Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dance of Death

Happy two days before Halloween, everyone! As you can see from the picture here, I've already been celebrating this spooky holiday. It was taken at Augie Aleksy's Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore last week during "The Big Read" tribute to Edgar Allan Poe sponsored by the Oak Park/River Forest/Forest Park libraries. That's me on the left standing next to Michael Black (Hostile Takeover), Bob Goldsborough (A President in Peril), and Luisa Buehler (The Innkeeper: A Registered Death) with Augie fronting us dressed as a monk. Thanks to the 30+ people who came out to hear us discuss Poe and all his wonderful works. We had a ball.

I promised to post a Halloween tale here today, so here goes!

by Mary Welk

I never thought it would be so easy to die.

Death stood in the doorway, beckoning with a gnarled finger while I danced what I now knew would be my last tango. I really didn't mind Death's arrival, although I hadn't expected to meet it so soon. I was, after all, only thirty-five.

Still, I'd grown tired of Tom and his endless dance lessons, his striving for perfection with every move, his criticism when I failed to meet his expectations. I felt as if I'd been dancing for years, and now that I thought of it, I had.

I didn't know when I married Tom that his hobby would become an obsession. I even enjoyed it at first, dancing the night away with my handsome husband. But then he discovered that damned televison program where celebrities are matched with professional dancers and don outrageous costumes to compete against each other. That's when Tom decided we needed lessons and I began to fall out of love. Five years later I was sick to death of the endless evenings of cha-chas, waltzes, rumbas, and tonight, the tango.

Funny I should use that phrase, sick to death. I was sick to death of dancing. I was also sick to death of Tom. Death seemed the only way out, and now it had come for me, come to cure my pain. I almost smiled at the tall figure in the black cape as we whirled and tangoed towards him. His skeletal finger summoned me, 'Come closer, closer!' I obeyed and danced unhesitatingly towards my destiny.

Then Death stepped forward and we danced right through it, Tom with a puzzled look on his face, me with a feeling of freedom I'd long forgotten. We danced through Death's cloak like it was nothing more than a whisper of air, through its bones like they were puffs of cold breath only we could feel.

And once through, Tom stopped dancing. He wilted in my arms like a flower hit by frost.

I looked up in wonder as Tom fell to the floor. Death was smiling.


Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm celebrating the 200th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe and the upcoming Halloween holiday today at with a blog that includes my flash fiction short story "The Tell-Tale Glow". This is a modern take on Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" written in 500 words. Hope you can stop by this Echelon Shorts blogsite and read it. To do so, just click on the title of this blog. That'll take you directly to the blog and story.

On Thursday I'll be posting a different Halloween short story for your reading pleasure here, so I hope you'll check out Cicero's Children in three days

Until then, enjoy!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

At Witt's End -- The Importance of Location

Don't be taken in by the sweet smile on the face of the woman shown here. Yes, Beth Solheim LOOKS like the kindly lady next door who bakes donuts for all the neighborhood kids, but she's actually a WANTED SERIAL KILLER!!!!

Oh, wait. Wrong picture. Uh... Mmm... Right. My serial killer blog is scheduled for next week. (blush, blush) Sorry about that, Beth.

Okay. I'll start over.

Beth Solheim actually is a kindly lady who lives in the lake country of northern Minnesota. (Think Lake Bemidji, cold winters, tons of snow.) I don't know if she bakes donuts for the neighborhood kids, but I do know she shares her life with a wonderful husband and a menagerie of wildlife critters. Blessed with two grown children and two grandsons, Beth is very much like the main character in her Sadie Witt mystery series: she was born with a healthy dose of imagination and a hankering to solve a puzzle. She learned her reverence for reading from her mother, who was never without a book in her hand.

By day, Beth works in Human Resources. By night she morphs into a writer who frequents lake resorts and mortuaries and hosts a ghost or two in her humorous paranormal mysteries. She's visiting Cicero's Children today to tell you a little about her upcoming book, AT WITT'S END, and to discuss the importance of location in a mystery novel. So, without further ado, here's Beth!


Thanks, Mary! And hello everyone!

