Sunday, November 29, 2015

This Unforeseen Gift

Mikhail Bazankov, giving a speech in Kostroma, Russia.  Mikhail and I worked together on Sister Cities Writer Exchanges, 1990-2001.  He is 78 and dying of cancer.  We won't forget you!


THE OMENS ARRIVE XXIV.  August 23, 2015

I have never asked why we were 
brought together, quickly knew each other’s
real nature, and couldn’t refuse love when
it burst into flower.  It’s our great luxury
which no poverty of spirit can ever take
away.  Like a spring sun thawing an 
unexpected hard frost, melting the frozen
leaves of violets and chickweed, thawing 
the petals of daffodils, letting the tender
peas and onions return to pushing up
their green a little farther each day, we
have been given this unforeseen gift,
this bounty, the grace of mutual love. 
May we cherish and honor it until we die.
–The Omens Arrive V.

Be yourself.  All the other people are taken.  –Oscar Wilde

Where is my serenity?  The rock I always
stand on when I’m troubled and need to see?
It must be there.  For years I found it easily
whenever I needed to.  What fogged me
in?  Fear.  My aging signs are minimal,
but they buzz around me like a panicked
fly that lands on me when she can’t find
anything else to eat.  There’s no doubt
that I’m up against my dreaded bulldozer
enemy.  Coal ash trucks could be running
any time through our village.  My efforts
to grow food, to make spaghetti sauce, 
pickles, and preserves, to pull weeds and
water the vegetables, keep the old hens
and new chicks flourishing, to organize
a benefit plate sale for our legal fund,
seem inadequate, but I do know that
everything I do matters.  People count
on me, even love me.  I wish I had more
energy, more time, more help, and yet
people arrive with their gifts: weeding
flower beds, offering egg cartons, helping
find donations, writing grants.  The zinnias
bloom, the okra and bean plants rise.
Sometimes I lose my balance, and once in 
awhile I fall, but I don’t hurt myself.  My 
forgetting is a nuisance, but if I focus, I 
remember.  Everything is harder, but I can do 
a lot, and others are picking up what I can’t.  
There are detractors and skeptics, people 
blind where I can see. It comes down to faith, 
and I have faith. I always have been good at 
spinning my web across an abyss.  This is

a big one, but here I go.


Judy on November 20, taken by my sister Margie.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bees Are The Optimists

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXIII.  August 16, 2015

can’t argue with a light display like I 
have seen both outside in the world
and inside in my deepest mind.  I am
chosen, yet I fear. How can I, at 
nearly seventy-eight years, do all
that this omen insists I must do?
A day at a time.  Resting when I can
rest, working when time opens.
Speaking when my opportunity comes.
–The Omens Arrive VII.

My own hope springs from a mysterious
source, deeper even than my Muse, from
that core the dragon once guarded, that inner
circling sun I released for service years
ago.  I know how to risk all.  I’ve 
penetrated fear and dread, kept despair away
for years. Why?  Because it’s how I’m
made and why I’m loved.
–The Omens Arrive IX.

Bees are the optimists.  Do they know
they are threatened with extinction?
Probably not.  They find my new
sunflowers, planted last year but only
rising to their full height this year
when I can’t get enough comfort and
reassurance.  Yet the more I give away,
the more I receive.  This must be where
that myth about the little pot boiling up
more and more porridge comes from.
In me courage rises again and again.
I give it away as fast as I can.  I’ve seen
butterflies in the cosmos and lantana, 
bumblebees, and even hummingbirds,
but now come honey bees.  They feed us
more than we conceive.  This year the heat
kept me inside for weeks.  The weeds 
were rampant everywhere.  I worked
from urgency to urgency and never
caught up.  I did make spaghetti sauce.
I have enough figs to eat and make
preserves.  Zinnias finally flower, but
it’s the eight-feet high sunflowers
that seduce the bees.  If the bees are
at work, we will win.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Pathfinders Don't Have It Easy

The zinnias were looking like this yesterday, hens in the background.  This morning frost zapped them, but the hens are not troubled.  Photo from October 2009.  This October 20 coal ash trucks began running past my house.  Will I be okay?  Will my chickens be okay?

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXI.   August 2, 2015

I’ve never been here before, and
it’s scary.  I must lead others, break
this path I’m walking.  Pathfinders
don’t have it easy.  Then gifts arrive
when I least expect them.  My activist
friends volunteer their husbands for
farm work.  Letters from older 
friends comfort me.  This leyline
path I chose is for life.  I can’t turn
back.  I wade through bamboo grass
up to my knees to find ripening
tomatoes.  I pluck fresh figs.  Some
things are alive and well, including
me even if bad dreams wake me up.  
The zinnias I freed from grass clumps
work on blooms.  The winged chicks
flourish.  Each agony of mind and
heart passes because I persist, dig
deep to lift out fresh courage.  These
years take a steady hand, a long
vision, all my practical wisdom,
and the gift of grace.


Not yet laying, but soon.  They love chickweed now growing in my backyard.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Live As If Each Day Were Your Last

My son Tim with hens a few years ago.

THE OMENS ARRIVE XX. July 26, 2015

People do count on me.  Remember that.
If I stand tall, they will, too.  If I
raise the flag of hope, so will they.
This next score of years won’t be easy.  
I’ll need all my wits and courage,
stamina, energy, and common sense.
I’ll nurture them daily by writing letters
to myself the way I’ve cared for the 
chicks: food and water, checking
every few hours; rejoicing when they
spread new-feathered wings, fly to
the high roosting bar.  When I come
to tend them, they buzz around, cheep
louder.  They know fresh feed is in
the works.  They attack my hand when 
I reach in for their feeders, squeal
when I catch them.  Am I mother yet?
Their eyes regard me as if I were.  So
I have, after years of apprenticeship
become all the mothers: of animals,
plants, spirit, and earth.  I may forget
names but my Muse is livelier, bolder
than it was seventy years ago when I
began writing stories.  The weeds
test my patience, but I do know how
to dig them out, cut them down, save
my flowers, fruit, okra, beans, herbs,
and tomatoes.  Live as if each day
were your last.  Fill them to the brim,
then rest.  Sleep like the dead–a practice
run.  Work as if the years had not
accumulated.  You are healthier than
you’ve ever been.  Others rely on you
to show the way to our common goal
of being the best people we can be and 
not resting on our laurels.  Here on
earth we have to work, but this labor 
places us in the Human Hall of Fame.


Judy's figs for sale at Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro, in July 2012.  Harsh winters have been hard on my fig trees, so I haven't had figs to sell in 2014 or 2015.  Trees still live.  Hope does, too.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

We Will Fight To the End

Okra plants just beginning.  July 2014

THE OMENS ARRIVE XIX.   July 19, 2015

You can’t argue with a light display like 
have seen both outside in the world
and inside in my deepest mind.  I am
chosen, yet I fear. How can I, at 
nearly seventy-eight years, do all
that this omen insists I must do?
A day at a time.  Resting when I can
rest, working when time opens.
Speaking when my opportunity comes.
–The Omens Arrive VII., April 12, 2015

When I said, “We will fight to the end!”
they cheered and clapped.  Today I wrestle
with grass roots, digging, pulling, jerking 
them loose to make room for okra seeds.
The rains came to water what I planted
three days ago.  Each garden chore seems
beyond my powers, but day after day I
make these spaces for flowers and vegetables
to grow, a few feet at a time, on my hands
and knees.  It’s the way I do everything.  
Work, then rest.  Do the most urgent first.
Wall off despair when it sneaks around
the curtain.  I’ve made this farm fertile.
Now it gives me wild, unruly growth:
berries and figs, leeks, carrots, tomatoes.
If I’m persistent, okra and beans.  Human
storm clouds gather, too.  We take shelter,
assess strategy, plot actions, laugh.  We
fear the harm those lightning flashes can do, 
but storms have a double-edge.  Yes, they
terrify, but wait.  Here comes life-sustaining
rain, with sun to follow.  Then fruit.


