Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hi ho, hi ho, it's home we go. I've been in Frisco for the weekend with most of my family celebrating my birthday and I feel quite spoiled.. We sorely missed the Houston Alters. We've had unbelievably wonderful weather in Texas the last few days--some rain Thursday but never enough. But cool temperatures--a new record high (or low depending on how you look at it). Only 79 Thursday, in the eighties Friday and Saturday with cloud cover and a strong breeze.
Spent much of the day sitting outdoors. The rest of us didn't do much except say, "Can you believe this weather?" as we sat around. Jamie and Mel fixed a huge lunch--grilled sausage, sliders, chicken, peppers, and hot dogs, corn on the cob, great salad and fresh fruit--plus a few margaritas and, for me, a bit of wine. For dinner, barbecue, potato salad and all the trimmings. I'm sure I've gained five lbs. I fear I'm getting to the age where I'm not quite so fearless about divulging the truth--but here goes one more time. I'll be 76 on Tuesday. Amazing to think of because I don't feel that old--at least not most days. We were talking about what age we each feel last night--the kids mostly either feel like they're still n college or wish they felt that way.
Now in their forties (except one) and with children and careers and responsibilities, they are definitely not still in college. But as I look at each family and think how far they're come I am proud beyond words. They all have nice homes, good careers--they are conscientious and contributing citizens.
Me? I'm stuck in my thirties.
But the best part is they haven't lost their sense of fun, their love for their past. The most frequently heard words have been, "Remember the time when....." We've even started telling baby stories about the grandchildren.
We ended the day with concerts--a ten-year-old on electric and a fifteen-year-old on acoustic guitar. Hope the neighbors enjoyed the concert as much as we did.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

An old-fashioned look at writing

A while back I was tagged in a blog tour or whatever and asked to post about my writing process. I don't remember what I wrote except that I am a pantser. I write a one-page idea of notes about where the story is going, and then I try to come up with a zinger of a first sentence--sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Then I take off and see where my characters lead me. Often as I write I go back and add to that page of notes.
"Listen to your characters" is advice I've heard all my writing life, especially from some of the writers I respect most. I remember the late Elmer Kelton saying that he started out to write a book about a buffalo soldier, but a Comanche chief kept taking hold of he story and running with it. Ultimately, The Wolf and the Buffalo, became a story about two characters--the Buffalo Soldier, a freed slave whose life is on the rise, and the Wolf, a Comanche whose world and way of life is disappearing. They are enemies who respect each other. Another of Elmer's books, The Good Old Boys, was inspired by cowboy stories he heard from his father and other old-timers, and the characters, he said, took hold of the story like a cold-jawed horse with the bit in its mouth.
Writing to me is an art that requires sensitivity and the freedom to follow where your imagination leads you. Good and bad writing should both be the result of inspiration.
Now along comes a computer program called Scrivener, which has been the subject of much discussion on one of the listservs I follow. I not knocking those who use it--God bless them if it helps them write a better novel. Scrivener allows you to save note cards, scenes, chapters, and move them around at will in the book. I think you can also keep notes (perhaps on the note carsd) of what color a characters eyes are and other details that sometimes dance around so frustratingly in mid-story. I've avoided Scrivener and other similar programs, in spite of hearing them praised up one side and down the other, because I simply don't have time for what is apparently a steep learning curve.
But more than that, I'm afraid I'd get so lost in coordinating note cards, scenes, chapters, that the novel would never flow. As I write new scenes, new complications, even new characters come to me--and I prefer to listen to my characters. Somehow such writing-aid programs, to me, turn writing into something mechanical instead of an art.
Now I'll admit two things--plotting is hard for me (probably why I write short) and I am forever going back to search for a detail or a scene or even a character's name so I'll stay consistent. I do keep a lot of characters, and I've considered keeping a log of chapters after they're written. But that's it. Call me old-fashioned--I probably am.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Bride Who Faked It for Money

Please welcome my Wednesday guests, Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins. Shaun Kaufman has spent 30 years in the criminal justice system, both as a trial attorney and legal investigator. Colleen Collins is a multi-published author in the romance, mystery and nonfiction genres. Shaun and Colleen also co-owned a private detective agency for ten years. Links to their websites: Colleen Collins Books:; Gams and Gumshoes:; Shaun Kaufman Law: The following is an excerpt from their book, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, an article they wrote back when they worked full time as private investigations. Readers will like reading about the investigative strategy employed to disprove a woman’s claim that she and her ex-boyfriend had been secretly married.


Our agency was hired by a family lawyer to disprove a common-law marriage between his client, Clay, and Clay’s last live-in girlfriend, Patty, a paralegal for an attorney in the area. Clay and Patty are not their real names.

Patty had just filed for divorce claiming that she and Clay were married under common law. She asserted this based on multiple instances of their representations to people and government agencies that they were married. In the language of common-law marriage this is called “holding oneself out as married.” A court can find this status of marriage in a divorce proceeding based on such evidence as the couple telling others that they are married and that they conduct transactions as a married couple.

In her divorce filing, Patty made substantial claims against Clay’s retirement account and home equity in addition to demanding alimony. In short, this was a full-on divorce and if the court agreed with Patty, she would be entitled to a large settlement. Therefore, our goal was to show that although the couple had lived together, their conduct did not match the legal formula for being married. In short, we had to show that Patty was faking it for the money.

Our investigative strategy was to attack the validity of Patty’s claims, one by one:

- First, she claimed that she and Clay had registered as a married couple at a posh downtown Denver hotel the previous summer where they had a small, informal wedding ceremony in a hotel reception room. By contrast, our client claimed that they had stayed there for a weekend and had attended a Colorado Rockies baseball game with both Clay and Patty’s children (from previous marriages). Clay had paid for the room, and Patty had registered them as using the same last name.

- Second, Patty claimed that they had sent Christmas cards as “Mr. and Mrs. Clay.”

- Third, Patty had two friends from the mixed softball league that she and Clay had played in who were ready to testify that Clay and Patty had openly told others that they were married.

To disprove Patty’s assertions we:

- Researched public records filed by the couple to determine if they had ever filed public, official documents indicating that they were either married or single. We confirmed at the DMV that Clay had purchased a BMW convertible two years before the break-up. Clay told us that Patty drove the car exclusively. Patty asserted in the divorce papers that the car was hers. We learned from registration records that the car was not registered jointly, and that only Clay’s name was on the title and registration. We also learned from bankruptcy records that Patty had filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy 18 months before the break-up, and she had listed herself on those papers as single with no spouse. Coincidentally, she left out any mention of “her” BMW in those bankruptcy papers. Therefore, Patty had to either admit to lying to the bankruptcy court or she would have to agree that just months before she had told a federal bankruptcy judge, in a sworn statement, that she was single.

- Contacted recipients of the Christmas cards, and none had received cards signed by both Clay and Patty.

- Interviewed the softball coach who looked up Patty’s softball registration, which did not show Clay’s name in the space for “emergency contact/spouse.”

There were some unforeseen glitches. We were stymied by hotel management when we tried to get information about the room that Clay and Patty had rented the previous summer. Management would not release information about the room, even though Clay had paid for it, because Patty had signed the room registration, which made it “her” room.

Ultimately, our attorney-client issued a subpoena for those records. The hotel billing records showed that there was never a reception room rented for the ceremony as Patty had claimed.

Tip for Writers: Keep in mind that if you have a PI in your story, he/she will not always have an easy time getting a look at hotel registrations, unlike sensationalized accounts in some private-eye stories.

The end result was that Patty and her lawyer agreed to a tiny settlement, and that there was no marriage, hence no divorce with Clay.

book Blurb

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins (June 2014).  Grab a front row seat inside the big top of justice, where a lawyer presents the world of litigation and lawbreakers. Topics include a history of trials; players in the courtroom; types of lawyers; jury experts; private investigators; trial preparation; the steps of criminal and civil trials; articles on such topics as forensics, crimes and dog searches; and much more.

