Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

I'm thankful today for all that God's given me. I deserve none of it, have done nothing to earn it, yet I've received it all nonetheless.

I'm thankful first for life, every single day of it. I'm thankful to wake up and see sunlight or clouds, rain or snow, outside my window. I'm thankful that I can see the sunlight or clouds or rain or snow, that I have eyesight that may require glasses, but I have eyesight nonetheless. And I'm thankful that no matter what the weather is outside, I am inside, safe and secure and fortunate to be in my own home.

I'm thankful for family, my husband and children and grandchildren and sisters and brothers and cousins and friends who are my extended family. I'm thankful we are all still together, thankful for every day we can still see or speak with each other, thankful I can hear their voices and still have a mind that remembers their names.

I'm thankful for colors that make the world around me bright and varied. I'm thankful for the natural world that gives me such pleasure, for the mountains I've seen and the rocky hills I've climbed, for the lakes and rivers I've dipped a toe in, for the trees and flowers that amaze me with their variety.

I'm thankful for sunrises and sunsets and sharing them with people I love. I'm thankful for the stars and the moon at night and the wonder of the galaxy of which I'm a part. I'm thankful for sandy beaches and backyard gardens and fields of corn and wheat and sunflowers.

I'm thankful for the good and the bad that's happened in my life. I've learned from both and grown because of it.

I'm thankful for mercy and compassion and laughter and tears. I've needed them all and shared them all.

I'm thankful for science and medicine, how it worked together to save my granddaughter. I'm thankful for education that made it all possible. And I'm thankful for all the people who give of themselves to make life better for the rest of us.

Most of all today, I'm thankful that I have faith in a God who created me and all that is around me. I'm thankful that while I often question the unanswerable, I still believe in the Source.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. May we be thankful every day of our lives and not just on this holiday.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Fun Friday the 13th!

Welcome to Fun Friday the 13th on Cicero's Children! It's time to have some fun with weird news stories I've collected from around the world. These first two news bit were sent to me by my son Matt. I can't verify the accuracy of the reports, but true or not, they have to make you shake your head in wonder.

From Matt: Two animal rights defenders were protesting the cruelty of sending pigs to a slaughterhouse in Bonn, Germany. Suddenly, all two thousand pigs broke loose and escaped through a broken fence, stampeding madly. The two helpless protesters were trampled to death.

And: The average cost of rehabilitating a seal after the Exxon Valdez Oil spill in Alaska a few years back was $80,000. At a special ceremony, two of the most expensively saved animals were being released back into the wild amid cheers and applause from onlookers. A minute later, in full view, a killer whale ate them both.

This story comes from my own home state. The Kane County, Illinois Sheriff's Department orders plain white patrol units and has the graphics applied locally.
In this case, what they ordered was not quite what they got. This car was driven for one week before an officer noticed what the graphics company employee did on the passenger side of the car. The employee did this on his last day working for the graphics company before he retired.

As I always say, better retired than fired!

Worried about the swine flu?? So is my daughter-in-law Cheryl. She sent me this picture showing how she's making sure my grandson Christian is safe even at home.

Can't recall who sent me the following classified ads, but they tickled my funnybone. Hope they do the same for yours. These ads actually ran in newspapers.

8-years old. Hateful little bastard. Bites!

1/2 Cocker Spaniel, 1/2 sneaky neighbor's dog.

Mother, AKC German Shepherd.
Father, Super to leap tall fences in a single bound.

Looks like a rat. Been out a while.
Better be a big reward.

Google Street View is responsible for documenting this sign discovered along a road in Vancouver, Canada. Apparently there's an outbreak of Elephantitis among the deer population there. I feel sorry for the poor critters, but even sorrier for the driver who happens to hit one! Be careful on the roads, all you Canadians!

Talk about weird stories! This one takes the cake. A 22-year-old Norwegian citizen was arrested for smuggling in Kristiansand, Norway after arriving from Denmark with 14 royal pythons and 10 albino leopard geckos hidden under his clothes. The pythons were hidden in stockings duct-taped to the guy's abdomen, and the geckos were in boxes taped to his thighs. A tarantula was also found in one of his bags.

Did he really think he could get away with it???

Well, that's all the weird news for today. Fun Friday returns next week with more strange and wonderful stories. Until then, if you have a weird news item you'd like to see posted on Fun Friday, email it to me at Fun Fridays will run until the week before Christmas when YOU the reader get to vote on the best story. The sender of that story will receive a free copy of my Christmas mystery, A MERRY LITTLE MURDER. Until Monday, have a great weekend!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Barbara DeShong (cont'd)

Welcome back to Cicero's Children where Barbara DeShong is our featured guest today. On Monday, Barbara began telling us how she started on the path to publiction. Today she's finishing up what's turned out to be quite a unique story. At the close of Barb's blog I'll be providing a review of her book, TOO RICH AND TOO THIN: NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I hope you enjoy Barb's blog and the review.


