Mystery and fantasy writing

Posts tagged ‘Home’


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.”


A House and a Home

There’s always a house. 

It might be grandmother’s house, surrounded by flowers and oak trees, filled with the good smells of chicken pie and vanilla pound cake.  Or it might be your first home, that little fixer-upper in need of modern plumbing and a paint job.  It might be the house where you learned to play the piano, a mysteriously dark house crammed with stacks of old magazines, or the one house in the neighborhood that always looks haunted, its lawn overgrown with weeds, its windows broken, and a dead car in the front yard. Or the house on the corner, the beautiful neglected Victorian mansion you wish you could afford to buy and restore. But somewhere in your memory and in your dreams, there’s always a house.

In my Grace Street Mystery series, 302 Grace Street becomes the home that everyone has always wanted.  It’s a big, rambling three story house that always needs repair, and yet it retains the comfort of an old pair of bedroom slippers.  Everything fits from the open living room with its island of comfortable mismatched sofas and chairs to the big kitchen overlooking a back yard filled with ancient oak trees.

302 Grace means something different to each person living there. The house belongs to Camden, a young man struggling with his psychic abilities. To Cam, who was abandoned as a child, the house represents safety and security, and he is happy to take care of it.  

His friend David Randall, a private investigator, finds a haven at 302 Grace after his family falls apart. Randall feels responsible for the car crash that killed his little daughter, and he feels her presence in the house, a presence he finds difficult to accept.  But for now, the house is not only his home but a place where he can have an agency of his own.

Also in the house is Kary Ingram, a lovely young woman who found shelter after her rigidly religious parents disowned her for becoming pregnant.  Now unable to have children, Kary is reorganizing her life to be able to adopt, and Randall, who can’t bear the thought of being a father again, realizes in order to win Kary’s love, he has to work through his sorrow to give her the one thing that will make her life complete.

The porch, where all the events of the world are settled, has rocking chairs and of course a porch swing, Cam’s favorite place.  It’s here that the characters will tell stories, solve mysteries, and discover that they are a family.  And nothing says Southern family more than a front porch.

Throughout the series, 302 Grace Street is the constant that keeps everything and everyone together.  It is the home you’ve always wanted filled with people who love you and who will always take you in.  It is the home that solves the biggest mystery of all: who am I and where do I belong?




The Saga of Dennis

I walk every day in my neighborhood and always take a plastic bag or two to pick up recyclables. I also find things, and one of these was a little dog still wearing his harness with leash attached. I tried my best to catch him, but he was quick as a rabbit. On Petfinder on the Internet, I discovered the missing Yorkie was Dennis, and he’d escaped from his owner several streets over from mine. An excellent name, as this little menace managed to elude me, his owner, the neighbors, and Surry Animal Rescue workers for months. I even borrowed a cage from the rescue folks and baited it with pizza. The next morning, I could see something in the cage, but my moment of triumph was short lived when I saw I had captured an extremely annoyed possum.

More weeks passed. The weather became colder. Dennis remained wild and free. Occasionally, I would see him basking on a front porch, or sprawled in the church parking lot, completely unconcerned that everyone in the neighborhood was trying to catch him, that it was freezing cold, and that he still wore a leash that could possibly hang him up in a tree.
Then one day, a neighbor greeted me with, “We got him!” Her daughter was playing with her dog in the backyard, and when Dennis came over to play, she managed to grab the leash. Dennis was returned to his owner. Happy ending.

But there’s more to this story. At the time, a young relative of mine was struggling with alcohol addiction, so much so, she had to go to a special institution. No visitors. No phone calls. But she could get letters, so I wrote as often as I could, sending silly pictures and jokes, and of course, reports and updates about Dennis, Yorkie of the Yukon.
Later she told me that the Saga of Dennis meant a lot to her. If a little Yorkie could survive three of the coldest months on record in a harness and leash and not get hung up in a tree, or snagged on a rock, not get run over, or attacked by a larger animal, not starve, or freeze to death—if Dennis could overcome all those obstacles and find his way home, maybe she could overcome her problems, too.
As of this September, she is three years sober.
Thanks, Dennis.

Male Call

Okay, I’ll confess right away that I’m the only Southern woman in the world who hasn’t seen “Steel Magnolias.” Or “Fried Green Tomatoes.” I’m sure they are wonderful stories that have brought happiness and closure to millions, but if I want to hear a bunch of women talking, I can go to any beauty parlor, teachers’ lounge, back yard or church group and hear it all in graphic gossipy detail. But what’s going on with the guys? That’s what I want to know.

I’ve always been fascinated by the friendship between two very different men. Women have loads of friends. You’ve got your shop till you drop friend, your cry on my shoulder friend, your exercise buddy, your old school friends – loads of them. Men may have a lot of pals, but usually have one really good friend, and they don’t even confide everything to him. The two friends in my Grace Street Mysteries are searching, as everyone is searching, for home and family. David Randall, my investigator, is dealing with the death of his little daughter. Camden, his best friend, is dealing with his unwanted psychic ability and the fact his mother gave him up for adoption when he was only a few days old. Both men have women in their lives they are trying to win. Both men care for each other in that strange gruff way men have.

Here’s an example of a serious discussion: “You okay?” “Yeah.”

My friend John writes only from a female perspective, all about abused women and their trials and tribulations. This is what he grew up with and what he’s trying to understand. The men in my early years, father, grandfather, and many uncles and great-uncles, were loving and nurturing, and wonderful story tellers, but there was also an air of mystery about them. You never caught them soul searching, or dissing the farmers in the pasture next door, or gossiping about, well, anything. They were sportsmen and hunters, loved to fish, could repair cars, build houses, fix faulty wiring and leaky faucets. But what went on behind those serious male faces? At times, they seemed as remote as mountains. I was always so curious, but as a child, never thought to ask.

As writers, we love to walk around in someone else’s life, to imagine how things are from the other side. I think it was Stephen King who said that a writer should have “an androgynous mind,” (although his probably has a few sharp teeth, as well.) It’s quite an adventure to explore how opposite and how very much the same the opposite sex can be. There are many things I wish I had asked my father. Now through my characters, I look for answers.

Just to make sure I’m as accurate as possible, I always run things by my brother, my touchstone for all things masculine. “Is this something a man would say?” I’ll ask. “Is this how a man would handle these feelings?” And Joe’s answer is always the same: