Susan, An Extraordinary Story—by T.K. Thorne

Susan had never told her family about her experiences. In fact, before Louisa Weinrib called her in 1990 for an interview, she she had never talked about what happened to anyone other than those who had gone through it with her. Hers is a true story of amazing strength, resourcefulness, and friendship.

Susan Eisenberg’s childhood was full of promise. An only child, she was born in 1924 into a family that proudly traced their Hungarian lineage back a hundred years. She grew up in the small town of Miskolc, where her father had a successful business buying and exporting livestock and grains for a farming cooperative.

Susan was aware of anti-Semitic sentiment, but it didn’t touch her early life. The Jewish community was well integrated into Hungarian society, and she had many Christian friends. She spoke Hungarian and German, loved to ice-skate and ski, and wanted to go to college, but by the time she was of college age, Jews could not attend.

Her loving and close-knit family gathered after synagogue at her home, where they also celebrated the Seder. On weekends, they offered a tradition of high tea for family and neighbors.

Trouble began in 1938 with a small Hungarian Nazi party that grew in strength, paralleling the party’s growth in Germany. After Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Polish refugees fled into Hungary, bringing what seemed unbelievable stories of what was happening in Poland. Without a birth certificate validating birth in Hungary, officials shipped the fleeing civilians back to Poland. An army friend confided to Susan that, in reality, the Poles were taken across the border and shot. Even when people began wearing brown shirts with swastika armbands and spouting slogans, Susan recalled, the Jewish community just ignored it.

In 1940 Hungary became an Axis power. Hitler, who invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, demanded that Hungary join that war. Susan’s uncle died when he was forced to walk with others into a field between the German and Russian armies to test for the presence of land mines. Her father was taken to a work camp. Released the following year, he was ill and depressed and died soon after at 44. After his death, Susan and her mother moved to the city of Budapest to live with relatives.

Although the Jews in Hungary suffered under tightening restrictions, Hungary’s regent protected them for a time from Hitler’s “final solution”—extermination—until Hitler discovered the regent was secretly negotiating an armistice with the US and the UK. On Easter Sunday in March 1944, Susan was having coffee with a friend on a cafe terrace and saw German panzer tanks rolling over the bridges into Budapest. The Germans occupied and quickly seized control of the country.

The Nazis rounded up her family members who were still living in the countryside. The relatives sent postcards—which Susan and her mother later learned the Nazis forced them to write—advising they were well and going to Thersienstadt (a concentration camp/ghetto in Terezin). All of them perished in that camp.

In Budapest, Allied forces regularly bombed the city. Everyone carried bags of food at all times, never knowing when they might have to run into the air-raid shelters. Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing and live in designated housing. Restrictions dictated when they could leave the house and forbid them to go to public parks or even walk on the sidewalks. They could work only in manual labor positions. Jewish professionals, doctors and dentists, could only practice on Jewish patients.

Susan was 19, with light blonde hair and blue eyes. She pulled off the yellow star from her clothes and snuck out into the country to get food. Once, on her return, Germans soldiers in a vehicle, not realizing she was a Jew, picked her up. They asked for a date. Heart pounding, she agreed, lying about where she lived, and promised to meet them later. Safely home, she looked down at her clothes and realized that a closer inspection would have revealed the stitch holes from the star she’d removed.

When the Russian army was approaching Budapest, the Hungarian Nazis ordered Susan to report for labor with her age group and sent them to dig foxholes. Their Hungarian Nazi guards were 14 or 15-year-olds. When a young girl working at Susan’s side sat down and cried for her mother, those guards immediately shot her.

For two days and nights in the cold and rain, with no food, the guards ran them back to Budapest to work in a brick factory where she met two girls her age, Ferry (Ferike Csato) and Katherine (Katherine Goldstein Prevost). Susan pretended to be crippled and part of a group of sick and injured destined for Budapest and death. She escaped and made it to her aunt and uncle’s house, but the following day Hungarian gendarmes (police) rounded her up with others. The gendarmes forced even mothers from their babies to join with those in the streets.

Their Hungarian guards told them they were taking them to Germany to die. “The one who dies on the road is lucky,” they said. Over a ten-day period in October, they walked in rain, ice, and cold from Budapest to the German border (125 miles) to Hegyeshalomover. Thousands were shot for lagging behind or collapsing. A few country people along the way gave them a piece of bread. Others stripped them of their clothes. Guards kicked them. They slept in flea-invested hay.

Anyone who had anything of value traded it to the peasants for food. They fought for a share of rare carrot or bean soup.

One night, the guards packed them onto a barge on the Danube River. Overwhelmed by the press of dying people, Susan escaped by swimming to the bank in the freezing river. She begged a man she encountered to help her or just get her something dry to wear. He agreed but instead returned with police who escorted her back to the prisoners.

At the German border, they marched another ten miles to trains. Jammed into cattle cars, they traveled for days but couldn’t see out because black slats covered the cars. She was only aware of repetitive stopping and starting.

Finally, in October 1944, the trains arrived at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, their destination. The smell of the crematorium camp would stay in her nostrils for the rest of her life, as would the shock of her first sight of the skeletal prisoners who mobbed them, begging for bread. Guards beat the prisoners back.

The newly arrived assembled in a large open field, waiting to go in. But even with bodies being constantly cremated, there was no room for them in Dachau. Susan and her two friends, Ferry and Katherine, went with other girls to Camp Two and then Camp Eleven (nearby work camps). They slept in bunkers below ground on a wooden floor and a pallet of straw. Camp Two, they quickly learned, was the “sick camp.” The next stop for Camp Two occupants would be the crematorium in Dachau.

At the satellite camps, they were given striped uniforms. About 500 people lived in each barrack with a block leader in charge. Food came once a day in a big wooden barrel with hot water and big hunks of sugar beets. At night they received a piece of bread that “oozed sawdust and a piece of artificial marmalade.” At first, she couldn’t swallow it. The older inmates encouraged her to “eat it, no matter what.”

Each day, the prisoners were called out to stand, sometimes for hours, in the cold for a count and work assignments (Appell). “If you fell out, you were beaten or shot. If a friend was dying, you made sure that she stood up, no matter what, and wasn’t left in the barracks.”

In the first Appell, Susan was picked to work in a kitchen where she peeled beets. Germans brought in prisoners for punishment, hanging them from rafters and beating them. She and the kitchen workers constantly cleaned the blood from the floors. She hid beets inside her baggy shirt and shared it with her camp mates and the Muselmann—the starving, skin-and-bones prisoners resigned to their impending death.

Susan was transferred to different camps for work assignment. At one, German engineers of the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces), instead of SS troops, ran the camp. More humane, their military task masters distributed pieces of food to the workers, food that kept Susan alive. Barehanded and dressed only in the thin striped uniforms and sockless wooden clogs, Susan and her fellow prisoners pulled wagons of wood in the Bavarian winter mountains. Sometimes she was taken from the camp to wash clothes for German housewives. She also worked in the Sonderkommando (work groups at crematoriums) to remove teeth from the corpses of the murdered for the gold fillings.

Her health was deteriorating. She had lost weight and suffered from reoccurring high fevers. Typhoid broke out in the camp. There was no medication. To isolate the prisoners, the guards stopped letting them leave, throwing beets and bread over the fence.

In early March 1945, after the epidemics, a female guard beat her for speaking defiantly to a camp commander. People all around her were giving in to despair, but she refused to do so, vowing she would survive.

At another work camp, Susan joined women prisoners building an underground airplane hangar. They were forced to carry 100-pound bags of cement across a catwalk several stories high. The Muselmann went down instantly under the burden, falling to their deaths. “There was,” Susan said, “as much blood and flesh in that hanger as cement.”

An inmate orchestra played as she and other workers left the camp and on their return. Guards made the orchestra watch and play during beatings and hangings and while starved prisoners–who had tried to grab potatoes from a wagon—were strung up between the electrical barbed wire, potatoes stuck in their mouths.

Once, the Germans spruced up a barracks, putting in furniture and stocking it with people they found “not in terrible shape” for the Swiss Red Cross, who had come to inspect the treatment of prisoners. As soon as they were gone, the Germans took the untouched piles of canned foods, condensed milk, and chocolate the Red Cross had left for the prisoners.

One barrack’s occupants were expectant mothers. They were allowed to give birth to their babies and tend them. Then one day, without warning, all the infants were taken away and the women sent to the work groups.

To use the open trenches to relieve themselves, Susan had to walk through knee-deep mud at night, sometimes stepping on top of the bodies of those who had fallen there and died in the mud. Survival, she knew, depended on not allowing yourself to feel and thinking only of the moment.

