Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Gospel According to Prissy Blog Tour

Barbara Casey

 Three Army veteran misfits, a college dropout, an unmotivated high school graduate accused of murder, a controversial warden of a women's prison, and a little girl with the gift of prophesy – these are the people 31-year-old Lara Kruger invites into her life after suffering a miscarriage, a divorce from an abusive husband, and unemployment.

Miriam walked away from her desk and paused in front of the unframed full-length mirror she had salvaged from the recent renovations in the women’s shower rooms.  The edges were chipped and blackened, and there was a fairly large crack that ran vertically from one corner to the other.  The condition of the mirror was the result, no doubt, of one of many displays of frustration and anger within the prison walls before she took over.  Still, the mirror served its purpose.  On those rare occasions when Warden Miriam Temple of the Braden Women’s Correctional Institution needed to be sure she looked her best, at least she could do so in the privacy of her own office.

Studying her reflection, she saw a tall, aging fifty-nine-year-old woman with dark hair streaked with gray cut in a simple shag, myopic brown eyes made evident by the wire-framed glasses, and a raw-boned body that could be considered well-proportioned if it weren’t for the fact that it was about twenty pounds on the heavy side, fifteen of which had settled around her thighs and buttocks.  “Pear shaped, as opposed to apple shaped,” she frequently reminded herself, “so that means at least I won’t die of a heart attack.”  The fact that her ear lobes were also plump and didn’t have the diagonal creases indicating some type of heart disease seemed to confirm that fact.  She didn’t know if these old-wives’ tales she had grown up with were really true, but she liked to keep an open mind, especially when they worked to her benefit.

She normally didn’t wear make-up, but this morning before leaving for work, she had dug out her small tapestry bag that held what few cosmetics she owned and applied a little blush and a touch of lipstick.  She rubbed one cheek with her hand now, thinking that maybe she shouldn’t have bothered.  She didn’t need to impress anyone.  Even if there had been the awkwardness that sometimes comes with being a large woman, it had been replaced years ago by the confidence born from a privileged background and the level of acceptance and comfort from which she viewed herself.

Her dark gray suit and crisp white blouse were clean and unwrinkled, thanks to the prison laundry facilities.  The plain black pumps she wore looked both practical and appropriate to complete the over-all appearance of discipline, control, strength, and above all, a positive attitude.  It was the attitude within the prison that Miriam had worked the hardest on when she took over as head warden six years earlier.  There had been a stifling wave of hopelessness and despair among the female inmates so thick it made it difficult to breathe.  This was manifested daily in brawls, food fights, and a behavior of non-compliance in general.  “Animals get treated better than we do,” had been the mantra at the prison.

For six years Miriam had been working fourteen-hour days, overseeing the operations of the facility, staying on top of problems, writing reports, and talking to every person she could reach about helping to set up programs for “her girls” as she referred to them.  Each of Miriam’s programs offered something to a few of her girls, but not to all, something she struggled with daily.  She constantly researched what other correctional institutions were doing not only in this country but other countries as well, trying to come up with new ways to stimulate her girls and help them feel enthusiastic about their lives.

 It had worked.  She started getting noticed after the first year of her tenure.  Complaints from the prisoners dropped, a State audit confirmed that for the first time in over a decade the prison budget would be in the black, and the over-all appearance of the facility was vastly improved.  Government officials who previously had been reluctant to show interest now started to open doors for this hard-working, persistent, and obviously dedicated woman. 

And then Prissy had been born.

 Barbara Casey is president of the Barbara Casey Agency, representing adult fiction and nonfiction for authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, and Japan.  She is also the author of numerous articles, poems, and short stories.  Her award-winning novels have received national recognition, including the Independent Publishers Book Award, the Dana Award for Best Novel, and the Publisher’s Best Seller Award.  Her novel, The House of Kane, released in 2008, was considered for a Pulitzer nomination, and her novel Just Like Family received special recognition by the 7-Eleven Corporation.  Her latest young adult novel, The Cadence of Gypsies, was reviewed by the Smithsonian for its list of 2011 Best Books. The Gospel According to Prissy, a contemporary adult novel, was released in the spring of 2013.

In addition to being a frequent guest lecturer at universities and writers’ conferences, Ms. Casey served as judge for the Pathfinder Literary Awards in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida, and was the Florida Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators from 1991 through 2003. 


Be sure to follow Barbara's blog tour. She will be giving away a $25 Amazon or gift card to one randomly chosen person who leaves comments during the tour. You can follow the tour by checking out the stops at: .

Thank you for joining us today, Barbara, and good luck with your book. It sounds fascinating!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gardening and Enjoying Nelson Bay

This year might be a good year for gardening, after all :). I checked the veggie garden after returning from an all-too-short vacation at Nelson Bay and everything is looking good.

We've got green tomatoes on most of the tomato plants and with luck, they will start to ripen in June and we can get our first fresh tomatoes of the season.

The squash and cucumbers are also doing very, very well and I picked our first zucchini today. We'll have it sauteed in olive oil and onions tonight and I can't wait. It looks like we're going to have quite a few varieties of squash and when the basil gets a little taller, I'll make one of my favorite dishes: Mac-and-Cheese and Squash.

It's really simple to make: Saute the squash (yellow or zucchini or a mixture of the two) with mushrooms. While they are cooking, make macaroni and cheese with your favorite box or homemade variety. When they are done to your taste (I like them a little underdone so they are not mushy), add a handful of fresh, chopped basil. Then mix the veggies in with the mac-and-cheese and serve!

My mom used to make this and it was one of the last things I ate at her house before she passed away, so every time I make it, I think of her. It's a memory and recipe I really treasure.

 One of the things that is really helping out in the garden this year is a tangled ball of Venetian blind cord. One of our neighbors got rid of some old Venetian blinds and salvaged the cord. He decided he didn't have any use for it and gave it to us.

I discovered that it is just about perfect for tying up tomato plants and giving your cucumbers something to twine their tendrils around. It seems fairly weather resistant and so far isn't causing abrasions on my plants.

As you can see, we are sort of pack rats here and try not to let anything go to waste. My garden is full of odds and ends of PVC pipes that work as tomato and veggie supports as well as the Venetian blind cords to hold them up.

 As they say--it's all good!

And I just have to add a few pictures from our mini-vacation on Nelson Bay. We had a wonderful time and took the dogs out in our boat. Daisy, the Jack Russell terrier, is still a puppy so it was the first time she'd ever been out in a boat and she seemed to love it. She pals around with our Chesapeake Bay retriever, Molly, and the two of them stayed busy swimming and chasing the small mullets that hugged the shore.

We saw hermit crabs, as well, and our martin house is fully occupied with nesting martins, which means 12 pairs of birds.

On our boat ride, we saw several Osprey nests on channel markers and they seemed to be doing well. We also saw a Spotted Sandpiper on Salter's Creek, as well as dozens of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Laughing Gulls, and pelicans. We even have a pair of Barn Swallows nesting under our pier!

The Killdeer have already hatched one brood and there are chicks running around in the large, grassy areas and they are cute as can be.

This is such a great time of year and I really hope everyone has a chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather, their friends and most of all, time with their families.

On a last note, I hope everyone will consider donating to the Red Cross to assist in the relief efforts for the tornado victims in OK. I am donating all my proceeds from my historical mystery, The Vital Principle, for both May and June (I decided to extend it to June) to the Red Cross to assist in this effort. I may extend it again for July--I will see how it goes. The families are in desperate need there and even the smallest donations will help. I hope you will consider giving to this or to your favorite charity.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Help for OK Tornado Victims

After watching the news and seeing the heart-wrenching tragedy in Oklahoma from the recent tornado, I've decided to donate the net earnings from my book, The Vital Principle, to the Red Cross to help survivors. Glued to the TV, I could not help but be touched, horrified and yet inspired by those brave folks working to rescue victims and try to recover.

I was appalled the first day and could not help but worry about people who had lost everything. I kept worrying about:

  • Where will they sleep tonight and future nights when their homes have been reduced to rubble?
  • What will they wear for clothing?
  • Do they have food and water?
  • Where are their family members and pets?
  • What about all of their precious things like photos, books and all the myriad belongings we all take for granted as being within an arm's reach?
And the problems aren't just for one night or a week--they are for months in the future. Homes, schools, stores, and entire communities will have to be rebuilt. People will have to essentially start from scratch to rebuild their lives and their neighborhoods.

Given that, at least for the months of May and June, I will be donating anything I earn from The Vital Principle to the areas hit by the tornado. It won't be much, but I feel it is important to help these folks recover and if all goes well, I'll continue to donate in the future. As I said, it may well be a year or more before Moore and other devastated communities are back on their feet.

I hope everyone will consider helping.
And folks in Oklahoma, please know that our hearts and thoughts are with you. We pray that more survivors will be found and families reunited.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gardening with Veggies

Gardening is always trial and error, at least for me, and often tends to be more "error" than anything else. However, this year I have a new plan to defeat weeds--a checkerboard. My idea is this:

 Put down landscape fabric, then put square (or round if you prefer) pavers on top of that in a checkerboard pattern

Then cut X's in the exposed fabric so you can plant your veggies (or whatever plant you're planting).

This year, I have squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers planted between the pavers.

My hope is that I can use the pavers as places to stand to weed and harvest and they also ensure that I don't plant things too closely together.

For supports, we stuck together some old PVC in various odd configurations so I can tie the tomatoes and cucumbers to those as they get taller.

So far, so good. :) I've actually got some green tomatoes on one of the larger plants (the one on the right in the pictures) and I've got a combination of small veggies that I started from seeds and some larger plants that I purchased. We should get a good variety, since I have all different kinds of varieties including a mix of modern hybrids and old fashioned heirloom plants that I grew from seeds.

In the past, I've found that it is best to have plants at various stages of growth for a number of reasons: it extends the harvest; and if pests or disease get into the plants, it may affect only the ones at a specific age so you will still have a chance at a harvest from the plants at a different stage.

While I was whacking weeds this morning, I also noticed some volunteer tomato plants in a spot where I had tomatoes last year. I'm going to let them grow and see what they produce (if anything). Since the tomatoes I had there were hybrids, it is anyone's guess what they will produce, but it will be fun to see.

This morning I also noticed that the tops of my crop of garlic are going brown, which means it is almost time to dig up the heads and dry them. Since we have a LOT of garlic, what we don't use immediately will be frozen. As it turns out, garlic heads freeze very well and once they are frozen, it is super easy to remove the papery husks when you're ready to use them and the cloves still states fresh (albeit a little soft) and are excellent for cooking. This crop this is almost ready for harvest should provide us with enough garlic to last until next season, or at least that's my hope. Then, this fall, I'll lay in another crop, along with lettuce which really only grows well here in autumn/winter/spring.

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring (it's more like summer, here in NC) weather and looking forward to a wonderful season of fresh veggies!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Malice Domestic 2013

I recently returned from the Malice Domestic 25 conference in Bethesda, MD, and I had a super time. My sister and I both love mysteries, so we can get a chance to visit, do a little sight-seeing around the Virginia, Maryland, DC area, and generally have a good time. One of the best features, of course, is that we each get a bag full of books, many of which are from authors new to us so we get to sample new authors while going to interesting talks and generally schmoozing with the authors. If you haven't gone, I highly recommend this conference as it is on the small side and everyone is fantastically nice.

Harlan Coben and yours truly, Amy Corwin
In fact, during the author signing, Harlan Coben came over and spoke to several of us, which was really sweet of him considering that I (in particular) am generally unknown in the Mystery Author Stars firmament.

Exotic Locales Session with Dina Willner (moderator), Lucy Burdette, Aaron Elkins, Marie Moore, and Michael Stanley
One of the best sessions was about the use of exotic locales in fiction and all four authors were fascinating in their views of how the locale influences the book. I picked up several new books where the stories are set in distant lands since I have always loved to read stores set in other places. One of the authors, Aaron Elkins, really drew in the crowds and I loved to hear him talk about his process. He visits the places where he sets his stories and takes notes on everything, including local eateries (including their menus) and street views. I almost asked him if he had any relatives in NC since we are friends with a family with the last name and there is even a crossroads (Elkton) named after the Elkins. It would be really funny if they were related (I really don't think they are).
Maria Hudgins (Left)

I also got to catch up with several of my friends, including fellow Five Star author, Maria Hudgins, and Sandra Parshall who was the main editor of the Fairfax Audubon Society newsletter where I was a "grunt" typist eons ago.

Sandra Parshall (right)
While at the conference, I got to participate in the fun (but exhausting) Malice-Go-Round, which was like speed dating for authors. There were twenty tables set up with ten or so folks at each table and we authors got to run around to each table and "pitch" our books for 2.5 minutes. Whew. By the time I reached table 18, I was pretty well "voice-less" but I certainly got my pitch for my latest mystery, Whacked!, down-pat. (An overworked gal goes to house-sit for her aunt and uncle, only to find her uncle sharing a smoke with a dead man. It's up to her to prove her uncle is not crazy and did not kill the man at the bottom of the garden. LOL) Right now, Whacked! is only out in hardcover, but there should be an ebook version out next year (crossing fingers).

Liz Lipperman (right)
For fans of my historical mysteries, the second Pru & Knighton book (Second Sons Inquiry Agency mystery series) should be out by the end of June or early July. I still don't have a title for it, but it's coming! If you want to catch up on the first book where Pru Barnard is accused of murdering her host at a seance, you can grab a copy of The Vital Principle.

I hope mystery fans will check out Malice Domestic and maybe make a trip next year for the conference. It really was a lot of fun and there is so much to do in that neck of the woods. It is well worth the trip!

Aaron Elkins at book signing