Mystery and fantasy writing

Archive for October, 2014


Sunday Winkie

Winkie, the one-eyed Chihuahua, came into my life in 2005. I had retired and had time for a little dog, and Winkie was indeed little. She fit into my hand and would later grow to be three pounds and about the size of my sneaker. She had beautiful markings, brown with white around her neck and throat, white feet, tan legs and markings on her face. The woman who gave her to me had named her Mindy, but from the beginning, I knew this little dog was not a sweet timid Mindy. She needed a name with pizzazz. Since she had only one eye, my mother suggested Winkie because she looked like she was winking at me. “Winkie” also had literary roots, from Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter. As an English major, I appreciated this.
Winkie became the most expensive free dog ever. I used to tell people I spent thousands of dollars so a little animal could sit on my lap. The vet said if there was a market for Chihuahua ear wax, I’d be a millionaire. She developed a skin condition that required special (read: expensive) shampoos, oils, and shots. Her back legs had to be operated on because her knee caps were so small, the ligaments kept slipping off. The fancy name for this is patella luxation. Her one good eye developed something called an ossified iris and later, a cataract. She occasionally had separation anxiety. She developed a heart murmur and needed three medications, plus a liquid I got to squirt in her mouth twice a day. All this was in addition to teeth cleanings, nail trims, and normal Chihuahua maintenance, which she hated and would resist with three pounds of fury. The nurses at the vet’s have the scars to prove it.
I thought it would be fun to dress Winkie in cute clothes. Winkie thought otherwise. Whenever I put something on her, she became Houdini Hound and could get out of the outfit in record speed, usually prancing around as if to say, I’m naked and I like it that way. She managed to stay in her Dracula costume long enough to win “Smallest Dog” in a Halloween contest. The prize was a bone bigger than she was.
She was too tiny to sleep on my bed, so she had her own crate in the spare bedroom. She was too tiny to walk, so I found an old stroller at a yard sale and often took her around the neighborhood. She was paper trained and never had an accident unless she was angry at me for some reason, once for bringing in another dog. I thought, oh, she’ll have a playmate, someone to keep her company when I’m not here. Wrong. She hated the other dog, and I had to take it back. Winkie had no idea how small she was. Once she tried to chase a truck. An eighteen-wheeler.
If I wanted her to take a pill or to reward her in some way, all I needed was a piece of cheese. She loved cheese and would spin around in happiness. She also loved green peas, broccoli, apple, peanuts, and anything else I was eating. I’d look up, and her tongue would be sticking out as if she were starving. Please give me some pizza.
Winkie’s favorite place was on the sofa where she would burrow under her blanket. If I had to leave, she would roll over as if to say, Look how adorable I am. Let me stay on the sofa. At night, she knew when I turned off the TV and the light that it was bedtime, and she’d get ready for her evening cheese and trot into her room, and hop in her crate. If I was too slow with the cheese, she’d come get me, her expression indignant, as if to say, I’m waiting.
Well, you know where this story’s going, don’t you?
Gradually, Winkie’s heart condition worsened until she couldn’t breathe without staying in an oxygen box at the vet’s. I’d bring her home a few days, but I couldn’t bear to watch her little sides heaving as she struggled to get enough air. This went on for a few weeks until I had to make the decision that all pet owners dread.
Winkie was nine years old.
I’d had lots of dogs growing up. We raised collies, and my father and grandfather had beagles to hunt rabbits. There was always at least one little dog in the house. But Winkie was all mine. Even though she was only three pounds, she was a huge part of my life. I’m glad I took hundreds of pictures and made little videos. You do that with your first child.
Sometimes I wonder how our pets can love us so much. Sure, we feed them and take care of them, but you can’t deny when they look up at you with such adoration, there has to be something else there. I know Winkie loved me. And the last thing she felt was me patting her. The last thing she heard was, “Good girl.”


Just You Wait


It’s always a happy occasion when a book is accepted for publication, but this one is especially exciting. Several years ago, the first Grace Street Mystery, Stolen Hearts, was published by Poisoned Pen Press, followed by Mixed Signals and Now You See It. The fourth book was called Cover Up, and I wasn’t sure it would see the light of day. It was finished and ready to go, but there are many factors involved in the publishing world, many of which are beyond a writer’s control. Reviews, sales, mergers, recessions. But then, I received the email that all authors love to receive. My editor wrote, “So Cover Up is the next one you want published, right?”
You bet!
There are 13 books in the Grace Street Series. All of them have been written and are in various stages of readiness. I really hope they can all be published, but you never know. However, for now, I am celebrating the publication of Cover Up, now titled Just You Wait, which is a much better title, thanks to my editor. February 3, 2015 is the publication date. Then it’s on to the next one!

The Long Way Around

Hi, I’m Jane, and I’m a thirty-eight year overnight success. Yes, you read that right. It took me thirty-eight years to get published, and, as you can imagine, round about year twenty, I was getting a little anxious about my chances.
It’s difficult as a child to explain to people what you want to be when you grow up when you’re already what you want to be. I started sending out manuscripts when I was eighteen, having finally realized that this writing thing that was so much a part of me might become a career. This was back in the days before the internet and involved typing on a typewriter, making copies with carbon paper, and hunting for the right size boxes to mail the completed manuscripts off to New York. After many years of this, I finally got an agent! Woo-hoo! Fame and fortune awaits!
But no.
The book was Stolen Hearts, the first of twelve Grace Street Mysteries. My hero, David Randall, is a struggling PI trying to deal with the death of his little daughter. In this first book, Randall had come to live in his friend Camden’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street in the fictional city of Parkland, NC, where he met an array of colorful Southern characters and Kary Ingram, who was to become to love of his life. My agent was sure she could sell the book if I changed one tiny little thing. She wanted Randall to be a woman.
Now, my agent meant well. Female detectives had just become very popular. However, if I changed David to Dana, the whole universe I had created for the characters would have to be radically altered. The dynamic between Randall and his best friend and the woman he was trying to win would be, to put it mildly, slightly askew.
I couldn’t do it. I lay awake many nights, talking sternly to myself. Twenty years. I finally had an agent. She was telling me what to do to sell my book and fulfill my lifelong dream, and I couldn’t do it. So I looked through some other manuscripts, and thankfully, a male protagonist stepped up and agreed to have a sex change for the good of the cause.
Mac Tobrin became Madeline “Mac” Maclin, and his best pal Jerry Fairweather became Madeline’s love interest. Mac had been a con man, so that honor went to Jerry, and Madeline became an ex-beauty queen turned detective because I think beauty pageants are the goofiest thing ever invented. This book was A Case of Imagination. I sent it to my agent with very high hopes, and you can probably guess what happened. She didn’t like it. So I no longer have an agent, but after many more years, I did find a publisher. Two months after I retired from my elementary school media specialist job, Poisoned Pen Press took the book, as well as the others in the series, A Hard Bargain, A Little Learning, and A Bad Reputation.
They also took Stolen Hearts with everyone’s gender intact and its sequels, Mixed Signals, Now You See It, and the soon to be published Just You Wait.
I really wasn’t ready at eighteen, and neither was my work. I certainly didn’t plan on achieving my goal so late in life, but that has made the achievement even more special. It was the long way around, but it was the right way for me, and now I see it!