Hey, I’ve Been There!!

by Jackie Houchin

Hi all. Are you ready for a tome? (I don’t mind if you skim this post!) If you hate reading about vacation itineraries, I hope you won’t cringe as you begin this. But it really IS about books & reading.

I’m bouncing off my fellow Writer in Residence friend, Gayle Bartos-Pool who wrote that wonderful post last week about how reading fired and inspired her own successful writing history. Her last words “Read On!” were terrific.

I am a prolific reader. I LOVE to read or listen to books. A while back, I wrote about The 52 Bookclub Reading Challenge that I’ve been in for three years now. Each of the 52 books must match a book category that the moderators come up with each year. So far, I’ve met the challenges. For this year I have but 14 of the 52 yet to read, and it’s just June. 52 bookclub page

However, I’ve read many, many other books in 2022. And when I say read, I include print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Non-fiction, novels, inspirational books, study books, and children’s books fill in the gaps around my favorite genre – mystery.

So, when my husband and I went on a 23-day cruise in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I decided to read a book set in every country we visited, including the ship itself, and a jet plane.  What fun!  I’ve read 13 and have about 6 left to read.

 I began this quest waiting at LAX for the flight that would take us to Portugal to meet our ship (with a stop in Montreal). I started with Agatha Christie’s DESTINATION UNKNOWN. (We knew where we were headed, but hey, you never know – as the protagonist in that book soon found out!)

We spent so little time in Lisbon, Portugal, that I haven’t considered a book set there, but I just recently came across 300 DAYS IN THE SUN by Deborah Lawrenson or A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON by Robert Wilson. Not sure I will get to them. They are a bit long. But who knows, maybe.

 As for that 4-hour stop in Montreal, I chose A DISAPPEARANCE AT THE BONNE NUIT HOTEL by Dominique Daoust, about a young female newspaper reporter who goes to Montreal in search of that “big story.”  It’s the first book of a trilogy.

(This is yet to be read.)

Our ship docked in five ports in Spain, with a stop at Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) after the first. I read Aaron Elkins, UNEASY RELATIONS, set in and on that famous rock. Wow, what fun to follow Gideon Oliver, the bone detective, up the cable car to the top for a really scary view, and then inside to St. Michael’s cave where stalactites come together to form of figure of an angel. There is a lecture hall beside it and Gideon spoke there!  It totally makes a difference reading a book when you have BEEN THERE!

 I read A FATALITY IN SPAIN by Blake Pierce, which is set in Barcelona (also in Pamplona). Oh, yes, I definitely remember that weird Antoni Gaudi modernistic church in town! And the dancing “giants” with the wooden heads!  Reading the story…I was there too, hearing, seeing, smelling. (Although we chose to wear a mask there because of the packed crowds in the streets.)

I am currently reading MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA by Roderic Jeffries, an Inspector Alvarez mystery. It’s number one of 37! (And perhaps I’ll also read HOTEL MALLORCA; AN ELAINE PEARSON MYSTERY by Susan Linden Emde, if I finish the rest in good time.  It looks very interesting.

We also docked in Seville, Malaga and Cartagena, Spain, but I’ll maybe be happy with the two books I have already for that country.

By the way, I am also reviewing each book I read on my new and very simple WordPress blog – Words and Reviews blog.

 At Marseilles, France, we took a bus an hour inland to Avignon, France.  Since high school French classes, I’ve always dreamed of “dancing on the Bridge of Avignon” as the children’s song goes. Finally, after 50 years – I did it!   To remember that beautiful time in Provence, with everything lavender, I read, TO PROVENCE, WITH LOVE by T.A. Williams. More of a light romance than mystery, the protagonist is a writer and teacher, who came from England to write the biography of an elderly Hollywood film star. (Rosemary Lord, you would like this one!)

 ONE SUMMER IN MONTE CARLO by Jennifer Bohnet is a sort-of mystery and again a light romance, set in the Principality of Monaco.  It featured a lot of action and information about the F-1 Auto Racing circuit. While we were there, they indeed were setting up grandstands, pitstops, and pilon curve barriers for the race that would happen two weeks after we left.

