A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

by Maggie King

This is the opening line to an oft-quoted poem by Brian A. Chalker. It describes how people come into our lives for a purpose. According to PsychCentral, these purposes fall into three categories:

Reason: This is when a short-lived relationship brings you a benefit or helps you with a realization. It helps you with a specific difficulty you’re facing, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Season: This is when a relationship accompanies you through a certain period of your life. It lasts for some time and brings you joy and growth. You might learn a lot from the relationship, but it eventually ends.

Lifetime: This is when a relationship lasts a lifetime.

Today I have a story about someone I met for a brief moment. He clearly falls in the “reason” category described above. 

One day in 2007 I walked into one of those mall bookstores that probably no longer exist, like Waldenbooks or B. Dalton. There I met James Pendleton and his wife when he was signing Drinkwater’s Folly. I told him I was writing my first mystery and he said, “Don’t ever let anyone discourage you.” It wasn’t just his words that have stuck with me to this day—it was his sincerity and earnestness. And the fact that he came along just when I needed to hear his simple yet sage advice.

Over the years, whenever I felt discouraged, his words would come to me. I considered him an angel on my shoulder. Need I say that often the someone discouraging me was me?   

When I finally published Murder at the Book Group in 2014, I wanted to personally thank Mr. Pendleton for his helpful advice that kept me on my writing path. Likely he wouldn’t remember the advice, or even meeting me. No matter, I remembered. Since he didn’t have an online presence I had no way of reaching him other than the old school method: writing to his publisher, Ivy House Publishing Group. As Ivy House was out of business (although they seem to be in business now), that avenue took me nowhere.

I sent my thanks out to the universe and hoped Mr. Pendleton would hear it on some level of awareness. And he will forever have a place of honor on the acknowledgments page of Murder at the Book Group.

Even with James Pendleton whispering in my ear for so many years, I had never read Drinkwater’s Folly, the book he signed for me. One day in 2015 I found it on my bookshelf and read it in one day. Set on historic Roanoke Island in North Carolina, the tale follows a bold, intrepid, and ambitious woman as she navigates the turbulent sixties. The story may not be known to many readers (a sleeper, to borrow movie parlance), but is worth seeking out.

Reading James Pendleton’s work renewed my interest in locating him, and this time I was successful–sadly, I found his obit from 2009. And what an obit! Here are a few of the highlights: 

James Pendleton taught at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) for 34 years, and was Dean of Students, Chairman of Freshman English, and Professor of English until his retirement in 1992. He was recognized as the founding playwright of the Creative Writing section at VCU. 

At various times in his life he was a baritone soloist, singing in such venues as Carnegie Hall and with the Chicago Symphony; he directed a jazz band, playing lead trumpet; taught Small Arms at the Ft. Benning Infantry School; did stints as a disc jockey, roving reporter, newspaper editor, choir director, and pilot of light planes. 

As for writing, he wrote ten plays for stage, as well as a number of  TV, radio, and film scripts. He was published in many prestigious newspapers and magazines, wrote book reviews and novels, and won numerous awards including the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Award and The Eugene O’Neill New Drama for Television Award. 

His travels to Central America prompted him to write the play “Sanctuary,” about political refugees in the US, and his final book, Last Night in Managua.

I sure would have welcomed a “season” relationship with this Renaissance man, but I’ll always value that brief “reason” moment when he gave me so much. According to PsychCentral, “Even a short interaction with a stranger can impact your life in meaningful ways.”

“People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”


Read the entire poem

Can you recall someone who came into your life for a reason and left a lasting impression?

Let Your Characters Take Over

by G.B. Pool

Let me repeat myself:

When your characters start talking,

get out of the way and let them talk.

Why do I say this? Because I have done just that and my characters have taken me places I didn’t know I would be going to. They have told me who they were when I thought they were somebody else. This goes for minor characters as well as major characters.

When I was writing CAVERNS about rats eating away the ground underneath the high rises along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, I was going to kill off a cop who first discovers the rats, but as I was writing about him, I realized I liked this guy, so I had him turn into one of the three male leads in the book. I gave him a life with a not-so-great wife, a great kid, and a really nice girlfriend. He kept telling me who he was and the story grew. I even have my female lead in the story help rescue the girlfriend. Who knew there was that much more story to write? I guess my character did, because the cop character kept nudging me to write more about himself.

One of my three detective series features this guy named Johnny Casino. I figured that would be his name. I grew up reading detective novels that my mother had and watching detective shows on television. There were three famous detectives from old TV series and a movie whose name was like a playing card: Spade, Diamond and Heart. Sam Spade from the Humphrey Bogart movie The Maltese Falcon, David Janssen’s TV series “Richard Diamond, Private Detective,” and Robert Wagner who starred in “Hart to Hart.” I wanted my detective to be the fourth playing card, a club. But “Club” wasn’t right for a last name, so I thought: what name means club? How about casino? And Johnny Casino was born.

