Saturday, November 30, 2013

Giving Thanks

Two days ago was Thanksgiving, and I spent that day with family and food, and a heart full of thanks for many blessings. It seems crass and self-serving to exploit a national mood of gratitude to promote my new book, so I will refrain.
Or at least I’ll be subtle about it.
I genuinely am thankful to my publisher, Billie Johnson of Oak Tree Press, and to her fine, capable assistants, Jeana Thompson and Suzi Yazell. They’ve been a pleasure to work with, they make fine books, and promote them well.
 I’m also grateful for the support, advice, and encouragement I’ve received from a large network of writing colleagues, most of whom I’ve never met in person. These include a gang called “The Posse,” a gift created by Sunny Fraser, which is now coordinated by James R. Callan.
To close, I will quote the last paragraph of my book:
As always, I thank my friends and supporters: the members of my writing group, The Great Intenders; Toby Tompkins, Meredith Phillips, Janine Volkmar, and Larry Karp; Michael Moreland, for introducing me to the gentleman on the cover of the book; and most of all Susan Daniel, my partner in all I do.

Oh yes. The name of my new book is Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery. Here’s what it looks like:

For more info,

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Happy Birthday to me

Actually, my birthday was yesterday, November 22, and like most Americans over a certain age, I spent some time on my birthday thinking about November 22, 1963, which I remember quite clearly as the day the world as I knew it fell apart. It happened to be the day I turned 22, which was a bit of a coincidence. Another bit of coincidence was that I hailed from Dallas, Texas at the time.

On that somber note, I'm going to take a week off from my blog, as a gift to myself.

I'll be in touch next week.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Melodie Campbell Wants to Be Entertained!

This week it’s my pleasure to host a writer known for her generous sense of humor. My guest has been called “Canada’s undisputed Queen of Comedy.” Folks, meet Melodie Campbell!

Melodie Campbell has been a banker, marketing director, comedy writer, college instructor, and (she claims) possibly the worst runway model ever. Melodie got her start writing comedy, so it’s no surprise her fiction has been described by editors as “wacky” and “laugh-out-loud funny.” Melodie has over 200 publications and six awards for fiction. She was a finalist for the 2012 Derringer (U.S.) and Arthur Ellis (Canada) awards for crime writing. Melodie is the Executive Director of Crime Writers of Canada.
I asked Melodie to contribute to this blog a piece of writing about what “The Joy of Story” means to her. She responded in no uncertain terms what she expects a novel to do for her.

Don’t Lecture—Entertain Me!

Who doesn’t love a good story? Something that takes you out of yourself and lets you live another life for a little while. You can do me no greater honor than to call me a great storyteller.
So you can imagine my angst when a magazine interviewer challenged me about the purpose of fiction. Should it always contain a moral message? Specifically, should crime fiction?
My instant answer: No! The purpose of crime fiction should be to Entertain, and nothing should come before that.
Why? We have countless other venues that preach morality. Religions seek to teach us how to behave. Every day we are bombarded by newspapers, radio and other nonfiction outlets that expose us to the “evil” of greedy politicians, nasty world despots, and out-of-control celebrities.
If fiction— and crime fiction in particular—were required to follow a moral code, we would miss so much. If the good guy always won—if the bad guy always got caught—wouldn’t that make crime fiction lamentably predictable?
Does that mean crime fiction can’t teach us something? Of course it can! Put me in the mind of a serial killer for a few hours. Let me know what it feels like to experience the overwhelming greed of a con artist. Dress me up as a torch singer, with a black heart and a gun in her stocking.
Let me discover something about how other people think, if only for a little while. But above all else, entertain me. Don’t preach at me, even from a distance. I don’t want it from my fiction.
Just tell me a damn good story, thank you. Take me out of the real world for a few hours.
That’s the joy of story.

Speaking of damn good, entertaining stories, Melodie Campbell’s fourth book, The Goddaughter, a comic crime caper, received the following review from Library Journal: “Campbell’s comic caper is just right for Janet Evanovich fans. Wacky family connections and snappy dialogue make it impossible not to laugh.” Library Journal, Sept. 2012.
Praise like that is to die for. (Die laughing? Way to go!) And although The Goddaughter was not Melodie’s first book, (her first book, Rowena Through the Wall, was an Amazon Top 100 bestseller), it appears that the Goddaughter will be the heroine of a series. Melodie’s fifth novel, The Godddaughter’s Revenge has just been released by Orca Books.

An irresistible cover, no? Like author Melodie Campbell, it’s entertaining, funny, and tempting. It makes you want to read what’s inside, so here’s the opening of the book, to get you started:
Okay, I admit it. I would rather be the proud possessor of a rare gemstone than a lakefront condo with parking. Yes, I know this makes me weird. Young women today are supposed to crave the security of owning their own home.
But I say this. Real estate, shmeel estate. You can’t hold an address in your hand. It doesn’t flash and sparkle with the intensity of a thousand night stars, or lure you away from the straight and narrow like a siren from some Greek odyssey.
Let’s face it. Nobody has ever gone to jail for smuggling a one bedroom plus den out of the country.
However, make that a 10-carat cyan blue topaz with a past as long as your arm, and I’d do almost anything to possess it.
But don’t tell the police.

The Goddaughter’s Revenge is available on Amazon:
The Goddaughter is available on Amazon:
Follow Melodie’s comic blog at

Saturday, November 9, 2013


The mating game is at the heart of more novels, more plays, more movies, more songs, and more stories than any other theme. Why is that?
It’s vital. It truly makes the world spin round, and it keeps the planet populated.
But why is relationship so very important to us? Well, we come into the world all alone. We exit this short stay on earth all alone. But most of the time we spend between birth and death is spent searching for a relationship, avoiding a relationship, being in a relationship, leaving a relationship, missing a relationship, or finding a new relationship. Love is our common obsession.
So write about this. Celebrate the joy of romance. Yes, write of bluebirds in rose gardens, canoe rides in the moonlight, first kisses and shared pleasures. But don’t forget the dark side of love: the loneliness of being without love, the sorrow of love gone bad, the conflicts that need to be resolved, or the failure to resolve them. Write of squabbles petty and huge, the wrong words spoken, jealousy, betrayal, heartbreak.
Why am I so negative? It’s because good stories need conflict to take flight. There’s no reason to write a story about a perfect relationship, if such a thing exists, because it would put your reader to sleep. A general rule: a relationship is as interesting, in terms of story, as the problems to be solved. The question asked in every successful relationship story is some form of Ladies’ Home Journal’s classic question: “Can this marriage be saved?”

My new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, is as much a love story as it is a mystery. In fact my protagonist, Hoop Johnson, the shy, stuttering, skinny bookstore clerk, has two great loves in the course of the novel. In the main story he falls head over heels for Lucinda Baylor, a fellow clerk. She’s different from him, and unlike any other woman he’s ever known. She’s hefty. She’s also a chatterbox, completely open with her feelings, whether those feelings are made of laughter or outrage. All poor Hoop knows is he’s moving fast into a relationship without a map or a guidebook. Luce likes loud music, and she’s ready to party.
Another problem is that Hoop still hasn’t gotten over Jane Gillis, the famous poet he used to be married to. As we learn in a series of back-story vignettes, Hoop and Janie fell in love in second grade, because they were so much alike: both speech-impaired, both quiet and scholarly and full of poetry. They were the perfect couple, and then she left him.
To tell any more about Hoop and his two loves would be to tell. We writers know it’s better to show. Here’s a scene showing Hooperman and Lucinda on their first “date,” dinner and more at her apartment. Note that relationship glitches are already in place. Can this “marriage” be saved?

He rang the bell. Heard the footsteps. Bit his lip.
The door opened, and there she stood, wearing a warm smile. Wearing a hippie gown, some long thing with little mirrors all over it. “You came,” she said softly. “I was worried.”
He nodded and held his gifts out to her, over the threshold, one in each hand.
“For me? Oh, Hoop! You didn’t have to do this! Wine! Roses?” Lucinda took the gifts and held them to her bosom. She shook her head and said, “Get in here, you. Let me put these in the kitchen so I can give you a huge, huge hug.”
Hoop followed her through the living room—thrift store furniture, Modigliani poster tacked up on one wall, the stereo playing Ella Fitzgerald, “Knock on Wood”—to the kitchen, where she set the flowers and the bottle on the counter. The garlicky, oniony, herby smell of simmering pasta sauce complemented the hefty, happy brown woman who walked into his arms.
“I’ve missed you, dollbaby,” she murmured.
“Me tuh,tuh,too.”
“Let’s open that wine up.” She read the label. “Petit Syrah. Cool. Here’s a corkscrew. You do the honors, while I give these posies a drink.” She handed him the bottle and the corkscrew and scrounged in a lower cupboard for a jar big enough to hold the bouquet of small roses. When the flowers and the bottle were on the kitchen table, breathing in and out, and the sauce was bubbling gently, Lucinda took Hoop’s hand and led him back to the living room, where they sat down on the lumpy couch, one at each end.
“Nice puh,puh,pup…lace.”
“I been missing you, Hooperman,” she said. “I’m going to get us a glass of wine.” She stood up and walked to the kitchen.
When she returned, bottle in hand, she placed two wine glasses on the coffee table, on straw coasters like the ones he and Janie had bought at Cost Plus.
She filled their glasses, set the bottle on the table, and sat down, closer to him this time. They clinked and sipped. The little glass mirrors on her dress winked at him.
“Nice,” she said. “You’re so sweet.”
“You were a muh,model? Are?”
“Not a fashion model, if that’s what you’re asking. I used to model for all the art departments around. Stanford, De Anza, La CaƱada, Foothill, Santa Clara, and some private groups, too. Adult ed, Jewish Community Center, and stuff. They seem to like my fat black body. Who knows why. All I know is the pay’s good, ten dollars an hour. Trouble is getting the gigs. I used to belong to the Palo Alto Model’s Guild, but I quit when I started working for the bookstore. Shoot. Maybe they’ll let me back in. Shoot. I’m doing all the talking. Am I nervous, or what? Come on, Hoop. You talk for a change.”
Hoop took another sip. “That would be a chuh,chuh,change.”
“Or we could just sit here. Hold hands? Listen to the music?”
Ella: “Yellow Man.”
They tried sitting quietly, gulping through two more glasses of wine, but Hoop began to fidget, and Lucinda’s peaceful smiles grew more and more forced. “So,” she said, as Ella moved on to the next number, “how’s things at the store? I saw that poster in the window—Jane Gillis! Coming to Palo Alto! God, Hoop, you must be stoked!”
“I geh,guess.”
“She’s your favorite poet, right? I mean, you know her personally. God.”
“Used to,” Hoop said. “While aguh,go. In cuh,cuh,college.”
 “Was she your girlfriend?”
“How much more?”
They sat in silence, until Lucinda took a deep breath and let it out. “Maybe we’d better change the subject,” she said, fingering one of the mirrors on her chest.
She refilled their glasses, finishing the bottle. “Come to think of it,” she said, “I’m starting to get hungry. How about you? You want to come toss the salad while I cook the pasta? And I got garlic bread in the oven. How’s that sound?” She rose to her feet.
“Wonderful!” He stood up.
“I didn’t make you a dessert. I don’t know how.”
Hooperman took the big woman in his arms and whispered to her ear, “You’ll buh,be all the dessert I want.”
She squeezed back, and in a little, little voice, she said, “I love you, Hoop.” She cleared her throat and quickly added, “I mean, I’ve missed you so. You know?”
Ella sang: “I’ll never fall in love again.…”
Dinner was delicious and nearly silent. He asked her questions like, “Oregano?”
She answered, “Mmm.”
They drank the last of their Petit Syrah, and Luce got up and hauled a jug of Red Mountain out of the fridge and filled their glasses. They slurped linguini and crunched lettuce.
The music stopped. Lucinda stood up and said, “I’ll put something on. What do you like? You like Aretha?”
“Guh,got anything sss…hofter?”
“Whiter, you mean?”
“No. I di,di,didn’t mean that. Not at all.”
“Sorry,” she said. “Just kidding. Bad joke. Hoop, forgive me. I’m nervous. How about Brubeck?”
“You have Buh,Brubeck?”
“You sound surprised.”
“Which album?”
“I don’t know the name of it, actually. Somebody left it here. I mean—”
“It’s okay, Luce. Sss…hit down. We don’t need any music. Guh,great spagheh,ghetti!”
“Same thing, actually. Honest to God, why did I do that? Correct you? Jeeze. Sorry Hoop. I’m sort of weird tonight. Hoop?”
“It’s none of my business, but that poet? Jane Gillis?”
He gritted his teeth. “Mmm?”
“Were you lovers?”
“It was a long tuh,time ago, Luce.”
“Were you married? You were, weren’t you?”
He didn’t answer.
“You still have any feelings?”
She paused a moment. “That’s another word for love,” she told him. “And now you’re going to get to see her again. How will that be? Huh?”
Hoop stood up. “I’m sss…horry,” he said again. “I’m afuh,fraid I’m.… I.…” He ran out of things to say. “I think I’d better guh,go.”
“You mean that’s it? It?
“Why are you so damned angry? Jesus.”
Angry? Maybe. No, hurt. No, embarrassed. No, just damned eager to get out of this apartment with a woman he liked so much he couldn’t stand being with her another minute. “I gotta run.”
She nodded and put a hand on his shoulder. “Run, then, sugar,” she said. Her smile had turned south. “And if you ever think of running back this way, call me first, okay? To be sure I’m not seeing somebody else by then? Somebody real famous maybe?”
Hoop turned away. Just before he reached her front door, he heard her say, “Hoop?”
He stopped.
He heard her say: “One more thing.”
He turned. She approached him until she stood a slap away. But it wasn’t a slap. She walked even closer and kissed his bearded chin. “Dollbaby,” she said. “Thank you for my roses.”


Note: More information about Hooperman: a Bookstore Mystery can be found at:

Saturday, November 2, 2013

You Meant…What??

It’s the first Saturday of the month, which means for this post I have my readers do most of the writing. At the end of last month’s invitational post I asked writers to send me stories about a failure to communicate. Their stories appear below. I think you’ll find some good writing here, some of it funny, some of it sad, some of it both.

It’s true that breakdowns in communication can be funny. They can be sad. They can also be disruptive to the point of disastrous. All of the above apply to my new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, due to be published this very month. The hero, Hoop, has trouble communicating: he has a severe stammer. His childhood sweetheart and the wife who left him has trouble communicating: she’s so shy she can barely speak above a whisper. Hoop’s new girlfriend has trouble communicating: she explodes with the first thing that comes to mind, sometimes so outrageously that it gets her in trouble with the law. Jack and Frank are two older guys who are the best of friends but can’t communicate with each other because they’re always arguing and never listening. Martin, the shipping clerk, has trouble communicating: he has a disorder that compels him to pepper every sentence with profanity. And so forth. The irony is that each of these characters is intelligent and has a lot to say, but they all suffer from a failure to communicate.
In writing Hooperman, I learned a lot about communication problems, and I was surprised to learn how effective they are for creating a tense, funny plot.

For more info about Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, see

On with the guest stories:

by Madelyn Lorber

A family of six, inspired by a travel article, rented a motor home. They drove through Colorado and Wyoming. Mountains, streams, wildlife, wildflowers, Wild West history competed with sibling bickering, mechanical ineptness, and the parent couple’s state of horniness. 
When the waste gauge registered “over-full,” they found a campground with a sanitation station. Following printed instructions, she manned the outside hose and a knob to be turned counter clockwise. He, inside, was to push the commode’s switch then flush at a planned synchronized countdown.
Things went wrong.
Covered head-to-toe in excrement, expletives and tears poured forth. Five cowards hid.


by June Kosier

 I went to hear Gregory Maguire talk about his new book at the library.
The next day, I was telling someone on the elevator at work about his great talk. My coworker asked the title of the book. Loud as can be I stated “Son of a Witch” as the elevator stopped on a busy floor and the doors opened to a waiting crowd.
That afternoon, son of a gun, I was in the front office because I had sworn on the elevator. It doesn’t pay to wear a nametag.
Thankfully, I had bought a copy of the book.


by Tim Hershberger

John entered his living room and kicked off his shoes. After the long day of work he assumed his traditional position in his chair in front of the T.V. and switched it on.
Amanda stormed in, yelling again, but John had long ago learned to tune her out when she was on one of her rants. He had also mastered the ability to catch a few words in order to nod appropriately when needed.
Amanda yelled, “Is this all that’s in store for us? I’m leaving you!” and promptly left.
John nodded, thinking, “Good, she’s leaving for the store.”


by Pat Shevlin

“For your own protection, you should have a witness if you intend to terminate Jim.” As usual, the H.R.’s recommendation was rebuffed. “No, I don’t want to embarrass him.”
An hour later, Jim exited the CEO’s office, sat down at his desk. He continued to come to work for another three months.
Year-end drew near and the question loomed: what actually took place in the CEO’s office that morning?
As a diversion to increasing resentment fueled by a well-documented history of failed firings, the staff started a pool to pick Jim’s last day. Everyone wanted in, including the CEO.


by Joseph M. Bonelli

Ron managed a warehouse and often reprimanded drivers who bungled an important delivery. His profane tirades would end calmly with, “Now what is it you didn’t understand?”
We would have coffee and play a State Lottery game, similar to Keno. Ron always played the same five number grouping.
This day he arrived late. I indicated some of his numbers were hot over the past few games. Surprisingly, he played a different combination. Sure enough, the old favorites were all drawn. His dollar ticket would have won $300.00.
Making eye contact, I inquired, “Now what is it you didn’t understand?”


by Tina Omari

On a crisp autumn afternoon in Fairfield Connecticut, octogenarians Charles, his wife Jane, and a friend Grace, retired to the family room after lunch. Charles walked over to the back window to admire the fall colors in the woods behind the house.
After staring intently he said, “I just saw a deer.”
Grace looked up and said, “I don’t like beer.”
Startled, Charles responded, “I said I saw a deer.”
Jane, deciding to side with hard-of-hearing Grace, said, “I also don’t like beer.”
Charles threw up his hands in exasperation and walked back saying, “I too have never liked beer.”

by Christine Viscuso

John paced back and forth, waiting for Bob to arrive. He had invited his friend at the last minute to go hunting. He knew Bob was not an early riser. It was 5:30 am and he was an hour late.
Screeching brakes sounded and a door slammed. John kissed his wife and walked towards his car. Through the morning mist he could see his friend running towards him, wearing his camouflage cap and nothing else, waving his rifle.
“What are you doing?” John cried. “We’re going to hunt bears.”
“You know I’m a naturist. I thought you meant ‘bare hunt.’”


by Jerry Giammatteo

We have been friends for many years. We went to ballgames, hit the bars, and eventually got married and had kids.
Some time ago, he became ill. It wouldn’t go away. Medications, elective surgeries and radical treatments followed. His friends and some doctors felt he had depression. When mentioned, it was a conversation stopper.
 “I don’t have depression,” he’d say, sometimes quite angrily. “I’m sick.”
He stopped calling and taking calls from his friends. He generally only responded to emails. His marriage fell apart.
 “One day, I’ll tell you guys my side of the story,” he said.
We’re waiting.


Now, for next month’s invitational post, here’s your challenge. Following up on this month’s topic, for December, the month of giving, I want you to send me a story that is about a gift—a strange and surprising gift. Make it a warm and wonderful gift, or an icy cold disappointment, but make this story mean something and fill it with irony.

Here are the rules:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot, characters, and conflict.
4. The deadline: the first of the month.
5. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: