I am an author/illustrator of southern gothic, cozy mystery, and sweet romance. When I'm not creating characters, I'm building worlds, both literally and, er, literally. Check out my blog and my books and you'll see what I mean.
I’m supposed to be writing the next novel, but sometimes, you just have to give in to fate when a story lands in your lap.
During the morning writing hours, I mute my phone, so I didn’t hear the notifications indicating that someone was knocking on my door, circling the yard to find signs of activity.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. For whatever reason, apparently, I have an approachable house, so in times of need, people usually seem to find their way to my door when someone’s car breaks down on our rural road.
I’m so glad I left the office to connect with my visitor. (Sorry for the necessity – the early model car that broke down on a blind hill just down from my house. All is well now, but it’s a dangerous road.)
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Gabriele Rausse, whom some call “the father of Virginia viticulture”.
For about thirty minutes while waiting for a tow truck, I had the privilege of listening to his stories of the difficulty in bringing European vines into Virginia, the obstacles involved in building a working relationship with others who may not share your vision or who lack belief in your methods, the joy of owning his own vineyard shared with his adult children, and the passion necessary to devote your life to a single endeavor.
He was hired from Italy, to work at Barboursville Vineyard, back in 1976, and since, Virginia has become the wine capital of the east coast. (That’s my proclamation based on the observation that they seem to have popped up exponentially over the years.)
To date, Mr. Rausse has helped to start more than fifty vineyards in Virginia and abroad. He now has his own family-owned and operated vineyard nestled in the heart of Albemarle County wine country, Gabriele Rausse Winery.
Mr. Rausse, who, in addition to working his own land, is the Director of Viticulture and Farming at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, although, with his lovely Italian accent and gift for storytelling, he only claims the title of “show pony.” If you’ve never been to Monticello, it is well worth the trip! The home and the gardens are everything I’m sure Mr. Jefferson could have envisioned, (which is saying something for someone considered to be a visionary.) I’m sure he could not have found a better steward of — or fellow visionary for — his vineyard.
Finally. Whew. It’s here, er, there, er, out in the ether.
And speaking of ether…
Something sinister is brewing in the Poropotank riverside community.
Rocky Smith is a serial husband: married three times, divorced twice, and murdered on a Friday. Instead of heading off to the afterlife, he perches atop Grey’s Hotel overlooking the small southern river town he has called home his entire life. Using his sharp journalistic skills, he is attempting to puzzle out his own murder, handicapped by memory gaps that return as those from the world of the living uncover clues.
Skye Blue, wife number three and recovering flower child, is the primary suspect in her husband’s suspicious death. By day she works in her antique shop as a matchmaker for lost items and people while navigating the nuanced, tight-knit southern community that refuses to accept her as one of their own. But with the help of two of Rocky’s ex-wives and sustained by the subtly magical Main Street diner, they are seeking the answer to Rocky’s death. A trail of breadcrumbs, in the form of violation notices, lead to several likely suspects…
The mayor’s husband is having an affair with a young constituent, someone has embezzled a large sum of money from the yacht club, and a new face in town is conspiring to facilitate a land grab. Rocky and Skye, on opposite sides of the ether, are tangentially unravelling a tangle of greed, lust, and martyrdom with a serving of grits on the side.
I hope you enjoy it! Here’s a link, in case browsing turns to actual buying. DEATH OF A SERIAL HUSBAND
I see story everywhere. A shopping bag hangs on an iron hook at my studio door. There’s a story in that bag, I’m sure of it, with its Metropolitan Museum print of a cat. Beside the bag, there hangs a pair of witch’s boots. Above that, a copy of a placard that describes the best method of identifying and executing witches. I hung them in that particular orientation because they tell a story – the witch that got away, the cat on the canvas bag, her familiar who came to her rescue when she was thrown in the river for detection. I think that particular witch, the one who owned the witch’s boots, could swim. She dove down, underwater, and came up down river. It was the longest she had ever held her breath. When she regained her strength enough to climb ashore, she tucked herself under a rotten log and her cat helped further conceal her by raking leaves over her feet, the only part of her still exposed.
That could be true. Could be. Who is to say otherwise?
So while my world may look higgeldy piggeldy, it’s actually very intentional. I’ve always been drawn to books. Mind you, I was no great reader as a child. In fact, I was a master at covering up my illiteracy until it could not be concealed. Then I learned to read. I was… maybe twelve years old? But before I could read with comprehension, I loved books for their stories that could be interpreted through their pictures. I was a master at faking it.
One of my favorite books as an illiterate child was an old encyclopedia set at my babysitter’s house. In one of the books was a layered transparency of the anatomy of a frog and another book that housed the anatomy of a man. The first transparency was of the outside of the frog, but as you peeled back the layers of transparency, you saw the frog’s musculature, then its internal organs, then its skeleton. Around the same time, I must have heard the story of the Princess and the Frog. (I’m sure I had not read it, illiterate child, that I was.) If you took the transparencies of one book (the frog) and placed them over the transparency of the other book (the man) it just did not add up that the frog might actually be a Prince, transformed by an evil curse. It did make me perhaps a little more conscientious about my treatment of the frogs I caught.
More recently, I was introduced to the world of Tunnel Books. Tunnel Books are books that have been altered from their original purpose into a story of sorts, told through the images of its pages, minus the text.
Dating back to the mid-1800s, Tunnel Books, originally called peep shows, allowed the viewer into an alternative world of wonder. There, objects and art could be repurposed to tell a different story, and no, they were not all lewd in nature. Some were historical, or fantastical. Almost all of the early ones were miniature stage sets with characters that could be moved about, like a puppet theater. Some were inside boxes or employed mirrors to distort perception of the size of the box’s interior.
Last week, I started a stop-action animation. I thought it would be filmed in the old style, one frame at a time with incremental movements, but now, I’m not sure. The animation, in many ways, limits the viewer to my interpretation. Maybe, what I was creating, is best served as a Tunnel Book, a peep-show into the world of these characters. There is a witch, a handsome realtor, and a creepy old house. Someone’s going to be turned into a frog. Well, that is, if the viewer interprets it in that way. I guess I’ll get to work on that peepshow. On another level, I guess it’s a peepshow into the way my brain works. Eww. It’s not pretty.
In the meantime, I hope you decide to make some art… and read a book! Maybe you’ll do both… with a tunnel book.
I’m a natural born collector. My kids refer to it as orderly hoarding, light on the “orderly”. But I just learned that it was an early iteration of social climbing: he with the weirdest collection of artifacts mounts the higher rung on the social ladder. Well, I doubt I would win any such awards. I came about my collections as the child of antique shop owners. The weirder, the more I like it. Sometimes, I forget what I’ve collected, like last week.
The item in question was a plastic container full of teeth. No, these are not the souvenirs of my victims. (Those are tidily buried in the backyard.) No, these were from the clean-out of the home of a taxidermist. And there weren’t just teeth. There were other small animal bones in the collection. I must have decided at the time, (probably wisely) that there was no good way to curate this collection, so they are still in the attic, for some poor, unsuspecting future person to find.
A Cabinet of Curiosities – I think that’s the best description of my office. I try not to inflict my collections on the other people in my family, thus I try to relegate it to my studio. (The exception to the rule, the boar skull in the library. Note to self: move boar skull to the studio.)
I’ve been curating my collections this week as I work on another animated book trailer, so this is the result, a cubby/cabinet of curious little critters, as well as a storyboard for a graphic novel.
You may have seen the animated book trailer in a previous post, but in case you missed it, here ’tis. (Okay, not. Technical difficulties. Note to self: update Adobe products.)
I’ll post updates, but my Word Crone Cottage (my office/studio) will have a small feature in an upcoming issue of Where Women Create in December, so I won’t post too many spoilers. It’s just a glimpse into the brain of a mystery writer – the weird collections that make it tick. Enjoy.
That title sounds grandiose and academicky. (The word, “academicky” will cure you of that delusion.) This is one of those things I had to look up.
According to Merriam-Webster, a liminal space is “of or relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold…”
I had a vague impression of the meaning, but apparently, it’s a thing in popular culture, rather, it’s a popular device used in the gamer world. The very nature of a liminal space both lures and cautions against entering. It’s Joseph Campbell’s “crossing the threshold” to adventure, consisting of both promise and danger. Liminal spaces are a time capsule, forgotten, neglected, abandoned places. Why?
My life is driven by story. Story, story, story. It infects everything that I do. I appreciate that oral storytelling is the great-grandmother of story, with written stories coming in second, but I LOVE the myriad venues that take advantage of setting as experienced by all of the senses. Storytelling can be delivered through art, movies… computer games. Games filled with those liminal spaces have become a powerhouse of storytelling.
What is it about those liminal places that draw one in? The game in question, the one my adult, artist/gamer son was watching, flipping back and forth between recorded gameplay and the made-for-TV recreation was THE LAST OF US.
Set in a post-pandemic (sound familiar?) world tragically overrun with people transformed into zombies as a result of their infection, the premise of the story is that one person, a young girl, has been identified as immune and has to be transported safely through zombie, post-apocalyptic ridden landscape to find an intellectual community who might be able to create a vaccine. Obstacles include, in addition to the zombie hoard, gangs of raiders, pockets of civilized communities that operate under wild-west-style governments, and the constant need to acquire resources to make the trip.
At least, that’s what I thought. My son pointed out that it’s about the relationship between the girl and her guide/father figure. WHAT? He’s right, of course. What I described is the external goal and the obstacles. He described the internal goal of the work. The space, the setting, and the need to get the main character safely through rough terrain – through those liminal spaces – that’s external goal and conflict. The need to learn to trust, and rely on someone else, have it called into question? That’s an internal goal and conflict dependent upon those liminal spaces.
The liminal spaces are important. They are a catalyst for both internal and external goals and conflicts. They’re also pretty cool and creepy.
I overheard my son talking to a friend one time. He was saying, “yeah, I don’t like reading novels. It’s a real heartbreak for my mom.” 😊 That kid cracks me up. I haven’t the heart to tell my son that he just might be a storyteller. He just uses a different medium… fraught with liminal spaces.
What lies between the cover of a book? Well, there are pages, words, punctuation… But for an author, what lies between books is sadness, celebration, ennui, self-doubt…
I’m talking about the difference between what “literally” lies between the front and back cover of a book vs. the emotional rollercoaster that comes when one has written “the end” on one book and “chapter one” of the next book.
It’s not without reason that writers often get a reputation for being mad as snakes. It’s because of all of the “crazy” that lies between books!
The five stages of BBB, or “Batty Between Books”.
Celebration – The first part of the week after I’ve written “the end” is generally filled with a celebratory flush. I might treat myself to some impulsive purchase. (This time, it was a dollhouse, 1:24 scale, cute as a darned button! It will be used as a prop for some marketing later on in the process.)
2) Sadness – This is understandable, in that I’ve just left off living with some very good friends, albeit fictional friends and now they’re going away for a little while. We’ll have a great reunion when I revisit them in a sequel book, but… yeah. My buds are gone. Those whacky, loving, sweet, maddening people I’ve been talking to for the past four months… gone on an extended trip. Sadness.
3) Ennui – listlessness as a result of dissatisfaction. Yes, I looked up the definition to make sure I was using the word properly and it very aptly describes the middle part of this week. The structure, that was built into my day when I hit the keyboard by 9 am every morning is gone, and I found myself at loose ends. There is just so much cleaning to be done. It’s been raining all week, so there’s no spring gardening prep work to be had. Just me, clunking into walls. I’ve made a couple of amazing dishes, one I call “Chicken Delish” that goes in the recipe keeper box, but my structure? Sigh. Ennui.
4) The Purr of Excitement – this comes on the other end of BBB. I’ve started thinking about the next book. You know, the one that is the favorite book you’ve ever written? Yeah. That one. It’s coming. I’m starting to feel the purr of excitement, the anticipation of reuniting with old friends.
5) Relief. I’m feeling the relief of having reached “the end”, the relief of shifting gears, focusing on marketing, formatting, flexing my other artistic muscles.
I’ve spent a lot of time this week playing in the other arts. Dabbling, drawing, some stop-motion animation, laying out a rough sketch of my “fictional” town. But now, it’s almost time to shift the gears again. I’m clearing off the top of my desk. I’m wiping down and giving my chalkboard a fresh coat of black paint. I’m dipping some pages into coffee to create a new notebook for outlining the next book in the series…
And I’m feeling a little less BBB. Just a little bit.
A delivery van pulls into the drive. The driver leaves a large box on your stoop. You take it inside, remove the packaging, and inside is another box, with no identifying marks, no seams, and seemingly no means of opening it. It’s a Puzzle Box!
I just love a good ol’ “who/howdunnit” but life is pretty unerringly dull in my world. So just to add spice, I try to build a world, a set, in which these sorts of adventures could happen.
I think I was inspired by my grandparents’ house. Theirs was a small craftsman that looks, inside and out, pretty modest. Center entry into a living room, bedroom 1 on the left. Doorway into the kitchen with bedroom 2 on the left. But between the kitchen and that bedroom was a small door that led to stairs to the attic – a big attic. Under those stairs was a closet/passage that connected both bedrooms. To a small child discovering this while looking for Christmas presents, it was a gothic castle!
Maybe when I’m dead and gone, my family will be mildly entertained by the many little secrets and cubbies I’ve managed to create and install – some of which they know about, some they may find later… or not. Those of us who were born in the computer game era will know them as “easter eggs”. Those are the little surprises you find when you shift your focus and see a thing from a different perspective.
Thus, today, I’m sharing just a couple of my “secret spaces/hidden places.” You may have seen in some of the earlier, mid-renovation pictures of my library that I have/had a secret bookshelf door. Well, It’s about to be past tense. The one I have turns out to be very inconvenient for things like egress/aggress. Not my intention.
My favorite hidey holes are my puzzle boxes. Okay, they were given to my kids who allowed them to collect dust and never used them. (I found a $20 bill in one of them in a drawer that my daughter forgot about. Yes, I returned her twenty.)
And then, there are the ones that are hidden in plain sight. The book boxes disguise themselves nicely on my now Spartan bookshelves. Yes, I keep very interesting stuff in each of them. Not.
So the next time you’re pondering the notion of someday owning a house with lots of secret passages, like in a toasty mystery, you could pick up a good book and transport yourself, or you could look around your home and think about some of those nooks and crannies that we forget about – the ones you only see when you shift your focus.
There was a recent discussion amongst some writer buds about the books on our shelves. The question posed was, “am I meant to have read all of those books?” The consensus was, “no.”
In my case, this is what happened:
I am gifted books. A LOT of books. At workshops and conferences, one receives books in the hope of reviews. At most writing conferences they have something called a “goody room” – a room filled with books, swag, and chocolate. I tend to hit the chocolate, I might take a free pen if it’s got a rubbery grip, and I’ll carefully select a book or two – not usually more than a couple, as I am a very slow reader. Okay, I might walk out with a bag full if someone is there thrusting them at me. I try to read them, but there’s an hours to day issue, as in not enough of the first in the latter.
The TBR or the “to-be-read” pile. These are books that appealed to some part of me when I foolishly walked into a brick-and-mortar bookstore. I haven’t read them yet, but there is a plan to read them. These books often land in a stack on my nightstand until it begins to teeter when they are then stacked on a bookshelf until I eventually get around to putting them in order.
The leftover “stock.” I may have mentioned that my family owns and used to operate an antique mall. Our parents needed help on weekends and later, full-time, so during my stint there, I kept a small room filled with used books. It was not a gamble in purchasing books for resale. I simply bought whatever I liked and that I thought I might get around to reading. When we leased the building to one of the dealers, I closed up “shop” and my entire stock of used books came home with me.
The problem is, in my case, a real estate-to-book ratio. So this week began the process of moving bookshelves, painting, and curating the books, some of whom I consider to be old friends. I cannot possibly read all of the books on my shelves. Not enough hours in the day, weeks, months, years, but how do you choose which of your friends stay and which ones go? Here’s how:
Try the Marie Kondo tidy. I tried. Everything was going great. I whittled down the clothes in my closet to a carefully chosen capsule wardrobe, and then I got to the section on “books.” That’s when I quit. How does one pare down old friends? Well, I’m trying it again this week. Bye bye, old friends. It’s not that I didn’t love you, but I want to share the love with someone else. I swear, you’re special!
Donate those that just don’t have a permanent place in your heart to your local library. Maybe they just haven’t found their forever home yet.
Start a “Little Free Library.” I did that this past summer. Of course, I keep forgetting to go out there and refresh the selections… and I’m always a little bit hurt when I install a book that I have loved that no one else seems to want to read. Don’t they know it has had a life-altering impact on someone?
Then there’s the problem of how to organize those that you do decide to keep.
Organize by color. I mean, you COULD. I wouldn’t. I won’t! (Note to my daughter – please do not re-arrange them again by color. It took two afternoons to re-alphabetize them. Okay, they did look great, but I couldn’t find anything.) The cover color often does not match the spine, or I remember it as being orange, but in reality, it’s blue with orange type.
Alphabetize by category using a version of the Dewey decimal system. I have mine divided into fiction and non-fiction. All of the fiction is alphabetized by author, then title, but not by genre. All of the non-fiction is just clumped by subject matter – art, architecture, science and nature, history and biographies, crafts, building, gardening… A lot of these are going to get heavily curated. Sorry old friends. You’ve served your purpose, so now you can go into the service of someone else.
And sometimes, there is the odd book that just doesn’t make the cut. Sadly, I have a stack of books that I don’t mind turning into a craft project. And some of them get repurposed when I turn them, spine backward and use them for insulation in my office gable. Don’t judge me. Don’t judge a book by its… or maybe do.
Have you ever judged a book by its cover? I absolutely have. There is power in visual communication and I admit to having been fooled by a misleading cover or two. Either that or I’ve found it was better than its cover suggested, or that it was not quite on-genre with its cover. Still, I tend to shop by cover design. Someday, maybe I will learn.
Let me know how you curate your old friends? I wonder, is anyone giving up all of their physical books in favor of e-books? I find I cannot and I regret having purchased some books in e-format and found myself wanting their company on my keeper shelves.
I’ll post an update once the shelves are moved, trimmed, painted and sorted with my freshly curated library. And in the meantime, I hope you find time to read a book, maybe curate and share a friend or two, and make some art!
My computer search history could really get me into trouble. There are queries like, “how long for a body to decompose in salt water? Fresh water? In a well? What common household chemicals might be used to induce a heart attack? Paralysis? Mental Illness? Then there are queries like, “can I write off my cat as a business expense? (For your edification, no, you cannot write off your cat, even if she is your muse. Bummer.)
Writing, like other forms of art, seems to conjure images of a writer working from an attic office, surrounded by books and colorful art and antiques, inspirational weaponry hanging on the wall, a mug of coffee… (Maybe I’m just picturing a favorite scene from KNIVES OUT.)
The reality of it is, sure, that image describes a portion of the day, but another portion of the day is filled with the business bits of being self-employed. Even if you’re published with a traditional publisher, there are things outside of writing that need to be wrangled.
Luckily, we have all been given a beautiful outline for conducting “the business of writing,” courtesy of our federal government. I’m speaking of the Schedule C. (dah, dah, dummmm…)
This is not to be construed as tax advice. Merely, it is a handy-dandy guide to some of the bits and bobs that go into a writing career and expenses that must be tracked. You will more fully appreciate this if you’re beginning that annual task of filing your taxes.
I reference Schedule C as an outline for tracking business expenses because it is precisely that. In Schedule C, you will find a list of expenses that need to be tracked, basically, the money that comes in set against the money that goes out. Easy peasy. It’s even broken into two separate sections: Income and Expenses.
Income – the money that’s coming in. This includes all of the money you earn from the business of writing. For example, book sales or royalties, services you may provide as a private contractor – ghostwriting income, content creation for others, other copy, workshops, honorariums, advertising income from your website – anything for which you have been paid as a writer. Most of that can be pretty straightforward to track. For example, if you’ve earned more than $600 from one source of income, you will probably receive a 1099 from that source. A 1099 is a tax form, (a very expensive tax form if you have to purchase them as a pack of 50 from a certain chain office supply store… although it is a tax write-off) that is filed on the other end with a record of the amount of money that business, publisher, private contractor, has paid out to you. Some income, (generally amounts paid out to you that equal less than $600) do not require filing of a 1099, so those income streams are your responsibility to track. For example, I do not receive a 1099 for small writing gigs, but I track those on a log sheet. (More on that later.)
Expenses – this is a tabulation of everything you have spent in the day-to-day operation of your business as a writer – and this is where a Schedule C comes in very handy. At the date of writing this, you can obtain a copy of the 2022 Schedule C here: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f1040sc.pdf. You can likewise just type “Schedule C form” into a search engine. Just make sure you select the dot gov link to ensure you link to a free, printable copy.
And there, under expenses, lines 8-27b, are the headings for the costs you are allowed to deduct as business expenses. Here, you’ll find things like:
Advertising, Car and truck expenses, Commissions and fees, Contract labor, Insurance, Legal and professional services, Office expenses, Rent or lease, Business property, Repairs and maintenance, Supplies, Taxes and licenses, Travel and meals, Utilities, etc.
For example, (and again, not tax advice. Just a “fer example”) Advertising. I choose this one because it is seemingly straightforward. How much did you spend on adverts for your books? Well, what about a website? Isn’t that part of owning a business and advertising your books? Reaching readers: What about the copies of your book you sent out to reviewers? Advertising. What about the copy you left at your hairstylist’s? Advertising. What about bookmarks you left at the local library? Advertising. Business cards? Advertising. Boo yah!
Understand that everything is open to interpretation, so you may want to seek the advice of an accountant, but here’s another resource too often ignored: contact the IRS. Make sure you have the person on the other end of the phone send you the documentation that covers your question. Better yet, have them highlight the section that answers your specific question. If there is a miscommunication, the burden of proof is on you, so always make sure you can back up your claim to an expense.
The two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. One of which I write about. The other… well, yeah, I guess I’m writing about that one too, but don’t take my word for it. After all, fiction – it’s what I do. Check your sources, because I deal in red herrings, false leads, and subterfuge and because Uncle Sam tends to frown upon those plot devices, especially where it concerns your taxes.
We have all learned a thing or two about adapting over the last couple of years. I’m used to working from home, so when three adults were suddenly working from home, I felt the need to carve out, as Virginia Woolf described it, “a place of one’s own.” As promised, here is the vlog covering how I turned an unfinished storage shed, stuffed with furniture from our antique shop, into an office/studio.