought several to the edge of desperation. The need is there and just as the need has risen, so have those with the heart of love. They feel such gratefulness for their own blessings that they have shared with generosity beyond measure. Because of this many children will have something for Christmas this year. Those caring for these children; parents’ grand parents or other extended family members are very grateful. They often tell us that without what they receive from the Angel Tree Program the children would have nothing at all. We are forever grateful to all of you who have opened your hearts to our little angels this year.

I realize this space is allotted to me to write something more specific to parenting or raising children. So, this is my two cents worth of advice for this month! If you are so blessed to have your children with you and your family, though you may struggle at times is functioning and remains “intact” then you are greatly blessed. Share that blessing with others and teach your children to be generous. This does not have to cost you a dime. Be GENEROUS with your time, your words of kindness, and a friendly smile. A few years ago someone started a challenge to counter the reports of “random acts of violence” with “random acts of kindness”.

Maybe we can revive this practice.

If children really are our future, what kind of future do we want? They will only know from what we teach them…Their eyes are always on you, so when you think of what kind of person you want your child to be, look in the mirror, do you see that person? Children learn what they live and as you know they don’t always do what you tell them but they will do what you teach them through your actions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

How do You Like Your Gourd Prepared?

You may have noticed I'm a bit late - okay, a lot late - with my Monday blog post. I went to the memorial service for a good friend this morning and then out to lunch with other friends, and we celebrated the friendships we have and the friendship we just lost. Bittersweet moments. Anyway, I wasn't even going to do a blog today, then I read this from Slim Randles and it made me laugh. I hope it makes you laugh and brightens your day. Enjoy....

We can blame it all on watermelon and pumpkin pie. Both are delicious and American, and both come from gourds. That’s the problem, you see. Cooks all over the world therefore think that other gourds can be made edible, too.

Gourds, for example, like squash.

Squash. One of the English language’s most painful words, along with maim and trauma and rend and okra and Liberace. Why would anyone want to eat something that sounds as though someone sat on it?

The bottom-line truth is, cooks all over the place love a challenge, and they have tried valiantly to turn squash into an edible dish. To do this, they take one tenth of a portion of squash, boil as much of the squashiness as they can out of it, then immerse it in nine-tenths something that tastes good and hope no one will notice. You know, stuff like chile, mutton, edible vegetables, nuclear waste, cottonwood bark and even chocolate. Then, when you can’t taste the squash in it, and most of the slime has settled to the bottom, they smile and say, “How do you like my ‘Squash Canneloni ala Hershey con Brio?”

They even try to fool people who might consider buying squash into thinking it tastes like something else. Something like butter. Or acorns. Or crooked necks. Hey, I’ll take a crooked neck over a squash any day.

Makes you wonder what crime against mankind Mr. Zucchini committed to be forever more squash-damned in the history books.

Let’s face it; squash is an unwanted growth on an otherwise perfectly good vine. It starts with a pretty little blossom that inspires Navajo jewelry and attracts bees. Then it begins its insidious malignancy into something that should probably be surgically removed.

But it’s fall now. Autumn, that time of year when children play in the lazy sunshine and squash vines go belly up. And when we enjoy our pumpkin pie and jack o’lanterns, we’ll smile quietly, knowing we’ll once again be squash free for a few blessed months.

Brought to you by Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Books to Gift

Instead of a review, I thought I would recommend some books if you have readers on your holiday gift list. These are some of the books I've read this year - or hope to read next year - as well as a couple from writers I've become friends with online.

