December 27, 2013

And a Partridge in a Pear Tart?

Well, I managed to do it again. As usual, my brain appeared to be elsewhere when I was shopping and I completely miscounted the cream cheese. This is absolute proof that my brain has a limited ability to function when asked to do one thing at a time. This should not have been hard. For the first time in forty-two years I was not cooking a big family dinner on Christmas Eve. The only assignment I had was to make a dessert for Christmas dinner at Tom's sister's.

Maybe it was because it was the first time in forty-two years that Tom and I were going to be alone on Christmas Eve. This was a bit of a hurdle for us. We've always hosted dinner on Christmas Eve. It started with dinner for my side of the family and grew through the years to include just about anybody. One year we had a very handsome policeman drop by to be stared at by three giggly teenage girls.

At any rate to get back to the matter at hand, I decided to make a pear tart. The pear tart that I make is quite delicious, if I do say so myself. But the cookie crust is a little tricky. It's easy to overcook it. So I baked the crust Christmas Eve and planned to fill it Christmas morning giving myself plenty of time to make another one if necessary.  But it wasn't necessary. The crust was perfect. A little crispy, just brown enough, good enough to eat.

Cookie crust the way it should be
So Christmas morning in an effort to fight off the blues I was feeling not having my kids there, I looked at this crust and smiled. Then I got busy making the filling. Well, not exactly making it. But very busy looking for the cream cheese which is the basis of it. I know I had some. I had made a list. I went to the store and remembered to bring the list. And, best of all, I actually read the list and got what was on it. So the cream cheese had to be there. Didn't it?


Christmas dessert


Luckily it was early in the day when I searched for the cream cheese. Strangely enough, while I did not have any actual cream cheese, I did have all the ingredients for a Bundt cake, including heavy cream and cake flour. And it was pretty darned good, but not as good as a Pear Tart!





December 9, 2013

Angel hair and Christmas

I would like to thank all of you who came by the Bowie Grille on Saturday to help me officially launch Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My. The day was a great success. Not only was I surrounded by family, but neighbors and old friends and new friends managed to find time only weeks before Christmas to share the day with me. I can't tell you how much it meant to have you all there. Thank you so much.

And because Christmas is only days away I am going to tell a little Christmas story about the year we put angel hair on the tree. Sounds pretty, doesn't it?

Now, my father was a nut about Christmas. We had no money to speak of and really didn't get much in the way of gifts, but that didn't matter. It just meant so much to him, from decorating the tree to arranging the gifts under it, to hanging our socks at the end of our beds, that we could have gotten socks and underwear and we'd think we had gone to heaven.

He was very big into decorating the tree. It was an art. The tree itself usually looked like one Charlie Brown might have rejected, but we loved it anyway. Lights were strung with care. Ornament placement was crucial. Tinsel was put on strand by strand.

It was an exciting night. We'd have a bath and put on our new pajamas. My mother made all of our clothes and we always had new pajamas for Christmas. By this time, Dad had wired the tree to the wall (we had cats and they tended to climb) and had gotten the lights on. Then it was our turn to put on the ornaments and finish up with tinsel.

But this particular year, tinsel was edged out by Angel Hair. Some marketing genius placed it front and center in the Christmas decorations aisle. And my Dad bought it. It looked great - elegant, wispy clouds of gossamer fluff. We were thrilled. Putting tinsel on strand by strand can be tedious for an adult. For little kids it was a royal pain. This stuff didn't need that kind of precision. My brother, Tim, and my sister, Chris, and I took it out of its package and started strewing. Then we started itching. And then we started crying.

The marketing genius had forgotten to mark clearly on the label that Angel Hair was made of spun fiberglass and, in the wrong hands - well, any hands really - it cut like little knives and itched like the devil.

So the new pajamas came off and we once again hopped into the tub while Dad took the angel hair off the tree with a few choice words and threw it in the trash. We went to bed still itching.

I look back fondly on that night. I have no idea why. Maybe it's the lesson that we learned - never tinker with tradition. Or maybe it's just that I've forgotten most of those past Christmas's and this is the one I remember. Whichever, for about a minute and a half we had a tree fit for heaven, even though it ended up, probably with the marketing genius, in another place entirely.








November 27, 2013

Special thanks and a snippet from the book

I would like to take a minute to say thank you to all of you who have been so encouraging to me this year. Your kind words, from my nearest and dearest to complete strangers, have meant so much.

And I'd like to say a special thank you to my sister, Chris, and my sister-in-law, Lynda, who have been my sounding boards, task masters, and truly good friends.

Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My will be officially released on Monday! I'm looking forward to seeing many of you at the launch on December 7th. If you're in the neighborhood, please drop by.
(Dec. 7th, 2 to 4, Old Bowie Town Grille)

Here's a little snippet from the book. The ladies and their guests have just finished a Thanksgiving feast and romance is in the air, as well as something a little more sinister.

     Rose lit a fire and they sat sipping B&B and enjoying family chitchat.
     “Mother, you’re going to stay over, aren’t you?” asked Rose.
     “Oh yes. It’s been a long day.”
     Around ten o’clock Marc said, “Well, this has been a real pleasure. I can't remember the last time I had a family Thanksgiving. Thank you for including me. But I've got to go. We all need to rest up for the Christmas onslaught.”
     Daisy and Malcolm walked Marc down to his car. Marc thanked her again. Then he bent down and gently kissed her lips. “Don't forget to lock up. There's a killer out there and you're pretty isolated at this end of the street.”
     “Not to worry. We're fine. Malcolm's here and we have the alarm. I’m glad you came today. I liked spending Thanksgiving with you.”
     “Me, too. Much as I enjoy your family, I was thinking that it would be great if we had a night to ourselves. You know, a regular date. Dinner and a movie?”
     “I'd like that. Wednesday next week?”
     “Wednesday, it is.” He turned to go, then turned back and took her in his arms and kissed her again. “Good night, Daisy,” he whispered. “Don't forget to lock up!”
     “I won't. Drive carefully,” she called to him as he got into his car. She smiled as she watched him drive away.
     She was almost at the door when Malcolm started growling. Then he trotted back to the sidewalk and let a sharp little bark. Daisy picked him up. “What is it, boy?”
     She looked around at the quiet street. Then she thought she saw a shadow move in the trees in back of the Tavern. “Come on Malcolm. Let’s get inside!”

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.



 

November 18, 2013

A big month ahead - fully clothed!

Oh my, these next few weeks will be busy ones. Thanksgiving dinner for eighteen. My book launch on December 7th. A Christmas Bazaar on December 8th. And then of course Christmas!

I've got lists and notes everywhere. I've got little notes reminding me to make lists. I've got these lists and notes because I simply cannot remember anything anymore. I cannot remember a six letter word for 'remembrance'. I pace the aisles in Target trying to recall the name of the shampoo I've used for the last ten years. I hurriedly rush to the phone, pick it up ready to dial only to go completely blank as to whom I had to call so urgently.

Like most of the people I know who are my age I live in fear that one day in the not too distant future I will drop in on a neighbor for tea wearing only a sunhat and Reeboks, having forgotten the rest of my clothes. I understand this can be a common side effect once you've entered your 'second childhood'.

And here I wonder as a passing thought if people who prefer nakedness in their dotage are the same people who preferred it in their toddlerhood. Is there a correlation? Because if there is I may be in big trouble. I was one of those toddlers.

My very first memory was of running out the front door of our house on 20th Street, NW just off Dupont Circle, going down the steps, running to the end of the block and boarding a bus completely sans clothing. Kind of cute in a two year old. Not so much now!

At any rate, though things are a bit hectic, I'm looking forward to a great month - fully dressed, thank you very much.

Don't forget the Christmas Bazaar, 12/8/2013 from 10 to 2 at the Columbian Center, Severna Park, MD. I'd love to have you stop by and bring the flyer.

Also, for my Facebook friends, please LIKE my author page which is up and running thanks to my wonderful daughter, Rachel Anne. www.facebook.com/p.c.petersen.author

November 11, 2013

To Kill a Mockingbird and other old friends

I consider myself so lucky that I have found not one, but three, authors whose words I find so compelling that I read them almost yearly. Books that I can pick up anytime, turn to any page, and, like a dear old friend who visits every few years, continue the conversation as though it were yesterday. These books are the stories of P. G. Wodehouse, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

In the fall, I turn to Harper Lee. As soon as 'sweater weather' begins and the leaves start to turn, I find myself walking home in the dark with Scout in her ham costume, Jem's hand carefully guiding her, or smiling at Scout's complete bemusement of Aunt Alexandra and her campaign to make a lady of her.

Each beautiful scene, so clear, so elegantly written - Calpurnia and the children, washed and starched to a shocking degree, at her church waving fans and passing the plate, Jem reading to Mrs. DuBose in that dark, sad room, the hermaphrodite snowman, or Miss Maudie's house going up in flames - that I feel as if I am remembering things from my own youth, not Scout's. I would give much to be able to write so well.

Springtime brings me back to hobbits, elves and wizards. And P. G. Wodehouse seems to fit the summer so well. What a gift these writers have given me. Do you have a favorite book? A book that you read again and again, whose words draw you into another world that you've become so familiar with it's like home? I'd love to hear which books have become your old friends.

Don't forget my book launch, December 7th from 2 to 4. (Check www.pennypetersen.com for info). If you're planning on coming, be sure to let me know. I'd hate to run short on snacks and such.

November 3, 2013

Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My is ready to launch!

The excitement is on! My novel, Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My, is being released December 1st  and I'm getting ready for an actual launch party.

Quite honestly, having a book in print is something I never even thought about. I never imagined being a writer. I wrote a little here and there - a short story or a poem - but I was pretty content being domestic. I actually liked cooking. I enjoyed sewing. I liked being the team mom and the room mother. For a child of the 60's this was hard to swallow sometimes, but true feminism means I get to choose what makes me happy, and that was what made me happy.

And then my husband and I retired. I needed something to fill the time. Cooking, except on holidays, had lost its appeal. Forty plus years of dinner takes some of the glamour out of the task. Sewing, too, lost its charm. Small print, bi-focals, and an achy back took their toll. And being a team mom/room mother pretty much requires a kid on the team or in the room.

So I tried my hand at writing a mystery. It was just supposed to be a hobby. But surprise! Here I am, an author, getting ready to enter the world of promotion and sales. Wish me luck and come by the party and say hi. I'd love to see you. 

Launch of  Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My
Saturday, December 7th
2 to 4 in the afternoon
Old Bowie Town Grille
Bowie, Maryland
If you're interested in coming, just let me know at pennypetersen@rocketmail.com

October 18, 2013

Burning Leaves

As Fall is creeping in and the days are getting shorter and chillier, I am overcome with the memory of a Saturday in our little house in College Park. My mother in the kitchen listening to the radio. The strains of Maryland University's marching band in the distance. And my Father announcing that, I'm paraphrasing here, 'the damned leaves were not going to rake themselves'.

It was a day in late October. Dad got his workforce in place. I know I was forced labor. I think my brother and sister were probably volunteers. We raked up the quarter acre's worth of leaves that had fallen. It took all day. We made a lot of piles to jump in. We had swordfights with the rakes. We had to take a lot of breaks, of course. The work was backbreaking!

But finally, we would rake the leaves into one huge pile in the driveway. We'd stand around it and shiver as the day grew cold. And then Dad would light the dry, crackling leaves and we would watch the flames flicker for a moment and then suddenly whoosh into a beautiful bonfire. And then we could smell the burning leaves! 

It like to think it was a simpler time. It wasn't really. Lots of things were going on in the world, many of them bad, but I didn't know what was coming. I couldn't foresee future tragedy or celebration. For me on that afternoon it was just the leaves. And that was enough.

Shameless Plug - I am being interviewed on the internet Sunday evening at 6 p.m. by Cyrus Webb. I would love to have you tune in at www.blogtalkradio.com/conversationslive.

October 9, 2013

Keeping the Mystery Alive

I must apologize to any of you who look for this little effort each week. Last week I was just plain out of ideas and it was Tom's birthday - not all week of course, just one day of it - but these things throw me off, so I didn't write my blog. However, I'm back on track this week with a little story of true love and how we met.

Years ago, somewhere around year fifteen in our marriage, I was asked by a niece how Tom and I met. Well, I started to tell her, but Tom said, "She doesn't remember."

Well, of course I remembered. I mean, twenty-some years ago I was a young thing with a pretty good memory. I rarely forgot to wear matching shoes and I could almost always remember where I put my kids. So I was pretty sure I did indeed remember how we met.

It was the night before Thanksgiving 1967. All of my friends who had gone away to college were home for the holiday. We went out and celebrated. After all, this was their first time back in almost three months and we were all now legal to drink beer in DC.

We went to Ben's Hideaway in Northeast Washington just over the state line. Ben's was not a preppy bar. It was not even a nice bar. Truth to tell, it was a bit of a dive. But an awful lot of us ended up there that evening - including Tom and his group of friends who were also home for the holiday.

He and my best friend knew each other well, they had gone to grade school together, and so we were introduced. On my part, it was like at first sight. And, up until the day I was going to tell this story, I thought it was his first sight too. We made a date for that Friday night and the rest is history.

Well, here comes the peculiar part of our little love story. That night was not the first time we'd met. About two years before that he sat in my own living room on Saturday afternoon and I didn't remember.

I had been dating a boy who was really very nice, but - how do I put this gently - not someone I cared to continue dating. So I turned down a few invitations. Unfortunately, he didn't take the hint. He and a 'friend' came by one afternoon and hung out for way too long.

I am ashamed to say that I was absolutely rude to him. There is no other way to put it. I was behaving so badly that another B word comes to mind. But at this point I couldn't figure out any other way to get the message across. Finally, success. I was so unpleasant that the nice boy did stop asking me out.

And during this weird afternoon, his 'friend', my Tom, sat in the corner and watched all of this wretched behavior and didn't say a word. All I remembered was a boy with glasses that I didn't know. And, of course, my behavior being what it was that day, I still can't believe that when we re-met two years later he asked me out. I guess in spite of it all it was like at first sight for him too.

The fact that he waited until we had been married for a fair amount of time to mention this little bit of theatre is a bit odd. You'd think he'd have brought it up at some point in four years of dating and fifteen years of marriage. But there you go, the secret to a good marriage is keeping the mystery alive. It works - forty-two years and counting.



September 27, 2013

Fathers, daughters and goldfish

I've been awake since four o'clock puzzling over what scintillating anecdote to relate today. My sister tells me it had better be funny because she needs a laugh. But at four in the morning I don't know how amusing I can manage to be.

However, in an effort to make Chris laugh, I will relate the story of my Dad and the goldfish.

My Dad was a wonderful man. He was very British; stiff upper lip, duty and honor in all things. He was raised by a widow who was just a bit nuts. When she was seventeen she ran off to Canada with the black sheep of the Clover family. (Here my sister, Heather, who has finished our family history will tell me I've got the timing all wrong, and I probably do, but you get the gist - young woman elopes with older man who can't get his act together.)

After my grandfather died when Daddy was very little, they moved around a lot. I believe Dad told me he had been to something like twenty schools in twelve years. He had one older brother, Bob, who was by all accounts an absolute terror. Dad himself was always the reliable one, the boy who got good grades, worked hard, and took things seriously.

He could be quite strict and unbending. I remember some royal battles he had with my brother over hair length and with me over skirt length. We had to eat everything on our plates or we sat at the table until we did. If we misbehaved at dinner, we were sent to the kitchen to finish. He had some pretty strict standards we were supposed to live up to.

But at heart my dad was a gentle pushover. He loved his wife, he loved his kids. He loved his pets.

We had many pets over the years. A lot of cats, a number of dogs, a rabbit named Eugene, a wild mockingbird who seemed to adopt us for a summer. And we had a goldfish. It was an ordinary fish, gold in color, kept in a bowl just like a million other goldfish. I don't remember it having a name.

For some reason Dad took care of the dumb thing. He would put the fish bowl in the kitchen sink and dribble cool water into it instead of just dumping the water and adding new. Sadly, the sink had an old single handle faucet with a mind of its own.

One Saturday, he did this maneuver in the usual way and left the bowl filling while he busied himself elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was the day the faucet took it into its head to slowly shift to HOT. I noticed too late. The little fish was a goner, boiled in his own bowl.

I told my mother who immediately said, "We can't tell your father." This was a constant refrain during my teenage years. He had an ulcer that might act up. But, really, I think my mother just didn't want to hear it. So she and I decided that I should run out to the store and get a new fish. We'd replace it and he'd never know he had whacked the little fishy.

I brought home the only goldfish I could find - a white one! We put it in the bowl and hoped he just wouldn't notice. But he did. And he was amazed. He excitedly called my mother and me into the kitchen to see this fish who had changed color! "Have you ever seen such a thing!" and "I can't believe it. This is amazing!"

My mother and I had to lock ourselves in the bathroom because we were laughing so hard. We never told him about the switch. And to this day I have no idea if my father really believed that fish had changed color. I like to think he did. I like to think he witnessed a miracle.



September 19, 2013

Volleyball and bootleg jeans

My mind is a bit blank today. This is, unfortunately, not a novel occurrence, but it is decidedly unhelpful when I'm trying to write my blog. Inspiration, where art thou?

Ah, just a minute, the Coldwater Creek catalog seems to be calling my name. This may be just what I need.

Nope. Other than causing me to ponder whether I would like to get the mini-bootcut or the classic straight leg jeans with my $25 off any purchase coupon, I'm no closer to finding a topic for today.

Perhaps just a few random thoughts. There is always the chance an idea will sprout.

Saturday went well. The Writers' Conference was a success. I learned a lot about the business. I'm still rubbish at mingling, but I did manage to meet some lovely people and make a new friend or two.

I also stayed in a hotel room alone for the first time in my life. Years ago, when my husband traveled for work he would tell me he just hated going back to his lonely hotel room. At that time with two kids, cats, dinner to fix and laundry to do I thought he was crazy. An evening alone after someone else served me dinner sounded a lot like heaven.

And years ago, it probably would have been heavenly. But now it was just a little lonely. Not only that, as soon as I got into the big, comfy bed and switched on the remote, my legs started cramping. And they continued cramping throughout the night. I may have to give up heels for good. Anyway, I finally gave up about 6 a.m. and just went home.

Monday, I went to see my great-nieces play an away volleyball game at the school where my son teaches. Hearing the little freshman girls say, "Hi Mr. Petersen," is a hoot. And I was totally impressed that he knew all of their names.

I now know more about volleyball than I did previously. Which is to say that I now know something about volleyball. First, high school gyms are incredibly loud! Second, double-tapping the ball is a big no-no. But how the official (I now know that's what the term for the official is) determines that the ball has been double-tapped, I could not figure out. Supposedly, he can hear it. But in that gym I don't know how.

On the way home I stopped at K-Mart in search of peanut brittle for my husband. I was walking through the parking lot when a woman who was backing out, saw me, stopped, and waved me on. For a fleeting moment as I trotted past her car I suddenly wondered if this was a set up. Was she going to hit the gas, mow me down and laugh hysterically? Of course she did no such thing. She just waited until I was safely out of the way, the proceeded to back out just like a normal person. Does anyone else in the world think of these weird scenarios or is this just the mystery writer in me?

Speaking of mystery writing, I'd really better knock off the random thoughts and get to work. Amazingly an idea has sprouted.  I think my next scene may well be a woman, driven to insanity by the sound of incessant double-tapping, laughing hysterically alone in her hotel room shortly after she's mowed down her daughter's teacher outside the gymnasium. Or maybe should that be K-Mart?

September 11, 2013

Ms. Magoo goes to a Writers Conference

I will be attending my very first Writers Conference this weekend. I am excited and really looking forward to it.

At the same time I am a bit nervous. I am hoping that I will not do or say something incredibly stupid. I would very much like to appear confident, poised, and professional. And though I'm hoping, I am not particularly hopeful.

You see, I have never been, or at least have never felt, confident or poised. I tend to trip over my own feet. When someone runs into me, I apologize. I am hopeless at small talk and have absolutely no idea how to go about promoting myself or my book.

And, much as I hate to admit it, getting older has just made things worse. My memory which was never great is now abysmal. My 'noun aphasia' is getting out of hand. For instance, I'm a docent at the beautiful Riversdale Mansion. Much too often lately I have found myself standing in a room, the salon perhaps, staring blankly at my little group of visitors, having totally forgotten the term for the cornice I am pointing at. You can only claim senior moments so many times before they want their money back.

My memory for simple nouns has gotten so bad that my husband feels like he is playing an interminable game of charades. This afternoon I was attempting to draw his attention to the cooler. The best I could do was keep repeating, "you know - the red thing" and making a rectangle in the air with my hands. I am sorry to say he is not amused by this.

Another thing that is getting worse by the minute is my sight. I had Lasik surgery about fifteen years ago and for quite a while my vision was wonderful. Not so much now. I smile and wave at old friends, only to find out that they are actually total strangers. I squint a lot. I see things that aren't there. I wear my cheaters on a chain around my neck, a thing I swore I'd NEVER do. I've become Mr. Magoo's twin sister!

It's very sad, really. The other day I sharpened an eyebrow pencil. The sharpener wasn't working and upon investigation I discovered that my 'pencil' was not actually a wooden pencil. It was plastic. When I bought it I could have sworn it was a wooden pencil. It certainly looked like one. Of course, this one may not be a vision problem, so much as simple idiocy.

Whichever, I really am looking forward to the Saturday. Lord willing, I will remember my name and, possibly, even the name of my book. I will smile at strangers because they may or may not be old friends. When I trip I will just laugh endearingly. When I meet Jeffrey Deaver, I intend to be sophisticated and interesting right up to the minute I spill my drink on him. All in all, it should be a grand experience. Perhaps I will see you there - whether you attend or not!

September 3, 2013

All the News That's Fit to Print

I continually make the mistake of reading the entire newspaper. And it's just depressing. Why I don't stick to the comics and the Style section I really don't understand.

But every morning I get up, turn on the electric kettle (best invention in the world), feed the cats, make my tea, then sit down and read the Washington Post. I guess I'm hoping for something good to happen. It seems it rarely does.

I don't count sports. Although I enjoy a baseball game, I don't follow baseball. And not being a football fan, the exploits of the Redskins on the front page simply irritates me. I do not rejoice with the team.

I read the obituaries. My mother always read them and I like to keep tradition going. Of course, it is heartening not to be among the chosen few, so I guess that's a good thing. On the other hand, many of those chosen few are my age or younger and that's fairly demoralizing.

World news veers from tragic to horrifying to terrifying. Pictures of dead bodies lined up in a row, articles about chemical weapons, riots, uprisings, drones, earthquakes and tsunamis, the economy, and, for comic relief, the ever-present political shenanigans that Washington thrives on. I mean you've got to ask yourself, when Anthony Weiner's wiener is front page news have we strayed just a bit too far from the path of sanity.

Local news is a series of fatal car crashes, plane crashes, the trial of the month, inappropriate teacher/student interaction (euphemisms are wonderful, aren't they?), inappropriate pastor/child interaction, inappropriate politician/big donor interaction. There is a lot of interaction going on and none of it's good!

The health and science section isn't too bad, a lot of interesting facts. I now know that there is a fish that walks on land. The main disease story is usually sort of an upper where some poor sap finally finds a cure. Of course, it comes after years of needless suffering, but it is a cure.

So why don't I stick to who George Clooney is dating, where Michelle Obama had dinner, and what advice Carolyn Hax has for Anonymous in Maryland? I wish I knew. It's a mystery. Perhaps I'll find the answer in tomorrow's Post.


August 23, 2013

Here's to our Best Days

What makes 'the best day'? A few weeks ago we had family over to share crabs, beer, and burgers. My granddaughter, Sophie, who is five was the only child there. She seemed to enjoy herself, played nicely, ate crabs and lots of corn, found her Twizzler in her dessert drawer (where I keep candy just for her), put up no fuss when it was time to leave, waved and said "Bye everybody" (after a bit of coaxing - she's very shy), and hopped in the car.

On the way home Sophie kept saying to my daughter, "That was the best day, wasn't it, Mom?" and "Wasn't that the best day?" and "I had the best day!" for the whole hour ride.

So, what made it 'the best day' for her? Who knows? What makes any day that good? It's kind of impossible to pin down, isn't it?

I have found that special days are rarely 'the best days'. My wedding day, for example, was not a 'best' day. It was a good day and marrying Tom was the best thing I've ever done, but the day went by in a whirl. We were tired and nervous and it was over in the wink of an eye.

But there was an evening when Tom and I sat at the Lincoln Memorial and talked for the longest time. Just the two of us. I can't remember why we were there or much of what we talked about, but it was a lovely night and the feeling of that night has never gone away.

Another memory that always makes me smile is driving home from Baltimore with my brother back in the summer 1965. I remember it vividly, the sun roof open, Beatles on the radio, a tree lined portion of Route 1. We were happy and singing and having fun and it was the best . 

I have so many 'best' moments with my sisters, my best friend, Tom and the kids. Unfortunately, these tend to get overshadowed by the rest of life, the hard parts, the sadness, the day to day routine. So my new resolution is to try and think about a 'best' time, a memory that will make me smile, every time 'real life' chooses to smack me on the head. Maybe it will help. maybe not. But I think it's worth a try.

August 16, 2013

The writing bug is back

Fall is in the air a bit early and the dog days of August seem to be skipping us this year. Windows are open. My husband is wearing a sweatshirt which seems a bit excessive, but he finds anything under 90 degrees to be a tad cool. And I have got the writing bug back.

It tends to desert me in mid-spring and return in the fall. I have no idea why. I'm retired and have no fixed schedule to follow. But my muse or whatever little irritant that goads me on seems to run on a school schedule. A hangover from my youth when summer was for play? I have no idea. I just know that suddenly I have an urge to write something.

So, I've begun to map out my next Daisy&Rose mystery. I am not good at this process. I tend to invent as I write, but I do need a basic outline. First and foremost, I need to know who did what to whom and why. I also like to have a good idea about a little sideshow, so to speak - the hormonally exuberant Malcolm or a jogger who keeps showing up revealing a little more of himself than anyone would like to see.

There are other questions I need to think about. Is romance in the air? Probably not. Who needs romance when you've got dead bodies. What outlandish things will Angela be up to? Any more pets to be added to the menagerie? But really, I just need the basic plot. The rest will come, like Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie.

Occasionally, someone will ask me where I get my ideas. And I usually have to say that most of the time I have no idea. They just arrive. I sit down to write, the flow is good, words get put on the page and there it is. A paragraph or a page or a chapter.

There are times that I've read something I've written a day or so later and think, "Wow. That's not bad. I like it. I don't remember writing it and I wonder where it came from."

Then there are times when I know the moment an idea came to me. This week it happened twice, both between four and five in the morning, my usual hour of insomnia.

The first was Saturday night. I was doing my version of counting sheep - going through the alphabet and listing items (flowers in this case) that begin with each letter - and it wasn't working. I suddenly remembered the meteor shower and decided to see what the heavens had to offer. Tom and I watched for a while (he, too, often has 4 a.m. insomnia). When I got back in bed, I had an image of Daisy and fog and knew just how I wanted to begin the book. Wonderful. Then I fell fast asleep.

The second time was the night before last. Again 4 a.m. and the alphabet thing not working. I just tossed and turned a lot thinking about all those little things that drive you crazy at four in the morning.

One of those things was the new book. I had a basic plot and the first sentence, but I was stuck. I couldn't grab what I call 'the hook', the hinge I hang the story on. After about forty-five minutes of checking the clock and making no progress with sleep or storyline, I gave up trying. I needed to talk to someone.

But Tom was actually sleeping for a change and I felt it unfair to wake him. So I had a little chat with my mother. A tad one-sided seeing as how she passed on to a better place quite a while ago, but I know she can still hear me. 

My mother loved mysteries. She turned me onto Miss Marple, Peter Wimsey and tons of other wonderful detectives when I was about twelve. So I told her about the new book and how I would love to be able to pick her brain because I was a bit stuck at the moment and it was frustrating. Then I said good night, closed my eyes, snuggled down, and there it was! I had the hook. A ghost who walks at four in the morning. Coincidence? I don't think so. Thanks, Mom.




August 8, 2013

The elusive, mysterious 'Woman of a Certain Age'

Let me begin by congratulating two fellow Intrigue authors who launched novels this week. DB Corey's thrilling Chain of Evidence and CA Verstraete's wonderful zombie novel Girl Z are taking off with a bang. Go to http://dbcorey.blogspot.com and http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com to see what all the excitement's about. Both books are available at Amazon.com.
 
*****
 
I am a woman of a 'certain age'. Just what age range this encompasses I am not entirely sure. It's a phrase women like to use instead of uttering an actual number. And I think it's a nice idea. But let's face it, I do believe it's just a nice way of saying pretty old, but not old enough to be elderly.
 
Age is a funny thing, isn't it? Ask a teenager how old she is and "I'll be sixteen in two months and then I can drive!" is shouted with glee.
 
A few years later the same post-teen might utter, "I'm 21. I'm legal!".
 
Twenty-five is certainly acceptable. Right up to about thirty-two seems to be fine. Then we start hedging. "Why do you ask?" "How old do I look?" (Never a safe question as many have found out the hard way.) A few years later we move into "In my thirties," and "Old enough to know better." Sometimes we simply give the silent 'how-dare-you-ask' stare which we've been perfecting for just this moment. And so it goes until we become 'women of a certain age'.
 
So when does a certain age start? I suppose it's when we've stretched middle-age just about as far as we possibly can. Because as much as I hate to say it, 60 is not middle-aged. It may be the new 40, but I'm just about positive that 120 will not be the new 80.
 
Why am I pondering this arcane question for the ages? I have a birthday coming up shortly and being a woman of a certain age I want to make sure that I still am - a certain age. Of course, if you think about it, who isn't? Everyone is a certain age. Unless of course you have no idea when you were born.
 
Which brings me to a funny little story about my amusing little family. If you haven't caught on by now my family can be a little eccentric. Case in point. Until I was sixteen and I applied for my learner's permit I thought my birthday was August 15th. It isn't.
 
My older sister, Mary, and I had always shared a birthday. I was told stories about Mom having to leave Mary's party to go to the hospital to have me. So at sixteen when I excitedly filled out the application for my learner's permit, I wrote down August 15th under date of birth. I also sent a copy of my birth certificate with the form.
 
About a week later I eagerly opened my envelope from the DMV only to find my application and birth certificate returned with a note saying that there was a discrepancy in the birth dates.
 
This is when I found out that I was actually born on August 16th. For over sixteen years, no one, not my parents or three older siblings, ever mentioned that Mary and I did not really share a birthday. My Dad, a wonderful, but thoroughly goofy man, explained it by saying that if I had been born on a train, my birthday would be the 15th because trains ran on Standard Time, not Daylight Savings Time and I was born shortly after midnight DST which would have been shortly after 11:00 pm EST on a train. I was not born on a train. I was not born on August 15th. But I was born, I am having a birthday, and I will still be 'a woman of a certain age'. 
 
If you enjoy these little musings of mine, would you be so kind as to click the Google+ button and/or the Facebook share button? I'd be most appreciative.
 
 

August 2, 2013

Questions about very important things

I have questions. Lots of them. Most will never be answered, but I like to ask them anyway.

For instance, why does the spider on my bathroom sink just sit there? Why doesn't he move away from the faucet. His little web just gets pulled apart each time I wash my hands. He then rebuilds and sits there doing nothing, apparently waiting for me to turn on the faucet so he can rebuild once more.

Yes, I have a spider. I don't kill spiders. I think they do good work. And I'm fine as long as I know where they are. And as long as they are not actually on me. If they bother me, I simply put them outside. (Glass over spider, cardboard slid under glass, someone to open the door for you. Easy-peasy.)

I remember a particular spider that lived on the windshield of my little red VW. He was a little white spider and had been there for a few weeks, just walking back and forth. I don't know what he lived on. I didn't have food in the car. Well, I probably did - old fries or chips, but nothing on the windshield or dashboard.

Anyway, one day my sister got in the car and said, "Oh, a spider!" and smooshed the poor thing.

She no longer kills spiders. Perhaps it was my response when I yelled, "Why the hell did you do that?", but I think it more likely that she matured in her thinking just as I did learning that spiders are good people, too.

This spider inquiry seems to have nothing to do with writing, except that recently - this entire summer - I feel very much like my little spider. I sit and I wait and something interrupts me and I sit and wait again. Not much is getting done in the way of editing or outlining another book. Not much is getting done at all.

So the question remains, why does the spider on my bathroom sink just sit there? More to the point, of course, is why do I? I'll let you know as soon as I find out. I'm sure you'll be waiting with baited breath. Relax, I may be a while.

In the meantime, a question about hummingbirds. I know, you think I'm going to ask why they hum. But I already know that. (For anyone who has managed to live a life without hearing this oldie, but goodie, it's because they don't know the words.)

No, no. I have read that they like clean feeders. And I have watched them feast on my little feeder for two days, but the next they just fly by without even a sip. How do they know it's time for a wash? It's a mystery.

July 26, 2013

The Suspension of Disbelief



Today's blog was going to be on the suspension of disbelief - a thing my very literal husband has a great deal of trouble with. You fiction writers know it, that magical reader's mindset that allows you to do all sorts of things that would never happen in real life.

For instance, it amazing how many times people on TV who have never held a gun before manage to kill someone with one shot. Bam, he's a goner! I have the feeling that not only would that be highly unlikely, but the shooter would very possibly be knocked backward and be lucky not to blast his foot off.

Another is the hero who is beaten to a within an inch of his life, but gets right up and back into the fray. Let's face it, most of us sit out the rest of the day if we knock ourselves on the head with the trunk lid. But, we as readers, usually love it. We are suckers for indomitable heroes. Even so, this device is one I personally do not employ in my books. When my hero, Daisy Forrest, gets conked on the head, her first instinct on waking up is to reach for an ice pack and the vodka, the hell with chasing the bad guy.

I was going to go on for quite a bit, but a very funny thing happened while writing this blog. I got the galley of my book! What a thrill! Tom, my husband and greatest fan, experienced a suspension of disbelief moment. He kept looking at the cover and saying, "Look at this. 'Penny Clover Petersen'. This is something!"

I know how he feels. It hasn't really sunk in yet. 238 pages of words written by me that someone thought good enough to publish. Wow! It's humbling and exhilarating and, most of all, unbelievable! I just don't feel like an author, yet. If asked what I do, I do not reply that I write books. My brother-in-law suggested that I start wearing large hats, lots of jewelry, and carrying a small dog wherever I go. I am not sure this would make anyone, including myself, believe I am an author. More likely they would simply believe that I've gone round the bend and I'm channeling Barbara Cartland.

At any rate, I did the final edits this week and the book is soon to go to the printer, review copies will be sent out, and come December will be on sale to any and all who might like a cozy little mystery for Christmas. So the next time someone asks what I do, I'm going to tell them, "I'm a mystery writer". I may not believe it, but it happens to be true.

July 18, 2013

Super Glue and the Not Too Bright

You know what's not funny? I know it always gets a laugh in cartoons. Laurel and Hardy can make it seem hilarious. It even sounds funny in the telling, but is actually a royal pain in the old gluteus Maximus. Super-gluing your hand. Not amusing. I know. I did it. To myself.

I ponder two questions - Is it just me? Am I the only one who does these incredibly stupid things? And, assuming I am, why do I choose to do things that have no urgency whatsoever (as in, if they never got done at all, no one, and I do mean no one, would ever notice) when I am in the middle of packing for vacation and running out to the store for last minute necessities. I think I am beginning to see a connection.


My mother's high school ring from St. Patrick's Academy Class of 1932 has been in my possession for twenty-seven years now. The medallion on its face has been loose for all of those twenty-seven years. I've been meaning to fix this for exactly twenty-seven years. The Friday before last as I was ironing a linen shirt before packing it I felt an overwhelmingly urgent need to take care of this little ring problem.

Why, I ask myself? Why in the midst of running around like a chicken sans head did I need to fix this ring immediately? I had no intention of wearing the ring. I plan to pass it on to my granddaughter to keep in her jewelry box until she passes it on to her own granddaughter. And so on.

I think, perhaps, it's because I had finally found a Super Glue that can be used more than once. This Loctite glue does not glue itself shut. I had used it about a year ago and then earlier that week I pulled it out to glue the handle back onto my sugar bowl. And it worked like a charm. One little drop eased out of the container, settled onto the broken bowl and in the blink of an eye, Voila! handle reattached! I was thrilled! (It strikes me here that I do seem to be easily amused. Hmm. Perhaps I should get out more.)

Now for whatever reason, I dropped the ironing, dug out the ring and the glue, sat at the desk right next to the keyboard, and began my little project which should have taken no more than thirty seconds.

I quickly realized that the sugar bowl had been a fluke.

You may notice the PROFESSIONAL CONTROL boldly written on the label. It really should say NOT TO BE USED BY IDIOTS NAMED PENNY.  I pressed the bottle and nothing came out. I pressed harder and - nothing. I put the bottle down and examined the nozzle. It seemed clear. I could have read the directions, but chose not to. I just picked it up again and squeezed really hard. This time, of course, I squeezed the little red thingys on the sides and discovered that this is how one is supposed to squeeze the stupid thing.

The glue came out just fine. Lots of it, all over my hand and the desk barely missing the keyboard (thank God, or I'd still be hearing about it), and I later noticed on the new slacks I was wearing. It was sheer luck that I didn't actually attach myself to the desk.

Getting super glue off is certainly harder than getting it on. My recommendation should this ever happen to you: generous amounts of nail polish remover followed by Goo Gone, Dawn, and Krud Kutter. Then you can spend the entire afternoon peeling off little pieces until, by the next morning, it's gone from you skin and the wood top of the desk. It will not be gone from your slacks.

On the plus side, I successfully glued the medallion back onto the ring and put it safely away to give to Sophie in another twenty-seven years.

July 12, 2013

Part 2 from Malcolm's Casebook


Boy, oh boy! Spank my fanny and call me Judy if last night wasn’t one to tell the grandkids about – supposing I ever settle down long enough to have them. Roscoe and I were on patrol, hunting for the little rat-bastard (excuse my French, ladies) when we heard a brouhaha right in my own back yard. I had to hand it to this guy, he had some nerve!

Well, we doubled back down the driveway quick as a wink and quiet as field mice. A little warning about field mice. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they really are pretty darned sneaky. Not too long ago one of these little critters scared the bejesus out of me when I was cutting across the field late one night after a little friendly carousing. Damned thing practically bit my nose off before I could get away.   

But that’s really neither here nor there, is it? Where was I? Oh, yeah, we were doubling back. It was a dark night, no moon and cloudy to boot. I was glad to have Roscoe by my side. His night vision is pretty darned phenomenal and I let him lead the way.

We had just reached the gate when I heard the trash can go over. The porch light was on and in its yellow glow I could see the lowlife and I stopped dead in my tracks. This was no idiot kid. I was right. This was the Masked Bandit. This guy’s a bad egg. He’s been one of Old Towne’s Most Wanted for as long as I can remember for everything from B&E to aggravated assault. And Roscoe and I had him in our sights.

We didn’t need to talk. Over the years R. and I have gotten pretty good at reading each other and at glance from me my partner winked and slid off silently to the other side of the porch. We moved in slowly, backing him into a corner. Yeah, I know how dangerous a cornered villain can be. But he hadn’t heard us, yet, so we still had the edge.

When I was in pouncing distance I gave Roscoe the nod and he went to work. Roscoe can seem to double in size when he wants to put the fear of God into someone. He stood there menacing and shouted, “The jig is up, buddy boy!”

And then I attacked. I sailed through the air and took him down. The stiff never knew what hit him. I’ve been working on this move since I could walk and it’s never failed me. I use my whole body, hips first, and kind of just glue myself to the hapless victim.  And then I keep them pinned until the cuffs come out.

The Bandit struggled, but Roscoe came over and swiped him hard in the jaw. After that he sort of gave up and laid there. He wasn’t fooling me, though. I never loosened my grip. I was practically turning purple with the effort, but I knew he was just waiting for his chance to get away or worse, take me down.

At this, Roscoe was laughing his butt off. I told him to knock it off. He said he couldn’t help it, that we were quite the picture.  Just then the door opened and Daisy looked out. She started screaming so loud, I thought I’d lose an ear drum. I love the dame, but in an emergency, she’s not the gal I’d call first.

Luckily, Rose came to the door and I was able to get a word in. She nodded and put a call into the local constabulary. It wasn’t long before the cavalry arrived and I was able to get up and stretch. I looked at Roscoe and he looked at me. A knuckle bump, a nod – Boom! – there was nothing more to say.

Later that night, over a drink or three, the four of us got to laughing about the take down. We must have looked a right bunch of idiots. Daisy screaming, me turning purple, the big R. laughing till he almost, well, you know.

Daisy kept apologizing for the screaming. Said she was just startled. If that was just startled, I’m a four-legged booze hound. But she’s so cute, I just nodded and kept that to myself.

Then Rose actually patted Roscoe on the head and said, ‘Nice job.’ Just a little patronizing on her part. I mean, Roscoe’s old enough to be her father! But she means well and she mixes a damned fine martooni. Well, the night moved on and as R. and I were leaving to spend the rest of it sleeping under the stars, the girls told me they’d learned their lesson. They told me the next time I tell them something hinky’s going down, they’ll listen with both ears. But I’m not holding my breath. As I said before - Women! You can’t tell them anything.

You can read more about Malcolm and his cronies in Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My! when it comes out this December.

July 6, 2013

Part 1 from Malcolm's Casebook

I'm in St. Paul visiting family, so for this week and the next I have the privilege to turn this blog over to my good friend and ace detective, Malcolm Boxer-Basset. He has graciously agreed to share his notes on one of his biggest cases. Malcolm is an interesting guy, if a little rough around the edges, and I think you'll enjoy his rather unorthodox outlook on life.


from The Casebook of Malcolm Boxer-Basset
 

Women! You can’t tell them anything. I know. I live with two of them in a big old house in a little place outside Washington, DC called Old Towne. Hey, I heard that snicker. Get your mind out of the gutter. They own the place. They’re my landladies. I’m their tenant. And over the years we’ve become pretty good friends.

I’m Malcolm Boxer-Basset. I know, what were my parents’ thinking? Right? But a name like that makes you tough – fast. And in my line of work I need to be tough. I’m in Security. I keep people safe.

My landladies, Daisy and Rose, own this big Victorian right in the center of this little antiques village. Antiques! I never got the charm. I like new, shiny and comfortable. Anyhoo, the two of them have this neat little business on the first floor and they live upstairs. I have my own room, of course, but we’re all friends here. I have the run of the house. What can I say, they love me!

Those gals even built a great little shed out back for me –a man-cave! Sometimes a guy just needs to be alone with his thoughts. Sometimes he likes to have some friends in for a friendly game of poker or a little shop talk.

But I digress. I know it’s not PC to say so, but the gals are pretty helpless. If they didn’t have me around to keep an eye on things some mighty nasty stuff would have gone down.

Like last December. There was this jerk who was definitely one kumquat short of a fruit basket running around Old Towne, scaring people witless. I figured out who it had to be early in the game, but does anyone listen to the professional? Not on your life. Women never listen.

Well, things almost went pear-shaped one afternoon. The girls were planning a party for that night and Daisy, the cute little blond, was alone in the shop putting the finishing touches on the place when she was ambushed by this loon. She was just inches away from being sliced and diced when I happened to return from a long day of investigating. I took the psycho down with one of my patented maneuvers and waited till the cops got there.

After that, you’d think they’d listen when I talked. But nooooo. Just one boozy night getting over the shock and making drunken promises to take me seriously in future, then it was right back to what does Malcolm know?

Well, let me tell you, not six months later everybody and his mother in our little berg is being blackmailed by another fruit loop. This town seems to be a veritable Winesap orchard, I kid you not. Of course, I knew who it had to be, but those two gals just smiled and shook their pretty heads. They wanted proof. I had no proof, just my gut instinct. But, baby, my instinct is never wrong!

And it was just a matter of time till they got proof and plenty of it when the weirdo tries to make a permanent dent in Rose’s head during a hurricane. And what a loss that would have been! I mean, Rose is one beautiful auburn-haired babe. But it never happened. Thanks to my impeccable timing - again - and some help from my associate, Roscoe, we not only caught the nasty piece of work, but sweated out a full confession that I had the foresight to put on tape.

A word about my associate, Roscoe Birman. Roscoe’s a great guy, even if he is a little on the short side. He’s got this funny red hair and he’s always ready to crack wise. The dude can make me laugh! We didn't always hit it off, but over the years, he's become my best buddy. After the slice and dice caper, I took him on as apprentice in the firm. His help with the take down during the hurricane cemented our association and he became a full-fledged partner. I know who's got my back. When the going gets tough, Roscoe gets going.

Lately, things around here have been quiet - a little too quiet. This is a low lie, but I like the sound of it. Actually, there have been some late night high jinx that are becoming more than a nuisance. I’ve tried to tell the gals to watch their backs, but they keep saying it’s nothing to worry about. But something sure as heck ain’t right. It could just be some kid with too much time on his hands and too little brain in his head. But I’m not betting the farm on that. I think it’s a lot more sinister.

I’ve been on the look out the last week or so and I’ll get him. My gut tells me tonight is the night! I can feel it in my bones. And I can’t wait to see his face when I catch him in the act.
 
Continued next week...




 

June 27, 2013

Old Bay and a Writer's conference

Well, I'm back from a week at the beach with my family. I know I'm supposed to be well-rested and eager to get back to work. Truth to tell, it's taken me all week to get over all the family fun.

We did have a great week. The weather could have been better, but we managed. We played corn-hole toss (which sounds really rude for some reason) and I beat my husband and son!!!!! We played a game called Smart-Ass which I highly recommend for an evening's very silly entertainment. We had a crab feast with many Margaritas. My granddaughter, Sophie (5), rolled in the sand, and grandson, Storm (16), smiled bravely and didn't let on that he was bored stiff. There was a lot of reading and sleeping, eating and laughing.

Of course the best part of all was that Tom and I had both of our children and their families with us for the entire week. It doesn't happen often enough and the older I get, the more precious I find these times.

While I was there I got a nice surprise. I got the first draft of my book cover. We have some work to do to get it just right, but seeing it was a bit of a thrill. It's dawning on me that I will have a book in print by the end of the year. Something I never thought would happen.

Speaking of which, I would like to do a bit of advertising here. My publisher, Intrigue Publishing, is hosting a wonderful conference in mid-September. Among the many aspiring writers attending (moi, for instance) will be best selling authors Jeffrey Deaver, John Gilstrap, Trice Hickman, and Christopher Golden.

This conference has a lot going on for authors and readers. If you can't make it for the whole event, come for the day on Saturday, September 14th. Please check out the conference website for all the information you'll need. http://creaturescrimesandcreativity.com. I hope to see you in September.

In the meantime in preparation for this conference I have to work on developing a half-minute book spiel and finding the nerve to deliver it to complete strangers. Promotion is so foreign to my nature that I find this the most daunting aspect of all. So I'm off now to talk into a mirror to try to sell myself on my own book. I'll be so embarrassed if I turn myself down! I'll let you know how it goes next week. Who knows, with any luck I'll be able to say I knew me when.





 
 

June 21, 2013

Gracie's Blog - Paperback or Kindle?

Here I am, sitting on the beach under my umbrella and reading about the adventures of Rose and Daisy Greene.  The sound of the waves has put me to sleep and suddenly I wake up to water hitting my legs.  But where is my book?  Aunt Penny, I hope this doesn’t happen to you (or anyone else for that matter) but if it did...would it be your E-Reader or your paper back? 

Personally, I could go either way.  Paperbacks are always nice because they are free at the library, but they are bulky and annoying to hold.  My Kindle on the other hand is nice to read books and play games, but I can’t bring it to school.  My friend, Sammie, has a very passionate hatred for E-Readers, so I asked her to tell me why real books are better.  I was watching her messages come through and laughing out loud…her: 

I'm just not good with technology in general, but besides that, I love books. And it's not only the words in, but the actual physical book. I love the smell of books, especially old ones. And having physical copies is nice too, because you can feel and touch them. It's also a nice feeling seeing it’s pretty cover sitting on your book shelf. Sometimes, I'll just buy books for the sake of owning them.  With physical copies, you can throw the book at the wall when something happens, or the book ends in a cliffhanger. Although, it can get damaged from drowning in your tears, though that is a problem with E-Readers as well.  I like turning pages for some odd reason. And you can know how much of the book left- not in a percent, but in pages. There's that horrible feeling you get when everything's happy and whatever horrible conflict has been solved but there are too many pages left in the book for there to be a happy ending. Or the opposite, in which there are not enough pages for all that needs to happen in the book. In the end, I just like the simple act of owning and holding a physical copy of a book with pages you can turn that you can see all the words on, instead of staring at a screen and having to deal with going back and forth between parts. But books are awesome in general so if you're reading, I shouldn't berate you for using an e reader and it's all good I guess!”

Wow, I literally sat here for 15 minutes cutting that down.  I guess you get the idea that E-Readers are not actually popular with the young crowd.  In fact, I struggled to find a friend that preferred E-Readers.  Actually, I didn’t.  So I went the other way and asked my grandmother, Christine “Goggi’ Clover.  You probably know her as the artist that drew all of those pictures and such in earlier posts.  Anyway, here is her input:

Book, E-Reader, Book, E-Reader...what to do...I like the E-Reader.  I'd like to say I'm trying to be hip, but the practicality wins it for me.  Being of a ‘certain age’ I like the fact that I can adjust the font on my kindle to a size that I can actually see (and that gets a good laugh from my Granddaughters).  Also it's lightweight and flat, so it doesn't take up much room in my handbag or tote. And late on a sleepless night, I can read without bothering anyone by needing to have a light on...which reminds me of hiding under the covers reading by flashlight after 'lights out' years ago”…ah memories.

The E-Reader / Paperback debate will probably continue forever.  Regardless of my preference, I still fell asleep under my umbrella and my copy of Roses and Daisies is still out in the ocean.  It is my loss, but at least I got a blog out of it!

June 6, 2013

Expanding My Purview

Well, here it is Thursday morning and I've got no idea at all what to write about. I've checked all my groups on LinkedIn looking for ideas. I've asked my sister and my husband. I'm getting a bit panicky. Apparently I have a small, but loyal cadre of followers who look forward to my little musings on a Friday morning. Who'd have thunk it?

So here's the deal. I've decided that a blog about writing needs to encompass a bit more than writing about writing. There is only so much I can think of to say about the actual process. As my book gets nearer to publication I will wax poetic, as they say, on the thrill of being an author. Until then, I think I've covered most of the nuts and bolts of 'finding the time to write'.

I believe that I need to enlarge my - what do you call it? - my purview. Remembering this word took me ten minutes. This is why writing takes me so very long. I cannot remember nouns. I call it noun aphasia. I take comfort in the fact that I am one of many in my family afflicted with this dread disease.
A school girl once more


But back to business. My purview (this is a great word, isn't it?) shall encompass not only talking about the writing process, but also actual exercises in writing. This weekly endeavor is wonderful discipline for me much like a school assignment. Actually, it's exactly like a school assignment. I have a specific time constraint and I'm more or less graded on the content. As long as the stress doesn't get to me and I become a Valium addicted zombie, I should be able to improve my writing skills.

However, I do apologize today. I'm afraid that this particular blog is not one of the exercises that show any meaningful improvement in my writing, but I'm sure it will come if you'll stick with me.

In the meantime, I welcome any assignments or ideas for discussion, any grades B+ or above, and, most importantly, any delicious summer cocktail recipes, in lieu of Valium.


May 29, 2013

A Random Act of Kindness

E. C. Stilson, a Goodreads friend, is hosting a Random Acts of Kindness Blogfest this week. Due to my impressive lack of time management skills, I was too late with my RSVP to participate in the event. But I really like the idea, so this week I'm writing about a Random Act of Kindness that was done for me once upon a time when I was just a slip of a girl.
The author and her little red car

When I was sixteen, I was the proud possessor of a really lovely red VW Beetle convertible. When I say really lovely, I mean it was mine and it ran quite frequently. It was a great car with a unique smell, sort of like creosote or, as some thought, L'air Du Dead Body.

My best friend, Linda, and I spent the summer of 1966 cruising around Washington DC to the sounds the Beatles and the Stones.  But Motown was our favorite that year. We sang along with Kim Westin's Take Me in Your Arms and J.J. Jackson's It's All Right as we drove past the houses of various boys and ate at the Hot Shoppe's drive-in. They were great days. 

As all interesting people do, the Bug had a few little eccentricities. The passenger door didn't close completely, so people passing us were always waving, shouting, and pointing. This is not the Random Act of K. I am writing about, but it certainly was kind of all those people not to want my best friend to fall out of the car. She and I always smiled and waved in return and pointed out the rope that we had tied through the window and around the door frame to keep it closed.

And the convertible top was not user friendly in any way at all, so when it rained we usually just put up an umbrella.

The car kept running by some miracle and time moved on. By eighteen we were legal to drink beer and wine in Washington, so we did. We'd drive my little convertible to Georgetown, buy some incredibly cheap champagne and sit outside the Little Tavern (where we had gotten cups) and sip away. We'd sing Hey, Jude and think deep thoughts about how best to get the car to start again.

Cautionary note: If you are a passenger in a little red car and are holding a bottle of champagne, do not fiddle with the top. It might come off and ricochet around the interior hitting you in the head and the driver in the leg and making you both think you've been shot by passing motorcyclists.

In the fall Linda went to school and I went to work. I got my first real full time job at the Thomas H. Ryan Management Company located around 12th and New York Avenue downtown, a block from the Greyhound Bus terminal. I was a receptionist. I couldn't type and wasn't too hot at math, but I managed to answer the phones and write receipts for rents when tenants dropped them off. I excelled at being pleasant. This was entirely due to my mother who taught me to be polite at all times.

I often took the bus to work, but some days I would drive. The next summer a friend who also worked downtown was carpooling with me. He worked at an office building near Connecticut Avenue and 18th Street. I may be getting the exact location wrong - it was a long time ago - but you get the gist: a whole lot of rush hour traffic.

Now, my little car had one other interesting feature in addition to the aroma, the door, the convertible top, and by this point the iffy clutch and a reluctance to move in reverse. It had no gas gauge. Instead of a gauge those inventive little Germans added a really fun feature - an emergency gas tank. It had a lever on the floor just in front of the gear shift. Whenever I felt the car coughing to a stop when I wasn't putting on the brake, I just flipped the switch and was good to go for another ten miles or so.

Now being one of a daring few who find it a challenge to wait until I can smell the fumes before I think about putting gas into my car, I used this feature fairly often. Problems arose, however, when helpful passengers would flip the switch for me and I would forget that I needed to get gas. Which brings us to a Random Act of Kindness. I think you can probably guess what's coming.

Yes, one afternoon at about 5:30 my car came to a complete stop in the middle of the intersection at 18th and Connecticut. I remember freaking out when I went to turn on the emergency tank and found that someone else already had. I started laughing somewhat hysterically as cars began honking and traffic backed up. Then, of course, I burst into tears. I had no idea what to do. 

Suddenly a nicely dressed businessman appeared at my window and asked what was wrong. I told him. I must have looked so pitiful he didn't even bother to tell me what an idiot I was. I think he must have had a daughter of his own. At any rate, he just smiled and told me to calm down. If I could just steer my old pitiful excuse for a car, he would push it with his really nice new one. I assumed he was just going to push me out of the way as a R. Act of K. to all the poor saps who were stuck behind me. But this total stranger with his really nice car actually pushed me for three blocks until we found a gas station. Then he waved and went on his merry way.

Of course, the little red car is no more. I now drive a super safe Camry with about fifty air bags and a dinger that lets you know if your door's ajar. It has no smell. The Little Tavern is gone, but Linda is still my best friend. And I still remember a really, really nice stranger who took pity on a rather goofy girl when he didn't have to and committed a much appreciated Random Act of Kindness.

May 23, 2013

A Return to Childhood

My sister, Chris, and me-Vacation 1960
Summertime! Every child's favorite season. The season of picnics, lightening bugs, sparklers, Popsicles and staying up late. I remember well the family trips in a hot car to the beach or the mountains and the constant refrain of "She's touching me" and "Are we there yet?" I remember also the constant counter refrain of "Stop touching your sister" and "You are all getting a spanking when we get home." Though the threat was often repeated, I can remember only one time that we actually got a spanking when we got home and we really did deserve it.

An interesting highlight of these trips was stopping on the side of the road for 'pee' breaks. You boys
had it made, but this is no easy feat for girls. Someone's shoes always got wet.

We didn't have a radio, so we sang in the car. As my mother was the only person who could carry a tune, I can only think that this was cringe-inducing to anyone in earshot, but we loved it.

And the best part of the ride was laying in the well of the rear window where we could stretch out a little. We took turns. I can hear a lot of you shouting, "You did WHAT?", but remember these were the days when safety meant the brakes were working. We didn't have seat belts, no one had heard about car seats, and there really weren't many cars on the road.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Well, summertime vacations are the essence of a special little story that my sister, Chris, and I had been collaborating on, but that somehow got put on hold while we got a lot of other things done. But now that Roses and Daisies is finished (or will be by close of business Friday) and she and I have a bit of free time, it's definitely time for Christopher's Vacation Wish to see the light of day. So for the next few weeks that's what I'll be working on.

Today I'm featuring some of my sister's illustrations for three short stories that I have published on-line and a lovely little counting book, Counting My World (available by contacting me directly at www.pennypetersen.com). I hope you enjoy them. (Please forgive the formatting. This program and I are just not getting along!)






                                      
 











May 17, 2013

What's next?

Well, I finally finished the first draft of my second book, Roses Are Dead, My Love. This was exactly one year later than I had planned, but life is pretty tricky, isn't it?
I was totally sidetracked by an on-going family emergency that began last May. The summer was exhausting, a slight reprieve in the fall, and then of course, the dreaded holidays were upon us. During this time writing took a back seat. In fact it was pretty much relegated to the trunk, if not actually being pulled along in a little U-Haul trailer. 
Just as I was getting back into a fairly organized writing routine, life once again got in the way. This time, happily, it wasn't a bad thing. My first book, Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My!, was picked up by Intrigue Publishing. Of course, this meant polishing and editing and re-editing and proofing and reading it out loud and finding incredibly dumb sounding sentences, sort of like this one, that have no end in sight and need to be fixed, but the manuscript is already in and now I'm waiting for the galley proof.
Being brand new to publishing, I'm not entirely sure what a galley proof is. But I believe from comments a friend has made, that it is the very last editable copy of the book before it's a done deal.
So I am now pondering what to do. Do I read the entire manuscript of Roses and Daisies out loud to myself or to some poor sucker who'll sit still for it and look for needed changes? And will I ever be satisfied anyway and would this be a gigantic waste of time?
Do I begin edits on Roses Are Dead? This could be fun, but should I wait and let it all gel a bit before I begin?
And I have a third book in mind. Rose and Daisy meet a ghost. I know this will take a couple of weeks, maybe months, of mulling over to come up with the complete plot. I mean, I guess they could just shake hands with the thing and get on with life, but that would be a really short book. So maybe I should start outlining and see where it takes the charming ladies.
Of course, there are things that I actually am supposed to be doing. I have a book reading next week and I should be reading out loud from my manuscript, so I don't sound like a total idiot. But that is where I started to panic (see paragraph 4) about the run-on sentences and the fact that I have neglected to use any pronouns at all in the chapter I've chosen to read. 
In addition, I've got a beautiful quilt panel my sister-in-law made for me to hang in the kitchen. I have yet to hang it. I have an old kitchen chair I've been meaning to repaint. I have yet to repaint it. And I've got a little patch of garden that is overrun with weeds which just gets me down when I look at it.
To top it all off my husband is laying a new floor on the deck and I'm his day laborer. I was just lifting a 12 foot 2x4 - or at least one end of it. I tell you those seven pound dumbbells I've been using are really paying off!
So I've got all this to do and what am I doing? Sipping tea and writing this blog, of course. What else would I be doing?
PS: If you happen to like my blog could you possibly click the G+1 icon and/or share it on Facebook? Apparently, this will do great things for my readership!


May 10, 2013

A Writer's Group

On Tuesday I visited a writing group at a maximum security prison. A group of young men who are in there for serious crimes are trying to make sense of their lives, trying to find a better path. We sat together and discussed writing. I was awed by the interest, the thoughtfulness of their comments and questions, and the courage of these men.

Think of it. They're in prison and they're taking part in an activity that even in grade school could get you laughed at. It must take an enormous amount of courage to come to this writer's group, to try something new, to open themselves up and to put their own thoughts on paper for someone else to read.

They were so interested in all aspects of writing - the process, character development, discipline, outlining, something as seemingly simple as knowing when to quit for the day - it made me realize the value of sharing thoughts as I hadn't before. I also learned, once again, not to judge a book by its cover (pun intended). Interesting ideas can come from anyone, from any background, in any circumstance.

I was absolutely humbled by the warmth of the reception I got and the fact that they actually listened to me as if I were a 'real' writer. And as I sat there I realized that I am a real writer and that I'd better respect that.

I wish these men so much success. Their lives may be limited by walls and guards, but not by lack of imagination or the ability to learn.

May 2, 2013

Final Edits

Well, I'm finally beginning to feel like I might be about to have a book published! The final edits and proof-reading are done and my publisher is asking me for things like a bio for the back of the book. (Who knew writing a short biography could cause so much angst?)

I say the final edits are done. Well, they are. I keep telling myself that. It's a done deal. The book is finished. Really. Of course, I finally had to stop re-reading and just send the damned thing in, as my husband kept telling me to do. I probably could have rewritten most of the book and still found things I think I could have worded better.

On the upside of this task is the fact that computers make editing way easy. Thank God for computers. For those of us who remember manual typewriters, Ko-Rec-Type, Wite-out, and carbon paper computers are a true space-age miracle. I think everyone under the age of forty or so should have the privilege of typing a ten-page term paper and finding a paragraph left out in the middle of page one at three in the morning. I defy them not to go into hysterics and throw the typewriter across the room!

And think about those poor unfortunates of previous eras. I mean, just imagine some innocent sap in the fourteenth century slaving away at an illuminated page of the Bible for hours on end in a cold, damp monastery and realizing he left out a rather important not, as in thou shalt commit adultery. While a good time might be had by some who would love to adhere to this version, I'm pretty sure said monk's boss wouldn't find it amusing. Talk about hysterics.

But there is a down side - computers make editing way easy! No problem slipping that paragraph back in place or adding the all important not. However, I wonder how many times I would have rewritten the same sentence over and over, changed word placement that no one but I will ever notice, or find just the right adjective to mean the exact sort of 'pretty' I intended, if I had to hand write or re-type whole pages. And then I wonder if all of this tinkering actually made my writing any better. Maybe it made it worse. Sort of like changing your first answer on a test.

At any rate for better or worse - I'm going with better since there's not much I can do about it now - Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My! is on its way to becoming a reality. And that's pretty exciting. Come December you can be the judge of whether or not all the tinkering worked as well as I hope it did.

In the meantime I'm wiping my brow and saying "Phew, glad that's done." Edits finished, short story written, deadlines met - now back to my next book, Roses Are Dead, My Love before I forget just what I did with the Mickey Mantle autographed rookie card that's causing so much murder and mayhem in Old Towne.

April 27, 2013

Interview with Daisy Forrest Greene


Penny’s had a week! So I'm filling in for her today. Oh, I’m Daisy Greene. My sister and I own a lovely little gift shop called Champagne Taste in Old Towne. Recently, I consented to do an interview with Jeff Moody, a reporter from the Bostwick Bulletin. He's been bugging me daily about giving him a story on the joys and trials of running a small business. But I know he really just wants to get the inside scoop on the latest bit of murderous lunacy that’s been going on around here. My sister, Rose, should be here since she was knee deep in the whole mess, but she’s away for a couple of weeks. So I’ve got my incredible little dog, Malcolm, with me to keep Jeff in his place. I find that you can’t always trust reporters, can you? 

Jeff Moody: Daisy, you and Rose opened Champagne Taste just a few years ago. How is business? 

Daisy Greene: Actually, very good. We seem to be building quite a reputation for unusual and one-of-a-kind items. We’ve had people come in from as far away as Philadelphia on a friend’s recommendation! And that’s just a lovely thing to hear as a shop owner. 

JM: I guess it would be. So the recent break-ins and the murder of that vagrant haven’t had a bad effect? 

DG: Not so much. In fact, now that the killer has been caught we have been getting a lot of people coming in to find out the gory details. Of course, I usually manage to sell them something and tell them very little, so that’s okay. 

JM: Well, I think we’re all waiting for a first hand account of what went on. You and your sister found the body, didn’t you? How did that come about? 

DG: Oh, well, Rose and I like to walk every morning on a path near our house. We were out that morning and my poor little Malcolm here found that unfortunate man lying in the bushes. I’ll never forget it. It was dreadful. 

JM: So you decided to investigate? 

DG: Well, not really investigate. We're not detectives. But so much was going on in the village. We’d had these pointless break-ins. And now we had a dead body not half a mile from our home. So, yes, we felt like we had to do something. But investigate – I think that’s too strong a word. 

MJ: What would you call what you and your sister did? 

DG: We just listened and watched. We did ask a few questions and we actually found a number of clues, but they more or less fell into our laps. 

JM: Huh. The police aren’t talking, but they do have a suspect in custody. Right?  

DG: Right. 

JM: Can you tell me who it is and did you really catch this guy?   

DG: I’ve been asked by the police not to give out any information. But I will say that while I had a hand in the capture, I’d have to give most of the credit to Malcolm. He stopped that lunatic from aerating me with a whopper of a knife.  And my sister, Rose, is actually the one who put most of it together. And my mother helped. So I’d have to say it was a joint effort. 

JM: I understand that your ex-husband was in charge of this investigation. How did you like working with him? 

DG: Not much. I find that he and I do much better if we simply keep our distance. But we managed to be somewhat civil and, I have to admit, that while he’s a really lousy husband, he is pretty good at his job. 

JM: And what would you say was the scariest moment of this whole ordeal? 

DG: Well, looking right into the eyes of a maniac and knowing I was next on the hit list! That gave me nightmares. I think Malcolm has them, too. 

JM: Speaking of… would you mind getting him off my leg? 

DG: Malcolm, stop that. It’s rude. Sorry. He’s fine, now. He gets a little carried away. 

JM: I can see that. Well, I have to ask – would you consider letting me write the full account of this nightmare in Old Towne? 

DG: Actually, I’m afraid you’re too late. My friend, Penny, has already written it! You’ll be able to read all about it next December when it’s released. She called it Roses and Daisies and Death, Oh My! I’ve had a peek and she did a pretty good job at getting the facts straight. I think you’ll like it.