Allow Me To Introduce Myself – And My Other Self: Using a Pen Name

 By Shari Randall

 

Any writer will tell you there are ups and downs on the road to publication. To torture the metaphor, there are washouts, hairpin turns, and dead ends along with the rare, blessed miles of straight-as-a-pin, put-the-top-down-and-blow-your-hair-back Montana highway. I thought I’d managed these changing conditions pretty well until the publication journey threw up a completely unexpected challenge.

 

A hitchhiker.

 

Anyone who’s ever watched horror movies is now having flashbacks and shouting, “Never pick up the hitchhiker!” But since it was required, I took a deep breath, swung open the door, and let her in.

Not only did I let her in, I let her drive.

I picked up a pen name, Meri Allen.

 

“Why a pen name?” readers asked. My agent says “new series new name,” and luckily, the new Ice Cream Shop series has been welcomed with great energy and reviews.

 

But how does one “be” another author? Sally Field in Sybil haunts my dreams. I have questions. What about Meri’s author photo? Should I change my look? Use a disguise? The pandemic already changed my hair color, so at least I have that going for me. A new website is in order, but who gets it, Shari or Meri? How to write Meri’s bio when she doesn’t really exist? 

 

Thank goodness the writing has gone smoothly. Both Meri and Shari adore the same writers and cut their teeth on Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Agatha Christie, Ross MacDonald, and Sue Grafton. They’re both huge Murder, She Wrote fans.

 

Shari’s main character, Allegra “Allie” Larkin is a dancer who works in a lobster shack and discovered a talent for and love of sleuthing. Meri’s main character, Riley Rhodes, is a librarian who worked for the CIA – and had a few undercover assignments on her many travels. Riley’s older and has been around the block a few more times than Allie, but both are independent women, fiercely loyal to their families and friends. Shari set her stories on the Connecticut shoreline, Meri sets hers in a wonderful little spot in Connecticut we call the Quiet Corner. Quiet, except for the murders I’ve written in. The Lobster Shack Mysteries had definite Gilmore Girls vibes, while Meri’s Ice Cream Shop Mysteries have a Midsomer Murders vibe, darker, as befits a protagonist who has secrets of her own.

 

The writing process took me to some unexpected places, but I’ve come to love Riley and her friends in Penniman, a quintessential New England village with the covered bridge, town green, and locals with generations-long grudges and secrets to prove it. At first it was hard to put aside my Lobster Shack mysteries characters, but I’ve signed on to the Destination Murders anthology series and will bring them back in short stories once a year. I’ll still get to spend time in beloved Mystic Bay. 

 

As a writer, I’ve discovered one big benefit to a pen name. In talking with a friend who uses pen names (three!), I realized a wonderful advantage. Using a pen name gives you clear headspace to write new characters. When I write as “Meri Allen,” it’s easy to switch gears and enter into Riley’s world.

 

To my relief, Meri’s a terrific driver, and I’m enjoying the ride.

 

Writers, have you ever used a pen name? What was your experience? Readers, what do you think about authors using pen names?

 

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series. The first in series, Curses, Boiled Again, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

 

Meet Meri on social media. She’ll, well, we’ll be celebrating her new book, The Rocky Road to Ruin, with lots of giveaways and fun, plus sharing all things cozy New England and ice cream galore!

 

Check out The Rocky Road to Ruin here.

Instagram: @meriallenbooks

Facebook: Meri Allen Books

July 14-26: Win a paperback copy of The Rocky Road to Ruin! Macmillan has set up a Goodreads Giveaway

Book Hangover

 by Bethany Maines

I have a book hangover. I’m about to close out a series that’s very near and dear to my heart.  The Shark Santoyo Crime Series has characters that got under my skin and I’m loathe to let them go.  So much so, that I’m leaving the door wide-open for sequels, but I have two other series that are requiring that the next installments get done and I only have so much time in my days. 

It’s a difficult decision to walk away and I don’t know how other authors do it. I feel like there ought to be some sort of party where I eulogize and make promises I know I won’t keep about seeing them again soon and say something like “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ll play their playlists and we can eat some Vaca Frita and complain about how it’s hard to get rid of bodies properly one more time. 