First on my wish list is After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman. Here is just one of the rave reviews:
“Lippman stretches a richly textured canvas that depicts, with wit and sensitivity, the wounded but tough women Felix left behind. As she traces the matrix of longing, jealousy, and betrayal that led to Julie’s murder, Lippman incisively explores marriage, Jewish family life, class distinctions, and the power and liability of physical beauty, thus creating an involving and elegant novel of the psychological ravages of crime.” —Booklist
From Harlan Coben I have two books on my wish list. First is Missing You, which came out last year and I missed, and his new book due out in March, The Stranger. That book is available for pre-order,so if any of my kids are reading this... hint, hint.
"Coben... has written another twisty ripped-from-the-headlines page-turning stand-alone that could be his best yet."  Library Journal (starred review)

My reading tastes vary and often I like to read a mainstream novel. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was a terrific story. I did a short impromptu review last month when I was reading the book because I was so captivated by the story and the writing.

Another novel that I loved was Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster. That is a sequel to 600 Hours of Edward, and while both books would make a terrific gift, one does not have to read 600 Hours first. I reviewed the book a few weeks ago: 
Craig's first book was one of my favorite all time reads, and I was delighted when I finally made time to read the sequel. Edward is a 42-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome, who is trying his best to find "normal" in a world that does not conform to this way of thinking and operating. If you've ever wondered what goes on in the mind of someone with Aspergers, Edward can clue you in, and as he reminds everyone, "I'm not stupid, I'm just developmentally challenged."
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the books by Slim Randles, who is a frequent guest here. One of my favorites is Home Country which is a collection of his column of the same name. It has wonderful bits of humor and wisdom.

There are so many other books and authors I could recommend, but I don't want to write an epistle here. But you can check out books by Kathryn Craft, Terry Odell, LJ Sellers, Dennis Lehane, D.D. Ayers, John Sandford, Kent Krueger, and you won't be disappointed.

And of course I should mention a couple of my books. If you were to order the paperbacks or hardbacks for a gift, I would be happy to send a signed bookplate to the recipient. The newest book is Doubletake.  Boxes For Beds was released last year, and the two books in my Seasons Mystery Series, Open Season and Stalking Season came out just before that. There is a new version of my YA novel out in paperback from White Bird Publishing, and Friends Forever would be a nice gift for any girl between the ages of 9 and 13.
 "Friends Forever is a wonderful example of how a story can teach lessons, even change lives. The characters speak realistically and the other parts of teenage life that aren't part of the main story are told with accuracy. I was moved to tears several times, feeling the emotions of the characters, knowing how they felt. This is a must-read for every tween and teen. It is my hope that every young person...and us slightly older people too...can learn something from this wonderful real-life tale." One satisfied reader.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Launch - Following His Heart by Donna Fasano

Instead of my usual Friday fare on the blog, today I'm pleased once again to help a fellow author celebrate the launch of a new book. I've known Donna Fasano via social media for some time, and read several of her books. She does tell a good story, and here is her latest, which is the first in a new series. Once I am past the hectic pace of December, I will post a review.

Following His Heart
by Donna Fasano
Series: Ocean City Boardwalk, #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: TODAY!!!


Sara Carson is a 30-something widow with a busy life. Two fun-loving best friends, a caring mom who needs her, and a thriving sweet shop. What more could a woman want? But when the ancient plumbing in her shop springs a leak and a gorgeous, dark-eyed stranger rushes to her rescue, hilarity unfolds—and Sara quickly sees exactly what she’s been missing.

Something most peculiar draws Landon Richards to Ocean City, Maryland—and to the lovely Sara. This woman touches his heart like no other, and the two of them explore the heady attraction that pulses between them. But haunting dreams have a way of encroaching on reality, and the strange phenomenon that brings these two together will also threaten to tear them apart.

This is the first book in the Ocean City Boardwalk Series, where life for three enterprising women, Sara, Heather, and Cathy, isn't just fun in the sun—love is waiting on those sandy shores!

USA Today Bestselling Author Donna Fasano has written over 30 romance and women's fiction books that have sold 4 million copies worldwide. Her books have won numerous awards and have been published in nearly 2 dozen languages.
Add the Book to Your Goodreads Shelf:  


 Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway 


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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Todd M. Thiede

Please welcome Todd M. Thiede as today's Wednesday's Guest. Todd has written several mystery novels that feature Detective Max Larkin, and they have all been well-received by critics and readers. I'm reading Miss Me? now, and so far it's a good read.I just made some chocolate chip cookies, so grab one to go with your beverage of choice, and enjoy the interview.

Thanks for coming by Todd and answering the questions.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing about four years. Time Killer took me almost three years to finish but Lies to Die For only took about six months. My newest book, Miss Me?, took about six months as well and was my most challenging yet. It took me away from the serial killer's that I had been writing about in my previous  books.

What inspires you to write?
I had a few people read my book before publishing and they really liked it. Since Time Killer has been out I have gotten a lot of feedback about how my stories impact people and their lives.  I love to hear that stuff and I truly enjoy writing now.

Describe your writing process. Do you outline, create rough synopses, do you do detailed biographies of the characters before starting to write?
I actually don’t do any of above. I start with the idea for the first chapter only. Once I get that chapter down I just keep going and the stories start to take on a life of their own. I try to put myself into each scene and each character’s body. What they see I see. What they feel I feel. That’s how my stories go from just a small idea into a 200+ page book.
 (That's the way I write, too, although I usually have the ending in mind as well as the opening.)

How did you decide on the cover and did you design it or did you use a professional
I designed all my covers. Then once I had the idea down I went to a professional cover designer. With Lies to Die For and Miss Me? I bought the rights to those pictures.  The very first time I saw that picture of the knife dripping blood onto a white rose it screamed at me that it was the perfect cover for the book. The picture I used for Miss Me?, was so unique I wound up rewriting most of the story to connect with that picture.
Do you see your book becoming a movie or TV show?
I have been approached by a production company in Hollywood about Time Killer already. It may take some time and some development but I could easily see one or all of them being on the screen (big or small) someday.

 Have you always been fascinated with the strange and macabre or is that just your preferred writing genre?
The first thing that everyone tells me is that I’m sick but they like it. I just have a very vivid imagination and want people to see what it’s like being inside my head. Some people, including my wife, don't want to know what's in my mind sometimes but that's ok too.

What types of books do you read for entertainment?
I don’t have a lot of time to read anymore but the last book set that I read was the Hunger Games trilogy. I liked that a lot. When I did read I had no preference. I read all kinds, but if I have to choose one genre it would be mystery. I just have a mind for it. My wife gets upset with me when we watch shows like CSI because I usually solve the case early.

(I can't help but be critical of shows that don't get things right. Like DNA test results that come back in hours.)

Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t shared with any other interviewer.
The first chapter of Time Killer is actually about a dream I had on my honeymoon nearly 4 years ago. 

(So who, besides me, is going to go buy that book to see what the dream was? LOL)

 What is the creepiest or scariest book that you have read or movie that you have seen? 
Nothing really creeps me out anymore. I love a great horror book or movie but now a days everything is toned down for the general public. I would rather watch or read all the gory details.

 What thrilled you in your books?
The most exciting part for me in my books is how the perpetrator chooses the victims. I want them all tied in together. It may seem random but there's a rhyme and reason, I promise.

 What are you working on now?
I’m working on the first chapter of the next Max Larkin detective book.  This one is tentatively called "REVENGE, is a dish best served, DEAD!"
 Will you share with readers your top authors and your top five movies?
Lee Child, James Patterson, J.K Rowling, Suzanne Collins And Stephen King.

Die Hard, The Rock, Halloween (the original), Halloween (the Rob Zombie remake), Fast and Furious.
 Describe the scariest place you could find yourself in and how would you attempt to escape?
The scariest place I could think of being is buried alive.  There is only one way out of that and that’s to dig your way out. Kind of like life. Every time you do something wrong the only way to get out of it is to work hard and dig your way out. 
Do you have a favorite quote?
 One of my own: "If life isn’t fun you aren’t doing it right.”