But wait: Johnny was more than just a name. He started “talking” to me about who he was. The first page of The Johnny Casino Casebook 1, Past Imperfect, the first book in the trilogy, was literally Johnny telling me about himself. I just typed out what he was saying. This is the first paragraph in that book:

My name is Johnny Casino. I’m a retired P.I. with a past. I just hope it doesn’t catch up with me. Before I went legit, I ran numbers in Jersey for Big Louie “Fingers” D’Abruzzo and then busted heads in Miami for Big Eddie “Mambo” Fontaine. But at the ripe old age of twenty-four, Little Johnny beat a hasty retreat to L.A. when somebody slipped the cops a hot tip and all of a sudden, I became the fall guy for the Mob.

That first page was typed out in one continuous effort… No re-writes. This was who the character was going to be. I couldn’t tell you where it came from, but there it was. He knew he was born in Jersey. His dad was a consiglieri to a local crime family. His mother was from another crime family in Chicago. He worked for the mob for a while until he told himself this wasn’t the life for him and eventually moves to California. But Johnny’s real name had been Cassini back in Jersey. He changed it when he made that move to Los Angeles. But in The Johnny Casino Casebook 2, Looking for Johnny Nobody, Johnny finds out he really wasn’t a Cassini. He meets his real mother and her second husband. Johnny’s father, a cop, had been killed before he was born and an unscrupulous organization basically took him from his mother and sold him to the New Jersey pair. And how did I learn all this stuff? Johnny told me when I was writing out more of his biography for the second book.

Biography? Why not? I learned to do this when I took acting lessons in the last century. Back in 1973, I took acting lessons so I could learn how to write dialogue. It was a great way to see what actors needed to do to bring their characters to life. My teachers, Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell, were fabulous teachers. They wanted the actor to know who they were portraying before they set foot on the stage or in front of the camera, so they had the actor write a brief bio of their character. The script doesn’t tell you everything, so Rudy said create a life for these people that you are portraying. I did it then and I still do it for the characters I write. It can be a paragraph or pages long. Just enough to know where the character came from, who they are, and why they do what they do. It really does a make a difference to the actor. If the character had a rough upbringing, they will hit the stage with attitude. If they were sheltered or beaten, they will hunch over, head down, eyes averted. The actor needs to know this. So does the writer.

Sometimes the character tells me who they are when I’m writing their dialogue. They’ll start saying something that defines them. I did this recently with one of the short stories in the third Chance McCoy book, my third detective series. I wanted a television scriptwriter to write a murder mystery that has something in the plot that rings a bell with somebody who recognizes exactly what they had done in a fairly recent murder. I was going to have the gal be a mousy little writer, but as she started to appear on the page, I realized this lady was no shrinking violet. Chance McCoy might have a lady-friend from book two, but this gal gets him thinking about doing something more permanent about his relationship with that first woman. And it all came about when this new character started talking about herself in her own voice.

I really do this, and I’m not the only writer who “hears voices.” Other writers tell me the same thing. And if you ask an actor who has taken acting lessons, they will tell you about doing “improv.” That’s when an actor will be on stage “in character” and will let their imagination make up dialogue that fits the character and the scene they’re creating on the spot. The Improv Comedy Club in the Los Angeles area and The Second City Improve group in Chicago have been doing this for decades.

So, open your mind and your imagination and let some of these characters you are fashioning tell you a little more about themselves. You never know who will appear on the page to make your story terrific. Write On!

Book Choices and Choice Books

by Linda O. Johnston

A couple of weeks ago, Hannah Dennison wrote a post here about “So Many Books! So Little Time!” I certainly agree with that concept. I’m always writing, of course, and I’m also always reading. Like many writers, and readers, I collect a lot of books.

How do I decide which to buy? Well, I’ve been pondering that, and the results don’t surprise me. And I suspect that’s true with a lot of others who love to read.

First, I write romantic suspense stories these days for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, as well as mysteries for Crooked Lane. Guess what. Among the books I read the most are Harlequin Romantic Suspense books, and mysteries. For one thing, I am writing books for the vast and long-lasting Colton stories for HRS. I have one being published in December that’s the eleventh in the year-long Coltons of New York mini-series. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I’ve been reading the earlier ones in that series this year. And I’ve done the same thing with the other Colton series I’ve written for in previous years.

I also have my own HRS miniseries about a Shelter of Secrets, where a very special animal shelter also shelters people in trouble. I do read other HRS books, especially those that also contain dogs. And yes, I read other Harlequin books, too, many of which contain dogs.

And that’s something else. I’m a dog nut, so I’ll also pick up a lot of books that are stories including dogs, even if they’re not romantic suspense or mysteries.

My mystery series for Crooked Lane is the Alaska Untamed series, under my first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen. It has wildlife, and dogs, in it. I like to read many kinds of mysteries, and those that take place in Alaska also intrigue me, especially if they have dogs. And other stories in Alaska also get my attention. Plus other mysteries…primarily with dogs.

Anyway, you get the idea. I’ve got some particular interests and love to read stories containing those subjects. Do I also read other books, including best sellers? Sure, especially if they’re recommended by friends. But I have to figure out my time first.

How about you? How do you select the kinds of stories you read?



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We’ve recently put the clocks forward, so we’ve lost another hour. Why did that seem so important? I mean, what could we have done with that extra hour?

They say that TIME is the most precious commodity we have… And how we’ve used it in the past, determines much about our todays and our tomorrows.

I seem to have been racing time a lot recently.  Have you noticed how often time just seems to disappear?  As writers we often get engrossed with research – that’s the fun bit, losing yourself in another world, following one link that leads to another intriguing story, then another. Then we glance at the clock. Another day is almost gone. “Where did the time go…” we ask ourselves time and again. It’s so easy just to fritter time away.

“Take time to stop and smell the roses,” goes the old saying. Make time your friend, they say. How? I ask myself, as I attempt to do ten things at once. It’s a knack!

Clock flying

Think of all those ‘time’ related phrases: from ‘once upon a time,’ ‘a whale of a good time,’ ‘living on borrowed time…’  or ‘My, how time flies when you’re having fun!’ ’Time and Tide wait for no man- or woman.’ You get the idea.

One of the most famous book openings is, ‘It was the best of times. It was the worst of times,” in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  Fashion icon Coco Chanel said of time, “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” Or businessman Harvey Mackay’s sage observation, “Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.”

I remember, just prior to Covid, I was so busy and overwhelmed with day-job work that I would wish for ‘time to stop’…. just for 24-hours, so I could catch up. But then the Covid lockdown stopped Life for a lot longer than 24-hours. Careful what you wish for!

And when the dreaded alarm-clock shrills us awake, how often do we mumble, “Just five more minutes….”  before we throw off the duvet and embrace a new day.

You can’t stop time. It just keeps going. It’s up to us how we use and value our time.  How many of us would give anything for “Just five more minutes… with lost loved ones?”

How much time do we allow ourselves to read all those waiting books.  How much time is allotted to research, preparation and how much time do we actually sit at our desk or table and write? Publishers work to a very tight schedule or timeline and so give us writers deadlines. Do these deadlines help the writer – or stifle the creativity?


I like a deadline, so I know how much time I have got. Otherwise, my industrious imagination runs wild, meandering endlessly in unruly streams of thoughts this way and that, without the satisfying clicks on the keyboard signifying The End.

And how does time affect what we’re creating?

Do we write about the Now? Or do we travel back and forth in time? Do we use time to show the origins of the story generations before, then switch to today’s update on that history? Several recent books have chapters alternating between yesterday and today.

Time Travel can transport the reader forward into science fiction. Space-age tales with characters speaking in indiscernible utterings, (translated into today’s speech) and visual images of beings unlike anything we know in our world. Writers can let their imaginations soar.

As a writer and a reader, I often prefer going back in time, perhaps, to life a hundred or so years ago. Recreating a world that seems simpler, more real. Where characters discover and react to things we take for granted today. An opportunity for richly drawn characters with colorful colloquialisms.

I’ve read a lot of books set during my parents’ and grandparents’ era of WWI and WWII and learned a greater understanding of what they went through and what they gave up.  A time when ordinary people became heroes, took on enormous challenges, without seeking attention or glory. They just got on with it. The ordinary folk I knew and read about had overcome some amazing challenges.

Victoria Hislop writes superbly researched novels set during the Spanish Civil War in The Return. Sunrise is set in WWII in Greece and The Island, is about Spinalonga, Greece’s former leper colony.  Fascinating journeys back in time, that make us appreciate our freedom and life today.

Big Ben

I’ve been reading about Bletchley Park, in WWII, where ordinary girls were called in to do long hours of top-secret work with the Enigma machines, racing against time to figure out Hitler’s secret enemy codes. The girls were not academic, but chosen because could work out puzzles, crosswords, anagrams. More ordinary, unsung heroes from a time gone by.

I’m working on a ‘timeless’ novel. A mystery. Where I don’t want to specify a time, an era.  Not a hundred years ago, yet not now. I’m figuring how to write the story so that it’s timeless; no cell phones, but also no public phone-boxes, no horse-and-buggy, but no Amtrack. Timeless buses and trains – not steam engines, nor high-speed rail travel, nor Concorde, super-jets, no Southwest Air nor Pan American. Non-specific fashions. It’s a challenge, as it needs to have the right pace, conflict, intrigue, yet nothing that puts the story in a specific time.

The thing is – it’s up to us as to how we use our time. No-one else.  We have choices. That’s a scary, yet empowering thought. Charles Darwin said: “A person who dares to waste one hour of time, of life, has not discovered the value of life.”

………THE END…….file3171299616544

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