Her last assignment was in a dynamite factory. By this time, the air raids were almost continuous. Landsberg, a nearby town, was under siege by the Americans. In April 1945, guards took her and her friends to the main camp in Dachau. They spent a night in the showers at Dachau, believing they would next be taken to the crematoriums, which were still “going strong.” But the next day, with thousands of young people, they were marched out of the camp. As they left, they could see the trains that continued to bring prisoners from other camps [to keep the Allies from discovering them], many already sick and emaciated. When the doors opened, dead bodies fell out. Inmates stacked them like mountains in front of the crematoriums to be burned. But the Germans had run out of time. The American guns were days away.

They marched from Dachau, walking at night and hiding in the woods during the day. Allowed to dig in the fields they passed for roots and potatoes, they ate them raw. All understood the guards’ orders were to march them into the mountains and kill them in the forests where the Allies would not discover their bodies. Guards shot in the head anyone who lagged or fell. Susan was sick and feverish. She could not walk on her own, but three friends, Katherine, Ferry, and another supported her, keeping her from collapsing.

As they struggled through the mountains and meadows of Bavaria, guards began deserting in the cover of night. American planes flew low enough Susan could read the insignia on the wings. The pilots, who surely saw the striped uniforms, refrained from dropping bombs.

Five days later, what remained of their group arrived at a work camp for Russian prisoners in the small German town of Wolfratshausen. The first task of their remaining Nazi guards was to take the Russian prisoners of war and shoot them. Knowing they were next, Susan lay on the roadside, too sick and exhausted to react. Then she heard a roar—the first American jeep of the Third Army coming down the road—liberators.

The German guards fled, but the liberators were combat troops, unable to care medically for the freed prisoners. The Americans moved on, and the liberated were left to fend for themselves.

Typhoid once again thinned their ranks. Her friends held out tin cans for food the passing American soldiers threw to them. Survivors that were able, brought supplies from the town and cooked soups. Reports that Americans fed and clothed German prisoners, playing baseball and basketball with them in the prison camps, ignited bitterness and anger. Many Jews took abandoned weapons and hunted the German SS who had tortured them and killed their friends and families.The sound of gunfire in the surrounding forests peppered the nights.

They spent the summer in the woods, slowly regaining their strength, then Susan, Katherine and Ferry trekked to a displaced persons camp. Although her friends wished to immigrate to Israel, Susan wanted to go home to Hungary. And they chose to go with her.

They walked to Prague, a journey of 145 miles, where a Russian troop train allowed them to ride. Arriving finally at their destination of Budapest, they found it devastated. Susan couldn’t find her house in the rubble . . . or her mother. They tried to find work. Inflation made money worthless. A friend of her uncle finally gave her a job in the ministry [government] which paid the workers in potatoes and bread. They lived in a room open to the elements; bombs had destroyed the windows and doors.

Ferry convinced Susan to go with her, Katherine, and two Sabra (Israeli) agents who were attempting to get fifty Polish Jewish children to Israel. The children had survived by hiding in Christian homes. Susan and her friends rode with them by train to the Hungarian border where they had to walk about 200 miles.

The friends, with the two Sabra agents and three other men, accompanied the children through heavy snow in the fields and woods. Twice, they paid off Russians who stopped them, but the third time, at the German border, they had to make a run for it. They abandoned all their belongings in their dash for freedom. Older children carried the younger ones. Russian bullets followed them. Once safely across, the children continued through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus and then into Israel. But Susan still did not want to go to Israel.

Later, Susan said she regretted that decision and felt pride in what Israel stood for. “You know, even if you have to die, if you die on your feet fighting, it’s a heck of a lot different than to be shoved into a gas chamber [to] die like mice or cockroaches, or whatever.”

Susan lived in Germany for three years, then married a GI and came to America in 1948, becoming a U.S. citizen. She had two children, Diane and Leslie, and lived on Long Island, NY. Struggled with multiple health issues, she worked in various factories to pay her medical bills before getting a clerical job on Mitchel Air Force Base, which turned into a civil service career of 30 years.

She divorced and eventually married another serviceman. With his transfer to Maxwell Air Force Base, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama.

Ferry and Katherine joined relatives in America, and the three friends kept in touch for the rest of their lives. Finally locating her mother, who had returned to Budapest, Susan brought her to Montgomery in 1956.

Susan Petrov Eisenberg died in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2008.

Note: I had the privilege of compiling Susan’s story. She was one of the survivors who made Alabama their home after WWII. Others’ stories and a wealth of educational material about survivors and the Holocaust is available at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center website—

T.K. Thorne photo T.K. Thorne writes about what moves her, following a flight path of curiosity, reflection, and imagination. Check out her (fiction and nonfiction) books at

Let the Good Times Roll!

Even after the extra day for leap year, February is the shortest month. But that doesn’t stop these 29 days from being chock-full of things to celebrate. Especially this week.

Due to a quirk in the 2024 calendar, there’s a danger of overdosing on special occasions. I live in what’s often described as the most diverse city in the U.S., where owners of all kinds of businesses (bakers, costumers, bars, restaurants, and delivery services) are working overtime to cash in on money-making opportunities.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Thriving Asian communities and hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants, are serving that continent’s exotic cuisines to the rest of us for Lunar New Year. The exact official date can vary from culture to culture, but highly enjoyable ceremonies abound, including special foods, fireworks, music, and the boisterous Lion Dance.

Sunday, Super Bowl LVIII

Unofficially dubbed the Taylor Swift Bowl, this celebration of grit and brawn was finally played. It was a good day for grocers and purveyors of fast food. Did you watch? Did your team win? And did you appreciate any of the over-priced  commercials? The BMW/Christopher Walken spoof made me chuckle, and the Dunkin’ Donuts spot was amusing, too.

Next up: Leftovers Day

Not an official holiday, yesterday offered a little respite from the clash and clatter. It also gave us a chance to work through our leftover flamin’ hot chicken wings and Chinese moon cakes. And it was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a nice opportunity for quiet contemplation before the rowdiest hoopla of all descended upon us today.

Today: Cue the parades!

Cue the beads, the drinking, and the debauchery! Today is Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday, when celebrants here and around the world are encouraged to laissez les bon tons roulez. So, let the good times roll! Wear the gaudy costumes and watch people behave badly. Catch some trinkets and cheap bling from a parade float. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure to grab some King Cake while you can, for tomorrow is all ash and penitence. Unless you prefer to keep to fun going, because…

I ♥ U!

…tomorrow is Valentines Day! If, after indulging in all of the above, you’re still in the mood for rich food and booze (and your liver can take it), you can opt for a lovely restaurant in which to ply the object of your affection with oysters and champagne, and maybe some serious, not-so-cheap bling.


Thank goodness it will soon be Thursday, which is National Singles Awareness Day, in which we’re encouraged to celebrate the joy of being alone. After the week we will have had by then, it feels like an appropriate antidote to the bacchanal we might have endured. A good day to tend to our spiritual side. Or, depending on how well your Valentine’s dinner went, perhaps to try a new dating service.

There’ve been countless Valentine’s dinners in my life, some more meaningful than others. But I’ve never attended a Super Bowl.

I have enjoyed local Lunar New Year celebrations (lots of noise and fun). I’ve been to a Mardi Gras ball and three years of parades in New Orleans: first, among the raucous street crowd (never again), second, from a private balcony on Bourbon Street, and another atop a float, tossing beads in my homecoming queen regalia.

Here’s hoping we all have many more special days ahead to celebrate. In the meantime, let’s try to make every day a celebration.

How about you? What’s your favorite day in February?

Gay Yellen is the author of the  award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!  Contact her at

2024 Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Juliana Aragón Fatula


Dear Reader,

Just so you know, I’ve switched to every other month so this is my first post and I’ll be back in April 2024.  As for what I’ve been up to lately, I’ve been away from home staying with a friend and working on my novel. I’ve made the changes suggested by my editor and have been killing my darlings. I’ve cut 1/3 of the pages and will be rewriting scenes that were too distracting from the plot.

This is my first attempt at writing a mystery novel. It’s taken me years but life gets in the way. When I’m away from home staying with my sister/friend who gives me a room of my own, I can write freely without interruptions. At home, I’m always distracted by my husband, the doggies, laundry, etc. Here I write and read and do research and enjoy the process as it should be with no one but me and my characters.

I have a fabulous editor who is working with me from Macondo. Macondo Writers Workshop is a weeklong experience for professional writers. The Macondistas recognize their place in our society. They are professional or master’s level of writers. I signed up for the writing workshop called Chuparosa con Ganas.  Translated this means butterflies with desire. I accidentally sent my editor an email with Chupacabras con Ganas in the subject line, oops. We had a good laugh.

Her notes to me were thorough and professional. She told me what I needed to hear. The good and the bad. I have thick skin and have done several workshops over the years and received critiques of my writing but as a poet, not a novelist. I’m learning and becoming a better writer because of listening to those master writers who critique my work and give me positive feedback. I’ve also critiqued writers and given my feedback on their writing. I enjoy the experience of workshopping. I miss the camaraderie and passion of working with other writers.

I was invited and accepted to blog for the Stiletto Gang, thanks to Linda Rodriguez, a Macondista. I met her at an AWP conference in Denver many years ago. She has been instrumental in my writing my first mystery. So I share a post every other month for the Stiletto Gang; she also writes once every other month. I’ll be her partner in crime.

It’s been a year from hell for me but I’ve taken my lemons and made margaritas. Emily Dickinson said it best.

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—

Since then—’tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—

Emily Dickenson 1830-1886

Last year I lost my only child, Daniel. This year I’m saying goodbye to my sister, Judy. The circle of life teaches us about death and makes us appreciate our loved ones while they are here on Earth. This post is dedicated to Daniel and Judy.

Juliana Aragón Fatula, a 2022 Corn Mother, women who have earned accolades for community activism and creative endeavors is the author of: Crazy Chicana in Catholic City, Red Canyon Falling on Churches, winner of the High Plains Book Award for Poetry 2016, and a chapbook: The Road I Ride Bleeds, and a member of Colorado Alliance of Latino Mentors and Authors, and Macondo, “a community of accomplished writers…whose bonds reflect the care and generosity of its membership.” She mentors Bridging Borders, a Teen Leadership Program for girls. No justice no peace.


crumpled paper with the words ideas

Where Do We Get Our Ideas?

by Sparkle Abbey

crumpled paper with the words ideas

People often ask authors where their ideas for particular books come from. And though it’s quite different from author to author, one thing we’ve discovered from hanging out with other authors is that most have no problem coming up with ideas for stories. In fact, most of us have far more ideas than we’ll ever have the time to write. Story ideas are everywhere.

Writers are innately curious and so a news story, a magazine article, even an obituary can spark a thought that turns into a possibility. The writer imagination is off and running and wondering “what if.” The news of the day may be a big fire at a local business. It could have been faulty electrical wiring, but the writer wonders what if it wasn’t. What if there’s more to the story? What if the fire was actually a cover-up?

Also writers are by nature observers. Yes, that’s us sitting quietly in the corner of the room or on the park bench. That couple holding hands while their body language says there’s something else going on. What’s their story? The three girls in a whispered conversation whose foreheads are almost touching. What secrets are they sharing? The elderly woman with her purse clutched tightly on her lap who keeps checking her watch. Who is she waiting for? And the guy on his phone that looks oddly out of place. Why is he dressed like that with a hat that shades his face? Is he undercover? Perhaps a spy?

Or wait maybe the elderly woman is the spy. Wouldn’t that be a great twist? The guy on his phone may be meeting someone and they’ve gotten lost. We imagine the three teen-aged girls in fifteen years. Will they still be friends? Still sharing secrets? What if they lose touch with each other? What if they don’t? What if a shared secret them keeps them forever bound together?

See how it works? There is drama everywhere, and secrets, and stories. As writers we are sponges for the bits and pieces that are story sparks. We get to bring those stories to life and give them twists and change them around.

Ideas are everywhere.

So now that you know how it works, the only thing to remember is when you’re having a conversation with a writer, and they get that far-away look, there is a good chance they have spotted a potential story across the room and they’re already coming up with ideas. Or the other possibility is that something you’ve said has been the spark, and you’ve provided the story idea.

Writers – Is this how it works for you? Have you come across an interesting story spark that you’ve yet to write?

Readers – How about you? Have you come across an idea that you thought would make a great story?

Do tell…

Mary Lee and Anita

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

If you want to make sure you get updates, visit them on Facebook and sign up for their newsletter via the website

Our Addiction to Simplicity-by T.K. Thorne

A friend sent me a little story about someone who mocked a man for buying a fancy car, asking him if he realized how many people the money that he spent on the car could have fed. The man recounted all the jobs that were created to make/sell the car and noted that those jobs fed a lot more people than he could count.

Fair enough. But it ended with this:

“Capitalism is freely giving your money in exchange for something of value.

Socialism is having the government take your money against your will and give it to someone else for doing nothing.”

Sounds very uncomplicated and compelling. But let’s look deeper.

There is no doubt capitalism provides jobs. (But so can socialism or even communism.)

Jobs—or at least working and/or creating something—do contribute to a person’s dignity and self-worth.  . . .Unless that job pays so little, one is scrabbling to feed oneself or family and building a better life is out of reach no matter how hard one works.

Tying self-esteem to work is risky. Overwork can lead to burnout and diminished productivity. There are many benefits to meaningful work, though “meaningful” is defined differently for everyone. Not all work is meaningful in a positive way.

The adage that teaching a person to fish is a better choice than giving a person a fish, rings with truth. . . unless that person is too hungry to learn anything. Then he needs fish first and teaching second.

I’m not an economist, so I’ll stop there. My point is that we humans have a compulsion to simplify.


The answer to that seems to go back to the way we evolved. We needed shortcuts for everything to function and thus, survive.

My body/mind has figured out (thanks to billions of years of life’s experimentation) how to move to the kitchen when I’m hungry. If you think about what this requires, it is no easy feat. Thousands of complex electro-chemical interactions and coordination involving nerves, muscles, and tendons takes place. If I had to direct this with my conscious mind, I would fail and lie in a puddle on the floor. . . hungry.

The body/mind has shortcuts for almost everything. It takes effort to think through a statement, judge it, weight the “what-ifs?” What is true in one scenario might not be true in another. For example:

It is wrong to kill another. A simplicity that feels true . . . unless your own life is threatened . . . or if your government has decided that other is “the enemy.”

Life is complicated. That’s why we have lawyers.

Seriously, the mind loves simplicity. And it is not “wrong.” If a tiger is coming for you, simple is better.

But our world is also complicated and very divided. And each “side” clings to its precepts without room for expansion or allowance of deviation or “what ifs.” The human brain prefers shortcut belief/value systems, which are more efficient than wasting valuable energy on something it has already “decided.”

For example, I believe education is the fulcrum for elevating society, but I understand a child born into the stress of poverty and constant violence is not on equal footing, and that our world is better if it allows the potential of all to be fulfilled. I willingly give up a portion of what I earn and my time to try and rectify that, understanding that some beneficiaries to that funding and time will choose not to work for it. (I also support a system that primarily helps those who need it and will do their part, but I am not willing to give up on helping if that is an imperfect system.)

A strong military is the best defense, and all must contribute to pay for that, while understanding that human systems will often devolve to some waste and corruption. (I support a system that discourages and punishes that, but I am not willing to give up a strong military to eliminate it.)

I support hospitals administering care in life threatening situations despite the ability of the patient to pay for it. (See comment above re waste and corruption.)

These societal needs require systems that are, frankly, not simple. They could be simpler; they could work much better. But just opting out would cause many unintentional and devastating consequences. Let’s do the hard work, the creative work of figuring it out. Albert Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Do we have the imagination it takes to apply our creativity, technology, and will to the complex problems of our world?

That said, I leave you with a couple of truly simple things:

“Being kind and loving and caring really matters. The truths constantly change and disguise themselves, but being kind and loving and caring always counts.”—Jim Reed

“We can’t just hope for a brighter day, we have to work for a brighter day. Love too often gets buried in a world of hurt and fear. And we have to work to dig it out so we can share it with our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”​—Dolly Parton

T.K. Thorne writes about what moves her, following a flight path of curiosity, reflection, and imagination. Check out her (fiction and nonfiction) books at

Clicking Our Heels – Reflections on Being a Member of the Stiletto Gang

Clicking Our Heels-Reflections on Being a Member of the Stiletto Gang

As we begin a new year as the Stiletto Gang, we took the time to reflect on what we each like best about being part of the gang. We also wonder what you, our readers, like best about the Stiletto Gang?

Barbara J. Eikmeier –  I really enjoy the community and how I’ve gotten to know the other gang members through their blog posts even though I’ve only met one in person.

Saralyn Richard – Getting to know other mystery authors who share the milieu with me. We are all different, but we share many of the same values and aspirations.

Dru Ann Love – I like the variety of genres that the group writes.

T.K. Thorne – The comradery of the group. We support each other in lots of ways. And the fact that being responsible to others lights a fire under my butt to write something for my day… sometimes even on my day, but I get it done.

Debra H. Goldstein – I value the friendship and respect we have for each other plus the way we support each other behind the scenes.

Lois Winston – The comraderie and support I receive from my fellow Stilettos. Many have become dear friends, some personally and unfortunately, others only virtually.

Lynn McPherson/Sydney Leigh – It’s the comraderie. Writers supporting writers.

Gay Yellen – It’s the camaraderie. We may be separated by geography and backgrounds, but we share a kinship that seems to deepen as we reveal more about our lives, our thoughts, and our common goal to write good books.

Donnell Ann Bell – I love that the Stiletto Gang members are a great support group. Whether celebrating one another’s joy, or commiserating over someone’s loss, The Stiletto Gang are a compassionate, intelligent, and talented bunch. I’m proud to be listed among them.

Debra Sennefelder – Being a part of a group of wonderful, supportive writers. Community is everything in this business.

Anita Carter (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) – I love the support and camaraderie of other women mystery writers. It’s a fabulous community! And I find great books to read.

Mary Lee Ashford (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) – What I love best about being a Stiletto Gang member is the camaraderie and support that the group provides. The publishing business is brutal and having a group of fellow authors who understand and care is priceless.

Bethany Maines – Being exposed to so many great writers!

photo of champagne glasses and 2024 numerals

Doing More of What Works

by Sparkle Abbey

Wish for it, hope for it, dream of it

Happy New Year from us to you! Since it’s the beginning of a new year everyone’s talking about resolutions or goals. It appears that there’s a bit of a divide on whether New Year’s resolutions are considered a good thing or not anymore.

On the one hand the beginning of a new year seems like the perfect time to take stock and see how you’re doing. It’s a fresh start, a clean slate, and perhaps good time to set some goals. Or at least establish some better habits.

A recent Forbes article states that according to their survey 62% of us feel pressured to set a new year’s resolution. With 87% feeling optimistic about keeping it throughout the year. Most goals revolve around improved fitness, finance, or mental health. In the writing community, we find that there are usually similar goals being made around writing, publishing, and reading.

We’re big fans of goals and in previous years we’ve shared our views on making your goals specific and measureable. As well as on planning your path to reach them and tracking your progress.

This year we’re taking a little bit different approach and the simple version of what we’re doing is focusing on what’s working and doing more of that. A recent read “Getting More of What You Want” by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys focuses on the latest advances in psychology and economics to negotiate well. In short, to get what you want. You can read more about that here: Getting More of What You Want by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys | by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys

But isn’t achieving your goals really about negotiating with yourself?

Our previous approaches to goal-setting weren’t wrong. SMART goals are smart, right? (The letters stand for: Specific-Measurable-Achievable-Realistic-Timely.)  But this approach can fall a bit short when you’re reaching for a creative goal. You see, some of those things are outside your control.

Another recent read, “Start More Than You Can Finish” by Becky Blades also provided food for thought. And who can resist a book named MUST READ by the Next Big Idea Club.  An excerpt and more about the book and the Next Big Idea Club here: Start More Than You Can Finish

Because for us this is always an evolving process, where we’ve landed this year on setting goals is this:

  • Make a list of what’s working and figure out a way to do more of that.
  • Make a list of what’s not working and stop doing that.

At its essence, it’s still about defining what you want and planning how you’re going to achieve your goals. But it also acknowledges those things that you’ve accomplished. Things that are going right.  And it also defines what got in your way and how you’re going to eliminate those things. Because maybe the most important thing about achieving your dreams in 2024 is getting started.

What are your thoughts? Do you set goals at the beginning of a new year? Do you pick a word or a thought to focus on for the year? Or are you in the anti-resolution camp?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

book cover for Desperate HousedogsSparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series set in Laguna Beach. Their series features former Texas beauty queen cousins, Caro, a pet therapist and, Melinda, a pet boutique owner. The most recent installments (book nine) BARKING WITH THE STARS and  (book ten) THE DOGFATHER continue Caro and Mel’s murder-solving adventures. And PROJECT DOGWAY is a short that brings the cousins together – sort of.

But here’s some great news, if you’ve not yet started the series (or would like to share the series with a friend) the first book, DESPERATE HOUSEDOGS, is currently on sale for 99 cents in all ebook formats!

Find it at your favorite place to buy books! 

Happy New Year!




From the Stiletto Gang we wish you a happy, healthy and very bookish 2024!

Clicking Our Heels – Our Special Holiday Traditions

Linda Rodriguez – Before the pandemic, we used to gather at my house–in later years, my sister’s house–for a feast and extended-family get-together. We haven’t started anything back up since. I suspect my youngest son, who now lives 3 minutes away, will spend the holidays with us.

Bethany Maines – Panic about presents and then nap in protest of winter?  I’m not sure those are traditions so much as simply what happens repeatedly.

Joyce Woollcott – I’m Canadian, so we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving as much as our American neighbours but Christmas Eve, when our daughter was young, we listened to Dylan Thomas reading a Child’s Christmas in Wales. And we still do, all together, with the addition of one son-in-law and one little grandson. So lovely.

Debra H. Goldstein – Enjoying family time.

Paula G. Benson – This year, I’m looking forward to returning to a tradition of working with my church on a holiday musical to be presented in early December. We have not been able to have one since the pandemic.

T.K. Thorne – Recuperating.

Lois Winston – For most of my adult life, my family and I spent Christmas Eve with very close friends. Unfortunately, life got in the way, people moved out-of-state, and the tradition eventually came to an end.

Kathryn Lane – On Christmas Eve, we invite friends to join us for tamales and Christmas punch.

Dru Ann Love – This year, I’ll be recuperating from knee surgery replacement, and ever since my mom passed away, we don’t have a family tradition anymore.

Lynn McPherson/Sydney Leigh – I’m Canadian so our Thanksgiving comes this year in early October. We like to go to pumpkin patches, enjoy large family dinners, and go for beautiful walks in the fall.

Barbara J. Eikmeier – I hang a dog and cat garland with all the dog or cat tags of our past pets including their rabies tags (because they have the county we lived in). We have an angel ornament for each animal and this year will be adding our dog Holly who passed away in April.
I also do a little happy dance in celebration of Winter Solstice and have been known to host a party. Once we’re past the Winter Solstice, even though Feb, our coldest month in KS, is yet to come, I feel like summer (my favorite season) is almost here.

Mary Lee Ashford – My family gets together on Thanksgiving for a very large (40 or so people) celebration and I always look forward to that. Although we live close, we’re all so busy that we don’t get together as much as we should. For Christmas it’s just the immediate family – two sons & daughter-in-laws, and six grandchildren. However, the past several years the grandchildren have spent New Year’s Eve with us while their parents went to dinner or to a New Year’s Eve get-together and I love that time with the grands. We munch on leftover holiday goodies and hot cocoa. At midnight we toast with sparkling cider, toot our noise-makers, and watch the ball drop in Times Square. I’m glad the neighbors are tolerant as I’m pretty sure we get a little louder each year. There was a time when the grands were young enough that I could convince them that it was the New Year when the clock turned over in New York City, but now they’re older and they’re on to me. Such great memories!

Writing Is Messy

Happy December! It’s the most exciting time of the year. And for me, it’s the messiest time of the year because I’m finishing up the first draft of the next Food Blogger Mystery. My goal when writing the first draft is to take what I’ve plotted and turn it into something that is readable and entertaining.


It’s also during this process that I decide which recipes to include in the book and I begin developing and testing them. So far, I’ve made the scones that will be included three times. Actually, four times if you count the time when I measured out too much milk and I didn’t realize until I’d mixed it into the dry ingredients. It was definitely a baking fail moment.

Back to the actual writing. It’s not unusual for there to be lots of question marks in place of words because while I was writing, I couldn’t come up with just the write word. It’s also pretty common to have sections highlighted because I need to refer back to my series bible or do some more research online. And it’s pretty typical that I’m short thousands of words. My first draft is very lean compared to my second draft. It’s during that draft that I fill in all the missing pieces and add in all the extras like a more vivid description or maybe a twist that I hadn’t previously thought about. I let my first draft sit for two weeks so that I can put some distance between me and the manuscript. This separation allows me to think about the first draft and lets my subconscious to do its thing so that when I return to the manuscript, I’m energized to dig in and I have some more content to add. So that when I’m done with the second draft, it’s all fluffed out and ready to go to my editor.

I’m looking forward to tackling the second draft and that will happen in January. Once I finish this current draft (and I’m so close to finishing it) and I will step away from it and focus on a new story idea along with the holiday season. Speaking of the holiday season, remember that books make great gifts. And the Stiletto Gang has so many books to choose from.

I think my June release, HOW THE MURDER CRUMBLES, would make a lovely gift for the reader in your life who loves their mysteries with a side of cookies.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to catching up with you in January! Happy Holidays.




Debra Sennefelder is the author of the Food Blogger Mystery series and the Resale Boutique Mystery series.

She lives and writes in Connecticut. When she’s not writing, she enjoys baking, exercising and taking long walks with her Shih-Tzu, Connie.

You can keep in touch with Debra through her website, on Facebook and Instagram.