Friday, July 31, 2009

Win a Book on Fun Friday!

It's FUN FRIDAY again, and today I'm offering a reward to the person who can answer the most questions from this blog and last week's FUN FRIDAY blog. That's right -- you have to scroll down to my last blog to read the questions there, then send me the answers to those and to the questions below.

And what will be your reward for doing this, you ask. Well, the person who submits the most correct answers from both blogs will receive a copy of Cynthia Polansky's wickedly wonderful book, REMOTE CONTROL. REMOTE CONTROL tells the story of Judith McBride, a thirty-something control freak who dies unexpectedly after a routine medical procedure. After landing on Heaven's "Level Seven", Judith attempts to use her supernatural powers to save her widowed spouse from the clutches of his gold-digging accountant, a blonde bombshell with a penchant for thrill-seeking adventures. Will Judith break the laws of Heaven by interfering with human behavior, thus risking a descent to an uncomfortably hotter level of the afterlife? Or will her imaginative conniving somehow manage to secure a good future both for herself and her husband? Only the reader knows!:)

So here we go with today's questions. Send your answers as a comment to this blog or directly to me at Oh, and BTW, in case of a tie, I'll draw one name from those entries for the winner of the book.

Who is Hercule Poirot's sidekick?

Who wrote the Perry Mason series?

In what town did Miss Marple live?

What facial feature is Jim Qwilleran famous for in the "Cat Who" series?

What was Charlie Chan's highest rank in the Honolulu Police Department?

What awards are given out at the Malice Domestic mystery con?

Where is Edgar Allan Poe buried?

What was the address of Sherlock Holmes' lodgings in London?

Who is the author of the series featuring hard-luck thief John Dortmunder?

Who is the co-author of Rita Mae Brown's mysteries?

Who writes the "Death on Demand" series?

What is the name of Amelia Peabody's son?

What is the name of Raz Buchanon's pig in the Maggody series?

Who played Perry Mason on TV?

What Scotland Yard official assisted Lord Peter Wimsey in his investigations?

Okay, those are the questions. You have a week to send in your answers in order to be eligible to win a copy of REMORE CONTROL.

And here's some good news for those of you who live in the Annapolis, MD, area. Cynthia's book REMOTE CONTROL is available at Hard Beans Coffee and Books, 36 Market St, Annapolis, MD. If you don't live nearby, you can order a signed copy of the book from Hard Beans by calling 1-410-263-8770 or visiting their website at

See you next week!

Friday, July 24, 2009


It's "Fun Friday" again, and that means it's time for some MYSTERY TRIVIA! Let's see if you can answer these questions.

Who said, "Advice after mistake is like medicine after dead man's funeral."

What was the name of Perry Mason's secretary, and who played her part in the TV series?

Name at least three actresses who portrayed Mis Marple in the moveie or on TV.

Who writes the Maggody series?

What are the names of Arly Hanks' mother and her mother's best friend?

How many children did Charlie Chan have?

What's the address of Perry Mason's office?

Where did Nancy Drew live?

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in what story?

What is the name of Charlie Chan's #1 son?

What does "Ruby" stand for in Ruby Bee Hanks' name?

What is Dahlia Buchanon's favorite food?

Who wrote the Myron Bolitar series?

Who are the Anthony awards named for?

What was the name of Nancy Drew's boyfriend?

Whose series' titles bear the names of English pubs?

Who writes the Caroline Rhodes mysteries? (Careful! This is a tricky one!)

Hope you have fun with these questions. Stop by next week for the answers and some interesting info on upcoming events.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Yes, I found a few more strange events reported in the news this week. If you think you have problems with rabbits, deer, and skunks, how about this post from Germany? reported that German police received a late-night call saying there was a dead animal blocking local traffic. When they answered the summons, the police found a live but very drunken badger staggering down the middle of the road. Apparently the poor thing had been eating overripe cherries from a nearby tree and became intoxicated by them. Experienced in dealing with drunks, the officers kindly guided the badger off the road and into a meadow where he could sleep it off.

Ah, yes. Sweet cherry wine will get you every time.

"Uh, sorry, Occifer. I dinnit know the fruit wasss loaded."

Staying with today's animal theme, how about this one?

According to Weird Asia News, a man in Japan is accused of stealing lawn ornaments to keep him company. Police were called when a homeowner saw Osamu Kimura making off with a ceramic frog from his front yard. The officers caught up with Kimura as he was stealing a 2-foot tall ceramic raccoon from another yard. They later found over 30 ceramic frogs, dogs and raccoons inside Kimura's apartment. Now under arrest, Kimura said he stole the lawn ornaments so he'd have someone to talk to.

Now that story is kind of sad. Obviously you have to be really lonely -- and somewhat emotionally disturbed -- to sink to stealing lawn ornaments.

But aren't there a few of us who'd like to do the same thing Kimura did, but for other reasons? I know I would, and I imagine some of my furry friends would feel the same way.

"Don't do it, Fred! If they catch you..."

"If they catch me, they'll give me a medal, not send me to prison."

"But they're our neighbors! You can't do that to a neighbor!"

"You wanna bet I can't? Just watch me."

"Please, Fred! Put the gun down!"

"No! There's too damn many of them. They gotta go!"


"Ha, ha, ha! Five more lawn ornaments bite the dust!"

Nice job, Squirrely!:)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's "I HAVE A QUESTION" week!

Yessiree! It's "I HAVE A QUESTION" week! And my question this week is...ARE THESE PEOPLE NUTS, OR WHAT??


STRANGE EVENT #1: According to a news report on AOL, a bride and groom in Suvereto, Tuscany, hired a plane so the bride could fly over the guests at the wedding reception and throw her bouquet to the females gathered below. Instead of falling to the ground, the bouquet was sucked into the plane's engine. The engine then caught fire, causing the plane to crash into a hostel. The pilot and wedding guests walked away unscathed, but the bride suffered several broken bones plus a head injury and had to be flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital.

I see the story unfolding this way:

"The winds blew gently through the streets of Suvereto, making it the kind of day Anthony had prayed for ever since choosing that date for his marriage to Anna Marie. His bride's rich father had not been happy with the match, calling Anthony a scoundrel who was only marrying Anna Marie for her money. But the poor girl was besotted by Anthony's smile, his good looks and charming manners, and especially by the way he kissed her. He doubled the passion of those kisses now as he led her to the plane that would carry her high above the wedding guests. The plan was for Anna Marie to fly over the reception area and toss her bouquet to the women below. Little did she know when Anthony first suggested the idea that her husband-to-be was plotting a little 'accident' for his new bride. All he needed was for the the wind to cooperate. He smiled when he felt the breeze stiffen as the pilot banked into a curve above him. He saw Anna's hand in the open window, the bouquet fluttering madly in the draft from the plane's wings, and he knew his idea would work."

Yep, I could build a story around the stupidity of these people. But how about this next STRANGE EVENT.

According to the Seattle Times newspaper, Air New Zealand has come up with a new in-flight safety video that features a male attendant and a female attendent wearing nothing but body paint while explaining passenger safety instructions. "Strategic camera angles make the video family friendly," says the newspaper.

"We wanted to find a way to deliver these important pre-flight messages to our domestic travelers in a way that was genuine, engaging and fun," Air New Zealand marketing manager Steve Bayliss told the Seattle Times.

Well, I'm not sure what the Air New Zealand execs were thinking when they came up with that one, but I can tell you this: no way am I going to try to whip up a story around THAT strange event! Would love to hear your comments, though. Anyone planning to book a flight to New Zealand??

I'll be back later this week with more STRANGE EVENTS!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Part Four: Creating The Rune Stone Murders

Well, so much for knowing your characters! In my last blog, I mistakenly said there were seven women living at the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women. Actually, there are only six. But these ladies do hang out with a seventh resident of Rhineburg, Bertha Meyer, and she’s the one I’d like to introduce first. This is how I describe her in THE RUNE STONE MURDERS:

"Mrs. Bertha Meyer, the baker's wife, resembled one of the sugary delicacies displayed in her husband's shop. A diminutive woman in height, she was amply proportioned in every other way, with a face as round and plump as a Bismarck, punctuated by twin dots of licorice for eyes. Her head was capped by a crown of short fluffy hair the color of vanilla butter-cream frosting. Below a set of double chins, her figure rolled downward in ever broadening stages, her imposing bosom topping a torso aptly described as butterball in shape. All this magnificence was firmly encased in a starched white apron peppered with splotches of strawberry jam beneath a fine dusting of powdered sugar.

"Standing in the doorway with the morning sun bouncing off her shoulders, Mrs. Meyer resembled nothing less than a shimmering three-tiered wedding cake festooned with red roses and baby's breath."

Of the six residents of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women, Eleanor Naumann is probably the most assertive of the bunch. Eleanor is the President of the Rhineburg Historical Society, and as such, she appears not only in THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, but also in my short story "The Case of the Fugitive Farmer" from the anthology MISSING. I describe her thus in that story:

Tall and angular, Eleanor moved with the speed of a thoroughbred, her sturdy black oxfords click-clacking on the hardwood floor like Spanish castanets.

"The war years were troublesome for German-Americans," the horse-faced Eleanor remarked in a voice made hoarse from years of smoking.

Elderly librarian Sarah Sonnenschein has none of Eleanor’s assertiveness. Looking out at the world from dim blue eyes hidden by thick-lenses glasses, Sarah speaks mainly in whispers, a trait acquired after years of reminding noisy children that silence is golden in the library. Sarah may be considered timid by some, but she’s a whiz on the computer and still works part-time in Rhineburg’s library.

I’ve described some of Sarah’s fellow residents in the following passage from THE RUNE STONE MURDERS.

"First of all, there are a few of you here whose names I don't know, even though we shared a cup of tea at the post office this morning." Caroline smiled at the silver haired lady she'd last seen wearing sunglasses. "Why don't we start with you?"

"I'm Marie Moser," the woman said nervously. "I'm a widow, and I've lived here since I sold my house seven years ago."

"Very good. You see, ladies? It's not all that hard to tell the truth." Caroline turned to the woman seated next to Mrs. Moser on the sofa. "And you?"

"Myrtle Jennings," came the reply. "I'm Marie's sister. I moved in a year ago when Angela Cummings died and her room came up for rent. I used to live in Ohio. I'm single by choice."

"Welcome to Illinois, Miss Jennings." Caroline pointed to a third woman huddled on the couch. "I've seen you at the hospital, but we were never formally introduced."

"I'm Emily O'Hara, and I'm the medical librarian at St. Anne's. I also work part time in Accounts and Billing."

"How long have you boarded with Mrs. Hagendorf?" Caroline asked the rosy-cheeked little woman.

"Ever since Mr. O'Hara passed on four years ago. My children wanted me to move in with them, but I'm young yet, and I prefer my freedom."

Mrs. O'Hara was sixty-five if she was a day. Despite that, she was the youngest of the lot. Caroline appreciated her desire to remain independent.

Last but not least, we have Agatha Hagendorf, the blue-haired proprietor of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women. Agatha uses the telescope she inherited from her dead husband to keep watch on the activities of her fellow Rhineburgers. In THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, what she sees while gazing through the telescope from her second floor window lands her in big trouble.

"Oh, dear," whispered Miss Sonnenschein.

"Be quiet," commanded Mrs. Naumann.

Caroline ignored the two ladies and continued to grind away at Agatha.

"You own a powerful telescope, but you don't always use it to look at the stars. Sometimes you aim it at the alley behind the post office." She paused to let her words sink in. "One night you saw people passing in and out of that alley. When it happened again, you began to suspect they were visiting Emma Reiser. Eventually you got up the nerve to ask her about it."

Myrtle gasped when Agatha nodded. The others appeared equally shocked, but Caroline gave them no chance to speak.

"Emma was forced into telling you her secret. She paid for your silence by giving you tips on betting, and you began making money on the deal. No one can blame you for wanting some extra cash, Mrs. Hagendorf. A widow's life can be difficult, especially when you have a large house to keep up and very little income."

Agatha sighed. "Harold's pension didn't even cover the utility bills. With him gone, I only get a minimum payment from Social Security."

"So what you won on the horses helped a great deal."

"Oh, I never played the ponies, Mrs. Rhodes." Agatha seemed shocked Caroline would even think that. "It's much too risky. I just threw a few dollars in the football and basketball pools, and I was lucky enough to win."

"You gambled on sports?"

Agatha's head bobbed up and down. "Harold was a great fan of the Bears and the Bulls. He taught me all about statistics and averages. Since he died, I've also kept up with baseball and hockey."

As you can probably guess, Agatha isn’t alone in her nefarious practice. The entire crew of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women engages in illegal betting as a way to supplement their Social Security payments.

If you’d like to learn more about these women and how their activities affect the plot of THE RUNE STONE MURDERS, please order a copy of the book from your local bookstore or library. You can also buy the book directly from Echelon Press in print or e-book format by going to I’m pleased to announce that the book will also be available in Kindle format sometime next month.

Thanks for joining me in this four-part series on "Creating The Rune Stone Murders". Next week I’ll be blogging on Homes For Our Troops, an outstanding organization that provides modified housing for injured members of our Armed Services, and two young men who organized a Chicago event to help build a new home for a local soldier.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Part Three: Creating The Rune Stone Murders

So I had my setting: a Renaissance Fair at Bruck University. I also had a plot involving a perfect heist, or what would appear to be a perfect heist until my main characters, Caroline Rhodes and Carl Atwater, started snooping around.

And I had a rune stone being discovered by some students during preparation for the fair. I’d already decided to have someone steal the stone, but the question was, why? The stone would be worth a great deal of money if authenticated as a true Viking relic. But what if it was an obvious fake? Who would want to steal it then?

Finding logical answers to those questions was hard. Figuring out how to tie the theft of the rune stone to my perfect heist was even harder. It appeared I had an unsolvable problem—until I looked at the situation from an entirely different angle.

It occurred to me that the heist could have happened years before the story began. It would be a cold case, an unresolved crime that only came to light due to the disappearance of the rune stone. Caroline and Carl would have no idea they’d be dealing with anything other than a simple theft at the beginning of the book.

And so I started to write The Rune Stone Murders. As sometimes happens to writers, I hadn’t even finished the first chapter when characters from previous books in the series started yammering away in my brain, demanding a part in the story.

The first one to be heard from was Professor Andrew Littlewort. The professor had appeared in A Merry Little Murder as a minor character at Bruck’s annual winter holiday party. Regarded by most Rhineburg residents as "squirrelly in the head", Littlewort was called "the Captain Kirk of English Literature" by his colleagues because he boldly went where no other professor dared go. His required reading list included both Shakespeare and Rolling Stone magazine, a combination not unreasonable except for his attempts to prove a similarity between the two.

Being of a tempestuous nature, the professor didn’t quiet down until I cast him as Leif Ericson’s greatest fan at Bruck U. He’s the one who takes possession of the rune stone after its discovery and ultimately ends up in big trouble because of it. (That’ll teach him for being so demanding!)

Caroline’s daughter-in-law was more polite than Littlewort, but she too demanded a part in the story. Being young and inexperienced in the ways of writers, Nikki didn’t know what she was getting into when she suggested her workplace—Rhineburg’s post office—would make a good setting for a murder. (Guess she never heard the term ‘going postal’!)

Nikki proved to be right, which is why she ended up as a major character in this book. But Nikki needed an odd cast of characters surrounding her to make the plot work. In part four of this blog on "Creating The Rune Stone Murders", I’ll tell you all about those characters, including the seven residents of the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women.

(To buy this book at, please go to