"Extreme Writing for Publication"

Phase two of Extreme Writing for Publication involved submitting work at conferences where pre-conference reads were available. This was a very important element as these conferences provide a wide variety of views on the quality of writing and marketability of work. The temptation (and I did this in spades) is to want to only submit work at pre-read conferences to agents—as a way to maybe be accepted as a client. While this can happen, often pre-reads by non-agents can be really helpful. Pre-read results can also be discouraging, in fact, if you pony up the effort, discouragement is to be expected.

The next step after I had a completed and edited manuscript, was to put together the dreaded synopsis and gasp—a pitch. As I’ve learned is often the case, when I sat down to write a synopsis, I would be gripped by an attack of what is best described as ‘situational retardation’. My sentences made no sense and my attempts came out as ‘kitchen sink’ paragraphs or over-generalized, meaningless clichés. Having benefited from my conference-going fury, I returned to the Net and signed up for a couple of New York Pitch and Shop weekends.

When I gave my first three-minute pitch, the moderator said, “I have absolutely no idea what you are even talking about.” I took his suggestion and spent lunch in my hotel room redoing the pitch. The workshops focused on ‘pitch’ were very helpful and meeting at the Greer Studios was a real kick. Not all the benefits of conferences were inside meetings. Each one offered chances to talk with other people from all over the country doing the same sort of projects. Those of us suffering and learning in the pitch workshops put together on-going email groups.

The last step of Extreme Writing was taking my pitch on the road to conferences with agent and editor feedback. I met Karen Syed at a Southern California Writers Conference…I know…where I started by walking into that hotel by accident…and Echelon bought and published “Too Rich and Too Thin, Not an Autobiography.”

I know not everyone has the time or ability to do all the travelling I did, and I don’t think it’s necessary. Since I’ve calmed down, I’ve discovered programs in my own area covering the same topics I flew across the country to attend. My decision to seek help outside the state is more the result of my wanting to accomplish a lot in a short period of time.

My goal in writing this is to speak to others who don’t have twenty years to get published. The way I see it, you can speed things up if you make a plan and go at it in a concentrated and relentless way. Relentless means not allocating time to dawdling away years in a snit after a deluge of rejections. The main thing I learned was I needed to learn to write, but even more I needed to learn to listen, even when what I heard and still hear is painful. After all, I’d like it so much better if I already knew everything.

But then, you’d think I would have stayed with just one profession. If you’ve read this far, you have the urge to write, too. And what a fabulous way to go. For me, since I was a kid, books carried me away. And what a privilege to write. I remember a line from the film about Virginia Woolf (paraphrased) when one of Virginia’s sisters remarks, “Virginia is lucky. She has two worlds to live in. The one’s she’s actually living and the one she is writing.”
So, there you go.

Barbara DeShong



Psychologist Jessica LeFave is not high on the "Favorote Persons" list of her local Texas police department. Ever since her husband's car was dragged out of Lake Austin -- with her dead husband in it -- Jessica has been insisting that the police investigate what she claims is his murder. The cops think otherwise, calling the death an unfortunate accident and pointing to a Hilton hotel receipt and another woman's wedding ring found in his pocket as proof that he was cheating on Jessica.

"Bull!" says Jessica. Convinced that her husband -- also a psychologist -- was killed in order to bury a secret revealed in therapy, Jessica begins investigating his former patients. Luck smiles on her when the cops reluctantly ask her to profile the killer of Bernice Jackson, a wealthy Texan who twisted known historical events into outrageous melodramas for her soft-porn romance novels and films. It's not a secret that Bernice was hated by historical anti-revisionists, but could an outsider sneak into a gala party held at Bernice's mansion and lure her into her mirrored bedroom in order to drive a spike through her heart? Pretty doubtful say the cops, and Jessica agrees. It's more likely that a family member or one of the actors at the party did it. But the question is, why?

Jessica begins her own investigation when she discovers that her husband was counseling Bernice Jackson at the time of his death. Jessica drags her old friend George Ramsdale into her quest for justice. A lawyer who's more concerned about his new car's interior/exterior color combination than his practice, George agrees to drive Jessica to a remote town near the Mexican border in search of answers. With George busy oogling the local beauties (human and female only), Jessica must make nice with Bernice's drug-seeking son, her binge-eating daughter, a passel of actors and hanger-oners, plus the resident motorcycle gang, while at the same time winning the confidence of the only man who can lead her to the truth.

Texas may never be the same now that Barbara DeShong hit the writing scene. Psychotics abound in this humorous and nicely plotted mystery featuring gutsy Dr. Jessica LeFave and her off-the-wall buddy George. A sprinkling of red herrings may throw the most avid armchair detective off the track, but the ending is both logical and satisfying in this series debut. Amateur sleuth fans will look forward to more mysteries by DeShong after reading this fun and action-filled adventure. I give the book five stars for originality, characterization, and a setting that can't be beat.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Barbara DeShong's Extreme Writing

I'm thrilled to have Barbara DeShong as my guest blogger today. Barb is the author of the humorous mystery TOO RICH AND TOO THIN: NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. A psychologist in private practice and consulting in Texas, Barb previously wrote a book on stress that led to speaking engagements both in her home state and across the country. Following the publication of that book, she exchanged the insanity and long hours of the writing world for the insanity and broken bones of showing horses. She credits her current writing style to having unexpectedly dismounted and landed on her head too many times without a helmet.

A blend of doing psychotherapy and writing humorous fiction is a perfect fit for Barb since she loves stories and is constitutionally incapable of staying out of other people’s business. Today she's going to share some thoughts with us on her writing style, or what she calls "Extreme Writing for Publication".


What kind of crazy person trades in a two hundred dollar an hour indoor profession with all sorts of ego-patting perks for an occupation requiring infinite unpaid work hours and multileveled rejection?

A writer. My spiral into the writing world began when strolling through Old Town in San Diego a few years back, I stuck my head into the lobby of a hotel hosting the Southern California Writers Conference. In the sort of whimsical mood that comes with February sunshine in Southern California, I strolled up to the conference registration table. When the smiling woman asked if I was registered, I laughed, coyly.

“Oh, no. I’ve thought about writing fiction…maybe I will once I retire.”

“Don’t wait. Start now,” the woman said, looking straight into my eyes. (Those Southern Californians are stronger than the rest of us. It’s the freeway experience.)

“Who knows?” I said, slipping a brochure for the next conference in my jeans pocket. Any excuse to come to San Diego in February, right?

I should explain why I was more than naïve about what was required to complete a readable work of fiction and why I was oblivious to the perils of selling a novel. I wrote and sold a successful nonfiction on the heels of graduate school. The process was as follows: After presenting a workshop in New York, an editor from a respectable publishing company asked me to submit a proposal on my workshop topic. I did, they bought it, sent me a fat advance, and I wrote. Every month the editor flew to Texas to consult with me on how it was going. The book came out, the checks came in, and I received invitations to speak around the nation.

Here’s the place where you laugh. I really believed getting a novel published would be the same sort of enterprise. I know, I know. And, perhaps, had I’d kept my coy smile and thoughts of writing until I was too old to actually try, I would be one more professional, like the many you’ve met, who smiles knowingly on hearing of your writing struggles…then says, “I’m thinking I should write a novel…maybe later when I have more time.”

Discovering my view of the profession was, shall we say, a bit off the mark, I set out to learn two things: how to write fiction and how to get published.

Though I’d written many professional pieces, I did not know enough about writing fiction to complete even the most common sort of fictional piece—an auto insurance commercial. I was informed of my deficits by my kind English professor brother-in-law who, bless his heart, actually read every word of my 170,000 confessional manuscript. We met for breakfast and I handed him the four-inch stack of brilliance. Tell you what kind of guy he is, he didn’t even cry. At least not until he was out of eyesight.

I waited, heart-pounding, for return of the manuscript…which I was sure needed a few, tiny corrections and maybe neatening of a couple of chapter endings. Okay, you can laugh here, too. Brother-in-law returned the manuscript at another breakfast meeting and I should have noticed he was staring at his coffee instead of looking me in the eye. On the cover page, he’d summarized his thoughts. The first sentence went thusly: “First, dear sister-in-law of mine, (‘dear’, that means trouble ahead) let me congratulate you on your courage and discipline…”

Yep. You’ve got the picture. That first paragraph ended with a hint that I might want to take a few classes on creative writing. Me? Classes?

Having gone through undergrad as pre-med with a biology major, I hadn’t taken an English course since high school. But, I’d taught psychology and had some neat ideas. I hope you’re giggling here at my folly, because I deserve it.

By the way, I’ve never gone back and re-worked that first manuscript because it just isn’t that good. I’d read over and over, as you have, that the first ‘novel’ written is often never publishable. When you’re writing that first novel, the very thought that the pages you are grinding out with drops of blood oozing out of your forehead…are going to end up on a shelf…is enough to make you want to stalk the author who even suggested such a travesty…that you are sitting there all those hours doing the best you can…and your plans for the work are never to be.

Thus, reality a bit closer, I decided to launch ‘Extreme Writing for Publication’. That is, since I was approaching the retirement I’d talked to the Southern Californian woman so cavalierly about, I knew I did not have time to go back for a creative writing degree or even to play around going to one or two local conferences. I needed to sink myself in the project.

Extreme Writing for Publication had several phases. Phase one was finding an editor I could listen to without threatening to jump out of tall buildings. I presented my plan to the nice lady in San Diego and she agreed to give it a go. I need to say, because I’ve since learned my experience might be unusual, the editor, Jean Jenkins, refused to accept a cent. That’s right. She thought the project sounded like something she’d like to work on and we hit it off.

With an editor who was willing to join my efforts, I launched stage two of Extreme Writing for Publication. I signed up for six Writing Conferences for the following year. I realize not everyone can afford that many trips, but I was seeing the project as consolidating ten years of conference going. I learned a tremendous amount, including that some conferences were more useful than others and that conferences vary in what is offered from ‘boot camps’ focused on hard-nosed all-day writing to ‘overviews of basics’, to conferences with inspiring speakers. If there’s an interest, I’ll make another entry on conference experiences.

The conference going stage of my process also included book-buying and movie elements. I bought around twenty books on fiction writing and studied like crazy. As with conferences, some were more helpful than others. The movie-going aspect had two parts. One, I went to several movies a week, good and bad, to learn how to follow story lines, highs and lows. Second I picked a few movies which I saw multiple times in the same week. Multiple views provided a way to see different elements of the story line. I saw “The Quiet American” daily for six days, taking something new away with each viewing.


Barb will return on Wednesday with "Phase Two" of "Extreme Writing for Publication". I hope you will join us then for the rest of this delightful blog post and a review of TOO RICH AND TOO THIN: NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Barbara DeShong. Until then, click on the title of this blog to read about TOO RICH AND TOO THIN at


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Old Friends, School Reunions, and Books

If you were writing the story of your life, how would you recall your school days? Love 'em? Hate 'em? Wish you could live them all over again?

For me, grade school was great until the end of sixth grade. That's when my family moved to a new home and I ended up in a dying little academy school with nine other girls as classmates. I say dying because the school was closing down, so two grades -- 7th and 8th -- shared one room with about ten girls in each grade. Seventh and eighth grade were the worst years of my life. I was not in the "in" group, the "Big Six" who were the "cool" kids, and I didn't have much in common with the other three girls in the "out" group. Worst of all, I was of German heritage, and this was a Polish school with Polish teachers and mainly kids of Polish descent. You would have thought I'd started World War II all by myself the way my 7th grade teacher acted. She related every atrocity ever commiteed by the Nazis against the Polish people on a daily basis while my classmates pointedly stared at me. It was a hellish year, and 8th grade wasn't much better.

I hated every minute of those two years and was sooooo glad when graduation finally arrived and I could make some real friends in the larger high school setting. Like most teens, I had my ups and downs in high school. It wasn't my favorite place to be, but I did survive and I got a good education while doing so. It wasn't until I started nursing school at St. Anne's Hospital that I discovered what a joy school could be. Not only were the classes fascinating, but my classmates became my closest and dearest friends. I count the years I spent with them as some of the best in my life.

Ten days ago some of us who graduated together from St. Anne's met for lunch in a nearby Chicago suburb. That's a picture of us at the top of this page. (I'm in the red jacket in the back row.) Barb (third from the left) brought her old school uniform along, and we had a ball recounting how cool we all felt the first time we wore them in the hospital. Barb hadn't realized it, but her nursing cap was balled up in the sleeve of the uniform. That's it hanging atop the uniform in this picture, not as good looking as when it was starched and pinned to fit, but the real thing nevertheless. Back then we used to wet them down with starch, plaster them on the window to dry, and once they were stiff as a board, we'd iron and fold them to fit, then apply our black ribbons (one ribbon for a junior, two for a senior) to the right side edge of the cap. Some girls pinned the ribbons in place. Those of us who were more creative used toothpaste to glue them in place. Amazingly, the toothpaste held really well and didn't leave a mark like pins did.

I have so many fond memories of my years at St. Anne's. Not only did I make some lifelong friends there, but it's also the place where I met my future husband. (No, he wasn't a patient; he was my best friend's boyfriend's best friend, or, to put it more simply, Sue was dating Rich and Fred was Rich's best buddy.) It seemed only natural when I began writing A MERRY LITTLE MURDER to name the fictional hospital in the book after my old stomping grounds. My protagonist, Caroline Rhodes, is an ER nurse at the fictional St. Anne's who moonlights as a house mother in the nursing dorm. I patterned the domitory after the dorm I lived in while in nursing school so many years ago. Like so many community hospitals, the real St. Anne's closed in the 1980's when fiscal mismanagement of the Medicare/Medicaid program by the Reagan administration left payments to hospitals in arrears by 9-12 months. In short, St. Anne's went broke. That's one thing I don't have to worry about with my fictional hospital. Since it's purely a product of my imagination, I can have it stay solvent forever. Another difference between the real and the fictional St. Anne's is this: no one was ever murdered at the real St. Anne's. In A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, I kill off seven people in the very first chapter. The fun part for the reader is trying to figure out which of the seven was the actual intended victim. Until you know that, you can't guess who the murderer is.

As you can guess by the cover, this is a winter holiday mystery complete with snowstorms and Christmas trees. If you'd like to read the first chapter of A MERRY LITTLE MURDER, you can find it at my website at (Hint, hint: it makes a great holiday gift for the mystery fan in your life.)

Thanks for stopping by. Next week I'll be featuring Barbara DeShong as my guest blogger. A Texan who gave up a successful career as a practicing psychologist to write mysteries with a dash of humor, Barb is the author of TOO RICH AND TOO THIN: NOT AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I absolutely loved this book and I know you will, too. Stop by if you can on Monday to chat with Barb. Being a Texan, Barb may carry a concealed weapon, but I promise you, she won't do anything more dangerous than tickle your funny bone with her great blog entitled "Extreme Writing for Publication".

Until then, have a great weekend!


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Nick Valentino and THOMAS RILEY

It's Monday, and that means it's Guest Blogger Day here at Cicero's Children. My guest today is Nick Valentino, author of the just-released novel, THOMAS RILEY. Nick hails from Nashville, TN. He's an ex-band member and music lover, a hockey and roller derby fan, and a confirmed beer nerd who regularly writes reviews of favorite brews. (Sam Adams Boston Lager received a 4.8 mugs rating from Nick.) He's here today to tell us about his book and explain the term "Steampunk" as it relates to his writing. And so.... Take it away, Nick!


Many many thanks to Mary for hosting me today. This is my ninth stop on the old blog tour and it couldn’t be going any better. My novel, Thomas Riley, was just published by Echelon Press and came out Friday October 23rd. When writing blogs I usually follow up with ‘It’s a Steampunk novel’. The following question is ALWAYS, well, what is Steampunk? Another way to look at the genre is through the eyes of alternative history. Take the Victorian era, but make science evolve about one hundred years. What’s the trick? Well, you can’t use a lot of electricity or fossil fuels. Take those pretty much out of the equation and replace them with steam power. The cars, planes, blimps, and even guns are powered with steam. Anything you can imagine just power it by steam and that in effect is Steampunk.

So now that we have that weird little word defined, let’s move on to what are some basic elements of a Steampunk story. I will digress for a moment. If you’ve been to a writers conference you will learn 1) that there are very strict rules to everything in writing. Grammar, punctuation, dialog, well everything is rigidly monitored, scrutinized and critiqued. 2) You will then learn that as long as you break those rules with style, attitude, a powerful voice and a darn good story, then the sky’s the limit. (See Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning “The Road” for a perfect example.) My point is Steampunk really has no limits. It’s what makes it fun to read and write. Steampunk spans from high flying adventure to Victorian romance, from space exploration to deep sea treasure hunts. Really the limits of the genre are pretty nonexistent.

An important rule that Steampunk breaks is the strength of women in a Victorian era setting. In Thomas Riley, the women often have jobs, responsibilities and strengths that were not necessarily available to them in true Victorian times. Cynthia Basset, Thomas’ assistant breaks many of the social standards of the day by commanding an equal and sometimes more important voice. All the women in the book are strong figures, all but one of the airship captains are women. I see the women of the book as often more calculating and dangerous than some of their male counterparts.

So just like that last writers conference you attended, there are plenty of rules, but they all can be broken if you break them correctly.

Back Cover Blurb
For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have been at war. From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant Cynthia Bassett are thrust onto the front lines of battle and forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage: the mad genius behind Lemuria's cunning armaments.

If strong women airship pilots interest you, then take a look at the links below.

Learn more about the book:

Thomas Riley is available here: