Friday, November 23, 2012

How and Why Did I Become a Writer?

Not long after I learned to read (I cut my teeth on The Wizard of Oz), I developed a strong urge to tell stories of my own. That is: I wanted to write!

I decided to write my first story when I was five or six years old. I borrowed a pencil and a piece of paper from my mother and asked her what I should write my story about.
“Write about what you know about,” she advised me.
So I did. The story came out something like this: “Johnny and his mother went to the circus. They saw clowns. They had fun. They came home. The end.”
My mother was proud of me. (Of course. That’s what mothers are for.) But when I showed my story to my brother, Neil, who was nine years older than I, he said, “It’s not a real story. A real story needs conflict.”
That put me in a quandary. At the age of six, I had no conflict in my life, so I couldn’t write a real story if I were to write about what I knew about. That put my writing career off for another ten years or so.
Then I started reading the novels of Richard Bissell, and I thought to myself: I can do this. I tried it, and I found I was right: I could do this. By that time I was a teenager, so of course there was conflict in the life I knew so well; it goes with the territory.
I haven’t turned back since. I haven’t supported myself with my writing (not many writers do), but I’ve never stopped writing, and in the meantime I’ve worked in the written word: as a student, a reader, a bookseller, an editor, a ghostwriter, a fiction writer, a publisher, and a teacher of creative writing.
I owe it to my mother, my brother, and mainly to other writers. And of course to my readers.

Now that you know how and why I became a writer, I invite you to look at my home page and see what I've done with that joyful pursuit:



Today, a number of professional writers with blogs have gotten together to write the same post “Why I Became a Writer.” Please stop by any or all of their blogs/websites to comment and find out what drives us in our favorite obsession.

John Brantingham and Sunny Frazier   
Marta Chausee              
Melodie Campbell
Lesley Diehl 
Jim Callan
Chris Swinney

Sunday, November 11, 2012


As it does every year about this time, the calendar has kicked into overdrive, like a horse smelling the hay in the barn. I find myself beset by big editorial and publishing projects that are demanding most of my time. And I’m in the home stretch of a novel I’m writing, one that means a lot to me. I also know, happily, that the season of family is about to start. My son Morgan and his kids will visit us next weekend. Susan and I will have the pleasure of her sons’ company for Thanksgiving, and shortly thereafter will come our annual Christmas holiday with family in Las Vegas.
For these reasons, I won’t be tending to my blog until after the first of the year. I wish all of you happy holidays in the weeks to come. I also wish you great pleasure and success with your writing. I want to hear from you from time to time, so send me progress reports.
Meanwhile, here, a week late, are the Thanksgiving stories sent to me for my November blog. Good work, writers! I am so thankful for your contributions to my blog!
I’ve also tacked on at the end a 99-word story of my own. It’s not a Thanksgiving story exactly, but since this year Thanksgiving falls on my birthday, November 22, I offer a somber memory of my 22nd birthday, in 1963. It’s an important day to remember.
See you next year!


A Special Sense of Thanks
by Jerry Giammatteo

It was a time for contemplation as well as thanks. The usual guests arrived. My dad and his wife, my in-laws and my brother in-law, wife, and our two nieces joined Laura, Chris, Scott and me at our table of plenty.
I felt a gratitude and spirituality around the table. Also, a sense of melancholy and vulnerability not felt before. But any break from my job in lower Manhattan was welcome.
We talked, joked and feasted as usual. I felt particularly thankful for the presence of family. On that day, November 22, 2001, Thanksgiving was just a bit different.


Thanksgiving Plans
by Phyllis Povell

She was not a cook. She ate in restaurants. But that Thanksgiving she decided she was going to invite guests to her home and make everything from scratch. Store-bought invitations were not good. She wrote twenty invitations with calligraphy.
She made lists: all the fixings for antipasto, homemade lasagna, of course the turkey, mashed and sweet potatoes, veggies of all colors, and who could forget the pies? She shopped and decorated.
The guests arrived. That’s when she discovered she hadn’t lit the oven. No Thanksgiving turkey; but lots of laughs, good friends, and family for whom to be thankful.


A Chicken Is Still a Bird
by Annie Bux

With Martha Stewartesque aspirations, the newly married hopeful decided to host Thanksgiving dinner. She vowed to cook every aspect of the meal, including the illustrious bird, which at her house would not be a turkey, but a chicken. Her family always agreed the turkey to be dry and over-abundant. A chicken is still a bird, after all.
Her in-laws, however, had always eaten turkey on Thanksgiving, so this choice in poultry posed a problem. And so it was when she opened up her door to see her mother-in-law roll in a large cooler carrying—what else, but a turkey.


One Thanksgiving
by Joseph M. Bonelli

After cocktails Mom announced, “You can gather around the table.”
My brother John said, “We’ll be sitting for hours.”
The average adult consumes 4000 calories on Thanksgiving.
Finishing our appetizers, turkey, stuffing, vegetables, desserts, and cranberry liqueur, we could barely move. Just at that moment, the doorbell rang.
Matt was 43, the youngest, and the only one with enough strength to stand and answer the door.
We heard “Pizza delivery.” The teenager had the wrong address. Who could have pizza?
Matt looked back at us, grinned, and then told the kid, “Yeah, this is it. Bring it in!”


An Alternate Use for Mayonnaise
by June Kosier

I was a freshman in High School and had a crush on a boy named Tony.
Mom let me invite him to Thanksgiving dinner.
Everything went well until just before he left. We had Thanksgiving dinner at noon and at 5:00 we had turkey sandwiches and potato chips. That is when it all went bad.
As we were putting mayonnaise on our sandwiches, my grandmother said, “When I was a girl, we used mayonnaise to moisturize our faces.”
I was mortified. That was the end of my crush on Tony. I could never look him in the face again.


Things Fall Apart: 11/22/63
by John M. Daniel

The morning of my twenty-second birthday, I drove to class, groggy from last night’s jug wine.
Ahead, a pickup was loaded high with scrap lumber for that night’s football bonfire. Boys rode on top, grinning, shouting, tossing beer cans onto lawns.
“We interrupt this program.…”
My radio gave me the news, establishing a universe far more complex and frightful than the one I’d known at twenty-one.
The boys on the truck were singing, shaking cans, squirting foam at each other. Their program would be interrupted soon. Thereafter they would always remember the November morning they heard the news, learned things fall apart.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


As we approach the end of this October, the days get chillier and spookier, the leaves on the trees quit trying to look colorful, and every voter in America is afraid of how the coming election will turn out. Yes, there’s a lot to be afraid of these dark days, and that puts us in just the right mood for the ghosts, black cats, skeletons, and devils who will be pounding on our doors come All Hallow’s Even, demanding treats, threatening tricks.

Watch out! Here they come.…

To get you in the mood, here are seven short, short stories written to make you bite your nails.

Death is for the Living
“Martha, after you die I’m going to marry Alice.”
“My hospice nurse?”
“We want your blessing, Martha. Life’s for the living, y’know.”
Martha’s tears dropped from her cheeks to the pillow.
After Ralph left the house, Martha rose and spent the rest of her life swallowing Ralph’s medications and refilling his bottles with her own.

My Name’s Larry, and I...
I used to be an alcoholic. Booze was all I lived for.
Then one fateful day, my marriage broke up, I lost my job, and I got in a horrible automobile accident.
I haven’t had a drink since that day. That day changed me forever.
I don’t miss the alcohol. I just miss being alive.

Injury to Insult
“You’re foolish to insult a witch,” I scolded.
“You’re no witch.”
“You think not?”
“Prove it,” he sneered.
So I unlaced my bodice.
His jaw dropped.
His eyes fell.
His heart sank.
I kicked his heart, his eyes, and his jaw under the bed, then said to the rest of him, “I rest my case.”

The Second Course...
The unfaithful slave was ordered to choose between two doors. Behind one, the girl he loved; behind the other, a ravenous tiger.
Hearing growls behind the left-hand door, he opened the right. Entered.
Slam. Click.
The room was empty.
There was no partition between the two chambers.
Next door, a tiger was finishing his appetizer.

Catch and Release
He wobbled into school, still flinching.
“I was caught,” he said. “Thrown on a pile of dead bodies. It was all dry. All hard. I couldn’t breathe. Monsters squeezed me and ripped my mouth apart and threw me away. Brrrghhh!”
“They’d caught their limit,” I said. “You were lucky.”
He shuddered. “The others were luckier.”

Independence Day
I watched the little kid stamping up and down the sidewalk all morning. Finally I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Getting free of my mother,” he answered.
“You’re running away?”
“I can’t,” he whined. “My dumb mom won’t let me cross the street.”
“So how—”
He grinned and resumed his march. “I’m stepping on cracks.”

…And Have  Nice Day
Folks, this is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some difficulty with three of our engines, and we’re going to have to lose some weight.
So I have volunteered to take the parachute and jump. Automatic pilot should keep you flying for a while, and eventually you’ Sort of.
Enjoy the rest of your flight.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Recalling Keplers in Fiction

Last week I posted on this blog a memory of having worked for seven years at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California. Memories of Kepler’s have been on my mind for a couple of years, because over the past couple of years I’ve written a novel, titled Hooperman, set in a hip Palo Alto bookstore during the summer of 1972. The store is fictional, although I must confess I couldn’t have made it up if I hadn’t had such vivid memories of Kepler’s Books and the wonderful, creative people I worked with during the 1970s.
The novel is set in and near Maxwell’s Books, a fictitious store in Palo Alto, California during the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in. Nixon is still President, and the war in Vietnam is still raging, as is the anti-war protest, along with other movements, such as civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, not to mention the sexual revolution. Some of that summer’s best-sellers are: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Joy of Sex, Be Here Now, The Pentagon Papers, Open Marriage, and Another Roadside Attraction. Customers who frequent Maxwell’s Books include Joan Baez, Ken Kesey, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, and Wallace Stegner.
         The bookstore is owned and managed by Elmer Maxwell, a leader in the anti-war movement. It serves as a meeting ground for left-wing and counter-culture causes. The staff of fifteen include a socialist and an anarchist who argue loudly throughout the store, two lesbians, a painter, a guitarist, and an imposing bear of a man with Tourette’s syndrome in the back room. His name is Martin West, he’s in charge of shipping and receiving, and he knows more than he is capable of saying.
         Elmer is obsessed with the belief that shoplifters are robbing him blind, so he hires Hoop Johnson, a Stanford English Department drop-out now working as a pizza chef from across the street, to be a “bookstore cop,” to prowl the aisles and catch thieves in the act. Hoop is all too happy to take the job, in spite of almost no pay, because he wants so badly to be part of the Maxwell’s staff.

I haven’t been able to find a publisher for this novel. I suppose it’s hard to categorize: it’s a mystery without a murder. Or maybe publishers know there’s not a great deal of interest among today’s readers in the grand old days of independent bookselling, and the seventies aren’t a popular destination in nostalgia tours.
As any writer would feel, I’m disappointed that Hooperman hasn’t found a home. Like any sane writer, I don’t let this disappointment interfere with my general happiness. Like any happy writer, I’m glad I enjoyed the time I spent writing Hooperman, revisiting a past I tremendously enjoyed. I suppose I could epublish the book on Kindle and Nook, as I have done with my Fergus Powers novels; but somehow it seems sadly defeatist to epublish a novel that celebrates real, brick-and-mortar, independent bookstores.
I won’t give up my search, but of course I have moved on and have written myself halfway into another novel.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering Kepler's Books

My friends Mike and Karen Moreland, who were recently in Paris, send me this photo they took of a shop window in Montmartre. They said it reminded them of me.
Well, I can see why. This character doesn’t look much like me now, but I think it looks a lot like who I was in the 1970s, during the seven years I worked for Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California.
During the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s, I worked for a great many independent bookstores. Of course those were the halcyon days when there were a great many independent bookstores. Most of those jobs were temporary or seasonal work. But my main bookstore job, and the one that fulfilled me most, was my stretch at Kepler’s. During that time I learned more about the publishing business than I’d ever known before. I learned about product, and sales, and trends. I also enjoyed, more than ever, working with that gentle segment of the public known as readers.
Kepler’s Books was an important store, an intellectual focal point of the San Francisco Peninsula. It was known for Roy Kepler’s brave pacifist philosophy and it was also the hippest place in town to be. Just being a clerk there gave me minor status in my community; it also gave me a community of friends like none I’ve ever had before or since.
I started out at Kepler’s in late 1970 as the returns clerk, sorting out a mountain of returns that hadn’t been dealt with for months. I learned quickly that I loved shipping and receiving. Within a few weeks I started taking on more and more hours clerking on the floor, until I eventually had three full days of work a week. I enjoyed my work days as much as my days off. I felt like a gardener in the store, weeding the shelves, arranging the stock, making the order more orderly, watching the crop grow, get plucked, be replanted.
In 1974, when the buyer retired, I asked Roy if I could replace him. Roy agreed, and I became a full-time, responsible employee with a decent salary and a challenging job. Roy had recently doubled the size of the store, so part of my buying job involved filling vast space with stock, and in those days the paperback book business was growing madly. It was a buyer’s dream.
I think I did well. I introduced a number of improvements, kept the store stocked, and saw the store grow. That year’s Christmas was the biggest yet for Kepler’s Books and Magazines.
But, alas, I was not ready for full-time work, nor was I ready for that kind of responsibility. I freaked out. Couldn’t handle it. So in the summer of 1975, I called Roy and asked him if I could have my old job back. Once again Roy gave me my wish, and I returned to being a part-time bookstore clerk, the happiest job I’d ever had, and a job I kept until 1977.
It may have been a mistake for me to forsake the buyer’s job. Part of my conscience tried to get me to grow up and become a responsible bread-winner, to grow into a growing career. Who knows? Maybe I should have stuck with it. Instead, I cruised for a while, then became a free-lance editor, then became a small-press publisher.
I can’t say I have a single regret.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Things That Go Bump in the Night

For this month’s invitational blog post, in honor of October, I asked people to send me a 99-word story about Halloween. I asked writers to make the stories dark and scary. I guess that was too much of a challenge for some, because I received only two submissions!
The good news, though, is that they’re both fine stories, and they’re suitably spooky in their separate ways. They’re featured below.
For next month’s invitational, please send me a story about a Thanksgiving dinner. Remember, the story must be 99 words long, and it must be a real story. What makes a real story? Conflict. Plot. People.
Meanwhile, have a fine month, enjoy the season of pumpkins and bright leaves, and have fun with your writing.


All Hallow’s Eve
by Denise Dreany

“Did you see that?!”
We were out in the dark, the road before us vanishing into a night that shivered in the wind. Dry leaves rustled and fled; the flap of owl’s wings.
“What is it?”
White vapor, not quite human, slithered by, caressing us in coldness, lingering as if the world was too precious to let go.
“Hold me,” it seemed to say. “Where have I gone?”
Our hearts stopped, clenched in fear; icy fingers slipped through our hands.
“Don’t let me go.”
She was a suicide, we learned, who encountered us on the road to another world.


A Different Kind of Halloween
June Kosier

October 31, 2003.
No candy, no trick or theaters, no jack o lanterns. The good Lord has delivered us “from ghoulies and ghosties and long- legged beasties and things that go bump in the night.” Might just as well say, no Halloween.
There is a party and one must dress for the occasion. But first, one must go to church. What horror!
The lights go out. The service begins by candlelight. The pipe organ is played. Women in black dresses walk down the aisle followed by a woman in white.
It is a wedding!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Last Saturday, the Autumnal Equinox, Susan and I spent the day attending and exhibiting our wares at the Sonoma County Book Festival, in a public square in downtown Santa Rosa, California. The weather was  perfect: a bright blue sky, and the air warm but not scorching. The staff running the show were friendly and helpful. We enjoyed getting to know some of our fellow exhibitors, and it was, as always, a pleasure to show off our Perseverance Press mysteries. 

We’ve done a lot of exhibiting at trade shows and book fairs over the years. We’ve displayed at ABAs and BEAs all over the country, we participated in the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for its first ten years. We showed at the Santa Barbara book fair, and early in our company history we even organized that event for two years running. We’ve had tables at Left Coast Crimes and Bouchercons.
Why do we do this?
It ain’t cheap. The cost of a space is substantial, and then there’s the equipment rental cost. (Oh? You wanted to put your books on a table? That’ll cost…) Plus travel expense, plus lodging.
So far we’ve never sold enough books at any book fair to make back our investment. (At the trade shows, you don’t sell any books on the floor.) I won’t tell you how many books we sold at the Sonoma County Book Festival last week, because I don’t know the number. I do know how much cash we took in, and I won’t tell you that number because I don’t want to.
But we had fun. We took turns strolling around and looking at the wares and services on display by other vendors. A lot of one-book self-publishers. Some religious cult publishers. A staff member of Pathfinder Press tried to enroll me in the Communist Party. There was a small press who specialized in books about vampires, Satan, and gore. There was a publisher of exquisitely written and illustrated children’s books; Susan bought a book from them (Barefoot Books) for one of our granddaughters.
It was our (good/bad, you decide) luck to be positioned next to a poetry slam in the midafternoon.
Most of all, we enjoyed talking to those several people who stopped by to chat about books. Our books, and books in general. And best of the best of all, occasionally after such a conversation somebody reached into a pocket and pulled out money. Books and smiles for money and smiles: an exchange remarkably like romance.
But there comes a time at every one of these events, usually late in the afternoon, when there’s a lull in the traffic and we’re tired of standing and tired of sitting and tired of smiling at looky-loo passersby, when one of us will turn to the other and say, “We’ll never do this again.”
And then somebody who was at the table hours ago will return, and buy a book, or another copy of a book she’s already bought.
And later, after we’ve packed up our wares and left the show, as we lift our glasses in a nearby bar and grill, one of us will turn to the other and say, “When we come back next year, let’s…”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Visit with Marilyn Meredith

This post is a visit with my friend, prolific mystery author Marilyn Meredith. Marilyn has a lot to say about writing in general (where plots come from, for example), and she has a lot to tell us about Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her mountain community of Bear Creek. Marilyn Meredith has a great sense of place! And as she well knows, the most intriguing feature of any place, factual or fictitious, is its people.

So take a moment and get to know Marilyn Meredith. And if you haven’t already read her books, get busy! She has a new one out now, set in Bear Creek and featuring Deputy Tempe Crabtree.

Marilyn, I’ll turn this over to you…

Revisiting Deputy Tempe Crabtree

People often ask, “How can you keep writing about the same characters?” They are referring to the characters who inhabit the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, and I have an easy answer.

Tempe, her husband, Pastor Hutch and all the people who live in the mountain community of Bear Creek are real to me. When I finish writing one book about them I begin wondering what is going to happen to them next. And the only way to find that out is to revisit them by writing the next book.

Before I begin, I often think about what was going on the last time I visited. What time of year it was and if there was anything happening that I need to find out more about. As I’m putting my mind back into Bear Creek I begin to see the town as it is with the CafĂ©, the Inn, the Fire Station, the trailer park and the cluster of low rent houses. Hutch’s church is located a bit farther up the highway.

Because life is a serious of dilemmas (at least mine seems to be) I wonder what crisis may hit Bear Creek and some of the people who live there.

Often my story telling is influenced by events that really happened to people I know. Because we had what I thought were two suspicious deaths a few years back—two friends who were found dead in their respective homes on the same morning that were determined to be from natural causes with no investigation at all—I decided Tempe should get involved in something similar.

Weather is often an important element in the mountains and since this story began to evolve a couple of weeks after Christmas, I knew an unrelenting rainstorm would not only complicate the murder investigation but also the lives of everyone living in and around Bear Creek as the river began to flood.

A non-writer may not be able to understand how exciting it is to have all the parts of a new story begin to fill your mind and then the pages of the manuscript. When I’m writing about Tempe and everyone in Bear Creek, I feel like I’m home and among friends—except for the bad guy, whoever that might be.

Want to know more about Marilyn's community of Bear Creek? Check this out!

A bit about the latest, Raging Water: Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s investigation of the murder of two close friends is complicated when relentless rain turns Bear Creek into a raging river. Homes are inundated and a mud slide blocks the only road out of Bear Creek stranding many—including the murderer.

Contest: The person who leaves comments on the most blogs will have his/her name used for a character in my next book—can choose if you want it in a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery or a Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel.

And now, meet the author!

Bio: Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award-winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Raging Water from Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, her latest Rocky Bluff P.D. crime novel is No Bells, the fourth from Oak Tree Press. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at

I know there are some people who like to read a series in order, but let me reassure you that every book is complete. Though the characters grow through each book, the crime is always solved. Here is the order of the books for anyone who wants to know: Deadly Trail, Deadly Omen, Unequally Yoked, Intervention, Wing Beat, Calling the Dead, Judgment Fire, Kindred Spirits, Dispel the Mist, Invisible Path, Bears With Us, Raging Water.