Friday, December 31, 2010

Ogden Nash Had it Going On

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Let me start where I’ll end and apologize,

Poetry is not my forte, I tell no lies

Okay, so I fib a little but not about this

I’ll aim for wisdom and probably miss,

But one can hope for a genuine surprise;

Limerick, ode, epic or not

I wrote some goals and might have a shot

Or a vial or a snake or a handy ice pick

Or maybe I’ll off someone with a Copperfield trick

But expect the death toll to rise a lot;

For 2011, my writing goal is to thrill

While reading Kelli and Meredith will cool me to chill

So I can plot mayhem darkly and leave it behind

Without jumping onto the page and losing my mind

And maybe my will;

My writing goals are bigger than ever before

Fiction and non-fiction and more, more, more ...

I’ve been adrift, my thoughts never in one place

My ideas fragmented, like intellectual lace

I go in search of my writing core;

I want to create every single day --

And not allow the rest to get in the way

Of dreaming the dream and writing what’s dear to my heart

Without even thinking about an Amazon cart

Sticking to my own true path, never to stray;

I’ll prime the pump with creative friends around

Whose love and laughter generously abound

For in their presence, my imagination takes wing

My creative self begins to sing

Their work, their friendship, their magic surround;

So my biggest goal for this coming year,

Is to close my eyes and really hear

My siren’s song, my calling’s call

And get to the page, the stories one and all

I resolve to write without fear.

May 2011 bring everyone their dreams.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

In Which I Resolve To Fail To Write a Poem

by Bill

Every so often I write a poem. No, really, I do.

For example, in 1993 I wrote this one:

        Face on the clock
        Hands on the face
        Stop staring at me

and this one:

        Brown bubble bug
        enfolded in faded foil
        too stale to eat
        don’t ask where it came from

See? Poems. Occasionally.

I still have my first poem, written when I was seventeen years old:

        in that room
        was a ticking
        like a clock in an old movie
        and the yellow-sickened glow from a jaundice-coated lamp
        And the black animal shadow
        of two bodies thrashing
        like one raging beast
        on the sagging bed.

Happy stuff!

Speaking of seventeen years old, here is one I wrote when I was 34:

        Intellect is shit.
        I have tasted the forbidden fruit.
        Gods, if only, if only
        I had taken that job in the gas station
        When I was seventeen.

They're not all so dire, of course. I wrote the next one while attending a reading. It was something to do with a book giveaway—everyone in the audience was writing poems—but the details now elude me. Anyway, this is what I came up with:

        Stroll at night
        Eyes spy fright
        Fall from height
        Tunnel of Light

Hmmm, okay, I guess that one was kinda dire as well. But in a funny way, right?

Right? (Validate me, please.)

At various times, I've found myself writing more involved poetry, though it turns out my longer poems often have a narrative quality which makes them more stories than poetry. For example, I once wrote a narrative poem about an adventure in pooping called, "When You Gotta Go."

That's right. An Adventure in Pooping.

Serious business.

The graphic designer in me has created visual versions of a couple of my poems. In terms of poetry, these actually move into the realm of "I think this is pretty cool, if I do say so myself." (Validate me again?)

You can read the text versions here and here, or click the little thumbnails to see the pages where each dwells.

Now, you may have noticed something. I've not written any actual new poetry. I know it's supposed to be something about New Year's resolutions or some such, but see how I've artfully avoided the endeavor? There is a reason for this.

When I attempt to write poetry, nothing happens.

That's right.



But sometimes poems do pop out of me. (Cue joke about An Adventure in Pooping, har.) They do so rarely, and I usually don't recognize them as poems until after the fact. But it does happen. For example that last bit was sort of a poem, wasn't it?

        When I attempt
        to write poetry …

See? Indent it, toss in a couple of line breaks and an arty ellipsis, and it becomes a poem. A lousy poem, perhaps, but you get the idea.

So for my New Year's resolution, I resolve to write stuff, and if some of it turns out to be a poem, then so be it. Or not.

        So be it.
        Or not.

I will end with a couple more of my short poems from 1993 (a poetic year in my life).

        Book takes me home
        Takes me a long way
        Who needs a poem about books
           * * *

        Words in electricity
        Pictures in magnetism
        Unreadable, unseeable, steals blood
        from glass hearts
           * * *

        The place that beckons me
        Smells like a sheet of clean white paper
        It begs to see color
           * * *

        Fingers type on plastic keys
        Words appear on screen
        Now someone else has a memory
           * * *

        Stone, sand, caramel-squeezed mineral
        Bath of brine and bone
        A billion years a handful
           * * *

        You build with a hammer
        You paint with a brush
        You knit with a needle
        With a computer, you kill time
           * * *

        In life,
        at least for me,
        events are like a frayed cloth.
        They continue to unwind.

A little news: in the year-end edition of the Portland Mercury, Gabe Barber of Reading Local selects Day One as one of the best books of 2010. See the complete list at the Portland Mercury.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poetry -not quite in motion

I sit and type and scribble and write,
to make the story nice and tight,
I plot, I plan, I hope I can,
Have a bestseller throughout the land,

This writing gig is a funny thing,
You go to work, you laugh and sing,
The I-pod plays, you watch the days,
Deadline is still off a ways,

But then you find, you've wasted time,
not a moment to spare, or even rhyme,
Get the soda, coffee and the tea,
pump the caffeine through a drip IV,

I need to work and get this done,
at record speed no time for fun,
It must be inspired, original and chic,
and a hundred pages closer by the end of the week,

No more laughter and playful song,
Just make it up as we go along,
A plot twist here, another there,
requiring sense is just not fair,

Witty dialogue is always a friend,
the pages fly by, getting close to the end,
we type the last and sigh and rest,
telling ourselves we've done our best,

Our grand design not quite realized,
the same as it seemed once before our eyes,
but we know this about draft number one,
the prime directive is to get er' done.

Now we send them off to the editor's hand,
somewhere out in Gotham-land,
where brilliant minds will read and ponder,
the characters that leave our minds to wander,

They'll make some notes and send it back,
Hopefully not in a paper sack,
they like the draft - a lot more than I,
my original scheme they actually buy,

And so renewed we start again,
for the love of art is worth the pain.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Which I Attempt to Be (Poetically) Resolute

by Josh

I hereby promise no more threats
of violence made to made-up pets
although I'm left to wonder how
to show my villain's menace now
that he can't kick a kitten or
sell puppies to an abattoir

Perhaps I could just show him cheat
on taxes or swindle some Wall Street
exec out of a bonus mill
but those I fear would so instill
a kinship with my scoundrel that
he might as well wear a white hat

And so my problem's left unsolved
my resolution unresolved
'cause thrillers need their monsters vile
replete with rancor, filth, and bile
and nothing's more abhorrent than
a dolphin stuffed in a trash can

Unless I show him killing folks
left and right, leaving bloody yolks
where skulls had been - that might just do
that just might be the creep to brew
'cause PETA never protested
to have Ted Bundy arrested

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Epic (Limerick) New Year

I’m not certain who suggested this week’s topic, but I probably should’ve mentioned this at some point: I am not a poet. Ask me for a sonnet, and you will be sadly disappointed. Haiku is right out, and I never understood the fuss over iambic pentameter. That being said, I stuck to the Criminal Minds program (unlike when I took the one course in poetry writing in college) and wrote my New Year’s resolutions in the only form of poetry I’ve ever really mastered: limericks.

In order to understand my resolutions, I offered a little background on this past year and what I’m facing for next year. Hopefully what I’ve written actually makes sense.


An Epic (Limerick) New Year
by Jeannie Holmes

I am a writer from Alabam’
Who found myself in quite a jam.
Multiple voices in my head,
And a Muse made of lead,
My deadlines sped by—“Oh, damn!”

Quickly my fingers ran amok
To create words that made sense—with a bit of luck.
Beta readers praised it!
My editor raved over it!
And I was relieved to discover my novel didn’t suck!

Faced with a new year
I have a new reason to fear.
At the calendar I look,
Can I finish more than one book—
While releasing two more? Sighing, “Oh, dear.”

Taking a deep breath and planning with care,
My Big Girl Panties I’ll wear.
My leaden Muse I’ll kick
And I refuse to get sick
Because writing two series at once I dare!

These New Year’s Resolutions are but a drop in the bucket
Since I refuse to travel from here to yon or even Nantucket!
I’ll stay home and write.
I’ll keep my deadlines in sight—
Until I collapse and say, “____ IT!”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

'Twas the Night Before...

By Hilary Davidson

I'm in awe of my fellow Criminal Minds. Their fabulously twisted takes on the classic poem by Clement Moore are ringing in my ears. But this Christmas has been more about reflection than celebration for me.

The past year has been among the best and worst of my life. I managed to do something I'd dreamed of since I was a small child, which was publish a novel. But I also lost some beloved people. That started last Christmas Eve, with the death of my uncle Doug; he'd fallen into a coma six days earlier, and he never woke from it. To the doctors, his sudden death was a medical mystery; to my family, it was a shock and a heartbreak.

The following months were a painful time. My husband's great-aunt Bobby passed away. Another uncle — my mother's eldest brother — died suddenly from heart problems. Most shocking was the suicide of a childhood friend; his death still unsettles my mind. In the midst of this, a mole I'd had removed turned out to contain melanoma cells. That situation turned out fine, but in the context of what was going on at the time — the minor follow-up surgery was sandwiched between my friend's funeral and great-aunt Bobby's — it was difficult.

That it was a tough year personally made me especially grateful for all of the support I received — from family, friends, and a stunning number of people in the crime fiction community. It would be hard to describe what all of that kindness meant without veering into sentimental territory. I was overwhelmed by the sweetness of Dan O'Shea, who engineered a flash-fiction challenge on the subject of "Hilary's Scar" after my skin-cancer scare. I'm so grateful to him and to the other writers who wrote their amazing — and amazingly twisted — stories.

I'm grateful, too, to everyone who picked up The Damage Done. I have a huge, heartfelt thank you for everyone who read the book, wrote about it, came out to a reading, told a friend about the book, got their library to order it, or wrote to me. I'm so grateful to all of the stores who were kind enough to host me, who hand-sold the book to their customers, who made the novel their book-club selection. There are a few people whose exceptional kindness makes me simultaneously elated and teary: Jen Forbus, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Steve Weddle, Chris F. Holm, Dave Zeltserman, Lesa Holstine, Linda Fairstein, Rebecca Cantrell, Dennis Tafoya, Sophie Littlefield, Bobby McCue, Linda Brown, Keith Rawson, Megan Abbott, Lauren O'Brien, Holly West, Kathy Ryan, Susan Shapiro, Trish Snyder... the toughest thing about naming names is that a blog post can only be so long before people drift off. Let me also just mention the great people at Forge — especially my amazing editor, Paul Stevens — and at my Canadian distributor, H.B. Fenn. Be warned: the acknowledgments for my second novel, The Next One to Fall, are going to run long.

It's been a rough twelve months, but it's shown me how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people around me. Thank you for all you've given me this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

'Twas the night before Christmas . . .

by Michael (with some help of Clement Moore and an angelic host of elves)

’Twas the night before Christmas, around ten o’clock;

Joe Kozmarski was lurking, packing a Glock.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

Which got Joe a’thinking, Which lady was bare?

The children were quaking, all tucked in their beds,

Clutching their covers up over their heads.

It was all so suspicious, Joe pulled out his gun –

If a gang of thieves came, he would shoot every one.

Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

Joe sprang to the door to see what was the matter.

There in the gleam of the new-fallen snow

Was a man dressed in red with eight reindeer in tow.

Joe shot him. It’s sad. He shot Santa Claus.

And he shot up the deer from their heads to their paws.

Ah, the yard was all bloody, deer hung from the trees,

And the smell of fresh venison danced in the breeze.

Then down from the sky, from a heavenly cloud,

Sad music broke forth, melancholic and loud –

A heavenly chorus consisting of elves

Sang dirges for Santa and also themselves.

Joe sat on the ground and he started to weep;

He’d had trouble before, but never this deep.

The elves from on high all called him a fuck-up,

A jerk-off, an asshole; then told him to buck up

So, Joe got a-working: he picked through the scene,

Wiped blood from each item until it was clean,

And he made up a pack and went door to door

And delivered his gifts, then delivered some more.

Young Bill got an antler, young Jane got a hoof,

And Tommy got shingles Joe’d shot off a roof.

Hank got a sleigh rail, and Deb, Rudolph’s nose

Sue got two keychains with Santa’s big toes.

Each child had a Christmas with plenty of cheer,

And Joe ate a dinner of roasted reindeer.

(I wish everyone

A very merry Christmas, and to all a good noir!)

Friday, December 24, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

by Meredith

‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve
and all through the building
many creatures were stirring
keeping Lydia from snoozing.

Although there were plenty of  presents under other trees
There were none yet from Lydia for her family.
On Black Friday and Cyber Monday, why hadn't she been shopping?
Why hadn’t she planned ahead instead of starting then stopping?

Instead she had frittered her December away
Working on a new case, a murderer to put away.
She hadn’t sent a card—not even one to a friend
Or decorated, or baked any cookies to send.

So tomorrow she’d scour every shop on the street
she wouldn't pause to rest or even to eat.
But finding the perfect gift for everyone on her list
might take a Christmas miracle or a strange plot twist.

But Lydia hoped by Christmas, that she and Santa Claus
would wish all the world (including those with paws)
a very Merry Christmas filled with love and peace
and no murders or vice (until book number three).

(with humble apologies to Clement Clark Moore and distinguished poets everywhere)

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Visit from St. Nick

By Kelli Stanley
(with apologies to Clement Moore)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and alone in the room
The writer sat facing a deadline of doom.
Note cards were hung by the PC with care
In hopes for a sentence or even a pair.

The household was nestled, all snug in their beds
but the writer paced onward with crime in her head
And try as she might, no keys could she tap
To write her way out of a vicious plot trap.

When out on the roof there arose such a sound--
Like old fashioned type keys that pound-pound-pound-pound!
Away to the window she flew like a tweet,
Remembering how typewriters used to sound sweet.

The moon on the pavement was noir, black and white
While rain dripped down windows, no snowmen in sight
And just as she turned, her hopes again dashed,
Came a strong whiff of bourbon and another loud crash.

A wizened old elf, on the roof top he sat
Drinking Old Taylor whiskey and wearing a hat.
His fingers curled over a giant machine,
While he typed on the keys and cursed loud in between:

"Now Chandler, now Hammett!
Now McDonald, now Cain!
On Parker, on Woolrich,
On Mickey Spillane!"

"To the end of the page!
To the end of the book!
Forget about writing for Kindles and Nooks!"

His fingers flew over the keys like a train,
And the paper caught fire despite all the rain.
A curse and a shout and he looked up to see
The writer's face--frightened--and he chortled with glee.

Then, in a heartbeat, she heard from on high
The banging and pounding of keys from the sky!
Like thunder they sounded, the claps and the drums
And down the poor chimney came the wizened old bum.

He was dressed in a trench coat from head to his feet,
With a stogie clamped firmly between yellowed teeth.
His voice--how like Bogart's! His nose--like Durante!
And he gave out a wink and said, "Call me Santy."

Not as chubby as Greenstreet or pop-eyed like Lorre,
His fingers were gnarled and his gray hair was hoary,
But his fedora gleamed gold and his eyes twinkled too,
And the manuscript under his arm looked brand new.

All in all, he looked a noir-jolly old elf,
and the writer smiled at him in spite of herself.
A wink of his eye at the cookies and cream,
he pulled out a bottle--this time old Jim Beam.

He drank down the whiskey and went straight to his work,
Sitting down in the chair with his stogie and smirk.
His fingers flew faster than coursers that night,
Filled with noir magic and pulp writers' might.

Then laying a hand on the swell of his girth,
He burped up the whiskey, and cackled with mirth.
And placing a finger on broken-veined nose,
He doffed off his hat and up the chimney he rose.

He sprang on the typewriter, old bottle in hand
And rose from the roof in a manner quite grand.
But she heard him shout out, as he soared almost gone,

"Keep writing your books! Crime fiction lives on!"

And so it will!! :)
To all a very Merry Christmas, and many thanks for sharing your year with us at Criminal Minds!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twas the night before…

By Tracy Kiely

(with apologies to Clement C Moore, who I have been informed, just rolled over)

Twas the night before Christmas

And Elizabeth was tired

For there was yet another murder

In which she was mired.

The body by the chimney was once known as Claire

A lovely, albeit rather bitchy, multi-millionaire

But now poor Claire lay quite dead

The result of a nasty blow to the head

Claire had gone down in search of a nightcap

And had instead stepped into a deadly booby trap

Her subsequent fall had made such a clatter

That the guests ran down to see what was the matter

Although she was still sleepy, Elizabeth could see in a flash

That one of the guests had done something horribly rash

For Claire’s husband, the news was quite a blow

And he had to be calmed with a healthy dose of Bordeaux

Claire’s sister, Kelly, was the next to appear

But Elizabeth saw that she refused to draw near

Claire’s mother-in-law took in the scene and appeared rather sick

Her face grey, she leaned heavily upon her walking stick

But because Claire had a personality that could inflame

Elizabeth suspected that much of this grief was a game

It was no secret that Claire was a vixen

But was that reason enough to bash her head in?

Elizabeth considered the suspects; considered them all

From Claire’s husband, sister, even her mother-in-law

That her husband seemed devastated was no lie

But though he wept, his eyes were bone dry

Claire’s sister, Kelly, seemed equally blue

But looking down, Elizabeth saw that something was askew.

And then in a twinkling, Elizabeth suspected the truth

But could she come up with the proof?

Turning, she ran up the stairs with a bound

And searched the Inn’s rooms all around.

Within minutes she spied a slipper made for a dainty foot

All dirty and covered with ashes and soot

To the living room she then ran back

And hoped the inspector wouldn’t think her a quack

His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, and not from the sherry

His droll little mouth did then bestow

A smile much warmer than his initial “hello”

Turning to Claire’s sister, somber in her nightgown sheath

The inspector asked to see her feet beneath

Oh, and how then things did change for Miss Kelly!

And she began to quake like a bowl full of jelly

Kelly took a quick step back toward the bookshelf

Her sly face now like a murderous elf

In the blink of an eye, she turned and fled

Yelling all the while that her sister deserved to be dead

Claire’s husband now went berserk

Crying his love for Kelly (for he was a jerk)

He tried to punch the inspector in the nose

While yelling a word that I can’t here disclose

The inspector leapt back and seemed to bristle

But he shot after Kelly, as fast as a missile

And I heard him exclaim, as he ran into the night

“Come back here right now! I must read you your Miranda rights!”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Twas the night to be grateful

‘Twas the night before…

By Rebecca Cantrell

‘Tis the season to be sentimental. This year I’ve been thinking about things that I’m grateful for as a writer. So, as a warning, I’m going to list them off now. It will be sappy. The less sensitive among you should go back and read Josh’s post on the 8 days of Hannukah. It has more severed penises than sentimental phrases and is, like all Josh’s stuff, good writing.

These writerly things I’m grateful for are in no particular order:

I am grateful for other writers. Just today I received in the mail a box of books from the talented YA author Kathryn Lasky. Her novels, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, were made into a movie last summer that my son and his friends loved. Kathryn heard about my books from our mutual agent and read mine and now just sent me some of her books, including two signed for my son. What a lovely holiday present! To find another writer likes your book and gives you hers. And that is just the most recent example of writerly camaraderie I’ve experience from writers published and non, including my fellow blog mates. I’m sober and I’m sayin’ to all of my fellow writers (male and female): I love you, man!

I am grateful for readers. I’m humbled and thrilled every time someone tells me they read my book. In this day and age the investment of $25 for a hardcover book and hours of your time to read it is a precious commodity. And then some folks actually go out of their way to write a review or an email or come to a reading. Wow. Just wow. Bless you readers, every one!

What possesses people to spend their whole lives helping others to get their vision out there? How did I get lucky enough to stumble on them? I don’t know, but I’m immensely grateful that such people exist, from agents to editors to cover designers to booksellers to publicists to reviewers to bloggers. Without you I’d just be writing quietly in my cave (which I have to confess that I do adore) and I would never have met those other writers and readers.

Thank you everyone! And happy holidays! You all already gave me the best presents ever.

Monday, December 20, 2010


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

All the creatures were complaining, even parrot Ralph

I had grand plans of rewriting the entire Clement Moore poem to reflect what Christmas Eve would be like at the Pollack homestead, but I haven’t written a poem since The Midnight
Ride of Goblins and Ghosts (with apologies to Paul Revere and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) back in junior high. I think I pretty much used up all my rhyming chromosomes on that one. So you get the first two lines in rhyme and the rest in prose.

Last month I told you what a typical Thanksgiving would be like for Anastasia Pollack, the reluctant amateur sleuth of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN (book 1 of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series from Midnight Ink) since her fall from Middle-classdom. Sadly, Christmas will be a lot worse.

Christmas, when you’re a kid, is all about presents, but there won’t be any presents under the tree this year for Nick and Alex. Hell, there won’t even be a tree. Christmas trees cost money, and money is something Anastasia doesn’t have much of ever since her dead louse of a spouse cashed in his chips and left her with debt up the wazoo.

Anastasia will reluctantly lug the boxes of Christmas decorations up from the basement and decorate the house, but her heart won’t be in it. A festively decorated house that might be lost to foreclosure at any moment feels too much like one of life’s great kicks in the posterior.

No, Anastasia will deck the halls and every single room, right down to the bathrooms, with lights and tinsel and assorted Christmas kitsch mostly because she knows how much it will irritate the communist curmudgeon-in-residence, otherwise known as her mother-in-law.

Now you might think by reading this that Anastasia is one mean-spirited, nasty bitch. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those adjectives more aptly apply to said mother-in-law, the woman driving our normally sane, glass-half-full kind of gal completely bonkers. As far as Anastasia is concerned, it’s time to dish the atheist a bit of payback. Not exactly the proper Christmas spirit, but this year is anything but a traditional Christmas.

So I’m letting Anastasia release her inner bitch. If anyone ever deserved a break from being a Goody Two-Shoes this Christmas, it’s Anastasia. She’ll make a New Year’s resolution to play nice. Whether she keeps that resolution or not? Time will tell.

ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series will be released in January and has received starred reviews from both Publisher Weekly and Booklist. If you’d like to learn more about Anastasia and the commie curmudgeon, you can read the first chapter at and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ghostly Hanukkah Gifts

I asked my spirited protagonist Ish Reynolds, also known as Granny Apples, to field the Hanukkah question for this week’s post. -- Sue Ann
When Sue Ann asked me if I knew what Hanukkah was, I gave her my best scowl, the one I used to save for my son back when he was a young’un trying to get out of chores. I may be from the country and didn’t get much schoolin’, and I might be a hundred-year-old ghost, but I ain’t ignorant. 

Former Levi-Marks store today in Julian, CA

In Julian, California, where I was living and where I died at the end of a varmint’s noose in the late 1800’s, there were several Jewish families in town. I remember Adolph Levi and his partner Joseph Marks well. They built the first brick building in town, using brick made by Ike Levi. That building still stands today as the Julian Drug Store.

Sue Ann next asked what gifts I would like for each of the eight days of Hanukkah.  Frankly, I think all that writing has made Sue Ann a bit tetched in the head, since neither of us are Jewish.  I pointed this out to her, but she insisted, saying folks here at Criminal Minds wanted to know, even if it was just make believe.

So, here I am, thinking about what I have a hankering for:

Day 1 – A new head stone made of that fancy marble for my man Jacob.

Day 2 – A new head stone for myself that matches Jacob’s. I won’t mind if his is bigger. He was bigger'n me in life, why not in death.

Day 3 – A pair of those fancy bloomer’s my great-great-great-granddaughter Emma Whitecastle wears when she’s sparkin’ Phil Bowers.  I think they come from a place call Victoria’s sumthin or other.  Decent women didn’t wear bloomers like that in my day, but I guess things have changed cause Emma’s a nice girl.

Day 4 – A gun for Emma.  She don’t take to guns, but considering all the trouble she gets into, I think it’s high time she learns to use one.

Day 5 – A new rolling pin. I was known for my apple pies in my day, but even though a ghost can’t bake, I feel kind of naked in the hereafter without one.

Day 6 – A set of fancy new clothes. I’ve been wearing the same clothes over a hundred years. Like the rolling pin, I can’t use them, but it would be nice to visit them once in a while in Emma’s closet.

Day 7 – A new collar for Archie, Emma’s Scottish Terrier. I seen one in a store a while back. It was black leather with big spikes all around it.  Archie’s a timid little fella. I thought it might improve his image with the bigger dogs at the dog park.

Day 8 – Season pass to the San Diego Chargers games for Dr. Miller, Emma’s father. He loves the Chargers and he and I watch the games on the TV together, though he doesn’t know I’m there.

Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, the 2nd book in the Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series by Sue Ann Jaffarian, will be released February 2011.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peg Legs and Superhero Capes

What kind of charity or cause would my protagonist support?

Forgive me for answering last week's question today, but I'm new to this blog and still getting my act together. My character Will Connelly is a San Francisco native, so I think he would donate this holiday season to one of my favorite San Francisco-based charities, 826 National (

826 National is a nonprofit tutoring, writing and publishing organization with locations in eight cities across the country. Its goal is to assist students ages six to eighteen with their writing skills, and to help teachers get their classes excited about writing. 826 National's work is based on the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

Founded in 2002 in San Francisco, 826 National now includes sister non-profits in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston and, most recently, D.C. The organization emphasizes "project-based learning," which means that when a student leaves an 826 writing center, they most likely have something tangible (and very cool) to show for it, whether it's a bound book with illustrations, a newspaper or a film. 826 offers all of its services for free, serving families who could not otherwise afford the level of personalized instruction their children receive at an 826 center. In this time of financially strapped public schools, 826 fosters creativity in kids who would not otherwise be exposed to a creative writing class, much less a personal tutor.

One thing that you notice immediately about an 826 writing center is that it's a place where students are having fun. Each writing center has a store that provides a gateway to the local community -- but these are not your typical shopping establishments. The New York center is home to The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, which features a capery, where you can be fitted for a 58-inch superhero or (for junior) a 36-inch sidekick cape ( What self-respecting superhero would wear an off-the-rack cape, anyway? Public service posters in the store urge, "Stop Sidekick Abuse." This is also the place to go if you're in a need of a secret identity or you're all out of Cloning Fluid.

Other 826-affiliated stores include San Francisco's Pirate Supply Store (glass eyes, peg legs and all things piratical) and L.A.'s Echo Park Time Travel Mart, where you can purchase some very special travel posters ("Enjoy Fantastic Feudal Japan!"). The most recent addition to this little alternate universe is 826DC's Museum of Unnatural History, where you can pick up a can of Primordial Soup or a Koala Containment Unit.

Because I'm all about transparency, I must disclose that I have been providing pro bono legal services to 826 Valencia and 826 National since 2002 and I'm on the board of 826 National. But I'm not making this stuff up. It's every bit as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Finding My Religion

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Confession: I am not Jewish which considering I’m starting with a confession may not surprise you. For that matter, historically I’ve pretty much made up my own religious holiday traditions which may have to be rethought now that I think I’ve converted online. Whatever way you look at it, I’m no expert on the Hanukkah rituals. But since I knew this blog’s topic, I did go out to that holiest of ancient texts – Wikipedia – to come up with the perfect eight day gift pack for this shiksa.

Day 1: Fire extinguisher. Even when felony isn’t burning brightly in my heart, open flames could prove dangerous. I once set a tablecloth on fire while objecting at a wedding…a story for another day.

Day 2: A DIY dreidel kit. Since I don’t read Yiddish, I’m thinking the Magic 8 Ball answer cube – liberated from its plastic orb and washed clean of its – whatever that gunk is, a wooden chop stick, (forget for a second the dangers of allowing me fire) an electric drill and some Krazy Glue.

Day 3: Acetone for adhesive removal and band-aids for blood control. Day 3 is really more of a recovery day.

Day 4: Hooked on phonics rehab for both me and the I know better than you spell check software writers. Good thing we’re not in the seasonal greeting card business.

Day 5: A brachot download and Bose surround sound. The saying of the traditional prayer in an intimate setting would inevitably expose me as the Milli Vanilli of religious recitation. Better throw some traditional Jewish songs on that playlist. Singing. Shudder. After that, people will be begging me to lip sync.

Day 6: A stomach pump. Specialty foods with strict rules for preparation – I haven’t even mastered the expiration date yet. Is Quisp kosher?

Day 7: A Woman Called Golda DVD. It lacks the hummability of the Who Song from How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the slapstick of the kid’s tongue frozen to a pipe in The Christmas Story but Jewish woman rocks is still an uplifting tale of wonder.

Day 8: Three Wise Guys. Specifically, Shane, Josh and Michael. What’s a holiday without people to make you laugh and/or get you arrested?

So there it is. Yearning for gelt to go along with my latkes. May your menorah burn brightly without setting off the smoke detector. Happy Hanukkah.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eight Days

Wow - this is a hard question for me. First off, because I'm a gentile - actually I don't know if I'm a gentile, I hear that term bandied about a lot but I think it actually refers to people who live in Europe.

At any rate I'm a Christian and the only thing I really know about this holiday is Adam Sandler wrote a great song about it and as a kid my best friend was Jewish and he celebrated it. Now, we did do a sort of cultural exchange - I traded him some Easter Eggs for Matzah - you may think he got the better end of that deal but that flat saltine cracker like bread tastes pretty good after days of nothing but sugar. But that was actually at Easter and Passover

So not knowing much about this week's question I did what any good writer does - I looked to see what other people wrote - I mean I researched.

Um hmm... uh huh... okay... Well that was no help - something about vampires singing a Christmas song (kinda catchy Jeannie - you might want to talk to Adam Sandler's people) and uhh, well... I'm not even sure how describe Josh's entry.

Okay so that didn't work. Next writer resource after trying to borrow from your fellow scribes: Wikipedia - which by the way, they need money. You guys know we're all screwed if that site goes down so everyone needs to pony up a few bucks.

Once arriving at Wikipedia I realized problem one - I don't even know how to spell Hannukah/Chanukah. Seriously, its almost like a Hawaiian word except instead of all vowels its all consonants.

Alright figuerd it out... um hmm... okay... So the Festival of Lights aka Hanukkah began in 165 BCE after the overthrow of a guy named Antiochus who tried to outlaw Judaism in... Israel - or as it was called at the time Judah. Okay I have to read on but... I'm thinking this was a bad idea. Yep...yep there it is, he was quickly overthrown and the Temple taken back into Jewish hands.

And then something wonderful happened - discovering that all the oil for the lamps had been desecrated except for enough to keep the menorah lit for one night. But that the oil then burned for eight straight days. It was declared a miracle and from then on the eight days was celebrated as the Festival of Lights.

Pretty cool. But none of this tells me what kind of presents my characters should be getting. I do remember my friend getting gifts including a dreidel . I thought it was fun to spin it but I'm not sure that is going to help any of my characters. Although the dreidel is imprinted with Hebrew letters on each side that stand for the phrase - "A great miracle happened there" and in thrillers like mine, the characters are often in need of a miracle. Though I don't think a scene where guys are chasing them with machine guns down an alley would end well if they stopped to spin the dreidel - and also there is no mention of the dreidel creating miracles just commemorating one, so perhaps not.

But what do they need? Well, y people often need guns. Lots of them. But is it any more right to ask for a UZI submachine gun on Hanukkah than it is to ask for a Strum and Ruger Mini 14 on Christmas? I'm thinking not but then this is the kind of stuff my people need.

Then again, maybe there is one more thing they could use. One thing we can all share - Peace on Earth. Maybe if we all ask for it, in every language, religion and nation it might finally actually happen. I know that sounds corny - but we should still keep asking.

Happy Hanukkah everyone.

Eight Packages (Containing Eight Packages)

by Josh

The eight cardboard packages arrived at each residence on the first Thursday in December. Since six of the residences were in North Florida and two were in South Georgia, the local authorities were required to call in the FBI.

Tom had the flu, so Esme flew alone into Tallahassee. She reviewed the case file on the plane, mindfully using her elbow to block the nosy teenager in the neighboring seat from peeking at some of the more explicit photographs. When the boy was halfway through his turkey sandwich, she lowered her elbow and let him get an eyeful.

He spent the rest of the flight in the john.

What the photographs depicted - and what Esme saw first-hand once she arrived at the Tallahassee field office - were the contents of the packages. More specifically, each cardboard package contained, floating in a puddle of blood, a flaccid penis and hairy scrotum. Three of the penises were circumcised. One was black.

The m.e. indicated the circumference of the wound areas. The edges of these skin flaps displayed hundreds of tiny teeth marks, but in several rows, which indicated that a serrated blade was used, and that it took more than one chop to get the deed done.

Before meeting up with the Tallahassee Special Agent in Charge, Esme put in a call to her daughter Sophie and they spent ten minutes discussing holiday cards, the incredible amount of snow on the ground, and how their Christmas tree was beginning to smell funny. Esme phone-clicked a photograph of a palm tree, sent it to Sophie, blew her kisses from a thousand miles away, and, after hanging up, took a few quiet minutes before returning indoors.

The eight men to which the genitalia belonged had all been reported missing over the course of eight weeks by each of their eight wives, all of whom had been the addressees on the packages. Esme went over the police interviews with each of the wives. Did any of them have shaky marriages? Yes. Aren't all marriages shaky at one time or another? Yes. Two of them lived in trailers, but not in the same trailer park. One of them lived in an upper-middle-class prefab just outside Tallahassee.

So what was the connection?

The return address on each of the packages had led the police to a clapboard motel on the GA/FL border. The motel had, of course, had eight rooms, all lined up in a row beside a squat building which doubled as the main office and a souvenir shop for decades-old red-and-white decals from Florida State University. Predictably, each of the eight rooms contained a hurricane of dried blood and the nose-awful remains of a castrated corpse.

The cause of death was desanguination: massive blood loss. It had been neither painless nor slow.

The final piece of forensic evidence in the reports which Esme found intriguing was the trace appearance of short black hairs in six of the eight motel rooms. These hairs did not belong to any of the victims but did, after analysis under light microscopy, almost definitely belong to an unidentified Caucasian male.

Esme, ensconced in a box-like cubicle the Tallahassee folks had given her, leaned back in her wooden chair, popped in her ear buds, cranked up the Kinks song "Father Christmas" on her iPod, and got to work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eight Days of Vampire Hanukkah?

It's the holiday season, and this week my fellow Criminal Minds and I are exploring the eight days of Hanukkah and what gifts our protagonists would most anticipate.

As regular readers of the CM blog know, I write about modern-day vampires, and they don't celebrate the holidays in the same way as humans. In fact, the secular holidays like Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and the start of football season are often observed but others that have a religious basis, such as Easter, Christmas, or Hanukkah, usually slip by with little fanfare. That's made this week's post especially challenging for me, but I think I've found a way to convey the week's topic and still have a little fun.

To the tune of "The 12 Days of Christmas," I present "The 8 Days of Vampire Hanukkah" as sung (badly and offkey) by Alexandra Sabian:

On the first day of vampire Hanukkah, my mother gave to me
A black sweater made of cashmere-y.

On the second day of vampire Hanukkah, my brother gave to me,
A pair of Doc Martens boots with toes of steely.

On the third day of vampire Hanukkah, my human partner gave to me,
A faux mouse in a ball toy for Dweezil, my kitty.

On the fourth day of vampire Hanukkah, my boss gave to me,
A new tactical light with laser sighting!

On the fifth day of vampire Hanukkah, the lab guys gave to me,
Two bags of gourmet whole bean coffee from Hawaii.

On the sixth day of vampire Hanukkah, the county coroner gave to me,
A case of Vlad's Tears synthietic blood in cherry.

On the seventh day of vampire Hanukkah, my brother gave to me,
A copy of "Cooking for Dummies."

On the eigth day of vampire Hanukkah, my true love gave to me,
A diamond engagement ring...which I gave back to him promptly!

Well, there you have it. I hope you found my post to be at least a little entertaining.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

~ Jeannie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A World of Giving

By Hilary Davidson

You know that old adage about charity beginning at home? Lily Moore, the main character in
The Damage Done, has followed that saying a little too far. The main recipient of her generosity has been her younger sister, Claudia, who knows exactly what buttons to press to get Lily to do what she wants her to. That's how she ended up living in Lily's apartment on New York's Lower East Side. Claudia, while always on the taking end with Lily, can be generous with her own friends. That has led to situations like the morning when Lily woke up to find a homeless woman passed out on her couch; when Lily got her up, the woman pulled a knife on her.

It's not hard to figure out why Lily uprooted herself one day and moved to Spain. Unfortunately for her, even though she was traveling light, she brought along her overdeveloped sense of guilt. That's why Lily continues to write a check every month for her New York rent; she's soft-hearted enough to want to make sure that Claudia has a roof over her head. But Lily isn't soft-headed, which is why she mails the check directly to her landlord; she knows that if she mailed it to her sister, it would be spent on drugs.

Lily finds it hard to say no to people who need help. She's been poor, she's been hungry, and she's survived on the fringes when she was growing up. Because Lily is a travel journalist, she's had the opportunity to travel around the globe. And even though travel writers are often wrapped in a cocoon of luxury — staying at the best resorts, eating at the best restaurants, sunning themselves on private beaches — Lily has seen grinding poverty up close. The result is that she's drawn to organizations that help people wherever there is need:

Doctors Without Borders: Claudia likes to tell Lily that "Deep down, you're pretty superficial." But while Lily regards her own work as frivolous, she's drawn to important causes, and this would be one of them. DWB is an international medical humanitarian organization that assists people in more than 60 countries.

Kiva: While traveling through developing countries in Southeast Asia and India, Lily has seen some of this microfinance group's work up close. Kiva makes small loans to hardworking, entrepreneurial people in more than 50 countries, lifting many out of poverty.

Heifer International: Lily is a soft touch, after all. Give her the chance to buy some fuzzy ducklings, a goat, or a water buffalo for a village in need and she will do it.

(P.S. The photo above is one I took in Peru, where the second book with Lily — The Next One to Fall, coming in fall 2011 — is set. That's a flock of alpaca with adults, children, and a few dogs herding them.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Llama for His Mama

By Michael

Every year, come holiday time, my fictional PI Joe Kozmarski starts thinking charitably. For Joe, most of the year is All About Me. He’s constantly thinking thoughts like, “How can I keep this guy from stuffing me into that industrial furnace?” Or “How can I stop that serial-killing woman from shooting me in the forehead?” Me, me, me. To tell the truth, it gets to be too much and sometimes Joe gets sick of himself.

So, on or about December 1, he starts to look outward and upward. When, at the end of a day, he hears the Salvation Army bells ringing outside the neighborhood Jewel Foodstore, he glances into the sky, fixes his eyes on a bright star, and starts singing “Silent Night.” Spontaneously. Loudly. Until the store manager comes out and asks him to leave. Feeling charitable, he goes without a fight.

Then, he drives home (singing “Oh, Holy Night”), pulls out the old checkbook, and writes a check for whatever he can spare and often a little more.

Other people send money to the American Cancer Society. Or Boys Town. Or the American Red Cross. Or the ASPCA. All good causes, and Joe is sure they deserve every cent they get.

But those aren’t the charities for him. Joe looks for neglected charities – the kinds that he figures no one else will be contributing to. That way he can be doubly charitable: charitable to whatever cause the charity is supporting and charitable to the charity itself which probably also is in need.

This year, in spite of the bad economy, Joe has done well, so he’s writing a big check to Heifer International ( Specifically, he’s buying a llama ($150) for a family who lives in the Andes and a camel ($850) for a family in Tanzania. With his spare change, he’s donating a hive of honeybees ($30) to a village in El Salvador.

He’s tucking into his memory certain facts to share with his environmentally conscientious ex-wife – facts that make this a gift that Joe can live with. For example, “As they travel, llamas' padded feet don't damage the fragile terrain and their selective browsing doesn't destroy sparse vegetation.” And “Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields.” He hopes his ex-wife doesn’t ask about the camel.

Now that he’s done with his charitable giving, he needs ideas for his mom, who, when he has asked her what she wants, has said, Only your happiness, Joe – which is something she isn’t going to get. He surfs the net for a while and, coming up empty, lands back at the Heifer International site. It says that Andean women load their llamas “with goods for market and trek with them across rugged slopes at high altitudes.” A llama would be an unusual gift for his mom, he thinks, but it has promise.

Friday, December 10, 2010

With All Her Heart

by Meredith Cole

I've never thought about Lydia McKenzie as a particularly charitable soul. She's single, a bit self-centered, obsessed with her photography and always scraping to make ends meet. She doesn't belong to a church, and may not always be organized to send in a certain amount to a charity every year. But she's no scrooge.

In DEAD IN THE WATER, Lydia does reveal a more generous side of herself. She volunteers to help local prostitutes get off the street. And when she receives a fee for her services, she donates it to the children of the women to help give them a brighter future. 

This is the season for giving, and Lydia does make contributions to the following, er, charities, and people:

  • Broke photographers - she's more than once spotted friends with cash, photo paper and film when they couldn't afford it and never expected to be paid back.
  • Waiters and waitresses - this is a thankless job. Lydia tips above 25% when she's flush or the waiter/waitress is having one of those nights from hell. They deserve it.
  • Salvation Army - Lydia takes her castoffs there, and shops there often. She gets some great clothes, but the money goes to helping people get back on their feet. Does that count?
  • Toys for Tots - Every kid deserves an incredible holiday and to get something great. Not having any kids in her life, Lydia takes this as an opportunity to get a kid a cool gift and put it in the donation box.
  • Local Food Bank - No one should go hungry in this country, but they do. Lydia always donates canned goods and give a check this time of year to help out her local food bank.
Happy Giving!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

'Tis the Season

By Kelli Stanley

What kind of charity or cause would your protagonist support?

Charity--in essence, helping other people, living things, cultures or intangible treasures survive in the face of adversity--is ideally something that becomes part of who we are ... not just an envelope during the holidays. And I'm proud to say that Miranda Corbie's empathy and altruism have never abandoned her--despite her cynicism, bitterness and devastating loss during the Spanish Civil War (and consequent PTSD).

Miranda, after all, cares passionately--stubbornly--defiantly--about who killed Eddie Takahashi and why. No one pays her for this--her life is threatened--cops warn her off. Sure, she's stubborn, and that's part of it ... but the real reason she pursues the truth in CITY OF DRAGONS is because she *cares*. Behind all the posturing, the profanity, the checkered, humiliating background of escort girl and abused child, Miranda has never lost her ability to empathize. Never lost the ability to feel, to want to make a small dent in the gross injustice and existential bleakness of an unfair world.

To me, that makes her a heroine--and a realistic one.

So, other than the anti-fascist fight for Republican Spain--and teaching English to Dust Bowl migrants in the valley during the early '30s--and various cases that come her way--from women seeking divorces from unfaithful husbands to (next year) a peep show model brutally murdered--what causes would she support?

Certainly Bundles for Britain. Far from an isolationist, Miranda admires Churchill and the character of the British people and wants to do what she can to help them survive--the only beacon light of democracy in a fascist Europe for almost two years. She doesn't trust politics or politicians in general, but is a fervent supporter of F.D.R. (though he greatly disappointed her with the tragedy of the M.S. St. Louis).


She likes the Reverend Birkhead and his Friends of Democracy, and admires how this gentle Methodist minister takes on some of America's most powerful anti-Semitic bullies, from Father Charles Coughlin to the German-American Bund (American Nazis).

She supports the NAACP, and the ACLU and their stance on protecting freedom of speech ... though she would have torn up her ACLU card in 1978, when they fought for the right of the Nazi Party to march through a Chicago suburb where many Holocaust survivors lived. Miranda understands the point behind their defense, but that would have crossed the line for her.

After the events in CITY OF SECRETS, she sends money abroad through the Red Cross and the B'nai B'rith.

If you ask her about these things, she'll just shrug and light up a Chesterfield. She knows her money and time and energy is a drop in an ever-growing ocean of troubles and injustices and wrongs, but she does what she does. She just doesn't want to talk about it.

Then there's Arcturus. Well, if Greenpeace and In Defense of Animals and The Humane Society existed in Roman Britain, Arcturus would be a member. He loathes bullies, and his biggest hot button cause is the exploitation and abuse of the innocent. Especially animals.

In fact, I understand he wanted to be an animal healer when he was a child. And that his adopted father discovered him in hiding in a grove after Boudicca's revolt and the murder of his mother. Arcturus was trying to heal the injured hoof of a goat he'd rescued.

In THE CURSE-MAKER, he finds this donkey ...

Obviously, he doesn't go to the arena. He figures people can kill themselves all they want--but don't bring animals into it.

So there you have it. Two protagonists, two different sides of the same coin--empathy--and a lot of worthy causes ... for the holiday season, and throughout the year!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Holiday Giving

by Tracy Kiely

There are some who would suggest that Elizabeth Parker is herself a (fashion) charity case due to her penchant for corduroy and cable knit sweaters. (However, to be fair, this charge was leveled at her by her best friend Bridget who herself dresses like a cross between Joan Collins and Liberace, so perhaps one should consider the source.)

Anyway, Elizabeth has a soft spot for all charities. She gives a lot during the year but even more so during the holiday season. Ever since she saw that Salvation Army commercial last year (the one with the worker ringing the bell at flood scenes and homeless camps) she routinely drops whatever money she can find in her purse into the red bucket. Granted, it’s never a huge sum as Elizabeth rarely has cash on her, but she makes an effort. However, her big holiday charities are The Smile Train and Heifer International.

The Smile Train helps millions of children in developing countries who have unrepaired cleft lips and palates and little to no prospect of ever receiving corrective surgery. Most of these children cannot eat or speak properly and aren’t allowed to attend school or hold a job. Their lives are filled with shame and isolation, pain and heartache. The Smile Train provides the corrective surgery and in doing so radically changes the lives of these children.

With gifts of livestock and training, Heifer International helps poverty stricken families in developing countries improve their nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways. Heifer refers to the animals as "living loans" because in exchange for their livestock and training, families agree to give one of its animal's offspring to another family in need. This is a cornerstone of the mission that creates an ever-expanding network of hope and peace. There are several ways to donate; you can purchase a few chickens or a whole cow. But your gifts help change lives.

Take a moment to check out these charities and see if it’s something that you want to contribute to. You just might change a life today. Happy Holidays.