Judy by "no coal ash" sign in downtown Moncure, the Coal Ash Management Company, Charah, uses that building on the far left. We put it up in the summer.  Now the coal ash trucks have to pass it.  It stands.  The WRAL report showed it on Oct. 27, 2015.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Report on Bouchercon 2015 Convention Part II

 Margaret Maron won the Lifetime Achievement Award 2015

What I liked best overall about Bouchercon was seeing my friends.  I mean two kinds of friends: other mystery writers, still relatively new to publishing like me, though most of us have books out, and the friends I make when I read their books.  I’m their fan, but they feel like my friends because I find common ground with them.

I had planned which panels I’d attend by looking for which ones my friends were on Saturday, October 10.  My first one was on “grit” in a novel, and I love the Lizzie books by Frankie Bailey.  She promises another Lizzie book.  She wrote a future time novel, and has a new book set in 1939 about to be published.  The gist of the panel’s thoughts seemed to be that mysteries with grit were “darker and sexier than most cozies.”  Grit was also pointed out to describe characters with more than usual determination and courage who are willing to face danger.  The other panelists were Lise McClendon, Laura DeSilverio, Maggie King, and Lynn Cahoon.

At ten I went to the Sherlock Holmes panel because I love the books of Laurie King, have read them all, and even used one stand-alone, Folly, in a writing class I taught.  The other panelists also use Holmes as a character in their books.  Les Klinger, Michael Robertson, and Bonnie MacBird were also on the panel.  The fifth panelist, Peter Blau, is the secretary of the Baker St. Irregulars Society.  He publishes a newsletter (Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press).  Mr. Blau told us that a very old film from the 20s, I believe, had been found and would be shown on Oct. 18.  You can learn more on  They were asked why we still care about Sherlock Holmes.  Suggestions were: he himself is a mystery, he’s a superhero of the brain, and Watson is the best friend in literature.  Doyle is a good storyteller.  There’s an element of intrigue in Holmes as a character.  He’s not sexy, but clearly there are things in him under the surface.  He has one purpose: to solve problems.  He’s heelless of the rules.  He goes his own way.  He’s not morally compromised, and his puzzles get solved.  Doyle’s books give us permission to think.  He also has “feminine” intuition.

After lunch–I brought a sandwich–I was eager to go to the 1 P.M. panel with Caroline Todd (the mother author of the duo Charles Todd books).  The panel was “Unfamiliar Territory: Traversing a Dangerous Past.”  Other panelists were Brendan Dubois, Maria Hudgins, James R. Benn, and Aly Monroe.  The Todds go to Britain every year to find the right place to set their novels, and then they read the history of that period, for Bess Crawford novels (the World War I years) and for the Ian Rutledge novels (the years immediately after World War I).  Each year they publish a new book in each series. I’ve read all their series books and always enjoy what they have to say when they appear on panels.  Someone on the panel noted that in researching history, misinformation is found everywhere, and this means lots of cross-checking.

At 2:30 P.M. I went to “You Are What You Read–The Influences in Your Writing.”  I was most interested in what Dorothy Cannell had to say, but also on the panel were R.G. Belsky, Timothy Williams, Susan M. Boyer, and Diane Kelly.  Since I believe that what you’ve read contributes directly to how well you write, I was most interested in Cannell’s having read Lorna Doone and many other classics as she was growing up.  Her father read and guided her reading.  I also read Lorna Doone and many other classics in high school and later in college and graduate school–even back to the Roman and Greek authors.  I still reread Jane Austen every five years, and I’ve read all of Marcel Proust three times.  Reading gives our writing a wide reach with vocabulary, imagery, and even possible content.  I also learned, and still learn, to write mysteries by reading them.

At 4 P.M. I went to Jenny Milchman’s panel on “Escape to Mystery: A Light Touch.”  She was surprised to be chosen to moderate a genre she doesn’t write, but she did beautifully. Jenny has 3 suspense novels out: Cover of Snow, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls.  She is well known for her months long book tours, taking her husband and two children with her.  Actually she’s read yesterday at 2 P.M. at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, but instead of being there, I’m using time to write about her.  I told her I was still trying to do less in the interest of healing after my traffic accident.

Jenny Milchman

Carolyn Mulford and I had supper at the Twisted Mango.  We were outside, and the Fayetteville Street Mall was full of people, including many families, food trucks, lively music, and sunshine.

At 6 PM we heard Margaret Maron, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award, interviewed by Caroline Todd.  That was a highlight.  I’ve read all Margaret’s books, know how supportive she is of other writers, and she has often supported me.  She told us that the most recent Deborah Knott novel, Long Upon the Land, would be her last in that series.  She talked very openly about her writing career.  She emphasized that there is nothing she can’t say in a mystery novel.  She was influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Josephine Tey, among others.  She had tears in her eyes as we gave her a standing ovation.

I was tired and skipped the Anthony awards ceremony.  You can learn who won all the various prizes given out at this Bouchercon, at  I left the hotel parking garage about 7 P.M. and didn’t get home until 9.  Lost in Raleigh for the third night.  Some streets near the hotel were blocked for a “walk,” and I left Raleigh wrong.  At least I did eventually get home to feed the hens, my dog, and get to bed.

I got up early Sunday to attend Sasscer Hill’s panel at 8:30: “Does the Character’s Profession Shape the Sleuthing?”  Rosemary Harris, and Meredith Cole were the other panelists, and Janet Rudolph had given her moderating to Simon Wood.  Sandra Brannan had to miss.  Sasscer, who is another Guppy friend, whose horse-racing novels I enjoy, has a new series coming out from St. Martin’s.  Her first three were published by Wildside.  Her new heroine, Thea McKee, works for a racing organization that investigates crime within the racing community.  I don’t often ask questions of panelists, but I asked her to tell the others how she persuaded St. Martin’s to publish her new series.  It all depended on whether a certain horse won a certain important race, and he did.  When the editor learned that 22,000,000 million people had watched that race on TV, she decided there was a market for horse-racing novels.

Sasscer Hill

At 10 A.M. I went to Carolyn Mulford’s panel: “Why Are Some ‘Traditional Mysteries’ Comfort Reads?”  Greg Lilly moderated, and Jennifer Kincheloe, Beverly Allen, and Rhys Bowen were also on the panel.  I’m a fan of Rhys’s Molly Murphy books.  Rhys said that these novels provide a safe environment in an increasingly frightening world.  Carolyn added that they give us a community to be part of.  She also said her life experience have been useful to her as a novelist.  Rhys thinks happy endings are important in traditional mysteries.  

There was one more important event: of all the Guests of Honor.  They were: Sarah Shaber, Local Guest of Honor; 2015 David Thompson Special service Award, Bill and Toby Gottfried; Toastmasters: Lori Armstrong and Sean Doolittle; Fan Guests of Honor Lucinda Surber and Stan Ulrich; International Guest of Honor Allan Guthrie; International Guest of Honor Zoe Sharp; American Guest of Honor Kathy Reichs; American Guest of Honor Tom Franklin; Lifetime Achievement Award Margaret Maron

Then Carolyn and I had a quick lunch at Jimmie’s and headed back to my home in Moncure–separately–but we both made it in forty minutes–my best experience driving home.

Carolyn Mulford

She and I were lazy the rest of the day and took time to learn more about each other’s lives.  

These friends I’ve made, of the people I can lunch with, email with questions or a request for a blurb, are maybe the best riches that come from belonging to Sisters in Crime and going to conventions.  My favorite convention is still Malice, held yearly in May in Bethesda, MD.  I forgot to mention my lunch companions Friday, Gloria Alden, and Donna Crowe, new to Bouchercon and the whole community of crime writers.  She knew nobody but me, but she went to panels she chose, listened, learned, and we occasionally caught up with each other.  Also Gloria’s roommate, Kathleen Rockwood, is a good friend, but we didn’t manage to have a meal together.  It does help to look back and reflect.  1500 folks at once can be overwhelming, but I’m glad I went and saw/heard/ and enjoyed both my mystery-writing friends and my favorite book author friends.


Gloria Alden and her dog Maggie

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Bouchercon Convention Raleigh, October 8, 2015. My First.

The YA panel on Friday at Bouchercon, left to right: Kaley Whittle, Destiny Geddis, and Matthew McGrath


Bouchercon Convention Raleigh, October 8, 2015.  My First.

Part I.

Bouchercon, the largest crime writers convention, came to Raleigh for its 46th convention, October 8-11, and I decided to go.  Raleigh is only 25 miles from my home in Moncure.  Bouchercon is named for Anthony Boucher, who was a writer, critic, editor, reviewer, mentor, radio scriptwriter, researcher, Conan Doyle historian, and friend to many in the mystery community from 1932 to his death in 1968.  His real name was William Anthony Parker White, and Boucher was his pen name.  The book awards at Bouchercon are called Anthonies, though there are many other awards given out at their conventions.

I rarely drive to Raleigh, so I studied all the hotel, parking, and downtown maps made available to us by internet.  Two mystery writing friends were going to spend a night with me: Gloria Alden, the Wednesday night before the convention began on Thursday the 8th, and Carolyn Mulford, the Sunday night after it ended.  I’ve reviewed five of Gloria’s books on my blog, and three of Carolyn’s.  We originally met at the Malice Domestic conventions held in early May, usually in Bethesda.  We’ve all been members of Sisters in Crime and also in its Guppy chapter–for the Great Unpublished–although half the Guppies now are published.  We three all planned to go to the Guppy lunch on that first Thursday.

Wednesday I drove out to RDU to meet Gloria’s 3:18 PM Delta plane.  In the parking lot, trying to find a place in the hourly lot, I got stuck near an exit from another lot, and was trying to back up and turn around, when steam began boiling off my radiator.  I stopped, got out, and saw my radiator fluid pouring out.  Parking attendants and police came and helped me.  I called AAA but no tow truck was available for over an hour.  I met Gloria’s plane and brought her back to the truck.  The lot attendants hung around so as to help the tow truck driver get into the lot, and eventually another tow business, Dave’s out of Durham, came but not until after 5 PM.  I made sure the driver knew where to take my 20-year old pickup, and then Gloria and I took a cab to Moncure.  Gloria was very adaptable and cheerful.  She wrote in her diary and read a book while I talked to attendants and made phone calls until my cell phone ran out of juice.  She also talked non-stop to our taxi driver originally from Africa, and insisted on paying for the ride, which was pricey.

Once we’d eaten, I could think better and decided to get a rental car for the weekend, as the radiator itself was cracked, and it wouldn’t be ready before Monday.  The car was not delivered as I’d been told, but the local Enterprise business in Pittsboro came and got us.  By 10:30 I was driving–very nervously–a new Nissan to Raleigh, with Gloria riding shotgun, and encouraging me.  I had to learn to drive all over again. No key, only buttons, and you could not have your foot on the gas when you braked!  I jerked us both around in the beginning, with Gloria laughing at me and predicting we would not get to Raleigh until late afternoon.  

We finally got to Raleigh at 11:30, still in time for the Guppy lunch at the Twisted Mango, and we were able to leave our bags at the desk in the Marriott Hotel, where Gloria was staying.  The Marriott and the Sheridan were both used for panels and other events, and are close to each other.  As we left the parking lot, I saw that it was a monthly lot and no one else was supposed to park there.

Immediately after the Guppy lunch, once I’d left my books for the Canadian bookseller of Scene of the Crime Books, in Gloria’s room (she had loaned me her key), I hurried back to the lot to move the car.  Fortunately it hadn’t been towed.  The very next parking lot was one where I could pay in advance with my credit card.  I then collected my books and took them to the very nice Scene of the Crime man.  I also registered for the convention, though somehow I lost my ballot and my name tag.  It was after 3 PM when I made it to the panel I’d picked out that began at 2:30: “Stiff Upper Lip: British Investigators Are Murder.”  I’d wanted to hear a favorite of mine, Elly Griffiths, but I couldn’t even see her until the panel was over, or figure out who was talking.  I did go up to her afterwards and tell her how much I loved her books.

I left for home at 5, after the interview of the American Guests of Honor, by Oline Cogdill, of Kathy Reichs (author of the “Bones” books and TV series) and Tom Franklin, who told us the story of how he burned his Tarzan comic books.  I got lost coming home which I did every night until Sunday afternoon, where I finally did what I’d been trying to every night, follow Dawson until it turned into Saunders and led to I-40.  On Sunday Carolyn and I both made it in 40 minutes.

On Friday I got there in time for my first day actually relaxed enough to enjoy the convention.  I’d parked in the hotel lot, but came up in the Convention Building.  They pointed me to the Marriott.  I was in time for the 7:30 SinC breakfast where I learned about the new YA mystery readers and writers whom the Low Country Sinc chapter had brought to the convention.  The panel I loved most on Friday was theirs at 4 o’clock.

“The Importance of Book Clubs and Young Adult Literacy.”  The teens were Kaley Whittle, Destiny Geddis, and Matthew McGrath.  Kaley’s mother, Tina Whittle, a crime writer herself with Poisoned Pen Press was moderator, and they also had B.K. Stevens, who has a YA novel out.  The young adults were lively, excited, funny, and very passionate about helping us adult authors understand better the YA novel requirements.  So here’s their advice.

1.  Talk to real teenagers.  Know your audience.  We talk differently.  Words like spiffy don’t go over with us.  We have different languages.

2.  Not all characters need to have a tragic background, and most of them probably are understood by their parents and teachers.  We have readers and friends among us.  Not everyone is a loner, and there needs to be more diversity among the characters.

3.  Adults are not always difficult and not always perfect.  Family is important to us.

4.  Don’t force the romantic theme.  

5.  Trust your chemistry.

6. Give us more diversity, more original characters, e.g., homosexual, Platonic relationships, friendships.  Romance is a great education.

7.  Animals get killed sometimes.  Emotions should be natural, not faked.  The baby doesn’t need to die.

8.  This generation is used to sexual diversity.  One character they liked is a deaf African American female.

9.  Solve the mystery by finding clues.  Limit suspension of disbelief.  We can handle a complex mystery.  Each human being is unique.  The villain should be a real person.  Loose ends should be tied up.  Once they never learned the fate of a character.  Men shouldn’t be stereotyped.  Characters should be up and down the binary gender line.

10.  Leave your moral at home.  Subtlety is appreciated.  Preachiness feels clunky.

11.  Okay to be serious and funny at the same time.

They had 10 items, but my notes were rough.  You get the idea.  They want from mysteries what we want!  At least this is what I want in a mystery!

They review books and they read “crossover” books.  Favorites are Catriona McPherson and Janie Cody.  They like B.K’s YA novel, too.

Their website is:

I wrote to Tina Whittle, and asked if I could send one novel that might be considered a “cross over” novel, Killer Frost, and she okayed it, and I sent off two copies last Wednesday.  I can’t wait to hear what they think.  Ezra Pound talked in his poetry about “the hard Sophoclean light” of the young.  Will Killer Frost measure up to these young critics?  I hope so.

More on Bouchercon next week, but the YA kids were my favorite panel of the whole convention!  

You might want to check out the Bouchercon website:

Judy Hogan


Left to right: Tina Whittle, Moderator; Kaley Whittle, Destiny Geddis, Matthew McGrath, and B.K. Stevens  Photo by Kaley's father.