Powerful Lyrics—and a Giveaway!

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He has also worked on scripts for motion pictures and domestic television in his home country.

He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor for their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

POISONED TEARS is his third novel in English and has already garnered positive reviews and recommendations. Jon Land calls it “a splendid piece of crime noir,” while Douglas Preston says it’s a first class roller-coaster ride.

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Music is an essential part of my life. At one point, I blogged about how my life is so much like a movie I even have the soundtrack! I guess it must be because of my passion for stories—which would also explain why I write—but I find some of the messages delivered by lyrics as fascinating and quite powerful. As writers, I truly believe there’s much to be learned from powerful lyrics that are able to encapsulate an idea, a thought, or a feeling in very few words. Please allow me to share some of my favorites with you.

“You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette

Does she know how you told me you’d hold me | Until you died, till you died |But you’re still alive.

This complaint to a former lover about a broken promise is exceptionally powerful. To me, it speaks of how easy we make promises we can’t keep and how the spurned lover feels when realizing the deception.

Along the same lines, you can also feel the unrequited love in Adele’s hit “Rolling in the Deep” when she claims:

Think of me in the depths of your despair.

Or take a moment to thing about “Numb” by Linkin Park

Every step that I take is another mistake to you.

Here’s another complaint to a lover. This time includes a feeling of self-defeat that is both disturbing and sad.

But not all songs are about lovers current or old, some are just plain stories that even include a moral. Look for instance at Kenny Roger’s song “Coward of the County” where a father imparts the following advice to his son:

Promise me, son, | Not to do the things I’ve done | Walk away from trouble if you can |

Now it don’t mean you’re weak | If you turn the other cheek |

And I hope you’re old enough to understand | Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man

After a lifetime of being obedient to his father’s last wishes, the man comes to find his loved-one raped by three other men. What choice does he have?

“Papa, I should hope you understand |Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man”

Almost every time I get to check the news I see nothing but trouble in all parts of the world. Invariably, this line from the tune “The Miracle” by Queen comes to mind with a little bit of hope as it reminds me these news are not so new anyway but also, that there’s hope in some of the other things that are permanent:

Super powers always fighting, |But Mona Lisa just keeps on smiling.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Book Reviews: Hearts & Other Body Parts by Ira Bloom and P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Hearts & Other Body Parts
Ira Bloom
Scholastic Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-338-03073-0
Hardcover

Fast-paced and fabulously fun, Hearts & Other Body Parts is a freaky fusion of folklore that completely rocks my socks.  Fantasy, science-fiction and a bit of magic combine to capture, then carry you along the remarkable ride.  With the emphasis on “science”, some of this fiction feels frighteningly plausible.

The three sisters that center the story are quintessential siblings in the best ways possible.  Unique enough for interesting exchanges, their common ground allows them to create a formidable front when needed.  Norman, the new kid (whose full name is spectacularly perfect) is a gentle giant—in the most literal sense—but, his size is the least shocking attribute of his appearance.

Generally, students in small town schools divide into two groups when a new kid arrives: instant fans seeking something different or rowdy ruffians refusing change.  Not so when Norman enters the picture.  All eyes focus on him, the same expression on every face.  Mouths hang open in wonder, revulsion and fear.  When Esme joins Norman at the lunch table on his first day, he knew things would be different here; but even his peculiar past could not have prepared him for what was coming.

Zack erases Norman’s new-kid status and creates a fandom in the student body.  Girls surround Zack like fog, floating on his every word. Intelligent as well as wise, Norman is not captivated by Zack’s charms; instead he is suspicious.  Reports of missing girls convince Norman that Esme and her sisters, who have absolutely abandoned him to hover around Zack, are in imminent danger.  Norman can’t face Zack alone, but the bullies that once taunted him may not be much back-up…..even with the reluctant aid of a demon cat.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2017.

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P.S. I Like You
Kasie West
Point, August 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-85097-1
Hardcover

This is such a sweet story—not so your teeth hurt–it’s perfectly sweet.  First and foremost:  I love the Abbott family.  I want to dive into their home and be submersed in the fresh, awesome, oddness.  Each quirky, yet quintessential, sibling provides poignant texture, interacting individually and collectively with Lily.  Her competition-loving, compassionate parents are perfectly embarrassing and absolutely adorable.  Also, there is a rescued “pet” rabbit.

I adore Lily.  She’s who I wanted to be as a teenager.  Her most awkward teen-aged moment is exponentially cooler than any of mine.  It is effortless to relate to, empathize with and understand her.  She is “learning lessons” that I learned, but sometimes forget.  The reminders are welcome and appreciated.

There is also the something-different-that-I-totally-dig-aspect:  putting a pencil to your desktop, jotting a note or song lyric to maintain sanity and/or a state of semi-awareness during class, only to be stunned when another student responds in kind.  I remember trading notes via the top of my desk with an anonymous person in my 8th grade Literature class (sorry, Mr. Leach).  So, no surprise, I’m stupidly delighted and charmed to find a book basing a pretty groovy relationship on such a simple start.  Particularly impressive, Ms. West presents a spot-on, classic-yet-credible, way of communicating without feeling the need to mute or explain away today’s textmania.

This was a one-sitting-read that I really enjoyed.  The mini-mystery to determine who Lily’s pen pal is warranted a close look and careful consideration of the characters.  Although cute and quick, this isn’t the cotton candy of reading—there is a Mean Girl and her role is not gratuitous and the importance of being a good friend cannot be overstated.  My copy is going to my 13-year-old niece and I’m sure I’ll donate another copy to my Middle Grader’s classroom library.  I really like this book for the Middle-Grade reader looking for a love story.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

Designing Dogs and Cozies

Before she let her writing go to the dogs, Susan J. Kroupa won awards for her fiction from such places as the Utah Arts Council Contest, Writers of the Future and the Deep South Writing Competition. Her stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy and in a variety of anthologies, including Bruce Coville’s Shapeshifters. Her non-fiction publications include features about environmental issues and Hopi Indian culture for The Arizona Republic, High Country News, American Forests, and the Bristol Herald-Courier.

Now, she is best known for her Doodlebugged Mysteries, a gentle cozy series featuring the irrepressible but obedience-impaired sniffer-dog, Doodle.

Susan lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southwestern Virginia with her husband and a trouble-prone labradoodle whose superpower is bringing home dead possums. You can learn more about her on her webpage http://www.susankroupa.com or by subscribing to her newsletter (where you can sometimes get free stories and other cool stuff) at http://eepurl.com/3PUR1.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t invent Doodle, the wise-cracking, bed-bug-detecting narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries, out of whole cloth—or, um fur. It happens that many of Doodle’s more eccentric traits came from observation of Shadow, a labradoodle we adopted as a filthy, flea-bitten puppy on a frigid November afternoon in 2008. Abandoning all the wise advice in “how-to-get-a dog” books, we impulsively came home with a pup we knew little about because we had a chance to get him for free.

I had wanted a labradoodle ever since I first began reading about Australian labradoodles a few years earlier, but knew I could never afford one. Back then, when I first started gazing adoringly at photos of labradoodle puppies, the breed, or rather hybrid, wasn’t as easy to find as it is today, where often unscrupulous or at least sketchy practices by amateur breeders hoping to make a quick buck on the breed-mix du jour—aussiedoodles, goldendoodles, schnauserdoodle (schnoodles), etc.—have flooded the market and sometimes the animal shelters with “designer dogs” of unproven health histories and personality traits.

Shadow

But the first designer dogs came out of a practical desire to create non-shedding and mostly hypoallergenic service dogs.  Developed by Wally Cochran (beginning in 1989) Australian Labrador retrievers (generally calmer and smaller than American Labrador retrievers) were crossed with standard poodles. These dogs were designed to be service dogs for people who are allergic to golden retrievers, German shepherds and other typical service breeds. The goal was to pair a non-shedding, more hypoallergenic coat (i.e., a poodle’s coat) with a service-dog personality (i.e. a  Labrador retriever’s.)

At this point, you might say, “Hey, poodles already have hypoallergenic, non-shedding coat. Why go to all the trouble to create a hybrid?”

Because poodles, with their quick intelligence and their sense of what I can only call entitlement are not always the most biddable dogs. Biddable, in dog training terms, means compliant, tractable, easily led or taught. While some poodles can be biddable, many are more independent than the breeds most often used as service dogs.

So the Labrador part of the labradoodle equation was to make the breed more user-friendly. The Mac version rather than the PC. Or the PC version rather than the Linux, depending upon your software biases. That’s what Wally Cochran was looking for in 1989 when he began crossing the two breeds in search of a hypoallergenic service dog. (Cochran has stated in recent years that he now regrets starting the whole designer-dog trend. “There are a lot of unhealthy and abandoned dogs out there,” he said in 2014, referring to all puppy mills spawned by the designer dog craze.)

Labradoodles were supposed to be calm, clever, biddable, and—an added bonus thrown in for free—cute. Really cute.

I got the clever and cute part in my labradoodle bundle. Calm? Let’s just say that during the first two years of his life our nicknames for Shadow included “the barkster,” “boing-boing,” “hyper-drive,” “motor-mouth” and, well, you get the idea. And as for biddable? Excuse me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes. I think if he could have talked during our training sessions, his most-spoken phrases would have been, “Why should I do that?” Or, “Make it worth my while.” Or “Are you crazy?” Certainly his eyes often seemed to say such things.

As one of Doodle’s trainers complains in the first book, Doodle, (and certainly his inspiration, Shadow) is “too much doodle and not enough labra.”

It was during those first few years, which were interesting in the Chinese curse sort of sense, that the idea of creating a mystery series narrated by an obedience-impaired, service-dog flunkee was born. Doodle was the obvious name for such a dog, and he needed what service-dog trainers often euphemistically call a “career change.” But to what? The short answer is that I decided to make him a bed-bug detecting dog. (Why I picked bed bugs, which have a deservedly high “ew” factor, is a tale for another blog.)

The result turned out to be the Doodlebugged mysteries, aimed at fans of gentle mysteries and dog lovers of all ages. Best-selling author Virginia Smith (The Goose Creek Series) has called the books “the perfect blend of mystery, suspense, and laugh-out-loud doggy observations.”

You can learn more about Doodle and Shadow by subscribing to my newsletter:  http://eepurl.com/3PUR1 or visiting my webpage at https://www.susankroupa.com. No spam, I promise, just occasional updates, and all newsletter subscribers can get a free copy of my story about a fiercely loyal black & tan hound, “Gabriel & Mr. Death.”

Want to meet Doodle? Bed-Bugged is currently free at most ebook retail sites: Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ Kobo iTunes

Or, see what he’s up to in Ruff-Housed, where stolen dogs, animal rights activists, and a big demonstration by the White House make Doodle wonder if he’s bitten off more than he can chew. On Amazon ◊ Barnes & Noble ◊ iTunes ◊ Kobo

 

For the Love of a Tree

Susan Breen is the author of the Maggie Dove mystery series published by the Alibi digital imprint of Penguin Random House. A Maggie Dove story will be published in an upcoming issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She teaches for Gotham Writers in Manhattan and lives in a small village on the Hudson River. You can find out more about her at http://www.susanjbreen.com

I teach fiction writing in New York City and one of my favorite writing exercises is to ask my students to make a list of their obsessions. You can only imagine some of the responses I get! But it’s a fun exercise because everyone is obsessed with something. There are those who are concerned about world peace, and those who are concerned about collecting sculptures made out of macaroni. (That student might have been teasing me.) But the fact is that all of us, writers or otherwise, are obsessed with something and this is what makes us unique. When writing a novel, I think it’s important to tap into those obsessions. It gives your writing energy.

My own list of obsessions would be topped by faith, family, friends and dogs (cockapoos), but hovering around number 8, would be trees. Since I was a girl I’ve been enthralled by trees. Possibly because I grew up in a very flat section of Long Island which was barren of trees except for some mimosas. Then one year my parents sent me to camp in upstate New York and I was floored to discover forests. The very first thing I ever wrote was a poem about a birch tree.

I’m partial to all trees, but am especially fond of oaks. There’s something very democratic about an oak tree. I like the way its branches always seem to be open in welcome. I love the shade they provide in summer, and the way they loom over me when I wander around the oak forest near where I live. (Though you do have to watch those acorns in the fall!)  This time of year, my oak trees are an almost neon green with their little leaf clusters. All in all, a very agreeable tree.

When I started working on the first of my Maggie Dove mysteries, I needed to think of a reason for the murder to take place. This to me is the hardest part of writing a mystery because I’m not an especially vicious person and you have to dig deep within yourself to figure out what would make you want to take someone’s life. Of course, if someone was threatening my family I would respond. But I wanted a motive that was a little different, and so my mind automatically went to my list of obsessions.

Trees.

My protagonist, Maggie Dove, is passionate about the oak tree on her front lawn. Her father planted it, her daughter played on it. She loves that tree. But her new neighbor, Marcus Bender, is a grasping sort of person and is annoyed that that tree blocks his view of the Hudson River. He offers her money to cut the tree down. She says no. Soon after she notices the dirt under the tree bubbling with poison. Marcus Bender is trying to kill her tree. Soon after that she finds Bender himself lying under the tree. Murdered. And when her dear young friend is accused of the crime, she must figure out who did it.

How about you? Are there issues that obsess you? I’d love to hear!

Waiting On Wednesday (66)

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly event that
spotlights upcoming releases that I’m really
looking forward to. Waiting On Wednesday
is the creation of Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:

Continue reading

Book Review: Celine by Peter Heller

Celine
Peter Heller
Alfred A. Knopf, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-451-49389-7
Hardcover

Celine is one of the most fascinating and hard to describe books I have read recently. In many ways, it is really two books in one. In the prologue, readers watch a happy family outing turn tragic and meet the little girl who will eventually be Celine’s client. If you are a reader who generally skips prologues, DON’T skip this one. It is important.

Moving on to the first chapter readers are introduced to Celine, one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. In her sixties, she works as a PI specializing in reuniting families but is also an artist using mostly found items that can be best described as macabre. For instance, in the opening scene she is creating a sculpture of  the skeleton of a mink looking down on it’s own skin drying on a rock with a crow’s skull nearby. Celine suffers from emphysema from her many years of smoking. There is a sadness about her that readers should realize right away explains much of what she does. She has suffered many losses in her life from her father’s absence from his family to the death of her sisters. But even as her story unfolds, we sense that Celine has lost even more.

Fast forward to the call from a much younger woman who has read about Celine’s work in a college alumni magazine. The woman, Gabriela, has also suffered losses in her life. The first painful loss was her small cat who disappeared when she was seven. But that loss is quickly overshadowed by a much bigger loss, that of her mother. As terrible as that was it was at least clear cut. Her mother drowned. Sadly that brought about the loss of her father at least emotionally. But it was  the actual death of her father many years later that  haunted her and brought her to Celine. Her father, a world renowned photographer, supposedly was killed, and possibly eaten, by a bear just outside of Yellowstone. No body was ever recovered. Gabriela has long questioned the circumstances surrounding her father’s death. Too many things in the investigation just didn’t quite add up. Celine takes the case and proceeds to Wyoming to investigate.

From that point on, the book shifts from Celine’s investigation and flashbacks to her own story.  In the end, readers find out what became of Gabriela’s father, but sadly, the mystery of Celine’s deep sadness is not fully revealed. I am hoping that there will be another case for Celine. Readers (and Celine) want closure.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St.Clair, March 2017.

Holidays and Dogs

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to talk about how dogs and holidays have wormed their way into her Mary McGill series.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue will be out in July 2017.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

When I decided to start a new series I didn’t plan to write one that contained a specific holiday for each book. I didn’t plan to write one about dogs, either. But, somehow, it turned out that way.