 I was able to take my husband to Florence, Italy – a city I’d visited on my own three times before. Sadly, we were not able to go out into Tuscany for a visit to a vineyard and chateau. (Excursion cancelled.) But I was able to show him around one of my favorite cities, eat gelato, have spaghetti Bolognaise at my favorite café.  (Sigh) I’ve chosen A DEATH IN FLORENCE by Blake Pierce, or DREAMING OF FLORENCE by T.A. Williams.  I’ve read books by both of these authors (A Fatality, and To Provence), so I’m hoping for a different one.  Any Suggestions?

 I read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordano, while in Sicily, and we actually took a private taxi to Taormino because of that book. We didn’t have an excursion booked there, and, well, why not?  It only cost E100.00 for the 30-minute trip each way, and a patient driver while we toured the town for a couple hours.  It made the book more real, although we did NOT visit Palermo, where the “mob” lived in the book. Hahaha.

 I have yet to begin DEATH IN THE SILENT CITY by E.M. Ali, but I can’t wait.  I loved Malta from the moment we first docked.  And indeed, the old city has red-stone walls protecting houses in the narrow winding streets just like on the cover. We entered one of those bolted doors with our tour guide, and into a beautiful studio where he was restoring stained glass windows they’d found buried after World War II. I always thought Malta was a part of Italy, but it is a country on its own.

 We had only two “at sea” days between distant ports, so I read two cruise ship mysteries. VANISHING VACATIONERS by Hope Callaghan and PINEAPPLE CRUISE by Amy Vansant.

Both settings in staterooms, dining rooms, decks, lounges, pool, etc., were so very familiar as I roamed our ship – the Nautilus, er, I mean, Oceania’s Nautica.

 Ah, Greece! I finally got to visit the setting of my all-time favorite book by Mary Stewart – THIS ROUGH MAGIC.  It is set on the Isle of Corfu in the beautiful Aegean Sea.  A romantic-suspense mystery that I first read when I was about 13 or 14. I’m sure I’ve reread it a dozen or more times since. I love it.  And now, I’ve seen those lovely clear-water coves and sandy beaches, the castle-like homes way up on the steep mountainside, the winding dirt roads suitable only for a motorbike, the enchanting Corfu Town and the harbor. (sighhh)

I read A CRUISE TO DIE FOR by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, an art-forgery mystery set on a fantastic mega-yacht, on Corfu, and in Athens.

It reminded me of that sleek, black super-sailing yacht, The Maltese Falcon, docked near our ship in Corfu harbor. Oh, my, what an uber-expensive 180-foot beauty!  Seriously, “Google” this super-yacht by name and you will be aghast!

 I just finished the most fun, interesting, and un-put-downable audio book that I have listened to in a long time. SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby is set in ancient Olympia, Greece in 460 BC. The still-active archeological dig that we visited and loved is portrayed so clearly in this book (the author must also have visited the old Olympic Games site) that I was sharing bits of it here and there with my husband. “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” he would say.  The book is a murder mystery that takes place during the games, and a young Athenian man is the investigator. He has 4 days to find the murderer before the Games end and his best friend is executed. The action, intrigue, fast pace, brutality of the sports, and the setting, well, it was like walking there in person again.

Have you ever done this?  I mean read your favorite genre set in the places you have visited, be they in another part of the world, or nearby?  It’s amazing. It makes reading so much richer. Can you think of a book right now that is set in the last place you vacationed or visited?  Think hard, then go buy or rent it and READ IT.

I can’t believe I actually found a book – another light romance – set in Croatia (and part of it actually in Split, where we visited)!  CLUELESS IN CROATIA by Joy Skye was a fun book, and the scenes in the harbor, in the city of Split, even a mention of the cruise ships there was fun.

After Croatia we cruised across the Aegean Sea to the East side of Italy for a 1-hour long trip into Ravenna to see the glorious mosaics there. It was an eyes and mouth open wide to see all that fine work. But alas, I’ve found no mystery/ romance books set in this smallish, inland city, or any with Italian mosaics. Do YOU know of any?

Our last port of call was again across the Aegean, in Koper, Slovenia. As I said, I haven’t found a book set in Slovenia  yet. It was a beautiful town as we strolled through it. We bought a wood craft that I hope my hubby can duplicate for gifts for Christmas. We ate gelato, sat by an unusual fountain that reminded me of a dandelion puff! And we strolled by the small sunshine-bathed beach. I bought a little cup at a souvenier shop with the LOVE emphasized in the country’s name sLOVEnia.

Neither have I founda mystery set in Trieste, Italy where we disembarked.  At Trieste when we got off the ship with our luggage, VERY early in the morning, the Nautica was surrounded in the water by shimmering, semi-transparent jelly fish!  It was amazing!

 I hope to read A GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko, or maybe Jennifer S. Alderson’s DEATH BY GONDOLA, or maybe even one of Donna Leon’s more recent Commissario Brunetti mysteries, set in the floating city. We were not able to visit Venice – I really cried about that – but itineraries change and we make do. We did bus to Venice from Trieste and fly out of the Marco Polo Airport to Heathrow on our way home.

 For the UK, I read Victoria Tait’s book two in her new Dotty Sayers antiques mysteries VALUED FOR MURDER set in the CotswoldsAnd I read another UK book since we had that glitch in the British Airways jet – did you hear about that?

An hour out from London to LAX, the plane abruptly turned around, dumped fuel, and hi-tailed it back to Heathrow. It seems the captain was very ill with extreme lower-abdominal pain (appendicitis?) and had to return. Back at Heathrow, we all waited patiently till the paramedics took him off the plane.

THEN – after hours and hours we were bussed to a hotel for a free over-night stay in London, free dinner and breakfast, and then back to Heathrow for another try at LAX the next morning. Because of the additional day in the UK, I read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE, a Flavia de Luce novella by Alan Bradley set in England.

And finally, I will read DEAR PASSENGER: WELCOME TO MY WACKY WORLD AS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Elizabeth Calwell. It’s a very short, humorous little book and will top off my vacation reading adventure.

Okay, this is a really long post I know, and if you skimmed or stopped reading a quarter of the way down, that’s fine.  But, tell me, have you ever done what I did? Not the cruise, but read books set in places you’ve traveled (either before or right after).  Did it make the books better? More fun to read? Can you do it this summer?

And let me know if you know of a mystery/adventure/light romance book set in Ravenna, Italy (or mosaics), Slovenia, or Trieste, Italy!

Social Media and Me

by Linda O. Johnston

Leprokhan. klee-4163741_640

First off: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, and the best of luck to you!

Now, into my topic of today: social media and me. And I have to admit I’m far from being an expert. But does that keep me away from some of the sites? No! 

I’m always on my computer, or nearly so. Yes, I spend most of that time writing and editing and pondering the fiction I’m writing. 

But then there’s social media and me.  I spend too much time on Facebook, though I admit I’m not good at it. I look at other people’s posts and comment on them. On my own home page I’m likely to post stuff about anything special about the day, especially if there’s something going on about animals, particularly dogs.  Most recently it was National K9 Veterans Day.  Why?   Because I’m a full-time dog lover.

social-media-488886_640

I belong to Facebook groups, too. Some involving writing, of course, but that’s  not all. Can you guess the topic in which I’ve joined the most groups? Well, what if I told you there are lots of Facebook groups featuring Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the dog breed I’m addicted to? Right!

I do have my own website: www.LindaOJohnston.com  And one of these days I’ll add an author page to Facebook. I hope.

 I also get on social media to help promote my published novels. Yes, I do that on Facebook, especially when there’s something new coming out. This year, I’ll have two new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books published, one in August and one in October. You can bet I’ll let the world know via Facebook then.

And then there’s Writerspace. I subscribe to the site, which calls itself Communities for Writers and Readers. They do a lot of promotion for me. There’s a monthly Author News newsletter that I always participate in. I can do blogs there, and have new books featured, and participate in their monthly contest.

You can figure out, since I’m here, that I like to blog. A couple of the sites where I used to blog regularly have shut down, such as Killer Characters. I still blog on Killer Hobbies each Wednesday, but now there are only two of us posting there.  I also blogged on the InkSpot blog fairly regularly, but that was one helping to promote books published by Midnight Ink, one of my former mystery publishers–that now has gone out of business. 

What about other social media sites? I haven’t really gotten into them. I have a Twitter account but never use it except to read others’ posts. I also have a Goodreads account but am seldom there. I don’t do Instagram–or really much of anything else.

 I admire people who do more than me in social media. And I’m generally open to trying something different as long as I don’t have to spend much time learning to do it. 

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So–What do you think of Social Media? What’s your favorite site and why? What do you like to post? How often? And do you think it helps your writing and selling?

Kitchen Art and Edible Legacies

by Jackie Houchin

I’m so thankful that both my mom and my dad put pen to paper while they were alive to draw and write out lasting legacies for me to cherish now that they are gone.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Mom cooked the whole feast, all the fixings and desserts, until way after she had great-grandchildren. When she was no longer able, I took over the task for a few years before handing it down to my daughter-in law who excels in the kitchen.

IMG_4917Now, the week before Thanksgiving I thumb through the 3×5 cards in Mom’s old plastic recipe box, looking for the Cranberry Salad, the Holiday Mincemeat Cake, and the Chiffon Pumpkin Pie recipes. The writing is faint and blurred; the cards are stained. And my heart gives a twist as I picture Mom taking each one out and assembling the ingredients on the counter.  (This “treasured” box came to me 20 months ago when, at 94, she died.)

Six weeks ago my Dad joined her in Heaven. Now they are giving thanks to God continually, not just on our annual holiday.

In cleaning out my dad’s file drawers I found a stack of napkins about five inches high. I thought they were dust cloths for his crafting projects, until I took them out of the plastic bag. Instead of throwaways, I found ‘priceless’ pieces of art that I will treasure alongside my mom’s recipe box.

IMG_4915Daily for a year or so in 1999, Dad sat at their kitchen table and drew stick figure sketches of Mom in various situations, from housecleaning and cooking, to relaxing with a morning coffee on the patio, working a jigsaw puzzle, gardening,  and packing/traveling to Solvang on their anniversary.  Each filmy paper illustration has her comment in a balloon above her head. I can hear her saying them all! I admit, I cried as I looked at each one in the stack.

I’ll share a few of his sketches here, along with two of her “famous” Thanksgiving recipes.

Mom, baking her Chiffon Pumpkin Pies (Thin crusts; never soggy!)

IMG_4898 (Edited)    IMG_4900 (Edited)

Mom’s pie recipe:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pie mix)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs (separated)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBS. plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 TBS. granulated sugar
  • 1 baked pie shell

Soak Gelatin in water. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, egg yolks (lightly beaten), spices and salt.  Cook in top of double boiler until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes)  Add gelatin to hot mixture. Chill until partially congealed. Beat egg whites stiff, but not dry. Beat granulated sugar into egg  whites. Fold into pumpkin mixture.  Pour into baked pie shell. Chill for 1-2 hours or until stiff enough to cut and hold its shape.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Mom’s Cranberry Salad recipe:

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 large package of strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 cup boiling water

Grind (or process) the cranberries roughly. Add sugar. Let set 3 hours.  Add pecans,  pineapple, and marshmallows.  Dissolve Jell-O thoroughly in boiling water. Add to the above mixture and set aside to mold. (When slightly thickened, stir down the marshmallows.)

Gratitude

How glad I am that my parents took time to write out and draw “every day” things.  They may never be published (other than on this blog), but they are as enduring and endearing to me as any literary classic or masterpiece painting.  They are the hearts of my Mom and Dad.

