Monday, December 31, 2012


Okay, I admit it. I'm superstitious. I know it doesn't make sense, but I've always been a little bit afraid of Friday the 13th. Now you tell me we're going to have a whole year of "13"? Saints preserve us!

What is it about that number that led some hotels to eliminate that floor and just go from 12 to 14? I mean, I'm not the only one with this irrational fear.

There are all sorts of explanations. Some say it is because there were 13 around the table at the last supper, Jesus and the 12 disciples. Or maybe it's because 13 is the first "teen" and we all know the teen years are the worst! Or the best, depending on your perspective.

And that's the whole problem. I looked back at 1913 to see what historical events had happened in that year. Was it an unlucky year? Some would say so. That's the year our country established the income tax as we know it today. And the year we established the federal reserve bank. Makes that fiscal cliff sound even more ominous, doesn't it?

It was the year Jesse Owens was born. And Richard Nixon. Woodrow Wilson became president with democrats in control of the house and the senate. King Tut's tomb was discovered. Gas was 8 cents a gallon and a new Model T cost $550. (About $14,000 in today's dollars.) Lincoln Highway, the first road across America, opened.

So, is that lucky or unlucky?

I mean, there are 52 weeks in a year, so we should have 13 months instead of 12. Then every month would be 4 weeks long. A typical television season has 13 episodes. It was the lucky jersey number of basketball giant Wilt Chamberlain. Our country began with 13 colonies and still bears 13 stripes on the flag. And that little country singer phenomenon Taylor Swift says 13 is her lucky number.  Who wouldn't want luck like hers?

We can't put the world in one of those hotel elevators and just skip 2013. Like it or not, it's the next floor. We have to step out and make our own luck. Good or bad. Or better. We can always strive for better.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sleeping on the water

        We arrived at "our place" (rented) in the Keys a couple of days ago, but before I post pictures of our new life, I wanted to share a story about our trip down here.
        Steve is known for seeking economical accommodations and I often tease him about the "bargain" that turned into a nightmare when we discovered the motel backed up to a railroad. A train went by at midnight and 5 a.m. and shook us right out of bed.
        But this trip's bargain may replace the train story forever. In his defense, I must give Steve several stars. He had already agreed to add about 150 miles to our trip from Michigan to the Florida Keys so I could visit the beautiful beach in Panama City. After a day and a half of driving, we arrived in Panama City about 2 p.m. Thursday and started looking for a motel on the beach. We had stayed there for three months two years ago, so we knew there were lots of reasonably priced hotels.
Fantastic view from our room.
         But we were traveling with a cat and none of the places we checked would accept pets. Steve had already been turned down at at least six places. We were even considering leaving the cat in the van overnight. But then we stopped at a runned down older place. I knew something was up when Steve returned to the car with a big grin.

         A deal, he said. The owner would accept our cat but the only room available had a problem. The roof had leaked and they were cleaning it up. They would rent it to us for $40 cash, under the table. That was the deal.
          The whole place was questionable. In addition to the people working on the roof, other workers were repairing the stucco walls. An older, grandpa sort of guy and a kid about 12 or so were building something that looked like bed frames out of 2X6. The hammering and sawing wasn't so bad but they were doing the work in the walkway so we had to dance around and through the project in order to get our stuff to the room.
          While we waited for the manager and her teenage son to sweep out the room and add an armload of threadbare towels, I walked along my beloved beach that I had walked so many times two years before. It was chilly, in the 50s and windy, but sunny and I had a great walk. I decided the surf sounded like the Earth's heartbeat. In and out, whoosh, whoosh.
       Although the building was tattered, and the property littered with soda cans and remnants of the roof repairs, the view from the patio in front of our room was spectacular. Right there on the beautiful beach. Out of the wind on the patio, with the sun shining,  it was warm enough to sit and have a drink, chat with a crazy tenant who lived in the room next door and watch the sun set.Families walked the beach and children giggled as they played on the raised deck over part of the motel. The next morning, the school bus would stop for those same kids, but when I saw them playing I thought they were on vacation. I had no idea they lived there.
         "This is where the poverty of the beach goes," said our next door neighbor, who kept his kayak in his room.
Steve vistis with our neighbor outside the room.
        Our room had ceramic tile on half the floor, under a table in front of a window that overlooked the beach, or would have if the window wasn't fogged up. The tile floor ran in front of a kitchenette with a rusted fridge and a greasy stove and a tiny sink, past an awkward partition into a little bathroom with a shower stall and a toilet that was hinky about flushing.
        In the center of the room were two double beds on carpet. We didn't even go over to that part of the room until we returned from the restaurant later that night. I sat on the side of the bed and removed my shoes. When I put my feet down on the carpet I couldn't believe the squish. The carpet was beyond soggy. The leaky roof had left the carpet in inches of water. When we pulled back the bedspread, half of one of the beds was soaked as well. I slept on the other half of the wet bed because it was on the edge of the carpet and I could get in and out on the dry tile. Steve slept in the other bed and had to wade in and out across a sea of smelly carpet.
              We had to laugh about Steve's "deal." I'm sure he'll bring it up anytime I suggest I want a room on water!!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Next Big Thing

This week I am honored to participate in the Next Big Thing Blog Chain, featuring authors from across the United States, Canada and beyond. I’ve enjoyed connecting with authors such as Colorado mystery writer Pat Bertram, whose current big thing is working on an online serial with other writers.I was invited to join by A.F Stewart  of Nova Scotia, who is working on a steam punk horror story set in Halifax.
      We've been asked to answer a set of questions about our latest project, which for me is the December 1 release of One Shoe Off. This is the second book in the Jordan Daily News Mystery series. Like the first book, Great News Town, it is set in the pre-internet 1980s at a  small newspaper in a fictional Chicago suburb.

What is your working title of your book?
One Shoe Off
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Molly Zelko, a real-life, crime-fighting newspaper editor, disappeared in Joliet, Illinois, in 1957, leaving  her shoes behind as a sign she was nabbed by gangsters.  Her story is legendary in Joliet, and I became familiar with it when I worked at the Joliet Herald-News in the 1980s.  I wondered what would happen if the spirit of a powerful journalist from the past were to haunt the 1985 newsroom in my fictional Chicago suburb.
What genre does your book fall under?
One Shoe Off is a mystery/thriller. Zelda Machinko, the missing newspaper editor, tells her chapters in a gritty, first-person, present-tense voice, with an appreciative nod to Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and all Noir mysteries.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Zelda tells me (don’t your characters talk to you?) that she should be played by Liz Taylor. Since Zelda disappeared in 1956, she doesn’t know that Liz isn’t around anymore. But I like to think Glenn Close would do a fabulous job. She's got grit and glamour, a tough combination. Investigative reporter Duke looks like a young Tom Selleck, with a bit of George Clooney’s dry wit. City editor Josie is a tomboy spitfire, looks like Ellen DeGeneres but tiny like Kristen Chenowith.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
As the spirit of a long-missing newspaper editor reveals her tale, the people and places of the past intertwine with the passions and problems of the present, the gritty gangsters of the 1950s collide with the government graft of the 1980s.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
One Shoe Off is self-published.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve been toying with this story for several years, but just started writing in earnest about a year ago.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I love the series writing of Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Walter Mosely, Michael Connelly, and many others in which the development of the characters and their continuing relationships is as important to each book as solving the mystery. 
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The whole Jordan Daily News Series is inspired by my career in journalism, but this book especially is dedicated to the journalists I worked with over the past 40 years and their unflinching devotion to truth and justice.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My books work on many different levels. If you just want a fast read and a satisfying story, it’s there. But if you like literary symbolism, you’ll find that as well. In this case, for instance, the title can be taken at face value. Zelda kicked off one shoe. But on a deeper level it describes a story in which everything is “off” just a little. People don’t do what’s expected, things don’t work out exactly right.

As part of the December launch of One Shoe Off, you can go to Goodreads to register for a giveaway. Five copies will be given away at the end of the month. Also at the end of the month, the Kindle version will have free downloads Dec. 26-30.

This blog chain will continue next week as more authors post about their latest projects. Let me introduce you to West Michigan career counselor and author Sue Maciak  and Illinois vampire romance writer Denise Unland. Click on their names to check their blogs now, and be sure to check back next week to read about their Next Big Thing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Better than real

What is it about an impressionistic painting that captures something a photograph misses? Well, that's part of the magic of theater. It was my great privilege to see "War Horse" at Wharton Center on Saturday and it is beyond-belief fabulous. Yes, these are puppet horses, with puppetteers in plain sight. And yes, this is an epic story of war and destruction, spanning years and battlefields and several different countries. And yes, it is all done with a minimal set. And yet, it is so real. So heartbreakingly real. In the climactic moment when a German soldier and a British soldier come out of their fox holes and work together to free a horse tangled in the barbed wire, I cried like I never cried at a movie. I cried for the injured horse and for all the soldiers in all the senseless wars.  I love laughing in the theater, and I laughed at spots in War Horse. But when a play can make me cry, that's real. That's better than real.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Just for fun

Even when I'm not reviewing, I love to go to theater. Which is why I identify so well with "the man in the chair" in The Drowsy Chaperone. He loves musical theater so much that just listening to a recording of a favorite old musical brings it to life in his living room. I first saw this show on Broadway with Michigan's own Sutton Foster. Tonight I relived that experience at Cornerstone University.

What a delightful show! Catchy music, snappy dancing, flashy costumes, outrageous over acting, sappy love stories, terrible head-slapping comedy. (Not to mention Kyle Juresich as the groom skating around the stage blindfolded!) And, of course, a great man in the chair, played by local actor Greg Rogers. As he says, musical theater is a wonderful escape into another world, and The Drowsy Chaperone is an excellent example. This is a challenging show with lots of sets coming and going; one big production number after another, lightening fast costume changes and some demanding solos.But Producer Jennifer Hunter and her cast and crew did an excellent job.

I'm so glad I took a break from a thousand other things I should be doing during this busy holiday season and caught a performance tonight. The show continues through Sunday. Don't miss it!