Sunday, December 27, 2015

How Does Truth Penetrate?

Night-blooming Cereus behind my house 2014.

For Mikhail Bazankov: October 5, 1937-December 13, 2015.

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXVI. September 6, 2015

Yes, we fight for democracy in times
of corporate totalitarian power, and
for our environment willfully poisoned
in the name of greed, and we fight for 
our human right not to be harmed.  We
fight out of love.  We risk everything.  
We have Dante’s innocence of heart
and visionary prowess.  Even in exile 
we will fight and win.  –The Omens Arrive VII.

The cereus began its bloom work a week ago.
I watched, awed as always.  This plant has
lived behind my house or under my solar
tubes some twelve years.  It rarely blooms–
four times, and I missed one.  The Queen of
the Night chooses one night only, then collapses
limp.  Did I miss her this time?  She’s hanging
down.  Did she already give all she had?
Maybe.  I missed how sick you were, too,
but then your January letter didn’t tell me.
A friend wrote, hesitated to break the news
that you were dying.  Curiously, the cereus
bud arrived at the same time.  I won’t be able
to see you again or hear you say we are fools.
Your wife and son keep you alive–barely.  
You may slip away before my letter arrives
to say that my heart hurts.  I told you I
would continue to tell our story.  Our two
countries have again fallen into warrior
stances, but we who met and loved our
Russian neighbors know they love us.
The harm comes from overweening corporate
power and foolish politicians.  It is past
time to give up warring on other nations
and on our own people.  How does the truth
penetrate?  Certain souls stand fast.  The seers
of our twenty-first century must now 
summon all their courage, dig deep for strength
and raise their heads like the cereus does,
open their hundreds of petals, and tell the
simple truth: if we don’t learn to love
each other, we all die.


Mikhail at an art exhibit in Kostroma, Russia.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Carolyn Mulford's Show Me The Ashes

Review: Show Me the Ashes.  Carolyn Mulford.  Five Star, A Part of Gale, Cengage Learning, New York, NY.  December 16, 2015.  ISBN 13: 9781432831356. Hardback, $25.95. 319 pp.

In Show Me the Ashes, Mulford’s fourth novel in her “Show Me” series, P.I. Phoenix Smith quickly becomes involved with two investigations.  She hears the desperate tale of Beatrix Hew, a grandmother whose daughter Jolene confessed to killing Edwin Wiler in the Bushwhacker Den  bar where she worked, and then setting fire to the building.

The case had been closed by Boom Keyser, her best friend Annalynn Keyser’s former husband, who took the confession. Phoenix knows that Annalynn, now acting sheriff, doesn’t want to hear that her dead husband made a bad mistake, so she begins a secret investigation, feeling compassion for the ailing grandmother and her grandchild Hermione.  The third member of this trio of old friends, Connie Diamante, insists on helping Phoenix.

Then Annalynn asks Phoenix to help her investigate some local robberies, and to keep Connie out of it.  Keeping all these secrets, plus her CIA background from the general public, proves quite a balancing act for Phoenix.

Phoenix’s dog Achilles plays a star role in the whole series, and with each book, he steals more of the show.  Phoenix’s former CIA experience helps her unravel a very complex plot, as well as her knowledge of small town Missouri people.  She must interview all those involved in the year-old murder and arson case: the Bushwhacker’s Den owner, the dead man’s lover, the fireman who found arson, and others.

The transformation that goes on in Phoenix’s attitude from feeling that there’s no way she can help Beatrix to taking more and more risks to do just that, hinges on how Phoenix allows her compassion for the child Hermione to keep her motivated when it proves nearly impossible to prove a different set of circumstances and events that led up to the death and the fire than the seemingly obvious conclusion Boom had reached when the case began.  The child and her love of Achilles becomes the pivot that makes it possible for Phoenix to loosen her perspective in both investigations and discover the truth.

What I love best about this series is the opening up of the characters living in a small Missouri town.  The plots are always complex and hard for the reader to unravel, but the characters stay with me.  One fiction teacher I had years ago said that the sign of a good book was its memorability.  Did it stick in your mind? Carolyn Mulford’s characters stick in my mind.


