Me as a Friend

I’ve lost track of a number of people over the years – at first because I was a child growing up in an Air Force family, attending numerous schools, and not really understanding the importance of connections. When I became an adult, people moved through my life, and I had varying reactions to their appearance and/or disappearance.

But there have been two people I’m feeling sad about this morning. After my first few Biscuit McKee Mysteries were published, I met Melinda Cowan at a meeting of the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Association. Melinda and her husband owned Cowan’s Book Nook in Ellijay, Georgia, and she eventually invited me to drive up to the North Georgia mountains to sign books at her store.

We developed a delightful friendship. The Book Nook was such a wonderful place. Melinda and her staff were knowledgable about all the books they carried, and they hosted my book launches and signings–I did a lot of signings there–with grace and verve.  When they opened a second store in Blue Ridge I added that one to my list of favorite places to sign books.

I felt devastated when I found out that they had to close the Ellijay store and, not too long thereafter, the one in Blue Ridge as well. Melinda’s email address was through the store’s website. My emails to her bounced back as undeliverable. Her phone was the store’s phone number; she was unreachable.

The second friend I lost contact with was Patricia Schaefer, an educator with the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services. Again, her email and phone were through the department. Although we’d had a great working relationship throughout the time I volunteered at GCFES, once she took another job, those both became unusable. Patti and her family attended Gwinnett Choral Guild concerts when I sang in them; we laughed together; we were on a hugging basis. And then she was gone.

Now, I understand that people’s work info changes. I get that. But what I don’t understand is why, with all the ways to contact me, they’ve dropped completely out of my life. They both had my home email address. They both could send me a Facebook message through my author page. They both had my phone number.

And I’ve gotten to wondering What does this say about me as a friend? What message does it give me about the value of my friendship?

Have you ever lost someone like this? Do you even know why?

Parkview High School Forensics Classes

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to the forensics science classes at Parkview High School in Lilburn GA. This is the third year I’ve been invited there, and it’s always fun. It’s also always a LONG day — I have great respect for teachers who keep up such a schedule consistently.

I was there to speak about how I wrap forensics into my murder mysteries, so I took copies of my own books plus a number of the reference texts I use on a regular basis: Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens, Grave Matters: a journey through the modern funeral industry by Mark Harris, Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples, Bones: a forensic detective’s casebook by Dr. Douglas Ubelaker, Police Procedural: a writer’s guide to the police and how they work by Russell Bintliff, and of course, Forensics for Dummies by D.P. Lyle.

I spoke about the way I deal with specific social issues in my Biscuit McKee mysteries – bipolar disorder, suicide prevention, the long-term effects of childhood abuse, and so on. I do this because I consider it part of my responsibility as a writer to give people more than just a good story (although that’s very important, too!) I want to give my readers good information they can take away with them, which is why I list toll-free numbers and websites at the end of my books so people can get information or help for themselves or for a friend, relative, or colleague.

Whenever I speak, though, I go with the flow, and with each class it seemed right to read the first chapter of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, my first ScotShop Mystery, which has Peggy Winn discovering that her boyfriend is cheating on her. She complains to her friend Karaline, at which time Karaline tells her, “Just kill him and get it over with.”

My friend Jackie White, who writes under the name Jaclyn Weldon White, read that chapter in draft form and then wrote a song called “Just Kill Him, Girl.” Naturally, I had to sing it to the students. It seemed to be a big hit, as a number of students asked if I would record it so they could download it from iTunes.

The loveliest compliment, though, showed up in my inbox this morning, with a note that Alex Bond had linked a post of his to my Fran Stewart Author Facebook page. Here’s what he wrote, as soon as school was over yesterday:

Fran Stewart just came to Parkvkew High School. She talked about her career as an author and the whole presentation was simply inspiring. As a songwriter, I was very intrigued with her stories. She also had said something that caught my attention. She said that she wanted her audience to be entertained by the stories, but she also wanted them to finish the book understanding her message and reason for writing for the stories. That was one of the many things I could relate to. I want my audience to finish my songs with a new perspective and an apprehension of the message in the song. Ms. Stewart’s visit was much needed for me personally and I plan to read her books in the future. Thanks Fran Stewart, you’re truly inspiring!

Thank you, Alex. And best wishes with your song-writing.

Book Launch and Blog Tour

In less than a week, A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP goes public. Let’s hope it goes viral.   Right now, “New York Times Bestseller” is a dream. Wouldn’t it be fun if it were a reality?

Getting this book available for your hands has taken a long time. The way the publishing industry works, I’m already hard at work writing book number 3 in the ScotShop Mystery Series.

With three book launches scheduled (see the Appearances tab) and a baker’s dozen of guest blog appearances (see Blog Tour tab), I’ll be extra busy over the next few weeks, but never too busy to respond to your comments. When you read WEE MURDER – let me know what you think.

Hank and I

Hank Phillippi Ryan was teaching at the Mystery Writers of America University in Atlanta last week, and she stopped by Eagle Eye Books in Decatur to sign copies of her newest thriller TRUTH BE TOLD. Naturally, I was there (as were other members of the Atlanta Chapter of Sisters in Crime) to buy a hardcover copy and get it signed.

at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA

at Eagle Eye Books, Decatur GA

Besides telling us where the name Hank came from (nickname from her college years), Hank talked about how her work as an investigative reporter is a fantastic source of leads for story ideas.

“Where do you get your ideas?” That’s one of the most frequently-asked questions a writer hears. And it’s a great question, because where we get our ideas feeds directly into the stories we create from those ideas.

A hundred people can see one event – but it’s usually only the writer who will ask “what if…”

What if this happened? What if that happened? What if a man walked down this street instead of that one? What if a woman chose to leave for work earlier than usual (or later)?What if the fire had started in the garage rather than the bedroom? What if someone buying a new car found a body in the trunk?

Hank made me think about how I generate my story ideas.

Just as Hank asked what if there’s a dead body in that house where the eviction is happening, I had to ask, years ago, what if there’s a dead body in the library?

With that question in mind, I began to write ORANGE AS MARMALADE.

Why did I create Martinsville GA as the scene of my Biscuit McKee mysteries? And why will Hamelin VT appear as the scene of my new ScotShop series next March? Those two small towns come directly from the fact that I grew up as an Air Force brat. Four different schools in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

Still, there was one constant, in every place we lived – Germany, Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee . . . a library. I must admit, I never did find a body behind the stacks, but Martinsville is the home town I always wanted, but never had – a feeling shared by many service families.

So, where does Hamelin come in? Well, there’s another question I had to think about: what if somebody bought a shawl in Scotland, and it had a ghost attached to it?

Now there’s a question to start off a book right!

Trip to New York

Part of the fun of being a (very lucky) writer is getting to know a wonderful editor. Last year after I signed the contract with Berkley Press for the ScotShop Mystery Series, I flew to New York to meet my agent and editor face-to-face. I had a great time, enjoyed them thoroughly, and felt like the trip was completely worthwhile.

Recently, though, I received the edits of A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP back from Michelle Vega, my editor, and I changed from simply liking her, to being eternally grateful that she’s the one handling my ScotShop mysteries. Every change she wanted me to make made absolute sense. I could see that she and I were in sync with the flow of the series, and I now feel so much more comfortable with placing my “babies” in her capable hands.

Last week, my second visit to New York was equally enjoyable, but this time I had the fun of telling her how very much I appreciate the way she’s editing my book. I look forward to many years in association with Berkley Press!