Happy Holiday Greetings from Us!

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December 25th post – by Gayle Bartos-Pool

People celebrate Christmas in many ways. Some decorate their homes like a Macy’s window on steroids, others keep a lower profile and enjoy the colors, sounds, and smells in their own quiet way. Some can’t wait for the season to be over. As for me, any time people make an effort to make others happy and to enjoy life themselves is a holiday. Christmas is and should be a time to reflect on the Gift of Life we have all been given. You can’t return it to the store if you don’t like it, but you can make it fit by being the very best you can be and showing others their gift is pretty special as well. Then you will realize Christmas is every day.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

Time to Snuggle Up

My post today is very short, and is about “snuggling up” cozy-like under your favorite “blankey,” with a Christmas book at hand, ready for the reading.

In my olden reading days before our local book club meetings and selections, I never much paid attention to “Christmas books.” But tomorrow I’ll be attending my book club holiday meeting at one of our member’s home–potluck(yum); and our hostess really always does such a wonderful welcoming event! (This year I’m bringing candied yams (or sweet potatoes as my grandmother called them.))[i]) But this isn’t a food post, it’s a book post, and the connection is, it was our book club–mainly our “hostess with the mostest”[ii]–who introduced me to Christmas themed books.

Looking back over our books we’ve read list, here are some you might also enjoy this Christmas season:

A Cricket on the Hearth                     Charles Dickens

The Paper Bag Christmas                   Kevin Alan Milne

Copper Mountain Christmas              Jane Porter

This yearThe Mistletoe Murders, P.D. James ( and it has two early Dalgliesh stories in it.  I love P.D. James’s writing, thinking she’s one of the best writers ever, especially when it comes to setting/scenery and characters)  &  A Christmas Gathering, by Anne Perry

Also, here’s a link to a UK website https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/classic-christmas-crime/ with even more great selections from mystery authors you know, like Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, George Simenon, and more. I’m going to have to extend the Christmas season, just so I can read some of these (smile).

And I’d be remiss if not listing as one of my favorite Christmas reads, Lovers and Liars, by Paul Alan Fahey. I read Paul’s book a few years back, but even now, when I think about Christmas reads, I always think about the ending of his book…to give you a feel, here’s the last part of my heartfelt 2014 Amazon review:

“…he has a knack for taking you right into the character’s soul and story. I felt like I was there in England during the war–with Leslie, Edward, Robert, Caroline, and Cyril. At the end in Kent, I even felt like I was part of their little family Christmas….”  Miss ya, Paul.

So, my conclusion to this post is to say–Christmas time is a little tough for some to sit down and actually write, though I’m tryingbut what a great time to snuggle up with a seasonal book–reading and enjoying a selection from the wealth of Christmas literature available to us!

Any other Christmas books you’d like to recommend?

Joy to all this Holiday season, and Happy writing and Christmas Reading Trails!

 


[i] Yams? Sweet Potatoes? After research (I spent more time than I should have researching potatoes for this post – they really were yams my grandmother cooked so memorably) many years back… https://www.google.com/search?q=difference+between+yam+and+sweet+potatoes&client=firefox-b-1-d&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=Mieaf3CHDafUeM%253A%252CZ-Aoa6ukDLXpmM%252C_&vet=1&usg=AI4_-kQ6OmgzfwDPA03Cv4iE_6hqnC0rFQ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwidzu7EjJ3mAhWKrZ4KHTsgAfAQ9QEwAHoECAMQAw#imgrc=Mieaf3CHDafUeM:

[ii]  Quotes From Google, “Generally attributed to Jimmy Durante, an American entertainer, describing a well known hostess of large party’s of the time, Perle Mesta. This would have been in the 1940’s. Simple explanation is that Perle Mesta hosted the best parties to which all the “A” list people aspired… hence the hostess with the mostest.” Or, “It comes from The Hostess With The Mostes’ On The Ball, a song in Act I of the 1950 Broadway musical Call Me Madam, originally sung on stage by Ethel Merman. Ethel Merman played Sally Adams, a rich socialite widow who gets appointed the ambassador to the fictional country of Lichtenburg.”

“Cozy Food” a book review

by Jackie Houchin 

(Consider this book as the perfect “affordable” gift for anyone on your Christmas list who loves to COOK and/or loves to READ mysteries.) 

51OCRfcnFpLI loved “Cozy Food” edited by Nancy Lynn Jarvis!  The cover says it is a compilation of 128 Cozy Mystery Writers’ Favorite Recipes, but it is so much more.

Along with the yummy recipes in categories from Appetizers and Beverages to Desserts (of all kinds) and Gluten-Free foods (Even Pet Treats), you will get a “taste” of each writer’s books & series, protagonists & villains. And a “sip” of their own lives in their biographies!

A totally wonderful book, suitable (in print version especially) for your kitchen or living room libraries. (I plan to purchase a print copy.)

In the “hearty” introduction, you will read a thorough DEFINITION of a cozy mystery. If you ever thought of writing one yourself, just use this guideline and all you’d need to do is fill in the details!

The author biographies reveal “meaty” links (live in the digital version) for the many ways readers can find them – websites, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and books on Amazon. (I admit, I followed many of them, and even signed up for several newsletters and blog posts.)

  • You can discover how Sparkle Abby and Monica Ferris got their pen names.
  • Some writers write with their husbands, such as Amy Myers and Jim, who have a Jack Colby mystery series featuring a classic car restorer. Their website is split between book news, and fabulous classic cars and events.
  • Tamar Myers was born and raised in the Congo by missionary parents. I ordered the first book from her Congo mysteries (she has other more recipe-related series as well).
  • Maggie Pill‘s Sleuthing Sisters (3) is another series I will try.
  • Karen Robbins writes a series and a blog based on her (and her husband’s) world-wide travels.
  • Joyce Oroz is a muralist, so her protagonist is too. (Love those 3-D murals!)
  • Lee Wait has a series of historical novels for 8+ year-olds among her cozies.

Be SURE to read the biographies, they are a “mulligan stew” of fascinating facts.

Before I go, here is a list I will POSITIVELY be making soon.

  1. Mignon F. Ballard‘s “Lemon Mystery,”
  2. Marja McGraw‘s “Self-Frosted Cake,”
  3. Radine Trees Nehring‘s “Carrie’s Chicken Pie,” and
  4. Josi S. Kilpact‘s “Devil’s Food Cake.”

Here are a few “catchy” unusual recipe titles:

  • “Kitty Cat Tuna Crackers” by Sparkle Abby,
  • “Neanderthal Mammoth Jerky” by Kaye George!

All the biographies and recipe categories are listed in a complete Table of Contents (linkable for digital copies).

Oh, and don’t miss the very end. Like some TV shows Nancy Lynn Jarvis quotes some hilarious “Out Takes” from her experience of contacting the authors for this book.

This is a great Holiday gift (print) for cooks and mystery readers alike!  Find it on  Amazon.

 

A Lesson in Character Building

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PeopleWhen I first moved to Sunny Southern California in the early Seventies, I decided I should take acting lessons. Not that I thought of taking Hollywood by storm, after all, I was no glamour girl or even thought I had any latent acting ability.

 

Trish StewartMy only claim to fame by that time was playing Girl Number Two in a high school production of Sabrina Fair. I had maybe two lines, but I did get a few laughs when my character had to feign a headache to make another character think that was why me and the Boyfriend, another minor character, were out on the patio getting some fresh air. I guess I did the funny bit of business well enough to get a chuckle from the audience. As for the girl who played Sabrina, Trish Stewart went on to an acting career in Hollywood. She was in the short-lived TV show with Andy Griffith called Salvage 1 and a recurring role on The Young and the Restless.

But a television career wasn’t why I wanted to take acting lessons. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to know what writers needed to learn about writing dialogue and thought acting lessons would give me an insight into all those words actors should be saying on stage and on the screen.

I got an agent, a job… and a life lesson. I saw an ad in the newspaper about an exclusive acting class being taught by a couple of people from Hollywood. I use the term “exclusive” because the class cost money. It was several hundred dollars, so I thought it was going to be really good. Well, one of the guys who was to run this class ran off with the money. Many people were screwed. The other partner who was as surprised, if not as screwed, as the rest of us, took pity on little ol’ me and asked if I would like to be the nanny cum housekeeper for him, his wife, and his four kids. I needed a job, so I said yes.

This guy was a talent agent. A real one. One of his clients had been Agnes Moorehead. Another client was James MacArthur. I actually met James when he flew into Hollywood from his gig in Hawaii doing Hawaii 5-0. James kept his little sports car in my boss’s barn on their property in Encino. His battery was dead, so he asked if he could borrow my little VW and go get one. I tossed him the keys and went back to my nanny/housekeeper duties. Their house was always a mess, so the three days a week I worked over there I tidied up and played with the young kids, all of whom were pre-school or in elementary school.

Bruce GloverDuring the nine months I worked for him, he got me into an acting class. The first class was taught by Bruce Glover. Old Bruce has been in a bunch of movies like Diamonds Are Forever and Chinatown and just about every TV series during his forty-year plus career. Something you might notice when he is in a movie is the fact that he makes sure he is either somewhere in the background of any scene even if he isn’t the guy doing the talking or while doing his scene he makes the most of it. In that I mean he is always doing some bit of business to capture the attention of the viewer. Sometimes the director will yell “Cut” and stop the attention grabbing, but many times that little extra shtick is the cherry on top of a scene.

And what does this have to do with writing, you may ask? It’s just this: Sometimes the writer needs to make a minor character more interesting by giving him or her a quirk, a trait, a personality. They don’t have to stay on the page or the screen all that long, but isn’t it fun to read or see a character who isn’t cardboard?

I still use that little trick I learned from Bruce about instilling a few minor characters with some unique trait just to make them more interesting and memorable. In fact, there are several characters that started out in a minor role who ended up with a much bigger part. Bruce would get a kick out of that fact, because he often said that “extra bit of business” might lead to an expanded role.

In the opening of my novel Caverns, the policeman who discovers the first body mauled by large rats in underground Chicago was to be a minor character if not just a “walk-on,” but I liked him so much he became one of the leads. In Hedge Bet I had originally picked one character to be the guilty party, but then I thought her character had only limited depth. This other character had far more opportunity for mayhem because he kept turning up in all the right places, so his part was expanded and he even had the original suspect bumped off.

In my Johnny Casino Series, I introduced an aging actress in one of the first short stories in the first book. I liked her so much, she kept coming back along with her butler who had a past to die for, so he turned into a charming regular, too. See, there are no small parts. Those little traits we write into our characters end up with a life of their own.

Rudy SolariThat brings me to the second acting class I took. The talent agent I was working for thought I might like to try another class taught by a couple of guys he admired. The guys were Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell. Rudy starred in Garrison’s Gorillas. As for Guy Stockwell, he guested in just about every TV series there was for decades.

I have mentioned in other articles how Rudy had us actors write a biography of the character we were playing so we had an idea who our character was before we stepped onto the stage. You would have to make this stuff up, but the script gave you a lot of information and the genre of the piece would give you more parameters. To this day I write a biography of my main character and sketches of other people in a story. This will help you remember who everybody is, how they look, their age, and important details that you might need later. You don’t want “John” twenty-five years old on page 34 with blue eyes to turn into “John” forty-five years old on page 76 with brown eyes. It keeps you on track and if you bring the character back in a sequel you don’t have to read your first book to acquaint yourself with those facts.

But something else was gleaned from Rudy’s class. Improv. There is nothing like your acting teacher asking you to get up on that stage and do a scene with another actor with only a few words describing the scene. The one scene I remember doing was when another actor and I were to be an abusive husband and the long-suffering wife having a conversation. “She could kill him” was my prompt.

I started out playing the meek wife taking his abuse, but I kept countering his jibes with subtle remarks. When the scene was over and Rudy said “Stop,” he walked over to me and asked what I had in my hand. I had taken a piece of paper with me to the stage. It was probably what I wrote notes on, but it was in my hand, but as Rudy noted it had been folded and folded until it looked a bit like a knife. I hadn’t realized exactly doing it, but my character sure did. Scary? Maybe. But characters do have a life of their own. Give them free reign and see what they come up with.

The other interesting time in acting class was when my good friend and fellow actor, Karen Markham, and I were doing a scene from The Odd Couple. Let me digress for just a second and tell you a story or two. It’s relevant.

Rudy thought it might be interesting to have women play the lead in that play and later movie and even later a fabulous TV series written originally by Neil Simon. Rudy asked Karen and I to do a scene from the play. We christened Karen’s role as Esther (Oscar) and I played Felicia (Felix). We did one of the earlier scenes in the play. We rehearsed quite a bit and thought we had the roles down, but you know actors. Digging deeper into a role is always better.

We decided we should take the act “on the road.” That meant that we would go someplace “in character” and see how we did. There was a bar fairly close to where the acting class was, so we went there after class one night. It was a hangout for actors and stuntmen called The Drawing Board. We went in, Karen as the men-loving gal who always had a smart remark and me as the meek, penny-pinching woman who found dirt everywhere.

Harvey WallbangerI ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. (You aren’t the only one who liked them, Paul D. Marks.) Before the bartender set it down, I cleaned the spot in front of me. I complained openly about Esther making a spectacle of herself and Karen gave it back to me in spades. When the bartender told me how much my drink was, I gasped at the high price and said that I wasn’t buying drinks for the entire bar. Karen told me I was a penny-pinching old maid. The bartender laughed and then said, “Talk about the odd couple.”

Well, I broke character and laughed. Several of the guys around us took notice and I confessed that we were actors rehearsing our characters for Rudy Solari’s acting class. They got a kick out of it. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay for the drink. Don Stroud, the actor who starred in The New Mike Hammer and a million other TV shows, picked up the tab for Karen, and stuntman Paul Nuckles bought mine. We never had to pay for a drink in the place after that. Nice guys.

Guy StockwellSo back to my original point. Karen and I knew our roles. We knew the characters. We did the scene for Guy Stockwell one evening at the acting studio and he liked it, then he asked how well we knew the scene and did we know each other’s part? Yes. Next he said, “Switch roles.” We did. Karen played the fastidious Felicia and I played the ballsy Esther.

We did it without a hitch and to tell you the truth, it was exhilarating. We were totally free. No constraints. Exactly what your characters in your stories should be when you give them free reign to be themselves. You know who they are. You wrote a biography for most of those main characters. Now let them take you where they want to go. That’s the point I am trying to make in this article.

You will be surprised when you free a character to speak his own mind or let her go where she really wants to go. Trust them. And maybe take an acting class to let you see what dialogue and character on the hoof is like. You’re out there on a stage and the words are alive. Make your characters come alive as well. They will love you for it. And so will your readers.