Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Passion and Prehistory Research

I thought I’d take this week to talk about some of the most fun stuff I do—research! Sounds dry, right? I guess it depends on your POV (Point of View), to use a writerly term.

In a roundabout way, I’ll get to that. But first, a discussion came up in a group yesterday about whether to journal or not. Then, later the same day, a somewhat similar discussion took place between me and my cousin.

The jist of the first one arose from talking about journaling, recommended in the group. One woman said she didn’t like to journal. My thoughts are, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. But, my further thoughts are, everyone who manages to stay sane has an outlet, a steam vent, something you do to keep you from boiling over and blowing up when you’re under pressure.

For me, it’s writing. For most writers I know, that’s true. Writing is not only our passion, it’s what we do to stay mentally healthy. That doesn’t work for everyone, of course. For some people, it’s exercise. For some, it’s music. For some, it’s sewing. But I still contend that everyone has a steam vent. 

The other discussion was about passion versus addiction. Are all passions addictions? Aren’t they just socially acceptable addiction? You could say that you’re lucky if your passion is legal and socially acceptable. If it’s not, you’re very unlucky and might end up with fines, jail time, or being shunned.

Here’s a passion of mine that doesn’t get me into trouble: Neanderthal research. Don’t ask me how I got passionate about this topic. I have no idea. I just know that delving into textbooks and reams of research to glean a nugget I can use for a plot point is exciting to me. Some people skydive and race cars. I do anthropology research. If it doesn’t bore you to tears, you can find some of my early research for my Neanderthal mysteries on this blog at:

all photos from

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Guest Jim Jackson, just returned from Antarctica!

I'm supposed to be promoting the next novel in the Seamus McCree series, Empty Promises. However, I’ve just recently completed a twenty-two-day trip to Antarctica and surrounding islands and that's what I want to talk about. I promise to include some Empty Promises info at the end.

A bit of the Antarctica Peninsula

We visited the Falkland Islands (about which I knew little except that Britain and Argentina fought a ten-week war in 1982), South Georgia Islands (also involved in the “Falklands War”), and the Antarctica Peninsula and nearby islands. My mind is filled with incredible sights of these new-to-me places, the sounds and smells of penguin colonies, the feel of the ship rolling in the waves. My hard drive is filled with 2,740 images. My stomach was filled with too much good food, which I knew at the time and confirmed when I stepped on the scales at home.

Gentoo Penguins amidst whale bones and an abandoned boat

Wherever we went, we witnessed the legacy of men leaving their marks on the landscape: rusted hulks of abandoned whaling stations, wrecked ships, piles of whale bones, current Argentinian outposts staking their claims on the portion of Antarctica nearest them. The island of South Georgia presents a recent positive change in the ecological damage done by humans. As with most places where whaling and sealing were done, men introduced other animals—sometimes intentionally as potential food supplies or pets, other times unintentionally, as when with Norway rats that stowed away on ships and escaped into the wild.

A view of South Georgia Island

The harsh climate and rugged terrain of South Georgia was harsh enough to kill off most of these introduced species. Not rats and reindeer. Browsing reindeer with no predators have a devastating effect on the quality and quantity of plants and were trampling nests of ground-nesting birds such as the pipit and King Penguins. Rats devastated bird populations, eating both eggs and chicks. South Georgia is home to many important seabird and penguin rookeries. It is also home to two endemic bird species, the South Georgia Pintail and the South Georgia Pipit. The pipit had been exterminated on much of the main island and several of the surrounding islands, but still survived on several smaller islands where rats had not been introduced.

South Georgia Pipit

Beginning in 2011 the British government agreed to help fund an experiment by the South Georgia Heritage Trust to eliminate reindeer and rats from the main island. In a series of carpet-bombing missions following a predetermined grid, helicopters delivered poison packets to the rats. Because of glaciation of the island, the mission could be accomplished over a series of years without fear that the rats from an untargeted region would migrate to a targeted region void of rats. The last phase was concluded in 2015. The project believes the main island is now rat free and has brought in three specially trained dogs to sniff out any remnant populations. They aren’t yet willing to declare victory, but it’s close.

