Bear sighting – Carolyn

The local newspaper has reported for the last several days that there is a black bear in Frayser, a subdivision of Memphis. This is about the same as meeting an aardvark in Central Park—and I’m not talking the zoo. The local wildlife people are telling everyone that if they spot it, they should leave it the heck alone. Apparently it is a young bear, probably male because there are no cubs with it. They say it’s traveling west, which is fine except that the Mississippi River is west. If it is trying to get across to the Ozarks, it’s going to be highly annoyed to discover this impassable (for a bear) body of water between it and where it plans to go. I just hope that wherever it goes, it gets there safely without some idiot’s shooting it.

I know for a fact that we have what the farmers call ‘painters’ here. That is the southern designation for a panther—puma, cougar. My horse trainer had one cross the road in front of her several years ago, and another was noted in the edges of Collierville, the town my farm is closest to. I live close to the Wolf River and its bottoms, a wildlife (and I do mean wild) wetland area just down the hill from me. I have friends who kayak and canoe down there regularly. Even if I kayaked—which I do not—I wouldn’t do it on that stretch of the Wolf. I have been told the water moccasins hang in the branches of trees and have been known to drop into the boats that go under the limbs they are stretched on. I don’t swim all that well any longer, but I would decant myself right out of the kayak and into the river the same instant the snake decided to join me in the boat.

This morning while I was out in the barn feeding the horses, I looked back to the house to see a very large hare sitting outside my bedroom door watching me. I froze. He froze. We regarded one another silently for some time until he lollopped off. He was not in the last disturbed by my presence. Although I was surprised he was so close to the house, I wasn’t bothered by him. When we first moved out here, we had lots of rabbits and lots of quail. That was before the coyotes moved in. The coyotes do not bother the horses. They have better sense. The horses do not like them and will go to great lengths to kick, bite and stomp them. The coyotes make certain they never get the chance.

Now we have an owl. Full grown screech variety. He’s very large. Since he’s nocturnal I seldom see him, but I hear him all right. We have several red tail and Cooper’s hawks that sit on the telephone wires watching for mice, and several more turkey buzzards who sit in a dead tree and clean up any road kill down on the road. Thank heaven for them. Pretty they are not. Effective they are.

I hope that they figure we can coexist, but they probably think I am an interloper in their territory, and a scary one at that. Isn’t that a pity?


Happy Horns – Carolyn

Happy Easter!

Well, I have finally done it. Somehow I managed to copy over my blog with something completely different.

Bound to happen sooner or later. Since I’ve been working on three stories and one novel at once and planning for two more books, my confusion level obviously reached critical mass. So I am reconstructing. As is general in such a case, this version will probably make more sense than the first offering. Let’s hope so, at any rate.

I go to a smallish church that is pretty casual as a general rule. But on Easter we bring in what I call The Holy Horns to supplement our extraordinary organist. There are two trumpets, one French Horn (known as ‘the ill wind that nobody blows good.’), a tuba, and a trombone. Combined, they can blow the roof off the church. At our Mardi Gras Party they spent the evening playing Zydeco and New Orleans jazz. Talk about making a joyful noise!

I love horns anyway—like The Canadian Brass and several other totally brass ensembles. When my first husband (a bass-baritone) was in the Army chorus, I heard the army herald trumpets frequently. Combined with five or six howitzers blowing off blanks, they make Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture more visceral than intellectual. At the end, there’s a great ‘Take That, Napoleon!’ moment.

Along the same line, I listened to the Metropolitan Opera’s latest production of Aida yesterday. During the intermission, several of the horn players from the Met Orchestra were interviewed about actually being in make-up and costume and playing on stage during Rhadames’s triumphal entry. They are split into two groups, one on each side of the stage, on platforms high over where the parade is going on. Not only are they up there in full view of the audience; they are on a platform that has no guardrail! One wrong step, and they wind up in the middle of the camels. I don’t know whether they still use camels in the scene, but they used to. I saw one production in which the camels—who do not sound like sopranos—joined in at the top of their lungs.

I couldn’t do it. I am terrified of heights. When I stand on top of a mountain—a position I try to avoid if at all possible—I can hear the void calling to me. At the falls in Yellowstone Park, I strode right out into the largish viewing platform, took one look at the gorge and dropped to my hands and knees. In public. Surrounded by other tourists. I had to duck walk to get to a tree I could hold onto. My family acted as though I had no connection with them. I can manage one of those two-step kitchen ladders, but only if I can hang on to something. Makes changing light bulbs problematic. I generally get my long-suffering son-in-law to do it.

