Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review and Interview: Gloria Alden's Daylilies for Emily's Garden

Review: Daylilies for Emily’s Garden: A Catherine Jewell Mystery.  Gloria Alden.  Paper, $14.95.  ISBN: 968-1484805701.  Also available as e-book from Amazon for $3.99.  302 pp. Willow Knoll Press.  Note: search under “Alden, Gloria.”

In Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, Gloria Alden’s second novel in her traditional mystery series, Catherine Jewell wins a new job renovating the elaborate gardens at the home of romance author and Emily Dickinson scholar Emily Llewellyn.  Catherine is thrilled to have this job and fits it into her daily schedule.  She also works part time at the local show place Elmwood Gardens and has her own garden business, Roses in Thyme.  Because Ms. Llewellyn is a recluse, Catherine rarely sees her, but her long-time secretary, Charles McKee, handles everything.  Catherine hires Mary Derryberry to help in her shop while she’s working on the Llewellyn place.  The Derryberries stand to lose their farm both because they owe money on it and also because a new section of a bypass is to come through it, where there is a valuable wetlands.

The Mayor of Portage Falls decides the proposed bypass would be destructive of the little town’s well-being and calls a meeting of townspeople to gain public support against it.  An environmental activist, Bruce Two-Hill, joins in this effort to protect the wetlands and certain rare and protected species that thrive there.

Meantime another stranger who’d been snooping around town ends up dead in a shed on the Derryberry property.  The police chief, John MacDougal, has no suspect for this murder and then a second one, when a woman construction boss is killed, except for a young man named Eric Hostetler, who has Down’s Syndrome and likes to wander around the farms and homes.  

Eric’s mother is a professional musician and avid gardener, who loves to try unusual flowers and plants and grows them in every conceivable container: coffee cans, plastic milk jugs, an old teakettle, and even an old porcelain bed pan.  Betsy Hostetler dearly loves her son but isn’t able to keep him from wandering, and since he loves construction equipment, he finds those big machines used for making the bypass and climbs onto them, pretending to drive them.

In Alden’s novels I especially love her characters and the flower and garden descriptions.  John MacDougal is a kind policeman.  His mother, with her B&B and small used bookshop, is so welcoming to strangers that John worries she’ll be taken advantage of.  She is drawn to Bruce Twohill and his stories of hiking and backpacking in wilderness areas.

Both Eric and Betsy are lovable characters.  Betsy is one of those rare individuals who is completely herself, attuned to her music, her mentally challenged son, and open to new people.
Alden’s books, besides a twisty puzzler of a plot, have that deeply satisfying human tone in which most of the characters have those human traits we all instinctively respect: compassion, honesty, a willingness to suspend judgement, and humility in the best sense of the word–knowing one’s true worth but with no need to brag and able to appreciate fine qualities in others.  I’m reminded of what Louise Penny said she wanted people to take away from her novels: the belief that “goodness exists.”  

In Alden’s novels, there are crimes, criminals, and evil people, but here, too, in Portage Falls, goodness exists and triumphs.


Gloria and her collie, Maggie, in Gloria's library.

Interview with Gloria Alden: 

When did you begin writing? Why?

As a teenager I kept a journal in a three-ring binder that became incredibly thick. I also occasionally wrote poetry and one short story.  The journal writing stopped until 1990, but I still wrote a few poems and lots and lots of letters to family.

When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

I’ve always loved mysteries and thought of writing one someday, but teaching full time didn’t give me a lot of extra time. Then in the late 1990s one of my sisters thought we should write a mystery together and publish enough books for the three of us to be able to retire on. Naive, weren’t we? So we got together with another sister and brainstormed plot and characters. I started writing it and passed it on to my sister, and so it went back and forth for a short while, but we didn’t live close and our voices were so different that I thought it jarring. I changed the protagonist to an older woman than my sister wanted and took off on my own. There’s only a few bits of description that she wrote that remain in The Blue Rose. Most of the characters are my invention, too. 

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

It’s definitely a series although I try to make each book one that a new reader can still enjoy. The theme is gardening, but mostly it’s about small town life with interesting and sometimes funny characters. I like to write a series because I like many of my characters and want to bring them back – at least the ones who weren’t a victim or murderer. I also like creating a town where a reader can feel at home with familiar characters they may recognize in people they know, or if they’ve read my other books can welcome back a familiar character they were introduced in a previous book. Because I include other themes, too, I don’t think one has to be a gardener to still enjoy my series.

Tell us about your publication with this book.

I went the route with queries to agents and publishers once I had it finished. I also went to conferences and writing retreats and edited the book a gazillion times. But I wasn’t willing to make the changes some thought I should make, and I didn’t want to cut it so much that it would fit some of the word limits of small publishers so after learning a lot more about the self-publishing route through blogs and those who had taken that route, I published it on both Smashwords and CreateSpace. I know that limits me in some ways, but I’m still very happy with my choice. 

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

That’s easy. I followed the old bromide ‘Write what you know.’ I love gardening and come from a family of gardeners. My books take place in NE Ohio where I’ve lived all my life. In my second book, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden I chose an environmental theme because that is something I feel strongly about. In The Blue Rose, the first book, it’s about how important it is to some people to maintain their fa├žade they have created for themselves. The third book soon to be out Ladies of the Garden Club probably deals with love and how it can be misguided. Actually, I think it’s more a whodunit than anything else. 

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

It’s been a wonderful experience. It not only validates the years I’ve spent writing, but is such a good experience to get positive feedback from those who have read my books. With each and every one it’s like “Oh, wow! Really you like it? How nice.” I also like the fact that I can write what I want to write and not worry about selling X amount of books or having  to worry about a  publisher canceling more books because I didn’t sell enough.

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

One of my favorite out of many was the one you wrote, Judy.  “A compassionate sleuth named Catherine Jewell, a small town police chief who isn’t used to murder on his patch, a cast of lovably eccentric characters, a rich man no one likes and someone murders give Alden’s The Blue Rose a feeling reminiscent of Golden Age cozies. Garden lovers especially will enjoy the details of the plants, flowers and the garden design at the elegant Elmwood Gardens. As readers, we are drawn gently into solving the puzzle until we meet face to face the unforgettable darkness of one human mind obsessed with revenge.”

For Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, K. Williams writes “This second in the Catherine Jewell mystery series is equally as good as the first. The characters seemed so real to me, they could be my neighbors. Plus, the twists and turns kept me guessing “whodunit” until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of plants and flowers and was inspired to grab a trowel and work in my own garden!” 

What other books have you published and where and when?

I self-published a middle-grade book, The Sherlock Holmes Detective Club, last spring. It is based on a writing activity I used for my class for almost a whole year in which my students followed the adventures of an elderly woman – Alice Van Brocken – as she pursues two jewel thieves around the country getting into numerous dangerous situations. She receives letters from them in all the places like Boston, NYC, and so on until she’s able to bring the thieves to justice in Seattle. The letters my students wrote to her are delightful.

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

Ladies of the Garden Club, the third in my Catherine Jewell Mystery series, is done and I’m only waiting for the cover to be finished. Then I’ll be starting on the 4th, which is plotted in my mind and has been for some time. I still need to write bios for new characters and come up with a good title. And, as always, I’ll be working on short stories along the way. I have five short stories published traditionally, and someday I may put them all in a self-published anthology.

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

I belong to both, and they have been immensely helpful on my journey. I have learned so much that was important that I had no clue on before I joined them in 2007. I’ve taken classes through them, my great critique partners came through them, and I’ve made numerous friends through them that are so supportive. Only writers truly understand other writers.

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

The benefits are too many to list. I’ve learned so much at these conferences including how to poison someone through Luci Zahray, The Poison Lady. I’ve met awesome mystery writers who’ve inspired me and some who have even become friends. I’ve learned that there are no more supportive writers out there than mystery writers.  At least that’s my opinion.

What else would you like to say about the next book in your series?

Here’s the blurb for the back cover of Ladies of the Garden Club. Small town Portage Falls is the idyllic place for an event on the Town Green, but when an elderly member of the garden club shows up dead in Catherine Jewell’s greenhouse, she falls under suspicion since she’s an authority on poisonous plants. This suspicion spreads when another garden club member is poisoned. Sheriff John MacDougal’s deputy, Joe Salcone, thinks she could be the poisoner, and some in the town agree with him. Meanwhile, Catherine goes over the list of those who attended her poison plant seminar to find a possible murderer, but thinks everyone is too nice to be one.

When another member of the garden club turns up missing, Catherine and others think someone has it in for the garden club. Familiar characters return from The Blue Rose and Daylilies for Emily’s Garden as well as new and interesting characters.


Gloria's first mystery novel (2012)



Gloria Alden taught third grade for twenty years.  She loved teaching, but wanted to have more time for writing, and much of her retirement years has been spent that way. Her published short stories include “Cheating on Your Wife Can Get You Killed,” winner of the 2011 Love is Murder contest and published in Crimespree Magazine; “Mincemeat is for Murder” appearing in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable,  “The Professor’s Books” in the FISH TALES Anthology; and “The Lure of the Rainbow”  in FISH NETS, the newest Guppy Anthology. 

“Once Upon a Gnome”appears in STRANGELY FUNNY and “Norman’s Skeleton’s” in ALL HALLOWS EVIL. Her Catherine Jewell mystery novels are The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, and Ladies of the Garden Club, which will be out soon. She also has a middle-grade book, THE SHERLOCK HOLMES DETECTIVE CLUB, based on a writing activity her students did at Hiram Elementary School. In addition to writing, she’s passionate about books, and they are rapidly taking over her home. She lives on a small farm in Southington, Ohio, with two ponies, some cats, seven hens, and her collie, Maggie. She blogs on Thursdays with Writers Who Kill. 


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Goldsboro Reading and Reader Comments

Judy and Katherine after Goldsboro reading Nov. 12, 2013

What a lovely time I had in Goldsboro last Tuesday, November 12.

Katherine Wolfe, who was my student in the late nineties, driving up from Goldsboro for our weekly sessions, is such a great host. She had rounded up my best audience so far, about fourteen folks, and they even applauded after the first and last Beaver Soul poems.

They bought books, too.  Katherine had prepared elegant refreshments, lots of fruits and vegetables, plus pumpkin muffins and apple cakes and apple juice.  Mary Susan Heath took the blog photos today of that occasion.  I met new writers and fans I met last year, some of whom bought Beaver Soul during the pre-sale period, when I was trying to get at least 55.  I made it!  Thanks to all the good Goldsboro folks, and especially Katherine.


Judy signing books for Marian and Liz at Goldsboro Reading

I’ve had now eight events to promote Farm Fresh and Fatal and Beaver Soul, and three remain: I’ll be Tuesday, November 19, 7 PM at Regulator Bookshop at 720 W. Ninth St, Durham (919-386-2700).  December 3, Tues, 7 PM I’ll be at South Regional Library, 4505 S. Alston Ave, Durham (919-560-7409), and December 8, Sunday, at 2 PM, I’ll be at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, off 15-501, between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro (919-542-3030).  


From Katherine Wolfe, Goldsboro writer (email Oct 28): 
I did finish reading Farm Fresh and Fatal. Wow! Your characters will stay with me forever. I have read so much about "character development" and the importance of "fully developed characters." Your book will be a model for me in how to accomplish this. I really felt I knew your characters, and I cared about them. I felt very emotional at the end--a surprise ending. 
I look forward to the next novel. You are a master at blending character, plot, and all the ingredients of a good mystery.


From Marie Hammond, Durham writer and author of the forthcoming The Rabbi of Worms (letters of Nov 2 and 13): 

I’m enjoying [Farm Fresh and Fatal], especially the good, practical advice about how to deal with your adult children.  Their problems are not ours to solve, no matter how hard it is for us to stand on the sidelines and watch.

The plot is nicely framed and interesting.  The characters are well-developed, with sufficient flaws that we might suspect any of them of the crime, except a few obvious “good guys.”  In fact, the ending surprised me–I had thought all along that ______ was the culprit... What I liked most about the ending was that Penny was wrong, even though she thinks her intuition is infallible.  I would have liked Penny to admit this to Kenneth, but maybe you will include such a scene in a future book.  Their relationship was left a little unclear at the end, and I’d like to read more about it.  But all in all, the ending was satisfying.... Good job!


–New comment from Jill Amadio, another Mainly Murder Press author, of Digging Too Deep.  She posted this on Amazon recently.

Judy Hogan's depth of compassion and understanding of her theme is incredibly enriching to the reader. Following her character, Penny Weaver, through her trials and travails, as well as her successes, is a wonderful journey, as is Penny's dilemma about love. As a foreigner, I learned a lot about academia in the South, relationships between the ethnic peoples and their philosophies. Hogan's admirable heroine is aptly named - she does indeed weave her detecting skills around characters and crimes.

I’d love to post more reader comments.  Send yours!  Judy Hogan


Judy with Emily, Rosalyn, and Billye at the Goldsboro Reading

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chasing Fleet-Footed Time

Sharon and John Ewing's backyard--
Northern Virginia fall 2013


Chasing Fleet-Footed Time

Many people are afraid of time, i.e., when something happens that frees an hour or even a whole day, they don’t know what to do with themselves.  It can give me pause.  Then I usually ask myself: What do I want to do?  I give myself permission to choose anything, and I almost always choose to write in my diary, so I do.  You’d think I’d run out of things to write about, but I never do.  It’s, for me, those sudden extra hours, not the time to do the chores that have been waiting awhile.  It’s a gift, so I enjoy it.  Extra time, when it comes unexpectedly, is mine to revel in.