Carolyn Mulford writes the award-winning Show Me mystery series. She set out to be a writer shortly after becoming a reader in a one-room school near Kirksville, Missouri, but delayed her writing career to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. That experience fostered a fascination with other cultures that led her to work as a nonfiction writer and editor on five continents. She moved from nonfiction to fiction and from the Washington, D.C., area to Columbia, Missouri, in 2007. Her first published novel, The Feedsack Dress, became the state’s Great Read at the 2009 National Book Festival. Next came Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, Show Me the Gold, and (in early 2016) Show Me the Ashes. To read the first chapter of these books and of the upcoming MG/YA Thunder Beneath My Feet, go to Harlequin Worldwide Mystery published a paperback edition of Show Me the Murder in June 2015.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Launching The Sands of Gower

Coal ash fighters at the book launch of The Sands of Gower:
left to right, Shelton Bass, Dawn Crawley, Johnsie Tipton, Dean Tipton, in Judy's living room.

I learned early in my life as a writer, teacher, and publisher of books to go with what you have.  Never dwell on how many people are responding to your efforts, invitations, pleas.  Keep on.  When I look back on my life, every time I simply wouldn’t give up, I succeeded.  There’s that saying of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

I invited about 200 people to my book launch on Sunday, December 6, for my new mystery, The Sands of Gower: The First Penny Weaver Mystery, and asked them to RSVP only if they were coming.  My friend Barbara Wefing from New Jersey, who lived here in the 70s and early 80s, visited me that weekend.  My friend and faithful reader/copy-editor, Carol Hay, said she was coming “with bells on.”  I also invited coal ash activists whom I work with these days. Four of them replied they’d be there: Dawn Crawley and Shelton Bass, who farm next to the Lee County coal ash landfill site; Dean and Johnsie Tipton, who live by the railroad line, also next to the Lee County site, at “ground zero,” as they call it.

I laid out the refreshments and the books.  Then we talked, but more about coal ash than about books.  Carol and Barbara got the full coal ash education.  Shelton entertained us with stories of all the polluting factories he’d worked in over the years and how careless the management was of the workers’ health.  They also described their farm, with goats, horses, mules, chickens, and their adventures riding horses in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Johnsie and Dean, who are expert at asking questions, and live near Dawn and Shelton, but were not yet up on all their neighbors’ adventures, kept up the questions, and then we were all amazed at the stories that poured out.  We stopped a little to eat minestrone soup and bread, and sample other goodies, though only Barbara had any of the wine she’d brought.  The rest of us had lemon balm tea or coffee.  Every now and then the subject of books came up, and Dean said if I wrote my books on travels in Russia, he wanted to buy that one.  It’s a few years off, but I do plan to.  The animal and people stories won out over the books.

The whole evening’s experience, from 4 PM until 7:30 PM, was a gift.  Carol had to leave, but the rest of us were happy, entertained, and amazed at all we learned about each other and worlds we hadn’t been in, worlds which take huge amounts of courage, knowledge, canniness, and sheer gall.

As the coal ash fighters in Lee and Chatham fight on to stop twenty million tons of coal ash from coming into our neighborhoods, let’s remember that.  Human beings can outwit and outlast their problems if they summon their wits and their core of resilience and faith, their indomitable spirit.


Buy Links: Both ebook and paperback

e-book only: In December only: $1.02 with coupon AB45F

From Hoganvillaea Books, $15, paperback, plus $1 tax, $3 postage. $19. PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559, USA


Left to right: Judy, Shelton, Dawn, Johnsie, Dean.  Photos from launch by Barbara Wefing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Our Souls Held On

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXV.  August 30, 2015

Dear Mikhail, I wish I could send you
the zinnia flowers I brought inside
last night.  Their bold colors reassure.
How I labored for them.  The weeds were
two feet high, their roots tough to yield.
I sowed seed late, and then the weeds
returned with the seedlings.  So again
on hands and knees I weeded out grass.
As they began to bloom the voles
returned to their underground lairs, 
and the dog dug crazily despite my
command: “Stay out of my flowers.”
Yet here they are–petals of splendor: 
the deep red of blood when it hits
the air; the yellow of new gold; 
the nearly green white of certain
glass bottles; the deep orange of
the sun before it slips into ocean;
the light pink of a spring prom
dress, and the deep pink, nearly
red of a young girl’s blush.  Would
that I could put them beside you where
you work and sleep, battling now 
against time.  They tell me you are 
very sick, don’t go out.  I know
your passion to write because I
have it, too.  That’s where our souls
joined for the sake of our writing and
that of others, to save, publish, spread
word of the truth we knew and must 
tell.  I have had to live with you 6000
miles away, and yet our souls held on.
We couldn’t undo that deep a bond, 
nor did we want to.  I’ll finish the
work we began.  I’ll tell the story
to the whole world.  Believe, dear 
heart, that I will always love you.  
We may lose our lives but 
our love is here to stay.

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.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Raspberry Memories

Photo of Bazankov family in Kostroma, March 2007.  Judy came to dinner.  Includes Mikhail, 4th from left on the back, and his wife Katya, 3rd from the right on the front row, and their sons' families.


THE OMENS ARRIVE XV. June 21, 2015

For Mikhail, who turns 78 October 5.

Perhaps these raspberries are my omen.
Every day I pick a handful.  Now the
blueberries join their ranks.  I eat
them in custard, make smoothies
to cool me on these hot afternoons.
When I lived in Kostroma, people
gave me eight jars of raspberry jam.
When I had a cough, Katya made me
dried raspberry tea.  I picked them 
myself in Finland; you picked them
for me in Gorka.  Now I pick from
my own canes with the hens hovering
and nipping at the ones they can’t reach,
yammering at me to drop one.  The fig
trees were half-killed by two severe
winters, and the raspberries took over
all that sunlight and ground rich in
chicken compost.  You come to me
in spite of my doubts as a handful
of raspberries. I may forget for days
at a time, but raspberry flesh is still
on my tongue, raspberry memories
thrive in the deepest part of my mind.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Can Do Everything Needful

Judy holding Credo Climate Hero sign because our coal ash group, Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash Dump, received a $500 grant from Credo, which we will use to involve more people in our community as we put up more signs against coal ash.  The photo is by Robin Beane.  Thanks to Susan Alexander for grant writing.

We also brought the community together on September 18 for an amazing "plate sale" of a fried fish dinner, with so many people bringing food, helping serve, giving donations.  Duke Energy may have power of a certain kind, but we have love for and trust in each other.  It may take awhile, but we will overcome.  

Here's a poem I wrote last summer when I was discouraged.  I had to believe that we would succeed and that the zinnias I was planting would rise and bloom.  They did, my best zinnias ever!


THE OMENS ARRIVE XVI.  June 28, 2015

It comes to me now that I can do
everything needful.  I must not
doubt myself.  My life here has
its purpose.  This coal ash threat
scares me, which means I have to
dig deeper, prepare myself for war.
Such wars are mainly of the spirit
which is my strength.  If anyone
knows how to find her courage, 
I do.  Like Cassandra I read the
omens, but unlike that ancient
one who saw truth ahead of time,
I won’t die.  I’ll live and escape
harm as long as I listen to my
heart.  So few people do, and what
age needs to more than ours?  After
weeks of searing heat which rain
failed to relieve, storms baptized
us with buckets of cooling water.
The created order let go its battle
to breathe.  The outside world was
home again to fruit trees, grapevines,
that optimist the cardinal, my hens
who lived for weeks in shade, to the
lizards skimming over the brick 
walls of my home, to bees now back
to the business of pollinating.  Both
vegetables and weeds drink deeply,
and the new flower seeds will dare
to open root and stem and push
toward the light they never ceased
to believe was there.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Interview with Nova Scheller, Author of Avonelle's Gift

Interview with Nova Scheller, Author of Avonelle’s Gift.

Information about the book:

“I wear a locket filled with my grandmother’s bones.” So begins Avonelle’s Gift.

Can a descendant reach back into her family’s stories and recover relatives who have been lost, forgotten, rejected, or excluded? What can she discover and retrieve as she breaks through
negative judgments about her family’s past? Avonelle’s Gift vividly captures the history of a family over four generations, beginning with the love affair of two teenagers in 1900. A pregnant girl marries to save her family’s name during the years when childbirth and infancy are fraught with danger and mothers and babies could die. This book tells of two motherless children and how each 
affected the other. By blending available facts with both her historical research and her imagination, the author has filled in the
missing pieces of a tale that deserves to be told. As she focuses on bringing out what is emotionally true, she expresses the depth and complexity she finds in her family over several generations.

Avonelle’s Gift tells of early deaths, lost loves, lost families, unbridled ambition, political corruption, social ostracism, and redemption at a time when people could begin anew and rebuild
their lives for the better. Like so many family stories with villains, victims, and heroes, it tells of courage, determination, and the capacity for human hearts to change.

Title information
Title: Avonelle’s Gift
Author: Nova Scheller
Dimensions: 6” x 9”
Page count: 306 pp
Publisher: Amma’s BREATH
ISBN: 978-1-4951-6810-9

Paperback Price: $19.95 Available on; 
E-book on Kindle and other e-book sites. $5.99

1-- When did you begin writing? 

I wrote a lot in my work life and was published scientifically while I researched at UNC-CH. When I moved to working in big Pharma, I taught technical writing to company employees and edited/reorganized other scientists' reports. Finally, before I stopped working, I was writing Validation documents and finally investigation reports. In all these years I never wrote creatively and for popular publication. Writing this book, five years after I left the corporate world, has been a new phase in my life, intellectually and creatively.

2-- When and why did you begin writing this book?

My mother's stories about her Medling family framed so much of who I felt I was as a child. I always felt I was more of a Medling than a Scheller, my father's family. Part of that might have been because my mother was the one who told me about my father's family. My mother's intensity and our complicated mother-daughter relationship was also a factor. Before she died, she requested her ashes be mingled with my grandmother's and scattered. Once in possession of Ethel's ashes, I began a multi-year journey that connected the three of us.

One day while having lunch with a friend in 2010, after Mom's death, I was telling her about my mother's stories about her parents and her childhood. She stopped me and said, "You have to write a book about all this.  It deserves to be told." She said this with such certainty, I felt she was right.

During 2011, I made three trips to Missouri, researching the Bootheel area, where so much of the story took place. Each trip revealed more information.  The last one revealed the most as I journeyed from St. Louis to Jefferson City to Lake of the Ozarks where I went to the Osage River and released the remaining ashes of my grandmother.

3-- Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

Writing and completing the book has been a multifaceted process. 2011, the first year after my mother's death, felt like an unfolding path as I "received" impression after impression of what I needed to do for her and my grandmother. I was very much aware that we had issues that flowed from one generation to the next. Several months after she died, I contacted her half-brother, Scott, to let him know she had passed. Months later he sent me their email correspondence from ten years earlier. It was their ongoing conversation for those three months that helped me see the man my grandfather Medling later became.

That same year, I began studying both shamanism and Family Constellations. Both of these healing modalities come from ancient traditions that all of our ancestors in the distant past would have accessed. The shaman receives information directly through spirit guides, while in a trance state. In Family Constellations, the group present creates an energy state that helps reveal answers sought by an individual in the group, and is called the Knowing Field. Both systems work with ancestral/generational issues or inheritances. 
Before that, two years before my mother died, I began studying Hinduism and the various incarnations of the Divine Mother, or Divine Feminine. Among the indigenous, ancient Vedic traditions, I learned of Pitru Paksha, the annual Honoring of the Ancestors. (This year it will begin on September 27, the Full Moon and go for two weeks, until the New Moon, October 12.). This was when I read Maya Tiwari's observation about standing on our ancestors' shoulders rather than carrying them on our backs. My new awareness, which began in 2007, deepened considerably while studying shamanism and Family Constellations. 

After two years of working with shamanism and Constellations, I got clear guidance that I was to begin writing the book in September 2013. Those earlier years helped me develop a more intuitive and receptive capacity. 

So, in September of 2013 and the winter of 2014, I took your writing class and began writing the first part of the book. You helped me understand how to set a scene and get out of the way of the story. I worked on the book for another year, through the spring of 2015.

4-- Talk about your writing process.

I had a basic diagram of what had happened with my grandparents but very little to go on for my great grandparents. I learned my great grandmother's name when I got my grandmother's death certificate. My mother told me what she knew about Avonelle, that he was her grandfather, whose name she was given. But she never knew where he came from, what happened to him after he saw his daughter that once, or how old her mother was when he found her. 