As readers well know, settings can be as important to the story as the plot, especially in a cozy mystery series. Cozies welcome readers back time and time again to a small community or a friendly neighborhood where returning characters confront a new adventure.

Cozies are a fun read and engage the reader by shadowing an amateur sleuth who solves crime in a gentle manner—no blatant violence, graphic sex or jarring profanity. Cozy characters are often eccentric, funny, likeable, and the kind you’d enjoy visiting on a regular basis. Settings have equal significance. Each locale offers unique features, seasons, structures, or lends credibility to the profession of the amateur sleuth.

I decided to use a resort situated next door to a mortuary as the setting for my Sadie Witt Mystery Series. That location suited the wacky twin sisters who own the At Witt’s End resort and the occasional ghost who moseys over from the adjacent mortuary. Glorious sunsets, wildlife, the sounds of gentle lapping waves, and the scent of fragrant pine are peppered throughout the story.

Sadie Witt sees the dead. She’s a flamboyant character who uses unorthodox means when challenged with the task of helping the recently departed solve their issues. Some of these issues place Sadie in harm’s way. Because the Witt’s End Resort is centered in a tight-knit community, Sadie is able to draw on her life-long experiences and her cohorts to solve a murder. Settings have to blend with the character, as well as their beliefs and their lifestyles. Sadie may visit a metropolitan area, but would never choose to live there.

A small community and the freedom to experience the beauty of nature are important to me. I live in resort country in Northern Minnesota and only have to step out my patio door to relish the wonders of nature. We have a gray fox who visits daily and two fawns to love to nibble on bread I toss to them. An occasional bear wanders through and raccoons compete with the fox for attention. I drew on these experiences when building a world for my Sadie Witt Mystery Series and a few of these critters show up on the pages now and then. So do some of the zany characters who frequent our Minnesota resorts.

A death coach is expected to counsel patients experiencing life-threatening illness. But that’s not the case for sixty-four year old Sadie Witt, owner of the Witt’s End Resort, because her clients are already dead. They checked into Cabin 14, where no guest leaves alive. Her guests will be shocked to learn that the flamboyant Sadie is their conduit to the hereafter. Clad in the latest fashion trends (fads typically reserved for those without sagging body parts) and sporting hairdos that make bystanders want to look away but can’t, Sadie realizes that one of the guests had been murdered and must work against the clock to untangle the web and prevent further mayhem.

Five guests, all with hidden agendas, must help Sadie solve the murder and protect the mysterious contents of a black leather briefcase. They are ill prepared for the unorthodox manner in which this colorful woman leads them on their final journey.

I hope you enjoy my visit to Cicero's children. I’d love to hear your comments, so please email me at

Visit my Blog, Facebook and Twitter pages and check back for updates. -- AT WITT'S END, released by Echelon Press in early 2010


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bouchercon, Books, and Babies

Bouchercon has come and gone, but what a treat it was! Jim Huang and his fellow organizers put on quite a show in Indianapolis this past weekend. I drove down there from chicago on Wednesday afternoon with my traveling buddy and fellow author Luisa Buehler (The Innkeeper: A Registered Death), arriving at our off-site hotel just in time to have dinner with Echelon publisher Karen Syed and her lovely mother Nancy. Bob Goldsborough (A President in Peril)joined us at the hotel on Thursday, and off we all went to the Hyatt Regency where Bouchercon was just getting into high gear.

After registering, I was off to the Hospitality Suite where I was volunteering an hour each day. Hospitality was managed by Brenda Stewart, and a more capable, friendly, and organized woman I've yet to meet. Kudos to Brenda for an outstanding job. Working Hospitality was fun as I met a lot of old friends who stopped by there for a cup of coffee and other goodies provided by the Indy chapter of Sisters in Crime. Pictured here are Deb Baker, Barb D'Amato, Kaye Barley with Mary Jane Maffini, retired librarian extraordinaire Doris Ann Norris, and Anthony Award winner Julie Hyzy.

Deb writes two series, one set in Michigan and one in Arizone. Both are amateur sleuth series, and both are great IMHO. Doris is an avid mystery reader who goes out of her way to welcome new authors to the fold. She is truly a friend to all in the mystery community. Kaye is a long time member of DorothyL, an online list for mystery fans, and writes the "Meanderings and Muses" blog. Like Doris, Kaye is knowledgeable about books in general and mysteries in particular.

Mary Jane Maffini is a Canadian whose three series are set in Canada and feature wonderfully memorable charaters. Mary Jane is also known for her short stories, especially those found in the six "Ladies Killing Circle" anthologies.

I dare anyone to say they don't know Barbara D'Amato. Barb is the award winning author of two series and several stand-alone mysteries, a playwright and researcher, and a past president of Sisters in Crime and MWA.

Her Figueroa & Bennis novel, Authorized Personnel Only, won the first annual Mary Higgins Clark Award in 2001. Her latest book is the thriller Foolproof, co-written with Jeanne M. Dams and Mark Richard Zubro, to be published in December 2009. She has a new yet-untitled novel coming out from Tor/Forge in 2010.

Last but not least, here's a pic of Julie Hyzy speaking at the Anthony awards ceremony after receiving an Anthony for "State of the Onion" for Best Paperback Original mystery. I've known Julie for years and I was thrilled when her name was announced at the awards ceremony. Julie is a fine writer, and after years of honing her craft, she truly deserves all the success she's now enjoying.

Bouchercon was great fun and finished with a bang with an author book giveaway preceeded by the silent and live auctions benefiting Indy literacy activities. Congratulations to Deb Watson and Sandy Tooley who so capably ran the two auctions. You both did a magnificent job!

And now, just a little news of my own. The third book in my "Rhodes to Murder" series is being re-released by Echelon Press in 2010. This revised edition of "To Kill A King" will feature a new cover and will be released under the title "The Heat Wave Murders". I'm thrilled to have my entire backlist available again and hope you all approved of this newly edited edition.

Some of you have been asking to see updated photos of my youngest grandson. Well, here they are. Christian is now eight months old and is doing just beautifully. He's a happy baby, very strong and active, and wants only to walk, walk, walk! No, he can't walk on his own yet, but does he ever scoot around in his rolling walker! He loves our driveway where he can roll on and on and on.

We have another baby in the family, except this one's a dog! Bonita (pictured here with my daughter Jennifer)is a Newfoundland Lansier. Jen and husband Jay got her when she was ten weeks old. She's now thirteen weeks old and has gained five pound a week since arriving in their home.

Our grandsons Dan and Zach love their new puppy, but guess what! Bonita has already eaten their homework! Yes, at thirteen weeks she reached over the edge of the kitchen table and gobbled up their papers. If you know anything about Newfies, you'll understand how she managed it. Bonita's mom weighed 145 pounds and her dad weighed 185. We're taking bets on how big this baby will get! :)


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Welcome, Marilyn!

Today I'd like to welcome Marilyn Meredith to Cicero's Children. Marilyn is a good friend of mine, an excellent writer and someone I admire for her life-long service to those less fortunate than she. Marilyn's Deputy Tempe Crabtree series grabbed me from the start due to her great characters, unique setting, and intriguing plots. Her latest book is called DISPEL THE MIST. And now, without further ado, here's Marilyn!


Thanks, Mary! People always ask me why I go to mystery conventions and conferences.
My primary reason has always been to enjoy myself—and I always do on several levels.
Meeting new people and making friends is one of the big pluses at any con. Mary Welk is one of the people that I first met at Mayhem in the Midlands and I spent time with her at other Mayhem’s and at Malice too. That was my husband’s favorite conference because Mary’s husband guided him around to the Smithsonian Airplane Museums. We also had a great time at Love is Murder in Mary’s backyard in Chicago. (Well, not literally her backyard—but she did take hubby and me to visit her home and we saw her backyard all covered in snow.)

We’ve gone to many of the bigger cons, Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime—along with some of the smaller writing conferences like Epicon and the Public Safety Writer Association where we’ve made friends not only with mystery writers but police officers and firemen. Great sources for expertise on law enforcement and firefighting.

And, here I must mention that I’ve used Mary’s expertise concerning medical issues more than once. Though I know other nurses, Mary is an expert when it comes to emergency room procedures too.

Hubby and I also enjoy going to cons because they are held all over the country and traveling to them has given us the opportunity to see places we’ve never visited. I won’t bother listing them all, but one of the highlights for me was attending both Left Coast Crime and Bouchercon when they were held in Alaska. I met a Native woman who I’ve kept in contact with and even spent a few days with at her home in Wasilla.
Most writers seem to go to conventions to promote their latest book—and of course I do that too. However, not being a big name author, I’m never going to sell enough books to offset the cost of traveling to a convention and the related expenses.

Of course as I attend next year’s cons, I’ll be telling everyone about my latest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, Dispel the Mist. I had such a wonderful time researching this one and learning all about the Tule River Indian’s legendary Hairy Man. Though he is similar to Big Foot he is not as well known, but there is an eight-foot tall pictograph of him in a rock shelter on the Tule River Indian Reservation. It is the only known pictograph of any Big Foot creature in California.
While my heroine, Tempe, investigates the murder of a popular county supervisor she has an encounter with the Hairy Man.

The legends surrounding the Hairy Man are delightful as well as the stories told by locals of sightings. Is the Hairy Man a fictional character or is he real? Read Dispel the Mist and judge for yourself. It is available from the publisher at http://www.mundaniapress as an e-book or trade paperback as well as other bookstores.

Thank you, Mary, for allowing me to visit your blog today.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

I can't believe a week has gone by since I last wrote something here. I should be ashamed of myself, right? :) Well, Autumn is one of the busiest seasons for gardeners and writers alike, and I've been doing a lot in both fields the past few days. The garden is 50% put to bed for the winter, but seeing as how we're due for frost tonight or tomorrow evening, almost all my other flowers will be gone by the time I leave for Bouchercon on Wednesday.

Speaking of Bouchercon, this is one of the books I'll be promoting there. The Rune Stone Murders won a Readers Choice Award for Best Traditional Mystery when it was first released. Here's the blurb from the back cover:

The discovery of a rune stone on campus property threatens to disrupt the Festival of Knights, Bruck University’s annual Renaissance Faire. Andrew Littlewort is convinced the stone is a genuine Viking relic. But when the eccentric professor tries to prove his theory, he stirs up a hornet’s nest of trouble that quickly leads to murder.

With suspects as bountiful as the flowers on Bruck Green, President Garrison Hurst once again turns to Caroline Rhodes for help. The quick-witted ER nurse has quite a challenge ahead of her. Is Professor Littlewort as innocent as he claims? Is Sid Burke just another troubled student? Why does Bruck’s gardener call his flowerbeds ‘paths of gold’? And what is Agatha Hagendorf really watching through her telescope at the Rhineburg Boarding House and Home for Gentle Women?

Caroline Rhodes must heed the warning of a gypsy fortuneteller when she teams up with Professor Carl Atwater to track a killer without a conscience in little Rhineburg, Illinois.

And here are some of the things people said about the book:

"A nicely woven campus mystery…characters so appealing you will think of them as friends."

Romantic Times Magazine

"Like Elizabeth Peters, Mary Welk knows how to create a good escape world. The remarkable thing is she does so using familiar, everyday characters and setting."

Mary Saums, author of the THISTLE & TWIGG mysteries

“If I was an accident victim, I would be relieved if Caroline were my ER nurse. If I were a murder victim, I would definitely want her to investigate my death. I'm already enrolling my children at Bruck University, and can't wait for my next dose of life in Rhineburg.”

Donna Moore, award-winning author of GO TO HELENA HANDBASKET

“An alluring who-done-it with plenty of suspects and red herrings.”

Harriet Klausner, reviewer

5 star reviews from Amazon:

“A medieval extravaganza so wonderfully described you want to join in the jousting and carousing. I could almost smell that barbecue.”

“Fast-paced, funny, and keeps the reader wanting to come back for more.”

“Descriptions of the Renaissance Fair were so good I felt like I was wearing the costumes.”

“A cozy mystery with a strong plot and continuous action.”

“A diverse group of characters in a fast paced plot that was both realistic and entertaining.”

I seldom blow my own horn here on Cicero's Children, but I'm excited about this book and the prospect of introducing it to folks I've never met before at Bouchercon. If you're planning to attend Bcon and just want to visit for a few minutes, you can find me in the Hospitality Room every day from 10 am to 11 am. Stop by if you have a free minute or two. I'd love to meet you.

And if you're not going to Bcon, or if you can check this site again before you leave for Indianapolis, please stop back on Oct. 13 to read a guest blog from my good friend Marilyn Meredith. Marilyn is the author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries, the latest being DISPEL THE MIST. I know you'll enjoy reading what Marilyn has to say.


Friday, October 2, 2009

October Memories

It's October 2nd, and the official celebration of Autumn has begun at our house. A fall wreath decorates the front door, and two pumpkins -- each one already sporting a bite from a curious squirrel -- rest regally on the outside steps. The Robin Hood roses are making one last attempt at a desperate show of courage, but already the lawn is covered in leaves, signaling the end of the growing season in Chicago.

At this time of year I can't help but recall my many childhood adventures at Olson Memorial Park. The old postcard above shows it during summertime, but its true glory days came in the fall when Indian Summer was celebrated to the hilt there. A witch riding a broom across the face of a huge harvest moon soared high above the cold, clear waterfall while ghosts flapped eerily from the branches of juniper and spruce trees. Mums of every color vied with sunset-orange pumpkins for places of honor on the rocky steps leading up to the falls. It was a delightful sight for children and adults living in the heart of a big city, and it was all made possible due to one man's love of nature.

The Olson Rug Company was established in Chicago in 1874. A huge manufacturing mill was built on the corner of Crawford (later remaned Pulaski) and Diversey Avenues in the city. The mill put out the highest quality carpeting and was "the place to go" for rugs and carpets for many years.

During the war years, when raw material was scarce and people made do with what they had, Chicagoans sent their old wool rugs, rags, clothing, and other cloth material to the Olson factory. The company then turned these items into new area rugs for their customers.

It was during the Great Depression that Walter E. Olson, owner of the company, decided to build a park on the 22-acre lot next to his factory. Olson owned a vacation home in St. Germaine, Wisconsin. As the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, Olson wanted to "transplant some of the Wisconsin out of doors to the then somewhat drab factory grounds." The project took 200 workers six months to complete. 800 tons of stone and 800 yards of soil were used to build the park with its rock garden, duck pond, and 35-foot tall waterfall. 3,500 perennials were planted along with pine trees, arbor-vitae, spruce and junipers, and hundreds of annual flowers.

The park opened in 1935 on the 100th anniversary of the expulsion of Native American tribes from Illinois to land across the Mississippi after the Blackhawk War. Walter Olson made a symbolic gesture at the opening ceremonies by deeding the park back to these tribes. He also memorialized their former occupation of the land by erecting a statue of a Native American chief standing outside a teepee high up on the rocks to the left of the waterfall. To the right of the waterfall he placed a totem pole.

Olson Memorial Park was open to everyone free of charge. Set in the middle of a blue-collar neighborhood, it attracted Chicagoans from all over the city. Sunday afternoons were always busy times, but the displays mounted for Indian Summer and Halloween drew the biggest crowds. The park was a major Chicago attraction for decades. Then, in 1965, the Olson family sold their factory to Marshall Field's.

In 1970 Joni Mitchell wrote the hit song "Big Yellow Taxi". One verse to that song goes like this: "They took all the trees, put 'em in a tree museum. And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." Joni Mitchell wrote that song about Hawaii, but it holds just as true for Chicago.

The Marshall Field Company closed the Olson Memorial Park in the 1970's. They dismantled the waterfall, tore down the rock gardens, and bulldozed the trees and flowers into oblivion. The site became what the Chicago Tribune called "the first of Chicago's Seven Lost Wonders".

Yep. Joni Mitchell had it right. Field's paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

My children never got to experience the joy of a cool Indian Summer evening spent wandering through Olson Memorial Park, never got to see the Indian chief standing there by the waterfall with his arms upraised to heaven, never felt the goosebumps I felt as a ten-year-old watching the witch on her broomstick flutter in the night breeze. Those are things I can only share as memories with my siblings and cousins, all of whom loved the park as much as I.

October memories. They're some of the best.