Getting There Is Half the Fun

A lifelong resident of Minnesota, S.L. Smith was born in Saint Cloud and attended Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul. During her thirty-two years with the state department of public safety, she worked with law enforcement and fire officials at the state, county and municipal levels. Those interactions assisted her with writing mysteries, but were just the starting point. Without the help of a friend who spent thirty-five years as a cop, she might never have ventured into writing police procedurals. He contributed to her understanding of the perspectives of her two protagonists, Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney. Thankfully, this friend is still a resource. He proofreads each manuscript and performs a reality check on the law enforcement aspects.

All three of her previous books include a social issue. In Blinded by the Sight, it’s homelessness. For book two, Running Scared, it’s the impacts of a failing marriage on the kids. Book three, Murder on a Stick, addresses a plight faced by many of the elderly. Smith is a member of Sisters in Crime (an organization that supports mystery writers). She divides her time between Minnesota and Florida, to care for her mother.

Website // Book trailer

Buy links for Mistletoe and MurderBarnes & Noble // Amazon

Research is a centerpiece of my novels. Three critical resources provided valuable information as I wrote and rewrote my first four books. They are: a retired police chief, a retired lead investigator with the medical examiner’s office, and an emergency medicine physician. The mission? Keep the stories realistic. Outcome? Several law enforcement officers buy my books, and the retired lead investigator is a loyal fan.

But that’s just the beginning. All four of my books are set in St. Paul, Minnesota. No, thirty years in St. Paul doesn’t make me an expert in all facets of this city. For that reason, each of my novels requires a lot of location-related research.

The crime in Mistletoe and Murder occurs in Saint Paul’s Union Depot. I’d heard about the depot, but never been inside. That was the starting point. It took three trips to get and verify the facts, as I worked my way through the first draft and the revisions. The fact Christos Greek restaurant is located in the depot and plays a part in the book worked in my favor. I was forced to eat dinner there… twice. How else could I work the menu into the book? In the process, I got to know the manager and a waitress. Both served as valuable resources. Both made their way into the book.

I wanted to know when construction of this landmark began and was completed. Then I had to know why it took so long. This led to a discovery of the World War II modifications to and utilization of the facility. That led to the insertion of the story about my main protagonist, Pete Culnane’s grandfather returning from World War II via the depot. And that led to more research, regarding the return of World War II veterans.

An Internet search provided a story about a soldier returning to St. Paul, after the war. It gave me a feel for the atmosphere greeting these soldiers upon their return, and the attitudes of the returning soldiers. Didn’t find a place for the latter in Mistletoe and Murder, but filed it away for future reference.

Since Pete’s grandmother retells the story of meeting his grandfather at the Union Depot, I wanted to describe what it would have been like—the look, the feel. In the mid-1940s, a woman would’ve dressed to the nine’s to meet her returning fiancé, right? You bet! Even so, I wanted to see photos. Once again, the Internet came through. I found not only pictures of families greeting returning veterans on train platforms, but also one of soldiers hanging out the windows as their train approached the station. Both made their way into the book.

I researched departure ports from the European theater. I’ll share a secret. I tried every way imaginable to have Pete’s grandfather’s journey mimic my dad’s. I knew Dad’s location at the end of the war and a month prior to his return to the states, as well as his departure and arrival dates back in the US. Unfortunately, that’s all I knew. The other details burned in a fire at the facility housing military records. Tried the county historical society, but their efforts, too, failed. Solution? A friend who is an historian provided viable options.

Carrying it several steps further, I visited the locations where characters lived and worked. Since I describe those locations, and since they are real, accuracy is important to me. That includes the route in getting from one place to another, and the location and appearance of the entrance, the existence and type of security system. You name it.

Heroin comes into play in Mistletoe and Murder. Fortunately, or in this case perhaps unfortunately, I’m ignorant when it comes to a firsthand knowledge of heroin. The good news is, a friend provided a connection. Once again, problem solved.

A homeless man, “Doc,” is introduced in book one, Blinded by the Sight. Because temperatures are predicted to be dangerously cold in Mistletoe and Murder, Pete Culnane is intent on reconnecting with Doc. You have to read Mistletoe and Murder to learn what Pete is considering, and why he must contact social services to get some answers before making the offer.

