Saturday, April 25, 2015

Goldsboro Reading and Workshop--April 1, 2015


Wayne County Library, sponsored by the Friends of the Wayne County Library

Going to Goldsboro for a reading has become a ritual as well as a highlight of my reading schedule when I have a new book out.  Killer Frost (2012), Farm Fresh and Fatal and Beaver Soul (2013) were all celebrated in Goldsboro, thanks to the efforts of Katherine Wood Wolfe, who’d been my writing student in the late 90s.  This past April 1 (it was poetry month), Katherine had arranged for me to do both a reading of my new poetry book, This River: An Epic Love Poem, and a workshop on how writers can get published these days from 6-9 P.M.

Left to right, Gail Carucci, Judy, Katherine Wolfe


Two students from my winter “Tell Your Life Story” class helped out, too.  Gail Carucci of Sanford drove me there and helped set up for the reading and sell books during the evening.  Mary Susan Heath, who lives in Goldsboro, kept Gail overnight, took photos, and also gave Gail, Katherine and me a bacon and egg send-off breakfast the next morning.  For the evening program Katherine laid out a feast of refreshments with flowers to decorate the tables, and sent me home with my first begonia plant.  To the reading came some Goldsboro folks I’d met before, some new faces, and then Margaret Baddour, with whom I’d worked back in the mid-80s to start our N.C. Writers’ Network, came and brought her writing class.  We had sixteen folks there.  


It was a whirlwind 24 hours.  On arrival, Gail and I had lunch with Mary Susan and Katherine, and an early supper, too, and we left the next morning by 8 A.M. to return to Moncure and Sanford.  The best part for me was being so valued and appreciated.  It comes harder each year to coax readers to book readings and then selling the books person-to-person.  When they not only come and buy books but also cherish you like I was cherished in Goldsboro, it makes all the difference, and the $81in book sales helps, too.  I have to get another book out for next year so I can return to Goldsboro!

Judy and Mary Susan Heath at the book-selling table.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Hope to Stop Duke Energy's Coal Ash Dumping

Blooming sage plant several springs ago.  Same brilliant green as is everywhere now in Central North Carolina.


GIFTS XVII. October 12, 2014

Only when the increase of gifts moves with the gift may the accumulated wealth of our spirit continue to grow among us, so that each of us may enter, and be revived by, a vitality beyond his or her solitary powers.  –Lewis Hyde, The Gift, p. 39.

Gifts do hold me up when I fear falling.
It’s like relying on spider webs.  I don’t
even know they’re there, and if I did,
how could I trust anything so fragile
and unpredictable?  I may tell myself
that other people will help me, that
messages are forming, but there’s
no proof.  The only clue is in my
spirit’s indefatigable faith in other
people, in the way the Universe works 
if you cling to your best wisdom,
your uncanny knowledge, and follow
where it leads, one careful step at
a time.  Don’t expect this to be easy
or without suffering.  Don’t expect
acclaim or adulation.  What you’re 
doing terrifies most people.  Some 
will stay as far away from you as 
they can or actively try to hobble
you.  What matters is that other
kindred souls are lifted up and
remember how you and they connected
in those heightened, ecstatic moments
that pull us close sometimes whether
we like it or not, often completely
by surprise.  Those few are your
companions.  They share their 
resources and are only too happy 
to give you a helping hand.  They
haven’t forgotten those exalted
moments when you were together,
no matter how many years ago.

Gary Simpson’s Speech at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Hearing on Duke Energy’s Coal Ash plan.  April 16, 2015, Chatham County Historic Courthouse.

Good evening,
I’m a resident of Pittsboro NC living at 82 Cynthia Lane, and my name is Gary Simpson.
These days if you reside in NC and your name is DUKE, whether it be the college team that plays basketball, or the corporate team that plays hard ball, people are sitting up and taking notice of the way that you play your game. We see that one of you now proudly has the cap of a champion covering your collective head, while the other is scrambling to literally cover your corporate ash by heaping coals (the remains thereof) on other people’s heads.

When I played basketball the scoreboard in our high school gymnasium was made by a company called FAIR PLAY. Every time we looked up and saw the company name on the bottom line of the scoreboard, we were reminded how we were supposed to play the game. 

Because the game of Life is far bigger than the game of basketball, citizens come to this historic courthouse tonight to plead our case for FAIR PLAY. We’ve come to ask Duke Energy, the biggest and baddest kid on the energy playground, to look up at the scoreboards that they power up and “see the light.” Lift up your eyes and see that FAIR PLAY is still the true bottom line. Game plans and business plans should play to the bottom line of moral and ethical conduct. They should benefit the common good, the health and well being of all and not just the coffers of the corporate few.
The irresponsible unloading and subsequent dumping of one’s toxic waste into somebody else’s back yard under the guise of doing folks a favor is not FAIR PLAY. It is FOUL PLAY!

It is FOUL PLAY to treat people and the environment that sustains them as “collateral damage” in the “means-justifies-the-ends” game of corporate profitability. 

It is FOUL PLAY to wash one’s dirty hands of toxic ash by unloading the responsibility for its disposal and management to a nebulous LLC that ultimately will take NO responsibility WHEN (not IF) the toxins hit the fan. 

The citizens - the flora and fauna - the air, land and waters of Chatham and Lee counties (or any county for that matter) do not deserve to reap the whirlwind of the foul wind that Duke Energy has knowingly sown over its long history of burning coal to sell electricity. That’s not FAIR PLAY!

So, if the largest corporate energy player on the planet won't PLAY FAIR, what then? Then officials who are charged to govern the conduct of the game justly must call the fouls and enforce the consequences, lest the game be denigrated into a criminal charade.
While the “ash hole” that Duke has dug for itself is deep, and finding a way out is complex, the people’s plea is simple. It is perhaps best summed up in the three-part formula for FAIR PLAY proclaimed long ago by the Prophet Micah : 

+ Do what is just… 
+ Lavish others with kindness and compassion…
+ Walk with humility and reverence in the Deity’s Creation.
Speech given by Diana Hales at the April 16, 2015 DENR Hearing

April 16, 2015:  Charah Permit for “Mine Reclamation” in Brickhaven (Chatham County)

Diana Hales, Chatham County Commissioner, 528 Will Be Lane, Siler City, NC 27344

We are here today because Duke Energy has a 70-year ash problem.  Existing coal ash pits around the state have failed and their contents are seeping into our public waters.  Instead of seeking a 21st century solution to permanently neutralize these toxic residuals, Duke Energy will dig more pits and transport their problems to Chatham and Lee counties. 
Our Legislature made a law to allow Duke Energy to move ash into so-called “structural fill” pits and compress it against a 20-year HDPE plastic liner to form twin 50-ft tall mounds in Moncure. This Frankenstein-monster permit strips local government authority, endangers public health, diminishes economic prospects, and offers a temporary Band-aide, not a solution.   

It is all in the name:  Solid Waste Management Facility, Structural Fill, Mine Reclamation Permit.

“Structural Fill” is a lie.  This is a solid waste landfill, but without the normal protections: 
No local government approval is required for this permit
No environmental impact study is required for this permit
Setbacks from private residences and water wells have been reduced from 500-feet to 300-ft
Setbacks from property boundaries have been reduced from 300-feet to 50-feet
Setbacks from surface waters have been reduced to 50-feet
Distance from the seasonal high groundwater table is only 4-feet! 

“Mine reclamation” is another lie.  The site plans show extensive areas of new excavation.  The existing quarry is but a small part of the plan at each site. 

In the Army Corps of Engineers permit Charah stipulates the liner has a 500-year life expectancy.  This is an outrageous claim, to say the least.  But then, Charah has no liability beyond 30-years.  Charah also claimed in that permit application it was bringing in 3 million tons of coal ash, when we know it is closer to 20 million tons between the Chatham and Lee sites.   

Leachate pollutant limits are extremely relaxed for coal combustion products.  The permit allows Charah to use the State’s 2T rules for metal toxicity.   These rules allow high concentrations of metals…in milligrams per liter…because the waste is not supposed to be discharged to surface waters.  However, the truth is that millions of gallons of Charah’s leachate will go downstream in the Cape Fear through a municipal waste water treatment facility. Most wastewater treatment plants do not do a good job at removing metals from their waste stream, because they use biological processes.  In fact, two of the metals, barium and thallium, are not included in their testing standards at all.  All those concentrated toxic metals will travel downstream or become the sludge spread on our farmland.

Deny this Frankenstein permit that has been cobbled together in a cauldron of special interests.
Deny this permit because it doesn’t solve our coal ash problem.
Our community has a right to clean air and water.  Deny this permit. 

THE OMENS ARRIVE VIII.  April 19, 2015

There’s no other word for it.  This plan
of Duke Energy to bury twenty million
tons of coal ash in our communities is
evil.  We are like the early Christians 
battling their persecutors in ancient
Rome, castigated, despised, treated
as less than human.  They found it
painful to hope.  So do we.  Yet, as
this April’s green rushes to the tops
of one hundred-foot trees, the grasses 
hurtle toward seed, the pea vines rise,
and the dogwoods flash their white
blossoms through the woods, hope
surges in me.  I’m behind in my
planting and weeding.  Instead, I’m
making speeches and comforting
my fellow warriors.  This indefatigable
green is my omen: We have reason to
hope, to let go our fear and dread.  
Hope is risen with the bold, truthful
words of our allies.  On the hearing
night, when it mattered, they came
to speak.  They called Duke’s game
plan “foul play.”  They said it broke
the provisions of our state constitution.
It would take our lives, our liberty, and
deny us our pursuit of happiness.  They
said Duke’s whole scheme was built
on a lie.  All that empty talk from
Duke officials vanished before our
eyes like a bullfrog when a giant water 
bug sucks out its juices until its skin
collapses.**  I try to imagine how those
corporate defenders think.  The man’s
title is Director of Community Relations,
but his job is to kill us off, quietly. 
Now the truth is out.  The spoken 
word with its best rhetoric–truth–
is heard on radio and television, read
in newspapers.  Hope may live in us
because green rises undaunted again.

** Cf. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard, p. 6.


Coal Ash blowing off the old Cape Fear coal ash ponds on Corinth Road, Good Friday, April 2, 2015.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Judy's Coal Ash Protest Speeches--April 2015

No Coal Ash Sign on Buckhorn Road, Chatham County


Speech for Chatham Board of Commissioners, April 13, 11 AM

I have been privileged to hear several times our commissioners’ well-formulated questions to Duke Energy and Charah and their very inadequate answers.  After reading their recent answers to our commissioners’ questions, I felt like the child, who alone of all the spectators when the king passes by, says, “But the king has no clothes on.” Duke Energy has no clothes on.  

What I mean is, once Green Meadows has its permits, Duke Energy has no control over what Charah does.  We know Charah is careless about coal ash flying out of their trucks and rail cars.  We know that Charah engages sub-contractors, and if they mess up, as the wall-builders in the Asheville Airport did, Charah claims it had nothing to do with that.  We know that once the ash leaves Duke’s property the liability is shifted to Charah, or maybe to their sub-contractors, or even to the limited liability company Green Meadows.  We know that coal ash should not be moved.  We know that many people live, work, shop, and farm along the train and truck routes outlined in the Green Meadows permit.

We know that if this happens, our communities in southeastern Chatham will be harmed irreparably.  We don’t want to be Duke’s human sacrifice.  We live in a democracy where we are guaranteed our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We are being treated like people are under a totalitarian regime.  Corporations helped the Nazis exterminate six million Jews.  Duke Energy is, in effect, practicing genocide on the good people in southeast Chatham and northern Lee county.  We refuse to be killed off in the name of Duke Energy’s corporate profits.  We shall overcome.  We see clearly Duke Energy’s naked purpose: to kill us.  We refuse to die.

Speech for Lee County DENR hearing–April 13, 2015

My name is Judy Hogan.  I live in Moncure, half a mile from the Deep River and Lee County.  Both the Brickhaven and Colon Road designated coal ash dump sites are within five miles by air from me.  I live on Moncure-Pittsboro Rd., with its heavy traffic of commuters, school buses, trucks carrying bricks, logs, plywood, chemicals.  Now there are probably already 120-140 trucks a day passing every 5-6 minutes coming and going to our industrial district along Corinth Road, often exceeding the speed limit, which is 45 for the curve above me.  People who live on that curve regularly have trucks wreck in their front yard.  Add 120-140 30-ton coal ash dump trucks within 12 hours, that’s a truck every 2-1/2 to 3 minutes.  The CSX train track is one mile away, and when we go to our local post office, we are less than one hundred yards from the CSX train track.  If the permits go through, and we know DENR is no longer seriously willing or able to protect our environment, I won’t be able to live in my house, grow vegetables, fruit, and raise chickens, nor will I be able to sell this little farm where I had hoped to die at a ripe old age. 

I live very simply on a fixed income.  At 77 I’m still healthy, but I won’t stay here to be poisoned.  The trucks and rail cars carrying coal ash to Colon Road are also likely to use my road.  Hundreds of people live in these targeted areas.  Few of us are rich.  All of us value our land, our gardens, our pets and farm animals, and our children.  We don’t want our women to abort their babies, our babies to be born malformed, our little children to have nerve damage and cancer.  Coal ash should not be moved.  I have good friends in Lee County. I have taught at CCCC in Sanford.  I have fought against fracking with my Lee County neighbors and now we are all fighting against Duke Energy’s plan to introduce genocide into our American democracy.  Duke’s plan is criminal.  DENR needs to deny their permits for Green Meadows that allows Duke to shift its own coal ash problem onto the good people of Lee and Chatham countries.


Speech for Chatham County DENR Hearing on Coal Ash–April 16, 2015

I live in Moncure, a wonderful community.  I moved here to my first owned home 16 years ago and immediately began to fight, first against a low-level nuclear dump; then against three landfills, then to stop our air pollution which DENR had neglected for 10 years. A lot of people I knew here 16 years ago have died since, many of cancer.  I fought to get Progress Energy to stop shipping nuclear waste by train through our community.  I fought to keep fracking out of North Carolina.  In the process I met and came to love the diverse people here in Moncure, most of whom still hold to the traditional American way among country people, of helping each other.  

I’ve had good neighbors, and we made friends as we worked to save our community from environmental injustice.  Now we fight Duke Energy’s plan to force us to have 12 million tons of coal ash transported past our homes, businesses, churches, and farms.  We know it’s a hazardous waste, even if EPA hasn’t said so yet.  We know it shouldn’t be moved or get into our air, water, or onto our land.  We know it would kill us off, babies first.  

We know Duke doesn’t admit to how lethal coal ash is.  We hear the word games.  “Here’s a glass of water.  This is the leachate from the Asheville Airport site.  It’s too clean for a waste water treatment plant”.  No mention of the lead, mercury, arsenic, selenium and other heavy metals in that glass of water.  It isn’t the organic waste that will kill us, but the inorganic, those murderous chemicals that you can’t see.  

No amount of wetting the ash or spraying it with chemicals will keep it from drying out and blowing on a hot and windy day after a journey of 150 miles.  We don’t trust Duke, Charah or Green Meadows.  If Duke wants to be a good neighbor, let them pay for their own neglect of their coal ash ponds all over North Carolina, and treat the good people of Chatham and Lee counties as if they weren’t ruling us in a totalitarian mode, turning our meadows and streams black.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

When One's Poetry Is Read

Pear tree blossoms; peach blossoms behind them.  April, 2013

I was honored this past week in a way I never expected.  In a celebration of Kostroma Russia’s sister city, Durham, NC, a group of secondary school students presented poetry, music, and dance about Durham.  One young woman read part of my poetry book Susannah, Teach Me to Love/Grace, Sing to Me, Book 4.  Here’s what she recited.  She had memorized these lines.

It is neither spring nor some lush lane
of new, intoxicating green.  It is the last
of a dry, hot spell.  I am in downtown Durham
taking my walk past smoothly concrete banks
and large urban motels, and then shops, in an
area supposedly renovated, where half the stores
are empty and out of business and boarded up.

Durham is your city.  You have haunted it,
photographed it; you told me some club downtown–
was it the Odyssey Club that I passed?--
had just been bought by one of your friends
for a theatre.  I looked at another empty club
building, too, and wondered if that was it...

There’s more in the poem, but this is what she recited.  A huge gift. Then a young woman played a keyboard quite beautifully; a young man, a saxophone.  One young man played a guitar while a young woman danced wildly, her limbs loose and nimble.  Clearly they were liking many things about Durham, about America.  The music, dance, even the poetry.  Here’s the link of the you-tube film, about 20 minutes long, mostly in Russian, but near the beginning at 1.43 minutes, there is the young woman reading my poetry, written back in 1983. Amazing.
Dear Judy,
we haven’t had an event about your poetry yet (I hope we’ll manage to do it in April) but there was an event about Durham at the library of a Kostroma school. We use a small part of your poem. Here is a video about this event, sorry, it’s in Russian but your poem is recited in English, it starts on 1:43 of the time scale. The girl was a bit nervous; she knew that the author would watch her reciting.
I hope you enjoy it.
Take care,

Tatiana [A Kostroma Regional Librarian]


Then last Saturday Jane Gallagher, a good friend whom I haven’t seen in along time, dropped by to hug me and wish me luck on the difficult work we do now to stop two huge coal ash dumps from coming to two places near where I live.  She didn’t understand how I could be optimistic that we could keep these dumps out of Chatham and Lee County, how I could live normally, even peacefully, while I also worked to stop it.  A good question.  If you’re working to change a difficult situation, it eases the fear.  I am afraid sometimes, but I can’t stay there.  I write in my diary; I take a walk, I plant peas, beets, and carrots.  Anyway, Jane left with my new poetry book  This River: An Epic Love Story.  She wrote me a few days later–maybe the next day–this.  Thank you, Jane. Real readers finding something they enjoy in my books helps so much.
I treated myself to The River today. I read it on my hammock under a large oak tree. Beautiful. I loved it as I did Beaver Soul. 
I especially liked 
...We can't give each other what we don't create ourselves ..... 
...I must do as the river does move on and on. I must love my banks. She carries with her that which we leave behind 
......take one's place in the world in a way that matters 
....We must choose carefully every day, balance within ourselves our needs , the needs of others, our most urgent tasks and what we will let flow past us never to return. 
.....Better to aim one’s life toward a radiant horizon, a sky made red by sun than let oblivion declare black the sole reality, or grey, our fated life. The river keeps brimming with gold. My eyes keep seeing the glowing embers of a sky in winter before the dark curtain falls ...
I am glad you had a true love. 
Thanks for sharing,

Jane Gallagher


I’d love to hear from others of you out there what you think of any of my poetry books, but I do think This River is my best so far among my published books.  Judy Hogan

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Interview with T.J. O'Connor, Author of Dying for the Past

Dying for the Past, T. J. O’Connor.  Midnight Ink, Woodbury, MN, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-7387-4206-9. Paper. $14.99. 395 pp.

When did you begin writing?  Why?

I began writing in grade school—about the fifth grade. Later, in high school, I penned most of a novel, which was horrible of course. As a grade schooler, I fell in love with reading and used every resource to read books as an escape from a tough home life. It started with Mystery of the Witches' Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carleton, and then Gordon D. Shirreffs’ Mystery of the Haunted Mine. From there, I began reading every Franklin W. Dixon Hardy Boys mystery I could find. By the time I finished my third book, I wanted to be a writer—and my first mature book I’d read, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady, clinched it. These books set me on my path to be an anti-terrorism/counter-intelligence consultant and an author. 

When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

My love of books and writing began with mysteries—Carleton, Shirreffs, and Dixon. It was a natural progression from there. I also write thrillers and that love came from the first thriller I ever read, Six Days of the Condor by James Grady; that story is the focus of my most recent blog at my site But, mysteries continue to be my first love, and five of my eight novels are mysteries. 

  Explain your basic idea for your series.  Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?

A series, and I’ve just finished book three. The series title is The Gumshoe Ghost, is a traditional mystery with a paranormal twist. It’s about a detective in Winchester, Virginia, who is killed and returns to solve his own murder with the help of his wife and ex-partner. Think Richard Castle meets Ghost, or, for movie lovers like me, Topper meets the Thin Man. The first story in the series is Dying to Know, published last year, and the second, Dying for the Past, is just out from Midnight Ink. In each book, there are three elements—the first murder that sets the stage for the characters and plot; a historic subplot that is historically accurate to an event in the area’s history; and in the end, the collision of both reveal a larger, more complex story. I should note here that The Gumshoe Ghost moniker was not my idea and I don’t care for it. But, my publisher knows best. My point is that the series is not a ghost story. The reader forgets quickly as the lead character, Oliver Tucker, tells the story. Oh, there’s some paranormal events that allow Tuck to move from place to place and sometimes return in time to the historical subplot—that’s the paranormal twist—but those are just a means to tell the story and connect the historical mystery with the modern day one.

In Dying to Know, the main murder is Tuck, the lead character. The historical subplot revolves around the discovery of Civil War graves that interfere with a major highway construction project around the town. In the end, the killings are all connected and lead to a secret that has been kept for more than sixty years and encompasses the murders of many others.

In Dying for the Past, the first sequel just released by Midnight Ink, Tuck is back. He is investigating the murder of a mysterious philanthropist with ties to the Russian Mob and 1939 gangsters. The murder and other intrigue revolves around finding The Book, an old gangster’s journal keeping track of his enemies and World War II spy rings around Washington DC. In the end, the events all culminate with modern-day powerbrokers and corruption. It also reveals a lot about Tuck’s family lore and that being a ghost may be hereditary. 

Many folks who know me and read the books say Tuck reminds them of me. I’m not sure if they think I’m dead or just a smart-ass investigator. That has me worried sometimes!

Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

It has been difficult and very common. I began trying to publish about twelve years ago with my first thriller, The Whisper Covenant. After about six months trying to land an agent, I gave up and decided I needed a better novel. When I finished my second thriller, The Hunter Betrayal, I tried for two years to get an agent and nearly landed several. In the end, they all passed. All the while I kept writing, improving, and trying to figure out my weaknesses and a strategy to go forward. Ultimately, I penned Dying to Know for my daughters; it was never meant for publication. When it was done, it turned out so well I decided to test the waters and on the third agent I queried, I found Kimberley Cameron. She signed me. Within eighteen months, she sold Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell as a series to Midnight Ink. 

Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

It was a nightmare—literally. I was a government anti-terrorism agent some years ago and I was working overseas during the first Gulf war. When I returned home and resigned to pursue a career as a security consultant, I was plagued by a recurring nightmare that I was killed and came back to find my killers. I told my daughter about the dream and she encouraged me to write it as a novel. I did, but just for her. My nightmare morphed over the years and followed me to Winchester, Virginia. The setting and my nightmare seemed to work well in the story so I kept it—small historical town, murder, etc. Also, Winchester is a wonderful town filled with hundreds of years of history. As I’m a history-lover, I did some research of the town’s past and found some events I could use as a historical subplot—the building of a highway bypass around town and the many Civil War battles that took place here. The other historical events ended up supporting my three-book series. 

In Dying for the Past, the historical subplot revolves around 1939 gangsters. In truth, back in the World War II days, gangsters were reported to cooperate with the U.S. Government to look for Nazi, Japanese, and even Russian spy networks. In Dying for the Past, those events are stretched a bit and fit into the hunt for The Book—the gangster’s journal of spy networks he was watching for the FBI. Ultimately, The Book, and the murder of the philanthropist, all culminate in modern day corruption and intrigue.

How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Bittersweet. So many people think that once you get published, you’re there. You haven’t even scratched the surface yet. It was a tough climb to find an agent. A tougher climb to get published. And now, a new flight of stairs—nearly vertical—to get fans and keep going and building a following. It’s tough, but it is exciting, too. Unlike other professions, there are really not that many published authors. It’s a small community in comparison. I’ve met some wonderful people—both superstar authors and beginners like me (and all in-between). I spent an enormous amount of time trying to get my books noticed and read, spent tons of money, and still have to find time to write the next one. It’s tough and exhausting at times, and worth every bit of it. 

I’m not complaining, mind you. I don’t think you can gain anything of value without a little trial and struggle. I never have. In fact, if anything ever came easy to me, I’d throw it back for fear it was a scam from some foreign nation seeking my bank account numbers—and boy, would the joke be on them!

Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

Well, I’m not very well known, but it’s both a thrill and a humbling experience when a reader reaches out to me or finds me at a conference or book signing. I have a few loyal followers and hear from them quite often. Those are the real humbling experiences when one of them takes the time to write me an email or find me at a conference just to say hello and chat about my books. The first time someone approached me at Malice and asked if I were me, I thought one of my author-pals set me up for a laugh. It was real. I gave that fellow a signed book and bought him lunch. No, that is not an invitation to assail me at Malice this year!

There are also the reviewers and I have to say, I find most of the experience very helpful—fun even. Then there are always a few I get frustrated with or have to scratch my head. Like those who complain about the cover, a few spelling/grammar goofs, or that they don’t like mysteries and therefore didn’t like my book. Here’s a clue—I have little say in the covers, I edit but the publisher is primarily responsible for final copy, and if you don’t like mysteries, why did you pick it up? But then, all publicity is good publicity. Right … ha!

What other books have you published and where, when?

My other publications have been with the series beginning with Dying to Know. Dying for the Past just hit the shelves in January 2015 and Dying to Tell, the third in the series, will be out January 2016. They are all from Midnight Ink.

My amazing agent, Kimberley Cameron, also has another mystery with a paranormal/historical twist—New Sins for Old Scores—that she’s shopping around. So, if you’re a publisher, please …

Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I am working on two other mysteries right now. Both were works I’d finished before Dying to Know was sold and stole my time to write the sequels. So, both have been pining for my attention to return. My books love me that way.

The Killing of Tyler Quinn, is about a Gulf War journalist who goes missing for years. He returns to find his former newspaper pal and rival murdered. He has to find out who and why his pal is killed and it leads all the way back to Kabul and to a possible string of murders from the 1970s. 

The Consultant—Double Effect is a murder mystery intertwined with a thriller. It will be a series about a security consultant who takes on major consulting projects—leading investigations, engineering security programs, infiltrating companies to test their security—and he always ends up tangled up in murder and mayhem. Sort of like raising five kids but without the shooting and killing and car chases. Okay, maybe a few car chases raising them … The opening story is about The Consultant—Jonathan Hunter—who returns home from an overseas project to find his estranged brother murdered. His brother—a Virginia State Detective—may be a corrupt cop tangled up with a Latino gang smuggling guns and bombs with domestic terrorists. 

I’m working on both stories and trying to get them shaped up to about 100 pages each. Then, I’ll decide which to finish first—typing on two keyboards with two computers hurts my fingers. Oh, I’ll finish both because I love both stories (and they love me). I’m having a hard time deciding which to attack first. So, I’ll write the openings, hide at my favorite Greek restaurant with my mentor—Wally—who will help guide me in my quest, and choose which to finish first. 

In truth, Wally has already decided which to finish first. He’ll just play along like he’s really helping choose until he raps his gavel and passes on my sentence. 

If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

I just joined Sisters and haven’t had the opportunity to get involved yet. I’ll be pursuing that this spring when my schedule lightens up a little. I’ve heard nothing but great things about the organization and I’m looking forward to becoming active with them. So if there are any Sisters reading this, drop me a line! 

What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

Probably the biggest benefit is networking and meeting other authors and readers. I very much enjoy doing panels and this year is my second panel at Malice. I’ve done other panels elsewhere and find that it gives me great exposure to fans of the genre—I also get to goof around and have fun with some amazing authors who really know what they’re doing. Somehow, they still let me on the panels!

I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with other writers and my publisher and just relaxing and talking books. In my real profession—a terrorism consultant—I don’t get much opportunity to do that—relax and enjoy a weekend. So, I take every opportunity I can to switch hats and just enjoy colleagues. I keep having to remind myself that the other authors are not terrorists so I don’t follow them around taking notes and sneaking photographs of them at lunch. I still check under my bed at night, though.

What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

The next book, Dying to Tell, was one of my most enjoyable to write. Tuck is back and he’s on the trail of the murderer of a wealthy bank executive who has a dark past involving a World War II OSS (Office of Strategic Services) Operative in Cairo, Egypt. The bank executive, along with three other pals, got caught up in a caper in Cairo and it followed them home after the war. Now, Tuck has to figure out who killed the executive, what connection it has to Cairo—if any, and what a stash of missing Egyptian treasure has to do with all of it. 

Dying to Tell was particularly enjoyable because it wraps several of my favorite topics—Tuck and his pals solving murder, World War II, Egypt, and the OSS. My mentor, Wally, is one of the last surviving OSS operatives in the world. OSS, as many know, is the forerunner to the CIA. Wally fought the Germans in WWII as an operative and went on to be a senior big shot in the CIA, too. But, I love all things history—especially Egypt—and always loved the old movies centering on that. So, it was a blast writing a story that brought all those things together. Dying to Tell also addresses Tuck’s personal situation—being a dead detective and married to a beautiful, brilliant history professor. Tuck’s fate—and the murderer’s—become entwined and the outcome will surprise.

So for those of you who may know me, no, this book is not about me either. I’ve never been a bank executive, never served with the OSS in Cairo, and I don’t have a stash of Egyptian antiquities in my basement. And, I’m not dead (yet). I’m just a lonely author who has had the great fortune of knowing most of these amazing people. Just don’t tell them I write about them!


Tj O’Connor is the author of Dying to Know and Dying for the Past, the first two novels in a mystery series that follows a dead detective as he solves murders and learns to be back among the living but not one of them. The third installment of his series, Dying to Tell, will hit the shelves in January 2016. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. 

Many of Tj’s plots and characters come from his travels and cases he’s worked around the world—except for being a dead detective, he’s making that up as he goes along—at least, so far.

Dying to Know is the first published novel of eight and was selected as a finalist for Foreword Reviews’2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year for Mysteries. Between consulting and writing, Tj has little free time, and that time is spent feeling guilty for not consulting and writing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Interview with Tonya Kappes Author of A Ghostly Undertaking

A Ghostly Undertaking: A Ghostly Southern Mystery by Tonya Kappes.  William Morrow, Witness, An Imprint of HarperCollins.  Mass market paper. 296 pp.  $7.99.

1.  When did you begin writing? 

I was not a reader. In fact, my love for reading didn’t happen until I was in my early 30s when I had gone through a divorce. I had become recluse, especially when my son from the marriage would go visit his father every other weekend. I was in graduate school and one of my classmates asked me to come to her book club. It cracked me up because I didn’t read, but she said they had wine and chocolate so I asked her what time I should be there. I didn’t buy the book, I just showed up. I continued going to book club for the socialization and finally after a few months, I did go to the bookstore and buy the book club book. I still didn’t pick the book up for a couple of weeks and then the magic happened. I got lost into the world of fiction. I found out how they took me out of my real life situation for just a few hours and it made me feel good. I began coming out of my depression and back among the living. 

A few more years until I was remarried and with four small boys and same book club, my husband had picked up one of my many books and read a couple of pages. He told me I could tell a story better than the author and just an hour later I was telling a story to my book club and some of them even told me to write a book because I could tell a good story. 

Two people in one hour encouraged me and that was all it took for it to stick into my head. That night I woke my husband up and asked him if he was serious about me being able to tell a story. He was. I also asked him if he thought I could help one person escape their problems with a story like books had helped me so many years ago. He said yes. The next day, with only ONE reader in mind, I started writing under a big oak tree at my son’s peewee football practice and I’ve never looked back.

2.  When and why did you begin writing mysteries? 

It wasn’t until a year or so later I began writing mystery. I really wanted and thought I was a romance writer. It wasn’t until another writer who was reading my material asked me if I was sure I was a romance writer because there was no romance but hand holding and a dead body showed up in every few chapters. She was right! I was hooked on killing people!

3.  Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  

I’m a serial writer. All of my novels are tied to series. My current series, A GHOSTLY SOUTHERN MYSTERY, is about a young funeral home director who sees ghosts of clients that have been murdered. The small town is just as much of a character as the protagonist. The town has all the Southern charm you can think of and colorful characters who live there. 

4.  Tell us about your journey to publication with this book. 

Well, originally I self-published A Ghostly Undertaking, the first novel in the Ghostly Southern Mystery Series, and sold over 80,000 copies in the first few months. I had interest from some NY publishers and I hired an agent, Steve Kasdin with Curtis Brown LTD. It was very important for me to hire an agent who got me and my journey since I had self-published over 26 novels and had success when two of my novels made the USA Today Bestsellers list as well as becoming an Amazon top 100 and Barnes and Noble top 100 author. I didn’t want to give over 100% of my creative control. 

Steve got me. He knew my vision. We ended up selling the first four novels in the Ghostly Southern Mystery Series to HarperCollins in a dream deal. They wanted A Ghostly Undertaking as well. 

It was very important to me for the books to be released pretty close to each other because I knew my readers and in today’s book world, readers are reading so fast and they don’t want to wait the year or year and a half between books like traditional publishers do. HarperCollins agreed to my terms and they are releasing the first four books this year. I’m over the moon about it.

5.  Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose? 

Writing about an undertaker sounds very morbid, but I write with humor making it a little more fun. When I decided to write this series, I used my own experience growing up with a friend whose family owns a funeral home. It was like a second home for us and we ran around like it was her home. There wasn’t another series out there that I knew of where the protagonist was a female funeral home director. I also pulled on my experience from growing up in a small town to place my protagonist and her funeral home. I grew up in a small Southern town where everyone knows everyone, you never locked your doors, your waved at everyone who drives by, and funerals were more of a social gathering than a wedding. 

Then I threw in a murder and ghosts who can’t cross over until the undertaker helps them figure out how and who murdered them. The ghosts are snarky and full of fun which is where the humor comes in. It has been a lot of fun to write this series and these characters.

6.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

“Usually I take a pass when it comes to novels like this with talking ghosts and other supernatural elements, but after reading just a few chapters of this one I was hooked. Not only are the characters fun, but the writing is also crisp and the plot features some unexpected twists and moves quickly.”

“I love this series it has everything you can think of--romance between Emma Lee and her sheriff Jack Ross, it has great characters that add something to the story.  This book flew fast for me. I found I was finished and wanting more.  I can't wait to read the next book--it really is addicting.  I especially love everyone referring to Emma Lee's funeral trauma as an excuse for Emma acting weird or odd.  Tonya Kappes has really hit on something with this book!  I am a huge fan of her work.” Community Bookstop

“If you like twists and turns and a good mystery.  With Southern charm and well Ghosts tossed in then this is deff for you.” Crossroads Reviews

“2015 Books I've loved so far: A GHOSTLY GRAVE & A GHOSTLY UNDERTAKING by  @tonyakappes11” 
Murder By the Book Bookstore , Houston, TX

“This book was a lot of fun. From the character of Emma Lee Raines, to the antics of her grandmother, and the sometimes acidic personality of Ruthie Sue Payne. All the characters bring life to the story, and really bring the small Southern town to life. Each character is very well designed and developed, and has a robust personality. Even the side characters are 3 dimensional and add to the story.” Rhoades Reviews

“Kappes has written a whimsical mystery with plenty of Southern charm and humor with snippets such as the old saying that "when the husband dies, the widow blossoms like a morning glory." Iron Mountain Daily News

7.  What other books have you published and where, when? 

I have 26 published titles that can be bought at any online book retailer. If the bookstores do not have them on the shelf, you can always ask them to order one for you. 

8.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series? 

I have two other series out there right now where my agent is working on a deal as well as continuing to write other novels in my self-published series. 

9.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How? 

I do not. I have in the past and didn’t find it very helpful though I’m sure they do help a lot of writers.

10.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic? 

I’m always looking to connect with my readers. If a conference draws them, I will be there. 

11.  What else would like to say about your books, the next one in your series? 

I’m just very excited how my readers don’t have to wait a year between releases so they can stay connected with their favorite characters. 


Tonya Kappes has written more than fifteen novels and four novellas. all of which have graced numerous best seller lists,including USA Today.  Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews.  She lives with her husband, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in northern Kentucky.  Now that her boys are teenagers, Tonya writes full-time but can be found at all her guys' high school games with a pencil and paper in hand.  Come on over and fan Tonya on Goodreads.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Book Display at Kostroma Regional Library

Judy's poetry books in the Kostroma Regional Library, 
March 2015


I learned recently that the Kostroma Regional Library will be having an exhibit of my poetry books this month.  Tatiana Podvetelnikova of the Kostroma Regional Library in Kostroma, Russia, is arranging it.  They have an ongoing Readers Corner on their internet site, where they feature books by their Sister City authors.  

Link to Kostroma Library Readers’ Corner:

There have been, between 1989 and now, many exchanges between Durham and Kostroma people: doctors, librarians, business people, artists, and writers.  In 1990 I traveled to Kostroma as the guest of Mikhail Bazankov, head of the writers’ organization there, and we did four exchanges of our writers by 1993.  After that, we did many cooperative publishing projects, including the publication of Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry in a dual-language edition (2001).  I met Tatiana then at the library.  Earth and Soul went out to all the libraries and schools in the Kostroma Region, which is about the size of North Carolina, with Kostroma as its capital city.  In 2009, both cities celebrated twenty years of exchanges, and I read my poem From Sun 15 at our celebration in Durham about what it was like for me to live in Kostroma for three months when I was teaching at Kostroma University in 1995.


For the people of Kostroma and especially my friends here, 
while looking at a study by Sergei Rumyantsev and a photo 
of Nadya Belikh with her grandsons, Alyosha and Mitya.

And Paradise?  I found it here.
And what is Paradise?  My father
told the story of how, when people
died, they went to heaven or to hell,
but, in either place, their problem was
they couldn’t bend their elbows and
hence couldn’t feed themselves.
The people in hell starved, he said.
But in heaven they figured out that 
they could feed each other.  So my
Paradise is like that, and my soul
is as happy as an empty boat,
bumping against the bank, waiting
for the next good thing that Life
here has in store.
In the ancient city
of Kostroma my soul is overflowing
and not only with happiness.
In the painting the boat is empty.
An approaching storm clouds the
water and ruffles the hair of the
trees on the opposite bank.  But I
know that soon the boat will
have its passengers again, just
as I, from time to time, have my
You see, I feel like a forest
creature living alone in my tree
stump.  Not many people do live
alone here.  Three generations often
share the same apartment.  Every
day the other creatures and I come
out of our tree stumps.  We carry
our bags to the market.  Sometimes
we ride the forest trolley, packed
in tight like honey crowded into
the comb.  In the market we buy
a wedge of delicately flavored
Kostroma cheese or some butter
so fresh that you think it came 
from the cow only yesterday,
and probably it did.  Old women
sell carrots, potatoes, beets, and
parsley they grew themselves.
They line the carrots up on the
table so everyone can see just
how many carrots are in a
kilogram.  The parsley they wrap
in a little bit of newspaper or in
an old book from Soviet times.
I always buy more than I can
easily carry home.  I can never
decide which pears or apples,
oranges or bananas to buy, so
I do it whimsically.  I feel like
a squirrel who has been out
gathering the nuts the wind shook
loose in the night when I arrive
home with all my trophies.  Then
I go out again for hot bread,
fresh milk, kefir, and sour
cream ladled from a bucket 
into my clean jar.  The cheese
and fruit, bread and sour
cream are for my guests.
There’s company coming tomorrow.
And as we talk and eat and
laugh, feeding each other as we
do in Paradise, our souls grow
heavy with words that say just
what we mean, just what we
feel, and with the look of loved
faces, just as in photos that
hold fast some moment: a 
day midsummer when the 
grandmother stopped her work
to pick flowers with the children,
two boys, one blonde, one dark,
squinting at the sun, lying on the 
grass and leaning comfortably near
the body of the woman who held
the red pail while they ran this way
and that to pluck daisies and other
wild grass flowers.  Behind them
the Russian forest, as always,
gives its blessing.  It’s never
that far away in Paradise.
Here, when we feed each other,
we all hum with happiness,
as if we were carrying buckets
and buckets of honey but felt
no weight.  We can’t sleep for
happiness when our guests 
have gone home.
A Paradise
without work?  No, in this paradise
we’re all working, and sometimes
we wish life were easier, that
we could buy more and better
meat, have sour cream more often,
and not just when guests come.
The children are sick, some of the
food we saved for the winter
has spoiled, and it’s not even
winter yet.  And winter does
come in Paradise.  We put on our
furs early this year.  The November 
wind has a piercing bite.  We get out
our fur hats and go to hear Beethoven
played in the Philharmonia Hall.
Never mind that the North Wind is
blowing in snow that feels like
needles when it hits the face.  We
will leave our coats at the desk
and hear our musicians tune up
for a night of forest wonder.  For
music is the language of the heart,
and when we all play from the heart,
we find the path to Beethoven’s
tree stump.  And his passion comes
alive again in the air; then everything
else is forgotten.  We may be lying
in a boat on a placid pond or 
clinging to a lower limb of an
elder oak, but we don’t know
for some minutes where we are.
We’re in the music and inside
the fingers of the musicians and
in the strings and lost from ourselves,
lost, happily lost, in our own souls.
And you think that such a place
is easy to get to, easy to find?
Oh, no, not at all.  It’s, in the first
place, guarded by an angel with a
sword in his hand.  If he moves
the sword even a little, a flame
runs along its edge.  And all who
fear for their own safety turn back.
That flame scares them more than
the sword itself and much more
than the angel, who has guarded
his post so long that he can do it
in his sleep or while he reads the 
newspaper.  Only the brave in heart,
who love more than they fear,
may enter this forest and live
as simple creatures do live in
their cozy bungalows.  The angel
is wiser than he knows.  His
heart’s understanding runs in
his veins.  He doesn’t have to
explain anything to himself or 
to you.  But you can expect him,
on your fourth morning in 
Paradise, to show up with a sack
of new-dug potatoes from his garden.

Judy Hogan, written in Kostroma, November, 1995, and read on the occasion of the 20-Year Anniversary of the Sister Cities relationship between Durham, N.C., and Kostroma, Russia, November 15, 2009.

Tatiana put From Sun 15 into her literary corner.  Now she plans to put my poetry books, including the newest one This River: An Epic Love Poem.  The Russians are celebrating Literature this year and in Kostroma the years of our sisterly relationship.  We who lived through those years of friendship and cooperation between our cities know that our good Russian friends could not be our enemies. There are too many bonds of affection spanning that ocean that lies between us.

I also received yesterday a review of This River from Roberto Bonazzi in San Antonio.  Part of this review will also appear during April (poetry month) in the San Antonio News-Express.  Bonazzi published my collection Light Food in 1989 through his Latitudes Press.  This review also includes a review of another poet Tad Cornell.

 Judy Hogan’s 100-page epic love poem reveals ecological aspects of the muddy Haw River in North Carolina, which flows as the Volga in Russia, near where her love resides. The unrequited love poem is for Mikhail, who is married but loves her also, and with whom they created a sister city exchange. “We are working together beside our two rivers which, though six thousand miles apart, rush toward the same ocean.” Poets have imagined rivers as time, yet she asks, “What is ocean but the river that holds the world in place and reminds it of eternity?”   
         Throughout Hogan personalizes the river with natural, unforced imagery. “This river has two/incarnations. She is the Volga at night not letting me sleep; making me listen to the urgent message her moonlit water carried me as I stood, half awake my heart’s door swung open. . .”  There is an earnestness in the lines—often prosaic, at times lyrical—that typifies Hogan as a “Romantic” poet. But who else would embark on an “epic love poem” except one capable of loving? She loves every aspect of the river where she meditates. Her observations remind more of Thoreau on Walden Pond than romantic verse. Some sections read like love letters during an era before emails, but Hogan avoids the sentimentality and self-pity of unrequited love.

         These poets are not part of the commercial publishing establishment, but their authentic voices have contributed to American literary culture: Judy Hogan as writer, teacher, editor, and publisher of Carolina Wren Press, bringing over 100 authors into print; and Tad Cornell as a dynamic performance poet and a tantalizing innovator.   Both had early connections with independent imprints in Texas. Cornell, who now lives in Philadelphia, had two titles from Latitudes Press when he was a social worker in Houston; Hogan, a North Carolina resident for decades, also published a book with Latitudes and had close ties with Thorp Springs Press in Austin.