The chores that have waited this long can wait another day.  When I can, I set aside a month or two to write a new novel, as I’m doing right now.  This is the thirteenth Penny Weaver novel and takes up the new terrible voter ID bill that we have now in North Carolina. 

Then I do as little as possible extra, avoid interruptions to my afternoon and evening writing times.  If I do have to go out, I try to write at least an hour or two on my current novel before or after I go.  That way I stay as much as possible every day in the novel’s world and fit the other parts of my life into the spaces.  

The mind learns to be in that place where words flow if you take care to provide the time the mind needs, and if you persist–be there–and do your best until the words begin to meld themselves together and move along at a sprightly pace so that you have to write fast to keep up.  It works for me.  Don’t let time defeat you. Use it, enjoy it.  It will, all to soon, be gone.

Another thing that helps me not waste or lose time is a daily schedule.  Pat Dawson of Paperbacks Plus and I were emailing about our lists and schedule a few weeks ago.  I did the following Saturday schedule for Pat.  Enjoy!  Laugh at me if you want to. Judy

One Saturday–Sept 28, 2013 For Pat

6:40 AM Woke, saw daylight barely through curtains, got up
Fed hens, dark in henhouse, but several jumped down to eat.
7-8:50 AM Diary and breakfast (toast, lemon-peppermint tea, milk, figs)
8:50.  Checked email, dressed, got 2 each of Farm Fresh and Beaver Soul ready to mail Pat Dawson, at Paperbacks Plus, exchanged several funny emails with Pat, re our “jet-setting, following lists and schedules
9:20.  Fed hens a little scratch and fresh water in orchard; they came running when they saw me, squealing.  Picked figs, some for me, some for Chatham Marketplace; not many; cardinals have been at them as they ripen.
9:45 left with Wag (dog) for PO; chatted briefly with Susan, our postmaster, mailed Pat’s books
10 AM Bought milk at Mini Mart, 2 gals.  A man with bad teeth, driving a beat up pickup truck with a differently colored door, said hello, and as I was putting first gallon in car, handed me the other one where I’d put it on the hood, startling both Wag and me.
10:10.  Walked at a good clip; mile and a half in 30 min, Wag in backyard.
10:50.  Email and this list–a normal Sat, but details.
11-11:35.  Cut dead wood off raspberry canes, which are putting out new leaves; picked okra, one pepper, and 3 zinnias for me. Fed/checked hens (veg scraps and scratch)
11:35-45.  More email–the DSL quit earlier.
11:45-1:10 PM, made lunch (grilled cheese sandwich, salad, milk, lemon tea), ate and read E. George book, Playing for the Ashes.
1:10-2:50 PM.  Carried compost from coop floor to spread on raspberry canes, to encourage new leaves and a few berries; chickens helped spread it.
2:50 PM Worked on revising/shortening Political Peaches, fifth Penny Weaver novel. 82,669–81,633 aim: 70,000 words
(When I got sleepy around 2:30, I got up, folded yesterday’s clean laundry–it helps to move around when I get sleepy mid-afternoon, as I often do)
3:30 PM break for yoghurt-fruit drink and reading novel.
4 PM.  Got weed-eater and cord outside (fortunately didn’t have to re-string it), weed-ate as needed in backyard and vegetable garden where no plants now, only weeds.  Checked for eggs.  One hen still sitting.  Scolded Wag, who’d been digging vole holes again, and gave her none of her usual treats.  She looked crest-fallen.
5:10 PM took care of old emails.
5:20 PM read until time to fix supper and wash dishes
5:40–wash dishes, prepare supper (beef and rice from trade with Angelina, steamed okra dipped in butter; toast and jam, lemon tea).
6:10–eat and read; then read
6:50–check email (none)
6:55. Started yoghurt, shut up hens, and then: Wrote in my diary–turned off ringer, my night off.  
9 PM, checked email, wrote to Gloria, who is almost a daily correspondent–another mystery writer, poet, and farmer, my age.
9:25 PM Put away eggs in refrigerator, heated tea, read until 10 PM, put yoghurt to bed
10:10 PM then bath, exercises, more reading.
11:15PM Lights out, bed. (Slept until 6:30 next morning)

Note: Weekdays, instead of turning to my diary Saturday night, I do two more hours of work (teaching/editing or writing new novel). But quit at 9 PM.  The rest is the same.  Sunday AM I write in my diary, then a poem or a little novel-writing; then about 11 AM do my blog and check email.  Then back to the afternoon schedule.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review of Carolyn Hart's Death by Surprise

Review of Death by Surprise.  Carolyn Hart.  Seventh Street Books, Amherst, NY.  November 5, 2013.  200 pages.  Paperback ISBN: 978-1-61614-869-0, $13.95; e-book ISBN: 978-1-61614-1-870-6, $9.99.

When Death by Surprise was first published in 1983, women private investigator novels were a rare breed.  Sue Grafton published her first Kinsey Milhone novel in 1982, and Sara Paretsky began her V.I. Warshawski series also in 1982.  In her introduction to this re-issue Hart says “Death by Surprise is as near that private eye genre as I have ever come.  K.C. Carlisle, the protagonist, is a young woman lawyer who has good reason never to quite trust anyone.”  At the same time young women were becoming lawyers to reckon with.

Death by Surprise moves fast, like the private eye books Carolyn read as a teenager: Erle Stanley Gardner, John Creasey, Donald Hamilton, and Jack Iams.

K.C. comes from a wealthy family.  The only one of the Carlisle clan she’s close to is her mother’s long-time servant, Amanda. Francine Boutelle comes to town and begins hunting scandal among members of K.C.’s family.  She has her claws into K.C. as well. 
They all have something to hide, but Boutelle will publish the dirt she has dug up unless each member brings her $50,000.  

On the evening they are showing up by appointment at Boutelle’s apartment with the money, their blackmailer is strangled with a scarf belonging to Kenneth Carlisle, K.C.’s lawyer cousin and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.  K.C. is dating his opponent, Greg Garrison.

K.C. arrives herself at Boutelle’s apartment to find her dead body. She had planted a small recorder in the room, hoping to catch Boutelle in the process of blackmailing her.  As K.C. is retrieving the recorder, the local newspaper’s editor, Harry Nichols, turns up, too, also by appointment.  Harry and his whole family have hated the Carlisles for several generations.  He calls the police, Harry and K.C. are interviewed, and the police find the recorder.  Cousin Kenneth is arrested.  K.C. doesn’t like Kenneth much or agree with his politics, but she doesn’t think he’s the killer, so she sets out to find out who that is.

I congratulate Seventh Street for bringing out these early Carolyn Hart books.  At the Malice Domestic Convention 25 (May 2013), in her interview related to winning the Amelia Award, Hart said her early books seemed to disappear into a black hole until, at an early Malice, in 1988, she won a best novel Agatha award for her second Death on Demand novel, Design for Murder.

If you’ve never read these early books, you’re in for a treat.  Check out my blog reviews on Escape from Paris, originally published in 1982 [pmz blog June 8, 2013]; Skulduggery, originally published in 1984 [pmz blog July 28, 2013]; Brave Hearts, 1987 [pmz blog Aug. 11, 2013].  I also reviewed her 2003 novel Letter from Home [pmz blog May 25, 2013].


Carolyn Hart–bio from website.

Carolyn Hart is the author of 50 novels. Her 50th new novel - DEAD, WHITE AND BLUE, 23rd in the Death on Demand series – was published in May 2013. 

Recent titles include DEATH COMES SILENTLY, 22nd in the Death on Demand series. In October 2013 she published GHOST GONE WILD, 4th in a series featuring the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, an impetuous red-headed ghost who returns to earth to help someone in trouble. 

LETTER FROM HOME, a stand alone novel set in Oklahoma, was published by Berkley in 2003. Gretchen Gilman is 13 in the summer of 1944 and working on the small town newspaper. Murder occurs on the street where she lives, changing her life forever. LETTER FROM HOME was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University Tulsa. Letter from Home won the Agatha for Best Mystery Novel of 2003 and was a New York Times notable book. 

Hart was one of ten mystery authors featured at the National Book Festival on the Mall in Washington D.C. in 2003 and again in 2007. In March 2004 she received the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She has twice won the annual Oklahoma Book Award for best novel. In April 2004 she spoke at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. on mysteries in American culture. She received the Ridley Pearson Award at Murder in Grove, Boise, Idaho, in 2005 for significant contributions to the mystery field. She has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic and the Amelia Award in May 2013. 

Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism 1982-85. She is the  winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys.