Friday, March 11, 2016

The Road Less Taken

We just spent a month in La Paz, BCS, where I wrote a lot, had a couple of great book events, and then, on the way home, we took a shortcut.

We normally cross the border south of San Diego, but while we were down south we heard the pavement from San Felipe (Mex 5) to Mex 1 was almost complete, so we decided to give it a go.

I'm having neck problems, so this probably was not a great idea.

If you want to see the road you do not want to take, click here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

NOT your Viking Riverboat Cruise! 11 days, 118 kms, 66 locks.

Castlenaudry, our favorite stop

                                      French Panhandlers

When my husband, Robert "Mad Dog" Schwartz, and I were looking for a special way to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, we investigated European boat rentals. While we'd seen ads for those tempting riverboat cruises, elegance is not our style. After years of living part-time on our boat in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, we felt letting someone else drive was way too risky, so we chartered a 30' penichette (small barge) on the Canal du Midi, in the South of France.

Figuring the rental vessel was smaller than our own boat, we'd be on a protected canal with handy banks, and had booked a leisurely eleven-day cruise schedule perfect for meandering—which is our style—through the pastoral French countryside, it'd be a piece of gâteau. Also, I was fluent in French forty years ago; it'd come right back n'est-ce pas?

NO BOATING EXPERIENCE NECESSARY, touted the brochures. Photos 
of boats fortified with enough fenders to qualify them as aquatic bumper 
cars raised a soupçon of concern, but we booked our trip on the historic 
canal anyhow. 
Built as a trade route between 1666 and 1681, the 241 km Canal du Midi 
connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean, and since it covers 
altitudes from sea level to 620 feet, there are locks. 
Lots of locks.  
This lock thing was the reason we opted on a one-way trip and added four
days to the charter company's suggested one-week agenda. As it turned out,
we were right to do so.
Day 1: There wasn't so much as a boulangerie near our departure base, 
but we had a rental car so we drove a few miles to a SuperU and loaded 
enough provisions for a cruise ship, so we were all set to enjoy our 
anniversary dinner in style. 
Day 2: Mad Dog, armed with a French/English translation program,  
and notes I'd written for taxi drivers and train station operators
(my French had indeed returned very quickly), dropped off the car
at our final port and successfully returned by rail. Our plan was to shove
off that afternoon, but a howling wind nixed that.  
Day 3. With only five kilometers to the first set of locks that opened at nine, 
there was no urgency to leave early. Besides, it was still blowing a good 
fifteen knots. We shoved off at nine.  
And again at 9:15. 
And again at 9:30. 
The boat simply refused to go where we wanted to; the minute we 
weren't headed with the wind, or into it, we turned sideways and sailed 
broadside down the canal. 
TIP: When driving a single-engine boat with lousy steering, ram the bank
(this where all those bumpers come in handy), put it into forward gear 
and give it gas. It will turn; maybe not the way you want to turn, but 
it will turn. We later learned those fenders were not so much because 
of Kamakazi drivers—although we encountered a few—but protection
from ancient stone walls lining locks, and bank-rammers like us.
Fortified with pain au chocolat and coffee, we steeled ourselves for 
those first locks, but a very friendly eclusier (lock keeper) helped with our lines 
while complaining about too many commercials on US television when 
he live-streamed NASCAR races. By the time we got through the next 
five locks, we were pros. We made a grand 15 kms that day to the 
modern facility at Port-Lauragais. We soon learned that this type of 
marina—one with water, electricity, nearby stores and restaurants—was 
a rarity. 
Bram: looked good, but no place to tie up.
Cassoulet: better than it looks
 Our first lock was a doozy.

Days 4/5: After nine fairly daunting locks, we arrived at what proved our
favorite stop on our route: Castelnaudary. Dating back to 1103, the 
self-proclaimed "World Capitol of Cassoulet"—a thick stew made with 
cannellini beans, duck, duck fat, salt pork, and garlic sausage that tastes 
much better that it sounds—is everything one expects while cruising a 
canal in France. 
  We walked the historic streets, stocked the larder with 
culinary delights, and enjoyed the dockside cafes. 
Mad Dog felt very French strolling the cobble stoned streets with our daily 
baguette in hand, but balked at the beret I suggested. 
Day 6: Reluctant to leave the charming Castlenaudry, we nevertheless
conquered 18 locks towards Bram, a village our rental agency literature said
was picturesque, with a great restaurant, docks, electricity and water. NOT! 
     Bram was pretty, with a restaurant we could only gaze at longingly as we
motored by; the place was chockablock with boats, some looking as though
they hadn't moved in years. 
We "dry camped" a couple of miles later; our boat had no generator, therefore
no electricity. No problem, except my aging laptop's battery wasn't ready for 
life off the grid. We ran the engine until after dinner to cut an early October
chill, and charged our iPhone (which we were using as a GPS), Kindles, and 
our rented Wi-Fi hotspot using a cigarette lighter DC plug adapter. 
Day 7:  Carcassone, a city first fortified by the Romans in 100BC, 
didn't hold our interest. After the seemingly deserted small villages 
we'd passed, seeing so many locals out on a Sunday (maybe because
all the grocery stores and shopping malls are closed?) was a treat, 
even though the main attraction seemed to be watching the bumper-boat 
foibles in the locks. This big-ish city wasn't really why we came to the Canal, 
so we opted to continue on to Trebes and dry camped again. 
Day 8: The further south we traveled, the busier the locks. After covering
46 kms and 22 locks in two days, we'd pulled over to await the opening of the 
double locks at Ecluse Saint Martin when we had a epiphany: 
we were tied to a perfectly good dock! No electricity, of course, but we had 
wine. We spent a lovely evening with nary another boat in sight.
 Walking into the small village the next morning, we scored coffee and
pain au chocolat at the local brasserie, picked up our baguette at the  
boulangrie, and then breezed through the two locks, all alone. 
Day 9:  La Redorte, the chart informed us, had full services (hope for my dead 
computer?) so we tied up in front of a café, where we spotted an electrical box! 
Now to find the Harbor Master. With a Gaelic shrug, a man sipping wine at 
the cafe told us the office was closed (as in permanently) but I should talk to 
someone at city hall. Walking into the quaint town a half-mile away, I found 
la Mairie was fermé.  We finally learned that yes, there was a possibility of 
electricity, but I had to go back into town, buy a token to make it work, and 
the charge was five bucks an hour. Who needs a computer, anyhow?
  La Rivessel, the dockside café, was miraculously open for dinner and we 
finally enjoyed a great French meal. We had been on the canal for an entire 
week and it was the first restaurant we found open outside of Castlenaudry.
TRIP NOTE: Fermé/Closed seems to be one of the most frequently used words
in France. We were surprised to find so many McDonalds in a country known
for its great food, but soon figured out why they are packed with locals: 
Day 10: Our next stop was a marina at Homps, ¡et voila! there it was, just as 
we entered town. As soon as we tied up we were told it was a private marina 
and we couldn't stay. "Ces't tout! (That's it!)," we declared, and headed for 
our final port, where a slip and our car awaited. We were a day early, but we 
were beat and still facing a 600 mile drive through France to Germany: A 
whole 'nother story.
Would we do it again? Yes, but in a boat with bow thrusters and a generator. 
What did we learn? Never count on anything being open. 
Best part of the trip? The sheer beauty of the French countryside, adorned 
with castles and ancient ramparts. And baguettes, cheese and wine. 
Worst part of the trip? Despite the Euro almost equal to the dollar, 
everything is very expensive. 
Except, of course, for baguettes, cheese and wine.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Welcoming today's guest on the ASMSG Electorate Blog Hop, Anna Othitis

Special Announcement! March 27-31 JUST DESERTS, book 4 in the Hetta Coffey series is FREE.

Welcome to ASMSG Electorate Blog Hop, where a group of ASMSG authors are swapping interviews over the next couple of weeks. We have a selection of authors from all genres, all with their own unique style. Check out the dates and blogs of the other participants at the end of this interview and don’t forget to enter the RAFFLECOPTER with free e-books available to the lucky winner.

Today my guest is Anna Othitis, author of My First Travel Book.
Welcome Anna,

I see you are from Zimbabwe. Since this is a location many readers might not be familiar with, can you give us a little history on the country, what you did there, and how you came to live in the United States?

Zimbabwe is shaped like a kettle it is located below the equator and borders the Republic of South Africa. It used to be called Rhodesia, a British Colony. They took their independence and named it Zimbabwe. It is a beautiful country, with  natural, simple un-spoilt surroundings and people with an interesting African culture.  I feature two destinations in my children’s book: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and the Serengeti, Kenya.  A land untouched, and my home for 55 years, where we had a family business and were self employed. We relocated to the USA due to political unrest and land grabbing due to racial profiling problems

Your background sounds like a good subject for another novel. Any plans in that direction?
I have thought and considered writing a few novels on my life and experiences in Africa, on close encounters with animals, and the  dangers we encountered during the terrorist bush war. But this will come at a later time.


Regarding your book: What inspired you to write it? And what age-group is it aimed at?
When our son Frankie was younger he loved flying model airplanes. I always took him to our Model Airplane Gliding Club where we watched his gleaming face enjoying the control and maneuvering of these little airplanes. From this came his inspiration (and mine to encourage him to follow his dream to study and take up his career in life as a pilot) to fly the wonderful skies. Now he has been given this opportunity in the USA to make his dream a reality.
Whilst living in Africa we traveled to visit Canada and Greece to visit family and stopped off to various destinations where we saw and learned so much of the world and its people. We were always interested and curious to visit famous landmarks and experience the lives of people's cultures, and living around the world.
Arriving to settle in the USA children and adults always asked where Zimbabwe was, and yearned to learn more of our home land and the world beyond their borders. World Geography was not part of their world, and they were always curious to know if we lived in tree huts in the natural wilds of with the wild animals.
Children reading “My First Travel Book” (ages 4-9) from their comfort of their homes are introduces them to famous landmarks in the world in order to broaden their minds about the beautiful world we all live in. We share important information with them and parents learning together, hoping that one day they too will be inspired to travel, see places beyond their borders, and be inspired to take up careers they will enjoy.

Are there more books to come? 
Yes, many. We will publish a series with subtitles, for example, Wonders of the USA, Wonders of Canada, and so on.

Anything more you would like to share with us?
Parents, please encourage your children to pursue their careers and futures to become useful and give back with love and peace to the environment, and to our world. With your trust, encouragement, and confidence they can soar the skies just like the eagles smoothly soar the deep blue skies.

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Anna. Good luck with your books.

Other Interviews with ASMSG Electorate Blog Hop
followed by the RAFFLECOPTER!
March 18 Kirstin Stein Pulioff
March 19  Stefania Mattana
March 20  Maer Wilson
Marsha Roberts
March 22  Melodie Ramone
                 Anna George Othitis
March 23  Khalid Muhammad
                 Su Williams
March 24  Christoph Fischer
March 25  Hunter S Jones
                  Lillian Roberts
March 27  Ian Hutson
                 Jinx Schwartz
March 28 Dianne Harman
                 Shane KP O’Neill
March 29 Tina Power Traverse
                 Ann Rothchild

Just follow the link below to the Rafflecopter:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Say hello to Marilyn Meredith!

  • My guest today is one of my favorite people, prolific author Marilyn Meredith. She has more than thirty published novels to her credit, including the award-winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She borrows a lot from where she lives in the Southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation.

  • She does like to remind everyone that she is writing fiction. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

  •                                                              CONTEST!
The person who comments on the most blogs on this blog tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. This is the last blog on my tour for Spirit Shapes.  She will wait a few days and make sure she has counted everyone who commented and on how many blogs—then will inform the winner, and announce who it is on my own blog:

Today she tells us abut her newest Crabtree mystery, and how such an otherwise sweet person is so in entranced with horror!

My Love of Horror Movies
When my children were little and my husband was overseas, if a horror movie was on television, everyone piled into my bed to watch,  which meant between 3 to 5 kids joined me. Because the movies were scary, often the whole bunch spent the rest of the night with me. Back during that time period, the horror movies that were on TV were pretty campy by today’s standards—Frankenstein, Dracula, and other mad scientist tales. But once in a while there was a really good (meaning really scary) like the Spiral Staircase. That was far scarier than any monster movie.

I’ve continued to enjoy watching scary movies, but I don’t like the slash and gash types that are more blood and gore than storytelling, or the ones about the group of young people stranded in a house, on an island, in a campground and are killed one by one.

I loved the Woman in White and other such movies set back in some early time period with lots of fog and atmosphere.

The best horror films are the ones that seem somewhat plausible—the latest one being  The Conjuring. One of the scariest I can’t remember the name of, but it was about some people traveling in a motor home that were being pursued by witches. I still get goose bumps when I think about that one.

I’ve read most of Stephen King’s books and the one I though the scariest was It. The movie didn’t come close as far as the shiver factor is concerned. (That seems to be the problem with most of the movies made from his books though The Shining was scary, just not as much as the book.

That gives you a pretty good idea that I do love scary movies and books and that’s probably why I like to put the scare factor into my mysteries. If you like a bit of that too, do try Spirit Shapes: Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Temp Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and present, and demons and angels at war.

To buy directly from the publisher in all formats: 

Also available from Amazon.





Sunday, September 22, 2013

The "unintentional series": Meet Evelyn Cullet


Evelyn has been an aspiring author since high school when she wrote short stories, but she didn't begin her first novel until college, later in life, with encouragement from her English Professor. Afterward, she continued to take writing classes while working in the offices of a major soft drink company. Now, after early retirement, she finally has the chance to do what she loves best: write full-time. She's a former member of the Agatha Christie Society, and is currently a member of Sisters in Crime. When she's not writing mysteries, promoting them or blogging about them, Evelyn enjoys playing the piano, organic gardening and being an amateur Lapidary. She and her husband live in a suburb of Chicago.

What inspired you to write in the first place, Evelyn?  

As a life-long mystery buff and a long-time member of the Agatha Christie Society, I've read all of her novels, short stories and plays, and have discussed them in detail with other members of the society. Two other mystery authors I love are Dorothy L. Sayers and Arthur Conan Doyle. These three talented authors had the greatest influence on my writing, especially with my first novel, Romancing a Mystery.

I see your latest book in the series is available, as is the sequel to it, but the first, Romancing a Mystery, is still not published. Tell us how that happened.

Unfortunately, that manuscript got rejected by publishers so many times that I decided to self-published it, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, wasn't. I ended my contract with the self-publisher, and I'm currently working on revising that manuscript and re-releasing it sometime this year.

Romancing a Mystery didn't start out to be the first in a series. It was supposed to be a stand-alone novel, but I enjoyed writing the two main characters so much that I continued to write manuscripts featuring them.

I also noticed that your latest release, Love, Lies and Murder (second in the series) has only recently been published, while Masteriece of Murder (third in the series) was already out there. How did that come about?  

I wrote, Love, Lies and Murder, as the second novel, and then, Masterpiece of Murder, as the third. When I submitted both manuscripts to publishers, the second was rejected while the third was accepted and subsequently published last year.

I rewrote Love, Lies and Murder, (the second), with the help of my editor. And after re-submitting it to my publisher, it was accepted this time and published this year. So that explains why my novels are being published out of sequence, but that's not the way I wrote them. It’s just the way things turned out.

It's kind of a mess, I know. And now that I've thoroughly confused everyone, moving forward, I'm working on book four, Once Upon a Crime, in what has become a series. I suppose I'll have to come up with a name for it now. But whether I will continue to write more novels in this series depends on how well readers like the characters and enjoy reading the stories.  

Publishing is a strange business, that's for sure, but it looks like you are getting a handle on it now. Tell us more about your latest romantic suspense release, Love, Lies and Murder

In this prequel to, Masterpiece of Murder, Charlotte Ross sees her world  about to crumble when the man she’s in love with–her mysterious boss, John Trent, announces his engagement to someone else.

Charlotte’s best friend, dubious globe-trotter and mystery author Jane Marshall, arrives back in town only to stumble across the gruesome body of the town’s millionaire industrialist.

Jane becomes too wrapped in up hunting for the murderer to help Charlotte in her embarrassing attempts to stop her ex-lover’s wedding. Charlotte decides to join forces with her friend, hoping to ease her heartbreak while helping to find the old man’s killer. In the process, the two self-appointed sleuths turn their small town upside down as their snooping leads them to discover that people are not always who they seem–and a single error in judgment can prove fatal. 

Thanks, Evelyn, for sharing with us your unusual publishing circumstances. I'm sure there are many out there who can learn from your experience.

Love, Lies and Murder - Amazon -
Masterpiece of Murder - Amazon -
Wings ePress -
Evelyn's website and blog:
Evelyn's Facebook page:
Evelyn's Amazon Author's Page:

Saturday, August 31, 2013

HAD IT !!!

Every reader harbors writing pet peeves, and one of mine is the word, HAD.
Not that it isn't a perfectly good word; it has its uses. It is overuse that drives me nuts...and I'm already pretty far down that road.

So here I was, all tucked in and happily reading a new novel on my Kindle when chagrin formicated* into my bed. (No, I don't have a dog, and the hubby already slept soundly by my side.) I was infested by a horde of dreaded and dastardly HAD monsters! Totally distracted from my almost-favorite thing to do, which is reading myself to sleep, I doggedly counted the buggers.

Needless to say, I am not about to name the book here, and I have heavily edited the example so as not to have some author flaming me all over social media. This is what sent me into snitdom:

She had grown very old in the four years since he had walked away. They had married young, and for the most part, were happy. He had worked hard, while she had kept house and had babies. They had had an ordinary life until the day he had walked out.

Luckily my husband sleeps like the dead, for my scream was loud. In the good old days I'd've launched the book across the room, but Kindles are far too expensive to bounce off walls, so I girded my loins (I've always wanted to say that) and read on, albeit now highlighting HADs as I went.

I lasted for fifty more HAD'S until this sentence steered me into a ditch: He HAD grown very old in the four years since he HAD walked away from BLAH BLAH BLAH. Not only HAD he grown old, the almost identical sentence was used before to describe the wife.

The next morning—after reading another, much better, book long enough to stabilize my blood pressure and go sleepy-eyed—I Googled information on using HAD in writing, and learned I was not off my rocker. At least about the overuse of HAD. Scholars on the Internet (so they must be right, right?) agree that overuse of the word is an indication of TELLING, rather than SHOWING, something we've all been warned about. Also, said they, too many HADs make for blah/bland writing, and any sentence that begins with He had should be exterminated faster than a bed bug at the George V.

Here's my take. Once the writer establishes a paragraph, or even a chapter, as taking place in the past, one well-placed HAD is enough. Then, by using the proper verb tense, the reader knows they are being told about something from another time frame.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe, but I hereby vow to stop reading anything after the third HAD in a flashback. Take that, HAD!

*The other thing that ticks me off is having to look up a word:-)