During the rat kill-off, there was collateral damage. Brown skuas eat carrion and ingested the poison second-hand. South Georgia pintails were also adversely affected. I can attest there were plenty of skua around, and the taskforce believes the pintail populations will also expand quickly with the elimination of the rats.

Curious young Southern (Antarctic) Fur Seal

The 5,000 reindeer on the island were hunted to extermination in 2013 and 2104. Their meat was refrigerated and taken to the Falkland Islands where it was sold to offset some of the cost of the operation.

And it’s not just rats and reindeer they worry about. The government tries very hard to keep out invasive plant species. Before we could land, government officials inspected our clothing and boots to make sure we were not bringing in seeds attached to our clothing. Every time we disembarked and re-boarded the ship we had to clean our boots to make sure we were not tracking vegetation from one island to another. (After visiting penguin colonies, the cleaning also got rid of the poop smell!). On one island my wool gloves picked up several burrs. I carefully picked off all the seeds and was surprised when I later vacuumed the gloves in preparation for another inspection to discover a few seeds had worked their way into the fabric.

Wandering Albatross on South Georgia Island

Since the rat and reindeer eradication, the population of South Georgia pipits has already begun to rebound, and they have returned to several islands where the rats had eliminated them. Unfortunately, populations of many pelagic birds have not rebounded even with the extermination of rats. The birds are drowning by the thousands each year as by-catch from long-line trawlers. The waters within 200 miles of South Georgia and the Falklands are protected by safe long-line practices, but outside of the 200-mile zone, where many of the pelagic birds feed, there is no international protection.

Wandering Albatross with 11.5 ft. wing span

I know I’ve been blessed to enjoy this trip-of-a-lifetime. I fervently hope that the efforts on South Georgia are replicated elsewhere and the issue of by-catch is resolved so in the future others will have the same opportunities I had to see the avian glory of these magnificent islands.


Oh yes, Empty Promises. Here's a quick blurb for the fifth book in the series. This one is set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I'd love for you to read it:

If you love the suspense and plot twists of domestic thrillers, this page-turner is for you. Seamus McCree’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.

His client is to testify in a Chicago money laundering trial. He’s paranoid that with a price on his head, if the police know where he’s staying, the information will leak. Seamus promised his business partner and lover, Abigail Hancock, that he’d keep the witness safe at the McCree family camp located deep in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s woods.

Abigail is furious at his incompetence and their relationship flounders. Even his often-helpful son, Paddy, must put family safety ahead of helping his father. Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back Abigail. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

The Kindle version is up for pre-order. Paperback is either available or will be soon. You can order a signed copy directly from me. If you'd like to see more photos of my Antarctica trip, follow me on Facebook. My website is

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Drinking with Novels

This very long post was inspired by this article I read a few months ago. It seems that John Cheever said, “The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar.” I don’t know that I buy into that, but I think mixing alcohol and books sounds like fun.

Here are my selections for my own work.

Imogene Duckworthy mysteries

Since the guy died with a sausage stuffed down his throat, a good German brew should go nicely. Berliner Weisse might do nicely. It’s supposed to be tart and tangy, somewhat as I picture Imogene Duckworthy.


Smoked pork is prominent in this book. This Italian wine should do nicely—Tenuta Delle Terre Nere, “Etna Rosso” 2014. The reference to Etna fits nicely with the book’s theme, too.

A Halloween story with a ghost, so naturally, you’d have to sip some form of cider, right? The ABGB in Austin serves Texas Keeper and Argus hard ciders. It would be best to visit them for this. If you do, say HI to my son, night manager and barkeep. (Or try any of the beers they make there.)

On to my next series, Cressa Carraway Musical Mysteries

How about mixing up some Gluehwein? It’s appropriately from Austria, Mozart’s country, since my title is taken from a Mozart piece I’ve played about a thousand times and still love.
Here’s the recipe adapted the site below:

2 bottles red wine, possibly Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, 750 ml. each
2 cups water
2 lemons sliced
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cloves
2 oranges peeled and diced (cut peels into thin strips and save)

Combine all but orange pieces in a large pan and bring to a simmer.
Add the orange pieces and simmer until everything smells good, 10-15 minutes.
Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks before serving.
Add a thin slice of orange peel to each glass before serving.

This calls for some memorable. Since the Irish know how to do wakes, I’ll go with an Irish shooter. Recipe included in the link.

Next series! This one is a bit more difficult, the People of the Wind series, featuring Neanderthals and set 30,000 years ago. I’m not sure that they had fermented drinks, but let’s pretend they did.

Something to keep you warm while you read this. I nearly froze to death writing it. An ancient Indian rice drink, sura, may warm the cockles of your heart. I don’t think you can get this anymore, but you can’t get Neanderthals any more either. Maybe mead would be a better choice. It was drunk in ancient Greece.


This calls for a portable drink, since the tribe is trekking for the whole novel. The article below suggests bringing along two, a mixture of herbal gin and chartreuse for lighter passages, and whisky with vermouth for heavier chapters. A good flask is, of course, important.

My cozy Fat Cat series calls for lighter fare. Chase Oliver likes plain wine, but let’s get more imaginative here.
A white wine spritzer is my choice for finding the bodies in this book.


Quincy gets into all kinds of trouble at the fair in this book. You can’t S’mores beer by Giggles from the Minnesota State Fair.

What should you have with cake? Punch! It should be a red one to match the cover.

There! I’ve covered all my novels so far.

What will you drink with your reads?

photo from

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Adventures with Covers

I’ll give the ending first. All of my covers have turned out great. I consider my covers as one of my main tools for selling my books. My publishers hire people to do my covers, mostly with my input, and sometimes I get to approve the finished product—sometimes not.

There are funny stories behind my two of my covers. They might amuse you, so I’ll put them out there.

First, my first Imogene Duckworthy mystery, CHOKE. It was not the first novel I wrote, but it was the first one I got published. I was in such a tizzy about actually getting a novel published, that I fluffed a bit. I said I needed an orange truck on the cover. I thought that would be colorful and, I was thinking, it’s a big part of the plot. It would tie in to the story without giving anything away.

Keep in mind that, while the first one was getting situated to come out, I was writing the second one, SMOKE. Embarrassing discovery: there is an orange truck in the second novel. There is none in the first one. It’s easy to be confusing when you’re finalizing publication of one novel while you’re writing another one.

It wasn’t until the dang thing came out that I realized what I’d done. One of my friends, I think it was Janet Bolin, said maybe it could be a device—using an element of one book on the cover of the last one, staying one book ahead.

CHOKE eventually was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel, so everything turned out fine!

I MUST give credit to Karen Phillips for the covers of all three of the Imogene Duckworthy mysteries. I can’t recommend her highly enough if you’re self-publishing.

My second story also has a happy ending, but there was panic for a short time. I had finished the third Fat Cat book, FAT CAT TAKES THE CAKE, for Berkley Prime Crime, handed it in, and was busy sketching out plots for the next three books. (That’s a sad story that’s been told elsewhere)

My agent sent me a preliminary copy of the cover. I was shocked at the title AND the cover. I asked her if it matters that there is no cake in the book. She thought it would be okay, but I didn’t. I quickly rewrote some passages and was, fortunately, able to make cake a major part of the plot by changing just a few things. I like all three of the Fat Cat covers, but I think this one gets the most notice.

Do you have any interesting cover stories? No, not that kind, just stories about your covers? (You’re safe with me, I’ll never blow your cover.)