Sunday, February 24, 2013

Farm Fresh and Fatal Will Be Published

Organic vegetables for sale at local market 2008.


I have learned that the publisher of Killer Frost, Mainly Murder Press in Connecticut, will publish Farm Fresh and Fatal, the next mystery in my series, in November 2013.  Since my poetry chapbook Beaver Soul, will be published in late August 2013, with books available only a month later, I will combine my celebrations and readings, so look for a launch party sometime in November probably (I don’t have an exact day in November yet), and then readings to follow, some into the new year.  

Here’s the gist of the plot for Farm Fresh and Fatal.  The same central characters are back:
When Penny Weaver joins the new Riverdell Farmers’ Market to represent their neighborhood garden, squabbles break out among the farmers about their places.  The county poultry agent tries to sort them out before Nora, the market manager, arrives, infuriating her.  Penny discovers that there may have been racism behind her friend Sammie’s almost not being accepted to sell her flower bouquets.  After the third market, the poultry agent is found dead of food poisoning, apparently after drinking the fruit punch provided by Nora.  That and her fights with him cause her to be arrested.

Penny and Sammie work to uncover the real poisoner and to release Nora.  The poultry agent is unpopular with the quirky farmers, with the exception of the genetically modified seeds man and the baker/jelly maker.  Penny and Sammie discover that the poison was black nightshade, but which farmer grows it and who put it in the punch?  The state ag department threatens to close the market, if the case isn’t solved. 


I will have pre-publication orders for both books, for Farm Fresh and Fatal, with checks coming to me directly; with Beaver Soul, pre-pub checks will go to Finishing Line Press, and will determine the print run.  I have to sell fifty-five copies to have the poetry book printed; the more I sell ahead, the more copies they print.  Both presses are quite good, and I’m pleased to work with them.  These days authors have a lot of promotion and sales work to do.  I’m so delighted to get books in print, I’m happy to have the opportunity to sell my books, and my faithful readers have rewarded me by buying and enjoying the books.  I will keep my book news list and this blog posted as to when the pre-pub orders begin.  So more to come, folks!  Stay tuned.  Judy Hogan

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Carolyn Mulford: Show Me the Murder

Show Me the Murder by Carolyn Mumford.  Five Star.  Publication date: February 15, 2013.  328 pages, $25.95.  ISBN: 978-1-4328-2688-8.

When Phoenix Smith, who’d been working undercover for the CIA, is shot in Istanbul and given medical leave, she returns to her hometown, Laycock, Missouri, to see her oldest friend and arrange to sell her mother’s house.  On her arrival she becomes the comforter instead of the comforted when she learns that her friend Annalynn Keyser’s husband, Boom, the local sheriff, has been found dead in a sleazy motel room with a young Hispanic woman, Maria Lopez, in what the Sheriff’s Department is calling a murder-suicide.  Annalynn, though grief-stricken, is outraged at this assumption.  She knows her husband would not have been sexually involved with, or have killed, Maria, and she is sure he wouldn’t commit suicide.  She begs Phoenix to help her prove that Boom was victim, not killer.

Still in pain after her surgery, Phoenix agrees.  A third friend, Connie Diamante, insists on being involved.  Phoenix uses her considerable shooting and detecting skills to work out what actually happened while keeping as much of her real situation from her friends as she can, as well as hiding her sharp shooter skills from the local deputies.

Annalynn talks her way into the role of temporary sheriff.  Connie gets people to talk to her, and Phoenix finds a wounded, trained Belgian Malinois police dog, whose response, when taken to the motel where the shooting occurred, convinces Phoenix that Achilles had witnessed what happened and would be able to identify the real killer.

Once Achilles, who’d been slightly wounded and left for dead, is rescued and healed, he sticks close to Phoenix and protests mightily when he’s separated from her.

There is suspense here, gun battles, and a car chase, but what I enjoyed most were the relationships between the three friends and between them and other characters, including the dog.  Mulford has a real talent for showing how people change, how they influence each other, how they learn to trust and change their minds in good ways.  I also liked the authentic presentation of the tension between Phoenix’s cynical inner voice and how she speaks and behaves to others, how she works out whom she can and can’t trust.  Her gradually strengthening attachment to Achilles, when had been convinced that she does not need a dog, is endearing.

The plot is deftly handled, with lots of puzzles for the reader, and the ending is both a surprise and satisfying.

Five Star has published a winner, and I understand another book in the Phoenix Smith series is in the works. 


I grew up on a farm near Kirksville, Missouri, the fictionalized setting of my first middle grade/young adult novel, The Feedsack Dress. During the summer I worked in the fields and garden, pumped water for the milk cows, and read books that carried me far away.

About the fifth grade the urge to write stories overtook me. A few years later I learned that few writers earn a living writing novels. That knowledge and experience on my high school and college papers  prompted me to earn a Master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri.

Before taking my first job as a magazine editor in Washington, D.C., I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, teaching English and helping build a school for lepers. On my way back to the States, I traveled for six months in the Middle East and Europe.

One intriguing city I visited was Vienna, Austria. I returned there to work for the United Nations until the bureaucratic writing drove me to quit. Again I spent six months returning to the States, traveling through Asia and Australia.

Settling in Washington, D.C., I edited a national magazine on service-learning and then became a freelance writer and editor. I wrote hundreds of articles, four nonfiction books, and a variety of other nonfiction materials. I edited several national newsletters, most notably Writing That Works. From 1990 to 2011, it served as a monthly “desktop seminar” for corporate writers and editors.

A few years ago I revived my childhood dreams of creating my own worlds. I moved back to Columbia, Missouri, to focus on historical fiction for young readers and, my current emphasis, contemporary mysteries for adults. My mystery series begins with Show Me the Murder (February 2013) and Show Me the Deadly Deer (December 2013).

Photo by Rex Rogers, 2008.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What I Feel I Must Do

Snow scene of Russian winter.  Photo by Vera Belikh.  Taken while she helped with a winter camp for children near Komarovo, House of Creativity for Writers, near St. Petersburg,where I stayed July  1992.


The thing I do that’s unusual, I’ve learned, is work from what I feel I must do–hold onto that–and then use my ingenuity to solve the problems related to persisting toward my goal.  Things don’t always fall neatly into place.  Arranging my trip to Russia turned out to have many snags.  

Communication was so difficult, and then the local Sister Cities group that was my link for information on how to do this was preoccupied with their other projects.  They had their first big delegation going to Kostroma at the same time.  Perhaps their leadership was even resentful that I had popped up in the middle of things with an official invitation.  They helped me, but half-heartedly and distractedly.  I remember my rage at the person I needed most to help me.  It took him forever to get through on the phone to Kostroma, but then he forgot to ask my urgent question.  My rage did no good.  

I needed patience.  Looking back I see that I did the main and necessary things, and so did M. on his end.  We worked–both of us–from this faith in the other.  With so little knowledge.  A remarkable combination of faith and ingenuity.  I got a cable from him a few days before I left and figured out all the Russian words with my Russian-English dictionary but one.  I wrote to him the number of the train car I’d be in, and that, it turned out was what the missing word had asked.  I had answered the question before I knew what the question was.  But that letter hadn’t arrived even when I left Russia.  

I had learned it was very difficult for the Russians to telephone outside of Russia, but he called me in Finland.  My Finnish friend answered the phone and said someone was speaking a language she couldn’t understand.  She hung up.  I said, “Maybe it’s Russian.  Next time speak English.”  She did, and sure enough, I was being called.  I talked to the woman I would later know as Natasha, my interpreter, and she asked me the train car number, and I ran to get my ticket.  So all worked out.  They found us (my son and me) in car number nine.

One of the funniest of my obstacles, occurring on the very last day, was that I had to take a car radio Tim had borrowed back to his friend.  The friend had proved himself untrustworthy for Tim, as far as I was concerned, over and over.  Tim got angry at him but persisted in the friendship.  The friend, B, was trying to manipulate Tim into coming to town on the pretext of the radio, and I put my foot down.  I would take the radio when I went to town in the morning to do other errands.  I got excited.  I yelled. 

Notwithstanding his knowledge that I was upset, B called back, disguised his voice, and asked to speak to Tim.  Then he asked Tim if he could come out and get his radio.  I again said no.  Tim got very unhappy with this fight between his friend and his mother, and said, “Here, you talk to him.”  

So I said, “B, I’ll bring your radio at 8 in the morning.  You be there to get it.”  And hung up.  B called back again to say their Doberman pinscher would be loose in the A.M.  I left for town that last morning in N.C., wondering if after everything else, a Doberman pinscher would eat me up and stop me from going.  I put the radio and speakers in a box and approached the house cautiously.  No dog.  I opened the car door and pushed the box out.  Then B appeared.  I pointed toward the box and drove away.

So the Doberman pinscher, the fiercest dog in the U.S., by reputation, didn’t keep me at home, didn’t prevent my getting to this window in this room where I am happy to sit and look and think and write all day long.

Being here though, doing what I’d planned to do here, is a tougher challenge than the effort to leave so that I would have this time to write.  Jacques Maritain, whose book Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry I’m reading, refers to the “self-abnegation and the ordeals imposed by poetic creativity.” (161)  “The road of creative intuition, however, is exacting and solitary, it is a road to the unknown, it passes through the sufferings of the spirit.”

It is so much easier to plan to write than to write; to arrange time, notwithstanding impatient friends, bank book errors, and Doberman pinschers, than it is to do the inward searching and groping that writing means, for me anyway.  Some days it comes to me relatively easily and quickly, and then my mind signals that’s all for awhile, so I do other things....  

Little chores are a welcome relief from the slow turning of my mind as it wrestles with feelings and meanings.  I can’t say I know where this book is going any more than I know how this new love I feel will work out.  Two mysteries I’m living with and laboring with in the present.  Both are in a birth process.  Yesterday I labored, and slowly but surely, words came to me.  Today I labor and the words seem so elusive–or perhaps it’s the dance of meaning under the words.  I guess my being here is not unlike my being in Russia because of a bond I felt with another soul.  I’m here because of a promise to my own soul...

Once I put the same determined spirit, the same care and ingenuity into raising children, into keeping Carolina Wren going.  I took breaks, but then I went right back into harness.  I’m not going back into harness this time.  I am going to lean on my writing, put the weight of both feet there.  That’s the thing I’ve needed to think about and bring to the surface.  The face to face fact of it has eluded me.  

It’s like, all morning and now well into the afternoon, I’ve been laboring to draw up this brimming bucket of water from the well inside me, and I doubted after awhile there was anything there to come up, it seemed to be moving so slowly.  There’s resistance.  Fear?  Maybe?  Maybe I’m not a good enough writer to lean on my writing.  What do I have to give?  How do I know it’s worthwhile?  Who will wish to read it?  I don’t have these answers.  I’ll have them one day hence, when this present has become the past, probably a pivotal moment in the past when clearly, I’ll one day see, I did what I needed to.  

Then the hills of my life will look to me like these Devon hills look right now.  Sun is everywhere upon them.  The green of every pasture and field glows with the immortal ichor, the green blood of the gods.  The clouds are held at bay or pass without coming between the sun’s rays and that brilliant, everywhere-present green. ..
It comes down to devotion.  To admitting when one has a certain steady, consistent ability–a hexis–according to Maritain.  Creative intuition as a gift.  It happens to me.  He describes it exactly: (p. 35)

“Art resides in the soul and is a certain perfection of the soul.  It is what Aristotle called an hexis, in Latin, a habitus, an inner quality or stable and deep-rooted disposition that raises the human subject and his natural powers to a higher degree of vital formation and energy, or that makes him possessed of a particular strength of his own; when a habitus, a ‘state of possession’ or master quality, an inner demon, if you prefer–has developed in us, it becomes our most treasured good, our most unbending strength, because it is an ennoblement in the very kingdom of human nature and human dignity.”

So I have this.  My soul has this gift, and I’ve accepted it but kept on with many other things.  And now I’ve come to Thoreau’s ‘one thing,’ as much as possible.  There will be other work, and I’ll have to earn a living.  But my task over the next few years will be to free more and more time, so that this gift has my best energy and time and effort.  I do have a persistent experience behind me.  I’ve stayed true to it.  So many writers around me are confused and, even when they have the gift, betray it.  At age 53 my hexis is in very good condition, and my conscience clear.  A few people have been interested in what I write–a small but genuinely enthusiastic audience.

I also know it’s work of the hardest kind: work of the spirit. Patient digging and examining, evaluating what one has turned up.  But then suddenly the spirit leaps in, like sun reappearing after the clouds have blown over, and the words rush to the surface of the mind, and one can’t write quickly enough.  All the pieces of one’s daily life–spread out on the window ledge–the books and papers, the glass holding a sprig of honeysuckle, the grey rocks with a white stripe I picked up in Wales, the empty coffee cup and small alarm clock, the paintings from the Kostroma painter.  I watch for changes as the light changes.  The birchbark glasses case M. gave me.  

All these now are part of an integral vision, whereas before they were only pieces–separate objects.  Now they form a whole.  They are at this moment in time the tangibles, the signs and symbols of my writing life, my devotion, my patient sitting here by this window, as by a pond, waiting for fish to rise or turtles to break the surface for air and then descend again.  The sun brings the chickens across the road running out into their yard to peck for insects, and a sudden shower from a cloud blown low to the ground, sends them scuttling back into their house with the conical thatched top.

It’s a lot to take on oneself–the role of poet and seer.  The way Maritain describes it, I recognize it.  He says, “... so the unique rule of the perfect artist is finally: ‘Cling to your creative intuition, and do what you want.’   ‘This kind of excellence... we recognize in a person in whom we are aware of a rare presence, a pure creative force, or an untrammeled spirit.’” (p. 45, last quote from George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting, p. 80).  

I’m like this.  But to live it out, approach it, not limping, but with both feet carrying their weight, is awesome.  It does imply I’m devoted to my artistic “demon,” living for the sake of my habitus.  It may well be the way I help other people, including other writers, the most–by living this way.  I can’t expect everyone to be enthralled, to think I’m great.  I have to do it without asking for recognition.  I have to do it, whatever people think of it.  I have to leave my thought, and the words given to me to speak it, articulate, alive in the world, written down, and hopefully, printed.

I have no choice in this either.  These two strands of love and art are choiceless.  But having chosen and acknowledged them in the present; having accepted the rule of “It” a la D.H. Lawrence, I am free.  Free to struggle and occasionally to be given a respite from struggle, an ecstatic moment when I know that everything I did before, no matter how wrong or inadequate it seemed at the time, was right, was good, because it led me here–to this present moment, which is where, exactly where, I’m supposed to be.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Living in the Present

January sun on my  seven month hens, photo by John Ewing.  The green is chickweed, their winter vegetable.

More excerpts from Change of Life, Devon, September 1990.


September 6.  The present is perhaps the greatest mystery of all, and if I’ve learned anything at all, it is, perhaps, how to live in the present.

There was a time when I tried to wrest meaning out of the present. I wanted to understand why I was suffering so much or why I was in love.  I wanted the present to enlighten me about itself, but I desired this in vain.  It wasn’t possible.  I found an idea that helped in an astrological book by Dane Rudhyar.  He said that often we must wait for some time to pass in order to understand what is happening to us in the present.  

I also found an image in Esther Harding’s The Way of All Women that helped even more.  She said that in situations full of conflict, one could only work one’s way forward like a plant finds its way through a wall toward the light on the other side.  Trust one’s intuition each day.  Do one’s best with each stage forward.  And one would look back and marvel at one’s cleverness.

I’ve seen this work.  I’ve now been in countless difficult, “impossible” situations, and unable to see my way forward, nor to understand what was happening, what it meant.  Yet I’ve trusted to the deepest impulses of my heart and kept moving.

This got me here.  I have lengthened the time I give to my writing and to my time off from my regular work.  I need a way to get completely out of one kind of life with all its activities, schemes, and worries, and into another.  

When I left North Carolina mid-July, I still had a list of the bills the press needed to pay, and the various moneys we could expect to receive, in my head.  I was waking up early worrying about money.  This was intensified when I discovered that I had made a mistake in arithmetic in my own checking account, and instead of having $1000 in it, I had $0.  I had just bought $1500 in travelers’ checks and thought I might have to trade some of them back in.  By working on the bank book carefully, planning smaller amounts on some of my monthly bills, asking Carolina Wren to pay some of my loan back earlier, and also receiving over $300 Saturday night before we left, from the group of people I was leaving behind in charge of Carolina Wren Press, I was able to work through that crisis, which had given me a leaden feeling in my stomach.  

Then there was my friend E., to whom Carolina Wren owed money.  We were late paying her, and I had to call her and say it might be still later.  She was not patient.  She was angry and let me know. 

Then my youngest child decided to break up with her boyfriend the day before we left and wanted to come home.  Before I could leave to go get her, she had called back to say they had made up. Perhaps she needed to know she could stay in my house and use my car in my absence.  In any case, I told her she could, if they did, in fact, break up.

Many of these things would have kept someone else from going.  They might have kept me from going if I hadn’t been following an inner directive.  It is easier though for me now to see in my own mind the legitimacy of taking time off than it was ten years ago.  I had even borrowed money from my mother again.  I didn’t like to ask, but I had this urgent something inside me saying to go, partly because of M., whom I felt I must meet.  He had done his part and sent the official invitation–I must now get there!  But also because I was at a crossroads with my writing.  

I must put my full weight on it for awhile, even if, when I got back, the various money problems again descended on me.  They will.  Other people are working on it in my absence, but even if Carolina Wren is doing okay, I’ve got the rent to pay when I get back.  Some work is lined up, but I’ll have to find more.  Most people wouldn’t do that either.  I’ve gotten good at calculated risks in the past nineteen years.  I can get some kind of job, if worst comes to worst.  I have friends and a friendly landlord.  I won’t starve.  I’ll pay the rent.  I have a class lined up to teach.  And Carolina Wren still owes me $500.

Third installment next week!