The materials used by highway departments to keep roads passable in winter are dictated by ambient air temperatures. Yet another detail that came into play and required accuracy.

Just a few of the other points requiring research while writing Mistletoe and Murder were:

* How does a gunshot sound in an enclosed, cement facility?

* What are optical affinity and auditory exclusion, and what part do they play in police confrontations?

* What pricey shoe would be rare, yet readily recognizable?

Each time I find an answer, it’s a victory, moving me toward the completion of my work in progress. It isn’t the storytelling part of the effort, but it adds depth. It helps the novel come alive.  For that reason, I love the research almost as much as the writing.

What do you think? Do I carry it from the sublime to the ridiculous? If you’re an author, I’d love to hear about the research you do. If you’re a reader, do you like to learn new things as you read a novel? If so, what types of things?

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Spotlight on Audiobook War of the Worlds: Retaliation by John J. Rust and Mark Gardner

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Title: War of the Worlds: Retaliation
Authors: John J. Rust and Mark Gardner
Narrator: Samuel E. Hoke III
Audiobook Publisher: Article94

Publication Date: March 24, 2017
Genre: Science Fiction

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Synopsis

1898: Martian tripods lay waste to Earth’s cities. The world’s armies are unable to stem the tide of destruction. When all hope appears lost, common bacteria kills the alien invaders. From the ashes, the human race uses the technology left behind by the Martians to build new, advanced weapons.

1924: Armed with their own spaceships, tripods, and jet fighters, the nations of the world are ready to take the fight to Mars. George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Charles de Gaulle, and Georgy Zhukov lead their troops in battle across the red planet to end the alien menace once and for all. But the Martians have one last, desperate plan to try, and if successful, it could mean the end for all humanity.

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Play an Excerpt Here.

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About the Authors

Co-author

John J. Rust was born in New Jersey. He studied broadcasting and journalism at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey and the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York. He moved to Arizona in 1996, where he works as the Sports Director for an Arizona radio group.

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Co-author

Mark Gardner is a US NAVY veteran. He lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications, and is the Chief Operator for an Arizona radio group.

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Narrator

Samuel E. Hoke III is a 6’0″ Scorpio who summers in Virginia with his wife two amazingly wonderful black cats named Inca and Maya. In the winter they all head to central  Florida. Samuel is a veteran of the corporate world including IBM and Bank of America he now pursues his lifelong passion of acting.

Samuel has a Bachelors degree in Liberal Studies from Norwich University and an MBA in Global Technology Management from American University. He also conducted a Pre-Doctoral studies in Strategic Leadership at Cornell University. Samuel enjoys Rock and Roll music, photography, fast cars, and international travel.

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Follow the tour

Jun. 11th: The Cheshire Cat’s Looking Glass
Jun. 12th: CGB Blog Tours
Jun. 13th: To Read or Not to Read Dab of Darkness
Jun. 14th: Spunky-n-Sassy The Book Addict’s Reviews
Jun. 15th: Buried Under Books The Bookworm Lodge
Jun. 16th: Lomeraniel Book Reviews By Jasmine
Jun. 17th: Book Lover’s Life

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A Passion for Rescue

Colleen Mooney was born and lived much of her live in New Orleans before a job moved her to other cities.  She writes a cozy mystery series she refers to as Murder Light that is set in New Orleans. It’s called The New Orleans Go Cup Chronicles and the third book, Drive Thru Murder, was released in early April.

Since January 2017 Colleen organized a Sisters In Crime chapter in New Orleans, has been elected President and has a planned a Mystery Writers’ Conference for June.  She is currently working on her 4th book in the Brandy Alexander series.  She is also the Director of a breed rescue group for almost fifteen years and placed over 300 unwanted or abandoned Schnauzers. In her free time, Colleen sails, goes to a lot of parades, festivals and lives with her husband and three schnauzers in New Orleans. 

Feel free to email/contact at one of the following:

Email:      colleen@colleenmooney.com  
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ColleenMooneyAuthor
Website: www.colleenmooney.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mooney_colleen
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8548635.Colleen_Mooney

The last time I moved back to New Orleans, I stayed.  I volunteered to help with Schnauzer Rescue, a breed rescue group.  The lady I started helping retired and now I’m the Director of a great group of four volunteers. If there wasn’t enough for me to choose what in New Orleans to write about, the people I meet in rescue are an added resource.  I wrote this for our Schnauzer Newsletter when someone asked me how did I get into rescue.

My Brain on Rescue (Schnauzers)

I was the kid who spent all my allowance playing games at school fairs trying to win the gold fish, turtle, or whatever poor creature was the prize. I overheard my dad tell my mother after I brought home a sickly parakeet in a tiny cage, “Those games are rigged. Nobody ever wins.  How is it she always comes home with some poor sick looking creature?”

I always won fair and square. The ping pong ball landed in the goldfish bowl or the ring tossed circled the square with a picture of the bird.   I won the game and got to select which pet I wanted as my prize.  I always picked the sickliest one in the tank or cage because I knew no one else would choose it.  Maybe I could save it.   I didn’t share this with my parents because they were already complaining they had to buy a bigger turtle bowl, a bigger cage, a bigger aquarium—a bigger creature residence.  If they knew I picked a sick one they would have left it in the container I brought it home in figuring it was going to die anyway.  They weren’t mean, just frugal.

Of course, once I found two baby mockingbirds that fell out of the nest and were in the grass.  One was sickly and barely moving. The other one was hopping around and squawking.  I put them both in a shoebox and the next morning the sick one was still alive and the one hopping around the day before was dead.  The sick one lived for almost 20 years in a really big cage my dad made for it in our garage!

I didn’t get the rescue gene by accident.

My dad always brought home stray animals.  He had the rescue mentality.  Dad would come home from work looking all sad and say to my mother, “I saw a sad story today.” She would ask what sad story and he would proceed to tell her how some poor dog was abandoned, eating out of a garbage can, dodging traffic—whatever.  She would start wringing her hands and say, “Well go get it,” and he would then tell her the dog was out in the car.

Dad found the dogs and my mother fed them and took care of them—constantly complaining.  Don’t misunderstand, she loved animals, but she loved complaining a tad bit more so she was in heaven combining the two.

Growing up we had no idea why anyone would pay for a dog. We weren’t schooled in specific breeds only that dogs were were big, little, yappy, old, puppies, black, white, mean, and biting dogs. It was a total shock when I learned people paid a lot of money for some dogs (breeds) and even more money to have it vetted only to grow tired or bored with them and would give them away! They just didn’t give them away, they left them at animal shelters. The bigger shock was there wasn’t a line of people at the shelters waiting to adopt these dogs.

Rescue was a natural for me even before it was recognized. While I wish I could save them all I really sort of fell into breed rescue saving Schnauzers.  I knew my limitations and at the time they were financial.  Once the shelters knew I’d take a Schnauzer my name went on the underground Schnauzer Railroad.  They gave my name to other shelters and to anyone who brought in a Schnauzer. Soon people would call me to take their Schnauzer they no longer wanted and didn’t want to feel bad by taking it to a shelter.

Before I became known as Schnauzer Rescue there was the first one.  The one that got me involved with breed rescue was a little Schnauzer I found running along the highway. I named her Schnitzel.

SCHNITZEL

If I look back at a single event that got me into rescue it was Schnitzel.  I found her running on the highway on my way home.  I brought her to the closest vet, which was my vet, to see if he recognized her or knew who she might belong to. I thought she was a puppy because even full grown she was only ten pounds. She was tiny and very cute.

The vet came out after his exam and said to me, “This is a sad story. She’s in heat.  I hope she isn’t pregnant because she has heart worms and really bad teeth.  She looks to be no more than 3 years old.  She’s covered in fleas, ticks, and tapeworms and she needs a groom.   Someone probably put her out on that highway either to let her get hit by a car because they didn’t want to treat the heart worms or maybe they wanted someone to find her and take care of her. I’d like to think it’s the latter but over here, it’s probably the former.”

I asked, “I’ll take her. Can you give her a bath and her shots? I’ll schedule the heart worm treatment when I come back to pick her up.  What time can you have her ready to go home with me?”

“We can have her ready by 2:00 pm today, but don’t you want to go home first and talk with your husband about her?” he asked.

“I will. Just get her ready. I’ll be back before you close.”

When I got home, I saw my husband working in the yard.  I brought him out a cold beer and said, “I had a bad experience on my way home and it turns out to be a sad story.”

He stopped working and asked, “What sad story? What happened?”

“I almost hit a little Schnauzer running along Highway 22.” I could see the worried look across his face as I went on, “She was so small, I was lucky I got her in the car and took her over to the vet clinic. Dr. Bill said she’s in heat, has heart worms, and might even be pregnant. He thinks someone put her out on the highway to get hit so they didn’t have to treat her for the heartworms.”

“Go call them right now and tell them we’ll take her,” he said and tried to shoo me along to make the call.

“I already told them to have her ready and I’d pick her up at 2:00 before they close.”

I named her Schnitzel because in German it means little chip. She was always small and never weighed more than the ten pounds she was when I found her, but she had personality in spades.  Holding her was like holding an infant whenever you picked her up because she was happy in the crook of your arm on her back.  Once I bought a baby sling at a yard sale and carried her around in it.  She looked like a Joey, a baby Kangaroo in a pouch.

She loved to go with me everywhere.  I took her sailing and once it turned cold and windy while we were out. I fashioned her a foul weather wind breaker out of a plastic West Marine bag cutting holes for her head and front legs. She wore it with her life vest when we were underway.  She loved sailing and had quite the sea legs – all four of them!

She was cat-like and walked around on the back of my furniture to get a higher position to see something.  She would jump onto my desk and curl up next to my computer while I worked.  She loved for me to dress her up for yappy hours at Jefferson Feed.  Here is a picture of her in her Chanel suit and pillbox hat at the January AFTER FIVE-BRING YOUR BLING event with her escort Meaux.   She was quite the fashion plate and everyone loved her.

In loving memory of Schnitzel
With us 1993 – 2006

Schnitzel was with us 13 years and she could have been as old as three when I found her.  I thought she was only one-year-old because she was so small. She was cute, fun and an entertaining little dog.

Colleen’s series has humor, local color and a cast of quirky characters that could only be found in a city that knows how to have a good time.  You would expect her protagonist with a name like Brandy Alexander to be a stripper instead of the girl next door with a serious passion for rescuing dogs. Brandy has a way of being at the eye of every storm that seems to go through the city and we’re not talking about the weather.  In the city known as The Big Easy, Brandy Alexander’s life is like a Category 5 Hurricane. You have to ask, is there anything in Brandy Alexander’s life that is not complicated? While Brandy may help solve the crime, it’s no surprise that she is often rescued by one the Schnauzers!

There’s no place like New Orleans to have a good crime!

Book Review: I Found You by Lisa Jewell

I Found You
Lisa Jewell
Atria Books, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-5459-1
Hardcover

Is there anything more evocative of a mystery than a stormy beach on the coast of the North Sea? Well, yes. Add in a man who huddles there wearing shirt and trousers for more than twenty-four hours while the rain beats down on his head. This is the scene that leads single mother Alice Lake, whose beach the man has selected to inhabit, out to give him a coat and ask him a question.

“Who are you?” she naturally asks. But he doesn’t know. He’s lost his memory. He’s lost himself.

In an act of kindness, Alice invites him into her chaotic home. Her three children, all from different fathers, and three dogs, all left behind for her to care for, greet the newcomer with varying degrees of welcome.

Since he lacks any other name, Alice’s youngest daughter bestows the name of “Frank”on the stranger. It serves as well as any as Alice and Frank try to discover just who he is and what he’s doing on Alice’s beach.

It’s quite a suspenseful journey.

Alice is a great character, complicated, compassionate, flawed, and ultimately, so worthy of love.

Her children, each very different from the other, are fleshed out real people. Each has a definite place in the story, when they so easily could’ve been thrown in simply for effect. And Alice’s friend Derry’s place is to help the story along.

The book is written in alternating points of view. There’s a present day young bride whose husband has gone missing, and a seventeen-year-old boy from twenty-two years ago whose sister was raped and murdered before him, her body carried out to sea and never found. And of course, both Frank’s and Alice’s.

Tension builds as Frank slowly recovers bits and pieces of his memory. The journey through his ordeal is mesmerizing.

Ms. Jewell’s storytelling and writing is wonderful. I’m already putting this one on my ‘best reads of 2017’ list, and I think anyone who picks it up will too.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: Hidden Like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis

hidden-like-anne-frankHidden Like Anne Frank
14 True Stories of Survival
Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis
Arthur A. Levine Books, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-54362-0
Hardcover

Anne Frank was the most memorable child of the Holocaust, but there were many, many others. In this extremely vivid and moving collection of fourteen personal narratives by survivors of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, readers will find themselves experiencing a range of emotions.

These survivors were separated from parents, siblings, cousins and other relatives, found themselves moved more times that they could count, experienced despair the day after hope and came out of the experience forever changed. They had to adopt new names, new religions, learn different customs and even undergo eyebrow shaping and a change of hair color. Readers will discover how entire communities were herded like cattle, lost everything they had accumulated, were forced to ignore siblings in public, live under inhumane conditions, endure beatings by people who had supposedly befriended them, go hungry for extended periods of time and often had to remain in unlit cold and cramped places for hours while being terrified that the knock on the door meant exposure and a trip to a concentration camp.

Each story is different, each survivor knew great loss and deprivation, but all endured. What comes across clearly in each story is how the experience forever changed not only the narrator, but their relationships with surviving family members. Each reader will have unique reactions to every story. There are some that inspire admiration, some that evoke pity, sympathy or empathy and even one that might strike one as annoying, but none of us were there to live the terror and fear, so who’s to say how our story might come across under similar circumstances.

This is a book that should be read by as many people as possible, particularly in a time (like now) where ethnocentricity and racial intolerance are once more on the rise. It’s well worth having in any school or public library.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Phase 2 Renovations Week 2—Done!

So, after all the excitement last week involving
firemen and a cat, the wretched beastie refused
to learn her lesson. Giselle apparently thought
that was way too much fun—and who can resist
being cuddled by three lovely firemen—so
she was determined to climb in the hole again.
We had to find creative ways to keep her out.

kitchen-renovations-week-2-1

And to block the doorway that has no door, we
had to resort to the box holding the cook top
and our re-purposed nail and screw rack aka
spice rack plus a sheet of plastic taped to the trim.

kitchen-renovations-week-2-2

In the meantime, we have paint on the walls, deep
teal and a shade called Ice Cube that has a very
slight tint reflected by the teal, and the floor is in,
a dark swirly gray.

kitchen-renovations-week-2-10

The shiny new appliances arrived from Sears but, uh oh,
the refrigerator wouldn’t fit through the doorways so all
the doors and drawers are sitting around in my living room
till the fridge can be installed and pieces parts put back together.

kitchen-renovations-week-2-7        kitchen-renovations-week-2-8

A lot of the cabinet work got done.

kitchen-renovations-week-2-12        kitchen-renovations-week-2-14

And the other miscreant cat, Holly, is relaxing under
the tree while Giselle contemplates life in a box…if
she can’t have her hole in the wall 😆

holly-christmas-2016-3

giselle-christmas-box-2016-1

Next up—add trim, finish the cabinetry, get the quartz
counters in and install the appliances, all by the end of
the day Friday, (backsplash and finishing touches to
come after Christmas). Our contractor has promised we’ll
have a working kitchen by Friday night and it looks like we
might make it, Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise 😉

I’ll Be Back

Update: I’m alive!
(Although as nasty as this virus is, it’s a wonder.)
Thank you all so much for your kind thoughts and
patience. I’ll be taking things slow because I’m
still very weak but the blog will re-open on Friday
with a visit from award-winning romance author
Hannah Fielding. It’s good to be back!

Sorry, folks, I’m sick and
can’t sit up long enough to
do a post right now.
I’ll return ASAP!