Note free giveaway one copy

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Dancing for Joy Continues

Last night I had reason to celebrate--a smashing cover for my forthcoming mystery, Deception in Strange Places. Tonight the dancing continues--got word that my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries have been named the Best Selling Mystery Series for 2013 by Turquoise Morning Press. Granted, it's not quite the same as being named best-selling of, say, Berkeley Prime Crime mysteries, but it is a small accomplishment for this writer who spent years thinking she could never write mysteries. And it makes a nice talking point.
I am flattered by the people who tell me how much they like Kelly and her family, how comfortable they are with them. Local folks, of course, like reading about familiar streets and neighborhoods and restaurants in the books.
There are now four in the series--Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women,  and Trouble in a Big Box. The fifth, Deception in Strange Places, launches July 31 as an ebook, with print to follow. But that's repeating last night's news.
There is a sixth Kelly novel, out to Beta readers right now, tentatively titled "Jigsaw Puzzle Revenge" or something like that. Any reactions to that title would be appreciated.
There are other reasons to dance today--do you have certain chores that you just hate to do? I do, and I did one of them today--got my car inspected after my son-in-law Christian pointed out that my sticker was two months out of date. It's not really a difficult or time-consuming thing to do (30 minutes tops) but I always dread it. So now it's done--like going to the dentist. Behind me.
Had a lovely lunch on the patio of a new tapas restaurant, 24 Plates. They told us the patio was not ready because of last night's rain, but we took a chance  and they dried off a table and chairs for us. Texas was at its best today, unusual for mid-July--not humid, warm but not near 100, nice breeze, and the patio is lovely. Really enjoyed it, and it was good to visit with Jeannie Chaffee who I don't see often enough these days.
Tonight was neighbors' night at The Old Neighborhood Grill (one of Kelly O'Connell's favorite hangouts--so it all comes full circle). We had a full table and a live group tonight, good food, lots of laughter. Life is sweet.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cover reveal--drum roll, please

How do you like it? I think it's smashing. Many thanks to Kim Jacobs, publisher of Turquoise Morning Press, who designed it. She tells me she's noticed mysteries are going big and bold in their covers. Here's the blurb that will be on the back of the book--and, yes, in spite of the dragon image, this is another Kelly O'Connell Mystery set in Fairmount, where there are no dragons except on Ms. Lorna's silk dressing gowns. At one point or another, almost everyone in the book is pretending to be something they aren't--hence the title. But I'll let you figure out the deceptions for yourself. Could be that a dragon in the historic Fairmount Historical District is part of the deception itself.

A woman desperately seeking her biological mother, a televangelist determined to thwart that search, a hired hit man, and in the midst of it all, a reclusive diva who wears Chinese silk gowns and collects antique Chinese porcelain. Kelly has gotten herself involved in a dangerous emotional tangle this time, and Mike doesn’t tell her to back off, even when events take them from Fort Worth to San Antonio.

I hope you feel, as I do, that it's fun to be back in Kelly's world with her loyal and sometimes wacky extended family, her husband Mike who is devoted but loses patience with her, and her two growing daughters. As a reviewer said of another Kelly book, "You could meet these people in the grocery store."

And more praise for the last Kelly book, Danger Comes Home: "Author Judy Alter brings a colorful cast of characters alive scene after scene. Alter's love of cooking and infatuation with old Craftsman homes permeates the story like a dash of just the right spice in your favorite dish.
Deception in Strange Places will be available as an e-book July 31, with print to follow. Don't worry--I'll be reminding you.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Terrible times

I went to bed with a heavy heart last night, and it's stayed with me. Had dinner--mostly a lovely pleasant dinner at a wonderful seafood restaurant--with a friend who's a political scientist. She told me of her disappointment with President Obama, and for the first time I got it. He has done so much good--I'll never let go of that--but there are things he hasn't done, such as stand up to Republicans, curtail Wall Street and corporations. He's okayed drone strikes in the mid-East which too often kill civilians.
And the question I hear too often the last couple of days, from both sides of the aisle, is why didn't he go to the border while he was in Texas. I'd like to think he was avoiding the politics of a photo op but I think that's thin. I hear someone (Border Patrol, deportation people--if there are such) is taking immigrants several hundred miles into Mexico and dropping them off. For what? To where? If it's true, it's heartless.
I worry beyond belief at all those children being returned to their dangerous home countries--I very much doubt U.S. authorities will see that they are reunited with their families, so there they are--some as young as five or six--adrift in a dangerous country. I cannot bear to think of it, and I hope the U.S. will show its humanitarian side. Meanwhile Congress is playing politics with the lives of those children.
I don't understand world events as much as some, but I wonder about the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Surely the Palestinians knew they were starting a war when they kidnapped and killed three Israeli youths. And surely they knew they'd get pounded. It's all tragic, pointless and a great exercise in wasted human life. Yes, the Palestinians have had a bad deal--their homeland usurped by the Israelis. But that was generations ago--why do they continue the futile battles? Why not negotiate?
As I said I'm no expert on politics either, but I think that's part of the president's problem. Being a good and honorable and reasonable man, he expected everyone to play nice and negotiate. And he came up against the hard reality of partisan politics gone wild. If I were him, I fear I'd issue a whole bunch of executive orders.
The world, as they say, seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. I am glad some of those I loved--my parents, Uncle Charles, and other who cared passionately--are not here to see it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reflections on a Week of Food

I seem to have eaten out a lot this week, and the menus have varied wildly--from  a chef's salad and meatloaf to fresh crab, oysters and a charred artichoke--oh and there was a great scoop of tuna salad (my favorite food perhaps). It as strange to have an egg and toast for breakfast, when I usually eat cottage cheese, and I looked with awe at my tablemates who ate ham and eggs and hash browns and biscuits. If I did that I'd be uncomfortable--and soon fat as a blimp.
I often say I travel on my stomach. I like nothing better than finding a wonderful restaurant in a new city-the domed restaurant in Edinburgh comes to mind--but I equally like going to old familiar haunts, like Harrys Roadhouse, Pasquales, and Tecolote in Santa Fe. So does food define my life?
I've given some thought to writing a memoir--I'm sort of between projects, a place I find uncomfortable, though I have several possibilities on the horizon, and some projects underway that will require attention again soon but not yet. So what do I do in the meantime?
The trouble with memoir is deciding how I want my life defined. In spite of my love for good food and cooking, I don't think that's the main thread. I'd probably define my life in terms of the four children I raised as a mostly single parent--but where's the story in that? Too many women have that experience and probably many in much more difficult circumstances than me. And often without the wonderful adults my children have become. But readers want trauma--not the happy life I lead.
I've thought about anxiety, which has plagued me all my life and limited my opportunities. Once in my thirties I consulted a psychiatrist who predicted that if anything ever happened to my husband (it did--he absconded for life with one of his students) I would probably live close to a university and work there. Still makes me mad because it proved true--except I've done a lot that many people with anxiety wouldn't dare do, like traveling to the Caymans and Scotland. Still I don't want it to be the defining factor of my life.
And then there's my career in publishing and my work as an author of over 60 books (I've stopped counting but could figure it out if I had to). To other writers, it might be an interesting story, but it still doesn't define my life the way my children and grandchildren do.
And how would I work in the Scottish heritage that is so important to me? And my liberal beliefs which are part of me? And my faith? How would you organize a memoir? Chronologically? By subject? The whole thing is a conundrum to me.
I actually did write a food memoir--Cooking My Way Through Life With Kids and Books--but it sure doesn't tell the whole story. It does have recipes however.
I give up. I'm going to read a mystery now.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Introvert, extrovert--what are you?

I've been following a thread on Sisters in Crime about whether being a writer makes you more of an introvert...or maybe you write because you're an introvert. There an endless circle there, but a friend said to me that extroverts feed off people while introverts feed off themselves and quiet.
Like most people, I think I'm a bit of both, but there are days I think I may be in danger of becoming a recluse. Then there are weeks like this one--I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner out Tuesday, lunch and dinner Wednesday, and lunch today. Tomorrow and Saturday I'll be out for dinner, and Sunday I'll have company for supper. So, yes, a big part of me is an extrovert, and I know if I spend two days home alone I best look for some kind of human contact on that third day.
I will say that, for me, having a dog helps with aloneness. I carry on conversations with Sophie, and sometimes she "talks" back to me--I just wish I knew what she was saying. A friend said yesterday, "I don't speak dog," and I answered, "But don't you wish you did?" He's one of Sophie's absolute favorite people, and her intonation when she talks to him is amazing.
But wait, I'm digressing from people to dogs. I find more and more that I decline invitations, especially to large social events, because it sounds better to stay at home with my computer or a book. And there are days when I just can't wait to get to my desk, boot up the computer, and be a writer--not necessarily by writing but by checking email, Facebook, etc. A lot of ancillary stuff goes with being a writer.
Some days that rush to my desk is fueled by an aching back, although it's getting better, and I'm being fairly faithful about my yoga. But today I carried in groceries--four trips to the car--put away the cold and frozen things, and rushed to my computer. Got involved, and when I got up to meet a friend for lunch, I was astounded to see I hadn't put away the rest of the groceries. Not like me, because I'm fairly compulsive.
I'm grateful for the people who are in my house frequently, especially daughter Jordan and grandson Jacob, but I also relish the quiet of being home alone. Sometimes I get tons done and other times I fritter away the time. Sometimes weekends loom large and long and empty...but then they go by so quickly I wonder where they went.
I'm not sure my inclinations toward being an introvert have anything to do with writing, though I've traded some on being "liter'y" in other ways--as an excuse to be a little different, like not dress for success in a business suit when I was working. But that's another story.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Terry Shames and the Samuel Craddock Series

Please welcome my Wednesday guest, Terry Shames. Terry's first novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, debuted a year ago this month to resounding reviews and was named one of the top five debut novels by Mystery People. She followed it quickly with The Last Death of Jack Harbin, and the third novel in the series, featuring retired sheriff Samuel Craddock, launches soon. Although she now lives in California, Terry grew up in Texas, in a small town on which her fictional Jarrett Creek is modeled...and she captures the essence of small-town Texas to a T. Here's Terry, talking about how her life has changed in the past year.

July 16 will be the one-year birthday of my debut novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, and I’m taking stock of what the year has meant. Here are a few changes I’ve experienced:
1)    I’m not nearly as organized as I used to be. I used to be able to keep things in my head, but no more. If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t happen—in fact sometimes, it doesn’t happen even if it is written down. It’s hard for me to understand that this is a good thing. It means I’m super busy with readings and promotion and writing the next book, in addition to trying to have a social life.
2)    I’ve discovered a new side of my husband. Who would have guessed that I could tell David that not only am I too busy to go buy groceries, but too busy to go out for dinner and that he would respond by going to the grocery store and buying things for me to cook? Also, I would never have guessed that he would be so excited by the success of my first book and would quietly go about making things work in the background when I did a book reading. I didn’t know he knew how to set out wine and cheese! I guess all the years I spoiled him have come back to me in kind.
3)    I’m having a lot of fun. I’ve always been a mixture of introvert and extrovert. That has stood me in good stead as I have to work on future books and at the same time promote my books. I love being in my office, working because my series is moving forward and I feel celebrated as an author for the first time. And I also love being out and about at book signings and conferences, talking about my books and writing.
4)    It’s not all roses! As an unpublished writer, I could do as I pleased. If I was stuck on a project, I’d start another one or mess around with a short story and maybr not come back to the book for a long time. That luxury is gone. Please don’t think I’m complaining. It’s just different.
 5)    I want to stretch my wings a little bit. I’ve recently begun thinking of writing a book other than one in the Samuel Craddock series. Can I possibly write a thriller? One of those hefty books of intrigue that I love to read? Or maybe try my hand at a “big” historical novel? Stay tuned. I’m dipping my toe in, and I’ll see where it leads.
My second book, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, came out in January to fine reviews. And in October, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek launches. In this one, the town of Jarrett Creek goes bankrupt because of the mayor’s poor judgment…or is that the reason? Could it also be because of nefarious backroom deals that backfired? How will all this affect Samuel Craddock? Read it and find out. You can pre-order it! And here’s the cover:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Why I live in Texas

I have a friend who just moved from California to Texas. His bike was damaged in transit, and he took it to be repaired, expecting it to take two weeks and cost him about $300. It took half an hour and cost him $15.15. He loves living in Texas because of all the friendly people and, yes, good restaurants--though he was a connoisseur in San Francisco. Teddy got me to thinking.
I'd heard the one of the things readers would like to know about authors was where we lived and why? So I planned to do this blog beginning with sort of an apology. Texas is not an easy place to live--it's unbearably hot in the summer, unpredictably cold and icy in winter; it's one of the most red states (read ultra right wing) which is not easy for me; we now have folks carrying their guns into Target, restaurants and, I suppose, churches if they had a mind to; our governor thinks Juarez (Mexico) is the most dangerous city in Texas and apparently sincerely believes that the influx of children from Central America is part of a plot by President Obama; others of our resident think it's all a plot by the "bronze master race" to take over. No question about it, folks, we have a border crisis, but I discount those causes.
So why do I live in this state? As a kid in Chicago, I thought it was a foreign country, and I couldn't have been more surprised to end up here when my then-husband got a surgical residency. I went to TCU and earned a graduate degree in English. And I've ended up writing most of my professional life about Texas and it's tumultuous, glorious, amazing history. Even if I'm not a native (I hear that all the time), I've lived here nearly fifty years and Texas is in my blood. Even today, I write about contemporary Texas--because it's the land and the people I know.
My family and friends--my support system, if you will--are all here. I thought seriously once about moving to Santa Fe but I didn't want to leave what I have here. I love my city (friendly, lots of cultural and culinary opportunities), my house, my dog, my routine.
Texas in the spring and fall is usually a glorious place to be. Yes, we have droughts and storms and occasional tornadoes, but we have balmy temperatures, beautiful wildflowers and gorgeous days and nights.
And Teddy is right--Texas is a friendly state. Most people are kind and pleasant and will go out of their way to help you. I don't want to live anywhere else--not even Santa Fe.