When going through her papers after she died, I found that information in a letter I had sent her 25 years earlier. She never answered but wrote the answers in red pencil. Then I strung together the few clues I had and pondered what made sense, was possible, and asked those long dead relatives what they wanted me to say. My writing would give them the voice that neither my grandmother, mother or I had ever heard. Since I never had children, I felt that speaking for these ancestors was a responsibility that had been left to me. Instead of my life focus moving out into the future, I sensed my charge was to look backward and help bring balance into my Family Soul. Doing so allowed these ancestors to be seen, felt, acknowledged and honored for living their lives the best they knew how.

Apart from the direct family information, I researched the genealogy I could find in and read extensively about the Bootheel region during the period of its reclamation. I researched some Civil War information for the documented and imagined parents and grandparents of the Dunns, Bakers and Medlings, for historical accuracy. As the story moved forward, I needed to understand what factory work in St. Louis was like in World War I, the effect of the Depression and how the country was changing during World War II. The story ends in San Diego, my childhood home, when I was 13.

5. How did you find the self-publishing process?

Because this was my first book, I used companies and approaches a friend used. It was expensive, but I knew when I was finished that not only was the book well-edited but the layout, proof-reading and book cover were top notch. I believe I can produce my next book less expensively but keep the same quality and polished appearance.

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

I know the family stories are not complete. With the book ending at my grandfather's death, I feel there will be another volume that addresses the family’s impact upon my mother's life and mine. Not all mothers and daughters have difficult relationships, but many do, especially women who choose the helping, healing, nurturing professions. Sharing what has worked for me feels like a valuable contribution to the collective. The decision not to have children allows me to also direct my energy towards both the past and future generations. The rootlessness of this increasingly technological age, the lack of village or communal life, is drawing many of us to think about simpler ways of being and living. We are in a period of realizing that what has been seen as old and irrelevant now seems new, fresh and sane.

I have not started writing yet. I some other ideas, too. Right now I am learning how to market this book.



Nova Scheller was born and raised on the west coast, in Oregon and Southern California respectively. She has lived in central North Carolina since 1980. She received her BS in Biochemistry from NC State and her Masters in Environmental Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her professional years were spent as a environmental chemistry researcher at UNC and as a corporate adult trainer in the pharmaceutical industry. She was downsized as her employer prepared for a corporate buyout and has been exploring her real life for the last eight years. Avonelle's Gift is her first book.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How Like A Plant I Am

Morning glories twining their way onto my back porch.


I admit: I’m like an invasive vine.  Say,
honeysuckle.  It winds its way up chainlink
fences, around tree trunks and limbs,
dead or alive.  I’ve always loved its scent
on a June night, envied the bees their
taste of that honey.  I’ve fought with it,
but it never gives up, always resurges.
With other people I guard my boundaries,
but I turn around and find openings 
in theirs to let me in so I can love them,
heal them.  Looking back, I see how 
like a plant I am.  I never give up.  
Cut me back, and I fling out runners 
and attach myself again when you 
least expect it, when you aren’t
paying attention.  I scarcely know
myself what I’m doing.  Most people
stop at those dividing lines that keep us
separate, in little groups.  I see the lines
but ignore them.  Before I could read 
and write, I was loving people I wasn’t 
supposed to love.  That boy from the 
other side of the tracks brought his 
three-week-old baby sister to show
me.  I ran to tell Mother, and she cut
the baby’s fingernails and let the boy
know–how?–not to come back.  I never
saw him again.  In seventh grade I
loved Wesley, who brought me a fresh
gardenia every day.  If you touched
the petals, they turned brown.  We held
hands and I reveled in his singing voice–
a boy soprano.  He asked me to a dance,
and Mother said no, he was too short.  
She didn’t understand the love I felt
because she’d never trusted herself
that much.  She’d surely have frowned 
on my Russian beloved, but I didn’t tell
her when I borrowed money to go see him.
Now it’s clear how vital I am in my aging,
never giving up, still fighting, still
working, my energy still there to be
tapped and used, still seeing the lovable
in all these people who gather to fight 
against turning our community into a
coal ash dump. The powers that be may
trim me back, but I have roots in my
deepest being that they don’t imagine.  
My vine is persistent, undeterred, and
even partakes of eternal life.