Sunday, December 18, 2016

Holiday Overload?

Are you exhausted from trying to re-create your family’s remembrances of holidays past? It’s time for a quiet break—like that created by reading a good book. You can’t spend much time relaxing. How about a short story or two? It’s cheaper than a massage.

Here’s some stories with nostalgia, but also a jolt of reality.

How did students find information for school reports before the Internet? They used encyclopedias, but most were expensive and only in libraries. Then, A&P grocery stores offered a different volume of the Golden Book Encyclopedia each month as a sales gimmick. How Old Is the Earth? is a tale of how the increased availability of information changed lives. The story also evokes memories of a time when cotton/polyester wasn’t available and all cotton school uniforms were ironed daily. (Not a fond memory.)

Do you remember your first bra? (Sorry guys, you missed that experience.) Did it look a bit like Madonna’s costume with two cones of foam strung together with straps? Enjoy the humorous memories in I Look Like Papa.

Then there are old photos. Do they reflect the past or are they attempts to paint an alternate reality? The answer varies in my vignettes. I’ll let you read Thanks for the Memories and Double Exposure and decide.

These stories make a great gift for those older men, who are impossible to buy for, for those young adults who think life was easier in the past, or for anyone who reads. Remember: books are easy to wrap.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from Janet & Bug.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Do you like to thumb through books when you’re deciding what to read next?

Amazon is great when I know what I want, BUT sometimes I like to peruse lots of books, especially when I'm looking for something different. Then I go to one of my two favorite bookstores.

Under Charlie’s Covers (primarily a used book store)  
160 S. Camino Del Pueblo Suite B
Bernalillo, NM 87004

Treasure House (features New Mexico authors)            
2012 S Plaza St. NW (on the square in Old Town Albuquerque)
Albuquerque, NM 87104

If you live in the Albuquerque area, I recommend these two. If you live elsewhere, take time to visit bookstores in your area and develop favorites. Sometimes, used bookstores are the best choice; other times bookstores, which focus on local authors, are great.

I’ll be doing a book signing for The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories on Sunday, Dec 10 from 12:30-3. It's a great Christmas gift with bits of nostalgia and reality about the past intermixed.

My mysteries ad thrillers are already at Treasure House.
                In Murder… A Way to LoseWeight, discover who killed the set doctor in Albuquerque. (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers Assoc. [PSWA] contest and finalist for New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards)
                In I Saw You in Beirut, follow a woman as she uses clues from her past to extract a nuclear scientist from Iran.
                in Malignancy, shadow a woman scientist as she tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a risky assignment in Cuba. (winner of 2015 PSWA contest)
                In Ignore the Pain, a woman scientist learns too much about the coca trade and too little about a sexy new colleague while on a public health assignment in Bolivia.
                In Coming Flu, decide whether the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in a quarantine in Albuquerque is more deadly.
                More details at

Feel free to add the names and info on your favorites bookstores.


Novels and short stories by definition are fiction, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t contain bits of reality. Sometimes an author can introduce reality into her fiction by using her memories—personal, and probably slightly biased, facts. I guess a purist would say memories and facts are often distinctly different. I don’t want to argue the point today.

Turning my memories into a thriller, I Saw You in Beirut.
I combined several of my memories with facts and lots of fiction. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was awash with Iranian students protesting the Shah in the late 1970s. I was a professor there and the graduate advisor of one of these students. Conversations with her and her friends served the basis of creating the fiery character Farideh in I Saw You in Beirut.

For example, in an early scene in I Saw You in Beirut, Farideh takes a knife, which she was using to slice a cake, and threatens an annoying fellow grad student. Unfortunately, the incident really happened in my lab, but I changed the names to protect the guilty. I thought this incident was a #way to show not tell about Farideh’s temperment. 

Collecting memories for a short story collection?
Before I wrote The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories, I talked to dozens of people about their memories, especially of their childhoods and adolescences. Thus each of my stories has a different perspective, but they all address historical or social problems in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960, a time that many refer to as the good old days. I think these vignettes demonstrate past events are often funny, but many would rather remember than relive the events.

Here are two examples of the memories that triggered stories: Do you remember your first bra? (Sorry guys, you missed that experience.) Did it look a bit like Madonna’s costume with two cones of foam strung together with straps? Enjoy the humorous memories in I Look Like Papa.

Many towns in the Midwest and New England are awash with grand Victorian ladies (large houses with endless brightly-painted decorations). As an old man remembers his glory days as a high school athlete in Dirty Dave, he also reveals secrets about domestic violence in these so-called grand homes.

We all have memories usable in fiction. Perhaps, you can remember with horror a car accident or the death of a love one. You could use your painful memories of you raw emotions to make a scene in a novel memorable to others.

Why don’t you search you memory for ideas for your next novel or short story?

I Saw You in Beirut Blurb: Sara Almquist’s past, as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as a globetrotting epidemiologist, provides clues for the extraction of a nuclear scientist from Iran.

The Good Old Days? A Collection of Stories Blurb: Are many nostalgic accounts of the good old days examples of selective forgetfulness? Before you argue the point, read these fourteen short stories.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


Do you realize many famous movies are based on short stories?
The list is long. I’ll only mention four.

          "The Sentinel” by Arthur C. Clarke became 2001: A Space Odyssey.
                  “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier.
                  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote.
                 “The Body Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
      Some experts hypothesize that short stories are good bases for movies because they both tell stories by implications and quick shots without the superfluous explanation of novels.

How long is a short story?
Debatable. Every publisher and contest uses a different definition—no longer than 20,000 words, between 1,000 and 6,000 words, or less than 4,000 words are frequent limits. Stories shorter than 1,000 words are often called flash fiction.

However, two famous writers gave the best definitions of short stories. In 1846, Poe defined a short story as prose fiction that could be read in “one sitting.” The problem is “one sitting” is probably shorter now than then. H.G. Wells defined it as a “half-hour read.”

Short stories versus novels?
In theory, short stories contain the traditional elements of dramatic structure, but in a condensed form. However, the exposition (the introduction of setting, situation and main characters) is often deleted and the story begins in the middle of the action. In many, the resolution is abrupt and/or open to interpretation. Often short stories focus on a single plot in a single setting.

What’s the history of short stories?
Short stories, as examples of story telling, could be considered descendents of the Roman and Greek fables and early Christian parables. Fairy tales are also classic examples of short stories.

In the 1800s magazines created a high demand for short stories. Hence, many American and English authors (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas, Hardy, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain) wrote short stories in the 1800s. Probably the most famous author of short stories from that period is Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue").

During the twentieth century, most major authors wrote short stories at least occasionally. Despite their publication in high profile magazines, many readers considered short stories to be a lesser form of literature than novels. However, short stories gained more respect when the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Alice Munro, the “master of the contemporary short story.”

Why did I write this blog?

My first collection of short stories—The Good Old Days?—will be published later this month.

Blurb: Did you ever wonder whether many nostalgic narratives of the good old days are cases of selective forgetfulness? All the short stories in The Good Old Days? are loosely based on recollections of childhoods in the 1940s, 1950, and 1960s. The combination of mirth, fear, anger, and finally wisdom displayed by the narrators of these tales may make you reassess your memories of childhood.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


 Or to put it another way—when does a memoir or biography become fiction? I like books labeled as non-fiction to be just that, but I like lots of facts in fiction.

I’m sure many of you will disagree with me because you love to escape into a different world when you read. However, Downton Abbey would lose its zing if costumes, sites, and key historic events in WWI and the flu epidemic of 1918 weren’t described correctly. Even fantasy novels are enhanced by a few facts. The evacuation of children to from London during the Nazi blitzkrieg is the basis of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Points to consider when including facts in fiction
1. Create a strong plot, and #insert facts to create realistic characters.
I’ll give an example from Malignancy. In this thriller, a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a State Department assignment to set up scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba. However, the scientific community is less safe than she expected.

That’s the plot. One of Sara’s surprises is Cuban researchers have patented a vaccine that is thought to strengthen patients’ immune response against a certain type of lung cancer. (Fact: The cancer vaccine Racotumomab is in clinical trials now world wide.). Other surprises involve her love interest and the dug czar. They are not based on facts. The scientific facts allow me to show Sara’s expertise and ingenuity. They also keep her from being a busy body, who wouldn’t be included in real exchanges among “diplomats” from Cuba and the U.S.

2. Pick #relevant and exciting topics.
A great author can make any topic interesting but most of us aren’t great writers. Readers are more apt to be interested in tales based on intrinsically interesting issues—global warming or curing cancer. Michael Chrichton (Jurassic Park), Robin Cook (Coma), and Ian McEwan (Solar) were particularly skillful at selecting scary high-tech issues for their thrillers.

3. #Use facts to turn locations into strong characters.
Realistic locations improve any novel. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises would be pretty boring without the hypnotic descriptions of the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. The decadence and beauty of Venice set the mood for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The Cuba (I visited three years ago and depicted in Malignancy) is surprising and probably transient.

4. Be as accurate as possible.
A writer of thrillers told me recently that readers accept a couple inaccuracies in a novel if you have stated most of the information correctly. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, Dan Brown has been criticized for inaccurate historical information in his best selling novel, The DaVinci Code, but he certainly included enough facts to ignite readers’ interest.

Why not pick up copies of Malignancy and see if you like facts in fiction, too? Malignancy won first prize in the 2015 Public Safety Writers annual contest.

Malignancy is available at Amazon

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Reading: Cool Entertainment during the Dog Days of Summer

Did you ever wonder why the hottest, some would say the most miserable days, of summer are called “dog days?" You might think it’s because dogs laze around during the hot weather. Probably not.

You can blame the ancient Greeks and Romans. They believed that the close proximity of Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Big Dog), to the sun in July and August caused the hot weather.
It really doesn’t matter why hot summer days are called “dog days.” What matters is finding ways to #beat the heat. The best way may not be to hide in air-conditioned buildings, but to find activities that are so engrossing you forget the heat. Time flies when you’re tinkering with electronic devices. However, you might be less frustrated and feel cooler, if you read a book instead of struggling with a new app.

Here’s an even better way to enjoy hot summer evenings, read a book to your children, grandchildren, or friends and family of any age. Why don’t you consider books and movies you enjoyed as child? The suggestions below are from lists of the best books for children and young adults. 

· The Cat in the Hat or any book by Dr. Seuss
· To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
· The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
· The Color Purple by Alice Walker
· The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
· The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
· The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder or other books in the series
· A book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings
· The Call of the Wild by Jack London

You may be surprised your memories of these books are faulty. I certainly noted different aspects in To Kill a Mockingbird when I reread it after also reading Go Set a Watchman, but that’s a topic for another blog.

As you read any of these books you’ll learn a bit about yourself. One or two of these books may seem dated and no longer appeal to you. I suspect you’ll realize several of these books are more complex and insightful than you realized as a teen-ager. In any case, I bet you and your audience will get a warm (not hot) feeling from sharing a great tale together.

So, #read for cool entertainment in August. 

You can even read to a pet. Bug loves the attention.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Does Your Writing Bark, Purr, or Neigh?

A recent poll of users of social media had a bit to say about pets. Almost two-thirds of pet owners claim they post two comments or photos of their pets on social media weekly. Half of these pet owners claim photos and notes on pets draw more comments and likes than their other posts.

Are these bits of trivia relevant to fiction writers?
I think there are at least three reasons for including animals in novels.    

 Authors may increase the appeal of their novels to a wider audience by including dogs, cats, and other pets in their tales (Pun intended.). Consider all the cozy novels built around clever dogs and cats. Come to think of it, Westerns would be pretty blah without horses.

·       Authors can often show a different side of human characters in their novels by allowing characters to talk to or interact with their pets. Asta in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man, Cat in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey demonstrate pets belong in serious adult fiction.

·       Pets are fun to write about. I enjoy including Bug, my Japanese Chin, in my thriller series (Coming Flu, Ignore the Pain, Malignancy, and I Saw You in Beirut). Besides being beautiful, he’s smart. He deserves attention for his work as pet therapy at local hospitals for more than eight years. (Don’t I sound like the typical pet owner in the survey?) And he definitely allows me to show a soft side to my world-traveling scientist and heroine, Sara Almquist.
Maybe, you should include a dog or cat in your next novel. Or be creative and give your human character a more unusual alter ego, like a fish, raccoon, or elephant. 

All my books (paperback & Kindle versions are available on Amazon.
• In I Saw You in Beirut, a woman’s past provides clues for the extraction of a nuclear scientist from Iran.
• In Malignancy, a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a risky assignment in Cuba.
• In Ignore the Pain, an epidemiologist learns too much about the coca trade and too little about a sexy new colleague while on a public health assignment in Bolivia.

• In Coming Flu, is the Philippine flu or a drug kingpin caught in a quarantine is more deadly?