Thank you for participating.
I truly appreciate it!

Perhaps you wouldn’t characterize the Finance Manager of your local automobile dealership as an Amazon best-selling author—until you get to know Todd Thiede. He has worked for the past decade at Elmhurst Toyota, but Thiede is in the driver’s seat as the writer of a murder mystery series featuring    Detective, Max Larkin. Time Killer, which Kirkus Reviews deemed “a fast-paced thriller” that will “keep crime and thriller fans wrapped up in its twisting plot, fast pace and memorable detective,” and Lies To Die For (which reached No. 1 on Amazon in the “Murder Mystery and Serial Killer” categories) are available via Amazon Kindle. His newest book Miss Me?,was just released.  Go to for more info on Todd and his books. You can find all his titles on his Amazon Author Page.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Ghosts of Blogs Past

Since it is getting closer and closer to Christmas, and I am busier than a one-armed paper hanger (although I've never understood that old adage) I thought I would take a cue from The Blood Red Pencil blog and share some of my older posts that were most popular. Off and on I have had several regular contributors here. These are writers who used to contribute to the online community magazine where I was the Managing Editor. Tracy Farr was one of those writers, and he gave me permission to share some of his fun here on this blog. 
This piece ran on December 12, 2008
It's more than just a haircut

Our country is going through some dire times. Banks are collapsing, the American auto industry is hitting speed bumps, and people are just not buying executive jets like they used to. So, it is up to us -- you and me -- to get this economy going again, and that's why I did my patriotic duty this weekend and got a haircut.

Tim is my barber. He's been cutting my hair for almost 15 years. He knows exactly how I like it cut without me having to tell him. And if Tim's barbershop goes under, so goes the country.

It's a known fact that my money ($10 plus a dollar tip) helps to keep Tim and many others in business. 
When I pay Tim for my haircut, he spends it on things like rent, shaving cream and magazine subscriptions. His landlord is happy to be able to keep landlording, the shaving cream company is happy to continue delivering Tim's favorite shaving cream, and the magazines are happy because they are assured they can print next month's edition.

Tim takes a portion of that $10 as his salary and spends it at Wal-Mart, thus guaranteeing job security for the Associates. The Associates use their 10 percent discount to buy T-shirts and Jessica Simpson posters, thus guaranteeing that the T-shirt companies and Jessica Simpson stay in business. The T-shirt companies and Jessica Simpson are so happy to be making money that they decide to work together and make a Jessica Simpson T-shirt, which the Wal-Mart Associates buy in bulk and wear on their days off.

Since Jessica reaps the benefits of being worn all over the place, she takes her cut of the profits and produces a Christmas special, thus employing a bunch of Hollywood types who know just how to make a cheesy TV program but wouldn't be caught dead wearing a Jessica Simpson T-shirt. These Hollywood types produce "The Jessica Simpson Wish You Were Here Holiday Christmas Sing-A-Long Special" and make millions on advertising by airing it on prime time TV, thus causing simple folk like you and me to say, “How can they get away with putting this goat poop on television?” at which time we turn off the TV and get down on the floor to play games with our kids.

Because of my little $10 haircut, hundreds of people are employed, millions of dollars exchange hands, thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer are emptied trying to keep all those germs at bay, families all over this great nation are doing something family-ish, and I feel like I've done my part in bringing this country back from the brink of disaster.

So what are you waiting for? Our country needs us! Go get a haircut, and together we shall save the world!
You can meet Tracy at his website The Farr Place, where you can also find more humor. Be forewarned. He likes to write about goats.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Book Review - Hop, Skip, Jump by Marney K. Makridakis

Hop, Skip, Jump
Marney K. Makridakis
File Size: 36452 KB
Print Length: 296 pages
Publisher: New World Library (October 27, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English

Hop, Skip, Jump: 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life is a delightful new book from Marney K. Makridakis. The book invites us to look at the work we do every day in a different light, encouraging readers to have more fun while working. Each chapter has information about how play helps us be more productive and more focused. For example, in chapter four, she points out the importance of appreciating what we have today and not just striving for success in the future. She asks the question, "Why wait until you retire to do something you love?"

Marney believes in a world where work feels like play, and she wrote this book to help others find a way to balance work and play. I've always been a firm believer in the benefit of play. I played with my children a lot when they were young and was delighted when I had grandchildren. Then I had another good reason to buy toys and get down on the floor to push little toy trucks around. It is those moments of delightful enjoyment that I think Marnie is asking people to consider putting into their life.

All of the benefits of play Marney points out are valid, but I think the greatest is just the absolute joy that you feel when you've let go and let your child come out for a little while.

To explain the title just a little bit, hop is in reference to the fact that when you play that usually involves some sort of an action. Marney says it happens when you take something from inside and create it on the outside. So, when she asks people to hop, what she wants them to do is to change the way they formulate goals. One of her examples was, "I want to lose weight." She suggests changing that statement to, "I will play to lose weight." She's asking people to hop to a different way of thinking.

The concept of skipping involves being open to trying different things, and, in essence, skipping over to something new. Marney says, "Moving your body is a great way to move your dream," and "Movement begets movement." She also suggests that when you feel you are in a lull, move your body. There are lots of things you can do like go to a local playground to play with kids. That was one of my favorite things to do when my kids were little. Other suggestions were to go outside and garden, take a walk, or play with your dog.

The final section of the book is the jump phase, and this is the time that we are supposed to move our dream into action and focus on completion. Marney points out here that the jump phase can be a little scary because we're looking at the completion of the goal that we set and the work to get there seems so huge. She suggests breaking the things you have to do to accomplish the goal into small segments and focusing on one at a time, looking for the ways to start practicing being more playful. 

This book is packed with ideas and suggestions for ways to counter the critic that lives within each of us to start thinking in new ways instead of doubting ourselves. It is written in a friendly, fun way and the boxed quotes and sidebars are packed with tidbits of wisdom and humor that help readers incorporate the overall message of the book. Readers of all backgrounds and places in life would enjoy this book. 

And now I'm going outside to throw the ball for my dog.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Friday's Odds and Ends

Some thoughts about events in Ferguson:

Ronnie Smith of Garland, Texas asked these questions in a letter to the editor in the Dallas Morning News. "Will burning the very buildings they shop at change the verdict? Will looting... improve police relations?"

Good questions. Smith went on to say that the violent actions by some only creates more of a barrier between citizens and police officers. I agree.

A writer friend posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that non-violent protests never achieved justice. Wasn't it Martin Luther King Jr. who espoused non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement? And what about Mahatmas Gandhi who led the fight for independence for India through peaceful protests? Despite all the cruelty imposed on him and his followers, he never once gave in to the urge to fight back.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to resist the temptation to let anger rule reason. 

 Obviously violent responses to injustice has not even dented the prejudice and bigotry from both sides of the color line. The only way we will end it once and for all is to step across that line and embrace each other and stop standing on either side throwing stones at each other.

That takes courage, too.
Now on to something much more fun. I want to thank everyone who downloaded copies of Doubletake last weekend and Monday. For one day it made it to the #1 spot on police procedural mysteries, and made it to number 15 overall at Amazon for free books. Since there are hundreds and hundreds of free books, getting so high on the list was quite a thrill. The book is no longer free, but is still a good buy at $3.99 And I have paperback copies that I can ship in time for Holiday gift giving if you have readers on your list. Just e-mail me at maryann (at) to make arrangements.

The cast of the Holiday Revue at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts has been working hard for several weeks of rehearsals. As with all the theatre productions, this one has consumed my time for those several weeks, and I am glad that intense time commitment will end this weekend. However, I will miss all the fun we had learning the songs, decorating the stage, and teasing each other. I have such a terrific group of young players and adults, and sometimes it is hard to tell who is more young at heart. 

A very generous lady donated a grand piano to the art center, so we will gather around that this evening for an old-fashioned sing-along following the annual Christmas Parade, and then we will have the show on Saturday. 

What are some of your plans to Herald in the holiday season? Share in the comments if you'd like.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

A Writer Remembers Why He Fell in Love with Writing

Please welcome Ray Hamill as Wednesday's Guest today. I reviewed his book, Free the Leprechaun on Sunday, and hope you caught the review. Ray said one of his favorite  drinks is dark Irish tea, although I'm guessing he uses a mug and not a fancy tea cup, but he can clarify for us later. He is Irish and said he really misses McVities biscuits, so I thought I would get some for him, but he didn't say which kind. I had no idea there were several varieties. Here again, he can clarify if I got the right kind. I'm sure he is willing to share, so grab a biscuit and enjoy....

Image Courtesy of Notes on Tea Blog

“Imagination will take you everywhere,”
- Albert Einstein

Although I was completely unaware of it at the time, I first fell in love with writing when I was just 12-years-old.

That was back in the days when I was attending St. Paul’s College in Dublin, Ireland, an all-boys school run by the Vincentian priests and known more for its complete lack of success on the rugby fields than for any memorable academic achievements.

Of course, we didn’t care much about that in those days, instead spending our time teetering between the dreams of childhood and those awkward teenage years, as the priests and teachers all tried to impress upon us the expectations of impending adulthood and how important it was to no longer waste our precious time on meaningless childlike pursuits.

I never much liked school and the constraints it attempted to impose on my mind, but it had its moments, most notably history class, where we read of the brave Irish heroes who fended off the mighty British army with a proverbial handful of pitchforks and the gift of the gab, as well as English class, where we were given weekly essay assignments by our teacher Mr. Madden.

He was a laid-back type who inspired by saying little but instilling confidence, and in his own way that made him one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

I took his reticence as encouragement when it came to the weekly essays, which I began to write with an ever-growing abandon, testing the waters with my own brand of goofy humor, as much to stave off the boredom of school as through any great ambition on my part, and I decided the fact he didn’t tell me to stop was reason enough to carry on.

Of course, as my classmates pointed out on an almost weekly basis, it couldn’t last. It just wouldn’t do. Goofy ramblings were grand and all in the classroom, but serious writing was needed for the Intermediate Certificate, a set of national exams we were preparing to take the following year, and a set of exams that would shape our future in education and our place in the world, or so we were forced to believe.

For the moment, however, I didn’t care. When it came to writing essays, I was having too much fun to take it seriously, losing myself in worlds only children and writers can dream of, embracing the freedom and allowing my imagination to soar in what was literally a limitless universe.

The following year, things changed. Mr. Madden was gone, and as our exams approached I was forced to take a more serious attitude toward my penmanship.

Since then, I have always enjoyed writing, graduating college as a journalist and forging a career in the field, while writing books, blogs and ramblings in my spare time. You know you’re lucky when your career is also your hobby.

But I never enjoyed the same freedom from my writing as I did when I was 12-years-old.

Or at least I hadn’t until recently, and if publishing a second novel is incredibly gratifying, the process of writing this one was even more so.

Why? Because for the first time in years - dare I say decades - I wrote purely for myself, ignoring all outside distractions or expectations, and I wrote like a 12-year-old again, allowing my imagination to soar with a freedom we often forget ever existed as we grow older.

Simply put, I didn’t care how my writing would be received by others, and I became determined to consciously not dwell on what the finished product would look like, but rather to lose myself in the process, which in turn allowed me to write with the same abandon I enjoyed as a child.

Writing Free the Leprechauns reminded me of why I started writing in the first place. In my mind it’s already a huge success.

You can connect with Ray on Facebook and find him on his sports blog, Bar Stool Fanatics, as well as the Website for Free the Leprechauns