Creativity in any form is a gift from God and destined to bless (or change) someone.  Keep on creating from your heart. You’ll never know who will pick up a piece of “you” and smile (or cry).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving snoopy

“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” Psalm 136.1

#WriteMotivation    !    #Creativity

Creating Seasonal Articles*

Christmas sugar plumsby Jackie Houchin

Does reading all those December magazines with their holiday stories, recipes, tips, traditions, and inspirations make visions of sugar plums, er, I mean, ideas for articles to dance on your head?

“Oh dear! I so wanted to write an article about those fun games we play for identifying Grandma’s tag-less gifts under the tree!” (Family Circle Magazine?)

“And how I wished I’d shared my Mom’s Christmas fruitcake recipe from her recipe box (that I inherited this year when she died), and told all who read the article why they really should try fruitcake again.”  (Reminiscence Magazine?)

But, I forgot to write them.

And now it’s too late – WAY too late.

At least for this year.

But not for next year, if I plan ahead.  Many magazines need seasonal articles. But they need them long before the pub date. Articles with a “time-tag” are a good way for new writers to break into print (or seasoned writers to pick up some pocket money).

It’s all in the timing

Start by picking up Chase’s Calendar Of Events and look ahead to see what holidays will be celebrated in six months to a year. Or you can check the guidelines in the new The Writers Market Guide for specific publications you hope to write for.

Send a query letter with your idea ahead of the suggested time. If you get a go-ahead, be sure to deliver your article on time. And be patient. If it isn’t used in 2018, it may be held till 2019.

Low-profile holidays

Brain storm ideas for the less popular holidays, such as Arbor Day, Grandparents’ Day, Flag Day, Patriot Day, Friendship Day, Bastille Day, Poppy Day, or even…. Cookie Baking Day! (December 18)  Also think about back-to-school and summer vacation themes.

Your special “slant”

If those “sugar plum” ideas aren’t already dancing away up there, then:

  • Leaf through old magazines (yours or at the library).
  • Think about experiences you’ve had during holidays.
  • Write a short biography of a person linked to a holiday.
  • Research a holiday custom.
  • Remember anniversaries. (What happened 5, 10, 500 years ago?)
  • Interview a teacher, a parent, a coach, a Macy’s clerk.
  • Write a holiday short story or poem. (Some magazines are still open to them.)

Christmas funny poem

Before and After Tips

Start an idea folder with clipped articles from magazines or newspapers. Jot notes about ideas on each. Not all will be usable, but many will work. When you’re looking for a certain seasonal theme, these may trigger an idea.

After the original-rights sale, look for reprint markets for next season. Make a list of potential ones and their lead times, and keep your original article with them.

Open a new bank account!

Christmas bank accountJust kidding!  You won’t get rich from these sales, but you will get “writing clips.”  And when magazine editors discover your timely, well-written articles/stories etc., they will approach YOU with their needs.

Okay… do you need some ideas for NEXT Christmas?  Check out these:

  • Favorite Christmas books, movies, musicals/plays (pastiche or true likes)
  • Christmas mishaps (humorous, or coping skills)
  • Christmas trees: cutting your own, uniquely decorating (we knew friends who lit live candles on their tree!), a special nostalgia ornament
  • Family traditions (oldies, or how to start your own)
  • How to make homemade gifts (food, ornaments, clothes, home decor)
  • Holiday baking (how-to, tastes & smells, shipping)
  • Holiday traditions from other countries (foods, decorations, activities)
  • Or…. interview someone with over 3,500 Santa Claus decorations (Hint: I can give you her name.)

Take away

After all the gifts are opened, the holiday meal is eaten (and cleaned up), the kids are playing with new toys (or the boxes), and the older “boys” are watching football, go grab a piece of crumpled wrapping paper, smooth it out, flick open that new expensive gold-plated pen, and start writing up your holiday impressions, experiences, and ideas while they are still “dancing in your head.”

Christmas garland

Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year !

 

*Inspiration for this post came from Jewell Johnson’s article, Writing Seasonal Articles in the Christian Communicator, Nov-Dec, 2017.
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