I wanted to write about a woman in her seventies, but one who wasn’t ready to sit down and be old. Mary McGill has a lot to offer, and she knows what to do with it. She’s smart, she knows everyone in town, she’s organized and can keep others on track (as a retired school teacher she’s had plenty of practice) and she has time on her hands. She’s a widow with a willingness to help wherever needed and she doesn’t let a little thing like age get in her way. Santa Louisa, Ca has come to rely on her when they have a fundraiser or community event they want to go smoothly. None of them had counted on murder.

What I hadn’t counted on, or in the beginning even realized, was all three of the Mary McGill mysteries features a holiday. Purebred Dead takes place over Christmas. It opens during the Santa Louisa Victorian Extravaganza, where many of the houses in the old downtown have pageants of some sort on their front lawns and people from miles around come to see the show. This year is the first to have a Posada, the Mexican celebration of Mary and Joseph looking for a room in the Inn and ending with Mary giving birth in a barn. Only this church manger is filled not with baby Jesus but a very dead old veterinarian, a puppy cowering beside him. I know why I invented the Victorian Extravaganza. The town I used to live in had a Christmas event much like it and I’d thought for years it would make a great murder scene, but where the puppy came from I don’t know. It just appeared and I had the dickens of a time trying to figure out why it was there and how it fit into the story, which much to my surprise centered not only on Christmas but dog breeding.

So, now I had a Christmas book filled with dogs. Besides the puppy, Mary finds a cocker spaniel, Millie, whose owner has been murdered. Feeling sorry for the little thing, she offers to take care of her for a few days. The few days extends into forever much to Mary, Millie’s and my delight. The puppy and Millie aren’t the only dogs that show up in this story and I never planned any of them.

In Curtains for Miss Plym, Millie discovers the body of little old Miss Plym behind the makeshift dressing room curtain at the spring rummage sale, the one held right before Easter week starts. I hadn’t thought about Easter when I set the rummage sale in the spring but of course it had to be postponed and I needed a new date.  It turned out I had to fit it into the Easter church schedule. However, the new date worked out fine. Neither Mary nor I minded working around the smaller children having their own Easter egg hunt on the church lawn and absolutely loved the three legged hound dog that didn’t get a home when the dog and cat adoption event was canceled along with the rummage sale. I gave him to Santa Louisa’s chief of police. I hadn’t planned any of this, don’t know how it happened, but Mary finally figured who the murderer was, although she and Millie almost didn’t live to tell about it, and Morgan loves living with the police chief.

I’d always planned to set the 3rd book, Blood Red, White and Blue, during the 4th of July. I thought shooting someone while the fireworks were going off worked really well. It wasn’t until I was half way through the book I realized I had created a series where every book was set during holidays. By now I was fully aware the dogs had taken over.  So, poor Mr. Miller got shot in the back during the 4th of July fireworks display and his German Shepherd, Ranger, became homeless. Mary couldn’t let that condition continue, after all Ranger was a friend of Millie’s. Besides, she’s found out Mr. Miller was a state policeman and she’s afraid his murder might be somehow connected to the bizarre jewelry store robberies going on up and down the state. Could that mean someone in her town… she has to find out. With the help of the dogs, she gets her answer but it creates more fireworks then she and the dogs ever thought possible.

In case you didn’t know, writers of novels fall into two categories. There are those who outline, plan meticulously, and know what’s going to happen before they put fingers to computer keys. Then there are the rest of us. We start out with an idea, usually vague, and some characters. Sometimes they’re vague as well but if you develop a series you have the advantage of already knowing your key character and some of her/his friends. Then you start writing and odd things happen.  Like books about holidays, dogs and murder. Writing this way is nerve wracking, it means waking up at three in the morning, trying to figure out what happens next, it  means going back and rewriting because things haven’t turned out the way you thought, but it’s also an adventure. You never know where your pen, or computer key board, will take you, or your characters, but it’s always interesting and often quite a surprise. Come visit Mary and Millie and their friends in Santa Louisa. I hope you have as much fun reading about them as I have had writing their story.