Tag Archive for: Gay Yellen

Have You Read These Books?

As a lifelong book lover, I read newsletters and articles by literary critics on what they think is important to read. So in January, I usually check the various “Best” book lists for the past year.

I’ve long been skeptical of how the books are chosen. When a thriller I helped write earned a spot on The New York Times “Notables” list, it was disappointing to learn why—after five printings in both hardback and paperback and translated into two foreign language editions—it didn’t quite become a NYT “bestseller.” It had more to do with a bookselling logarithm and a publisher’s reluctance to support it than it did with the quality of the book itself.

But to learn what’s happening in the popular culture, I still read the lists. The NYT says the five best novels of 2023 are The Bee Sting, Chain-Gang All-StarsEastbound, North Woods, and The Fraud (written by Zadie Smith, an author I’ve read and enjoyed).

The Wall Street Journal chose an entirely different five: The Lost Wife, The Sun Walks Down, Good Girls, Red Memory, and A Dictator Calls (winner of a Man Booker prize).

Reader’s Digest doesn’t stop at mere books of the year. It also publishes “The 100 Best Books of All Time.” What they do when new books are published is a mystery. They could easily drop Hamlet from the current list. It’s a remarkable piece of literature, but it isn’t a book. But what about the other 99?

In a sign of the times, there’s also a Top 50 Banned Books list. I enjoyed many of those as a child and in high school English class. I’m sure you have, too. Now I’m curious about the rest of them, especially one called Captain Underpants.

When I choose a new book, I often rely on recommendations from friends. I love being introduced to books I wouldn’t necessarily pick up on my own.

So, have you read any good books lately? Tell us about it in the comments below.

And speaking of books, I’m giving away free copies of The Body Business ebook for 24 hours beginning at midnight tonight through midnight tomorrow (Jan. 10th) on Amazon. Tell your friends!

Gay Yellen is the author of the award-winning SamanthaNewman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!

Contact her at GayYellen.com 

Gay Yellen: The Return Trip

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re driving to somewhere you’ve never been before, searching for street signs, hoping you don’t get lost in an unfamiliar part of town. Finally, you arrive, conduct whatever business you came for, and head home.

But as you retrace your route, you begin to notice singular, interesting sights that you’d ignored on your way there. Oh! That must be the new soccer stadium I’ve read so much about, and there’s that new CosMc’s!


E. L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog. Even though you’re only able to see as far as your headlights, you can still make it to your destination that way.

I’d add this: it’s only after you complete the round trip home that you realize where you’ve been. This is what happened to me when The Body in the News became Book 3 in the Samantha Newman Mystery Series.

The revelation appeared as I recalled a late, spur-of-the moment decision I’d made to introduce a very minor character into Chapter 9 of the book.

Meet Apollo, the sugar glider (and a possible metaphor).


This tiny Pacific island marsupial weighs only 4 to 5 ounces. In the book, he arrives at Samantha’s door, sitting atop the head of a person who’s come to help Sam get through a pesky roadblock in her search for a happy life.

I meant to use Apollo as a bright spot during a dark moment in Samantha’s journey. He’s a creature who is almost too cute for his own good. But as I did my research, I learned that sugar gliders are very popular with exotic pet lovers, and that’s bad news for the little critters.

Now, back to yesterday…

…when I suddenly realized that Apollo and Sam had both been dropped into strange and hostile predicaments. And they each needed to get to a place where they belong.

I could claim that I’d planned Apollo’s situation to be a metaphor for Sam’s struggles, except that I saw the connection only after completing my own foggy writing journey to the end of Book 3. But I’m glad Apollo showed up to help her contemplate new hope for the future, even if I hadn’t seen it coming.

Writers always welcome a little bit of magic to grace our creative attempts, something that can intrigue our readers and add a little spark to our work. Even unplanned, a very minor character can be exactly that.

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!  Now available on Amazon.

Contact her at GayYellen.com

It’s World Hello Day!

There are lots of things to love about November. Cool, crisp mornings. Warm, cuddly clothes. A lovely fire in the hearth. And hints of cinnamon spice everywhere.

I recently learned that today, November 21, is annual World Hello Day. At first it seemed like a made-up trifle akin to National Pickle Day (which was actually last Tuesday). But after researching the origins and purpose of this holiday, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.

World Hello Day

World Hello Day was created in 1973 by two young brothers, Brian and Michael McCormack, as a panacea for the Arab-Israeli war known as the Yom Kippur War. Gathering all the money they had at the time, these two bought postage and sent out letters to as many world leaders as they could and asked them to support this new holiday.

from Pete Seeger

Within the first 12 months of their campaign, the results were overwhelming. World leaders, educators, Nobel Laureates, show biz celebrities and other luminaries responded. And in the last 50 years, they have managed to gather the support of 180 countries.

It’s interesting to read the thoughts of people like James Michener, Colin Powell, Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, and Whoopi Goldberg on the subject. My favorite replies are the little ditty that Pete Seeger offered, a wacky postcard from David Sedaris, and a heartfelt letter from the Idyllwilde Elementary School in Florida.

You can read more of these interesting letters here: https://worldhelloday.org/letters/

How to Celebrate

World Hello Day is a good opportunity to express our concern for world peace. According to the organization’s website, anyone can celebrate simply by saying hello to at least ten people. Friends and family count. Extra points if you greet a stranger, or say hello in a different language. And if you’re inspired to encourage a world or community leader to settle a conflict, go for it.

It seems a bit Pollyanna-ish to think that the simple act of saying hello can lead to world peace. And, we may feel silly saying hello to a perfect stranger. But we can start by greeting the nearly invisible people we encounter in an ordinary day: the checkout clerk at the grocery store, the people we pass on the sidewalk, someone we’re sharing an elevator with or sitting next to at the theater.

Acknowledging another human being’s existence can go a long way toward recognizing that we’re all in this crazy world together. At any rate, that’s the philosophy of the McCormack brothers, and they’re trying to make a difference. Why not try it, too?

And while you’re at it, say hello to Book #3 in the Samantha Newman Series, The Body in the News. I’m overjoyed (and relieved) that it’s finally out there!

Who have you said hello to today?

Gay Yellen‘s award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!  Now available on Amazon.

Whose Words Are These?

Does the rise of artificial intelligence make you want to scream, “AI, caramba!”? *

While there’s speculation that AI may cost some people their jobs, writers worry that AI will lead to rampant plagiarism. All of which reminds me of a time in the pre-digital era when an entire work of mine was plagiarized by a living, breathing human being. It happened in a manner so blatant, it was almost comical.

Fair Use

20th Century Fox Corp.

I was the editor of a national tennis magazine (my first full-time job in publishing). One day, a freelancer who was looking for an assignment stopped by my office to drop off some samples of his past articles.

We had a brief chat about his experience, which seemed fairly extensive, and we planned to talk more after I’d read his work.

Later that day, I looked through the material he’d left and noticed that one item was an interview he’d conducted with the manager of Jimmy Connors, who was a world-class champion at the time.

I had interviewed the same man some months before. So out of curiosity, I chose the freelancer’s interview with him to read first. Its format was a simple Q. & A.

I read the first question and the manager’s response. I read the next question and answer. It wasn’t until the third Q. & A. that something began to feel familiar.

I went to my back files, found the issue I was looking for, and flipped to the page with my interview on it. Everything was identical, down to the last comma and period, except for the photos and the freelancer’s name instead of mine in the byline.

At first, I was amazed at the audacity. It occurred to me that the thief might have stolen so many works from other writers that he never bothered to keep track of whose article he was submitting to whom.

The pilfered interview.

And then I got mad.

The magazine with the pilfered interview was based in Australia, a big tennis mecca back then, with its own national stars like Laver and Goolagong. I sat down and wrote to the publisher, informing them that they had published a stolen article. I included a copy of my original piece, along with my suspicion that there may be more of the same from that individual.

Two days later, the plagiarizer showed up again and asked me what I thought of his work. I let my fury fly while he sat there stone-faced. After I was through, this is what he said: “So, you won’t be hiring me?”

I kid you not.

I never heard from his publisher, and I never saw or heard from the pilferer again. But I’ll always think of him as a lazy, cheating son-of-a-gun, like a grownup and ever-unrepentant Bart Simpson.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.


*a nod to Bart Simpson, The Simpsons, Twentieth Century Fox Corp. Free use.




Two Things, Two Places, All at Once

Glitz and glamour. Politics and power. Winners and losers. Millions of people tune in to watch the spectacle that appears on our television screens once a year: The Academy Awards.

As with almost everything else these days, the entertainments we each choose to watch have become more and more disparate. Also, movie stars rarely awe us in the same way they used to do. What was once a common annual viewing ritual seems to have lost its place as a shared social and cultural experience.

Back in my Hollywood days, I walked the red carpet. After leaving my acting career behind, I began work at AFI (The American Film Institute), where I learned what good movies are made of. So last Sunday, as always, I watched the Oscars, even though I hadn’t seen any of the nominated films.

A popular game begins immediately afterward, when the critics—amateurs and professionals alike—have their say about the bests and worsts of the broadcast. Most vocal among them are the grumblers who debate the worthiness of the winners. Coming in a close second are those who critique the female attendees’ fashion choices, which put me in mind of the dress I once wore to the Oscars.

The morning after the broadcast, I dug deep into storage to search for it, and also for the printed program from that night, both of which I thought I had stored together. Found the dress, and a couple of old Polaroids of me wearing it, but I didn’t find the program. I don’t remember the exact year it was, or who the nominees and winners were. (I’m sure selective memory is at fault here. Those years were not among my favorites.)

But here’s the dress: a flowered silk jacquard overlaid with gold thread in a Paisely pattern. Still looks new, though I no longer weigh the ninety-eight pounds required to fit into it.

I am late to the party in seeing this year’s nominated films, but I do want to see them, hopefully in a movie theater, the way the are meant to be seen. Though the trailer for the big winner, Everything Everywhere All at Once, looks somewhat headache-inducing, I’m willing to brave it anyway, because I’ve heard that it portrays life in multiple universes, a subject that intrigues me.

Which brings me back to the dress I wore on the red carpet, long ago. When I peer into the photos of me in it, I feel lightyears and multiple universes removed from the person who wore it. Still, I want to find that missing Oscars program, if only to confirm how far I’ve time-traveled beyond those show biz days.

When did you last watch the Oscars? Did you see any of the winning films and performances this year?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News!




The Letter I’ll Never Forget

Here it is again, a new year. A fresh start, and yet, a hint of gloom still permeates the air. We’ve all had to navigate through and adjust to new realities. How are you managing?

Whenever I’m struggling, I lean on the philosophy of someone I fell in love with years ago:

Vincent Van Gogh.

I was in my twenties and slightly adrift when I picked up Dear Theo, a compilation of Vincent’s letters to his brother. A few years earlier, I had visited the museum in Amsterdam dedicated to him. Though he wasn’t my favorite painter at the time, his spirit spoke to me through his art and grabbed onto something deep inside.

Van Gogh’s letters are an almost-daily account of his struggles. They vividly detail his miserable existence. Yet through it all, he kept working to be better.

The one I’ll never forget

A letter he wrote in 1884 has kept me going through rough moments in my personal and my writing life. Here’s a bit of it, lightly paraphrased and edited for brevity:

One mustn’t be afraid to do something wrong sometimes… You don’t know how paralyzing it is, the idiotic stare from a blank canvas that says you can’t do anything. Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas. But the blank canvas is afraid of the truly passionate painter who dares…

Life itself likewise turns toward us an infinitely idiotic and meaningless blank side. But however meaningless life appears, the person of faith, of energy, of warmth, doesn’t get discouraged. He steps in and builds up…

Substitute an author’s blank page for the painter’s canvas, and this is my daily inspiration.

Did you know that Vincent was also a book lover? Here’s this: It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at art. One should, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.

And this: So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me and reminded me that there are good things in the world.

And on another subject, this: A woman is not old so long as she loves and is loved.

Yes, he led a tragic, troubled life. Worse than most of us can imagine. But he never stopped wanting to capture truth and beauty in his art and his life.

Perhaps we all could take a lesson from Vincent, dare to face the blank canvas that is 2023, and choose to make this year into our own work of art.

Wishing you a year full of love and good health. And good books!


Gay Yellen writes the award-winning

Samantha Newman Mystery Series:

The Body BusinessThe Body Next Door,

and coming soon in 2023: Body in the News!


Creating Colorful Characters

For novelists, creating a memorable character that jumps off the page and into a reader’s imagination is darn hard to do. Which is why I frequently envy the person working at his desk in the other room, who always seems to be having fun.

Critters by Don

When my husband retired, people who knew him speculated on how he would spend his time once he left the company he’d founded. Write a book about his ground-breaking career? Open a restaurant? Learn to sail?

Nobody expected him to become a trash collector, but that’s exactly what he did. And then he created colorful characters from what he found.

The first creations came from a long-neglected “junk” drawer. Once he had repurposed most of that supply into a few funny faces, he expanded his search for more bits and pieces outdoors, where he struck it rich.

Don’s Doo-dads

We live near a big city park with hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors daily: runners, joggers, walkers, golfers, picnickers, folks pushing strollers and herding children. They come to ride the zoo train, see the animals, meditate in the Japanese garden, steer the paddle boats, or simply sit under a 100-year oak and feed the squirrels.

After a day of family fun, there’s always stuff left behind: a random baby shoe or sock, an odd earring, a broken barrette, the cap from a juice drink, the innards of a smashed calculator or mobile phone. If he comes across an interesting piece of detritus, he’ll bring it home and turn it into a piece of whimsy.

Besides the stand-alone Critters, he’s made magnetic Doo-dads that can be worn on clothing or stuck on the fridge. These funny-faced eye-catchers tend to be conversation starters, which encourages him to make more. Neighbors have donated their own odds and ends, eager to contribute to the process.

DELETE, Ms. Elegant, and Bad Hair Day

With each face, a unique personality emerges. A character you might want to meet, or avoid. A face that reminds you of someone you know, or would rather forget. Sometimes I grab a magnet pin to wear, depending to my mood. Feeling spiffy? Bad hair day? Or, if the writing’s not going well, I may sport the one with the DELETE button for a mouth. Enough said.

From time to time, someone asks to buy a piece, but the creator is not keen on selling. For now, his Critters & Doodads reside on shelves and inside cabinets, and only come out on request.

Yet every time a new Critter or Doo-dad emerges from a box of junk, it’s guaranteed to bring smiles. And these days, we all can use more of those. Including novelists.

Is there a silly something that brings you joy?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.


Mystery! Suspense! Thriller!

When I pitched my first book to a publisher, I described it as a mystery. “Tell me about it,” said the acquisitions editor. After hearing the the storyline, she asked to see the full manuscript and gave me her card.

 Glancing at the card, I noticed that the publisher she represented specialized in romance novels. I repeated that the book I had written was a mystery.

“Sounds like romance is a substantial part of it,” she countered. “Send the manuscript and let us decide.”

Long story short, her company published The Body Business as a Romantic Suspense novel. Thus began my initiation into the wacky world of genre madness and the marketing issues that plagued the book for the duration of the publishing contract.

Fast forward to the day the contract ended. At last, I had more control over how, when, and where the book was advertised.

Thankfully, the new edition took off and led to the launch of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series. As published authors know, trying to slide your novel into the perfect preset niche that book retailers and other marketers require can be daunting. My books tend to cross genres, so picking a single category was like aiming a fistful of darts at one teeny tiny target and hoping the right dart would hit the bullseye.

Mystery? Thriller? Suspense? Which one suits the stories best?

Here’s a simple way to differentiate them according to best-selling, multi-award winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan: “I always think a mystery is ‘who-done-it?’ A thriller is ‘stop it before it happens again.’ And suspense is ‘what’s going on here?’

These simple guidelines help me define the books in my series, even though each one fits into a different category.

Reviewers describe The Body Business as a “roller-coaster ride” and a “page-turner.” In other words, it reads like a thriller. As for The Body Next Door, some reviewers have called it a cozy. Like a cozy, there’s humor and a quirky character or two, but the absence of cats, crafts, or a charming village could risk the wrath of traditional cozy fans. It’s also been described as “full of suspense,” which is how I wrote it, straight-up.

Romance runs through the series as a subplot, due to my fiercely independent-minded main character, who continues to deflect the happy-ever-after ending romance readers crave. The romance continues into the next book, but the main plot is a true who-done-it.

To label a book as a mystery, suspense novel, or thriller is purely a marketing game. What an author really cares about is that people enjoy reading it. When our readers share a book they really like with their friends, they can describe it however they want.

Readers, do you rely on a bookseller’s categories to choose a book?

Writers, have you struggled with labels, too? Tell us about it.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.


Gay Yellen: Great Balls of… Ice?

Warning: the writer is grouchy today because the old refrigerator died.

Great Balls of Ice

It was a 1983-vintage custom-designed fridge that we inherited when we bought our home thirty years ago. It was sleek, streamlined and fit in seamlessly with the cabinetry. But it was too old to be repaired, so the search was on for a new one. My husband hoped it would make crushed ice.

The first model we chose had a delivery window of 4-6 weeks, minimum. No fridge for a month or more? Cancel that.

Moving down the row, we noticed a different brand’s floor model with a big SALE tag on it. It could be delivered immediately, and it made crushed ice. We grabbed it.

The dispenser options on the door display are Cubed/Water/Crushed. Hubby seems satisfied with the crushed. On the other hand, I have a problem with the so-called “cubed.”

Does this look like a cube to you? No. It’s a rectangular pyramid with a rounded-off top, kind of like a mini lump of half-spent charcoal. Those smart fridge engineers had to know it wasn’t a cube. Maybe “lump” was too down-scale a word for the marketing team. Sure, the pieces chill like a cube, but still… it rankled the editor in me.

For a visual reference, here’s a cabochon amethyst cut in a shape called “sugar loaf” that’s almost identical to our lumps. Obviously, gemologists are way more careful with their language.

Anyhoo, back to the new fridge, where we discovered that it also makes a third kind of ice, described in the 67-page owner’s manual as “Craft.” To our amazement, there’s a bonus shaping device that lurks inside the bowels of the freezer compartment that is more special and even craftier than your everyday two-way ice dispenser.

It makes balls of ice as big as billiard balls, and they are so extra super-duper that only three per day can be “crafted” to become the crystal wonders pictured in the photo at the top of this post. New ones announce themselves with a kerplunk, plunk, plunk that emanates from the deep.

Why are we engineering such useless gizmos for our over-pampered selves? Is there a big demand for a perfectly round chunk of ice so heavy it could tumble from your Scotch-on-the-rocks and knock out your front teeth?

This new whiz-bang appliance is too busy and bulky and bossy to love. You barely touch a door and it smugly announces that it’s keeping everything at a perfect temperature. Leave a door open longer than it “thinks” you should, and it sends out an annoying series of beeps. As if we didn’t already have more than enough things to beep at us. And did I mention that it looks like the backside of an elephant?

Truth is, I miss our old machine. I’m still trying to chill out about its replacement. Wish me luck.

Do you have an emotional relationship with an inanimate object? Love it, or hate it?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.

Gay Yellen: Motorcycle Diaries

Back when we worked nearly 24/7 to make a living, my husband and I managed to make a few getaways on his motorcycle, a sparkling red Honda Goldwing. For a two-wheeler, it was a stout and sturdy machine, weighing in, fully packed, at around nine hundred pounds. Once, at a gas station, when we pulled up beside an old Honda Civic, the man at the other pump noticed the 1500CC logo on the side of our bike. He shook his head and laughed. “That thing’s more powerful than my car!”

Indeed it was, and comfy, most of the time. We had no worries on a trip from Texas to Yellowstone National Park, until we ran into an unexpected hail storm.

As we all know, hail is made of ice. Depending on the density and size—from a small, sleety pea to a rock-hard grapefruit—it can be a pain to ride through, especially on a bike.

Our bright, sunny day suddenly turned dark and cold and wet. The nearest town was a tiny hamlet, thirty miles away. With no shelter in sight, and no better option, we sped to it.

By the time we found a fast food place, I was so chilled that I’d lost control of important muscles. I wobbled inside (with help) and ordered hot coffee, but I was spazzing too violently to hold the cup and drink it. I hunched over it for warmth until the spasms eased.

On another ride, we were heading home from Colorado on a perfect, blue bird day. Cruising over backroads through the Rockies, we came to a lovely valley with acres and acres of golden flowers that blanketed the fields around us. The air smelled like warm honey. A gorgeous afternoon, until I heard my husband scream, and the bike swerved sharply underneath us, pitching us toward the ditch. Somehow, before disaster struck, he managed to slow us down and guide the bike to the shoulder. We jumped off just before it landed on its side, halfway into the ditch.

Meanwhile, my husband kept shrieking and running in circles in the middle of the road like a barnyard chicken. He ripped off his helmet and began swatting at his head.

Turned out that the luscious honey aroma wafting from the golden fields had attracted thousands upon thousands of bees that were dipping and diving as they hovered over the flowers. One wayward bee had flown into his helmet and crawled inside his ear. Thank goodness the little buzzer soon recognized the error of its ways, turned itself around and flew away.

We were lucky that our near disaster ended happily. After many more road adventures (like the deer that came out of nowhere and leaped over us, barely avoiding a deadly collision), we sold that Goldwing. I hope the new owners had as much fun with it as we did.

Have you had a near-disaster that became a happy memory?

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series , including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.