Anyway, I have had my horn fix for the day. Now let’s hope I didn’t overwrite something else important.

Learning New Things – Carolyn

Yesterday was our monthly Malice in Memphis meeting. We had a marvelous update on our fourth Malice in Memphis short story anthology. This time it revolves around Elmwood Cemetery, a historical old cemetery from the earliest days of Memphis, all through the yellow fever years and beyond. It is still in operation today.

Our president, Kristi, got everyone to vote on having a proposal for a short story in the April 1. The amazing thing is that most people met the deadline. We already have enough proposals to fill the anthology. When I recall how difficult it was to get anyone to commit to our first anthology, Bluff City Mysteries, it seems members have become not only better writers but more secure in their creative abilities.

As for me, I wrote my story. Didn’t like the ending. Yesterday morning at 6:00 a.m. the final kicker came to me. I didn’t exactly vault out of bed, but I did get up right that minute, go to my computer and rewrite the ending. Now it works. I also have stories from two of my critique members edited and done. It helps that this time we know what we’re doing.

Our speaker yesterday was fabulous! Tony Kail is a cultural anthropologist, ethnologist and writer with a list of publications considerably longer than my arm. His newest book, The secret History of Memphis Hoodoo, I plan to read this afternoon. He certainly is a fascinating and knowledgeable speaker. I must admit I thought Hoodoo was simply a corruption of voodoo (as in New Orleans). Not so. He’s written a very scholarly, but nonetheless entertaining book. Not only did he give us a history of the types of hoodoo, which is very involved with potions—love, accrual of money, even revenge, but he had samples of some of the herbs and potions he has collected over the years. All of this was right outside of my experience, as it was to most of the members at the meeting.

The entire sub-culture is riveting. And not obsolete. Apparently, it all goes on today, and Memphis is one of the focal points.

Several years ago at Bouchercon, we had a double session on poisons given by a nurse practitioner whose hobby was collecting actual poisons that she found in old pharmacies and even in antique stores. She brought in a large jar of prussic acid she had discovered casually sitting on the bottom shelf of a small pharmacy in Kansas. Several of the samples she had acquired were so dangerous (cyanide, for example), that she had them encased in blocks of acrylic. I’ve done quite a bit of research on poison for my mysteries, but I don’t mess with actual samples. Amazing how naïve most of us are, even when we think we’re not.


Rain and Pouring – Carolyn

I am remembering that old saw, “Be careful what you wish for.” I haven’t had a contract for a new book since my husband died three years ago. Then in very short order I got a great new agent, a three book contract for a new series, a deadline for my new short story in the Malice in Memphis anthology series, plus editing duties for all the stories, and on Friday the editor of the Mossy Creek series from Belle Books called to say that the last two books of the series are actually going to be written. Would I please I have my two new stories to them ASAP. Unfortunately, it’s been so long since the last Mossy Creek book that I cannot remember much about them. I had to stop and think what were the names of the two characters that I am responsible for writing.

Of course, I always have a problem with names of my characters. I forget them as soon as the book is published. I generally keep a list on my desk of at least the main characters in my current book and refer to it often. Several years ago I asked a good friend what she was reading. She told me she was reading a book about a heroine (and gave me her name) and a hero (she gave me his name.).

I asked her who wrote it. She told me, “You did, fool.” Once she reminded me, I did remember, but I didn’t remember much about them except the conflict they had that threatened to keep them apart.

Fortunately, I have most of my short story for the Malice in Memphis anthology finished and the synopsis submitted. I also have over a hundred pages of the first book in my contract with Harlequin done. Mossy Creek? Haven’t a clue what I’ll write, although I have at least a couple of ideas. I always say I write better under pressure. Well, here’s my chance to prove it.

Saturday evening I attended an evening at the Germantown Performing Arts Center of a modern dance group called Momix with two of my buddies. If you have ever seen or heard of Pilobolus, this is in the same vein, but much more dance and less pure construction. Although we were a little uncertain whether we’d like it or not during the first five minutes, once the group got rolling, it was a knockout. Around here we tend to give a standing ovation to on stage garbage collection. This group, however, deserved the standing ovation and multiple curtain calls they received. I don’t believe that human beings can actually do that sort of thing with their bodies. I wasn’t that flexible or muscular when I was fifteen. If you get a chance to see them, for heaven’s sake do it. And take your children. I’ll bet you have a great evening. We certainly did.

Darrell and MidSouth Con – Carolyn

Phyllis Appleby and I spent Saturday afternoon and evening at the local Hilton Hotel for the first day of MidSouthCon35, the local fantasy/sci/fy convention. She and I were both nominated as finalists in their contest for the Darrell award in the short story category, and as such were on a panel with the other finalists for novels and novellas. The con was orderly chaos, although the panel went really well. Those who attended seemed to enjoy it.

I worried about what to wear since we would be going from doing the con stuff during the day to the awards banquet at night. I needn’t have worried. Half the people there were in costume as everything from Jedi knights to vampires to fairies and elves to you-name-it because–I-have-no idea-what-you-represent. It is a giant con that runs from Friday night through Sunday afternoon with merchandise that runs from very expensive art to very inexpensive chochkes. Everyone seemed to be having a blast.

I have never been to one before. I’ve been to a bunch of writers’ conventions, of course, but nothing like this. I have never before had to duck under lit light sabers to reach the ladies’ room, nor narrowly miss stepping on the White Rabbit’s paws. I’ve never seen so many BatMans—or Bat Men—in one place, and all wearing what looked like real Hollywood quality costumes. I decided not to buy a set of elf ears. You have to attach them with spirit gum which a. smells, and b. hurts when you pull it off.

Anyway, it was great fun. It’s always fun to talk about writing. It’s also good to know that whether through Kindle or Nooks or through printed books, there are still plenty of people out there reading.

I do not normally read sify or Steam Punk. I simply don’t know much about it. I do, however, like witches and magic and vampires. I do not do zombies—except for Sean of the Dead, which hardly counts. I think I’m going to be forced to broaden my horizons since the books of the other Darrell finalists on our panel sounded truly interesting.

Phyllis Appleby and I were the two finalists in the short story category. Both stories came from the Malice in Memphis Ghost Story anthology. We didn’t even know our publisher, Dark Oak Press, had submitted them to the contest. It really is extremely cool to be nominated whatever the outcome. In this case, however, the outcome was great. Phyllis took second place, and I won. I hope that Dark Oak Press is pleased with us.

Small presses are really doing wonderful work keeping new authors and new topics out there for the reading public. Large publishers tend to stick to publishing safe books that they hope are slam dunks for the New York Times bestseller lists. That’s pretty limiting. And it doesn’t work. A whole lot of publishers turned down the Harry Potter books, and there are a bunch of other books that almost never saw the light of day except for a gutsy publisher who took a chance.

Anyway, I am grateful to Dark Oak Press for backing our Malice in Memphis anthologies, and to the other small and large presses who continue to take chances. Long may they print.

chaos rains (as opposed to reigns) – Carolyn

I look out my front door and see little yellow ranunculus (my least favorite flower in the entire world) invading my pitiful flowerbeds and my pastures. According to the German dressage people, they are poisonous to horses. Since horses never eat them, however, it doesn’t really matter. I just hate the way it crowds out all the good stuff. The pastures are also being overrun with purple clover, which I am informed is not clover at all but some sort of wild other non-clover thing. Just shows you how much I know about flowers. I can identify many of the poisonous ones—lilly of the valley being one of my favorite, right up there with hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates. The African violet that one of our more horticultural (and optimistic) members of Malice in Memphis gave me a couple of months ago is not only still alive, but still thriving. That is a miracle. Rappacini’s daughter, whose very touch in the garden killed whatever she touched, has nothing in me. As I have noted in the past, I can kill philodendron. Also Mother-in-law’s tongue. Both are supposed to be indestructible. But a corollary to Murphy’s law is that whenever God makes something indestructible, we manage to make a more efficient destroyer.

On that note, the book is going well, so my house looks as though that destroyer has had a high old time rampaging through it. My bed is not even made. I NEVER leave my bed unmade. I discovered in college that a room where the bed is made looks relatively straight, even if it’s not. A straight room with an UNMade bed, however, looks messy even if you could safely eat off the floor or show your closets to strangers. So, no writing this afternoon. Dusting and picking up and vacuuming and…oh yuck! I’d rather sit on the patio with my Ipad and read mysteries on Kindle. Which is probably what I’ll end up doing eventually. I may also go groom horses. Or even—wait for it—pull a few weeds out of the flower beds.

But don’t hold your breath.

animal games – Carolyn

Oh, shoot! Here it is almost midnight and I am just getting around to doing my blog for Sunday. Just shows what happens when the book I am working on is actually working. I forget everything else. I don’t play music when I write, because I never hear it anyway. Nor television. Half the time not even the telephone. I have tunnel vision that makes the Holland Tunnel look like a mouse hole. Meanwhile the bills don’t get paid, the correspondence and the Internet don’t get tended to, and obviously I forget blogs. For which I am heartily sorry.

If the book hits a snag, all of a sudden I get an urge to clean out my closets and polish the silver. Anything to avoid facing the keyboard. I think most writers function like that. When things are rolling, we can’t wait to sit down to write. When they are drifting or flat out stalled, we’ll do anything at all to face the screen.

I am not a linear writer. My solution when I am stuck and/or bored is to pick a scene that may be much farther along in the story and write that. Then when I reach the point where it fits, it’s already in rough draft and waiting for me. It’s the tying everything together from start to finish that can get boring. And the last thing I want is for things to get boring for my reader.

My present book is about people who rescue abandoned wild animals. I had no idea we had so many of them in my neck of the woods, but we do. For instance, Reelfoot Lake North Of Memphis has one of the largest groups of bald eagles in the world. When we were canoeing down the river in Yellowstone, we saw eagles’ nests that had been in the same locations for a hundred years. The same thing holds true in Reelfoot. The lake was only created during the earthquake of 1812, and I don’t how soon the eagles discovered it was a good place to nest, but they do return year after year after year.

And they are arrogant. From time to time they wind up close to me, south of the lake. A year or so ago I came around a curve by my house to find a white-headed and therefore mature bald eagle standing in the middle of the road with his winds (humongous) fully spread. He was not about to move, but simply glared. I slammed on my brakes and sat there blinking my lights to warn anyone coming from the other direction. After a couple of minutes, having, I assume, made his point as to who was boss, he folded his wings and flew away. Truly awesome. But kind of dumb, too. In a duel between the eagle and my Escape, the Ford would have won hands down.

Anyway, I am enjoying hearing stories from the people who actually foster wild animals. I hope my readers will enjoy the final book. No idea what the title will be.


Booksigning for an anthology – Carolyn

Saturday the Malice in Memphis mystery writers group of which I am a member had a booksigning at a real live bookstore in Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis. In a week in which our largest independent bookstore closed its doors, having an actual booksigning was kind of an affirmation of faith in the written and physically printed word. I love my Ipad to death, but let’s face it, I still can’t take it in the bathtub to read a book, nor easily lend a book I like to someone else, now make notes in the margins. I still miss actual books with pages that turn physically rather than electronically.

Can’t have a booksigning for a virtual book either. There are good things and bad things about that. On the one hand, a writer sitting all alone at a table in a bookstore while shoppers walk by and stare, while said writer pasts a stupid smile on her face in hopes of conning a prospective customer in to at least have a bit of conversation is not so good. I’ve found that more than half the time, the prospective customer says something like, “Oh, I never read. I mean, who has time?” Then they wonder why their children never pick up a book.

And there is the ever popular, “Where do you get your ideas?” Frankly, I haven’t a clue. All it takes is a nudge and a modicum of “what if?”

Setting up a booksigning for an anthology in which there are stories by eleven different writers is not a piece of cake. We try to keep it neat and orderly so that the books pass around from author to author and wind up with every story signed. Somehow, however, the order invariably gets messed up—some authors sign, some authors miss their turns and have to hunt up the copies they didn’t sign. People change seats or go to the bathroom or wander off to look at the mysteries or the romances. Eventually, however, we did get all the copies signed. At least I think we did.

The fun of a booksigning is talking to those prospective customers. Not trying to sell them anything, but simply enjoying meeting and chatting with them. Everybody has a story. Our latest anthology is based on ghost stories. At least in the south, everybody has at least one story of an encounter with a ghost. And in a small bookstore like the one we signed at today, the atmosphere is relaxed, people do enjoy conversation whether they buy a book or not.

I love booksignings, because I like talking to strangers. I tend to be shy and standoffish in large groups, but with four or five people I have a wonderful time.

The people who read books are by definition interesting. So, the next time you run into a stray booksigning somewhere, go chat with the author or authors. I promise you they’ll welcome your company.

Foxes – Carolyn

This morning I drove down to the road to pick up my morning newspaper and the mail from yesterday. I know, I know, I should walk, but it’s a long way and generally I don’t, especially when it’s cold and foggy, as it was this morning.

As I was sitting in the car going through the mail before driving back to the house, the biggest dog fox I have ever seen in my life burst out of the long grass in the small uncut paddock just north of me, glanced at me and tore across the road to the tract of undeveloped woods—fifty acres or so of it—on the other side.

I have not seen him nor any of his family for a couple of years. I felt certain they were gone. I missed them, although I saw them seldom. Usually together.

I’m fairly certain this was the dog fox and not the vixen. I think dog foxes are generally bigger, and this guy must weigh forty pounds. Red foxes can apparently either be red or gray or occasionally black, although they are still called red foxes. This guy had a gray brush (tail) with a big white pompon on the end of it, but his body was flame-colored. Now, of course, I have to worry about his safety when he crosses the road. I wish he’d stay on my side. I wouldn’t mind his coming into my barn at night. Heaven knows I have enough field mice in my feed room to sate his entire family’s hunger.

I had been kind of hoping the foxes were still around. A couple of months ago when my friend Beverly and I were driving my big Zoe on the edge of the copse in my pasture, Zoe stopped dead, came up off her front feet, and backed up precipitously. Not a good thing when driving a four-wheel cart. A two-wheel cart backs fairly straight. Four wheels—not so much. I got her stopped, let her stand and huff a minute at what she obviously considered a safe distance from whatever she smelled, then turned her and went the other way. Later after we’d turned her out after driving, Beverly and I went hunting for the area that upset her. We found a lovely fallen tree that had created a natural den. Either the foxes and their kits were out for the day, or long gone. We never actually saw them, and the next time we drove that way, Zoe did not react, but trotted right by what we supposed had been a den.

So, spotting Brer Fox was a rare and happy event this morning. To the best of my knowledge nobody around here raises chickens or guinea hens, so poultry is not in danger from their predations. I prefer them to the coyotes, who are a danger to the pet dogs in the area. So, I will listen for their yips and worry about their road crossings and hope that they will let me enjoy seeing them in the mornings.

On another subject, my new romance, which is about skunks, is coming along. Somehow all my books seem to involve animals. Maybe that’s because I have a tendency to prefer them to human beings. Whoops! I never said that!


Nuts! It’s spring – Carolyn

My big forsythia is blooming. So is my big baby’s breath. Tulip trees are flowering and everywhere I look jonquils are flowing over the pastures like liquid butter.

Well, drat!

I realize it is ridiculous to hate spring. If I lived where I used to in St. Paul, first, I would still be battling blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. Second, I would not be dreading summer. We have had barely two days of real winter this year. In those two days my bathroom pipes froze and had to be replaced (expensively). Today on the twelfth of February it is raining and seventy degrees. There has not been near enough cold weather to kill the bugs from last year. That means I’ll be battling everything from fleas and red wasps to those little greenhead flies that bite like rabid Rottweilers. And we will probably top ninety-degrees sometime in early May, to be followed by a hundred plus in July, August, and yes, boys and girls, September.

Of course, we may still have an ice storm or two—enough to kill the peach blossoms—but for all intents and purposes, winter is past. And boy, do I hate summer. Several years ago my horse trainer and I flew to Maine to check out a horse (which I bought and still own) in August. The water in Casco Bay was still too cold to swim in. I needed a sweater over my polo shirt after dark. People actually ate outside in the evenings and picnicked at noon. I tried out the horse (my big 17.2. hand Sailor) without breaking any kind of sweat but the terrified kind. There was invariably a breeze coming off the water. The way summer ought to be.

And is not down here.

Of course, Maine has to contend with winter. Worse than winter is springtime/mudtime when the bears wake up ravenous to eat anything and anybody they can catch. Moose wander into people’s kitchens. Black flies swarm into eyes and mouths. But it is actually feasible to sit on the front porch in the evenings. I don’t even sit on mine at six in the morning. By the time I finish feeding the horses at eight I am dripping wet—and so are they. And with global warming, it’s getting worse. But I intend to try enjoying the short little springtime that we DO have down here. Who knows, I may actually try to grow something… Nah, let’s not go overboard.

My other news is that I have received an offer for a three book contract. Yea! Now all I have to do is write the three books. That means that no matter how hot summer is, I will probably be hunkered down beside the air conditioner. Actually, that’s where I would be in any case, but now I have the perfect excuse to stay indoors. Wish me luck and put me on your prayer lists if you have them. Thank heaven I have the world’s most supportive critique group as well as the world’s finest editor. Between them, I can’t get away with anything!