But at least I’m ending in a solid place. I’ve wrapped up the story line that ran through all the previous books and I have answered almost all the questions.  And for once, my characters get at least a moment or two of happy ever after.  They also have another adventure ready and waiting for them, should I happen to get back there, but overall I feel good about where I’m leaving them.  

I know a book hangover is real for readers, but is there one for writers?  How do any of my writer friends break up with their creations?  

About the Series:

The criminals are savage, the stakes are high and even the suburbs hide secrets that can kill.

When twenty something Shark got out of prison and made a deal with Geier, the boss of his old gang, he knew he’d be walking into trouble, but he never expected to meet the teenage crime savant Peregrine Hays. The knife-wielding beauty may fuel his dreams, but Peregrine has secrets of her own, and soon Shark is swept up in a whirlpool of murder, revenge, and love. Both streetwise and hardened by dark pasts, Shark and Peri are the perfect match as they battle crooked federal agents, sex traffickers, and gangs in search of vindication. But when Shark is faced with an enemy that knows him better than anyone else, he and Peri learn that their options may be staying together OR staying alive…

About Book 6:

Shark Santoyo is dead. Or at least he was. But now he’s back in the city chasing an art thief and dreams of the past. He has no intention of going anywhere near Peri—she left him to rot in prison. But when Al Hays brings them back together, Shark vows that nothing is going to keep them apart this time. Except that Peri isn’t the only ghost of girlfriends past in his life. Francesca de Corvo, the woman who sent him to prison for a crime she committed, seems to be coming for him with both barrels. Shark has loved, lost, and bled to get his freedom, but will it be enough to get the life—and the girl—he’s always wanted?

**

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous
short stories. When she’s not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some
serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her
daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.


Why I Chose the Mystery Genre to Write My First Novel by Juliana Aragón Fatula

Dear Reader,

This summer I’m taking a break from my gardening and spending time with a friend in her home and working on my manuscript. She asked me to keep her company while she recovers from surgery. I asked her if I could work on my novel. She said, yes. And here I am, writing to my heart’s content. 

We met the summer of my last year in college. We were roommates on our literary tour of England with the English Department of Colorado State University-Pueblo. We were senior citizens among a group of ten twenty-somethings students. The two of us hit it off immediately and have been best friends ever since. That was fourteen years ago. She loves to read mysteries. I love to read mysteries. It was a match made in heaven. Her library is extensive. Dr. Judy Noel has allowed me to use her home as my writing space many times and I appreciate the quiet and reprieve from my home and family to just write, and write, and write. 

After my second book of poetry was published, I decided that I’d like to try writing in my favorite genre, mystery.  I had studied different genres in college: Ethnic Lit, Chicana Lit, Shakespeare, the classics, fiction, non-fiction, playwriting, and poetry. My advisor felt my strength in writing was in poetry. I minored in Creative Writing Poetry and after graduating published two books and a chapbook of poetry. This made me very happy and led me to pursue writing workshops and I met and networked with great poets. But deep in my soul, I wanted more. I wanted to write a mystery. A mystery that only I could write.  A story about two Chicana Private Investigators from Denver, Colorado who are chingonas. Badasses. 

I realized right away that I didn’t have the skills necessary to write a great mystery and I refused to write a mediocre novel, so I set out to read every book on writing, I could get my hands on to learn how to write in this genre. My mentor at the Stiletto Gang, Linda Rodriguez, helped me to have the confidence to write for this blog. She had faith in me and I leaped at the opportunity to network with other mystery writers. It has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last ten years. I’ve met writers online that have encouraged me every day and every way to pursue my dream of being a published mystery writer. I’ve learned so much from these women at the Stiletto Gang and want to thank them for the feedback and advice they have given me. Thank you Stiletto Gang for the excellent opportunities you have given me over the years. 

At first, I was fearful that I wouldn’t have anything worth blogging about to the readers, but eventually, I fell into my rhythm of writing to my readers and attracted new fans. Today, I prepare to write my June 2021 post and wanted to tell you a little more about me and why I love the mystery genre. 

I love trying to solve the case. I read the book and search for clues. I pay attention to what people say and do which leads me to suspect they have something up their sleeve. The characters sometimes throw you off course and mislead you, so you can’t assume to know what the end will reveal. If you fall for a red herring, you just might go in the wrong direction to solve the case and a good writer will have several to throw the reader off. 

I’m learning all about how to keep the reader turning pages with a suspenseful story that doesn’t reveal too much, too soon. My sense of humor shows up in my writing and lightens the story from being too dark and dramatic. In real life, people behave differently in stressful cases like investigating homicides, so my Detectives laugh at the absurdity of how corpses end up floating, burning, hacked to pieces, or blown to smithereens. This may offend the serious reader, but I’m not writing a serious mystery. My story is full of mayhem and laughter and includes romance and suspense, murder, and unique characters full of flaws and chaos in their lives. 

The story for the Colorado Sisters began forming in my head years ago on a trip to a writing workshop in Utah. It was delicious. It’s morphed since then into a different story but the main characters remain true to themselves and I’ve adjusted some of the secondary characters to be more interesting. 

It seems like I’ve been writing this story for years and I fretted about how long it was taking me. Then one day I realized, I have been living a full-time life in addition to being a writer. I have a family that needs me and my son needed me especially when he came home after being in prison for seven years. I adapted and set aside my writing to help him adjust. I also became involved in genealogy research of my ancestors after having my DNA tested and discovered my roots go back to years of being marginalized for being indigenous to this country. This research led to more research and I learned so much about my people’s history. I found it addictive and I kept researching and reading and learning. 

During the last few years, I have also studied and learned how to grow Cannabis for medicinal purposes and that led me to study herbal remedies to medicine. I began making salve and baking edibles. I studied plants that grow indigenous to my area and began making shampoo and conditioners for my hair that has begun to grey and thin. I am now becoming a curendera, a woman with the ability to heal with plants. This turned into a belief in the ancient ways. Cleansing with sage and sweetgrass and using essential oils to scent the air in my home. I learned how to use lavender I grow in my garden into oil for many purposes. 

One day I realized that although I hadn’t finished my novel, I had reworked it and made it better than it had been in the first draft. I read it to myself and thought, that’s not bad for a rooky. But still, I wanted to be great, not good for my first novel. And that takes dedication and work. 

I also help other writers with reading their work and writing reviews of their books. I teach writing workshops to Bridging Borders, a team leadership program for young women, and mentor them.  This has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life. A chance to give back to my community and learn from these young women about being a positive role model. I have also taken time to volunteer to judge several writing competitions and enjoyed reading other writers’ work and learning from them how to be a better writer. 

I don’t have grandchildren, but my husband and I are pet parents and we treat our puppies and kittens like family and spoil them rotten. They have given me love unconditional and they are my therapy animals. I can’t imagine a world without them and they keep me sane. My life is full and never boring, never. Nunca. Instead, it is filled with family, friends, pets, a network of supportive writers, and a busy life of learning and becoming a better human being. My parents would be so proud of the woman I’ve become. The friends I keep company with are some of the best people in the world and keep me on my toes to keep up with them and their accomplishments. 

When I was a student, I surrounded myself with the smartest people in the class and if they made good grades, I made sure that I studied until I made good grades, tambien. And I did. I have surrounded myself with wonderful social activists, professors, teachers, actors, directors, writers, performance artists, journalists, leaders in the community, and mentors with positive ideas who are creative and make me strive for success. 

My past was shady and I was on the verge of ending up dead or in prison, but somehow I survived to graduate from college and find satisfying work as a teacher and begin a writing career. I’m happy when I’m writing but I also find great joy in performing on stage and I have continued to perform readings every chance I’m given. Sometimes it’s a small crowd in a bookstore, other times in larger venues it’s an audience of hundreds, but regardless, I’m elated to walk on stage and share my stories and the feedback, laughter, tears, applause rewards me for all of my efforts to entertain. 

My life continues to be full and challenging as I wither away into my golden years, but while I still have the ability to write, read, perform, teach, and mentor I will remain happy to be alive and appreciative of all of the blessings in life I’ve been given. 

I’ll end with this thought. Although my life has been filled with trauma and unhappiness, the past made me into the person I am now and I wouldn’t change a thing because I love the woman that writes poetry and mysteries and performs stories about my ancestors. I’m proud of my accomplishments in being the first and only one of ten siblings to graduate from college and I know that that I’ve made a difference in some of my students’ and friends’ lives and that has made all of the heartache, trials, and tribulations worthwhile. I refuse to be silenced. I remain the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. 

Reggae Saved Me During the Pandemic of 2020 by Juliana Aragón Fatula

 

Dear Reader,
Twenty twenty-one, the pandemic year, I turned 64 and officially became a viejita. A little old woman. But not la abuelita, not a grandmother. No that didn’t happen. I’ve been waiting for decades, but my one and only son had decided that he hasn’t found the one to settle down and raise a family. Not yet. I have hope. I’ll take the blessing of having a son and remember the choice I made to only have one child. My man child is now late forties and it will take a miracle, but I believe in miracles and magic. 
Music has always been playing like a soundtrack to my life. Like a comedy/tragedy, my life spills out in a blur that has included alcoholism, drug addiction, jail, recovery, abuse, survival, mistakes, success, love, happiness, depression, fear, spirituality, anger, bravery, melancholy, absurdity, loathing, jubilation, wit, and wisdom. Mine has been an abundant and holy moly journey down the what a long strange trip it’s been. 
The music of the fifties filled my ears and I danced with my older siblings to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, and Fats Domino. 
The sixties brought the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Motown Funk, and the blues of Roy Orbison. 
During the seventies, I smoke, rolled, burned, and puff puff passed the doobies to the Doobie Brothers, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, never could spell their name right. And of course, there was the Cosmic Blues Band and Janis, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Neil Young, The Eagles, and Joni Mitchell.
The eighties were for disco and punk music and the nineties were everything from rap to reggae to country to opera to tex-mex to Bollywood.
The twenties and the twenty-first century gave me a combination of blues and rockabilly. But in 2020, I dropped to my knees and asked the gods for deliverance and the answer came in Rastafarian Rap Reggaeton.
I danced away my Covid 19 blues and sang along with the Marley Boys. Collie Buddz gave me the inspiration to finish two manuscripts: One poetry book, Gathering Momentum and one murder mystery love story, The Colorado Sisters. I wore my Bluetooth headset religiously and danced under the clothesline, the grape arbor, the sunshine, the moonlight, and the rain. I sang and danced and grew giddy about life again. The music and the writing healed me like they always do. 
My friends worry I spend too much time isolated and not enough time Zooming and socializing on the websites, but I love being alone and listening to my music and writing my stories. It makes me incredibly devoid of anger towards covid idiots and non-believers in science and lets me trip around in unreality instead of the world we live in for real. The real world. 
So if you stop by and visit me, get my attention because my headset takes me to another world and I can’t hear a thing, not dogs barking, sirens blaring, kids crying, husbands yelling…
If you stop by, smell the roses and the tea simmering on the stove and sing along with me to the oldies as we grow old and tip toe through the tulips, or poppies.

WANTED: 3 BR, 2 BATHS, LOTS OF STORY INSPIRATION

By Shari Randall 

 

When she beta-read my last book, a friend told me that I seemed more interested in describing houses and settings than I was in describing people. At first I was taken aback, but after reflection, I saw her point.

 

I adore all those tv shows about houses – buying houses, selling houses, decorating houses, rehabbing houses, even haunted houses. With my husband’s military career, we’ve bought and sold plenty of houses. I love a good house tour or decorator showcase. Even dollhouses fascinate me. When I was a little girl, my favorite toy was my Barbie Dream House. Although my kids flew the nest years ago, I still have custody of their dollhouses and, sorry kids, I don’t think you’re getting them back.

 

Why do houses intrigue me so? Perhaps a psychologist could explain. Maybe the dollhouse my dad built for me and my sisters, a replica of our own red Cape Cod home, set me on this path.

 

Perhaps homes reflect the people in them and the writer in me has stumbled upon a different form of characterization? What can I say, houses inspire me.

 

With COVID, I haven’t been able to travel to scout potential story locations and buildings as much as I’d like. Lucky for me that my corner of Connecticut is full of intriguing places, places that fire my imagination and will make great settings for my books.

 

One of my characters likes to “collect castles” and so do I. Gillette’s Castle, set on a hill called the Seventh Sister overlooking the Connecticut River, is one of my favorite places to visit. Designed by William Gillette, an actor famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, the castle’s décor, construction, and grounds reflect the eccentric brilliance of its owner. This place inspired another pocket-sized castle in the second, as-yet-untitled book in my Ice Cream Shop Mystery series.

 

Here’s a charmer that is slated to be the childhood home of the main character in Ice Cream Shop Mystery #1, The Rocky Road to Ruin

 

This mini-castle is tucked into a neighborhood a block from the ocean. Not your typical beach house, is it? I can only imagine the character who built this place. I feel a story coming on!

 

Writers: People or places – which do you find easier to describe? Readers: Are you as crazy about real estate as I am?

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin’s Press. The first in series, CURSES, BOILED AGAIN, won an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The first in her new Ice Cream Shop Mystery series (written as Meri Allen), THE ROCKY ROAD TO RUIN, will be published on July 27, 2021.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sixty-Four by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Sixty-four years ago, my mother was snowed-in, nine months pregnant with me, and was surrounded by family. My cousins shoveled the driveway for my mom twice and drove her to the hospital or I would have been born at home like my ancestors. 

My father worked in Colorado Springs for the Federal Government at Fort Carson as a civilian employee. He carpooled with several men and women from our home town. In 1957 on April 2, my journey began and what a long, strange trip it’s been. My father convinced the State Patrol who were turning traffic around to let his vehicle pass the roadblock on Highway 115. He told the trooper his wife was having their first baby. He had three children from his ex-wife, and my mom had three children from her ex-husband. I was my parents first child together. I’ve always been loved.

Today I’m a mother and wife. My son is 48. My husband is 59 and we’ve been married almost thirty years. Yes, it’s been a long strange trip. I had my son when I was fifteen. I married my husband when I was 34 and he was 31. I’m content to stay home and write and read and study and garden and bake and create herbal remedies. 

In the seventies, I wore the label of hippy. Today in twenty-twenty-one, I’m a hippy again being myself and loving life. Just happy to be alive. But I have struggled all of my life with severe depression, so I’m mentally ill, not insane, well a little insane, not dangerous to others or myself, but I get the blues real bad and the only thing that helps me, beside anti-depressants: music therapy. Oh, and puppy therapy, of course. My puppies and kittens keep me feeling loved unconditionally. Even though my parents have been gone for many years, I still feel their presence in my life. My dad lived to be 76. My mom 86. 

This year is the last year I can say I’m in my early sixties. Next year I’ll qualify for Medicare and Social Security and will be officially a vieja. A viejita. Although I don’t have any grandchildren, I do have nieces and nephews with children, so I’m technically  what is known as a tia abuela, or tia abuelita. Juliana la tia abuelita. I like that label, it fits me. 

I wear my hair in waist length braids wrapped in otter furs and leather. Often I wear a beaded headband and silver, copper and turquoise jewelry, I wear moccasins because I like them, always have. I make my own shampoo, conditioner, hair rinse, salve for my arthritis, and medical edibles. I admit it, I love the ganja. I’ve been documenting my journey as an herbalist and a cannabis farmer and it’s legal now. 

My father would call me a marijuana. Feminine noun for a woman who likes to smoke, vape, eat cannabis. He wouldn’t understand that I grow it for my aches and pains and depression and fatigue. He grew fruit trees and vegetables. Mom grew flowers, houseplants. Their yard was the garden of Eden. Seriously. Today, my backyard is the sanctuary that keeps me sane and peaceful. I mind my own business, garden, sing, dance, cook, and celebrate my ancestors by telling their stories. 

Si se puede. We can do it. We can beat this virus and political nightmare and begin to let the diversity and magic of cultures blend into harmony and healing. I pray for love instead of hate. Wisdom instead of ignorance. Peace instead of war. One world One Love. 

This is the year twenty-twenty-one and it’s speeding by like a rocket on its way to Mars. I watch the days zip  past and I wonder where all the time has gone. I was once young and vibrant and sexy and silly and scary. I’m still those things only now I can add wise to that list. I’ve learned a few things about life. I’m a survivor and I have a new goal. My goal is to finish The Colorado Sisters and the Atlanta Butcher and then I can feel I’ve accomplished something spectacular. I write poetry. I’m a confessional poet. But my mystery/love story is something different. It tells a story about women fighting for equality in a world dominated by some men who sometimes don’t see women as their equals. But as RGB said, “All I ask is that you take your foot from my neck.”

Wish me luck with my first mystery. I’m determined to write a great story, not a good story, but a great one. Otherwise, why bother, que no?

Plotting Party

 by Bethany Maines

Last weekend, I reached peak pandemic and hosted a gathering in my carport. It was a writer’s gathering, aka a Plotting Party, so there was a lot of sitting and staring at our notebooks. And also snacking and freezing. But, as with other joint writing gatherings I’ve hosted, we did use each other to work through problems in our outlines. No one asks more “but why?” questions than a writer except a four-year-old trying to stall bedtime. But why do you want a ball in your story?  But why is she in Ireland?  But why did the killer drain all the blood? Each story has it’s own answer and it’s fun to hear the reasoning that went into each one. 
Of course, being the writer in the hot seat isn’t quite as much fun, but it does serve an important purpose. Searching out the answers to those questions forces me to examine the clues in the story I’m writing as well as my intention for writing the character or story that particular way. When another writer points out that my characters motivations seem implausible I’m forced to confront why I want that scene or why I want the character to behave that way.  Being faced with well-intentioned friends who simply want to understand my story is the equivalent of Law & Order level third-degree. Pretty soon I’m caving and confessing that I just like something and I’ve been ignoring my characters motivations all along. 
But the added benefit of a plotting party is that I have additional minds to help me brainstorm. And with brainstorming comes encouragement and a cheering section that is irreplaceable. The pandemic has put a lot of things on hold, but creativity and friendship clearly haven’t been one of them. I see more outdoor plotting parties in the future, particularly as the weather gets warmer and I wish all of you a carport full of friends of your very own.
**

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous
short stories. When she’s not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some
serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her
daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel.
You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

Behind

 by Bethany Maines

 

As I write this, I am very far behind on writing my fourth
book in the San
Juan Island Mystery
series. I have a title, a nice first chapter, and half an
outline.  Which is at least half a draft
short of where I wanted to be at this time. 
And in other news, there’s a pandemic and my child just started back to
school, but for some reason school doesn’t start until 9:45.  Why this is I have yet to determine, but it
delays the start of my work day by a significant chunk of time.  I would love to say that those two events are
causally related, but they’re really more corollaries. They are linked and
related through the reality in which we wade, but, as much as I would like to,
I can’t actually say that my school districts scattershot, indecipherable
response to the pandemic is actually to blame for not sticking to my schedule.  I may be able to blame the pandemic itself,
which has sent me head long into escapist fun writing and sees me closing in on
finishing a trilogy of paranormal romances, but I think, in the interests of
truthfulness, that’s as far as I can pass the blame.

Me trying to escape the pandemic through writing.

But as school starts back up there is a lot of twittering
about the kids being behind. Or not being behind. Or being able to catch up no
problem!  To which I say… yeeeeeah?  Maybe. 
The truth is that private schools have been in person and in session for
much of this time.  So if you could
afford private school, which generally means that your kid (who was already looking
at better outcomes than a public school kid) is, in fact, ahead.  Yes, the public school kids will bounce back
and they’re already in similar boats to each other, but let’s just say that
some kids have better rowers on their team than others.  Yes, everything will work out in the end, but
the rah-rah “no one is behind” cheer strikes me as particularly delusional when
I can point to a whole contingent of children who are receiving a better
education due to finances. The pandemic has distinctly widened the gulf between
the haves and have-nots. 

But back to me.  Am I
behind?  My deadlines are relatively
self-imposed.  I can flex them.  Is it sooooo bad to be running late?  Maybe if I type for two days straight I can
catch up?  If I can learn anything from
the school debacle, it’s that no, probably sprinting to catch up is not the
way.  Writing consistently is probably a
better way to get quality work.  But
having already not done that, it’s probably best to go the public school route and
tell myself that I’m not behind and that everything will work out in the end.

***

Bethany Maines is the award-winning author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, San Juan Islands Mysteries, The Deveraux Legacy Series, and numerous
short stories. When she’s not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some
serious butt with her black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her
daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and BookBub.

This Christmas by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Dear Reader,

Here I sit in my kitchen 

by the woodstove 

dreaming of being on stage 

performing my one woman show. 

I’m serious. 

Not a dream. 

A frickin’ nightmare. 

Mylifesuchatragedycomedy. 

That should be the title of the play. 

Mylifesuchatragedycomedy.com should be my author website. 

Just sayin’. 

Ok, here is my holiday rant about my dysfunctional family I love and dislike. 

Spoiler alert, they’re no angels. Hope you enjoy my holiday tale. 

This priceless photo could be titled Juliana’s Vata Locas Book Club 

or You can’t spell SCHOLAR without CHOLA. 

This Christmas I remember the family gatherings at my parents’ home in Canon City, Colorado. I had two half-brothers and four-half sisters from my parents’ previous marriages. My little sister and two little brothers came after I was born in 1957. Counting my parents, there were twelve of us. I never met my Dad’s oldest daughter. She only lived ten minutes away, in the next town, but she was estranged from my father and lived with her mother. 

My oldest brother and two older sisters , were my mother’s children from her first marriage. We were far apart in age and didn’t grow up in the same house. They were married and gone by the time I was old enough to remember them. We never grew close in all my sixty-three years on Earth. 

I established a relationship with my father’s second daughter, Irene, and his first son, Steve. Irene was a surrogate mother to me and Steve being only four years older was my bestfriend growing up and into my teen years. He left when he was 18 and I was fourteen. 

My sister, Irene, became my favorite sister until the day she died at 42. I was 32 when she died and it hit me hard. I’ve never grieved for anyone like I did for her. Even when my father died on Christmas day in 1992 and my mother died on Christmas Eve in 2008, I didn’t feel it in my core like I did the day Irene died. 

I’m remembering all of the times we spent together and the conversations we shared. She took care of my son when he was a little boy and I worked full-time. We became part of her family. We wrote each other letters when I returned to Canon City and she remained in Denver. I cherish those letters and the love and confidence she gave me. I miss her this holiday and I miss her daughters, my nieces. 

My son, Daniel, turned 48 this December. He adored his tia Irene and grew up with her daughters babysitting him and being like big sisters to him. This Christmas I think about the conversations we had together, Irene, Daniel, and me. The love we shared. She left a huge void in my heart but it wasn’t long before I filled that hole in my heart with new sisters. Tracy, Aimee, Alice Denver, Judy, Denise, Maria, Lizzette, Debra, Yolanda, Crissy, Corinne, Eva and many other women have come in to my life and upon meeting these incredible women, I instantly knew that we would become life long friends, sisters. 

I don’t have close relationships with my siblings, except for my brother, Steve, who lives in Long Beach, California, and my cousin, Aimee, who lives in Camino, California. I have kept those two in my life because they support and love me and my other siblings have fallen by the side because we have nothing in common other than the same parents. 

I had to leave family behind in order to keep my sanity and I’m glad I made that choice to leave them and find love from people who love me for who I am. My brother, Steven, doesn’t understand how I can abandon family and love strangers like Tracy, Judy, Maria, Denise instead of the sisters I am blood related to. Aimee and I are blood related on my Father’s side. But I made a choice and I don’t regret finding new family. I’m happier because I chose my sisters and they get me. I don’t have to worry about them being racist, or homophobic, or xenophobic, or liars, or thieves, or abusive to me. I chose the women in my life because they are like me. They are educated, intelligent, open minded, and most of all liberal like me. 

This pandemic and this 2020 election have divided families, neighbors, and the country. I can’t respect anyone who believes putting babies in cages and separating families at the border is acceptable. I respect their right to their religious beliefs but not against humanity, not about a woman’s right to choose. 

This Christmas, I’m staying home, sheltering in place, wearing a mask in public when I venture out my door, and practicing safe distancing. This Christmas my neighbors and family have shown me their true colors and they have the right to choose to follow their beliefs but they do not have the right to tell me how to live my life. 

I hope this Christmas you are able to love who you love and fight for what you believe in. In 2021, life will change. My hope is for those families who were separated at the border to be united, somehow, someway. And for the family I’ve lost, I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous new year. We can agree to disagree and go our own ways. 

TURNING TO OTHER WRITERS IN TIMES OF TROUBLE

by Linda Rodriguez
Like
most writers, periodically, I struggle with my work. Often it’s
because of physical health problems. Often, it’s because of family
issues. Sometimes it’s because of the world around me.

Right now,
that world around us all is stressful, troubling, and even
frightening. In these times of difficulty, I turn to the wisdom of
other writers, and so today, I offer to all of us a collection of
things that writers who came before us have said about this
profession we all share.


A
house uncleaned is better than a life unlived.” – Rebecca West

Exercise
the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a
title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like
dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.”
– Jane Yolen

Write
all the time. Rework what you write. Hack it to pieces, cut and
change. Writing is a self-conducted apprenticeship.” – Martha
Gellhorn

Don’t
try to impress or show off. Just tell the story. Tell what happened
as you would to a friend.” – Maeve Binchy

Every
new book is a challenge and requires different problem-solving for
the characters.” – Phyllis A. Whitney

Discipline
is simply remembering what you want.” – Judith Claire Mitchell

“I
don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid
you won’t be good at it.” – Anne Lamott


“If
I quit now I will soon go back to where I started. And when I
started, I was desperate to get to where I am now.” – Flannery
O’Connor

You
may as well write what you want because there’s no predicting what
will sell.” – Judith Guest

Fiction
writing is a kind of magic, and I don’t care to talk about a novel
I’m doing because if I communicate the magic spell, even in an
abbreviated form, it loses its force for me. And so many people have
talked out to me books they would otherwise have written. Once you
have talked, the act of communication has been made.” –- Angus
Wilson

“A
word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

The
most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters
except sitting down every day and trying. … This is the other
secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we
sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us.”
– Steven Pressfield


It’s
the writing that teaches you.” – Isaac Asimov

There
are no rules except those you create page by page.” –Stuart Wood

“I
take writing terribly seriously, and sometimes that just gets in my
way. Writing is about the Shadow, which is about play. I just have to
learn that again. And, in my own life, it’s like I can’t learn
that I’ll rise to the occasion. I do rise to the occasion, but I’m
never sure that’s going to happen.” – Sue
Grafton

Linda Rodriguez’s Plotting the
Character-Driven Novel,
based on her popular workshop, and The
World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East
,
an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Dark Sister:
Poems
will be published in February, 2018. Every Family Doubt,
her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief,
Skeet Bannion, will appear in August, 2018, and Revising the
Character-Driven Novel
will be published in November, 2018. Her
three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every
Broken Trust
, and Every Last Secret—and
her books of poetry—Skin Hunger
and Heart’s Migration—have
received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin’s
Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International
Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices
& Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and
Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good
Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has
been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP
Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter
of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers
Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International
Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and
Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at
http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com