What Unites Us by Dan Rather

I have not yet read this book, although I’ve ordered it and have every intention of reading it.

But with what’s been going on in this country, and the worries for violence at tomorrow’s inauguration, it’s a solid choice.

NPR has an interesting interview with Dan Rather here.

He is one of the most trusted voices of my lifetime, and continues to be a voice of sanity, courage, and justice.

Reading Goals

image by Manfred Artranius Zimmer courtesy of pixabay.com

At the turn of the year, I saw numerous posts about reading goals. I’m always happy when I see people commit to read more – and even happier when I see them actually doing it.

I read a lot. I carve out reading time every day. Often, it means not watching TV or videos, which is just fine with me. In the days when I wasn’t staying at home due to the pandemic, I made sure to carry a book (or my Kindle) with me at all times, so that anytime I was stuck waiting – or commuting on public transportation – I had something to read. I carry a notebook and pen with me, too, in case I decide to get some writing done, but that’s a different post for a different day.

I learned my alphabet early. My mother still tells the story of us being on a bus in Chicago when I was about 18 months old, and I pointed out the different letters in the signs on the bus (loudly). I remember leaning to read from the book GREEN EGGS AND HAM – my mother tells me I was just over two years old when she taught me to read.

Both parents were big readers (my mother, at 96, still reads for several hours every day). So, of course, I was a reader, too. And going to the library became a favorite adventure when I was little. I got my first library card at the Rye Free Reading Room in Rye, NY, when I was six years old – the earliest it was allowed.

I don’t trust people who don’t have books in their living or working spaces.

Someday, I will live in a house big enough so I can unpack all my books.

I don’t post my reading totals at the end of the year, because people wouldn’t believe them, and I’m not arguing with them. I’d rather spend that energy. . .reading.

From January to May, for instance, I read – yes, actually read – over 100 books for a contest I judge. And I’m a paid reviewer for a publication, so I read regularly for those assignments.

But that doesn’t stop reading as much as possible for pleasure.

Last Sunday, for instance, I read three books. My body needed the rest, and my soul needed the restoration. I read the remaining two books in a mystery series I’ve enjoyed; in between, I read a small nonfiction book that was recommended to me, but I found filled with privilege and making excuses for it. Glad I read it; didn’t like it.

It was a good day.

I did some puttering around and some cooking. Some percolating on writing for the coming week. Too much time on social media, waiting for damn Congress to hold the domestic terrorists accountable.

But mostly, I used reading to restore my wounded soul, and rest my body.

Had the weather been warm enough, I would have read outside, on the covered deck, where I spend as much time as possible in spring, summer, and fall. I love reading outside.

I used to take books to the Ashumet Sanctuary over in Falmouth and read amongst the hollies (which are among my favorite trees).

As far as goals, I don’t set a number of books to read. I think it’s great when other people set a number and then work to hit it, but that’s not how I like to structure my reading.

My reading goal is to expand my reading. I read a pretty wide range, but especially in the mystery/suspense/thriller genres, and I read a lot of nonfiction, especially when I’m researching my own writing.  I enjoy fantasy, steampunk, some science fiction, uncategorized fiction, historical fiction. I read some romance, but I’m more likely to read books with romantic elements. However, when I’m in the mood for an uplifting romance, I have a wonderful ensemble of authors I trust to give me a good experience, and I’m always happy to expand it.

One of my favorite things, when I worked as a librarian, was keeping up with new releases, and choosing a large variety of books that I thought patrons would enjoy.

Whether it’s for myself or others, a review of a book matters less to me than the blurb. If the blurb is interesting, chances are I’ll ignore reviews and make my own decisions.

My review assignments cover a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. Every time I pick up a book, whether it’s for review, or a contest entry, or something I ordered from the library – I hope to fall in love with it. I read books on recommendations from friends and acquaintances IRL or on social media. If I see a post about a book and it looks interesting, I’ll give it a try. I belong to my university’s online book club – the Voracious Violets of NYU. They’ve introduced me to books I might not have found on my own.

I miss being able to browse library and bookstore shelves – once I’m vaccinated, and things safely open back up again, that is one of the things I will add back in to my life as quickly as possible. I especially miss browsing secondhand bookstores. I’ve been introduced to some wonderful new-to-me authors by finding them on secondhand shelves, and then buying new releases as they come out.

I read for pleasure, but, as a writer, every book I read teaches me something. When the author does their job well, I see the world in a different way, and I think about it far beyond the time the book is finished. I also learn craft from every book I read, even if it doesn’t work for me. How are the characters developed? Is the setting used well? Is the book structured well, with a strong, internal rhythm that’s as unique as a heartbeat? Does the author understand the genre enough so that, when breaking the formula, it’s a structured choice, and not just carelessness?

I started keeping a reading log a few years ago, in a black-and-white covered composition book. I note the date, title, author, publisher, copyright date, and from where I got it – library, if it’s a review assignment, if it’s one of my own books – and then I write a couple of sentences of impressions. I can go back and look things up, and see how my frame of reference was influenced by what else was going on around me.

A year or so ago, on this blog, I did a Readers’ Expansion Challenge, where every month, I tried reading something out of my usual repertoire, and encouraged other readers to do the same. I’m not doing anything as formally as that this year, but I do plan to continue to expand my reading so I’m not just reinforcing my standing opinions.

I like fresh perspectives on the world, and reading offers that in a far more intimate way than anything visual. Reading is internal, living in your heart and soul and brain, as much as it is the external of holding the material and having eyes translate it to brain. I like the intimacy.

Enjoy your year of reading!

Tues. Nov. 10, 2020: Missed Gems — THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS by Erica Bauermeister

I’m happy to be back blogging about books, reading pleasures, and the rest. Something I decided to start blogging about are older books that I discover and enjoy. I don’t just read whatever’s coming out now; I like to browse and find new-to-me books and authors from whenever, because so often, a book doesn’t get the attention it deserves when it’s published, due to other noise around it.

THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS by Erica Bauermesiter was published in 2009. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a lovely review.

The book is built around the healing power of food, friendship, and created community.

One would have thought I’d known about it and read it at the time. But I didn’t.

Every few months, I put out a call for recommendations of books and authors, when I can’t find what I’m craving, and not sure where to look. I’m not sure if this book came to me through one of those recommendations, or if I found it while I was browsing the library catalogue looking for something else.

What I do know is that I found it, and thoroughly enjoy it.

Lilian learned the healing power of food as a child, when her grieving mother retreated from the world into books, leaving Lilian to handle the day-to-day business of survival. Lilian learned how to cook from need, and kept experimenting until she could bring her mother back to the present. Now, she runs a restaurant that gives cooking lessons.

The book follows the transformations and relationships built among her and eight students in one of her sessions. The characters face challenges, especially those of the heart and soul, which is a nice change from novels that have the Fate of the World as their fulcrum.

It’s a quiet novel, but it’s also beautiful and soothing. It’s a balm for a stressful, painful time. Not everything has to be about external mayhem. There are still heart and soul issues. This book examines them without wallowing in them. Most importantly, the novel is restorative for both its characters and the reader.

If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do.

I’ve made a list of her other books, and have them in my TBR pile.

Enjoy, my friends. Peace.

Oct. 27, 2020: Release Day for JANE DARROWFIELD AND THE MADWOMAN NEXT DOOR By Barbara Ross

I’m a big fan of Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake mysteries. When I heard she had a new series coming out last year, featuring Jane Darrowfield, I was delighted. The series opener, Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody, which released last year through Barnes & Noble, and this year in wide release, was even better than expected. The second adventure in the series, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, is both delightful and frightening.

Jane is retired. Determined not to wither away, she has a business as a professional busybody, helping people with problems that don’t necessarily make sense for law enforcement.  She’s an older protagonist who is not a cliché. She has a rich life with her friends, her garden, her business, and her growing relationship with her lover, Harry. She’s hurt by the estrangement with her son. She’s a real person dealing with changes in her life, not a trope in a formula, which is one of the reasons the series is so refreshing.

In this case, her young, successful neighbor, who recently bought the house next door, hired Jane because she’s having blackouts and hearing voices. She’s not sure if someone is harassing her or if she’s going crazy.  She has a state-of-the-art smart house, with every electronic comfort possible, and even a panic room.

Jane takes the case, which escalates when Megan disappears. Megan has a successful, ruthless father, an estranged mother recovering from addiction, a best friend in the office who might not be what he seems, and a security system so complicated it needs constant service by the area’s technician.

As Jane follows each step and each lead with determination, fortitude, and an eye for detail, the web around Megan grows more complex, surprising, and frightening. As a single woman reading the book, Megan’s danger hit close to home. It’s a modern twist on the old story of betrayal of trust. The sympathy she feels for Megan’s estranged mother, mirrored by her own estrangement from her son is beautifully, delicately handled. The book is engaging and frightening, and ultimately hopeful. I loved it, read it straight through in one sitting, and am already looking to the next book.

This book is available exclusively through Barnes and Noble here.

Unsung Bibliographies


How often do you use the bibliography at the back of a book or the bottom of an article? How often do you create your own bibliographies for what you write?

A bibliography is one of my favorite tools. When I read about a topic that interests me, a good bibliography can direct me to more detailed sources, preferably primary ones like letters or diaries.

When I’m doing research for one of my own projects, the bibliography is vital to both the writing and the editing process.

Bibliographies in other books and articles point me in the right direction. They even give me ideas for people to interview.

Writing my own bibliography of used sources during research saves me a lot of time during the writing and editing processes, especially if the piece is part of a series.

I take notes longhand as I read, whether I’m reading in print or digitally. If it’s a short article and I can print it out, I do so, and put it in my project folder in the project bin. If it’s book-length, or an archival material, I take notes as I go. Sometimes I type my notes later. Often, I don’t, because I annotate and comment on the notes themselves (and clearly mark my own musings). When I look at the note as I wrote it, I remember the context of the moment in which it was written, and that helps me when I use it.

If I’m going to type up and/or submit the sources, I used the standard format by author’s last name.

In my own notes, however, I start a fresh page for each source. Title, author(s). Where published, publisher, copyright date.

Then, vitally important: WHERE I FOUND THE SOURCE.

I use the library A LOT for research. Where I live now has 38 libraries within network. I can order from any of them. Massachusetts also has the Commonwealth Catalog, which means I can order from libraries and some archives all over the state.

I also have a library card at a library in a neighboring town that is the only library on Cape which is part of a different network — through their network, I also have access to all of those libraries.

If I want to go farther afield and use the Interlibrary Loan Service, I go onto World Cat and hunt for what I want, then put the request through the ILL desk at my home library.

Important: If you use Interlibrary Loan (ILL), always ASK if there’s a fee involved. Some libraries or archives charge to send materials out of state.

In my notes, if it’s from my home library, I’d just write the name of the library.

If it’s from another library in the network, I’d write (name of library) via (name of network).

Notation: Vineyard Haven Library via CLAMS network
Translation: the book comes from the Vineyard Haven library on Martha’s Vineyard and came to me via the CLAMS network.

Notation: Plymouth Library via Old Colony network
Translation: the book comes from the Plymouth Library on the South Shore and came to me via the Old Colony network, which means I picked it up and dropped it off at the Sandwich Library instead of my home library.
(I could also order this via the Commonwealth Catalog and pick it up/drop it off at my home library, if I didn’t

Notation: Boston Public Library via Commonwealth Catalog
Translation: the book came from the Boston Public Library system via Commonwealth Catalog.

Notation: U Mass Amherst Library via Commonwealth Catalog
Translation: the book came from the University of Massachusetts campus at Amherst via Commonwealth Catalog.

Notation: Microfilm. University of Indiana Bloomington via ILL. $17.
Translation: It was not a book, it was a roll of microfilm. It came via the Bloomington campus of the University of Indiana through the Interlibrary Loan System and cost $17.
(Note: I own both a microfilm and a microfiche machine, so I can work with both at home, if I order them via ILL. If I didn’t, I could use one of the few machines left in the area at a library or possibly an archive, with permission).

If I get information from a digital online collection, I make a note.

This way, as I write and edit, if I need more than the notes I took, I know where I found it, and where to go back and look for it.

For plays, especially historical plays, I use bibliographies as part of the dramaturgy, and can offer the information and sources to the producing organization and the company.

If I’m writing an article, the bibliographic notes I make are often listed on my fact check sheet. Fewer and fewer publications pay fact checkers (which is ridiculous), but I’m from the days when that was the norm, not the exception. Sources and quotes were checked and confirmed. Off the record sources had to be approved, and had to be verified by at least two and usually three on-record sources, whenever possible. When it was not possible, sometimes it couldn’t be included in the article, or it had to be mentioned that it was an off-the-record source without additional verification.

I also make a note on the reliability of the source. For instance, a diary entry is going to reflect the writer’s frame of reference. If further research shows that individual has a particular reason to like or dislike an individual, or there’s something that influences that point of view, I’ll make a note.

For instance if I’m hunting down a reference to Elizabeth C. in letters between Vera T. and Emily W, and I’ve done my research, I know that Vera hates Elizabeth because she knows her husband has a crush on her. The fact that Elizabeth has no intention of committing adultery with Vera’s husband doesn’t mean Vera’s gossip about Elizabeth are true or un-reflected in her letters to Emily, and that has to be taken into consideration.

If I’m writing fiction about the event, I can decide how I want to interpret Vera’s point of view in the way that best supports the story I’m telling. If I’m writing non-fiction, I have to weigh it against the rest of the evidence.

Even in fiction, it’s vital to make note of where I choose something that supports the story I want to tell best, and where it veers from the best historical record we can put together of what happened. I often mention it in the acknowledgements.

Because even well-researched fiction is FICTION. The more rooted it is in reality, in my opinion, the more one can suspend disbelief. It might be emotional truth (the best fiction often tells emotional truths better than historical record), but it’s still fiction.

Bibliography as inspiration
I read a biography of a particular person, and there’s a reference in passing to someone not central to the subject of the biography. But something about that reference catches my interest.

I’ll go through the footnotes (yes, I’m someone who reads the notes, too), and through the bibliography to see where that reference originated. Then, I go on the hunt.

The bibliography becomes the start when there’s been a spark of an idea. The bibliography guides me to additional information, so I can find out if the idea is viable.

The bibliography may look like a list, but to me, it’s an invitation to browse more shelves in more libraries or archives, and enter even more new worlds.

Jan. 7, 2020: Guest Scott P. Dawson and THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY


My freelance pal Paula Hendrickson introduced me (electronically) to Scott when she invited me to participate in the weekly #RemoteChat on Twitter. Scott is a fantastic host, and I love being part of a group of smart, funny, resourceful, talented, compassionate people all over the world.

I wanted to know more about Scott and his book, THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY.

Devon Ellington: What factors played into your choice to work remotely, and how long did it take for you to make the transition?

Scott Dawson: Honestly, it was a total accident. I was almost two years into my new job and I was engaged. My fiancee and I had looked at housing, commutes, and jobs, and decided that living in New York City wasn’t for us. I was honest with my boss. I told him I was about to be married and wanted to live in another area. I wanted to let him know I was going to be searching for jobs — either an internal transfer or a job with another company. I had no other angle. No other motivation. He considered what I said. After a few moments he asked, “How would you like to work from home?” I hadn’t considered that, but months later I was working out of a spare bedroom of our new Massachusetts apartment. I had a laptop, fax machine, an ISDN line (twice the speed of dialup!) and easy access to New York City if I needed to go into the office for a few days. It was couched as a 3-month trial, after which I’d return to the office if it wasn’t working out. It did work out, and I continued in that job for 17 years.

DE: Is there anything you thought was necessary before you made the switch that you discovered was not?

SD: Yes! Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. We rented a 3-bedroom apartment, thinking that I’d need a dedicated office apart from our bedroom. Another room was set aside as an art studio, since my wife loved to paint. We definitely didn’t need the third room. We didn’t have kids yet, and my wife taught most of the day. I was alone, and totally could have carved out a corner of our living room or bedroom to do my work. It’s true that having the separate room was nice, but it would have been nice to save a little money while we could, too.

DE: How has it improved both the quality of your work and your life?

SD: On the work front, I find that I can get into flow so much easier than if I were around a lot of people. I’m rather disciplined at home, and when I’m in the zone, I can be incredibly productive (I’m a web designer and developer). It’s just not the same in an office environment. The impact on my life is unquantifiable. I was there for all of those moments that mothers and fathers want to see when their kids are growing up. I got support from my family throughout the days and years, and I gave support right back. Most meals, when we’re all in the house, are at our dining room table. No commute gets in the way of me connecting with my family before and after work. All of that sums up to a lower-stress, far happier me!

DE: Do you miss anything about on-site work?

SD: I travel occasionally to the office, and so I’m reminded sometimes of the things that I miss. If you subtracted the commute, the social benefits of working alongside other people would be compelling. Going out to lunch, sharing playlists, ranting about this, or celebrating that … it’s all easier when you’re co-located. I try to fill that gap as a remote worker by being far more intentional about my social commitments. It’s important to make plans to connect with other people.

DE: Can you share one of the strangest anecdotes about working with a remote client?

SD: Sure! It’s an anecdote that, at the time, was not strange at all. Time and change have conspired to make it strange. Now, asynchronous collaboration is all the rage. Slack, social media, and other collaboration platforms vie for our attention throughout the day. These platforms enable a lot of teams to be efficiently distributed around the world. When I first started working remotely in 1998, my business counterpart and I were collaborating on a web site prototype. I updated a clickable prototype and uploaded to a server. She clicked around the prototype when she was free, and printed out the pages to mark them up with changes. Then she FAXED them to me. Yeah, it was the age of fax machines and modems, and it worked great! I made the changes, and the process repeated. She and I worked so well together, and it was the first example I can think of where asynchronous collaboration was as seamless as it could be at the time.

DE: What is your best suggestion for a person who wants to negotiate a remote work option to set out positives such as heightened productivity, better quality of work, and less sick time/lateness from commuting issues balanced against so many managers’ need to stare at their workers to make sure they’re actually working?

SD: You’ve actually cited a lot of the business benefits of remote work in the phrasing of the question. https://usefyi.com/remote-work-statistics is my go-to resource for statistics about remote work, many of which can be pretty compelling for a negotiating table. Armed with facts, you can then think about how working remotely can work in your unique situation. Perhaps suggest a trial like my manager did, and keep tabs on your output and productivity as compared to the office environment. When you do get the opportunity to work remotely, demonstrate your efficacy and highlight the big wins. If you’re more productive, make sure that they see it. Lastly, position things in terms of how it benefits the employer. Sure, you’ll derive big benefits, but the ones that seal the deal are the ones that matter most to the decision maker.

Buy Link
https://www.amazon.com/dp/1733991301 or https://artofworkingremotely.com/book

— The Art of Working Remotely Excerpt

Cornell’s career center was quite an operation. New companies arrived weekly, vying for the attention of Cornell’s upcoming graduates. Microsoft. IBM. Motorola. Morgan Stanley. We were also vying for their attention! We pored over the sign-up sheets posted in Carpenter Hall. What companies seemed interesting to me? There was no real intention to this “job search.” I hadn’t thought about what I wanted so it was a scattergun approach to my professional destiny. I wasn’t prepared for some of the more technical interviews. Microsoft didn’t even call me back after my session with them. I signed up for as many interviews as I could. I knew that time spent interviewing was good practice.

I walked into the interview room at the appointed time for one of these “practice” interviews. A major bank had sent a representative to speak with job hopefuls like me. The interviewer started off with the softest of pitches over the plate. “So, Scott, what can you tell me about the private banking business?”

[… expletive]

I hadn’t prepared for this interview. Heck, I hadn’t prepared for any of these interviews. I assumed I’d talk about me, my skills, my path. Big mistake. How could I reply? As with most things in life, the truth seemed the best option and most in line with who I was.

“To be honest, I don’t know what private banking is.”

He smiled. The next half hour was surreal.


— Author Bio
Scott Dawson lives in Trumansburg, New York with his wife Amy and two children, Elizabeth and Xander. He’s a web designer and developer and enjoys writing, acting, creating art, and making music. He’s an avid skier in the winter and runs year-round on the roads and trails of Tompkins County in upstate New York. Connect with him at scottpdawson.com or @scottpdawson.

Tues. Dec. 31, 2019: Reading Ending and Beginnings

image courtesy of Larissa-K via pixabay.com

First of all, Happy New Year! May the New Year bring you many blessings, literary and other.

For me, the first book of the year is a huge, huge choice. I sometimes feel it sets the tone for the coming year, so I want it to be wonderful.

Well, every time I pick up a book, I hope I fall in love with it!

I often buy a new book on New Year’s Eve. Even if I haven’t finished the stack I received for Solstice/Christmas, I often buy a new book, carefully chosen, on December 31.

I start reading it a few minutes after midnight. Unless I’m at a party. Then I start reading it when I get home.

I chose my book yesterday: Blood and Blade byLauren Dane. A kickass book to start a kickass year.

Happy New Year!

Tues. Dec. 24, 2019: Jolabokflod

image courtesy of TizzleBDizzle via pixabay.com

A few years ago, I learned about the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, The Yule Book Flood.

What I didn’t know until I read it on ReadItForward.com was that, the Iceland Publishers Association delivers a catalogue of all the books published that year to every household.

People give each other books on Christmas Eve and settle in to read.

We’ve been doing that my entire life in my house, although I didn’t realize it was a tradition. I love Iceland, their bookshops, and their commitment to literacy. So it feels right to continue the tradition.

We open the bulk of our gifts on Christmas Eve anyway, European-style, and have stockings on Christmas Day. There are always books involved in the giving — both under the tree, and, the next morning, a paperback tucked into the stocking.

But it’s always been the tradition to unwrap the gifts, enjoy them, and then curl up with one of the new books. I’ve done that ever since I can remember.

A few years ago, on social media, I also saw the “Book Advent Calendar” — meant for kids, but good for anyone — where 24 books are wrapped, with tags, at the beginning of December. You unwrap the book for the day each morning. I have not yet gotten my act together to do that, but I would like to start that tradition, too.

I don’t know which book I will unwrap tonight and curl up with. I do know that it will fill me with a sense of peace and well-being.

Have a lovely holiday.

Tues. Dec. 3, 2019: GRAVE REACH releases December 5th!

Grave Reach 3D Cover

GRAVE REACH, the 4th Coventina Circle Novel

Lesley Chase fought her way free from an abusive marriage, thanks to Coventina Circle. After her ex-husband’s murder, she took a sabbatical to study yoga, meditation, and dreamwalking in Costa Rica. A passionate affair with Sam Pierce helped her self-confidence and healing, but she insisted they break all contact when she returned to New York. She’s stunned when she runs into Sam, who has an office in the same building as her therapist. He convinces her it’s just a weird coincidence, and he won’t try to rekindle their passion. But when Lesley’s dreamwalking crosses into dangerous territory, and her ex-husband starts stalking her from beyond the grave, Sam is determined to set her free, once and for all. Of course, Sam has a few dark secrets of his own, on both sides of the veil . . .

Lesley is mentioned in the first book in the series, Playing the Angles, although she does not physically appear. Originally, when the earlier version of PTA was going to be a stand-alone, I regretted not being able to explore Lesley’s story further. Once the decision was made that there would be a series, each featuring a different member of the Circle as the primary protagonists, it gave me a chance to work on her story in relation to the other members of the circle (in The Spirit Repository and in Relics & Requiem). She appears in Relics, when Phineas dreamwalks to solve a murder.

In Grave Reach, Lesley comes into her own. She is rebuilding her life, back in New York City after a five-month sabbatical in Costa Rica. She had a passionate affair there, with Sam, but they agreed to let go when they left and not be in touch. She misses him, but she needs to rebuild on her own. When she runs into him again by accident, and then their paths keep crossing as the pagan community in New York is threatened in their dreams, they need to work together to solve the crisis. Lesley realizes how little she knew about Sam before their affair, and some of his actions make her wonder what else he’s hiding.

The series is paranormal romantic suspense, so most of the fun is taking the journey with Lesley and Sam to see how they overcome their obstacles together, even when they disagree, and when others try to get in between them.

The Delacourtes are back, too — don’t worry, eventually they will be the center of their own stories. I’m happily surprised with how popular the Delacourte clan is with readers.

Here’s an excerpt from Grave Reach:

She felt beautiful with Sam. Smart, desirable, funny. She embodied the fantasy of the best self she’d always wanted to be.

Had she been a fool to cut off contact?

No. Nothing could sustain the fantasy once she returned to real life. It was better this way.

This way, returning to New York was a complete fresh start.

She walked up the graceful stone steps to the grayish-blue stone building on 18th Street and buzzed Dr. Granger’s unit. She got the unlocking buzz, and pushed the door open.
This had once been a mansion, housing one family. The graceful marble staircase still led to the second floor, and a chandelier lit the hall. Dr. Granger’s office was in the back of the ground floor, where it was quieter.

She didn’t check her reflection in the hall mirror, but she turned, trying not to flinch, as a man used a key to open the front door. The frosted glass, covered on both sides with wrought iron, hid his features.

Used a key. Nothing to be afraid of, she reassured herself.

She turned to the back of the building, wondering what she should talk about in today’s session. Dr. Granger also wanted her to participate in a group session as part of her recovery. Lesley preferred Coventina Circle as her group.

She hesitated. The person who’d entered was male, which made her wary. She was back in New York, after all. But the energy felt familiar. Comforting.

She hesitated again, just past the bottom of the staircase, near the mirror. She glanced at her reflection, and saw her own worried face stare back.

The man who’d entered had his head down, looking through his mail, as he started up the stairs to the second floor.

She’d know the tread of those footsteps anywhere.

It couldn’t be.

He promised her.

“Sam?” she croaked.

He was part of the way up the stairs. He lifted his head, looking first up for the voice, then glanced over the rail to meet her eyes. He paled, and his own hazel eyes widened in shock. “Lesley?”

“You lied to me!” Lesley burst out. “How could you lie to me like that?”

“Lesley, I had no idea, I didn’t, I–”

“You can’t tell me this is a coincidence!” She fled down the hall into Natalie Granger’s waiting area, where she burst into tears.


Want more? It releases on December 5, 2019 on multiple digital channels for $3.99. Visit the Grave Reach</em> page on the Coventina Circle website for buy links, or use the book’s universal buy link.. More options will be added as the book goes live on additional channels.

Special Guest: Heather Haven!

Circus redo-sepia9 photo copy

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I’m so delighted that the amazing Heather Haven is my guest today. She kindly shared some of her process and inspiration for her latest release, MURDER UNDER THE BIG TOP.

Devon Ellington: What inspired you to write MURDER UNDER THE BIG TOP?

Heather Haven: All my life I remember my mother showing me pictures, costumes, and souvenirs from her time at the circus. She was a person who liked to savor her memories of people and incidents. Her stories about what brought her to join the circus as a twenty-year old with her two gorgeous, screwball pals, Margie and Doris, were hilarious, never ceasing to thrill and entertain me. Each time she described her stint there, she would whip out a picture from what seemed to be an endless supply of black and white photos. Even though I wasn’t a part of it in reality, it made me feel as if I was there, experiencing it all. One day when I was all grown up and already writing the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, my eye caught one photo out of a pile of dozens. It was a picture of her dressed for the show sitting atop a curled elephant’s trunk. She was looking down at a clown whose back was to the camera. I was intrigued and picked the photo up. I remember thinking how odd it was I hadn’t noticed this amazing picture before.

I turned to Mom and said, “Who is this clown? What’s his name?” I knew she was like a walking catalogue of the times, remembering names and stories from long gone.

But this time, she took the fading photo from my hand and shook her head. “I can’t remember his name. I don’t know what happened to him.”

Well! Never say that to a writer. I decided then and there I was going to make up a story about my mom and that clown. Of course, as I write mysteries, something dastardly would happen to him. On paper. What happened to him in real life, we’ll never know.

DE: How did you meld fiction and fact? Was it hard to move away from “this is how it really happened” in order to make it more dramatic for the story?
HH: This was the hardest novel I’ve ever written because I was combining fact and fiction, all wrapped around my mother. She was beautiful, inside and out, and I wanted to do right by that part of her life. In my mind’s eye, she was my ‘muse’, which only added to the pressure. While the story, itself, is totally made up, I want to stress that the day-to-day existence at Ringling Brothers’ is true to life and very factual. That’s why I call this a documentary fiction. I not only used her memories and written accounts, but did a lot of research. It took me six long years but I made construction mistakes, too. Initially, I wrote the story in third person. It didn’t work. Too stilted. So I change the entire work to first person. Jeri Deanne talking, thinking, feeling, reacting, upfront and real. It was a big job. Actually, more tedious than big. That took me another eight months. Then my editor decided past tense wasn’t working. Not immediate enough. So back to the keyboard. Once again, I changed the entire novel beginning to end, going from past tense to present tense. That was when it leapt out at me it should have a short-fuse time period. 48-hours. Become a real thriller. But then the framing I’d used for the story, a prologue and epilogue, didn’t fit. Out, out, out. But I was getting used to total rewrites, never being done. Then one day everything worked. Just like that. It wasn’t an easy journey, but a fulfilling one.

DE: What was the most unusual nugget you came across in your research?

HH: I discovered that the country – our country – was completely freaked out by the war. German subs off the Atlantic and Japanese subs off the Pacific. American service men and women dying on foreign soil. I had no idea there was such rampant fear looming within the populace and with such cause. Most people from the 50s on never talked about it. Certainly no one I knew talked about the effects of the war on them. But it was absolutely there. Do a little digging and you find the early 40s were terrifying times for most Americans. The second world war became very real for me when I read the accounts of what people went through.

DE: What assumptions about circus life changed as you researched and wrote?
HH: It was a world unto itself. And it was an escape from WWII, much as the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies were during the depression. Remember, the depression only happened a few years before. America was already tired and worn out from that. Adding a world war to the mix was much more than the average person could handle. Ringling Brothers’ Circus offered them an afternoon’s respite. And it was huge! The sheer volume of the circus was almost overwhelming. They traveled with fifty-one elephants, over two thousand animals, eighteen hundred people. It also carried housing, food, costumes, everything to be completely self-contained. It was a traveling city, bigger than many towns they played. Any circus today pales in comparison. Seriously.

DE: What did you have to cut out that you wish you could have kept?

HH: Not one blasted thing. I kept everything in I wanted to keep in. I compromised on nothing.

DE: How did the experience of writing this book differ from your other books?
HH: I put everything I had into this book. I understand completely how authors can devote their lives to words. The power of them! And remember, it was an homage of sorts to Mom. That’s why I was delighted the novel won the Silver IPPY for Best Mystery/thriller near Mother’s Day, the same year my mother passed. The award meant a lot then; it means a lot now. I knew Mom was smiling down on me. Job well done, I think – I hope – she said.

Mom and Clown

About Heather Haven:

Back in the Punic Wars, Heather moved to the Bay Area and studied creative writing in the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University. Previously, several of her comedy acts and plays were performed in NYC. Her novels include the multi-award winning Silicon Valley based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Manhattan based Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, and standalone mystery documentary fiction, Murder under the Big Top, based upon her mother’s stint as a performer with Ringling Brothers’ Circus. Just to break up the monotony, her short stories are featured in Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories. Her latest endeavor is the September 2019 release of Christmas Trifle, Book One of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Novels.
She and her husband of thirty-seven years are allowed to live with their two cats in the foothills of San Jose, California.

Website: http://www.heatherhavenstories.com/
Email me at: Heather@HeatherHavenStories.com

Thank you, Heather! I can’t wait to read this!